I ran hard for the flight. We had been an hour late leaving the airport in Minsk, Belarus and although the pilot made up 30 minutes of that time while in the air I still had only 30 minutes and not the originally scheduled hour between flights in Frankfurt, Germany. Three long halls, another security check, and several changes in floors as I went from one terminal to another (I have become an expert at moving faster on the stairs than you can move on the escalators) and I finally found the right gate – they had changed gates, of course. The doors were still open and so I was on board.
The flight was nearly empty. I was thinking – good, that means that maybe the seat next to me would remain empty and then I would have more room to “set up my office” and accomplish 8.5 hours worth of work on this overseas flight. No such luck. All of a sudden there was a hugh rush of people entering the plane – another flight that had been late … then another rush of people from another connecting flight … all late like I had been. Apparently, and we were not told this in Minsk, it had been a problem with weather in Frankfurt and so all connecting flights had arrived late and so this plane was being held so passengers booked on it could actually board and the flight would not leave with 90% of the seats unoccupied as they were when I first boarded.
I ended up with someone sitting next to me. I moved my book, my writing pad and pen, and my Bible. I had already begun to set up my office. He moved in as I moved out of his seat … and I introduced myself. Afterall, we were going to be in close quarters for the next 9+ hours. No response. He was sort-off pleasant and at least acknowledged my existence but he made it very obvious that he was not interested in any conversation whatsoever. I let it go hoping that as the flight progressed he would unwind (he too looked like he had run to get on board) and be a little friendlier. And, I recognized that I was old enough to be his father if not his grandfather – he was probably about 21 or 22 years old.
It turns out that he had seen my Bible and assumed I was a believer and thus totally against his chosen life-style. He was an active homosexual. You could assume this by how he was dressed. I did not make that assumption – never do. He dressed like a combination of ‘metro’ and ‘retro’. His mannenerisms could also have led you to this conclusion – I did not go there as I simply treat people as people. The way he spoke – tone and words – could have led you to that conclusion. Not the case. However, when I met his friend later in the flight and watched them together (as they sat together for a while in another row working together on a computer) it was hard to miss and very obvious to anyone and everyone who saw them and the way they were behaving. Which is fine with me as I am never upset by this and don’t judge. People are people, sin is sin, and everyone regardless of their sin needs a Savior.
I work by the L.A.F. principle – Love everyone unconditionally as the Lord loves me …. Accept everyone as they are just as the Lord accepts me as I am …. Forgive people when they hurt me or speak against me as the Lord did and requires that we do.
So, as I have been thinking about this young man over the past week – and praying for him and his friend – I see the situation I faced on that long overseas flight as a failure on my part and on the part of the Christian Church. I believe his reaction to me as a Bible believer and pastor is a result of past rejection or an assumption that he would be rejected or judged based on previous experience or, at the least, the reputation of the Church in general as a group that does that regularly. I saw the lack of receptivity to even a civil conversation as a natural outcome to the reputation that the Church has earned over the years – one of being judgmental and condemning. And, I am determined to do my part to help reverse this impression that we have left with the world.
I believe the Lord is calling us to be as He was – loving, accepting, forgiving! I believe we must be strong and secure in what we believe and stand for – secure and thus without a need to be defensive – and so not nervous when people disagree with us and challenge what we know to be the truth. We must lovingly welcome disagreements, discussion, and honest dialogue and do so with open and accepting hearts and lives so that people feel the warmth of the love of the Savior and know that they are being accepted as human beings of value and tremendous worth and not judged and condemned. We can disagree with a person’s lifestyle (as I am sure they disagree with the way I have chosen to live my life) and still lovingly accept the person.
I failed that day to communicate this love to the young man sitting next to me. But that will not stop me from trying again and again … because that is what I see the Lord doing as I read through the gospels and observe the way He interacted with people – His love, His acceptance and His forgiveness are obvious for all to see. So, it must be the same in my life….