Search This Blog

Friday, January 16, 2015

Protecting Les Graham's Image

Christians are really good at putting their best foot forward. We should be, Jesus told us we "are a city on a hill". Everything about us should shine like the truth in us. Yet in our eagerness to look good to the world, Christians often present an unrealistic image. It's akin to admiring a photoshopped version of model that doesn't really exist. Laboring to keep up this image, keeps people from  wanting anything we have. If it's partially put on, they believe it's all a lie. But, it's not just potiental converts we cheat. It's everything and everybody, from ourselves to our world.
 Putting our best foot forward might be the the Achilles heal in strengthening our faith. It's a trap I've fallen into before and occasionally still fall into. Even though I try to keep it real, in ways you'll never see on Sunday or social media, I've failed as a husband, parent, and anything and everything else I am including a Christian. Saved people might be saved but they will always be in need of their savior. God loves to fix things we are too ashamed to admit to the world. 

One of the things I was too ashamed to admit was I hated Les Graham. Though I was sure he was destined for hell, I literally wouldn't have cared if he died. In my defense, he was easy to hate. After all, it's so much more pleasant to despise anyone's actions other than your own. Never mind what I was, he was a liar, thief, and crackhead. As far as I was concerned, the world would have been a better place without Les. Looking back, I realize this says more about the sorry condition of my soul than his. Of everything Les was, or wasn't that he should have been, he was destined to become the most unlikely of all things. He was to become my friend. 

While Les spent a few years in prison, I got involved in a prison ministry. By the time Les was released, both of us had done a lot of changing. In one of my 
most bizarre encounters with God, he commanded me to hire Les. I didn't want to do it. I didn't hate Les anymore but I still didn't like him. Knowing how hypocritical it would be, to tell prisoners they could change, then not help one was more like conviction than compassion. In our small town, you're guilty by association and Les had ripped off everyone or their brother. At least, that's what everyone said. It didn't matter that it wasn't true if everyone believed it. Hiring him would not be strategic business planning. It was business suicide. But, I did it anyway because God is insistent in getting His way.

 Running a business in the construction industry is tough. It gets messy. It can bring out the worst in you, and having a hardheaded convicted felon on your team doesn't do much for your attitude or your bottom line. Especially, since your clientele has abandoned you, and you doubt the new employee knows or even cares that it's because of him. More than once, Les made me roll my eyes toward heaven and throw up both hands. Les got to see the real me and he challenged my Christian charity to its limits. It wasn't a choir boy image, Les was seeing. But, it was really me, from my strengths to my weaknesses. Over the next five years, both Les and myself continued to change. Slowly, he became someone I dearly loved. He wasn't much to look at but he was a lot to talk about. He got blamed for every unsolved crime that followed his release.  I saw first hand how false accusations due to his past held him back and knew if I hadn't learned to love him, I be one of those making the accusations. I could spend hours telling of how Les and I changed each other. It would bring tears and laughter. Eventually, Les would come to be a Christ follower. I've never seen anyone more on fire for Jesus. Despite the doubts and accusations, he's impacting his community positively. At this moment, he's in Africa bringing both clean water and living water to people who have never had them. Wouldn't you know, the naysayers, so careful to protect their image, who wouldn't  lift a pinky, are still questioning his motives, methods, and ministry. Which means, he's doing something right. This man is impacting the world I once thought was better off without him.

 I went to hear Les give his powerful testimony. It's been my greatest honor to have him mention how God used me in a small way in his coming to a radical love for Christ. I'd swell up with pride except I know the truth. I know I needed fixing and God used Les to do it. Before either of us knew, God had chosen him to do mighty things.  I often think how close I came to missing a miracle just to put my best foot forward. Protecting my image would not have protected me or the church. We don't need to bear the burden of an unrealistic image . We should never forget what we have to bear, the image of the Almighty. Something Les has learned and taught others to do. Like me.

Post a Comment