I could've said crackheads, whores, drunks or ... whatever group is defined by a derogatory label due to "poor life choices."
There are times in my life I look at some of my good friends, like the writers of this blog I personally know- the closest being Pastor Matt Ellis and Pastor Matthew Everhard. Two men who have accomplished much in their lives. Good educations, beautiful families and wonderful ministries. I can look at men like the Pastors Matt and think of how I do not compare. We are all within a few years of each other age-wise, but I feel that I have missed out on so much because of timidity, stubbornness, lack of faith- just to name a few of the many reasons. On the other hand there is one of my best friends ever, Pastor Phil Karasiewicz. He is not a blogger on this site. In fact, he is not reformed at all. He pastors a church in Portland, PA. They have a strong ministry there and I see that God is changing lives and maturing Christians. He is not seminary trained, he does not hold a degree. But God uses Phil in some mighty ways in his community. His dedication to, and reverence toward, God is undeniable. I look at these men and see things I wish I was.
Do not let me lose you here. I am not throwing a "pity party" (but if it were my party I'd cry if I want to). There is sometimes a different way I see some other people.
I work at a hospital in the Tampa Bay area- one I will not name since this blog is from my perspective and not necessarily theirs. I work in a Psychiatric Emergency Room. Occasionally, we hold people in our small "psych ER" as they await a transfer to a room at our psych unit or at another facility.
Working in the mental health field you see people at their worst. Sometimes it makes me want to cry on their behalf. It can be that sad. Other times it is difficult to find a way to have compassion for people. For instance, a polysubstance abuser- someone who uses a lot of various drugs- street name: druggie. The "meth-head" or the "crackhead", the junkie. The lush or the drunk.
People think, "well they did it to themselves, it's their own choice." Some would take the argument that some people have a "disease" of alcoholism or one of addiction. I disagree with that assessment- addictive personality traits can be a factor, but the person choose to drink or shoot up, or snort or whatever. They choose their path.
The thing is, as Paul points out in a sense when says, "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me." (1 Corinthians 15.10 ESV)
When I look at the lowest of the low, I realize they chose their lives by the many poor decisions they made. I also realize that the best of the best- like the men I look up to in my life- made decisions and chose the better way more often than not. Add to that the grace of God, and you see why they are blessed. God honors their obedience, humility and Biblical standards for living.
As I survey my life, I see so many poor decisions. But there were also times when I could have chose another path and faced major consequences or risks to my health. I could have become a druggie. I could have become a prostitute. I could have become a drunk laying on the side of the street until a police officer nudged me along. I could have been a murderer. And they could have all been like me. Or either of the Matts. Or Phil.
The point is, that when we see people who are destitute, we can judge them and be disgusted with them, or we can have true compassion for them, because, 'but for the grace of God, that could be me.'
Pete Garbacki is a minister with Time for Truth Ministries and Mission.Brasil. Follow him on Twitter @mission_brasil or FaceBook at http://www.facebook.com/pete.garbacki.
(for a ministry that helps those in need check out http://www.jericho-road.net/ in Hernando County, FL)