In process- ‘Many who are last will be first’
By Glen Doss, Major
“The ground is level at the foot of the cross. Anyone can come there, for there is no cost” go the words of an old hymn.
As an Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC) chaplain, it is my habit during mealtime and breaks to hang out with the beneficiaries. I do this because, seeing them day after day in my office and the chapel, I have long talks with them and consequently make many friends. It seems natural—and even enjoyable—to socialize with the men. Consequently, I am taken aback when I receive a comment like the one I got just yesterday:
“Thank you for being so approachable, Major Doss. You eat with us. You talk with us. You go up to the altar and pray with us. Unlike the others, you’re one of us. We appreciate that.”
When I receive such feedback, I am jarred. And my response is always the same: “Why should I do otherwise? ‘The ground is level at the foot of the Cross.’” Reflecting to myself, I realize: I am just being who I am; to do otherwise would seem unnatural. But it has not always been that way with me.
In 2005 I conducted a limited poll among ARC graduates. I asked them this simple question: “What can we do in our corps to attract more ARC beneficiaries and graduates to our ranks?” The response shocked me: “If they want us to participate, they need to stop looking down on us!”
This column is a commentary on two levels: (1) on the condescending attitude toward the beneficiaries in our centers which, according to them, is displayed by many officers, staff and soldiers and (2) on my own condescending attitude when I served as an ARC administrator.
After managing ARCs for over a decade, in June 2007 I took on the role of an ARC chaplain. For the first time I came to know personally the population that for years had been for me primarily nameless faces against a blurred background. After listening to one hard luck story after another, I discovered something astonishing—all these men are just like me; at bottom we are no different. We are each configured by a unique combination of genetics and childhood circumstances to be the individuals that we are. Additionally, we each have a choice: either do nothing and remain conformed to the world or proactively reach out to Jesus for the guidance, courage and power to be transformed into his image.
I also discovered something else: Each of us is inherently so stubborn that only a severe personal crisis will motivate us to surrender to our Creator. We all know, in our gut, that if God is in charge of our lives, then we will not be, and therefore will not get to have things the way we want them. Consequently, we resist surrender. But there is something about a serious life crisis that can bring a person to his knees like nothing else; therefore, I suspect there may be more Christians in our rehab centers than in our corps. Perhaps this is what Jesus was referring to when he said: “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first” (Matt. 19:30 NIV). There will be surprise on the faces of many when we get to Glory.
In Romans 1:29-30, when describing those who rebelled against God, Paul lists a catalogue of sins that is striking: They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant, and boastful. Interesting list, isn’t it? All those who sit for years in our pews on Sunday morning are not Christians. The tongue can be a vicious instrument. Reckless words pierce like a sword (Prov. 12:18).
We may be in the grips of great sin, yet be oblivious of it. Paul directs us in 2 Corinthians 13:5: Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? Likewise King Solomon advises us, Guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life (Prov. 4:23).
Perhaps the rest of us should work a 12-step program as well. One life lesson has come through to me loud and clear: no one, with any degree of effectiveness, can examine himself alone—we are too close to the subject. But if we are to comply with God’s mandate we must identify and correct our faulty, habitual thinking patterns and then actively keep our mind pure.
Our corps altars should be as full as our ARC altars. I say: Let the insolent, the boastful, the gossip, and the arrogant kneel at the altar alongside the thief, the drunk, the drug addict and drug dealer. The rest of us need to repent as well.