For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
1 Corinthians 1:18
During the first hours of the morning that commemorated twenty-nine years of being alive, I never more felt that death was at work in me.
For those who do not know, I work the graveyard shift (3rd shift) at UPS along with several thousand other folks, most of whom are college-age students taking advantage of the great benefits provided them. During the 3+ years I have worked there, I have come to realize that there are huge segments of society where the church has effectively failed to engage with the gospel. I would argue that many if not the overwhelming majority who work with me are not only unbelievers, they have never been exposed to any personal encounter with the gospel or Christian witness (for instance, almost my entire belt of coworkers who have attended church with me, only one has ever stepped foot into a non-Catholic church). Simply due to their schedule, they by default become some of the least reached people in Louisville, and their lack of engagement comes from the fact that they are practically non-existent to the people who work in the day.
My current job is to train new hires when they come into the division and area where I and about 200 other UPSers work. Each week I meet a new employee and spend the next five days teaching and training them in their new environment and help them get adjusted to their work requirements. As you would imagine, during this time, I have the opportunity of getting to know my new hires and they get to know me as well. After training them, it is common for me to visit them weeks and months after their training to see how they are doing, talk about life, and hopefully continue the friendship that was started as their trainer turned friend.
Over the past week, I have been working with a young man under the age of 21 who grew up without a father in his life. He has four kids by four different women from three different states. We began talking about kids, family, and marriage, at which point he told me, “It’s against my religion to get married. I just cannot do that.” So I asked him, “So what is your religion, then?” He told me that one day is he going to settle down and start going to church, especially since the ladies he has been meeting appear to be faithful church attenders.
One thing I noticed was a shiny silver cross on his necklace. So I asked him, “What does that cross mean to you?” He replied, “It represents Christianity.” I queried further. “So it is just a symbol or does it have any personal meaning to you?” Stumped, he returned with a question of his own. “I don’t know. Is it supposed to mean more than a symbol?”
At this point, two other co-workers began listening attentively to our conversation.
I told him that the cross was an old form of execution that was one of the bloodiest, more gory means of death. Hands and feet where crushed and pierced by nails, driven with hammers; blood poured from all four extremities of the body; pressing up to breathe caused even further pain as the person would gasp for air to keep from suffocating. If necessary, their legs would be broken to prevent further attempts of getting air, and the person would eventually pass out and die. A long, painful, bloody spectacle was the cross before a watching crowd. The cross is not covered in sterling silver but crimson blood; indeed, the cross is the symbol of death.
Jesus Christ died on such a cross between two criminals. He was innocent, undeserving of such a death. Yet he willing chose to die there as a substitute for those who are deserving to die and bear the punishment for their sin. He who was innocent died for those who were guilty, so that those who trust in him, though guilty, would not face death but be given life and forgiveness through that bloody cross. The only hope that you and I have in this world as sinners is the cross of Jesus Christ where God purchased eternal life for those who would believe in Jesus who died and rose again to bring victory from sin, death, and the grave.
My new hire, not knowing what to say, remained silent. I did too. I didn’t want that moment to pass on with another trivial conversation. After a few moments, I began see that the co-workers listening in had moved away and were talking to one another. Having felt that I answered my new hire’s question, we eventually got back on the subject of our children. He came to the point where he asked, “So Timmy, what else is there worth living for other than myself and my children?” I replied, “When I came to Jesus, and that cross became a reality to me, I died, and from that moment on, I live everyday of my life for the one who died for me.”
As the night was coming to a close, a supervisor from the management team who I work under came to me, and the first thing he asked (in a rather firm manner) was, “Timmy, have you been preaching on the belt tonight?”
I replied, “Well, it depends on what you mean by “preaching”. If you mean sharing my life in the conversation with another person, then yes, but if you mean forcing Christianity down the throat of my co-workers then I have not.”
He replied, “I have been notified by others on the belt that you have been pushing your religion on other people, and they were deeply offended by what you said. You cannot pass judgment upon people and tell them how they should believe.”
At this point, it hit me that the co-workers who had been listening found the cross as folly and a rock of offense. Making my appeal to the manager, I said, “What was said tonight has to be taken in context. I was having a conversation about life, about family, kids, and the kind of jewelry on people’s neck. If you are going to have such a conversation like that with me, which happens everyday here, Jesus Christ is going to be talked about. It’s just who I am, and I cannot change that.”
Not liking my response, my manager again reprimanded me, “Timmy, you cannot do that. You cannot talk about your religion and tell people how to believe. You are pushing your religion on other people.”
Making my final appeal, my heart began churning, voice started shaking, and eyes were being moistened with tears. I said,
“Every day I work here at UPS, people are pushing their religion upon me. They are atheists and live like there is no God, there is no day of accounting, there is no purpose in life except living for oneself. And everyday, that religion is preached from one co-worker after another, calling me to unbelief, and I am offended by that. Everyday I hear godless talk, my Savior’s name slurred, and hear of things that used to make people blush, and I am offended by that. Without fail, my coworkers are being entirely intolerant. One would tell me of their love and passion for Kentucky basketball and another for Louisville football, and to believe contrary to them would be against their “religion.” Yet I have the same passion and devotion, not to sports or girls or parties, but Jesus Christ. So why is my “religion” the only one being called out here at UPS? Why am I the only person who is being labeled judgmental when I am doing the most merciful thing in telling people about the love of Jesus Christ? If we were to apply the same standard to others as you are applying to me, we would have to shut down all conversation among all co-workers from this moment on, and believing that will not happen, then you have forced yourself to settle with a double-standard predicated upon hearsay of those who found a portion of my conversation as offensive. On the other hand, I exhort you to visit with everyone of my coworkers and supervisors for the past three years, people who I have worked with and talked to on a daily basis, and determine whether the claims uphold any warrant. If at that point you believe that I am unfit to function as a trainer at UPS, I would resign immediately in deference to your judgment and the goodwill of UPS. But I want to make it clear to you that this is not about me, and it has never been about me. Young men like my new hire need someone who will actually take personal interest in them and want to genuinely help them in life, not shove them off like a package on a conveyor belt, and I am of the opinion that those whom I have been given to train, they will be to me of greater worth than a package to be delivered in five days but hopefully a friend for many days to come.”
Well, my manager kindly listened to me, and during the course of my appeal, gave me due consideration as I affirmed to him my desire to respect the standards of UPS as a trainer while not compromising my character or commitment as a Christian. We came to an agreement, and hopefully the Lord will continue to allow me to be a useful employee for UPS as well as a faithful representative as one sent into the night to reach the people of the night.
One thing I learned for sure that morning: the cross isn’t sexy. The cross is offensive. And while I believe life is at work in them, death is at work in me. And in that I rejoice, for on the day that I am supposed to think about myself the most (my birthday), I was ushered into the reality that denying myself and taking up my cross is the least I can do for the one who loved me and gave himself for me. It was never more important to breathe in that dying man’s confession when I was blowing out candles, and for that, I praise God.
For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.
2 Corinthians. 2:15-17