As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.
And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
— Matthew 9:9–13
Immediately after graduating from college, I felt an urge to teach. I applied at many schools and kept getting turned down. I had no real teaching experience, but felt God calling me to coach and teach. So, of course, he worked out the details, and I was blessed to find a coaching job at a Christian school on the south side of San Antonio.
As I drove through an unfamiliar area of town for my first day, I questioned many times whether I was lost or not. The area seemed like a poor, drug-infested area, and I was right. Christian Academy of San Antonio (CASA) is a diamond in the rough. The school is surrounded by fences, which resemble prison fences, to protect those who should be on campus. When a helicopter hovers over the school, the school conducts an all-too-familiar lockdown. These kids are tremendously privileged to go to a school like CASA, especially because most of them are given scholarships to help pay for the majority of their tuition.
The schools, homes and ways of life that surround CASA are terrible. To these kids, it’s the norm. Men and women walk around, repping their gang colors, so people are urged to avoid driving down certain streets late at night.
There were a handful of girls I had to take home after late practices or games. One of those students invited me to attend her church’s Wednesday evening worship service. Let’s just say I have never experienced church like that before. The church was an old movie theater that they had semi-renovated. It was dingy, but really cool looking. I saw nothing but well-dressed people, even if they seemed to not have much money. You can tell these people really wanted to be there. They were excited about the worship that was to come. My student and I sat toward the front right, directly behind a section that was roped off for a special group.
This special group consisted of grown men. These men were dressed in button-up long-sleeved shirts and were well groomed. They filed into the rows quickly, proving this wasn’t their first rodeo. Before all of this, the first thing I noticed about these men was the amount of tattoos that covered them. These weren’t fashion tattoos. These were gang and prison tattoos. These men had tattoos on their necks, hands, faces and heads. Not all of them had visible tattoos, but most of them did.
My student told me that these men came from a home down the street that rescued men out of numerous harmful situations and helped restore them. I had actually visited this home only weeks prior with Matt Moehrig, the founder of a camp called Still Water. I learned that some of these men had their wives and children staying in another part of the home (they were not allowed to mix). The men got well and worked their way to get jobs. All of their nice clothes were from donations and were mandatory for them to wear. They had detoxing areas and study areas but, most importantly, this home had Jesus. The primary goal of this home was to give these families an undistorted version of the Great Healer, the Ultimate Provider.
I was a little on edge sitting behind these men, but as soon as the music started, I was flooded with emotions. These men jumped, smiled, cried, kneeled and threw their hands in the air to worship their Savior. These men had no shame, because they were worshipping the God who rescued them from the pits of this world. The men were society’s least of these, and that night, I learned that these men have a spirit of worship that most people may never get to see on this side of heaven. These men reminded me just how broken this world is and just how loving God is.
Can we allow the freedom in worship that these men had remind us that Jesus wants to give us that same freedom? While our testimony may not be filled with gang activity or prison time, can we remember that, before Jesus, we were the least of these? Can we remember that the only way we can experience the joys of freedom from our sin is if Jesus reveals himself to us? So, if you know Jesus — if you have crossed from death to life — let us rejoice always and give him the worship he deserves. Not only when we sing at church, but in how we live. Let us live a life worthy of the gospel, not because of a debt, but because of gratitude.
Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel…
— Philippians 1:27