In studying, preparing for sermons that I preach & reading books in general, there are moments when you read something that just grabs your attention and you can’t let it go. Red lipstick.
In 1945, as WWII was ending, British soldiers were discovering and rescuing prisoners of the death camps. One of them, Bergen-Belson was “life-changing” as Lieutenant Colonel Mercin Willet Gonin wrote about years later.
“I can give no adequate description of the Horror Camp in which my men and myself were to spend the next month of our lives. It was just a barren wilderness, as bare as a chicken run. Corpses lay everywhere, some in huge piles, sometimes they lay singly or in pairs where they had fallen. It took a little time to get used to seeing men women and children collapse as you walked by them and to restrain oneself from going to their assistance. One had to get used early on to the idea that the individual just did not count. One knew that five hundred a day were dying and that five hundred a day were going on dying for weeks before anything we could do would have the slightest effect. It was, however, not easy to watch a child choking to death from diptheria when you knew a tracheotomy and nursing would save it, one saw women drowning in their own vomit because they were too weak to turn over, and men eating worms as they clutched a half loaf of bread purely because they had to eat worms to live and now could scarcely tell the difference. Piles of corpses, naked and obscene, with a woman too weak to stand proping herself against them as she cooked the food we had given her over an open fire; men and women crouching down just anywhere in the open relieving themselves of the dysentary which was scouring their bowels, a woman standing stark naked washing herself with some issue soap in water from a tank in which the remains of a child floated.”
Terrible isn’t it. Re-read that paragraph and let the humanity sink into your being. People were herded like cattle, branded, stripped of dignity and then worked to death or executed. This is not how people should be treated or how people should live.
Something has gone terribly wrong in our society and deep down we all know it. This is not how life is supposed to be.
Poverty, homelessness, disease, abuse, neglect, rape, murder…the list could go on. I preached a lengthly sermon this past Sunday on how we are created in God’s image (www.nbcfh.org) and yet because of sin we have broken our relationship with Him. Yet, we are still in God’s image. Everybody, everywhere still bears a glimpse of God. Creation echoes there is a Creator, conscience screams there is a Divine, yet sometimes it seems like God is nowhere to be found. It’s not heaven on earth, but rather hell.
Think about the expression “for the hell of it.” In casual conversation people say it all the time, teens say it, adults say it. Hell is flippantly thrown around like there is no weight, no meaning and no danger. But the truth is that when someone says “hell” or “for the hell of it” what they are implying is that which is occurring has no apparent reason, it is pointless, random. When people say “I am going thru hell” they mean they are going through a tough time without hope.
Yet God is the exact opposite. God gives purpose, place, meaning. Salvation, joy, fulfillment and hope.
With this understanding in focus, whenever you see evil and see sin, it is a glimpse of hell. The death camps, as horrible as they were, show just a peek into the depths of sin and what it conceives. We hear of war zones being “like hell,” people working through hellish conditions, emotional hell…people aren’t that far off. Hell is a place without God and without hope.
When you drive through downtown Detroit and see crowds of homeless people, sin has brought many of them there and sin will keep many of them there. Hell is real today for many people. Those Nazi concentration camps were little hells on earth. You see, its possible for sin to take over and hell to invade your life, your family and your society. Hell can invade earth. Heaven can invade earth. How?
I pastor a small church that is doing some awesome stuff for Christ. We are a young church (3yrs), we are a small church (under 75), but we can make a difference. Finances in Detroit are terrible. People call the church daily asking for food, money for bills and rides to job fairs that turn up little work. Our little church started a food pantry in my own garage. We started giving out food. We don’t have a lot of food or money. Seriously, as I write this I am praying about Monday’s bills for my own family, but we do what Christ would do. We bring heaven into someone’s hell and show them Jesus.
A few days ago, a woman called and asked for some groceries. She lives in a run-down trailer park off 8 mile. Her boyfriend doesn’t work, he just drinks and does drugs. Her daughter is 4 and has seen more evil than I could ever dream up. Her money is gone, her hope turned to despair, she is living in sin’s country…call it earthly hell. In bringing her groceries, filling her cabinets with food and putting a toy (a pretend lipstick kit) in her daughters hand…Heaven got a little closer. Salvation was introduced. Hell fire starts to die down. What are we doing? We are charging into hell and bringing heaven with us. We show God’s love by what we do. We reflect heaven by our actions of love.
Instead of labeling people as dirty or filthy or sinful…see them as people in a concentration camp needing to be rescued.
Groceries & Red Lipstick.
Colonel Gonin continued…“It was shortly after the British Red Cross arrived, though it may have no connection, that a very large quantity of lipstick arrived. This was not at all what we men wanted, we were screaming for hundreds and thousands of other things and I don’t know who asked for lipstick. I wish so much that I could discover who did it, it was the action of genius, sheer unadulterated brilliance. I believe nothing did more for these internees than the lipstick. Women lay in bed with no sheets and no nightie but with scarlet red lips, you saw them wandering about with nothing but a blanket over their shoulders, but with scarlet red lips. I saw a woman dead on the post mortem table and clutched in her hand was a piece of lipstick. At last someone had done something to make them individuals again, they were someone, no longer merely the number tatooed on the arm. At last they could take an interest in their appearance. That lipstick started to give them back their humanity.”
Sometimes the only difference between heaven and hell is groceries & red lipstick.