“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”
2 Corinthians 5:16-17

I was never a smoker…but grew up in the era of the Marlboro Man.  Winston and Salem were cigarette brands rather than hyphenated words for two North Carolina towns. As a child, I regularly watched Lester, a bachelor in small town North Dakota, carefully pour tobacco onto a thin piece of paper, roll it tightly together, lick one edge, and then light it. Boys carried a lighter in their blue jeans, not to “light up” a cigarette, but to set fire to “stuff.”

While I was never a smoker, I did have the occasional opportunity, as an adolescent, to experiment with cigarettes. There were plenty available, as most adults in my small town smoked. In fact, our town held card parties at the local school and called them “Smokers!” Tobacco was main street USA.

However, tobacco’s presence in mainstream America suffered a serious blow when the health profession waged “war” on cigarettes. U.S. Surgeon General, Everett Koop, was a mighty warrior in showing tobacco to be a leading cause of preventable cancer. What was once a cultural icon had now become an unhealthy and dangerous habit. When my new-found faith journeyed through a brief, but impactful, stop in “behavioral” Christianity, the use of tobacco became more than a health risk – it was a moral vice.

All this background to set the stage for a recent experience I had at the Reynolds House in Winston-Salem, NC.  The Reynolds House is the restored 1917 mansion located on the historic estate of Katharine and R.J. Reynolds, founder of the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company.

R.J. Reynolds was much different than the man I expected to learn about that day, as I associated him with this “evil” industry. In doing this, I grossly misjudged the man. He was a good businessman, an innovator in the tobacco industry and, at his death, was the wealthiest man in North Carolina.  His business employed 15,000 people and encompassed 121 buildings in Winston-Salem. But what I did not anticipate was the extraordinary life of R.J. Reynolds. He was happily married with four children. As an employer, he cared deeply for his employees – shortening their work hours, giving them higher pay, providing a lunchroom, school, and EVEN nursery services for mothers.

It was an era of segregated schools, but R.J. insured that schools provided the same books and curricula for both settings. Shortly before his death, he gave equal size gifts to two hospitals – one for blacks and the other for whites.

I simply had not expected this “giant” in the tobacco business to be so benevolent and kind. For some reason, I associated the perils of the tobacco industry to “evil” men who ignored health hazards in favor of profit. I had forgotten that at one time in my life, tobacco was not the health risk we know it to be today.

I was guilty of pre-judging a man based upon his profession.

The unfortunate reality is that this happens all too frequently today. Assumptions AND conclusions are made because of skin color… affiliations…labels…words taken out of context…etc.

Martin Luther King expressed it well:

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

I was reminded that taking time to learn and understand before forming an opinion is a skill that can be developed. When practiced, it provides a powerful bridge to make a deeper connection with people and impact for the Kingdom.

The Apostle Paul said it this way, “…we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don’t look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new.”  (2 Cor. 5:16-17)

– Dean Engebretson, Senior Pastor
January 10, 2018

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