Wednesday, September 21, 2011

When the Act of Redemption Happens: Three Stories

STORY #1: I was, for seven years back in the mid-70s, one of the pastors at First Baptist Church of Joliet, Illinois. It was an inner-city church, located in a rough neighborhood. I have a lot of stories about helping street people who would drop in on us. Here's one.

Our staff was having a meeting at the church building when a man came through the door carrying an old, heavy-metal manual calculator. It was beaten up, like this man was, and looked like he had just rescued it from a junk pile. The man staggered towards us. He reeked of alcohol.

He asked, "Would you like to buy this?"

"No," I said.

He got angry and said, "Why don't you want to buy this from me?"

I said, "Because we don't need it. And, you're going to take the money and buy some more alcohol."

I told him we'd love to help him. We had many ex-alcoholics who got free of their addiction when they became followers of Jesus. "Can we really help you?"

It was clear that he did not want real help. He walked out of the church onto the streets of Joliet. We watched him out of the office windows. Then he stopped, turned around to look at us, raised his fist in the air and angrily shouted, "That's the last time I'm ever coming to this church!"

STORY #2 - In the 80s I was a campus pastor at Michigan State University. One day I received a phone call from a student who played on MSU's football team. When he told me his name I recognized it. He was an All-American football player. He wanted to meet with me for some advice.

We got together and he told me about his life and how he recently returned to following Christ. He said, "I'm going to play in the NFL. I'll be a role model for young people. I need to get my life together. I'm doing this by giving my life over to Jesus and following Him."

I was thrilled by this! But what advice did he want from me?

"I'm in love with a girl," he said, "and plan on marrying her. But we are living together and have a sexual relationship. What I want to know is - is this OK to do if I'm a Christian?"

"No, it's not OK. Because the Jesus-idea is about staying sexually pure before marriage. If you really want to follow Jesus, then follow Him all the way."

The look on his face changed. I did not tell him what he wanted to hear. He left, and that was the last I ever saw of him.

STORY #3 - A year ago I was shopping at a mall in the Detroit suburbs north of us. As I was walking into a store I heard a voice say, "Pastor John!" A man was walking towards me, obviously glad to see me.

"Do you remember me? I'm ________, and my wife is _________. You counseled with us many years ago. You tried to help me and save our marriage. Do you remember when my wife and I were in your office, and you told me I needed to break off the extramarital affair now? That was when I got up and just walked out."

I did remember that. This man ___________ was a violent man who was abusing his wife, and was having sex with other women. I had tried to help him by telling him the truth of what God wanted him to do. He told me he wanted help, but he really didn't want it. I have seen this so many times! It's sadly common for someone to ask for help but want to do life the way they have been doing it. The truth is that if we keep doing life the way we are doing it we will continue to get the same results. People who are really helped always change; there's no such thing as getting out of the mess we are responsible for without personally changing and doing things differently.

When _________ came up to me in the mall, years after he raged out of my office, I couldn't help but wonder, "Is he going to hit me, right here?"

Instead, words of gratitude came out of his heart. "John, you spoke the truth to me, and I wouldn't listen. You were right all along. Even though I didn't come back to you I thought about what you said and took your advice, and so did my wife _________. I want to tell you that our marriage is doing better than it ever has. Thank you."

We are, wrote Paul, to "speak the truth in love" to others. Doing this could get you crucified. But real, redemptive rescue will not happen without this. Remember that it is God who is the Rescuer, not us. We are his redemptive messengers. When the act of redemption happens, and you get to see it years later, maybe even only in eternity, you will again be reaffirmed in the reason for your existence and encouraged to keep truth-telling in Jesus' name and trusting Him for the outcome.