Friday, March 09, 2007

Thursday night at Friendly's

"The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' "But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'" (Luke 15:21-24, NIV)

Bible knowledge. Oh, sure, we can quote some verses - we all can. But when it comes down to what we truly, truly believe - what the theology junkies call our "credo" - do we know it enough to share it? Is it solid enough in our hearts and minds that we can pass it on?

It's 9:30 PM Thursday night. Friendly's Ice Cream shop. Across the table from me is a 28 year old recovering crack addict. He's two weeks sober, and all he can see is what a miserable piece of work he is. I'm talking to him about trusting God to change his life, and he looks up at me with those hopeless eyes, and says, "No, Steve, God doesn't want anything to do with a piece of work like me. I've thrown everything away. How can a piece of white trash like me even think about praying to God?"

So I start telling him a story. A story about a son who runs away, who blows everything he has, who is reduced to abject poverty, who is as alone and disgusted with himself as he can be. Quoting the Bible isn't what's needed here; the story is God's, but it goes into my words tonight. And little by little, my young friend starts to hear it.

"Where'd you get that story, Steve?" he asks. Right out of the words of Jesus, I tell him. Jesus told that story to make sure we understood - guys like you and me, guys who have screwed up bad, lost everything and everyone. He wanted us to know that even if the whole world rejects us, our Father in heaven is willing to welcome us home.

I can see the tears on the edge of his eyes. He takes a break to eat some of the half-melted ice cream, to get some breathing space. He looks up and asks, "D'you really believe that, Steve?"

Oh, you bet I do, buddy.

I don't know if this is your story, but it surely IS mine. I hold onto it like a life preserver - because if it's not true, I'm done for. I have been the prodigal son - the lost man wandering, not knowing what to do or where to turn. And the only reason I know this story is because someone sat down, just like this, and shared this story with me. It's the best card I can play, and I only have it because it was first given to me...

This is a God I can believe in, I tell the teary-eyed young man across the table. A God that knows what a schmuck I've been, and welcomes me home in spite of it all, because I'm His kid. A God who misses me when I run away, and one who throws a party every time I come home.

Outside, stamping our feet in the cold beside our cars, my young friend says to me, "Can we talk some more about this God of yours?" Oh, you bet, my friend - but he's not just MY God. This can be your God, too - all you have to do is ask. "Really?" he says. Oh, yeah - really, buddy - just ask. You can do it tonight. You can do it right now, if you want. "I'll do that," he says with a whisper of a smile, then gives me a quick hug and jumps into his car, and roars off.

I stand there, and watch the tail-lights fade down Reynolds Road. I feel the presence of my mentors, my brothers and sisters of faith, standing with me, as my prayers follow my young friend down the street. "God, I hope it was enough....please let him hear it...please let him see...."

And the wind whispers the "Amen" of a thousand saints who have passed this gift of faith on to me. And the tears of gratitude start to fall.

But now, this is what the LORD says— he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name;
you are mine. (Isaiah 43:1, NIV)


TN Rambler said...

The message that God loves the exceptions is so difficult for us to grasp, yet so freeing when we finally accept it. Thanks Steve for sharing.


Jennifer G Brownell said...

I think we should rename Steve the Evangelist. You did a beautiful thing. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Steve & readers: If you haven't already read it, I'd highly recommend "The Spirituality of Imperfection" to you, by Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketchum. This book follows the theme you lay out here so well, about not only accepting our own limitations and shortcomings, but accepting the fact that GOD accepts them, and us, and joyfully so. This book is kinda written with a tilt toward us "recovering" folks, but is fair game for all readers. It's a real comfort. And God bless all y'all fellow Prodigal Sons and Daughters out there ...

Anonymous said...

Brother Steve, your testimony brought tears to my eyes. How marvelous is the Lord, who uses a convicted homosexual and alcohoic to spread the Good News with such clarity. Truly, you speak as Paul.

Im A Foto Nut said...

Who says you need a degree from a ancy school to do God's work? I think you are doing exactly what he wants you to do dear brother.

Im A Foto Nut said...

It also just occured to me that if you did get that degree from that fancy school, you would likely not be in a possition to help as many people to Christ as you would with your own congregation.

Steve every man has his own gift from God, and yours is bringing people to Jesus. Not the Babysitting those of us that have been Christian's all of our life. Do you think that young man to spoke with tonight gives a crap weather or not you are ordained? Actually, if you were you might have less of a chance to do what you did tonight.

The Holy Spirit has blessed you, the best thing you can do is to continue on as you are. AMEN.

Kyle said...

I just stumbled upon your blog tonight and I've only read a few posts, but i must say that I have really enjoyed what I have read. I want to commend you fro your courage. A lot of the things you do and a lot of the ideas you write about our not popular in the church. Keep strong. I think you truely have a firm grasp on what it really means to live a christian life.

Anonymous said...

Brother Steve,
Thanks for the Birthday greeting. This was truly moving I am going to share it at the Christian School in Florida where I teach.
Talk to you soon if not on the 29th.