This is the story of a friend I met. We’ll call him ‘Marty’. ‘Marty’ is a significant player in the biker scene, and a fairly notorious man.
I met Him at a party in an area I’d never visited before. Marty is one of those guys with a rough exterior and a twinkle in his eye to hint at a keen wit. His behaviour was chaotic, with all the usual trappings of the biker lifestyle.
I’d been chatting on and off with him all night, and by the time we got down to brass tacks it was the wee hours of the morning. It came down to this. Marty told me that he had read the Bible cover to cover several times last time he was in prison, and his next words were even more surprising.
“I’m not stupid, obviously there’s a God”
Didn’t see that coming.
“When I get to my death bed I’ll say sorry to God for all the bad things I’ve done. And I am genuinely sorry. And that book promises that he will forgive me.”
Marty was not wrong. Despite all the bad (and judging by some of our earlier conversations, really bad) things he had done, Christ’s blood is sufficient to cover all sin. At this point a good friend chipped in with, “and that’s the scandalous thing about grace”. Killer timing.
The challenge is, what if he doesn’t get a chance to pray that prayer on his death bed? Is he expressing a saving faith already? Only God knows. And only God can judge.
There are many people out there who, sometimes despite appearances, are more receptive to the gospel than you might think. Something about this encounter changed me. At points it was stressful and I was a little afraid of the guy if I’m honest. But this was the moment when I realised that old Christian ideas like forgiveness, sin and grace are definitely not irrelevant. It all depends on your audience. No wonder Jesus spent so much time on the wrong side of town.
I’d love to tell you that all of this came about within moments of meeting the guy, but in reality it is the result of many years of relationship with my well timed one-liner friend. And of course the work of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus was accused of being a ‘friend of publicans and sinners’ and a ‘wine bibber’, it leads me to believe that he spent a great deal of time in extended friendships with these people. I’ve been a Christian (and a fairly outspoken one!) for about 15 years and I’ve rarely seen 5 minute encounters lead to lasting transformation. A missional endeavour I work with asks for a minimum 3 year commitment from new volunteers, and many find this a real struggle. Compare this to the hundreds of years it took to build my local Abbey in St Albans and it’s fair to say our ‘touch of the button’ culture has influenced the Church.
In most cases (and I do leave room for miraculous encounters), change comes about through years of hard work, walking the walk with people and showing our love to be genuine and long lasting. The harvest is plentiful with people longing for forgiveness, but there’s a cost to be counted and a burden to carry. Another good friend once said that true mission means getting your hands dirty. Walking to transformation alongside the broken is a lengthy process, and one which is rich with opportunities to learn.
Do you have any similar stories? Or is this something you feel challenged about? I know I do! Please continue the conversation in the comments box below.
“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’ “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples. (Luke 14:28-33 NIV)”