One of the things that I like best about a good church is the promise that when you show up, you’re going to be hit with a message of grace, forgiveness and redemption. A few Sundays ago, that happened before the official worship service had begun.
Once a month I meet with a group of men before church on Sunday mornings. We talk about how bad our teams got beat the night before and we eat. Terry is our leader. He’s a retired Atlanta police officer. He had the Little Five Points beat. Little Five Points was weird before it was cool to be weird. I love hearing Terry speak to us. His words are always encouraging, enthusiastic and drenched with grace. Hearing Terry is good for me.
But on this particular Sunday, I didn’t get to hear Terry’s words of encouragement. No, this time Terry had someone else speak for him. He was a friend that neither one of us had known for very long. For once, Terry got to be the one listening with the rest of us. This one was definitely worth the listen. You never really know how much you don’t know the people you know until you hear their story.
Our friend told of growing up with feelings of hate and rage. Hate towards certain groups of people. Rage because of the way the system was or was not working. Eventually his hate and rage came to a head. A couple of decades ago, that hate and rage led this man to a parking lot where his gang was squaring off against their enemies. Somehow, the man who was now a member of my church and who was talking to us while we ate doughnuts with our sons, was in the middle of that street fight all those years ago.
This was an ugly street fight. I guess they all are. People were hurt. One man went to jail. The man who was speaking to us. But for him, the next few days spent behind bars made that street fight worth it all. His boss paid the money to get him out of jail. When he got out of jail, his boss met him with grace, forgiveness and redemption. Under God’s sovereignty, those three things came together in a beautiful collision that would change this gang member’s life forever.
While my friend was telling his story he held up a yellowish piece of paper. It looked old. It was. It was the form he had gotten the night the police put him into jail. He still keeps that form as a reminder of what God saved him from. It’s a reminder of where he could be today if God hadn’t intervened.
When the story was over and we all started to head our separate ways, I found Terry. There was a question that I had to ask him about the former gang member who was now a friend, brother in Christ and member of our church.
“Terry, most of the trouble he got into was on your beat, Little Five Points. What are the chances that the two of you ever crossed paths all those years ago.”
Terry looked at me like he had seen a ghost. My friend who had just finished telling his story of grace, forgiveness and redemption looked like he was about to cry.
“I was there that night,” Terry said with his usual enthusiasm. “That’s my partner’s signature at the bottom of that yellow sheet of paper.”
And, twenty years later, the cop and the gang member were standing in the same church building, eating doughnuts. Together.
That’s how grace works. It takes former enemies and shows them that they have much more in common than they ever imagined. They are both enemies of God. Neither are beyond the grip of God’s grace, forgiveness and redemption.
Sometimes God sovereignly allows us to see how our paths of sin, grace, forgiveness and redemption come together at the cross.
Even some twenty years after a seemingly random street fight.
Even before the official worship service begins.
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (ESV)