I had just finished lunch and it was time to return to work. As I left the restaurant, I looked down the street and saw an old acquaintance standing on the sidewalk about a block away. It had been almost twenty years since our paths had crossed and I was anxious to say hello. As I made my way toward him, I began to second guess my desire to reconnect. Even from a distance, I could tell that our lives had taken very different paths. But it was too late. He had noticed me, and there was no turning back.
After greeting one another, and briefly reminiscing, I commented on his tattoos. He explained that he had received most of them in prison. He recalled a laundry list of past crimes that left me intimidated and slightly concerned for my safety. After a quick recap of his past twenty years in and out of jail, he asked me, “So, what do you do?” Somewhat sheepishly, I shared my faith in Jesus Christ and told him how I had gone to seminary and entered the ministry. “Cool,” he replied. I was shocked. “Are you a believer?” I asked. He laughed, and said no. He went on to explain how he had subscribed to the warrior lifestyle found in the ancient Nordic belief system called Odinism. Not that he believed in all the gods, but he believed that life is conflict, and through conflict you learn and grow. I told him that I used to share a similar belief, but now my conflict—my war… was over… it ended when Jesus Christ cried out from the cross, “It is finished!”
After that, we parted ways. As I walked back to my car, concern gripped me. What if I had offended him? What if he looks me up? What was I thinking, engaging such a ruffian?
The following week, my concerns were temporarily put to rest. On the front page of the local paper was the man’s photo. He had been arrested. I breathed a sigh of relief—unaware that God was planning something much bigger for us than a brief encounter on the side of the road. A few weeks later, I had all but forgotten the incident when my phone rang. It was the chaplain from the County Jail. He said the Gideons had been there. They had told the man that he was a lost sheep and that if he looked back on his life he would see a pattern of God pursuing him. The man reflected on their comments, his life, our conversation… and the grace of God transformed his heart.
It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Over the last several years, I have observed my friend’s faith. I’ve seen it burn bright like a star, and I have seen it flicker like an ember about to burn out. I’ve seen the highs and lows, but most of all, I’ve been reminded of a God who looked at the cross and did not turn back. A God who pursues us no matter what we have done. A God who follows us into our darkest thoughts and our worst deeds, and says to us, “You are mine.” That is the God we serve, not because we have earned the right to do so, but because, by grace alone, he has marked us as his own.
Who is on your heart today? Are they worthy of Christ? Of course not, but neither are you. Go to them. By grace—you have been created for moments such as these. Do not turn back. The eyes of the lost are fixed upon you. It is time to reconnect.
Rev. Troy Tysdal is Director of Communications and Prayer for the Church of the Lutheran Brethren and serves as editor in chief of Faith & Fellowship magazine.