The moral of the story is to never, ever, not ever under any circumstances give up on people, and God is powerful to save:

I first met Jerry about 7 years ago when his Narcotics Anonymous sponsor brought him to church.  Jerry was a meth addict trying hard to get his life on track and beat the demon of meth addiction.  Jerry is the kind of guy that you like right away.  He had an easy way about him and his piercing blue eyes twinkled with excitement like a kid at Christmas.  Jerry left that first Sunday morning in tears.  The love of God had smacked him slap dab all the way down into his heart.  Over the next few Sunday's Jerry came to worship and joined one of our small groups.  He was growing in faith, love and was totally accepted by the people in our congregation.  It wasn't long before Jerry wanted to be baptized into Christ and his church.  I talked with Jerry and asked him to invite as many of his friends and family as possible to be there for his big day.  We planned a party for after worship to celebrate our new brother in Christ, and give us an opportunity to rub elbows with his family and friends.

Sunday morning came and Jerry showed up 30 minutes early for worship dressed in his finest duds, black jeans, white dress shirt and a black sports coat.  On his arm was his not yet Christian girlfriend and mother of his two little daughters.  Soon his family and friends began to show up excited and yet aprehensive of being in a "church".  His mother, whose every other word was a curse word, was introduced to me along with his 19 year old daughter dressed in her best skin tight dress complete with overflowing cleavage and 3 inch high heels.  Most of his friends looked and talked like bikers, and a few had the tell tell signs of drug addiction.  Every single one of Jerrys family and friends was welcomed, accepted and loved by our congregation.

The worship music was great, and I preached as clear and as compelling a sermon on salvation as I was able to muster.  My preaching is not your usual "churchy" kind of sermon.  I talk to people in language they can access, understand and relate to.  I talked about where Jerry had come, how he felt afraid and alienated from God.  How he said the message he got from the church was a message of condemnation and judgement because of his failings and life choices.  I then talked about a God who loves broken people.  A Father who seeks for and chases down broken sinful people in order to love them and restore relationship with them.  I talked about how Jesus came, not to condemn the world, but to save the world.  I then asked Jerry to come up and take 5 minutes to tell his story.  When he was done, there wasn't a dry eye in the place and even his biker looking friends were moved, smiten and afflicted by the palpable love of God in that place.

After the sermon, I had the privilege to proclaim the Gospel through water and the Word.  Jerry was born again, a new man who had died with Christ, been buried with Christ, and rose again to new life with Christ.  As he stood there grinning the biggest grin you've ever seen, with water dripping off his head and running down his face, Jerry shinned with the light of glory like one of those old paintings of the saints.  After the service we had a party to celebrate our new brother in Christ where we rubbed elbows with his family and friends, many of whom did not know Jesus.  

Soon after his baptism, Jerry fell back into addiction and stopped coming to church.  He got back on the wagon and fell off again numerous times over the next 7 years.  During that time, God used Jerry's story to bring his mom, ex-wife, eldest daughter, and three friends to faith in Christ.  His ex-wife was baptized with her adult daughter and son and younger son.  The ex-wife had the gift of gab, and started telling everyone she knew in her mobile home park about Word of Grace and Jesus.  Soon we had 22 people from the mobile home park regularly attending worship with many being baptized.

Jerry touched base with us, dropping into worship from time to time, while continuing in his struggle to get his life on track.  Finally after 7 years away, Jerry has reconnected with us and is now once again attending worship regularly.  He is staying clean, working a regular job and is bringing members of his family with him each Sunday and to one of our Life Groups. 

We have found that as we reach out into the community God brings us into contact with broken people he wants to love, redeem and restore.  Rubbing elbows with hurt, broken and sinful people is messy, chaotic and fraught with set backs and crisis.  Rubbing elbows with hurt, broken and sinful people is where Jesus is.  As we get outside our "churchiness" 
and follow Jesus out into the harvest where he is loving, saving, accepting, redeeming and restoring hurt, broken, sinful people we are blessed to be more and more like our Lord, Jesus Christ who came to seek and save what was lost and calls us to follow him in unconditionally loving, accepting and serving all people, not just the ones who look and act like us!



Jim
5/12/2013 17:42:18

It is heartening to hear stories of people coming to Christ through adversity and difficulty. My church is white, middle class and I fear Jerry would not be as welcome at St. Luke as he is at your church. I wonder what do you think it takes to change the hearts of my people? They are good people who love the Lord but are fearful of the outside world and very fearful of any change. Unfortunately change is happening whether they like it or not. The problem is that they refuse to be part of the change and just want things to stay the way they are. If we stay the way we are much longer, this 65 year old congregation will die, sooner than later.

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Kenneth
5/12/2013 22:11:15

It seems there is a Law/Gospel problem here with Jerry and this post. Jerry needs to be slain by the Law and held accountable to his baptism rather than coddled. We can coddle people right into hell. We cannot make the Gospel more appealing by weakening it with an acceptance of sin. I am happy that Jerry is back at regular worship, I do worry about what kind of discipleship is taking place when the writer is so weak on accountability. Are you suggesting that we let people remain in their sins without a clear proclamation of the Law followed by the only hope people like Jerry have, the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

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JamesTheElder
5/12/2013 22:51:10

I don't want to throw stones, but I will! I think that Kenneth's comment is exactly what is wrong in the church today. This post was about the struggles real people have and the circuitous route people often follow in their relationship with Christ and his church. I think Eric is insightful and on the cutting edge of mission in America. Our "heartland" denominations are quickly dying and people like Kenneth feel o.k. sitting back and lobbing theological bombs at someone who is actually doing something in mission and outreach to our culture. Bravo, Eric! Because of people like you there is hope for Christ's church in America.

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Ed
5/13/2013 10:01:18

"we are blessed to be more and more like our Lord, Jesus Christ who came to seek and save what was lost and calls us to follow him in unconditionally loving, accepting and serving all people, not just the ones who look and act like us!"

I would say, especially the ones who do not look and act like us!

Thanks for sharing this story, Eric, it touched my heart and challenges me.

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