This treasure calls us back to Jesus.
Some wander away from God’s love—a few far away—but our heavenly Father never gives up on us.
Jonathan E. Scharf
“The voices don’t mess with me anymore.”
That’s what Grady told me. He had taken a detour in our conversation to let me know how much better things were. Grady had mentioned the voices once before—the first time we had talked. He doesn’t mention them often because he doesn’t want people to think he’s crazy. He just wanted me to know they weren’t a problem anymore. “Things are different now. The last couple months of our meetings and Bible information class and weekly worship and my reading routine . . . things are different now.”
The doctor told him those voices are called “auditory hallucinations.” According to the doctor, they are likely a side effect from past drug use. Grady just likes to call them “the voices.” And they played a part in his story.
The downward spiral
Grady’s dad had been a Baptist preacher, so Grady was in church every time the doors were open. But his dad quit and became a truck driver when Grady was 13. That was it. Grady hadn’t been back to church since, except for funerals.
He’s 36 now.
In the meantime, Grady confesses, “I’m pretty sure I have done every immoral thing you could possibly do.” And it had taken its toll. His body was suffering from addiction. His marriage was suffering. His family was a wreck.
The day he was planning to walk away from his wife and the two boys that mattered most to him, he got in the car and drove. Then something inside him told him to pray. Maybe it was a memory of the faith of his childhood or the influence of his dad. Maybe it was the prayers of his mom. But when he pulled over in Abiding Grace’s parking lot and stopped the car to pray, something happened. Grady says his steering wheel stopped working. The car’s wheels wouldn’t turn. So, he got out, pushed his car forward toward the parking stall, and started walking. He walked five miles to where he was staying, leaving his car diagonally covering a couple spots, a clear testimony that something wasn’t right. Whatever was going on, it prevented him from filing for divorce that day.
As Grady tells it, this was just the beginning of what God was doing. When he finally got around to coming back for the car with a trailer, the car started right up. The steering wheel worked fine as he drove the car onto the trailer. There was nothing wrong with it.
From parking lot to pew
Grady was raised not to even think about looking for help at church if you weren’t tithing. So when he came that day, he made sure he had some money. He brought $50 to give to the church as an “offering,” to thank us for not having his car towed. But the vicar wouldn’t take it. Grady tried to give it several times. He finally had to beg the vicar to get him to take it. “Vicar has no idea how important he is to me,” says Grady. “He has no idea what he did for me that day.”
Neither did Grady at the time. He left and drove away with his car, never really intending to be back. But, Grady says, “God wasn’t nearly done.” A couple days later, as the voices intensified, Grady tried to run away from them and instead ran into a pole. He remembers seeing himself laying in the back seat and then he opened his eyes on the helicopter. The next time he opened his eyes, he was in the hospital with a broken shoulder blade, a lacerated liver, several broken ribs, and more. Grady knew something had to change. His upbringing told him what.
So, there on that hospital bed, Grady promised God he’d go to church. And since he had just found one, he came to Abiding Grace. He wanted to go where they didn’t just want his money. This time, he parked in just one spot.
And his wife came with him. She wanted to support his efforts, so even though she never had done “the church thing,” even though she says she didn’t know anything about the Bible, she came too. They heard about forgiveness and rebirth. They heard about God’s grace that’s not deserved. They heard the treasure of the gospel.
After church, Tiffany asked if I did any marriage counseling. She knew they needed something, and she liked the hope in the message they heard that day. I told them I’d be happy to talk about what God’s Word says about marriage, love, and communication. There was one requirement, though: They had to come to church while we were meeting. They needed to be regularly reminded of God’s love in order to show it to each other. They told me they had already been planning on that.
Pretty soon, they were both in Bible information class and meeting to study God’s Word on marriage. Their boys were in Sunday school. They started devotions and prayers at home. One thing led to another, and soon Grady was sitting in my office telling his story because he wanted everyone to know that God never gives up on you.
I asked him about using an alias for the story, but he wouldn’t have it. He told me that as soon as I had called him to ask if I could use his story, he had called everyone involved and asked if they were okay with him telling it. “It’s an honor for me that you want to hear my story,” he said. “And hopefully my honesty will help someone else, because that’s the whole point of everything—to help others and pass it on. If not for divine intervention, I’d be dead already.”
A Father’s love
He’s right. If not for divine intervention, we’d all be dead. But “the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Jesus is the searching shepherd that leaves the 99 in the open country and goes after the lost sheep until he finds it (Luke 15:3-7). He joyfully puts that lost one on his shoulders and carries it home. He is the woman (Luke 15:8-10) who sweeps her whole house looking for that lost coin and rejoices with her friends and neighbors when she finds it.
Or consider the “prodigal” son in the story Jesus told in that same chapter (Luke 15:11-32). How quickly the son disposed of the wealth he had demanded from his father. Then consider all the little things, the “coincidences” that brought the son back to the father: the famine God sent, the irony of a Jew feeding pigs, the hunger, the memories. One memory pulled him home—his father’s love. Then, in that great undeserved love, his father forgave him and welcomed him as a son again.
Sounds a little like Grady’s story. Sounds a little like mine.
Jonathan Scharf is pastor at Abiding Grace, Covington, Georgia.
This is the fifth article in a six-part series on the power of the gospel.
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Author: Jonathan E. Scharf
Volume 105, Number 9
Issue: September 2018
Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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