My friend, Stan, was an extrovert. He played piano, wrote wonderful songs, and was one of the few artists who could literally bring me to tears with his warmth, humor and love of ministering grace into the lives of others through his music and stories. His was a special gift, and his gift opened the door for him to move hundreds of miles away to become the music and youth minister of a large church in the southern part of the United States. I missed our times together, especially our meals. Stan loved to eat, especially barbeque, and it "showed" (if you get my meaning)..... Let's just say that Stan fit the physical definition of "jovial".
After he had been gone for a few years I found myself one day in his city on business and gave him a phone call, hoping to catch up on old times and see what he was up to. We met for lunch at a BBQ restaurant (naturally). It was good to see him again... but, there was something different about him. He wasn't the old Stan that I once knew. He was much more somber, less talkative, less...vibrant. We ordered our food and drinks and eased into some light conversation. How was his wife?.... She had some health issues, but doing o.k.... How were his step-kids? They were doing fine. How was his job going?.... Stan looked down at his plate and didn't say anything for a
for a few seconds. "I lost my job" he said. "Really?... I'm so sorry. What happened?"... Stan looked at me.... "I lost my job... I lost my ministry... I lost my church... I think... I've lost my way.".... Wow! I did NOT expect this!.... Stan opened-up to me and told me that somewhere along the way he had fallen into a particular sin, which had become an addiction...and that he had lost control. He had, inexplicably, become addicted to shoplifting. It had been going on for quite some time. When he was finally caught and, (horror of horrors......arrested)... the truth had finally come out into the open. His home church soon found out about it and had tossed him out on his "r" ear. (There's an old saying that "the Church is the only organization that shoots it's wounded.")... I don't think that's always the case, but too often... it is. Instead of discipline, counseling and loving restoration, they had simply dismissed him. He had "fallen from grace". (Not God's Grace... just "man's" grace...small "g".
I told Stan I was sorry that it had happened... but that I understood. There was a time in my life when I too, had inexplicably found myself caught-up in an addiction that I felt I couldn't escape. Alcoholism and drug addiction is often described as a "cunning and baffling" disease. I think that is just the way it is with sin.... so cunning that when we let down our guard and get involved with it we are simply "baffled" by our inability to explain the loss of control we experience.
Our half-hour lunch turned into about three hours of just sharing our experience, strength and hope. We encouraged one another. Most of all, we confirmed that anything we receive from God, including our freedom from sin, guilt and shame, is indeed,...a gift. We sometimes (often) must be reminded that we are ALL sinners....saved by "Grace alone". When we stumble and fall (oh, dear reader...you will)....we need to remind ourselves that we can fall from man's grace, but never from God's Grace.
When we finally broke up our meeting, we hugged each other, shed a few tears, and told each other that we would pray for each other. I knew from that meeting the exact nature of what the Bible describes as "fellowship". We had shared things about each other that perhaps we had never told another human being. We loved each other "with the love of Christ". It was a meeting that I will never forget...and never want to forget.
Several months later I received a phone call from Stan's wife. Stan had suffered a massive heart attach and was...dead. He had gone to be with The Lord. (That's how the Bible describes it). "To be absent from the body is to be present with The Lord")... The news saddened me, but I take great comfort in knowing that Stan is finally in the presence of The One who holds him tight and tells him how much his is loved.... for all eternity...
My old friend... I look forward to the day when we shall meet again. And we shall sing together once again, songs of peace and joy. And God will wipe away every tear....
Friends are friends forever
If the Lord is Lord of them
And a friend will not say never
'Cause the welcome will not end
Though it's hard to let you go
In the Father's Hands we know
That a lifetime's not too long
To live as friends
(from the song, "Friends" by Michael W. Smith).....