Today, we take a break from our series in John, to look at a life, the gospel, and the grace of God.
At times, God in His Providence stirs the kettle of our lives and brings to the top the latent moments and memories of the past for our sanctification. This morning as I picked up my Iphone I was confronted with a news story that stirred my memory like this and flooded my soul with the torrential power of a convicting God.
His name was Billy.
When I was 9, Billy was the only kid, apart from my three older brothers, who could strike fear in my heart. His backyard shared a fence with my church, and since I lived in the neighborhood adjacent to the church, his house was in my neighborhood. As Providence had established, the route that I took every day to school on my bicycle passed along the street in front of Billy’s house. Billy rode the bus to a different school, so he was always gone before I came through in the morning, but in the afternoon he would be destroying something in his backyard as I rode down his street.
My 9 year old self never realized that Billy probably had one of the most horrible home situations that a kid could possibly have. Then again, most 9 year olds don’t know what a bad home situation is, much less that one could exist. My earliest memory of Billy was the day that he came sprinting from his backyard into the street as I pedaled past. He was threatening to take my bike, and he was using words that a kid that grew up in a Christian home had never heard. I got away that day, but from that point forward, I would carefully survey his entire house and property from the other end of the street before speeding as fast as I could past his house. I always assumed that the police cars in his driveway or in front of his house were because of how bad of an 11 year old he was. Yet again, most 9 year olds don’t know what a bad home situation is.
Over the next twenty years, it seemed like the interactions with Billy mellowed. At random I would see him and a few friends gathered around his front porch smoking. At other times, I would see them walking as a herd down the middle of the street to their next destination. It was more recently that Dave, my police officer brother, confirmed that Billy had been slowly accruing a reputation as an adult with the local division of the Louisville Metro Police Department.
I guess I wasn’t surprised this morning as I picked up my phone and looked at the news article that Dave forwarded to me. The article read “A man being held at Louisville Metro Corrections has died…” next to that line was a picture of Billy. Immediately, the feeling of “I know that guy in the news” was overshadowed by the gut-wrenching feeling of “I know that guy in hell.”
As we have looked into the gospel of John, the reality has become quite clear from the mouth of Jesus, that those who come in faith to the saving work of Jesus will have eternal life. Those who do not put their faith in the saving work of Jesus, according to Jesus in John 3, are “condemned already.”
Because I was scared, because he was too cool, because he was too intimidating, because I was too busy, I never got to know Billy. I never once shared the gospel with Billy. I had not created any type of platform with him to even be able to share the gospel. He lived behind my church, and died and went to hell.
The gospel is for everyone. There is no one that should be exempted. There is no one that should be left out. We talk about taking the gospel to the far reaches of the globe, as we should. But do we take it to the trouble maker who chased us down the street? Do we exempt people from hearing the good news because of our disposition toward them? Even Paul shared the gospel with Roman jail-keepers.
There, but for the grace of God go I. It is easy to make Billy a case study in “those poor souls who die” and have the only attachment to me be the fact that he chased me down when I was in grade school. The reality of the entire situation is this, apart from the grace of God, Billy and I are exactly the same. It was God’s grace that birthed me into a kind, loving family. It was God’s grace that landed me on the church side of the fence. It was God’s grace that drew me into saving faith and changed me from one who was condemned to one who would receive forgiveness. But for the grace of God, I am Billy.
Perhaps, you have a Billy that lives around the corner from you. Perhaps he is just the trouble maker of the neighborhood. Perhaps he even did something wrong and you know it. He is broken. He is sick. And he needs Jesus. Billy needed Jesus. Maybe, Providence has placed you on his street or in his neighborhood so that you can engage Him with the hope and life of the good news that you have received.
Food For Thought: Do you have a Billy near you? What is his or her name?