“I don’t know if you remember me. I hope I’m not bothering you…” The man’s voice is hesitant, almost apologetic, with a distinct mid-western drawl.
The number on my phone shows an unfamiliar town in Missouri, and the voice isn’t registering as anyone I know. Wrong number?
“We met on the bus to Springfield,” the man continues. “I had just gotten out of prison.”
My heart jumps as it all comes rushing back. Just after New Year’s. The greyhound bus from St. Louis to visit my grandmother.
The young man sitting next to me had struck up a conversation with me during the three-hour trip. He revealed that he had just gotten out of prison. That morning. Drugs and the wrong friends had messed up his life, but he was ready for a fresh start, he’d said.
“Fresh start.” Those were his very words. Jesus had met him in prison, he’d said, and he had read the Bible he’d been given over and over. When I told him about Fresh Start For All Nations and the blog I write, he agreed to let me tell his story. “If my story can encourage someone else, then please use it.”
Before I got off the bus, I gave him my business card with the Fresh Start website. It was only afterwards I realized it had my personal cell phone number too. Was it wise for a single girl to give her phone number to an ex-con?
And now, four months later, he’s calling me.
“I’ve gotten mixed up with my old friends,” he confesses softly. “And I’ve started doing drugs again.” I can hear the defeat in his voice.
My heart is heavy. He was so hopeful when I met him a few months ago. So confident. And now…
“I’ve been looking through old phone numbers,” the man continues, “and I remember that you were so sweet and encouraging. I was just wondering if maybe you would pray for me.”
What else can I do? I feel so helpless.
“Can I pray for you right now?” I ask. The man agrees. Taking a deep breath, I plead on behalf of this broken man.
“Father, thank you for your grace and forgiveness…” I ask God to be with this man, to bring him good friends, to help him get connected with a good church and a recovery support group. “…And most of all, may he know how much you love him…”
Cling to Hope
When I finish, the man thanks me. “That was so sweet. I really appreciate it.”
As I hang up, I still wonder if I did the right thing. But what else could I have done? “Always be prepared to give an answer… for the hope that you have,” we’re encouraged in I Peter 3:15. Hope – that’s what this man needed.
Is there someone God has brought in your path who is in need of HOPE? Are you prepared to give the reason for the hope that you have? All you can do is point that person to the One who is the source of all hope – Jesus. And pray that he or she will cling to that hope. It’s a hope that does not disappoint us.
“Ooh! He’s so cute!” The four-year-old preschool class passes around my stuffed lamb excitedly. We’re learning the names of animals in Spanish class, and today’s animal is ‘el cordero’ = the lamb.
“What color is el cordero?” I ask the class. Hands shoot up eagerly. These kids know their colors in Spanish. “Yes, Joshua?”
“Blanco!” shouts Joshua confidently.
“Muy bien! Very good. And who can tell me about the lamb? What does it feel like?”
“It’s SUAVE! Soft!” grins Kyleigh, stroking the stuffed animal.
“That’s right! Did you know that Jesus is called ‘El Cordero de Dios’ – the Lamb of God?” Ten pairs of eyes are fixed on me and my white stuffed lamb. “In Bible times, if people did something wrong, they would give a lamb as a gift to God, to tell Him they were sorry. And they would ask God to forgive them. And do you think God forgave them?”
“Yes!” chorus the preschoolers.
“But when Jesus came, He was called the ‘Lamb of God’. And He took away all the bad things we’ve done when He died on the cross and came to life again. So now if we do something wrong, we just have to tell Jesus we’re sorry and ask Him to forgive us. And does God forgive us?”
“Aren’t you glad you don’t have to drag a big smelly sheep to church every time you do something wrong?”
Charlotte giggles as Caleb makes a bleating sound like a lamb. “Baa! Baa!”
The Gift of Forgiveness
Watching the preschoolers color their lamb pictures, I have to smile. Trying to explain Jesus as the Lamb of God to a group of 4-year-olds is not easy. But it’s given me a new understanding and appreciation of what it means to be forgiven – not because I deserve it, not because I’ve earned it, not because I’ve “paid” for it. Forgiveness is a free gift. The Lamb of God has come to bring forgiveness, so that I can forgive, and so that I can be FREE!
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
John 1:29 (NLT)