I recall the smell. It was the unique scent of Old Spice aftershave and sweat. Living in New Orleans guaranteed sweat in July and Dad always shaved before Wednesday night church.
We drove past the house of a young man who had recently become a believer and I felt it appropriate to voice my concerns to Dad. It was a rare occasion for me to have a solo audience with him.
In my most wounded sympathetic voice I said, “I’m really disappointed in Derrick, Dad.”
Without looking dad asked, “Why?” impassively.
“He says he is a Christian and yet he had a party this past weekend that had some inappropriate even sinful activities at it.” (I refrained from gasping)
Dad looked pensive for a moment.
“I mean, how could he do that!?” I thought I’d win some empathy from dad… This may even be a Twinkie conversation! (Dad and I would have Twinkies with Peanut butter on them whenever Dad wanted to talk or just relax and talk about life.) However, as was often the case, I was resting in the kiddie pool of Christianity… Dad wanted me to dive into the ocean.
Dad, still looking straight ahead nodded his head and asked, “If soap falls on the ground, is it still soap?”
Confused I said, “of course.”
“What do you do with soap that has fallen in the dirt?”
I replied, “Clean it off and put it back on the shelf?”
Dad said, “If your friend is a believer, then he is soap… is your disappointment helping him out of dirt in any way?”
“I guess not…”
Dad responded, “We all fall in the dirt, John. Being upset about the dirt on other people is pointless. We must figure out how to lift one another up from the dirt… because we are Jesus’ disciples and that is part of what it means to love… You get dirty too.” My dad had a unique way of turning a smelly car ride into a theological discourse on the nature of humanity.
“Is it helpful for someone to be disappointed?”
“no,” I replied realizing that I had look at my friend in pride and not compassion.
“The question is, ‘what can you do to help him?’ To point at him and say ‘dirty’ accomplishes nothing. That is what the world does. Show the world a better way. Show them the way Jesus loves.”
That conversation began my understanding of grace in relationships. It is the root of one of my favorite things to say, “We all struggle, your struggles may be more evident than mine at the moment. We all have them.” This is the reality of the world we live in. No one deserves grace… it wouldn’t be grace if we did. If we have been redeemed by the unmerited favor of a benevolent King, then we have no excuse to withhold that grace from others. People get dirty. If you dwell on the dirt, you’ll always be disappointed. However, if you can learn to love people out of the dirt, then you’ll find happiness in your relationships. Instead of simply pointing at someone and saying, “dirty!” learn to call to them and say, “come, this way.” In this, you will begin to love those who fall into the dirt. This is the way of Jesus.
I’m not always good at this. I still stand in prideful judgement of others. I fail to love people well. But I have a group around me who help to lift me from the dirt and wash me off with the Word. (Romans 12:9-13) Our church strives to embody the ideal of grace extended. If you do not have a community like this, we are working hard to build one where I live. Come join us at Sovereign Grace Fellowship in Brazoria at 10:30 Sunday mornings. We meet in the Brazoria Civic Center Conference room (the old elementary school.) There is a map on the important documents tab at the top of this page. We all have struggles, let’s walk through them together.