The Guy Who Came In From the Cold – Part 2
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 1 Corinthians 5:17 ESV
I’ll never forget that ride home. Mike was in an ecstatic mood. Seated in the middle of the back seat he was leaning forward over our seats with his arms extended behind each of our shoulders and talking excitedly. His pungent odor, more than being an irritant, was the sweet smelling savor of redemption. Between exclamations of praise he began to share with us in dramatic fashion the startling circumstances leading up to our “chance” meeting, moments earlier on the street. We learned that the night before, while he lay shivering covered only with cardboard against the freezing temperatures and seemingly at the end of his rope, he had cried out to God. Pleading for a miraculous breakthrough in his life he gave God a twenty-four hour ultimatum. If by days end, he vowed, his lot in life did not change, he would put an end to it. Our encounter was indeed the unmistakable answer to his prayer of desperation.
In retrospect, I stand amazed at the love of God in how He can take us from loathing someone to loving them and from avoiding them to inviting them to be our guest. At the time I was inwardly ashamed at how wrong I had been about this nameless person I now knew as Mike, and embarrassed at how precariously close I came to walking away from being part of a miracle. What a vast difference there is between our mere human perspective and judgment of people, based solely on external appearances, and God’s perspective and judgment based on what He sees in a person’s heart. In my mere human judgment I saw a drunk guy wasting his life, a harassing inconvenient nuisance, and someone to be avoided. In God’s judgment He saw a prodigal son whom He loved, a suffering soul crying out for help, and someone He came to rescue.
Susan and I lived in a small two bedroom house. As soon we arrived home we determined the first order of business was to get Mike cleaned up, both for his sake and ours. I led Mike upstairs to our only bathroom and invited him to take a bath. Instructing him set his grungy clothes outside the door, I promised him that I would provide him with some of mine. He was six inches shorter than me and at least 30 pounds lighter, but I assured him we would make something work. He seemed fine with all of that, but sheepishly had but one request. Would I mind going out and buying him some cigarettes? He explained that as he was sobering up he was beginning to feel a deep craving for a “smoke.” Susan and I were both non-smokers and hated cigarette smoke. However, I decided it was the least I could do for him, but with this caveat, he would have to do his smoking outside the house. He said that sounded fair and closed the bathroom door.
Within moments he discreetly deposited his clothes as I had instructed. I collected the filthy pile and holding them at arm’s length marched them out to the alley and deposited them in our garbage bin. Back in the house, I explained to Susan who was making supper that I was going to walk up the block to the nearby convenience store to buy Mike some cigarettes. It was the one and only time in my entire life that I have ever made such a purchase.
When Mike came downstairs from his bath he was beaming from ear to ear. Wearing a pair of my jeans with rolled up cuffs and shirt with rolled up sleeves, he looked as fresh and clean as the driven snow. After Mike’s brief stint outside for his “smoke” Susan called us for dinner. As we sat around the kitchen table, he began to divulge more of his story between gulping down bites of a delicious home-cooked meal. We learned to our surprise that he was only 37 years old, which belied his dishwater gray hair and toothless gums. He had a wife and three children living in Iowa from whom he was estranged and had not seen in seven years. Most of that time he had been riding the rails back and forth across the country living in hobo villages, frequenting soup kitchens, and mooching off people to fuel his alcohol and nicotine addictions.
He shared that in recent months he had been exposed to the preaching of the Gospel at the Harvest Field Mission located on skid-row on the edge of downtown Minneapolis. Those wanting a free meal were invited into the little store-front mission several nights a week, but required to first sit through a worship and preaching service before being served. It had become a regular pit stop for Mike as a respite from the cold and place to get some nourishment. He had been there enough times to hear the message of hope through faith in Jesus and the promise of salvation. It had prepared his heart for our street encounter and serves as a poignant illustration of the truth that some plant, some water, and some reap, but it is God who causes the growth and deserves all the glory (1 Corinthians 3:5-8).
That night Mike had a couple of more smokes interspersed in the midst of our conversation and eventually asked if he could turn in early. We both felt a remarkable peace about him staying with us, convinced that his conversion experience was genuine, and bid him a good night. When we finally went to bed, we were puzzling what tomorrow would bring and what God had in mind for Mike, and for us, going forward.
The next morning I was up early as was my custom, for my devotional time of prayer and bible study. Passing by the closed door of Mike’s bedroom I surmised he was still sleeping and quietly made my way down stairs. I had been immersed in my time with the Lord for about an hour, specifically praying for Mike, when I heard rustling on the steps and soon he came sauntering into the dining room. He was carrying the pack of cigarettes that I bought him. After we exchanged a cordial greeting, Mike surprised me by casually throwing the pack onto the middle of the table. “I don’t need these any longer” he explained. “I’ve been a smoker most of my life, but this morning when I woke up, I realized I no longer have any desire for a smoke. In fact, even the thought of makes me sick.” And with that simple act Mike sealed the Lord’s deliverance from a lifelong bondage to nicotine. As a “new creation in Christ” Mike was literally experiencing, right before our very eyes, “the old” in his life “pass[ing] away.” What we wondered, would it mean for Mike and for us to “behold the new” that was yet to come (1 Corinthians 5:17 ESV)?
Stay tuned for Part 3 in my next blog post.
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