Many years ago I worked with an outreach ministry in the San Francisco Bay area where I met a man I’ll call Bill who loved helping people. He was especially drawn to war veterans who often turned to alcohol in an effort to drown the emotional pain and guilt that plagued their every waking moment. His love and compassion for the people he worked with won him a place in their hearts. He had a way of mixing encouragement with exhortation that helped them to accept the truth about themselves and find hope to move forward with their lives. Bill was a natural evangelist. Not a few came to know Jesus and the transforming power of his love.
Thing about Bill was he’d often disappear for days at a time, and I’d have to get in my car and hunt him down. He was an alcoholic, and sometimes his behavior was just too much for his wife to bear. Home was not always a good environment for the three children, either. After one such episode, I found Bill in a bar, head bowed in shame. When I sat beside him, he looked me in the eye and asked if I would have a drink with him. I agreed, we had a beer together and I took him home. Somehow that small token of acceptance and companionship touched his heart. Bill stayed dry for awhile after that, but the pattern never ended. A couple years passed and Bill & family moved to another area.
Several years later my wife and I left the Bay Area and planted a church in the Sacramento region. As the congregation grew, Mark stood out as the most generous and outreaching of all the members. He was a natural evangelist – and an alcoholic. New converts would give testimony to the example his life was to them, and how their lives had changed as a result of his unconditional love and acceptance.
A few months ago someone who was still in touch with Bill contacted me to let me know that he had passed away. There were a lot of people in the church building where the memorial service was being held. I could tell by the pastor’s sermon that Bill’s troubles had never ended. Neither had his love stopped. One after one, veterans who had found Christ through their relationship with Bill and ones who hadn’t yet, stood up and shared about the sacrificial love Bill demonstrated that had changed their lives. His wife and adult children all shared as well. No one sugar coated Bill’s problems, but it was clear that, through all his faults, it was the good fruit that remained.
Maybe folks like Bill and Mark are in our lives to remind us that love covers a multitude of sins. I must admit I spent most of my life judging people’s worth based on how “pure” a life they lived. Sure, I appreciated the contributions made by people like Bill and Mark and even had a genuine love and compassion for them. But though I’d never admit it to anyone, I thought of them as being a couple rungs down the ladder from those who lived an “upright” life. And secretly, I brushed off my sense of conviction that they were more giving and caring than I was.
Paul asked the Roman Christians this question: “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”
In the final analysis, love wins.