In his book What’s So Amazing About Grace, Philip Yancey explains that his goal was not to merely to explain or dissect the meaning of grace, but to convey it. In regards to God’s love for us, I believe the story below accomplishes the same goal.
The story comes from Jim Cymbala, Pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle. In his book Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, Cymbala tells the story of someone many might find tough to Love.
“ I shall never forget Easter Sunday 1992—the day that Roberta Langella gave her dramatic testimony, as I recounted in Chapter 3. A homeless man was standing in the back of the church listening intently.
At the end of the evening meeting, I sat down on the platform, exhausted, as others began to pray with those who had responded to Christ. The organist was playing quietly. I wanted to relax. I was just starting to unwind when I looked up to see this man, with shabby clothing and matted hair, standing in the center aisle about four rows back and waiting for permission to approach me.
I nodded and gave him a weak little wave of the hand. ‘Look how this Easter Sunday is going to end,’ I thought to myself. He’s going to hit me up for money. ‘That happens often in this church. I’m so tired ….’
When he came close, I saw that his two front teeth were missing. But more striking was his odor.—-the mixture of alcohol, sweat, urine and garbage took my breath away. I have been around many street people, but this was the strongest stench I have ever encountered. I instinctively had to turn my head sideways to inhale, then look back in his direction while breathing out.
I asked his name.
“David” he said softly.
“How long have you been homeless, David?”
“Where did you sleep last night”?
“In an abandoned truck.”
I had heard enough and wanted to get this over quickly.
I reached for the money clip in my pocket.
At that moment David put his finger in front of my face and said “No, you don’t understand—I don’t want your money. I’m going to die out there. I want the Jesus that red-haired girl talked about.”
I hesitated, then closed my eyes. I felt soiled and cheap. Me, a minister of the gospel…I had wanted simply to get rid of him, when he was crying out for the help of Christ I had just preached about. I swallowed hard as God’s love flooded my soul.
David sensed the change in me. He moved toward me and fell on my chest, burying his grimy head against my white shirt and tie. Holding him close, I talked to him about Jesus’ love. These weren’t just words; I felt them. I felt love for this pitiful young man. And that smell…I don’t know how to explain it. It had almost made me sick, but now it became the most beautiful fragrance to me. I reveled in what had been repulsive a moment ago.
The Lord seem to say to me in that instant, Jim, if you and your wife have any value to me, if you have any purpose in my work—it has to do with this odor. This is the smell of the world I died for.”