Out of breath and dripping with rain, I leaned on a back-alley dumpster as the man I just met in a bar aimed a heroin needle at his bulging vein. Just then a police SUV rolled around the corner and splashed to a stop before us. Wincing as the window rolled down, I braced for the interrogation. As a pastor and law enforcement chaplain, I had some radical explaining to do.
You might also be wondering how in the world I had landed in this situation. Some background might help.
My bizarre adventure began at the train station in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. I was standing in line to buy a ticket back to the States, so I could pick up my wife and cats and bring them north to live with me for two years of graduate studies.
My shoulder sore from lugging my laptop, I laid the carrying case at my feet where I could keep an eye on it. The line inched forward. Engrossed in a biography about the missionary William Carey, I shuffled ahead without moving the computer with me.
What happened next is every business traveler’s nightmare. I didn’t realize it until the line moved forward again and I turned to reach for my computer.
Gone! And with it the backup disk containing a month’s worth of summer studies — including three finished papers. Not to mention my passport and student visa, plus $100 worth of textbooks.
A tsunami of panic swept over me.
Jesus, Have Mercy!
“God!” I cried, lifting my hands to heaven. Nobody around acknowledged seeing the thief vanish out the door. After racing outside to scan the perimeter, I summoned station security. “Where would someone take my computer?” They pointed north to Hastings Street six blocks away, where a seedy assortment of hotel bars and pawn shops serve as liquidation headquarters for hot property from drug addicts.
I ran up the rain-soaked sidewalk, calling on God to help me catch the guy. But his trail had disappeared. Terrified and furious, I intensified my hunt.
Meanwhile, God’s Spirit was working even harder to soothe my spirit. WWJD in this situation? No doubt He would care about the thief who stole my computer — having forgiven that thief on the cross. By the time I climbed the steps of the police station to report my loss, I found myself repeating that eternally amazing prayer from our crucified Savior: Father forgive him, for he didn’t know what he did. Help this poor guy to know Your grace.
But I still needed my computer back! Jesus, have mercy on me!
In a bar I found one young guy who seemed streetwise and willing to help. I shoved a damp $20 bill into his grasping hand. “Let’s go!" I said. "You know where these guys hide.”
As my drug-addicted deputy led me up the graffiti and condom-strewn alleys behind Hastings Street, he remarked, “Man, I sure hope we catch this guy. We can get him in a corner and really work him over.”
By then my spirit had been sufficiently chastened by God’s Spirit that I was able to respond, “But wouldn’t it be even better if we gave him grace instead of pain? I need my computer back, yeah, but let’s remember that this guy’s soul is more important than my machine. So just why don’t we just get the thing and let him go. Give him grace.”
“Grace! What’s grace?” he muttered. Not waiting for an answer, he ducked into a doorway along that back alley and pulled a needle from his pocket. “Look, man,” he said, “I hate to do this now, but I really need a fix. Hope you don’t mind that I shoot up.”
“This is your world,” I told him. “I’m just your guest this afternoon.”
And so my new friend bared his arm and aimed the needle at a vein. I stood beside him watching in helpless horror. Just then that police SUV roared up. They had seen everything. There was no place to hide. In justice they might have loaded us off to jail, or at least taken me in for questioning. Instead they just smiled.
“C’mon fellas, move along.”
As we watched them drive off down the alley, I remarked to my friend, “You just asked me what grace is. Well, that’s grace!”
Refuge at God’s Throne of Grace
We all need grace, more than the air we breathe. If the Almighty did business with us based on justice, each of us would die justly as the due reward of our works. Thank God for Jesus! “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).