I once met a man named "Charlie." Well, Charlie was not his real name, I only call him that because I never knew his real name. Yet, he has left an indelible imprint on my heart. Charlie was a piece of God's handiwork, made and fashioned in the image of God.
Some men's names ring forever in the history of the world and the names of those men bring to mind pictures of their character. Some names like Shakespeare, Einstein or Rockefeller, of course, conjure up thoughts of good or successful men. On the other hand, some names like Ted Bundy or Al Capone remind us of unhappy events. But some lives are lived and lost leaving behind no legacy; they are lost in time with only a few records to remind us that they lived. They walk through this lonely world without a soul to care for them. No one cares whether they have lived or died.
Charlie was a homeless man whose skin was like shoe leather, darkened by the sun. His life's belongings were held simply in an old tattered army bag.
I was in my first summer of college and traveling with a music group, performing across the Midwest. The summer had been an eventful, but long one for me, living in a small custom van with the rest of our group.
The first time I saw Charlie was on a hot Colorado day in July. He was walking on the highway we were driving on. He was not even thumbing for a ride, just walking with his bag thrown over his shoulder hunched over by the weight of his load. The physical and emotional load he carried was evident to all who saw him that day.
What were the cares he carried that day? What were the pains that kept him almost buried under the emotional load of failure or regret? What was it that made him lose hope in himself or humanity?
Had he ever married? Did he have any family? Was there a single person in the world who cared about this man?
It did not appear to me that anyone cared for this small, insignificant, homeless man, except God of course. God had seen his struggles and wanted desperately to reach him. God cared about this man; God dearly loved him.
We had been driving for hours on the seemingly endless highways of Colorado. It was a hot, dry day when we passed Charlie on the highway. My mother wisely told me never to pickup hitchhikers, but I was not driving the van. My friend Ted stopped before any of us could say a contrary word and picked him up.
He climbed into the van looking tired and care-worn and sat right next to me. As he sat down I felt instantly that this was to be an assignment for me. God wanted me to reach out to him.
I opened my Bible to John 3:16 and asked him if he'd ever heard about Jesus. I read just a few passages and his eyes got big as saucers. Big, bright blue eyes that were full of the wonder of a child. "God made those eyes, and oh, how He loved them," I thought to myself.
As I sat there holding my Bible I remembered that I had hidden money in it. I always kept a little savings tucked away. It wasn't much - only two fives - the meager savings of my pinched pennies. Still, the thought sprung to my mind that he needed it more than I.
I asked him if he needed any money. But before he could answer, my friend, Ted, screamed at me, "Don't you give him any money!"
He went on to give a wretched exhortation of what a low-life, worthless sinner this man was. The memory of it pains me even now. To think of that lonely man being vomited on by my self-righteous friend.
Fortunately for Charlie, Ted and I didn't see eye to eye. I gave him half the money anyway. Charlie's big eyes got moist from my little gesture, but again he had to endure another onslaught of religious talk from Ted.
After only a half-hour of this torment, he asked to be dropped off at a truck stop. As quickly as he appeared, he was now gone.
As we traveled on to the next town, I received a rather loud and long lecture from Ted. He was sure the man would waste the money I gave him to buy cigarettes or beer.
I felt awful - awful for the man and awful for myself. I was only 19 then and was unsure of what the right thing was to do. "Does mercy really triumph over judgment?" I wondered then.
My mother had always taught me that God was love and He loved all His creation, especially the lonely and down-trodden. I had seen her live out her faith daily, giving her last dime to those in need who were blessed enough to cross her path.
The next day, we met Charlie again on the highway. Ted stopped and jumped out to talk to the man. More self-righteous, religious venom, and indeed, he was smoking a cigarette and blowing the smoke right in Ted's face.
For years the event pained me. I wondered what became of Charlie. I prayed for him as often as I thought of him. His loneliness impacted my life. I had known loneliness, but not like the loneliness he was experiencing.
Ted convinced me that I had wasted my money, and I felt like a failure. But many years later, during a time of prayer, the Lord gave me a present that, in itself, was well worth the experience. The Lord opened up Heaven and showed me Himself with His arms securely wrapped around Charlie. Charlie was in Heaven!
He was no longer care-worn, but radiant and full of joy - no longer nameless or lonely, but surrounded by the favor of God. As he stood next to Jesus, looking at me with his enormous God-loved eyes, he spoke only two words, "Thank you!"
I asked the Lord how he could have found Him through my meager efforts at mercy and Ted's flamboyant attacks?
"Well," the Lord replied, "shortly after you left him, he was picked up by another Christian, a man who was well seasoned by love. He told Charlie about Me. As the man spoke of God's love reaching out to him, Charlie remembered you and your five dollar bill. At that moment he was convinced of My love reaching out to him and he was able to accept Me. Then I was able to take him home with Me."
Suddenly, my memories of the event changed from seeing Charlie's blowing smoke in Ted's face as my failure. I saw it now as my five-dollar gift of God's love, and that with every puff of smoke came the thought that there was a young lady who gave him her compassion to blow the smoke of human kindness in the face of harsh, religious prejudice.
There is a religious mind set in the Church that often sees those who are broken by life's sorrows and sins as though they have brought on the harsh realities of their lives by the way they have chosen to live their lives. And in many respect that is true. We often bring on many of life's trials by the way we have lived our lives.
However, none of us deserve God's grace and the Word of God says, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9). God's forgiveness is a free gift that cost Him everything and He is waiting for us to receive it. And no matter what we have done, it is never too horrible to keep us from the love of God. For the Bible tells us that "neither height, nor depth...will be able to separate us from the love of God" (Romans 8:39).
God is abounding in His love for you and He wants you to receive it from Him no matter how you may have been treated by those professing to know Him. If they had truly known Him, they would have loved you. Indeed, you are the very apple of His eye. You are the sole purpose of Christ's death and resurrection. It was for you He died.
Please receive His gift of grace and allow Him to forgive you of your past and give you a fresh start for your future. This is what He wants to do for you. Don't deny Him the pleasure of touching your life today and making you brand new!
Love and Blessings
Speaking Life Ministries