Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Grace in a Vacuum

The other day, two ladies came to our door advertising a free carpet shampoo for one room in the house. They were part of a "new business" in town, and hoped that through the demonstration, we might get the whole house cleaned. My wife looked at me. I shrugged. She said, "sure." Who turns down free?

Two eager men arrived about an hour later toting a large box, and proceeded to assemble what looked like an elaborate vacuum. As they smiled and began to share about the vacuum cleaner's abilities, I knew this wasn't just a free shampoo. In a matter of moments, I found myself in the midst of the friendly spiel of a door-to-door vacuum salesman. He was friendly and charismatic, and clearly knew a great deal about carpet and vacuums.

I felt like I had somehow jumped back in time to 1955.

My wife and I held our children and helplessly watched as his vacuum cleaner proceeded to suck out immense amounts of dirt and dust from our supposedly clean carpet. The demonstration was admittedly impressive, and I was all but ready to purchase this new life-saving dirt-destroying machine.

Then he gave me the price. It was nearly as much as my last entire paycheck. This guy probably wasn't going to make a sale.

He asked me what I did for a living, which is inevitably a conversation-changer for me. I replied, "I'm a pastor." He and his partner looked taken aback for a moment. "No way!" he exclaimed. "Wow, I'm hoping to be a pastor, too."

He shared that he went to a church in the Phoenix valley, how he believed in only what the Bible said, and how he was at the beginning stages of starting a ministry that would expose Rick Warren as part of the "emergent church cult" that was nefariously trying to start one universal world religion, and that Bible-believing Christians like him and I needed to put a stop to Mr. Warren and the emergents.

As he shared this latter part of his story, I felt myself getting uncomfortable. What was happening here? This vacuum salesman has already taken away 90 minutes I could have spent with my family; now he's sharing about a misguided ministry he'd like to begin to take down a fellow pastor and follower of Jesus? This guy was a nut. I didn't know whether to just clam up and let him keep sharing or to put him in his theological place. I was praying in the moment--what am I'm supposed to do here, God?

In the next minute, the salesman shifted his tone. He began to share that he was a baby Christian, that he had just experienced a bad breakup, that he was so grateful for the church he was at because he finally found hope after finding freedom from alcoholism. He seemed to have an estranged relationship with his mom, and possibly the rest of his family. He was eager about his faith, but he just didn't know what to do next. As he poured out his story to my now-attentive ears, God spoke:

Everyone has a story. Everyone needs grace.

Even the wacky vacuum salesman.

I shared with him that if he truly wanted to be a pastor, he needed to pursue some sort of theological training; he had to really know and understand the Bible, not just on his own, but in the context of community. He stared at me and nodded, the wheels clearly turning in his mind. In that moment, my heart shifted from anger and rejection to empathy and compassion. He wasn't being malicious or crazy, he just didn't know what to do. Here was a man who was lost, and now was found. God had not dismissed him, in spite of his less-than-ecumenical ideas.

God had not dismissed me either, in spite of my sin and brokenness. The salesman and I were both children of God, both redeemed from our rebellion against God, both deeply loved and adopted as sons. I may have been further along in my journey, but that's exactly what it is--a journey. When Jesus looked over the crowds of people who were following him, sometimes he got angry at their unbelief. More often than not, he had a deep compassion for the people who were wandering like sheep without a shepherd.

We didn't buy a vacuum that night, but I did gain a better understanding of grace.

1 comment:

  1. That's awesome! It's hard for me to stop and see "crazy vaccum salesmen" in the light of Jesus. I hope to continue to learn how to accept people because we are all sinners.