The Lesson

9 03 2014

Last week I told of the accident our youngest son had been in and what the end result was, which his mother and I still rejoice and Imagepraise the lord for; but that wasn’t the end of the story.  There was more that had to be done, one more lesson that had to be taught. Justin and his friends had been drinking on the night of the accident and being 19 it was considered underage drinking in the state of Indiana, and so he would have to appear in court and answer to the charge.  We talked about what he wanted to do and his answer was, “I just want to get this all behind me so I’m to plead guilty and accept whatever the consequences are.”  Another one of those moments that makes you proud to be a parent.

On the day of the court hearing Justin and 2 of the others involved in the accident went together and I went along for moral support. The courtroom was packed with law offenders, most alcohol related and many in the same age bracket as the kids with me. The judge, an elderly man, was mild mannered in his approach while at the same time did not put up with any nonsense in his court. Two young men were talking when the judge called one by name.  The look of horror was written all over his, as if to say, “Oh boy, I’m in big trouble now!”  The judge calmly instructed him to take a seat in a far corner and the young man was up moving quickly.

Now it was time to get down to business; he began calling one name after the other, having people  stand in front of him, reading the charges and asking them if they would like to make a plea.  Some pled not guilty and were instructed that they would be contacted at a later date on when trial would be.  Most though pled guilty and the judge handed down a verdict as to what their punishment would me.  The majority of the judgments weren’t that bad with many getting suspended sentences.  I could see this was putting my kids more at ease; that is until they stood before him and entered the guilty plea.  “Since you have pled guilty to the charge of underage drinking, I hereby sentence you to 30 days in the county jail.”  I thought they may have to call the EMTs in, especially for the biggest guy in our group who looked like he was about to hit the floor! After the judge let it sink in for a moment he then followed up, “But I’m going to suspend the jail time and sentence you to two weekends of community service.”  There was a giant sigh of relief, including yours truly, with the final verdict and we headed home each one of the kids knowing they had dodged a giant bullet, but still there was one more lesson to be learned.

The 1st Saturday morning came and Justin headed over to the high-school where he was supposed to report for community service. A small area of trees and brush was near there and it was going to be his job, along with the others, to clean it out.  Several hours passed and I decided to take a ride over to where they were working and see how it was going. Approaching the site, I could see Justin, his friends and some of the other young people from court busying themselves with hoes, rakes and shovels, some clearing out debris, while others were laying and spreading mulch.  I waved to my son and the crew and kept driving, but then, I saw him.  Amongst all these young offenders was an older man that I couldn’t get a good look at.  He was wearing a flannel shirt, bib overalls and a large straw hat that hid most of his features, but it was still obvious he was much older than the rest. But as a worker age certainly wasn’t a factor, he was going stride for stride with the rest of the “jail birds” out there.  “Now what could this old fella have done?” I thought. “Probably just a town drunk working off his latest altercation with the law,” I surmised.


When our Justin got home that afternoon, he was worn out.  He and the others had put in a hard day of work.  After a meal and some rest time, we made small talk about what he did that day, but one question was really on my mind.  “Boo (My son’s nickname), the older man in the bibs working with you today, who is he and what did he do to earn community service?”  My son gave a small chuckle and answered, “He didn’t do anything, he wanted to be there with us, Dad.  That was the judge.”  “What?!!”  I responded.

“Yeah, he came the same time the rest of did, took a roll call and then said, “Let’s get busy.”  He kept us all moving, taught us a lot about landscaping and probably outworked half the crew.  He was fun also, something about having him there with us, working just as hard as we were made it seem less like punishment and more like a project we were all in together.”  One word came to mind, and I could say it foreword and backward both–WOW!  If ever I had seen a working model of God’s grace and mercy, it was in this man.

Psalm 103:8-14 reads, “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.  He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.   As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.”

This judge’s only duty was to hear what the crime (sin) was and to hand down judgment, nothing more.  But he showed he cared for each of these criminals (sinners) by working with them and guiding them along the way to the fulfillment of their debt; redemption.

Phil Yancey, one of my favorite writers has a quote that kind of reminds me of this judge, and redeemer.  “I have come to know a God who has a soft spot for rebels, who recruits people like the adulterer David, the whiner Jeremiah, the traitor Peter, and the human-rights abuser Saul of Tarsus.  I have come to know a God whose Son made prodigals the heroes of his stories and the trophies of his ministry.”

On the final day of community service, the crew stopped at lunch to eat the food the judge brought in for them.  Then he gave them a lecture on life, on why it’s important to do right and live in such a way that others and especially they could see good in them. After that he released everyone from their duties and told them he hoped to see them again, but as their friend, not as their judge.  A preacher friend of mine called Frank puts what was done here like this; “Grace, receiving what we don’t deserve, Mercy, not receiving what we do deserve.”

As we Travel the Rock Road, each and every one of us, there will be times when we fall or even fail to live up to what we know is right.  At times like those we have to decide what we want to do or for that matter if we want help to recover.  There’s One who has the ability to be a judge at your trial, but the more I read about Him the more I realize He prefers to be a Friend, a Helper, a Redeemer; “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  For the Gray One here, well I think I’ll choose Plan B!

Thanks for reading this week!!!




3 responses

10 03 2014
Gary Austin

Incredible story; impacting experience; significant application.

11 03 2014
Sharon White

WOW, John. Thank you for sharing this. It’s powerful.

11 03 2014
Shelia Prosser-Krokson

Love your writings my brother John. God Bless you and yours

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