I have told this story many times, but I have never written it down until now. In fact, I have decided to begin writing down some of my life experiences that illustrate the power of the good news of Jesus. I am thinking I will start by blogging them and see where things lead from there.
I had an attorney friend a number of years ago that was a surprise to many people who knew both of us. The friendship began at a pick up game of basketball. The two of us stayed after a game to work on our shots and we had our first conversation. He asked me what I did for a living, and I told him I was a pastor. He immediately said “We (meaning he and the other men) cuss to much for you to play ball with us. I laughed and said don’t worry about that I am here to play ball. He then told me he was an attorney. I learned over time that he was quite a good one. He quickly informed me on that day that he was not a Christian. Then as if to soften the blow he admitted his background was as a nominal Methodist. He was a former Naval aviator who had decided to settle in South Texas. Not long after that I found myself at lunch with him and several other community leaders. Some of them were looking at each other as if to ask “Who invited him? (meaning me) We had a great talk filled with fun and laughter and got acquainted. I would also learn that he professed to be an atheist. After many months of wrestling over basketballs and sometimes either being on opposite teams or the same team, he attended a funeral that I conducted. He approached me with a most unusual request for an unbeliever. He said, “When I die I want you to do my funeral.” When I ask him why he said, “Because I knew that guy and you spoke positively about him.” I always research the people that I conduct funerals for. God knows their eternal destiny, but I know that they are made in God’s image and that he loved them throughout their life and wanted them to have everlasting life. That comes through in my messages. In my heart, I know that connected with my friend somehow. He was defending a man who had admitted guilt in a murder case and ask me to help him decipher the man’s mental state. He showed me pictures he had drawn in his prison cell that were covered with Scriptures that he had obviously known well. I explained that I knew the man’s grandmother to be a great Christian woman and was certain he had been raised in an environment of faith. I told my friend that I believed that in his remorse he was desperately reaching for his Christian upbringing. He exclaimed in response, “I think your right!” I heard in his voice more than he was saying. I heard the reflection of his own spiritual journey and struggle to connect and understand how to reconcile intellect and faith.
Our relationship included sharing the podium at a funeral for a mutual friend and community leader who happened to be his best friend in the city. He could not have been more warm toward me at that service. I am sure that a number of people puzzled at such a friendship between a man who claimed to be an atheist and the pastor of one of the cities largest churches.
My attorney friend loved adventure and went on a hunting trip to Alaska. As too often happens he was killed in a small plane crash while there. Soon thereafter his widow called to tell me that he had planned his own funeral and wanted me to speak, but that it would not be at a church or chapel and I could not use my the bible. I have often reflected on why he made the request that I speak. I have decided that he knew that I loved him just like he was. That is the way God loves us. Romans 5:8 indicates that to me. It is a key to reaching others to love them as Jesus does. The plan he had mapped for the funeral was that it be held in a courtroom. The judge was to preside and I was to be one of the speakers. A colleague in his law practice was to speak also.
In preparation for the service, I prayed for wisdom. Then a mutual friend gave me just what I needed. It seems that my attorney friend had once written an article for the regional newspaper. The subject was “My favorite Christmas Memory”. He recalled a time when he and his siblings were with their grandmother on a cold night near Christmas waiting at a bus stop. A man who was quite drunk was singing Christmas carols nearby while others shouted at him to shut up. My friend’s grandmother led the whole band to surround him and sing him on tune. Then she kissed him on the cheek, gave him a little money, and wished him a merry Christmas. The article continued to speak of his great love for his grandmother, and that he had loved Christmas carols ever since that night. I knew then what to do. At the service after speaking many kind words about my friend, I read his article aloud. I then suggested that it would be nice to think of the words of some carols such as: “Joy to the world, the Lord is come. Let earth receive her king. Let every heart prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing, and heaven and nature sing.” Broad smiles filled the room with the irony of the gospel filling the courthouse with praise to Jesus. They knew they had just witnessed a “checkmate”. I know my friend knew the gospel. I can only hope he finally embraced it, even if it was as the plane was crashing. The colleague in his law practice was so flustered that he rambled on and tried to reassert the secular setting and affirm the reasons why the service was in a courtroom, but it was too late. The Holy Spirit had already won the day. Christ will always break through the darkness.