Friday, February 4, 2011

At the Last Minute

God gave me an exciting opportunity to share the gospel with an older gentleman (80) whose wife was a faithful member of my formerchurch. He had been diagnosed with cancer of the spine and the doctors had told him that he had weeks to live. We had been praying that God would save him for several years. When I visited him in the hospital, I asked him if I could come and talk with him when he came home. He said, "Yes, I would like that." A few days later, his wife called me an said that he was having a good day and would I come and talk with him. Upon my arrival, he needed to go to the bathroom and so I lifted him out of his chair and helped him do his business. He seemed grateful that I would help him in such a way. When I returned him to his chair in the den, he asked me what he needed to do to join the church. As lovingly as I knew how, I shared the gospel with him and he was very attentive. However, in the end, he said he wanted to think about it. I told him I would check back with him in a few days, but I warned him not to delay too long due to the advancement of his illness.

On Saturday, a week later, he let me know that he had repented of his sins and received Christ as His Lord and Savior. Our plans were that he was going to join the church on Sunday morning and I would baptize him Sunday evening. His wife said that they might be a little late to the 11:00 service as it takes a lot to get him out of the house. He cannot use his legs and he has little strength in his upper torso. His daughter, who is a nurse, and her husband were coming to help get him to the church. As I stood to preach about 11:25 am on Sunday morning, he still had not arrived. I gave the invitation and watched anxiously, hoping he would arrive at the last minute. He didn't come. I was confused and disappointed. What could have possibly happened? Did he change his mind?

When I arrived home, there was a voice mail from his wife. Apparently, he had some kind of physical episode in the early hours of the morning. Hospice came and he was placed in their facility. They sedated him and there was a sense that his cancer was much more aggressive than anyone thought. It was doubtful that he would ever return home.

Two weeks later, my friend died without regaining consciousness. For several days before he died, I spent time with the family while they kept their vigil at the hospice home. They told me stories of how this man never wanted to talk about God. He was a mean alcoholic. It's amazing how someone can live their entire life in such a state of misery. Even though his wife and all three of his children were devout Christians (one son is a Presbyterian minister), his heart was closed to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

But then two weeks ago something wonderful happened. His heart was regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit and he received Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. His wife and children are certain that his conversion was authentic. On the Saturday before he was going to come to our church and come forward to publicly proclaim his trust in Christ, he was telling all of his family and friends about his love for Christ. I had promised to baptize him the very next day and he was eagerly anticipating the event. However, when he awoke on Sunday morning, he either had a massive stroke or his cancer entered his brain. At least that is what the doctors surmise. Instead of going to church, he went to the hospice home.

The Sunday before he died, I told our church the story of my friend and how he was planning to come to join our church and be baptized. I told them of the testimonies of his wife (one of our church members) and his children as to his changed heart. Then I did something I have never done before in 14 years of pastoring. I asked our church to vote him in as a member of our church based on his stated intentions before he was gravely stricken ill and the testimony of his family. The vote was unanimous. He was now a member of our church. There wasn't a dry eye in the place.

Following our 11:00 am service, my wife and I went to hospice and told his wife and children of the action of the church. His wife collapsed in my arms crying with deep heaving breaths. Her children expressed their gratitude to the church for their love and compassion for their father. I stood at his bedside humbled by the awe and wonder of our Lord Jesus. This unconscious man had been snatched from the jaws of Hell at the last moment. I trembled as I thought about the gift which God gave him in the last two weeks of his life: the gift of another chance; the gift of forgiveness of sin; the gift of Jesus dying in his place; the gift of regeneration.

On Wednesday after he died, I conducted his funeral in our church. My text was Luke 23:39-43. It's about another man who was saved at the last minute. A thief on a cross.

My prayer is that my friend's story will bring hope to countless others who are praying for their own loved ones to come to Christ. As long as there is breath, there is hope. Do not stop praying for the lost to be saved. Tell them about Jesus at every opportunity. It makes a difference. It really does.

1 comment:

Dave Woodbury said...

What an awesome story. My heart is leaping within me this morning! Thank you for your faithfulness to proclaim the gospel. Thank God for His faithfulness to save sinners.