MY GOD OF SECOND CHANCES
For over 35 years I carried the burden of an opportunity to see a good friend come to salvation botched by my poor witness. That may seem like an eternity to us, but not so for God. He was not done with either one of us. This is my story of second chances, my burden relieved, and amazing, amazing grace for both of us.
Jeff [name fictitious] was a good friend of mine through my youth, and beyond. After high school he opted for college, I opted for the working world, and we didn’t see each other as much aside from parties now and then. We were also taking different roads spiritually. In 1978, six years after we graduated from high school, I gave my heart to Christ. I was determined to share the Gospel with Jeff at every opportunity we had together. We had some good talks, and at one point he was even considering joining me at church.
Then came that fateful night when once again I ran in to my friend Jeff at a mutual friend’s get together. I found myself sitting in a large circle of people, all talking and passing around a joint. I had stayed away from it since my conversion because I knew it was a part of my “former man’s” life. But for some reason I grabbed it when it came my way and, without thinking, took a hit. It was God who caused me to look directly across that circle of people at that moment, directly in to the eyes of my friend Jeff who was watching me. To this day, over 35 years later, I never forgot that look that rightly said to me, “Just one more hypocrite who calls himself and Christian, yet lives no differently than I do. What do I need his Jesus for?” I carried the burden of “that look” for all those years, during which I told it to many I was fortunate to disciple. I did so in the hopes they would take their responsibility to walk the walk as they talked the talk more seriously than I did with my friend Jeff.
Later on he moved to California and we lost touch with each other. Jeff made a lot of money and developed an addiction to alcohol—one that cost him his marriage and much of his fortune as addictions often do. But in 2012 Jeff sent me an email telling me he was coming to Denver for our 40th (ugh) high school reunion, and asked if I would join him. I told him I wasn’t in to that sort of thing, but would love to get with him for lunch. We did, and our friendship was kindled anew. He was still living in California, so I would look him up when we vacationed down there and he would come up to Denver from time to time to touch base with his family. Jeff had joined AA, gotten off the booze, but he still hadn’t found a place for Jesus in his heart.
In December of 2014 Jeff moved back to Denver to take care of his aging mother, and we began to meet sporadically for lunch just to remain in contact. During our times together I would tell him what the Lord was doing in my life, inasmuch as He was my life. Recently Jeff asked to be put on my blog list so I sensed there was hope there, even though statistically the chances of people coming to Christ in their 60’s is slim and none. Not long after that Jeff walks in to one of our lunches with a large book that was some sort of Agnostic’s manual. He plopped it down in front of me and said, “This has been my Bible since becoming involved in AA, but much of what I have been reading in your blogs makes more sense than what I find in this. So I have some questions about your God.” In spite of my foolishness long ago, I found the door for testimony opened wide once again! The God of second chances had thrown me a high, fat, floating curve ball and I wasn’t going to whiff at this one like I did before.
Jeff had, through AA, found a “higher power” that really was nothing more than himself, for apart from the one true God self is our higher power. His was “hope that everything would work out OK.” I asked how that could be a true higher power if his hope was in “his hope?” He looked at me with far different eyes than I had seen all those years ago, and said, “Hmmm. Good point.” We parted, I reassured him he was asking all the right questions, and that I would be available any time day or night to meet with him, exchange emails, or talk over the phone until they were all answered.
I had not heard from Jeff for a few days, so I texted him to ask how his journey was going. He responded to tell me he wanted to meet again. Over lunch he continued to pepper me with questions and, far better equipped than 35 years ago, I was ready to answer them. I finally told him we could talk until we were blue in the face, but his every question would not be answered until “by faith” he accepted Jesus. We can preach up a storm, answer every question correctly, and live a truly pious life before others but until “by faith” they leap that chasm and receive the Holy Spirit they cannot possibly get all the answers. As we walked out in to the parking lot I asked him if he was ready to take that leap, and he said yes. We went to my car and shared that moment I had negated with my poor witness so many years ago. Not wanting him to fall in to the traps of modern Christendom, I cautioned this was just the beginning of the journey, and saying a “sinners prayer” would not excuse worldly living for the rest of his life. I told him after a fantastic honeymoon period with the Spirit we would have a lot of work to do to help see him through the discipleship process. In the few weeks since then I have witnessed the excitement of a child, and the peace of a “new creation” only our God can deliver in my friend, and now brother.
Our God—my God—is truly the God of second chances. For over 35 years He let me carry the burden of a lost opportunity to be used to redeem a good friend. For over 35 years I saw that look in Jeff’s eyes, and though during it I had been afforded the opportunity to minister to many others that moment would not leave me. But now I see different eyes peering at me across our lunch tables, as Jeff and I meet for discipleship and fellowship. Thank You, Jesus, for lifting this burden and setting my friend Jeff free. Thank You for being, truly, the God of second chances for both of us.