Gerry Can Finally Leave Town

We’d lost touch with each other over the years.

Gerry had one of the first Beatle haircuts in town and was in “The Legends.” I was in a rival band, “The Signets.” Both were blue-eyed soul bands. The Legends once played a 2-chord instrumental for 3 hours straight on a friend’s front porch. That had to be a Guinness record – In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, the longest song known to man, was only 17 minutes long and they had gone 3 hours! I think that qualifies for canonization. Gerry had one of the nicest guitars of anyone I knew, a blonde Epiphone Casino like John Lennon’s. We were friends in college, drinking beer together and wasting time in the Student Union drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. After college, my life went downhill until Jesus apprehended me. Gerry’s life took a downward turn as well, and he developed agoraphobia. He would have a panic attack every time he’d attempt to leave town. So from sometime in the 70’s, he became a prisoner of our town. He never left again.

Along the way, Gerry and I both got married, had children, and our lives took different directions. A few years later I heard that he got divorced.

Fast forward 25+ years. One day I see him from a distance in Wal-mart. The Lord prompts me to give him a call. I tell him I’d seen him and wondered if he like to get together for coffee. He’s glad to hear from me and anxious to hook up. So we meet at Starbucks a couple days later, two fifty-something guys getting reacquainted after being out of touch for far too long.

I start off by telling Gerry my favorite memory of him. It was the time a friend and I were supposed to meet him at a campus apartment, but we show up an hour late. When we come in, Gerry is sitting at the kitchen table, studying a beer bottle. He looks up at us, takes a drag on his Kool filter and says, “This is the famous Budweiser beer, brewed with the finest hops and malts….” While waiting for us, he has memorized the entire label on a bottle of Bud. That snapshot pretty much captures our lives back then.

Gerry tells me he has cancer. I wouldn’t know it by looking at him, but he tells me that 2 years ago the doctors gave him 2 years after discovering a large tumor in his intestines. He tells me he’s been reading the Bible for a year, which leads to talking about Jesus and his death as a substitute for us. God does something significant that day in our lives. We reestablish our friendship.

For the next year, Gerry and I get together regularly. He comes to our church and some other former friends renew their relationship with him. He meets new friends. Frank becomes a faithful bible study partner, as do Dennis and Tim. Each week they call Gerry and talk about a bible passage. Every Sunday Gerry comes to our church and stands in the back listening to me preach – he’s pretty sick – often in so much pain he can’t sit, but he usually makes it through the message before he has to go home and back to bed.

We go out to lunch once a week – I get the salad bar and load up my plate, but all he can eat is a few fries with gravy. He often treats me. Week after week, we talk of Jesus, as Gerry grows more thin and frail. He tells me that he and Frank are reading 1 John and that Jesus has convicted him that he needs to love people. He tells me that for years he has hated many people but now he has decided to forgive everyone who has ever wronged him. He wants to devote his life to Jesus, doing all he can to please him for the rest of his days. He wants to do as much good to as many people as he can.

In these days of suffering, God gives Gerry a gift – painting pictures. He paints every day. Landscapes, boats and Mediterranean seaport scenes. And he gives his paintings away. One hangs in my office.

Fast forward to this past Wednesday evening. I call and his dad answers. “How is your son?” I ask. “We’re in a death watch. Come over and see Gerry.” I get there and see him, lying in the special bed they’d set up for him in the family room. Gerry’s eyes are open, his breathing is shallow, a “death rattle”. I don’t know if he can hear me, but I hold his hand and tell him Jesus loves him, and thank him for being such a good friend. I tell him that nothing can separate him from the love of God in Christ Jesus, and pray for him.

Gerry’s dad and mom are there, grieving, watching their son’s last moments. Then his mom says, “Gerry can finally leave town now.” His agoraphobia is over. He’s leaving town – for heaven. For a face to face appointment with his Savior. I tell Gerry goodbye. “I love you, Gerry. See you soon.”

Gerry left town yesterday at 1 in the morning. I can’t wait to see him again.

What To Do When You’re Robbed

Puritan writer Matthew Henry was once robbed by thieves and recorded in his journal:

“Let me be thankful first because I was never robbed before; second, although they took my purse, they did not take my life; third, because, although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, and not someone else.”

How could Matthew Henry rejoice after being hijacked? Because he didn’t derive his joy from his circumstances, but he took joy in the God of his salvation.

Paul and Silas freed a slave girl from a spirit of divination that had kept her in bondage for a long time. Deprived of their cash cow, her owners dragged Paul and Silas before the local magistrates and riled up a mob who proceeded to give Paul and Silas a fine Philippian pounding. Then they tossed them into prison, in the inner prison, and fastened their feet in the stocks.

The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them…(Acts 16:22-25)

Paul and Silas are chained up in a filthy Philippian prison and they’re singing!

I’ve never been stripped, beaten, thrown into prison and fastened in stocks. But if I were, I don’t know if my first inclination would be to sing “I Just Want to Thank You.” That’s not usually the first thought that comes to my mind when the kids put a dent in the car or the back porch ceiling starts leaking.

The reason Paul and Silas could worship in the blockhouse was because they didn’t derive their joy from their circumstances, but took joy in the God of their salvation.

For believers in Christ, the source of our joy is Jesus himself. He’s our fountain of life, our chosen portion, our beautiful inheritance. He’s our meat and drink. And he never changes, no matter how much our circumstances fluctuate. I once flew from Pittsburgh to Toronto. It was overcast and snowing in Pittsburgh, but when the plane rose above the clouds, the sun was blazing in all its glory. When we descended in Toronto it was grey and snowing again. I had a flash of revelation (that’s right folks, it had never dawned on me until that very moment) – no matter what it’s like “down here” in our circumstances, God is still shining like the sun above the clouds. He’s blazing with goodness and kindness and power and love for us. He hasn’t changed any more than the sun changes when it’s raining.

So where does your joy come from? Does it come from your spouse or your children? Does it come from having a nice home or good job? Do you derive your joy from your health or possessions? What if you should lose them all? Would you be able to rejoice?

If you have not yet called upon the Lord Jesus Christ to save you from your sins, and give you eternal life, I urge you to do so right now. If you do know Jesus, be glad and sing praises, no matter what’s happening “down here” in your life. Rejoice in the God of your salvation.

The Secret Order of the Hidden Servants


I’ve come to an interesting, and rather disturbing conclusion regarding myself: I’m not a real big fan of serving in private. I don’t want to do acts of service that nobody is going to see. I want to be up front, in the public eye, serving heroically for all to see. I want to be “Mr. Servant Leader Man”, who is admired by thousands for his selfless sacrificial serving (try saying that over and over). I don’t want to be the guy who is quietly painting a back room in the church, or the guy who faithfully prepares the church budget year after year, or the guy who patiently teaches third graders every Sunday. I want the attention, the glory, the fame of…serving.

At this point some of you are thinking, what a sad little man, and making a mental note to never ask for my help with anything. Pretty ridiculous, isn’t it? Actually, it’s shameful. In my sinful pride, I want to be recognized for my acts of service. I’m not really interested in God’s glory, I’m interested in my own glory. But I want to change. I want to be like John Thornton. Never heard of him? Not surprising. He was a member of “The Secret Order of the Hidden Servants”.

Thornton lived from 1720 to 1790, and was absolutely loaded with cash. He was the type of guy who could have done his shopping from the Neiman Marcus catalog, and then actually bought Neiman Marcus. But Thornton refused to live an extravagant life, instead living in a “…simple manner of life [which] left a large surplus out of his income, the chief part of which constantly flowed into the channel[s] of his beneficence.” (from William Wilberforce: A Hero For Humanity) In other words, Thornton lived simply so that he could pour money into God-honoring causes.

Thornton paid for Bibles to be printed, and then used his own company ships to send them throughout the world. He gave John Newton an annual allowance of 200 pounds (worth approx. $50,000 today) so that Newton would be free to write songs, books, and be a pastor. He was described as being “plain, frugal, and self-denying in all matters of private expense; and yet liberal in supplying the want of others…”

Do you think many people knew about John Thornton’s sacrificial giving? I doubt it. Yet think of the great good that he accomplished. Because of his secret giving, thousands of Bibles went forth throughout the world. Because of his secret support of John Newton, Newton in turn affected the lives of thousands. Thornton was a secret servant whom God used to accomplish great things. Thornton will receive a glorious reward from the Savior on the final day for his acts of secret service.

What about you? Are you content to serve quietly, secretly, and without anyone knowing? Are you happy to serve wherever there’s a need, even if you don’t get any recognition? I want to be like John Thornton, a happy, quiet, secret servant.

I’m going to sign up to join “The Secret Order of the Hidden Servants”.

photo by Peter Morgan

What To Do When Your Fig Tree Fails

A friend of mine was saved in his twenties. One day as he was driving through the city where he lived, he happened to see a pretty girl walking down the street (she would later become his wife). He was momentarily distracted and slammed into a parked car. I hate that when that happens! He got out of his car to assess the damage. Inspecting the dents, instead of cursing or complaining he began to say, “So what — I’m saved! Praise God, I’m saved! I just smashed my car up, but so what — I’m saved!”

How about you? Do you have the joy of your salvation? If we could only keep our minds on the God of our salvation and the stupendous reality of all he’s done for us we would be celebrating like my friend all day long.

Think about it — Jesus saved us for an eternity of delighting in his glory and majesty. He saved us to know and enjoy him forever in heaven. He spared us from an eternity of misery in hell. He rescued us from the guilt, punishment, and bondage of sin. He delivered us from fear of judgment and condemnation and seated us with himself in heavenly places. He made us a chosen race, a royal priesthood and a holy nation to proclaim his excellencies. And because he saved us, he will keep us to the end and transform us into his own image.

So ultimately, whatever happens to us in this life doesn’t really matter that much because – we’re saved.

Habakkuk expressed this beautifully:

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,

the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;

I will take joy in the God of my salvation. (Habakkuk 3:17-18)

In Habakkuk’s day, if you were a farmer, your whole life depended on your crops and herds. He describes a worst-case scenario: all his crops fail, all his flocks and herds die. Yet he says, even if all this befalls him, “I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” In other words, so what — I’m saved!

How this honors God! How it blesses him when we say “Lord, even if you don’t bless me in any other way, you alone are enough for me. You have saved me to bring me to yourself. Your glory is all I need. I rejoice in you.”

So when the mechanic tells you that you need a new transmission, say, “So what — I’m saved.” Depending on how well you know him, you might want to consider saying it to yourself quietly. When the children break your favorite Ming Dynasty vase say, “I will rejoice in the Lord.” When you come downstairs in the morning to discover that Sparky the Wonder Dog left a little surprise in the middle of the living room carpet, you know what to say. And should you be facing something really serious, I would still encourage you to say along with Habakkuk, “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.”

Highlight Reel Updated

The Blazing Center Highlight Reel is a feature of this blog that lets you explore previous posts that you might not have read. Each of these posts is designed to encourage your faith and point you to the Lord, so if you haven’t read these, check them out.

The Permanent Ink of Heaven

Me Versus Paul – Cage Match

4 Symptoms of a Discontented Heart

The Scream of the Damned

How Not to Waste Your Efforts