Because Jesus Loves You. No. Matter. What.
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- Format: Folded Tract
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- Size: 3.5 inches x 8.5 inches
- Pages: 8
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This is a true story.
Not the best story. Not the worst story.
But, it’s my story.
It was 2004, and, for the first time in many years, I was attending Creation alone. Creation is a 4-day festival at Agape Farms in central Pennsylvania. Everyone camps and enjoys headliner music performers and speakers who bring the Good News. My wife Beth and our girls couldn’t join me, and since I wasn’t involved in a youth group (like Beth and I had been for so many years), I took off for a couple of days on my own. I had a fabulous time with the teaching, the small groups, and certainly the music. I volunteered and one of my privileged duties was the prayer tent.
Standing in the prayer tent, sweat rolling, I met some of the Creation staff who oversee the prayer portion of the ministry. Boy, I’ll tell you, teens and adults, touched by the teaching, praying, and singing, came to the tent for prayer. Their needs were many and their issues were serious. I witnessed firsthand just how powerful an event like Creation is.
One memorable young lady, about 17 years old, came in with her friend. She was clearly distraught. Her makeup was running with tears streaming down her cheeks. Her friend, choking back sobs, was holding on to her. She appeared weak and weighed down by the stress of whatever she was coming to off-load. At this time, many others came into the tent, so I was the only one who was not directly involved in prayer with anyone at that moment.
As soon I saw the young lady heading toward me I realized, “Whoa! Whatever is causing these tears is serious, and maybe it should be a female to console her when she is in such an emotional state.” It turned out that I had made an accurate assessment. Thankfully, as the young woman came close, I saw one of the staff ladies and got her attention and waved her over. This woman was trained and experienced, so I backed off and just prayed for God’s help. I learned later that, sure enough, the young girl had been abused for years. I didn’t get details but was grateful that she acquired help and was referred to some qualified folks for follow-up.
After a while, the tent cleared out and slowed down. I began chatting with Julio, one of the other gentleman who was a volunteer there. I told him about the young woman and we prayed for her. He also saw some very important decisions being made and lives changed by God that day. We marveled at how God was moving among the tens of thousands of people there on that hillside near Mt. Union, PA. God was healing physical ailments and emotional problems—breaking through to folks who had previously resisted the love and friendship of Jesus. Much of this happened through ordinary people like us serving an extraordinary God.
During our conversation, Julio and I talked about how God had moved in our own lives. I said, “Well, for me, it was how I got saved.” He asked me to tell him the story, so I did.
Here’s my story: After I got divorced, I went from being a problem drinker to a full-fledged alcoholic. My life was going right down the drain to a point where my bosses required me to attend Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings with a co-worker as my sponsor. I tried. Sort of.
I am in favor of AA now, but I sure wasn’t then. I didn’t warm up to it at all. I understood what they meant by a “higher power.” It was code for God, and I wasn’t going anywhere near a church then. And how dare they suggest that I was powerless over alcohol—that my life had become unmanageable. Like most addicted people, I was in denial, which sounded a little like, “I got control of this. I can quit anytime I want.” And I didn’t want all of the religious mumbo jumbo. Well, it turned out that later I realized that I did need all of that.
In the midst of my downward spiral, I met Beth. One day I was talking to her (flirting?) and she told me that she was having a tough time because she was recently divorced. Bingo! In all honesty, I viewed this as an opportunity—like an open door for me to pursue my interest in her.
Although I liked her a lot, she didn’t care for me at all. She was a church-goer. I hated church. She was a teetotaler. I was a drunk. She sang in a choir. I sang next to the juke box. You get the picture.
I gave the old line, “Oh no. That’s got to be tough. I understand because I’ve been divorced and remember the pain. But, it’s important to have a friend who can commiserate with you. Call me because I’d love to talk to you and be a good listener during this tough time.” (A little “I’ll be your Huckleberry” pick-up strategy!)
Then she says, “Thanks, but I already have someone I talk to.”
My thought was, “Who is this guy she is talking to?” She didn’t seem like the type of woman who would have a guy as a close confidant—sharing intimate feelings. What’s going on here?
So, I asked, “Who’s this guy you are talking to?”
And she says, “Jesus.”
Just like that. Matter-of-factly. Right out in the open. It wasn’t Sunday, and we weren’t in church.
Well, I say, “What?!” because I’m flabbergasted.
And she says, “Yes. Jesus is my best friend, and I talk to him anytime I want to.”
My jaw dropped. I didn’t know how to respond. I’d never heard anyone ever say anything like that—even though I’d been to church as a child and teen a thousand times.
Then she just smiled and walked away!
The thought of having Jesus as my best friend just kept repeating—like a song in my head. That nagging thought was in my mind relentlessly from July through August and into the beginning of September before it died down.
This idea of friendship with Jesus intrigued me. A lot.
When November rolled around, I was still out partying with my buddies. Getting plastered most weekends and even on a few weekdays.
On Saturday mornings, I worked part time as a disc jockey at a radio station. One day a local pastor, John Shimko, heard me on the air being a total idiot—saying inappropriate things. I’d been up all night drinking the night before, and I rolled into work directly from an all-night booze party. Pastor Shimko was on his way to the radio station to do his on-air ten-minute devotion. He brought me out a cup of coffee and some donuts. We chatted for a while. He wasn’t beating me over the head with a Bible, or telling me how terrible I was acting on the radio. He didn’t say anything condemning whatsoever. Instead, he related to me. It turned out we both enjoyed the singer John Denver.
After he finished up his on-air devotion, just as he was leaving the station, he said, “Hey, you know, we’d love to have you join us over at the Baptist church tomorrow morning at 11:00.” And so I said out loud, “Yea, maybe I’ll stop in there.” But in my mind, I’m thinking, “There is no way I’m going to that Baptist church because there’s a bunch of Jesus freaks who go there.”
Saturday night rolled around, so I went out partying again.
Sunday morning I met my buddies at 10:00 at the Hillcrest Restaurant for breakfast. And, as alcoholics often do, we laughed about how drunk and stupid we were the night before. We thought it was a riot.
At about 10 minutes to eleven, it was time for me to leave the restaurant. Walking out of the Hillcrest, my hand on the front door (it was one of those glass and aluminum doors typical for a storefront), I looked diagonally across the intersection and spotted the Baptist church.
Now, this may sound very strange, but somehow, all of sudden, the front door of the restaurant became the front door of the church. I didn’t remember, or have a conscious awareness, of walking over to the church. I was just like there—inside the Baptist church. I don’t know how to explain it.
I opened the door. I walked in. I was in a fog. A few people greeted me. And then I saw a gentleman that I knew from high school who said, “Hey Jim. Glad to see you here.” Just about then the fog lifted. And I asked myself, “Did I just walk into the Baptist church?”
Now that I’m in there, and someone I knew saw me, I couldn’t just run out. He ushered me down to a seat in the pew. I’d never been in a Baptist church before. I had been in other protestant churches for weddings and such, but not for a Sunday service.
So, this was all foreign to me. I had no clue what was going on.
After a bit, Pastor Shimko went to the pulpit to deliver his message for the morning. He looked over and saw me. I could tell by the look on his face that he was as surprised to see me sitting there as I was to be there!
He was scheduled to give a message on Noah. And, of course, the sermon title was listed in the bulletin. And then he said to the congregation, “Folks, I was originally going to speak on Noah this morning. I’ve worked hard to prepare this message. But I think I’ll save it for next week. Today I want to talk about something else. Please open your Bibles to the Gospel of John, chapter 3.”
I didn’t have any idea where the Gospel of John was in the Bible. I didn’t even know that there was a Bible in the pew in front of me. This little old lady, about 80 years old, picked up a Bible and opened it up to John. She handed it to me and pointed to chapter 3. I thought, “Ok, what am I supposed to do with this?”
So, the pastor started teaching from John 3:3, about being born again. He worked his way to John 3:16, which I had never heard before. I know that sounds bizarre, especially for someone like me who had spent many a Sunday in church as a kid. I guess I never paid any attention to it.
John 3:16 and 17: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
This was quite foreign to me because my understanding of God and Jesus was rather different than what he was sharing. I thought God was mad at me. Obviously, I was wrong. It was amazing to learn that Jesus loved me, no matter what.
Wow. This was eye-opening.
Pastor Shimko also explained that Jesus did not complicate the issue of a relationship with Him. Jesus made it clear in John 14:6: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
At the end of the sermon Pastor Shimko told everybody to bow their head and close their eyes. So we did, because you do whatever the pastor says, right? Stand up, sit down, kneel. So I had my head bowed and eyes closed while he gave an invitation. Now, I don’t remember exactly what he said, but he used phrases common within the walls of the church, but uncommon for folks like me outside the church. I didn’t really know what he was talking about. He was wanting people to respond by raising their hand.
There was this kind of uncomfortable silence. As I sat there, I suspected that he was talking to me because everyone else, of the sixty elderly people in the church, were regulars. But I didn’t know exactly what he meant. A few more seconds passed and he gave the invitation a second time. Again, another set of “Christianese” phrases I didn’t get. Only, now I was sure he was talking to me.
I began to ponder that I was pretty interested in John 3:16 & 17. Maybe, I ought to raise my hand because he assured us that he would not embarrass anyone. He just wanted to pray for whoever made this indication. So I thought this might be ok. But, I also got this thought (that I now believe was planted there by Satan), “Don’t you dare raise your hand because if you do, then you’re going to have quit having fun.”
Let’s be clear, the worldly “fun” I was having was disastrous and self-destructive.
So, I didn’t raise my hand.
Thankfully, Pastor Shimko didn’t give up. He knew that he’d hooked one and wanted to reel me in. The fish closest to the boat fights the hardest. That was me. Only this time when he gave the invitation, he didn’t use the “Christianese” vocabulary. This time, he said, “I know that there is someone here today who wants Jesus as their best friend.”
Whoa. Instantaneously, my brain went back to Beth telling me about Jesus being her best friend. Nothing Satan said or did could stop me. I shot my hand up because I was hungry to have Jesus as my best friend.
I want to tell you that God was victorious!
By the way, later on I looked up this idea of Jesus being my friend in the Bible, and it was there! “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15).
So, as I was telling this story to Julio, tears gathered in his eyes (and mine too). We rejoiced about God’s victory in my life. I ask him, “What about you?”
He said, “My story is a little weird. I was given the message of salvation by Mary.”
I said, “Who?”
He said, “You know, Mary, the mother of Jesus.”
I said, “You’ve got to tell this story, Julio.”
He and his wife were from New York City. They decided to move to south Jersey about 30 miles east of Philly. The first Sunday, they were looking for a church to attend. They saw this nice-looking church building and decided to give it a try. During the service the pastor announced that there was going to be a special program that night. A traveling theater group was coming to put on a musical drama called “Mary: the story of Jesus through His mother’s eyes.”
Julio’s wife, Maria, had always held Mary in high regard, so they decided to return that evening to see the play.
They loved the music, the story, and the way Mary was presented as an ordinary girl who was obedient to God’s calling.
Julio says, “Basically, Mary told the whole gospel in one play.”
As he told me the story I began to tear up. The more he told, the more I cried. I’m sure he was thinking that this was a much more powerful story than he ever imagined.
Then he says, “At the end of the play, a man got up and encouraged the people in the audience to make the decision to make Jesus their best friend. Please talk to a pastor, priest, or minister that you know or come up here to talk to folks that will pray with you about your decision.”
So, Julio and Maria go up after the play and chatted with one of the pastors of the church. After some prayer, they gave their lives to Christ.
By this time I was just bawling. Tears were streaming down my face.
“Now,” he said, “Whenever anyone asks me, ‘Who led you to the Lord?’, I tell them Jesus’ mother Mary.”
I could barely breathe, much less speak, at that point.
Finally, I told him, “Julio that was so powerful. Let me tell you why. That was us.”
Julio asks, “What do you mean?”
“That ‘Mary’ was my wife, Beth; and I was the one who came up after the performance to give the invitation.”
Well, between cheering and crying and hugging and high-fiving each other, the people around us probably thought the Holy Spirit sure got a hold of those two dudes or we were going crazy.
I was so appreciative that God allowed this “chance meeting” to happen. Clearly God arranged this. With 100,000 people at Creation Festival, I just happened to bump into a guy we ministered to several years prior? Beth and I both needed to know about Julio. During the ten years out on the road in ministry, we would show up to perform Mary, and then a few hours later, we would pack up and hustle off to the next place. We rarely received feedback, so we didn’t know the impact we were having on God’s kingdom.
But Julio confirmed that day that if we are obedient to what God wants us to do, if we get the good news out there, even if it’s not perfect, the Holy Spirit will take that seed and bring it to life. It will multiply.
Many years ago, Beth’s best friend, Jesus, became my best friend. I never would have imagined that Beth and I would have a traveling ministry where I was inviting people to put their trust in Jesus as a perfect, faithful friend.
As proof that Jesus loves you, read Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
So, can we get serious for a minute? You’ve read my story. What’s your story going to be?
Would you like to have Jesus as your best friend? If so, you need to decide to fall in love with Jesus.
Jesus loves YOU.
NO. MATTER. WHAT.