Monday, January 11, 2010

Score One More for Life

I first met Larry (not his real name) a few years ago. He had to be in the hospital for something or other. His mother, who is a part of our church family, asked me to go see him. So I went. And I left the hospital that day shaking my head and wondering why I bothered. Larry wasn’t exactly rude, but he certainly had no interest in visiting with the preacher from his mother’s church. And that was my last contact with Larry until this past month.

His mother called again. Larry was in the hospital again. This time it could be something very serious. Would you come see him? I got there on the heels of Brent, our Children’s Minister. He told me that Larry was not very open or welcoming to him. “Big surprise,” I thought to myself. And when I got there he wasn’t open with me either—though he did let me pray for him. That came at the insistence of a hospital transportation worker who was rolling him down to the second floor for some kind of test. It was a bit awkward, but he allowed the prayer. I think he did that more for his mother than for himself. So we prayed.

Turned out his mother was right. Tests revealed something very serious indeed. More tests were ordered. Surgery followed. The C-word was the problem. It was aggressive and relentless. It started taking up residence in various places in his body and throwing its ugly weight around. Doctors did their best. They even tried a second surgery. But it became like plugging a dike—patch one hole and two others spring a leak. It was a losing battle.

But a funny thing happened in this slow and painful journey toward death. Jesus started throwing His weight around too. As Larry became more and more aware of where all this was heading, he got to wondering about where he was heading when cancer finally had its way with him. A closed heart started to open and you could hear the creak of its rusty hinges all the way to Alaska. Suddenly, Larry had to know more about God, about death, about eternity. He asked his mother. She called Brent. Brent went to the hospital, introduced Larry to Jesus, and Larry was very glad to meet Him. Right there in that hospital bed, Larry repented of his sins and invited Jesus to be His Savior and Lord. A heart of stone became a heart of flesh. A heart dead in its trespasses and sins came to life. And Jesus smiled and mama cried and angels danced and heaven threw a party for Larry.

I saw his mother on Saturday. “Do you think Larry would like to be baptized?” I asked. “We can do it right there in the hospital.” She smiled and said, “I’ll ask him.” She called this morning with news: “Larry has been moved to hospice, and yes, he would like to be baptized.” We Baptists are pretty much sticklers for immersion, you know—that’s what the word means, that’s the way they did it in the New Testament—sticklers, I tell you. But when immersion is not a possibility we can go with the flow.

So Brent and I went to see Larry today. He is under contact isolation, so we put on our yellow gowns and little blue latex gloves. Larry couldn’t open his eyes, but he could hear us and respond with groans. I shared a Scripture or two, Larry groaned his agreement. Then I asked him, “Larry, do you believe Jesus died for your sins and rose from the dead according to the Scriptures?” Groan. “Then I baptize you, my brother, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen.” And as I applied water to his forehead by making the image of a cross, I declared, “Buried with Christ in baptism; raised to walk in a new life.” He groaned again—this time a groan of release and surrender and peace. Then Brent prayed and mama cried and dad stood by quietly taking it all in.

Before we left the room, I took another look at Larry. And that’s when I was struck by an image I’ll not soon forget. The sun was coming in the window at just the right angle to reveal the glistening of the baptism waters on his forehead. I’ve seen the sun piercing through the stained-glass in Nortre Dame Cathedral in Paris. I’ve seen the sun sparkling on a metal cross erected high in the Andes above the little village of Chavin, Peru. Both breathtaking in their own way. But I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything more profound and beautiful than those baptism waters glistening on the head of one who has been snatched from death to life eternal.

Take that, cancer! Take that, death! Take that, devil! Jesus has saved yet another from your clutches. Score one more for life.


  1. Wow, what a moving story!
    Thank you, Jesus!

  2. I love death-bed conversions because they so highlight the grace of God! "Nothing to the cross I bring; simply to the cross I cling."

  3. I am always thankful that God never gives up on those of us who need Him the most--whatever our needs and wherever we are spiritually. Thank you for sharing.

  4. John, as you've always said--you scratch me and you still find a Baptist! This story moves me thoroughly.