Tuesday, September 20, 2016



I met Stan at a coffee shop. He was a jovial retired life insurance salesman who would frequently come in to the downtown location to have his morning cup of joe and to read his paper. His navy blue World War II Vet cap was his daily uniform, and he always had a smile and joke for the baristas. My brother-in-law Mike and I used to meet every Monday morning before work to read Scripture together, so we would often see Stan carryout his morning routine along with the other regulars. 

One morning he walked right over to our table, introduced himself, and asked what we were reading. We told him we were followers of Jesus, and we met weekly to read Scripture together and pray for each other. He proudly declared that he was Jewish and that he didn't believe Jesus was the Messiah. I always appreciated Stan's frankness. He grew up in Brooklyn and didn't waste time getting to the point. Before we left that morning, we let him know he was always welcome to join us. He came back the next week and the week after.

He sat with us just about every Monday for months as we went through the Gospel of John. We got him a large print Bible so he could read with us. He would bring it along with his Hebrew Scriptures, what Christians call the Old Testament, and would read for us when we discussed Isaiah or some of the other prophetic messianic passages. We had many conversations about the promised Messiah. I think Stan debated just about every verse we read, but he kept coming back. 

Stan was raised to distrust Christians. He explained how his immigrant parents viewed the church in Europe as being complicit with or indifferent toward anti-Semitic politics and the eventual murder of millions of Jews. I’m reminded how our political affiliations—our failure to clearly speak out against evil—can potentially create lasting and formidable barriers to Jesus.

Stan shared with us that he had a close friend who became a Christian. He noted that his friend's life was chaotic before meeting Jesus and drastically transformed for the better after. Stan seemed to brush his friend's transformation off as little more than the results of a powerful placebo. Still, he had great respect for him. I wondered if his friend's new birth had sparked a curiosity in Stan that compelled him to want to know more about Jesus. 

Stan knew a lot of the shop’s patrons, so just having him sitting at our table opened the door to some conversations we wouldn’t have otherwise had. I remember how a colorful construction worker, an acquaintance of Stan’s, who apparently had been listening to our conversation, would join in from time to time. We had a few interesting discussions about life and God with this guy who usually sat at a nearby table across the way from us. I pray the seeds of the good news were cast wide in these public conversations, amidst the hustle and bustle of the coffee shop’s morning traffic. 

Stan was very proud of his Jewish heritage. He told us how his kids, when they were young, would invite their classmates and neighborhood friends to join the family at Passover and other celebrations. I loved how Stan and his wife enjoyed explaining the meaning behind the traditions and welcoming strangers to their table. He once invited me to visit his synagogue and warmly introduced my daughter and me to his wife and friends. He also gave me an honorary “Jew Card” (seriously, it's a personalized card that grants me “all the rights of being Jewish”) which was characteristic of his sense of humor. 

We would often conclude our time with prayer. Stan regularly asked us to pray for his wife's arthritis pain and his daughter who had led a troubled life. It wasn't common for Stan to make a request for himself. Characteristic of his generation, he didn't like to fuss about his own personal woes. With a heavy heart, he let us know one Monday morning that his daughter had passed away. He invited me to join his family for the memorial service in his home. I felt a little out of place in such an intimate setting of shared grief, especially since I had never met his daughter, but I was incredibly honored to be included. 

We spoke about death and divine judgement from time to time. Stan said his dad told him when he was young that he would one day have to answer to God for everything he had ever done. He didn't elaborate, but he indicated that he had sinned against a holy God on more than one occasion. He found the thought of substitutionary atonement, Jesus dying in our place, repugnant. “Each person should answer for his own sins,” is what he would say. Like most people, Stan hoped his good would outweigh the bad. 

Stan had missed a few Mondays, so I stopped by his house to check in on him. We sat in his study, surrounded by trinkets and family photos, as he told me he hadn't been feeling too good. His doctor had found a spot on his liver that they were concerned about. He brushed it off as if it was no big deal, but I could see he was worried. He once told me that he didn't believe in resurrection. There were also moments when his no-nonsense, tough exterior gave way to brief and honest confessions of his fears about dying. But he didn’t linger there. He showed me some old pictures of the B-25 he flew in during the war. He was a turret gunner if I remember correctly. He would really come to life as he shared stories and photos from his time in the service. I asked if I could pray for him (in Jesus' name, as he knew was my custom) before I left that evening. He gave me permission, so I asked God for healing and that Stan's test results would be favorable. That was the last time I saw Stan. 

I dropped by his house a few weeks later, and his wife greeted me at the door. I asked for Stan and was shocked as she informed me that he had passed away suddenly. The spot turned out to be an aggressive cancer that took him days after it was discovered. She apologized for not inviting me to his funeral (she didn’t have my contact information). I felt the weight of routinely carrying on my life the last few weeks, unaware of my friend's passing. I also felt unavoidable regret that I had just casually asked his grieving widow where he was (forcing her to fill me in on Stan's fate). I wish he told me how near he was to the end. I wish we had finished John's Gospel together. I wish that God had healed him and we had more time. I wish I could have said a better goodbye. I wish there was a better end to Stan's story. 

I believe the Spirit of God was drawing him to Jesus, but I will not presume to know the inner workings of Stan's heart. I will not ascribe to him more than he himself disclosed. God seems to honor and sustain our ability to choose, and Stan never indicated that his opinion of Jesus had changed. I still believe God has purpose in seemingly mundane interactions, and it's cathartic for me to write about Stan (Some three years after his passing). I search for meaning in regard to my time with him. I can find no meaning, however, beyond this: Stan was my friend, and death took him. Jesus came to rescue and restore. He is the only Physician—the only Cure—that can effectively treat the fatal illness afflicting us all. 

And we don’t have half as much time to get the word out as we pretend.

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