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Requiem for Jimmy
Witnessing Tools
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Wendy Wippel

For a long time Jimmy was just hearsay.  Another gymnastics Mom talked about her job in surveillance at the local casino, about her husband who worked there too, and about her husband's friend Jimmy.  Jimmy was an old and dear friend.  But Mom worried because Jimmy and Dad were drinking buddies and sometimes that led to trouble.

Our kids eventually outgrew gymnastics but the relationship stuck.  Mom started coming to our church’s women’s bible studies, and we got to be good friends with Dad and all of their kids.  Great family.  I should probably mention here that Mom was a committed Christian, but like so many other marriages, Dad was not.

Time went on.  Dad’s relationship with Jimmy, and the alcohol involved, was a regular issue in Mom’s prayer life.  A shared binge eventually ended in an altercation with the neighbors.  Police were called, and when the dust cleared Mom was out of a job.

Surveillance had a rule about married coworkers, and they had kept their marriage secret.

Now the predictable downward spiral.  Financial pressures escalated; they finally lost their house.  Then Mom was informed she was carrying twins.  Dad numbed his desperation with alcohol.  Under the influence, he sideswiped another car and left the scene; chased by an officer of the law, he hit another vehicle.  The police were waiting for him at the hospital.  He was in a heap of trouble.  

Enter Hosea 5:15. "In their affliction they will seek me earnestly".  Dad finally hit bottom and cried out to God.

God showed up.

The attending ER doctor turned out to be not only a committed Christian but also the husband of the women Dad had T-boned.  After stitching up Dad’s Jeff's wounds he identified himself as the offended  husband, hugged Dad, offered Dad God’s love and then his own forgiveness.  The police officer waiting turned out to be someone Dad had dated in high school, also a Christian; this policewoman placed Dad in a special program in which the offender can avoid jail time if under church-supervised rehabilitation.

That might be something you’ll only find in the Bible Belt.

Enter our bible study.  The men accompanied Dad to court, committed to being his mentors, and, when all that stood between Dad and the ability to continue to provide for his family was $285 in court costs, paid his fees. 

Dad had heard the Gospel thousands of times but, with the series of improbable God moments he had just been through, he now felt the hand of God solidly on his shoulder.  Dad was soon safe in the arms of the Savior, and seven years later, he has never looked back.

Enter Jimmy.  About five years ago our pastor had the congregation take out our cell phones and identify the percentage of the lost in our contact list compared to the percentage of found.  For most of us it was a telling moment.  Those we associated with voluntarily are very likely to be other Christians.  His advice?  Just do what you like to do, in that context befriend the lost, and thereby widen your sphere of influence.

Not exactly a revolutionary thought, but we get in our ruts. 

As it happened, a local restaurant started to host a trivia league, and I like to play trivia.  More accurately, I LOVE to play trivia.  And thus the “I Spy” team (many of its members part of the casino surveillance department) was born.

And Jimmy decided to join the team. 

I liked Jimmy from the beginning.  He was kind of a good ol’ boy but funny, smart, and personable and I became very fond of him.  He had some rough edges though.  He had had a rough life.  His dad was absent during his formative years (serving two stints in Vietnam), and he and his three siblings spent a lot of time on their own.  His dad finally returned home and joined the Memphis police force.

The joy that had greeted his return was short-lived. Six months later he was shot dead responding to a hold-up at a convenience store.  And then things really got tough.

Jimmy’s mother tried to raise the kids in the faith, but life overwhelmed them.  He had  heard the Gospel.

He heard it again playing trivia.  And pretty soon he started coming to our bible study.  He lasted a year and a half, but couldn’t bring himself to commit.  He had that “I have to clean myself up” mentality, and try as we  might to clear that up (you clean the fish after you catch ‘em, Jim) the Holy Spirit just couldn’t break through.  He stopped coming, and although we kept in touch, it seemed that the devil had won.

But God wasn’t done.

II Samuel 14: 14 says that God does not want the banished person to stay banished, but devises ways to bring the banished person back.  Hosea 5: 15 tells us that “in their affliction, they will seek me (God) earnestly".

Jimmy got sick. 

He heard the Gospel again, from many people, and this time it was Good News.  I got to have a ring-side seat for the ways that God brought the banished Jimmy back, and I am blessed.  He got baptized Labor Day weekend.

He died Thursday morning.

I got saved in the late seventies, right around the time that Greece became the tenth nation in the EEU, and just about everybody was solidly convinced that the rapture would be, no doubt, a week from Tuesday.

We spent hours and hours every week looking for those lost sheep and telling them the Good news about the mercy of God in Christ.   But I graduated, and got married, had kids, and got a job, putting myself at the mercy of the incessant demands of houses and jobs and laundry and parents and spouse and kids.  And do I now daily seek out the lost to witness?  Not so much.

But ultimately the search and seize method we employed in college—we had the mentality of entering the strong man’s house and seizing his possessions—is not the only way.

"Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor." (1Corinthian 3:5-8 NKJV)

One plants, one waters, and one is lucky enough to see the fruit.

Jimmy had an alcohol problem.  He had a rocky marriage.  He didn't make a ton of money.  He used some colorful language on occasion.  He felt like he was unworthy to be in church.  And some church people would no doubt agree.

But Jesus saw the people with compassion.  Harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  And Jimmy, with the circumstances of his childhood, could have been a poster child for the harassed and helpless sheep.  A lost sheep, clearly without a shepherd.  And God went after that one lost sheep.

Witnessing is just one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread. (Jack stole my thunder a few weeks ago on that one-- for a long time I thought my own pastor had made that up.)

The fields are ripe for harvest.  There's no shortage of beggars, no shortage of harassed and helpless people who know they lack the resources they need to make a success of their lives.  The problem is a labor shortage.  And I, for one, a regular victim of the tyranny of the urgent, have been taking too many personal days of late.

But God gives the increase.  All I need to do is plant a seed or two, or water some.  And if my head is where it ought to be, that is something I ought to be able to accomplish.

Jimmy came late, kind of like the thief on the cross, as one escaping a fire.

But this day he is with Jesus in paradise.

And I can’t wait to see him.

About Wendy Wippel

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