I don’t remember his last name, because we simply called him “Brother Jim.” I grew up in a small-town, middle-of-nowhere place, and he was the children’s pastor at my small-town, middle-of-nowhere Baptist church.
Brother Jim was a good and a kind man, and I loved him. I’m sure he gave us dozens of “talks” throughout my childhood, but there was one in particular that would change my life forever.
It was the last day of our annual “Camp Sonshine” summer camp, and he stood in front of about 100 or so of us kids in the church’s fellowship hall. As he began to speak, he picked up a big vase of clear liquid. He told us this was the condition of our hearts before sin entered the picture—pure and clear. Then he explained that in the beginning of the world, Adam and Eve rebelled and disobeyed God. As he spoke, Brother Jim squeezed a couple of drops into the water that instantly turned the clear liquid to a deep black. He explained that this blackness represented the condition of our hearts because of our sin—black and darkened to the things of God.
Then he began to talk about Jesus. He spoke of how sin kept us from a relationship with God, but how Jesus lived a sinless life and shed his blood on the cross to pay the penalty of our sin so we could be reconciled to God. After he spoke of Jesus’s death, Brother Jim put another couple of drops into the vase. The color of the liquid instantly turned from black to red. He taught us that God changes our darkened hearts by covering them with the blood of Jesus, taking away the blackness of our sin forever.
In the final part of his presentation, Jim put a few final drops into the vase, instantly turning the red liquid clear again—just like it had been in the beginning! Loud gasps filled the room as every kid in the place was mesmerized by this trick, changing water from clear, to black, to red, then to clear again.
Several kids starting shouting out, “How did you do that?” (It’s a good question. I’m sure it was a chemistry trick that I need to figure out before I teach a group of children again.) He held the clear liquid up for us to see and explained that this is what happens to our hearts when the blood of Jesus covers us. We’re made clear and pure in the sight of God, just like we were created to be. Every child in the room sat there, jaws open, in awe of what they’d seen.
But something beyond the creativity of the illustration had captured my attention and my heart. More than the “magic” of the changing colors of liquid, the story of Jesus blew me away. I had heard the gospel for the first time, and the beauty of Christ’s person and work was messing me up. Even as a middle-aged man, I can still remember what I felt in that moment. My heart was beating fast and tears welled up in my eyes, because I couldn’t believe that God loved me enough to send his own Son to die in my place and make me clean.
Brother Jim asked us to bow our heads and raise our hands if we wanted to ask Jesus to be our Lord and Savior. I instantly raised my hand. Even as an 8-year-old boy, everything within me believed what I had been told, and in that moment I wanted Jesus more than anything else in the world. That day began my lifelong relationship with Jesus. From that moment, he has been my Lord, my best friend, and the love of my life.
Even as an 8-year-old boy, everything within me believed what I had been told, and in that moment I wanted Jesus more than anything in the world.
I recently had a person respond to me on Twitter, bemoaning the evils of the church with all its hypocrisy and failings. They spoke of greedy megachurch pastors and their $2,000 sneakers. While those failings are real, I wish this person could have met Brother Jim or one of the many people whose names we will never know, but who quietly and faithfully reveal Christ’s beauty to little kids in small towns all across this country. They are a force for untold good, not evil.
A year after my conversion, Brother Jim left my small town to serve at another church in another city. I haven’t spoken to him since, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know that one little kid he shared the gospel with all those years ago would turn out to be a pastor. I’m also pretty sure he has no idea the difference he made on countless others like me throughout his ministry. But I’m looking forward to finding him one day in heaven and thanking him for being the first to show me the beauty of the gospel.
You can read previous installments in this series.