Trophies of grace
A heart attack opens the door for the gospel to win a soul for Jesus.
Eric S. Hartzell
In 1919, a white man stepped into the Apache reservation in Arizona to share God’s message of grace and forgiveness in Jesus. He was Pastor H.C. Nitz, and over the years he witnessed the miracle of the gospel winning the hearts of people. He wrote about these “trophies of grace” among the Apache nation.
His experiences are like so many others in many other settings. The gospel wins the hearts of people; they become trophies of grace. Each one of us is also a trophy of God’s grace because he has called us by the gospel and made us disciples of Jesus.
I have a story of two trophies of grace to share. I met them in Georgetown, Texas. I’m going to call them the husband and the wife, because what their names are is not as important as who they are. It is only important that Jesus knows their names. And he does.
The husband is a Vietnam veteran who was severely wounded in the war. His awful wartime wounds were not as painful, however, as the wounds he suffered at home from an unappreciative and uncaring public. The best thing he did—and he will tell you this today—is that he married his wife, who is a strong believer in Jesus and who tried to get her husband to believe like she did. It was to no avail though. He loved her dearly, but he just couldn’t believe in Jesus. That’s what he said. Maybe he was talking like a soldier, but one time he said, “I think it is a real bad idea if someone would have to die for my sins. If someone needs to die for my sins, it should be me.”
One day his wife and I were working together with other members of the congregation at a booth for the church in Georgetown. We were trying to get some publicity for the little Lutheran church and invite people to come. My cell phone rang with a call from the neighbor lady who lived across the street from the couple.
The lady on the phone said, “They are working on him right now. Apparently, he has had a bad heart attack.” The wife left right away to be with her husband at the hospital, and I promised to come to the hospital as soon as the event was over that evening.
When I arrived at the hospital later that evening, things had stabilized. The husband was laying on the hospital bed. His wife was there, and I offered a devotion as I tried to talk about Jesus. The husband was polite, and he listened. What choice did he have?
Then a doctor came into the room to tell the couple where things stood. I stood off to the side to let the doctor speak to the couple. The doctor was from one of the countries of the former Soviet Union, and he spoke with a very heavy accent. He told the husband the bad news and what he would have to do now.
When he left the room, the husband looked at his wife and said, “We have to do what this doctor says. We have to believe what he has told us.” Whether those were exactly the words or not, it doesn’t matter. That was the gist of it.
I stepped up to the bed at that point and said to the husband, “This doctor came into your room and you could hardly understand him. He’s from another country. You are just a patient of his, and you believed everything he told you. People who love you are here, and they are telling you to believe in Jesus and have life and you won’t believe them.” And then I left the couple and went home.
Early the next morning my cell phone rang. The wife announced, “Pastor, he’s ready to talk to you now. Can you come?”
And now it would be possible in a way to say, “And the rest is history.” The gospel had begun to claim another trophy, and it was handsome! From “I can’t believe in Jesus,” it was now, “I want to believe in Jesus.”
The gospel continued to work, and, after some time of rehabilitation, the husband asked if he could be baptized. It happened with water from a white Dixie cup in another hospital room. The words of promise were from the Word that says, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16).
It still wasn’t easy. The husband’s health was shaky. He went home, but there were questions and some doubts expressed along the way. His wife was there every second for her husband. He steadily became stronger.
But it was not over yet! After some time, the husband and wife were away at a gathering, and another heart attack came. My cell phone brought the news. The EMTs were a half an hour away, and they were bringing the husband to the hospital. His wife was coming in another vehicle and would get there as soon as she could.
Inside the emergency room, a small group of believers in Jesus gathered and waited for the wife. The EMTs were working frantically on the husband. Under their breath, we heard the EMTs say, “How long are we going to keep this up?” The pounding on his chest and the other measures weren’t helping. They packed him in ice to keep the swelling down in his brain. It had been a half an hour, and his heart was stopped. “Please wait until his wife gets here before you stop trying to revive him,” the forlorn little group pleaded.
And then we prayed. The prayer of this hopeful but helpless group was, “Jesus, please help this man. He knows you and he loves you. Save him. Please.” Our prayers continued when the wife arrived.
Then there was a blip on the screen . . . and then another. The husband started fighting the respirator and the breathing apparatus and began to breathe on his own. “Get that ice off of him,” and they did. “I’m holding your hand now,” the wife told her husband. “If you can hear me, squeeze my hand.” His hand squeezed hers! Then he opened his eyes. After a while someone said, “What was the score of the football game yesterday?” and he answered . . . correctly.
Everyone who was there is still convinced that they saw a miracle that day. But actually, the real miracle had already happened when the husband said, “I want to believe in Jesus.”
Today it is also a wonderful thing to hear the husband’s confession, “Jesus has saved me.” He’s not afraid to tell anyone. In fact, he tells everyone. He and his wife are now charter members of Redeemer, St. George, Utah.
Together with other members, they are all God’s trophies of grace!
Eric Hartzell is pastor at St. Peter, Globe, Arizona.
Author: Eric S. Hartzell
Volume 106, Number 4
Issue: April 2019