When Rick had to contact Stephanie in the printing department again, he remembered how rude he had been to her. But, he couldn’t avoid it. His client had been happy with the samples and now wanted to place an order.
He rang her. She seemed bright and breezy. Maybe she had forgotten. Maybe he could say nothing. However, he had thought about it and knew that he needed to apologise. “Stephanie, I want to say sorry for the way I treated you before Christmas. There was no excuse for losing my temper and I am sorry.”
“That’s OK, Rick,” she replied, “It is pressured before Christmas. It happens. Don’t worry about it.”
Rick was relieved. His behaviour might have reinforced people’s negativity about Christians. His witness had probably suffered badly and he would have a lot of re-building to do.
“That’s very kind of you, Stephanie, but…”
“No problem! We all make mistakes.”
Rick could see he didn’t need to labour it. “How was your summer?” he enquired.
“I had a fantastic time. I spent most of it in the Philippines. It was wonderful. What about you?”
“Oh yeah, no, fine, thanks. The Philippines sounds exotic. What did you do?”
Stephanie laughed. “It wasn’t all that exotic. I spent most of my time in a rubbish dump! I was on a mission trip that my church organised. We do it every year.”
What? Rick had no idea. Stephanie was a Christian? No wonder she had been so gracious. Rick reflected on the fact that she had remained courteous despite his rudeness prior to Christmas. She could have dug her toes in and been difficult but she had done the job and had it to him at the time she had promised. But what about the flirting? Rick realised that he had probably completely misread her. What he had thought was flirting with everyone was quite possibly no more than taking a real interest in people and being enthusiastic. Stephanie was a Christian! Well, goodness me! Rick had thought he was the only one.
“Stephanie, that is really, really cool. How long have you been a Christian?”
“Oh well, not very long really,” she laughed again. “About a year. Last summer my friend invited me on one of these mission trips. I had no interest in the church but I thought it would be interesting and an opportunity to do something for others. It was great but I got much more out of it than I gave. I was blown away by the team’s willingness to serve with no thought for themselves; and their love for one another – the way they treated each other – and their love for the Filipinos. And all of that was because of their love for Jesus. I’d never seen people sing and pray with such enthusiasm, and then go and serve.”
Rick had visited Seth several times and they were getting on well. Seth seemed to appreciate the friendship. However, things were getting worse. Rick learned that, as well as the pornography, Seth had had an affair. That had been too much for Marina and she had demanded that he move out. Rick had offered him his spare bedroom but Seth had opted instead for a motel quite close to his home so that he could still see the children several times a week. He and Marina were still talking sometimes and thinking about counselling apparently but Marina was very hurt and angry.
Motel living was pretty lonely and constantly reminded Seth of how quickly his life had changed from care-free and successful, to empty and uncertain. The police investigation still hung over his head although he had heard nothing from them for weeks and didn’t know what was happening. He had always been pretty popular. He was funny and often the life of the party. People liked his jokes and clustered around him.
Not now. He hardly saw any of his workmates. To compensate, he was spending more time at the pub. There were always people ready to laugh at his jokes there. He thought of them as friends, but were they? No one knew what was going on in his life. It was superficial and noisy and it took his mind off things for a while. But it was lonely back at the motel.
Rick had been good though. He had visited at least once a week and seemed to be genuinely concerned. Most weeks Rick had taken him out for a meal. That was nice.
Seth was a bit guarded though. He knew that Christians were always on a mission to convert people and he suspected that Rick saw him as a prospect. Christians were like vultures. If they sensed that someone was going through a hard time, they circled around looking for an opportunity to preach about Jesus. Rick had already tried a couple of times.
Seth didn’t want to appear weak and desperate. Life wasn’t great but he wasn’t completely helpless. He could cope. He’d get through this without Jesus. He certainly didn’t want to be anyone’s project. He was pretty sure that if he showed no interest in Jesus, Rick would lose interest in him. It wouldn’t last. In the meantime, it was nice to have someone to talk to.
Rick had stopped ringing the printing department. Instead he walked across there. The next time he asked Stephanie if she would do him a favour. “Sure,” she said.
“It’s not a work thing.”
“Oh, really?” She had never had any involvement in Rick’s out-of-work life. “What is it you want?”
Rick explained the situation briefly. “Seth Watson – the guy in our office who focused mainly on schools and youth organisations – has got himself into a bit of bother and is now on long-term leave until it is sorted. The police are involved. But I’ve got a real burden for him. I’d love him to know Jesus and I’m trying to keep contact with him. But I wondered if you would be willing to pray for him.”
A smile spread across Stephanie’s face. “I wondered,” she said. “I wondered if you were a Christian. It’s unusual to be asked how long you’ve been a Christian. Only Christians ask that. And I must say, you’ve been remarkably different.”
“It’s true,” Rick said, pleased that she had noticed. “Given my performance before Christmas, no one would have concluded that I was a Christian – despite the fact that I had gone to church all my life. But that all changed on Christmas Eve – in part, because I had been such a jerk. I was ashamed of my inability to act like a Christian. That night I read my Bible and was struck by the fact that the angels announced “a Saviour has been born to you”. I suddenly realised that I didn’t need a moral example that I couldn’t live up to. I needed a Saviour. I trusted Jesus that night for my salvation. Again, I am sorry for the way I acted before that. You say you haven’t been a Christian very long. Well, I’m an even younger Christian.”
Stephanie was grinning. “That is so cool! Praise God! Isn’t He good? And now we just need Adam – no, what’s his name? Seth – to become a Christian too. I’d be delighted to pray.”
“That would be so good. I reckon God wants Seth saved but He’s going to have to do it. I will keep visiting and I’ll talk about Jesus when I can but I think he’s quite resistant. It’s getting harder and harder. It is going to need God to break through.”
“I have a prayer diary. I’ll put him in there and then I can promise that I will pray for him regularly. But let me know when you are having time with him and I’ll pray while you are meeting.”
That was more than Rick had hoped for. Stephanie was cool. He was sure that Seth had no chance now. God was on his case.
On Wednesday, Rick took Seth out for an evening meal. When he thought the time was right, he said, “Seth, I have been meeting with a guy from my church for Bible study. I’m a baby Christian. I have so much to learn so we are really just looking at the basics. Would you be interested in exploring what the Bible really teaches – what Christianity is really all about? You’d be very welcome to join us.”
Seth had been expecting something like this and he felt as if pressure was being applied. “Rick, I very much appreciate your kindness to me. I really do. But I am sorry, I am just not interested. Christians have talked to me in the past. I’ve done some reading. My mother was a Christian. But, you know what? It seems like hocus pocus to me. With things the way they are at the moment, I have asked myself again if the church has anything to offer me but I don’t see that it has. I can’t think of anything more boring than sitting in church. Please don’t take this personally. I like you and appreciate what you are doing for me but I’d prefer it if you didn’t put any pressure on me.”
Rick was deeply disappointed. He had been praying about this. He had believed God had wanted him to extend an invitation. Stephanie had been praying. In fact, they had started praying together. He was enjoying having time with Stephanie.
But he was disappointed with the choices Seth was making – including the amount of time he was spending at the pub. “That’s OK,” he said, even though it wasn’t. How could he ever raise spiritual things again now? Nevertheless, as he had prayed for Seth, his love for him had grown and he was determined to remain a friend. For the rest of the meal, they engaged in small talk.
As they were leaving, Seth said, “Rick, I’m going to go to the pub now. Would you like to come and meet some of my friends?”
Rick had other things planned for the evening and going to the pub didn’t appeal anyway. He was about to excuse himself when he heard God say, “Missionaries go into foreign cultures.” What? “Missionaries go into foreign cultures.”
“Seth, you know what? I’d like to meet your friends.” And actually, the evening wasn’t bad. There was a lot of joviality and it was good to be part of Seth’s new circle of so-called friends. Rick stuck to his lemonade and no one seemed to mind. There was a lot of back-slapping and heartiness when they all left much later in the evening.
But Rick couldn’t help but feel that things were going backwards. Seth had forbidden him from talking about Jesus again, and Rick wondered if he was being drawn into Seth’s culture more than Seth was being drawn into his. He’d had such hopes that Seth would come to know Jesus. Now it looked impossible.
Two nights later, Rick’s phone rang. It was Seth. “Rick, I really appreciated that you came to the pub the other night and spent time with my friends. I’ve thought about it a lot. I was stubborn and turned down your invitation but you accepted mine – even though it probably made you uncomfortable. Does the invitation to the Bible study still stand?
Rick couldn’t believe his ears! Maybe those prayers were being answered.
“One time you told me why Jesus was named “Jesus”,” Seth continued. I’ve been thinking about that. You said the angel told Joseph to name Him Jesus because “He would save His people from their sins” Maybe I need to know more about this. But, Rick, there is one condition. Is this a mixed group? Marina and I think this is something we should perhaps both look into. I’ll do it only if she can come too.”
Readings: Matthew 1:18-25, Ephesians 2:1-10