It was a rainy summer afternoon in Indianapolis, one of my first days as a brand new church planter. Not having a lot else to do, I went to the local Starbucks to hang out and see who I could meet, and perhaps engage in some conversation. Sitting at the table next to me was an older man drinking a coffee and perusing his iPad. We started talking. I learned his name was Robert. I shared with Robert that I was new to the community and was planting a church. I remember him chuckling and saying he had never heard the term “planting a church” but he liked the imagery. We shared some more pleasantries and I bid him farewell.
Fast forward a few weeks. Once again, I was in Starbucks. Across the room I could see Robert – ball cap, beard, glasses, reading the newspaper. Not thinking he would remember who I was, I didn’t bother him, but determined I would reintroduce myself before I left. Turns out I didn’t have to. A few minutes later, Robert yelled across the room, “How’s the new church coming?” I was surprised he remembered me. I walked across the room, joined him at this table, and we began to talk. We discovered that we had a lot in common. We were both from Missouri, both loved baseball and history, and were both Netflix addicts. Before I left that day, I asked Robert if he would like to meet at Starbucks the following week and do some Bible study. I was pleasantly surprised when he agreed.
Over the next few months, Robert and I had a standing appointment at Starbucks on Thursday afternoons at 1:00. It was rare for us to miss. We talked about a number of things – sports, photography, iPhones, and Robert’s massive music collection. (He had over 27,000 songs downloaded!) Robert was also a prolific reader, and he would often tell me about the latest book he had been reading. After visiting for awhile, we would turn our attention to Bible study. As we worked through the Old Testament, Robert was especially amazed by the stubborn rebellion of the Israelites, and the grace of God in forgiving them time and again. So we would talk about how God does the same for us - that we too are rebellious children who God forgives time after time. And then I would share with Robert that God sent His son, Jesus, into the world to die for our sins, so that through faith in Him we can be reconciled to God.
Over time, I began to see God do a great work in Robert’s life. He enjoyed reading and studying his Bible. He was learning. It was sinking in. The light bulb was coming on. One week Robert told me that he had prayed for the first time in many years. I asked him what he prayed for. He said he didn’t pray for himself, but for his family and specifically his children. He kind of laughed and said, “What is happening to me?”
One evening I got an email from Robert that he had been taken to the hospital with heart pain. Surgery would be necessary. I went to see him the next day and found a man who desired to make peace with God. As we talked about spiritual things, Robert indicated he desired to make a commitment of his life to the Lord. We prayed together in his hospital room that day, and Robert did exactly that. Little did we know at the time that Robert would meet his Lord sooner than we ever expected.
One thing Robert and I often talked about was God’s sovereignty in all things. That nothing in life is coincidental. That everything that happens is part of God’s grand design – His purpose and plan. (Even us meeting one another in Starbucks.) And that even though we can’t always see it at the time, we must have faith in that plan. And Robert came to strongly believe that! He even called me while he was in the hospital, and said, “I know all of this is a piece of a bigger puzzle.”
To make a long story short, Robert didn’t come home from the hospital. He passed away from complications of his condition. But I praise God that Robert is in Heaven with the Lord today. I also praise God that I had a chance to get to know Robert, and share the gospel with him. I asked a friend, “Do you think God would move a family all the way to Indiana just to save one man?” He replied, “Brother, God would move Heaven and Earth to save just one of His elect.” We serve a Shepherd who leaves the 99 to pursue the one. And for that, I am most thankful.
Please keep Robert’s wife and children in your prayers.
So long, friend. See you on the other side.