On a good day, Tom Brinks was known as a pathetic drunk. The other six days of the week he was a brawler, a thief and a extraordinary menace to the northern town of Fairbanks, Alaska. A scruffy man, his mean and twisted appearance alone could clear a sidewalk. But thankfully, he didn't come to town that often. He usually haunted the hills and lived off the land out of sight. Only occasionally and without warning would some ill wind blow the two-legged derelict onto the crooked streets of town.
Tom's only friend was Marcus Means. Marcus and Tom went to school together, got into trouble together and were kicked out of the Army together. They were known as the two boys who could break more things by nine in the morning then most people could all day. But Marcus found Jesus, or rather, was found by Jesus while stranded for two days with his foot caught in the cold steel of a bear trap. It was a genuine miracle that a pair of hikers found him when they did. Life took on a whole new meaning for Marcus after that. But Tom was having none of it. After telling is former friend where he could shove his Bible, he got thoroughly liquored up and rampaged through a few storefront shops with a large metal pipe before disappearing into the woods. The two men didn't see each other for a few years after that. But with Tom Brinks gone for any length of time, Fairbanks breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Then one December evening, as fall gave way to the icy winds of winter, Marcus heard a knock on the thick front door of his snowed covered house. There under the glow of a flickering porch light was his long lost friend Tom, looking more gaunt and hollow than their last encounter. Marcus welcomed his wandering buddy in from the ocean of cold, night air and over to the warm fire. For hours over hot cocoa and buttered toast, Tom unburdened his soul to his friend. He was coming clean the only way he knew how.
Marcus listened without judgment and forgave with compassion. But he wasn't prepared for what happened next.
Tom looked up from the crackling yellow flames and asked, “Can you show me in the Bible how to be saved? You know, so I can see it for myself and know how to do it?”
Marcus smiled at his friend. “Yeah, Tom. I'll show you.”
In the morning, Marcus led Tom into the scriptures and to where Jesus and the apostles preached the gospel of salvation to the lost. Tom asked questions and required book, chapter and verse answers from Marcus. Marcus did his best.
By mid afternoon, Tom came to an unsettling realization. Like Zaccheus in the New Testament, his repentance would require him to go to every person he'd stolen from, hurt or offended, and make things right. In fact, Marcus told him eye to eye that he wouldn't baptize him until he'd done it. They would begin in the morning.
At ten-thirty, fitted warmly with down coats, hats and snow boots, they started up one side of the snow-lined street, and by dinner time Tom had apologized, fixed something or added a name to his I.O.U list of people he owed money to. Marcus couldn't have been more proud of his contrite friend. Oddly, Tom was feeling lighter with every person he talked to. The look of shock on many faces was priceless.
Around noon the following day, Marcus handed Tom an ax. “Don't have a tub. You'll need to chop a hole in the ice in the lake so I can baptize you.” Tom looked at the rusty tool thoughtfully then nodded.
After an hour of chopping, Tom had carved out a whole big enough for him to fit in to. And under a clear blue sky with temperatures near zero, Tom Brinks slipped into the bone chilling waters of Chena Lake and was baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus for the remission of his sins. Just like how he read in the Bible.
An old drunk died beneath the ice that day and a cleansed man rose from a watery grave to walk in newness of life.
With every passing day, the people of Fairbanks cheerfully accepted this new member into their community, into their homes and into their hearts.
It was a good death.
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