A soul was at risk!
An alarm spread through heaven, like ripples from a pebble informing the surface of a pond. Forces were mobilized, resources targeted, earthly hearts stirred from slumber.
In a twinkling, it was done in Heaven.
On earth, it would take a little longer.
Duane showed up one night at a Bible study asking for prayer. He had three types of cancer and knew he was dying -- a knowledge he kept at arms length with liberal doses of drugs and beer.
We prayed for a miracle. Why not? But I can't say any of us expected the kind of response God provided.
After two weeks of prayer, a tearful Duane said he'd been to the doctor. His cancer was in remission -- without treatment or medicine other than what's available from a convenience store refrigerator or a crack house. Duane said he told his doctor the recovery was the result of prayer.
His doctor started going back to church that week.
Duane agreed to be baptized at our church shortly after that. He made friends with a guy named Ed while he was there. They were supposed to hook up at Easter, but Duane disappeared without a word to anyone.
For a month, nobody knew where he was. Ed, feeling guilty that he hadn't connected with Duane that Easter Sunday, invited several other homeless men and women to a Christian version of "Oliver Twist." It was all about forgiveness and redemption.
That was the night Duane came back to town. He said he was in Oregon when God told him to get back to North Carolina.
"That's the first time I did what God told me all month," he said.
Duane resumed going to church, but his cancer was back and depression was hitting him pretty hard. He was drinking heavily, smoking crack and doing heroin. As his birthday drew near, he was considering suicide, but nobody knew. He disappeared again.
In faith, we decided to have an impromptu birthday party for Duane the day after his birthday, right before our regular Bible study. Somehow we knew he would come.
One person felt called to buy him a CD of worship music. Another got an inexpensive CD player. Ed got him a baseball cap with our church's name on it and came personally to present it to Duane.
Duane arrived late, carrying a huge cup of beer. As the presents were given, he teared up, then began sobbing softly.
With Ed at his shoulder, whispering questions, Duane listened closely to discussions of Nehemiah 4. He heard how Jews of all different occupations worked to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, only to be criticized and attacked by factions who didn't want the walls to rise.
"That's where I am," he said. "Every time I try to build myself up, every time I try to get away from drugs, people try to drag me back down, give me a beer, offer me some crack.
"They're not my friends."
As long as we've known Duane, he's never considered going into any kind of drug or alcohol treatment. He's always been sure that, if he really wanted to, he could straighten himself out.
But as he listened to more of Nehemiah, he heard a different message. Families were standing in the gaps of the walls, but were calling on God to give them the strength to hold back their enemies despite an enormous disadvantage in numbers and weapons.
"All God asks is that you stand there," Ed whispered to Duane. "He will do the rest. He will give you the strength."
That night of the Bible study was the night Duane had decided to take his own life.
But as he listened to the new CD on the new CD player in his new baseball cap, he was beginning to feel like a new creature himself -- a creature in the image of God.
The next morning, he asked Ed to take him to a drug and alcohol treatment center and checked himself in.
So, over the course of months, God had used the hearts and hands of a dozen people to bring Duane to the point where His Word could rescue this soul.
Hebrews 4:12 says, "For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow ..."
Once the Word has gone out, it does not return empty. (Isaiah 55:11)
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