Every believer is faced with the question: “How does a person become a character in the story of the redeemed?” The answer lies in the truth that every follower of Jesus can experience (be a character) in the story of the redeemed by claiming God’s intimacy, God’s concern, and God’s love.
The story of the redeemed is as vast as the people who are redeemed. Personally, God revealed the answer to me in Luke 15. A little background: Jesus is being questioned because he hangs out with sinners. The religious are astonished because Jesus is with these dirty, rotten, unholy people. The religious are rhetorically asking, “If Jesus is truly God, wouldn’t he know who he is with?” Then Jesus looks at them and tells them a story of a lost sheep. The lost sheep is found, and the shepherd rejoices....and another parable about a lost coin, and when the coin is found, the woman calls her neighbors to rejoice with her....and another teaching lesson about a lost son and an arrogant older brother. The lost son returns, and the father rejoices. The older brother does not rejoice, yet the father demonstrates intimacy, concern, and love towards this older son as well.
...It was in July of 2003, and having a “testimony” became a buzz phrase at Gethsemane Church of Christ where we were serving as music and worship minister. I recall a young man who had given his testimony about drugs, alcohol, and sex gone wild. Yet, he had found Jesus, quit his police job, and now was going to do great things for the Kingdom by going to Bible college. Everyone was impressed and celebrated his newfound faith. Our senior minister asked me to coach him and help him prepare a sermon to preach on a Sunday morning the senior minister was going to be out. “What? It was my job to preach for the senior minister when he was on vacation.” Needless to say, my ego was a little bruised.
The young Christian chose the text of the prodigal son. He had a good, solid text and sermon. As the young Christian developed his sermon, I began to have feelings of being scorned. I had thoughts such as,” I have never done the ‘bad’ things he has done, and I have never left God or the church. I do not have a testimony that people would even care to listen to.” A spiritual reality check was needed.
I found time and took a day in solitude and prayer to seek God’s guidance. I discovered that the text known as the prodigal son is truly about the Father. I did not have a wow-factor testimony. I am the older brother working and laboring for the Father and striving to please my Father-God so that his Kingdom would grow and expand as he saw fit. I was also feeling left out because the crowds I served and loved were cheering a young man who had squandered all the years of labor in his early life. God was doing something in me that I was not even aware needed to be dealt with.
God used this experience to love on me and demonstrate to me a new awareness of God’s intimacy. In Luke 15:31, God reveals his intimacy for those who do not wander away from the fold. The father tells his older son, “You are always with me, and everything I have is yours.” I heard the love in God’s voice as I read the text over and over. Everything God has is mine for the asking. It is not a “maybe if” question, but a statement of intimacy.
The Father says, “You have always been with me and I love you my son; everything you can see is yours.” As the tensions melt between father and son, God looks into the eyes of his creation and says “How can we not celebrate? Your brother has come home!” I was changed, and I was being prepared for one of the hardest events I would ever be asked to face.
...The morning of September 17, 2003. Hurricane Isabel was headed for Richmond, Virginia. My wife Karen was nine months’ pregnant and was due any day. She had experienced a great pregnancy. All the tests came back, and the baby looked fine. The hurricane was coming, so the doctor decided it would be good to induce labor so that we would be safe in the hospital as the hurricane hit the city. The medicine was started at 7 a.m., and at 9 a.m. Karen had her first pain. Everything changed from that moment on. We started to lose the baby’s heartbeat. At 2 p.m. we hit critical mass, and an emergency C-section would have to be performed. At 2:43 p.m. we were in the operating room, and the doctor announced, “She has beautiful blond hair, but it’s a boy!” Our oldest son, Matthew Hinz, had entered our lives.
Less than an hour later we were told, “He has Down syndrome and a heart defect, and we are not sure what else to say at this point.” These words were not even in the discussion just 12 hours earlier. Hurricane Isabel arrived, and there was bad news on all fronts. Around 11 p.m., I was called to the nursery to meet with the doctors. The neonatologist, the cardiologist, and Nurse Marie were standing over Matthew as I stood on the opposite side.
Matthew had an A.S.D. and a V.S.D.—holes in his heart. They proceeded to tell me how bad he was and how things were very grim. At some point, I recall saying, “OK. I am the biggest guy here and no one leaves until I hear something positive about my son.” The neonatologist looked right at me and said, “I can’t do that for you.” I responded with, “You’re fired!” and looked over to the cardiologist and said “You’re next.” She looked at me and said, “I see this every day. You have a journey ahead, but we will get him through.” I said, “OK.”
As we began to leave, Nurse Marie leaned over and said, “I am going to give him his first bath around 3 a.m. Why don’t you come back, and we can do it together?” Nurse Marie was listening...All I wanted to do was be a dad. God was demonstrating his concern through Marie.
Just after midnight...only 18 hours earlier everything was so different. The hurricane passed and power was out, and there were a great deal of scary moments of watching flying trees and lightning glowing in the sky. I remember sobbing and praying, “God, where did you go?”
On my way out of the nursery from giving Matthew his first bath at 4 a.m., I went to the chapel and got on my knees and prayed, “Lord, just let us take him home, even for a little while.” I did not hear an audible voice, but in my spirit it became clear, “No, you cannot take him home.” Needless to say, I was not happy with God’s response. I went every day for four days to the hospital chapel; I prayed and each time God made clear his response, “No.”God was quiet. He was making my family a part of his story and reminding us that that all he has is mine. God was teaching me his concern. He was making me a member of the redeemed.
At ten days old, Matthew went into congestive heart failure. He would need heart surgery soon. We were transferred to the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia, 70 miles away from our home and church. When we arrived, the billing department called to inform us that UVA Hospital was not a participant in our health insurance. The reason we had chosen the original hospital was for its high quality and participation in our insurance program. Now we were at one of the best university hospitals in the United States, but they were not a participant in our insurance. I asked the woman, “Does this mean you will not do the surgery?” She informed me that they would do the surgery, that it would be very expensive, and that we would have to pay for it.
The elders came and prayed with us. They also told me to stay with my family. They told me there would be a job for me when I returned, but I needed to stay with my family. They would take care of things at home, including a regular pay check. God was showing us his concern.
Matthew had his heart surgery and endured a staph infection. Matthew’s little one-month-old body suffered bouts of lung issues and collapse. This little one-month-old came close to death several times. Yet, God’s people showered us with cards, emails, and regular prayers. A fellow minister at the Cherry Avenue Christian Church visited us every day we were at the hospital. Our sister church had a pitch-in dinner, and brought us meals from their gathering. We were receiving mail at the hospital. Frequently a nurse walked in with a pile of cards, notes, and gifts and proclaimed “Mail Call.” There were believers in 38 states and six countries praying for us. We were being humbled as only God can do. He was teaching us His concern.
...God’s love is his strong affection he has for us as his creation. God’s love is like the father welcoming back the lost son while at the same time putting his arm around the older brother and demonstrating graciousness and sincere love for his older son. It is God’s unselfish, loyal, and benevolent concern that he grants us.
We were able to go home 42 days after Matthew’s birth. We went home with an antibiotic pump and a nasal feeding tube. It was Friday, October 31, 2003. On Monday, we received the hospital bill for over $473,000. We had no idea how we were going to pay that bill. On Tuesday we received a letter from our insurance company informing us of a clause in our policy that stated if we were transferred from a participating provider to a non-participating provider, the company would cover everything as if it were the original hospital.
Instantly, I recollected my original prayer 45 days earlier: “God, just let us take him home,” and God said, “No.” If we had left the hospital the insurance would have paid nothing. The right answer was, “No.” God’s love was willing to say, “No” so that God’s love could draw us in to his story of the redeemed.
The insurance paid everything but our co-pays. We had a ten dollar co-pay for every doctor we saw, and that bill alone was over $3000. The insurance paid the bills while church members and friends raised the funds to cover the co-pays. Every medical bill had been paid and cleared by the end of the month of November. We never asked for financial help; God just did what he does best and demonstrated the truth that “everything belongs to those who are redeemed.”
Matthew is nine years old now. Since his birth, God has continued to draw us into his story with four more children. We have a biological daughter who is six years old. Alice does not have Down syndrome and is special in every typical way. We adopted Nicholas Mark, who had Down syndrome and died in our arms at two months old from heart surgery complications. Nicholas is our treasure waiting for us in heaven. We adopted Kendyll Andrey who has Down syndrome. Kendyll is three years old. We also adopted Nathan Israel who has Down syndrome. Nathan is a year old.
I started this article with the question, “How can a person become a character in the story of the redeemed?” The answer is, “By spending time with Jesus. He will give you a story – not because of who you are, but because of who he is! When you have been with Jesus and have experienced God’s intimacy, God’s concern, and God’s love, you can’t help but tell your story as a member of the redeemed.
About the author:
Don Crane was born and raised in California and earned his first bachelor’s degree in church growth and church music from Pacific Christian College, in 1995. Don moved to Sevierville, Tennessee, to serve with Smoky Mountain Christian Church. While there he attended Johnson University earning his second bachelor’s degree in leadership and preaching. Crane met his wife, Karen, while singing in the Gatlinburg Community chorus. Crane has held ministries in California, Tennessee, Virginia, and Indiana. He is currently serving with Park Chapel Christian Church, Greenfield, Indiana, as Associate Minister: Fine Arts. He and Karen have four children.
Listen to Don's chapel sermon at Chapel Sermons 12-13