Sometime during July each year, I think of Frank Goodman from New York. I met him in 1986 on a flight from Tampa to Atlanta. Following a three-day speaking engagement in Tampa, I needed to study on the plane for the Sunday School lesson I would be teaching in Chattanooga the following day.
As I read, I was aware of the well-dressed and obviously sophisticated senior citizen seated beside me. He introduced himself as "Frank Goodman, a former upper-bracket gambler from New York." Then he added, "but I'm a Christian now," and he told me how it happened.
He said that former baseball player and later evangelist Billy Sunday was preaching at Madison Square Garden, and that he and his "gambling buddies" decided to go hear him "for a laugh."
"Billy Sunday was a man's man, and a tough, hard-nosed evangelist who called a spade a spade. When Sunday spoke of the transformation in his own life from hostility to faith to a new feeling of love for Christ and others, what he said spoke to some deeply buried longings in my own life. I went to the meeting to scoff, but I stayed to pray.
"What happened 42 years ago today occurred on my personal birthday and my spiritual Christmas because the Christ of Bethlehem was born anew in my heart. From that day to this, I have been a Christian disciple -- a follower of the Nazarene. Each year, I have a birthday/Christmas party."
As we flew northward, I began thinking that the advent of Christ into the world was a preview of how God enters the human heart through Christ. Those individuals to whom it has happened are never quite the same again. Suddenly, on that hot day in July, the words of the Christmas carol, "O Little Town of Bethlehem," will help us celebrate Christmas in July. The third stanza of that song says:
"How silently, how silently
the wondrous gift is given.
Still God imparts to human hearts
the blessings of his heaven."
Contact Nell Mohney at firstname.lastname@example.org.