Biff had just finished telling me his life story at a nearby coffee shop. It was honest and unflattering. I saw humility, even embarrassment, as he shared the gritty details. I felt honored that he chose to share so personally with me. As he got up to leave I said, “Biff, thank you for that. Would it be OK if I shared a little of my story?” He sat back down, “Sure.” That’s when I told him about my own time of doubt in college; and how God became bigger and more real as I prayed and sought wisdom, and discovered a community where intelligent people acted like God was alive, healing and transforming lives. Biff made an interesting comment for a skeptic: “Steve, you were feeding your faith and starving your doubts!” He heard a pastor say that once!
Before we got up, I told him that every good thing in my life had come from knowing Christ; including the strength He has given me in sickness and in health. I wish I could say that after I was finished Biff turned to me and said, “Steve, I want to start following Jesus, right now.” He didn’t, but he did raise his coffee cup and say, “Steve, how about a toast to friendship.” Considering where our relationship began...that was saying a lot.
Over the years Biff and I have talked about politics and world issues, about growing old, about the possibility of eternal life, and the evidence that Jesus defeated death. One day Biff said, “Steve, you deserve to go to heaven.” That’s when I said, “Biff, I don’t deserve to go to heaven; and I don’t think you think you deserve to go to heaven either. Heaven is a gift we can only receive by faith. We can’t earn it. It’s not about deserving, as though our good deeds had to outweigh our bad ones – it’s about receiving what God has done for us in Christ.”
The next week, Biff said to me, “Steve, I’ve been thinking about what you said. God bless you.” I took that as a sign that God was breaking through that tough exterior with his love.
A few months ago I had a conversation with one of our church members, Glennys, and realized she knew Biff from the Culver City Rec Center! An interesting thing happened. Biff’s wife was having health problems and Biff actually asked Glennys to pray for her, then Glennys asked Biff to pray for one of her friends. He said he would. A few days later, not knowing that I knew Glennys, Biff came up to me at the gym and said, “Steve, I wanted ask if you would pray for a friend I know through the Culver Rec Center. Her name is Glennys and she has a friend who needs prayer.” “Of course, I would.” And there we were, in a prayer triangle with Biff!
I was shocked to hear, three weeks ago, that Biff had suffered a heart attack at the Culver City Rec Center, and was in ICU. I went to the hospital twice to find him in an induced coma. Leaning over his bedside, I placed my hand on his left shoulder and prayed that Jesus would make himself very real to Biff. I learned last week that he never awoke. Only God can say how it is for Biff right now, but what I can say is that Biff is in Jesus’ hands and that He is the one who said to the repentant thief who hung on a cross beside Him, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.” And what I can say is that the Lord came for sinners like Biff and me, and that Biff chose to hear my testimony, and call me his friend, and bless me, and asked me to pray for someone in need. What I can say is that Biff, but let’s call him by his real name now – Cliff Nelson -- wanted to get to the Promised Land as I do; and because of Jesus, I believe that he has.