‘What About Bob?’ How That Question Changed My Life
Guys, it’s so easy for us to hear about the Christian life in church on Sundays or read about it in a daily devotional and then walk out the door and miss the everyday opportunities to live that life. Kary Oberbrunner, a pastor at Grace Church in Powell, Ohio, gave us this great story about a time when God turned his almost-missed opportunity into a life-transforming miracle.
Pressed for time, I slipped my athletic shoes on my feet, strapped my iPod to my arm, and headed out of the locker room looking forward to the endorphin release awaiting me on the other side. The past weekend witnessed overindulgence in the entire food area, and I knew I had my work cut out for me if I wanted to rid myself of the two new pounds that found their way to my already increasing love handles.
With my headphones strategically positioned in my ears, my nonverbals spoke loudly to the world around me-“Don’t get in my way or slow me down.” No one at the gym had to guess that I was a man on a mission, attempting to squeeze an entire workout into an already busy Monday chocked full of meetings, appointments and projects.
As a pastor employed at the church next door, I serve people. My entire job comprises serving. Besides my “day job,” I spend my free time writing books about how Christ’s followers can be “transformists” and relevant to the world around them. Needless to say, my life that Monday was filled to the gills with important stuff like telling other people how to love God and people. This particular early morning was time, and I wasn’t about to let anyone convince me otherwise.
I picked up a neatly pressed towel and gave the nod to a few people-the one that says, “I hope you’re well, but I don’t really have time to care,” and then darted to my favorite elliptical machine, preparing myself for the cardio challenge that lay ahead.
After a focused sigh, I began to attack the virtual hills created on the screen in front of me. I preferred a fairly steep setting, the type that made you glad when it was all over and guaranteed I’d have a drenched shirt telling the whole story, one drop of sweat at a time.
After about 30 minutes and an elevated heart rate, I decided to take a couple laps around the track to cool down before I hit the free weights.
Then I saw out of the corner of my eye.
At first, I tried not to notice-not unwilling to help but just way too busy to get involved. After all, I had “spiritual” work back at the office, important stuff like preparing sermons and counseling people.
But with each lap around the small loop, I observed this elderly man looking increasingly frustrated, fumbling with an MP3 player and headphones. In my heart, I knew all I felt was an increasing notion that God wanted me to stop and ask this gentleman if he needed help. My thick skull finally awakening to the opportunity now before me, I threw my schedule to the wind.
“Hey, man, how are you?” I asked sincerely. “Is there anything I can help you with? Seems like that MP3 player is causing you a bit of trouble.”
Noticeably flustered, this stranger seemed a bit surprised that I stopped. “Yeah,” he replied, slightly dejected. “I can’t figure this dumb thing out,” he said, and handed me the electronic device, tangled cords and all.
“I love jazz, and I can’t get it on this dumb player,” he explained.
“Well, tell you what, man, I’m here to help,” I encouraged him, now having shirked my selfish attitude that clung to me only moments before. “Let’s start this thing off right. My name is Kary. What’s yours?” I inquired, now fully engaged.
“Bob,” he said. “My name’s Bob.”
“Great Bob. Let me ask you something. Have you ever heard of iTunes?”
“‘I’ what?” he shot back.
With Bob’s reply, I knew I had inherited more than just a technological problem. Providentially, I had just gained a friend. Bob and I booked time the following week to figure out his MP3 troubles.
Against his initial wishes, I visited him at his apartment. Turns out his wife had died a couple years before and all his earthly possessions were crammed into a small apartment. She had been their main breadwinner, so the bank repossessed his house when he was unable to make payments.
Bob and I made a makeshift space in his back room near his desktop computer. One at a time I imported his jazz CD collection onto his hard drive, intending to eventually transfer the MP3s to his player. While importing his music, Bob and I talked about life, his wife and God.
The weeks following I checked in on Bob often. Kind of funny how two guys who are complete opposites can become the best of friends, all because of an MP3 player.
Bob is 71. I am 32. Bob is black. I am white. Bob doesn’t have much money. I have more than I need. Bob is an ex-convict. I’ve never been to jail. Bob is a widower. I’m married.
Like I said-we’re opposites.
A short time later I invited Bob to church, deeply desiring for him to meet Jesus. After a few invitations he eventually accepted and sat with my wife and me last spring. If he felt awkward sitting in our mostly white church, he didn’t let on.
After the service I introduced Bob to our senior pastor, Rick. Our conversation shifted from questions about Bob’s background to his eternal destiny. Bob shared with Rick and me that moments before his mother’s death, she shared with him about the hope she had in Jesus Christ. Bob told us about the peace in her eyes while relaying her strong faith in Jesus’ death on the cross for her sin.
Rick asked Bob if he wanted that same hope, if he wanted Jesus. Rather emotionally, Bob nodded in agreement. Right then and there the three of us knelt near the altar, and Bob told Jesus that he wanted to follow him. Bob confessed that he wanted to stop trying to control his life and invited Jesus to take over.
After several minutes of prayer, Rick, Bob and I stood and embraced. Bob wept and when I looked into his eyes I noticed the distinct peace that now defined his face.
Bob changed my life and the life of my church. I get more joy from him than he’ll ever understand. Whenever I say goodbye to him at the YMCA or hang up the phone after talking with him, he always tells me to “give his love to my family.” He wants me to baptize him this June at our next baptism.
I’m saddened by the reality that I almost missed Bob simply because I was too engrossed in my own little world. It reminds me of the story that Jesus told about the good Samaritan and the priest who was too busy to notice the man in need on the side of the road.
It’s crazy how I write books on being relevant to the world around you, and I almost let this opportunity slip right through my fingers. It’s crazy how I just published my new book, The Fine Line, which talks about this exact reality. Here’s a snippet:
“Despite all this drama going on in the background, the melody line of Jesus’ story was undeniable. If we could ask the unfortunate man in Jesus’ story which of the other characters was most relevant to him, what would he say? He would say it was the one who stopped, got off his donkey, cleansed his wounds, attended to his needs, and paid his medical bills. He would say it was the Samaritan.
“The temple-employed priest and the Scripture-spouting Levite were entirely irrelevant to the injured man. But the Samaritan, the social outcast and ‘irrelevant’ man of the day, became relevant when he displayed love for someone else.”
I’m thankful that God didn’t let Bob slip away and I’m honored that he allowed me to play a small role in helping Bob meet Jesus. In case you’re wondering, let me assure you, the endorphin rush in evangelism puts any elliptical machine to shame.
I’m still flying high.
Kary Oberbrunner, M.Div., D.Min., is a self-proclaimed “recovering pharisee” and founder of Redeem the Day Ministries. The author of The Fine Line, Called, and The Journey Toward Relevance, he serves as the pastor of discipleship and leadership development at Grace Church in Powell, Ohio. Kary and his soul mate, Kelly, are blessed parents of Keegan and Isabel. Contact him at www.KaryOberbrunner.com or watch The Fine Line movie trailer. NewMan magazine