(we chased Arnold back to his golf course, but he was already inside)
I had a couple of hours this week, during the day, to see a few places near Ligonier, Pennsylvania, where I am holding a gospel meeting. There are some places of national significance in this vicinity. Ligonier itself is home to an important fort from during the French and Indian War. In close proximity, however, are some other notable places. Just a few minutes down the road is Shanksville, where Flight 93 went down in a field on 9/11. The memorial being built by the National Park Service has a solemnity comparable to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Today, Steve Lucas, the local preacher at Ligonier, took me a few minutes up the road to Latrobe. Latrobe is the home of Arnold Palmer. Steve actually took me to Arnold Palmer’s relatively modest home. As I was getting ready to take a picture, Arnold Palmer himself drove past us on the fastest golf cart I have ever seen in motion. Though I did not get a picture, I can say that I made eye contact with the golfing legend. I thought that would be the highlight of my day. However, Steve took me up to Johnstown, also close by, the town demolished by the great flood of 1889. David McCullough has written a compelling book chronicling that catastrophe caused, in great part, by careless men. In the visitor information center, I met 85-year-old volunteer Duane Soliday. He was a talker. After telling about the three floods that have struck the beleaguered city, he proceeded to tell me his life’s story. He said much, much more than I can include here, including how his grandfather, abused by his step-father, ran away, worked for a timber company in the northwest, came back home riding the rails, was caught by the conductor and was told that he would not turn him into the railroad police if he would manage his farm. Eight years later, in 1889, he responded to newspaper ads in nearby Johnstown to clean up after the flood. The man, fearful his stepfather would learn of his return, changed his name from James Felix Keister to James Soliday. Duane is a World War II and lung cancer survivor, a newly-widowed man who lost, as he said, “the love of my life” after 58 years of marriage. He raved about four children, the oldest of which just turned 60. He was steady and solid in the community and in his home. He was a likable man and a conscientious one. While this man has probably contributed more to the overall good of his community and nation than even Arnold Palmer has, one thing struck me about Mr. Soliday. I hope he is a New Testament Christian. He believes in God, does good things, and was so engaging and worthy of respect. Yet, he will not be able to point to his civic heroism, his long and happy marriage, or his apparently success parenting to cover his sins. We often think that if people live good, clean, and productive lives, surely God will save them. However, the only thing that will suffice for our sins when we stand before Christ on that great day is the blood of Jesus. If we have not done what it takes to have the blood applied (cf. Matt. 26:28+Acts 2:38; Rev. 1:5+Acts 22:16) and live in such a way as to have it continually applied (1 Jn. 1:7), none of us on earth is good enough to stand before Christ based on our goodness. May this break our hearts for good people whose goodness cannot save them–it did not save Cornelius (Acts 10:1ff). May we care enough to share the good news with them.