It saddens me to say this, but if you are under 60 years of age it’s entirely possible the following two names will mean nothing to you: Laurel and Hardy. Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were a comedic force on film for most of the first half of the 20th century. Baby boomers grew up watching their decades-old work on Saturday and Sunday mornings. I read something recently about Stan Laurel that fascinated me.

In the last years before his death in 1965, Laurel lived in a modest flat in Santa Monica, California. He was said to have been very gracious with fans and spent much of his time responding to fan mail. But here is what I found most striking: he had his phone number published in the public directory. Anyone could look up the number of an internationally known star and call him.

Legendary comedic actor Dick Van Dyke was among those who did just that. Van Dyke called Laurel when he was just starting his career. Van Dyke then visited Laurel at his home. This reminded me of some teaching I heard recently by Christian author and speaker Hosanna Wong.

Wong told the story of the years she spent evangelizing to her brother. That experience taught her that her “withness,” was much more important than her witness. She could tell him about Jesus over and over; treat him like a project rather than someone she loved. Instead, she went where he was. At the time, that meant promising to go with him to the premiere of every Marvel Comics movie that came out. 

When she began this relationship (not a process or an event, but a relationship) she had no idea how frequent Marvel movie premieres would become. But that didn’t deter her. It was about a relationship, not a finish line where her brother accepted Christ. Yet, ultimately, he did. Her relationship with her brother was sincere. It was not a means to an end. She is right: our “withness” is much more important than our witness. Loving people where they are, as they are. Jesus’ life illustrates this over and over.

His 12 apostles constantly failed to understand His teachings. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Jesus invented the face-palm. Yet He continued to be with them and be patient with them. The Samaritan woman at the well tried every way possible to reject Him. But, out of love, he persisted. Perhaps the greatest example of Jesus’ “withness” comes in his treatment of the Apostle Peter. As Jesus predicted, after His arrest Peter denied knowing Him three times. Yet, after His resurrection, we see this moment between Jesus and Peter:

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”  The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” John 21:15-17 (NIV)

That moment came after Jesus fed seven of the Apostles breakfast. And before ascending to heaven Jesus told them: “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20).

That line concludes the Great Commission, where Jesus told them to “go and make disciples of all nations.” But the way He lived shows us that it’s really: “go and be with them.” Through us, Jesus will do the rest. Who can you share your “withness” with today? Do that and Jesus will let you know when it’s time to share your witness with them.

— Pastor Jerry Bader

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