How I Ruined My Witness Coat

What a wonderful coat!

I was walking through a little store a few blocks from campus when I saw it. A Tennessee winter was approaching and I really needed a coat; the one on the rack was denim, and it had a warm lining. Being from Florida, I don’t think I ever owned a coat with a lining before.

Though I was a poor student putting myself through school in the early 1970s, I bought it. It was a sacrifice. It was probably my biggest purchase, besides textbooks, since entering Lee College.

My Witness Coat!

The weather was already chilly, so I wore the coat everywhere. It wasn’t significant to others, but I was proud of it. After a short time I had an idea that would make the coat even more special.

Since fifth grade I wanted to let people know I was a Christian. My most visible method was taking my Bible to school. It was always on top of my textbooks, and when I finished tests early I always opened it and read it. Both my fifth and sixth grade teachers called me their Bible Student.

That was in the 1960s, but this was the 70s and an even better way was to make my coat a witness coat with a message everyone could see. It happened that one of my closest college friends was Dick Ford, the most prominent artist on campus (you can see Dick Ford’s artwork here).

I talked to him about my idea and he agreed to help.

Dick painted a beautiful image on the back of my coat—a colorful sunburst with one long, yellow ray that led to the message ‘Jesus Cares’ in bright green. Dick also painted a white Chi Rho symbol on the front pocket. He did a beautiful job; and I had a witness coat very appropriate to the 70s—living art in bright colors on denim with a message. It was far out man! Heavy!

My perfect coat was warm, and anyone walking behind me would see the love of Jesus shining out from the billboard on my back.

How I Ruined My Witness Coat

But then I ruined my coat.

Anyone seeing the coat today would agree—it is indeed ruined. The colors have faded and cracked with time, and the lower part of the coat is stained by tar from building a pole barn when I worked at Tennessee Nursery.

But that’s not what ruined my witness coat; the coat was ruined when it was still like-new. After enjoying the coat for a little while, I had a second idea. To be personally involved with the message, I asked Dick to add ‘and I do too’ to the bottom—‘Jesus Cares and I do too’.

It looked great, and I continued wearing the coat everywhere, but the added line became a huge burden. It was fine to announce that Jesus cares, but adding that I cared really meant that I cared like Jesus, and walking around with that message made me try to live up to it.

I could no longer yell at people in anger or frustration—would Jesus yell at them? I was unable to ignore someone needing assistance—would Jesus ignore them. How could I judge or criticize someone after saying ‘I care’? Publicly announcing that I cared like Jesus cared was too much to bear.

So I ruined my witness coat; but I still had to wear it. I didn’t have the money to buy another one.

However, I became careless with it and wore it at the nursery where I did rough, coat-damaging work. When the coat was stained with tar, I was not upset—it mostly obscured that terrible bottom phrase. I don’t know for sure that I didn’t do it on purpose.

The Witness CoatLearning an Important Lesson

At the time, I was distressed that my witness coat was ruined—and that I did it myself, but I learned some lasting lessons.

    • If I claim to care like Jesus cares, then I should show it.
    • If I find that I don’t care like Jesus cares, then I should care more.
    • If I really care like Jesus cares, then I should show it in my actions and not on a billboard.

It’s not that I didn’t care about people at all—I did. But this experience at 19 taught me that I didn’t care consistently. In the forty years since I ruined my witness coat I have improved in loving and caring; though I still try to care more.

I’ve learned that I care about people better when I continue to read and meditate on the love of Jesus and try to apply his perspective to every situation I face. I will never care perfectly until the resurrection, but I make it my goal to care the best I can until then.

Jesus Still Cares

Finally, I leave you with what I consider the most powerful good news there ever was—Jesus Cares! He cares about everyone, and he cares about you.

My witness coat was correct on that point.

I invite your comments and observations below.
If you enjoyed this post or found it helpful, please sign up in the column to the right so you don’t miss future posts.
Have a great day! ~Tim
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30 Responses to How I Ruined My Witness Coat

  1. michaeleeast says:

    When we are young the harshness of life makes us self-centered and angry.
    After discovering the steadfast Love of God we become more loving towards others.
    This is a kind of miracle. It defies explanation.
    But I would not have it any other way.


  2. Nice post Tim, I enjoy the ones where you give a glimpse into your background. The idea that Jesus cares is a good one, it implies that not only did he care while he was on earth, but he is still “alive” today and cares. It would be great to hear more about that if you haven’t already posted on that before.

    Also, in your conclusion what did you mean by “I will never care perfectly until the resurrection”?


    • Good suggestion, Eric. I will think about that.

      What I meant in the conclusion is that we never reach perfection in personal relations during our lifetime. But perhaps in our future, post-resurrection life we will be free of our limitations and be able to relate to everyone as we desire to do.


  3. Pam says:

    This post presents great thoughts and convictions. Are we really caring like Jesus Christ cares? That is something that each of us should ask ourselves not just once, but often. We don’t want to fall short in this area.


  4. sheila0405 says:

    This is why I don’t have Christian bumper stickers on my car. I’m apt to react in frustration when another driver cuts me off, or tailgates me. Sometimes I can be patient, but other times, not so much. As long as I am a fallible human being behind the wheel, I try to drive with consideration wherever I go, and not embarrass myself or Jesus by acting in a way inconsistent with any bumper sticker. Love the coat! Very 70s. It appears that you and I are the same age.


    • I know what you mean Sheila. I don’t use bumper stickers either because, if I do something, even accidental, that seems rude, I don’t want them to make judgments about me based on a bumper sticker. I have even noticed drivers with obvious road rage and a fish on their trunk.

      We might be similar in age, but it never occurred to me. I am 62.


    • Alan C says:

      I have a small “Episcopal Church” sticker in the back window of my car, which I jokingly call a “car protector.” I do find it makes me a bit less likely to express anger on the roadway, and it makes the car easier to pick out in a parking lot.


  5. Alan C says:

    Awesome jacket. Very 70’s Jesus People-y.


  6. Chas says:

    Tim, for me this spoke of our tendency to try to glorify ourselves, which really comes from feelings of insecurity.


  7. scraffiti says:

    Greetings Tim. If you lived here in the UK you would need a warm coat for most of the year – certainly a waterproof one! Anglo American differences are always an education and I must say that I’ve never heard of a Witness Coat! The truth is, in these days of political correctness, such a coat might be regarded as offensive to other religions and could possibly lose you your job if worn in the work place. I did however wear a New Life in Jesus lapel badge for a time during the seventies. I found that people would look at it and then avoid meeting my eyes out of embarrassment. I soon discovered that they didn’t want a new life because they were quite happy with the one they had! Jesus stuff seemed fanatical and best avoided. I haven’t seen any such badges or car stickers for years. Although still a believer, I find such slogans rather trivial and rather vacuous. These things coincided with the hippy era, Flower Power, Ban the Bomb and goodness knows what else. So if I see you in your coat Tim, I’ll hide in a doorway until you’ve walked past! Only joking!


    • I agree, Scraffiti; slogans are rather trivial. They deliver almost no information except to suggest one’s stance in contrast to other groups. I would not wear such a coat today, but in the hippy days of the Jesus People movement it was quite appropriate.

      My coat is important to me for the memories of my youth and as a relic. If I visit you while wearing it, I will warn you so you can cover your eyes. 🙂


  8. Chas says:

    Tim. Something else has come to mind from your post. It came from the mention of example, plus a hint about rebellion in someone else’s reply. The thought was how much we ought to be a good example to our own children and other young people. What, I suspect, we need to avoid is forcing our opinions onto them, because then they would probably rebel and do the opposite of what we would like them to do. Even when we are a good example, they might not accept our ways and do the opposite. I sometimes walk across the nearby university playing fields and have been shocked by the number of plastic bottles and candy wrappers just left lying there by the footballers. Most of these young men must have been told by their parents to put such debris into trash bins, but they choose not to do so. One wonders if the parents used the trash bins themselves?


    • Good thoughts Chas. I agree we should not force our opinion on our children especially as they develop in stages. I think we should teach them to think, and then as issues come up we can tell them why we have the opinions we have.

      But the important thing is for them to think.


      • Chas says:

        Teaching them to think is supposed to be a major aim of the UK education system, but it doesn’t seem to be working very well.


    • sheila0405 says:

      I don’t think it’s bad to share your opinions with your children. I believe the sharing of ideas can spark some important dialogue between parent and child. I do agree that a parent should not condemn a child for asking questions or having a different point of view. We each are individuals, and each of us deserves respect for who we are and how we think.


      • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

        Hi Sheila, I agree. Parents should share their opinions with their children and explain them, but they should not force them once the child begins to think for themselves.

        As you say, we should allow questions. Questions are important for learning, and answering them with, ‘Because I said so!’, does not help children learn.


  9. lotharson says:

    Actions tell more than thousand words, right? Words tell probably more than 10000 expensive coats, then 😉

    I just wrote a response to Jonny Scaramanga and would be interested to learn your thoughts there.

    Lovely greetings in Christ who has forgiven you for having ruined His divine coat 🙂


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