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.
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.
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Have a great day! ~Tim