The Story of Two Blades

His family was poor and he grew up living in the projects. His mother was mentally ill, battling schizophrenia her whole life. If that was not enough, he was constantly reminded that he had learning disabilities. He needed special help and was required to attend summer school continuously during his primary years which finally led to a repeat of the 5th grade. This was the family life, and school life for a young Johnny McDowell. There was not a lot of hope on his horizon.

Then, one day it happened! He began to join some of the other boys in games of sport, out in the open areas around their apartment. He soon realized that although he wasn’t a good academic person, he was strong and gifted in the area of athletics. He loved the feeling of excelling above the group in something. In fact, there were even times when he could hold his own with the older boys when they played. He didn’t know it then but within a few years, sports would lift him out of much of the negativity of his life and make him “somebody.”

That is exactly what occurred as he entered his 8th grade year of school. Even though he had never played organized football before, he actually earned a spot playing on the high school junior varsity football team where he learned to play the game and caught the eye of many of the coaches. By the time he entered the 9th grade, his special ability had earned him a starting position on the varsity squad. He loved his success and his efforts helped him achieve a place on the all-city offensive and defensive teams. Everyone knew his name and his great ability as he later achieved all-state recognition and received scholarship offers from multiple colleges.

What most people did not understand was that his academic grades were heavily influenced by teachers who were themselves football fans. His grades somehow managed to be just high enough to keep him academically eligible to stay on the team and use his considerable talents for the school. He knew that he was receiving special academic considerations.

Not only was he finding success on the football team, but his social status was also greatly improving. Yes, everyone did know his name, but someone very special was in that group. Her name was Lynn and she was one of the prettiest girls in school when they became a couple in the 9th grade. Even though their high school romance had a few ups and downs, he knew she was the one for him.
Johnny seemed to have it all except for the academics. Everybody knew him, he played in front of the fans on Friday nights, the cheerleader cheered and the band played, he had a beautiful girlfriend and yet something was missing. And then something very difficult happened in his life. The band stopped playing the day he graduated. His stardom was now shrouded in an historical setting. His football glory days were in the past.

Due to the special academic considerations Johnny had received in high school, he knew he wouldn’t be successful in college level courses. He and Lynn decided to marry just a few days after graduation. He then turned to the mill, where his father worked, to make a living for his new bride. This was not an unusual path for high school athletes to pursue. In Johnny’s case, life was really going to involve some major changes.

The beginning of those changes involved the choices he was making. Going out with his buddies to the bars became a regular thing. Also there was pressure and turmoil in his marriage. He wasn’t sure that it was going to survive. His nights out, and the use of alcohol certainly didn’t help the situation.

One night he and two friends went to the wrong bar, one that had a very rough crowd. When one of his friends started shooting off his mouth, they soon realized it was time to make a hasty retreat. His buddies took off leaving Johnny alone to face the business end of a linoleum knife. A couple of strong right hands knocked his attacker down but not before he had cut Johnny very seriously, leaving massive chest wounds. When police arrived, they found that the attackers had fled, leaving behind a young man in critical need of medical attention. It would take approximately 60 stitches to close the lacerations from this vicious attack.
His body healed up over time, but unfortunately his marriage did not. As a last resort, Johnny and Lynn made an appointment to talk to a pastor who they had met when he performed the wedding ceremony of his brother. When the pastor told him about what Jesus had done for all of us to make our lives new, Johnny was convinced that it was what he needed to do. He was being cut with a different blade called “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.”(Eph. 6:17) This is a blade that pierces all the way to the soul. A big strong former football star dropped to his knees in the pastor’s office that night and trusted in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of his sins.

A new creation walked out of that office on that fateful evening; a man who knew he had a lot of changes to make; a man who wanted to be a good husband and father; a man who wanted to walk with the Lord every day. He and Lynn began to faithfully attend church and let God do a work on their marriage. Little did Johnny know that one day soon God would touch his heart with a call to full-time ministry. This was confirmed as he fell in love with learning and saw his academic difficulties begin to fade, leading to his graduation from Bible College, and his enrollment in seminary.

By the way, Johnny did become the faithful husband he needed to be as he and Lynn are now approaching 50 years of marriage. Through decades in the ministry he has continued to be a man who loves to have God use the blade of His Word to work on his heart every day, and he loves to teach God’s word to others who need that daily touch in their lives. He has become a man of prayer who desires the Spirit of God to daily fill his heart and life.

Johnny will tell you that the earthly knife that cut him so badly worked together for good in his life to lead him to the Savior. The sword of the Spirit (the Word of God) is a blade that brings blessings to hearts that have a strong tendency to wander away from the grace of God. We are all scheduled for Spiritual surgery every day.  The question is: “Will we keep that Divine appointment?”

Isn’t God’s grace a wonderful thing?

Roger Allen Cook

I love to write stories about God’s grace. If you have a story I should consider, please contact me