Saturday, July 25, 2009
I spent time on a different corner, today. The corner of Lyons Avenue and Peachland Avenue is about 1/2-mile east of where I usually stand with the cross, on Avenida Entrana. Peachland and Lyons is a busier intersection than Entrana and Lyons.
This morning, just as I did last weekend, I used an easel to display the cross. This allowed me to sit next to it and read my Bible. I gave away a few tracts to people who came to the corner. I tried not to chuckle aloud as people repeatedly pushed the pedestrian button, sometimes fervently, hoping they could cause the light to turn green a little sooner.
My time in God's Word was wonderful. From time to time, I would stop reading to consider how I might use a verse or passage I just read when preaching the gospel in the open-air or when engaging someone in conversation.
I checked the time and decided I would spend just a few more minutes at the corner. Then I met Dorothy.
She approached the corner from my left, having walked out of the park located just behind me.
"Did you get your million dollars yet, today?" I asked as I handed her a Michael Jackson Million Dollar Bill gospel tract.
She took it from my hand, held it in front of her, and looked at the image of Michael Jackson with what appeared to be just a bit of confusion.
Dorothy was dressed in long, baggy, camouflage cargo shorts. The pockets bulged due to their unknown contents. She wore a powder blue polo shirt, which was untucked and hung loose over the top of her shorts. The stains on the shirt and its overall, worn appearance told me this was a shirt Dorothy wore often--maybe several days at a time.
Strapped to her back was a large, multi-colored backack. The bright colors and overall condition of the backpack suggested that it was newer than the clothing she wore. The backpack, like her cargo shorts pockets, was stuffed with items known only to Dorothy. The only personal item visible was a pack of Marlboro cigarettes inside one of the mesh pockets along the side of the backpack.
The backpack was heavy, as evidenced by Dorothy's posture. She leaned forward slightly at the waist, as if to counter-balance the weight of the backpack.
Dorothy's long, unkempt, auburn hair shined in the mid-morning sun and moved freely in the summer breeze. Dorothy's age was difficult to discern. The skin on her face seemed older than her years. She was missing more than one of her front teeth and the others were worn and yellowish-brown, which may have been evidence of poor dental care, poor diet, or prolonged drug use.
Without making any kind of character assessments about Dorothy, it appeared to me that she was homeless.
"Is this for the Michael Jackson Memorial Fund?" She asked.
"No. It's a gospel tract. Do you know what the million-dollar question is?"
"Have you accepted Jesus?"
"What does that mean to you--to accept Jesus?"
Dorothy walked behind me, moving from my left to my right. I found myself momentarily shifting into deputy mode, as the curious stranger with the large backpack passed behind me and out of my field of view.
"It means to be born again."
"And what does that mean--to be born again?"
Dorothy once again walked behind me, resuming her position to my left. And once again I found myself turning in my seat to follow her movements.
"It means you've confessed your sins and asked Jesus into your heart."
It was obvious that Dorothy, at the very least, had a Christian church background. But was she saved? Was she truly born again?"
Dorothy asked me if I knew a certain professor. The question seemed odd at the time. The professor's name sounded familiar to me, making Dorothy's question all-the-more queer.
"He's a professor at Master's College." Dorothy said. "I've spent time at studies in his house. I don't give his address to people unless I know them well."
If it was true that Dorothy had spent time in a Bible study with a Master's College professor, that would explain why she seemed comfortable answering my questions. But was she saved? Was she born again?
I have talked to too many people who, like Dorothy, could provide the same kind of answers to the same kind of questions. Yet more often than not, with just a little gentle conversational probing, most people who can speak Christianese are exposed as false converts and not soundly saved. It is part of the sad reality that the road is narrow that leads to authentic eternal life with the Savior--a road, which according to Jesus, few will find.
"Dorothy, if I wasn't a Christian and I had only three minutes to live, what would you say to me?"
"I would tell you to confess your sins and ask Jesus into your heart."
"What is sin?"
"If you're not truthful and honest with yourself. If you mess up."
"But I think I'm a pretty good guy. I think in the end my good will outweigh my bad."
"Are you sure about that?"
"Yep. I'm pretty sure."
Dorothy paused for a moment. She begain to fidget, shifting her weight from one foot to another, and back again. She looked at the light as if she were hoping it would turn green soon. I found myself quietly thanking God for a long light at Peachland and Lyons.
Three men now walked to the corner. Two were Hispanic. The other man was white and carrying a long device that resembled the tool used to grab small items off of high shelves. It was another odd observation during an interesting moment in time.
"Dorothy, if you only had three minutes to live, this is what I would say to you."
Dorothy's eyes were fixed on mine.
"Dorothy, in just a few minutes you are going to stand before Almighty God; and He is going to judge you according to the perfect moral standard of His Law. If you've ever lied, He will see you as a liar. If you've ever stolen anything, He will see you as a thief. If you've ever taken His name in vain, He will see you as a blasphemer. If you've ever hated anyone, He will see you as a murderer. If you've ever looked with lust, He will see you as an adulterer.
"God is holy, righteous, just, and good. He must punish sin. And the punishment God has ascribed for sin is eternity in hell. And that's what you face in about two minutes, unless God does something."
I found myself momentarily turning my attention from Dorothy to glance at the traffic light. "It should have turned by now." I thought. "I can't have much time."
Speaking a little faster than usual and with some added urgency, I continued.
"This is what God did. Two thousand years ago, God the Father sent His Son to earth in the person of Jesus Christ--fuly-God and fully-Man, and without sin. Unlike you and me, He never once violated the Law of God in thought, word, or deed. He was perfect in every respect."
Dorothy seemed nervous, now. Her glances at the traffic light became more frequent. If she was saved, if she was truly a Christian, why would the Gospel make her uncomfortable?
"And thirty to thirty-three years into that earthly existence, He voluntarily went to the cross. He suffered and died, shedding His innocent blood--taking upon Himself the punishment you rightly deserve for your sins against God. Then, three days later, He rose from the dead. He is alive today and He will return at a time of the Father's choosing.
"What God requires of you, Dorothy--and you only have about a minute left, is that you repent. God commands that you turn from your sin and by faith, and by faith alone, receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. He is your only hope.
"Does that make sense, Dorothy?"
"Um, yeah. It does."
At that moment, the light turned green to cross the street for Dorothy and the three other men who heard the gospel.
As Dorothy stepped into the street, she turned and looked at me. "God bless you." She said.
"God bless you, Dorothy."
Was Dorothy a born-again follower of Jesus Christ before I met her? I don't know. When in doubt, I always try to err on the side of sharing the gospel. If she was already saved, then hearing the gospel should have been pleasant and sweet to her ears--an encouraging word about the God who saved her. If she was a false convert, then the gospel was and is the only thing God would use to bring her to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ the Lord.
Before I left the corner of Lyons and Peachland, I thanked God for bringing Dorothy to my cross. And I thanked Him for allowing me to bring her to the cross, through the proclamation of the gospel.
Posted by Tony Miano at 12:51 PM
Christian Charity:Good News in Hard Times
"If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. Rather be openhande
d and freely lend him whatever he needs.... Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land." (Deuteronomy 15:7-15 NIV)
Despite some encouraging signs of recovery, many people are still struggling in the wake of the current economic crisis. Unemployment numbers continue to rise, home foreclosures are at record highs, and investment portfolios remain ravaged by a volatile stock market. Relief is needed, and action is required. While economic relief and recovery continues to be the primary focus of our leaders in Washington, there is considerable disagreement over the best way for the government to address our economic woes.
It is apparent that the economic problems of the country-along with the resulting social problems-are being used as weapons of political warfare and packaged as evidence for or against various agendas, policies, and ideologies. Thus, while everyday Americans struggle to keep food on their tables and roofs over their heads, politicians and pundits debate the merits of the free market and engage in the blame game. Was the economic collapse the result of too much or too little regulation? Is it Bush's fault, or Barney Franks's? To nationalize or not to nationalize? These are certainly questions worthy of answers, and as we move forward as a nation we would do well to analyze how different responses to the economic crisis today might affect America tomorrow.
However, while the poohbahs on the Potomac dither about the nature and extent of government's role in helping those in need, there is one institution that has a clear and non-delegable duty to reach out and help those who are suffering. No new laws or regulations are required for this organization to do its good work and no new bureaucratic apparatus is required to administer it. In order to meet the challenges posed by these current woes, this non-governmental body need only embrace the principles of love, grace, and charity that have guided it for the last 2000 years. This great institution is the Church.
For Americans hurting now, abstract policy debates and partisan political warfare do little to change the reality on the ground. Government assistance programs-designed at the macro-level and administered by bureaucrats-often provide only cold comfort. Because of their size and the scope of their responsibilities, government agencies are often unable to relate to the recipients of their aid in a personal way. Furthermore, they are only equipped to address the material symptoms of a problem. The Church, on the other hand, is bound by a moral responsibility to provide material, emotional, and spiritual care to those in need.The Bible is full of exhortations about the need for compassion and charity towards those struggling with economic adversity. Jesus repeatedly identifies himself with the poor and needy, reminding his followers that when they fail to care for the least among their fellow men, they are failing to care for Christ himself (Matthew 25:45). In the Old Testament, God warned his people of the consequences of hard-heartedness towards the needy: "He who mocks the poor shows contempt for their Maker; whoever gloats over disaster will not go unpunished." (Proverbs 17:5 NIV) God's clear affinity for the most vulnerable among his creation reflects his love and mercy. As he was willing to sacrifice his perfect Son to atone for our sin and weakness, so Christians are obligated to pour out this same spirit of love and grace upon our fellow human beings. Christians who turn their backs on the poor and needy are guilty of turning their backs on the Lord himself. In the apt words of Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, "it is... a denial of the incarnation to go preach the gospel and ignore the fact that people are hungry and thirsty and naked and homeless."
Providing material resources to those in need is one way of demonstrating brotherly love. Equally important, however, is the need for emotional and spiritual support and encouragement. When the future seems bleak and the walls are closing in, it is easy to succumb to hopelessness and despair. These difficult times provide the perfect opportunity for Christians to demonstrate love for their fellow man by opening their hands to their brothers and by sharing the Good News of the Gospel. This gift of love and hope helps people remain joyful in the face of adversity in ways that a check from Uncle Sam just can't match.
The moral obligations of the Christian faith challenge believers to give selflessly of their time, talent, and treasure-to step out of their comfort zones to share God's love and succor with those in need. There are no forms to fill out, no congressional guidelines to meet in order to establish eligibility; there are just people who are struggling and in need of help from those motivated by Christ's example of sacrifice, and his commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Long before America's nanny state developed into the behemoth apparatus it has become, the Church was there, its members acting as the hands and feet of the Body of Christ to minister to the impoverished, the outcast, and the needy. Committed Christians undertake these works of love every day, all over the world. The outpouring of Christian charity in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina is recent evidence of the unique capacity of the Church to address social crises in a way the government-bogged down by red tape and burdened by bureaucracy-simply can't equal. Shattered lives were healed and broken communities restored because faithful men and women recognized their Christian duty to take action.
As our current economic and social woes deepen and Washington's efforts to meet this challenge flounder, America's hardest hit would undoubtedly benefit from some good old-fashioned Christian charity.