This edited story was written on July 16, 2009, and is reprinted from another blog.
Michelle joined me at the corner of Avenida Entrana and Lyons Avenue last night. We spent two hours at the corner. And what happened during those two hours solidified in my heart and mind that carrying the cross was an idea prompted by the Holy Spirit. No, I heard no voices--not so much as a "still small voice." But God is sovereign over everything, even my thoughts. While I take full responsibility for every bad idea I've had over the years, I give all of the credit to God for any of the good ones.
I tried something last night that I think will expand my hours of operation with the cross. I bought a headband light. I utilized the strap of the light to affix the light to the vertical beam of the cross. This adds light to the cross and illuminates the question on the horizontal beam, "Are you ready?" I don't want evening motorists to have to strain their eyes to see the cross and the question as they drive by.
Just a few minutes after Michelle and I arrived on the corner, a Santa Clarita city bus stopped at the northeast corner of the intersection. Two people got off the bus. One was a young man carrying a skateboard that was almost as long as he was tall. The other was an older man carrying a black backpack over his left shoulder and a cane in his right hand.
The young man darted across Lyons Avenue, in front of the bus. The bus pulled away from the curb, slower than usual. It seemed to take forever for the bus to make it to my side of the intersection. The driver almost came to a complete stop in front of me. He looked at me for a long second, smiled, and waved. Of course, I returned the friendly gesture. I turned and looked at Michelle. She was smiling, too.
I turned my attention to the older man standing on the opposite side of Avenida Entrana. He looked at me and turned away several times. Each time he looked my way, I could see a smirk on his face; and his body moved as if he were chuckling.
"Ready for what?" He yelled.
"Are your ready for eternity?"
The man mumbled something and motioned with his hand as if to say, "Give me a break. I'm not interested."
"So, what do you think is going to happen to you after you die?" I asked.
"I'm a preacher's son!"
"Can I come over there and talk to you?"
He shook his head and turned to walk away. Then he stopped with his back to me. He dropped his chin and assumed a posture of what appeared to be resignation. He stood motionless for a moment. Then he half-turned in my direction and waved to me with his left arm.
"Can I come over there and talk to you?" I asked again.
This time he nodded his head while continuing to motion with his arm for me to come to his side of the street. I gladly obliged the man.
"Michelle, you stay here."
Not knowing how the conversation would go or the man's intentions by inviting me to his side of the street, I thought it best to keep Michelle at our corner.
"Thanks for being willing to talk to me." I said.
The man put his hands up in front of him as if to say, "I have the floor."
"I believe in God, but I'm not a religious man."
"Oh, good. Neither am I."
Bill paused, looked at me, looked at my cross, and then looked at me again. "You're not religious?"
"Are you a 'born again.'"
"Yes, sir. I'm a born again follower of Jesus Christ."
"But you're not religious?"
Bill paused again with a look on his face that seemed to say, "Okay. I'll come back to that."
"I studied theology for two years." Bill said. "My dad and my granddad were both preachers. So, let me tell you my story."
"I'm all ears." I said.
And for the next hour, that's exactly what he did. He told me his life story. And if I am to believe everything he told me, it was quite a story.
I stood with my back to Lyons Avenue as I talked to the man. (We'll call him "Bill") I turned my cross toward Lyons Avenue so people driving by could still see the question on the cross. The occasional honk of a car horn indicated that they could see.
"When you think back to your earliest memory, how old do you think you were?" Bill asked. I could smell the odor of an alcoholic beverage on his breath. His rotten teeth, weathered look, sagging yellowish eyes told me that alcohol had not been Bill's only vice during his life.
"Oh, I don't know. Three or four, I guess."
Bill nodded his head. "For me, I was three years old. My dad was a pastor. And my earliest memory is of my dad picking me up and throwing me against the wall, across the room. My dad used to beat the $%#&@ out of me and my mother. He was a $%#&@!"
Bill went on to tell me a heartbreaking tale of a Baptist pastor father who was a hypocrite and an abuser who couldn't seem to decide what stripe of Christianity he wanted to follow. First he was a Baptist pastor, then a Presbyterian pastor, then an Episcopalian.
Bill's parents divorced when he was about ten. I was about the same age when my parents divorced. His father would later marry the organist in the Episcopalian church where his father served.
Bill went on to describe a childhood spent in expensive, east coast boarding schools where, three thousand miles from home, he and his brother could "get away with murder." And they did. Alcohol and drugs of various kinds, especially marijuana and cocaine, were easy to obtain."
"I don't use drugs anymore. I would call myself a functional alcoholic. I get drunk only a couple times a week. In fact, I have a little alcohol in this." He said as he held up a clear, plastic Starbucks cup with a lid and the customary green straw.
Bill then transitioned his story to his adult years, sharing with me tales of aspirations of a career in professional tennis, of fortunes won and lost, a failed marriage to a woman he still loves, and the sorrow of dealing with children battling their own demons of chemical dependency. He shared with me that he had published one of the community's first magazines and was on the committee to usher the Santa Clarita Valley into city-hood.
Bill adjusted the postion of his cane and rubbed his right leg.
"I was hit by a bus six weeks ago."
"I was crossing the street and got halfway through the intersection when I turned and saw a bus coming at me, at about twenty or thirty miles per hour. I tried to jump out of the way, but it clipped my ankle."
Bill and I continued to talk about life. He told me about the circumstances surrounding his drunk driving arrest of seven years ago. He tried to assure me that he was only being a good samaritan, since he was driving a lady home who was more intoxicated than he was.
I told Bill that I had served as a deputy sheriff for twenty years--most of that time being spent at Santa Clarita Station.
"Bill, I arrested a lot of 'designated drivers' for drunk driving, in my day."
"So, there's one question no one has ever been able to answer for me. I've asked my dad many times. I think I've asked him because I know it ticks him off that he can't give me an answer. I've asked other religious people, and they haven't been able to answer it either."
"What's your question?" I asked, fully prepared to say, "I don't know," if I didn't have the answer.
"Well, I can assure you that you won't find heaven or hell on a map, but both places are real. Both places exist, whether you believe it or not. God is Spirit. And heaven is where God is in the spiritual realm. You and I cannot see heaven or hell, now, because we are finite, limited, created beings. God and heaven are outside of space and time. God is eternal. We are not."
"How do you know heaven and hell are real?"
"Because I have God's Word, and God's Word is true."
"Oh, I believe in the Bible. I just don't agree with it."
"It doesn't matter if you agree with the Bible."
Bill was a bit taken aback by how quickly I answered him.
"Bill, let's go back seven years to when you were arrested for drunk driving. You find yourself standing before the judge and the judge says, 'Bill, I sentence you to a year in the county jail.' You look at the judge and say, 'I don't agree with you, judge.' You start to walk toward the door of the courtroom, planning to leave. How close to that door do you think you would get before the bailiff grabbed you and carted you off to jail?"
"I wouldn't get two feet." Bill said with a laugh.
"The same is true with God. He is the Judge. It doesn't matter a lick if you agree with Him or not."
"So, Bill, what do you think is going to happen to you when you die?"
"I don't really know. Do you know what's going to happen to me when I die?"
"I believe I do."
"Yep. Can I tell you."
I took Bill through several of the commandments. He admitted to being a liar, a blasphemer, an adulterer, and a murderer-at-heart.
"Have you ever lied?" Bill asked.
"Yes. I've broken all of the commandments. I'm every bit as guilty as you are, Bill. If God were to give me what I deserve for my sins against Him, I should spend eternity in hell a hundred times over."
Bill picked this time in the conversation to return to one of his original questions.
"Now, you said you aren't religious. What do you mean by that?"
"If you look at many of the world religions, they have something in common. They fashion a god to suite themselves. They create a god that is not holy, righteous, or just. They create a god that will not punish sin.
"Even people who say they are not religious do the same thing. They may not worship a god made of wood, metal, or stone, or participate in an organized religion; but they create a god in their imagination to suite themselves, just the same. They create a god in their mind that will not punish their sin. They create a god in their mind that will even applaud their sin. Their god is little more than a divine butler who comes running whenever they ring their spiritual bell. And once they've received what they want from their false god, their god stays out of sight and mind until they want something from him again.
(Many people who practice this kind of idolatry refer to their god by the name "Jesus." But the Jesus they claim to know bears very little resemblance to the real Jesus of the Bible.)
"Why do people do this? Because, ultimately, even if they say they don't believe in God, they want to be God. They want to be sovereign. They want to be in control of their lives. And that's idolatry. There is only one God and He is the God of the Bible.
"Does that make sense?" I asked.
"Yeah. I can see that."
"So, Bill, if you were to die tonight and stand before God, do you think He would find you innocent or guilty of breaking His Law?"
"And if He found you guilty, do you think you would go to heaven or hell?"
"Does that concern you?"
Bill's tone of voice had been confident and jovial up to this point. But now, his tone was much more sober. He was probably more sober in mind and spirit than he was in body.
"Do you know what God did so you might not have to spend eternity in hell?"
Here was a man who, by all accounts, had a hypocritical dad who stood in a pulpit. His mother was a devout Roman Catholic who raised him as an Episcopalian. He went to a boarding school where he was required to take theology classes. Some of his closest friends (he told me) professed to be Christians who were very active in churches and in rehab ministries. Yet he had no idea what God did so that he might be saved from God's just and holy wrath. He had been exposed to the hypocrisy of false conversion. And he had been exposed to evangelical Christianity's version of "Friendship Evangelism"--the spiritual sacred cow, which had once again been found wanting.
"Can I tell you what God did?"
I utilized a couple of courtroom analogies before sharing the gospel with Bill. It was the first time Bill was quiet in more than an hour. Bill listened and he understood.
"Bill, is there any sin in your life that you love so much that you are willing to spend eternity in hell so you can enjoy that sin, in this life?"
Bill's eyes were now glued to mine. He closed them slightly as he thought about the question.
"You know, I'm not sure how to answer that. I'm going to have to give that some thought."
"Please do. You know as well as anyone, Bill, that tomorrow is not promised. Tonight could be your last night on earth. It could be my last night, too."
"Bill, I'm not standing out here because I want people to go to hell. I've only known you for an hour, but I care about you and I don't want you to spend eternity in hell. I would like nothing more than to see you in heaven one-day. Please think about what I've shared with you. Repent and believe the gospel."
"You've given me a lot to think about. Do you have a card?"
I reached into my back pocket and removed a "In Times of Crisis" gospel tract.
"This is one of my websites." I said pointing to the link on the back of the tract. "You can e-mail me through the site, if you want to get a hold of me."
"I've really enjoyed this conversation. It's nice to be able to have a conversation that's....." Bill was looking for the word.
"Yeah. Reasonable. I really appreciate it."
"Well, I appreciate you giving me so much of your time."
As Bill shook my hand, Michelle made her way across the street.
"Well, I'm suppose to meet a friend at Doc's." Doc's Inn is the bar across the street from where I stand with the cross. "So, I better get going."
"Bill, this is my daughter, Michelle."
"Hi. Your dad is intriguing."
We all laughed.
Before Bill walked away, he put his arm around my shoulder and gave me a hug. "Thank you." He said.
I returned the gesture. "I'll be praying for you."
With that, Bill made his way across the street. Bill stopped when he got to the bar. It was as if he was trying to make a decision.
Instead of going into the bar, Bill continued down the street and out of sight. Was his conscience at work? I don't know. But I hope so. More importantly, I hope the Lord extends to Bill the same gift He has given me--the gift of eternal life.
Michelle walked back to the corner and I held the cross for motorists to see. I shared with Michelle parts of Bill's story and how God providentially directed the conversation. We rejoiced in the opportunity God had provided me to share the gospel with Bill.
I know that not everyone agrees with what I'm doing with the cross. I know that some members of the secular community certainly don't like it. I know that there are members of the Christian community who probably don't like it--or at the very least don't understand what I'm doing. Frankly and humbly let me firmly say that I don't care.
I have an audience of One--my Savior and my King, my Lord and my Master: Jesus Christ!
Results? Would you ask me about results, Christian? I got to share the gospel with Bill last night. That one conversation, with that one lost person, makes all of the effort, past and future, more than worthwhile.
Evangelism in all of its biblical forms is about obedience and love--obedience to and love for Jesus Christ, and love for people. It's not about racking up decisions. It's not about filling chairs or pews in a church. It's about loving God and loving people. The results belong to the Lord.
Thank you, Lord, for allowing me to serve You. Thank you, Lord, for allowing me to talk to Bill.