Wednesday, December 17, 2014
Mall Evangelism: "I Want to Talk about God"
Since I am committed to trying to keep my evenings free to spend time with my family, I opted to set up the table at the mall in the middle of the day. As often as I can (life and travel permitting), I plan to man a table at the mall every Friday afternoon, from about 1:00 PM to 5:00 PM.
The mall is a madhouse during the Christmas season, so the mall limits its usual seven free speech locations to only one. With lots of groups (good and bad) vying for the use of a table at the one location, I took what dates were available. So, in addition to my time yesterday, I will man a table on Friday the 19th and Tuesday the 23rd of this month.
Afternoons at the mall, even during the holiday season, have an entirely different atmosphere from the typical Friday and Saturday night vibe. Most Friday's and Saturday nights, the mall serves as a babysitter for parents who drop off their 10-15 year old children. Packs of undisciplined young people being led by undisciplined young people doing what young people do. You get the picture. The afternoon to early evening hours find the mall much quieter, not as busy, with the ages of patrons being older than that of the weekend night crowd.
So, from 1:30 PM to 5:30 PM yesterday, I sat at a table covered with an assortment of gospel tracts, bibles, and my laptop--the lid of which encourages passerbys to stop and chat.
Table evangelism at the mall is much like going to a lake, setting up along the shoreline, casting your line in the water, placing your rod in a holder, and waiting for the fish to bite. Shoreline fishing takes a lot of patience. Instead of stalking the fish like a fisherman does when fly or lure fishing (mass tract distribution and open-air preaching), the shoreline fisherman (mall table) waits for the fish to come to him.
And he waits.
Yesterday was a very slow day and the fish weren't biting well. I did have an opportunity to place a Thank You tract into the hands of a Marine, PFC. And a young man came to the table and took a Bible. Believing and trusting in the sovereignty of God, I found contentment in these two opportunities. I continued to pray.
About midway through my time at the mall, I noticed a man walk by who looked at me and the table out of the corner of his eye. Lots of people do that. I'll watch folks like that, even stare at them as they walk by, hoping they will break their cover and make eye contact with me, so I can say hello and offer them a Bible.
The man moved on, but he stayed in the area, trying to remain inconspicuous as he circled the table like a curious, soaring bird. I'm sure he didn't think I noticed, but I am a trained observer after all.
With about 45 minutes left in my time at the mall, the man finally approached the table.
"Let's talk." He said, pulling up a chair and gingerly sitting down. His left knee was in a brace. I would later learn he had reconstructive knee surgery about eight weeks ago. We'll call him "Matt."
"What's on your mind? What do you want to talk about?"
"I want to talk about God."
"Where would you like to begin?"
Matt began to share his story. He was recently medically retired and placed on disability after 30 years working in the movie industry's transportation services. He was a truck driver who, for decades, engaged in all of the literally back-breaking work that entails.
Matt is in his 22nd year of sobriety and, up till several months ago, was a regular participant in AA and NA. All Matt's life, he believed in God and finally tired of the "higher power," "you can worship your doorknob" philosophy of AA/NA.
One day, he was in a Barnes and Noble and found himself in the religious literature section. There, he found a Bible. He bought it and started to read it. He began in Genesis. When he reached Isaiah and started to read the prophet's account of seeing the Lord seated on His throne, with the train of His robe filling the temple with glory, and the angels heralding the thrice-glorious truth ("Holy, Holy, Holy"), the veil was removed from His eyes. While trucking from Point A to Point B, Matt had occasion to stop at the Grand Canyon. There, surrounded by the majestic artistry of Almighty God, and pondering what He read in Isaiah, as well as what He read in the Book of Acts, Matt was drawn by God to His Son Jesus Christ.
According to Matt, his transformation took place only six months ago.
Yet Matt was troubled. He was not content. He was not at peace as he sat in front of me, trying to rub the soreness out of his rebuilt knee.
"Why am I excited to read the Bible one minute, but not the next? Why does my spiritual life seem to go well for a time, but then the fire fades?"
Did Matt have a nothing more than an emotional and spiritual experience at the Grand Canyon? Or did he really come to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. I couldn't provide biblical counsel to Matt until I had some assurance that a born-again follower of Christ was sitting in front of me. To apply biblical counsel to an unregenerate heart would be to set Matt up for a season of frustrating, harmful works-righteousness. The result would not be repentance and faith, but a deadly commitment to moralistic, therapeutic deism.
I opted to take Matt through a "Three Minutes to Live" scenario. He was unable to articulate the gospel.
I've learned over the years that while a person cannot be saved by the gospel they do not know, the can be saved by the gospel they cannot articulate well.
As I switched roles with Matt (making him the unbeliever in the scenario), I preached the law and the gospel to him. With every biblical point I made came an affirming nod of the head from Matt. He not only affirmed that he believed everything I said, but added that he knew salvation was not of works, but only through faith in Jesus Christ.
I believed I had a brother in Christ sitting in front of me--a Christian man who was young in his faith and not well discipled.
Giving Matt the benefit of the doubt, I explained to him the doctrine of progressive sanctification. I talk to him about how important it is for Christians to take every thought captive, to fight well the battle for the mind. I encouraged him to not only meditate upon, but commit to practicing the truths of Philippians 4:5-9.
We ended our conversation with me putting my hand on Matt's shoulder and praying for him. I gave him my card, we shook hands and, with a smile on his face, he walked away.
I thank God for my time of ministry at the mall yesterday.