It was a beautiful Wednesday afternoon in Davenport, IA. Cooler-than-normal temperatures, low humidity, a bright blue sky spotted with gorgeous clouds–I took a deep breathe and thanked God to be back on the streets. There was another young man on the streets of Davenport this afternoon. His name was Austin and he was anxious about his grandmother.
Sometimes God Has to Knock Me Down to Slow Me Down
I awoke Saturday morning with a sore throat. I thought it might be the result of mowing a backyard with grass inundated with rust fungus. As the day wore on, I began to feel more worn out. After a minor league baseball game outreach and an evening of fellowship, I was out of gas.
I felt worse on Sunday morning. By the time we got home from church the only thing I wanted to do was go to bed. And that’s where I stayed for the better part of the next two-and-a-half days.
Over the years, there have been times when the Lord has literally knocked me down to slow me down. I think this was one of those times. Over the last 30 days, I drove more than 5,000 miles, making evangelism trips to Baltimore, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Not only was I burning the candle at both ends, but most of the candle’s wax had melted away. I had no intention of slowing down so, I believe, the Lord both disciplined and blessed me with illness.
I felt pretty good by Wednesday morning, so I decided to restart my regular routine. This included Morning Devotions on YouTube and spending time with my brother, Roy Sandercock, engaged in sign and cross evangelism.
“It’s Happened So Many Times”
I arrived at the southeast corner of Five Points shortly before Roy. I love cross-walking at this intersection. The combination of a high volume of vehicle traffic and occasional pedestrian traffic, as well as a very large parking lot just a few feet away, makes Five Points a terrific location for cross-walking.
I made my way from my car to the corner, hoisted my cross, and began to wave at passing motorists. A few minutes later I looked behind me into the parking lot to see if Roy had arrived. I didn’t see Roy. I saw something else.
What I saw was a young man driving a red truck pull into a nearby parking space. He leaned out the driver’s door window. He waved to me, indicating he want me to come to his truck.
It’s happened so many times.
“Will you Pray for My Grandmother?”
I walked to the truck. Before I could say “hello,” the young man asked, “What are you doing? Why are you out here?”
His name was Austin.
“Well, I’m out here hoping people like you will stop so I can talk to them about Jesus.” I answered.
“I saw you standing here and I had to stop and talk to you. Could you please pray for my grandmother? She just had a stroke.
Over the next few minutes, I learned that Austin is a student at St. Ambrose University–a local, private, Roman Catholic school. Austin is from a suburb of Chicago. His grandmother, Carol, lives most of the year in Peoria, IL. She winters in and frequently visits Alabama.
Austin’s grandmother suffered a severe stroke. The latest information Austin has was that she has no movement on the left side of her body and her brain is bleeding and swelling. It is too soon for the doctors to provide a prognosis.
Austin was visibly distressed.
Making Austin the Focus of Conversation
“I definitely want to pray for your grandmother. I’m really glad you stopped.” I said.
“Thank you.” said Austin.
“You know; it’s pretty common when people experience the kind of trauma you’re experiencing right now that they begin to think about their own mortality. Has what’s happened with your grandmother caused you to think about that?” I asked.
“No. Not really. I haven’t given it any thought.” Austin answered.
“My hope is that your grandmother will fully recover from this stroke. I know that’s your hope, too. Are you close to your grandmother?” I asked.
“Very close.” He said.
“I don’t have to know your grandmother to know that she didn’t wake up this morning, saying, ‘I think I’m going to have a stroke today.”
Austin nodded his head.
“The Houston police sergeant didn’t wake up the other day, saying, “I think I will drown in my patrol car on my way to work today. Death is certain. We live and we die.
“Do you have any spiritual beliefs, Austin?” I asked.
“Well, I believe there’s something out there. I believe there’s a god out there. I just don’t think we can be sure who it is.” Austin answered.
A Little Presupp
“The Bible actually says that not only does everyone know that God exists, but they know there is only one God. There are no atheists, agnostics, or skeptics. There are simply people who suppress the truths they know about God because they love their sin and they don’t want to submit to the God they know.” I explained.
Austin nodded his head.
“Austin, you and I know there is only one God, and we know it for the same reasons.
“You’re a college student, which means I’m old enough to be your dad. You’re from Illinois, and I’m from California. We are different people, from different places, and different generations. Yet we have a couple of things in common. We both know God exists, because we were both (like all of humanity) created in the image of God. The other thing we have in common is that God has written His law on both of our hearts. He has given both of us a conscience.
“For instance, you and I know it’s wrong to lie. We know that, not because our parents taught us or because society has taught us. Today, society doesn’t care about right and wrong. Anything goes. We know it’s wrong to lie because we were created in the image of God, and the God who created us is not a liar.
“Think of any sin, and the same applies. You know when you’ve broken God’s law. You know it’s wrong because you were created in the image of God, and you know God is not a sinner like you are.
“When you die, Austin, God is not going to judge you based on how you see yourself in the mirror. He’s going to judge you according to the law He has written on your heart. He will find you guilty of breaking His law and He will punish you accordingly. The punishment God has determined for all sin committed against Him is eternity in hell.”
I continued. “This God, your Creator, the God you know is angry with the wicked every day. His wrath abides upon the wicked. And He will judge the world in righteousness. He is also, loving, merciful, gracious, and kind. He showed His love for mankind when He sent His Son to earth in the person of Jesus Christ–the God-Man who knew no sin.
“Jesus lived a perfect life, from cradle to grave. He perfectly obeyed His Father in heaven. At the appointed time, He voluntarily went to a Roman cross where He suffered and died a death He did not deserve. He took upon Himself the punishment you and I rightly deserve for our sins against God. He died for those God had ordained to save–for those who would repent and believe the gospel. Then, He forever defeated sin and death when He rose from the grave.
“What God commands of you, Austin, is that you turn from your sin, turn to God, and by faith alone receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. If God does this miraculous work in you, if He literally causes you to be born-again, He will take your heart of stone, which wants to live in rebellion against the God you know, and He will give you a heart of flesh. He will save you–not on the basis of anything you have done to deserve it, but on the basis of his love and mercy. You will be reconciled to God. Your sins will be forgiven. And you will have the assurance of eternal life with Jesus Christ, in heaven.”
Prayed for Austin and His Grandmother
Austin looked down at his phone.
“I need to leave in a couple minutes.” Austin said.
“Okay.” I replied. “Austin, it’s not coincidence that we met today. It is God’s providence. Being out on the streets is my life, but I’ve been off the streets for the last few days. I arrived here just a few minutes before you did.”
“I don’t usually drive down this street.” Austin added.
“God determined that you and I would meet here today. He determined that you would hear the gospel today. And God was providential in your grandmother’s stroke. God was there, Austin.” I explained.
“I know.” Austin said.
“Can I pray for you and your grandmother?” I asked.
Austin consented, and I prayed. When I said “amen,” I looked up and saw Roy out of the corner of my eye.
I removed one of our church’s gospel tracts from my back pocket and handed it to Austin.
“I hope you will read this. And all of my church’s information is on the back. No salesman will come to your door, but our door is always open to you, Austin.” I said.
Austin took the tract from my hand.
“Thank you for talking to me. You said some important things to me. And thank you for praying for me and my grandmother.” He said.
We shook hands. I made my way back to the corner with Roy. The smile on Roy’s face was as big or bigger than the smile on my face. I watched as Austin drove out of the parking lot.
God is Sovereign
God sovereignly not only set the wheels in motion, but determined the beginning and the end of my encounter with Austin, before the world began.
Every aspect of our meeting–from Austin’s grandmother’s stroke, to me being on the corner with my cross at the appointed time, to Austin (half-dazed by the news of his grandmother’s condition) taking a route he normally didn’t take–was ordained by God. God did not simply know what would happen. He is the reason it all happened. Nothing was left to chance. The omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient Creator of the Universe sovereignly decreed according to His secret will that I would meet Austin and communicate the gospel to him.
And this is why I can believe and declare, to God be the glory!