I spent the afternoon manning an evangelism table at the Westfield Valencia Town Center.
After checking in at the security office, I made my way to the second floor where my table was already set up near an escalator. I really like this particular spot since it puts me in close proximity to people making their way up and down the escalator. More traffic means more bibles and tracts distributed, as well as better opportunities to engage people in conversation.
A young couple was relaxing at the table when I arrived. I greeted them and let them know I was there to use the table. They were gracious and kind. I told them I would be distributing bibles today. I asked them if they would each like one. Both accepted the gift. It was a good start to my afternoon.
While I had other tracts on the table, two of my titles I focused on distributing were “Miranda” and “Thank You.” As the Lord would have it, I was able to give “Thank You” tracts to five uniformed soldiers and a uniformed Marine Corps sergeant. I thanked each man for his service and, in turn, they thanked me for the support.
I distributed about 150 of the “Miranda” tracts, at the top of the escalator. I greeted people by saying, “Happy Good Friday!”
As I sat at the table, I noticed a young man looking at the table as he made his way to the escalator. “Would you like a free Bible?” I asked.
“No. I’ve got so many bibles at home.”
As he was about to step onto the escalator, I said, “Make sure to read at least one of them!”
That stopped the young man in his tracts. He quickly changed directions and came over to the table.
I introduced myself. His name was Timothy, and he was 19-years-old. “I’m trying to read the Bible. I wish I could read it every night, but, you know.” Timothy said.
“Where do you worship?” I asked.
I go to a Church of God in Christ in Pasadena. My uncle is the bishop.
“Can I ask you something?”
I took Timothy through a “Three Minutes to Live” scenario. The best Timothy could offer me, his hypothetical unsaved friend, was to invite me to church so his bishop-uncle could talk to me.
“Timothy, what if I don’t want to go to your church and talk to your uncle? You’re my friend. I have a relationship with you. I’m coming to you for help. What are you going to tell me?”
“I guess I would tell you to turn to God?”
“Yeah. Why would you tell me to turn to God? What will happen to me if I don’t?”
Timothy stammered for a few moments, looked around to see if anyone was eavesdropping, lowered his voice, and said, “I guess you would go to hell.”
“Okay. I kinda put you on the spot.”
“Let’s switch. Now, I’m the Christian and you’re my unbelieving, dying friend. Here’s what I would say to you.”
I communicated the law and the gospel to Timothy.
Timothy said he understood and believed everything I shared with him.
“What do you like to do, Timothy?”
Timothy was presently attending our local community college. His plan was to transfer to another SoCal community college where he hoped to make the basketball team.
“Timothy, what if I told you I could teach you everything you need to know about playing basketball?”
“Here’s what you need to know about playing basketball. You need to make sure the ball you use is orange and round. There are two baskets at opposite ends of the court. You need to make sure you put the ball in the right one.”
I let the level of my “knowledge” of basketball sink into Timothy’s mind.
“Timothy, if I were to say that to you would you think I knew anything about basketball?”
“Well, maybe. I don’t like to judge people.”
“Come on, Timothy! You judge all the time. If you’re standing in front of two restaurants and one has a “D” from the Health Department on the front door, and the other restaurant has an “A,” you’re going to make a judgment and go into the restaurant with the letter “A” on the door. Judge me!”
Timothy smiled. “Okay. I wouldn’t think you knew anything about basketball.”
“Now, I have a tough question for you. If you wouldn’t think I knew anything about basketball, based on what I said to you, then why should I believe you know Christ when you can’t tell me how to know Him?”
Timothy thought about that for a moment.
“Look, Timothy, I don’t know you’re heart. But there are millions of people your age who have grown up in church. They think they know Jesus because going to church is all they’ve ever known. They think they are Christians because they were raised in a Christian home. Yet they have never repented of their sin and received Jesus Christ, by faith, as their Lord and Savior. They go to church on Sunday, and they live like hell Monday through Friday. They think because they prayed a prayer and asked Jesus into their heart, raised their hand, and walked down the aisle that they’re right with Jesus. And they live like they have some kind of “Get Out of Hell Free” card. They say they know Jesus, but nothing has changed in their life. They are the same people they’ve always been.
“Timothy, can you point to a time in your life when your faith became your own–when you turned from your sin and received Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?”
Timothy thought about it.
“Timothy, something a friend taught me last weekend at a conference is this. A person doesn’t have to hit rock bottom and be lying unconscious in an alley with a needle and syringe sticking out of his arm before they can come to faith in Christ. There are many people like you who grew up in church and can’t point to an exact moment in time when they came to faith in Christ. That’s okay. What matters is whether or not Christ has saved you and that you know you have turned from your sin and truly received Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.”
I could tell Timothy wasn’t sure how to respond.
“Timothy, what’s going to happen to you when you die?”
“I’m going to heaven?”
“Because of my faith?”
“Well, because God will see what I’ve done with my life….”
“Weigh the good against the bad you’ve done?”
Again, Timothy had affirmed everything I said when I communicated the law and the gospel to him. Yet, his faith was not in Christ alone. It was in Christ…..and Timothy.
I spent some time taking Timothy through a couple court room scenarios, while explaining to him doctrines such as depravity, propitiation, and justification, in terms he could understand.
By the time we parted company, Timothy was asserting he was trusting in Christ alone for his salvation. Maybe he had been. Maybe he came to faith in Christ during our conversation. Or, maybe he remains a young man who, having grown up in church, is a false convert. God knows.
Pray for Timothy.
Just moments after I said goodbye to Timothy, a middle-aged woman dressed in summer hiking/walking clothes, carrying a backpack approached the table. Her skin was dark and leathery. She looked like she spent a lot of time outdoors.
“I’m a believer. I’m just wondering if you will pray for my friend.”
“His name is Jerry. He is Jewish. I’ve been trying to get through to him for years, but he just won’t believe.”
I held out my hand to the woman. “My name’s Tony.”
“The woman shook my hand. “I’m Maria.”
“Well, I won’t forget your name. My wife’s name is Mahria. Where do you worship?”
The look that came upon Maria’s face told me she didn’t like the question.
“I worship everywhere, all the time.”
Maria went on to tell me that she was raised in the Roman Catholic Church and attends the largest Roman Catholic Church in the community. She also attends a seeker mega-church and a charismatic church.
I happened to look to my right, and I saw my Mahria. She got off work early and was able to join me at the mall. What a blessing!
I introduced the two ladies and brought Mahria up to speed regarding my conversation with Maria.
Maria talked for several minutes about her spirituality. When it seemed like Maria was ready to pause, I asked, “May I tell you what I would say to Jerry?”
“I would begin by reading Isaiah 53.”
I opened my Bible to Isaiah 53. I held the book so that both ladies could see the pages. As I read, something inside me said, “Maria is going to stop me.”
“Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. Out of the angui…..”
Maria place her hand over the page in order to stop me from continuing.
“I read that to Jerry just today.”
“You read all of Isaiah 53 to him, today?”
“Well, not all of it. Look, I have to get going. I’m already late for an appointment. Please pray for Jerry.
“We will. But Maria, before you go there’s something else I need to say to you. You need to find a Bible-believing, Bible-teaching church and settle there.”
“I’m in church on Sunday. I go to all three churches every Sunday.”
“I understand. But, the churches you are going to don’t preach the real gospel.”
“I don’t believe that.”
“Maria. You look like you are athletic. You probably run or hike?”
“I do it all.”
“Maria, what if you were running a race, and you came to a water station and I handed you a bottle of water. And just as you put the bottle to your mouth, I tell you there is a drop of poison in the water. Would you drink it?”
“I’ve heard this before. One church tells me there’s poison in another church. Another church tells me there’s poison in another church.” They all have poison, but they also bear fruit.”
“Maria, a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. It might look good. It may even taste good. But the fruit is always bad from a bad tree. The churches you are going to are bad trees.”
Maria then asserted that she believes she is saved by the blood of Christ and faith in him alone, apart from works. She acknowledged that the Roman Catholic Church teaches that works are necessary for salvation, but she didn’t see it as a big deal. She said the Bible is the only infallible authority, and that there are no perfect human teachers.
We parted company with smiles and well wishes. While Maria made many biblical assertions I could affirm, I was left after the conversation with little confidence she is saved. She finds comfort and peace in three of the worst churches in the community–churches where false gospels and unbiblical traditions are exalted.
Pray for Maria.
Julie and Cheri
Two ladies approached the table. One was a shorter lady, possible of Latin America descent. The other was a lady who appeared in her 30’s. There names were Julie and Cheri, respectively.
Cheri was immediately drawn to the bibles on the table.
“Everything on the table is free.” I said.
Julie touched Cheri to get her attention. Using American Sign Language (ASL) and her voice, Julie communicated to Cheri what I had just said. Cheri was deaf.
Cheri quickly took a Bible from the table and joyfully put it into her bag.
“Would you like one, too?” I asked Julie.
“Oh, I can have one?” She asked.
“Of course. I would love for you to have one.”
Julie, once again gaining Cheri’s attention with a gentle touch, told her, “I will read this to you at bedtime.”
Mahria and I looked at each other and smiled.
“She has the mind of a five-year-old.” Julie said, indicating Cheri was also developmentally disabled.
Our hearts went out to both Julie and Cheri as Cheri continued to pick up tracts off the table and put them into her bag. Then something at the end of the table caught Cheri’s eye–my marble Ten Commandment tablets (The Ten Words).
Cheri pointed to the tablets and signed to Julie, indicating she wanted Julie to read what was on the tablets.
I almost cried as I watched this absolutely beautiful, God-ordained scene. One by one, Julie signed the Ten Commandments, explaining to Cheri what each one meant. Julie thought Cheri would be satisfied learning what was on the first of the two tablets. When Cheri realized Julie had stopped reading, Cheri pointed to the second tablet.
Julie continued signing the commandments, but came to a stop before getting through all of them.
“Can I help? Does Cheri have a question?” I asked Julie.
“Adultery. How do I explain that in terms she can understand.”
Together we explained to Cheri that adultery happens when a person in a marriage behaves toward their husband or wife in a way that is not loyal, trustworthy, or faithful.
Julie asked Cheri if she wanted to get married. With the consternation of a child, Cheri made a pouty face, shook her head, and said, “no.” We all chuckled, including Cheri.
As the two ladies started to leave, I handed Julie one of my business cards, from the table.
“My email address is on the card. If you find you or Cheri have any questions about what you are reading in the Bible, please email me. I would love to help the two of you in any way I can.”
Both ladies made the sign to say, “Thank you.” I did the same in return.
Before the two ladies reached the escalator, Cheri turned back, smiled, and made the sign for “I love you.”
“I love you, too, Cheri.” I said, repeating the hand gesture.
As the ladies made their way down the escalator, Mahria and I turned to each other and embraced, rejoicing in what had just happened–rejoicing in what the Lord had done for His own glory. It was a moment I will never forget.
“Mission Good Friday”
One of my closest friends, Bobby McCreery, with To the End of the Earth Ministries, reminded me that this particular day was the sixth anniversary of Mission Good Friday. Six years ago, on Good Friday, I was prompted in my heart and mind to read Matthew 26-28 aloud, in the open-air. A number of people around the world joined me in the effort. Bobby was one of them. And it was the day that marked the beginning of his open-air ministry.
Open-air preaching is not allowed in the mall. No surprise, there. So, I decided I would read Matthew 26-28 aloud while sitting next to my table. I would read it loud enough for people close by to hear, but not loud enough to possibly alert security or mall management. I’ve established a good rapport with both, and my ministry at the mall, while adhering to the rules and regulations, has proven to be fruitful. I didn’t want to mess up a good thing by pushing the envelope, so to speak.
I was nervous. In fact, it took until the last half-hour of my time at the mall for me to raise the courage to go through with it.
I opened my Bible to Matthew 26 and began to read.
Several times people paused to listen to the reading. One young man stopped me momentarily to shake my hand and to thank me for what I was doing. Some gave me strange looks while others smiled and gave approving nods of the head.
Here’s the audio of today’s public reading of God’s Word.
It was a wonderful afternoon of ministry at the mall today, which was highlighted by enjoying partnership with my wife.