Tuesdays with Roy
Just about every Tuesday afternoon, my dear brother Roy Sandercock foregoes lunch at work to spend an hour engaging in evangelism with me. We meet at the corner of Marquette and Locust, in Davenport, IA (our community). The most popular ice cream shop in the city, with a good-sized parking lot, is at the corner.
There, Roy and I stand. Roy holds a gospel sign and I carry my “Stop and Talk” cross. We also carry gospel tracts published by our church. One of my all-time favorite tracts (pictured left) is simply titled “The Gospel.”
Even though Roy and I spend just an hour together on Tuesdays, the fellowship is very sweet. We usually are blessed to distribute gospel tracts to a few pedestrians. Ocassionally, as was the case today, we are privileged to verbally communicate the gospel to motorists who, seeing the sign and/or the cross, pull into the parking lot to stop and talk.
Today was a day when the Lord decided to bless our time on the corner exceedingly abundantly beyond anything I thought would happen today.
John Stopped to Talk
I arrived at the corner of Marquette and Locust about an hour before Roy. Half-an-hour into my time there I turned to see a minivan pull into the ice cream shop parking lot. I watched as a man exited the vehicle and started walking in my direction. Both his gaze and his gait indicated that he wanted to talk to me. I walked in his direction to greet him.
“Hello!” I enthusiastically greeted the man.
“Hi.” The man quietly replied.
I immediately recognized why the man was not as enthusiastic with his greeting. Tears streamed down his cheeks.
I shook the man’s hand. I handed him a gospel tract. “Here; tuck this in your pocket and read it later,” I said.
The man took the tract, looked at the cover for a moment, and then placed it in his front, left shorts pocket.
“How can I help you?” I asked.
His name was John.
“Well,” John said, “Your cross says ‘Stop and Talk,’ so I stopped. I need to talk to someone.”
John seemed to fight hard to keep his chest from heaving as he sobbed.
“Hey; it’s okay, man. What’s on your mind?” I asked.
“This could take a while,” John said.
“Not a problem. My time is yours.” I assured him.
Taking Time to Listen to John
John and I spent the next hour talking. Actually, John did most of the talking. I asked a few clarifying questions along the way.
As I’ve matured (hopefully) as an evangelist, I’ve worked hard and I believe I am getting better at implementing the biblical “two ears, one mouth” principle.
“This you know, my beloved brethren.
But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger;
for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.”
It’s certainly easier to apply this principle when the conversation is friendly. I still have to work on refraining from talking over people who want to argue.
It was easy to not interrupt John. I could tell this young man really needed to get a lot off his chest. He needed to dump information, and I was the dumpster. That was okay with me.
John told me he grew up in a Baptist church. He didn’t mind going to church as a child. It’s just what his family did. Sadly, by 17, John was not just using drugs. He was selling them. By age 20, John was a convicted drug dealer–a felon who had been sentenced to two years in prison.
John worked hard to clean up his life after prison. He found gainful employment; he even ran his own business for a time.
Along the way, John met a woman. She was the mother of two very young twins. John and his girlfriend began living together. According to John, the two have been engaged for three years. Last year, John’s girlfriend became pregnant with their first child. Four months into the pregnancy, John’s girlfriend had a miscarriage. While experiencing the trauma of the miscarriage, John and his girlfriend were told she was not losing one baby, but two. They were unaware she had been pregnant with twins.
The miscarriages impacted both John and his girlfriend. They were devastated. While John soon emotionally recovered, it seemed that his girlfriend could not. She went to her doctor who prescribed medication for depression. Things went from bad to worse. The woman with whom John fell in love was no longer the same woman.
Sometime later, a night of heavy drinking would lead to even more sin that need not be described here. Soon thereafter, John’s girlfriend, along with her children, left him.
As I listened to John tell his story, I listened for a part of his story I might use to transition into a gospel conversation.
John: “I’m broken.”
John ended his account of the last eightten years of his life with two words: “I’m broken.” That was the transition for which I was listening.
“John, there are two kinds of brokenness,” I said. “There is a brokenness that God will simply ignore. And there is a brokenness that God will not despise–a brokenness God will heal. There is the person who is broken because their life is a mess. He’s broken because he knows he has made a mess of his life and he just wants life to get better. This person should not expect any help from God. Then there is the person who is broken because he realizes his life is a mess as a result of his sin against God. He realizes that it is his own fault that his life is the way it is. While he’s not responsible for the sins of others, he finally comes to a place where he truly taking responsibility for the many offenses he has committed against his Creator. This kind of brokenness God will not despise.”
“For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces
a repentance without regret, leading to salvation,
but the sorrow of the world produces death.”
2 Corinthians 7:10
“John, your life is a mess because you have sinned against God.” I said.
“What is my sin?” John asked.
“John, you know what your sin is. You’ve confessed to a dozen or more sins just in telling me your story.”
“Yeah. You’re right,” John conceded. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
While there was still a little bit of Baptist thinking in John, he was lost. He remembered a verse, but he knew not Christ.
“I’ve tried to make up for the things I’ve done,” John said as he cried.
“John, you will never be able to do enough. If you want to work your way into heaven, then all you have to do is live a perfect life in thought, word, and deed from cradle to grave,” I said. “Jesus said, ‘You are to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.’ But even if you could perfectly clean up your act, changing your life for the better won’t erase the lifetime of sin you have already committed against God.
John, with tears again streaming down his face, looked skyward. “It’s too late for me!”
“Maybe not,” I said. “Do you remember the story of David and Bathsheba?” I asked.
John shook his head. His Baptist roots didn’t sink that deep.
I told John the story of David’s egregious sins, which resulted in the death of his child. I could tell by the look in his eyes and by his countenance that the story resonated with him. I could tell John saw similarities between David’s sin and his own. While I have no idea whatsoever why God allowed John’s unborn twins to die (and I did not suggest to John that his sin had anything to do with their deaths), I wonder if John, hearing of the death of David’s baby, related to that, too.
I told John the story of how Nathan the prophet confronted King David about his sin.
“Hearing the story of how the rich man stole his poor neighbor’s only sheep and killed it to serve as lunch for his guest, King David commanded the rich man be brought to him so he could kill him. Nathan the prophet looked at David and said, ‘You are the man!’
“David immediately knew why Nathan told him the story. He was immediately convicted of the sins he committed with and in relation to Bathsheba. David was an adulterer, a fornicator, a theif, and a murderer. And David was broken–not becausde he got caught; not because his child died; not because his life was a mess. He was broken because he realized how terribly he had sinned against God.
“This is how David cried out to the Lord. He said, ‘Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are justified when You speak and blameless when You judge (Psalm 51:1-4).’
“And then David prayed, ‘Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit (Psalm 51:10-12) . . . ‘The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise (Psalm 51:17).’
“God did not turn His back on David. God saw that David’s heart was truly broken. God saw that David understood who his sin was against, and he was broken about it.”
John again began to weep.
Taking John to Court
“John, let’s say you found yourself standing before a judge in a courtroom. Having been found guilty, the judge sentences you to death. In a few moments, you are going to be escorted into a nearby room. You will be strapped to a gurney. You will have a needle stuck in your vein, and you will be put to sleep like no more than a stray dog.
“But before that happens, the judge stands up from his bench. He removes his robe of authority. He steps down and approaches you, and says, ‘John, you deserve to die for the crime you committed. But I’m going to take your place. I’m going to suffer the death you deserve, so you can be set free.”
John began to shake his head.
“I know why you’re shaking your head. I’ve seen it many times before, right at this point of the story. You know why you’re shaking your head? Pride. You’re saying to yourself, ‘No. No one is going to die for me. I’ll take my own punishment.’ That’s pride. And pride is sin. Your pride is killing you, John. God does not negotiate with sinners. You must come to God on his terms.
“Two thousand years ago God the Father sent His Son to earth, in the person of Jesus Christ–truly God and truly man, yet without sin. He lived a perfect life as God in the flesh for some 33 years–a life you and I cannot live for a mere 33 seconds. At a time appointed before the foundation of the world, Jesus voluntarily went to the cross. He suffered and died a death He did not deserve, in order to take upon Himself the punishment sinners like you and I rightly deserve for our sins against God. He died; He was buried, and three days later He rose from the grave.
“John, what God commands of you, me, and all people everywhere is that we repent–that, by faith alone we believe the gospel you just heard and receive Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.
“You need to understand that God does not promise that you will ever get back together with your girlfriend. He doesn’t promise that all of your bills will be paid. While God does bless His people, He doesn’t promise to make your temporal life better. In fact, coming to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ may lead to an even worse physical life.
“For those whom God saves, His promises are much better than temporal blessings. The promises of God are eternal. He promises forgiveness of sin, reconciliation with Him, and eternal life in the presence of His Son Jesus Christ. The hope of the Christian is a future hope–an eternal hope–a hope secured in heaven by God Himself. That’s good news. No matter what this world may throw at you, if you are in Christ you can experience true joy in the midst of the worst of trials. Knowing your sins are forgiven, knowing you will spend eternity in heaven because of what Jesus Christ accomplished for you by His death and resurrection, makes this life more than bearable. Knowing Christ and believing His promises allows the Christian to experience true joy.
“If you are broken, John, turn to Christ and live while God has given you time.”
John shook my hand as he said, “Well, I have somewhere I have to be.”
“Can I give you my phone number?” I asked.
John reached into his van and retrieved a pen. I wrote my name and phone number on the gospel tract I gave him. As I did that, I invited John to church. I also let him know he should feel free to call me if he had any questions or if he wanted to grab a cup of coffee and talk.
We said our goodbyes. I walked back with my cross to the corner. John drove away. I shared with Roy my conversation with John. We both rejoiced over the providence and kindness of our God. A short time later, Roy had to head back to work. I had been out for a while, so I decided to pack up and head home.
Lacy and Heather were Broken, Too
After saying goodbye to Roy, I opened the back of my vehicle and placed my cross inside it. A van pulled alongside my vehicle and parked. Two ladies were in the front seats. They both looked in my direction. They were visibly upset.
“Can I help you ladies?” I asked.
Both of the women began to weep. Lacy, the driver, said, “We need prayer. Life is just very hard right now. I need to get closer to God (Heather, the passenger, nodded her head as if to say, “me, too”). I know I’m not very close to Him right now. I believe He is with me and helps me, but it’s very hard to believe that when things are bad.”
“Lacy, if you were to die today (and I certainly don’t want that to happen), and you stood before God and He asked you, ‘Why should I let you into my heaven,’ what would you say?” I asked.
“I would say there is no reason for Him to let me into heaven,” she soberly replied.
“I appreciate your honesty,” I said. “In and of ourselves, there really is no reason for God to allow any of us into His heaven. Yet, He does welcome people to join Him there.”
As I did with John, using most of the same words (the gospel is the same yesterday, today, and forever), I communicated the gospel to the two broken ladies. And as I did with John, I explained to them that saving faith in and a relationship with Jesus Christ was not a guarantee that all of their problems would go away. Christ is better than anything this life has to offer. Reconcilliation with God, forgiveness of sin, and eternal life with Jesus Christ is infinitely better than anything this world, this life has to offer.
I asked the ladies if I could pray for them before I left. They accepted the offer. When I finished praying for them, I made sure to point out my church’s information on the gospel tracts I had given them. I welcomed them to join us for dinner and worship on Wednesday evening. Both ladies seemed genuinely interested and grateful.
I said goodbye. Before I got into my car, I assured both ladies that I and my church family would be praying for them.
Praising God for Broken People
I got into my car and spent a few moments praising and thanking God. My elders received a text report about what God did on the corner of Marquette and Locust. I texted Roy to tell him about the conversation with the two ladies. Mahria received a text in which I told her about my time on the streets. When I got home I tesitfied to Mahria and Amanda, sharing with them the details of my conversations with John, Lacy, and Heather.
I praise God for broken people. I thank God for allowing me to meet three broken people today–three people who, at least by their appearances and their words, seemed ready to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Please join me in praying for them.