I met three men while crosswalking yesterday: Chad, Jeff, and Nick. All heard the gospel, and Chad wanted more than something to eat.
A New Corner
As a street evangelist, it’s a good an important tactic to establish regular “fishing ponds.” A street evangelist wants the people in the community to not only get used to seeing him on the streets, but also expect to see him out and about. Establishing regular locations for ministry increases the potential for people to stop and talk. Many times over the years people have approached me to remark about how often they see me and that seeing me with regularity compelled them to stop and talk to me.
At the same time, I want to reach as many people in my community as possible with the gospel of Jesus Christ. So, in addition to establishing regular ministry locations, it’s important that I regularly try new locations. Yesterday was a day in which I tried a new location–the southwest corner of Elmore Circle and 53rd Street. 53rd Street, located toward the north end of my community, is a major east/west artery through the communities of Bettendorf and Davenport.
The area of Elmore Circle and 53rd is an intersection that sees a lot of traffic. There are a number of eateries and businesses nearby. While not too numberous, the pedestrian traffic at the intersection is steady. There is ample parking located adjacent to all four corners of the intersection. This allows people to heed the call on my cross to “stop and talk,” no matter the corner on which I’m standing. People can safely park their cars and walk just a short distance in order to approach me.
A Brief Word about Ministry to the Homeless
Not every homeless person:
- is mentally ill
- is an addict
- has a criminal record
- wants to be homeless
- refuses to work
- wants to take advantage of you
- is unsaved
Homelessness is a serious issue around the world. Frankly, if the fat, sleek, wealthy, and by-and-large indifferent visible church in the Western World lived up to God’s mandate to love its neighbor as itself, hunger and homelessness could largely be eradicated. Maybe if American Evangelicals built more shelters and transitional living facilities than coffee kiosks in church foyers or acres of athletic fields, fishing ponds, and hiking trails for (“cough”) community outreach……
That’s an article for another day.
It’s also important to note that not every homeless-looking person is what or who you think. There are people who pose as homeless as a way of making a dishonest living. For some, pretending to be homeless provides a lucrative income.
There are no guarantees that giving to actual homeless people will result in the gifts received being used as intended. It’s quite possible that the money you give to a homeless person will be used to buy drugs or used in some other nefarious way. This is why I never give money to homeless people.
Instead, I either offer eatery gift cards or, if there is a eatery close-by, I offer to buy the person something to eat and/or drink. This affords me some level of assurance that my gift will not be misused. This tactic also affords me the opportunity to engage the person in gospel conversation as we walk to the place where I will buy the person something to eat.
Chad: A Homeless Man on the Corner
When I arrived at the corner of Elmore Circle and 53rd Street, I saw a homeless-looking man sitting on the southeast corner, adjacent to Chik-fil-a. He sat with his legs crossed and holding a sign made of cardboard. Chained to the light pole behind him was a bicycle. Next to him on the ground was his backpack. Even from a distance he looked dirty and disheveled. It was a warm afternoon. Even so, the man wore a winter-type jacket. It was probably easier to wear it than carry it. His name was Chad.
I approached Chad, introduced myself, and asked him if he had eaten at all during the day. He said, “Not much.” I asked him if he would like a chicken sandwich. He said with a smile, “So long as there’s no pickles.”
I went into Chik-fil-a and bought Chad lunch. When I returned to the corner to give it to him I also gave him one of my church’s gospel tracts. “I hope this food fills your stomach, and I hope the message in this tract will fill your soul.” I said.
He thanked me for both the lunch and the gospel tract.
“I will defintely read it,” Chad said. “I had a Bible, but I lost it. Now, all I have are some pages from the Bible. I really need a Bible.”
I didn’t have any “giveaway” bibles in my car. And I certainly wasn’t going to give him my Bible.
“Well, part of the Bible is better than no Bible at all,” I said. “Read what you have and believe it.”
We shook hands. I returned to my car, grabbed my “Stop and Talk” cross and more gospel tracts, and took up a position across the street from Chad. I looked back at Chad and saw that he was reading what looked like the portion of the Bible he owned. I was encouraged by and, at the same time, uncomfortable with what I saw.
Jeff: A “Youth Leader”
A few pedestrians came by the corner and received gospel tracts. I waved to as many passing motorists as I could. As is the case at most of the intersections where I crosswalk, the response from motorists was overwhelmingly positive.
I began crosswalking nine years ago, with the first “Are You Ready” cross. I still have that cross. The Lord has allowed that cross to compel many people to stop and talk. I thank God for it. But the “Stop and Talk” cross I now carry has generated many more conversations than the “Are You Ready” cross. With the “Stop and Talk” cross I’ve gone from wondering if anyone will stop to talk to wondering how many people will stop to talk.
I truly love every form of evangelism in which the Lord allows me to engage, but I have developed a particular fondness for crosswalking.
One thing that is a bit unsettling for this old, retired street cop is how difficult it is at a busy intersection to hear people approaching me from behind.
At one point I turned around to find a tall young man with a big and infectious smile standing behind me.
“How ya doin’?!” He asked.
Once I swallowed my heart back into my chest cavity, I said, “I’m doing great. My name’s Tony.”
I knew he was telling me the truth because his fast food uniform nametag confirmed what he told me. Old habits die hard.
Jeff had just finished his shift. As he left his workplace he saw me standing on the corner with the cross and decided to come over and talk to me.
“Man, I think it’s great that you’re out here,” Jeff said.
Jeff, while I am sure sincere in his encouragement, spoke with the reserved enthusiasm I hear so often from Christians who see public evangelism as a novelty—as something they would never consider doing themselves, but yet on some superficial level find my activity endearing.
Jeff’s positive reference to what I was doing led me to believe he was, at the very least, a professing Christian. I asked him where he worshiped. Jeff told me that he was a “youth leader” at a local church. I had heard of the church, which did not fill me with a presupposed level of confidence regarding the soul of the young man in front of me.
Jeff told me about his recent “mission trip” to Nicaragua. I asked a few probative questions and learned that Jeff and a team from his church went to Nicaragua to build four houses. He didn’t engage in any evangelism. He didn’t communicate the gospel with anyone. However, he did lead devotions for the mission team in the evenings. He went all the way to Nicaragua with people from his church to lead people from his church in Bible study.
It was time to turn the conversation to the gospel.
As I have done hundreds of times before, I engaged Jeff in a little role-playing. The scenario I put before him was as follows: Jeff and I were good friends. I knew he was a Christian, and he knew I was not a Christian. One day I come to him with the scary news that I am dying of cancer. The doctors gave me no hope of survival. I asked Jeff what hope could he give me.
Jeff was immediately taken aback by the scenario. I could tell he had no idea what to say, but he gave it a try.
Jeff said that I should trust the Lord, realizing that God had a plan for my life. “It looks like his plan is for me to die,” I complained.
“Well, God is the Great Physician. He might heal you,” Jeff replied.
“But what if he doesn’t? What’s going to happen to me?” I asked.
“Well, I think of Job and what the Lord did for him,” Jeff explained.
“Who’s Job?” I asked, staying in the character of Jeff’s unsaved friend.
Jeff explained parts of Job’s story.
“Yeah, but Job lived. I’m dying,” I complained again.
“Wow. That’s right. Man. Yeah; I’m not sure what to tell you,” Jeff admitted.
It was time to let Jeff off the hook, at least for the moment.
“Okay. Let’s switch places,” I said. “Now, I’m the Christian, and you’re my unsaved, dying friend. Here’s what I would say to you. For the next several minutes I preached the law and the gospel to Jeff.
“Jeff, did you hear anything different in what I said to you from what you said to me?” I asked.
“Yeah. You’re a much better communicator than I am. I’m more comfortable talking to youth,” he replied.
I explained to Jeff that what just transpired between us had little to do with my ability to communicate. I asked Jeff what he liked to do when he wasn’t working or serving as a youth leader. He told me he was a licensed pilot.
“Okay. Jeff, what if I wandered onto the tarmac one day and I saw you getting ready for a flight? What if I approached you and said, ‘Hey, man; I know everything you need to know about being a pilot. Can I go up with ya?’ You then rightly ask me, ‘What can you tell me about being a pilot?’ And here’s what I tell you: ‘Well, I know the rudder is somewhere in the back of the plane. I’m pretty sure the flaps are on the wings. There are two pedals below the pilot’s feet, but I don’t think they are an accelerator and a brake. Oh, and if I pull the stick back we’ll go up; and if I push the stick forward we’ll go down.’”
I stopped talking, looked Jeff in the eye, confidently nodded my head to let him know that I said all I was going to say, and waited for his response.
After an awkward moment of silence, Jeff squinted his eyes and incedulously chuckled.
“Jeff, based on what I told you, is there any reason for you to believe I know anything about flying a plane?” I asked.
“Well…..” Jeff hesitated.
“Come on, man! Are you really gonna let me fly your plane?” I asked.
Jeff shook his head and said, “No.”
“Nor should you!” I quickly affirmed. “Jeff, I have an important question for you. Before I ask it I want to assure you that I am not your judge. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge and that’s God; not a guy on the corner of Elmore Circle and 53rd, holding a cross.
“Jeff, if you would rightly not believe I was a pilot based on what I told you, why should I believe you’re a Christian when you can’t explain to me how I can come to know Jesus?”
“That’s a good question,” Jeff replied.
“Jeff,” I said gently, “there are many, many people in the world who believe they know Jesus. They go to church every Sunday. They serve in ministry. They even go on mission trips. But they don’t know the Lord. Jeff, a person cannot be saved by a gospel they do not know. Millions of people are going to stand before God and say, ‘Lord, I prayed a prayer and asked You into my heart. I served in ministry. I went on mission trips;’ only to hear Jesus say, ‘Depart from me, you workers of lawlessness; I never knew you.’
“Jeff, I don’t presume to know your heart, but I need to tell you this. Paul told the Corinthians, ‘Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.’ If you realize you are not converted, repent and believe the gospel while God has given you time. If you are saved, then there’s nothing else you should be studying right now other than the gospel. You’ve served in youth ministry for ten years and you can’t communicate the gospel. So, what are you really telling those kids who are willing to raise their hands every Wednesday night to accept Jesus?”
Sadly, while Jeff said he would carefully consider what I said, he immediately changed the subject to boast that God has given him the gift of discernment. And how did Jeff describe this gift of discernment? He described it as the ability to be able to tell if someone is actually a pilot.
Jeff thanked me again for being on the corner and for the conversation. We shook hands and Jeff walked away. I was left mourning for Jeff and for the kids he’s led (or misled) for a decade. While I thanked God for the opportunity to communicate the gospel to Jeff, I couldn’t help but look at the encounter as yet another tragic example of the state of American Evangelicalism—a religious system filled almost to the brim with unqualified leaders and vacationaries–people without Christ and His gift of salvation.
Nick: A Good Guy from Tennessee
Not long after my conversation with Jeff, another man approached me from behind. His name was Nick.
Nick had lived in Davenport, but moved to Tennessee six years ago. He went to Tennessee to visit family. However, while there his uncle offered him a job climbing and working in trees for an area power company, which he just couldn’t pass up.
Nick arrived back in Davenport Mother’s Day weekend. The reason for his return was to help move his dad from his home, into assisted living. His dad suffers from Huntington’s Disease. Nick told me his plan was to return to Tennessee by week’s end.
I asked Nick if he had any spiritual beliefs. He told me that while he is not religious he considered himself a Christian. I asked him what it meant to him to be a Christian. He said, “Well, I believe in God. I believe Jesus is my Savior. I believe I should do my best to follow God’s Word.”
“Nick, if you were to die today and God asked you why He should let you into heaven, what would you say?” I asked.
“Well, while I’ve done a lot of bad stuff, I’ve got a good heart. I love my family, I’m a good father, and I’m a hard worker,” Nick replied.
“Nick, you said you believe you should follow God’s Word. This is what God’s Word says about your heart. It says, ‘Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually’ (Genesis 6:5). It says, ‘The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it’ (Jeremiah 17:9)? It says, ‘There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one’ (Romans 3:10-12).
“Nick, the very thing you are trusting to exonerate you before God is the best piece of evidence that will condemn you–your heart.” I said.
Nick slowly and slightly nodded his head. I could tell he was considering what he was hearing.
“Nick, let me ask you this. Let’s say you were arrested for committing a crime. It’s not a case of mistaken identity. Your arrest wasn’t the result of a crooked system. You did the crime and confessed to the crime. You stand trial and the jury rightly finds you guilty. This is a death penalty case.
“You find yourself standing before the judge on the day of sentencing. The judge asks you if you have anything to say for yourself. You tell the judge, ‘Your honor; I know I’m guilty and I’m really sorry for what I’ve done. But I want you to know that I love my family, I’m a good father, and I’m a hard worker. I think you ought to let me go.’
“Nick, is a good judge going to let you go?” I asked.
“No,” Nick answered. “If you do the crime you’ve got to do the time.”
“Let’s kick things up a notch,” I said. “You said you have children?” I asked.
“How old are they?”
“Three years and six months.”
“Okay. So, let’s make the story even more personal. Someone kidnaps and murders your three-year-old. The person is caught and confesses to the crime. He’s found guilty by a jury. It’s the day of sentencing and you and your family are in the courtroom. You’ve been in the courtroom every day of the trial. What do you want from the judge?” I asked.
“Justice,” Nick firmly replied.
“That’s right,” I agreed. “Now, as with you, the judge asks the murderer of your child if he has anything to say for himself. Like you, the man says, ‘Your honor; I know I’m guilty and I’m really sorry for what I’ve done. But I want you to know that I love my family, I’m a good father, and I’m a hard worker. I think you ought to let me go.’ The judge thinks about it for a moment and then says to the man, ‘Okay. You’re free to go.’
“Nick, would that be justice?” I asked.
“No,” Nick replied.
“That’s right,” I agreed. “If the judge did such a thing he would be corrupt. Nick, God is not a corrupt Judge. He’s not going to care that you love your family, or that you’re a good father, or that you’re a hard worker. All those things may very well be true, but it won’t help you when you stand before God. And we’ve already established that the condition of your heart can’t help you, either.
“Now, let’s add something to the story,” I continued. “Having found you guilty, the judge sentences you to death. Unlike our judicial system today, you’re not going to spend the next 20 years appealing your conviction. The judge is going to immediately have you escorted into another room where you will be strapped to a gurney and put to sleep like a stray, dog.
“But, before that hapens, the judge stands up from behind his bench. He steps down and removes his robe of authority. He looks at you and says, ‘I have found you guilty, and you deserve to die as the just punishment for your crime. However, I am going to take your place. I’m going to die the death you deserve so that the requirements of the law will be satisfied. You will go free as an innocent man.’
“Nick, what would you think of the judge if he did that for you?” I asked.
“I wouldn’t accept it,” Nick defiantly said. “It wouldn’t be right. He shouldn’t be punished for me.”
“Who has the authority in the courtroom, Nick; you or the judge?” I asked.
“The judge,” He replied.
“That’s right. The judge determines the outcome of the case,” I explained. “Nick, the reason you don’t want to accept the judge’s sacrifice on your behalf is because you’re prideful. You want to take credit for your defense and release. You want to be set free on your terms. You would rather suffer the death penalty than accept the sacrifice of someone else, on your behalf.
“And you’re doing the same thing with Jesus. You’re trampling his shed blood for sinners under your feet. You’re treating it as a worthless thing. Oh, you’ll call Jesus your Savior, but you want to get credit for your salvation. Nick, God doesn’t negotiate with sinners. You must come to God on his terms. If you’re relying on Jesus plus anything for the forgiveness of your sins, then you don’t have His forgiveness. You must repent of your pride and trust in Jesus alone for your salvation.”
“Wow,” Nick exlaimed. “I’ve never heard it put that way before.”
“Does what I’ve told you make sense?” I asked.
“Yes, it does,” he replied.
“Then, repent and believe the gospel while God has given you time,” I urged him.
I pointed out to Nick our church’s address on the gospel tract I gave to him. I invited him to our Wednesday evening gathering and dinner. We shook hands. I thanked Nick for taking the time to stop and talk to me. He turned and waved a couple times as he walked back to his car.
Chad: Something Left to Do
I thanked God for my conversations with Jeff and Nick, and I prayed for their salvation. With joy in my heart, I went back to holding my cross and waving at passing motorists. As I did so, I turned and looked toward where Chad had been sitting. He was still there. Now, he was laying down. His cardboard sign covered his face and blocked the hot afternoon sun.
Over and over again in my mind I heard Chad say that he needed a Bible. I thought about how I encouraged him to be satisfied with the portion of the Scriptures he had. I thought about the Bible in my car. And I thought of the unknown number of bibles I had on my book shelves.
Everything I have is a gift from the Lord (James 1:17). I can read one Bible at a time. I have multiple nice copies of multiple translations, of God’s Word. Yet, I wasn’t willing to part with one of my many bibles so that a homeless man can have one of his own. I deemed him worthy of a “giveaway” Bible, but not a Bible of my own.
Oh wretched man that I am!
When I decided it was time to head home I walked back to my car. After securing my cross, I reached into the front seat and grabbed my Bible. I flipped through the pages and removed some pictures I kept inside. Then, I placed one of my business cards at John 1.
I walked across the street and approached Chad. I called out to him by name, from a few feet away. He was still laying down with his face covered. I didn’t want to startle him. He quickly removed the cardboard sign from his face and sat up, looking in the direction from which my voice came.
“Chad, I would like you to have this Bible,” I said as I handed him the Book.
“Oh, thank you!” Chad exclaimed as he took hold of the Bible. “I need this!”
“Chad, a man once said, ‘This Book will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from this Book.’ Read it, and believe what it says,” I said.
Chad thanked me again. We shook hands and I walked back to my car.
I sat in my car for a few minutes before driving away. After checking phone messages and allowing the air conditioner to cool me, I looked over at Chad. What I saw caused me to seek the Lord’s forgiveness and to praise Him for His grace.
Chad, now in a seated position with his legs crossed, had the Bible open. He gently stroked the pages. And then he bowed his head and prayed.
I sat and stared at Chad. I was far enough away that Chad was not aware of my presence, but I was close enough to clearly see what was happening. I was mesmerized by the goodness and kindness of God. I was struck by his patience with me. I was thankful.
By God’s providential grace, it was another wonderful afternoon of ministry. All glory and honor and praise to Him, and Him alone.
My Bible collection will be dramatically reduced, soon.