While crosswalking on the corner of Locust and Marquette, Chris and Ann saw me with the cross and stopped to talk. They were on their way to a rehab center.
Crosswalking at Locust and Marquette
The first time I ever carried a cross as part of my evangelism efforts was on Sunday, July 9, 2009. It’s hard to believe that this year will mark ten years of crosswalking.
Since that Sunday afternoon, I have carried the cross throughout the United States–places like: California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Illinois, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Maryland, South Carolina, and Iowa. I have been blessed to have countless conversations with people as a result of standing on street corners, holding either my “Are You Ready?” or “Stop and Talk” cross.
These days I all-but-exclusively carry the “Stop and Talk” cross. It has, far and away, generated the most conversations of any cross or any sign I have ever carried.
Regarding locations: for me, no street corner has produced more gospel conversations while crosswalking than the corner of Locust Street and Marquette Street, in Davenport, IA.
Due to health issues (namely: a chronic bad back), Mahria (my wife of 33+ years) is not able to spend as much time on the streets with me as either of us would like. However, that makes her no less important to my evangelism efforts. There are many things Mahria does to facilitate and support my public evangelism efforts–not the least of which is the encouragement she gives me. I’ve been on the streets three of the last four days. Each day of evangelism was a direct result of Mahria’s encouragement to take to the streets, regardless of the weather. She also provided a suggestion for an evangelism location this last weekened that resulted in very fruitful ministry.
I am thankful to the Lord for the many ways Mahria completes me, including how the Lord uses her to complete me as I seek to serve the Lord as an evangelist.
Chris and Ann
While a balmy day by Eastern Iowa standards for January (41 degrees), the gusty winds removed any semblance of warmth in the air. The sun was out, which blessed my Vitamin D-depleted body and helped me to pretend it was warmer than it was.
I had been crosswalking on the corner of Locust and Marquette for about a half-hour when I noticed a car pull up behind me, in the parking lot, and stop. Inside the car were two people–a man and a woman. The man, who was the driver, rolled down his window and said hello. His name was Chris. Seated next to him, in the front passenger seat, was Ann.
Chris asked, “Do you have a car, here? Do you want to sit in our car and get out of the cold?”
I thanked them for the kind offer and explained that my car was nearby.
After introducing myself, I handed Chris and Ann gospel tracts and asked, “Do you folks have any particular spiritual beliefs?”
“Oh yeah. We’re Christians; non-denominational.” Chris replied.
“How did you come to faith in Christ?” I asked.
“Uh; the stuff I’ve seen; the way he’s worked in my life; just things that have happened…..” Chris answered.
Holding the gospel tract in her hand, looking at the church information on the back, Ann asked, “Where is this?”
I asked if they were familiar with the area, which they were. I explained where my church was located by referencing familiar, nearby landmarks.
“I just want to say one thing.” Ann said. “I believe there is someone higher and greater than us. I don’t know for sure. But I’m always picky about it, but I know there’s something out there. We’ve been through a lot. We really have nothing else left to do, right now, so it’s really cool that we saw you standing out here.”
It was as if Ann had just thrown a bunch of her thoughts in a mixing bowl and hit start on the mixer. But I was able to track with her.
Not knowing how much time Chris and Ann would give me, I wanted to get right to the point. As the Lord would have it, the couple would give me as much of their time as I wanted.
“Okay, let me share with you, just real quick, what I believe and what my church believes.
God, The Conscience, and the Law
“I believe there is one God who created all of us. This one God is Triune, meaning He is one God in three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He created the heavens and the earth. Human beings were the pinnacle of His creation. We were the only ones created in His image. As a result of that, we are the only ones with a conscience.
“My dog Roxy doesn’t have a conscience. She does what she does for food, or for attention. But we have a conscience. We know the difference between right and wrong because God has written His law on our hearts.”
At the mention of the conscience and the knowledge of right and wrong, tears started rolling down Ann’s cheeks.
“For example: although the three of us come from different places and different backgrounds, the three of us know it’s wrong to lie, and we know it for the same reason. We know it’s wrong to lie, not because our moms and dads told us. Some parents tell their kids to lie all they want so they can get what they want…..”
Chris interrupted. “Like, it’s always okay to lie to door-to-door salesmen, so you can get them to leave.”
Ann laughed. The tears were beginning to dry on her cheeks. Her cheeks would not be dry for long.
“Or how about this one. Here’s one that gets us guys.” I offered. It’s common that when I tell people it’s wrong to lie, guys will often come up with the excuse of lying to their wives or girlfriends about how they look so as not to hurt their feelings.”
“That’s a white lie!” Ann said, with a chuckle. Chris laughed, too.
“Well, it’s not a white lie.” I said. “It’s actually self-preservation.”
“I like that.” Chris said.”
I looked at Chris and said, “You and I don’t want to sleep on the couch, so we’re willing to let the women that we love walk out of the house, not looking their best, opening them up to embarrassment, because we love ourselves more than we love them.”
“So, there’s nothing white about the lie. It’s as dark as dirt.” I said.
Ann gasped; her eyes opened wide; she put her hand over her mouth, and she nodded her head.
“The same is true about stealing,” I said. We know stealing is wrong–not because we got caught, and not because a teacher told us we shouldn’t do it. We know it’s wrong to steal because we were created in the image of God, and the God who made us is not a liar and a thief like so many of us are.
“We know it’s wrong to be angry or bitter, or to harbor resentment in our hearts. We know it’s wrong to hate another human being, no matter what they’ve done to us. The reason we know it’s wrong to hate people isn’t because of how we were raised, but because the God who created us is not a murderer-at-heart like so many of us are.
“Think about it. Murder begins with hatred in the heart, moves to the mind where it formulates a plan, and then moves to the hand where it carries out the act. But even if you don’t get to the last step, God sees your hatred as murder, because murder begins in the heart.
“This is why we will be without excuse when we stand before God. We will not be able to claim innocence or ignorance for breaking His law, because His law was written on our hearts from the very beginning of our lives.
“And this God who is good–who is holy, righteous, and just–must and will punish sin. The punishment He’s determined for sin–for the sins we love to commit, the sins we think about committing, and the sins we hypocritically point out in others while we commit them in secret–is eternity in hell. He’s determined that punishment because He is good.”
Now, both Chris and Ann were weeping.
“The good news, however, is this. And there is good news, my friends. But before we can truly understand the good news, we must understand why we need a savior. We need to understand what we’re being saved from and from whom we’re being saved. We’re being saved from the very one who has the right to judge us and send us to hell.
“This God who is angry with the wicked every day is the same God who is loving, merciful, gracious, and kind. He showed this amazing love some 2,000 years ago when God the Father sent His Son to earth in the person of Jesus Christ–truly God and truly man, without sin. He lived a perfect life from cradle to grave, for some 33 years on earth–a life the three of us can’t live for 33 seconds.
“Then, even though he did no wrong, even though He never sinned, Jesus voluntarily went to a cross where He suffered and died a death He did not deserve, in order to take upon Himself the punishment sinners like us rightly deserve for our sins against God. And then He forever defeated sin and death when He rose from the grave.”
“Isn’t that amazing.” Chris exclaimed.
“Yes, it is.” I affirmed.
“That’s very loving.” Ann said.
“Yes, it is.” I replied.
“Can I give you a hug?” Ann asked.
“Yes you can.” I answered.
“There’s a reason why we saw you today.” Ann said as she opened the passenger door.
Ann walked around the front of the car and put her arms around my neck.
“Thank you.” She said.
“You’re very welcome.” I replied.
Ann returned to the car.
“Hey, are you an elder in your church?” Chris asked.
“No. I’m just a member of the church. I spent 20 years of my life as a deputy sheriff, in Los Angeles. I retired about 12 years ago. Now I spend my life on the streets, hoping to meet wonderful folks like you so I can share the gospel with them.”
“What time is it, now?” Chris asked.
“It is 20-to-11.” I told him.
“I think we need to come to your church.” Chis said.
“Well, obviously you are welcome to come. It doesn’t matter who you are, or where you’ve been, or what you’ve done; you are welcome in my church. But more important than going to church is making sure you are right with God. There are millions of people who go to church on Sunday and live like hell Monday through Saturday. Or they think that doing good deeds will somehow make them right with God. They think that if they do enough good, God will overlook their sins. He won’t do that because He’s holy.
“Just like we can’t bribe (or at least we shouldn’t be able to bribe) a judge in a human courtroom, we are not going to be able to bribe the Judge of the Universe with our good works.”
“We need to repent and feel sorry.” Ann asserted.
“Yes. Sure. But repentance is more than a feeling. Repentance is a change of mind that leads to a change in direction. If I (and I haven’t) cheated on my wife who I’ve been madly in love with for 33 years, and I told her, “Honey, I’m really sorry and I’m never going to do that again,” and then turn right around and cheat on her again, is there any reason for my wife to believe I’m truly sorry?”
“No.” Said Ann. Chris shook his head, in affirmation.
“I need to know this.” Ann said.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Can God really change you when you don’t know if you’re 100% committed, and you don’t know 100% of what the Bible says?” Ann asked.
“Sure. I said. “In fact, I couldn’t believe what it is I’m sharing with you until God changed my heart and enabled me to believe it. So, He certainly can be working on your heart right now. I don’t know your heart. I don’t know the mind of God. I’m just a sinner in need of God’s grace like everybody else. But what I do know is that God does change people. He changes them from the inside-out. And He changes people, not so they have can overcome all of their problems in life; it’s not so that they can simply live a better life. The promises of God are a future hope–an eternal hope. God’s promise is an eternal hope that are literally protected–guarded–by Him in heaven, forever and ever.
“So, in Christ we can do more than just get by. We can rejoice and be glad in the midst of the world’s worst trials because we know this isn’t the end. This life isn’t all there is. We have an eternity to look forward to with Him–not because we’re good; not because we deserve it; but because God is good and He allowed His Son to die for sinners like us.
“If, by faith, we put our trust and our hope in Christ alone, the promise of God is forgiveness. The promise of God is to be reconciled with Him. The promise of God is eternal life. And it’s all based on what Jesus did for sinners, not what we do for God.”
“Does that make sense?” I asked.
Chris and Ann, tears still in their eyes, nodded their heads.
“What I’m telling you is good news.” I said. “The good news is that no matter what is going on in your life, there’s hope in Jesus Christ. No matter how you’ve sinned against Him in the past, there’s hope in Jesus Christ. Because there is not a sin you or I have committed in this life that His shed blood isn’t sufficient to wash away.
“That’s the good news! You don’t have to work your way into God’s good graces. You don’t have to earn God’s love. In fact, you can’t. It’s a gift. It’s a precious gift, which God gave through His precious Son, Jesus Christ. So, put your hope and your trust and your faith in Him alone, and He will forgive your sin. You will have the assurance of eternal life–not on the basis of anything you’ve done to earn it, but on the basis of His grace and His mercy and His love that allowed His Son to die for sinners like us.
“That’s good news, my friends. And because I love you as my neighbors, I’m overwhelmed with joy to get the opportunity to share it with you.
“There’s a reason why we saw you today.” Ann said.
“There are no coincidences in life. God rules everything. He’s sovereign over everything. I don’t know exactly why we met today. But I do know, in part, why we met today. We met today so that we can talk about the gospel of Jesus Christ. My hope is that the tears both of you are shedding are tears of repentance that will be turned to tears of joy because you’ve received forgiveness, through faith in Jesus Christ.”
“People don’t talk like that. It’s like God is talking through you. Everything you’ve said is completely right. This has to be God. You’re a good guy. The world is a bad place.” Chris said.
“The world is a bad place. But you know what? I’m not a good guy.”
Chris and Ann shook their heads and chuckled.
“I’m not.” I continued. “Because the Bible says that no one is good. Only God is good. So, whatever I’m saying that may be ministering to you, God alone gets the glory. Because everything I’m saying to you I desperately need in my life, too.”
“By sharing it, you mean? That’s how you keep it?” Chris asked.
The Lawn Mower Analogy
“Well, no. I’m kept by God. You see, not only do I not have to do anything to earn salvation, there’s nothing I have to do to keep salvation. Let me put it to you this way.
“Chris, let’s say you were my neighbor. One day you knock on my door and say, “Tony, I’m going to mow your lawn so that I can be my son.”
Chris tilted his head and laughed. Ann laughed, too.
“Now, if you were to do that, I would tell you two things. First: I would tell you that I appreciate you wanting to get me out of yard work. Second: I would tell you it’s pretty cool that you want to be my son. But if I were to be honest with you, I would say, ‘Chris, mowing my lawn will never make you my son.’
“But let’s say you were my son, Chris. Let’s say you came to me one day and said, ‘Dad, I’m going to mow the lawn. No, I didn’t wreck the car. No, I didn’t flunk out of school. No, I don’t want any money. Dad, I’m going to mow the lawn because I love you and I’m thankful you’re my dad.’
“That would make most grown men cry.”
Chris nodded his head.
“Because God has saved me,” I continued, “And because He is now my Father in heaven, through faith in Christ, I want to do what pleases Him–not to earn His love and not so that He will make me His son, but because He saved me from my sin and made me His son. That’s why I want to do what pleases Him. And as imperfect as I am, my hope and my faith and my trust is not in how good I perform, but because of what Jesus Christ did on the cross, on behalf of me–a sinner.
“Do you see the difference?” I asked.
Both Chris and Ann said “yes.”
“The religion of men says do good works, go to church, ask for forgiveness, do all of these different things. And then even then you can’t be sure if it will ever be enough. What the Bible teaches is that there is nothing we can ever do that will be enough. There’s nothing we can ever do to earn God’s love. That’s why God has made salvation a gift, through faith in His Son.
“Does that make sense?” I asked.
“Totally.” Chris answered.
Evangelism as Worship
“So, this is worship for me–to stand out here in the cold and to get to talk to you; this isn’t work. This isn’t checking off a box so I can earn something from God. It’s because of my joy in the Lord in that He saved me, and that I’m going to heaven because of what His Son did for me, that makes me want to love you and tell you the same thing.” I said.
“We can just sit here and cry and listen to you all day.” Ann said. We need to come to your church.
“And again, you are so welcome to come,” I said, “but what’s more important than coming to my church is coming to repentance and faith in Christ.”
“I feel good that we talked to you.” Ann said.
“I do, too. Talking to the two of you has made my day.” I said.
“Thank you.” Ann said.
“Has anyone stopped yet to talk to you?” Chris asked.
“You have.” I said with a smile.
“Oh, cool.” Chris said, also smiling.
I wrote my name and phone number on Ann’s gospel tract.
“If you have any questions, or if you want to grab a cup of coffee and just talk, just give me a call.” I offered.
Chris pulled out a small, spiral notebook and wrote down my name and number.
“I think I might be drinking a lot of coffee with you.” Chris said.
“We both struggle with addiction–Chris more than me. We were on our way to rehab when we saw you.” Ann said.
“We’re checking in today.” Chris said.
“We’re really struggling.” Ann said–her voice breaking.
“Everyone has idols in their lives.” I said. I do, too, and I have to fight them every day. But there is hope and there is forgiveness in Christ. In Christ, life might even get more difficult for you. There are people, today, in other parts of the world who are dying because they love Jesus. So, He doesn’t promise you your best life now.
“I’m not going to make you any false promises like a salesman. I’m not going to do that. But what I can promise you is that there is surely forgiveness, there is surely reconciliation, and there is surely life and life eternal in Jesus Christ. If you are His, He will never leave you or forsake you. Ever. That’s a promise from God, not a promise from Tony.
“I’ll let you down, because I’m a sinful human being. But He won’t. He won’t if you put your faith and trust in Him.
“God bless you both.”
With that, I said goodbye to Chris and Ann. I waved at them as they drove away.
Did the Lord save Chris and Ann today? I don’t know. But I’m hopeful.
Join me in praying for them.