Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. James 1:22
8/17/09 Video - Andy, at 31st Street Beach
8/18/09 Gail and Elicio, 40’s, late teens
After a year of regularly starting witnessing conversations with strangers, I still get paralyzing panic attacks, though not as often, and today was another one of those times. I went to the parking lot outside Cellular Field where many fans were having post-game parties celebrating a White Sox win as they waited for the traffic to disperse. I felt totally intimidated and an outsider, like an alien from another planet. Some people may think evangelists are cocky and arrogant, but I think this has to be one of the most humbling activities one can engage in, and I am constantly reminded that I can’t do it with my own strength. I had million dollar tracts tucked away to hand out and help me start a conversation, but even to take them out in the open seemed the equivalent of suddenly brandishing a loaded gun; I imagined it would set off a huge negative reaction in all the people around me. I can’t believe how easily my irrational fears can take over. I finally got started and talked briefly with several groups, the last being Gail and her teenage son Elicio. They both felt like God would see them as good people and that they would go to heaven. They easily agreed that they weren’t perfect, so I asked “if you aren’t perfect then how do you know when you are good enough?” They quickly stated that they had put their trust in Jesus, who had died for their sins. I believe there is a fine line between those who believe they deserve heaven because of their good deeds, and those who believe their good actions are evidence that they have truly put their trust in Christ alone for salvation. Gail and Elicio seemed to be in the latter group. They don’t go to church, however, and I told them that persevering in faith is evidence of saving faith in Jesus, and encouraged them to find a Bible-based church to get involved in.
8/19/09 Tim, early 20’s
While grocery shopping in the produce section, I began a conversation with Tim using a million dollar tract. I took him through the “good person” questions, and Tim quickly realized he is not the good person he assumed he was. He knew he was guilty and deserved punishment. “Are you concerned about this?” I asked and he told me he was and had never looked at it this way before. “I’ve got some serious thinking to do, thanks for talking to me!” he concluded. But Tim is no random stranger. Halfway through our conversation he asked, “You know who I am don’t you?” I thought he looked familiar. Turns out he has lived across the street for about a year though we hadn’t met. In the past I’ve been hesitant to be upfront about my faith with my neighbors, relying instead on subtle clues that I am a Christian and hoping they will ask me more about my faith, but now I believe it is silly to expect unbelievers to be more bold about matters of faith than I as a believer should be. Tim now knows what I believe and that he can talk to me when he has further questions about Biblical teachings, and he knows exactly where to find me!
8/20/09 Leroy, 52
At another grocery store, I gave the man in front of me in the deli line a million dollar tract, and later saw him on the other side of the store where we began a good conversation. When I asked about his spiritual beliefs Leroy confidently told me he was a Christian. I told him I’ve met a lot of people with a lot of different ideas of what being a Christian is, so Leroy went on to say that he goes to a “New Thought” church. He told me they don’t really read the Bible, but they have many guest speakers on a variety of “spiritual” subjects about how to live a better life here on earth, not about eternal life. Leroy believes in a spirit world, but said that this life is our heaven or hell depending on our attitude toward it. I talked of our responsibility to follow God’s law, but despite a past that includes four marriages, Leroy believes that he would be judged as a good person based on the improvements he has made and the lessons he has learned from all his past “mistakes”. I explained what the Bible teaches about God’s justice, about the consequences of our sin and the reality of eternal life or punishment. I talked about God’s provision for salvation through Jesus; how he taught that He alone is the one way to the Father. We were in the juice aisle, and I pointed to the dozens of juice choices and explained that we live in a culture that expects personal choice in everything we do, but if God is truly in charge then we are in no position to demand our choice on how He should reveal himself to us. I was glad to give Leroy a booklet explaining biblical Christianity and I believe he was truly glad to receive it.
8/21/09 Bernie, about 40
While at Jiffy Lube getting an oil change I gave a million dollar tract to Bernie, a serious looking man who was also sitting in the waiting room. He gave a surprised laugh. “Where did you get these?” I told him they came from my church and have an important question on the back – “Will you go to heaven?” He said “A nun told me that we will all go to purgatory.” He believes everyone will have to spend varying amounts of time getting punished before going to heaven. I explained that purgatory isn’t taught in the Bible, but Jesus did teach about judgment and eternal life in heaven or punishment in hell. After reviewing several individual commandments Bernie could see that according to God’s standards he deserves punishment. I told him how it is easy to fall into the trap of believing we can earn our way to heaven but we can never do enough good to pay for the bad we have done. We deserve to be punished but Jesus suffered in our place on the cross. “What kind of church do you go to?” Bernie asked. I told him that it is a non-denominational church and we try to follow the Bible rather than all the church traditions that have built up over the years, like non-biblical teachings about purgatory. After all, its hard enough to follow what is in the Bible, why would we want to add more to it? I left him my contact info and encouraged him to read his Bible and call if with any questions he might have.
8/22/09 Jim and Victor, 32 and 18
Jim was sitting at Burger King, reading a book. I asked if he would be willing to tell me about his spiritual beliefs. He told me he believes Jesus alone is the basis for his salvation, and I initially felt glad to discover a fellow believer. However, as we talked I noticed a pattern of disobedience: no difference in his behavior from his non-Christian friends; no church involvement; no desire for spiritual growth; no desire to know his spiritual gifts (“then I would have to use them!”); and no desire to tell others about Jesus. Jim was influenced as a child by reading Hal Lindsey’s “Late Great Planet Earth” and it seems that his faith is continually short-circuited by the thought that the world could end at any time. After encouraging him to take steps toward helping his faith grow, I went over to talk to Victor, a Burger King employee sitting at a table during his break. Victor told me he is a Christian, yet he doesn’t read the Bible, go to church, or understand why Jesus came. Victor told me he believes all religions basically teach that those who are good will go to heaven. Before his break was over I explained how Christianity alone solves the problem of our sin which separates us from a holy and righteous God and gave him more info. Then I prayed for God's blessings on Victor and for some of the problems Victor told me about while we talked.