Monday, December 11, 2006

Angel at the Rest Area

There are many reasons why I thank God for the Great News Network. This is a “glory to God” story about some of those reasons.

Recently, I met fellow seed sower, Jerry Parker. Jerry lives about forty miles north of me, in the mountain community of Frazier Park. If not for the GNN message board, the likelihood is that Jerry and I would have never met.

After a couple hours of great conversation over coffee one afternoon last week, Jerry and I decided to spend a few hours on Saturday, at the Lebec Rest Area, near the Kern County and Los Angeles County line. For the last month or so, Jerry has been spending his Saturday afternoons witnessing to travelers who stop at the rest area, as they make their way south on the I-5 Freeway.

The Lebec Rest Area (as I’m sure is the case of freeway rest areas around the country) is a great fishing spot. I am very thankful to Jerry for introducing me to a new fishing spot. Seed sowers occasionally refer to their favorite fishing spots as ponds. The Lebec Rest Area is more akin to a pool in a gentle, moving stream. Instead of a pond where fish gather and remain for significant lengths of time, a freeway rest area is like a mid-stream pool where fish stop momentarily to renew their strength and to feed.

It was a cool afternoon, at least by Southern California standards. The sun was bright and the breeze, strong. Jerry and I set up my open-air display and we waited for travelers to pull into the rest area and make their way to the facilities, which were adjacent to where we set up shop. We didn’t have to wait long.

We distributed a good quantity of tracts, including quite a few of the Christmas Cash, before someone showed enough interest and curiosity in our display to accept our invitation to take a couple intelligence tests. In a couple hours’ time, the Lord provided us with the opportunity to share the Law and the gospel with a number of people. Two conversations were particularly fruitful.

One conversation was with a woman named Christina. Christina works at the rest area. She, along with two of her co-workers, approached us—with the same curious looks on their faces as so many others that afternoon. Having failed the intelligence tests, Christina agreed to take the “Good Person Test.” After taking her through the Law and the gospel, we learned that Christina was born again and had been walking with Christ for a couple of years.

Christina gladly accepted our gifts, which included “Hell’s Best Kept Secret” and “True and False Conversion” CD’s, “How To Live Forever Without Being Religious,” and “You Have The Right To Remain Silent.” The two co-workers present with Christina were, we would later learn, high-functioning, mentally disabled people. We would not have known this if Christina hadn’t told us. She assured us that they both understood what we had said. So, join Jerry and me in praying for their salvation.

Christina, who lives in Bakersfield, was very encouraged by the way we presented the gospel to her. She said she was looking forward to sharing her experience with her pastor and talking to him about employing the WOTM principles to reach some of the toughest neighborhoods in the Bakersfield area. Praise God that the Lord allowed us to encourage another Christian to become a seed sower and to bring the message of “Law to the proud and grace to the humble” to her church family and beyond.

The Lord not only allowed us to share the gospel with a relatively new Christian who we initially thought was unsaved, but He also allowed us to share the gospel with a man who thought he was right with God (or at least on the right track) when he really wasn’t. His name was Angel.

After taking Angel through the intelligence tests, Jerry asked him if he thought he was a good person. He immediately answered, “No.” We were both surprised by how quickly he answered the question.

Jerry did a great job taking Angel through the Law and the gospel. When someone says that they are not a good person, it can be challenging to discern if the person is truly humble or just expressing a false humility, which, in effect, is a prideful response. It’s also a challenge when talking to such people to discern how firmly to present the Law, before moving to grace. Jerry picked up on all the verbal cues Angel was giving us and applied the Law in an appropriate way, which helped Angel to understand his real spiritual condition.

Angel proceeded to tell us a little about his background. He talked about being arrested for drunk driving, but not before driving drunk several times without being caught. Statistics show that a person will drive drunk ten times for every one DUI arrest.

As Angel talked about the experience of being arrested for drunk driving, I was reminded of the fact that during my career I took literally hundreds of drunk drivers off the road. For a time, I specialized in DUI enforcement and I treated every shift as a hunt. I was hunting for selfish, often uncaring people who had the potential of murdering other people with a two-ton weapon—their vehicle. Every arrest was one more victory in a war in which tens of thousands of people die every year.

Now, on a sunny, winter afternoon, at a rest stop, I was being allowed by the Lord to share the gospel with someone who, if we had met at another time and in other circumstances, I would have done everything I could to put him in the backseat of my patrol car. I would have relished the thought of taking away Angel’s freedom, so that others might drive the roads with just a little more safety. But this day was a different day. With the help of my partner and new friend, Jerry, my hope now was to see Angel freed from the prison of sin and death—a freedom that only comes through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

Angel told us how it felt to be locked up in jail and how it felt to stand before the judge for sentencing. The courtroom analogy would later really hit home with him. He talked about repentance, but he viewed repentance as apologizing for wrongs committed, followed by trying to do what is right in the eyes of man. His way of thinking was more akin to penance than repentance. We worked to improve his understanding of biblical repentance.

Angel was trying to take positive steps toward becoming a better person. We commended him for that, but we worked hard to make sure he understood that he had the equation backwards. We told Angel that instead of trying to work his way into God’s good graces, he first needed to truly repent of his sin and put his faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. Unless he was born again (a term that, until that moment, was foreign to him), unless he came to know God as his heavenly Father, through faith in His Son Jesus Christ, his best efforts would never be more than filthy rags in the eyes of the holy and righteous God. We explained that instead of doing good things to work your way to God, he should first come to a genuine faith in God and then do good things, not to earn salvation, but to please his heavenly Father who had already saved him from his sins.

We asked Angel if he understood what we were telling him. He said he did. We asked him if he believed what we were telling him was true. He again answered in the affirmative.

“Angel, I need to ask you a very important question.” I said. “If you understand what we are saying to you, and if you believe what we are telling you, then what are you waiting for? Is there anything that would keep you from truly repenting of your sin, right now, and trusting Jesus Christ to save you from the just penalty for your sins?”

Angel said, “No. Not really.”

“Angel.” I continued. “You are going to get back on the freeway in a few minutes. You might have another fifty or sixty years of life ahead of you. Then again, you might only have another fifty or sixty minutes left on earth. When you die and stand before God on the Day of Judgment that will not be the time to get right with God. You will be like the person who stands before the judge as a convicted criminal. Once you are convicted, the only thing you have to look forward to is your sentencing and punishment. A good judge will not simply let you go. He is going to follow the law and give you the sentence you deserve. Don’t go another day without getting right with God. We don’t want you to spend eternity in hell.”

Jerry and I thought we were going to see Angel come to faith in Christ, right then and there. But Jerry and I both sensed that if we pushed Angel any harder we would run the risk of creating a false convert—a person who responded to our pressure instead of one who responded to the Holy Spirit’s leading and the drawing of our heavenly Father. Angel heard the gospel. He understood the gospel. He professed to believe (at least intellectually) what we had shared with him. The seeds had been sown. There was nothing more we could do for Angel. The rest was in the Lord’s hands. Only the sovereign Creator of the Universe, the One True God, could save Angel. And Jerry’s prayer and mine was that He would do just that.

We left Angel with plenty of material to reinforce what we had shared with him. He thanked us for talking to him and went on his way.

Before Jerry and I left the rest area, we spent a little more time talking to and encouraging Christina. Please pray for her as she takes what she learned from us back to her church and to her community.

I will close this “glory to God” story the way I began it—thanking God for the GNN family. In the law enforcement family, the most important person to an on-duty officer is the partner sitting next to him or her in the patrol car. We know that on any given day the person sitting next to us may be responsible for saving our life, and vice versa. The seed sowers I have met since joining GNN (people like my new friend, Jerry Parker) have become spiritual patrol partners to me—brothers and sisters behind the badge of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I thank God for all of you.

And if there is any praise or glory to be garnered from this testimony, it belongs to only One—our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

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