Sunday, April 24, 2011

May They No Longer Be Strangers

Yesterday, Marissa and I went to the North Hollywood Metro Station so that I could read Matthew 26-28 as part of the Project Ezra: Mission Good Friday outreach.

When we arrived, the area outside the subway station was alive with activity. There were many people waiting to catch buses, and just as many people hanging out. If you're interested in seeing video footage of our time at NoHo, please click here.

I began by explaining to the people within the sound of my voice why I was there and what I was about to do. By this time, Marissa moved to a concrete planter about fifty feet away where she sat down next to two young ladies who seemed close to Marissa's age.

I read Matthew 26-28 aloud. As I read, I couldn't help but notice that the two girls sitting next to Marissa seemed to listen intently. It was as if they were hearing the story for the first time. When I open-air preach, I always scan the crowd for those who seem most attentive. Finding such people amongst crowds of hecklers and the indifferent is an encouragement and it serves to motivate me to preach with more compassion, conviction, and clarity. I also look for the attentive in the crowd, with the hope of having conversations with them when I have finished preaching.

Once I finished reading, I began to preach the Law and the Gospel. As I took the crowd through the Law, a very large Hispanic man wearing a rosary approached me. He didn't say anything, but he seemed very agitated as he paced around me.

Several minutes later he returned, as I called the people to repent and believe the gospel. As you will see in the video, he leaned toward me and pointed his finger at me. In a hushed and angry tone he repeatedly said, "You're a fool, and your hope ends here!" I would later learn from a Christian named James who was encouraged by the preaching, and who had overheard the angry Hispanic man talking to another man down the street, that the two men were plotting to "club" me.

The man accused me of disrespecting Roman Catholics. I asked him why he was wearing a cross around his neck (not that there is anything inherently sinful about that; but the man was threatening me while wearing a cross). He would not answer.

The man's anger revealed that something in the preaching of the Law and the Gospel got a little too close for comfort; too close to the religion he thought would save him; too close to the god he had created in his own mind. Since that was where he wanted to wage battle against the Gospel, that was the issue I began to address in my preaching. The man eventually walked away. The encounter with the man seemed demonic.

As I try to do every time I preach in the open-air, I thanked the crowd for listening and I offered a free Bible to anyone who wanted one. The two girls sitting next to Marissa immediately got up and walked toward me. They both wanted Bibles. Their names were Juliandra (17) and Xiomara (19). I told Xiomara (often pronounced "Samara") that I thought her name was pretty and that I had never before heard that name. I asked her if she knew the origin and meaning of her name. She said the name had several meanings, but didn't share what they were.

I asked the girls, who had sat for more than forty minutes to hear the reading of the Word and the preaching of the Gospel, what they thought of what they heard.

"We grew up Catholic. And, oh, you didn't say anything to offend Catholics. I don't know what that guy's problem was." Xiomara said. "People our age are clueless. When we go to church what we hear just doesn't make sense. What you said made sense." Juliandra, quiet during much of the conversation, nodded her head.

Xiomara looked at my cross, which was leaning against a nearby tree. "I think I've seen you before." She said. "Do you ever carry the cross in Santa Clarita."

"I've lived in Santa Clarita for more than twenty years. I've been going out with the cross for a couple of years, now, hoping to have conversations like the one we're having."

"I knew it!" Xiomara exclaimed. "My boyfriend and I were driving through Santa Clarita a couple weeks ago. He lives in Saugus. We saw you on a corner and my boyfriend looked at me and asked, 'Are you ready?' We talked about it a lot after that."

"Well, ladies, it's not a coincidence that we met today."

"I know." Xiomara said.

"Do you believe what you heard today is true?" I asked them.

Both of them nodded their head and said yes.

"Is there any reason why you wouldn't turn from your sin, turn to God, and receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?" I asked. "Is there any sin in your life that you love so much that you are willing to die and go to Hell, so you can enjoy that sin in this life?"

Both girls said no.

"Then repent and receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior." I said.

"I think I'm doing that right now." Xiomara said. "But I'm scared."

"Why are you scared?"

"I'm afraid that Jesus still won't accept me."

I explained to the girls the amazing qualities of God's grace, mercy, and love. I shared with them about the assurance of salvation they could enjoy--not because of anything they might do, but because of what Jesus Christ did on the cross.

For some reason, my attention was drawn to Juliandra.

"There is no sin you have ever committed that is beyond Christ's shed blood on the cross to cover or His ability to forgive. His grace is sufficient for you. Turn to Christ and live. He will set you free. Life won't be perfect. God doesn't promise that. But He does promise a perfect joyful life in His presence, in Heaven, forever. And knowing that we will one-day be with Him forever is what makes life here not just bearable. We can experience His joy."

Both girls wore dark sunglasses. But even through the darkened lenses, I could see tears in their eyes.

I asked the girls if it would be all right if I prayed for them. They said yes. And together we bowed our heads in prayer. I asked the Lord to save them. I asked the Lord to bring them to repentance and faith. I asked the Lord to protect them from anyone or anything that would distract them from the critically important matters about which we were speaking.

I gave each girl my business card and invited them to contact me if they had any questions. I assured them that I would be praying for them. They have been on my heart and mind much, ever since.

We shook hands. The girls thanked me. And they walked away. It was an extraordinary encounter--one I believe was ordained by God.

I did some research on Xiomara's name when I got home. Her name is Greek in origin and means "stranger," or "guest." Interesting.

My prayer for both Xiomara and Juliandra is that they will no longer be strangers to the Lord Jesus Christ. Instead, may they rather be sojourners in this land as they await being translated to a glorified state, in the presence of the King--forever guests in His mansion and at His table.

Yes, may they no longer be strangers. Maybe the Lord has already accomplished this--causing them to be born again and extending to them the precious gifts of repentance, faith, and eternal life in Christ Jesus.