Conversion in the Park

Now that it’s summer, I get out and exercise with increased regularity.  Nothing remarkable, just enough cycling and jogging to drop my “winter weight” and get back into shape.

Recently I was jogging on a trail near my house.  As I ran around the loop, I continually passed an elderly man walking slowly in the opposite direction.  Possessed with a fairly outgoing personality, I often greet strangers with friendly remarks.  In this case, I would smile and say things like, “Keep it up!  You’re doing a good job!” or “Isn’t this where I hand the baton to you?”  He would chuckle and say a few words back.

Having finished, I was getting into my car when he pulled up in his truck and said, “Did you get your heart rate up?”  Sitting behind the wheel of his pick-up, his window was fully retracted and his arm rested on the door.  He smiled warmly.

“Yes, sir,” I replied.

He shook his head.  “I couldn’t do what you just did.  Running in this heat.”

“Well, I’ve got a few years on you,” I said, returning the smile.

“Let’s not get carried away, young man!” he said with mock anger.  “But you are right.  I have some accumulated mileage.”  He told me he was seventy-eight years old and that he had endured a number of surgeries: bypasses, stints, etc.  I decided that this might be an opportunity to share the Gospel.

“It sounds like the Lord has been good to you,” I said.  A comment like this is a simple way of driving a discussion toward spiritual issues.  It is something of a conversational fork in the road.  The response is likely to tell you a lot.

He looked thoughtful.  “Yeah, it sure seems like someone has been looking out for me.”  I had my cue.  This was not the right answer for a Christian.

He continued: “My brother and sister both died.  I think it was because they were ready.”

“Are you ready?”  I asked, shutting the door to my car and walking over to his truck.

“I don’t know.”  He looked serious, even concerned.

“I have a simple question for you: do you know Jesus Christ?”  I propped my arm on the big rearview mirror on the truck’s door.

“I’d like to think so.”  Again, a wrong answer.

“It’s not like that.  Either you do or you don’t.”  I let that sink in before resuming.  “Do you want to know where you will spend eternity?”

He chuckled uncomfortably and gazed forward though the windshield.  “I’ve heard some say that you can know, but I’m not sure I believe that.”

I leaned in and spoke emphatically.  “Sir, you can leave this parking lot and know with certainty where you will go if you die.”  He looked at me, assessing my face, perhaps trying to determine my trustworthiness on such an important subject.

“I have been a member of several churches,” he asserted.  This was offered as sufficient credentials for his heavenly acceptance.

“Not good enough,” I said.  “It has nothing to do with church membership.”

“That’s not what a preacher once told me.”

“Sir, if that’s what the preacher said, he was wrong.  Jesus said, ‘I Am the Resurrection and the Life; he that believes in Me will live, even though he dies.'”  That means that if we confess our sin-that is, our imperfection and need for his mercy-God is faithful to forgive us and to extend to us the hope of eternal life.  So again, I ask: Do you want to leave this parking lot knowing where you will spend eternity?”

“Yes, I do,” was his simple and serious reply.

“Then I want to pray for you.”  He looked uncomfortably at the people passing by.

“Ignore them,” I urged.  “Besides, we don’t have to close our eyes or bow our heads or look like we are doing anything other than talking.  I’m going to pray first and then, if you would like to, perhaps you will ask God to forgive you of your sins and tell Him that you accept what Jesus did on the Cross for you.  Do you understand that?”

“I think so,” he said earnestly.  Just in case, I explained the importance of the Cross and the Resurrection.  He appeared to understand.

“Lord,” I began my prayer, but he stopped me …

“Oh, by the way, what’s your name?” He asked.

“Sorry.  I’m Larry Taunton.”

“Nice to meet you, Larry.  I am Ellis Jones.”*  He extended a warm hand to shake mine.  I then resumed praying.

“Lord, thank You for Mr. Jones and for his desire to know You.  I pray that You will reveal Yourself to him and let him know that You love him.”  There was an awkward silence, and then he started praying.  Whatever his initial reluctance to a traditional prayer, it was gone now.  He looked truly humble, hands clasped in his lap and his head deeply bowed.

“Jesus?”  It seemed more like a question than an address.  “As you know, I haven’t ever killed nobody or stolen anything, but I have sinned.  Of course, everybody’s done that …”

I had to suppress laughter.  His prayer was sweet and sincere, but just in case God didn’t know it, Mr. Jones wanted the Almighty to bear in mind that he wasn’t an especially bad sinner.

“… Jesus, I ask you to forgive me and to give me eternal life.”

Finished, he looked up misty-eyed.  “Young man, do you know what I just did?”

“You just became a Christian,” I said, patting him on the arm.

“I just signed my death warrant!”  He was smiling broadly.  Now that he was ready for eternity, he figured God might claim his soul at any moment.  And, well, the Lord just might do that.

“No, sir,” I said.  “You just signed your life warrant!”

We talked for a few more minutes and I gave him my name and number before we parted ways.  I don’t know whether I will see or hear from him again.  That’s okay.  If nowhere else, I will see him in heaven.  He entered that parking lot a man who was fearful of his own mortality.  He left it a child of God who carried with him the promise of eternity.  Not a bad day on the walking trail.

Seeing people come to Christ is always the most exciting aspect of our work at Fixed Point Foundation.  My colleague, Bill Wortman, could tell similar stories.  Frequently such people seek us out because they attended one of our events or lectures, listened to one of our DVDs or CDs, or read one of my articles.  This particular occasion was an exception.  In every instance, however, it is always a result of God using us to fulfill His perfect plan.  I am confident that if every Christian prayed and prepared for these opportunities, God would provide them.  Such stories are at the heart of Fixed Point Foundation’s work of proclaiming and defending the Gospel.

* This is not his real name.  I have changed it for the sake of anonymity.

 

Copyright 2010 Larry A. Taunton