Friday, June 21, 2013

The Man at the Mall…

This blog post chronicles my coming to faith in Christ, 18 years ago this month (June) in a shopping mall in Boulder, Colorado

Somehow, the man at the mall caught my attention. After not finding what I was looking for at Sears, I exited the store and passed into the large corridor of the indoor mall. At this moment, I again noticed this same man. He was walking directly towards me. In a split second, I realized that I needed to make a decision. Would I stop to listen to what this man had to say, or would I continue on like the others to my next order of business? I decided that I would stop and hear what he had to say. He greeted me kindly and I returned the greeting. He then asked if I had a few minutes, and if I could respond to a couple of questions. I told him that I had some time, and that I would be willing to respond. And so he asked me, candidly and directly, “Do you believe in Jesus Christ?”

“Well,” I replied, “I have heard a lot about Jesus in my life, going to church and all. But I am not sure that I believe.”

“Fair enough,” he responded. “It is a difficult question. Well then, let me ask you another question. What happens when we die?”

“I don’t know,” I retorted. “Being here in Boulder, I have heard people talk about reincarnation, but I am not sure I believe in it.” 

“Fair enough,” he again responded. “That also is a difficult question.” He then began telling me the story of a sower of seeds. He shared how this sower dropped seeds on four different surfaces: a hard path, a ground with rocks, a ground with thorns and thistles, and then good ground. Not understanding the intent, he then explained the meaning of the story. He shared how the hard path represents the heart of a person who hears the Word of God, but this person quickly forgets what he has heard. He explained that the ground with rocks represents someone who also hears the Word of God. This person responds with great joy, but when troubles and hardships come along, this person falls away. He then shared how the ground with thistles and thorns represents a person who also hears the Word of God, but that wealth and the longings of this world pull this person away from his/her faith. Lastly, he shared how the good ground represents someone who responds with joy to the Word of God, and yet this person remains faithful and committed, serving God and doing good things to help other people. He then asked me, “Does one of these ‘grounds’ represent your life?”

“Yes,” I instinctively replied. “The ground with the thorns and thistles best represents my life.” I knew in my heart that my longings and dreams were ‘worldly’ dreams. I wanted to work on Wall Street and makes lots of money. And, as far as I knew, I was doing nothing for God.

“Thank you for your honesty,” he replied.

“You’re welcome. Listen…I need to go down to Radio Shack to find an adaptor for my phone.”

“Okay,” he said. “How about if we meet back here in fifteen minutes and we can talk some more?”

“Yes, I will be back here in fifteen minutes.” As I walked away and headed towards Radio Shack, I was gripped with the sudden desire to go find my adaptor, and then go home so that I could relax, make dinner and watch some TV. Yet, a voice inside me said, “Go back! What have you got to lose? You have been searching for the meaning of life and this guy has something to say! What will it hurt you to simply go back and listen?”

I found him just inside of Sears, playing with a display computer. We shook hands. He told me his name, Stan Wagner. I remember looking into Stan’s eyes. One word describes what I found there – I found love. Even though I had just met this man, I instinctively could tell that he genuinely cared. Stan suggested that we walk through the mall and find a place to sit down. As we strolled through the mall, Stan began to tell me his life story riddled with an abusive past.  Stan eventually ran into trouble, and was issued a twenty-year prison sentence.  In prison, Stan came to a point of crisis. He found himself at the lowest ebb – spiritually, emotionally and physically. At this defining moment, Jesus spoke to Stan and said, “Stan, this is what the world has given you. Will you continue to choose the ways of the world, or will you finally choose Me?” In that moment, Stan gave his life over to Jesus Christ and was transformed. Stan was eventually released from prison. Now he goes anywhere and everywhere, sharing with anyone and everyone the powerful, liberating Good News of Jesus Christ!

On this particular day in Boulder, Colorado, I happened to be the ‘anyone and everyone’ Stan found to share this Good News with. We sat down at a table. Stan took out a piece of paper and began drawing a diagram. The diagram illustrated two cliffs with a chasm in the middle. On one side was God; on the other side was man. By means of this diagram, Stan showed me how good works, morality, religion and philosophy do not bridge the gap between man and God. In other words, man cannot use these means to achieve a relationship with God. Rather, we can only access God and have eternal life when we believe in Jesus Christ and receive Him into our hearts and lives.

Stan demonstrated how sin separates man from a holy God. Because of our sin, we reject God. Yet, God in God’s mercy and grace, provides a way to salvation through God’s Son. Stan opened his Bible to certain scriptural references and asked me to read. I read how all people are sinners (Romans 3: 23), and that sin causes spiritual death (Romans 6: 23). Moreover, there will be an eternal judgment (Hebrews 9: 27). There will be eternal fires prepared for the devil and his angels, and for those whom Jesus sentences due to their disobedience and lack of love for others (Matthew 25: 41). Those whose names are not found in the Book of Life will be thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20: 15). Yet, those who hear God’s word and believe are given three promises: eternal life, they do not come under judgment, and they pass from death to life (John 5: 24). Jesus must become Savior (Revelation 3: 20) and LORD (Luke 9: 23). Moreover, Stan illustrated to me how everyone’s mindset is on the flesh. This mindset leads to death. The worldly mindset of the flesh revolves around: money, our job, how we spend our free time, family, education, government, religion, and marriage. When our mindset is on the flesh, our life revolves around these things. Good or bad, they control us. Yet, the man or woman of peace is controlled by God in the person of Jesus Christ. Christ influences a person positively in these various spheres of life. Christ is in control, not these worldly concerns. What freedom!

Stan discerned that I was open to God. He asked me directly, “Bob, would you like to make Jesus Christ your LORD and Savior?”  I balked, telling him no, that I needed more time to read more materials and think about it.  However, I immediately realized that I was only fooling myself.  This was not a question of knowledge and having more facts and evidence; for me it was a question of courage.  I knew enough to make a decision, and I was confronted with a question.  Was I willing to turn my life over to another, to turn my life over to Christ - God of gods, King of kings, Lord of lords.  I quietly mulled it all over, considering my life and realizing that I was on the precipice of a life altering decision.  If I said “yes,” there would be no turning back.  I thought about my mother and her Christian influence and her prayers.  I thought about all of my searching for life’s answers over the last few years, and how I had found myself empty, bereft of meaningful answers to life’s biggest questions.   

After about five minutes of silence which felt like an eternity, I barely whispered the word “yes.”  Stan sat stoically across from me.  He smiled.  He suggested that we pray.  He prayed and then gave me a simple prayer which I read - “I, Bob Rice, commit today, June 2nd, 1995, to follow you, Jesus.  I promise to be your disciple all of my days.  Thank you Lord for coming into my heart.”  After our prayers, I felt a rush of energy flood through my entire being.  I felt a tingling sensation ripple down the back of my spine.  After months and even years of restlessness and feelings of uncertainty, I felt total peace.  This was indeed the right path.  

Stan continued meeting with me through the summer.  We met at Starbucks every Sunday and would go to the park.  We would talk about the Bible and pray.  I had lots of questions and he had lots of helpful answers.  Towards the fall our paths went in different directions, but Stan had helped me find the path of life.  I am forever grateful to Stan, the man at the mall.  My life is marked by him, and ultimately by the One who sent him.  To God be the glory!    

Boulder, CO
The Flatiron Mountains, Boulder, Colorado 

photo compliments of Jose Kroezen at flickr

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