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Friday, October 05, 2007

"Better To Be An Open Sinner Than a False Saint."

The towering over-tattooed, baseball-capped, long-haired, bristle-chinned, mildly-pierced biker dude glared at me as he turned and caught me contemplating the above-mentioned declaration calligraphed across the back of his black tee-shirt. Honestly, I was too scared to ask his thoughts about the statement; however, I could not help but think how well this phrase summed up the events of the previous night.

Our Five Points Friday was unusual this week, thanks to the City of Columbia. For the past few years, the Five Points area has been the hubbub of construction, and the city decided to mark the end of the construction by throwing a party. Since the Five Points area forms a star configuration, two parts were blocked off for the celebration. Parades, live music, indie-films, much beer and sundry forms of street entertainment and various booths provided the are for the evening.

The celebration got underway at 5:00. By the time we got to Five Points, the celebration was in the final stages. Bands were playing their encores, belly-dancers and fire jugglers were giving their bellies and burning brands their final wiggles and belches, while the hundreds stood around drinking or were already drunk. Usually the party gets started about 10:30 and ends "whenever," but by the time we were arriving, most people were either going home or had assimilated into one of the bars or restaurants. Trash everywhere.

I would like interject an interlude at this point to describe an event that marks every Friday Night evangelistic outing, an event that I’ve not given much attention to in these reports. This is an amazing event, a truly holy moment that concludes the evening—our debriefing. This is an amazing time of fellowship when all the teams come back together to share both discouraging and encouraging stories of the evening. This is the part that is the "most real" as far as what the world sees and hears from us. Sure, we’ve been down there sharing the gospel, but debriefing is a sacred moment, and the party-crowd seems to know this. The conscience screams this knowledge.

Now, imagine what this looks like: it is about midnight and the parking spaces are emptying and filling with people coming and going from the bars to the parties or the parties to the bars. There is a group of 20 or so people standing to the side of the lot beside the street in a large circle. Only one person in the group is talking and everyone else in the circle is listening—everyone is not talking at the same time, nor is anyone drinking. Every once and a while a car drives by very slowly with the windows rolled down, the people inside trying to hear what the one person is saying. The car parks and guys in clean shirts and girls in skimpy clothes and high heels get out. To get to the bars, they have to walk by this strange crowd of people where one person is talking softly. The revelers arrive in a boisterous mood, but as they get closer to the circle, all conversation ceases.

Someone in the circle seems to be telling a story, a conversation is being recounted. Heads nod in agreement, or wag slowly as the teller tells. Words like "sin" and "repentance" and "hell" and "salvation" sprinkle the conversation. They may hear the talker say something about prayer or bending the knee or "The Lord." Why aren’t these people at the party?

Every once in a while new arrivals to the parking lot may see this group standing or sitting in the circle, heads bowed, eyes closed. A couple of people may have their hands raised in the air. They are praying. Pass by softly on the way to the party. "God please save that guy, bless ‘em," one may be heard to say as an irreverent reveler spews filthy language from his mouth at the group.

Some people get too close to the group and one or two break away and start up a conversation. The Five Points guests just have to know what is going on.

We are out here telling people about God’s love in Christ Jesus. Do you have a religious background? Would you like to talk?

Hey, I’m a gang-banger or a homosexual. I’m a pagan. You don’t want to know what I think.

Actually, now that you said that, I am really interested to know what is on your mind about spiritual things. Why do you say you are a gang-banger or homosexual? What do you mean by that?

Do you believe there is God?
Do you believe God cares about right and wrong?
Are God’s standards the same as ours?
Will God punish sin?
Is there a hell?
Will you avoid hell by living a good life?

And another conversation or two gets started, so while we are debriefing, more are hearing the gospel.

I love debriefing. This is where open sinners and true saints go toe-to-toe, eyeball-to-eyeball. I just thought I would share that with you.

My team did not have many conversations Friday night, but the ones we did have were significant. Randy and T.J. admitted they were sinners and with the wrath of God over their heads and the flames of hell licking at their feet, they made it clear to me that their purpose was to sin tonight, to do it loud and proud—no intention of stopping tonight or any other night.

Later we met Dwayne, Matthew, Cameron, Steve and one other person (I cannot remember his name). We got Dwayne, Matt and Cameron through the Good Person test, but Steve had a problem and pulled me aside. He made me understand that he respected what we were doing—shoot, he was downright proud of what we were doing—but his problem was that he is a Christian and was willfully living in disobedience to God and had no intention of stopping tonight. Please don’t tell. He knew his friends were going to hell and he was not. At leas that’s what he had convinced himself of.

Our conversation was much longer than I will recount here, but I made it clear that, 1) their blood was not on our hands because we were warning them to flee the wrath to come; and 2) if he wore the name of Christ, he better get on his face before the Lord and repent. Besides, his friends may have no other chance but to hear from him. He refused to comply and I almost started crying right there on the sidewalk. He said he would rather disobey God tonight. The three guys got away before I could finish talking to them and Steve and I finally parted, with him proud of what I was doing . . .

About an hour later, we found the three sitting on the wall at the Fountain. For some reason they just could not "get the party on" so they were just sitting and waiting. I approached them and asked what they thought about what they’d heard. They were honest and we had a long conversation, asking and answering many questions. They admitted they had no intention of coming down to party-central to be confronted with eternal matters, but had to come to grips with the fact that this is what God wanted, so we talked and talked. Besides, I found out, Steve told them that if they ever crossed paths with us again, they should listen because "those guys know what they are talking about." They were frustrated. They were mad. They were scared. They were concerned. But they were not ready to bend the knee and repent.

I found out their ages (17, 20 and 19). I told them to think of this: the average person dies at the age of 70. This meant they had approximately 2500 weekends left to live (their mouths dropped open) what were they going to do with their time, especially not knowing if their hearts were still going to be beating in the next five minutes?

What would it cost to obey God’s command to repent? "Everything", I told them. "But what profit is there if they gained the whole world" and lost their souls? They were silent. They knew they had to repent, but were not ready. But they knew, for them, the party was over. I told them to think of this: if ever they got to lay eyes on heaven, it would be the moment God sends them to hell, and all heaven will stand to sing praises to God when He is finally rid of all sin in the place prepared for the devil and His angels. They heard. They understood.

I asked if I could pray for them, and they bowed their heads and let me pray for them.

While we were debriefing I saw them drive by. Six people were in the car, three were drunk, three were sober. Three pairs of sober eyes met mine and we smiled, and I pointed to them. "Do it! Tonight!’

I’ve tried to call them today, and only get voice mails. I prayed they made it home alive.

God, please save their souls.

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