Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Was it the Sound of Salvation?

re-posted from Tony Miano - http://thelawmanchronicles.blogspot.com/

No audio. No camera. No video. Just me, my little PA, and a box upon which to stand.

It had been a very long week. A two-week re-piping of our home was completed, which left me with the task of repainting almost every room of our condo. I took a week's vacation, which is to say I used five vacation days so I could work on putting my home back in order. It most certainly was not a vacation. As many of my close friends can attest, I am not a handyman. But one thing I can do with marginal competence is operate a paint brush. So, that's what I did for six days--about ten hours each day. Paint.

During that time, my grandmother had not one, but two heart attacks--the second one in her doctor's office. She was rushed to the hospital where she underwent several hours of open-heart surgery. She is eighty-five and unsaved.

The surgery went well, with the surgeon saying that my grandmother's heart was the most beautiful heart he had ever held in his hands. Her recovery was going well enough for my grandmother to complain about the food at the hospital. Then something went tragically wrong.

One day, my grandmother began to coughing uncontrollably. As a result, she began to bleed. Within minutes she was in full cardiac arrest. Hospital staff heroically performed CPR for twenty-five minutes, until the surgeon arrived. She was rushed into surgery where the surgeon was able to repair the new damage to her heart. Unfortunately, while the CPR kept her alive, it did not provide enough oxygen to her brain.

My grandmother, although she can breathe a little on her own, will never come out of her present, vegetative state. Her sons and daughters are now tasked with deciding whether or not to stop feeding her and allow her to die. My grandmother made it clear to family members that she did not want to live in a vegetative state.

My relationship with my grandmother and my mother's side of the family has been estranged since I was about ten-years-old. The estrangement was the result of the divorce of my parents. But I care about her as a human being. Over the years, I had shared the law and the gospel with her on more than one occasion.

So, on top of the physical exhaustion from working on the house, there was the emotional stress of my grandmother's pending death and trying to be an encouragement to my mom and my sister. Needless to say, there was very little time for evangelism that week.

Tuesday morning was my first opportunity in more than a week to hit the streets. Jimmy, one of my regular fishing buddies, was studying for an exam at The Master's College. David, another of my fishing buddies was working and getting ready for the birth his daughter. All of my girls were busy with school. So, I headed alone to the North Hollywood Metro Station.

A strange feeling came over me as I placed my box in front of the palm tree, on the sidewalk, on Lankershim Boulevard (the place where we set up to preach each week). I opened the box and removed my open-air preaching Bible and turned to Luke 13--the passage I would read as part of my Project Ezra effort, and the passage from which I would preach the Law and the Gospel. I could hear my heart pounding in my ears. Everything seemed loud: my breathing, turning the pages of the Bible, the traffic noise, people's footsteps--everything. It felt as though I was having a mild anxiety attack.

"I'm going home." I thought. "No one would know. The people here certainly won't care if I leave. I need a break. I'm tired. I don't feel like preaching, today. The Lord will understand."

"No." Another set of thoughts came. "I've got to preach. What would so many of my friends say at this moment?" I asked myself with a smile. "'Don't quit!' All right, Tony, get up on the box and preach!"

I read Luke 13 to myself as I waited for my courage to catch up to my conviction.

"Good morning, everyone. I would like to read to you this morning Luke 13..."

As is so often the case, once I started reading the Word of God aloud, the anxiety quickly melted away. The stress and fatigue from the last week meant nothing, now. All I felt was the excitement of preaching God's Word. "Thank You, Lord." I silently prayed as I read His word aloud to the people gathered there.

By the time I finished, I had been on the box for about twenty-five minutes. I offered those within the sound of my voice a free Bible. There were no immediate takers.

I started to pack up. My plan was to go home for a bit, and then head to Cal State University Northridge. Little did I know what the Lord had in store for me there.

As I put my PA and Bible in the box, I looked up to see a woman standing in front of me.

"I would like a Bible." She said quietly.

For the next fifteen minutes, the Lord blessed me as I got to reiterate the Law and the Gospel with a very nice lady. She confided that her boyfriend was a Christian and he read the Bible to her, from time to time. She admitted that while she thought she was a Christian, she wasn't sure where she would spend eternity.

Initially, I had given her a paperback ESV New Testament. Toward the end of our conversation I asked, "Do you have a Bible at home?"

"No. I've never had a Bible."

"Here. Let me have that one."

She seemed to pout as she handed me the paperback New Testament.

"I would like you to have this instead."

I handed her a leatherbound, compact-size ESV Bible. My pastor gives me a few of these beautiful Bibles from time to time, to use in my evangelism efforts. I reserve these special Bibles for folks who the Lord either appears to save while I am with them, or for those who seem genuinely contrite and interested (more than curious) in reading the Bible.

"Ohhhh!" She gasped. "Thank you so much."

I gave her my business card and encouraged her to call me if she had any questions about either our conversation, or what she read in the Bible.

She walked away, and I finished packing up and headed to my car. I praised God for his faithfulness and thanked him for the opportunity to preach His Word and to talk to the lady who now had her first Bible.

Fast-forward to Wednesday afternoon.

I walked into my office at Living Waters to see the customary solid red light on my desk phone. I had at least one message waiting for me.

"Hello." The message began. "My name is Jane (not her real name to protect her anonymity). I'm here with my sister. You gave her a beautiful Bible the other day. It's beautiful. Thank you for talking to her. I think I would like to talk to you, too."

She left her number with a request that I call her back. I dialed the number. And for the next two days I waited to hear from her again.

This morning I got into my car to head to Staples to buy a new memory card for my camera. As I pulled onto our street, my cell phone rang. I immediately recognized the number to be that of the Jane.

"Hi, this is Tony."

"Hi, Tony. It's Jane."

"I'm so glad you called."

"I'm sorry it's taken me so long to get back to you. It's been a busy week."

"No problem at all."

Jane told me that she was a Christian who was struggling with a failed relationship.

"Jane, since we don't know each other, I would like to ask you something. It will give me an idea as to where you're at, spiritually."


"Let's say you're a Christian and I'm not. You learn that I only have three minutes to live. I believe there's a God out there, and I'm scared. What would you tell me?"

"Well (a momentary pause) I would tell you to believe that there is a higher power. And I would tell you to repent and pray a prayer."

"Why do I need to repent?"

"Because we're all sinners."

"Yeah, but I think I'm a pretty good guy. I've never cheated on my wife. I love my kids. I pay my taxes. Won't God take all of that into account?"

"Um. That's a good question."

I let Jane stew on that for a moment or two.

"Okay. Let's switch roles, now. I'm the Christian and you have three minutes to live. Here's what I would say to you.

"Jane, in just a few minutes you are going to stand before Almighty God; and He is going to judge you according to the perfect moral standard of His Law. If you've ever lied, He will see you as a liar. If you've ever stolen anything, He will see you as a thief. If you've ever taken His name in vain, He will see you as a blasphemer. If you've ever had a lustful thought about someone other than a spouse, then God will see you as an adulterer. If you've ever hated anyone, He will see you as a murderer.

"God is holy, righteous, just, and good. He must punish sin. And the punishment God has ascribed for sin is eternity in hell. And that's what you face in about two minutes, unless God does something."

"This is what God did. Two thousand years ago, God the Father sent His Son to earth in the person of Jesus Christ--fully-God and fully-Man, and without sin. Unlike you and me, He never once violated the Law of God in thought, word, or deed. He was perfect in every respect."

"About thirty to thirty-three years into that earthly existence, He voluntarily went to the cross. He suffered and died, shedding His innocent blood--taking upon Himself the punishment you rightly deserve for your sins against God. Then, three days later, He rose from the dead, forever defeating sin and death. He is alive today and He will return at a time of the Father's choosing.

"What God requires of you, Jane, is that you repent. God commands that you turn from your sin and by faith, and by faith alone, receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. He is your only hope.

"In just a minute or so you are going to stand before God. Unless He saves you, you are going to spend eternity in hell. My hope is that instead of receiving what you deserve for your sins against God, you will receive what you and I don't deserve, which is grace, mercy, and the free gift of eternal life. So, please, repent and receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior while He has given you time.

"Does that make sense?"

There was a moment of silence on the phone.

"Whoa!" She said. "How did you do that?"

Jane's response was almost humorous; but I believe, more importantly, it served to reveal the condition of her heart. Jane thought she was a Christian, but was likely not saved.

"Jane, I was able to do that because I know Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior."

"Ohh." She said with a somewhat downcast tone of voice.

"Jane, what I'm about to say to you may seem kind of hard. But even though we've never met, I care about you as a person. So, just know that as you listen to what I'm about to say."


"What do you do for a living?"

"Well, I'm going to school right now."

"What do you want to do when you finish school?"

"I would like to be an alcohol treatment counselor."

"Jane, what if I told you I know everything there is to know about alcohol treatment. You're curious, so you say, 'Okay, Tony. Tell me everything you know about alcohol treatment.' And I say, 'Well, people who drink a lot get drunk. And if they get drunk a lot it's hard to stop. So, I think people should stop drinking.'"

Jane chuckled.

"Would you believe I know anything about alcohol treatment?"

"Well, you might know a little bit."

"But would you come to me for counseling?"

"No way."

"Good. Neither would I."

We both laughed.

"Now, Jane, I'm going to ask you a tough question. And again, I'm asking because I care about you."


"Jane, why should I believe you are a Christian when you can't tell me how to become a Christian?"

"You're right. I guess you shouldn't."

Jane and I talked for another half-hour. We talked about the difference between saving faith and religion. We talked about the difference between grace and works. We talked about the forgiveness of God, as seen in the story of David and Bathsheba. We talked about the difference between real and false assurance. We talked about the biblical understanding of adoption and how not everyone born to the human race is a child of God. We talked about what it meant to be "born again."

"Jane, is there any sin in your life (and you don't have to be specific with me) that you love so much that you are willing to spend eternity in hell so you can enjoy that sin in this life?"

Jane thought for a moment. "No. There is nothing in my life worth going to hell for."

"Then, again, I want to encourage you to cry out to God in repentance and faith. If He saves you, if He causes you to be born again, then He will take your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. You will begin to love the things that God loves and you will begin to hate the things that God hates. You will begin to love to read His Word. You will begin to love having fellowship with other followers of Christ. And there's another thing you will love to do."

"What's that?"

"Can you remember a time when you couldn't wait to share news with people?"

"When I found out I was pregnant with my daughter."

"How old is your daughter?"

"She's twelve."

"I have three girls: 22, 20, and 15."


"Remember how you couldn't wait to tell people that you were pregnant?"


"Remember how easy it was for you to talk about it, and how often you talked about it?"


"Well, that's the way it is with people who know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. They are so grateful for the free gift of eternal life God has given them that they can't wait to tell people what God has done for them; and they can't wait to tell people how they can come to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior."

"Oh. I see what you mean."

"Jane, many people misunderstand what God did through His Son, on the cross. Let's say you and your daughter were in court one day. You decided to take your daughter to court as a civics lesson. You wanted her to see a court trial.

"Well, as it turns out, the day you decide to go to court is the day of a murder trial. The judge finds a man guilty of murder and sentences him to death.

"Just as the judge is about to have the man taken away to be executed, he turns to you and says, 'Jane, I will let this convicted murderer go if you will allow me to execute your daughter in his place.' Would you do it?"

"No way!"

"Neither would I. There is no way I would sacrifice one of my daughters so that a convicted criminal could go free."

"That's right."

"But Jane, do you understand that's what God did. 'For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.' God the Father allowed God the Son to be executed in the place of convicted criminals like you and me. So great is God's love that He sent His Son to die for sinners."

"That's beautiful."

"Yes it is. It's beautiful, Jane. It's a miracle. And it's a miracle I hope God will allow to take place in your life. We may never meet in person, but I hope one day when I'm standing before God's throne and worshiping Him that I will turn to my right or my left and see you there, too."

"That's what I want."

"Well, I think you need to spend some time examining yourself and talking to God."

"You're right. That's what I'm going to do. Thank you so much for talking to me."

"I'm really glad we had a chance to talk."

"Can I come to your church?"

"Of course!"

I gave Jane directions to the church and information about the time and format of the service.

"My wife and I will be praying for you and your sister, today."

"Please do." Jane paused. "I might want to talk to you again. Would that be all right?"

"Absolutely. You have my number. If you have any questions or if you just need some encouragement, don't hesitate to call."

"Thank you."

"You have a blessed day."

"You have a blessed day, too."



I hung up the phone and immediately began to praise God, lifting my hands in thanksgiving to what He had just done. And then I thought to myself, "Did I just hear the sound of salvation? Did God save Jane during our conversation?"

Only God knows. But that is certainly my hope. Her voice was humble from the very start of the conversation. If anything, her voice became even more humble as our conversation progressed. Her response the the gospel--to the atoning work of Jesus Christ was, to use her word, "beautiful."

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
Oh Lord, is that what I heard this morning? Was it the sound of amazing grace touching a human soul? Was it the sound of salvation?

Oh Lord, for Your glory, may it be so!

Posted by Tony Miano at 9:54 AM

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