A walk in the park

By James Merritt

For my wife’s birthday, she asked for something that immediately made me break into a cold sweat, gave me heart palpitations, sent my blood pressure through the roof and sent me into an anxiety attack on steroids. She asked that we take our entire family to Disney World the week after Christmas! (Fast fact: the two busiest weeks of the year to go to Disney are Thanksgiving week and the week after Christmas). Now I know that to dread going to Disney sounds like an oxymoron (kind of like dreading going to heaven except it’s not too crowded in heaven and there are no waiting lines) but trust me—if you haven’t been there either of those weeks don’t go unless you are in desperate need to work on your patience.

Well … happy wife, happy life … so off we went. We arrived on the 26th in the afternoon, checked into our hotel and took the family (three sons, a daughter-in-love and four grandies) to dinner. I hoped I could go back to the hotel for a good night’s rest as my theme park marathon was set to begin. Instead they all wanted to go to an amusement park to ride a 300-foot-high slingshot while Teresa and I watched the four grandies (a request made many times at the parks over the next four days).

As I trudged into the park bringing up the rear (another one of my glorious assignments all week) to guard against a wandering grandie, a diminutive, haggard looking man quietly approached me and asked “Mister I need money for food for my wife and daughter, can you help me please?” My family neither saw nor heard this man and kept walking. I admit I wanted to blow him off but almost like an invisible force field, the Spirit stopped me and I knew this was a God moment for both of us.

I reached into my pocket and gave him $20 (all I had—don’t carry much cash) and as he was thanking me, I said “Dean” (I had asked his name) I have a question: “What if I gave you $20 million instead of $20? Would that set you for life?” He said “Of course!” I then asked, “What good would that do you if you then died and spent eternity separated from God?” He said, “I’ve never thought of that before.” I said, “Well, let’s think about it now. Either it is a coincidence you stopped me or it is by providence you stopped me.” He said, “I will tell you that you are the only person that has given me the time of day.”

I continued, “Dean, do you have assurance that if you died now you have eternal life, have been forgiven of all your sins and you would be ready to meet God?” He said “No for sure.” I asked permission to share some news with him and he was like a parched throat in a desert that had just found water. I then proceeded to share the bad news. We are all born in sin, we are all sinners separated from God, and sin has set up a barrier between us and God that needs to be removed.

I then shared the worst news. There is nothing we can do about our sin problem. We can go to church, get baptized, christened, confirmed, catechized, but at the end of the day, the barrier will still be there, we will still be sinners, and the stain of sin will still be on our hearts.

I then shared the good news. God loves us so much He sent Jesus to do for us what we could not do for ourselves. Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life so He could die on the cross for all of our sins, tearing down the barrier separating us from God, providing the one cleansing antidote for the stain of sin, paving the way for us to have a relationship with God and be completely forgiven for our sins.

I then shared the best news. Forgiveness, eternal life, an eternal relationship with God is a free gift that can’t be bought, borrowed or stolen. All one must do is a) realize you are a sinner in need of a savior, b) repent of your sin and turn from sin to God, and c) receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. I asked Dean if he understood and was he ready to make a decision. With tears in his eyes he did just that! After giving him my card with the plan of salvation and contact info, I then exhorted him to start acting like a child of God and find a job regardless of how menial it may be at first and tell his wife and daughter what had happened to him. He promised he would and said, “I’m going now to do just that.”

Just before I finished one of my sons and his wife had walked up perturbed that I had left them without telling them, upset they didn’t know where I was until they saw what was going on. (Whew—glad I had a good alibi!) The point is a walk in the park turned out to be a divine appointment to do what we are called to do—shine our flashlight in a dark world filled with blind people who need to see our light and hear our gospel. Find a park and take a walk today. You never know what might happen.

Published May 30, 2018

James Merritt

Pastor of Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, Georgia.