Brother Peterson shares Christ with more strangers in a week than I do in a year. He stands at the entrance to the Market East railway station every afternoon during peak hours with hand-lettered signs calling on passersby to repent of their sins and come to Christ. At least once a week I see him talking with someone who has stopped by, and judging by the body language, they are nonbelievers who are trying to figure out what this crazy old guy is all about.
Brother Peterson is old, probably in his mid-sixties, he hobbles with a cane, he's missing a few teeth, and he is unlettered, but he's not crazy. And he genuinely loves the Lord. His face has somewhat of a basset hound sadness to it, and the first few times I saw him, I avoided him, thinking, "What a horrible advertisement for the gospel." But God convicted me, and one day I decided to break the ice by offering to buy him a smoothie from the nearby fruit stand. He turned the smoothie down, but we got to talking about the Lord, and the basset hound turned into a beagle in an instant. His eyes lit up, and he was very chatty. I don't spend enough time at Market East for it to depress me much, but in four years I've spent probably as much time there as he did his first month on duty, and I have grown to appreciate how hard it is for him to smile: there isn't much there to cheer one longing for heaven. That man is a soldier of the cross.
I was early arriving today, and Brother Peterson didn't have anyone on the line, so I stopped to say hi. After the initial pleasantries, he said, "Brother, I want you to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. We need to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the apple of God's eye, and those Iranians . . . ."
Great God who lives in heaven above, Lord of glory, Lord of love, what has gotten into this man? Who is the apple of God's eye? Is it a nation of people who reject the Christ who is truly the apple of God's eye, or is it those who have given their lives to Christ?
Not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham's children. On the contrary, "It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned." In other words, it is not the natural children who are God's children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham's offspring. (Ro 9:6-8)
Who are the children of the promise? Is it not Christ's brothers?
Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written,
"Rejoice, barren woman who does not bear;
Break forth and shout, you who are not in labor;
For more are the children of the desolate
Than of the one who has a husband."
And you brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise. (Gal 4:25-28)
It is only the heavenly Jerusalem that really counts today; it is only those who have surrendered to Jesus Christ who are headed for an afterlife worth looking forward to. It is only those who love the one whom God loves above all else who have the possibility of pleasing God in this life.
I'm not writing this to beat up on Brother Peterson. I sang his praises because he is an exemplary Christian. Unfortunately, he is not alone in having his priorities out of order. I don't know if the ones who have bewitched him and others (Ga 3:1) are the media mouthpieces of the American-Israeli Politcal Action Committee or the spiritual heirs of C. I. Scofield, but someone has done great damage to the cause of Christ and to men of goodwill like Brother Peterson by promoting the idea that one can please God apart from Christ.
He went on to talk about how the United States is crumbling before our eyes and we need to pray that God will keep it from total destruction. Again, I had to shake my head. Our nation is literally going to hell; every year a smaller proportion of our fellow citizens who leave this life are headed for glory. I like to think that a massive turning to Christ would stay God's hand of judgment against our wicked society, but it didn't happen in Jeremiah's day, so I'm not counting on it now. But whether or not God's hand is stayed, these are individuals no different from me who are facing an eternity of suffering. Yes, they will receive justice; but God calls us to urge them to receive grace and mercy (2Co 5:20). I like good neighbors and want to live in a prosperous society, but not if it means people who have lived as good neighbors die without Christ. And if it's true that the bigger they are the harder they fall, and Uncle Sam is getting bigger every day, I say the sooner he meets his doom the less bad things will be.
Brother Peterson is in the convinving business, not the listening business, so I didn't waste too much of my breath discussing the matter with him. And as I left, he called, "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!"
I replied, "I'll be praying that they come to Christ. Beyond that, nothing matters." I hope I'm not missing something, because more people than I would have planned on heard it. Imagine that: me preaching the gospel at a train station!