You could tell the hand that held the marker had been a bit unsteady because the letters were crude and in all capitals. It was a simple sign held up in front of a simple man. He looked homeless, and I found myself wondering what angle he was covering. Maybe he was using the sign to solicit donations – as so many homeless had been doing lately. Maybe he was a member of some funky group – trying to impose his ideas on others.. Whatever he was, he couldn’t be for real. Nobody does anything without motives these days. I had to admit, I was a little intrigued… but cautious and suspicious and ready to discount his sign.
I walked by him a week later. He didn’t talk to me, or see me, or even try to communicate. He just stood with his back to me, face to the street, intently watching the cars and holding his sign. Some cars honked and several people waved, but mostly they just drove by. I wondered if they read the sign. I wondered if they understood it. Did I understand it? Those letters arranged in such a way as to represent the only thing that mattered… but did it matter to me? I was still thinking about it hours later. A man of no perceived consequence, holding a one word sign, offered without explanation. It had to be a scam. What was he getting at? What did he want from me?
I walked by again several times over several days. Some days there were 3 or 4 of them on both sides of the street. Occasionally I saw the man talking with people. I would try to catch snippets of his conversations, looking for the hook. There had to be a hook. Was he hitting up people for money? Was he signing people up for a timeshare? Was he pitching liquid vitamins? Was his organization on a membership drive? Was this a wacky publicity stunt? Was there a hidden camera? What I heard him say sounded true, and seemed genuine. Could he be for real? It bothered me to have to ask. I began to pray for the man and his sign. It no longer mattered to me if he was completely for real or not…
For years, I had been going to church looking for something. I just knew if I could find the secret, my life would get better. I had the suspicion that somewhere in the Bible I would find the secret to what I was looking for: a deeper relationship with God. The kind of relationship where God’s word became real, and miracles happened just like in the Bible. I had finally ran into some people who lived what they claimed to believe, when I was confronted with the sign.
I had started to read God’s word on a regular basis, and had been through the Bible cover to cover. I had been reading looking for broad themes like: the nature of God, the presence of the Holy Spirit in both the old and new testaments, God’s Son in both old and new testaments, etc. God had really began to change me.
I was starting to see that I knew very little when it came to God. I had been in churches for 20 years, but still didn’t have a real, founded relationship with my creator. I was pretty good at playing church – but not so good at living the life God has called each of us to live. I was not a disciple and I was not an example in any area of my life. At best, I was a fan of God – cheering from the sidelines!
I was still very worldly. I did not have any idea what sanctification meant, and didn’t realize God called each of us to it.
I was finally convinced to ask the man about what his intentions were. I walked up to him and introduced myself and asked him what he was doing. He told me that God had told him to hold that sign. I asked him why, and he told me he didn’t know – just that God wanted him to do it, so he did. He went on to tell me that he liked it when people honked, he even waved at them. Over time I learned his name and where he went to church. I learned he was an associate pastor, who had a history doing homeless ministry all across the United States. I learned he had been married. I learned he had children. We spoke about the Bible and about God, and I found him to be very encouraging.
I started to hold the sign at lunch time. I would leave the office where I worked and quickly walk the five or six blocks to the designated corner with a joy that could not be explained. I’m sure people looked at me, like I looked at him, wondering what I was selling. That man and I talked every time I showed up. Sometimes we sang, and sometimes we cried. We hung that sign in the sun, wind, snow and rain. We hung that sign for all to see.
Some people flipped us off. Several stopped in the middle of the road and yelled ugly obscenities at us. They shook their fists, got red in the face, and told us how stupid we were. A few pulled over and encouraged us. Many honked and gave us thumbs up and smiled.
After some time, I made my own sign. I used some old poster board that had been in the back of my truck for over a year. It was rough, and a bit dirty. It had small holes in it where it had been pierced by the rough bottom of a plastic desk pad. The clear desk pad had been the only protection from rain and snow afforded to this poster board for a year. I remember ripping out the all capital letters and creating the stencil. I laid it over the board and used red spray paint. I let it dry and was so excited on the day I stood holding my own sign.
I used the same five letters my friend had: J E S U S
It took some time to understand that it was never about the sign holders, but what we do with the sign that matters.