Thursday, October 23, 2014

Dear Christian: Open Your Mouth

Penned at 35,000', while en route to Philadelphia, for the Herald Society Conference.

"Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus" (Acts 8:35).

The story of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch begins with an angel of the Lord telling Philip to head south to the main road, between Jerusalem and Gaza. Philip obeyed.

Arriving at the road, the Holy Spirit directed Philip to the chariot of a man utterly different from himself--someone Philip would likely never seek out with the intent of developing a relationship. Philip didn't argue with God the Holy Spirit. "Are you sure? This doesn't feel right. I'm not settled in my spirit. I must be misinterpreting what You're telling me. I feel like I'm seeking a convert to Christ instead of a person I can disciple. I must be thinking in the flesh. Whew! That was close. I almost shoved Jesus down that person's throat."

No. Philip didn't hesitate. He didn't quival; he didn't come up with any sinful, evangelical excuses in an attempt to avoid evangelism. He ran. Philip ran and caught up with the chariot. He had one thing on his mind: evangelism. Philip was going to tell the man, his social opposite, the good news about Jesus.

Many Christians fraudulently fancy themselves as being so in tune with the Holy Spirit that they expect God to send them an angel with specific marching orders, followed by the Holy Spirit audibly telling them (or impressing upon their hearts), "That one over there. Go talk to that one." Today's Christian, unlike Philip, has the completed canon of Scripture at his finger tips, with all of the evangelistic commands and motivation he needs to engage in evangelism, for a lifetime.

Today, many Christians use the Holy Spirit as a sinful excuse for not sharing the gospel with the lost. They say, "I wait for the Spirit to lead me." Sadly, the "spirit" most Christians follow in evangelism--their own spirit, or another spirit, but not the Holy Spirit--rarely, if ever, directs them to proclaim the gospel. And, with the effectiveness and attractiveness of putting lipstick on a pig, they try to hide their sin of depraved indifference; they try to convince others that they are obedient to the Holy Spirit when they aren't, and that they feel compassion for the spiritual plight of the lost when they don't.

Yes, it's true. Philip was served the proverbial, slow, high-arcing softball pitch over the heart of the plate. He could have closed his eyes and still whacked the ball to the deepest part of the field. But don't let the immediate context of the story serve as yet another excuse for disobedience. It's so very rare to come across someone reading the Bible, just waiting for someone to come along and explain it to them, ready to here the truth. However, the rarity of Philip's kind of evangelistic encounter does not free the Christian from the responsibility of always being ready, willing, and able to go, stand (or sit), and speak.

And speak is what Philip did. He opened his mouth. He told the Ethiopian Eunuch the good news about Jesus. He taught the man--the man with whom he had nothing in common--from the Scriptures, about Jesus.

"Come on, Tony. Philip was one of the seven original deacons. He was sent out as an evangelist. I mean, really? He had four daughters who were prophetess, for crying out loud!"

And? So?

None of these arguments made of straw, none of these chaff-filled objections remove the Christian from his obligation to love God and to love his neighbor (everyone) by opening his mouth and telling lost people the good news about Jesus.

Dear Christian: open-your mouth. You've waited too long. How much longer will you go on trying to lie to God and to yourself by claiming a level of spiritual maturity your mouth betrays as inadequate? How much longer, brother? How much longer, sister? How much longer will you wear the mask of spiritual hubris to hide your depraved indifference?

Dear Christian: open your mouth! Yes, open your mouth--not with shocked silence and stunned amazement at the words you are reading, here. Open your mouth so that words can come out. Tell somebody. Tell everybody the good news about Jesus. Be the Lord's mouthpiece, his ambassador, his herald. Love Him, more. Love people, more. Open your mouth.

Monday, October 20, 2014

She is Unforgettable


It was September 1982. It was the first day of college. I was attending a local community college, which was walking distance from my home. My first class of my first day was choir.

My high school sports career came to an abrupt end during my sophomore year. The rest of the guys in school didn't get the memo that they were supposed to stop growing their freshman year. Having once been one of the biggest kids in the class, I was now far back in the pack. There wasn't much of a call on the varsity team for a 5'8", 170-pound defensive lineman, or starting pitcher.

One day, the choir director of the high school "dared" some of the jocks to try their hand at singing. A few of my buddies and I (also washed up athletes) decided to join the choir, as a joke. Next thing I knew I was in the show choir singing solos. Anyways.....

As I sat in the college choir room, on the bottom row with the rest of the bass/baritone singers, I heard this powerful yet angelic voice coming from the soprano section, directly behind and above me. After a short time, I couldn't take it any longer. I turned around to see from which young lady the voice came. A tall, redhead sat in the back row. I assumed it came from her.

So, as was my custom at the time, I flirted with the redhead after class. But I couldn't seem to get any time alone with her. She had a friend, another girl in the choir, who tagged along everywhere we went on campus.

Sometime later, during choir practice, I was once again captivated by that beautiful voice. When I turned around to give her a smile, I was shocked to discover the redhead wasn't there. That voice was coming from her friend--the tag-along! I had been wrong the whole time. I sought to quickly amend my ways by now spending time with the real girl with the voice.

Her name was Mahria.

Whenever I share the story of how I met Mahria, I always end with these words: I fell in love with Mahria's voice, before I ever saw her beautiful face. It was an unforgettable moment.

Mahria and I were married on July 6, 1985, after almost three years of dating off-and-on and an 18-month engagement. I remember gasping for air when I saw Mahria walking down the aisle. She was so very beautiful. Her shimmering eyes and a smile that could light a room turned my knees to Jell-O. It was an unforgettable moment.

For almost 30 years of marriage, Mahria has filled my life with unforgettable moment after unforgettable moment. She's also been a mom for 27 years (so far), a cop's wife for 20 years, a homeschool mom for 15 years, a chaplain's wife for 8 years, a church planter's and seminarian's wife for two years, and a missionary's wife for six years. She also stood by my side through 4 1/2 adventurous years as I served alongside evangelist Ray Comfort and the Living Waters team, as well as our current season of ministry: Cross Encounters Ministries.

Together, Mahria and I have experienced the highest of heights--spiritually, relationally, and familially. But, they have not always been the best of times.

Mahria has endured much. She has endured very serious health issues with one of our daughters. She has endured long nights of uncertainty as the wife of a deputy sheriff--including one very long night in the aftermath of a shooting in which I was involved, as she sat alone in a hospital with one of our girls. She has endured the dramatic transition from a life of relative financial security (law enforcement) to a life of relative financial uncertainty (full-time ministry). She's endured this kind of transition, not once, but twice--the second time being when I transitioned from a salaried position at Living Waters, back to the day-to-day existence of trusting God and the generosity of His people, for financial support.

Yes, my bride of almost 30 years has endured much. On top of everything mentioned above, Mahria endured a yearlong period of watching her "strong" husband traverse the storm-tossed, uncertain waters of deep depression, not unlike that of men such as Spurgeon, Chambers, and others. Suffice to say, these better men endured better than I did. So dark were the days and so black were the nights that the only prayer I could utter was this: "Lord, I will not deny you!"

During this time, Mahria swayed; she bent; she bowed. But she never broke. She spent much time on her knees and on her face, before her Lord. It was an unforgettable time.

Two days ago, Mahria and I experienced another unforgettable moment. Our middle daughter, Marissa, was the first of our three girls to be married. It was a wonderful and amazing day, filled with laughter and tears. Just as I gasped when I saw Mahria walk down the aisle almost 30 years ago, I gasped when I saw my daughter, Marissa, in her wedding dress. She was beautiful. She was radiant. She was just like her mother. It was an unforgettable moment in a day filled with unforgettable moments.

The reception was winding down. The caterers were packing up the food. The guests were beginning to leave.

Mahria came running into the room where the caterers were at work. Finding me, she shouted, "Come on!" Her face was beaming. Her smile was so wide and so bright. She held out her hand. When I took it, she quickly guided me out of the room, onto the church patio, to an open area of concrete--the place where an hour or two earlier I had danced with Marissa, to Cinderella Song, by Steven Curtis Chapman.

The song being played as Mahria and I reached that little piece of real estate was Unforgettable, by Nat King Cole.

I took my bride in my arms. We danced as if we were the only two people on the planet. We held each other close. We spoke sweetly to each other. Neither of us could stop smiling. Neither of us wanted the song to end. It was an unforgettable moment.

Second only to the free gift of salvation I have received by the grace of God alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone, Mahria is the greatest gift I have ever received.

Mahria: my wife and my very best friend; she is unforgettable.

Thank you so very much, Mahria, for loving a flawed, undeserving, and unworthy man like me. You are unforgettable, darling.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Walking Her Down the Aisle

In 22 hours, I will walk my daughter, Marrisa Lynn, down the aisle. I will then lift her veil, say something to her (I don't know what), kiss her on the cheek, and then place her hand into the hand of one Brian David Thompson--the man who will be her husband and my son-in-law.

This morning, we gathered at the church. My sister Cheryl and my niece Allison, along with Mahria, Michelle, and Amanda, decorated the church. It's beautiful.

As we were getting ready to leave, I decided Marissa and I should practice our walk down the aisle. The wedding rehearsal is this evening, and there will be plenty of practice, then. But I couldn't wait that long. I had to begin the process of giving my little girl away. I had to see what it is going to feel like, or might feel like (I won't know for sure until tomorrow morning), to walk my precious daughter down the aisle.

We joked (or should I say I joked). I scooped her off her feet to carry her down the aisle. I joked as I practiced my parade wave down the aisle, thanking the Queen of England for attending and asking the ushers to remove Barack Obama for crashing the party. Everyone laughed. It was all I could do to keep from hyperventilating and crying like a baby.

Marissa is my middle daughter and the first to be wed. Did I mention that Marissa is my "middle" daughter? Marissa has the dubious distinction in the family of being most like her father. She is strong-willed, out-spoken, determined, hard-working, tenacious, not easily swayed. She speaks with global terminology--words like: every, everyone, all, always, all the time. You get the idea.

But she has these eyes--these big, expressive, beautiful, deep, penetrating brown eyes. I remember the moment she was born and I first got to hold her close. "Look at those eyes!" I thought. I was captivated by her eyes. She has the eyes of a Precious Moments figurine or drawing. She had me wrapped around her finger, with her first glance upward, from her cradle in my arms.

As a baby, Marissa was not one to like to be held close, yet she has always wrapped herself in a tight, blanket cocoon when she sleeps. But when she did feel like snuggling, she would bury herself deep into my chest and arms. It was as if she couldn't get close enough to me. Oh, how I cherished those moments.

I'll share just one memory of a special moment with Marissa.

When Marissa was just a little girl, maybe seven-years-old, we went fishing at a local lake. It was the middle of the summer. It was later in the morning, so I didn't expect the stock trout to be biting. I had a pole set up for Marissa. We weren't there more than a few minutes when Marissa's rod tip started bouncing up and down as if a tightrope walker was doing tricks while walking on the line.

Marissa, with some help from her dad, landed the fish. It was a beautiful and "BIG" rainbow trout. As the fish flopped around on the shore, Marissa bent down to take a closer look. And with the cutest, squeaky voice she said, "I'm going to name you Freddy."

"Oh, no!" I thought. "She's already bonded with her first fish! Now, what am I going to do?" Even during those early years, once Marissa had made up her mind about something, it was next to impossible to get her to budge. Did I mention that Marissa is a lot like her dad?

I looked at my elated, brown-eyed beauty; then I looked at the trout that was already showing signs of an ever-shrinking lifespan. "Freddy" had swallowed the bait and hook. The weapon of choice was deep in his gut. "Freddy" was not long for this world.

"Umm. Honey? You're not going to be able to keep Freddy." He's hurt. We're going to take him home and, well, he's gonna be someone's dinner."

Well, that went over like a lead balloon. She looked at me as if I was "Gru" from the first "Despicable Me" movie and I just made her a balloon toy and popped it with a pin. And then she started to cry. Crocodile tears flowed from those gorgeous, expressive, now very sad brown eyes.

I had to think fast. I had to do something to salvage what should be a wonderfully memorable moment for dad and daughter.

Processing.....processing.....processing.....

"Hey!" I quickly shifted into homeschool dad mode. "Have you ever seen the inside of a rainbow trout?"

"No." she replied, with her "boo-boo" face in full operation.

"How about we go home and we take a look inside Freddy?"

Those big brown eyes began to twinkle. Sentimentality was immediately placed with a look of fascination and inquiry.

"Yeah!"

Whew. So much for Freddy becoming a pet floating on its side, in a bucket, on our patio.

With Freddy in tow, now relegated to a science experiment, Marissa and I headed home. On the way, Marissa could not stop talking (and she hasn't really stopped since). Her mind and her mouth were filled with "I wonder....." statements. "I wonder what he looks like inside." "I wonder if he's a boy or girl." I wonder....."

We prepped the kitchen sink and Freddy for surgery. "Can I cut him open?" Marissa asked.

"Umm. I think dad should do it, honey. This fishing knife is very sharp. And Freddy has some sharp bones inside."

"Oh, okay." Came the reply of resignation.

Taking on the role of a science teacher, I explained to Marissa what I was doing. I told her that Freddy was going to bleed. "I wanna see! I wanna see!"

I opened Freddy to discover that he.....was a she. I suggested changing the fish's name to Freda, but Marissa wouldn't have any of it. There would be no name change for this dead trout. I showed Marissa how I knew Freddy was a female fishy. Freddy was filled with hundreds of little yellow fish eggs. Marissa thought that was really cool.

"Do you wanna see what's inside Freddy's stomach? Do you wanna see what he/she's been eating?"

"Yeah!"

I opened Freddy's stomach and discovered far more than I expected. In addition to our brightly colored floating bait, Freddy had recently consumed a large, rubber bass lure. The lure was in the shape of a crawdad. I removed the lure from Freddy's stomach and showed it to Marissa.

"Can I keep it?!"

"You bet you can. Just let me clean it up."

As far as I know, Marissa still has that weird little keepsake, almost 20 years later.

21.5 hours until I walk Marissa down the aisle.

I keep telling myself that it's going to hit me on Sunday that my little girl is now another man's primary responsibility. Frankly, the closer we get to the wedding, the more I think I'm not going to make it to Sunday. It's hitting me, now.

I've made so many mistakes raising my three daughters--all three now adults. And I probably made the most mistakes with Marissa. So, with the excitement and anticipation and joy I feel about tomorrow, there is also a sense of mourning--mourning my sin, my failures, my missed opportunities, my blown opportunities. While I know I'm not losing my daughter, I find myself mourning my little girl no longer being under my roof.

I hope no one, here, in Starbucks, can see me crying.

Marissa is marrying a good, young man man--the man who, for many years, Mahria and I hoped she would marry. Brian's love for Marissa is most evident in the way he seeks to protect and nurture her. I cannot think of a more worthy man into whose care I could place Marissa. And he fully understands it is no small honor and privilege to receive my daughter's hand--not because of who her father is, but because of how special Marissa is.

Brian's parents, David and Kristine, did a wonderful job raising Brian--raising him in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. We couldn't ask for a better son-in-law. Mahria and I will only refer to him as our "son-in-law" when introducing him to someone who doesn't know him. To us, he is a son.

In just a few hours, the wedding rehearsal will begin. I will again practice walking Marissa down the aisle. I will probably try again to keep things light, as much for myself as for Marissa.

I miss her already. I want her to go and start her new life, and I never want her to leave.

What will it be like, tomorrow morning? How will I feel? What will I remember? I can't believe I'm here. I can't believe tomorrow morning I will walk Marissa down the aisle.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Even When We Are Faithless


Mahria just called me. Weeping. The small diamond in her 32-year-old engagement ring fell out of its setting. It's lost. The stone is small enough to give us little hope of ever finding it. We were kids. I was working at In-n-Out Burgers. It was the early 80's. I couldn't afford much. But I put it on her finger and she said, "Yes." There were tears then, too.

Today, I've exchanged texts with a brother in Christ. I respect and admire him as much as any man I know. Like me, he is trying to provide for his family by raising support from generous Christians. It's never easy. Some Christians have likely told him to get a job. I've heard it, too. Some have probably told him to be more aggressive when asking for support. Some have probably told him not to ask anyone. "Trust God. He will provide." Truth. It's not always easy, though.

A sister in Christ contacted me on Twitter. "How do I stay humble and joyful and not make things about me, even in a storm?" Life is full of storms. They come in different sizes and levels of intensity. Our natural reactions: worry, fear, doubt, even anger. And then, always reactions to other reactions instead of faithful responses to the initial trauma: remorse, repentance, resolve.

It's discouraging to feel faithless, to be faithless, in times of crisis. "I keep doing this. Am I saved? Why can't I be like those 'strong' Christians who seem to have it altogether? Nothing seems to shake them."

Dear Christian: the "strong" Christians are shaken, too. Stop and think. Maybe they seem so strong today because their faith has been shaken to the core many, many times. You're probably seeing the result of faithlessness turned faithfulness over much time and after much refining.

I've experienced times of spiritual darkness so black, when the well seemed so deep, with the sludge at the bottom so think and immobilizing, all I could pray was this: "Lord, I will not deny you, today!"

Paul wrote letters to his son in the faith, Timothy, a young man tasked with responsibilities far bigger than his abilities who struggled with his own demons: timidity, a weak constitution, discouragement. In his second letter to his young lieutenant, Paul wrote:
The saying is trustworthy, for:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.
Even when we are faithless...

My Christian brothers and sisters: God cannot and will not deny Himself.

A lost stone more precious than the stone's intrinsic value will not cause God to be faithless. An uncertain tomorrow, night's filled with questions about how God will provide in the morning, will not cause God to be faithless. In the midst of our lives' storms, trials that come with the ferocity of a tornado or a hurricane, God won't experience a moment of faithlessness. He remains perfectly faithful because He cannot deny Himself.

My sister in Christ asked me, "How do I stay humble and joyful and not make things about me, even in a storm?" Stop looking at your faithlessness in those moments and look to the faithfulness of God. No matter how unfaithful you are in times of uncertainty, instability, frailty, even tragedy, He remains faithful. He cannot deny Himself. He will not deny Himself.

Does this truth give the Christian a license to sin, to remain unfaithful? May it never be! Understanding the faithfulness of God should help the Christian to be more faithful in difficult times. Faithlessness should shrink under such penetrating heat. He cannot deny Himself.

How humbling to view my faithlessness in light of the faithfulness of God. What joy it brings me to know He is faithful even when I am faithless. How comforting to know His constant and perfect, self-affirming faithfulness is my assurance of peace when the world has and offers no peace (Jeremiah 6:14; 8:11). The Joy of the Lord is my strength (Nehemiah 8:10). I can consider it all joy when I encounter various trials (James 1:2-4). God is faithful, even when I am faithless, because He cannot deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:11-13).

God is good. God is present. God is in control. God is sovereign. God is watching. God is orchestrating and moving. God is faithful and true.

Mahria called me again, as I wrote this article. She found the diamond--a stone so small that any thought of finding it was as likely as finding a particular grain of sand.....on a beach. It was nestled at the bottom of one of her purse pockets.

Even when I am faithless. Thank you, Lord.




Image Credit: Tornado TitansTornadoTitans.com

Monday, October 13, 2014

Friendship Evangelism: How American Evangelicals Get Away with Discrimination

I provide a definition for "Friendship Evangelism," here. I explain why I believe "Friendship Evangelism," as it is most commonly practiced, is neither friendship nor evangelism, here. I explain why I believe random or planned acts of kindness, without the proclamation of the gospel, are not evangelistic endeavors, here. And I provide an example of how proponents of "Friendship Evangelism" perform eisegesis upon Scripture in efforts to support an unbiblical philosophy of ministry, here.

There is much more that I have written regarding "Friendship Evangelism." It's no secret that I am an outspoken critic of "Friendship Evangelism," as it is most commonly practiced. I believe it is an exercise of self-love and self-preservation. And I believe most strategies designed to help Christians engage in "Friendship Evangelism" have, as their primary (albeit unwritten and maybe even unintended) goal, protecting Christians from persecution and not reaching the lost with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Something struck me not long ago--something I had not previously considered--something that has caused me to dig in my heels even deeper against "Friendship Evangelism." "Friendship Evangelism" is an evangelical form of discrimination.

Take a good look at the man in the above picture: homeless, destitute, dirty, the only real friend he has in the world is his dog. His background: unknown. His problems, if any, with addictions or mental illness: unknown. The reason he finds himself living on the streets: unknown. A military veteran tossed aside by his country after they trained him, put him to work, and wore him out: unknown.

Name: unknown.

I wonder how many Christians committed to "Friendship Evangelism" have gone to places where a man like the man in the photo lives, befriended people like him, and established long-term relationships with people like him, with a view of sharing the gospel with him. I'm not talking about spending a couple hours in a bad part of town handing out blankets and sack lunches, personal hygiene items and used clothing, and then jumping back into the church van wanting to bathe in Purell. I'm not talking about field trips to the inner-city, just to come back and testify at the next youth meeting how wonderful it felt to be used by God, or how blessed you were to feed homeless people, or how much you think you showed the love of Jesus to people you were nervous to touch.

No, dear Christian friendship evangelist, I'm not asking you how many people like the man in the photo you have served. I'm asking you how many people like the man in your photo are your friends--you know: people with whom you regularly break bread or share a mocha, invite to your home, allow to drive your kids to school, or give them the keys to your house while you are away on vacation. How man people like the man in the photo knows you so well that they can tell me your life story as accurately as you can? To how many people like the man in the photo do you send birthday and Christmas cards? How many people like the man in the photo will be invited to your son's or daughter's wedding?

Some of you reading this are starting to squirm. You're desperately trying to figure out how you can answer my questions honestly without making my point. Please, don't hurt yourself.

The reality is this. "Friendship Evangelism" as it is most commonly practiced is discriminatory because the only people who will likely ever hear the gospel from you (if you're a friendship evangelist and you ever actually share the gospel) will be people you like--people with whom you're comfortable--people you've deemed worthy of your friendship.

What about everyone else?

What about the people who don't share your love for softball, fishing, sailing, chess, video games, knitting, cooking, or any other hobby to which you devote your time? What about the people around whom you might never find yourself--people from a different culture, different social-economic status, different tier in the workforce, different color, or people whose sins you particularly loathe? What if you don't smoke? The cigar shop is likely out. What if you don't drink? The night club scene is likely out. What if you're not athletic? Cross those who spend a lot of time at the health club off your list of potential friends. What if you're not into body piercing and tattoos? Guess you won't be going to those places either to find potential friends.

Well? What about everyone else? What about all those people that are nothing like you? What about those people? What about the "thems" of the world?

Time to get honest my friendship evangelist brethren.....with yourself.

If you are engaged in "Friendship Evangelism," in the way it is most commonly practiced by American Evangelicals, if you ever do get around the gospel, the only people who will hear it from you are the people you like. And that's discrimination.

So, how can I be so certain--emphatic about the beliefs I've articulated thus far to the point of likely causing offense to some? I'm certain of what I'm saying because I see people like the man in the photo almost everyday. I do talk to them. I hear their stories. I share the gospel with them, either through conversation, gospel tracts, or while I am open-air preaching. What I don't see are the friendship evangelists out on the streets developing long-term, no-strings-attached relationships with people who are their opposites in almost every conceivable way.

Now, before you try to fire the "hypocrite" round across my bow, I don't have any long-standing friendships with anyone, at the moment, like the man in the photo. But that's okay. You see: the needs of the man in the photo are so much greater than his need for my friendship. He needs the gospel. He needs Jesus Christ. He needs his sins washed away more than he needs a bath. He needs eternal life more than he needs the love of his dog or my friendship.

The man in the photo needs a Christian to love him enough to speak the truth in love to him. He needs that so much more than a Christian's friendship.

It's time to stop discriminating, my Christian friendship evangelist brethren. It's time to get out of your comfort zones and reach the "thems" of the world--those you might see as "the least of these."

"My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, 'You sit here in a good place,' while you say to the poor man, 'You stand over there,' or, 'Sit down at my feet,' have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man" James 2:1-6a).

Saturday, October 11, 2014

24 Thoughts About College Campus Ministry

This morning, between studying Greek and working on sermons, I shared some thoughts on Twitter regarding College Campus Ministry. Some were shared from the perspective of an observer, and others were shared from the prospective of how I engage in ministry on college campuses. I hope you will be both challenged and edified by what I shared. Here are the tweets.

1. Y can almost see neuro-transmitter misfires in college students' brains when you explain to them that Darwinism is not testable, observable, or repeatable.

2. I do my best (sometimes failing) to use as loving a fatherly tone as poss with college students, realizing their dads might not have been kind.

3. It's more important for me to establish rapport w/college campus administrators than it is to assert my right to be there. It's better to work within the system.

4. Presuppostional apologetics is a biblical and powerful evangelistic tool. It is also a dangerous weapon in the hands of the arrogant and immature evangelist.

5. Tragically, the way Friendship Evangelism is most commonly practiced is an illustration of James 2:1-4.

6. I don't play God's defense attorney in the unbeliever's blasphemous courtroom. NO ONE needs proof of God's existence (Rom 1:18-25).

7. I you "win" someone to Jesus through the presentation of evidence, they will walk away as soon as someone gives them "better" evidence.

8. What lost college students need vastly more than the friendship of Christian students is the love of Jesus, as communicated through the gospel.

9. It's cruel to crush a college student's godless worldview through presuppositional apologetics and not leave them with the hope of the gospel.

10. When I preach on college campuses, I begin by telling students that I'm raising my voice only to be heard, not because I'm angry with them.

11. When I open-air preach on college campuses, I begin by explaining to students that campus preachers like "Brother Jed" aren't Christians.

12. Sadly, there are times when the nastiest hecklers on college campuses are kids involved in campus ministry. They seek to build a kingdom without Jesus.

13. If a college student approaches me respectfully with genuine questions while I'm open-air preaching, I will stop preaching and talk to him/her.

14. There are LOTS of Christian students on secular college campus who long for biblical fellowship that they can't get from most campus ministries.....

15. .....open-air preaching and tract distribution is not only about reaching the lost on college campuses, but also ministering to believers.

16. Sadly, some students involved in college ministries with the best theology, come across as unfriendly and unapproachable. Balance is necessary.

17. Sadly, many college ministries go no farther than assimilating into campus culture. And they call that successful ministry.

18. On college campuses, I talk to many students who, after a semester of "higher learning," have learned that they can't be certain of anything.

19. While on a college campus recently, I saw kids from a campus ministry dressed up as plastic cups and offering free sodas. Christ deserves better.

20. There are a lot of hurting young people on college campuses, and a steady diet of pizza and Foosball from Christian fellowships isn't the answer.

21. I love being a father, and I can't wait to be a grandpa. College campus ministry allows me to express that kind of love to lots of kids.

22. Kids on secular college campuses are not students. They're prey. They're prey to those wanting to indoctrinate them in godless worldviews.

23. One of the reasons why I love college campus ministry is because for many kids, including "churched" kids, it's the 1st time anyone has cared for their souls.

24. A student at UCLA asked me if, as a Christian, I'm against science. I explained that I LOVE science, for every observation testifies to God's glory.

Friday, October 10, 2014

A Great Day of Ministry at UCLA

Yesterday was a great day of ministry on the UCLA campus. I was joined by Matt and Roxanne De Jesus, and students Jimmy Revelino and Kaspars Ozolins--two brilliant and godly young man who are passionate about reaching the lost with the gospel.

Together, we distributed more than 500 gospel tracts and 21 ESV bibles.

Several Christian students were encouraged by my open-air preaching, which led to a wonderful time of fellowship and discipleship.

I was blessed to have to in-depth conversations with two unsaved students--Eli and Miles. My conversation with Eli came as the result of offering him a Bible, as he walked up Bruin Walk. My conversation with Miles came as a result of my open-air preaching. Typically, I don't stop preaching and engage in a one-to-one conversation because often times the motivation of the questioner is to distract me and interrupt the preaching. But, from time to time, someone will quietly approach me while I'm preaching and I will have a sense by their demeanor that their inquiry is genuine. Such was the case with Miles.

Here are my conversations with Eli and Miles.





Monday, October 6, 2014

Today's Hashtag: #EvangelicalCowTipping


Austin Hess, a young man who follows me on Twitter, asked me to compile a series of tweets I posted under the hashtag #EvangelicalCowTipping. The purpose of creating the hashtag was to address some of the "sacred cows" and errant thought within the American Evangelical community.

Here are the tweets, as they appear on Twitter, from the most recent to the first.

1. There are so many women pastors/leaders in churches today because so many Evangelical men are so weak and lazy.

2. While VBS has its place, it remains a tragic breeding ground for false conversion.

3. Discipleship involves leading and teaching younger sheep to follow Christ. It's not begging goats to act like sheep.

4. It's hypocritical to justify sending kids 2 pub schools to be "missionaries" when parents won't share the gospel at work.

5. When Christianity is illegal in U.S. I wonder how many evangelicals will have enough evidence against them to be found guilty.

6. To say we shouldn't shove Jesus down people's throats is to imply u believe there is something distasteful about Jesus.

7. You're kidding yourself, pastor, if you think your "personalized license plate" and "movies" sermon series are pleasing to Christ.

8. Churches claiming to be "real" while using stock photos of non-members to give their websites that "real" feeling.

9. I believe Jesus would tear down most billboards advertising churches, today, like He overturned tables in the Temple.

10. "If you pray this prayer, and if you really really mean it, Jesus will come into your heart" is NOT in the Bible.

11. When you ask for God's fire and glory to come down, you do realize you're asking God to consume you, not bless you?

12. The angels rejoice over 1 sinner who repents. The angels will also rejoice when God crushes everyone of His enemies.

13. People won't care what u have to say until God gives them eyes to see and ears to hear. How much you care is beside the point.

14. You are not the only Jesus some people will ever see because you're not Jesus.

15. God does not sit in yonder heaven with a hole in his heart shaped like you that only you can fill.

16. Jesus was killed for what he said, not for who he hung out with. Some churches teach Christians to hang out with sinners and keep their mouths shut.

17. I wonder how many American churches would crumble if the government eliminated the tax deduction for tithing.

18. Judgment begins with the household of God, not with "those people" you hope won't show up to church this Sunday.

19. Part of God's "wonderful plan" just might include sending you to hell for eternity.

20. I believe God laughs at "Fight Church" the way He laughs at His enemies in Psalm 2.

21. Pastor: finding allegories about Jesus in the Star Wars series doesn't make you an expositor of the Word.

22. Contrary to the "prophecies" uttered by some pastors, people didn't come to faith watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

23. A "call to worship" isn't playing one song to let people know it's time to move away from the coffee and donuts.

24. Neither Jesus nor disciples ever went through communities and surveyed unbelievers about what they wanted in a church.

25. News Flash...... You are NOT the gospel.

26. "We have a new pope!" Words that should NEVER cross the lips of a Christian.

27. "Spontaneous Baptism Kits" and using members of the congregation as "plants" in the audience to draw people to the water is unloving and blasphemous.

28. No pastor or evangelist has ever been given the responsibility or the right to declare a man saved after he "prayed the prayer."

29. Filling stadiums w/ith ost people, getting them 2 emote and pray a prayer, and then sending the back to the Roman Catholic Church is unloving.

30. If you throw a barbecue for the community without sharing the gospel, you assume people who hate God want more than a free lunch.

31. The idea of "earning the right" to do what God has commanded every Christian to do--evangelize the lost--is blasphemous.

32. Jesus doesn't love you just the way you are. Jesus loves those whom He saves IN SPITE of who they are. You're not lovable.

33. "We must respect everyone's beliefs." What verse is that?

34. Being a member of a local church doesn't mean you can use your membership card to hop from assembly to assembly. The local church is not Costco or L.A. Fitness.

35. "With everyone's head bowed and eyes closed...." [Cue the soft music] Does not aid in the conversion of anyone. It's manipulative.

36. Writing the date you walked down the aisle of the church in the back of your Bible is no guarantee you are saved.

37. There's not one example in the Bible of a Christian leading an unbeliever in a "sinner's prayer."

38. God is wrathful and when Jesus returns as Lion of Judah, the blood of His enemies will drip from the hem of His robe.

39. Preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary use amplification.

40. Nowhere does the Bible teach 40-yr-old men to dress and act like teenagers in order to relate to and reach them.

41. Hey, pastor! Jeremiah 29:11-13 is not an evangelistic passage for unbelievers!

42. "If you build it, they will come" is a great movie line, but an unbiblical and man-centered evangelism strategy.

43. If you think you make the gospel relevant, you are, in reality, a hindrance to the gospel you think needs your help.

44. "Relevance" is not the new cool. It's the old fool.

45. You fail to realize that the unbelievers driving by your church don't think the pithy statements on your marquee are funny.

46. If you do everything you can to make sure your church logo doesn't contain anything identifying it as a church, you may be lost.

47. If you're a pastor who is comfortable taking the stage for prayer with Roman Catholics and Muslims you may be lost.

48. If you're seeking "common ground" with Roman Catholics and Muslims, you should examine yourself to see if you're in the faith.

49. You're not more spiritual if you keep your sermons under 30 minutes. You're simply less studied.

50. Holding up your Bible before your sermon to tell folks how important it is, only to put it down and not open it again is weak.

51. Encouraging unbelievers to join believers in the act of worship is to encourage unbelievers to offer Strange Fire.

52. Designing worship and messages to make unbelievers feel comfortable amidst the gathering of the saints is worldliness.

53. "If you pray this prayer, and if you really really mean it, Jesus will come into your heart" is NOT in the Bible.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

When There's No Visible Return on Your Investment

Noah was an open-air preacher of righteousness (2 Peter 2:5) for 150 years. Only seven people took heed to what he said, and they were the members of his family. Isaiah's prophetic ministry spanned some 40 years. God told Isaiah at the start of his ministry that the people of Judah would not be able to understand or perceive and that God would make the hearts of the people dull (Isaiah 6:9-10).The prophet Jeremiah served the Lord for 40 years and saw only two converts--Baruch (Jeremiah 45:1-5) and Ebed-Melech (Jeremiah 38:1-16; 39:16-18). By modern American Evangelical standards, these three men of God were utter failures when it came to evangelism. It was hard for them to develop relationships. They struggled gauging the felt needs of the people. They didn't get the whole "contextualization" thing. Their messages were so hard and judgmental by today's evangelical standards that they were party buzz killers. And of course, there was hardly any visible return on their investments of time spent trying to reach their countrymen with nothing more than truth.

Guys like Noah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah would probably be street preachers, today. They would probably do door-to-door evangelism. They would probably do rather untoward things like shove their beliefs down people's throats by engaging perfect strangers in conversation, or violate some arbitrary, modern, missional protocol by giving gospel tracts away with Halloween candy or with Rice Krispie treats around Christmas. No, the great preachers and prophets of old would likely be seen as getting in the way of American Evangelicalism's efforts to woo people to Jesus without being too evangelistic. According to American Evangelical standards, Noah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah were.....ineffective.

I wish what I just said was hyperbolic, but it's not. Sadly, it's not.

Today, I received the following question from Hank Williams:
"What should our response be, according to Scripture, when our evangelizing returns little or no visible results, such as was the case in Noah's, Isaiah's, and Jeremiah's day?"
Hank's is a very good question.

It's easy for a Christian who is engaged in any one of a number of legitimate forms of evangelism to get discouraged, especially if his preferred form of communicating the gospel is considered passe, a waste of time, or annoying by American Evangelical standards (they're not really standards, but simply preferences). It's discouraging for a Christian to be asked by other Christians (often Christians who think they're engaged in evangelism, but likely aren't), if what he's doing is effective. Is he seeing results?

I've been asked these questions too many times to count. When I'm asked, I respond with a question. "Define effectiveness for me?" The answer I receive usually has something to do with putting a number to how many people I've seen come to genuine repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

"How do you know that someone who prays a prayer and asks Jesus into their heart, or responds to a call to walk down to a stadium floor, or raises his hand with every other head bowed and all eyes closed, has really come to genuine repentance and faith in Jesus Christ?" I ask.

"Well, I don't"

"Then, you don't know if the way you are doing evangelism is effective, do you?"

"I guess not."

"Then why would you try to discourage me by questioning the effectiveness of what I'm doing when you can't be certain if what you're doing is effective?"

"I guess you're right."

Then, if the person hasn't walked away in a self-righteous huff, I encourage him (or her) to do evangelism (explaining that there is no evangelism without the verbal or written communication of the gospel) in keeping with his personality, the context in which he lives, and the gifts and talents God has given him. I make sure the Christian brothers and sisters with whom I speak understand that they don't have to do evangelism the way I do it, but they are obligated, commanded by God to communicate the gospel. "If you don't want to do evangelism the way I do it, at least do something."

Maybe no one is asking you to quantify your evangelistic effectiveness. Maybe you're like Hank and you're asking yourself the question. Maybe you think about your evangelism efforts and you compare them to the Church in Acts 2, or you compare your efforts to the apostle Paul's or Whitefield's or Spurgeon's. Or maybe you compare your efforts to modern-day evangelists like of Greg Laurie or Luis Palau--men who fill stadiums and declare thousands of people saved, welcoming them to the family of God, because the respondents prayed a prayer and asked Jesus into their heart (a practice with no biblical support, and responsible for an untold number of false converts).

Maybe you've been handing out tracts, engaging people in conversation, or even open-air preaching for years and have yet to see a person come to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. You look back to biblical and post-biblical history. You look at some of your contemporaries. You see what the Lord apparently has done and is doing through the evangelistic efforts of others. You drop your chin and your shoulders; you think "What's the use," and you consider quitting.

Those closest to me know that there are times when my biblical counseling is limited to just three words. If you're thinking like the Christian I just described.....here are the three words.....KNOCK IT OFF!

That's right. Knock it off. Stop it.

If you remember anything in this article, remember this. The only time you fail in evangelism, presuming you're doing it biblically, is when you fail to evangelize.

Effectiveness in evangelism is never based on numbers--how many people you talk to, how many tracts you've distributed, how many people in the crowd when you open-air preach, how many relationships you've started, how many people you've seen repent and believe the gospel.

Effectiveness in evangelism is not based on "how many." Effectiveness in evangelism is based on "how faithful"--how faithful you are to love God and love people--how faithful you are to love Jesus enough to tell others about Him, and how faithful you are to love lost people enough to warn them of God's pending wrath against sin and articulate and proclaim to them the gospel of Jesus Christ.

There are faithful Christians who seem to produce a great amount of tangible fruit through their evangelistic efforts. There are faithful Christians who see very little fruit from their evangelistic efforts. There are faithful Christians who see very little fruit from their evangelistic efforts, completely unaware of how many people have come to repentance and faith in Christ, as a result of, for instance, reading a gospel tract they distributed. The common denominator in each case? Faithfulness.

The Christian who seems to see people come to repentance and faith in droves is no more effective than the Christian who has very little tangible fruit to show for his or her efforts. Faithfulness: faithfulness to the two Greatest Commandments and the Great Commission makes every biblical evangelistic effort effective, event when there's no visible return on your investment.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Intimacy in the Word

The Christian man who does not read the Bible to and/or with his wife, is a man whose marriage lacks an aspect of intimacy that can be found nowhere else.

The Christian man who does not read the Bible to and/or with his wife, is a man who is failing to lead his wife as the spiritual head of the home.

The Christian man who does not read the Bible to and/or with his wife, is a man who is failing to love his wife as Christ loves the church and gave His life for her.

The Christian man who does not read the Bible to and/or with his wife, is a man who should seriously prayerfully consider how much he actually loves Christ.

These are strong statements, I know. These are questions I've had to ask myself during my 26 years as a follower of Jesus Christ.

I make the above assertions fully aware that there might be some Christian men who are married to unsaved wives (or vice versa)--women who might hate God and for whom the thought of reading the Bible is repulsive. If you are such a man, I want to encourage you to try. Try to read the Bible to your bride. Read Psalms. Read Proverbs. Read the Gospel of John. Or write her notes or texts of love and kindness that contain Scripture. Try and don't quit.

I asked folks on Twitter to make topic suggestions for an encouraging blog post I could write, today. A.J. Millsaps, from Kentucky, wrote:
"You often mention reading the Scriptures with your wife. Perhaps you could blog your system/method/etc. for reading together . . . As someone recently married, hearing your thoughts would be edifying and helpful. Trying to learn to glorify and serve the Lord together, and not just in an individualistic sense."
Mahria and I live very busy lives. We always have. Whether life as a law enforcement family, life as a church planting family, life as a missionary family, life as an evangelist family, life as a homeschool family--our almost 30 years of marriage has been a non-stop, hold-on-tight, roller coaster ride with extraordinary highs and some devastating lows. Today, Mahria and I are entering into yet another season of life. In 15 days, our daughter Marissa will be the first of our three adult daughters to be married. Time alone for me and Mahria, regardless of the context, has always been at a premium and a challenge.

Fight for the Time

Over the years, Mahria and I have had to fight (not with each other) for consistency in our time together in prayer and reading the Bible. If you struggle with this, too, just know you're not alone. So, I guess my first piece of advice would be just that: fight for times of intimacy in the Word. Let nothing get in the way: televisions, computers, housework, fatigue, or even children. Bible reading and prayer will never be a priority in your marriage until you make it a priority.

Find a Place

Find a place to pray and read. For you, it might be on your living room couch, or in your bedroom; or if you have a family room or office, maybe there. We live in a small, 1,200 sq. ft. condo. It's been our home for 25 years and will likely be our home until the end of our days. We are thankful for and content with God's gracious provision. But living in a small home of five adults (well, soon to be four), presents its challenges when it comes to finding peace and quiet. One of the benefits of having a home now filled with adults is that our daughters understand when mom and dad open their Bibles, only potential death or dismemberment qualify as reasons to disturb us.

Sometimes, however, life happens and Mahria and I have to find a place outside the home for our daily time of prayer and reading. At times, that might mean a trip to Starbucks. I like praying and reading at Starbucks with my bride--not so that our prayers and reading will impress the people around us (Matthew 6:5). I like the witness and testimony it presents to people in our community. I read and pray publicly with the men I personally disciple for the same reason. There have been several times when we have been approached by Christians who tell us they are encouraged. And, from time to time, I catch others, most likely unbelievers, listening.

But, there are times when my bride prefers privacy, so I always defer to her wishes. At such times, when we need to get out of the house but a public place won't do, we simple take a drive to a quiet place, often where we can watch the sunset, and read and pray in our car.

If you are a family with small children, you may have to engage in prayer and Bible reading with your kids on your lap or sitting at your feet. While not as private or intimate a setting, it is no less beautiful. I welcome our daughters to sit with us, pray with us, and read with us. I've never been shy about showing and talking about my love for my girls' mom in front of them. I want my daughters to expect to be so loved by their future husbands. And I want to model intimacy with their mom through prayer and Bible reading, in front of them, so they will have the same expectations from the men they will marry.

Consistency

As in any spiritual discipline, consistency is key. There are days when Mahria and I don't pray and read the Bible together. But we have developed a level of consistency in this area of our marriage that keeps a missed day from turning into a missed week or a missed month. It's become such an important part of our marriage that we fight together to maintain the level of consistency we've established over time. And it takes time to develop consistency. Stick to it. Don't get discouraged if you miss a day or two. Get back at it. Fight for it. Persevere. Don't quit.

Prayer

Since our time of prayer and Bible reading might be the first time of the day when we get to look each other in the eye and talk to each other, I begin our time by simple asking Mahria about her day. I want to give her a chance to defuse and debrief. I begin our time by ministering to her with my ears--simply listening to her as she talks about whatever is on her heart or mind.

We always begin our time in the Word, with prayer. While Mahria is not averse to praying aloud, I don't make her do so. More often than not, I will take her by he hand and simply lead our time of prayer. It's another way for me to minister to my bride.

Reading

Our reading plan is simple. We read six chapters of God's Word each day. I let Mahria decide what book of the Bible she would like to read. I shepherd the process by having us read entire books of the Bible, alternating from the New Testament to the Old Testament. We read aloud, with me reading the odd numbered chapters and Mahria reading the even numbered chapters.

I watch my bride closely as we are reading, looking for expressions that might indicate she has a thought to share or a question to ask. Unless the question is critical to understanding the flow of the chapter, we will wait until the end of the chapter, before going back and sharing thoughts or asking/answering questions about the text. These moments are wonderful opportunities for me to teach my bride and for us to encourage each other, as we share what we are gleaning from the Word of God.

I want to encourage you to keep the reading simple. Yes, allow time for reflection, conversation, and asking/answering questions. But don't lose the intimacy of the activity by making your time in the Word of God a bookish affair. Stay focused on your individual relationships with Christ, your corporate relationship with Him, and your love for one another.

Conclusion

I hope this article is helpful and encouraging to you. Developing a consistent daily time of prayer and Bible reading has been a wonderful blessing to me and Mahria. It has fostered a level of intimacy in our marriage we would not have known without it. It's special. It's Christ-honoring. And it's worth fighting for to develop and maintain. May the Lord richly bless your marriage as you draw close to Him and each other, through intimacy in the Word.