Saturday, September 20, 2014

#FriendshipEvangelism

I am an unashamed and unapologetic critic of "Friendship Evangelism," as it is most commonly advocated, taught, and practiced.

I believe Christians should befriend unbelievers. I am not against that in the least. But if the goal of developing relationships with lost people bound for hell is anything less than seeking every opportunity to proclaim the gospel to them, then the development of such relationships are acts of selfishness, at best.

Today, I had a few (well, many) things to say about "Friendship Evangelism," in 140 characters or less. I have cleaned up grammar and spelling of the tweets, for the purpose of this blog post.

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The American Evangelical notion that the Christian has to "earn the right" to share the gospel with the lost is both traitorous & blasphemous.

Show me the verse that says the Christian must have the permission of God's enemies to plead with them to obey God's command to repent and believe.

The primary reason more American Evangelicals do not share the gospel is because they love themselves more than they love Jesus & the lost.

Most American Evangelical evangelism strategies are designed to protect the Christian, not to reach the lost with the gospel.

If you have been taught that spiritually dead and spiritually blind lost people who hate God can see Jesus in you, then u have been deceived.

Unless you verbally (or in written form) proclaim the gospel, you look no different than a nice Mormon or Muslim or Atheist to a lost person.

Most American Evangelical evangelism strategies are arrogant examples of the sinful notion that the gospel is not enough and God needs our help.

Wanna know why more Christians weren't sharing the gospel in #Ferguson? Because in #FriendshipEvangelism you only share with people you like.

#FrienshipEvangelism is not loving your neighbor as yourself. It's loving yourself among the neighbors you like.

#FriendshipEvangelism assumes Jesus isn't coming back anytime, soon.

Don't like to shove the gospel down people's throats? #FriendshipEvangelism is shoving YOU down people's throats.

Many proponents of #FriendshipEvangelism, if they're honest, will admit they disdain street evangelism because it is done among "those" people.

Proponents of #FriendshipEvangelism hate street evangelism because there's no time to develop relationships with people they'd never bring into their homes, [anyways].

Build houses, feed the hungry, clothe the destitute, and don't share the gospel: you're just making people more comfortable on their way to hell.

You know what missionary proponents of #FriendshipEvangelism look like when I see them on the streets while I'm preaching? Tourists.

Proponents of #FriendshipEvangelism say open-air preaching turns people away from Jesus, showing how little power they believe Jesus has to save.

When a proponent of #FriendshipEvangelism confronts me on the street, the conversation goes south the moment I ask them when they last shared the gospel.

Most young, short-term missionaries committed to #FriendshipEvangelism usually come home with wonderful pictures of their trip. #Vacation

#FriendshipEvangelism is American Evangelicalism's way to justify systematic discrimination among "the least of these."

#FriendshipEvangelism has one thing in common with Hinduism. It's a "sacred cow."

Biblical #FriendshipEvangelism BEGINS with the gospel. Build the relationship on the rock of Christ, not the sand of your personality.

NOT ONE passage of Scripture supports the idea that Jesus practiced #FriendshipEvangelism the way it is practiced today. NOT ONE.

#FriendshipEvangelism is neither friendship nor evangelism, because the friendship becomes more important than the soul of the friend.

#FriendshipEvangelism is an unfortunate byproduct of the false American Evangelical teaching that says, "You are the gospel."

Look what #FriendshipEvangelism has produced, in part: mega-churches filled with middle-to-upper-middle class white people where the gospel is a byword.

#FriendshipEvangelism has produced college and university ministries that are void of holiness, but have plenty of pizza and Foosball.

#FriendshipEvangelism doesn't produce evangelists. It produces "life coaches."

Sadly, the selfish joy in the hearts of Christians because of practicing #FriendshipEvangelism, can produce...THIS



Many proponents of #FriendshipEvangelism be like, "Yo! Dats da Jesus I know!" Read This.

We can thank youth ministries that focus on #FriendshipEvangelism, in part, for the high false conversion rate on university campuses.

And please take the time to listen to this sermon excerpt:

Sunday, September 14, 2014

New Aspect of Ministry: Encouraging Words


As many of you know, I love reading the biographies of great men of the faith, especially those men of God who were courageously and lovingly preaching the gospel in the open-air. One of the things I have so appreciated about the lives of some of the evangelists and the pastors I've studied is the way they encouraged others through written correspondences.

I know how encouraged the family and I are when we receive a note or letter of encouragement from one of you. Thank you! Keep 'em coming! :-)

My eldest daughter, Michelle, has the gift of encouragement. All her life, she has shown great compassion for others. She weeps with those who weep and mourns with those who mourn. Michelle's life has been filled to overflowing with medical challenges. Yet, since she was just a baby, she has taken hard times in stride, with amazing faith and endurance. There have been times in Michelle's life in which I was the student and she was the teacher--showing me what faith and courage really look like.

Michelle had the idea of encouraging people through written correspondences. She was going to do it on her own, but I thought it would be a wonderful way for the two of us to love God and love people, together. So, I would like to announce the formation of a new aspect of Cross Encounters Ministries called "Encouraging Words." We hope to have a new section of the website dedicated to this new aspect of ministry, sometime soon.

In the meantime, let me give you a snapshot of what "Encouraging Words" will look like.

As Michelle and I come across people on social media or in our day-to-day lives who we think could benefit from some encouragement, we will send them handwritten correspondences in an effort to lift their spirits. When the situation warrants a more significant response, we will advise folks, either through the website or through the newsletter, of the need for a concerted effort to bring someone "encouraging words." People will be directed how to get their cards and letters to us. We will then, in turn, box up the "encouraging words" and send them to the person (people) in need.

The passage of Scripture that will serve as our motivator and reminder will be 1 Thessalonians 5:9-11, which reads:

"For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing."

Sadly, we will begin "Encouraging Words" on a difficult note.

For some time, a beautiful young lady (pictured at top) by the name of Cara Hansen (Harris) battled Leukemia. It saddens me to report that she has passed away. Cara was, and still is, and will always be, a follower of Jesus Christ. While we mourn her departing, we rejoice that she will never again face and feel the ravages of cancer. Cara left this world at 6:15 AM, Sunday, September 14. She is now in the presence of the Lord!

Her dad, Brian Harris, is a friend of mine. Needless to say, the Harris Family is in need of encouragement from the Body of Christ. So, please, join us in providing the Harris Family with some "encouraging words."

Mail your cards and letters ONLY (NO GIFTS OR MONEY) to:

Revival-USA
P.O. Box 220087
Newhall, CA 91322

Since we will forward all cards and letters to the Harris Family in a single mailing, your card or letter MUST be postmarked NO LATER than Monday, September 29, 2014. Anything postmarked after that date MAY NOT be delivered to the Harris Family.

I hope you will join Cross Encounters Ministries in providing "encouraging words" to the Harris Family.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Who Is Ray Rice?

Written by Michael Coughlin
Edited by Tony Miano


Who is Ray Rice?

Early in 2014 Ray Rice was videotaped striking his fiancée, Janay, in an elevator. After the doors opened, he dragged her off the elevator. The police saw it, arrested him and charged him. Apparently he spit on her as well.

Shortly thereafter, she married him. They also share a child together. Recently, the video was released publicly and everyone in the world was able to watch the events. A new public outrage ensued as the result of the video evidence. Ray Rice’s already criticized two-game suspension became more of a travesty than most people already felt it was. Ultimately, the NFL suspended him indefinitely and the Ravens released him from the team.

Underlying assumption #1: Allow me make it clear that what Ray Rice did was wrong. There is no excusing his behavior. This is important to remember.

First, allow me to point out a glaring inconsistency in the worldview of most people. The evidence is clear: Ray Rice struck a woman. For my entire life, there has been an unwritten rule that men do not hit women. For good reason, even secular people abhor when a man abuses a woman. In our culture, it is not a dishonor for two men to fight; but no matter what a woman does to a man our culture generally accepts that it is intolerable to hit a woman.

Yet, ours is the culture that wants to redefine gender roles and make general claims about equality which are irreconcilable with the idea of judging a man for hitting a woman. (If you think I am arguing for tolerance of striking a woman, refer back to underlying assumption #1). What I am saying is that you cannot simultaneously hold the position that men and women are completely equal, that is, not different in a fundamental way based on gender, and hold the position that it is inherently wrong for a man to punch a woman because of gender. You must have another basis for your judgment of Ray Rice.
Again: men hitting women is wrong. Basing your judgment on standards you deny is irrational.

So what is your standard? Should NFL players not be allowed to hit girls? What about if Michael Sam punched his boyfriend? The storm of irrationality which would follow would at least be more entertaining than most reality TV. It would be interesting to see if Michael Sam could ever publicly be considered to do anything wrong; that’s another topic. But the obvious and unacceptable inconsistency in the general logic of our population isn’t the point of this article.

Secondly, why does the video all of a sudden make it worse? I saw a tweet which summed up my sense of the issue. It went something like this. “We now know exactly the same thing that we knew about Ray Rice before seeing the video.”

For some reason, seeing the evil act made it worse in people’s judgment. No one got any new information, but now his behavior is outrageous--even to his former team. Is there any rational explanation for how the video honestly changed someone’s opinion of the events?

This is a serious problem in our visual culture and the Church. There has never been a time in history where people have had more access to movies about the Bible and, at the same time, more illiteracy concerning the Bible. This is yet another symptom of the modern day downgrade, where the Word of God has become insufficient in the minds of men, so it is replaced by visual stimulation. The fact that the same problem is exhibited in the Ray Rice situation is simply more evidence that many professing Christians are really just acting like nonbelievers. Intelligent, discerning people are able to believe truth and make adequate judgments with or without visual aids.

Again: men hitting women is wrong. Judging the action differently based on a textual description or a video is irrational.

Nevertheless, although it is pathetic that we are a culture where reading about hitting a woman is not taken as seriously as seeing the video, that isn’t the point of this article.

Thirdly, I also want to point out an obvious fact which does not excuse Ray Rice’s behavior, but might help explain it. Ray Rice does a job in which he and hundreds of other men are heftily paid and rewarded for brutality. There is a saying that if you did most of what goes on in a football game on the street, you’d be arrested. We are becoming a more violent culture where things like ultimate fighting challenges and, yes, even the holy grail of football are becoming more popular than skill sports like baseball or basketball. I understand that it is a controlled violence to an extent, but let’s face the fact that there isn’t a week that goes by where a young man isn’t seriously injured. Men are committing suicide and battling mental illness as the result of the alteration of their brains from years in this game. Could this be an indication we are approaching a time more like the time before God sent the flood when every thought in the heart of man was violence?

Be honest. Have you ever felt a tinge of excitement or happiness when a player on an opposing team was injured? Admit it to God if you have! I saw it at a high school game once while sitting amidst a group of moms. I observed a sickening lack of care for the fact that a 16 or 17-year-old boy was in pain and injured on a field--all because he played for the opposing team in a pretty fierce rivalry. They were actually happy he was on the ground, hurt!

Again: Men hitting women is wrong. Being utterly shocked men who are paid to be violent end up violent even when off-duty--away from the field of play--is irrational.

There are a host of other contributing factors to incidents like Ray Rice’s. Alcohol and drug use, a culture which exalts the exploitation of women as sex objects, and the creation of more deviant and available pornography all contribute to the eventual acceptance of Ray’s type of behavior. Thank God for the apparent irrationality of so many people who have no basis by which to judge Ray Rice, yet still do. But the fact that we are a nation which is incrementally and increasingly encouraging all sorts of violence is not the point of this article.

Fourthly, we are all Ray Rice.

That’s right. Ray Rice is not the problem. Humanity is the problem. Ray Rice is simply an example of someone who lived out man’s depravity in a more extreme way that most people are ready to accept. Again, there is some apparent irony in a society that almost totally embraces and celebrates homosexual lifestyles and abortion yet condemns Rice’s actions.

Do you really believe Rice is the first wife/fiancée/girlfriend-beater in the NFL? How many NFL players would be suspended for life now if they were in the seemingly unfortunate circumstance in which Rice found himself--probably the worst moment of his life (he is not the victim)--was recorded on video?
How many men beat and abuse women regularly or even once and are never caught or reported? What if every moment of your life was recorded? Would you be so quick to point out Rice’s wrongs?

We need to face the facts, Matthew 10:26 says “For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known.” Ray Rice is paying a penalty in this life for his sin. Maybe, at this moment, you feel you are getting away and are going to get away with yours. Perish the thought! Cast yourself on the mercies of Christ this moment, if you have not. I seriously hope Ray will.

Would your employer want you around if he saw the way you spoke to (yelled at) your spouse or children? How about your spouse, would she be excited to be intimate with you if she looked through your eyes as you browse the Internet or saw how your eyes wander where they shouldn’t as you walk down the street? What about your kids? Would they look up to you if they knew how little effort you put in at work or toward your Bible reading and daily prayer? Dear Christian, aren’t you glad Sunday service isn’t a video review of your week?

Again: Men hitting women is wrong. Being shocked and lashing out at Ray Rice, while practicing sin in your own life, is not only irrational; it is ungodly.

This is not an admonition to those who judge righteously. There is nothing wrong with evaluating Ray’s actions in light of God’s revealed will and revelation (the Bible). There is nothing wrong with determining his behavior was evil and punishable. You are right to want a man removed from society who would act that way.

But there is something wrong with believing Ray Rice’s sin is unforgiveable. Do not make that mistake. Jesus Christ is more able to forgive sins than Ray Rice is able to committing them. Thank God that is true, dear reader.

But the fact that you are a sinner who, apart from Jesus Christ, is really no different from Ray Rice isn’t the point of the article.
The point of the article is this: I am Ray Rice.

That’s right. I am Ray Rice. There is a singular night in my past where I acted as Rice acted that night. But there were neither cameras nor police present, only a forgiving female and a fraternity that didn’t care enough to judge me. All the factors I cited above contributed: a fantasy rape culture fueled by porn, alcohol, marijuana, and a party lifestyle that created opportunity for the conflict. What were missing from my incident were a video camera and, sadly, any remorse on my part. It was almost a decade before I even cared about what I’d done. How despicable is that?

By the providence of God alone no one was hurt. A simple nail sticking out of a wall where a picture frame should have been could have changed my life forever. But that wasn’t how God planned it. It is one of the hundreds of times in my life in which I was fortunate that I did not end up killing someone or myself. I’m not exaggerating. It isn’t an “I was a worse sinner than you” contest. I offer that number to give you an idea of the exceeding greatness of a God-Man, Jesus Christ, who could satisfy the wrath a sinner such as I deserved, through His sacrificial death on the cross and His glorious resurrection.
Is Ray Rice redeemable? He’s as redeemable as you and I. His redemptive worth is not based on himself, but on the worthiness of the Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Do you know Him? Are you saved by grace, through faith, because of the death, burial, and resurrection of the Christ? Repent and turn to Jesus today for He is always ready to forgive sinners, and he will not cast out any who come to Him!

Christian: how much time have you put into prayer for Ray Rice’s soul? Do you truly want to see him and his wife restored and raising their daughter to know Jesus?

I am Ray Rice. The Ray Rices of the world are our mission field. I thank God He never ran out of patience with me. I thank Him for the people who brought the gospel to me. I’m thankful I could not out-sin God’s grace, no matter how vile and wretched I was.

Again: men hitting women is wrong. Telling people who hit girls about forgiveness and salvation available only through Jesus is what Christians are called by God to do.

This is the point of the article: I am Ray Rice. You are Ray Rice. We are all Ray Rice. May God have mercy on our souls.

The Blessing of Brothers


"Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

"By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?
Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth."
1 John 3:13-18

To my left stands Michael Coughlin. To my right stands Dave Caldwell. They are my brothers.

Michael lives 2,239 miles away, in Columbus, OH. Dave lives 15 miles away in North Hills, CA. Michael is an Oracle Systems administrator and developer. Dave is the Dean of Men at an outstanding, private Christian school. The three of us couldn't be more different: a techie, a teacher, and a retired street cop. Our testimonies as to how each of us came to faith in Jesus Christ are very different, although we all share the common bond of being beneficiaries of God's amazing and sovereign grace, having all been saved by the monergistic grace of God alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. We've known each other for only three-four short years. They are my brothers.

We don't see much of each other--very little, in fact. Michael lives across the country. Dave is a full-time educator and part-time seminarian. As for me, well, I travel quite a bit and I'm almost always occupied doing something ministry-related. We are brothers.

Yesterday was a special day. By God's grace, I was allowed to spend time with not one, but both of my brothers in Christ. Michael came to town for the day, on his way to an evangelism conference in San Jose, CA. Having stayed the previous night with the Caldwell Family, Michael came with Dave to the school where Dave serves as an administrator, and I met them there. When the three of us came together, it was a celebration complete with pats on the back, laughs, and big hugs. The three of us spent time catching up before Dave had to get back to work.

Michael and I spent the next few hours enjoying a long lunch, full of conversation. We went back to the school so Michael could pick up his luggage and say goodbye to Dave, before I drove him to the bus station. While in Dave's office, he showed us two very old family bibles he had discovered in his grandfather's belongings, as well as a pocket New Testament carried by one of his relatives during World War II. More conversation. More jokes and laughter. More fellowship.

Michael and I stopped by Starbucks on our way to the bus stop. We had a little extra time, so we spent it talking about ministry. We made the best use of the 30-minute drive to the bus station, filling it with prayer. Since I was driving, Michael said he wouldn't be legalistic about me praying with my eyes open.

Humanly speaking, Michael, Dave, and I come from different families. We come from distinctly different backgrounds. We have very different life stories. I'm short. Michael is big. Dave is tall. Neither of them can grow a real mustache. Both of them, however, are far more intelligent than I am. We have different interests and we're separated by distance (long and short) and the busyness of life. But what we have in common overshadows every difference. What we have in common closes the gap of every mile. What we have in common has forged between us an eternal bond that cannot be broken.

What we have in common is Jesus Christ. What we have in common is salvation by the grace of God alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. What we have in common is the every-day, sanctifying work of loving God and loving people (the Two Greatest Commandments), and reaching the lost with the gospel (the Great Commission).

I am fortunate to enjoy other relationships like the ones I enjoy with Michael and Dave, with other brothers in Christ, literally around the world. I'm closer to men I have met but a few times than I am to family members I have known all my life. The Lord blesses me every day of my life, in so many ways--in good times and in bad. None of these blessings are earned or deserved. They are tangible testaments of a Father's love for an adopted son who deserves nothing but his Father's wrath, but who has instead received unmerited grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness.

Yesterday, I enjoyed an entire afternoon of blessing--the blessing of brothers. Thank You, Lord.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Public Response to a Request by MTV's Show 'Ridiculousness'

Dear Ryan Budds,

I want to take an opportunity, publicly, to respond to your several requests (email, Twitter, and a call to my home) to use the below video on an episode of your MTV program, "Ridiculousness."



First, while I know nothing at all about producing television programs, I suspect you are good at what you do--if for no other reason, the tenacity with which you pursue material for the program. I'm sure your program, which I have never seen, is very popular among the demographic you are trying to reach. And while I have not watched your program, I have been able to glean a general idea of the show's premise from online articles.

The Atlanta Black Star had this to say about Season Five of "Ridiculousness":
"Hosted by Rob Dyrdek, Ridiculousness takes the funniest amateur Internet videos and builds them into an episode of edgy, funny and, most importantly, timeless television. Driven by Dyrdek, the core content of Ridiculousness are the videos framed by Rob’s unique style, pacing and infectious energy. Rob breaks down the hottest clips, laughing along with co-hosts Sterling 'Steelo' Brim and Chanel West Coast (Fantasy Factory’s rapping receptionist). Shot on a studio set with an audience of fans and celebrity guests such as Johnny Knoxville (Wildboyz), Travis Pastrana (Nitro Circus) and Christopher 'Big Black' Boykin (Rob & Big), Ridiculousness brings the best of the Internet to MTV, taking the video clip show to the next level."
From your program's web page:
"Rob Dyrdek hosts an internet video clip show with celebrity guests and co-hosts Sterling 'Steelo' Brim and Chanel West Coast (Fantasy Factory's rapping receptionist).

"Ridiculousness is back with an all new third season, and Rob Dyrdek returns with his hilarious take on the greatest viral videos on the Internet. Along for the ride once again are co-hosts Sterling 'Steelo-O' Brim and Chanel West Coast, breaking down all new video categories like 'Nut Snipers', 'Russian Good Times, and 'Probably Florida'. With guests like Jersey Shore's Pauly D, Jackass's Steve-O and Bam Margera, and Hip Hop phenom Mac Miller, the third season of "Ridiculousness may just be the funniest one yet."
And from Wikipedia:
Ridiculousness shows various viral videos from the Internet, usually involving failed do-it-yourself attempts at stunts, to which Rob and his panelists add mock commentary. Although the format bears some similarity to viewer-submission driven shows such as America's Funniest Home Videos, Ridiculousness producers, as well as the show's network, MTV, do not accept viewer submissions and air a disclaimer before and after each episode warning that, because of the dangerous nature of the stunts being shown, any attempts to submit a video to the show will be discarded sight unseen."
So, my understanding, Ryan, is that your program is a comedy, using viral Internet videos as the either the setup or punchline for jokes. For that reason, Ryan, I must decline your request to use my video on your program.

I would like to say I am flattered by your request (I'm sure many people, maybe even some Christians, would jump at the opportunity), I cannot say that I am. Please don't misunderstand. I am not angry, upset, or offended by your request. I understand you are simply doing your job and trying to put together what you hope would be, consistent with your worldview, the most entertaining and successful program you can.

You see, Ryan; while some find funny what happened in the video, it wasn't funny to me. The video wasn't posted to draw laughter, although we knew it would. The video was posted because we wanted to get the gospel of Jesus Christ to as many people as possible. We know that most people who surf YouTube for entertainment are voyeuristic and love to see conflict. We also know that most people who surf YouTube hate Jesus. I'm not saying they hate Jesus because they surf YouTube. I'm saying that most people in the world hate Jesus, and some of them also surf YouTube. I hope you can understand the distinction. So, we knew that a preacher (me) getting hit in the face with a burrito or anything else would draw people to watch the video.

Ryan, your interest in the video has proven this hypothesis.

I was at the 2012 Super Bowl, in Indianapolis, along with more than 100 other Christians. We were there to preach the Law of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ to any of the hundreds-of-thousands of people there who would listen. What you saw in the video was not comedy (although you think it is). What you saw in the video was tragedy, as people in various stages of intoxication, engaged in various forms of depravity, showing their hatred for the God who created them. What you saw was the tragedy of a normal response toward Christians who try, in love, to share the reality of one-day facing God's wrath and judgment and the hope of receiving forgiveness of sin, through faith in Jesus Christ the Lord.

Ryan, considering the premise and goal of your program, if I were to allow you to air my video on your program I would actually be harming you, the show hosts and guests, and your viewing audience. For if I were to allow you to air my video so you can spend time on your show mocking what happened to me, then I would be helping you to facilitate the mocking of Jesus Christ and His gospel. I would be helping you, the show hosts and guests, and your viewers to heap God's wrath upon themselves for the Day of Wrath. For me to allow you to use my video, Ryan, would be an act of hatred toward you, not an act of love.

Ryan, you need to understand, when the anonymous person hit me in the back of the head with a dirt clod, and then moments later another person hit me in the face with a burrito, they weren't simply saying, "I hate you, preacher!" They were saying, "I hate what you are saying! I hate who you represent! I hate God!" To allow the opportunity for that kind of hatred to be extended to your staff, hosts, guests, and viewers would be to help them blaspheme God. I love you and them too much to allow that to happen.

I hope you've made it this far in my letter, Ryan. I hope you didn't close the page when you read I do not give consent to use my video.

Ryan, you and I will likely never meet, and we may never again communicate with each other. I want you to know that I truly care about you, as a fellow human being. You were created in the image of God. The Bible teaches me to obey two great commandments--to love God and to love people. And it is because of my love for God and my love for people, including you, that I must decline your request.

I hope and pray, Ryan, you will take the time to keep reading.

Jesus Christ is Lord.

He is the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. He was with the Father in and at Creation. All things--all things--were created by Him, and through Him, and for Him. Nothing has ever been made that was not made by Jesus Christ. He is the sinless Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world. He is also the Lion of the Tribe of Judah who will judge both the living and the dead. He is King of kings and Lord of Lords. He is sovereign over all things.

He owns every person, just as He owns the cattle on a thousand hills, and it matters not if, at present, the person is in wanton rebellion against Jesus Christ or one of His born-again, beloved children. Jesus owns it all. Jesus owns us all. God is. God is one. God is Three in One--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit--One God in Three Persons--the Triune One--the Trinity--God. And this God, for there is only one God, is the God before whom every person will one day stand to give an account for their lives. Because God alone is truly and perfectly good, He will judge each person according to the perfect moral standard He has written on every human heart.

Ryan, you know that it is a sin to lie because you know God is Truth. You know it is wrong to harbor bitterness, resentment, and hatred in your heart toward another person because you know God is love. You know it is wrong to fornicate (to engage sexually with a man or a woman outside the bonds of marriage between one man and one woman). You know it is wrong to look and think with lust. You know it is wrong to commit adultery. You know it is wrong to engage in homosexuality, lesbianism, or any other form of sexual depravity because you know God is Faithful. You know it is wrong to take the name of the Lord your God in vain, to bring his name down low and use it as an adjectival term of excitement, anger, sorrow, or fear, because you know God is Holy.

For the above reasons, and others, everyone who stands before God to give an account will do so without excuse. No one will be able to claim innocence or ignorance of violating God’s law--whether in thought, word, or deed. Because God is good, because He is holy, righteous and just, He must punish sin. The punishment God has determined for sin, all sin, is eternity in Hell. It matters not whether you believe this, Ryan. What matters is that it is true. Truth is not determined by what you or I believe. God is truth, though every person is found to be a liar. Truth is that which comports to reality, and any attempt to live life apart from the reality of God is to live a life of chaos, absurdity, arrogant denial, and sin.

Hang in there, Ryan. Don't stop reading. It won't kill you to keep reading, but it could cost you your soul to stop. I'm not being melodramatic; I'm simply giving you a reality check.

This same God--again, for there is only one God--who is angry with the wicked every day, whose wrath abides upon the ungodly, who will judge the world in righteousness, is the same God who is loving, merciful, gracious, and kind. And He showed His great love for mankind when He sent His Son to earth in the Person of Jesus Christ--fully God and fully Man, yet without sin.

Jesus of Nazareth, born of a virgin just as the prophet Isaiah declared more than 700 years before Jesus’s literal, physical birth, lived the perfect, sinless life you cannot live. For some 33 years, Jesus lived a life in perfect obedience to the law of God--in thought, word, and deed--a life you and I could not hope to live for a mere 33 seconds. And then He voluntarily went to the cross.

Yes, it was the Jewish people who hatefully and viciously demanded Jesus’s execution. Yes, it was the Roman government that carried out the despicable act. But they were all merely instruments in the hands of another. For it pleased God the Father to crush God the Son under the full weight and fury of His wrath against sin. God the Father made God the Son, who knew no sin, to become sin on behalf of those who repent and believe the gospel so that through the sacrifice of His Son many would be made righteous in the eyes of Almighty God. In other words, on that great and terrible day God the Father looked upon God the Son as if He had lived the depraved life of a sinner and in exchange--a great exchange--God the Father looks upon those whom He has caused to be born again, to repent and believe the gospel, as if they had lived His Son’s perfect, precious, and priceless life.

Jesus shed His innocent blood on the cross. He died a literal, physical death on the cross. And He was buried in a tomb not His own. Three days later, Jesus forever defeated sin and death when He physically, bodily rose from the grave. And unlike every false god created in the imaginations of men--whether the false gods of Islam, Catholicism, Mormonism, Hinduism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Oprah-ism, or Atheism (a religion like every other spiritual “ism.”)--Jesus Christ is alive today and He will return at a time of the Father’s choosing.

What God commands of you, Ryan, is the same thing He commands of me and all people everywhere, and that’s that you repent--turn from your sin and turn toward God--and by faith alone receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.

You must come to God on His terms, Ryan. God does not negotiate with sinners. God will not be bribed by your religious practices (if you are engaged in any) or what you may perceive as “good works” acceptable to God. God will not weigh your “good” against your “bad,” for God does not see you or anyone else as good--good in keeping with His standard of moral perfection. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, including you and me.

If you do not read the gospel of Jesus Christ and see it for what it is, good news, it is because you love your sin more than you love God. It is because you love yourself more than you love God. It is because the love of God and the Truth of His Word is not in you. But if God causes you to be born again, Ryan, and extends to you the gifts of repentance and faith, which only He can give, then He will take your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. You will begin to love the things God loves and hate the things God hates. You will stop presuming upon God’s forgiveness as if it is something you have earned or deserved. Instead, you will have the confident assurance He has forgiven you--not on the basis of any deeds you have done in righteousness, but based entirely upon God’s mercy, grace, and love.

And why would God allow His one and only Son to die a sinner’s death He did not deserve in order to take upon Himself the punishment sinners rightly deserve for their sins against God, so that sinners could be forgiven and saved? “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Ryan, I urge you, with love in my heart, to repent and receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, while God has given you time. And I do hope to hear from you again. You are in my prayers.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A Perfect Storm: Eschatology, Social Media, and a Sinful Heart

Just a Man

Regarding soteriology, I am a Calvinist, but I've never read The Institutes of Christian Religion.

Regarding apologetics, I am a Presuppositionalist, but I've never read Bahnsen or Van Til.

Regarding gender roles, I am a Complementarian, but I've never read Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood by Piper and Grudem; although I've read portions of the work while studying for a book I was writing.

Regarding eschatology, I am a Futuristic Premillennialist, but I've not yet read MacArthur and Mayhew's primer on the subject. However, many years ago, as part of my Greek Exegesis classwork, I conducted a detailed study of the Parousia (Second Coming of Christ), in I and II Thessalonians.

I share these factoids to say two things: 1) I am not as well read as many of my fellow Christian bloggers and those who are seen as online scholars; 2) I read my Bible a lot. This is not to say I read my Bible more than others do. Nor is this to say all I or any other Christian needs for his or her theological education is a well-worn and read Bible. I've met those who claim that the Bible is their only teacher. In each instance I can recall, the man or woman subscribed to one or many heresies and they made the Pharisees look like altar boys. Like you, the reader, I can thank God for many godly men who have taught me well from the pulpit, sitting next to me in the pew, over a burger or a cup of coffee, through their books, or through their online audios and videos.

My point: I study, but I'm not an expert in any particular theological discipline. While my areas of expertise have served me well in my previous profession, my day-to-day life, and my evangelistic ministry, and while I believe the Lord has given me a modicum of wisdom and discernment in 50 years of life (almost half of which I was unsaved), I'm just a man of average intelligence, limited skills, and a passion for preaching the gospel.

How I Blew It

On August 27, 2014, I went off on a bit of a rant on Facebook and Twitter (I have since closed my Facebook account), sharing some thoughts off the top of my head (occasionally a dangerous proposition), about a theological construct known as "Theonomy."

This is what I said on Twitter:


The reaction was immediate and impassioned. I knew it would be. I knew it would raise the ire of my Theonomist friends. But I did it anyway. I was wrong to do it. I threw darts. They found their marks. I blew it. I hurt the feelings of friends and I offended others. Like I said, I blew it.

So, on August 28, 2014, I apologized:


For some of my friends, my apology fell short. While only one friend contacted me to let me know, it was clear he was also speaking for others.

So, the same day, I apologized again:


Some of those hurt and offended accepted the apology straight away. Others said they accepted my apology and then proceeded to call me out to answer for my "attack on Theonomy." Still others could care less that I apologized and were going to exact from me the proverbial pound of flesh, using Straw Man arguments as their butcher knives.

I'm not complaining. No whining or sniveling, here. I brought it on myself. Whether or not I had all of it coming to me, none of the negative blow-back would have happened if I had simply not tried to make an eschatological argument in 140 characters or less. None of it would have happened if I hadn't let my sinful heart rule the moment.

Cage Stages

I first heard the term "cage stage" when I read Greg Dutcher's excellent book, Killing Calvinism: How to Destroy a Perfectly Good Theology from the Inside. Dr. James White explains it this way:
"I’ve seen it many times. The Cage Stage. A believer’s eyes are opened to the majesty of God as the sovereign King of the universe, and their entire life is turned upside down. And for a while, they have more zeal than they have knowledge. We call it the 'cage stage.' That period in the experience of the new Calvinist where they would be better off kept in a cage until they can gain enough maturity to handle these vitally important topics aright. That time when they are more likely to hurt themselves, and others! You know, when they are all running around smacking someone upside the head with Pink’s The Sovereignty of God? Yeah."
I went through the Calvinism "cage stage" about 25 years ago. I went through the Cessationism "cage stage" about the same time. It was a double-whammy. I went through the biblical evangelism "cage stage" about ten years ago. I know "cage stages." I know how ugly they can be for the person in the cage (people like me) and for those who come in contact with the "caged" theologian.

The latest "cage stage" is an eschatological one--the Theonomy Cage Stage. Even though I've been through a few "cage stages" of my own, instead of trying to reason with my Theonomist brethren who find themselves in a "cage stage" (and I am not speaking of all Theonomists), I rubbed raw, accusatory meat on my shirt, walked up to their cages, and repeatedly poked them with a sharp, social media stick.

Bad move. Dumb move. Sinful move.

A Perfect Storm

There's a storm brewin'. It's sizing up to be a "perfect storm."
"A 'perfect storm' is an expression that describes an event where a rare combination of circumstances will aggravate a situation drastically. The term is also used to describe an actual phenomenon that happens to occur in such a confluence, resulting in an event of unusual magnitude."
The "perfect storm," the rare combination of circumstances that is drastically aggravating the situation, the confluence of phenomenon that is producing an event of unusual magnitude, is the coming together of eschatological debate, social media, and sinful hearts. Instead of hearing the blaring sirens that warned of the coming storm, and instead of taking shelter in the shadow of my Lord's wings and keeping my mouth shut unless I had something positive (edifying) to contribute, I allowed myself to become yet one more unstable hot-air mass--adding to the unfruitful confluence of uncharitable rhetoric.

Well, I've decided I no longer want to be caught up in the storm. I certainly don't want to further add to its intensity. I'm done seeding the storm clouds with pithy one-liners and radio show segments.

I'm not conversant on the subject of eschatology. Some will undoubtedly use my admission against me. So be it. I know what I believe, but I have not taken the time to study the subject to wade into the deeper waters of the discussion. I do have serious misgivings about Theonomy, which are not to be confused with my feelings for Theonomists--at least the ones I know and respect. But before I speak again about those misgivings, I need to spend time studying my own position. When and if that time comes, then I will begin to study what my Theonomist brethren believe.

However, as I told a friend on the phone earlier today, I cannot invest 40 hours a week to the study of eschatology--my own position or the position of others. I have a gospel to preach. As a wise and respected pastor said today on Twitter (a tweet worth reading), "Some are so caught up contending for the faith they forget to spread it." I've allowed myself to do this, more than once--to get so caught up contending with other Christians about aspects of my faith that I've taken my eye off the ball--the spreading of the faith--the proclamation of the gospel.

Abandon Sinful Behaviors without Abandoning Theological Convictions

I humbly ask my Theonomist brethren to consider if this has become or is becoming true of them. Dear brothers and sisters, have you (like I have) allowed yourself get so caught up in contending for Theonomy that you're spending less time sharing the gospel? You don't owe me an answer. But please be humble enough to at least consider the possibility. Are you stuck in an eschatological "cage stage?" If you are in a "cage stage" (of any kind), it doesn't mean you have to abandon your commitment to your eschatological position. But you do have to abandon the uncharitable way in which you interact with people who disagree with you. You do have to abandon the haughtiness with which you defend your position. You do have to abandon the way you marginalize people who disagree with you by leaving them feel spiritually and intellectually inferior. You do have to abandon the way you intimate that you question the validity of the salvation of others because they do not subscribe to an eschatological point of view you yourself embraced only a short time ago.

Look: I know I have to do the same thing. I have to abandon sinful behaviors without abandoning theological convictions (unless, of course, my theological convictions are, according to Scripture, in error).

It's inevitable that someone will try to comment on this blog or on Twitter and accuse me of accusing them of a bunch of nasty stuff. Such an accusation would be a lie. Hey, if nothing I wrote above applies to you, great! If it does, all your venomous speech toward me won't change a thing. It will only serve to bolster my case regarding the existence of a theonomic "cage stage."

So, with that, and for the time being, I have nothing further to say about Theonomy. Now, I am not suggesting that everyone else should stop talking about Theonomy. As for me (and I'm speaking only for and about myself), I've got a gospel to preach, and this subject has proven to be a stumbling block for me. Maybe the day will come when I will talk and write about it again. I don't know when that will be or what will necessitate me talking about it again. Until then, I will continue to study to show myself approved--not to win the next debate, but to be further conformed to the image of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

There are plenty of enemies of Christ out there--enemies who need to hear the gospel. So, I will try to keep my fights limited to fights for their souls. As for this perfect storm--the combination of eschatology, social media, and sinful hearts--it's time for me to stop being a lightning rod. It's time for me to pray the storm will end. It's time for me to serve as a calming presence for those who seek to get out of the storm. Lord, help me.

Monday, September 8, 2014

When the Encouragement Doesn't Come

A brother in Christ sent me the following email:
"There are a lot of brothers and sisters out on the streets daily and weekly reaching the lost, saving babies at the murder mills, etc., all over this country. Some of these brothers and sisters are very high profile and receive praises and encouragement with every post on Facebook or Twitter.

"But there are also brothers and sisters out on the streets in their own small towns, all over the country, going door-to-door, open airing at the local events, handing out tracts and pleading for the life of the unborn that do not get the encouragement they sometimes desperately need (even from within their own churches).

"Here is why I am thinking of this: I get encouragement from my wife, my two brothers-in-the-Lord who go out with me, other evangelists around the country, and even within my church. I praise God for this! They keep me grounded, encouraged and humbled.

"But what started me thinking about this was what happened to me this past Saturday after proclaiming the gospel at the local DMV. For the first time, in over a year of proclaiming the gospel at the DMV almost every Saturday morning, a Christian came down from the DMV line to the sidewalk I was on and shook my hand, hugged me, and praised God that I was out there proclaiming the gospel open-air. We talked for quite a bit and while he said he was encouraged by me, I was greatly encouraged by him coming down to talk to me. He told me that he had been talking to some of the brothers in his church to start doing some street evangelism, along with the retirement home evangelism they already do, and him hearing me open-airing was a confirmation to him to get out on the streets too.

"Like I said, I get encouragement. It is good to get encouragement. But how many brothers and sisters are out there that never get the encouragement they may desperately need? They pour out their hearts day in and day out in reaching the lost or pleading for the unborn and never hear words of encouragement from fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord."
Having a general idea of the demographics of the people who read my blog, I have no doubt there are readers who can truly relate to the above email.

The Blessing and Curse of a "Following"

The majority of committed, faithful, biblical, street evangelists don't have "followings." They don't have thousands of people "liking" their Facebook pages or "retweeting" their posts. The evangelists who do have "followings" are the exception and not the rule. And, while I am both content and grateful where the Lord has me, and while over time I have learned to stop running away from the reality that, for better or worse, people follow my ministry, there are times when I covet the relatively obscure life of most biblical evangelists.

I do appreciate and personally benefit from what little popularity I have in evangelism circles. Every day, I receive words of encouragement from around the world. Where the Lord has me in life and ministry has afforded me opportunities to travel around the world, preach in many different pulpits, and make life-long friendship with brothers and sisters in Christ--opportunities I likely would never experience had not the Lord called me to preach the gospel in the open-air. I am very grateful to the Lord and to the Bride of Christ for these many blessings.

However, with these many blessings comes a higher almost hyper-level of scrutiny, with trolls both inside and outside the Body of Christ just waiting, hoping, for me to make a mistake or to do or say something they can perceive and twist and spin into a mistake. And there are others who believe that being on a social media "friends" or "followers" list entitles them to a familial level of access. I can't tell you how many times people I have never met, and will likely never meet, the moment after accepting their "friend" request, immediately private message me asking me for my cell phone number. Most often I don't respond. But when I do respond, telling the person I don't give my personal contact information to people I don't know, it's amazing how many times people get angry and say words like, "I thought we were friends."

There are other times when people have "followed" or "friended" me on social media simply to gather quotes that they can later twist in attack blog articles.

I can only begin to imagine what it is like for people who are actually well-known--people like my pastors, John MacArthur and Phil Johnson.

Recently, a young man on social media was very disappointed, even incensed, that I blocked him on Twitter and Facebook. I honestly don't remember the exact reason why I blocked him. He has all but stalked me, publicly making his disappointment known. I just shake my head and think, "Dude, get a grip. Being on my 'friends' list on Facebook or being able to see my posts on Twitter should not be this big-a-deal. I'm not that important." Being relatively well-known in evangelistic circles on social media is both a blessing and a curse.

While God is sovereign over everything, there remains a fine line between being given by God a certain level of notoriety or popularity for the purpose of edifying the Bride of Christ in the area of evangelism and sinful self-promotion. And that fine line moves differently in each person's life based on the sinfulness or godliness in his life, on any given day. There is not, at least to my knowledge, a static line of demarcation between God-given popularity and man-driven self-promotion. This is why the evangelist, like every Christian, must be engaged in the day-to-day pursuit of holiness, be wary of believing his own hype, and have close friends who are willing to say, "Tony, I think you're crossing that line."

Popularity, no matter how little it may be, can be a great blessing. But even the smallest amount of popularity can come at a substantial price. So, before you wish or even pray for more popularity or for more attention to be given to your biblical evangelism ministry, give yourself a moment of pause--a time of reflection and wisdom and discernment-seeking. You may not, in the end, really want that for which you are wishing or asking.

Let that be an encouragement to you.

When the Encouragement Doesn't Come

Embrace Obscurity

With the above in mind, I want to encourage those who find themselves serving Christ on the streets in what, to them, seems like obscurity to embrace it. That's right. Embrace it.

Do not covet another evangelist's ministry or what you might perceive as popularity (Exodus 20:17; Deuteronomy 5:21; 7:25; Luke 12:15; Acts 20:33; Romans 1:29; 7:7-8; 13:9; Ephesians 5:3-5; Colossians 3:5; James 4:2). It will only make you bitter, discontent, and it will take your eyes off "the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:12-16). James rightly and soberly wrote:
"Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace." (James 3:13-18).
There is a level of purity (maybe better descriptive terms are "innocence" or "simplicity" or "humility") in a ministry nestled in obscurity. And it is a purity that can be easily lost when jealousy and selfish ambition is allowed to creep in. When this happens, an otherwise faithful open-air preacher might begin to determine where or when he will preach based almost exclusively on the size of the crowd before him. One-to-One conversations might be engaged only if the other person allows the conversation to be audio or video recorded. And the distribution of gospel tracts might become passe--an activity relegated to the newbie evangelist.

I can think of wonderful men and women of God engaged in faithful evangelistic ministry who are little known or virtually unknown to the evangelistic Christian masses (still, sadly, a relatively small mass), brothers and sisters in Christ who have been at it twice as long as I have, who have shared the gospel with far more people than I have--maybe more than I ever will. They've lived in an American Evangelical world and are, for all intents and purposes, ignored, even shunned, by not only their Christian friends, but their church families. They have gone long periods of time without so much as a hand on the shoulder from another Christian, saying to them, "I appreciate what you do for Christ and your love for the lost."

While these dear saints (Christians who will no doubt have more crowns to lay at the Master's feet than I will) certainly want to receive more encouragement than they do, they have a strength of character, a maturity of faith, and a humility of spirit that allows and enables them to embrace obscurity while drawing strength and encouragement from the Word of the Lord and the Lord of the Word.

Find Encouragement at the Source

The brother who sent me the email enjoys regular encouragement from other evangelists and his church family. I cannot praise and thank God enough for that. Would that every evangelist I know (either personally, or through social media, or through reputation) be encouraged every day by the Bride of Christ! Lord, please hear my prayer!

The reality is that some of God's greatest voices--from Noah, to Moses, to the prophets, to the apostles, to the great pastors and open-air preachers throughout Church history--lived lives, even if they were not obscure lives, that saw more discouragement than encouragement. Let's not forget that Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, saw just two converts in 40-50 years of prophetic ministry. Let's not forget Elijah tried to run from his prophetic responsibility (and for his life), all-the-while thinking he was the only man of God still standing (or hiding). Encouragement received was not the motivation of these men of God. Their motivation was love for God and love for their people. If encouragement came, it came from the Lord Himself.

Hans Nielsen Hauge, Robert Annan, Robert Flockhart: these great open-air preachers, known today by just a few lovers of Church history who include open-air preaching as part of that history, understood obscurity and discouragement. They understood being alone, traveling miles and miles on foot alone, being locked up alone in prison cells and asylums. But nothing could deter them. Nothing could cause them to take their bibles, hymnals, and gospel tracts and go home. Their love for Christ, their love for His Word, their love for the lost was simply too great.

Men gone for hundreds of years have been replaced, by the Lord, throughout the world, by faithful men who aren't bloggers. They don't have YouTube channels. They are not on Facebook or Twitter (God bless them). They don't lead para-church ministries. They don't have a "following." They simply follow Christ and preach the Word to everyone who can hear and to anyone who will listen. I would mention their names, but why would I intrude upon the obscurity they've embraced? I love them too much.

The above groups of men--whether long-gone or who today regularly battle discouragement, but remain faithful to the commitment to preach the gospel in the open-air--found/find encouragement at the Source. So, in addition to embracing obscurity (if that's where the Lord has you), I want to encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ that are engaged in evangelism to find encouragement at the Source--the Word of God. And please allow me to get you started.

Find comfort in Him, my discouraged brother or sister.
"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me" (Psalm 23:4).

"You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again. You will increase my greatness and comfort me again. I will also praise you with the harp for your faithfulness, O my God; I will sing praises to you with the lyre, O Holy One of Israel" (Psalm 71:20-22).

"This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life" (Psalm 119:50).

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort" (2 Corinthians 1:3-7).

"Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word" (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17).
You are never alone, my discouraged brother or sister.
"'I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.' Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, 'Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?' Jesus answered him, 'If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me.

'These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid'" (John 14:18-27).

"I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them" (John 17:20-26).
Nothing you do for the Lord Jesus Christ, my discouraged brother or sister, is ever in vain.
"I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
'Death is swallowed up in victory.'
'O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?'
"The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

"Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain" (1 Corinthians 15:50-58).
And never forget, my discouraged brother or sister, you preach, you engage people in conversation, you distribute gospel tracts for an audience of One and for the glory of One.
"Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength! Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering and come before him! Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth; yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved" (1 Chronicles 16:28-30).
Conclusion

Has it been a while, my evangelistic brother or sister in Christ, since anyone encouraged you. I pray today will be the end of that season of neglect. I pray what I've written here, as simple as it is, is an encouragement to you.

Be encouraged, and don't quit, my brothers and sisters! If you find yourself evangelistically serving the Lord in a place or a season of obscurity, embrace it! Thank God for allowing you to serve Him without the often negative trappings of popularity. And when the moments of encouragement are few and far between, turn to the Source, dear brethren. Turn to Christ! Turn to His Word! Find encouragement on your knees or with your nose in His Book! Find the encouragement you need, whenever you need it, at the Source of life--life temporal and eternal.

To my Christian brethren who may not be climbing down into the well of street evangelism: are you holding the rope for someone who is climbing down into the well?

I am blessed to have many "rope holders" in my life--Christian brothers and sisters who pray for me and the work to which God has called me. I have many "rope holders" in my life who are slow to criticize, but are very quick to provide a word of encouragement--an email, a Twitter or Facebook comment, and note waiting for me in the mail box (yes people still write letters).

How about you? Do you know a brother or sister in Christ who faithfully distributes gospel tracts, more often than not alone? When was the last time you prayed for him or her? When was the last time you prayed and then told your brother or sister you were doing so?

When was the last time you asked your brother or sister who stands on a corner, rain or shine, holding a cross or a Christ-honoring sign how they were doing? When was the last time you asked him in an inquisitive, caring, non-interrogative way about his ministry (it is a ministry, by the way)?

Do you know an open-air preacher in your church? When was the last time (if you ever have) asked him if you could join him and pray for him while he preaches? Are you there to tend to your brother's physical and emotional wounds when he comes off the God-hating, unloving field of battle? Or do you keep a discreet distance so as not to get the stench of the unwashed masses on you? Or is it that being in the presence of someone who truly loves Jesus and the lost makes you feel too guilty to befriend and pray for the open-air preacher?

Yep. Consider yourself spanked. You'll survive.

There's likely a brother or sister in Christ, in your church, who is faithful to proclaim the gospel in any one of many ways who could use your encouragement, right now. What will you do? There are people you likely know, Christians who are trying to obey Christ and reach the lost with the gospel who need encouragement, right now. What will you do?

How do you feel when the encouragement doesn't come?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Penciled Prayers: At My Best I Need a Pardon

"Let the holiest and best things we do be considered. We are never better affected unto God than when we pray; yet when we pray, how are our affections many times distracted! How little reverence do we show unto the grand majesty of God unto whom we speak! How little remorse of our own miseries! How little taste of the sweet influence of His tender mercies do we feel! Are we not as unwilling many times to begin, and as glad to make an end, as if in saying, 'Call upon Me,' He had set us a very burdensome task? It may seem somewhat extreme, which I will speak; therefore, let every one judge of it, even as his own heart shall tell him, and not otherwise; I will but only make a demand! If God should yield unto us, not as unto Abraham--if fifty, forty, thirty, twenty, yea, or if ten good persons could be found in a city, for their sakes this city should not be destroyed; but, and if He should make us an offer thus large, 'Search all the generations of men since the fall of our father Adam, find one man that hath done one action which hath passed from him pure, without any stain or blemish at all; and for that one man's only action neither man nor angel should feel the torments which are prepared for both,' do you think that this ransom to deliver men and angels could be found to be among the sons of men? The best things which we do have somewhat in them to be pardoned" ("Learned Discourse of Justification," a sermon by Richard Hooker, as quoted in "Holiness," by J.C. Ryle, p. 10).

Father, I thank You for the cross of Your Son, my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I come before You, Lord, as I always do, sullied by the filth of my own sin, and finding peace only in the royal garments of Christ my Savior--finding solace only in the righteousness of my King--the only Sovereign God. Even though I am cleansed, washed clean by the blood of Your Son, I confess my sin to You. I take not for granted the gift of Your forgiveness, understanding it is not based on anything I have done in righteousness (in and of myself I have no righteousness), but rather based on Your mercy, that I receive forgiveness and grace.

O Lord, forgive me, please, for the little reverence I show to You and the awe I express in recognition of Your grand majesty. Father, forgive me, please, for what little remorse I show when I come to You for forgiveness. I have yet to comprehend, and I doubt I will ever comprehend this side of heaven, how sinful my sin is--how detestable my sin is in your eyes. So many times I have read the story of Abraham's petition before you, for the sparing of Sodom and Gomorrah, and scoffed or thought with an almost indignant wonder, "How was Lot righteous? Look at Him, Lord! Look at his family!" How arrogant of me, Father, to put myself above Lot--to sit in judgment of him. How prideful of me, Father, to have such a low and casual view of my sin as if to say You would have saved the two cities if I had lived there. Lord, if but a single, dirty worm crawling across the ground rested the sparing of its life upon the genuineness and power of my righteousness, that worm would die in flames. I do not have the inherent righteousness to warrant the saving of even one, filthy worm.

Can I ever speak low enough about myself, Father, without in some way taking pride in my expression of humility? Can I ever take a low enough view of myself, a right view of the sinfulness of my sin, without seeking to elevate myself by way of the admission? O Lord, even my humility is tainted by my sin! At my best, dear Lord, I need a pardon. If ever in a moment I draw remotely close to walking humbly before You, I need Your pardon.

And thanks be to God Most High, the Lord God Almighty, for His indescribable gift! O Father, when I am at my best I need the mercy won at the cross! On my best day, at my best moment, how I need the pardon secured for me at the cross! Thank You, Lord, for the pardon You won for me as You shed Your innocent blood on the cross. Thank You, Lord God, that You determined in eternity past that the shedding of Your Son's blood on a Roman cross would be vicarious, propitiatory, and efficacious for me! O how great is my sin that it would require so great a sacrifice. An how great is the love of my Lord and Savior that He made such a great sacrifice for me!

At my best, I deserve Your wrath, condemnation, and eternal punishment, Lord. At my best, I have no hope apart from Your grace. At my best, I earn and deserve only pain and misery. At my best, dear Lord, I need a pardon--a pardon only You can provide. You alone have the authority, grace, mercy, love, power and judicial prerogative to grant me a pardon--to grant me salvation by Your grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone.

Oh, how unworthy I am, Father, to receive anything good from You. How unworthy I am to receive the greatest gift You could ever give a sinner like me--a pardon. There was nothing arbitrary about my pardon. You did not pardon me on a whim, Father. While I can speak of what it cost You, and while I can understand to the extent a redeemed man can understand what it cost You, I've yet to fully comprehend the enormity of the price You paid to pardon me. My finite and flawed mind cannot wrap my head around the pure, perfect, and priceless nature and infinite power of Your sacrifice on my behalf, Lord Jesus. So great is your pardon of me!

Father, who art in heaven, help me to grow every day by shrinking my pride. Help me to grow every day by deepening my understanding of the sinfulness of my sin. Help me to grow every day in conformity to the image of Your Son, my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Let me never again forget, not for a moment, that when I am at my best, I never rise above my eternal need for a pardon--Your pardon, Lord.

In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Why Many Police Officers Won't Enter the Doors of Your Church, Pastor

Deputy Sheriff Raul V. Gama
Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, CA
EOW: Tuesday, May 1, 2007
Cause of Death: Automobile accident

Deputy Sheriff David Stan Piquette
Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, CA
EOW: Friday, July 7, 2006
Cause of Death: Vehicular assault

Deputy Sheriff Maria Cecilia Rosa
Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, CA
EOW: Tuesday, March 28, 2006
Cause of Death: Gunfire

Deputy Sheriff Pierre Walter Bain
Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, CA
EOW: Thursday, March 23, 2006
Cause of Death: Motorcycle accident

Deputy Sheriff Jerry Ortiz
Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, CA
EOW: Friday, June 24, 2005
Cause of Death: Gunfire

Deputy Sheriff James Phillip Tutino
Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, CA
EOW: Wednesday, January 26, 2005
Cause of Death: Vehicular assault

Deputy Sheriff Michael Richard Arruda
Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, CA
EOW: Tuesday, June 15, 2004
Cause of Death: Gunfire (Accidental)

Deputy Stephen Douglas Sorensen
Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, CA
EOW: Saturday, August 2, 2003
Cause of Death: Gunfire

Deputy Sheriff David Alan Powell
Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, CA
EOW: Saturday, November 30, 2002
Cause of Death: Gunfire

Deputy Sheriff David William March
Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, CA
EOW: Monday, April 29, 2002
Cause of Death: Gunfire

Deputy Sheriff Hagop Jake Kuredjian
Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, CA
EOW: Friday, August 31, 2001
Cause of Death: Gunfire

All fallen heroes: men and women who gave their lives in the line-of-duty. There are, of course, many others. Too many.

Why have I listed these 11 fallen deputy sheriffs? Yes, they were all members of my department. Yes, they were all killed in the line-of-duty while I served as a deputy sheriff. But during my 20 years with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department there were several others killed in the line-of-duty. The fact that I have not listed all of those who made the ultimate sacrifice during my tenure as a law enforcement professional in no way whatsoever should be seen as slight. In no way should the fact that their names are not listed above be seen as a failure on my part to love and respect them or to give proper tribute to their heroism.

What is unique about the above list, at least in my life, is that I was an on-scene chaplain for all 11 of the above line-of-duty deaths. I ministered to their families. I ministered to their brothers and sisters behind the badge, whether they wore the tan and green of the LASD, blue, or black uniforms. I attended their funerals. I wept alongside my law enforcement brethren. And I was given the honor and privilege to preach the gospel to some 5,000 uniformed officers as I officiated the memorial service of one of the above-listed heroes.

I remember all of their names, all of their faces, how they died. I remember every thought, every feeling, as I tried to serve and comfort my law enforcement family. Some of those memories still fill me with pain and sorrow.

I remember men, real men of strength and courage collapse in my arms, stricken by grief unbearable.

I remember holding one of my law enforcement brethren in my arms, the front of his uniform covered in the blood of a fallen brother with whom we had both served.

I remember having to tell the younger brother of a fallen hero that his brother was dead.

I remember taking family members of fallen heroes to the place where their loved one gave the last full measure.

I remember watching these family members ask me to show them the "exact spot" their fallen hero fell, and then have them drop to the ground as they caressed the spot with their hands, as if to touch their fallen hero one more time.

I remember every memorial park and memorial statue dedication for which I was asked to provide an invocation and the reopening of wounds they caused. I remember well-intended, respectful, honorable, and caring city, county, and state officials, as well as citizen groups doing their very best to pay proper homage to a fallen hero, while never knowing, never understanding that the uniformed personnel in attendance, while grateful, just wished the ceremonies would stop so their healing could begin.

Writing this brings me to tears.


Saturday, August 9, 2014

Officer Darren Wilson, a 28-year-old, six-year veteran of the Ferguson Police Department, with a discipline-free service record, was working a one-man patrol unit, on Saturday, August 9, 2014. While assisting paramedics on a “sick call,” a call came out of a “strong-armed robbery” at a convenience store, at 11:51 AM. The handling officer puts out a description of the suspects. Officer Wilson leaves the “sick call” to assist on the “strong-arm robbery” call.

At approximately 12:01 PM, Officer Wilson encounters Michael Brown (18-years-old, 6’4”, 300 lbs) and his friend, Dorian Johnson, on the street. Officer Wilson orders the two to stop walking in the middle of the street, because they were obstructing traffic. Brown and Johnson ignore Officer Wilson’s lawful order. Officer Wilson starts to get out of his car to contact the two men.

Michael Brown allegedly attacks Officer Wilson, shoving him back into his patrol car. Brown beats Officer Wilson about the head and face, seriously injuring Officer Wilson. It has been reported that Officer Wilson sustained an orbital blowout fracture to one of his eye sockets.

During the fight inside the patrol car, Officer Wilson’s weapon discharges as the two men struggle for control of Officer Wilson's gun. It is unknown at this time if Officer Wilson or Michael Brown fired the first shot from Officer Wilson’s gun.

Michael Brown stops his attack on Officer Wilson and begins to walk away. Officer Wilson, with his gun drawn, orders Brown to stop. Brown turns around, reportedly raises his hands in the air, and says words to the affect, “What? Are you going to shoot me?”

Brown then allegedly charges back toward Officer Wilson. Officer Wilson fires several rounds, striking Brown several times in the right arm and in the head. Brown falls to the ground and dies at the scene.

Everything I just shared with you—from the time Officer Wilson contacts Brown and Johnson in the middle of the street, until the first unit arrives on scene—three minutes elapsed.

THREE MINUTES.


The Aftermath and Perspective

USA Today provides a fairly objective timeline of not only the confrontation between Officer Wilson and Michael Brown, but of the unrest and rioting that ensued in the days following the incident.

I watched via online news outlets as the situation quickly deteriorated in Ferguson, MO. The sights and sounds took me back to three days in the Spring of 1992 when I was called to South Central Los Angeles with other deputy sheriffs to assist the Los Angeles Police Department in the protection of life and property and in the restoration of law and order, during what came to be known as the "Rodney King Riots."

I remember driving in a caravan of patrol cars from Santa Clarita Valley Station to South Central Los Angeles. I remember being struck by the fact that we were the only cars driving into the city. I remember seeing black smoke rising from what seemed like a hundred different places. I remember getting off the freeway, entering the city streets, and saying under my breath, "This is a war zone."

I remember seeing men, women, and children--mostly people of color--running in and out of vandalized businesses carrying property not their own. I will never forget, as long as I live, the sight of a little girl--maybe seven-years-old--running out of an electronics store carrying a boxed piece of equipment. I remember sardonically asking myself, "What is she angry about?"

I realized at that moment that the riots were less about what many perceived to be a miscarriage of justice in a case of alleged police brutality, and more about criminal opportunism. I realized at that moment that people of color were preying upon and victimizing other people of color. And why? They saw an opportunity to commit crime and use perceived racism on the part of the police to justify their criminal behavior.

Rodney King, now deceased, was black. The officers who detained and tried to subdue him, and subsequently used a considerable amount of force against him were white. And now black people of all ages were venting their rage against..........other black people, black business owners, their neighbors. They weren't traveling to predominantly white communities to loot and destroy white businesses. They were committing crimes of opportunity and convenience, disguised as rage against the machine--the white machine.

It is very important to note, here, that no reasonable person can deny that there have been instances of police brutality against people of color. Anyone who denies this is either woefully ignorant or blatantly dishonest. Yes, racism is real. And yes, there are police officers who are racists. I can say that because I believe I worked with a few. But the fact that an incident takes place between an officer of one race and a person of another race (regardless of what races are involved) does not, by default, make the incident racially motivated on the part of either person.

For the record: I believe there is only one race--the human race. I believe there is one race comprised of many different people groups. But we are all part of the same race.


Profiling: Racial and Otherwise

Racism is color blind. There is racism against whites, blacks, Latinos, Asians, etc. Racism in all its forms, against anyone, is wrong.

Are there officers on the streets who profile people solely on the basis of race? Yes. And that is wrong. No one should be presumed guilty for no other reason than the color of their skin, whether white or any other shade. But there are legitimate forms of profiling.

Yes, the law enforcement community engages in profiling. Based on years of training and experience, law enforcement professionals are able to distinguish, with a level of accuracy foreign to the civilian populace, the good guys from the bad guys--regardless of the race of the individual being profiled. While hesitant to bring on visions of Jack Nicholson in "A Few Good Men," you want officers to profile. You need officers to profile.

When an officer sees a man late at night, riding a bicycle with no lights or reflectors, with a pair of bolt cutters in his hand, you want the officer to assume he is coming to burglarize your home and not give him the benefit of the doubt and think the man locked himself out of his own house.

When an officer sees four teenage boys walking into your high-dollar jewelry store, you want the officer to think they may be coming into your store to rob you. You don't want the officer to think that they are all looking for engagement rings they won't need for about ten years.

When an officer sees a middle-aged man sitting alone in a car, near an elementary school, but away from where parents usually park, you want the officer to think he may be a predator who is waiting to prey upon a child. You don't want the officer to assume the man is just a dad waiting for his child to get out of school.

I could go on for hours.

The point should be obvious. You want officers to do things that make you uncomfortable, within the confines of the law; you just don't want to know about it. You want officers to profile, to err on the side of caution, protection, and service--to be proactive instead of reactive in their enforcement efforts. You want officers to profile, so long as it never touches you. You want officers to stop speeders on your street. After all, you've complained to the station enough about teenagers racing up and down the street. You want officers to pull people over. Yet you cry, "Foul!" You cry, "Profiling!" if your son or daughter gets stopped for speeding on your own street.

And lest it go unconsidered and unchallenged if it is not mentioned here: you, the reader, profile every day of your life. You walk on one side of the street or the other based on who is on the other side of the street--a person, regardless of race, who makes you feel uncomfortable. You profile certain parts of your city--areas you deem safe or unsafe to venture into after dark. You profile people you believe live on the "other side of the tracks," regardless of what side of the tracks you find yourself.

You say you don't want police to profile people, yet you humph with disgust when a 90-year-old black, Mexican, Asian, or white woman is searched by TSA--maybe your grandmother, while wishing (although too afraid to say it aloud out of fear of being labeled a "racist") the officers would search the group of Middle-Eastern-looking men boarding your plane in front of you.

And you profile people who come into your church, visitors, regardless of their race. You look at how they dress. You watch to see if they will raise or clap their hands during worship. You watch to see if they put something in the plate or let it pass by. You decide if they are "right" for your church, without every walking up to them to say, "Hello."

Please don't decry the race-free profiling officers do based on years of training and experience, as they work not only in your community, but in the parts of your community about which you would rather not think. Please don't snort a self-righteous snort, turning your nose up at officers, when you profile every day of your life.

Don't be a hypocrite.


Police Brutality Is Always Wrong

Police brutality, the use of force at a level that can be deemed, beyond a reasonable doubt, above and beyond that level of force necessary to overcome the resistance of an assailant, is never appropriate. I say this, not as an armchair quarterback, but as a retired law enforcement professional who seeks to be consistent and just in my position. Officers who use what is defined by law (not by the emotional opinions of the populace) as excessive force should be held accountable for their actions--without exception. No officer is above the law. No officer who thinks he is above the law is fit for duty. He is a disgrace to his uniform and profession.

As of yet, no evidence has been submitted to or weighed by a jury of Officer Wilson's peers that indicates the deadly force Officer Wilson used was either unreasonable or excessive. Why? The investigation is ongoing.

As of yet, there is not a shred of evidence--NONE--that the tragic incident that occurred between Officer Darren Wilson and Michael Brown was racially motivated, on the part of either man. Officer Wilson and Michael Brown have not made this tragedy about race. The armchair quarterbacks, pundits, race-baiters, media, and rioters have made this about race.

Sadly, some well-known and respected Christian pastors and theologians (men I respect and admire) have fanned the racial flames by joining (albeit in all likelihood unintentionally) the likes of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, discredited men of ill-repute, by offering inflammatory rhetoric on social media platforms. Some have drawn negative conclusions not only about Officer Darren Wilson, but of the law enforcement profession as a whole. They have drawn these conclusions with pens and keystrokes, with nothing more than hearsay, innuendo, and regurgitated incomplete and sometimes erroneous information upon which to draw their conclusions. The evidence has not yet been presented, let alone weighed, yet some pastors have tried and convicted Officer Wilson while furthering the errant characterization of Michael Brown as an innocent teen and the law enforcement community as an out-of-control mob of thugs.

And that's why police officers won't be coming to your church this Sunday, pastor.


Why Police Officers Won't Come to Your Church, Pastor

Members of the law enforcement community are on Facebook and Twitter. They have searched the same hashtags you have: #MichaelBrown, #DarrenWilson, #Ferguson, #riots, #racism, #NoJusticeNoPeace, etc. They have searched the hashtags you have used, pastor.

Members of the law enforcement community read the news, both print and online. They watch the news on TV. They see "Right Reverend So-and-So" asking for Officer Wilson's head on a platter.

Members of the law enforcement community see you, pastor, yell, "No Justice! No peace!" They were told once that Christian pastors are supposed to be ministers of reconciliation. They were told once that Christian pastors were men who, because they believe the Bible, also believe in law, order, justice, truth, forgiveness, mercy, grace, and hope. And then they read your blog, or see your tweet, or see your Facebook post, or see you in front of the camera and microphone. And they profile you.

Members of the law enforcement community determine, based on years of training and experience, that you don't really care about them or their families. You're one of "them." In their mind, you're just another "man of God" looking for your 15 minutes. In their mind, you're just another clergyman jumping on the anti-law enforcement bandwagon. In their mind, you'll shake hands with the Chief of Police; you'll join in the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new police station or the new tactical piece of equipment to help in the war on drugs and gang violence in your community; you'll claim to be a bridge-builder between the police and the community. But at the first sign of trouble, you who represent the crucified and risen Savior will crucify an officer. You'll give the strong-arm robbery suspect the benefit of the doubt, not the police officer.

Pastor, you will yell, "Peace! Peace!" where there is no peace. And there is no peace, at least not which can be attributed to you, because you choose to set aside your God-given ministry of reconciliation and pursue a ministry of vilification. Pastor, can you see through the haze of what you call "righteous indignation" long enough to see why police officers won't come to your church for help, for comfort, for solace, for healing.....for Christ?

Pastor, I implore you to seek God for more wisdom, more discernment, more discretion, more Christ-likeness before you ever again insert yourself as a voice in the aftermath of a critical incident involving law enforcement. Instead of inciting rioters to rebel against authority, preach the gospel to those who loot businesses, steal from their neighbors, hurt other people with murder in their heart, and are bound for hell unless they repent and receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Instead of fanning the flames of unrest and rebellion with your 140-character attacks against law enforcement, use those 140 characters to call all people, on both sides of the divide, to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. Instead of marginalizing and jeopardizing members of the law enforcement family and their families 140 characters at a time, tell the world there can be no peace without believing the gospel of peace and submission to Christ as Lord.

And pastor, don't worry. No matter what you think of the law enforcement community, they will come when you call.


We Will Always Come When Called

One of the things I love most about my law enforcement brethren is that no matter how much they are despised by Christians and non-Christians alike, they will still come when called. They will still risk their lives to handle the situations you either can't or won't, pastor. They won't ask your political or religious persuasion before they help you. They won't ask the color of your skin before they respond to your house ablaze and pull you out, or crawl into your overturned car to render aid, or rush to your store or home while a robbery is in progress, or rush to your church when a madman enters waving a gun. They are willing to die for you, knowing you will likely stand by, watch, and do nothing while they are assaulted in the middle of your street.

Yes, they all knew the job was dangerous when they took it. My law enforcement brethren don't want your pity. They've learned not to expect your praise or thanks. Sad, isn't it?

Yes, there are "bad cops." The law enforcement community draws from the same fallible human race as every other profession--the same human race to which you belong, pastor. Officers who violate the law or department policies should be disciplined accordingly. No good officer will disagree. That being said: the vast majority of law enforcement professionals do the job because they genuinely want to protect and serve. They want to do that which most human beings lack the requisite selflessness and courage to do--protect and serve.

And pastor, with integrity of heart, I hope you can keep this in mind. If, God forbid I pray, anyone ever tries to break into your home in the middle of the night, you will not call community leaders. You will not call activists. You will not call the young men hanging out in the neighborhood. You will call the police.

Pastor, if I was still serving as a deputy sheriff, I would come if you called, in spite of how you have behaved in the aftermath of the Ferguson situation.

Deputy Sheriff Raul V. Gama, Deputy Sheriff David Stan Piquette, Deputy Sheriff Maria Cecilia Rosa, Deputy Sheriff Pierre Walter Bain, Deputy Sheriff Jerry Ortiz, Deputy Sheriff James Phillip Tutino, Deputy Sheriff Michael Richard Arruda, Deputy Stephen Douglas Sorensen, Deputy Sheriff David Alan Powell, Deputy Sheriff David William March, and Deputy Sheriff Hagop Jake Kuredjian: if they were still alive, if they had not already given the last full measure and made the ultimate sacrifice, they too would come if you called, pastor.

Please, pastor, please; try to remember this the next time you rest your hands on your keyboard and get ready to type.


To My Brothers and Sisters Behind the Badge

I would be remiss if I did not make something as clear as possible.

The pastors I have addressed in this article represent a vocal, ill-informed, and mistaken few. They do not represent the wider Body of Christ. They do not represent the many, many pastors and churches who love you for who you are and what you do. The majority of Christians, including pastors, greatly appreciate your sacrificial service on behalf of the communities you protect and serve. They pray for you because you are the front line of defense, law, and order in every government instituted by God (Romans 13:1-5). They pray for your families because in their congregations are your brothers and sisters behind the badge who have shared with their church families a glimpse of what life is like behind the badge.

Christians are taught by good pastors to respect authority and to live according to the laws of the land so long as those laws do not contradict what God commands of His people. And some of the pastors making the most noise against law enforcement, right now, as hard as it may be to believe, are actually good pastors. They simply have a sinful blind spot in some areas when it comes to law enforcement. That's not an excuse for their behavior; they are without excuse.

Yes, we in the law enforcement community profile people. We're good at it. And it is a tactic we must employ to safely and professionally work the streets. But, sometimes we're wrong. Sometimes we profile everyone in a group as acting and thinking the same way, when it is only a few in a the group that taints the reputation of the rest of the group. We know that within a gang-infested neighborhood there are law-abiding citizens--the kind of people we want to help, protect, and serve. We know that it only takes a few criminals in a neighborhood to taint the reputation of the entire community. We savor like a breath of fresh air the person in the community who says "thank you," who points us to problem areas, who advocates for us with their neighbors. And it makes us want to fight harder for that community and try a little harder to give the good folks in the neighborhood the benefit of the doubt.

I know it's easy to lump all pastors and professing Christians in with those pastors and professing Christians who are quick to play the race card, who are quick to scream for justice with no concern as to whether or not an officer involved in a shooting or other critical incident receives justice. I know because I have struggled with this at times and I am a Christian who has served as a deputy sheriff, a pastor, and a law enforcement chaplain.

I also know it's easy to lump God in with those in the Christian community who mistreat you, who don't appreciate you, who vilify you, who disdain you.

Please know, my brothers and sisters behind the badge, what I'm about to say to you I say because I love you as if you were my own flesh and blood.

You, as well as anyone, know how fragile life is. You know that tomorrow isn't promised to anyone, including you. But you must also know this. When you die and stand before God, you will not be able to use as a defense for your own sins against God the way you were mistreated by those who say, "In Jesus' name." You will not give an account for the sins committed against you by professing Christians. You will give an account before God for the sins you have committed against Him. He will judge each person according to the perfect moral standard He has written on every human heart.

You know it is a sin to lie because they know God is Truth. You know it is wrong to harbor bitterness, resentment, and hatred in their heart toward another person because they know God is love. You know it is wrong to fornicate (to engage sexually with a man or a woman outside the bonds of marriage between one man and one woman). You know it is wrong to look and think with lust. You know it is wrong to commit adultery. You know it is wrong to engage in homosexuality, lesbianism, or any other form of sexual depravity because you know God is Faithful. You know it is wrong to take the name of the Lord your God in vain, to bring his name down low and use it as an adjectival term of excitement, anger, sorrow, or fear, because you know God is Holy.

For the above reasons, and others, everyone who stands before God to give an account will do so without excuse. No one will be able to claim innocence or ignorance of violating God’s law--whether in thought, word, or deed. Because God is good, because He is holy, righteous and just, He must punish sin. The punishment God has determined for sin, all sin, is eternity in Hell. It matters not whether you believe this. What matters is that it is true. Truth is not determined by what one believes. God is truth, though every person is found to be a liar. Truth is that which comports to reality, and any attempt to live life apart from the reality of God is to live a life of chaos, absurdity, arrogant denial, and sin.

This same God--again, for there is only one God--who is angry with the wicked every day, whose wrath abides upon the ungodly, who will judge the world in righteousness, is the same God who is loving, merciful, gracious, and kind. And He showed His great love for mankind when He sent His Son to earth in the Person of Jesus Christ--fully God and fully Man, yet without sin.

Jesus of Nazareth, born of a virgin just as the prophet Isaiah declared more than 700 years before Jesus’s literal, physical birth, lived the perfect, sinless life you cannot live. For some 33 years, Jesus lived a life in perfect obedience to the law of God--in thought, word, and deed--a life you and I could not hope to live for a mere 33 seconds. And then He voluntarily went to the cross.

Yes, it was the Jewish people who hatefully and viciously demanded Jesus’s execution. Yes, it was the Roman government that carried out the despicable act. But they were all merely instruments in the hands of another. For it pleased God the Father to crush God the Son under the full weight and fury of His wrath against sin. God the Father made God the Son, who knew no sin, to become sin on behalf of those who repent and believe the gospel so that through the sacrifice of His Son many would be made righteous in the eyes of Almighty God. In other words, on that great and terrible day God the Father looked upon God the Son as if He had lived the depraved life of a sinner and in exchange--a great exchange--God the Father looks upon those whom He has caused to be born again, to repent and believe the gospel, as if they had lived His Son’s perfect, precious, and priceless life.

Jesus shed His innocent blood on the cross. He died a literal, physical death on the cross. And He was buried in a tomb not His own. Three days later, Jesus forever defeated sin and death when He physically, bodily rose from the grave. And unlike every false god created in the imaginations of men--whether the false gods of Islam, Catholicism, Mormonism, Hinduism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Oprah-ism, or Atheism (a religion like every other spiritual “ism.”)--Jesus
Christ is alive today and He will return at a time of the Father’s choosing.

What God commands of you, my brother or sister behind the badge, is the same thing He commands of me and all people everywhere, and that’s that you repent--turn from your sin and turn toward God--and by faith alone receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.

You must come to God on His terms. God does not negotiate with sinners. God will not be bribed by your religious practices or what you may perceive as “good works” acceptable to God, including your profession. God will not weigh your “good” against your “bad,” for God does not see you or anyone else as good--good in keeping with His standard of moral perfection. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

If you do not read the gospel of Jesus Christ and see it for what it is, good news, it is because you love your sin more than you love God. It is because you love yourself more than you love God. It is because the love of God and the truth of His Word is not in you. But if God causes you to be born-again and extends to you the gifts of repentance and faith, which only He can give, then He will take your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. You will begin to love the things God loves and hate the things God hates. You will stop presuming upon God’s forgiveness as if it is something you have earned or deserved. Instead, you will have the confident assurance He has forgiven you--not on the basis of any deeds you have done in righteousness, but based entirely upon God’s mercy, grace, and love.

And why would God allow His one and only Son to die a sinner’s death He did not deserve in order to take upon Himself the punishment sinners rightly deserve for their sins against God, so that sinners could be forgiven and saved? “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

May all who read this who do not know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, regardless of what side of the badge they find themselves, repent and believe the gospel while God has given them time. May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward for His suffering!

And may every Christian pastor or layperson who has made it this far through the article understand that this is what my law enforcement brethren need to hear from you--gospel truth spoken in love--the gospel of real and everlasting peace.