Monday, June 29, 2015

The Next Time Someone Asks if Gospel Tracts are "Effective".....


Recently I published a gospel tract with Marv Plementosh of One Million Tracts titled: What Comes After Pride?

Recently, Marv received the followin email from someone in Hawaii who found the gospel tract in a rental car:
"I work at Avis Budget Maui and when I was cleaning one of the cars, I found this card that said 'What Comes After Pride?' I am a Christian. I use to go to church. And I admit that I am a sinner in a sinful world. That moment when I found the card, God was trying to tell me something, I read the message and the website, and I'm willing to give up myself to Jesus Christ. Thank you very much! & God bless!!"
So, the next time someone asks you if gospel tracts are effective, feel free to share this testimony with them.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Martin's Faith in Meaninglessness

While distributing gospel tracts on Wimbledon Hill Road, in Wimbledon, England, I handed a gospel tract to a man named Martin. When Martin received the tract, he asked what it was. When I explained to Martin that it was a message about Jesus Christ, Martin asserted he was an atheist. What followed was a 15-minute conversation during which Martin acknowledged he had to draw from the Christian worldview to assert any basis for morality and that his godless worldview provided know basis for a morality that was anything more than the arbitrary opinions of people. During the conversation, Martin conceded that his worldview could not give an account for knowledge, logic, or purpose for human existence. Martin lives by faith, but sadly it is faith in meaninglessness.

Martin was on his lunch break. He left, not in a huff, but simply due to a lack of time. While I did not get to communicate the gospel with Martin, the paper missionary I gave him went with him as he walked away.

Listen now to my conversation with Martin.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

My Bible, My Cell Phone, and My New Conviction

My friend, Gayle Metcalf, shared the following image today on her Facebook page.


My friend, Pastor Geoff Kirkland, posted an article today titled Lessons for Young Men, which included a charge to greater commitment to the Word of God.

The above items have been used by the Lord today to bring much conviction to my heart and mind. Great conviction.

My cell phone is with me wherever I go. It is my primary source of communication with the world: phone calls, text messages, emails, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, news outlets, the Weather Channel, traffic alerts, law enforcement alerts, my calendar, and Bluetooth for my GoPro camera. The only game on my phone is Chess.

The apps that are least often used on my phone are my Bible apps. I prefer the printed page over the electronic page for most of my reading, especially my Bible reading.

I am in my Bible every day, more often than not for the edification and evangelization of others. In other words, most of my time spent in the Bible is spent in preparation for writing articles and pulpit sermons, or preparing for sermons I preach in the open-air.

An ongoing challenge in my 27 years of Christian living is staying consistent in my Bible reading, for the purpose of worship and devotion.

Reading Pastor Geoff's article and seeing the image Gayle posted this morning hit me like a ton of bricks.

Making even a cursory, side-by-side comparison today of my daily time on my cell phone with my daily time in my Bible has been shocking to me. Shocking. Appalling. Stomach churning. Discouraging. Convicting. I spend much more time on my phone than I do in my Bible.

I do take a Bible with me most places, but not everywhere. On the other hand, I take my phone everywhere. To be without my phone is like being without my house and car keys; it is like being without my wallet or my driver's license. But I can't say I have the same sense of incompleteness, or the sense of not being fully dressed, if I walk out of the house without my Bible the way I do with the before-mentioned items.

What does that say about me? What does that say about my love for the Word of God?

The above image is a picture of me holding my cell phone and a small Bible, which was given to me (ironically enough) by Pastor Geoff and Elizabeth Kirkland the last time I was guest in their home.

I have a preaching Bible. I have a number of study bibles. And I now have a specific use for the compact Bible the Kirklands gave me.

Like many people, if I have an idle moment (i.e. standing in line at a store, post office, or some other place; waiting for someone to return from a restaurant restroom; stopped at a red light while driving my car; etc.), I reach for my phone. I want to change that. In all of the before-mentioned moments and others, I want to start reaching for my Bible instead of my phone.

Ray Comfort often says, "If you find me without a gospel tract in my possession, I will give you $1,000." Ray has yet to pay out to anyone.

While I will NOT give you $1,000, I welcome you to hold me accountable if you ever see me without a Bible (the one pictured above or another).

Now, I'm not trying to start a "thing." Don't join me in my conviction simply to be part of something. Carry a Bible. Don't carry a Bible. That's up to you. If you want to follow me as I try to follow Christ, then you're welcome to join me in this simple effort to spend more time in the Word. Just know that if you decide to do it, you have NOT joined a new Christian club or fad.

If you do it, do it for only the right reasons.

Well, here it goes. I hope it lasts. Pray for me.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Jerusalem's King: A Review




Jerusalem's King is a feature-length documentary, written and directed by Ryan Habbena. My friend, Andy Olson, of Echo Zoe Radio and Blog, served as the film's Director of Photography and had his hands in other aspects of the project.

As I watched the film with my family last night, it didn't take me long to discover the true strength of the film. It is an artistic, Scripture-laden, 90-minute summary of the Word of God. More than that (not that that is not enough), Jerusalem's King is a cinematic gospel tract. For 35 years, The Jesus Film has been used by missionaries to present the gospel to more than 200 million people around the world. I can see Jerusalem's King used in a similar way.

Filmed almost entirely in Israel, Jerusalem's King takes the viewer on a panoramic tour of the nation where most of the world's greatest history has taken place. As the viewer sees flyovers, views maps, and watches reenactments of some of the Bible's most memorable stories, they are treated to biblical narration, from Genesis to Revelation.

Ryan Habbena did an exceptional job making clear the story Scripture has always told--how man can be reconciled to the Sovereign Creator of the Universe, through faith in the sinless Lamb of God, the Messiah, the King of kings and the Lord of lords--Jesus Christ. From the Protoevangelium to the Law, to the History, to the Psalms, to the Prophets, to the New Testament, Habbena visually weaves the tapestry of the Gospel.

At $8 for the DVD, and $3 for the digital download, Jerusalem's King is affordably priced, allowing for the purchase of the film in bulk. And I recommend you do just that. Purchase as many copies of this film as you can and distribute it like you would a gospel tract.

I enjoyed Jerusalem's King, and it will be another weapon in my evangelistic war bag.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

What Comes After Pride (New Gospel Tract!)

In partnership with Marv Plementosh of One Million Tracts, I've written a new gospel tract titled What Comes After Pride?

Here's the front of the tract:


While I came up with the general concept, Marv creatively put together this striking design, which utilizes the flag for the Alphabet Soup of sexual immorality (LGBT......letters being added daily).

And here's the text on the back of the baseball card-size gospel tract:
The world defines “pride” as: “a feeling or deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one's own achievements, the achievements of those with whom one is closely associated, or from qualities or possessions that are widely admired.” Yet the Word of God says a person’s pride is followed by disgrace (Prov. 11:2); pride is arrogance (Prov. 21:24); pride will bring a person low (Prov. 29:23). The Word of God says pride is something evil that comes from a person’s heart (Mark 7:21-23), and that God is opposed to prideful people (James 4:6). God sees pride the same way He sees so many other behaviors—as sinful (2 Tim. 3:1-4). God sees pride as evil because it is contrary to who He is. Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, humbled Himself to take on human flesh and then humbled Himself even further when He sacrificed His life in the most humiliating way—death on a cross. What awaits prideful people? What comes after pride? Destruction (Prov. 16:18)—God’s judgment of sin, the punishment for which is eternity in hell. Your only hope is to turn from your sinful pride, turn toward God and, by faith alone, receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Jesus Christ—fully God and fully man, yet without sin, voluntarily shed his innocent blood and died on the cross, taking upon Himself the punishment you rightly deserve for your sins against God. Three days later, He forever defeated sin and death when He rose from the grave. Yes, God is opposed to the proud, but He gives grace to the humble (James 4:6). Humble yourself. Repent and believe the gospel, today.
You will notice a significant term missing from the text: homosexuality.

While the front of the gospel tract draws the reader's thoughts toward the social and moral issue of our day--the issue by which God-hating societies will set out to try to destroy the Bride of Christ (His Church), the back of the gospel tract makes no mention of the topic--not even an allusion to it.

When a person receives this gospel tract, regardless of the form(s) of sexual immorality in which they engage (heterosexual or homosexual, thoughts or deeds), the reader will be compelled to consider a sin they love just as much: pride.

Of course, what matters most is that those who receive this gospel tract will read it to the very end. Marv and I hope every recipient will read the biblical gospel message this tract contains, repent, and receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

I hope you will find this gospel tract useful in your evangelism efforts. May God receive the glory, and may the Lamb receive the reward for His suffering.

Order your What Comes After Pride? gospel tracts today!

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Arrest of Francis Jared Pusok: Beating Social Media Sycophants to the Punch

This is difficult.



While I needn't remind those who know me, for those who may have been drawn to my blog by this article, I am an advocate of the law enforcement community. I'm a retired, 20-year veteran of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department (1987-2007). Since I was 23-years-old, and until my dying breath, the law enforcement community has been and will be family to me. I love my brothers and sisters behind the badge.

In the minds of some I am a "homer" when it comes to the law enforcement community, even though I have said innumerable times that the law enforcement community is far from perfect. The law enforcement community draws from the same fallible human race as every other profession.

At the same time, I can't abide arm-chair quarterbacks--pundits (pastoral or otherwise) who are ignorant of what life is like behind the badge--people who don't have so much as a rudimentary level of knowledge regarding law enforcement policies and procedures, officer safety tactics, or the law (local, state, and federal) and its application. I get particularly riled when I see Christian social media sycophants jump on the "no justice, no peace" bandwagon to court favor with the unsaved masses, at the expense of a law enforcement community that, by and large, are motivated by a commitment to protect and serve.

Pursuit Termination

There are few activities in law enforcement more harrowing or more dangerous than a pursuit. It doesn't matter if it is a vehicle pursuit or a foot pursuit. Likely the most dangerous part of a pursuit is the pursuit termination--when the pursuit comes to an end. An officer is at considerable risk at the end of a pursuit--both physically and professionally. While the physical dangers are probably obvious, even to a civilian, the lesser considered danger is the danger to an officer's career.

This is one of those times when, unless you have been involved in vehicle and/or foot pursuits, your understanding of what I'm about to say is woefully limited. Oh, you'll understand every word. This is not a matter of intelligence. But you won't be able to rightly or fully discern the emotion behind the words, because of what you lack. This is a matter of experience.

Elevated heart rate and blood pressure. So much adrenalin released into your system that you can almost taste it. It's like the taste of lead with sulfur-based antibiotics. Respiration fast and shallow. Fear. Heavy, blinding sweat. Barely-controllable shaking. Indignation. Determination. Exhilaration. Relief. Anger. Hate. Rage. Massive emotional release resulting in unexplained and unstoppable tears. All of these emotions and reactions, and many others, are experienced either in part or in whole by officers at the end of pursuits.

Any civilian who says he or she knows, without a doubt, how he or she would feel and behave at the end of a police pursuit is simply ignorant and arrogant.

I say that the end of a pursuit is a very dangerous time for an officer's career because if an officer looses control of his emotions and is unable to keep himself in check, his career could be over. One too many punches; an out-of-character, gratuitous kick; an errant swing of the baton; one too many pounds of pressure applied by a shaking finger to a trigger, and a career could be over. Livelihood lost. Reputation forever sullied. Freedom taken away. Or suicide.

Why I Refrain from Commenting on Police Videos

I rarely, publicly comment on videos involving law enforcement, unless it is to call some of the before-mentioned people to account for their incendiary rhetoric in which they call for an officer's head on a platter based on a video clip chronicling only a portion of a much longer incident. I would like to think my engagement in these situations is consistent. "Wait." Wait for the investigation to run its course. If the investigation reveals the officer acted outside department policy or the law, then I will join you in calling for disciplinary action at the hands of the officer's department and/or through criminal court proceedings.

I rarely comment on videos involving law enforcement because I don't want to become the arm-chair quarterback I loathe.

Bad cops (and there are some) should be exposed and dealt with according to the law. If an officer's actions rightly warrants him to be at the defense table in a court room instead of at the prosecution table, so be it. That being said, I don't know if any of the deputies involved in this incident are "bad cops." This is to say I don't know if any of the deputies came to the end of this pursuit with malice aforethought or with a willful premeditation to do bodily harm to the suspect in the video. I don't know if any of the deputies in the video have a "jacket"--a reputation for having a heavy hand. I don't know if any of the deputies have prior incidents involving questionable uses of force.

Integrity and conviction compels me to comment on the above video. I will not prejudge the deputies' hearts. But I have to say something about what I see in this video.

What I Know

These are the facts, as I know them. There are plenty of holes that need to be filled, which I'm sure the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department will fill and make known to the public in the appropriate way and at the appropriate time.

San Bernardino County Sheriff's deputies executed a search warrant at a location, as part of an investigation of identity theft crimes. At some point during the execution of the warrant, Francis Jared Pusok fled the location in a vehicle. Deputies initiated a pursuit. Pusok subsequently abandoned the vehicle and fled on foot. A coordinated manhunt ensued. Deputies received word that Pusok had stolen a horse and was trying to flee through rugged terrain. Pusok was spotted and deputies converged on his location. It is at about this point, or shortly thereafter, the above news chopper video begins.

What I Saw

A police helicopter appears to spook the horse (nice move). Pusok soon falls off the horse and scrambles behind what appears to be a low shrub. After slipping and falling, a deputy contacts Pusok. It appears that Pusok initially prepares to flee or fight. It appears at this point the deputy deploys his taser.

Pusok goes to the ground, either voluntarily or as a result of being tased. Pusok quickly extends his arms to his sides. Just as quickly, Pusok places his hands behind his back, palms up. Thus far, there has been no mention of Pusok being armed at the time of his arrest. As this is happening, a second deputy arrives.

The second deputy appears to kick Pusok directly in the side of the head.

There is a standard that governs the law enforcement Use-of-Force Continuum. An officer may use the level of force that is both necessary and reasonable to overcome the resistance of a person.

In my opinion, the second deputy on-scene engages Pusok by using what can be described as lethal or deadly force. No, he didn't shoot Pusok. But lethal force can be applied in many different ways--not the least of which is a forceful booted kick to a person's head.

The first officer immediately follows the second deputies head strike with a forceful, booted kick to Pusok's groin. At the very least, the force of this kick could have caused great bodily injury. There are documented cases in which men have died as a result of a kick to the groin.

Over the course of the next two minutes, as many as eleven officers arrive on-scene, with several of them participating in the subduing of Pusok, by using various forms and levels of force. Channel 4 News reported:
"In the two minutes after the man was stunned with a Taser, it appeared deputies kicked him 17 times, punched him 37 times and struck him with batons four times. Thirteen blows appeared to be to the head."
If Channel 4 News reporting is accurate, Pusok was struck 58 times in two-minute's time, after he lied on the ground and put his hands behind his back.

58 times.

I've watched the above video many times. Over the course of the last 24 hours, I have thought so much about this incident that I can see it when I close my eyes.

Pusok is no angel. Three children out of wedlock (yes, that makes him a bad guy; in God's eyes Pusok is an adulterer and a fornicator). In addition to being the primary suspect in an identity theft case, running from police, and stealing a horse, the Los Angeles Times reports the following about Pusok's criminal history:
"Pusok’s previous brushes with the law span more than a decade through several counties in California, according to public records.

"He pleaded no contest to felony attempted robbery in a 2006 incident as well as to several misdemeanor charges, including disturbing the peace and animal cruelty. In December, he was charged in San Bernardino County with a misdemeanor count of resisting arrest; he pleaded no contest."
Another online news source added:
"[Sheriff] McMahon said deputies had previously been called to a home where Pusok allegedly made threats to kill a deputy and fatally shot a family puppy in front of his family members. 'We were very familiar with his aggressive nature,' McMahon said."
It is unlikely the media will ever refer to Pusok a hard-working, white, father of three. But I digress.

What I Believe

The deputies who wrote and executed the search warrant against Pusok no doubt were well-aware of his criminal history, including the fact that he is known to resist arrest.

Having written many search warrants myself, knowing a suspect had prior physical confrontations with law enforcement always put me and my team on a heightened sense of awareness. And we went into such search warrants ready and willing to fight, if the need to do so presented itself. The deputies' state of mind likely included the real possibility that Pusok would go "the hard way."

However, what I saw in the video, without knowing any of the possible, prior, extenuating circumstances that may yet come to light, was an unlawful use of force. What I saw from the distance of a hundred miles (the distance from my living room to that plot of ground in the desert), and separated by the zoom lens of a television camera in a helicopter a thousand feet above the scene, was several deputies unlawfully assault Francis Jared Pusok, under the color of authority.

How I Feel

My heart sank as I watched the video, over and over again. Another black mark in the history of my noble, God-ordained profession--for my family behind the badge. As of the writing of this article, the latest news reports indicate ten of the deputies involved have already been placed on paid, administrative leave. Some of them will likely be disciplined (suspensions, loss of pay, mark in their service records). Others may be fired. Some might face criminal prosecution.

And Francis Jared Pusok, a criminal, is going to walk away with millions of dollars. As was the case with Rodney King, it is quite possible Pusok will head down the same road. Instead of committing crimes with no money in his pocket, Pusok will likely continue to commit crimes with a full bank account. Money never changes a person's nature. Money never changes a person's soul.

Earlier this afternoon, I had a brief online conversation with a retired officer. He served with a large agency and retired a commanding officer. One of the thoughts I shared with him was this: Was there a man of God in the group of deputies on-scene? Was there not one man among the lot who had the integrity and courage to try to put a stop to what was happening?

I've had another reoccurring thought--one that has troubled my spirit. What would I have done if I had arrived while the deputies were beating Pusok?

And that thought is always immediately followed by an image in my mind.

As the scene develops, I see myself yelling at the other deputies to stop striking Pusok. When that doesn't work, I lie down on top of Pusok and shield him with my body.

Before you scream, let me assure you my thoughts about this scene, each time I see it in my head, never turn to heroism. There is absolutely no chest thumping or thoughts of, "Well, if I had been there, I would have....." The thought of shielding Pusok's body with my own causes me to cringe. It curls my toes. The visceral fear of the possible physical and professional consequences for taking such action is palatable.

Why?

I don't think I can love Francis Jared Pusok enough to do that for him. My heart is not as pure as it should be. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

There wasn't a deputy present who had the temerity to stop the beating. Pusok is a criminal. To some, a dirtbag. To many in law enforcement, people like Pusok are job security--the "them" of society. Yet what happened to him on that patch of desert dirt was wrong.

To many outside of law enforcement, the deputies involved in this situation are the criminals. To others, the deputies are what's wrong with society.

There are no winners in this situation.

Everyone--the deputies and Pusok--need someone to step in, to put himself in harms way for them. More than that, the deputies and Pusok need someone who will literally lay down his own life for them.

What I Want Every Deputy, and Pusok, to Hear

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.

Every person reading this knows that it is a sin to lie because you were created in the image of God, and God is not a liar. You know it is wrong to harbor bitterness, resentment, and hatred in your heart toward another person because God is not a murderer. 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 God is not a fornicator or an adulterer. 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 God is not a blasphemer. God is true. God is love. God is faithful. God is holy.

For the above reasons, and others, everyone who stands before God, including you, to give an account will do so without excuse. You won't 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, the reader, 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 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. 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 (including the deputies and Francis Pusok) who read this who do not know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior repent and believe the gospel while God has given them time. May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward for His suffering!

Monday, April 6, 2015

"Debating Dillahunty" - A Review


In Sye Ten Bruggencate's first film, How To Answer the Fool, viewers were given a glimpse of the mind of God. In his second film, Debating Dillahunty, viewers are given a glimpse of the heart of God.

For the record, and for the purpose of full disclosure. I am an unapologetic apologist for Sye Ten Bruggencate. He is my friend. I love him as my brother in Christ, and I am indebted to him for his work in presuppositional apologetics. I know Sye's labors have not been in vain, for they have produced fruit in my life and ministry.

I watched Debating Dillahunty for the purpose of providing a review of the film. I entered into this process carrying with me the presuppositions that Sye would represent Christ and His truth well, and that the lies Dillahunty would tell regarding God would be evidenced by the fact that his lips were moving. Dillahunty is not my friend.

No, I don't hate Matt Dillahunty. I pity him. I pity him the way I pity every human being who denies the God they know exists (Romans 1:18-25). I pity Matt and people like him because the Dillahunty Delusion (an all-too-common malady) is simply a byproduct of an absurd worldview (one that searches for coherence and meaning without God), which is born out of a love of self, a love of sin, and a hatred of God (Romans 1:31-32).

The video begins by introducing the viewer to Matt Dillahunty, host of the online program "The Atheist Experience." Sye's detractors, which are legion, might come away from the opening scenes with the impression that the producers of the film sought to poison the well against Dillahunty. I don't believe that's the case. Dillahunty is an unashamed hater of God and a hater of God's people. The film simply paints him in his true light, at least as it pertains to his interaction with Christians. You can't poison a well already already poisoned by a heart blackened by haughty depravity.

From here, the film moves into the debate proper. And from here, it becomes increasingly difficult to write a review. The reason: I want to write about every moment of it. The film is that good. However, to chronicle every moment of the film would make this review extremely long and might discourage people from watching the film. That would be a shame--an injustice, really.

In his opening statement, Sye declares the debate over before it starts. He declares, "Matt's world view is dead; it just doesn't have the courtesy to lie down." He then proceeds to expose the inconsistencies of Dillahunty's worldview, using Dillahunty's own words to do it.

Matt Dillahunty begins his opening statement of the debate by mocking Sye's opening statement. This is a common tactic among the intellectually dishonest and unarmed. "I can't defeat my opponent, so I'll mock him and/or his position."

Dillahunty then makes a statement that provides the viewer with an "out"--a reason not to give any weight, credence, or even an ear to anything Matt would say for the rest of the film. Dillahunty makes a statement that frees the viewer from having to take seriously anything he says in the film, from this point forward. He makes a statement that frees the viewer to focus on the truth of Sye's argument and the loving heart behind it. Dillahunty says, "Knowledge and certainty are completely irrelevant."

Welcome to absurdity!

15 minutes into a 45-minute film, Debating Dillahunty is over, but only in the sense that the debate is over. However, don't touch that remote or mouse. Take a deep breath and enjoy watching a man of God not only beautifully articulate the mind of God, but also the heart of God. You see: Sye does not see Matt Dillahunty as merely an intellectual opponent--someone to beat in a debate. Sye sees Matt as a pitiful soul, a fool (not as a character assault, but as a moral judgment). Sye sees Matt as a man who is lost and will one-day stand before the God he has always known--the God who, unless Matt repents and receives Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, will punish him in hell-fire for all eternity.
"Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel" (Ezekiel 33:11)?
God will take no pleasure in the physical and spiritual death of Matt Dillahunty. And neither will Sye. The reason: Sye Ten Bruggencate loves Matt Dillahunty.

And so do I.

So, why did Sye Ten Bruggencate agree to debate Matt Dillahunty? Well, I'll let Sye answer that question with his own words. But you won't read them here. You'll have to watch the last eight minutes or so of Debating Dillahunty.

I cried.

If you come away from Debating Dillahunty having only been entertained, if you come away from this film having only your apologetic sword sharpened to a finer point, then you entirely missed the point of the film. If this is you, I have only one suggestion.

Watch it again.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

A Biblical Defense of the Public Proclamation of the Gospel - Sermon Manuscript and Audio

I preached this sermon during the Herald Society at First Baptist Church of Milton (Milton, FL), on March 26, 2015.

Following the sermon manuscript, you will find the audio for the sermon.

I pray this is an encouragement to all Christians--pastors/elders, open-air preachers, and the Body of Christ-at-large.

*****


Introduction

The venerable pulpiteer and open-air preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, said:
“No sort of defense is needed for preaching out-of-doors; but it would need very potent arguments to prove that a man had done his duty who has never preached beyond the walls of his meetinghouse. A defense is required rather for services within buildings than for worship outside of them. Apologies are certainly wanted for architects who pile up brick and stone into the skies when there is so much need for preaching rooms among poor sinners down below. Defense is greatly needed for forests of stone pillars, which prevent the preacher from being seen and his voice from being heard; for high-pitched Gothic roofs in which all sound is lost, and men are killed by being compelled to shout till they burst their blood-vessels; and also for the willful creation of echoes by exposing hard, sound-refracting surfaces to satisfy the demands of art, to the total overlooking of the comfort of both audience and speaker.

“Surely also some decent excuse is badly wanted for those childish people who must needs waste money in placing hobgoblins and monsters on the outside of their preaching houses, and must have other ridiculous pieces of popery stuck up both inside and outside, to deface rather than to adorn their churches and chapels: but no defense whatever is wanted for using the Heavenly Father's vast audience chamber, which is in every way so well fitted for the proclamation of a Gospel so free, so full, so expansive, so sublime.”
The Prince of Preachers was right. It is not necessary to make a defense for the public proclamation of the gospel—a defense for open-air preaching. The biblical examples span thousands of years. The post-apostolic examples span 2,000 years.

The arguments against open-air preaching are emotional, arbitrary, pragmatic, non-binding, eisegetical, and/or extra-biblical. And most arguments against the public proclamation of the gospel have as their sandy foundation a sinful fear of man, and a willful showing of preference to the King’s enemies over the edicts of the King.

Accusing me of poisoning the well at this point, a well already putrefied by the philosophical and traditional dung of American Evangelicalism, would be like accusing an open-air preacher of pushing lost people away from Jesus. Push them where? To hell? Every lost person, in compliance with his sinful nature that hates God, is already willingly running toward hell. Push him away from Jesus? By his very nature, a lost person wants nothing whatsoever to do with Jesus. He is running toward destruction and away from life eternal.

In order to push someone away from Jesus, I would first have to be able to catch them. But they already have a life-long, sinful head start on me, and they all are simply running too fast away from Jesus. The only way I could catch such a person to push him is if God the Holy Spirit stops him in his tracks, changes his heart, causes him to be born again, and changes his mind and direction 180-degrees—causing him to run the opposite direction, to run toward Jesus. At that point, any pushing I would do would be toward Jesus, through discipleship.

While God’s sovereignty in all things, including the salvation of the lost, does not give me license to behave poorly, communicate ignorantly, or otherwise run rough-shot over people’s lives, it is that same sovereignty that informs my understanding that there is nothing I can do to push a person away from Jesus. I have neither the ability nor authority to undermine the eternally predetermined plan of God for a person’s life.

So, in the time we have remaining in this session, with the before-mentioned presuppositions in mind, I will make a defense for the public proclamation of the gospel. And I will do so by focusing my attention on two Greek words: κηρύσσω and παρρησία.

Let’s begin by taking an extended look at the Greek word κηρύσσω.


Κηρύσσω

As some of you know, I wrote a rather unpopular book titled, Should She Preach—Biblical Evangelism for Women. In the book, I make what I believe is a sound, biblical case against the practice of women preaching the gospel in the open-air. While I affirm a Christian woman’s role in evangelism, I believe the Bible not only doesn’t give a mandate for a women to preach in a pulpit or on a box at the corner of Walk/Don’t Walk, but the Bible also does not allow for a woman to do so. The three main points of my argument are: 1) God’s created order; 2) a Christian woman’s role not simply in the corporate gathering of believers, but in any spiritual enterprise; 3) the gentle and quiet spirit to which God has given to every Christian woman.

One of the most common affirmative arguments concerning women open-air preaching stems from the biblical appearance and use of the Greek word kerusso, which is usually translated in the verb form “to preach.” Kerusso appears 60 times in the New Testament. The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon defines the word this way:
“To be a herald, to officiate as a herald; to proclaim after the manner of a herald; always with the suggestion of formality, gravity and an authority which must be listened to and obeyed; to publish, proclaim openly: something which has been done; used of the public proclamation of the gospel and matters pertaining to it, made by John the Baptist, by Jesus, by the apostles and other Christian teachers.”
Having read all 60 New Testament verses in their context that use the word κηρύσσω (to preach), I did not find a single use of the word by a woman, of a woman, or as instruction to a woman. To point this out is not to put forth an argument from silence. Not only is the primary Greek word for preaching never used in the New Testament in relation to women, there is not a single instance in the New Testament of a woman engaging in the biblical practice of heralding the gospel in the open air.

Undoubtedly, some will balk, maybe even wince. Some will immediately object to my assertion, using Mark 16:15 as their authoritative reference. “And he [Jesus] said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim [preach] the gospel to the whole creation.’”

Preaching is teaching. Preaching is teaching with authority. Preaching is teaching people, believer and unbeliever alike, the way of eternal life, and doing so with a level of authority that calls the hearer to listen and obey. To preach the gospel is to teach the gospel. To preach repentance is to teach repentance. Any open-air message that does not explain (teach) the meaning of sin, righteousness, the coming judgment, Hell, the deity and hypostatic union of the Lord Jesus Christ, the cross, propitiation, regeneration, justification, salvation, grace, mercy, forgiveness, and eternal life is what? It’s unbiblical babble. It’s not worth the air being moved across the vocal cords.

Now granted, not every open-air preaching opportunity allows for the articulation of all of the before-mentioned doctrines. Things happen (i.e. hecklers and other distractions, police contact, etc.). But the goal of every open-air preacher, during every message, should be to articulate these precious doctrines in terms his listeners can understand.

Whoever stands to proclaim the truth of the law and the gospel is teaching that which he proclaims, whether they are doing it off the top of their head or with an open Bible in hand and expositing a text from the Word of God. Preaching is not the mere regurgitation of words void of emotion, meaning, message, explanation, and authority. Preaching is teaching.

As stated in the above definition of kerusso, preaching is “always” accomplished “with the suggestion of formality, gravity, and authority which must be listened to and obeyed.” One thing that is lacking in the open-air preaching community is formality. Fortunately, I see positive changes happening in this area. Open-air preaching is not a game, sport, or hobby. It is not merely an opportunity for the Christian to exercise their liberty in the form of public expression. It is a calling, not a curiosity. It is a weighty responsibility, not a whimsical form of recreation. It is a privilege, not a right. It is for the glory of Christ, not the personal satisfaction of the preacher.

The open-air preachers of old preached sermons in the open-air. Yes, great preachers like Charles Spurgeon called for brevity in the message, but not for a lack of sobriety.

The bench, rock, horse-drawn cart, or tombstone upon which these blood-bought, Spirit-driven, Bible-wielding titans stood was reverenced like a hand-carved pulpit behind which a shepherd of a flock stood. They treated the ground upon which they stood as holy ground, for from that spot the Spirit of God would move upon the herald and the hooligan, in a manner the Father desired, for the glory of the Son and the gathering of His Elect.

Open-air preaching requires gravitas. Gravitas is defined as “seriousness or sobriety, as of conduct or speech.” Gravitas is also defined as “seriousness, solemnity, or importance,” “a serious or dignified demeanor.” To preach (kerusso) is to articulate the Word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ with a sense of gravity. Open-air preaching should be conducted by men with gravitas, men who understand the weightiness and the gravity of what they are doing. These men, by their demeanor and voice, can convey the gravity of the situation in which lost souls find themselves.

The open-air preacher must carry himself with a very real air of authority. Even the lost, God-hating heckler should see that the open-air preacher speaks authoritatively, knowing the preacher ought to be listened to and obeyed. What I’m describing is known in law enforcement and military circles as “command presence.” A good open-air preacher is part orator, part herald, part diplomat, part street cop, and part field general. A good open-air preacher is one who does not manipulate a crowd, but can control a crowd with the sheer weight of his Holy Spirit-wrought, authoritative presence. People in the crowd will do what the street preacher says (i.e. “stop,” “wait,” “answer,” “be quiet,” etc.), at times, without even realizing they are obeying the preacher’s commands.

If you watch some of the men I consider the best open-air preachers of our generation, which include a number of men gathered here this weekend, you will see distinctly different personalities. You will see men who look and sound different from each other as they preach.

However, in addition to a love for Christ, a love for His Church, a love for His Word, and a love for the lost, you will see another commonality in all of them. You will see command presence. You will see men acting like men: mature men, fearless men. You will see men who rightly divide the Word of God in the heat of battle. You will see men who are truly meek: men who are Holy Spirit- enabled to exercise power under control (Matthew 5:5). You will see men who are willing and able to give a defense for the hope that is in them, yet with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). You will see men who are uncompromising with the message: men who will not back down from truth merely so that the yet unconverted, sin-stained hearts of lost people will be appeased and remain unchanged.

You will never hear God’s heralds of yesterday or today ask, “Can we all get along?” What you will see are men who rule their emotions, not men who are ruled by their emotions. You will see chivalrous men who defend and protect women, not men who act like women—not men who stand behind women, not men who are afraid of women. You will see men who speak with authority—an authority given to them by God—the authority that comes with their God-given gender-specific role as men and the authority that comes with the role of a herald of the King.

I believe, with all my heart, one of the reasons why a vast majority of American Evangelicalism is against open-air preaching is this. American Evangelicalism is effeminate. Weak and compromised churches are producing weak and compromised men. Men considered men of God these days by American Evangelicalism are men who do not command respect, but who beg for acceptance. They are not men who stand firm, but instead are often men who can’t wait to bow their knees to culture. They fear other men, but they don’t fear God.

Instead of spines straightened and strengthened by the rods of God’s Word and the proclamation of the gospel, men in American Evangelicalism are just like men in the rest of the world—spiritual invertebrates comfortable on the soft, pliable, conforming bean bag chairs of emotionalism, egalitarianism, ecumenism, and escapism. And they just comfortably sit there and wait—wait for a dying world to go to hell. For they care more about what people think of them than where people will spend eternity.

No. Open-air preaching and sound, biblical open-air preachers aren’t the problem. Cowards hiding behind the cross instead of denying themselves, taking up their crosses and following Christ: they are the problem.

Open-air preaching is biblical. The mere presence of the word kerusso in the Word of God and the various contexts in which it is used, is defense enough. Again, no defense need be made for the practice. Yet some insist that “it’s just too bold.” It’s too “in your face.” By open-air preaching, we are just “shoving Jesus down people’s throats.”

Look: if my heart ever stops beating and I stop breathing, I want someone trained in its use to shove a tube down my throat and pump air into my lungs. I want them to jump up and down on my chest, crack my ribs if they need to, and bring my ticker back online.

And if they’re able to bring me back to life, when I regain consciousness my chest is going to hurt and my throat is likely to be sore from the intubation. But I’m pretty confident of this. I’m not going to sue the paramedics who worked on me. I’m going to shake their hands and thank them for a job well done.

I will be glad that the paramedics were more concerned with my life than how uncomfortable my recovery might be. I will be glad that they were decisive, commanding, demanding, skilled, undaunted, and cared enough about a human being to fight for my life—a life that might never be of any personal benefit to them.

If Mahria or someone else were to find me clinically dead, I want some bold person to rush to my aid and do their job. The last thing I want is some faint-of-heart, fearful, shy, uncertain person strolling up to my body and vacillating about what to do, worried about what I will think of him if he engages in life-saving efforts without first getting my consent. I’m dead! I can’t consent! Do your job! Save my life!

Yes, American Evangelicalism is uncomfortable with open-air preaching; American Evangelicalism is afraid of open-air preaching because these days boldness in the church is seen as making friends with an unbeliever who looks like you, talks like you, shares some common interests with you, and won’t be too upset if five years from now you invite him to church.

American Evangelicalism is opposed to open-air preaching, not because it is unbiblical, but because the public proclamation of the gospel might draw unwanted, negative attention to Christian clubhouses across the country.

American Evangelicalism sees boldness as sending vacationaries—people who often think so highly of themselves that they actually believe people can see Jesus in them—to faraway places to take pictures with disadvantaged children at an orphanage, or to take pictures of driving nails into a half-built home, between trips to Starbucks. American Evangelicalism sees service without the verbal or written communication of the gospel as a bold statement for Jesus. It’s not.

The Bible defines boldness much differently.


Παρρησία

Acts 3-5 is one of my favorite sections of Scripture. It is three chapters of public proclamation of truth, prayer, and boldness—great boldness.

This particular episode began with Peter and John healing a lame beggar who was sitting outside the Beautiful Gate. The ever-growing crowd followed the apostles to Solomon’s Portico where Peter is preaching an extraordinary and convicting sermon in the open-air (Acts 3).

Turn with me to Acts 4:1-31 (READ PASSAGE).

The Greek word in verse 13 translated in the ESV as “boldness” is the word παρρησία. Various constructions of this word appear 31 times in the New Testament. Needless to say, time precludes us from looking at all of the references.

Παρρησία is a compound word: “pas,” meaning “all,” and “rhésis,” meaning “speech.”

By definition, the word means: freedom and unreservedness in speech; free and fearless confidence; cheerful courage; the deportment by which one becomes conspicuous or secures publicity. Public speech is imbedded deep in the meaning of this word.

The biblical definition of “boldness” is the very antithesis of what is common and encouraged in American Evangelicalism.

In his Pentecost sermon, Peter referred to his preaching as μετὰ παρρησίας, with boldness, with freedom, with confidence. He was unashamed. He was unafraid. He would not be deterred. Only physical death could stop him from testifying for the glory of Christ and the salvation of the thousands of people gathered in the open-air, in front of him. The Peter in the courtyard late that horrible night who, before 3 AM, as Jesus prophesied, would deny the Lord, was gone. Now, the Peter who the Lord would use to gather His elect during the infancy of His Church—was the King’s chief herald.

Luke the Physician would also describe Peter and John’s preaching as bold. First in Acts 4:13.
“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.”
Sadly, today the term “shock and awe,” when used in reference to open-air preaching has been hijacked by heretics—Pelagians, Open Theists, Sinless Perfectionists, false converts, apostates. Yet, in the eyes of the Pharisees, that’s just what Peter and John were—“shock and awe” preachers. Here were two men who the religious elite saw as village idiots—ἰδιώτης, uneducated men. Yet these two men who the Pharisees recognized as having been with Jesus astonished them. They marveled at how boldly Peter and John publicly spoke. The confidence, freedom, and courage with which the two apostles spoke caused the Pharisees to wonder.

The apostles were following in their Master’s footsteps—their Master by whom people were once astonished because of the authority with which He spoke.
“And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Matthew 7:28-29).
Now these simple fishermen, turned disciples, turned evangelists, turned public heralds of the gospel spoke with an alien authority given them by their King, through salvation by the grace of God alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone.

Luke uses the word παρρησία again when recounting the prayer of Peter and John’s Christian friends in Acts 4:29.
“And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness.”
After Peter and John recounted for their friends the threats made by the religious elite if the apostles dared to preach Christ and Him crucified, the fledgling Church asked God not for protection. They did not ask for acceptance by their culture. They did not ask for a slick, man-centered strategy with which they could woo haters of Christ. They didn’t ask for wisdom and discernment for figuring out how to preach Christ without people knowing that’s what they were doing.

No. Peter, John, and how ever many Christians gathered at this crucial moment in Church history asked for more of the same—more boldness so they could look upon the threats of the haters of God and lovingly shove Jesus right down their fleshy open sepulchers.

And then, for a third time in Acts 4, Luke uses the word παρρησία. In Acts 4:31 we read:
“And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.”
These first Christians were not double-minded in their prayers. They were already bold. They asked for more boldness. They believed God, by faith. More boldness was given to them. And they acted upon their answered prayers. They “continued to speak the word of God with boldness.”

They spoke. These Christians opened their mouths for the glory of God and the proclamation of the gospel.

The lie had not yet been told in the Church that a Christian should live their life in such a way that would lead spiritually blind (1 Corinthians 2:14) and spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1-3) people to ask them why.

The lie had not yet been told in the Church that Christians should preach the gospel at all times and when necessary use words.

The lie had not yet been told in the Church that Christians should wait until the enemies of God give them permission to obey God’s command to preach the gospel to all people everywhere.

The lie had not yet been told in the Church that before a Christian could proclaim Christ and Him crucified to a lost person, he first had to develop a relationship with that lost person so the Christian could earn the right to speak.

The lie had not yet been told in the Church that lost societies, lost cultures had the authority to play the spiritual FCC and determine for the Church where, when, and how Christians could talk about Jesus.

No. These Christians opened their mouths for the glory of God and the proclamation of the gospel.

Praise God! The formation of today’s unbiblical, anti-gospel American Evangelicalism was still 1,800 years away!

The biblical defense for open-air preaching is provided by Scripture. To boldly preach the gospel of Jesus Christ is to herald the message publicly, with one’s voice, sometimes loudly.

Now, this is not to say that the only Christians who boldly preach the gospel are open-air preachers. Far from it. The gospel can be boldly preached from a pulpit, of course. The gospel can be boldly preached across a sticky, wooden table at Starbucks. It can be boldly preached in a philosophy class term paper. It can be boldly preached by the homeschool mom at the dining room table. It can be boldly preached by the shaky, nervous hand distributing gospel tracts.

As I began this message, I say again: the defense for the public proclamation of the gospel from the mouth of a herald standing on a step-stool, park bench, or block wall is that no defense is necessary. From Noah to David, to the prophets, to Jesus, to the apostles, Scripture affirms the open-air proclamation of the gospel. Open-air preaching is every bit as biblical as the preaching of a shepherd from his pulpit, or as the one-to-one conversations between friends or strangers, or as the distribution of the gospel in written form whether letter or gospel tract.

Gospel preaching always involves speech, whether verbal or written. Biblical boldness always involves speech, whether verbal or written. There’s no getting around it. Biblical preaching and biblical boldness demands unafraid, unfettered, unapologetic, unflinching communication with words. And one cannot remove open-air preaching from biblical examples without first changing the definitions of biblical terms. Even the thought of doing so is sinful.


A Final Word to Bold Preachers

So, I would like to close with a word to the open-air preachers gathered here today.

The open-air preacher must have a boldness that is seasoned regularly and perpetually with humility. He must see himself as the least worthy to publicly declare the edicts of King Jesus. While he is indeed given a special privilege, he is by no means a special class of Christian. Paul understood this.
“Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God's grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory” (Ephesians 3:7-13).
Similarly, the open-air preacher must have a boldness that is exercised judiciously, giving deference to another brother or sister in Christ whenever appropriate and practical.
“Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love's sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus” (Philemon 1:8-9).
The open-air preacher must have a boldness that can be found well-beyond his favorite corner or campus. He must be bold in season and out of season. He must be bold if standing before a crowd of hundreds or locked alone in a cell. He must be bold without the limelight, without the attention, without the notoriety or publicity that being a public spectacle can bring.
“He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:30-31).
The boldness of the open-air preacher must be seen in his love for the Church, for his Christian brethren. His boldness must come from a heart that would never intentionally wrong, corrupt, or take advantage of a brother or sister in Christ. His pride should be in others, and not in himself. He should be willing to take a bullet for any of his eternal kin.
“Make room in your hearts for us. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one. I do not say this to condemn you, for I said before that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together. I am acting with great boldness toward you; I have great pride in you; I am filled with comfort. In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy” (2 Corinthians 7:2-4).
And I will close with this admonition.

While no defense is necessary for the open-air proclamation of the gospel, this does not mean that every Christian man is called to the age-old, biblical, and warranted discipline. Whether you are an open-air preacher today, or you see yourself as an open-air preacher one day, it is not enough for you to examine yourself, to test yourself. It is not enough for you to qualify yourself. And it is not enough for your fellow open-air preachers to examine you, test you, and qualify you. That is the role, responsibility, and privilege of your pastors/elders. Humbly, selflessly, sacrificially, and lovingly submit to the shepherds in your life.

We will talk more about his in my next message, in which I will ask the question, “Have you been sent?”

Finally, to my brothers and sisters in Christ gathered here who are not open-air preachers: your faith in Christ was never intended to be a private matter. The purpose of a lamp is always to shed light. Unless a lamp is lit, it is a useless ornament and nothing more than a decorative piece of furniture.

God has given every Christian boldness—some more than others—but every Christian has boldness as part of their new nature. The question is will you light the room by boldly opening your mouth to proclaim the gospel? Or will you settle for being an ornament, a decorative piece, serving little to no purpose.

But there is much more to bold preaching than public speaking. The public herald of the gospel must be a bold man with solid Christian character.

*****

And here is the audio of the sermon.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Mall Evangelism: Ten Words in ASL


I spent the afternoon manning an evangelism table at the Westfield Valencia Town Center.

After checking in at the security office, I made my way to the second floor where my table was already set up near an escalator. I really like this particular spot since it puts me in close proximity to people making their way up and down the escalator. More traffic means more bibles and tracts distributed, as well as better opportunities to engage people in conversation.

A young couple was relaxing at the table when I arrived. I greeted them and let them know I was there to use the table. They were gracious and kind. I told them I would be distributing bibles today. I asked them if they would each like one. Both accepted the gift. It was a good start to my afternoon.

While I had other tracts on the table, two of my titles I focused on distributing were "Miranda" and "Thank You." As the Lord would have it, I was able to give "Thank You" tracts to five uniformed soldiers and a uniformed Marine Corps sergeant. I thanked each man for his service and, in turn, they thanked me for the support.

I distributed about 150 of the "Miranda" tracts, at the top of the escalator. I greeted people by saying, "Happy Good Friday!"


Timothy

As I sat at the table, I noticed a young man looking at the table as he made his way to the escalator. "Would you like a free Bible?" I asked.

"No. I've got so many bibles at home."

As he was about to step onto the escalator, I said, "Make sure to read at least one of them!"

That stopped the young man in his tracts. He quickly changed directions and came over to the table.

I introduced myself. His name was Timothy, and he was 19-years-old. "I'm trying to read the Bible. I wish I could read it every night, but, you know." Timothy said.

"Where do you worship?" I asked.

I go to a Church of God in Christ in Pasadena. My uncle is the bishop.

"Can I ask you something?"

"Sure."

I took Timothy through a "Three Minutes to Live" scenario. The best Timothy could offer me, his hypothetical unsaved friend, was to invite me to church so his bishop-uncle could talk to me.

"Timothy, what if I don't want to go to your church and talk to your uncle? You're my friend. I have a relationship with you. I'm coming to you for help. What are you going to tell me?"

"I guess I would tell you to turn to God?"

"Why?"

"Why?"

"Yeah. Why would you tell me to turn to God? What will happen to me if I don't?"

Timothy stammered for a few moments, looked around to see if anyone was eavesdropping, lowered his voice, and said, "I guess you would go to hell."

"Okay. I kinda put you on the spot."

"Uhuh."

"Let's switch. Now, I'm the Christian and you're my unbelieving, dying friend. Here's what I would say to you."

I communicated the law and the gospel to Timothy.

Timothy said he understood and believed everything I shared with him.

"What do you like to do, Timothy?"

"Play basketball."

Timothy was presently attending our local community college. His plan was to transfer to another SoCal community college where he hoped to make the basketball team.

"Timothy, what if I told you I could teach you everything you need to know about playing basketball?"

"Okay?"

"Here's what you need to know about playing basketball. You need to make sure the ball you use is orange and round. There are two baskets at opposite ends of the court. You need to make sure you put the ball in the right one."

I let the level of my "knowledge" of basketball sink into Timothy's mind.

"Timothy, if I were to say that to you would you think I knew anything about basketball?"

"Well, maybe. I don't like to judge people."

"Come on, Timothy! You judge all the time. If you're standing in front of two restaurants and one has a "D" from the Health Department on the front door, and the other restaurant has an "A," you're going to make a judgment and go into the restaurant with the letter "A" on the door. Judge me!"

Timothy smiled. "Okay. I wouldn't think you knew anything about basketball."

"Now, I have a tough question for you. If you wouldn't think I knew anything about basketball, based on what I said to you, then why should I believe you know Christ when you can't tell me how to know Him?"

Timothy thought about that for a moment.

"Look, Timothy, I don't know you're heart. But there are millions of people your age who have grown up in church. They think they know Jesus because going to church is all they've ever known. They think they are Christians because they were raised in a Christian home. Yet they have never repented of their sin and received Jesus Christ, by faith, as their Lord and Savior. They go to church on Sunday, and they live like hell Monday through Friday. They think because they prayed a prayer and asked Jesus into their heart, raised their hand, and walked down the aisle that they're right with Jesus. And they live like they have some kind of "Get Out of Hell Free" card. They say they know Jesus, but nothing has changed in their life. They are the same people they've always been.

"Timothy, can you point to a time in your life when your faith became your own--when you turned from your sin and received Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?"

Timothy thought about it.

"Timothy, something a friend taught me last weekend at a conference is this. A person doesn't have to hit rock bottom and be lying unconscious in an alley with a needle and syringe sticking out of his arm before they can come to faith in Christ. There are many people like you who grew up in church and can't point to an exact moment in time when they came to faith in Christ. That's okay. What matters is whether or not Christ has saved you and that you know you have turned from your sin and truly received Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior."

I could tell Timothy wasn't sure how to respond.

"Timothy, what's going to happen to you when you die?"

"I'm going to heaven?"

"Why?"

"Because of my faith?"

"And?"

"Well, because God will see what I've done with my life...."

"Weigh the good against the bad you've done?"

"Yes."

Again, Timothy had affirmed everything I said when I communicated the law and the gospel to him. Yet, his faith was not in Christ alone. It was in Christ.....and Timothy.

I spent some time taking Timothy through a couple court room scenarios, while explaining to him doctrines such as depravity, propitiation, and justification, in terms he could understand.

By the time we parted company, Timothy was asserting he was trusting in Christ alone for his salvation. Maybe he had been. Maybe he came to faith in Christ during our conversation. Or, maybe he remains a young man who, having grown up in church, is a false convert. God knows.

Pray for Timothy.


Maria

Just moments after I said goodbye to Timothy, a middle-aged woman dressed in summer hiking/walking clothes, carrying a backpack approached the table. Her skin was dark and leathery. She looked like she spent a lot of time outdoors.

"I'm a believer. I'm just wondering if you will pray for my friend."

"Certainly."

"His name is Jerry. He is Jewish. I've been trying to get through to him for years, but he just won't believe."

I held out my hand to the woman. "My name's Tony."

"The woman shook my hand. "I'm Maria."

"Well, I won't forget your name. My wife's name is Mahria. Where do you worship?"

The look that came upon Maria's face told me she didn't like the question.

"I worship everywhere, all the time."

Maria went on to tell me that she was raised in the Roman Catholic Church and attends the largest Roman Catholic Church in the community. She also attends a seeker mega-church and a charismatic church.

I happened to look to my right, and I saw my Mahria. She got off work early and was able to join me at the mall. What a blessing!

I introduced the two ladies and brought Mahria up to speed regarding my conversation with Maria.

Maria talked for several minutes about her spirituality. When it seemed like Maria was ready to pause, I asked, "May I tell you what I would say to Jerry?"

"Please."

"I would begin by reading Isaiah 53."

I opened my Bible to Isaiah 53. I held the book so that both ladies could see the pages. As I read, something inside me said, "Maria is going to stop me."

"Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. Out of the angui....."

Maria place her hand over the page in order to stop me from continuing.

"I read that to Jerry just today."

"You read all of Isaiah 53 to him, today?"

"Well, not all of it. Look, I have to get going. I'm already late for an appointment. Please pray for Jerry.

"We will. But Maria, before you go there's something else I need to say to you. You need to find a Bible-believing, Bible-teaching church and settle there."

"I'm in church on Sunday. I go to all three churches every Sunday."

"I understand. But, the churches you are going to don't preach the real gospel."

"I don't believe that."

"Maria. You look like you are athletic. You probably run or hike?"

"I do it all."

"Maria, what if you were running a race, and you came to a water station and I handed you a bottle of water. And just as you put the bottle to your mouth, I tell you there is a drop of poison in the water. Would you drink it?"

"I've heard this before. One church tells me there's poison in another church. Another church tells me there's poison in another church." They all have poison, but they also bear fruit."

"Maria, a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. It might look good. It may even taste good. But the fruit is always bad from a bad tree. The churches you are going to are bad trees."

Maria then asserted that she believes she is saved by the blood of Christ and faith in him alone, apart from works. She acknowledged that the Roman Catholic Church teaches that works are necessary for salvation, but she didn't see it as a big deal. She said the Bible is the only infallible authority, and that there are no perfect human teachers.

We parted company with smiles and well wishes. While Maria made many biblical assertions I could affirm, I was left after the conversation with little confidence she is saved. She finds comfort and peace in three of the worst churches in the community--churches where false gospels and unbiblical traditions are exalted.

Pray for Maria.


Julie and Cheri

Two ladies approached the table. One was a shorter lady, possible of Latin America descent. The other was a lady who appeared in her 30's. There names were Julie and Cheri, respectively.

Cheri was immediately drawn to the bibles on the table.

"Everything on the table is free." I said.

Julie touched Cheri to get her attention. Using American Sign Language (ASL) and her voice, Julie communicated to Cheri what I had just said. Cheri was deaf.

Cheri quickly took a Bible from the table and joyfully put it into her bag.

"Would you like one, too?" I asked Julie.

"Oh, I can have one?" She asked.

"Of course. I would love for you to have one."

Julie, once again gaining Cheri's attention with a gentle touch, told her, "I will read this to you at bedtime."

Mahria and I looked at each other and smiled.

"She has the mind of a five-year-old." Julie said, indicating Cheri was also developmentally disabled.

Our hearts went out to both Julie and Cheri as Cheri continued to pick up tracts off the table and put them into her bag. Then something at the end of the table caught Cheri's eye--my marble Ten Commandment tablets (The Ten Words).

Cheri pointed to the tablets and signed to Julie, indicating she wanted Julie to read what was on the tablets.

I almost cried as I watched this absolutely beautiful, God-ordained scene. One by one, Julie signed the Ten Commandments, explaining to Cheri what each one meant. Julie thought Cheri would be satisfied learning what was on the first of the two tablets. When Cheri realized Julie had stopped reading, Cheri pointed to the second tablet.

Julie continued signing the commandments, but came to a stop before getting through all of them.

"Can I help? Does Cheri have a question?" I asked Julie.

"Adultery. How do I explain that in terms she can understand."

Together we explained to Cheri that adultery happens when a person in a marriage behaves toward their husband or wife in a way that is not loyal, trustworthy, or faithful.

Julie asked Cheri if she wanted to get married. With the consternation of a child, Cheri made a pouty face, shook her head, and said, "no." We all chuckled, including Cheri.

As the two ladies started to leave, I handed Julie one of my business cards, from the table.

"My email address is on the card. If you find you or Cheri have any questions about what you are reading in the Bible, please email me. I would love to help the two of you in any way I can."

Both ladies made the sign to say, "Thank you." I did the same in return.

Before the two ladies reached the escalator, Cheri turned back, smiled, and made the sign for "I love you."

"I love you, too, Cheri." I said, repeating the hand gesture.

As the ladies made their way down the escalator, Mahria and I turned to each other and embraced, rejoicing in what had just happened--rejoicing in what the Lord had done for His own glory. It was a moment I will never forget.


"Mission Good Friday"

One of my closest friends, Bobby McCreery, with To the End of the Earth Ministries, reminded me that this particular day was the sixth anniversary of ‪‎Mission Good Friday‬. Six years ago, on Good Friday, I was prompted in my heart and mind to read Matthew 26-28 aloud, in the open-air. A number of people around the world joined me in the effort. Bobby was one of them. And it was the day that marked the beginning of his open-air ministry.

Open-air preaching is not allowed in the mall. No surprise, there. So, I decided I would read Matthew 26-28 aloud while sitting next to my table. I would read it loud enough for people close by to hear, but not loud enough to possibly alert security or mall management. I've established a good rapport with both, and my ministry at the mall, while adhering to the rules and regulations, has proven to be fruitful. I didn't want to mess up a good thing by pushing the envelope, so to speak.

I was nervous. In fact, it took until the last half-hour of my time at the mall for me to raise the courage to go through with it.

I prayed.

I opened my Bible to Matthew 26 and began to read.

Several times people paused to listen to the reading. One young man stopped me momentarily to shake my hand and to thank me for what I was doing. Some gave me strange looks while others smiled and gave approving nods of the head.

Here's the audio of today's public reading of God's Word.



It was a wonderful afternoon of ministry at the mall today, which was highlighted by enjoying partnership with my wife.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Javi Delivered 400 Bibles and Received One

Not long ago I let folks know, via social media, that I was running low on giveaway bibles. This was some time after multiple supporters made donations of an amount that allowed me to purchase almost 1,000 bibles (English and Spanish). In less than a month's time, due in large part to multiple outreaches I led during last month's Shepherds' Conference, the 900+ bibles I had purchased were gone--placed into the hands of people throughout Southern California. When I put out the word that my Bible stock was almost gone, one family stepped up and made a donation, which allowed me to purchase another 400 bibles. The bibles arrived at my home today.

The truck driver making the delivery of one pallet loaded with ten cases of "books" called me to let me know he would arrive at 12:14 PM. I thought he must have a really good GPS system to be that exact with his arrival time, especially in the greater Los Angeles area. I was skeptical, of course. But sure enough, the truck drove down my street at 12:14 PM. I'm easily impressed by such things.

The driver hopped down from the cab of the truck and introduced himself. His name was Javi. He was personable and looked to be about half of his 42 actual years of life.

As Javi maneuvered the pallet jack in the truck's trailer, he asked, "Are these books?"

"Yes. They're bibles."

"Really? Are you a minister?"

"I'm a street preacher. I give these bibles away to people I meet on the streets."

"Oh. That's cool." Javi said.

Javi loaded the jacked pallet onto the lift gate and slowly lowered the gate to the ground. He offloaded the pallet and put the pallet in the carport.

"I grew up Catholic." Javi said.

"So did I"

"Really?"

"Yep."

"I went to a big church with my girl friend at the time, about three years ago. It was a big church off the 118. It was an experience. I liked it. The pastor was funny."

My heart sank a bit as Javi continued to describe the church and his experience. I knew with certainty of which church Javi spoke. I have no doubt there are genuine followers of Jesus Christ who attend the church. I know this is true because I've met them. A few of my friends, whose salvation is not in question as far as I'm concerned, have attended, even served at the church in the past. But the church in question is not known for the gospel. Furthermore, there have been times over the years when the church (or at least members of its staff) have been better known for their opposition to public evangelism than for reaching the lost with the gospel. American Evangelicalism.

I said nothing to Javi about the church. I only acknowledged I was familiar with the church he attended.

"So, Javi." I began. "Is it safe to assume that since you've attended church that you believe in God?"

"Yes. I believe in God."

"What do you think is going to happen to you when you die?"

"I don't know."

"Nothing wrong with that. That's an honest answer."

"If you were to die today--and I don't want that to happen--and God were to ask you why He should allow you to enter heaven, what would you say?"

"I don't know. I've done some bad things in my life--a lot of bad things."

"Okay. How about this. Would you consider yourself to be a good person?"

"Yeah. I guess so."

"What is your definition of a 'good person?' According to Javi, a 'good guy' is...?"

"Someone who helps other people. Someone who is considerate?"

"Did you just describe yourself?"

"Yeah." Javi acknowledged with a smile.

"And that's what most people do. When I ask people on the streets to describe a 'good person' for me, they look into the mirror and describe the first person they see."

Javi smiled again.

"But, Javi, the problem is this. God's standard for goodness is moral perfection. Jesus said, 'You are to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect'" (Matthew 5:48).

"No one can live up to that." Javi said.

"That's right. No one can. The Bible says, 'All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God' (Romans 3:23). You and I have both sinned against God. You've admitted you've done lots of bad things. If God gave you and me what we deserved for our sins against Him, we would both spend eternity in hell.

"Have you ever been inside a courtroom?" I asked.

"Yes I have."

I then shared with Javi a "courtroom analogy" (something I learned many years ago from a man whose influence in my life has been great--Ray Comfort). I have shared this analogy with thousands of people during conversations and while open-air preaching.

"Javi, if the judge released you, would that be good news?"

"Yes." He said with a chuckle."

"What would you think of the man who paid your fine."

"I would be indebted to him forever."

"Well, let's see if that's true."

I proclaimed the gospel to Javi.

I decided to go back over the "courtroom analogy" with Javi, this time changing the scenario.

"Let's go back to that courtroom. This time, let's say you broke into someone's home late at night. As you're going through the house, you notice pictures on the wall."

"Family pictures."

"Right. Family pictures. Then, a teenager, hearing noise in the house, confronts you in the living room. You panic and you stab the kid. He dies.

"You are arrested and you confess to the crime. Now, instead of life in prison, the judge sentences you to death. Throughout the trial, you have this weird feeling that you had met the judge before."

Javi interrupted. "I know where this is going! The pictures on the wall!"

"Yep. You got it. Javi, you killed the judge's son. The man who just sentenced you to death is the victim's father."

Javi slowly dropped his head and looked at the ground.

"Javi. In this case, it's not like our court system today. In this case, you don't get 20 years of three hots and a cot (meals and a bed), all the pornography you can look at, and all the weights you can lift. As soon as the judge sentences you to die, they start to take you into the room where they are going to strap you to a table, stick a needle in your arm, and put you to sleep like a stray dog.

"But before you leave the courtroom, the judge stands up from his chair, takes off his robe of authority, and steps down from his bench. He looks at you and says, 'You deserve to die for murdering my son. But I'm going to take your place.'

"Javi, ever time you sin it's like driving a knife through the heart of God's Son, Jesus Christ. It's as if you are murdering Christ over and over, again. But if you repent, if you turn from your sin and receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, God will forgive your crimes against Him.

"The Bible says, 'These things have been written so that you may know that you have eternal life' (a paraphrase of 1 John 5:13, emphasis mine). Javi, you can know the forgiveness of God, the mercy of God, the love of God. You can know you will spend eternity with Him in heaven, if you repent and receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior."

Javi nodded his head. "I'm listening." He said.

"Javi, is there anything, any sin in your life that you love so much that you just won't give it up? Is there any sin you won't give up today, knowing if you don't repent and receive Christ you will spend eternity in hell?"

Javi looked skyward and thought for a moment.

"That's a really good question. I'm going to have to think about that."

"Please do."

"I will."

"Do you have a Bible?" I asked pointing to the pallet of 400 bibles Javi had just delivered.

"No I don't."

"Can I give you one of these?"

"Sure!"

Together, Javi and I tore through the plastic shrink wrap holding the cases of bibles together. Once we exposed the top of one of the boxes, Javi pulled his keys out of his pocket and used it to break the seal of the box. I reached inside and removed a Bible. Before handing it to Javi, I took Javi's pen from his shirt pocket, signed the Bible 'To Javi, From Tony,' and wrote down my cell number and email address.

I handed the Bible to Javi. He opened it up to look at the inscription I wrote. "Thank you." He said.

"A good place to start reading is the Gospel of John."

I turned the pages in the Bible Javi was now holding to the Gospel of John. I dog-eared the first page so it would be easier for him to find.

"Javi. All I know about you is your first name. No salesman will come to your door."

Javi laughed.

"I wrote down my number and email address. If you have any questions about what we've talked about, or if you have any questions about what you read in the Bible, give me a holler."

"I will!"

Javi allowed me to snap the above picture before he headed to his truck.

As Javi opened the door and stepped up and into the cab, I called out to Javi. "Hey, Javi! I'm going to have more bibles delivered here in the future. I hope you're the one to deliver them!"

"Me, too!" Javi said with a smile.

Javi drove away with only 399 less bibles in his truck. Javi delivered 400 bibles, and he received one.

*****

My friend, Paul Washer, has often said, "Some are called to go down into the well. Others are called to hold the rope."

While I went down into the well to have this wonderful conversation with Javi, the family that made the donations, which allowed me to purchase the bibles that Javi delivered, held the rope.

Those of you (churches and individuals) who regularly provide financial support to the ministry: you hold the rope.

Those of you who make donations according to the needs of the moment--needs like bibles, gospel tracts, and other evangelism-related equipment: you hold the rope.

Those of you who pray for me and my family, and for the ministry to which God has called me: you hold the rope.

You hold the rope.

Thank you!