Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Mall Evangelism: "I Want to Talk about God"

Yesterday was my first time back to the Valencia Town Center, for the purpose of evangelism, in more than a year. Lots of travel, changes in focus and direction, and simply not being able to be in multiple places at once, led to me stepping away from mall evangelism for a while. But now that I'm trying to focus more of my evangelism efforts in my own community, the time was right to once again set up a table at my local mall.

Since I am committed to trying to keep my evenings free to spend time with my family, I opted to set up the table at the mall in the middle of the day. As often as I can (life and travel permitting), I plan to man a table at the mall every Friday afternoon, from about 1:00 PM to 5:00 PM.

The mall is a madhouse during the Christmas season, so the mall limits its usual seven free speech locations to only one. With lots of groups (good and bad) vying for the use of a table at the one location, I took what dates were available. So, in addition to my time yesterday, I will man a table on Friday the 19th and Tuesday the 23rd of this month.

Afternoons at the mall, even during the holiday season, have an entirely different atmosphere from the typical Friday and Saturday night vibe. Most Friday's and Saturday nights, the mall serves as a babysitter for parents who drop off their 10-15 year old children. Packs of undisciplined young people being led by undisciplined young people doing what young people do. You get the picture. The afternoon to early evening hours find the mall much quieter, not as busy, with the ages of patrons being older than that of the weekend night crowd.

So, from 1:30 PM to 5:30 PM yesterday, I sat at a table covered with an assortment of gospel tracts, bibles, and my laptop--the lid of which encourages passerbys to stop and chat.

Table evangelism at the mall is much like going to a lake, setting up along the shoreline, casting your line in the water, placing your rod in a holder, and waiting for the fish to bite. Shoreline fishing takes a lot of patience. Instead of stalking the fish like a fisherman does when fly or lure fishing (mass tract distribution and open-air preaching), the shoreline fisherman (mall table) waits for the fish to come to him.

And he waits.

Yesterday was a very slow day and the fish weren't biting well. I did have an opportunity to place a Thank You tract into the hands of a Marine, PFC. And a young man came to the table and took a Bible. Believing and trusting in the sovereignty of God, I found contentment in these two opportunities. I continued to pray.

About midway through my time at the mall, I noticed a man walk by who looked at me and the table out of the corner of his eye. Lots of people do that. I'll watch folks like that, even stare at them as they walk by, hoping they will break their cover and make eye contact with me, so I can say hello and offer them a Bible.

The man moved on, but he stayed in the area, trying to remain inconspicuous as he circled the table like a curious, soaring bird. I'm sure he didn't think I noticed, but I am a trained observer after all.

With about 45 minutes left in my time at the mall, the man finally approached the table.

"Let's talk." He said, pulling up a chair and gingerly sitting down. His left knee was in a brace. I would later learn he had reconstructive knee surgery about eight weeks ago. We'll call him "Matt."

"What's on your mind? What do you want to talk about?"

"I want to talk about God."

"Where would you like to begin?"

Matt began to share his story. He was recently medically retired and placed on disability after 30 years working in the movie industry's transportation services. He was a truck driver who, for decades, engaged in all of the literally back-breaking work that entails.

Matt is in his 22nd year of sobriety and, up till several months ago, was a regular participant in AA and NA. All Matt's life, he believed in God and finally tired of the "higher power," "you can worship your doorknob" philosophy of AA/NA.

One day, he was in a Barnes and Noble and found himself in the religious literature section. There, he found a Bible. He bought it and started to read it. He began in Genesis. When he reached Isaiah and started to read the prophet's account of seeing the Lord seated on His throne, with the train of His robe filling the temple with glory, and the angels heralding the thrice-glorious truth ("Holy, Holy, Holy"), the veil was removed from His eyes. While trucking from Point A to Point B, Matt had occasion to stop at the Grand Canyon. There, surrounded by the majestic artistry of Almighty God, and pondering what He read in Isaiah, as well as what He read in the Book of Acts, Matt was drawn by God to His Son Jesus Christ.

According to Matt, his transformation took place only six months ago.

Yet Matt was troubled. He was not content. He was not at peace as he sat in front of me, trying to rub the soreness out of his rebuilt knee.

"Why am I excited to read the Bible one minute, but not the next? Why does my spiritual life seem to go well for a time, but then the fire fades?"

Did Matt have a nothing more than an emotional and spiritual experience at the Grand Canyon? Or did he really come to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. I couldn't provide biblical counsel to Matt until I had some assurance that a born-again follower of Christ was sitting in front of me. To apply biblical counsel to an unregenerate heart would be to set Matt up for a season of frustrating, harmful works-righteousness. The result would not be repentance and faith, but a deadly commitment to moralistic, therapeutic deism.

I opted to take Matt through a "Three Minutes to Live" scenario. He was unable to articulate the gospel.

I've learned over the years that while a person cannot be saved by the gospel they do not know, the can be saved by the gospel they cannot articulate well.

As I switched roles with Matt (making him the unbeliever in the scenario), I preached the law and the gospel to him. With every biblical point I made came an affirming nod of the head from Matt. He not only affirmed that he believed everything I said, but added that he knew salvation was not of works, but only through faith in Jesus Christ.

I believed I had a brother in Christ sitting in front of me--a Christian man who was young in his faith and not well discipled.

Giving Matt the benefit of the doubt, I explained to him the doctrine of progressive sanctification. I talk to him about how important it is for Christians to take every thought captive, to fight well the battle for the mind. I encouraged him to not only meditate upon, but commit to practicing the truths of Philippians 4:5-9.

We ended our conversation with me putting my hand on Matt's shoulder and praying for him. I gave him my card, we shook hands and, with a smile on his face, he walked away.

I thank God for my time of ministry at the mall yesterday.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Pastor: When You're Ready to Get Serious about Reaching the Law Enforcement Community



My 20 years in law enforcement included eight years of serving in the dual role of a reserve deputy sheriff and a department chaplain. During those eight years, I also served for two years as a church planter. These varied experiences allowed me to serve the community and to serve my department in a number of different ways. One way was educating pastors around the country about how they and their churches could authentically and effectively reach out to their local law enforcement community.

The law enforcement community is a very unique subculture. Law enforcement agencies draw their rank and file from the same fallible human race as every other profession. While a very tight-knit group of people, the law enforcement community can, at times, be a rather dysfunctional family--just like Christian churches.

Yes, the law enforcement community is a tough nut to crack. We are not the most approachable people in the world. We trust very few people outside our community. We expect to be lied to every day, and we are. Most politicians are not our friends and only want our votes. We expect the "Right Reverend So-and-So" to grab a microphone, step in front of the camera (or today onto social media) whenever we are involved in a critical incident resulting in the injury or death of criminals and/or civilians.

As was proven true on social media and on television over the last few months, the law enforcement community expects some "pastors" to clamor for officers' heads on a platter while these "pastors" jump to every conceivable conclusion except for one--that the officers did the right thing. It happened 22 years ago in Los Angeles. And it's happening around the country today. Some "pastors," with their incendiary and often inaccurate rhetoric, have done as much as anyone else to fan the flames of unrest and incite riotous behavior.

So, no, by and large, the law enforcement community doesn't trust the Christian community. As they do with just about every other group that, in their minds, appears to be an self-serving agenda, many law enforcement professionals keep the "church" community at arms length.

There is an "us versus them," "you're either with us or against us" mentality in the law enforcement community. Some of it's warranted. Some of it is an overreaction. Some of it is borne out of reoccurring bad experiences, survival instincts, and a need for yet one more coping mechanism.

There are bad cops. There are men and women wearing a badge and carrying a gun who have no business doing either. They are a danger to themselves and to others, including their fellow officers. While I can think of an inexhaustible list of good officers who are true professionals, brave, compassionate, and sacrificial people, I also have a short list (a very short list) of officers with whom I worked that I would never allow in my patrol car. Either their integrity or officer safety or both was suspect, and that's not how I rolled.

But the vast majority of those men and women who choose a career in law enforcement do so for the right reasons. Part of their DNA, although tainted by a sinful nature, is a desire to help people and to serve others. They are, for the most part, Type A individuals. Many of them are natural leaders. Many of them are selfless. Many of them are caretakers at heart. Many are hard on the outside, and tender on the inside. They don't want to hurt people. They don't want to take another person's life. They are not racists. They are not looking to fulfill some kind of twisted need for power. They don't want to oppress people.

They are not "good people," in a biblical sense. There are no "good people" (Romans 3:10-18). But, the law enforcement community includes some of the very best men and women the world has to offer. I know them. I've served with them. I've celebrated with them; I've mourned with them. I've laughed with them; I've cried with them. They've driven me nuts; they've blessed my heart. I love them. They are family to me.

While many law enforcement professionals are "spiritual" people, the vast majority of them are lost. They do not know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. They are not born-again; they are not saved. The law enforcement community is a large mission field, and virtually untouched by the genuine body of Christ. And while the law enforcement community isn't a "touchy-feely" group of folks, this doesn't mean they are impossible to reach. It takes time and commitment, and lots of both.

What I would like to do for you, pastor--the man of God who holds the law enforcement in high regard (but not on a pedestal), is give you some practical steps to initiating contact with your law enforcement community, introducing them to your church, and reaching them with the gospel of Jesus Christ.


Community Academy

Check with your local law enforcement agency to see if they provide a Community Academy. These academies, often held in the evening and one night each week, over a six to ten-week period, are designed to introduce the civilian community to the day-to-day operations of their local law enforcement agency. Participants are exposed to most, if not all, of the operations within their local patrol station.

Participating in a Community Academy is a wonderful way to meet the men and women who serve your community, in a controlled and relatively calm environment. You will learn, by going behind the scenes, just how much an officer does through the course of shift or a week of shifts.

Your participation in a Community Academy will also send a positive message to the law enforcement community--one that says you are genuinely interested in those who protect and serve you.


Ride-A-Longs

Most law enforcement agencies allow civilians to spend a shift in the passenger seat of a patrol car. These visit's to an officer's "office on wheels" is commonly referred to as a ride-a-along.

It has been said that an eight-hour shift on patrol is seven hours and fifty-eight minutes of boredom, for two minutes of terror. You just never known when those two minutes are going to come. A ride-a-long is nothing like watching a 90-second video tape on YouTube. It's nothing like reading the tweets from armchair quarterbacks about how officers should do their job. It's nothing like what you see on Prime Time TV or in a movie theater. And what's the difference?

A ride-a-long is real. You will spend time with a real officer, in a real patrol car, as he does real police work--everything from vehicle stops, to alarm calls, to domestic disturbances, to other crimes in progress, to the "didn't see that one coming" moments. You will only be "relatively safe" on a ride-a-long, which is to say that while the officer will not intentionally put you in harm's way, he cannot guarantee you will go home at the end of the shift. He cannot guarantee for you what he cannot guarantee for himself.

In between vehicle stops and calls you will get to talk to the officer. He won't trust you, at first. He may not even like having you in his unit. You'll get over it. And so long as you don't pepper him with ridiculous questions, the two of you should get along just fine. And by the end of the shift, you will have a new or renewed appreciation for what the officers in the community do for you while you sleep, or while you're at work, or while you're curled up with your family watching Frozen.


Station Volunteer

Many law enforceƔment agencies have long-since seen the value of civilian volunteers. Volunteers can be assigned to non-hazardous patrol and station tasks that relieve sworn and reserve personnel to be able to focus on their primary objective--preventing and fighting crime. Volunteers also help the agency's bottom line--the budget.

Most agencies only require 8-16 hours each month of their volunteers. Serving as a station volunteer is an excellent way to move beyond the occasional visitor to a friend of the family.


Chaplaincy

The eight years I serve as a department chaplain were the most exhausting, most difficult, and most rewarding years of my time on the department. Granted, I was serving as a reserve deputy at the same time, which afforded me a level of access and involvement that most chaplains don't experience. But pastors who are willing to put in the time and effort, will find chaplaincy a very rewarding ministry--one that will lead to gospel opportunities with officers and the community members with whom they come in contact.

As with station volunteers, most departments require chaplains to commit to 8-16 hours of service at their unit of assignment, along with a monthly meeting, and some occasional in-service training. Once a chaplain establishes rapport with his officers, and shows that he's at the station for more than next Sunday's sermon illustration, he will slowly be welcomed into the family. Over time, the pastor/chaplain can and often will establish a ministerial bond with his officers that will only be rivaled by the relationship he has with his flock.


Conclusion

What I've presented in this article are realistic, practical ways for a pastor to become acquainted with and establish a rapport with his local law enforcement professionals. The question you must now ask yourself, pastor, is, "Am I ready? Am I ready to get serious about reaching my local law enforcement community?" If the answer is "yes," then take that first step, today. If the answer is "no," then I suggest you spend some serious time in prayer and ask yourself why you are not ready to try to reach a significant subculture in your community.

Pastor: a word of caution.

If your primary mission, your goal, your heart's desire is not to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to the law enforcement community, please, I beg you, don't bother. The law enforcement community has plenty of psychologists and psychiatrists. The law enforcement community has plenty of unsaved spiritual guides trying to offer my law enforcement brethren Band-Aids for mortal, eternal wounds. The law enforcement community has plenty of groupies.

Pastor, if your plan is to work your way into my family's good graces, let your little light shine, while keeping your mouth shut about the gospel, please leave my family alone. Stay away. They don't need you. They need Christ.

But if you are a man of God, pastor, who sees that everyone's primary need is Christ and the salvation only He can provide, then I beg you to try to love my law enforcement family. They need the gospel you will preach. They need the Lord you serve.

And, while I'm no longer with the government, I'm here to help. If you have questions or concerns, pastor, drop me a line.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Suicide Behind the Badge: Wait! There's Hope!

No one remembers them with a black band across the badge--the symbol of respect and remembrance for an officer killed in the line-of-duty. Many officers won't attend their funerals, even their close friends, because it's just too hard. Brethren officers are too angry, too hurt, too afraid that it might one-day be them. The brother or sister officer in the casket didn't die protecting and serving the community. He or she didn't die making the ultimate sacrifice. He or she didn't die of an incurable disease after a valiant fight. He or she didn't die at a ripe-old-age, in the midst of retirement, after a long and distinguished career.

The officer took his own life, leaving behind a wife or girlfriend, maybe children, and a department filled with law enforcement brethren who struggle to maintain their sanity and bearing in the midst of everything the world throws at them.

Suicides happen for many reasons. Before I continue, it is important that I emphatically, and for the record offer the following theological presupposition. Suicide is NOT an unforgivable sin. The only unforgivable sin is unbelief--to not believe that salvation is by the grace of God alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. The only unforgivable sin is to shun the command of Jesus Christ in his first public sermon: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel" (Mark 1:15).


Stats and My Own Experiences

Statistics show that the number of police officers who commit suicide each year is about the same as the number of officers killed in the line-of-duty each year. The number of law enforcement suicides each year is about three times the number of officers killed each year during a violent confrontation with a suspect. While officers, like the general population, commit suicide in various ways, many officers who commit suicide do so with their duty weapon or another firearm.

As a deputy sheriff and chaplain, I responded to too many officer suicides.

A young deputy sheriff who had served in the Marines and was attending USC while working full-time as a deputy sheriff, went out one night with some friends. He had some drinks and, in a moment of foolishness, brandished his off-duty firearm. He was called by a supervisor and told to come to the jail where he was assigned. He was told he was going to be relieved of duty, pending a criminal and internal investigation.

The deputy drove to the jail parking lot, sat in his car for a while, put his gun to his head, and killed himself.

I received a call to a local restaurant regarding a suicide that had just occurred. When I arrived at the parking lot behind the restaurant, I learned that two LAPD officers, along with their wives, had gone to the restaurant for an evening of food and relaxation. One of the officers had a little too much to drink, yet he insisted on driving home. When his friends couldn't convince him not to drive, they told him they would call the sheriff's department.

Assuming he would be arrested, the officer got into his vehicle, put his gun to his head, and killed himself.

The deputy sheriff and police officer in the above stories saw their respective incidents as the end of the world. As a result, they made an irrational decision to take their own lives, while having the immediate means to carry out the act.

There are other stories like the above I can share. But why leave you with the thoughts and images I carry with me every day. By God's grace, I'm free from the pain of these and other situations in which I was involved, but I doubt I will ever be, this side of heaven, relieved of the memories.


A Recent Tragedy

On Friday, November 28, I received a private message on Facebook from a fellow, retired officer. He shared the tragic news that an active duty LAPD detective had committed suicide on Thanksgiving Day, in a Walmart parking lot. At the time, little more was known beyond the sad reality that we lost another member of the law enforcement family to suicide. In the days since the detective took his life, it has come to light that he was facing serious, criminal allegations.

Most will assume the detective was guilty of the allegations made against him. "After all," some will speculate, "why else would he kill himself." There are only three people who know with certainty: the two accusers and the detective. Beyond those three, only God (the Omniscient One) knows what happened.

Some refer to me as a "homer"--an apologist for law enforcement. That designation has been given to me several times during the last few months because of what I've said and written in defense of law enforcement, regarding the situations in Ferguson, MO, and New York City. It doesn't bother me. If someone wants to pin that badge on me, I'll wear it with honor. No problem.

As a defender of my law enforcement family, I have come to no conclusions as to why the detective committed suicide. Yes, I have my opinions like many others. As a retired law enforcement professional, my guesses might be more educated than others. But the reality is that any opinion I offer would at best (and worst) be speculation, so I'm not going to do it here.

This I will say. The detective could have committed suicide because he was innocent.


Suicide: Many Reasons and a Common Denominator

After a first reading, the above statement might seem confusing, contradictory, even foolish. Why would an innocent man commit suicide? In today's social and political climate where more and more people (inside and outside the Christian church) are quick to assume the worst about law enforcement, the detective might have seen the allegations made against him as the end of his world--an end to his career, an end to his marriage, an end of his integrity and reputation, an end to his involvement in his church. Whether such thoughts would later turn out to be true or imagined, in an emotionally distraught and twisted state of mind, the detective might have thought (wrongly so) that suicide would be best for his family--sparing them the pain of a drawn-out investigation, criminal trial, and or civil suit.

Of course the above is complete speculation on my part. Maybe further investigation will determine the detective's guilt or innocence. Regardless, no one wins in this situation, or in any suicide. Everyone loses.

In many cases (it would be irresponsible for me to assert the following is true in all cases) suicide is a very selfish act. The suicidal person's vision, for myriad possible reasons, becomes dangerously myopic as to his view of the world. His exaggerated level of introspection gives him a form of tunnel vision so intense that no light can penetrate the end of the tunnel. In such a state and at such a point of darkened despair, the suicidal person sees no one but himself. All sight is turned inward and he lies to himself by thinking he will be doing everyone else a favor if he kills himself.

If the suicidal person is outside of Christ (unsaved, unregenerate, not born again), he wrongly, arrogant, and selfishly assumes that ending his life will bring him peace. It's not true. Anyone who commits suicide, not knowing Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, simply ends his life while adding one more sin to a lifetime of sin, for which he will be judged by God. Peace they will not find. Peace they will never experience. Like the rich man begging Abraham for just a drop of water on his burning tongue, the unrepentant sinner will spend eternity in torment.

Many people assume that most police officers commit suicide because of the day-to-day uncommon pressure they experience on the job. This is true, but only to a point. Yes, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is real in the law enforcement community. As a law enforcement chaplain, I received a considerable amount of training regarding how to help officers navigate and minimize the effects of the very real physical and emotional trauma they can face on a daily basis. Critical Incident Stress Defusing and Debriefing (CISD) has legitimate, helpful applications in the law enforcement and military communities, as well as in other first responder communities.

However, officers who commit suicide do so as a result of life issues away from the job as often as they do as a result of the stresses of life behind the badge. Like the rest of the world, some officers struggle with relationships, alcoholism, addiction to pain medication (painful back and knee problems are commonplace among officers), and a host of other problems. Like the rest of the world, officers are born with a sin nature, which makes them prone to sin every day of their lives. Sin has consequences--not only spiritual, but physical and emotional as well.

Like the rest of the world, officers have a will that is not free, but limited by their sinful nature. Without saving faith in Jesus Christ, even their best decisions and deeds are sinful in the eyes of a holy God.

The common denominator in every suicide, regardless of the myriad contributing factors--whether physiological, emotional, environmental, or relational--is sin.


Yet There is Hope!

In spite of an all-consuming sinful nature and the other factors that might contribute to a person's decision to contemplate or commit suicide, hope remains.

The word "hope" appears 164 times in the Bible (ESV).
"Through [Jesus Christ] we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" (Romans 5:2-5).

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope" (Romans 15:13).

"For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe" (1 Timothy 4:10).

"But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life" (Titus 3:4-7).

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls" (1 Peter 1:3-9).
Yes, there is hope! But hope, like faith, is only as reliable as the object of one's hope. As the old hymn rightly communicates: "Hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness."

Hope, real hope, whether in good times or times of utter despair, is found nowhere else and in no one else than Jesus Christ the Lord. Through Jesus Christ and Him alone, you can have access to the grace of God. Real joy and peace comes not from this world or the things of this world but through hope in the living God, Jesus Christ, the Savior of people from every conceivable people group who believe in Him. The hope isn't in living one's best life now, or finding your purpose, or in any other man-centered idea. The hope, available to all who by faith believe in Jesus Christ, is eternal life. And this kind of hope, supernaturally given by the Creator of everything, is a living hope that can never be taken away because it is guarded by the God who has given it to those He has caused to be born again.

If your hope is in your career (whether its law enforcement or a career of another kind), your hope is in vain. If your hope is in people, no matter how wonderful people seem, your hope is in vain. If your hope is in medicine or therapy, your hope is in vain. If you have put your hope in yourself, your hope is in vain. Why? It's simple, really. Your career, the people you love, the wisdom of the world, and even you will let you down. Somewhere along the way, in some way, everyone and everything has the potential to disappoint you.

But not Christ. Not Christ. Jesus Christ cannot and will not disappoint those who, by faith, receive Him as Lord and Savior. There is forgiveness in Christ. There is new life in Christ. There is eternal life in Christ. There is peace and joy in Christ. And there is hope in Christ.

My dear brothers and sisters behind the badge (or anyone else who might read this): this is the truth that will set you free.

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, the reader, 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.


Final, Practical Thoughts

If you are reading this and find yourself in such a state of deep despair that you are contemplating taking your life, get help. Now. Talk to someone. Talk to whoever it is you trust the most. To not seek help is a symptom of pride. And God is opposed to the proud, but He gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).

If you know someone who you think might be suicidal, ask him or her. You will not push the person over the proverbial edge by asking him if he's having suicidal thoughts. Often times, the opposite happens. When the suicidal person becomes aware that others are seeing what he thought were the plans concocted in the secret places of his heart and mind, this often defuses the situation, gives the suicidal person a moment of pause, and gives him the opportunity to ask for help.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Eisegetical Grinches


Since 1966, the year I started growing my first mustache at the ripe-old age of two, The Grinch has entertained children of all ages every year around Christmas. Yes, my family owns the DVD. The fictional, animated character, created by Dr. Seuss, is the anti-Santa--the Scrooge of Seuss's poetic, satirical world. So iconic has the green creature of unknown, biological origin become that his name is now both a moniker for and a description of grumpy, stingy people--especially around Christmas.


Grinches

I've titled this article "Eisegetical Grinches" because there are well-meaning, Christ-loving, Bible-believing Christians who subscribe to the idea that the celebration of Christmas is demonic and sinful. There are soundly saved folks who cannot seem to keep themselves from doing their level-best to admonish their Christian brethren to remove their from their homes all wreathes, mistletoe, and those Nativity scenes that include the historically and biblically inaccurate presence of three "wise men." And the tree. "Oh!" They demand. "Begone pagan representative that now can be purchased with the lights already strung!"

Thank you so very much to whoever came up with that gem of brilliance. He or she has saved me quite a bit of time and energy over the last several years. And to you evergreen purists out there, I laugh in your general direction.

Now, it is important to note that in painting a word picture of a Christian Grinch, I am not suggesting that every Christian who refrains from bringing a tree into their home and decorating it is a Grinch. I am not suggesting that every Christian who does not involve themselves in extra-biblical holiday traditions is a Grinch. On the contrary: some of my brothers and sisters in Christ who do not participate in the traditions of men at Christmas experience as much joy (or maybe more) than those of us who do participate. And to that I herald the timeless words of Dickens' Tiny Tim, "And God bless us everyone!"

So, I've covered the "Grinch" part of this article's title. But what about the "Eisegetes" part?


Eisegetes

An "eisegete" is one who engages in eisegesis. "Eisegesis" is:
"The act imposing meaning onto a text and is often described in terms of reading "into" the text rather than "out of" it. Therefore it is the opposite of Exegesis."
Grinches (again, I'm talking about only those Christians who do not participate in Christmas and impose their preferences upon other Christians) perform eisegesis on a particular passage in the Bible, in an attempt to justify their personal prohibitions regarding Christmas trees. Then, they try to use the same passage as an "AHA!" sledgehammer to try to convince those providing December foster homes for trees that, in doing so, they are sinning.

The passage is Jeremiah 10:1-10 (KJV). Let's look at it in its.....wait for it.....context.
"Hear ye the word which the Lord speaketh unto you, O house of Israel: Thus saith the Lord, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not. They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go. Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good. Forasmuch as there is none like unto thee, O Lord; thou art great, and thy name is great in might. Who would not fear thee, O King of nations? for to thee doth it appertain: forasmuch as among all the wise men of the nations, and in all their kingdoms, there is none like unto thee. But they are altogether brutish and foolish: the stock is a doctrine of vanities. Silver spread into plates is brought from Tarshish, and gold from Uphaz, the work of the workman, and of the hands of the founder: blue and purple is their clothing: they are all the work of cunning men. But the Lord is the true God, he is the living God, and an everlasting king: at his wrath the earth shall tremble, and the nations shall not be able to abide his indignation."
Now, if we look at the passage through the eyes of the Grinch, you may tilt your head, contort your lips, widen your eyes (you just did all that, didn't you?) and feel some compulsion to say, "They may have a point."

Cut down tree (10:3). Check.

Deck it with silver and gold (10:4). Check.

You're not alone if you just pictured Burl Ives as the snowman in "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" singing "Silver and Gold." If you want to get that song out of your head, just think of decking the halls with boughs of holly. Sorry. Had to do it to you. Fa-la-la-la-la-lala-la-la.

Fasten it with nails (10:4). Check.

We're more civilized thees days and don't nail real trees directly into our almost-real-looking laminated floors, but we do fasten them in one way or another to keep them upright and stationary.

To the Grinch, if the above doesn't describe a Christmas tree, well, he doesn't know what does.

The Grinch doesn't like Christmas trees. He wants to rid the world, certainly Christian homes, of Christmas trees. Why? He believes they are pagan and idolatrous. Now, what Bible-believing, Christ-loving person would want to blaspheme God through idolatrous practices? You? No. Me? Uh-uh! No way!

The Grinch would have an ironclad case against the Christmas tree, but for one.....small.....problem. The passage in question has nothing whatsoever to do with a Christian bringing a tree into his or her home during what is commonly referred to as the "Christmas Season" and decorating it. Even a cursory observation of the text shows us that.

The Lord, through Jeremiah the prophet, is speaking to Israel (10:1), not to Christians. The first audience of the prophesies given to Jeremiah would have had no clue what a Christmas tree was. They would have tilted their heads like curious puppies at the mention of the word "Christmas."

The sin, the offense against God, committed by the people of Israel was not the cutting down of trees and decorating them. The violation of God's law by God's people was the blasphemous worship (idolatry) of the trees they cut down and decorated.

If Christian Grinches had police powers and were able to obtain and execute search warrants of Christian homes, in search of Christians worshiping Christmas trees, they would not make a single arrest. Oh, they would find plenty of Christmas trees. But they would find not a single Christian worshiping a decorated tree.

I've never talked to my Christmas trees. I've never asked my Christmas trees questions. I've never prayed to my Christmas trees. I've never beatified or deified any of my Christmas trees. I've never offered sacrifices to my Christmas trees. I've never rubbed the trunk of any of my Christmas trees anticipating that a squirrel genie would jump out and grant me three wishes.

I've never worshiped a Christmas tree. I will never worship a Christmas tree.

I've never met a Christian who worships Christmas trees. And I never will meet a born-again follower of Christ who worships Christmas trees.

This, on the other hand--well, this is tree worship.




Let's Take a Deep Breath and Review

Jeremiah 10:1-10 is a prophetic warning to the people of Israel to stop committing idolatry against the Lord God.

The trees mentioned in Jeremiah 10:1-10 were objects of idolatry.

Jeremiah 10:1-10 is not about Christians putting up and decorating Christmas trees in their homes.

Having a Christmas tree is not idolatry.

Worshiping a Christmas tree is idolatry.

Christians don't worship Christmas trees.

Pagans and other unbelievers of various stripes might worship Christmas trees. I'm guessing the emotionally unhinged, never-let-these-folks-babysit-your-children-kind-of-people in the above video might worship Christmas trees.

It's okay for Christians to choose not to have a Christmas tree in their homes.

It's okay for Christians to have Christmas trees in their homes.

Neither group of Christians should impose their preferences regarding Christmas trees on the other group.

Christians are not commanded by God, in the Bible, to memorialize the birth of Jesus.

Christians are not forbidden by God, in the Bible, to memorialize the birth of Jesus.

You can have a Christmas tree and still love Jesus.

You don't have to have a Christmas tree to love Jesus

Merry Christmas.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Open-Air Preacher: Command Presence



Command Presence Defined

Something stressed to me as I went through the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Training Academy, and something I would later stress as a training officer to newly assigned patrol deputies, was the necessity of command presence.

A man with command presence is a man who carries himself with a certain demeanor or bearing that renders attributes such as physical size or strength of secondary importance.

A man with command presence is a man who has the ability to take control of a situation and lead others forward, sometimes in contradiction to their fears and apprehensions.

A man with command presence is a man who has the ability to exert control over people, whether over an individual or a crowd, often times without the people realizing they are under control.

A man with command presence is a man whose carriage, dress, tone, and deportment warrants, even demands, respect.

A man with command presence is a man who speaks with authority, either his own authority or an alien authority entrusted to him.

Jesus Christ embodied, possessed, and exercised perfect command presence.


A Brief Exposition

"And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath [Jesus] entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes" (Mark 1:21-22)

Shortly after John the Baptist was arrested, Jesus began his earthly ministry with His first public sermon--a call to repent and believe the gospel (Mark 1:15). He followed this by calling several of His disciples to follow Him, promising to make them "fishers of men" (Mark 1:16-20). Jesus then entered the synagogue of Capernaum and began teaching the people present. The immediate reaction of the people was astonishment.

The Greek word translated as "astonished" is a word Mark uses several times in his gospel. The word carries a great deal of weight and emotion. The people in the synagogue reacted to Jesus' teaching as people hearing such teaching for the very first time. They expressed--whether audibly, visibly, or both--utter amazement and breath-taking awe at hearing pure truth for the first time in their lives.

One of the reasons the people were so astonished at Jesus' teaching is that it was utterly distinct from the teaching to which they had grown so accustomed--the teaching of the scribes. The scribes were regurgitators. Without passion, conviction, or authority the scribes simply regurgitated what they heard and read from the pharisees and other rabbis. Jesus not only taught the people unvarnished, undiluted, infallible truth, but He also taught with an authority the pharisee, rabbi, or scribe did not and never would possess.

Puritan theologian John Gill wrote:
"And they were astonished at his doctrine,.... The nature and importance of it, it being what they had not been used to hear; only at best the doctrine of the law, and sometimes only the traditions of the elders, or an allegorical and traditional sense of the Scriptures, and things very trifling and unedifying: and also they were amazed at the manner of his preaching, which was with so much gracefulness, gravity, and majesty, and was attended with so much evidence and power."
Yes; the people were rightly amazed at the perfect content of Jesus' teaching. However, they were also astonished at the manner in which he taught. He spoke authoritatively. Jesus possessed a perfect balance of gracefulness and gravitas, majesty and meekness. Jesus, the God-Man, possessed command presence.


Command Presence in the Open-Air

So often after reading the above passage my mind immediately turns to open-air preaching and the place of command presence in that public, evangelistic context. Granted, no one has the authority of Jesus Christ. But every man of God who preaches in the open-air should authoritatively do so, with an authority derived from the truth of God's Word and the power of the heralded gospel. In doing so, the open-air preacher should possess a biblical strength of character and manly demeanor.

The open-air preacher should have a command presence that, because of his spiritual and personal maturity, allows him to modulate and modify both his vocality and his authoritative presence according to the need of the moment. Any man who cannot control his voice or temperament while preaching is not a man who should herald the gospel in the open-air.

A man who has only one volume setting for his voice (loud to the point of distortion), lacks the command presence to serve Christ as an open-air preacher. The loudest man isn't necessarily the best man. The man who needs to yell at the top of his lungs while he is preaching is a man who lacks confidence in the instrument God has given him. He confuses volume with authority. If volume was the primary trait of command presence, then anyone with a megaphone could be deemed to possess command presence. Command presence can be exercised to great effect with a whisper by the man who possesses it.

An open-air preacher's voice should be strong, powerful, and controlled, whether or not he possesses great volume. The tone of his voice should be serious, but not downcast. His tone should be that of an orator, not a carny. His tone should be that of a man making an important announcement, not that of a huckster trying to sell his wares. His tone should be bright, but not comical. The open-air preacher is not putting on a show. He is calling sinners to repent and believe the gospel. He is not an entertainer. He's a herald. He is a communicator. He is not a clown.

Furthermore, a man who is so gentile in his speech, a man who is by nature soft-spoken, a man who lacks natural volume, authoritative tone, and commanding delivery will not likely be a good open-air preacher. If he cannot compel people to take notice, stop, and engage, and then control a crowd of varying size, he lacks the command presence to ascend an open-air box or stool. A soft-spoken man of God (and I know many) can be an excellent teacher, discipler, and even pastor, but such a man will not fare well heralding the gospel on the streets.

The open-air preacher must have the ability to authoritatively speak truth, with the ever-present ability to assess the state of his hearers, while knowing when and to what extent he should move along the demeanor spectrum between sternness and tenderness. He must possess the qualities of a field general and classroom teacher. He must possess the command presence of a marine, police officer, or firefighter and the bedside manner of a compassionate physician.

To put it succinctly, the open-air preacher must pursue conformity to the image of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29).


Command Presence Isn't Everything

Command presence is a critically important, must-have quality of the open-air preacher, but it isn't everything. A man can have command presence, yet have nothing to say. There are many open-air preachers who fit this bill--men who can command a crowd and authoritatively speak, yet their messages are powerless, impotent. The reason: they speak a smattering of truth seasoned to inedibility with the dung of heresy (i.e. pelagianism, open-theism, works-righteousness, sinless perfectionism, etc.). The men who come to mind speak not the truth in love. They speak lies, claiming to be the innocent recipients of persecution, when they are simply receiving their just desserts for publicly displaying a combination of sinful narcissism and a hatred for their neighbors.

No; command presence isn't everything. The marine exerts command presence built upon the authority of the Corps. The police officer exerts command presence built upon the authority of the agency he represents. Without the foundational authority upon which they stand, the marine's and the street cop's command presence would be limited to their ability to command and control by only the strength of their personality.

Regardless of how authoritatively the open-air preacher carries himself and speaks, if his command presence is not based and built upon the foundational truth of God's Word--the Bible--then his command presence is but a facade, a shell, a cover, a poor excuse for the real thing. He's like the man who impersonates the marine or the police officer. He's a fraud, and a disgrace to the one he tries to impersonate.

Command presence: every open-air preacher must possess it. Even a cursory of the history of open-air preaching reveals men who possessed it and exercised it in Christ-honoring ways. And reading the four gospels provides the one who both possessed and exercised it perfectly--Jesus Christ the Lord.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

He Has Yet to Grieve: A Starbucks Story

I spend a lot of my writing and study time at Starbucks. I'm one of those rather strange fellows who writes and thinks better in the midst of white noise--music, conversation, and the sounds of coffee grinders and scooped ice.

One-day, while sitting at one of the water spot-stained wood tables, I thought, "What can I do to make my time in Starbucks more evangelistic?" I looked at my opened laptop and thought, "I have a empty billboard on the back of my laptop computer screen."

Lots of people work in Starbucks. Lots of people use their laptops in Starbucks. Sometimes, those laptops are adorned with stickers of various kinds--political, musical, philosophical, personal. So, I decided to have Richard Story, the manager of Cross Encounters Ministries, figure out a way for me to use my laptop lid to try to draw people into conversation, without being an overt distraction and getting myself kicked out of my Iced-Coffee-With-Vanilla-And-Extra-2%-Milk office. The result: the laptop lid decal you see in the image.

The other day, shortly before I had planned to leave Starbucks, a man in his 50's walked by my table, stopped, looked at my computer lid, pointed, and said, "Interesting. Nice idea."

"Thanks." I replied.

"So, which God would we talk about?"

"The one who created you and me. There is only one God."

"No there's not."

"Sir, the only reason you would believe otherwise is because you are suppressing the truth you know about God, by your unrighteousness."

"That's right." The man said with a smile. He sat down in the chair across the table from me and pointed at my laptop lid. "Close that. Let's talk."

For the next 90 minutes, the man (we'll call Bob), a professing Christian who attended a nearby mega-church, poured his heart out to me. He was a very troubled man.

Bob related to me the tragic story of his two-year-old daughter who died of leukemia, almost 20 years ago. His eyes grew watery with tears, but not a single tear fell on his cheek.

"I can't cry." He said. "This is close as I get."

Bob then shared incredible stories of visions, dreams, the ability to touch a person and know everything about them, a short and failed run for the governorship, and being a 19-year-old tapped by Nancy Reagan herself to serve as Ronald Reagan's personal bodyguard whenever he was in California.

I listened quietly with an occasional nod of the head (I would have been hard-pressed to get a word in edgewise, anyway), as Bob unwittingly, verbally crafted a strong case for his mental instability. In my roles as a deputy sheriff and a minister of the gospel, I've had contact with many people like Bob. As Bob talked I prayed, asking the Lord for more wisdom and discernment than I knew I had at the moment.

At what seemed like an appropriate time, I asked, "Bob, have you grieved the loss of your daughter."

His lower lip quivered. His eyes once again filled with tears. He bowed his head and softly said, "No."

"Why not?"

"I don't know."

I have quite a bit of counseling experience. Eight years as a law enforcement chaplain and my fifteen years in ministry have given me ample opportunities. I am a proponent of Nouthetic Counseling, otherwise referred to as Biblical Counseling. One of the basic tenets of Nouthetic Counseling is that most of the emotional/psychological problems people experience are the direct result of sin in their lives (James 1:13-15). I believe this is true. It has been true in my own life and in the lives of many people I've tried to help.

However, I also believe the brain is an organ of the body. And just like one's heart, lungs, liver, pancreas, knees, and hips, I believe a person's brain can break, malfunction, or become diseased. Again, I must qualify the previous statement by asserting that much of what is called "mental illness" these days is nothing more than a heart and mind twisted by the depravity of man, a hatred of God, and a love of sin and self.

Bob, the man sitting across from me at the table in Starbucks, was a troubled man. He was, in my estimation, delusional--but not a danger to himself or others. He was a brokenhearted man--maybe broken in more ways than one--who had yet to come to terms with his daughter's death.

"Bob, what question do you have for me?" I asked.

"Do you believe everything I've told you?" According to Bob, other pastors had called him crazy.

"I can't affirm or deny your experiences. I have no reason to believe you're trying to deceive me. But this I know. God speaks to His people through His Word. Anything we experience that is contrary to His Word is not from Him. Do you read the Bible?"

"Not much anymore."

"Bob, if your wife wrote you 66 love letters and gave them to you, and later asked you if you had read them, and you said, 'No. I love you, but I'm just not interested in what you wrote to me,' would your wife believe that you love her?"

Bob shook his head.

"Then why should Jesus believe you love Him if you are unwilling to read His Word?"

"You're right."

By now, my phone had rang a couple times. Amanda was waiting for me to pick her up from work. I let Amanda know I would be late because I was in a conversation at Starbucks. Amanda knew exactly what that meant. So, she arranged for Mahria to pick her up at work. My wife and daughters are patient participants in my ministry, through the many different ways they support me and my gospel work.

Bob and I talked for a while longer. As Bob got up to leave, he thanked me for the conversation.

"Bob," I said as I put my hand on my Bible. "This Book will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from this Book. Get back to the Word of God. Draw close to Christ."

Bob said he would do that, shook my hand, and walked out the door.

My time with Bob was far from a "typical" evangelistic conversation. I didn't fully articulate the law and the gospel to him. I spent far more time listening than talking--interjecting only when it seemed appropriate. Bob is a man who has yet to grieve the tragic loss of his little girl--one of his six children. To what extent that life-altering trauma emotionally and psychologically scarred him, only God knows.

I left Starbucks both sorrowful and thankful--sorrowful that Bob was so troubled, and thankful that the Lord allowed me the opportunity to talk to him. While I only planted a seed here and there, I'm hopeful God will allow them to take root, grow, and produce fruit in Bob's life.

Today is Thanksgiving. Bob remains on my heart and mind. As you thank the Lord, today, for His provision, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and love, please remember Bob in your prayers.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Bill Cosby: Your Sin Will Find You Out


18 women and counting.

He has not been charged with a crime. Due to the length of time that has passed since the alleged incidents took place, it is unlikely he will ever be charged with a crime. Ultimately, without independent, eye-witness accounts, the only people who know what really happened in each incident are Bill Cosby and the women with him at those times. In the eyes of the law, he is innocent until proven guilty. In the eyes of reasonable observers, he's as guilty as the day is long.

One might try to discredit the women making the allegations against Bill Cosby as people with questionable morals, an ax to grind, looking for their 15 minutes of fame, or looking to make a quick buck at a rich entertainer's expense. After all, most of the allegations are about incidents that allegedly took place decades ago and are just now coming to light. I might understand this rationale if it was one woman, or two women, or maybe three women. But 18 women? And then we have the most recent person to step forward.

He's not a she. He's not a victim. Some might even see him, as I do, as a co-conspirator or an accessory before and after the fact. His name is Frank Scotti, a 90-year-old former employee of NBC. Scotti has come out and said that he, for a time, before his conscience got the best of him, served as a self-described "pimp" for Bill Cosby.

According to Scotti, who worked as a facilities manager for NBC Studios in Brooklyn, where the Cosby show was filmed, he would bring women to Cosby's dressing room and stand guard outside the door while whatever happened inside took place. Scotti also claims he paid some of the female dressing room visitors as much as thousands of dollars each month, on behalf of Cosby.

Again, these are allegations. No charges have been filed against Cosby or Scotti.

For decades, Bill Cosby has been known as "America's Dad." He has been very vocal about problems in the black community, including the weak, immoral, and irresponsible behavior of black men (behavior shared by unsaved men of every people group). Cosby has been looked to as a moral compass by many. He's been looked upon as an example of manhood and responsibility by many.

It appears, like Cosby's professional performances on stage and in front of a cameras, his moral high ground persona has been little more than an act. It's been said that who you really are is the person you are when no one is looking.

There was a time in ancient Israel when the nation of God's people were poised to cross the Jordan River to continue their God-ordained conquest of the land. Two tribes, Reuben and Gad, determined to establish their territorial homes east of the Jordan River, which meant they would not cross the river with the other ten tribes to wage war against God's enemies.

Moses and the other ten tribes were none too happy with the decision of Reuben and Gad. So upset was the rest of the Israel that the nation was on the brink of civil war--something they would tragically experiences years later. But an agreement was reached. The warriors within the tribes of Reuben and Gad would cross the Jordan River with the rest of Israel to battle God's enemies. Once the enemy nations were conquered, the men would return to the land east of the Jordan. Moses sealed the agreement with these words:
"So Moses said to them, 'If you will do this, if you will take up arms to go before the Lord for the war, and every armed man of you will pass over the Jordan before the Lord, until he has driven out his enemies from before him and the land is subdued before the Lord; then after that you shall return and be free of obligation to the Lord and to Israel, and this land shall be your possession before the Lord. But if you will not do so, behold, you have sinned against the Lord, and be sure your sin will find you out'" (Numbers 32:20-23).
"Your sin will find you out."

What Bill Cosby is experiencing today is the truth of these six powerful and should-be frightening words: "Your sin will find you out."

God is both omniscient (1 John 3:20) and omnipresent (Proverbs 15:3; Jeremiah 23:24). Nothing is hidden from Him. Nothing.

If you have been following the Bill Cosby story, shaking your head as you watch yet another star fall, please don't lose sight of the fact that your sin will find you out, too. The same eyes of the Lord that have seen every one of Bill Cosby's secret sins, sees your secret sins, too. And, like Bill Cosby and everyone else, you will one-day stand before Him to give an account for your life.

If this reality gives you a moment of pause (and it should), please continue reading.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Man's Colossal and Extraordinary Efforts to Suppress the Truth


What a truly extraordinary technological feat!

On March 2, 2004, the ESA and NASA launched the Rosetta rocket into space. The rocket takes its name after the Rosetta Stone. On Wednesday, November 12, 2014, more than ten years after launch, the Philae lander touched down on the surface of the 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko comet.

So, maybe you're thinking, "Big deal. They landed on a comet. So what?"

So what?! Think about it. Ten years ago some really smart folks launched a rocket, with the intent of landing a probe the size of a 3' cube on a hunk of ice, only 5x3 km in size, while it's hurtling through space at 41,000 mph!

Still don't get it? Consider this.

What ESA and NASA accomplished last week was tantamount to this. Let's say Iron Man (props to my comic book geek friends out there) expresses doubt about the true strength of Thor. Thor, with that smile that makes my daughters swoon, gentle drops his hammer to the ground. He looks around and happens to see a 250-pound block the size of a standard garage door. He picks up the block and hurls it into space. TEN YEARS LATER, the block lands on a rock half the size of Griffith Park (Los Angeles), which is 317 million miles away from where Thor and Iron Man are still standing (it was a quiet decade in the Avengers' world). So precise was the throw that Thor hit the target, ten years later, while the target was traveling 31,201 times the speed of sound!

To me, that's amazing. I love science. My favorite discipline is astronomy. After all, the heavens declare the glory of God (Psalm 19:1). I see the moon, the stars, and the planets, and I think of God. I see the leaves changing colors in St. Louis, and I think of God. I fly over the Grand Canyon, and I think of God. I see the beauty of my wife's eyes, and I think of God.

Yet when I read of the extraordinary feats of brilliant people, my amazement at what God has done is sometimes interrupted by man's colossal and extraordinary efforts to suppress the truth.

On NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) website for the Rosetta Mission, there is a page dedicated to answering some basic, scientific questions about comets. One of the questions is, "Do comets carry the 'seeds of life?'" Here's the answer:
"When scientists looked into the dust they captured from the comet 'Wild 2' (Stardust mission, 2006), they found particles rich in organic matter. Could particles like these have served as the 'the seeds of life' on Earth, billions of years ago?

"Lindsay Keller, co-investigator for the Stardust mission, said that one of their first studies of Wild-2 samples 'showed abundant hydrocarbons in many of the particles.' This supports the theory that comets might have brought the these hydrocarbons, the 'building blocks' of life to Earth. Of course, we still don’t know what would have 'sparked' them into life, although scientists have their theories about that, too."
These brilliant scientists, like so many in the scientific community did not launch a 250-pound probe into space and then landed it on a comet, in search for the truth about how life began. They set out and accomplished this colossal and extraordinary feat in a desperate, ongoing attempt to suppress the truth they have always known.
"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

"Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen" (Romans 1:18-25).
And until they repent of their sins, including the sins that motivate their exploration of space, they will continue to learn, but will never arrive at the truth (2 Timothy 3:7).

Yes, I love science. I love how making observations about the world around me, including that which I can only see with a microscope or a telescope, affords me opportunities every day to worship the Creator--to proclaim back to Him how awesome are His works. And I thank God, my Creator, for saving me from my sin and His just wrath, through faith in His Son Jesus Christ. Because today, I can look to the heavens without suppressing the truth in my unrighteousness. Instead, I now see with clear eyes. The veil has been removed (2 Corinthians 4:1-6). I was blind, but now I see (John 9:1-41). I see a glimpse of how colossal and extraordinary God and His creation are. I look around, I look to the heavens, and I am bombarded with the reality that God is awesome.

If you do not know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, please continue reading.

Rick Warren: Out of the Abundance of the Heart the Blasphemer Speaks


Rick Warren spoke in Rome, today. He is one of the featured guests at a conference called "An International Interreligious Colloquium on The Complementarity of Man and Woman." The host: Pope Francis, leader of the apostate Roman Catholic Church.

Austen Ivereigh, a London-based Roman Catholic journalist, is at the conference. Ivereigh tweeted (see above image) that one of his favorite moments of the day came when Rick Warren referred to Pope Francis as "the Holy Father."

Jesus said:
"Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone" (Matthew 15:17-20).
Jesus also said:
"The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks" (Luke 6:45).
Out of the abundance of his heart, Rick Warren spoke when he referred to the religious leader as "the Holy Father." And it's not the first time he has spoken so lovingly about the leader of a false religion leading a billion people to hell.

Jesus said:
"And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven" (Matthew 23:9).
Jesus, of course, was referring to spiritual or religious leaders. He was not referring to how one should or should not refer to one's biological father. Only God the Father--only the one and only Triune God--deserves such reverential reference and adoration.

Jesus was clear. Rick Warren knows it. Rick Warren doesn't care. Rick Warren blasphemed God when he referred to the pope as "the Holy Father."

Rick Warren is a "poster child" for so much that is wrong in the unbiblical, non-Christian system known as "American Evangelicalism." I fear for his soul.

As I tweeted shortly before writing this brief article, so I say, here. There is no reason for any soundly saved Christian to believe Rick Warren is a brother in Christ. Pray for his salvation.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Speaking Ill of the Dead - The Arbitrary Nature of Man-Centered Morality



A Real Tragedy

On Sunday, October 26, 2014, the St. Louis Cardinals' promising, young, rookie ballplayer, Oscar Taveras, died. He was only 22-years old. Taveras' 18-year-old girlfriend, Edilia Arvelos, died by his side, in the passenger seat of Taveras' car. Initial reports of the tragic death of these two young people indicated that Taveras was driving his car at a very high rate of speed when he lost control and hit a tree. At the time, there was no indication that drugs or alcohol were a contributing factor.

The reaction of the sports world in general, and the baseball world in particular, was immediate and profound shock and despair. Oscar Taveras was recognized with a moment of silence, before the start of Game 6 of the World Series. The Cardinals left the right field lights illuminated in an otherwise darkened Busch Stadium, in tribute and memorial to Taveras. And Royals' pitcher and good friend of Taveras, Yordano Ventura, paid tribute to Taveras by writing the deceased player's initials and uniform number on his hat, before his start during the World Series.

What happened to Oscar Taveras and Edilia Arvelos was tragic.

It was Not an Accident

Yesterday, the world learned that what happened to Oscar Taveras and Edilia Arvelos was much more than a tragic accident. While tragic, it was not an accident. It was a criminal act. And the perpetrator was Oscar Taveras. What Oscar Taveras did was wrong.

Yesterday, the Attorney General's Office of the Dominican Republic revealed that Oscar Taveras was extremely intoxicated when he and Edilia Arvelos climbed into his sports car and headed down the road. His blood alcohol content (BAC) was .287%, which was five times the legal amount of .05% in the Dominican Republic, and more than three times the legal amount of .08% in California. By most calculations, Taveras would have had to consume as many as 15 alcoholic beverages in a two-hour period to have that high a BAC when he put his key in the ignition of his car.

What happened to Oscar Taveras and Edilia Arvelos was not an accident. It was a criminal act. And the perpetrator was Oscar Taveras. What Oscar Taveras did was wrong.

The above four sentences are not typos of duplication. I intentionally repeated myself. In the minds of many, I'm "piling on." In the minds of many, I'm speaking "ill of the dead." If you continue reading, you will read these four sentences again.

Judge Not?

Who and what gives you the right to judge, Tony?

Some might say I have the life experience that affords me the privilege of judging Oscar Taveras' behavior at the moment of his death. This experience began with the death of Mahria's cousin. Thirty years ago she was killed by a fellow high school student. She decided to climb into the passenger seat of his car. He was intoxicated. He hit a tree. She was thrown from a car and was killed when she hit her head on the roadway. My personal experience grew when my mother, who was an alcoholic, was arrested for drunk driving and spent the night in jail. I've seen in my personal life the criminal nature of drunk driving and the life-altering, often life-destroying, effects of such a selfish act.

Others might point to my several years of professional experience as a Drug Recognition Expert and DUI enforcement specialist for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, as justification for passing judgment on Taveras. Such was my commitment to removing drunk drivers from the streets of my community that one year I was a recipient of the Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Century Award, which was given to law enforcement professionals who made more than 100 DUI arrests during a calendar year. Having arrested literally hundreds of drunk drivers, and having had to knock on too many doors late at night to inform someone that their loved one wasn't coming home because he or she was killed by a drunk driver, my experience regarding drunk driving exceeds that of most people. Again, some might think that gives me the right to judge Taveras.

However, my personal and professional experiences regarding drunk driving do not give me the right to judge Oscar Taveras. Why? My experiences are nothing more than an arbitrary standard for judging the morality of others. My experiences might give me more "street cred" in passing judgment on Taveras. My experiences might warrant the right, in the minds of other people, to be heard on the subject of drunk driving and the death of Oscar Taveras and Edilia Arvelos. But if my experiences are the standard by which I get to judge Oscar Taveras, then someone with a different set of experiences can come along and say, based on their own personal and professional experiences, that I don't have the right to judge Taveras.

So, Who's Right and Who's wrong?

When morality (the standards for right and wrong) are arbitrarily determined by the individual, or even by a society, then no moral standard exists that is universally applicable to every person, all the time. If each individual or each society self-determines morality, then, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die" (Isaiah 22:13; 1 Corinthians 15:32)! If each individual or each society self-determines morality, then no one but Oscar Taveras can judge whether his actions on October 26, 2014, were right or wrong, good or bad.

Yet I stand by my judgment. What happened to Oscar Taveras and Edilia Arvelos was not an accident. It was a criminal act. And the perpetrator was Oscar Taveras. What Oscar Taveras did was wrong.

This is not my opinion. This is not my arbitrary conclusion. This is the truth--not because I say so. This is the truth because I appeal to a standard outside of myself, outside of acceptable societal norms. This is the truth because I appeal to the One who is perfectly moral, holy righteous, just and good. I appeal to the One who alone has determined the standard of right and wrong--a universal standard that applies to all people, all the time.

The Only True and Right Standard

God--the God of the Bible--the only true and living God (Deuteronomy 4:32, 35, 39; Isaiah 42:8; 45:5-6)--is the only true and right standard for morality (Isaiah 6:3; Matthew 5:48; Romans 3:4; Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18). The truth of God's Word not only gives me the right to judge the actions of Oscar Taveras, on October 26, 2014; God's Word gives me the responsibility to do so (Romans 12:2; Ephesians 5:8-11; Hebrews 5:14).

But the Bible says, "Judge not that you be not judged" (Matthew 7:1), Tony.

Jesus also said, "Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment" (John 7:24). And let's consider the proper context of Jesus' "judge not" statement that everyone (believer and unbeliever) seems to know and so often takes out of context. Jesus said:
"Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye'" (Matthew 7:1-5).
I can point a judgmental finger at Oscar Taveras. I can point to the speck in his eye--a speck that resulted in his death and the death of his girlfriend. I can do so because I do not have a log in my own eye. I'm not hypocritically judging Oscar Taveras. I've never been intoxicated. I've never had more than a single glass of wine or champagne, in a sitting. I've never had a beer in my life. And I've never driven a car while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. I'm not judging Oscar Taveras by comparing him to what I errantly see as my own perceived goodness. I'm not judging Taveras by appearances. I'm not judging Taveras by asserting that I am somehow better than he was. I'm judging Taveras with right judgment--a right judgment derived from the truth of God's Word.

What happened to Oscar Taveras and Edilia Arvelos was not an accident. It was a criminal act. And the perpetrator was Oscar Taveras. What Oscar Taveras did was wrong.

Oscar Taveras violated God's moral standard--a standard God delineates throughout His Word.

Oscar Taveras got drunk. "And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit" (Ephesians 5:18).

Oscar Taveras broke the law. "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience" (Romans 13:1-5).

Oscar Taveras likely thought he was okay to drive. "Never be wise in your own sight" (Romans 12:16).

Note: For those who would like to minimizes Taveras' wrongdoing by assuming October 26, 2014, was the first time he drove drunk, well-established statistics disagree with you. Even at his young age, it is possible, even likely, that Oscar Taveras drove drunk as many as 80 times before he hit that tree. It's also important to note that the age group with the highest percentage of drunk driving incidents is 21-25.

And Oscar Taveras, on October 26, 2014, did not love his neighbor as himself. "And [Jesus] said to him, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets'" (Matthew 22:37-40). While Edilia Arvelos was responsible for her actions--responsible for getting into the car with Oscar Taveras, in his heavily inebriated state--Oscar showed no love for Edilia when he got behind the wheel of that car and then killed her when he hit the tree.

Is Oscar Taveras in Hell?

Some on social media have assumed the authority of God by asserting with arrogant, definite confidence that Oscar Taveras will spend eternity in hell, as a result of his actions on October 26. Those who are doing this have no such authority. God and God alone has the authority (James 4:12).

Is Oscar Taveras in hell? The only honest answer is, "I don't know." I have no idea where either Taveras or Arvelos will spend eternity--heaven or hell. What I do know is this. If, prior to their death, they received Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior--by the grace of God alone (Ephesians 2:8-9), through faith alone (Romans 1:17), in Jesus Christ alone (John 14:6)--they now and forever will enjoy fellowship with Jesus Christ in heaven. If, prior to their death, they repented and believed the gospel of Jesus Christ (Mark 1:15; Romans 3:21-26; 1 Corinthians 15:1-6; 2 Corinthians 5:21), then they have received the forgiveness, grace, mercy, and love of God. Taveras' and Arvelos' bad acts on October 26 were not unpardonable sins.

However, if they died in their sins (John 8:24), if they died having rejected the lordship of Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:9-11), if they died having rejected salvation through Christ alone (Acts 4:12), then they will spend eternity in hell as the just punishment for their sins against God (Revelation 20:11-15).

My hope is that both Oscar Taveras and Edilia Arvelos are in heaven. To hope the alternative would be hateful (1 John 3:15) and bring my own salvation into question (Matthew 5:21-22; Revelation 21:8; 2 Corinthians 13:5).

Have I really spoken ill of the dead? Not at all. I've spoken truth--not my truth; not your truth; God's truth. Have I sat in judgment of Oscar Taveras? Yes--but I believe I've done so within the confines of Scripture and the limitations the Word of God places upon me (John 7:24).

Bad Timing?

Some well-meaning Christians will suggest that while I may have the biblical justification for what I've written, the timing of my article lacks sensitivity and compassion. After all, this tragedy is still fresh in the hearts and minds of people literally around the world. People are still mourning the loss of two young people. Family members are grieving.

I certainly don't want to be insensitive to those who are grieving and mourning the loss of Oscar Taveras and Edilia Arvelos. After all, the Bible says that we should weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15).

Light removes darkness and heat purifies that which is tainted. I cannot darken or taint the reputation and/or memory of Oscar Taveras by shining the light and applying the heat of the truth of God's Word to what he did. The light and heat of God's Word doesn't created darkness or impurity; it exposes the darkness and impurity (sin) that is already there. My hope is that people who read this article will consider the arbitrary, non-binding nature of their man-centered morality and consider the reality of their own spiritual condition in light of the standard by which they will one day be judged--God's standard.

When you die and stand before God, you will give an account for your life. “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). If you've ever lied, stolen, taken God’s name in vain, harbored hatred or lust in your heart, or sinned against God in any way, He will judge you as one who has broken His law. God’s punishment for sin is eternity in Hell. God has provided only one way for you to receive forgiveness of your sins and the joy of eternal life in Heaven. God the Father sent His Son to earth in the person of Jesus Christ—fully God and fully Man, who knew no sin. He voluntarily went to the cross where He shed His innocent blood and died, taking upon Himself the punishment you deserve. God the Son subjected Himself to the wrath of God the Father in order to pay the ransom (the sin debt) for many. Three days later, He defeated sin and death when He rose from the grave. What God commands you to do is repent (turn from your sin and turn to God) and, by faith alone, receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.

Of These Things I am Certain

There a couple of additional things about which I am certain: 1) the death of Oscar Taveras and Edilia Arvelos was indeed a tragedy; 2) tomorrow is not promised.
"Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit'— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.' As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin" (James 4:13-17).
Life is a mist, a vapor. It is here today and gone tomorrow. In fact, tomorrow is not promised. I wonder if anyone ever told Oscar or Edilia that.

Oscar and Edilia likely thought they had years of good (not perfect) life ahead of them. One thing is certain. Neither of them woke up the morning of October 26, 2014, planning to die in a horrific automobile crash. That's why the apostle Paul wrote this to believers in the City of Corinth:
"For he says, 'In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.' Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation" (2 Corinthians 6:2).
I wish I had been given the opportunity to take the keys from Oscar Taveras, before he got into that car with Edilia. I wish I had been given the opportunity to share the gospel with the two of them, before they got into that car.

But I thank God I've been given the opportunity to share the gospel with you, the reader. I just hope I never have to write an article like this about you. Repent and believe the gospel while God has given you time.