Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Arrest of Street Preacher Tatsuo Akamine

On Wednesday, February 25, 2015, outside of the DMV in Torrance, CA, a street preacher named Tatsuo Akamine was arrested by an officer with the California Highway Patrol. He was first detained for investigation of disturbing the peace with loud noise (415 PC). As of the time of writing this article, I do not know what were the arresting charges.

Before I comment further, here is a video that documents the officer making contact with Tatsuo, which runs through to moments after his arrest. I do not know what happened before or after the segment of time captured in this video.

Please watch the video in its entirety, before you continue reading.




My Bona Fides to Write This Article

While many of my readers are familiar with my law enforcement and evangelism background, there will likely be several people who read this article who have no idea who I am. And they may wonder, "What gives him the right to....."

I have 20 years of law enforcement experience and 10 years of street evangelism and open-air preaching experience. I made thousands of arrests during my law enforcement career, and I served as a field training officer for a portion of that career.

I've been threatened with citation and/or arrest many times while open-air preaching.

I was cited once by an LAPD officer on Hollywood Boulevard who lied on the citation (citing me for using amplification when I had none on my person) and, being Korean himself, encouraged me to go to North Korea to "sell God." The significance of the Korean-American officer suggesting I go to North Korea instead of South Korea should not be lost on you, the reader.

I was arrested in London, on July 1, 2013, for allegations of breach of peace and homophobic hate speech. I was held for seven hours and interrogated about not only the incident, but what I thought and felt about homosexuality as a Christian. I was subsequently released from custody with no charges preferred against me.

I was arrested in Dundee, Scotland, on January 8, 2014, for allegations of breach of peace and homophobic hate speech. I was held for 30 hours and charges were filed against me. In June of 2014, all charges were dropped after investigators and prosecutors reviewed the video evidence of my open-air preaching.

I have provided training and counsel--in person, by phone, and in writing, to thousands of Christians (and several churches) regarding how to interact with private security and law enforcement. I have also provided counsel to a number of brothers in Christ following their arrests, which stemmed from open-air preaching and other forms of street evangelism.

I have written and commented extensively regarding issues pertaining to how Christians should interact with law enforcement, in the context of public evangelism. One article I wrote has seen wide distribution.

I have been on both sides of the criminal justice system, and I have something to say.


Personal Context and Disclosure

I met Tatsuo Akamine outside of Staples Center, during the 2009 NBA championship series. He was one of a number of open-air preachers present that day. Tatsuo was friends with several of the men present--men whom I respect and hold in high regard. To the best of my recollection, I have not seen or talked to Tatsuo since that day. All I know of Tatsuo I've gleaned from watching portions of just a few of his open-air preaching videos.

I have known several men--good men--who, over the years, have preached at the Torrance DMV. Each of them experienced both positive and negative contacts with people standing in line, DMV security, and law enforcement. The fact that Tatsuo was contacted by law enforcement, in and of itself, is no reason to automatically assume Tatsuo did anything to create or instigate a negative contact with law enforcement.

Furthermore, I would like to restate the following. I was not there. I was not at the Torrance DMV when this happened. As I said at the beginning of this article, I have no idea what happened before the video starts or after the video ends.

However, having only the video to critique does not invalidate a critique limited to the content of the video. I did not have to be at the Torrance DMV to speak about what I saw in this video.


Did You Talk to Tatsuo, First?

I am sure to be asked the following questions certainly by some of those who will not like this article. "Did you talk to Tatsuo before writing this article?"

Answer: No.

I have no ax to grind with Tatsuo. I haven't seen, heard from, or thought of him in some six years. Our paths have simply not crossed. I don't know what his doctrinal positions are now. I didn't know what they were when I met him. I don't know if he is walking down the path of apostasy like some of the open-air preachers out there, or if he is a theological Rock of Gibraltar.

I am under no ethical or moral obligation to talk to Tatsuo about this video before writing this article. This video has been made part of the public record, presumably by the person who made the recording, which was made at Tatsuo's request, as evidenced at the beginning of the video. I am no more obligated to contact Tatsuo before writing this article than I am obligated to contact the CHP officer before writing this article. I am no more obligated to contact Tatsuo than you are obligated to contact an author before writing a review of his or her book, or a producer before writing a review of his film.


What Tatsuo Did Right

The video makes it clear that Tatsuo positioned himself on a public sidewalk adjacent to DMV property. Therefore, regulations that apply to the exercise of free speech on DMV property did not apply to Tatsuo's open-air preaching on a public sidewalk. While Tatsuo's distance from the crowd is not germane, the video also shows that there was quite a bit of distance between Tatsuo and the people standing in line outside the DMV.

Tatsuo had someone with him making a video recording.

These days, the Christian who takes to the streets to proclaim the gospel in any way whatsoever and does so without having a voice recorder and/or video camera with him is simply foolish. Had it not been for the presence of a video camera, I might still be in a Scottish prison to this day. Had I been found guilty on all charges and enhancements, my exposure was up to five years in prison.

Tatsuo did not raise his voice or become overly animated while he talked to the officer. Had Tatsuo done otherwise, the officer could have perceived that as a precursor to a physical attack.

Tatsuo put the large cone down, on the ground. With it out of his hands, the officer was less likely to perceive the cone as a potential weapon.

Tatsuo, to a point, engaged the officer in respectful and reasonable conversation, asking legitimate questions.

There is nothing wrong with asking the officer for information regarding the law(s) allegedly violated. There is nothing wrong with asking the officer if he was being detained or was facing arrest.

Not knowing what Tatsuo preached prior to the start of the video, I am going to give him the benefit of the doubt and say that one thing Tatsuo did right was tried to preach the gospel to lost people.

Unfortunately, in my opinion, based on my training and experience, this is where the list of things Tatsuo did right comes to an end.


What Did Tatsuo Do Wrong?

Tatsuo initially refused to give the officer his identification.

Tatsuo was lawfully detained for the investigation of a crime. It matters not whether a crime was actually committed. Officers lawfully detain people every day for investigation of infractions, misdemeanors, and felonious crimes, later to determine that no crime was committed. The officer was there, either because someone called to complain about the preaching or because the officer observed what he believed could have been a violation of law. Under these circumstances, Tatsuo was obligated, by law, to show the officer his identification.

The moment Tatsuo refused to show his identification to the officer, he was subject to arrest. The officer was not required to ask Tatsuo more than once for his identification. The officer was under no obligation whatsoever to negotiate with Tatsuo.

The moment Tatsuo refused to show his identification, since he was being lawfully detained, he was also subject to search. The law allows for an officer to conduct a patdown search of a person being lawfully detained for weapons, for reasons of officer safety. The law also allows for an officer to search someone being lawfully detained for identification when the person being detained either cannot or refuses to show identification.

The moment Tatsuo refused to comply with the officer's lawful orders to turn around and place his hands over his head, for the purpose of either a cursory search for weapons or a search for his identification, he was subject to arrest. The officer, at that moment, could use whatever amount of force he deemed both reasonable and necessary to overcome Tatsuo's resistance.

Tatsuo was right in one sense when he told the officer he had "a choice" as to whether or not to comply with the officer. What he experienced from that moment were the consequences of a bad choice. He was not being persecuted at that moment; he was breaking the law by physically resisting an officer.

Tatsuo was very fortunate that he was not injured. The way Tatsuo locked up his body and clenched his hands together, which are behaviors that are obvious to even the untrained eye watching the video, were aggressive acts, which could lead a reasonable officer to believe a physical altercation was imminent. Again, the officer is, at this point, justified to use whatever level of force necessary to overcome Tatsuo's resistance. The officer was not obligated to "play fair" or use the same level of force Tatsuo was using to resist.

Even though Tatsuo was resisting, the officer shows commendable restraint by trying to deescalate the situation through conversation--explaining his "plan" to Tatsuo.

Tatsuo, not the officer, then re-escalates the situation by refusing to comply with the officer. He refuses to obey the officer's lawful command to "turn around," and then he resists the officer's efforts to turn him around.

Tatsuo momentarily resists the officer's command and efforts to place Tatsuo's hands above his head. Tatsuo then refuses to spread his legs and resists, multiple times, the officer's efforts to move his legs so he could safely conduct a search of Tatsuo's person, incident to a lawful arrest.

Even after being handcuffed, Tatsuo continues to physically and unlawfully resist the officer.

Then, Tatsuo and his friends begin to make a scene by shouting.

Any officer--any reasonable officer--would experience myriad of emotions as a result of recognizing he or she was in real and present danger. That the officer didn't put out an assistance request at this moment is a discussion for another time. I cannot get into the officer's head to ascertain to what degree he was in fear for his safety.

Tatsuo then foolishly asks his friend with the camera to follow him, now putting his friend in potential danger and maybe even making him subject to arrest.

For reasons of officer safety, the officer's order to Tatsuo's friend not to follow him was reasonable and appropriate, considering the circumstances. The officer even told Tatsuo's friend, "You're violating my officer safety!" But foolishly, the person behind the camera argues with the officer.

The video ends with Tatsuo being escorted in handcuffs to the patrol car, while Tatsuo shouts Scripture quotes about persecution. Another person, away from the camera, begins to preach.

While I do not believe Tatsuo was in violation of California Penal Code section 415 (disturbing the peace), I also do not believe Tatsuo was persecuted for his faith. I believe he simply suffered the consequences for his unlawful behavior. And, sadly, that same behavior brought a reproach upon Christ and His gospel.


What the Officer Did Wrong

Tatsuo was not the only one to make mistakes, egregious mistakes, in this situation. The officer made mistakes, too.

As many street cops seem to be these days, the CHP officer in this video appears to have a wrong understanding about the relationship between catch-all "disturbing the peace" laws and ordinances and a person's First Amendment right to open his mouth, raise his voice, and proclaim his deeply held religious beliefs, regardless of the religion, in a public place.

Piecing together what I can from just a six-minute video, it appears the officer's assertion that Tatsuo was disturbing the peace was a result of a complaint or complaints made by people standing in line at the DMV regarding Tatsuo's loud preaching. Having received those complaints, the CHP dispatched the officer to the DMV.

The fact that people were bothered by Tatsuo's preaching, in and of itself, does not necessarily constitute disturbing the peace. The Bill of Rights protects the freedom of religion not the freedom from religion. The First Amendment protects a person's right to speak, not a person's desire not to hear something in a public place they don't like. In other words, a heckler doesn't have veto power over someone lawfully speaking in a public place.

In a 1951 Supreme Court case, Feiner v. New York, the Supreme Court  "reaffirmed that a speaker cannot be arrested for the content of his speech, and that the police must not be used as an instrument to silence unpopular views, but must be used to silence a speaker who is trying to incite a riot."

While the courts are trying to change legal precedence that has stood for more than 60 years, for now the law of the land remains that the government cannot silence public speech simply because listeners are annoyed or even offended by the content of the speech.

In the video, the officer cited that Tatsuo was using amplification. Most municipal ordinances, when regulating the use of amplification, specify that amplified sound refers to sound which is electronically enhanced/amplified. In most cases, using a cheerleader-type cone does not constitute, in a legal sense, amplified sound. Tatsua can be heard in the video, more than once, trying to explain to the officer that he has talked to Torrance PD officers on multiple occasions and that he has received some assurances that standing on the sidewalk and preaching with a cone falls within the guidelines of local ordinances.

Curious as to what the noise regulations are for the City of Torrance, I looked up the code. Under "Definitions," in section 46.1.2 (j), it reads:
"Sound amplifying equipment shall mean any machine or device for the amplification of the human voice, music, or any other sound. Sound amplifying equipment shall not include standard automobile radios when used and heard only by the occupants of the vehicle in which the automobile radio is installed. Sound amplifying equipment, as used in this Chapter, shall not include warning devices on authorized emergency vehicles or horns or other warning devices on any vehicle used only for traffic safety purposes."
The City of Torrance's definition of "sound amplification equipment" is vague, at best. Unfortunately, this gives officers on the street a great deal of latitude when determining what is and what isn't sound amplification equipment. While most officers would not see Tatsuo's cheerleader cone as an amplification device, the code leaves room for an officer to have a differing opinion.

In section 46.5.3 of the City of Torrance Municipal Code, guidelines are given for the use of amplified sound. Once again, the ordinance is vague, not specifying amplified sound as that which is produced electronically.

While the officer could have legitimately (although, in my opinion, unreasonably) considered Tatsuo's cone "amplified sound," the officer still had a problem. The officer insisted that Tatsuo was not allowed to be, well, loud--that raising his voice was a violation of 415 PC. The City of Torrance Municipal Code, like most municipal codes are not on the officer's side.

In order for the officer to make a legal determination that Tatsuo's preaching was "too loud," the officer is required by statute to use a device to determine just how loud Tatsuo's preaching was. The law does not allow for an officer's subjective determination as to what does and does not constitute noise that is "too loud." According to section 46.1.3 of the City of Torrance Municipal Code:
"Noise levels shall be measured with a sound level meter satisfying the requirements of ASA S1.4-1961, American Standard Specification for General Purpose Sound Level Meters, or latest revision thereof. Noise level of steady or slowly varying sounds shall be measured using the slow dynamic characteristic of the sound level meter and by reading the central tendency of the needle. Noise level of impulse sounds shall be measured using the fast dynamic characteristic of the sound level meter and by reading the maximum indication of the needle."
Section 46.7.2 gives very specific enforcement guidelines in which readings of both ambient and source noise levels must be taken before a determination of a code violation can be determined.

The officer was wrong. He was wrong about his application of 415 PC, and he was wrong by applying an arbitrary standard for what constituted loud noise.


Tatsuo's Choices

There were at least three ways Tatsuo could have handled this situation:

1. Submit to the officer's request to stop preaching, contact legal representation such as Alliance Defending Freedom, and allow attorneys to try to bring the situation to a positive resolution--one that would allow Tatsuo to continue preaching at the Torrance DMV

2. Refuse to submit to the officer's request to stop preaching, subject himself to arrest, and peaceably allow himself to either be cited in the field, or be taken to the station where he would likely be booked, cited, and released. He could then challenge the law in the courts.

3. Go the hard way..... Refuse to comply with the officer's request to stop preaching, resist arrest, create more legal problems for himself, and bring a reproach upon Christ and His gospel. This was the choice Tatsuo made. This was the worst and most unbiblical choice of the three.


Scriptural Considerations
"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).
The governing authority, in this case a CHP officer, was wrong in his application of the law. Yet in this situation, Tatsuo should have submitted to his authority. The officer responded to a complaint of noise. There is no evidence (and conspiracy theorists may hate me for this one) that the officer asked Tatsuo to stop preaching because of the content of his message. This was not an Acts 3-5 situation. Tatsuo was not ordered to stop preaching in the name of Jesus. He was ordered to, well, pipe down. There is no indication that this officer would not have acted the same way, making the same mistakes and doing the same right things, if Tatsuo had been a street preaching Muslim or Mormon.

Tatsuo was not persecuted for what he said. He was not persecuted for righteousness sake (Matthew 5:10-11). No; sadly, Tatsuo was detained and subsequently arrested for what he did.
"Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor" (1 Peter 2:13-17).
Tatsuo had an opportunity to bring glory to Christ. He had the opportunity to silence the ignorance of foolish people. But he missed both opportunities and chose to sin instead. Instead of silencing those standing in line who may have been mocking Christ and His gospel, Tatsuo's behavior, particularly toward the officer, gave mockers and revilers more opportunity to store up wrath for themselves on the day of wrath (Romans 2:5). Tatsuo's behavior likely encouraged blasphemers and haters of God to foolishly further justify their unbelief.

I do not know or even presume to know Tatsuo's heart. So, I cannot say that in this situation Tatsuo used his freedom in Christ and freedom as an American citizen as a cover-up for evil. I am only evaluating his actions in the context of the video. However, I believe Tatsuo wrongly tried to assert his freedoms and did so in such away that resulted in evil--sin.

Again, the officer was wrong in his application of the law, but he did not behave unbecomingly in the video. He was not disrespectful toward Tatsuo or anyone else in his group. While his application of 415 PC was in error, he behaved professionally. The officer did not threaten Tatsuo in order to force or coerce him to choose man over God. The officer did not order him, under threat of harm or imprisonment, to not teach in the name of Jesus. The officer, while wrong in his application of a particular penal code section, acted professionally, patiently, and again, showed commendable restraint when Tatsuo began to physically resist him.

Tatsuo did not, as a servant of God, honor the officer. By resisting arrest and then creating a scene, which could have escalated the situation into something more dangerous for both Tatsuo and the officer, Tatsuo disobeyed and physically challenged a man put in place as an authoritative representative of the government. He dishonored one serving as a representative of an institution established by God. Tatsuo did not break the law by raising his voice on a public sidewalk, outside the Torrance DMV. But he did break the law, multiple laws, when he escalated the situation and refused to obey the officer. He sinned. He needs to publicly confess his public sin and repent before God.


What Will Be The Outcome?

Had this situation ended quietly with Tatsuo receiving a citation for disturbing the peace, I doubt he would have ever seen the inside of a courtroom. I believe as soon as the district attorney or a judge saw the circumstances surrounding the citation, the case would have been dismissed.

There is still the possibility of that happening. It is possible, in spite of Tatsuo's actual crimes post-contact with the officer, depending on whether or not other charges beyond 415 PC are filed, that any and all charges might be dismissed. It is possible the D.A. will look at the totality of the circumstances, see that Tatsuo's other crimes, which did not result in injury to the officer, were the result of the officer's misapplication of 415 PC, and dismiss the case.

However, Tatsuo upped the ante when he refused to show his identification, resisted arrest, and created a disturbance as he was being escorted to the patrol car. The D.A. could choose not to file the 415 PC charge and simply file a charge of resisting an officer. The D.A. could concede that Tatsuo did not disturb the peace, but he interfered with an officer in the performance of his duties.

Of course, a dozen other scenarios could play out, with the outcome being something I'm not considering.


The Sovereignty of God in Tatsuo's Sin

Tatsuo's behavior, as dishonoring as it was to Christ and His gospel, did not and will not push a single person away from Jesus. No one's salvation is contingent upon how Tatsuo behaved during this incident. If the CHP officer or the people standing in line at the DMV, or anyone else present at the time of Tatsuo's arrest were offended by Tatsuo's behavior, or if any of them are presently using his behavior as an excuse for their unbelief, there is nothing that Tatsuo did or said that can or will thwart the predetermined, eternal plan of God for the before-mentioned people.

That being said, God's sovereignty does not give me, Tatsuo, or any other Christian a license to sin. The extent to which God will discipline Tatsuo for what he did, only God knows. Whatever God decides to do and/or allow will be good and perfect and loving toward Tatsuo. Of this we can be assured (Hebrews 12:7-11).

I hope Tatsuo will read this. Although the article is critical of his behavior, I hope he will be able to receive what is written in the spirit it is written.

I hope Tatsuo is released from custody soon, if he hasn't been released already.

I hope Tatsuo does not spend any time in jail if he is found guilty, in a court of law. I doubt that will happen, anyway. With the jail overcrowding and the minor nature of Tatsuo's offenses, if he is found guilty he is probably looking at a fine and probation.

I hope Tatsuo will learn from his mistakes. I hope he will humble himself enough to be able to see the mistakes he made.

I hope this situation draws Tatsuo closer to Christ and is used by God to further mature his faith.

And I hope in this situation and in all things the Lamb will receive the reward for His suffering.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Mall: A Great Fishing Pond..... While it Lasts


After reading Ray Comfort's Militant Evangelism, being convicted by the Holy Spirit for my sins of evangelistic apathy and depraved indifference, I was determined to engage in biblical evangelism. Through the Living Waters website, I discovered there were other people (not many) in my area for whom the evangelism light bulb was now illumined.

It was about 11 years ago that I went to a mall for the first time to engage in evangelism. A man who would become a good friend, and remains one to this day, Dru Morgan, was my leader that evening. It was one of the first times I distributed gospel tracts, and I think it was the first time I ever engaged a stranger in evangelistic conversation. Wow. A lot of life and ministry has happened since.

Thanks, Dru.

The Westfield Valencia Town Center  is the only mall in my community. I arrived at the mall yesterday afternoon, about a half-hour before my appointed time. After I parked, I packed up my rolling cart with bibles (English and Spanish), gospel tracts (again, English and Spanish), and an assortment of other visual aids.

I made my way to the security office where I signed in. Liking to patronize the mall while I'm there, I stopped at Starbucks on my way to my assigned location, on the second floor. My spot was at the top of the escalator and situated between the children's play-place and the family lounge. A great location.

Waiting for me was a table with a nice, black tablecloth and three chairs, provided and set up by mall staff.

The above photo is what my evangelism table looked like once I set up everything.


It's a Different Kind of "Fishing"

Allow me to use some fishing analogies to describe the various kinds of evangelism in which I engage.

Open-air preaching is like commercial fishing with nets. The preacher casts a wide net hoping to catch many fish at one time.

Engaging strangers in conversation is like fly fishing. The fly fisherman is hunting with rod and reel. He reads the flow of the stream. He looks for tell-tale signs of spots where fish might be hiding. And then he tosses the fly in the general proximity of where he suspects fish to be, hoping they will bite. Engaging strangers in one-to-one conversation involves many of the same tactics. The Christian is constantly surveying the area in which he finds himself, looking for people who might be ready for a conversation.

Tract distribution is like chumming the water--throwing bait on the water to attract fish. The Christian distributes tracts hoping everyone who takes one from his hand will come to repentance and faith as they read the tract. He also hopes people will stop as they receive a gospel tract and engage in conversation.

Mall evangelism is like the kind of fishing you might see in a Norman Rockwell painting. Picture a fisherman sitting on a chair or his tackle box along the shore of a peaceful pond or lake. His pole is propped up on a Y-shaped stick. He eats a sandwich, or reads a book while he waits for the pole to move, indicating that a fish is going after his bait.

In all of the above scenarios, there is a common denominator. They are all examples of fishing, which doesn't always equate to catching.

If you were to ask me what is my favorite kind of "fishing," my answer would be open-air preaching. If you were to ask me which of the before-mentioned forms of evangelism is the most effective, I would tell you they are all tied for First Place. Why? The effectiveness of evangelism, when the evangelism is biblical, is not found in a particular or preferred method of evangelism. The effectiveness of evangelism is found in the power of the message (Romans 1:16). The gospel is the power of God for salvation. The gospel.

While God has hard-wired me to be a herald on the streets and college campuses, I love all forms of biblical evangelism, including (but not limited to) conversations, tract distribution, and mall evangelism.


Some Resources

If you would like to read some stories about my experiences in mall evangelism, you will find them here, here, here, and here.

THE VERY BEST mall evangelism team of which I am well-aware is the NorCal Seedsowers. This is the group, under the leadership of my good friend, Daniel Beaudoin, who inspired me to starting "fishing" at my local mall. Daniel is also a security supervisor for the Westfield Mall in San Jose, which gives him some obvious street cred (or should I say, mall cred) when it comes to evangelizing in malls.

Seven years ago, I wrote an article titled "Hello Officer! -- Interacting with Law Enforcement and Security." I believe you will find the information in this article helpful all of your public evangelism efforts.


Legalities

Disclaimer: What I'm about to offer is NOT legal advice. I'm not an attorney, and I don't even play one on TV. The following is for informational purposes only.

A 1980 United States Supreme Court decision in a landmark case, Pruneyard v. Robins, set the standard for the exercise on private property that is accessible by the public.

Here's what happened.
Soon after appellees had begun soliciting in appellant privately owned shopping center's central courtyard for signatures from passersby for petitions in opposition to a United Nations resolution, a security guard informed appellees that they would have to leave because their activity violated shopping center regulations prohibiting any visitor or tenant from engaging in any publicly expressive activity that is not directly related to the center's commercial purposes. Appellees immediately left the premises and later filed suit in a California state court to enjoin the shopping center and its owner (also an appellant) from denying appellees access to the center for the purpose of circulating their petitions. The trial court held that appellees were not entitled under either the Federal or California Constitution to exercise their asserted rights on the shopping center property, and the California Court of Appeal affirmed. The California Supreme Court reversed, holding that the California Constitution protects speech and petitioning, reasonably exercised, in shopping centers even when the center is privately owned, and that such result does not infringe appellants' property rights protected by the Federal Constitution.
And here's how the United States Supreme court decided the case.
"Appellants first contend that Lloyd Corp. v. Tanner prevents the State from requiring a private shopping center owner to provide access to persons exercising their state constitutional rights of free speech and petition when adequate alternative avenues of communication are available...

Our reasoning in Lloyd, however, does not ex proprio vigore [by its own strength] limit the authority of the State to exercise its police power or its sovereign right to adopt in its own Constitution individual liberties more expansive than those conferred by the Federal Constitution...

Appellants next contend that a right to exclude others underlies the Fifth Amendment guarantee against the taking of property without just compensation and the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee against the deprivation of property without due process of law...

Here the requirement that appellants permit appellees to exercise state-protected rights of free expression and petition on shopping center property clearly does not amount to an unconstitutional infringement of appellants' property rights under the Taking Clause. There is nothing to suggest that preventing appellants from prohibiting this sort of activity will unreasonably impair the value or use of their property as a shopping center. The PruneYard is a large commercial complex that covers several city blocks, contains numerous separate business establishments, and is open to the public at large. The decision of the California Supreme Court makes it clear that the PruneYard may restrict expressive activity by adopting time, place, and manner regulations that will minimize any interference with its commercial functions. Appellees were orderly, and they limited their activity to the common areas of the shopping center. In these circumstances, the fact that they may have 'physically invaded' appellants' property cannot be viewed as determinative...

Appellants finally contend that a private property owner has a First Amendment right not to be forced by the State to use his property as a forum for the speech of others...

[T]he shopping center by choice of its owner is not limited to the personal use of appellants. It is instead a business establishment that is open to the public to come and go as they please. The views expressed by members of the public in passing out pamphlets or seeking signatures for a petition thus will not likely be identified with those of the owner. Second, no specific message is dictated by the State to be displayed on appellants' property. There consequently is no danger of governmental discrimination for or against a particular message. Finally, as far as appears here appellants can expressly disavow any connection with the message by simply posting signs in the area where the speakers or handbillers stand. Such signs, for example, could disclaim any sponsorship of the message and could explain that the persons are communicating their own messages by virtue of state law...

We conclude that neither appellants' federally recognized property rights nor their First Amendment rights have been infringed by the California Supreme Court's decision recognizing a right of appellees to exercise state-protected rights of expression and petition on appellants' property."

The US Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Supreme Court of California.
While this court decision was good news for free speech advocates in California and 36 other states, to this day there remains 13 states that refuse to follow the precedent set in the Pruneyard v. Robins case. Those states are: Arizona, Connecticut, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Wisconsin, and Washington.

Now, I know some of my friends who live in the before-mentioned 13 states just had their hearts broken. I'm so very sorry. Really. I know what such news would do to my spirits.

But all is not lost.

Just because you live in a state that has not adopted the Supreme Court decision in Pruneyard v. Robins as state law, that doesn't mean the malls in your area will not allow you to engage in evangelism on mall property. It simply means they are not legally obligated to allow you to engage in evangelism on mall property. That is an important distinction.

Now, if you live in one of the 37 states that recognizes the Pruneyard v. Robins decision, this does not mean you can simply walk into your local mall and do whatever you want. Don't expect to waltz into the mall, stand atop a table in the food court, and start open-air preaching without quickly being told to stop and/or escorted off mall property by mall security. In the before-mentioned scenario (which has been tried by some zealous evangelists, by the way), mall management would have every legal right to send you and your gospel tracts packin'.

If you look again at the Supreme Court's decision in Pruneyard v. Robins, you will see that business owners/management, while they cannot prohibit free speech exercise, they do have the right to regulate it. The Supreme Court indicated that businesses can establish "time, place, and manner" regulations for free speech exercise on their property. This means malls can legally require you to fill out an application and determine where, when, and how you will engage in free speech while on their property. If you do not comply with their legitimate "time, place, and manner" policy they can (and will) ask you to leave.

When it comes to mall evangelism, I want to strongly encourage you to play by the rules. Do not bring a reproach upon Christ by trying to be a law unto yourself, by ignoring legitimate and legal policies of property owners.


Getting Started

Step One: Talk to your pastors/elders about what you want to do.

Explain to them what you want to do. While in American Evangelicalism anything is possible, it is unlikely your pastors/elders would balk. Get their blessing. Get their prayerful and maybe even their financial support (i.e. tracts, bibles, etc.). Do everything you can to make your mall evangelism a ministry of the church. Get your pastors/elders permission to have information about the church available on the table.

Step Two: Go to the management office of your local mall.

If your local mall is part of a larger corporation or groups of malls, as is the case with my local mall (Westfield), then you will likely discover your mall has a well-researched, nice and tight, legal "time, place, and manner" free speech policy. If the mall is an independent establishment, then, if they are current on the issue (and smart) they will likewise have a solid free speech policy.

Go to the management office of your local mall and request an application for use of the common area for free speech. Or you can ask for an application for the distribution of literature. Or you can ask for an application to set up a free speech table.

The application will likely ask for your name, address, phone number, email address. It will also ask for information regarding the group, organization, ministry, or church you represent.

Give the information. Set your conspiracy theories and fears of "big brother" aside. Getting the gospel to the lost is more important than the illusion of privacy. That's right. Privacy is an illusion. But that's another article. The mall has the legal right to know to whom they are granting permission to exercise free speech on their property.

When you go to the mall to complete and submit the application, have some samples of the material you plan to distribute at the table. Mall management will likely request this, too.

As part of the application process, you will be given choices regarding dates, times, and locations within the mall to set up your evangelism table. In my case, it has been a very pleasant experience working with mall management. My local mall provides me with the choice of one of seven different locations in the mall. Most of them are well-traveled areas. And a few of the options are high traffic areas where I can go through hundreds of tracts in a matter of a few hours.

Step Three: Decide what you will put on your table.

Your mall will likely provide you with a table (6'-8') and a few chairs. My mall limits me to three people working my table, at any given time.

Pack your table with bibles, gospel tracts, DVDs, church information, and any other material you would like to give away.

Try to include some eye-catching props that will draw attention to your table. The mall will likely allow you to small, standing signs on the table. Get creative.

Step Four: Demeanor

Okay. So, you went to your pastor. He's an on-fire evangelist and loves that you've taken the initiative (nothing wrong with being hopeful, is there?). You've gone to your local mall, completed and submitted the application, and picked your time and date. You've got all of your material and props together, and you're ready to go.

The big day comes. You've got everything set up. You've posted pictures of your table on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and in your favorite atheist chat room, just to send them into neurotransmitter misfire (some evangelists are a little twisted that way).

You sit down behind the table and begin to check your email on your phone or your begin to dig in to that new book you've been meaning to read.


STOP!!!!!!!!

How inviting do you think it is to a stranger walking toward your table when all he or she can see is the top of your head? In my case, the reflection of mall lighting off my cranium could blind the person and potentially expose me to a civil suit.

Your demeanor need not (and should not) be over the top. But you should be at least as excited to be there as the kids working the different kiosks throughout the mall. Come to think of it, you should be more excited than the kids working the kiosks. Many of them look like they are waiting for a root canal.

Keep your head up. Keep your eyes open. And smile.

Yes. Smile.

Look. I'm a retired deputy sheriff. I look like a cop. I sound like a cop. And when I make eye contact with a person, I can leave them thinking, "What? I haven't broken the law. Have I broken the law? Is he going to take me to jail? I think he wants to take me to jail." Sometimes their first impression would be accurate. But I digress.

The point is that I know enough about myself to know I have to be intentional to smile--to look and sound friendly.

Again, at the mall you are going to be contacting strangers. People you've never met are going to be the majority of folks who walk up to the table. You can have the best looking table on the planet, but if the look on your face, your body language, or your overall countenance is telling folks to stay away, what do you think people are going to do? That's right. They're going to stay away.

When someone makes eye contact with you, say hello. Whether or not the person comes over to the table, wish people a good day.

Did I mention the whole smiling thing?

If someone stops and his eyes seem to linger in the direction of your table, let them know that everything on the table is free. Ask them if they would like a free Bible. Engage them in conversation. Ask them about their day. Ask them what brings them to the mall. Ask them if they attend church locally or if they have any spiritual beliefs. One look at the table and the person knows why you're there (at least they should). So, you can skip all the uncomfortable formality of trying to engage a stranger in a conversation without the other person having any context for why you are talking to them.

Oh, one more thing.

Have fun! Let the joy of the Lord be your strength! Think nothing of how many or how few people are coming to the table. Remember, this is a different kind of "fishing." You're the fisherman sitting peacefully on the lake's shore, waiting for the big one to bite.


Conclusion

I've titled this article "The Mall: A Great Fishing Pond..... While it Lasts." The reason: the availability of this kind of evangelism won't last forever. I think it's pollyannic for anyone to think laws are going to become more favorable for Christian evangelism. Free speech rights for Christians are not going to become more liberal, but rather more prohibitive.

Yet for now, malls are still a wonderful place for reaching your community with the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

While this article is detailed, it is not exhaustive. However, I hope you find it helpful. And I look forward of hearing your testimonies of how you've seen the Lord work around your mall evangelism table.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Joy of Freedom from Fear's Grip


I often receive private messages, emails, and the like about the many different things that can kill me. My Facebook and Twitter feeds are also inundated with news about things that can kill me: microwaves, carrying my cell phone in my pocket, caffeine, a lack of caffeine, whole milk, meat and dairy products containing antibiotics, Mad Cow, Mac & Cheese, the second-hand smoke I inhaled as a kid from my chain-smoking parents, vaccinations, not getting vaccinations, medications, not taking medications, drinking tap water, living or driving underneath radio towers, terrorists who want to kill me because I'm an American, FEMA camps, being on "The Grid." The list goes on an on. In fact, I'm a bit hesitant to post this article, anticipating warnings and conspiracy theories showing up in the comments (which are strictly moderated, by the way).

(To those of you who have sent me correspondences about the less-than-silly things mentioned above, I am NOT making fun of you. I love you for your concern for me. And I am grateful. This post is NOT about you; it's about ME.)

I used to have a very unhealthy, unbiblical, and frankly sinful fear of death and dying. It effected where and what I ate. It effected where and when I would travel--even to minister the gospel. It effected where and with whom I stayed when I traveled. It negatively impacted my family and close family relationships. It permeated every area of my life, including my faith. Thank God that He was and is faithful, even when I was and am faithless, because He cannot deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:13). Those outside my immediate family who know me very well know how bad I got.

I was a functional and very secretive hypochondriac. Which also made me a liar.

No, I wasn't being tormented by Satan. The devil wasn't making me do it. The sin--both the thinking and the doing--was all mine. I alone was responsible (James 1:12-15).

Several years ago, God set me free from this particular, debilitating sin of the flesh--from this love of self, from this lack of faith and trust in the goodness and sovereignty of God. The Lord used His Word, prayer, the prayers of others, biblical counsel, tough love from family and friends, and a whole lot of patience from the same folks. The Lord used the biographies about and/or writings of men like Martyn-Lloyd Jones, Charles Spurgeon, Oswald Chambers, and Jerry Bridges (to name a few), to help me right the ship of my mind. The Lord used many things and a few very special people (family and friends) over the years to release me from fear's grip.

Someday I might write more extensively about this aspect of my life that is, by God's grace, behind me.

So, why am I telling you this. Well, I'm not sure. Maybe it's, in part, the recent dust-up over the vaccination debate. Maybe it's the comment I recently received on Facebook from a good friend who, in response to a post I wrote about the goodness of God as seen in the provision of a new microwave oven. He innocently shared that his research about the health risks related to microwave ovens led to his decision years ago not to have one in the home. I dunno.

What I do know is this:

I spent many, many years--time my family and I can never get back--worrying about the myriad things the world says can, might, or will kill me. What does that say about who ultimately received my worship during those times of worry, anxiety, and fear? It says that I receive my worship. It says that I feared man and the world around me (seen and unseen) more than I feared God. It said that in those times of worry, anxiety, and fear, I would have rather stayed here on earth (with unholy motives, unlike the apostle Paul) than be with my Lord in heaven (Philippians 1:23-25). It said I feared physical and emotional pain more than I was thankful for the pain and suffering Jesus endured to save me (Philippians 2:8; Hebrews 12:4). It said I was not willing to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Christ (Luke 9:23).

Now, this is not to say that I throw all caution to the wind. I believe I am still obligated to be a good steward of the physical life God has given me. But I am so obligated as a means of worshiping Christ, not as a means of preserving my physical life so I can worship myself.

I will be 51-years-old in ten days (Feb. 22). I will never again have the waistline when, as a 23-year-old, I graduated from the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department Training Academy. Life and ministry does not allow me to spend 3-4 days in the gym every week. I'm on the streets most days, and I travel away from home 80-100 days each year. I do not have the time, or the practical ability to count calories, milligrams of fat and cholesterol (I know, I know, those things can kill me, too). I have to eat what's available. I have to eat what's put in front of me. And I have to do so with joy and praising, with thanksgiving in my heart, for the provisions of my great God and King.

As an aspect of ministry, I have to travel (a lot) by land and air in packed petri dishes. And the day could very-well come when I have to get used to and be thankful for.....jail food, a plastic-covered mattress used by hundreds of criminals before me, and roommates infested with bugs or infected with disease.

Yes, I need to try to take care good care of myself. But I cannot allow the fear of death, the fear of disease, the fear of injury as a result of my own carelessness or as a result of the hateful act of another human being (this last one has never bothered me much, probably because of my 20 years as a deputy sheriff) keep me from serving Christ. I cannot allow it to hinder me from loving God and loving people. I cannot allow it to become an opportunity for sin--declaring myself sovereign when only God is.

Since being brought to repentance and I believe wholeness in this area of my life, the Lord has allowed the ministry to which He has given me stewardship to flourish. He has allowed me to travel to places I never thought my eyes would ever see or my feet would ever trod. He has allowed me to meet Christian brethren I otherwise would never have met. He has allowed me to stay in their homes and sit at their tables. He has allowed me to be adopted by so many young ones, as "uncle" or "grandpa." Oh, what a tragedy it would have been to not be loved by the brethren around the world who have shown me such great, sincere, and sacrificial love! Oh, what a tragedy it would be to one-day stand before Christ and have Him say something like, "But Tony, had it not been for your sin, I had all of this for you, too!"

Some will see what I've shared in this article as an opportunity to question, to gossip, to deride. Others will see what I've shared as a balm, an encouragement, a provision of hope. I pray, dear reader, you are the latter. And if you find yourself in the former group, well, I pray for your repentance.

A godly, young man once share with me a very biblical way to battle the sins of the mind--what my family and I like to call "stinkin' thinkin'" (also not an original thought). I, in turn, have shared what he taught me with many Christians who struggle with sins of the mind. I present it in a sermon titled "How to S.T.O.P. Wrong Thinking." I hope you find encouragement in this humble offering.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

American Evangelicalism: Where Bad Things Happen



What I Believe about American Evangelicalism

I believe American Evangelicalism is a Christ-less religious system that creates myriad false converts and is used by Satan to deceive the lost and to lead astray, as if it were possible, even the elect (Matthew 24:24). The children of a generation ago raised on Foosball, Pizza, emotionalism, bad teaching from untrained, unqualified man-cubs, and a sinner's prayer every Tuesday night for reassurance are today's American Evangelical pastors. And the state of American Evangelicalism isn't sliding, but is free-falling, from bad to worse.

I hate American Evangelicalism. I love American Evangelicals.

I shudder and my heart breaks at the thought of the untold masses, boasting of membership in American Evangelical churches, who will stand (or who have already stood) before Christ, rubbing their hands together, just waiting to receive their condo in the sky, only to hear Jesus say, "I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness" (Matthew 7:21-23). False converts who made false commitments to a false Jesus represented in a false gospel, which was presented by a false pastor. American Evangelicalism, as a system, is false.

I hate American Evangelicalism. I love American Evangelicals.

While American Evangelicalism is not Christian, there most certainly are Christians within this demonic system--both solid churches that are included in the definition of "evangelical" and remnants of God's people in churches that are not His. When I speak of American Evangelicalism, I am not speaking about the Bride of Christ. While not yet fully sanctified, she is beautiful and she is cherished by the Bridegroom. Shame on and warning to anyone who mocks the Bride of Christ--the true Church.

I have not received any new revelation from God about being a very outspoken critic of American Evangelicalism. While some may think I rant on my keyboard while wearing a camel hair kilt, with honey dripping from my goatee (can't quite get passed the crunch of the locust), I don't. I know I am not a lone voice crying in the American Evangelical wilderness. I know there are many brothers and sisters in Christ who agree with me. But, even so, a minority we make. I believe the genuine Body of Christ is much smaller than I or anyone else realize. It is certainly smaller than American Evangelicalism would have the world believe.

Last night, American Evangelicalism, that reoccurring bur under my saddle, got me thinking.....and tweeting.


American Evangelicalism: Where Bad Things Happen.

American Evangelicalism.....

Where everyone's will is free.....except God's.

Where Katy Perry's Half-Time Show is an acceptable form of worship.

Where any man (or woman) can be a pastor.....no qualifications needed.

Where a pastor's "spiritual vision" can be 20/200, but he'll still get the keys to the family car.

Where more biblical titles can be found in Barnes & Noble than in the church bookstore.

Where vacationaries are called missionaries and they actually believe they're reaching the world for Jesus.

Where pastors, maybe struggling with porn themselves (according to published statistics), see "50 Shades of Gray" as an opportunity to draw a crowd.

Where you can find Joyce Meyer's and John MacArthur's study bibles on the same shelf, in the Christian bookstore.

Where calling people to the stadium floor, getting them to repeat a prayer, and then welcoming them to the family of God on the Jumbo-Tron is seen as biblical.

Where 80-90% of the people's giving go to staff salaries and facility upkeep, while missionaries beg and starve.

Where elders pray about how they can remove the cross from the church logo and remove church from the church name.

Where CRU exists. Nuff said.

Where church and ministry leaders can be found on the local crime blotter, but will be "restored" to ministry in a matter of weeks.

Where bibles are optional (from pulpit to pew) on Sunday morning, but coffee is not.

Where the first song on Sunday morning isn't really a call to worship, but a stall tactic to accommodate late arrivals.

Where Bill Johnson, Joel Osteen, Mark Driscoll, Russell Moore, and the Pope can all coexist. And it's seen as a good thing.

Where some pastor will replicate Katy Perry Liger Zoid ride to make his entrance on a Sunday morning.

Where a pastor can boast about how little time he spent preparing his sermon and his people will smile.

Where pastors have their own lines of clothing.

Where, for many pastors, "B" stands for "Bentley," not "Bible."

Where the Message and the New Living Translation are considered viable options for deeper study and the Purpose Driven Life is considered deep theological reading.

Where.....oh, just fill in the blank. Whatever the world is doing, American Evangelical is doing, but with less talent.

Yes, sadly, the list could go on and on and on. But I think (I hope) you get the point. American Evangelism is where bad things happen.

I believe American Evangelicalism is the largest mission field in the United States. And it is one of the toughest fields in which to labor, for everyone believes they are already saved. So, until American Evangelicalism ceases to exist in its present ungodly form, or the Lord takes me home--whichever comes first--I will keep banging the drum. I will keep warning Christians and non-Christians away from the spiritually dead vortex of American Evangelicalism. I don't want to see another life sucked into the dangerous, whirling, contaminated water that only poses as Christianity.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Nigel the Black Hebrew Israelite

Today was my first time preaching alone at Pershing Square. I set up just outside the square, on the northwest corner of 6th Street and Hill Street. It's a great spot. Constant pedestrian traffic and a large sidewalk area large enough for people to stop and listen without running into each other.

Many people were praying for me, and my sister encouraged me to read Psalm 25, which I did. After reading Psalm 25 and praying, I decided to try to read the entirety of the Gospel of John, in the open-air. I began with a gospel presentation. No sooner did I finish that gospel presentation that a young, black man named Nigel approached me. It's possible Nigel isn't his real name. It took him a few moments to recall it. As soon as he asked me a couple of questions, I knew I was dealing with a Black Hebrew Israelite, a racist cult that hates "the white man's Bible," "the white man's Jesus,' and "the white man." Black Hebrew Israelites also hate any person of color who does not hate white people.

For 90 minutes I read John 1-10 aloud while periodically engaging Nigel. I did my best to apply the wisdom of Solomon. I did not answer Nigel so not to be like him (Proverbs 26:4). And I did answer Nigel so as not to allow him to be too wise in his own eyes (Proverbs 26:5).

Nigel was relentless. Taking time only to catch his breath and collect his thoughts, Nigel was profane, self-deceived, and blasphemous with every hate-filled word that came out of his mouth (Matthew 15:17-20). It's been some time since I encountered a heckler as depraved as Nigel.

By God's grace there were a couple moments of peace and rejoicing as I stood atop the step stool. One young man stopped to ask me if I was familiar with Ray Comfort. I told him I was. Another man stopped to listen. When he heard Nigel berating me, he smiled at me and told me to keep preaching the Word of God. The man was able to distract Nigel with conversation, which allowed me to finish reading John 10 and preach the law and the gospel.

When I finished preaching and packed up my gear, I started for the subway station. Nigel followed me and continuing his self-righteous, scornful harangue. He seemed genuinely stunned when I asked him if he wanted to join me for a cup of coffee. It was the first time I saw him smile. But he quickly pulled himself together and told me he would only sit down with me if I would debate him. I told him I couldn't. To do so would be to cast pearls before swine.

Nigel followed me all the way to the subway station entrance, calling me "Esau" and other assorted names.

Sadly, in the Black Hebrew Israelites, Nigel found a religious cult that encourages him to hate The Triune God, the Word of God, people made in the image of God, and the only Savior who can forgive his sins.

Here is the unedited audio of my time at Pershing Square.

WARNING: this audio instances of blasphemy, the 'N' word, and other profane speech.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Living on Infinite Regress Avenue in Absurdityville


Yesterday, I was really blessed. The Lord gave me the opportunity to take to the streets of Los Angeles with two younger brothers in Christ--Jorge and Andrew. These two men of God co-lead the Evangelism Society at The Master's College, where they are both students. Jorge was too busy honorably and sacrificially serving his country in the military, right out of high school, to get an early start on college. Andrew will graduate this year and is hoping to attend Westminster Theological Seminary, Southern California.

Mahria and others were a bit nervous about me heading into downtown Los Angeles alone to open-air preach. It's good to be loved. :-) There was a collective sigh of relief when Mahria and others concerned heard that I had a couple brothers going with me.

It was a wonderful day of fellowship and ministry. We evangelized at Pershing Square and on Hollywood Boulevard, with a break for an amazing pastrami sandwich at a place just outside MacArthur Park. Many people heard the gospel by way of open-air preaching and conversations. And many others received the gospel by way of gospel tracts.

Some audio and possibly video from the day's efforts is forthcoming.

While waiting on the subway platform to make our way back to North Hollywood Station from Hollywood Boulevard, we met Omar. Omar claimed to have grown up in a Christian church, but converted to Islam because there was so much he didn't like about Christianity. Omar asserted, among other things: the Bible was written by a white man named King James; the concept of "one God" was brought about by King Tut's father; Jesus never existed.

While some might think it a little too sarcastic, I told Omar that he spent entirely too much time on the Internet.

Omar was also one of those people who wanted to have a conversation, so long as he was the only person to speak. When I could slip a word or two in, I asked Omar, "How do you account for truth and determine what is true?"

With a slight stammer, as his mind tried to catch up to his mouth, Omar answered, "Well, it's the truth that will set you free!"

"Omar, do you see what you just did? You assert that the Bible can't be trusted and that Jesus never existed, yet you quote the words of Jesus, from the Bible. You can't account for truth without coming into the Christian worldview to do it."

Befuddled and even angrier, Omar tried to change the subject with ad hominems and more Internet-derived wisdom. Sadly, this is all-too-often the response of unbelievers when confronted with the reality that their attempt to defend and live according to a worldview without God is to live in a windowless and doorless condo, in Absurdityville. And how does one make himself comfortable while locked in his home on Infinite Regress Avenue? It's simple and common: deny; dismiss; deflect; disdain.

While the conversation didn't go well, Omar was confronted with the reality he has always known: God exists, and he hates Him. For a moment, Omar was forced to deal with the reality of his self-imposed absurdity.

Much of American Evangelicalism would assert my encounter with Omar was a failure. After all, I didn't hear his whole story. I confronted him with truth. We didn't agree to disagree. And Omar may never join the "Christian" club. Yet my evangelistic efforts with Omar were anything but a failure. I stood on the truth of God's Word. I implored him to repent of his blasphemous idolatry (before parting company, Omar asserted he was god--not very Muslim of him). And Jorge, Andrew, and I prayed Omar would have no rest until the Holy Spirit convicted him of his sin and brought him to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

There are only two worldviews: the truth or all lies; the worship of the one, true God or all other forms of religious belief (i.e. Catholicism, Muhammadanism, Mormonism, Buddhism, Atheism, and every other man-made "ism"); submission to the Creator or worship of that which is created. Sadly, the vast majority of people in the world today are like Omar. They walk in darkness. They walk not in ignorance, but in willful rebellion against the God they know, whether they are numbered among aborigines living far removed from the modern world or they are among the academic elite sitting in their first-world ivory towers.
"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).
Omar couldn't account for truth while trying to live outside the Christian worldview. Neither can anyone else, be it the college student with only a semester of philosophy under his belt or the current pope of atheism, Richard Dawkins.

Omar was right about something. Only the truth will set him free.
"So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, 'If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free'" (John 8:31-32).

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Ray Comfort: A Genuine Man of God


The above photo represents just one of many times Ray Comfort and I have prayed together. The occasion in this photo was just before Ray preached at Huntington Beach, during the last Ambassadors' Academy (#20).

I have been a Christian for more than 26 years. During the second half of my lifetime, I have been blessed to not only meet, but to come to know as friends, many genuine men of God--men I respect, men who are my friends, men I love. Pastors, open-air preachers, laymen of various stripes and professional backgrounds (including law enforcement). So many men have, and still do, positively and significantly impacted my life that it would be impossible to name them all.

But if I had to pick one man, while desperately not wanting to offend the many godly men I know (including the very godly men with whom I served at Living Waters)--one man who has impacted my life more than any other--it would have to be Ray Comfort.


Ray Comfort's Impact on the World

Yesterday, I watched a six-minute micro-documentary about Ray Comfort, which was posted on Facebook. After watching "10 out of 10 Die," I posted the following comment:
"Ray Comfort is a once-in-a-century kind of man. That the Lord would so bless me by allowing me to spend more than four years in day-to-day, side-by-side ministry with Ray Comfort is, to this day, beyond my full comprehension. Ray Comfort has positively, spiritually impacted my life more than any man.

"I have never met a more humble, Bible-saturated, Christ-loving, gospel-focused, man of honor, integrity, selflessness, and generosity than Ray Comfort.

"I could go on. And someday I just might."
Well, now is as good a time as any to "go on" about Ray Comfort.

There is so much Ray Comfort has done for the Body of Christ, as well as for individuals, both saved and lost. To go into too much detail would only serve to embarrass Ray. I will say this. I believe, when Ray's time comes, he will have more crowns to lay at his Master's feet than just about any man who has ever lived.

Think about it.

We can all think of great evangelists throughout the ages. In doing so, we can all think of men who might have been more theological than Ray, more eloquent than Ray, more famous than Ray, more beloved than Ray. But I challenge anyone to think of another man who, just in his own lifetime, has inspired more people to reach the lost with the gospel of Jesus Christ than Ray Comfort.

Don't hurt yourself trying to come up with someone. You won't think of anyone.

If I had a dollar for every person, literally around the world, who has said to me, "My life was forever changed when I read 'The Way of the Master," I would never again have to raise support. Some of the men I consider the very best open-air preachers in the world today got their starts when they opened one of Ray's books, attended one of Ray's conferences, watched one of Ray's YouTube videos, or watched an episode of the television show "The Way of the Master."

Ray Comfort has instructed and encouraged thousands upon thousands of Christians to proclaim the gospel. Some of those people were enthused for only a season. Others were motivated for life. Others have made evangelism their way of life and their livelihood as a direct result of Ray Comfort's influence. I am one of those people. Still others include Ray Comfort in their salvation testimony--people who lived for years as false converts, but were drawn to genuine repentance and faith in Jesus Christ after hearing Ray preach the gospel.

Now, just picture in your mind, if you can, all of those Christians Ray has impacted, and then picture all of them proclaiming the gospel. Some are distributing tracts with a smile so bright, so wide, it's obvious that the joy of the Lord is their strength. Can you see them?

Some no longer have the word "stranger" in their vocabulary, for they talk to everyone they meet about Jesus. They see everyone as more important than themselves. Can you see them?

And some remind the world that there are still prophets (those forth-telling God's truth revealed in His Word), heralds, in the land--men of God willing to risk life and limb, position and popularity, and even the consternation and rejection of their churches and a Christ-less system called "American Evangelicalism" to stand atop a box, or a stool, or a park bench, just to fill their lungs with air and roar like a lion for Jesus' sake. Can you see them?

I can. I can see them. I have seen them. I do see them. I see them most every day of my life. And when I see them I cannot help but to also see the beaming smile draped now in a beard and the sparkling shimmer in the eyes of Ray Comfort.


Ray the Preacher

Ray Comfort's message has not changed in some 40 years. The reason: the gospel has not changed in 40 years, and it never will. The gospel is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The way Ray communicates that never-changing gospel hasn't changed either. Trivia, the "Good Person Test," the law and the gospel, the call to repent and believe, answering questions, the law and the gospel, the call to repent and believe, more questions, and so on. If it ain't broke, why fix it?

I remember being with Ray one afternoon on the campus of USC. For almost two hours, Ray handled everything the young, stubborn, arrogant, intellectually elite students (and a few professors) could throw at him. One-by-one, he dismantled godless worldviews and arguments, always bringing the conversation back to the gospel. For almost two hours, Ray preached, debated, and smiled. It was fitting we were on a college campus that day, for Ray took all of us who were with him through a Master's Degree-level class in open-air preaching.

Ray is more consistent than an In-n-Out Double-Double (Socal burger reference). Every time Ray steps atop a box or some other apparatus to elevate his diminutive frame, those familiar with him know exactly what they are going to get. It's never boring--not because Ray isn't entertaining (he is), but because the gospel is never boring. And it's never boring to hear the gospel come from the mouth of a man who loves Jesus, loves people, and loves the mission to which the Lord has called him as much as Ray Comfort does.

Ray Comfort, more than any man I know, truly loves lost people. While Ray's emotions run very deep, he would not describe himself as a crying man. In fact, he used to tease me because I can cry like a baby, over just about anything. "Tony, you're not going to cry again, are you?" He would ask me with a a wink and a smile.

To see and understand just how much Ray loves lost people, you need to watch the end of his open-air interactions with hecklers. The hecklers Ray attracts are some of the vilest, most wicked, most profane people with whom you could ever have occasion to make contact. Ray never backs down. Even more remarkable is that in spite of the torrent of verbal abuse he faces when he preaches, Ray never responds in kind. Ray is firm. Ray is resolute. Ray doesn't let anyone off the hook. Ray will provoke people who walk away just to make them come back and hear the gospel. But Ray is always kind.

Ray can spend 30 minutes being berated by a heckler and, when he steps off the box, walk over to the heckler and shake his hand or give him a hug. More remarkable still is the heckler, who a few moments earlier was spitting mad, will likewise embrace Ray. You cannot watch Ray Comfort preach to the masses and not realize he believes what he says and he loves the people to whom he says it. I wish I could be more like Ray, in this regard.


Ray Behind the Scenes

Many of Ray Comfort's retractors accuse him of being one man when in the public's eye and another man entirely when the world can't see him. Let's face it, who among us can honestly say we never put on airs, from time to time. There is a little, sinful "people-pleaser" in all of us. But I have never met a man whose character and persona is as consistent as Ray Comfort's. What you see is really and literally what you get, with Ray Comfort.

The Ray Comfort that most people don't get to see is the Ray Comfort I love the most--the Ray Comfort with whom I spent more than four years, on a daily basis. Out of respect for Ray and his privacy, I will give very few details. What Ray does in his day-to-day life is ultimately his business, and for me to go into great detail might violate a trust or a confidence. But this I can say.

I spent 20 years of my life reading people. We had a saying in law enforcement. "I know you're lying because your lips are moving." It was never a question of if a person would lie to me. It was simply a question of when. Phony criminals; phony victims; phony witnesses; even a few phony officers: it was easy to see through people. It still is.

One of my concerns about joining the Living Waters team (it's a family, really) was having my Ray Comfort bubble burst. Would I learn that the Ray Comfort I had come to love and respect from afar wasn't the same man up close? So, I watched him. I watched all of the public faces at Living Waters. I'm sure they watched me, too. After all, I was new to the family.

In the more than four years I served with Living Waters, Ray never gave me any reason to question his integrity, his passion, his compassion, his love, his kindness, his truthfulness, his zeal, or his commitment to the gospel mission. On the contrary: what I saw from Ray behind the scenes only served to bolster everything I had seen in his public persona. In fact, as wonderfully endearing as his public persona is, the Ray Comfort within the confines of Living Waters HQ, or his living room, or in a car on the way to open-air preach or to do a film shoot is even more wonderfully endearing.

And Ray is loyal. If you are part of Ray's team, his family, he will do everything and anything he can to support you, encourage you, and correct you with the love of a father or, in my case, an older brother.

Ray Comfort is far from perfect, and he would be the first person to say so. But Ray has been as close to a "Paul" in my life as I've ever had. I am forever in Christ's debt, and Ray's, for the time I was given to spend with Ray.

Yes, Ray is far from perfect. But I've learned so much from Ray. Yes, Ray has taught me much about open-air preaching and evangelism in general. But Ray has also taught me about how a man should love his wife, how a father should love his children, how a leader should lead others, what a man of the Word and a man of prayer really looks like, and what real humility looks like in a genuine man of God.

That's Ray Comfort. That's who Ray Comfort is to me: a mentor, a true friend, a genuine man of God.

I love you, Ray. Thank you, brother.

Evangelism Gear (Part 3): Amplification

In "Part 1" of this series, I discussed video cameras. In "Part 2" of this series, I discussed digital voice recorders. In "Part 3," let's take a look at amplification.

The amplification system I presently use is the Aker MR-AK38. I've used this little amp for about three years, now. For the price, it is the best amp I've ever used. At just $88, the Aker MR-AK38, with its surprising volume and sound quality for such an inexpensive unit, will provide you with all the sound you will need, in most settings.

With inexpensive units like this one, you would expect to have to replace it every year or two. Not with the Aker MR-AK38. Three years into the life of my system and I still get exceptional sound (quality and volume) and battery life. This is a rechargeable amp and it holds its charge well.

The Aker MR-AK38 is a very durable unit. I've traveled extensively with it (across the U.S., England, Scotland, Norway, Canada). It can live in my backpack without a worry of it being damaged. I'm sure the manufacturer would cringe if they found out I was sharing this. I once used my Aker MR-AK38 in a heavy rain. I did what I could to shield it from the rain, but by the time I was done preaching the unit was soaked. I thought for sure it was ruined and I was thankful it would cost less than $100 to replace it. That was two years ago (we get very little rain in SoCal). The unit dried out and has shown no reduction in performance after it took a bath.

There are times, however, when you will need more power. And what open-air preacher doesn't like that! If you want to cover a large area, or if you are open-air preaching in an environment with an excessively large crowd and a cacophony of sound, then the Amplivox Half-Mile Hailer is the system for you.

Folks, the Half-Miler Hailer's intended application is for--you guessed it--hailing boats on the open water. It's an attention getter. Plain and simple. Don't expect concert-quality sound from this beast. But if you want something loud, then the Half-Mile Hailer is your system.

While I don't own one, I've had the opportunity to use this system at the Kentucky Derby, Super Bowl Outreaches, and other large-scale events. It's durable and reliable. It is built to withstand the rigors of boating, so it will be up to the task for anything an open-air preacher can throw at it.

The Half-Mile Hailer runs between $300 and $600. The price range is wide because you can buy a variety of systems (i.e. with a corded microphone, cordless, battery powered, rechargeable).


A Word about Using Amplification

You DON'T need an amplifier to open-air preach.

I think too many open-air preachers have become amplification-dependent. In other words, there are some open-air preachers who have a mindset that has them believing that if they don't use an amp no one will hear them.

Granted, using amplification is very helpful. It saves the preacher's voice. It allows the preacher to better modulate his voice so people don't think he's screaming from start to finish. And in most cases (not all), an amplifier will allow the preacher to be heard over greater distances. But for thousands of years, open-air preachers heralded the law and the gospel without the aid of electronic amplification.

Remember, God is sovereign.

Everyone God wants to hear an open-air preacher, on any given day, will hear him. Whether the preacher has a Whitefield-like voice or can barely be heard at the other end of his own home, the gospel, which is the power of God for salvation, will be heard.

And keep in mind, the day is coming when governing authorities will clamp-down on, restrict, or outlaw the public proclamation of the gospel. The elimination of the use of amplification in public places could be one of the first steps in such anti-gospel efforts. So, open-air preacher, what will you do? If the government outlaws preaching with amplification, are you going to sit in your house, staring out the window, pouting about days gone by? I hope not!

Use amplification when and where you can, but also take the time to preach without it. Learn how to use the instrument God has given you, without the aid of mechanical devices.

Oh. One more thing. Don't be one of those open-air preachers that is on the streets more concerned about fighting for your rights than for lost souls. If an officer asks (or tells) you to shutdown your amplification, comply. Better to stay on the street preaching without amplification than to find yourself in the back seat of a patrol care because you had to try to win an argument with an officer.

For more information regarding how to deal with law enforcement and security, read this article.

In "Part 4" of this article, we will take a look at gospel literature.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

How Can I Pray for You?

This picture was taken several years ago at a local park. While I cannot remember the young man's name, I remember the conversation. I saw him sitting on the bench, reading his Bible. I engaged him in conversation and learned that he was struggling. He grew up in church, but he knew he wasn't right with God. He was searching the Scriptures for answers. I shared the gospel with him and he made a profession of faith in Christ. Before I left him, I prayed for him.

Recently, I began asking people on Facebook and Twitter how I can pray for them. The response has been wonderful--so wonderful that it is already becoming difficult to gather all of the prayer requests, since I am collecting the prayer request from multiple online locations.

So, in an effort to collect all of the prayer requests in one place, I'm writing this post.

If I can petition the Lord on your behalf, through prayer, simply share your prayer request by leaving a comment on this post. If the prayer request is too personal to share publicly, please email me at Tony@crossencountersmin.com.

How can I pray for you?

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Why I Number Myself Among "The 15"

Pastor Tom Chantry of Christ Reformed Baptist Church (Milwaukee) summed it up well.
"'The 15' is not akin to a silly boycott of a secular company; it is an uprising of serious churchmen calling for ecclesiastical action."
Twitter has been all-a-buzz the last couple of days over the hashtag #The15. It all started when a leader in American Evangelicalism (a subject about which I have written at length), came to the defense of John Piper, after Christians had the audacity to grimace and question what seemed to be a pro-Roman Catholic tweet by the well-known and much beloved pastor. In doing so, Stetzer snarked on Twitter:


Stetzer followed up his shot against the "same 15 Calvinists" with this, this, this, and this.

Well, Stetzer's rant led to JD Hall to post the first-ever #The15 Tweet:


Hall soon followed the inaugural tweet with an article titled, "Who are #the15," on the Pulpit and Pen blog. Please read Hall's article for the best explanation, for the original intent of #The15.

Why I Number Myself Among #The15


The above picture is of a 16th century engraving by Philips Galle titled, "Samson Destroying the Temple of the Philistines." For the record, the "15" on Samson's chest is my personal touch. According to the biblical record, there is no evidence that Samson ever wore a jersey with the number 15 on the front.

As I thought of the tragic yet redemptive end of Samson's life (Judges 16:25-30), I thought of what #The15 represents (cue the melodramatic music). I see the Philistine temple the same way I see American Evangelicalism. Both are godless structures. I see Samson the same way I see the Bride of Christ. As Samson stood within the Philistine temple determined to bring it to the ground, within the godless system of American Evangelicalism is the Bride of Christ, fighting for the truth of God's Word, the fidelity of the gospel, and the purity of the Church.

One day (and I hope it is soon) Jesus Christ will use His Bride, the Church, to bring down, to utterly destroy, the temple of quasi-Christianity commonly referred to as American Evangelicalism. Oh, it won't be violent. It won't be a hostile takeover. American Evangelicalism will simply burn up like every other piece of chaff. The tare that is American Evangelicalism will be uprooted, without harming the wheat (God's people).

And how will God use His Bride to accomplish the destruction of American Evangelicalism?

Persecution.

No, it won't be the persecution of American Evangelicals at the hands of true Christians. It will be the other way around. The Bride of Christ will, I believe, soon be persecuted by those who would number themselves among the American Evangelical ranks before they would ever dream of counting the cost of following Christ. It won't be long (again this is simply my belief; I don't even play a prophet on television) before American Evangelicals, because of their love of the world and the things of the world, because of their desire to be loved by the world and the people of godless religions and political systems, will begin to side with the popes, pundits, and politicians of the world against the Bride of Christ.

It will be the persecution of the true saints of God, which will include the blood of martyrs, at the hands of people (American Evangelicals) who have created a Jesus in their imagination--a socially relevant, all-inclusive, gentlemanly, demonic Jesus--that will be used of God to separate the tares from the wheat, to separate the Bride of Christ from American Evangelicalism.

While American Evangelicalism is awash with everything God hates--from abortion to divorce, to homosexuality, to sexual predator pastors, to pluralism, to greed, to unbiblical tolerance, to false prophets and teachers, and so on--the Bride of Christ that finds herself within this depraved and debaucherous system is beautiful. While yet imperfect, she is set apart to God, for the Son, by the Holy Spirit. And the Bridegroom will one-day rescue His Bride from this fallen world and the fallen religious system known as American Evangelicalism.

I number myself among #The15 because I see American Evangelicalism (not all evangelicals) as an enemy of Christ. I see American Evangelicalism as a tool of Satan to fill Hell with Matthew 7:21-23 false converts. I see American Evangelicalism as a demonic system that gives people what they want, a wide gate into what they think is heaven. Yet all-the-while they are strolling on an easy religious path that leads to destruction.

I number myself among #The15 because I don't want people to go to hell while thinking they are on the fast track to heaven. There is no group of people for whom I fear, worry, and weep more than false converts--people who think they will stand before Christ and say, "Lord! Lord!" They will say it only to hear Jesus say in response, "Depart from me."

Why do I number myself among #The15? I do so because I love Jesus, His Church, and the lost more than any religious system that blasphemes the first, sullies the second, and damns the third.