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.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Don't Quit!

The Ambassadors' Academy

In January of 2008, I joined the Living Waters team. My position with the ministry: Director of the Ambassadors' Alliance. My mission (in part): to develop and lead a brand new training program (the Ambassadors' Academy) in which people from around the world would be invited to Living Waters for a time of intensive evangelism training, with an emphasis on open-air preaching.

Starting from scratch, with the support of Ray Comfort and Living Waters' amazing team of brothers and sisters in Christ, in just four short months we were ready to host the first Ambassadors' Academy. I had put together a group of team leaders, with whom I would collectively work for the first time. Together, by God's grace, we led 50 participant's in what many would describe as "an experience of a lifetime."

I remember meeting with Emeal ("E.Z.") Zwayne, Living Waters' Executive Vice President, after Academy #1. While we rejoiced over God's grace in allowing Academy #1 to be such an amazing success, we also wondered how we were going to produce the same excitement, intensity, and energy we experienced in the first Academy, five more times that year and in the years to come. Again, all by God's grace, we realized during Academy #2 that it wasn't us who produced the excitement, intensity, and energy we experienced during the Academy. It was the participants. So month after month, Academy after Academy, we were blessed to lead 50 new people and watch the Lord work in amazing ways through them, as they stepped outside their comfort zones, "broke the sound barrier" (a reference to a first-time street preacher), and stretched themselves in evangelism, in many different ways.

From 2008 to 2012, Living Waters produced and hosted 20 Ambassadors' Academies, serving approximately 1,000 brothers and sisters in Christ who participated. I had the honor, privilege, and blessing of leading all 20 academies. It was a formative time in my life. I learned much about leadership. And I was given a taste of just how far the Lord will push a man to accomplish His good pleasure. I will never forget my time with Living Waters. I am forever in the debt of Ray Comfort, Emeal Zwayne, Ron Love, and the rest of the Living Waters family for not only allowing me to be part of the organization, but also accepting me as part of the family. I will never be able to thank them enough.

The "Don't Quit!" Story

During that conversation with E.Z. after the first Academy, E.Z. asked me to consider writing and preaching a new message--one that would serve as a battle cry, a call to action for the Academy participants. The result was a message titled "Don't Quit." "Don't Quit" was the last sermon on the day of training, for 19 academies. I also preached a modified reprise of the sermon in the open-air, at the end of the last day of evangelism, at Huntington Beach.

During my time with Living Waters, the ministry produced a CD version of "Don't Quit" and sold it in the ministry store. The ministry no longer sells the CD. It's been a couple years since I last preached "Don't Quit." I doubt I will ever preach it again.

Not long ago, Richard Story, manager of Cross Encounters Ministries, suggested to me that we obtain the audio from Living Waters and make it available as a free download through our Sermon Audio page, Pulpit and Streets. While I approved the idea, I admit I was a little hesitant. Even though I continue to receive emails and texts from folks who end their correspondences with "Don't Quit," I was of the mindset that the sermon had served its purpose and run its course.

Richard Story is persistent.

Richard contacted Daniel Comfort, Vice President and Operations Manager for Living Waters. Without hesitation, Daniel gave us permission to receive the audio file of the sermon and to make it a free download, through Cross Encounters Ministries. He also gave us permission to use the CD cover artwork (pictured above) created by Living Waters' graphic artist, Dale Jackson. We are very grateful.

Some Important Context

The audio you are about to hear was recorded on October 29, 2008. It was no ordinary day. October 29, 2008, was the day Deputy Randy Hamson would be laid to rest.

Deputy Hamson was critically injured while on-duty, on August 16, 2004. While investigating a traffic collision that had occurred earlier, Deputy Hamson saw a vehicle travelling in his direction, with its lights off. Deputy Hamson stepped into the lane and tried to signal to the driver with his flashlight. As he did, he was struck by another car.

As the station chaplain at the time, I was called to the emergency room to ministry to Deputy Hamson's family and station personnel. I was present when doctors looked at Deputy Hamson's initial CAT scan. The prognosis was not good. Yet Randy fought for the next four years. He never quit.

Deputy Hamson's memorial service was scheduled for October 29, 2008. I could not attend because it was the first day of Ambassadors' Academy #7. It is within this context that I stepped to the pulpit to preach "Don't Quit."

I hope this message is an encouragement to you, my brothers and sisters in Christ--not only in your evangelism endeavors, but in every area of your life.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Burt: A Broken Man

NFL running back Adrian Peterson was in the news again, today. This time regarding the resolution to the case against him for badly beating his four-year-old son with a switch (a thin tree branch). Peterson has agreed to plead "no contest" to a lesser, misdemeanor charge. In exchange, the felony charges against him will be dismissed; he will avoid jail time, pay a $4,000 fine, and perform 80 hours of community service.

Being a frequent listener to sports talk radio, the commentary I heard today about Adrian Peterson was primarily negative. Most of the sports reporters and radio show hosts were perturbed that Peterson got off with such a light sentence, considering the extent of his son's injuries. Many cited the privilege that comes with being an NFL superstar along with the best lawyers wealth and prestige can buy as factors in Peterson receiving such a good deal. The pundits were also quick to point out how different the outcome of the case would have been had Adrian Peterson been nobody from nowhere.

As I prepared for this afternoon's open-air preaching at the Newhall Metrolink Station, I knew I wanted to use the Adrian Peterson story--a story that would be on the minds of many people, whether or not they are sports fans--as a springboard to the law and the gospel. As I searched the Scriptures for a text that would be fitting for the story and, more importantly, for the proclamation of the law and the gospel, I came across Proverbs 28:5, which reads: "Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the Lord understand it completely."

Moments after I started preaching, I was interrupted by an older Hispanic man. It was a friendly, supportive interruption. He was not a heckler. He was several years my senior, wearing dirty, gray, cotton sweats. Over his should he carried a large duffle bag. The man appeared homeless, but he didn't appear that he had been on the streets for two long. I could tell by the condition of the man's eyes and the slight slur in his speech that he had been drinking.

When I finished preaching, I introduced myself to the man who, for the length of my sermon, stood only a few feet from me with his gaze fixed upon me. His name was Burt.

No sooner did I introduce myself to Burt that he began to sob. After declining the offer of a meal, Burt agreed to sit down with me on a near by bench. For the next 25-30 minutes, we talked.

By the providential, gracious will of God, by the end of the conversation the retired deputy sheriff and the life-long heroin addict and ex-con would say goodbye with a hug.

Let Us Go to Him Outside the Camp

"So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.
For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.
Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name."
Hebrews 13:12-15

The inspired writer of Hebrews beautifully explains how not only the Old Testament sacrifices, but the disposal of the animals sacrificed in that God-ordained system, typified the sacrifice and physical disposal of the Son of God, the Messiah, the King, the Christ, Jesus of Nazareth.

The carcasses of the animals used in the various Jewish sacrifices were disposed of beyond the gate, outside the city. The animals were regarded as nothing more than refuse. Jesus was regarded by both Jew and Gentile as of even less value than the animals sacrificed to God. Jesus, in the eyes of men, was not fit to die within the city gates. He was both butchered and disposed of, outside the camp, beyond the city gates.

Why did Jesus subject himself to so great a humiliation (Philippians 2:5-11)? He did it to sanctify His own people through the sacrifice of His own blood. And how are Christians to respond to so great a loving and saving sacrifice? We must be willing to join Christ outside the camp. Having been privileged to be redeemed through the shed blood of Christ, every Christian is obligated to share in His suffering (2 Corinthians 1:5; Philippians 3:7-11; 2 Timothy 1:8; 2:3; 1 Peter 4:13).

The author of Hebrews would later write: "Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood" (Hebrews 12:3-4). The Christian should never grow weary or faint-hearted since he has the ever-present reminder that while he will never resist sin to the point of shedding his own blood to cleanse himself of sin, Christ shed His innocent, life's blood for the remission of the sins of those He redeems. The unjust, blasphemous hostility Christ endured on the cross, outside the city gates, can never be matched by the sinner.

So, dear Christian, go. Go to Him outside the camp. Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Christ (Luke 9:23). Follow in His steps. Follow Him in His willingness to endure every deprivation, every hostility, every injustice. While Christ suffered to save sinners, as a redeemed sinner, as a Christian you must be willing to be walked, chased, or drug outside the camp--you must be willing to voluntarily go to Him, leave the camp behind, and suffer like Him outside the camp. Go to Him outside the American Evangelical camp--a man-made city that despises Christ and sees His gospel as woefully insufficient to meet the needs of sinners. Go to Him outside the camp of popularity. Stop striving for acceptance from the world--the Christ-hating world. Let every societal "norm," every worldly trend lock the gates of their sin-drenched camps behind you.

A young man named Calvin, a St. Louis campus leader of CRU, screamed in anger, "I don't want people to hate me!" Like  far too many American Evangelicals, Calvin will not go to Christ outside the camp. A young man named Tom, a Southern Illinois campus leader of CRU, affirmed a Christ-hating lesbian as she mocked the public proclamation of the gospel. Like Calvin, Tom will not go to Christ outside the camp. Like these two wayward young men, too many American Evangelicals refuse to count the cost of following Christ. And being unwilling to count the cost, they are unwilling to pay any price at all to walk as He walked, to suffer as He suffered, to die as He died.

While the Christian's justification, his salvation, is a free gift, sanctification is costly. Conformity to the image of Christ carries a very high price. Only those who are truly saved will desire to pay it--not to earn salvation, but with a heart compelled to pay any price out of gratitude for salvation received by grace, through faith.

Dear Christian, are you going to Him outside the camp? If not, why won't you go outside the camp? What is keeping you from following Christ to the uttermost? What is keeping you from being willing to suffer anything and everything to love and follow Christ? Did He not suffer far more to save you? Are you merely peering at Christ from the safe confines of the camp, hidden like "Kilroy" and just peeking over the walls of the City of American Evangelicalism?

Christian, do you point to Christ, off in the distance, disdained by the world He created, and say, "There He is. There's my Lord and Savior, way out there. But I dare not go outside the camp. I dare not go outside the American Evangelical bubble. It's dangerous out there. To pursue Christ-likeness, to be numbered among His followers, to be known by the world as 'one of them,' is just too high a price to pay." Is this you? Do you praise Him with your lips, but with a heart so far from Him you refuse to count the cost and pay the price to live as He lived and to die as He died (Isaiah 29:13; Mark 7:6; Mark 8:34)? Do you praise Him with your lips but keep him at a sinfully discreet distance?

Dear Christian, if this is you, then you must examine yourself to see if you are even in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5). If this is you, repent, and go to Christ outside the camp!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Planting My Flag in Santa Clarita

Recently, I preached a biographical sermon about a lesser-known, mid-19th century, open-air preacher named Robert Annan. Annan spent the last seven years of his life (1861-1867) as a follower of Christ and as a street evangelist in Dundee, Scotland. Having read Annan's biography, written by Annan's good friend John Macpherson, now three times (and I now always keep the book close at hand), I was moved and convicted by Annan's love for and determination to reach his city with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Coupled with Robert Annan's example, I've been further encouraged and convicted by the examples of fellow open-air preachers like Bobby McCreery, Jeff Rose and Dave Griffin, and others. These men have planted their evangelistic flags in their communities and are committed to tilling the hard soil of dead hearts, day-in and day-out.

I live in Santa Clarita, CA (population: 179,590). I've lived in Santa Clarita since 1988. Two of my three daughters were born in our local hospital. I served the community as a deputy sheriff for twenty years--my entire career. My sister and her family live in Santa Clarita. My recently married daughter and my son-in-law live in Santa Clarita. Our church has a large footprint in the community. I love my city. Santa Clarita is home.

While over the years I have engaged in quite a bit of evangelism in my community, I've never really planted my evangelistic flag, here. I've open-air preached, carried my "Are You Ready" cross, distributed tens-of-thousands of tracts, set up a table at the mall, and evangelized the lost in other ways, in Santa Clarita. But my local evangelism efforts, often times, have taken a back seat to evangelism in other nearby communities where I could find larger crowds, etc.--place like large university campuses, abortion clinics (we don't have any abortion clinics in Santa Clarita), Hollywood Boulevard, and Los Angeles-area metro stations.

So, having started this morning, I am committing all of my local evangelism efforts on reaching the City of Santa Clarita with the gospel of Jesus Christ. I will still attend events in Southern California, for the purpose of evangelist. And this decision doesn't mean I will stop traveling around the country and the world to preach. What it means is that I'm going to do my best to spend at least six days a week on the streets of my own community proclaiming the gospel, in various ways.

I spent about 90 minutes this morning at the Newhall Metrolink Station. I prayed, asking God to bless my present and future efforts there; I distributed gospel tracts; I introduced myself to Donald, a security guard at the station. I will return to the station this afternoon to preach the gospel in the open-air.

Your prayers are appreciated. Thanks.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Dear Christian: Open Your Mouth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And? So?

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

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

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