Tuesday, October 15, 2013

False Conversion in the South: "I Done Did That!"

Back Story

What you're about to hear, should you choose to listen, is the last open-air sermon I preached during the last night of the Fall for Greenville festival, in Greenville, SC. Throughout the weekend, I repeatedly heard professing Christians reject the offer of gospel tracts with responses such as: "No, I'm good. I done did that." Translation: "I don't need the gospel. I walked the aisle." Or, "No thanks. I prayed the prayer."

In one instance, I tried to hand a tract to a person who responded with: "No thanks. I'm saved by the blood." I answered, "Then you should give this to someone who isn't." The person angrily snatched the tract out of my hand and showing, with worldly grief or guilt (2 Corinthians 7:10), their disdain for the gospel and for the lost.

Something else I noticed was the number of people wearing t-shirts with the sentence "I Love My Church" printed on the front. On the back of the t-shirt was the website for New Spring Church, the Greenville mega-church led by the well-documented errant pastor, Perry Noble. Sadly, I saw some people wearing the apparel advertisement for the church while they were experiencing the effects of varying levels of intoxication.

Throughout the two-day event, the angriest hecklers to confront the open-air preachers were professing Christians--intoxicated, profane, verbally abusive, threatening, sexually explicit in their language and dress, and misquoting Scripture. Frankly, by the time I stepped up to preach for the last time, I had heard and seen enough. I prayed, asking the Lord to temper the anger I felt and to keep me from crossing the fine line between righteous indignation and sinful anger.

It will be easy for you to overlook or ignore the love in this open-air message if your focus is on my tone of voice, which was sharp at times, or what may be perceived as fiery and uncharitable rhetoric. This open-air sermon was preached with the intent and hope of piercing through the gospel ignorance, indifference, and indignation toward the gospel by professing, "southern" Christians. Thousands of people who attended the Fall for Greenville festival were/are Christians in name only, relying on a false profession of faith, and carrying in their heart and mind the false assurance of "I done did that." With Ezekiel 36:22-38 as my text, I tried to convey to professing Christians, by emphasizing the many times in the passage God declared "I will," that they "done did nothing" to earn or receive their salvation.

At times, blasphemous unbelievers and profane professing believers joined together in a heckling chorus. Yet in the midst of the cacophony of sound, I noticed a couple who were not with our team standing in the crowd, praying. Two young ladies stood in front of me and intently listened to the entire sermon. Team members were engaged in conversations with people standing on the periphery of what was a growing crowd. Police officers stood in the distance, as they did all day, watching and listening.

I ended this open-air by simply saying to the crowd, "And you don't care." I stepped down from the statue base on which I stood, discouraged. I walked to a nearby bench, away from the crowd and behind the team, to sit down, collect my thoughts, and pray.

A few minutes later, a young man named Isaiah came over to me asking for help. He was 18. Isaiah had arrived to hear just the last few minutes of my preaching. Isaiah told me that he knew he was a sinner, was fighting depression, and didn't know what to do. As I sat talking to Isaiah, the two young ladies who had stood in front of me during my entire open-air message came over to thank me for preaching.

I shared the law and the gospel with Isaiah, which he understood. Isaiah said he had no reason not to repent and receive Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. He asked for my phone number and email address, which I gave him, so he could stay in touch. As Isaiah got up and walked away, I thanked God that at least one lost person listened to the preaching. God had given him ears to hear.

As officers with the Greenville Police Department began to clear the streets, signifying the end of the weekend-long event, and our team of street evangelists began to pack up its gear to head back to the church, an officer approached me and said, "So you served as a deputy in Los Angeles for 20 years?" With several officers in the immediate area, I had made sure to briefly mention my career in law enforcement with the hope that would get the officers' attention.

The officer candidly shared with me the reasons for his unbelief. Most of his reasons stemmed from spiritual mistreatment at the hands of churches in the greater Greenville area, as well as the hypocrisy he saw every night as he found himself dealing with "Christians" during calls for service. I explained to him that while I certainly understood the reasons for his unbelief, in the end his reasons would not change who Jesus Christ is and what God commands of him.

At the end of a very good conversation about life behind the badge and life in Christ, the officer asked for my phone number. Like 18-year-old Isaiah, the veteran officer wanted to stay in touch. He told me he would consider what he heard from me as I preached and what he heard from me during our one-to-one conversation.

As you listen to this open-air sermon, I hope you will keep this back-story in mind. I also hope you will consider this.

Things Are Getting Worse Out There

Some of the open-air preachers with whom I have close friendships and I believe we are now in a season in which God is stopping the ears of many people, allowing them to hear only the harder truths of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8), even though the gospel is being lovingly and clearly preached. The negative response to the preaching of the gospel in the open-air is intensifying and accelerating around the world. The eternally sweet fragrance of the gospel message--salvation by the grace of God alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone--is an aroma of death (2 Corinthians 2:14-17) and foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18) to most people as they wantonly (Hebrews 10:26) hurl themselves head-long down the wide road of destruction (Matthew 7:13-14).

Over the last eight years, I have seen an increasing and accelerating level of negativity toward the gospel of Jesus Christ. I think the world today, when it comes to the response to the public preaching of the gospel, is more akin to the days of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 9:1-6) than the days following Pentecost (Acts 2:41, 47). Sadly, there are well-meaning, godly, Bible and gospel-loving pastors, elders, and laymen who sincerely believe the reason for this is that open-air preaching nowadays is ineffective, counter-productive, counterintuitive, uncouth, untoward, unloving, culturally-irrelevant, and even culturally-insensitive.

With a great deal of love, admiration and respect--since I personally know men around the world who fall somewhere in the above description of open-air preaching opponents--I must say those who hold to the above, negative point of view regarding open-air preaching are wrong. They are very wrong. And their anti-open-air position is not biblically or historically tenable. Those who do not see open-air preaching as a biblical mode of communicating the law and the gospel have as the foundation of their position the loosely-packed sand of philosophical subjectivity and personal preferences, not the firm foundation of biblical orthodoxy or orthopraxy.

The gospel is not an aroma of death because of the manner in which the truth is being conveyed (open-air preaching, which can and must be strong and hard at times). It is an aroma of death because people hate Jesus and hate His gospel (John 7:7; John 15:8; John 15:23-25).

While not an example drawn from open-air preaching, here's a piece of evidence to support this point. During the festival a grown man, filled with anger and hatred for Christ, took a gospel tract he was given by a nine-year-old girl. He tore the gospel tract into pieces and threw it in the little girl's face. Unlike the way many adult Christians would respond (angrily, fearfully, or so discouraged they would dismiss evangelism to strangers as pointless), the little girl took it in stride and continued to distribute gospel tracts. She didn't allow her heart and mind to fall prey to a pragmatic way of thinking that would lead her to believe gospel tracts are ineffective because some lost people don't like them. She pressed on. She loved the lost. She served the Lord with gladness in her heart. The joy of the Lord was her strength (Nehemiah 8:10). She gave the gospel to hundreds of people after she was mistreated by an angry hater of Christ.

Greenville, SC, like so many cities in the United States (especially in the South), is filled with people who believe they are "right with God" because "they done did that." Yet most remain lost, dead in their sin, and hell-bound. It's heartbreaking and gut-wrenching, especially when you see it in person--when your in the midst of a Christ-professing city punch-drunk on debauchery and too spiritually inebriated to realize it. They sing "I'm saved by the blood" on Sunday morning and then spend the rest of the week trampling underfoot the same blood about which they sang in church (Hebrews 10:26-31). "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life," "what a friend we have in Jesus," and choruses of "washed in the blood of the lamb" is not what "churched," gospel-hardened, gospel-ignorant people need to hear. They need to hear the truth, the whole truth spoken in love (Ephesians 4:15), that unless they repent they will all likewise perish (Luke 13:1-5).

With the above in mind, I now humbly ask you to listen to the open-air sermon I've titled "I Done Did That!"

Check Your Motives and Your Presuppositions

Some of you will like it for the wrong reasons. You are either spiritually immature or an unsaved spiritual voyeur--an obsessive observer of sordid or sensational (in this case, non-sexual) subjects--a person who loves to watch, read, or listen to conflict between other people. Some of you will hate it for the wrong reasons. You ardently hold on to an unbiblical presupposition regarding open-air preaching, insisting your negative position is biblical when it is merely philosophical. You won't appreciate any of what you're about to hear because you've already determined in your heart and mind that open-air preaching is wrong and that there is no place for it in today's society. If you find yourself in either of the before-mentioned categories, my admonition to you is the same. Repent.

What you are about to hear is imperfect, for it is the preaching of an imperfect sinner saved by grace. I sought the immediate feedback of dear brother open-air preachers who were present when I preached this sermon. They agreed the message was a hard one, but that I did not cross any lines of decorum. I've also asked a dear brother and a dear sister in Christ to listen to the audio of the sermon before I decided to post it. Like those who were present when I preached the sermon, my brother and sister in Christ found the sermon to be a hard one, but one that needed to be preached and now shared.

My hope is that Christians who listen to this open-air sermon will be challenged, motivated, and otherwise edified. My hope is that the unsaved who listen to this open-air will be convicted by the Holy Spirit of sin, righteousness, and judgment, will come to the Father because they are drawn by Him, and will repent and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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