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.

Evangelism Gear (Part 2): Voice Recorders

In "Part 1" of this series, I elaborated on what kind of video equipment I have and made a recommendation for a video camera suitable for street evangelism use. In "Part 2," I will discuss two digital voice recorders I use in my evangelism efforts.

Voice Recorders

When I served as a field training officer for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, I required all of my trainees to carry a voice recorder. "Make sure your gun is clean, loaded, and ready to go. And make sure you have fresh tape (back in the days before digital media) and batteries in your voice recorder." I told every trainee.

I personally know law enforcement professionals whose careers were literally saved because they had a voice recording of an incident or conversation with a person. On more than one occasion, I avoided possible discipline from false allegations because I had a voice recording of my contact with a person. Interviews with witnesses and confessions from suspects captured in a voice recording was, at times, the difference between winning and losing a case.

Having a voice recorder is as essential when engaged in street evangelism as it was for me when I worked the streets as a deputy sheriff. Whether on a college campus, a street corner, in front of an abortion clinic, or at a train station, I try to always have a voice recorder (sometimes two) with me.

Legal Considerations

Before I continue, it is important to note that prior to recording conversations in public places, check the laws in your state (or country) regarding the recording of conversations. Many states, like my state (California), have what is commonly referred to as a "one party consent law" for the recording of conversations in a public place.

By statute in most states, "a public place," for the purpose of making a voice recording, is any place where a person has no expectation of privacy (i.e. coffee shops, stores, malls, sidewalks, parks, etc.). Places like inside a person's car or home, or in a closed room, are seen as places where people have an expectation of privacy. A good rule of thumb is that any place where people congregate, where an uninvolved (or uninvited) third party can overhear a conversation or can approach and listen to a conversation, is a place where a person likely has no expectation of privacy.

A "one party consent law," in most cases, requires that only one person involved in a conversation, when and where there is no expectation of privacy, needs to be aware that a recording is being made. And the only person aware that need be aware a recording is being made can be the person making the recording. In circumstances that fall within the guidelines of a "one party consent law," the person making the recording is not obligated to tell the other person (or people) involved in the conversation that a recording is being made.

Again, it is imperative that you check the laws in your state (or country) regarding the recording of conversations.

Makes and Models

I've used several different voice recorders over the years. One that I found very reliable, and continued to work great after it was run over by a car in Norway, is the Olympus DM-620. This sturdy unit produces great sound quality and has a nice internal microphone.

Today, I use both a high-end and a low-end digital recorder. On the high end ($210-$249), I use the Sony ICD-SX1000. This is a professional-grade digital recorder, with superior recording capability and sound quality. On the lower end ($39-$49), I use the SanDisk Sansa Clip Zip. The newer models have more bells and whistles than the model I have. For an inexpensive and small unit, it produces surprisingly good sound. This little unit is excellent for one-to-one conversations when you don't want anyone to know you are recording. It is also suitable for open-air preaching applications.

In "Part 3" of this series, we'll take a look at amplification systems.

Evangelism Gear (Part 1): Video Cameras

I am frequently asked about the various types of gear I use when engaged in evangelism. People want to know what kind of cameras (still and video), voice recorders, amplifiers, gospel tracts, and bibles I use when I hit the streets. It seems lately the questions have been coming more frequently. So, I think now is a good time to write another article about my evangelism gear.

Since I'm going to try to add more detail than in previous articles of this kind, I'm going to divide this article into several parts. "Part 1" will cover video cameras.

Video Cameras

I've used several different video cameras throughout the years. I currently own two very good, HD video cameras (a Sony HDR-PJ710V, and a Canon Vixia HF 710A). Both were gifts to the ministry.

Both cameras are wonderful for open-air preaching, one-to-one conversations, and recording pulpit sermons. However, cameras like these are best used if you are either going to employ a tripod in a location where you can walk away from the camera (i.e. inside a church, meeting room, or studio), or in outdoor situations where you can have a person hold the camera or stand next to the tripod. I try to avoid the latter because I don't want to relegate someone to the position of "camera man" who is on the streets with me to do evangelism.

Since I am alone most of the time when I'm engaged in street evangelism, a hands-free camera is best suited for my needs. This summer, I purchased and tried a Taser Axon Body Camera. This camera was developed for law enforcement use, and I can see where it serves that purpose very well. However, while the sound and picture quality is suitable for a law enforcement application, it is sub-par for evangelism purposes.

I film my evangelism for three reasons: to enhance my personal safety and accountability; to edify and train the Body of Christ; to proclaim the gospel on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms. This kind of video production demands high quality videos, especially when someone as technically inept as I am is behind the camera. People simply won't watch videos with a grainy picture and poor sound quality. The video content might be fantastic, but if the video is painful to the eyes and ears of the average viewer, no one is going to watch it.

So, my recommendation is to use a camera I do not yet own--the GoPro Hero4 (Silver). When the Lord provides the funds, I plan to purchase one.

I've spoken to people who own this camera or who are professional videographers who are very familiar with it. The camera records in HD and produces a high quality image, even in lower light situations. The sound quality is also good. The camera is sturdy. It is designed for sports and other high impact activities, which makes it a good camera for street evangelism (where anything can happen).

Those with whom I have spoken about the camera recommend the Silver over the Black model, which is $100 more expensive. While the Black records in blistering fast 4K, it lacks a view screen, which is important for novice and recreational users. The Silver (retails at $399) records in 1080p60 and 720p120 HD video, which is plenty of quality for street evangelism and YouTube purposes.

Both Hero4 models include WiFi and Bluetooth capabilities, which allows for live streaming.

While all GoPro cameras are built to take more of a beating than your standard video camera, spending another $50 on a Skeleton Housing unit is recommended.

In "Part 2," I will talk about the voice recorders I recommend.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

"Just" a Four-Letter Word

"I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, 'The righteous shall live by faith'" Romans 1:14-17).

The gospel is the power of God for salvation. Such power is given to nothing else in the Word of God. Love, hope, faith, kindness, service, helps, compassion, friendship, understanding, acceptance, trust, non-judgment, patience, community, relevance, church, baptism, communion, support, counseling (good, bad, or ugly), healing, prophecy, knowledge, gold dust or neo-necromancy, discipleship: none of these emotions, none of these actions, none of these nouns, adjectives, or verbs is the power of God for salvation. The gospel and the gospel alone is given that magnificent designation.

You, my Christian friend, are not the power of God for salvation. If you think God needs you to save souls, get over yourself and move on. If you think God needs your personality, abilities, charisma, care, kindness, ability to establish no-strings-attached, non-judgmental relationships to win people to Christ, again, get over yourself. Repent of your arrogance and pride, and move on.

The gospel is the power of God for salvation.

Now, does God use His people (Christians) to communicate His powerful gospel to call sinner's to repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? Of course. The gospel is a communicated message, either in writing or verbally. You, my Christian friend, are not the gospel. A spiritually blind (1 Corinthians 2:14), spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1-3), hater of God (Romans 1:32; 3:10-18) cannot see Jesus in you. Without the written or verbal proclamation of the gospel, you don't look any different to an unsaved person than a nice Roman Catholic, Mormon, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, Jehovah's Witness, or professed atheist.

Be encouraged! The salvation of souls is not contingent upon your personality or abilities!

The gospel is the power of God for salvation.

Like Paul, as a follower of Jesus Christ you are under obligation to all kinds of people to proclaim the gospel. The Great Commission to make disciples as one goes about the daily life-work of gospel proclamation is a command for every Christian. Some will do that by distributing gospel tracts. Some will engage people in gospel conversation--friends, family members, co-workers, fellow students, total strangers, or any group I failed to mention. Some will thunder the gospel to the masses through open-air preaching. Some will do so from their sick beds via the computer. Some will combine two or more of the before-mentioned gospel vehicles, or communicate the gospel (again, in written or verbal form) in ways I have not considered.

The gospel is the power of God for salvation.

Here's the problem. Segments of American Evangelicalism have marginalized, even vilified the simple, straightforward, biblical proclamation of the gospel. Others within American Evangelicalism's ranks have established evangelistic pyramids with modes like "friendship evangelism" or open-air preaching as the pinnacles of evangelistic endeavor. As a result, many Christians negatively apply the word "just" to their evangelistic efforts.

"I just hand out tracts."

"I just mail tracts back to banks who send me credit card applications. They are kind enough to provide a postage-paid envelope so I can do it."

"I just engage in one-to-one conversations."

"I just share the gospel online. Because of my medical condition, I don't get out of the house much, so this is the best I can do."

I hear this kind of talk from Christians all the time. They make statements like the ones above as if they are confessing a sin. They make their confession with a forlorn tone in their voices, with their heads cast down. I begin to encourage them by first rebuking them.

"'Just' is a four-letter word you should never use when talking about your evangelism efforts. Knock it off!"

To use the word "just" in a minimalistic, apologetic, embarrassed way is to deny the true power of evangelism--the gospel. To say you "just" hand out tracts is to say that the mode you've chosen to communicate the gospel somehow strips the gospel of its power. If the gospel is the power of God for salvation (and it is) then any manner in which you choose to communicate the gospel is empowered not by the mode or methodology, but by the content of the message--the gospel.

Since God is sovereign; since salvation is the monergistic work of Almighty God; since gospel proclamation is the manner God has chosen for drawing to Himself those He has chosen and regenerated, then the power (all of it) lies in the gospel itself.

If you distributed gospel tracts, stop saying you're "just" distributing gospel tracts. If you engage people in conversation, stop saying you're "just" engaging people in conversation. And so on. Think biblically about your evangelism efforts. Distribute every gospel tract, whether into people's hand or on the windows of their cars, with Romans 1:14-17 in mind (with emphasis on verse 16). Enter every conversation the same way. Climb atop a box or park bench to herald the gospel motivated by the same, great truth.

And stop using "just," that four-letter word, when talking about your evangelism efforts. The gospel, the power of God for salvation, deserves better.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Mall Evangelism: A Christmas Present for Grandpa

I spent a few hours at the Valencia Town Center this afternoon manning an evangelism table. I added a few more accoutrements to the table in an effort to make it a little more visually appealing.

Having cast my lines into the water, it didn't take long before the fish started biting.

The first two tracts I distributed went to a couple of boys. They looked like they were 10-12 years old. One of the boys was carrying a Titled Kilt waitress calendar. Titled Kilt is one of those restaurants men go to for big screen televisions and the half-naked waitresses. The restaurants billboards and bus stop advertisements are of the kind to which Christians should avert their eyes.

Some Christians feel it's inappropriate to give a child a gospel tract, which refers to the 7th Commandment (adultery). I've been told of situations in which unsaved parents, after reading a tract their child has received, have angrily returned the tract, incensed that their child was exposed to the words "lust" and/or "adultery." While I'm sure it's not always the case, but I would not be surprised if some of these offended parents are the same parents who drop their children off for hours of unsupervised fun at the mall where their sons can buy inappropriate calendars.

Not far from today's table location was a watch and jewelry repair kiosk. A noticed that a young man working the kiosk was sporting a United States Marine Corps (USMC) sweatshirt. I always keep some "Thank You" tracts in my wallet for just such an occasion. I walked over to the kiosk, extended my hand to the young man, and thank him for his service. He smiled and said, "Thank you, sir. I appreciate that." I gave him the tract and headed back to my table. When I sat down, I looked his way to see him attentively reading the tract.

I gave away six bibles today. Two were to individuals, including one to the manager of the mall's Hickory Farms outlet. The other four went to one family. A mom with her three children (ages 8-13) in tow approached the table. I had a sign up today to make sure people knew the bibles were free for the taking. Mom told one of her daughters and her son to take one. The kids then asked mom if they could take one for their dad and one for their grandpa to give to them as Christmas presents. A smile brightened mom's face and she gave her hearty approval.

I think I was probably smiling ear-to-ear, too, at the thought of bibles leaving my table to be given as Christmas presents next week.

I was further blessed today as a few Christians, at different times, stopped at the table to thank me for being at the mall.

It was another good afternoon at the mall.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Mall Evangelism: "I Want to Talk about God"

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

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

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

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

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

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

And he waits.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I want to talk about God."

"Where would you like to begin?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Community Academy

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

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

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


Ride-A-Longs

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

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

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

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


Station Volunteer

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

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


Chaplaincy

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

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


Conclusion

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

Pastor: a word of caution.

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 8, 2014

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

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

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

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


Stats and My Own Experiences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A Recent Tragedy

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

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

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

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

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


Suicide: Many Reasons and a Common Denominator

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Yet There is Hope!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus of Nazareth, born of a virgin just as the prophet Isaiah declared more than 700 years before Jesus’s literal, physical birth, lived the perfect, sinless life you cannot live. For some 33 years, Jesus lived a life in perfect obedience to the law of God—in thought, word, and deed—a life you and I could not hope to live for a mere 33 seconds. And then He voluntarily went to the cross. Yes, it was the Jewish people who hatefully and viciously demanded Jesus’s execution.

Yes, it was the Roman government that carried out the despicable act. But they were all merely instruments in the hands of another. For it pleased God the Father to crush God the Son under the full weight and fury of His wrath against sin. God the Father made God the Son, who knew no sin, to become sin on behalf of those who repent and believe the gospel so that through the sacrifice of His Son many would be made righteous in the eyes of Almighty God. In other words, on that great and terrible day God the Father looked upon God the Son as if He had lived the depraved life of a sinner and in exchange—a great exchange—God the Father looks upon those whom He has caused to be born again, to repent and believe the gospel, as if they had lived His Son’s perfect, precious, and priceless life.

Jesus shed His innocent blood on the cross. He died a literal, physical death on the cross. And He was buried in a tomb not His own. Three days later, Jesus forever defeated sin and death when He physically, bodily rose from the grave. And unlike every false god created in the imaginations of men—whether the false gods of Islam, Catholicism, Mormonism, Hinduism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Oprah-ism, or Atheism (a religion like every other spiritual “ism.”)—Jesus Christ is alive today and He will return at a time of the Father’s choosing.

What God commands of you, the reader, is the same thing He commands of me and all people everywhere, and that’s that you repent—turn from your sin and turn toward God—and by faith alone receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.


Final, Practical Thoughts

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

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

Friday, December 5, 2014

Eisegetical Grinches


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


Grinches

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

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

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

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


Eisegetes

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

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

Cut down tree (10:3). Check.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Let's Take a Deep Breath and Review

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

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

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

Having a Christmas tree is not idolatry.

Worshiping a Christmas tree is idolatry.

Christians don't worship Christmas trees.

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can have a Christmas tree and still love Jesus.

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

Merry Christmas.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Open-Air Preacher: Command Presence



Command Presence Defined

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A Brief Exposition

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

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

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

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

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


Command Presence in the Open-Air

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Command Presence Isn't Everything

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 27, 2014

He Has Yet to Grieve: A Starbucks Story

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

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

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

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

"Thanks." I replied.

"So, which God would we talk about?"

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

"No there's not."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Why not?"

"I don't know."

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Not much anymore."

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

Bob shook his head.

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

"You're right."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 24, 2014

Bill Cosby: Your Sin Will Find You Out


18 women and counting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Man's Colossal and Extraordinary Efforts to Suppress the Truth


What a truly extraordinary technological feat!

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

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

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

Still don't get it? Consider this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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