Thursday, December 28, 2006

Serving As Flag Bearer

"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1).

One of my hobbies is the study of the American Civil War. So many of the prominent figures in that great and terrible war were men of faith. My three daughters, knowing their daddy’s passion for American military history, gave me a very special Christmas present this year.

During the summer, we paid a visit to an authentic, Danish town a couple hundred miles to the north—the town of Solvang. In one of the many specialty stores, a military miniature figurine caught my eye. The stone figure was that of a Union Army flag bearer. After we left the store, my girls went back inside and purchased the miniature, hiding it from me until Christmas morning.

My two favorite Civil War characters are General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (USA), and General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson (CSA). Both were men of character, courage, and integrity. They loved their men, and their men loved them. Yet, in other ways, the two men were polar opposites—Chamberlain, the quiet, citizen soldier and consummate scholar; and Jackson, the zealous, career military man and brilliant tactician.

Of the two, I am most encouraged by Jackson’s deep and abiding love for the Lord Jesus Christ. Some of the documented prayers of this man have humbled me to the point of tears. So many of his combat decisions were made, in part, as a result of his prolonged times of intercession and supplication, on his knees, in his tent, by late night candlelight.

The sovereignty of God can be seen even in Jackson’s tragic death at Chancellorsville, having been brought down by bullets mistakenly fired by how own men. Although the conflict ultimately became one of attrition, with the Union Army having numerically superior resources, I believe the war would have lasted many more years had Jackson survived his wounds and returned to the fight. I further believe that the Lord took His servant “Stonewall” home when He did as an act of common grace upon those men who would otherwise continue to fight and die under Jackson’s command, or who would otherwise experience death by the cold steel and hot lead of Jackson’s army.

In addition to Civil War character studies, I enjoy reading accounts of acts of heroism for which Union soldiers won our nation’s highest military award, the Congressional Medal of Honor. In the Confederate Army the highest form of praise was to be mentioned in dispatches between commanding officers.

I found it interesting that the kind of soldier that received more CMH’s than any other was not the fiery commander with sword drawn, leading his men into battle. It was the common soldier. And one particular kind of soldier who won several CMH’s was the soldier serving as the flag bearer in his unit’s color guard.

During the Civil War, flag bearers were often unarmed soldiers. Their responsibility was to carry their unit’s colors into battle. Being such a visible target, the flag bearers were often the first soldiers to be wounded during a charge. The responsibility for the colors then fell to the member of the color guard standing closest to the flag-bearer that fell. The new flag bearer would lay down his rifle, pick up the flag, and move forward. There are documented incidents from the Civil War in which as many as six or seven flag bearers in a particular unit were killed or wounded during a single charge or battle.

A specific example of this kind of valor was seen in the courage of a young man from Boston. Nathaniel Allen was a member of Company B, 1st Massachusetts Infantry, who found himself on our nation’s greatest and most terrible field of battle–Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. During the second day of fighting, July 2, 1863, Corporal Allen’s unit was falling back in the face of horrific fire from the Confederate soldiers in front of them.

Corporal Allen, a member of the unit’s color guard, was responsible for carrying the Stars and Stripes of our country. He turned around to see the soldier carrying the regimental colors fall, mortally wounded. Without regard for his own safety, Corporal Allen reversed direction, charging headlong into hostile fire, pulled the regimental colors out from underneath his dead comrade’s body, and returned to his unit–keeping the colors from being captured by his enemy.

Such selfless acts of courage under fire, like the one I just described, provide beautiful examples of faith. A flag bearer in the American Civil War moved forward having no idea if he would survive the battle. He carried the flag high, marching in the direction determined by his commanding officer. The flag bearer had his orders and he obeyed them. His acceptance or full understanding of the orders did not determine his obedience. The order given was enough to compel the flag bearer to obey. Even though the outcome was uncertain, the flag bearer bravely and obediently moved forward.

The Bible defines faith this way. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Faith is putting your trust in Jesus Christ and following His lead, even when the outcome is uncertain. Faith is obeying God’s Word, even when the consequences may be uncomfortable or unpopular. Faith is following Christ to the point of taking up your cross daily, even if it costs you your life.

Faith means always moving forward. If you are a Christian then today you are called to serve as the Lord’s flag bearer. You have already received your orders. They are contained in the Great Commission. And the flag you carry is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Therefore, by faith, move forward.

Trust your Commanding Officer. Trust that the orders you have been given are lawful, just, and righteous. He has given you His Word. Obey, not as one under compulsion or coercion, but as a soldier who sees carrying the army’s colors as an honor and privilege. By faith, move forward. You are a flag bearer.

Remember, you are a member of a liberating army. You are on the side of righteousness. You are on the front line. Lives are at stake. You have your orders. By faith, move forward. You are a flag bearer.

For you, to live is Christ and to die is gain (Phil. 1:21). You can do all things through Him who strengthens you (Phil 4:13). You have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer you who live, but Christ lives in you; and the life which you now live in the flesh you live by faith in the Son of God, who loved you and gave Himself up for you (Gal. 2:20). For God has not given you a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline (II Tim. 1:7). By faith, move forward. You are a flag bearer.

“Sanctify Christ as Lord in your heart, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong” (I Peter 3:15-17). By faith, move forward. You are a flag bearer.

“Be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (II Tim. 4:5). By faith, move forward. You are a flag bearer.

You are a child of God, a co-heir with Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:14-17), and a worker called into the harvest (Matt. 9:36-38). Therefore “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the holy ones” (Jude 3). By faith, move forward. You are a flag bearer.

You are a flag bearer.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Where Will Your Name Be Written (A Christmas Parable)

Not long ago, a very wealthy man hosted a large Christmas party. The man had many friends. Some were genuine. Others hoped the man’s wealth would rub off on them. The party was lavish, and the guests were dressed for the occasion.

As the evening wore on, the time came to give the man his Christmas presents. He sat on a chair in the middle of the room, with his guests surrounding him. One by one, he opened his presents. The man politely smiled as he opened each gift. Realizing that his friends had gone to a good deal of trouble and expense to give him the gifts, he took great pains not to let the bored look of a man who had everything show on his face.

He worked his way down through the pile of brightly colored, foil-wrapped gifts until only one gift remained. With a look of both confusion and disdain, the man stared at the object on the floor. The sound of embarrassed murmuring spread quickly among the guests.

Sensing the uneasiness filling the room, the man reached down to pick up the object. He tried to lift it with one hand, but it was too thick and bulky. A layer of dust covering the object made it slippery and all the more difficult to handle. With two hands, and a bit of effort, the man finally picked up the object. The crowd in the room already tense now fell silent.

It was clear that the object the man had strained to place on his lap was a book. It was older than any he had ever seen. Its worn leather cover was tattered, yet it protected the pages with an air of dignity. The man noticed it was scratched—as if thorns had been raked over its surface. It was held closed by a purple ribbon that unmistakably had been torn from a larger piece of cloth. Upon closer inspection, the man thought he could see drops of blood sprinkled on the purple ribbon; but he quickly dismissed this as insignificant and determined it to be just another quirk among an already strange set of circumstances.

The man untied the ribbon. Although badly frayed, it did not unravel further with the man’s nervous manipulation. As he slowly opened the book, it dawned on him that it had no title.

To the man’s noticeable surprise, the condition of the pages within the book was not consistent with its cover. The paper was the purest white and felt like the most costly satin. On the pages—all of the pages—names were written in ink that was a deep, scarlet red.

The man read some of the names, none of which he recognized. He noticed that many were written in foreign languages, recognizing the romantic languages of France, Italy, and Mexico, and the artistic characters of the many Asian languages. Yet, there were just as many names written in languages he had never seen.

Slowly, the man turned page after page, noticing that the book was filled exclusively with names. More unusual than that, however, was the way the names were written. The ink was the same color and consistency for each name, and every entry took up the same amount of space on the page. It was as if each name carried no more, and certainly no less, importance than any other. The man flipped through the pages for several silent moments, before he carefully closed the book and looked up at his bewildered guests.

“Who gave me this book?” He asked.

The crowd of smartly dressed people parted slowly. A small boy emerged from the crowd and stood in front of the man.

“I brought the book, sir,” said the boy. “But the gift is not from me. If you will open the book to the last page, there you will find your gift.”

The man opened the book, keeping a wary eye on the plainly dressed little boy. He flipped to the last page and, just as before, saw lists of names. “If you will look beneath the last name, I believe it is Terry Brown, you will see your gift,” explained the boy.

The man ran his finger down the page until he found, Terry Brown. As his eyes moved below the name, he saw only a blank space. His puzzlement turned to frustration.

“What’s going on? Where’s the gift?” He demanded.

“Oh, I’m sorry, sir,” replied the boy. “I think you misunderstand the gift. The gift is not the book, nor is it anything you may have been looking for in the book. The gift is the opportunity to have your name written in the book.” The boy explained.

Becoming angry, the man stood up from his chair. He gripped the book so tightly that his fingers turned white.

“Who are you?” he roared. “I don’t know you, Son, but by looking at you, I can tell you’re not here with your parents.”

“Look around you,” the host continued. “I have more money than I could ever possibly spend. I have a house full of people, some of whom I even like. I have spent the better part of the evening opening beautiful, expensive gifts, and you expect me to be impressed with a blank space in a book of names.”

The man reached into his jacket and pulled out a pen.

“You have an unusual way of getting autographs, kid”, he said. “As soon as I sign your book, I think you should go.”

He tried to scribble his name on the page. To his surprise, the pen would not write. He asked his guests if anyone had a pen that worked. Time after time he tried to write his name on the page, but no pen worked on the regal and pristine pages.

“You don’t understand, sir,” the boy said, confidently. “The opportunity is not to write your own name in the book, but to have your name written in the book. You see, there is nothing you can do on your own to earn your name’s place in the book. To have your name written in the book is a free gift that can only be given by the Owner of the book. Having your name in this book will secure you a room in a mansion far greater than yours, for all eternity.”

“Who is the Owner of this book?” The man asked. “I’m sure I could afford whatever price he is asking.”

With a look of pure joy on his face, the boy said, “The Owner of the book has already paid the price for you. The Owner is my Lord, Jesus Christ.”

“So this is about religion. Interesting approach, kid.” The man said. “Look, you’re entitled to your beliefs, and I’m sorry I was rude, but nothing is free in this world. I’m a good person. I give to charities. Everything I have, I’ve earned. Except for the occasional hostile takeover, I’ve never stolen anything from anyone. When my time comes, I’m not worried about where I’ll end up. Like I said, I’m a good person.”

The man closed the book and handed it to the boy. “Thanks, Son. I’m not interested. Since it looks like the party is over, I’m going to bed. You all can show yourselves out. Thanks for coming. Someone make sure the kid gets home.”

As he walked up the majestic spiral staircase, he turned to see his guests huddled around the little boy. He could hear them questioning the boy about the Owner of the mysterious book. He shrugged his shoulders, stepped into his dark bedroom, and closed the door behind him.

Many years after that unusual party, the man became very ill. Neither his money, nor his possessions could save his life. Sadly, the once wealthy man passed away, and at the moment he breathed his last, he found himself standing before a Great White Throne. Seated on the throne was One who could only be described as Holy, and standing right next to the throne was a small figure. The man quickly recognized the person as the child who brought the book to the party, all those years ago.

Both curious and fearful, the man asked the One on the throne, “Are you..........God?”

“I Am,” He said. After a brief moment, He continued,

“Why didn’t you accept my gift of eternal life that the boy presented to you? The book he showed you was the Book of Life. There is no greater gift you could have received and no greater gift you could have rejected. You threw a Christmas party to glorify yourself, instead of remembering the precious gift I gave you through the birth of My Son—a gift the prophets foretold and My angels heralded. ‘For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord’ (Luke 2:12).”

The man’s jaw dropped and his eyes filled with great sorrow as the Lord pulled the old tattered book from within His spotless, majestic robe. The Lord gently caressed the book’s cover and said, “The leather cover is made from the sandals that my Son—God in the flesh—wore as He shared My gospel throughout Judea. My Son told the people, ‘I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose’” (Luke 4:43).

“The scratches in the leather are from the crown of thorns He bore for you. The purple ribbon is from the robe He wore as He was publicly mocked, much the same way you mocked Him at the party. The drops of blood on the ribbon are His blood, which He shed as the payment for your sins. ‘They stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him. And after twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand; and they knelt down before Him and mocked Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They spat on Him, and took the reed and began to beat Him on the head’” (Matthew 27:30).

“The pages are whiter than snow because all the names written in the book are of people who were washed clean by the blood of the Lamb of God, My Son, Jesus Christ the Lord. These people were forgiven their sins because they confessed and turned away from their sins and, by faith, put their trust in My Son alone for their salvation. They received the gift of eternal life that only I can give.”

The man began to sob for he knew how this conversation would end.

“But Lord!” He cried. “I’ve been a good person! Please don’t send me away!”

“How can you say that you were good?” God asked. You broke My Law and mocked My commandments every day of your life. You lied, stole, blasphemed My holy name, and committed adultery in your heart every time you looked at a woman inappropriately. Your hatred for your fellow man amounted to murder in My eyes. I certainly wasn’t first in your life, and you worshipped the false god of your money and possessions.

“I’m sorry,” said the Lord, with a tear in His eye. “I do not wish anyone to perish. I am the God of mercy, but I am also Holy, Righteous, and Just. Your deeds cannot save you. They condemn you. I do not know you. You are not one of my children, so you must depart from Me.”

The man walked to an open door with his face in his hands. The doorway was as black as coal. In the distance he could see roaring flames. The man, weeping bitterly, stepped through the door, never to be seen again.

The boy standing next to the throne was also weeping. His tear-stained face glistened as the glory of the Holy One shined upon him. “I’m sorry, Lord,” he said through quiet sobs. “I tried to share You with that man. I couldn’t make him listen.”

The Lord softly cradled the boy’s chin in His hand and lifted his head. “One never fails when one shares My gospel with others. The failure is when one does not take up his cross and follow me. Your work at the party was not in vain, my little one.”

The Lord pointed to a group of people that were now standing in front of the throne. The boy wiped his eyes and saw that the group of people had all been guests, all those years ago, at the man’s Christmas party. They saw the book for what it really was. They accepted the Lord for who He really is and received Him as their Lord and Savior. Like the boy, they received the perfect gift, paid for by the ultimate sacrifice, and given by the only One who could give it.

One by one the members of the group stepped up to the throne, bowed humbly, confessed that Jesus Christ is Lord, and spoke his or her name. The Lord reached down and helped each one to his or her feet. With tears of joy now streaming down His face, He embraced each one as if he or she were His only child. “You may enter into Heaven,” He said, “for your name is written in the Book of Life.”

One day, all of us will stand before the Lord. Will your name be written on the pages of His Book?


Although the narrative you just read is fictitious, it contains a great deal of truth. The Bible says, “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). Heaven and hell are real places, and there is but one-way to heaven, through Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6).

You cannot earn or deserve entrance into heaven. None of the things you do, which you may perceive to be “good works,” will purchase your way to heaven. Because God’s standards for living are perfect, even on our “best days,” this is how He sees our good works. “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). If you are trusting in yourself to get to heaven, in any way, you will not get there.

God is holy and, by your very nature, you are sinful. Like the rich man in the story, you have broken God’s Law. See for yourself. Honestly answer the following questions. Have you ever lied? Have you ever stolen anything? The value doesn’t matter. Have you ever used God’s name to express disgust or excitement, or use His name as a filthy word? Then by your own admission you are a lying, thieving, blasphemer at heart.

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). The just penalty for your sins against God is death—eternal separation from God, in hell.

But there is good news! The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus the Lord. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

God has provided you with the only means of escape from the wrath to come. Jesus Christ came to die on the cross to pay the full penalty for your sins. He then defeated death when He rose from the dead. He is alive, today! Do you want to go to heaven? Do you want to avoid eternity in hell? Make this a Christmas you will never forget. Repent. Turn away from your sin. Ask Jesus Christ to be your Lord and Savior today.

"Preaching To The Choir Never Sounded So Good"

Credit for the title of this poem must go to my fellow GNN local leader, Joey. Joey coined the statement “preaching to the choir never sounded so good” last night, at the end of our weekly team evangelism activity.


Twas the Friday night before Christmas,
And all through the public square,
Every creature was scurrying about,
Most without an eternal care.

They were heading to movies,
And buying last minute presents,
Having no idea that at any moment,
They could die and stand in God’s presence.

So we each handed out tracts,
With a smile on our face,
Bringing the Law to the proud,
And to the humble God’s grace.

Then I preached open-air,
From atop a small box,
Pleading with the crowd to repent,
Hoping God would save the lost.

But the evening took a turn,
When the square filled with a throng,
Not with unbelievers,
But with a youth group filled with song.

Yes, the choir was made of youth,
And their leaders joined the fun,
From different churches they gathered
All joined together as one.

They came to sing carols,
With instruments to play,
They even brought a noisy generator,
To power their musical display.

But instead of the crowd growing,
Many of the unbelievers walked away,
For others had come before the choir,
Sharing music with nothing to say.

While we didn’t fault their motives,
They wanted to worship and serve,
If part of their goal was evangelism,
Their efforts fell below the curve.

I admit we were a bit frustrated,
The evening was going so well,
But the choir kept us from preaching,
To people bound for hell.

When there was a lull in the music,
A fellow seed sower took the stand,
It was his first time to open-air,
He was dealt a difficult hand.

But our brother persevered,
He preached Law and gospel truth,
Sadly few unbelievers heard,
Because of the yelling “Christian” youth.

What made his effort special,
Beyond the truth he spoke,
Was the fear he overcame,
Our brother didn’t choke.

Our brother and public speaking,
They haven’t always meshed,
But the Spirit was his helper,
Helping him overcome the flesh.

Yes, public speaking made him nervous,
By his own admission,
But our brother was oh so faithful,
Trying to fulfill the Great Commission.

The choir quickly returned to singing,
It was what they had come to do,
So Joey and I started talking,
Trying to plan our next move.

It was sad that we were competing,
With Christians in the square,
Believers in Scientology,
Are less distracting when they’re there.

But we knew we couldn’t quit,
We knew what we had to do,
We had to draw a crowd,
So we could preach the Law and gospel, too.

As the choir finished singing,
A crowd began to grow,
Not only comprised of Christians,
But of people who didn’t know.

So I climbed atop the box,
To give it another shot,
Hoping to bring the good news,
To people who knew it not.

I started with some trivia,
Keeping with a Christmas theme,
Giving teddy bears as prizes,
The crowd’s energy building steam.

“Who would like a gift card?”
Offering dinner on me,
“Just pass a simple test,”
“A good person you must be.”

To mine and Joey’s surprise,
The people yelling with boldness,
Were the youth in the choir,
Loudly professing their goodness.

I looked over at Joey,
His smile revealed his desire,
It was for the kids to hear the Law—
The kids in the “Christian” choir.

Two people took the “Good Test,”
The failed in their trying,
For they were guilty of adultery,
Blasphemy and lying.

I encouraged the crowd to test themselves,
Especially the choir in the back,
For belief they had and plenty,
But repentance they may have lacked.

As soon as I finished preaching,
The choir left the square,
I hope the choir heard me,
I hope the choir cared.

I’m sure some of the kids were saved,
Before they entered the square,
But in the choir I fear,
Some false converts were there.

So for those kids I pray,
To whom the message was sent,
That Christmas this year,
Would be the time when they repent.

Repent and believe,
Is my prayer for the youth,
Repent of their sin and believe,
In the gospel of Truth.

As we packed up our wares,
Joey’s face was aglow,
He had something to say,
Something he wanted me to know.

“That was great!” He said,
“It was great from where I stood,”
“Preaching to the choir,”
“Never sounded so good.”

Of course all praise and glory,
Goes to only One,
To the One who sacrificed all,
Who sacrificed His Son.

To God be all the glory,
We hope it was pleasing in His sight,
We preached the Law and the gospel,
On a cold, Friday night.

And to my fellow seed sowers,
To yours and all the rest,
Go forth and preach the gospel,And may your Christmas be blessed.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Scam Artist Receives the Gospel

We've all received them--e-mails allegedly from a Christian in Africa requesting money or requesting help to retrieve money from the account of some dead relative or pastor, with the promise that the wealth will be shared with you.

Since my e-mail is attached to my ministry's website, I get such e-mails all the time. I usually delete them without giving them a second thought. But today I decided to share the gospel with one of these scam artists. I'm pretty sure other seed sowers have done this already. But for those of you who haven't, maybe the following e-mail will be helpful to you in drafting your own.


Emmanuel (if that is your real name),

In your e-mail, you said that you needed "a Christmas gift." I agree. My gift to you this Christmas is the gospel of Jesus Christ. I hope you will take the time to read on. I believe your eternal soul depends on it.

I often receive e-mails like yours from the African continent (Ghana, Nigeria, etc), requesting money. First, let me say that I forgive you for your attempt to steal money from me by trick or device. Second, if I am wrong about your intentions, please forgive me.

Having never met you (and I likely never will), my assumption is that you would consider yourself to be a good person, at least on some level. Let's use the Ten Commandments (God's Holy Law) to see if you are, in fact, a good person.

Have you ever told a lie? If you have ever told a lie, that makes you a liar.

Have you ever stolen anything? If you have ever stolen something, regardless of the value, then you are a thief.

Have you ever taken God's name in vain? Have you ever used the name of God to further a criminal enterprise? If you have, then you have committed blasphemy. You have taken the name of the God who gave you life, and you have used His name to lie to and to steal from others. The Bible says that God will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.

Have you ever looked at a woman to lust after her? Then, according to God's holy standards, you are an adulterer at heart.

Emmanuel, do you honestly believe that God is blind to what you are doing? Do you believe that He will simply overlook your sin? Do you believe that God will weigh your sin against what you perceive to be your good works, or against the sins of those whom you think are worse people than you, with you coming out on top? Then you have violated the Second Commandment, which is the commandment that forbids idolatry. You have created a god in your mind, in your imagination--one that will not judge in righteousness, one that is not holy and just. The god of your imagination does not exist. But the One True God, who is holy, righteous, and just, will not only judge your actions; He will also judge your intentions and your thoughts.

Emmanuel, if you are honest with yourself, if you see yourself the way God sees you, then you must admit that you are a lying, thieving, blasphemous, adulterous, idolater at heart. The Bible says that it is appointed once for a person to die, and then comes judgment. God will judge you, not based on how you see yourself, but according to His Law. He will find you guilty of breaking His Law, and you will receive the just punishment for your offenses against Him--eternity in hell.

What you don't know, Emmanuel, is how much longer God is going to allow you to live in your sinful, unredeemed, unsaved state The fact that He allows you to draw so much as another breath is an example of His grace and mercy. In the Book of Acts (the 5th book of the New Testament [just in case you are unfamiliar with the Bible]), God struck dead a husband and wife because they lied about their finances. Their deaths were sudden and unexpected--to themselves and to the people around them. Does it concern you that the fate of this couple could very well be your fate, too? It should concern you. And I am concerned for you. I don't want you to go to hell, Emmanuel.

Do you have any idea what God did for you so that you wouldn't have to spend eternity in hell?

God came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man. He lived a perfect, sinless life. He died a horrible, bloody, undeserved death on the cross to pay the full penalty for your sins against God. He took your place of punishment and wrath. And He defeated death, once and for all, when He rose from the grave. He is alive today and is seated at the right hand of God the Father.

God requires the shedding of blood as the penalty for sin against Him. On the Day of Judgment, will it be the blood of Christ or your own blood that the God of the Universe will accept as the just payment for your sin?

If you are truly concerned about where you will spend eternity, then I have good news for you, Emmanuel. Your only hope for avoiding the wrath of God; your only hope for avoiding eternity in hell; your only hope for spending eternity in heaven with God is to be born again. Jesus said, "Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). What does it mean to be "born again"? You must repent. You must turn from your sin and, by faith, put your trust in Jesus Christ alone for your salvation.

The name you have chosen to use in your attempts to steal from others is a very special name. "Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 'Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,' which translated means, 'God with us'" (Matthew 1:22-23).

My hope and prayer for you, Emmanuel, is that you would indeed have a merry Christmas--but not because you receive money from strangers. My hope and prayer is that this Christmas you will repent of your sin, put your faith in Jesus Christ alone as your Lord and Savior, and receive the free gift of eternal life that only He can give. Then, and only then, will God be with you, Emmanuel.

I am praying for your salvation.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Officer Said, "I Want To Be Saved."

The day did not get off to a great start. I had just received word that the financial condition of our mission was bleak. It was uncertain whether or not there would be enough funds to see our family through the month. I wept. My faith faltered. I questioned God—the same God who has sustained my family and the mission, meeting every conceivable need, through the last seven years of full-time ministry.

I was scheduled to meet with an officer in little more than an hour. The officer had contacted me several days earlier, wanting to talk to me about his disappointment over not scoring well on a recent promotional exam. Since that first conversation, I had been praying that the Lord would make our meeting more than a counseling session, more than a pep talk. I prayed that the Lord would use the meeting to allow me to present the Law and the gospel to this lawman, and that the Lord would sovereignly and graciously choose to bring the officer to repentance and faith.

My first thought, after receiving the news about our financial situation, was to contact the officer, cancel the meeting, and wallow in self-pity and fear. I felt that I needed to scramble and immediately begin to work on solving the problem. Bills needed to be paid. Groceries had to be purchased. And I had to find the money to ensure these things would happen. For a moment, I turned my back on God, intent on striking out on my own to do the things I didn’t believe the Lord would do. My attitude was not one of prayer, but of pessimism. I was being selfish, thinking only about myself and not about the unsaved officer who was on his way to my office.

When my heart quieted enough to allow me to stop and think about what I was doing, I cried out to God and asked for His forgiveness. I asked Him to help me set aside my fear so that I could serve Him, as I talked to the officer. I prayed again for the officer—praying that, for him, this would be the day of salvation.

The officer arrived on time and we sat down to talk. The officer said, “There are two reasons why I wanted to talk to you.” He began to speak about what he thought was the injustice of his rating on the promotional exam. His voice was very loud. He was animated and he spoke rapidly. He wanted some counsel regarding how he should proceed to challenge his rating. He needed to vent, and I let him. I listened quietly for several minutes.

I waited for a lull and asked the officer, “You said there were two reasons why you wanted to talk to me. You’ve mentioned one. What is the other?”

The officer said that he had read my book, “Take Up the Shield.” In the book, I write briefly about my Catholic upbringing. This gave us another point of common ground. Reading the book made him think about his relationship with God. He asked, “If I believe in God, why am I experiencing so much anxiety?”

“What would you consider more important,” I asked, “promoting to sergeant or your relationship with God?”

“My relationship with God.” He answered.

The officer shared with me that he had a Roman Catholic background. He believed the essential truths regarding the deity of Jesus Christ, the cross, the resurrection, and heaven and hell. He didn’t think one had to be a good person to go to heaven. However, he believed that entrance into heaven was contingent upon belief in Jesus Christ and doing whatever one can to obey God. He firmly believed he had a relationship with God.

I leaned forward in my seat, looked the officer in the eye, and said, “I want you to answer a question for me. It’s not going to be easy. You and I are working as patrol partners. We decide to stop a car. Within seconds, the driver opens fire on us, and I’m hit. I’m lying in the street and I’m bleeding to death. I only have three minutes to live. In minutes I will be standing before God. You know me well. You know I don’t believe in God. What are you going to tell me?”

“What am I going to tell you?” He asked.

“What are you going to tell me? I assume you don’t want me to go to hell. What are you going to tell me so that I might avoid spending eternity in hell?” I asked. “I now have only two minutes to live.”

“Well,” he stammered, “I guess I would tell you to accept Jesus.”

“Why?” I asked. “I told you I don’t believe in God. Come on! I’m bleeding out! I’m down to about a minute-and-a-half.”

The look on the officer’s face was one of frustration and confusion. “You need to ask God to forgive you. God is a loving God. If you’ll just believe in Him, everything will be okay.”

“Why do I need God’s forgiveness?” I asked.

The officer was becoming even more flustered. He continued to stumble over his words. After a few moments, I interrupted him and said, “I’m dead. I just died on the street.”

With a dejected look on his face, the officer said, “You’re dead?”

“Yes.” I said. “I died waiting for you to tell me what I must do to get right with God. I know what I just put you through was difficult.”

With a nervous chuckle, the officer nodded his head. I wanted the moment to be intense so I used a word picture he would understand—an officer shot in the line of duty and dying before his eyes.

“There’s a reason why I put you through that scenario. Since you couldn’t tell me what I must do to be right with God, is it possible that while you might know about God, the truth is that you really don’t know Him.”

He thought about it for a moment. “I guess not. I’m not sure.” He had entered my office loud and animated. His demeanor was now subdued and reflective.

“Would you consider yourself to be a good person?” I asked.

“Yes. I’m a good person.” He answered.

“Would it be all right if I asked you a few questions to see if that’s true?” I asked.

The officer was somewhat surprised that I didn’t simply accept his answer. “Sure. Go ahead.” He answered.

I asked the officer if he was familiar with the Ten Commandments. He said that he was and then named several. As is common with those within the Roman Catholic faith, the officer divided the Tenth Commandment into two—coveting your neighbor’s wife, and coveting your neighbor’s property. Catholics will do this because they have been taught that the First and Second Commandments are not two commandments, but one. This allows them to continue the religion’s traditions of praying to Mary, to the saints, and to statues and relics, without violating (in their mind and by their traditions) a specific command to not make graven images and worship them.

I asked the officer if he thought he had kept the commandments. He said that nobody is perfect, but he tries his best. I then took him through the “Good Person Test.”

After admitting to violating several of the commandments, as is customary, I said, “By your own admission…”

I didn’t even finish the sentence when the officer said, with a tone of humility, “I’m a liar. I’m a thief. I’ve used God’s name in vain. I’m an adulterer. I’m a murderer.”

While I’ve talked to many people who have readily accepted the fact that they had broken God’s Law, this was the first time I’ve had someone finish my sentence about their true, spiritual condition.

“If God were to judge you based on His Law, the Ten Commandments, would He find you innocent or guilty of breaking His Law.” I asked.

“Guilty.” He answered.

“And if God found you guilty,” I asked, “would you go to heaven or to hell?”

“I would still go to heaven.” He answered.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because God is loving and forgiving. I think God will take into consideration the good things I have done, and that I’ve tried to obey His commands, and He is going to forgive my sins.” He said.

“Let’s go to court.” I said. “You and I have spent plenty of time in court over the years. Let’s say that you and I worked a murder case together. We gathered the evidence. We identified and arrested the suspect. He confessed to committing the murder. We did a good job and we had him dead to rights.

“It’s the day of sentencing. We’re in the courtroom, sitting next to the victim’s family. The suspect is standing before the judge. The judge asks him if he has anything to say before he receives his sentence. The suspect says, ‘Yes, your honor. I just want to say I’m really sorry for killing that person. I promise I will never do it again. I know you are a forgiving judge. Please let me go.’

“The judge thinks about it for a second. He looks at the convicted murderer and says, ‘You know, you’re right. I am a forgiving judge. You’re free to go.’

“Would the judge be a good and just judge if he let the murderer go free, just because the murderer said he was sorry?” I asked. “Would he be a good judge, following the law, if he did that?”

The officer said, “No. Of course not!”

“Do you see what you’re doing?” I asked. “You’re applying a higher standard to a human court than you are to the Judge of the Universe.”

The officer nodded his head.

Aware of the officer’s Catholic background, I explained to him that he was violating the Second Commandment. He was creating a god in his imagination, one that does not judge; one that does not hold people accountable for their sins.

“When you stand before God on the Day of Judgment, He will not judge you by how you see yourself. He is going to judge you according to His perfect standard—His Law. You will be found guilty. And He’s not going to let you off the hook just because you say you are sorry. If He finds you guilty, He is going to sentence you to eternity in hell.” I said.

There was a long, pregnant pause in which the officer and I just sat looking at each other.

“Do you believe what I’m telling you?” I asked.

“Yes.” He said.

“Does it concern you that if you were to die today God would send you to hell as the just punishment for your sins against Him?” I asked.

Again, with a nervous chuckle, he said, “Well, yes.”

“Do you know what God did so that you wouldn’t have to spend eternity in hell.” I asked.

“Jesus died for our sins.” He answered.

I took the officer back to the courtroom, but now he was the person on trial. When I came to the end of the analogy, the officer said, “The man who paid the fine—that’s Jesus, isn’t it?”

I explained to the officer that saving faith is more than just an intellectual belief. The parachute analogy helped him to understand that he must not only believe in Jesus, but also trust him the same way a person puts on a parachute and trusts that it will open when they jump out of the plane.

I spent some time helping the officer understand the true nature of repentance, as well as overcoming his misunderstanding of the relationship between good works and salvation. The officer asserted that he repents often when he feels like he has done something wrong, and that he was confident that God forgives him, hears his prayers, and answers him. He was taken aback when I told him that God turns a deaf ear to the prayers of unrighteous people who have turned their back on Him (Job 27:8ff; 35:12-13; Psalm 34:15-22; 66:18; 145:19; Prov. 15:29; 28:9; Isa. 1:15).

I asked the officer if his father was still alive and if he had a good relationship with his dad. He answered both questions in the affirmative.

“See if this sounds familiar to you.” I said. “You go over to your dad’s house one afternoon because you want to have an important conversation with him; and this is what you say. ‘Dad, I love you very much. But I’m an adult, now. I would really appreciate it if you would just stay out of my life. I don’t want you bugging me. I’m my own man, now, so I’m not going to listen to your counsel. And I no longer have to obey you when you tell me to do something. Oh, and another thing: I still expect you to be there for me when I need you. If I need money, I expect you to give it to me. If you don’t help me when I ask, if you don’t come running when I call you, then I’m going to be angry with you and it will probably be a long time before I speak to you again. But dad, just know that I love you.’

“So, if you were to say that to your dad, do you think he would say to himself, ‘That’s my boy. He sure does love me’? Would your dad believe that you really love him?”

“No.” The officer said.

“In fact, the thought of talking to your earthly father that way probably seems repulsive to you.” I said.

“It sure does. I would never talk to my dad that way.” He said.

“That’s because you love your dad, right?” I asked.

“Yes.” He said.

The next thing the officer said filled my heart with joy, because it told me that he understood what I was sharing with him. He was getting it.

“That’s what I’ve been doing with God my whole life.” He said.

“That’s right.” I said. “The kind of relationship you have with your earthly father is not the kind of relationship you have with the Heavenly Father. You know about God, but you do not know God. And you don’t love Him the way you love your dad. The Bible teaches that our love for God should be such that all of our earthly, loving relationships should seem like hatred in comparison. It’s not that we hate our friends and family members. It’s just that our love for God should be far greater than our love for people.”

“Is there any reason why you wouldn’t repent of your sin and put your trust in Jesus Christ alone for your salvation?” I asked.

“I think I might be doing that right now.” He answered.

“Do you realize that in order for you to be saved from the wrath of God you must be born again?” I asked.

The officer leaned back in his seat and smirk formed on his face. I thought it might. How a person reacts to the phrase “born again” is often a good indication as to whether or not the person is saved. A person who is truly born again will not be uncomfortable with the term, and they won’t be afraid to refer to themselves as “born again.”

I asked the officer what he thought the term meant. He said, “I always picture some crazy person being dunked in the water.”

I opened my bible to John 3 and showed it to the officer, and read verses 3 and 7, aloud. “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God . . . Do not be amazed that I said to you, “You must be born again.”’”

“Unless you are born again, you will not go to heaven.” I said. “And in order for you to be born again you must repent of your sin and put your faith in Jesus Christ alone for your salvation. The promise is that you will pass from death into life. He will save you from your sin and give you the gift of eternal life. God will give you a new heart, with new desires.”

“Have your beliefs changes since you sat down in that chair?” I asked.

“Yes.” He answered.

“Do you believe that if you die in your sin that God will judge you and send you to hell?” I asked.

“Yes.” He answered.

“Do you want to spend eternity in hell?” I asked.

“No!” He answered. “I want to be saved!”

“Do you believe that there is nothing you can do to save yourself? Do you believe that your only hope for salvation is to turn from your sin and, by faith, put your trust in Jesus Christ alone for your salvation?” I asked.

“Yes.” He answered. “So what do I have to do?”

“Well,” I said, “the Lord may have already saved you. You may have been born again as we sat here talking.”

“Have you ever cried out to God?” I asked.

“What do you mean?” He asked.

“Well, you said that you’ve asked God to forgive you in the past. But have you ever done that with the understanding that if He doesn’t forgive you, you will spend eternity in hell? Have you ever cried out to Him in genuine repentance and faith? Based on what you’ve told me, I don’t think you have.

“Again, the Lord may very well have saved you while you have been sitting here. No prayer will save you—not yours or anyone else’s. No church can save you—not the Roman Catholic Church or any protestant church. But I would encourage you to spend time in real prayer with God. Confess your sin to Him. Tell Him that you want to turn from your sin. Tell Him that you want to serve Him and follow Him with your whole life, having received Him as your Lord and Savior.”

“Now what do I do?” He asked.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“What do I do next to draw closer to God? Should I read the Bible?” He asked.

I pulled my MacArthur Study Bible off my bookcase and gave it to him. We spent the next several minutes talking about the importance of being in the Word every day, as well as the importance of finding a good church where the Bible is rightly and clearly taught.

We talked about the importance of confessing the Lord Jesus Christ before men and that one of his first conversations should be with his unbelieving wife. “If you are truly born again,” I said, “You won’t be embarrassed to tell people that you are. You will want to tell other people about the God who saved you.” I said.

We closed our time together in prayer. Instead of praying for the comfort of an unsaved officer, I believe I was praying with a new brother in the Lord. As is always the case, it is the Lord who ultimately and positively knows the true condition of this officer’s heart. Time will tell if the officer’s profession of faith will bear genuine fruit.

Every indication in my finite and fallible mind is that the seeds the Lord allowed me to sow in this officer’s heart fell on good soil. “But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance” (Luke 8:15).

I give all praise and glory to God for allowing me to watch Him work. I thank Him for allowing me, who just moments before the conversation with the officer, had been wallowing in sin, in the shallow pool of wavering faith. I am not worthy to speak His Word, let alone watch Him take a life from eternal death and despair, to eternal life and hope.
God’s Word is true. He is holy, righteous. He is the “only Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy” (James 4:12). His lovingkindness is everlasting. His mercy endures forever. He is my Lord and Savior. And I thank Him for allowing me to be such a very small part of one of His “glory stories.”

Monday, December 11, 2006

Angel at the Rest Area

There are many reasons why I thank God for the Great News Network. This is a “glory to God” story about some of those reasons.

Recently, I met fellow seed sower, Jerry Parker. Jerry lives about forty miles north of me, in the mountain community of Frazier Park. If not for the GNN message board, the likelihood is that Jerry and I would have never met.

After a couple hours of great conversation over coffee one afternoon last week, Jerry and I decided to spend a few hours on Saturday, at the Lebec Rest Area, near the Kern County and Los Angeles County line. For the last month or so, Jerry has been spending his Saturday afternoons witnessing to travelers who stop at the rest area, as they make their way south on the I-5 Freeway.

The Lebec Rest Area (as I’m sure is the case of freeway rest areas around the country) is a great fishing spot. I am very thankful to Jerry for introducing me to a new fishing spot. Seed sowers occasionally refer to their favorite fishing spots as ponds. The Lebec Rest Area is more akin to a pool in a gentle, moving stream. Instead of a pond where fish gather and remain for significant lengths of time, a freeway rest area is like a mid-stream pool where fish stop momentarily to renew their strength and to feed.

It was a cool afternoon, at least by Southern California standards. The sun was bright and the breeze, strong. Jerry and I set up my open-air display and we waited for travelers to pull into the rest area and make their way to the facilities, which were adjacent to where we set up shop. We didn’t have to wait long.

We distributed a good quantity of tracts, including quite a few of the Christmas Cash, before someone showed enough interest and curiosity in our display to accept our invitation to take a couple intelligence tests. In a couple hours’ time, the Lord provided us with the opportunity to share the Law and the gospel with a number of people. Two conversations were particularly fruitful.

One conversation was with a woman named Christina. Christina works at the rest area. She, along with two of her co-workers, approached us—with the same curious looks on their faces as so many others that afternoon. Having failed the intelligence tests, Christina agreed to take the “Good Person Test.” After taking her through the Law and the gospel, we learned that Christina was born again and had been walking with Christ for a couple of years.

Christina gladly accepted our gifts, which included “Hell’s Best Kept Secret” and “True and False Conversion” CD’s, “How To Live Forever Without Being Religious,” and “You Have The Right To Remain Silent.” The two co-workers present with Christina were, we would later learn, high-functioning, mentally disabled people. We would not have known this if Christina hadn’t told us. She assured us that they both understood what we had said. So, join Jerry and me in praying for their salvation.

Christina, who lives in Bakersfield, was very encouraged by the way we presented the gospel to her. She said she was looking forward to sharing her experience with her pastor and talking to him about employing the WOTM principles to reach some of the toughest neighborhoods in the Bakersfield area. Praise God that the Lord allowed us to encourage another Christian to become a seed sower and to bring the message of “Law to the proud and grace to the humble” to her church family and beyond.

The Lord not only allowed us to share the gospel with a relatively new Christian who we initially thought was unsaved, but He also allowed us to share the gospel with a man who thought he was right with God (or at least on the right track) when he really wasn’t. His name was Angel.

After taking Angel through the intelligence tests, Jerry asked him if he thought he was a good person. He immediately answered, “No.” We were both surprised by how quickly he answered the question.

Jerry did a great job taking Angel through the Law and the gospel. When someone says that they are not a good person, it can be challenging to discern if the person is truly humble or just expressing a false humility, which, in effect, is a prideful response. It’s also a challenge when talking to such people to discern how firmly to present the Law, before moving to grace. Jerry picked up on all the verbal cues Angel was giving us and applied the Law in an appropriate way, which helped Angel to understand his real spiritual condition.

Angel proceeded to tell us a little about his background. He talked about being arrested for drunk driving, but not before driving drunk several times without being caught. Statistics show that a person will drive drunk ten times for every one DUI arrest.

As Angel talked about the experience of being arrested for drunk driving, I was reminded of the fact that during my career I took literally hundreds of drunk drivers off the road. For a time, I specialized in DUI enforcement and I treated every shift as a hunt. I was hunting for selfish, often uncaring people who had the potential of murdering other people with a two-ton weapon—their vehicle. Every arrest was one more victory in a war in which tens of thousands of people die every year.

Now, on a sunny, winter afternoon, at a rest stop, I was being allowed by the Lord to share the gospel with someone who, if we had met at another time and in other circumstances, I would have done everything I could to put him in the backseat of my patrol car. I would have relished the thought of taking away Angel’s freedom, so that others might drive the roads with just a little more safety. But this day was a different day. With the help of my partner and new friend, Jerry, my hope now was to see Angel freed from the prison of sin and death—a freedom that only comes through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

Angel told us how it felt to be locked up in jail and how it felt to stand before the judge for sentencing. The courtroom analogy would later really hit home with him. He talked about repentance, but he viewed repentance as apologizing for wrongs committed, followed by trying to do what is right in the eyes of man. His way of thinking was more akin to penance than repentance. We worked to improve his understanding of biblical repentance.

Angel was trying to take positive steps toward becoming a better person. We commended him for that, but we worked hard to make sure he understood that he had the equation backwards. We told Angel that instead of trying to work his way into God’s good graces, he first needed to truly repent of his sin and put his faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. Unless he was born again (a term that, until that moment, was foreign to him), unless he came to know God as his heavenly Father, through faith in His Son Jesus Christ, his best efforts would never be more than filthy rags in the eyes of the holy and righteous God. We explained that instead of doing good things to work your way to God, he should first come to a genuine faith in God and then do good things, not to earn salvation, but to please his heavenly Father who had already saved him from his sins.

We asked Angel if he understood what we were telling him. He said he did. We asked him if he believed what we were telling him was true. He again answered in the affirmative.

“Angel, I need to ask you a very important question.” I said. “If you understand what we are saying to you, and if you believe what we are telling you, then what are you waiting for? Is there anything that would keep you from truly repenting of your sin, right now, and trusting Jesus Christ to save you from the just penalty for your sins?”

Angel said, “No. Not really.”

“Angel.” I continued. “You are going to get back on the freeway in a few minutes. You might have another fifty or sixty years of life ahead of you. Then again, you might only have another fifty or sixty minutes left on earth. When you die and stand before God on the Day of Judgment that will not be the time to get right with God. You will be like the person who stands before the judge as a convicted criminal. Once you are convicted, the only thing you have to look forward to is your sentencing and punishment. A good judge will not simply let you go. He is going to follow the law and give you the sentence you deserve. Don’t go another day without getting right with God. We don’t want you to spend eternity in hell.”

Jerry and I thought we were going to see Angel come to faith in Christ, right then and there. But Jerry and I both sensed that if we pushed Angel any harder we would run the risk of creating a false convert—a person who responded to our pressure instead of one who responded to the Holy Spirit’s leading and the drawing of our heavenly Father. Angel heard the gospel. He understood the gospel. He professed to believe (at least intellectually) what we had shared with him. The seeds had been sown. There was nothing more we could do for Angel. The rest was in the Lord’s hands. Only the sovereign Creator of the Universe, the One True God, could save Angel. And Jerry’s prayer and mine was that He would do just that.

We left Angel with plenty of material to reinforce what we had shared with him. He thanked us for talking to him and went on his way.

Before Jerry and I left the rest area, we spent a little more time talking to and encouraging Christina. Please pray for her as she takes what she learned from us back to her church and to her community.

I will close this “glory to God” story the way I began it—thanking God for the GNN family. In the law enforcement family, the most important person to an on-duty officer is the partner sitting next to him or her in the patrol car. We know that on any given day the person sitting next to us may be responsible for saving our life, and vice versa. The seed sowers I have met since joining GNN (people like my new friend, Jerry Parker) have become spiritual patrol partners to me—brothers and sisters behind the badge of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I thank God for all of you.

And if there is any praise or glory to be garnered from this testimony, it belongs to only One—our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.