Sunday, March 04, 2007

"Lord, Please, I Don't Want To Kill Him."

It was anything but just another Friday night at the Burbank Town Center. The evening began normal enough. The team was blessed with several new participants, including a few men from my home church who recently participated in a Way of the Master One-Day Training Seminar, which I led. We opened with prayer and then I immediately climbed atop the stool to open-air preach.

The crowd was light, but I was able to draw a crowd with the offer of stuffed animals for the right answer to simple trivia questions. I had two silent hecklers during the first open-air session. I use the word “silent” to describe them because they heckled me by walking up to the stool and dropping at my feet the stuffed animals they won just a few minutes earlier. The look of disgust on their faces told me their dislike was not for the stuffed animals, but for the message and the messenger. “And you will be hated by all on account of My name” (Luke 21:17).

Despite the returned teddy bears, a number of people heard the preaching of the Law and the Gospel. Following the open-air preaching, the team divided into groups of twos and threes and moved about the public square and the surrounding streets, looking for opportunities to engage people in conversation.

About an hour later, I decided to preach again. The crowd was larger and louder this time. A significant number of “wannabe” gang members, kids who are in the area every weekend, were part of the crowd. They were profane and sarcastic. They were both the best and the worst hecklers I’ve had in a while.

One young man who was not numbered among the hecklers agreed to take the “Good Person Test.” I took the young man through the Law and he expressed a level of concern about his spiritual condition and his eternal destination, apart from Jesus Christ. Right as I began to share the gospel of grace with the young man and the rest of the crowd, another man stepped forward and stood shoulder to shoulder with the young man. The young man was so uncomfortable with the stranger’s presence that he moved several feet away.

The man’s clothes were dirty and disheveled. Several of his front teeth were missing. His eyes were wild and his glare was filled with hate. He held a metal lighter in his right hand. As he stared at me, he repeatedly and forcefully flung open the lighter, lit the flame, and closed the lighter. He handled the lighter as if it was a switchblade knife. “And you will be hated by all on account of My name.”

I could feel my pulse quicken as I stood on the stool. I quickly scanned the crowd. I found my two daughters. Okay. They’re fine. I thought. I could see that several of the men on the team, who were dispersed throughout the crowd, were alerted to the man’s presence. My friend, Mike Dunagan, took up a position next to the man. My girls were safe. I had “back-up” in the crowd. I continued to preach the gospel.

The man grew more agitated with each word I spoke. “I want to talk to you!” He insisted. I told him that I would talk to him in a minute. “No. You’ll talk to me now!” He said.

I looked at him and said, “No. I will talk to you in a minute.” He continued to murmur, trying to get my attention. I ignored him and continued to preach the gospel. When I finished preaching the gospel, I turned to the man and asked him if he had a question.

The man extended his bare forearms. Even from a distance, I could see numerous deep scratches running from the crease in his arms to his wrists. The wounds were at various stages of healing and were obviously self-inflicted with a knife or razor. “Is it a sin to cut yourself?” The man asked with anger and resentment in his voice.

I explained to the man that since we were created in the image of God, it is sinful to intentionally mutilate or otherwise injure the jewel of His creation. He wasn’t happy with the answer. Then again, I don’t think he was looking for an answer. He was looking for an argument.

After I answered a few more questions from the crowd, I stepped off the stool and approached the man. The crowd, which included the disrespectful and obstinate group of teens, closed in around us. The air grew tense and electric. I had seen this kind of gathering many times before. More often than not, it was while working patrol having been called to the scene of a street or bar fight. Most of the people at such scenes were curious bystanders or instigators taking the side of the person willing to throw the first punch.

“Do you have a question?” I politely asked the man.

“Do you believe Jesus is God?” He asked. The man’s chest was heaving. His nostrils were flared. He was shaking, slightly.

“Yes I do.” I answered.

“No he’s not!” The man exclaimed. “Who is the god of this world? It’s not Jesus!”

“Oh, you want me to say that Satan is God.” I said. “Satan is not God. He is not omniscient. He is not omnipresent. He is not all-powerful. He is a created being.”

“I’ll bet you your soul!” The man growled.

“I’m not gambling with you. I’m not betting anything. What I just told you is true.” I asserted.

“How do you know that?” He protested.

“I know it is true because the Bible is true.” I answered.

“Well, I don’t believe the Bible!” He said.

“I can see that.” I answered.

“I believe in the Satanic Bible. I worship Satan!” He said.

“That’s unfortunate.” I said. “Jesus said, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.’”

“I’ll bet you your soul!” The man said.

“I am not going to gamble my soul with you. My soul doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to Jesus Christ. I am His.” I answered.

It took every ounce of strength (a strength that was not my own) to maintain a calm demeanor. As I talked to the man I did several things. The most important thing I did was pray. I also assessed the situation from a law enforcement perspective. “Lord, I hope this man doesn’t pull out a knife and stab me in front of my girls. Is this the day You will allow me to suffer and die for my faith? If I have to take this man down in front of all of these people, both the profane and the curious, they will use it to say, ‘Aha! See. You’re a hypocrite. We can’t believe what you’re saying to us.’ Lord, please, I don’t want to kill him.”

Yes, I was concerned that I might have to kill the man. Since I was unarmed, I planned in my mind how I would disarm the man if he produced a weapon and how, if necessary, I would use the man’s weapon against him to stop the threat.

The police officer must constantly role-play every conceivable scenario in his or her head. Even though he or she is well aware that they can’t anticipate every possible set of circumstances, they have to be ready for anything. So, as I prayed asking the Lord to give me wisdom, discernment, Scripture, a calm demeanor, and physical safety, I was also formulating a plan for stopping the threat if the man decided to attack me. If necessary, I would kill him to stop the threat.

I purposefully do not carry my firearm when I go out witnessing. The reasons are philosophical, not necessarily doctrinal. For me, it’s a matter of conscience. That being said, it certainly wouldn’t be sinful for me to carry my firearm since I can do so lawfully and biblically (Romans 13:1-5), as a sworn police officer.

However, knowing my own heart, knowing that I possess the “on-duty 24/7” mindset of a police officer, my concern is that by carrying my firearm when witnessing I run the risk of prematurely turning to a weapon in the physical world to handle a deteriorating set of circumstances when I should continue to do battle in the spiritual realm. There is a reason why II Corinthians 10:4 is the cornerstone verse of Ten-Four Ministries. It’s not because it contains the numbers 10-4 (although that’s nice). Rather, it’s because of what the verse says.

“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (11 Cor. 10:3-5).

“Then I’ll take your soul!” The man said.

“You’re not taking anything. You can’t take my soul. My soul belongs to Jesus Christ. He is my Lord and Savior.” I proclaimed.

The man continued his barrage of profanity and blasphemy and walked a short distance away. I looked at the crowd and asked, “What do you think about what you are hearing! This is serious! Do you not care about where you will spend eternity?” I asked. I no longer had the elevation of my stool, and I was completely surrounded by people.

Some defiantly shouted that they didn’t care. Others had looks of concern on their faces. So, I approached those who showed their concern with their facial expressions and silence, and shared the Law and the Gospel with them.

Moments later, the man returned, even more agitated than during our previous conversation. “So, why is there so much war in the world?” He demanded.

“There is so much war in the world because every man is sinful. Man chooses to war with his fellow man. Every person is responsible for his or her own sin, and every person will give an account on the Day of Judgment, before a holy, righteous, and good God.” I answered.

“Who was the first man to sin?” He asked.

“Adam.” I answered. And because of the sin of Adam, every person is born with a sin nature. We are all sinful, myself included.”

“You’re a liar! You just lied!” He said. “Eve was the first person to sin.”

“You’re right.” I said. “Eve was the first person to sin, and Adam was the first man to sin.

“You lied! You lied!” The man shouted.

“I didn’t lie.” I said. “But it doesn’t matter whether or not it was Adam or Eve who sinned first. What matters right now is where you are going to spend eternity. Because I care about you, my hope is that you will repent and receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. I don’t want you to go to hell.”

“I don’t care!” The man shouted. “I’m going to hell and I’m going to heaven. And when I get to hell, I’m going to kick Satan’s butt. And when I get to heaven, I’m going to kick God’s butt.”

The man angrily walked away, with many of the teens following him. He walked over to a nearby light pole and intentionally and repeatedly slammed his head into the pole. He then began to hold his lighter close to his mouth and started spewing large flames from his mouth.

The man disappeared for a while, only to return wearing a long, black, Matrix-esque trench coat and very dark sunglasses. He stood at the far end of the square with his feet shoulder’s width apart and his hands folded in front of his waist. He stood there motionless, staring at us as we engaged people in conversation.

We all kept a close eye on him. Now that he was wearing a trench coat, I wondered if he had gone somewhere to retrieve a weapon, such as a shotgun, and was concealing it under the coat. Fortunately, the man did not approach us again, and he left the area for good about fifteen minutes later.

It was a very intense situation. But the Lord was glorified through it all. The Law and the Gospel went forth in spite of the physical threat and the spiritual warfare that had taken place. The Lord allowed a profane and disturbed man to draw the largest crowd of the evening, which allowed us to preach the gospel to the many people. In fact, the best conversation I had that night came after my confrontation with the man—a man who was either mentally ill, intoxicated, demon possessed, or a combination of any of the three.

You can click here to listen to a wonderful evangelism opportunity with a group of people, among which was a young man named Daniel who would eventually ask, “So how do I put on the parachute?”

It was a great night of fishing.

3 comments:

MikeFromFR said...

Holy cow, Tony!! I've fought in the "Arena of Ideas" in proclaiming the Gospel, but this engagement went borderline into the physical realm. Glad to see it ended as another productive evening!

BrickBalloon said...

Thank you very much for this testimony. For those of use who have not experienced such an encounter it is helpful to know about your experience so we can trust in the Holy Spirit should we end up in a similar sitiuation. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

The man in the trench-coat encountered is likely the one they call "Candyman." I won't share his real name, but have dealt with him several times in the past. Alcohol and drugs seem to be peripheral problems that have been caused by something much deeper. Demon posession may be present in him; as he appears very calm and collective one minute, then almost demonic the next. I'm not surprised you had this encounter with him as he is confrontational with most people he doesn't know. In all of my dealings with him, he has been relatively harmless, and is not often in posession of any weapons. He has learned to be very respectful with anyone in uniform, though some of that has come to him through the school of "hard knocks."