Thursday, May 24, 2007

Consider It All Joy

Instead of my regular "street fishing" segment on Tuesday's edition of Way of the Master Radio, Todd Friel and I began a new segment, Cop Tales. During the show, I shared a brief testimony regarding a shooting in which I was involved, in 1993. Click here to listen to the show.

Here is the full story. I may publish it as a short story/gospel booklet.

Our eldest daughter Michelle—who has been an inspiration to me as she has faced medical challenges that might make grown men buckle at the knees—was five-years-old when her doctors decided it was time for her to undergo some serious and extensive surgery to correct the curvature of her spine. We were told that she would eventually be crippled by the condition if it were not corrected.

The initial surgery, which took about eight hours, went very well. So well that the surgeon, one of the best in the country in the field of pediatric orthopedics, decided to place a metal rod along her spine to support the vertebrae that had been fused together.

We eventually took Michelle home sporting a full upper body cast. She reminded us of the Star Wars character R2-D2 as she gingerly made her way around the house. Her recovery was going fairly well until one day when we noticed what looked like a small bloodstain on the backside of her cast. She soon started running a high fever. We called Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles and they told us to bring her in right away.

The doctors in the emergency room cracked open Michelle’s cast and were horrified at what they saw. The metal rod that had been placed along Michelle’s spine had broken away from one of the vertebrae and pierced through her skin. Her back was swollen and very infected. The wound’s appearance could best be described as a rotten tomato.

Michelle would have to undergo yet another emergency surgery to remove the rod from her back and then several days of very painful therapy to purge her open wound of the infection. Through it all Michelle taught me much about genuine faith and real courage. Doctors and nurses would be in and out of her hospital room almost constantly. And when the hospital staff would try to comfort and encourage her, Michelle would simply smile and say, “Don’t worry. Jesus will make me all better.” Over the years, in moments of personal weakness, I have often thought of the strength my little girl and the strength she drew from her Savior, during that difficult time.

Michelle was on very heavy antibiotics for some time. Because she was a frail little girl to begin with, it was difficult to maintain an I.V. in any of her little veins. The doctors decided to place a shunt under her skin, called a “central line,” along her collar bone, so they could maintain the heavy dose of antibiotics required to deal with the infection in her body. This required yet another surgical procedure for my little princess.

It was a time when I thought back to those first few, uncertain days after Michelle’s birth. I would sit in the rocking chair in the ICU for hours telling Michelle that I would always be there for her and that I would never let anything bad happen to her. I told her that I would protect her from everything and everyone. Five years later, I was helpless to do anything for her. I was convinced that I was letting my little girl down. If there is anything that a street cop hates it is the feeling of helplessness or vulnerability.

I share this because I think it’s important for people outside the law enforcement family that might read this to understand that when a cop hits the streets he or she might have more on his or her mind than the next traffic stop, the next call, or the next arrest. Officers around the world are called to handle the world’s problems, day in and day out, when they, as fallible human beings, often do so while facing personal struggles of their own.

Michelle was scheduled for the surgical procedure to insert the shunt on February 6th, 1993. It was a Saturday. I had made arrangements to work the day shift so that I could get to the hospital in time for Michelle’s surgery, scheduled for late in the afternoon. This was also the day I would meet a man named Jeff Sauer.

It was a beautiful, warm day in southern California. The skies were clear. The sun was bright. As I loaded up my radio car to go 10-8 (in service), one of my sergeants approached me and asked if I would be willing to accommodate a “ride-along” (a civilian that rides with an officer to see what life on patrol is like). The sergeant didn’t have to ask. He could have ordered me to take the person with me. But that wasn’t the kind of supervisor he was. He explained that the person who would ride with me was a young woman taking administration of justice classes, at the local junior college. She needed to do a ride-along and interview a patrol deputy as part of a class assignment. I smiled and half-heartedly told the sergeant that I would be glad to let her ride with me.

Letting civilians ride in a patrol car is not the favorite activity of most street cops. It’s not that we have anything to hide. It’s not that we don’t like civilians. The reasons are more practical than that. A patrol car is a patrolman’s office. It’s not uncommon for the officer to spend as much time in a patrol car on any given day as he or she does at home. The patrol car is where the officer has dinner and private conversations with fellow officers that never leave the car. When you introduce a civilian into that kind of environment, all of that changes. It’s not unlike inviting a stranger into your home. When a stranger sits down at your dinner table, you’re not going to have the same kind of personal conversations with your family that you would if the stranger wasn’t there. Would you invite a stranger into your home for the sole purpose of satisfying their curiosity and there desire to know how you live? Probably not.

Add to all of this that a patrol officer spends all of his or her time addressing and solving the problems of the civilian community. It’s not unreasonable for an officer not to want to “hang-out” with civilians in between calls. Now, I’m not sharing this in an attempt to discourage civilians from doing ride-alongs, with their local law enforcement. In fact, if our are reading this and you are not a member of the law enforcement family, I strongly encourage you to contact your local law enforcement agency and see about riding with a patrol officer. It’s certainly a better way (better than watching television) to gain a realistic perspective of what life is like on the streets, for the patrol officer. Try to keep my story, as well as the other stories you read in this book in mind if you ever have the opportunity to ride “shotgun” with an officer. And keep these things in mind if you ever find yourself calling an officer to your home, place of business, or the scene of an accident.

The shift that February morning was pretty uneventful for me, but not a typical afternoon for my “guest.” We had a couple of code-3 runs (lights and sirens), which caused my ride-along to get very quiet. We pulled into the station parking lot and up to the gas pumps at the end of the shift. My ride-along was a pleasant person, and she didn’t ask any annoying question all day. That is, until she asked me this. “Have you ever been in any wild shoot-outs?” If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked that or a similar question. Well…

I explained to her that most officers never fire their guns outside of training. Although I had pulled my gun, even pointing it at people, more times than I could count, I would likely never have to fire my gun at another person. I told her that it just doesn’t happen the way it does on television. She looked somewhat disappointed. She wouldn’t have the “war story” that she hoped would garner her a better grade on her report.

I said good-bye to the young lady and was about to head downstairs to the locker room when I heard a deputy on the radio request emergency clearance. The deputy advised that he was following a reported stolen vehicle that had been taken in a carjacking. The driver, Jeff Sauer, was high on methamphetamine. He had not been out of jail very long and probably wasn’t excited about the idea of going back. Sauer had been arrested more than a dozen times before I met him, for everything from petty theft to robbery. His record seemed to reflect a propensity for stealing cars.

When I heard the watch deputy advise of the assistance request, over the station P.A., I admit that I had a very brief moment of pause. I was torn. I had just enough time, if I hurried, to make it to the hospital in time for Michelle’s procedure; but one of my brothers behind the badge needed help. I convinced myself I could do both.

Those of us in the station rushed to the parking lot and grabbed any “black & white” that was available. The deputy advised over the radio that he was following that the suspect, who was driving a 5.0 Mustang, was heading into our local industrial area.

I was one of at least 7-10 units and a helicopter that responded to help my fellow deputy stop this car. When everyone was in position, we “lit him up” and ordered the driver to pull over. Considering why the driver was wanted, I thought he would make a run for it. And considering what kind of car the suspect was driving, I thought it would be a fun chase, if the Watch Commander didn’t “10-22” (cancel) it.

Sauer initially yielded and pulled to the right, stopping in a horseshoe-shaped parking lot. As we bailed out of our cars and jockeyed for position, preparing to order Sauer out of the car at gunpoint, Sauer opened the driver’s door of the Mustang. We all thought he was either going to give up, or make a run for it. Instead, he closed the car door and took off again. After all of us got back into our cars and back on the road, I found myself as the second car in the pursuit.

Fortunate for us (so we thought), Sauer tried to get away by driving up a dead end street. He led us down a narrow, two-lane access road that led to high security testing facility. When we got to the end of the road, we had so many units covering the street there was no way he could get by us. Sauer turned off the road into a small dirt area and came to a stop. I and two other deputies were only seconds ahead of the rest of the cavalry. We got out of our cars, drew our weapons, and ordered Sauer to put his hands in the air.

Instead of giving up, Sauer threw his car into reverse, spinning the tires as they tried to grip the dirt. There was nowhere for him to go. Sauer drove the car in different directions a few times. It was as if he was trying to buy time so he could decide what to do next. I remember thinking that the way the car was moving reminded me of a startled, ferocious animal suddenly trapped in a cage. It was as if the car was a living entity, with a mind of its own. Moments later, the car came to a stop for what I hoped was the last time. It seemed like it took forever for the cloud of dust to dissipate. Sauer sat there in the car with his eyes fixed straight ahead. Today, if I close my eyes, I can still picture the look on his face.

Because of the erratic way Sauer been driving in the dirt, by the time it came to a stop, one of the deputies found himself standing about ten feet in front of the Mustang. The engine revved as if the car was not only alive, but also angry. I wondered, “What is this guy going to do next?”

Jeff Sauer, who, for all intents and purposes was caught, had absolutely nowhere to go. He was trapped. There were so many patrol cars blocking the road that a tank would have had a difficult time making its way through the blockade.

Although I was fully aware that the situation was far from stable and I hadn’t let my guard down a bit, I thought the event was all but over. I thought Sauer had no choice but to give up. But he didn’t. Sauer hit the accelerator. To this day, I thank God the dirt was soft. I remember seeing the rear tires of the Mustang sink into the dirt. But the dirt couldn’t prevent the powerful machine from gaining the traction it wanted. The car slowly inched forward before it jumped suddenly toward the deputy. The deputy, whose gun was already drawn, fired two quick rounds into the windshield as he hurried to get out of the way of car that was now barreling toward him.
I was standing to the deputy's right, on the driver’s side of the Mustang. I fired what I thought was a quick burst of two or three rounds into the driver’s window. I remember seeing both the driver and passenger door windows shatter. My mind had me convinced that I saw the first two bullets leave the barrel of my gun. My mind, at a moment of severe critical incident stress, had me convinced that I was watching the rounds slowly make their way downrange and penetrate both front side windows of the vehicle. I could hear the click of my trigger, but not the explosion of the gunshots. This was not because the sound of the gunshot was deafening, but because one of the body’s defense mechanisms to stress and fear can be the temporary dampening of some of the senses. For me, it was my hearing.

My depth perception was also distorted. The Mustang, which, in reality, was only several feet away, looked like it was a mile away. As I pulled the trigger over and over again, I remember saying to myself, “I can’t believe I’m actually in a shooting!”

The other deputy was able to jump out of the way of this vehicle that seemed demon-possessed. The Mustang turned sharply to the left. It was now coming straight at me. My back was to a row of hedges, which surrounded a large electrical box. I had patrol cars to both sides of me. I had nowhere to go. I fired my weapon again. I realized that my duty weapon was not going to stop an oncoming car. I figured that my only chance was to incapacitate the driver, to stop the threat by killing Sauer. For a moment, I had resigned myself to the fact that I was going to get hit by this out of control car. And it was going to hurt…a lot. I might be killed. What will Mahria and the girls do?

Fortunately, or should I say by God’s grace, the Mustang collided with one of the patrol cars and inexplicably spun away from me, instead of into my body. The car spun about 90 degrees and came to a stop. Once again, the dust settled. To my amazement, Sauer was still alive. He now sat behind the wheel of the car laughing. Laughing!

Fear was replaced by pure anger. I was angry because this guy just tried to kill me and another deputy. But even beyond that, I was angry because Sauer had seen to it that I wouldn’t get to the hospital in time for Michelle’s surgery. I had promised her that I would be there. I made that promise to her the day she was born. I needed to be there, and because of this man I wouldn’t be there. I knew I would be at the scene and at the station for hours reviewing the incident with supervisors and investigators.

Sauer had yet to give up. Several deputies were now at the driver’s door of Sauer’s car yelling at him to raise his hands and to get out of the car. He refused. I ran from my position, climbed onto the hood of the Mustang (not a wise tactical move), and held the barrel of my weapon an inch or two away from the windshield, pointed between Sauer’s eyes.

I was angry. This guy was keeping me from my little girl. Nobody does that! I began to apply pressure to the trigger as I yelled at him to get out of the car. The rage inside of me was so intense that I could feel my eyes well up with tears. I was going to pass sentence on Sauer before I arrested him. I had made up my mind to execute this man because he tried to kill me and because he was keeping me from my little girl.

I continued to squeeze the trigger. “He had to die for this!” I thought. A dozen deputies surrounded him. The car was no longer running. The level of threat no longer justified the use of deadly force. Then I heard an inaudible voice in my head and in my heart quietly but firmly whisper, “It’s over.” I holstered my weapon, jumped off the hood of the car, and helped the other deputies pull Sauer from the car.

Sauer struggled to the last second. Even though he had several deputies on top of him, he still wanted to fight. I was able to get him handcuffed and it was over. Fortunately, no deputies were hurt. The extent of Sauer’s injuries came as a result of the fight after the shooting.

To give you a better idea of how fast this shooting, and situations like this, occur, let me break down the incident into a rough time sequence. The actual pursuit of the Mustang lasted about eighty seconds. Sauer driving in the dirt at the end of the road and coming to a stop, then accelerating toward the other deputy, the two of us shooting at Sauer, Sauer losing control of the vehicle and driving toward me, firing again at the car while I anticipated getting hit, the car crashing into a patrol car before it hit me, the time it took me to climb on the hood of the car and decide not to execute Sauer, pulling Sauer from the car, and fighting with him before getting him handcuffed took approximately twenty-five seconds. The entire incident lasted about two minutes, yet seemed to go on forever.

The cell phone was still a relatively new device in the early nineties. One of the field sergeants had one in his car and let me use it to call Mahria at the hospital. A nurse or volunteer picked up the phone in the surgical waiting room. “Hello.”

“This is Tony Miano. My daughter, Michelle is having surgery. I need to speak to my wife, Mahria.”

“I’m sorry, sir. We don’t allow incoming calls.”

“I’m a deputy sheriff. I’ve just been involved in a shooting. Now put my wife on the phone!”

“Oh! Just a moment please.”

“Tony? Where are you?” Mahria asked. The tone of her voice was a mix of worry and disappointment.

“Honey, I’m all right.” This sentence has served as a code, of sorts, between Mahria and me. Mahria knows that whenever I call her from the field or from the station and begin the conversation with the sentence, “Honey, I’m all right,” she immediately understands that something very bad has happened.

“I’ve been involved in a shooting. A guy just tried to run over Doug and me with a stolen car. We’re not hurt. No deputies are hurt. And I didn’t kill the guy. Not a single round hit him. Honey, I’m not going to make it to the hospital tonight.”

We both cried.

Someone drove the other deputy and me, separately, to the station. We were told to have a seat in the downstairs assembly room. We were allowed to be in the same room, but we weren’t to talk with each other about the shooting—not until we were each interviewed by the Internal Affairs investigators. A couple of more-seasoned deputies stayed with us, guys who had experienced shootings of their own.

As the late afternoon turned to night, our fellow deputies—sometimes one at a time, sometimes in small groups—came to the assembly room to check on us. The words were few, but always reassuring. “Glad you’re okay.” “Good job.” “Everything I’ve heard says it’s a ‘good shooting.’” I also heard, more than once, one of my fellow deputies say, “Too bad the @#$^&* is still alive.”

This last sentiment, albeit well intentioned toward me, created yet one more struggle inside me. I found myself agreeing with the sentiment, wishing Sauer was dead, while, at the same time, fighting off feelings of guilt—guilt for not hitting the target and guilt over the carnal desire of wishing I had. Wishing I had shot Sauer did not stem from some righteous desire for justice. No, I was not that noble. At that moment, I was wishing I had shot Sauer in order to appease my sinful desire for vengeance.

Even with the visits from my brethren, I was going stir crazy sitting around waiting for the investigators to finish processing the scene and interview the other deputies who witnessed the shooting. The “shooters” are always the last people to be interviewed. I couldn’t stand sitting around, doing nothing, while Michelle was on the operating table. It didn’t help having one sentence repeat itself, over and over again, in my head.

“Not a single round hit him.”

Investigators and other deputies would later tell me that they found four of my bullets on the driver’s side floorboard, of the Mustang. They penetrated the car only to land at Sauer’s feet. One of my rounds skimmed across the top of the steering wheel. And two of my rounds shattered the two front side windows. Two of the other deputy’s rounds penetrated the windshield directly in front of Sauer.

I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to talk to somebody—somebody other than a fellow deputy (albeit caring and well-intentioned) who was going to pat me on the back and ask me if I wanted something to eat. I didn’t want to eat. I didn’t want another pat on the back. I didn’t want anyone touching me. I didn’t want to hear again about what a good job I did. I just wanted to get out of there. I wanted to be left alone while, at the same time, I couldn’t stand the thought of being alone.

“Not a single round hit him.”

Then I began to ask myself the “why” questions. “Why isn’t he dead? Why didn’t I hit him? How could I have missed him? Am I bad shot? Did I choke?”

Then more important questions came to mind. “Why did you let this happen, God? Why today? Why not any other day but today? Why would you keep me from being with Michelle and Mahria? Why is Sauer allowed to live, while my little girl has to endure so much pain and hardship? What am I suppose to learn from all of this? How will I get through this?”

I looked at the phone on the wall. I decided to call the man who was my pastor at the time, Jeff Steele—a godly and wise man, a good teacher and spiritual mentor, and a good friend. “Jeff. I’ve been involved in a shooting. I’m okay.”

I was tired. I gave Jeff just a few details about the shooting. I can’t remember if I asked him any of the “why” questions. Jeff assured me that he and the church family would be praying for me. Just hearing his voice helped to calm me down a bit. Talking to Jeff reminded me that I was a Christian and that it was time to pray and to exercise some faith.

It wasn’t long after I got of the phone with my pastor that the sentence that had been repeating itself over and over again in my head was replaced by a different thought, a better thought. “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).

All joy? At that moment in time, I couldn’t think of a single thing for which to be joyful. I had just been involved in a shooting. My daughter was on an operating table. My wife was alone at the hospital, waiting out the surgery by herself. I felt like I was under house arrest (even though I wasn’t) while I sat waiting to talk to investigators, wondering if the department would, in the end, approve of my actions and my tactics. And I missed the guy that tried to kill me and another deputy. Yes, I was alive. But, at that moment, that was of smaller conciliation than you might think. Not a single round hit him!

The incident occurred at about 4:30pm. I finally walked through the front door of my home just before midnight. My mother-in-law was staying with our then youngest daughter, Marissa, who was just a toddler. Mom gave me a hug and we just sat quietly in the living room. I don’t think she knew what to say. What could she say? What do you say to your son-in-law who was involved in a shooting? She had no experience from which to draw. Come to think of it, neither did I before that fateful day.

I didn’t sleep much that night. I replayed the incident over and over again in my mind, critiquing my tactics and emotions with each repetition, seeing Sauer’s face and the faces of my fellow deputies, seeing the bullets leave my gun, and seeing the car coming toward me. I was also overwhelmed with feelings of guilt for not being at the hospital with Michelle and Mahria. I could picture in my mind Michelle crying and asking for me. It was more than I could take. At some point during the early morning hours, exhaustion took over and I fell asleep.

I awoke the next morning tired, but anxious to get to the hospital. Once I arrived at the hospital, I think I spent most of the morning apologizing to Michelle and Mahria—not because they wanted or expected it, but because I felt I had to.

Mahria and I walked to a nearby restaurant for lunch. I wanted to spend some time debriefing with Mahria, away from Michelle’s listening ears. As we walked through a store parking lot, I looked to my right and saw a white Mustang driving toward us. The car was moving slowly, but it was moving toward us. I felt my pulse and breathing quicken. I carried my off-duty weapon in a “fanny pack,” around my waste. Instinctively, I unzipped the pack and began to reach for my gun. I was reliving the previous day’s incident. I was about to draw my weapon to engage the poor, unsuspecting shopper who was simply making his or her way through the parking lot.

Thankfully, as quick as the thought had entered my mind it left. I shook my head realizing that I was not at the end of the dirt road, and Jeff Sauer wasn’t driving the car with the intention of killing me. I took Mahria by the arm and quickly moved out of the way of the oncoming car.

“What’s wrong?” Mahria asked.

“You see what kind of car that is? It’s a Mustang. That’s what the guy was driving that tried to run me over. I almost pulled my gun and pointed it at that car.”

More tears.

Over the next couple of days, my sleep pattern returned to normal (whatever that is). The times I relived the shooting in my mind slowly became fewer and farther between. What is known today about critical incident stress, as well as the importance of critical incident stress debriefing and management (CISD/CISM) wasn’t widely known thirteen years ago—certainly not by the average street cop. In fact, the closest I came to a CISD after the shooting was a pat on the back from other deputies and someone asking me if I wanted onions on my hamburger.

Be that as it may, and as practical and useful tools as CISM techniques are today, it was my faith in Jesus Christ that saw me through that critical time in my life. “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).

The departmental investigation determined that the other deputy and I had acted within department policy and were, therefore, justified in using deadly force. Jeff Sauer took a plea bargain to two counts of attempted murder on a peace officer. He was sentenced to eleven years in state prison, of which he initially served about six years.

Today, more than fourteen years after the shooting, I no longer ask myself why God would allow me to experience such a critical incident. God has graciously answered that question.

On Saturday, February 6, 1993, I had no idea where I would be today, or what I would be doing now. But God knew. The Lord allowed me to endure the experiences of that day knowing that I would tell the story many times. He knew I would share the story on this blog and on Way of the Master Radio. He knew that I would tell the story in churches, seminars, and conferences. And he knew that I would spend quieter moments in coffee shops, restaurants, living rooms, and over the hoods of patrol cars sharing the story with other officers facing the challenge of living above and beyond their critical incidents. The Lord allowed me the experience of that fateful day so that I could use the experience to counsel and encourage my brothers and sisters behind the badge.

When the passage in James first came to mind, I struggled with the idea of finding joy, let alone pure joy, in such a difficult incident. Not any more. Looking back all these years later to the countless times the Lord has allowed me to use this experience to minister to others is, for me, cause for great joy. Whereas fourteen years ago my heart and mind were filled with “why,” today my heart and mind is filled with “Thank You, Lord.”

As the passage in James says, so my life reflects. The Lord allowed me to be involved in a shooting, while my daughter underwent surgery, to test my faith. He allowed me to experience such a test to produce endurance in my life—physical, emotional, and spiritual endurance. The result of the test and the endurance it produced was that my faith in Christ matured. I also matured both as a man and an officer that day. Being put in the position of having to try to take another life, being in a position to look death in the eye and live to talk about it, has a way of bringing about maturity in one’s life. I also matured in that, over the years, I have come to realize that because of my faith in Christ, I lack nothing. Everything I need to safely navigate the trials of this life, critical incidents on duty and off, is provided by the One who loved me enough to die on the cross for my sins—Jesus Christ.

My faith in and relationship with Jesus Christ is not “fire insurance.” I have faced many trials, both professional and personal, since that day in 1993. But through it all, the Lord continues to teach me “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate [me] from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus [my] Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

On that Saturday afternoon, fourteen years ago, I did not want to take a life and I did not want to die; but I was ready to do both. You are not hearing heroism or arrogance in my words. Instead, what you are hearing is confidence—not self-confidence, but confidence in my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. “Do not be afraid of sudden fear nor of the onslaught of the wicked when it comes; for the Lord will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being caught” (Prov. 3:25-26).

I was ready, if God had willed it so, to stand before Him. I was ready to pass from this life to the next. How about you? Are you ready? Are you ready to stand before the holy and righteous Creator of the universe? Do you realize that when you do stand before Him He will judge you according to the standard of His perfect Law—the Ten Commandments? How will you do on that day? To find out, honestly answer the following questions.

Have you ever told a lie? Have you ever taken something that didn’t belong to you, no matter how insignificant it may be? Have you ever hated anyone? “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer” (1 John 3:15). Have you ever looked at another person with lust? “Everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). If you answered honestly, then according to God’s Holy Moral Law, and by your own admission, you are a lying, thieving, murdering, adulterer at heart. And these are only four of the Ten Commandments.

Will God find you innocent or guilty of breaking His Law? If you are honest with yourself (just as I had to be), you must admit that God will find you guilty. And being a good and righteous Judge, God will sentence you to eternity in hell as the just punishment for breaking His Law. Does that concern you?

If it concerns you (and I sincerely hope it does), then you should also know that there is hope for you. There is good news. The good news is that God doesn’t want to send you to hell. So, He sent His sinless Son, Jesus Christ—God in the flesh—to pay the penalty for your sins. He did this by taking your place of punishment when He shed His innocent blood and died on the cross. Three days later, He defeated death when He rose from the grave. “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

So, what must you do to be saved? You must recognize that you cannot save yourself and escape God’s judgment. You must confess your sins against God, repent (turn away from your sins), and put your trust in Jesus Christ alone for your salvation.

Cry out to God, right now. Ask Him to forgive your sins. Turn away from your sins and receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. If you do, instead of receiving what your deserve, which is eternity in hell for breaking God’s Law, you will receive what you do not deserve, which is His grace, mercy, and the free gift of eternal life. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

As my story shows, a relationship with Jesus Christ is not a guarantee of a life without trials or tribulations. In fact, Jesus assures us of the opposite. He said, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Might the Lord bless you in this present life? Yes. He has blessed me beyond measure, and beyond anything I could ever earn or deserve. However, for the Christian, for the born-again follower of Jesus Christ, the hope is ultimately a future hope. The Christian’s hope is to one-day spend eternity in heaven, with the Lord of lords and King of kings, Jesus Christ.

Will you join Him there? If your answer is “yes,” then look to your trials with pure joy, knowing that the Lord with whom you will spend eternity allows your trials to test and mature your faith. If your answer is “no,” then may today be the day of salvation, for you. May today be the day you repent of your sin and receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.

1 comment:

Ron and Ginny said...

Hey, thanks for leaving a comment about our blog linking to your blog. :-) I'm sorry that I didn't let you know that I was going to do that. I guess I should. I'm new to this blogging stuff. Your story really blessed me and I'm hoping that it will speak to some of my unsaved family members. Thanks! -- Ginny