Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Would You Stop Someone from Driving Over a Cliff?

Take a close look at the break in the freeway, at the far left side of the photo. It will become very important as you read the following story.

On January 17, 1994, at 4:30 a.m., I was working an early morning traffic car in Santa Clarita, California. The night had been relatively quiet, and, if my memory serves me right, it was unusually warm for January. I received a call to assist the car working the Castaic area on a possible attempted suicide call. Several units rolled because the call indicated that the manner in which the person was planning to kill herself was with a shotgun. The word “possible” meant the desk wasn’t sure what we were going to run into when we got to the location. It turned out that the woman was just mad at her boyfriend and really had no intention of killing herself with the shotgun that was in the house.

Once the situation was resolved, we walked out of the house and got back into our cars. As I started the engine, I immediately felt myself driving backward and up onto the sidewalk. Tony, you knucklehead, I thought, put the car in drive, not reverse. I looked at my dashboard to discover that although my car was moving, it was still in park. And then the ground really started to shake.

Having lived in Southern California most of my life, I was very familiar with earthquakes. I could tell this was a big one. The rest of the deputies who were with me simultaneously came to the same conclusion, evidenced by the fact that we all jumped out of our cars and ran to the middle of the street at the same time.

As the earth shook, we could see transformers exploding throughout the city. To the south, I could see a bluish glow around the peaks of the Santa Monica Mountains, which separate the Santa Clarita Valley from the San Fernando Valley. Electrical explosions and fires already taking place in the San Fernando Valley caused the glow. We would later learn that we were a mere seven miles northeast of the quake’s epicenter in Northridge.

Once the ground stopped shaking, we all got back into our cars and raced south on the I-5 Freeway to Santa Clarita. We had critical facilities to check—places like chemical plants and city government buildings, not to mention the two dams within our jurisdiction. I was the first car in line as we headed down the freeway at about 90 mph. It wasn’t long before my car was airborne, having crossed the first break in the freeway. Fortunately for me, the drop was only a foot or so. I got on the radio to let the other units behind me know that we should slow down, since the freeway south of us might not be there anymore.

Then I heard a call over the radio that no officer ever wants to hear. “Officer down!”

Officer Clarence Wayne Dean, an LAPD motorcycle officer, had been traveling southbound on the 14 Freeway, trying to get to his station. He was unaware that a portion of the 14 Freeway had collapsed, as a result of the earthquake. He drove his bike off the freeway, plunging to his death.

No one from the San Fernando Valley to the south could get to Officer Dean. As far as we knew, the 5 Freeway was still intact. So I raced southbound on the 5 Freeway, hoping to provide help for Officer Dean.

I made my way down the emergency lane, passing the traffic that had come to a complete stop in every lane. I assumed the traffic was stopped due to collisions or just drivers in a state of shock. As I came toward the cars that were stopped in the front of the line, a California Highway Patrol sergeant jumped in front of my patrol car. He waved his hands frantically in the air and screamed, “Stop!”

I hit the brakes and came to a stop just a few feet in front of the sergeant. “We’ve got an officer down! I’ve get to get down to the 5/14 split!” I yelled.

With an equal amount of command presence and volume, the sergeant replied, “I know there’s an officer down! But if you keep driving, in a mile or two you are going to drive off the freeway, too!”

My heart skipped a beat. The sergeant knew something I didn’t. He knew that just a mile or two ahead the 5 Freeway had collapsed near an area know as Weldon Summit. Had he not jumped in front of my car, I would have certainly met the same fate as Officer Dean. I, too, would have driven off the end of the freeway and plummeted to my death. If not for that sergeant (whose name, to this day, I do not know), there would have been two officers killed in the line of duty that morning instead of one (which is still one too many).

I thanked the sergeant for stopping my car. I turned my car around and drove back into the city. I drove around for a while, collecting my thoughts and reflecting on what had just happened, as well as what could have happened.

Looking back at that amazing moment more than fourteen years ago, I am reminded of an important reason why I share the Law and the Gospel with people. I don’t want anyone to drive over a cliff.

What if the circumstances were different that morning, in 1994? What would you think of the sergeant if he simply waved at me as I drove by? What if I had driven over the cliff to my death and the sergeant’s reason for not warning me was that he assumed I would see the break in the freeway and stop, before going over the edge? Or worse: what if the sergeant later articulated that he didn’t think it was his responsibility to tell me about the collapsed freeway? What if he expressed indifference about my tragic death? Would you think he was a good sergeant?

I am grateful to God that the sergeant cared enough about me to warn me about the danger. I am writing this article today, in part, because of the sergeant’s care and compassion.

What would you have done that morning, if you were that sergeant? Would you have jumped in front of my car as he did? Or would you have let me keep driving toward my inevitable death?

What would you have done?

The moral of the story is this. Everyday 150,000 people die. Everyday 150,000 people drive toward that eternal break in life’s freeway. Sadly, the vast majority of them drive right over the side to begin an eternal existence in hell. Who will you warn about the break in the freeway? Who will you warn about the wrath of God to come (John 3:36; Ephesians 2:3; Col. 3:5-6; Rev. 6:16-17)?

I could have acted foolishly and ignored the sergeant’s warning. Likewise, people can chose to ignore our warnings about the wrath of God to come. But if we truly care about people, if we are serious about not wanting anyone to spend eternity in hell, then we will lovingly try to warn them. And the most biblical way to do this is by using the Law of God (The Ten Commandments) to show the unsaved person their true condition, before a holy and righteous God (Romans 3:19-20; 7:7; Gal. 3:24). Once they’ve looked into the mirror of God’s Law and have seen themselves in their true light, then the good news of salvation by the grace of God alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone will make sense.

What you will find, if you use the Law the way God intended (1 Timothy 1:8-11), is that, more often than not, people will thank you for talking to them. Sure, some will walk away unmoved. Some will respond with sarcasm or even anger. However, keep in mind that your responsibility as a Christian is not to change a person’s heart and mind. Only God the Holy Spirit can do that. No, your responsibility is to lovingly warn people, share the gospel with them, and trust God to draw people to repentance and faith.

But what you shouldn’t do is simply stand aside indifferent to and unaffected by the fact that tens of thousands of people die every day, with most of them bound for hell (Matt. 5:21-22; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Rev. 21:8). If you do not love people enough to jump in front of their car (metaphorically speaking) and warn them about the eternal danger they face, do you really love God (1 John 4:7-21)?

Tough questions, I know. They are questions I must ask myself everyday. However, I truly believe how we answer these questions will say much about the nature of our relationship with Jesus Christ.

I am so grateful the sergeant jumped in front of my car that morning. My wife was pregnant at the time, with my youngest daughter, Amanda. Had he not stopped me that morning, I may not have lived to see her birth.

Would you stop someone from driving over a cliff? With whom will you share the Law and the Gospel, today?

Behind the Scenes of Way of the Master Radio (05-29-07)

Amanda (my 12-year-old) and I spent the afternoon at the Valencia Town Center where we did a little "street fishing." Jonathan (17) was the guest for the first hour of the show. Jonathan was a very personable and quiet young man.

I could see what appeared to be genuine concern in his eyes, as Todd Friel took him through the Law and the gospel. During my follow-up interview with Jonathan, I asked him where he thought he would spend eternity, prior to our meeting. He said, "Heaven." I asked him where he thought he would spend eternity after his conversations with Todd and me. He said, "Hell." I asked him if that concerned him, and he said it did.

I asked Jonathan if he had ever heard the gospel explained to him the way he heard it today. He said he attends a Catholic church every Sunday, but he had never heard the gospel shared in such a "straightforward" manner. Click here to listen to my conversation with Jonathan.

KC was the guest during the second hour of the show. Unlike Jonathan, KC was not humbled by the Law. Unfortunately, my conversation with KC was cut short by mall security. Click here to listen to what happened.

Whenever I talk to someone who is working (like KC), I always make it a point to let them know that I do not want to interfere with their business. When KC's boss came by her kiosk, I offered to take the phone from her, but she wanted to keep talking to Todd. My guess is that it was her boss who called mall security.

A neat by-product of my time talking to KC is that her friend, who was working the nearby ATT kiosk, was listening to the show on one of his computers. So, in addition to KC, her friend heard the Law, too.

All-in-all, it was another good day of fishing. Pray for both Jonathan and KC. Pray the Lord would lead both of them to repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Graduation Day

Today was a very special day for the Miano Family. Our middle daughter, Marissa, graduated from high school. I was blessed with the privilege of providing the commencement address, for the graduation ceremony. Here is the text of the address, which is titled, "Do You Trust Him?"
What an honor and privilege it is to celebrate with all of you the graduation of Cornerstone Christian School’s High School Class of 2007. Some of you parents are experiencing the wide range of emotions that come with seeing your first child graduate from high school. In fact, I received an e-mail from one of you regarding this very thing. Yet others of you, like Mahria and me, have been here before. But having the previous experience of seeing other children graduate does not quiet the fluttering heart, or stop the quivering lip, or straighten the upward curve of a proud smile, or dry the teary eye that such a special and momentous day brings. No, we the parents of the Class of 2007 are as proud of each of you as if you represented the first and the last of all graduating classes.

I do wonder at times, however, if you, the graduates, fully comprehend what your graduation represents. You are aware, aren’t you, that your graduation is so much more than a diploma earned so that you can go on to college, if you choose? Your graduation is not only a victory in your own scholastic career; it also serves as vindication—a vindication for your parents, for every time society and culture questioned their decision to educate you at home. You graduates are the tangible fruit of home education—the blessed by-product of a co-labor of love, devotion, perseverance, and faith between teacher/parent and student/child.

One of the rewarding aspects of homeschooling is that while you, the graduates, have earned your diplomas, you did not do the heavy lifting alone. Your parents helped you every step of the way. This is why your parents’ signatures appear on your diplomas.

Being members of a Christian homeschooling organization, we are here today to give ultimate recognition, honor, and glory to the King of kings and Lord of Lords, Jesus Christ—knowing that what our families have accomplished, culminating in your graduation, was only possible with the help, grace, and mercy of the Lord. So it is in His name—the name which is above every name, the name of the One before whom every knee will one-day bow—it is in His name, Jesus Christ, that I congratulate you for your scholastic achievement.

However, I have been asked to do more than congratulate you, today. I have been asked to present you with a charge. Now having spent the last twenty years in law enforcement, the first thought that comes to mind when I think of the word “charge” is either misdemeanors or felonies. I realize the word “charge” has another, less ominous meaning—a meaning that is more apropos for this occasion.

I would like to begin this charge, this word of encouragement, this challenge with a question. You graduates have chosen Proverbs 3:5-6 as your graduation theme. The passage reads: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”

Here is my question. Do you trust Him? Do you trust God with all your heart?

Now, I do not pose this question with any assumptions regarding your individual, spiritual condition. I do not assume to know your hearts, or the heart of anyone here, today. I face a greater challenge everyday as I try to discern the condition of my own heart, knowing the weakness and sinfulness of my own flesh. However, Scripture commands all of us who profess to be followers of Jesus Christ to examine ourselves. II Corinthians 13:5 says, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?”

So, I ask you, the graduates, and all who are gathered here today, to examine yourselves by answering this all-important question. Do you trust God? Will you trust God?

The passage you graduates have chosen for your theme begins with a command. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart.” I would like you to take a moment to think about the people in your lives, in whom you have placed your trust. Is there anyone on your list, long or short, whom you do not know?

You may be thinking, “That’s a silly question. How can I or why would I trust someone I do not know?” And that’s the point. You cannot trust someone you do not know. Trust begins with relationship. Trust begins with moving from the realm of simply knowing about someone, to knowing the person in a relational way.

Many people know about God, but fewer people truly know Him. To know God is to know His Son Jesus Christ. And to know Jesus Christ means more than simply conceding to the truth of His existence. It means more than simply knowing about Him. Before one can answer the question, “Do I trust God,” he or she must first answer the question, “Do I know God.”

Trusting the Lord the way a loving child trusts a loving parent comes from the recognition that the Lord is completely trustworthy. This is why this proverb is written as a command. There is nothing the Lord must do to earn your trust. As God, He rightly demands and commands trust from His children.

Trusting God is not an occasional or half-hearted proposition. To trust the Lord means to trust Him with all your heart. This means you worship and serve only one God. This means that He is first in every aspect of your life. Trusting God is so much more than believing He will do things for you.

Trusting God means that Christ is sufficient for you and you find your sufficiency in Him. No other relationship, no personal ambition, no fleshly or worldly desire will take precedence over your relationship with Christ, if you truly trust Him. If you do not trust the Lord with all your heart, then it is right for you to ask yourself the question. “Do I even know Him?”

Such a command can, at times, seem very difficult to follow. After all, we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). Jesus’ words are true. “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God” (Mk. 10:27).

It might be helpful to consider why, at times, we fail to trust God. Well, He was kind enough to answer the question through the admonishment He gives in the second half of verse five. “And do not lean on your own understanding.” More often than not, our failure to trust the Lord can be traced to our reliance on our own fleshly and all-too-often selfish wisdom.

We lean most heavily on our own understanding when we rationalize and justify our sin. We say things in our hearts and minds such as, “God will understand if I do this or that. After all, He wants me to be happy.” Or, “God understands how hard I’ve worked and how important this is to me. Surely He won’t mind if He takes a back seat for a while.” Or, “The Bible may call what I’m doing sin; but God knows my heart.” Oh, how foolish we can be at times!

I find it interesting that when people quote Proverbs 3:5-6, they rarely, if ever, include verse seven. “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil.” To lean on our own understanding is to be wise in our own eyes. To lean on our own understanding is to fear or revere man rather than God, the consequence for which is often running toward sin instead of fleeing from it.

Some of you graduates have already entered the intellectual and spiritual minefield of secular humanism—a minefield that is also known as college, university, or seat of higher learning. In some of these institutions, some of which apply god-like status to the fallible intellect of man, you will be challenged on a daily basis to lean on your own understanding, or the understanding of the majority opinion, or the understanding of secular progressive professors. Don’t do it! Some of what you will hear will sound as inviting as the serpent’s offer to Eve in the garden. Do not lean on your own understanding. Instead, trust in the Lord with all your heart. Do you trust Him? Will your trust Him?

Trusting God means that we acknowledge Him in everything we do—in all our ways. Those with whom I am blessed to provide discipleship, I challenge them to consider the following when making decisions or when evaluating their own behavior. Would you think, say, or do this if Jesus were standing next to you?

This is not as simple as considering the too-often-trivialized adage, “What would Jesus do?” Those of us who know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior should only ask that question rhetorically. We should already know the answer.

What would Jesus do? He would do what is right, obey the Word of God, and glorify His Father in heaven. Instead of asking ourselves what Jesus would do, we should ask, “What does Jesus think about what I am doing, saying, or thinking?”

A likely temptation that may come from doing such close self-evaluation is to weigh the cost of doing what is right as being too heavy. In other words, we might be tempted to choose not to acknowledge the Lord in a particular area because the cost might be more than we are willing to pay—whether it is a relationship, a job, a grade, or even how we chose to spend our leisure time. Let us not forget what Jesus said. “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul” (Matt. 16:24-26)?

Trusting God means that we acknowledge Him in everything we think, say, and do. It means we are of one mind with the apostle Paul, who wrote: “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father . . . Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality” (Col. 3:17, 23-25).

Do you trust God enough to do this? Do you trust Him? Will you trust Him?

Trusting the Lord to the point that you seek to bring Him honor and glory in everything you think, say, and do brings with it the fruit of a wonderful promise. The Lord “will make your paths straight.”

God is so very good and kind to those who truly know Him and put their trust in Him that He provides humble sinners with clear direction. King David, inspired by God Himself, knew this when he penned these words. “Good and upright is the Lord; therefore He instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in justice, and He teaches the humble His way. All the paths of the Lord are lovingkindness and truth to those who keep His covenant and His testimonies” (Ps. 25:8-10).

If you ever question if the path you are taking in life is the path the Lord has for you, simply look for two very clear road markers—lovingkindness and truth. Are the paths you choose to walk—career paths, relationship paths, ministry paths, even paths concerning your choices of hobbies and entertainment—are these paths lined with these two important road markers? Examine yourselves and see.

Are you able to see the Lord’s lovingkindness in everything you do? Are the decisions you are making consistent with the truth of His Word? If not, it is not because the Lord has somehow strayed or changed His ways. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He never changes. No, in such instances it will be you who has strayed from the straight path.

And let us not forget that Jesus told us that the straight path, paved with a trust in the Lord that can only come as a result of genuine repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, is not only straight, but it is also narrow. Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matt. 7:13-14).

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” Though life’s road may be strewn with potholes, and though a sinful world will hold signs in front of you enticing you to go another way, if you will but trust in the Lord with all your heart, without relying on your own wisdom, He promises to lead you and guide you down a road the destination of which is eternal life in the presence of the Lord, in heaven. Do you trust Him? Will you trust Him?

Before I close, I think it is important that I reiterate a point I made previously. My hope is that there is someone here who needs to hear this, today. One cannot begin to trust a God one does not truly know. Knowing God is the necessary starting point for trusting God.

Jesus made it very clear how a person comes to know Him. Jesus said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). To truly know God one must come to the realization that they have broken His Law and sinned against Him. Such realization comes with the understanding that the just punishment for one’s sins against God is eternity in hell.

The person who knows God is one who, having come to the awful realization of their sinfulness, turns away from their pursuit of sin and, by faith, turns to the only one who can save them from God’s holy wrath. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6).

Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, born of a virgin, the sinless Lamb of God, died a horrible death on the cross—the just for the unjust—taking upon Himself the punishment each of us deserve for our sins against God. Three days later He rose again, forever defeating death, and He is alive today. Those who, by faith, turn from their sins and put their trust in Jesus Christ alone, pass from death into life, are born again, and know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. They no longer know about God. They know Him! And He knows them. And those who know Him and are known by Him, having received the free gift of eternal life, will spend eternity with Him in heaven.

My hope is that part of the tangible fruit of this day of commencement and celebration is that anyone who entered this place of worship, today, knowing about God, but not truly knowing God, would, by the power of the Holy Spirit, repent of their sin and receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

And to you, the Class of 2007, my charge to you and my hope for you is this. Above your own plans and desires, trust the Lord. May your heart be enveloped and permeated by trust in the Lord. Acknowledge the sovereignty and lordship of Jesus Christ in every area of your life. Always defer to the Lord’s wisdom, given to you in His Word, before trusting in your own wisdom. Recognize the limitations of your wisdom and discernment, and how unlimited God’s wisdom and discernment is. Do this, trust Him in this way, and you will live a blessed life—one that brings honor and glory to your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Congratulations Class of 2007 for successfully completing an important leg of the lifelong journey God has set before you. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ as you begin the next leg of the journey.

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.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Message is Always the Same

Amanda and I prayed during most of the half-hour drive from our home to the Burbank Town Center. It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon. It was opening weekend for the movie "Shrek 3." We were looking forward to large crowds. But the largest sustained crowd in the area, throughout the afternoon was our relatively small team of evangelists (pictured above).

My first (and only) open-air preaching effort was a total bust. Even offering dollar bills and stuffed animals as prizes for answering trivia questions (a tactic that always draws a crowd) didn't work. So, we focused our efforts on one-to-one conversations, using our "Intelligence Test" display boards and "free books" table to get the people's attention.

Instead of drawing the attention of unbelievers, our first several conversations were with people who, as best as we could tell, were followers of Jesus Christ. After about an hour, I was concerned that we would spend the afternoon "preaching to the choir."

However, we kept at it, content with encouraging Christians, if that is how the Lord would have us spend the day. We also distributed several hundred gospel tracts, so we were at least getting the gospel into the hands of a lot of people. We also gave away several bibles, copies of Ray Comfort's book, How To Live Forever Without Being Religious, and copies of my book Running Beyond Inspiration. I also gave away several copies of my book, Take Up The Shield.

As I tell my fellow evangelists, the only time we fail in evangelism (so long as it is done biblically) is when we fail to evangelize. We knew the Lord would use our efforts, no matter how small, for His glory.

Brian and his mom (pictured above) were examples of the kind of people we talked to during the first part of the afternoon. They were humbled by the Law, expressed understanding of and agreement with the gospel, only to end the conversation by professing that they had already repented and believed the gospel, and were attending church regularly. But God's Word never returns void. If they were not truly born again, they heard the Law and the Gospel. If they were truly born again, then they were encouraged by the Law and the Gospel. Click here to listen to my conversation with Brian and his mom.

My sister, Cheryl, had a good conversation with a young man named Paul (pictured above). Paul was another person who professed faith in Jesus Christ. However, he had some questions regarding what he believed was man's goodness and God's judgment. Cheryl invited me to join the conversation and together we took Paul through the Law and the Gospel. Like Brian and his mom, Paul asserted that he had already repented of his sin and, by faith, received Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. Paul was new to the Burbank area, so I pointed him to a church in the Burbank area where some friends are members.

As the day progressed, the Lord blessed me with conversations with a couple of unbelievers--two men who were polar opposites, but bound for the same eternal destination apart from Christ. The first of these two men with whom I spoke was Arnold. He formerly served as a special forces soldier and is now serving as a federal agent. Click here to listen to our conversation.

Rudy was the name of the second young man. He dressed like, talked like, and carried himself like a member of the street gang sub-culture. Of course, nowadays, that doesn't mean he is/was a member of a gang. When I asked Rudy where he would spend eternity if God found him guilty of breaking His Law, Rudy said he hoped to go to purgatory. You should have seen the look on Rudy's face when I explained to Rudy that purgatory doesn't exist, that purgatory is not mentioned anywhere in the Bible, and that purgatory was something religious men contrived in order to make death more palatable. The look on his face and the tone of his voice was one of both surprise and genuine concern. Click here to listen to our conversation.

Neither men walked away having repented of their sin and having received Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior; but spiritual seeds were sown. Pray with me that God will cause an increase leading to salvation for both men.

As I look back on yet another good day of evangelism, I was encouraged by the following observation. Doing evangelism in a biblical way--using the Law of God to show people their need for God's grace, forgiveness, and salvation through Jesus Christ--is effective regardless of what kind of person is standing in front of you.

I talked to people from many different walks of life, on Saturday. I talked to people from several different ethnic backgrounds. I talked to people from different religious backgrounds and to people with no religious background whatsoever. I talked to people young enough to be one of my children and old enough to be one of my parents. I talked to a gang member, an ex-con, and a federal agent. Every conversation was friendly, even though I was confronting people with their sins against God and warning them about their eternal destination if they do not turn from their sin and receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. I unashamedly used words such as "hell," "wrath," "sin," and "judgment."

The point (one that I have made several times on this blog) is this. If we share the gospel the way Jesus and the apostles did, and if we do so in such a way as to express genuine care and concern for the people with whom we speak, we can talk to anyone--regardless of what they believe, where they live, what they do for a living, or what they look like.

Are there times when the conversations turn adversarial, even heated? Yes. Not everyone wants to hear the truth. But more often than not, people welcome such conversations with people who care for them. There have been many times when people, even if they do not walk away changed, thank me for taking the time to talk to them. They are thankful because no one has ever shared these things with them.

As you listen to the audios from last weekend's evangelism effort, you will notice something else. The message is always the same. Again, it matters not who you are talking to. The message remains the same. While the content and context of conversations may change according to the need of the moment, the message itself does not change. There is but one gospel for this lost and dying world.

With whom will you share the Law and the Gospel today?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Behind the Scenes of Way of the Master Radio (05-15-07)

Today's "street fishing" trip was much better than last week's. The fish were almost jumping in the boat, today. First up was a young man named Albert. Albert was a 20-year old phone company worker who is considering joining the military. Albert's initial point of view was that people simply cease to exist when they die. He believed there was nothing beyond this earthly existence.

Following his conversation with Kirk Cameron and Todd Friel, Albert said he was given much to think about. Unfortunately, Albert had to return to work, so I didn't have any time to follow-up with him. I did, however, put copies of You Have The Right To Remain Silent and How To Live Forever Without Being Religious into his hands.

The guest for the second hour was a young man named Eddie (pictured above). Today's was Eddie's 17th birthday. As I watched Eddie, while he talked to Todd, I could tell he was uncomfortable with what he was hearing. Like Albert, Eddie told me Todd had given him much to think about. When I asked him to be more specific. Eddie simply said, "God's judgment, and things like that." Click here to listen to my follow-up conversation with Eddie.

I turned off my tape recorder after I finished my conversation with Eddie. I said good-bye to Eddie and watched him and his friends walk away. But one young lady remained behind. Apparently she was not with Eddie's group. She happened by and heard my conversation with Eddie. Her name was Daniella.

With a somewhat forlorn look on her face, Daniella said, "But he didn't sin. He didn't do anything wrong." She was referring to Eddie. I explained to Eddie that he had admitted to breaking God's Law in several different ways.

Daniella asserted that everyone goes to heaven. She said she believed hell is what a person experiences when they feel bad for doing something wrong. She then told me she was a Christian.

I asked her what she would tell me if I told her I was not a Christian and I wanted to know what I must do to be saved--to go to heaven. She stuttered and stammered. After a few seconds she simply gave up. Although she professed to be a Christian, she could not tell me how I could become one.

I took Daniella through the Law. She again insisted that hell was not a real place. When I shared verses with her that taught the contrary, and explained to her that Jesus talked more about hell than He did about heaven, she said, "Well, how do you know things weren't added to the Bible.

As gently as I could, I asked, "How can you say that you are a Christian when you do not believe the Bible?"

She said that there were many types of Christians and many different churches. I told her that while that is true, if they are teaching and/or believing something different from what Jesus taught, namely that people must repent and, by faith, put their trust in Jesus Christ alone for their salvation, they may use the name of Jesus, but they are not Christian.

She continued to insist that everyone will go to heaven.

"If that is true, then do you believe that Hitler is in heaven?" I asked.

"Well," she said, "He's dealing with all of the bad things he did."

"Where is he doing that?" I asked.

She sighed, looked at the ground, and walked away. I asked her to stay and continue the conversation, but she would not. How very sad. This young lady was very nice, and she seemed to have a sincere and gentle heart. Yet she has convinced herself to believe a different gospel--one she could not clearly articulate--one that does not lead to eternal life.

It was another good day of fishing. Please pray that Albert, Eddie, and Daniella will come to repentance and receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Hollywood and God

This video will change the way you watch movies and television.

A Heart Melts Like Wax

Jerry, Ty, Mike, and I spent the evening on Brand Boulevard, in Glendale (CA). A group of war protesters were making their opinions known, on the street. Unbeknownst to them, Mr. and Mrs. Grim Reaper (pictured above) provided me with a useful visual aid and a good transition from the natural to the spiritual, as I engaged people in conversation, on the street.

The four of us had several good conversations, and distributed hundreds of gospel tracts.

For me, the highlight of the evening was a conversation I had with a young lady named Melanie. At first, she was flippant, sarcastic, and profane. But the Law and the Gospel changed that. Click here to listen to the audio from our conversation. Listen carefully to how her tone of voice changes. What you cannot see are the tears welling in her eyes as she listens to why Jesus died on the cross. It was like watching a heart melt like wax.

[Warning: There are several instances of profanity, in this audio.]

It was another great night of fishing. Please pray for Melanie's salvation.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

2007 Los Angeles County Peace Officers Memorial

What follows is the invocation I will bring to tomorrow's Los Angeles County Peace Officer Memorial service.


Lord God in heaven, I ask that you bless us as we gather here, on this hallowed ground, to honor the memory and sacrifice of the men and women who gave the last full measure to protect and serve the people of Los Angeles County. As you know Lord, while we gather to honor all of those whose names are engraved on this memorial wall, we are here to commemorate and honor the sacrifices of those whose names are most recently added to this special place—Deputy David Piquette, Sergeant Scott Hanson, Officer Landon Dorris, and Officer Clarence Bower.

Father, I ask that your peace that surpasses all understanding will guard the hearts and minds of the families, friends, and partners of these fallen heroes. Your Word tells us that You cause “all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to [Your] purpose.”

While we do not assume to know the extent of your plans and purposes, especially as it pertains to losses so great—the loss of some of our finest brethren in the law enforcement family—let us find solace and hope in the truth that even in the midst of our deepest grief and our most profound sense of loss, you can and will cause good to come from it. And may part of the good that comes be that we all draw closer to You, Lord. For Your Word is true and it tells us this. “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”

I join in the prayer of David, the psalmist and king. May this likewise be the prayer of each of my brothers and sisters behind the badge, who daily carry the banner of the law enforcement family, high and lifted up, answering the call to duty and service, everyday fighting a good fight.

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the defense of my life; whom shall I dread? When evildoers came upon me to devour my flesh, my adversaries and my enemies, they stumbled and fell. Though a host encamp against me, my heart will not fear; though war arise against me, in spite of this I shall be confident . . . Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27:1-3, 14).

Father, we thank You for giving us this opportunity to gather as friends and family, and to share in this day of honor and memorial. I pray that every word spoken and every tribute made during this ceremony brings You honor and glory, and serves as fitting acts of love and remembrance for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice while protecting and serving the communities of Los Angeles County. In Your Most Holy Name, I pray. Amen.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Class 359 Colors Run

The following is a prayer I offered at the site of Deputy Jake Kuredjian's memorial, Tuesday, on the occasion of the LASD Academy Class 359 Colors Run.


Gracious, heavenly Father, we are gathered here this morning to pay tribute to our fallen brother behind the badge, Deputy Jake Kuredjian. We thank You that while you have allowed us to experience various degrees of healing during the last several years, you have also not allowed us to forget our brother.

It is good that we honor his memory and his sacrificial service. And it is good that those who will soon join the law enforcement family look to their future careers by first honoring our family’s treasured past—a past that includes deputies who gave the last full measure—deputies like Jake Kuredjian.

Lord, I pray for the men and women of class 359. I pray that they will finish well the race they have begun with there academy training. I pray that they will not lose sight of the fact that although graduating from the academy is an important and necessary accomplishment; their academy training is only the beginning of their law enforcement education. Keep them humble with the realization that the best leaders are good students throughout their careers.

Father, I pray that you will guard their hearts and their minds. Protect them from the hardening of the heart that is all-to-common in our noble profession. Give them and help them to maintain hearts of compassion, courage, and integrity.

Help them to remain meek throughout their career; understanding that the true definition of meekness is not weakness, but rather power under control. Help them to exercise appropriate power, while maintaining appropriate control, as they protect and serve the citizens of our county, with honor and dignity.

Lord, we do not know if anyone in Class 359 will be called upon to make the kind of sacrifice Deputy Jake Kuredjian made. We pray that we never lose another brother or sister behind the badge. We pray this knowing that every fifty-seven hours, somewhere in this nation, one of our brothers or sisters is called to make the ultimate sacrifice.

Give the members of Class 359 the wisdom and discernment to clearly see what is in front of them and to be constantly and keenly aware of their surroundings. Give them the wisdom and discernment to remove the word “routine” from their vocabulary as they work the jails, handle calls, contact citizens, and stop cars.

And give them the wisdom and discernment to keep the primary mission of every deputy sheriff at the forefront of their minds—that mission being to see to it that they and/or their fellow deputies make it home at the end of every shift. In doing so, they will follow the lead of heroes like Deputy Jake Kuredjian, who gave his life so that his brothers and sisters behind the badge could make it home.

We thank You, Lord, for this day. Now, Lord, we humbly ask that You bless Class 359 as they finish this run and begin the race that is the life of a Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff. It is in Your Most Holy Name that I pray. Amen.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Doin' 63 in a 35

The following story was all over the news, for several days. Once you have read the story and have taken a moment to determine your opinions regarding the behavior of the people involved, I would like you to join me in looking at the story theologically. I believe there is an important lesson to be learned.

By The Associated Press
Originally posted on May 03, 2007

TAMPA — A sheriff’s deputy was suspended for manhandling a sobbing woman who was speeding to a hospital to see her ailing father and didn't want to wait for him to write a ticket.

After Deputy Kevin Stabins stopped Melissa Langston a second time in the hospital parking lot, video from his cruiser’s dashboard shows him yanking her from her car and slamming her against it.

“Please let me see my dad, “ she cries as he handcuffs her. “If it was your dad ...”

Stabins cuts her off, saying, “Now you’re not going to see him, ’cause you’re going to jail.”

Stabins, 29, was suspended for five days without pay for using excessive force. Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee signed off on the suspension Tuesday, and Stabins will begin serving it on May 22.

Charges against Langston, 37, were dropped.

“I think (Stabins) understands that he was wrong and could have handled it better,” Gee told The Tampa Tribune for Thursday’s editions. “On both sides, really, it could have been done better.”

Stabins first stopped Langston after clocking her driving 63 mph in a 35-mph zone near University Community Hospital in November.

The video shows her telling the deputy that her father had suffered a heart attack and had driven himself to the emergency room.

Stabins returned to his car to write a ticket, but after several minutes, she drove into the hospital parking lot. After a short pursuit, she brakes, and he strides up to her, saying, “That was not smart.”

“I need to get there. I’m sorry but — oh, [blasphemy]!” she says.

As he tries to pull her out of the car, her foot slips off the brake and the car begins to roll forward.

“Put it in park. Put it in park. Get out of the car. Hands behind your back. Now you’re going to jail,” Stabins says.

He gets Langston out of the car, put her in an arm lock that left bruises, spun her around, and slammed her against her car’s hood hard enough her feet leave the ground.

Her father, William Johnston, stayed in the hospital six days, his wife, Mary Johnston, told the St. Petersburg Times for Thursday’s editions. He went home with two stents in his arteries.


Before I reveal my purpose for writing this article, it may be helpful if I try to answer some obvious questions, particularly those questions that might be asked by those who are not part of the law enforcement family. I think it will be helpful to address some peripheral concerns in order to clear the air, so to speak, which will allow us to focus our attention on the theological implications of the incident chronicled in the above news report.

Some of you, having read the above article and/or seen the video footage of this incident, may have been disturbed by what you read and/or saw. Some of you might be thinking that the deputy overreacted and used too much force against a lady who was simply trying to get to the hospital. One thing I have learned over the last twenty years in law enforcement is I that should never judge an officer's actions based solely on what I see on a video tape.

A video tape does not have a heart, mind, or soul. While video tape can capture images, it cannot perceive danger, it cannot feel stress or fear, and it cannot discern the motives of any person's actions in the scene. Depending on the angle of the camera or the quality of the recording, a video camera may not see the subtle movement of a person's hands or a sudden shift in the direction of a person's eyes.

All a video tape can do is capture images. It cannot talk to or speak for the people involved in the recorded scene. Videos can also be edited in order to convey the opinion of the editor, which may or may not be consistent with the truth. Just as a Bible student should never take a verse or passage of Scripture out of context, neither should one look at a portion of a video tape in a vacuum. It must be viewed in its entirety and in its proper context.

Some of you may read this and ask, "Tony, what would you have done?" The most honest answer, one that may not appease some, is this. I don't know. I wasn't there. I was not Deputy Stabins who stopped a distraught Mrs. Langston. Would I have allowed Mrs. Langston to continue to the hospital, without writing her a ticket? Maybe. Then again, maybe not. Would I have detained Mrs. Langston by using the same level of force as was applied by Deputy Stabins? Again, the most honest answer I can give, for the reasons already mentioned, is maybe, and maybe not.

This may come as a shock (I say that tongue-in-cheek.), but people lie to the police. There is an old saying in the law enforcement community that goes something like this. "I know a person is lying because their lips are moving." Sadly, people lie so often to the police that an officer's first assumption is that the person in front of him or her is lying. It is very difficult for an officer to take a person's word, without some evidence to support the person's claims.

Furthermore--and this may come as a shock as well (another tongue-in-cheek statement)--some people, even those who may otherwise live quiet, non-aggressive lives, in times of heightened stress, fear, or anger, try to hurt police officers. Those who are caught after fleeing the police have a tendency to fight or draw weapons with the intent of harming the officer. So, again, I cannot say with absolute certainty if I would have used the same, more, or less force than Deputy Stabins used against Mrs. Langston. The video tape gives me far too little information to draw such important conclusions.

Let me make a few more points and reiterate a few others before I continue. I am sorry that Mrs. Langston's father had a heart attack. I am glad he survived. I understand her desire to get to her father as quickly as possible. If I were in her position, I likely would have committed a few vehicle code violations to get to my ill loved one. However, my rationalization for breaking the law would never put me above the law or exempt me from the just penalty I deserve for breaking the law.

At the same time, I will not sit in judgment of Deputy Stabins, having too little information about the incident and having never talked to him in person, about what happened. Having been the recipient of armchair quarter-backing more than once in my career, I'm not about to do the same to Deputy Stabins. Whether or not Deputy Stabins could have handled the situation differently or better, I will extend to him the courtesy of the benefit of the doubt, as a brother behind the badge.

Hopefully, having answered some inevitable questions about the incident, let's now look at the situation theologically.

Question: Did Mrs. Langston deserve to be let go by Deputy Stabins, without receiving a ticket, because of the circumstances? If we answer the question while looking at the situation through the lens of our humanness, our answer might be yes. Enforcing what would amount to an infraction, a simple traffic ticket, would seem to be far less important than allowing a woman to violate a speed law in order to get to the hospital to be with her seriously ill father. We may even go as far as to say that Mrs. Langston's well-intentioned effort to be with her ailing father outweighed her violation of what most people would consider a minor law.

Continuing with this point of view, we might look at Deputy Stabins with a level of incredulous disapproval. Our expectation of Deputy Stabins might be that he set aside the requirements of the law and put Mrs. Langston's felt needs above the enforcement of the law. We might see Deputy Stabin's enforcement of the law as insensitive, petty, and lacking compassion. We might find it offensive that Deputy Stabins used any force against Mrs. Langston, seeing how all she did was break the speeding law and then flee from Deputy Stabins in order to get to her father who, in her mind, might be dying.

Looking at the situation through the lens of humanness, we might go as far as to say that Deputy Stabins is not a good deputy.

Many people, and maybe some reading this, would agree with the above assertions and conclusions about the situation, Deputy Stabins, and Mrs. Langston. Many will look at this situation and see the law enforcer as guilty, and the law breaker as innocent. And this brings me to the point of this article.

If one chooses to see the law enforcer as guilty and the law breaker as innocent in this situation, is it any wonder mankind looks at God and His Law in a similar fashion?

Instead of looking at the above situation through the lens of humanism, let's look at the situation through the lens of the law.

Mrs. Langston clearly violated the law. Her speed was almost twice the posted limit. When she was stopped, she was not contrite or repentant. In her mind, her violation of the law was justified because of her perceived needs at the moment. "Every man's way is right in his own eyes; but the Lord weighs the heart" (Prov. 21:2).

When confronted about her violation of the law, she responded by exercising more self-righteousness when she argued with Deputy Stabins about the reasonableness of him stopping her. When Deputy Stabins exerted his legal authority by writing Mrs. Langston a ticket, she refused to accept the penalty by fleeing the scene. Her second violation was worse than the first. She was unable to escape the law, and her effort to do so exposed her to even greater wrath from Deputy Stabins.

How could Mrs. Langston have avoided the predicament in which she found herself? The answer is not that Deputy Stabins should have let her go. The answer is that Mrs. Langston should have obeyed the law. Mrs. Langston, at no point, deserved to be allowed to leave without a ticket.

Sadly, many (if not most) people view God the way Mrs. Langston (and maybe some who are reading this article) viewed Deputy Stabins. She did not know Deputy Stabins before their fateful encounter, yet her expectation was that Deputy Stabins would ignore the requirements of the law for no other reason than she believed her circumstances warranted such preferential treatment.

Sadder still is the awful awakening in store for those who find themselves standing before the Holy, Righteous Judge of the Universe, God Almighty--expecting leniency, but instead receiving righteous judgment. Like Mrs. Langston, any attempt to flee God's wrath, by one's own strength or ingenuity, will be both foolish and futile.

So where will you be on that day? "It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment" (Hebrews 9:27). The Judge will render His verdict quickly. There will not be any opportunity to plead "guilty with an explanation," like so many do in traffic court. There will not be an opportunity to put forth an affirmative defense. Justice will be swift and the verdict will be "guilty."

If you do not think you will be found guilty on that day, then 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? The Bible says, "Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer" (1 John 3:15). Have you ever look at another person with lust? Jesus said, "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.

God will judge you against the holy and perfect standard of His Law. He will not judge you according to your perceptions of the reasonableness or unreasonableness of His Law. Because God is a good Judge, He must judge rightly. And having found you guilty of breaking His Law, He will sentence you to eternity in hell, as the just punishment for your sins against Him.

The good news is that God doesn't want to send you to hell. He is so very good and kind that 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. "For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly . . . But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:6, 8). Three days later, Jesus 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. If you are thinking of trying to flee from justice, as Mrs. Langston tried to do, your only hope is to flee into the arms of a merciful Savior. You will never be able to outrun the justice of the Lord.

You must confess your sins against God, repent (turn away from your sins), and put your trust in Jesus Christ alone for your salvation. Trying to flee from the Law of God will not save you. Asserting your innocence or claiming some kind of privileged exemption from the Law of God will not save you. Your only hope is to repent and receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.

Oh, one more thing. It would not have been extraordinary if Deputy Stabins had shown Mrs. Langston leniency. Officers around the country show leniency every day. What would have been extaordinary is if Deputy Stabins issued Mrs. Langston a citation and, once she had signed the ticket, Deputy Stabins said to her, "Don't worry, ma'am. I am going to pay your fine."

This is exactly what Jesus did for those who repent of their sin and, by faith, trust Him and Him alone, as Lord and Savior. "For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit (1 Peter 3:18).

Obey the words of Jesus, while you still have time. "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel" (Mark 1:15).


You can also listen to a thought-provoking conversation between me and Todd Friel, during the second hour of the May 8 edition of Way of the Master Radio.