Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Behind the Scenes of WOTMR (07-31-07)

Chris and Brandon at the Courthouse -- Are they Saved?

That's the question I asked myself, today, as I left the grounds of the Santa Clarita Superior Courthouse. Chris--a 25-year-old warehouse worker, and Brandon--a 14-year-old freshman in high school: both claimed to be Christians. Both affirmed the gospel. Both agreed that those who do not know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior will spend eternity in hell. Both affirmed that Jesus is the only way to eternal life. Both described conversion experiences. Both attend church regularly. Both read the Bible at least as often as the so-called, average Christian. Neither Chris nor Brandon were arrogant or self-righteous. Neither seemed to glory in their sin.

But with both Chris and Brandon, something just didn't seem right. Their understanding of the way to eternal life seemed to ebb and flow the more Todd and I talked to them. Chris affirmed the need to repent and believe as the first fruits of salvation, yet when I took him through a "3-minutes-to-live" scenario, the best he could do was tell me to repeat a prayer after him. Brandon affirmed that Jesus is the only way to heaven, yet he readily admitted that he was not born again. According to Brandon, he once heard his pastor say that if you believe in Jesus you do not need to be born again.

So, what was the spiritual condition of Chris and Brandon. I don't know. Were they genuine followers of Christ who, because of the newness of their faith and/or the weakness of the teaching and discipleship they are receiving, simply do not know how to articulate their faith? Or, could it be that both Chris and Brandon are false converts--inoculated against the true gospel by the watered-down gospel of the modern church? Are they saved, or do they know just enough Christianese to make them sound saved? Again, I do not know. Thankfully, it is not for me to decide. So, when in doubt, I preach the gospel.

Pray for Chris and Brandon. Pray that they will, in fact, by the grace of God alone, be genuine followers of Jesus Christ, for His glory.

It was another good day of fishing!

How Should We Live In Light of the Coming End? (Audio)

Click here to listen to the sermon I preached last Sunday, at Granada Hills Community Church (CA).

Monday, July 30, 2007

"What Is The Gospel?" -- A Message by D.A. Carson

For those of you unfamiliar with him, D.A. Carson is a theologian and professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

Please take an hour of your time to listen carefully (with pen and paper in hand) to this very important message regarding the nature and the content of the gospel. Click here..... (It may take a few minutes to download the sermon. Be patient.) :-)

Carson's message is a survey of 1 Corinthians 15:1-19. In the message, Carson defines the gospel by explaining eight key words. They are: Christological, Theological, Biblical, Apostolic, Historical, Personal, Universal, and Escatological.

Carson summarizes the nature and effect of the gospel with five sentences. They are:

1) This gospel is normally disseminated in proclamation.
2) This gospel is fruitfully received by persevering, authentic faith.
3) This gospel is properly disclosed in personal, self-humiliation.
4) This gospel is rightly asserted to be the central confession of the whole Church.
5) This gospel is boldly advancing under the contested reign and inevitable victory of Jesus the King.

While I was well-fed by the entire message (and I believe you will be, too), there was something Carson said about the church in Corinth that immediately made me think of the various church movements of the last few generations (prosperity, seeker-driven, purpose-driven, post-modern, emergent, etc). His statement drove home the reality that there is nothing new under the sun--that everything being tried by segments of the church today can trace the roots of motivation to the Church in Corinth.

In discussing that the gospel is rightly asserted to be the confession of the whole Church, Carson said, "Corinth speaks of a lust for endless innovation while quietly side-stepping the careful instruction of the apostle . . . Always be suspicious of churches that proudly flaunt how different they are from what has gone before."

I hope you will take the time to listen to this message. Are you preaching the entirety of the gospel?

Sunday, July 29, 2007

A 'Must Read' Article

Please take a few moments to read a very concise and compelling article by Dr. C. Matthew McMahon.

The title of the article is Taking God's Name in Vain -- A look at the third commandment and how often we neglect it.

How's that for a short post! :-)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Ride of Your Life (New Gospel Tract)

Here's the artwork and text for my newest gospel tract. We hope to have it published in the next couple of weeks.

I am very grateful to Alex Persegona for his artistic talents. The artwork for this tract is an original design, by Alex. Thank you, Alex.


The famous children’s ride began and my car zipped by a whistle blowing British bobby who tried to stop me. My car continued to twist and turn through the streets of London, wreaking havoc along the way.

Before long, I found myself standing before a judge who pronounced me guilty of breaking the law. In a mad escape from the courtroom, my car ended up on a railroad track with the roar of a train and a very bright light heading directly toward me. After the crash, I was transported to hell—complete with demonic looking rats, a Satan figure, and a significant increase in room temperature. A few moments later I found myself at the end of the ride and walking out into the cool night air. A children’s ride at the Magic Kingdom provided a good picture of a spiritual reality.

Each of us has broken God’s Law. If you don’t believe it, then honestly answer the following questions. Have you ever told a lie? Have you ever stolen anything? Have you ever taken God’s name in vain? Then according to God’s Law, and by your own admission, you are a lying, thieving, blasphemer at heart. Every lawbreaker will one day find himself standing before God, the righteous Judge. The verdict will be “guilty.” And the sentence will be “death”—eternity in the torment of hell.

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. He took upon himself the punishment you rightly deserve for your sins against God when He shed His innocent blood and died on the cross. Three days later, He defeated death when He rose from the grave.

So, what must you do to be saved? Your only hope is to 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.

Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” is just that—a ride. It is a few moments of animated silliness that eventually comes to an end. But life is more than a silly ride. And when your life on earth comes to an end, you will spend eternity in either heaven or hell. Repent and place your faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, right now. You will pass from death into life and receive the free gift of eternal life. Please consider these things carefully. What’s at stake is your eternal destination.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Cops & Robbers (Behind the Scenes of WOTMR -- 07-24-07)

WOW! Or as my friend, Todd Friel, would say, "YOUZA!" The Lord truly blessed the "street fishing" segments during today's edition of The Way of the Master Radio.

My brother-in-law (actually he is every bit a brother to me), Ian, and I went fishing at the Santa Clarita Superior Courthouse. Oh, the memories I have of testifying in criminal cases, in this courthouse. I shared one of the more memorable stories during the second hour of the show.

Ian and I arrived at the courthouse, about twenty minutes before the first time scheduled for the "street fishing" segment. My attention was immediately drawn to two young people sitting on a bench, just outside the courthouse. Ian and I walked toward the library, a good 50 yards away from the young couple. The girl never took her eyes off of me. As photos on this blog and elsewhere clearly indicate, it was not my good looks that drew the young lady's attention.

She "made" me. And I her. What do I mean? She immediately identified me as law enforcement. She even waved at me, as if to say, "I know you're a cop." And, just by the way she looked at me, and the sarcasm in her wave, I identified her as someone who was or had been on the wrong side of the law.

Whether or not she would agree to be on the show, I had no way of knowing. But I knew I had to ask her--if for no other reason than to let her know that, for the moment, there was a truce between cop and robber.

Ian and I walked up to the young lady. Before I could get a word out of my mouth, she asked, "Are you a cop?"

"Well, I was for twenty years." I answered.

"I knew it. I don't like cops. In fact, I was talking a lot of smack about you before you walked up."

I extended my hand toward her and said, "Hi. My name is Tony, and this is my friend, Ian."

"My name is Jackie." She said, taking my hand and shaking it.

Two people who couldn't be more different from one another, from more different backgrounds, with more reason to loathe one another, were about to engage in an eternally important conversation. Two sinners--one born again, the other not--a cop and a robber--were about to have a civil conversation about the Law and the Gospel.

Jackie described herself as a "former porn star, turned career criminal." She said she was a gun dealer who had spent more time in jail than she cared to remember. She said she had been convicted of robbery and other crimes. She also bragged about just beating a gun charge that would have landed her in state prison for no less than thirteen years. She also bragged about being an entrepreneur--a "business woman." Yet she was wearing what looked like pajama bottoms, the bottoms of which were filthy and torn from excessive wear. Beneath the tattered hem of her pajama bottoms were simple beach sandals. Jackie was only twenty.

"I'm at the courthouse today doing a radio show." I told her. "The show is called The Way of the Master. The show airs live, Monday through Friday. During the show, we do a couple of segments in which we interview people on the streets. We ask people two somewhat provocative questions. 'Would you consider yourself to be a good person?'" And, 'What do you think happens to someone when they die?' You can say what you want and believe what you want. All we ask is that you don't swear, because it's live radio."

Jackie agreed to be on the show and to watch her language. Her mouth was that of a fifty-year-old salty sailor, not a twenty-year-old young lady.

I called the station and talked to Todd during the commercial break. I prepped him for what I believed would be a most interesting conversation. I also assured him that I asked Jackie multiple times to watch her language. Listen to Todd and Jackie's conversation.

Once Jackie was off the phone, I conducted a follow-up interview with her. One school of thought is that you never share grace with a person until they are visibly convicted by the Law. Well, Jackie did not appear to be very convicted. So we spent some time talking about the Law and judgment. As I talked to Jackie, I noticed a change in the inflection and tone of her voice. Ian noticed it, too. It was softening.

Although Jackie never indicated verbally that she was wrestling with her conscience, the more I talked to her, the more it seemed that the street-hardened criminal bravado was just a facade. And, every once in a while, she would say a couple of words that indicated to me that she--albeit doing evil, breaking the law, and completely and singularly responsible for her sin--was badly hurt at an early age. The victim was now the suspect.

Another school of thought, as it pertains to when we should share grace with an unbeliever, is this. When in doubt, when you are not sure if the person standing or sitting in front of you has been humbled by the Law, share the gospel. The reason being is that no matter how good we might be at "reading" people, we cannot know the exact condition of their heart. This isn't psycho-babble. It's simply trying to discern human behavior, which, for every person is, at it's very core, sinfully wicked.

I believed that somewhere inside of Jackie was a conscience that was being pricked, if even in a small way. Beneath the very tough exterior was a young woman in desperate need of help and care. She was very familiar with the law. And regardless of what she said or how she said it, I believed she knew she was guilty. I believed the thought of hell scared her, even though she insisted that it didn't. Why didn't it scare her? She claimed that since she was so good at evil in this life, she didn't fear a continuation of evil or suffering in the next life.

Since I couldn't be certain what impact the Law had on Jackie, I chose to share the gospel with her. I took her into the courtroom. Listen to our conversation.

As we said our good-byes, I gave Jackie a copy of How To Live Forever Without Being Religious and You Have The Right To Remain Silent (a tract that is very apropos outside a courthouse). She thanked me for the material and the conversation. She even shared the book and tract with her friend. An hour later, Jackie would walk by and say good-bye. She still had the book and tract in her hand.

Please pray for Jackie. Pray that the Lord will draw her to Himself, that she will be born again, and that she will repent and put her faith in Jesus Christ alone for her salvation.

As Ian and I walked around, trying to find a guest for the second hour of the show, I couldn't help but think of something I believe to be very important--especially to those who struggle with one-to-one evangelism. Again, Jackie and I could not have been more different from each other. Jackie loathed law enforcement, and I spent twenty years of my life trying to put people like Jackie in jail. Admittedly, I have no particular fondness of the criminal element in our society.

But Jackie is lost and bound for hell, whether she believes it or not. And, according to God's Word, I am to love my enemies. And the most loving thing I can do for my enemy is share the Law and the Gospel with them. If Tony "the cop" and Jackie "the robber" can have a civil (even friendly) conversation about the Law and the Gospel, can't you speak to your friends, family, neighbors, or the seemingly nice stranger on the street? Of course you can! If you're not sharing the Law and the Gospel with people, it's not because you can't. It's because you won't. And if you won't share the Law and the Gospel with people, can you honestly say before God and before your fellow Christians that you love the lost?

The second-hour "street fishing" segment couldn't have been more different that the first-hour segment. Carlos was our guest during the second hour of the show. Carlos was at the library with his twelve-year-old daughter, Alexi. They were just out enjoying the afternoon together. Carlos works in the janitorial services industry and he likes to collect books and write in his journals.

Like Jackie, Carlos considered himself to be a good person. Like Jackie, Carlos believed that when you die, that's all there is. He didn't believe in an afterlife. Unlike Jackie, who considered God to be "an idea," Carlos believed that God exists.

Unlike Jackie, Carlos seemed to have little to say during his conversation with Todd. It seemed as though he was listening intently and thinking deeply. At one point, while Todd was taking Carlos through the Law, he motioned to his daughter to go into the library. She declined, seeing her dad's hand gesture as a suggestion, not a command. It was as if the conversation was getting so personal that he didn't want his daughter to hear. Was Carlos' conscience at work? Listen to Todd's conversation with Carlos.

Carlos and I talked for a few minutes, after he got off the phone with Todd. Carlos was quick to admit that Todd had him thinking about heaven and hell, sin and judgment. He admitted that while he thought he was a good person before the conversation began, he realized that he had broken God's Law.

I reaffirmed the Gospel with Carlos. I asked him if there was any reason why he would not repent of his sin and receive Jesus Christ as His Lord and Savior, right now. Click here to hear Carlos' answer.

What a wonderful day of fishing. As I told Todd, I don't deserve the gift I have received--the gift of being part of the WOTMR team. It is so very humbling to be allowed to serve Christ in this way. More humbling still is being allowed to watch God work, as seeds are sown and nets are cast. All for His glory!

Open-Air Preaching in San Diego

The following video is of my good friend, Leon Brown, of Evangelism Team, open-air preaching in San Diego. Listen to this clear presentation of the Law and the Gospel.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Testimony of C.J. Mahaney

The following was posted on YouTube. There is no video--just a still photo accompanied by audio.

C.J. Mahaney is a wonderful preacher and teacher who leads Sovereign Grace Ministries. Listen carefully to C.J.'s testimony, in which he beautifully articulates God's amazing grace and the inability of man to choose God.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

How Should We Live When Suffering for Christ (Part 6 of 6)

Gospel Presentation
Think of it this way. You have found a priceless, matchless treasure. You try to have it appraised but no one can assign a monetary value to it. There is no treasure in existence to which the treasure you found can be compared. It is, in every sense of the word, priceless. It is a one of a kind treasure. Hitting the jackpot in Las Vegas or winning the lottery pales in comparison to the intrinsic value of this treasure. Everyone you talk to, appraisers and friends alike, encourage you to deposit the treasure in the bank. What would you do?

Would you simply thumb through the Yellow Pages and let your fingers do the walking and deciding? Would you entrust a public storage facility with the safekeeping of your treasure? Would you entrust a typical savings and loan institution with the safekeeping of your treasure? Would you entrust a government agency with the safekeeping of your treasure? Would you entrust it to the care of one of your fallible friends or family members? Would you hide it under your mattress and trust yourself? Difficult, isn’t it? If you were honest, you would say that you couldn’t think of a single person or entity to which you would entrust the priceless, worldly treasure. Over time, you would find that the mere possession of such a priceless, earthly treasure would be a source of stress as you worried about its safekeeping. You would worry about losing something so precious and irreplaceable. Over time, it might even come to mean more to you than life itself.

If we all were to honestly look back through the course of our lives, as far back as our early childhood, each of us could probably point to possessions that have meant as much to us as the treasure described in the illustration I just shared. Maybe for you it was a special toy you cherished as a small child. Maybe for you it was your first car—the one you polished and pampered incessantly. Maybe for you it was the first home you purchased, or the home in which you live today. Maybe for you it is your career to which you attribute so much of your status or identity. As you look down the corridor of your own life and think about the things you have cherished the most, to whom did you entrust their care? No one. They were too important to you to put into the hands of another. The treasure, whatever it was or is today, was or is not allowed out of your sight. It’s too important.

So, allow me to ask you this? What about your soul? To whom have you entrusted your soul? Maybe for most of you gathered here today the answer is obvious. But for others it may not be. Please do not be too quick to blurt out the name of God when answering such an eternally important question.

Listen carefully to the word of Jesus. He said:

"If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's shall save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels." ~ Mark 8:34b-38

True followers of Jesus Christ will not be surprised when persecution comes. Those who know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior will live with an attitude of authentic joy, seeing suffering as a blessing from God. Those who are truly His disciples will continually practice self-examination to make sure their suffering is a result of right Christian living and not a result of the sin in our lives. And when times of difficulty come as a result of sinful behavior, disciples of Jesus Christ will be quick to repent (turn from their sin) and seek God’s forgiveness. And, finally, those who are soundly saved, who are born again, will commend themselves to the wonderful, matchless care of God. All of this the Christian will do as a result of their salvation, not to earn their salvation. Such a gift can neither be earned nor deserved.

Does this describe you? Are you one who has received the priceless and most costly treasure anyone can ever receive—the free gift of eternal life? And have you truly entrusted your eternal existence to the only God who can safeguard it for all eternity? Or are you the pitiful person Jesus describes who seeks to gain the whole world while forfeiting his or her soul?

In his second letter, Peter writes: “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

God the Father patiently continues to gather His flock as He draws those whom He has chosen to save, to repentance and faith in His Son Jesus Christ. The time will come when He has finished His saving work. All those whom He will draw to Himself will come to repentance and faith. As we learned last week, the end of all things is near, and the glorious return of Jesus Christ is imminent. Will you be counted among those God has chosen to gather to Himself, for His glory and good pleasure?

If you have been born again and the fruit of which, namely genuine repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, is evident in your life, then you can answer yes, with confidence in Christ. Paul had this confidence, this sense of eternal security, when he wrote:

“Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, ‘FOR THY SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG; WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED.’ But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.

“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, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” ~ Romans 8:33-39

But if you are relying on your own perceived goodness, if you are relying on what you perceive to be your good works or your own brand of spirituality, if you fail to realize that you have broken God’s Law and are deserving of swift and eternal punishment in hell, then you can have no assurance of the free gift of eternal life. If you are living life in denial of the truth of God’s Word and in disobedience to what Jesus commands and requires of you, then it is you of whom John the Baptist spoke.

"He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." ~ John 3:36

Jesus said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again'” (John 3:3, 7). My hope and prayer for you is that God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, is drawing you to Himself. If He is, then you will be born again. And if you are born again, then you will turn from your sin and place your faith and trust in Jesus Christ alone for your salvation.

Cry out to God. Ask Him to forgive you for the countless times you have fallen short of His glory and sinned against Him. Tell Him that, with His help, you want to turn away from doing that which is displeasing to Him. Ask Him to save you from the just penalty for your sins and to give you a new heart with new desires. Ask Him to be your Lord and Savior.

How Should We Live When Suffering for Christ (Part 5 of 6)

“What will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel?” Listen to what the Word of God says.

"Then He will also say to those on His left, 'Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.'

"Then they themselves also will answer, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?' Then He will answer them, saying, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.' And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." ~ Matthew 25:41-46

Listen to what the Word of God says.

“And I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.

“And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. And death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” ~ Revelation 20:11-15

So how should we understand judgment as Peter explains it in verse 17? I think John MacArthur sums it up well. “It is infinitely better for people to endure suffering with joy now as believers being purified for effective testimony and eternal glory than to later bear eternal torment as unbelievers.”[1]

In verse 18, to support his point, Peter quotes Proverbs 11:31, as it is translated in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament. “And if it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved, what will become of the godless man and the sinner?”

Peter describes unbelievers with two terms: “the godless man” and “the sinner.” “The godless man” refers to those who are ungodly, who have no reverence for God, and who are impious in their attitude and conduct. “The sinner” refers to those who violate “the standard of God’s law as one who is willfully devoted to the practice of evil.”[2]

What Peter is saying is that if the born again follower of Jesus Christ—those who are saved by the grace of God alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone, completely separate from their works or own perceived goodness—face fiery trials of persecution because of their faith in Christ, and times of fatherly discipline when they sin and fall short of God’s glory, how much severer will the eternal punishment be for those who have no reverence for God and who willfully break His Law without so much as a second thought?

The writer of the Book of Hebrews agrees:

“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES. Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, ‘VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY.’ And again, ‘THE LORD WILL JUDGE HIS PEOPLE. It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” ~ Hebrews 10:26-31

Commend Yourself to the Wonderful, Matchless Care of God
So, how should we live when suffering for Christ? We should not be surprised when persecution comes. We should live with an attitude of authentic joy, seeing the suffering as a blessing from God. We should continually practice self-examination to make sure our suffering is a result of right Christian living and not a result of the sin in our lives. And, finally, we should commend ourselves to the wonderful, matchless care of God.

In verse 19, Peter writes: “Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.”

Please listen to what Martin Luther wrote about this verse. It really is beautiful.

“Those to whom God sends suffering that they themselves did not seek nor choose, should commit their souls unto the Creator. Such then fare well, they continue in doing good, turn not astray because of suffering, and commit themselves to their Creator, who is faithful. And this is great consolation to thee. God created thy soul without any care or assistance on thy part, when you did not yet have an existence. Therefore, trust him, yet trust in a way that it be done accompanied by good works, that you become not impatient, sad and angry, and be not provoked to take vengeance on those who cause you the suffering. Also murmur not against God . . . but hold fast on both sides, forgive your enemies and pray for them, and give God the glory that he is merciful, true, faithful, and that he will never forsake thee in thy need, but will graciously help you out of your troubles, although you may at the time feel differently.”[3]

How should we live when we face real persecution and suffering as a result of our faith in Jesus Christ? We should entrust our souls and every aspect of our lives to an infinitely faithful, infinitely powerful, infinitely merciful, infinitely gracious God who is the Creator of all things. And in commending ourselves to God’s matchless care we should commit ourselves to do what is right. James wrote: “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin” (James 4:17).

A mark of genuine faith is seen in how a Christian responds to persecution and suffering. In times of plenty or in times of want; in times of relative ease of in times of hardship; in times of acceptance or in times of persecution; in times of happiness or in times of suffering, the authentic follower of Jesus Christ will see their circumstances, whether positive or negative, as an opportunity to praise and glorify God.

A false convert will consistently fall away at the first hint of persecution, because they have never truly placed their faith and trust in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Their relationship with Christ is superficial and, ultimately, non-existent. They dress themselves, spiritually speaking, as a Christian, but in reality, their trust is in the world and in themselves. In the end, when push comes to shove, they are more interested in preserving as comfortable an earthly existence as they can, and have no regard for what their lack of faith looks like to the sovereign God of the Universe.

The word “entrust” comes from the Greek word that means “to commit” or “to deposit.” Interestingly, it is a banking term. Peter is telling us that we are to deposit all of our trust, and our very souls, into the care of our faithful Creator. This is how we will live, even in the face of persecution and suffering, if we are truly disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. We will trust the One who is completely trustworthy.

[1] Ibid. p. 256.
[2] Hiebert, D. Edmond: 1 Peter. Chicago: Moody Bible Institute, 1984, 1992, p. 294.
[3] Luther, Martin: Commentary on Peter & Jude. Translated and edited by, John Nichols Lenker. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Classics, 1990, p. 199.

How Should We Live When Suffering for Christ (Part 4 of 6)

Just in case his readers (and us) looked at the first three categories of offenders and they determine that none apply to them, he presents them with one final category—“troublesome meddlers.”

To be a troublesome meddler is to be a person who meddles in the affairs of others that are of no real concern to them. They are agitators—people who live for opportunities to stir the pot, so to speak. They are troublemakers. They are not criminals, per se. So why did Peter include troublemakers in his list of offenses. He did so to teach us that any sin, even sins that may seem minor to us, places us in the position to, for a time, give up the peace and rest the Holy Spirit gives, through a right relationship with Jesus Christ.

The category of troublesome meddler must also include the sin of gossip. And what does gossip often look like in the church? Has someone ever said this to you, or have you ever said this to someone else? “I’m only telling you this so you can pray.”

Knowledge is power. Knowledge can be a drug. Knowledge about other people can be a very addictive drug. When we know something we think no one else knows, our tendency, as sinful people, is to want to share that information with others—not so that we can encourage people to pray, but so that we can show people how knowledgeable we are, or how “in the loop” we are. Disguising gossip in the cloak of spirituality is an ugly thing.

If you are a troublesome meddler who has a tendency to gossip about others and you notice that Christians begin to distance themselves from you, stop sharing confidences with you, or begin to hold you accountable for your gossip; you are not a caring prayer warrior who is being persecuted for your faith. You are a troublesome meddler who is suffering the reasonable consequences for your sin.

Peter wants us to make sure that we recognize the difference between suffering undeserved persecution for the cause of Christ and suffering reasonable judgment and punishment as a result of sinful behavior. Having made the point, Peter reiterates a previous, important point. “But if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name” (v. 4:16).

I think it’s important to note, here, that the term “Christian” only appears three times in the New Testament. In addition to our passage in 1 Peter, it appears in Acts 11:26 and Acts 26:28.

“And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And it came about that for an entire year they met with the church, and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” ~ Acts 11:25-26

“And Agrippa replied to Paul, ‘In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.’” ~ Acts 26:28

In the 1950’s, there was a derogatory term making its way around college campuses. The term was “christer.” The word was used to describe people who, at the time, were known as fundamentalist Christians. Just as the term “christer” was used fifty years ago, terms like “evangelical” or even “evangelist” is used today. And such was the case 2,000 years ago. The term “Christian,” which was first used in Antioch, was a derogatory term used by Jews and other Romans citizens when referring to followers of Jesus Christ.

Peter is saying that even if men hate you because of Jesus Christ, even if they deride you, and mock you, and defame you, and even kill you because of the name of Christ, a sinful, fallen world cannot put the true follower of Jesus Christ to shame. And if God allows such persecution to fall upon His people, then He does so in order to bring Himself glory.

God’s Judgment in Suffering
What Peter says next in verse 17 is not a very popular subject, today, within the contemporary, evangelical church. He writes: “For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God.”

In determining the context of verse 17, we should look back not to verse 16, but rather to verse 12. “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you . . . For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?”

God’s judgment begins with the church—what Peter calls “the household of God.” This verse is an example of how important it is not to look at an individual verse or passage in a vacuum. We should not try to develop an entire theology on a single verse or passage. Instead, we should look to all of Scripture and allow Scripture to interpret Scripture. It is important we determine what Peter means by judgment, and we’ll look to God’s Word to do it.

What do we know about judgment as it pertains to God’s people—born again followers of Jesus Christ? Here’s what God’s Word says:

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” ~ Romans 8:1

“But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord in order that we may not be condemned along with the world.” ~ 1 Corinthians 11:32

“You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, ‘MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD, NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM; FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES, AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES.'

“It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” ~ Hebrews 12:4-11

It’s clear from God’s Word that genuine followers of Christ will not face a judgment that leads to condemnation and the just sentence of eternity in hell. God’s judgment of born again Christians will take the form of fatherly discipline. God allows His children to experience fiery trials in order to discipline, deepen, and mature their faith. He likewise allows Christians to experience discipline in the form of negative consequences when we sin against Him—just as a good father disciplines a disobedient child.

That being said, Peter’s use of the word “judgment” in verse 17 should be seen not as the final execution of sentence, but rather as a judicial process. We can see the word this way because Peter says that the judgment of God will begin with the household of God. While God’s judgment begins with the disciplining of His children, it doesn’t end there.

Peter ends his rhetorical question in verse 17 with these words, “What will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” Listen, again, to the Word of God.

“Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.'” ~ Matthew 7:21-23

I have often said that my heart breaks for those who fall into this category of unbelievers more than any other group of people—people who believe they are right with God because they think themselves religious or spiritual, because they attend church. They wrongly believe they are right with God, having created a god of their own imagination—a god that will not judge sin; a god that turns a blind eye to sin; a god that even looks favorably upon sin; a god whose job it is to do the bidding of created beings like a nameless, faceless doorman standing outside a posh hotel.

Their god will neither save nor destroy because their god can’t. Why? Their god doesn’t exist.

Sadly, churches around our country are filled with such people this morning—maybe there are some here. But a time is coming, and may already be upon us, in which the One True God will begin to purify His Church. He will separate the chaff from the wheat. The wheat will be gathered into His barn. The chaff will be burned away.

As I said earlier, I am not a prophet. But I believe the days of the so-called mega-church are numbered. Even those good mega-churches (albeit too few and too far between) that can boast of sound, biblical teaching and a truly God-honoring philosophy of ministry will not be around forever. Because even good churches that number in the tens of thousands have among their attenders and on their membership rolls false converts—people who go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, as if there are no consequences for sin.

It is important we all understand that although millions of people are packed into churches this morning, the authentic Body of Christ is much smaller than any of us realize. And again, when will the true Body of Christ in America become evident? The real Church in America will become evident when real persecution begins to fall upon the American Church, when it actually costs something to be a Christian in America.

The only sound that will remain in some of these opulent edifices—cathedrals to sinful man’s need for creature comforts in their false spirituality—will be the chirping of lonely crickets. The people will be gone. The genuine followers of Christ will gather quietly and secretly in homes, just as they did two thousand years ago; and the false converts who once played church will simply blend back into secular culture, the place where they were and are most comfortable anyways.

The pastors of some of these mega-churches—pastors who are content with preaching a false gospel in order to keep people in the seats—will be relegated to selling used cars or selling the remainder of their stock of bottled miracle water, anointed prayer cloths, and self-help books to the highest bidder, on E-bay. Their income will no longer come from a church budget that focused the majority of its financial resources on lining the pockets of staff and entertaining and coddling “the peeps” (as my daughter would say).

Lord God, purify Your Church, I pray!

How Should We Live When Suffering for Christ (Part 3 of 6)

Having defined what real persecution is, Peter commands his readers (and us) to “keep on rejoicing.” Again, Peter is affirming what His Lord and Savior taught him. Jesus said:

“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” ~ Matthew 5:10-12

To be considered worthy of suffering persecution for the name and sake of the Lord Jesus Christ is a cause for rejoicing. The reason the persecuted Christian should rejoice in his or her suffering is not because joy is found in the suffering. The joy is in knowing that when Christ returns—and His return is imminent—all suffering will come to an end, for those who know Christ, and our joy will be fulfilled and it will last forever. And, like their reward in heaven, the Christian’s joy will be commensurate to the suffering they endured in this life.

Peter uses the word “exultation” to describe the kind of joy the Christian will experience in the presence of the Lord. The Greek word used here “is an intense, expressive term that means to be supremely and abundantly happy—a happiness that is not tentative nor based on circumstances or superficial feelings . . . In the New Testament, [this Greek word] always refers to spiritual rather than temporal joy.”[1]

So, how should we live as followers of Christ who experience suffering and persecution for the sake of His name? We should live as people who count it a privilege to suffer for Christ, knowing that to the extent we are persecuted because of His name we will likewise receive rewards in heaven. Furthermore, the joy that we truly can experience in the midst of persecution in this life is but a foretaste of the incomparable, never-ending joy we will experience when Christ returns and we spend eternity with Him in heaven.

Peter goes on to explain in verse 14 that even if we are reviled, even if we are publicly denounced, even if evil people continue to heap insults upon us because we dare to exult the name of Christ in our behavior and with our voices, we are blessed. Why? The reason is that the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon the hearts, minds, souls, and lives of His children—born again followers of Jesus Christ. And this rest, which settles upon the lives of God’s children, is not a fleeting thing. This rest, which is the kind of rest that provides the Christian relief from toil and refreshment of the soul, is not something that comes upon the believer from time to time, or in an extraordinary way. Rather, the Christian has access, at all times, to the rest found in glorious God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Examine Yourself for the Source of Suffering
Thus far, in determining how we should live when suffering for Christ, we have considered our obligations not to be surprised when persecution comes and to live with an attitude of joy at all times, including times of suffering. But it is also important that we continually examine ourselves to determine, to the extent that we are able, whether or not we are truly experiencing undeserved suffering for the name of Christ, or if we are suffering as a result of sin in our lives. Is our suffering a result of our faith in Christ? Or is our suffering a result of faithlessness in our lives?

In verses 15-18, Peter writes: “By no means let any of you suffer as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed, but in that name let him glorify God. For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? AND IF IT IS WITH DIFFICULTY THAT THE RIGHTEOUS IS SAVED, WHAT WILL BECOME OF THE GODLESS MAN AND THE SINNER?”

In verse 15, Peter gives us an interesting list of criminal and immoral acts. Peter begins by mentioning two criminal acts, which, in ancient times, were punishable by death—murder and thievery. It’s not that Peter had any expectation that genuine followers of Jesus Christ would commit such crimes. He picked two of the most serious crimes in order to make the point that criminals should not be surprised if they face severe punishment, even death, as the just punishment for their crime. Nor should they attribute severe, judicial punishment to persecution for the name of Christ. Things are going bad in their lives because they are doing bad things. It’s just that simple.

And just to make sure his readers didn’t think too highly of themselves, or try to exempt themselves from what Peter is saying, Peter adds the term “evildoer” to his list. This word, “evildoer,” encompasses any and all criminal acts. Peter used this word earlier in his letter. Peter wrote:

“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.” ~ 1 Peter 2:13-15

The apostle John had the same idea in mind when he wrote:

“Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil had not seen God.” ~ 3 John 11

While we all continue to sin, from day to day, the goal of every Christian should be to live life with an attitude and determination that makes us want to flee from sin, not pursue it. Our heart’s desire should be to avoid suffering that comes as a result of our sinful behavior. Unfortunately, I think we all experience times in our lives when we are caught in sin and we try to attribute our suffering to our relationship with Christ, instead of taking responsibility for our sinful acts and accepting the fact that God is allowing us to face discipline and punishment because we have done something wrong and sinned against God.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about—and example that may seem silly at first; but if you give it some thought and are honest, then, like me, you will probably admit that you have done something like this.

You’re in a hurry. You’re heading down the road. You’re driving too fast to see the “Speed Enforced By Radar” sign along the side of the road. You’re not thinking about the fact that you are breaking the law. In fact, you don’t care that you are breaking the law. You’re in a hurry.

Your thoughts of getting to where you need to be are rudely interrupted by the unmistakable sound of a patrol car siren. Your heart skips a beat (because you know you are guilty of breaking the law) and your gaze becomes transfixed on the unsettling image in your rearview mirror. The car is black and white. Red, white, and blue flashing lights atop the car quickly dismiss the momentary delusion that car behind you is not a patrol car.

You pull your car to the right while holding on to the fleeting hope that the officer or deputy just wants you to get out of the way, because he or she is actually after someone else or is on his or her way to an important call. To your chagrin, as you pull to the right, so does the patrol car. You come to a stop and the patrol car stops behind you. Your heart is beating quickly, now.

You watch through your side mirror as the deputy approaches your car. Your mind is moving entirely too quickly as you try to come up with a plan to get out of the ticket you deserve. You’re about to blow it.

“Good afternoon, ma’am (sir).” The deputy politely says with a half-smile on his or her face. “Do you know why I pulled you over?”

“No.” You lie.

“Do you have any idea how fast you were driving?” The deputy asks.

“No.” You lie again.

The deputy returns to the patrol car. A few moments later the deputy returns with a citation book in hand. The deputy explains the ticket and tells you that by signing the ticket you are not making an admission of guilt (Even though the deputy knows you are guilty. That’s why you are getting a ticket.)

You sign the ticket. The deputy gives you your copy and says something like, “Please be careful.”

As the deputy walks back to the patrol car, your mood changes. The switch of unrighteous indignation is thrown. Your attitude changes from a fearful person who knows they are guilty of breaking the law, to an indignant person who convinces him or herself that you have just been subjected to persecution. How do you justify this way of thinking?

“You know, I have a Christian fish symbol on my rear bumper. In fact, I also have a ‘Caution: Christian on Board’ placard on the rear window and a ‘Know Jesus, Know Peace’ bumper sticker! That deputy pulled me over because I’m a Christian! I’m being persecuted for my faith! I’m going to call the sheriff’s station and complain, and then I’m going to write a letter to the editor of the local paper.”

You drive away having convinced yourself that you are no longer guilty of breaking the law and you can’t wait to tell all of your Christian friends how you suffered for your faith, and how you are willing to sacrifice a couple hundred dollars of your hard-earned money, in order to be persecuted for Christ.

The reality is, if the person in the scenario represents you at any time in your life, you were not persecuted for your faith in Christ. You were held accountable for driving 55 in a 35.

If you find this parable to be outrageous or unrealistic, then you’ve never worked patrol in Santa Clarita, or “Anytown, USA.” Oh, by the way. From one guilty motorist to another, the answer is not to remove the Christian emblems from your car. The answer is to slow down and obey the law.

One more thing: the deputy or officer who gave you the ticket after stopping your Christian billboard on wheels, might have climbed back into his or her patrol car mumbling the word “hypocrite.” Your actions may have just served to justify their unbelief. Granted the officer or deputy remains without excuse, but, in their mind, you may be the excuse they use for not repenting of their sin and trusting Christ for their salvation. Something to think about.

[1] Ibid. p. 41.

How Should We Live When Suffering for Christ (Part 2 of 6)

I am not a prophet. Nor do I play one on TV. But I truly believe that a time is coming, and is already on its way, when it will actually cost something to be a Christian in the United States.

During last week’s message (I think it was during the second service.), while sharing the Law and the Gospel, I quoted a verse in which we are told that the effeminate and homosexuals will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Do you realize that I could be arrested for citing that verse in certain places around the world? Do you realize that there are people in the United States who are trying to enact laws that would make the mere mention of such verses from a pulpit a criminal offense?

If you are expecting the world to get better before Christ’s return, if you are expecting our country to return to its Christian roots before the Lord returns, if you are expecting a day to come when an unbelieving world will accept us as followers of Jesus Christ and treat us well; then I must lovingly tell you this. You are thinking foolishly and you misunderstand what the Bible teaches about the times leading up to Christ’s imminent return.

It is not with an ounce of pessimism that I say this. The world is not going to get better. It will only continue to get worse. Society will continue to strive toward and embrace every form of depravity. The name of God will continue to be maligned. The ruling authorities will continue to work toward eliminating the mention of Christ from the public discourse. And here, in the United States, it will eventually cost something to be a genuine follower of Jesus Christ.

Frankly, I look forward to that time. I pray for the persecution of the American Church. Why? I pray this way because it will be as a result of fiery trials and persecution that pretenders in the church (false converts), from the pulpit to the pew, will be burned away. Like the smelting process in which intense heat causes impurities to rise to the surface so that they can be skimmed away, persecution will reveal the false converts in our midst. They will skim themselves away as they leave the church, denying Christ in order to avoid discomfort, leaving only the authentic and purified Body of Christ.

Not only should Christians not be surprised when suffering brought on by persecution comes their way, but they also should not see it as something strange, foreign, or out of the ordinary. If we, as followers of Jesus Christ, are truly proclaiming the Law and the Gospel and are setting ourselves apart from the rest of the world by refusing to participate in anything in which we would be embarrassed to participate if Jesus were standing or sitting next to us, then, according to God’s Word, being on the receiving end of the animosity and disdain of unbelievers is inevitable and should come as no surprise to us.

Nestled between these two seemingly difficult commands is an explanation that, at first glance, may appear negative. But it’s not. It should bring us comfort and confidence in our Lord. Peter writes: “ . . . which comes upon you for your testing.”

Why should we not be surprised when persecution comes? Why should we not look at persecution for our faith in Christ as a strange thing? It is because we should see persecution as a necessary test of our faith from a loving God.

Listen to the Word of God.

“And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.” ~ Romans 5:3-9

“But you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord delivered me! And indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” ~ 2 Timothy 3:10-12

Live With an Attitude of Authentic Joy
In light of the reality that persecution will come to those who are genuine followers of Jesus Christ and who are openly living and proclaiming a life redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, how should we live? Well, for one, we should live with an attitude of authentic joy.

Peter writes in verse 13 and 14 of our passage: “But to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.”

Jesus’ half-brother, James, affirms in his letter what Peter says in these two verses.

“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 . . . Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” ~ James 1:2-4, 12

Peter begins verse 13 with an interesting phrase: “But to the degree.” What Peter is doing with this phrase is helping his readers to understand that their level of faithfulness here, on earth, in the face of real persecution and suffering, will have a direct impact on the eternal rewards they will enjoy in heaven. Minimal faithfulness equals minimal, eternal reward.

It’s important to note that Peter is not at all referring to salvation. Enduring persecution saves no one. But those who are truly born again followers of Jesus Christ will enjoy greater rewards in heaven if they prove (to God, not to themselves) to be faithful servants of the Lord, regardless of the personal, earthly cost.

Peter then goes on to qualify that first phrase in verse 13 by writing, “that you share the sufferings of Christ.” Simply put, to the extent that the Christian experiences the same kind of persecution and suffering Jesus Christ endured on earth, their faithfulness will be rewarded when they reach heaven.

Again, Peter learned this from the greatest of teachers—his master, his Lord, his Savior, Jesus Christ. Jesus said:

"If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, 'A slave is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me.” ~ John 15:18-21

I think many Christians are confused on this point, particularly in the United States. Because, by and large, most American Christians have never truly experienced persecution, they wrongly define the term. Real persecution, in the name of Christ, will be the kind of persecution Jesus actually experienced during his earthly ministry.

Remember, Peter used the word “degree” at the beginning of verse 13. Not every follower of Jesus Christ will be called to suffer as Christ did during His passion. Not every follower of Jesus Christ will be called to suffer to the point of death, for his or her faith in Jesus Christ. But Peter wants to make sure that his Christian readers had a right understanding of what persecution is.

If you are experiencing, or if you ever do experience real persecution, what you are experiencing or will experience is or will, to a degree, resemble the suffering Jesus experienced. Jesus suffered ridicule, slander, false accusations, threats of violence, actual physical violence, unjust punishment, and death. He suffered these things because of what He said about Himself. This is very important. He suffered because of what He said. He claimed to be God. He did not claim to merely be a prophet, a good teacher, or a good man. He did not claim to be an earthly, governmental or military king. He claimed to be the King of kings and Lord of lords. And He accepted and received the worship of the people.

The reason most Christians in America have difficulty defining biblical persecution is because they have never experienced biblical persecution. And the reason they have never experienced any degree of biblical persecution is this. They have never said anything—in the face of ridicule, slander, false accusations, threats of violence, actual physical violence, unjust punishment, and death—that would bring about such persecution.

If the statistics are true, statistics that tell us that more than 90% of those who profess to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior have never shared the gospel with anyone, then the reason why most American Christians have never experienced the kind of persecution Jesus endured and the kind of persecution many Christians in other parts of the world presently endure should be obvious.

Sadly, too many American Christians are sinfully keeping their mouths shut and are not proclaiming the Law and the Gospel because they know that if they do it might cost them something. Sadder still, more often than not, the cost they are counting is not the cost that Jesus, His disciples, and many Christians around the world have paid over the last two thousand years. What they count as the cost is nothing more than the cost of inconvenience and comfort. Maybe they say to themselves, “If I speak up or speak out for the Lord Jesus Christ, if I make a stand or actually live as Christ would have me live, people might not like me, or I might have to find another way to entertain myself. That’s too high a price to pay. After all, when push comes to shove, my happiness in this life is more important than living a holy and blameless life before Almighty God.”

How Should We Live When Suffering for Christ (Part 1 of 6)

The following is the unedited text (in six parts) for a sermon I will preach this Sunday.

Last week we looked at Peter’s encouragement and instruction regarding how we should live in light of Christ’s imminent return. In doing so, we considered what the Christian’s perspective, duty, and goal should be as he or she anticipates the Lord’s return, which can come at any moment.

This morning, as we study 1 Peter 4:12-19, we will try to answer the question of how we should live when suffering for Christ. I enter into this message and this subject fully aware that many of the concepts we will discuss this morning are utterly foreign to the vast majority of American Christians. We do not define suffering the way Christians do in most parts of this sin-stained world. I believe many (not all) American Christians have a rather shallow, self-centered, privileged, even wimpy view of Christian suffering.

Now, this is not to say that maybe many of you here this morning have not suffered in various ways. The likelihood is that at least some of you have suffered physically and emotionally at sometime in your life. Many of you have suffered personal loss, having experienced the death of a friend or loved one. Some of you may have lost a job during your life because of unfair treatment by a co-worker or employer.

Nothing I say this morning will minimize or trivialize these kinds of suffering. But our focus this morning is going to be on a different kind of suffering. This morning we are going to focus all of our attention on suffering real persecution as a result of living a life and speaking truth that brings attention, honor, and glory to the Lord Jesus Christ. Why do most American Christians not face this kind of persecution (at least not yet)? The reason is that they don’t live their lives or open their mouths in such away as to bring about the rancor and negative attention of a lost and dying, Christ-denying world. Most American Christians pose no threat to this present society’s sinful, headlong, downward spiral because they are not living lives that are truly set apart for the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Since those of us here who profess to have a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ should be living lives that bring glory to Christ, we should continue to live in such a way, even in the face of the worst kinds of persecution. So, how should we live when suffering for Christ?

For one, we should not be surprised when persecution and suffering comes our way. We should live with an attitude of authentic joy, seeing the suffering as a blessing from God. We should continually practice self-examination to make sure our suffering is a result of right Christian living and not a result of the sin in our lives. And, we should commend ourselves to the wonderful, matchless care of God.

Don’t Be Surprised When Persecution Comes
Let’s begin by taking a look at the very first word Peter utters in this morning’s passage. He refers to his readers as “beloved.” This word “beloved” comes from a Greek word we talked about last week—agape. Peter used the word “beloved” earlier in his letter. In 1 Peter 2:11 we read: “Beloved, I urge you as strangers and aliens to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.”

Before Peter launches into yet another difficult teaching, he reassures his readers that what he is about to say to them, he says with a deep, “other-minded,” abiding, sacrificial love for them. He assures them that he loves them with a genuine, Christ-like love. Every word Peter pens in this passage is underlined with a love that is motivated by a sincere desire to seek God’s very best for his readers—his brothers and sisters in Christ.

Having reaffirmed and asserted his love for his readers, he immediately gives them a command. He tells them not to be surprised at the fiery ordeal among them. Peter’s words are somewhat prophetic. It is likely that Peter wrote this letter not long before the Emperor Nero began his brutal persecution of Christians, throughout the Roman Empire. A particularly gruesome and evil aspect of the persecution is Nero’s use of live Christians as human torches to light his gardens at night.

Peter’s message is, sadly, opposite of what many Christians will hear from pulpits in America. Today, millions of Americans are being told that they should be surprised if they suffer for the name of Christ. They are being told that if they do suffer it is because they lack faith. They are being told that instead of expecting times of suffering, they should expect God to abundantly bless them with their every desire—with health, wealth, and prosperity. Such false teachers are crippling Christians, not only in the United States, but also around the world—particularly Christians on the African continent.

Ten-Four Ministries supports a missionary and evangelist in Liberia. His name is John Wright. John has told me, on several occasions, that itinerant preachers, pushing an unbiblical “health, wealth, and prosperity” message are literally robbing the people in his country—taking their money while leaving them with false hope.

Since Christians are being told to expect health, wealth, and prosperity; since Christian are being told to expect their best life now; is it any wonder that they avoid suffering at any cost? And the best way to avoid the suffering that comes as a result of persecution is to keep your mouth shut about Jesus Christ and to do whatever you can to blend in with a fallen, sin-stained world. Sadly, Christians, particularly in America, have become quite good at this.

Again, Peter does not simply suggest that his readers ought not be surprised when they face fiery trials. He commands them not to be surprised. Why? It is because if they are truly living sold-out, unashamed, authentic, joyful lives for Christ, they should expect a negative reaction from an unbelieving world. Peter could make such a loving demand of his readers because it is what he was taught by His Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus taught Peter this:

“From that time Jesus Christ began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.’

“But He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God's interests, but man's.’

“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it. For what will a man be profited, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” ~ Matthew 16:21-26

Jesus also taught Peter this:

"Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and cast insults at you, and spurn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets. But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full. Woe to you who are well-fed now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for in the same way their fathers used to treat the false prophets.

“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” ~ Luke 6:22-28

And let’s not forget what Peter wrote earlier in verse four of this chapter. “In all this, they [unbelievers] are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you” (1 Peter 4:4). The word “malign” is translated from the Greek word blasphemeo. The word literally means to blaspheme, to slander or defame someone, to speak evil of them.

John MacArthur adds:

“Ancient sources, both Christian and non-Christian, provide ample evidence that it was Christians’ reluctance to participate in many conventionally accepted amusements and ungodly civic ceremonies, and their refusal to engage in idolatrous, immoral functions that caused unbelievers to hate and revile them. That led to unjust persecution and suffering for righteousness sake.”[1]

Peter does not mince words, here. The trial Peter is talking about, the persecution to which Peter is referring, will, at times, make you feel like you are being burned alive. The Greek word translated as “fiery” was also used to describe the smelting process, in which metals are repeatedly melted and skimmed in order to remove impurities.

Trust me, if you are boldly proclaiming the Law and the Gospel, and if you try to live your life in such a way as to make no effort to be a “closet Christian,” there are times when you are going to feel the heat.

[1] MacArthur, John Jr: The MacArthur New Testament Commentary—1 Peter. Chicago : Moody Publishers., 2004, pp. 229-30.

Behind the Scenes of Way of the Master Radio (07-17-07)

Since I was "fishing" today in a "no photo zone" (my local mall), I decided to share a photo (dated 09/06) of the newest member of my family, Jay Joseph. Jay was recently adopted by Ian and Cheryl (my brother-in-law and sister). Jay is 3-years-old and from Uganda. My sister and niece (Allison) travelled to Uganda and returned home with Jay last Friday.

I met Jay for the first time, today. I watched him play at a local park, with his brother, sisters, and new friends. When I arrived at the park, my sister introduced us. He took my hand and gave me a good, manly shake. "Hi, Uncle Tony." His favorite color is green (smart kid). So, naturally, I gave him sheriff's department uniform patch.

Cheryl took a respite from her now-busier-than-ever home (Jay is Ian and Cheryl's fifth child, with two of their daughters being adopted from Liberia.), and joined me for today's "street fishing." It was a blessing to have her with me, today. Not only was the fellowship special (as it always is), but she proved to be an asset, helping me to land our "fish" for the second hour of the show.

Our guest for the first hour of the show was a young man named Giancarlo. Giancarlo and his friend, Martin, were leaving a restaurant when I asked them if either one of them wanted to be on the radio.

Giancarlo considered himself to be a good person and believed he would go to heaven if he lived a good life here, on earth. He also made mention, without providing details, that he was in the midst of some difficulties in his life.

Todd Friel took Giancarlo through the Law and the Gospel. I spent about five minutes talking to Giancarlo after his time with Todd. Although the conversation was short, it was good. Giancarlo said that his conversations with me and Todd were helpful to him. Seeds were planted. We left Giancarlo and Martin each with a copy of Ray Comfort's book, How To Live Forever Without Being Religious.

We walked around the mall complex for the next twenty minutes, looking for a guest for the second hour of the show. As so often happens, we got within 30 seconds of my scheduled call-in time before the Lord provided the person. His name was John.

John grew up attending a Christian church, but left the church for unspecified reasons. When we met him he believed that he was a good person and that he would go to heaven, along with his friends and loved one.

When I handed John my phone, his demeanor was lighthearted and confident. But as Todd took John through the Law and the Gospel, his demeanor changed. He became more serious, and maybe even a bit nervous. The reason I say this is when Todd began to take John through the Law (and I can tell by what the person is saying on my phone), John began to rapidly tap his right heel on the ground, beneath the table where we were sitting.

John had told me before the interview that he only had a few minutes before he had to return to work. So, I wasn't surprised when he tried to make a quick exit, after ending his conversation with Todd. John gave me just enough time to ask a couple of quick questions.

I asked John if he had ever heard the Gospel presented the way Todd presented it to him. He said, "No." He went on to say that Todd's analogies helped to drive the points home, and it was making him think. More seeds planted.

Sitting at the table, quietly listening to John on the phone, were Margarita and Ora. These nice ladies were John's co-workers. Margarita volunteered the information that she was raised in a Jehovah's Witness home, but she no longer practiced the religion. However, as you will here in our conversation, she was still holding on to some of the false teaching of the religion. Ora, on the other hand, did not volunteer anything about her spiritual beliefs.

I asked the ladies if they were curious about John's conversation. They said that they were. I explained to them that John had been taken through what's called the "Good Person Test." I asked them if they would like to take the test. They both said yes. What followed was a great conversation with two ladies who seemed humbled by the Law and appreciative of the conversation. In fact, after Cheryl and I said good-bye to Margarita and Ora, and started to walk away, I heard one of the ladies whisper, "That was nice." The other replied, "Yeah. I wasn't expecting that."

Please pray for Giancarlo, Martin, John, Margarita, and Ora. Pray that all of them will receive the free gift of eternal life that only Jesus Christ can give.

Another good day of fishing!

Friday, July 13, 2007

Jump or Perish!

Here is the artwork for my soon-to-be published gospel tract, "Jump or Perish." Special thanks to artist Maurice Morgan II for his beautiful, original design*.

For those of you who have not read the text for this tract, here it is.

It was shortly after 2:00 p.m. on December 1, 1958. More than 1,700 children were attending classes at Our Lady of Angels School on Chicago’s west side. Three girls returning from an errand encountered smoke in a stairwell, and rushed to their classroom to tell their teacher. At about the same time, a janitor walking by the building looked in the window of the furnace room and saw a reddish glow.

The school was on fire. The flames quickly spread, trapping 329 children and five nuns on the second floor. Among the trapped children was nine-year-old Mark Stachura.

As people noticed smoke rising from the area of the school and saw fire trucks racing in that direction, parents rushed to the school, hoping and praying that their children were safe. One of those parents was Mark Stachura’s dad, Max.

Max arrived at the school to find a scene of chaos and panic. Children were frantically fleeing the building, their skin dirtied by smoke and soot. Other students, with their clothes on fire, were making the deadly 25' jump from second-floor windows to the concrete below.

Max looked upward. To his horror, he saw his son, Mark, standing at a window with flames roaring behind him.

Max begged his son to jump. He assured his beloved child that he would catch him. Seeing Max below the window, twelve other children saw their means of rescue from the flames. They jumped into Max’s arms and survived what would have been a fiery death. But Mark refused to jump. He refused to take the only way of escape from the fire. Unlike twelve of his classmates, Mark did not trust his father to save him. Young Mark Stachura, along with 94 others, perished in the flames.

If you found yourself in this tragic situation, what would you do? Would you try to save yourself, if the only thing to break your fall was solid concrete, 25 feet below? Would you refuse to jump into someone’s arms because you didn’t trust the word or the ability of the person beneath the window? Would you choose a fiery death over rescue? Or would you entrust your life to someone who offered you the only way of escape? What would you do?

While you may never find yourself trapped in a burning building, is it possible you will one-day face an even more horrific fiery fate? 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? 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.

If you have broken God’s Law, the Ten Commandments, the just penalty for your sins against God is eternity in hell--a very real place of everlasting flames and torment.

But God doesn’t want you to perish. He doesn’t want you to go to hell. So, He sent His sinless Son, Jesus Christ--God in the flesh&mdashto 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. To jump into eternity, trusting in your own abilities (good deeds, spirituality, etc.), will lead to certain death. Instead, you must confess your sins against God, repent (turn away from your sins), and put your trust in Jesus Christ alone for your salvation.

You must either jump or perish. You will either spend eternity in the lake of fire or entrust your life into the arms of the only One who can save you--Jesus Christ. Please, repent and place your faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, right now. When you do you will pass from death into life and receive the free gift of eternal life. What will you do? Will you jump or perish?

* (C) 2007, Maurice Morgan II

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Behind the Scenes of Way of the Master Radio (07-10-07)

Today, my daughter, Michelle, and I spent the afternoon at the Los Angeles Zoo. We thought we would try out a new "street fishing" pond, today. As is the case with any new fishing hole, you never really know how good the fishing is until you throw your line in the water.

We made our way to the chimpanzee exhibit, which maintained the largest crowd in the zoo. I approached a young man named Jose. Jose (24) works for the Department of Transportation. His function is parking enforcement and impounding illegally parked and abandoned vehicles.

Before I put Jose on the phone with Todd Friel, I asked him if he believed in evolution or intelligent design. He said, "Evolution."

"Why?" I asked.

Jose thought for a moment (as most people do when asked that little, disarming, one-word question). "Well," he said while motioning with his head toward the chimpanzees, "they sure do act a lot like us."

Todd Friel took Jose through the Law and the Gospel. Click here to listen to their conversation. Once Jose was off the phone, he did not appear to be the light-hearted, jovial man I encountered just a few short minutes earlier. The look on his face was that of a man who had some important questions on his mind.

"So, how did it go?" I asked.

"It was good." He said. "He asked me some questions that made me realize I need to repent because I'm probably going to hell."

"Let me ask you this. Were you at all offended by the conversation?"

"No. He just asked me questions that really made me think."

I took Jose through the courtroom and parachute analogies, which helped to drive home his need to repent. It also helped to show him the difference between an intellectual belief in Jesus Christ and saving faith.

Always trying to be aware of my surroundings (it's the cop in me), I noticed two ladies who were sitting nearby as I shared the gospel with Jose. One lady soon said to the other, "Let's go. Do you want to listen to this stuff!"

Another couple sitting behind Jose in the amphitheater didn't leave. They seemed to be listening intently to the conversation.

I heard Jose answer one of Todd's questions, which led me to believe he did not have a Bible. So, I asked Jose if he had one. When he said that he didn't, I gave him a copy of Ray Comfort's book, How To Live Forever Without Being Religious. I also gave him an Evolution--The Evidence For and Against gospel tract. I explained to him that the book contained the gospel of John and that that would be a good place for him to start reading the Bible.

My follow-up conversation with Jose left us about fifteen minutes to find a guest for the next hour's street fishing segment. Now having older children, I discovered that I had forgotten something about trips to the zoo. Every adult has at least one child clinging to his or her ankle. And many of those same children are not happy people.

We couldn't find anyone to put on the phone. I came close near the Howling Monkey exhibit, but it didn't work out. I thought it would be nice to have screaming monkeys going off in the background as Todd shared the Law and the Gospel with someone.

My attire for the day (which you can see in the above photo) drew the attention of at least one zoo patron. "Excuse me. Can you tell me when the next chimpanzee show is?"

She was a little embarrassed when I told her I didn't work at the zoo. I would later use my attire to help me hand out tracts. I simply walked up to people, handed them a Billion-Dollar Bill, and thanked them for visiting the zoo today. Nobody refused the tracts. I guess they thought that I worked for the zoo and the tracts were part of a zoo promotion. Oh, well. :-)

Since I couldn't find someone to put on the phone during the second hour, Todd asked me if I had a "Cop Tale" I could tell. I thought for a second and said that I could do it. Click here to listen to the show. Here is a more detailed account of the story I shared with Todd.

An Unseen Enemy
In many other situations, criminals have lured officers into an ambush during foot pursuits or by making false calls for assistance to the police department. When criminals know that the police are on their way, they have ample time to conceal themselves and to assume an advantageous tactical position so they can “get the drop” on the responding officers.

I remember answering a “918/417” call several years ago (“918” is the radio code for a mentally disturbed person, and “417” indicates “a man with a gun”). The caller reported that a man was standing in front of his house, yelling and holding a shotgun.

The call came from a semi-rural area of our jurisdiction, where the roads were dirt and there were no streetlights. My partner and I approached the location in our patrol car as cautiously as possible. We couldn’t see the suspect, nor could we hear him yelling. I remember both of us drawing our weapons and holding them on our laps as we drove past a tall, thick hedgerow. I remarked to my partner that the suspect could be anywhere, and if the suspect was on the opposite side of the bushes, we were sitting ducks.

A short time later, we located the suspect in his home and took him into custody without incident. And we found his shotgun, loaded with rifle slugs—a large, solid ball of lead that could penetrate a concrete block wall.

Although this particular call ended well, as my partner and I talked to one of the suspect’s neighbors, the hair on the back of our necks stood on end. The neighbor told us that he heard us drive down the road. When he looked outside, he could see the suspect standing behind the hedgerow, pointing his shotgun at our patrol car on the opposite side of the bushes. The neighbor could hear the suspect say, “Pow, pow, pow,” as we drove by. It was only by God’s grace that the suspect didn’t fire the shotgun into our patrol car. Because of the devastating nature of the round—which could penetrate a car door like a warm knife cuts through butter—the suspect could have killed us both with one shot.

We need to remain alert because—whether we are aware he exists or not—our spiritual enemy is constantly looking for an opportunity to attack. He is well versed in disarming us. He is not above lying in wait to ambush us. So we must always be prepared. The battlefield is closer than the world around you. It is even closer than the peaceful confines of your own home. You are part of the battlefield. Don’t go into battle unarmed. Don’t take to the field poorly equipped. Take up the full armor of God so you can stand firm against the enemy’s attacks. Get suited and armed for battle. Be alert!

Although everything did not go as planned, it was another good day of fishing.