Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Open-Air on Venice Beach

Thank you to Leon Brown of EvangelismTeam.com, for putting together this video. Leon and others joined me for an afternoon of open-air preaching and one-to-one evangelism, on the boardwalk, at Venice Beach.

Monday, August 27, 2007

A Distinct and Radical Change

“Real conversion by the Holy Spirit is as distinct and radical a change as though an old man were placed in a mill and ground young again.” ~ C.H. Spurgeon

Every Wednesday night I lead a Discussion Fellowship Meeting at my church. The meetings are patterned after the meetings D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones led at Westminster Chapel (London), in the 40’s and 50’s. The purpose of the meetings is to give members of the conversation the opportunity to ask their open and honest Bible questions, with all in attendance encouraged to participate in finding the answers in God’s Word.

Last Wednesday night, I began the discussion by asking the group to consider the above quote, by Charles Spurgeon. This led us into an hour-long discussion about sanctification, in which we addressed sanctification as an event that takes place at the moment of conversion, a process that spans the entirety of a Christian’s life on earth, and a hope of the full realization of a Christian’s sanctification, when he or she is glorified in heaven, with the Lord Jesus Christ.

One phrase in Spurgeon’s quote leaped out at me: “as distinct and radical a change.” A person who is truly born again; a person who is justified by the grace of God and declared innocent; a person who is sanctified (set apart to be holy) by the sovereign God of the Universe will exhibit the reality of their conversion through a distinct and radical change in his or her life. It is this distinct and radical change, which is solely the work of God the Holy Spirit, which marks the true convert from the false convert.

The notion that someone can make a profession of faith in Christ and be saved, yet live their life in the same state of sinful rebellion in which they lived before their profession of faith, and still be assured of salvation, is a concept that is foreign to Scripture. Do Christians sin? Yes. There is an aspect of sanctification that is a life-long process. However, if a person is growing and maturing in his or her faith in Christ, they will desire to and try to flee from sin and pursue Christ-likeness (1 Tim. 6:11-12), turning to the gracious and merciful God for forgiveness (1 John 1:9) when they fall short of His glory (Romans 3:23). Such authentic spiritual growth begins the moment the person becomes a new creature in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).

If the only evidence of this truth was God’s Word, that would be enough. God’s Word is sufficient in every respect (2 Timothy 3:16-17). But I would also like to humbly submit a portion of my own testimony, which, I believe, serves as experiential confirmation that conversion results in a distinct and radical change in a person’s life. Granted, others have testimonies far more dramatic than mine. And while what I’m about to share is true, I know I am still a sinner who falls short of God’s glory. Sanctification: while it was an event in my life, and while I wait with great anticipation for the fulfillment of my sanctification in heaven, it is most certainly a continual process in my life. What follows is shared in light of the reality that He who began a good work in me will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil. 1:6); but, in the meantime I am in constant need of God’s grace and forgiveness for the sins I commit daily against Him; and I need His patience as I seek to grow in Christ-likeness.

With that said…..

I cried out to God in repentance and faith, on September 4, 1988. That evening, while home alone in the dark and quiet of my bedroom, I asked Him to save me from the just punishment of my sin, and I asked Him to be my Lord and Savior. I fell asleep unsure of my salvation. But God graciously allowed me to see and experience evidence of a distinct and radical change in my life, the next evening.

I was a young deputy sheriff assigned to one of the county’s medium security jail facilities. The facility was an open compound, which meant that the inmates were housed in 120-man dorms, with no locks on the doors. At times, a dozen deputies were responsible for the security and discipline of more than 1,000 inmates.

I learned early on that in order for the deputies to maintain control of the facility and the inmates within, the deputies had to make sure that inmates understood who was in control (even if it was an illusion). This required us to be forceful with our words and with our actions. I was taught by more seasoned deputies (most of whom had less than a year’s more experience than me) that in order to communicate with the inmates, I had to learn how to talk like them—meaning every sentence I spoke should be laced with profanity. I was also taught how to walk that very fine tightrope that separated discipline and abuse—a line that was often moved according to the needs of the moment, with one eye on the law and department policy—a line that was subjective. I quickly learned and effectively applied these two unwritten rules.

The evening after receiving Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, I found myself working my usual post in the jail compound. Throughout my shift, as I engaged deputies and inmates in conversation, I found that I could not speak the way to which I was accustomed. It was not that I was physically incapable of using profanity. It was that the thought of doing so repulsed me. Having never heard of the word sanctification, I had no idea that my new found repulsion to profanity was a work of the Holy Spirit. Quite frankly, it was unsettling—so unsettling that I tried to cuss throughout the night, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

Several hours into my shift, it dawned on me that the reason I had such difficulty using profanity might be due to the profession of faith I made the previous night. The unsettling feelings were then replaced with joy. “Maybe He has changed me!” I thought.

Even more telling was what happened toward the end of my shift.

Every night we were responsible for conducting a count of the inmates. It was during this time, when all of the inmates were on their bunks, that we would also conduct what we referred to as “court.” The purpose of “court” was to “counsel” those inmates who had given us a hard time, disrespected us, or otherwise tried to usurp our authority. Inmates were specifically selected, solely on the basis of their bad behavior, and removed from their dorm. The other inmates knew what it meant to be escorted outside the dorm, after the evening count.

“Departmentally approved” holds were applied with the maximum amount of “reasonable” force in order to secure the inmate while he was verbally counseled about his bad behavior. The inmate was assured by a group of less-than-patient, yet enthusiastic deputies that future bad behavior would not be tolerated and any return to “court” by the inmate would result in equally swift, yet harsher adjudication. Rarely, were inmates repeat offenders. Rarely, did an inmate find himself facing evening “court” more than once.

As the evening count drew to a close, several deputies approached me in the compound. “Come on, Tony. It’s time for court. We’ve got a few inmates we need to deal with.”

I was sitting on a bench when the deputies approached me. As soon as they told me it was time for “court,” I got up from my seat, just as I had done previously, countless times. But, unlike in nights past, as quick as I got off the bench, I found myself sitting down again.

The other deputies, who had already started walking toward the dorms, turned to see me still sitting on the bench. They walked back to me and said, “Come on, Tony. Let’s go. It’s time for ‘court.’”

“Sorry, guys. I can’t”

“What do you mean you can’t?”

I found their question to be very reasonable, since I was asking the same question of myself. “What do I mean I can’t?”

“Umm. Yeah, I can’t go to ‘court’ tonight.”

I knew what I was going to say next. The thought frightened me. It was as if I had no control. It was as if I was outside my body watching the scene play out, from a short distance away. Deputies hate to be out of control…..ever.

“I became a Christian last night; and I don’t think I should be participating in ‘court’ anymore.”

“Right!” One of the deputies retorted. “You became a Christian last night. Tony Miano is a Christian. Very funny. Come on. We’ve got work to do.”

“I’m serious, guys. I became a Christian last night; and I don’t think God wants me to participate in ‘court’ anymore. I will be there to back you up, if you get into a fight. I’m not going to let you get hurt. But I don’t think ‘court’ is right.”

Needless to say, the deputies were not happy with me. They questioned everything from my ability as a deputy sheriff to my manhood. I actually lost friends that night. For weeks following that night, I found notes in my work mailbox that simply said, “Jesus Freak.” Others went as far as to write the epitaph (and others) on the chalkboard, in the briefing room.

Thanks be to God that He allowed me to meet and fellowship with other Christian deputies that worked the jail. They were a great encouragement to me, as I struggled to understand a worldview that completely changed overnight. They helped me to learn how to be a Christian and a deputy sheriff, at the same time.

Within 24 hours of my conversion, the Lord allowed me to see, in remarkable ways, the changes He was making in me. By His great grace and mercy, He allowed me to have a glimpse of the new heart he had given me (Psalm 51:10). The change was so distinct, so radical, and so contrary to my nature that I had no choice but to give God all the credit and glory. These were not changes I could have made on my own or, quite frankly, would have wanted to make on my own. Although a veritable infant in my faith, I was already learning that God was sovereign (even though I did not yet know what the word meant).

Through the quieting of my tongue and the taming of the physical and judicial power my badge afforded me, God showed me that I now belonged to Him. He had justified me by the innocent shed blood of Jesus Christ, and thus declared me innocent for my myriad sins against Him. He saved me, not on the basis of anything I had done; but exclusively through the redemptive work of His Son Jesus Christ, God in the flesh (Titus 3:5-7).

In that same miraculous moment, He set me apart—sanctifying and adopting me as one of His beloved children (Romans 8:14-17, 28-30). And, in doing so, Jesus Christ began an ongoing, sanctifying work in my life, with the first fruits (Matthew 3:8) bearing witness to the miracle of my salvation on that late summer evening, on a county jail compound.

Let me again stress that sanctification is a process. It is true in my life. Like Paul, I am a wretched man who continues to battle sin (Romans 7:14-25). I cannot thank God enough for His amazing grace. Because of His Word, and because of the sanctifying work of Christ in my life, I am confident about my salvation—for it is by grace I have been saved, through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Do you have this same confident assurance? If asked, to what can you point that testifies to a distinct and radical change in your life, which could only be brought about by the work of an all-powerful, sovereign God?

Have you made a profession of faith in Christ, but there has been no appreciable change in your character or behavior? Do you still cling to your sin and love your sin, whatever it is? Do you profess to be a follower of Jesus Christ, yet you do not love His Word, you do not enjoy communion with Him through prayer, and you do not desire healthy fellowship with other genuine followers of Christ? Do you profess to be a follower of Jesus Christ, yet you do not have any desire to share your testimony and the gospel with unbelievers? Do you profess to be a follower of Jesus Christ, yet you find no contentment in your life, regardless of the circumstances (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)?

If any of these things are true about you, is it possible that you are not born again? Is it possible that you are a false convert—a person who thinks they are saved, thinks they are a Christian, when they are not?

If this is you, then let me encourage you. Allow me to plead with you. Set aside your sinful pride and do what the apostle Paul told the Corinthians to do. “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves (2 Corinthians 13:5a)!

Here’s a simple test you can take.

Do you consider yourself to be a good person? Most people do. But no one is good according to God’s perfect standard (Romans 3:10-12). 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.

When you receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, He will be faithful to begin the work of sanctification in your life—a work He will complete when you go to spend eternity with Him, in heaven. He will make distinct and radical changes in your life, all for His glory.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

10-Minute VBS in the Park

Many of the people who heard the open-air preaching in the park last night were children. Unlike many VBS efforts, this did not cost me or my church a penny. I didn't have to purchase a kit that focused more on entertaining children than making sure they understood the Law and the Gospel. It didn't take weeks of planning and a staff of dozens of volunteers. It didn't take 5 days to conduct. It was simply 10 minutes of presenting the Law and the Gospel in the park. And, unlike many VBS programs in which parents drop off their children at church, this 10-minute VBS in the park afforded me the opportunity to present the Law and the Gospel to parents, too.

This is not an indictment of all VBS efforts. But might there be a more effective way to share the biblical gospel with children and their parents?

Listen to my conversation with Gracie (11) and Destiny (9). Surrounding them is a small crowd of children. All heard the proclamation of the Law and the Gospel.

Please pray for Gracie, Destiny, and everyone else who heard the Law and the Gospel in the park.

Before and After.....The Law

This is my sister, Cheryl--one of my best friends, and fellow co-worker for Christ.

Our city hosts a "Concerts in the Park" series every summer. Tonight was the last concert for this year, and tonight's concert was a disco revival. There were literally thousands of people in the park.

Our method for drawing the crowds was to send the team, young and old, throughout the park, with everyone carrying stuffed animals. The stuffed animals, along with cash and gift cards to local restaurants, served as our giveaways during the trivia portion of the open-air preachins sessions. Within minutes the crowd was forming, and growing.

Please visit my "Adventures in Christianity" photo gallery to see photos from tonight's fishing (under "Concerts in the Park").

Two photos are particularly remarkable. They are "before and after" shots of a lady--before she heard the Law, and after she heard the Law. She was the best/worst heckler of the night.

When my conversation began with the lady, she was very friendly and soft spoken. But that changed when I began to hold up her perception of her own goodness to the mirror of the Ten Commandments. As I watched this lady's countenance change before my eyes, I was immediately reminded of what Paul wrote:

"Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:19-20).

"What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, 'You shall not covet'" (Romans 7:7).

The lady was never humbled by the Law. Her self-righteousness and anger grew with each passing moment. She could not stand to have her sin exposed by the truth of the Law. Even after hearing the gospel of grace, she still wanted to assert her goodness and her worthiness of God's forgiveness--based entirely on what she considered to be her good deeds. Despite this lady's lack of humility, many others heard the gospel as they gathered out of curiosity to hear my exchange with the lady.

It was three of the best hours of fishing I've ever experienced. Everyone was in high spirits. The energy level in the park was off the charts. I was blessed to open-air preach three times. The team (primarily family members) enjoyed numerous one-to-one conversations. And we distributed hundreds of tracts, with many people coming back for more. :-)

Next summer we will be at the park every Saturday night. Nowhere else in our city can we find so many lost people gathered together.

One of the many highlights of the evening was the opportunity to talk to Christians who had come to the park to attend the concert, not having evangelism on their minds. We were able to encourage and challenge them to share their faith.

All praise, and honor, and glory, be to our Lord Jesus Christ, for allowing us to serve Him and watch Him work. :-)

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Is He Listening?

The following is based on an analogy I will often share with unbelievers who insist they have a relationship with God, through prayer.

It was late when the young man entered the house. His father was waiting for him.

“Dad,” the son began, “I want to tell you that I love you. I thought you would like to hear that.

“But, dad, I want you to stay out of my life. I’m my own man and I make my own rules. I do not need or want you to tell me what to do. You have no authority over me. I’m not going to obey you. Just stay out of my life.

“Oh, and all those letters you sent me; not only did I not read them, but I never even opened the envelopes. Come to think of it, I don’t even believe you wrote the letters. And since I’m making my own rules and my own decisions, what could you have to say in the letters that would be of any value to me.

“Dad, I just want you to stay out of my life. The only time I want to speak to you is if I want or need something. When I call you (if I call you), you had better pick up the phone. On those occasions when I do call, you had better agree to give me what I want. If you don’t, well, I will just use that as an excuse to be angry with you. I might even deny to others that you’re my dad.

“Remember, dad. I love you. I’m glad we had this chat.”

Without saying a word, the father left the room. Several weeks later, the son wanted something from his father. He dialed his father’s number, growing impatient with each successive ring. There was no answer.

A couple of weeks later, the son called his father again. Still, there was no answer. Over time, whenever the son called the father, he convinced himself that his father answered the phone and listened to every word he said; even though the only sound coming from the other end of the line was a ringing phone.

Each day the son grew angrier with his father. Yet he told his friends that he talked to his dad all the time and that he had a great relationship with him.

Many people claim to have a relationship with God, believing that God hears and answers their prayers. Yet these same people refuse to submit to the authority of God and His Word (the Bible). They refuse to obey His commands. Their only real interest in talking to God is to either receive something from Him, to get out of trouble, or to receive relief from some form of hardship.

Sadly, God is not listening to their prayers. He is not on the other end of the phone, so to speak. Like the father in the story, God is under no obligation to pick up the phone for those who do not love Him or obey His commands. He is under no obligation to hear and answer their prayers.

The Bible says:

“The Lord is far from the wicked, but He hears the prayers of the righteous” (Prov. 15:29).

“They cried for help, but there was none to save, even to the Lord, but He did not answer them” (Psalm 18:41).

“Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently but they will not find me, because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord” (Prov. 1:28-29).

“So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood” (Isa. 1:15).

“If I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear” (Psalm 66:18).

Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments . . . He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him” (John 14:15; 15:21).

God only hears the prayers of those who are known by Him and who are truly His children. Many people believe they are one of God’s children because they believe in God and because they consider themselves to be a good person.

Do you consider yourself to be a good person? If you answered yes, then honestly answer the following questions to see if that is true.

Have you ever told a lie? Have you ever stolen anything, no matter how small or how long ago? Have you ever taken God’s name in vain? Have you ever used His holy name to express disgust or excitement? Then according to God’s Law (The Ten Commandments), and by your own admission, you are a lying, thieving, blasphemer at heart. Does that sound like a good person? If God judges you according to the perfect standard of His Law, He will find you guilty and sentence you to eternity in hell, which is the just punishment for your sins against Him.

One who is facing eternity in hell is not a child of God. Rather, such a person is a child of wrath.

“Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest” (Eph. 2:3).

“He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36).

But there is good news.

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.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even though we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:4-9).

“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” (Rom. 5:8-9).

So, what must you do to be saved? You must recognize that you cannot save yourself or 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. The promise is that when you stand before God, instead of receiving what you rightly deserve for breaking His Law—eternity in hell, you will receive what you do not deserve—grace, mercy, and the free gift of eternal life.

Then He will hear your prayers.

“But certainly God has heard; He has given heed to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, who has not turned away my prayer nor His lovingkindness from me” (Psalm 66:19-20).

“For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; nor has He hidden His face from him; but when he cried to Him for help, He heard” (Psalm 22:24).

Turn away from your sin. By faith, receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Cry out to Him in repentance and faith. He will hear you.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Pursuing God

Click here to listen to the sermon I preached during three Public Safety Appreciation services, at Bethesda Baptist Church, in Durham, North Carolina. I hope it is an encouragement to you.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Mission: Durham, NC

I returned home yesterday afternoon after a short mission trip to Durham, North Carolina. The Lord blessed the entire weekend.

Ralph Thompson
One of the many blessings was getting to spend time with my fellow chaplain, evangelist, and brother in Christ--Ralph Thompson (pictured above). Ralph coordinated every aspect of my trip. We spent just about every waking moment together. We visited fire and EMS stations. We made a couple of visits to the Durham dispatch center. We talked to officers on the street (and even during a Durham Bulls baseball game). We made a hospital visit to the family of a 4-month old little boy who is fighting the battle of his young life. And we had one of the most incredible witnessing opportunities in a Quiznos sandwich shop, of all places.

Ralph's tireless devotion to serving Christ, his love for the first responder family, his love for his family (wife, Carter; and son, Carl), his personal testimony, and the kindness and care he showed me all served as a great example of godliness and Christ-likeness. Thank you for serving as a living epistle, brother. You encouraged and challenged me in many ways.

Fire Station 13
I spent my first night in Durham, at Fire Station 13 (pictured below). The station family greeted me with the same warm, southern hospitality I experienced all weekend. The captain showed me to my bunk room and extended an invitation to join them on a call, if they got one that night. He said it was unlikely that they would get a call but, of course, one never knows. He also tried to explain to me what would happen in the station, in the event of a call.

I was bushed after a day of flying across the country. And my body clock was still on California time. So, I wasn't able to fall asleep until after 2:00 am. Then it happened.

I literally jumped to my feet at about 2:30 am, when the sound of the loudest horn I have ever heard brought me to my feet. The lights in my room came on automatically. The unmistakable sound of a dispatcher blared over the radio. The station received a call of a structure fire.

As quickly as I jumped to my feet, I found myself sitting back on my bunk. Less than half awake, I did not have very good balance. It took me several moments for my mind to clear and to come to the realization that I was not in bed with my wife in Southern California, but in a bunk room at a fire station, in Durham, North Carolina. :-)

Once reality took hold of my mind, I could hear the sound of the fire truck pulling out of the station. Department policy dictates that all Durham fire companies are en route to calls within one minute of receiving the alarm. These guys were fast!

Before crawling back into bed, I made an unsuccessful attempt at turning off the lights in my room. I flipped the light switch several times, but nothing happened. The lights were on an automatic timer, and they weren't going off until they were good and ready. :-)

Once the lights turned off, I crawled back under the covers and did the only thing I could do. I prayed for my firefighting brethren.

They returned a short time later. I had just fallen asleep when the heart-thumping process began again. A second call. :-) This time I didn't even try to get out of bed. I just prayed.

The next morning (which was only a couple hours away), we all had a good laugh about my first experience in a fire station. Everyone in the station received a challenge coin; and I would see them all again at the Public Safety Appreciation Services. Thank you to the Station 13 family for opening their house to me, making me feel welcome, and giving me a story I will tell the rest of my life. :-)

The Gospel at 33,000 Feet
Allow me, now, to give you a snapshot of the ministry that took place during the weekend. To do that I must go back in time, because one of the most significant opportunities took place at 33,000 feet, during the first leg of my flight to Durham. Click here to read more.....

The Sovereignty of God in Quiznos
Saturday was a non-stop day of visiting first responders and inviting them to the next day's Public Safety Services. But the highlight of the day came in an unexpected place, with a person outside my "target" people group that weekend. I met a young lady named Victoria (pictured at the right). Ralph and I were blessed to see the sovereignty of God in action. Click here to read more.....

Impersonating a Police Officer
The big day was quickly upon us. Ralph's and Bethesda Baptist's months of hard work and planning culminated in three Public Safety Services. I was blessed to stand in the pulpit for all three services. At the end of my sermon, I used the analogy of impersonating a police officer to introduce the Law and the Gospel. After the services, I enjoyed a time of good fellowship with my first responder brethren--people like Jesse (pictured at the left). Click here to read more.....

On the Way to the Ball Park
In an effort to "power down" a bit (something I learned Ralph, like me, doesn't do well either) after an amazing 48 hours of ministry, Ralph treated me to a Durham Bulls baseball game. But we had a very important stop to make on the way to the ballpark.

Elios is a beautiful and precious 4-month-old little boy. While the investigation is ongoing, he may be the victim of infant shake syndrome, at the hands of his babysitter. No charges have been filed. Again, the investigation is ongoing.

Ralph and I made our way to little Elios' hospital room. His mother sat quietly in a chair next to his bed. The moment I walked into the room, I was immediately in a battle to fight back the tears. As I looked at the precious little one in the bed, surrounded by machines and monitors, I could not help but to think of the countless days Mahria and I spent at our daughter's hospital bedside, during the early years of her life.

Ralph had been ministering to Elios' parents since their ordeal began. I stood by quietly and listened as Ralph brought appropriate words of comfort to Elios' mother. Before leaving the room, the three of us gathered around Elios' bed. I gently placed my hand on mom's shoulder, as Ralph led us in prayer for the baby.

Please pray for little Elios. It is too early for the doctors to provide any kind of definitive prognosis. Pray for his healing. Pray also that this ordeal will be used by God to draw Elios' parents to genuine repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

Before we left the hospital, we spent some time talking to some of the EMS personnel gathered outside the emergency room entrance. Most of them I had met that morning, during the church services. The visit to the hospital also afforded me the opportunity to talk to three Durham PD officers and give them copies of Take Up The Shield. (Every first responder who attended the church services also received a free copy of the book.)

Go Bulls!!
In addition to our love for the Lord and our love for the first responder community, Ralph and I share another passion--baseball!

The game was already underway when we found our seats. I brought several copies of Take Up The Shield into the ballpark to give to police officers working overtime assignments at the game. We found several officers and we spent time having good conversation with each of them.

Toward the end of the game, Ralph and I (pictured at the right) took our seats, debriefed the weekend, and enjoyed the sights, sounds, and smells of the ballpark. A breeze (a subtle and gentle gift from God) cooled the warm and humid August night.

It was the bottom of the 9th. The Bulls were at bat and down by one run. There was one runner on base. I turned to Ralph and said, "You know, brother, a 'walk-off' home run would make this weekend complete." The next pitch.....


I jumped out of my seat and yelled as the ball left the bat and quickly flew over the left field wall. The young man at the plate, hoping to one day play in the major leagues, hit a "walk-off" home run to win the game. What a great moment, and a great exclamation point to an incredible weekend of ministry. I joked with Ralph the rest of the evening that while I am not Babe Ruth, I did call the shot at a Durham Bulls baseball game. :-)

Thank You
To my brother, Ralph: I cannot thank you enough for what you did for me this weekend, and what you taught me about being a follower and worshipper of the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank God for the friendship He allowed us to forge this weekend.

To Pastor Clay and the Bethesda Baptist Church family: Thank you for loving first responders enough to welcome them into the church and to show genuine appreciation for what they do every day on the streets of Durham. Thank you for supporting my mission trip to Durham. Thank you, Pastor Clay, for allowing me to stand in your pulpit. It was an honor to preach the Word and present the Gospel at Bethesda Baptist.

To Carter and Carl (Ralph's family): Thank you for lovingly and sacrificially supporting Ralph in his ministry at the church and to the first responder community. Thank you for making me feel so welcome in your home. And thank you for allowing me to monopolize so much of Ralph's time this weekend. It was a blessing to get to know both of you, and now, to call you friends.

To Durham's First Responders: I love you. It was an honor and privilege to spend time with each and every one of you. Thank you for who you are and for what you do. I pray that Jesus Christ will be the Lord and Savior of your life. I pray that those of you who already know Christ will grow in your faith and obedience to Him. And for those of you who do not yet know Christ, I pray He will draw each of you to repentance and faith, extending to each of you the free gift of eternal life that only He can give.

To the Ten-Four family: Thank you for your prayers and encouragement. You lifted me up more times than I can count. Thank you for your continued practical and prayerful support of the ministry and our family.

To Mahria, Michelle, Marissa, and Amanda: There is a down-side to every trip--leaving the four of you. Thank you for your love, patience, prayers, and support. While it was I that flew to North Carolina, we all made this mission trip together (as is the case with every trip I take). The Lord knows I could not do what I do without your love and support on the home front. I am blessed.

And to my Lord and Savior: Thank You, Jesus, for saving me from the just punishment for my sins against You. Thank You for taking upon Yourself the punishment I deserve for breaking Your Law and sinning against You. Thank You for saving me and extending me the free gift of eternal life. Thank You for allowing me to make this trip to Durham. Thank you for your patience and grace, for Your provision, and for Your protection. Thank You for Your forever faithfulness, even when I lacked faith. Thank You, Lord, for allowing me to serve You.

May You, and You alone, Lord, receive the honor and praise and glory for what took place this weekend. For You alone are worthy. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

I'm Not the Only Writer in the Family

My daughter, Marissa (17), is quite the young writer. She shares her daddy's passion for putting pen to paper. Yes, I am biased; but I think she is a good writer and she has a great deal of potential. Like her daddy, she enjoys painting with words.

I want to encourage you to visit her blog, Marissa's Rampant Mind. Recently, Marissa wrote a paper entitled The Problem of Evil, for a philosophy class. She got an "A." Yes, I'm bragging about one of my girls. What about it? :-)

I would like to encourage you to read her paper and offer Marissa your constructive feedback. I'm sure it will be an encouragement to her.


Hollywood Boulevard Outreach (Video)

Here is a video, courtesy of EvangelismTeam.com, from our recent Hollywood Boulevard outreach.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Medal of Valor Luncheon

Today I was blessed to participate in my department's annual Medal of Valor Lunchoen. I provided the invocation and benediction for the ceremony.


Lord of all Creation, we thank You for this day. We thank You for the opportunity to recognize and reward the bravest among our most noble profession. Thank You, Lord, that according to Your sovereign will and plan You allowed these heroes to be in the right place, at the right time.

Almighty and Sovereign God, we thank You for giving each of them the courage, wisdom, and discernment to carry out their duty, in the face of dire circumstances and in the midst of critical incidents. Whether or not they were aware of it at the time, whether or not they believe it now, they were instruments in Your mighty hand.

And Father, we thank You for the families of each of our heroes. We thank You for the families all of our brothers and sisters behind the badge, who are heroes in their own right. Thank You, Lord, for the sacrifice made by the families of the law enforcement professional.

Lord, we ask that You bless our time together, today. Bless the breaking of bread and our fellowship. And bless those who could not be with us this day because they are patrolling the streets, working a case, working a courthouse, or manning a custody facility. Wherever our brethren may be serving at this moment, bless them and protect them.

Lord, I pray that every word that proceeds from every mouth will bring You honor and glory. Be pleased with what takes place here, today. It is in Your most holy name that I pray. Amen.


As we began this ceremony, so we close. Lord, we come before Your sovereign throne of righteousness, justice, and grace with thanksgiving in our hearts.

As we leave this place, let us remember the stories we heard here, today. And let us not forget that behind every story, behind every medal stands a brother or sister behind the badge—a selfless hero who, on their day of undaunted courage displayed for all of us why the law enforcement profession is worthy of admiration and respect.

But let us do more than remember. Let each of us purpose to follow their lead and join them in exemplifying the noble nature of our profession. And may we do so, may we uphold our department’s tradition of service, not merely for the praises of men; but with a heart’s desire to bring you honor and glory. I ask for Your hand of mercy to be upon each of us—with the hope that you will draw each of us closer to You. Amen.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Behind the Scenes of Way of the Master Radio (08-14-07)

I was joined today by my niece, Allison. We returned to the Santa Clarita Superior Courthouse, where the fishing has been very good. Today, the fishing proved to be good yet again.

Our first-hour guest was a postal worker by the name of Ed. Ed was an interesting fellow. He professed to be a Christian, and acknowledged that there is one way to heaven--Jesus Christ. But his understanding of repentance seemed to focus on "saying you're sorry." He also considered himself to be a good person and saw goodness as a requirement for salvation. He seemed to affirm everything Ray said to him, during their conversation, yet it just seemed like something wasn't right.

Unfortunately, I had a glitch with my recorder and I did not record my follow-up conversation with Ed. As I often do with people who profess to be followers of Christ, I took Ed through a "three minutes to live" scenario. If I only had three minutes to live and I didn't know Jesus Christ, what would he tell me?

Ed became uncomfortable as he struggled to articulate what I must do to be saved. But again, he affirmed that a person must seek God's forgiveness, and at one point he even mentioned being born again. Giving Ed the benefit of the doubt, I stressed to him the importance of being able to articulate the one, true gospel.

Later in the conversation, Ed asserted that a person has to be baptized to be born again. That was a red flag. I reminded Ed of the story of the thief on the cross. He wasn't sure what to do with that, and he quickly backed down from his position that baptism is necessary for salvation.

After we said our good-byes, Allison and I talked about our time with Ed. Was Ed saved? Was he a false convert? Was he simply immature in his faith and unable to articulate what he believes? Can someone be saved and yet unable to articulate how a person is saved?

Ed left me scratching my head a bit. But, as I always say, "When in doubt, preach the Gospel."

Pray that Ed will either come to genuine repentance and faith, or begin to grow in his faith to the point where he can articulate the Law and the Gospel to others.

Our second-hour guest was a young man named Aanont. He is Thai and a practicing Buddhist. He is a graduate student, studying to be a mechanical engineer. His hope is to one-day design prosthetic limbs for children. Aanont represented a "quadruple whammy," a "grand slam," a "fourth-degree black belt" to the Christian who is intimidated about sharing his or her faith. 1) Aanont is from a different culture. 2) He practices a religion about which many Christians (including me) know very little. 3) He is very intelligent (a 22-year-old technical, scientific graduate student). 4) And he is a NICE guy.

Listen to my follow-up conversation with Aanont. Notice how little we talked about his religion. And pay close attention to how easy it was to dismantle two of his core beliefs--"The Big Bang Theory" and "Moral Relativity" (the notion that everyone's beliefs are right). My hope is that my conversation with Aanont will serve as a source of encouragement to every fishermen who gets nervous at the thought of speaking to the Aanonts of the world. You need not be worried. Just be faithful and obedient to Christ. He will take care of the rest. :-)

Although Aanont did not hear the gospel today (I did put it in his hand by way of a tract and a book), he did hear the Law and he was left to consider the validity of some of his core beliefs. My prayer for Aanont is that he will wrestle in his conscience with what he heard today, until the Lord sovereignly chooses to draw him to repentance and faith.
Join me in praying for Aanont's salvation.

It was another good day of fishing!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

A Hot Day on Hollywood Boulevard

Yesterday was a very warm, Southern California day. I spent the day on the star-studded sidewalk of Hollywood Boulevard with fellow evangelists from Santa Clarita, San Diego, San Dimas, and parts in between. We all shared the common bonds of a love for Christ, a love for lost people, a desire to fulfill the two greatest commandments, and a desire to fulfill the great commission.

Here's a snapshot of what the Lord allowed us to accomplish for Him, in five hours yesterday:

* 2-3,000 gospel tracts distributed

* 2 solid hours of open-air preaching, between three preachers

* hundreds of people heard the proclamation of the Law and the Gospel

* many one-to-one conversations

It was a great privilege to serve Christ and to spend time with so many devoted proclaimers of the gospel. I made some new friends yesterday, too, which was an added blessing.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

One Mediator Between God and Man (Behind the Scenes of Way of the Master Radio)

My brother-in-law (Ian) and my nephew (Daniel) joined me for "Street Fishing" yesterday. Fishing has been so good at our local superior courthouse that we fished there for the third straight week. And the Lord did not disappoint.

Our first-hour guest was Cordell--a grocery worker who was at the courthouse for a probation status report hearing. Cordell had been convicted of drunk driving. He got behind the wheel one night, after having too much to drink, and plowed into the side of a mountain. He was remorseful and seemed to be genuinely willing to take responsibility for his actions.

After Cordell talked to Ray Comfort and Todd Friel, I spent some time talking to him. Toward the end of the conversation, I asked Cordell if he had been represented by an attorney, in court. He said that he availed himself to the services of the public defender. Cordell told me that he saw his attorney as a mediator between him and the judge. Listen to our conversation and see how the courtroom analogy made sense to Cordell.

Our second-hour guest was Manny--an administration of justice student at our local community college. Manny's ambition was to become a probation officer. Manny (20) had spent some of his younger years on the wrong side of the law. In fact, by his own admission, he was well known to my former partners on the gang unit.

Manny claimed to be a Christian, but he believed he was a good person, and he believed in reincarnation. Manny was never sarcastic during our conversation, but he did have an air of self-confidence and self-righteousness. That all changed when I put him on the phone with Ray and Todd. How beautiful it was to watch this young man's heart melt like wax, as he heard the Law and the gospel. Listen to my follow-up conversation with Manny.

Will Cordell and Manny be saved? I do not know. But they were both humbled by the Law, and they both heard the gospel. Pray for these two young men.

It was another great day of fishing!

Sunday, August 05, 2007

An All-Too-Familiar Story -- Churched, But Never Heard the Gospel

That's Danica. She's gone to church her entire, short life, but she has never really heard the Law and the Gospel--until yesterday.

Danica is 14-years-old. Danica and her older brother, Sam, were at the park following the Frazier Park Fiesta Days Parade. I approached Danica and her brother, with microphone in hand. I asked Danica if I could interview her for a radio show.

As I talked to Danica, I learned that she has grown up in church, but she had no idea what God did to provide her with the only possible escape from the wrath of God to come, even though she said she had heard it before. Listen in on our conversation.

Yesterday was a great day of evangelism. Not only did I get to talk to Danica and her brother, but the entire Miano Clan (pictured above) got to join several friends, including Jerry Parker and his family, for the Frazier Park Fiesta Days Parade.

All the younger kids piled into the back of Jerry's truck and tossed bags filled with candy and gospel tracts to children of all ages who were watching the parade. Us older kids :-) walked the parade route handing out Big Money and Billion Dollar Bill tracts. The parade route was only about a mile, but our team was able to distribute about 1,000 tracts. The parade ended at the community park. We continued to distribute tracts, and that's how I met Danica.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

A Word from John Piper

Putting My Daughter to Bed Two Hours After the Bridge Collapsed
What Do Tragedies Like This Mean for Us?

By John Piper
August 1, 2007

At about 6 PM tonight the bridge of Interstate 35W over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis collapsed. I am writing this about three hours after the bridge fell. The bridge is located within sight of Bethlehem Baptist Church. Most of us who minister at the church cross this bridge several times a week. At this point I don’t know if any staff was on the bridge. Desiring God offices are about a mile from the bridge.

There are no firm facts at this point about the total number of injuries and fatalities. When we crossed the bridge Tuesday on our way out of town, there was extensive repair work happening on the surface of the bridge with single lane traffic. One speculates about the unusual stresses on the bridge with jackhammers and other surface replacement equipment. This was the fortieth anniversary of the bridge.

Tonight for our family devotions our appointed reading was Luke 13:1-9. It was not my choice. This is surely no coincidence. O that all of the Twin Cities, in shock at this major calamity, would hear what Jesus has to say about it from Luke 13:1-5. People came to Jesus with heart-wrenching news about the slaughter of worshipers by Pilate. Here is what he said.

"There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, 'Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.'"

Jesus implies that those who brought him this news thought he would say that those who died, deserved to die, and that those who didn’t die did not deserve to die. That is not what he said. He said, everyone deserves to die. And if you and I don’t repent, we too will perish. This is a stunning response. It only makes sense from a view of reality that is radically oriented on God.
All of us have sinned against God, not just against man. This is an outrage ten thousand times worse than the collapse of the 35W bridge. That any human is breathing at this minute on this planet is sheer mercy from God. God makes the sun rise and the rain fall on those who do not treasure him above all else. He causes the heart to beat and the lungs to work for millions of people who deserve his wrath. This is a view of reality that desperately needs to be taught in our churches, so that we are prepared for the calamities of the world.

The meaning of the collapse of this bridge is that John Piper is a sinner and should repent or forfeit his life forever. That means I should turn from the silly preoccupations of my life and focus my mind’s attention and my heart’s affection on God and embrace Jesus Christ as my only hope for the forgiveness of my sins and for the hope of eternal life. That is God’s message in the collapse of this bridge. That is his most merciful message: there is still time to turn from sin and unbelief and destruction for those of us who live. If we could see the eternal calamity from which he is offering escape we would hear this as the most precious message in the world.

We prayed during our family devotions. Talitha (11 years old) and Noel and I prayed earnestly for the families affected by the calamity and for the others in our city. Talitha prayed “Please don’t let anyone blame God for this but give thanks that they were saved.” When I sat on her bed and tucked her in and blessed her and sang over her a few minutes ago, I said, “You know, Talitha, that was a good prayer, because when people ‘blame’ God for something, they are angry with him, and they are saying that he has done something wrong. That’s what “blame” means: accuse somebody of wrongdoing. But you and I know that God did not do anything wrong. God always does what is wise. And you and I know that God could have held up that bridge with one hand.” Talitha said, “With his pinky.” “Yes,” I said, “with his pinky. Which means that God had a purpose for not holding up that bridge, knowing all that would happen, and he is infinitely wise in all that he wills.”

Talitha said, “Maybe he let it fall because he wanted all the people of Minneapolis to fear him.” “Yes, Talitha,” I said, “I am sure that is one of the reasons God let the bridge fall.”

I sang to her the song I always sing,

"Come rest your head and nestle gently,
And do not fear the dark of night.
Almighty God keeps watch intently,
and guards your life with all his might.
Doubt not his love, nor power to keep,
He never fails, nor does he sleep."

I said, “You know, Talitha, that is true whether you die in a bridge collapse, or in a car accident, or from cancer, or terrorism, or old age. God always keeps you, even when you die. So you don’t need to be afraid, do you.” “No,” she shook her head. I leaned down and kissed her. “Good night. I love you.”

Tonight across the Twin Cities families are wondering if they will ever kiss a loved one good night again. Some will not. I am praying that they will find Jesus Christ to be their Rock and Refuge in these agonizing hours of uncertainty and even loss.

The word “bridge” does not occur in the Bible. There may be two reasons. One is that God doesn’t build bridges, he divides seas. The other is that usually his people must pass through the deadly currents of suffering and death, not simply ride over them. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you” (Isaiah 43:2). They may drown you. But I will be with you in life and death.

"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life . . . will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:35-38)

Killed all day long. But not separated from Christ. We go through the river. Not over it. He went before us, crucified. He came out on the other side. He knows the way through. With him we will make it. That is the message we have for the precious sinners in the Twin Cities. He died for your sins. He rose again. He saves all who trust him. We die, but because of him, we do not die.

"Jesus said, 'I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.'" (John 11:25)

Talitha is sleeping now. But one day she will die. I teach her this. I will not always be there to bless her. But Jesus is alive and is the same yesterday today and forever. He will be with her because she trusts him. And she will make it through the river.

Weeping with those who weep, and those who should,

Pastor John
Psalm 71:20 You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again.

© Desiring God

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 1,000 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be explicitly approved by Desiring God.