Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Behind the Scenes of Way of the Master Radio (10-31-07)

When I was a kid and my dad asked me if I wanted to go fishing, I was usually out the door with gear in hand and to the car, before my dad finished his sentence. Such was the case when Hip-Hop from Way of the Master Radio called me today and asked if I could "pinch-fish" on today's show.

So, it was back to the Santa Clarita Superior Courthouse for me and Amanda (my trusty camera person and 13-year-old daughter). When we first arrived, there were very few people out and about. But I keyed on one young man as he walked out of the library. He was carrying a paperback book in his right hand. I watched him as he walked toward the courthouse and made himself comfortable on the courtyard steps. He settled in to read his book.

I moved a little closer and behind the young man. I peered over his shoulder to see what he was reading. Since he was Hispanic, I wanted to see if the book was in English or Spanish. (I'm going to take Spanish at the local community college, starting next semester, so I can learn how to communicate the gospel to a very large people group in our area.) The book was in English. The title of the book: "Perfect Poison--A Female Serial Killer's Deadly Medicine."

I try not to contact people to early before the segment begins. I don't want them to get bored or "chicken" while waiting to get on the phone. But I had a sense that this young man was the one for the first hour, so I contacted him, introduced myself, explained what I was doing, and asked if he would like to be on the radio. Without hesitation, he agreed. His name was Eloy (19).

Listen to Eloy's conversation with Ray and Todd. Before putting him on the phone, Eloy told me he considered himself to be a good person. But within moments of giving him the phone Eloy readily admitted to Ray that he deserved hell.

I had a great conversation with Eloy following his time on the radio. Eloy was very humble. Listen to our conversation.

After we said good-bye to Eloy, Amanda just looked at me and said, "Wow." I took my little girl by the shoulders and said, "Honey, it's so important that you understand something. The Lord allows us to serve Him. He allows us to do what we do, here, at the courthouse. He allows us. It is a privilege to share the gospel with people like Eloy. What we're doing is not work. It's hard sometimes, but it is not work. It's a precious gift. Eloy might come to repentance and faith. And if he does, God allowed us to bring him the gospel. Honey, what I want for you and your sisters is to share in the great joy I'm allowed to experience every time I share the gospel with someone."

Amanda put her arms around me and gave me a wonderful hug. We watched Eloy as he walked away, and we prayed that he would come to genuine repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It was a beautiful capstone to a wonderful witnessing encounter.

Adam (22) was our guest for the second hour. Like Eloy, he was at the courthouse for a "criminal matter." But unlike Eloy, Adam was not humble--at least not outwardly. Due to time constraints, I didn't have a chance to conduct a follow-up conversation with Adam.

Ray and Todd's conversation with Adam was interesting. He told Ray that he was certain about his innocence regarding his court case. Yet his court case had already been adjudicated and he was at the courthouse for a progress report. While his case was settled without judicial penalty, he was not innocent. And when Ray took him through the Law, he continued to assert his innocence--but this time before God's courtroom.

Sadly, Adam's self-righteousness had blinded him to the truth that he was not right with God. He was only right with God in his own mind. It was, however, good to hear that Adam was thinking about reading the Bible. Adam said many of the "right" things, but is he saved? While I have my doubts, only God knows for sure.

It was another good day of fishing! :-)

Behind the Scenes of Way of the Master Radio (10-30-07)


There were a lot of fish in the pond, at the Santa Clarita Superior Courthouse; but not all of them were biting. I received a lot of "no thank you" responses from people I asked to be on the show. But each person who said no received a million dollars for allowing me to take a moment of their time. :-)

The Lord also gave me the opportunity to put the gospel into the hands of a couple of "off-the-streeters." For those unfamiliar with the term "off-the-streeter," allow me to explain. An "off-the-streeter" is a person who has been hired by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department as a recruit. While these young men and women await their academy assignment to begin, they work in administrative positions (shuffling papers, running errands, menial tasks, etc)--aka. "off-the-street" positions.

That was probably more information than you either wanted or needed, but anyways.....

As Amanda and I walked through the civic center complex looking for candidates for today's show, we saw two young men, seated at a table, selling small stuffed animals to raise funds for the local sheriff's department youth athletic league. Yes, I bought one. :-)

I had seen the young men around the station, but we had never been formally introduced. I let them know I was their chaplain (Yes, recruits are people in need of love and support, too.) After some small talk, Amanda and I walked back to our car. I pulled a couple copies of my book out the trunk, signed them, and returned to the "off-the streeters." I handed them the books and said, "Here's a gift for you. Chapter One is proof that if I can make it through the academy, you guys shouldn't have any problem."

Our guest for the first hour of the show was Joshua (pictured above). Joshua is 20-years-old. His reason for being at the courthouse was to take care of a speeding ticket. Joshua considered himself to be a good person. And he was rather matter-of-fact in his assertion that good people go to heaven and bad people go to hell.

I put Joshua on the phone with Ray and Todd. Once the conversation was over, I asked Joshua my standard opening question. "So, how did it go."

With some nervous laughter, Joshua said, "Very interesting. I wasn't expecting to go through that today."

I won't spoil the rest of the conversation for you. Click here to listen to my conversation with Joshua. He makes some very interesting observations about his generation, while coming to the realization that his generation's perspectives regarding life, truth, and eternity does not get them off the hook when it comes to facing God on Judgment Day.

I found my conversation with Joshua to be an encouraging affirmation that this generation can be reached with the Law and the Gospel--sharing the truth the way Jesus did.

Our guest for the second hour of the show was Tim (pictured to the left with his friend, Jessica). Unlike Joshua, Tim did not appear to be humbled by the Law. Tim was mired in his post-modern mindset--so much so that we never did get to the gospel. My conversation with Tim was brief (he had to get to court), but I think you will find it informative.

As a deputy sheriff, I spent most of my adult life watching and reading people. Sometimes I was watchful to make sure the person with whom I was speaking didn't try to kill me. Other times, particularly during interrogations, I was watchful because the look on a person's face or their body language often gave me insight into the veracity or fallacy of what the person was telling me.

Check out this picture of Jessica. Take a good look at the expression on her face. I've given this photo the title, "I'm Not Buyin' It." This was the look Jessica gave Tim as he tried to justify some of his points of view regarding his character and beliefs.
Although Jessica wasn't buying what Tim was saying, she had her own set of beliefs that were every bit as "out there" as Tim's--maybe even more so. While Tim was on the phone with Ray and Todd, I asked Jessica if she believed everyone will go to heaven. She said, "yes." When I asked her if Hitler was in heaven, she hesitantly said, "Maybe. I think so." She suggested that even though Hitler was responsible for the slaughter of millions of people and took his own life to avoid being captured and held accountable for what he did, he might have been sorry. And if he was sorry, he might have gone to heaven. Yikes!

Unfortunately, Tim's court appearance cut our time short. But I left them each with a half-dozen tracts, a copy of How To Live Forever Without Being Religious, and a copy of the Hollywood and God DVD.

Joshua, Tim, and Jessica--please pray for them. Pray that the Lord will bring all three of them to genuine repentance and faith.

It was another good day of fishing. :-)

Friday, October 26, 2007

My Testimony

The following is an excerpt from my book, Take Up The Shield.

I graduated from the sheriff’s academy on September 18, 1987. My first assignment was a medium-security jail facility. What a culture shock! I had led a pretty sheltered life up to that point. Nothing in my experience, or during my time in the academy for that matter, could have prepared me for life inside the jail. I quickly learned that the rules there were similar to the animal kingdom. It was survival of the fittest with the strong preying upon the weak.

I worked very hard in the jail to prove myself as a competent deputy. In a month’s time, I often made more than twenty felony arrests of inmates for weapons and drug charges. Remember, these are people who are already incarcerated. I was told that there were a couple of months in which I made more arrests than entire shifts at some of the slower patrol stations. I was completely consumed by my work. I lived it. I breathed it. I looked at each day in the jail as my preparation for the day I would work the streets. That was my ultimate goal—to be the best street cop in the department. And the inmates I guarded served as a means to that end. My only concern for them was how they could provide me with my next arrest stat, or what they could tell me about life on the streets.

A sergeant, who had been one of my firearms instructors in the academy, took me under his wing. He soon made me a training officer for newly assigned deputies, so I thought his interest in me was strictly professional. He was considered a “cop’s cop” who had “been there, done that,” having worked some of the toughest streets in the county. Known for his no-nonsense approach to police work, he had the stories to back it up. He was “old school,” and that impressed me. However, the sergeant was concerned with more than just my career path. He was concerned about where I would spend eternity. Eternity was a subject I hadn’t thought much about.

My early years were spent in one of many small steel-mill towns in western Pennsylvania where the predominant religion was Roman Catholicism. The predominant ethnicity of the area was eastern European (Czech, Polish, etc.). Being of Italian extraction, my family attended the Roman Catholic Church downtown with other Italians, instead of one of the several parishes that dotted the hillsides surrounding our home.

I dreaded going to church, especially catechism classes. The nuns were unfriendly. The priests were intimidating and unapproachable, and they often spoke in a language I didn’t understand. Sunday, as far as I was concerned, was a day God created so that kids like me could play baseball. In fact, the other six days of the week were made for the same activity. As James Earl Jones said, while playing the role of a blind former Negro League baseball great in The Sandlot, “Baseball was life. And I was good at it.” But as an Italian kid growing up in western Pennsylvania, you went to church, like it or not.

I grew up believing what I had been taught: that Jesus was the Son of God, that He came to earth and was born of a virgin, that He died on the cross, and that He rose from the dead. But I also grew up believing all Italians went to heaven.

I believed that heaven was a real place. I believed that hell was a real place (which was any place not within walking distance of a baseball field). I believed that if I did more good than bad in my life, when the time came, I would be able to talk God into letting me into heaven. After all, God must be a reasonable guy. But what I thought of God as a “person” soon soured.

When I was about nine or ten years old, my younger sister was very ill and missed her first confession. In the Catholic Church, confession was an important and necessary step toward receiving her first communion. In order for her to advance with the rest of her catechism class, she needed to go to confession before her first communion. For whatever reason, we were unable to go to our parish. My mom dressed my sister in her pretty communion dress and told me to walk her down the hill to a nearby parish so that the priest could hear her first confession.

That was the last thing I wanted to do. The priest at the parish down the hill was a scary guy. For some reason, he didn’t approve of my friends and me playing baseball in the vacant lot adjacent to the church. (It probably had something to do with the stained glass windows we broke from time to time with our deep drives to center field.) In any case, the last thing I wanted to do was come face to face with that parish priest.

But, being a young man of courage, I did what I had to do. I took my sister by the hand and walked her down the hill to the church. That’s where my courage stopped. I stood at the bottom of the stairs and told my sister to walk up and knock on the door of the church. I had knocked on the door and run too many times before to knock on the door and actually wait for someone to answer. “Ding-dong Ditch” was another popular game among the kids in my town.

My sister made her way up the stairs. The doors looked even bigger with my little sister walking toward them. I told her to hurry up and that I would be waiting for her outside when she was done. My sister knocked on the door. I hoped against hope that no one would answer. My hopes were dashed when I heard the door creak and I watched, petrified, as it slowly opened.

My sister looked up at the priest who stuck his head out the door. She told him that she was there to have him hear her first confession. He looked at her with no love or compassion in his eyes, and he said, “Go away. Your kind is not welcome here.” He closed the door leaving my little sister standing alone at the top of the stairs.

I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. I remember thinking, What kind of God has a guy like that working for Him? I walked my dejected little sister home. That baseball season, I swung for those stained glass windows with a little more determination. I never wanted to go to church again. As far as I was concerned, God was like that old priest—mean and unapproachable. But, believing He was still God, I tried not to tick Him off too much.

My family soon moved away from Pennsylvania. Within a couple of years, my mom and dad divorced. I was beginning to doubt if God had any control whatsoever over what happens on earth. And I was mad at Him. What did I ever do to Him? I thought. So I stopped thinking about Him altogether.

Instead, I found a new god—sports. After my parents divorced and things were tough at home (and they often were), I escaped into sports. When I was sad or lonely, I found comfort in sports. When I needed encouragement or clarity of mind, I found it in sports. When I needed to hear how good I was, I heard it from those who watched me play sports.

But by the time I turned 15, I no longer found myself at the front of the pack, at the top of the heap of my sports world. Other kids, the really good athletes, were passing me by. The recognition I once received was now going to others. My god was turning its back on me, the same way God had turned His back on me so many times (so I believed).

So, I gave up on sports, just like I gave up on God.

For the next several years, I tried to fill the void that the absence of sports left in my life with other things and with other people—namely people of the opposite sex. Along the way, I thought about giving God “another shot,” but quickly dismissed such ideas as foolishness.

Then I met the woman who would become my wife. Besides being beautiful and kind, she didn’t expect me to spend my entire paycheck (such as it was) on her. She genuinely seemed more concerned about what she could do for me than about what I would do for her. That was a switch. That kind of relationship was new to me.

She was also very committed to her church. She considered the people in her church to be an extension of her own family. That too seemed novel to me. Being curious, and wanting to get the girl, I agreed to go to church with her. I found that the people were friendly enough. The pastor was friendly enough. After awhile, I even started singing in the choir. I wore a robe with a big cross on the front. God had to appreciate that. Maybe this would be my ticket back into God’s good graces.

Three years later, my wife and I were married. Like singing in the choir, I thought for sure that marrying a churchgoing woman would bring me closer to God. I thought that God would use her to fill the void in my heart. And, for the better part of a year, it seemed like this would be the case. But, once the newness of married life started to wear off, I began to sense that familiar emptiness returning to my heart and mind.

Frustrated with myself and with God, I thought, All right. If going to church and singing in the choir aren’t enough, if marrying a wonderful woman isn’t enough, then maybe I need to get a better job. I saw a recruitment ad in the local newspaper for the sheriff ’s department. I had never considered being a cop before I saw that ad. I thought, What better way to get God’s approval than working in a profession in which I get to fight evil and save the world? My wife did not share my enthusiasm. I applied anyway.

During the application process, we learned that my wife was pregnant. I was hired by the Sheriff’s Department, and was ready to begin my academy training. I thought for sure that God was smiling on me now. Six days later, on March 17, our first child, was born.

I had a beautiful wife. I belonged to a church. I was beginning a great career. And now I had a new baby. What more could God expect of me? I was doing everything I had been told a good person does. He had to approve of me now. I was beginning to see God as good and loving for the first time in many years. Unfortunately, this view would be short-lived.

My daughter was born in the evening. I remember showing her to my dad and hearing him say that he was proud of me. Once I made sure that my wife and baby were okay, I had a little dinner and went home. Needless to say, I was a bit excited. I couldn’t sit still, let alone go to sleep. So, around midnight, I called the hospital to check on my family. My family. Boy, did that have a great ring to it.

When a nurse answered the phone, I proudly introduced myself as my little girl’s daddy. She asked me to wait a minute and put me on hold. Another nurse picked up the line a minute or two later. “We think you should come back down to the hospital. Your daughter isn’t doing well. We’re not sure what’s wrong with her. And your wife is very sick. You should get here as soon as you can.”

To this day, it brings tears to my eyes as I remember the myriad thoughts that went through my mind as I hung up the phone. One thing I recall very clearly is looking up, raising a clenched fist toward the ceiling, and yelling, “Where are You now, God? Do You hate me so much that You’re going to hurt my family?”

My daughter spent the first two weeks of her life in the intensive care unit. The list of her medical problems seemed endless, and included a heart murmur, jaundice, underdeveloped kidneys, a curvature of the spine, and several other medical issues. This precious little girl who, just hours before, was declared to be perfectly healthy, was now fighting for her life. And my wife was suffering from a very high fever and dangerously high blood pressure.

I spent every free moment at the hospital. Since the academy had not yet started, the Sheriff ’s Department was understanding and gave me the time off I needed. I remember sitting in a rocking chair next to my daughter’s bed. I held her in my arms, crying when she cried—wanting to make all of her fear, pain, and discomfort go away. I promised her that I would never let anyone hurt her. And when I said “anyone,” I included God.

My daughter’s health slowly improved and my little family made it through my time at the academy. But we weren’t out of the woods yet.

If work was stressful, my home life was even more so. My daughter’s medical problems seemed never ending. She was seeing specialists for almost every major organ of her body. The constant trips to doctor’s offices and hospitals—never knowing for sure what was wrong with our baby—put a great deal of strain on my relationship with my wife. We had moved so I could be closer to work, but we were now far from our families. We weren’t going to church. We had no friends. We never went out because we were constantly dealing with our daughter’s illnesses.

I think one reason I put so much effort into my work as a deputy sheriff was to dull the pain from everything else that was going on in my life. Controlling the inmates became an outlet for the lack of control I was feeling at home. My wife had no such outlet. My family was a mess. My marriage was a mess. Work was hardening me to the world and everyone around me. I was even starting to treat my wife like the inmates I loathed. Throughout it all, I was angry with God. I did everything I could to be a good person—no one could accuse me of not being a hard worker—but no matter what I did, I couldn’t shake the feeling that God had turned His back on me.

One night at work, I overheard the sergeant talking to a group of deputies about his faith. Remember, even though I was ticked off at God, I still believed in Him. I walked up to the group and added my two cents to the conversation. “I’m a Christian,” I said. “I sing in the choir.” The sergeant looked at me and said two words: “That’s nice.”

I walked away feeling like a complete hypocrite. In my heart, I knew I wasn’t really a Christian. I didn’t even know what it meant to be a real Christian, but I knew I wasn’t one. I didn’t think prayer would make me a Christian. As far as I was concerned, prayer had never accomplished anything. So, once again I poured over my mental laundry list of things I had done in an attempt to get closer to God. The only thing I could think of that I hadn’t yet tried was reading the Bible.

Not being an avid reader, I figured I could just start at the end of the book to see how it all ends. I lived on “Cliff Notes” in high school. So I opened a Bible to the Book of Revelation. I began to read about beasts coming out of the water, dragons, and bowls of judgment. I closed the book thinking, That’s the god I know—always angry about something. The next month or so was a time of deep reflection and spiritual struggle.

Finally, God brought me to the realization that there was nothing I could do to earn His love and acceptance. I could never be good enough to merit a place in heaven. And God allowed me to see that there was yet one thing I had never done in all of my feeble attempts to draw closer to Him. I had never surrendered my life to Him.

The Lord opened my eyes to see that sports had never really been my god. My attempts to fill the so-called void in my heart with my wife and child, and a career as a deputy sheriff only served to mask the truth about my heart. God showed me that I was my god. Up to that point, my interest in Him was only to the extent that it pleased me. I wrongly saw God as being responsible for serving me, for making me happy.

For the first time, I saw my behavior and my attitudes toward God and others not as shortcomings and mistakes, but for what they really were—sin. I realized that my sin—even one sin, no matter how slight in my own mind—was enough to warrant His righteous judgment and the sentence of hell for all eternity.

I thought of Jesus dying on the cross for my sin. Once I understood that “the wages of sin is death,” I saw His sacrifice in a way that I had never seen it before. His sacrificial death and glorious resurrection was now so much more than the historic event I had learned about as a child in catechism. That horrific, magnificent moment in history was now very personal. It was personal because I now realized that Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, didn’t simply die on the cross. He died on the cross for me. He loved me so much that He sacrificed His perfect, innocent, sinless life in order to provide me with the only way to eternal life.

God was no longer an unknowable entity sitting in yonder heaven. He was my God. He was my heavenly Father. He loved me enough to send His Son to die on my behalf. My God was loving, holy, righteous, and just. He extended to me the free gift of eternal life through His Son Jesus Christ—not because I earned it or could ever deserve it, but because He is perfectly gracious and merciful.

On September 4, 1988, while lying alone on my bed, I cried out to God to forgive me and save me from His just and holy wrath, which is the consequence of my sins against Him. I surrendered control of my life to Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I asked Him to change my life and show me how to live for Him, instead of for myself. And He was and is forever faithful. He heard my prayer and answered, extending to a sinner like me the free gift of eternal life—a gift that is given by the grace of God alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Blasphemy in a Firestorm

For two days, I literally ran back and forth between three brush fires. Three significant fires displaced thousands of people in my community (most are back in their homes, now), destroyed dozens of home, and consumed more than 100,000 acres of land, costing millions of taxpayer dollars, through the expenditure of first responder resources. Fortunately, and entirely by God’s sovereign grace, there has only been one life lost in our area as a result of the fires. (One is still too many. Pray for the family of the deceased.)

Everywhere we went, people lined the roads. Some were taking pictures and video. Some just watched the flames with their mouths agape and glazed looks in their eyes. Some people were just satisfying their curiosity. Others were too frightened to do anything else. Still others went about their lives—jogging, power-walking, cycling while wearing face masks to filter the dense smoke out of the air, all the while seeming to ignore the raging inferno and the very real danger all around them.

Critical incidents, such as wildfires, do not always bring out the best in people; but such incidents have a tendency to reveal the true nature of people’s hearts. I’ve seen and heard a lot during the last twenty years of service as a deputy sheriff and chaplain. But on Sunday night I heard something so defiantly blasphemous that it even took me by surprise.

My partner and I were at the Incident Command Post. We had just returned from assisting with evacuations in the Canyon Country area—an area where, tragically, a number of homes were consumed by the flames. Only minutes after we arrived at the CP, a deputy’s voice came over the radio. To the trained ear, you could hear the stress in his voice.

CP, fire department says the fire is going to enter Hasley Canyon. We may have less than thirty minutes to evacuate the area. I need units ‘Code-3’ to Hasley Canyon!”

My partner and I jumped in our patrol car and rushed toward the fire. As we entered Hasley Canyon, my partner asked (half serious; half tongue-in-cheek), “Tony, do you think this is a good time to pray?”

I prayed.

As we made our way deeper into the canyon, what is otherwise a very dark canyon at night was as a bright as baseball stadium along the far rim of the canyon. But it wasn’t fluorescent bulbs lighting the darkness. It was flame. Flames leaping 100-200’ feet in the air illuminated the edges of massive, rising clouds of black smoke. The imagery was surreal and, at the same time, a stirring reminder of how terrible hell will be for those who spend eternity there.

We contacted other deputies and supervisors at a staging area, about halfway into the canyon. There, we were given our evacuation assignments. The first person we met was a young woman desperately trying to get her four horses out of harm’s way. She was cooperative and appreciative.

Hundreds of feet above us, atop a hill, we saw a huge mansion. We asked the young woman if she knew whether or not the people in that home had left the area. She said, “No. They are still up there.”

As we made our way up the long, winding, brick wall-lined, private driveway, I commented to my partner that it cost more to build the driveway then it cost to build my home. He agreed. When we reached the top, we found the homeowner standing at the edge of the hill, looking toward the burning canyon walls. From that vantage point, it appeared that the fire was following the ridge of the canyon and burning very quickly toward the man’s home.

“Sir, there is a mandatory evacuation of this area. You’re going to have to leave.” I said.

“No. I’m not leaving!” He barked.

“Sir, I know you can see the same fire we see. You do see how it is burning in this direction, don’t you? You need to leave.”

“No. I’m going to make sure those firemen do their job!” (As if he could do or say anything to make the brave firefighters do their job any better than they were already doing it. Yes, even to cops, firefighters are heroes.)

“They are going to do everything they can to protect your property. There’s nothing you can do to make them do their job better.”

“Well, I’m not leaving! I’m NOT leaving my home in the hands of God, tonight!”

“Sir, His hands are the hands you should trust, tonight!”

He mumbled something under his breath.

My partner and I made our way back down the driveway. “Wow!” My partner remarked.

He was as stunned by the man’s blasphemous comment as I was. Had there been time (and there wasn’t), I would have loved to take that man through the Law and the Gospel, while watching the fire burn closer to his home, his treasure, his god.

Once we checked for and advised residents in our assigned area, we were assigned to travel as far back into the canyon as possible. (That’s right—toward the fire.) Our job was to provide intelligence about the fire’s movement for the other deputy’s who were still making evacuation notices.

We sat with another unit for about an hour. The wind was such that the fire seemed to be changing direction every minute. Finally, the fire was within a few hundred yards of our patrol car. We watched as large embers were carried in our direction, by the wind. The embers wafted over our radio car and landed in the hills on the opposite side of the canyon. We knew it wouldn’t be long before the fire jumped the road and, with plenty of available fuel, continued to burn in a westward direction.

As we made predictions to one another about the fire’s track (without losing sight of the fact that we are cops—not firemen), a nearby tree exploded in flames. Within seconds, the entire hillside was engulfed.

My partner and I looked at each other, smiled, and at the same time said, “It’s time to go!”

No sooner did we begin to head out of the canyon when one of our sergeant’s yelled on the radio, “You guys need to get out of there! There’s a firestorm in the canyon!”

We both chuckled a bit before my partner got on the radio and calmly said, “Copy that. Umm, we see it.”

Within minutes, the area in which we sat monitoring the fire’s progress was consumed by the roaring flames.

I've heard the blasphemous proclamation of the man with the mansion on hill many times in my head, since Sunday night. It angers and saddens me at the same time. It angers me when anyone blasphemes my Lord and my God and otherwise holds Him in contempt. And it saddens me to think that unless a person (like the man at the mansion) repents and believes the gospel, their eternal destiny and existence will make this week's firestorms seem like a backyard barbecue.

God's Word is clear. "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain" (Exodus 20:7; see also Lev 19:12; Deut. 6:13).

If you have stumbled onto this blog and you do not already know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior--meaning you have never truly repented of your sins against God and received Jesus Christ, by faith alone, as your Lord and Savior, then maybe the above statements sound harsh to you. Maybe you think ascribing hell to a person because they've broken just one of the commandments is judgmental. Listen to what the Word of God says. "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all" (James 2:10).

Or maybe you would try to argue that you are not guilty of blasphemy, that you would never think of shaking your fist at God the way they man whose god was his possessions did. Good. But surely you would not assert that you are innocent of breaking any of God's Laws?

Have you ever lied? Have you ever stolen anything? Have you ever wanted something that didn't belong to you? Then, by your own admission, you are a lying, thieving, covetous person at heart. When you die, you will stand before Almighty God and He will judge you against His Law and according to His perfect, holy standard. He will find you guilty, and He will sentence you to eternity in hell, as the just punishment for your sins against Him.

The good news is that God doesn’t want to send you to hell. 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.

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.

Fire Evacuee Brought to Tears (Behind the Scenes of WOTMR)

The courthouse was pretty quiet today. Most folks, unless they had to be in the civic center complex, probably stayed home--glued to their television sets and radios listening for up-to-date information regarding the several brush fires literally surrounding our valley. Sadly, others who stayed away from the civic center were possibly among the displaced--people who have been evacuated from their homes because one of the fires either came dangerously close to their homes or their homes were among those that were destroyed by the fire.

Nora was one of the people who had to be at court today. She was also an evacuee on Sunday night. The fire came within a few hundred yards of her home. One of her friends' home was closer still. Nora has not heard from her friend since Sunday night. Nora agreed to be our guest for the first hour of today's Way of the Master Radio broadcast. (Amanda, my 13-year-old daughter, served as my camera person. I share this because I will rarely approach a woman and engage her in conversation, unless I have another person with me--preferably another woman.)

Before putting Nora on the phone with Todd Friel, she told me she believed in a "higher power;" but she wasn't really sure what happens to a person after they die. Click here to listen to Nora's conversation with Todd.

I could tell from Nora's end of the phone conversation that she followed a very post-modern worldview. Everyone is right. Beliefs are more important than truth. No one can no anything with certainty. Etc, etc, etc.

After her conversation with Todd, I talked to Nora for a few minutes about her evacuation experience. As you will hear, I used that scary moment in her life to segue from the natural to the spiritual, in our conversation.

Nora remained steadfast in her post-modern perspective for a while. But then something happened. And it happened when we entered the courtroom analogy. When I asked her what she would think of a Stranger who came into the courtroom to pay her fine, she said, "I would be eternally grateful."

Tears formed in Nora's eyes as I explained to her that the Stranger who came into the courtroom represents Jesus Christ. (If you look closely at the picture to the left, you will see a tear falling from Nora's left eye.) To see this young woman's heart soften before my eyes almost brought me to tears, too. It was a very beautiful and tender moment.

Please click here to listen to my conversation with Nora.

Pray for her. Pray, by God's sovereign grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, that Nora will be drawn to repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

What a wonderful day of fishing!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

We All Can't Be Right

Recently, there was a change in leadership over the editorial section, of our local newspaper. In years past, the editor welcomed my responses to commentary that contained spiritual subject matter. It appears that the new leadership is open to anything--anything but the gospel. So, beginning with this post, whenever my local paper decides to print commentaries touting the "spirit of the age," I will continue to send my letters to the editor; and I will also post the articles and my responses, here.

The format of these editorial blog posts is simple. I will post the editorial or commentary in its entirety, which will be followed by my response. My responses will be limited to 300-400 words, as required by the local paper.

~~~~~

Your Truth May Not Look Like My Truth
Commentary by Phil Rizzo
Wednesday, October 3, 2007

What are the objectives of religion? It seems to me that inasmuch as it is our nature to be drawn to comfort, (joy, good feelings), and away from pain, (anxiety, anger, sadness), then it only follows that religion would be designed to add to our comfort and reduce our pain. There must be some reasons why so many people are drawn to religion, especially in the United States. It must bring some comfort to many. It must relieve pain.

What does religion provide that elevates its adherents and make their lives more joyful?-It creates a dogma or set of beliefs that promise to bring comfort either now or in the hereafter.

An adjunct to church, mosque or temple attendance is the social life it creates and the good feelings that may result from being with others of the same beliefs. It provides a place to promote joy through the celebration of marriage, rituals and deal with the evidence of death.

But religion's most poignant offering has to do with something deeper, more compelling: our relationships with others. We are called upon to care for, or better, love our fellow man. As we develop in our spiritual lives it becomes clear that loving is not always easy. Something gets in the way.

But to capture this reality according to some religions one must do something even harder: Wake up! Eastern teachings suggests that waking up, becoming more conscious of our thoughts and behavior, is what we may be here for. Accordingly, adherents need to monitor their thoughts and behavior, which ultimately will bring them comfort and true peace of mind. Christians, Jews and Mohammedans each have similar objectives, approached in their own unique ways.

So as one becomes more self-aware, he or she may acquire the wisdom that goes with it and enjoy a more meaningful life. One may chose to discard major tenets which seem irrational and substitute others that fit better as one advances on his or her spiritual path. Some become, in the pejorative, recovering examples of their former belief system, while others are born again into a new awareness that makes it possible to throw off the scourges of addiction. They may be physically or mentally healed.

Some beliefs are actually scary, and one would wonder why people cling to such bizarre schemes that seem to have nothing to do with making one a better, more comfortable, more loving person. Some find comfort in obeying rules from holy books. Some reject them.

Perhaps we are lulled into complacency and the appeal of easy answers. Most of us don't like to think about such things much, do we? Eastern teachings suggest that all the answers are within us. Christians find the Bible's answers in the words of Christ or luminaries of the Old Testament. Grace takes care of lapses in behavior or thought. Jews find comfort in the Torah. Mohammedans find direction in the Quran.

Roads to happiness come through leaps of faith for some - and for others, listening to what goes on inside the self and reflecting the good, the caring, the loving that permeate every atom in the universe waiting patiently to be called upon for its expression. But there are many spiritual roads to happiness, as the words from Sheri Reynold's book, A Gracious Plenty, poetically suggests:

Your truth may not look like mine, but that is not what matters.
What matters is this: You look at a scar and see hurt,
Or you can look at a scar and see healing.

Phil Rizzo is a Santa Clarita resident. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.

~~~~~

We All Can’t Be Right
Written in response to Phil Rizzo’s October 3 column, “Your Truth May Not Look Like Mine”

Contrary to Mr. Rizzo’s thesis, God is not a pluralist. God is not ecumenical. God’s tolerance has limits. While God is gracious, merciful and kind, His tolerance will come to an end. “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).

Jesus did not believe as Mr. Rizzo believes. Jesus did not believe in the humanistic, relativist adage “your truth is your truth and my truth is my truth.” Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). Jesus was not a pluralist or an ecumenicist.

You are just like me, Mr. Rizzo. You have broken God’s Law and sinned against Him. It doesn’t matter whether or not you believe it. What matters is whether or not it is true. Your only hope is to repent and, by faith, receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior—the one who took upon Himself the punishment you and I deserve for breaking His Law when He shed His innocent blood on the cross, and defeated death when He rose from the dead. The truth is this. “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey they Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36).

If what I’ve shared with you, Mr. Rizzo, isn’t true, then it will mean nothing to you in eternity. But if what I’ve shared with you is true, then your eternal destination hangs in the balance; and I don’t want you to spend eternity in hell. I hope you will consider these things.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Lawman, The Lawbreaker, and The Law

I spent the morning at my favorite fishing hole--the Santa Clarita Superior Courthouse. I sat down on a bench and began to pray. Here is the entry in my prayer journal:

Friday, October 19, 2007 (0840) -- Courthouse
"Lord, I thank You for today. Thank You for allowing me to be here. Father, help me to set aside any and all fear. Replace it with a love for the lost so great that I can do nothing else but share the gospel. Give me spiritual eyes to see and spiritual ears to hear. Lord, allow me, by Your grace, to speak the truth in love to anyone who will listen."

Then I sat, watched, and listened. My eyes and ears were drawn to a particular young man. He was dressed "gangster-style" (although dress is no longer a definite indicator of gang involvement). He asked another young man for a cigarette, and the two began to talk to each other. I heard the young man I was watching mention several people by name--by gang monikers.

After a few minutes, the young man walked away, toward the parking lot. I watched him as he stood looking into the parking lot, making a cell phone call. It looked like he was waiting for a ride.

I got up off the bench and walked toward the young man. "He's the one." I thought.

"Hi. How are you doing, today?" I asked.

With an obvious look of suspicion, the young man said, "Fine."

I introduced myself and learned the young man's name was Fred. I explained to Fred that I was conducting interviews with people that might be used on Way of the Master Radio. I asked Fred if I could interview him, basing our conversation upon two questions: Would you consider yourself to be a good person? And, what do you think happens to a person when they die.?

Fred agreed to do the interview. Click here to listen to what happened next. It's just amazing!

Fred was proud and self-righteous when the conversation began. But not so by the end of the conversation. Fred and I talked for another 15 minutes, after I turned off the recorder.

We shook hands and said good-bye. As I walked away, Fred called out to me. "This means we're friends, now; doesn't it?"

"Yes, it does! You have my number (I had given him a couple of my gospel tracts). If you have any questions give me a call."

"I will! God bless you!"

"God bless you, too, Fred!"

The Lord answered my prayer, displaying His sovereignty, grace, and awesome power in the process. Thank You, Lord!

I hope you will take the time to listen to the audio. My hope is that it will both encourage and challenge you.

Pray for Fred. Pray that the Lord will draw Him to genuine repentance and faith, and save his life. All for the glory of God!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Meet My Assistant.....Wade

It's not always easy to find a partner for evangelism. Well, today the Lord blessed me with, shall we say, an unusual partner. I would like you to meet Wade--Wade the Duck. Look: I know some of you who are faithful readers of The Centurion Papers think that 1) I might need to get a grip; or 2) I might be holding on too tight. But, before you cry foul (or should I say "fowl"), let me explain.

I live in a homeowners' association that includes a small lake, nestled in the center of our condominium complex. For years, the lake was referred to as "the moat." It was often covered in algae, which caused it to stink. The fountains never worked, and it was not, well, teeming with life (at least not above the size of bacteria).

Well, over the last several years, the HOA Board of Directors has done a great job taking our little lake from serving as a CDC project, to a thriving ecosystem. We now have water fowl of various kinds, turtles, fish, squirrels, and other birds that call our lake home. No, I haven't gone completely green. Relax. :-)

Lately, I have taken to spending my prayer and Bible reading time at lakeside. The sound of the fountains and critters, along with the beauty of God's creation and the fresh air that He provides (yes, even in southern California), makes the lake a peaceful place to pray and read that is void of many of the typical distractions.

That was the plan for this afternoon. After a busy day of blogging and doing other things, and wanting to catch my breath before the evening's Bible study at church, I went to my spot at the lake--just me, my lawn chair, my Bible, prayer journal, and gospel tracts (just in case).

I had hoped that a certain lady would walk by. She lives in our condo community and I see her walk by often, as I'm reading. The other day, she stopped and said hello. Then she offered me a Book of Mormon. I politely declined the offer, then.....nothing. That's right. I completely blew it. It was as if the Lord had tossed me a pitch in a slow-pitch softball game and I totally whiffed. (Did I, like, just use the word "totally?" Like, I can't believe it. But I digress.) I missed a perfect opportunity to engage the lady in spiritual conversation.

I got myself situated and opened my Bible. Within a few minutes, I noticed two young people (late teens, early twenties) walking around the lake, and heading in my direction. They stopped several feet away from me so they could look at the ducks.

Enter Wade.

The young lady told the young man that she wanted the white duck. She began to make observations about the duck's plumage, which was distinctly different from that of the mallard ducks in the area.

"His name is Wade." I told them. "He's a domesticated duck."

"He's a what?" She asked.

"He's a domesticated duck. You know, the kind of duck you might find on a farm. Someone dumped him in the lake several years ago. One of my neighbors gave him the name 'Wade,' and it kind of stuck."

"So, I can take him!" She said with sarcastic excitement in her voice.

"Umm, well, I can't tell you what to do; but I think Wade likes it here."

"How do you know Wade is a he?"

"We're not that close. I don't know for sure that Wade is a he."

"How can you tell if he is a he or a she."

"Like I said, we're not that close. I don't know how to tell the difference."

The two looked at the ducks for a couple more minutes. As they started to walk by me, as if the were leaving, I said, "You may not get to keep Wade, but I have something you probably want more than Wade."

I reached into my shirt pocket and removed two Million Dollar Bill gospel tracts. "Here's a million dollars."

"Now I can buy Wade!" She said with a giggle.

"Umm, I don't think that duck is worth a million dollars. I don't think it will be laying any golden eggs anytime, soon."

They both laughed. I introduced myself and I learned that their names were Jessica and Barry. Jessica has lived in my condo community for a couple of years, but I had never seen her before. Barry was one of Jessica's friends from high school who was just hanging out with her.

"Jessica, let me ask you this. What if that was a real million dollar bill and I said you could have it if you gave me one of your eyes, for scientific research. I would give you a very nice, glass eye to replace the one you give me, but you wouldn't be able to see out of it. Would you sell me your eye for a million dollars?"

"No. I have pretty eyes. I love my eyes."

"What if I offered you five million dollars for both of your eyes. You would be very rich, but blind as a bat. Would you do it?"

"No way."

"So, your eyes are precious to you?"

"Yes."

"Well, then, let me ask you this. If your eyes are precious to you, shouldn't your soul, which will live forever, be even more precious to you?

That began an hour-long spiritual conversation in which I had the blessing of presenting Jessica and Barry with the Law and the Gospel. Several minutes into the conversation, Barry took a seat on a nearby rock and Jessica made herself comfortable on the sidewalk.

Along the way, I learned that Barry is studying Chinese at our local community college, with the hope of one-day living and working in China. He was born and raised in a small Georgia community, with a vast civil war-era history. I learned that Jessica, born and raised in our city, plans to go to cosmetology school, someday. We talked about their plans, the ups and downs in their lives, the Bible, heaven, hell, judgment, wrath, the Law, grace, forgiveness, and the Gospel. I even read to them from my Bible.

We had never met before our conversation by the lake. We may never see each other again. But we talked as though we had been friends for years. No arguing. No fighting. There was laughter, light-hearted banter, friendly disagreement, understanding, and seriousness.

It only takes a minute to establish rapport (a relationship) with a person--even total strangers (like Barry and Jessica). All you have to do is care more about the person with whom you want to share the gospel than you care about what that person will think of you if you do share the gospel with them.

All you have to do is love the person more than you fear his or her possible reaction to the Law and the Gospel.

All you have to do is place a higher value on compassion for a lost person than you place on your personal comfort, or even your safety.

All you have to do is want the person to go to heaven more than you want the person to like you.

All you have to do is speak the truth in love (see Eph. 4:15).

Is it always easy? No. But if it was always easy, it wouldn't require faith. And without faith it is impossible to please God (see Heb. 11:6).

Can it be scary, at times? Sure. But your love for Christ and your love for the lost will cast out those fears (see 1 John 4:15-21) and give you the boldness (see Acts 4:13) and compassion (see Matt. 9:36-38; Phil. 2:1-2; Gal. 3:12) to share the Law and the gospel with those who are lost and bound for hell--whether they are friends, family, co-workers, or complete strangers.

Come on, Christian. You can do this. I know you can! If you love Jesus you will tell others about Jesus and the way to eternal life that only He can provide (see Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15; John 14:15; Acts 4:18-20; 1 Cor. 9:16).

Please visit The Way of The Master if you would like to learn how to effectively and, more importantly, biblically share your faith. And please visit Adventures in Christianity if you would like to talk to and learn from other Christians, from around the world, who engage in biblical evangelism as a way of life.

Please pray for Barry and Jessica. Pray that they will, by the sovereignty and grace of God and by the power of the Holy Spirit, come to genuine repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Behind the Scenes of Way of the Master Radio (10-16-07)


Due to technical difficulties, which made me rather cranky, and resulted in the purchase of a new digital recorder, I have no audio for my follow-up interview, from today's WOTMR show.

I'm all better now. :-)

Marissa and I went to our regular fishing pond, the Santa Clarita Superior Courthouse. Our guest for the first hour of the show was Mandy. Mandy was at the courthouse with her husband (or boyfriend), Robert, and her 8-month-old son, Anthony.

Robert and Mandy debated who would be on the show. Robert conveniently excused himself to use the restroom just moments before we went on the air. So, that left Mandy to talk to Ray, on the phone.

Side note: much goes on behind the scenes that never makes it to the ears of our "ten-and-tens of listeners." One thing that hasn't made it on air (although I think it might, someday), is a game Todd and I have been playing for the last several days. The name of the game is "Get An Old Song Stuck In Your Friend's Head So That They Hum or Sing It For Hours." :-)

Todd took the offensive today when I told him that the name of our guest was Mandy. Those of you as old as me and Todd will likely remember Barry Manilow's first hit by the same name--"Mandy." Somehow, Todd managed to work the lyric "She came and she gave without takin'" into a sentence. Since there are no rules to this game, I could not throw a penalty flag. He got me. But I'll be back. ;->

Before I put Mandy on the phone with Ray, she told me that she has a Catholic background, upon which she has built (imagined) a belief system in which everyone goes to heaven, or a person's spirit remains here, on earth, in whatever form they so choose.

Once I put Mandy on the phone, it didn't take long for her demeanor to sour. Can you hear it in her voice. Click here to listen to Mandy's conversation with Ray.

After her conversation with Ray, I spent a few minutes talking to Mandy. As I do with each of our guests, the first thing I asked her was, "So, how did it go?"

"Umm, it went fine." (Do you believe her? Look at her picture, above.)

I told Mandy that by the look on her face and her tone of voice, it didn't seem like the conversation went "fine."

Mandy said that everyone has different beliefs and it's okay to lie if you are doing it to save another person's life or you're trying to do good.

I asked Mandy if beliefs were more important than truth. She said, "Beliefs. Because the more you believe, the more you get in life. The less you believe, the less you get in life."

My poor daughters. Every time someone makes the assertions that Mandy made, whichever one of my daughters is with me becomes my son, John. I asked Mandy if I believed with all my heart that Marissa was my son, John, would she ever be my son.

While Mandy conceded that, in the case of my daughter truth was more important than belief, she insisted that if she believes in God, believes she is a good person, and goes to church, then when she faces God, He is going to say, "Yeah, you believed in Me." And that would get her into heaven.

I then took Mandy into the courtroom. "Mandy, let's say you were here at court today because you broke the law. You're guilty. The evidence is there and you confess to the crime. When you stand before the judge for sentencing, do you think it would matter at all if you told the judge, 'I don't believe you are going to sentence me.'"

She agreed that if she "did the crime" she should "do the time." But then she jumped right back into self-righteous mode and said, "The only way God won't let someone into heaven is if they are a mass murderer or a rapist of children. But if you're a good person, with a good soul, mind, and being you're going to go to heaven."

I asked Mandy if she had ever been angry with someone.

"Everyone gets angry." She said--once again deflecting responsibility away from herself. While she wouldn't admit to saying she ever hated someone, she did admit to harboring bitterness and calling someone a fool. I took her to God's Word, explaining to her that such feelings of animosity are considered by God to be murderous and deserving of hell.

"Yeah, but if that's the standard, then everyone is going to hell." She retorted.

"Well, it's not that everyone is going to hell. It's that everyone deserves to go to hell--including me." I answered. "If God judges us according to His standard, then everyone false short of that standard.

Even though Mandy was not at all humbled by the Law (at least not outwardly), I took her back to the courtroom and presented the gospel to her. One reason I did so is because Robert was standing nearby, holding Anthony, and listening to every word being said. While the Law appeared to have no visible affect on Mandy, maybe it was making an impression on Robert.

I found it fascinating that Mandy seemed to really squirm when I began to talk about the sacrifice of Christ. She repeatedly looked at Robert, as if she was hoping he would step in or at least pull her away from the conversation.

The conversation ended with me explaining to Mandy that if there was anything we could do to save ourselves, or if we could be good enough to earn or deserve heaven, then it makes no sense for Jesus, God in the flesh, to die a horrible death on the cross. If we could get there on our own, then why did God have to die in our place?

She said that made sense, but I could tell she was still clinging to her own perceived goodness.

I gave Mandy and Robert copies of the Hollywood and God DVD and the Jump or Perish tract.

I had a lady named Amanda line up for the second hour of the show. Before handing her the phone, I shared a "Cop Tale" with Todd and Ray. I used an incident in which me and my partners made an arrest of a heinous murderer as he walked our of a Mormon stake, following a memorial service. Now, that's something you don't get to do every day. ;-)

I used the story to segue into a conversation about the tares among the wheat. Click here to listen to the "Cop Tale" and the ensuing conversation.

Unfortunately, as I was sharing the story, Marissa ran up to me and whispered, "She had to go!" Amanda had a change of heart and walked into the courtroom. Oh, well. Sometimes you can get a fish right up to the shore, before it snaps your line and gets away.

It was still a good day of fishing. :-)

Sunday, October 14, 2007

"Need Directions?"

Today's evangelism did not go at all as planned. PRAISE GOD!!

My community has once again made the national news. Late last night a horrendous traffic collision occurred on the I-5 (Golden State) Freeway. At least 6 big rigs and an unknown number of passenger vehicles collided inside a truck route tunnel. Explosions and the subsequent fire has left the integrity of the freeway over-crossing in question. Sadly, two truck drivers were killed--their bodies burned beyond recognition. Another ten motorists were injured. It is still unknown, almost 20 hours after the crash, if anyone else perished in the flames. Due to the heat and crumbling concrete, firefighters have yet to make their way through the tunnel to clear the wreckage and recover any bodies that may still be inside.

Southern California freeways are a nightmare on a good traffic day. The I-5 Freeway is the primary freeway from the California-Mexico border, to the Washington-Canada border. All lanes on both sides of the freeway remain closed, due to the collision and fire. Traffic in town was reminiscent of the weeks following the 1994 Northridge Earthquake, when the freeways in our area collapsed.

The plan for the day was to attend our community's annual Home and Business Expo, at our local community college. I got to the expo early to do a little recon (size of crowd, security presence, etc). As I sat in my car, I watched a truck pull into the parking lot. The occupants were a man and a woman. The man was driving. He pulled out a map book. It was obvious to me that they were lost and trying to find their way around the freeway closure.

I got out of my car and approached the truck, waving my hand to say hello. The man rolled down the window.

"Are you trying to get around the freeway closure?" I asked.

"Yes." He answered.

"Let me help you." I said.

I gave them directions. They were very grateful and quickly got back on the road.

I walked back into my car. As I sat down, I noticed another car filled with "lost" souls pull into the parking lot. This time the occupants received million-dollar bills, along with directions.

Then the light bulb went on. :-)

I called my brother-in-law and asked him to stop by the store on his way to the expo and buy several cases of small bottles of water. I drove back to my office, grabbed my easel, a large pad of paper, and sharpie pens, and drove back to the expo.

Once my brother-in-law, nieces, and nephews arrived, I set-up the easel on the sidewalk facing the street, at the entrance to the parking lot. (My nephew, Jay, is standing next to the easel, in the above photo.) For the next four hours we waved at passing motorists, drawing their attention to the sign. We went through three cases of water and a bunch of gospel tracts, as we provided directions, water, and the gospel to motorists trying to find their way.

God is sovereign, in all things! While I wish the tragedy on the freeway did not happen, I give praise and thanks to God for allowing good to come out of the smoke and flames (Romans 8:28). And the good was that many people who were forced off the freeway, received something else they were not expecting--the Law and the Gospel.

To God, and God alone, be all the glory!!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Sovereignty of God in Adoption

"And I will be a father to you, and you will be sons and daughters to Me," says the Lord God Almighty. ~ 2 Corinthians 6:18

The dapper, young man in the photo is my nephew. He will turn four next month. His first name is Jay. I took this photo of Jay shortly before he, his new family, and many of his new relatives entered a courtroom. Jay walked into the courtroom a Ugandan orphan being loved and cared for by an American family. Jay left the courtroom a member of the family, the son of Ian and Cheryl Pari, and forever afforded all of the rights and privileges of a natural born son. His adoption was complete, affirmed, sealed, and secured.

Jay is the fifth of five children. He has two older sisters (from Liberia) who are also adopted. And he has an older brother and sister who are Ian and Cheryl's natural born children.

Jay's former name was Jay Amani. Jay was abandoned on the side of the road, in Jinja, Uganda, when he was about two weeks old. The police found him and took him to the hospital. A social worker at the hospital asked the Amani Baby Cottage to care for him. The name of the orphanage served as his last name. Jay's new and complete name is Jay Joseph Askari Pari.

Click here to listen to Jay say his name. And pay particular attention to the genuine enthusiasm and authentic joy in this little child's voice. He is very proud of and very thankful for his new name.

The blessing of being in the courtroom and sharing in that beautiful moment when Jay received his new name reminded me of the sovereignty of God, as seen in His adoption of those He has drawn to Himself, extending to each of them the free gift of eternal life only He can give, as a result of the beautiful "Doctrine of Grace"--Election.

Jay's adoption process began almost two years ago when his adoptive parents chose him to be their child. As a toddler, Jay was utterly incapable of initiating the adoption process. His desire to be adopted, to have a family of his own (to the extent a two-year-old can have such a desire), held no bearing in his subsequent adoption. What orphan does not want to be adopted? Yet how many are never adopted? The child does not decide to be adopted. It is the loving adoptive parents that choose to adopt the child.

How amazing is God's grace! Just as my sister and brother-in-law chose Jay to be their son, so too has Almighty God chosen to be the Father of those He sovereignly saves from His holy wrath. God, so merciful and gracious and loving and kind, sovereignly chose to redeem His children who were once pinned under the curse of the Law. "So that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!' Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God" (Galatians 4:5-7).

It is the will of the parents, not the will of the child that results in adoption. Likewise, it is the sovereign will of God, not the will of sinful man that results in the adoption of those who repent and believe the gospel. "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:12-13).

"For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, 'Abba! Father!' The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God" (Romans 8:14-16).

My sister and brother-in-law extended loving grace to Jay when they adopted him. Jay never sought them out. They flew halfway around the world seeking to make this precious child one of their own children. Jay was adopted solely because of the kind intention of his adoptive parents. Such is the kind intention of Almighty God. "He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved . . . Also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to his purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will" (Ephesians 1:5-6, 11).

Yes, how beautiful and awesome is the grace of God! How blessed are those who are known to Him as sons and daughters! And how loving it is that God the Father chose to make adoption possible for those whom he sovereignly chooses, through the sacrificial death and resurrection of His only Son, Jesus Christ the Lord.

"For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings. For both he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father; for which reason he is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying, 'I will proclaim your name to My brethren, in the midst of the congregation I will sing Your praise.' And again, 'I will put My trust in Him.' And again, 'Behold, I and the children whom God has given Me.' Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives" (Hebrews 2:10-15).

Little "J.J." cherishes his new name. The orphanage that was once his home is but a fleeting memory. With the help of his parents (he could not do it on his own), Jay has left the orphanage behind in exchange for a new home and a new hope, and new promises. Jay says his name with such enthusiasm because he not only believes it is his name. He knows it is his name. He has been told so by his parents.

Oh, what an eternal blessing it is to have the kind of joy, hope, confident assurance, and faith this little boy has in his new life and his new name when one thinks of their relationship with Almighty God. Yes, such a relationship is possible. But it is only possible through genuine repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Apart from the wonder-working, grace-filled, loving, saving, and sovereign work of God, you are a spiritual orphan. There is absolutely nothing you can do to earn, deserve, or orchestrate your adoption as one of God's children.

It might help you come to terms with this reality if you take a moment to see yourself as God sees you--not as you see yourself. Most people see themselves as good and worthy of God's love, forgiveness, and, yes, even adoption. But are you good in God's eyes? Take this simple test and see if you are, in fact, a good person.

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 (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 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. 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.

So, what must you do to be saved? You must recognize that you cannot save yourself or escape God’s judgment. You can no more demand to be adopted as a child of God then Jay could demand to be adopted as a child in the Pari Family. Jay did not earn or deserve adoption by his parents. Likewise, you cannot earn or deserve your adoption by the God who gave you life.

You must confess your sins against God, repent (turn away from your sins), and put your trust in Jesus Christ alone for your salvation. Your only hope is to receive the free gift of eternal life, which is given by the grace of God alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. Then, and only then, will this be true about you. "'And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,' says the Lord Almighty" (2 Corinthians 6:18).

Thursday, October 11, 2007

They're Here! (Tracts Are Now Available)

They're here! Go to EvangelismTeam.com and order yours today.

"I See Dead People" is based on the famous scene from the movie, The Sixth Sense. This tract will be great to stuff into the bags of the trick-or-treaters that come to your door on Halloween night.

"Avoid Identity Theft" gives several real and practical tips for avoiding becoming the victim of identity theft--one of the fastest growing crimes around the world. The devious-looking character on the front of the tract makes this tract another one you can use this Halloween.

Both tracts will be effective evangelism tools year-round. The artwork on these tracts, courtesy of Alex Persegona, is wonderful. They are so eye-catching that people will want to take them out of your hands.


Pastor, Are We All On The Same Team?

Recently, I met with a local pastor. He wanted to discuss the recent letter I wrote to another local pastor regarding the content of the pastor’s sermon. The conversation began with a hug, and ended with a hug. I appreciate this brother in Christ for caring enough about me to meet with me to express and discuss his concerns over the tone of the letter. While we agreed to disagree, the conversation was good and, I think, fruitful.

Since that conversation, however, something my pastor-friend said has sounded in my mind, over and over again. During our conversation, when referring to the pastor to whom I wrote the letter, my pastor-friend said, “We’re all on the same team.”

I’ve thought about that statement for several days. “We’re all on the same team.” I can agree with the statement, but only if it is qualified.

Although one church is mentioned (not by name) later in this article, what follows is directed to all pastors, churches, and ministry workers--not one particular pastor, church, or ministry.

Are we all on the same team?

If you are a pastor and you believe the one, true gospel (and there , is only one true gospel), as articulated in Scripture, then we are on the same team.

If you have truly repented of your sin and received Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior—by the grace of God alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone, then we are on the same team.

“I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Tim. 4:1-2). Pastor, if this describes you and your ministry, then we are on the same team.

But if you are teaching, preaching, supporting, furthering, or sharing a different gospel (regardless of what you might say you believe), we are not on the same team.

If you do not see the proclamation of the gospel as the primary and urgent goal of every church event and activity that touches the unsaved in this world, then we are not on the same team.

If you do not see the primary function and very existence of the Church to be the glorification of God and the furtherance of His Gospel, then we are not on the same team.

If you are afraid that preaching the truth of God’s Word might scare unbelievers away from the church, or you try to disguise or make apologies for the Word of God, or you mishandle the Word of God in order to further your own agenda or any man-centered philosophy of ministry, then we are not on the same team.

“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4). If you are the pastor that the type of person mentioned in this passage is looking for, then we are not on the same team.

“Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds” (2 John 9-11). If you are the kind of pastor described in this passage, then we are not on the same team.

“Love people in such a way that they will think you’re really cool and that you’re just like them. Then invite them to church where they will become part of our community. If all goes according to plan, we’ll have lots of people, and someday we’ll get to build a bigger church where we can accommodate and entertain more people who really, really like us. And maybe, just maybe, they will somehow find out about this Jesus we mention—a Jesus who is just like us.” If this is the message you preach, if this is the message you believe, and/or this summarizes your philosophy of ministry then we are not on the same team.

Oh, what rank heresies are being taught in American churches today—heresies that are being propagated to lost people as the gospel of Jesus Christ! Sadly, and tragically, there are more blind guides leading more blind people than ever before.

If some or all of the preceding paragraphs regarding the teams to which I cannot and will not belong describe you and/or your ministry, then you must do what the Scripture commands. “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves” (2 Cor. 13:5)! You see, if this is you, then the issue is not whether or not we are on the same team. No, the issue is much bigger and graver than that. The issue is whether or not you are saved. Repent and believe the gospel!

How can you say that? Now, you’ve crossed the line! You might be thinking. I don’t think so—not with so many pastors setting aside essential doctrine in order to chase after the false doctrines of some of the false teachers of the Seeker and Emergent Church movements.

A man (or woman) is not saved simply because they step into a pulpit, or because they lead a popular para-church ministry, or because they have written a book that millions of unsaved people and undiscerning saved people love. And the pulpit, or popular ministry leadership position, or the acceptance of publishing houses that are willing to compromise the truth are not barriers behind which pastors and other Christians can hide from accountability.

Why am I writing this? Why now? The reason is this. Contrary to what my pastor-friend asserted, we are not all on the same team. The mere fact that a pastor or a church is included by many in the evangelical community, or the mere fact that some research group lumps everyone into the same evangelical pot, does not mean we are all on the same team.

Here’s one reason why I can make such a dogmatic and, I’m sure to some, such a divisive assertion.

My heart was grieved Monday morning as I read the front page of a newspaper. My heart was grieved for two reasons: 1) Six young people were brutally murdered and another was seriously injured by a young, deputy sheriff who snapped and gunned down the victims before wounding an officer, and before he took his own life during a shoot-out with fellow officers; and 2) a church in southern California completely missed an opportunity to share the Law and the Gospel with more than a hundred young people. Two tragedies in two different parts of the country took place on the same day. One resulted in the physical death of several people. The other resulted in a church’s failure to prepare lost people for physical and spiritual death, and eternity.

Lindsey Stahl, Bradley Shultz, Jordanne Murray, Katrina McCorkle, Leanna Thomas, Aaron Smith, Charlie Neitzel, and Tyler Peterson had gathered in an apartment, about a block or so outside of downtown Crandon, WI. The purpose of the gathering was to enjoy an evening of pizza and movies, in celebration of Homecoming Weekend, at the local high school.

According to preliminary news reports, an argument took place between Peterson (a deputy sheriff with the Forest County Sheriff’s Office and a part-time officer with the Crandon Police Department) and others at the party. Jealousy appears to be the reason for the argument. Peterson left the apartment only to return later with an AR-15 assault rifle. He forced his way into the apartment and fired 30 rounds from the rifle, into the bodies of the people in the room. Charlie Neitzel was the lone survivor.

While I do not presume to know the spiritual condition of any of the victims (And my hope is that they are all in the presence of the Lord), the likelihood is that at least some of the victims tragically left this world only to find themselves standing before Almighty God and hearing the words, “I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.” The very tragic and heartbreaking reality is that at least some of the victims of the massacre in Crandon will likely spend eternity in hell because they never turned from their sin and received Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

Some 2,200 miles away from Crandon, WI, in southern California, more than one hundred people the same age as those murdered in Crandon gathered for a church sponsored “outreach event.” Assuming he was quoted accurately (and it’s certainly possible he wasn’t quoted accurately), the student ministry pastor of the church described the purpose of the event this way.

“We just wanted to do something that would appeal to high school students and every kid that loves rock music . . . We want them to know God loves them for who they are, and God’s arms are wide open to them . . . We want them to realize that church may not be what they think. We’re trying to break stereotypes . . . They don’t have to come here and sit here bored listening to a long speech. We want them to come to church to experience something cool.”

Is there anything inherently wrong with organizing an event that will draw unsaved young people to a gathering place? No. I do it all the time, on a smaller scale, when I open-air preach. Is there anything wrong with playing music, providing a place for kids to skate, or even giving suburban kids an opportunity to experience some faux bull-riding? No.

So what’s the problem?

Call it what you like, but without the gospel, an “outreach event” is anything but outreach. Without the gospel, it is not evangelism. Without the gospel, at best, it is a spiritual swing and a miss. At worst, it is man’s effort to please man, while disguising the effort as Christian ministry.

What if the tragedy in Crandon happened in the community where the “outreach event” took place? What if it happened in your community? What if Lindsey, Bradley, Jordanne, Katrina, Leanna, Charlie, and, yes, even Tyler had attended the “outreach event” before their lives so tragically came to an end? Sadly, it would appear that no one at the “outreach event” would have cared enough about them to warn them about God’s pending wrath and their only hope for escape—repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Oh, I have no doubt that the organizers of the event would say that they did what they did, the way they did it, because they love young people. But I don’t believe it. Why? I don’t believe it because the one thing they could have done, the one thing they should have done to love the young people in attendance, was the one thing they intentionally did not do. They did not love them enough to tell them the truth. In the end, the organizers of the event were more concerned with what the attendees thought about themselves and what they thought about the church, than where the unsaved attendees would spend eternity.

Am I saying that the youth pastor whose church hosted the “outreach event” is responsible for the eternal destiny of anyone who attended the event, or who sits under his ministry? No; not at all. “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and destroy” (James 4:12a). This pastor, this church, just like me, cannot save or condemn anyone.

But I will say that if the Crandon tragedy had taken place in his community, and those kids had spent some time at the “outreach event” before heading home to be murdered, their blood would be on the hands of that pastor, the church, and any other Christian who, at some time, had the opportunity to share the Law and the Gospel with those kids, but failed to do so.

There was a time earlier in my Christian walk when their blood would have been on my hands.

150,000 people die every day—some tragically and suddenly like the young people in Crandon. Mentioning this is not a scare tactic. It is simply the reality of the world and times in which we live.

Pastor, I beg you. Please listen to me. Your greatest concern for lost people must be where they will spend eternity—not whether or not they think you or your church is “cool.” You should not want to see anyone go to hell. So, pastor, the most loving thing you can do for the lost is share the only message that can save their life—the Gospel. Your ability to get the unsaved to like you (or like themselves more) will not save them. Only the Gospel carries with it the power of God to save anyone’s life (Rom. 1:16).

I hope and pray that pastors and churches will come to repentance—that they will repent of this sin of claiming to love lost people while intentionally refusing to bring lost people the only truth, the only message that can save them from eternity in hell—the Law and the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

I hope and pray that pastors and churches will come to repentance—that they will repent of their adherence (as reflected in their actions) to the unbiblical notion that the Word of God is not as powerful as their man-centered messages and man-pleasing methods.

I hope and pray that pastors and churches will come to repentance—that they will repent of having as their ultimate goal the filling of the church with unsaved people, without any true concern (again, as reflected by their actions) about where unsaved people will spend eternity.

To any pastor who happens to read this article: I do want us to be on the same team. I want to support your efforts to bring the Law and the Gospel to a lost and dying world. I want to work with you to uphold and defend the truth of God’s Word from all enemies—inside or outside the church. So if you’re not preaching the Gospel, please, repent and get on the only team that matters—God’s team. Those of us who are preaching the Gospel need your help.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Behind the Scenes of Way of the Master Radio (10-09-07)

With all the travel I've been doing lately, and with the WOTM Team's recent trip to Europe, it's been a month since I did any "Street Fishing" for Way of the Master Radio. Oh, the Lord has blessed me with many evangelism opportunities during the last month (one-to-one conversations, open-air preaching, and proclaiming the gospel in churches and community events). But I've missed hanging out with Ray, Kirk, and Todd on the show. So, it was great to head back to my local courthouse today. It has become my favorite WOTMR "Street Fishing" pond. There are rarely lots of people outside the courthouse, but the fish always seem to be biting, with the Lord providing wonderful conversations. Today was no different.

Pictured above is Maritza. She was our guest during the first hour of the show. Take a good look at her face. She's happy and enjoying the conversation.

But check out the look on her face in the picture below. Notice the change in expression? Maritza isn't angry. She's concerned. She's concerned because she is, at that moment, being brought to the realization that her beliefs about God, up to that point, were wrong. (Yes, it is okay to lovingly and gently tell people they are wrong.) She is looking at herself through the mirror of God's Law, and what she sees is giving her cause for concern. Praise God!

What you see in the picture is the Law accomplishing in Maritza's heart and mind what most modern evangelism methods and messages cannot accomplish--a piercing of the heart, through conviction of sin. The Law of God, the Word of God, is doing exactly what Scripture says it will do. "For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joint and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12).

Rightly and lovingly applied, the Law of God is never used on or against the unbeliever like a machete cutting through a jungle. Rather, when rightly and lovingly applied, the Law of God is like a scalpel in the hands of surgeon who truly cares about the well-being of his or her patient.

The Law of God is what makes a person aware of their sins against Almighty God (Romans 7:7). And the gospel, and the gospel alone, has the power to bring an unsaved person to repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 1:16). Sadly more and more churches (and individual Christians) these days are operating with powerless and ineffective tools under the auspices of evangelism and outreach. They have set aside that which God has provided (namely the Law and the Gospel), and have carelessly exchanged that which is living, active, sharp, and piercing with that which is dead and impotent (namely man-centered messages and man-pleasing methods).

Click here to listen to Todd's conversation with Maritza. Click here to listen to my follow-up conversation with Maritza. Pray that the seeds planted, today, in Maritza's heart and mind will bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance--by the power of the Holy Spirit.

When those of us who do the "Street Fishing" segments for WOTMR hit the streets, we engaged more people in conversation than those you hear on the radio. Not everyone wants to be on the radio. And we often begin the evangelism before the show starts, and continue the evangelism after the show is over. Take today, for instance.

I got to the courthouse a couple of hours before the show. I gave away several million dollars and a few challenge coins. I was also blessed to have a very nice conversation with a young lady named Marquita. Marquita was at the courthouse with her boyfriend, who was in court for some traffic tickets. With Marquita was her 5-month-old (and adorable) son, Aiden.

Marquita told me she use to be a Christian, but gave up the religion because, in her mind, there were too many holes in the story. Click here to listen to my conversation with Marquita. Pray that the Lord would draw her to repentance and genuine faith.

It was another great day of fishing! :-)