Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Matthew's Day in Court

Preface: I struggle, at times, with the thought that the stories I share come across as self-serving and self-glorifying. I do hope the stories don't come across that way to you, the reader. God knows my heart far better than I do. I hope my heart is right with Him. I don't deserve to serve Christ. I don't deserve to see Him work. I don't deserve the life I now live, or the life I will live for all eternity, in the presence of my Lord And Savior, Jesus Christ. And I certainly do not deserve any praise or glory for any story I tell. "For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen" (Romans 11:36). He alone is worthy of praise. And it is for His glory that I write any story.....including this one.

I went to my regular fishing pond, the Santa Clarita Superior Courthouse. My daughter works at the library. I drove her to work, which put me at the courthouse earlier than usual. I sat on a bench, pulled my prayer journal out of my backpack, and I began to pray. (In order to help me keep my focus on the One to whom I am praying, pray more intentionally and specifically, and pray longer, I write my prayers.)

Here is an excerpt from my prayer:

Lord, I do not know what this afternoon will bring. Lord, I confess that which You already know. I do not feel ready to serve. Lord, make me ready. Make me a vessel that You will use to bring Yourself honor and glory. Here am I, Lord. Please use me.

Father, You have already ordained from eternity past what You will do to, through, and for me. You have likewise ordained how I will serve You. Lord, please give me eyes to see and ears to hear. I want to serve You by sharing the Law and the Gospel with people, today.

Father, please prepare hearts and minds of the people with whom You would have me speak. Lord, show me who these people are. May it be obvious to me.

Lord, the show [The Way of the Master Radio show] has already begun. I pray it goes well. May every word spoken bring You glory, edify the Church, and humble lost souls. Father, I pray that it is Your will to save souls, today. Lord, may I please watch You work in this miraculous way.

Father, as You know, right now there is no one here. But it only takes one. Lord, bring the people. Please allow me to see who they are.....

Moments after I said "amen," discouragement set in. There was hardly anyone outside the courthouse. The few people that were outside (not counting the hot dog vendors who had already refused to be on the show--more than once) were scurrying from building to building, or from the courthouse to their cars in the parking lot. The few people I was able to ask to be on the show quickly refused the offer. The fish were scarce, and the ones that were there just weren't biting.

The time had come for my segment on the show. David (Hip-Hop) called me. Before he could even say hello, I said, "I've got nothing, brother. I think I may have fished this pond dry."

Hip-Hop put me on hold. I listened to the show while I waited for that familiar momentary burst of static, which always precedes Todd picking up the line and saying, "Lawman!" Todd and I will usually spend a few moments off-air preparing for the "street fishing" segment.

"Todd, I've got nothing. I've never seen it so dead, here. I'm sorry, Todd."

Todd, hearing the discouragement in my voice, quickly told me not to worry. He said he would fill the segment with something else and we would try again during the second hour of the show.

I was down. I called Mahria and told her I struck out. I asked her to pray for me. Of course, she said she would.

I prayed again. No journal, this time.

More rejections from passersby.

I almost called the station to tell Hip-Hop to let Todd know that I just didn't have it today (as if I have anything whatsoever that Jesus needs to accomplish his will and his work). How self-centered!

Then I noticed a young man walking slowly in my direction. He was wearing an "In-n-Out" sweatshirt. His hands were in his pockets and his head was down.

"Hi." I said. "I don't want to sell you anything."

The young man smiled.

"I'm with a radio station called 'The Way of the Master.' It's a live show, and during the show we do a couple of segments in which we interview people on the streets. We ask two basic questions to start the conversation. Would you consider yourself to be a good person? And what do you think happens to someone when they die?"

"I don't know." He said hesitantly. "I'm coming to court today to take care of a couple of warrants. I would feel like a hypocrite."

"Well, would you consider yourself to be a good person?"

"Not right now."

"What do you think happens to a person when they die?"

"They go to heaven, or they go to hell."

"On what basis does a person go to heaven?"

"By believing in Jesus."

"Do you think being a good person has anything to do with it?"

"No. There are Buddhists that are nice people, but that won't get them into heaven."

He looked at me and squinted, as if he was trying to figure out who I was and what I wanted from him. "Are you a Christian?" He asked.

"Yes I am. And the radio show is a Christian radio show."

"It is?"

"Oh, then I don't think I could do it. I would really feel like a hypocrite."

"Do you have a Christian background?"

"Yes. I've gone to church all my life."

"My name is Tony, by the way." I said as I extended my hand.

He shook my hand and said, "I'm Matthew." (Matthew is 18.)

"Matthew, are you sure you are a Christian?"

"I use to think so. But now," glancing at the front door of the courthouse, "I'm not sure."

"Why are you at the courthouse, today."

"To turn myself in. I have two warrants."

I reached into my back pocket and removed a bi-fold wallet--the one containing my badge. I showed it to Matthew. His eyes got as big as saucers.

"Matthew, I don't care why you are at court, today. What I care about is where you are going to spend eternity. Matthew, I believe in a God who is sovereign. I don't believe in coincidences. There is a reason why we are having this conversation. Please be on the show. It could be the most important conversation of your life. Look. I've been in this courthouse hundreds of times. I promise you won't be late for court."

"Okay. Could we sit down?"

"Sure." We made our way to a nearby bench.

"Where do you go to church?" I asked.

"Grace Community Church."

"Really?"

"Yeah. John MacArthur is the pastor."

"Yeah. I know. I went to The Master's Seminary."

"So, are you still living at home?"

"Yes."

"What does your mom think about you being in court, today?"

"She doesn't know."

"Your mom doesn't know that you were arrested and are appearing in court, today, for two warrants?"

"No."

It was at about that time that Todd came on the phone, and I briefed him about Matthew.

After the commercial break, I introduced Matthew to Ray and Todd, and I handed Matthew my cell phone. Click here to listen to Ray and Todd's conversation with Matthew.

Matthew sat, leaning forward, with one hand holding the phone and the other hand covering much of his face. It was obvious that Matthew's heart was heavy. From before I first approached Matthew, the young man was under either the weight of conviction, the fear of the consequences he believed he was facing, or a combination of the two.

Once the conversation was finished, I took the phone from Matthew. "Tony. Talk to Matthew." said Todd.

"I'm going to go into court with him."

"Okay. Good-bye."

"Matthew, if it's all right with you, I would like to come into court with you. Would that be okay?" I asked.

"Yes."

"Okay. Let's get you into court. I'm going to take my backpack and put it in my car."

"You're going to come back, right?"

"Yeah. I just don't want to lug this big thing into court. Don't worry. You go check into Division 3, and I will be in there in just a minute."

"Okay."

I ran to my car, stowed my backpack, and ran back to the court. I showed my badge to the security officers at the front door so I could bypass security. Division 3 was crowded with people waiting to have their day in court. Matthew was sitting alone on a bench, on the right side of the courtroom. I sat down next to him.

The judge entered the courtroom and took the bench.

I shared the courtroom analogy and the gospel with Matthew, which was particularly appropriate considering our surroundings. I explained to Matthew that a person is allowed to defend himself or herself in court.

"There's an old saying around courthouses. 'Any man who tries to defend himself in court has a fool for a client.' I loved it when I went to court and someone I arrested insisted on defending himself. I knew the case would end with a conviction, because the person defending himself didn't know how to conduct a trial, typically knew he was guilty, and was going to try to lie his way to a 'not guilty' verdict.' The guy didn't stand a chance, and the trial usually included some comic relief."

Just then, the judge called the first case. As providence would have it, the defendant was a man charged with drunk driving. He insisted on defending himself. The judge spent several minutes trying to explain to the man that the evidence against him was significant; but he insisted upon serving as his own attorney. The judge gave the man a pre-trial hearing date, all-the-while shaking her head.

"Like I said, Matthew; any man who tries to defend himself in court has a fool for a client. The same is true for any person who stands before Almighty God on the Day of Judgment and tries to argue his own case. He has a fool for a client. God will find him guilty. And God will sentence Him to eternity in hell for breaking His Law."

We sat together and listened to several cases. "I'm really nervous." said Matthew.

"Good." I said, putting my arm around his shoulder. The look on his face told me he wasn't expecting that answer.

Now, it was Matthew's turn to stand before the judge.

The judge explained to Matthew the charges against him. Matthew was quick to enter a guilty plea. Before accepting the plea, the judge tried to explain the consequences for such a plea. Seeing that I had been sitting with Matthew, the bailiff motioned to me to come to his desk.

"Are you this kid's friend or family member?" The bailiff asked.

"No. I'm a retired deputy sheriff and I now serve as a chaplain. I just met him a couple of hours ago. I'm just here to try to provide him with a little moral support."

"Oh. Well, he's in way over his head. Do you think you can help him understand what he's looking at?"

"Sure. Any idea what the D.A. is offering him if he takes a plea?"

"No. But I can find out."

"Okay."

"Why don't you take him out into the hallway and have a talk with him."

"Sure."

The judge called a recess. Matthew and I left the courtroom and sat on a bench, in the hallway. I explained to Matthew the D.A.'s offer. I also explained to him that if he plead guilty to the open charge, that would expose him to possible jail time stemming from a probation violation on another case.

Matthew said he understood the consequences for entering a guilty plea and was ready to face the judge, although he was hoping for leniency. I helped him fill out the paperwork indicating that he was waiving his right to have an attorney present, as he entered his plea.

Matthew was about halfway through the document when he sat the pen down on the bench. He looked at the paper for several moments.

"Are you having second thoughts?" I asked.

Matthew lifted his head, looked at me, and then stared at the exit of the courthouse. I knew what he was thinking. I have seen the look on the faces of many people when I worked patrol. It was the special look people got right before they tried to make a run for it. The look on Matthew's face brought back memories--some good, and some bad.

"You know," he began, "I could take off, right now. I can run right out that door."

"Yes, you could. But you won't"

"I don't know. It's very tempting. See." Matthew got off the bench and took a few steps toward the door. "See. It would be so easy."

"You're not going to run."

"Why not?"

"Because you know in your conscience that you will never be free. You may be out of jail, for a little while, but you won't be free. You will constantly look over your shoulder. You will flinch every time you hear a siren or see the red and blue lights of a patrol car.

"Sit Down." I think he recognized by my tone of voice that I wasn't asking.

Matthew sat down on the bench and continued filling out the paperwork.

"You know, Matthew, the same is true for you, spiritually. Your conscience is at work. You know the truth. You've heard it all of your life. And somewhere inside of you, you know that you will never be free of your sin until you repent and receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior."

"I know."

We finished the paperwork and re-entered the courtroom. As we took our seats, a young lady, not much older than Matthew, was being sentenced to more than 90 days in jail. Matthew looked at me several times with a very concerned look on his face.

I put my arm around him, patted him on the back, and said, "It's going to be okay. You're doing the right thing."

The judge called Matthew's case. He plead guilty to the open charge and did not contest the probation violation charge. The judge sentenced him to thirteen days of community service, a fine, and an extension of his probation. Matthew had his day in court. To his surprise, he was going home.

We left the courtroom and made our way to the clerk's office so Matthew could pick up his community service paperwork. As we waited for Matthew's name to be called, we continued our conversation about the state of his soul. I learned that there were two sins in particular that Matthew was not ready to give up--one criminal, both immoral.

"Matthew, you do understand, don't you, that you are willing to spend eternity in hell so you can indulge your flesh--so you can continue to wallow in the sin you love more than life itself."

"That is what I'm doing, isn't it?"

"Yep."

Matthew stared at me for a few moments, and then gave me a rather odd look. It was as if he was looking at me, and then suddenly saw someone else.

"What?"

"Are you for real?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, you walked up to me. We talked. You put me on the phone, and I had that conversation. And then you spend three hours with me in court."

I chuckled and held out my arm so Matthew could touch it. "Yes, Matthew. I'm flesh and blood just like you. I'm a sinner just like you."

"You've been so nice to me. Thank you."

"You're welcome. Look. I may never see you again. I hope I do; but I might not. I just care about you and I don't want you to spend eternity in hell. There's nothing I can do about that. All I can do is tell you the truth and hope that the Lord leads you to repentance and faith."

Once Matthew saw the court clerk, we left the courtroom and walked to my car. I gave Matthew my book and some other resources, along with my business card.

"If you have any questions, give me a call. I hope to see you in heaven someday."

"Thank you."

We shook hands. Matthew walked away with books, CD's, and his skateboard in hand. I got into my car and drove home. I thanked and praised God the entire drive home. And I prayed that God would draw Matthew to repentance and faith.

Before we parted company, Matthew promised to listen to the second hour of today's show with his mother. The plan was that after listening to the show with her, he would tell his mother everything about why he was in court and about the conversations he had. I hope he kept his word.

Please pray for Matthew. Pray that the Lord will save him.

It was a remarkable day of fishing--all for the glory of God.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Brian the M.P.

I met a couple of dear friends for lunch, today. Together, we waited for our guest--Brian.

Brian is 19-years-old. (I have two children his age.) He works with one of my friends--that is, when he is not serving our country in Iraq. Brian is an M.P. with the Army Reserves. He is home for the Thanksgiving holiday, after serving four months in Iraq. He returns to Iraq on Wednesday.

Once Brian has completed his tour of duty (July of 2008) he wants to begin a career in law enforcement. One of my friends told Brian that I am a retired deputy--now chaplain for the Sheriff's Department. He wanted to meet me to talk about a career in law enforcement. Of course, I agreed but that wouldn't be the only thing we talk about. :-)

Brian arrived and we ordered lunch. I answered his questions about the Sheriff's Department, as well as questions regarding the pros and cons of serving with the largest Sheriff's Department in the world. The conversation soon moved to his experiences in Iraq. One in particular stood out.

Brian and his partner were on patrol when they noticed a flock of birds suddenly fly from a bell tower. Their first thought (and the right one) was that someone was in the tower. They quickly made their way to their armored vehicle and alerted units to a possible sniper in the tower. Just as Brian climbed into the vehicle and started to close the door, a shot rang out and ricocheted off the ground, at his feet. He alerted his gunner that they were taking rounds. The gunner lit up the bell tower with heavy machine gun fire and, as Brian said, "Whoever was in the tower was dead."

After about 30-45 minutes of "talking shop," I asked Brian the following question. "Once the dust settled and the situation was 'Code-4,' what was the first thought that came to your mind?"

Brian thought about it for a few moments.

"I understand that you can't 'what if' while you are on patrol." I continued. "I know that if you hesitate, you're dead. You've got to keep your head clear and your mind focused on your mission." Brian nodded his head. "But, when all was said and done, did you stop to thinking about what happens after this life?"

"A little." He answered.

"So, what do you think happens when a person dies?

"I think a person goes to heaven or hell."

"And how is that determined?"

"I guess if you do the right thing in this life--not all the time, because no one is perfect--but if you don't intentionally do anything to hurt anyone else and you're an honest person, you will probably go to heaven. If you don't, well then I guess you go to hell."

"So, Brian, would you consider yourself to be a good person?"

"Yes, I would say so."

"How would you like to take a test to see if that's true?"

"Sure."

I took Brian through the Law. He admitted to being a lying, thieving, blasphemous, adulterous, murderer at heart. He readily agreed that God would find him guilty of breaking His Law. And he just as readily admitted that the just punishment for breaking God's Law would be eternity in hell.

"Does that concern you?"

Brian's eyes appeared moist. "Yes it does."

"Do you know what God has done so that you may not have to face eternal punishment in hell?"

"No, I don't."

"You've never heard what God did?"
"No."

"Would it be all right if I told you? Would you like to know?"

Brian sat up straight, rested his arms on the table, leaned forward, looked me in the eye, and uttered three words that are beautiful music to an evangelist's ears. "Yes. Tell me."

I took Brian into the courtroom--but not a civilian courtroom. I took Brian into a court martial. He had been found guilty of violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice, with the appropriate sentence for his crime being the death penalty. As the Military Judge is about to pass sentence, another soldier walks into the courtroom and asks the Military Judge to allow him to take Brian's place. The Military Judge, having the authority to do so, accepts the soldier's sacrificial offer and tells Brian that on the basis of the other soldier's willingness to take upon himself the punishment Brian deserves, Brian was free to go.

"Brian, would that be good news?"

"Yes."

"And what would you think of the soldier that took your place--that was executed for the crime you committed?"

"I would be grateful."

"Well, Brian, that's what God did....." I shared the gospel with Brian.

"What are you thinking right now?"

"I've never thought of it that way before. I never thought about what God should do with me for breaking His Law."

"Brian, do you believe that I am telling you the truth?"

"Yes."

"Is there any reason, then, why you wouldn't get right with God? Is there any reason why you wouldn't turn from your sin and receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?"

"No."

"Brian, I'm guessing you've seen people die in Iraq."

"Yes, I have."

"Brian, what if that sniper had been a better shot? What if his aim had been better and the windage had been just right? If that round had found its mark and you fell to the ground, would there have been anything you could have done to bring yourself back to life?"

"No."

"That's right. Unless a medic rushed to your aid, began CPR, and stopped your bleeding, you would have no hope of survival. Right?"

"Right."

"And the same is true for you, spiritually. Brian, you are dead in your trespasses and sins. There is nothing you can do to save yourself.

"You are a young man of honor and courage. You volunteered to pick up a rifle and defend our country--to defend our freedom to have this conversation in a public place. I respect you for that and I thank you for your willingness to sacrificially serve our country and my family. But there are a lot of brave and noble men and women who have gone before you and who made the ultimate sacrifice. You want to join the law enforcement family, someday. Every 57 hours one of my brothers or sisters behind the badge are killed in the line of duty.

"But, Brian, no one goes to heaven because they are brave soldiers. In fact, there are many brave men and women who are now in hell, because they never turned from their sin and received Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Their bravery could not save them.

"Brian, my hope is that you will finish your tour of duty, return home, and that I will be able to help you start your career in law enforcement. But you know as well as I do that there are no guarantees in this life. You've seen that reality, first-hand. We're having this conversation because I care about you and I don't want you to go to hell."

Brian nodded his head. "I know."

"Then please consider very carefully what we've been talking about."

"I will."

"Have you ever read the Bible?"

"Not really."

"Do you have one?"

"Yes, I do."

"Then I want to encourage you to start reading it and start with the Gospel of John. It's the fourth book of the New Testament. And ask God to reveal His truth to you. You will see that what I've shared with you is true.

"Brian, would it be all right if I prayed for you?"

"Sure!"

The four of us, as we sat in a booth of an In-n-Out Burger restaurant, bowed our heads to pray. I prayed for the young man--young enough to be my son. I asked God to protect him as he returned to the battlefield. I asked God to bring peace to his family, as they waited for Brian to return safely home. And I asked God to draw the brave young soldier to repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ--extending to him the free gift of eternal life.

We walked out to my car. I gave Brian a copy of my book and Ray's book, "How To Live Forever Without Being Religious." Brian said he would send me his Iraq contact information and that he looked forward to staying in touch. We hugged as if we were brothers.

Lord, please save Brian!

Pray with me that God will do just that--all for His glory. In Jesus' name.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Placebos -- They Don't Work

Tract Text:

The dictionary defines a placebo as “a substance containing no medication and given merely to humor or please the patient.” Placebos have a legitimate purpose in today’s medical world. They are used in clinical research to test the potential of real drugs to provide real cures for diseases.

But what if you were seriously ill and your doctor prescribed you a placebo instead of the medicine that would cure you? What would you think of your doctor? Today, millions of people are prescribed a placebo and led to believe they are getting well, when in fact; they are terminally ill and drawing closer to death every minute. However, this placebo is not prescribed by doctors. It is prescribed by some pastors and professing Christians.

The placebo comes in the form of an easy-to-swallow message. There are many spiritual placebos being distributed these days. Here’s an example: “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. He longs to have a relationship with you, just the way you are. You’re a good person, but you have a God-shaped hole in your heart that only He can fill. Just pray a simple prayer and Jesus will come into your heart. Then, He will fix your relationships, heal your diseases, get you out of debt, and help you make the most of your life.”

If you have heard a message like this, then you’ve been given a placebo—a message intended to please you, but will do nothing to heal your disease. The disease is called sin and, without a cure, it is fatal. Examine yourself and see if you have any of the symptoms.

Have you ever lied? Have you ever stolen anything? Have you ever taken God’s name in vain? Then by your own admission, you are a lying, thieving, blasphemer at heart. When you die from this disease (sin) and stand before God, He will find you guilty of breaking His commandments and sentence you to eternity in hell. But there is good news.

There is a real cure, and there is only one. 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 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 confess your sins against God, repent (turn away from your sins), and put your trust in Jesus Christ alone for your salvation. Receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, right now. Stop taking the placebo. It cannot save you. Repent and believe the gospel. It is the only cure and your only hope.

Matthew 7:21-23 and Mark 1:15 www.evangelismteam.com

Why Publish This Gospel Tract?

Leon Brown, Alex Persegona, and I have published this tract (available through EvangelismTeam.com in a week to ten days) because we believe the fastest growing mission field in the United States can be found not in poverty-stricken areas; not in the inner cities; not in wealthy suburbs; not in redlight districts; not at the malls and the skateboard parks; not on college campuses, and not at Starbucks--although lost people who need Christ can be found in all of these places and others. No, we believe, sadly, that the fastest growing mission field is the "church" in America.

With more and more churches bent on entertaining lost people without proclaiming the truth of the Law and the Gospel; with entire denominations running head-long toward ecumenism and pluralism while deny essential doctrines of the faith, beginning with the gospel; and with the growing influence of the new gnostics and mystics of the Emergent Church Movement who also deny essential doctrine and embrace the post-modern, relativistic, and humanistic spirit of the age; we believe it is time to warn people that what many segments of the "church" in America advertise as Christianity and the gospel is nothing more than a worthless placebo that will only serve to mislead people to hell.

We are not publishing this tract because we are angry with the authentic Body of Christ. Rather, we are publishing it because we want to warn the flock of God that there are wolves in our midst--from pulpit to pew--that are preaching a false gospel and creating false converts. We want to warn people that there is only one Gospel that saves--the Gospel of the Scriptures. And we want to give people a tool that will help them to recognize placebo gospels when they hear them.

While we are confident that this gospel tract will be an effective tool in the hands of any Christian who has a genuine burden for reaching the lost with the Gospel, we also expect it might make us rather unpopular with certain segments of the "church." That is neither our intent nor our desire. But too many people die every day only to stand before God and have Him say "I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness" because they believed one of the many false gospel making their way through the "church" in American. And it's time to take a stand.

Stay tuned. In the coming weeks and months, Leon and I will let you know of where we will be putting this tract to good use. Some of the locations will surprise you. Others may not. Our hope is that you will join us in our effort to bring the Law and the Gospel to the mission field that is the "church" in America.

Is God Less Glorious Because He Ordained that Evil Be?

Recently, I enjoyed a brief dialogue on this blog with someone known only as "Degenerate Atheist." His real identity remains unknown to this blogger. "Degenerate Atheist" responded to my article, The Depravity of Self-Glorification.

"Degenerate Atheist," like so many professed atheist, played the theodicy card in his argument against the existence of God. In response, I provided a link to an excellent article by John Piper, entitled "Is God Less Glorious Because He Ordained that Evil Be?"

While the following article may not persuade "Degenerate Atheist" and others who hold his (or her) position regarding the existence of God, maybe it will encourage Christian readers in their faith and further equip them to answer the question regarding theodicy.

Here is the the text of message presented by John Piper, on July 1, 1998. The message was presented at: The Jonathan Edwards Institute--Evangelicals Seeking the Glory of God Conference.

~~~~~

Fourteen years ago Charles Colson wrote, "The western church – much of it drifting, enculturated, and infected with cheap grace – desperately needs to hear Edwards' challenge. . . . It is my belief that the prayers and work of those who love and obey Christ in our world may yet prevail as they keep the message of such a man as Jonathan Edwards." That conviction lies behind The Jonathan Edwards Institute and behind this conference. And I certainly believe it.

Most of us, having only been exposed to one of Edwards' sermons, "Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God," do not know the real Jonathan Edwards. We don't know that he knew his heaven even better than his hell, and that his vision of the glory of God was just as ravishing as his vision of hell was repulsive – as it should be.

Most of us don't know:
  • that he is considered now, by secular and evangelical historians alike, to be the greatest religious thinker America has ever produced
  • that he not only was God's kindling for the Great Awakening in the 1730's and 1740's, but was also its most penetrating analyst and critic
  • that he was driven by a great longing to see the missionary task of the church completed, and that his influence on the modern missionary movement is immense because of his Life of David Brainerd
  • that he was a rural pastor for 23 years in a church of 600 people
  • that he was a missionary to Indians for 7 years after being asked to leave his church
  • that, together with Sarah, he reared 11 faithful children.
  • that he lived only until he was 54 and died with a library of only 300 books but, nevertheless, his own books are still ministering mightily after 250 years.
But not as mightily as they should. Mark Noll, who teaches history at Wheaton and has thought much about the work of Edwards has written:

"Since Edwards, American evangelicals have not thought about life from the ground up as Christians because their entire culture has ceased to do so. Edwards's piety continued on in the revivalist tradition, his theology continued on in academic Calvinism, but there were no successors to his God-entranced world-view or his profoundly theological philosophy. The disappearance of Edwards's perspective in American Christian history has been a tragedy."

One of the burdens of this Conference, and certainly one of the burdens of my life, is the recovery of a "God-entranced world-view." "Evangelicals Seeking the Glory of God," in my understanding, means "evangelicals seeking a God-entranced world view." But what I have seen over 18 years of pastoral ministry and six years of teaching experience before that, is that people who waver with uncertainty over the problem of God's sovereignty in the matter of evil usually do not have a God-entranced world view. For them, now God is sovereign, and now he is not. Now he is in control, and now he is not. Now he is good and reliable when things are going well, and when they go bad, well, maybe he's not. Now he's the supreme authority of the universe, and now he is in the dock with human prosecutors peppering him with demands that he give an account of himself.

But when a person settles it Biblically, intellectually and emotionally, that God has ultimate control of all things, including evil, and that this is gracious and precious beyond words, then a marvelous stability and depth come into that person's life and they develop a "God-entranced world view." When a person believes, with the Heidelberg Catechism (Question 27), that "The almighty and everywhere present power of God . . . upholds heaven and earth, with all creatures, and so governs them that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, yea, all things, come not by chance, but by his fatherly hand" – when a person believes and cherishes that truth, they have the key to a God-entranced world view.

So my aim in this second message is to commend to you this absolute sovereign control of God over all things, including evil, because it is Biblical, and because it will help you become stable and deep and God-entranced and God-glorifying in all you think and feel and do.

And when we set our face in this direction, Jonathan Edwards becomes a great help to us, because he wrestled with the problems of God's sovereignty as deeply as anyone. And I want you to know how he resolved some of the difficulties.

So my plan is to lay out for you some of the evidence for God's control of all things, including evil. Then I will deal with two problems. 1. Is God then the author of sin? 2) And why does he will that there be evil in the world? I will close with an exhortation that you not waver before the truth of God's sovereignty, but embrace it for the day of your own calamity.

1. Evidence of God's Control

First, then, consider the evidence that God controls all things, including evil. When I speak of evil, I have two kinds in mind, natural and moral. Natural evil we usually refer to as calamities: hurricanes, floods, disease, all the natural ways that death and misery strike without human cause. Moral evil we usually refer to as sin: murder, lying, adultery, stealing, all the ways that people fail to love each other. So what we are considering here is that God rules the world in such a way that all calamities and all sin remain in his ultimate control and therefore within his ultimate design and purpose.

If you are wondering whether there is a connection between this message and the one I gave this afternoon (on the foreknowledge of God), there is. The denial of God's foreknowledge of human and demonic choices is a buttress to the view that God is not in control of evils in the world and therefore has no purpose in them. God's uncertainty about what humans and demons are going to choose strengthens the case that he does not plan those choices and therefore does not control them or have particular purposes in them.

For example, Gregory Boyd, in his book God at War, says, "divine goodness does not completely control or in any sense will evil."

"Jesus nor his disciples seemed to understand God's absolute power as absolute control. They prayed for God's will to be done on earth, but this assumes that they understand that God's will was not yet being done on earth (Mt. 6:10). Hence neither Jesus nor his disciples assumed that there had to be a divine purpose behind all events in history. Rather, they understood the cosmos to be populated by a myriad of free agents, some human, some angelic, and many of them evil. The manner in which events unfold in history was understood to be as much a factor of what these agents individually and collectively will as it was a matter of what God himself willed."

In other words "the Bible does not assume that every particular evil has particular godly purpose behind it."

This is diametrically opposed to what I believe the Bible teaches and what this message is meant to commend to you for your earnest consideration.

1.1 Evidence that God Controls Calamity

Consider the evidence that God controls physical evil – that is, calamity. But keep in mind that physical evil and moral evil almost always intersect. Many of our pains happen because human or demonic agents make choices that hurt us. So some of this evidence can serve under both headings: God's control of calamities and God's control of sins.

Life and death

The Bible treats human life as something God has absolute rights over. He gives it and takes it according to his will. We do not own it or have any absolute rights to it. It is a trust for as long as the owner wills for us to have it. To have life is a gift and to lose it is never an injustice from God, whether he takes it at age five or age ninety-five.

When Job lost his ten children at the instigation of Satan, he would not give Satan the ultimate causality. He said, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, And naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD" (Job 1:21). And, lest we think Job was mistaken, the author adds, "In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong" (Job 1:22 RSV).

In Deuteronomy 32:39 God says, "There is no god besides Me; It is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal, And there is no one who can deliver from My hand." When David made Bathsheba pregnant, the Lord rebuked him by taking the child. 2 Samuel 12:15 says, "Then the LORD struck the child that Uriah's widow bore to David, so that he was sick . . . . Then it happened on the seventh day that the child died." Life belongs to God. He owes it to no one. He may give it and take it according to his infinite wisdom. James says "You do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. . . . You ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that'" (James 4:14-15; see 1 Samuel 2:6-7).

Disease

One of the calamities that threatens life is disease. In Exodus 4:11, God says to Moses, when he was fearful about speaking, "Who has made man's mouth? Who makes him dumb, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?" In other words, behind all disease and disability is the ultimate will of God. Not that Satan is not involved; he is probably always involved one way or the other with destructive purposes (Acts 10:38). But his power is not decisive. He cannot act without God's permission.

That is one of the points of Job's sickness. When disease happened to Job, the text makes it plain that "Satan . . . afflicted Job with sores" (Job 2:7). His wife urged him to curse God. But Job said, "Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity" (Job 2:10). And again the author of the book commends Job by saying, "In all this, Job did not sin with his lips." In other words: this is a right view of God's sovereignty over Satan. Satan is real and may have a hand in our calamities, but not the final hand, and not the decisive hand. James makes clear that God had a good purpose in all Job's afflictions: "You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose (telos) of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful" (James 5:11). So Satan may have been involved, but the ultimate purpose was God's and it was "compassionate and merciful."

This is the same lesson we learn from 2 Corinthians 12:7 where Paul says that his thorn in the flesh was a messenger of Satan, and yet was given for the purpose of his own holiness. "To keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me – to keep me from exalting myself!" Now, humility is not Satan's purpose in this affliction. Therefore the purpose is God's. Which means that Satan here is being used by God to accomplish his good purposes in Paul's life.

There is no reason to believe that Satan is ever out of God's ultimate control. Mark 1:27 says of Jesus, "He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him." And Luke 4:36 says, "With authority and power He commands the unclean spirits and they come out." In other words, no matter how real and terrible Satan and his demons are in this world, they remain subordinate to the ultimate will of God.

Natural disasters

Another kind of calamity that threatens life and health is violent weather and conditions of the earth, like earthquakes and floods and monsoons and hurricanes and tornadoes and droughts. These calamities kill hundreds of thousands of people. The testimony of the Scriptures is that God controls the winds and the weather. "He called for a famine upon the land; He broke the whole staff of bread" (Psalm 105:16). We see this same authority in Jesus. He rebukes the threatening wind and the sea, and the disciples say, "Even the wind and the sea obey Him" (Mark 4:39, 41).

Repeatedly in the Psalms God is praised as the one who rules the wind and the lightning. "He makes the winds His messengers, Flaming fire His ministers" (Psalm 104:4). "He makes lightnings for the rain, [he] brings forth the wind from His treasuries" (Psalm 135:7). "He causes His wind to blow and the waters to flow . . . Fire and hail, snow and clouds; Stormy wind, fulfilling His word" (Psalm 147:18; 148:8; see 78:26). Isaac Watts was right, "There's not a plant or flower below but makes your glories known; and clouds arise and tempests blow by order from your throne." Which means that all the calamities of wind and rain and flood and storm are owing to God's ultimate decree. One word from him and the wind and the seas obey.

Destructive animals

Another kind of calamity that threatens life is the action of destructive animals. When the Assyrians populated Samaria with foreigners, 2 Kings 17:25 says, "Therefore the LORD sent lions among them which killed some of them." And in Daniel 6:22, Daniel says to the king, "My God sent His angel and shut the lions' mouths." Other Scriptures speak of God commanding birds and bears and donkeys and large fish to do his bidding. Which means that all calamities that are owing to animal life are ultimately in the control of God. He can see a pit bull break loose from his chain and attack a child; and he could, with one word, command that its mouth be shut. Similarly he controls the invisible animal and plant life that wreaks havoc in the world: bacteria and viruses and parasites and thousands of microscopic beings that destroy health and life. If God can shut the mouth of a ravenous lion, then he can shut the mouth of a malaria-carrying mosquito and nullify every other animal that kills.

All other kinds of calamities

Other kinds of calamities could be mentioned but perhaps we should simply hear the texts that speak in sweeping inclusiveness about God's control covering them all. For example, Isaiah 45:7 says God is the "The One forming light and creating darkness, Causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the LORD who does all these." Amos 3:6 says, "If a calamity occurs in a city has not the LORD done it?" In Job 42:2, Job confesses, "I know that You can do all things, And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted." And Nebuchadnezzar says (in Daniel 4:35), "[God] does according to his will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, 'What are you doing?'" And Paul says, in Ephesians 1:11, that God is the one "who works all things after the counsel of His will."

And if someone should raise the question of sheer chance and the kinds of things that just seem to happen with no more meaning than the role of the dice, Proverbs 16:33 answers: "The lot is cast into the lap, But its every decision is from the LORD." In other words, there is no such thing as "chance" from God's perspective. He has his purposes for every roll of the dice in Las Vegas and every seemingly absurd turn of events in the universe.

This is why Charles Spurgeon, the London pastor from 100 years ago said,

"I believe that every particle of dust that dances in the sunbeam does not move an atom more or less than God wishes – that every particle of spray that dashes against the steamboat has its orbit, as well as the sun in the heavens – that the chaff from the hand of the winnower is steered as the stars in their courses. The creeping of an aphid over the rosebud is as much fixed as the march of the devastating pestilence – the fall of . . . leaves from a poplar is as fully ordained as the tumbling of an avalanche."

When Spurgeon was challenged that this is nothing but fatalism and stoicism, he replied,

"What is fate? Fate is this – Whatever is, must be. But there is a difference between that and Providence. Providence says, Whatever God ordains, must be; but the wisdom of God never ordains anything without a purpose. Everything in this world is working for some great end. Fate does not say that. . . . There is all the difference between fate and Providence that there is between a man with good eyes and a blind man."

1.2 God's Control over Moral Evil

Now consider the evidence for God's control over moral evil, the evil choices that are made in the world. Again there are specific instances and then texts that make sweeping statements of God's control.

For example, all the choices of Joseph's brothers in getting rid of him and selling him into slavery are seen as sin and yet also as the outworking of God's good purpose. In Genesis 50:20, Joseph says to his brothers when they fear his vengeance, "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive." Gregory Boyd and others, who do not believe that God has a purpose in the evil choices of people (especially since he does not know what those choices are going to be before they make them), try to say that God can use the choices that people make for his own purposes after they make them and he then knows what they are.

But this will not fit what the text says or what Psalm 105:17 says. The text says, "You meant evil against me." Evil is a feminine singular noun. Then it says, "God meant it for good." The word "it" is a feminine singular suffix that can only agree with the antecedent feminine singular noun, "evil." And the verb "meant" is the same past tense in both cases. You meant evil against me in the past, as you were doing it. And God meant that very evil, not as evil, but as good in the past as you were doing it. And to make this perfectly clear, Psalm 105:17 says about Joseph's coming to Egypt, "[God] sent a man before them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave." God sent him. God did not find him there owing to evil choices, and then try to make something good come of it. Therefore this text stands as a kind of paradigm for how to understand the evil will of man within the sovereign will of God.

The death of Jesus offers another example of how God's sovereign will ordains that a sinful act come to pass. Edwards says, "The crucifying of Christ was a great sin; and as man committed it, it was exceedingly hateful and highly provoking to God. Yet upon many great considerations it was the will of God that it should be done." Then he refers to Acts 4:27-28, "Truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur" (see also Isaiah 53:10). In other words, all the sinful acts of Herod, Pilate, of Gentiles and Jews were predestined to occur.

Edwards ponders that someone might say that only the sufferings of Christ were planned by God, not the sins against him, to which he responds, "I answer, [the sufferings] could not come to pass but by sin. For contempt and disgrace was one thing he was to suffer. [Therefore] even the free actions of men are subject to God's disposal."

These specific examples (which could be multiplied by many more instances) where God purposefully governs the sinful choices of people are generalized in several passages. For example, Romans 9:16: "So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy." Man's will is not the ultimately decisive agent in the world, God is. Proverbs 20:24: "Man's steps are ordained by the LORD, How then can man understand his way?" Proverbs 19:21: "Many plans are in a man's heart, But the counsel of the LORD will stand." Proverbs 21:1: "The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will." Jeremiah 10:23: "I know, O LORD, that a man's way is not in himself, Nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps."

Therefore I conclude with Jonathan Edwards, "God decrees all things, even all sins." Or, as Paul says in Ephesians 1:11, "He works all things after the counsel of His will."

2. Two Questions

And I pose two questions as an evangelical who is seeking the glory of God, and who longs for a Biblical, God-entranced world-view. 1) Is God the author of sin? 2) Why does God ordain that evil exist? What are the answers that Jonathan Edwards gave to each of these questions?

2.1 Is God the Author of Sin?

Edwards answers, "If by 'the author of sin,' be meant the sinner, the agent, or the actor of sin, or the doer of a wicked thing . . . . it would be a reproach and blasphemy, to suppose God to be the author of sin. In this sense, I utterly deny God to be the author of sin." But, he argues, willing that sin exist in the world is not the same as sinning. God does not commit sin in willing that there be sin. God has established a world in which sin will indeed necessarily come to pass by God's permission, but not by his "positive agency."

God is, Edwards says, "the permitter . . . of sin; and at the same time, a disposer of the state of events, in such a manner, for wise, holy and most excellent ends and purposes, that sin, if it be permitted . . . will most certainly and infallibly follow."

He uses the analogy of the way the sun brings about light and warmth by its essential nature, but brings about dark and cold by dropping below the horizon. "If the sun were the proper cause of cold and darkness," he says, "it would be the fountain of these things, as it is the fountain of light and heat: and then something might be argued from the nature of cold and darkness, to a likeness of nature in the sun." In other words, "sin is not the fruit of any positive agency or influence of the most High, but on the contrary, arises from the withholding of his action and energy, and under certain circumstances, necessarily follows on the want of his influence."

Thus in one sense God wills that what he hates come to pass, as well as what he loves. Edwards says,

"God may hate a thing as it is in itself, and considered simply as evil, and yet . . . it may be his will it should come to pass, considering all consequences. . . . God doesn't will sin as sin or for the sake of anything evil; though it be his pleasure so to order things, that he permitting, sin will come to pass; for the sake of the great good that by his disposal shall be the consequence. His willing to order things so that evil should come to pass, for the sake of the contrary good, is no argument that he doesn't hate evil, as evil: and if so, then it is no reason why he may not reasonably forbid evil as evil, and punish it as such."

This is a fundamental truth that helps explain some perplexing things in the Bible, namely, that God often expresses his will to be one way, and then acts to bring about another state of affairs. God opposes hatred toward his people, yet ordained that his people be hated in Egypt (Genesis 12:3; Psalm 105:25 – "He turned their hearts to hate his people."). He hardens Pharaoh's heart, but commands him to let his people go (Exodus 4:21; 5:1; 8:1). He makes plain that it is sin for David to take a military census of his people, but he ordains that he do it (2 Samuel 24:1; 24:10). He opposes adultery, but ordains that Absalom should lie with his father's wives (Exodus 20:14; 2 Samuel 12:11). He forbids rebellion and insubordination against the king, but ordained that Jeroboam and the ten tribes should rebel against Rehoboam (Romans 13:1; 1 Samuel 15:23; 1 Kings 12:15-16). He opposes murder, but ordains the murder of his Son (Exodus 20:13; Acts 4:28). He desires all men to be saved, but effectually calls only some (1 Timothy 2:4; 1 Corinthians 1:26-30; 2 Timothy 2:26).

What this means is that we must learn that God wills things in two different senses. The Bible demands this by the way it speaks of God's will in different ways. Edwards uses the terms "will of decree" and "will of command." Edwards explains:

"[God's] will of decree [or sovereign will] is not his will in the same sense as his will of command [or moral will] is. Therefore it is not difficult at all to suppose that the one may be otherwise than the other: his will in both senses is his inclination. But when we say he wills virtue, or loves virtue or the happiness of his creature; thereby is intended that virtue or the creature's happiness, absolutely and simply considered, is agreeable to the inclination of his nature. His will of decree is his inclination to a thing not as to that thing absolutely and simply, but with reference to the universality of things. So God, though he hates a things as it is simply, may incline to it with reference to the universality of things."

This brings us to the final question and already points to the answer.

2.2 Why Does God Ordain that there Be Evil?

It is evident from what has been said that it is not because he delights in evil as evil. Rather he "wills that evil come to pass . . . that good may come of it." What good? And how does the existence of evil serve this good end? Here is Edwards' stunning answer:

It is a proper and excellent thing for infinite glory to shine forth; and for the same reason, it is proper that the shining forth of God's glory should be complete; that is, that all parts of his glory should shine forth, that every beauty should be proportionably effulgent, that the beholder may have a proper notion of God. It is not proper that one glory should be exceedingly manifested, and another not at all. . . .

"Thus it is necessary, that God's awful majesty, his authority and dreadful greatness, justice, and holiness, should be manifested. But this could not be, unless sin and punishment had been decreed; so that the shining forth of God's glory would be very imperfect, both because these parts of divine glory would not shine forth as the others do, and also the glory of his goodness, love, and holiness would be faint without them; nay, they could scarcely shine forth at all.

"If it were not right that God should decree and permit and punish sin, there could be no manifestation of God's holiness in hatred of sin, or in showing any preference, in his providence, of godliness before it. There would be no manifestation of God's grace or true goodness, if there was no sin to be pardoned, no misery to be saved from. How much happiness soever he bestowed, his goodness would not be so much prized and admired. . . .

"So evil is necessary, in order to the highest happiness of the creature, and the completeness of that communication of God, for which he made the world; because the creature's happiness consists in the knowledge of God, and the sense of his love. And if the knowledge of him be imperfect, the happiness of the creature must be proportionably imperfect."

So the answer to the question in the title of this message, "Is God less glorious because he ordained that evil be?" is no, just the opposite. God is more glorious for having conceived and created and governed a world like this with all its evil. The effort to absolve him by denying his foreknowledge of sin (as we saw this afternoon) or by denying his control of sin (which we have seen this evening) is fatal, and a great dishonor to his word and his wisdom. Evangelicals who are seeking the glory of God, look well to the teaching of your churches and your schools. But most of all, look well to your souls.

If you would see God's glory and savor his glory and magnify his glory in this world, do not remain wavering before the sovereignty of God in the face of great evil. Take his book in your hand, plead for his Spirit of illumination and humility and trust, and settle this matter, that you might be unshakable in the day of your own calamity. My prayer is that what I have said will sharpen and deepen your God-entranced world view, and that in the day of your loss you will be like Job who, when he lost all his children, fell down and worshipped, and said, "The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD."

© 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 and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Desiring God. Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Thanksgiving Weekend Evangelism

Thanksgiving Dinner

For more than 20 years (give or take a year or two) I have enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner with my wife's family. Since I started dating Mahria some 25 years ago, her family has been every bit as much my family, as my own family. Mahria's parents, like my mom, are my parents. Her uncles and aunts are my uncles and aunts. Her cousins are my cousins--and so on. I have been truly blessed with good and loving relationships with Mahria's family.

Neither Mahria nor I have ever taken advantage of a family gathering to share the gospel with even one of the family members, on her side of the family. Yes, it is true that witnessing to family members is by far the most difficult group of people with whom to share the Law and the Gospel, for all of the obvious reasons. However, I think, in the end, we can all agree that such reasoning is nothing more than excuse-making. Well, at least for me, I know that's the case.

So, before we made the hour-drive to Mahria's cousin's house, I told her that I was going to share the gospel with someone today and the first person who came to mind was Uncle Larry. Uncle Larry, according to the world's standards, is a "good" man. He loves his wife and children. He works hard. He is kind. He's just a "good" uncle. :-)

We arrived at Mahria's cousin's house earlier than expected. Uncle Larry arrived about a half hour later. He was there for only a few minutes when, with a serious look on his face (unusual for the family jokester), he motioned to me and said, "Can I talk to you for a minute?"

I followed Uncle Larry into the hallway. "You usually pray the blessing over the meal. Could you remember Julie this year?"

Julie, one of Uncle Larry's daughters, was killed in a tragic, alcohol-related accident 20 years ago.

"Sure, Uncle Larry. I would be happy to. Thanks for asking me to do that."

That was the most significant, spiritual conversation I have ever had with the man, in the 25 years I have known him. And he initiated it! But it gets better.

As we sat on the couch watching the football game and making small talk, Uncle Larry said, "Imagine what the world would be like if people obeyed the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments really are the only true moral standard."

"What?!" I thought to myself. "Did Uncle Larry just bring up the Ten Commandments out of the blue? Did I really just hear what I thought I heard? Well, Lord, if you were ever to put a flashing neon light in front of me to get my attention, I guess you just did." :-)

Uncle Larry's comment started about a 20-minute conversation about the Law and the Gospel. Mahria's dad and another one of her uncles were also in the room, watching the football game. All three of the patriarchs in the family heard the Law and the Gospel yesterday! All praise and glory to our great God and King.

Although Uncle Larry was not completely humbled by the Law, and while I didn't convince him of the reality of heaven and hell (he didn't deny the reality, he just remained unsure), he did hear the Law and the Gospel, and spiritual seeds were planted. And it only took 20 years to do it! :-)

There were no angry tones. No destruction of important, family relationships. No one stormed out of the room. No mashed potatoes were hurled across the table. There were no shouts of "incoming!" as biscuit mortars were lobbed across the room. And, at the end of the day, as we said our goodbyes, I received probably the biggest hug from Uncle Larry I have ever received. (And he's not shy about hugs.)

While it was utterly sinful of me not to share the gospel with the family all these years, God's grace continues to amaze me. His goodness and longsuffering continue to amaze me. His sovereignty in every conversation continues to amaze me. And, again by His grace, He made His sovereignty visible through how He used what was on Uncle Larry's mind and heart to set up the conversation. It was like a change-up over the heart of the evangelism plate.

"Black Friday" Morning

My sister, Cheryl, and I got started at 4:00AM. Our intention was to start at Best Buy. But on the way, we so a very long line outside of Kohls. The store was opening at 4, so we quickly parked, and tracted the line. Of course the line was even longer at Best Buy. Folks at the front of the line had been there since Wednesday afternoon. Again, we tracted the entire line.

Our next stop was Circuit City and another line of a few hundred people. Our last stop was Wal-Mart. We stationed ourselves outside the exit and distributed a couple hundred more tracts. The manager tried to get us to leave, saying that we were not allowed to solicit or impede the flow of customer traffic. I assured him that we were not selling anything or signing people up for anything, and that we weren't in anyone's way. AND WE KEPT ON TRACTIN'! :-)

In two hour's time, we distributed almost 2,000 gospel tracts! It was a good "warm-up" for what would prove to be a very fruitful afternoon of OA, tracting, and 1-to-1 in Burbank.

Burbank Town Center

Leon Brown of EvangelismTeam.com and I arrived at the Burbank Town Center at 2:00 PM. We met my friend and church family member, Mike, at In-n-Out Burger (of course) to grab something to eat, before heading to the fishing pond. We would be joined by Dru Morgan and about ten other fishermen later in the evening.

Things started slow, with relatively small crowds. There would be an ebb and flow of pedestrian traffic throughout the seven hours we fished. But by the end of the evening, we had more one-to-one and small group conversations than I can remember. Leon and I both open-air preached. Hundreds of tracts were distributed and hundreds of people heard the Law and the Gospel.

Here are links for my three open-air sessions and a conversation with a group of six "church" kids, along with a brief description of each audio. Of course, you are going to hear very similar messages but then again, there is but ONE true Gospel. :-)

Amber and the Blasphemous Philosopher: Amber was offended by the Law, but readily accepted the grace of the gospel. During this OA, a man in his 50's marched up to just a few inches from my stool, took a knee, and made the sign of the cross. Leon has video of this OA. Hopefully, time permitting, Leon will post the video on GodTube.

Diane the Nice Lady: Diane readily admitted that she was unable to keep the commandments, but she held onto her belief that she is a good person (although not with much conviction). She believed she would go to heaven based on her desire to be forgiven. She asserted that God does not judge. Oh, I wish you could have seen her eyes light up when I told her that "all liars will have their part in the lake of fire."

Christopher: Christopher seemed humbled by the Law. Interestingly, those who heard this OA seemed to hang around when I was done preaching. Every person who stayed received a copy of "How To Live Forever Without Being Religious." We probably gave away 50+ copies of the book throughout the evening.

6 Church Kids: This was an important conversation for a young lady named Jenny. All six kids professed to be Christians but by the end of the conversation Jenny (almost in tears) wasn't sure. Oh, a couple of times you will hear the theme to "Hawaii Five-O" (for those of you who are old enough to remember the TV show). That's my cell phone ring tone. Sorry. Once a cop, always a cop. :-)

Way of the Master Television -- Season Three

This morning, Leon and I had the opportunity to serve on the set of Way of the Master Television. Today, Kirk Cameron was filming a few scenes from an episode titled, "America, America." Leon and I ran a couple of errands for the producer and assisted in serving the crew lunch.

We went to In-n-Out Burger (of course) to pick up lunch for the crew. While we waited for the food, we sat down on a bench next to a man who was likely in his late 60's, early 70's. We made some small talk with him about the work he does and then I handed him some Christmas Cash. He got a kick out of it.

"You know, after you read it, maybe you can give it to your boss." I said.

"Yeah. 'Hey boss here's your #$%&@ Christmas card!" He said, sarcastically.

"So, what do you two do for a living?" He asked.

Leon and I looked at each other and smiled.

"We're in the ministry." I said.

The man's eyes got as big as saucers. "Well! Here I am a Southern Baptist cussing in front of ministers!"

"Yeah. Imagine that." I said.

It wasn't the prettiest ice-breaker, but it served its purpose. Leon began to probe for the man's spiritual beliefs. We learned that he went to a baptist college, in Virginia but left school after a run-in with a professor. After serving in Vietnam, he and his family started attending a Lutheran Church -- a church pastored by a man who said he wasn't sure about the existence of heaven and hell so he had some fire insurance "just in case."

Leon took the man through the Law and the Gospel. I'll let Leon fill in the details. But it was an unexpected adventure...and a good one.

It's been a jammed-packed, but very fruitful 24 hours. Leon, Cheryl, Mike, Mahria, Amanda, Dru, and everyone else who joined in the effort--thanks for partnering with me this weekend. It was a blessing to have enjoy fellowship with you and to bring the Law and the Gospel to so many people.

To God be all the praise, honor, and glory. In Jesus' name!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Confession: Guilty of a Bank Hold-Up

Yes, my friends, today I was guilty of holding up a bank.

I was in a hurry. I have a very important ministry-related meeting later today and there is much I must get done before the meeting. One of the things I had to do was go to the bank. I didn't have much time. I don't know what came over me when I entered the bank, but what resulted was a hold-up.

It all began with showing the greeter inside the bank the Curved Illusion gospel tract. Then two of the customers wanted to see it. Then the tellers behind the counter wanted to see it. For a few moments, I help up business at the bank with the distribution of the Curved Illusion tracts and Billion Dollar Bills.

On the way out of the bank, the security guard said, "That's a nice trick."

"Would you like one?"

"Sure!"

"Do you have any kids?"

"I do."

"Well you better take some home to them."

"Thanks! Happy Thanksgiving!"

"Same to you." :-)

When you only have a few moments, gospel tracts are a very effective and fun way to put the Law and the Gospel into the hands of lost people.

Oh, since I'm confessing today's hold-up, you should know that I've held up banks, before......and grocery stores, and department stores, and.......... :-)

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Anthony, Cornelius, and the Blind Man of Bethsaida

"Anthony, I think this is the most important question I can ask you. Are you trusting in Jesus Christ alone for your salvation; or are you trusting in Jesus Christ and Anthony for your salvation?"

"Now there was a man at Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian cohort, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, and gave many alms to the Jewish people and prayed to God continually" (Acts 10:1-2).

"And they came to Bethsaida. And they brought a blind man to Jesus and implored Him to touch him. Taking the blind man by the hand, He brought him out of the village; and after spitting on his eyes and laying His hands on him, He asked him, 'Do you see anything?'

"And he looked up and said, 'I see men, for I see them like trees, walking around.' Then again He laid His hands on his eyes; and he looked intently and was restored, and began to see everything clearly" (Mark 8:22-25).

My team (my family) spent the morning at the Annual Santa Clarita Arts & Crafts Fair. We did very little shopping. Our real purpose for being there was to share the Law and the Gospel with the hundreds of people buying and selling handmade and other kinds of treasures. In the few hours we were at the park, we distributed hundreds of gospel tracts.

I saw one lady walking through the park, reading the back of a million dollar bill, given to her by someone else on the team. It was fun to walk around the park and see million dollar bills and other gospel tracts sticking out of shirt pockets or in people's hands. Well, I remarked to the lady that I saw that she received a million dollar bill. She, said, "Oh, I know I'm going to heaven." Her tone oozed with self-righteousness.

"On what basis?" I politely asked.

"Oh, I'm not talking about this. I'm walking that way." Pointing in a direction away from me. "Everyone goes to heaven."

"That's not true. Everyone does not go to heaven. I hope you read the tract."

I did have one conversation while we were at the park. "Just one conversation?" You ask. Well, it was a conversation that lasted 90 minutes. And it was one of the most extroardinary witnessing encounters I have ever experienced.

As I walked behind a row of vender tents, I noticed a young man sitting on a picnic bench. An open book lay on the bench, just left of his elbow. In his hand was a pen. I watched him as he glanced at the book, maybe flip the page once or twice, and then feverishly write in a spiral-bound notebook. The open book was a Bible.

I walked up behind the young, Hispanic man. He was so engrossed in what he was doing that he didn't hear me come up behind him. I stood behind him for a moment or two.

His Bible was open to 2 Samuel 12--the death of David's baby. The Bible he was reading was a parallel Bible, with both the KJV and Spanish translations. The Bible looked the way the Bible of a lover of God's Word should look. It was worn. The pages were yellowed. Many of the pages appeared torn, creased, and wrinkled. The empty borders of the pages to which his Bible was opened were filled with handwritten notes. Verse references were circled. Specific words were underlined.

This young man's Bible was more than a decorative item, a status symbol, or an idol. It appeared as a hungry, young man's plate of food--a plate half empty, a meal half eaten. It appeared as a tall glass with little water in it--the rim of which bearing the stains of dry, dirty, thirsty lips, having been pressed against it in order to drain the glass of its refreshing contents. His Bible looked the way a Christian's Bible should look.....used.

"What are you studying?" I asked.

Even though I took him by surprise, he looked up at me and smiled. Without hesitation, he began to tell me what he was gleaning from the Word of God. "You know, even though God told David that his baby wouldn't live, and even though he was mourning the death of his baby, he didn't curse God. He worshiped God."

We spent a few minutes talking about David's sin and the faith with which he approached and submitted to his God.

"Would it be all right if I sat down?" I asked.

"Sure."

"My name's Tony."

"My name's Anthony." (Anthony was 22.)

"Well, I guess I won't forget that." We laughed.

"Where do you go to church?" I asked.

"Oh, I don't go to church. I haven't found the right one yet."

"Are you a Christian?"

"Yes."

"How long have you been a Christian?

"That's all I've ever known. My dad was a pastor. I've only read a couple of books in my life. I really don't like to read. But this book--well, this book I have read my entire life."

"Where does your father pastor?"

A look of hurt and disappointment covered his face like the shadow cast by a thick cloud moving in front of the sun. "He's not a pastor anymore."

Something I have learned over the years--something I wish had never been necessary for me to learn--is that I cannot believe a person is a Christian simply because they say, "I'm a Christian." The false conversion rate in the American Church is far too high.

I will never again say, "That's nice," when someone tells me they are a Christian. It is not a judgmental spirit that fuels this mindset. Rather it is concern, fear, and a sense of urgency that fuels it--concern that the person in front of me might be a false convert; fear that the person in front of me will one-day stand before the Lord only to hear Him say, "I never knew you; depart from Me;" and a sense of urgency that the person might die today and spend eternity in hell.

"Anthony, can I ask you something?"

"Sure."

"Let's say that I am not a Christian...."

"You're not a Christian?"

"No. I'm a Christian. But let's pretend that I wasn't and I sat down next to you. If I asked you what I had to do to go to heaven, what would you tell me?

"I would say that you would have to read the Bible, obey His commandments, and be filled with the Holy Spirit."

"Would I have to be a good person to go to heaven?"

"Well, I think if you follow the Bible, you will be a good person."

"Would you consider yourself to be a good person?"

"I think so. I'm trying to be."

"Can I ask you a few questions to see if that's true--to see if you are, in fact, a good person?"

"Okay." He answered with a curious look on his face.

"Have you ever told a lie?"

His countenance fell as if I had just caught him in the act of lying. It was remarkable to see.

"Yes."

"If you tell a lie, what does that make you?"

"A liar."

"Have you ever stolen anything?"

"Yes."

"If you steal what does that make you?

"A thief." He said, dropping his head.

"Have you ever taken God's name in vain?"

"Oh, yes."

"And you understand that when you do that you commit the sin of blasphemy against God."

"Yes."

"Have you ever looked at a woman to lust after her?"

"Yes."

"Then you have committed adultery in your heart."

"But doesn't the Bible say that it is only adultery if you have sex with a married or divorced woman?"

"No. Let me show you what Jesus said." I turned to Matthew 5:27-28. I read it aloud, moving my finger across the page as I read, so he could see what I was reading. Anthony wrote the Scripture reference in his notebook.

"Oh. I'm guilty of that, too."

"Have you ever murdered anyone?"

"No." He said, his countenance brightening ever-so-slightly.

"Have you ever been angry with someone, without cause? Have you ever harbored anger, resentment, bitterness, or even hatred in your heart toward someone?

"Yes I have." I couldn't help but wonder if he thought of his father, as he answered the question.

"Anthony, are you aware of what 1 John 3:15 says. It says, "Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer." Once again, he wrote the Scripture reference in his notebook.

"Have you obeyed your parents perfectly all of your life?"

"No."

"Then you've dishonored your parents. So, Anthony, by your own admission, you are a lying, thieving, adulterous, murderer, who disobeys his parents. Does that sound like a good person to you?"

"No it doesn't."

"We've only looked at five of the Ten Commandments. If you were to die and stand before God, and He judged you on the basis of His Law, do you think He would find you innocent or guilty?"

"I would be guilty."

"Do you think you would go to heaven or hell?"

He hesitated. I knew he was thinking about Jesus. He was raised in a home in which Jesus was at least talked about, if not followed in a genuine way. "Are you thinking about Jesus?"

"Yes."

"We're not talking about grace, right now. On the basis of His Law and the fact that God is a holy and righteous judge, should you go to heaven or hell if He finds you guilty of breaking His Law?

"Hell."

"Does that concern you?"

"Yes it does. I've been struggling for the last couple of weeks. I've been trying my best to live a righteous life. But I'm just not sure. Can we be sure?"

"Sure about our salvation?"

"Yes."

"Oh, I think a Christian can have assurance about their salvation. But hold on to that thought, for a minute. Have you ever been to court?"

"Yes. I've done some--I've done some stupid things."

I took Anthony into the courtroom . . . "And that's exactly what God did, Anthony. God came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ--fully God and fully man. He lived a perfect, sinless life. He died a horrible, bloody death on the cross to take upon Himself the punishment you and I deserve for breaking His Law, for sinning against Him. Three days later, He rose from the dead and forever defeated death.

"But it's not enough to believe what I've shared with you, in your head. It's not enough to say you believe these things and try to live a righteous life. Have you ever been on a plane?

"No."

Well, let's say we were on the same flight, heading to Hawaii." I shared the parachute analogy with him . . . "Saving faith is believing in your heart--believing to the point that you turn from your sin--that's called repentance--and put your trust and faith in Jesus Christ alone for your salvation, the same way you would put on a parachute and trust it will open and save your life when you jump out of the plane. Does that make sense?"

"Yes it does."

"Anthony, Ephesians 2:8-9 says, '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.'"

After writing the Scripture reference in his notebook, he turned to me and asked, "Could you, please, say that again?"

"Ephesians 2:8-9 says, '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.'"

"Anthony, do you understand what that means? There is nothing you can do to save yourself. Your good works will never be enough to earn your salvation. In fact, the Book of Isaiah tells us that 'all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment' (Isa 64:6b).' Did you know that a more literal translation of that verse says that our good works are like a dirty menstrual rag to God?"

"Whoa!"

"That's right. On our very best day, our very best works, look like dirty rags to the Lord. If we stand before Him on the Day of Judgment with nothing more than our good deeds to show for ourselves, then we will face eternity in hell as the just punishment for our sins against God. But if we turn from our sin and receive Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, then instead of seeing our filthy self-righteousness, we will be clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. God will grant us eternal life, not on the basis of anything we have done; but entirely on the basis of what Jesus Christ accomplished through His death and resurrection."

"Anthony, do you have a good relationship with your father?

"No." He said, bowing his head.

"How about with your mother? Do you have a good relationship with her?"

"Yes. That's why I'm here, today. My mom couldn't be here to work her booth, so I came to help out."

"Do you help you mother because you think by doing so you will earn your mother's love? Or do you help your mother simply because you love her and you are so grateful for the love she has given you?"

"I do it because my mother loves me and I love her."

"And that's the way our relationship with God should be. There is nothing we can do to earn God's love. There is nothing we can do to earn salvation. We should do good works, not because it earns us anything, but because we love our heavenly Father and we are so grateful to Him for giving us the free gift of eternal life. A Christian loves God because He first loved us; not because we want to try to earn God's love or our salvation. Does that make sense?"

"Yes it does."

"Anthony, I think this is the most important question I can ask you. Are you trusting in Jesus Christ alone for your salvation; or are you trusting in Jesus Christ and Anthony for your salvation?"

As I talked to Anthony, I was reminded of Cornelius the Centurion (Acts 10). Cornelius was a gentile who had apparently abandoned the pagan Roman religions and became a devout follower of Judaism. He was a man who, while not yet circumcized according to Jewish custom, followed the ethics of the Old Testament Law. Cornelius would eventually come to faith in Jesus Christ, but not until Peter came to his house and preached the gospel.

Anthony was trying desperately to live a life pleasing to God. Sin was becoming increasingly sinful to him. The ungodliness of the world was becoming offensive to him. He broke up with his girlfriend because their relationship was not pleasing to the Lord. While all of this behavior can be signs of fruit brought forth in keeping with repentance, Anthony's answer revealed that he was holding on to a works righteousness formula as his means of salvation.

"I think I have been trusting in Jesus Christ and Anthony for my salvation."

Anthony and I continued to pour over the Scriptures together. It was funny to watch members of my family walk by, from time to time. This was a long conversation, even for me; and it was obvious that they were all dying to know what was going on.

Every time I mentioned a verse, passage, or Bible story, Anthony diligently wrote it in his notebook. We looked at verses that talked about repentance, faith, grace, works, and salvation. Periodically, I would ask Anthony the same question: "Are you trusting in Jesus Christ alone for your salvation; or are you trusting in Jesus Christ and Anthony for your salvation?"

This reminded me of the great story about the way Jesus healed the blind man from Bethsaida. "And they came to Bethsaida. And they brought a blind man to Jesus and implored Him to touch him. Taking the blind man by the hand, He brought him out of the village; and after spitting on his eyes and laying His hands on him, He asked him, 'Do you see anything?'

"And he looked up and said, 'I see men, for I see them like trees, walking around.' Then again He laid His hands on his eyes; and he looked intently and was restored, and began to see everything clearly" (Mark 8:22-25).

I found it fascinating that although Anthony said he has read the Bible most of his life, most if not all of the verses and passages I shared with him from the New Testament were entirely new to him. Each verse or passage I shared with Anthony was like each time the Lord laid hands on the blind man's eyes. Each time the Lord touched the man, his vision became clearer. With each verse and passage, Anthony's spiritual vision became clearer.

"Anthony, are you trusting in Jesus Christ alone for your salvation, or are you trusting in Jesus Christ and Anthony for your salvation."

"I think I am trusting in Jesus Christ alone for my salvation."

"Anthony, I believe in a sovereign God, the Creator of the Universe, who is in complete control of everything. I do not believe in coincidences. It's not a coincidence that you came to the arts and crafts fair, today. It's not a coincidence that I came here, today, to share the gospel with people. It's not a coincidence that I walked by and saw you reading the Bible. It's not a coincidence that we've had this conversation.

"Look, I may never see you again. I hope I do, but I may not. I care about you, and I don't want to see you go to hell. You seem very sincere. As I've talked to you I have not heard any arrogance or pride come out of your mouth. And I have no doubt that you believe in Jesus.

"But, Anthony, there are likely millions of people around the world who read the Bible, believe in Jesus, and try to live a life pleasing to God. Yet they are not going to heaven. They are trying to get to God by their works and not by faith in Christ alone. In the end, they are no different than the person who spent a lifetime denying God's existence and lived in open rebellion against Him. Both are bound for hell apart from repentance and faith in Jesus Christ alone.

"Anthony, I told you a while ago that a Christian can be assured of his or her salvation. I know I am going to heaven. But that assurance comes not from anything I have done. I am not a good person. What I deserve is hell. What I deserve is to be punished for my sins against God. I cannot do anything to make myself right with God, and I cannot do anything to earn the free gift of eternal life. 'For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord' (Romans 6:23)

"No. I am sure I am going to heaven, not on the basis of anything I have done, but entirely on the basis of what Jesus Christ accomplished on my behalf, through His death on the cross and His resurrection. I am saved by the grace of God alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. I have repented of my sins against God and I have believed the gospel. I have received Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. And I believe what the Bible says in Romans 8:38-39: 'For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.'

"If you have truly turned from your sins and, by faith, have placed your trust in Jesus Christ alone for your salvation, then you, too, can have this assurance.

"Anthony, have you turned from your sins and placed your trust in Jesus Christ alone for your salvation; or are you still trusting Jesus and Anthony for your salvation?"

"I am trusting Jesus Christ alone for my salvation."

"Is there anything you can do to save yourself?"

"No."

"Is there anything you can do, like good works, to help Jesus save you?

"No."

We continued to talk for a while. Now the conversation turned to matters of Christian living and some of the wrestling matches that have recently taken place in his conscience. It was as if discipleship had already begun.

I didn't lead Anthony in a "sinner's prayer;" and I didn't declare to Anthony that he was a Christian--two practices that have been responsible for the creation of an unknown number of false converts. But I did put my arm around him and pray for him. I prayed that the Lord would reveal to Anthony whether or not his profession of faith was genuine. I prayed that if Anthony was born again that he would bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance. I prayed that Anthony would grow in his faith, in Christ, and that the Lord would use him for His glory. I also prayed that Anthony would be like the Bereans of old who returned to the Scriptures to make sure everything Paul had told them was true."

While only God knows Anthony's heart, I believe that I saw this young man come to repentance and faith during our conversation. I hope to one-day see him in heaven. In fact, I hope I see him before then. If this young man truly came to repentance and faith, today, I would love to disciple Him in the faith. I gave him all of my contact information and a business card with information about our church. I do hope I see him, again.

Please pray that Anthony's profession of repentance and faith is genuine; and, if it was, that the Lord would allow me to disciple him. If that is not the Lord's will, then pray that the Lord will direct Anthony to a solid, Bible-teaching, Bible-believing church and that the Lord would bring godly men into his life who will help him grow in his faith.

I thank God for the remarkable opportunity he gave me today to share His gospel and, I believe, to watch Him work in a young man's life.

All for His glory!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Never Underestimate the Power of a Gospel Tract

Following my conversation with Ruben, I walked across the street to the shopping center. Along the way, I managed to find a few English million dollar bill gospel tracts* sandwiched between the Spanish version bills in my pocket. I handed out a few million dollars as I walked through the shopping center.

When I came to the grocery store, I saw a young man sitting at a patio table outside the store. His clothing indicated that he was a store employee. He sat at the table with his arms folded on the table, with his head resting on his arms. He looked like he was trying to take a nap.

"You look tired." I said quietly, not wanting to startle him.

He slowly lifted his head and smiled. "Yeah. I just got off work."

"Well, maybe a million dollars will perk you up." I handed him the gospel tract, his smile widening.

"Someone gave me one of these a couple of years ago, at the fireworks show." The young man went on to explain that he attended a fireworks show that was held at a nearby mega-church.

I had a good idea as to who gave him the gospel tract. You see, a friend and fellow evangelist went to the mega-church's fireworks show, but not for the fireworks. Tens of thousands of people would gather on and around the church grounds to see the fireworks display. So, my friend went to the event, dubbed by the church as "community outreach," to distribute gospel tracts.

Sadly, my friend was told by church security that he was not allowed to distribute tracts on church grounds. Apparently, the purpose of the event was to simply entertain the public. Fortunately, my friend was able to get a tract into the hand of this young man, before my friend was told he would have to leave the church grounds if he wanted to hand gospel tracts to people. Yet one more sad and unfortunate commentary about the American Church.

"Did you read the tract back then?" I asked.

"I think so."

"So, what did you think?"

"I need to forgive myself."

"Well, not really. Would it be all right if I sat down."

"Sure."

I introduced myself. The young man's name was Ryan. He was 16.

I took Ryan through the Law. By his own admission, he was a lying, murdering, blasphemer, who disobeyed his parents. He agreed that according to God's standard, he was not a good person. He also agreed that if God judged him according to the standard of the Ten Commandments, God would find him guilty of breaking His Law.

"Ryan, if God finds you guilty, do you think you would go to heaven or hell?"

"Heaven?"

"Do you say 'heaven' because that's where you want to go?"

"Yes."

"But if you have broken God's Law what should He do with you?"

"Send me to hell."

"Does it concern you that if you were to die, right now, and stand before God, He would find you guilty of breaking His Law and would sentence you to eternity in hell?"

"Yes."

"Do you know what God did to make it possible for you to avoid eternity in hell?"

"No."

"Have you ever been to church?"

"No."

"Have you ever read the Bible?"

"No."

Sad, isn't it, that so many Christians think the mission field is "over there"?

"Would you like me to tell you what God did?"

"Sure."

I shared the gospel with Ryan, and I explained to him that what God required of him was to repent and receive Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. I also spent some time making sure he understood that salvation is by the grace of God alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone--apart from any works or religious activities.

"Do you believe what I just shared with you?"

"Yes."

"Ryan, is there any reason why you wouldn't turn from your sin and, by faith, receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?"

"No."

"Is there anything that would keep you from doing that right now?"

"I'm not sure."

At this point, I could have very easily convinced Ryan to pray a "sinner's prayer." The result would likely have been the creation of yet one more false convert--a young man who trusted in a prayer, but was not truly transformed and regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit. I wasn't about to do that.

"Ryan, is there something in your life, a sin in your life that you love too much to give up for Jesus Christ?"

He thought for a moment, rubbing his chin. "No. I can't think of anything that I wouldn't give up for Jesus."

"Then why wouldn't you receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, right now?"

He couldn't answer.

"Well, will you do me a favor? Please think carefully about what I've shared with you. I don't want you to go to hell, Ryan."

"I will. Thanks for talking to me."

I gave Ryan a copy of How To Live Forever Without Being Religious.

"Ryan, a friend of mine wrote this book. In this book you will find the Gospel of John. It's the fourth book in the New Testament. If you've never read the Bible, the Gospel of John is a great place to start. Please read it and ask God to open your eyes to the truth it contains. You'll see that what I've told you is true."

"I will. I can read during my breaks at work!" He said with a smile.

We said our good-byes and I made the walk back to my church. I called and left a message for my friend who I suspect gave Ryan the tract.

"Hey, it's Tony. Just wanted to let you know that you likely gave a young man named Ryan a million dollar bill at ------ Church's fireworks show. I just shared the gospel with him and he told me that someone else had given him a gospel tract at the fireworks show.

"You giving Ryan that tract planted a seed, which helped to break the ice for my conversation with him tonight. Thank you, brother."

If you're reading this and have often wondered about or questioned the effectiveness of gospel tracts, I hope this story has helped you to see the light. The effectiveness of gospel tracts is not determined by how many people come to church as a result of distributing tracts.

No. The effectiveness of well-written, biblical gospel tracts is seen in the number of spiritual seeds planted. And the true results of distributing gospel tracts will only be fully realized when those who go to heaven see others there who were brought to repentance and faith after reading a gospel tract handed to them by a stranger.

So, are you still nervous about sharing your faith with strangers? Can you take a gospel tract and put it into a stranger's hand? Can you hand them a tract and say, "Here's something good to read," or "Did you get one of these"? Come on. Sure you can. You never know, you might just give a tract to someone like Ryan.

Please pray that the Lord will draw Ryan to genuine repentance and faith, extending to him the free gift of eternal life that only He can give.

* The Million Dollar Bill gospel tract is available through Living Waters.