Monday, May 23, 2016

In Christ: Redemption:Part 1

"Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:" 
 Romans 3:24

  On our list of things found only "in Christ" we come to 'redemption'.  It's an interesting word with a very clear definition in scripture. The word 'redemption' is derived from the verb 'redeem' , and those two  words are so common  in the  law of Moses that a thorough citation of every instance would be both redundant and repetitive. But it is worth noting that there are a few different categories of redemption in the scriptures, and all of them are beautifully and marvelously fulfilled in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
 The clearest in-context definition of redemption is probably the one in Lev 25:25;"If thy brother be waxen poor, and hath sold away some of his possession, and if any of his kin come to redeem it, then shall he redeem that which his brother sold." In the verse  a man loses his possessions to poverty, and his brother is able to redeem, or 'buy back' those possession.  Leviticus 25 is full of provisions and restrictions and regulations on the idea of redemption in regards to lands and houses, but in  verses 48 and 49 , the Bible says "After that he is sold he may be redeemed again; one of his brethren may redeem him: Either his uncle, or his uncle's son, may redeem him, or any that is nigh of kin unto him of his family may redeem him; or if he be able, he may redeem himself.".  Redemption isn't just limited to tangible goods; people can be  redeemed, but while the need for redemption may not be limited; the ability to redeem is. Redemption can only be accomplished by a male relative but once performed , was binding upon the entire family.   The Bible refers to this as 'the right of redemption' or the 'right of inheritance' in several places, and this  figures heavily into the story of Ruth, among others.
 Generations before Ruth , however, God buys back the entire nation of Israel in Exodus 6 saying "Wherefore say unto the children of Israel, I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm, and with great judgments"   God lays claim  to their loyalty and their devotion and their obedience over and over again in scripture because of this single act of redemption.
  In the middle of all these proclamations regarding how and why and when things can be redeemed, God makes some things very clear.  In Psalm 49, the songwriter extols the limitations of human wealth, saying "They that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches; None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him: (For the redemption of their soul is precious, and it ceaseth for ever:)That he should still live for ever, and not see corruption. For he seeth that wise men die, likewise the fool and the brutish person perish, and leave their wealth to others. Their inward thought is, that their houses shall continue for ever, and their dwelling places to all generations; they call their lands after their own names. Nevertheless man being in honour abideth not: he is like the beasts that perish.This their way is their folly: yet their posterity approve their sayings. Selah. Like sheep they are laid in the grave; death shall feed on them; and the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning; and their beauty shall consume in the grave from their dwelling. But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave: for he shall receive me. Selah."  No matter how much money you have, that brother you redeemed has a claim on him that you cannot annul, the claim of the grave. Kings and beggars alike are bound by it, but God isn't and claims the exclusive ability to redeem from the tomb and he does so while redeeming the mans  soul.
  Before we jump into the New Testament, let's look at what we know so far.  We know that to redeem is to buy something back that was lost. We know that things can be redeemed as well as people, but that only a male relative can perform this function.  We know that only God can redeem a man from the grave.

  Now as interesting as all definition and word studies are, what does it all mean? How does it all apply? Part two is on its way.


Friday, May 13, 2016

"Maybe I'll Come Back as a Drop of Rain."

  One of our regularly scheduled church ventures  happens in downtown Brunswick Ga. The first Friday of the month, the town has a little mini-festival called, appropriately 'First Friday'. Sometimes there are  vendors, sometimes there is live music, but there is always street preaching.  In fact, we have been a part of the scenery there since the beginning and a year of consistent faithful gospel witnesses has produced some interesting results. I'd like to tell you about  one of them, and explain what I think is significant about the encounter.
  The first encounter of the night happened when, in the middle of preaching I  observed a young man standing quietly off to my right just a few feet away, smoking a cigarette and waiting to speak to me. 
He introduced himself as Josh and told me that he works at the pizza parlor across the street from where we preach. Now the people at the pizza place have very little use for our ministry but  this was the first time any of the employees had come and spoken to us.
  The first thing Josh wanted to let me know was that, for the last year or so, he has consistently heard us preach on that same corner, and as far as he could tell we had not wavered in our message one iota.  He claimed to be a church kid, and a former worship leader at some church there in Brunswick.  He claimed to be familiar with the gospel. He told me "I believe in Jesus and all that, but this isn't the way to do it."
  I gave him my standard answer about the necessity of public evangelism as a fulfillment of the scriptures, and he just sort of nodded. He reiterated his disagreement with  our methods, though he claimed to be in alignment with our message.  He could even explain our message to me, having heard it proclaimed countless times at his place of employment.  He just didn't like our preaching.
  I always find that position interesting, so I asked him if he were to die where would he spend eternity.  He avoided the question, telling me how disappointed his generation was towards church and towards God, and how people like me are making things worse. I pressed forward, asking him "I'm not talking about your entire generation. I'm talking about you.  If you die, right now, what happens to you? What happens to Josh?"
  "Maybe I'll come back as a drop of rain.  I don't know."
  I have to admit, I wasn't expecting that.  I turned my banner a bit so that he could see the picture of Christ crucified and asked him "Then why did THIS happen?"
  "Oh sure, man, I mean I believe Jesus died to save us.."
  "Save you from what? From becoming a drop of rain?"
  He nodded and stared at my sign. "Yeah I see your point, but I'm just sayin', man, that people don't want you out here, you know?"
  "That's unfortunate, but it really does change anything.  But let's get back to you. You claimed to agree with what we're doing, but then..the whole raindrop thing."
  "Ok, yeah, but, it's like this, right? The Bible was written by men." He sort of leaned back like he had just dropped the most profound statement ever in my lap.
  "But you told me you believed in Jesus."
 "Yeah, I'm all about him."
  "The only way you ever heard of Jesus was from a Bible."
 "But you don't believe the Bible that told you about him? I'm confused."
  "Well the Bible was written by God, but has been twisted by men."
  "Sure, but so what?"
  "So many people they just  believe what some guy tells them about the Bible, and they dont read it for themselves."
  "Do you read it for yourself?"
 "" An awkward silence prevailed for a bit. He cleared his throat and  took a hit off his cigarette.
  "Ok, Josh, look, for a year you've heard us , right?"
  "And we've never pointed you or anyone else towards us or towards our church."
 "I've never told you you had to work your way to heaven. I've never given you a bunch  of rules to follow."
 "We've just mentioned Jesus Christ over and over again as the only cure for sin."
  "And you agree with that?"
 "Oh yeah, man.  I told you I grew up in church."
 I must have had a puzzled look on my face. "So what exactly is the problem?"
 He gestured around "I'm just sayin', everybody out here isn't on board with all this, you know?"
"I am aware of this, yes."
 "That's all I'm sayin'."
  "But you can't speak for everybody here. You can only speak to you. So do you, Josh, know for sure that your sins are forgiven?"

  We covered a lot of the same ground three or four more times before Ken Seremak tried to make some sense of what he was saying.  A few minutes later I found myself engaged in a conversation with another young man (a story for another time) but what I took away from all that is this; the message we proclaim is simple and easily understood and by the testimony of people opposed to it is remarkably consistent. We don't preach the flavor of the month of the philosophy of the day, we preach Christ, and him crucified. We preach repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We preach sin, righteousness and judgment to come.  We have done that week in and week out and the testimony isn't hat we've  had a huge harvest of souls. The testimony is that everybody knows exactly what we're all about.
 Allow me to encourage you , fellow public minister. When you think nobody is listening, everybody is listening.

Monday, May 2, 2016

" I Don't Care What That Bible Says"

  This time of year, I  really have my choice of preaching venues, and usually the choice boils down to this; I can  make a 12 hour drive to Memphis Tennessee and preach with  several dozen of my dear brothers in the ministry at the Beale Street Blast ( an event I highly recommend), or I can drive 45 minutes down the road and help out a faithful man who labors alone most of the time. I chose the short drive this year.
  As a result I found myself, along with my faithful partner, and 3 of my kids at the 53rd Annual Shrimp Festival. We were there to assist  a man named Charlie who, as I said before, works these events by himself most of the time.
  As you can see from the picture, the crowd was pretty decent, and we were located maybe 30 or 40 feet away from the nearest vendor booth. We took our position and began preaching. Some people stopped and talked to us, lots of people took our picture, and some even thanked us for our presence.
  While I was preaching a man approached Charlie, and began to talk to him. I figured to myself, Charlie's got this, and I continued on. I saw the man grab Charlie's sign and begin to shake it. Charlie looked back at me and said "Brother Mike, I'll take over, can you talk to this guy?"
  The man was  probably in his  late 60's heavyset, with a Panama hat and a  button up shirt festooned with the festival logo.  Charlie took up the mantle and began preaching while I tried to talk to the man. Below is my best recollection of the conversation that followed.

 "Yes sir, what can I do for you?"
  "Listen, I'm a veteran, and I understand what you're trying to do here. I want you to know that.  I am not opposed to what you are doing here, I'm not against what you are doing here. I'm a retired minister myself.  But, you need to do it quieter."
  "If we did it quieter nobody could hear us."
  "Listen, this is a festival.  And the vendors here have spent a lot of money to be here, and you're hurting business."
 "Well, I get your point, my wife is actually manning a booth at a separate festival, and.."
 "Sir, you don't need to yell at me."
 By now he is jabbing his  finger into my chest to make his point.
 As a quick note, let me say that ,  although sometimes this might be a valid concern, I had been carefully watching vendor activity all around us, and I can honestly say that traffic didn't even slow down the entire time we were there. We were far enough back to where we were not interfering with anybody, but we could still be hard.  But I digress. The yelling continued:
 "Sir, this is public property." I pointed towards what I was pretty sure was City Hall. "That is city property."
 "Well sir, the Bible says ..."
"Yes sir, that's exactly the problem. Honestly, the best thing you could have done as a minster was retire."
  Now I probably shouldn't have said that. It wasn't necessary.  But by now he had been poking me in my chest (technically assault) for  several minutes now and screaming at me. Now the finger went from my chest to my face. A crowd was gathering, and the preaching was still going on.
"The Bible says ..."
 "Go ahead , sir.  We'll be here when they  arrive.". 
  He stomped off into the crowd. The cops never arrived. We stayed for maybe another half hour and departed.
  Now let me say this; I tend to highlight the confrontations we have, but our ministry is not a ministry of contention. We aren't rude, we don't insult people, or at least we try not to.  But when you preach in public, your most devoted opposition will not come from the dope crowd or the prostitute crowd or the devil-worshiping crowd.  Your opposition will come from professing Christians. Pastors will shun you, deacons will insult you. and  people who claim to agree with everything you say will demand that the police arrest you for saying it.
  Strange stuff indeed.


Thursday, April 28, 2016

In Christ: The Introduction

"Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." 2 Cor 5:17

   I believe the phrase "in Christ" is one of the most remarkable phrases in the Bible. Contained within those two words is your birthright as a blood-washed son of God.  The Bible says in 1 Cor 15:22, "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." If you are "in Christ" you have passed from "death unto life" and now have an "inheritance incorruptible and undefiled". When a man exercises "repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ" God takes him out of whatever tribe or kindred or tongue he was born into and places him "in Christ.", which is why Ephesians 2 says "..being in time past Gentiles in the flesh..". Whatever you were before you were saved, you aren't that any more, you are a "new creature" joined with every other Christian past and present into this new thing God has made. Romans 12 says that, after salvation, "For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another."
  As 2 Cor says "all things are become new" and for a good portion of the New Testament, the Holy Spirit takes the time to explain the things that are now yours if you  are "in Christ." It is described at least a dozen different ways from at least a dozen different angles, and yet most Christians remain ignorant of it.  Some Christians wander around completely clueless about what is theirs by  the new birth,  and some go so far as to spend a great deal of time trying to acquire things  that are already theirs.  Others misunderstand the nature of these promises and instead claim things that don't belong to them while walking past the "unsearchable riches" already promised to them.
  It is my intention to spend some time exploring these things that God has not only promised us, but has already given us. So many of these possessions overlap and complement each other that some of them seems to run together and some cannot be properly understood without the others.  Know this from the beginning; all of these are already yours if you are saved. They aren't things you have to strive for or earn. You don't get these just because you're a pastor or just because you've been in the ministry for decades; you get these on Day One. There is no seniority in the body of Christ. There is no ladder of success you have to climb to achieve these things. Everybody has these.These are all things God  has already provided.  You can live in this things, and walk in these things today.
Of course it would probably help if you knew what they were.  Stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

"No, I'm Going to take YOUR picture"

It is a fact of life in this modern age that if you are involved in public ministry, you will be photographed. People that don't even a have job have cell phones somehow, and  whenever we go out we are videoed and photographed scores of times it seems.
  Oddly enough, and I may be admitting to a certain bit of vanity here, I have never seen all these pictures people take.  I mean I assume these people post these things somewhere. I have googled everything from 'street preachers' to 'religious nut with sign' and have yet to see myself.  What are the odds?
  Now one step beyond the casual videographer is the person who insists not on simply taking a picture of me, but in taking a  picture with  me. Generally speaking they are scorners, and young. They rarely ask permission; they just simply throw an arm over my shoulder in the midst of the  preaching while their buddy snaps a picture and giggles.. I've had them crouch in front of the sign with an alcoholic beverage upraised. I've had women expose themselves for the picture. I've had them throw 'devil signs' with their hands. I had one guy try to stick his tongue in my ear.   It is all in  a days work in public ministry.
  Recently we were in Savannah preaching in a park, and due to a series of unfortunate events, the park was virtually empty. We had just a trickle of cross traffic and  we had already saturated the area with tracts, so I simply stood there with  my banner.
  A man came along,  more than a bit inebriated and asked me if he could take my picture.  Before I could answer he threw an arm around me and grinned towards his equally inebriated buddy with the cell phone. Actually for some reason he had two buddies with two cameras taking two pictures.  I stopped him. I said "No, you are not going to take a picture with me, I am going to take a picture with you."  This seemed to throw him off his game a bit, but he agreed and so my teenage son  pulled out his camera and joined the others. Three people photographing two people.
So here, submitted for your approval (finally)  a picture of somebody taking a picture with me.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

"Please sir,. I am listening"

Over the next few weeks I'm going to be relating various ministry-related stories that happened on our recent trip to the Philippines. This is one of them.

Photo by Belle Alford

 Riding in a Jeepney is a unique experience, especially as an American.  I highly recommend it as a enriching experiential event indicative of the local culture. In other words; skip the opera, ride a Jeepney.
  A Jeepney is the public transportation of choice in Cagayn de Oro.  Picture a school bus with every possible safety feature removed (windows, doors, seatbelts) and painted with whatever paint was laying around. Weld purely decorative features to the  hood or to the sides (chrome horns that don't work seem to be a crowd favorite). Stick some English words on there that don't go together and whatever graphic strikes your fancy ( my personal favorite was the picture of the Lamborghini with the words 'Proud to Farm' underneath). Then take that garish bus and cram it with a constant flow of people. Fill every seat, stack people on the roof, hang people off the back and have the driver make change while in motion and yammering away with the riders about the local gossip and you might have some idea of what it's like to ride in a Jeepney.
  The strategy for preaching on Jeepney is simple. Wait till the Jeepney fills up, and preach. You will be thigh-to-thigh with the people you are preaching to, and your face will be inches away from theirs. The most amazing part is that they listen, and sometimes interact with you.
  My daughter and I had  deciphered the Jeepney system and we were more than a little proud of ourselves for being able to maneuver independently through the city.So I positioned myself behind the driver and once we had a decent load of people, I began to preach slowly and in English.
  Preaching slowly was not a problem. Preaching in English is not a problem. The problem is that, thought the riders are attentive, the commerce of the Jeepney continues and you will be handed money to give to the driver. The driver will make change without even looking and hand the change back to you for you to pass on down the line. People will be yelling at the driver to make sure he stops, and he will be yelling back.The trick is to maintain a thought while all this swirl of activity is going on inches away from you and demanding your involvement. I mean, as much as you may want to tune it all out, you need to make sure the lady at the end of the Jeepney gets her change back. Passing strangers money is part of the experience.
 So there I was, preaching by myself on the Jeepney for the first time, and participating in all that went on.  Somehow in all those transactions, I lost my train of thought. It happens. I also started to wonder if, in my  focus on the gospel, I had missed our stop. So I  stuttered and stammered and looked around a bit. Like I said, it happens. From the far end of the Jeepney, a woman said "Please sir, I am listening."
  I can handle a lot of things. I can handle apathy, and I can handle hostility. It's  a by-product of my ministry. Apparently what I can't handle, at least not that day, was somebody paying attention. I stared at this woman and my mind was blank. I stared at her for what was probably only a few seconds but felt much longer. She repeated herself.
 "Please sir, I am listening. But my building is very close. Tell me."
  I marshaled my brains and rallied to the cause. I explained to her one more time how Christ had died for her sins and how God commands all men to repent, believe the gospel, and be saved.  I probably did a lousy job; I usually do.  But soon her building was in view. Her last words to me were "Thank you for the information."
  I believe that most gospel witnesses are cumulative; most people don't receive Christ the first time they are told about Him, or even the second time.  I believe that only at the judgment seat of Christ will we really understand how His word will not return void. But that day, for about 14 cents American (7 pesos one way) , I got one more chance to look a fellow human being in the eyeball and tell them the only thing worth telling. To God be the glory.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Famous But Known

 One of the more interesting changes that has taken place in my life recently  requires a little of what my friend Danny Dileo would call "backstory".
  I have been involved in public ministry since  June of 1995. I  have preached on 3 continents, on both American coasts, and in various cities great and small. I've preached festivals, fairs, concerts, rodeos, and football games. I have preached in the rain and in the sun, to the hopeful , and to the hostile.  You get the idea.
 For whatever reason, public ministry tends to be the dividing line among Christians, at least in America.  You either do it, or you don't. You either love it, or you hate it.  I have watched as good decent respectable Christian folks disassociated themselves from me. I have watched local pastors pretend they don't see me. I've seen the hierarchy of the local Christian radio station walk past me like I'm not there.  I've been snubbed by professional 'evangelists'.   It's not just that they didn't agree with me, it's that they ignored me completely. I am the fly in the ointment, the ants at the picnic ruining  their comfortable non-confrontational Christianity. I am the invisible man; a guy everybody knows is there but nobody wants to acknowledge, and to be honest, that suits me just fine.  There's a reason I call this blog 'Outside the Camp', after all.

It wasn't just area churches that considered us 'the elephant in the room'.  I preached out of the same church, in the same town, on the same corner for roughly 12 years and it's obvious I was an embarrassment. There were people that prayed for us, and even a handful that accompanied us but overall it felt like it wasn't considered a ministry of the church, but rather just Michael doing 'that thing he does'.  Looking back, I remember the awkward silence that would fall over the room when I would announce an upcoming event. People would roll their eyes and some would sigh.  The pastor offered support in that he didn't forbid us to go, but he didn't go with us. We were allowed to use the church van the last couple of years, but that ministry was never given the high profile that the bus ministry or the latest camp meeting was given. Everybody knew we did it, but nobody ever mentioned it.  If we had stopped, nobody would have been terribly concerned and some people would have been glad. Once again, I am fine with that. I reveled in the challenge of  winning people over to public ministry, of pushing them outside their comfort zone for the glorification of Jesus Christ.  I did feel bad, and still do, for those that passed up the opportunities that were presented to them. Why would you let Darnel and I have all the fun?
  It is worth mentioning that most of the street preachers I know, (and I know a bunch of them) labor under conditions just like that or worse.  I know guys who aren't allowed to mention their ministry in church.  I know guys who are regularly discouraged or even sabotaged by their pastors. To the best of my knowledge, that has never happened to me, but for those other guys,  the Judgement Seat of Christ will be interesting.
  In  Jan 2015, we changed churches, and we continued on with our public ministry, simply out of a different church and in a different town. Our current pastor  preaches on the street with us and frankly, he gets vastly different treatment by the brethren. Oh sure, he's an embarrassment, but he's an embarrassment whose existence they feel like they have to acknowledge because of his position. He's known, at the pastors fellowships as 'the street preacher guy'. He's been invited on the radio to explain our ministry and been featured at different community events to present the work.  I am happy for him because I think he is an excellent representative of that ministry. I think he understands it, and gets the importance of it. I think in a very short time he has had open doors to shake up the community with the gospel of Jesus Christ and I am grateful for whatever help I've been able to offer. I do wonder though, how he has managed to avoid being invisible.
  I have a theory about this.  People sometimes assume that you preach on the streets because you don't have a pulpit.   That actually was the assumption from my  own mother, who couldn't for the life of her figure out why I delighted in such a thing. The idea apparently  is that you 'pay your dues' until you get a church and then you  are 'the man of God' extolling your wisdom from behind 'the sacred desk'. You are then relieved of your obligation to preach to the people who disagree with you.  So for a man who has a (sort-of) captive audience 3 times a week to preach for sinners for free is sort of a novelty among the 'men of God'  It's easy to dismiss some nobody with a banner on  a street corner; it's a bit harder to dismiss a pastor who does it.  Having the pastor involved lends credibility and gravity to it, at least according to my theory.
  Isn't that the silliest thing you've heard all day? I mean, if God commissioned the open-air preaching of the gospel ( Acts 20:20) and open-air preaching is employed throughout both Testaments ( Amos, Jonah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Paul, Barnabas, Peter, etc), and every believer is commissioned to use it (Mark 16) then why would it suddenly become a MORE legitimate thing because the pastor is doing it?