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?

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

"So What About Ghosts?"


For those of you unfamiliar with our ministry at the Salvation Army, it goes something like this. There is an inside eating area, and an outside eating area.  We hand them their food and while they eat, we preach to them. Some made it a point early on to go outside to get away from the preaching, and once we realized that, we stationed a man outside.  You may say that's harsh, that we are 'jamming it down  their throats', but I drive 30 miles one way to hand them a free meal, so it's not unreasonable that they listen, or at least endure.  There are plenty of places serving free food in Brunswick Ga on Friday nights that don't preach.  Besides, I think General Booth would approve.
  So on a typical Friday night after making sure everything was going well inside I took my usual position outside. I am the resident Preacher to the Hostile, and so I put my shoulder up against the brick wall and faced a scattering of people who for the most part don't want to hear me. I announced to the crowd that it was Friday night, and they  knew what that meant. I told them I was going to  ask the blessing on the food and then show them something out of the Bible.
  Seated almost directly in front of me , with her back to me, was a blond lady whom I later learned was named Laura. She spun around and said "Tell us about ghosts, man!" I told her I would be preaching the gospel to her. She said "No, man. I want to hear about ghosts." I assured her that, if she stuck around, when I was done, we would talk about ghosts.
  "You promise?"
  "I promise."
  She sat back down and I turned to Isaiah 53.  Several times during the next  5 or 10 minutes she leapt to her feet and would interrupt me to  ask me if I was almost done because she really wanted to hear about ghosts. When I either ignored her or told her to be patient, she would sit back down and begin talking to her friends. 
  When I was finished she looked back at and dismissed her friends, sending one hopeful suitor to the  store to buy cigarettes. He was reluctant to leave, and she  fired a well-aimed salvo of obscenities at him and he wandered off muttering. She rolled her eyes at turned to me.
  "So what about ghosts?"
  "What about them?"
  She looked around to make sure she couldn't be overheard. "I've seen stuff."
 I shrugged. "Sure. So what?"
  She began to tear up a bit. She told me her husband had passed away recently and since his passing she had been plagued by a dark malevolent force of some kind.  She claimed she heard  voices late at night.
 "Ok. I believe you. So what?"
  "So what?"
  "Look, did you listen to anything I said during the preaching?"
  She looked  down a bit and said "No, not really.  But I'm just scared."
  "Scared of what?"
  "What's on the other side."
  "And yet you ignored the preaching." I asked her if she knew for sure that her sins were forgiven.  She went through the usual dodges ( nobody can know, I'm not that bad, we're all sinners) and I showed her from the scriptures how her sins were damning her and that if she expected to get past the judgement of God, she needed to exercise repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
  "Yeah, but what about ghosts? I mean, is my husband haunting me?"
  "Was your husband in the habit of scaring you when he was alive?"
  "Then why assume that what you're  hearing is him?"
  Now it was her turn to shrug.
  "Ok, you want an answer, Laura? Here's what I tell everybody. Just because it says its your  grandfather doesn't mean it's your grandfather.  What you're probably dealing with is some sort of unclean spirit dedicated to keeping you distracted so that you ignore the gospel."
  " I don't want to hear that."
  "I appreciate that, but you asked me, I didn't ask you."
  We revisited the sin issue, but she wasn't interested. I talked to her about what Jesus Christ had done for her, but she kept wondering aloud where that guy was with her cigarettes, even adding "That #@$^@# had better not run off with my money.". I  pointed her to  scriptures about the judgment of God on her life, and how imperative it was that she avail herself of the only escape ; Jesus Christ.  we looked at Luke 16 and I showed her that here were only two destinations and you don't get the option to 'stick around' and haunt your loved ones.  By now she wouldn't even look at me.
  "Look, I appreciate you talking to me, and I'm sorry if I've been rude, but...I'm done" She got up to leave and told me she would maybe see me next week.  She said she knew thee was a verse in the Bible that said you cant know about  the afterlife, and she would show it to me when she found it.
  See, friends, this is what it is like to labor in the ministry.  We look men and women in the face and talk to them about their souls, and for the most part, their hearts have been so hardened and their eyes so darkened by sin that it is like talking to a brick wall. We plead, we reason, and for the most part, we see little of what  mot people would call 'results' or 'fruit'. We see people who have heard some variation of the gospel all their lives get up and wander off dead in trespasses and sins, the wrath of God still squarely on their shoulders.
  It's not glorious work, but at the same time, it IS glorious work. It is exciting work, it is challenging work, it is heart-rending work, often all at once.  It is  the greatest endeavor in which a man or woman can spend their days, and it never grows old.  If you are saved and you aren't doing the work, what's wrong with you?

Monday, March 14, 2016

Hanging With Elvis

Brunswick News

"Oh, oh the places you'll go!"- Dr. Suess

 I've said for years that a person who takes the gospel outside of the church walls  will encounter every slice of humanity. Do it long enough and you will encounter every social strata, every income level, every race and every creed. Recently our adventures in publick ministry took us to a rather interesting  subculture of America as we found ourselves at the  Elvis Festival in Brunswick GA where otherwise rational people spend their leisure time disguised as the (probably) deceased singer.  It's sort of like Halloween except everybody is wearing the same costume.
  But our policy is to go where the crowd is and so we found ourselves on a very familiar corner while four separate Elvis impersonators belted out their best renditions at various points around us.  Just past the  throbbing PA system we preached to the crowds drifting from singer to singer.  As one impersonator would finish his set,  the next set of sideburns in the rotation would take up the mantle to a surprisingly large crowd of mostly older women. Since the number of Elvii (plural of Elvis, look it up) outnumbered the  number of singing spots, there were lot of free-floating impersonators, and some of them invariably sauntered past us.  We saw young Elvis and old Elvis. We saw an Elvis who was probably over 70, hunched over with age in a white jumpsuit and huge sunglasses.  We saw a Spanish Elvis, and we saw one Elvis with a belt so big I assumed he had stolen it from Hulk Hogan. We watched Elvis pick his nose. Truly the experiences offered by the ministry are staggering in scope.
   As far as crowds go, the Elvis fest crowd were remarkably friendly towards us.  At one point we wandered towards one of the concerts and Elvis belted out mid-song "God bless ya buddy!"with a jeweled finger thrust towards  my banner.  Another Elvis (it gets so confusing, I know) broke into his rendition of 'Amazing Grace' at the sight of us.  One Elvis wished me luck and another Elvis told me to keep up the good work.
 Having said all that, they weren't particularly more receptive to the gospel than any other group we regularly preach to; they were just more polite about it.  They weren't there to hear us, they were there to either pretend to be a dead guy from Memphis or they were there to listen to other people pretend to be a dead guy from Memphis.  It was more than a little surreal to see women in walkers and oxygen tanks  swoon and blush when  young Elvis would flirt with them.  It was equally surreal (but kind of impressive) to watch pot-bellied Elvis thrust his hips to a rendition of 'Sweet Caroline' without breaking something.
  Two quick hobby horses, if you don't mind.
  Often we in publick ministry are accused of being radical and perhaps that's true, at least by comparison. A common retort among the scorners is to tell us to "get a life".  They call us silly, and they call us foolish. They tell us we are wasting our time. Then some of them go climb into a sequined jumpsuit and sing "I Did It My Way" to strangers.  It's all in how you look at it, I suppose.  But I've found that most people are obsessed with something. I'm just obsessed about something worth being obsessed about.
  A man who only preaches to people inside a designated building who  already agree with him only lives half a life, as far as I'm concerned. Real life, and real adventure is found in taking the gospel to people who don't necessarily  want it. You never know where it will take you. You just might run into the man (or men) who would be King.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

My Hero, My Partner


This is Mr. Darnel Robinson. Darnel  was saved on March the 5th of the year 2000 while a guest at the Camden County Jail in Woodbine Georgia.  He is in his mid 60's, and blind due to  complications from diabetes, and as you can see , he is easily the handsomest guy I know.
  Time would fail me to tell you of the adventures we've had. For the last 13 years or so, it has been my privilege and my honor to labor in the ministry with this man.  Together we have knocked on every door in his town at least once. We have preached on so many corners together and under so many circumstances. We have literally talked to thousands of people about their souls.   Despite his handicaps he is faithful and as true as any man can be. Out of everyone I have ever labored with, he has the best excuses not to labor, and yet he fights on.
  Since he is blind, he has to learn his Bible by listening to it on tape or CD.  He listens all the way through the Bible 3 or 4 times a year, and has vast passages memorized. In fact, it is absolutely embarrassing how much Bible he knows compared to me, and how his mind can jump from reference to reference.  He has a voice that can be heard for blocks, that I affectionately refer to as The Big Beautiful Black Man Voice.  He preaches without notes and can expound on scriptures like nobody I have ever seen, his thick black voice rolling out seemingly effortlessly with a "Da Bible do say..." Though technically I helped train him, he has surpassed me in everything I ever taught him. Darnel Robinson is the preacher I want to be when I grow up.
  Darnel and I know each other inside and out. It turns out, as you walk from house to house together, you find out a lot about a man. We have bore our hearts one to another. He knows things about me my wife doesn't know. He has seen me at my best, and at my worst. We have both labored when neither one of us wanted to. We have preached in the hot, and preached in the cold. We have preached in the rain. We have preached to the hopeful and to the hostile.  He has always been kind, and always tolerant of my foolishness. He has never rejoiced in my flaws. He has always given me way too much credit for what we do.
  Because of his various health issues, he has to live a very regimented life. He can't just get up and go, he has to plan. He has to think about what he is eating, and  when. Spontaneity or pushing himself too far could throw him into a  coma. I know, not because he's told me, that some of our late night expeditions in the ministry take a toll on him. I suspect it takes him days to recover. Yet he fights on.
  Recently he caught a cold, and it took him out of commission for a week or so. His blindness is almost complete now. Door knocking is nearly impossible for him. He is experiencing some heart palpitations, and is getting winded easily. I know the man inside and out. I know how he moves, and how he talks and how he thinks, and I know that my partner is slowing down.   This is the way of things, the way of life. We have discussed this, and the truth is we are all dying, just at different speeds. Neither one of us is getting any younger, and I know that, eventually, one of us will leave the other behind.
  Truth be told, I don't entirely know what my ministry will look like without my partner. I labored alone for a few years and God sent me a help, and his presence has helped shape the man I have become.  It has shaped my ministry more than I may even realize. Time will eventually separate us, and however  much longer we have, I know that for me, it won't be long enough.
  I suppose at this point I should come up with a moral to this story. I should probably say something about how you ought to do all you can for God while you can, and that's certainly true. I should probably exhort you to die with your boots on, and don't believe your own excuses. That's sound advice. I should remind you that Jesus Christ deserves your all, and he certainly does.
 Instead I will leave you with this; it's one thing to say 'let's all just work and labor and burn out for Jesus!'. It's another thing to watch it happen.