Monday, June 6, 2016

"Dumpster Pizza Is the Best!"

 I was on my way the corner to preach when I saw them; a young couple dressed in tie-dyes and jean shorts holding a sign on the side of the road. Technically he was holding the sign and she was laying on her back in the roadside grass, propping herself  up against a backpack and tending to a dog of indeterminate breeding.  I walked maybe 40 yards to the  right of them on my way to the corner. By then he had retreated from his post alongside the road into the scant shade and he waved weakly. I waved back and headed to my usual Sunday afternoon preaching  spot.
  I preached my way through one red light, and then a second one, when I saw him making his way across several lanes of traffic to talk to me.  I assumed he was going to ask for money, but he didn't. He told me that he just wanted to thank me for my 'service' ( my hat gets a lot of this). He glanced at my sign and then without further ado, he wandered back across the street and resumed his own sign holding activities.  Once in a while someone would slow down and hand him money through a rolled down car window, but for the most part he just stood there in the brutal Georgia sun while his blonde girlfriend reclined in the grass.
  I told myself I would preach for  a few more lights and then I would go talk to them, but then an odd thing happened; the traffic stopped. By that I mean , for the next 3 lights, there was absolutely nobody sitting at the light when it was red.  When it turned green a herd of cars would come rumbling through, but by the time it turned red, the lanes would be empty. I don't know if I have ever seen anything like it before. I took that as a 'sign' and broke down my banner so that I could head back across the street to where they were.
  Some guys have charisma, and great conversational ice-breakers. I am not one of those guys. I walked over to them and told them that I would be remiss in my duties as a preacher of the gospel if I didn't at least give them a gospel tract. He took it and I asked him his name, which was Greg.  For the next 20 minutes or so I stood there and talked to them about Jesus.
  They were homeless, both barely in their 20's and referred to themselves as 'traveling kids', which apparently is a thing. They claimed to be part of a much larger community ("family" is the word they used) of people who wander around the country from place to place in the tradition of the old rail-riding hobos, under society's radar, outside of the system and free from the grind of the 9 to 5 life.  She took great pride in declaring herself, at least philosophically, a a modern day hippie.They sleep wherever they can, and eat whatever they can. One of their favorite things to do is to camp outside of the Little Caesars pizza chain after hours because, as she  said with absolute sincerity "Dumpster pizza is the best!" 
  Eventually came the big question; where will you go when you die? Greg said that he would be placed in a box and he would then proceed to rot. He then told me that wasn't entirely true, but he was  simplifying it for my benefit. The young lady told me she believed she had a soul, and based on her own goodness she expected to go to heaven.  That caused him to amend his own statement and tell me that he believed in positive and negative energy but he wouldn't exactly call it a 'soul'. He believed that something  of him would  carry on, but he didn't claim to have any certainty in the specifics.  Her mother was a ex-druggie who had experienced a jailhouse conversion to Islam which had helped her get clean. His dad was a scientist and he admitted he would have more confidence in science if they didn't keep changing their minds every few years. His mom had taken him to church as a kid, but he quit going when he was 16.
  He admitted he had left home a harsh skeptic, but he had seen so much inexplicable provision on their journey that he had to  conclude that 'something' was functioning in the universe and that Something was a benevolent Something, but he said it probably wasn't the God of the Bible.
  We talked about sin, righteousness and judgment. I told them what Jesus had done for them. I tried to correct some of the horrible misinformation they had picked up along the way about God, and about the Bible. They were friendly, they were genuine, they were frank. They were also horribly confused.
  I realized my family was waiting for me, so I thanked them for their time, shook his hand and left.  As I was heading out he asked me if I could throw some of their trash away for them, since he hates to  litter. I told him I would and then I gave him my home number. I told him that if he was ever in the area, give me a call and I'd buy them a cup of coffee or something and we could talk some more. I don't expect to hear from them, and I don't expect to see them again.  But I can stand before God and say that I did what I could, and that at least one man cared for their soul enough to tell them.

  Knowing that doesn't really make me feel any less ineffectual, though.  So often I stand there and look people in the eyes and wonder why I can't make them see.  So often I walk away and wonder if I could have explained things better or answered their questions more clearly.  Intellectually I understand that I did the job the way the Bible says do it, and the rest is up to God.  But it doesn't make it any easier.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Trey Pearson Is Wrong

As a disclaimer, until the recent news about Mr Pearson, I had no idea who he was.  Not only am I not a fan, I was as unaware of his existence as he is of mine.  I have no axe to grind in regards to him, and I have no real desire to try to achieve some sort of  cheap victory off what must a be a very trying time for his family.  I don't see the point in kicking a man while he is down, especially if that man is a brother in Christ
  But Trey Pearson is wrong.  He's not just wrong in his behavior, but he is wrong in his theology, and that  horrible misunderstanding  has given the enemies of the Lord occasion to blaspheme. I assume by his testimony he is a saved man, but he is still wrong.
  Mr. Pearson, in his letter to his fans, says;
 "I had never before admitted to myself that I was gay, let alone to anyone else. I never wanted to be gay. I was scared of what God would think and what all of these people I loved would think about me; so it never was an option for me. I have been suppressing these attractions and feelings since adolescence. I've tried my whole life to be straight."
  Repeatedly in this very candid letter, Mr. Pearson references his feelings and his emotions. He recounts his struggle to have a healthy relationship with his wife, or to be the man that he knew he was supposed to be.  I have no reason to believe he is being disingenuous and I believe his struggles, as he explains them are very real. I believe his decision to come forward with these struggles was undoubtedly agonizing.  But he is still wrong.
  Mr. Pearson isn't wrong because he's a sodomite, he's a sodomite because he's wrong. His theology is inherently flawed in that it makes his feelings or his proclivities the standard instead of the word of God.  That bad theology, resulted in bad behavior, and that bad behavior now seeks to justify itself. Make no mistake, Trey Pearson will be welcomed by the world as one of it's own. Already the  gushing testimonials from other deviants have come out, proclaiming his 'courage'.  In the middle of all this, Mr. Pearson is wrong.
  I don't know at what age Pearson  put his trust in Jesus, but at whatever age that happens for everybody that it happens to, we all have some things in common. We all bring some baggage with us.  Our flesh still longs, on occasion, for the life we left behind.  Your issue might have been lying, or drink, or women, or self-righteousness or pride.  Whatever your baggage was, there is still a haunting comforting familiarity to it, and that struggle is not unique to Mr. Pearson.  If Mr. Pearosn, before his conversion, had a proclivity towards unnatural affections, then I am hardly surprised that a shadow of those appetites lingered to some degree for the rest of his life. In other words, we all have feelings where we want things we know God has told us we aren't supposed to have.
  If your feelings  are the standard, then your flesh will wear you down to get what it wants, and you will eventually give in. Once you give in, you will seek to justify yourself, usually by referring to those same feelings that led you to betray God. It won't mater what the Bible says, you will do what you want and convince yourself that God either doesn't care or is in favor of your  personal happiness at the expense of obedience to His word.
  But the Bible says "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,...". To borrow a phrase , the struggle is real, and the Bible acknowledges this struggle, and then tells us to obey God anyway.
 Paul had this same issue, saying " For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do."   There is no benefit to  pretend the struggle doesn't exist, but we should obey God anyway.  We don't sin against God by still having a desire, we sin against God be acting on that desire.  After all, according to 1 Cor 15 "But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord. " Jesus Christ has already won the victory and the  feelings you deal with are just echoes of the past that, through God's help you can lay aside so that you can run the race.
  Mr. Pearson, by his own words, had some struggles, and had had these struggles for years. But rather than walking in the Spirit, and resting in His Saviour, he gave in to the demands of his flesh and now lives the life of a reprobate.  He claims to feel 'free', but just like his other feelings, this freedom is an illusion, because the Bible says "Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin."

  The Bible is more true than your feelings.  Whatever the issue is, don't do what Mr. Pearson has done. Acknowledge the issue before God, confess it as sin, and go forward in the victory God has promised you.

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.