Monday, March 28, 2016
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
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.
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?"
"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
"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.