So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Galatians 3:24

I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ. Philemon 1:6

FRONT PAGE - here you will find the last 20 postings about recent conversations. Please pray for these people!

Prodigals



12/5/17               Martin and Dave            mid-20's

I met two “prodigal sons” on the same stretch of sidewalk 2 days apart.  First there was Martin. Then two days later, there was Dave.  Both in their mid-20’s, on their way into the workout gym.  Both from strong church families and Christian upbringing.  Yet, like the Prodigal Son in Jesus’ parable, both had somehow forgotten the loving heavenly Father they had known about as children.

Both Martin and Dave had responded to my question about what happens after we die with vague references to reincarnation and karma.  They hadn’t really adopted another religion, but they sure had drifted from an awareness of God’s presence in their daily lives, both in holding us accountable and in holding us in His loving arms.

I talked with both for a half hour or so, and during that time it was fun to see them warm up to our conversation and to God as memories of Bible stories and past experiences came flooding back. 
In His parable, Jesus describes the younger son as “coming to his senses” after realizing his worldly fun was falling apart now that his money was spent.  I believe what brought him to his senses, though, was not just his empty stomach but its comparison to his memories of a loving Father, and the reassurance that he would be accepted the minute he turned into the driveway.

Many gospel conversations on the streets go this way as people who are caught up in their worldly pursuits are suddenly reminded of long-neglected memories of their church upbringing and the Bible stories they were once familiar with.  These unexpected reminders may not be enough to “bring them to their senses”, as they may not yet be at a point of desperation from the world.  But sooner or later the world will fail them, and maybe then they will be reminded of the Father’s love that will not only accept them, but like the father in the parable, will run out to them, throw his arms around them, have a feast and celebrate their return.

Barrabas



11/26/17          Barrabas          about 25

The young man in the parking lot looked like he was in a big hurry to leave, but instead of opening his car door after I asked about his beliefs about life after death, he leaned up against the car and took some time to formulate his answer instead.

“On my better days I do believe in the idea of heaven and hell…”, he began, “…but I just can’t take it that seriously.  I do go to mass every Sunday, but I’m not sure I can really believe it all.”

We talked a while and he told me he believes in God but finds the story of the cross hard to accept.  “Jesus was totally innocent.  Who did Pontius Pilot think he was, that he could wash his hands of the whole situation?  It just makes me mad when I hear the story during Lent every year.”

He – Joe – said it just seemed like such an unfair and senseless story to him and he didn’t see the point of it all.  I asked if he knew the story of Barabbas, how the custom was to release a prisoner every year during the time of Jesus’ trial, but instead of releasing the innocent man Jesus, they chose to release the murderer Barabbas instead.  “As it turned out…” I said, “…it was like Jesus took Barabbas’ punishment in his place.” 

“Right!”  said Joe.  “It was totally unfair!  I just don’t get it!”

“But don’t you see?  We all are guilty, just like Barabbas.  Really, I am Barabbas.  You are Barabbas.  And Jesus took the punishment we deserve.  Yes it was unfair - we should be punished instead of Jesus on that cross, but he took the punishment we deserve in our place.”

This was a new revelation to Joe.  It reminded me of when the prophet Nathan spoke a parable to David, who became indignant at injustice only to realize the parable was about how he himself was the one who was unjust. 

We continued talking through the Gospel, but Joe kept bringing the story of Barabbas back up, saying he had never thought of it that way before.  He knew the story well from Lenten sermons, and I would be surprised if his priest hadn’t made the comparison before, but it seemed like Joe had suddenly seen himself in Barabbas’ place for the first time. 

It was a reminder to me that even if people have heard the familiar stories of the Gospel numerous times before, it’s a story worth retelling.  And sometimes, it’s a story that God uses to break through to the heart in fresh ways, if we are willing to repeat it.

Light and Shadows









11/16/17      Greg, Cheryl       30's

Two recent conversations on the front porches of neighbors led to the same question: “If God exists, why is there so much evil in the world?”  These seemed to me to be sincere questions, different from the cynicism of atheists I run into at the coffee shop who are looking for an unanswerable question to silence believers and justify their own unbelief.

My two neighbors may have been believers at one point, only to have been silenced and their wavering faith shut down by questions like these.  They need answers, and they don’t believe there are any.  I wonder if, while some people are looking for a hard question like this to justify their unbelief, others might be looking for a good answer to justify being a believer?   Either way, standing on their front porches in cold weather is a hard place to give a satisfactory answer to a question that theologians have written entire books about.

First in my conversation with Greg, and then while talking with Cheryl, I broke the question down in order to let them know I was listening and understood the problem.  It’s known as the problem of evil, and I restated it by saying “The problem is, if God is great but allows evil and suffering in the world, then He must not be good, and if He is good but allows evil and suffering, He must not be great.”  They both agreed that this was the problem, and they didn’t know how to answer it.
But are these the only answers for the problem of evil, both of which conclude that a good and great God can’t exist, or might there be a third option?  What if God is so great that He can orchestrate all this evil and suffering for his purposes? What if He is so good that all his purposes are justified?  What could that purpose be?

We could speculate for hours on just what God’s purposes might be, but I didn’t have that kind of time during an unexpected visit to my neighbor’s door.  It’s not a question for sound bites, but maybe a verse from John1 gives us a clue that there are answers out there.  

I told both Greg and Cheryl that God’s ultimate purpose is stated throughout the Bible, that He would be glorified by His creation, as filled with evil as it has become.  God didn’t directly create evil in the same way that the sun doesn’t directly create a shadow.  A shadow is the absence of light, and evil is the absence of good.  But the presence of evil allows the good to shine even brighter.  

John 1 says “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”  That light he refers to is Christ, and he is glorified as he shines in the darkness.  He is glorified as we trust him, as he shines in and through his people.  Jesus came to proclaim good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.  

These things can’t happen without the presence of evil and suffering.  In and through his people, God orchestrates His perfect will and carries out his purposes.  It is all for good, despite the presence and reality of evil in us and in the world around us.