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!

Spiritual Nutrition

8/19/18           Juan (video)         about 30

One of the great paradoxes of the Gospel is that it is so simple a child can receive it, yet can be so complicated it baffles the most intelligent of adults.  It might be compared to food, which people willingly receive as infants, yet can spend a lifetime trying to understand how it works.  We eat food because it tastes good, but not all food is good for us, so some understanding of nutrition can help us avoid problems down the road.

When it comes to spiritual food, many people I meet are like Juan, about 30, who believes in God and Jesus and that he will go to heaven as a result, but he doesn’t know why.  “No one has ever really explained it to me” he told me, in a sidewalk conversation. 

So just as a nutritionist might try to explain the basics of nutrition in order to help people eat more healthy foods, I tried to explain the Gospel to Juan in the hope that he will be more grounded in it and avoid all the spiritual junk food that only leads to problems down the road in his faith.

For example, Juan has heard that “Jesus saves us from our sins” but didn’t know why or how that happens.  Apparently, the Apostle Paul knew that many of the Christians in Rome had the same problem, so he wrote his letter to the Roman church ahead of his visit to ground them in the how and why of the Gospel.  On his way there he encountered many difficulties, such as a terrible storm that left him shipwrecked, so perhaps he wrote in advance in case he didn’t make it there in person.

In the introduction to his letter Paul wrote “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong… For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

During our conversation, Juan made a few statements that indicated his confusion about the nature of salvation – is it by good works that he could be saved or by simple faith in Jesus?  I tried to explain the Gospel in the short time I knew I had on the sidewalk to help him see that it is, as Paul wrote, “a righteousness that is by faith from first to last”. 

Paul’s letter to the Romans is a long and complicated explanation of the simple Gospel.  Yet it is necessary to understand if we want to give helpful spiritual food to those who already have a simple faith, including ourselves.

PS – Juan graciously allowed me to record our conversation, which can be seen HERE

Faith and the Scientist

8/17/18          Kevin  (video)            late 20's

“If a scientist could prove God’s existence, would you still believe?” 

That’s an unusual question.  Most people might ask a believer like me “If a scientist could prove God doesn’t exist, would you still believe regardless?” or they might ask an atheist “If a scientist could prove God’s existence, then would you believe?” 

But whether or not I would believe if God’s existence could be demonstrated scientifically was something I have never been asked before.  It was asked of me by a thoughtful young man named Kevin during a sidewalk conversation.  I had just told him why I feel we shouldn’t expect to be able to scientifically proof of God’s existence, and Kevin had an interesting way of looking at a question from several different angles.

“I’ve never thought of it that way before” I said.  “And, off the top of my head, I would have to say no, I wouldn’t, because then God would no longer be God.” 

I know that seems counterintuitive.  We have become accustomed to depend on science to validate all truth claims through experimentation and evidence.  If we can isolate the variables and conduct repeated tests that deliver similar results, we might confirm our hypothesis that God does indeed exist.

But in what situation should we expect God to act the same way every time?  The Bible repeatedly tells us that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”, so therefore we must approach Him with reverence and awe rather than the skepticism of a scientist. 

Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:16 when He told the Devil in the wilderness ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’  I believe this also applies to the scientific testing of God’s existence.  Hebrews 11:6 tells us that without faith it is impossible to please God.  We are not to approach God with the analytic attitude of a scientist, depending on our own effort to find Him. 

To be sure, God responds to the sincere seeker who “tests” God by taking steps of faithful obedience.  Most Christians can give testimonies and anecdotes of God’s faithfulness in response.  But science requires experiments done under carefully controlled conditions that can be repeated with similar results.  The problem is, this gives man the illusion that he is in control rather than God.
Faith is extremely important to God.  Many of man’s characteristics please God, such as love, kindness, generosity, and even the patience and ingenuity of a scientist.  But faith in Jesus is the one thing we need for salvation. 

Why faith?  Because it is the one characteristic we can have that we can’t take pride in or take credit for.  Our faith points to the One we have faith in, not in any quality or goodness of our own.  We can’t boast about our faith, but only treasure it with gratitude and wonder.

Like a weightlifter gradually building up his strength, there are things we can do to build up our own faith, such as spending time in his Word and responding in obedience.  But that first inkling of faith, the faith that might at first only be the size of a mustard seed, is a gift from God that no amount of science or any other effort of man can attain.

PS – Kevin graciously allowed me to record our conversation, which can be seen in it’s entirety HERE

The Gospel and Creativity

8/13/18            Ryu  (video)              about 22

I walked into the coffeeshop, and could tell by his work that the young man drawing in his sketchbook was a pretty talented artist.  He introduced himself as Ryu, a nickname bestowed upon him by friends, and he told me he is a graffiti artist.

Ryu agreed to answer my questions about his religious beliefs and their formation, and said he had rejected his religious upbringing because it felt too constraining, that he felt unable to freely express himself within Catholicism.  He observed that many of his friends went along with the program of religious observances at church while defying it throughout the rest of the week, which he saw as hypocritical. 

I could tell that self-expression and creativity are pretty important to Ryu, so I told him some things about the Gospel that allow and should encourage Christians to be highly creative. 

First, as Creator, God is the ultimate example of creativity.  Think of all the infinite variations of stars, snowflakes, flowers and fingerprints.  There is infinite variety found in nature, yet, as far as we can tell, after the initial act of creation God chooses to operate within the familiar patterns of constraints or rules of nature that maintain order.  Miracles would be the exception when God steps outside that normal order.  So, we live in an ordered universe, yet it is full of creativity.

Second, as human beings, we too are naturally creative because we are made in God’s image.  Just as an image in a mirror shares some things in common with the real thing, we share a connection and communication with God that only happens because we share many godly characteristics, being made in his image.  We are, and should be, creative because God is creative.

Third, what seems to be constraining about Christianity may just end up being the most liberating thing we can know as we live out our gratitude.   There are many who think Christianity is like other religions, requiring that we work toward a heavenly reward.  But a works-based religion only results in a sense of drudgery, like a worker dutifully punching a time clock.  It’s a real creativity killer, and I wouldn’t blame an artistic person like Ryu for being turned off given that is also his perception of Christianity.

But biblical Christianity is not a rewards system based on our good works.  We are saved through the work completed by Christ, through his suffering on the cross and verified by his resurrection.  He bore the punishment we deserved and sets us free from the bondage of sin and death, free to express our gratitude through the creative use of whatever gifts and talents God has blessed us with.  We were made for this very purpose!

Romans 12 tells us we are to use whatever gifts we have to serve God: “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”  

However, being made in God’s image means we too must operate within the constraints of certain rules that maintain order, both physical and moral.  For example, being a graffiti artist like Ryu wouldn’t mean one should paint Christian graffiti all over the city!  But being made in God’s image means we too can demonstrate a tremendous amount of creativity as we work, within constraints, to communicate the ancient but timeless Gospel story in our own context, and to our own generation.

PS – Ryu graciously allowed me to record our conversation, which can be seen in it’s entirety HERE

One Miracle From Belief?

8/5/18           Angela and Max (video)       20's

Are atheists just one miracle away from belief? 

I was talking with Max and Angela, both in their early 20’s, who made it appear that way.  I asked about their beliefs in the hereafter, and Angela told of a recent incident, miraculous for it’s improbable timing, that turned her from atheism to a belief in some sort of spiritual or supernatural realm, though she is unsure what that might be. 

In June, her stepfather, whom she loved and admired, had passed away and after hearing the terrible news she had taken a train to the hospital in the suburbs.  On the way the woman in front of her lifted the hair on the back of her neck to reveal a tattoo of her stepfather’s name.  Angela saw this as a sign from her stepfather, and now sees other such coincidences as signs of his spiritual presence, though she also agreed that her belief-changing miracle could be written off by others as a coincidence. 
On the other hand, Max described himself as a devout atheist who turned from fantasies about Greek gods to atheism because of his belief in the rational and cause/effect world of science, where most everything is thought to be able to be explained.

So should just one miracle turn an atheist into a believer, at least a believer in the supernatural?  Would a similar incident like Angela’s be as convincing for Max?  Or might he just belief because of the eyewitness testimony of people around him who have experienced miracles? The miracles that bring people to spiritual awareness are often small signs that occur at just the right time, improbable but not impossible, personally meaningful for the recipient but not to many others.

Why is it that not everyone experiences miracles?   It may not seem fair, but we all must deal with the hand we have been dealt.  Miracles and signs are presented in the Bible as a gift, not a right.  God doesn’t owe us miracles to prove Himself to us, and it would be wrong to demand them or reject God because we feel we haven’t seen one personally.   

Jesus, who told the devil that one should not “put the Lord to the test”, criticized the Pharisees in Matthew 16 by saying “You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” 

Subjecting God to scientific testing and interpretation is not the same as judging physical events, such as  “interpreting the appearance of the sky” to determine if it will rain tomorrow.  The One who created order and natural laws to keep creation orderly is certainly above being judged by those laws.  Proverbs 17 tells us “The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the heart.”   We are able to test and refine natural things such as silver and gold, but it is foolish to expect to apply those same tests to the supernatural.  We have been given scripture as our guide, and if we do we will find that according to the Bible not all in the spirit realm is of God.   And instead of putting God Himself to the test, we will do well to keep in mind that He is the one who “tests the heart”.

But, although some people see or experience other miracles, everyone has experienced one to which we are held accountable – the miracle of existence.  Despite the fact that even children know that something can’t come from nothing, well, here we are.  We know there is a Creator because we are surrounded by the creation.  To deny this basic miracle is to suppress the truth for some other agenda.  Jesus also said we are given another, more specific miracle – His resurrection after “three days and three nights in the heart of the earth”. 

Atheists are without excuse for judging God to be nonexistent, generally because of creation, and specifically because of Jesus’ resurrection.  They are not “one miracle away from belief”, because they have already been given all the miracles they need.

All the miracles they need, but, as most any atheist will tell us, not all they want.

PS – Thanks to Max and Angela for allowing me to record our conversation.  It can be seen HERE

Sewing Seeds of Doubt and Faith

8/5/18 Francisco (video) 22

Have you been interviewed by a “Street Epistemologist” lately?  This is an organized street outreach, first described in a book called “A Manual for Creating Atheists”, to create doubt in people of faith.  It is a soft approach designed to combat the “angry atheist” image through a more reasonable conversation, which unfortunately consists of a lot of unreasonable questions.

What makes the questions unreasonable is that they assume the supernatural realm is beholden to the same laws as the natural realm.  It assumes that one’s belief in God isn’t valid unless it can be scientifically proven, and when it isn’t the implication is that the person of faith should be ridiculed for their beliefs based on “unreliable” methods to determine their beliefs.

Unfortunately, the truth is that most people of religious belief haven’t really taken the time to reflect on why they believe what they believe.  I find I have much in common with the street epistemologists in encouraging people to think through both the source and the implications of their belief.  Many, such as Francisco, 22, whom I talked with on the sidewalk yesterday, are just floating through life without thinking much about eternity, distracted by day to day problems or entertainment and taking the future for granted. 

Faith doesn’t always come easy; even more so when one is surrounded by a secular worldview and people who claim that all truth claims require “proof” or must be falsifiable.  This claim is in itself unprovable or unfalsifiable.  It seems that the unbelieving world has its own version of the self-righteous pharisees that Jesus criticized so much, who “…load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and …will not lift one finger to help them.”   They claim believers must use a reliable method for determining belief in God, which implies that they know what such a reliable would look like.  But they do not.

As a Christian I wanted to help Fernando become more self-aware of the reasons for his current beliefs but also of his need to learn about other beliefs.  I would love for him and others like him to take the time to reflect, to consider the claims of Christianity and other religions, and to realize they need not feel ridiculed for a belief in God or the supernatural just because it might not be able to be empirically proven.  And I gave him some evidence from the Christian perspective, a summary of the Gospel and a description of the biblical way to respond to it.  I did my part in presenting the Gospel, and other religions including atheism are free to do theirs.

Francisco graciously allowed me to record our conversation.  See it HERE

Christian Meditation

8/3/18                   Cienna  (video)                            22

In our fast-paced and hectic existence, made even more intense by the sound bites and eye candy of our information-rich but wisdom-impoverished technology, many people are discovering the discipline of turning off the screens and slowing down for a time.  Of taking a deep breath and clearing out the clutter and worry that fills our minds.  Of taking some time for self-reflection and meditation.

During a conversation outside our local coffeeshop, Cienna, a young lady who describes herself as “spiritual but not religious”, has discovered the value of meditation in relieving stress and finding peace in life.  She grew up with a nominally Catholic background, but is now unsure about religious belief and inclined toward the more eastern belief in reincarnation.  She also explained how she attempts to clear her mind during meditation.  I explained that Christianity, too, values times of meditation but instead of simply trying to free one’s mind of distracting thoughts, Christian meditation also helps us focus on filling our minds with passages from the word of God. 

A good place to meditate is in the Psalms, which begin by telling us “Blessed is the one…whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.”   Joshua 1:8  says “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”

Meditating on God’s word gives us perspective and direction in life.  It helps establish our priorities according to God’s will, rather than being filled with our own.  It helps us appreciate the creation by acknowledging the Creator, and so is not limited to Scripture alone.  Philippians 4:8 says "Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things"

Through times of reflection and meditation, our world can be refreshed as we see it through the lens of eternity.  One of my favorite songs these days speaks of this.  The song is “El Mismo Cielo” by Marcela Gandera.  (Awesome video on YouTube).  It’s beautiful poetry is lost in translation from Spanish but in English it basically says:

“Although it is the same sky, the same sun, and the same streets, I am not the same.
Like a tourist I walk, discovering new things while walking because you are with me
Why is it that with you I begin to discover the simple things I had not seen before?
I hear the voice of the sea and the stars that speak so much about You
The voice that screams in the silence that you want me here, near You.
Your kiss is in every drop that wets me when walking; the light that flows in the sound of a small child crying
You make me live, laugh, and breathe.
Even though You were with me, I could not under stand that I was surrounded by so much joy
Of so many reasons, that from my routine I had to leave, to stop and see You smile, and feel my life.”

Bible-based mediation and prayer helps us see and appreciate the world around us that we took for granted before.  It also gives us clear direction and guidance for the world to come.

Cienna kindly allowed me to record our conversation.  See it HERE

Alternate Truth?

8/1/18             Jordan  (video)                      23

Is there a universal reality beyond the grave, or is it an individual reality that depends on our belief?   

I used an analogy to ask this of a young man named Jordan, who has formulated his own theories about the afterlife involving reincarnation:  “Suppose a man was standing in the middle of a highway with a truck bearing down upon him.  If he covers his eyes and says he doesn’t believe in trucks, will that truck still run him over?”

Does our belief or disbelief in ideas about the afterlife, such as heaven, hell, reincarnation or nonexistence, change the reality of what actually happens?  Some people would say that it does, but this, too, is a subjective belief.

The more important question, I think, is “Where do you get your information?”  Jordan told me he first thought of his ideas about reincarnation after talking with his cousin who had adopted this belief after going off to college.  Both of them had grown up with Christian backgrounds based on the Bible, but had abandoned this source of information in favor of their own ideas.

Our information source should vary according to the questions being asked.  In a world that benefits greatly from science and technology, it is tempting to assume that all questions can be answered from a scientific or research-based approach.  But those who insist on this view are making a truth claim they can’t defend by their own standard.

Christianity insists early on that we are not to invent beliefs about God, but that God reveals Himself to us.  In Exodus 32 we read: “Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’
The Bible warns us repeatedly not to make idols, but is that not what we do when we formulate our own ideas about God, whether it is based on comfort, convenience, wishful thinking, the avoidance of accountability and judgment, or simply an insistence on creative license?

The Bible exists for a reason.  It is a written record of God’s revelation of Himself and our relationship to Him throughout history.  It is meant to be our primary information source, one we don’t abandon or graduate from in order to move on to something more attractive.  It takes study, meditation, and hard work to comprehend, yet it contains truths that a child can understand.  It is not meant to be studied in isolation, as we gain insights from other Christians throughout history and alive today.  

God uses it to speak to each of us individually, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”  (Hebrews 4:12)

Yet it also contains universal truths, both for our everyday life here on earth, and our eternal reality beyond the grave.

PS  Jordan very graciously allowed me to record our conversation.  It can be seen HERE