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!

Friendly Advice


10/17/18           Tony  (video)            late 20's

Christians are called to “encourage one another daily”.  Seems simple enough, but how do we actually carry it out?  What does that look like logistically?  I would love to hear comments on how that looks for you, and will give an example of how it can be a part of our Christian outreach.

I was on Chicago’s lakefront looking to initiate a Gospel conversation, and a young father named Tony agreed to talk with me. 

In response to my initial question about what happens after we die, Tony indicated a belief in God and a final judgement, and that he believed if he is good enough he will go to heaven.  He has been busy trying to start and run a small business, and has neglected reading the Bible and attending church.  I could tell he has drifted away from the faith he once had, and wanted to encourage him to get back to God and church, so I spent some time trying to give some friendly advice on his responsibility as a father and, hopefully, as a husband (he still hasn’t married his girlfriend).  I talked about the benefits of daily Bible reading and regular church attendance, and Tony received it all well, as the friendly reminder it was intended to be.

And then I talked about something a little more serious.  Our admonition toward daily encouragement comes in the context of warning against falling away from God completely.  Hebrews 3 says “See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.”

Tony wasn’t just being neglectful of his faith, he was in danger of losing it completely.  Already he had forgotten his first love, the source of his salvation, Jesus.  He stated right away that he thought his salvation depended on his good works and how he treats others, and seemed to forget all about Jesus.  




Tony was not just drifting away from his faith, he was in danger of spiritual shipwreck.   I gave him more than friendly advice – I was throwing him a lifeline.   The author of Hebrews knew that left on our own we all have a “sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.”  We need to encourage our brothers and sisters in the Lord, and unfortunately those who need the most encouragement are the ones who should be occupying those empty seats in our churches on Sunday mornings.


PS – Tony graciously allowed me to record our conversation, which can be seen in its entirety HERE

Worldly Church


10/11/18      Lauren and Laurelyn  (video)          20's?



Longtime friends Laurel and Laurelyn had a lot in common in their religious beliefs, having come from Catholic and Christian upbringings and now leaning toward reincarnation as an attractive alternative.  I asked what they didn’t like about their childhood religion, and they mentioned the defensiveness of church leaders in response to their sincere teenage questions, or their trite, simple or thoughtless answers.  Laurel also had bad experiences with church members being prejudiced, focusing on sin and having an unloving attitude.  She felt they were hypocrites because they weren’t Christlike in living out the loving message of Christianity.  Churchgoers like this can give unbelievers a convenient excuse to reject the gospel altogether.   This should not be, but Lauren and Laurlyn do have a point.

How can we have so many people in our churches who turn unbelievers off to the Gospel?  I believe Jesus' parable of the sower can help us better understand why.   

In this parable, a farmer sows his seed, which represents the word of God.  The seeds encounter various types of soil, but only some grows to maturity.  Some gets eaten by birds right away, while others begin to grow but don't last for various reasons.

So while all hear the word, some don't accept it.  It is left exposed, uncared for, and is soon snatched away.  I don’t believe the point of the parable is to blame the birds for snatching away the seed on the pathway and to see this type of soil as the victim of circumstances, but simply to point out that some receive the word with indifference and neglect.  These unbelievers may even continue attending church alongside believers for social or cultural reasons, but they continue to act in worldly ways because they don’t allow the word to influence them.  In fact, the church often changes to accomodate their worldly ways in the hopes that they will continue to attend and eventually be saved.  This is the result of a ministry mindset that wants the world to come into the church rather than the church going out into the world.  These people don’t come for Jesus, they come for the worldly enticements the church has to offer.

Other seeds don’t last for various reasons.  They begin to grow but fall away because of the different types of soil in which they are scattered.  Hebrews 3:14 tells us “We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.”  One sign of authentic salvation is perseverance.  The seeds that don’t last tell us that true and false conversions happen in response to the word.  Other parables, such as that of the wheat and the tares growing side by side, tell us that true and false believers grow side by side for quite some time, revealing not only the ease in which false believers can mimic Christians, but the immaturity of many Christians which allow them to so easily blend in. 

So yes, churches are full of many different types of people: unbelievers, false converts, and Christians at various stages of maturity and immaturity.  The question is, are we there for the people, or for the Word of God?  I believe a church whose leadership faithfully preaches the word, worships Jesus, and brings the gospel out into the world will attract people for the right reasons and will end up with a mix of people at various stages in their faith journey that doesn’t drive people like Laurel and Laurelyn away because of hypocrisy.




PS –Lauren and Laurelyn graciously allowed me to record our conversation (sorry, audio is really bad), which can be seen in its entirety HERE

Tonto para Cristo

10/8/18        Arturo   (video)              about 30

Cuando yo empice a compartir el evangelio, encuentre algunas personas que no podian hablar en engles.  Esso podria sido una excusa perfecta a no tratar a alcansar essas personas, pero Dios no me podria permitir a usar este excusa.  Yo tendría que aprender español y communicar en el idioma de corazon de estas personas.  Ahora, no estoy muy Bueno en hablar espanol.  Actualamente, estoy averganzada en mis debile habilidad en communicar en espanol.  Pero una persona que desea obedecer y seguir Jesus necesasita ser una tonteria de vez en cuando.

En un recien conversasion con un homre llamada Artura, por ejemplo, no pude entender mucho mas que media de lo que Arturo decia, primero por que Arturo hablaba tan rapidamente.  E que preguntando a una person a repetir sus palabras es una molesta, y yo esperado a entender eventualamente lo que el hablaba.  Sin embargo, yo si entendido que Arturo tenia muchas excusas para no siguir Dios.

Para mi, cuando yo trata animar otras personas a obedecer y siguir Dios, quiro ser un ejemplo de lo que esta conseja significa.  Aun si mi ejemplo me parece como una tonto.

Y esto es nada en comparacion de lo que los discipulos de Jesus emprendido.  En 1 Coritios 4, Pablo describido lo que una discipulo de Jesus podia expectar:  "Por lo que veo, a nosotros los apóstoles Dios nos ha hecho desfilar en el último lugar, como a los sentenciados a muerte. Hemos llegado a ser un espectáculo para todo el universo, tanto para los ángeles como para los hombres. ¡Por causa de Cristo, nosotros somos los ignorantes; ustedes, en Cristo, son los inteligentes! ¡Los débiles somos nosotros; los fuertes son ustedes! ¡A ustedes se les estima; a nosotros se nos desprecia! Hasta el momento pasamos hambre, tenemos sed, nos falta ropa, se nos maltrata, no tenemos dónde vivir. Con estas manos nos matamos trabajando. Si nos maldicen, bendecimos; si nos persiguen, lo soportamos; si nos calumnian, los tratamos con gentileza. Se nos considera la escoria de la tierra, la basura del mundo, y así hasta el día de hoy."

Soy un "tonto para Cristo". A aparecer como una payaso es nada en comparación con esto.  No excusas!

PS – Arturo amablemente me permitió grabar nuestra conversación, que se puede ver en su totalidad HERE

Superstition and Gospel Truth

10/6/18    
both 23

They welcomed me, a stranger, because I could possibly be an angel in disguise.  Is that just a silly superstition or a religious truth?

There is a difference.

If it is Friday the 13th, and you break a mirror as you walk under a ladder because you tripped over a black cat that crossed your path, should you just give up and go back to bed?

Where do these beliefs come from anyway?  I can say for sure where the stranger/angel belief comes from.  Hebrews 13:2 says “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”  And this is no one-verse wonder.  This clear teaching comes in the context of many biblical directives that we should care for the poor and the oppressed, the widows and orphans.

I’m glad that Marci and Abby had heard this verse at some point in their Catholic upbringing and held onto it, because they were very friendly and hospitable when I approached them as a stranger at the park, asking about their religious beliefs.

Although they had left the Catholic teachings they had grown up with, Marci and Abby still believe in God and pray regularly, but when it comes to listening to God in return they were confused as to how to determine what God might have to say.  They often wanted assurance and advice, especially about the fate and well-being of deceased loved ones, but are left with a confusing array of superstitious signs, good luck charms, and folk beliefs.

Superstition takes many forms, from simple karma to astrology, magic spells, sorcery, omens, special rituals to ward off evil or bring blessing.  It comes from a variety of sources, but ultimately from man’s attempts to define or control God.  It is idolatry.  It results in confusion, ignorance and fear as contradictory superstitious claims compete for prominence.  But the various superstitions all have one thing in common.  They are not based on God’s word, but man’s.

Most superstitions are not from the Bible but those that appear to be biblical are usually based on passages taken out of context and misunderstood or misapplied.  They may have the ring of truth, but are often misused as superstitious ritual: the cross as a charm; the Bible as a magic power; Bible verses to bring luck; multiplying prayer; claiming the blood; words of faith; holy oil; prayer shawls; etc.

Jesus tells us that “the truth will set you free”, and we can be free from the ignorance and fear of the unknown that worldly superstitions bring.  Yet, people come to Christ at various places in life, and we tend to bring our superstitious baggage with us.  Paul wrote that we should get rid of these ungodly habits in Colossians 2: 
“You died with Christ and were made free from the powers that influence this world. So why do you act as if you still belong to the world? I mean, why do you follow rules like these: “Don’t eat this,” “Don’t taste that,” “Don’t touch that”? These rules are talking about earthly things that are gone after they are used. They are only human commands and teachings. These rules may seem to be wise as part of a made-up religion in which people pretend to be humble and punish their bodies. But they don’t help people stop doing the evil that the sinful self wants to do.” (ETR version)

My hope and prayer for Marci, Abby and others like them is that they will turn from superstitious beliefs and turn to the Bible and biblical teaching and counsel for Gospel truths and the freedom it brings.

PS –Marci and Abby graciously allowed me to record our conversation, which can be seen in its entirety HERE

Guilty or Innocent?

10/3/18              Alexander  (video              mid 20's?

It seemed like an open and shut case.  The evidence was incriminating.  The defendant had conceded every point.  The verdict would be obvious.  This wasn’t the actual trial, but it was a unique opportunity to settle the matter informally, long before the formal court date.  However, like so many people, the defendant had confessed to various examples of lawbreaking but just couldn’t find the humility to plead guilty.

Why is it that perfectly rational people write off immoral decisions as “mistakes”, or conveniently forget past sins, or find ways to rationalize them away by saying they did the wrong thing for the right reasons, or that they just didn’t know that what they were doing was wrong in the first place?  Why do so many put off “settling out of court” until it is too late?

I gave a sidewalk “good person test” to a friendly guy named Alexander, and he responded much like many people who are able to concede their imperfections but not admit their guilt.  Despite their admission that they have lied, stolen, used God’s name in vain, looked with lust and used hurting words – making them a liar, thief, blasphemer, adulterer and murderer at heart – they just can’t bear to refer to themselves as “guilty”.

Isn’t there some loophole?  Isn’t God supposed to be forgiving?  Can’t it all just be forgotten and left behind without having to deal with that ugly “guilty” word, and that other horrible word, “repentance”?

I wanted to tell Alex the good news of salvation in Christ, but he needed to be ready to receive it.  He needed to understand his sin, his guilt, and his need for the Savior.  He needed to receive the bad news of his sin in order to receive the good news of forgiveness. 

But this was uncharted territory.  What if one puts themself out there, admits their guilt, but is left hanging with no hope?  Better to maintain a strong defense, to plead innocence no matter that the evidence might prove otherwise.

But there is hope, and it can be found on the road of confession and repentance.  1 Peter 5 tells us that “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”  God uses the law as a mirror to show our true reflection according to His holy standard, and in order to show us our need for grace, which is very humbling.
 
I had used God’s word, and specifically God’s moral laws to try to help Alex see his true reflection, but he really didn’t want to act on what he saw.  James 1 tells us “Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.”

I felt like Alex was turning away from the mirror of God’s word in order to forget it, but I don’t lose hope because hope can still be found on the road of repentance. 

Maybe that repentance could even begin with believers like myself.  I told Alex how I would do if I was judged by God’s holy standard, and that I, too, would be found to be a liar, thief, blasphemer, adulterer and murderer at heart.  I wanted to show him what I have experienced – that God does give favor to those who humbly confess their guilt and look to Jesus for forgiveness.

It takes humility and faith to leap into the unknown, to repent and believe.  It’s not easy and is, in fact, impossible for the unbeliever to do by their own efforts.  It takes God’s intervention, which comes about with the help of believers praying and preaching the word and demonstrating humility and gratitude as an example for unbelievers to follow.

Alex, if you read this, I enjoyed our conversation and appreciate your honesty, even though I had to share some hard truths of the Gospel, and my prayer is that you can humbly repent and look to Jesus for forgiveness.  You have my contact info, I would love to hear from you!

PS –Alex graciously allowed me to record our conversation, which can be seen in its entirety HERE

Protestant Catholic Paradox

9/27/18                Steve  (video)                     about 40?

There is no earthly church organization that is not without its faults, and the Catholic Church is no exception.  But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have some very redeeming qualities, and that is important to keep in mind, especially at a time of crisis for Catholics.

In my mind, the elevation of church authority and tradition over the word of God is the source of the problems in the Catholic Church, resulting in unqualified and ungodly men serving as priests and the sexual abuse scandals.  But every so often in my outreach conversations I come across faithful Catholics who have not lost sight of the Gospel, and I found Steve, a lawyer whom I talked with at our local coffeeshop, to be one of them.

In our dialogue we found much in common in our beliefs, so in the end I asked Steve what he thought might be the key difference between Catholics and Protestants.  He thought for a minute, then mentioned the Catholic emphasis on the sacraments. 

As I think about it, I believe he has a point.   In my Protestant emphasis on the scriptures and their ability to make clear the message of the Gospel, there are still certain truths that are beyond words.  The sacraments, holy communion for example, have a way of allowing us to physically experience truths that are beyond simple explanation.  As a result, Catholics are more willing, in my opinion, to accept the “mysteries” of the faith, without feeling the need to always explain them in words.

This can be carried to excess, but there will always be paradoxes, such as Christ’s deity and humanity, the unity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, or predestination vs. free will, that defy logical explanation.  The ability to accept the mystery, I think, can help bring unity between people who may differ on just how to explain such paradoxes. 

There is another paradox I’ve been thinking about lately, one that I think Steve was very comfortable with after his years of faithful devotion.  That is the seeming contradiction between our need to fear God and yet “fear not”.  In Luke 12, Jesus continued the theme of fearing the Lord that runs through the Old Testament when he said “I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.”  but then He tells of a paradox, a seeming contradiction: “…Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

We are told to fear God, but to not be afraid.  This might not be a mystery on the level of, say, the hypostatic union, but I believe it’s one of those concepts we can only learn through faithful reverence and obedience to God and his Word.  It’s a mystery that faithful participation in the sacraments can help both Catholics and Protestants understand.


PS –Steve graciously allowed me to record our conversation, which can be seen in its entirety HERE


Fairy Tale or Word of God?



9/26/18             Santana and Toni  (video)             20's

Lately I’ve been hearing various descriptions of the Bible as a man-made “fairy tale”.  This is often done with a mocking tone, to set up a straw-man description of the Bible in order to try to make people feel foolish for believing it as God’s Word.  I heard this reference again recently in an outreach conversation with a young man named Santana.  He wasn’t trying to use this comparison in an offensive way during our conversation, but I could tell he had heard it from someone else, and it had affected him so much he couldn’t take the Bible seriously.

Much can be said about the difference between the Bible, which is written mostly as an historical account of events, and the frivolous fantasy of fairy tales.  The Bible does include accounts of miracles, as one would expect when God intervenes in human history, which are presented as historical eyewitness accounts.  1 Peter declares, “We do not declare unto you cleverly devised myths or fables but rather what we have seen with our eyes and heard with our ears” The writers of scripture were very concerned with accurately recording the truth, not with writing creative fairy tales.
 
Miracles were also recorded for specific reasons, not as random or unrelated additions to make a story more fanciful.  Only a few of the many miracles of Jesus, for example, were even written down, and as explained in John 20 they were recorded for a specific purpose: “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” 

But the mocking comparisons of the Bible with fairy tales often sound like this: “The Bible is full of talking snakes and donkeys, the earth stopping its rotation, and people walking on water or getting swallowed by fish.  How is this different than any fairy tale?”    This exaggeration is usually originally stated by skeptics who know full well the Bible isn’t “full” of such miracles, but they want to keep people like Santana from reading it for themselves in the first place.  They take a small truth – that there are a few crazy sounding miracles in the Bible, and blow it out of proportion to make it sound like any intellectual adult would be crazy to even read the Bible.  The exaggeration then gets repeated over and over by those who want to believe it.

So if the miracles of the Bible are all there for a purpose, what about the few miracles that do seem like random fantasy rather than historical record?  Skeptics, who take pride in their intellect and ability to reason, can’t accept these miracles because to do so would make them appear foolish in the eyes of other skeptics.  Paul writes about this in 1 Corinthians: “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.”  Elsewhere we are told “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”  (James 4)

Since all miracles are recorded for a reason, could it be that the few “fairy tale” miracles of the Bible are designed by God and purposely included as a way to oppose those too proud to believe and receive them?  I believe that is part of what Jesus was referring to when he prayed the following in Matt. 11: “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.”

Santana, Toni, and other skeptics: Do you really want to think for yourself and avoid just going along with the crowd?  Try reading the Bible for yourself, taking God at his word, and living it out in your life.   You will be humbled, yes, but you will also be one of the strong few who find themselves swimming upstream against the current of our culture, truly being the independent and thinking  person God created you to be.

PS –Santana and his friend Toni graciously allowed me to record our conversation, which can be seen in its entirety HERE

Christians and Climate Change

9/25/18          Bradford  (video)             late 20's?

Bradford, a physics professor whom I met at the park, had a few questions for me after we had talked about his beliefs.  One was about the lack of concern among Christians for climate change. 

Bradford had been heavily involved in his family’s non-denominational church when growing up but has now abandoned the Christian faith and considers himself agnostic.  Given his deep concern for the environment it appears that the indifference of many Christians for the environment is a major reason for his indifference to Christianity.

But would it really make a difference in their belief and commitment to the Gospel for skeptics like Bradford if Christians made climate change their top priority?  For example, instead of reaching out with the Gospel, would it be a better use of my time as a Christian to reach out and initiate conversations for climate change awareness?  Or what about racism?  Or how about education, or obesity, or politics?

Here’s a few quick thoughts about climate change in particular that I shared with Bradford.

First, all people are made in God’s image – past, present, and future, and all have worth and value as fellow human beings.  We began as caretakers of a garden, and though God’s creation is now fallen we owe it to future generations to do our best to use resources sustainably and to work for a healthy environment for all.  We’ve been blessed with science to detect environmental problems as well as to discover ways to solve them, and I believe we should use it as a gift of God.

Second, I don’t believe we should expect or require Christian churches to lead the way in climate change awareness.  It’s not our mission.  All people have been blessed with an intellect and a God-given knowledge of good and evil, known as our moral conscience.  I believe this not only helps us as individuals know our guilt and need for the Savior, but it also ensures that most people at least try to be good, even though in our rebellion against God we try to do good on our own terms. 

This means that there will always be people – Christian or otherwise - seeking to justify their existence with good works such as working to save the environment.  Individual Christians may be gifted as scientists, inventors, or advocates for the environment, but so are non-Christians and all should work together, while the church should support their work and not impede their progress.

Third, with his extensive church background I knew Bradford is aware that many Christians feel that the environment isn’t worth the effort since Jesus may return any time and the world as we know it will soon come to an end.  While technically it is true that Jesus’ return has never been closer, it could be in our generation or 1000 generations from now.  Despite the uncertainty, the loving thing to do is to serve those possible future generations with our environmental stewardship.

Finally, as a Christian I believe that all the problems of human existence including pollution, the greedy and selfish use of resources, and the lack of concern for future generations, are really just symptoms of a deeper problem.  I see them as symptoms of our sinful nature while only the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the cure.  People don’t immediately change deeply ingrained sinful habits and lifestyles once they receive the Gospel and are born again, but at least they become open and motivated to make positive changes through repentance.  For me, sharing the Gospel is an indirect way of doing our part to work for positive changes to all the problems of the world, because they are all really just symptoms of a broken relationship with God that only the Gospel can restore.

PS – Bradford graciously allowed me to record our conversation, which can be seen in its entirety HERE   

Like No Other


9/21/18             Ray   (video)                         40

What would a universal religion look like?  I was wondering that in an outreach conversation with Ray, 40, who told me that the reason he has left the Christian faith of his upbringing was because it is so exclusive.  He felt it is arrogant for any one religion to assume they have a handle on the truth that others don’t have.

In our increasingly pluralistic society, we are exposed to good people of many religious beliefs and worldviews.  Their beliefs may seem to be similar from a distance, but close up we must admit they have many contradictions between them.  So should we just give up and conclude that if they can’t all be right, then none of them are?
 
Mathematically, that wouldn’t make sense.  3, 4, 5 and 6 are nice numbers, but only 2 is the answer to 1 plus 1.  We aren’t being arrogant or even “exclusive” just because we believe one answer is correct.

But this is a matter of faith, and there are good, decent people that believe wholeheartedly in each of the major religions.  How can anyone assume that theirs is correct?  Is it better to believe they are all part of the same universal religion?

The problem with a belief in a universal religion, however, is that this, too, is an exclusive belief that assumes all others are wrong.  Even the atheistic notion that there is no God is a belief that requires faith.  So is the belief that one has the freedom to forget about it, to put off any real belief and just live for each day.  Not to decide is to decide.

If we can come to terms with the fact that we really can’t escape our own exclusive world view, maybe a better question to ask is, to put it in very basic, Sesame Street terms, “Which one of these is not like the others?”

As a Christian I would ask – and I need to be able to answer – “What makes Christianity unique?”

I don’t have space or enough reader attention span to give a long answer, a subject on which whole libraries of books have been written.  But I don’t need it.  What makes Christianity unique can be summed up in one single, solitary word…

Jesus.

Jesus!  He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning, middle and end of the biblical record.  His is the most unique life and teachings in all history.  Acts 4:12 tells us “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

If you want to know what makes Christianity unique, look no further than Jesus.  But be honest, read the Bible for yourself, and, pro or con, be ready to make a life-changing decision.

PS – Ray graciously allowed me to record our conversation, which can be seen in its entirety HERE

Worthy to Proclaim



9/20/18       James  (click here for video)      20's

Wednesday I met an amazing young man named James who has come through some pretty dark places in his young life.  Both of his parents have died, and when he moved from Wisconsin to stay with his grandparents in Chicago, his grandfather also died.  He has been overcoming his disability, lost over a hundred pounds, and is very actively involved in the Special Olympics at our local park.

Through it all James has come to a wonderful place of trusting God’s love and care for him in small and big ways.  He believes he will be with God in heaven one day, and although he can’t really articulate the Gospel, and although I can’t be sure he really understands it, I personally believe he will. 

When asked why he believes he will go to heaven, James began to tell of his good deeds like so many self-righteous people do.  But although it sounds like he trusts in his own righteousness rather than in the righteousness we can only find in Christ, being able to articulate our faith is not the litmus test for salvation.  Only God knows the true heart of people, so the only reason I try to discern the spiritual understanding of the people I talk to is not to judge them but to know how to best spend the few precious minutes I have to talk with them. 
 
For James, these moments were even shorter as I could tell it was about to start raining any time.  How best to spend the few remaining minutes of our conversation?  I briefly shared the Gospel, not necessarily because I think James is not saved, but simply because the Gospel is worthy to be shared, whether the hearer is a believer or not. 

The good news of Jesus is meant to be repeated, because through it we glorify the Lord:  “I will glory in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice.  Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together.”    Psalm 34

James refused to take a basic Gospel tract from me, saying “I basically know all that anyway”, so I had to settle for a simple verbal reminder for him to trust in Jesus rather than good works.  Whether those we talk with have simple trust or theological correctness, naïve confidence or honest ignorance, quiet indifference or vocal opposition, the Gospel is worthy to be shared whenever we have the opportunity.

PS – James graciously allowed me to record our conversation, which can be seen in its entirety HERE 

Not There, Yet

9/16/18             Phillip  (video)              About 25

It can be a breath of fresh air to meet people who are not believers in Jesus but actively seeking after God.  People like Phillip, mid-20’s, who in my opinion is on the right road and headed in the right direction, though he is not there yet.

I was encouraged by my sidewalk conversation with Phillip because, like so many, he says he honestly doesn’t know what to believe about things like God or eternity and the meaning of our existence, and seems to be able to put all options on the table.  But unlike so many, Phillip doesn’t seem content to just shrug his shoulders and give up on his search for truth when he doesn’t find it right away.

Phillip is from a nominal Christian background, but told me he enjoys reading the Bible, even though he doesn’t understand much of it in the spiritual sense.  He has also been attending some Quaker Sunday gatherings, which are known for sitting and waiting for the Holy Spirit to move someone to share with the group. 

He didn’t tell of anything dramatic happening at these meetings, but my real encouragement comes from his willingness to just go invest time there and wait to see what will come of it. He was also very open to talking with me, a church guy reaching out to him on the street, and has frequent conversations with friends about religious and philosophical topics.  How many unbelievers are taking positive steps toward belief, like reading the Bible or attending Christian gatherings or talking about the difficult questions of religion regularly?

I’m encouraged for Phillip because Hebrews 11 says that God “…rewards those who earnestly seek him.”  and in Romans 2 Paul tells us “To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.” 

From our conversation, I believe Phillip is sincere in his search, that he is indeed seeking “truth” and is open to God and Christianity being included in that truth. 

Yet Paul writes later in Romans 3 that “there is no one who seeks God.”  This seeming contradiction tells me that anyone who does seem to be actively seeking God, or just truth in general, is doing so only with God’s help, so I rejoice that I see God working in Phillip’s life even though he is not a believer.  My hope is in God’s ability to find Phillip, not in Phillip’s efforts or ability to find God, so I rejoice because I believe I see God working in his life.

I believe Phillip is on the right path, and, like he told me, its very possibly that I was there for a reason, if only to walk with him on a short section of his journey.


PS – Phillip graciously allowed me to record our conversation, which can be seen in its entirety HERE

Friend of Sinners

9/16/18              Mike  (video)                 53

Being a good listener in Gospel outreach conversations often means holding my tongue, being willing to overlook outrageous beliefs and false accusations against my own, at least temporarily, while trying to assess the beliefs of others and get to the heart of their unbelief or misunderstandings. From the nature of my question about eternity, however, most people realize that I have some sort of spiritual interest and they usually have enough “spiritual correctness” to tone down their profanity and references to immoral activities.

Not so much for a man named Mike, 53, who pretty much “put it all on the table” during a conversation at the park recently.  At first I was kind of surprised, but eventually I realized he really believed his sinful patterns to be insignificant as he proclaimed himself a good person nonetheless.

I struggled to explain what repentance and belief might look like for Mike, because I wasn’t quite sure where to start or how far to take it.  His blatant disregard for “spiritual correctness” left me wondering how to help him see his need forgiveness in Christ without overemphasizing repentance to the point of legalism, or underemphasizing it and cheapening the grace that saves us. 

But Mike did this for me.  Without trying to he reminded me it’s not about finding the right balance, its about finding Jesus.  It turned out I knew that his mother, and she is a godly woman who prays for her wayward son.  Between her influence and a recent Bible movie he had seen Mike brought up the incident of Jesus at Levi tax collector’s house, and another story of Jesus with the sinful woman who perfumed his feet.  Mike confused both of these stories and mixed them together, but generally knew that they demonstrated that Jesus is a friend of sinners like himself.

In fact, Jesus is more a friend of sinners – those who might be the kind of people that “put it all out on the table”, than the kind of people who self-righteously hide their sin under the table. 

People like Simon the Pharisee – the man at whose house Jesus ate when visited by the sinful woman.  This was the man of whom Jesus told his pointed parable about indebtedness, forgiveness and gratitude, ending with these words to Simon in Luke 7:  “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

On the table or hidden under it, we all have a great sin debt that Jesus paid for at the cross, and we all need not only salvation but sanctification, the gradual process of maturing in faith and obedience which brings us out of our sinful habits and more like Jesus. 

Maybe I didn’t need to worry so much about how much to emphasize grace and repentance with Mike – the same Holy Spirit who brings people to faith and repentance can be trusted to bring them through the process of sanctification.  Maybe I just needed to be a friend of sinners, like Jesus.

PS – Mike graciously allowed me to record our conversation, which can be seen in its entirety HERE

Who Says?


9/16/18           Jeanine   (video)                      ??

I’ve been meeting more people lately who have what appears to be a tremendous sense of humility about our place in the universe, given how vast we are discovering it to be and how relatively small and insignificant we are in the midst of it.  A woman named Jeanine was incredulous at how arrogant we must be to presume either knowledge of whatever might have brought it all about or to assume any kind of importance in ourselves and our brief sojourn here in the midst of it.

This is not without precedent biblically, as we read in Psalm 8:  “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?”

The contemporary version, however, removes any reference to a Creator, or if there is one then surely we must be arrogant to assume we matter at all.  Some people prefer to search for outside sources of intelligent life from somewhere else in the universe, or to assume we are just the subjects of some “Matrix” alternative reality experiment, or the results of mindless evolution that leaves us as no more important than any other animal.  For her part, Jeanine has built her understanding of her existence as analogous to a splash of water that rises above a pool, only to fall back and rejoin it once again, losing its brief identity in the process.

So is this what true humility should look like? 

The problem with these viewpoints, in my opinion, is that they rely on man’s assessment of our own significance rather than God’s.  If one is willing to at least concede that Something, rather than nothing, created everything, than one can begin to see that we were created for a purpose, and that it would be the role of the Creator to define that purpose.  The height of arrogance, then, would be for us as created beings to define the Creator, rather than allow ourselves and our significance to be defined.  To do so would be to form a god of our own imagination, otherwise known as idolatry.

What is mankind, that God is mindful of him?  We are given an answer when we continue reading in Psalm 8:  “You have made them a little lower than the angels, and crowned them with glory and honor.”  We are reminded that we are unique, that we have significance, made in God’s image, not because we arrogantly say so (or say that we do not), but because our Creator says so.

PS – Jeanine graciously allowed me to record our conversation, which can be seen in its entirety HERE