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

Eye Candy, Social Media, Discipline/Distraction, Intentionality, Scripture


7/18/19             Buddha        (see video HERE)

I have to be honest.  I didn’t know what in the world this guy was talking about.

I’m usually able to get a good sense of what a person bases their beliefs on by asking good clarifying questions and listening closely for a few minutes , more or less.  Not so with “Buddha” as he called himself.  I had reached out to him at a park to initiate what I hoped would be a Gospel-centered conversation.  What I finally concluded was that he believes in anything and everything, except Christianity.

Buddha tended to speak in vague, religious-sounding terms to describe his beliefs, but before I could ask the meaning of any of them he would flit into another line of thought.  He had grown up heavily involved as a Catholic, but seems to have become enamored with all the latest sensational stories and conspiracy theories on the history channel and YouTube.  I can hardly blame him, because compared to the eye-candy of the internet, the Bible can seem slow moving and predictable in contrast.

In Galatians 1:7 Paul wrote about some of these distracting voices in his day – “Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.”  Whether for the sake of some sort of financial gain or outright spiritual warfare, there are plenty of wolves and false teachers out there trying to distract us from our main source of clear truth and direction.

I struggle with the same problem, to a lesser extent.  If I try to do my daily Bible reading discipline on an online Bible, the temptation is to take what too often turns out to be extended breaks - surfing the internet, watching a trending video, or otherwise looking for some juicy tidbit of information to feed my confirmation bias and boost my ego.  The Bible, on the other hand, often tells me things I don’t want to hear, or challenges me to make changes I don’t want to make.

Reading the Bible requires discipline and intentionality.  I find I need to read it from a hard-copy book rather than a screen in order to keep from getting distracted.  Lately I’ve been discovering the benefits of listening to an audio version of the Bible, often while exercising or doing menial tasks, and I often like to set the playback on chapter loop mode and listen many times over as a way to meditate on God’s Word.

I’d like to say I always feel highly motivated to sit down and take in God’s word, but I often don’t.  With all the distractions out there, it can be especially hard to get started.  But I’m almost always glad I did.  After the familiarity of reading the Bible over and over set in over the years, for me probably the greatest motivator is to be able to have a fresh word or insight to share with others, especially for someone like Buddha who is can be very distracted and confused by all the competing media voices trying to get and keep his attention. But in doing so I’m also feeding myself, getting that important reminder, that new insight, or that fresh revelation that only God’s living word can give.

Thanks Buddha, for allowing me to record our conversation.  It can be seen HERE at https://youtu.be/dENN6TjiiwY

Nature, Creation, Life Force, Reincarnation, Revelation, Naturalism


7/17/19               Britney and Don     (See video HERE)

Are you a “naturalist”?  Do you love nature and appreciate it’s design, creativity, artistry, and attention to detail?  I know I do.  I had just spent some time earlier in the day with my wife appreciating and taking a few pictures of interesting plants and insects at a state park, so I laughed to myself when I saw a young couple at our local city park doing the same thing. 

The couple – Britney and Don, were willing to answer my questions about their religious beliefs, which turned out to be a rejection of the beliefs of their Catholic upbringing in favor of ideas about reincarnation or joining a more general “life force” after death.  Britney said that as she became more educated, these ideas seemed more logical to her.  I asked if she was a “naturalist”, and I now realize that’s not a very fair question, because the word “naturalist” has two meanings which are very different from each other. 

The first meaning of “naturalist” just refers to someone who is “…well versed in natural history, especially in zoology or botany.”  In this sense, I believe all people should be naturalists because the more we notice and know about nature, the more impressed we can and should be by its Creator. Nature is truly awesome, and to me, an obvious sign of how much more awesome is the Creator who made it all.
 
Paul was aware of this when he wrote:  “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.”    Nature, which is visible to us, can really help us understand the invisible qualities of God, such as His patience, His explosive power, His attention to detail, and His extravagant excesses, to name a few.

However, the second meaning of “naturalist” leaves God or a Creator out of the equation entirely.  A “naturalist” is one who practices “naturalism”, - the idea or belief that only natural laws and forces operate in the world.

Paul also wrote about this view of creation that denies a Creator: “…people are without excuse.  For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.”

Paul explains that one has to make an effort to deny the Creator, since He has left evidence of His work all around us in nature.  People would rather design or invent their own god, rather than be accountable to a God that holds them to His own standard of morality.  Although we all have a moral conscience, many want to believe it is on their own terms rather than God-given, and so they find they must re-invent their own god as well.  This is what is known and condemned throughout the Bible as idolatry.

The images of God we create may or may not take physical form.  They may just be an image or set of ideas about God in our imagination, but they become idols nonetheless.  The only way we can escape the sin of idolatry is to take God at His word and receive His revelation of Himself generally through creation and specifically through Holy Scripture.  This is where nature and the Bible comes in, and, more specifically, where studying and following Jesus becomes of utmost importance, who is “the image of the invisible God” (Col.1)

Our role as humans – made in God’s image but corrupted by our sinful rebellion – is not to define God but to receive God’s revelation of Himself.  Later in Colossians we read that God’s people have “…taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”  We do this by reading God’s Word, by following Jesus, and, yes, by observing and delighting in God’s beautiful creation as I saw Britney and Rob doing there at the park.

Thanks, Britney and Rob, for allowing me to record an interesting conversation!  It can be seen HERE at https://youtu.be/3I2VHo8nSgE

Islam, Religion or Relationship, Good Behavior, Ritual, Heavenly Father, Risen Lord


7/15/19             Hani   (see HERE)

Hello Hani!   If you see this, it’s my only way of communicating with you since I didn’t get your phone number.  We both knew going into our conversation that you could be called for an Uber run at any minute.  Thanks for attempting to go on break once you realized that our conversation would be about something important to you, even though the request didn’t register with Uber and you were called to a job anyway.

This is my first follow-up post written directly to the person I talked to, but since our conversation was cut short I wanted to let you know why I think it is an important conversation to finish.  As a Muslim who has explored other religious beliefs and now returned to, but not practicing, Islam, you stated at the outset that you believed one should just live out this life without much regard for the next.  Yet, by your interest in our conversation I could tell that this is a topic near to your heart.

We didn’t get to talk long but from our short conversation I believe you to have mixed feelings about the importance of concerns about one’s eternal destiny.  On the one hand, as a person of faith, you believe you have an eternal soul that will exist forever, whether in a right relationship with God in heaven or experiencing the wrath of God in hell.  Its an eternal fate worthy of concern, yet because you believe this destiny depends on one’s good deeds and actions in life, the very act of being overly concerned about reward and punishment can be seen as spoiling your ability to do good with pure motives.

Hani, if my guess as to your mixed feelings is correct, you are not alone!  Many people of all faiths who trust in their good deeds for salvation face the same dilemma.  To be guilty of selfish thinking and being so “heavenly minded as to be of no earthly good” is a common fear, and if our eternal fate depends on our pure motives in doing good in life, then it would be a justifiable concern.

But our Christian Bible says that God “is a rewarder of those who earnestly seek Him”.  Our chief pursuit is not religion, but a relationship with God, whom Jesus teaches us to refer to as “our heavenly Father”.  In fact, Jesus taught that some people who will be denied entrance into the Kingdom of heaven will be very religious, but turned away because of the lack of relationship with God.  He said in Matthew 7:21: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” 

If we stop reading there it can sound like heaven is something we earn with good deeds, because we assume that the will of God is first and foremost that we work on good behavior.  But read on, and you will see that the “will of my Father who is in heaven” centers more around relationship:  “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

And this is where I think it is wrong to assume that the pursuit of heaven should always be seen as selfish.  Jesus said “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”  (John 17)  There is nothing selfish about pursuing a relationship with our Creator, rather than a religion that might bring us a better afterlife. 

Hani, to know God is so much more than rules and rituals, and I think deep down you know this, which is why you have searched other religions and why you can’t commit yourself fully to Islam now.  You don’t want religion, you want relationship, and that is what we are able to have with God through Jesus, because he alone conquered sin, death, and the grave.  His death made possible the forgiveness of our sins, and his resurrection makes possible an ongoing relationship with our risen Lord.

We have so much more to talk about!  Hani, I do hope you will call me and let’s finish the conversation!


Thanks for allowing me to record our short conversation Hani!  It can be seen HERE at https://youtu.be/sBzU3FlvZfo

Why Bible? Spiritual Disciplines, Revelation of God, Biblical Narrative


7/10/19        Lou  (see video HERE)



Do I take vacations from my daily outreach efforts?  Short answer – no.  But there is a longer answer worth explaining.


In order to stay connected in fellowship with our Father in heaven, Christians find we must practice daily disciplines such as prayer and reading the Bible. Other regular disciplines that keep us connected with God include church attendance and other gatherings of fellowship with believers such as Bible studies, taking in the preaching and teaching of more mature and knowledgeable believers  including pastors and Christian authors, and regular times of fasting along with more focused and intentional prayer.

We need these disciplines because the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil that surround us are like a weight that is constantly pulling us down, and God designed us in such a way that we require fresh and ongoing fellowship with Himself and fellow believers in order to stay connected and growing in our faith.  God has redeemed us from the alienation and spiritual death of sin not just for our eternal salvation, but for our ongoing relationship with Himself and our family of believers here and now.

I have come to view evangelism as one of those spiritual disciplines.  A discipline is something we do through disciplined effort, regardless of how we feel emotionally.  I admit I don’t feel like getting up early to pray or read my Bible, and I must admit that I don’t always feel refreshed by these disciplines on a daily basis.  But I wouldn’t trade the benefits of these activities over time for the world, and I have come to see my daily witnessing efforts in much the same way.

I was on vacation, spending time at the beach in North Carolina, just after the end of another busy school year.  It was a great chance to unwind personally and to spend quality time with my wife while visiting my mother-in-law.  It was tempting to put my outreach efforts on hold for a few days.  But I know from experience that just as my spiritual life becomes increasingly dry and stale, or worse, without prayer and Bible study, so it becomes dry without regularly sharing my faith and allowing the Holy Spirit to flow through me into the lives of others as I do so.

Every time I share the Gospel with someone new, I’m reminded of the blessings I have in Christ.  I’m not discouraged by their lack of faith or their negative response, because I trust that God is and will be working in their life.  I almost always leave the conversation encouraged, either by it’s reminder of my spiritual blessings in comparison, or by God’s current work in the lives of believers.  I believe this is what Paul referred to in Philemon, when he wrote "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."

It’s not that I can’t take a break from witnessing – I just don’t want to.  Not only does it have a spiritual benefit for me personally, but I take joy in meeting new people and helping and encouraging them take steps of faith.  So while on a routine errand from my mother-in-laws house, I initiated a spiritual conversation with a guy named Lou.  Much of our conversation focused on the Bible and it’s reliability and importance, which we need to be assured of if we are to become committed to reading it.  I hope I helped Lou toward that spiritual discipline, and I know he helped me with mine!


Thanks, Lou, for letting this crazy Northerner record our conversation!  It can be seen on my YouTube channel HERE



Salvación, Católico, Evangelismo, Diez Mandamientos.


7/8/19           Ana       (Para ver el video, haga clic AQUI)

Por que necitamos Jesus Cristo?  Yo se que in cada una de los Iglesias Catolicas, hay una cruz y otras representacións de la suffrimiento y muerte de Jesus.  Es central a la lugar de adoracion de una iglesia Catolica, pero no es tan central en los corrazones de muchas Catolicos lo encontro en los calles, tiendas y parques.


Ana, por ejemplo, tiene su propia buena conducta como central en su relacion y entiendamento de Dios.  Y ella no es sola, hay muchos catolicicos, la mayoria in mi experiencia, que tiene su confianza en su comportamiento en vez de confianza en Jesu Cristo.  Es importante en muestar que ellos - y todos de nosotros – son pecadores y por esta razon necesitomos perdon y paz con Dios atraves de la muerte y resurecion de Jesus Cristo.

Por este razon lo necesitaba muestrar a Ana su pecado que es revelado atraves los diez mandamientos.  Yo no estaba juzgando Ana pero ayudarla en juzgar a su mismo.  Si la salvacion de ella depende en su buena conducta, ella esta perdido en su pecado, y “Porque la paga del pecado es muerte, mientras que la dádiva de Dios es vida eterna en Cristo Jesús, nuestro Señor.  (Romanos 6:23)    Espero que esta corta conversacion puede ser una recuerda amable de este verdad.


Gracias a Ana en me permite grabar nuestro conversacion.  Para ver el video, haga clic AQUI, en mi canal de YouTube

Cultural Values, Hopelessly Lost, Outward Morality, Quibbling Fault-Finder


5/19       Jonathan   (see HERE)

In response to the “sinful woman” who wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair, Jesus said “…her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Luke 7)

Jesus was referring to the Pharisees who, in their self-righteousness, showed him little love or appreciation by comparison.

Those who have had the benefit of a religious upbringing and training, both back in Jesus’ day and today, often find it easy to lose perspective in a culture steeped in sin and corrupt worldly attitudes. We are all dealt a different hand when it comes to our moral upbringing, and we need to understand that “those to whom much is given, much is expected.” Many who suffer from a difficult and immoral upbringing and who feel hopelessly lost in their many sins and addictions find it comforting to know that “God knows the heart”. He sees what they have been up against, and they are grateful for any mercy they might receive.

In contrast, many who now benefit from solid moral guidance and discipline from childhood and who as a result are able to live outwardly positive and upright lives probably need to be more concerned that “God knows the heart.” He knows our sin despite our outwardly moral lives, and His standard of comparison is not the behavior of other people but His own holiness.

I had a short street outreach conversation with a young man named Jonathan, whose father is a chaplain, in which my main focus was on using God’s moral law as a standard of goodness. I usually try to do a lot more listening and discerning where people are at spiritually, but Jonathan had informed me upon my asking if I could record our conversation of both his religious upbringing and his five minute time limitation, so I decided to make this moral standard the focus pretty early on in the conversation. I used some of the 10 commandments as a sort of “good person test” in an effort to try and help Jonathan evaluate himself by God’s holy standard, rather than a worldly one based on other people.

As it turned out, Jonathan admitted to telling lies, but felt pretty innocent in other areas I asked about, like theft, hurtful words, anger and lust. How could I communicate the gravity of his sins of dishonesty without feeding into the myth that the Bible presents God as a quibbling fault-finder?

I felt that Jonathan had fallen into the trap of both trivializing God’s holiness, and trivializing the depth of his sins by comparison. James 2 tells us “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” If you break just one law you are, by definition, a lawbreaker. So were Adam and Eve, and the consequences were devastating.

If we ever start to believe our few sins aren’t such a big deal, we need only compare ourselves to the consequences of that one act of willful disobedience that brought about the Fall of Man and our alienation from God as a result. Ultimately, we need only to look to the cross to begin to fully grasp the seriousness of our sin, and the depth of God’s love and mercy. I hope Jonathan will return to that familiar story he heard growing up, and begin to show the appreciation shown by the woman of Luke 7.


Thanks, Jonathan, for allowing me to record our conersation!  It's found HERE.

Critical Thinking, Skepticism, Man-Made Religion, Santa Claus


6/23/19          Don   (see video HERE)

Can your religious beliefs stand up to public scrutiny?  Or will they go the way of Santa Claus once you get older and wiser to the ways of the world?

We need to be critical thinkers to stand up to the commonly accepted dogmas of co-workers, peers, and, more than ever, the social media mob that threatens to expose our independent thinking and subject us to mass shaming and shunning.  We need to be critical thinkers who have the ability to defend and articulate a reason for our counter-cultural beliefs.

I was talking with Don, a former churchgoer who had long since abandoned his religious beliefs.  He had equated them with his former belief in Santa Claus, and decided to move on.  Although he still believes in a higher power of some sort, he abandoned Christianity as just another man-made religion and decided to respect all religions as having equal but limited value as man-made attempts to deal with unanswerable questions.

Don's original faith didn’t withstand scrutiny, because it was a man-made understanding of a religion that can only be true if it is a God-made faith. In the book of Acts, an early skeptic of Christianity, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, wisely said of Peter and the Apostles who were on trial before them for preaching in the name of Jesus “…if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”

I don’t think Don had really done his homework with regard to his rejection of Christianity.  I think he had made the mistake of equating the man-made fairy tale of Santa Claus with the historical reality of Jesus Christ.  Those who reject Christianity as just another man-made religion have missed the central point of the Gospel: it’s not a religion, not a dogma, not a set of rules and rituals, but a person, Jesus Christ.  I do believe Don was starting to grasp that toward the end of our short conversation.

Biblical Christianity is a person who brings each person who encounters him to a point of decision.  Jesus made an exclusive claim about himself: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  He doubled down on this claim when he told Thomas the skeptic “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”  And he tells his followers that he is to be the very fuel of their spiritual life: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”


Is your faith of human origin?  If so, it will fail.  But if it is truly from God, it will stand, even at the point of a sword as did that of those original Apostles.  It will stand in the face of public scrutiny, and it will stand in the face of the shaming and shunning of the skeptics and the masses.


Thanks, Don, for allowing me to record our conversation!  It can be seen HERE at https://youtu.be/fjsdZpkIjns

Identity Politics, Transgender, Martin Luther King, Repentance, LGBT, Civility


6/21/19             Meisha  (see video HERE)

Other than looking for people who likely have time for a conversation, I don’t get to choose whom the Lord gives me to talk with as I try to initiate gospel conversations on the street.  Neither do we get to choose who walks into the doors of our churches on a given Sunday morning.  So are we ready to receive whomever that might be in love, even if that might mean tough love?

I don’t notice a lot of details about the people I talk with, especially at first, but I was surprised when the person with the heavy facial hair I was speaking with said his name was “Meisha”, which I always understood to be a woman’s name.  I was ready for a conversation about his religious beliefs, but right away Meisha wanted to talk about his experiences with sexual identity growing up, and understandably so because it greatly affected his understanding of God and church.

Meisha grew up as a girl with same-sex attraction and masculine tendencies.  With the help of hormones, he began to transition to a male identity three years ago, at the age of 20.  I will refer to him here using male pronouns, since that was my first impression and he eventually wants to be thought of and referred to as male.

Meisha described a childhood of rejection and being bullied for being a girl with masculine tendencies, to the point of a serious suicide attempt by hanging at 17 years of age, and from which he believes God miraculously rescued him.  Now, at age 23, he doesn’t believe the Bible to be an accurate rendition of God’s word, so he has felt the need to decide spiritual truth for himself and favors a belief in “some sort of higher being” and reincarnation after we die.  He doesn’t attend church, but overall has a positive impression of Christians and graciously refuses to lump all Christians in the same category as the few negative and condemning individuals he has encountered.

I was wondering what Meisha bases his identity on.  Does he buy into the “identity politics” of our day and see himself primarily as a member of an oppressed minority group?  One thing I think we both strongly agreed upon was Martin Luther King’s admonition to identify people according to the content of their character rather than the color of their skin or other outward characteristics.  And what I found in Meisha was a strong, confident character who refuses to be a victim, who refuses to blame God or others for his problems, and who works to overcome obstacles and difficulties in life with a positive attitude and a “can do” spirit.

I try to avoid labels, but I would identify myself as an “ultra-conservative” in the sense that, as conservatives want to return to the values and standards of an earlier time, I want to go way, way back and return to the relationship we as humans had with God before the fall.  I would echo Jesus’ prayer that “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” and say that my hope as a Christian is that all people could know the loving and intimate relationship with God lost and broken by sin.

We are all sinners in need of redemption and peace with God, and that would include Meisha.  So, although I had a lot of questions about his experiences as a transsexual, I didn’t want that to be the focus of our conversation just as I don’t believe it should be the focus of one’s identity.  We went on to talk about gospel truths - including hard and difficult ones such as sin, judgment, and hell – and we were able to do it in a respectful and good natured way for several reasons:

One, I am thankful for the strength of Meisha’s character; his confidence, desire to learn, openness to new ideas, humility, and his ability to talk about opposing viewpoints without feeling threatened, triggered, attacked or personally offended.

Two, as a Christian I see my own conversion and salvation as entirely a miraculous gift of God.  Although I definitely want that for everyone and want to share that, I also recognize it is a work of the Holy Spirit.  I feel privileged in the possibility that I might participate in God’s work in the lives of people I talk with, but in the end it is God’s work and I feel no pressure to “get results”.  This trust and dependence on the Holy Spirit frees me up to have open, honest, and even joyful conversations with people from any sort of background or belief.

Third, both Meisha and I understood that active listening – the head nods, the verbal encouragement, the questions – does not necessarily mean we are agreeing or buying into what the other person is saying.  I believe we were truly having the conversation to understand one another and to be understood, without one side winning and the other losing.  It wasn’t a debate; it was a win for both of us.


So Church, can you have conversations like this at your local gathering of believers with the outsiders who step in your doors every now and then?  Are you ready to make the stranger feel welcome and loved?  Are you ready to have these kinds of conversations in the streets and in the marketplace?  My heart’s desire and prayer is that more Christians will take those first awkward but faithful steps in that direction.
(Thanks Meisha, for allowing me to record our conversation!  We talked for well over an hour, but unfortunately my camera battery died at 35 minutes.)  The video can be seen on my YouTube channel HERE at https://youtu.be/J_T4x_tUX6s

Love of God, Fear of God, Judgment, Paradox, Day in Court



6/21/19               Victor    (see conversation HERE)

Should we relate to God as our heavenly Judge or our heavenly Father?  After all, is He not both?  How should that play out in our day to day relationship with God?

A passing cyclist at the park, Victor, kindly stopped on his way home from work and agreed to have a conversation about his religious beliefs.  He told how, after growing up Catholic, he began to visit a protestant church and was very encouraged by all the ways the Bible related to his everyday life and problems, until he began to realize that it also made him feel guilty for his sins.  He stopped attending church at that point, and really hasn’t looked back.

I think maybe at first he was encouraged by the possibility of relating to God as his heavenly Father, until he also realized God is also our Judge.  What to do?  As far as I could tell, he decided to distance himself from both.

As I see it, the problem comes when we view our relationship with God as something to be evaluated at a final judgement – a “court date” if you will – with our conduct in this life all leading up to that one big moment when our eternal future will be determined.  With that court date hanging over our heads, it would be pretty hard to relate to God as our heavenly Father.

Yet Jesus teaches us to do just that.  Just after teaching his followers to pray to their “Father in Heaven”, he said “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”  (Luke 11)

Jesus taught about the love of the Father, but he also went on to teach about what it means to have a healthy fear of God: “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.”  (Luke 12)

So how can we have a right relationship with God that includes both the fear of our Judge and the love of our Father?  The answer, I believe, is to “settle out of court”.  Instead of waiting in fear for our formal trial where all eternity hangs in the balance, in Christ we are given the opportunity to informally settle out of court here and now, to enter into peace with God long before that fateful Day.

Paul, writing to the believers in Rome, describes it like this:  “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.”  (Romans 5)

This “grace in which we now stand” Paul wrote of is the Amazing Grace that the song speaks of, the grace and peace with God which we can walk in and live the rest of our lives in once we have “settled out of court” with our heavenly Judge.  This is the same grace that turns our Judge into our heavenly Father, who will kindly “give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”  And it is by His Spirit that we can live a life in which the fear of the Judge is cast out by the love of the Father, because, as we read in 1 John 4, “…perfect love drives out fear.”

So my prayer for Victor and others like him is that he can enter into that peace with God that Jesus makes possible, and live a life filled with the love for the Father that God intends to replace the fear of the Judge.


Thanks, Victor, for allowing me to record our conversation!  It’s HERE at https://youtu.be/zdUMYTBiIW8

Eternal Security, Pragmatism, Deception, Exclusively Universal


June 18, 2019          Devin        (see HERE)


If you were mistaken about your eternal destiny, how soon would you want to know?

It can be kind of a shocking question, but when I asked it of a man named Devin, he was honest and pragmatic in his answer: “Oh, right now, definitely.”

I try to be fairly logical in telling people how they might possibly be mistaken or deceived when it comes to eternity.  My outreach conversations have helped me see that the vast majority of people – well over 99% in my experience – believe that if there are indeed only two options for eternity, heaven or hell, then they are among those who will be heaven bound.

In fact, many, possibly most people reading this far probably won’t read any further because they are so secure about their own destiny.  Many claim not to believe in God or an afterlife, but on the chance that there is a Judge and a Day of Reckoning, they reckon they are one of the good guys.

Yet Jesus said “For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”  (Matt. 7)

That doesn’t sound like 99% to me.  Sounds like a lot of people are mistaken or deceived, probably just taking salvation for granted.  Maybe we need to double check what kind of foundation we are building our assumptions on, sooner rather than later.

That’s what I tried to help Devin with.  He based his belief about salvation on his personal level of righteousness.  Not that he saw himself as a perfect person, but he believed he was good enough.
But if any of us could be “good enough” for heaven, why would we need Jesus?  Did Jesus die for good people like us, or those sinners out there?

When Jesus described the way to life as passing through a “small gate” and a “narrow road”, he wasn’t referring to all the different routes devised by man that promise a better afterlife.  He was referring to just one way – Himself – whereby we can be saved from the consequences of our sins, and saved for a loving relationship with our Heavenly Father for eternity.

I hope Devin passes through the small gate and the narrow road of repentance and faith in Christ that leads to life.  He may have been deceived by a false trust in his self-righteousness, but he was wise enough to know he would rather know the truth sooner rather than later, before its too late.


Thanks, Devin, for allowing me to record our conversation.  It can be seen at  HERE at https://youtu.be/18PZYSOiqgU

Problem of Evil and Suffering, Contradiction, Holocaust, God's Glory


6/17/19     Alex  (see HERE)

A very common argument of skeptics is “The Problem of Evil”.  It says that if a good and powerful God allows evil, He must therefore not be entirely good or not be powerful; otherwise He would get rid of it. 

How would you answer this question?

This question might not seem urgent to Christians, maybe because we know the extent to which God has gone to overcome evil, or perhaps more likely because we don’t reach out with the Gospel enough to know how common this argument is among skeptics.  But if we as Christians want to have relevance among non-believers, we need to be able to have a ready answer for those who say it can’t even be possible that a good and all-powerful God exists, given the tremendous amount of evil and suffering in the world. 

For example, in a recent sidewalk conversation a young man named Alex told me that this question is his primary reason for rejecting faith in God.  Alex said he trusts science as his source of truth – yet when there are questions science has not yet answered he has faith that they will get answered one day.  I wondered about the apparent contradiction between his refusal to believe in a God he can’t understand, but his willingness to trust in science even when it falls short.

But there was another, more important question to ask of Alex.  If his rejection of God is based on the overwhelming evil and suffering in the world, how much evil WOULD he be willing to find acceptable?  If evil and suffering was limited, say, to only half it’s present amount, would that be acceptable?  How do we know God isn’t already actively limiting and restraining evil so that what we are seeing is really only a fraction of the evil and suffering that would exist without God’s influence?  An overwhelmingly horrible  event like the Jewish holocaust reminds us of the unspeakable evil we as humans are capable of if we are left unrestrained.

But those who judge the world to be too evil for God to exist might need to ask if they themselves are part of the problem.  If God must eliminate all evil in the world, could you or I exist?  Hebrews 11 tells us that “…without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”  The problem of evil would tell us that God can’t exist because He obviously doesn’t reward the innocent and, conversely, punish the wicked.  So are we the innocent ones seeking after God, or are we the wicked ones going our own way who would be destroyed if God were to suddenly eliminate all evil? 

I suggested to Alex that there might be another option he hadn’t thought of and may not understand.  The binary options of God’s existence vs. the existence of evil might need to include a third option, that of God being able to use evil for His own good purposes.  Just as pure light uses something to cause shadows to be fully appreciated, perfect goodness can use “shadows” of a sort to create an even greater good.

There are many clues and references to this throughout the Bible.  One would be in John 6, which reads “As he went along, he (Jesus) saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

Could the light of Jesus during His earthly ministry have been fully displayed were it not for the blind man and hundreds of others sick and lame whom He healed? Like a candle in a darkened room, the light of Jesus shines brightest in the context of this dark world.

There is a lot we don’t know.  Faith often tells us we must believe without demanding to know the details.  In Romans 8:18, Paul gives us a somewhat vague statement that tells us as much:  “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”  

I don’t believe we will ever have all the answers that skeptics demand.  We are given some clues such as these, and that might just need to be enough for our faith to be pleasing to God.

Thanks, Alex, for allowing me to record our conversation.  It can be seen HERE at https://youtu.be/eplv2y5i1f0

Christian Arrogance, Confidence, Hope and Wonder, Fear and Trembling


6/10/19          Andres      (to see conversation, click HERE)


Can we as Christians be sure of our salvation?  Should we, or would it be presumptuous and arrogant to believe that we are heaven bound while other people are not?

Many churchgoers I’ve met in my outreach conversations take a humble approach to salvation, claiming they can’t be sure and that they’ll find out when they get there.  Scripture may seem to support that approach, such as Philippians 2:12 which advises “…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”

Most people I talk to who say that they can’t be sure of heaven believe that such assurance would be a sign of a selfish pride and arrogance that would work against being saved.  Better to take the humble approach they reason.  But the basis of such a thought is that heaven is something they must earn, not something given by God’s grace and mercy in Christ. 

Additionally, upon further questioning I usually find that those who say they “can’t be sure” usually are sure anyway, but they simply have decided not to vocalize that confidence.  Their trust is in their own human goodness or religious acts, rather than the finished work of Christ on the cross.

Some, however, truly don’t seem to believe they are good enough, and salvation is a source of constant worry.  One person that may fit that description is Andres, whom I found at a park enjoying his hobby of flying drones.  He kindly agreed to share his beliefs, and told me that thoughts about what happens after this life are something he worries about every day, and that it does affect his behavior to the point where he felt that if heaven was assured, he could relax and take it easy.

Andres appreciated my explanation that one can be confident of salvation without being arrogant if their trust is in Jesus rather than their own efforts.  I told him that I know I don’t deserve to go to heaven, but that my confidence is in who Jesus is and what He has done, not in who I am or what I have done. 

To be saved by grace is very, very humbling as we time and again realize we don’t deserve it, and this, I believe, is where the “fear and trembling” that Paul wrote of comes into the picture.  Earlier in Philippians Paul wrote “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”  He was confident of salvation, yet he advised fear and trembling for believers regarding it. 

What I believe Paul meant was that we should never, ever, lose our sense of awe and wonder as to how such sinners as ourselves could ever be saved, but for the grace of God in Christ.  We can and should be as confident of our salvation as our faith in Christ, but we should never let that confidence give way to indifference caused by familiarity.  It can and should drive our life, for “to live is Christ”, not to live for ourselves, and yet we can have that tremendous hope and confidence that to die is, indeed, gain.


Thanks, Andres, for allowing me to record our conversation.  It can be seen HERE

Offense of Christianity, Morpeus and Neo - Red Pill/Blue Pill, True Love



6/9/19          Joseph  (to see our conversation, click HERE)

Today I’m going to write about what I believe makes Christianity so offensive to many people.  And I must give warning, it could cause some who read it to abandon the faith, especially if their faith is only a shallow imitation of the real thing.  To some this foundational truth is the aroma of life, but to others it will be the stench of death.

I believe it is better to confront this truth sooner rather than later, especially before its too late.  It’s a foundational truth that makes or breaks Christianity for everyone, and its so important as part of the foundation that if one doesn’t grasp it, their faith will be no more solid than a house of cards.  So with this disclaimer, feel free to read no further and possibly continue on in ignorance.  As Morpheus asked Neo in The Matrix, do you want the red pill or the blue pill?

So here it is.  I’m going to state it very simply: God doesn’t love you or I because we are lovable.

This might not sound so bad at first glance but think about it – do you want others to love you BECAUSE of who you are and all the good they see in you, or DESPITE who you are and all the bad they see in you? 

Let’s be honest – we really don’t want “unconditional love”.  We want to be loved because we have earned it, because we deserve it, because the other has somehow discovered what a unique, wonderful person we are.

Of all the religions in the world, I believe biblical Christianity is uniquely offensive to outsiders because of the position it puts us in relation to God.  All of the works-based religions, including that of people who have a works-based view of Christianity, allow us to work for and somehow deserve some sort of reward in the next life.  Not so with biblical Christianity.  As Christians we know that the “work” of salvation is not something we can ever do FOR God, but rather it has been done for us BY God, as Jesus atoned for our sins on the cross.

I don’t just come up with topics like this out of the blue. I’m inspired by things discussed in outreach conversations.  This subject was something I talked about with a man named Joseph during a sidewalk conversation.  Joseph told me how he had left his evangelical roots in order to join the Catholic Church as an adult convert from Protestantism.  Because it was such an important adult decision, I found Joseph to be very well-read, articulate, and passionate about his new-found beliefs.  He and I had a lot in common and agreed about many things, but one foundational thing we could not agree on was the question of whether we as humans are basically good or basically evil in God’s eyes.

 Joseph believes we are basically good, and this view affects his theology including his view of Christ and the cross.  During our conversation he stated that God “owes it to us” to fix what is broken in us, since being basically good we deserve it.  His view of the cross would say, then, that it is a sign of our goodness, a sign that God finds us so lovable that He would do anything to demonstrate His love for us.

 As an example, he mentioned James 1, which reads “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. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.”

 Joseph’s understanding is that this “mirror” is Christ, and that when we look unto Him we see the greatest sign of God’s love.  When we forget Christ we drift away from God’s love and into sin.  But the passage tells us this “mirror” is “the perfect law” of God – such as the Ten Commandments – which sets the standard for moral perfection by which we can compare ourselves to.  When we look into God’s law, we see that we are basically wicked by comparison, condemned and in need of forgiveness.  If we look away from the law we forget what we saw, just like someone who looks away from a mirror and the fact that they have mud on their face.

 The “mirror” that is God’s moral law is meant to lead us to Jesus, the only place where salvation can be found.  Our relationship with God has been broken by our sin, which began with Adam and is renewed every time we violate our own God-given conscience.  We are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. We have sinned against God in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved Him with our whole heart, and we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
  
We have broken our relationship with God, and only God can restore it.  And the good news is that there is amazing grace, an undeserved gift that can save even a wretch like you and me.  We were lost but God has found us, picked us up, is cleaning us up, and loves us unconditionally.  It is this unconditional love, this undeserved, unmerited love, which allows us to truly love God for the right reason – simply because He, not we, is the One who is truly lovable.
  

Thank you, Joseph, for allowing me to record such a thought provoking conversation!  It can be seen by clicking HERE

Human Nature, Spiritual Hunger, Dead Men Walking, Truth or Internet


June 5, 2019      Martin   (see HERE)



Is the internet your “go to” source when it comes to learning about God?  Good luck with that!


Romans 3 gives a troubling statement about human nature that surely can’t be true:  Paul wrote “…there is no one who seeks God.”


Yet we encounter spiritual seekers all the time, don’t we?  I was talking with one such self-proclaimed seeker at the end of my grocery errands, a man named Martin, who told me he thinks about spirituality and the possibility of life after death often, and seeks to know more about it through various sources on the internet.

So how are we to understand Paul’s assertion, which is based on Psalm 14, that no one seeks God?  I meet people like Martin all the time who have plenty of spiritual hunger and curiosity, and are willing to talk about various theories and interesting things they’ve learned, most often from internet sources.

I think what is important to point out about this passage from Romans is that it says “there is none who seek GOD” – that is, the one true God as presented in the Bible.  It doesn’t say people have no spiritual interest, and I often find people who have a lot of spiritual interest, but they seem to be seeking after anything BUT God.  The idea of being able to choose one’s own ideas about a god and spirituality from various sources, to build a god of your own as it were, is very attractive to people.  We see this tendency throughout the Bible as new generations of people are constantly attracted to idols rather than God Himself.

But to seek after and accept God as He reveals Himself in the Bible, a God who defines Himself rather than allowing us to define Him, is a different story.  Martin and many like him reject the idea of seeking after such a God outright, without giving the idea of reading the Bible a second thought.  Many have perceptions of the Bible and the God it describes based on the negative opinions of others rather than reading it for themselves, but I wonder if it doesn’t go beyond these pre-conceived biases to a rejection of the very notion that one cannot define their own god.

Occasionally I do meet people who I believe are actively seeking the God of the Bible, even though they may not have found Him through faith in Christ yet.  But through questions and dialogue I usually find out that it was God who sought them out first and who is actively drawing them to Himself, perhaps through the prayers of a loved one, the outreach of a friend or church ministry, or the influence of some sort of supernatural experience. 

In John 6:44, Jesus explains that “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them”.  Why can’t we come to God on our own, without God’s help?  Ephesians 2:1 tells us “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.”   The dead can’t bring themselves to life.  They can’t even move in that direction.  This is why Jesus tells us that we need to be “born again” spiritually.  No one chooses when and where to be born, just as the dead can’t choose to come to life.  It is a work of God, beyond our understanding.

Yet He often chooses to work through His church, through our prayers, our acts of kindness and our faithful witness, to orchestrate events with the power of his Spirit in such a way as to draw people to Himself and to bring the spiritually dead to life.  I didn’t get to talk very long with Martin there in the grocery store, but I hope and pray I was able to be at least a small part of God’s work in drawing Martin to Himself.

Martin, if you read this, thank you for your kindness in allowing me to record our conversation and I do hope you will begin to read the Bible for yourself – especially the four Gospels at the start of the New Testament - and discover how you can relate to God as your heavenly Father through faith in Jesus.


Our conversation can be seen HERE


Social Justice, First Last, Balance Scale, Moral Bankruptcy, True Mercy


6/3/19        Larissa              (click HERE to see video)



When it came to describing God’s system of justice in regards to what happens to us after we die, a young lady named Larissa, a Catholic from Benin, West Africa, pointed to the parable of the workers found in Matthew 20.  In this parable, Jesus told of a landowner who hired workers at various points throughout the workday.  When it came time for each to receive payment, they all received just as much as the workers who were hired first, even though they hadn’t worked as long.  Those who had worked the longest through the heat of the day complained that they weren’t paid more than originally agreed upon, but the landowner rightly told them “Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ (vs.15)

I had asked to talk with Larissa on the sidewalk while she was on her way to church.  She is a chemistry student, probably had other things on her mind, and hasn’t spent too much time reading the Bible, so I’m sure my question caught her off guard.  Yet she instinctively knew that this parable told of God’s justice.  Jesus summed it up by saying “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”  It’s a justice “system” very different from our human concepts of justice.
 
It can be very hard for us to conceive of God’s justice, this parable notwithstanding.  Workers who work longer or more productively deserve to get rewarded accordingly, we reason.  Larissa as a student, I’m sure, would expect to be rewarded with a higher grade according to her efforts and success in her classes.  As we talked further, despite her reference to the parable, she began to see that hers is a “balance scale” belief system, in which she hopes her good deeds will outweigh her bad and through a combination of her own good deeds and God’s mercy, she will be rewarded on judgment day with eternal life.

So how can a “last first, first last” system of justice be fair?  The answer, I believe, can be found in a proper understanding of just what we “deserve” when it comes to heavenly rewards.  An important clue can be found in James 4:15, which reads “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.”  The word “ought” tells us that good deeds are rightfully expected of us.  We are to use the good gifts that God has given us – the time, energy, health, opportunity, even the desire to good – and do good deeds without expectation of reward, simply because it is only fitting and right and honoring of God to do so.

The bad things we have done – on the other hand – ought not to be done, yet all too often we use God’s precious gifts of life and health to defy our Creator and disobey Him through various acts of outright rebellion or uncaring, disobedient neglect.  When we appeal to the “balance scale” model of justice, we are in effect saying that the good we ought to do anyway will somehow “pay” for the bad we ought not to have done.  But it doesn’t according to God’s justice, and we are left in a position of moral bankruptcy before our infinitely righteous Judge, with our sins counted against us and no way to pay for them short of an eternity in hell.

Do we really want what we “deserve” on judgement day?  Romans 6:23 tells us “…the wages of sin is death.”  Or do we want, as Larissa was right to point out, God’s mercy?  Romans 6:23 continues by saying this is a gift that can’t be earned: “…but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  In Christ Jesus, God has paid the debt for sin that we couldn’t pay.  We did the crime, but Jesus paid our fine.

In God’s system of justice, we all start out equally condemned for our sins.  None of us deserves any more reward than anyone else for the good we ought to do anyway.  We can never be in a position where God “owes” us reward.  But those who receive Jesus receive the generous mercy of God, just as the last workers in the parable were first to receive a generous reward they hadn’t earned. 

In Christ God is saying “Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money (mercy)? Or are you envious because I am generous (merciful)?’  The “last” can be first and the “first” can be last, not according to our works, but according to God’s riches in mercy.

Thanks, Larissa, for allowing me to record our conversation!   It can be seen HERE https://youtu.be/4PlygVGpVgo