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

The Repo Man Cometh!

4/09/21       Chris  (see HERE)


Out in a parking lot, just after he parked his tow truck, I was asked an interesting question by Chris, who works as a “repo man”.  These are the guys who take possession of vehicles after their owners have failed to keep up payments.  Their owners are given a limited time in which to make payments and then, that’s it!  Times up!  Party's over! 

 

It could happen at any time.  A delinquent borrower might have a full cart of groceries only to find that their car was suddenly towed away while they were shopping.  Or the vehicle might mysteriously disappear from the parking lot while they were working.  And this happens more often than you might realize.  Did you know over 2 million vehicles are repossessed by lenders every year?  That’s over 5000 vehicles a day! 

 

So the interesting question Chris asked me, in response to my question about God and eternity, was this – “Why do we only have a certain amount of time?  That’s one of the biggest questions I have, why do we have an expiration date?”

 

I thought that was interesting coming from a guy whose job is to be sort of “grim reaper” with people’s vehicles.  Surely he has thought through what would happen if there was no possibility of repossession – if people were just allowed to default on their loans indefinitely.  With no deadlines looming, don’t we all have a basic tendency toward procrastination?

 

So is it fair to try to make a comparison between the limited time we have in making car payments, and the limited time we have to walk this earth and breathe the air?  Probably not.  But I’m thinking that maybe there is a connection if we realize that there are certain tasks that, like the deadline to make a car payment, we are given a limited time to complete.  Maybe God knows our sinful nature and that we also have a tendency toward procrastination when it comes to the tasks He has given us to complete during our stay here.

 

So what are these tasks?  It has to be somewhat different for every person since, after all, we are all given very different “expiration dates”.  Psalm 139:16 tells us “all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”  God ordains long lives for some, short lives for others, and our date with eternity often arrives unexpectedly.

 

But there may be one common purpose God has for us all.  He wants all people to be saved, and to come to a knowledge of the truth.  (1 Tim. 2:4)  In 2 Peter 3:9 we read that "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." 

 

This passage refers to God’s delaying of the “last days” in order that more people might come to faith and repentance.  The “promise” referred to is repeated in the very next verse – that “the day of the Lord will come like a thief.”  But I believe it also refers to our own personal final days.  We may not know when the “thief” will come, but today we can have peace with God through a faith relationship with Jesus.

 

We all have a date with destiny, and none of us are guaranteed a warning before the “repo man” comes! 

 

Thanks, Chris, for allowing me to record our conversation!  It can be seen on my YouTube channel.       

https://youtu.be/hv2Gut5uAxE

What Does It Mean to be "Born Again"?

4/7/21    Phil  (see HERE)


Have you been “born again”?  What does that mean, anyway?

 

There is an important reason Jesus used the analogy of being “born again” to describe the experience of entering the kingdom of God and receiving eternal life.  Jesus was comparing the beginning of our spiritual life to the beginning of our physical life.  Just as no one brings themselves into this life by their own decision to be born physically, so no one whom the Bible describes as “dead in their trespasses and sins” can decide to be born spiritually.

 

So how can we know if someone has truly been “born again”, or even if we ourselves have for that matter?  The spiritual birth isn’t as obvious as the physical, so we can’t know for certain, but the Bible definitely gives us some clues as we “continue to work out our salvation with fear and trembling” as it says in Philippians 2:12.  For that sort of self-reflection, it would be good to read - and wrestle with - the entire epistle of 1 John, which states its purpose near the end: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”

 

Wrestling through assurance of our salvation is too big a topic for a brief social media post.  But I would like to mention one “clue” that can help us know if we ourselves or others are indeed truly born again. 

 

Many people self-identify as being born again, like a guy named Phil whom I met just after he finished fishing at a nearby lake.  After getting all the fishing advice I could, I asked him if I could change the subject and find out what he believes happens after we die.  Phil told me he was “born again”, so I wanted to find out more that might confirm that it was true.

 

In the short time we spoke, I came to believe Phil is indeed born again, due to a big clue I got when I asked him how he could be sure he was saved.  The clue came both in what he said, and in what he did NOT say.

 

When I asked why he believes himself to be saved, he simply said “Well, Christ died on the cross for our sins.  If it wasn’t for the Gospel, there wouldn’t be no hope!”  Phil pointed to Jesus and the cross as his hope for salvation. 

 

What Phil did not point to, however, was himself or any effort on his part to be saved.  He didn’t say “I received Christ” or “I prayed a prayer of salvation”, or “I repented of my sins”.  These might be descriptions of the kinds of things that do happen when one is born again, but I could tell Phil knew salvation was not because of something he had done but was entirely due to God’s sovereign gift in Jesus.  It was not something he could buy or earn with good deeds or religious activities, but it was a work of the Holy Spirit by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

 

What then, does it mean to “work out” our salvation?  It definitely doesn’t mean to work “for” it.  Rather, it means to do the work of bringing to maturity the spiritual rebirth we have already experienced, to live out and grow the faith and repentance we’ve begun to be given. I could see how some of that work has been done in Phil’s life, as he has been listening to good preaching on Christian radio and stayed connected to sound doctrine.  I could also see where he has more to “work out” in his faith, as he is not connected to a local church that can further challenge him and help him grow in Christlike character.

 

Earlier in the Gospel of John, before he told how Jesus described our need to be born again, John also wrote about it himself.  He said those who are born spiritually are “children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”  It is not something we do for God, but something God does for us.

 

Have you been born again?  If so, like Phil, you should know - but also might need to be reminded - that it is entirely a gift of God, not anything you worked for or deserved.  You might also need to know and to be reminded that, like a baby that is born physically, those who are newly born spiritually need to exercise and grow in faith, to “work out their salvation”, in order to mature into the godly people God intends us to be.

 

Thanks, Phil, for allowing me to record our conversation!  It can be seen on my YouTube channel.

https://youtu.be/uxK8a6aUuEI

Worldly Peace or Heavenly Peace?

4/21       Winston  (see HERE)


As I initiate gospel conversations with a wide variety of people in public places, naturally some go better than others.  Almost always the conversations that don’t well are not because the person I talk with totally disagrees with me, but rather those that are with people who just don’t care much about eternity or spiritual things. 

 

That was the case with a man from China whose American name is Winston.  He described himself as worldly, with no interest or belief in anything beyond this life.  At the same time he was careful to say he respects the belief of those who do, no matter what religion they might belong to.  Winston seemed to have a general understanding of Christianity, that “Jesus died for our sins”, but without belief in God and with judging himself to be a good person by his own standards, this didn’t really mean much to him.

 

Toward the end of our conversation, however, Winston expressed the view that many wars have been fought in the name of religion.  I had to agree, and my initial reaction was to defend true Christianity as peaceful and Jesus as a man of peace.  But is that true?   

 

Does every reminder of wars fought in the name of Christianity have to be an automatic justification for those who want to reject Christianity as hypocritical and untrue?  Does fighting for our faith and for Christian values automatically disqualify our witness as Christians?

 

After all, Jesus said “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”  He often told people he healed or who experienced forgiveness “Go in peace”.  He calmed down his disciples by telling them “Peace be with you”, and he was greeted on the night he was born by angels proclaiming “peace to those on whom his favor rests”.  In Isaiah we read that he is the “Prince of Peace” and “Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.”

 

But do all these references to “peace” automatically mean we are not to fight for anything?  What kind of peace was Jesus referring to and when does he intend it to occur?  That passage about peace in Isaiah clearly referred to his government, prophesied to occur during the end times.  The peace he gave to those he forgave or healed seemed to refer to an end to guilt or pain, and the peace he gave to his disciples seemed to be words of assurance in the face of adversity: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

 

Maybe we conveniently forget that Jesus also said “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword."

 

This he said in Matthew 10, where he was instructing his disciples about the difficulties of persecution and spiritual warfare.  He told them - and I believe he also tells any of us who want to follow him – “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”

 

On the night before his violent and torturous crucifixion, Jesus told his disciples “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives…”  I believe this means that the “peace” Jesus offers is not like the “peace” the world offers.  The world seems to offer peace by running away from conflict, by glossing over differences, by pretending everything is okay.  Jesus offers His peace while we are running into battle, while we are taking a stand, and while we are working, maybe even fighting, to be peacemakers.

 

I started to tell Winston that Jesus was a man of peace, but then some of these verses came to mind.  I began to feel dishonest or at least hypocritical, so instead I explained that Jesus gives us something to live for and something worth dying for.  I asked Winston if there was anything he thought was worth dying for, and he said that as a citizen he should be willing to die for his country.  I explained that countries really are only temporary, but that a greater cause would be to give one’s life for God and His glory.  Sometimes that will mean dying in service to one’s country, or to defend one’s family, or in service to Christ. 

 

Do the many religious wars negate the validity of the Gospel?  Many faithful Christians have died for their faith and in service to God in many ways.  Looking back from the larger picture of history it may seem many died in vain or for causes we now judge to be unworthy, or at least mistaken. 

 

But before we judge, let’s ask ourselves, what will we die for?  What are we even living for?  The peace Jesus offers is not the worldly peace that comes from disinterest in the things of heaven like Winston has, but peace in the midst of living and sometimes fighting for the glory of God and laying down our lives like Jesus did.

 

Thank you Winston, for allowing me to record our conversation.  It can be seen on my YouTube Channel.      https://youtu.be/pU1TEyKJLl4

Catholic and Protestant Overreactions

4/21 Onofre (see HERE)


Conversations between Catholics and Protestants about the basics of salvation often end up with both sides “talking past” one another, and I wonder if this could be avoided if we could realize we are both talking about two sides of the same coin. I’ll try to explain.

I asked a Catholic man named Onofre?, from Mexico, about the difference between someone who ends up in heaven and someone who ends up in hell. His answer included the usual Catholic emphasis on doing good deeds, loving one’s neighbor, etc. Of course, as a Protestant, my emphasis was on the free gift of grace God gives us when we put our faith in Christ. Onofre agreed, but said that one’s faith must include repentance of one’s sins, which leads to the good actions he was speaking of. We Protestants possibly overreact when Catholics seem to depend on their good works rather than on Christ, and Catholics possibly overreact when Protestants speak of faith without mentioning the works that result from repentance. Could it be that both sides see what is lacking in the other while being blinded to what is lacking in their own perspective? Jesus warned us that many religious people will claim to belong to Him and He will plainly say “I never knew you!” Catholics might think Jesus was referring to those Protestants who “prayed a prayer” for salvation which never included repentance or a changed life, or who also look down on others for not belonging to the right church or having the right doctrine. Protestants might think Jesus was referring to Catholics who think they will be saved because of their religious piety, church attendance, and good deeds while hypocritically looking down on others, or simply because they are baptized members of the Catholic church but unchanged and still worldly. Either way, maybe both Catholics and Protestants need to listen to the criticism of the other side and see it as a correction for their own overreactions. As I see it, Martin Luther, the Catholic priest who began the protest for church reform in 1517 that led to the Protestant Reformation, was himself guilty of overreaction when he referred to the letter of James as an “Epistle of Straw”. He didn’t question its inclusion in the Bible, but instead questioned its importance in expressing the Gospel. I would argue that, instead, the letter of James is highly important in helping both Catholics and Protestants avoid the overreaction of our respective positions. In James, we have a discussion of the relative importance of faith and works, two key points of discussion between Catholics and Protestants. James 2:18-20 says “But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” It also goes on to say “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” As Luther saw it, a major problem with the Catholic Church of his time was an emphasis on good works to the point that many people thought they must ADD their own good works to the work of Christ in order to be saved. In my Gospel outreach conversations with Catholics, I find that this is still the belief of many, but for others there is the understanding that the repentance that comes with faith in Christ alone will RESULT in good works. They know their good works can’t save, but the kind of faith that saves, does indeed work. When I ask these faithful Catholics how they can know they are saved, they often point to their works as evidence of that saving faith. We Protestants are tempted to think they believe their works have actually saved them, when they are really only looking at works as a sign of the salvation they already have in Christ. On the other hand, when I ask Protestants how they can know they are saved, many tell of praying a “sinner’s prayer” or of some sort of salvation experience, but don’t have the repentance and good works that come from that kind of saving faith. They might think faith is simply belief without repentance, but James says “Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” If “salvation” were like a coin, it would have two sides – faith on one side, and repentance (that leads to good works) on the other. We may look at that coin from different perspectives, but both faith and repentance are on the coin, both come from God, and both are part of the salvation experience.

see HERE

What is Greater, the Creator or the Creation?

3/25/21         Julio  (see HERE)

 

Late in our conversation at a park, I asked a man named Julio “Isn’t an artist greater than the art they create?”  I guess I thought the answer would be obvious, but Julio thought about it and said that no, not necessarily, as he has sometimes appreciated great art pieces only to find out that the artists who created them were basically jerks who were full of themselves. 

He made a good point, and I needed to rethink my argument that one of the reasons God is worthy of our worship is because, as the ultimate Artist, God is so much greater than His wonderful creation which so often leaves us awestruck and speechless at the beauty of its creativity or vastness or intricacy.  I had assumed Julio would agree with my assessment that any one of God’s attributes, His creativity in this case, would be so perfect as to compel us to bow down in worship. 

Earlier Julio had said that he believes in some sort of God or higher power but saw no need to worship Him, saying that the need to be worshiped would be a sign of weakness or a trite human emotion.  In fact, Julio sees himself on the same level as God, believing that we are all part of God as both creator and creation.

I think this illustrates what can happen when the lines between Creator and creation become blurred.  We either bring God down to our level and criticize him for appearing to have human flaws and weaknesses, or we elevate ourselves up to God’s level and fail to acknowledge the awesomeness of His being that is so much higher and greater than ourselves.  Either way, the result is the same: Like Julio we could never bring ourselves to bow down to God in worship.

So to rethink my assumption that any one of God’s attributes would be enough to inspire us to worship, I need to say that God’s attributes probably should not be considered in isolation from one another.  In the case of God’s creativity, for example, I could picture someone like Julio appreciating the Creator’s wonderful creation, yet considering the Bible’s description of God to have character flaws in his harsh judgement of sin, not realizing God has other perfect attributes such as His justice and His holiness.

The Bible tells us we have only a partial understanding of God’s attributes from our observations of nature, which theologians call His “general revelation”.  Romans 1 tells us that “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, so that people are without excuse.”  This “general revelation”, available to all people regardless of religious background, is enough to convict us of our pride, our arrogance, and our sin in relation to a Creator who is so much greater and wiser than ourselves.

But this general revelation is not enough to save us.  For that, we need the specific revelation of God’s Word, where we can read or hear about God’s “specific revelation” of salvation through faith in Jesus.  As Christians and believers in God’s Word, we have the freedom to enjoy each of God’s many attributes, whether we learned of them in general revelation through nature, or in the specific revelation in God’s Word.  When we see God’s attributes in context, we can enjoy them all without condemnation.  We can appreciate the art of the Creator, yes, but we can also bow down and worship the Artist himself in all of his glory.

Thanks, Julio, for allowing me to record our conversation!  It can be seen on my YouTube channel.    

https://youtu.be/ubhlCPcMbUU


 

How To Overcome Constant Worry

3/20/21       Carlos   (see HERE)

Why is it that some people I talk to about the possibility of eternal life are really not that concerned about the subject, while others can’t stop thinking about it, like a young man named Carlos I talked to recently?  He told me “I’m in a 24/7 state of constant worry” and as a result he was very passionate in talking about it.

But surely, this kind of worry and stress can’t be good for a person.  And it can’t be what God wants for us.  After all, didn’t Jesus say “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Jesus offers a “peace that passes all understanding”; yet Carlos’ constant sense of worry and fear actually comes from not knowing just where he stands with Jesus from one day to the next.  On the one hand, he has committed some horrible sins in the past, which he says he has repented of and that he has been changing his life around.  On the other hand, however, he never knows if he has done enough good to make up for the bad he has done, and he certainly doesn’t want to fall back into the same bad behaviors.

So why don’t more people have this sense of urgency when it comes to spiritual things? 

Relatively few of the people I talk to who seem to have a certain sense of peace about spiritual things, often to the point of disinterest, tell me their peace with God comes through faith in Jesus.  Instead, I find a whole lot of suppression, denial, diversion, and escapism tactics.  Rather than live with the stress and worry that Carlos spoke of, most seem to have settled into the false sense of peace that comes from distraction through entertainment or busyness, or from the self-righteousness that comes from false beliefs about God.

I found Carlos’ urgency to be honest and refreshing, even though it’s not a state of mind I believe God wants for him in the long run.  Carlos’ urgency puts him closer to God than the complacency of the disinterested.  It is for this reason Jesus often made statements that pushed people out of their peaceful comfort zone.  He said “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, not peace, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three.” 

Jesus wanted to keep people from mind-numbing complacency when he said “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”  He knew people need to turn from their false sense of security before they could receive the only true path to peace.  They need to know they need to be saved before they are ready to receive the Savior.

So does that mean Carlos needs to stay in a state of constant worry and stress toward God forever?  Absolutely not!  It just means he needs to turn from the false security he is trying to find by trusting in his own good efforts, and instead put his trust in the one who offers true security. 

All of Jesus’ statements offering the “peace that passes all understanding” are directed toward those who put their faith in Him rather than in themselves or someone else.  And the many statements Jesus made about bringing a “sword” or causing division are designed to shake up the complacency of those with a false sense of security.  I think that message has already hit home with Carlos.

Thanks, Carlos, for allowing me to record our conversation.  It can be seen on my YouTube channel.    https://youtu.be/Ao5BJF1SkIU


 

Taste and See

3/21 Alex (see HERE)


For decades, a northwest Indiana fundamental Baptist mega church sent a fleet of buses into many Chicago neighborhoods such as mine to pick up children for their youth evangelism ministry. The buses were staffed mostly by students from the church’s Bible college, who led the ministry both at the church and in the buses while traveling. They taught Bible stories, scripture memorization and shared the Gospel, with many games and prizes along the way to make it fun and exciting for the children. Seeing their buses came and go every Sunday I have to admit I was somewhat critical that they took kids away from their families and local churches and enticed them with so much fun and games. I was running a local church youth ministry at the time and couldn’t begin to compete with them. But I could see that as the children they worked with got older, the sparkle of the fun and prizes wore off and the implications of Gospel’s call to repentance and faith became real, so most ended up dropping out of the bus program as young teens. Later scandals made it even easier to be critical of their ministry, and I became more committed to local, relational ministry as a result. However, as I have been reaching out to people in these same neighborhoods over the years, I’ve met many dozens of adults who had been involved with this bus ministry as children. I’ve had the chance to ask them about their experiences, and overwhelmingly I’ve noticed that, although most have fallen away from any profession of faith they might have made in the ministry, almost all have expressed a soft heart toward the things of God. One of these people was a young man named Alex, whom I met while grocery shopping. At first, when I asked about his beliefs, Alex seemed overwhelmed by despair and distraction to the point where he no longer believes in God or the hope of eternal life. But as we talked and he remembered more of what he had learned and experienced in the bus ministry as a child, the embers of his faith began to turn into a flame. Like so many children of parents who are willing to give their kids over to strangers on a Sunday morning rather than take them to their own local church themselves, Alex had no local church to fall back on once he stopped going, and instead fell into the distractions and temptations of the neighborhood. He freely confesses he would need to make some serious changes if he were to begin to follow Jesus through repentance and faith. But I could tell he still has the hope of God’s love that he first heard about through the faithful youth leaders he met in the bus ministry. Psalm 34 tells us “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.” Alex has been privileged to “taste and see” of the things of God through this ministry. Despite my misgivings about it years ago, I’ve met people like Alex and am increasingly grateful for the work God began in them through this ministry. Without it, they may never have experienced the hope of heaven and the love of God’s people, and their hearts would likely be hardened as a result. Now, I believe Alex has no doubt that he could also be one who is blessed as “one who takes refuge” in God. I hope he realizes he needs not only to repent and believe for salvation, but also to spend time daily in God’s word and regularly with God’s people in a local church. The seeds planted by the faithful people of the bus ministry are still there, and his heart is still soft enough for them to grow.


see VIDEO
 

Secular Humanism

3/17/21         Rich  (see HERE)

 

Many people I meet on the street self-identify as, say, atheist, agnostic, or any one of a number of religions, but I rarely meet anyone who would call themselves a “secular humanist”.  So I was interested to find out more about secular humanism from a man named Rich I talked with at the park recently.  And as I’ve considered what he told me, as well as looking up more about it on my own, I’m convinced many people would qualify as secular humanists, even in churches, and don’t even realize it.  It’s a kind of worldly thinking that can be easily disguised as something else, so it needs to be identified.

 

What makes it hard to identify is probably the “humanist” part.  The American Humanist Association describes humanism as “a rational philosophy informed by science, inspired by art, and motivated by compassion. Affirming the dignity of each human being, it supports the maximization of individual liberty and opportunity consonant with social and planetary responsibility.” 

 

There is so much there that has close parallels with Christianity.  When God created He brought order to chaos, making logic and science possible.  The beauty of creation shouts of the artistry of it’s Creator, and the fine-tuning of our earth for life demonstrates His compassion, as it is also demonstrated throughout history in the pages of Scripture.  As creatures made in God’s image, we each carry His dignity and intrinsic worth and value, and the freedom we find in Christ allows us to live out God’s concern for our fellow image-bearers, both now and in our stewardship of our planet for future generations.

 

The part that betrays worldliness, though, is the “secular” part.  “Secular” is defined as “denoting attitudes, activities, or other things that have no religious or spiritual basis.”  Together, then, secular humanism is “the belief that humanity is capable of morality and self-fulfillment without belief in God.” 

 

That was pretty much the way Rich described himself, and even though many people don’t realize it, any pursuit of self righteousness and fulfillment without being rooted in God’s standard of morality and His purpose for our lives is the very definition of secular humanism itself.

 

No, as created beings our purpose comes from our Creator, as does our standards of morality.  The Bible gives us Someone greater than ourselves to live for.  We are to “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” – the eternal, not the temporal.  And though we all have a general sense of morality in our God-given conscience, the Bible gives us “teaching… reproof… correction, and… training in righteousness”  (2 Tim 3:16)

 

This doesn’t mean Christians are to throw out our God-given ability to think and reason for ourselves.   Acts 17:11 gives an example of the value of critical thinking: “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”  We are to evaluate and discern between the secular and the spiritual: “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor 10:5)

 

The secular goal of living out all that it means to be human, as Rich put it, is too small, for who would better know what we are capable of as humans than the one who created us?  We are creatures made in God’s image, yes, but He wants so much more for us than that.  God wants us to live out our purpose as children of our Heavenly Father: “to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God”  (John 1:12).  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Phil 4:6) “…in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”  (Col. 2:3)

 

Eph 2:8-9 tells us that we are saved by grace, through God and not of ourselves, and then vs.10 goes on to tell us to what purpose we are saved for: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  We are created to be children of God through faith in Jesus, and created to then do the good works God intends for us.   And there is nothing more human than that.

 

Thanks for allowing me to record our conversation, Rich!  It can be seen on my YouTube Channel at       https://youtu.be/EEhE0DseyRA


 

The Protestant Work Ethic


 3/10/21     Rudolfo  (see HERE)

I got a bit of a history lesson from a conversation with a man named Rudolfo, an atheist and retired social studies professor from Mexico.  He views the Protestant work ethic of Americans and its close association with capitalism as a better path toward prosperity than the traditional economics of Mexico, which he believes were stifled by the politics and teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. 

 

Rudolfo talked about Benito Juarez, former President of Mexico, a liberal reformer who viewed the Catholic Church as a major obstacle to bringing prosperity to the people of Mexico.  Juarez worked to break up the economic monopoly held by the Roman Catholic Church and other rich landowners in order to build a vibrant middle class, and he viewed Catholic teachings as stifling to people’s motivation to work hard and to take risks as entrepreneurs.

 

I had initiated this conversation with Rudolfo in order to create an opportunity to share the Gospel, not to discuss politics or economics, but in the case of the “Protestant work ethic” I believe there is a close connection to the Gospel.  Rudolfo talked about how, even as an atheist, he is still a baptized member of the Catholic Church and how he felt it would be easy for people to lose their motivation to work hard in this life as long as they faithfully raise a family, support the church, and look forward to prosperity guaranteed in the next life rather than in this one.

 

On the other hand, Rudolfo believes North American Protestants are motivated by a need to work for a salvation that is not guaranteed by church membership, and he believes this has been the motivation for a work ethic that has brought great prosperity to Americans and built a strong middle class.  He was pretty outspoken in our conversation, but I did my best to explain a more biblical view for what has come to be called the Protestant work ethic.

 

While it is true that salvation is not guaranteed by membership in a church, it is NOT true that salvation can be earned by good works or hard work.  Martin Luther, who began the Protestant Reformation, emphasized the biblical truth that “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Eph.2:8-9)

 

So if salvation is given by God as a free gift, why the Protestant emphasis on hard work?  And this is not necessarily the religious work needed to build up the church, but also includes secular occupations that result in building up one’s family, community and society.  Why would Protestants become known for such values as diligence, discipline, and frugality?

 

Luther also emphasized the dignity of work – that “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”    (Eph.2:10)    We were created for work, and can find great fulfillment and dignity in our efforts.  Originally, God placed Adam in the Garden of Eden “to work it and take care of it.”  It was only after our fall into sin that work became burdensome and often treated with scorn and contempt.  But in Christ, not only church workers but workers in all sorts of moral and beneficial jobs can have a noble vocation, using our God-given abilities to fulfill our God-given roles in life.  In this way, we don’t work to BE saved, but rather we work hard in noble vocations because we ARE saved. 

 

However, while I believe this idea of the Protestant work ethic started with these simple beginnings, I think it went on to take on much cultural baggage.  As a sign of salvation, hard work and discipline came to be viewed as a way to virtue signal to others that one is blessed by God, much in the same way that great wealth was in biblical times and still is.  It became closely connected with corporate capitalism, and as people became more removed from the consequences of their hard work the lines between moral and immoral occupations became blurred.  Many southern white protestants, not wanting to be associated with slave labor, lost sight of the dignity of work and fell into poverty themselves and created a permanent underclass.  And now, the phrase is often seen as a racist reference to white supremacy, as if whites are the only people who work hard in noble vocations.

 

I can only share what I know to be true.  I remember working hard in wrestling practice in high school, and thinking “I’m sure glad I have a coach, because I could never make myself work this hard on my own.”  I knew I would only do the minimal amount it took to keep the coaches from kicking my butt, and I thought that as an adult I would probably need the same kind of motivation. 

 

But when I became a Christian, my thinking changed.  Instead of asking what I HAD to do to get by, I asked what do I GET to do to please my Heavenly Father?  I prayed “Lord, you gave your life for me.  Now I want to give my life for You”.  And that, to me, is the simple essence of the Protestant work ethic.

 

Thanks Rudolfo, for allowing me to record our conversation.  It is on my YouTube Channel.      https://youtu.be/ayHjH3-Pins


Judge Not

3/8/21     Mike  (see HERE)


Is it possible to share the Gospel without being the self-righteous, judgmental type?  I believe it is, and here’s why…

 

In the Bible, Jesus warns his listeners not to judge others the way the self-righteous Pharisees had been judging Him, who had been just waiting for a sound bite from him that would allow them to dismiss him and cancel him out of existence.

 

Many claim that when Jesus said “Do not judge”, it meant we should never judge anyone else.  But here’s what he said in context: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”    (Matt.7)

 

Jesus wasn’t telling us not to judge.  To stop judging would mean we have to stop thinking.  Instead he went on to warn what would happen if we are judgmental like the Pharisees – “for in the same way you judge others, you will be judged”.

 

Rather than teach us NOT to judge, Jesus taught us HOW to judge.  We are to be careful to judge ourselves first – “first take the plank out of your own eye” he went on to say.

 

After healthy self-examination, Jesus then taught that “then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”  The kind of judging we can do for others is judgement or discernment that will help them, just like physically helping improve their sight or removing a splinter.  We can use our natural ability and tendency to judge people and the world around us for their well-being.

 

One way in which to help others by judging is to help them guard against false teachers and false teaching.  Later in Matthew 7 Jesus taught how to judge false teachers: “every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit” and “by their fruit you will recognize them”.

 

To follow Jesus, then, means that we as Christians will use our God-given ability to judge and discern truth first (and regularly) upon ourselves, and then to help others with their problems and to help them recognize false teaching.  This is what I try to do in my Gospel outreach conversations, such as a friendly and respectful conversation I had on a street corner with a young man named Mike.  

 

Mike believed himself to be a good person in God’s eyes, so I asked some questions to help him compare himself to God’s standard – God’s moral laws such as the Ten Commandments – rather than just human standards like just being a friendly and positive person.  In doing this I was trying to help him judge himself – to remove the “plank” out of his own eye – so that he could see more clearly and then to be able to recognize false teachings he has come to accept. 

 

I tried to help him see the inconsistency in his beliefs when I asked if he thought he was better than other people.  “Oh no” he said, so I pointed out this would put him on the same level as, say, Hitler!  If we truly believe in good and bad moral behaviors, we need to see ourselves as somewhere on the moral spectrum, and this means some people will be better and some worse than ourselves morally.  We must naturally do this when we judge ourselves and others by human standards.

 

But when it comes to our relationship with God this human standard of judgment is a sign of the false teaching that makes all most religions “works-based” – that is, dependent on our own human efforts to earn some sort of heavenly reward.  In contrast, God’s standard of judgment is His moral perfection, which puts us all in the same moral category – guilty sinners who can't save ourselves by our own efforts. 

 

Only by God’s standards can we avoid the judgmental, self righteous attitudes of the Pharisees that Jesus condemned, and include ourselves in the same sinful category as the next guy, able to judge ourselves and help that next guy to do the same, and to help them see that we are all equally in need of the Savior.

 

Thanks for allowing me to record our conversation Mike!  It can be seen on my YouTube channel.

 https://youtu.be/StzDRG8I_70

 

How to Determine Spiritual Truth

2/28/21     Oscar (see HERE)


How do you determine spiritual truth?  Reason?  Common sense?  Logic?

These approaches seem sensible, maybe even scientific.  So why do they lead to so many different conclusions?

One reason my outreach conversations never cease to be interesting to me is I am amazed at how varied and creative the answers are  to my simple question – “What do you think happens after this life?”  A young man named Oscar responded with a detailed description of his belief that we are, as humans, the result of an experiment conducted by aliens who are monitoring our response to their manipulations of our gene pool, and that as higher powers these aliens themselves are gods from other galaxies.

Oscar had cobbled together his beliefs from various videos he has watched on the history channel, especially “Ancient Aliens”.  He wasn’t joking, and I took him seriously, because this is really no different than dozens of other beliefs I’ve heard. After all, outside of God’s revelation of Himself in the Bible we are left with either our own reason, common sense, and logic, or the reasoning and logic of others.

Of course. some unbiblical beliefs are more common that others.  Some I would say have reached the level of “accepted science”, such as the idea that since energy cannot be created or destroyed but simply changes forms, then our spirit or soul will likewise change forms when we die and become absorbed into a larger energy collective.  Basically, we just cease to exist.

After I talked a while and focused on the fact that building and creating our own ideas about God is really a modern form of idol worship, Oscar turned from his space alien theory and focused on perhaps the most common idea about God and eternity of all: that on God’s balance scale we will be rewarded in heaven for our good deeds.

But I thought it was interesting how in one conversation I heard one of the most outlandish views of eternal truths - involving space alien gods - juxtaposed with one of the common views, a heavenly reward for our good behavior.

It was interesting because both views have something in common – they are based on the reason, common sense, and logic of man, and they are both equally mistaken.

Using our God-given faculties of logical thinking and common sense serves us well in many areas of life.  But when it comes to spiritual truth, our ultimate authority needs to be God’s direct revelation through His Word. 

In the Bible, the first letter of John ends abruptly with a warning: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”  It’s an important reminder, because we can build idols physically, but we can also build them in our imaginations when we rely on our own abilities to know and describe God.

But how can we avoid idols?  Fortunately, just before ending with that warning against idolatry, John gave advice on just how to do so: “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.”

Knowing Jesus is the way to avoid idolatry.  He is the way, the truth, and the life.  He is the image of the invisible God, which means if you want to know God, look to Jesus.  John tells us that Jesus gives understanding, and we learn about Jesus’ life and ministry through God’s word, the Bible.  It might not seem as polished and engaging and provocative as “Ancient Aliens”, but then again, it is there to give us eternal truth that can lead us to a right relationship with our Creator, not to distract us and lead us unwittingly into idolatry.

 

Thanks, Oscar, for allowing me to record our conversation!  It can be seen on my YouTube channel. 

 

https://youtu.be/NGWLTHhaTLo

 

God's Sovereign Choice

2/20/21      Noah  (see HERE)

Skeptics may think the Bible is too difficult to interpret, but the more one actually reads and follows it, the more understandable it becomes.  A marketplace conversation with a Jewish man, Noah, got me thinking about one difficult passage that is only now starting to make sense to me.  It is an incredible statement made by another Jew – the Apostle Paul – about the fact that his own people had not embraced Jesus as their Messiah:

 Paul wrote “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.”  (Romans 9)

 What I have found so incomprehensible about this statement is that it seems as if Paul would be willing to give up even his own salvation for the sake of his fellow Jews! 

 Now I feel much the same sense of anguish and sorrow for all lost people – both Jew and Gentile – that Paul felt.  But I’d be lying if I said I’d be willing to give up my own salvation for them.

 In fact, I’d also be lying if I said that it is this sense of sorrow and anguish that drives me to regularly “put myself out there” and risk ridicule and worse for the salvation of others.  “Saving people” really isn’t my motivation at all, because that’s something only God can do.  How do I know?  Paul himself wrote the rest of Romans 9 about that very fact – that it is God’s sovereign choice upon whom he will show compassion and mercy and whom He will not.  Vs. 18 reads: “God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.”

Why then, would I go out to initiate Gospel conversations if it doesn’t make a difference in God’s sovereign plan of election?  Because God’s glory through our obedience is also a part of His sovereign plan.  We obey Jesus’ command to proclaim the Gospel because He is worthy and we want Him to be glorified.  Paul gave a clue about that very motivation toward the end of his description of the advantages the Jews had as God’s chosen people: “…and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.”

 Paul glorifies God in that statement, and then in the rest of Romans 9 explains the wisdom of God’s plan of salvation not necessarily for the physical descendants of Abraham (“the people of Israel”) but for all who believe in Jesus, whom he calls the “children of the promise”.  Paul affirms in this chapter that he really couldn’t give up his salvation, that it is not something we humans can give or take.  It is entirely in God’s hands.  This leads me to believe that Paul merely made this statement for emphasis as to how serious the matter of salvation is, and how much sorrow and anguish he felt that so many Jews had abandoned the very gift that God brought through them to the world in the first place.

So where does that leave me, a Gentile Christian, after talking with Noah, an unbelieving Jew?  Well, it was a very short conversation, made even shorter because his wife was waiting for him and I wanted to respect their time.  But in that short dialog I found out that not only has Noah rejected Jesus as the Messiah, he also rejects belief in God’s existence altogether.  He talked much of trying to do good in this life, but rejects the idea of any kind of existence in a life to come.  Toward the end I tried to respectfully ask what the difference would be between himself and an atheist, and he wisely said that he tries to avoid labels or categorizing people’s beliefs.

But there is a difference between a Jew who rejects belief in God, and an atheist who did not grow up in a Jewish home, and Paul described it well when he talked about all the advantages Jews have had in the above passage.  Neither the atheist nor the unbelieving Jew believe in God but the difference would be that the atheist may not necessarily have been given every advantage to believe like the unbelieving Jewish man had.

 I left the conversation feeling like I had at least given Noah a friendly reminder of the advantages he’s had growing up Jewish.  I hope I gave a nudge in the direction of faith that glorifies God and could even be used by God in His sovereign plan for Noah.  Maybe Paul’s incredible statement of willingness to give up even his own salvation helped me to see the importance of eternity and inspired me to reach out with the Gospel with at least some of the urgency as Paul had.  And maybe, just maybe, I’m beginning to understand yet another difficult passage of the Bible.

 Thanks, Noah, for allowing me to record our conversation.  It can be seen on my YouTube channel.

 

https://youtu.be/sAU_3N4HnzY

 

So What About Purgatory?

2/8/21       Larry (see HERE)


One thousand years.  That’s about how long it took for the teaching of “purgatory” to develop in the Roman Catholic Church as it strayed away from faith in Christ’s shed blood alone for the forgiveness of sins.  Apparently Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross wasn’t enough, so in the 11th century it was decided that the additional punishment of the soul in an intermediate state called purgatory was needed.

 Fast forward another one thousand years or so, and that’s how long it took for this teaching about purgatory-as-punishment to morph into the modern view that purgatory is a final “purification” before we can enter the holiness of heaven.

 In the meantime, this teaching led to the many abuses and false teachings around the selling of “indulgences” to get loved ones out of purgatory.  It also led to Martin Luther’s 95 theses and the Protestant Reformation that emphasized the sufficiency of scripture alone, not church tradition and dogma, to teach the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.

 So what does the Bible say?  1 John 2:2  tells us that “He (Jesus) is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”  This “propitiation” refers to God being appeased, or satisfied, that an appropriate payment has been made on our behalf for our sins.  God demands this payment so that sin doesn’t go unpunished, and his perfect justice is observed.

 But what about the modern view of purgatory as “purification”?  This view would say that Jesus paid the legal penalty for our sin, but that our character still needs to be made pure before we can be a part of the Kingdom of Heaven.

 I was trying to figure out just how that might work as I talked with a man named Larry during an outreach conversation.  Larry is a Catholic who only recently has been exploring his faith, as well as the beliefs of other religions.  I asked how purgatory actually works and Larry offered a few theories, but really wasn’t sure. 

 My understanding based on the Bible rather than church dogma is that when we have been “born again” as Jesus described, we are adopted into God’s family and become children of our heavenly Father.  Naturally, a father disciplines His children, and we learn and grow in godliness. That discipline may include suffering, and through it we better realize the suffering Jesus went through on our behalf.  We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus, not through the moral perfection of our character, and we are then “sanctified”, or set apart, through a lifelong process as God begins His work in and through us.  But nobody can claim to have arrived at perfection.  We all need the forgiveness found in Jesus.

 There is much biblical support for this process of sanctification as Christians, such as Colossians 1:9-11 - “And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”

 But where is the biblical support for something so important as purgatory, if indeed it exists?  One would think that someone like Paul would have written long passages about it.  And how is it that moral and character development occurs through something that sounds a lot like torture? 

 I know there are biblical truths, such as the doctrine of the trinity, that don’t require us to understand them for them to be true.  But knowing its history, together with its lack of a biblical foundation, and I have to be honest and say this just looks a lot like a medieval moneymaking scheme by a corrupt church, which could no longer be maintained once the invention of the printing press allowed people to read the Bible for themselves, so it had to change into something slightly less heretical.

 I believe Martin Luther was on to something when he called the Catholic Church to get back to its biblical roots and its faith in Christ alone for both our salvation and our sanctification.  I just wish they had listened.

 Thanks, Larry, for allowing me to record our conversation!  It can be seen on my YouTube channel.   

 

 

https://youtu.be/CBBxEd_KaoY

 

Much Will Be Demanded

2/7/21            Raphael  (see HERE)


What did Jesus mean when he told this short parable – “The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows.” ?

 It’s actually good news in a way, I guess.  People are punished less if they sin in ignorance than if they sin with full knowledge of what they are doing wrong.  The principle would be that God recognizes that we are all dealt a different hand when it comes to our ability to make moral choices.  Those who should know better but still choose to sin are punished more severely than those who had no chance to know better.

 But why should we be punished at all?  Jesus’ parable was told to an audience that understood that no one is completely innocent, even if they haven’t had proper home training or moral instruction. He went on to say “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”  We all have some moral knowledge to work with, as described in Romans 2:5: “…the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.”

 This is bad news for those who believe they can’t be held accountable because of ignorance.  They are nowhere near as ignorant as they claim to be.  In fact, part of the job of our general moral conscience is to prod us to learn the specifics of the law, which for many is readily available in a nearby Bible, in a local church, and in the counsel of godly Christians.

 I was reminded of this in a recent conversation with a man named Raphael, who told me he had fallen away from his faith, but was helped back in all three of these ways.  He listened to his God-given conscience, and took advantage of the knowledge and moral instruction made available to him. 

 None of us can claim ignorance, and we all have access to a Bible, a local church, and the fellowship of other believers to help us grow in godliness.  We have been given much, and much will be demanded

 Thanks, Raphael, for allowing me to record our conversation.  It can be seen on my YouTube channel.     

 

https://youtu.be/3yql2BsXQ9Q

 

The "Personification" of God

1/31/21                    Paul  (see HERE)


I love to meet people who recognize the limitations of our own intelligence and our own insignificance in this vast universe.  But can that humility go too far when it comes to knowing our Creator?

A young man named Paul described this when he told me that one of the main reasons he left the faith he had grown up in is the tendency for people to personify God.  He believes the Bible was written by people as a way to explain and describe God, rather than inspired by God as a way to reveal Himself to people.

There is a big difference between these two approaches.

A constant theme in the Bible is God’s commands against idolatry.  An “idol” is defined as “an image or representation of a god used as an object of worship”.  Early idols were often in the form of statues, such as the golden calf that reminded the Israelites in the wilderness of the more familiar gods they had left behind in Egypt. 

As physical objects, these idols are made by human hands, and are very convenient because they don’t talk back, and they stay in one place if you want the freedom to go somewhere else to do things that might displease it.  Or you can take it with you and bring it out when needed, like the genie in Aladdin’s lamp or like a good luck charm.

But as an “image” of a god, idols don’t have to be limited to physical objects.  The can also exist in our imagination.  We can pick and choose what we want to believe and what we want to reject about our version of “God”, and in so doing we are forming an idol just as real as any golden calf.  I didn’t blame Paul for rejecting what he sees as a very arbitrary version of God based on human whims and tradition.

This is just what we are left with if the Bible is indeed just the product of human imagination.  But nowhere in this library of books that form the Bible do we find it referring to itself as simply the word of man.  Rather, it is the revelation of God throughout human history, and in reading it we gain a much better understanding not only of our Creator, but also of who we are in relation to Him.

So why didn’t God just state up front who He is and what He expects of us?  Why the gradual self-revealing and the many lessons and examples along the way?  Why choose one people, the Israelites, for Himself and allow such conflict to occur, and why allow evil people to prosper at times?  Why allow suffering, and war, and horrible atrocities?  What do we learn about ourselves and God in all this?

Because words without actions are just words.  Ideas untested are just ideas.  Love needs context, and that context needs to include sacrifice and compassion, which can’t exist without the presence of suffering or loss.  The Bible shows God relating to us in a wide variety of circumstances, and through it all shows us how we can have a relationship with our Creator.

In Exodus 13, Moses asked God to “show me your glory”.  In Exodus 34:6-7, God answered – “And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”

 Now imagine if God had just left it at that, and we didn’t have the rest of the Bible for reference.  Imagine that each of us had to learn all the lessons of the Bible the hard way, by experiencing them for ourselves rather than learn from the experiences of others?  What about all the times we have to learn hard lessons over and over again until we get it right?  We wouldn’t get very far.

In our grocery aisle conversation, Paul told me about his own version of God after having abandoned the Bible’s version as being too “personified”.  Paul’s preferred version of God seemed to me to have many of the conveniences of those early golden calves.  As more of an impersonal “power” it didn’t dictate moral preferences or hold him accountable.  It seemed ready to receive his soul energy after this life but promised to leave him alone until then. 

Without the rest of the Bible, or in Paul’s case, without reference to the Bible, we are left up to our own imaginations to fill in the blanks, and all we end up with is a worthless idol. 

Thanks, Paul, for allowing me to record our conversation!  It can be seen on my YouTube channel.

 

https://youtu.be/hN7vXZ81ZRY

 

The Fear of the Lord, and the True Love That Casts Out Fear

 

1/25/21 Joe (see here)

A young man named Joe just sort of shrugged his shoulders when asked about his views on eternity. “Who can know? It’s really scary” he said. As we talked further, he explained that he has no problem with the religion of others; “That’s fine for them” he said, but saw no reason for belief himself. But as a Christian praying for the salvation of others like Joe, I saw one small reason for hope in what he said; “It’s really scary”. So how could someone’s fear of the unknown when it comes to eternity give me hope? Because the Bible repeatedly tells us that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”. At least Joe still has a measure of humility when it comes to things beyond his knowledge or control. The beginning of wisdom is the realization that we don’t have it, that we didn’t bring ourselves into this world and can’t really determine what happens when we leave it. I told Joe that he’s right, we can’t know much about God on our own, unless God reveals Himself to us. And the best revelation of God to man is the Bible, and particularly in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. We don’t have to live with the fear of the unknown. We can fear what we do know! In Mark 4, we read about how Jesus was sleeping in a boat while his disciples were crossing the Sea of Galilee, when a furious storm came up and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. Jesus said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” His disciples were no longer afraid of the storm, they were afraid of Jesus! They recognized his power over nature, and, by extension, his power over their own lives and existence as well. In another incident on a boat, Jesus had given Peter the fisherman a miraculous catch of fish, and Peter responded by falling at Jesus’ knees and saying, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” The fear of the Lord rightfully comes when we see our own weakness, insignificance, and, yes, our sin. It is the beginning of wisdom when we start to see that He is God and we are not; that He is the Creator and we just created beings; that He alone determines what is true or false, right or wrong, living or dead, temporary or eternal; and that He brought us into this world and has every right to take us out. The disciples began their relationships with Jesus with a healthy dose of awe and fear. But it didn’t stop there. All except Judas ended up with a love for him so great they lay down their lives for him as martyrs. Except for John, who lived long enough to pen these words: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4) So Joe, if you read this, and others like you – humility and fear of the Lord is where we need to start, but it doesn’t have to end there. Keep reading, and you will find a loving God with arms wide open, ready to receive you when you turn to Him in repentance and faith.

Thanks, Joe, for allowing me to record our conversation. It can be seen at https://youtu.be/BJC3xw66C9g

Manmade Religion, or Relationship With Our Heavenly Father?

1/19/21    Jose  (see HERE)


“Religious people just put their lives toward God more than anything…they don’t really live their lives the way they want to, you know what I mean?  They are just like “God this” and “God that”…So I started researching it myself because there has to be more than just this…you can’t just die and it’s over, you know?”     -Jose, 18

 These were the mixed feelings about God that I found a young man named Jose to have, who jumped at the chance to have a conversation about religion, even in the aisles of our local grocery store.  Jose grew up Catholic but is now searching and learning about other religions, and favors the idea of being reincarnated in the next life.  He is turned off by what he views as the limitations that organized religion would bring to his life.

 But is Christianity really meant to be “organized religion”?  Is that what Jesus meant when he told parables about, say, the forgiving father who rushed out to embrace his prodigal son who finally returned home?  Or the loving father who gives good gifts to his children when they ask him?  Or what about praying to “Our Father in heaven” when we repeat Jesus’ prayer?  Or praying to our Heavenly Father who knows what we will ask even before the words are formed on our lips? 

 But the good news of the Gospel is that the relationship lost between man and God in the Garden of Eden, and the broken relationship we affirm every time we ourselves likewise sin, can be restored.  It isn’t restored through man-made religion, but through the God-initiated relationship made available to us through faith in Jesus.

 Romans 8 tells us “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.”

 “Abba” is an Aramaic term for Father, said to be a term of endearment like “Daddy” in English.  How amazing that the Lord, the Creator of this magnificent universe wants to adopt us into His Family and call us His children!  This doesn’t sound like a religion, it’s a relationship!

 Thanks, Jose, for allowing me to record our conversation!  It can be seen on my YouTube channel.

 

https://youtu.be/bNWA_2JXUO4