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

The Protestant Work Ethic

Pavan and Adan,  04/22

 
Whatever happened to the “Protestant work ethic”?

It’s a big question, as we face the problems of a labor shortage in America. As a society, I’m pretty sure we have nowhere near the sort of work ethic that the generations before us had.

But was it really a “Protestant” characteristic?

The idea of a “Protestant Work Ethic” became popular in the 1800’s due to the writings of sociologist Max Weber, who theorized that Protestants work hard because they believed worldly success could be interpreted as a sign of eternal salvation. However, it was often seen as a way to earn salvation.

Nothing can be further from Christian belief. The idea that we can work hard enough to somehow save ourselves would mean that we don’t need the Savior, Jesus.

In Ephesians we find a better explanation for the hard work of Christians. First, it asserts that our hard work has nothing to do with earning salvation: “For 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.”

Then, it goes on to explain the purpose of our work as Christians who have already been saved: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” As Christians, we work hard at doing good not in order to BE saved, but because we ARE saved.

Elsewhere in the Bible, it’s described as the “working out” of our salvation – an expression of what it means to be reconciled to a right relationship with God. We are returning to the original call of Adam as caretaker of Eden before the fall, when work had dignity as a way to honor our Creator and His creation.

Christians are also motivated to work, not in order to be accepted into God’s family, but to please our Heavenly Father who has already received us because of Christ’s work on our behalf. We respond by serving God in love, and in loving our neighbors as Christ loves us.

But I also see a strong work ethic in many immigrant groups that come to America, often because they’ve had to leave much behind and build a new life here from the ground up, and not necessarily because they are “Protestant” or even Christian. I saw a strong work ethic in two international students from India, Pavan and Adan, both of whom had grown up in Hindu families and culture. For them, the main question of religion and a work ethic was not how it will lead to salvation in the life to come, but how will it prosper them in the here and now?

Pavan in particular expressed his belief in the virtues of hard work as his belief system, which for him is opposed to the impractical, unscientific and idealistic nature of religion. So he really didn’t see Christianity or religion in general as being particularly useful.

Adan, on the other hand, was more so interested in how religion might help him prosper by blessing him financially, so he did his best to avoid offending any religions, be they Hindu, Christian, or whatever. He also believes in the value of hard work, but along with any help a deity might bless him with in his efforts.

Protestant Christians aren’t the only people known for a strong work ethic, but I do believe our motivation to work can and should be different and unique. Instead of the self-serving motivation of prosperity or the compulsory motivation of earning God’s acceptance, we have the opportunity to work in the service of God and our fellow man with dignity and as an honor, if indeed we see an honest days work as the high calling that God created it to be.


Thanks, Pavan and Adan, for allowing me to record our conversation! It can be seen on my YouTube channel at https://youtu.be/J-TkyUUmJvc

Contradictions in the Bible?

Raymond,  04/22

Does the Bible contain contradictions?

That was the main question on Raymond’s mind after I had given him a quick summary of the Gospel as I talked with him at a McDonald’s. I would guess he had heard some “expert” state that the Bible does indeed contradict itself; while not hearing from or possibly ignoring biblical scholars who state that it does not.

So which is it?

A lot could be said about this, but in general I find that the approach people take depends on the answer they want to find. Those who want to say the Bible can be dismissed out of hand easily accept the shocking headlines and claims of contradictions made by it’s critics, while those who want the Bible to be shown reliable will give it the benefit of the doubt and take the time to look past the accusatory headlines.


This patience in waiting for an explanation doesn’t work both ways, in my opinion. Believers with a deep, abiding faith have learned not to react to the storms of doubt and criticism thrown at them, and they have the desire and ability to listen to long and rather detailed arguments in favor of faith.

But skeptics and doubters are like the waves at the surface of the ocean; “like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind” as James wrote. They don’t want to hear the truth, so they grasp at the straws of criticism stacked against the Bible, and won’t listen to the long explanations often required for explain them. They fall for the quick soundbites that confirm their biases, or dismiss the evidence simply because it comes from a source they don’t agree with.

This confirmation bias works both ways but generally I find that, by far, non-believers are much more eager to debunk the Bible than believers are to defend it. It’s not that believers don’t care; it’s more from the quiet confidence they have that comes from their lived experiences, rather than the quiet desperation skeptics are feeling that comes from an unresolved conscience.

Jesus said “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). Paul, who followed Jesus through great tribulation, described it as “the peace of God which passes all understanding”.

The claim of contradictions in the Bible, then, are made by people who can’t experience peace in life without somehow debunking and dismissing it. These claims provide a temporary respite from the uneasy feeling that the Bible contains truths that can’t be ignored.

Thanks, Raymond, for allowing me to record our conversation. It can be seen at https://youtu.be/3rPcJaLhY-E on my YouTube channel.

You Know Too Much!

Brendon,  04/22

When it comes to religious faith and Christianity in particular, is it possible to know too much?

If I say yes, sceptics will be quick to ask “how could anyone know “too much”? What are you trying to hide?” Nonetheless, I will say that yes, it can indeed be bad to know "too much" about Christianity, and I’ll just hope that you’ll read on to find out why.

Sceptics from a church background are often of the opinion that, though they once knew and accepted the basic Gospel message, they have now been enlightened with further knowledge that allows them to move past Christian faith with a “been there, done that, but now I know better” attitude.


Other sceptics who grew up outside of a Christian upbringing often feel they have learned enough about Christianity simply by reading the Bible all the way through, or studying the history of the church, or watching all the latest documentaries on the history channel, and now they know enough to reject it.

That, I think, was the case with a well-read man named Brendon, whom I talked with at a coffee shop. Brendon described his upbringing as a “hippie” household, wandering between different idealistic pursuits, and that his parents encouraged him to be curious and learn about all the different forms of religious expression out there. So he spent a lot of time in public libraries, and has read much such as the major religious texts all the way through, including the Bible, the Quran and the Bhagavad Gita, as well as learning about and experiencing many different alternative religions.

The result of all this knowledge? Brendon seems to have learned to be very accepting and appreciative of the beliefs of others – no matter what they are - and quick to proclaim his own inability to judge any of them one way or another. He claims to be basically uncommitted when it comes to religious belief, and he did pretty consistently maintain this neutrality throughout our entire conversation.

In my outreach experiences, most people fall short when it comes to how much they know about Christianity. What they do know is often just the opinions of others rather than studying and learning for themselves. They know some facts but can’t see the big picture, like losing the forest for the trees.

But some people, like Brendon, go far beyond a basic knowledge of Christianity and religion to the point of information overload. The vastness of the forest makes them lose sight of the trees, and in this case the trees represent the basic steps we are expected to take in response to the Christian gospel.

Brenden seems to know a lot about Christianity and other religions, but the Gospel calls us to respond to its basic message with repentance and faith sooner rather than later. To move past these calls to commitment, even if only to seek additional knowledge, is very often simply an act of rejection through procrastination.

In Jesus’ parable of the Sower, God’s word is planted in various types of “soil”, and in one type of soil the seed is choked out “with worries and riches and pleasures of this life”. People like Brenden can be exposed to God’s word at various levels, but in the end it is just too much distraction caused by too much of any number of things, including information overload.

“Too much” of anything is too much, and too much information without acting on what one already knows can be just another distraction to the Gospel.

Thanks for allowing me to record our conversation Brendon! It can be seen at https://youtu.be/oPm4X6_VQRI on my YouTube channel.

Doesn't the Bible Say "God is Love?"

Augustin,  04/22

 

Ever try to fit a square peg in a round hole?

That’s a good description of what happens when people pick and choose their favorite biblical passages about God and try to make the rest of the Bible fit accordingly.

Things can get very inconsistent and messy as we find we must cut corners, throw away inconvenient truths, ignore or discard what doesn’t work, and force meanings on passages out of context in order for them to fit our designer theology.


All that mess describes my conversation with Augustin, who has very strong but inconsistent beliefs that “God is love”; that God would never judge or punish; and that positive and negative “vibrations” determine morality.

So much of the Bible only makes sense in the context of the broken relationship and curse God placed on mankind shortly after the Fall, where Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden, and the history of God choosing a people through which a Savior would enter the world to redeem a people for Himself from that curse.

Take, for example, Augustin’s repeated references to the “God is love” mantra. I don’t deny that it’s in the Bible – it’s right there, repeated twice in 1 John 4. It’s such a simple statement, why bother with context? How could it ever be complicated?

Multiple sermons and whole books could be written about this one chapter in the Bible, but maybe a couple simple questions might help here. First, who is it written to? And second, what is the purpose of the chapter in which these verses are found?
Should any casual reader of the Bible assume it applies to all people universally? Does this mean that God’s automatic response is love in any and every situation?

This chapter is found in 1 John, a circular letter meant to be read in Christian churches for the purpose of discerning evil spirits and false teachers and encouraging believers to love one another. It references God’s attribute of perfect love, but this in no way limits God’s character to just one overriding attribute. God’s other attributes – His mercy, patience, and justice for example – are in no way diminished by His love, for He is perfect in every way.

And this creates a paradox, for while “God is love” and loves to shower that love on people, God is also just, and by this very perfect attribute must justly punish sin. So how can God love people, yet carry out the just punishment we deserve? The answer is in the same chapter, which explains how God’s love is demonstrated: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

In the same chapter where we find “God is love”, we find the demonstration of that love in the context of our sin and the just punishment we deserve – all the things Augustin was so desperate to deny.

We need to read the Bible in context, and stop trying to put square pegs in round holes!


Thanks, Augustin, for allowing me to record our conversation! It can be seen at https://youtu.be/QRowqiHUv6g on my YouTube Channel.

Do Differences Have to Divide?

 Brandon, 04/22

 

So an older, white, conservative Christian, with a heart to share the Gospel, sits down for a heart to heart talk with a young, reflective, African-American man who is honestly searching for identity and community as part of a generation that has learned to question and criticize all the institutions of our predominantly white American culture.

What do these two talk about? Do they have anything in common?

The conversation shouldn’t avoid race, the elephant in the room, but does that have to be the focus?


What about religion? Morality? Meaning and purpose in life? We are at least a generation and a cultural experience apart, but did our differences have to hijack the conversation?

Actually for me, the older white guy, the conversation was very enlightening and enjoyable, mainly because of all we found in common but also because of the respect we had for our differences.

Of course, for me the highlight was the chance to be able to share some Gospel truths that are near and dear to me. But that privilege didn’t come until near the end of my conversation with Brandon, after some other hurdles had been crossed. To get there, we talked about other issues such as the difference between racism and prejudice; the struggles of being black in white churches and society; the exclusivity of Christianity; and the concept of relating to God as our heavenly Father as opposed to some impersonal, cosmic force.

I didn’t plan on discussing any of these topics, and Brandon and I didn’t necessarily reach any solid conclusions about them either. It was just nice to have the freedom to share our thoughts with mutual respect.

As a follower of Jesus, I am called to “preach the Gospel” by Jesus and “preach the Word...” by Paul. But does that mean I have to be preachy? Can a preacher take time to listen and actually engage in conversation, or does it always have to be a sermon? I am thankful for our gifted preachers and teachers, but what about the rest of us who are not necessarily wired that way?

Paul went on to write “...be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction.” (2 Tim. 4:2) Sounds like a two-way conversation to me! He also wrote in Col.4:6 - “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

Thanks for a wonderful conversation Brandon. And thanks for allowing me to record it so I can show others that our differences need not divide us! It can be seen at https://youtu.be/u1XEeg3wFsg on my Youtube channel.

Do You Know What You CAN'T Know?

Bill,  04/22

 

Do you know what you don’t know?

I know that sounds like a contradiction, but it’s possible, wise even, to be aware of those things that you know nothing about. That’s how a guy named Bill described his understanding of religion: he just doesn’t know what happens after we die, and is perfectly willing to admit it.

But there’s a related question which I think is just as important: Do you know what you CAN’T know?

When it comes to the question of life after death, many people, in the wisdom of humility, claim to be agnostic because they don’t really know what happens. But many have actually taken a step away from this humility of ignorance and made the claim that not only DON’T they know what happens, they CAN’T know, and can never know until they get there.


But this means they are no longer agnostic. They are making truth claims that require faith to believe – that man is and will always be limited in our spiritual understanding, and if a higher power exists it would be limited in its ability to reveal itself to man.

For his part, Bill seemed to have a good awareness of the limits of the human mind in comparison to the complexity of life and the vast reaches of the cosmos. If anything, all that we are learning through science should give us a growing appreciation not only of creation, but even more so of the Creator behind it all.

Jeremiah 32:17 reads “Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.” I’m not sure that Bill realized that a creator behind all of creation would also have the ability to reveal itself in a relational way to all or any part of that creation.

Nothing is too hard for God, not even getting through to the hard hearts and dull understanding of us limited humans. It might be humble and wise to admit one’s own limitations in understanding spiritual things, but it would be arrogant and foolish to think that this sort of creator is also limited in His ability to reveal Himself to us.

In short, we don’t know what we CAN’T know, so it would be wise not only to be open to spiritual things, but to humbly pursue them with all our heart.

Thanks, Bill, for allowing me to record our conversation! It can be seen at https://youtu.be/0kqazxqA0b8 on my YouTube channel.

The Joy of Gospel Outreach

 

 Steve, 04/22

 “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.” (Matt 28)

That's the good news we get to hear every Easter morning, and it's the reason why our church attendance is higher than any other day of the year.

But imagine hearing and/ experiencing that good news periodically throughout the year, and not just at church but also in the streets and in the marketplace!

I was at the UIC campus to drop off a return at the Amazon dropbox and decided to stop at the bowling alley on my way out to reach out with the Gospel, where I met a fellow believer named Steve. 


Steve has faith in Jesus for salvation but had great difficulty putting it into words, so I tried to help him to be able to articulate the Gospel, as well as to have assurance of salvation.

Helping remind fellow believers of the basics of the Gospel is just one of many ways I get to experience the resurrection throughout the year. I also relive the resurrection of Jesus when I hear stories from fellow believers of how they came to life in Christ though they had been dead in their sins.

But what about the doubt, the criticism, the mockery even, that I get from unbelievers – where is the hope and joy of resurrection in those conversations? Believe it or not, I experience the same joy of resurrection in conversing with them.

How? First, I don’t want to belittle the importance of their estrangement from God, but I trust that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead can work to bring unbelievers to faith and raise them from the dead too, first spiritually, and in the next life, physically. I trust that their story isn’t finished yet.

But talking with unbelievers also helps me experience Jesus’ resurrection anew in realizing that “there, but for the grace of God, go I”. I was once in the unbelievers shoes, dead in my sins, but “if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”

As we keep sharing the Gospel, we are reminded continually of the death and resurrection of Jesus in our own lives. As we worship our risen Savior at church today, let’s resolve to share – and live out – that resurrection power throughout the year.

Thanks for allowing me to record our conversation Steve! It can be seen at https://youtu.be/_-03FSuFrp4 on my YouTube channel. (Sorry for poor audio, a bowling alley isn't a good place to record a conversation! It might help to use the transcript or subtitles tools.)

Recreational Distraction

Brycen, 03/22

 

It might be seen by some as a form of "recreation", but I find it interesting that another term used for marijuana is “weed”, and that one of the problems Jesus brings up in his parable of the sower is that the seed – the word of God – fell among the thorns, which are also a “weed”!

As marijuana use is gaining acceptance and more people are seeing it as a harmless and even a “recreational” drug, I think it is important that we realize that even those things some see as harmless forms of recreation can have a very negative impact on us spiritually.


I was talking with a young man named Brycen, who grew up in a churchgoing family and seemed to have some knowledge of the Gospel, but who I would characterize as being like the seeds sown among the thorns. He has become very distracted by the things of the world to the point that he had forgotten the faith he grew up in and that has meant so much to him earlier in life. And one of those distractions was indeed the “weed” that he has used recreationally to the point that he has forgotten about what is truly important in life.

In fact, Brycen told me about two events in his life that seemed to have had a deep impact on him spiritually, both of which happened while he was indulging in his favorite recreational habit, and which seemed to have been soon forgotten as a result of this distraction. I believe God was getting his attention both times, but Brycen was distracted to the point that only a stranger at the grocery store could help revive the memory years later.

We can point fingers on this as strictly a problem of marijuana use, but isn’t this also a danger of all forms of recreation? Too much of anything is too much, and too much tv, web surfing, card playing, ball playing, exercising, socializing – you name it – all can inhibit God’s word in our lives like Jesus described in his parable: “The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.”

Recreation can be a gift of God, but it can also be a distraction from the devil. Let’s not let it choke out the good work of God’s word in our lives.

Thanks for allowing me to record our conversation, Brycen! It can be seen at https://youtu.be/JX26_JdgZ_o on my YouTube Channel.

Culture and Christianity

Francisco, 03/22

 

How cultural is your Christianity? Or, at least, if you reject Christianity, how cultural is the version of Christianity you have rejected?

As a worldwide, universal faith that has withstood the test of time, Christianity has of course found different forms of expression in different cultures, as well as different forms of expression within the same cultures as they have changed over time.

So, in many ways, the Christianity in America today isn’t your grandfather’s religion.

I was talking with Francisco, a graduate student who has done a lot of thinking about the Catholic faith he has grown up in. And unlike some of his friends who grew up with the same church background, his faith and beliefs have come to resemble the Western European Catholic culture of the medieval era rather than that of the 21st century.


What has changed? Francisco told of the impact that reading Dante’s "Inferno", the classic of Western literature which describes the different levels of punishment of hell, had on his understanding of both life after death and God’s very nature. It describes in grotesque detail the various forms of torture meted out for various types of sins, and its popularity in comparison to Dante’s other works such as “Paradiso”, a description of heaven, reveals a macabre fascination with suffering, torture and death during medieval times.

I believe this is the caricature of hell and the devil that modern critics have in mind when they mock Christianity, which is easy to do with today’s sensibilities about a loving and tolerant God and a focus on prosperity, safety, and comfort in heaven, if not already being experience in this life.

Why such a difference in the Christianity of western culture over the generations?

As I believe we are seeing within our own generation, cultures change, and along with it the impact of culture on all the institutions of society, including religion and politics. Whole libraries could be filled with books about the changes in western culture from the middle ages until now, and Francisco and I just surmised about a few of the reasons why.

The point I’d like to make here, though, is that just as the focus on death and suffering might have reached an extreme during the middle ages, I wonder if a focus on love and comfort might not be reaching an extreme during our times?

Where can we find the truth between these cultural extremes?

God’s truth often serves to provide balance between man’s exaggerations, and I don’t think we will necessarily find that balance in Dante’s Inferno, Paradiso, or any of today’s popular Christian bestsellers.

I believe God’s truth is found in a prayerful and careful reading of God’s word, the Bible, and we will do well to make reading it a part of our daily disciplines. “Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future. Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” (Proverbs 19)

Thanks, Francisco, for a very interesting and thoughtful conversation! It can be seen at https://youtu.be/Gw812WxmiqI on my Youtube channel.

Do The Numbers Add Up?

Alaittan, 03/22

 

How does Christianity look to a mathematician? What should we do when the numbers just don’t seem to add up?

For Alaittan, a doctoral student in mathematics from Turkey, neither Christianity nor the Islam he grew up in provide the answers he would require to follow them. In fact, he says no religion, not even atheism, can provide the answers he is looking for. “Maybe someday we’ll figure out the answers” he said, but then later claimed he has given up his search.



So Alaittan just says he has no beliefs and makes no claims, not even for or against the existence of God. I guess technically he would be an agnostic – which is defined as “a person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God or of anything beyond material phenomena; a person who claims neither faith nor disbelief in God."

Were it not for my personal experiences and faith as a Christian, I have often said I believe agnosticism to be a very humble and pragmatic position. Humble because, after all, one is claiming ignorance.

Or so I thought.

But as I look at the definition, I realize it’s nowhere near humble. It’s really not claiming ignorance. To claim that “nothing is known or can be known” about God is actually just as arrogant as the atheist claim that in all the universe, no God exists. What infinite knowledge the atheist must have to make that claim!

The same is true of the agnostic. While it might be humble to admit ignorance and our inability to find God by our own efforts, the arrogance comes in when one limits the possibility that God might reveal himself to us. “Nothing is known” about God? So agnostics know something millions of believers don’t know? “Nothing can be known”? Agnostics are able to determine limits on the power and abilities of the God they don’t believe in?

I found Alaittan to be in a very humble place when he told me he doesn’t have any beliefs about God. The problem comes in, I believe, when he went on to say he is done searching. To put it in mathematical terms, can the properties of a small subset of numbers be determined to give all the answers that exist for an infinite set of numbers? Should mathematicians stop searching for mathematical truth because they think nothing else can be known?

As a quick example, did you know that the largest known prime number was discovered in March of 2022? Why so recently? Because there is so much more mathematicians don’t yet know about math. Likewise, there is so much more we don’t know about God and His creation. Finite knowledge and ability vs. infinite knowledge and ability give us the numbers that just don’t add up.

The Bible says that God “rewards those who earnestly seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6) and “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near (Is 55:6). Now, while you still can, please don’t stop searching, Alaittan. There is so much more to know.

Thanks for allowing me to record our conversation, Alaittan! It can be seen at https://youtu.be/qGEW9MGCI5Q on my YouTube channel.

Something Worth Talking About

 Brenton,  03/22

 

Is a world view not worth talking about even worth having?

Our beliefs were entirely opposite each other but that is one point that Brenton, an atheist, and I, a Christian, could agree on. Brenton and I both had strong convictions for our respective world views but we agreed that whatever strong beliefs we have, then that belief should be worth sharing in the hope of convincing others to join us.

In a way, this idea is related to the Golden Rule – if we are to “do unto others as we would have them do unto us”, then what we have found to be right and true and a source of meaning and joy in our own lives should be something we want for others. 


For Brenton, as an atheist he said he finds the thought of this short life being all there is as something that causes him to live in the moment and cherish every experience. Though he respects the religious beliefs of others he wants them to consider what he believes to be a better alternative.

As a Christian I actually also feel that this life is a very unique experience. Even though an eternity with God awaits me, we live here in a unique situation we will never experience again. We live with both the influence of good and evil, and we are able to serve and honor God in ways we never could in eternity.

For example, I told Brenton that in heaven I will never again be able to talk with an unbeliever like himself, so I want to make the most of the opportunity!

Being obedient to our call as Christians to proclaim the good news of eternal life in Christ is a natural result of the gratitude we feel in being saved ourselves, but there are some less than honorable motivations for doing so as well. I was honest with Brenton about them, especially since he experienced some of them from his background as an atheist growing up in a strongly religious small town in Kansas.

As a teen, Brenton had been the atheistic guest of some of his evangelical Christian friends to some of their youth camps and bonfire gatherings. He acknowledged he felt kind of like he was a “project” to some of them, and that there was indeed a sense of competition as to who could convince the other of their world view.

I believe it is often this sense of competition, and along with it a sense of self-validation, that fuels many of the online debates we see between people of different religions and world views.

And human nature was much the same back in Bible times, as Paul warned in 2 Timothy 2:24: “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.”

Christians too can often have selfish motivations for engaging in ugly debates, from the self-validation of a teenager just establishing his own identity, to the needless competition of a prideful heart, to the confirmation bias and false sense of security that membership in a “tribe” brings.

Paul went on to instruct Timothy of a better attitude: “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.” Our efforts at Christian outreach need to be done out of kindness, not competition, with a desire to accurately teach God’s word, not to force our own opinion on others.

Finally, Paul writes of the godly motivation of love and concern for unbelievers as a main reason for evangelism: “Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.”

Evangelism can and should be motivated by the Golden Rule. We want to share with others the good news that has changed the course of our lives, both now and for all eternity.

Thanks, Brenton, for allowing me to record our conversation! It can be seen at https://youtu.be/Hvc6SId7Vcc on my YouTube channel.
 

Time For a Shutdown, Restart, and Return to Default!

Saji,  03/22

 

We all know what the “default” settings on a computer are, don’t we? At least we are pretty sure that no matter what we’ve done to mess things up, all we really need to do is shut the computer down and start it all over again. Something magical seems to happen when a computer returns to its default settings.

So do we humans have a “default” setting like a computer? Are there times we need to just shut things down and start over, and if so, could we?

I think the analogy of our need to get back to our “default” position might work with the Gospel, though in a backwards sort of way. Jesus said that “Broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many are on it”. (Matt.7)


In many ways, we are messing things up before God, and if we continue on in the same direction without God’s intervention, we are headed for destruction. Despite our best efforts, we are guilty sinners, and being descendants of the first sinner, Adam, has all but guaranteed that guilt and condemnation will be our default setting.

A man at Home Depot named Saji, not particularly religious, seemed to understand this. He knew that despite the good things we do, we are still guilty of breaking God’s moral laws in many ways. He also agreed that the “good” we do is only that which God rightfully expects of us. It’s what it means to be fully human the way God originally made us. Before Adam’s fall into sin, being innocent and good and in a right relationship with God was our original “default” position as humans.

This stands in contrast to what many people think of as being human. Rebelling against God’s moral law is part of our nature, they think, so when we do some sort of good we are doing God a favor that can outweigh the bad we’ve done. Some even believe that just one hour spent in church on a Sunday morning allows them to live however they want the rest of the week, which was one of Saji’s main complaints against churchgoers.

But Jesus’ “broad road to destruction” analogy didn’t end there. He went on to say “But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

Jesus gives the hope of a new destination, but the problem is that most people have no idea that the road they are on is headed in the wrong direction. They can’t see the narrow path because it isn’t in front of them, and the wide road provides many distractions along the way.

No, the narrow road to life is actually behind us, and the way to get on it is the way of repentance, which requires an "about-face" away from our sin. Like a computer they must turn and shutdown from a life of living for oneself and restart toward a new default of living for God.

The new creation we can become in Christ is entirely a work of God, but he calls us to participate through repentance and faith: “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” We’ve messed up beyond all hope of redemption on our own, but with God a shutdown, a restart, and a return to our original default settings IS possible!

Thanks, Saji, for allowing me to record our conversation! It can be seen at https://youtu.be/BYgZevHoeH0 on my YouTube channel.

Pure Motivations and Morality

Caleb   03/22

 

Is there any way to get around fear as a motivation for morality? Is there any way, as a relatively non-religious young man named Caleb put it, to “beat the system” when it comes to believing in God and still maintaining pure motivations for doing good?

A very common argument against religious belief is the complaint that once one believes in God, then they can never take credit for the good they do because the promise of reward or the threat of punishment spoils their pure motivation for doing good deeds. Better to “do good for goodness sake” as the atheist slogan goes.

Despite little background in religion himself, Caleb was quick to point out that an all-knowing God would be aware of every motivation for his actions, and those that are self-serving would disqualify his good deeds as just selfish actions that count for nothing.


However, there are several reasons why the Christian Gospel uniquely allows us to, in effect, “beat the system” when it comes to believing in God while maintaining pure motivations for our good deeds. First, the Bible says that “While we were yet sinners” Christ died for us. Salvation isn’t something we earn by doing good deeds; we do good deeds because we have already been saved.

Second, unlike other religions that view selfish pleasures in the afterlife as the reward, the reward for the Christian in heaven is none other than God Himself and seeing Him glorified. Jesus did say he will “repay each person according to what he has done”, and Peter wrote that “you will receive the unfading crown of glory”, but the purpose of these rewards is demonstrated by the 24 elders in Rev. 4: “They lay their crowns before the throne and say: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” Their focus is not on their own pleasure, but on God’s glory.

Third, why the concern about having “pure motives for doing good” in the first place? Why does the good we do have to count for something? Is it not because, deep down, everyone knows there will indeed be One who will one day do the counting?

The Bible tells us that all people, whether they believe in God or not, have a God-given moral conscience. This doesn’t mean we faithfully follow it, but what it does mean is that we recognize there is indeed a standard of right and wrong and that one day we will be held accountable for our actions in keeping or breaking that standard. As a result, a lot of time and energy is spent justifying our existence, even for those who are unwilling to acknowledge God as the final authority to whom we are accountable.

Finally, I believe biblical Christianity to be a very practical faith. In the final analysis, what does the good we do count for if our motivations for doing it aren’t exactly pure? It counts for a lot, to those who are the recipients of that good. A starving man receiving bread doesn’t really care if your motivations are pure when you give it to him, he’s just happy to get something to eat!

Christianity is also a practical faith because it is able to acknowledge that the purity of our motivations is actually just an idealistic fantasy. Instead it takes the reality of our sinful nature and our rebellion against our Maker, and gives us a practical way back into a right relationship not only with God but with one another.

Caleb and I talked a little about “Pascal’s Wager”, which is the idea that the infinite rewards of believing in and following God are worth the risk of the finite loss of some pleasures and freedoms we might experience if God does not, in fact, exist. This idea is heavily criticized because no one wants to base their life and motivations on fear. But although a right relationship with God must begin with “the fear of the Lord”, it doesn’t have to end there, for “perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18) Because salvation is not a reward to be earned but a gift to be received, our good deeds can be motivated by love rather than fear.

Thanks, Caleb, for allowing me to record our conversation! It can be seen at https://youtu.be/2oc3jU1hzmc on my YouTube Channel.

What Does It Mean to be "Born Again?"

 

 Alex, 03/22

What does it mean to be “born again”?

It’s possibly one of the most over-used and least understood Christian terms. When I asked a young man named Alex what he thinks happens after we die, I was happy to hear he believes we are “born again”. But I soon found out he didn’t have in mind the same thing Jesus did when He first used the phrase so many years ago.

For Alex, being “born again” means that after we die we are born again physically into another body and another chance to improve ourselves – similar to the Hindu idea of reincarnation. Alex doesn’t have a Hindu background, but when I found out about his past, his belief in reincarnation made some sense.

I ran into Alex on his way in to a local health club for a workout. But he hasn’t always had such a focus on self-improvement, having run the streets and turned his life around in a positive direction just a couple years earlier. He made no mention of a religious or spiritual influence that caused this turnaround in his life, so I have to assume he has been motivated by self-discipline and determination.

For Alex, It’s a life of goals and objectives, and he expects to be rewarded in the end. His belief in the need to be reincarnated for another chance at improvement is, in my estimation, a humble look at where he is and how far he needs to go to achieve the level of improvement required by God.

But that’s not what Jesus meant when He first used the “born-again” reference. Jesus had been approached by a religious leader named Nicodemus, who came to Jesus late at night in what appeared to be a humble attempt to affirm him as a fellow religious teacher. Jesus seemed to see through his outward show of humility and said ““Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

This probably came as a shock to Nicodemus, who as a Pharisee would have been used to public praise and adoration and thought he had it all together. I think Nicodemus was probably the opposite of Alex, who seemed to know he didn’t have it all together and has a long way to go to get there even by his own disciplined efforts.

I think Nicodemus probably knew this term had a spiritual dimension to it, but he chided Jesus about the impossibility of being physically born a second time. After all, he had come so far in life, why would he need to go back to such an early stage in his development?

 


But this didn’t matter to Jesus. He told Nicodemus that just as he came into this world through physical birth, the only way to see the Kingdom of God was through spiritual birth. No one has willed themselves physically into existence or caused their own physical birth through self-determination or effort. In the same way, our spiritual birth comes about through God’s work, not our own: “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

We can’t will ourselves to be born again, but we can submit to the process. We can’t cause it to happen by the sheer power of our will, but we can surrender to the will of God. We die to ourselves, and live for God.

Alex, I know this is counterintuitive to all the positive changes and all you’ve accomplished over the past few years, but this is one case where the way forward means turning back. It means giving up fighting against the wind, and allowing the wind to carry you. It means rethinking all those goals you set for yourself, and giving them over to God. And it means NOT believing in yourself, at least when it comes to your own personal goodness or righteousness, and believing in Jesus instead.

Jesus went on to say “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” That’s what it truly means to be “born again” – God’s way!

Thanks, Alex, for allowing me to record our conversation! It can be seen at https://youtu.be/Z__rX6_sZog on my YouTube Channel.

A Reasonable Faith?


Tony, 3/22

Is the Christian faith a reasonable faith? For years I have maintained it was indeed reasonable, especially in comparison to the arguments of skeptics who like to make fun of my beliefs by saying they could just as well believe in a “flying spaghetti monster”. They try to say it is just an arbitrary product of our imagination on the level of, say, a fairy tale, even though Christianity is an historic faith springing from and in the context of actual events in history. Yet, despite the evidence, many people do become Christians more though a blind faith rather than a reasoned faith. Let me explain... During a coffee shop conversation with a college philosophy professor named Tony, I had to admit that my awareness of the vast body of evidence in support of Christianity has grown over the years as I have had to defend my beliefs against the challenges of sceptics, and as I have experienced God working in and through my life.


Although I now confidently make the claim that Christianity is indeed a rational faith, I haven’t always been aware of the evidence, and there was a time when my faith was based more on emotion and maybe even youthful idealism and naiveté. Similarly, in a recent conversation at the grocery store with a young lady named Alisha, I told her that the more I have read the Bible, the stronger my faith has become as I encounter its truths and live them out. But in the early days of my faith, I hadn’t read the Bible much at all. I had made a relatively blind leap of faith based, again, more on emotion than reason. At times in my outreach conversations I have thought that I should just tell people to spend the hours necessary to read the Bible for themselves, and the hours necessary to become aware of the vast amount of historical evidence necessary for one to have a “reasonable faith” in its truths. Maybe then they would have strong beliefs in the Gospel. But herein lies the problem – it takes faith to believe that it would be worth the time and effort it takes to read the Bible and examine the historical evidence for its truths. The same faith we would be trying to build with such an effort is the faith it would take to undertake such an effort in the first place! So which comes first, the chicken or the egg? Or in this case, faith or the evidence required to build that faith? I’ve heard many stories of unbelievers who came to faith by reading the Bible and/or examining the historical evidence for themselves. Many were sceptics who set out to disprove Christianity only to be compelled toward faith by what they read. But I think these are the exceptions, rather than the rule. Many Christians enter into faith more through emotion than reason, such as a particularly moving worship experience, a taste of the miraculous, or the comfort of a Christian community. As a result I think what is happening more and more is that superficial and emotion-driven Christians are being challenged by a skeptical world and have little evidence and no defense to back up their shallow faith. Fortunately for myself, when I embraced Christianity in my teens I was impressed by the need to share my new-found faith, so I immediately began to read the Bible and examine the evidence, not just for my own faith but for all those I wanted to share it with. This leads me to conclude that Christianity IS a reasonable faith, but that not everyone begins there. Many begin with a somewhat blind faith and would fit into the category described my Jesus where faith begins small, like a mustard seed or the faith of a small child, and grows from there into a solid tree that even provides shelter (faith) for others. It IS reasonable to repent and believe the Gospel, and we all need to become aware of the reasons why this is so, both for the defense of our own faith and for the ability to share it with others.


Thanks, Tony, for allowing me to record our conversation! It can be seen at https://youtu.be/D9kpHOY3RqU on my YouTube channel.



If You Build It, Will They Come?

Kailee, 3/22

“If you build it, they will come.”


Is that true? It might have worked for Kevin Costner in his movie “Field of Dreams”, where two whole ghost teams showed up when he built a baseball field out in his corn field. But does that same principle apply to, say, church? If we build a new building or start a new program, will this be enough to attract new people, or are we just providing a new and interesting place for already churched people to move to, until the next new thing comes along?

When it comes to spreading the Gospel and making disciples, many churches rely on the “attractional” model, where nice buildings and polished preachers are counted on to attract people to church, with the help of the friendly invitations by church members of their family, friends, and co-workers. Or, at the very least, an expensive advertising campaign or a snappy message on the church sign can do the inviting.
And it works, as evidenced by the many chairs that are filled on Sunday mornings.

But, I think it is worth asking, what about all those empty seats? What about all those people who would never dream of darkening the doorway of a church on a Sunday morning? What is keeping them away?

I’ve been overwhelmed at just how far the average person is from even considering coming to church, and what a miracle it is when they do. And with the direction our culture is trending toward, I don’t think it will get easier any time soon.

Part of the reason I record and post some of my Gospel outreach conversations is in the hope that church leaders might become more aware of some of the reasons keeping the average person on the street or in the marketplace away from church. By the time a person is ready to get involved in a church as a newcomer they are usually highly motivated, one way or another, and church leaders can get the false impression that most of our personal contacts are just waiting for an invitation, and all we have to do is ask.

With Easter coming up, which I’ve recently heard described as the “Superbowl Sunday” of the church year, many churches are gearing up campaigns of invitation to their Easter Sunday programs, but relatively few are gearing up for campaigns of outreach with the Gospel itself.

So, I continue to put videos out there. In this case I had a conversation with a young lady named Kailee, who described her experiences visiting church with friends and how she felt intimidated by all the unwritten rules she encountered. She didn’t want to appear ignorant as an outsider by doing or saying the wrong thing, and she didn’t want to offend anyone by not participating at all.

I think it would be easy for church leaders to assume that it’s simply a matter of making our church services more “seeker friendly” as a result.

But on a deeper level, Kailee said something that is probably more at the heart of her church avoidance. She stated that “if the Creator is supposed to represent love, forgiveness, and acceptance” then she doesn’t feel like churches are living up to that standard. I have to confess I think I too was distracted by her focus on only the politically correct aspects of God’s character. It made me want to be a more seeker-friendly Christian as well, and to not say anything that Kailee might find offensive.

But although the Gospel is the good news of salvation, it only makes sense in the context of the bad news that we need to be saved – and that means there is a part of what I needed to tell Kailee that would indeed be offensive. It’s the part about her sin and the need to repent. I failed to tell the whole truth in our short conversation, and tried to make up for it by basically emphasizing her need to read the Bible for herself. That’s pretty much the same as simply inviting her to church to see for herself. It’s helpful and true, but I was avoiding sharing some of the hard truths of the Gospel in the process.

I hope my videos such as this help others to learn from both my success and, in this case, my failures. I’m sorry for my failure to tell Kailee some of the hard truths. I think I needed to be more like John the Baptist, who helped prepare people for the good news of Jesus when he said "Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the kingdom of heaven has come near!"

A message like this might not figure into any church’s advertising campaign, but it’s part of the hard truth people need to hear.

Thanks, Kailee, for allowing me to record our conversation! It can be seen at https://youtu.be/bYYKQ1H-hsQ on my YouTube channel.

Is God Too Involved in our Lives, Or Not Enough?

02/22      Alisha


Isn’t it a sign of arrogance to think that the Creator of this vast universe would be concerned about our petty everyday problems?


That’s one reaction I get from people during my Gospel outreach conversations. Another is the opposite – How could a good God make us and NOT get involved when he sees the pain and suffering we go through?

So is God overly concerned about our everyday lives, or not enough?
I believe both lines of thinking can be traced back to the same problem – the human tendency to underestimate God’s divine attributes – such as his wisdom or knowledge – and to think that God has the same sort of limitations we have.

For example, The Problem of Evil - a good God allowing pain and suffering – misjudges God’s infinite wisdom, saying that since we can’t explain the pain and suffering of a situation, then God must not care to help though He is able to. But the mistake here is that God’s thoughts are so much higher than ours.

In Isaiah 46, God declares “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’” We don’t see the big picture, and wrongly conclude that God doesn’t either.

But a young lady at the grocery store named Alisha had the opposite view – that God wouldn’t be concerned about the details of our petty lives.

At first, this view seems rather humble – after all, who are we in the context of history and the vastness of the universe to think that the Creator of it all would be concerned about us? Others carry this to another extreme – who are we among the animal kingdom to think that we might deserve special treatment among other living things? I actually see this playing out to its logical conclusion among those in the environmental movement – that the world would simply be better without us.

So what can give us dignity, worth, and value as human beings, other than God, in whose image we are made? What gives our lives purpose and meaning, if not God who tells us so?

But Alisha had a different reason for doubting God’s involvement with our daily lives. She and others like her believe that either God isn’t able to keep track of such an enormous amount of details, or that it would be a lot of work for Him to do so, and such an effort would be demeaning and pathetic for God to get involved in.

But this presupposes a limit to God’s knowledge and power, as if God were a limited, created being like ourselves. The truth is that when God sees us as we are now, he remembers every detail in our past, and he knows every detail of our future with absolutely no effort whatsoever.

Every single one of us. All 7+ billion of us. Every detail. No effort.

To think that the God who made us is incapable of such knowledge is to vastly underestimate God and in so doing vastly overestimate ourselves by comparison. That’s not humble at all. It’s actually very arrogant, as if we could have actually made it this far without God’s intimate and sustaining help.

Rather than depending on our own limited imaginations, let’s rely on God’s word to appreciate His active involvement in our fallen world, and his wisdom in seeming to keep his distance at times.

Thanks, Alisha, for allowing me to record our conversation! It can be seen at https://youtu.be/xG8oe8KhxmI on my YouTube Channel.

What Does New Life In Christ Look Like?


02/22 Alex

We’ve heard of dramatic Christian conversion stories in response to the Gospel, but what about people who are already living a positive, responsible lifestyle? What does new Life in Christ look like for them?


From what he told me, a soft-spoken young electrician named Alex was one of those people. I talked with him in the electrical aisle at a Home Depot, and he told me how he had attended a Christian church as a child, but now focuses his time and energy on working his job in order to take care of his wife and elderly parents, immigrants from China who don’t speak English.

My impression was that Alex was very busy with work and family responsibilities, to the point that adding the pursuit of Christian faith and church might be seen as a threat to the responsibilities he already has. He mentioned that it might be something he would do later in life, but I know, as they say, “tomorrow never comes” – despite all our good intentions.

I know Jesus instructs us, at the end of Luke 9, that once we “put our hand to the plow” in following him, we are not to look back. And Jesus actually said this in reference to family obligations. Does that mean a new life of faith for someone like Alex means he will need to shirk his work or family responsibilities?


Absolutely not. Yes, Jesus becomes our King and Lord of our lives, but not in the sense of having yet another set of obligations to add to our already full list. To put Jesus first in our lives doesn’t mean having another category or compartment to add to everything else – it means that he is to become intimately involved as Lord of every other area of life – Lord of our work, Lord of our family, Lord even of our free time.


There is a sense in which a follower of Jesus needs to regularly set aside time of devotion to the Lord in worship, prayer, Bible reading and the like, and I wouldn’t want to downplay its importance.

But a faith relationship with Jesus means that he becomes part of every other area of our lives as well. In my experience, my devotion to the Lord meant that I became a devoted athlete, a devoted student, a devoted family man and a devoted teacher.

Our devotion to Jesus adds immeasurable more meaning, purpose and excellence to each other area of life as a result. This is the sort of life the Gospel calls us to, and to which I called Alex there in the aisle at Home Depot.

Thanks, Alex, for allowing me to record our conversation! It can be seen at https://youtu.be/KczRfpoLgNU on my YouTube channel.