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

Not Your Grandparent's Faith



12/15/18          Karen - (see video HERE)

Have you taken ownership of your faith?


I’ve heard it said that “God doesn’t have grandchildren”.  This means that we can’t ride on the coattails of our parent’s faith – we need our own relationship with the Lord through faith in Jesus.

Paul spoke of this to Timothy when he wrote “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.”  He didn’t just assume Timothy was a believer like his mother and grandmother by virtue of their faith, but he had to be persuaded that Timothy had a faith of his own.

This is why I usually keep asking questions about the faith of those who tell me they grew up in a Christian household.  I know what a blessing it is for people to have Christian parents and grandparents and a strong church background, but I also know this blessing comes with its own unique pitfalls that can lead to a failure for young people to take personal ownership of the faith they were raised in.
 
So, despite hearing of her church involvement and background, I was interested to hear the testimony of a young lady named Karen that I reached out to at the coffeeshop.  I found out how meaningful her church background had been to her, but also how she came to take ownership of her faith through a Christian ministry on her college campus.

It’s a reminder of how valuable parachurch ministries on college campuses can be at such a crucial time in the development of young adults who are often at a crossroads on their spiritual journey, and they deserve our prayers and support.

Thanks to Karen for agreeing to allow our conversation to be recorded.  It’s HERE

Dividing Line


12/8/18         Pat  (video click HERE)

Where’s the bar?

Not the local watering hole, but the dividing line between in and out, between life and death, heaven and hell.

When it comes to eternity, it’s an important question, but because it seems too complicated or even impossible to determine, many people just give up and leave it to fate.  After all, God is the all-knowing and wise judge, and the decision is His alone.

That seems to have been the conclusion of two people I talked to while Christmas shopping in Naperville.  The first, a man at the bookstore named Pat, believed that one can’t be sure of salvation but that regardless of one’s religious beliefs it depends on how well they have followed the golden rule.  He seemed reasonably sure he follows it well, extending grace to people of all religions as long as they, too, treat others as they would want to be treated.  Right after our conversation I talked with another man who said he would could never make the grade, that he could never be accepted by God after all the evil he has done. 

So did I just see the dividing line in action, or is it more complicated than that? 

It reminds me of the parable Jesus told about two men who also seemed to be on opposite sides of that same line: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee (an ultra-religious and self-righteous Jewish group in Jesus’ day) and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’  But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

Jesus showed us a “dividing line” that is opposite of what we might expect.  He concluded His parable by saying “I tell you that this man (the humbled tax collector), rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

I’m not writing this to single out Pat as a modern-day Pharisee.  The vast majority of people I talk with – over 99 percent – view themselves as worthy of heaven, with the exception of those who have embraced the biblical view of their own sinfulness and their desperate need for the Savior.

Most “modern-day Pharisees” I meet are not outwardly religious, but they are guilty of much the same sin as their biblical counterparts.  Jesus described their sin when he told them “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”  (Mark 7)

In our day, these “human traditions” that have replaced God’s commands include an acceptance of every other tradition out there, except for biblical Christianity.  One litmus test of “loving thy neighbor” has become not just accepting the  beliefs of others, but celebrating them, instead of sharing the way to salvation.

The second man I talked to had much in common with the tax collector in Jesus parable, who stood his distance and would not look up to heaven.  I didn’t get his name because he was reluctant to engage in conversation with me except to tell me that he didn’t deserve heaven, and, unfortunately, he cut the conversation short before I could share the hope of the Gospel with him. 

My prayer for both he, and Pat, and all modern-day pharisees is that like all who have embraced the need for Jesus as Savior, they will do exactly what the tax collector did, who “…beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

PS - Thank you Pat, for your kindness in allowing me to record our conversation.  My hope for you is salvation through faith in Jesus!  Our conversation can be seen HERE. 

Universal Reality



12/8/18       Jaime (click here for video)

When it comes to life after death, can we create our own reality? 

I often come across people whose first reaction to my question about life after death is to say “It depends on what you believe”.  This is usually an initial effort to be courteous, to respect everyone’s beliefs as equal to one’s own. 

But is that really possible?  Are we really prepared to defend, say, the slaughter of human sacrifices of the Aztec death cult, or the mass suicide of the Jonestown Peoples temple as just as valid as established world religions that have stood the test of time? 

Once we decide that some religions are better and more valid than others, we pretty much need to acknowledge that, yes, there are differences, and yes, those differences matter.

I’m sure Jesus was aware of other religious beliefs in Judea when He said “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”  (Matt.7)

And I don’t believe He was lying when He said “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”  in John 14.

How can we convey the exclusivity of Christianity when we come across people like a man I talked with while grocery shopping named Jaime, who wants a universal religion so much that he has come to believe we create our own afterlife depending on what we believe and our state of mind at our moment of dying?

While the Gospel is exclusive in that Jesus is the one way to salvation, it actually is universal in many ways: 

1.) We all must face death someday.  I usually start out my outreach conversations by asking the universal question “What do you think happens after we die?”

2.) We all have a God-given conscience.  While not all believe it is God-given, I haven’t met anyone yet who doesn’t think there are moral standards for right and wrong behavior that go beyond culture and personal preference.

3.)  We all violate our own moral standards from time to time.  We share a common problem in that we will all be called to account before our Creator for violating His moral laws, and outside of Christ we are all condemned as guilty sinners.

4.)  Salvation through faith in Jesus is offered universally to all.  Of course, people do bring up the obvious issue that not all people have heard about Jesus, but the very people who say this is a barrier to their own faith in Christ are the ones who are hearing about Him.  If this is truly the issue, why not trust Christ and then go out and share the Gospel with those who haven’t heard yet?

Jesus is the unique solution to a universal sin problem.  He is unique because He alone saves us from the consequences of our sins rather than requiring us to do the impossible – to save ourselves.  “Everyone (universal) who calls on the name of the Lord (exclusive) will be saved.”  (Romans 10)  

Forgiveness and a right relationship with God forever are given freely through faith in Jesus.  Even if it were possible, why would we want to create any different reality?

Thank you Jaime, for your kindly allowing me to record our conversation.  It can be seen HERE

Elevator Gospel


12/4/18      Tom  (video HERE)

Christian, do you have an elevator version of the Gospel, ready to share at a moment’s notice with no advanced preparation or review? 

That’s what we are called to when we are told “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” in 1 Peter 3, and that’s what a man named Tom gave me when I unexpectedly stopped him on a sidewalk. 

Here was his response to my question “What do you think happens after we die?”:

“I personally believe that Jesus Christ is my Savior, that He’s God in the flesh, that He died and rose again for my sins, and my hope is that He will come again, whether now or when I die, and I have a firm hope that He will restore everything to the way it was meant to be.”

This wasn’t a well-crafted statement of faith that Tom had memorized.  It was simply the first response of his heart, and it comes from someone who hasn’t allowed his heart to get distracted by the things of the world so much that he has forgotten the things of heaven.  I’m sure he could have gone into much more detail, but it was cold out, and a clear, simple response was all that was needed.

Even among believers, such a concise, articulate, summary of the Gospel is hard to find.  It comes with practice, so let’s start today in the comments below.  What is your elevator version of the Gospel?


Thanks, Tom, for allowing me to record our conversation!  Its HERE


Wolves

                      Josh  (click HERE for video)
12/2/18     


It was raining, dark and cold by the time I had some free time to initiate a gospel outreach conversation.  I wanted to find someone who might have some time to talk, and for some reason, God’s leading I would hope, I felt I needed to pass by the usual coffeeshops and went instead into a local laundromat. 

There I found Josh, who would describe himself as a spiritual seeker of late, and he was amazed at the timing of my questions about eternity.  So amazed, in fact, that I’m pretty sure he would conclude our conversation was a God-ordained appointment.

As a Christian, I don’t think any of our outreach for the Gospel is simply coincidence.  But I wonder, what if I had been a Mormon or a Jehovah’s Witness, or any one of a number of other religious or cult groups out there that might have reached out to him in my place.  Would Josh still have been equally impressed by the possibly divine coincidence of our conversation?

I wonder this because later in the conversation Josh told me that part of his spiritual seeking consists of opening himself up to spiritual influence in a sort of dream state in the early morning hours.  This was very similar to a description of spiritual seeking by Youzi, a Hindu believer whom I have most recently written about. 

As a Christian, the problem I see with these approaches, of just being open to any sort of religious or spiritual influence in general, is that not all spirits or religions are of God.  Paul described the enemy in 2 Corinthians 11:   “…false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness.”

A healthy amount of skepticism and discernment is in order, because we are in the fog of spiritual war.  John warned of this in his first letter: “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”  (1 John 4) 

He went on to advise us how we might recognize true from false teaching:  “This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.” 

I believe the presence of false spirits and teachers has increased in number and sophistication since the days of Paul and John.  Like John warned about, usually the basic difference between heretical and cult groups and biblical Christianity centers on the identity and work of Jesus Christ.  The deceit of the enemy usually involves a revisionist interpretation of the Jesus of the Bible, and it takes the spiritual discernment of wise and mature believers to recognize a counterfeit. 

I’m glad for people like Josh and Youzi because they are actively seeking spiritual truth, compared to the majority of people I meet who don’t seem to give spiritual belief much thought.  Yet I fear for them also, because of the many false doctrines and evil influences there are out there.  I’m glad that God has instituted the local church, where spiritual seekers and new and mature believers can gather around the Word of God, helping to clear away the fog of war.  And maybe I was able to bring a little of that local church out to Josh there in that laundromat on a cold and rainy night.

PS - Thanks to Josh for allowing me to record our conversation.  It can be seen HERE

Humble God



11/29/18      Youzi  (click video here)

As I continue with my outreach conversations, I’m grateful that I’m learning about people and their beliefs beyond a superficial level.  In talking with those of other religions, I’m discovering that we have both more and less in common than outward appearances might lead me to believe.

For example, I really felt I learned a lot about Hinduism from an Indian man named Youzi at the coffeeshop.  Instead of talking about the different outward rituals and customs of both Hinduism and Christianity, I felt he really helped me really get to the heart of the differences – our basic concept of God Himself.

It may seem obvious to say the basic difference is between the one Creator God of Christianity or the many millions of gods of Hinduism, but nearly every Hindu person I have spoken with will say there is but one God, with many different manifestations. 

What is interesting to me are the implications these two concepts have on our understanding of God’s character.  Youzi was absolutely shocked to find that as Christians we worship a God whose main purpose is to receive all glory unto Himself, whose very presence strikes fear, awe, and reverence in the hearts of His creation, and who is jealous when it doesn’t.

The reason this is shocking to Youzi is because in Hinduism he must compare each manifestation of God with the many other manifestations available, and they are ranked by the level of humility they have achieved.  A god with the ego of our Christian God would fall pretty low on the humility scale.  He wouldn’t attempt to control people through fear, like the pathetic man behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz, and he wouldn’t become jealous if he doesn’t get enough attention like a jilted boyfriend.

But because God is the Creator and we are but the creation, we can’t compare God to an egotistical, fearmongering, and jealous wretch of a man.  God is not to be judged by His creation.  He is God and we are not.  He deserves all glory and honor, and is right to demand it.  He says ““I am the Lord; that is my name!  I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols.”  (Isaiah 42)   Because there is one Creator, God’s glory is His alone.

God is right in commanding us to fear Him.  He brought us into this world and He will take us out.  He sustains our every breath and heartbeat.  We deserve His righteous wrath in our sinful rebellion.  In the Bible, the word “fear” is used at least 300 times in reference to God, and for good reason.  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”, because it is the foundation of our rightful place in relation to our Creator.

If we encounter a jealous man, we might say “Who does he think he is, God?”  But God IS God, and has every right to be jealous of the comparatively cheap substitutes we put in His place.  In Exodus 34 we read “Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.”  Any other “god” is simply a created being, spiritual or otherwise, that has no right to receive the worship only God deserves.

Youzi told me the God of Hinduism displays humility by appearing in a variety of humble forms, including sinful human beings.  The God of the Bible appeared in but one humble form – the One sinless man, Jesus.  And because He is God in the flesh, Creator, not creation, He deserves all the glory and honor of God. 

Yet it is for this very reason that Jesus could display the ultimate in humility: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!”  (Phil 2)

The first temptation of man involved Satan’s enticement of Eve that “you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  Could Hinduism be based on the same sort of evil enticement – the opportunity to be “gods” ourselves?

Are we part of the Creator or part of the creation?  Will we worship higher gods until we reach their level, or will we worship the One High God for eternity?  Both Hinduism and Christianity are religions that place a high value on the need for humility in their followers, but for fundamentally different reasons.

Thanks to Youzi for humbly explaining your heartfelt beliefs.  Our conversation can be seen HERE

Righteous!

11/26/18        Carlos  (click here for video)


Why share the Gospel with an atheist?  After all, doesn’t a person need to believe in God in order to even consider the possibility of having a right relationship with Him?

That thought was on my mind as I found out a little more about Carlos, whom I spoke with on a cold sidewalk.  Carlos told me he is now atheist after growing up with Jehovah Witness parents.  I wanted to simultaneously provide a rationale for God’s existence and a more accurate understanding of the God of the Bible than he had grown up with, but I wasn’t sure where to begin or how much time I would have because of the cold weather.  Because of this I was fairly confused at first, but fortunately Carlos was very patient with both myself and the cold wind.

So many who claim atheism that I talk to come from a religious upbringing, only to decide that they would rather not believe God exists in the first place.  Rather than try to convince them otherwise, maybe my time is better spent correcting a mistaken view of God that they understandably find unbelievable.

What is so unbelievable?  For many like Carlos, I believe it is the mistaken impression that God’s justice can be appeased with human effort.  I can see how a strict Jehovah Witness upbringing could lead a young man to hopelessness in facing a life of never knowing if he has measured up.  Better to deny God’s existence; one could have a sort of righteousness that surpasses that of his religious parents or others who might only be motivated by the threat of hell or the reward of heaven.  He can have a self-righteousness by his own standard, rather than the legalistic standard of the group.

I can’t know if this is what truly motivated Carlos, but I do believe that all spiritual belief including atheism can be separated into two basic categories: that which is based on a self-centered righteousness, and that which is based on God’s righteousness.  In other words, how is it that we can enter into a right relationship with God – by our own efforts or by God’s? 

The Jehovah Witness may view belief in Jesus as important, but one must add good works to that belief in order to be right with God.  The atheist may claim disbelief in God, but just in case God does exist he has the assurance that he was good regardless of lack of belief.  I haven’t met an atheist yet who isn’t concerned about justifying himself as good without God.

But in contrast to the self-righteousness of all other beliefs, the Bible presents God Himself as our source of righteousness: “But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.”  (Romans 3)

Self-righteousness or righteousness from God:  when it comes down to it, those are our two basic options.

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


Go And Tell!

11/24/18         Zech  (click here for video)


Once in a blue moon I run into a fellow believer also interested in learning how we might better share the Gospel.  This time it was a man named Zech whom I happened upon at a coffee shop, and it was refreshing and encouraging to share our ideas and perspectives.

I thought I would summarize here a biblical basis for “go and tell” evangelism, which I believe to be a badly needed counterpart to the emphasis on “come and see” that we find in so many churches today.  This is much longer than my usual posts, and really meant just for Christians wanting to learn more about sharing the Gospel…

Evangelism for the Rest of Us

As Christians it is only natural that we want to share the good news of Jesus. The Holy Spirit who is sealed within us (Eph. 4:30) compels us to do so, not just out of obedience to the Lord but also out of love for the lost. Like Paul who said "Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!" (1 Cor. 9:16) it is also natural that we will get impatient in waiting for those Spirit-led opportunities that may seem to come our way only rarely. 

But since the Holy Spirit lives within us, those "Spirit-led opportunities" can and should come from within us too! Just like Paul as he reasoned "in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there"(Acts 17:17) it is both spiritual and biblical to take the initiative when it comes to sharing the good news of salvation with the lost.

Good News?

However, if the gospel is indeed "good news", why then can it be so intimidating to share it? The truth is that the good news of salvation through faith in Christ makes no sense without the bad news that we are condemned without Him - and who wants to share bad news? It can be tempting, then, to leave out the bad news and only share the good, but this presents a distorted understanding of the gospel that can have dangerous consequences.

Jesus described the problem perfectly in Matthew 7:6 - "Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces." Our sacred, precious Pearl of Great Price is none other than Christ crucified, and of course we hate to see the world try to trample Him under their feet, not appreciating who He is and what He has done. They don't appreciate the Savior because they don't know they need saving. Many who do "accept Jesus" often feel like they are doing him a favor!

Most people - including "church people" - believe that if there is a heaven, they are good enough to go there. And who dares tell them otherwise? For the past century, the focus of preaching and evangelism have been on the "good news" of the cross and salvation, with little attention paid to the "bad news" of our sin, judgment, and the punishment of hell. Because God's holiness and our sin and rebellion against Him are trivialized, hell is seen as an unreasonable punishment that few need worry about. For many, Jesus has become an optional accessory, an opportunity for life enhancement rather than our only hope of salvation.  The Gospel has been reduced to a method for happiness rather than the way for righteousness.

Yet Jesus said that "wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."(Matt. 7:13-14) In fact, although Jesus preached more about hell than he did about heaven, warnings about the just punishment for our sin have become strangely unfashionable in the past century or so. Or, the occasional fire and brimstone preacher may use the threat of hell as a manipulative tool, often for personal gain, but fails to convince his listeners that our loving God also loves justice and will indeed punish unrepentant and unforgiven sinners.

We might not like it, but to if we want to be faithful to the Gospel, we need to tell people the truth about sin and hell. But we can do it without a judgmental attitude, in a way that will show them that hell is a reasonable punishment. Instead of pointing fingers, we can ask a few simple questions to help them understand where they stand with God and what the consequences are. We can help people judge themselves, but we must make sure it is by God's standard, not the world’s.  This will be easier than we might think because all have His standard written on their hearts, they all have the knowledge of good and evil. This won’t be as hard as it sounds if we will do as Jesus did!

What Did Jesus Do?

Are you a good person? The rich young man who came to Jesus thought he was. He asked how he could inherit eternal life, expecting praise and commendation. Instead Jesus gave him the law: "You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.' " (Mark 10:17-27)

This young man proudly claimed to have kept them all, so Jesus went to the heart of this man's sin: his wealth was more important to him than God, breaking the1rst and 2nd commandments. Jesus could have said "all have sinned" (Romans 3:23) but then this man would have found safety in numbers. Instead Jesus personalized his sin, making him see himself as he really was before a holy God: a lawbreaker deserving God's wrath.

And how did the man react? He was silenced by the law just as Paul described: "Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God."(Romans 3:19) What do people do after the law silences their excuses and self-justification?

Some leave, like the rich young man, but most stay to listen. They hope there is more to the story. They heard the bad news, now they want to hear the good news. We must make use of the law as it is intended to be used: "So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith." (Galatians 3:23)

I have been surprised to find out how many people are willing to tell their beliefs to a stranger in answer to good questions. This can begin interesting conversations with people in all walks of life with many different beliefs without needing to judge or point a finger at them. Why?  In part I know I am winning the right to be heard by listening. I also know that after I ask just a few questions about how well they have kept God's law - or even their own standard of right and wrong - they will usually be silenced by their conscience and much more able and ready to listen.

I used to try to convince people that their life will be better with Jesus in it, feeling like a used car salesman in the process. I was "throwing my pearls to the pigs", trying to convince them they needed something they didn't even want. Now, the law leads to grace, and it is a wonderful privilege to share the good news of Jesus with hearts hungry to receive it.

Most people are thankful for the conversation, and no matter where they are spiritually, whether they are a prodigal, a seeker, a beginning believer or even those advanced in faith, they all can benefit when we plant a seed of truth that God brings growth to. Though we must be careful to avoid giving false assurance of salvation, we can encourage those who come to repentance and faith to verbally confess Jesus as their Lord and point them to various scriptures that assure salvation and encourage local church involvement.

What's In It For Me?

What kind of a question is that? A very good one, because there is a very good answer! Paul, who knew by experience, wrote "I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ."(Philemon 1:6)

Just as the law is the "missing link" of modern evangelism, I believe initiative evangelism is the missing link in the contemporary church.  Learning by doing was at the heart of Jesus' discipleship program as He sent out his disciples to witness in pairs. Worship becomes more sincere when you know you will boldly proclaim the same truths to a lost world.  Bible study is taken seriously when you know you are preparing for spiritual warfare. Prayer becomes fervent when you know you fully intend to follow it up with action. Fellowship becomes sweet between comrades on a mission. Your theology will be sharpened as all your shallow presumptions are challenged.

The vast majority of us are not the leaders at our church gatherings who are often privileged to proclaim the Gospel as the last of a long line of people and events that the Spirit orchestrates in the life of an unbeliever as He draws them to Jesus.  This, then, is evangelism for the rest of us.

For an excellent resource on evangelism, check out www.LivingWaters.com