Sunday, August 8, 2010

Why Does the Left Hand Know What the Right Hand is Doing?

“Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.
Jesus, in Matthew 6:1-4

This blog post has been something I've been thinking about for a long time. I had a dear brother in the Lord come to me, asking me about this verse, in light of this ministry, things like this blog, and talking to others about what we're doing in witnessing. That conversation blessed me so much, because I think few people in the body of Christ are willing to go to a brother and say, "I see this in your life, but the Scripture says that. Can you help me to see what's going on? Because I care about you."

I've been thinking about this passage in light of what God has called me to do for a long time, actually. And I feel it's important to address it.

When I was a person who didn't give a thought about God, living my life and just doing my own thing, God used a kiwi named Ray Comfort, and a teaching called Hell's Best Kept Secret to save me from an eternity of Hell, apart from Him forever.

In Hell's Best Kept Secret, Ray talked directly to my conscience, in a way that no one had ever done before. Growing up Catholic, I was familiar with the 10 Commandments. I wasn't familiar, though, with the fact that God is Holy, and demands perfection in word, thought and deed. As Ray walked me through the commandments, I had to admit that I was a liar, a theif, and a blasphemer. God sees the heart, so in His eyes, I'm an adulterer because I've lusted. I'm a murderer because of the intentions of my heart when I call someone a bonehead or a moron. In short, I was guilty as sin, and for the first time in my life, I knew that if God gave me justice, I would end up in Hell.

It's at that point that the cross made sense to me. Jesus said, "It is finished." He stepped into my courtroom and paid my fine - a legal transaction that allowed God to be both just in punishing my sins and merciful because Jesus paid the price in my place. I don't remember the exact day, but on that day I was born again. I was given a new heart, with new desires to please God, worship God, read His Word, and live for Him and enjoy Him.

As I began to grow in the Lord and discover the works He had prepared for me to do, I discovered that He had gifted me with certain gifts and motivations, just like He has done with everyone who's a member of His body. My motivation for ministry is exhortation, and specifically evangelism. Everyone is called to evangelize, but God has called me to a life of preaching the Gospel. I have no doubt.

In Ephesians 4:11-12, Paul talks about gifts He's given to the church: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. The job of these people, in relation to the body of Christ, is to equip Christians for ministry. In the words of my pastor, "If God has called you to do something, you can do nothing else."

He has clearly called me to be an evangelist, and He has affirmed that calling many times. Even when I sat on my duff for years and did nothing for the Lord, I knew what God has called me to do. Am I the most eloquent person in Lafayette? Certainly not. Do I have all the answers? No way. In fact, I hate starting conversations with total strangers. Dread it. Sometimes, like yesterday, I even get the shakes at the thought of it. But God has called me to be an evangelist, and I can do nothing else. I can run, but like Jonah, God will catch me and have His way. So why bother running?

Which finally brings me to the point of this blog. Now, we've begun recording our conversations. A fair question is: didn't Jesus say to do your ministry in secret? Why does everyone need to know how "spiritual" you are by witnessing? Shouldn't you just do it unto the Lord, and get your reward from Him, instead of seeking the praises of men?

In this passage (when you read it in context), Jesus is addressing a heart issue of spiritual pride. Now, only God knows my true motivation. If I'm announcing my ministry so that everyone thinks I'm a super spiritual dude, than I have my reward. At the judgment seat of Christ, my motives will be clear for all to see.

Jesus is warning against doing ministry to be seen by men so that they will praise you for your efforts.

So what is my motivation, then?

To equip the body of Christ, in the same way that I have been (and continue to be) equipped.

You see, not everyone is called to spend their Saturday talking to strangers about eternity. But every Christian knows someone that needs the Gospel. And they will not hear without a preacher, no matter how winsome your character, holy your life, or joyful your heart is. Your life is not the Gospel. Your life ADORNS the Gospel.

I was equipped to share my faith by watching videos like these and listening to people like Mark Cahill, Ray Comfort (, Kirk Cameron (witnessing to gang members here), and Todd Friel articulate theirs. Instead of telling me how I should do it, they showed me how it works in real life conversations with real people.

So maybe, by listening to our conversations, someone will hear an answer, or a question, or something that answers an objection they've faced that challenges their faith. Or maybe it helps someone to understand how to clearly articulate the Gospel.

You think most Christians can clearly articulate the Gospel? Here's a challenge: ask 5 Christians you respect this question: "I've got a knife in my back. I've got 3 minutes to live. Tell me what I must do to be saved." If your experience is like mine, when you ask this question, you'll be surprised at how few people can clearly articulate their faith.

Maybe a question I answer is the question that's been burning on your heart. Or maybe it's a question your best friend asks you. Or your mom, or your husband or wife, or your kids, or someone else you care deeply about, and our conversations equip you with help in that area.

I don't have all the answers. I sometimes stammer and stutter, and don't know what to say. I sometimes even make a fool out of myself.

But I learned (and continue to learn) how to share my faith through practice (getting into as many conversations as I can) and through listening to witnessing conversations from others.

Mark Cahill tells a story in "One Thing You Can't Do in Heaven" about a prostitute he picked up. He paid her for 15 minutes of her time, and drove around sharing the Gospel with her, then dropped her back off at the same spot.

Question: Does she need the Gospel?

Another question: what would most of the Christian church think about what He did?

Another question: What does Jesus think about what He did?

I want people to be encouraged to share their faith. I want people to know how to articulate their faith. I want people to know that there are answers to the tough questions. I want people to know that if I can do it, you can share your faith too.

That's why I do this. And if I lose some reward in Heaven, but one person is encouraged to be bold for Jesus Christ, it's worth it to me. I want to encourage, equip, and stir up the body of Christ to share their faith.

The only horn I want to toot is Jesus Christ. I have nothing to offer except my Jesus. But I want to point people to Him any way I can.

I can guarantee you this: I will make mistakes. I won't do it perfectly. Critique these conversations if it helps you to learn something. But I learned from hearing others share their faith.

My motivation is making Jesus known, and helping others to make Jesus known.

It's what I've been called to do. I can do nothing else.

Edited to Add: At the beginning of Mark Cahill's video (linked above), he says something important that I want to echo: You don't have to do it the way I do it. I do this to give you a couple pointers or ideas that will help you in your witnessing. Well said, and I felt it was important to add that here.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Fishing Report: Mitch's Problem and Our Problem

It was a rare Sunday fishing trip on August 1, as we headed out for a rare late afternoon trip to speak with folks about eternity. We normally go on Saturday mornings, so it was hard to know what to expect.

We went to the local park we usually go to, and there was hardly anyone there. Not surprising, since the heat index was about 108 degrees. We did, however, find a nice gentleman to speak with.

His name is Mitch, and he's 82 years old. He lost his wife 4 years ago, and has COPD. The biggest challenge with Mitch was getting him to care about eternal things. Each conversation is surprising and different in its own way. Here's a man who's no doubt facing eternity very soon, and his fate will be sealed for all eternity. Yet no amount of pleading, explaining, or illustrating could get him to care. Nathan presented the Gospel to him, but he really didn't care. I'm not sure it mattered a lot what we could've done.

Charlie and I had a bit of a different mindset. We wanted to plead with this man until he had some feeling of concern, or leave him to think about it. After the conversation, we had a long talk about, basically, our biggest problem - getting on the same page.

The closest we came to a solution - so that 3 people aren't dragging the conversation in 3 different directions - is to resolve to each take a conversation while the other 2 prayed and kept (mostly) silent. At this point, time was short, so we were off to find some more fish. The next conversation was mine.

As it turns out, we approached 2 people who go to a local church here in town (the same church as our frisbee golfers last time). They said they were Christians. I told them, "OK, I'm putting you on the spot. I've got 3 minutes to live, I've got a knife i my back. What must I do to be saved?"

For 30 seconds, they him-hawed nervously, fumbling for the words, not knowing how to respond.

"I've go 2 and a half minutes left! What must I do? Hurry!" I challenged.
Surprisingly, they could both clearly articulate the Gospel (sort of). I asked them when was the last time they shared the Gospel with someone. They both could relay an encounter with someone they've witnessed to in the last couple months, and I think we all left very encouraged.

Time was running out. It was time to get a fish for Nathan. Unfortunately, the person we approached didn't want any part of a spiritual conversation, and time was up.

But Nathan's chance was only 6 short days away. Hopefully, you'll get to hear those conversations from today for yourself. I'm off to try to make that happen.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Jesus, What Were you Thinking???

I ran across a book called "Questioning Evangelism" by Randy Newman. In it, he talks about something I've been thinking about for a long time. Sometimes (often), it's better to ask questions than to give answers.

He talks about a study he did (maybe I'll do this when I have more time) where he wrote down all the times in Scripture Jesus was asked a question (on the left of the page). On the right, he wrote how Jesus responded. More often than not, he answered the person with a question.

Matthew 19 is a perfect example. The rich young ruler came to Jesus and said, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" In the words of John Piper: "Jesus would have failed personal evangelism class in almost every Bible college and seminary I know." This guy was ripe for the Gospel. Right? He was sincerely seeking. He knew Jesus had the answer, even. Did Jesus say, "Repeat after me, and if you mean it from your heart, and really mean it, and sincerely mean it, you'll be saved"?


"Why do you call me good?"

Jesus blew it! At least, according to virtually every evangelism book I've read.

The guy walked away with nothing. No closer to eternal life. Nothing.

Jesus corrected his understanding of good: "No one is good but God." Jesus, what are you doing? You're going to blow the most perfect evangelistic opportunity possible! NOOOOOOOO!

Jesus continued: "Keep the commandments." He gave the ruler a few commandments. Don't murder. Don't commit adultery. Love your neighbor as yourself.

"I've done all that already," the ruler said (New Jesse translation), excited that he was already good enough to get his ticket to Heaven.

Jesus said, "One thing you lack. Go and sell everything you have and give to the poor. Then come and follow me." The rich young ruler said he'd loved his neighbor as himself, but he was lying. He had not kept any of the commandments.

Neither have you.

Perhaps you've said some prayer in your life, or had some emotional experience. I've talked with quite a few Mormons who have a burning in their bosom about truth. Guess what? Their understanding of good is flawed.

Jesus didn't chase after the guy. He didn't beg him to come to the chili cookoff at church. He didn't establish an ongoing relationship with the fellow, whereby the ruler can see joy and peace emanating from Jesus, so that he'd ask Him about the hope that lies within Him. He even turned the ruler away with nothing, when he was the perfect "sinner's prayer" candidate.

Unless your understanding of what is good is correct, you, too, will be turned away with nothing. If you're relying on an experience you've had in the past, or anything else (baptism, church membership, good works) then you need to understand that God's wrath abides upon you at this very moment, and if you die right now, you'll end up in Hell for all eternity, the just punishment for a life of rebellion against a Holy God who's given you life, taste buds to taste great food, eyes to see beautiful sunsets and waterfalls, everyone you love and who loves you, and every other good gift you enjoy.

But Hell is not God's will for you. He came down to Earth, died on a cross, taking the punishment you and I deserve upon Himself. No one ever taught like this man. Read the Gospels. His teachings have a ring of truth and authority. No one ever lived like this man, perfect in word, thought and deed - to the point where those who WANTED to find fault with Him could bring no charge of wrongdoing against Him. No one ever died like this man, loving and forgiving His enemies. And He rose from the dead, defeating death. He was seen by over 500 people, most of whom laid down their lives in brutal deaths because of one reason: their claim to have seen the resurrected Jesus. Many die for a lie. But who would knowingly die for a lie? They died because they wouldn't deny what they had seen with their eyes and touched with their hands - the resurrected Jesus Christ (1 John 1).

If this is true, and it is, then you and I have a big problem if we die in our sins. But to all who repent (turn around and head the other direction) and embrace by faith Jesus' death on the cross as payment for our sins, God grants us forgiveness, eternal life, and joy unspeakable because He has defeated death. He gives us a new heart with new desires to please Him instead of filling our flesh with junk that will kill us. Jesus calls this being "born again," and without this, no one will see the kingdom of God, no matter what you believe.

Jesus turned the ruler away, because the ruler was resting in his own goodness to get right with God. He answered questions with questions. He corrected his understanding of good. When the ruler wasn't willing to repent, Jesus sent him away with nothing.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Name that Verse: The God-Shaped Hole

OK, so this blog's starting to take shape with lots of different sections, including the "Let Us Reason Together" section that's still empty. But it's time to start a new section!!!

This section is called "Name that verse." This is where I take common Christian phrases that, well, frankly drive me nuts, and seek to scour the deepest recesses of the bible for the verse that teaches the concept. Along the way, if the 2 or 3 of you that actually read this blog post in the comments, maybe I'll correct my thinking. I'm usually right, though, so probably not :)

So I'm working, and a song comes on the radio, that sounds to me like nails on a chalkboard, to be honest:

There's a God-shaped hole in all of us
And the restless soul is searching
There's a God-shaped hole in all of us
And it's a void only he can fill

I think C.S. Lewis said this stuff first about God-shaped holes in our hearts. Dude, I love you, and you're way more brilliant than I'll ever be. But...

My bible seems to say that the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked, and that no one seeks God. Instead, He sought us and first loved us when we were living lives in rebellion to Him. Jesus put it this way: you can't put new wine into old wineskins, because the wineskins will break. You don't need God to repair the hole in your current wineskin. You need a brand new one. Jesus calls that being "born again."

By the way, want to know what else that song says?

Every point of view has another angle
And every angle has its merit
But it all comes down to faith
Thats the way I see it

Really? I didn't check my brain at the door to become a Christian, and Jesus says otherwise. The only point of view that has merit is the one that's true. Everything contrary to the truth is false. 2 + 2 does not equal 5, no matter how much merit I think it has.

But that doesn't sell Contemporary Christian records, does it?

So, the floor is open: Is there a God-shaped hole in all of us? NAME THAT VERSE!

Fishing Report: Back in the Sweet Spot

This is the fishing report for Saturday, July 17. I try to write these right after we go, so I remember all of the details that I can. I'll do my best to recall as much as I can about this trip. Next time, I won't wait so long.

Our fishing morning started with me and Nathan meeting Brandonfor breakfast at McDonald's. Nathan had spent many hours conversing with Brandon over the two weeks since we met him.

On the way, I told Nathan that I'd let him do all of the talking, since he had established a relationship with Brandon. Nathan really wanted me to participate, and you know I can't keep my mouth shut in a conversation about eternity, so that quickly went out the window.

Brandon's goal was to get us to go down Rabbit Trails III. This was not going to happen. With every question, we (mostly Nathan) brought the issue back to the Gospel. Nathan kept bringing him back to his need to repent and trust in Jesus, before anything else we discussed even mattered.

Brandon asked about the person in Africa that never hears about Jesus. I told him to go home and read Romans 1 and 2, because God's Word doesn't get interrupted with questions and his answers are there.

He asked another interesting question: If you all claim to have the same Holy Spirit that leads you into all truth, why are there so many denominations that disagree? I have to be honest. This was a tough one for me. I told him that while I don't know all the answers to his questions, I do know that the core truths of the Gospel (God is holy and just, you are a hopeless sinner without an excuse, Jesus died to pay the penalty you deserve, and God is rich in mercy to all who repent and place their trust in Jesus) are believed by everyone who has the Holy Spirit living inside them. The Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8).

Nathan pleaded with Brandon: "God has told you all that you need to know, and this may be the last time you hear the Gospel. Please think about it, before it's too late. This may be your last chance."

Unlike previous conversations, Brandon was very combative and even attacked Nathan's character. The turning point was when Nathan, after hours of rabbit trails, banged his fist against the table and said, "We're going to stick to the Gospel. The Gospel is what matters. All these other questions are a distraction from the Gospel."

Every answer we gave headed straight for the Gospel, and Brandon would rather have a part in earning his way to God. His pride won't allow him to see that his depravity keeps him from God, and his "righteousness" (the "good" things he does, like church attendance, following the rules, being nice to people, etc) heaps up more of God's wrath on him, because he's calling God a liar and making a god in his own image to suit his sins.

I took him to Isaiah 64:6, which is a common passage I use in this very religious part of the country. The "good" things we do are a filthy stench in the nostrils of a Holy God. What do you think He thinks of our sin?

After this conversation, I pumped my fist in excitement. Nathan was utterly discouraged that nothing we said got through to Brandon. I had to provide some perspective: "Did you see his reaction? How he turned on you when you stuck to the Gospel? That shows he was affected by what we were talking about. I'm frustrated when you get no reaction at all. We were loving and gentle, but firm in proclaiming truth, and he got mad. It shows the message affected him. He ran from the light, because he loves darkness."

Nathan left encouraged, and l left extremely pumped. We met up with Charlie to head to the park for some new fishing.

First, we encountered a gentleman who was with his family. We asked him if he's given much thought to what happens when we die. Turns out that he had just been released from the hospital, after going into Anaphylaxic shock. He said he'd been near death quite a few times, and he was scared. He knew the Gospel, but wasn't sure about his salvation. Charlie took him through some Scriptures, starting with Jesus' proclamation in John 3 that "you must be born again."

The neat thing about this encounter was that the man and his family needed to get back to kaplan. He tried to sell us some tools. Charlie and I both reached into our pockets at the same time. Charlie's faster than I am, so he gave the fellow what he needed.

Side note: Never, ever give people money unless you are absolutely sure that you've heard from the Holy Spirit. If someone needs a meal, or gas, or whatever, give them a meal, or gas, or whatever. Be sensitive to the needs of others, but realize that the money could be used for drugs and alcohol, or wasted in some other way.

Want to know how I knew the Holy Spirit told us to give him that money? Because Charlie and I both reached into our pockets at the same time, despite both of us believing what I just said. And the fellow dropped the money on the ground accidentally. They came back, and his girlfriend was looking on the ground for the money. I had a feeling that if these guys were honest (as opposed to seeking more money), we'd lay our eyes on that twenty dollar bill on the ground right away. Within 3 seconds, Charlie spotted the bill on the ground and handed it to the lady. It was truly a moving experience to know that the Holy Spirit was guiding our day.

Next up was two Frisbee golfers between games. One in particular was especially interested in talking. He goes to a local, nondenominational, very charismatic church here in town. We pressed him about what he believes about eternity, and I have to tell you that the gobbledy gook that came out of his mouth was incredibly mind-numbing. But he did say something interesting: he said his wife is usually the one that "shares the verses" when they share the Gospel with someone.

Charlie talked with him for a while, and then I asked him, "So if I had a knife in my back and had 3 minutes to live, would you know what to tell me about how to get saved?" He looked sad and said, "No." So I asked him to do me a favor. Go home, sit down with your wife, and tell her, "Hey, these 3 crazy guys came up to me today and asked me if I had 3 minutes to share my faith with someone who's dying, could I do it? Can you show me how?

He seemed excited and promised he would.

Charlie also gave him the "man of God" test. "What's your favorite bible verse?" He couldn't give one. Now, this man has been in a "Christian" church for over 5 years, and can't quote one single favorite bible verse. What are we preaching in our churches?

I hope and pray that he's had that conversation with his wife.

Our ministry is different. There are no notches on my belt. I believe that if God saves someone, He can keep them. I'm planting seeds that God will use in people's lives. For years, his wife has sown into this man's life. Can you imagine what an encouragement it would be for her to come home and hear her husband ask her this question? Can you imagine how that would affect their relationship? We're not trying to get to a sinner's prayer and a tally on a tally sheet. We're trying to present the Gospel and leave the results to God, while being sensitive to the Holy Spirit's guidance throughout the process. I don't do the converting. I'm the preacher that tells the message. God does the converting. All the pressure is off of me. What could be better?

Next up: a fellow with his young kids at the playground. I asked him for permission to talk about spiritual things, and he agreed. I asked a little about his background, and if he considered himself to be a good person. His little one needed the bathroom, and I offered to wait for him. He went to the bathroom and predictably, never came back.

That's because God had set up another appointment for us. Charlie probably doesn't remember this, but he mumbled something about this one probably not being a good idea. But we trust the Spirit to guide us, and it was one of my favorite conversations we ever had.

2 young college-aged ladies were sitting on a blanket, in the shade, away from the hustle and bustle. They were laughing and joking over lunch. Here comes three crazy evangelists to spoil the party.

Charlie asked, "We hate to interrupt your lunch. You look like you're having a good time. But can we talk with you for a few minutes?"

Nervously, they agreed. We sat on the grass next to the blanket.

We talked with them about school and other stuff for a few minutes, then mentioned that we were from a local church and wanted to talk with them about spiritual things for a minute. They agreed, although I must say that they weren't too excited.

I took them through the commandments, in a light-hearted way that they appreciated. One of them said she had lied, but that she had never stolen anything. I joked, "Come on! You just told me you're a liar! How can I believe you?" She laughed, and admitted she was guilty.

I took them through the cross, repentence and faith, emphasizing that Jesus said on the cross, "It is finished." That it was a legal transaction. We broke the law, and Jesus paid our fine in His life's blood. I emphasized the need to embrace by faith Jesus' death on the cross as totally sufficient punishment for our sins, and that He'd give them a new heart with new desires and forgive every sin they've ever comitted. We talked about being born again and how membership in a church, doing good things, etc cannot save you.

Charlie asked me, "Where you getting all this stuff?"

The girls (and I) looked puzzled. "The bible."

Charlie pleaded with them to read the bible for themselves and find out what was true. The girls were very receptive and open, and the conversation was a real blessing.

One of the biggest challenges we face in the Lafayette area is getting through people's religion so they can see their need for Christ. What we have working in our favor, however, is that many people are open to discussing spiritual things. The Gospel is the power of God to save those who believe, and this area is ripe with people who want to talk about eternity.

Looking forward to the next fishing trip, and catching some fish before then!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

15 Words: Revisited

New Year's Resolutions are the most stupid (stupidest?) thing since, well...since whatever stupid thing you can think of.

Back in 2009, I started this blog with no real direction where it was going. "15 Words" came out of my conviction to make better choices about the way I live my life. This blog was supposed to be the chronicling of my journey through that commitment.

After writing about 2 posts, I abandoned this blog for a long time. I came back to it when I returned to my calling to preach the Gospel, using this blog as a platform to chronicle those conversations and the things I learn along the way. it is my hope that Christians are challenged and encouraged, and nonbelievers are stirred (or at least bothered) by what they read here.

It's also a great form of accountability for me. If you haven't seen me post in a while and you know me, feel free to come to me and ask why. Because I assure you that there's a reason, and it's not a good one.

With that said, I thought about changing the name of this blog, since its focus has changed. Or starting a new one.

But what happened to that first post? Well, now it's time for the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Why do I share with you the bad and the ugly? Because you need to know that there's nothing super spiritual about a guy who goes up to strangers and shares the Gospel with them. There's no special anointing that I have, that you don't have. We're all called to share the Gospel. Whether we feel like it or not. Whether we're checking off all our spiritual boxes on our to-do list or not.

So, it's time for Jesse's report card for 2009-2010. Geez, a year and a half and I haven't even looked at the commitments I was so bold to proclaim back then, once, since then? This can't be good...

Looking at the list, it'll probably be easier to go from bottom to top. Hide the women and children. This won't be pretty.

5. Sock it away.

$0.00. Next question?

4. Read and Pray

I pray with my family every day. I take walks daily and pray about concerns I have. The bible? Who has time for that? I'm too busy working up the balance you see above. Maybe that's the whole problem.

3. Share the Gospel.

This blog has become a chronicle of my efforts in this area. (I know I still owe you a fishing report. It's coming.).

2. Do It Now.

I've procrastinated much less over the last year and a half...with work stuff. Everything else has been pushed to the backburner. How can I be a go-getter and balance my life at the same time?

1. Be a blessing.

I've listened more to my wife by reading her blog this evening than I have in weeks of conversation. I've pushed her hurts out of my mind, because the work has to be done. And it does. But I quickly lost sight of my commitment to be a blessing to them.

My heart breaks tonight, because my life is completely out of balance. And I'm not sure it's even on the right foundation at all. How can it be, when I'm not in God's Word every day? How can I teach Ethan who God is, when I'm not listening for God to speak in my own life? How come I don't have the wisdom I seek as a parent? Because I'm not actually "seeking" that wisdom at all.

How come my wife often feels alone? Because she is alone. How come I feel like my world is falling apart? Because it is falling apart. It's built on shifting sand, and the storms are beating me down like I haven't felt in a long time. Through the process of writing this blog, I know my answer. Build on a more solid foundation. Jesus and God's Word. Stop giving lip service to God's way to raise my boys and be the husband my wife deserves.

The point of this post is not to throw a pity party. It's to regain my focus. Do I truly believe God can provide the balance I need, even when the bills are due? Sure, I have to work a lot. But my boys need me. My wife needs me. And they need me to be the spiritual leader of this home.

So lest you think that I'm perfect, or holier than you, because I post these conversations and witness encounters, you need to know that nothing could be further from the truth. I'm thankful that God chooses foolish things (like me) to confound the wise. I'm thankful that God uses the foolishness of preaching to spread the Gospel, and that I get to be a part of that. I'm thankful that Jesus is a solid foundation that can carry me through the biggest storms of my life - even the ones I've created for myself.

So see you in 2013 with the next update.

Why God's Love Doesn't Make Sense

Sometimes, in conversations with people about how to share the Gospel, I have been challenged with this: "You should just talk about God's mercy and love. Tell them God loves them. Don't turn people away with talk of sin and Hell and judgment."

The question is: is that biblical evangelism? Second question: Does that even make sense?

Most often, people cite Romans 2:4 when they say this:

Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?

As a young Christian, I stumbled upon an article by Greg Koukl called "Never Read a Bible Verse." It is one of the two most valuable lessons I've learned that has helped me in my walk with Christ.

In it, Koukl says:

If there was one bit of wisdom, one rule of thumb, one single skill I could impart, one useful tip I could leave that would serve you well the rest of your life, what would it be? What is the single most important practical skill I've ever learned as a Christian?

Here it is: Never read a Bible verse. That's right, never read a Bible verse. Instead, always read a paragraph at least.

When I'm on the radio, I use this simple rule to help me answer the majority of Bible questions I'm asked, even when I'm totally unfamiliar with the verse. It's an amazingly effective technique you can use, too.

I read the paragraph, not just the verse. I take stock of the relevant material above and below. Since the context frames the verse and gives it specific meaning, I let it tell me what's going on.

I have found this to be amazingly effective. While many people study cults for hours and hours to learn to diffuse their arguments, I simply run to my bible. I take the verse that's quoted, and read the verses before and after it.

That way, you learn what the human author intended to say, to the people he was speaking to at that time, and then accurately interpret and apply what you're reading in its proper context.

So, instead of lifting Romans 2:4 out of context and making a doctrine out of it, saying we shouldn't preach about sin, repentence and the judgment to come, let's put the statement Paul makes back into its context to get the proper sense of it:

1 Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.
2 But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things.
3 And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God?
4 Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?
5 But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, 6 who “will render to each one according to his deeds”
7 eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality;
8 but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath,
9 tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek;
10 but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
11 For there is no partiality with God.

Romans 2:1-11

It seems that Paul believed in preaching about sin and the wrath of God, too. Allister Begg (I think it was) put it this way: "It's because God has a real wrath, that His mercy makes any sense at all."

Hell isn't reasonable to someone who doesn't know the exceeding sinfulness of their sin. Thankfully, you can show a person their sinfulness without being harsh or rude. God has given us a tool to do this. It's called the law.

Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
Galatians 3:24

Unfortunately, many people take this too far. On the streets of many major cities (I'm assuming, since I've really only seen them in New Orleans), are people that profess to know Christ, yelling at the top of their lungs about how God hates this group or that group because of their sin. Singling out certain groups for condemnation may make you feel better about yourself, but it isn't the Gospel. I'm guilty and you're guilty. The only thing that makes me different than someone I'm talking to about the Gospel is that I've been born again.

So I gently, lovingly plead with people to flee from the wrath to come. First, I open up the law and show them that they've violated God's law, and deserve punishment, just like I do. Then I plead with them about the reality of Hell.

Then, unless I'm dealing with a really proud, arrogant person who won't listen to what I have to say, I take them to the cross and resurrection, and the need for repentance and faith. I plead with them to flee to the Savior, not simply to get out of Hell, but because of His kindness and love and mercy shown to us on the cross.

Have you ever done that? Can you look back to a time in your life when you've embraced by faith Jesus Christ as the only basis for your forgiveness before God? If you haven't, won't you think about this today? Every second, 7 people die. Before you put your head on your pillow tonight, over 150,000 people will step out of this world and into eternity - Heaven or Hell forever and ever and ever and ever. Please, think about it today.

Unless God's wrath is real, the biblical concepts of God's love and mercy are robbed of their meaning. It's because of God's wrath that His mercy is relevant.
- Allister Begg (I think)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Let Us Reason Together: Introduction

'Come now, and let us reason together,'
Says the LORD,

'Though your sins are like scarlet,
They shall be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
They shall be as wool.
Isaiah 1:18

Every so often, I plan to post questions and challenges I've received during conversations I've had with people about eternity. I want to do this to equip others who fear sharing their faith, and to show that there are answers.

One of the coolest things about sharing my faith is that it increases my faith. When someone comes along with a challenge, it drives me to my knees and to my bible. God is not afraid of questions. I'm not afraid to tell someone I'm talking with, "Hey, I don't know the answer. Can I find out and get back to you?" But I never want to be caught without the truth in response to that same question when I'm asked it again.

Look out for the first installment of "Let Us Reason Together" soon.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Fishing Report: Rabbit Trails II

OK. First, let's talk about two weeks ago. We ventured out toward the park, blessed to have my buddy Nathan along this time. Before we even got to the park, we found a guy walking cross the Louisiana campus. We hopped out the van (well, Charlie did) and grabbed him. Me and Nathan stayed in the van talking, till Charlie came back with a puzzled look on his face that said, "Y'all coming fishing or what?"

It was the least productive two hours of witnessing I have ever experienced in my life. One conversation that went in so many different directions, targeting everything but the Gospel. Brandon was full of misdirection and redirection. Turns out he's ... um...let's say he's a post-Catholic pre-Mormon. Yeah, that's about how it went.

Two things he said that I want to record, though. One: baptism is required for salvation. When Jesus talked to Nicodemus about being born again, he was talking about baptism. Second, that when you "repent," you have to actually try hard to reform your life or it doesn't count.

About an hour into this conversation, I decided it was about time to wrap it up. Know how I know he wasn't listening to us? I addressed his assertion that baptism was neccessary to be saved:

"Why did Paul, who's life's work consist of preaching the Gospel and pleading with people to be saved, so much so that he was stoned, shipwrecked, left for dead, beaten, etc many times, say 'I'm thankful I never baptized any one of you?' (1 Cor 1:14-17) if baptism was required for their salvation?

And the theif on the cross...was he baptized? Jesus told him, 'today, you will be with Me in paradise.'"

Brandon said, "You don't know that the theif on the cross wasn't baptized."

Listen carefully, my Mormon friends. If you're reading this, I'm sorry to offend you, but that is intellectual dishonesty, at best.

It is appointed a man once to die, and after that the judgment (Heb 9:27). Nothing is done by proxy after you pass on, according to God's Word. When you leave this world, your fate is sealed, and it's Heaven or it's Hell for all of eternity. If you believe the theif got off the cross and went to be baptized and came back, or that someone came along later and was baptized for him, that's intellectual dishonesty. Besides, did that happen the same day? Because Jesus said, "Today, you will be with me in paradise ((Luke 23:39-43))." Thankfully, to follow Jesus, I don't have to check my brain at the door.

Second, repentance has nothing to do with "trying hard." Friend, you can't try hard enough to scrub yourself clean in God's sight. If I murder on Monday, help an old lady across the street on Tuesday, volunteer at a soup kitchen on Wednesday, say 100 Our Fathers on Thursday, read my bible and go to church every day, and wash the judge's car on my way into the courtroom for my trial on Friday, I'm still guilty of murder.

In fact, God sees even your righteousness as filthy rags (Isa 64:6). Not the bad stuff you've done. The "good" stuff. Because your "good" stuff is tainted with selfishness and pride and rebellion to God. Don't take my word for it. Read it for yourself.

Your trying hard isn't worth a dime in God's economy, and neither is mine. You need a new heart with new desires, and a change of mind about who God is that leads to a total change of the direction of your life. That is a gift from God that only comes when you release your trust in anything you contribute to your salvation and place that trust in the One who stepped into your courtroom and paid your fine by dying on the cross and rising from the dead. He does all the work, so that He gets all the glory. He gets all of the credit. If you contribute, whether by your repentance or your baptism, you earn your way to Heaven. That's not going to happen.

To be clear, you must repent. Jesus said so. And if you're born again, you will repent. But that doesn't save you. That's evidence you've already been saved.

And you'll get baptized. Not because you have to, but because you're commanded to by your Lord. Because you want to. Again, you now have a new heart that desires to do God's will. But you do this because you are saved, not to earn any kind of favor with God.

So I pointed these things out, and just as I was getting ready to utter, "Hey, thanks for talking with us. Have a great day," the conversation veered into another hour plus of fishing-time-stealing frustration.

Won't happen again, though.

Was so blessed and encouraged by Nathan coming with us. He loves the Lord and cares about people. He listens with empathy and he knows the Word. He was a tremendous encouragement!

We learned a lot from this conversation. It was far from a waste of time. The more I practice sharing my faith, the more I learn and the more I'm challenged to get into the bible and to pray hard. I can't wait to make more mistakes so that I can learn from them.

Thankfully, our last fishing trip (report coming) was much better...

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Fishing Report: Rabbit Trails

This will be the shortest fishing report ever.

Charlie, Nathan and I just had a conversation with a nice gentleman for almost 3 hours in the hot sun. And I really can't tell you anything about it, because I need to maintain the privacy of the individual we spoke with for future conversations.

Unfortunately, much of the conversation was down looooooooooong rabbit trails and away from the essentials. But I believe that every appointment we have is a divine appointment. God chooses to use the foolishness of preaching to deliver truth.
Thank you, Lord, for using this fool today.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Fishing Report: The Blooper Reel!

First, let me say that I really need to write the Fishing Report right after going fishing, because I know I'll forget some important details. But I'll do my best to capture what happened.

Second, let me say that I learned so much this Saturday. I've been thinking a lot about something evangelist Mark Cahill talks about. He played basketball at Auburn University with Charles Barkley. He said that he got a scholarship to Auburn University for one simple reason: because he could put a round ball into a hoop. And the way he got good at it was hours upon hours of practice. It's the same with sharing our faith. The more we do it, the better we'll get at it.

Well, let's just say that Saturday was tremendous practice!

My fishing buddy, Charlie, and I decided that instead of knocking on doors, as we have been, we'd go to a local park. We drove up and decided to first talk a bit about the direction God leading us . Before we even prayed and headed out of the van, we were in a conversation about eternity!

We're talking and Charlie sees a man walking (sort of) in our direction. He says, "Hey, come see!" or something and waves him over to the vehicle.

Now understand, I've been wrestling with how to turn conversations to spiritual things for years. So Charlie says, "Hey, we're from a local church, and we're just here talking to people about spiritual things. Have a couple short minutes to talk with us?"

Um, well, I guess I'm without excuse, huh? Think maybe I don't want to get into those conversations, and so I find an excuse? Ever done that, when the Holy Spirit tugs on your heart to get into a spiritual conversation with someone? Yeah, me too. Lots of times.

So we talked with this gentleman, who was very nice and polite. We stayed in the vehicle and he was outside. First, we spoke to him about natural things. Found out he recently went to England. Talked about how dreary it is there sometimes, and how they're getting ready to be World Cup crazy there (the USA-England game was kicking off in about an hour and a half).

Then Charlie says, "I'd like to switch gears for a minute and talk about spiritual things." Well, I guess that's one way to switch gears and talk about spiritual things!

I really can be a coward sometimes.

Had a great conversation about eternity, and God's standard for admission to Heaven, and the authority of the bible. He was uncomfortable for a while but open and polite. Very nice conversation.

Then, we prayed and got out of the vehicle for more fishing!

It was hot. Not many folks were at the park. Probably not a fishing hole we're going to be returning to often. But there was 3 divine appointments this day, so we were certainly in the right spot.

Talked with a gentleman that grew up Jehovah's Witness, but wasn't really going to church anywhere. In fact, he turned down a million dollars! We talked with him for a while about the park, the ducks, growing up in Lafayette, and then Charlie asked about his spiritual background. This man was very guarded but willing to talk.

Charlie talked with him a little while about his background, but he gave really short answers. So Charlie asked if we could have 3 minutes to try to convert him to Christianity. He agreed.

I went through the commandments with him. I thought his 11 year old daughter had walked off, but she didn't. I asked him if he'd ever looked at a woman with lust, in front of his 11 year old daughter! He said, "I can't answer that." I asked him, "Why not?" He said, "I can't answer that in front of my daughter." I was so embarrassed!

Thankfully, God uses the foolish things of the world to confound the wise. I went through a few of the commandments, and he admitted he'd be guilty, and end up in Hell. I asked if that concerned him, and he said yes. We talked about the cross, and repentance and faith. Then Charlie talked with him about Jesus. He wanted to touch on Jesus being God, since the man had been raised Jehovah's Witness. Charlie talked about the fact that Jesus clearly claimed to be God (accepting worship, getting killed because He claimed equality with God, etc). He said that Jesus was either a liar, insane, or He was telling the truth. And because He rose from the dead, that proves He was telling the truth.

So lesson is: don't ask dads about adultery in front of their children! (hey, I didn't see her come back...cut me some slack, will ya?)

We thanked him for talking, and went on to our most memorable encounter - probably ever.

It was about time to call it a day. We headed back toward the parking lot. There, we ran into a sweet family. Mom, daughter and son. Kids were about 12-14ish.

Charlie asked mom: "We're out here talking to people and trying to convert them to Christianity. Does that bother you?" Mom was really nervous, sort of backing away, but she shook her head no, that it didn't bother her. Charlie asked about the lady's spiritual background. They're Catholics. As we began talking, she could tell that we really weren't freaks and that we really cared about them. She backed away a little more, but with body language that clearly told us she was giving us access to speak to her kids. It was strangely appointed by God and very hard to explain if you weren't there.

So Charlie asked the boy, "Got anything new recently that you really like?" The boy said, "a laptop." Charlie asked, "Did you tell anyone about it?" Of course. "Were you excited about it?" Of course. "That's why we're here talking to you about spiritual things. Because we have something we're excited about that we want to share with you."

He asked the daughter, "what do you think you have to do to get to heaven?" "Be good. Keep the commandments," was her reply. Charlie looked at the son and asked, "What do you think about that?" The son shook his head from side to side and said, "There's no way we can keep the commandments!" Very sharp fellow. We could tell he had been thinking about these things.

So Charlie turned to mom, and asked: "Since we can't keep the commandments, that's not it. But that leaves us with a problem, because we are all headed to a final exit, and after that, it's Heaven or Hell for all of eternity, because there is no purgatory."

Her answer showed me she has been thinking about these things, too. "I know. There is no purgatory." Certainly not the answer I expected from a Catholic. We turned back to the kids, and Charlie and I shared a little more about eternity and spiritual things. As we talked, I could see mom wiping tears from one of her eyes. It was an extremely touching moment. Explaining it doesn't do it justice.

It seemed like this family probably never talked about spiritual things with each other. Yet they've been thinking about it. And God set up a divine appointment to talk to us. And there they were, as a family, talking about the most important topic in the universe together.

All in all, I learned a great deal. The only way to learn is to practice, and I got a lot of great practice on Saturday.

More and more, I'm learning that sharing our faith is a conversation, not a presentation. If I ask questions and listen, I can truly find out where a person is on their spiritual journey without jumping to conclusions. If I seek first to understand, then seek to be understood, people will be more receptive and less inclined to think that I'm shoving my religion down their throats.

A relationship with Jesus Christ is a very personal decision. I can't twist somebody's arm or use the right formula and trick them into becoming born again. I'm just a messenger. Delivering a message, as an ambassador of Jesus Christ, hopefully representing him accurately to the world.

The devil will tell you that nobody wants to talk to you about Jesus. I won't pretend there's never opposition. But many people have been very interested in talking about eternity.

Now if I can just bottle up some of that courage that Charlie has. Throw me into the deep and I can swim. It's diving into the deep on my own that I'm having a problem with.

And remember: don't ask dads about adultery in front of young kids. That's your witnessing tip of the day!

Now, don't you want to keep reading to find out what embarrassing situation I find myself in next time?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Why the Fishing Report?

Jesus told His Disciples, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." The Fishing Report is my attempt recount as many personal witnessing encounters as possible. This is not a place I come to brag. As you can see here and here, I am far from perfect.

And Jesus said that when you do good, don't let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. If you seek the praises of men, you have your reward. I don't post these stories to brag or pretend I'm super spiritual, because I'm not. I'm just a guy that want to use the gifts God has given me (and primarily the gift of exhortation) for the purpose He has given me these gifts (primarily evangelism and encouraging Christians to share their faith).

I'm human, and I mess up. I'm no more spiritual than you are, if you're born again. I chicken out way more than I admit on this blog.

I post these encounters for 2 reasons:

1. To motivate me. If you don't see the Fishing Report very often in this space, feel free to post comments asking why. If there's no fishing report, that means that there's no fishing going on. And I've been called to be a fisher of men. And for over 2 years, I didn't share my faith with a single lost person.

2. To motivate you. Every second, 7 people die. By the time you put your head on your pillow tonight, over 150,000 people will have walked off this planet and into eternity. Then it's Heaven or it's Hell, for all eternity. Do you care? Do you care enough to get into a conversation with a lost person about Jesus?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

"This is Desert."

While most messages at church provide something of value, I was blown away at how much the Lord gave me to think about today. And if I don't blog about it now, I'll probably never reflect on the message. So, here I am!

At Calvary Chapel of Lafayette, we go through the bible, verse by verse. I love this approach to God's Word, because the Pastor doesn't get to skip over passages that challenge us or feed us a steady diet of his pet doctrines. Everything is learned in context, and we are edified as a result. Sometimes, you have to eat your vegetables, too! (As we are doing on Wednesday night, having just started studying Leviticus verse by verse). There's some rich, delicious dessert in there too, by the way.

Anyway, today we were in Acts 8. I'll try to briefly hit on all the things that stuck out at me.

It's amazing how the Holy Spirit operates. It was as if He was speaking directly to me today, regarding the ministry He has prepared for me (Eph 2:8-10).

Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, “Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is desert.
Acts 8:26

Philip was in the midst of a great revival. People were getting saved and turning to God. Healings were taking place. Everyone was fired up. And God told Philip to go somewhere else. Not just anywhere else. The middle of nowhere.

If I attempt to do ministry my way, or my pastor's way, or my favorite teacher's way, then it will fail. Because no successful ministry happens unless I am filled with the Holy Spirit, listening for His call, and obedient to that call whenever it comes. Even if it looks like foolishness to the world, I must allow the Holy Spirit to tell me where to go. He has set up divine appointments for me. Sometimes, those appointments are where you least expect them - away from the excitement and in the desert.

By the way, if you're in Lafayette and I knock on your door this Saturday, it's a divine appointment. Please don't take it lightly. If you're a Christian and you haven't shared your faith with a lost person recently, can I challenge you this week to get out of your comfort zone and into a conversation with a lost person about Jesus? Charles Spurgeon said, "If you have no desire for others to be saved, then you are not saved yourself. Be sure of that." I'm not putting a legalistic trip on you. I'm just asking you to pray about it.

Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go near and overtake this chariot.”
So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

Acts 8:29-30

When Philip heard the call of the Holy Spirit, he ran. He didn't question or ponder. He didn't think of excuses. He didn't walk. He ran. May my heart be one that hears and runs to obey. Lord, create that sense of urgency in my heart to be on time for the divine appointments you've created for me.

So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. The place in the Scripture which he read was this:

“ He was led as a sheep to the slaughter;
And as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
So He opened not His mouth.
In His humiliation His justice was taken away,
And who will declare His generation?
For His life is taken from the earth.”

So the eunuch answered Philip and said, “I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?”

Acts 8:30-34

When you come to a difficult part of Scripture, ask God for understanding. He promises to answer you with the wisdom you seek (James 1:5-8).

Philip also shows that we should meet a person where they are and steer them toward Jesus, because their eternal destiny is on the line. In this case, Philip showed the Eunich how the Scripture he was reading pointed to Jesus.

Whether it's Scripture or a situation a person finds themselves in, we should be looking for ways to steer conversations toward spiritual things. The more I practice doing this, the better I become at it. If I'm not looking for those opportunities, I will easily miss them with all that is around to distract me from my purpose of sharing the Gospel.

This is a big weakness I have. I know that God has called me to evangelize, and I want to share Jesus with everyone. But how do I swing from natural conversation to a conversation about eternity, without sounding like a wierdo? There are so many things we can use.

Recently in Lafayette, a man shot a fast food employee at the drive-through window. Think people in Lafayette have an opinion about that? I wonder what sports fans in Lafayette think of the recent passings of legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, or former Astros pitcher and colorful character Jose Lima? Where do you think those guys went when they died?

I wonder if the people of Lafayette feel safer today than they did on Sept. 11, 2001. I wonder if they have an opinion on where the pe0ple in those buildings went? Or the terrorists who took over those planes?

By the way, if you believe in Heaven but not Hell, where did those terrorists go? Are we all going to be spending eternity in Heaven singing Kumbaya with people like Stallin and Hitler? Seems we're in the midst of a conversation about eternity, and it was a very short trip to get there.

Or, how about: "Can I ask you an interesting question? followed by "Where are you on your spiritual journey?" or "When you die, what do you think is on the other side?" There are many ways to turn conversations to spiritual things without looking like a wierdo. I know many of them.

I claim I don't because it's easier than sharing my faith. But one day, I'll no longer be able to share my faith with any more lost people, because I'll be in Heaven. There are no lost people in Heaven, and I want to take as many people with me to Heaven as I can. Don't you?

The bigger question is this: am I willing to put my pride aside and live out what I just said? Are you?

Sunday, May 30, 2010

300 million years from now...

"300 million years from now, what will be the only thing that will matter? Will it matter how much money you made? What kind of car you drove? Who won the NCAA football or basketball titles this year? Who you took to the homecoming dance? 300 million years from now, the only thing that will matter is who is in Heaven and who is in Hell."

I am currently starting to read Mark Cahill's "One Thing You Can't Do in Heaven." The book is a collection of stories and strategies to get Christians off the couch and into conversations with people about Jesus Christ. I read it a long time ago. Since I made the decision to ignore my calling and my God for a while, I've forgotten much of what Cahill has taught me through example and through this book. I am coming back to learn my craft once again, and increase my hunger for conversations with people who need to hear about what Jesus Christ has done for them.

Cahill challenges his readers. If that's all that will matter then, what should we be concerned about right now?

Cahill asks a question that I want to burn into my subconscious and ask myself every day:

"What are you doing of significance today that will matter 300 million years from now?"

Cahill reminds us that every day, 150,000 people step into eternity. If we truly believe that many of those people are going to Hell, our love for them should swallow our fears and cause us to seek spiritual conversations with people. In this introduction, Cahill says that he wants to challenge and encourage Christians to share their faith and equip them with the knowledge he's gained through thousands of conversations with lost people.

I'll summarize as I read, and I look forward to using what I'm reading (thanks to pressure from this blog) :).

Like Nothing I've Ever Experienced Before

It's been a truly amazing 24 hours. Most around me think it's just an ordinary day in my life. But today is no ordinary day. This is going to be a little hard to explain.

You know, there are some people that can tell you the exact day they became Christians. They remember the exact moment, where they were, what they were doing, and they can tell you every detail. I can't.

If you don't have a conversion story, you don't have a conversion. If you can't look back to a time in your life when you've turned from your sin and embraced by faith Jesus Christ's death on the cross as your only basis for forgiveness before God, then the wrath of God abides on you until you do. I have a conversion story. I just don't remember that date. A know that there was a time in my life when I headed in a different direction. I know why, and I know how. Just not sure when.

But after that day, I was on fire for God. He showed me in so many ways how He had gifted me for ministry and how He wanted to use me to impact this world as an ambassador for Jesus Christ. If you're a Christian, He has gifted you with talents, abilities and motivation to serve and edify the body. Pray and find out what that gift is, and how God will use you to edify His body.

My spiritual gift (motivation for ministry) is clearly exhortation. I was created to encourage others to know Christ and to make Him known. God has, I believe, clearly called me to evangelism. It's amazing that God would call a foolish, tongue-tied guy who hates making conversations with strangers to evangelism, but that's why He gets the glory.

For almost 2 years, I've done nothing for the Lord. When's the first post of this blog? When's the 2nd? The 3rd? My point exactly. This blog is an exact record of my spiritual journey over that time. An exact record of my prayer time, bible study, conversations with nonbelievers about Jesus...everything. For the past two years, I've been spiritually dead of my own choosing.

It's amazing how life, and the cares of this world, can choke out the Word of God. Just like Jesus said. And you know what? There is zero fulfillment in living life for yourself. Especially when you are born again.

Many Saturdays and Sunday mornings in my home are frustrating. It's a spiritual battle because church is Sunday, and it's a temporal battle because Ethan's "2" and Gabriel's little. And daddy's selfish. Very selfish.

This Saturday was no different. As Ethan, tired from the crawfish boil, began to act up, daddy again lost his cool. I can't imagine how scary it is for a two year old boy when his dad tries to intimidate him into submission, because his dad can't display more maturity than that little boy can. But that's what happened. It was a familiar scene in my home. Too familiar.

For the past few weeks, every time I lose my temper or react like a bonehead that has no self-conrol, I felt like, "Do you look ANYTHING like Jesus?" No, dad, the truth is that you DON'T look anything like Jesus.

So Saturday night's frustrations led to the following Tweet:

"Welcome to Saturday freaking night. So sick of these spiritual battles it makes me want to vomit. Not sure how much more I can take."

Then came Sunday. Actually, everything was okay this morning. Even left for church on time. Ethan was even in a sort of good mood!

Worship practice went fine. Everything was normal.

As we went through the worship service, everything seemed normal.

Until the final song. It was "Amazing Grace/My Chains Are Gone" (the Chris Tomlin song). You need to understand that while I'm passionate about worship, I have never been moved to tears in worship. Until today. As I stood up on stage, I felt as though God lifted me away from that place for a couple brief moments, took me aside, put me on His knee like a loving Heavenly Father, and told me that He loved me. That He missed me. That His grace was sufficient for me, if only I would quit running and trying to do things my way. I have never had an emotional experience that powerful with God.

As worship ended, I left the building, because I needed to hide. It was almost like I couldn't take what had just happened. I cried out to God like I never have before. No words could possibly describe what the Lord did in my Spirit today. It wasn't a vision. It wasn't an audible voice. It wasn't wierd or cooky. It was just God reaching down and letting me know that He is real, and He loves me, and He's gifted me, and He wants to use me in a mighty way to impact this world with the good news of Jesus Christ.

After church, I had a conversation with my buddy Charlie. We both know that God has put us together to reach the lost in Lafayette, and to encourage our church and other Christians to share their faith. But today, he encouraged my heart with his determination to seek the lost. I need a guy like Charlie in my life so much. We need each other, and we feed off of each other. Campus Crusade for Christ says that only 5% of Christians share their faith regularly. I need to be around people who do, because that's what I've been created for. God is laying on both of our hearts the same things. He's creating in us a zeal for bigger, bolder steps in sharing our faith and encouraging our church to do the same. I'm very excited to see what the Lord's going to do. How exciting to know why you were created and to be fulfilling that purpose. Why did I let myself get so distracted?

There's much more to it than this. Much of it is private within myself, that no one will ever know. Much of it is simply not here because I don't have the words today. But I know that I've been given a gift today.

Today is a new day. Finally, I feel back at home. God says that we are blessed if we believe in what we cannot see. While I didn't see with my physical eyes today, I see with my spiritual eyes in a way that I haven't ever seen before. The small glimpse of the glory of God that I saw today was almost more than I could take. I almost wanted to beg for it to stop.

So was today an emotional experience that will fade? Or a life-altering outpouring of God's Holy Spirit on my life? This is the record of that journey. It's time to return to my first love, and do the things I did at first.

Most of all, I'm thankful today for an incredibly patient and faithful wife who stands by me no matter what, and for a loving Heavenly Father who wants to use this foolish man to confound the wise.

"Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!"
- Romans 10:13-15

Edited to add:
The Lord tried recently to reach out to me. He used, of all things, a song on the radio. But as usual, I wasn't listening. When I know I have Ethan's best intersts at heart, and He ignores me, I get very frustrated. How I must've frustrated the heart of my Heavenly Father, who loves me and has nothing but my best and highest purposes in mind. If only He could get me to listen! Today, I'm listening, Father. Here I am, Lord. Send me. I will go for you.

Here are the words to the song. They pretty much describe the exact place I find myself tonight. Except tonight, I'm listening. I've seen His glory.

Here are the words to the song.

Sanctus Real - “Lead Me”

I look around and see my wonderful life
Almost perfect from the outside
In picture frames I see my beautiful wife
Always smiling
But on the inside, I can hear her saying...

“Lead me with strong hands
Stand up when I can't
Don't leave me hungry for love
Chasing dreams, what about us?

Show me you're willing to fight
That I'm still the love of your life
I know we call this our home
But I still feel alone”

I see their faces, look in their innocent eyes
They're just children from the outside
I'm working hard, I tell myself they'll be fine
They're in independent
But on the inside, I can hear them saying...

“Lead me with strong hands
Stand up when I can't
Don't leave me hungry for love
Chasing dreams, but what about us?

Show me you're willing to fight
That I'm still the love of your life
I know we call this our home
But I still feel alone”

So Father, give me the strength
To be everything I'm called to be
Oh, Father, show me the way
To lead them
Won't You lead me?

To lead them with strong hands
To stand up when they can't
Don't want to leave them hungry for love,
Chasing things that I could give up

I'll show them I'm willing to fight
And give them the best of my life
So we can call this our home
Lead me, 'cause I can't do this alone

Father, lead me, 'cause I can't do this alone

Listen to it here.

If you've read this far, please pray for me. That my heart would be good soil, not choking out God's Word. Pray for boldness to preach the Gospel, open hearts, and a love for the lost that swallows up my fears. Pray that I would lead my family instead of leaving them hungry for love. Thank you.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Stepping Into Eternity

Sometimes, it comes with advance warning. But it can happen in a moment's notice. At any age. Tonight, when your head hits the pillow, please give this some thought: if you were to die tonight - if your time is up - what would happen to you? Where would you go?

At the time I write this, few people actually read this blog. But who knows who'll stumble across this little chunk of cyberspace. I don't know what you believe. Maybe you believe in a Creator who created all things, or maybe you don't.

I want to talk for a minute to those who don't. Consider this: if you're right, then when you step into eternity, there is nothing. You're buried in the ground and that is it. So am I. No matter what I believe, right?

But what if you're wrong and I'm right, and there is a God who created the Heaven and the Earth and you and me. And He will judge us one day by His perfect standard. We all get the same test. It's open book, too. Hitler took the test. So did Mother Theresa. So are you, and so am I.

Maybe Hitler gets a zero. Maybe Mother Theresa gets a 95 (I doubt it, but maybe) on the test. Maybe you get, let's say, a 75. And I get a 5. F. Guess I'm grounded.

But this isn't High School. The score to pass the test? 100. Even Mother Theresa fell short. Ever lied? Stolen? Lusted? Hated someone? Used God's name instead of a four letter filth word to express disgust? You wouldn't use the name of your worst enemy as a curse word, but you've used the name of the One who gave you life, breath, loved ones, chocolate, beautiful sunsets, and so much more?

If you don't get 100, you fail the test. God is perfect, and you must be perfect. But God is rich in mercy, too. He must punish the wrong things you have done, but He offers a way out. He paid the fine Himself 2000 years ago by coming to this Earth and dying on a wooden cross to take the punishment for your sin upon Himself.

After doing that for you - offering Himself as a free gift - why should He forgive you if you call Him a liar and say that never happened? Worse yet, if you deny His existence despite the evidence that is cearly seen throughout the order of creation all around you?

You and I are without excuse. When you look at a building, you know that someone built it. It didn't just appear by accident. You look at a painting, and you don't say, "WOW! What a coincidence! Isn't it neat how those paints just happened to fall on the canvas in such a beautifully ordered way?" How much more rediculous is it to look around you and insist that this world, and you, are just a cosmic accident?

All I'm asking you to do is to think about it.

This week, my grandfather took his final breath and stepped into eternity. I may live another hundred years. I may not live to see tomorrow. But one thing I know is this: I am a wretched, filthy sinner who deserves Hell. But God loved me so much, that He stepped into my courtroom. There I stood, guilty as sin. And He stepped into my courtroom and paid my fine with His life's blood. I'm free to go, because my trust is in Him.

What are you trusting in? Church? Good deeds that can't eliminate the crimes you've done?

Here's a riddle:

If I attend church on Sunday, murder on Monday, help 5 old ladies across the street on Tuesday, volunteer at a homeless shelter on Wednesday, and go to trial on Thursday, what will happen to me?

If justice is served, I will be found guilty of murder and be punished. How many murders make you a murderer? One. How many lies make you a liar? If you're anything like me, you're guilty of many, many lies over your lifetime.

Please, I beg you: flee whatever you're trusting in and cling to the Savior. He died for you. Place your trust in Him. He'll forgive every sin you've ever committed, and grant you everlasting life. He'll give you a new heart with new desires to please Him and truly love others. He'll give you love, joy, peace, and so much more.

But if you won't do that tonight, at least think about this. Give it some serious thought. If you're right, we're in the same boat. If I'm right, you and I are in big trouble unless we place our trust in Jesus and surrender to Him. Won't you consider this tonight, before your head hits the pillow? Every day, thousands of people step into eternity. Young people and old people. Healthy people and sick people. And then it's Heaven or it's Hell, for all eternity. Please think about it.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Fishing Report: What could be more fun than fishing for men?

Some people struggle all their lives, desperately hoping to figure out who they are and what they were born to do. I know who I am and what I was born to do.

I am amazed at how God puts things together. God has given me the privilege of sharing a ministry with a Godly man who compliments me perfectly. Today, we were so blessed in so many ways.

We've adopted a neighborhood in Lafayette, and we simply knock on doors in the neighborhood and offer to pray with people about any needs they have.

Today, though, was different. First, we returned to a house we'd been to in the past. Had a great conversation with mom, dad, and son. Turns out that the dad is my 7th grade Social Studies teacher! Leaving the conversation, though, I was kind of bummed. We spent a lot of time talking to them about flowers, school, parenting....but not the Gospel. They really weren't open to it, it seemed. But we spent a lot of time there.

Charlie and I were talking on the way to the next house. The subject of Wretched Radio came up. I told Charlie how Todd Friel goes to Georgia Tech every Wednesday - "Witness Wednesday," he calls it - and witnesses to people for 2 hours on the radio.

I told Charlie about how, when he sees a conversation going nowhere fast, he says something like, "I'm gonna tip my hand. I'm a Christian. I'm gonna take 3 minutes, and I'm gonna try to convert you. Is that ok?" Sure enough, almost everyone says, "Sure, why not?"

So we get to the next house, and its a young guy. Very polite. Wants us to pray for him because he just got a big job. We asked if he could pray for him then, but he he wasn't comfortable. He clearly wanted the conversation to end as fast as possible, even though he was polite.

So Charlie dives in head first. "Got 3 more minutes for me to try to convert you?"

Surprisingly, the guy said, "Sure, why not?"

Even more surprisingly, Charlie fell silent, like, "What have I gotten myself into?" That's pretty much what I was thinking, too.

So this dude has 14 years of Catholic school education. He knows about the commandments, and Jesus. So I said, "You know about the commandments, right?"


Me: "How you doin' on those?"
Him: "i'm doin' all right. I keep 'em. I try hard."
Me: "Let's see if that's true. Ever lied?"
Him: "Yeah."
Me: "What does that make you?"
Him: "um...a person who makes mistakes."
Me: "Yeah, but more specifically...rhymes with pants on fire...4 letter word...I'm guilty too."
Him: "A...liar?"
Me: "Yes. Ever stolen anything?"
Him: "No."
Me: " your whole life...even something small?"
Him: "Nope."
Me: "Good. Ever taken the Lord's name in vain?"
Him: Shaking head: "Oh yeah."
Me: "You know that God takes blaspemy seriously."
Him: "Yeah. But God knows my thoughts and that I'm a good person."
Me: "Well here's the one that got me. Jesus said, 'you've had that it was said by them of olf, you shall not commit adultery. But I say to you that whoever looks upon a woman to lust after her has already comitted adultery with her in his heart. Ever looked at a woman with lust?"
Him: "Oh yeah."
Me: "So, (name withheld), by your own admission, you're a liar, not a theif, but a blasphemer, and an adulterer at heart, and you have to face God on judgment Day. Will He send you to Heaven or Hell?"
Him: "Heaven."
Me: "Why?"
Him: "Because that's not all He looks at."
Me: "Let's try that in civil court. You're guilty of murder (God considers hatred murder, so you're guilty of that too, right?" (Shakes head yes.) But you tell the judge, 'I don't murder any more. I do good. I help old ladies across the street. I obey the law. And on the way in here, I washed your car! And I saw that your tire was low, so I put some air in it for you.

Question: Is that judge going to let you go?"
Him: Silence.
Me: "If he's a good judge, he will punish you for the crimes you've comitted, DESPITE that other stuff, right?"
Him: "Is that how you see it? Is that how you think it works?"
Me: "That's EXACTLY how it works. God is just, and Holy, and perfect. And He will punish every sin. But God is also merciful and forgiving, right?"
Him: (relieved) "Yeah!"
Me: "So how can he do both - punish lawbreakers and forgive them? That's the point of the cross! Back to the courtroom: the Judge sets bail at $25,000. You don't have 2 pennies to rub together. You're going to jail for a long time. But someone you don't even know comes in, slaps a $25,000 check in front of the judge, and says, 'He is my friend. I am paying his fine.' Because of what this man has done, you're free to go. The judge didn't ignore your crimes. The punishment was paid in full. That's what Jesus declared on the cross when He said, "It is finished." If you repent (quit trying to make yourself right with God by your own effort), and trust in Jesus' death on the cross as your only basis for forgiveness before God, He'll forgive every sin you've ever comitted and give you the free gift of everlasting life. I've given you something to think about today, haven't I?"
Him: "Yeah!"

Pray for him.

Talked with another fellow who's fallen away from God. Really open to discussion. Have a feeling we're going to see him at our church tomorrow. Real nice guy.

Talked with an older, recently widowed woman who's been on our hearts. We talked to her last time and wanted to see if we could get a group of guys together from our church to help her with anything if she needed. Found out that she's plugged into a church that's helping her out. A big relief to see that God's people are taking care of her, since she's by herself.

Talked with a sweet lady who just bought a business. She goes to a local church. After talking for a while, I asked her, "OK, I'm gonna put you on the spot. Ready?"

Her: (Not too sure) "Um, OK."
Me: "I've got a knife in my back. I've got 3 minutes to live. What must I do to go to Heaven?"
Her: "Pray and um..."
Me: "Can I tell you what I would say?"
Her: (Relieved) "Sure."
Me: God is Holy, and just, and He'll punish sin wherever it's found. That means He'll punish murderers, rapists, thieves, and liars. Have you ever told a lie? Who hasn't, right? Ever stolen or used God's name in vain? Jesus said lust is adultery of the heart. We're all guilty and deserve Hell. But that's not God's will. Jesus died on the cross to take our penalty upon Himself. He said, "It is finished." The debt has been paid. If you embrace Jesus as the only basis for your forgiveness before Him, He'll forgive every sin you've ever committed and grant you the gift of everlasting life."

Talked with her for a while about resting in what Jesus was done instead of trying hard and feeling guilty for falling short. We encouraged her to read her bible and get plugged into a small group at her church, where others can encourage her to grow and rest in what Christ has done for her.

Finally, she couldn't resist asking the question that was burning her insides: "Why are y'all doing this?" We do carry around church bulletins and welcome people who may be in need of a church home. Calvary Chapel of Lafayette teaches verse by verse through the Scriptures, and I know of no church I can recommend more highly.

But we're not out there representing our church. We're not trying to take people from their church home and bring them into our church home. We're trying to share the Gospel and the love of Jesus.

We're not asking for money like many televangelists. So why we doing this? I mean, we could be with our families, enjoying the perfect spring weather...why?

Here's what I told her: "Because someone shared with me what I've talked to you about today, and because for five years as a Christian I haven't met anyone who's been willing to share that message with me. And apart from Jesus' death on the cross, each one of us is going straight to Hell forever. And if Hell is anything like Jesus says it is, I don't want you and the people of your neighborhood to go there. But that's not all. Jesus offers something else, too. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience...and on and on. When Jesus forgives you, He also comes to live inside of you. He gives you new desires, a relationship with Him, and all these things: love, joy, peace...What could be better than that? I want the people of your neighborhood to experience that, and the rest that only comes from Jesus. That's why I'm out here."

Please pray for these people. Nothing else I will do this week can top that. What could be better?

The other 2 times we went out, we never got to the Gospel one time. But we prayed with people, got to know people, and were happy with that. Today, neither one of us felt up to the task. But God working through us can do amazing things. And I have to keep reminding myself: "How will they hear without a preacher?"