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...