Spiritual Conversations: the Art of Listening

“So, then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.”  James 1:19

In my years as a missionary, a pastor, and witness for Jesus Christ, I’ve had the privilege of verbalizing the wonders of Jesus and the gift of His salvation in a variety of venues, both formal and informal. Yes,I do enjoy talking. But ministering the gospel to the person who has not yet met Christ includes much more than telling them about Jesus. Listening is also a critical component to effective God-honoring conversations about spiritual matters.

You see, listening to others accomplishes much in our witness. And not just listening – active, intentional listening.

And active, intentional listening will follow questions. As we listen we are gathering critical information about what a person thinks, what they feel, and what they believe.

In witnessing conversations the ultimate goal of listening is to find out if that someone is open to hearing more about the truth claims of Jesus. The initial goal is to simply find out if they’re open to engaging spiritual matters and if so, what is their spiritual orientation.

In simple terms, we initially – through questions and listening – are taking a person’s ‘spiritual temperature.’ This is qualifying somebody.

To qualify someone is to find out two things:

– What is their ‘God-paradigm?’

– Are they open to engaging  spiritual matters and more specifically the truth claims of Jesus  and the Bible?

First of all, everyone has a God-paradigm, a view of God and/or spiritual things. They may be an atheist or agnostic, they may believe in a personal ‘God’ or supernatural being. But everyone will have some view of God and/or spirituality. Yet someone’s tradition or lack thereof growing up and where they are presently may be two different things.  Part of questioning and listening include this inquiry: “Spiritually, how did you get here from there?”

Active listening will inform our witness and will enable us to effectively contextualize the gospel. The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:22, “I have become all things to all people, so as to win some to Christ.” In other words, he witnessed to people where they were, which meant he had to first understand where they were coming from. Remember when Paul went into synagogues, he reasoned with the Jewish people from the Scriptures – the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament.

But in Acts 17 on Mars Hill, Paul addressed the Athenians, who were not well versed in the scriptures:

“Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of Heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands” (Acts 17:22-24).

Paul knew his audience well and his listening skills helped his witness. He’s a good example.

At some point we’ll want to find out if that someone is open to sharing about their ‘God paradigm.’ Some people may not want to talk about spiritual things. Respect that and pray that some soon tomorrow they would be open. Continue to love, serve and pray for them, also praying God would move in their hearts and give them a curiosity to find out more at some point.

At Starbucks I’ve had a few chats with an elderly Catholic gentleman I’ll call James (not his real name). Early on, when he found out I was a ‘minister,’ he mentioned that he typically doesn’t talk about religion and politics. But as we’ve built a rapport, he’s opened up and shared about both politics and religion. In fact, the last time I saw him we had a very long conversation where he opened up about his personal life. I had the opportunity to share my Catholic high school experience (yes, this Jewish boy attended a Catholic high school – for academic and athletic reasons). At this point I’m building trust and rapport. I don’t know where God will take this connection. In a future conversation I’d like to ask him if he believes he’s going to heaven and if so, why. Perhaps I’ll ask other questions. Deeper, more direct questions will certainly ‘test the waters.’ For now I need to pray for him and for more opportunities to converse.

Wherever anyone is on the spiritual continuum, we ultimately need to find out if they’re open to exploring the truth claims of Jesus and the Christian faith. If you’re witnessing on the way you can be more direct much sooner. If you have regular touch points with a person, there is time for trust and rapport to grow before you go deeper. In either case, an individual will either be open or closed.  If they are open, be prayerful about what info you can share. There are many tremendous books, DVD’s, websites and other e-resources available. I would recommend resources from the following people: Josh McDowell, Ravi Zacharias, Ray Comfort & Kirk Cameron, Norman Geisler and Lee Strobel, to name a few. I’m also available via email or phone for personal coaching or to recommend a timely resource.

Remember, after sharing information with someone in your personal sphere of influence, follow up to see how they’re ‘processing.’ For people need time to digest information and grapple with faith issues.

In sum, questions provide the platform for listening. Listening affirms others, informs our witness and allows us to humbly and gently share the truth in love as doors of opportunity open. Next time, we’ll focus on answering questions and objections. For now, pray, engage, pose questions, and yes listen, and listen well…for Jesus’ glory!

Lord Jesus, please help me to be a more effective listener in my witness to others. Amen.

Spiritual Conversations: the Power of Questions

“How are you doing?”  We hear it and use it all the time.  Often the response is, “I’m fine, thank you.”  But there are times where that seemingly benign question can open up deep meaningful conversations about the most important issues in life!

In fact, there are times when a seemingly benign question may open up the door to be able to pose the most important of questions: “Who do you think Jesus is?”

Questions are the key that open up conversational doors.

In the context of personal relationships where you have regular touch points with an individual, there is certainly time to ask lots of questions that propel conversations along.  And hopefully, at some point, that most poignant of questions can be posed.  Jesus had an established relationship with the disciples when “He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’”  (Matthew 16:15)

Think about this subtle but powerful difference in thinking about conversations with others – Do I want to speak ‘to’ someone or speak ‘with’ someone about spiritual matters?  Speaking ‘to’ someone conveys the idea of talking at them and wanting to get your own point across at all costs.   In contrast, speaking ‘with someone’ conveys the idea of working together, sharing ideas and thoughts, seeking understanding.  Questions provide a great platform for this kind of synergy.

Questions affirm others.  Inquiry communicates that we care about what another thinks, believes and feels.  You know as I, that often we as Christians are sometimes accused of simply wanting to talk and be heard. Yet a winsome and humble witness will include the willingness to listen.  And listening will be the result of asking questions.

In our everyday lives with people in our sphere, we have the time, margins, and regular touch points to allow relationships to unfold, rapport and trust to be built.  So take the pressure off.

Now, after building rapport and trust, at some point it’s fine to ‘test the waters’ and ask probing questions.   Risk-taking is part of the conversational process.  And Questions are part of that risk-taking process.  Remember, trial and error is part of that process along with lots of prayer, wisdom and discernment.

Aside from building a rapport with people, the art of questioning is essential in what we might call taking someone’s ‘spiritual temperature.’  Questions help us find out the answers that will ultimately help us know whether they are open to Jesus or not?  I can tell you that if someone is not open to God, I’m just a guy.  What can I do?  If someone is not open to talking about spiritual matters, that’s ok.  For those in our regular sphere of influence, it doesn’t stop us from loving them, serving them and praying for them.  And specifically, praying that some soon tomorrow they may be open to talking about spiritual things and even Jesus!

I coached our son Elijah’s little league team for a couple of years and while involved in the league developed a friendship with one of the league officials, Jack (not his real name), whose son also played.  Jack knew I was a minister at a local church.  One day at the baseball complex I ran across Jack and he took a moment to share with me how he and his family were attending a local church and he was really enjoying it.

I told him I was glad he was enjoying it.  Then I asked, “Jack, how about Jesus?  What do you think about Him?”  A direct question, certainly a probing question, and a risky question.  His response, “I don’t want to talk about it.”  And that concluded that line of questioning.

Healthy conversations include respecting boundaries.  This includes only going where people allow you to go. I could have asked him, “Jack, why don’t you want to talk about Jesus?”  But where do you think that would lead?  Can you say ‘awkward moment.’

Here is a short list of questions that can be posed to point a conversation toward the spiritual:

1. Have you ever thought much about faith?

2. Do you have any kind of spiritual belief?

3. What’s your religious tradition?

4. What do you think about God?

5. What do you think about the Bible?

6. What do you know about Jesus or who do you think Jesus is?

7. How do you know what your believing is true?

8. What do you think God wants from you?

9. Do you think you’re a good person?  Why?

10. What do you think happens to you when you die?

Click here for an additional article with lots more conversation starter questions.

These type of questions can open the doors to spiritual conversations.  When people are open to engaging, vistas of understanding can be acquired to the benefit of your relationship and witness.

In their excellent book entitled ‘Conversational Evangelism’, Norman Geisler and David Geisler point out the necessity of conversations over ‘presentations’ in our post-modern world.   While not disregarding the necessity of being able to present the gospel, they note the importance of conversations be added to our witness.  The world we live in has changed. They note: “The rejection of moral absolutes, skepticism and indifference towards truth, and even an increasing intolerance toward those who believe in absolute truth characterizes today’s spiritual landscape.  Because of these changes many more people are less interested in a simple presentation of the gospel.”  Conversational Evangelism; pg. 18; Norman Geisler and David Geisler; Harvest House Publishers (2009)

Evangelism is a process.  The Geisler’s agree, noting: “We should take the long-term view and leave that person with the desire to continue the conversation.”  Conversational Evangelism; pg. 24

Respect the process, understand everyone is on a journey, and trust in God to guide and lead our conversations. Remember, questions are a wonderful catalyst in moving conversations along.

If you’ve not had much experience in this realm, it’s a great opportunity to trust God.  He’ll give us the right words at the right time.  Conversations and the posing of ‘riskier’ questions is a process of trial and error.  And even when we think we’ve ‘blown it’, that’s ok.  It’s part of the process of learning, growing, and depending on God to use us as His witness.

Next time we’ll focus on the importance of listening in conversations. For now, get the ball rolling by asking leading questions and see where God takes it. Enjoy the journey!

Spiritual Conversations: the Foundation of Prayer

One morning while enjoying breakfast with a pastor friend named Luke, he shared something about his devotional life that moved me – something simple, yet profound and powerful.

Luke said everyday he includes his morning prayers with this: “Lord, today please give me divine appointments, ministry opportunities and open doors.”

I have seen God answer that prayer in my own life. And in regards to engaging in spiritual conversations with people, Luke’s daily discipline is a great reminder for you and me.

Spiritual conversations should begin on our knees!

I’m stating the obvious, yet in our fast-paced, action-packed world, we as believers can fall into the trap of thinking there is power in the doing, when the reality is that the real power is in the praying. For praying should precede the doing and will galvanize the doing – this can make a huge difference between walking in the spirit and walking in the flesh.

“Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:18).

If you’re the gregarious type, and enjoy ‘witnessing on the way,’ or talking to complete strangers about the Lord, praying for divine appointments is certainly an appropriate way to prepare for the day.

The typical challenge for most of us is engaging spiritual matters among those in our regular sphere of influence – family, friends, associates, and others we know by name. For each of us has an ‘ongoing’ witness to those in our regular sphere of influence, as there are many touch points and opportunities to both demonstrate the love of God and proclaim verbally the truth of God.

But since spiritual conversations are a God-thing, we need to acknowledge our dependence upon Him to provide ministry opportunities and open up doors. Hence, we pray!

In Colossians 4:2 the Apostle Paul asked the Church in Colosse to pray that ‘God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ.’ Sometimes doors are open, other times they are closed. And in the mystery of God’s providence, it is He who opens doors and interestingly it is He who can also close doors.  For example, In Acts 16:6 Paul, Silas and Timothy were ‘forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia’ and when they tried to go to Bithynia, ‘the Spirit did not permit them’ (Acts 16:7).

As we walk by faith, Paul’s prayer and experiences with open and closed doors provides a good cue for us. You see, we ought to pray for open doors to ‘speak the mystery of Christ,’ as Paul did. Additionally, we also need to understand that in God’s providence, it is He who ultimately opens doors and closes doors according to His sovereign will.

So, pray expectantly, asking God to open doors of opportunity to tell others of the wonders of the gospel. And ask the Lord for wisdom, discernment and faith to walk through the doors He is opening and avoid banging your proverbial head against doors that are closed.

To ‘always be ready’ with ‘a word aptly spoken’ doesn’t necessarily mean we have prepared words to be inserted in a conversation. For conversations are like a box of chocolates and usually have a life all their own. Rather, it’s praying that God would meet us at our point of need – that we would have the right words at the right time as those doors of opportunity open.

A simple way to recognize open and closed doors is to actively listen to the person you’re speaking with! Our speech should be ‘seasoned with grace’ (Colossians 4:6) – and part of that grace is to respect people’s desire to not want to discuss spiritual matters. Don’t force a conversation. Talk with people who want to talk. If someone isn’t interested at a particular moment in discussing spiritual things, respect their wishes. Keep that relational door open, for there may be a time in the future when they may be open.

Pray for divine appointments, ministry opportunities and open doors to speak about Jesus. Pray for wisdom and discernment to recognize both open and closed doors. And pray for a ‘word aptly spoken.’ Then see what our great God will do as we seek to tell others about the Savior!

Sing to the Lord, bless His name; Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day. Psalm 96:2

Spiritual Conversations: like a Box of Chocolates

In the well-known movie simply titled in honor of the lead character, played by one Tom Hanks, Forrest Gump famously evoked one of one of his momma’s sayings when he quipped: ‘Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.’

Oh the mystery!

As we think about the witnessing endeavor, fulfilling the Great Commission certainly includes conversations, conversations with others regarding the person and work of Jesus.  And those conversations can also be like a box of chocolates.

Yet, it is the spiritual conversation, or series of spiritual conversations, that God can and does use, to draw people to Himself.

And we get that. But what we may not get is how to steer conversations from the secular to the sacred. Have you ever found this endeavor challenging?

If we’re honest, we all would have to admit, no matter how gifted a conversationalist we may think we are, that moving conversations toward the spiritual are challenging to one degree or another at various times. And once there, then what do we do?

This series of blogs will address having conversations of spiritual substance, and ultimately, conversations about Jesus.

A fascinating aspect about conversations is that they are also like a box of chocolates—you never know what you’re going to get. But as followers of Jesus, we’re called to walk by faith, not by sight. So that should be okay.

There are two general ways spiritual conversations happen – we can initiate them by asking leading questions or they happen organically in the course of conversation.

There are a myriad of leading questions we can ask to get the ball rolling. For example, we can ask a benign question like ‘Did you have any kind of faith tradition growing up?’ or a very direct question like ‘Who do you think Jesus is?’ We’ll elaborate more on the power of the question during this series.

Have you ever had a powerful spiritual conversation with an unbeliever and you’re not quite sure how it began – it just happened? Upon sharing this phenomenon I’ve been asked: “How did it begin?” My response: “I don’t know.” Can you relate?

Understand spiritual conversations are a God-thing! For the Lord has a singular ability to move conversations from the secular to the spiritual. And whether you see yourself as a conversationalist or not, the ‘will to’ proceeds the ‘how to.’  If you’re reading this blog, you have a ‘will to’, and I affirm you in the Lord! Trust that God will take our willing heart and grow this area of our witness.

“Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one” (Colossians 4:6).

Whether we lead with questions or seek to be more organic in our approach, intentionality is the key. Prayer is the foundation to spiritual conversations – go to God on behalf of people before you go to people on behalf of God. If we want to speak with people about the Kingdom of God and Jesus, ask the Lord to prepare us to give a ‘word aptly spoken’ (Proverbs 25:11).

We may know what we want to say and how to say it.  Yet if we don’t know what to say we can trust the Lord to meet us at our point of need.

“But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak” (Matthew 10:19).

If the Lord promised to give the disciples the right words under that kind of pressure, don’t you think He will give to you in your moment of need ‘what you should speak?’

Recently I had a spiritual conversation with a bank teller. I had no idea walking into the bank I would have a conversation of substance.

While making a ‘commercial’ deposit, he asked how business was going. I then told him I actually run a ‘Christian non-profit’ organization. He asked what that looked like. I told him I taught followers of Jesus how to share their faith and also taught Jewish Roots of the Christian faith. He said, ‘That’s interesting.’

I responded, ‘What’s your spiritual orientation?’

That began a brief conversation where he said he was struggling with faith issues. He told me he’d grown up in the Church and had recently been attending a church that was much different than what he knew growing up. He said this experience had him reeling and asking lots of questions.

Without knowing specifics, I encouraged him to seek the Lord and get into His Word. I also told him I would pray for him.

He thanked me and I went on my way.

Oh the mystery!

“Speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).

You can handle the Truth: about Different Worldviews

You can handle the truth about different worldviews. As we’ve noted, various religions and philosophies can be distilled down into a few basic worldviews – including naturalism, pantheism, theism, spiritism & polytheism, and postmodernism.

Naturalism holds that the physical universe is all that exists. There is no spirit or soul – therefore man is simply the chance product of evolution. All things are explained on the basis of natural law. Truth is based solely on scientific proofs, i.e. the ‘law of gravity.’ Morals are simply individual preferences – there is no objective standard.

In contrast, Pantheism maintains that only the spiritual dimension exists. All else is illusion. God is impersonal – more a concept than a person. According to pantheistic thought, God is everything and everything is God. Man is one with ultimate reality, that reality being God. And as such, he is spiritual, eternal, and impersonal. Truth is an experience of ‘oneness’ with the universe and is beyond all rational description. There are no moral absolutes – therefore any behavior that displaces the ‘unity’ of everything is simply called ‘unenlightened’ – not wrong or evil!

Theism declares that an infinite, personal creator God exists. He created the physical universe, yet reality is both material and spiritual. The universe as we know it had a beginning and will have an end. People were created “in the image of God,” which means that we are personal, eternal, spiritual, and biological. Truth about God is known through revelation. Moral values are the objective expression of an absolute moral being.

Spiritism and Polytheism professes belief in a world populated by spirit beings that govern all things. Because gods and demons are the powers behind the natural order, material things can be interpreted spiritually. For example, the ancient Canaanite god Baal, with whom we’re familiar, was considered the of god fertility and agriculture. Within Spiritism and Polytheism, man is a creation of the gods like all other creatures. Often, tribes or peoples have a special relationship with certain gods who can protect, provide for, or punish them. Moral values are based upon taboos in order to appease the gods to get what you want or need.

Lastly, Postmodernism asserts reality is simply a construct of our particular cultural paradigms. Truths are mental constructs of the individual within that unique cultural paradigm. Therefore truths are ‘relative’ – I have my truth, you have your truth, and so on. Postmodernism questions everything, except its’ own assertions! Tolerance, freedom of expression, inclusion, and refusal of any absolutes are the universal values.

As we ponder our witness to others in light of these worldviews, we first need to discover the position of our audience before proceeding. The simple road to discovery is posing questions. For questions are the means of opening conversational doors and so much more.

Questions can affirm others. Inquiry communicates that we care about what another thinks, believes, and feels. We Christians are sometimes accused of only wanting to talk and be heard. Yet a winsome and humble witness will include the willingness to listen, and listening will be the result of asking questions.

And as we listen, guess what? We learn! And the more we learn about another person’s spiritual paradigm, the better equipped we’ll be to speak in a language they can understand. For example, I recently conversed with an unbelieving Jewish man who shared the same religious upbringing as me – reform Judaism. As he began asking me questions about my faith in Jesus I asked him, “Do you know that the words ‘Messiah’ and ‘Christ’ are synonymous?” He said, ‘No.’ That revealed a limited religious vocabulary, benefitting me as I continued to share.

Here are examples of a few questions that can open up a conversation and provide lots of valuable information:

– What’s your spiritual orientation?

– What was you religious tradition, if any, growing up? Where are you now?

– Do you think much about faith?

More direct questions may include:

– What do you think about God?

– Who do you think Jesus is?

– What do you think about the bible?

– What do you think happens when you die?

Finally, here are two questions that can keep you in control of the conversation, while allowing you to gather more valuable information:

– What do you mean by that?

– How did you come to that conclusion?

As we learn through questioning and active listening, we gather valuable information about another’s worldview. And as we do, we find out how open they are to engaging the truth claims of Jesus and the Bible. And as you well know, everyone is different.

There are a plethora of specific resources to support our witness to others, as I’ve mentioned in previous submissions. We must be prayerful, discerning, and sensitive as we listen, learn, and take next steps in our evangelistic efforts.

I pray this series on worldviews has been a benefit to you as we ponder together our witness for Jesus in an ever-changing religious landscape.

“Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time” (Colossians 4:5). And as you do, may God be glorified in and through you and may others be blessed because of your evangelistic engagement! Amen.

You can handle the Truth: about Postmodernism

You can handle the truth about Postmodernism. In simplest terms, this complex and abstract worldview holds that people are simply products of of their social setting or culture and truths are mental constructs of individuals based upon their own individual cultural setting.  Therefore values are individual based upon those same cultural paradigms – the implication being there are no universal values.  In essence, the postmodernist creates his or her own sense of reality.

To better understand the concept of post-modernism, it will be helpful to understand how we got here from there, so to speak. So let’s go back and briefly unpack the concepts of modernism and pre-modernism in order to better contextualize this newly developed worldview.

Pre-Modernism: Before the 1600s, people in the West generally believed that God (or the transcendent/supernatural realm) furnished the basis for moral absolutes, rationality, human dignity, and truth.  This was the lens through which one could properly interpret reality and human experience. By having faith in God, the world could be rightly understood.

In short, pre-modernism held that there is absolute truth and God is the author and revealer of it. This was the predominant view in the world until the Age of ‘Enlightenment.

Modernism (1650’s – 1950’s): Modernism held that morality, human dignity, truth, and reason rest on foundations other than God (reason, science, race, etc.). Philosopher René Descartes (1596-1650), also a Roman Catholic, famously coined the phrase ‘I think, therefore I am.’ His skepticism of Christian dogma (i.e. a pre-modern view of truth) and church authority removed God from center stage, replacing it with human reason as the starting point. His paradigm shift regarding truth reflected the beliefs of many people as the rationalism of the European Enlightenment (c. 1650-1800) came to the fore. Science now became the source for truth and reality, not God. During this period, religion and morality were arbitrarily demoted to the subjective realm.

In simple terms, modernism held that there was absolute truth, but it now could be discovered with certainty through observation and reason.

Post-Modernism (1950’s – present):  To review and elaborate, in the postmodern era, there is no single defining source for truth and reality beyond the individual. Postmodernism simply radicalized relativism and individualism, then applied them to all spheres of knowledge — even science. For example, I heard recently of a college professor militantly maintaining that 2 + 2 does not equal 4! Really? Really!

In a postmodern world, truth and reality are understood to be individually shaped by personal history, social class, gender, culture, and religion. In other words, you have your truth, I have my truth, and Benny has his truth! Are you starting to see the confusion this context for truth creates?

Since truth is relative, tolerance, freedom of expression, inclusion, and refusal to claim to have the answers are the only universal values. To claim any absolutes is in direct conflict with the postmodern paradigm.

When no universal foundation for truth, morality, human dignity exists, you get chaos and pandemonium. And that’s exactly what we see happening today around the globe.

Does the bible shed any light on the postmodern worldview? Yes, in that we can identify error only when measured against truth – our objective measure of reality found in God’s Word. For the bible is the blueprint for reality:

– “Thy Word is truth.” (John 17:17)

– “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

– “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:18).

How does postmodernism answer the four foundational questions whereby we can objectively measure a worldview? In simple terms, this way:

Where did we come from? No one can say, since there are no absolutes.

How does Postmodernism provide meaning? As the saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Even so, in postmodernism the meaning of life or meaning in life is ascribed by the individual – subjective and arbitrary.

What moral framework does postmodernism provide? Again, any moral framework is arbitrary and subjective

What is our ultimate destiny? As in engaging origins, postmodernism says, ‘Who can know?’ Not too hopeful!

In light of an increasing number of people embracing this paradigm, how then shall we engage the postmodernist?

“For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).

Specifically, one weapon is the Sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17), the Word of God. We need to lovingly confront error with truth, because the truth of God’s word is a most powerful weapon.

Andrei Sakharov was a Russian nuclear physicist, anti-Soviet dissident and human rights activist. He became renowned as the designer of the Soviet Union’s “Third Idea,” a codename for Soviet development of thermonuclear weapons. Sakharov was an advocate of civil liberties and civil reforms in the Soviet Union. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975.

The man who gave the Soviet Union the bomb, stated late in his life, “The most powerful weapon in the world is the truth.”

No doubt, as we share the truth in love, it is good to understand our audience and communicate in a manner they can understand, as Paul did at Mars Hill (Acts 17:22-31).

And if the gospel is rejected by the postmodernist, it’s not because they can say we’re wrong – there is no right or wrong in postmodern thought – rather because the message claims to be ‘the truth’.

Years ago I was having a conversation with a friend about absolute truth. He made a classic postmodern statement that gave me an opening – He said, “I don’t believe in absolutes. I’m a relativist.” I kindly responded, “Is that an absolute statement?” Silence.

That wasn’t a gotcha moment. I simply wanted my friend to see a contradiction in his worldview. Yes, the truth exposes error and it is the truth that sets people free.

For Jesus said, ‘You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free’ (John 8:32)

As we share truth claims of Jesus and His saving work with the postmodernist, pray the Holy Spirit, the spirit of truth, would do the work of illumination and conviction – to the end that they would be delivered from error and brought to a knowledge of Him who is ‘the Truth’ – the Lord Jesus!

You can handle the Truth: about Spiritism & Polytheism

You can handle the truth about Spiritism and Polytheism. According to this worldview, the earth is populated by spirit beings who govern what goes on. Gods and demons are the real reason behind “natural” events. Material things are real, but they have spirits associated with them and, therefore, can be interpreted spiritually. In many primitive cultures it’s believed that inanimate objects, plants and/or animals are possessed by spirits (good or evil) which must be appeased through occult practices.

Man is a creation of the gods like the rest of the creatures on earth. Often, tribes, peoples or races have a special relationship with certain gods who protect and can punish them.

Truth about the natural world is discovered through the shaman figure or spirit guide who has visions telling him what the gods and demons are doing and how they feel.

In the belief of spiritism, people often try and contact the spirits or gods, which can include people who have died.  The contact is for various reasons: to learn about the future, to influence the outcome of future events, and to gain knowledge.  Mediums are used in such attempted contacts.  Often times a séance is used to contact the spirit world–people gather in a circle in a dimly lit room while a medium guides the people in attempt to contact the spirit world.

What does the bible say about spiritism and polytheism?

Of course, the Bible teaches us that there is a spiritual world which is comprised of both angelic and demonic forces.  But we are forbidden from Scripture to practice spiritism because it opens us up the individual to demonic oppression:

“There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead” (Deuteronomy 18:10-11).

Remember in 1 Samuel 28 when Saul consulted a medium, hoping to receive an encouraging word from Samuel (who is dead) after God did not answer his inquiry – not good!

The Bible does recognize the existence of other gods but only as false gods who have no real existence (1 Cor. 8:5-6; Gal. 4:8-9) and clearly teaches that there is only one true God (Isaiah 43:10; 44:6, 8; 45:5, 14, 18, 21, 22; 46:9; 47:8).

Ancient Israel was faced with the problem of the gods of other nations creeping into the theology of Judaism and corrupting the true revelation of God. For example, Baal, the Canaanite god of rain, was among the most revered gods in the day, exercising a powerful influence over the religion of many pagan cultures. And unfortunately, Baal worship even infected the Jewish community at various times.

How does Spiritism and Polytheism answer the four foundational questions whereby we can objectively measure a worldview? In simple terms, this way:

Where did we come from? When it comes to the world’s origins, there’s not just one polytheistic view. Some hold that the world is a result of a catastrophic battle between warring gods, yet we have to ask, “Where did they come from?” Some polytheistic traditions teach there was one primary deity involved in creation, but this  deity is not a personal creator as we view our Creator God. Despite many differences, generally all polytheists hold to the belief that the basic elements of the world have always existed.

How do Spiritism and Polytheism provide meaning? The natural world is affected by the spiritual world. Hence, it’s important to appease or please the gods to get what you want or to avoid irritating or angering the gods in order to avoid their ‘wrath,’ and hence, keep you from getting what you want. This meaning paradigm is much different than our personal relationship with our personal Creator God and meaning of life for us as believers – knowing Him and making Him known.

What moral framework does provide? Moral values take the form of taboos, which are things that offend or provoke various spirits. These taboos are different from the idea of “good and evil” because it is just as important to avoid irritating evil spirits as it is good ones.

What is our ultimate destiny? Spiritism and Polytheism belief in the survival of the human spirit after death and also often includes the practice of trying to make contact with the spirits of people who have died. It affirms reincarnation.

In practice, our witness among people adhering to Spiritism and Polytheism we must explain the dangers of occult activity and ultimate protection and provision that comes from knowing the one true God – Jesus. And understand that occult activity is on the rise, not only here in America, but around the world!

Additionally, for those who believe the universe is eternal, we can raise the origin question in light of Genesis 1:1 and ‘scientific fact’ that the universe is finite and had a beginning.

In doing some online research, I discovered this compelling testimony by a former spiritist that I trust will encourage you.

Finally, pray! Ask the Lord to bind and remove Satan’s work in _________________’s life and to open _______________’s eyes to the truth of the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:4) and ask the Lord for wisdom in your witness and for a word or words aptly spoken (Proverbs 25:11).

He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 1 John 4:4

You can handle the Truth: about Theism

You can handle the truth about Theism. As Christians we are certainly theists, but we are not alone. Judaism and Islam are also theistic.

For purposes of comparison and contrast, we first look at general beliefs Theism espouses, of which we’re well versed.

Regarding reality, an infinite, personal God exists. Reality is both material and spiritual. The universe as we know it had a beginning and will have an end.

Humankind is the unique creation of God. People were created “in the image of God,” which means that we are personal, eternal, spiritual, and biological. Additionally, God created us with the ability to reason, certainly a major component of that uniqueness we possess as ‘image bearers.’

Truth about God is known through revelation. Truth about the material world is gained via revelation and the five senses in conjunction with rational thought. Moral values are the objective expression of an absolute moral being.

While these are basic truth claims Theists agree upon, there is much divergence, as we’re well aware. And the Word of God rightly divides and exposes truth from error. Additionally, the Bible is clear regarding the written revelation of God, the person of Jesus, and the way of salvation. And upon these bedrock concepts we can compare and contrast not only with Judaism and Islam, but with ‘Christian cults.’

First, regarding the written revelation from God, Judaism in general would hold the Old Testament as God’s Word, but consider the New Testament a false document. Hence, Jesus can’t be the Messiah. Additionally, Judaism regards the Oral Law, or Talmud, to be authoritative, along with the teachings of the great Rabbis throughout history.

Islam’s Holy Books include the Koran and the Hadith. The Koran is the supposed revelation God gave Mohammad through the prophet Gabriel gradually over two decades in the early 7th Century. The Hadith is a collection of reports regarding the sayings and works of Mohammad compiled after his death. Regarding the bible, Muslims believe it is God’s Word, but not the final revelation. Additionally, Muslims today are taught the bible has been ‘corrupted,’ so it’s rarely read and studied in contemporary Islamic life.

In contrast, the word of God is clear regarding its’ singular authority over all matters of life and faith:

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. (2 Timothy 3:16) 

…for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:21)

For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book. (Revelation 22:18-19) 

Christian cults, such as Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses, have added or altered revelation. The Book of Mormon and The Pearl of Great Price are Mormonism’s other Holy Books. Jehovah’s Witnesses have the New World Translation, which is a corruption of the Bible. For example, in John 1:1 The New World Translation states: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was a god.’

Another ‘bible, another Jesus and another gospel – these are the simple measuring sticks comparing any worldview claiming to be Christian. In short, Christian cults either add or alter God’s revelation found exclusively in His Word, claim Jesus is not God, and believe we’re saved through works, not faith. Simple.

How does Theism answer the four foundational questions whereby we can objectively measure a worldview? In simple terms, this way:

Where did we come from? All theistic views agree in a Creator God.

How does Theism provide meaning? In short, we can have a relationship with this personal God. Yet Biblical faith is unique in that we believe sin separates us from God and it’s through faith in Jesus alone by which we are reconciled and rightly connected to God. Other Theistic frameworks claim a set of rules, regulations and moral adherence are the way to meaning and connection with the Creator.

What moral framework does provide? While Theism in general has a moral framework given by our Creator, our motive for obeying as followers of Jesus is radically different than other Theistic moral frameworks. Our obedience is an act of love, not compulsion or a means of salvation! For Jesus said, “If you love me, keep My commands” (John 14:15)

What is our ultimate destiny? As Christians, we have eternal life in Christ. For our faith in Jesus and in His resurrection distinguishes our worldview from other Theistic expressions. Jesus says: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.” (John 11:25-26) He also states: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.” (John 5:24); See also 1 Corinthians 15. Most other theistic frameworks have eternal destinies of some kind, yet heaven, paradise or other expression of the best possible destiny is garnered through good works!

In light of our Christian witness, may I suggest a few excellent resources in engaging adherents to Judaism, Islam and Christian cults.

Being a missionary to my Jewish people for many years, I can certainly be a resource to as you witness to Jewish people in your sphere of influence. Regarding evangelism to Muslims, the Crescent Project is a ministry out of Nashville doing great work. Watchman Fellowship is an excellent ministry resource I would recommend to help engage those involved in cults and other religions.

As clearly noted, all Theistic worldviews are not the same! Yet, when thinking about witnessing to adherents of non-Christian Theistic expressions, keep it simple. The foundation of our faith is the person and work of Jesus. So go out – pray, love, engage, and proclaim the singular message of hope as – the gospel of our Lord!

For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.(1 Corinthians 15:3-4)

You can handle the Truth: about Pantheism

You can handle the truth about Pantheism. In sharp contrast to Naturalism, which believes the natural order is all there is, Pantheism comes from two Greek words, pan meaning ‘all’ and theos meaning ‘god.’ Pantheism is a worldview that believes only the spiritual dimension exists – all else is an illusion. Spiritual reality, in general, is eternal, impersonal, and unknowable. Pantheism teaches that everything is part of God, or that God is in everything and everyone.

According to Pantheism, man is one with ultimate reality, that reality being God. And as such, he is spiritual, eternal, and impersonal. One consequence of this worldview is that man’s belief that he is an individual is illusion.

Are you disillusioned yet? Be patient, because there’s more.

In the Pantheistic worldview, truth is an experience of unity with “the oneness” of the universe. Truth is beyond all rational description, so rational thought as it is understood in the West cannot show us reality.

As followers of Jesus, we believe truth is ‘that which corresponds with reality.’ And therefore, we believe, with ‘hard’ evidence, that the physical universe is not an ‘illusion’ (Psalm 19:1-4). On top of that Jesus, who claimed to be the truth (John 14:6), was and is God who took on flesh (John 1:1, 14). In addition, He said: “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father” (John 14:9).

Because ultimate reality is impersonal, many pantheistic thinkers believe that there is no real distinction between good and evil. Instead, “unenlightened” behavior is that which fails to understand essential unity. The consequence of this worldview is that the biblical concept of sin and righteousness will be foreign to the adherent of a pantheistic worldview. In practical terms, they may call ‘sinful’ behavior an act of the unenlightened!

Under the Pantheistic umbrella include the religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and New Age.

Hinduism and Buddhism both believe in reincarnation with the basic goal of Nirvana or Ultimate Enlightenment – becoming one with reality. One major difference is Hinduism has over 300 million gods, all expressions of the ultimate reality called God, whereas Buddhism has no Creator God. Taoism is a way of life, has no personal God and is best identified by the yin/yang image you’ve probably seen at some time, representing the two opposite forces in the universe. New Age is an extremely broad and varied movement characterized by alternative approaches to traditional Western culture, with an interest in spirituality, mysticism, holism, and environmentalism.

I would encourage you doing a deeper study of these as you’re compelled, because for our purposes we’re simply introducing Pantheism and its’ basic expressions. In our witness it’s helpful to understand basic differences between our biblical worldview and a pantheistic worldview, so as to facilitate understanding and dialogue.

What does the bible say about Pantheism? The most foundational truth in this regard is the bible teaches that God is separate from His creation, and He created it (Gen. 1:1-30) where pantheism says that God and creation share the same nature and essence. ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’ – since God is self-existent and eternal, He existed before creation and is therefore different than the created order. This is perhaps the major argument against Pantheism and as we’ll note, a major problem for the pantheist.

How does Pantheism answer the four foundational questions whereby we can objectively measure a worldview? In simple terms, this way:

Where did we come from? The pantheist would argue the universe is eternal – so therefore, we and all the created order are also eternal. This flies in direct opposition to Genesis 1:1. Additionally, ‘science’ clearly and accurately notes the universe is finite and had a beginning!

How does Pantheism provide meaning? In short, reject the physical, embrace the physical and strive to get on the path of nirvana and enlightenment, seeking to become one with ultimate reality – God. A note: some pantheists believe since, God is in everything and everything is part of God, we as human beings are part of God and in short, we are ‘gods.’

What moral framework does Pantheism provide? Depending on the various traditions and religious systems, following their prescriptions, rules, codes of conduct, ect. will lead one on the path of enlightenment and ultimate unity with the ultimate reality – God.

What is our ultimate destiny? Reincarnation is generally the process to the ultimate goal of Nirvana and enlightenment. In response, Hebrews 9:27 says, “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.” 

Regarding our witness to the Pantheist, regardless of their particular expression, origin is the foundational concept to question and discuss. Because you see a huge problem with pantheism is that it cannot account for the existence of the universe.  The universe is not infinitely old.  It had a beginning.  This would mean that God also had a beginning, but how can something bring itself into existence?  This is impossible, so this leaves us with the question of where God and the universe came from.  Pantheism cannot answer this question, and it easily exposes a massive dilemma for the Pantheist.

An excellent resource to help understand and engage the Pantheistic worldview is Ravi Zacharias’ classic book Jesus Among Other Gods. You can read it or access associated youtube video talks Ravi has given in conjunction with the book, including this talk.

Be encouraged, be equipped, and as you engage the Pantheist, pray God would open doors to discuss the origin issue. For it seems to me this is a great place to begin, pardon the pun! And as you share in love, pray God would open up their heart to perhaps give Ravi, a former Pantheist himself, a hearing.

…the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you. (Acts 17:23)

You can handle the Truth: about Naturalism

You can handle the truth about Naturalism! What is it? It’s a view that believes the material universe is all that exists. According to Naturalism there is no such thing as a soul or a spirit. Therefore everything is explained on the basis of natural law. In other words, Naturalism rejects the supernatural.

Under the umbrella of Naturalism, subsets include Atheism, Agnosticism, and Existentialism. Atheism says there is no God, while agnosticism acknowledges that while God, the divine or the supernatural may exist, it is unknown and perhaps unknowable. Existentialism, in short, maintains that if there is any meaning for life, it comes from the individual assigning such meaning.

According to Naturalism, man is the result of evolution. Truth is basically only what science uncovers empirically. Additionally, no objective moral standard exists.

Does the bible say anything about Naturalism?  Yes. In fact, Psalm 14:1 states, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”

Psalm 19:1-4, speaks of the revelation of God in creation:

The heavens declare the glory of God;
And the firmament shows His handiwork.
Day unto day utters speech,
And night unto night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech nor language
Where their voice is not heard.
Their line has gone out through all the earth,
And their words to the end of the world.

In contrast, the Apostle Paul, in Romans 1, reflects on unbelieving man’s rejection of God’s revelation of His person in creation:

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools,[and]  who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.(Romans 1:20-22, 25)

As we’ve mentioned, Ravi Zacharias lists four foundational questions whereby we can objectively measure a worldview. How does Naturalism answer each?

 

Where did we come from? There is no reasonable explanation. And if there is an explanation, it will basically communicate the following: time plus chance plus nothing equals everything!

How does Naturalism provide meaning? Any meaning can only be attained through lens of the individual.

What moral framework does Naturalism provide? No objective moral framework exists. If there is any moral framework, it is individually and therefore subjectively determined.

What is our ultimate destiny? Physical death is the end of life.

As you ponder engaging people who hold such a worldview, it’s good to begin not with an answer in mind, but a question. Remember it’s always good to ask people what they believe and why they believe it. Asking questions is key to understanding people and informing our witness. In addition to the questions above, here are two other excellent questions:

– What do you mean by that?

– How did you come to that conclusion?

Remember, all people believe in someone or something, and it’s ok to ask people to explain why they believe what they believe? Sometimes, asking people to articulate their own positions will, in fact, expose to them problems with their belief system and may create doubt in their own heart. In addition, the Lord may use this tact to move that individual to ask sincere questions of us regarding why we believe what we believe.

And as you think about engaging those adhering to a Naturalistic worldview, remember our faith is not blind. Rather, by definition it is based upon substance and evidence: “Now, faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

God has given us many reasons to believe in Him. And a good question for the Naturalist may be: ‘Would you be open to engaging some reasons I believe in Jesus? If they say no, you’re done for now. If you have regular touch points, continue to love them and demonstrate God’s love to them, and continue praying for them – specifically that some soon tomorrow they’d be open to investigate the substance and evidence of our faith.

If they are open, there is a litany of great resources out there. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in providing material. You can go online and access information like videos, books, and articles to share. I would recommend Christian apologists like Ravi Zacharias, Josh McDowell, and Norman Geisler, as they have for many years defended the faith and answered many questions in a thorough fashion, including answering those adhering to Naturalism. As you take a little time and do research on your own, you’ll find other gifted ministries and people who are defending and sharing the faith.

For example, I googled ‘answering the naturalist’, and found this excellent article from the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM).  It highlights an actual dialogue between a Christian apologist and a naturalist that highlights the tremendous use of questions in the evangelistic process. Enjoy!

In closing, we know something doesn’t come from nothing (Genesis 1:1)! Something has to come from something (Hebrews 11:3). The created order has a Creator. The Naturalist position is neither rational nor substantive when challenged. If you ask a Naturalist how the natural order began, they will not be able to give a cogent answer. We, however, have one: watch-watch maker, car-carmaker, creation-Creator.

So go out in confidence, lovingly engaging those in your sphere of influence who adhere to Naturalism.

And as you share the truth in love, may the Lord give you a word or words ‘aptly spoken’ as He opens doors – for His Glory and for the benefit of that precious one who hopefully will soon meet our supernatural God!

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