Spiritual Conversations: summing up the process

I like to describe evangelism as a process. From a witnessing perspective, we as believers are in the process of being conformed more into the image of Christ through what the bible calls sanctification. This takes a lifetime. And so it takes time to grow as a witness for Jesus. Unbelievers with whom you’re engaging in conversation are also in process – meaning their beliefs about God and ‘the way it is’ have been shaped…over the course of their lives. So typically it will take time for a person to process a view that initially will be contrary to their own – the gospel says they are lost and under God’s judgement without Jesus. The parable of the soils (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23) reveals the processional aspect of evangelism.

With this context, let’s summarize the main components undergirding witnessing conversations. Because in all my years teaching, whether it be in the sports (tennis) or spiritual (evangelism) arenas, I’ve learned that repetition is a key to learning. As witnesses for Christ, we never ‘arrive,’ no matter how skilled or inept we may feel in talking with others about spiritual matters. The main components undergirding witnessing conversations include:


The foundation of prayer should undergird everything we do – including spiritual conversations. Go to God on behalf of people before you go to people on behalf of God.  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).

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.’ So pray for open doors, ministry opportunities, divine appointments, and ‘a word aptly’ spoken.

For a deeper study on praying and evangelism, click here for an excellent resource from Dr. Kevin Meador.

Questions & Listening

Questions are the key that open up conversational doors. Click here for a list of conversation starter questions. And once the that door opens, we need to actively listen and learn. We previously pointed out this subtle but powerful difference in thinking about conversations: Do I want to speak ‘to’ someone or speak ‘with’ someone about spiritual matters?

Speaking ‘with someone’ conveys the idea of working together, sharing ideas and thoughts, seeking understanding.

Questions also 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.

Active listening will inform our witness [What is their God-paradigm & are they open to speaking about spiritual things?] and will enable us to effectively contextualize the gospel. Remember when the Apostle 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, by starting with general revelation (see Acts 17:22-24).

Questions provide the platform for listening. While listening affirms others, informs our witness and allows us to humbly and gently share the truth in love as doors of opportunity open.

Answering Questions

Questions or objections are a normal part of spiritual conversations. In our witness, we ought to expect and affirm them. Additionally, we need not be fearful about not having the a right, good, or sufficient answer (2 Timothy 1:7). Remember also it’s ok to say, ‘I don’t know. That’s a good question. Let me get back with you.’

Here’s the deal. Since ‘faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen’ (Hebrews 11:1), our faith is substantive and based upon evidence. In other words, God has given us a brain to use, and faith is not blind – it is reasonable and rational. So strive to be ready for questions and/or objections.

We mentioned previously there are two types of questions: sincere and insincere. Is this honest inquiry or does someone simply want to ‘jerk your chain?’ If you suspect, insincerity, it’s ok to ask them, “Do you really want an answer?”

Answering honest inquiry may be with a ‘coffee shop’ answers, or with books, video’s or in-depth articles that can deal more comprehensively with questions or objections.

One of the keys in answering questions is to be familiar with standard objections and being ready with simple answers – “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15). If you need more comprehensive answers later, you always can access them using various resources.

Click here for an excellent link to brief answers for many other standard objections.

A Final Word Of Encouragement

The ‘will to’ precedes the ‘how to.’ As you read these words you are demonstrating a ‘will to’ grow in your witness, and I affirm you. The best way to grow in the area of conversing about spiritual matters is to practice. Trial and error are an important part of the process. In addition to personal experience, watch or listen to others witness to the lost and answer questions. Additionally, you can read how other believers are responding to questions and/or engaging issues, whether age old questions (i.e. What about the origin of evil?) or contemporary questions (What’s wrong with gay marriage?). Walk by faith, asking God to grow you in this area, making you a more effective ‘conversationalist for Jesus!’ And God is faithful!

“A man has joy by the answer of his mouth & a word spoken in due season, how good it is!” Proverbs 15:17

Spiritual Conversations: Answering Objections (part 2)

Earlier in my life I was a professional tennis coach for fourteen years. And I can assure you no beginner ever took a lesson or series of lessons with the expectation of becoming an accomplished player in that brief time. To play well requires some basic instruction and lots and lots of practice.

Spiritual conversations are very similar to playing tennis in that it takes time and practice to grow in competence and confidence.

In the specific arena of answering objections, we learn from others and we learn through practice. And it should be noted that answering objections in real time is an inexact science, because spiritual conversations are like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get. For you and me, none of us ever arrives, so growing is the goal no matter how competent or incompetent we may feel.

With that said, as we anticipate basic objections and questions about the Christian faith, it will help to have what we might call a ‘coffee shop’ response.  A ‘coffee shop’ answer is a simple answer that can keep the conversation centered on the topic at hand and move the dialogue along.

Click here for five common objections to Christianity and ‘coffee shop’ answers to each.

In addition, click here for an excellent link to brief answers for many other standard objections.

There are excellent resources that can also provide in-depth responses to honest inquirers who want and need a more thorough response than we can initially provide.  There are great Christian apologists and thinkers who deal with these and many other objections with skill and depth. For example,  Norm Geisler and Jason Jimenez authored a book entitled “The Bible’s Answers to 100 of Life’s Biggest Questions.” As you ponder the question(s) posed, be prayerful, asking the Lord to lead you to the appropriate follow-up resource – article, dvd, book, or youtube/Godtube link.

When pondering answers to objections, brevity is our friend. Jesus’ parable of the soils in the Gospel (Luke 8:4-15, Matthew 13:1-23, Mark 4:1-20) sheds light on the reality that evangelism is a process. As we answer objections within spiritual conversations, we are simply planting seed or watering soil that already has seed within it.

Think about sowing and watering in the physical.

In sowing seed, there must be enough space for that seed to grow. Sowing to much seed at one time may actually be counterproductive. A reasonable amount of water is necessary for growth of seeds in a garden, as in a light summer shower or controlled watering.  But a deluge from a big storm or a fire hydrant will wash the seed away. Water is good. Too much water – not so much.

When answering objections, in a spiritual sense we’re providing bread and water.  Don’t overdo the process – give a hungry person a piece of bread and a thirsty person a glass of water. This takes practice and discernment. Learning and growing also involve trial and error…and more trial and error. And God is faithful. For He will grow this area of our witness as we commit our way to Him.

As you listen, study, learn, and practice, you can and will grow in your ability to give a ‘word aptly spoken.’

So don’t run from questions and objections – prepare for and anticipate them.  And in providing answers, do so with a spirit of love characterized by gentleness and respect…for the glory of God and for the building of His Kingdom.

“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.” 1 Peter 3:15

Spiritual Conversations: Answering Objections (part 1)

While a missionary to my Jewish people in New York City, I was meeting regularly with an orthodox Jewish man in Brooklyn named Ben. I’d go to his apartment once or twice a month and share the claims of Jesus to be Messiah. One day Ben raised a very intimidating objection. He said Jesus couldn’t possibly be the Messiah due to the curse of Jeconiah! What did I know about the curse of Jeconiah? I had had been exposed to it before in my missionary training, but couldn’t recall any kind of cogent response at that moment. What’s a missionary to do? I’m supposed to have all the answers, right?

No worries. I simply told Ben, “that is a good question and I’d look into it.” It so happens I was familiar with the foremost Jewish apologist in the world, Dr. Michael Brown. And it so happens he has written five volumes entitled, “Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus.”

Dr. Brown covers every conceivable objection and question that could be raised from a Jewish perspective. I found a biblical response to Ben’s objection and shared it the next time I saw him.

Now I can’t say that changed his position on Jesus – it didn’t. The point is there are answers to objections. And objections are a healthy and appropriate part of many people’s journey to faith. [For our purposes we’ll use objections and questions interchangeably.]

You see, answering questions inherently answers the objection that our faith is blind!

Additionally, providing answers to legitimate objections is a powerful tool in helping the sincere inquirer in their search for truth. For we know that definition of faith includes reason and rationale:

“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

So faith is substantive and based upon evidence. For example, one powerful historical evidence is the empty tomb! I like to say God has given us a brain to use, so trusting in Jesus doesn’t mean I check my brain at the door. In fact, God has given us many reasons to believe. And answers to objections can provide reasons to do just that – believe.

In the midst of spiritual conversations, we need to be ready to give ‘a word aptly spoken’ to objections that are raised. Because questions will be raised – count on it. And that’s a good thing.

When thinking about how to answer objections, let’s establish some ground rules:

When qualifying a person – we need to find out if they’re open? For the ‘$64,000 question’ we need to raise before engaging a question is this:

Are they genuinely interested in getting an answer to their question or objection and if so, are they prepared to deal with the answer they may find?

Because the reality is this: There are consequences for the person who engages in honest inquiry into the truth claims of Jesus and the Christian faith – the most profound consequence being: “What will you do if you find out it’s true – that Jesus is exactly who He claims and who the bible claims Him to be?” Or in other words: “If God shows you the gospel is true, will you believe in Jesus?”

You know, when someone raises questions or objections, we need to qualify if that person is sincere or insincere?

The ‘honest inquirer’ is actually searching for the truth. The ‘insincere’ may pose questions and objections as sport because they simply want to blow you off or make you squirm. This is where listening and qualifying apply. For the insincere, there’s no need to waste your time scrambling for answers.

I’ve often asked people, especially my Jewish people, this question – Is there any possibility Jesus is the Messiah?  If they say no, we’re done. What can I do?  I’m just a guy. If a person has already made up their mind, fine. If they say maybe, my next question is – Are you interested in finding out?

Find out if their question or objection is sincere – Do they really care to engage an answer or response?  If so, proceed. If not, continue loving them, serving them and praying for them as we’ve noted.

In conclusion, a healthy aspect of the spiritual conversation is the question posed by the sincere inquirer. We need to affirm honest inquiry and be ready with ‘a word aptly spoken.’ Don’t think you have to be ready to answer every question – that’s an intimidating prospect. ‘A word aptly spoken’ includes the freedom to respond: “That’s a great question. Let me do a little research and get back with you.” We may not have an answer on the spot, but it’s important to be able to find appropriate answers to honest inquiry. In contrast, you may have an answer that provides greater understanding and propels the conversation along.

Next time we’ll address specific answers to objections as we seek to grow in our conversational witness to others.

“A man has joy by the answer of his mouth & a word spoken in due season, how good it is!” Proverbs 15:17

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