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 

You CAN handle the Truth!

I like movies – good movies! I’m not the kind of a person who simply likes to go see a show just to see a show. I like a compelling story and fine acting. In addition, riveting dialogue will also enhance the movie-going experience.

A Few Good Men is a 1992 film about the trial of two U.S. Marines accused of murder while serving at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In my humble estimation, it’s quite a powerful movie! One of the main themes highlighted in the story is the search for the truth – what really happened on that Marine base?

And arguably the most memorable line from the film is in the climactic scene when Colonel Nathan Jessup, played by Jack Nicholson, erupts in the courtroom, yelling at the prosecuting attorney, played by one Tom Cruise. Colonel Jessup, in that moment of rage, screams, “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!”

Whether you’ve seen the movie or are familiar with that line, I want you to know that as a reader of this devotional, I understand you want truth. So, to that I say, “You want the truth? You can handle the truth!”

You read correctly. You CAN handle the truth!

What exactly am I getting at? Well, we’re going to begin a short series on worldviews. Because as witnesses for Jesus, we need to understand everybody believes in someone or something. And as we better understand those we’re engaging in the evangelistic enterprise, the more effective we can be in answering questions and objections. Additionally, as we learn someone’s worldview, I hope we will be informed so as to effectively contextualize the gospel message without compromising the gospel message.

To begin, I want us to understand there are only a handful of basic worldviews. Familiarity with those worldviews will help us as we seek to understand our audience and share truth with them.

What is truth? Pilate famously asked this question in John 18, while Jesus was on trial. Interestingly, Pilate was looking at the embodiment of truth, as Jesus said, “I am the truth” (John 14:6). A simple definition of truth is ‘that which corresponds with reality.’ Biblically, the psalmist wrote “the entirety of Your word is true” in Psalm 119:160, 2 Timothy 3:16 states: “All scripture is God-breathed,” while Jesus stated in John 17:17, “Thy Word is truth.”

Every worldview, religion and philosophy, by their very nature, make truth claims. And by the way, truth claims are mutually exclusive and exclude all other truth claims. So to say Christianity is mutually exclusive is true, but so are all other truth claims!

And how do examine the truth claims of various worldviews? In simplest terms, we measure them against the Word of God.  In another sense, we specifically can measure their value in a practical sense. Renowned Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias notes every worldview can be measured by how it addresses these questions related to origins, meaning, morality, and destiny:

 

– Where did we come from?

– How does our worldview provide meaning?

– What moral framework do we have?

– What is our ultimate destiny?

We know our Christian worldview best answers these foundational life questions. We need to know what we believe and why we believe. Yet, as we seek to reach others for Christ, it’s good to find out what they believe and why they believe it. Hence, what is their worldview and how did they come to that conclusion?

The basic worldviews we’ll examine over the next several weeks include:

 

– Naturalism

– Pantheism

– Theism

– Spiritism & Polytheism

– Postmodernism

Would you believe that every person fits generally into one of these categories?  This understanding will help inform our testimony, as an effective witness for Jesus will be an informed witness. Asking questions and actively listening will enhance that information process. And by the way, our next set of devotionals following this ‘worldview’ series will focus on spiritual conversations, which involve asking questions and attentive listening.

As we briefly touch upon worldview basics, my hope is that you’ll be edified in understanding and encouraged to engage in your own fact-finding mission – to learn about the beliefs of those in your sphere of influence who’ve not yet met Christ.

So, you want the truth? Of course you do. And you know what – You can handle the truth!

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). 

Dealing with Distraction: Martha & Mary

Out of curiosity I googled ‘the most distracted society in history’ – and received over 28 million results! Wow! Whether we are in fact ‘the most distracted society in history’ may be debatable. But what is indisputable is that we are living in a world of distraction. For example, in our 21st Century world amidst the tsunami of technological revolution and all the associated gadgets accompanying its’ power and convenience, there are some unintended consequences. One of those unintended consequences is distraction. Because you see, along with our gadgets and the power of possibilities they provide, both for great gain and great ill, our use of them may at times keep us from engaging things of greater importance.

It seems to me distraction is an enemy to our spiritual walk with Jesus, and part of that walk is our evangelistic engagement. As we think about our kingdom responsibilities as witnesses for Jesus, our use of time is important:

Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. Colossians 4:5 

Distraction then is nothing new, and as we touch upon the narrative of Mary and Martha from the gospel of Luke, there are applications for us as His witnesses.

Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word.  But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.” 

 And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42) 

Martha’s Distraction

Martha is distracted with much serving. She’s not sidetracked by out and out evil or sinful behavior. In fact, she was involved in a productive enterprise – serving the Lord! It just wasn’t the ‘best’ thing in the moment. What she lost was an opportunity for a deeper walk with God and an opportunity to serve Him more effectively.

While Martha was distracted by much serving, we may be distracted by the myriad of leisure and entertainment options we have or by the business of life. I don’t know about you, but most people I know would characterize their lives as busy. – and I’m right there with you! Where does our business lie?

Sometimes I’m so busy, I erroneously think I’m too busy to pray for the lost, too busy to spend time with them and too busy to notice opportunities to share the gospel as God opens doors.

Notice the result of Martha’s distraction – ‘worried, troubled,’ and unhappy with Mary. Instead of rebuking Mary, ironically Jesus gently corrects Martha by illustrating her sister’s devotion.

But what of the ‘one thing’ to which Jesus refers?

Mary’s Devotion

Mary kept the main thing the main thing – Jesus. What did she do and what did she gain? Mary ‘sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word.’ So simple, yet so powerful and transformative.

The text doesn’t tell what happened after Mary did this. Is it possible she joined Martha in serving Jesus. If so, after spending time with the Lord, it seems likely Mary would have served more effectively, being at peace instead of being worried and troubled?

Oh, that I would be intentional in spending time with the Lord, and as I do, also committing my daily witness to Him!

Our Choice

Distraction or Devotion. What shall we choose? Seeking Him first is devotion – allowing Him to order our steps and enabling us to redeem the time, serving Him most effectively. And no doubt, some of that serving will be engaging the one thing you can’t do in heaven, the work of evangelism – prayer, service, proclamation.

“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” (Matthew 6:30-33)

Sitting at His feet before serving in His name is a good principle to remember! Be careful lest we get our priorities mixed up. When we are tempted to be like Martha, which is often, may we first choose ‘the one thing that is needed’ – Jesus!

The Desired Results

We live in a world that often says hard work and doing the right thing will bring the desired results. To promote the desired result there are a myriad of tools at our disposal – self-help tools, user guides, how to’s, the three steps to this and the four steps to that. They may come in the form of seminars, DVD’s, CD’s, books, television shows, and so on. And we get it – do this and you will get the desired result.

As we think about the desired results in evangelism, it would be good for us to think in biblical terms, and not according to worldly standards. Because as we explore the desired results according to God’s paradigm, we will see that A+B doesn’t necessarily equal C.

Let me explain.

Success in Witnessing

We all want to be successful in our witness. Yet we first must define success in witnessing. The best definition for success in witnessing I have found comes from Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ: “Success in witnessing is simply taking the initiative to share Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, and leaving the results to God.”

I really like this definition, first based upon what it says, but secondly, based upon what it doesn’t!

It doesn’t say success in witnessing is having somebody receive the Lord, although that is certainly the most desired result.

In teaching evangelism seminars the issue of successful witnessing is an issue for believers.  I have heard Christians tell me they’ve felt like failures in their witness because they haven’t ‘led someone to Christ.’ I’ve had to comfort them, reminding them God is the ‘Author of Salvation’ – their responsibility is to be a faithful witness.

Taking the Initiative

Based upon our definition above taking the initiative to share Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit is the key to success in witnessing. In fact this is our role in the evangelistic endeavor.

Spirit-led evangelistic activity is part of the success formula. Sharing Christ and the Gospel message is central to this endeavor…and we’re not alone. The Lord is with us.

What does it mean to take initiative? In part it is to go when God calls, to go where God calls you and to go to whom God calls you. It may in the context of personal relationships and it may be in the context of ‘witnessing on the way’ – as you’re out and about.

And we do this through the power of the Spirit – for we are not alone:

 

– When Jesus called His disciples, He said, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19)

– At the end of His ministry, just before ascending to heaven He stated, “Go and make disciples of all nations…and I will be with you always.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

– And just before His ascension, Jesus said in Acts 1:8: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 

What Results?

The results of our evangelistic efforts are always in God’s hands and people have a choice. In short, whatever the results, whether painful or joyful, they are not ours to control.

This certainly flies in opposition to worldly endeavors, where success often has a defined outcome, is man-centered and is desirable. The book of Acts conveys the birth and expansion of the early church and is a great study in evangelism. In the Kingdom of God, our faithful evangelistic effort in the power of the Holy Spirit may actually result in the following as noted from a few examples from the book of Acts:

 

– Salvation (Acts 2:1-41, Acts 10:34-48, Acts 16:25-34, and many other passages)

– Arrests & Threats (Acts 4:1-22, Acts 16:16-24, Acts 21:26-36))

– Stoning (Acts 14:1-7, 19-20)

– Assault (Acts 17:5-9)

– Rioting (Acts 19:21-41)

– Death (Acts 7:1-60)

These are the results of faithful witnessing! A biblical perspective of expectations regarding our witness reveals that most of the results are ‘undesirable’ from a human perspective. Yet, in God’s Kingdom, the desired result is initially the conviction of sin! And often, a human being’s initial response to conviction is typically not salvation. In fact, evangelistic research indicates that it typically takes several exposures to the gospel before a person who ultimately receives the Lord to make that decision. That was certainly my case, as my initial responses to a gospel witness were rejection of the message. And you? What was your initial response? So don’t be surprised, when your faithfulness in witnessing brings about various negative responses. Understand conviction must precede confession of sin and the process of surrendering to the Lord is often just that – a process.

Being Ok With That!

So, now we see the desired results, those which reflect God’s plans and purposes – His desires – are sometimes painful. Yet, there is great blessing in identifying with the Lord in His suffering through faithful witnessing. For He says: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12).

So strive to be successful in witnessing, and be ok with the desired result according to God will!

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

Urgency: the Balance between Apathy and Pushiness

Getting there on time – it can be a daily grind! Getting to where you need to be when you need to be there. Ah, life in the modern world.

I spend lots of time in transit. These days in East Tennessee most transit time is spent driving. While living in New York City for 6 years, aside from walking – a must in the Big Apple – it was often using public transportation like subways or taxis.

No matter how you travel, whether short commutes or long distances, you are not alone. In fact we’re most often surrounded by many people doing the same thing – going somewhere.

Have you ever pondered where all those people are headed? Take a moment sometime and ponder their spiritual journey.

Because you see, the spiritual reality is everyone is either on the road to heaven or the road to hell – there are only two roads. Pondering such a thought is sobering and humbling. How much more pondering the destination of people in our lives who don’t yet know Jesus – now that is personal!

Every person has a destiny with death and every person’s ultimate destination is heaven or hell. What do we do with such truth?

As we think about engaging the lost in light of this truth, two extremes are apathy or pushiness. Apathy doesn’t think about people’s ultimate destination much, if at all. Apathy says that’s between them and God. Apathy also says I can’t make a difference in their path. On the other hand, pushiness is uber-concerned about another’s spiritual condition. Pushiness wants to say or do whatever it takes to get them to ‘see the light.’ Pushiness keeps pushing, without respecting another’s wishes to stop. Which extreme do you lean toward?

Where do we find the balance between apathy and pushiness? Urgency, that persistent desire for others to know the Lord, is that balance. And as we seek His face, He will make us more into the witness He desires us to be.

God’s Timing Is Perfect

To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven: He has made everything beautiful in its time (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 11). 

As we think about when and how to witness to those around us, there is a time to press in and a time to pull back. And the Lord knows timeliness, for He is the author of time. And God’s timing in evangelism is best served when we prioritize prayer: go to God on behalf of people before you go to people on behalf pushy and ask God to give you a healthy urgency in regards to your witness..

In Step With The Father

“Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner. For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel (John 5:19-20). 

Jesus walked in perfect lock step with the Father, doing the Father’s will. Additionally, He also spoke according to God’s will God’s words as John 3:34 states: “For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God.” 

How then can we walk in step with the Father’s will as we seek live in a state of urgency in the evangelistic endeavor? Paul tells us in Galatians 5:25, “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can speak the truth of God and do the work of God in His time.

Open Doors, Closed Doors

 “Now whatever city or town you enter, inquire who in it is worthy, and stay there till you go out.  And when you go into a household, greet it.  If the household is worthy, let your peace come upon it. But if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet (Matthew 10:11-14).

In Matthew 10, when Jesus sends out the disciples for the first time, He tells them to press in when the door is open and to pull back when it is closed. In seeking to live urgently, apathy doesn’t go at all, while pushiness doesn’t leave when unwelcomed! A healthy urgency in light of evangelism goes through open doors and respects closed doors.

Paul’s ministry is illustrative. For example, Luke wrote of closed doors in Acts 16:6-7: “Now when they (Paul and Silas) had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia.  After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them.”  

In contrast, Paul prays for open doors in Colossians 4:3. And in 1 Corinthians 16:9 he rejoices that God opens up doors to minister the gospel, and notice, even in the light of opposition: “For a great and effective door has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.” 

Prayer & Obedience

Apathy? Pushiness? Where do you lean in regards to reaching out to the lost?  In our witness, make prayer the priority, asking Him to help you to find that balance between apathy and pushiness. Ask Him to show you what living urgently looks like in your life. Do you need more zeal or patience for the lost?

To live urgently as a witness for Jesus means seeking to live according to His timing, in step with Him – obediently going and walking through open doors and respecting closed doors according to the power of the Holy Spirit.

“To God, alone wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen” (Romans 16:27). 

The Healing of Naaman: from Pride to Faith

“It can’t be that easy! All you have to do is believe?” This sentiment is expressed by many an unbeliever regarding the healing power of Jesus to forgive our sins. Pride is arguably the greatest obstacle to belief and spiritual healing. In contrast, humility is one key that unlocks the door to belief – “Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord and He will lift you up (James 4:10) 

The Aramean general Naaman was a man filled with pride. When afflicted by an incurable malady – leprosy, it was only when he humbled himself did he experience healing.

His is a great example of one man’s journey from pride to faith. And in Naaman, there are evangelistic lessons for you and me.

 A Person of Power and Prestige

“Now Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great and honorable man in the eyes of his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Syria” (2 Kings 5:1a).

Naaman was second in command to the King of Aram, a decorated war hero. In fact, it was the Lord who had given him victory. Whether Naaman had any understanding of this reality, the scripture doesn’t tell us.

In our life, every unbeliever has a degree of self-sufficiency. And whether they understand or even care, God is the author of life and the giver of all good things – that every breath they take is a gift from Him (Ecclesiastes 3:13, James 1:17).

A Chink In His Armor

He was also a mighty man of valor…but a leper” (2 Kings 5:1b). 

Leprosy is a picture of sin and man’s spiritual condition apart from spiritual healing of God’s salvation found in Jesus. In biblical times, leprosy caused isolation from society to some degree and there was no human cure. In the similar fashion, sin separates and isolates us spiritually from God and there is no cure apart from the Lord Himself.

Naaman, despite all of his accomplishments, position, and prestige, was a person afflicted by an uncurable condition…at least humanly speaking. He was acutely aware of his physical malady.

In contrast, people today often minimize, ignore or deny their spiritual malady called sin, in spite of the evidence of our depravity. The late British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge put it well, noting: “The depravity of man is at once the most empirically verifiable reality but at the same time the most intellectually resisted fact.”

Naaman recognized his malady and need for healing. It may be we need to be praying God would reveal to people in our sphere of influence their sinfulness and need for forgiveness. Because before people can receive the good news of God’s salvation, they first need to affirm and confess the bad news of their sinful and hopeless condition apart from Jesus.

The Initial Rejection of God’s Man and God’s Message

“Then Naaman went with his horses and chariot, and he stood at the door of Elisha’s house. And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you, and you shall be clean.” But Naaman became furious, and went away and said, “Indeed, I said to myself, ‘He will surely come out to me, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place, and heal the leprosy.’ Are not the Abanah and the Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage” (2 Kings 5:9-12).  

Naaman left in a huff after Elisha shared the means of healing. You see, Naaman pridefully had his own idea of ‘how’ he should be healed. God’s means of healing in this narrative is only one way!

Spiritually, there are only two ways of healing or roads to heaven, nirvana, paradise – man’s or God’s. Man’s means of forgiveness is ‘do’ and is insufficient – God’s means of forgiveness in Christ is ‘believe’ – and is sufficient. (See also John 3:16, John 14:6, John 20:31, Acts 4:12) In fact you will find the word ‘believe’ 98 times in the gospel of John.

Can it really be that simple – believe? Yes!

If you’re sharing of the gospel is rejected initially or has been rejected continually by those with whom you’ve shared, do not be discouraged. Research shows it typically takes several exposures to a clear gospel witness before someone puts their trust in Christ. In the meantime, continually entrust that person or those people to the Lord.

From Pride To Humility And Healing

“And his servants came near and spoke to him, and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” So he went down and dipped seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean” (2 Kings 5:13-14)

God used a humble servant to again share the message of healing with Naaman.  Ultimately, he takes heed, humbles himself, and in faith – washes and is healed.

People are called to believe in Jesus in order to be spiritually healed: “if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).   

Just as the ‘Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many’ (Mark 10:45), you and I are called to serve others by sharing the gospel – the one message that saves.

As we think about those in our lives who need Christ, may we remember our journey to faith – how God humbled and healed us. And may we be patient and longsuffering in our witness – praying that God would deliver them from pride and bring them to a place of humility, belief and spiritual healing that can only be found in Jesus! Amen.

The song remains the same: the Transcendence of God’s Word

I love music! My affinity began in the early 1970’s as a youth when I began listening to my older sisters’ records. I was hooked.

At 16 I bought a used drum kit and put it in the garage of a friend. I was self-taught and had trouble keeping time, but that didn’t curb my enthusiasm. I would put on a pair of headphones, the rock radio station and jammed for hours at a time.

In college, drums and apartment complexes don’t mix too well, so I sold my drum kit and purchased a second hand guitar for $150. I still have it and still play it.

In my adult years I did a 17-month ministry tour, playing guitar and singing with a Jewish gospel band. We shared the gospel through music, drama, and testimony – if you’re wondering what that looks like picture Fiddler on the Roofmeets Jesus! Additionally, I’ve led worship and been part of worship teams in a variety of ministry settings.

Some say music is the universal language, for it displays the fascinating character of transcendence. The meaning of the word “transcend” conveys the idea of extending beyond conventional limits.  It is one medium of communication that reaches beyond language, culture, and eras of time. For throughout history, music has moved people. It has a unique quality that is singular.

God’s word, the bible is also transcendent!

It’s God’s love letter to man and blueprint for reality and it also has a singular quality to move people – to move people from death to life – for faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17).

In our day of media abundance and technological tools, how we share it can be varied – via facebook and other social media, email, books, tracts, personal notes, via audio and video recordings and links, ect.  We can also share His Word in a traditional fashion, reading open bibles together person to person.  There is no end to the delivery systems. The goal is to share the Word of God and let it do what it does – accomplish His will!

Consider the Parable of the Sower.

The Parable Proclaimed:

“Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them. Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away.  And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.  He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Matthew 13:3-9)

The Parable Explained:

“Therefore hear the parable of the sower:  When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside. But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles.  Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.  But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” (Matthew 13:18-23)

In this parable, the variable is the soil, which is the condition of the human. But notice the seed, the Word of God, remains the same.

Whatever methodologies and strategies we or anybody may employ, at the end of the day, we must share the sweet sound of God’s Word with people we’re seeking to reach.  For God tells us in Isaiah 55:10-11, “For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;  It shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”

One mystery in the evangelistic process is the diverse response to God’s Word – throughout history God’s Word has evoked various responses among varied audiences in various circumstances. People have received it with great joy, rejected it with passionate opposition and everything in between!

Despite the uncertainty of response to His Word, this remains a constant for the Ambassador of Christ – the song remains the same in all ages, at all times and in all places – God calls His people to share the words of life with those who don’t know Jesus, who is the Life!

Today, may your life amplify the sweet song of salvation to those in your sphere of influence and may you share the life-giving hope of God’s Word with people in your midst as God opens doors.

I don’t have the gift…

I don’t have the gift of evangelism. This may surprise you. You might be thinking, “You don’t have the gift of evangelism? I thought you direct an evangelism equipping ministry and spent years as a missionary among your Jewish people…and you don’t have the gift??” It’s true.

I can, however, tell you that I do have a mandate – to be a witness for Jesus.

In fact, whether you have the spiritual gift of evangelism or not, you have been given that same mandate. For we all are called to be witnesses for Jesus, and this calling comes directly from the Lord:

“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8-9). 

Notice that when the resurrected Jesus gave this marching order to His disciples just before ascending into heaven, his statement applied to all of them.

No doubt they all had different skill sets, giftings, and experiences. Yet His final words were inclusive and without partiality. In other words, everyone was responsible to be a witness and nobody received a pass.

There are a few practical applications for you and me.

First, none of us is excused from being a witness. I can’t say it’s solely the responsibility of professional evangelists or missionaries to be a witness. No, we all have the responsibility to be witnesses for the Lord.

Therefore, as His witnesses, we all have a Kingdom responsibility and a ministry to dispense. When addressing the church in Corinth, the Apostle Paul communicated these foundational truths to everyone in that faith family:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:17-20). 

Paul told everyone in that congregation they had been given the ministry of reconciliation. He also shared the Lord had also committed to them the word of reconciliation. And finally, Paul called them ambassadors for Christ.

As believers in Jesus Christ, we are all new creations in Him. We all are ambassadors for Christ. And we all have been given this same ministry and word of reconciliation.

Do you see yourself as a witness? Do you realize you are an ambassador for Christ with a ministry to dispense – namely the ministry of reconciliation?

As witnesses for Jesus, another application is our gifting, our perceived adequacy or lacking in the area of evangelism, our experiences and our vocation are all secondary to this primary reality – effective evangelism is always done through the power of the Holy Spirit:

“Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,”
Says the Lord of hosts. 

Jesus said “without Me you can do nothing” in John 15:5 and the Apostle Paul added “I can all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

Therefore, if we all are witnesses for Jesus and effective witnessing is done through the power for God, what does it look like for us as individuals? The answer – different and yet the same!

You see, God has wired each of uniquely. For we all have been endowed with unique giftings, experiences and platforms in which to be a witness. Yet God has also given all of us the same tools in which to witness – namely prayer, the Holy Spirit, the Word of God along good works (demonstration) and good words (proclamation).

As you read these words, know God has placed you in a unique sphere of influence for this  reason – to be a witness for Jesus. Although few of us may have the gift of evangelism, all of us are His witnesses and are called to engage the work of evangelism!

Specifically, to whom are you called to be a witness and what does that witness look like? Well that’s for you and me to discover as we seek the Lord’s will in this area of our lives.

So today once again enter the mission field He has placed you – your sphere of influence – doing everything as unto the Lord…as His witness!

No I don’t have the gift – just the mandate – to go and be His witness…and so do you!

Sing to the Lord, bless His name;
Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day.
Declare His glory among the nations,
His wonders among all peoples (Psalm 96:2-3).