Blogs written by Noah Curran for PurposeCity.

Spiritual Conversations

3 Easy Ways to Have Spiritual Conversations

Do you know how people come to know Jesus? If you look at the modern landscape, you would probably assume that most meet Him in a rather emotional moment during a well-crafted sermon. If not, chances must be that it came from a time of fantastic worship from one of the more well-known songs being played in churches throughout the country. Yet, all the statistics tell us that most people come to know Jesus through spiritual conversations with those around them. You’ve likely already all but determined that having conversations with others about God is either something you feel comfortable with or not, but stick with me just for a moment. In fact, most of the nation has aligned with the latter option out of fear for how the conversation might go. Questions abound in our minds of whether we could answer the difficult questions or if we are even skilled enough to introduce someone organically to the loving embrace of our Savior. What I am here to share with you is that there is a way that anyone, anywhere, can engage someone a in spiritual conversation. In fact, often brand new Christians are the best at this method and see the greatest impact in the lives of their friends. Without further delay, I’ll introduce the easy-to-remember three step process. I promise, if you give it a shot, and allow yourself to be a bit vulnerable, you will see some incredible results as you minster to those around you.

Spiritual Conversations Tool #1: Questions

Can you ask somebody a question? Sure you can. I’ve learned that often the things we first speak about when we are sharing our lives aren’t really what we wish we could share if we knew we could truly be vulnerable with the person sitting across from us. You see, back in the day I had the opportunity to work with people dramatically reaching out for help – they would hear a phone number on the radio and would call in to talk to someone about their issues. Wouldn’t you know that almost every single time the first ‘issue’ they brought up wasn’t really the issue at all? Trust me, when I would get calls from 14 year olds dealing with unplanned pregnancy I couldn’t imagine there was a deeper layer – but there always was. I heard stories about how the child was the result of rape, abuse, and on more than one occasion it was actually their own fathers child. Sure, they wanted help with the immediate issue of being pregnant, but the person couldn’t actually be healed until we dealt with the deeper issues and we could only get to those issues if I was willing to ask more questions about their lives. They didn’t have to be hard questions either. Things like “how did that make you feel?” or “what pains you the most about that?” were pathways to hidden alcoves I could have never imagined existed. The most difficult thing, however, is restraint. As humans, we have been trained to immediately comfort or offer advice. It would be easy for me to sympathize with the young girl, alone and pregnant, hiding in her Dad’s woodshed just to make the phone call – but would that have really helped her long-term? Or, I could have immediately started going down the list of healthy options for her – but we were only on the surface and really meeting people where they are demands we dig deeper. So, as you are talking with people, always keep in mind that there are likely more questions you can ask. If you have genuine interest in a person, the questions won’t be hard to find either. As you start to ask the questions, you will begin to realize that we, as people, are more than willing to share our hurts and pains… we actually desperately want someone to talk to about them with, we just haven’t found the right person yet.

Spiritual Conversations Tool #2: Life Stories

When dealing with spiritual things, we often like to simply give people the answers. For instance, when someone asks you “what about baptism…” how do you respond? Do you give what you know as the traditional Church answers to baptism-based questions? Probably. When people ask us about our faith, we inherently feel the burden to answer the person’s question directly. While that may seem harmless, it actually produces an unhealthy bond between you and that person. The person you have the conversation with, knowing you always have the answers, cleaves to you instead of Jesus. So, how can we still be sympathetic to the question without creating utter spiritual dependence? Tell people about your life. This is beneficial for a bunch of different reasons: First, this should produce a feeling of ease within you as you no longer have to be a subject expert on every matter of the Bible. No one can tell you your life experience is wrong, therefore whatever you share can’t be the wrong answer to the question being asked. Then, for instance, when someone asks you about baptism, you can always tell them your experience with it – whether you have been baptized or not. Even if the person isn’t asking a direct question, there are few things more powerful that a personal testimony. Sharing your walk to faith and being vulnerable about the ups and downs of life go miles in helping someone to see God in you and how God might want to be a part of their life too.

Spiritual Conversations Tool #3: Scripture

But, what about those times where there is a direct question you simply can’t answer with anything but the facts? The answer here is scripture. Remember, we need to be trying to help people cleave to Jesus, not to us. Would you rather, whenever they had a question about their faith, they call you up, wanting a spoon-fed answer? Or, would you rather they pick up the scriptures and find the answer themselves? Or, even better yet, they call you up and ask to take a look at the scriptures together? When a topic comes up, or maybe even a direct question from the Bible makes it way into the conversation, feel free to rely on scripture. So, when someone asks how God can be a good God, but still just – find a Bible nearby (there are likely 3-4 in almost every home that haven’t been opened in years). In a couple different versions of the Bible, there are actually topic-based indexes in the back that you can browse to find the topic you are dealing with. So, in this case, you could flip through the back of Scripture to find the topic “judgment” and together you could explore what the Bible has to say on the topic. Remember, you don’t have to be the expert – let Jesus do the work.

 

So, now, the hardest part actually is having the willingness to engage others in spiritual conversations. Our new reality is that just about anyone can ask a question, tell a story from their past, or open up the Bible – none of this requires any level of in-depth knowledge – it just requires a willingness to be vulnerable.

One final word before we conclude… you are not the Holy Spirit. You see, we have a tendency to get frustrated if every conversation doesn’t produce ripe fruit or go ‘our way.’ But the reality is, we have to let God work in God’s timing. You might simply be the first seed that gets planted in years of spiritual tilling, or you might be the final person to harvest years of spiritual seeds planted by others. So, whatever you do, don’t judge the conversation based upon how you think it went – we have to leave the work up to God. The important thing to remember is that God can use our willingness to transform lives and I promise, if you are willing to have spiritual conversations with people and follow these three simple principles, in no time you will be making a big impact in the lives those you engage.

Titus

Titus 3:9: Debating Scripture

Have you ever sat around a table with two people that are passionate about the same thing, yet they spend far too long debating the details? For example, personally I would love to sit across from Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) from Grantland for an hour and debate with him his theories on basketball. It would be a blast. I mean, it’s part of our nature as human beings to want to debate. However, we have unfortunately let this predisposition work its way into our spiritual lives to a degree in which it becomes unhealthy. The reality is though, it didn’t take long. In fact, at the very outset of the spread of the Church Paul had some correcting to do in his Epistle to Titus:

But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. (Titus 3:9)

This verse recently became one of my favorite verses because while it remains so simple, it can really help shape how our culture engages scripture today. Before unpacking the verse for a moment, I do want to note that this verse is referring to dialogue over scripture that is handled in an unhealthy manner (see “controversies”, “dissensions”, & “quarrels”). There is absolutely nothing wrong with having deep conversations about the meaning of scripture with others around you (in fact, I implore you to do so). No, this verse speaks of engaging in unhealthy debates over scripture – something our society has become far too entrenched in.

So, what is happening in Titus 3:9? Well, Paul is communicating to the leadership of the Church in Crete (Titus included) that their demeanor and engagement with the Gospel is essential to the continued spread of the mission in that area. Paul says that foolish arguments (things that have no moral advantage) over scripture have no benefit for the Church. You see, as the elders of the Church argued over differences in their interpretation, they were not only teaching scripture to those listening (often falsely), but also modeling what it meant to be in community with other believers. This type of dissention reminds me of another verse written by Paul in Romans 16:17:

I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.

How often today do we argue over our something that is meaningless to our walk with Christ? How quick are we to point out our differences, instead of the ties that bind? Charles Spurgeon, a British preacher that was estimated to have preached to over 10 million people while living in the 1800’s (yeah, think on that one for a moment), once put it this way:

“There are always plenty of thorn about, and there are certain professors who spend half their lives in fighting about nothing at all. There is no more in their contention than the difference between Tweedledum and Tweedledee; but they will divide a church over it, they will go through the world as if they had found out a great secret,-it really is not of any consequence whatever,-but having made the discovery, they judge everybody by their new-found fad, and so spread a spirit that is contrary to the Spirit of Christ.”

So what can Titus 3:9 teach us? The next time you are either the debater or are simply caught in the midst of a debate, I would challenge you to break out this verse. Personally, I have sat in the midst of a group of great Christian thinkers and when the debate went to a place in which it was unhealthy, the simple remembrance of this verse changed the outcome of that meeting for the better, forever. Paul challenges Titus, and those amongst him, to not engage in foolish debate over scripture and that challenge still rings true today! So, please, by all means, dig into scripture a great deal and have enlightening conversations with your local community, but remember to keep them directed at something that grows everyone and doesn’t become “unprofitable and worthless.”

I’d love to hear about your experience with scriptural debate. Leave a comment below – your thoughts, ideas, stories, and considerations are always highly valued.

Leadership

Outside The Box Leadership

I challenge you to think upon a time when you were in a group of people and someone had an idea that was outside the box. It could be a risk they wanted to take, a new business venture, or just something extremely fun (but outside the ordinary). Think upon that time hard and consider the series of events. What happened? Well, first someone had to have the idea or suggestion to begin with. But then what happened? Likely the group looked around in search of someone who had enough moxy to affirm the idea first.

Let’s look at an example:

A group of teens drive up to the top of a cliff on the California coast. They want to see the view back over the valley, as well the expansive ocean that sits before them. Then, with all the cars parked facing the cliff someone gets an idea and suggests they all go cliff jumping. The chances are pretty good that there would be a long silence followed by one of two things: (1) either someone speaks up saying, “lets do it,” convincing the rest of the group to go ahead with the wild idea or (2) total silence killing the dream before it ever began.

When we think of a leader, we often think of the first person in this scenario – the person who suggested you jump off a cliff. While it might indeed be that they display leadership qualities, albeit misguided for people with a fear of heights, I want to challenge your thinking for a moment. The person displaying just as much, if not more leadership, was the first follower.

Think about this for a moment in Biblical terms:

Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee when He called his first disciples, Peter and Andrew. Now, what would have happened if Jesus said “follow me” and no one stepped up and affirmed His call? You see, even Jesus had to have someone be the first follower – someone had to take the risk and lend credence to the mission that Jesus was on.

Now, think about this in your own context. Whether it is at work, school, or in your faith journey, how are you displaying leadership? Do you always have to be the one with the idea or do you ever stand behind someone knowing that collectively you can get more done together? Next time someone has an audacious goal to do something great for the Kingdom of God, I’d challenge you to first evaluate it to make sure it’s Biblical but then stand up and be a “first follower.” You see if you do this, you become the key to that good work gaining momentum. By you affirming it others will join in and when those join in, the masses will start to follow.

In the end, what we are talking about is creating movements through outside the box leadership.

If everyone thought that their ideas were the best, no one would get anywhere in this world. Instead, it’s vital that we have first-followers, people who stand behind someone else’s idea because when they do, the chances are that exponential growth isn’t far behind. So, I ask you, what is more vital for us today? Having more people think that their ultimate leadership is key, or being unique enough to actually stand up as a first, or even second, follower and see the lasting change that can come about as a result.

Have you ever followed a leader and seen your example start something special? If so, tell us your story below in the comments!

Adam and Eve

Creation and The Story of Adam and Eve

In order to truly understand the importance of God’s role in our lives, as well who Jesus is and what He accomplished on the cross, we must understand the basic story-line that exists throughout the Bible. We must be sure to not only to understand the story, but the important elements that make this story so vital to our lives today. As we go on a journey I call ‘The Story’ I hope we all will gain a deeper understanding of the basic questions that many ask about Christianity today.

The logical question then becomes, where do we begin? While the entire Bible is important, the story arc that includes Jesus redemption on the cross doesn’t require that we visit every Bible story, but it does require that we start at the beginning – Creation and the story of Adam and Eve.

Creation

Instead of going line-by-line through scripture, we need to understand the important bits that take us on this journey. This begins with Genesis 1:1,

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

To put it simply, God created everything. This included the planets, the air, all the animals, and eventually humanity. When God created man, starting with Adam and Eve, He gave us a beautiful garden to live in. Imagine what it must have been like to be in Paradise before we started to have our impact on the earth. No river would have been mined for Gold, so I like to imagine the waters would sparkle. The green grass and the flowers must have been so vibrant as the world didn’t know pollution and destruction. The air clean and the weather beautiful. The garden was so grand that God actually spent time there in relationship with His creation, Adam and Eve, as scripture says they could “hear the sound of the Lord walking in the garden in the cool of the day.” (3:8) There was, however, one thing that God created in the Garden that we were not to partake of, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,

And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17)

Temptation and Sin

I imagine that Adam and Eve must have wondered what that tree was all about, but in a loving relationship with their creator they abstained. That is, however, until temptation made its way in by means of a serpent,

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You[j] shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:1-5)

In a moment of weakness Eve took of the fruit and then shared with Adam. The two instantly had not only disobeyed God (what we call “sin”), but their eyes had now been opened to what it meant to be both good and evil – something they could never take back.

Separated From A Just God

Once God had discovered their actions, he made a swift judgment of justice,

Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” 23 therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life. (Genesis 3:22-24)

From this point forward, Man was separated from God. God being perfect, holy, and pure in all that He is, He could not be with those who defied Him by sin. Our knowledge would never allow us to be holy again as we would now act and think in ways that are often evil in His eyes. Therefore, He sent them out and all came under God’s eternal judgment.

How This Impacts The Larger Story

Understanding the events that happen in the creation story are so vital to understanding God’s love for us. Why? Because even though we did wrong, God still loves us and wants to have a relationship with us. The story of Adam and Eve show us how we are the ones that ultimately betrayed Him. It was our own decision to defy Him and afterwards, God had every right never to forgive us for the ‘sins’ we committed against Him.

What we will see as we continue to explore “The Story” is that even though God should have made us pay the price eternally for our sins, He immediately put into action a series of events that would reconcile us into his loving embrace one again… even if it meant sacrificing the most precious thing to Him.

Check back in the near future for the next blog in the “The Story” series. 

The Prosperity Gospel

The Prosperity Gospel

One of the more controversial topics in the Church today is that of the prosperity gospel. What is the prosperity gospel? It is a belief that those who confess faith in Jesus are given physical rewards (and/or just an overall blessing) in this world for their faith in Christ – be it money, prosperity, or various different tangible things. There are entire movements that are built on a view of the gospel that says God blesses those that believe in Him. At the same time, there are whole movements of people that oppose the prosperity Gospel. How can this be the case?

Instead of taking a rather common approach looking at all the different verses and juxtaposing them against each other, I’d like to examine one verse that many discuss when speaking about this rather controversial topic. The verse is found in Mark and comes in the story of The Rich Young Man. This story is the one in which Jesus tells a man with much wealth to give up all his worldly possessions because of the value they hold in His life. The disciples, after hearing the events first-hand, proceed to ask Jesus about their role in the Kingdom as they had already left everything to follow Him. Jesus responded saying,

“Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. (v. 29-30)

So hold on, as a follower of Jesus we will be rewarded in this life one-hundredfold? Sign me up!

Before we do so, let’s take a deeper look at what is happening in this verse. First, what Jesus is doing here is summarizing the sacrifices of those who had followed him. By leaving everything and following Him, the disciples had surely lost close relationships, homes, and even the very land their family had owned. What proceeds is what is so shocking to many, Jesus promising that in this life they would receive a hundredfold for their sacrifice.

Did Jesus really mean that if we sacrifice everything we would become rich? Is this the prosperity gospel? Yes and No.

Yes and No? How can this be? The controversy rests in on our definition of the word “rich.” Jesus did actually guarantee these amazing men of the Kingdom they would be rewarded. Did this mean they would be given 100 physical homes in return for losing their own home? No. What Jesus meant by homes is very different.

As we fast forward to the end of Jesus’ time on earth, we see Jesus introducing how His message will spread as he calls the disciples to go and make disciples as He has. This becomes what we call the great commission and the very purpose of the disciples time left on earth.

This is the key to understanding the reward that Jesus speaks of in this controversial verse.

You see, as the disciples go and began teaching others, those that respond are grafted into the family of believers. This family would undoubtedly grow and blossom, thereby what Jesus is referring to in this verse, more specifically when he speaks of reward, are that these individuals would constitute their reward. Not simply the reward that these people were “saved” but the value of their relationship to one another. You see, the relationships the disciples had lost previously would come back to them a hundredfold as their Christian family grew significantly. For those that had lost homes, the homes that they would receive in turn would be the families of those that had accepted Christ as their Lord and savior. The homes referenced here are not of a physical nature, but households of individuals that became a part of the larger Christian family. As the Christian family extended by hundreds and thousands, the greater community of believers is defined by their commitment to one another and thereby this new extended family would be their reward.

The reality is that while many here today would much prefer their rewards to be of a physical nature, like that of money, this reward is far far greater.

The community of believers should be like that of a family. Regardless of your experience with Christians or family previously, surrounding yourself with people who love you and are willing to go to the ends of the earth for you is a gift that no dollar amount can ever be applied to. Imagine for a moment what it feels like to have a close friend, one in which you can walk into their home and grab a soda without a second thought. Now imagine having a whole city of people like this. This is what Jesus is promising and what a rich life that is!

I encourage you to take this with you and think on these things. What are you doing to expand the family of believers and how are you treating those both inside and outside the family? Are you marked by a commitment to loving people as Jesus has taught? The next time someone mentions the prosperity gospel, just remember that you are indeed promised a hundredfold the things you have had to sacrifice in this world -wonderful deep relationships with those that have come into the Kingdom alongside you!

 

Reaching Your Goals

Moses, Frustration, and Reaching Your Goals

What if Moses knew he’d never enter the Promised Land?

But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” Numbers 20:12

I personally just finished re-reading the rather long story that is the Jewish people’s exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land. I often marvel at the length of the story and the amount of space the Bible devotes to it. However, the reality is, the story has so many elements that are poignant for the Christian walk you really couldn’t leave any portion out without missing a valuable lesson. While one of my favorite things to teach on is the role of the desert and it’s parallel for our lives today, I want to explore Moses and how the story might have changed if he knew he’d never enter the promised land.

When you read the story of Moses, do you get angry that Moses worked so hard and yet God didn’t allow Him to complete the journey he was given?

Moses, after spending tens of years wandering the desert leading God’s people faithfully, was forbidden from entering the promised land – his single goal in life. Now, I want you to consider what it might be like to have the same thing happen to you in modern terms?

To use a simple example – you spend your entire life raising a family so that one day they can have families themselves. However, as you turn 60 you find that only have six months to live due to a rare condition.  Your son is about to be engaged to his high school sweetheart, but you know the wedding won’t come before you pass. I am sure the emotions would be overwhelming – from sadness, to disappointment, to anger with God, and so on… These are some of the same emotions Moses must have felt when he found out he would never see his goals realized.

Let me ask the question, if Moses knew this in advance, do you think he would have went through all the pain and agony of years in the desert regardless?

Let’s be honest for a moment, we can’t answer for Moses, but we can answer for ourselves and I am sure many at that point in time wouldn’t have taken the journey. Sure, when you can read on and see what happens afterwards you might have, but at that specific point and time, I’m not sure it would even be much of a debate for many of us.

Here’s the catch – we now know the results of Moses incredible efforts. Open up a Bible and read Deuteronomy. Notice anything? Pretty much all of human history comes after the book and should Moses not have taken the leadership position he did, history would have be completely re-written. For instance, what would have happened to Israel? How long would the people of God stayed slaves to the Egyptians? The questions would be endless.

This can teach us something very important in our own lives today. The mission and purposes that God gives us may not be for this lifetime, but your impact will have eternal implications.

I was recently chatting with one of my best friends. They expressed their deep frustration that they hadn’t seen the results from their life they were hoping for. The different point of view I could offer was easily seen by me, but not so easily seen by the man standing within the situation. You see, he was building something that would allow for his Children to make a tremendous impact, not only on the world, but for the Kingdom. Sure, this man wanted to be able to look down at a piece of paper and say, here is what I set out to do and here is what I accomplished. The dangerous reality there is that if Moses had done the very same thing, He would look down and see he didn’t complete what He set out to do at all. Yet, as we know, that doesn’t tell the whole story. Long after his journey was over, that sheet of paper would have read a treasure trove of accomplishments.

I leave you with this thought – the things you are working for today might not be meeting your expectations (or maybe even they are), but come years for now God will be using those efforts in ways you cannot begin to imagine today.

Therefore, don’t give up. If Moses had, human history would be far different. If my friend had, His kids wouldn’t be half the people they are today. If you don’t feel as though you are reaching your goals, I assure you God has a mission and purpose for you – keep your head down, don’t quit, and keep chasing after the very path God has put you on.