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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.

Inviting

Why Inviting People To Church Is So Hard

Have you ever considered why Churches grow? There are actually many Church growth models out there. A Google search for the exact phrase “Church Growth Strategies” returned 98,400 results. Almost all of the results were tools of evangelism, i.e. sharing your faith with people who have not yet experienced Jesus. There were even some incredibly creative and diverse ways to share your faith I found. But if you look at each and every one of these programs and strategies, they all have one thing in common – they require an invitation.

Both the old and new testament are filled with invitations from God to His people. For instance, Psalm 34:8 invites us to experience the goodness of God and to accept His blessing as we rest in Him,

“Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.”

Jesus invites us to come and enjoy rest in Matthew 11:28,

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

In the book of Acts, we see how the Spirit of God brought 3000 new believers into the Church on the Day of Pentecost. Peter, filled with the Spirit, stood up and preached the gospel, boldly proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ and inviting people into the Kingdom of God:

“Repent and be Baptized, everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins.”

For many years, the number one reason cited for people not going to Church is that no one ever invited them. Can you believe that? And still today, according to Michael Harvey of Back to Church Sunday,  80% to 95% of people in our Churches have no intention of ever inviting someone to Church  and, by extension, into a community of faith where they can encounter the risen Christ. There are many reasons for this, but it generally boils down to a rather simple one: fear. Fear of rejection, fear of messing up a relationship, fear of not having the right words to say, the list goes on and on of things that we fear when we invite others into Christian community.

Now, as a example, I want to simply throw out some things for your consideration. Have you ever thought about other areas in our lives where fear ought to exist but it doesn’t deter us? People have fears of car accidents, yet we still drive. People have fears concerning the world that our children are born into, but we still keep having them. So why do we let fear govern our mentality about faith?

Joshua 1:9 states,

“Have I not commanded you? Do not be terrified, do not be dismayed. For I the Lord your God am with you where ever you go.”

We have a God who is bigger than all of our fears, who is with us no matter where we go and who is asking us to be the means by which others are invited into relationship with Him. We have a wonderful opportunity to share the love of God and extend that invitation to others everyday, but simply need to overcome the fear which holds us back. Remember the old adage, “Courage is not the absence of fear, it is the ability to act in the presence of fear.” You have the ability to act and to live in the invitation that Jesus gives you to be a part of the Great Commission – to go and make disciples in spite of the fear that you may feel.  And as you live out the ability to act in the presence of fear, the fear grows less and loses the hold it has on you.  You can defeat this fear and make an incredible difference for the Kingdom of God. And as you do, you will strengthen your faith and be encouraged as you see God at work in and through you.

So what will it look like for you to take the risk and invite someone to Church? How can you step out and believe that God is bigger than your fear? What are ways of inviting people into faith that work for you?

One Church here in the north has seen an incredible growth through using the simple phrase, “I would like to invite you to my Church.” A simple statement which allows you to put out feelers and see if there is an interest in spiritual things – a question that paves the way for the actual invitation (if there is a positive response). If they balk at the idea of being invited to Church (and they might) there is no harm done and you can continue the relationship without it being awkward or uncomfortable. If they say yes, you make the invitation and find a time for you to bring them to Church. It is not complicated and it works!

While we may face a few (or many) “No” responses to our invitations, I think God is just waiting with a few “Yes” answers to truly surprise us and show us that He is with us and that He can and will work through us. I encourage you to take a small step out from behind the fear and see how God might work in your life using this rather simple exercise.

Harvest

Evangelism Today Part V: The Harvest

In the first four articles in this series we have taken a look at Evangelism in our world today. I want to conclude this now by taking a look at the power that still remains in this God-given calling and we need look no further than in Matthew 9:36-37, where we see Jesus traveling with His disciples:

“When He saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.  So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.’”

What Jesus was pointing out to His followers were the abundant multitudes of people who were ready to receive the Gospel and convert to becoming followers of Christ; so many, it seems, that there weren’t enough workers to harvest all of the would-be-followers.  To those of us with evangelistic experience, we know how difficult it can be sometimes to see anyone come to faith in God through Jesus, and this likely gives us pause.  Where is this great harvest and why can’t I seem to find it? Jesus’s words in John 4:35 help fill in the missing piece:

“You know the saying, ‘Four months between planting and harvest.’  But I say, wake up and look around!  The fields are already ripe for harvest.”

If we don’t see fruit from evangelism efforts, perhaps we aren’t looking in the right places.  Jesus tells us that there are those who are ripe to be harvested, but we don’t see them.  All of John chapter 4 is the story of Jesus sharing the truth about God to a Samaritan woman of whom the other disciples were skeptical; this is who is ready to receive the Gospel – a lonely woman working by herself in the heat of the day, but others were unwilling to help.

Recently, I met a young couple who was trying to find a church to get married in but who had been turned away by pastors because they were currently living together.  I met with them, and in no time at all I asked if I could share the Gospel with them and if they would like to pray to receive Jesus as their Lord.  They did and are now growing in their relationship with Jesus, on their way to a marriage filled with God’s love and the Spirit’s guidance.  As I drove away from our meeting, having just witnessed God transform this couple into new life, all I could think of is what those pastors who turned them away – missing out on recognizing a couple ripe for the harvest.  There was nothing special about the way I shared or what I said; I simply raised the subject with them, explained the Gospel simply, asked if they wanted to receive it, and set up meetings for follow-up.  It was truly a blessing for me to be there in that moment to see God work, and all it took was a recognition and willingness to participate in the harvest that is ready and waiting to be gathered in.

So wake up and look around, as Jesus tells His disciples.  There are people in your midst who are ready to receive Jesus as their Lord in order to walk in new life in a relationship with Him. Today just may be the day that they take that next step you would have never imagined possible.

Evangelism

Evangelism Today Part IV: Way, Truth, & Life

When I was six years old, my parents took my sister and I on a trip to my grandmother’s house.  I loved visiting this small midwestern town because a number of my cousins also lived there (one who even had a Nintendo I was allowed to play).  Upon arriving, I immediately asked if I could walk over to my cousin’s house. Since their house was only a block away, my parents were fine with me walking, so long as I had my aunt phone my grandmother as soon as I arrived.

Off I went – all I had to do was walk to the next intersection up from grandmother’s house, take the first left, and my cousin’s house would be several houses down. Yet, somehow I managed to get distracted in the first fifteen seconds of the journey and I missed my left turn.  I continued walking, thinking I would see something familiar that would indicate where I was supposed to go, but this particular neighborhood (like many others), was laid out in a neat grid with houses that all had a similar architecture. To a six year old, everything seemed to look the same.  Eventually I just stopped, sat down on the sidewalk, and hoped someone would find me.  Thankfully, after only a few minutes, my parents came driving up, not having received a call from my aunt, and took me back with them.

In that short time I felt anxiety for the first time in my life.  Different from fear or worry, anxiety, I believe, comes not from things that scare or cause concern, but from the ambiguity of not-knowing.  Arthur Somers Roach once said, “Anxiety is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind.  If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained.”  When we experience great uncertainty in life, that’s when we become anxious.

Jesus, knowing his followers would become anxious over his death and resurrection, and the uncertainty that would come as a result, told them in John 14:1, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”  And a little further into John 14, Jesus went on to say in verse 6, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  Too often John 14:6 is quoted without regard for the rest of Jesus’s words that surround it – the context of Jesus proclaiming Himself as the unique and exclusive way to God was infused with a desire to cure the anxiety that would infect His followers when He finally ascended back into heaven.  Jesus was saying, “Let me clear the air: you have doubts and anxiety over what will happen when I am gone, but I am the only way to God the Father, and if you believe in me then you will have the eternal life you seek.”

Doing evangelism today, the temptation exists to be as inclusive as possible; not to ruffle any feathers or get on anybody’s nerve, but the statement made by Jesus that He is the one and only way to God is an exclusive statement, and our responsibility as evangelists is to remain faithful to Jesus’s exclusive claim that He is God incarnate. However, this does not have to be done in a contentious manner.  Here, after all, Jesus makes this claim to free His followers from the anxiety that comes from not knowing; through Jesus there is one and only way to God, which means that we can have surety in faith that, as John says in 1 John 3:2, we will get to see God as He is one day.  Allowing for multiple paths to God, or saying that all roads lead to heaven is just as confusing and anxiety-producing as if someone had come along when I was lost on my way to my cousin’s house and told me simply to walk down any of the streets and eventually I would get to my destination.  To cure spiritual anxiety, Jesus offers us not multiple ways to God, but one and only, and that is great news to share to a world full of people anxious over the uncertainty of life’s destination.

Evangelism

Evangelism Today Part III: Knowing Your Audience

When I was younger, I received training in evangelism in ways that made me feel uncomfortable.  I was given a script and told that, regardless of whomever I was talking to, if I just stuck to that script then I would be fine.  Filled with trepidation, I tried it; and I tried it; and I kept on trying it but saw very little in terms of what the Bible calls spiritual fruit, either in me or in those with whom I was sharing.  I felt like a salesman giving a pitch, and thought that if this is what evangelism is like, then no thank you; I’ll leave that to other people.

Years later, having received further training that helped reorient the ways I think about and practice evangelism, I no longer treat conversations with people centered around the Gospel like a sales pitch.  I still use a script (kind of) but its one that I developed myself using an atonement metaphor (see my last article) I feel comfortable sharing with someone who knows very little about Jesus, and I only use it after having gotten to know the person I’m talking with.

That is perhaps the most exciting thing about evangelism I can share: its about the relationship with the other person.  In Matthew 28:19, when Jesus delivers His “Great Commission” to the Apostles (those being sent to start the Christian movement), He tells them to “Make disciples of all the nations…”  He doesn’t say, make converts or believers, but disciples.  A disciple is one who follows closely the life of the leader – in our case, Jesus.  If it’s our goal to make people into followers of Jesus, then we must spend time getting to know the people with whom we share the gospel.

Of course this can be done in any number of ways, but a helpful tool I have found for making this process intentional is to assess the relationships you have with others based on Jesus’s parable of the soils.  In Matthew 13:3-8 Jesus teaches,

“Behold, the sower went out to sow; and as he sowed, some seeds fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate them up.  Others fell on rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil.  But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.  Others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out.  And others fell on the good soil and yielded a crop, some a hundred fold, some sixty, and some thirty.”

When I spend time getting to know someone with whom I want to sow the seeds of the Gospel, I want to find out as much as I can about their life so that I can know what work needs to be done in the soil of their hearts to make it a place where the gospel can take root.

Perhaps, like the first soil, they have been trampled on all their lives and have hard hearts because of it.  My responsibility for that person is to evangelize by tilling the soil; softening their hearts through friendship and compassion for as long as it takes.

Perhaps, like the second soil, they lack depth and my responsibility for that person is to invest in deepening their understanding of God.

Perhaps, like the third soil, their life is filled with thorns; trials and distractions that would choke out the gospel – so my responsibility to them is to help clear some of the brush from their lives so the gospel can be the main thing that grows.

Each of these can be considered evangelism because, through your work in their lives, they are taking steps closer to Jesus where the Holy Spirit can ultimately bring them into an eternal relationship with God.  Get to know the person, build that relationship, and I guarantee you will enjoy the work of sharing the gospel a lot more, and those with whom you share wont feel as though they’re being sold something; they’ll feel the love and the care of Christ flowing from your life into theirs.

Atonement

Evangelism Today Part II: Explaining Atonement

Kevin Costner loves his sports movies.  I must confess, I love watching them.  Bull Durham, For Love of the Game, Field of Dreams and on and on.  In one of his lesser known roles, a film called Tin Cup, Costner plays a washed up golf pro whose personal life always seems to get in the way of his talent on the course.  In a striking scene, Costner breaks nearly every club in his golf bag, claiming they had let him down in the past.  One after the other, right in front of his caddy and the watching crowd, he breaks each club until he gets to the last one in the bag: his seven iron.  This club, he says, has never let him down, and he wagers that he can finish the entire course on par using only his seven iron.

If you’ve ever played golf before, you know that this is not how one goes about it.  The game is designed so that a person makes use of every club in his or her bag depending on the situation they’re in.  If you’re on the tee, staring down a 500 yard fairway, you reach for your driver; if you’re in a sand-trap, the sand wedge; if you’re on the green, the putter.  In the movie, Costner’s character manages to finish the round successfully using only one club, but in real life, such a thing would never be the case.

The atonement, the way Jesus has brought humanity back into “one-ment” with God the Father can be thought of in this way:* there are many ways to describe what Jesus has done by His life, death, and resurrection, but depending on your spiritual upbringing, you may only be familiar with one of them.  Doing evangelism today requires that we be familiar with as many “atonement metaphors” as possible so that, like on the golf course, our bag can be filled with all the clubs we’ll need when we encounter a given situation.  In the next few paragraphs, I will briefly share three metaphors I think are critical to sharing the Good News of Jesus today.  This is not an exhaustive list, but these atonement metaphors are the ones I have found most helpful in the context of evangelism.  Please see the resources mentioned below for further reading.

Satisfaction

I use the word satisfaction here in place of the more commonly referenced “payment.”  When I was growing up in the church I was told that Jesus had “paid the penalty for my sins,” but as I grew older this caused me to ask all kinds of questions for which no one seemed to have answers.  Whom did Jesus pay?  If it’s God, did He pay Himself with Himself?  If it’s Satan, how could God ever owe something to him?

Thomas Aquinas alters this approach to the atonement by saying that what Jesus did on the cross was indeed sacrificial; Jesus’s blood was poured out and his body was broken, but St. Thomas asserts that this was a fitting way for God to make atonement with man because it meets the requirement for a sinful life (which is death Romans 6:23) while at the same time satisfies God’s perfect justice.  God could have cancelled our sin debt by any means (He is omnipotent) but He chose to offer up His Son Jesus as a satisfying offering for our salvation; and our response to following Jesus, our confessing that we believe He has done this for us, is what identifies us with that sacrifice and transfers us from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of Light (Colossians 1).

Adoption

This metaphor is linked to several others, including regeneration and liberation (which we will look at next), but is one that I have found helpful when sharing the gospel, especially with people who have experienced abandonment or loneliness in their lives.

In John 3 when Nicodemus talked with Jesus about His teachings Jesus said, “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  A life in Jesus, once you identify with the sacrifice He made on the cross and the miracle of his conquering death through resurrection, is considered a completely new life (Galatians 2:20).  As a new person you belong to the kingdom of God and His family with God as your Father.  Romans 8:15 says

“For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out “Abba! Father!”

Abba is an Aramaic word which means Daddy.  God adopts you through your relationship with His Son Jesus as His newly regenerated son or daughter.  That’s how much He loves you!

Liberation

Often labeled Cristus Victor which is Latin for Christ the Victor, liberation speaks about the aspect of what Jesus has done setting people free from the captivity of sin and death.  Most of the time when I share the gospel with someone this is the metaphor I use as it seems to speak to most of today’s issues, especially those concerning addiction.

In John 8:34-36 Jesus says,

“Truly truly I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.  The slave does not remain in the house forever; the Son remains forever.  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

Jesus has come into the world as a conquering King, breaking the power that evil has over mankind through His resurrection.  If we choose to submit to Him as our Lord, we can follow Him as our liberator out from the stronghold of darkness and into His love for all of eternity.

 

So how do you know which metaphor to use?  Just like our illustration of the golf bag, use the club that makes sense for the situation.  If I’m talking to someone who has experienced great pain from broken relationships, there is good news in the healing to be found in relationship with Jesus; if I’m talking to someone who has experienced captivity to sin and slavery to addictive behavior, there is good news in the liberating freedom found in following Jesus.  God has accomplished all of these things, and far more, which means that evangelism, in part, also deals with knowing well the person with whom you’re sharing the gospel.  We’ll focus on that next week.

*The illustration of the golf bag is one used excellently in Scot McKnight’s book A Community Called Atonement.  Another great resource on atonement is a collection of essays by Joel Green and Mark Baker titled Recovering the Scandal of the Cross.  Both are worth reading and re-reading.