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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.

Friend

What To Do When a Friend Hurts You

I don’t think I need to ask if you have ever been hurt by a friend.  Being hurt is common to the human experience.  Each of us, at one time or another, has been wounded by someone that we have allowed to be close to us.  Sometimes, the wounding has been necessary to help us become what God intended us to be.

As part of our trusting relationship, a friend may see something in our character that needs to be addressed.  These “woundings” fulfill what we see in Proverbs 27:6a;  “The wounds of a friend are faithful…” And, the reason for these times of pain is to help refine and purify you and to help remove that which stands in the way of God and your relationship. 

In the same way that we are wounded by friends who are trying to help, we have all been wounded by friends who are trying to hurt.  For whatever reason, those we have viewed as friends may run roughshod over our emotions and leave us reeling and broken.  When the wounds of a friend aren’t faithful, how do we respond out of our own pain and disappointment. When wounded, it might take some time to work through it, but here are a few rules of thumb I have learned over the years:

First, I have found that it helps to clarify the issue or issues.  Many times misunderstandings and confusion create conflict and wounding that was never meant to be. In an electronic age, where email has replaced face to face conversations, one can’t hear tone or read the nuances of body language.  Being able to resolve a misunderstanding through clarification can lead to healing and restoration before a bigger rift occurs.

Secondly, know and understand that “hurting people hurt people. ”  Often, the wounds that you receive actually have nothing to do with you.  Perhaps there is pain in the life of the one who is lashing out at you.  Maybe there is a break down in some other area of their life and sadly you have caught them at the wrong time, in the wrong frame of mind, and you take the brunt of their anger.  At these times it is easy to lash out and hurt back, but remember again from Proverbs 15:1,  “A gentle answer turns away wrath but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Seek to be understanding and compassionate.

A third thing to consider is that often times people don’t have a clue about the true impact of their words.  Their idea of what is acceptable may vary greatly from yours. Letting people know how they have made you feel in a gentle manner can go a long way towards restoring relationship  Use expressions that do not fix blame, but help them understand the impact of their words or actions.  For example, I have learned to confront others with expressions like,  “When I heard ___________, I felt _____________.”  Fill in the blanks with the words that were directed at you and the emotions that they brought on. Hopefully, through using careful words and patient understanding, healing can occur.

The goal of each of these last three ideas has been to heal and bring restoration.  Indeed, in all our relationships God calls us to love and care for others and to walk at peace with others. (Romans 12:18)  This needs to be our end goal that we work towards. That being said, this is an end goal that works better if two people work towards it together.  If we are in a relationship where we are constantly being wounded by an angry and spiteful person, we need to understand that by allowing them to continue to wound us and the others around us we are actually empowering them and giving them authority over us and our own well being.  Often in times like this, the best way to have any relationship what so ever is to put limits on how often you are in contact with them and to limit what goes on in those times.

While this is by no means an exhaustive list on dealing with toxic relationships, hopefully it gets your thinking about how to have healthy and life bringing friendships.

What about you?  How do you deal with a situation where a friend hurts you?

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.

Relationships

How Comparison Kills Relationships

Before I begin, let me first confess that for the majority of my life I have lived envious of people. I was ruled by jealousy. What I perceived that I lacked, and saw in others, was the lens I used to view my relationships. Even as a pastor, I found it challenging to understand how to identify and use my gifts when I felt I was so inadequate. What I really struggled to understand then was how much other people mattered and how to live out the mandate to love others more than we are to love ourselves.

Today, I have learned that the best investment we can make is in other people and the best assets we hold are the relationships we form. The best use of the resources we have is to effectively steward these relationships to the greatest capacity possible. For me, it can still be a challenge though to view people purely through a positive lens. Why is that? Is it clearly selfish?

Tony Campolo once said we “need to love the sinner and hate our own sin.” This is not the usual approach – it usually reads “love the sinner; the THE sin.” Often, instead of looking at life this way, we become defined by our judgment. If you believe you are exempt, I would challenge you to a little self-reflection. Once we see that we are clearly sinful, then our perspective can truly be changed. I, personally, look at Jesus’ words about the greatest commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” and strive to do my best each and every day. The question I am now asking and have those around me ask, “does my attitude and actions represent the very element I am seeking to live by?” and then “Be honest with me.”

DL Moody once said, “The scriptures were not given for our information but our transformation.” The greatest commandment has to transform us in this way. The question we should ask now is how is this transformative work is being applied in our actions and attitudes towards people?

I would challenge you to ask these questions with me: How can our attitudes be changed? Can our actions reflect this change? Can love be at the core of our responses to people? Let’s love God and others to the absolute fullest in everything we do, even if it might not always be our gut reaction.

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.

Hunger and Thirst

Blessed are Those Who Hunger and Thirst

What do you long for, yearn for, lay awake at night dreaming about? What do you hunger for? Much of what we yearn and hunger for never becomes reality. When I was a kid I desperately wanted to go to the moon. I could have told you everything about the space program, including every man who walked on the moon and each Command Module Pilot who circled the moon while two of his buddies played Rat Patrol in the Lunar Rover. I had a hunger to go to the moon. Sadly the program was killed long before I ever had a chance to go. Today I am pretty certain that NASA won’t be starting up a shuttle service to Tranquility Base anytime soon, so that hunger will likely never be satisfied.

Jesus says that there is a hunger that can be satisfied, but it is not something that most people really care much about. In Matthew 5:6 he said “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” At first blush it doesn’t sound nearly as exciting as a chance to hit golf balls on the moon. But the more I think about having a hunger for righteousness, the more appetizing it sounds. Think about it for a moment. What would be different in the world if life was characterized by righteousness? What if people actually did the right thing, treated each other with dignity, watched out for the hurting and weak, and generally loved God and their neighbor above all else? How different might things be if political leaders actually cared about doing the right thing more than getting elected again and again. For that matter, how different would it be if the voters hungered more for leaders who did the right thing than for those who seem to promise the most perks for us? How different would it be if people so longed for righteousness that we would no longer put up with a world in which children starve to death while others grow fat? How different would it be if we thirsted like a dying man in the desert for a world in which women need never fear being raped?  How different would it be if we yearned for a world in which the color of ones skin was seen as a beautiful example of God’s love of variety instead of a reason to exclude, reject or attack?

Jesus hungers for such a world. It is a world in which human beings fulfill the requirements of our relationship with God and with one another. We are to hunger and thirst for “right relationships” that are characterized by loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength – loving our neighbor as we love ourselves. We must never be satisfied with anything less.

But in order to be truly satisfied we must long for a righteousness that is worthy of heaven. For it is only there that we will ultimately experience a relationship with God and one another as it was intended. We must hunger for that heavenly righteousness as a starving man hungers for a crust of bread.

That kind of hunger will lead inevitably to the foot of the cross. At the cross I am reminded again and again that I have no righteousness in myself. I can do nothing to satisfy my need for righteousness. I am spiritually bankrupt. Jesus made that clear in the first Beatitude, blessed are the poor in spirit. But it is also at that cross that I receive my one true hope. I find that Jesus has gone to that cross on my behalf so that I may indeed be in a right relationship with the Father. And that is at the heart of righteousness. It is being made right with God, being in a right relationship with him because my sin has been forgiven. Jesus promises that if I hunger for that kind of righteousness that I will be filled.

As much as I may look at the world and the appalling lack of righteousness in it, I have to look deep into my own heart first. It is there that I must hunger for righteousness before anywhere else. It is in my own heart and my own relationship with God that I must thirst for right things. It is in my heart of hearts that I must yearn for a love for those around me that knows no bounds.

It is a humbling thing to admit that in our hearts we are just not right with God and others as we need to be. But it is also a very freeing thing. It frees me to become the person I know Jesus wants me to be and to look with expectation and hope to the day when all my hunger and thirst will be satisfied.