Posts

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?

Covenant

The Importance of a Covenant

“Do you promise?” Have you ever been on the receiving end of this question? Have you ever broken a promise or had someone break a promise to you? I am sure at one point or another we have all had our fair share of heartbreak when it comes to this word: promise. Thankfully, our relationship with God is not based on a halfhearted promise. Jesus didn’t pinky swear that if we loved and trusted Him, He would be in a relationship with us. No, instead He made much more than a promise, He made a covenant.

A covenant is different from a promise. A promise can be one sided and a promise is not dependent on another party doing anything. For instance, I can promise my husband that I will do the laundry and then not follow through with it. As you can quickly gage, a promise in today’s world does not mean it’s a guarantee. However, a covenant is much different. A covenant is made between two parties and is meant to never be broken. An example of this would be a marriage. However, because we live in an imperfect world, marriages sometimes fall apart. Yet, this is not the will of God. God desires marriage to be a covenant that reflects the relationship we have with Him. Often times in Scriptures, God refers to marriage as a picture of Christ loving His bride (true believers). Here is just one example of many,

 “Husbands. Love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church….” (Eph. 5:25)

Therefore, because God made a covenant with us, and we are not in a one sided relationship that is based on promises, we must learn the value of what a covenant truly means for our walk with Christ.

Throughout The Old Testament Scriptures we can study many covenants that God made with men like Adam, Abraham, Noah, Moses and David. The significance of these covenants still echo out and affect our faith today. However, the more I began to study covenants, the more I fell in love with the God I serve. I would like to share what I learned through a covenant made between two treasured friends: David and Jonathan. Here is what happened to signify the covenant that was transpiring,

“Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armor, including his sword and his bow and his belt.” (1Sa 18:3-4)

Now, at first glance, this may seem a bizarre way of beginning a covenant. Yet, this was very much based upon how God made covenants with men. Here are some questions you may be asking that I would like to answer:

Why did Jonathan exchange robes with David? What does this mean?

David was who God had appointed to be king of Israel through Samuel’s anointing. Yet, Jonathan was rightfully the next king in line. By exchanging robes, Jonathan was showing a sign of surrender, which was a way of giving his robe, or identity, away to David. In fact, as we go on in history, we see that Jesus, part of the Davidic family tree, did a similar thing for all of us. He became a man and took on our form  in order to cleanse us from sin. He humbled Himself and gave away His rightful rule and kingship (see Heb 2:14 and Luke 22:20).

What did the exchange of armor, sword and bow in 1 Samuel 18:4 symbolize?

When Jonathan gave David his weapons, it was a form of partnering and defending each other. Clearly, this was a risky move as David was still being sought after by King Saul. Yet, a crucial part of a covenant was protection (as the Scripture clearly stated). Likewise, Jesus came to defend and protect the weary and downtrodden, ultimately rescuing us all from our sins and becoming our one perfect defense.

David and Jonathan are good examples of keeping a covenant and understanding the importance of surrendering identity and defense. Likewise, we can see, with the example of a marriage, the importance of becoming one and honoring the other person by protecting their interests as your own. However, no covenant can be more powerful than a covenant with God. Think about the significance of God making a covenant with man (Abraham and therefore us also). When God made a covenant with Abraham there was one final step that must be mentioned: the shedding of blood.

In Gen. 22, when Abraham is asked to sacrifice his only son Isaac, a covenant is being made,

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you. Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you. Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.”

Abraham was confident that God would keep His covenant with him and provide an offering. There is power in a covenant and it cannot be easily broken. God Himself shed precious blood to provide not just a promise of Heaven to those who believed, but a covenant that they would be forever marked His beloved.

My hope for you is that you recognize through the example of marriage, friendship and God’s sovereignty with man through the shedding of blood, the significance of a covenant between two parties. We are able to enter into an impactful relationship with God because He exchanged garments with us, giving us new life for our old sinful rags. Additionally, Jesus became our defense to God, reconciling us back to Him. He shed his blood, a perfect sacrifice, to do much more than make a promise to us, rather He made a lasting covenant with us calling us His chosen people.

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.

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.