Friday, February 7, 2014

Why did God create if he knew we would sin?

This question was posed to me.  And I am under obligation to explain so that a fifteen year old could understand it.  Hopefully that'll work.

First, we don't know exactly.

We should be honest in admitting this.  God can do whatever he wants to because of who he is.  Sometimes he will do things we cannot understand.  But we cannot forget how good God has been to us every day and how good he has been to us in the Cross when we run into a problem where it seems he has done something we wouldn't have done.  Surely this must be the case sometime - where we would disagree with God - because we are sinners and because we are weak and because we haven't been around nearly as long as God.

This question is a place for the exercise of faith, where we hold onto what God has shown us in the light as we step into the dark.  I believe God is good and gives us all we need, so for right now, if we don't have a good answer, we don't fully need one in order to live the life God wants us to.

Second, if you wrestle with this question, that is a good thing.  It means you are thinking about both sides of the equation and want to affirm both sides.  God is good.  God is all-knowing, even of the future.  God is all-powerful.  Sin is very real.  It is biblical and right to affirm each of those truths.  Though it may be difficult for us to reconcile those things into our brains, it is not difficult for God to reconcile them.  This problem is much like the problem of seeing how our prayers can be real, yet God knows them before we pray.  Or how God can choose us and we also choose him.  Both sides of the equation are real and true, and God knows how it works even when we don't.

Third, let's take an actual stab at what it might be like.  Others in the past have done this, and the Bible may point us in the right direction, even if we don't get a crystal clear answer.

God wanted to create people who are capable of loving him.  And robots might be able to say the words, "I love you," but in no real way could they mean it.  God created humans with the ability to fall and sin, otherwise they would not have the ability to have real love.  I think God's being totally in control and man being also free are two truths I want to affirm, and I have to confess I don't know how it works.  But all the directions - to love people, to do the Ten Commandments, to live out the Sermon on the Mount - are directed to me as if I had a choice, as if I should make the right choice.  God is making us into the image of Christ, so that we resemble him more and more, so that we look like him in the choices we make and in the character we have.  I don't know how any of that process would make sense if we do not have some form of real choice, with some possibility of making the wrong choice.  CS Lewis has made this kind of argument.  It is a philosophical argument.  Therefore, I wouldn't hold it in as high of regard as Scripture.  I would call it a free-will defense.

Another thought.  In Ephesians, Paul talks about God planning out our salvation from before the foundation of the world so that we would be the praise of God's glorious grace.  In other words, God's purposes before the world began are for his glory, displayed in his grace.  God's grace is one of his greatest attributes.  When we are fully aware of how much grace God has shown us, it changes our hearts and causes them to truly praise and worship him.  Grasping that we are recipients of grace is at the heart of the Gospel.  And this seems to suggest that our very existence, from before the world began, is all about grasping and displaying and knowing and treasuring God's glory displayed in his grace.  The greatest possible display of grace is the Cross of Jesus, where he chose to take all the wrath coming to sinners like me, in my place, though he was completely innocent.  There is no conceivable greater display of his grace.  This display is such a high good.  It is so good that a world with it is better than a world without it.  Grace is an attribute of God that doesn't make sense apart from the possibility and existence of sin.  Grace is goodness towards sinners.  The Cross is the highest goodness possible towards sinners.  And a world in which the Cross is not known is not as a good as a world in which it is known.  This is a hard truth indeed.  God created pain and suffering in order that Jesus might suffer on the cross and display God's glorious grace.  The cross is the reason sin exists.

Whew.  I think that this was the heart of one of John Piper's Passion messages, maybe from 2010 if anyone cares to go find it.

I hope this has been helpful.  This has kind of been off the cuff and a means of procrastinating on some law reading I need to be doing right now.  But it is my joy to talk about God and hopefully to help others to see him better.

Soli Deo gloria!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Phil

Okey dokey.  Well...  hmmm....

First, I am not at all surprised.  I am not surprised at the massive success of Duck Dynasty.  There are plenty of people who enjoy relating to a family who loves each other and jokes a lot and has a real faith.

I am not surprised that in our entertainment and Christian sub-culture we have idolized the Robertsons, put them on a pedestal, and bought all their stuff.  I am not a cynic, and I don't think that they were only ever in it for the money, but their faces and beards are on everything!  They have taken over Wal-Mart!  The market is saturated with them.

I am not surprised that Phil said the things he said.  He said them a little graphically, but he also stated what a lot of people actually believe.  Phil is pretty squarely evangelical, and though many denominations wiggle their way around the Bible's definition of sin, he seems to be taking the Scripture as much as possible at face value, and he doesn't care if this offends.  A little like a woolly-looking John the Baptist coming out of the woods, preaching repentance, and calling out people (like Herod) for their sexual sins.

I am not surprised at the backlash.  It is completely not okay within our modern day to say that homosexuality is wrong.  It is not okay to say the things that the Bible says.  (Whether it's true or false is rendered irrelevant, as the focus is wholly on how offensive it is.)  But Christians should hardly be surprised that this is the case.  The Bible clearly teaches that adherence to a Christian morality based on the plain words of the Bible will put us out of step with the cultural consensus at different points.

I am not surprised at the Christian backlash to the backlash.  This hearkens back to the day when all the good Christians went out to eat at Chick-fil-a to show their support.  I anticipate that this sort of thing will go on back and forth for a while at different points.  People on different sides, instead of talking to one another, wear their favorite cultural icons like a badge and go out and fight for their causes, boycotting and patronizing and face-booking.

But dear Christians, let us keep perspective.  There are real actual Christian martyrs around the world.  A lot of them.  I do not think we ought to feel sad for millionaire Phil Robertson.  Speaking his mind got him into the spotlight and earned the affection of millions, and speaking his mind has gotten him into hot water with his show's producers and the cultural gatekeepers.  He will continue speaking his mind, and I think he is wise enough to know that their moment in the spotlight wasn't going to last forever.

We live in a democracy.  And one that is primarily capitalistic at that.  Things will balance out.  If you've got to have more Robertsons, I am sure there will be a way to find them, even if they really do get the boot from their current spot.

As a Christian I think...

1) God is in control.  There is no need to be panicky or anxious.
2) we should get to know people to have real conversations.
3) we should recognize the real disagreement behind our disagreement - which is that God determines what is right and wrong, not shifting public opinion.

As a note on tolerance... nobody would say they are against tolerance.  But the idea is, what kind of tolerance are we talking about?  I think it is a loss and not a gain to step into a tolerance that would flatten everyone's opinions into a gray equal mush.  No one has a corner on the truth... how dare you think you're actually right... everyone should just believe what works for them...  But what about what's true?  If two people really disagree, it is possible that one of them is wrong (or maybe both of them), but how can they both be right if they are talking clearly to each other about the same thing?

I say abortion is morally impermissible.  You say it is morally permissible.  We are in disagreement.  Now we can't both be right.  Maybe we're both wrong if it turns out that there is no such thing as morality and we are forcing some foreign scheme onto the question.  (I don't believe that.)  Or maybe we want to say that it is not all black and white, that there are certain circumstances under which it would be morally permissible or morally impermissible.  But really that is just a sort of narrowing function, so that we can just re-ask the question in regards to that particular circumstance.  Under circumstances X, would abortion be morally permissible?  And maybe we find agreement, but likely we would find disagreement.  And once we have gotten it down to those particular circumstances, I am saying that it defies logic for the action to be both morally permissible and morally impermissible in the same sense, at the same time...  I find all this to be common sense, but our modern world has a knack for doing double-talk to evade what would otherwise be obvious.

So basically I am pleading for some intellectual honesty.  Let us be honest that we hold our opinion because we think it's right.  We do not hold our neighbor's opinion if we think it's wrong.  If we thought he was right, well I guess we'd be holding that opinion, too, by definition.  Why would you hold an opinion if you didn't think it was right or true?  (Again, to some this will seem incredibly like just basic common sense.)

So let's get down to Phil's issue.  Some people believe that the Bible teaches that homosexuality is a departure from God's good design for sexuality, and to engage in it is wrong.  And other people believe strongly that to hold such a view of sexuality is close-minded, bigoted, and wrong.  Those upset with Robertson disagree with him with a vehemence that clearly shows they don't simply have a difference of opinion such that they are all just holding different equally valid opinions.  They think he is dead wrong.  And not wrong as in... oh I just hold a wrong opinion about the answer to a math question.  Wrong, as in morally wrong, morally repugnant, must be stopped.

Both groups of people are appealing to some standard of morality.  They appeal to it and say the other is in transgression of this real standard.  How will a democracy, society judge between them?  I want the consideration of this to press on us the issue of where morality comes from in the first place.  Everyone, by virtue of the simple act of disagreeing or disapproving, operates on some standard.  But where does it come from?

I think that a real objective standard is best grounded in some absolute, like God.  How then do we know the standard?  We are obviously not great at keeping it because we violate even our own consciences all the time.  Our conscience evidences this natural law, but our consciences are malleable and not omniscient.  If God really is the source of the standard - which makes the best explanatory sense to me - then we will be in the dark if he does not teach us his standard and keep it somewhere so that it stands forth firm and unwavering despite our individual or societal wanderings.  And that is what I think the Bible does.  It is a testament that does many things and one of these is to teach us what God requires of us so that we are not in the dark.

And quite understandably a lot people are wary of such an explanation.  But what would you substitute as the source of the standard and how will I know?  Should I take my standard from society?  If we hold an idea of society progressing and getting better, better as judged by what?  And what is to keep me from getting stuck in this particular generation's morality if this is really just a step on the way to the next and improved generation?  Should I just follow my heart?  That seems completely subjective and a recipe for running off the rails.  Should I just listen to you?  Ehh...

Well...  I am on Christmas break and have time to write this sort of thing.  During the semester, I will be swamped with reading.  So I hope that this has been at least thought provoking to those of you who have taken the time to read.  And maybe I'll get in another post or two before Spring gets rolling.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Promises in Disguise

Romans 12:1 - I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

In the Christian life, we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  We are not saved by our works.  The Gospel is not a list of suggestions or commands.  It is an announcement of News, of Good News.  It is a proclamation of a Story that has deep meaning for us.  And when the Holy Spirit grabs our hearts through that Story - Jesus death, burial, and resurrection to save us for our sins - we are saved and changed. 

If you are saved, you know about the battle that is the Christian life.  We still have indwelling sin.  We are still finite and sinful creatures.  We still do things that displease God.  Romans 7 is a telling illustration of this internal battle.  If you are saved, you now have a principle within you that really hates sin because it is displeasing to God.  You want to please God now, not in order to be saved, but simply because you love him.  And you want to be done with the things that weigh you down.  This battle makes me long for heaven when sin is no longer present in any capacity.  What a sigh of relief and joy will come then.

Faith that saves is also faith that sanctifies.  If your faith does not lead you over time to increasingly hate your remaining sin, it probably isn't real faith.  Our faith may be tested by our fruits.  Jesus' pictures in Matthew of those who are not fruitful are quite scary.  (Jesus talks about hell a lot more than modern pastors, I think.)  The faith that unites us to Jesus is the same faith that sees us through, that sees us growing. 

What is the nature of that initial move of faith?  It is seeing what Jesus has done for us and believing it, knowing and stepping into the knowledge that he died for me.  And I couldn't have saved myself.  I am incapable of it because I am a poor sinner.  Without God's help I never would have found him or followed him.  Saving faith is a faith that trusts in Jesus and despairs of any attempts at self-salvation.  And I think sanctification involves that same basic look to Jesus.  As we look to Jesus and see what he has done, as we contemplate the grace he has shown us, as we see the true meaning of the cross and empty tomb, we are changed for the better.  We fall in love with God more!  And from that love we properly bear fruit where we were before fruitless. 

I think it does work that way, but I wanted to write this blog post because of a way I have seen myself look at things one-dimensionally.  The Gospel is deep and I never want to move beyond it, or set it aside, or feel like I have mastered it.  Contemplation of the Gospel is something I should do everyday for the rest of my life.  And I expect God will grow me through that. 

But what then to do with the law?  What to do with all the things God commands?  I am not talking, even, about all the Old Testament laws and what the new covenant does to our interpretation of that.  I am talking about the Sermon on the Mount and Romans 12 and Ephesians 4.  God clearly expects things of us.  He expects our obedience.  What place do these passages have in the way I look at things now?  One way - a correct way I think - of looking at it is like I described above.  We are saved by belief in the Gospel and further contemplation of the Gospel melts our hearts so that they become loving.  And this love is the fulfilling of the law, which will mean that we more naturally fulfill these commandments out of renewed hearts. 

But God works in many ways.  He is up to a lot of things.  And he can use a lot of different things to great effect in our lives.  And far be it from me to think I have figured out all the ways he can press the Gospel into his people...

Let me describe some periods of growth for me...

My walk as a Christian is not uniform.  It goes through periods of dryness, periods of great joy, periods of falling back into sin, and periods of refreshing and repentance. 

Seasons of dryness and sin are also typically seasons where I have been little in the Word and little in prayer.  I think they go together like oil and water.  I don't think we are ever sitting still.  We are either moving towards God or away from him, either slowly or quickly.  But we are not sitting still.

In some of the times of refreshing, I look back at something that sparked it, and it is not always a straightforward contemplation of the Cross.  Sometimes it has been that I have read a good biography.  (I think Hebrews commends this idea.)  I listened to Eric Metaxas' 7 Great Men to my benefit.  It had short biographies of people like George Washington and Jackie Robinson and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  It wasn't scripture, but my heart was encouraged.  Doing this made me want to be a better man, and that desire was fuel for helping me to actually become a better man. 

I also have been distinctly helped by the writings of CS Lewis.  I mean writings from any genre.  I have read Mere Christianity probably three times now, and each time God speaks to me afresh.  I am emboldened to not go about my Christian walk out of duty but out of delight.  Reading the Chronicles of Narnia and The Great Divorce and The Screwtape Letters have all taken me into fictional worlds, but they have all, though fiction, helped me to see myself and my own world with fresh eyes. 

Sometimes I am refreshed by an extended meditation on a particular verse.  My Gospel-lens says I should connect every verse up to the storyline of the Bible, but I am not always smart enough about how to do that.  And yet God blesses his Scriptures in my life, in spite of my dim-wittedness.

Sometimes it is through service to others that I am taken out of myself and refreshed and changed.  I have experienced it and I know others have too, the sort of buzz that you get off mission work.  God is with us as we are pursuing the Great Commission in the world.  It is a fight coming off a mission trip to stay doing the right things at home, but that does not take away from the reality of God's presence that you felt in his mission in fellowship with his people.

And that brings me finally to a category that I want to commend to you.  I have entitled this blog entry "Promises in Disguise".  I want to commend God's commands as promises. 

I have had the same experience, and perhaps you have too, of meditating on God's law or commands, on a picture of righteousness, and being changed for the better into truly desiring to be the kind of person who can do those commands.  I think Psalm 119 is all about this.  The Psalmist delights to set his heart and mind on the commands of God.  In today's Gospel-centered subculture in the church, we will say explicitly that we should set our hearts and minds on the Cross and Empty tomb, but it seems foreign to our lips to say that we will set our hearts and minds on the law.  Isn't that what Jesus came to save us from?!

But I don't think that is an empty phrase to put on our lips.  Or an empty action to take.  We should set our hearts and minds on God's good commands. 

What does it mean that God has given us commands?  The Israelites were proud of the law in a good way.  It meant that God had not been silent towards them.  It meant that in love he had not left them to their own devices and moral confusion.  God's Law will either look precious or repugnant based on what you're looking for.  In our modern world, we are often looking for unfettered freedom, in which case the Law is going to look horrible and burdensome and... just let me look the other direction.  But if you have come to the point that you really want to do right, you want to be good, you hunger and thirst for true righteousness... you will delight if the one who knows the answer lets you in on the truth and shines a light for you into your moral darkness. 

Some of the Israelites took the Law and used it as a stepping ladder to try to fashion their own righteousness and please God by how good they were.  But not all of them.  Romans 4 talks about the way people were justified in the Old Testament, and it was the same way that they are justified in the New Testament, by faith.  The distinction between the Old and New testament dispensations is not so radically different as you may have been taught.  People in the Old Testament believed God and it was credited to them as righteousness. 

The Ten Commandments were a precious gift to the Israelites.  But God didn't give it to them as conditions for getting into heaven.  They were more like house rules for a people who had already tasted salvation.  The people of Israel had just been rescued from bondage and had been given the law.  This type of logic is paralleled in the structure of Romans.  God, in Romans 1-11, is gloriously working out a salvation for his people, and it isn't until chapters 12-16 that he gets around to telling them how to behave.  God saves and then answers the question of how we are to live. 

Why do I say that the commands are promises?

I think that some people have said "God won't ask you to do something that you are unable to do."  And I don't exactly agree with that.  I think God's moral law rests on our consciences before we are saved, and no one can keep the law.  Apart from the Spirit of God we cannot please God.  Our righteousness is as filthy rags.  What is our condition before Jesus becomes Lord in our lives?  No one does good.  No one seeks after God.  Our hearts are not merely sick, but dead, until the God who resurrected Jesus speaks life into us.  To our dead hearts God says obey, and we cannot... until he graciously chooses to wake us up.

But I do want to say just that about the Christian - "God won't ask you to do something that you are unable to do."  Of course, we can't do it in our own power.  We need the Spirit's help.  But as Christians we have the spirit, and we have a heart that is alive to God now.  We do sometimes fail, and humility would ask us to admit that we will probably fail again in the future.  But stepping up to any task of obedience that God requires, we now can meet that challenge in Christ.  There is no temptation that is greater than the power of God to deliver you from it if you throw yourself upon Christ. 

God is both glorified in and pleased with our obedience.  He gets the glory because it is so obvious that we could not stand obediently apart from his grace and help.  And our obedience is where our love is proven.  God doesn't want throngs of people who feign love with their mouths but whose lives show that it is a mere moving of the lips.

So then, every time God asks something of us, we can look at it as a promise from him as help to perform it.  You belong to the family of God because Jesus has purchased you with his blood.  We are family.  And the New Testament is filled with house rules because it is loving for God to guide his children.

When Christ died for his people, he was not merely purchasing their forgiveness, but also their sanctification and future glorification.  We are being remade into the image of Christ.  We are being transformed.  Each act of obedience is helping to shape us into the picture of ourselves that God can already clearly see. 

Let us treasure all of the Word of God.  The Gospel frees us to appreciate the commands of God in new ways.  Let us live lives of obedience, to the praise and glory of Jesus.  Soli Deo gloria!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Refresh

I think every once in awhile we get caught in a rut.  We get used to seeing things from one angle.  We get comfortable in our relationships, in our position, in our faith.

Sometimes we become comfortable with sin creeping in.

Sometimes we become complacent.

I find that in those times I am not reading Scripture.

"The Bible will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from the Bible."  A proverb.

Go be with God as soon as possible.  He is better than your other plans.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Hezekiah and Us

Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, "Hear the word of the Lord:  Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon.  Nothing shall be left, says the Lord.  And some of your own sons, who shall be born to you, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon."  Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, "The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good."  For he thought, "Why not, if there will be peace and security in my days?"  

Hezekiah was actually one of the good kings in Israel's history.  He walked in the footsteps of his father David.  (Father, as in his ancestor.)  But like David, we still see weaknesses.

Hezekiah had just gotten through showing off his wealth to an envoy from Babylon.  He did not spare showing them anything.  He was showing off.  And pride goes before a fall...

But the fall, in this case, was prophesied to happen years later to his house, his descendants.  The exile into Babylon is here prophesied.  This is surely not good news to receive.  How does he take it?

He seems to take it far too well.  Hezekiah is happy just to realize that it is not going to happen to him.  He breathes a sigh of relief to know that he isn't going to feel the consequences of his pride.  His descendants are out of sight, out of mind.

I don't follow politics too closely.  But it seems to me that in America we had a boom, we have had a lot of wealth, a lot of pride.  We have flaunted it.  And pride goes before a fall...

But maybe we could take the time to think about future generations.  What sacrifices and what discipline are in order in the present to hand future generations a better America?

And what about the Great Commission?  Many do not know the Gospel.  How could they know without hearing it?  These people become far too easily out-of-sight, out-of-mind for us.  But our love should be for these peoples, not for our own skin or our own comfort.

Jesus bore the curse of the sin of hundreds of generations who were not even born yet, including ours... He thought of those future generations as he shouldered the cross in all that it meant.  For this we should be thankful.

I thought this was just an interesting story from a part of the Bible I don't read very often, 2 Kings 20.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Things the Enemy Wants for Me

1.  To feel I am too busy for prayer.
2.  To feel I am too unworthy for prayer.
3.  To feel that prayer is meaningless.
4.  To worry.
5.  To wear myself out trying to get rich.
6.  To assume I've already got all the Bible I need.
7.  To feel guilty.
8.  To fall slowly and stay stuck in patterns of sin.
9.  To believe what my heart says over what God says.
10. To be too busy to spend time with my wife.
11. To find my worth and security in success, instead of God.
12. To be too busy to realize there is spiritual warfare happening.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Walking

I ran across walking as a metaphor for how we walk through life's pain and suffering while reading a chapter from Tim Keller's new book on the subject.  I think this metaphor is helpful.  Let me briefly explain.

God wants us in this moment.  The past is the past, and the future is the future.  It is far too easy to get sucked into either one.  And life is long.  Sure, it will go past in the blink of an eye, but as it is lived, it is lived one day at a time, a marathon, putting one foot in front of the other one.

I want to live a good life.  I want to live a life that is honoring to God.  But I have besetting sin.  I have indwelling sin.  I have real struggles.  What to do?

My natural reaction is to want to have it all fixed at once.  And I put all my emotional energy into some resolution about being actually godly now.  But when I do that, I am relying on my own righteousness, instead of God's righteousness for me.  I look forward to the rest of my life and think, "Oh, what an opportunity I have to fix myself and make up for all the bad stuff I've done and thought and said in the past."  And I lean on that theoretical future as a way to make God happy with me.

But that is not what the Gospel is.  That is not the way the Gospel motivates.  I look at my sanctification as a sprint to get to the destination now - godliness - so that I may rest in it for the rest of my life and set up a nice clean record so that I will feel better about myself when I come to die.  No good.

God is good, and he is sovereign over our sanctification.  And I think walking is a good metaphor for showing trust and for showing the way God works.

By walking into the future a step at a time, I have an unhurried trust that God is with me and will care for me.  Eventually, enough of these small, slow, deliberate, God-ward steps will add up to something.  It will get me somewhere.  But there is no short-cut teleportation to glorification in the Christian life.  Oh well.

We are pilgrims.  Let's go with God, and lets go with each other.  Step by step.  We are not perfect.  But our God is.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Evangelism

Christians are called to share the Gospel.  This can be difficult when the message is sure to offend some.

This calls for a balance.  Evangelism is telling people that they need Jesus, with as much conviction and as little coercion as possible.  There is a nonchalance, too easy to slip into, that takes the bite out of our message, that makes it seem like we really don't mean it, or it isn't all that important.  God is honored by our efforts to be wise, but I don't think he is honored by our efforts to be cool or liked.  God calls us to be peacemakers, but we are not to do that by being cowards or doing away with a love for and duty towards truth.

How must evangelism work in the modern world?  First, I think it must be said that it doesn't work in a way fundamentally different than any other time.  We don't need innovation for the sake of innovation.  People are people, and people are lost.  God works where he will, and he awakens faith in people's hearts, and the Gospel message is news about something that has decisively happened.  We preach the sufficiency of the resurrection of the Son of God yesterday, today, and until he comes back.  And God is pleased to awaken faith through the preaching of this message.

Nevertheless, we are called to bring the message into our time among the people we are with.  That requires some thought.

The secular pull in our world, in our country, in our time is powerful.  I imagine that to the average secular person, if I tell them the Gospel, they probably will not feel that they need it.  They probably will have questions and assumptions lurking in the back of their mind that are roadblocks to taking the Gospel seriously.  It is hard to feel that you need a God that you don't really believe exists.

How do we work towards making the Gospel seem at least plausible when it is heard?  I have three thoughts.  They come from the conviction that, while God may sometimes work through a single conversation or relationship to bring another to faith, more often it happens over time, over wrestling, in a web of various relationships.

1)  We need to cast our net wider.  There are plenty of Gospel conversations to be had outside of one that includes a "You need Jesus.  Would you pray this prayer?"  If we let the culture drift without showing that God is real and relevant, we are making our job in evangelism harder.  I do not mean that we need to shoulder the burden of making the wider culture Christian or perfect.  Rather, I think we ought to have the courage to speak the truth winsomely at different points.  To point out the absurdity of the world's way of thinking where we find it.  These don't need to be fights to the death; they are not the main thing.  We want to put a pebble in the world's shoe, one that is at least a small reminder that there is another Way.  Though we will probably convince few people in these conversations, we want them to be aware that there is a real, self-consistent, intellectually rigorous, and existentially satisfying solution and explanation to things.  And that more than an explanation, there is a Person.  We, with patience and grace and courage, take every thought captive for Christ.

2)  We need to live in a spirit of love.  Jesus says that love is the most important thing.  Jesus says that love for each other is how they will know that he was sent from the Father.  Love is the greatest apologetic.  Love is what will let people know that all the conversations we had pursuant to #1 above was not a mere moving of our lips, a running of our mouths.  How we love is the dish that we serve our message on.  If it stinks, our message will be a stench as well.  Authentic love will show people that there is something real here, something worth investigating, something worth having.  I think there is also a social aspect to the way people think and make decisions, and the Gospel will seem more plausible when we invite others into a community that has been truly shaped by the Gospel.  And the evidence of whether it has been shaped by the Gospel is whether there is love.

3)  Salvation is supernatural.  There is a Holy Spirit.  He has a lot to do with all of this.  There is a spiritual battle to be fought.  We ought not to think we can win people simply with the persuasiveness of our arguments, or with anything really, if Christ is not in the midst of our efforts.  He must do a work.  We are dependent on Him.  And this ought to drive us to prayer.  The unbeliever will not admit this - they will claim intellectual neutrality - but in evangelism there is a battle for the heart as well as for the mind.  The unbelieving heart is in charge of its own destiny and it likes it, and it does not want to admit a God that could have control over it.  The heart will put the mind to the service of preserving this status quo.  And such an unseating will be difficult.  Satan will not want it to happen.  The other person will not, at the time, want it to happen.  The world will not want it to happen.  God is the only one powerful enough to make it happen.

These are my thoughts.  I don't know why they were on my mind.  I haven't had much blogging time lately, but I hope you are edified.