Yesterday, I was conducting research on the writers of the Gospels. Did you know that the writers were very likely not the apostles attached to their book names? That is to say, Matthew didn’t write the Book of Matthew and Mark likely didn’t write the Book of Mark and so on. Anyway, that is a discussion for another blog topic.
While researching, I came across a blog written by a well-educated, intelligent astrophysicist with a passionate hobby for using the Bible and his scientific background to attempt to discredit the Scripture. As much as I disagree with many of the points he argued, I appreciated the fact that he was well-versed in his arguments, had the educational and research background to stand firmly on his views of the topics he covered and laid out a clinical, mostly unbiased view of why he did not believe the Bible to be the inerrant Word of God.
As I finished reading the astrophysicist’s blog entry, I noticed several comments by others who had read the post followed. Some of the commenters were complimentary of his research, style and point of view. Others commenters were Christians who argued defensively as to why the post was fundamentally wrong. In response to the Christian comments, many of whom were unnecessarily obnoxious in the their own right, the writer was extremely condescending and hateful. As a result, the comment thread went from cordial to ugly very quickly — an unfortunately common theme if you’ve read any other open forums on the web (and I don’t just mean open forums related to religion or faith). Obviously, in this case, no one was going to change anyone else’s opinion through a comment thread.
There are a few fly-on-the-wall observations of the astrophysicist’s blog that I’d like to share. First, the writer is clearly an anti-theist with an agenda, but he did his homework. He knows why he believes what he believes. In contrast, the Christian commenters argued their points of view; but, in this case, they did not seem well-versed or prepared for the writer’s in-depth, well-researched critiques on their comments. Shouldn’t we as Christians become intimately knowledgeable of the doctrine upon which we stand? I argue we should be. If I was to use a successful example, I would point to Paul. Detailed knowledge of the Torah was a critical part of his ministry. He was well-educated and knew the opposing point of view of his intellectual, religious peers better than most scholars of the day. Second, the Christian commenters on astrophysicist’s blog mainly used Scripture to prove their statements. I’m not sure arguing scripture with a non believer is productive. After all, the author dedicated his whole blog site to discrediting the Bible; therefore, any “proof” was already invalid in his mind. I would submit if we only use the Bible to argue against someone else’s belief, we’ve already failed the debate.
Scripture is a great thing. I’m not trying to dismiss its importance; however, the core of our beliefs should be based on our relationship with God instead of doctrine. If I had spoken to the writer, I might have provided a personal testimony about my relationship with Jesus and how that has radically transformed my life. I would have told him about the debilitating anxiety disorder that controlled me and generations of my family; but Jesus freed me from that lifelong struggle in a moment of prayer. It is likely the writer would have dismissed such testimony because he didn’t experience my personal transformation for himself, but at least the discussion might have disarmed his defensive stance and the scientifically-based, intellectual argument which he is clearly better equipped to make than I. At this point, after such a vile, out-of-control thread on his blog, I don’t plan to leave a comment. Any well-meaning thought would probably not be well received at this point anyway.
I realized before leaving the blog site, I found myself frustrated with the overall discussion. We as Christians should be prepared for discussions with other people we encounter. People who don’t believe what we believe are going to have different views and values about things we hold as core truths. We shouldn’t be shocked by this fact, and we should be careful not to feed and validate a negative stereotype they may already have about Christianity. Once we validate a negative stereotype, the doorway to discussion with the other person shuts — sometimes permanently. We impact people we interact with whether we think we do or not.
We should also remember not everyone feels what we feel. If you’ve never experienced a relationship with God, you don’t know you’re missing anything. There’s nothing to which the feeling can be compared. Trying to argue with someone who doesn’t know God about faith is a bit like encountering someone who speaks a different language and speaking more loudly in a futile attempt to make the other person understand. This is a silly example that I borrowed from a friend, but he’s right. It just doesn’t work that way.
All that said, it is important to remember it is not our job to change someone’s heart. Only God can do that (Matthew 13). We are simply called to bear witness to the truth of change in our own lives and represent Him well. Be gracious, quick to forgive and always willing to listen before attempting to argue a point of view. The way I see it, God is certainly more capable than I when it comes to defending Him. He doesn’t need my help.
Why do I write about the parallels between Jesus and Old Testament characters? I believe it is important to understand the strong links between the Old and New Testaments. Repeated themes of Jesus’s attitudes, life, death and resurrection are deeply embedded on every page of the Old Testament. By discovering these links, it will increase your faith and encourage you to believe the Bible is truly God’s Word. As you follow the series Old and New Testament Parallels, Symbols and Ponderings, I encourage you to consider the age of these ancient texts, the span of years between the Old and New Testament writers, the number of repeated prophecies of the coming Messiah and the accurate foretelling of the life of Christ in the Old Testament.
As I researched this topic across the web, I began to realize there are many parallels between Jacob and Jesus, and it would be an extremely long blog entry if I attempted to cover all of them. Below are some of the most interesting parallels from the story of Jacob:
Parallel 1: The Highly Favored and Beloved Son:
If you know the story of Jacob, you may be wondering how he could be called a “type” of Christ. After all, he stole his brother’s birthright by tricking his father. He was stubborn and prone to strife. However, God loved and poured His favor upon Jacob before He was born (Psalms 135:4; Isaiah 41:8; Romans 9:10-13). Throughout the Old Testament, ancient Israel’s relationship with God consisted of love, struggle, waywardness and reconciliation. God’s people weren’t perfect, yet He called them His “chosen” people anyway. I love this parallel because it gives me, who is very imperfect at times, hope. How great is the grace and mercy of God on us!
God favored and loved His Son Jesus before the world was formed (John 17:24).
Parallel 2: Stranger in a Strange Land
After Jacob stole his Esau’s birthright, his brother wanted to kill him. As a result, Jacob fled his home to live among strangers in a far away land, called Paddan-aram, for twenty years. Before returning to his homeland, he built his family, his wealth and riches (Genesis 28:2-4).
Christ left His heavenly Father’s side to become a man upon this earth. As a result, he lived among a world that didn’t understand. His own people wanted to kill Him (Philippians 2:7). Jesus came from heavenly places to share His wealth and glory of the Kingdom with us.
Symbolism: Jacob’s Ladder
Jacob has a dream in which he saw many angels going up and down a ladder that stretched between the heavens and the earth. Theologians believe the ladder represents Jesus who bridges the gap between heaven and this world through his death and resurrection for our sins. Revelation states the ladder will be complete when Jesus returns to His Bride (the Church) (John 1:51; Revelation 21 and 22).
Parallel 3: The Bride
Jacob worked for many years for his uncle to make Rachel his bride (Genesis 29:18).
Christ is the bridegroom of the Church. He came to this earth to die for the love of His bride, the Church. God and His angels are constantly working on our behalf until Christ returns (John 5:17).
Parallel 4: The Elder and The Younger Sisters
Jacob married two wives. Leah was the elder sister and Rachel, the younger. Jacob’s family line continued through both wives and were united together in marriage. Their families eventual journeyed to Canaan, the promised land.
Christ (represents Jacob) is the link between the Old Testament (Leah: Israel/Hebrew people) and the New Testament (Rachel: Jews united with gentiles/also known as the “Bride of Christ”). Jesus was a descendent of Leah because He came from the Tribe of Judah. The gentiles, through Christ, are adopted into the family of God’s chosen people. As God’s children, we are on a journey to the heavenly Canaan (Ephesians 2:14).
Parallel 5: Israel Prevails
God gave Jacob the name “Israel” after they wrestled outside of Jacob’s camp. The Lord gave him this name after saying he “wrestled with God and man, and prevailed” (Genesis 32:24-28).
During the Second Coming, Jesus will return to earth to build the New Jerusalem to signify Israel ultimately prevailing upon the earth (Revelation 21:2).
Parallel 6: The Patriarchs
Jacob became the father of the 12 tribes (descendants from his 12 children) of the Hebrew people.
In contrast, Christ’s disciples became the spiritual fathers.
Parallel 7: The House of Levi and Priesthood
The Tribe of Levi (a tribe of priests) came from Jacob’s family line. The Levites were a class of priests, including high priests. Those who were not priests carried out other religious or political responsibilities. The High Priest was responsible for offering a sacrifice to atone for the sin of the Hebrew people (Leviticus 16).
When I watch the news and read persecution stories, I’m bombarded with images of injustice and pain around the world. I likely don’t have to convince you evil exists because we see it all around us, but why? If God is real and He is always good, why do bad things happen? Why does God allow the innocent to suffer and injustice to reign?
As I thought about this topic, I was reminded it is deeply personal and based on experiences. I want to be sensitive to your experiences and not be flippant or over simplify this discussion. I don’t have all of the answers, but here are some thoughts I hope will bring you comfort.
If God exists, did He create evil? After all, He created everything, right? This question frequently surfaces in discussions about God and why some people believe a basic flaw exists in the Christian faith. Although this question seems to bring attention to a paradox, I believe it can be answered. My thoughts: God didn’t create evil. Evil and our imperfect world result from our poor choices and a fallen world. I realize this is a highly controversial statement, but let me explain.
In the story of Adam and Eve, we learn God created mankind in His image and gave them the option to maintain a perfect existence without suffering or death; however, He also gave mankind free will. Free will means we have the ability to choose between right and wrong. Just as we can choose love, peace, joy, patience, kindness and other good things, we can choose the opposite. We can choose to reject. We can choose to hate. We can choose to do the unspeakable: destroy, murder and hurt others. Free will exists in full range of good and bad choices from the seemingly insignificant to the most extreme; and there are consequences that result from every decision we make.
In discussions I’ve had with others, I’ve been asked the question, “Why would God even give us the ability to do bad things? Why not just make us perfect?” This idea sounds great on the surface, but would we really be free to be who we are? Would God truly have created us to have a loving relationship with Him if we were forced to love Him back or to make the right choice? Would we be robots? It seems our free will is deeply interwoven with our humanity and who we are individually.
One of my friends likes to use a wonderful analogy about free will. When you choose to have a relationship with another person; but they don’t want to love you back, it is his or her choice to leave. No matter how painful it is to let the person go, if you really love your significant other, you let them go — even if that means your beloved ends up with someone else. You wouldn’t force him or her to stay because you want that person to love you. If you imagine why God gave us free will in this analogy, it seems we were created out of absolute love: given the ability to completely reject the One who created us even as He knew it would cause Him tremendous pain to watch us walk away.
Life and Our Freedom to Choose
Yes, terror and tragedy at the hands of another are terrible things. We are never promised life will be easy; many times it isn’t. We are only promised He will walk alongside us, sharing our burdens and our sorrows; and we know this life isn’t the end of the story. Evil reigns temporarily, but it doesn’t have the final say. Also, we may have no ability to change what others have done to hurt us; but we have free will to make our own decisions about how we will affect others. If you feel paralyzed by the immensity of suffering in this world, remember Jesus’s example. Be the difference. Do what is right. Show mercy and love even when it is hard. Pray. Always do your best to choose to what is right.
Old Testament stories like Noah’s Ark ( Genesis 6:5-9:17) sometimes conjure thoughts of an angry God fatally sweeping away humanity and life in a torrent of water. Sound familiar? Although the logistics of the story of Noah’s Ark are hard to imagine, it seems the impossible task of gathering pairs of animals and cramming them into a large boat is not the number one issue that bothers people. Instead, the most difficult piece of the story seems to be the not-so-obvious answers to perplexing questions about our Divine Creator: “Why does God seem to oscillate between two extremes — the angry, jealous God of judgment of the Old Testament and the loving, merciful Father of the New Testament?”, “Did God change His mind about humanity and decide we weren’t worth the grief we caused Him?”, “Does God hate humanity?”, and “What signs and symbols of mercy, if any, exist in stories like the one about Noah?”
Hollywood movies and the mainstream media sometimes typecast God inaccurately as a tyrannical master who can’t wait for humanity to slip up so He can wipe them off the face of the earth; but I encourage you to consider how Old Testament stories like Noah’s Ark reveal God’s grace and mercy and can be paralleled with Christ’s death and resurrection (like many other Old Testament stories believe it or not!).
God does not enjoy the destruction of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11). As the ultimate loving Father, He always provides hope and a way out of judgment. If you read closely enough, you will realize the Biblical account of Noah is a wonderful story filled with signs and symbols of a gracious and merciful God. As the Divine Creator, God could have chosen to wipe mankind from the earth, especially since the Bible says our wickedness was so great it caused an outcry from the heavens. The Scriptures say it deeply grieved God that His creation had become so morally bankrupt that no one except Noah was found to be righteous. How great is our God that He allowed man’s legacy to continue through Noah’s family line (Genesis 6:5-8)? Why would He do this? Although man’s wickedness grieved God, He loves us and promised to repair our broken relationship with Him (Isaiah 53:5-12).
Symbols of Grace – The Ark
Although God promised the flood would come, He also promised Noah a way to escape destruction onboard the Ark. The Ark provided complete protection from the flood in the same way the blood of Jesus covers us and provides grace over judgment. God invited Noah and His family into the Ark and sealed them inside to secure their protection (Genesis 6:9-7:24).
Symbols of Grace – The Raven
After several days of floating around on the flood waters, Noah released a raven. The Bible says the raven flew back and forth in the sky continuously until the Ark found its resting place in the mountains of Ararat. When I first read this statement, I was somewhat perplexed. In modern times, the raven is often used to symbolize death. I suppose it could be said the raven could not perch on anything because the earth was covered in water which symbolized death while the waters existed. Also, ravens were considered to be unclean birds because they feed on the dead (“Genesis 8 – Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible”, Bible Gateway).
Is it also possible there is a dual meaning to why the raven was sent out? In my research about Noah’s raven, I found several websites that indicated the bird is often used as a symbol of provision (see “1 Kings 17 – Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible”, Bible Gateway, “Vincent of Saragossa”, Wikipedia, and Luke 12:24). I have to wonder if the raven is meant to symbolize God’s provision for Noah, his family, and all the living creatures on the Ark while there was only death everywhere else upon the earth.
Symbols of Grace – The Dove and the Olive Branch
The dove shows up in many different passages of the Bible to symbolize the Holy Spirit, purity, peace, and new life. In the story of Noah’s Ark, the dove was sent out three separate times to find dry land. The first time the dove was sent out, it flew back to Noah because there was nowhere to land (death upon the land). The second time the Noah released the dove, it returned with an olive branch, symbolizing peace. When the dove was released a third time, it did not return, symbolizing freedom and deliverance after the world’s submersion). Just as Noah’s Ark is often compared to the finished work of Christ, the dove can be compared to a believer’s baptism after salvation, signifying the Holy Spirit being with a follower of Jesus (“Why is the dove often used as a Symbol for the Holy Spirit?”, Got Questions.Org).
One could also argue that the dove is, in this particular case, a symbol of deliverance. The dove as a symbol of the love of God appeared, telling us that, as with the Flood, the storm of sin is not powerful enough to keep us permanently separated from the Father. Our planet is now connected with heaven through Christ. In accepting His Son, God signifies to us that we are also accepted in the Beloved through faith in the provision He made on our behalf.
If you are interested in the meanings and symbolism of the colors of the rainbow, I would highly recommend the article found on Bible Study.Org titled “What does a rainbow mean in the Bible?”. There are multiple layers of meanings and so many interesting things to study on this topic that it would be easy to make a whole other blog post about it (and I just might!).
Parallels to Christ’s Work on the Cross
The parallels to Christ’s work are incredibly rich and detailed, and I would encourage you to explore the web and study it on your own. You won’t be disappointed. Here are a couple of interesting sites I found while I was doing some research:
A good friend of mine has been struggling with some negative emotions related to the word “evangelist.” It makes him picture sidewalk preachers who hold signs saying “Repent!” and shout words of judgment about sins and how wicked people are living. It makes him angry, and I can see why he feels that way. Christians who evangelize by yelling at people and trying to convert through fear make me uncomfortable too, especially as a Christian. I can’t imagine how nonbelievers must feel.
I believe evangelists and Christians in general must demonstrate the love and mercy of Jesus to be an effectively evangelist. It can be as simple as talking to someone as a friend, meeting a stranger’s physical needs (like assisting with food, water, shelter, etc.), or looking into someone’s eyes and telling them “Jesus loves you.” The eyes are the window to the soul, and people can see the love of Jesus shine through your eyes even if you never mention you are a Christian. No matter how you talk to someone about Jesus, it is important to always approach people with love and without an agenda.
In the book Do What Jesus Did, Robby Dawkins tells a story about his experiences evangelizing on a university campus. He ministered to people about Jesus by walking around campus and praying for people he’d encounter. In one of his stories, he walked over to a man standing at a bus stop and asked if he can pray with him. The man said he was an atheist but agreed to let Robby pray with him if he could answer one question first. When Robby agreed, the man asked Robby, “If I were to rape, torture, and murder little girls, what would God say to me when I die?” The man was trying to get Robby to condemn him and say he would go to Hell; but Robby, a smart guy who loves debate, felt led to lower himself and ask the man again if he could pray for him instead of getting into a defensive argument. “You know, I can see that you’re really, really smart – way smarter than I am. I probably couldn’t answer all your arguments,” Robby began. “But sir, I am just a simple man, and if you would be so kind as to let me, I would still like to pray for you and bless you.” The man reluctantly agreed, probably just to get the religious guy to move along. Robby prayed over him that God would show the man how much He loved him. When Robby finished praying the man looked at Robby and then burst into tears, weeping for quite a while. What Robby didn’t realize at the time was that the man he prayed for was the head of an atheist group at the university who often spoke out heatedly against Christianity.
Many times, we as Christians try to rely on our own intellect and our own means when evangelizing. Instead, we should humble ourselves and get of the way so that God can work through us to reach people. Talk to people, listen to them, listen for anything the Holy Spirit might reveal to you about the person, and pray for them. There is so much power in prayer. Even if nothing happens, people will usually just be happy that you cared enough to minister to them.
The biggest problem with the street evangelists who hold up the signs and shout judgment is that they are seeing people through their own eyes. We need to pray and ask God, “Father, how do you see this person? What are you saying to this one whom you love?” God loves every person so much and that is what we should be portraying. Jesus said in John 12:47, “For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.”
When I think of evangelism, I often think about a famous magician, Penn Jillette, who is an outspoken atheist. After one of his shows, a man walked over to Penn and complimented him on the show and handed him a Gideon’s New Testament Bible. I thought this would have rubbed Penn the wrong way with him being an atheist, but there is a YouTube video where he says doesn’t respect Christians who don’t evangelize. “How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? If I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that a truck was coming at you; and you didn’t believe it, and that truck was bearing down on you, there’s a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that.”
Many times, evangelism refers to ministering to strangers; however, evangelism means also ministering to those around you – friends, coworkers, and students. It may involve discussions about Jesus, but it’s possible to evangelize effectively without saying a word about Jesus. You just have to live a life submitted to Jesus; others will take notice.
I will end with a quote my friend always loves to use: “Preach the gospel always; if necessary, use words.”
I hope you enjoy this heartfelt post by a dear friend about his view of the world from an atheist’s eyes. – The In-Place Missionary
Faith, Evangelism, and the Non-Believer by Eternally Grateful
A friend and I were talking one day about life prior to my recent conversion. For most of my adult life, I would have said I was an atheist. For people who have been raised in church, with God being part of their life ever since they could remember, it is probably difficult to understand the atheist’s perspective. After all, how could anyone reject something so important as God? My friend and I found ourselves agreeing it would be interesting to attempt to articulate the view of the non-believer from the perspective of someone who, until very recently, used to be one.
Atheists, Agnostics, and the Hard Numbers
It was difficult to decide how to approach writing this article due to the many misconceptions about atheism. So, I decided to start with the basics and take a look a couple of definitions. Most dictionaries or encyclopedias define “atheism” as a lack of belief in a deity of any kind. Whereas an “agnostic” is often defined as someone who “neither believes or disbelieves” or someone who believes there is just not enough information to determine whether there is a supreme being or not. Atheists and agnostics are a rather small, disjointed group according to a Pew research poll (Pew Forum On Religion & Public Life / U.S. Religious Landscape Survey) conducted in 2007). The poll asked Americans about their religious beliefs and reported 1.6% of Americans said they were atheist; while 2.4% were agnostic. Another 6.3% of Americans claim to be secular unaffiliated. If I were to sum up the numbers, about 10% of Americans do not believe in God. I can confirm the statistics are basically right because I lived it for almost 40 years.
Some people would have you believe the country is over-run with atheists and secular humanists. Obviously, there are a few small groups who make attempts to draw attention to themselves or injustices they see. Some groups are even attempting to ‘evangelize’ using methods normally attributed to an aggrandizing televangelist; however, the number of atheists and agnostics is relatively small by my standards.
What Does It Mean to be an Atheist?
In the end, the term “atheist” is just a label. Like all labels, it just makes it easier for us to categorize things; however, when one looks deeper, things are not as they appear nor do they always fit nicely inside a box. Just like Christians, the atheists I’ve met were a diverse group, and they came from all walks of life. Some had religion in their childhood, some did not. Some were liberal while some were conservative. Some were highly educated, some not. Some believed in spirits or other forces that come to play occasionally in the realms of man. Others did not.
For me personally, being atheist meant:
There is no all-knowing, all-powerful being who was creator of the universe.
I walk alone, and I was good with that.
I don’t care (apathy) regarding the human condition. It is what it is.
I don’t matter. In a universe that is billions of years old and populated with an uncountable number of galaxies where each is populated by an uncountable number of stars, my 50 plus years of existence on this rather smallish planet is really quite insignificant.
My Negative Perceptions about Christianity
As an atheist, I felt religion was not the basis of morality or justice, but was based on a social contract between individuals. I saw Christians lie, cheat, and steal just like everyone else, so what was so special about them? Experiences throughout my life furthered my negative perceptions about Christianity when it became apparent that at least some had hidden agendas. The Christians I encountered were often judgmental and hypocritical and tried to “convert” others to their specific brand of Christianity instead of genuinely loving people without any strings attached.
Public prayers during secular sporting events, public meetings, etc. were extremely uncomfortable for me. I always felt like it created an expectation to “go along” with it even if I didn’t agree. If I didn’t participate, I was “bad.” The “moment of silence” made me feel even worse because I viewed it as an attempt by Christians to get other religious groups to gang up on us non-believers. To this day, even as a born again Christian, I still cringe sometimes when there are secular events with public prayers because I don’t want unbelievers to feel excluded or forced like I did.
It would be easy to blame others for chasing me away from God; but, in the end, it was my decision. At the time, I just didn’t see or feel the way Christians said they did. I didn’t feel the Spirit, and I didn’t want to pretend about what I felt just to fit in.
Looking in the Mirror
I was speaking to a friend of mine recently who lives in the UK. In talking to him, I realized he and I had been going in opposite directions. While I had recently embraced the Message and become born again, he had been slowly drifting away from the Church. He said he was “living the lie” by the motions without truly believing. Although he is a secular humanist, he still takes his 86 year old father to church.
As we were chatting, it became obvious he was trying to steer me away from my new path. In effect, he was evangelizing me! My friend cited Christopher Hitchens as an influence and suggested I read his books or at least view his many Youtube videos with the idea that we would talk again on the issue. I was unfamiliar with the name; but after our conversation, as I had promised, I googled his name and watched some videos.
Mr. Hitchens is a rather well-spoken author known for negative views regarding religion. As I watched the first interview, I could see he was a thoughtful, well-educated man. I could also see a very sick man in the last stages of a battle with terminal cancer. Hitchens passed away in 2011. In all honesty, I would have to say I agreed with about 95% of what he said in the interview about man, human society, and religion. I’m willing to bet most believers would agree with a lot of his comments as well. I haven’t read his books or seen all of his public commentary, so it’s possible there are a few inflammatory statements associated with him; however, I’m sure there have been more than a few unkind words thrown in his direction by believers as well. All unkind words and inflammatory statements aside, I am reminded we are still all God’s children.
If someone says they are not a believer, do we really need to criticize them for being honest? They are just telling you what they feel. They have no connection to God. Why attack the messenger, especially when they are telling the truth? If someone tells us it is raining, should we be critical of them because we would rather hear it is sunny outside?
Today, as I write this, I thank God for the opportunity to hear Mr. Hitchen’s words spoken so honestly and eloquently, as they reinvigorate me to find a way to reach those who need Him most. I also pray for mercy for Mr. Hitchens, as I do for my parents and other family members who may not have known our Savior. In my heart, I know I can do no less.
Reaching Out to Others
So, how does one reach an atheist or like-minded person with the message of salvation? That’s not an easy question to answer. I’ll tell you first what doesn’t work. Preaching “fire and brimstone” or trying to force the message on a non-believer does not only fail, but would likely be counter-productive. The harm done by this is incalculable, in my opinion, for the audience will often reject the message as well as the messenger.
I think it’s better to engage each person in a positive manner. Throughout my life, I have found the tone of dialogue changes as one person gets to know another. You don’t have to agree with someone to respect his or her point of view. Try to look at things from the other person’s point of view. Everyone has to deal with the pain of living. Let us not cause someone to close his or her mind to the message and thus the door to salvation.
Also, what do non-believers know about you and your faith? Are you modeling Christ or a persona with perfect hair and flashy charisma? In my experience, people tend to avoid the high pressure salesman; but they will listen and even enlist input from people they trust like close friends. If they see the way you live and the peace you have, they may at some point say, “Hey, I think I’d like to know more about that.” And if the time is right, at some point they may decide they want that too.
Through New Eyes
Less than a year ago, I became born again. I was conquered by love, not fear. One of the things that became almost an obsession with me from the start was to address what I see as a major problem with the Church as a whole. Specifically, we Christians need to do a better job of reaching out to
non-believers. We must live the gospel and reach out with love in our hearts. God loves all His children, and we must never forget that.
For those who have spent all or most of their life in the Church, let me say this: We must remember a nonbeliever does not know the joy we know through Him. We must also remember a non-believer may also bear scars from prior encounters from our fellow Christians. We must be inclusive and empathetic, open minded and thick-skinned, and most of all, we need to love on non-believers as we do believers. As I look at my lost brothers and sisters, I feel their pain and loneliness; however, because God loves ALL his children, I am forever grateful and hopeful.
Our time here on earth is all about relationships with other people, as well as, our relationship with God. It’s important to invest the lives of others and sincerely get to know them. We can say things as a friend we cannot say as a stranger. It is impossible to know someone’s needs until you get to know the person. Listen to the still, small voice and remember to use a still small voice in your relationships with others. Colossians 4:5-6 NLT:
Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.
I realize as I write this post how much I need to work on forgiveness. How can I expect God’s forgiveness yet not forgive others who hurt me when I was a non-believer? I know I’ve got a long way to go; but with God’s help, I will get there.
Two final thoughts:
The first is attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel always; if necessary, use words.” I love that saying! One must absolutely live the gospel first.
The second thought is inspired by 1 Corinthians 13:1-7 and came to me first through the gift of music (Proof of Your Love, by For King and Country):
If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.
If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day,
and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.
If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere.
So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.
If you’ve read my previous blog posts, you know my husband and I have seen our fair share of struggles over the past eight years; however, we’re probably not that different from you or someone you know. Let’s face it — sometimes life is hard. When we face difficult times, we have two choices. We can choose to give up and walk away from God, or choose to rely on Him for strength and believe the struggles do not define us, claim us, nor are they the end of the story.
As our family is facing another scary life situation, I am humbly reminded that I am not in control. Although anxiety no longer plagues me, I am still awake to visceral pain and anger I feel. I must acknowledge these feelings if I am honest with myself and others around me. It would be a lie to say I don’t battle myself and my humanity when facing problems; however, these emotions cannot be allowed to control me. The One who has control gives hope, and I’m called to remain hopeful and place all my cares upon Him.
Some people have suggested we should “give up and curse God” like Job’s wife once suggested to her husband because of all the struggles we’ve seen in our marriage, but why would I do that? God has always been faithful to deliver my husband and me from prior situations and has even positioned us mentally, physically, and circumstantially better than before the trouble started. Why would He change His promise now? The Bible promises His faithfulness is unwavering even though our lives shift like the sands with the tide, and my life can testify to this truth. He is my rock, my firm foundation, and my strong and mighty tower, shielding me from the storm. I am not promised a life without struggle, only that He will be there along the way to protect my heart, mind, and soul.
I have been asked before, “How can you believe in a God who is supposedly good who allows suffering, pain, and evil in this world?” My response is simple: He gives us free will, and the struggles we face are not the end of the story. As promised in Scripture, great suffering is equivalent to great blessings. Also, encouragement, love, and mercy are stronger than ever in the face of adversity. How many terrible events have you witnessed personally or seen in the news only to have stories of heroism, compassion, and love overshadow the negative outcome? Good will always prevail, and God is always for His people. Our personal testimonies of enduring and overcoming situations break the shackles that bind other people who are going through the same struggles. Our testimonies are hope and freedom.
Although the evil forces likely delight in causing or participating in the chaos that surrounds my husband and me, they cannot possibly fathom the depth of immeasurable goodness that has resulted with each trial. Our marriage is stronger than ever because God is at the center and binds us tightly together. Our personal fortitude endures because He sustains our strength. Our foundations cannot be shaken even as our lives shatter around us because He is steadfast and stable. If at the end of the day, all we have is the almighty God, we have all we could ever need.
If you find yourself in a rough situation in life, remember: rejoice in the testimony God will give you to bring hope to others around you! Your struggle is not the end of the story, and God will never let you see the battle withut first giving you the victory.
The blog post below was written by a godly man and a good friend of mine. It was inspired by a dream and provides perspective of how to understand the world through someone else’s eyes. Enjoy!
– The In-Place Missionary
Once, I had a dream. There were two brothers. Both liked to paint. Both men were well regarded for their craft by their neighbors. One loved to create magnificent landscapes on large sheets of canvas. Using vivid colors, he always managed to capture the very essence of nature. The other brother preferred to do portraits of people and particularly enjoyed painting portraits of his friends and family. The images he created almost seemed alive and full of emotion.
Which brother is an artist?
The two brothers have an uncle. He has made a living painting buildings for others. He gets up early to gather and prepare the materials he needs. He then labors during the day as long as the sun is up and he can see. His customers are very happy with the quality of his work. The paint he uses is of the finest quality and provides the perfect balance between bright color and being long lasting. He never tarries or wastes time while on the job. He always completes his tasks within the timeframe he promised. His customers appreciate that fact that he minimizes disrupting their shops and households while he works.
Is he an artist?
The two brothers have a younger sister. She is a child and loves to finger paint. She dips her tiny hands in small jars of paint provided by her brothers. She giggles happily while she applies it to whatever her mother will allow. Sometimes the shapes are unrecognizable; but she would tell you it is a bird or sunflower. Watching her warms the hearts of all who see her.
Is she an artist?
The brothers have a friend. He struggles every day with addictions; and, as a result, he is unable to hold down a regular job. This friend occasionally draws on whatever paper he can find at a nearby dump. The pictures consist of dark creatures that are frightening and nightmarish.
Is he an artist?
What if I tell you that his renderings help him cope with his addictions? Through his work, he is able to recognize the demons that haunt him and it helps fend off their attempts to lead him down to the abyss.
While skills and focus of the work varies, isn’t each person an artist in his or her own way?
Today there are over six billion souls on this world, and each person views the world around him with different eyes. The lenses he uses to see through are colored by life experiences. What he has been taught, sees, and hears helps to make him who he is today and tailors his understanding of the world around him. If each person was to paint a picture of life and his world as he sees it; each picture would be different; and if each person present his understanding of eternity, heaven, or God in some form of artistic rendering, each would be different.
You can’t explain the unexplainable, and you can’t describe the indescribable because no one can see the whole picture. No one can comprehend the nature of the question, much less the magnitude of the answer. Just understand you can find joy in what you DO see. And revel in it!