DID YOU EVER PUT A PEBBLE IN SOMEONE’S SHOE?

I am reading a great book by  Gregory Koukl entitled “Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing your Christian Convictions.” Have you ever felt the guilt or pressure of trying to the share the Gospel immediately with a co-worker, friend, or acquaintance? I know I have.  I think our motives are right because we truly want people to come to know Christ.  After all there is no other solution to the problem of sin that plagues all of us is there?  Apart from salvation in Christ alone there is no answer. Hundreds of books have been written to help us apologetically defend or advance the claims of the one true Gospel. And yet it seems like we are missing  something. Maybe where we drop the ball is in simply learning how to use what we know so that we might  share the Gospel more effectively.

Gregory Koukl in his book made this insightful statement that has been extremely helpful to me in sharing the Gospel with others. He said “I try to put a pebble in someone’s shoe.”  Now that very idea really grabbed me. He went on to demonstrate how to put a pebble in someone’s shoe  by using the “Columbo Method” in gaining an audience. In our conversations with unbelievers we can introduce “the pebble” without introducing tension early on in the dialogue.

Some of you will remember the TV series about the bumbling-appearing detective named Columbo. With his rumpled coat and stubby cigar he would enter the crime scene looking for all the world like a fish out of water. He would appear hesitant, dumb, confused, inept, and just plain at a loss as to how to proceed.  He gave the appearance of not being able to think his way out of a wet paper bag. He would poke around the crime scene, scratch his head, hesitate, and then he would make his move with these words: “I’ve got a problem. There’s something about this thing that bothers me.  Maybe you could clear it up for me. DO YOU MIND IF I ASK YOU A QUESTION?”  And there it is. “The pebble in someone’s shoe.”  The question that lingers in the mind and disturbs the thought process.  You know how aggravating, how insistent a pebble in your shoe can be?  That first question is often innocent enough, but then it leads to another question and then another. And who can forget when Columbo is about to exit the scene he would turn and say something like this: ” I’m sorry, I know I am making a pest of myself. It’s because I keep asking these questions. I can’t help myself. It’s a habit.”  And then he would ask just one more question.  Author Koukl concludes this little tactic with these instructive words for us: “The key to the Columbo tactic is to go on the offensive in an inoffensive way by using carefully selected questions to productively advance the conversation. Simply put, never make a statement, at least at first, when a question will do the job.”

As I thought about this little principle I could not help but notice that Jesus did the same thing. Remember these questions Jesus asked?

He asked the lame man the question:“Do you want to be healed?” (John 5:6). He asked a certain crowd curious about John the Baptist: “What did you go out into the desert to see?” (Matthew 11:7). He asked a critical group of leaders who were bothered by his healing on the Sabbath day: “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out?” (Matthew 12:11). When some confused Jesus with Satan and Satanic powers, Jesus asked: “How can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man?”  (Matthew 12:29). When Jesus wanted people to think about eternal matters he asked: “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). After Jesus told the story of the Samartian man who helped the wounded man on the Jericho road, he turned to the lawyer & the crowd and asked this question: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” (Luke 10:36)(for further reading on this topic check out Randy Newman’s book: Questioning Evangelism).

These are but the tip of the iceberg of all the questions Jesus asked. I wonder if we should not ask the Spirit of God to help us use more questions as pebbles in a person’s shoe.  Sooner or later the person we speak to is going to have to stop and try to get that pebble out of his shoe. Then is our chance to share lovingly the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Load up on pebbles! Think it thru

 

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DOES GOD EVER SUFFER?

suffering-god-1 There is a theological truth that we cannot ignore and that is this: If God cannot change then he cannot be said to ‘suffer’ as a consequence of events which happen in the world. However, because God is a Holy & Righteous God full of love and compassion, the Bible says that there are things that “grieve God’s heart” in this world. And perhaps in that sense God does suffer.

Certainly, Jesus…God in the flesh…suffered on the cross for our sins as our representative. He speaks of his death as a cup [a metaphor in context of suffering]. In Matthew 23 it implies that Christ wept when he cried out over the city of Jerusalem.  And Hebrews 4 teaches us our High Priest can sympathize with our weaknesses.  Jesus wept at Lazarus’s grave in John 11 indicating grief. Paul commands us in Ephesians 4 not to grieve the Holy Spirit. And Genesis 6 speaks of God being grieved to his heart over the corruption of the world before He sent the flood.

Because I want to know God better I have been thinking about this idea.  I am reading an interesting book entitled “The Suffering God” by Terence E. Fretheim.  Would I recommend the book? No,  for Fretheim believes in process theology  [which teaches among other things  that God is in some respects  temporal, mutable, and passible] and open theism [which is a natural outcome of process theology].  Both of  these propositions I categorically reject as false, unbiblical  and heretical. Yet the title captured my attention and some of the author’s  thoughts set me to thinking about God as one who can and does suffer.

Take for instance the anguish of God in Jeremiah 2. Jeremiah paints the picture of Israel’s rebellion against God in marital terms. We see Israel as the unfaithful wife for no reason, and then we observe God as the grieved spouse. As you read these words, they wrench your heart as you hear the anguish of God over his people’s disregard of their relationship with Him. This painful cry of God is repeated throughout the opening chapters of Jeremiah [2,3,5,13,16,17,18,19]. The implication that God is grieved and wounded over the sin of his people is unmistakable.

Let me express just a few thoughts as we think this through.

First, this is a holy God that is grieved. Especially does this come out in the Genesis 6 passage dealing with the flood judgment.  Thus, grief is always what the Godward side of judgment looks like. God’s judgment is a very personal decision mixed with  sorrow and anger that go into making the decisions that will affect the people whom He loves.  It is also a very Holy decision because God is Holy and cannot act in any other way. Yet God is never apathetic, cold or indifferent when it comes to his responses.

Second, God is not waylaid, incapacitated or made weak by His suffering. Fretheim did make an astute observation when he said: “God’s grief does not entail being emotionally overwhelmed or embittered by the barrage of rejection. Through it all, God’s faithfulness and gracious purposes remain constant and undiminished.”

Last,  we need to ask the probing question of ourselves: Have I caused God to suffer because I have grieved His Spirit and refused to listen to His word and undervalued my relationship to Him? Think it thru

 

DO YOU HAVE EXPECTATIONS?

expectations

For many people the expectations for the new administration in Washington are  pretty high. With others the expectations are not so much. In fact they would love to see failure to vindicate their own political bias regardless of what it might do to the country.
But I think there is another set of expectations for the new year that we completely overlook. What are God’s expectations for his people? Remember those familiar words in Micah 6:8? “He has told you, O Man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
Micah the prophet bears a name that means :“Who is like Yahweh?” We are told he is from the little town of Moresheth which may be the same town mentioned in 1:14, Moresheth-gath. If so, Micah came from a little town not far from Jerusalem (25 miles SW of Jerusalem near the Philistine city of Gath). He lived on the edge of paganism and fought the same drift among his own people. Before we look at his famous statement in v. 8 consider what was going on here in chapter 6. Micah was moved by the spirit to emphasize God’s justice and love in disciplining the nation for their disloyalty to him. He also wanted them to understand that “God is the sovereign Lord of the earth who controls the destinies of nations, including His covenant people Israel.” The image Micah paints is one of the Sovereign God bringing His people to court in vv. 1-5 while documenting His faithfulness to them in vv. 3-5.
Then we come to verses 6-7 which seem to be the people’s reply to God. “Okay God, just what do you want? More sacrifices? How many? Do you want more money? They are not repentant. They are basically asking God what His price is. It’s like being caught for speeding. What is your attitude? Are you sorry for breaking the law or just sorry for being caught.

And then Micah tells them in verse 8 what God wants. He wants Justice and Mercy to their fellow man and Loyalty to God. This is the theme of the book.
Does this sound familiar. Love your neighbor as your self and love the Lord your God …Israel had violated both of these ideals. Because of this God could declare them guilty.

The simplicity of God’s expectations and the profound clarity and seriousness of those expectations should stop us in our tracks. How much time and attention do we give to these three practices? You see the word “require” is an active participle [qal] which represents continuous action. This is an “all the time” kind of thing. Let’s just think about these three practices in terms of today.

To do Justice: The word  “justice” in this context refers to social fairness, which is discussed in vv. 9-11. The OT knows no distinction between the secular and the sacred! All of life is sacred! We must not be prejudicial with people of other races, backgrounds, or ages. We only make distinctions where God has declared distinctions. We stand for truth and proclaim truth while loving the people to whom we are ministering. We are fair, just,  and we do what is right, no matter how uncomfortable that makes us. And we do this all the time.

To love kindness: This is the powerful covenant word hesed. It is one of the richest words in the Old Testament used no less that 250 times. It refers to God’s covenant loyalty. It reflects God’s sacrificial, no-strings-attached, kind of love. We are to dispense our love on the basis of grace not merit. Listen to Hosea 2:19 “I will commit myself to you forever; I will commit myself to you in righteousness and justice, in steadfast love, and tender compassion.” That is real loving kindness! So being a follower of this God requires that we pursue the same loyal love.

To walk humbly: This is a rare practice in our day even for believers. The term “walk” in the Bible is a metaphor of identification with someone (see Gen. 5:24; 6:9; Job 34:8; Ps. 1:1; Mal. 2:6). It is also used as a metaphor for daily living (Prov. 2:7; Gal. 5:16; Eph. 4:1; 5:8) Our identification with others and before God and our practice of daily living must be characterized by genuine, deep humility. Humility is hard for us because, like Israel in Micah’s day, we tend to see ourselves in our own light and not God’s light. When we see ourselves standing next to Jesus, humility becomes the norm. It is not hard any longer.

Perhaps this year these expectations should exceed our concerns and expectations for Washington. Think it thru

WHAT KIND OF GOD CAME UP WITH CHRISTMAS?

god-at-christmas Can’t you imagine Charlie Brown saying to Linus…Ever notice how the Christmas season seems to be a repeat of last year?  There are the Christmas cards to send, the parties to attend, the shopping to do, the meals to prepare and the travel  plans to  visit relatives or the work of hosting family members.  In the words of one writer  “Christmas time is rather predictable.” Could you take last year’s calendar entries and just lay this year’s plans  over that and come up with about the same thing?  Does this sound pessimistic? Cynical? A kill-joy attitude? I don’t want it to sound like that.

But here is the thing. When Christ came here and was born as a baby, it was a total shocker! There was nothing the same about it compared to all the other births through all the other years.  God just knocked our socks off with how the whole birth thing of Jesus played out.  He was virgin born as the King/Messiah with no royal surroundings or heavy weights politically to accompany the event. God never consulted us and did not allow us to weigh in with our opinions on how it should be done. He told us in the Old Testament what He was going to do, and then He just did it!  Jesus showed up as a baby. Our future hopes totally rested on what appeared to be shaky birth circumstances.  How will this thing ever fly with so little of what we have come to believe are necessary components for success?  No financial backing, no public solicitation for support, no powerful dignitaries to speak up for the babe [except the chief honcho who wanted to kill him when the news leaked out]. Yeh, pretty shocking how God does things.

Sometimes God does that with our lives too. It is coming up on Christmas and suddenly you lose your job and face financial set-backs. Shocked, right? Or you approach the Christmas season with a bit of dread and discouragement because God allowed some sorrow or difficulty to come your way since last Christmas. Never thought you would face that, right? Or your carefully laid plans are messed up by some unexpected turn of events or some “clod” decision made by some relative or boss.  Surprised and frustrated, right? Well, your life might be “right on schedule,” for God is doing things His way! The kind of God who came up with Christmas is the God who does things His way! Remember what God said in Isaiah 55:8-9 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

The virgin birth of Christ in this world was God doing things His way.  It was proof positive that we need Him if we are ever going to survive this life and the eternity to come.  Salvation comes through God’s work and plan not through my efforts and plans [Titus 3:5]. Joseph and Mary could not produce their own savior even if they wanted to.  And life unfolds in that same way.  In most of life’s circumstances we find ourselves pretty  helpless. The Old Testament Joseph in Genesis told his brothers that all the bad stuff they did which God allowed in his life was meant for good [Gen. 50:20]. The events of his life  made no sense to Joseph  until years later.  His own puzzlement, helplessness, and frustrations over what was happening in his life revealed the surprising work of God for his good down the road  [and for the good of others too] . The God that came up with the shocking surprises of the birth of Jesus in this world is the very same God that is doing things His way in my life and yours.  Randy Alcorn in his book “If God is Good” put it this way: “If God does something in your life, would you change it? If you’d change it, you’d make it worse. It wouldn’t be as good.” The kind of God who came up with Christmas is the God who is in charge and the God who is good! That makes a difference!  Think it thru

 

HOW DO WE HANDLE “THE POST-ELECTION SYNDROME?”

day-after

Kevin DeYoung in a recent blog entitled A Prayer on Election Day concluded with these words:

Grant us the courage to stand up for what is right, the strength to try to make a difference, and the gospel-formed humility to accept that there are no Messiahs except for Jesus and no heaven on earth except the one awaiting us at the end of the age.”


Our new president is no Messiah and no elected official can deliver heaven on earth.   In fact according to Paul’s words to Timothy in II Timothy  3:1ff there will be a continued downward spiral in our world:

“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty for people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power….”

The challenge before us is not to put our hopes in Washington, but our confidence in the power of the Gospel to bring lasting change to the hearts of men and women.  That does not mean we are to abandon our prayers for our leaders. In fact…just the opposite. If we believe the Gospel is the answer for our culture then that very truth will drive us to our knees to pray for their salvation and that God would bring decisions from their hands that will further the Gospel in our land.  The story of the two eagles in Ezekiel 17 reminds us of the sovereign hand of God over the governmental affairs of nations [look it up and read it some time] where God brings change in spite of those who rule.

Our hope for the future is grounded in the triumph of the resurrection.  If God conquered death in Jesus Christ, then the rest is a “piece of cake.”  The darkness on the earthly horizon now  is always eclipsed by the glory of the future horizon yet to come! God isn’t done! The Spirit isn’t done! The Church isn’t done! Think it thru

 

HOW SHOULD I FEEL ABOUT THE COMING PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS?

election

Robert Morgan in his delightful book entitled “The Strength You Need” observes that “The Bible hums with the energy of divine omnipotence.”  What does this have to do with the upcoming election?  Well, for one, God is involved in American politics, because the Scripture teaches us that God sets up one leader and takes down another [Ps. 75:7].  This sovereign activity of God gives me comfort as I listen to debates and read information on our choices for president and realize that neither choice excites me.  What should excite us is that God is at work in spite of the downward trend of the political process.

This reality does not excuse our due diligence and responsibility as citizens of this great country. But when the dust settles and we have done all we can,  we can be assured that God can use the worst leaders to move forward His agenda. This relieves our frustration and grief so that we can go on serving the Lord long after the election is over and if …horror of horrors….the president that was elected is as bad as we imagined, we need not despair.

Historically, the church has survived and thrived under extremely oppressive governments. The Gospel penetrates every kind of culture and governmental style. Our turn may come to be under such governance.  But Paul was right when he said about his own loss of freedom: “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” [II Tim. 2:8-10].

Could we also view the abysmal choices [my personal opinion]  of presidential candidates before us as a means God may use to bring revival to His church?  Revivals in church history were costly, but they were incredibly  refreshing.  Could it be many people will come to Christ and join us in heaven because of this election?  God has never promised to keep our land free or intact as the United States of America. I think God has uniquely blessed this land and its people and I love it and pray for it. But biblically, God’s promises far surpass the future of the USA. God has bigger things in the works. We cannot afford to lose sight of His sovereign hand working His will and His plan to move us to His purposes and goals.

Here should be our election mantra: “Pray…Vote…Trust the Sovereign God…Continue to share the Gospel…but don’t worry…even wicked men can get saved…and even wicked men can be used of God to fulfill his purposes.”  –Think it Thru  Tom Wright

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHAT IS THE REAL TRAGEDY IN ALL THE TRAGEDIES?

tragedy 2Human tragedies are common and becoming all too commonplace, even in the USA. What days of upheaval are upon as as we follow the news.

  • Little boy almost killed by a gorilla in the Cincinnati zoo
  • Little boy is killed by an alligator in Orlando Florida
  • Many people murdered by terrorists in the Club in Florida
  • Dallas police officers targeted and murdered
  • Young black men losing their lives under questionable circumstances
  • People killed in France by a truck driver with apparent terrorist leadings
  • The myriad of shootings in schools and public venues, churches and parks.
  • AND THE LIST GOES ON…

All of us agree that these tragedies are real, painful, and deadly.  Many tell us the answer is to ban guns or have more strict gun control laws [of course many more people are killed by automobiles and in plane crashes – maybe we should ban them too–just a thought]. Others tell us that we just need to educate people more and if they knew stuff they don’t know now, they wouldn’t do such things [we already know more now than we are doing!].  Some say we need more laws passed [We have many laws that we don’t follow now!]

May I suggest to you  a much deeper tragedy?  It is in not understanding our own natures and in not understanding the God of the Bible who presides over history and this planet.  Until the human nature undergoes a deep, inward, spiritual change, we can act no different than we do, and human nature unchanged never ascends in morality, but descends into more and more  immoral and despicable acts [Romans 1].

The cross of Christ ends the tragedies and heals the hearts of those affected by tragedy for it is there our hope of a change in our nature begins.  It is Christ in the life through the new birth that heals the race, lifts the behavior, and restores the soul to where God in his wise creation intended for it to be.  Think about our value system that excludes God’s perspective. We truly do worship and serve the creation over the Creator.

I was listening to the TV ads regarding donations to save dogs and cats. They play tearful music over abused animals.  [Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to see animals abused either]. But think about the thousands of aborted babies every year in our country alone…where are the tears for that horrific tragedy?  Save the whales…kill the babies…that is where we have now landed.  I was shocked to hear of the push back when the Cincinnati zoo killed the gorilla to save the little boy.  Some people were outraged at the killing of the gorilla. We have become our own god passing judgment and valuing animal life over human life.

Can we explain what is behind  human tragedy and why God would allow such events to occur? Apart from the fallenness of our race and the effects of sin on humanity, much of it IS a mystery. Yet in the Bible God allowed some tragedies to come  to awaken His people to their need of revival and a return to His ways and His  word [Read some of the Old Testament prophets as they warn his people Israel]. There is no doubt the church is in great need of that return and revival.

It does not mean that the people caught in these tragedies are somehow being singled out and punished by God.  God settled that matter by crucifying His Son on the cross to bear the punishment for all our sins[ I Peter 2:24]. It was  Jesus who was punished for our sins.  Not only that, but  Jesus made it clear in Luke 13:1-5 that the tragedies that occurred where people were killed by a falling tower and some were killed by Pilate unjustly were not worse sinners than any others. Rather, Jesus said the tragedies should bring us to repentance or face a greater tragedy.

But the greatest tragedy of all is the issue of eternal destination for all of those who have  lost their lives.  How many really knew Jesus Christ? This world is a dangerous place.  None of us know when our turn will come to enter the valley of death. For many, perhaps most, it comes suddenly and unexpectedly. The real tragedy is not to be ready for the journey you know for certain you are going to take. That is why John 3:16 looms large over the landscape of every tragedy. That is the answer and that is the hope for a human nature blinded and warped by sin. Not knowing Jesus Christ when earthly life comes to an end? –that my friend is  the real tragedy!!  The Gospel of Jesus Christ had better dominate our interactions with our peers because of what is at stake.  THINK IT THRU…