July 27, 2009

Nothing New Under the Sun

For any of you who follow my blog consistently, you might remember a post I made about Saint James a couple weeks ago. In my interaction with this man, God illumined a great truth about the role of apologetics in evangelism. To sum up, here is what I said:

"Apologetics, the rational defense of the faith, is designed to plant seeds. You will never argue someone into the Kingdom of God. That's not what God's love created us to do. His love will win someone to the Kingdom of God. Intellectual assent, while it is an important aspect of faith, is not a pre-requisite for belief. Apologetics will merely break down faulty logic and weak arguments in order to create space for the Holy Spirit to convict the heart. The mind will either serve as a bridge or as a roadblock to the heart."

Simple truth, yes? Well, thankfully, there are much smarter men and women on this earth than me... men and women with more experience than me. I love to read, and this summer I have been soaking up just about as many books as I can. I was forced to laugh the other day while reading Surprised by the Voice of God by Jack Deere. Deere recounts a situation he encountered while witnessing to an intelligent woman on a flight to Dallas:

"An hour and a half of apologetic arguments did not even come close to equaling the force of the simple statement, "You are a sinner and you need a savior." There was a power behind that simple declaration that was absent from all my carefully reasoned arguments. The power came because God had suggested those simple words to my spirit... That experience of power began to teach me, a philosophy major, the relative powerlessness of intellectual arguments. While they may occasionally remove genuine obstacles to faith, they are ultimately fruitless unless the Holy Spirit convicts the heart of sin" (309).

Huh. Sounds familiar...

But it doesn't stop there. I read that a couple days ago. Today I bought a new book by Norman Geisler and David Geisler entitled Conversational Evangelism. As I began to read through the book (written by two of the top apologists in America, mind you), I stumbled across this paragraph:

"This distinction has major implications for how we do evangelism. Apologetics cannot argue someone into the kingdom. Scripture teaches that the Holy Spirit must work in a person's life if he or she is to accept Christ. Jesus said in John 6:65, "No one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him." Therefore, faith and reason must work hand in hand to effectively reach others for Christ. Apologetics can help someone "believe that" Jesus is the Messiah, but it can never force one to "believe in" Him" (163).

I love how they distinguish between the phrases, "believing that" and "believing in." A simple change of words essentially holds eternity in its hands. It is easy to believe that something happened, given strong evidence and clear logic. But to believe in something, to base your life on a cause, requires faith. That faith can only come through the Holy Spirit.

I'm reminded of Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 2:4-5 - "My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God's power." Rationality is beneficial to an extent, yet it is fleeting without the Spirit. As John 4:23 tells us, God desires worshipers who worship in Spirit and in truth. There must be a balance between the two.

Please do not misunderstand me. I love apologetics still. I am going to continue to read and study the arguments on both sides of faith. I believe studying apologetics not only strengthens my own faith, but it also puts my fears toward evangelism at ease.

What I am attempting to communicate is that the Holy Spirit is at work today in miraculous ways, and the biggest miracle in life is when someone passes from the old life into the new. The Holy Spirit is not absent from the mind and apologetics; on the contrary, He relishes the opportunity to transform a life while utilizing a tool for breaking down intellectual barriers. He works on both the heart and the mind. Don't forget, God is the one who gave us a mind and intellect in the first place.

If God gave us a mind, should we choose not to use it? And if God gave us his Holy Spirit, should we choose to neglect Him?
I thank God for people like Jack Deere, David Geisler, and Norman Geisler, who fluidly articulate my thoughts for me in such brilliant manners that inspire me to wrestle with the topic even further.
Until next time...

July 11, 2009

The Power of Testimony

Last night I got the opportunity to preach at our weekly coffee house outreach we hold at the Dream Center. There are several homeless men and women that attend, as well as the men and women in our discipleship program that have come off the streets in order to turn their lives around. I spoke about this very topic, the power of testimony, and it's been on my mind so much that I thought I would blog a little bit of my thoughts.

Never underestimate the power of someone's testimony, someone's story of God's power in his or her life. Being in Los Angeles working with such a wide variety of people has given me the chance to hear just about every possible testimony. From drugs to alcohol to prostitution to murder, I've heard it all. And let me tell you... I've never been as confident in the power of God to change lives as I do right now.

Take my friend Arlan, for example. Arlan works with me here at Hope for Homeless Youth. He and I lead outreaches together, and let me tell you, when he starts praying with the short-term groups to begin the outreaches, you better be prepared to feel the Spirit moving. I don't know if I've ever met someone more sure and confident of God's power on the streets than Arlan. He is on fire for Christ and I learn more from his example everyday. But he wasn't always a Spirit-filled, passionate disciple of Christ.

Arlan grew up being harassed by classmates for having more effeminate qualities, which of course included accusations of being gay, whether he even understood what that meant or not. Long story short, he ended up cross-dressing in an attempt to become more of who everyone else claimed he was. He left home with a full-time job doing drag queen shows around the country. He told me that he could barely remember anything from those trips because he was always tripping on some drug and drinking more than a human being should. When he couldn't do the drag queen shows anymore he would end up prostituting himself on the streets where he would end up homeless after losing all of his money either to drugs or a crazy party lifestyle. He was beaten, raped, and left for dead on multiple occasions. He remembers these days as being absent of meaning and hope, always knowing he would end up going home alone and in need of something more.

The one thing going for him in life was that he had a mom who prayed for him everyday. And let me tell you, when there is a mom praying for her child, God works in incredible ways. The prayers of a loving mom are unmatched. Eventually Arlan came home to his parents' house, dressed as a woman. He expected them to drag him to church, but they didn't. In his own words, he said he went to church with them just to spite them for not forcing him to go. After going to the church, he felt a love that he has never felt before. The people at the church loved him for who he was, and they looked right past the cross-dressing. They treated him as he truly was, a child of the living God.

He started to attend the church more and more and actually got involved in painting murals there (he is a very gifted artist). He said the others who worked with him talked to him and loved him just as any other person in the church, and he could never figure out why. But he liked it. And eventually the love of Christ gripped his heart, and he gave his life to Him. He put away the former lifestyle he had adopted full of drugs, alcohol, homelessness, prostitution, and partying, opting for the better life God had always planned for him, a life full of joy, purpose, and true love from the only One who could give it to him unconditionally.

Not long after that he started attending another church in Phoenix and felt a calling to go into vocational ministry. After months of training at a pastors' school, Arlan began serving the Lord at his home church as a youth pastor. From there God called him to work with Hope for Homeless Youth, reaching out to the homeless here in Los Angeles, extending the same hope he received from Christ to everyone he meets. He knows exactly how to speak into the lives of people who are in similar situations as he was years before.

Full of humility, Arlan possesses a personable quality that attracts everyone around him. He is never ashamed of the gospel that literally saved his life. He gives God glory everyday as he walks the streets, sharing Christ's love with every soul that needs a glimmer of hope in a world that only offers a cheap substitute. He understands the realm of spiritual warfare, and he storms the gates of Heaven in every prayer. I know without a doubt that the Father is pleased with this man of God.

Try to tell me that God doesn't work miracles today, and I will laugh. Arlan is a walking testimony of God's faithfulness towards all of His children and of His matchless power to change lives. I have learned that no person is permanently lost, no situation is too big, no scheme of hell is too wicked for the Holy Spirit to come in and change everything for God's glory. It reminds me of the line from the song "In Christ Alone":

No power of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand
Til' He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I stand.

Every situation that Satan intends for disaster and pain God will turn around and use to bring love and glory to to Him. In John 9, Jesus heals a blind man who doesn't even know who Jesus is. When questioned by the Pharisees about the event, he proclaims, "Whether he is a sinner or not, I do not know. One thing I do know - I was blind and now I see!"

You don't have to be a Bible scholar to tell everyone about Christ's love. You don't have to be perfect to commit your life to Him. All you need to do is give your pain, your hurt, to God and let him transform your life. Then you'll have a testimony that no one can take away.

You can always argue point-counterpoint, logic and reason, until you're blue in the face with frustration, but you can never argue with a changed life.

Revelation 12:11 says, "They overcame him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony..." After hearing Arlan's testimony, as well as the testimonies of countless others, I know for a fact that God wasn't lying when he gave us this verse. Do you believe he can do the same with your testimony?

As a final note, I really want to encourage everyone to share your testimony with others. People need to hear about God's awesome power to change lives.

Romans 8:28 - "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

July 7, 2009


God continues to use people to teach me timeless truths as I walk the streets in Los Angeles. Last week's lesson came from a homeless Hispanic man ironically named Jesus (pronounced, "Hay-soos", in case you were you confused about the quirky blog title). From here on out, I will refer to him as "Jay" so as to avoid any potential misunderstandings between the man I met and the Jesus who died for mankind on the cross.

I met Jay at our weekly outreach to Santa Monica. Each week we go out there with the church teams and canvass the entire area, inviting all the homeless to come to the pier for free food and testimonies about God's love. Once we get to the pier, we have two individuals from the church teams share a quick 5-minute testimony about how God has changed their lives, and someone from our staff shares a quick word (or sermon), offering everybody the chance for prayer. After that we break out the food and enjoy some good eatin' and fellowshipin' under a sunsettin' California sky.

It was at this point when Jay made eye contact with me as he ate his food on a nearby bench. Jay was wearing a gardener's hat and spoke with a little bit of an accent. He was also holding a brown paper bag and smelled a bit like the alcohol he had been drinking (though, he wasn't drunk). He said something to me that I couldn't quite understand, so I moved closer to him and asked him to repeat.

"Do you really believe we will see each other again someday in heaven?" he asked.

"Of course! Whoever professes that Jesus is Lord, believes that he died on the cross and rose again from the dead, and commits their lives to Him will go to heaven and have eternal life," I replied. I showed him Romans 10:9 to assure him of this truth. I've found that there is true power in reading the Word and allowing others to read it for themselves.

"But what if you do something really bad? Do you think he forgives you then?" His tone was so sincere, so innocently inquisitive, that I couldn't help but wonder where this conversation was headed.

"I know he forgives you. If we repent and ask him for forgiveness, we receive it instantly. It's as if that sin never happened in God's eyes. It says so here in 1 John 1:9..." Again I showed him this verse to give him assurance that God is indeed "faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" if we confess our sins.

To this, he looked up and with a rush of emotion declared, "But I feel so bad! God cannot forgive me when I feel this bad!" He continued on to explain that he had done something horrible (without explaining the details), despite the fact that he had been a good boy when he was young. He kept repeating the line, "My mom always told me to do right, but I didn't listen. Why didn't I listen?"

It broke my heart to listen to his story. Emotions are so deceiving. Just as the mind can serve as either a bridge or as a roadblock to the heart, as was the case with "Saint" James in my last blog, emotions can either enhance one's faith or destroy it. Misleading emotions take the here-and-now circumstances and use them to trap the unexpectant traveller in lies that attempt to annihilate timeless truths. They deceptively shroud absolute truth with clouds of subjective thought and relativity. The timeless truth in Jay's story was that God had forgiven him, but because Jay did not feel forgiven, he could not believe that he was forgiven.

This is precisely why God has blessed us with His Word, the Bible. In his great wisdom God knew we would somehow forget the promises he gave the early believers and recorded them in a great book that is the eternal record of truth. He knew Satan would use our emotions against us and try to get us lost in our "feelings." Romans 10:9, 1 John 1:9, and John 3:16 are all promises God gave us to remind us in times of doubt that we would not be forgiven for whatever reasons.

I encouraged Jay with these promises. I told him a thousand times that since he had asked for forgiveness for his sin he was forgiven. I even showed him the example of David in 2 Samuel 11, when he sins with Bathsheba. I gave him Psalms 51, which was written by David as he desperately sought God's forgiveness for his sexual sin. I told him a thousand times that God loved him more than he could ever fathom. I showed him verse after verse that promised God's love for him.

"But I still feel so bad!" he replied.

At this point Jay's emotions had him in such a vicegrip that his mindful was unfruitful in understanding God's promises. It's one thing to feel forgiven; it's another thing to know you're forgiven. It sometimes does not make sense to our limited human minds that a perfect, infinite Creator would erase the errors of our past without another mention of the mistake. The parable of the prodigal son, which might better be titled the "parable of the incredible father," illustrates the unmatched compassion our Father has for us. I pray that one day Jay will run into the open arms of the Father who did not send his Son to condemn, but to save (John 3:17).

In the meantime, we have to carefully take a toll of our emotions and examine how they are leading us into truth or guiding us into confusion. John Piper writes in Desiring God:
"Truth without emotion produces dead orthodoxy and a church full (or half-full) of artificial admirers... On the other hand, emotion without truth produces empty frenzy and cultivates shallow people who refuse the discipline of rigorous thought. But true worship comes from people who are deeply emotional and who love deep and sound doctrine. Strong affections for God rooted in truth are the bone and marrow of biblical worship."

Emotions are a vital aspect of faith, but we cannot naively trust in them to define our theology or we will never truly grasp how deep, how wide, how great is the love of God!

As tears flowed down Jay's face, I could not help but cry out to God with a spirit of gratitude for his love, and for the realization of that love as articulated in the Word of God. I urged him to replace his feelings of worthlessness with Jesus Christ himself and see how God changes his life. I exhorted him that it is never too late and that God never gives up on us. I prayed for him fervently right there on the bench he was sitting that the Holy Spirit would move in his life so powerfully that his misguided emotions would be replaced with the timeless truth of God's love, grace, and forgiveness.

Please join me in prayer for Jay as you finish this blog, for the "prayers of a righteous person are powerful and effective" (James 5:16).

Living in faith...