Conversation at with a homeless man (2-8-2020)

This past Saturday our church was serving the homeless as we do every 2nd Saturday of the month.  My job was working garbage and taking dishes from our clients and rinsing them in the soap water.  Then the dishwasher would come over and pick up the plates to bring them back to the kitchen and wash them.  The dishwasher was a volunteer who is also a homeless person, who revealed to me that he’d been living out of his car. I will call him “Carl”.  Carl was a great guy – very funny, energetic and a VERY hard worker – like the energizer bunny. We had been talking about various things and joking around during most of the shift. He was acting and speaking like he was Mexican – joking that people call him a “wet-back”, but there’s no water around here!  However, he later revealed to me that he is actually a Native American from one of the local reservations here. During the conversation, he said he was trying to “rile up” his people on the reservation to go protest the government, but all they want to do is sit around and drink alcohol. He said they’re lazy and not motivated.

Later during the shift, I said to him, “Carl, your people don’t need the government, they need Jesus!” He replied that his people have a different culture. I told him that this is not about culture this is about you’re going to die one day and you need Jesus because you’ll be standing before God. He brought up the problem of pain and suffering in this world. He talked about how he’s seen babies born with mangled limbs. How could there be a God it is all this bad stuff happening?  I explained that it wasn’t always like this.  In the beginning, there was no suffering, but then sin came into the world and along with it, suffering, death and disease.  One day, when this is all over, there will be no more death, suffering or pain (Revelation 21:3-7).  I also admonished him not to make excuses. I warned him that he’s going to die one day and he’s going to have to give account for his sins to a holy God.  Carl commented that went he died (made a gesture like going to sleep), he would be good enough to go to heaven. I explained that God demands perfection and that he can’t make it be just “being a good person” or “doing good works”.  I explained the gospel to him that Jesus died for his sins and that he needs to receive Jesus. He listened – he didn’t either affirm or deny. I told him that I would talk to him next month when I’m there.

Pray for “Carl” that he would contemplate his eternal destination and would receive Christ as his Lord and Savior!

This Week’s Conversations

Wednesday July 24th

A Christian friend and I had lunch with our Hindu / Skeptic friend.  During the course of our conversation, here are some of the objections he brought up:

  1. He believes that all paths/religions are valid – there is not 1 true religion
  2. Evolution – thinks that all true scientists believe in evolution. If there are any anti-evolution writings, their origin can always be traced back to a spiritual source, and therefore can’t be trusted (biased).
  3. Many of his objections were of the category, “God doesn’t do what I expect (or how I would do it), and therefore He doesn’t exist.
  4. Inequity – bad people do well, good people suffer.
  5. All religion is man-made.
  6. Leaders rise up and have millions of followers and people end up deifying them. This has happened numerous times in history and Jesus is just another example of that
  7. There is no physical evidence of God or Christianity
  8. He is absolutely certain that there is no heaven or hell. This earth is where heaven or hell are.
  9. God can’t control his people – he can’t make them believe. Also, the ones who do believe, split into “denominations”.  He named Protestants, Catholics and Mormons.
  10. He challenged, “So what happens if everyone believes in Jesus?” Do all the problems go away?
  11. He wanted to know about believing in Jesus, “what difference does it make?” I told him about the wrath of God that each person has due to him for his sin and how believing that Jesus died to pay the penalty for your sins reconciles you to God, making peace between you and God, since Jesus took your punishment, but if you reject Jesus and what He did, you have to pay the penalty for your own sins.
  12. He doesn’t trust the Bible – anytime we would bring up what it says, he would dismiss it. Anytime we would bring up what Jesus said, he would say that no one knows what Jesus actually said – that’s just what His followers said that He said.
  13. He believes that the followers of Jesus (who saw Him risen from the dead) were hallucinating. He believes they talked themselves into believing.
  14. His standard of belief is very high – he won’t believe unless God personally talks to him. Even then, he might think he is hallucinating.
  15. He wants “proof” for God.
  16. He wonders why Jesus showed up in this little insignificant place like Israel 2000 years ago. Why didn’t He show up in a big place, like New York City where many millions of people would’ve seen Him?
  17. He wanted to know “what is God?” I said, “Creator”.  My friend said, “God is Spirit”.  He said, “So, you can’t see God, right?”  He went on saying that he can’t believe in anything he can’t see or detect in anyway.

Needless to say, we answered his questions the best we could – I thought we gave very reasonable answers, but he wasn’t convinced by them.  Interestingly enough, on the way out to the parking lot, we were talking about who’s right and who’s wrong and I made the comment, “Maybe I’m wrong (although I don’t think I am), please convince me!”  He said, “I can’t convince you, I’m lost!”  I thought that was a remarkable admission and told him so and hugged him goodbye.  I don’t think he knows the profoundness of his admission there – he is truly “lost” – in the biblical sense.  Jesus came to seek and to save the lost, and I pray that Jesus seeks and finds him, and similarly, I hope our friend seeks Jesus with a sincere heart!

Yesterday (Friday July 27th), shortly before it was time to leave work for the day, I saw a Muslim colleague of mine who will be quitting work next week and moving back to his country of origin.  I wanted to talk to him and tell him I was really going to miss him and our conversations.  He had another friend with him who I hadn’t met before.  It turns out that guy works at our company on a different floor than me and in fact he is a Christian too!  Anyway, my Muslim friend asked me something about whether the Bible spoke about his country of origin, so I showed him my Nuggets web site and searched the full Bible and found out that what he was asking me appeared in the Bible twice (Gen. 2:14, Dan. 10:4).  I will let you (the reader) determine what he asked me to search for 🙂  Anyway, that opened a spiritual conversation that lasted about 45 minutes (caused me to get home late from work :()!  It was a great conversation in which we compared and contrasted Christianity and Islam, and talked about our respective worldviews.  I was able to share the Gospel with him as I explained the core message of Christianity, when he asked what the absolute necessary thing was to be a Christian (we had been talking about baptism, because another colleague of his is Mormon and had discussed baptism previously).  During that part of our conversation, I shared Romans 10:9 – “if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”  I emphasized that you have to believe in the Deity, Death and Resurrection of Jesus and trust in Him as your Lord and Savior in order to be a Christian.  Of course he said that Muslims don’t believe that Jesus was crucified, but that Judas was crucified in His place.  I searched my copy of the Qur’an on my Kindle for Sura 4:157 and showed him that.  During the conversation, he was sharing various verses out of the Qur’an showing that all paths lead to God.  He is a very moderate Muslim and made extreme effort to communicate that he respects all religions and that it is good people who go to heaven (from all religions).  Wow…  A lot could’ve been said there (and some was said in response at the time), but we would need many hours to fully unpack this topic and make sure he understands the biblical view and how it is different from Islam.  Anyway, it was a great conversation and I will miss him and do pray that he would be reconciled to the one true God, Yahweh!  I also hope and pray that I can continue to meet with and fellowship with the other new Christian friend I met during that conversation.

Follow-up conversation with a Hindu friend

On Monday of this week, I had a follow-up conversation with a Hindu friend (read about prior conversation here), this time, bringing you along another Christian friend. We met for lunch at a busy fast food place. The conversation got right to the point.

I asked him about a prior statement he had made that religion is “man-made”. I said, “I can’t speak for the other religions, but what makes you think that Christianity, in particular, is ‘man-made’?” He said, “Well, everyone knows that Christianity didn’t start till 2000 years ago.” He said, “If God is so powerful, why can’t he stop all these other religions? Why couldn’t God make it obvious that he is God? Why couldn’t he (on every continent, simultaneously) make it absolutely clear that Jesus is God?” He talked about the priests molesting young boys and wondered why God couldn’t stop that. He also wanted to know why God couldn’t just make everyone believe in Jesus? I gave an example: “Let’s say your son wants a girlfriend. So you decide to find a girl and pay her a $1,000 to date your son and to act like she loves him.” I asked him, “Now would that be real love if the girl was paid $1,000 to date your son?” He said he didn’t know! Wow, I couldn’t believe he said that, because it’s quite obvious that it wouldn’t be real love and I told him that. So, I said, “God is in the same position. He wants people to freely love him, although he doesn’t need us to love him. He’s given man free will. A love that is forced is not true love. It’s not that he doesn’t have enough power to make people love him, it’s that he’s chosen to give people free will to respond in love, or to reject him. True love can only be freely given, it cannot be not forced. He doesn’t want robots (or puppets) who love him because they’re programmed to love him.”

He said, “If God lives in the temple or the church, the priest or pastor who is in the church should be closest to God, right? God can’t even control those people that are closest to him, the priests, who are doing evil things. He can’t even control who believes in him so it’s just a never-ending cycle!” I told him that the Bible actually says that God does not “live in temples built by human hands” (Acts 17:24b).

The Christian friend who was with me, shared with my Hindu friend the story of Jesus telling people about a tower that fell on some people and killed them. He said, “Jesus didn’t explain to them why the tower fell on them and kill them, but rather that they should repent otherwise they would likewise perish.” So it is instructive that Jesus did not give an answer about why these bad things happened, but rather warns people that they need to repent and get right with God.

My Hindu friend said that any religion that tries to scare people with hell (or has a concept of hell), is “man-made”.  So I reminded him that he was eliminating Hinduism (since it has a concept of hell)!  Also, in the same breath, he’s eliminating Islam, Judaism and Christianity as legitimate religions, since they all teach about a concept of hell. Additionally, I reminded my friend that just because evil people use religion to oppress people and scare people, does not mean that it is not true. I pointed out the contradiction in him complaining on the one hand about priests who are doing evil things and God not doing anything about it, and then also complaining about the concept of hell, which is the means that God uses to punish evil ultimately.

He seemed to have a concept that whatever a true believer prays for, he should receive. I reminded him that the 12 disciples, who wrote the New testament, did not often get what they asked for. In fact, 11 of the 12 were martyred for their faith — they were killed for proclaiming Jesus. So if it is a requirement that people get what they pray for to show that God is who he said he is, then the record of the disciples seems to go against that notion.

Also I talked to him about Christians needing to live their lives according to how the Bible tells us to live. In his view, the “true believers” are the ones who renounce family and material possessions and go to other continents to help people and serve the poor etc. They’re not worried about their retirement plans, money, health or or even dying — they are totally giving their lives to God.  But I said, “That that goes against other things that the Bible commands us to do. For example, we are instructed to save money, we are instructed to leave an inheritance for our children’s children. We are told that ‘he who does not provide for his family has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever’ (1 Timothy 5:8). So, we need to live our lives according to what is written in the Bible.”

Then he complained about the Bible being this huge complicated book.  He wonders why it has to be made so big and complicated because it could’ve been simple — something like a one-page document with just the important information about Jesus. I told him that most of the Bible is the record of the nation of Israel, through whom the Messiah would come. 39 books of the 66 books in the Bible are the Old Testament which record the history of the nation of Israel. Only 27 books are the New testament from the time of the birth of Jesus onward. in fact, only 4 books record the life and teachings of Jesus.

We also talked about the Bible verses other religions books.  I explained that the Bible was written by 40 different authors from all walks of life (kings, shepherds, fisherman, etc.) over a period of 1500 years on 3 different continents in 3 different languages, yet it all has the same theme.  Compare this with, say, Mormonism, whose holy book was written by a 14 year old boy who had a vision of Jesus and God the Father while in the woods, then was told about some “golden plates”, which he supposedly translated from ancient hieroglyphics by looking into a hat.  Which is more believable to you?  The eye-witness, corroborating testimony of 40 people or the “visions” of a 14 year old boy with no corroboration?  He acknowledged that the Bible would be more believable, but then he quickly moved on to other objections.

To be honest with you, I don’t know if this friend of mine is truly seeking or not.  At the end of the conversation, he said that we would need many hours to talk about this.  I said, “Great! Then how about we meet every Monday?”  He said, “Maybe we can…”  In any case, he sounds like he is willing to do this again.  My Christian brother assured him that according to Bible, if you seek God with all your heart, you will find him (Jeremiah 29:13) and that he has determined that we would live in places where we could find him and that he is not far from each of us (Acts 17:26-27).  So, please be praying for my Hindu friend.  I don’t want to give names for good reason, but nonetheless you can be praying for this situation and for his eyes to be opened.

A Few More Spiritual Conversations

Here is a quick follow-up on a few conversations I’ve had recently.

First of all, the Indian colleague that I had lunch with last week who’d agreed to go to church after our talk: I had said that I would research good churches for him based on his address that he texted me and I did. As God’s Providence would have it, the closest church to his house, literally a 4 minute drive, is also a church that my best friend attends.  And to top it off, my Indian colleague also knows this Christian friend of mine from a company that we both worked at previously!  That gives him not only a place he and his family can go where he already knows someone, but also, a church that I’m comfortable is a doctrinally solid, Bible preaching church.  I was thrilled about how God arranged all that. So I reported this information back to my Indian colleague and he replied “Thank u sir for all ur help. Plz send me his number and I will call him up.  Thx again”. So, apparently, he seemed willing to go. I pray that it in fact happened yesterday. I will probably find out this coming Thursday.

Secondly I had a doctor’s appointment Friday morning, and the doctor I was meeting with was named Bethany. So while I was in the waiting room for my appointment, knowing that her name was a biblical name, I did a search on my nuggets website for the name Bethany in the Bible. It appears 12 times in the Bible.  Here are the search results:

Passage Ref Passage Text
Matthew 21:17 (niv) 17 And he left them and went out of the city to Bethany, where he spent the night.
Matthew 26:6 (niv) 6 While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper,
Mark 11:1 (niv) 1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples,
Mark 11:11 (niv) 11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to the temple. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.
Mark 11:12 (niv) 12 The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry.
Mark 14:3 (niv) 3 While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.
Luke 19:29 (niv) 29 As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them,
Luke 24:50 (niv) 50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them.
John 1:28 (niv) 28 This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
John 11:1 (niv) 1 Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.
John 11:18 (niv) 18 Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem,
John 12:1 (niv) 1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.

So I kept the search results up on my phone screen. When I got called into the office the first thing after some small pleasantries, I said to her, “Bethany, I don’t know if you knew this… but while I was waiting in your waiting room, I did a search on your name in the Bible. Did you know that your name appears 12 times in the Bible?” She said, “No I didn’t know that!”  She said she knew that her name meant “House of God”, but she didn’t know that it appeared in the Bible (now, looking the meaning up here and here, I think she may be wrong).  So I motioned her over and showed her the search results of her name in the Bible. They were all in the gospels.  I said not only does your name appear in the Bible, but it is a very significant name.  In fact, Jesus spent quite a bit of time there:

  1. After He died and rose again, He ascended to heaven from Bethany.
  2. At His second coming, He will return at the Mount of Olives, which is in Bethany.
  3. Also, Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead lived in Bethany with his sisters Mary and Martha, who are also featured in several Bible accounts.
  4. Simon the Leper lived in Bethany
  5. Jesus stayed overnight in Bethany.
  6. Bethany is about 2 miles from Jerusalem.

She was shocked to see that her name was referenced so often in the Bible. She commented, “I’ve read that book!  I was raised Catholic and went to Catholic schools through 8th grade.” When she said, “I’ve read that book”, I thought to myself – the Bible is not a book that you’re supposed to read just once.  It is not like a novel ….  But I thought I would just keep that to myself.  Anyway, she thanked me for telling me that and told me she learned something new today! That was pretty much the end of our conversation.  I hope that she goes home and researches more about her name in the Bible.

Then, when I got to work, there was hardly anyone in the office, it being the day after the 4th of July (Independence Day) which is a holiday.  I had a short conversation with 2 of the people that were in the office (a Hindu and a Muslim). One of them indicated that he was going to be leaving the company and actually moving out of the country back to the Middle East — I won’t name the country, but it is a Muslim country. So I asked him, are you a Muslim (before this conversation, I didn’t know)? He said yes I am. I replied, “I didn’t know that…” We were looking at a map showing the country that he was moving too, and of course in the region of the Middle East, this is where Mecca is located, so I asked him, “So being a Muslim, have you ever been to Mecca?” He said, “No, but I really hope to go there one day, and Jerusalem as well.” I commented, “Oh, that’s one of the five pillars of Islam. A pilgrimage to Mecca.” He said, “Well, actually, it’s not a pillar of Islam.” So I just kind of let that slide, but I’m pretty sure it is a pillar of Islam.  However, did I mention that saying the shahada is also a pillar of Islam. And he said, “Yes, there is no God but one…” And I said, “Isn’t it, ‘there is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger’?” And he corrected me, “One of his messengers.” I thought this to be very interesting. In the short couple of sentences, I could tell that he was not a very strict, conservative or well-informed Muslim.  In the past, this individual and I have talked a little bit about Christianity and Jesus — in particular His death and Resurrection.  During those conversations in the past, he didn’t seem to have any push back or comment on it. I would think a devout Muslim would have really took exception with the idea of Jesus’s crucifixion and Resurrection.  I hope and pray that I will be able to talk to him more before he leaves.

Finally, yesterday at church, I was able to talk to the girl who just graduated from high school that I had previously talked to while serving at St. Vincent de Paul. She is the one who indicated she’s “not quite there yet” on Christianity and her faith. This time I was able to talk to her during the fellowship time after the service. I asked her if she’d be willing to share more about her prior comment that she’s “not there yet”. Initially she was saying that it was more something that she needed to “discover on her own”. I asked her if she would be willing to give me a try, “What is it that you’re struggling with?” She said that it has to do with all of the evil and suffering in the world. She said that when she’s asked questions of Christians before, they all gave the same answer.  I asked if she could try me 🙂  I would like to compare my answer against theirs. She said “They say that God gives man free Will and that’s why we have all the evil.”  So, I asked her, “What do you think God should do about the evil and suffering?”  After pondering for a moment, she said, “I don’t know”.  Then I re-phrased the question, “What would you do about it if you were God?”  Again, she said, “I’m not sure.”  So, I followed up and said, “Do you think God will deal with the evil and suffering ‘one day’?”  She said that yes, probably he would.  I said to her that if there is a God who created the universe and everything in it, He would have to be incredibly powerful and intelligent.  So, our knowledge would be just a small slice of all the knowledge He has and maybe, just maybe, He has better insight into how to deal with all this than we do.  She seemed to agree.  We then had a discussion about the difference between moral evil (e.g. Hitler) and natural evil (e.g. earth quakes and hurricanes).  I told her that if there is no God, then Hitler, who killed 13 million people total and 6 million of them Jews, just “got away with” what he did.  Yet, if the God of the Bible is real, He promises there will be justice for people like Hitler.  She said that she’s having a problem with trusting Him.  I told her that I’m glad she used the word “trust”.  Faith is a biblical word, but it has a lot of baggage.  Faith really means trust in a God who you have good evidence to believe exists.

I asked her if she’d be going with us to feed the homeless again next weekend and she said yes, she was planning to and possibly bringing a friend – she said she likes charity.  I said that’s great and was looking forward to serving again along side her and the rest of the group.  I’m thinking now of possibly buying her a book and giving it to her next weekend.  That book is “Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God” or possibly, “The Story of Reality: How the World Began, How It Ends, and Everything Important that Happens in Between”, which also has a good chapter on the problem of evil and suffering.  I pray that God works in her life to cause her to understand and accept these difficult things.

I continue to try to be alert for ways to start spiritual conversations that will lead to fruit.  2 passages are relevant here:

Colossians 4:5-6

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

1 Corinthians 3:5-8

What then is Apollos ? And what is Paul ? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Now he who plants and he who waters are one ; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor.

Conversation with an Indian Colleague

This week, I went to lunch with a colleague of mine who is from India. The occasion was the celebration of the job I helped him to get many years ago, for which he considers himself eternally grateful to me. Most of our lunch was spent talking about career and technical topics, since we are both in I.T. However, at the end of the conversation, as he was complimenting me on being such a good technologist, I mentioned to him that any good he sees in me all comes from God, as I pointed up towards the sky.

(Note: In the past I’d had lunch with him and his wife when he’d wanted “mentoring/coaching” from me on how to have a successful life.  I think he had in mind how to be successful at a career level, not in other aspects of life. At that point in time, I told him about my faith and gave him a Bible.)

Near the end our time together this week. I followed up and asked him, “So where do you stand with Jesus?” He said, “I like Jesus. I really like him. Who wouldn’t like him?” I acknowledged that was a good thing, but told him that “liking Jesus” isn’t enough. I said that I’m very concerned about him as a friend that he’s going to end up in hell. I told him that I didn’t want to discourage him, and that I’m wasn’t “looking down on him”. But rather that I am giving him friendly warning about his future destiny.  I’m just one beggar, telling another beggar where to find food! He said he understood. However, he said that he thinks he’ll be fine, because he hasn’t hurt anyone or done anything wrong. He says he’s always kind to people. I told him that God is not going to judge him based on how he is compared to other people. “Compared with other people,” I told him, “you’re a really nice guy, you’re probably better than most other people. But that’s not God’s standard. His standard is perfection. One day when you die – and it could be by surprise – you will stand before God and he’s going to ask you, ‘Why should I let you into My heaven?’ And if your answer is something like, ‘Because I was a good person, because I didn’t hurt anyone’, that will not be good enough. The only answer that will be acceptable is that Jesus is my Lord and Savior.”

So he then started to talk about how I’m an “Uber Christian”. With all my Facebook postings and so forth it is apparent to him that I devote a lot of time to “my religion”. He said that he would never have enough time to do all of that. He’s too busy with his family and his career. I tried to make him see that none of that will matter when he dies.  Additionally, if Jesus is truly your Lord and Savior, then you will still be prioritizing your family (and in your career, you’ll be working for Jesus).  But you’ll also be needing to spend some time with Him, getting to know Him while you’re on earth. So I encouraged him that he needs to get right with God now. He asked me a great question – he said, “What do I have to do?” I made sure that he knows that he cannot work his way into heaven. You can’t just say, “I go to church every week, I read my Bible every day, I help poor people and I don’t do any wrong to other people.” That won’t cut it. Instead you have to be born again. You can only be born again by exposing yourself to the Bible – God’s word.  You have to start somewhere, how about starting by going to church once a week, and reading your Bible each day a little bit?  He seemed to think that he would have enough time for one hour a week at church. I’m quite concerned about his priority being family and career over God.  After our meeting, I was listening to the Not a Fan audio book and just so happened to have it on Chapter 13, which is “whenever. what about now”.  This chapter seems to describe this colleague’s attitude toward eternal priorities.  I would highly recommend the book.

During our conversation, I also told him that when he talks about time for his family, he needs to realize that one of his responsibilities as a parent is to teach and to raise up his child in the faith. However I said, “You can’t give what you don’t have. So you have to instruct yourself first before you can pass that on to your children.” And I went on to talk about how most churches have Sunday school where you can have your kids learn about the faith while you and your wife are in the adult service. So he gave me his address and asked for a church that would be a good church that’s near his house.

He sounds like he’s willing to give this thing a try.  So, I will be working on finding a good Bible preaching church that has a children’s ministry for his kids and is close to his house.  I pray that this colleague of mine would sincerely consider his (and his family’s) eternal destination and get his priorities in order.

Conversation with a Hindu friend

I had a conversation while I was at a Hindu friend’s house for a birthday party last night.  This friend of mine is not a real religious Hindu, but more of a cultural Hindu, who respects it as his family (and wife’s) religion and tradition.  We had quite a long conversation (over an hour) about the existence of God, the Christian faith, etc.  Here are some of the objections he was raising:

  1. Religion was created by men to control people – it is all made up. You’ll burn in hell if you don’t behave according to what this book says.  Jesus is always watching you.  Interestingly, he mentioned that Hinduism does have a concept of hell, and hellfire as well. He said that this is only experienced by humans (not other life forms) who do something terribly wrong, let’s say murder, then you go to eternal hellfire. I told him but that was the first time I’ve ever heard that. His wife, who was sitting there, but not involved in the conversation, confirmed it.
  2. He complained that some of these “people in religion” (the leaders) are smooth talkers and they manipulate people for their own benefit (private planes, big houses, etc.)
  3. I asked him to forget about “religion” for a second and focus on whether God exists. He said that he sees no evidence that God exists.  However, I was finally able to convince him that it was reasonable to believe that a Creator of the universe and life exists (via the cosmological and design arguments), but then he said, “OK, so if God did create the universe, so what?”  I said if there is a Creator, then we ought to try to know Him and determine if He’s revealed Himself to mankind.
  4. He questioned why there is only life here in the universe, since the universe is so big. Why do you need this big universe if you’re only going to have life here?  It was not clear whether he truly believed that there was no other life in the universe, but I think it may’ve been more of a critique of the Christian view of God creating this gigantic universe to only have life in one galaxy and one planet out of billions.
  5. We had a discussion about science and Christianity. I mentioned that many of the scientists of history were Christians, I named Newton, Copernicus, Galileo and that there were many others. The reason they studied science passionately was because they believed that God created the universe and it was meant to be understood by us because it operated in an orderly, law-like fashion, according to the laws of nature, physics, chemistry, etc. Since nature operates according to such predictable laws (e.g. we can land a rover on Mars because we can so accurately predict the path of the planets around the sun), it is reasonable to believe that these laws of nature had to be given by a “Law Giver”.
  6. He asserted that all religions are the same. He questioned the story of Jesus coming to Israel.  Why did he come at that time and only one place?  He said, if he was a god, he would’ve came to every continent (basically, I think he was saying he would’ve made his existence irrefutable).  He asked, was Jesus a messenger? Why did He come to earth?  I replied that He came to seek and to save lost humanity.  Yes, He was a messenger also, in the sense that He taught and healed people, but he didn’t just come as a messenger.
  7. In response to me telling him something that Jesus said, he also said, “No one can know what Jesus said”.
  8. He said, “How do you know what is the true religion? Many people wrote down books from other religions.  How do we know Bible is true over those?”  When he said that other religions have their books too, I contrasted the Bible, which was written by 40 authors over a period of 1500 years – these authors were different types of people such as fisherman, shepherds, military generals and kings writing at different times in history and locations in different geographical locations.  However, they were all writing a single, consistent message throughout the Bible. He asked “Why should I believe them more than the writers of other religions? For example, Islam…”  I answered, “Yes, Islam, where Muhammad is the only person that supposedly received that message over a period of 23 years in a cave from an angel – and we just have to believe him?”  I continued, “The same thing regarding Joseph Smith the founder of Mormonism, who claims to have had a vision of Jesus and God the Father and claims to have been given ancient golden plates containing a divinely inspired message?  Believing 40 different eyewitnesses to historical events is much more reasonable than believing religions that are based on the private vision of one individual with no other corroboration.” At this point he took exception because, he said, “Mormonism is Christian”. I said no, it is not.  They separated themselves from other Christians initially, and said that all existing Christian denominations were heresy. He challenged me, “Mormons believe in Jesus Christ right?” I said yes but, they don’t believe in the same Jesus that is described in the Bible – that Jesus is the one true God. In addition to that, they have a separate scriptures called “The Book of Mormon”, which does not agree with the Bible.
  9. He thought that Christianity started when Jesus came, two thousand years ago. But I corrected him that the Bible starts at the beginning of creation. The first sentence of the Bible is “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”. He was confused and said who wrote that part? I mentioned that Moses wrote the first five books the Bible that include the account of creation. He asked, “So, Moses wrote about Jesus?” I told him yes that he and other Old Testament writers predicted the coming Messiah. The Bible contains over 300 prophecies of the coming Messiah, most of which are fulfilled in Jesus.
  10. He complained about injustices in the world. He gave the example of a faithful Christian couple who has a child with birth defects and then lives “a life of hell”.  Why isn’t their God taking care of them?  And people talk about how God has a plan, God loves you, but meanwhile, people go on suffering greatly (I’m paraphrasing – I can’t remember exactly).

During our conversation, he was a bit of a steamroller – but a friendly steamroller.  But he hardly allowed me to get any words in – he just kept bringing up objection after another – and if I got a chance to answer an objection, he would just move on to another objection.

He has agreed to have lunch to discuss this more.  I told him that he should come to lunch with me another Christian friend of mine (who he also knows from a company we worked at together) and he sounded interested.

At the end of our conversation, I asked if he would be willing to read a book.  He said yes.  I gave him a copy of a book I just happened to have in my car: Is God Just a Human Invention and Seventeen Other Questions Raised by the New Atheists.  I asked him to just devote an hour or less and read chapter 1 to start.  He said he’s “lazy to read”, but said he would do it (I don’t have confidence that he will).

Please pray for my friend that this conversation would get him to think and consider whether he is wrong in his worldview and for another chance to continue the conversation.

 

Conversation with a teacher on a plane

Today, I was on a plane trip for business and was sitting next to a person who is a teacher of Electrical Engineering at a community college and also works at a local university. Initially, there was just the normal chit chat, then she started to sleep for a while, and I started to read the book that I brought with me:

Is God Just a Human Invention?
And Seventeen Other Questions Raised By The New Atheists

It is a fantastic book – this is my second time reading it – and while she was sleeping, I made it through chapter 1 (Is Faith Irrational?) and was starting to read chapter 2 (Are Science and Christianity at Odds?), when the flight attendants came by and asked if we wanted a snack or to order any food, which woke her up and got me to stop reading.

So, after we were given our snacks, we both started to eat and then started to engage again in some conversation. There was a lot of talk about why there are not that many women in technology fields and other various topics.
Then at one point I saw an opportunity to bring up a “theological term” in the context of our conversation (which I then explained). That gave her an opening to ask me about the book I was reading. She’d noticed it and was curious what it was about. I read the title to her and she asked who the author was. So, I handed her the book, (open to the table of contents) so she could see all of the titles of the chapters. she also took note of the editors/authors, Sean McDowell and Jonathan Morrow, from the back of the book.
After taking note of that, she asked me, “So what’s your position on these topics?” That was a good sign, that she was willing to talk about these topics! I’m guessing that she thought maybe I was a skeptic, who was investigating the truth of the Christian worldview. So I told her that I was a Christian.
What ensued over the next 1.5-2 hours was an in-depth conversation about science, religion and (specifically) Christianity. It was a great conversation – we were very respectful, calm and engaged, listening to each other as we learned about our respective worldviews.
We started this part of the conversation talking about the existence of God. I quickly found out that she is a person who, though being in a technical field herself, believes that there are many truths, and many realities. Each person can have their own truth that is meaningful to them. I also found out that she doesn’t really find the questions about God as relevant to her daily life. I suggested to her that questions of our ultimate destination are in fact meaningful to everyone on the earth. That is one issue that we will all have to face. assessing what we will experience on the other side of the door of death. She, however, feels that our behavior and how we get along as people here on earth, and well as preserving the earth are the most important things. During the conversation, I tried to explain to her, the nature of my faith – that, all humans are like jurors who are hearing both sides of a case from opposing “expert witnesses”. We have to evaluate what is said by the opposing expert witnesses and determine which case seems more reasonable. So, my faith is not a “mystical” thing – not a blind faith – but rather that I view the existence of God and the Christian view of the nature of Jesus to be the best inference from the evidence that we have available.That being said, I do have faith in Jesus, which is really a synonym for trust. This seemed to really puzzle her, and she communicated that she does not believe that there’s any evidence for the existence of God and that faith is an individual thing that is meaningful to the person. She was curious to know what I thought was evidence for the existence of God. So I talked about the universe and the fact that it had a beginning – that whatever begins to exist must have a cause. We now know from science that the universe began to exist – that is – all space time and matter came into being at the Big Bang. So, whatever was the cause of the universe had to be spaceless, timeless, and immaterial. She seemed to take issue with me saying it had to be. Additionally at this point, she brought up the question of who created God? To which I responded, since the beginning of the Big Bang was the beginning of time, the cause of the universe must be timeless, that is eternal.
She was wondering what the current scientific response to what I was saying was. I explained that the current thinking is what is called the multiverse. She was completely unfamiliar with that term. So I explained that the multiverse is a sort of universe generator, which supposedly has generated innumerable other undetectable universes, and that we just happen to be in the universe that appears to be designed for life, and thus, are here and able to observe it. Then, she was curious about my statement that the universe appears to be designed for life. So, I explained about the cosmological constants and quantities that are fine-tuned to particular values which, had they been different, would prohibit the existence of life in this universe. She seemed to understand these constants and quantities, and I didn’t have to give any further explanation on that topic. But oddly enough, she was very hesitant to agree that the Big Bang is actually the explanation for the beginning of the universe. She clarified that this is the best that scientists can come up with right now, and that future scientific discoveries could change that.
I went on and continued to explain other evidence for the existence of God, such as the argument from the design of DNA (the informational equivalent of roughly 8000 books inside every DNA molecule) and the complexity of biological life at the cellular level.
During this conversation, we talked about many other topics and she raised many other objections against Christianity and theism in general – again, this was all done in a very congenial and friendly conversational way. There was no animus in the conversation at all.
Here’s a summary of what I think she believes.
She believes that Jesus of Nazareth was a real person (or someone like him actually existed).
She believes that the Bible was written so long ago that it’s hard for her to see it as being real. I clarified that the important time Gap is the time between the events, and when they were recorded, not the time between the events and today. We also had, at this point, and discussion about how she knows about the existence of George Washington, and his doings. I was trying to get her to agree that the same way she knows about (and trust the accounts of ) George Washington, is the same way she can know about Jesus.
She completely rejects all miracle reports. In response to this, I asked her, “if there is a God who created the universe and everything in it, isn’t it reasonable to believe that the Being who created the universe and established all the laws that govern it could alter how things occur inside the universe?” She countered with an example that, if a woman gives birth to a baby, does that mean the woman can control everything that happens inside the baby? I acknowledge that that was a good point, but the human mother and the baby are of the same species. But God in the universe are completely different. So I think the analogy fails.
She finds it more difficult to believe in the existence of a Creator of the universe than she does to believe that Jesus existed. At this point, I referred back to the cosmological argument that I’d talked previously with her about. I also emphasized that, if you think about it, there must have been something that was eternal, whether that be God, or the universe itself. One of them must have been eternal. Otherwise, there would be nothing at all. I asked her to consider the point, why is there something rather than nothing? She had a problem understanding the question, then I explained it and, again, she didn’t think it was irrelevant question. she, unlike me does not think about questions of our origin, or our destination.
Even if Jesus existed, and there were eyewitnesses of him, she doesn’t think that what he is reported to have said in the Bible is necessarily what he actually said. At this point, I spoke a little bit about the fact that the Bible was written as 27 books by 9 authors, over a period of 50 years, within the lifetime of the eyewitnesses. so, with that information, what you have to evaluate is the reliability of these eyewitnesses. much in the same way that our criminal justice system evaluates eyewitnesses. Were they there and available to observe the event? Do they have any reason to lie?Is there corroboration from other sources? We also talked a little bit about the nature of eyewitness testimony and that diverging details are to be expected in authentic eyewitness testimony. In the case of the eyewitnesses that wrote down the historical accounts of Jesus, they were willing to go to their deaths proclaiming an account that they knew whether it was true or false.
She stated that the people who wrote it down wrote it down long after he lived.She also stated that these people couldn’t even write. In response to these assertions I explained that the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD is not even mentioned in the New Testament.So, that is evidence that the writing was before 70 AD oh, well the other eyewitnesses we’re still alive. also I mentioned to her that the apostle Paul, who wrote one half of the New Testament books was a scholar, so yes, he could write.
She talked about wars in the name of religion, and she talked about people who are “true believers” who do horrible things. I readily agreed with her on this point, that there are those who, throughout the history of Christianity, have done horrible things in the name of Christ. That grieves me as well.
She contrasted the behavior of atheists, with that of Christians, and suggested that sometimes, the atheists actually behave better because of the way that they were brought up. In response to this point I talked about how there is no one perfect, and that according to the Christian worldview, everyone has sinned.we are all guilty before God. She admitted to not really understanding what sin was. I explained that anything less than perfection was sin. I asked her if she had ever told a lie? She said yes but only in a moral dilemma where it was better to lie than to tell the truth so as not to hurt someone. I asked her about stealing and lust. She would not admit to doing anything wrong (wow). But yet, when she agreed that no one was perfect, I explained that God’s standard is perfection, so in this sense, everyone is guilty before God. And I went on to emphasize, that wouldn’t this be a wonderful world if everyone did follow those rules listed out in the ten commandments, that they would love their neighbors theirselves, that they would respect and honor their parents, that they would not lie, steal, commit adultery and she agreed that this would be a utopia if that were the case.

She believes that the term Christian can mean whatever the person feels it too mean. She personally believes that Christian is more of a disposition, or a way of behaving. That we say that when someone is kind to another or charitable, they are acting “Christian”. I asked her, since she’s also an anthropologist, whether she knew what the origin of the term Christian was. Oddly, she thought that didn’t matter. I told her that Christian means follower of Christ, or little Christ. I also asked her at this point what she thought that Jesus would think about this issue. What would he consider a Christian?of course, since she doesn’t think that we have the actual words that Jesus spoke, she claimed to have no idea what Jesus would think about this.

We talked a little bit about evolution. She said she didn’t know whether I believed in evolution. I asked her, “what do you mean by evolution? If you mean change over time, I certainly believe it, it is undeniable. However, if you mean that all life forms on earth today descended from a single cell organism in the distant past, I don’t think that the fossil evidence supports that assertion.”. I went on to explain that in Darwin’s day, there was limited knowledge of the fossil record, but now over a hundred and fifty years later, we have explored much more of it, and are still unable to find the evolutionary precursors of many of the existing life-forms today. At this point, I also mentioned the Cambrian explosion. She was unfamiliar with it. I talked about how over 20 of the current phyla of animals came into existence in a “geological instant” – with no precursors found in the fossil record. This fossil evidence demands an explanation. She didn’t have an answer for this topic. However, she said that she thought Christians in the 19th century were against evolution, not based on scientific evidence, but rather, because it conflicted with their view of the world. She also mentioned that there are Christians who evidently believed that the universe is only 4,000 years old. So we continued on this topic and I explained to her the controversy between old earth creationists and young earth creationists. she was surprised to learn that there are in fact old earth creationists who accept the scientific dating of the universe and of the earth, yet still believe that God was the creator of the universe.I explained to her the different meanings of the Hebrew word for day and how there are many Christians who interpret “day” to mean “age” or “epoch”, not a normal 24 hour period. I also explained to her the young earth creationists contend that there are assumptions built into the scientific dating methods and therefore they are unreliable, and have shown at times to be unreliable when samples of known age are submitted to laboratories for testing and I received back with much longer ages than known age. At this point, I also talked a little bit about the historical situation in the 16th century with Galileo. How at that time there were the “fixed earthers” who believed that the sun rotates around the earth and who believe that the earth must be stationary, because the Bible says that it is fixed in space and rests on pillars. Then there were those (including Galileo) who believed that the earth rotated around the sun. Nowadays, hardly anyone, Christian or secular, believes that the earth is fixed in space. We unanimously believe the evidence which suggests that the earth rotates around the sun. It is non-controversial. I think that one day we may get there on the age of the universe, where all Christians come to accept the scientific consensus without controversy. We also talked about the problem of distant starlight. I told her that I typically try to stay out of those controversies about the age of the earth and the age of the universe. Normally I remain engaged on the topics of the existence of God, the design life, and the resurrection of Jesus.

So, all of this dialog occurred in a very respectful way, and was interspersed in our conversation. She didn’t bring up all these objections at once. During the course of the conversation, I tried to answer most of her objections. We spoke for a long, long time, so there was a lot of back-and-forth conversation. I wouldn’t even call it a debate.
I wish I’d had a tape recorder running, because I would’ve loved to be able to go back and hear all the things that she brought up and how I’d responded to them.I certainly did not list them all here. Overall, it was a very good conversation and we ended the conversation on a positive tone. It sounded like much of what I was telling her in response to her objections she had never heard before.
So, I think it was a successful encounter. Earlier in the day, I’d been praying to God for the opportunity to talk to someone on the flight. Then as all the passengers were boarding the plane, and I was already seated, while they were walking down the aisle, I was praying that God would be preparing someone to sit next to me who’d be ready to hear what I would have to say. I feel that He did answer that prayer! I will be praying for her, that maybe I put a stone in her shoe, and gave her something to think about, something to annoy her (in a good way). I didn’t share the gospel in a classic sense, but I did talk about God, Jesus, sin, heaven, hell, and faith, so we covered just about all the basics.
Thank you Lord for blessing me with this great opportunity. May you make it fruitful. In Jesus’ holy and precious name I pray, Amen.

Interesting request

Today, someone who our family is friends with (and is Hindu), was talking on the phone to my wife and telling her about her back problems and her challenges with her job.  I was on the couch listening to my wife’s side of the conversation.  She asked my wife to have me “pray to his Jesus” for her (she knows that I’m a Christian and I’ve shared my faith with her).  So, my wife repeated that to me.  And I said, “Tell her she can pray to Him too!”.  My wife told her and said that she replied, “I did, but He said that Steve is much closer to Him than me!” (laughing).  So, of course I said that I would pray for her.

In reality, my primary prayer will be that she comes to know “the only true God, and Jesus Christ” whom He has sent (John 17:3).  Then, I will also be praying for her well-being in other areas.  But unless she gets the foundation right, nothing else will work – she is building on sand rather than on the rock (Matthew 7:24-27).  Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). He won’t be accepted as one of millions of other “deities”.

I must say I’m encouraged though that this friend of ours admitted to praying to Jesus.  I don’t know what her prayer was, but I suspect that she was just praying to Jesus as one of 330,000,000 deities, not as the Sovereign Creator of the Universe and as her only Lord and Savior.

I pray today for her salvation and for her healing and for her well-being in all areas of life – both physical and (especially) spiritual.

Multiple conversations at St Vincent de Paul today

Again, today was our monthly time of serving the homeless at St Vincent de Paul, which is a food kitchen, run by the Catholic Church as I understand it.

I always look forward to these days serving, for several reasons.

  • The Bible commands that we give food and clothes to those who don’t have them (Luke 3:11).
  • I need to have it reinforced to me how materially blessed and privileged I am.
  • I love talking to the other groups serving alongside of us when we go come on because many times, they aren’t Christian.

Today was no exception. Unbelievably, in the three and a half hours I was there, I got into 6 conversations with people I didn’t know:

I spoke with a drug-addicted, ex-prostitute and formerly homeless woman who is now a Christian and who has been clean and sober for 60 days. We praised God for the work that He has done in her life.

I spoke with a young man, who claimed to be a Muslim, about Jesus. We got into a conversation about Christianity and Islam. During the conversation I showed him Surah 5:47-48:

We caused Jesus, son of Mary to follow in their footsteps, fulfilling what had been revealed before him in the Torah. We gave him the Gospel, which contained guidance and light, fulfilling what was revealed before it in the Torah: a guide and an admonition to the God-fearing. Therefore, let those who follow the Gospel judge according to what God has revealed in it. Those who do not judge by what God has sent down are rebellious.

This essentially says that the Christian gospels are the word of God. So, the Quran, is saying that the Bible is accurate. But the Bible says that Jesus is God. And yet, Islam says that the worst sin a person can commit is the sin of shirk. That is, worshiping a man as God. And that is what Muslims say that Christians are doing. After I said that, he actually said, “Well, you beat me man”. I shared with this young gentleman that he needed to know the real Jesus, who is God. I encouraged him to look up a book by Nabeel Qureshi called “Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus” which recounts his journey from Islam to Christianity.

I spoke with a recent high-school graduate from our own church who I had never met. She was serving with us today, and I asked her if she still attends our church (because I hadn’t seen her there for a long time). She said she occasionally attends, and then I asked her if she considers herself to be a Christian and she essentially said no. I shared my testimony that I was saved at age 37, and at the end of the day I thanked her for being so honest and told her that it must have been difficult to admit what she did, while serving with a church group. I told her I would really like to talk about this more at some point in the future, and she agreed and thought that would be good.

After we had prepared all the food and tables, but before the people came in to eat, I was able to pray for the whole group (about 30 people) in Jesus’ name.

My job was doing the garbage. Wall I was tending to the garbage, I spoke with a security guy that I was hanging around where I was and we ended up talking about the homeless problem in Los Angeles, skid row, in the resurgence of typhoid there as compared with here in Phoenix, and we also ended up talking about transgenderism (he brought it up, not me), because of a few transgender people that were homeless and were being fed by us. He was of the mistaken impression that transgendered meant that the person had both the sex organs of a woman and of a man simultaneously and from birth. I was able to clarify that was not the case, and then went on to tell him about “gender dysphoria”.

I spoke to two Roman Catholic men, one was mopping the floor and the other I was separating and unpackaging bread with him.

And yes, believe it or not I did work. My job was taking out the garbage, as usual.

Overall, I would consider it a very blessed day for everyone involved!

 

 

 

Conversation while serving the homeless

Yesterday was our church’s once a month time of serving the homeless. There were 2 groups serving there yesterday – our church group of 5 people and a group of volunteers from a large company who has an office in our city. After our set-up time cutting vegetables, the leaders gave us our assignments. I was assigned to trash duty along with another young gentleman – let’s call his name Eric. Eric was the boyfriend of a woman who was from the company we were serving with.

Eric and I hit it off right from the beginning. He is in IT and is also a software developer like myself. Most of our conversation centered around technical topics, such as agile development, Angular, the MEAN stack, etc. It was really fun.

Eric has only been out of college about a year. He went to our local university and received a degree in Computer Science. While Eric and I were working garbage, one of the women (not Eric’s girlfriend) who was the volunteer coordinator for the company serving with us came over and talked to us at the trash station. Let’s call her Joan. We were talking about serving the homeless and I mentioned that the Bible says:

… “The one who has two shirts must share with someone who has none, and the one who has food must do the same.” -Luke 3:11

Joan replied “Amen!” At that point, I guessed she was a Christian, so I asked her if she was. She said yes. I asked her what church she goes to and she told me that she attends a church in our area (a large mega-church that I’m familiar with). Joan went on to recount her testimony of her life “pre-Christ” and how her life is totally changed after she found Christ. I also recounted some details about my conversion to Christ and the dramatic changes that ensued. It really was a blessing to meet another Christian there… This whole time, Eric was present in the conversation and listening, but not really saying anything. So, I asked him, “So, Eric, are you a Christian?” He replied, “No…”. I asked, “Why not?” He said, “It’s just not really my thing.” I asked, “Have you ever been to church or had any history with Christianity?” He said that he’d gone to church some times as a child, but not for many years. So I left it at that and Joan left us and went throughout the dining room visiting with other volunteers.

Eric and I continued to handle the garbage, talking while we worked about our jobs, our hobbies, our plans for the weekend, interesting new consumer electronics devices and anything else that came up. I really enjoyed my time with Eric. As we were getting toward the end of our time serving together, I wanted to get back to that conversation about God. So, I asked him, “Eric, I know you said you’re not a Christian, but do you think that there is an afterlife at all?” He replied, “No…” So, I probed further, “What do you think happens when you die?” He said, “Nothing… It’s just lights out – that’s the end of you.” I said “Really?” He said, “Yeah, I know it sucks, but that’s just the way it is…” Then I asked him, “How did you come to the conclusion – that there is no life after death? What makes you think that is true?” He really didn’t have an answer here. I think he said “I don’t know – that’s just what I believe…” So, I said, “Well, I used to think the same things too. I was very skeptical at one point (reading plenty of Neitche, Freud and science writers), until I was challenged to look into these things. When I did, I realized that I had not developed my views with an open mind – that I was only looking at one side of the argument. I’ve come to find out that there is good evidence for the existence of God. For example, the existence of the universe.” I asked him, “What do you think caused the universe?” He replied, “Uh… I guess, the Big Bang?” I clarified, “Well, that describes what happened at the beginning of the universe, but it is not saying anything about what or Who caused the Big Bang. Whatever begins to exist must have a cause, and science tells us that the universe began to exist.” He didn’t have anything to reply to this, and our conversation was kind of coming to a standstill. So, I just encouraged him to have an open mind and to follow the evidence to see if God exists. I said that I, probably like him, being in I.T., am a logically minded person and a naturally skeptical kind of guy -I don’t believe things without evidence. I would not believe God exists and Christianity is true if there were no evidence for it. That being said, I’m not saying the evidence is absolutely conclusive, but that you need to look at all the evidence and try to determine what is the most likely cause for the universe and the existence of life. I encouraged him to read one of 2 books which give pretty good evidence for the truth of Christianity:

  1. I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist – I whipped out my phone kindle app and showed him what the cover of the book looks like. I also told him that it comes on Audible too
  2. Is God Just a Human Invention? And Seventeen Other Questions Raised by the New Atheists – I told him that this book had helped answer the questions of another person his age.

He took note as I showed him the book and described the 4 main topics I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist talks about:

  1. Does Truth Exist?
  2. Does God Exist?
  3. Are Miracles Possible?
  4. Is the New Testament historically accurate?

He seemed interested in the content of the I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist book and said that he has always made decisions in his life on the basis of evidence, so he would be willing to explore the evidence as I encouraged him to do. This was the end of our conversation about this topic.

At the end our time there, I met his girlfriend and I told Eric that I really enjoyed our time here and we both hoped we’d see each other in the future. Since we’re both in the same line of work, I asked him if we could link up on LinkedIn and we did.

I pray that somehow the words I said to Eric would “put a stone in his shoe”, annoying him in a good way. That he would consider someone like me, who, in the past, was very much like he is now, and yet, believes Christianity is true, beyond any reasonable doubt. That he may come to believe, as the Apostle John stated in his Gospel:

… that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. – John 20:31

Letter to my Muslim Friend

Last year around this time (from summer 2017 – Feb. 2018) I had a series of 13 lunch meetings with a Muslim friend of mine from work.  We were meeting at Starbucks and he wasn’t actually eating, but just having coffee.  These were great meetings and I’ve documented everyone of them – what we talked about.  But in preparation for the 9th meeting, I really felt a conviction in my heart that I had to warn my friend about his predicament – about his eternal destiny.  So, I wrote him the following short letter and gave it to him and he read it during our meeting. Here is the text of that letter:


During our talks we are talking about a lot of “secondary matters”, like whether certain verses in the Qur’an or the Bible reveal scientific truth.  These are important matters, but secondary. What really is important is your eternal destination. What really is important is that one day when your heart stops beating and you are no longer breathing, you will stand before Almighty God and will have to give an account for your life and all your sins will be laid out before you and before God and you will have to answer for them by yourself because you rejected the only provision given by God to forgive your sins – our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  I say all of this because I care about you and your eternal destination – not because of arrogance or hate.  The loving thing to do is to warn you about this reality.  Listen to all these things Jesus spoke:

  1. There is a judge for the one who rejects Me and does not accept My words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day (John 12:48)
  2. I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me (John 14:6)
  3. If you do not believe that I am [the one I claim to be], you will indeed die in your sins. (John 8:24)
  4. He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters. (Matt 12:30)
  5. Whoever acknowledges Me before men, I will also acknowledge him before My Father in heaven. But whoever disowns Me before men, I will disown him before My Father in heaven. Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law — a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.  Anyone who loves his father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. (Matt 10:32-39)
  6. For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (John 3:16-18)
  7. If anyone is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. (Luke 9:26)
  8. He who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me (Luke 10:16)

You need to consider this and know that on this day you were warned and you will be accountable to God for this knowledge. I consider you a friend and not an enemy. I care about you and pray and hope that God will open your eyes to see that sin is your disease, and that Jesus is the only cure you need. If Jesus does not pay for your sins, if you don’t acknowledge that He did and accept that, you’ll have to pay for your own sins forever being eternally punished in hell. And I don’t want that for you. Please consider this today I don’t want you to be lost forever!


He read it in front of me kind of whispering and in there I had inserted a number of verses where Jesus talks about himself being the only way and so forth. He said that he really appreciated that but that he is not convinced that you have to believe in Jesus in order to be forgiven. He said that that’s putting limits on God and that God is unlimited and his Mercy is unlimited. So why should there be limits on it? We had talked about this before. I said that that’s simply because God would be a liar if that was not true, because he said in his word that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. He restated the fact that he thinks that I’m misinterpreting that, and each of those verses that I listed in that document he said that he would see those through a different context. Through a Muslim context.

So when Jesus says if anyone rejects me and my words that will be condemned on the last day, what he would read that as if anyone rejects me (Jesus) as a prophet in my (Jesus’) words as a prophet then they would be condemned on the last day. He claimed that if I would look thing look at things with an open mind that I would see the truth of Islam. That he thinks that I have a closed mind. I don’t know if he used that word or not, but I would see Muhammad in the Bible if I would look – I would see that Jesus is not God that he’s just a prophet if I would look with an open mind.

I shared with him that also I think that he’s not looking at it objectively I pointed out that in our meetings he’s brought in Bible verses that were taken completely out of context and brought them forward to me to challenge or defeat the Christian faith. He kind of took offense at the statement “totally out of context”. But I pointed out, “have you ever read the Bible just to read it?” I mean those verses that you gave me that you said that you think that they prove that Jesus is not God or something like that did you just run into those while you were reading the Bible? Or were those things that you looked up as you were trying to find arguments against the Christian faith?

So I challenged him, convince me, please convince me! He said he has been trying to convince me. He did admit he’s not a scholar and he doesn’t know the answers to everything. He said that I have not been very convincing in talking to him about the Trinity & talking to him about Jesus being 100% God and 100% man. He mentioned that he had done some research on Nabeel Qureshi (who I’d referred to several times in the previous 8 discussions) and does not find his story convincing at all – he really emphasized that point.

Referring to his lack of having an open mind, I said you’ve got to admit you’re not coming with an open mind or an objective mind either, you haven’t read the Bible. I reminded him that I’d asked him to read or listen to Nabeel Qureshi’s story and he replied that he doesn’t have time to read books. I said told him that he should read all of what Nabeel has to say before he criticizes him. I also reminded my Muslim friend that I (as a Christian) am reading the Qur’an & I’m also reading the Hadith. So, I told him, if you would just read the Bible then you would know the context of some of these things that you’re pulling out of context (at one of our subsequent meetings he agreed to read the Bible, so I gave him an expensive leather bound NIV study Bible, instructing him to start reading in the book of John).

Also he mentioned that he now knows that there are 66 books of the Bible that there are 39 Old Testament and 27 New Testament that there’s four gospels Matthew Mark Luke and John and this Christian and Muslim convert said that you can’t trust John because it was written by another author not by John. It was written in 100 AD and cannot be trusted. I asked him do you want me to give you evidence on the authorship of the Gospel of John? I can do that if that’s what you want. I can’t even remember what he answered on that point.

Our conversations were full of vigorous debate, but we were always VERY friendly and we still remain friends to this day, but I haven’t convinced him to abandon his faith, nor have I convinced him that Christianity is true.

I pray for my Muslim friend that his eyes would be opened and he would see the real Jesus and be saved!

Discussions while serving the homeless

Yesterday was our church’s monthly time of serving the homeless at the Henry Unger Dining Room.  I was given the job of dishing out coleslaw on serving line, along with 3 others, who were dishing out the main course, vegetables and dessert.  It was very busy initially, but after about an hour we’d cleared through the line and had served everyone.  So, I was getting to know the others on the serving line.

The guy serving desserts next to me had what appeared to be a black eye.  I asked him where it came from.  He said he recently had a surgical procedure to remove bags under his eyes.  He also shared that he is 88 years old and currently has stage 4 melanoma.  I said, wow and sorry to hear that.  I asked him what the prognosis was.  He said, very bluntly, “death”.  So, I decided to ask him “so, are you right with the Lord?”  He replied, “I hope so…”  I replied, “You don’t have to be unsure, you can know you’re right with the Lord.  All you have to do is believe in Jesus!” (1 John 5:12-13)  He didn’t make any comment on that but rather talked to me about having had a good life and raised 6 good children.  I decided not to belabor the point.  I was amazed, though, at the age of 88, with stage 4 cancer, that he was getting cosmetic surgeries, serving the homeless and even planning on going skiing this winter!

Later, I was able to talk to the people on my right.  They were a brother and sister (older – probably 40’s or 50’s) who were from Nigeria.  The sister, Esther, was visiting from Nigeria for a month.  Her brother, Joe, is a pastor at a local non-denominational church.  I was small talking with them as we were serving.  Then I asked Joe what he was preaching on.  He explained his current series (our thoughts about God and His thoughts about us).  Some way, somehow, the discussion got into talk about the nature of God, specifically, the Trinity.  He mentioned that God is one God in one Person, with 3 offices.  It seemed like he was basing much of His theology on Isaiah 9:6:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Because of this, he believed that Jesus is the Father, and that when the Holy Ghost came upon Mary that was the Holy Ghost that was in her womb, but it Jesus that came out the birth canal!  I told him that the historic definition of the Trinity is one God revealed in 3 persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  He said it was not 3 persons.  I then asked him how he could explain or understand passages like John 17 where Jesus was praying to the Father?  Or verses like John 14:26, which explicitly describes the 3 persons of the Godhead:

But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

He didn’t have an answer for these questions.  His only answer was that we’re  finite and it is hard to understand, but you just need to have faith!  I told him that I’m just reading the Bible (the whole Bible) and getting my understanding of the nature of God from the text.

At that point, we had to get back to work.  Our time was friendly and I wished him and his sister all the best as I left for the day and that I hoped that I would see him there again.

This morning, as I researched Joe’s views, it sounded like held to something similar to Sabellianism:

Sabellianism (3rd Century) This heresy, a form of modalistic Monarchianism named for its founder, taught God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit were different modes of one God (in relationship to man), rather than three distinct persons (in objective reality). Jesus Christ and God the Father were not thought to be distinct persons, but two aspects or offices of one person.

Leader(s) in the Heresy: Sabellius, a Roman priest and theologian (215AD?)

Corrector(s) of the Heresy: Tertullian and Demetrius (Patriarch of Alexandria) wrote against the heresy

Very interesting, day of serving the homeless and of interacting with people of different beliefs.  I hope that I was able to “put a stone in their shoe” that would “annoy them” (in a good way)!

Lunch conversation with Hindu Colleague

I recently met with a colleague who visiting our office on a business trip from another country in Europe.  It was lunch time and he was sitting at his desk.  I was on my way out to lunch, when I felt the conviction of the Holy Spirit that I ought to see if he had plans and ask him to lunch.  So, I turned around and went back to our area and asked him if he had plans.  He had no plans for lunch that day, so I invited him to go to lunch with me.

I have had a history of working with him and it was very nice to get together for a meal.  We went to a Mexican restaurant, which he enjoyed, as he was able to get a vegetarian meal.  He is originally from India and we were talking about all the places he’s lived in India.  Then I asked about Punjab, commenting that I’d heard they have their own religion there.  So, we started talking about religion in general.  My colleague said that many different religions are practiced in India (Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Jainism, etc.) and that India is very open about religion.  I asked him what he meant by “open”. He said that members of each religion will visit and talk with and be friends with people of other religions and even visit their respective places of worship and spend time together during festivals.  He even said he’s visited Christian churches in India before.  However he said that is not the case for Islam – as Hindus, they don’t go into mosques.

He went on to tell me more about Hinduism, his beliefs and some of the stories in their scriptures.  During our conversation, he described how the best schools in India were Christian schools – he specifically mentioned Catholic and Protestant.  I commented on his mentioning Catholic and Protestant and asked about his understanding of the difference between the 2?  He said that he understood that Catholic was the one true church until the protestant church split away.  I asked him if he’d heard of the Protestant Reformation.  He said no.  I asked if he’d heard of Martin Luther.  He said, “Yes, Martin Luther King, right?”  I said no, that Martin Luther King was the civil rights leader in America in the 1960’s.  I’m talking about Martin Luther.  He said, “Wasn’t he a philosopher?”  So, I went on to explain what happened during the Protestant Reformation.  He asked when all this happened, and I told him about the day (October 30th 1517) when Martin Luther posted his 95 theses (or complaints) against the Catholic Church on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.  I explained that Martin Luther was actually a Catholic Monk and he didn’t want to create a new church, rather he wanted to reform the church because he saw that they were straying away from the Bible – I also explained the situation that was occurring with selling indulgences.  I explained that the Protestant Reformation spread throughout Europe and the UK during that time period.  This was the time when the recent invention of printing press allowed the “common man” to have his own copy of the Bible for a cheaper cost, which helped the spread of this reformation.  We even talked about how the countries of Europe to this day are considered either Catholic (e.g. France, Poland, Italy and Spain) or Protestant (Germany, Netherlands, England, etc.).

During this part of the conversation, he even mentioned the level of Atheism in the UK, where he said that atheists represent about 20% of the population. I told him in the US it is somewhere between 5 and 10%.  We talked about how it is hard to believe that someone could believe that the Universe and everything in it came into existence from nothing with no cause, and that life in all of its complexity, including the DNA molecule, could come into existence without an intelligent designer. He agreed then he started to tell me about how in Hinduism there are three different gods Creator, Sustainer, and Destroyer. I think they were Brahman, Vishnu and Shiva. Then he started to tell me in general about Hinduism and some of the scriptures. After I was asking him many questions he told me about avatars and how Krishna was an avatar. As we went on talking, I asked him about the concepts of Karma and Reincarnation.  He said that everyone must be reborn so that whatever body you’re living in now you will die and eventually be reborn into a different body. I was asking him a lot of questions during this whole time we were talking about Hinduism and learning quite a bit. For example he said the final state of a person according to Hinduism is Moksha. But the new thing that I learned was that Moksha according to him is a state of non-existence that’s the final state of a person (I had previously thought that Moksha was kind of like Nirvana).  He also revealed that there is a heaven and hell in Hinduism. There is one god that keeps track of all the things you do in this life. And there’s another god which, by his description of it, almost sounded like the grim reaper who will take a person to either heaven or hell.  According to him, after you have served your sentence then you’ll get reborn into another body.

Then I asked him if he knew what the concept of “grace” means in Christianity. He said he had definitely heard of that phrase – the grace of God, but what he described sounded more like the blessings of God. So I talked to him about the meaning of grace. I told him that grace is defined as “unmerited favor from God”, meaning, you didn’t do anything to earn it.  With grace, you are getting good things that you don’t deserve. Kind of a parallel concept, I told him about is mercy. Mercy is where you don’t get the bad things (i.e. punishment) that you do deserve. Those two concepts, I explained, are related like two sides of the coin.  He seemed to understand.  I explained that all people have sinned and are accountable to God for those sins and the punishment due for them.  I asked him if he had any idea how to obtain or access the grace and mercy of God?  He thought for a while – I let there be an awkward silence.  Finally, he said no.  I explained to him, this is where Jesus comes in.  God came to earth in the person of Jesus and lived a perfect (sinless) life.  He followed the 10 commandments to a tee.  I asked if he knew what the 10 commandments were.  He had heard of them, but couldn’t name any.  I explained that these are laws and rules for living that God gave to the Israelites long ago, and gave him a few examples.  So, Jesus lived a perfect life and did not deserve to die, but you know that he was killed by crucifixion on a cross, right?  He said yes.  I explained that Jesus was paying for punishment we deserved for our sins.  So, if we believe that we have sinned and deserved the punishment that Jesus experienced and that He died in our place, then we can go to heaven forever to be with God.  This is the Good News – this is the Gospel.  But if we don’t believe in Him and His sacrificial death for us, then we have to go to hell to pay for our sins ourselves.  In Christianity, this life is the time we have to choose Jesus.  After we die, there are no second chances – this is it!  The purpose of life is to know Christ and once you know Him, to make Him known to others.  He indicated he understood.

We covered a lot of ground in this conversation and I pray that God would take my imperfect witness and help my Indian colleague understand it and consider his relationship with God and his destination in eternity!

Conversation at Work with a Hindu Lady on Way Out to Parking Lot

On October 26th at work I had a conversation about religion with a woman who sits next to me at work I’ve known her for over 15 years. She knows that I’m a devout Christian. But we’ve never had a substantial conversation about faith. It started because, over lunch that day, I was reading an article about Karma and reincarnation. So I asked her if she goes to Temple on a regular basis for her Hindu faith? She said she only goes on special occasions like festivals. I asked her why she didn’t go regularly? She said that the parking at her Temple is horrible. She mainly went to the Temple when her kids were young just to teach them about the faith and about all the stories and all the festivals.

I asked her also does she read her scriptures? She said no not really. She said that her parents do. I asked her why she doesn’t read them? She said it’s mainly because of time she doesn’t have enough time.

I then asked her about reincarnation and Karma. I mentioned to her that I had read an article about it today and I wanted to hear from a real Hindu whether these things I read in the article or true. I asked her if she believes in Karma, and she said yes, and that the concept of Karma is very important for Hindus. She said that’s the way she was raised. I asked her do you believe that you will be reincarnated? Again she said that’s the way I was raised. She said she doesn’t really think about it that much. I asked her why. She said she doesn’t like to think about death.

We were talking a little bit about some of the similarities between Christianity and Hinduism. I asked her about the nature of God that this article said that God was really impersonal and that he talked about something called Brahman. She said that there are three main Gods the Creator, the Destroyer and the Comforter. I think it was Vishnu, Shiva and some other name I don’t know if it was Krishna. One of them was like sir Swati or something like that. So that was different from what the article had said.

Then she said she talked about the goal of Hinduism which is to reach… she couldn’t think of the name and I finished her thought: Moksha. She was impressed that I knew the name of that. She asked doesn’t Christianity believe in reincarnation? I said, “No Christianity teaches that you die once and after that you face judgment for sin.” She said, “Oh, so it’s either heaven or hell, right?” I said yes. It depends on whether you believe that Jesus died to pay the penalty for your sins. If you accept that you will go to heaven. If you don’t accept that you will go to hell to pay for your own sins for eternity. We acknowledge that the topic of karma is a little bit similar to sins. In Christianity we have a concept called Grace. I explained what that means to her.  Whereas with Karma you’re actually paying for your own sins, in Christianity Christ pays for your sins if you accept his sacrifice on your behalf.

It was a good conversation it was on the way out the door at the end of the day and it probably lasted 15 minutes or so. It was a very cordial conversation and she actually thanked me, because she said you don’t really think about these things trying to explain to your religion to someone unless you have to actually explain it to them. I hope that I’m able to talk to her again in the future.

Conversation at St. Vincent de Paul Saturday February 11th

This past Saturday at St. Vincent de Paul, where our church volunteers once a month to feed the homeless, I had a conversation with a guy who was with another group volunteering there.  He was a parent of one of the girls on a high school sports club. Right off the bat, another Christian brother and I were talking with him and we let him know that we were Christians. That opened up the conversation for spiritual topics.  So, my friend asked him if he goes to church, and he said, “Well not so much anymore because we’re really busy, we’ve got the girls going to Lacrosse, we have a lot of other things going on, so we don’t really have time.”  I followed up with a question, “So then, would you consider yourself to be a Christian?”  He said, “Oh definitely!”  I filed that in my back pocket. Not much else was said right then, but I knew that since we’d both been assigned to work on the garbage, I would be having a lot of time to talk to him.

At one point during our shift when there was a lull in our garbage work, I asked him about his spiritual journey. He repeated the statement about him not having enough time to go to church. I replied, “Well, it’s only one hour a week, and we have a 168 hours a week. The truth is, we make time for things that we want to make time for. I’m not trying to convict you – I was there too and I know that life does get busy – I understand that. But, consider this: 100 years from today, we will not be concerned at all about what we’re concerned about today. Things that concern us today will be just a distant memory.” He replied, “Yeah because I’ll be dead.” And I said, “Well, you said you were Christian, so as Christians we believe in the afterlife, so actually you won’t be dead, you’ll be alive and you’ll be in one of two places either heaven or hell. So it’s important for us to have an eternal perspective as we go through life.  We sometimes need to back up and just take a look at the big picture and realize that we’re all going to die one day. With everything we’re doing in life, we need to ask whether it will matter 100 years from today.  Am I spending my time on things that will matter eternally?”  He seemed to acknowledge that without much to say in return, but I could see that I made him think about it.  That was pretty much all I said related to spiritual things.  We talked about all sorts of other things including career and how he thought it was so good to be doing this volunteer work.  He thought it was good for us and it makes us feel good as well.  He mentioned that it was good for his daughter, who was there, to see that.

So I hope that this conversation I had with this fellow will make some impact on him and get him to reconsider his priorities in life.

In Jesus’s Holy and Precious Name I pray, Amen!

Conversation at St. Vincent de Paul Saturday

Our Church volunteers once a month at St. Vincent de Paul dining room for the homeless.  Each month our Church collects clothing and then brings them there and hands them out to the clients.  This past Saturday, I had the opportunity to work with a young guy from a local company.  We both worked at the front lobby hanging the clothes we’d collected to homeless people.

While I was talking with him I asked him if he and his wife who was there (but working in another area) were Christians or had any church background. He said, “Well I’m a Lutheran. But my wife is an atheist or agnostic.” I asked him why she was an atheist or agnostic. He said well, she’s never really thought that there was any proof for God. So, I asked him how much she ever looked into any evidence for God? There are many books are there that describe the evidence for God in great detail. He said no probably not, she really doesn’t think it’s that important. I said, “Well each of us is going to have to give an account of himself to God. You won’t be able to point to anyone else being there or your parents or anything like that. We all have to stand before God alone and give an account.”

During the course of the conversation, I found out that this guy, who said he was Lutheran and went through confirmation, doesn’t go to church and doesn’t read the Bible.  He did say he does pray though.  I showed him some of the tools I’ve written that help you stay connected to God’s word on your phone:

  1. Nuggets (Web): http://coolgadgetssoftware.com/nuggets_mobile_app/web/index.html#/nugget/y
  2. Memory (Web): http://coolgadgetssoftware.com/nuggets_mobile_app/web/memory/
  3. Bible Nuggets (Android Native App): https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=cg.biblenuggets&hl=en

I showed those to him and explained the basic purpose as well as (he was in IT too, so I also talked about the technology involved). I was hoping he would ask how to get them, but no, he didn’t.  I will pray that Paul would come back to the faith of his youth and that his wife would find Christ too.

Conversation at work…

Right before I left the office I had a conversation with an associate, who I’ve known for years, but have only had very casual conversations with – I don’t know much about her.  I asked her what she was doing for the weekend and she talked about going to see a movie. She said which one she was going to see, and it was about an African-American girl who was hired by NASA. That was one my wife saw recently, so I was vaguely familiar with it. Then she said that she wouldn’t go see this one called Silence where Liam Neeson was a missionary in Japan and apparently the missionaries were killed by drowning. A friend had told me about that Thursday night at Bible study, so, again, I was vaguely familiar with it. She said she can’t watch horrific things like that on screen.  I felt maybe this was an opportunity to turn the conversation to something spiritual, so I asked her if she had ever seen “The Passion of the Christ”. She said, no, she can’t watch that. Then she brought up this question, “I’m a Christian, but I still don’t understand why God had to make his Son go through such a horrific, torturous death.” (I can’t remember the exact words, but that was the gist of it) She surmised that it was to show the depth of his love for us (or something like that). I wanted to interject, but unfortunately, she immediately kept talking with no break and eventually went on to a different subject.  I was so disappointed, because I so wanted to talk about that great question.  I wanted to say that the level of suffering that Christ had to go through was a statement on the severity of God’s hatred for sin and the cost necessary to pay the penalty sin deserved. But unfortunately the subject changed very quickly and it would’ve seemed unnatural to redirect back to that.  I hope to be able to revisit that conversation with her at another time.

Then she started talking about Donald Trump and how she’s not going to watch the inauguration. However, she didn’t sound like she was extremely opposed to him. She was just strongly against his constant tweeting and lashing out in retaliation against his enemies.  She said she cringes every time he does that. I said that reminds me of this Bible verse that says “a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Prov. 15:1)  She replied, “That’s nice…”  I went on to say that first off, he needs to have his twitter access removed, which is not to say he shouldn’t tweet, because it is harder for the media to “twist” a tweet.  On the other hand, he could give an hour speech and they will find one or two sentences in there to focus on to make him look bad.  So, I think twitter is a good thing for him to get around the media and go directly to the people with his message.  However, I think what he needs is an “editor” for his tweets.  Then, when he wants to send a tweet, he needs to send it to someone (the editor) and that person needs to decide whether it will actually be posted, and if so, how it will be worded.  The editor needs to be someone he trusts – a person who really understands him and can communicate exactly what he wants to say, but in a more gentle way.

I said to her, “As a Christian, I cannot and will not defend Donald Trump – from what I can see, he’s not a godly man and I’m not even sure he is a Christian, but I get the feeling that he will defend me.” She seemed to agree with that. She talked a little bit about a friend of hers who got to go to some meeting where Trump met with a bunch of Christian leaders and how he seemed to listen to them and be concerned about their issues.

Then, she brought up the concern that she couldn’t understand some of Trump’s cabinet nominations.  Specifically, she brought up Ben Carson for housing (I added that specifically, it was HUD – Housing and Urban Development), saying that she didn’t think his medical experience qualified him for that.  She also brought up Rex Tillerson and was concerned about his involvement with Russia.  She went on to complain about how she couldn’t imagine Trump meeting with heads of State in any kind of diplomatic sense to make peace. I told her that he has met with heads of state as the CEO of his business, to which she responded that that was on his own agenda and for his own gain.

At least during this conversation, I found out that this associate of mine was a Christian and maybe, just maybe, I opened up the door for future conversations focusing more on Christianity (rather than politics).

My Trip to Australia

I was required to travel from Phoenix, Arizona to Sydney, Australia for work this April.  I was working on a large project and they needed support on site for the go live.  Although, in some ways, I looked forward to the trip, there was a steep personal cost.  Not only was I to be away from my lovely wife for 2 weeks (I couldn’t convince her to come with me), but I was going to be away from my local church for 2 weeks.  This meant would I miss 2 weeks of:

  1. Sunday Worship with my brothers and sisters at my local church
  2. Teaching the Sunday morning apologetics class
  3. Tuesday men’s Bible study at Mimi’s Café with about 20 other guys
  4. Wednesday night AWANA, where I’m one of the leaders. I have six 4th grade clubbers who I dearly miss:
    1. Cole
    2. Grady
    3. John
    4. Elianna
    5. Kourtney
    6. Chariot
  5. Thursday night men’s Bible study with 6 brothers from my local church. When I’m not there, no music is played, so I know they’ll be missing that, but I certainly have missed them and their fellowship.  We really go deep with each other and hold each other accountable.
  6. Daily walks at work with the one Christian Brother I have at work. On those walks, we normally talk apologetics and do role playing with large lists of objections to the Christian faith – I really miss him and those daily walks on work days.
  7. Feeding the homeless at St. Vincent de Paul (2nd Saturday of the month) – I will miss Rosanne (the volunteer leader) as well as all the other volunteers. I will also miss the opportunity to serve those less fortunate in the name of Christ, while being confronted with the fact of homelessness and hunger.

But, I really had no option to say no to this work trip.  Many would think I was crazy for even wanting to say no – its Australia!  While this was not going to be a pleasure trip, I hoped that at least I would have some time off during the trip for sight-seeing.  The flight to Australia was 15 hours and 20 minutes long (from Los Angeles to Sydney).  I was dreading that long flight.  I’d requested an aisle seat and when I boarded the plane and got to my seat, I saw that there was a couple sitting in the same row – 3 seats and they occupied 2 and me in the other one.  They were a very pleasant couple.  I did find out they were Christian.  After small talk was over, I started reading the book “Who Made God? And Answers to Over 100 Other Tough Questions of Faith” by Ravi Zacharias and Norman Geisler.  The husband of the couple noticed the book and made mention of it, so I asked him if he was a Christian and he said yes, so we talked about our mutually shared faith, which was great.  As the flight went on, I realized that this was going to be very uncomfortable for 15 hours, because the seating was very cramped.  This flight attendant I think noticed my situation and mentioned to me, “Hey, there’s an open seat in row 30 where you’d be the only person in the row – you’re free to take it if you’d like”.  Well, I’ve got to tell you, that was God taking care of me through her!  I quickly took her up on the offer.  The husband of the couple had already fallen asleep and I said a quiet good bye to the wife as I moved my belongings back to row 30.  Wow, it was great – I could stretch out my feet, I had room to store my stuff.  This row only had 2 seats in it, but the row ahead had 3 seats, so I had plenty of leg room.  Plus, since the row was kind of “indented”, I wouldn’t get my elbow bumped by people or carts going by.  It really made this long flight tolerable.  This was also the type of airplane that had plugs in the back of the seat in front of you which meant that I could plug in my phone and play audio or video on it without fear of running out of battery.  So, I did a lot of reading and listening to various sermons and podcasts.  It was a great time of feeding as I made use of the time rather than wasting it away.  I did have sleep too – I think I got about 5 hours – in and out. As we got close to Sydney, I started to look out the window to see if I could see land.  I was finally able to see the first glimpses of Australia from the plane:

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I knew it wouldn’t be long and we’d be landing.  I was full of hope, joy and thankfulness that I’d survived through that long flight.  I told that flight attendant several times during the flight how grateful I was to her for giving me the opportunity to sit here, how it really made my flight experience a pleasure.

Once landing in Sydney, I was able to quickly get my luggage (praise God) and it was very painless getting through customs.  Getting out to the curb it was a little difficult to find where the taxis were, but I finally found them and there was a big line, which I waited in and finally after the guy assigning people to taxis had an argument with a taxi driver who I was to go with :), I was able to get into the taxi and make the 45 minute trip to North Ryde where my hotel was.  I was staying at the Courtyard Marriott in North Ryde, which was in walking distance to my work as well as a church that I’d found online – North Ryde Christian Church.  I arrived at my hotel at about 9AM Saturday morning (I’d left Phoenix 7PM Thursday evening).  Whew!  What I really needed was a room and a nice hot shower.  My plan was to go down to the Sydney Harbor area and stay moving all day long, just sightseeing.  Was I in for a rude awakening…  As I was waiting for my room to be prepared in the hotel lobby, I checked my work email ( first mistake 🙂 ) and saw that they actually wanted me to attend a 9:30AM meeting at the office.  Well, I emailed back and told them I just landed and needed to get to my room, take a shower and then I would be able to come.  So, after showering and unpacking, I used my pre-printed walking directions to the office and walked over there.  It turned out that I worked a full day – I think I left the office at 7PM that day!  Well, so much for sightseeing.  But it was the go live weekend and there were rather urgent tasks we as a project team had to do.  However, it was a surprise to me that there were still that many things left to do that close to go live.  In any case, I made it clear that I would be going to church tomorrow, so no one even asked me to go into work on Sunday, although several of them would be working on Sunday.  On Saturday, I went out to lunch at a Malaysian restaurant with several of the guys from China who’d traveled to Sydney for the go live as well.  During the lunch, I mentioned that I’d be going to church tomorrow.  One commented that China is communist and “we don’t believe in God” – he kind of chuckled.  Another guy said “I’ve never been to church”, so I invited him to come with me, but he declined the offer – I made it clear to everyone that they could come with me tomorrow, but no one took me up on the offer.

So, Sunday morning I got up and ate breakfast at the hotel.  I knew from the web search that church started at 9:30 am and it was a 23 minute walk, so I targeted that I wanted to leave the hotel at 9:00.  But, interestingly enough, I’d forgot to pack white socks for the trip, so I figured I would take the time I had to go to a local Target store and buy some socks – that as quite an adventure in and of itself, but bottom line, I ended up buying 6 pairs of white socks – enough to get me through the trip.  I also needed to stop at an ATM and withdraw some cash so that I would have money to give at church.  I figured out what I normally give at home and translated that via the exchange rate and took out the necessary amount of money at the ATM – it worked out well.  I arrived at the church at 9:25 – perfect timing!  I took several pictures along the way.  The first one here is actually a cool looking tree that was out in front of the church.  You can see the church sign on the right side of the photo:

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Here are a couple of cool trees I saw on the way to church walking there:

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The worship service was great.  Everyone was real friendly.  Since it was a very small church, I stood out like a sore thumb 🙂  I think I just about talked to everyone in attendance either before or after the service.  This is definitely a Spirit filled, Jesus loving church.  The speaker spoke on the topic of “What’s Jesus Like?”.  It was a great topic.  He’s documented to contents of this talk here: https://georgesjournal.net/2016/04/04/whats-jesus-like/.  The church does not employ any pastors, so each week, there is a different speaker – I believe normally an elder or possibly a missionary report.  There is a lot I could report about the church and its differences to ours in Phoenix and I really found it to be a great experience, I would definitely return there.  One couple in particular I met there invited me back to their house for lunch and gave me lots of wonderful advice on what was a best plan for sightseeing the rest of the day.  With their help, I decided to take a ferry to Manly, which would allow me to see a bit of the downtown area (Circular Quay) and the harbor, the bridge, the opera house as well as the great little town of manly including the beach!  I could not believe that this couple actually provided me with an OPAL card (with money on it), which is needed to take the trains and ferry.  But, more than that, they even dropped me off down at Circular Quay and told me exactly where to go to catch the ferry!  Unbelievable!  Well, it was a wonderful day.  Here is a picture I took while waiting for the ferry arrive from the wharf:

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As you can see, the opera house is on the right and the harbor bridge is on the left.  The ferry is the smaller ship coming into the harbor in the middle of the picture.  It was an absolutely beautiful day – about 70° – 75° F, which is perfect!  As we left the harbor, I was able to get great pictures of the opera house as we cruised by it:

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So, the ferry made its way over to Manly, which is out at the edge of the harbor.  I don’t think it is technically an island, but it certainly has the feel of an island.  The ferry landed at a wharf and after getting my bearings straight according to the map my new friends printed for me, I decided to head for the beach.  It is a very small town and you can very quickly walk from the place where the ferry lands, through the little town and over to the beach.  The little town is somewhat reminiscent of Coronado Island in San Diego (minus the infamous Hotel del Coronado of course) in that it is small enough to walk across, and one side, there is a harbor and the other side a beach, with a lot of quaint little shops in between and a very safe feeling place.  So, I spent several hours there – out by the beach, took off my shoes and walked in the sand and the water, up and down the beach for quite a while.

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After getting hungry, I got off the sand and put my shoes and socks back on to go across the street to eat.  I found a little open air Mexican place called Mex & Co, where I had some fajitas:

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Around that time, one of the poor guys that was still at work that day contacted me on WeChat (I’d installed that while back in America, being advised that it was a good way to text with the Chinese guys). And luckily Manly has city Wi-Fi, so, I didn’t have to use any of my data to answer.  I was able to answer a question that got him out of a jam – he was happy for that.  After eating and answering his question, I took the walking path to the right of the beach to walk along the rocky part of the coast line:

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After quite a long while walking along there, the sun was starting to get lower, so I thought it was a good idea to start getting back.  I didn’t want to get back too late…  So, I made my way back to the center of town, stopping to have a banana split on the way 🙂  After that, I made my way over to the ferry waiting place and boarded the ferry to get back to Sydney.  This time I went to the open air in the front of the ship.  As we were heading back to Sydney harbor, there were stunning pictures of the sunset behind the harbor bridge:

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Excellent day – now it was dark and I was in an unfamiliar city knowing that I was at Circular Quay and needed to get back to MacQuarie Park, thanks to a note from my friends.  In hindsight, I should’ve downloaded an app for trains.  A few people and workers were able to help guide me to the correct trains / platforms.  After 3 train / platform changes, I finally made it back to my stop and took the 2 block walk back to my hotel – I think I as back in the room by 8PM.  Great day.  I would need it because the rest of the week was to be very rough indeed.

Monday morning I walked to the office.  One thing I noticed is that there are a lot of cool birds in Sydney and surprisingly, 2 of the most common birds are Cockatoos and Lorikeets.  The Lorikeets were much too small and fast to get a picture of unfortunately, but I was able to get several pictures of the cockatoos:

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There were also a few other assorted birds that seemed quite different than Arizona birds to me, for example, Ibis:

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And these other birds that I saw almost every day on the way to work:

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The first 2 days of the week were rough.  On both of those days, I worked until at least 10PM.  Subsequent evenings, I was able to get out by 8PM and 7PM, which seemed like I got off easy 🙂  Fortunately, the US team was able to pick up the slack during our daytime, so we would just hand off to them.  Then, as the week wound down to a close, I started to feel myself getting sick.  Because of that, unfortunately, tourism was not a viable option on the weekend.  I had to just hang around the hotel and try to get better.  Since I had my friend’s OPAL card (and you shouldn’t throw those out, because they’re refillable) I felt that I needed to get the card back to them.  So, I did go to church again although I was sick.  Again, the people were happy to see me back and I was happy to see them.  If there was anyone I hadn’t spoken to in the whole church, I probably spoke to them this time when I went.  There was a family, who last weekend had invited me out to lunch, and since I wasn’t able to go, I took them up on their offer this time (even though I wasn’t really hungry).  We went to a shopping mall where I was able to purchase medicine at a pharmacy, which would hopefully help manage my symptoms.  After a meal at a Chinese restaurant (for which they insisted on paying), they dropped me back off at the hotel.  Both weekends my interaction with the church was a great opportunity for fellowship and getting to know brothers and sisters in Christ half way around the world 🙂  After that, I pretty much just rested the rest of the day and tried to prepare myself for Monday of work.  Unfortunately, my health just kept going downhill.  It got to a point Monday afternoon, that I left early and worked the rest of the day from the hotel room. Tuesday, I worked all day from the hotel room.  Tuesday evening, the coughing was so bad in the middle of the night that I determined in the morning I was going to find a doctor and make sure I didn’t have pneumonia.  So, when I got up, I started to research doctors.  I found one a few blocks away, within walking distance and went – cost was $50 AUD, but the doctor confirmed that I didn’t have pneumonia, which was good – rather, I was diagnosed with Acute Bronchitis and given a “script” for antibiotics and told that I was “unfit for work” for 2 days.  So, I just stayed in the hotel for Wednesday and Thursday, eating room service food (not too great by the way).  Finally, I emerged “alive” from the tomb of my room 🙂 Friday morning with plans to go to work.  I went into work and everyone was really concerned about me – apparently the word spread far and wide because even friends from back in the states were contacting me and asking if I was ok.  I still had a cough, but it’d definitely gotten better.

It was great getting to know the people in the office who are using the software I helped to write.  I’ve had roll-outs of this tool suite in North America, Europe and now Australia and this was the place where I got to interact closest with the end users of my software.  There was one user in particular, who happened to also be staying at my same hotel.  She was from out of the country as well (not the US).  I saw her while eating breakfast one day and she was wearing a cross.  I asked her about the cross, whether she was Christian – she said she was catholic (and she lives in a majority Muslim country).  We talked a little about church stuff when I first saw that cross and asked her about it.  But on the Friday morning (my last business day in Australia), I saw her again at breakfast and again, as we ate breakfast, we started to talk about faith.  I asked her where she thought she was going to go when she died.  She said she didn’t know.  I asked her why…  She said, well, I think I’m a good person, and I’m really trying hard.  I asked her why she said she was unsure, because I reminded her of Jesus’ words – “Whoever hears My words and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not be condemned – he has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24).  She said the reason she was unsure if she’d go to heaven is because she may have to go to purgatory.  I reminded her, that one of the last things Jesus said while He was on the cross was “It is finished!”  That meant that all the sins of those who would believe in Him are paid for – no further payment is needed.  She said, well that is what the catholic church teaches.  I gently said, yes, but that teaching is not found in the Bible.  I think you ought to base your thoughts about what will happen when you die based on God’s word, not on man’s word.  I then showed her a passage on my phone and had her read it – it was Ephesians 2:4-9, which says:

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy,  made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions –it is by grace you have been saved.  And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,  in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith –and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– not by works, so that no one can boast.”.

She acted like that was all new information to her.  I asked her if she knew what the biblical word grace meant.  She didn’t.  So I went on to explain that it is unmerited favor from God.  You can’t earn your salvation by doing good or being a good person – you could never be good enough anyway.  She then asked me doesn’t God want us to be good – doesn’t He want us to obey.  I said yes, but this does not contribute to your salvation – salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone – look at Ephesians 2:9 – it says “not of works, so that no one can boast”.  She seemed like a light bulb went off and she actually started crying.  I then prayed for her that she would understand the message of grace that salvation is a free gift from God that cannot be earned, but must be received by faith.  Again, she cried, she felt like I was an angel, a messenger that God sent to tell her what I told her.  I encouraged her that if she trusts in Jesus Christ alone for salvation, that He paid for her sins on the cross and rose from the dead, God would indeed save her and bring her to heaven one day.  She thanked me for that.  Later in the day, I also sent a followup email to her and included this passage, Luke 18:9-14:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable:  “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men–robbers, evildoers, adulterers–or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’  “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’  “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

That conversation just made my day and my whole trip worth it!  So, Friday, I left the office at 4PM because I had to go back and pack and make arrangements for a trip to the airport as well.

I hoped to visit this national park that was in close walking distance to the hotel, so I did go and visit that before my driver arrived at 8:00 AM on Saturday morning.  Here are some pictures:

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And finally, the last trip to the 7-11 for the breakfast of champions!

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Then, finally, another grueling long flight back to home.  I’m so glad to be back.  Even though I got sick and I only got in one day of sightseeing and missed my wife and family and church, I still think the trip was worth it – if nothing else, for:

  • Meeting the group at North Ryde Christian Church and getting to know them
  • Meeting all the users of the software I created
  • Talking about the free gift of salvation with someone who didn’t really understand it
  • I also was able to memorize several verses while in Australia:
    • Psalms 116:15
    • Proverbs 14:2
    • Proverbs 15:28a
    • Deuteronomy 8:17-18a
    • 1 Peter 4:1-5
  • And all the cool birds I saw…

Hopefully, one day, I’ll be able to go back to Australia on a pleasure trip – it seems like a real nice place with great people.  I felt really safe the whole time I was there.  In fact, I cannot remember seeing even one policeman the whole time I was there.  So, overall, I’m happy I went – it was an experience that I will not forget – I and I’m quite sure I’ll see several of the people I met in Australia in heaven one day.  Meanwhile I’m encouraged by the words of the apostle Paul to Titus:

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.  It teaches us to say no to ungodliness and worldy passions and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Titus 2:11-13

Conversation with young woman at St. Vincent de Paul

Once a month on the 2nd Saturday of the month our church has a group that goes down to the local St. Vincent de Paul dining room to volunteer setting up and serving lunch as well as handing out free clothes (collected at our church). It is both a rewarding and sobering experience each time I go there and I’m glad to have the opportunity to serve those less fortunate than me in the name of the Lord. The people that come there to eat (we call them clients) are in great need and it gives me great encouragement to know that St. Vincent de Paul is open 365 days a year for lunch and has several locations in our area. There should be no reason anyone would go without a meal each day in our metropolitan area. They don’t question anyone that comes through – there is no test to see whether you’re homeless or on government assistance. Just come in and eat a free meal. Once you’re in, you can eat as much as you want of whatever we happen to be serving that day.

Not only is it important that we as Christians help those in need (Prov. 3:27; 11:25; Ps. 41:1; Matt. 10:42; 1 John 3:17-18), but I also think it is important that we be regularly confronted with seeing those in need so that we can be more thankful for what we have. There are times that I find myself starting to take for granted what I’ve been blessed with. Going to this place to serve homeless people reminds me just how fortunate I am. It helps me to stay grounded and grateful.

There is another reason that I like our monthly trips to serve the homeless: interaction with other volunteers. We are not the only group serving there on any given Saturday. Usually there are other groups there – sometimes businesses, sometimes other church groups or benevolence organizations. Yesterday there were 2 different groups serving alongside our church group. There was another church group (Prayer Assembly) and a large company (which I will not name) from our local area. There were probably over 30 volunteers there yesterday between the 3 groups represented. Our church had 9 and the rest was made up by Prayer Assembly and the company. So, I knew that I would have a chance as usual to interact with other volunteers that may not hold the same convictions or worldview as I have.

I struck up a conversation with, among others, a young lady who worked for the large company that was there. Before talking to her, I said a quick (silent) prayer for God to give me an opportunity to talk with her about my faith. I asked her what she did for her company and found out a little about her job, skills and education. Then I turned the conversation toward spiritual things. I asked her if she had any spiritual background or if she goes to church. For some reason, at St. Vincent de Paul, it seems to be very easy to bring up spiritual topics. It is a Roman Catholic organization, there is a chapel on sight and in the main dining area, there is Jesus on a cross hanging on the wall right above the serving line. Plus, it is already out in the open that we are from a church. All of that makes it very easy and natural to talk about spiritual things. In our conversation, this young woman told me that she used to go to church, but stopped around the time she went to college. So, I asked her if she believes in God. She looked unsure and said tentatively “Not really… Well, sometimes…” So, I said “Why did you stop believing God exists?” She said, “I guess because of education…” She said she thought the church was good and does a lot of good things for society, like helping the poor, but she really doesn’t believe the message. I’m aware of the college she went to – there is an infamous atheist professor on staff there. I said, “Yeah, it would probably be tough to keep your faith in that school”. I said that there are many good organizations that work with the poor and do other good things for society, but that is not exclusively what a church is. Yes, God instructs us to care for the less fortunate, but our primary focus is on Jesus as Lord and Savior, and we do believe that these are true accounts in history, not just legends and myths. At this point I shared a little bit about my testimony. I told her that I didn’t grow up in the church – I became a Christian later in life. She said that she’s heard a lot of stories like mine. I said that likewise, I’d heard a lot of stories like hers. I shared how, before I became a Christian, I only looked at evidence from one side of the argument. I was reading Nietzsche, Freud and other generally atheistic material. Once I started to look at the “other side” of the evidence with an open mind, I realized that it would take more faith to believe that there is no God than to believe that there is a God. She was curious and asked what I meant. I shared how we have to explain the existence of the universe. Science tells us the universe had a beginning therefore the cause of the universe must be outside the universe. I also mentioned the apparent design in life. She didn’t have any response on what I said – she just looked and listened. I challenged her to check out the evidence for herself, mentioning the book I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist. She didn’t say she would do it but took note of the book title. She seemed to be getting quiet and I took that as a sign that it was time to end the conversation, so I continued doing my assignment, which was to manage the garbage cans in the dining room 🙂

I pray this young lady accepts my challenge to investigate the evidence for herself and see if it stands up to scrutiny. I think she will be surprised at how well Christianity stands up in the marketplace of ideas and she may find that her reasons for continuing to disbelieve Christianity become very few. In fact, I believe she will find that Christianity is true beyond a reasonable doubt!

Conversation with a casual acquaintance

Today, I was able to have about a 20 minute conversation with a casual acquaintance. The conversation started off about normal things like football, etc. I mentioned that I used to have season tickets for football, but that it interfered with Sunday church activities, because I teach a class at church. So he asked me, when do you teach the class? Is it after or before the worship service? I mentioned that it was before – at 9 AM and then afterwards we have worship at 10:30. So, I asked him if he went to church or had any church background. He said that he actually used to be a youth pastor over the youth ministry at a church. Wow, I said! I asked him which church it was and he mentioned some Baptist Church in the local area. So I asked him, do you still go to church? He said, sometimes, very rarely. Probing a little further, I asked, would you consider yourself to be a Christian now? He said, well actually I would probably consider myself to be an agnostic. I said, Wow! That’s a big change! What was it that caused you to become an agnostic after having been a youth pastor? He said, when he was a pastor he had to talk with people and do counseling after particularly difficult life situations, for example, when a woman would come in recently having lost a small child to some disease. He said that it was very frustrating with the lack of answers that he could give the person. All he could say was that he was sorry for her loss he felt like he couldn’t give any assurances that her child was in a better place, or why God would allow this to happen. I listened to him talk about a few more situations that were difficult – they all seemed to center around evil and suffering people go through.

So I asked him, so why did the task of talking to people in difficult situations, cause you to becoman agnostic – to question God’s existence? He said that it became difficult for him to reconcile the idea of an all loving, all powerful, all-knowing God with the types of tragedies that he saw happening to people. He said typically people who come up with this dilemma Express 1 of several possibilities that could be true:

  1. Either God is all loving, but not all powerful and wants to do something about the evil, but cannot.
  2. Or God is all powerful, but not all loving so God just doesn’t want to do something about the evil.
  3. Or God is neither all-powerful, all-loving nor all knowing, so he can’t do anything about the evil and suffering.
  4. Or there is no God.

I told him I understand what he’s saying, but I think he may be missing one option. What if God is all powerful, all loving, all knowing, and he has sufficient moral reasons for allowing the evil to happen or continue? He said that that fits under the idea that we cannot fully understand God, that he is a mystery and that his ways are mysterious. I shared with him that when evaluating whether God exists, we can’t just look at evil and suffering, and conclude He must not exist, but we must combine that evidence against God with all of the other evidence we have for the existence of God. For example, that the universe exists and must’ve had a cause, that there is design in the biological realm, etc. He then started to talk about natural selection, how it was a cruel process. For example why do mothers have so many babies? Or why do chickens lay so many eggs? And many of them die but the fittest survive. I was silent on this point with him. I wanted to let him know that I do believe in natural selection as well, but I didn’t go there right now. Instead I mentioned to him that none of this makes any sense, until you figure sin into the picture. Death came into the world when sin entered the world. Without sin in the world, there would be no disease or suffering. Sin is what corrupted everything – and yes, God allowed sin to happen. He understood that it was when Adam and Eve sinned. But, he said that the understanding of sin requires belief in the infallibility of the Bible. I told him that I didn’t necessarily agree with that point. In fact, I don’t think that you need to actually believe in the inerrancy of the Bible in order to be a Christian. It doesn’t say in the Bible that you have to believe that all 66 books are the inspired, inerrant word of God in order to be a Christian. I pointed out the example of the thief on the cross. That he wouldn’t have known about all 66 books, yet he was still saved. He agreed and said that Jesus said that he is in paradise with him right now. I said that the biblical requirement for salvation is “that if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9). Inerrancy is a separate issue. He then started to talk about how he wasn’t sure that all of this is true, and he feels like he couldn’t be a teacher or involved in the church if he wasn’t sure it’s true. So I talked to him a bit about the concept of “true beyond reasonable doubt” vs. certainty, that even if you believe that is 51% true , more likely that it was true than not true, you still believe enough to be saved.

At this point we were near the end of our walk, and I didn’t want to push it too far so I pretty much ended the conversation there. I hope to be able to continue this conversation again on another day. It ended very cordially and it sounded like he would be willing to speak again.

**Update**

I woke up thinking of some questions regarding this situation early this morning.  I wish I would’ve asked him these questions yesterday:

  1. Now that you’re unsure if God exists, what kind of evidence would convince you that He does exist (beyond a reasonable doubt)?
  2. If Christianity were true (all the facts – such as God exists, is the creator of everything, Jesus died on a cross and rose again, etc.), in spite of all your unanswered questions about evil and suffering in the world, would you become a Christian?
  3. If the God described in the Bible exists, and has in fact let all this evil and suffering happen, what are your expectations from Him?  Do you expect Him to personally give an answer to you about why He has let all this happen and what His greater plan is regarding these tragedies?
  4. Have you read the book of Job?  Have you read about Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” (http://biblehub.com/2_corinthians/12-9.htm)?

These are just some of the questions I woke up thinking about this morning.  I hope I get the chance to ask him those questions soon “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15b)!

Lunch Meeting with Indian Couple

Recently I had lunch with an Indian couple. Having worked with the husband for a number of years, over and over he has told me that he “has a lot of respect for me”. Earlier this spring, I saw him at a social event and we were talking about some of our interests outside of work. I mentioned about a number of church activities I’m involved in, including Awana. When he heard about Awana, he sounded interested in it for his young child. So, recently I sent him an email telling him that Awana starts on September 9th and if he’s still interested, it would be a good time to register. Ultimately, due to time and location, we wasn’t interested in signing up this year, but he said that he is interested in me “teaching him” and just being around me to learn “the discipline”. Well, really, he was wanting me to teach his 3 year old. What an opportunity! So, I offered that maybe I could teach him first. He agreed and I set up a lunch meeting with him. It was kind of a surprise that he brought his wife along, but in the end, it turned out pretty good. We got to the restaurant and after ordering and some small talk, I got right into our topic. I commented about his having respect for me and how I appreciated that comment, but I have to give all credit Jesus Christ. He made me who I am today and without him I’m nothing. I explained a little bit about how my life changed so much after hearing the Gospel in that Easter service in 1999. We would get back to that more later.

I asked him what he knew about Jesus and Christianity. He started to recount the facts he knew. He said that Jesus was the guy that “killed himself”. Well, in a way, he was right because Jesus said in John 10:18 “No one takes it [my life] from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again…” But my colleague made it sound like Jesus committed suicide. I just agreed and clarified that Jesus died. I asked him and his wife whether they’d ever heard that Jesus was called Savior. They both said yes, that they’d heard that. I asked them if they knew why Jesus is called Savior. He replied, “because He died for our sins”. I thought – pretty good answer! Then I asked if he knew what sin was (since he’d mentioned sin). He said that sin was breaking God’s law. Again, I thought, pretty good answer. So, I asked him what God’s law was and where he could find it. He really didn’t know.

I thought it was a good time to introduce my gift to him. I pulled out a brown leather New Living Translation Bible and told him this was my gift to him. (I had found it for $2.99 at Goodwill, which I told him 🙂 ). So, I asked him whether he’d ever heard of the 10 commandments. He said he had, but he couldn’t tell me any of them. So, I turned to Exodus 20 and read through a number of them. While talking about the 10 commandments, I elaborated on several of them, like adultery, which can be committed in the mind as well via lust, murder, which can be committed in the mind via hate, and the first commandment having no other gods before God, which can be committed if you put anything else before Him (including your career, your family, your health or anything else). Later on in the conversation I would tell him that Jesus wants first place in his life, He wants all of him.

So, I told him that these laws are God’s standard – perfection in keeping them. Since no one in the history of the world has been perfect in keeping these (with the exception of Jesus), everyone is a sinner. I said that we may be “good people” when we compare ourselves to each other, but God doesn’t compare us to each other. God’s standard is 100% perfection. So, since we’re all sinners, we’ve got a problem, I told them, because God, as a righteous judge, cannot ignore sin – and give us a “free pass”. I told them about the example where if a person had murdered someone and then came in and asked the judge to let him off because of other good deeds he’d done, that judge would not be able to let the person off. The punishment for murder still needs to be carried out. In the same way, God has stated that the punishment for crimes against Him (sin) is death and eternal separation from Him, which is what is called hell. It is hell because everything good comes from God, so separation from Him is nothing good (and everything bad), which is hell. So, I told him, “As you said, Jesus was dying for our sins on the cross, paying the penalty we deserved”. I explained that He was able to pay for our sins because He was sinless and didn’t have to pay for His own sins. So, God’s word (the Bible) says that if we will repent, which means to change our minds about our sins and about Jesus and realize that we deserved the punishment that He took for us and if we embrace Him by faith, then God will forgive us of all our sins and declare us righteous in His sight. To reinforce this point, I quoted Romans 3:20

“Therefore no one will be declared righteous in His sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin”.

I shared how Jesus did start a religion in some sense, but religion seems to focus on what man must do to get God’s approval, while Christianity focuses on what Christ has done to save us.

Throughout the conversation, I checked with him and his wife to see if they were understanding what I was communicating. They are a very silent couple – just listening and absorbing the information like a sponge. I felt confident from their responses that they were understanding this material.

In order to communicate the heart of Jesus toward people, I told them 2 stories from the gospel of Luke. One was the parable of the 2 men that went up to the temple to pray – the Pharisee and the tax collector. I told them about how the Pharisees were the Jewish religious leaders of the day – very proud and very legalistic – trying to follow the law to a tee.  They had power and because Jesus made them look bad in the eyes of the people by pointing out their hypocrisy, they were His enemies. Then the tax collectors, who the Jewish people despised as the worst sinners and traitors to the Jewish people because they were collecting taxes on them for the Romans. In a conversational manner, I quoted this parable from memory (one of the big benefits of Scripture memorization):

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men–robbers, evildoers, adulterers–or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

I asked them to take notice that the tax collector – the despised sinner – is the one who went home justified before God because he acknowledged he was a sinner and asked God to have mercy on him. I said this is very important to understand and this is what everyone has to do to be right with God.

Then I also told him that account of Jesus being crucified on a cross in between 2 criminals. I recounted how earlier, those 2 criminals had seen how Jesus forgave the people who’d crucified him (Luke 23:34) and now, in a conversational manner, I quoted this account to them from Luke 23:39-43

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.

So, I told them, see how the one criminal acknowledged his sin and asked Jesus to remember him when He came into His kingdom? This was a deathbed conversion. This person had no time to do any good works – he was only hours from his death and yet he was saved by Jesus, which is evident because of Jesus’ statement “today you will be with me in paradise.”

Again, they seemed to understand all of this, but there were some points in the conversation where he indicated that he could never be as devoted as me. He asked me, “isn’t this kind of like a 2nd job for you? Don’t you work like 40 extra hours a week on this?” This grieves me to hear that people are pushed away after seeing my devotion to Christ. I turned his Bible to Philippians 1:21 and asked him to read it – out loud so his wife could hear it too. He read “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain”. We talked about this is the apostle Paul – one of those who met Christ. He was saying that if he goes on living in this world, it will be for Christ. But if he dies, that will be a gain, because he will actually go to be with Christ! They understood how it is good either way. He asked me how I got so devoted – how did this transformation of me happen? I told them that God did it. I said that when you repent and trust in Christ as your Savior and Lord, he gives you a new heart and new desires. That is called being born again. Just like we were all born physically, we all need to also be born spiritually. The reason is that when we were born physically, we were spiritually dead towards God. Jesus was talking to a guy named Nicodemus and told him that he must be born again in order to see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus didn’t understand – he said how could he crawl back into his mother’s womb to be born again. Jesus clarified that he had to be spiritually reborn. I explained that this is a process that begins when you place your trust in Christ for your salvation, receiving Him as Lord and Savior of your life.

He also indicated that he doesn’t know if he can even understand all this. I told him – you’re smart and I have faith in your ability to understand this material. I said, “You know, the Gospel is so simple that even a 3 or 4 year old can understand it. Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved – that’s it. Is that difficult to understand?” He said, no it’s not difficult. And he said, I do believe in Jesus. I just feel like God has put me here to accomplish some things with my career. I want to be successful and do great things. He was basically communicating to me that he didn’t have time for all of the Christian activities and study he saw me doing. I said, well, you’re married – so what if you got married to your wife and then said “I have to go work on my career and education for a year and I won’t be able to see you or have any time for you”? Would your wife think that you really loved her? His wife smiled and laughed… That’s the same way with Jesus, I said. He wants to be number 1 in your life. Jesus said ‘Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you.’ (Matthew 6:33) Things like career, family, success, etc. will come, but you need to get right with God first. Get that relationship established and everything else will fall into place after that. The family that builds their lives on Christ first has their priorities right.

At the end of our conversation, I offered to meet again – even weekly if he’d like – to learn more about the faith and read the Bible. I showed him where the Gospel of John was in the Bible and put the marker there. I said if you want to start reading the Bible, start here. I showed him how small the book of John is – very thin – it should be a quick read. I took him to the end of the book where John explains his reason for writing the book:

John 20:30-31 – Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

I emphasized that last part “that by believing you may have life in His name”.

There were several other things covered in this conversation, which I cannot remember the detail or order of right now. My main concern is for this friend and his wife and child that, as it says at the end of the book of John, they may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing, they may have life in his name.

Conversation with a 26 year old who left the church in high school

Here is a summary of the conversation held Tuesday August 18th at a Taco Bell between me, a Christian brother and his agnostic friend from work:

  1. Background – he was raised in church, and around the mid-teenage years, he started to have more and more questions that couldn’t be answered. Many of his questions seem to center around the Bible, who Jesus is and which religion of the many is correct. He appears to be agnostic about God’s existence, but open to evidence for all of his objections – he’s neither hostile nor apathetic toward Christianity. During these mid-teen years, his parents gave him the choice whether he would go to church or not. So, he decided to stop going and has never been back since then. He still talks to God, even though he’s not sure if He’s really there or not. He believes that Jesus was a real historical person. I did ask him how he came to that conclusion about Jesus? He said that he’d read about some research that confirmed He was a real person. Of course, I told him that was a good starting point. But I also reminded him that the same sources that tell us that Jesus was a real historical person, tell us about His deity and miracles.
  2. The Bible – I explained that the Bible is not just 1 book, but it is actually 66 books written by 40 authors (who, in many cases didn’t know each other) over 1500 years. Yet the Bible has one message – the salvation of mankind through Jesus Christ. He corrected me – saying that well, that message is only in ½ of the Bible (the New Testament), because Jesus doesn’t appear in the Old Testament. I told him that Jesus claimed to be God, so, faith in the one true God has always been the basis of salvation – from the beginning to the end. The Old Testament people looked forward to the promised Messiah and we now look back to the actual Messiah and are saved by faith in Him. I told him about the phrase that the Old Testament is “Christ concealed” and the New Testament is “Christ revealed”. We also talked about how the Bible is an amazing book – it was attempted to be eradicated many times (talked about Diocletian edict and Voltaire) but it still survives. Talked about the dead sea scrolls. It is the most stolen book, it is the most printed and purchased book. He was speaking about Judaism, so we covered the topic of prophesy, how the Messiah is talked about in many places in the Old Testament (which is the Jewish Bible).
  3. Manuscripts – the Bible has more than any literature from ancient history – not even close. We have close to 6,000 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament and close to 24,000 total (including other languages – Latin, Coptic, Syriac, etc). Also talked about the science of textual criticism which allows us, with a great degree of confidence, to determine what the originals said (even though we don’t possess the originals).
  4. Sin – he understands conceptually what sin is. And from a Christian point of view, he knows he’s a sinner and would go to hell. We shared with him the reason Christ came and why he had to die – that we owe a sin debt that we cannot pay. My other Christian friend shared about the wrath of God. He asked whether it legitimate to believe in God just to avoid hell. We shared that it is ok to start there (the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom), but not to stay there. Once he becomes a believer, the Holy Spirit will come to live in him and he will love God and His Word. I gave the analogy of how you can both fear and love your earthly father and know that he loves you too, even though he punishes you and that it is similar with God.
  5. The disciples died to get this truth out – they could’ve recanted and they would’ve been spared.
  6. New Testament and extra-biblical sources report the same general storyline (spoke about Josephus and Tacitus). Many of the non-biblical sources (who are hostile to the Christian faith) corroborate many of the facts of the story of Christianity.
  7. Jesus’ resurrection – covered “the minimal facts” argument. Here are the historical facts that we know about Jesus (scholars, both skeptical and believing, agree on these):
    1. Jesus was a historical person – he did exist
    2. He was crucified on a Roman cross
    3. He was buried
    4. The tomb was found empty
    5. Many people (over 500) reported seeing him alive
    6. Belief in these events originated and grew in the very city where they occurred (Jerusalem)
    7. There are many theories that attempt to explain these facts, but the one that best accounts for all the evidence we have is the resurrection hypothesis. All the other hypotheses have deficiencies. (we talked about the disciples stole the body theory and the Roman guards guarding the tomb – we talked about the wrong tomb theory)
  8. Proof vs. Evidence: He said he needs proof, but I told him that we don’t demand proof in many other areas of our lives. For example we’ve never met George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, yet we believe they existed and did the things they were reported to have done. This food we just ordered, how do we know the people didn’t poison it? The average person exercises faith many times each day. You couldn’t live without faith. You can’t experience everything for yourself in order to believe it. Some things have to be taken on the authority of other people who have seen. I gave the example of a jury. The standard of proof is “beyond a reasonable doubt”. That is not 100% certainty. It is more the approach of what is most likely to be true. I know of a cold case homicide detective who claims that every one of his cases is circumstantial – he’s never had a DNA hit – yet, he has won them all. So, circumstantial evidence can be legitimate evidence on which to base your beliefs.
  9. Miracles – he mentioned Jesus turning water into wine and touching a girl and she came back to life. We spoke about how if God created the universe, then that is the biggest miracle of all. Since He created the universe (and set up the laws of physics and chemistry), it is easy for Him to manipulate what is in the universe. Therefore, if He created the universe, then it is at least theoretically possible that the other miracles reported in the Bible happened.
  10. Consequences of Worldviews – we talked about who has more to lose if they’re wrong on their worldview. If his worldview is correct, then when he dies, he just goes into the ground. Nothing gained – just whatever pleasures he had in this life. At the end of it all, he and I are in the same position – non-existence – worm food. But if the Christian worldview is right, then we hit the jackpot and he will literally have hell to pay.
  11. Blind Folded men who are walking towards a cliff – some with parachute (Christians), others without parachute.
  12. Other religions – thinks that every religion believes it is the pathway to God. I tried to compare Islam and Mormonism for him. I talked about how both of those religions started with 1 man seeing a vision that no one else could verify. But in Christianity, 9 people who either directly knew Jesus or interviewed those who knew Him, wrote 27 letters and then were willing to die for their belief in His resurrection. Christianity is really unique among world religions.
  13. Objective morality vs. relative (societal) morality – he believes that all morality is based on your society – that nothing is wrong for all people, at all times and all places. I asked him about Hitler. He said that not everyone was for Hitler. Then talked about something else that would be wrong for everyone. I asked him if he thought, for example, torturing babies for fun is wrong for everyone at all times in all places? At first he said yes, but then as I explained that objective moral laws require an objective moral Lawgiver. Then he backed off and said “as much as it pains me to say, I have to say that it is not wrong for all people, at all times in all places”.
  14. Neutrality – we talked about how you cannot be neutral towards Jesus. He said that you’re either for Him or against Him. If you choose not to “vote” you’ve voted for the other side by default.
  15. Liar, Lunatic or Lord – I told him about C.S. Lewis’ famous trilemma. He said that a friend of his had given him a copy of ‘Mere Christianity’ to read and he was familiar with it. So, I told him that a person that said the kind of things that Jesus said is either an evil Liar (if He wasn’t God and knew it) or a Lunatic (if He really wasn’t God, but was deceived into thinking he was) or He really was Lord – that was the other option. Although, one more option has been added as of late – Legend (like Santa Claus). This legend hypothesis is that Jesus really was just a man and thought He was just a man, but his followers, over time started to deify Him – like first He was 25% of a god, then He was ½ of a god, then ¾ of god, then finally God Himself.
  16. Would be become a Christian? – I asked him “If Christianity were true, would you become a Christian?” and he answered yes. I told him that’s a good sign, because, believe it or not there are actually people who answer no to that question – they say they don’t want it to be true. I told him that this shows me that God is working on his heart now – the fact that he answered that – and also the fact that he’s even here talking to us for this long.
  17. Knowledge doesn’t save – we made sure that he knew that even after he believes beyond a reasonable doubt that Christianity is true, that doesn’t save him. He then needs to take a step of faith and trust in Jesus. We used a bridge analogy – like the Golden Gate Bridge. He could do all this research on each of the supports holding up the bridge – researching into how they were designed, seeing who manufactured them, what kind of weight they hold, etc. But ultimately, he’ll never get to the other side unless he places his faith in that bridge and drives across it. In our analogy, we explained that Jesus is the bridge.
  18. Eagerness – after this ~ 2 hour conversation, he was still willing to keep talking – we had to stop the conversation. I gave him a free copy of “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist” and wrote my name and phone number inside in case he’d like to talk more. He said he would be willing to do this again. He promised to read the book – he said he could probably read it in about a week. I told him that book was instrumental in giving me confidence that Christianity was actually true. He thanked us and looked forward to talking again.

Interesting conversation with a cultural (but non-believing) Hindu

The following is a summary, not necessarily in sequential order, of a conversation I had with an associate at work.

  1. Conversation all got started when we were watching a news show about the church shooting in Charleston, S.C. As an aside, during the conversation, we were talking about how the shooter had sat in a Bible study for an hour and then shot the people. The person I was talking to actually phrased it as “he was sitting there listening to and reading the Word of God and yet he still did that”. I didn’t comment on his characterization of the Bible as “the Word of God, but I certainly was happy to hear him refer to it that way! Unfortunately, later in the conversation, he would contradict this characterization by saying that he didn’t think that Jesus really said some of the things that are in the Bible (particularly regarding hell). And unfortunately, I didn’t do 3 things I wished I’d done:
    – Ask him how he’d come to that conclusion (that Jesus didn’t say some of the things in the Bible)…
    – From that point on in the conversation I should’ve referred to the Bible as the Word of God
    – When He later said that he doubted that Jesus had actually said what the Bible says He said about hell, I should’ve reminded him that he called the Bible the Word of God

    Anyway, he said he knew someone who’d lived there. This person was in a mixed marriage (Hindu and a Christian – Indian man, white woman). They liked a lot of their experience in living in that area, but ultimately moved away because they got a lot of questions from ‘Bible thumping’ people about why she as a Christian would be marrying someone of a different religion (Hindu). It wasn’t a racist thing, but more about the mixing of different religions.

    1. I wanted to tell him that I was a ‘Bible thumper’ too, but I didn’t – I just didn’t think it would be beneficial to the conversation and, also, that fact would come out anyway later.
    2. I told him that I can see why Christians would be asking another Christian why she is marrying someone of a different religion. That is specifically prohibited in the Bible. I told him that it is called ‘being unequally yoked’.
    3. I also told him that no matter what 2 religions were involved, I don’t think it is a good idea for 2 people who are deeply committed to 2 different religions to get married. I think they’re just asking for trouble at some point down the line.
  2. Any god who would send people to hell for not believing in him cannot be good. So, I don’t think he actually said that (about people going to hell because they don’t believe in Jesus)
    1. Thinks that the ‘original guy’ (Jesus, Chrisna, Allah, etc) didn’t say that. Thinks that his followers embellished it.
    2. I asked him what his concept of heaven is? He didn’t know. I clarified: what do you think is going to happen when you die? Again, he didn’t know…
  3. Thinks the core of all religions are the same (love your neighbor etc – how you live). Thinks that men added all this other stuff (churches, crosses, etc) – the original guy didn’t want that to be a part of it.
  4. Stopped me when I said “yeah but” when talking about Islam – don’t think that religions should criticize each other. Whenever he talks to someone about religion, they always criticize the other religions.
  5. He wanted to know why can’t they all (religions) be true – why does only yours have to be true?
  6. Says religious people sound like they’re on their moral high horse – telling him that he’s not living as good as he should etc.
  7. I told him that I’m not trying to tell him about this to get him to join a church or donate his money, or out of a sense of arrogance thinking I’m better than him – rather I’m concerned about his eternal salvation. He then said that everyone (from other religions) always tells me they’re telling me out of concern for me.
  8. He believes that churches and men use the concept of hell to draw more people to be a part of their community. It’s a power play.
  9. Asked him about whether he’s sure (about his assessment of Christianity) – has he considered that he could be wrong?
  10. He said he likes to take what he likes from a religion – doesn’t necessarily feel the need to believe everything they tell you you have to believe. For example, he wouldn’t believe in Jesus walking on the water. I told him you must believe the resurrection to be saved – that’s critical – but you don’t necessarily need to believe Jesus walked on water to be saved.
  11. Why is Jesus called Savior? He said lot of gods have been called savior… Then I clarified my question – “since He is called Savior (and called Himself Savior), what do you think He is saving us from?” He didn’t actually verbalize an answer, he just shook his head in agreement as if he knew the answer. I went on to explain that He is saving us from the consequences of our sins, which deserve hell. When He died on the cross, He was paying the penalty that was due us for our sins.
  12. I told him, I’m not better than him – all people are in the same boat – we are all sinners headed for hell apart from a saving relationship with Christ. I’m just a forgiven sinner, that’s the only difference between us. He acknowledged that is the core of Christianity. Yes, I told him it is more about a relationship with a person. Told him I’m just one beggar telling another beggar where to find food. He said, but what about if the beggar is already got a source of food?
  13. He talked about ‘faking it’ in Hinduism
  14. Talked about historical evidence – 40 different people over 1500 years wrote the Bible, 9 people writing 27 documents – new testament – all within the lifetimes of the eyewitnesses – martyred for their faith, when they could’ve recanted and then the Romans wouldn’t have killed them.
  15. He definitely believes that Jesus exists – that he was a historical figure – just doesn’t believe some of that stuff written in the Bible
  16. Doesn’t believe a lot of miraculous stories of his own religion either.
  17. Talked about what happens when you die – he doesn’t know. I asked if he’d ever really investigated it? I mean you plan for vacations, you plan for retirement, why don’t you plan for what’s going to happen when you die?
  18. That led into a talk about reincarnation because he said the Hindu people who visit him periodically, are also concerned about him and his destination, just like other ‘religious people’. So, I asked him, with reincarnation, doesn’t that mean you always have another chance? Like if you do ‘bad’ in this life you might come back as a cockroach, but if you then do well as a cockroach, in the next life, you can come back as a higher life form and keep improving from there – essentially, you have an unlimited number of “do overs”. He acknowledged that was correct, but he said that Hindus don’t really focus on that part much. They focus more on how you live this life. So I communicated to him that there are no “do overs” in Christianity. You have one chance to make peace with God in this life – if you haven’t done that by the time you die, you won’t go to heaven, which means you’ll end up separated from God forever in hell.
  19. He was talking about the Hindu people who come to talk to him and how they don’t think he’s going to temple enough and not doing enough of the practices of their religion. So, I talked to him about how, in Christianity, you can’t work your way into heaven – that’s one of the distinguishing characteristics of Christianity compared to other religions.
  20. Talked about dilemma –Liar, Lunatic, Legend or Lord – it has to be one of those 4. Explained each one. He seemed to agree and understand. From what he was saying, it seemed like even though he didn’t think Jesus Himself was a Legend, it sounded like he thought that a lot of what was said about Jesus was embellished by His followers.
  21. He ended up saying “that’s fine if it works for you – I’m happy for you”. Of course I told him that I’m not a Christian because it “works for me” in the sense that it allows me to be moral, or have more peace or better luck or anything like that. I’m a Christian because I have good reasons for believing it is actually true.

 

Conversation with my manager

At the end of the day of work yesterday, my manager stopped by my desk on his way out… He was just making some small talk with me (the whole conversation took about 5 minutes and included one interruption). He asked me what I was doing this weekend. So, I told him that I would be preparing for my class and doing a few things around the house. He said, oh that kid’s class you teach at church – teaching the Bible? I said, no, that’s on Wednesday night (AWANA). This one that I’m preparing for is the adult Sunday school class I teach at church. He seemed surprised – he didn’t know that I teach 2 classes. So, I shared with him my typical schedule. Tuesday is the men’s Bible study at lunch at Coco’s, Wednesday is AWANA, teaching the kids after work, Thursday night is men’s Bible study, then Sunday, I teach an adult Sunday school class, and of course go to worship. He said, “Wow, that’s a lot of religion!” Then he admitted, “I’m not religious…“ (I wish I’d said “Neither am I…” :)) I said “Why not?” He said something like, “I just never got into it – it has to come from within.” He went on to explain how he was educated in a Christian school in Africa. He said, “We were required to attend Chapel every day, and to sing a hymn.” I asked him if that was the Anglican Church (the Church of England). He said it was. He said that his parents sent him there, not because it was a Christian school, but because it was a good school. He said, we didn’t become Christian because that was not our religion… He clarified that even though, he wasn’t religious personally, that the religion of his parents was Hinduism. So, that’s why he didn’t become a Christian – because it wasn’t his family’s religion.

I then shared that I was not brought up in the Church. I wanted to make sure that he knew that I wasn’t just a Christian because that was how I was raised. I told him that in our house, we didn’t go to Church, read the Bible, pray or even talk about God. Although, I do remember that my parents gave me a Bible in 1972, so I was aware that they thought it was good and important, but they didn’t really practice it. But, I told him that as I went to college and started to read Nietzsche, Freud, Skinner and other atheistic philosophers I really became an agnostic for many years. So, mine was an adult conversion… I explained to him how when we lived in Utah, I was consumed with work and was kind of a jerk with my family. So, I got this job offer in Minnesota (my first job offer in IT) and my wife said she’d go, but made me promise I would go to church when we moved there. So, after we moved there, I ignored that request for about 2 years, until these friends of my son’s from a family down the street invited us to church on Easter. My wife reminded me of my prior committment to go to church, so, I went and that is when it all started to change for me. During that Easter service, it was like the Pastor was speaking directly to me and relating to all the issues that were relevant to me. Then we went to a new believer’s class and later that year, me and my son got baptized together. I also shared that now I’m the only one in my immediate family that goes to church. I could tell he was anxious to get out of the office, so I let him go.

I hope to be able to continue the conversation at some point in the future.   I would like to ask him, since he’s gone through Christian education, what does he think the message of Christianity is? I would also like to ask him whether he believes in God. And what are his views of Jesus? Also, what does he thinks will happen when he dies…   At some point in the past, he seemed to indicate that he believes in “a higher power”. I pray that maybe I put a stone in his shoe… I’m very disappointed in myself that I didn’t mention Jesus, the cross, or sin. But nevertheless, I trust God to use my very imperfect testimony to reach him… Hopefully this conversation will continue!

Conversation with a Skeptic (Part 2)

This past Friday, I went out to lunch with this associate of mine who is a skeptic (here is the post where I talk about our first conversation: https://1peter41216.wordpress.com/2014/09/18/conversation-with-a-skeptic/).  This was as a result of him talking with me one day while we were in line at the cafeteria.  He was bringing up all these objections about Christianity (in a rapid fire fashion) and I said that this is probably not a good place or time for us to have this conversation.  I suggested we go out to lunch some time.  So he sent me a calendar invitation and after one cancellation, we were finally able to do it this past Friday.  Initially, he said he was real busy and maybe we should just go downstairs to the cafeteria, but I said that we won’t be able to talk there, let’s go out – we can make it at a “semi” fast food place.  So I suggested Espo’s, this “hole in the wall” Mexican restaurant where you walk up to the counter to order your food.

On the way over there, we were talking about work and then started to talk about some more personal stuff (hobbies and family).  He was relaying how his life has totally changed since he got married and had kids.  He has no time anymore for himself.  At this time, I felt it was a good time to get into spiritual topics.  I started off by saying (in reference to the comment about putting family above his own interests) that a Christian gives their life to Christ.  That started the spiritual part of our conversation.  What follows is what I can remember of the conversion.  The topics are not necessarily in the exact order we covered them in and the wording may not be exact, but this represents the general flow of the topics we talked about.

Skeptic: He has a big problem with Hypocrites in the Church; he said that I’m only one of about a handful of Christians he’s ever met that seems to be authentic.

Me: I thanked him and said that hypocrites grieved me as well.

Skeptic: He was talking about tragedy in the world and people dying.

Me: I replied that in the Christian worldview, people don’t die; they just change locations (either heaven or hell).

Me: I asked him why he has rejected Christ.

Skeptic:

  1. He said “I haven’t really rejected Christ, I just lack faith.”
  2. He also said that “Christianity is the new kid on the block.”  We’ve had religions for thousands of years before it.  What should make me think that this new kid on the block is the right religion?

Me: I replied that just because it came along later doesn’t mean it is false.  You have to evaluate the claims of Christ and come to your own conclusion.

Skeptic: He said that he wished Christianity was true.

Me: So, I asked him, “If you found out that Christianity was true, would you become a Christian?” (the answer should’ve been an immediate yes)

Skeptic: He hemmed and hawed, never really gave an answer.  But then, oddly enough, he started talking about the rapture of all things… (he has some Church background as a youth)  He was fired up about the rapture, he said it would be really cool.

Me: I suggested you should believe before the rapture happens – don’t wait until it happens!

Skeptic: He said he would like to be able to take retribution against all the bad things that are happening in the world – he wished God would (can’t remember the exact words) authorize/empower/allow him to take revenge.

Me: I told him that no Christian is allowed to take revenge – God says “’Vengeance is mine’ says the LORD.  ‘I will repay’”

Me: Forgiveness – we talked about this after the talk about vengeance. I brought up the example of the Amish in Ohio when someone came into their community and killed a bunch of people and how they just forgave them.  I brought up Luke 6:28 where Jesus says – Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

Skeptic: He said “could you really forgive someone who did that (murder, rape) to your own family”?

Me: I acknowledged that it would be very hard if it was just me, but Christians have Christ living in them and through them by the power of the Holy Spirit.  It is only by the power of Christ that I could forgive.  Also, it is not like you’re forgiving someone to their face who doesn’t think they’ve done anything wrong.  You forgive them completely and unconditionally in your heart and in prayer before God, but you don’t communicate that forgiveness to them face to face until they acknowledge what they’ve done as being wrong (until they repent).  Otherwise your act of forgiveness would be taken as an insult by someone who is proclaiming their goodness and innocence. I also brought up where Jesus was hanging on the cross and the Roman soldiers were below Him and He said “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing”.  If He would’ve just said to the Roman soldiers “Hey you guys, I forgive you for nailing Me to this cross”, they would’ve just said, hey I was just doing my job bro!  But Jesus said this forgiveness out loud so that others could hear it but not directly to the perpetrators.  And I also relayed the story about the thieves hanging on the cross beside Him and how one was cursing and insulting and the other acknowledged that Jesus had not done anything wrong and asked Jesus to remember him when He came into His kingdom and how Jesus responded “Today, you will be with Me in paradise”.

Skeptic: He brought up bad design (he said “Intelligent Design” is a joke).  He gave all these examples of things gone wrong in our world (e.g. cancer) and various examples of “bad design”.

Me: I said that “bad design” is not “no design”.  And you can’t really know if you have a bad or good design unless you know the intent, requirements and constraints of the designer.  If I wrote some software, you might look at the code and say that is rotten.  But maybe it does exactly what I designed it to do for reasons that you are not aware of.

Skeptic: He asked me what I thought about homosexuality

Me: I stated that I thought that is no worse than all of the other sins.  All of humanity are sinners in need of a Savior.  I admitted that I’d lied and lusted too.  I’m as guilty before God as the homosexual.  We’re all in the same boat – we’re lost without Christ.

Skeptic: Talked about some Native American tribe that went underground during some disaster and talked to the “ant people”.  I think he was trying to draw some kind of parallel between this and the New Testament authors.

Me: I think it was at this point that I communicated to him that the New Testament consists of 27 books written by 9 authors over a period of somewhere between 30 – 60 years (within the lifetimes of those who’d witnessed these events).  These were all people who either had direct experience with Jesus or interviewed those who did.  All but 1 of them went to their deaths proclaiming what they’d seen and heard.  All they would have to do is recant and save their lives but they didn’t.  How can 9 guys keep a conspiracy/secret under this kind of pressure for that long?  The authors of the New Testament did not gain power, money or sex from writing what they wrote.  Instead they were chased around and persecuted and eventually killed for what they were proclaiming.  Why would anyone knowingly die for a lie?  I brought up about suicide bombers who die, but they don’t know for sure that what they’re dying for is true.  These people lived, walked and ate with Jesus for 3 years while He was on earth.  They certainly knew whether it was true or not.  I even relayed how Paul, when he was speaking before Festus (a ruler) who’d accused him of basically being crazy, said that he was not “mad” but what he was saying was reasonable and true and that these things had not been done “in a corner” and it couldn’t have escaped Festus’ notice.  I also shared with him about how over 500 people had seen Jesus after He’d risen.  I shared Acts 1:3 “After His suffering, He showed Himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that He was alive.  He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.”

Me: I talked about how we all have the same evidence (beginning of the universe, fossils, archeology, etc.).

Skeptic: He had a problem with God’s sovereignty and how Christians use that concept in whatever way suits them.  For example, if someone is trying to get pregnant and they finally have a baby, they claim that God gave them the baby, but if something bad happens, they are not likely to claim that as something God did to them.  He also talked about the girls that were held by that guy and raped for 10 years.

Me:

  1. I stated that sin entered the world when Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the garden and after that everything doesn’t work the way it should, there is a curse on the creation.
  2. I also talked about a biblical example where things looked really bad, but God turned it around for good.  I relayed the story of Joseph, which culminated in Genesis 50:20, where Joseph said “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good, to accomplish what is now being done; the saving of many lives”.
  3. I re-iterated the point that God can take sinful actions and use them to fulfill His purposes.  He’s like the master chess player, whatever move you make, He is able to make the necessary counter moves to achieve “checkmate”.

Skeptic: He had a problem with God having Sovereignty and humans really being free.

Me: I gave him an example of being on a large ocean liner going from New York to London.  On that ocean liner, you’re free to go wherever you want and do whatever you want.  You have freedom within the ocean liner.  But you can’t change the fact that the ship is headed to London.  You can’t get off the ship and you can’t change its direction.  In the same way, we were all born into a certain circumstance, with our particular parents in our particular location in the world and with our genetic code and physical characteristics.  I will never be an Olympic athlete.  Some things are just impossible for me based on the hand I’ve been dealt.  That doesn’t mean I’m not free.  I’m able to make free choices every day.  The fact that God knows what I’m going to do before I do it does not mean I’m not free.

Me: I told him that I was really happy that we could have this conversation and be calm and not hostile or argumentative.  He said that the problem was that most Christians are pushy and trying to persuade you of their view and convert you.  He acknowledged that I probably would be happy if he agreed with my view as well.  I then asked him why he thought I’d be happy.  He replied that he assumed that I thought it would be “better for him” and make is life more “fulfilling”.  I replied, that while I think that is true, that is not why I would want him to agree.  But rather, it is because I believe this worldview to be true beyond a reasonable doubt.  I can’t prove that God exists or that Jesus is who He says He is any more than he can disprove those things.  But I can provide a lot of evidence that supports those assertions.

Overall, it was a really great conversation.  We ended up and shook hands and both said that we should do this again sometime.  I truly hope that we will.  I hope that I’ve put a pebble in his shoe…  And I pray for this person that God would use what I shared with him to consider the claims of Christ and to put his trust in Him.

Conversation with a skeptic

I had lunch with a skeptic yesterday.  It was a great conversation and we both enjoyed it.  So I wrote down all I could remember (his objections and my answers):

  1. There are a ton of hypocrites in the Church – more inside the Church than on the outside (Tim/Tammy Fay, Benny Hin, Jerry Falwell, etc…)
    1. Answers I gave
      1. Not everyone who professes to be a Christian is a Christian (Jesus said by their fruits you will know them)
      2. Jesus reserved his most condemning rebukes for hypocrites – I cited some of the stuff out of Matthew 23 and the “Pharisees with flowing robes” stuff.
      3. No one is perfect – we are all sinners and Christians are in the process of being transformed by God.  However if a person stubbornly persists in sin and is unrepentant about it, that is probably a good sign they are not a Christian.  However, I am not the judge of people, only God knows the heart of each individual.
  2. God becoming man (how could an Infinite God send a man to earth?)
    1. Answers I gave
      1. If you wanted to get to know an ‘ant’, how would you do it?  Could you do it in your present form?  No, you’d have to become an ant to really know ants.  Jesus became a man to be like one of us (Heb 4:15-16), show us the way, seek and save us since we were lost (Luke 19:10).  We discussed this analogy quite a while – he seemed to like it (he said “it works for me”).
  3. Christianity is the “new kid on the block” in terms of religions, why would I listen to it (Hinduism has been around for thousands more years)?
    1. Answers I gave
      1. Well actually, it is not the new kid on the block.  Islam started around 600AD and Mormonism started around 1820AD.
      2. (I also wanted to give an additional answer, but we changed subjects – Islam and Hinduism do not teach the correct view of Jesus, so I would have a problem with them for that reason)
  4. I as a father couldn’t hurt my child, how could God send us to Hell?  He said that God is supposed to be our Father, and we are supposedly created in His image, so how could He do that (not sure I remember the exact wording):
    1. Answers I gave
      1. God will respect the right of a person to reject Him.  If a person wants nothing to do with Him during their life on earth, He will not drag that person into heaven for all eternity to worship Him and live with Him.  So the person that rejects God for His whole life will receive his wish and be separated from Him in a place called hell.
      2. He countered that a good parent would not do that.  To that, I responded with an example of a run away.  For example [name with-held] (a guy we both know at our work) – his daughter essentially ran away to Mexico with his ex-wife.  She is 16, so [name with-held] could legally take action to bring her back.  But she would end up resenting him and ultimately, she would probably just run away again.  [name with-held] knows what is best for her (to be in America with him).  He knows that she will have a hard life in Mexico and that her education will not be as good.  Yet, he is not going to try and force her to come back.  In the same way, our heavenly Father knows what’s best for us, but we think we know more than him.  At a certain point, He will no longer try to pull us back to Him.  He won’t override our free will.
      3. I also explained how the message of the cross is central to Christianity.  The cross is where God’s Justice and Love intersect.  God is a just Judge, so He can’t let sin go unpunished, but He loves us so much that He doesn’t want to punish us.  So He sent His Son to earth to live the perfect life and then to be our substitute and pay the penalty for our sins. Here is where I gave the gospel presentation and told him how sinful humans can be forgiven for their sins and receive the free gift of eternal life if they repent and place their trust in Jesus.
  5. Why do I need a book to tell me what’s right and wrong?
    1. Answers I gave
      1. You don’t – God has written the law on every man’s heart.  Man was created in God’s image having the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 1:26-27; Rom 2:14-15).
  6. The idea of “3rd party forgiveness” (I think that is how he phrased it) is abhorrent/disgusting/revolting to him.  For example, if someone rapes his daughter, then apologizes to God and receives forgiveness, that is not “just” – he sinned against me, so asking and receiving forgiveness from God is just wrong.  I think he also mentioned about last minute conversions of people who have been sinning their whole life and also he talked about people who view forgiveness as kind of a get out of jail free card where they know God will forgive them, so they just sin anyway.
    1. Answers I gave
      1. God is the One who instituted the law (e.g. 10 commandments) and He is our creator, so ALL sin is ultimately against Him.  The person needs to ask for both horizontal (to the person they harmed) and vertical (to God) forgiveness
      2. Also, God knows the person’s heart and whether they truly have repented.  I asked him if he’d ever heard of repentance or knew what it was.  He replied yes and that there’s much too little of it.  I explained the biblical view of repentance to him.
  7. Why are Christians so unforgiving?
    1. Answers I gave
      1. I quoted this Scripture to him:  Jesus said “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Mat 6:14-15).  So, this is one of the core attributes of a true Christian that they are supposed to be very forgiving (not perfectly, but increasingly)
      2. I also told him about the parable of the unforgiving servant and how that relates to Christians who’ve had all their sins forgiven and yet won’t forgive someone when they sin against them.  That this is a core characteristic of Christianity.
  8. The Bible was written by uneducated, primitive people who were afraid of nature (lightning, death, etc.) and needed an explanation and comfort
    1. Answers I gave
      1. Even if the message of the Bible (including forgiveness and life after death) is comforting, one should not believe it unless it is true – unless you have good reasons for believing it.
  9. He had some history in the Church (youth group) – Mom was southern Baptist (previously J.W.).  He had good friends at church, but started to see how people acted compared to what they professed with their lips and came to the conclusion that it was not true.  He also knew the Pastor’s kids and they were very rebellious and it struck him that they were that close to someone who’s supposed to be a real Christian, yet, they were putting on an act to make the parents believe they were good and behind their backs, they were living a life that did not match up with their profession.  He also noticed that when he went to Church where people were supposed to be focused on God, they were more concerned about gossiping (who was wearing what, who did what, etc.).
    1. Answers I gave

i.      To all of this (including the “Christian leaders” who are hypocrites), I responded that it grieved me as well.  I think people that profess to be Christians, yet act like non-believers do much harm to Christianity and to people with a worldview like you, who look at those people and don’t know how it (Christianity) could be true.

ii.      Specifically regarding the “Christian leaders” who are hypocrites, I mentioned that there are Christian leaders who are good role models and are really striving to practice what they preach and live lives of integrity.  Unfortunately, they aren’t “news worthy”, so you don’t hear about them as much, if at all.

  1. He had a problem with God’s omniscience vs. man’s free will – doesn’t that mean that our actions are already determined if God knows in advance what we’re going to do and He can’t be wrong?
    1. Answers I gave
      1. I talked about how we are “stuck in time” and God is eternal (outside of time), so He can see it all at once, whereas we cannot and it is very hard for us to fathom being able to know the end from the beginning, but that doesn’t mean it is not possible.  God can have foreknowledge of events without overriding our free will.
      2. I also talked about the concept of the “middle knowledge” of God.  He knows not only the actual future as it will play out, but all possible futures (e.g. if person X living in the jungle would’ve believed if he had heard the gospel, but person Y would NOT have believed).

He also said a crucial moment for him was when he envisioned 2 soldiers in opposing fox holes in a war both praying to God for an opposite result and he realized it couldn’t be true.

I also gave my testimony how for 37 years of my life I acted like God didn’t exist and then at an Easter Sunday service my eyes were opened.  I went through a lot more than that.

Conversation at work…

Conversation at work with a skeptic/agnostic and (possibly) a deist…

An associate and I were making small talk at my desk.  The topic came up about feeling old.  I made the comment that he is younger than me (I’m 50 and he’s 40 something) and we talked about things that make you feel/look older:

  1. Smoking
  2. Eating bad
  3. Lack of exercise
  4. Stress/worry

He admitted that smoking and stress were issues for him.  He started talking a little about his family stress (his divorce, the issues with his daughter, etc).  He commented about some book he’d read that had 3 life principles (Try your hardest [may not be 100%], don’t take it personally, something about not making assumptions???).  He said he liked the book because it was not “religious”.  So, I said that just because something was “religious” doesn’t mean it can’t have some good practical advice for living.  He agreed.  He said though that the only thing he doesn’t like about the religious books is how they attempt to persuade/convince.  At this point I asked him if we could get out of the office for a short walk so that we could discuss this more openly.  So we did.  I asked him (with regard to the comment on persuasion) how he felt about a doctor who tried to persuade his patient that he had cancer and that surgery was needed otherwise he was going to die?  Or how he felt about a lawyer who would try to persuade his client that the charges he was facing would result in prison time if he didn’t  accept a plea bargain?  I said that it is actually an act of love and care for the person that causes a Christian to persuade or convince someone to make a decision about Christ.  He indicated that those other situations about the doctor and the lawyer were a lot more clear and indisputable than the situation regarding Christ.  I asked him consider the consequences of finding out that he is wrong about his views on Christianity.  Think of the day you die and you find out you were wrong.  I don’t want that to happen to you.  I just want him to be able to hear all the evidence I’ve heard and make a decision for himself.  I believe that Christianity is true beyond a reasonable doubt.  I’m convinced it is true by the evidence and also because of my personal experience with Jesus – I trust him.  I’m not trying to elevate myself above anyone else, I’m not trying to get more people on my side or a notch in my belt or anything, I just have concern for the destiny of those who don’t know Christ based on what the bible says about what’s going to happen to them when they die – I mentioned hell.  He said at that point that he’d prayed to God in the past and “nothing happened”.  (I should’ve found out what he prayed!) I mentioned that even if you don’t think anything happened, you need to look into the evidence and see if it is reasonable to believe that there is a God.

Then we got onto the topic about whether Jesus existed.  He said that since this all happened so long ago, he didn’t think that we could rely on the records we have – that they would’ve been corrupted or changed over 2000 years.  I explained that the amount of time that had passed shouldn’t matter.  Does he think George Washington existed or Abe Lincoln?  I asked him if he thought that 2000 years from now, should the people living then question whether Barak Obama was president in 2013?  He replied yes, if the records were missing.  I mentioned that more non-biblical authors wrote about Jesus within 150 years of his life than the Roman emperor (Tiberius Caesar) at the time (10 vs. 9).  If you include the biblical authors, then it is actually 43 vs. 10!  He seemed to accept that.  I went on to explain that the bible was written by 40 authors over 1500 years from all walks of life.  And the new testament specifically was written by 9 authors over a period of about 50 years.  And all of those new testament authors except 1 were martyred for what they proclaimed about Jesus.  All they had to do was recant and they would’ve saved their hides.  Again, he did not dispute this.  I also made the case for the resurrection indicating that Jesus existed, died on a Roman cross and his tomb was empty 3 days later (even Bart Ehrman agrees with that).  Skeptical people (like James the brother of Jesus) were transformed after that.  He didn’t dispute any of this.

When talking about the Bible, he brought up “Yeah but what about all those miracles, like walking on water, etc?”  I then said that if there is a Creator of the universe (or multiverse or whatever), that would he agree that Creator would be unimaginably powerful, intelligent, immaterial and outside of time?  He agreed. He even mentioned that Stephen Hawkings arguments had not convinced him that there was no need for a creator. So, I reasoned that the biggest miracle of all has already occurred – the creation of the universe from nothing.  So, after that, every miracle recorded in the Bible is at least possible, since God created everything and was the one who instituted the laws of physics therefore it is reasonable to conclude that he can control the laws of physics.  I admitted that many of the miracles recorded in the Bible seem unbelievable, but you have to read them in the context of knowing that there is a God who created the universe to start with, then they don’t seem so impossible.  Also, knowing that Jesus was resurrected from the dead validates his claims to be who he said he was (God) and he validated that the old testament was the word of God.  He validated the creation story and many of the miracles that occurred in the Old Testament (like Jonah).  So, while it would be hard to read those in another book and believe them, you have Jesus affirming that they really happened, so it all boils down to how much you trust Jesus.  If you trust Him, you can believe the rest of the Bible because He did.  He then made the comment that they didn’t really have writing or books back then, so they didn’t have a Bible.  I said that no, they did have scrolls.  In fact, the gospels record Jesus reading from the great scroll of Isaiah and talking about prophecy about him was being fulfilled.  During Jesus’ time, their bible was the old testament – the new testament had not been written yet. At that point, I also referred to a conversation we had had at lunch the other day where he’d brought up the scrolls found at Qumran.  I said, and that is why the dead sea scrolls are so important.  When we found those in 1940 something, they had most of the old testament and the wording was exactly the same as the old testament that we have today, which was great confirmation of the care taken by the scribes in translating these texts.  I also explained that all of the Bible translations we have today are all translated from the original Greek/Hebrew, so it doesn’t “evolve” over time as some think.  This was in response to the comment he made about people just passing this information along by word of mouth.  I also mentioned that we have the Ryland’s fragment from John 18 that is the earliest surviving fragment of the new testament dated at about 135 a.d.  I also brought up that as time goes on archeology finds older manuscripts which are closer to the events, which makes it more certain that we have accurate text in the Bible.  Earlier in the conversation, I’d already brought up too that we have about 2400 Greek manuscripts of the new testament – far more than any other literature from antiquity.

He said he didn’t understand the concept of the Son of God.  I said that Jesus is God in human form.  He came down to earth and became a man.  He wanted to know why we needed Jesus.  I said that man had sinned and we could not pay for our own sins and that Jesus had to come to sacrifice Himself for our sins.  I explained that since men are sinners, we would not be acceptable as a sacrifice and that the one and only sinless Son of God qualified as an acceptable sacrifice for sins.  He then questioned why it had to be Jesus – why not mother Teresa or something.  I told him that all men are sinners including Mother Teresa.  Jesus, since he was God in human form was not a sinner.  He had a problem with that – he said there was no proof that Jesus was without sin.  I said, yes, there is no absolute proof, but there is some evidence.  For example when Pilate tried him he found no fault in him.  Also, the Pharisees, who were constantly trying to trap him and find some dirt couldn’t  – they could never find anything he did wrong.  So, yes, there’s no absolute proof he was sinless, but there is evidence that he was sinless.  He said that if God became a man, then wouldn’t he be sinful, since all men are born in sin?  I said that he was the only one that was virgin born.  So then he said, then doesn’t that imply that sex is sinful?  I said, no, that doesn’t imply that.  Our conversation got cut off at that point because we came in.

During a prior conversation a few days earlier, somehow we got onto the topic of philosophy – we were talking a little bit about Friedrich Nietzsche.  He said he “tried philosophy” but it “didn’t work for him”.  But he added, “neither did faith”.  So we started to talk a little about faith and I got the sense that he equated all faith with “blind faith”.  So I drew a diagram on my white board:

|——–evidence———–> FAITH |

The left side to the right side is the amount of knowledge needed to know something.  The evidence gets you just so far, but not all the way.  The remainder must be covered by faith.  So, it is not blind faith, but rather it is following the trail of evidence until it ends and then exercising faith to cover the remaining gap in knowledge.  It is reasonable faith.   He seemed to understand that.  I also relayed some examples of how one exercises faith in the daily living of life – for example, when you eat at a restaurant, you are exercising faith that the food was not poisoned and is in fact what it is purported to be.  You wouldn’t be able to live your life without faith – you’d have to verify everything.

It seems that this person is on a spiritual journey toward the truth and I hope and pray that I can be there to answer his questions and knock down any intellectual objections/barriers that he has, so that he no longer rejects God and God “grants him repentance, leading him to a knowledge of the truth and that he may come to his senses and escape the trap of the devil, who has taken him captive to do his will”.

Conversation with an Agnostic / ex-Non-Practicing Catholic

I was sent on a business trip traveling with this guy from my work.  He’s not in my department, but works nearby.  I’ve known him casually for many years – I would guess over 10 years, but this is the first time we’ve ever spent a significant amount of time together.  It is just us 2 staying at this hotel (separate rooms of course) and we’ve been going to breakfast, lunch and dinner every day together.  We’re here for the whole week and today is Tuesday.  So far, I’ve just been getting to know him and finding out about his family, his situation, his likes/dislikes, hobbies, etc.  Probably level 2 type conversations.  We’d gotten beyond the weather and sports and into more personal stuff.  So, today on the way home from work, we started talking about musical tastes and he shared all the music that he likes.  So, I knew that it was going to come out that I pretty much liked all Christian music, because that is the truth.  I have a past history of liking all sorts of music and I certainly do still like a lot of that (e.g. the Beatles).  For some reason, the subject of guitar came up and I talked about knowing how to play guitar.  He asked me what type of music I play.  So, I decided that was a good opportunity to bring up my faith.  I say, well, I don’t know if you know this, but I am a Christian.  He said, no he didn’t know that.  And I said that every Thursday evening, I’m part of a men’s group where I play guitar and it is all Christian music.  He said, that is interesting, because my brother does the same thing.  He’s gotten really into going to church and Christianity.  He’s like totally changed.  I told him that I’m the same way.  I then talked a little bit about how I became a Christian.  I got a job offer in our corporate headquarters (at the previous company where I was working) and my wife at that time said I was really difficult to deal with.  She’d been taking my son to church with a friend of hers and she was really wishing that I would go.  So, she said that she would agree to move so that I could take the job offer at corp as long as I would agree to go to Church when we got there.  So we moved and I ignored my promise for about 2 years.  Until one Easter…  My son’s best friends (a brother and sister) invited us to go to Church.  It was a Lutheran Church.  So, my wife reminded me of my prior commitment to her about going to church.  So, I grudgingly said yes.  Well, in that service, something very strange and special happened.  As I was sitting there listening to the sermon, it felt like the pastor was just talking to me.  There was the cross behind him as he told about Jesus and how he’d died for our sins.  And it hit me like a ton of bricks.  I just had the sense that there really was something to this and I felt stirring in my heart and I was convicted that I was a sinner before God and that Jesus died for me.  So, at that point, me and my wife had started going to a new believer’s class and I was going to a men’s group.  Later in November of that year I was baptized.  Then we move out here to Arizona and eventually, my family got less and less interested and finally I was the only one going to Church.  Now that is still the case and I’m more involved than ever including even teaching the Bible at the Church to kids.  At this point our conversation got interrupted because we were back at the hotel and the car we’d pulled up next to had it’s back driver’s side passenger window smashed out.  It shocked both of us.  So, that derailed us for a few minutes then we got back to talking.  I shared that I know it may sound cliché but what happened to me (and I think your brother) was that we were born again.   Once I was born again and my eyes were opened (he used the phrase about his brother that he’d finally “saw the light”), I started to investigate whether it was really true, because I was starting to have doubts.  During the first 37 years of my life all I looked at was all the evidence that was against Christianity, I never looked at the evidence that was for Christianity.  Now I started looking at all that and was amazed how much supporting evidence there was.  I was becoming convinced that this was true beyond a reasonable doubt.  I was getting the feeling that I would actually need more faith to NOT believe that I would need to believe.  Then he shared that his brother, after he really started to get into this stuff invited him to Church and he went.  He talked about the guy up there playing music in his casual clothes and talked about how it was pretty laid back.  He said that it “stuck” for his brother, but it didn’t really “stick” for me.  He said he just really wasn’t that into it, so he stopped going.  As we were starting to go up the elevator, he was asking me if Catholic and Christians had the same Bible.  I said that it was mainly the same, except that they have the Apocrypha in between the testaments.  I said that however the theology of Protestants and Catholics is quite different.  I asked him if he’d ever heard of Martin Luther, in the 1500’s, how he posted his grievances with the Catholic Church and that started the whole split between the 2.  He said that no, he’d not heard of that.  At that time, it was time for him to get off at the 4th floor to go to his room and I had to go to the 6th floor for mine.  We agreed to meet in about an hour and go to dinner.  I had hopes that the conversation would continue…  I’d shared my testimony, now I wanted to get more deeply into what Christianity was all about.  We went out to eat at a Mexican restaurant and started off with small talk.  We didn’t really resume talking about spiritual things right away.  So, I started back with the guitar and talked about what guitars I’d owned in the past and what I own now and various other music related topics.  In an effort to get the topic steered back to what we were talking about earlier on the way home from work, I brought up the topic of his brother.  I asked where he lived and he told me, then he started talking about how his brother had a job in finance in a car dealership and was working 7 days a week and making a lot of money.  He had a really nice house.  But when he “saw the light”, he decided to get out of that and get a job with more reasonable hours where he could spend more time with his family.  He quit his job and sold his house.  He said he couldn’t believe the change in his brother.  He said that is his flesh and blood and he really couldn’t understand it.  He thought there might be something to it, that is why he himself decided to try it and went to Church with his brother, but he admitted he didn’t really give it a good try.  I think he said something like it just didn’t work for him and it didn’t do anything for him.   He just wasn’t interested in it anymore and stopped going.  So, I shared with him that I think there were 2 things that really caused my to be Christian.  When I realized that God’s standard was perfection and that I’d sinned – you know the 10 commandments???  He nodded that yeah, he was familiar with all of that because he went to Catechism as a child.  He has the “Our Father” memorized and everything.  So, I continued – when I realized that I was guilty before God and basically was headed for hell – he stopped me – because you didn’t keep the commandments??  I said that no one in the whole world can keep the commandments perfectly and that is what God’s standard is – perfection.  (He agreed that no one can be perfect).  And when I realized that I was guilty before God and headed for hell and that God provided a free pardon for my sins through faith in Jesus Christ, I thought I’d be a fool not to accept that, so I did.  I think at some point he mentioned that hell was a pretty harsh punishment “for not going to Church”.  I said, well, I think people in the world have a lot of misguided ideas about heaven and hell.  I told him that a lot of people seem to think of heaven as kind of like an eternal Disney Land.  But the Bible says that the essence of heaven is being with God forever.  Now on the other hand, hell is being separated from God forever.  He said, oh well that doesn’t sound that bad – no fire – maybe just a little heat he said with a giggle.  I said, well, while I think that it is possible that the flames of hell are literal, it is possible that they are just figurative and are meant to communicate how horrible hell will be.  See the people who believe in Jesus will be with him forever in heaven, but the rest of the people who reject Jesus Christ will be separated from him.  And since everything we have in the world that is good is from God, the people who are separated from God forever will be permanently separated from everything good.  I think people generally don’t realize that everything we have that is good in this world comes from God – the beauty in nature, the sunshine, our bodies and skills and every other good thing.  So they think hell won’t be that bad, but really its being separated from the source of good – God – forever.  He seemed to understand it when I put it that way.  But then he asked – what about other religions?  Will they all go to hell?  I mean what about Islam and Allah?  I explained to him that the subject of other religions is certainly a tough subject to talk about.  But assuming that a person has heard the Christian message accurately, that they’ve heard about the condemnation they’re under and still consciously and willfully reject God’s free pardon through Jesus, they will end up separated from God in hell.  Jesus says in the Bible “There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words.  That very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day” (John 12:48).  I said there is some controversy over whether a person who’s never heard of Jesus will be condemned.  Jesus said one time, “If I had not come and spoken to them they would not have been guilty of sin.  But now, they have no excuse for their sins” (John 15:22).  So, if there is a person in the jungle who’s never heard of Jesus, there are some who feel that God will judge them according to what they know (according to the light they have).   He said – oh, so people who have other gods won’t go to hell.  I cautioned him – I said again, if they’ve heard the message of Jesus and rejected him, no they will go to hell.  So then I said, but you know the other thing that convinced me in regards to Christianity is that there’s strong evidence that it’s true.  So, even though I’m really uncomfortable with the idea of someone from another religion going to hell, unfortunately that’s something I ultimately have to accept.  It’s not an issue of how it makes me feel, it’s more an issue of whether it is true or not.  If it is true, I need to accept it, so my primary task is to determine the truth of it and then, once determined to be true, it needs to be accepted.  But I said, I can always go back to the Bible says that God will treat everyone ultimately fairly.  He is a good judge and no one will get anything that they don’t deserve.  He also brought up objections about how there was a time when he was searching for answers and open to religion, then he would see the stories about the priests involved in those molestation cases and it would really discourage and disappoint him.  I share that it grieves me as well.  I think that is a big turn off to people when they see Christians acting like hypocrites.  But Jesus said “by their fruits, you will recognize them”, meaning that you can generally tell if someone is a Christian by looking at their life.  If they’re out buying crack cocaine every night and visiting the house of prostitution, then that may be a pretty good indication that they’re not living the life that they’re professing.  I talked about how your good life does not and can’t save you, but the pattern of your life (becoming increasingly righteous and being grieved and repenting when you do slip up and sin) is evidence that you’re saved.  He also made a point to bring up Athletes who point to God or thank Jesus – are they just doing it for show?  I said, we can’t really know of judge for certain.  But again, if the pattern of their life is filled with sin, they may be just doing it all for show.   We talked about keeping the rules and the pattern of your life and how you’re not kicked out of the family every time you sin.   Christians still sin; they still have bad thoughts and sometimes fall into old habits.  It seems to be more about their attitude when they do sin.  Whereas I used to celebrate my decadence and actually brag about it, I no longer do that.  When I do slip up or fail or fall into old habits, I’m quick to go to God in pray and ask for forgiveness and repent.  I realize that my salvation is not in jeopardy every time I sin.  I’m still in God’s family and I’m still going to heaven.  Nothing’s going to change that.  When I was discussing this topic of obedience and disobedience, he actually brought up Mormonism.  He mentioned that a friend of his is Mormon and that they place a big emphasis on obedience.   I agreed with him and relayed a story of someone I know who got ex-communicated from the Mormon Church for having sex outside of marriage.  This person went through like a little mini trial and was kicked out of the church and had to get that corrected before being allowed back in.  We talked a little bit about the problems with Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon and Book of Abraham as well.  He made the assertion about Christianity having problems as well – that the books were written down after a period of hundreds of years and they changed them to say what they wanted.  I shared how the New Testament was 27 books written by 9 authors who were all either eyewitnesses or interviewed eyewitnesses.  And they were all written in the first century in the life times of those who could challenge these claims being made.  The authors (all but one) went to their deaths proclaiming these truths when all they had to do was recant and they would have saved themselves, but they chose instead to die to make sure these claims were spread.  I mentioned that from a historical point of view, the New Testament was more well attested than most of the literary works from that time – in fact not even close.  I shared how the New Testament has more than 24,000 manuscripts, which is far more than other documents from that period.   He mentioned that he thought he’d heard that there were some scholars that were skeptical of all this that was written in the Bible.  I asked if he was referring to Bart Ehrman.  He didn’t know the name.  So I explained how Bart Ehrman would even affirm that there was a historical figure called Jesus, who lived in the first century, was crucified on a Roman cross, buried and that his disciples reported seeing him alive (back from the dead) later.  Now he admittedly doesn’t believe that Jesus was actually resurrected, but he will at least affirm those minimal facts.

During the conversation at some point I said that there are times that I as a Christian have doubts.  I wonder if all this is a hoax.  I wonder am I crazy because so few people seem to believe it.  But then I go back to the basics – there is a God – I mean, we have this universe – where did it come from?  And there is life that looks to be designed in the universe, with DNA, our bodies and their design.  He agreed with those being good points.  And those same points made him start seeking answers in the past too.  I also said that I investigated the historical evidence that Jesus is who he said he is and did what the Bible said he did.

He had made some comment about Christianity making his brother’s life better and I think that was part of what his brother was telling him in order to convince him.  I told him that in some ways your life gets better, but that’s not why I became a Christian.  In fact in some ways your life gets worse.  You can expect some persecution.  I get mocked and laughed at and sometimes excluded because of my faith.  But there are also ways that it makes your life much better – just knowing that I was under condemnation and that now I have peace with God and I have the peace of knowing that I’m going to heaven.  And my life has purpose now.  I have something and someone to follow.  My life is meaningful and I know it doesn’t end at death.  There were other things we talked about and other lines of conversation, but I just can’t remember all the details now…  Overall, he said he enjoyed the conversation.  Then the night was over.  We’ll see what tomorrow brings…

Some objections raised by a associate over lunch

There is an associate of mine who will be leaving my place of employment soon, so I took him out to lunch.  Over the 3 years he’s been working there, we’ve had many opportunities to speak about Christ and the Christian worldview (some of those conversations are posted elsewhere on this blog).  While we were having lunch (I paid of course :)), I asked him, after our many conversations about Christianity, what was still holding him back from becoming a Christian.  During the course of the ensuing conversation, here are the objections that were raised.  I’ve purposely left out my responses so that I might cause you to ponder what your responses would’ve been.

  1. The language of the Bible is “antiquated”
  2. Christianity is too simple
    1. God – an old man with a beard
    2. Jesus – what does he matter to me (just a guy that lived 2000 years ago)
  3. Doesn’t understand why Jesus is the only way, why not Buddha or some other religious leader?
  4. Doesn’t believe in hell – thinks hell is only something that Christians use to scare people.
  5. Doesn’t believe in sin.
  6. Doesn’t believe fornication is a sin.
  7. How can it be fair – we’ve never been told the commandments and now we’re supposed to understand we’ve broken them?
  8. What if you search for God and Jesus and can’t find them?
  9. Doesn’t believe that Jesus was sinless.
  10. Had a problem with original sin.
  11. If it is true that we are born sinful, why wasn’t Jesus sinful?
  12. Are all other religions wrong?  That’s arrogant.
  13. Believes he’s a good person.
  14. Why doesn’t God just let everyone into heaven?
  15. Jesus isn’t God.  He stated “He’s the Son of God!” very emphatically.
  16. [after I made a case for the deity of Jesus] Who was Jesus paying when he paid for our sins?  Wasn’t it just God paying God – God paying himself?
  17. Doesn’t believe that Jesus existed.
  18. If Jesus did exist, he doesn’t think he was resurrected – resurrections are impossible – come on Steve, you are logically minded.
  19. Thinks there is some kind of God, but not the Christian God.
  20. Even if there is a God who created the universe, doesn’t believe that a miracle like a resurrection is possible – just wishful thinking.
  21. His boss was a hypocrite – wanted to pray at lunch and tell him about Jesus, but then was telling him about the $20,000 boat he was going to buy – shouldn’t he be giving that money to the poor?

There were more objections raised, but I just can’t remember them.

The night after this conversation occurred, our weekly men’s Bible study was scheduled, so I hijacked about 30 minutes of the session and handed out a copy of these objections to the 5 other guys who were there (from almost all generations – we had an 18 year old, a 22 year old, someone in their 40’s, 2 in their 50’s [including me] and 1 in his 60’s).  We took time to go over these objections one at a time and I asked them how they would respond.  As they gave answers, I pressed them when the answers given were insufficient.  For example, when they said “you just gotta have faith”, I reminded them that other religions can say the same thing (e.g. Mormonism, Islam, etc).  When they said “because it says it in the Bible”, I pressed them to tell me why I should believe the Bible over the Book of Mormon or the Koran or any other holy book for that matter.  When they said that “you need to pray to God and ask if it is true”, I pushed back and told them that Mormons will tell you the exact same thing about the Book of Mormon, that you need to read it and then pray to God and ask if it is true.  I didn’t let them off the hook easily.  There were definitely some good answers given.  In fact, I really liked how one of the guys came up with several questions he’d like to ask my associate to challenge his world view and how he came to his conclusions (Colombo type questions – “what do you mean by that”, “how did you come to that conclusion”).  Although there were some good answers given, overall, I felt there was a lot of room for improvement.

Near the end of this session, I was letting them know that if they gave answers like this they’d be getting their butts kicked.  I used that prospect of “getting their butts kicked” to encourage them to invest some time in becoming prepared to answer objections.  I assured them there are good answers to these objections and that I would forward them my responses at a later time.  When I was talking to the 22 year old at Church yesterday, he said he really enjoyed the men’s group on Thursday night and would love to do more of that.  He was motivated to learn the answers and become prepared.  I encouraged him to just start with a modest goal of reading the links that J. Warner Wallace posts on his twitter page (https://twitter.com/jwarnerwallace) every day.

I certainly can’t claim that this idea is original.  I was inspired by listening to a J. Warner Wallace podcast where he had his son Jimmy (I think) pretend to be a “winsome” atheist and brought in a youth group to see if they could counter the objections being raised.  The purpose of that encounter (same as mine at the men’s group) was to show them their need – that they are not prepared to answer the kind of objections they’ll be receiving.

Email Conversation with a Latter Day Saint Friend – Part 2

This is a continuation of a conversation.  The first part can be read here.

Friend (response):  Please consider Peter’s declaration of Christ’s divinity “Thou are the Christ, the Son of the living God” from Matthew 14 I believe.

How much of Peter’s testimony is based on physical evidence? Would I be too bold by saying NONE of his testimony came from the observable physical evidence Peter was subjected to on a daily basis. In fact, God gives us a more sure way of knowing truth. I know you know this. I know you know the power of the Holy Spirit bearing witness of truth and because you know that I am concerned that you believe this (the truth or untruth of the Book of Mormon) to be outside the realm of the Holy Spirit.

In fact, I would suggest that the rock upon which the church is built is “flesh and blood hath not revealed this but my Father which is in Heaven” or in other words, the rock upon which His church is built is truth distilled upon the minds of believers and non-believers by the power of the Holy Spirit. No other explanation makes sense as the power of Satan over men makes it a simple matter to pervert the correct ways of the Lord. Only revelation through the Spirit can prevail against the gates of hell (see Matt 14). This is how Peter knew who Jesus really was, it’s how you know the Bible to be true and how you know Jesus is the Savior. The physical evidence is not your primary source of truth (I hope) but only serves to support that which has been revealed to you by the Spirit of God.

No man knows the things of God because they are spiritually discerned (I Corinthians 2:14). “But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit” (I Corinthians 2:10).
“… when the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come” (John 16:12-13).

Do you suppose that if the Book of Mormon were true that there would be no opposition to it or to discredit its origin? How often were prophets rejected? I am not making the argument that any person claiming to be a prophet is a true prophet if he is rejected but I am saying that almost all true prophets are rejected.

The interesting thing about history is that it is written by people and people have perceptions and perceptions tend to bend the truth to suit our agendas. We have discussed this many times with respect to things both you and I believe but others do not.

You mentioned the Kinderhook plates. In your mind they are yet another brick in the wall of evidence that proves Joseph Smith was a false prophet. What is the truth surrounding this and does the truth even matter if your mind is made up? Jesus healed on the Sabbath. That is a fact. He was therefore in violation of the law of Moses (also a fact). I could dismiss Him because of the evidence (prophets do not break God’s laws, this man broke God’s law therefore He is not prophet) or I could seek greater enlightenment and then make a decision.

Why did the individual who claimed to plant the Kinderhhook plates wait until both Joseph and his co-conspirators had died before revealing that he planted them in an attempt to reveal Joseph as a fraud? If Joseph truly did declare the plates to be genuine then wouldn’t that be the time to reveal him an imposter? Or could William Clayton’s journal entry (the only recorded evidence of Joseph’s thoughts regarding the Kinderhook plates) be in error? If Joseph thought them to be real, when did he not pursue them as he had with the Abraham papyri? Either Joseph thought them to be real or he did not. If he thought them real why did he dismiss them (by his actions)? Bricks of evidence tend get thinner under objective scrutiny. I also have perceptions that are different from your perceptions when it comes to Joseph Smith. You see a malevolent man set on disrupting Christianity and seeking his own desires. The same was said about Jesus and every other prophet I’m sure. I am not saying Jesus was a only a prophet by the way.

If you only associated with people like Saul and Caiphas and the Sanhedrin, then you would have some fantastic evidence about how evil the man Jesus was. I think you are more like Peter rather than Paul. Don’t be the guy that has to see to believe. There are richer blessings for those who do not have to see the physical evidence and yet believe.

All I am saying is if the fruit is good then don’t dismiss the source because it doesn’t fit into your world view. Jesus healed on the Sabbath – that is some very good fruit even though it may not fit my perception of what a man calling Himself the Son of God would do.

To be clear I am not suggesting that you accept anything based on my word or any other person’s word. The Book of Mormon is the evidence. If Joseph Smith was a false prophet then the Book of Mormon is false. That seems to be your argument based on the assumption that Joseph Smith is the evidence. But he cannot be the evidence because he was hated or loved depending on who you talk to. No he cannot be the evidence you submit to God for an answer. The Book of Mormon is the evidence. If it is true then Joseph Smith is a prophet. That is the only way to get past the smoke and mirrors of history.

You are my friend and I only hope for you to realize what God has promised you and your family. Why do you need to know if the Book of Mormon is true? Why does it matter? In matters because if it is true the the following is also true:

Families are eternal units and you can continue to enjoy familial relationships beyond mortality

God has once again dispensed His Holy priesthood to benefit His children and you can receive that priesthood or authority to bless others

God continues to lead us with prophets and apostles

The nature of God is not a mystery. He is our literal Father (of our spirits), Jesus is His son and they are separate and distinct individuals. Jesus is a God with the Father and He is our elder brother (I know the idea of a plurality of Gods somehow violates your worldview but it is scriptural as you know – Eloheim is of course a plurality).

These and many other truths are revealed in our time for our benefit. This is why it matters. Does rejecting the Book of Mormon jeopardize your salvation? Absolutely not. But if true, you are living well beneath your ability with respect to who you really are and what God intends for you to become. Salvation describes a range of inheritances. I know that in your view it has only two options – saved or unsaved and that is true. But in the realm of the saved there is much much more to understand. So if you base the importance of what I have written on whether it will impact you salvation then the answer is no. But I submit that the thief on the cross receives a different inheritance than Peter.

As I have often stated in our discussions, what you believe is not nearly as important as who you have become. Ghandi, for example, when he sees His savior will recognize Him and worship at His feet and there will be very little distance between who Ghandi has become by how he has lived and who he has to be to live eternally with our Savior. At that point, Ghandi, an imperfect being who has separated himself from God by sin as we all have, can accept the redeeming love of his Savior and be redeemed from his sin. He and all the children of God who have not known the Savior can have their sins redeemed. The problem is for those who have only confessed with their mouth but not brought forth fruit worthy of their salvation (and I am not referring to salvation by works). These are people who have not become meek, humble and submissive to God as a child is to his parent. Even though they have professed the Savior even all their lives and are recipients of salvation offered, they will not have the same inheritance as Peter or Ghandi (assuming Ghandi to be a man who tried to live by the same kind of principles taught by Jesus).

So I have written many things here and I know much of it is abrasive to your worldview. The Book of Mormon is the evidence and you must look at it if you want to know the truth of it. Joseph Smith was a man, not a perfect man but a flawed man like all men are. You can focus on and amplify those flaws and see someone very different that who he really was. Others have done the same with Jesus and concluded He was not God. I will not speak any more of this matter unless you want to. I only want what is good for you and of course I know you wish the same for me. We are at bridge and I am beckoning you to follow me across that bridge. Not because if you stay where you are you will be destroyed but because I know life on this side of the bridge is more fulfilling. However, from you perspective, my side of the bridge leads you away from the truth you already know. Look at everyone you know on this side of the bridge, do they produce evil fruit? We love the Savior. We know the pain He suffered for us. We know we have a debt of gratitude for which we can never repay. We know we must travel the road He traveled which is lonely at times but worth the journey. You also love the Savior. So if we never cross the bridge until the Savior reveals Himself to us personally then I know we are both on the right general path and that is enough for me to know our friendship will endure beyond the grave.

Me: Wow, that was a BIG email.  You know there are a couple times in there where it seemed like you thought that you were in danger of offending me.  You don’t have to worry about that – I promise you!  I don’t take any of your writing as abrasive.  And I know right off the bat that we have many things that we disagree about, so that in and of itself would never offend me.  You are a great friend and as I stated before, I love talking about these issues with you.  In fact, I think there is no more important thing we could be talking about.  As I’ve said in our conversations before, if I’m going to die on any hill in battle, it would be the hill of Jesus Christ!

So…  Regarding your first point about Peter.  That is a really great point and has certainly caused me to think carefully.  It is true that Jesus said in Mat 16:17 “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.”  Now as I look at this statement, He is not saying that evidence did not play any role at all in Peter coming  to the conclusion that He was the Christ, but simply that no person on earth revealed it to him, but rather the Father in heaven.  In fact in the 3 gospels where this statement is recorded, 2 of them record miracles in the chapter (Mark 8 – feeding of 4000 and the healing of the blind man at Bethsaida, Luke 9 – Feeding of the 5000, the transfiguration and the healing of the boy with an evil spirit) and 1  both predicts and reminds the disciples of miracles in the chapter (Mat 16 – predicts the sign of Jonah [v4 – the resurrection] and His death and resurrection [v21], and reminded them about both the feeding of the 4000 and 5000 [v9-10]), so we can surmise that Jesus was certainly doing a lot of miracles right around that time.  So, I look at Peter, a guy who met Jesus maybe 2 years earlier, walking around with Him, eating with Him, living with Him on the road (homeless) seeing Him do all these miracles and it definitely makes sense that the revelation he was receiving from the Father in heaven lined up with what he was seeing with his eyes.  If he had thought his Father in heaven was instead revealing Matthew (Levi) the tax collector as the Christ, I think he would’ve questioned the revelation as maybe a bad burrito the night before.  I think the only reason that Peter made that profession of faith was that the spiritual revelation he had was in accordance with what he’d experienced.  Peter had personal experience with Jesus.  He knew Jesus – intimately as a member of his inner circle.  He saw all the miracles first hand.  He was putting it all together.  I believe Jesus when He said that the Father revealed it to him, but I also believe Peter would not have made the profession if the profession did not line up with what he was personally experiencing.

Your quotation of 1 Cor 2:14 is absolutely appropriate and so is 1 Cor 1:18 “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”  Now as I said in my last email “belief is not even a natural condition for sinful man without the intervention of God”, so I agree with you there.  God must intervene to open our eyes so that we can evaluate the evidence fairly.  But that doesn’t mean that once we have our eyes open we instantly just believe.  It just means that we no longer have that enmity against God.  J. Warner Wallace has a great analogy he gives about anchovies on pizza.  He said that he hates anchovies, but if God were to remove that hatred for anchovies, it is not like he’d immediately go around seeking to find an anchovy pizza, but the next time he went to a restaurant and saw a menu with anchovies as an option we would be able to freely choose the anchovies because the hatred against anchovies had been removed.  He would still have to see that as an option on a menu or someone eating them to even consider ordering anchovies.  In the same way, once our eyes have been opened, someone still needs to present the gospel to us and then we would be able to freely choose to say yes.  Again, though, that presentation of the gospel should be backed by evidence.  No one is going to receive the flying spaghetti monster as lord because there’s no evidence to back it/him up.

Unfortunately, it’s time to go to work, so I’ll have to stop here.  I’ll reply on the rest of the points (hopefully) tomorrow.

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Continuing on from yesterday… Here is my concern.  When you say that the Book of Mormon is the evidence, not Joseph Smith, I believe that I understand what you are saying.  I hear you saying – evaluate the text in and of itself, don’t evaluate the man who wrote it down, because he is just a fallen human being like the rest of us.  But the Book of Mormon is 100% linked to the integrity of this single man – Joseph Smith.  This is nothing like the Bible, which was written by 40 authors over 1500 years and has plenty of historical and archeological evidence to back it up (not requiring blind faith to believe it).  Joseph Smith is the only one who had the vision.  He is the only one who claimed to translate these plates (which were not even present during the translation process).  No one else could verify it.  He is the only one who translated the ancient Egyptian scrolls that became the Book of Abraham.  The complete system relies on his integrity.  There is no way for anyone else to verify that what he said/wrote was not just an elaborate hoax.  He used the same ‘technology’ (the seer stone) to do the translation that he’d used in his former treasure digging (resulting in fraud charges against him and a trial in 1826).  He is the one who started an “anti-bank” in Kirtland Ohio that failed (resulting in lawsuits and arrests).  He was the one who claimed that polygamy was ordained by God after he was caught in an adulterous affair with Fanny Alger.  You may talk about the 3 witnesses (or 8 witnesses) as verifying what Joseph wrote down and seeing the golden plates.  In fact some LDS missionaries stopped by my house the other day and brought up the witnesses as evidence.  But here is some information that contradicts the [3 or 8] witnesses reliability:

Oliver Cowdery was eventually excommunicated from the Church after exposing Smith’s first polygamous relationship to Fanny Alger. Smith described Cowdery as a thief, liar, perjurer, counterfeiter, adulterer and leader of “scoundrels of the deepest degree”. Cowdery later became a Methodist and denied the Book of Mormon altogether and publicly confessed his “sorrow and Shame” for having any connection with Mormonism.

Martin Harris was a member of 5 different religious groups before becoming a Mormon, and he was part of eight different groups after leaving Mormonism. He was also excommunicated from the Mormon Church and later reported that he did not see the plates as Smith described, but only saw the plates three days after Cowdery and Whitmer and then only in a spiritual sense:

“I never saw the gold plates, only in a visionary or entranced state. …In about three days I went into the woods to pray that I might see the plates. While praying I passed into a state of entrancement, and in that state I saw the angel and the plates.” (Anthony Metcalf, Ten Years Before the Mast, n.d., microfilm copy, p. 70-71).

David Whitmer was also excommunicated from the Church and later declared that he was himself a prophet of the New Church of Christ. Joseph called him a “dumb beast to ride” and an “ass to bray out coursings instead of blessings”. Whitmer later admitted that he saw the plates “by the eye of faith” rather than with his physical eyes and he waffled between three varying accounts of how he saw the plates.

Eventually, Smith decided that this group of three “witnesses” was insufficient; he involved eight additional men and recruited them as potential eyewitnesses, forming a group of eleven total witnesses to the golden plates. Smith limited his choices to men that were close friends and relatives. He first involved four brothers of David Whitmer. Smith next recruited his own father, two of his brothers and Hiram Page (who was married to David Whitmer’s sister, Catherine). Even though Smith limited his choices to close friends and relatives, these men also had trouble staying true to the faith founded on the golden plates they claimed to see. Two of these eight men apostatsized and left the Church altogether. Another was excommunicated. Of the eleven men who claimed to see the golden plates, only five remained faithful to Mormonism. Three of these five men were blood relatives of Joseph Smith. Martin Harris later reported that these additional eight witnesses also observed the plates in a vision and never saw the plates with their “natural eyes”.

After the translation of the plates, Smith claimed that they were returned to the angel and were no longer available for examination. For this reason, no other witnesses were ever present to authenticate the golden plates.”

Why are people who were excommunicated from the Church listed in the front of the Book of Mormon as witnesses?

Regarding Jesus healing on the Sabbath – Jesus said in Mark 2 that the Sabbath made for man and that He is the Lord of the Sabbath.   Jesus is God and He is our Sabbath rest.  The Sabbath is a picture … a type.  There is a pretty decent little article here that talks about this topic.  So, it was the legalistic Pharisees who accused Him of this violation of the law.  Since Jesus is God and the Sabbath was made for man, it could be argued that #1, the Pharisees misunderstood the Sabbath and were wrong in accusing Jesus of violating it and #2, Jesus didn’t need to follow the Sabbath since it was for humanity, #3 Jesus created the Sabbath and knows the purpose of it better than the Pharisees and they are wrong, not Him.  So, I don’t believe Jesus violated that law.  So, you are correct in not dismissing Jesus because of this.  But Jesus has infinitely more in the way of credentials and trustworthiness than any other prophet (including Joseph Smith).

Regarding a plurality of Gods.  There is one God – scripture is clear about that.  See the following references (Rom 3:30, Isaiah 42:8, 43:10-11, 44:6-8, 45:21-24, 46:9-10, Neh 9:6, Deut 32:39, Hosea 13:4, [the shema] Deut 6:4 and Mk 12:29. 1 Cor 8:4, 1 Tim 2:5, James 2:19).  Many more can be given.  So, I don’t think it is possible for a Christian to believe that there can be more than 1 God.  However, that one God is revealed in Scripture as 3 co-eternal, co-equal persons: The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit.  Each of the persons revealed in the godhead are described with the attributes of deity and described with personal male pronouns (He).  I don’t have the time to list all the references supporting this, but trust me, there are many (you can use the Nuggets app and look at the tags ‘Deity of Jesus Christ’,  ‘Holy Spirit’ and ‘trinity’).  So, since both things are true (there is 1 God and in Scripture He is revealed in 3 persons) we can’t just throw one of them out and say there are 3 Gods which clearly contradicts Scripture.  Just because our finite human minds can’t fully comprehend the nature of God, doesn’t mean we can’t trust Him on His revelation of Himself.  I would not expect to be able fully comprehend (in this mortal life) everything about the God that made the enormous universe and everything in it.

I know there are a lot of other things I’ve yet to address from your last email, but I need to chunk this response bit by bit.

Thanks for listening…

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It is amazing that you’ve got me responding a 3rd day in a row!  And it may go beyond that J  A lot of great content in your email…  Let’s get to it.

First off, I’ve been meaning to ask this and I keep forgetting…  When I talk to you (and even when the Mormon missionaries stopped by this past Saturday), it seems like there is always a suggestion to read the Book of Mormon and pray to God about it to inquire as to whether it is true.  I have 2 questions:

  1. I don’t have any idea how many religions there are in the world, but are we supposed to read all of their holy books and pray about them too, or just the Book of Mormon?
  2. I’m pretty sure the answer to this question is no, but I’ll ask it anyway: have you read the Qur’an and prayed to God to see if it is true?  If not, why not?

The statement that if the Book of Mormon is true, then families are eternal units is at odds with Jesus, who said “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.” (Matt 22:29-30)

Regarding someone like Ghandi, I would not want to give him or anyone like him any false assurance that they would have any chance after this life to accept Christ.  Paul says “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.  Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others.” (2 Cor 5:10-11b) and the author of Hebrews says “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment”. (Heb 9:27) Again, I would look at all the verses about repentance and salvation in Nuggets.  The verse that I think you’ve referred to in the past about Jesus going to preach to the prisoners (1 Peter 3:19), I understand to mean that Christ was proclaiming victory, not offering salvation to those already physically dead.

As I’m re-reading through the bottom half of your last email, I see the plea for me to follow you “across the bridge” where life is more fulfilling and if I don’t, I won’t be destroyed.  I hear what you’re saying.  I can’t help but be reminded by Pascal’s wager – the classic argument typically used in the context of Christian vs. Atheist.  But I’m seeing it as classical Christianity vs. LDS.  Typically the argument with Atheists goes something like this (Christian speaking to the Atheist and phrased in my own wording):

  1. If my worldview is right and there is a God and a judgment/reward, then when I die, I’ve avoided judgment and have hit the jackpot – I get eternal life of bliss and joy in heaven with Christ forever!
  2. If my worldview is wrong and there is no God, no afterlife, then when I die, we are both in the same position – dead – nothingness.  I’ve still lived a good life ~80 years, having a hope in a God who happened not to be there.  I was happy but deceived.
  3. If your worldview is right, then you die just like me, we end up in the same state (worm food), all you’ve gained is ~80 years of the pleasures of life on earth and have had the “freedom” to live how you wanted (which only leads to emptiness).
  4. If your worldview is wrong, you end up with eternal torment in hell separated from God and everything that is good, the worst of all possible situations.

So, the argument goes that you have more to gain and less to lose when you choose to believe in God.  The risk is too great and the benefit too small not to believe in God.

In a similar way, we could cast the argument in terms of our worldviews:

  1. If classical Christianity is true and the Book of Mormon and other LDS scriptures are just the words of a man (and therefore whatever is taught in them that contradicts the Bible amounts to another religion/God), then when I die, I’ve avoided judgment and have hit the jackpot – I get eternal life of bliss and joy in heaven with Christ forever!
  2. If the LDS view of the world is correct and the book of Mormon is true, as I understand it, being a Christian will not get me thrown into hell, but rather, only the first level of heaven, which I believe Joseph Smith said if you could get a glimpse of it, you’d want to commit suicide to get there since it is so wonderful.  So, my end state is still REALLY good if I don’t become a Mormon.
  3. If the LDS view of the world is correct, then you will go to the celestial kingdom/level of heaven and have a much greater eternal reward than me.  I know there are many other points/benefits you’d add here…
  4. If the LDS view of the world is NOT correct, then you are risking having spent your life believing/following the words of a man who claimed to be speaking for God and was not – a false prophet.  What that means for you in the afterlife, I’m not sure…  Heaven, hell?  I’m not totally sure about that.

So, taking the same argument, I would phrase it as: you have more to gain and less to lose when you choose to believe the classical Christianity view of the world (the Bible is the word of God and the LDS scriptures are not).  The risk is too great and the benefit too small to commit to the LDS view of the world.  Using that logic, it would not be wise for me to switch, but it would be wise for you to switch.

Jesus said that “unless you believe that I AM HE, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24).  As I understand, the word “HE” is not in the Greek, so, really He was using the phrase “I AM” from Exodus 3:14, where God met Moses at the burning bush.  Jesus said both directly and indirectly that there is one God (Mark 12:29) and that He is that God (John 14:6, John 8:58, John 10:30-33) and that one God is also revealed in 3 co-equal, co-eternal persons (John 14:26, Matthew 28:18-20).  All the New Testament authors agree.  If there is any doctrine of the LDS faith that views God in ways that are not biblical, then it would seem to be that the LDS faith describes and worships a different God (idolatry/polytheism).

So, I appreciate your offer to “walk across the bridge”, but I would say the risk is too great (because the circumstantial case against the author of the LDS scriptures is too great).  But I would like to offer to you to walk back across the bridge (before any of the planks fall out) and join me on this side.  We have great friendship, but we could really have biblical fellowship (i.e. Acts 2:42)!  I am concerned of course about your eternal destiny.  As I said, I don’t know what God holds in store in the afterlife for those on your side of the bridge, but I would not want you to take any chances.