Fools Talk: CHAPTER 6: TURNING THE TABLES_DO YOU REALLY WANT TO KILL YOURSELF? (Pgs.107-129)

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In this chapter Guinness gives some very helpful insights into what people say as opposed to what they believe.  That is, some thoughts can be articulated, but some thoughts can’t be lived out because we live in God’s world and are created in His image.

Guinness recalls a G.K. Chesterton account in “Manalive” where a pessimist philosopher waxes eloquent from the comfort of his chair and glass of port to a student that’s trying to make sense of life—to live or commit suicide from this “horrible world” was the student’s dilemma.  The logical responses given by this professor’s philosophical pessimism however turned when he found himself staring down the barrel of this student’s gun on the ledge of a window.

The professor’s horrified eyes revealed that he’d rather live than die and thus resolved the student’s suicidal dilemma.  The point is that what we believe surfaces when reality is about to pull the trigger.  This is table turning which has several facets worthy of note.

First, in order to reach those whose minds and hearts are closed off to the gospel, we must appropriately use apologetics and evangelism.  While these two are distinct, they are nevertheless inseparable (E.g., like the head is inseparable from the neck).  Guinness laments modern day apologetics when he says:

The isolation of apologetics from evangelism is the curse of much modern apologetics, and why it can become sterile and deadening intellectualism.  Whenever apologetics is needed, it should precede evangelism, but while apologetics is distinct from evangelism, it must always lead directly to it.  The work of apologetics is only finished when the door to the gospel has been opened and the good news of the gospel can be proclaimed.” (Pg.110-111)

Thus, in our defense and proclamation we need to scratch where people itch. 

Second, in order to reach people that are contented and contending, we must find the inconsistencies of their worldviews and point them out.  That is relativize the relativist, be skeptical of the skeptics skepticism.  Too often, the relativist and skeptic think that everyone but they are immune to being questioned, but it “just ‘ain’t so”.

Third, in order to reach people that are sitting on the spiritual fence, we must with prophetic subversion apply their own criterion to their objection and mirror it onto them God in Romans 1 gives up those opposed to Him to their own desires.  We must challenge people to choose between God and any other treasure because the day of reckoning awaits us all.  Moreover, we must remember that the consequences of words need to be considered in light of reality—can one live what they say?

Fourth, in order to reach those closed to the gospel sometimes requires no argument at all. The centerpiece of approaching these kinds of people often requires our focus to be on their treasure (I.e., their children) in order to come to faith (Pg.122).  Sometimes life itself, not just logic, forces people to reconsider what they believe and how they are living because of who/what they treasure.

Fifth, questions that raise other questions by using another’s authorities rather than our own are powerful ways of peaking interest.  That is, we must know the prophets’ people listen to, understand and be familiar with their big ideas so that we may be able to turn the tables on their unbelief.

Sixth, we must remember that people live in God’s world.  That is, they are created in His image and are constantly bumping up to His reality, thus their claims will have a mixture of truth and falsehood.  When these are discovered ultimately it will lead them to the dangers of their position because the Day of Judgment is forthcoming and their decisions have an end result.

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Reflections From JOB 25-29: “JOB CONTINUES HIS ARGUMENTATION”

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Bildad’s words (25) are hardly helpful again, and Job’s response is sarcasm:

“What a help you are to the weak! How you have saved the arm without strength! “What counsel you have given to one without wisdom! What helpful insight you have abundantly provided! “To whom have you uttered words? And whose spirit was expressed through you? (26:2-4)

Job continues in the following chapters talking about the wicked and their inheritance, God’s wisdom revealed in the creation and nevertheless it is hidden from us (26:6-14; 27:13-23).  Moreover, Job reiterates his blamelessness,

My lips certainly will not speak unjustly,
Nor will my tongue mutter deceit.
“Far be it from me that I should declare you right; Till I die I will not put away my integrity from me. (27:4-5)

Job is contending for his righteousness and his friend’s lack of wisdom and judgment in the way they have dealt with him is exposed.  Moreover, this earth and its’ treasures can’t compare to the value of the wisdom required to understand and to create the heavens (28:1-22).  It’s this very wisdom the LORD gives to those who fear him, “…to depart from evil is understanding”. (28:28)

The point seems to be that Bildad’s words reveals that he neither fears the LORD nor has turned away from evil or else he would have the wisdom and the understanding to judge Job’s plight rightly.  But Bildad lacks these qualities (28:12-13).  Job recounts a description of his righteousness as one who delivered the poor and orphaned, as one who helped widows become joyful, as one who combatted the wicked, as one deemed considerably wise among the people and one who was part of the warrior class (29).  This is an exceptional man through and through!

It seems as if his friends had forgotten who he was prior to these horrific ordeals.  Regardless, Job will continue to contend for his righteousness even though all the voices around him clamor to the contrary.  This is a weighty account indeed.  The fact that Job is still able to intellectually joust with his friends after such physical and mental anguish is astounding.  The psychological weightiness of his plight alone would have driven most mortals mad.  But not Job, it’s as if the more difficult the task became the more he flourished.  His patience is exemplary and worthy of note, for it’s a window into the power of holiness to withstand horrific circumstances (E.g., The Cross?).

(SDG)

Fools Talk: CHAPTER 5: ANATOMY OF UNBELIEF (Pgs.79-105)

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In this chapter Guinness tackles the issue of unbelief.  What often is held to be the case is actually the converse when it comes to why people don’t believe the Gospel.  The reason many modern thinkers don’t come to faith is not because of philosophical reasons but for ethical ones.  Eminent contemporary philosopher Thomas Nagel admits his deepest objection to Christianity is not rational but visceral—fear:

“…I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers.  It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief.  It’s that I hope there is no God!  I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.” (Pg.82)

It’s not about the truth, facts or evidence, Nagel, like many people, have psychological, not rational barriers that cause them to resist faith in God.  That is, instead of conforming their thinking to reality, many choose to conform reality to their thinking because something is at stake.  Guinness mentions that Huxley is one such example of a person who embraced a philosophy of meaninglessness because morality interferes with “sexual freedom”, and Pascal is quoted to say that: “Men despise religion.  They hate it and are afraid it may be true.

Guinness continues and points out that the philosophy of meaninglessness twists the truth into deception and makes reality conform to its thinking rather than the converse.   Thus, at its core, unbelief is the suppression of truth (Rom.1), and because Gods truth won’t go away, self-deception results.  This self-deception comes about ultimately because the creature rather than the Creator is worshiped.

Moreover, in a meaningless existence diversion turns out to be king, the examined life is neglected and thus the numbing effects prevent us from pondering the realities of faith and death.  The many diversions are swallowed up by the greatest of them all—false religion—which clothes lies in the garb of “truth” and fools people into thinking life has meaning.

According to Guinness, at the end of the day, unbelief is an act of the will choosing and how to deal with unbelief requires much wisdom.

Fool’s Talk: CHAPTER 3: THE DEFENSE NEVER RESTS (Pgs.47-60)

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In this chapter Guinness points out that a major difference between our apologetic and the prophets is that they came with God’s word, whereas we tend to neglect it and come with the word of our age instead.  To be faithful Christian persuaders, we must remember that old news needs to be newly spoken to our generation.

And thus, the defense never rests until the eschaton (the end of the age) because God is constantly being framed by image bearers who want to be their own “god.”  They accuse God of crimes he has not committed, blame God for suffering he has not caused and slander God’s name because they are blind.  As previously mentioned in what it takes to persuade Christianly, Guinness notes that different people and circumstances require a relative defense, a particular method of engagement—old news, newly told.

When it comes to the “framing” of God—where God’s motives and meaning of His words are subversively questioned (E.g., Genesis 3 account), the advocate lover (believers) aim to rectify the lies stated and believed about Him—the God we love.

Lovers are advocates (this is every Christian’s call) of the One who rescued them from Himself (Eph.2:1-3).  Advocates think hard—it requires their entire being to engage here as a means of loving God—and are God-centered with their motives and craft and thus cry, “Hallowed by your name” not “hallowed by mine”.  First and foremost apologetic work is about making much of God, not ourselves.  As Guinness writes:

“Christian advocacy is a lover’s defense, a matter of speaking out and standing up when God is framed unjustly and attacked wrongly.  It is therefore anything but dry and sterile” (pg.57)

Not only is Christian advocacy concerned with God’s name, but also must do it’s bidding through God the Holy Spirit’s power, not our own if it’s going to be fruitful in God’s view (Note: many times the fruit will be hidden to us).  Os reminds the reader that Christian advocacy at the end of the day is God’s burden in which we get to participate.  It’s about old news newly told, and the defense of the faith is about God and by God.  It’s not about us, and it’s not up to us for God is His own best counsel.

Fool’s Talk: CHAPTER 2: TECHNIQUE—THE DEVIL’S BAIT (Pgs. 29-46)

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On the fridge in our home is a little magnet that shows a flock of sheep meandering down a country road.  Underneath is a caption: “Rush hour Ireland”.  It reminds me of a Spanish professor visiting the west of Ireland where the sense of time used to be the slowest of all.  Interviewing an old gentlemen he observed sitting for hours outside a pub, he asked him if the Irish had an equivalent for eh Spanish word mañana.  The old Irishman thought for a long while, and then answered, “No, we don’t have any word as urgent as that.”

A Kenyan once said, “Westerners have watches, Africans have time” (pg.29) which is a succinct description of the way we in America tend to live our lives.  Our clocks form the way we live, McDonalds the way we market ideas, but time is not on our side and fast food is often neither fast nor good.  Thus, we trade quality for quantity, use clocks to measure efficiency and all the while never seem to have enough of either efficiency or time.

Good thinking however, requires thought, meditation, disjunctive reasoning and time which are not measured.  When it comes to Christian persuasion, Guinness reminds us that it takes more than arguments to capture a persons’ soul.   

First, Christian persuasion deals with a persons’ heart not just their “head.”  We are complex creatures and as such our “web” of beliefs are not one dimensional, but rather multifaceted.

Second, Christian persuasion is not a science, but an art [I would say it’s both or else Os would not be instructing us with knowledge], there’s creativity, nuance, timing, etc. to the craft.

Third, Christian persuasion is person relative and as such, it’s rarely the same.  No “cookie-cutter” approaches here.  No two people are alike, thus it’s critical in conversation to listen rather than “waiting to speak”.

Fourth, Christian persuasion because it’s person relative requires different approaches to attain.  What works for a scientist might not work for a carpenter.

Fifth, Christian persuasion has no sure-fire way to commend the faith.  This means that sometimes regardless of our arguments, skill and tactics, some people won’t be reached.

Sixth, Christian persuasion is organic not mechanical.  It often flows naturally in conversation and by how we live.  The old adage, “Your actions speak so loudly, I can’t hear what you are saying” is so true.  If our walk does not match our talk we lose “social capital” in persuasion.

Seventh, Christian persuasion uses techniques but is not overwhelmed by them.  Well used techniques can often help remove obstacles for a clear hearing of the Gospel message and that is a good thing.  But when it consumes our focus, we have lost focus.

Eighth, Christian persuasion welcomes honesty and at times silence.  These two factors in human communication can have tremendous force in getting at the truth.  In the West we tend to applaud honesty but abhor silence because it threatens our sense of “control” our sense of “stability” when neither obtain.

Ninth, Christian persuasion is sourced and grounded in the Cross of Christ not sophistry.  The temptation to want to “out-sophisticate” our opponents with arguments without ever bringing in the meaning of the Cross must be avoided because believers are called to make disciples of the nations, not theists.

Tenth, Christian persuasion makes much of God and humbles man.  The Gospel indeed crushes human pride for Christ alone is the answer to our sinful plight.  We bring nothing to the table but a broken and shattered life which needs to be mended in order to flourish.  The only physician fit for such a task is the Great Physician Christ Jesus.

Eleventh, Christian persuasion uses both books but ultimately submits to God’s incarnate word.  Both General revelation (the knowledge of God through nature) and Particular revelation (the redemptive knowledge of God through Christ in Scripture) are the means used to communicate the Gospel.  But the Particular revelation of God through Christ is ultimate and must be our last word since it is God’s last word (Heb.1:1-3).

Twelfth, Christian persuasion aims for repentance which leads to real conversion.  A prayer does not save a person, Christ does.  Consistent with the preaching of the apostles in Acts, the hearers of the Gospel must be confronted with Christ’s demand to repent and believe in the resurrected Lord who bids us all  to come and lay down our lives for the cause of the kingdom and ultimately the King.

Thirteenth, Christian persuasion must be enveloped by love which grounds the previous points.  This love is costly but gives life to those who receive the message.  “The one who does not love”, the apostle John wrote, “does not know God for God is love”

Reflections From ACTS 25-26: “PAUL’S DEFENSE BEFORE RULERS INCLUDES PERSONAL TESTIMONY & OBJECTIVE FULFILLED PROPHECY”

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Paul continues his witness of Christ by making a defense of the Gospel through answering and setting straight the false charges that have been raised against him.  He describes his life before conversion, the Damascus road experience and the fulfillment of the Prophets and Moses’ words in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This is instructive because he not only gives his personal testimony but also points to the objective reality of fulfilled prophecy as an apologetic.  So both his life and God’s promise fulfilled anchor his approach, not either/or.  I stress this point because some within evangelical circles argue that the only thing needed to reach people is our testimony, not some defense like a lawyer performs in a court of law.  Scripture just doesn’t support this notion nor should we.

After much of Paul’s account before Festus and Agrippa, the king says:

“In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian” (26:28)

Paul responded:

“I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains.” (26:29)

Hear Paul’s heart; he longs to see the lost rescued through the only available means—repentance and faith in Jesus Christ of Nazareth.  After hearing Paul’s testimony it was obvious to Festus and King Agrippa that Paul was innocent of charges hurled against him (26:30-32).

The apostle here is experiencing the joy of witnessing for Christ through false accusations as Jesus promised would occur for believers (Mt.5: 10-12).  It seems that this turn of events constantly repeated itself in the book of Acts.  The fact is that the word of the Gospel is an offense to those who are perishing; it’s a stench in their nostrils.

This word rescues sinners and often kills its messengers.  Let me repeat that; this word of the Gospel rescues sinners and often kills its messengers.  This seems to be the norm in the early church and to this day in many regions of the globe Christ’s messengers are murdered because of the word of the Lord.

What ought we to do as disciples?  Cower and disobey or follow the Master wherever He may lead us, not loving our lives even unto death?  The rhetorical here is unnerving and oh God strengthen the feeble to follow no matter what!

(SDG)

Reflections From ACTS 21-22: “PAUL’S TRIALS AND DEFENSE ARE APPOINTED BY GOD”

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These two chapters show Paul traveling by boat to many places, the brothers begging him not to venture to Jerusalem for fear of the Jews and their wicked schemes for him, Agabus confirming through prophecy Paul would be in chains which was fulfilled as the apostle made his defense of the Gospel before the Jews.  As Paul recalls his conversion story the term “appointment” caught my attention.

In 22:10 the text reads: “Get up and go into Damascus and there you will be told of all that has been appointed for you to do.”  And again in 22:14 the scripture says: “…The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will and to see the Righteous One and to hear an utterance from His mouth.”  I’m arrested by this term because appointments are usually deliberations of time between two parties (E.g., I make an appointment with my doctor for a check-up on Monday 10am).  Now these appointments can be changed, delayed or cancelled.  But in Paul’s case, God did not deliberate with him.  Instead, God set the time, day and place where Paul would be converted for the purpose of being God’s useful chosen instrument.  Included in Paul’s calling were the marks of Christ on his body and imprisonment.  Yet, Paul’s chains could not chain the word of God he preached which unchained the captives who received the message.

May Paul’s life and message be ever more evident in our lives.

(SDG)

Reflections From ACTS 20: “PAUL’S PASSION AND TENDERNESS IS REVEALED IN HIS EXHORTATION TO THE EPHESIAN ELDERS”

 25980b6d3ee8407a75ce76f8a9085b80This chapter follows a tumultuous account of persecution arising from the idol of greed and the idol that is “nothing” which is exposed.  Now, he is seen ministering but with haste.  It’s as if Paul knew time was expiring in his life and those to whom he ministered.  To illustrate the point, he teaches/preaches/talked for so long on one occasion that a young man (Eutychus) fell asleep and plundered to his death three stories down while Paul was ministering in Troas (Vv.7-12).  Nevertheless, Paul raised him from the dead and greatly comforted the boys loved ones.

I must mention that Paul also greatly exhorted the Macedonian disciples and those present in the uproar (Vv.1-2).  He probably reminded them that persecution accompanies the preaching of the gospel word, yet a better reward awaits the faithful in the next life.  I say this because Jesus always reminded his disciples of the reward that awaits those who are persecuted for his name’s sake (Mt.5:10-12).  Again, the plot by the Jews against Paul must have been unnerving to the apostle but this was to fulfill Jesus’ words “He is a chosen vessel of mine to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel, for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake” (9:15-16).

Paul’s suffering resulted from his obedience to the word of the Lord, not in spite of it.  This grace of God in Paul humbles me because in order to walk in God’s grace it will often be accompanied by opposition—vehement—rivals will arise!

Before the Ephesian elders, Paul now enumerates his many accomplishments that are impressive.  First, Paul faithfully and humbly served Christ with tears and trials from the Jews (Vv.18-19).  His ministry was forged in the crucible of obedience.  His enemies and that of the Gospels (I.e., the religious establishment) were the primary means for said opposition.  This is instructive because often, not always, those who hinder the Gospel ministry from flourishing are not pagan non-believers but religious non-believers.

Second, Paul’s opposition and the “octagons” in which they manifested demonstrate his courage and resolve to speak the truth for his hearers profit even if it cost him dearly.  This speech was done publicly and privately to both Jews and Gentiles whose content was: “repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ”.  The man Christ Jesus and the message of the Gospel were the cause of Paul’s deep pain and sufferings.  Mine tend to be because of my sin and disobedience, but sometimes they are a result of what Paul experienced (I.e., suffered because of the Gospel).

 Third, Paul knew that wherever he went, hardships would meet him because of the Gospel; that is “bonds and afflictions await me” (Vv.22-23).  To know that afflictions await you wherever you go with the message of redemption must have been a badge of honor on the one hand (E.g., martyrs receive a more honorable resurrection), but on the other hand it must have been very difficult psychologically and physically.  What would I do if placed in similar situations?  Short question, multifaceted ways of answering it, but assuredly, without God’s grace I could not do it.

Fourth, Paul’s resolve was so singularly kingdom oriented that hardships did not deter him from that goal:

“But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.”(V.24)  

 Years ago this was the text I used as a guide when I planted a Hispanic Church.  It’s now a distant memory but to this day I ask myself, “Did you stay the course and complete what Christ put before you Sergio?”  Did I stay my course; perhaps not, perhaps not.  Nevertheless, Paul’s single-mindedness kept him on track in spite of the hardships.

Fifth, Paul not only reminds them they will never see his face again, but he affirms his innocence of any blood shed:

 “Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. 27 For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God.”   (Vv.26-27)

This is a bold statement considering Acts 7-9 where he’s clearly the cause for putting to death many believers.  Yet, part of God’s purpose is to rescue hell bent sinners and declare them just before the throne of God because of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross!  This is where God’s mercy and justice kiss and because of this amazing Gospel, Paul can declare his innocence (C.f., 1 Tim:1).  This message was not only intellectually rigorous (See all of Romans) but practically transforming.  That’s robust “religion”!

Sixth, Paul assures them that this Gospel must be protected by faithful men against false teachers that will arise from their ranks.  How?  They must guard their own lives and that of the flocks by shepherding the flock of God which God purchased with his own blood. (V.28, 29-30).  Too many believers (leaders, pastors) naively think this does not include part of what it means to shepherd God’s flock, but it’s an intricate part of love’s demonstration.

Spiritual warfare is fought through argumentation 2 Corinthians 2 and through intercession Ephesians 6.  Jesus, the apostles, and especially Paul knew this, lived it and thus saw much fruit with persecutions.  If Pastoral leadership in the 21st century is to be faithful to the Chief Shepherd, then engaging both fronts of warfare will be the focus of ministry.

Seventh, Paul reminds them of his manner of life and ministry (Vv.31-35).  I think he does this because he is one worthy to be emulated by God’s grace.  This is not boasting in his accomplishments (Read his letters) because Paul knew intellectually and experientially that anything good in him was sourced in God alone ultimately, not in human effort.  He’s boasting in the Lord.  If we were to do that today, we’d probably be called egotistical, arrogant, prideful, but not humble.  Paul is humbly telling the elders to imitate him—because it’s Christ in him doing the work they witnessed.

Eighth, Paul concludes his address with prayer.  As always, his life of word and prayer (modeled by Jesus) can’t be separated from a faithful account of Paul because these two aspects demonstrated his ultimate dependence on God.  This is followed by loud weeping and repeated kissing of Paul to the elders.  They grieved because they knew they’d never see their beloved Paul again (Vv.36-38).  This is very intimate moment and for many westerners too “touchy-feely” but let’s face it, this is genuine love being expressed—very moving.

Conclusion: Paul loved God and others, his is a testament to this fact and said love for God was birthed and continuously stoked by the gospel and prayer which worked itself out in love for others.  What of my life and yours friend?  God helps us be more like Paul in word and deed.  In our brokenness teach us to trust You, in our joy teach us to thank You, and in our calling(s) empower us to follow You wherever Lord you lead us.

(SDG)

Reflections From ACTS 18: “PAUL & APOLLOS MODEL WHAT GOSPEL PROCLAMATION LOOKS LIKE”

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For quite some time Luke has been accentuating the message and methods the early church used in their preaching.  They based their message of Jesus as the Messiah on the resurrection of Christ from the dead and thus repentance for the forgiveness of sins was the only proper response to said news.

Concerning their method of preaching, their goal was to persuade the hearers through reasoning (Vv.4-5).  Paul’s concern was to continually teach God’s word (V.11).  He was convinced that the message of salvation had to be presented through teaching, preaching, reasoning, and persuading the hearer with God’s word.  Should our aim be anything less?

Consider Apollos, he was both eloquent and mighty in the Scriptures, fervent in spirit publicly refuting the Jews from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ (Vv.24-28).  Luke wants the reader to note the hard work that’s required in order to persuade people to believe.  Sometimes this occurs through acts of power where the Lord opens a door for proclamation, but more often than not, it’s through the custom of meeting where worship occurs (E.g., the Synagogue) and then the opportunity for proclamation presents itself.

LORD, help your ministers be word centered, help them follow Paul and Apollos’ example rather than a 21st century business model to gather hearers, may they emulate this apostolic model of teaching, preaching, reasoning, and persuading with the Scriptures that Jesus is the risen Christ from the dead.

(SDG)

The State of The Church in America: According To the Barna Report

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Do you care about discipleship and following the Master?  Then read my friends piece on the State of the Church in America.  According to the “Barna Group” the “Seeker Sensitive Movement” has failed.  Check out the site below.  It’s worth the read.

http://notforitchingears.com/2010/12/26/george-barna-the-seeker-sensitive-church-model-dumbing-down-disciples/?contact-form-id=579&contact-form-sent=42650&_wpnonce=8ce14b0b37#contact-form-579