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.

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 27-28: “PAUL’S JOURNEY AND ARRIVAL AT ROME IS HISTORY, NOT MYTH”

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These two chapters give a detailed explanation of the places, people, and hardships Paul experienced at sea.  For example the destination is Italy (27:2) sailing on an Adramyttian ship along the Asian coast, and the prisoners were to be delivered to a centurion of the Augustan cohort named Julius (27:2).  This ship was accompanied by Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica and Julius it is said let Paul get care (27:3).  Luke is making sure that he leaves a clear “paper trail” of historical details so that this testimony and that of Acts can be verified by many unbiased sources.

The nautical knowledge to me is fascinating, the perils at sea horrific, and the number of passengers aboard the ship (276 persons) all point to a historic event, not a mythological invention (27:37).  As the ship safely arrives in Malta and Paul ministers to the sick, he does so in the open, not behind closed doors (28:1-10).  Paul finally arrives in Rome where he explains among the Jews the reason for his chains, “the hope of Israel” (28:20) and as was his custom, he began preaching Christ from the Law and the Prophets.

The result was a familiar one to Paul; some believed, but others refused to believe.  He thus indicted them from a passage in Isaiah that prophesied Israel’s heart of stone (Is. 28:25-28) and that this message would now go to the Gentiles who will receive it.

POSTSCRIPT:  As I conclude this book of Acts, Luke’s part two, his Gospel being part one, I’m amazed and freshly challenged at the following observations:

First, the historical tenor of this work is daunting.  The names of cities, countries, and people can be mostly verified by extra-biblical sources.  Thus, Luke’s first goal in his Gospel (Lk.1:1-4), and now in Acts of putting forth a historical account of the early churches comings and goings has been accomplished.

Second, the fulfillment of prophecy in the first four chapters especially is stunning and can’t be ignored.  God is faithful to keep his promises and that is why both Jew and Gentile received the Gospel.

Third, the source of fulfilled prophecy comes from the Jews, from the Law and the Prophets.  This Gospel is not new but was part of God’s eternal plan and its verification seen in the life of Christ, the promised Messiah.

Fourth, the fulfilled word was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon all flesh.  The Jewish nation was not the only people in God’s purview, but all the nations.  This is something the apostle Peter and others needed to understand which often eluded them and sadly eludes us also.

Fifth, the core message of the Gospel is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and repentant sinners can be rescued from Gods just wrath freely because Christ paid for their redemption.

Sixth, the message while free and liberating to those who receive it, is costly to live and to preach evidenced in the varied trials the apostles endured (E.g., stoning, imprisonment, reasoning and argumentation, persuasion, theological disputes, etc.).

Seventh, the manner in which the message was preached was through reasoning, argumentation and persuasion.  This was often, but not always, accompanied by acts of power where healings, exorcisms and raising corpses from the dead obtained accompanied by persecutions.

Eighth, the message was culturally conditioned.   When Jews were present persuasion occurred by appealing to the Law of Moses and the Prophets.  When Greeks were present, their writings and general revelation were used to get to the Gospel message.  Lesson: the Gospel message must be adapted to the audience in order to be clear and persuade.     

            Ninth, Saul’s conversion was massive.  Through it God’s purposes to reach the Gentiles and the issue of Jewish-ness brought about much conflict within the church (E.g., Jerusalem Council).  I don’t think Westerners appreciate this aspect of God’s providence nearly enough.

Tenth, and so much more can be said, but to me is how much Jesus loves his church that through the crucible of affliction the word was, is and will always be central to rescue sinners and justly punish the wicked—all to the glory of God.  Let God be true and every man a liar:

“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? 35 Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.” (Rom.11:33-36)

May the Church today in our milieu shine the light of the glorious Gospel so that many more might come into the kingdom that alone is without end.

(SDG)              

Reflections From ACTS 19: “THE WORD BRINGS LIBERTY BUT WITH IT OPPOSITION” PART 1

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As Paul’s travels ensue so do the varied ways in which God confirms the word with both liberating acts of power and great opposition to what is preached.  In Ephesus Paul explains to the disciples there that John’s baptism was one of repentance to believe in the coming one who was Jesus, but when they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus the text says:

“And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying.” (V.6)

In the beginning here there’s a place for further clarification of the fulfillment of Scripture.  Namely, the Holy Spirit has been poured out for both Jews and Gentiles to receive.  Now in this section when the men received the Holy Spirit it was evidenced by their speaking in tongues—a super natural gift of speech unknown to the speakers; and they also prophesied—a super natural utterance whose purposed is to edify those hearing.

We’re not given much more details here, yet the question remains as to whether or not tongues and prophecy always accompany those who are filled with the Holy Spirit.  Is this instance and others in Acts something we should always be expecting?  Some believers today would say yes and thus whole denominations have been spawned (E.g., Pentecostal and Charismatic persuasions) from the understanding that tongues and prophecy are to be expected as the evidence for the Spirit’s manifestation.

Nevertheless, Luke continues his emphasis on Paul’s manner of preaching and teaching which were supported by reasoning and persuading (V.8).  Paul eventually started a school in Tyrannus that lasted two years with the purpose of training the disciples in the word of the Lord.  Make no mistake about it, Paul, like Jesus, gave primacy to teaching the Scriptures and to veer off that path does not produce Disciples of Christ, but eventually yields disciples of men.

(SDG)