5 Ways To Cultivate Spiritual Conversations

21 11 2017

*This is adapted from the book God Space by Doug Pollock, which I highly recommend!

spiritualconversationsIt should be shocking to us, as followers of Christ, how few Christians are actively sharing their faith. We are commanded by our Master and Commander, Jesus, to make disciples, yet how many of us have made a disciple recently? When was the last time you even had a spiritual conversation and planted a seed with someone who is lost? For that matter, how many lost people do you know and consider friends?

These are difficult questions because at their root they expose us as disobedient children. It might even be said that this chronic disobedience could be an indicator that we are not a follower of Jesus after all. When there is a blatant disregard for the command of Jesus, it might be safe to assume that he is not our Commander.

I have come to realize, though, that there are many believers who simply and truly do not understand how to share the good news. Gone are the days of personal evangelism training in churches, not that these were that effective. The majority of them were geared towards getting a Christian to cold call a total stranger and share the complete gospel with them in one sitting! Very few people desire to do that or are good at that, and there is not a lot scripture that indicates the apostles or Jesus went around knocking on doors and sharing a set of memorized questions. This is why most of these trainings faded over the course of a few months.

I believe there are, also, many believers who cannot even express the gospel in a coherent form or share an effective personal testimony.

Aside from all of these things, there is even a lack of ability to start and facilitate a simple spiritual conversation. I think it would amaze believers if they could just get a spiritual conversation going how the Holy Spirit would jump in and help them know what to say (this is scriptural). Many believers will go an entire day, week, or even month without talking to any lost person, much less engage a lost person in a spiritual topic. My goal is to give you some tips on how you can get a spiritual conversation started with a lost person. There is no memorizing here, just a simple art form that anyone can learn and God can use to great effect.

5 Ways To Cultivate Spiritual Conversations

Praying
I know this sounds like a no-brainer, but how many times do you pray before you head into the gym or enter a restaurant that God would give you the opportunity to speak with someone that needs to hear the gospel? In your personal prayer time, do you spend more time praying for yourself and sick people than lost people? Obviously, praying for God to intervene and provide you with opportunities is hugely important, but secondarily it helps us to be more intentional. If you pray that God would help you to have a spiritual conversation, you are going to be more on the lookout for that conversation.

Noticing
This is all about being intentional in every circumstance. When a waitress comes to take your order, do you simply order your meal or do you notice her name and maybe even her countenance? When going through the line at the grocery store, do you notice that the cashier might be down? When talking to co-workers that you have known for years, are you really noticing what they are saying? Proverbs 20:5 says, “The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.” You may think you know someone, but take the time to intentionally notice them from a spiritual point of view. When you notice something, ask about it. Draw out those deep waters. You never know how God might use you to change someone’s life from simply taking the time to notice them.

Serving
This is something that anyone can do but involves a little planning beforehand. Plus, this can include a million things, like mowing your neighbor’s lawn, giving a friend their favorite candy bar, buying a stranger’s lunch, taking a plate of cookies to your neighbors, etc. The key here is waiting for them to pop the magic question… Why? When someone asks you why you are serving them, this gives you permission to jump into a spiritual conversation. You can simply say, “I love Jesus, and I wanted to show you that Jesus loves you in a practical way,” or “I’m a follower of Jesus, and I simply want to be kind in small ways as he has been kind to me.” Anything like this can get a conversation going.

Listening
If you read the gospels, you find that Jesus asked a lot of questions. By asking questions, he made people face the hard truth about their lives and talk it out for themselves rather than just give them a simple answer. If there is anything that Christians need to learn today, it’s how to ask good questions and just be quiet and listen. Listening is certainly a lost art form. Our tendency seems to be talking and then only hearing what we want to hear. When having a spiritual conversation with someone who is far from God we must be willing let them have their say and not get offended. We need to listen with compassion and be able to see through the barbs that are only intended to get a rise out of us. When we don’t respond negatively, we become a safe person – someone that they can trust. This keeps the door open for more conversations and eventually the sharing of the gospel.

Wondering
This is a fantastic way to engage people in spiritual conversations without being threatening at all. It involves asking a “wondering” question based on what you have been hearing. So the first step in wondering is good listening. When you hear something that sparks your curiosity, wonder about it. For example, you and a co-worker are talking about the latest political news, and they make a statement about Planned Parenthood. You could wonder by saying, “I wonder if there is a supreme being in the universe that created us, what he would think about abortion?” Do you see how this is much less threatening than just simply stating your view and walking off mad? It opens up the topic to more dialogue but gently shifts it to spiritual matters. By wondering with them, you have also become a sojourner with them, not an antagonist.

Conclusion

I hope you can see that these 5 simple things are not difficult to do to get into spiritual conversations that could possibly lead to the salvation of one who is lost. The one thing that is going to trip most people up is when we don’t intentionally do any of these things, and they just get relegated to more Christian stuff that we know but don’t practice. We have to make ourselves begin to practice these things. It’s just like anything else where we have to make ourselves do the right things at first, but eventually they come naturally to us.





Go, Unless It’s Dangerous

8 05 2017

dangerous

In Revelation 22:18, we are warned not to add anything to the scriptures, but many Christians, by their actions, have added a parenthetical statement to the Great Commission. We will go and make disciples of all nations, if it is not dangerous.

Every year our church sends 300+ people on mission trips all over the world. One of our longest-running partnerships is with a fantastic orphanage in Honduras, and the perception of this particular trip is that it is perfectly safe. We also send people to countries in Central and South Asia where persecution of believers is happening, and these countries always strike more fear with our people. The funny thing is that out of all the countries we go to, Honduras is only one of two countries that have a specific State Department warning against traveling there. The reason Honduras is perceived as safe is because it does not make the nightly news. The truth is that Honduras has one of the highest murder rates in the world, and kidnapping of Westerners increases every year. Crime like this does not make the headlines. Terrorism is the popular news item of the day, and by its nature terrorism affects a very small amount of people in order to scare the masses. For many Christians, the terrorists have won. Before we took our very first trip to a country in Central Asia, Osama Bin Ladin was killed. Many people called the church telling us that we should cancel the trip. The country we were going to was not even near where this occurred. For many Christians, terrorists and fear are the determining factors on whether or not to follow the commands of Jesus.

It always surprises me that parents will worry to death about sending their students on an international trip to a very safe location, but they will not hesitate to go on a family vacation to a large city in the US. Some of the most dangerous cities in the world are found within our borders and are major tourist destinations. As a matter of fact, some of the international places we go to have lower rates of crime in the entire country than some individual cities in the US.

The point is that there is inherent risk in traveling anywhere. Going and making disciples of all people groups is inherently risky and could be dangerous. This, however, does not negate the command of Jesus. In the very same breath (one verse later in Matthew 28:20) Jesus gave us the promise of His presence. In the comfort of that Presence, there is no space for fear! Knowing that Jesus was with them, even through the most dangerous circumstances, the disciples and millions of known and unknown followers of Jesus after them charged the front lines without regard for their own safety so that the vast numbers of lost might hear of the grace of Jesus Christ. The question is simply, will we fearfully stay in disobedience or courageously go as light piercing the dark?





Persecution in America

6 10 2015

persecutionMy eager expectation and hope is that I will not be ashamed about anything, but that now as always, with all boldness, Christ will be highly honored in my body, whether by life or by death.
Philippians 1:20

In this passage of scripture, Paul is writing from prison. He has been imprisoned because of his faith in Christ. His prayer is simply that no matter what happens, Christ would be glorified, whether he lives through this persecution or he is killed. Death is a reality that he is facing as he writes this letter.

In recent years, there have been numerous Christians talking and writing about increased persecution of Christians in America. Certainly there have been instances where Christian people or businesses have been targeted expressly because they hold a Biblical worldview, but the vast majority of these do not end up in prison or dead. We have all been following the news about the mass shooting that happened in a small college in Oregon. It has been reported that the gunman was targeting Christians. There have been in the recent past other such shootings with similar stories of Christians being targeted and killed, but, not to minimize these tragedies, these events are not the norm and are usually carried out by mentally unstable people. In America today there is no widespread, systematic persecution of Christians going on where the end result is imprisonment, death, or banishment.

To say that we, as American believers, are persecuted is an insult to the many Christians that face hatred, discrimination, death, torture and imprisonment in other parts of the world simply because they have chosen to follow Jesus. Instead of crying foul at the media, sharing alarmist articles on social media, and wishing for the good ole’ days, we should be taking advantage of the unprecedented freedom that we have to share the gospel not just in our country, but in most places on the planet. The fact of the matter is that I could go out on our streets right now, share the gospel with someone, and see them become a Jesus-follower, and neither of us is going to face prison, torture, or death. If it ever comes to that, then we can start calling it persecution.

In the end, though, persecution does not matter, because all that matters is that God receives the glory. If I live in a country where persecution is the norm, then by my imprisonment, torture, and death I should see that God is glorified. If I live in America where I can share openly and freely, then by my life I should see that God is glorified.

May Paul’s prayer be our prayer! We need to quit worrying about this fallen world. God will take care of that. It should be no surprise that this country is going the direction it is going, yet we act shocked when a sinful people actually sin. We have been called to see that God receives all glory, and by His plan we are to do that by making disciples of all people groups. Paul could have easily languished in prison feeling sorry for himself. Instead he boldly witnessed so much that it could be said that the entire Imperial Roman Guard knew that he was imprisoned because of his faith in Christ. God, please, give us that same expectation and hope!





Local Missions Challenge

2 10 2015

localmissions

I have recently been taking people in our church through a mental exercise that seems simple at first, but eventually really challenges our assumptions about missions, especially local missions. I will start out explaining to the group that we have all been called to move overseas to work with an unreached tribe. I then ask them to begin listing all of the things that we need to do to reach that tribe for Christ. This is very simple as we list things such as church planter training, language and culture acquisition, moving there, building relationships with people, sharing the gospel, etc. It seems that many people understand the concept of missions when we are talking about a foreign place or even simply moving to another town. The trick is when I turn the conversation into how do we go about doing missions locally where we live. Minds begin to blow up at this point.

We have been trained that missions is really done by a specially called and trained minority of Christians that move somewhere to do it full-time. When asked about what we can do locally to reach people, we usually think of one-shot good deeds, like feeding the homeless. Missions is easy if all we have to do is go to a particular place one Saturday morning and hand out some food, but is that really missions? We have already seen what missions looks like when a missionary moves to another country. We understand that! So, the question is… Why is it so hard to transfer our strategy for reaching an unreached tribe to reaching the homeless that live in our home town? I think the answer is that we do not see ourselves as missionaries. It is easier to go do a good deed on Saturday morning, feel good about ourselves, and make it back in time for the good football games.

I believe that we all need to shift our thinking towards the fact that Jesus’ commands were not for a spiritually elite, but were for all to obey. We must learn to see ourselves as missionaries where we live. The goal of any missionary is to see a reproducing, indigenous church. The goal should be the same for a believer working with the homeless in their home town. We need to ask greater questions than just… How do I get someone’s belly full for a day? We need to be asking questions such as… How do we most effectively share the gospel with the homeless? How do we make them disciples? We need to apply the same strategies used in reaching an unreached tribe to reach the homeless, such as… getting trained, learning the culture and language, moving there, building relationships, sharing the gospel, etc.

The realization that I am a missionary changes everything. It changes how I view my work or vocation. It changes how I interact with my neighbors. If I truly am a missionary, God has sent me into the neighborhood in which I currently live. The easy part is that you already know the culture and language. That takes foreign missionaries years to acquire. Maybe you just need some training, and you definitely need to introduce some intentionality into your missionary living. As a missionary, you can no longer just let your kids sign up and play soccer. You now must understand that in God’s sovereignty He has placed your child on that particular team, because He wants you around those particular parents in order for you to be His ambassador of reconciliation. You must also train your children in the Lord by teaching them that God has placed them as a missionary on that team. I hope you see how powerful this change or shift in perception is. I believe that if just a small fraction of believers would understand and implement this lifestyle, it would change our city.





The End

28 09 2015

theendAnd this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
Matthew 24:14 ESV

Last night, many of you went out to see the lunar eclipse take place. In our area, it was a beautiful night to do so. My family had to pick me up late at the airport, and on the way home we stopped in a big, dark parking lot to enjoy the view. It is always funny how events like this get Christians stirred up about end time prophecy. Many church-goers love to talk and debate about when the end will come and what it will be like. I saw multiple shares on Facebook this last week concerning these topics. Pastors love to preach through the book of Revelation, because it gets people to come to church. The problem with most talking and preaching on this subject is that it is pure speculation. I remember when I was in high school that we had a guest preacher come and talk about how Jesus was going to return in 1996. He had all kinds of Biblical “proof.”

I am all for reading the book of Revelation! John, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote that we are blessed if we read it (Revelation 1:3), but we have to be careful when interpreting the meaning of John’s apocalyptic language. I believe that Jesus gave us this book to give us hope, not information about how things are going to exactly play out.

The funny thing is that when talking about end time prophecy, most people do not talk about the most definitive statement on Jesus’ return ever. Plus, this statement came from Jesus himself. In Matthew 24, Jesus’ disciples have come to him and have asked him the same question that we want to know: When will the end take place? Jesus proceeds to tell them about things to watch out for, including wars, famines, earthquakes, and false teachers. Jesus then says that at some point the gospel will be preached all over the world as a witness to every ethnic group. When enough people from every ethnic group on earth receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior, Jesus says very plainly, “…and then the end will come.” The end of the age is not contingent upon a lunar eclipse or a certain country invading another or the increase of evil. These are signs that the end is coming, but the end itself will only take place when the Great Commission is completed. This is further confirmed in Revelation 7:9 when John looks and sees a multitude from every ethnic group worshipping the Lamb.

The exciting part about all of this is that we have never been so close. With a concerted effort the Church could possibly get missionaries to every ethnic group within a short time span. That effort is underway but needs more help and finances. As Christians, if we truly long for the return of Jesus, we would be doing all we can to fulfill the Great Commission. How awesome would it be to be apart of the generation that got to usher in the return of Jesus!

I believe that God has given our generation the ability and the potential to finish His task of getting the gospel to every ethnic group, but it will take each of us as individuals to come under His Lordship and follow Him with utter abandon to the uttermost parts of the world. Let events like last night’s lunar eclipse or the world news spur us on to get the gospel to unreached people groups, because it is only then that the end will come.





Let It Be Said of Me

6 08 2014

doc
On July 28th at about 10am my family and I were driving to Moab to go see Arches National Park when I received an email saying that Charles Whitlow had passed away. It was not a complete shock as he had been battling cancer for quite a while, but I don’t think anyone is ever truly ready for the inevitable. For as far back as my memory takes me, I remember Doc being in church and always coming or going on some mission trip. Little did I know, at the time, what an impact he would have on my life. Doc was one of the strong influences on my life for stepping into the Great Story of God and following the command of Jesus to go and make disciples of all nations. He was on my first trip to Tanzania. It was on that trip that I called Jennifer to tell her that this is where we are moving. I will never forget the last words that Doc and I shared in the lobby at church before I was to leave on another mission trip just a few weeks before he passed away. As we both cried, he hugged me and talked about how moving it was to see all of the people going out into the mission field from our church. Doc’s legacy is a huge part of why the flame of missions burns so brightly in Grand and in my life.

I went to Doc’s funeral just this past Monday. I actually brought my boys to this funeral, because I knew it was going to be different. Doc certainly did not disappoint. Passed out at the doors was an insert of words that Doc wanted to leave people with, and those words spoke boldly of the love of Jesus being the fuel for mission’s flame. His youngest, Stuart Whitlow, shared the funeral message and did a masterful job of not only honoring the man but honoring his God above all. He spoke of how his Dad was compelled to go, not just for the sake of going, but because of his passionate love for his Savior, Jesus Christ. He concluded his funeral message with the words that you would best honor Doc by going.

On that long road through the high desert of Southern Utah, I remember thinking about funerals in general. Most funerals typically make people think about their eternal destination, and rightly so! But I knew that Doc’s funeral was going to go farther. Doc’s life challenged believers not only to look forward to eternity with God in Heaven, but challenged them further to do the impossible for God while still in these mortal bodies. Jesus did not die on a cross for me so that I could just enjoy eternal security. He died and was raised to life so that I could be apart of His plan to redeem a lost world. Doc lived that life to the fullest, and I know he has now reaped the rewards of his service.

That is the funeral I want. When I die, I want people to be challenged to go. I want revival to come from my death if it will not come from my life. Whatever, whether in life or death, let it be said of me that I gave all for my Savior who gave His all for me.





The Joy of Missions

19 02 2014

joyofmissions18 yet I will triumph in Yahweh;
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation!
19 Yahweh my Lord is my strength;
He makes my feet like those of a deer
and enables me to walk on mountain heights!
Habakkuk 3:18-19

One of my favorite books of all time is Hinds Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard. This Christian classic is an allegory that is based around a girl named Much-Afraid who decides to give her life to and follow the Chief Shepherd with the hope of one day running on the mountains, even though now she is crippled. At the end of this tale, she is transformed in the beautiful Grace & Glory and is able to walk on the mountain heights. As she enjoys her time in the Kingdom of the Chief Shepherd, she finds herself looking back down into the Valley of Humiliation where she had come so long ago and feeling love for the very people who tormented her before. One of the last scenes in the book is of Grace & Glory running down the mountains with her head thrown back laughing, ready to share the love of the Chief Shepherd with those who need to hear and experience that love.

Most of the best times of my life were while participating in the sending of God. I will never forget the times of worshipping in a mud hut with my Tanzanian friends with nothing but a plastic bucket and a stick for accompaniment. I will never forget laughing over a game of Settlers of Catan with my friends in Central Asia. I will never forget bringing rice to a hungry village on the backwaters of the Amazon River, or eating hamburgers with college students in Anchorage, or hugging the kids at Orphanage Emmanuel. This is the throwing back of the head and laughing while running down the mountain in total abandonment to the will of God. There is no greater joy!

We were created to glorify God, and in that glorifying we experience the greatest joy. Jesus has given us the mandate to go into all the world as the way in which we glorify God, and so it is in the going that we experience our greatest joy. Church members everywhere miss out on the greatest joy of their life, because they think they are fine by just attending church, fellowshipping with other believers, reading the Bible, and listening to Christian music. These are not bad things by any means, but they are incomplete without us working towards fulfilling the mission of God. We so often waste our lives on things that might make us happy in the moment, but will never bring us the greatest enjoyment. John Piper once said, “If you live gladly to make others glad in God, your life will be hard, your risks will be high, and your joy will be full.”

Determine this day that you will seek the greatest joy by participating in the great mission of God.








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