In the 1980s, the denomination I served encouraged me to attend a conference on evangelism presented by Evangelism Explosion (known familiarly as EE). This enormously popular approach to personal evangelism was pioneered in the 1960s by D. James Kennedy, the pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, and was and is used throughout the world.
It was hard for a shy introvert like me to strike up conversations with people I didn’t know. It was even harder to strike up conversations about spiritual matters with people I assumed didn’t care. EE was designed to help people start and guide conversations to a particular end: the acceptance of receive Jesus Christ as one’s personal Savior.
At the EE conference, attendees were taught to ask people two questions, designed to coordinate with one another, and both including the prepositional phrase, “if you were to die tonight.” Both questions also included the idea of going to heaven.
There were things about the training I appreciated and things that made me uncomfortable. The discomfort came largely from the similarity between the EE program and programs that teach sales techniques. I wasn’t comfortable with the idea that I was selling Jesus the way the kid at the front door sells vacuum cleaners. It seemed to me that, in both cases, the immediate goal was to get the person on the other side of the door to say yes to something they might not really want and probably didn’t understand.
“How y’all doin?”
On a trip to Tennessee and North Carolina, my wife and I heard that line again and again. It reminded me of being in Boston, only there it was “How-ah-ya?” or “How-ya-doin?”
I love languages and dialects and so, while we were in Boston, I told my wife I just had to try “How-ah-ya?” on somebody. It took me awhile to work up the nerve – I was afraid of ruffling some New England feathers – but finally tried it out on a clerk in a store. “How-ah-ya?” I asked. My son, who was living in Boston, said I got it wrong. It sounded like I was from the Bronx.
In North Carolina I never did get up the nerve to try “How y’all doin?” I wasn’t sure what the penalty is for impersonating a Southerner and I didn’t want to find out. I certainly didn’t want people thinking I was making fun of them.
Why should people bother to pray? For many people, both religious and irreligious, this question does not seem to have a satisfactory answer. They still pray when desperate – who doesn’t? – but even then, they can’t see the sense in it. If God already knows everything that is going to happen, if he has already decided what he is going to do, our prayers are irrelevant.
One way Christians have responded to this problem is to say, “We don’t pray to change what is going to happen but to change ourselves,” but this answer seems quite inadequate. If nothing changes because of our prayers, then, perforce, the person praying does not change either. If prayer can change the person praying, then it can change other things too. Continue reading
I still remember where we were when our oldest son took his first steps. He was a year old, give or take a few days. We were in a cabin in northwestern Ontario. Joel had been pulling himself up and standing for a few weeks, but while we were there, he took his first steps. He got one solid step in, followed by a two-step Lindy Hop, and then crashed to the floor.
We all cheered. You’d have thought he’d won the Nobel Prize. Instead, he took three wobbly steps. Three wobbly steps, but full of promise. We knew this was just the beginning.
One can imagine the same scenario with a different outcome. We’re in the cabin. One-year-old Joel is standing up with his hands on the sofa, and I’m urging him to come to me. I say, “Come on, son. You can do it. Come on.” He turns toward me. He lifts and extends his foot. We all hold our breath. He shifts his weight – he’s taken his first step! He then quickly takes another and another, then goes crashing down in a heap.
And that’s when I say: “That’s all you got? What’s the matter with you? I give you a year, and all you can give me is three lousy steps! You are such a disappointment to me.”
Some people think God is like the critical, impossible-to-please me in the second scenario. Continue reading
The “social psychologist James Pennebaker spent years researching the significance of our use of words. With a team of grad students, he developed a sophisticated software program that analyzes what our words say about us. Pennebaker claims that the words we generate over a lifetime are like “fingerprints.” Even small words – what he calls “stealth words,” like pronouns (I, you, we, they) and prepositions (to, for, over) – “broadcast the kind of people we are.”
No wonder Jesus said “that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” Continue reading
These people imagine, to misquote Hanani the seer, that the eyes of the Lord go to and fro throughout the whole earth, seeking to criticize those who don’t do everything perfectly. But the truth lies in the opposite direction. What Hanani really told King Asa was: the eyes of the Lord go to and fro throughout the whole earth, seeking to show himself strong to those who hearts are fully his. Not those who do everything perfectly. God is not looking for opportunities to criticize but to reward. Continue reading
A few of Jesus’s many commands can be kept, even without faith.
For example, no one has ever sued me for my tunic, so Jesus’s command to give such a person my cloak as well has never been a problem for me. However, the
command to stop worrying has been a problem. So has the command to love my
neighbor as myself, to guard against hypocrisy, to get rid of all bitterness, and to do everything without complaining or arguing.
As it stands, it is simply impossible to check off these and
the other New Testament commands in the way one checks off items from a to-do
list. To consistently do these things and, more to the point, to be shaped in heart and mind in such a way that doing these things becomes natural, a person must have faith. This kind of faith is not mental assent to a doctrine, even a
doctrine about God, nor is it a belief that God exists and that everything will work out in the end. It is not that these things are wrong; it is that they are not what Jesus and his early followers meant when they spoke of faith. Continue reading
Hypocrisy and greed are responses to a real problem: fear. Hypocrisy is the pathological response of a malfunctioning soul brought on by the fear of what people think of us. Greed is the response of the soul to the fear of not having enough. Hypocrisy and greed are ways of self-medicating. They alleviate the fear problem … for a while.
But hypocrisy and greed are only temporary fixes; they are stop-gap measures. And, unfortunately, the temporary fix makes the long-term solution less likely. Continue reading
How often we … miss what is happening around us. Because we don’t see it, we think nothing is happening, that God is on break. But Jesus helped us to see that his Father is working all around us, all the time. Continue reading