Not Wasting Time with Dishonest Seekers
During the last 44 years I’ve spoken with many men and women who did not understand much about God or His word. Most of them came to me with inquisitive hearts, honestly seeking answers to their questions. I always answered as best I could, while considering my own continuing journey to know more about Him. But there were also those who, like the Pharisees who came to Jesus trying to trap Him in some statement (Mark 12:13), or the Samaritan woman who at first wanted only to challenge Him (John 4:9-26), there were those who did not want to know truth, but instead wanted to justify their lifestyles or simply engage in an intellectual discussion for the sake only of entertainment.
In my earlier days as a Christian, wanting so much to share with others what I’d discovered about God, I made the mistake to argue. I should have taken my cue instead from Scripture and avoided such useless discussions. For example, St. Paul wrote, “Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned” (Titus 3:10-11). And Jesus said, “do not throw your pearls before swine, lest the trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” (Matthew 7:6)
I wish I had learned in those days what St. Bernadette knew: Our job is to inform, not to convince. It is, of course, only the Holy Spirit who can convince someone of “sin, righteousness, and judgment” (John 16:8). Our job is to simply tell others what the Book says.
So I’ve recently changed my approach. When someone is honestly confused about Scripture and is seeking truth, I will explain what I know to the best of my current knowledge. But when I now suspect someone is simply looking to justify his or her sin-laden lifestyle, or to argue a point just to argue, I will give them an assignment to test their sincerity. If they are honest in their search for truth, they will take on the task. If they are not, they will brush off the assignment and we will have both saved ourselves from wasting time. Here is what I tell them about the assignment:
"If you really want to know truth, then go to the One who is truth and read what He said. Read the New Testament. Even if you have read the Bible in the past, please do so again. Two chapters a day will finish the New Testament in less than four months."
"Use a good modern translation, preferably one without editorial commentary in the page margins. The New American Bible (Catholic Edition), the New King James Version, the New American Standard Version, or the New Revised Standard Version (Anglican or Catholic editions) are some of the high quality translations available. Start at Matthew’s gospel and continue reading a couple of chapters a day until you finish Revelation. Keep a journal and each day write what you have learned, or what questions come to mind. Send me weekly updates on your progress so we can talk each week about what you are learning."
I tell them when they finish the New Testament, we will sit and talk about any other questions they might have that still trouble them. We will talk for as long as necessary – months, if necessary.
I assign the New Testament not because I consider the Old of little value; On the contrary, one cannot fully understand the New Testament without a fluent familiarity of the Old Testament. As St. Augustine wrote: The New Testament is concealed in the Old, and the Old Testament is revealed in the New. But the questions most people ask are more readily answered through the pages of the New Testament.
My God has done so much for me that I yearn to tell others of His great love and promises. But the older I get, the more I realize time is too short and too precious to waste discussing truth with those who are not really interested in more than sound-bites. Those who play theological games with God ought to be wary, for God is not mocked (Galatians 6:7). But to those who seek Him with an honest heart, caring not about the cost, God says, You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:13).
Tuesday, January 17, 2017
“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32)
Satan is on a search-and-destroy mission. And his primary target is the church leadership team. If he can destroy your bishop’s testimony, or your pastor’s, the catechist, or the choir director, the collateral damage to the average pew-sitter is usually devastating.
Of course, even those who do nothing more than sit in the pew each Sunday are not safe from the devil’s stratagem. Every Christian, even the laity, has a bull’s-eye painted on his or her soul. If the devil can destroy any Christian’s testimony, then think of the collateral damage he causes in the person’s family, among friends, co-workers, and neighbors.
Anyone who walks close to Jesus knows that the days in which we live are evil. A deeply visceral, spiritual darkness has spread across our world like a rancid shroud. That’s why every Christian must remember, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. (2 Corinthians 10:3-4)
Here is what the apostle also wrote to the church at Ephesus: For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. (Ephesians 6:12-13)
I am reminded of Peter’s bravado when speaking to Jesus: Even though all may fall away, yet I will not.” (Mark 14:29) To which Jesus responded: “Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” (verse 30). But Peter protested, this time vehemently: “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” (Verse 31)
Oh, how often have I sounded like Peter! Perhaps you have, too. No wonder the Holy Spirit warns us: So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. (1 Corinthians 10:12)
Any Christian in the pew -- and perhaps especially in leadership -- can weaken, bloodied in the Satanic battle for our souls. The fight is too serious to enter the fray unprepared. It is too deadly to wage on our own. Oh, Holy Spirit! Remind us of that full armor of God (Ephesians 6:14-18). Remind us, Oh, Lord, to daily “pray for one another,” because “the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” (James 5:16)
Oh, Lord, hear our prayers.
My book of prayer strategies, although written specifically for a Catholic audience, has sufficient overlap to other Christian groups to assist your prayer efforts. http://amzn.to/2jltojF
Sunday, January 15, 2017
God does not work according to our time line or our spatial relationships. That demonstrable truth is CRITICAL to our ability to cope with and to manage some of the things we face in our life. I talk about it during my 25-minute message I call: “In His Time” https://youtu.be/CWHn584J2Ko
Tuesday, January 10, 2017
His name is Jonathan. Our meeting this evening at Kroger’s Market is nothing short of God-ordained.
It began earlier today when Nancy returned home from shopping and told me she lost her credit card – probably in the Kroger parking lot. We knew it would be useless to try to find it, so she called the bank and cancelled the card. A few hours later we had dinner, and I decided to take my usual after-dinner walk. We needed butter, so I walked the 15 minutes to the store.
When I arrived, I thought on a whim to ask the woman behind the customer service desk if anyone had turned in a credit card. She told me, “No,” so I thanked her and walked away. Not ten steps later she called me back. A man – Jonathan – was standing at the customer service counter. He had just turned in a credit card. He said he found it in the parking lot.
It was Nancy’s.
Suddenly aware of how this meeting could not have been planned by anyone but God, I repeatedly thanked Jonathan for his honesty and then told him I was going to pray for him. When I opened my walled to offer him money to emphasize my gratitude, he said to me, “I’d rather have your prayers than your money.”
If you are of a mind to do so, would you also pray for Jonathan – for health, for finances, a relationship – I’ve no idea what he needs most. But God certainly does. I cannot doubt, considering the randomness of the timing of our meeting, that our meeting was orchestrated by God. Nor can I doubt that God has
Sunday, January 8, 2017
"For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus . . . ." (Ephesians 2:10)
The apostle could have used other words for ‘handiwork’ when he penned this verse. But God inspired him to use ‘poiema’ – the Greek word from which we get, ‘poem.’
Ponder a moment what that means. The Holy Spirit wants us to know that those in Christ Jesus are God’s profoundly artistic handiwork. Whatever your appearance, whatever your past or present, to Him you are poetry in motion, a wondrously beautiful composition of His ineffable creative love.
Monday, January 2, 2017
God told Cain he had a choice: Do well, and your countenance will be lifted up. Do wrong, and sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you. You must master it.” That was Cain’s choice. It is also our choice. To do well or to do wrong. I talk about what we face in the year 2017. You can listen here: https://youtu.be/b-LN6colYp0