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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Satan's Deadly 1-2-3 Punch

One of the main purposes of this blog is to point out or remind my Christian audience of all the tricks and traps the Devil uses to isolate us and destroy us apart from God.  Today I was thinking of a common three-stepped attack that seems to work well against Christians.  Using three arguments that I will analyze, Satan can erode away Christian faith, often without repair.  The good news is that Satan is not too powerful for God, and God has given us a way of escape.  This battle doesn't have to end in defeat!

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Woman Jesus Called Daughter, Part 2, Healed and Saved

Today is the conclusion of my sister, Shannon's, devotional on the woman Jesus called "daughter."  If you've been following along, these articles are guest posts on Savvy Sheep, and are taken from two notes she shared on facebook which she gave permission to be reprinted here.  For those of you just joining us, you might want to go read part 1, which I shared earlier this week.  If you've got any questions or comments to share, leave them in the comments section and I can pass them on if you wish.  I'll be resuming the regular posting schedule next week.  Without further ado...

Healed and Saved

    A large crowd followed and pressed around him [Jesus].  And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years.  She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse.  When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, "If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed."  Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.
    At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, "Who touched my clothes?"
 "You see the people crowding against you," his disciples answered, "and yet you can ask, 'Who touched me?' "
  But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it.  Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth.  He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering." --  Mark 5: 24-34 NIV
This note is part 2 of what God is showing me about this passage.  I’ve repeated the story here (Mark’s telling rather than Luke’s this time) to get us into the right frame of mind.  Read Part 1 first, because I’m continuing from where I left off!


“In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed” (Luke 8: 48 NIV).  

Wait a minute—this woman just went from hiding in corners and crawling in dirty streets to boldly addressing a crowd?!   In Jewish culture at the time, women usually weren’t permitted to speak in this way, and certainly not a woman in her circumstances.   How could such a change happen so quickly?   And she told not only that she had been healed but also what she had been healed from.   Her sickness held no shame anymore because it had been transformed into a display of God’s glory.   My sins and my old ways are a story I’ll gladly tell so that the difference He has made in me is clear.


“He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has healed you.  Go in peace and be freed from your suffering,” (Mark 5: 34 NIV).

Notice that Jesus didn’t tell her to wait seven days, bring a sacrifice to the temple, and have the priest make atonement for her (Leviticus 15: 28-30).  Perhaps she did anyway, and we’ll never know until we meet her in heaven.  But maybe He omitted this to show His authority as the Messiah (Luke 5:24) to heal and to save completely.  And maybe He was pointing out that He would soon make atonement for her on the cross. According to the margin notes of my study Bible, the Greek word translated here as healed actually means saved.  Hallelujah!  Because of His sacrifice He is now our “high priest forever in the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 6:19-- Hebrews 7:28), with the power to declare her—and all who come to Him—cleansed and free not just physically but also spiritually!


Although I’ve heard this story many times, as I read it anew the word stood out to me.  What a term to use for someone who was unclean, who had no right to be there, who was penniless and broken!  Her circumstances were such that her biological family would probably have denied knowing her.  But Jesus called her daughter, perfectly willing to bear the shame of the association.  As the Sanctus Real song on the radio goes, "There is no one too lost for Him to love/ No one too low for Him to serve."
From Weed to Rose
Printed in the margin of my study Bible is the fact that this woman was the only person in the four Gospels whom Jesus addressed as daughter.

Why her?  Why not someone respectable, someone who didn’t need much “fixing up” when she came to know Him?  If you’re acquainted with my Savior, you should know that He loves to turn the misfits into miracles.  She is an example for all of us that we can never fall too far for Him to catch us, and that our failings are no obstacle to His strength.  "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV)!

It was the night before Father’s Day when I rediscovered this passage.  Maybe you have a great relationship with your dad like I do, or maybe things aren’t going so well.  Maybe you never even knew him.  Isn’t it comforting to know that you have a heavenly Father too, who is never ashamed to call you His child, and who will never let you down?  “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1 NIV).


I can’t help but realize how much my story resembles hers.  Like my sister in this passage and in the kingdom, I came to Jesus not just bleeding but dead in my sins.  My soul, not just my hand, was unclean before Him (Isaiah 64: 6).  I put my faith in Christ as the Messiah, my Redeemer, who saved and healed me.  And although my past gives me so much to be ashamed of, I’m willing to stand center stage so that the whole world will know what His power has done in me.

Are you tired of carrying wounds that won’t heal?  Have you tried everything in your own power to feel better?  How long will you wait?  She waited twelve years for a Healer to come.  But now He is come—He’s knocking at the door of your heart and you don’t have to wait another minute.  Maybe you feel as if you’ve messed up so badly you aren’t worthy to speak to Him.  Guess what?  That isn’t possible.  He’s always willing to receive you.  Come to Him, broken as you are.  He is longing to say, “Daughter, your faith has healed you.  Go in peace and be freed from your suffering” (Mark 5: 34 NIV).
If you want to receive Christ as your personal Savior, read how at the end of this post.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Woman Jesus Called Daughter, Part 1, A Beautiful Mystery

Today we have a guest writer--my sister, Shannon, who is currently studying to be an electrical engineer (I had to brag on her a bit).  This Bible study was originally shared on Facebook, as a result of some of her personal reading about the healing of the woman with the issue of blood (Matthew 9: 20-22; Luke 8: 42-48).  I asked her if it would be okay if I shared it here, and she agreed.  She also requested that I somehow include a comment I left on that Facebook note, so I have copied it, with revisions for brevity, and set it apart in italics.

So, without further ado, here is the devotional that my sister shared.  Hope you enjoy it!  Feel free to leave comments, and if you want, you can address her rather than me (I'll let her know).

A Beautiful Mystery

 As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.
"Who touched me?" Jesus asked.

When they all denied it, Peter said, "Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you."
But Jesus said, "Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me." 
Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. Then he said to her, "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace."--Luke 8:42-48

God made this passage stand out to me a few weeks ago, and He just won’t leave me alone about it.  I’ve heard or read the story many times, but this time the meaning was fresh and new.  God’s word is a well so deep that I can always keep drawing from it and never reach the bottom!  When I found myself in tears over these six verses for the second night in a row, I knew I had to share what Jesus has been showing me.

God’s Timing

First, the setup.   Jesus was in the middle of performing another miracle!  He was on His way to the home of Jairus, the synagogue leader, to heal the man’s daughter (Luke 8: 41, 42).  Presumably Jairus and the disciples were in a hurry to reach the house before she died, and from a human point of view, certainly Jairus should have been given precedence over this lowly woman—but God’s timing isn’t like ours.   Jesus knew that He would take the time for this poor woman as well, because raising the little girl from the dead was not too hard for Him, and would build more faith than just a healing in those who saw it.


Jesus was moving through a crowd that “almost crushed Him.”  The whole town had come out to see what He would do—either out of curiosity or hope for their own healing.   As Peter pointed out, dozens of people were pressing in around Him as He passed by.  What made this one woman believe that just touching the dusty hem of His robe would heal her (Mark 5:28)?  This was the first recorded instance of anyone being healed in this way.  Many asked Jesus to touch them and were healed by His hands (Luke 4:40), but who else had this kind of faith?  It’s humbling to ask myself…am I just one of the curious crowd, or will I reach out to Him in faith when I need healing?


According to the Law, the “issue of blood” made the woman, and anything she touched, unclean (Leviticus 15: 25-30).  Originally, the unclean could not live inside the camp (Leviticus 13: 45, 46); and later could not enter the temple (2 Chronicles 23: 18, 19).  She was used to being shunned, and had been unable to participate in the temple festivals and sacrifices for twelve long years.  “She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse” (Mark 5:26).  Maybe she approached Jesus in the way she did because she felt unworthy to ask His attention, but she was about to receive it anyway.

A Beautiful Mystery

“She came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, ‘If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.’ Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering,” (Mark 5: 27-29 NIV).

This miracle went against everything the Israelites had been taught.  A touch like this was supposed to make the clean things unclean.  Any other man would have been considered ceremonially unclean until sundown because of the brush of her hand (Leviticus 15: 27).  But instead Jesus’ power flowed through her fingers and cleansed her, while He remained clean!  This was no ordinary prophet.   How could His holiness cover sin and shame?  It’s still a beautiful mystery to me.

Facebook comment from Rachel: I think can help a bit on that question, based on a radio sermon I heard one afternoon on a drive to my college campus.  She believed so firmly that touching the hem of Jesus' robe would heal her because of an ancient Jewish tradition, and another verse in the Bible.  In Numbers 15: 37-39, the Israelites were instructed to put tassels on the hems of their garments.  Each tassel must include a blue thread (blue was the symbol of God's divinity and majesty). The tassels were to help them, "remember all the commands of the Lord, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by going after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes," (v. 39).  The tassels were to remind them of God's holiness and His commands to them about holiness!

As you pointed out, she was not considered pure or holy by the people because of her issue of blood, so symbolically, she was asking Jesus to make her holy.  This shows that she not only believed that Jesus was sent by God and made holy by Him, but also that she believed He was God, and had the power to fulfill her request.

Now, the word for the hem of the garment in Hebrew is often also translated "wings" (also explained on this website).  So she literally touched Jesus' "wings" to get her healing.  In the Old Testament, God repeatedly says that He wants to hide Israel in the shadow of His wings (that is, to protect them like an eagle does her young).  David also says, in the Psalms, that he sought refuge under God's "wings."  Another very significant use of the Hebrew word is Malachi 4: 2, a prophecy about the Messiah, that says, "
But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall" (read the full prophecy here).   So, by this gesture, she was calling on Jesus as her refuge, and claiming her promised healing from her Messiah.  

It was a timid gesture, but it was based on a bold faith.  This woman had done her reading!  Hope this comment adds to your appreciation of the story.

Seen and Known

“’Who touched me?’ Jesus asked,” (Luke 8:45).

He already knew who had touched Him!  We have to realize at some point that essentially all of the questions Jesus asked in the Bible were rhetorical—He was fully God and fully man, and therefore all-knowing!  So why did He ask?  Did He want to single her out in her shame?  No—He treated her with gentleness and respect.   He wanted her to feel worthy again of being seen and known, because she was acknowledged by the Messiah himself!

Notice the disciples’ incredulous reaction.  Sometimes I laugh at them for still questioning His reasons after all that they had seen, but then I look in the mirror…. He didn’t rebuke them for their doubts, but allowed them to watch and learn.


I try to put myself in her shoes, and imagine how she must have felt.  We have just a few words to describe what she was going through.  “Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet” (v. 47).

The reader’s first reaction might be that she should have been eager to thank the one who had healed her.  But the habits she had formed over twelve years of uncleanness made her shy away from this idea, no matter how her heart may have been overflowing with gratefulness.  She wanted to “go unnoticed”—she was used to being invisible.


Of course—after twelve years of bleeding, she would be physically weak, right?  Wrong.  She had been instantly healed, not just a little but completely.  “Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering” (Mark 5:29).  God doesn’t fulfill His promises halfway; He doesn’t pour a scant measure, but opens the floodgates of blessing when we submit to Him.  She wasn’t trembling with physical infirmity.  She was trembling with emotion.

At His Feet

She fell at His feet not out of weakness but in worship.  Whether she knew the fullness of who Jesus was or not, she knew that the one who had redeemed her from all her pain deserved all her adoration.  What has He redeemed you from? When was the last time you fell at His feet in praise?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Weekly Trivia Files: "Possessed" by the Holy Spirit?

Someone once asked me what it was like to be "posessed" by the Holy Spirit.  I was taken aback at first, because such a statement is practically blasphemous in Christianese--a language I thought this person (a lifetime churchgoer) was familiar with.  Apparently, not so.  Since I've been explaining various examples of Christianese (terms Christians commonly use which are baffling to others) each week, I thought I'd give some special attention to this one.  So, first, the difference between "possessed" and "filled."

  • Possessed--Used in the term "demon possession."  Refers to complete control over an individual's mind and body by a supernatural evil entity, that is, a fallen angel (aka a demon).  This spirit literally assumes control of a person and forces them to do what it wants (like a puppet).  Some examples in the Bible are the demon who threw a boy into fire and water (to burn or drown him) (Matthew 17: 13-18), and the demon who forced a man to live as an outcast among the tombs and scream and cut himself all night (Mark 5: 1-20).  Common to these examples (and others I haven't cited from the Bible) is the demonic agenda.  Demons hate God's creation, and want to destroy it.  Demon possession brings suffering, fear, and chaos to those affected (Matthew 15: 22).  They speak against the things of God, and mock the things of God, though they acknowledge God's power (Luke 4: 32-34; Acts 16: 17-19).
  • Filled--The infilling of the Holy Spirit is a doctrine that many denominations don't teach, except to agree that it happened at one time, to the early church, in the book of Acts.  We'll not go into this discussion in this brief post.  The term "infilling" or the phrase "filled with the Spirit" is used to denote the Holy Spirit's power coming upon a person, enabling that person to work miracles, prophesy, etc.  through God's power and on His behalf.  The differences between "infilling" and "possession" are clear.  God does not take away our free will; that would be against the whole body of Scripture, since Christ's sacrifice would have been unnecessary if God could just choose to make us obey.  Also, God does not speak against Himself or contradict Himself (see 1 Samuel 15: 29; Luke 11: 14-20), and His nature is not characterized by fear and disorder (Romans 8: 15; Romans 15: 5-6; Ephesians 4: 2-6).  The infilling of the Holy Spirit is to give believers "extra strength," that is, God's strength, to do the tasks He has set before us.  This power that believers have been given is not to be used to glorify or serve anyone besides God, and that includes ourselves (Acts 8: 8-25).  By these and other, similar signs, we can tell the difference between "filled" and "possessed."
Hope that clarifies this issue a bit for my readers.  I have a lot of other things on the "to do" list, so I'm ending it here.  If you have anything to add, feel free to leave me a comment!  I'll be back here in a few days.

Monday, July 12, 2010

He Wants Your Best

Call it a crisis of teen-age proportions, but I was feeling pretty rattled that night.  I had just mailed off an essay for a scholarship contest, and I was certain that I had no chance of winning.  I was really doubting myself, and having a good cry about it.  If I couldn't write a decent essay on Shakespeare, what made me think it was a good idea to go to college to major in English?

"I don't stand a chance....that essay was garbage...why would God ever want me to be a writer?"  I said to my bedroom ceiling.

"Did you do your best?" a voice out of nowhere suddenly asked me.  It wasn't an audible voice, but rather a still, small voice in my head that I knew didn't come from me.

"What?" I asked out loud.  I was suddenly thinking of Samuel's calling in the Bible.  Was this God speaking?

"I said, did you do your best?"  the voice asked again.

I sat up a little straighter in my chair.  Though it seemed odd to do so, I answered the question.  "Yes....God, if that's you.  I gave it my all, but it was still terrible."

"Your best is all I wanted from you," the voice stated flatly.  "That's enough for me."

Give God Your Best

The Apostle Paul wrote, "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10: 31 NIV).  Ever since that little heart-to-heart with God, this verse has had new meaning for me.  If I'm supposed to glorify God in the mundane tasks of eating and drinking, doesn't this apply to everything, even essay contests?

Jesus even backed this idea.  When asked what He thought should be the greatest commandment, He answered, "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind," (Matthew 22: 37 NIV; an echoing of Deuteronomy 6: 5).  God wants the best part of our love, that is, our undivided love.  He wants the best part of our attention, which is our undivided attention.  Furthermore, God wants the best part of our thoughts and decisions, which means He wants us to consider Him and what would please Him in every decision we make.  In the end, God wants more than our obedience; He wants us to love Him, and express that love for Him by making Him the most important person in our lives.

In ancient times, when God gave Moses His laws concerning sacrifices, God specifically said that the animals to be sacrificed must be "without defect or blemish" (Leviticus 22: 21; Numbers 19: 2), or they would not be pleasing or acceptable sacrifices.  God never asked for our three-legged, one-eyed gifts; He wanted the best we could offer, because that meant that we actually valued His blessing more than any other consideration.  This, too, was to be an expression of love, to show God how important He was to us.  God demonstrated this for us, so we could understand it more clearly, by sending His only son, not His least-loved or least-wanted son, to be the ultimate atoning sacrifice for us (John 3: 16; Hebrews 9: 14).

Now, when I say that God asks for our best, I have to point out that He isn't asking for something unreasonable or beyond what we could give Him.  First, God isn't demanding that we perform beyond the best of our abilities; that would be cruel (see Matthew 23: 13).  One precedent for this is found in the requirements for sacrifices from the poor among the nation of Israel.  If they couldn't afford to offer larger and more valuable animals for sacrifice,  a less-valuable sacrifice would be acceptable (see Leviticus 5: 7-11).  Even Joseph and Mary had to take this option when they presented Jesus at the temple (Luke 2: 22-24).  Secondly, God isn't demanding that we accomplish our best on our own.  He will help us to obey Him, and will equip us with the knowledge and abilities that we need (see Hebrews 13: 20-21). God makes it easy for us to give Him our best!

Are You Giving God Your Best Today?

I am not suggesting to any of my readers that we have to be perfect, or that God expects perfectionism; however, God does want us to give Him our best.  If your best means studying hard enough for that test that you make an "A," then do so; however, if your best effort doesn't earn an "A," don't worry about it.  It's between you and God, not between you and any other person, and you have truly done all you could.  Your efforts are equally commendable in either outcome.  The same goes for a work situation or something in your personal life; if you've done your best, trying to please God in the situation, He will not frown upon your efforts.  He is looking for your obedience and your honesty.

On the other side of the coin, God knows when you have given Him second-best, even when by all appearances your performance was flawless.  As I've said before, it is between you and God, not between you and another person.  You know when you didn't give priority to something, even if you managed to conceal it from everyone around you.  The Bible says, "The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" (1 Samuel 16: 7 NIV).  God sees what others don't.  I say this because God has dealt with me personally on this issue on a few occasions.

Wrapping up my message today, I want to leave my readers with a reminder to give God your best, not your second best, in all that you do.  Remember that His requirements are not extreme, and that He will even help you meet them.  Finally, when you've given God your best, don't be ashamed of it, no matter how small it may seem to the world.
"Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up" (Galatians 6: 9 NIV).

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Weekly Trivia Files: More Christianese

For the past few weeks, I've been trying to explain terms that tend to get tossed around in a religious discussion, but often aren't well-defined.  Last week I decided to touch upon a few terms that are often called "Christianisms" or "Christianese," because they mean something deep and important to those who are familiar with them (especially those who grew up in church) but they sound awfully strange to those who are new to Christianity.  If you are one of the confused ones, don't worry.  Keep reading.  Maybe these next three will help.

  • The cross and the fish symbols--Most people have probably heard that Jesus was crucified on a wooden cross, which looks like the lowercase "t" symbol in the Greek alphabet.  The cross was a form of tortuous death that the ancient Roman Empire dealt out to criminals and those who opposed its rule.   Victims of crucifixion didn't usually die of the wounds to the hands or arms and the feet (a long nail was driven through their limbs into the wooden cross), but they did die of suffocation, because they had to pull themselves upright in order to breathe (the position stretched their chest muscles and restricted breathing).   Jesus was not the first to die of crucifixion, and He certainly wasn't the last.  Suffice it to say, early Christians would have been no more likely to wear a cross on their jewelry than we would now be willing to wear a hangman's noose or a guillotine pendant.  Instead, they often used the fish symbol as their emblem, in part because Jesus said, "I will make you fishers of men," (Matthew 4: 19), and partly because of an early Greek acrostic.  The word Icthus, that is, fish, was also an acrostic for "Iesous Christos Theou Yios Soter," which translates, "Jesus Christ, God's Son, Savior," where each word begins with a letter from the Greek word Icthus.  The fish symbol predates the cross as a Christian symbol.
  • Redemption--When Christians speak of "redemption," they aren't talking about coupons.  They are really referring to an ancient Hebrew practice, in which a person "stood in" for a lost kinsman, keeping the land that belonged to him in the family, providing for his widow, and in general keeping his memory alive.  Any children he had with the dead man's widow in effect restored the dead man's name and all of his property to the census rolls of the nation of Israel.  A "kinsman-redeemer" redeemed a man's memory or legacy from death.  In the Bible, Boaz is the most famous "kinsman-redeemer," because he married the destitute widow of one of his tribesmen, and their son was the grandfather of David, the future king of Israel.  This symbolic redemption from death was picked up again and used to describe Christ's mission on earth, because His death redeemed those of us who were dead in our sins, restoring us to full fellowship with God.
  • "The Lamb" and "the sheep"--Many old Christian songs, as well as some newer ones, discuss "the Lamb" or "the Lamb of God."  Does God have His own special breed of sheep?  Well, not exactly.  Historically, the followers of God sacrificed young sheep to atone for their sins, because God set death as the price for sin; therefore, something has to die to take away the offense of sin.  Jesus paid the ultimate price so that He could be "the ultimate sacrificial lamb" on behalf of all of those who wish to repent.  He is the last redeeming sacrifice.  When Christians talk about "the Lamb" they are speaking symbolically of Christ.   Now, when Christians talk about "the sheep" or "the flock," they are talking about followers of Christ.  Jesus once said, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (John 10: 11 NIV).  In fact, the Bible is full of symbolic depictions of God's followers as sheep (Numbers 27: 16-18; 1 Kings 22: 17; Psalm 100: 3; Psalm 23). 
That's it for another week. Have a good weekend, and if you have any "Christianese" you would like to see explained, be sure to tell me about it in the comments section.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

5 Important Tips for Witnessing

I am by no means an expert on sharing my faith with others; my experience has been rather limited, beginning in college and continuing primarily through this blog.  However, I do have some experience as to what works and what doesn't.  Ultimately, "witnessing," as Christians call it, comes down to a simple, heartfelt conversation--the most important one you will ever have.  My tips are below (for those of you in a great hurry), but first I thought I'd briefly share with you my first major experience with witnessing. 

I spent my sophomore year of college as the appointed leader of a campus ministry called Chi Alpha, which is affiliated with the Assemblies of God.  I must say it was the most stressful and sometimes frightening job I've ever taken on, and I wasn't even paid to do it!  I took on the job after a cold-call from the district head of Chi Alpha, who told me the previous leader (who had transferred to a different campus) had recommended me to the post.  The year began badly, with a horrible first meeting, hate mail, personal threats and verbal abuse, and a whole lot of discouragement.  I had stuck with it for a month, but I was still thinking about quitting.

This time, one of the students in Chi Alpha decided to walk me back to my dorm room after a Chi Alpha meeting.  I wasn't expecting to get into any deep spiritual discussion with her, but we ended up talking about death, and heaven.  Then she tearfully asked me how she could be sure she would someday go to heaven.  I quickly invited her into my dorm room, deciding that the test prep for the following day would just have to wait, and I shared my faith with her, trying my best to answer her questions and showing her where in the Bible they were answered.  The talk ended with me praying with her in the middle of my dorm room floor to receive Jesus.

I learned a lot that day, including a lot of things I wish I'd done differently.  Here are the best tips I can give to those who want to share their faith but aren't really sure of how to go about it.
  1. Understand your audience's background.  People aren't all the same, and sharing your faith with them is not going to be the same every time.  Whether you know this person already, or whether you've only just met this person, you need to ask yourself a few questions.  Is this person already familiar with the Bible or Christian doctrines?  How knowledgeable is this person, in general (for instance, a child knows less than an adult, and someone from high school knows less than someone with a PhD)?  What in this person's background might have brought about this interest in knowing Jesus?  What part of this person's background would make Christianity seem personally applicable or desirable?  You may not know the answer to these questions, but if you pray and ask God to help you, God will guide you into finding the answers (see also Jeremiah 17: 9, 10; John 16: 13).
  2. Tailor the message.  The Bible is full of examples of sharing the faith, and if you pay attention, you'll see how the message is the same throughout, but the presentation is tailored to the listener.  When Jesus spoke to the woman at the well, He commented on her past, as well as the Jewish-Samaritan relationship at that time (John 4: 1-42).  Next, when Peter and John were on trial before the Sanhedrin, they mentioned Jesus, a familiar figure to their audience, and cited passages from Psalms, which their audience had learned as part of their religious education (Acts 4: 1-22).  Finally, when Paul spoke to the Greeks at the Areopagus, he cited their philosophers and their idols at the beginning of his speech (Acts 17: 22-34), but when he addressed a less-scholarly crowd of Greeks, he showed an understanding of the beliefs and practices involved in their worship of Hermes and Zeus (Acts 14: 8-18).  I could go on, but I think you get the idea.  A one-size-fits-all approach seems less effective than a personal approach.  Learning standard witnessing approaches, such as the "Roman Road" or "The Way of the Master" are good for teaching you the basic ingredients of witnessing, but they are not always the best approach for your particular audience.  Don't cling too tightly to a script.
  3. Pay attention to what your audience is telling you.  If you are sharing your faith in a one-on-one situation, 95% of what you will be doing is listening, not talking.  Once, on my lunch hour at college, a Christian girl approached me and asked if I would sit with her while she shared her faith with a group of foreign exchange students.  Once we'd all gathered at a lunch table, she immediately launched into one of those scripted approaches I just mentioned, and one of the listeners, a female native of Venezuela, raised her hand to interrupt.  "For centuries, my ancestors have gone to mass regularly, and they have held all the festivals and practices of the Christians.  But you aren't answering my question, so I will ask again.  Why should the Christian faith be important to me, in the modern world?  I don't understand."  I opened my mouth to answer, and was horrified to hear the Christian girl beside me blurt out, "That question is off-topic.  Now, getting back to what I was saying..." and she returned to the next step in the script she was following.  Suffice it to say, the audience stopped listening, and were clearly offended.   Sometimes your audience will ask a good question, not a "heckler's question," which is meant to derail the discussion.  This was definitely a good question.   When such a thing happens, you must answer in as much detail as the situation requires, even if the conversation doesn't end in a prayer to receive Christ.  If you have answered truthfully and kindly, the person will be more inclined to hear more.  If you don't, you may be destroying this and all future opportunities for this person to hear the message.
  4.  Know your Bible, and if that isn't fully possible, know how to listen to God.  Because of that incident, I also learned that you need to know what the Bible says on a lot of subjects before you should try to share your faith.  Nobody is perfect, but I have to say that your audience sees you, as a self-proclaimed Christian, to be an expert on Christianity.  Because of this, Paul wrote, "Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season," (2 Timothy 4: 2 NIV).  However,  there may come a day when you will not know how to answer a person; in that situation, you will need God's divine guidance through the Holy Spirit to remind you of what the Bible says.  Jesus promised this help to His disciples, saying "Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit" (Mark 13: 11 NIV; see also Luke 12: 11, 12).  When it comes down to it, though, there is no excuse for ignorance of the most basic teachings of Christianity.  How can you ask someone to believe in something neither of you know anything about?
  5. Tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  Sharing your faith can get into some uncomfortable territory, and often brings out misconceptions of what Christianity is, and what makes a person a Christian.  You can make the situation worse if you try to rewrite history, gloss over important teachings because they are offensive to some, or simply pretend your audience isn't mature enough to understand.  Honesty, tempered with kindness and humility, is always the best policy.  Our God is the God of truth.  If we really believe that, we can trust God to defend the truth, even in front of a hostile audience.   He would never want us to lie or deceive.  If we are listening to God, He will embolden us and give us words when the truth seems like the worst answer we could give, and He will prepare the hearts of our listeners to be more receptive to our message.  "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander" (1 Peter 2: 14-16 NIV).
 Well, that's five tips.  Do you have anything to add to the list?  Feel free to share in the comments section.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Weekly Trivia Files: "Christianisms"

So far in this series I've defined and discussed general terms for categories of religions, for example, polytheism and agnosticism.  I think now it's time to define three "Christianisms" or examples of "Christianese" as some people call it.  These are terms that Christians tend to throw around without defining--which probably confuses a lot of people.

  • Born Again--Jesus was the first to use this term, and it confused His audience, at first, until He explainedJesus was not talking about a literal second birth, in which a person would somehow re-enter the womb and be born a second time.  Nowadays, some would think this term referred to reincarnation, a doctrine of the Hindu religion, in which the spirit of a person comes back after death in a different body, animal, vegetable, mineral, or human.  To be "born again" or "born from above" is to undergo a spiritual transformation, where even the desires of the heart are changed completely--as if a person has become a completely new person. 
  • "Washed in the Blood"--The ancient Romans believed that Christians were blood letters and routinely sacrificed their own god for a religious observance.  Of course, that wasn't true, but I can see where people might get confused.  Christians believe that blood can atone for sin; in essence, something must die to pay the penalty for sin, as God has required.  Animal sacrifice (human sacrifice was never required!) is no longer necessary; however, because Jesus' death atoned for all those who believe in Him.  To be "washed in the blood," then, is a figurative way of saying "to have one's sins atoned for through Jesus' sacrifice."  This is also borrowed, in part, from a Bible verse that says, "'Come now, let us reason together,' says the Lord.  'Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool'" (Isaiah 1: 18 NIV).
  • Bible references with names and numbers and random letters--While I'm in the business of explaining Christian terminology, I think I out to explain how to read the above Bible reference, because the standard format I just used is definitely not intuitive.  The first word in the parenthesis above refers to the book within the Bible, that is, the big named sections in the Bible.  The above scripture reference is in the book of Isaiah, but there are many others, such as Matthew and Genesis.  The first number refers to the chapter within the book of Isaiah (each chapter starts with a large number breaking up the text).  The number after the colon references the verse within that chapter (divisions within the paragraphs, labeled with small superscript numbers).  The "NIV" refers to the translation this quote was taken from--in this case, the New International Version. 
Okay, that's all for today. See you back here in a few days!  To all my U.S. readers, have a happy 4th!