Tag Archives: Bible

What is Christianity?

It was a true joy to speak at a Power to Change event at York University last month. I’m really encouraged to see the way they’re engaging unbelievers with the grace and truth of Christ. I was asked to speak on this question: What does Christianity have to do with my life? Good question. There are hundreds of ways to answer the question, but what follows is the first part of how I responded. I’ll write another post on the second part.

We can capture the essence of what Christianity is from two angles.

1) “Follow Me”

Christianity can be summed up in two words, “Follow me.” These are the words of Jesus and this is the essence of Christianity. Christianity is not primarily a system of beliefs. Though it contains a system of beliefs, it is, in the first place, knowing the person of Jesus Christ and following Him. Jesus’ call to follow him is his call to trust him and prove that trust by doing what he says. Believing that he is who he says he is and that he will do what he says he will do. It is a call to love him, know him and follow him.

2) Christianity is built upon the truthfulness of Scripture, which is the lens through which Christians see the world.

The Bible governs a Christian’s beliefs about origins, meaning, identity morality and destiny. Christianity is founded on the truth of the Bible. The Bible is one story that reveals who God is, but the storyline is composed of four different stages.

1) Creation. God created the world and everything in it. He created it good. He created us good. He made us to live in his presence, under his rule and to enjoy him.

2) Fall. Adam and Eve rejected the rule of God and because God is just they suffered for it. According to God’s just dealing with rebellion, he cast them from his presence. Mankind was damned and doomed. The world was cursed.

3) Redemption. This is God’s a rescue plan; his peace making plan for his enemies. Redemption is what God has done to save rebels from their rebellion and to bring them back to himself to live under his rule, in his family, fully forgiven for the bad they have done. He sent Jesus to save people from the curse and their sins.

4) New Creation. This is the hope of what God has promised. Not only did Jesus come and die and rise and leave. He’s promised to return and judge the world. All rebels who are saved by Jesus will be with him, in his presence, living under his rule, forever. This is the hope of Christianity.

These four stages of the story of the Bible form the lens through which a Christians see the world. But Christianity is primarily about knowing and following the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus not only believed in and confirmed the truthfulness of Scripture, creation, the fall, redemption and new creation, He is the climax and main subject of the entire story. Everything else in the story before him foreshadows him. Christianity is about Jesus.

So now, in light of all of that, so what? What does all of that have to do your life? (Stay tuned for part 2).

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Nick Speaks of Jesus on the Streets: The Story and the Lesson

Nick is the lead worshipper at GFC Don Mills, but more importantly, he deeply loves Jesus and is committed to following him.  Below he shares a really cool story about his experience of speaking about Jesus when he came out with me two weeks ago.

Friday night

Paul, Ricardo and I went out on Friday night to speak to people about Jesus. As is Paul’s custom, we walked around different bus stops to speak with anyone who was willing. We had a few good conversations but one that stood out to us was with a young man. Let’s call him Tim though that’s not his real name.

We met a man at the bus stop

Paul and I approached Tim (Ricardo stayed behind to pray) and told him what we were all about. We introduced ourselves by name and informed him that we were members at a church in the area and wanted to speak with people about Jesus. Paul began by asking him if he had any religious background. He told us that his mom was a Christian but he characterized her devotion as “moderate”.

Asking questions

Then Paul asked Tim about himself a little bit. “What are you doing?” Paul said. He responded by telling us that he was on his way home from work. Paul continued, “What kind of work do you do?” “Customer service,” Tim responded. At that point I broke my way into the conversation. “Do you get yelled at a lot?” I asked. “Yeah,” Tim laughed. I pushed the conversation a little further, “In this line of work do you see how messed up people can be?”

So began our conversation.

People are messed up

Tim agreed that some people are indeed messed up; but then he said that some people aren’t all that bad. In fact, he said that some people are good. In some ways Tim was right. People are made in the image of God and they do retain some of the good-ness that God created us with; but I told Tim that it’s interesting that you usually never meet anyone who thinks they are bad themselves. It is usually “other people” who are the problem.  He agreed at that point and said, “Yeah, we tend toward an ‘us vs. them’ mentality.” I wanted him to see that “we” are all part of the problem and not just “them,” so I asked him, “Tim if the world was filled with people just like you, do you think that all the world’s problems would disappear?” He said, “Probably not.”

The story of the Bible and its climax

I proceeded to tell Tim the story of the Bible and the climax of that story. It went something like this: Our world has been utterly destroyed by sin and we need a King who can put the world right. God promised that one day he would send his King and this is exactly what we read about in the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Jesus came into the world, in fulfilment of God’s promises, pushing back against sin and all of its effects. That’s why we see him healing diseases, forgiving sins, calming storms, casting out demons and even raising the dead. Jesus eventually died on the cross and rose again so that we ourselves could be forgiven of our sin and included in God’s kingdom. One day Jesus will return and make everything right. The thing about it, though, is if God is going to make the world right and rid the world of sin something has to be done about us. That means either forgiveness or judgement.”

The challenge

Afterwards, Paul challenged Tim. He asked him what he thought about this and if he ever thinks about these things. Tim told us honestly that he has always been indifferent to Jesus. He said that he’s indifferent towards a lot of things.

Our conversation continued for a while (he let three buses go by while we were speaking). He asked some good questions regarding the centrality of God and the importance of the gospel of Luke (We had copies that we were giving out). We let him know that the gospel tells the story of Jesus and is a good place to start but that the entire bible is God’s inspired word. Paul even had the chance to speak with him about Genesis 1-3.

This was an encouraging encounter. Tim was interested, open and honest. I don’t know if I’ll ever see him again but I hope that he bows his knee to King Jesus and is welcomed into the life of the age to come.  Pray for him.

Five lessons learned:

1)      Talking about Jesus brings us joy: As I was speaking to Tim about Jesus I found that I myself was getting excited about Jesus. I began thinking, “Wow! This really is good news!”

2)      Seeing the gospels as the Gospel makes Christianity incredibly relevant to people:  There are many stories in the gospels about all sorts of people from all sorts of different walks of life. In Tony’s case he works in customer service. This is a career where one is continually yelled at and made to feel small. There are plenty of stories in the gospels about people who are “made to feel small” and how Jesus meets those people where they are. Ultimately, we see how Jesus came into the world to bring God’s kingdom and solve the systemic problem of sin that causes all the problems we encounter.

3)      Just be yourself and talk about Jesus: Evangelistic “schemes” can be incredibly helpful at times (I know I’ve benefited from them at times) but it’s important to just be yourself. We are talking to human beings not robots. Talk to people where they are at and then talk about Jesus. You don’t need a PhD in Missions to do that. Although evangelism can be hard work at times it can also be really fun when we are ourselves.

4)      Pray: God is in control and can soften people’s hearts. We need to plead with God that he would do just that and that he would lead us to those whom he wills.

5)      Worship: Evangelism is worship. Whether you experience a Tim or a person who wants nothing to do with you God is glorified when Jesus is proclaimed.

Day 20: Laughed At

Our second last day of summer evangelism wasn’t without challenges. Ricardo and I sought to speak with a young lady waiting for her bus. I told her who we were, where we were from and that we were out sharing the Gospel. She instantly felt awkward and started laughing. I encouraged her that these are important conversations to have. By God’s grace she was too nice to dismiss us. She engaged in a conversation that ended up recruiting a small measure of mockery (and some more laughing).

What follows is an abbreviated summary of what happened.  Y refers to the lady; P refers to me; and M refers to another lady who joined in.

P: What do you think of Jesus?

Y: I don’t know. (And looking at me as though this was a silly question).

P: Well, what do you know of him? Surely you have thoughts of some kind.

Y: Well, I don’t really believe in God.

P: Why do you hold to atheism?

Y: I just grew up with it and I’ve always believed it.

P: Well, in light of the world we observe, do you think it’s a more reasonable position?

Y: I don’t know.

P: Do you believe in the big bang?

Y: Yes.

P: Well, why do you opt for order coming from chaos over the idea that God created everything with order?

Y: Well, I’m not saying it’s impossible. I just don’t believe.

P: Well, have you ever read the Bible?

Y: Not really. But the Bible is not reliable.

P: Why do you think that?

Y: It was written by men.

P: So you’re saying it’s corrupted because it was written by men and men make mistakes?

Y: Yes.

P: But think about this: you are a person. So how do you know you’re not making a mistake in your judgement of the Bible. You said men make mistakes. (She seemed to understand my argument and her body language indicated that she conceded).

P: And surely it wouldn’t be too hard for an all powerful God to keep his Word pure, even through men. (She agreed on this theoretically).

P: The Bible is trustworthy and it clearly teaches that God created the world out of nothing, that he created everything good and that we are the ones who’ve messed up the world. We’ve sinned by disobeying God’s commands. And now we’re not good. And that’s why we feel guilt.  You ever feel guilt?

Y: Yes (smiling with the look of, “Why are you talking about this?”).

P: Me too. You know, the reason we feel guilt is because we have it. It’s that simple. It’s real, but that’s the very reason why God sent Jesus into the world. You know about the Cross? How Jesus died on the Cross and rose from the dead? The reason he came to do that was to save us.

Y: Wow. This is intense. (smiling)

M:  (Shouting from about 12 feet away, and with all manner of mockery), “What Jesus are you talking about?”

P: (I looked over at her and was silent for a few seconds, and with firmness I said back to her) The Jesus of Scripture that even non-Christians and liberal Bible scholars don’t deny existed.

(Though M was silenced, Y and M were now both laughing with each other at me).

P: (speaking to Y) Look, the reason we’re out talking to people is because these things matter and we care for you. Thank you for taking the time to let us speak to you. Take care.

At that moment Y walked over to M and the two became friends. We could overhear them laughing together and M saying how she needed to “save” Y from me.

By the grace of God, Ricardo and I prayed for them. And by the grace of God we truly considered ourselves blessed. But I really felt opposed spiritually. I felt little and despised by people. I was laughed at. I felt, in the smallest measure, something of what my Saviour felt. And it was good.

Day 2: “I Can’t Change”

Day two of our summer evangelism was a great day! There were four of us this time and we all had a number of good talks and handed out lots of great literature! Praise be to God who alone can open people’s hearts to be attentive! Here is one little story.

Joseph and I had talked to a young Catholic man for quite a while. We explained the gospel of God’s grace over and over, reinforcing that the only way of getting our guilt removed is by the work of Christ and confidence in Him alone. He had mentioned that our good works help gain us God’s acceptance. So, I had my little Bible out, reading him passage after passage. We were in Romans, Ephesians, John and James. By God’s grace, he seemed to understand the Biblical teaching on how to receive the forgiveness of sins. Here is a summary of where the conversation went: (P stands for me; and J stands for the other man).

P: So, what about you? If you died today, do you think God would accept you?

J: Well … (thinking), yes; I think I’d be okay.”

P: Why do you think that?

J: I believe in God, and I’ve confessed my sins and try to live well.

P: You believe that even after everything I just shared from the Bible?

J: I can’t change my religion.

P: Even if it doesn’t agree with the Bible?

J: I can’t change; I grew up with this way. I’m Catholic and my parents are. I just can’t.

P: Do you believe the Bible is God’s Word?

J: Yes, but I can’t change. I grew up with this.

P: Yes, but what if it’s wrong? The Catholic church has some things right, but when it comes to how to receive the forgiveness of sins it teaches what is contrary to Scripture.

J: I can’t change.

P: Really? So your parents along with the Catholic Church are the authorities that govern what you believe? And you’ll side with them over the Bible even when the Bible clearly teaches how to receive forgiveness in a way contrary to Catholicism?

J: Yes.

P:  Well, thanks for taking the time to let us speak with you. I just want to give you one last Scripture to think about as we leave. (I opened to Acts 17:10-11 and showing it to him, I read the Word, explaining parts of it as I went).  The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. This is the kind of spirit that pleases the Lord; examining Scripture to find the truth. The Berean’s authority was Scripture and not Jewish traditions. That is what you need to do, submit yourself to the authority of God and His Word. Thank you for time. (I left him with some good literature with our info).

May God have mercy on him; and may God help all of us to be more like the Bereans!

An Evangelistic Prayer Meeting (Accidentally)

A couple of weeks ago, Steve K and I were praying on a bench just behind Shops at Don Mills. While Steve was praying, I noticed that a lady sat down on the bench right across from us. I thought, “She must see that we are praying. Our heads are bowed and she can certainly hear Steve. Should I talk to her? God, what do I do?” As soon as Steve was finished praying, I said, “It’s a beautiful day isn’t it.” She responded by telling us how encouraging it is to see people praying in public.

We had to slightly yell to communicate, so Steve and I ended up sitting on the bench with her (not too close though … it was not awkward .. the benches were quite large). With a smile she told us, “I’m a stanch Catholic.” She went on to tell us of some struggles her brother is having. At that time I was able to share what Julian had been preaching on in 1 Peter 1:6-7, that God gives us trials to for the testing of our faith.

She was thankful for what I shared and went on to speak about the goodness of God and our need to follow Him even when times are tough. It was a nice conversation, and it was quite tempting to NOT push to the Gospel, BUT, being compelled by God, I knew it would not please the Lord to let this opportunity pass … how often to we have people approach us in the midst of prayer?!

I asked her, “Do you think God will accept you because of your faith in the work of Christ alone OR  because of your faith in Christ PLUS her efforts of following God?” She was quite sure that her works contributed to her reception of the forgiveness of sins. I asked her if I could show her a passage from the Bible that teaches that savlvation is by faith in the work of Christ alone. She consented. So I opened my Bible to Ephesians 2:8-9 and read it to her. She was silenced and seemed a little surprised. I went over it again, nice and slow.

However, somehow she was able to redirect the conversation. I forget how this happened but suddenly she asked me if she still needs to forgive a family member who has done many wicked things and remains unrepentant. I took her to Matthew 18:21-35 and read it to her. She seemed to want me to move on and just tell her my thoughts … but I persisted in reading Scripture – I figured, “you need the Word, not my opinions; I’m gonna give you the Word.” I emphasized that she must forgive as she’s been forgiven, that is, of course, if she believes she deserves hell and has received God’s unmerited grace. I re-read to her Mt 18:35 – “So also my heavenly Father will do to everyone of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

I asked her if she had unforgiveness and bitterness in her heart (for by the way she talked, it seemed she may be struggling with it). She said, “No, I have forgiven him.” But then she asked me, “How can we know if we’ve forgiven someone?” I took her to Psalm 103 and read these words: “as for as the east is from the west so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” I told her, “when God forgives, he completely removes the sin. He forgets it and he does not hold it against us. He does not hold onto it. It is gone.” She persisted in saying that she had forgiven him, but we continued to chat about this. I forget the exact comment she made at the end, but she basically ended up saying something like, “Maybe I haven’t forgiven him as much as I originally thought.” Then she left.

Now that’s an accidental evangelistic prayer meeting. Be it Ephesians 2, Matthew 18 or Psalm 103, may the Lord use His Word and draw her to the Gospel of his grace.

Jesus Came for Sinners: Evangelism in the Workplace (2 of 4)

Cosmetics at Shopper’s Drugmart

After my first few days of training as a concierge/security guard for condominiums, I learned that I would be doing two overnight shifts a week at Shopper’s Drugmart. The first two hours of my shift were spent in the cosmetics department. I was to spend my time near the cash, thus, naturally, I would be spending time talking with the worker in the cosmetics section.

 My second night at Shopper’s

On my second night of work, the lady working was quite talkative. We talked about many things, much about security work, for her boyfriend also does night shift security work. Needless to say, I was praying and waiting for opportunity to speak of the things of the Lord.

 Nothing seemed to be happening until . . .

Nothing seemed to be happening. After my first hour, nothing happened. I thought, “Well, I may work with her again. I will be patient.” The next thing I knew, she asked me, “So do you have another job?” I thought, “Well, yes, do I ever!” I replied, “Yes. I am a Christian preacher. I teach the Bible at churches when they need someone to fill in.” This led to a long discussion about her desire to see her grandma when she dies and about a Christian lady from her past who used to take her to Peoples Church (for a brief season).

People either go to heaven or hell

She really wanted to see her grandma when she died and she asked me, “Do you think I will see her when I die?” I told her, “Well, I know that the Bible teaches about life after death. There is judgement and then people either go to heaven or hell. I asked her where she thinks she will go. She told me that she had a very promiscuous past and that she had an abortion many years ago, and she confessed, “that is murder.” Then she said, “so that’s a pretty big [sin].” She was convinced that God would hold the abortion against her.

If you seek Him you will find Him

I was stunned and humbled by her openness and honesty, and by the grace of God I proceeded to tell her the Gospel of God’s grace. I forget how I started but I remember telling her that Christ came for sinners and that no sin is too big for God to forgive. I also told her how God commands her to believe on Christ. I told her to seek Jesus Christ, for in Him forgiveness is found. I remember encouraging her with these words: “If you seek Him, you will find Him.”

Sharing Scripture

During a portion of our conversation, when I started to share Scripture with her, she suddenly got out her pen and began to write down the Scriptures on a piece of paper.  When she grabbed the pen I told her Genesis 3, Romans 3, Romans 5, Mark 1:15 and Ephesians 2:8-9. I thought that would be a sufficient start. A week later I followed up with her I learned that she read at least one passage. However, she was discouraged because she did not understand it. I was unable to really follow up on which passage it was and what it was that she could not understand.

 May the Lord keep Satan from stealing that seed. May He make her heart good soil that she may bear the fruit of genuine faith.

Talking to a JW at Coffee Time (2 of 3): Translation and Trust

On October 19, I wrote my first of three posts on a conversation I had with a Jehovah’s Witness at a Coffee Time in Guelph, Ontario. I promised to write two more posts. Originally, I planned to continue writing about that first meeting I had, but I met with that same man last week. Thus, though I shall keep my promise of writing two more posts on my dialogue with the JW at Coffee Time, this post (and the third one) will recap my most recent talk with him, which again, was at a Coffee Time in Guelph.

Again we met for about two and a half hours. Thus, we talked about many things, but one very important observation we keep coming to was that of our differing translations. Different translation means different meaning which means different truth and therefore, a different faith. Accordingly, we talked about translations.

Though I have only studied three years of Greek and two years of Hebrew, I know for certain that when Jesus says, “Before Abraham was, ego eimi” (John 8:58), ego eimi is in the Present Indicative Active. For those of you who do not know what Present Indicative Active means, simply know this, it means ego eimi should be translated “I am.” Accordingly, “Before Abraham was, I am” is the correct translation of John 8:58. I spent quite bit of time explaining this to my JW friend, but he would not accept it. His translation says something like, “Before Abraham was, I have been.” I showed him that Jesus is alluding to Jehovah’s self-description in Exodus (3:14). Jesus is saying that He is Jehovah. Jesus is saying He is God. He would not believe it. I explained that Jesus’ pronouncement of being God is the very reason that “the Jews picked up stones to throw at him” (John 8:59). 

In response, he took me to Proverbs 8:22, where wisdom personified seems to be a description of Christ. However, the JW translation says something like, “Jehovah produced me at the beginning of his work.” However, the ESV says, “The LORD possessed me at the beginning of his work.” Produced and possessed contain very different meanings. Did the Lord produce Jesus OR did He possess Jesus? The Lord did not produce Jesus. Jesus is eternal. We looked at various texts and I continued to see that the JW translation was different at many points.

Sadly, this man trusts the JW translation and he believes that all the other translations are wrong. He does not know any Greek or Hebrew. He has not questioned the JW translation. He has not fixed his hands to the task of studying these things. He simply accepts the JW translation, trusts it and prizes it.

In my first meeting with him, I had my Greek NT with me and I explained how John 8:58 is not translated correctly. However, he would not accept what I said. He only believes what the Watchtower society tells him. I asked him what he reads. He only read three things: the JW Bible and two magazines produced by the Watchtower society (Watchtower and Awake) – that is it. I also noticed that he uses a book called something like Reasoning from the Scripture, which tells him the meaning of various passages of the Bible that may be controversial. He used this book a few times when I asked him questions on texts that he could not answer and that contradicted JW theology. Therefore, other JW authors interpret the Bible for him. Some of their reasoning is certainly NOT reasonable.

I challenged him, “What if they are wrong? These other sources are simply the word of man. They can be wrong.” He replied, “If they are wrong then I am wrong, but they teach the truth – everything is right from the Bible. I am not learned like you . . . I don’t know the Bible like you, so I trust them.” I responded, “So what if I approached you before the JW’s did, you would believe me?” He said, “Maybe I would.” I said, “So you are banking all your trust in what they say?” He said, “Yes, I trust them. They show me the truth from the Bible.”

This was a very interesting talk that went on for some time. I told him that they are wrong about Jesus and I tried to show him why, but he would not really listen to me – he will only think about the Bible in ways that the JW’s have told him to think. I kept reminding him that he is trusting in the word of man.  I really challenged him to read more widely but as far as he is concerned, as he said, “If I have the truth, why look elsewhere?” I assured him that he doesn’t.

I also told him that his view of the Bible has been dictated by two magazines for twenty-three years. I assured him that I was telling him the truth but that he will not accept it simply because it is not in agreement with the teaching of two other magazines that have shaped his theology. He openly admits that these two magazines have largely shaped the way he sees and understands the Bible. However, he sees this as a good thing.

We both agreed that we are not worshipping the same God, nor the same Jesus. I am sobered and saddened by his blindness. I cannot help but think of 2 Corinthians 4:4 (“the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers”). But, I believe that the gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16) . . . and how will JW’s believe? By hearing the Gospel (Rom 10:17). I believe there is hope. May the Lord have mercy on whom He will have mercy.