Blog recipients: To supplement one of our YouTube videos, we linked this chapter from Soul Whisperer. Enjoy!
— Chapter 18 —
The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.
I don’t know if this reflects a masochistic desire for pain, or sheer stupidity, but I have climbed Mount Whitney three times. This day hike gets you up at three a.m. to make a twenty-two mile trek from the base portal to the top and back, in one day. When you are done not only do you have a “body-buzz,” but also the bragging rights to having conquered the tallest peak in the continental US! Whitney tops out at 14,501 feet. It is a beautiful hike that takes you through distinctive sections: a gorgeous meadow, the famous ninety-seven switchbacks, and roped “cables” to cross the slippery ice of an underground spring.
The Trail Crest peak, with its vertical vistas, has always reminded me of a poignant phrase in the opening lines to The Fellowship of the Ring. Having described the gift of rings to the different races, the narrator adds, “But all of them were deceived.” Feeling triumphant over the switchbacks, you get a false sense of having made it when the next two miles are going to kick your butt! Your head begins to pound as it adjusts to the higher altitude where there’s plenty of oxygen, but less air pressure to access it. The final rock infested, moon like section has a number of thousand-foot drops, and some who deliriously ventured off the path have fallen to their demise. In hiking, they say the person fell and bounced! When you finally crawl over the last rock at the summit, you are beat to the bones, and have a moment of bewilderment asking why did you put yourself through this torture.
Teaching at a men’s retreat, I asked if anyone had hiked Whitney. A guy raised his hand, and then said he stopped a few hundred yards from the Summit due to altitude sickness. His buddies, not willing to let that slide exhorted, “You quit!” They continued to rub it in throughout the retreat. A path marks a journey. Just because a path exists does not mean you will make it; but often a path is necessary to get there. This segment introduces the concept of evangelistic mapping. It fulfills the third principle of Jesus’s drawing paradigm: Know where to take them. I aim to show what it will take to reach distinct categories of people. Knowing what it could take does not guarantee leading them to faith; yet having an understanding of their particular journey is extremely helpful. This kind of insight is becoming crucial in our increasingly pluralistic age.
The global community is spreading just about everywhere. When, as Christians, we begin to live missionally, increasingly we will encounter people of radically diverse starting points. I live in Southern California and am aware the rest of the country thinks we are a bunch of wacko’s. When I schooled at Denver Seminary, the lady apartment owner wanted to know where we were from. When I said California, she breathed a sigh of relief because she had a waterbed. I am not exaggerating; she actually believed all Californian’s had them. Some of you are saying—you mean you don’t? She believed it like it was official state policy. Okay, we are a little weird and crazy—all of us. Something happens when you cross the state line—morphing everyone into the same kind of nut-jobs. Though there may be some truth here, what’s most distinctive about California is diversity. Though not as cosmopolitan as world cities like London or New York, people from all walks of life are here.
A man at my church drives to work with four guys: A Jehovah Witness, Ex-Catholic, Hindu, and Muslim. No joke! I know it sounds like one: “A JW, Catholic, Hindu, Muslim, and Christian walk into a bar . . .” Not only do we have all the secular and religious types, but we have scarier cultural groups like Wiccans (witches), Vampire wannabe’s, Goths, and in California, God forbid—Raiders fans! (Please forgive me if you bleed silver and black). A gal from a class described her friend as highly intellectual with a PhD in Women’s History, and is Wiccan. Long gone are the days of homogeneous Judeo Christian backgrounds. In this way, the religious marketplace is more similar to the first century. For your encouragement, the gospel had amazing results amid the religious smorgasbord of that time. We, too, can see results, if we aren’t intimidated, but we must understand how to go about evangelism in specialized ways.
The mapping outlined in the next three chapters will enable you to see where you are attempting to take them. This, of course, is what Jesus knew, and navigated so well. If we can get them from where they are to the mapped designation we will have a chance to reach them. In this section we get specific, and to do so I have taken the liberty of categorizing people in illustrative ways. I have a deep respect for all these precious to God people (even the Raiders fans!) and would do everything to honor them, but have chosen to use graphic terms to increase clarity.
Let’s take a look at what the journey might be for: The God Accusers, Cultural Christians, Self-Fulfillment Freaks, Goody Goodies, and Progressives. In the next chapter we examine “worldview” building with theistic skeptics and atheists, and then in chapter 20, we’ll look at those from other religions. In contrast to the worldview-building sections, the people in the first five categories are not necessarily far from Christian foundations. They are, however, blocked by particular viewpoints, or have hearts in the wrong place. Often it is a combination of both the mind and heart. This is why we see variations in Jesus’s personal conversations. He knew what each uniquely needed. Again, soul whispering involves gaining insight of where to take the conversation.
THE GOD ACCUSERS
This accusing idea sounds terrible. Perhaps it is. But these are ordinary garden-variety people. They are not blowing up churches. They may not even be necessarily hostile to the church or Christians, but they are nursing a number of judgments on God, Christ, the gospel, or the church. I call them “God accusers.” I have to acknowledge that I belonged in this category for many years. It was my “God accuser” questions that the college humanities professor selected to share with the whole class. Having each student write down objections to Christianity, he then perused the responses one-by-one, obviously looking for something, and when he got to mine he stopped and read both questions: (1) “What about the people who haven’t heard the message?” (2) “How can you exclude people merely because they were raised to believe another faith—how unfair to punish them for being faithful to what they were taught.” I recall the Christians squirming in defense as he threw his weight behind these sentiments. Thankfully, my skepticism did not stop God from reaching me! But how do we address these objections?
Let me introduce you to “God-accuser” Don. He is hung up on the unfairness of the Christian message. He can’t get past the notion that some will miss heaven because they didn’t have the same chance as others. Although this view could be a smokescreen-like excuse, it can also be an honest, legitimate block. That was true for Don. He wasn’t blowin’ smoke; this unfairness thing was hanging him up. Our role is to get them to see things from an entirely different view.
The way to do that is to help them move from “Judging accuser” to “Humble human.” God needs to become bigger; they need to become smaller. Anything moving them in those directions will help. The best way to do this is to create a giant comparison between themselves and God. This technique is what happened with Job, the oldest writing of the Bible. At the end of the book, when Job saw who God really was, his need for answers dissipated. Grasp if you can the words of God to Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (Job 38:4). The question forced Job to compare himself with God. By the way, what is the answer to that question? How much can we offer God on laying global foundations? Zippo!
This line of reasoning can move people rather quickly from objections toward faith. I am not saying it would happen in one conversation, but it is staggering to see how influential it can be. This is because as human beings we are so far below the infinite power, wisdom, love, fairness, justice, and compassion of the true God. As evangelists, all we need to do is help others see this.
This is how the conversation went:
“It is easy to sit back and judge God and his ways. Yet are we suggesting that we know better? Is not God infinitely wiser? He created and designed the whole world. How can we say that we know better than him? Don, let me say it this way: How much do we even know? Of all the knowledge that exists, what percentage do we possess? (Pause) Are we to think that with our “pea brain” understanding that we are better able to call the shots than the God who knows everything? God is not shortsighted. In his full wisdom he determined that people would come to know him through faith in his Son. He also determined the message would go to the world through people, and that each person would have to make a personal choice. God has reasons for it being that way—we need to trust his wisdom.
Don, the question about fairness suggests that we have more love and compassion than he does. How much compassion do we have? If the truth were known, most of us care only for our family, a few friends, and ourselves. How much have we really done for others? God has infinitely more compassion. Should we make this judgment, when he sent his Son to suffer the cross for everyone?”
In about a forty-minute conversation, Don put aside his objections, committed his life to Christ and eventually became one of the leaders in our church. I admit it does take a humble spirit, tact, and conversational skill.
There are various illustrations that can help, and you can use yourself as the comparison example to lighten the edge. “Compared to God, we’re like an ant climbing onto a man’s shoestring and then making the audacious claim that we know a better route to the Sports Arena.” Another angle, “If you went down to Barnes and Noble, how many of the books have you read?” In my doctorate studies they introduced us to WorldCat.org, an online library, which contains the majority of books from most libraries of the world. Is that not mind-blowing? How many of the 15.5 million print books registered on WorldCat have you read? (Nov 2009). For average Joe, it is only a handful. Consider that all written material is only a drop in the bucket of all knowledge, and yet we possess a miniscule part of that drop. How then can we judge the God who knows it all? Not only does God have all the library knowledge, he knows everything undiscovered, and everything past and future. With his full view of all, he designed this world and the next one.
These are the kinds of conversations you have with people judging God. They are saying the world with all its sin and suffering is a big mental blunder on God’s part. If he had only thought it through! They mistakenly think our world is Plan B, but it’s not. Before the foundations of the world God had his plan of redemption (Gen 3; Eph 1:1-3). Our world is not plan B—its plan A. The fact of God being all wise means his plan is working out just the way he intended and for the ultimate good.
They are saying the gospel message is unfair, indicting God as unloving and devoid of compassion. We are saying this is not true. He is infinitely more loving and compassionate than we are—look at the cross! Consider his words and deeds. In his love and wisdom he has chosen that we would live in this world before the next, and that we would freely choose if we wanted to follow him. God does not want followers who feel forced into a relationship with him. For those dying young or who may not have heard, God will determine in justice where they will go. But for all of us in the know, God is absolutely clear that we must come to him through faith in His Son. Jesus did not suffer the cross for nothing! It is essential to one’s salvation. There is no other way. A payment must be made for our sin to satisfy God’s righteous character.
In all these matters, there is no divine oversight. Can you hear his voice, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?”
THE CULTURAL CHRISTIANS
Many of us know people who are culturally Christian by their family affiliation with Catholic or Protestant backgrounds. The Armenian Church adopted Christianity in 303 AD, a decade before Constantine extended tolerance within the Roman Empire. If you are Armenian than according to your culture you are assumed to be Christian. This same kind of cultural association happens with people growing up in religious families. Whether Armenian, Catholic or Protestant, some adopt Christian identity by family heritage or association. Of course, this creates confusion. Salvation does not flow through bloodlines, infant baptism, religious practice or place of worship. As the old adage says, “Being in a garage does not make you a car.”
If you have read this far, you know I am adverse to programmatic evangelism because it can be insensitive and out of touch with where people are and what they need. However, I recognize that certain questions asked at the right moment in the right tone can achieve a right result. It is in this scenario that I have used one of the Kennedy questions developed in what is called “Evangelism Explosion”—a classic programmatic evangelism training manual. This particular question is useful with a cultural Christian to discern where they are with Christ. It simply reveals what the person is trusting in. With this type we must expose the object of their faith. Are they trusting in . . . their religiosity . . . their goodness . . . their culture . . . their church affiliation? What is it?
Justin had come through the “Steps” class, and afterwards asks to discuss Catholicism and Christianity. Let me preface this section by saying I don’t really care if someone is Catholic or Protestant, what I do care about is whether or not they are Christian. Both Catholic and Protestant churches have Christians in them and both have people who are not. Being part of a church does not make one a Christian. I happen to believe there are more non-Christians in the Catholic Church because they give mixed messages about salvation. I also know from first hand contact that there are some evangelical Catholics out there who are on-fire Christians! However, Scripture, not tradition, typically guides Protestant churches, and the message of “justification by faith alone” is usually clear.
We decide to meet at Starbucks and after a bit of small talk and latte sips, we dive into discussion about branches of the Christian church. I give him a brief history lesson about the start of the Christian faith, Constantine’s adoption of Christianity as the state religion in the fourth century, the split of Western and Eastern Orthodox in the eleventh century, and then the “Protestant Movement.” One of the things I like to do is point out the Protestant reformation began with Catholics. It was a protesting attempt at reform that the church rejected. Thus, a new movement started based on the Scriptures as the sole authority for faith and practice.
After all the teaching he had heard in the core beliefs class, it was humbling to admit that it might not have gotten through. So I probed, “Justin, can I ask you a hypothetical question?” I am trying to discern where you are with things. To do so, I want to ask you a question that might seem a little out there. He says, “Sure.” In a humble tone and spirit, I ask, “Let’s suppose you were to have an accident and die this week, and then found yourself at the gates of heaven, and Jesus (not Peter!) said, “Why should I let you into my kingdom?” What would you say?”
He replies, “I have gone to church and tried to be a good religious person.” At this moment, I see how he has understood nothing. I look at him soberly and say, “That is not the right answer.” He responds thoughtfully, “You mean all the rosaries and prayers aren’t going to do it?” I looked at him brokenly and said, “Nope. Our religious devotion does not give us a right standing with God.” As an explanatory note, what happens with people who are culturally Christian is that they become inoculated to the meaning of words; repetition without understanding and response numbs mental receptors, and the gospel’s meaning gets lost in translation.
I go on, “There is only one right answer to Jesus’s question. It is to say, “I put my faith in your death on my behalf. Because you paid for my sins on the cross, you can let me in.” Only to that genuine response will Jesus open the door to his kingdom. I look at him, “Justin, brother—what we are talking about is so important. Friend, I want you to “get it.”” This was the first time “the faith concept” registered. That day the light bulb came on, and he became a Christian Catholic. It unified his family spiritually, and they continued into our next class for new believers. Though I am not endorsing the EE approach in general, let’s give credit for an effective diagnostic tool for this specific type of non-believer. We need to discern what they are trusting in, and then teach what biblical faith means.
THE SELF-FULFILLMENT FREAKS
It is fascinating to consider that some of the most famous stories of the New Testament are about the self-fulfillment freak. The Prodigal Son may be the most renowned parable of all. Today the son would be labeled an addict, a user, an out-of-control reality show star. Yet many people can relate to the “voice” that prompts a person to go off the deep end and head off on a pleasure-seeking binge. The call of the wild, the “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” impulse appeals to a lot of people, not just a few. Can you relate to these whispers—calling you to grab the pleasures and gusto of life? I can.
The Prodigal Son story is about the compassionate love of a Father toward a son who has wasted his inheritance money on the pursuit of personal pleasure. This journey out and home again can be relatively short, or very long depending on the person. I know people who followed that voice and came to their senses quickly. I once heard former NFL coach Marty Shottenhiemer tell about the day he was sitting in a bar with a number of beautiful ladies, and in a moment steps out of himself and says, “What am I doing here?” He got up, walked out that door, went home, married his girlfriend, and began a family. He knew that voice was not for him. Others hear that voice and go down the path for a long time. All the bumps, bruises and bottoms along the way are not enough to get them to turn the corner.
Because this category encompasses the pleasure seekers of life, we have many here in the compulsion-addictive camp. When the turning point arrives, many will need significant structure to stay on course. Recovery groups can provide that. Churches providing recovery principled ministries are offering grace, understanding, and wisdom necessary to sustain life change. There are situations when churches must humbly recognize that what they are offering is simply not enough. Some hurting people don’t just need a small group—they need an accountability call everyday, to attend regular or even daily meetings, and be in a type of intensive rehab-like program. Of course we want them to know Jesus as their higher power. I relate well with all the recovery people because I have the “pleasure seeking” gene. I know that self-indulgent pull.
Self-fulfillment freaks are looking out for number one and believing excitement is theirs for the taking. All they need is the right guy or gal, or guys or gals, or a lucrative job and all the stuff, or the ability to do what they want to do, or the fix that leads to escape or ecstasy. What they really need, however, is a major perspective shift.
As human beings we have the ability to size up life’s choices. The flashy lights of this world with all its glitz and glamour are alluring. Satan whispers that there’s nothing wrong with trying something one time. However, his aim is to get us to repeat that one time thing so that it eventually envelops our whole life. Give him an inch—he takes a mile! Yet as the great story unfolds, prodigal living leads to empty pockets and emptier people. We have a gospel that offers something profoundly better. The topic of wise ambition and lasting pleasure belongs to Christians. We can help them see the real high comes in living for Jesus. He offers us the only thing that truly lives and lasts. This is why Jesus’s appeal to the Samaritan woman is apropos. She is thirsty, and he offers her the only thing that can quench her soul.
Many have family or friends who are running down destructive dreams. Their pursuits are passing through distant lands, and we wonder what to do. Jesus encountered these exact people. Sometimes, all we can do is let them go. The Father in the Prodigal Son story gives him the inheritance money early, and lets him do as he pleases. After his pleasure-seeking binge the son “comes to his senses” (Luke 15:16). Sometimes we only learn the hard way: the party lifestyle of sex, drugs and rock’n roll doesn’t last forever. Some aren’t going to turn back until they first hit bottom. It is a sad but real part of human nature that we all deal with at some level. Yet there are times when we can positively influence direction and lay the foundation for belief. Let us study how Jesus responded and snatch a page from his book.
Pointing to the End Line
Has anyone ever challenged you to fathom the end result of your choices? This is what Jesus did so well. He used provocative lines like, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but lose his soul?” (Mark 8:36). Embellishing, it is like he is saying, “Okay, so you get everything you wanted—so what?” “You gained the world, but lost your soul, what good is that?” Here we sit down with a friend or family member and ask them, “Where is this path you’re taking going to end?” Or another angle is, “What are you going to become?” Then follow it up: “Is that what you want?” Bill Bright once had a chance to talk with a highly astute and successful lawyer friend of mine. In a brief exchange he said, “The danger is you could start working for money.” Those were potent end-line words for my dear friend Marc. Did he want to be just another lawyer bought by the almighty dollar? He stepped back and took those words to heart. That was not who he wanted to be.
If you listen to Christian music, you have probably heard the haunting song by Switchfoot called This is Your Life. Can you hear the lyrics? “This is your life, are you who you want to be? This is your life, are you who you want to beeeeee? This is your life, is it everything you dreamed that it would be when the world was younger . . . ” In the spirit of those lyrics we want the self-fulfillment freak to wrestle with the end result of their choices. We want them to feel the extending chorus of the song: “Don’t close your eyes. Don’t close your eyes . . . ” The hope is that they see it, and arrive at their own conclusion. If they realize the direction is ultimately a “dead end” road, they might just turn course.
Everyone who became a fan of the television series “Lost,” had their favorite character. In the first season’s episodes mine was Locke. The amazing thing about the former paraplegic box company worker was how impactful he was with his words. He had the gift of sight—the ability to envision what people needed for their journey’s next step.
To Charley … helping him choose life outside of drugs: “I am going to hold onto your drugs and when you ask the third time I am going to give them to you.”
To Shannon …with her need to change her manipulating relationship patterns with men: “Everybody gets a new life on this island Shannon, maybe its time to start yours.”
To Boone …over his codependent relationship with Shannon:
Boone: “You drugged me.”
Locke: “I gave you an experience.”
Boone: “I saw her die.”
Locke: “How did you feel?”
Boone: “I felt relieved.”
Locke: “Yes! Time to let go.”
Each time, Locke, summons a perspective shift that produces real change. That is what we are trying to do with the end line. We are offering an important perspective in hopes that it registers.
Today, we have shows like “The Bachelor,” where the man has twenty knock out gorgeous women all vying for him. Young guys grow up with dreams of women—plural. Muslims describe paradise as being with one thousand virgins. There is the thought that you can jump in bed with whoever you want, indulge millions of porn images, be the ladies man, and then go on with your responsible monogamous life once all that runs its course. I challenged this notion one day with a college student, saying, “Guys can get to the place where it is virtually impossible to be faithful to one woman. There will always be another hot babe.” The young guy suddenly thought of the end line. It caused him to realize what he was doing, and the fact his sexual pursuits may take his life to a place he did not want to be—to a point of no return. This conversation got through! He dreamed of being faithful to his future wife; it scared him to think he might condition himself so he could not achieve that. Is this what happened to Solomon in his older days? Why would the world’s wisest man end up in such a dark place with all those foreign women? I think it shows how strong this temptation can be.
Jesus created the perspective shift often. It explains his chosen words in many encounters. Why did he make such an extreme request of the young rich ruler? This is the man who unflinchingly claimed he’d kept all the commandments since he was boy. In response, Jesus says the simple phrase “One thing you lack.” Thinking he was ready to chock up eternal life to go with his earthly wealth and status, he hears the words, “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Mark 10:21). Let’s be honest here. What is your emotional reaction to the “one thing?” Does it seem to you, as it does to me, that Jesus is being rather hardcore? If you were this man what would you have done? The opportunity to give to the poor, have treasure in heaven, and become one of Christ’s disciples was a huge offer. It was the chance of a lifetime, and yet, most of us wrestle with these outrageous words. It feels difficult since we are, after all, material boys and girls, with much esteem and identity tied to possessions. Most of us don’t think material pursuits are wrong. Being a materialism byproduct myself, I wonder why Jesus didn’t make it easier on him? Why didn’t he say, “Keep most of your wealth, tithe ten percent, and follow me from a distance.”
Apparently Jesus saw something far more insidious than we do. He saw a man with a deeply engrained false love. To Jesus, the one thing was everything! His words were a scalpel to the man’s soul. Jesus knew as long as he remained bound by the material idolatry he would never be right. He had broken the first and greatest commandment to love God above all. Jesus sought his liberation. If only the man could have fathomed the amazing opportunity of walking alongside Jesus, but with his heart clouded, he couldn’t make the step—at least not then. Church tradition speculates this man was the young Joseph of Arimathea. We don’t know if the man came around, but I can only imagine the words of Jesus haunting him for the rest of his days if he didn’t. Those were powerful words! If we are going to reach the “Self-fulfillment freak” we must seek such words.
Whereas “self-fulfillment freaks” often reject Jesus to pursue a path of immorality, “goody-goodies” reject Jesus because of their perceived high morality. It is interesting to note that moralism is the antithesis of Christianity. We might falsely think atheism is the antithesis, but rationalist thinking is consistent with Christian beliefs. Atheists need help to use their rational abilities to see the insufficiency of their position. Also, pleasure seekers are merely looking for satisfaction in the wrong places. On the contrary, moralists believe something entirely inconsistent and antithetical to Christian teaching. This is why Paul had such a reaction to the Galatians return to Judaistic moralism. The passion level is so high in the biblical language that Paul essential cusses them out, although Bible translators have softened the language: “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?” (Gal 3:1). If any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed!” (Gal 1:9 NASB). The word “anathema” translated ‘accursed’ means eternal damnation.” It’s the equivalent of saying, “Let such a person go to hell!” The same righteous passion rises in Jesus with the premier moralists of his day, the Pharisees. He too has choice words calling them, “Whitewashed tombs!” (Matt 23:27). They look pretty on the outside, but are dead on the inside.
Every encounter Jesus has with a Pharisee could teach us something about moralists. Consider the contrast of the sinful woman and Simon, the Pharisee (Luke 7:36-50). She gets it. He doesn’t. Simon fails to see even his own rude manners, forgetting the common courtesies of providing his guest a foot washing and kiss. To the end he seems to be incapable of comprehending the significance of Jesus’s story. She understood her sin, his divinity, and what he did in forgiving her. He did not understand his sin, can’t see who Jesus is, and is blind to his massive need for forgiveness. This is the moralist.
The young rich ruler is a moralist too. He was the one telling Jesus he had kept all the commandments since his youth. In his mind, he had done them without even one slip! Obviously, he failed to understand the true meaning of the commandments. He interpreted them superficially, and failed to see the righteousness required by each, as expounded by Jesus in his sermon on the mount. Blinded, he could not see the evil idolatry possessing him. Jesus’s call exposed the true nature of his heart. This is what we have to do with moralists. Somehow, we have to find the way to get through to their thick self-righteous skulls that they are really prideful, arrogant, and self-delusional! They, of all people, desperately need a Savior. They are particularly ugly due to self-righteousness. Like the Pharisees, this category of person can be extremely hard on others, yet we see that Jesus had compassion on them. We should have that same heart to reach them too.
If you could win at golf with a high score—my shelves would be filled with trophies. I have never broken one hundred. My “hacker” ability level has created interesting moments like the time I played in front of Trevor Hoffman and Phil Nevin, two former stars of the San Diego Padres. Clearly one of baseball’s greatest closers, Hoffman will certainly make the Hall of Fame, and there I was slowing them up for eighteen holes. Because of their fame, when we pulled into the clubhouse, my partner Eric took our scorecard and had them autograph it—with my 121 score. It’s now framed in his garage for all to see! What if in life we journeyed with scorecard in hand? Each time we blew it, had a misstep, lied, acted selfishly, lusted, exalted ourselves, tore others down, neglected others needs, reacted unkindly, made evil choices, cussed under our breath—we marked it down. Instead, we conveniently forget what is uncomfortable to remember. We become deceived thinking we are golf gods when we are really stinkin up the course! So the challenge with moralists is bringing them into awareness.
This is not usually an easy thing to do in a way that sticks. Sometimes we can talk about errant thoughts and motives reflecting sin. We can also touch on standards and how we fall short of Gods, our own, and the ones we expect from others (Rom 2:1-3). Those are good biblical angles. Here are three other noteworthy awareness-raising ideas:
Expand the concept of sin.
Fascinatingly, Jesus declares to the moralistic Pharisees, “I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts” (John 5:42). The vacuum of divine love evidences sin. The Pharisees had the external veneer of righteousness, but Jesus saw what was off at the deep core. We were meant to love. Only through God’s power can we truly do it. Every moralist falls greatly short in how they relate with others in this world.
Explain sin in contrast to God.
In Romans 3:23, Paul develops his systematic case for how all, Jew and Gentile, are in trouble before God: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” I once watched a great sketch where the characters discussed their differing views on sinfulness. The dialogue asks each actor to indicate the degrees of their own sin by scoops of dirt: Are you a one, two, or three-scoop sinner? Each then scooped their self-determined number from a flowerpot, stirring the dirt into a clean glass of water. As you watched, you could see clearly Paul’s point in Romans 3; it doesn’t matter if you are a one, two or three scoop sinner—we’re dirty! Who would ever want to drink that disgusting liquid? God, by contrast, is pure righteousness. Comparing ourselves to others does not negate the dirtied state. Regardless of sin level, we fall massively short of his glory, and remain desperately in need of grace. Even moralists can learn to sing “Amazing Grace.” You don’t have to be former slave trader, like John Newton, to know that you qualify for his infinite covering.
Expose the sin of pride.
C. S. Lewis considered pride to be “The Great Sin.” Pride took down the highest angel; it is the sin that took down man. He closes his essay with these words, “If anyone would like to acquire humility, the first step is to realize one is proud. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.” We can ask somewhat facetiously: Are you conceited? When they say “no” just look and chuckle! (Not too boisterously). It’s like the question: Do you ever lie? If they say no, you point out that they are doing it right now! In doing this we are trying to help them. God is opposed to the proud but exalts the humble (1 Pet 4:2). The moralist champions the greatest sin of all. It has blinded and deceived them. We are trying to pull off blinders and give them a needed gaze of reality.
As to our sin condition, some of the most brilliant thinkers have weighed in on the human capacity for evil. Harvard professor and legal scholar James Wilson stated, “The veneer of civilization is very thin. Given the right set of circumstances anyone of us could commit unimaginable acts.” Similarly, Dallas Willard, USC professor and author writes about a readiness to sin factor, “This ever-present readiness fills common humanity and lies about us like a highly flammable material ready to explode at the slightest provocation.” He observes how quickly we enter the impulse to hurt or harm, to lie verbally out of self-protection, and to engage in wrongdoing.  What the Bible says about us is true. We have an internal propensity for sin. If anyone has the courage to introspect honestly, they can see something wrong. Asking for editorials on the question of “What’s wrong with the world,” one man wrote in to the newspaper, “I am.”
In our first church planting experience, I got to know a moralist at an intimate level. I first met Avery when we started a church at a school in San Diego’s North County. A retired lifer from Delta Airlines, Avery now worked for the school district as a custodian. He was such a warm and pleasant personality, always helpful. Over the months and years of growing the church, Avery often stood in the back and listened. We began to have a ministry to him. Then came the time of retirement from his custodial job. I distinctly remember the Sunday after, when Avery walked into the church and sat down as one of us. We had become his church family. I did the memorial service for his wife. It crushed him—they were a beautiful couple. My conversations at his apartment were at times difficult, only because he seemed to struggle with the gospel, and owning the sin concept. Even when we baptized him, I was not sure if he had come to faith. That doubt remained for years.
As his health deteriorated, I received a call from his sister that he was soon to die. I hustled down to the hospital to be with him. Arriving, I sensed a humility I had not seen before. He knew his time was at hand, his heart was penitent—he was finally ready to own his sin before God. I led him in the sinner’s prayer, and he meant it. It was a divine moment. Then, something strange happened. When the Lord came into his life, he recovered. He went on to live another two years! His extended family then blamed his sister and me for affecting his turnaround. They said, “It all happened when you came to visit him.” His retirement money eventually went dry, and they were resentful, and chose even not to have a memorial service in his honor.
Moralists are never easy to reach. We will not be fellowshipping with many Pharisees in heaven. Yet there are some. I look forward to seeing Avery in the next world, where his pride will be in Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of his faith!
The Christian church has image problems. According to The Barna’s Group’s 2007 research in Unchristian, young non-believers ages 16 to 29 perceived Christians as hypocritical, judgmental, political, intolerant, out of touch, and homophobic. In American media believers are routinely stereotyped as stiff ultra-conservative clones that favor the rich and oppose sex. This is not an appealing picture for young people, who aspire toward image-values of service to the disadvantaged, tolerance and love to all. They view themselves as progressive, where Christianity is seen as old school “good ole boy” thinking that has led to all the deep problems.
What is fascinating about these conclusions is that Jesus’s contemporaries perceived him as a radical. . If you take a close look at his life, Jesus was a revolutionary who was far too inclusive, tolerant, and compassionate for his own religious culture. How ironic that people today reject Jesus over the very things Jesus rejected. The key to reaching progressives is reclaiming their perception of Christianity.
In your dialogues, make sure you point out the real Jesus that they are being asked to follow:
- Jesus identified with the poor, and championed justice. His resounding message has given hope and inspired major worldwide compassion efforts. It is Jesus who taught us to humbly serve “the least of these.”
- Jesus is green, and self-sustaining! He may have cursed a fruit tree to illustrate his deep disappointment with Israel’s readiness, but as it’s creator, he is eco-friendly and will one day bring about the total restoration of the creation that we all long for (Isa Chapters 54–66).
- Jesus was a social revolution advocate. In fact, he launched a movement that revolutionized how women are treated, how servants are esteemed; in essence, he conferred positional status to disenfranchised underprivileged groups.
- Jesus was gracious to sinners. In the story of the woman caught red handed in adultery, Jesus’s words disarm the self-righteous stone-throwers. He wasn’t known for being intolerantly judgmental, but rather for extending amazing grace, a friend of sinners.
- Jesus is pro-sex within its God given marital design. Our Bible even contains an erotically sexual book, The Song of Songs of Solomon (please don’t tell me it’s merely the picture of our relationship with God!). Sex is God’s creation and gift to be celebrated within marriage covenant parameters, but not worshipped. Every good gift can be corrupted. And anything good that is made ultimate, other than God becomes bad. Whenever God commands sexual boundaries they are for our protection, not because he is a cosmic killjoy.
Despite all these culturally progressive aspects of Jesus, he was no people pleaser. He spoke the truth about us, refusing to pander to or placate his culture, and nor does he do that with us either. We may not always agree with everything from Jesus, but in this we have to face truth because he says it straight. If we are honest with what is best for our lives, we know how much we need to be unyieldingly challenged.
Progressives turned off by a wrong perception of Christianity will most likely have to be drawn by Christians they esteem. The rule with progressives is “it takes one to reach one.” Therefore cultural progressives need to be influential parts of the church. Do you know any environmentally conscience, hip, fashionable, trend setting, compassionate activists and advocates for the disadvantaged? Some of you are saying: “That’s me!” Thank God for any church creating a culture where they feel at home, and can find expression. for their values. We need them to reach our expanding culture.
It’s important to note from an evangelistic perspective that Jesus was apolitical. “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Matt 22:21). That doesn’t mean we do not participate in the political arena, it does mean there is something higher to consider. Because my greatest call is to reach my neighbors, I am careful in expressing my political views seeking not to put politics above God’s greater aim. A fellow minister describes the time he placed a Protect Marriage initiative sign in his yard only to learn later that his unbelieving neighbor whom he was reaching towards saw it, and stepped back from their relationship. Mike said, “I will never do that again.” He’s concluded, “You cannot be political and an evangelist at the same time.” In the church, we need to have wisdom so we can reach and not repel our culture.
* * *
A lone ship approaches the Spanish port of Seville. Eighteen barefooted men clothed in rags step to solid ground. The next day they proceed to the shrine of Santa Maria de la Victoria to fulfill their vows. How could witnesses at the port possibly conceive of what they had done? They were the first to find a strait through the Southern Tip, a 338-mile, anything-but-straight meandering maze. They were the first to cross the Pacific—one hundred days of endless ocean, leading starving men to eat sawdust to survive. They were the first to circumnavigate the globe revealing a world two-thirds larger than anyone had imagined. As human beings we have a propensity to miss the meaningful. The survivors of Magellan’s crew had completed the greatest sea voyage ever. The implications— revolutionary!
When all history is finally written, the most revolutionizing and lasting journeys will not be the ones from antiquity’s archives. Rather, they will be the journeys people made to faith. When you engage to help a person find their path to the cross, you are altering one’s life course from here all the way into eternity. Your efforts have the potency to transform their lives and touch countless people through successive generations. May the gravity of the endeavor lift and sustain you!
 Dempsey, “Counting,” lines 10–11.
 Kennedy, Evangelism Explosion, 18.
 Lewis, Mere Christianity, 108–14.
 James Wilson, Quotes.
 Willard, Spirit of the Disciplines, 225–27.
 Miller, Hunger for Healing, 122.
 Kinnaman and Lyons, Unchristian, 28.
 Boorstin, The Discoverers, 259–66.