Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Stopping America's Greatest Epidemic

"My dear friends, if you know people who have wandered away from God's truth, don't write them off. Go after them. Get them back and you will have rescued precious lives from destruction and prevented an epidemic of wandering away from God" (James 5:19-20, Message).

Let's Go After the Millions Who Have Lost Their Faith

Q. How can I help my friend who has left church and seems to doubt everything he or she used to believe about God, the Bible, and the Christian faith?

A. Since the publication of my new book, If God Disappears: 9 Faith Wreckers and What to Do about Them (SaltRiver, Tyndale House Publishers), I've heard this question a lot.

Here's how to go after your friend in the name of Jesus Christ...

First, love your friend unconditionally.

Second, invite your friend to tell his or her story. When they do, just listen. Don't ask questions. Don't interrupt at all, except to quickly affirm that you're actively listening.

Third, be unshockable. Truth be told, we've all broken the Ten Commandments, at least in our heart. Confession is good for the soul, so let your friend just talk. Don't react to anything he or she says, no matter how ugly or angry. They're not angry at you, even if it sounds that way. 

Fourth, after your friend has finished talking, remain quiet. Keep listening. While on business in Orlando I met a man who poured out his heart to me. When he was done, I kept looking into his angry, deeply hurt eyes and didn't say anything. After a minute he finally told me, "All I needed was hope and mercy." What a profoundly sad statement. But if I had started talking, I never would have heard what he needed. 

Fifth, once your friend tells you what he or she needs, clarify that list. Make sure you both agree on what was or is needed. 

Sixth, don't promise to meet your friend's needs. Often they want to know "Why?" You don't know. Don't even try to guess. Speculation will only ruin your credibility. 

Seventh, if you and your friend have a mutual friend who has a strong faith in God, explore the possibility of inviting that mutual friend to join you at some point in the future. If your friend can share his or her story with a second person, it's often helpful. That mutual friend may be a pastor, a professor, a psychologist, or another gifted Christian leader. Or that mutual friend may be an "ordinary" but wise individual you both know you can trust. 

Eighth, ask your friend if you can pray for them. If they're in agreement, pray right then. Then remind them from time to time that you're still praying for them. Prayer invites God back into the picture. 

Ninth, at the right time invite your friend to read the Bible with you. Read one of the four Gospels together. As you read, pray that your friend will fall in love with Jesus again. 

Finally, stay in touch with your friend no matter what. Your friendship can't be contingent on whether or not your friend comes back to faith in God. That's up to God, not you. You may have to hang in there for years before your friend re-embraces faith. No problem. Never get up on your friendship. True, some will walk away. But never let it be said that you walked away.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Yahoo Atheist Wonders About God Disappearing

For 13 more hours, you can reply to a Yahoo atheist named "Jefferson S" by logging onto http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20090424080059AAcKGvO.

Jefferson's query: "Believers, what would you do if God disappears? I'm atheist but I'm just interested about what you would do if your imaginary god hypothetically poofs out of existence? What would happen to your morals when there is no reason to be righteous anymore? (no eternal punishment)."

As you can imagine, a lot of atheists and Christians alike have submitted responses over the past three days.

Here's what I said in my reply:

My father is an atheist. While I was growing up, he emphatically told me there was no god and, therefore, no rules. "Don't obey anyone," he told me in no uncertain terms. "Don't even obey me."

When I decided for myself that I believed God has appeared and that I wanted to be a follower of Jesus Christ, however, I found out our family did have a religion and a hard and fast rule. The religion was atheism and the rule was you couldn't follow Jesus Christ.

Buddha? Fine. Confucius? Terrific. The great atheists of the past four centuries? All the better. But Jesus Christ? Absolutely not. My paternal grandparents disowned me. My father unleashed his anger on me.

I paid my dues by studying under a German existentialist philosopher. My challenge to her: Convert me back to atheism or I'll be a follower of Jesus Christ all my life. After studying the great atheists over the past four centuries, I came to some amazing conclusions. They could write brilliantly about any subject under the sun except God, the Bible, and Christianity. Even those who wrote great textbooks on logic couldn't piece together a logical essay against God's existence.

For them, God's non-existence was a matter of faith. It's a faith I couldn't accept. I've written two books telling my story and addressing these issues in depth. I've listed both below.

If God Disappears: 9 Faith Wreckers and What to Do about Them by David Sanford (SaltRiver, Tyndale House Publishers, 2008), www.IfGodDisappears.blogspot.com, www.IfGodDisappears.com

God Is Relevant: Finding Strength and Peace in Today's World by Luis Palau and David Sanford (Doubleday, 1997)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April 1 -- Who Is the Biggest Fool?

In many parts of the world, April 1st is known as APRIL FOOLS' DAY. 
In Luke 12:16-21, Jesus talks about...

In Luke 12:16-21, Jesus talks about...

THE RICH FOOL

What's the Rich Fool's name?

If you asked the judge Ehud, he would have told you King Eglon of Moab, an extremely wealthy and obese tyrant who oppressed God's people for eighteen long years before his gruesome demise (Judges 3:12-20).

If you asked the prophet Samuel, he would have told you Eli, a well-to-do priest who scorned the things of God and suffered the same fate the Lord predicted would befall Eli's two utterly wicked sons (1 Sam. 2:27-4:18).

If you asked King David, he would have told you Nabal, a mean and dishonest man who had grown rich, threw a big party in his own honor and then was struck dead by the Lord (1 Sam. 25:2-38).

Scripture makes it clear that wealth can be a blessing of God.

But material wealth also can be a snare of the Devil, turning our heart from the eternal to the temporal--from wisely choosing God's will to blindly pursuing our own pleasures (Deut. 8:1-20; 1 Tim. 6:6-10).

If we've learned anything the past six months, it's that temporal wealth is just that--temporal. It can be here today, gone tomorrow. So let's hold it lightly, as a gift from God. And as a gift, let's use it and give it away and do things that matter for eternity while we can.

Unlike the Rich Fool, let's always remember that everything we have is God's--and do all we can to store up treasure in heaven.

After all, Jim Elliot was right: "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose."

What many people don't know is that Jim's older brother, Bert Elliot, left for the mission field three years before Jim did. Bert and his wife, Colleen, have given their entire adult lives to serving the Lord in Peru, South America.

Among their many accomplishments, Bert and Colleen have planted well over 100 churches in the Amazon jungles, Andes mountains, and coastal desert regions of Peru. On many occasions, they've risked their lives.

On one occasion years ago Bert and I were walking along a jungle path when he told me, "I expect to leave Peru with a bullet in my head." Little did we know that the Shining Path terrorists had just signed a pact with the drug lords in those very jungles. Among other things, they put a price on Bert's head. Less than three days later they attacked the jungle town where Bert and I had left our wives. Thankfully, God spared their lives. But I quickly learned that it isn't always hard to become a martyr.

What's much harder is living for God with one's whole being for one's whole life. Then and there, I made a commitment to do just that.

I hope you've made the same commitment to "keep the faith" through thick and thin, in poverty and wealth, for as long as you live...whether to age 25, 45, 65, or 85.

On Saturday, April 25, Bert is scheduled to receive an honorary doctorate from Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon.

He is no fool, indeed.