Everyone You Meet is a Divine Appointment

 

Because I believe in a sovereign God I hold to the position that every person you meet is a divine appointment. However, every once in a while God highlights an encounter and His involvement in orchestrating the appointment is more obvious. I want to share with you one such encounter I recently had, and how encounters like these have changed the way I pray for God to open doors to be a witness for Christ.

 

No mood for evangelism

I picked up these two pieces of art while on a spontaneous last minute kid-free trip to Avila Beach with Candace. We walked around downtown Avila and landed at a local hipsteresque coffee shop to enjoy the scenery, a delicious single-original pour over, and of course – each other. Needless to say, having spiritual conversations with complete strangers wasn’t on our agenda, to be shamefully honest.

 

 

As we sat on the patio looking out toward the ocean soaking up the sun in the perfect weather I noticed a young guy on my right side. He was unkempt, barefoot and hippy-looking, wearing a hoodie with board-shorts and coke-bottle glasses. At first I couldn’t tell if he was homeless or hipster (or both?). His small, lazy dog was passed out underneath his chair as he sat Indian-style drawing intently in his sketchpad.

 

 

The conversation starts

As I glanced over to satisfy my curiosity, his artwork immediately captivated my attention. I noticed he was using a mixture of coffee and India-ink in his sketches. I awkwardly interrupted his train of thought and asked “what are you working on?” As simple as that – a conversation starts. He was excited that someone cared enough to ask and happily started showing me and Candace all his work. He said I could have any piece I wanted – I offered him $20 if I could take two. He enthusiastically agreed.

 

 

It gets interesting

After briefly talking about his art and creative process, I started to ask questions about him. It got interesting. I learned that his name is Adam. Or Dustin. Or whatever he wanted to go by that day (his words). I learned that he had two college degrees from when he went to school in Colorado, where he’s originally from (a degree in biochemistry and one in religion). I learned that he hated his mother, and institutions, so he left Colorado to explore the world.

 

After traveling in Asia, then Peru, he made the decision to not touch money and to live off of the land and the hospitality of locals. He also decided to stop wearing shoes. His mom somehow convinced him to move back to Colorado. After a couple months of soul-sucking capitulation he skipped town to live in California where he would wander the beaches, make rock cities and draw in front of the coffee shop.

 

We talked about Buddhism, Hinduism, corrupt drug-selling cops, and telepathic alien fish people (I am not kidding). He told me that Jesus was really a Buddhist, and all institutionalized religion is corrupt.

 

 

Now we talk some Jesus

By this time in the conversation I’m praying under my breath for God to give me the words to say. Since he brought up Jesus, I asked what he thought about Him and why he came to the conclusion that Jesus was a Buddhist. Finding a bit of common ground, we got into a rich dialogue about the Bible and how Jesus Himself rose up against the religious establishment because they missed the point.

 

Just as he was agreeing with me, I had to remind Adam of Jesus’ words in John 14:6 where He says “I am the way and the truth and the life…” Jesus didn’t say He was a way, but the way; and He doesn’t allow for a belief that “all roads lead to life” when He emphatically says “no one comes to the Father except through me”.

 

The conclusion

The conversation went on for another ten or so minutes, sharing the truth about Jesus as often as I could. No, Adam didn’t repent of his sins, renounce his idolatry and give his life to Jesus right then and there. However, a seed was planted. Adam thanked me for being educated about what I believe, and he said that it was refreshing to have a conversation with a Christian who was actually willing to talk to him, rather than brush him off (maybe telepathic alien fish people is too much for some people). I encouraged him to keep seeking the truth and to follow it no matter where it leads, because the road to truth ends with Christ.

 

We shook hands, parted ways, and Candace and I started praying for him in the car. We quoted scriptures like “one plants, another waters, but God gives the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:5-8) and “God’s word will not return to Him empty, but will accomplish what He desires and achieve the purpose for which He sent it” (Isaiah 55:11).

 

 

Takeaways

There are a few things I took away from this encounter.

  1. Every appointment is a divine appointment, so we should be aware, ready, willing, and able to have spiritual conversations at all times. There are likely dozens of potential missed opportunities to share the Gospel because we are too busy with our own agenda – I want to be busy about His agenda.
  2. Conversations are pretty easy to start, so we should have more of them. This conversation started with the simple question “what are you working on?” I couldn’t have predicted where the conversation would go from there, but statistically speaking I would have more opportunities to share the Gospel if I was more intentional about starting simple conversations with strangers.
  3. It’s important to know your stuff. I’m not an expert on many things. I can’t help with conversations about corrupt, drug-selling cops, or telepathic alien fish people, but when the conversation leads to Jesus, the Bible or the Gospel I can add some substance. Adam thanked me for “being educated” about what I believed.
  4. A little kindness goes a long way. I intentionally made several emotional deposits with Adam. I was legitimately curious about his art. I valued his talents by purchasing his work. I asked about his story. I genuinely cared about him. Making these emotional deposits allowed me the opportunity to maintain civility and Adam’s respect while making a huge withdraw – telling him that his beliefs were wrong and Christ calls him to repentance. The more deposits you make into someone the more weight your withdraws hold in their mind. So be kind and winsome.

 

It’s conversations like these that have caused me to stop praying for God to open doors of opportunity to share the Gospel. My prayer now is “Lord, help me to be cognizant of the doors I know you’ve placed in my life… Help me to be aware of the divine appointments you’ve set before me today. Give me a willing heart and an able mind to share your love with the people you’ve put in my path. In Jesus’ Name, amen!”

 

Here are some pictures from that day

PREACH – Part 1 (Preaching and Teaching – What’s the Difference)

What is a Preacher?

Before reading this article, ponder these questions for a second.

  • What comes to mind when you hear the word “preach” or “preacher”?
  • Who, in the church, are those called to preach?
  • What is the difference (if any) between preaching and teaching?

 

Traditionally I always thought preachers were just charismatic Christian speakers. A preacher, in my understanding, was one who could pull the full range of emotional strings in an audience. They’d make you laugh, cry, and shout “AMEN!” all in one sermon. I thought that teachers, by contrast, were speakers who were a bit more dry and intellectual. Teachers in the church cared more about fleshing out the finer points of doctrine and took a more academic approach to reading the scriptures. If a sermon was particularly moving or convicting I would think “that man can preach!” If I felt more intellectually stimulated I would say “he’s more of a teacher than a preacher”. In my journey through the Bible, though, I would find these understandings of preaching and teaching to be false.

 

God’s Power to Save Rests in News

The word “Gospel” simply means “Good News”. In the biblical context The Gospel refers to the good news of Jesus defeating sin and death at the Cross and being raised from the dead to forgive all those who turn to Him in faith. Romans 1:16 tells us that The Gospel is “God’s power for salvation”. Not our good works, or a ritual, or a particular prayer, or baptism, or anything else – it’s the Gospel alone that has the power to save.

 

It’s interesting to think that our salvation rests in news; and this news must be told. The question, then, is who will tell people this news?

 

“But how can they call on Him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about Him? And how can they hear without a preacher?”

Romans 10:14

 

The Gospel is a Message to Be Proclaimed

The word “preacher” can literally be translated as herald, public crier, announcer or proclaimer. The word is used 61 times in the New Testament, and always refers to the verbal proclamation of the Gospel of Christ. Some argue that we are to “preach the gospel always, and when necessary, use words”. Though that’s a nice sentiment, it’s impossible (and unbiblical) to assume that we can preach the gospel any other way than using our words. The Gospel is not simply a philosophy to appreciate and live by – The Gospel is a message to be proclaimed.

 

So, Who Are the Proclaimers?

So we’ve established that the Gospel is a message to be proclaimed (or news to be announced); and the preacher is the one who proclaims the news. Who, then, are these proclaimers of good news? Who are the preachers?

 

“Then He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation.””

Mark 16:15

 

­The Great Commission has been recognized as the marching orders of the church for over 2000 years. As followers of Jesus we are all called to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), and as we saw in Romans 1:16 and 10:14 the only way a disciple is made is through the proclamation of the Gospel. Therefore, the call to believe is also a call to preach.

 

“And since we have the same spirit of faith in keeping with what is written, I believed, therefore I spoke, we also believe, and therefore speak.”

2 Corinthians 4:13

All to Preach, Some to Teach

Not many should become teachers, my brothers, knowing that we will receive a stricter judgment…”

James 3:1

 

In explaining spiritual gifts to the church in Corinth, the Apostle Paul explains that “there are different gifts, but the same Spirit…” He then explains how each Christian is like a different body part, functioning in its own individual way to benefit the rest of the body. He asks the rhetorical question, “are all teachers?” with the assumed answer being no (see 1 Corinthians 12). In his letter to Timothy, Paul gives qualifications for leaders in the church, specifically elders and deacons. The primary difference between elders and deacons is that elders should be able to teach – a requirement not imposed on deacons (see 1 Timothy 3).

 

Biblically speaking, my previous idea of preachers being charismatic and teachers being academic was false. If someone is speaking to the church, reading from the scriptures and explaining what the text means and how it applies, they are teaching. There are many different flavors of teachers and teaching styles because there are many different flavors of people. Some teaching styles may be more charismatic, others more scholastic. Some styles are better than others, and some are just different. But it’s important to know the difference between preaching and teaching so that we avoid the mistake of thinking the role of a preacher is reserved for a select few.

 

Most Christians are not called to teach in the church because teaching is a high calling that requires a stricter judgement. Though the bible is clear that not all are called to teach in the church, it is equally clear that all Christians are called to preach the gospel to the world.

 

In Conclusion

To preach is to proclaim, and the teach is to explain. The teaching ministry is reserved for a select few in the church, but the preaching ministry is given to all. The Gospel is the central message of Christianity and every recipient of it has been commissioned by Christ to proclaim it; consequently the call to believe is also a call to preach. Therefore, GO!

 

GO! Introduction

An 8-part journey designed to move the church to PREACH the TRUTH with CLARITY, CONVICTION, and COMPASSION.

 

Introduction

Early on in my Christian walk I became passionate about sharing the Gospel. About a year or so into my faith I started to hit the streets on a weekly basis to intentionally talk about Jesus with strangers. When you routinely share the Gospel, it’s easy to treat it just like that – a routine. I would prepare tirelessly: watching videos, reading books, learning new methods. In my preparation I memorized a few different presentations, I had common objections and rebuttals nailed down and I was ready! Before I knew it, I was regurgitating a canned, scripted Gospel performance that seemed to come out with no emotion or conviction. I effectively grew numb in my presentation of the Gospel that saved my soul and transformed my life.

 

That’s when I started preparing my heart, more than my mind. I would spend more time praying that God would break my heart with the truth of the Gospel. I prayed that God would allow me to preach it as if it were my first time. In my prayer closet is where the phrase that is the mission statement for this series came from. Here is why each word of that prayer is important to me:

  • I knew that if I was going to preach, I wanted to preach the truth. Not my truth (as if there was such a thing), but God’s truth. Laying aside my presuppositions and learned theology, I wanted to accurately preach what God has revealed in scripture.
  • However, in my study of God’s truth I noticed myself becoming more philosophical and my Gospel presentation would become more complex. The Gospel is simple, and I was often over-complicating it, adding unnecessary stumbling blocks for my hearers. So, I prayed that God would allow me to preach the truth with clarity so that those I would preach to could understand.
  • Not only did I want to present the Gospel clearly, I wanted to preach with the same conviction that drove me to repentance the day I was saved. After sharing the gospel 100’s of times I often sounded apathetic. I prayed that God would amaze me afresh with the truth of the Gospel, and reignite the conviction in my presentation.
  • However, conviction from a loveless heart comes off as arrogant, prideful, and calloused towards the individual. When faced with opposition, I became proud and arrogant and often wanted to win the battle of the argument at the expense of the war over their soul. That’s why I prayed for God to allow me to share His compassion for the people He would call me to.

 

So that’s been my prayer for the last several years. “Lord, help me to preach the truth with clarity, conviction and compassion.” Each discussion topic in this series revolves around each of the key words in the prayer. Here’s an overview.

 

PREACH pt. 1

The Gospel is a message to be proclaimed, not merely a standard to live by. The Great Commission is for everyone – not just pastors and ministry leaders. While not every Christian is called to teach in the church, all believers are called to preach to the world.

 

PREACH pt. 2

The painful reality is that only 1/3 of the world’s population professes faith in Christ, which means that approximately 100,000 people enter Hell every day! There are at least three reasons Christians don’t share the Gospel: 1) They Don’t Care To, 2) They Don’t Know How To, 3) They Are Afraid To. We’ll explore each in this discussion.

 

TRUTH pt. 1

“What is truth?” This was Pontius Pilate’s famous question when Jesus said that He came “to testify to the truth”. We are living in a world that is becoming increasingly more offended at the idea that there is a singular truth that belongs to God and is not left up to man to determine. In this discussion, we’ll look at what the bible says about truth, and what our responsibility as a church is, in light of the truth.

 

TRUTH pt. 2

The Gospel is the most important truth there is because it is “the power of God unto salvation”. The word “Gospel” simply means “Good News”, but the Good News is only rightly understood with a proper understanding of the Bad News. Far too often Christians are quick to talk about the Good News without setting the stage with a proper understanding of the Bad News, thus taking away from how amazing the Gospel truly is. In this discussion, we’ll look at the beauty of the Gospel in stark contrast to the dark backdrop of man’s fallenness.

 

TRUTH pt. 3

What happens when there are objections to the proclamation of the truth? How are we to respond? The bible is clear that we are to “always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you”, but how are we to do this? Giving a defense of the faith is known as apologetics. There are two popular approaches within Christianity as to how to “give a defense” of the truth claims of the bible – classical apologetics, and presuppositional apologetics. In this discussion, we will explore both.

 

CLARITY

It’s our responsibility to lead people to the cross, it’s God’s responsibility to put them on it. It is not our obligation to make anyone believe the gospel – that is a work of God that He alone does through the faithful preaching of the gospel. However, no matter what context you find yourself in, it’s important to preach the truth with clarity so that your hearers can comprehend the message you are relaying. Jesus came as a man speaking a language that people understood and preached sermons using illustrations people could relate to. We, too, should seek to proclaim the gospel in words and ways that our context can understand and relate to, without compromising the essentials. In this discussion we’ll explore the concept of contextualization.

 

CONVICTION

We mustn’t present the gospel as a tired, scripted, canned message that we bottle up and regurgitate the same way every time we preach it. People believe those who are thoroughly convinced of what they’re proclaiming. Paul told the Corinthian church, “My speech and my proclamation were not with persuasive words of wisdom but with a powerful demonstration by the Spirit, so that your faith might not be based on men’s wisdom but on God’s power.” This is a power that we cannot find in-and-of ourselves – it comes from God. This discussion will compel us to seek God for the power to proclaim His message “with a powerful demonstration by the Spirit”.

 

COMPASSION

There’s a popular truism “people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care”. The Bible says “lust us not love in word or speech, but in action and truth”. The message of the gospel is always preceded and followed by genuine love for the people we’re reaching out to. In this discussion, we’ll explore what the bible says about compassion, and how it directly correlates to our proclamation of the truth.

 

Thank you for taking this journey with me. I pray that through it, God would do amazing things.

Sean

Empathic Listening – How It Helps Relationships, Business and Ministry

So I learned a new term after reading Stephen Covey’s book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People“. The term is “Empathic Listening”. In short, empathic listening is the art of actually caring about someone you’re talking to. The goal is to first seek to genuinely understand a person, and then to be understood. When someone discerns that you’re actually taking initiative to clearly understand them, it’s more likely that they’ll reciprocate the listening.

 

 

It’s easier said than done

This, however, is easier said than done. Most of us seek first to be understood, and don’t really care about understanding the other person’s point of view. This is especially true when we disagree. We spend most of our lives learning how to communicate our thoughts. We rarely, if ever, learn how to listen well. Often times, especially in disagreements, we wait for the other person to stop talking so we can share our point of view; rather than taking the time to genuinely and deeply understand theirs.

 

Though this term was new to me when I heard it from Covey, the principle is not. I’ve been practicing this skill for a few years now, and have experienced great results in all areas of my life.

 

 

How empathic listening helps my relationships

In The 7 Habits, Covey talks about “emotional deposits”, which essentially are ways to earn trust with someone. Basically the theory goes like this: when you make enough deposits in someone’s “emotional bank account”, you’re more free to make a withdrawal. Emotional withdrawals are things like disagreements, corrections, mistakes, failures, rebukes, reprimands, etc. Things that are often likely to hurt our feelings or pride. However, emotional deposits are things like affirmations, complements, follow-through, acts of kindness, etc. Covey points out that one of the biggest deposits we can make into a person’s emotional bank account is empathic listening – seeking to genuinely understand them.

 

I’m very much a type-A personality. So is my wife. That means there’s a lot of opportunity for clashing and “intense fellowship” (which is a nice way of saying all-out-brawl). Disagreements in my household are inevitable. If we’re not intentional about how we are to disagree then it can get pretty ugly. One of the rules we’ve tried to implement (imperfectly, but at least we’re trying) is allowing the other person the opportunity to clearly express their point of view. And listening doesn’t mean I just shut up and wait for the noise coming from her mouth to stop so I can chime in with the correct perspective. We truly want to understand each other. This doesn’t mean that we are going to leave the conversation in agreement – we often don’t. It means that we value our relationship enough to genuinely and deeply understand each other, even if we disagree.

 

 

How empathic listening helps my business

As the Lead Strategist for Butler Branding, Discovery is a huge aspect of my job. Discovery is where we seek to learn about the brands we represent as well as the users they serve. I literally cannot do my job without deeply listening to my clients. However, when I first started Butler, we were not a Brand Strategy agency; we focused primarily on Brand Design (making things look pretty). The thing about designers is that they’re a dime a dozen. With the state of the internet and how readily accessible design education and tools are, the supply of good design tacticians is abundant which drives the price for decent design way down. However, what’s not so readily accessible or easily attained is the ability to strategize, and especially to bridge the gap between strategy and design. What I’ve found is that the best designers are those who design from a strategy, and one of the primary keys to helping brands strategize their branding efforts is to know how to listen and what to listen for.

 

When I dove into the world of Brand Strategy, I dove into the world of professional empathic listening. This art has literally helped me differentiate my company from the competition. Rather than competing (offering a variation of something that already exists) I prefer to differentiate (offering something completely different). Empathic listening has helped us do just that, and the results include a 10X increase in our average size engagement.

 

 

How empathic listening helps my ministry

I love to share the gospel with people. I often go out with Fresno Street Ministry on the first Saturday of every month to share the gospel with complete strangers on the street. From the very first time I shared the gospel until now I have always been met with people of opposing beliefs. I’ve interacted with Atheists, Agnostics, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and all sorts of people from varying philosophical worldviews and religious beliefs. By virtue of being a Christian, it goes without saying that I disagree with a lot of people.

 

I’ve noticed many people in my evangelical tribe who also love to share the gospel, and who likewise come across people with varying beliefs. However, I’ve also noticed from some of these same people an attitude of pride and arrogance that displays itself with the assertion of truth apart from seeking to hear the people they disagree with. Before I go out to share the gospel, it is already assumed that I’m going to disagree with people. My goal is to remove any stumbling blocks that would hinder them from hearing the gospel. Seeking to be heard without seeking to truly listen is an enormous stumbling block that brings unnecessary offense, hindering my ability to clearly convey the message of the gospel.

 

Employing empathic listening when presenting the gospel isn’t a compromise of the truth, as I’ve been accused of. When I seek listen to the person I’m speaking with, I’m not saying “you’re beliefs are as true as mine”. What I am saying, however, is “I truly want to know where you’re coming from and feel what you feel before I make an emotional withdrawal”. I want to understand you before I disagree with you.

 

Few things are more annoying than listening to an argument where someone is disagreeing with something the other person doesn’t even necessarily believe. For example, I remember sharing the gospel with a woman who told me that she was a Jehovah’s Witness. I’ve had plenty of previous conversations with other JW’s and have extensively researched JW doctrine and theology. I was prepared for this conversation! Many evangelicals who have likewise studied JW doctrine would hear those words from this woman and start arguing with her according to their presupposition of what they think she believed. I chose, instead, to ask lots of questions. It turned out that she really didn’t know much about JW doctrine. She remembers that her mom was approached by JW’s when she was 11, and they attended Kingdom Hall for about 3-4 years, and then she stopped for over a decade. I knew more about JW doctrine than she did. I was able to bypass the anti-JW spiel and focus on the essentials of the gospel. She was very open and receptive to hearing what the Word of God said, especially after knowing that I genuinely sought to listen and understand her story.

 

 

So yeah – empathic listening.

“The beginning of the words of his mouth is folly, but the end of his speaking is evil madness. Yet the fool multiplies words.”

Ecclesiastes 10:13-14

 

“The proud speech of a fool brings a rod of discipline, but the lips of the wise protect them.”

Proverbs 14:3

 

“The proud speech of a fool brings a rod of discipline, but the lips of the wise protect them.”
Proverbs 12:15

 

“a wise man will listen and increase his learning, and a discerning man will obtain guidance–”

Proverbs 1:5

 

“…Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak…”

James 1:19

 

“Do you see a man who speaks too soon? There is more hope for a fool than for him.”

Proverbs 29:20

 

“A fool does not delight in understanding, but only wants to show off his opinions.”

Proverbs 18:2