Thursday, March 29, 2012


That's a word I've been hearing a lot lately!  Mostly because I've been in a play called Persuasion, by Jane Austen, adapted by Kathy Hedges. We've been rehearsing the play for the last 3 months, and the word 'persuaded' (or derivatives of it) was used like 39 times.  But in addition to that, I've been seeing the word in college classes, Bible studies, and my pastor preached about it last Sunday.
Persuasion is an incredibly crucial concept to understand.  Jeff Arnold once preached a message called, "Life's Three Greatest Words."  He started out by saying, "You may think life's three greatest words are 'God is love,' or 'God can heal', but the three greatest words are actually: "I am persuaded."  The reason that small, little phrase is so important, is because it gives the motivation for nearly everything we do in life.   Truth won't affect you, unless you are persuaded that it is true.  You won't dedicate your life to a cause unless you are persuaded that the cause is worthwhile.  Someone may tell you that there is a million dollars worth of gold hidden right off the coast of Florida in an old sunken ship, which nobody has excavated, and yet is right there for the taking, but you won't invest the time and money and effort necessary to excavate that gold, unless you're persuaded that the statement is true.  The fact that God is love won't affect you, unless you're persuaded that it's true.
The reason persuasion is such a fascinating concept to me is that everyone is persuaded of certain things, and yet, it seems like everyone is also trying to persuade others of everything else. It's the goal of advertisers, of the media, of politicians, of religious groups, (even of bloggers!), of friends, of neighbors, of enemies, of businesses...persuasion is happening all the time. In the play we were performing, every person in the play was either trying to persuade others, or being persuaded by someone. It can be difficult to know how to persuade people for good, and how to keep ourselves and others from being persuaded by evil!
The Bible tells us in Ephesians that we shouldn't be carried about with every wind of doctrine by the sleight of men and cunning craftiness whereby they lie in wait to deceive, but we should speak the truth in love. (Eph. 4:14-15) What is he saying there?  That we shouldn't allow ourselves to be persuaded by others' deceitful craftiness, but that we should persuade others by speaking the truth in love.  If we understand the methods used in persuading people, however, we can keep ourselves from being persuaded, and use them to persuade others for good.
I'm taking a college class right now, and we're studying leadership and communication, and the science of persuasion.  Discussions have come up, however, about the difference between persuasion and manipulation.  Jeff Myers is the professor, and he speaks about how the difference between persuasion and manipulation lies in the intent and practice.  If we're hiding or manipulating the truth, with the purpose to deceive, it is manipulation.  If, on the other hand, we are illuminating the truth to people, we are persuading.
Jason Lisle, a scientist with Answers in Genesis, points out something that is important to remember.  Solely using evidence will never convince someone who is already persuaded of something, because they'll always able to come up with a rescuing device.  For example, the very presence of comets is evidence for a young universe, because these thing that are made of ice, should not have been able to survive this long in the universe, if they had been formed when the rest of the universe was formed.  But if you tell an evolutionist this, they'll invoke the presence of an Oort cloud.  They figure that new comets must be somehow being created, which must mean that there is an Oort cloud, even though it can't be proved that any such cloud exists.  My point is that if someone already believes something, (like that the earth is billions of years old), evidence alone won't convince them, because they'll simply interpret it in a way that's consistent with their beliefs. (Matt. 28:16; Luke 16:31)  Rather, we need to examine their worldviews.
Similarly, the things we are persuaded of should be based on a solid foundation, because persuasion is the greatest motivator.
What is it that would cause thousands of people to give their lives for the gospel?  They were persuaded!  (Heb 11:13) "These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth."
What would cause someone like Abraham to offer up his own son, even though he knew that Isaac was the only hope of his promise being fulfilled? He was persuaded! (Rom 4:21-22) "He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform."
This is what will keep us, as well!  One of my fellow actors...or actresses, I guess...but if I say the word 'actress', I can't say 'fellow' of my fellow cast members read this portion of Scripture in between two of our performances about what our persuasion is as Christians.  My pastor also read this classic portion of Scripture as he was preaching about repentance the next day.  If we are persuaded of this, we could go anywhere in life, because we know the truth of this Scripture, that none of the things listed can ever...well, maybe I should let the verse speak for itself.
(Rom 8:38-39) "For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

The Bible is a solid foundation from which to be persuaded.  Some people trust their own minds...but we have such a finite view, and such a limited perspective.  The book of Job does an amazing job pointing this out through the speeches of Elihu.  Job is looking at things from his own perspective, but Elihu says, "Look, we know God's character: that He's just, and He loves us.  Therefore, what you are saying must be wrong."  Elihu didn't use a lot of fancy evidences to prove Job wrong.  He just appealed to God, because as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are His thoughts greater than our thoughts.  (As a sidenote, this holds true even for those who don't believe in God.  If someone who believes we were formed by random chance processes is to depend on their own mind as a means of persuasion, I like to point out that if they believe that their brain is just a random collection of chemicals formed by chance, they really have no basis for believing that their chemicals are firing correctly. ;)  Just a fun thought.)  However, if we have the word of Someone who is infinite...who has a perspective greater than ours...that is a solid foundation on which we can be persuaded.  When we have the word of God on something, we can, with every confidence say, "I am fully persuaded."

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Elihu vs Eliphaz

I decided to publish a quick, short, blog post, since I haven't blogged in a while.   "And when you finally do return to blogging, you decide to post about something with a title like that?" you ask.  I realize that naming my post after two obscure Biblical characters who sound like they were named during a sneeze isn't the most engaging title.  However, I think the opposing principles these two people represent could be helpful to you!  So here goes.
Some people expend all their energy trying to change themselves.  But something my pastor said last Sunday impacted me.  (Maybe because he said my name from the pulpit when he said it...)  His words were: "Michael, God can change you better than you could ever change yourself."  He was speaking on John 15, and how Jesus is the vine, we are the branches, and without Him, we can do nothing.  So what is the solution?  To abide in Him.  Sometimes we can get caught up in focusing on a ministry we're involved with, or an activity we're in, or trying to change ourselves, or relationships, etc.  But you know what Jesus wants us to do?  Focus on Him.
We've been studying the book of Job in our Bible study, and one of my favorite characters in the story is Elihu.  Interestingly, he's the youngest, and he's also the only one God doesn't rebuke at the end of the book.  Something he said stood out to me in the last study.  (Job 35:9-13) "Because of the multitude of oppressions people cry out; they call for help because of the arm of the mighty. But none says, 'Where is God my Maker, who gives songs in the night, who teaches us more than the beasts of the earth and makes us wiser than the birds of the heavens?' There they cry out, but he does not answer, because of the pride of evil men. Surely God does not hear an empty cry, nor does the Almighty regard it." (ESV)  What stands out to me in what he says is that when people are going through hard times, they cry out, and wonder where God is and why He's doing what He's doing, but they don't seek Him where He is for who they already know Him to be.  It's amazing how often we think God is wrong.  We would never say that, of course, but from our perspective, we believe that God should conform to the way we think He should act.  Elihu's point of view is that God is God, and we should conform to Him, rather than pridefully expecting Him to conform to us.  He may be trying to teach us something through our trials, for our benefit, and we're not getting it.  One of the kind of amusing things Elihu says is, "Who teacheth like the Lord?"  God has a unique teaching that is oftentimes not how we want it to be.  We can't determine our position with God based on our successes or prosperity, as Eliphaz, and his other two friends advocate.  Interestingly, the meanings of Elihu and Eliphaz's names kind of sum up their arguments.  'Elihu' means 'My God is he.'  Basically intimating that God is who He is and we should find out who that is.  Eliphaz's name means 'My God is gold.'  This is what I'm trying, and maybe some of you could join me.  The next time you pray, don't ask for specific things.  Don't focus on what God can give you.  Just focus on Him.  The rest will fall into place.  Let God change you the way He wants to.  After all, He's got a slightly bigger perspective, and probably knows best!