Counting the God Encounters


If you’re a geezer, too, then then you remember the old Tootsie Pop commercial that first ran in the ’70s. Can't someone answer the poor kid's question?You know, “How many licks does it take to get the center of a Tootsie Pop?”

Believe it or not, I saw that commercial on TV just a couple years back, so Tootsie is still running it. I guess the question goes unanswered.

For the Christian, the question might be transmogrified into “How many encounters with God does it take until someone is born again?”

My former pastor, Steve Sjogren, says the number is between 15 and 25. I can’t quote you Steve’s source, but some have mentioned the Engel Scale as a starting point for this number. Given how much Steve has invested over the years in this issue of evangelizing the lost, I don’t doubt his numbers.

That said, without a context, the numbers don’t mean much. You can toss a hundred questions at them, such as

1. What constitutes an encounter with God?

2. Do these numbers represent just the West? Or do they account for other parts of the world?

3. Do the numbers take into account the kind of Christian these “prebelievers” may be encountering?

I’m sure you can add to the list.

Buried in that #3 question is the most interesting question of them all:

How can we Christians reduce the number of those encounters before someone is born again?

I ask that because my personal belief is that it only takes one deep encounter with God for someone to repent and come to salvation. That’s the best case scenario.

I also believe that each encounter that doesn’t lead to being born again only runs the risk of inoculating someone against God. Everything else that follows after “a miss” represents the possibility that someone will never be born again.

Before we go any further, I want to talk about a rathole.

You and I don’t know who will be saved and who won’t be. That’s God’s territory. He knows who is predestined for glory and who is not. What He asks of us is that we do the work of evangelism and discipling and let Him bring the results.

With that out of the way, I want to ask:

Do you believe such a reduction in the number of encounters someone needs before they are justified is possible? How might we reduce the number of encounters it takes for a lost person to come to Christ?

I think that 15-25 encounters is too high. What do you think?

My Hope & Prayer for 2009


I opened 2008 with a post that laid out what I thought was the key for the Church for the year: listening to the Holy Spirit. If anything, 2008 proved without a shadow of a doubt that the American Church went deaf.

Last year saw the financial meltdown and the Lakeland “revival.” Do I need to say more? Okay, I do. Preparedness for the financial meltdown: zero. Was anyone listening to the Holy Spirit on this? Among charismatics, the Lakeland thing was all the rage, but it turned out to be charismania cranked to the nth degree. For a group of people who claim to be hearing the Holy Spirit, charismatics crashed and burned concerning Lakeland. Hugely. Sadly, so did a lot of noncharismatics.

How long are our churches in America going to wander through life with closed eyes and plugged ears?

God, please let us better know your heart in 2009. Please help us to read the times and know how we should live, not as the pagans do in chaos and fear, but as a people directed by You, with your purposes as our own.

As much as we still need to do a better job listening to the Holy Spirit, I believe another issue has taken on new urgency. It seems to me to be an issue that I cannot escape, as it has truly consumed my thoughts the last few months. For 2009, I am convinced that the word of the Lord to the churches is this:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
—Matthew 28:18-20

Given what I’ve written here over the years about preparing for a financial meltdown and the need for proper discernment, you can imagine how I feel about 2008.

But 2009 can’t be a replay of 2008. If we didn’t listen to the Holy Spirit as we should have last year, we absolutely must get serious about evangelism and training converts to Christianity in the truths of Christ.

My confession? I’m terrible at evangelism. I wish I didn’t have to think about evangelism. Training and challenging people who are already Christians is something I feel I do naturally. But evangelism is different. I don’t think about it enough. I don’t worry enough about the souls of the lost. Evangelism doesn’t chart on my list of daily activities. My burden for people who don’t know God is light at best.

That needs to change in my life. And I’ll be bold enough to say that it probably needs to change in yours, too.

Some of you may claim I inhabit a dream world, but given the number of professed Christians who live in this country, how long should you or I go without a stranger engaging us randomly to discuss Jesus? Getting the message outA week? A month, perhaps?

In my own life, I would say that it may be pushing 15 to 20 years since a stranger last approached me and started a conversation about Jesus. Now I would like to think that this lack is because the aroma of Christ is so strong on me that fellow Christians who are strangers are keen enough to sense that aroma and therefore can bypass talking with me because I’m already saved.

That’s what I would like to think. But I know better. Fact is that too many of us rely on someone else to do the witnessing for us. The upshot is that hardly anyone is doing the work. That unnerves me. It tells me that we don’t care about the eternal destiny of lost people.

Some of us out there can at a moment’s notice preach a thousand words on our pet theological topic(s). But if we can’t articulate a decent presentation of the Gospel to a lost person and follow it up, we’ve got the wrong priorities.

I pray that 2009 sees those priorities changed in the American Church. They’re going to change with me, so help me God.