Ask Gerson Mercadal (January 21-25, 2019)


(Carson Weitnauer) #1

Hi friends, @Interested_In_Ask_RZIM,

@Gerson_Mercadal, an OCCA Fellow in Spain with Fundación RZ, is engaging with our questions this week!

Gerson is immersed in evangelism on a daily basis with people from a diversity of worldviews and lifestyles.

I know that you will benefit from raising your candid questions to him - and the rest of us will appreciate the conversation too!

gratefully,
Carson

Gerson Mercadal’s bio:

Gerson Mercadal is an OCCA Fellow based in Spain with Fundación RZ, RZIM’s regional office in Spain. Gerson holds a degree in building engineering from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia and certificates in Christian apologetics and theological studies from the Oxford Centre of Christian Apologetics and Wycliffe Hall (University of Oxford).

Originally from the Spanish island of Menorca, Gerson has spent three years in the UK: first as a volunteer with UCCF in Canterbury, then as a student at Oxford, and finally as a student worker with Trinity Church Oxford, discipling and preaching as part of the leadership team. Gerson combines his role as an OCCA Fellow with his job with GBU, the Spanish IFES movement, as a local part-time staff-worker in Madrid, where he now lives with his wife, Hannah. On many occasions like mission weeks, both roles naturally coexist and intertwine. The goal continues to be to make Jesus truly known and to break down intellectual and emotional barriers to the biblical gospel. Gerson is passionate about reaching both the highly secular anti-theists in Spain and the nominally Christian who have not yet embraced the freedom and truth of the message of Jesus.


(Lilibeth Aviles-Chakrabarty) #2

Hi!
@Gerson_Mercadal thanks for this opportunity. My husband comes from a Hindu background and over the last ten years we’ve had many positive dialogues about the differences between our beliefs etc. Most recently I have seen an openness to be part of what I do for the Lord, eg. He is actually doing a partial fast today because he wants to join me. ((Yeay!)) Hence my next question: I know God is doing marvelous work in my husband, things I can see, feel and hear during our times together; however, when it comes to laying down our bodies in sacrifice to the Lord in such a discipline as it is fasting…
(1) Is my husband’s effort truly meaningful in Gods eyes when there hasn’t been a verbal acceptance of Jesus? I believe it probably isn’t, but I still see it as a step in the right direction. And yet, that brings me to another question;
(2) Should I encourage such sacrifices even when he hasn’t have a conversion?

Thanks for your time. Very much appreciated.


(Gerson Mercadal) #3

Hello Lilibeth! Thank you so much for asking your question (the first one! :D) and sharing a bit about yourself.
And let me start by saying that I think it’s really awesome that your husband is, not only happy to have dialogues with you, but willing to even share some of the really important things in your life. I don’t think all spouses are always willing to do that when it comes to something this personal, and I want to join you in your happiness and thankfulness to God for your husband’s openness.

Let me try and share some thoughts about your questions, and if you don’t mind I will try to comment on both at the same time as I think there may be some relation.

Having said that, I want to be cautious not to rush too quickly into saying anything about what may or may not please God. I think too often in the past well intentioned Christians (and unfortunately sometimes some that aren’t so well intentioned) have erred in going to one of two extremes, and as you know very often (I wouldn’t say always, but very often) extremes aren’t a good representation of the full picture.

Some have wanted to insist that God would accept anything and everything, thus diluting His character and holiness into little more than people-pleasing.
But the other extreme can also be seen, and I’ve certainly encountered it many times: People who would doubt and limit God’s grace and who would “draw the circle” as close home as they can. Sometimes I think we can be so much more narrow than the narrow path that Jesus spoke of.

I have to make to continuously make the effort of making sure that my thinking is not going to either extreme for the sake it. Some have commented the irony in that often the chosen extreme will mirror the person’s own cultural and political inclinations, such that we end up with an image of God that’s basically an expanded version of our own image.

I would want to make sure that I try as much as I can (and I recommend this of course) to draw our view of God from the God that’s revealed in the Bible and most clearly in Jesus. He is a God who’s grace and holiness are so much deeper than we can even comprehend; the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of Moses and Jonah, amongst many other people.

Let me try to focus on your situation. I am so glad to read that God’s doing marvelous work in your husband. I pray that this may continue and that he may get to know him intimately and personally.

I have found myself with one particular parable in my heart this past year, and it’s the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, in Luke 18. We read of a man who goes home justified, not because of his right appearance or words or intellect, but because of the humility and trust in his heart. We worship a God who can read our hearts and cares about that.
Let me complete the picture: I think the Bible speaks clearly, and it is obvious in your words that you know this too, that Jesus is the Way. He is the Truth and he is the Life. We read that “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

I think the trust that matters is in God, the God of the Bible, through Jesus (although I believe that may look different and be more or less defined for different people). I believe and pray that your husband gets to know Jesus, for I think that’s what he needs. That’s my prayer for some of the members in my immediate family who are not christians as well. And my heart hopes in the God that can draw people from the most unthinkable situations.

I can’t fully tell to what degree God may be pleased with the sacrifices your husband may be doing. But I do believe he can see that and that he’s not forgotten him. No one will be saved because of the sacrifices we make, but because of the trust in our hearts, and ultimately only God can see that. This is a huge and complex topic that would require a much lengthier response.

You asked if you should encourage these type of efforts from your husband: I certainly don’t think you should discourage them. They are an incredible opportunity for him to reflect and also for you to engage in conversation and questions with him. Some good questions can lead to fruitful conversation and even to a place where you can invite him to take a step forward: “It’s so great you share this with me. Tell me, why do you do it?”; “why do you think I do these things?; “you know I believe in the God of the Bible. Tell me, how do you think he feels about you?”, etc. These would be a few examples, although I am sure you’ve had many deep conversations with him and already covered of some of these routes of conversation, but if not they can be helpful. Something else that can be useful to mention at some point is how you don’t think that just by “doing some things” he is earning any favor with God, but that Christianity is ultimately about a relationship with Jesus and invite him to consider that relationship and whether he knows who this Jesus is. That could be a good lead to do a “bible study” (you don’t have to call it that!) and discover together the type of relationship that Jesus wants.
If he continues joining you in these important aspects of your life, that will provide many opportunities for you and for God to bring him closer and I think that’s very exciting.

This answer has become so much longer than I wanted and expected. I know I haven’t given a direct answer, but I do really hope these thoughts help you as you keep reading your Bible and praying, with your husband in your mind and hearth. I hope they can also be helpful in conversations with him. Let me know if you have any more questions or any comments about this.

Greetings,

Gerson.


(Bill Brander) #4

Hi Gerson, the above raises some questions in my mind may I bounce them off you please?

  1. How does an atheist differ from a ‘secular anti-theist’?
  2. Can you expand on how to train nominal Christians?
    Thanks
    Bill

(Lilibeth Aviles-Chakrabarty) #5

Thank you so much for taking of your precious time to answer my questions. I believe you did indeed answered them and it means a lot to me. Thank you. I will continue to pray and encourage him to take baby steps in the right direction. You are very right. I’m very aware of how blessed I am with how open my husband is about my beliefs and faith. Muchísimas gracias. Dios le continúe bendiciendo hermano.


(Gerson Mercadal) #6

Hello @billbrander ! Thank you for your questions.

Any time someone asks me about how is Christianity or even religion in general doing in Spain, I find myself almost lacking the words to express how strange the situation is. Spain is, traditionally, a Catholic country, and this tradition is still deeply present in many ways (names of people, names of streets, holidays, etc.) At the same time, Spain is a country with a history of repression and the fresh memories of a dictator that lived not so long ago. My generation was raised by parents who suffered this repression and dictatorship and many associate the church with that.
So you find a country with a strong religious tradition and yet with an equally strong aversion for a serious commitment to any church.

You find many people that just ignore anything to do with organized religion [Interestingly enough, eastern new spirituality can be very trendy here. I believe it’s because of the vacuum that the Catholic church left in the last decades, but that would be stuff for another conversation :wink: ]. But you also find people who actively want to fight any notion of religious belief (although usually they would be harder against Christianity) and who want to push the most extreme secularism.
Hence the use of the word anti-theist. The word atheist, disputed as it is, refers to someone who believes there isn’t a God. I, and many others, would use the word anti-theist to refer to someone who, it isn’t so much that they don’t believe in God because they have rationally come to that conclusion: They don’t want there to be a God, and they will actively fight any such talk. I suppose many atheists would also be anti-theists, although is a word that isn’t used that much (I try not to using much either in public settings anyway, at least not in any setting, as it can come up as aggressive).

And then, you have, it appears to be, a silent mass of people that would say they believe in God, but whose lives do not line up in any way, not even going to church. The great majority of this nominal christianity you would find in the Catholic Church (because of the tradition) but it can also be found in evangelical churches.

I think when it comes to speaking with and to nominal christians, there would be two approaches:

  • Emphasizing the necessity of an active and real relationship with God. Some could call this approach a negative approach. Not because it’s bad but because it focuses on the negative aspects of not truly knowing Jesus. I like to think of it as well as “all that they are missing out, and the fact that they really are missing out”. The Bible is clearly against lukewarm christianity, or even fake christianity, and this approach can also include referring to the bits in the Bible that clearly speak about that (see Mark 8:34-38 for instance). I wouldn’t emphasize this approach so much in a secular context, but more if I am speaking to people who I know do say they know God and the Bible but maybe they are not fully living that.
    Michael Green, a great english evangelist, often speaks of “electrifying the fence”. It means that, speak in such a way, that if there are people just sitting on the fence, they have to take a decision. They can’t just live on the fence. For instance, sometimes I will mention how “to not respond to an invitation, is already a form of response”; they can’t live sitting on the fence forever.

  • The other approach may come as the positive counterpart, and I believe both approaches are complementary: preach the gospel. It sounds obvious but I cannot emphasize it enough. Sometimes we think we should only preach the gospel in secular settings with non-christians present, but I totally think we all need the gospel, every day, every week. And churches should preach the gospel all the time.

I was once reading the parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl of Great Value (Matthew 13:44-46), and I realized they include both approaches!
What Jesus offers is the best treasure (if I was having a conversation or speaking in public, here’s the bit where to fully expand on the riches of the gospel). It really is like the most valuable pearl. But notice that the people in the parable, in realizing how much they should want this, “he went and sold all the he had”.
There is a cost to it, but is most definitely worth it.

I hope this helps!

Gerson


(Bill Brander) #7

Thank you Gerson.
So anti-theist may be Dawkins et al.
(Just finished Lennox’s, "Gunning for God. That’s why Dawkins comes to mind.)
Bill


(Gerson Mercadal) #8

Yes, exactly (although I am not sure if he would agree). I don’t think is a fixed universal term that everyone may understand or agree with but it can be helpful to differentiate between simply disbelieving there is a God (and there are some famous atheists that would fall just in that category) and someone who rejects the notion of a God and wants to fight against it and it being followed.


(chandra kishore sardar) #9

Hello Sir ! I stay with my friend who is a single mom and i actually happen to get to know her through church. She believes in Jesus but i see some really unbiblical teachings ingrained in her. Recently, we had an argument about going to church every saturday ( since its Nepal) and she believes its not necessary to go to church every weekend and i tried to explain to her about it but she would resist me saying that she is not a kid.
I was sharing with my pastor about the incident and how bad i felt and even condemned for having misrepresented the father, God but he said there were others from the church who had actually confronted her in very gentle and loving way but she would always decline.
Can you please elaborate those that i have quoted in more practical ways ? I dont expect anything from her and neither do I say i am more righteous but its just that I have this desire in my heart for her that she may be truly fallen in love with Jesus and can see the pleasures of this world to be so unsatisfying and unfilling.


(Gerson Mercadal) #10

Hello @chandrakishore ! Thanks for sharing that. I think the desire in your heart is a correct one! When we know Jesus and the gospel, we want other people to know Him too, and to find life in Him.
I am afraid sometimes that can also bring sadness and sorrow when we can see people rejecting him.
I am not a pastor but I can only imagine how hard must it be for pastors to see people walking away from faith or not really letting their lives flourish under Jesus.

Sometimes, it is good to ask ourselves if we are showing the “gentleness and respect” that Peter speaks about. And yet, some other times, the problem is that the other person doesn’t want to listen or hear.
As much as our hearts may sometimes want to, we can’t force people to get what a relationship with God looks like. Our job as witnesses is to share our story, to preach the Gospel, and to pray that God through His Spirit may work in the heart of the person.

I believe that - unless it’s causing you a distress too big to handle or endure – we can continue walking with people, even if they’ve rejected us once, pointing to Jesus, and inviting them to live a life for him.

Keep praying my friend, keep spreading the good word, and, if possible, keep the relationship open. Sometimes a person isn’t open to hear at one point, but he or she may be open in the future.

I pray that God may give you the wisdom to know what to say and when, and that he provides the opportunity, with this friend you mention, and also with many others.

I leave you a few verses from the letter to the Colossians (Col. 4:2-6):

2 Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. 3 At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— 4 that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.
5 Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. 6 Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.


(chandra kishore sardar) #11

Thank you so much for responding to my question and i just love the way you answered me ; so gospel centered and so practical. Thank you for the verse . It really spoke to my heart. God bless !!


(Carson Weitnauer) #12

Hi @Gerson_Mercadal,

Can you share with us how you see God’s supernatural power at work in evangelism?

As a follow-up, what, if anything, do you recommend Christians do to be more aligned with God’s mission and see God at work in the world?


(Vanessa Muntz) #13

I feel like God is not really there.

And I feel people can be too simplistic in trying to solve this problem. Pray, read the Bible, get in fellowship.

I can’t even articulate why I believe God exists although I’ve been trying to get into Apologetics for a long time (and no, I don’t have the money to invest in training).

It is hard not to just give up.


(Gerson Mercadal) #14

Hello @Vanessa_Muntz ! Thank you for your honest question. It is one that I have definitely wrestled with myself and unfortunately I don’t think there is a straight 3 points answer.
I am writing from my phone, as I am in a train traveling to speak tonight, so I am afraid I cannot work as much as I would like to give you a proper answer, and if I wait until tomorrow I am not sure I would be able to as this thread will close authomatically. Do forgive me for that; your question is really important and I really would like to address it properly; I will share some first thoughts.

Do know that you are not alone as many christians, today and through the centuries, including authors and even many bible characters shared this feeling. I know I have, as well as many close christian friends.

It is true that the pray and read advice can sometimes be too superficial; I wouldn’t want to just do that, but I do encourage you to keep doing those things.
If God is God, and if he is good (and I am convinced of both) he will be true to his Word, and those who seek, will find.
I am afraid though, I am starting to guess that looks different for everybody.

Sharing this struggle, as you have in this forum, is a good thing. You can also share it with God himself. You can tell him that you feel far from Him and you’d like that not to be the case; many times the psalms do that. Psalm 42 is a good well-known example (definitely not the only one).
I like tough because there is an interesting element to it: the psalmist speaks to himself.

That could seem odd. Many people will say that only crazy people speak to themselves.
Let me tell you something: nothing is further from the truth.
We need to speak the truth to ourselves (see verse 5 and 11).

You mention that getting formal training in Apologetics is hard at the moment, but I would encourage you to start an “investigation” yourself. You only need a Bible, some time and your mind and heart.
You mention that perhaps even articulating your thoughts about God’s existence is difficult. I think that’s a good place to start. Ask yourself questions: “What would I need rest assured?; Why?; has God provided that? If not, why? Has he revealed himself in a different way?

I grew in a christian home, going to church. And yet asking the question was vital for me and apologetics played a big role in that.
Good and solid answers can give our intellect the assurance to relax (not in a bad way but in a confident “I have checked” kind of way) and open itself to the supernatural.

And then keep asking questions; maybe do a Bible study (and by that I mean, open the Bible and seek what it says about something) about how God reveals himself, etc.

I feel like I am just scratching the surface. I want to encourage to keep praying, keep reading, and if I may add one more, keep thinking.
Sometimes our minds need that sort of process to let our hearts and souls go ahead and experience God’s presence.
In any case, I do want to encourage you to keep at it and to not give up.
If God is there (and I believe he is there), it is certainly worth it.

My colleague @Alycia_Wood provided a much more torough answer and I recommend you check it out if you can:

Greetings,
Gerson


(Vanessa Muntz) #15

Thanks so much for taking the time to give me your thoughts and to offer some encouragement :slight_smile:


(Carson Weitnauer) closed #16

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