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Apologetics is Never, Ever, Defending the Faith!

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The Good Shepherd, carrying His own.

Devotional Thought for our Days:

18 All this is from God. Through Christ, God made peace between us and himself, and God gave us the work of telling everyone about the peace we can have with him. 19 God was in Christ, making peace between the world and himself. In Christ, God did not hold the world guilty of its sins. And he gave us this message of peace. 20 So we have been sent to speak for Christ. It is as if God is calling to you through us. We speak for Christ when we beg you to be at peace with God. 21 Christ had no sin, but God made him become sin so that in Christ we could become right with God. 2 Corinthians 5:18-21 NCV

15 But respect Christ as the holy Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to answer everyone who asks you to explain about the hope you have, 16 but answer in a gentle way and with respect.  1 Peter 3:15b-16

870         Matters can rarely be resolved by aggressive polemics which humiliate people. And things are certainly never cleared up when among those arguing the case there is a fanatic.

In my high school freshman or sophomore yearbook, there is a note from an acquaintance with I used to argue with a lot.  We were both interested in history and debate.  She was a disciple of Engels and Marx, me, not so much.  Her note was full of admiration, a salute to our ability to debate and still respect each other.  (despite frustrating the hell out of each other – because we couldn’t understand the position of the other! )

As I read the words from St. Josemaria this morning, my heart brought back the memory of those words.  And of many presentations, I have seen about “apologetics”.  Usually, these include th idea that we are on a “crusade”, that we have to defeat our enemy, crushing their logic, unveiling their inconsistencies, doing battle and claiming the victory in Jesus name.

There was no call for respecting them as those Jesus died for, whom God created.  No sense of love, or peace that would envelop the conversation, and rarely, any hope that was explained and explored.  I encountered this as well when teaching world religions once, where several of my seminary level students wanted to know how to crush people who depended on false Gods.  They chose the path of the fanatic and the aggressive polemics that leaves people broken and crushed. 

Compare that to the verses above, the idea of being ready to explain the reason (this is where we get the word apologetic from btw) for the hope we have!  Peter goes on to say, but do so with gentleness and respect.  Look at how many times Paul mentions peace that God makes with us.  Look at the idea that God is calling to those whom He would reconcile to Himself, to those He would give His peace to, through us. Reading that, does it seem that the tactic best suited to doing so is walking with them, exploring this hope we have, this incredible idea that God wants to live with us in peace.  Helping them see that Jesus would walk with them, in all the ways described in the beautiful words of Psalm 23.

Some might say this doesn’t allow us to properly deal with their sin, but I don’t agree.  Sin is brokenness, and whether we will admit that everything we do is sin ( and Christians play this game too!) we do recognize the brokenness it causes in our lives. Sin is not just our deliberate rebellion in this action or that, but those sins are the symptoms of the brokenness of sin, something every religion deals with, mostly through threats and punishment, of being cut off and sent away.

Christianity meets that brokenness offering hope, offering peace with God, because of the cross and the empty grave.  A completely novel way not just to scare people away from future sin, but to bring comfort to the shame, the guilt, and despair that we all live with because of our pasts.  

This is the apologia, the hope, the peace, knowing the love of God who comes to us.It’s not something we have to defend or hit people over the head with.  It is something offered with great love, with mercy consistent to God. 

It is what we depend upon, what we hope for… it is Jesus….with us. 

 

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 3559-3560). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Why We Aren’t A Post Christian Society


Devotional Thought fo the Day:

9 *But you are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises” of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.10 Once you were “no people” but now you are God’s people; you “had not received mercy” but now you have received mercy!   1 Peter 2:9-10

A single hour of quiet listening to the word of God would often be more effective than whole days of sessions and discussions, and a moment of prayer would be more effective than whole stacks of paper, for it is not only what we do that makes us effective. Sometimes the impression arises that behind our hectic hyperactivity there lurks a paralysis of faith, since in the last analysis we have more confidence in what we ourselves contrive and accomplish.

47 For this reason, too, Paul asks, Since we are called according to the purpose of God, “who will separate us from the love of God in Christ?” (Rom. 8:35).
48 This doctrine will also give us the glorious comfort, in times of trial and affliction, that in his counsel before the foundation of the world God has determined and decreed that he will assist us in all our necessities, grant us patience, give us comfort, create hope, and bring everything to such an issue that we shall be saved

For a decade or more, I have the phrase post-modernism adapted and used to describe a weak church, and so developed phrases like “a post-Christian society” or living in a “post-church society.”

I will agree that the church seems to be less “effective” from a business perspective, at least in areas where it was thought to be very “effective” for decades.  Among those of European descent, among those who were upwardly mobile and driven to live life better than their parents did.

But calling us post-church or post-Christian is wrong, for it presumes that the society we are discussing knew the riches they had in Christ, that they were recipients of the grace and mercy, the peace and love of God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, 

And then walked away… not just from the church, but from the love of Christ the church was there to help them explore, to be at their side as they in awe, encountered God revealed to them. 

To call this society “post-Christian” means they walked away from what St Peter describes as leaving the darkness for a wonderful light, that they abandoned being God’s people, and recipients of the mercy that would bring healing and hope to shattered souls. I don’t see people doing that; I see them walking away from meetings and discussions, from stacks of paper describing programs, and from a church that ministered only to their sense of logic, and couldn’t continually keep them in awe.

That which they may have walked away from, did it give them comfort in the midst of suffering, did it bring them a sense of God’s peace that goes beyond explanation and understand?  If so, why would they have walked away from it?

So what is the answer?  Perhaps it is to evangelize the church first, what is called the New Evangelization in some circles.   To teach people that God does answer a cry for mercy, that He hears their prayers, that he will offer them comfort and peace. As this is taught, as it is revealed through His word, and through His sacraments, then the church will naturally evangelize again.  

Teach them about Christ,God incarnate, God crucified and raised, God who comes near, and stays.  God who listens and comforts, who guides and gives meaning to life. Who walks beside them in this lonely life.

It may sound too simple, but simple doesn’t mean wrong, nor does it mean ineffective.  It means that we communicate and reveal the love of God to those who need it, in the church and presently outside it. 

It is time to give people the hope of sharing in the glory of Christ, in the presence of Jesus. 

 

 

Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.

Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print.

 

Lord, You Want Me To Preach on What?

Devotional Thought fo the Day:

7 You seduced me,* LORD, and I let myself be seduced; you were too strong for me, and you prevailed. All day long I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me. 8 Whenever I speak, I must cry out, violence and outrage I proclaim; The word of the LORD has brought me reproach and derision all day long. 9 I say I will not mention him, I will no longer speak in his name. But then it is as if fire is burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding back, I cannot! Jeremiah 20:7-9  NAB-RE

If vocation comes first, if the star shines ahead to start us along the path of God’s love, it is illogical that we should begin to doubt if it chances to disappear from view. It might happen at certain moments in our interior life—and we are nearly always to blame—that the star disappears, just as it did to the wise kings on their journey. We have already realized the divine splendor of our vocation, and we are convinced about its definitive character, but perhaps the dust we stir up as we walk—our miseries—forms an opaque cloud that cuts off the light from above.

In the passage I am preaching on this week, there is what is called a gospel imperative.  In other words, a command of God that only can be realized and heard within the fullness of the gospel.  It has to be heard in a life of prayer, a life which realizes we stand on Holy ground.  

“So let’s not get tired of doing what is good”  Galatians 6:9

The first quote, from scripture above, is one of my ten favorite passages in scripture.  It probably could be described as my life verse, at least it is one I experience a lot.  For working in God’s kingdom is as wearing as building stone walls, or managing a university bookstore in the first weeks of class. It is worse, physically tiring, mentally exhausting and spiritually draining.

If a pastor neglects God, if he is too busy for time in prayer, if he is too busy for devotional time (as well as the business of studying scripture to preach and teach it) he will reach Jeremiah’s position quickly.  We can reach the point that St Josemaria describes, where the dust we stir up in our journey distorts and even eclipses our view of Christ, our understanding of His love for us.

Of course, this isn’t just about pastors, for we are not the only ones who do good.  It is true for every believer, for every perosn who trusts and depends on Christ.  For that is what the faith is, need to cling to Christ (Jeremiah describes it as our being as clingy as underwear!) because He is our source of life, and of serenity and joy.

The answer to burnout, the answer to not seeing Christ is to know Him, to know the fire of the Holy Spirit that burns within us.  TO depend on that rather than what we see and observe.  It is what saints and mystics call the interior life,  This is why St John of the Cross advises staying where we are at, making no dramatic change.  We are to keep praying, to keep receiving the sacraments even when the storms of life blind us, when Satan assails us.  We need to be patient and seek God, remembering that He is our refuge, our fortress, our sanctuary.

It is from this place that we can find His strength, where we find the dynamo that is the Holy Spirit indwelling in us. For dwelling in Christ we can keep on doing good, we can keep on loving the unlovable, we can be patient with those struggling, and guide them into the very presence of God.

For we know where He is… we know where Holy Ground is.  We know where He has put His Name… fo we have met Him at the cross and been united to Him there.

AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. Christ is Passing By (Kindle Locations 1146-1151). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Not all roads lead to God, yet…

Devotional Thought of the Day:
4  God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. 5  God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. 6  God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all. 7  Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! 1 Corinthians 12:4-7 (MSG)

231         I like the motto: “Let each wayfarer follow his way”, the road God has marked out for him, to be followed faithfully, lovingly, even though it is hard.  (1)

It is one of the hardest lessons to learn as a pastor.  It is one that is not often taught in Christian Universities or Seminaries, except maybe a short aspect of a pastoral care class.

It is simple and profound, it wears you our and leaves you in awe.  Here is one of the greatest secrets to ministry:

You can’t minister to every person the same way, you can’t shepherd 100 people from 105 different places along the same exact path.  They need to be drawn/dragged from where they are at to the foot of the cross, to the very mercy of God, poured out as His blood paid for all our sins.

Yet we are trained to use the same materials, the same processes in our discipleship of those in our churches.  Those processes are based in some core thought that is essential ( for example, afflict those comfortable in their sin, comfort those afflicted by their sin. ) but how that is applied to the people in our churches should fit a particular process.   it is a big job, but discipleship is both corporate and individual.

Is it any wonder that most churches stop discipleship once people have passed a new members class?   Or if there is is a program, some drop out because it assumes a different starting path, and they are too frustrated to wait and see if it comes by where they are.

I know a great example of this, a lady who is a member of one of the churches I have pastored.  She insists that she is a novice when it comes to faith, yet lives a life a devotion to God.  A life I think is far more “along the path” that she realizes.

So how do you do this?  Do you make everyone take the same path?  Study the same scriptures?  Do you not care if people get lost or bored?  Or do you work with people individually?

It’s the same issue that Paul was talking to the Corinthians about. As they would serve in different ways, in different manners expressing the faith and growth in their trust of God.  Not everyone will do the same things, have the same vocations, have the same exact path to spiritual maturity.

So how do we minister this way, effectively discipling people, shepherding them from the basics of trusting God, to actually walking with them?

Not sure yet, but it will be a lot of what I think through during advent.

Discussion very welcome on this one!

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1161-1163). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Can a Christian Leader let his people fail? He must!

 

Devotional Thought of the Day:

And now, a word to you who are elders in the churches. I, too, am an elder and a witness to the sufferings of Christ. And I, too, will share in his glory when he is revealed to the whole world. As a fellow elder, I appeal to you: 2  Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. 3  Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example.  1 Peter 5:1-3 (NLT)

If we say, ‘We have no sin,’ we are deceiving ourselves, and truth has no place in us; 9  if we acknowledge our sins, he is trustworthy and upright, so that he will forgive our sins and will cleanse us from all evil.1 John 1:8-9 (NJB)  

402    People have to be taught how to work, but their training need not be overdone, for actually doing things is a way of learning too. They should accept in advance their unavoidable shortcomings: the best is the enemy of the good.  (1)

It is one of the hardest lessons that pastors and other Christian leaders have to learn.  I still struggle with it, the guys I mentor, yes they do as well.

It seems a paradox, counter-intuitive to the responsibility for them that we have been given.  We want them to succeed, we want them to grow, we want them to rejoice in all things.

So we have to let them fail?

Yes!  And yes, it hurts, yes we want to go in and fix everything, to make an event succeed, to help a couple before they need counsel,  FOr oto wait, the problems will be worse, the pain to correct them more intense.  The question then arises, will they blame us for their failure?

But I think it is caring even more to embrace the pain of their failure, to be their, waiting for the prodigal to come home.

Two reasons for letting them fail.

1.  We learn better from our mistakes.  It stops the learning process if everything always goes smoothly, They have to learn when to ask for help, when to admit they are overreached, and how to do the work to correct their errors, For it is there, that the most significant

2.  They need to learn about God’s presence there, ready to cleanse them.  They need to know that failure doesn’t result in condemnaiton, but in reconciliation.  People have to realize that God loves them, (and so should we) even when we fail, so that we run to Him first, so we know we will encounter grace not condemnaiton.  That they will realize what it means for God to be God. To be their Father.  They have to get that, and it is more important than their doing everything right the first time.

Two reasons for those around them…

1.  We all need to learn to be graceful to those around us.  If failures are treated with grace this will happen.  We don’t want to encourage people to fail, but we want them to know that some failure, some shortcomings is unavailable.

2.  We, as servant leaders, need to grow in our faith of God.  Every servant leader in scripture failed, some dealt with it (King David, St. Peter), many didn’t (king Saul for example).  But to let our people fail, to even stand by and watch it happen, requires us to have both a pastor’s heart and a deep faith that knows that all will work for good for those that love God.  That in failure, our people will have to meet Christ crucified, that they will adore the God who knows their sufferings and will rescue them.  We must trust God…. and that trust has to grow…that expectation of His grace has to be so ingrained in our lives, that it is lived in view of our people.   THat we realize that the sins of the people of God and all unrighteousness and evil is cleansed from us.

So let them fail, and be there with God to lovingly pick them up, be there to see the wounds heal, and to help them learn the lesson.

FOr that is what we do….

 

(1)   Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1816-1818). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

 

Impatience, Broken hearts and Christian Ministry.

Dove of the Holy Spirit (ca. 1660, alabaster, ...

Dove of the Holy Spirit (ca. 1660, alabaster, Throne of St. Peter, St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 Devotional thought of the day:

3  There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, 4  and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. 5  In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit! 6  Christ arrives right on time to make this happen. He didn’t, and doesn’t, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn’t been so weak, we wouldn’t have known what to do anyway.  Romans 5:3-6 (MSG)

The world is cold and seems to be asleep. You often look on it, from your vantage point, with a glance that would set it on fire. Lord, may it awaken! Channel your bursts of impatience and be sure that if we manage to keep our whole life alight, we shall set every corner of the world alight, and the way it all looks will change.  (1)

By no means am I naturally patient.  It is not the gift I’ve been given, and  this is seen quite easily.  This morning, getting some lab work done, I was frustrated that there were 4 others before me.  I know ther has been as many as 20 before, but this morning, with places to go, people to minister to – waiting 10 minutes seemed like a month.

I am especially impatient when it comes to dealing with pain.  You know – the physical pain of them drawing blood ( 4  quart vials it seemed like! ) Or the spiritual pain of grieving, or the pastoral heart pain of watching people choose to do that which will hurt them.

“Why won’t they listen?” we ask.
“Why won’t they at least try it God’s way?”
“when will they ‘get it’?

Every minister I know has suffered from such impatience, such heart break as people continue to choose their own way.

Most of us have been tempted to hammer them, to “use the law” to crush them until they repent, until they conform to God’s plan. (or at least ours)   We want to find something to do to turn them into “supersaints”, to help them overcome all their sin,, to get their acts right and for them to become the next Billy Grahams.   We want that prodigal to turn for home as soon as he gets to the end of the driveway.  It doesn’t always work that way though.

But can we have God’s patience, the father’s patience with them, and still pray and encourage and take the moments we have to call them back to Christ?

It’s hard… its really hard…dang it, it’s hard.

The apostle Paul notes it as well,

18  I’m passing this work on to you, my son Timothy. The prophetic word that was directed to you prepared us for this. All those prayers are coming together now so you will do this well, fearless in your struggle, 19  keeping a firm grip on your faith and on yourself. After all, this is a fight we’re in. There are some, you know, who by relaxing their grip and thinking anything goes have made a thorough mess of their faith. 20  Hymenaeus and Alexander are two of them. I let them wander off to Satan to be taught a lesson or two about not blaspheming.  1 Timothy 1:18-20 (MSG) 

What a challenge this is!  How our soul, itself broken and impatent, struggles with such days of ministry!  Yet, learning to discern when to speak – and how to speak, and when to let the prodigal go is a skill that comes with maturity.

I find it interesting that Romans finds the solution in trusting Christ, in looking to His promises, the work we expect that He will do, in any time of trial, and that includes this one.

Escriva’s comment is similar – that we funnel our impatience into our own life, opening it up to see God work in us.   TO see God eradicate our own sin, and the things that would quench our spirit. Paul mentions this proactively to TImothy as well, telling Timothy not to walk down the road where these brothers walked….

As I thought through this… I think it is an essential part of our ministry, to be ready, in season and out, whether the time is right or not in our mind.  For prodigals do return home, and we need to be aware of how we’ve been welcomed back home ourselves.

For it is in realizing the grace we’ve been given, that we find the love and mercy to welcome them home.

So pray, intercede, contemplate God’s love for them and for us and be ready…  

to rejoice in their home coming.

Lord have mercy!

 

 

 

 

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1424-1428). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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