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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.

Will the Church Really Hear Their Cries?

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Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day:

11 “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My commandment is this: love one another, just as I love you. 13The greatest love a person can have for his friends is to give his life for them. 14And you are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I do not call you servants any longer, because servants do not know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. 16You did not choose me; I chose you and appointed you to go and bear much fruit, the kind of fruit that endures. And so the Father will give you whatever you ask of him in my name. 17This, then, is what I command you: love one another.  John 15:11-17 NLT

811    Do you remember? Night was falling as you and I began our prayer. From close by came the murmur of water. And, through the stillness of the Castilian city, we also seemed to hear voices of people from many lands, crying to us in anguish that they do not yet know Christ. Unashamedly you kissed your crucifix and you asked him to make you an apostle of apostles.  (1)

“You shall not kill.”10 What does this mean? Answer: We should fear and love God, and so we should not endanger our neighbor’s life, nor cause him any harm, but help and befriend him in every necessity of life.

It was just before noon, as I sat on a fountain, waiting for my ride.

The man in the picture showed up, folded out his sign, put in his ear buds and began to be a light in the darkness, a missionary sent to bring heathen musicians to.. hmm – that’s a good question.

I think he symbolized the church in so many ways…. standing there, his sign doing the proclaiming, but his heart and soul focused on what he was hearing. It wasn’t the people passing him by.

Maybe it was a podcast of the latest apologetic guru, telling him how to cause people to submit to his logic and reason.

Maybe it was someone telling him how to be an entrepreneurial apostle. 

Maybe it was someone teaching him how to defend his Bible translation or his style of worship, or trying to provide comfort in his failing outreach, because after all, he’s supposed to be in the world, but not of it.  He didn’t make eye contact with anyone, he didn’t try to pray with anyone.  I want to jump on his case, to make him see what he’s missing, buy am I any better?

This man isn’t a wacko, or a fanatic, he simply is the church today. 

We are so caught up in our own agendas, our own words, that we fail to hear the cries of those who have lost hope, of those who have been broken.  We might even get into a dialog about how they were broke, was it their sin, their parent’s sin, the sin of the world?  We might read books and listen to the greatest speakers, read the greatest blogs,  find the best consultants, and grieve over the fact that they don’t hear us.

But do we hear them?

Do we hear their cries?  Do we go beyond their polite statements to find their pain?  Do we let them know we won’t abandon them in their brokenness, because we are broken as well? Do we stand there, oblivious to the individuals, overwhelmed by the thousands, yet unable to see them?  Do we take our ear buds out of our damn ears long enough to hear them?  

To help them understand God hears them?

Do we try to help them know God wants to hold them in His hands, cherish them, bring about their restoration and healing so that all will understand He finds great delight in their presence, that all heaven parties with great joy when they “come home”

Luther wrote that we should do everything we can to help and befriend our neighbor.  Most hear him speaking physically in the commandment about not killing.  But is it not applicable to our neighbor’s spiritual life as well?  St Josemaria talks about us hearing the cries and praying to God to send us, will we do that, and if sent will we hear them?  Or simply lament their not hearing us?  ( Or worse, will we rejoice that it proves we are on the narrow path and they are not?)

These are hard thoughts to hear, and they may be convicting you, they certainly are convincing me.  But I know this as well.  As I left that day, a man walked up to me and started talking about his journey. ( he thought I was a Catholic Priest) He talked of how God was helping him stay sober after 27 years. He talked of how great it was that I was there, to remind him of God’s grace.  His name was Dave, and hearing him say my presence there was important as it reminded him of God’s love?   That made my day.  I wanted to go back, and see who else I could encounter, or maybe realize that I had, and was too blind to see it. But for once I was able to stop, and hear, and see what God was doing, by sending me to that part of the sidewalk, just for that man to encounter.

God is good, open your eyes and ears, see Him and know His love for you, and all whom you encounter.  ALL whom you encounter.  And rejoice, the Lord who is delighted in your presence, He is with you! Amen!

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1867-1870). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

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

Christmas Materialism: Don’t Be So Quick to Criticize, to Condemn. Look Deeper, See Their Need.

Concordia Christmas Eve 2015Devotional Thought of the Day:

37 “Do not judge others, and God will not judge you; do not condemn others, and God will not condemn you; forgive others, and God will forgive you. 38Give to others, and God will give to you. Indeed, you will receive a full measure, a generous helping, poured into your hands—all that you can hold. The measure you use for others is the one that God will use for you.”
39 And Jesus told them this parable: “One blind man cannot lead another one; if he does, both will fall into a ditch. 40No pupil is greater than his teacher; but every pupil, when he has completed his training, will be like his teacher.  TEV – Luke 6:37-40

The hectic commercialism is repugnant to us, and rightly so: for it is indeed utterly out of place as a commemoration of the hushed mystery of Bethlehem, of the mystery of the God who for us made himself a beggar (2 Cor 8:9). And yet, underneath it all, does it not originate in the notion of giving and thus in the inner urgency of love, with its compulsion to share, to give of oneself to the other? And does not the notion of giving transport us directly into the core of the mystery that is Christmas?

587    They have no faith, but they do have superstitions. We laughed, and at the same time we’re sorry, when that tough character became alarmed at the sight of a black cat or at hearing a certain word which of itself meant nothing but for him was a bad omen.

The cars religiously pull into the parking lots, as people go into buildings.  Some deeply ponder the mystery that is set before them.  Others simply look without seeing and grasp at what they think they need.  Some are full of joy, others severely depressed, all looking for the answers that plague them during these holidays.

But are they at church, or at a mall?

Are they going to ponder the mysteries of life, or pondering what will satisfy and hopefully bring joy to someone they love, or are committed to, or sadly stuck with?

Pope Benedict, back when he was a cardinal, wrote the words in blue above.  They are profound, deeply profound.

As a pastoral counselor, I know the at the first issue ever brought up in the office is the real issue. It may take a session or two or even twenty to find the ultimate issue.  So why don’t I give those who are seeking something at Christmas a break?  Why do I have to tear down, and condemn, rather than build from the heart and soul where they lie.

People at Christmas, religious or not are seeking love, and seeking to be loved.  To in the midst of the darkness, find some comfort, some joy, find something that means more that gift cards and cash, more than jewelry or electronics.

Could we instead of criticizing them?  Could we stop judging and condemning them find in their depths this need, and show them how it is met in a simple manger in a backward, remote community, in a couple that is far from home, in the simple field workers that are told by a million angels, direct from the Father’s presence, “Peace be with you!”

Maybe Jack Sparrow (that eminent fictional Carribean theologian) was correct.  “The problem is not the problem.  Your reaction to the problem is the problem.”

These people have a need, a need to love, a need to be love.  A need to give and receive the perfect gift that demonstrates that love. Perhaps, as our attitude toward them becomes more like Christ, they will see that need met.  For it has been.

In the manger.

At the cross.

in the incarnation that has occurred in your life as well, as Jesus drew you into Him, as He would draw all into His death and resurrection.

This is Christmas – His gathering.  May we seek out those who are seeking to love and be loved, and reveal to them our Lord and His love for them.  AMEN!

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.

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1402-1404). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Key to Loving Your Enemies, Loving God. The Key to Loving God…

Devotional & Discussion Thought of the Day:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

9  O God, we meditate on your unfailing love as we worship in your Temple. 10  As your name deserves, O God, you will be praised to the ends of the earth. Your strong right hand is filled with victory. Psalm 48:9-10 (NLT)

You still do not love the Lord as a miser loves his riches, as a mother loves her child… You are still too concerned about yourself and about your petty affairs! And yet you have noticed that Jesus has already become indispensable in your life… Well, as soon as you correspond completely to his call, he will also be indispensable to you in each one of your actions. (1)

Yesterday’s Bible Study time at church was talking about the attitude of St. Paul towards the people of Israel. How, even though those people would have killed him outright, his love for God, and His knowledge of God’s promises, led him to desire their salvation, no matter the cost.  He said he would even give up is salvation, if that were possible,

A tough act to follow, as many of us realized, and even grieved over during the Bible Study.

Paul’s comments, “Imitate me, as I imitate Christ,” take on a far more challenging perspective.  They drive home the idea of loving our neighbor – for love doesn’t count the cost.  Even when our neighbor is our enemy, our adversary, or just a huge pain in the neck.  Imitate Paul as he desires their salvation more than even his own, even as Paul imitated Jesus, as He died for those who caused His suffering and death.  You and I.  (All that debate about whether the Jews were responsible for His death, or the Romans is nonsense.  He chose to die to save us from our sins, to restore us to the Father.)

Are you willing to give up all for those you love?  Are you willing to love those who hate you?

Tough questions.

Even more difficult, when we realize Paul’s challenge to us is not alone, John issues it with these words,

20  If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? 21  And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their Christian brothers and sisters. 1 John 4:20-21 (NLT)

So how do we do this?  Is there some metaphysical knowledge that unlocks in us the ability to love our neighbor?  Is it some ritual that we must undergo, that magically gives us the ability to sacrifice all for our neighbor?

No, just simply – if you love God with all you are, when you correspond to His call on your life, then this happens.  Not because of our will or volition, it is deeper than that.  It is the work of God in our lives, what He has ordained for us.  it is a life of Holiness, it is a life, set apart to Him.

Again, not easy, a radical transformation in our lives.

So how do we do these things, things God has emphasized through His word, through the Apostles, the Prophets, in the Law of Moses, in the Gospel of Christ?

Think.

No – not think about where the solution, that won’t help.  We aren’t capable of it.

Do what the psalmist asks us to do – meditate on the Lord, on His love, on His mercy, on His promises revealed in His word. On His unfailing love.  As Paul will say, explore its depths, its height, its width, its breadth.  Realize how God’s love consumes us, how it transforms us, How the Holy Spirit makes it a reality in our life.

It sounds too easy, but keep in the forefront of your thoughts during the day the incredible love and grace of God.  Spend time just thinking about it.

Don’t limit yourself to worship and praise, to just studying the Bible in classes, or studying it as you read it.

Just read and be in awe, let the words run through your heart like a bubbling brook, occasionally like a waterfall, Like the Niagara Falls, or Iguazu Falls in South America. (Watch the movie “The Mission” to see this – and an incredible story of loving your enemy!)

Let the promises amaze you, the patience of God astonich you, the miracles and wonders of God leave you without the ability to read any further.

And delight that all of this has been done and revealed – to you… for you, for your neighbor, for that person…….

Then you will love, ot as a command, but because the gospel is alive in you, you won’t be able to resist,

It will be our lives… lived as our Lord lived.

We’ll stumble for sure, we struggle at times, but the correlation between realizing the love of God, and loving others is clear… and it is necessary…

So dwell in Him, rejoice in His presence. Know His love!

(1)   Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 3299-3303). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Don’t Rush the Journey!

Devotional Thought of the Day:

4 Even when walking through the dark valley of death I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me, guarding, guiding all the way.”   Psalm 23:4 (TLB)

“From the hidden life of Jesus you must draw this further consequence: not to be in a hurry… even when you are! That is to say, first and foremost comes the interior life. Everything else, the apostolate (the mission), any apostolate, is a corollary”. (1)

I spent the last three weeks, first in Asia, working with churches and missionaries, and then the first few days back visiting some of my people with huge health challenges, a couple on hospice, a man after major surgery, another with a heart attack.  Then  the last two with a small group of pastors, being mentored and taught ways to  help focus our churches in, well – being the church.  A lot of it is simple – to consider the mission of the church, given to it by God, and help people see that being the church is not about Sunday mornings, but in how we all live our lives, every day, in every situation, realizing we are placed here by God.

As I look back over these three weeks, as I prepare to talk about that journey on Sunday morning, this morning these two comments burn themselves into my mind.  I look back on the mission trip, realizing my “best” work may not have been the preaching and teaching times.  At least the most meaningful to me were the times walking with those who guided me around the cities, and shared with me the joys and frustrations of serving God in far off places.  In encouraging them and in praying with the pastors and people I met. Especially when we took time to discuss and share…. over meals, while walking.

King David knew this wasn’t just how we operate best, it was the way God operates – yes – when He gathers us together, pours out His love and mercy and forgiveness, that seems to be the “big thing” of His interaction with us, but that is simply part of the same journey He takes with us – each and every moment of every day.  As He walks with us through that day, sharing with us the things we experience, helping us to see it, not just with our eyes, but with His, as He redeems the time.   As we read with out children at home, or do prepare  a meal with our spouse.  As we are at work, caring for a co-worker who is going through a bad time, as we visit those in the hospital, waiting to hear news.

Each time we minister and serve those around us. Each time we make sacrifices to be there…

It is, as t Josemaria says, a corollary, a parallel action, caused by the interior journey we are on, with the God who walks close to us, with us through life, guarding and guiding us, ensuring that evil cannot harm us, allowing us to dwell in His peace.

Don’t rush, enjoy the journey, even if our short term destination is critical – even if it is terminal – for the hourney itself, it is far more than we think it is.

For we walk with God.

For the Lord is with you!

 

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 2584-2586). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

 

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