They Need A Reason To Ask

“but in your hearts, honor Christ the Lord as Holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (2Peter 3:15)

If you are teaching a class on apologetics, it’s almost a necessity that you begin the class with this verse.  If you don’t begin the class with this verse, you at least have to address it very early on in the course as you build a biblical foundation for apologetics.

This notion seems to be driven by our belief that our role as Christians in this world is to convince people that God exists and that Christianity is the way to know God and that the best way to do that is through rational argument.

In practice, the practice of apologetics works from the assumption that humanity is dumb more than it is sinful.  If we can just get people to think rightly about things then we can get them to believe in Jesus.  It is the work of the apologist to argue well with people who don’t see the world the way we do and this (we claim) is what Peter first called us to do.

Two problems.  One, it doesn’t work that well.

Two, we’ve proof texted this passage to death.  Christian apologetics as it is practiced today is more accurately called Christian polemics; it’s an aggressive attack on differing views of reality through the use rational arguments and it’s practiced by going to the streets, the debate halls, and the classrooms in order to argue with anyone that doesn’t agree with our Christian worldview.

We often treat 1 Peter 3:15 as a standalone verse but the greek doesn’t allow us to read this verse this way.  This verse begins with a coordinating conjunction and connects it to what directly precedes it which reads; “even if you should suffer for righteousness sake, you will be blessed.” (1 Peter 3:14).  Without this part of the sentence verse 15 doesn’t necessarily make sense.  1 Peter 3:15 says that we are to be prepared to make an apologiaApologia is the act of making a defense, but apologia is not the first action.  Apologia wouldn’t be defense if it was the first thing we did, if it were our first action then it would be considered an ‘attack’.

Peter begins by saying that ‘even if you should suffer’.  He’s not guaranteeing that there will be suffering, but if there were suffering it would come because of our righteous living not because we are arguing with people and definitely not because we are seeking out those who disagree us in order to argue them into the Kingdom.

The church today doesn’t have an intellectual problem, it has an ethical problem.  We’ve worked really hard to make sure that our faith sounds intellectually tenable and now we’ve got great weapons to defend the faith but nobody cares because they see the way we live and aren’t compelled to ask about the ‘hope that is in us’ because we seem to live just like everyone else.  The only difference between our ethics and theirs is that they don’t seem to feel nearly as guilty and shameful as we do.

Righteousness is the reason for apologetics.  Love is the reason for apologetics.  Submitting ourselves to others is the reason for apologetics.  Voluntarily disadvantaging ourselves so that the disadvantaged would be lifted up is the reason for apologetics.

Without righteousness, we have no need to defend the faith.  Throughout 1st Peter we are called to spend our lives loving God and Loving neighbor as ourselves and when we do this, there is a possibility that we will be persecuted for it, and when that happens (if it happens) we are to be prepared to give a defense for the Hope that is in us.

Tim Keller tells the story of a TV Exec and one of his direct reports.  The story sounds something like this: 

There was a young woman who failed to do something at her job that caused the company to incur a huge financial loss.  The exec knew that if the responsibility were placed at the feet of the woman, then she would be fired.  He also knew that if he took responsibility for the problem, it would cause him to blemish his reputation and he would take a hit but it would not cost him his job.  So the exec claimed responsibility for the issue and the girl kept her job. 

 Well the woman knew he did this and she kept coming to him and asking ‘why?’  Why did you do this for me?  For a long time he kept saying; “It’s no big deal, I could take the hit but you couldn’t.”  That answer didn’t satisfy the woman so she persisted.  Finally, the executive, who was a Christian, said; “I’m a Christian and I believe in a God who took the hit for me.  He put himself in my place so that I could be considered righteous like Him.  My faith calls me to lay my life down for another, and that’s why I did this for you.”

The woman is now a Christian and she is the one who told Keller the story.  This executive acted with righteousness, and was called to give a defense.  Francis Schaeffer speaks of this practice as the untried apologetic.  It is a righteousness that is compelled by love.

This is what we are called to, and it’s made possible because of the one who goes before us;  “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,”

Receive from the one who suffered for your sins so that you might come to God and be reconciled in order to go and lay your life down for the sake of others. Amen.

Blessed are the Meek

We don’t speak often of meekness in our everyday language anymore.  And since we don’t use it as much makes it harder to know what quality Jesus is speaking about.  Observing some of the more explicit correlations between the character trait and the reward in the beatitudes can help us toward a definition. Some of the beatitudes have a very clear correlation; “Blessed are those who mourn… shall be comforted; hunger and thirst… satisfied; merciful…shall receive mercy.”  These relationships are pretty clear and what they show us is that there is a logical connection between the reward and the character trait.  We see this in everyday life.

I would say most of us have been privy to public interactions between parent and child that have gone awry.  The child does something that is maybe a little mischievous or maybe it’s even done out of ignorance (they didn’t know better) and the action is met with inappropriate force or language.  Maybe we see the child get slapped, or screamed at, or berated. It’s an injustice and it provokes something in us.  Why?  I think part of the reason we react this way is because the punishment is undeserved in light of the action.  This doesn’t mean that some form of punishment isn’t appropriate but it does mean that the type or intensity of the punishment is excessive or inappropriate.  To receive mercy for being merciful, that makes sense.  As Jesus says in Matthew 6, to forgive means to be forgiven.  These are appropriate rewards in light of the action performed.  This is true of the beatitudes rewards are appropriate in light of the action or character trait displayed.

So then, since we may not have an immediate definition of meekness available to us we should be able to look to its corollary reward…inheritance (‘they shall inherit the earth’).  We read over the this phrase pretty quickly.  But rarely do we slow down enough to meditate on it.  This is why our Gospel reading was from Matthew 21, because it gives an extended parable that focuses on the nature of inheritance.

The parable that Tyler read is called the parable of the tenants.  In this parable, the master plants a vineyard, builds a fence, digs a winepress, builds a tower and then leases the property to some tenants.  Eventually he sends his servants to gather the fruit and they are beaten, killed, and then stoned.  Finally he sends His son, and the servants say; “This is the heir.  Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.”

So does anybody see the irony in this last statement?  What does inherit mean?  In case we don’t have a definition come immediately to mind, let me give you the general dictionary definition; to inherit something is ‘to receive by succession or will’.  Inheritance is gift but these tenants believe that they can ‘take’ the son’s inheritance.  Inheritance is not something that can be taken, stolen, grasped, or earned.  Inheritance is pure gift.  “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” Or “Fortunate are the meek, for they shall receive the earth as a gift”

So if inheritance is a gift given, then meekness is likely a quality of a person who is not grasping.  Meekness defined is something or someone that is ‘quiet, gentle, and easily imposed on.”  Another way to speak of meekness is to speak of submission.  Someone who is not trying to earn, take,  or grasp anything, they are people who recognize that all good gifts come from God and that the only thing that we are able to do is to say thank you.  People of meekness are much like Wesley in “The Princess Bride”; ‘as you wish’.  “Throw yourself down this hill…as you wiiiiiiiiiiish”.

Meekness equals weakness in our culture.  It’s  a negative quality.  We live in a country that has an economic system that is built on a form of social darwinism.  Survival of the fittest, competition is king, may the best man win.  Meekness does not ‘work’ in our society because a meek person doesn’t grasp, take, steal.  They submit themselves to the will of God whatever that may be, whether success or failure, joy or pain.

The world calls the meek person a pushover, someone who is spineless, passive, and weak.  And according to the way our world works through power, coercion, and self interest…yes, the meek person is spineless, passive, and weak.  But this is not our home, we are a pilgrim people.  We are not inheriting this earth but a renewed and redeemed one that will be fully realized and visible when our King returns.

A practice we can engage in, is the practice of gratitude.  Giving thanks…in all things.  Gratitude is a posture of reception.  Knowing that God is the source of everything.  The opposite of gratitude is resentment, the opposite meekness is pride.  Giving thanks acknowledges God as the giver and insulates us against the desire to become resentful.  Henri Nouwen says it better than I can;

“Our ministry is to help people and let them help us gradually to let go of resentment and to discover that right in the middle of the pain there is a blessing for which we can be grateful.  Right in the middle of the tears, the dance of joy can be felt.  Seen from below, from a human perspective, there is an enormous distinction between good times and bad, between sorrow and joy.  But from above, the eyes of God, sorrow and joy are never separated.  Where there is pain, there is also healing.  Where there is mourning, there is dancing.  Where there is poverty, there is the Kingdom.”     

We can pray and ask the Father to change our circumstances, we can pray for God to take this thorn from our side, and we can ask God to deliver us. But if we are truly meek we will also be able to trust that if God does not remove our pain, our suffering, our difficulties, then He has a good and perfect plan that He intends to bring to completion.  Maybe we can find comfort in the words received by Julian of Norwich in a vision as she wrestled with the reality of sin and why God had not prevented sin to enter the world.  As she meditated on this she heard Jesus say; “It is true that sin is cause of all this pain; but all shall be well and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

In Gethsemene Jesus prayed; “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” and later that same night he prayed; “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.”

Jesus endured pain and suffering in this life fully trusting in the good and perfect will of the Father.  His meekness was manifested in His ultimate submission to death on a cross, His submissive life makes our life possible.  His meekness that led Him to the cross provides the example and makes possible our ability to live quiet, gentle, submissive lives for the sake of world desperately in need of a savior.

“Blessed are the Poor in Spirit”

Here is a short devotional I gave tonight at Evening Prayer at our house tonight.  May it be an encouragement to some.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven”

 I wonder if you’ve experienced your faith like I have.  A faith that began with grace, but then turned into something else entirely.  A faith that began with the recognition of utter failure to measure up.  A faith that found joy in the freedom of letting go.  But then, at some point, that faith changed.

It turned into a faith in yourself and what you could do for God.  And then your joy was replaced with guilt and shame or maybe even apathy because you were so tired from the pattern of trying harder, followed by failure, followed by guilt and shame, followed by a renewed desire to ‘try harder’, repeat ad nauseum.

I wonder if you’ve ever been at a point in your walk with God when you say; “I shouldn’t struggle with that anymore”…

I give you permission to be honest about who you are.   I give you permission to embrace all of yourself, even the nasty bits.  You can be honest about your pride, your anger, your greed, your lust, your envy, your vanity, your gluttony.  All your imperfections.

I give you permission to stop hiding.  I give you permission to bring that thing you do in the secret place, that drives you into deeper darkness, out into the light.  You know, that thing you do, or believe, or love, that secret thing that if anyone ever found out they would be surprised….I give you permission to bring that into the light.

I give you permission, the right to embrace all of who you are right now in this present moment.  I give you permission to let go of trying to be what you think people perceive you to be and just embrace who you are.  John Calvin says that “Nearly all the wisdom which we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”  I give you permission to know yourself and embrace all of who you are.  And when you can do this…you truly will be a fortunate one.

Because fortunate is a better way to speak of someone who is blessed.  Fortunate is the person that embraces Jesus’ portrait of a disciple.  Fortunate are the ones who have the courage to live into the portrait that Jesus paints.  And the first stroke of this portrait of a disciple is the stroke of spiritual poverty.

“Blessed are the Poor in Spirit; for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven”

Let me say it a different way;

 ”Fortunate are the ones who can acknowledge their spiritual bankruptcy, because they will experience the loving reign of God now.”

Jesus says that we are the fortunate ones when we can own our spiritual bankruptcy.  We are fortunate ones when we can acknowledge that we’ve gone to withdraw some of our spiritual riches and found that the account is empty.  I’m lucky, Jesus gave me the gift of my addiction.  God used my addiction to show me my pride.  God uses my continued longing to escape to show me how powerless I am and how little control I have in this life.  As a recovering alcoholic, I’ve had the joy of understanding what it means to be spiritually bankrupt, to be powerless.

The first step of recovery in a 12 step program is this; ‘admitting that I am powerless over alcohol – and that my life has become unmanageable’.  Jesus is inviting us to embrace and to return to this step of powerlessness, this place of spiritual poverty.

Jesus is inviting us to admit again and to admit often that we are powerless and that our life is unmanageable.  When we do this, we live into our membership in the community of fortunate ones.  The community of people that have found freedom in letting go, being honest, ending resistance, taking off the mask.

Unfortunate are the ones that must keep up appearances.  Enslaved are the ones that have to try really hard to keep people from seeing their imperfections that ALL of us have.  Exhausted are the ones who live behind the veneer of ‘fine’.

Here in this church, we are not interested in cultivating a people of good intentions, because Jesus doesn’t want our good intentions.  We’re interested in walking with brothers and sisters who fall before an ever merciful God.  Who confess with all their heart this line from ‘Come Thou Font of Every Blessing”; Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love”.  

Our first step in the kingdom, and one that stays with us as we walk is a step of surrender.  Daily we say; “we’re broke, we have nothing to bring”.  This  transparency, this vulnerability that I give you permission to have is actually a courageous way of walking with God. It is the doorway into an experience of the Kingdom now.

Stop hiding.  You don’t need to anymore.  That is what our first parents did in the garden, they hid in shame.  But there is a new Adam.  And he says to us;

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  – Mt 11:28-30

A new adam has come, he has come and though he was rich, he has made himself poor for our sake.  He did so in order that you and I could embrace our poverty and walk courageously into the Kingdom where He reigns.

Jesus Christ, Son of David, have mercy on us…we are sinners.

5 Things I Know To Be True…About Fatherhood

As we stand in the shadow of father’s day, I thought I would reflect on what I know to be true about being a dad (or mom for that matter).

  • Fatherhood requires my full attention.  I find that I get most frustrated in parenting when I am only partially present to my children when I am with them.
  • Things my children will enjoy likely develop out of the things that I do with them.
  • My personal mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health directly affects my kids for better or for worse.
  •  It’s okay to let family life monopolize my time and attention, especially when my kids are younger.
  • Watching my children practice compassion and engage in acts of kindness elicits a deep and profound joy. (I wonder how our heavenly Father feels when we do this?)

5 Things I Know To Be True…About Rest

As I relax in someone’s obnoxiously large home that my wife’s family rented for a family vacation (which could double as a great church buiding), on an obnoxiously large lake (with 1300 miles of shoreline),  and an obn0xiously painful sunburn (especially on my knees), I thought I appropriate to reflect on what I know to be true about rest.

  • Rest and inactivity are not the same
  • Structured rest is more restful
  • Rest is not escape from creation but an attempt to learn how to embrace it more fully
  • Rest helps correct distorted perspective
  • As I rest, I learn that I do not need to fill silent moments with meaningless chatter