Apologizing with Style: When Things Get Awkward

27 Feb

Over the last few weeks, we’ve spent quite a bit of time examining the rules which govern informal religious dialogue.  We’ve taken a look at the importance of keeping a conversation on task in “An Introduction to the Rules of Debate” and considered a few “Duh Rules” that can be useful in keeping a debate on friendly terms.  This week, we’re going to conclude our list with a brief discussion of the rules which govern those “awkward” situations that will inevitably occur if you ever try to share the Gospel with… well, just about anyone.  Don’t panic – if the conversation is on-task and friendly, these situations aren’t nearly as fear inducing as they might be otherwise!

Rule 5 – If You Don’t Know, Just Admit It

Next to Rule 1, this might be the most important.  There are a lot of people with legitimate questions about Christianity.  While we’d all like to be “Super Christian” and have the answers to every objection a skeptic can pose… we don’t.  When someone fields a question that you can’t answer, the best thing you can do is to admit it.  Then, volunteer to find an answer.  When someone is legitimately interested in your faith, they’ll be willing to let you check your sources and give them a response.

On the flip side, if you ask a question and the person you’re debating doesn’t immediately have an answer, be gracious enough to let them do some research as well.  When you are respectful of others, the chances are, they will be respectful of you.

It’s also important to maintain a level of understanding for doctrines which simply can’t be defended in a “logical” fashion.  The “trinity” is a fine example.  Go ahead.  Ask me how there can only be one God, but three distinct persons!  The truth is, I simply don’t know. At the risk of sounding trite, “The Bible says it, so I believe it.”  Interestingly enough, more than a few of my friends have been willing to accept this as a legitimate reply, if only because most recognized that there were many similar cases in their own religions.  I didn’t make a point of pushing them around for embracing something they weren’t capable of explaining and they returned the favor.  Being honest about my own ignorance ended up furthering the relationship more than faking my way through an answer ever would have!

Rule 6 – Don’t Be Afraid to Admit When You Are Wrong

On the same note, never be afraid to admit that you were wrong!  It can be easy to misunderstand the beliefs and teachings of other faiths.  Since you’re not a Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, or an “Enter religious preference here”, it’s not shameful to lack a complete understanding of someone else’s beliefs.  If you make a statement and find yourself getting corrected, take it in stride and thank your friend for caring enough to correct you.

By the same token, God did not call us to be Bible experts either.  At some point or another, someone is going to point out that your knowledge of your “sacred book” is deficient.  Your ability to both admit that you were wrong and to alter your views to match the Bible’s teachings can go a long way towards adding legitimacy to the dialogue.  Through this, people see that the point of the debate really is the discovery of truth, not your proving yourself right and them wrong!  Try to be consistent in what you present.  Check your facts and double check them.  But don’t panic if you’re wrong, because God can use that too!

Rule 7 – Just Present the Truth

Last, but not least, it’s important to recognize that sometimes we lose a debate.  Keep in mind that the only job God has given us is to present the truth as clearly as we are able.  Sure, sometimes we say something really stupid (or even just plain ignorant), but God knows our hearts and He will make sure that what He wants to accomplish gets accomplished.

And yes, sometimes we think of the things that we should have said long after the discussion is over.  While you may use those ideas in future discussions, you needn’t kick yourself for not using them in the last one.  If God had needed you to say that, you’d have thought of it at the time.

So there you have it, seven rules to help you keep your religious dialogues on track, friendly, and honest.  Follow them and, even when you “lose”, you’ll wind up a winner.

One final word: once you’ve found the high ground, hold it.  Others may not treat you with courtesy or respect and they may even be downright rude, but that’s no excuse for you to return “in kind”.  We are ambassadors for Christ and we represent Him in all situations, even the unpleasant ones!

Apologizing with Style: The “Duh” Rules

20 Feb

Last week, in “An Introduction to the Rules of Debate”, we discussed the importance of keeping a religious discussion focused and “on task”.  This week, we’re going to look at a few more rules that will help us keep that discussion friendly.  I call these rules the “Duh” rules because most of us would like others to treat us with the same courtesy they outline… but we sometimes struggle to return the favor.  As you read through the list, take a moment to ask yourself which of the rules you follow and where you could do with some improvement.

Rule 2 – Don’t Present Arguments You Wouldn’t Accept, Yourself

While this may seem obvious, often, in the heat of discussion, it simply isn’t.  That’s why I’m taking a moment to state it here.  Before making an argument against someone’s beliefs, make sure that if the same argument were reversed, you’d be willing to accept it as valid.

A perfect example of such a weak argument is the frequent appeal to the lack of archeological evidence for the “Book of Mormon”.*  While, initially, the argument may seem solid, a closer investigation proves otherwise.  For years, there was no archeological evidence for the Hittite civilization mentioned in the Old Testament.  Then, in 1906, Hugo Winckler of the German Orient Society uncovered over 10,000 clay tablets confirming their existence.

Now, I’m not saying that anyone will ever find evidence to support Joseph Smith’s teachings, but what I am saying is that this is a dead-end argument that’s likely to end in a shouting match and not a discussion about Christ.  The same goes for arguments based upon emotion.  It just feels/doesn’t feel right is subjective, not objective and leads to the idea that truth is based upon my feelings, not God’s Word.  Sure, emotion comes into it, but this doesn’t form a solid basis for arguments about eternity.  The basic rule of thumb is, “If you wouldn’t accept a similar argument against Christianity, then don’t use it against other religions.”

Rule 3 – Don’t Debate Someone Who Just Wants to Fight

This can be a really difficult rule to observe both because it requires the ability to control one’s own emotions while discerning the motives of another equally erratic human being.  The truth of the matter is that some people ask us questions about our faith, not because they’re interested, but because they want a fight.  Most of these discussions are worthless and only end in frustration and ought, in general, to be avoided.

You can usually tell if someone is merely trying to pick a fight by the way they react to the answers you’re giving.  For example, if they interrupt you mid-sentence or shoot off another six dozen questions before the last word is out of your mouth, they probably care more about demonstrating their own superiority than they do about the truth.  They’re out to show you how wrong you are and, believe it or not, they will win, if only because their voice is the loudest.

While we shouldn’t turn down an opportunity to share Christ, we need to take our cue from Jesus.  When He entered a town, He’d present the Gospel.  He’d dine with those who were interested, but when someone clearly didn’t care, He moved on.  His energies were better devoted to sharing than to arguing.  If you find yourself in this situation, pray for the person and then head on down the road.  Don’t waste your time on worthless debate.

Rule 4 – Don’t Be Someone Who Just Wants To Fight

We all like to be right, but when it comes to evangelism we need to keep our eyes on the goal.  Remember, this is about Jesus and the gift He offers us, not about proving our superiority!

If you ask a question, listen to the answer… the full answer.  Respect for a person and their beliefs, even if they differ from our own, is essential to forming the type of relationship that may eventually lead to a commitment to Christ.  Jesus often disagreed with the people He met, but He never cut them off, made fun of their beliefs, or sought to make them feel stupid.  He heard them out and so should you.

Romans 12:14,16-18 reminds us, “…bless and do not curse… do not be haughty in mind… Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”

Next week, we’ll take a look at a few rules regarding “awkward” situations, but for now, take the time to share a few of your own experiences with the “Duh” rules in the comment box below!

*This type of argument can be used effectively, but in order to do so, you’ll need the opportunity to build a case just like a lawyer does in court, presenting it as part of a “preponderance” of evidence.  Finding someone’s fingerprints at the scene of the crime isn’t enough to convict them of murder, but add in the threatening message on the answering machine and the victim’s blood all over the defendant’s laundry and you have a case.  The same applies to arguing against a given religious view.

Apologizing with Style: An Introduction to the Rules of Debate

13 Feb

Perhaps one of the most important things that I ever learned from my mother was how to have an honest, open, friendly debate.  For years, I watched as she welcomed those of other faiths into our home and engaged them in dialogue, presenting her faith (often while enquiring about theirs) with a gentleness and finesse which left everyone feeling at ease.  Everything I know about apologetics and the rules of debate began with her.

Before I start sharing what she taught me, however, we need to take a moment for some etymology.  (“Etymology” is the study of word origins and should not be confused with “entomology” which is the study of all things creepy crawly.)  Our English word “apology” comes from the Greek “apologia” and no, it doesn’t mean saying you’re sorry.  Instead, to the Greek mind, an apology was a “defense for” something whether it be one’s actions, philosophy, cooking style, or faith.  The best orators, those who held the attention of the masses in the public square were excellent “apologists”, reasoning for their own point of view in such a manner as to convince others to embrace it as well.  It should come as no surprise then that “evangelism” and “apologetics” go hand in hand, helping us to present the Christian faith in a reasonable and ordered fashion for the purpose of bringing others “into the fold”.

In order to make a great defense, however, you’re going need to know the rules of informal debate.  For the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at these rules and how they apply in different evangelistic situations.  This week, however, we’re going to present you with just one… and it may be the most important of them all:

Rule 1 – Always Bring it Back to Jesus and the Gospel

The core of Christianity is Christ.  It is Christ Who created and it is Christ Who redeems.  Not surprisingly, this is one doctrine upon which most religions differ.  For this reason, my parents always used to emphasize the importance of keeping our focus on Jesus.  You may wander off into a peripheral issue or take a quick trip down a rabbit trail, but the conversation must always come back to its Core.

It doesn’t matter whether you agree upon mode of baptism or the importance of enforcing laws against theft – according to traditional, Biblical Christianity, those things don’t save you.  You and the Bible can be in perfect agreement upon every issue, but if you don’t stand in the same place regarding what is required to spend eternity in the presence of God, it simply doesn’t matter.  If you want to present your faith clearly, you must present Christ as its center.  Go ahead, answer the questions others have about your faith, but don’t lose sight of what really matters.  If you’re going to be an effective apologist, you’ll need to take your cue from the Apostle Paul, “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2)

Next week, we’ll take a look at a few more “rules of debate”.  In the meantime, take a moment to share your own experiences with conversations that did (or didn’t) follow “Rule 1” in the comment box below!

 

Boss’ Pet: Avoiding the Tangle

6 Feb

Over the last few weeks, we’ve explored the subject of injustice in the workplace. We’ve talked about what happens when one employee is favored over others. We’ve explored some of the emotional reactions such preference elicits. And we’ve delved into a few of the Scriptural principles that can help a Christian thrive when equity is nowhere to be found.

That said, while most of us don’t like other people being the boss’ pet, most of us do like holding that position, ourselves! A word of caution: while it’s great to have the approval of those in authority, it is far better to live at peace with God and our fellow men.

That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to do our very best with ever assignment. It does, however, suggest that when those efforts lead us into a favored position, we shouldn’t take unfair advantage of the situation. Remember that we are commanded to, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:3-8)

Some special privileges are earned rewards. Others are a sign of favoritism. The best way to tell the difference is to take note of whether those privileges are being extended to other staff members who have performed to the same level you have. If they aren’t, do the right thing and don’t accept them.

Seeking peace requires discernment – an ability to recognize injustice before it becomes injustice. While that can at times be a challenging task, it’s well worth the effort. As believers, we are called to be peacemakers. The Psalmist commands, “Depart from evil and do good; Seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalm 34:14) Never let hurt feelings or an inflated ego get in the way of doing what is right!

Whether you’re the least favored employee or the most honored, humility, kindness, and a desire to treat others well will go a long way. Do your best to praise what it good and acknowledge the hard work and positive efforts of others. It’s amazing just how much stress can be relived both in our lives and in the lives of others when we follow Christ and seek peace.

Boss’ Pet: Playing Peacemaker

30 Jan

In Hebrews 12:11-15, the Apostle Paul explains that, “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled…” Again, in Romans 12:17-21 he commands us to, “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Jesus, Himself, emphasizes the importance of peace in the Beatitudes saying, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

The choice before me was clear: I could continue to fruitlessly pursue justice (an act which would only encourage further dissension amongst the staff) or I could accept the injustice for what it was and learn to be the kind of peacemaker Jesus wanted me to be. (I’ll let you guess which of the two was the hardest to do.) I had been given an opportunity to develop my character under adverse circumstances. And in doing so, I also had the opportunity to be a positive influence upon the thoughts and actions of others.

Instead of focusing on the rules our new hire broke or the many ways in which he failed to function as a part of the team, I chose to center my thoughts and words on the opposite. I took the time to point out to the other staff members the ways in which the boss’ pet did act as a team player. I refused to take part in conversations devoted to running him (and the manager who favored him) down. And I went out of my way to encourage the new hire when he did make right choices.

Much to my surprise, the atmosphere at the workplace began to change. While our “Joseph” never did lose his position of importance, taking the time to continually and vocally focus on the positive went a long way towards defusing a tense situation. What had at first struck the staff as a terrible injustice began to appear almost comical. Our mood lightened and our frustration with the favoritism dissipated.

More importantly, by pursuing actions which led to peace rather than trying to hold on to what was “rightfully mine” through an unending quest for justice, I was able to reflect Christ’s love to everyone involved. In the end, that’s what being a Christ Follower is about.

Boss’ Pet: A Biblical Parallel

23 Jan

Our new employee had quickly become a favored son. While our boss had high expectations for the rest of us, our new hire seemed to get away with everything. If he didn’t like the rules, he broke them. If he didn’t like when he was scheduled to work, he didn’t show up. If he wanted to leave early, he just left. While the rest of us would have suffered the consequences, he didn’t.

After weeks of watching our manager knowingly avert his gaze, the situation was beginning to grow volatile. Explaining our frustration about the unequal standards hadn’t resulted in any change either in the behavior of the new hire or in our boss’ treatment of him. It was clear that the problem couldn’t be met head-on… but that didn’t mean that there wasn’t a way for the rest of us to rise to the challenge and benefit from the experience.

As the senior member of the staff, I soon noticed that my own attitudes towards the players in our little drama affected, if not the feelings of my coworkers, at least their expression of those feelings. I was in a surprising position of influence. And I was determined to use that influence for good.

It was at this point that God brought Reuben to mind. While the elder brother of Joseph was hardly of sparkling moral character (you may recall that he forsook his blessing as the firstborn when he decided to sleep with his father’s concubine) his role in the story of Joseph was an admirable one. Scripture tells us that, “When they [Joseph’s brothers] saw him [Joseph] from a distance and before he came close to them, they plotted against him to put him to death. They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer! “Now then, come and let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; and we will say, ‘A wild beast devoured him.’ Then let us see what will become of his dreams!” But Reuben heard this and rescued him out of their hands and said, “Let us not take his life.” Reuben further said to them, “Shed no blood. Throw him into this pit that is in the wilderness, but do not lay hands on him”—that he might rescue him out of their hands, to restore him to his father. So it came about, when Joseph reached his brothers, that they stripped Joseph of his tunic, the varicolored tunic that was on him; and they took him and threw him into the pit. Now the pit was empty, without any water in it. Then they sat down to eat a meal. And as they raised their eyes and looked, behold, a caravan of Ishmaelites was coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing aromatic gum and balm and myrrh, on their way to bring them down to Egypt. Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it for us to kill our brother and cover up his blood? “Come and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers listened to him. Then some Midianite traders passed by, so they pulled him up and lifted Joseph out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. Thus they brought Joseph into Egypt. Now Reuben returned to the pit, and behold, Joseph was not in the pit; so he tore his garments. He returned to his brothers and said, “The boy is not there; as for me, where am I to go?” (Genesis 37:18-30)

While the other brothers were set on killing the boy, Reuben played the role of peacemaker. He had attempted to do what was right before God without giving way to his own resentment. And, as Christians, we too, are instructed to pursue peace, even in the face of injustice. (To be continued…)

Boss’ Pet: Dealing with Favorites in the Workplace

16 Jan

The new hire was rather charming. Despite living in the frigid north, he had a sort of laid-back surfer air about him and didn’t seem to take anything too seriously. He smiled constantly, laughed frequently, and had just enough “individuality” to have fit in well with our staff… if he had really wanted to.
Unfortunately, he made it quite clear from the beginning that he played by his own set of rules. And these rules frequently failed to fall in line with company policy. Those of us who had been with the company for a while attempted to gently instruct him, but when his antics began to endanger both staff members and the company revenue, it was decided that the situation needed to be addressed to our manager.
I spent several hours reviewing the situation, rehearsing what I intended to say and ensuring that it sounded as generous as possible, then scheduled a meeting with my department head. Much to my surprise, my boss informed me that we all needed to back off and stay out of the matter. While I had never seen my employer as a particularly prejudiced man, the unfairness of the situation was obvious and it was not long before most of the staff members were freely expressing their resentment towards both the boss and the “boss’ pet.”
While at some point in life, you’ve probably been informed that “life isn’t fair”, it can take the workplace to bring this proverb into sharp relief. King Solomon once said that, “There is futility which is done on the earth, that is, there are righteous men to whom it happens according to the deeds of the wicked. On the other hand, there are evil men to whom it happens according to the deeds of the righteous. I say that this too is futility.” (Ecclesiastes 8:14) The truth is that, in a world corrupted by sin, righteousness is not always rewarded and evil is not always punished.
As Christians, we know that our perspective on this reality ought to be distinctly different from the rest of the world, but that doesn’t always make the situation an easy one; sometimes it can take all of our strength just to keep from blowing a fuse!
What do we do when we see someone “getting away with murder”? How do we handle inconsistencies in the way our employer handles members of the staff? And when do we back off and simply allow such unjust favoritism to take its course?
We’ll be looking at the answers to these questions over the coming weeks. In the mean time, feel free to share your own experienced dealing with a “boss’ pet” in the comment box below.

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