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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.

Internet Evangelism: A Lesson in Etiquette

28 Jun

If anything can stir up a good online controversy, it’s the subject of religion.  Perhaps the reason for this is that the internet allows us the opportunity to share everything we think or feel without anyone knowing who we are and with little risk that our words will be censored.  Electronic media allows us to send our deepest thoughts across the globe in a matter of seconds, spreading our version of the “Good News” to anyone who will listen and, oft times, to many who won’t.

That’s why, this week, we’re taking a look at a few rules of internet etiquette and sharing some tips for those who want to utilize the web to share their Christian faith.  It is our hope that these will help you become a better example of Christ in a less than Christ-centered medium and, perhaps, make a difference in the way the online community views those who see things from our perspective.

  1.  Don’t troll.  It’s great that you want to share the Gospel, but how you share that Gospel can make a big difference in people’s attitudes towards this important message.  If a site or conversation doesn’t naturally lend itself to religious discussion, don’t force your way in.  More than once, I’ve seen someone toss out John 3:16 in the middle of a gaming dialogue or go into a full-blown explanation of the Salvation message on a site that has nothing to do with religion.  While these “hit-and-run” tactics do occasionally produce fruit, most of the time, they simply produce a sense of annoyance amongst their victims.  If you want to share effectively, be selective.  Seek out those who want to exchange views and don’t bother those who don’t with pithy phrases or random verses.
  2. Don’t mistake anonymity for license.  This follows quite naturally from our first rule.  Too many times, I’ve seen Christians say or do things online that they would never do in real life.  While there is much to be said for the courage that can be gained when someone isn’t looking you in the eye, there are pitfalls as well.  One of these is the tendency to speak more freely and with less tact than we would if addressing a personal friend.  The result?  Christians online have gained a reputation for being thoughtless and inconsiderate: two things that Jesus wasn’t.  Before weighing in on a conversation, consider your words.  If you wouldn’t speak this way to your family, friends, or co-workers, you shouldn’t be speaking this way at all!  Not sure whether you should say something?  Take a moment to ask yourself how you would feel if someone said something similar to you?  If you’d feel put off, they probably will too.
  3. Be people-driven, not agenda-driven.  It can be tempting to presume that internet dialogues are a “one-shot” chance at sharing Christ with someone.  While this can be true, it’s equally true that genuine relationships can be formed online.  (Just ask my fiancé.)  Like any other relationship, these take time to develop and a quick jump from meeting someone to an intimate dialogue concerning the error of a person’s religious views can put an end to a relationship before it’s even begun.  Before you exchange views, exchange names.  Find out a bit about people and they’ll usually be interested in finding out about you.
  4. Keep the focus of the conversation.  Sometimes, you won’t have the opportunity to develop a relationship.  In these cases, at least try to keep your dialogue on-topic.  If you’re on a site that encourages the exchange of religious views and the topic being addressed is creationism vs. evolution, don’t go randomly diving into a discussion of divine sovereignty or the incarnation.  Make sure that your comments fit with the overall theme of the dialogue.  True, by following this rule, you might never end up at the Gospel, but by respecting the direction a discussion is taking, you do demonstrate respect for the individuals involved in the dialogue – something that Jesus definitely promoted!
  5. Give the benefit of the doubt.  The internet is a worldwide community.  The people you find online come from a range of ethnic, social, and political backgrounds.  They represent a diversity of culture and not every culture represents itself in the same way.  Because of this, it can be easy to presume that someone is being “rude” when, according to the social standards they’re used to, they’re just being forthright.  Don’t assume that you understand someone else’s motives or background and never respond to a comment based solely upon what you would have been thinking or feeling if you had said the same thing!
  6. Don’t be rude… even if others are.  Sometimes it isn’t culture that influences the way a person presents themselves.  On occasion, we encounter folks who are just downright nasty about things.  But that doesn’t give us the right to behave the same way.  As Christians, we are to represent the light of Christ and that means that we demonstrate respect for others regardless of how different their views may be or how badly presented!
  7. When the details aren’t provided, don’t fill them in.  More than once, I’ve seen someone ask a question and receive a response so far removed from that question that it’s hard to understand how the person who replied could have possibly thought they were being helpful!  Unfortunately, many times, this isn’t due to trolling, but to one person “filling in” the details when the other party hasn’t provided them.  If you are unclear about what is being asked, take the time to clarify before trying to answer.  A little humility can go a long way.
  8. Don’t tell others what they believe.  While some religious viewpoints have standards by which they can be measured (like Mormonism or Islam), others (like atheism) don’t.  And not every individual within every faith will believe the same things, regardless of whether their Scriptures say they should.  Instead of letting others know what they should believe, take the time to ask questions and find out what they do believe.  You’ll be in a better position to dialogue once you have.
  9. Avoid showmanship.  With a worldwide community watching, it can be tempting to try to say something brilliant, pithy, or new.  Unfortunately, giving into this temptation usually brings more glory to ourselves than to God.  You’ll get much farther if you “keep it real” than if you hop up on a pedestal and start spewing one-liners.  You’re here to talk with real people, so be a real person, yourself.
  10. Know when to leave.  Sometimes a dialogue just gets out of hand.  When this happens, it’s time to walk away.  Others may accuse you of cowardice or an inability to defend your point of view.  That’s just fine.  Remember that even Jesus remained silent when He stood before Pilate.  God will use the words you’ve already spoken to His own glory, though you may never see the results.

These rules, of course, are only a starting place.  You can probably think of a few more (if you do, please share them in the comment box below).  Keep them in mind the next time you visit a website or drop into a chat room and you may be surprised by the results.  Remember, our ultimate goal as Believers is not to get ourselves noticed, but to bring glory to God.  And that only happens when we demonstrate respect for others!

When Submission Turns to Slavery – Part II

15 Mar

I looked down at the caller I.D. and cringed.  It was my boss.  Again.  It was my day off and I could guess why she was calling.  The company had a notable difficulty retaining employees and we almost constantly had someone on sick leave.  Every time someone called in, I got called out.  I knew that I wasn’t their slave, but at this point I was definitely beginning to feel like one!

The truth is that most of us have faced similar situations in which someone with authority over some aspects of our lives (in this case, the hours I was scheduled to work) has felt that their authority extended to all aspects of our lives.  The situation can be a sticky one regardless of your religious convictions.  After all, if we don’t take a stand, the odds are that others will take advantage of us.  But if we do draw a line, the authority has the power to make our lives miserable!  So what do we do?  Do we obediently show up every time we’re asked?  Do we work overtime during our scheduled vacation?  Or do we say no and risk not having a job at all?

If you were paying attention, you’ll notice that there is one common factor in each of these questions:  fear.  Fear of being mistreated.  Fear of someone taking advantage of us.  Fear of being without an income.  And when fear is a factor, slavery isn’t far behind.  In fact, if I were to be asked where the boundary lies between submission and slavery, this is where I’d draw the line.

According to Romans 8:14-15, “… all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!”  Indeed, in God’s sovereignty He has ensured that, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”  (1 Corinthians 10:13) If this is true and God’s hand is present even in our suffering, we can be certain that there is no reason to fear.  Nothing that touches us does so without His approval and nothing we encounter is beyond His control.  (See: Romans 8:38-39)  The Apostle Paul urges us, “therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.”  (Galatians 5:1b)  As believers, we will face trials and frustrations, but we do so with the knowledge that, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free.”  (Galatians 5:1a)

With this in mind, we can approach commands like that of 1 Peter 2:18-19, “Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable,” from a different perspective.  Why?  Because according to the Apostle, this obedience “…finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly.”  The difference between submission and slavery isn’t in the action, itself, but in what motivates that action – a desire to glorify God or a fear of the potential results of that decision.

Where does this leave me staring at my ringing phone?  Quite simply, with a choice.  A choice between freedom and slavery – not by the action I take, but by the attitude with which I take that action.

The decision isn’t always an easy one.  Sometimes we need the day off.  Sometimes God is better glorified by our willingness to help out in a pinch.  Each person and every situation is different.  But whether we choose to go to work on our day off or not, if we make that decision with an understanding of God’s sovereignty and a desire to glorify Him, we can’t go wrong!

When Submission Turns to Slavery

8 Mar

Over the last few weeks we’ve been taking a look at the ways in which submission to earthly authorities can influence our ability to effectively share the Gospel with others.  Perhaps you’ve even come to agree that obedience to the laws of men (like paying taxes, driving within the speed limit, and complying with “No Swimming” signs) is, indeed, a good idea. But what about those rules which seem to violate our rights as human beings?  What happens when the laws put in place by our congressmen or the store manager don’t respect our individuality or personhood?  Is it okay to take a stand when submission gets warped into a form of slavery? Christians have been struggling with this question since the very beginning… and the answer can be a bit complex.

In order to make a Biblical judgment concerning whether we should defend our rights, we need to take a close look at the concept of suffering.  According to Scripture, the ultimate purpose of all believers is to bring glory to God.  We also know (from the accounts like those of Job and Ruth) that God is often glorified more by our response to suffering and sacrifice than by our comfort and ease.

Why?  Because it’s in the difficult times that both our character and the object of our faith is revealed.  Romans 5:1-5 reminds us that, “having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

That submission to the point of sacrifice and suffering can have positive consequences is something that the Apostle Peter (and many of us since) had difficulty grasping. When Jesus informed him of His intention to go to the cross, the Apostle objected saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.”  (For the whole story, see Matthew 16:21-23.) Indeed, he fully intended to prevent such an injustice when he drew his sword in the Garden of Gethsemane and carved off the ear of the High Priest’s servant.  (John 18:10)

Yet Jesus’ response was quite different.  Instead of fighting the armed mob or petitioning for His rights and presenting the case in His favor, He simply submitted Himself to the authorities and allowed events to take their course.  Why?  Because He recognized that in sacrificing His own rights, He would be benefiting others and, more than that, He would be glorifying God.  (John 12-17)

It’s a hard path to follow, but it’s one that we as believers are called to walk as well.  In Philippians 2:3-8, the Apostle Paul admonished us 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.”  The truth is, sometimes in our “giving up” of our basic human rights (whether it’s allowing our boss to encroach upon our time off or willingly submitting to discrimination), we do more good both for God and for others than we would be able to do if we took a stand to defend those rights.

So does this mean we should always submit to earthly authorities even if the result is a form of slavery or injustice?  Hardly!  But it does mean that if we want to know whether we should take a stand we need to begin by looking at the situation from God’s perspective rather than our own.

In Matthew 16:24-25, Jesus says to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”  Only when we’re willing to seriously consider the implications of true sacrifice will we be able to make a reasonable decision about which sacrifices of submission Jesus has or hasn’t called us to make.

Next week, we’ll take our discussion a step further as we discuss the boundaries that exist between submission and slavery.  Meanwhile, feel free to share your thoughts in the comment box below!

Sin, Submission, and Stan

1 Mar

Take a moment to join me at the coffee bar where Nate and Stan are having a conversation.  Nate has waited most of the year for his opportunity to share the Gospel message and Stan has just thrown the door wide open:

Stan: So you’re telling me that any time we disobey God, it’s a sin?

Nate:  Yes.  And sin requires punishment – eternal separation from God.  Since all that is good comes from God, nothing good can exist in this place of separation.  We call it Hell.  But Christ came and took that punishment for us.  All we have to do is accept His gift.

Stan:  And then we can do whatever we want?

Nate:  Of course not!  When you receive a gift like that, you want to show the Giver that you appreciate His sacrifice.  We do that through obedience to God’s commands.

Stan:  Doesn’t the Bible say that you’re supposed to obey those in authority?

Nate:  Yes.  Why?

Stan:  Because I saw you parking in the main parking lot the other day… not the staff parking area.  The boss was pretty explicit about where we were supposed to park.

Nate:  Well, that’s different.  The staff parking is so far away from the door.  Management can’t really expect us all to walk through the cold to get to work.  We’d all get sick!

You can probably see where this dialogue is headed.  While Nate talked boldly about sin and its consequences, it was clear that the way he lived (and his justification of his lifestyle) reflected a less-than-serious attitude towards sin.  His failure to obey “every human institution” (as commanded in 1 Peter 2:13) reflected an even more serious problem in regard to his submission to God.

As Christians, we need to be careful about how we live – especially if we want the opportunity to share the good news about God’s love with others.  That’s not to say that we’ll get it right all of the time or even that we’ll clearly recognize every sin as sin.  But it does mean that we need to be open to admitting sin when we recognize that what we’ve done directly contradicts God’s Word.

It also means that we can’t just pick and choose which laws we will or won’t obey… regardless of whether they are constitutional (as in my objection to paying taxes in last week’s post)… or good.  This may mean that at times we have to sacrifice what is rightfully ours to unjust management or a corrupt official.  We may have to bend our will to that of congress or the city council, even when the actions they take fail to align with our views of righteousness.  Scripture is clear that unless a law directly contradicts God’s Word, those who follow Christ are bound to obey it.  To do otherwise is sin.  And none of us should take that lightly.

Politics and Evangelism: The Question of Submission

22 Feb

“Then I’ll go to jail!”  I stormed away from the table in a rage.  Couldn’t my parents understand what I was saying?  What the government was doing was wrong!  How could I comply by giving them money from my hard-earned income?

When questioned about paying taxes to Caesar, Jesus had replied, “Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites? Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax.” And they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” Then He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.”  (Matthew 22:18-21)  Since Washington, Lincoln, and Grant were all dead, it was clear that this command did not apply to me as a U.S. citizen.  For the government to demand that I hand over part of my salary to support all sorts of nefarious activities wasn’t just unconstitutional: it violated God’s written Word.  And I would have none of it!

I’ll admit that my motivation had more to do with wanting to retain my pay than any desire to avoid funding sin. I’ve come around since my teen years and I have paid taxes ever since I got my first job… despite my concerns about what they might be funding.  Why?  Because God said to.

Perhaps one of the hardest commands Scripture gives us is that of 1 Peter 2:13, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution…”  Such submission doesn’t come naturally to most of us.  We want to see, do, and know for ourselves … even when that seeing, doing, and knowing might harm both ourselves and others.  What do we do when we don’t understand the purpose for a rule or, worse yet, that rule is unjust?  We break it.

Of course, this may not be our intent at first.  After all, most of us want to be viewed as law abiding citizens, even if we don’t like the laws by which we must abide.  So we look for wiggle room or try to find a loophole.  Yes, the speed limit is 25, but police officers only stop drivers if they’re going 30 … so it must be okay.  Of course the sign says “No Swimming”, but the city put that up to warn weak swimmers, not Olympic quality athletes like myself … no problem!

While these little “fudges” may not look like much to us, they are often a very accurate reflection of our attitude towards sin … an attitude which can make or break our efforts to share the Gospel message.  Over the next few weeks, we’ll be taking a look at what the Bible says about submission and how our actions and attitudes influence the way others view our faith and, more importantly, our God.  We’ll examine some common pitfalls and take a look at practical ways to avoid them.  Meanwhile, feel free to share your thoughts in the comment box below!

Politics and Evangelism: Tips for Speaking with Honesty and Grace

15 Feb

Last week in “Politics and Evangelism”, we took a look at the dangers which can sometimes accompany our eagerness to express a political opinion.  We examined the importance of speaking the truth when we represent those who don’t agree with us and (in passing) the importance of doing so with grace.  This doesn’t mean, of course, that we don’t express our views … just that we take the time to ensure that we are expressing them in a godly fashion.  But what do you do if, like me, you find it hard to keep your tongue in check?  This week, we’ll be taking a look at a few good tips for developing a more diplomatic approach to political involvement – one that will reflect well upon both us and the God we serve!

  1.  Practice in private what you want to portray in public.  This should go without saying, but it doesn’t.  I remember plenty of Sunday mornings’ spent yelling at the members of the “Meet the Press” crew like they could hear me through the thousands of miles of cable that stood between my television and their studio.  I’ll be honest, the things I was saying weren’t flattering … and sometimes they found their way out of my mouth when I was nowhere near the TV.  If we want to behave gracefully in public, the place to practice is in our homes.  That means holding our tongues whenever we find ourselves compelled to express our opinions in a way that degrades or belittles others.
  2. Think twice before hitting the “forward”, “repost”, or “share” buttons.  We’ve all seen those cute, sarcastic cartoons taking stabs at those with whom we disagree.  We love those witty one-liners and scathing reviews.  But what may be funny in private, isn’t always so amusing when diffused throughout the internet.  Before you share that brilliant repost, ask yourself, “What would Jesus do?”  Odds are, He wouldn’t be taking cheap pot-shots at His opponents … and neither should we.
  3. If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.  We learned this from our grandparents, but I’m inclined to think that very few of us listened.  (I know I didn’t!)  Grandma wasn’t advising us to speak only when we were in agreement with others, but rather to season our speech with grace.  In other words, if you’re going to disagree, do it nicely.  Jesus would have put it, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  If you can’t speak without taking a stab at the opposition, you’re better off just keeping your mouth shut.
  4. Pray.  I know.  It’s one of the simplest suggestions, but it’s also one of the most effective.  I’ve never found it easy to pray for someone and slam them as being worthless at the same time.  The two simply aren’t compatible.  Try it the next time you start to get riled.
  5. Avoid temptation.  If you know you have a tendency to go off the deep end when others express opinions less well-formed than yours, avoid placing yourself in situations where you’re “overexposed” to those opinions.  This doesn’t mean that we don’t listen to what other have to say or take the time to acquaint ourselves with someone else’s world view, but it does mean that we don’t do so in a way that leaves us with the steam coming out our ears.  If something consistently gets you worked up, turn it off or put it down.  You’re better off being ignorant than   blowing up and dishonoring the Name of Christ.

Following these rules doesn’t always come easy.  If you’re like me, you’ll still periodically find your finger hovering almost irresistibly over the “share” button or trying to “sneak a fix” from Fox News or CNN.  The question isn’t whether we occasionally slip and fall back into these negative behaviors, but whether we’re actively trying to represent the cause of Christ in our political expression.  When we succeed, we gain credibility – giving others a reason to trust our testimony when we speak of things more important than the latest bill to pass congress or the most recent EU crisis.

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