Wednesday, March 25, 2009

What Is Apologetics?

1 Peter 3:15-16 “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”

This message was given to MMU Cuberjaya CF last nite. Wanna acknowledge materials from Stand To Reason. Imagine if the President of MMU comes into this CF meeting and says, “I need someone to represent CF and tell me more about what you are and what you do. Who would you send?” Would you send one of these guys to represent the CF? Why? (Mystery prize)

We don’t want our representatives to be rude, blur, offensive, obnoxious, fumbling clowns basically because they reflect badly on us.

Whether we know it or not, we are already representatives for Christ in our family, in our classroom, amongst our friends… We are ambassadors of Christ. We represent the King and His Kingdom in a fallen world to share the good news and show good works. People will hear our words and see our behavior and conclude, “Oh he’s a follower of Jesus so His Master must be like that also”. As ambassadors for Christ we either attract people to see God or distract people from seeing God. I’m not saying you have to be perfect, but I think we need to be real (honest).

The topic today is “Apologetics” – it doesn’t mean saying sorry or apologize all the time. It doesn’t mean trying to defend God because God doesn’t need our puny defense, thank you very much. No, Apologetics is the art of giving our friends (seekers or critics) a reason for the hope we have in Christ. It is an important part of being an ambassador for Christ in MMU. So what does it do? Why should I learn to give a reason for our faith?

Firstly, it helps us to remove some obstacles that prevent people from coming to faith (“I think Christians are so nice but how can you believe that Jesus is the only way? Isn’t that narrow minded?”

Apologetic helps us to compare and evaluate other religious claims. Especially in Malaysia where we live in a multi-religious society, there are many ways of answering the big questions in life – Where do we come from? Who am I? Why on earth am I here for? Where am I going? These are big questions that every thinking person asks. Apologetic helps us to find good answers for our origin, identity, meaning in life and destiny after we die…

It may also helps us give our friends positive clues or evidences for why we believe God exists, Jesus resurrected and the Bible is God’s word. Some people are Christians because it makes them happy, it looks cool, the music sounds great, because a boy or girl in CF is cute and so on. But it won’t last. The kind of faith that endures and transforms is faith that is based on conviction… not because it is feels cool, but because it is true… And because it is true, it radically changes our lives and priorities… Apostle Peter says: In your heart set apart Christ as Lord. He’s Lord of all or not Lord at all.

Some may ask, “If there are reasons or evidence, where is the room for faith? If I already have faith, why need reasons?” But biblical faith is not wishful thinking, but based on facts. God invites us to “Come let us reason together” in the book of Isaiah. In New Testament, we find that the apostle Paul reasoned with people in the synagogues and some of them are persuaded.

Although faith is beyond reason, it is not against reason. It is not blind faith or intellectual suicide. Faith involves knowledge (objective: This chair is strong enough to support me), agreement (Yes, it can support me) and personal trust or choice/commitment (subjective).

Ok, so how do we do it?

Here are three key characteristics of a good ambassador for Christ. We need to have
Knowledge (informed mind), Character (attractive, winsome manner) and Wisdom (artful method)

A) Informed mind: The Bible passage we read just now tells us to be ready, be prepared to give us an answer or reason for our faith. To do that, we obviously need to know something about what we really believe and why we believe the things we believe.

For example, you may play Counterstrike with your friends one day and he asks, “Eh, what is the meaning in life, ar? Bible got answer or not?” How would you answer? If you don’t know, never mind, go home, look it up in books, ask your pastor, do some research and get back to him. But if he asks same question 2-3 times, and your answer is always “I dunno” then it just shows that this is not important even to you so why should I bother?

The best part is this: Equipping yourself with biblical truth is not as hard as you may think. There are so many excellent and free resources available online these days and with Google, it is at your finger tips. (You are IT savvy people, see below). So be transformed by the renewal of your mind. The bible didn’t say be transformed by the removal of your mind. If not, you’d become conformed to the patterns of this world. Do you know how do bank workers recognize counterfeit notes?

B) Winsome Character: Peter says “But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander”

Do you know of people who win arguments and lose the soul? They can debate like champions but offend everybody with a proud, know-it-all attitude. People are just put off. But good ambassadors for Christ are humble, gentle or respectable to others. They speak the truth but they speak the truth in LOVE. There is a patient, attractive and winsome character because the ultimate apologetics is love.

When people see in our lives compassion for the weak and needy, show forgiveness to those who persecute and slander us, it will raise profound questions for our friends “Why are they so different?”

Be sensitive to the real concern behind the question. Sometimes when people ask “How can God be fair when there is so much suffering in the world?” they may or may not want a philosophical answer that God gave us freewill or has a greater purpose for suffering. There may be underlying reason behind the question: Because they are suffering personally and the question is really asking for our understanding, presence and practical help. Be a good listener and try to find out the question behind the question.

And when people don’t agree with us, relek la… No need to be defensive or angry because only the Holy Spirit could touch a person’s heart to believe, it is not up to how good we are in debating. We are called to be witnesses, not judges of people’s hearts. Allow room for God to work in them. Sometimes all we are called to do is to plant a seed and that’s ok… just leave him with something to ponder and think about… don’t feel pressured that you must get to the sinner’s prayer every single time… bcos somewhere down the road another person will water it… another person will plow the ground… another person will reap… It’s a community project, dun be pressured to do everything

C) Artful Method: Sometimes we may have the facts, and our motive is good (we mean well) but we don’t say it in a way that people can understand. Or we say it in a way that people easily misunderstands. There is a saying: “It is not what you say, but HOW you say it that makes or breaks the case”.

This is not just about packaging or tricks. It is about effective communication. The gospel message is eternal, unchanging but the ambassador learns how to adjust his method depending on the person/situation so the gospel is heard in clear and compelling way. For example, for some people who are ready, you can flip out the Four Spiritual Laws or a tract and share with them the gospel. God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life… But other people turn off the moment they see a tract, looks like you are trying to sell them something, so you may want to change your method a bit…

And we need to be careful of Christian jargons or lingo that we use. It makes perfect sense to believers but doesn’t mean anything or worse, it means the wrong thing to someone who is not a believer. Like, “Jesus is the answer!” But what is the question? “You need to be washed in the blood of the Lamb”? Huh? Sounds scary… “You need to be justified and sanctified before you can be glorified”. Is there a way to rephrase that in a lingo your friends understand?

Last but not least, don’t be an answering machine. Sometimes we think we must always be the one giving all the answers. But if you look at Jesus, He very often answers a question with another question.

Question: Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?
Response: Why do you call me good?

Question: Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?
Response: Whose picture is on the coin?

Question: On what ground shall divorce be permitted?
Response: What did Moses command you?

Question: By what authority do you do these things?
Response: Answer me this – by what authority did John the Baptist do what he did?

Questions and more questions… But why did Jesus do that? Is it because he doesn’t know the answer? No. Questions are very powerful…

Because question opens up hidden assumptions: “I can’t believe in Jesus without being 100% sure first” So I asked, “But what decision have you made in life based on 100% certainty? Unreasonable criteria”

Questions can expose the heart issues or logical problems in a person’s views
“There is no truth.” “Really? Is that true? Is that absolutely true?”
“You can’t be sure of anything when it comes to God”. “Are you sure about that?”

Questions help us gather more information and clarify someone’s beliefs (ie Hinduism). Then, if he is polite, you get to share your own views later. Conversation: Not so preachy.

Questions get you out of the hot seat and reverse the burden of proof.
“There is no God.” “What do you mean by ‘God’?”
All religions are basically the same.” “In what way are religions all basically the same”?

Learn the right answers but also learn to ask right questions.

Final thought: The Gospel is offensive enough because it deals with idols/sins of people. Don’t add any more offense to it. But we dare not water down the Gospel.

Discover Your Calling

Read 1 Corinthians 12:4-27 (Based on Gordon Smith's Courage and Calling and Yoke Yeow's idea with Incredibly Called) Delivered at RipTreat 2009

If you can be a superhero, who would you want to be? Why do you want his or her super powers?

Do you remember the movie The Incredibles? Or Kungfu Panda? Or Ratatouille? The heroes of each story have a deep desire in their hearts to be superheroes, a chef (Remy the Rat) or kungfu master (Po The Panda), they face huge internal and external problems that prevent them for realizing their dreams and we cheer them on when we see how they finally overcome these barriers to be what they were meant to be!

Each and every one of us is given special talents, skills, abilities and a calling from God. Not all of us have the same spiritual gift. Why? It’s supposed to be like a body when we mutually build up and bless each other with the diverse gifts we have been given. Since we cannot be experts in everything, we need each other…

First and foremost, God calls us to Himself, to a personal Father-child relationship with Him. He loves us unconditionally, there is where our self-worth lies. Secondly, He has also equipped us with abilities and called us to fulfil a purpose, mission and destiny in life.

What happens when we don’t exercise our gifts or we don’t know what God has called us to do with our lives? When people don’t discover what God had made them to be, they very often experience these symptoms

Boredom: Mr Incredible is super-strong and loves to fight crime and save people from trouble. But when he was forced to retire by the law, he earns a living filing claims in an insurance company. He’s cramped in a tin can and sneaks out at night to play super hero.

Mischief: Do you remember Dash? Wonder-boy capable of supersonic speeds but to hide his superpowers, he can’t show his true colors in school. So he must pretend to lose races in school to conceal his abilities. In frustration, he expresses his talent by putting thumb tacks teacher's butt. When people can’t express their abilities in positive, productive ways, these gifts can have a dark side.

Inferiority Complex: Violet the shy, insecure girl whose gift of invisibility helps her fade ever more into the background. When you don’t find your call or purpose in life, you may eventually believe you are good for nothing. There is no meaning or rhyme in life… you get overwhelmed with self pity, inferiority and insecurity.

Mismatch of work: I would also like to suggest to you that because many people do not discover the true superpowers, they choose a certain job or study certain subjects because everybody else is doing it, it makes lots of money or due to society expectation or because it is easier road to take. We dun stop and ask:

Is this “who I am”? Is this what God has called me to do?

Disclaimer: If you are in secondary school, this is probably not the time for you to make firm decisions on what you’d be doing for the rest of your life. So don’t go home and tell your parents “I’m not going to school anymore because I wanna go US and be American Idol”. It is a lifelong journey. You won’t find out the entire purpose of your life tonight. At your age, I want to encourage you to try new things, dun limit your ministry experience and continuously learn more about you like/dislike but it’s never too early to start thinking about these things.

What I like about movies like Kungfu Panda, Incredibles or Ratatouille is not so much the silly humor or kick-butt action, what satisfies us most is when they find the joy of finally doing what they were made to do. Like when Remy the rat creates delicious dishes instead of scavenging leftovers or when Po the Panda finally defeats the bad guy by being himself and he finds out that the secret of the dragon scroll is “There is no secret!” we cheer for these heroes.

What are you spiritual gifts? Freely you have received, freely give. A Hero is waiting to be set free in us. Only One Life To Live. Don’t Waste It.

But how do we find out what is God’s will for us? What are our spiritual gifts? Must we hear audible voices from heaven before we know it? Is there a secret spiritual formula to finding God's call? The secret of the dragon scroll is "there is no secret".

It’s not something overly difficult or mysterious. In fact, after this we will do a little survey together to help you find out more about your spiritual gifts. Would you like to find out? (Disclaimer: The purpose is to get you started on discovery not absolute answers because unless you have tried some of these ministry areas, how do you know you don’t like it or good at it? The answers will change as you explore and learn more)

Here are FIVE Questions to help us find our Life Calling

1) What do you feel joy doing? What is my deepest desire or passion?

It doesn’t mean that just because you enjoy playing Counterstrike, you are called to be a gamer. But since God put the body together, you will feel fulfilled (Yes, I feel God’s pleasure when I run, sing, write, play the guitar, serve the weak etc) when functioning in the proper area. There will be a sense of purpose, like jigsaw puzzles that fit. Look out for the sense of fulfillment, satisfaction, pleasure when you exercise a gift/ministry.

2) What are you good at doing? What are my abilities, skills, spiritual gifts, mutant powers?

Run through some of the gifts and talents in the spiritual gift survey. It's not an exhaustive list. Maybe you think “Oh, I’m good at none of these things.” But again: “Belum cuba belum tahu”.

Risks: When people ask you to serve as ushers, “Oh no, because I don’t have that gift”. You begin to avoid evangelism or prayer. And at this time, none of us have enough life experience to really know what gifts you have, Some people would rather die than say, sing in public, but when they are given training and opportunity they may turn out to be gifted singers. So explore new opportunities. Get involved in different church ministries to meet the needs of some real people, expose yourself to the needs around and see if God puts a burden in your heart.

3) What do you feel are the biggest needs of the people around you?

When you look at the world around you, what are the things that make you sad or lose sleep? Are you burdened by the suffering of poor people? Are you burdened to see that people are lost without the gospel? Do you feel angry when there is injustice or cruelty? Of course, all Christians should feel such burdens in some degree. But it’s also true that some people feel more strongly about some areas than others. And it’s okay, dun fight over it and accept that God calls people differently while learn from others. Evangelism (Alpha Course) versus Social Justice? (Angsana) Don’t insist others to be like you.

Have you felt like: “Why isn’t somebody doing something about it?” Maybe you should.

4) What is your unique personality?

God has wired each of us differently, in a unique way like snowflakes. There is no “right” personality. Our individual temperament is unique to us as our fingerprint. John Calvin once said: You cannot know God unless you know yourself. You cannot know yourself unless you know God.

- Extroverts are energized by being with people or enjoy being the center of attention. Introverts tend to be content and energized being alone, and avoid attention when in a crowd. Which is more true to who you are?

- How do you process information? Am I more inclined to trust clear, certain and concrete facts (sensate) or more inclined to trust intuition, gut feeling and imagine possibilities (intuitive)?

- Do you make decisions depending on logic/analysis or personal relationship/feeling? Thinker or feeler?

- Am I more inclined to live with order, structure and routine or do I prefer going through life with more variety, spontaneous changes? Different personality may clash in a meeting. Derive fulfillment from finishing a task or find more joy in the process?

Again, your calling is not determined by one factor. For example: “Unless you are an outgoing extrovert, you cannot be a leader” – too simplistic. There are different leadership styles, a quiet person can lead effectively also.

5) What do others in school, family, circle of friends, church community say about me?

Since spiritual gifts are designed to benefit others (edify each other), you should see positive results as you exercise these gifts. But results take time so don’t give up too quickly, give it a fair try. Sometimes it’s hard to be brutally honest with ourselves – we can be either too hard on ourselves or unable to see our own shortcomings. So we need other brothers and sisters in Christ to help us recognize and confirm our gifting. Cannot ‘syok sendiri!!’ And as a youth group, be on the lookout and encourage those who do well, affirm them to continue using their gifts, be generous in giving honest feedback and constructive suggestions or evaluations.

But you can’t consider this question alone: Sometimes even people who mean well may misunderstand us, may be biased and their feedback cannot be absolute. We need to weigh opinions of others carefully as well. Usually some truth, some exaggerations…

So there you have it: Five Questions to help you discover your calling in life
What do you feel joy doing? What are you good at doing? What do you feel are the biggest needs of the people around you? What is your unique personality?

After doing the survey:
Beware of ‘gliding on our gifts’. Sometimes our relationship with God is not that healthy or our hearts are not right (bear grudges or hatred on others) but we can still do well in our ‘ministry’ because we are gifted in it and nobody notices. Your gift can never replace what goes on inside your heart. “Lord! Lord! Look at what we have done for you” But I never knew you. (Matt 7:21) There are people who are not so gifted but because their character is godly and their relationship with God is close, people are blessed and sense the aroma of Christ in their lives.

Our gift, ability or ministry is not an extension of ourselves. It is not where your source of self-worth. Unless you see this, you’d be driven or scared, too timid or too aggressive.

If we measure our self-worth by our achievements and abilities, we will either burn out (“I must be the best otherwise I’m a failure”) or give up (“What’s the point? I’d never be good enuff”).

But the good news is Christ “loves us more than we ever dare imagine even though we are more sinful than we’d ever know”! How does that change the way you measure how valuable you are and how you use gifts? Humble boldness…

I hope this message gets you to start thinking over the next few days we are together. What is the kind of person God has called me to be? What are the needs around me that I could me in Jesus name? What gifts have he given me to bless others and glorify God?

Remember Spiderman movie: With great powers come great responsibility! Let us pray.