The Apologetic of Hope

The most often quoted Bible verse concerning apologetics is 1 Peter 3:15: “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.” Christians typically focus in on the word “defense” as the key word in the verse. The original Greek word is in fact where we derived our term “apologetics” from in the first place so one would be justified in picking it out as the most important word in the verse, or so we think. But there is a more important word here.

When read in context this verse is part of an instruction to Christians in the midst of persecution. Peter tells them to make sure they never do anything to deserve the persecution but instead to show themselves to be hoping in their God. The key word in this verse is not “defense” but “hope”.

Christian, has a non-believer ever asked you what gives you so much certain expectation in God amid your trials? Apologetics begins with hope in God, not with discussions with people. That should be a result of our hope. Apologetics is not really about questions so much as questioners – real people with real lives who need someone in whom they can hope. This goes far beyond discussions and information to souls.

The early church had the greatest boon to apologetics: persecution. The world around the early church punished them severely and Peter knew that as Christ had gone to His death obedient to the Father so the Christians should live amid death hoping in their savior. It was that kind of outlandish hope that would cause the persecutors to wonder at the Christians’ reasons for holding so dearly to their Christ.

The thing that really makes apologetics difficult in America is not the hostility to Christians but the comfort of Christians. There are certainly individuals and groups in the U.S. that are hostile to Christians but by and large few terribly violent things happen to Christians here. You might like to think you are persecuted because your family gatherings are awkward or because strangers are not excited that you want to talk to them about why they need Jesus before you even asked their name. You are not persecuted. American Christians have learned to fight for their rights and to seek to always be the dominant force in their country because of course, they seem to reason, God could never will anything for them except to run the country and be left alone. The mentality that Christians are persecuted in America but should be dominant ought to be reversed. We are not truly persecuted but evangelism would benefit if we were. The church is growing in places like Iran and China by incredible measures while in the U.S. it is largely becoming flabby and sleepy at best, conceited and flamboyant at worst. Peter would be the first to say that we should not do anything to instigate persecution, however we should allow our persecution to instigate hope and allow hope to invite the world’s questions.


Precious in the Sight of the Lord

I couldn’t help but notice that the last several memorials at our church have come on days when the news ran stories of the death of someone famous. While the workers in newsrooms scramble to gather biographical information and get it on a teleprompter small families gather together and tell stories of their loved ones recently lost. These precious people were never famous, never even terribly successful in the eyes of the world. You will not hear their lives outlined on the news, no dedicated fans will leave flowers at the front gate of their mansions. They die without any pomp and there are no traffic snarls because of their funerals. But these seemingly quiet deaths sing loudly in the ears of the Lord.

The day Steve Jobs died a lady from our church also died and the reaction of the world to the death of Jobs could never compare to the love this lady’s family showed at her memorial. Comparatively few people knew that she died and yet her death, not Jobs’, was the more momentous.

When a celebrity dies the usual news report is full of their life achievements. It is because of these achievements that we are expected to find their death to be of great moment. But a life full of achievements is not what makes one’s death important. The elderly lady who died on the same day as Steve Jobs had perhaps not had as industrious a life as Jobs and yet her death had greater value in the sight of Lord. This morning the news carried a story of the death of a member of the Beegees while this afternoon our church had a memorial for an infant boy. A baby has had no opportunity to live a life full of accomplishments. But it is not such a life that finds favor with the Lord.

Psalm 116:15 says, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” When one of His own dies the Lord does not look upon fame or fortune, success or failure. He looks upon His own and lovingly welcomes them into His kingdom and His rest. Their death is so precious to Him because they are so precious to Him and the Shepherd knows His own. And therein we find our life.

The Little Ego That Could

“Don’t you want to do something great for God?” “Since God did so much for me I want to do something great for Him.” American evangelicals have often heard and perhaps said things such as these. Whether spurred on by ambition or by guilt they are a part of a narrative that we can no longer see for all the trees.

Stories are wonderful indicators of a cultural mindset. You will find very different values and perspectives if you look at stories from around the world and throughout history. Whether these are myths, novels, urban legends, or even historical accounts they will reflect the culture in which they were created. In America we find particularly endearing the stories of the underdog, the pathetic sports team, the failed entrepreneur, the little engine that could. We like to see hope and willpower overcome obstacles. We want the team to come back and win, the entrepreneur to strike it rich, the little engine that could make it up the hill. This sort of narrative feeds off the American culture and in turn drives that same culture.

The question for the American Christian is whether one is more American or more Christian. Has the Biblical narrative or the American narrative had more influence on the way one thinks? We find it easy to think that God has some grand course of action in plan for us. If we could only discover what his plan was we would certainly embark on a whirlwind of ministry, shaking the world for Christ. If your culture taught you that you were such a unique individual that the work of the Holy Spirit could not effectively go on without you or that your true calling is to rise to greatness please hear a different narrative.

Some in the Bible were called to do things of great moment. However the Bible does not tell the stories of great men but of a great God who chose and worked through them. The message of the Bible is not a call to rise to the challenge or to do what the world doesn’t think you capable of: the Bible calls you to die and be small.

Jesus told his hearers to follow Him by taking up their cross. He effectively said, “I go to be killed. Who will come with me?” Christianity is death.

Jesus’ disciples argued over which of them would be the greatest in the kingdom of God. He showed them that His was a kingdom the likes of which they had never conceived. He taught them that those who were the greatest would serve rather than be served. Jesus called John the Baptist the greatest of men and said that John was the threshold of prophetic history and yet John said of Jesus, “He must increase but I must decrease.”

When we think much of ourselves we will think much of our motives. We may tell ourselves that we are taking on some particular Christian endeavor out of our sheer love for people. But when in our pride we think ourselves magnanimous and then see magnanimity as reflective of how wonderful we are and our pride then blinds us from seeing our prideful motives we have a problem. Ask yourself if you are doing something for your glory or for God’s.

As Americans we are driven and goal-oriented. I don’t think there is anything wrong with this as long as the drive is from God and the goal from His word. But the goals we often set for ourselves are those things that we assume the Bible must say and yet the Bible continually surprises us.

The Bible does indeed call us to something great in that it is beyond our human nature. It calls us to humility, to quiet service one for another. It calls us to be at peace with and in submission to one another. When it calls for a driven pursuit it has in mind the pursuit of love, peace, righteousness, and spiritual gifts (II Timothy 2:22b; 1 Corinthians 14:1; Romans 14:19). When it speaks of desiring another person it does not intend that we absorb them into our pride but that we desire to give ourselves to them for their good (1 Thessalonians 2:8). The Christian community is indeed in need of growth and change. It certainly needs goals and a drive. But the goal should be to be a church of quiet servants who love one another. God does have dynamic things in store for the believer but nothing will ever be more dynamic than a community that has the true heart of Christ.

If your Christian goal is to be bigger, faster, louder, busier, and more awe-inspiring you are missing a narrative of Christlikeness. If you think of yourself as The Little Christian That Could you may not be the little Christian that should.