How Can You?!

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14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 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, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

1 Peter 3:14-16 (ESV) via biblegateway.com
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I was approached years ago by an angry non-believer, who asked me in disdainful tones how I could possibly believe in God, Jesus Christ, heaven and hell, and other Biblical tenets. At the time, I was taken aback by the vehemence and anger. I stammered an answer, heart-felt and, I hoped, theologically “correct”–I think I quoted scripture and gave a short version of my personal testimony. The other person was not impressed or convinced. I felt like I had failed. The other person sneered at my belief–and at God!

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I spent weeks going over in my mind what else I might have said. I came up with clever arguments, gripping counter-questions, self-deprecating “homey” zingers, I read books on apologetics, and studied the words of great thinkers…I would be ready next time. I would not be left looking or sounding naive and unprepared. I would have the tools to “win” the argument, and God would be proud of me.

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But in the years since, I have done more thinking (and reading, and praying!) And this past month, as I’ve been reading through the Old Testament prophets, I have found a new perspective. Prophets like Isaiah, Habakkuk, Amos, and Malachi spoke the very words of God to people around them. They spoke to ordinary people, and to the religious and political leaders of their day. And almost none of them listened! In fact, the prophets were hated, sneered at, smeared, imprisoned– some of them were even killed.

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These prophets were prepared. They were not being ambushed with “gotcha” questions, because they were the ones presenting and challenging people with the truth. The truths they spoke were often harsh and offensive. They were truths about coming judgment and destruction, followed by restoration and revival. There was nothing “welcoming” or attractive about their message. But the people remained stubborn, sinful, and unimpressed.

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We live in the post-Resurrection age. Our message contains warnings about judgment and destruction– but unlike the prophets of old, we have a message of immediate and eternal Hope and Salvation. We have centuries of prophecies that have been fulfilled; of testimonies to the power of a risen Christ and the Holy Spirit. Yet even Jesus warned us that “..in the world (you) will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33b ESV)

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We often feel that if we cannot “win over” those who challenge us–if we cannot prove to their satisfaction that we are “right” in our beliefs–that we have failed. Yet we have so many examples of faithful witnesses who suffered and died without seeing the results of their faithfulness. God does not ask us to “win” every battle in convincing and decisive fashion. That’s HIS job! What He does ask is that we should be prepared to give an answer– and that we do it with gentleness and respect.

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I don’t have to silence the critics. I don’t have to have “mic-drop” moments. I don’t have to “win” every debate. God calls me to be faithful, honest, and humble. My words may not change someone else’s mind. But my changed life and God-honoring attitude may plant a seed that someone else’s words and life, and the power of the Holy Spirit will cause to grow into faith– even if I never live to see it!

In answer to the question, “How can you believe?” The answer often lies, not only in what we say about our belief, but how we live it out!

As Far as the East is From the West..

In blogging about prayer and in keeping a prayer journal, there is one type of prayer I don’t dwell on very often.  Prayers of confession and repentance are very important, but I don’t  include them in my journal and I don’t spend much time analyzing them.  It’s not that I want to ignore them or that I want to give a false impression that I don’t say them.

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I’m a saint–but only in the sense that Christ’s blood is my atonement and my only hope of salvation.  He who started the work is still working, and there’s a lot of work yet to be done.  So, while I include prayers of confession and repentance in my practice of pursuing prayer, I don’t write them down or share them publicly.

Here are some of the reasons I don’t spend more time talking about confession:

  • Confession is not meant to be a public spectacle.  It is generally private and very personal between an individual and God.  Apologies may be public, and repentance may include public atonement or recompense, but those are not prayer; rather they are the actions taken in conjunction with  and as a result of prayer and confession.
  • Confession is fundamental– it’s not a prayer option, or a stylistic preference–every one of us has sinned, and we all need to admit to our sins, bring them before the throne of God’s grace, and ask for his forgiveness.  Hiding sins, denying sins, or lying about them will get in the way of all our other prayers.
  • Writing about past sins keeps them alive and keeps the focus on me and on my faults, rather than on God and on His Grace.

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  • Making confession public has a tendency to devolve into gossip and self-justification.  Descriptions of my sinful actions will necessarily be from my incomplete and very biased point of view.  Other people can be misrepresented and hurt.
  • But the last reason is my favorite– I don’t waste time writing down and discussing past sins because GOD HAS FORGOTTEN THEM!  Writing them down, rehearsing them, analyzing them–even analyzing how I might approach confession won’t change God’s response.
    • Psalm 103:10-12 New International Version (NIV)

      10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
          or repay us according to our iniquities.
      11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
          so great is his love for those who fear him;
      12 as far as the east is from the west,
          so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

       

    • The key is that we DO confess– humbly, consistently, and with a heart of true repentance.  What follows is a free and forgiven conscience, no longer weighted down or pulled off focus by guilt and doubt.

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