Am I an apologist?!….Are you? — H

Late last year, I had been listening to the YouTube videos of a pastor I thought was a Messianic Jew. I was learning a lot of Jewish history that helped me see the Bible in new ways. Then, though, I came across one teaching that didn’t jive with what I knew from Scripture about Jesus. Listening to more from him, I realized he was Jewish and was saying some correct things about Jesus, but was thinking of Him as an excellent teacher and A son of God rather than THE Son of God. I was thankful for what I had learned that did hold up under scrutiny. But, I moved on.

Meanwhile, in its recommendations, YouTube listed a video that drew my attention. The descriptive title was a Bible question I’d been puzzling about. The video supposedly answered the question. So, I clicked to watch.

Following along in Scripture, it made sense to me. I prayed. I studied some more. I was satisfied.

“So, who is this person?” I wondered.

I clicked on their channel to find multiple Bible questions and their answers.

I went to the “About” section.

A Christian.
“Okay, good. We’ll see.”
I kept reading.

Hmmm. She used “apologist” as one of the labels for herself.
“Uh oh.”

Although I was truly clueless about what “apologetics” is, I had a bias against apologists because I figured they “made apologies” for Scripture.

My thoughts stood in rebellion: “No one needs to make apologies for my Father’s words!”
I paused, though. I pondered.
“Perhaps I’m wrong about what apologetics is. Yet, maybe these are the argumentative types who potentially give a bad name to Christians.”

“Wait, though,” I continued, arguing with myself. “This video was fine. She sounds like a reasonable, respectful individual. And, I’ve sometimes been seen as argumentative simply because I stick by what I’ve learned from the Bible is true. Same goes for others I know and love. This self-proclaimed apologist just answered my long-held question. I am satisfied with this answer. Hmmm. Maybe I’ll listen to just a couple more videos on this channel.”

Several hours later, I was not only familiar with her material, I’d found videos where she’d collaborated with other apologists. I’d gone to the channels of those other apologists and learned some things. They, in turn, had collaborated with other apologists. Before long, YouTube was recommending the work of other apologists.

“Hmmm. Maybe I’ve been really misunderstanding what apologetics is. These people just seem to be seekers. Some are pastors, but some aren’t. The difference between them and the seekers I know in person is that they’ve used social media to share what they’ve learned.”

My thoughts continued. “And, they are tenacious seekers. I like that. They not only refuse to give up on God or the Bible when faced with a puzzle, they sink their teeth into the challenge and plunge ahead. I like people like this. I want to be such a people.” (grin)

Then, I was faced with a question, “Am I already an apologist?!”

When one is a thinker who picks up on seeming inconsistencies or “conflicts within Scripture,” there can be a strong temptation to treat the Bible in certain ways:
* Toss it aside as a whole, or,
* Focus only on parts and ignore other parts, or,
* See it as just another book with segments that are inspirational but no more special than the books held aloft by other religions.

From what I’ve seen and heard from favorite apologists, they seem to have similar traits:
* When they have been or are faced with “hard questions,” they have the tenacity and stubborn faith to cling to the Bible and really “study it out” until they are satisfied, at least temporarily, with an answer.
* They’ve done this studying-until-satisfied process enough that they’ve become awed by the sheer genius and wonder of what the Bible really is. They come away, saying, “Surely, the hand of God accomplished this feat!”
* All are driven to reach out to others with what they’ve found.

Based on my observations, my favorite apologists have these practices and perspectives:
* If you think one part of the Bible conflicts with another part, it isn’t the Bible that is wrong; it is the reader’s current confusion or lack of knowledge. Keep digging.
* Some have live question-and-answer videos. They seem to all practice this: If you don’t know, say so. If whatever you say next is a guess based on what you do know, say it is a guess.
* Encourage others to read the Bible.
* Pray, asking for wisdom and understanding. Read the context. Keep reading the Bible with the hard question in mind. Study Bible history and Jewish culture. Listen to what other Bible scholars have found and see if their explanations are valid.
* Now that I have this answer, I’m going to put it out there and see what sort of feedback I get. I may be wrong. I don’t currently think so, but I’m willing to learn. I trust my fellow Christians to engage with me so we can learn from one another. I may someday modify what I currently think. That’s part of the learning process. I trust my viewers to point out where they think I am in error.

What I think and do when I am faced with a hard question:
* I go to the Bible first in order to see if I can find the answer. Sometimes, I find it, and I am satisfied. Sometimes, I don’t, so I figure someone has done a study of Bible history or Jewish culture that I haven’t. So, I go see what I can find from others. Inevitably, I find that someone else has been wrestling with the same question.
* There are sometimes missing or unsatisfactory answers as I go through the writings and videos of the apologists I trust most. Same goes for commentaries from Bible scholars I trust most. Either I haven’t found the right commentary or video yet….or, it’s a question that I myself need to keep searching out.
* I’ve found that, if I don’t let go of the question nor the Bible, an answer often comes. After all, we are told repeatedly to wait on God.
* When that answer comes, I see that as a signal I need to do my part and share that with other believers. Perhaps others, like me, have said, “It is possible that the answer isn’t to be grasped right now, but I have faith it will be.” And, the treasure I have found might be an answer to their held faith! Maybe their wait is over because God worked through me.

So, as I read commentaries, watch videos, and listen to sermons, I think the answer to what I puzzle over may come through someone else. Or, maybe there’s a question someone else is puzzling over that I can help answer.

I’m thinking this phenomenon is by design and is yet another excellent reason for the body of Christ. And, if none of us have a Biblically-sound answer, it may be we’re not supposed to know now. The “aha moment” will come later in earth’s time or once we are all face-to-face with our Saviour.

Mercifully, we’re actually told of one answer we won’t get through study — the day and the hour of His return.

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away. But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” (Matthew 24:35-36 ESV)

That leaves room for a lot of fruitful learning! Being told what we won’t know tells me we can still study to try to find other answers.

Yet, what if I’m just not finding an answer?

It is a temptation to focus on the current “thorn” rather than see all that has gone right. Sometimes, when there isn’t an answer to a question yet, I avoid getting discouraged by thinking back through all the answers that HAVE been found. I consider all of the satisfaction I have received in what the Bible says — what I have already experienced as true.

I find that keeping a journal or taking notes of thoughts and discoveries during Bible study is really valuable for this purpose. Reading back through my journals and notebooks helps to strengthen my faith and warms up my Bible-studying “muscles.” It helps me see how and where I have grown over the years. It makes me want to learn more and grow more. It makes me hungry to devour more Scripture. It causes me to want to follow Him even more closely.

“Hard questions.” That is what one of the apologists calls them. They can also be called “doubts.” It is normal to have doubts. I choose to believe anyway, waiting on the Lord. I think  doing so is part of the growth process. Faith is what one must have in order to cling to the Bible even harder when faced with doubt. Like Jacob continuing to wrestle, I trust that an answer has been found by someone or will be found, perhaps by me.

What I try to do in the face of doubt:
* Pray. Talk to God about it.
* Dig into the Bible harder.
* Go to the apologists and pastors. See if what they share makes sense. If not, then it’s a case of needing to add “yet” to that negative statement in my head:
— “I don’t know the answer…yet.”
— “None of the apologists are talking about this…yet.”
— “Pastors/commenters aren’t addressing this. Maybe they aren’t seeing this issue…yet.”

Maybe the doubts are an opportunity to step from passively consuming what others are feeding me toward joining the army that is actually doing some of the feeding.

May that opportunity give glory to God and to His Word!

H’s Journey, Middle School

H’s Journey Through Religion, Part II (Middle School)

Up until this point, I’d spent most of my reading time in the Old Testament. However, at school, the Gideons distributed pocket New Testaments. Before this, I hadn’t thought about the concept that the Bible would be separated into two parts – the “Old” and the “New,” and I wondered why they were giving out only the last part. Yet, it was small enough to carry around with me, so I plunged into it, devouring it just as hungrily.

I’d already grown to love the God of the Old Testament and I had recognized Him easily in this last portion of the book about Him. It was exciting to read again about His time actually walking around as a human, and my love for Him deepened.

After this, I decided to try church again. It seemed like maybe I’d find God’s family there. I kept picking the same church because it was the only one I’d ever been invited to. I had the idea that a person must be invited to a church before you could attend there, like for a special club. Plus, Dad had grown up in this denomination. He hadn’t been able to explain the “no instruments, no dancing, and no Heaven until baptism” part any better than Kevin had, but I asked Dad if he’d take me. He did, and even Mom went along this first time. I remember hoping her attendance would miraculously change her.

Once there, I realized that the same ideas were being practiced. Logic told me now that the :no dancing or instruments thing” probably wasn’t a matter of their having “not read this part yet.” They were talking about Jesus, so they’d  read what I had.

And, the communion plates were to go by me because I hadn’t yet been baptized. Quietly holding back tears, I reluctantly passed the plates myself without taking part. Even more so now, I understood communion as a time to remember and be thankful for Christ’s sacrifice and to worship God as His family (fellowship). I wanted to be a part of His family. I needed the brothers and sisters I’d read about having in the Church. I wanted my family to be part of His family.

In preparation for coming and arguing against their beliefs on water baptism being a requirement for salvation, I’d read a lot about what the Bible says on it. As a result, I saw it as an expression and symbol to God and fellow believers that you love God and want to do everything possible to please Him, to basically give every aspect of yourself toward His service.

When I went to the pastor about it and asked him to explain, it didn’t help. I respect him for his patient efforts, and we are friends to this day. I pointed to the thief on the cross next to Jesus. Neither of us could say that he had been baptized; yet, look at what Jesus said to him.

Once again, not having been invited to other churches, I stopped going. But, there’s a praise in this; these couple of visits caused me to learn two hymns that have stayed with me and become favorites: (He Could Have Called) Ten Thousand Angels and Morning Has Broken. In the Garden was already my top favorite, since it was on a couple of my parents’ albums. Music was a huge part of our lives. My sister and I spent portions of our allowances on our own music, and our parents had cabinets and boxes filled with albums we all enjoyed.

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My thoughts, upon looking back now:

  • I find it interesting that I somehow escaped the struggle that some do, at least judging by comments from adults I’ve listened to since then. Some wrestle with the thought that the Old Testament God is, at best, a cranky, strict Person compared to the sweet, all-loving New Testament God. At worst, that ancient guy is a violent, wrathful dictator who demands blood in order to be somewhat pacified. To me, God didn’t change, and Who He was and is? Well…He is awesome and always has been!
  • I also note that the restrictions about dancing and musical instruments bothered me when I was younger, but that wasn’t my focus when I got older. Then, it was the water baptism belief I struggled with most.
  • Another thing that strikes me, looking back, is that the New Testaments were passed out at our public school. I’m thankful for that, but it is wild to see how much times have changed.
  • I still ponder the amazing thing that my mother went with us to church. It makes me wonder how much that day’s attendance played out in her future. I hope to be able to ask her someday.

Just a Nickname?

Just a Nickname? — H

When I was a kid, having a curiosity about everything, I read nearly every nonfiction and biography book in the children’s section of the public library. When the librarian noticed I was checking out the same ones over again, she suggested some children’s fiction books I might like. Quickly exhausting the Walt Morey, Jean Craighead George, and Little Pear books, she said something absolutely beautiful to me.

“You do know you can go over to the adult section, right?”

I remember my eyes widening with wonder as I looked toward the adult stacks that filled two-thirds of the small, one-floor library!

Looking back to her, I asked, “I’m allowed to?”

She smiled and nodded. “Come on.”

I followed close at her heels as she pointed out a whole shelf of nonfiction nature books beside true-life animal stories. She seemed to be having fun taking me on the tour of what subjects to find where, emphasizing those she knew I was particularly fond of over in the children’s section. Then, I was released to the wilds of this new wonderland of reading adventures!

There, in the adult section, I found a couple books on yoga.

One of my favorites in the children’s section was a book of yoga stretches for kids. Glancing through these, though, I was turned off. There was a lot of talk about meditation and “centering.” Huh?

This was boring to me, and it wasn’t in the book for kids. So, I tried the next yoga book. It showed photos of a bearded, loin-clothed fellow stuffing a long, wet rag up his nose and it coming out his mouth. Gross!

“Okay,” I thought to myself, “Adult yoga isn’t for me.”

Just to my left there was a huge bookcase filled with Christian books as well as tomes describing the beliefs of other religions. I spent quite a bit of time over the next several years reading through many of these.

Back to yoga. I never “advanced” beyond the stretches, making them a regular part of my home fitness program. However, glancing through the weirdness and yucky ideas in the adult books spared me of other yoga practices.

When I got to college courses on grade school education, we were learning how to teach each subject. For the physical education portion, we each had to teach our fellow students a physical game or practice. I chose yoga. I told them I’d gotten the stretches from the world of yoga. I explained yoga’s origins. I described that, because I was a Christian, I wasn’t planning on teaching any of the accompanying meditation or spiritual beliefs that can go along with yoga. They seemed fine with that.

A year or so later, I asked a friend if I could “come do yoga” in her larger, more private living room.

She forcefully said, “no.”

I accepted that and did not try to persuade her to change her answer.

However, I had immediately felt unfairly condemned, so I wanted to talk to her about my thoughts on it. Knowing she was a Christian, I explained that all I did (and had ever done) were the stretches.

She angrily said, “I don’t care. I’m not having my kids exposed to it.”

“That’s fair. I don’t blame you. Again, just keep in mind that all I do are the stretches.”

I applaud her protection of her kids. Plus, even if we were best friends, she definitely had a right to say what went on in her home. At the time, though, this knee-jerk reaction and quick anger confused me. She’d been in sports in high school, and I’d watched some of her practices as well as football practices. A large number of their stretches were from yoga. So, what was the difference? Did she know she’d been doing yoga all along?

I realized, then, the problem. I’d called it, “yoga.” Had I called them “stretches,” it might have been fine.

As I thought about it, I got why she’d reacted. By this time, though, I was seeing the good in it. I was teaching the stretches to the elderly, chronically ill, and wheelchair-bound. In my experience, the slow, gentle movement and balancing poses were helping them tremendously, especially my fellow MSers (people with MS). I still wasn’t teaching beliefs held by other yoga teachers, and I’d explain it was because I was a Christian.

This is when it happened. As a term of endearment, my nickname from people became “Yogi.”

From then on, whenever fellow Christians heard or saw my nickname, they’d inevitably talk about the food-loving cartoon. Knowing the potential flip from a happy remembrance of a campground bear to angry revulsion over “yoga,” I simply affirmed I do like picnics and changed the subject. In other words, I just let them think of me as that cute cartoon!

At this point, it was already a long-standing part of my email address. [It still is, though I’m trying to get everyone moved over to one of my other ones. Why? I don’t want the nickname or my email address to lead others down a harmful path, thinking Christianity can flow righteously with Hindu or New Age beliefs.]

My full “religious journey” is a long write-up. For now, I’ll just cut to the chase and say that I eventually ran from an abusive man who claimed to be a Christian, ended up running from God in the process, and truly did get involved in New Age and shamanism.

Eventually, I started making steps back toward Jesus and the Bible I had read so avidly as a kid. What I hadn’t expected was that the Bible and New Age beliefs could be mixed so well that I could be deceived into thinking I was still serving God. One can sincerely want to follow Jesus while still being led, via superficial reading of His Word, toward all kinds of troublesome theology and extrabiblical philosophies.

Nowadays, my husband talks about Satan claiming to be Jesus someday. Is it already happening? These extrabiblical principles are subtly infiltrating the Church. It angers me that Satan is gaining this foothold! It angers me that I fell for it. I hope that, by looking at my story in this and upcoming posts, you will be inspired to take heed and be watchful.

Ephesians 6:10-20 (LEB): “Finally, become strong in the Lord and in the might of his strength. Put on the full armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the stratagems of the devil, because our struggle is not against blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.  Because of this, take up the full armor of God, in order that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand.  Stand therefore, girding your waist with truth, and putting on the breastplate of righteousness, and binding shoes under your feet with the preparation of the good news of peace, in everything taking up the shield of faith, with which you are able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one, and receive the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, with all prayer and supplication praying at all times in the Spirit, and to this end being alert with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints, and for me, that a word may be given to me at the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for the sake of which I am an ambassador in chains, that in them I may speak freely, as it is necessary for me to speak.”