Thursday, May 28, 2015

"Two Sets of Scales"

            If you’re anything like me, then you’ve had times when you could see perfectly well, and yet you were nearly blind.  Two of Virginia’s interstates have particular problems with patches of perilous fog.  According to Virginia’s Department of Transportation:

Within a 3-week period in 1998, two major fog-related crashes occurred on I-64 where it crosses Afton Mountain in Virginia. The first involved 65 vehicles, 40 injuries, but no fatalities… At the time of the crash, visibility was reduced to 5 to 10 feet. The crash began at 12:42 p.m. and continued for almost 20 minutes. The second less serious crash occurred 17 days later and involved 21 vehicles and no fatalities. Similar crashes have occurred on I-77 over Fancy Gap Mountain in Carroll County, Virginia, as recently as May of 2001, when a 50-vehicle accident occurred. Another Fancy Gap crash (March 1997) lasted for 1 hour and 5 minutes.[i]

            As a result of the many crashes that have taken place, VDOT has installed in-pavement lighting systems that help guide motorists through the fog, similar to the lights in airport runways.  In addition, lighted signs saying “Fog on Mountain” state the obvious.  I’ve nearly crashed a couple of times because of fog on Afton.  When there’s nothing wrong with your eyesight but you’re suddenly blinded when you’re going 65 miles per hour, it’s a scary thing.
            Saul suffered from a similar kind of blindness, the tragic results of which were similar to a multi-car pileup.  Later in life, as he reflected on the time when he had persecuted the church, he would write that Satan “has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:4[ii]).”  Along with other Pharisees, he saw Jesus and the young church as a threat to Judaism and the nation of Israel.  In his blindness to the truth, he tried to stamp out Christianity, first in Jerusalem and then in Damascus.
            On the road to that trade city, Jesus appeared to Saul in a light so bright that he lost his vision.  We often say that people have a “Damascus Road experience” when they have a sudden conversion—but I don’t believe Saul was converted on the road.  Jesus appeared, identified Himself, and told Saul to go to Damascus and wait to be told what to do.  Whether because he was fasting or dumbfounded, for three days he neither ate nor drank as he waited for Jesus’ instructions.  Three days to contemplate his physical and spiritual blindness.  Three days for the Holy Spirit to convince him of the truth, convict him of sin, and convert his heart.  Then healing came from a disciple named Ananias, who laid hands on him and said:

 “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he got up and was baptized; and he took food and was strengthened (Acts 9:17-19).

            We don’t know exactly what these scales looked like, but they seem to be some physical manifestation of his spiritual sightlessness.  Jesus had been healing Saul’s spiritual blindness over those three days, but He only took an instant to heal Saul’s physical eyes.  As the scales came off, Saul’s vision was made clear—physically as well as spiritually.  The conversion was complete.
In this story, the first set of scales belonged to Saul.  These scales blinded his eyes and kept his heart from seeing God’s truth.  As these scales were removed, Saul was saved.  But even Christians can be blinded at times.  We, too, need God to heal our foggy vision.
In this story, the second set of scales belonged to Ananias.  Acts 9:10-15 says:

…The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him, so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did to Your saints at Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel.”

                Saul’s scales were like scabs over his heart and eyes, preventing him from seeing God’s truth.  Ananias’ scales, on the other hand, were like balances that he used to judge people’s worth.  Ananias weighed Saul in the balance and found him lacking.  He was fearful of what Saul might do to believers in Damascus if his health was restored.  And, truth be told, he wasn’t really sure that Saul deserved such grace.  But a command from Jesus set the disciple’s heart aright, and he went in obedience to Saul’s aid.
            People today suffer from the same two types of scales: one in which they cannot see and the other in which they cannot quit judging what they see.  Both types of people need salvation from their scales.  I pray that God will defog your vision and your heart, and that like Saul, you’ll have a saving encounter with the risen Christ.  Then, I pray that you’ll see your neighbor from God’s perspective rather than from your own position of judgment.  The Lord wants you to see and be converted.  He then wants you to minister to all without judgment.  He wants to save you from two sets of scales. 

[ii] All scriptures taken from the NASB.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

"The Evangelist"

            Years ago when I was not in full-time ministry, I tried my hand at door-to-door sales to make ends meet.  I didn’t do well, partly because I was honest (a rare thing among door-to-door salesmen), and partly because I didn’t believe in my products.  Among other things, I tried to sell cemetery spaces and frozen meat off the back of a pickup truck.  I remember my manager telling me one problem that I was having.  “You’re trying to sell meat.  Don’t sell the meat—sell the sizzle.”  Instead of talking about boring cuts of meat, Jeff meant that I needed to make them hungry by painting a word picture of sizzling meat on the grill on a lazy Sunday afternoon.  I needed them to think more of the juiciness of the steak than the number of ounces in the package.  More people will buy when you sell the sizzle instead of the meat.
            Unfortunately, too often when people try to share their faith it’s like I tried to sell cuts of meat.  They tell people all about the fine points of their theology, rather than making them hungry for Jesus.  In Acts 8, we read about Deacon Philip, who knew how to make people hungry for the Savior.  As persecution in Jerusalem scattered the young church, Philip went to Samaria and began proclaiming the message of salvation. 

The crowds with one accord were giving attention to what was said by Philip, as they heard and saw the signs which he was performing. For in the case of many who had unclean spirits, they were coming out of them shouting with a loud voice; and many who had been paralyzed and lame were healed. So there was much rejoicing in that city (Acts 8:6-8).[i]
The citizens of Samaria were already hungry for salvation, even though they didn’t yet know the source of their help.  The Samaritan religion was sort of a mixture of Judaism and ancient Canaanite paganism.  As such, the people were vulnerable to the deception of traveling magicians and charlatans.  One such man, called Simon the Sorcerer, seemed to employ real occultic power rather than simple sleight of hand.  He held all the people of the city under his spell.  But the power of Philip’s testimony was greater than the sorcerer’s showmanship, and the crowd abandoned their idols and turned to Jesus instead.  “Even Simon himself believed; and after being baptized, he continued on with Philip, and as he observed signs and great miracles taking place, he was constantly amazed (Acts 8:13).”
Philip’s audience received the Lord because they were hungry for spiritual things, and He knew how to direct their hunger toward Jesus.  He knew how to feed them on the Bread of Life.  He didn’t need to be a theologian in order to tell them about Jesus—He simply needed to show them the power of God in his life, and to help them see God’s power in theirs.  Philip didn’t need to be an apostle or some spiritual master.  He simply needed to make himself a servant (which is what the word “deacon” means).  He didn’t need to be a great evangelist like Peter—he simply needed to be faithful.
Christian speaker Leighton Ford writes:

I was speaking at an open-air crusade in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Billy Graham was to speak the next night and had arrived a day early. He came incognito and sat on the grass at the rear of the crowd. Because he was wearing a hat and dark glasses, no one recognized him.
Directly in front of him sat an elderly gentleman who seemed to be listening intently to my presentation. When I invited people to come forward as an open sign of commitment, Billy decided to do a little personal evangelism. He tapped the man on the shoulder and asked, "Would you like to accept Christ? I'll be glad to walk down with you if you want to." The old man looked him up and down, thought it over for a moment, and then said, "Naw, I think I'll just wait till the big gun comes tomorrow night." Billy and I have had several good chuckles over that incident. Unfortunately, it underlines how, in the minds of many people, evangelism is the task of the "Big Guns," not the "little shots."[ii] 

            Unfortunately, in the minds of too many people who would like to share their faith but yet are afraid, evangelism seems to be the task of the “Big Guns”.  Because they’re not Billy Grahams or Peters, they keep silent, thinking that their audience can’t possibly learn anything from them.  Peter’s preaching led thousands to Christ.  According to his staff, more than 3.2 million people have responded to Billy Graham’s invitations.[iii]  But you don’t have to be a Peter or a Billy Graham in order to make a difference for Jesus.  All you need is to be like Philip—to make yourself a servant and a vessel for the Holy Spirit to use. 
Because of people like Philip, the Gospel message spread beyond the original apostles, and beyond the limits of Jerusalem.  Because of people like Philip, the Gospel spread like wildfire.  Bruce L. Shelley writes, “It is easy to determine when something is aflame. It ignites other material. Any fire that does not spread will eventually go out. A church without evangelism is a contradiction in terms, just as a fire that does not burn is a contradiction.”[iv]  Does the Gospel burn within you?  If it’s alive, then it does.  I pray that it will spread.  I pray that you’ll be like Philip, that you’ll make yourself a servant, and that through you the Holy Spirit will not only do wonders, but lead many people to the grace of God.

[i] All scriptures taken from the NASB.
[ii] Lieghton Ford, Good News is for Sharing, 1977, David C. Cook Publishing Co., p. 67.  May 14, 2015.
[iii] Patten, David.  “Rev. Billy Graham Prepared ‘Perhaps…My Last Message.” Newsmax.  Saturday, 05 Oct 2013. 
[iv] Shelley, Bruce L.  Christian Theology in Plain Language.  Thomas Nelson, Inc.  1985.  Pg. 162.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

"Making a Splash"

            Every mother wants her child to make a splash in this world.  Every mother wants her child to be great.  Of course, goodness is different from greatness.  For example, Amelia Earhart, Galileo, Harriet Tubman, and Billy Graham did great things.  Imagine how their mothers felt!  But great things are not always good.  Jack the Ripper, Lizzie Borden, Hitler, and Queen Jezebel did great things too—terrible, but great.  Imagine how their parents felt about the effect they had on the world!  Yes, we want our children to make a splash—but we want it to be a good one.
            Every life is like a ripple in a pond, spreading out to make more and more ripples that will eventually cover the surface of the water.  The bigger the splash, the more ripples we make.  Sometimes we can’t see where all those ripples will go, how our lives will touch other people.   Stephen’s was one such life.  As one of the first deacons in the church, he served and testified boldly.  In the seventh chapter of the Book of Acts, we read about the martyrdom of Stephen.  What a tragedy that his life was snuffed out, but what an impact he made! 
            Rather than stamping out the witness of Christians, Stephen’s martyrdom inspired courage and commitment in others.  His testimony gave others confidence to share their faith, and the church continued to grow.  History has always shown this to be true: instead of the intended effect of squelching faith, martyrs motivate believers.  Stephen’s ripples went well beyond his own life, making positive change in the church.  Though we don’t want to invite martyrdom, we do want to a positive ripple-effect for ourselves and for our children. 
            One splash that Stephen never intended to make was the increased persecution of the church.  One student of Rabbi Gamaliel, a Pharisee named Saul, was present at Stephen’s stoning.  Acts 8:1-4[i] says:

Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death.  And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.  Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.

            Stephen’s martyrdom inspired believers, but it also inspired Saul to persecute Christians all the more.  Yet this persecution served the opposite purpose of spreading the faith even farther.  Because of the persecution, the church that had heretofore been confined to Jerusalem spread beyond that city.  Christians scattered all over, taking the Gospel with them, preaching the word wherever they went.
            Sometimes tragedy comes into the lives of believers.  Just because a person becomes a Christian, that’s no guarantee of a pain-free existence.  In fact, more struggle may come because of faith, as all the persecuted church throughout the ages can attest.  Stephen’s mother had to bury her son.  So did the mothers of the twenty-one Egyptian Christians who were beheaded for their faith this past February.  Besides martyrdom, how many millions of Christians suffer other kinds of persecution for their faith?  We don’t understand why we have to go through these kinds of things, but we do know that Romans 8:28 tells us, “…God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”  Even these kinds of tragedies can lead to triumph, if we trust God.
            Along with Stephen’s death and the increased persecution of the church came a scattering of believers that led to more opportunities to share the Gospel in different places.  The church was forced to get out of its comfort zone and made to leave Jerusalem, therefore fulfilling Jesus’ prediction in Acts 1:8: "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”  Like ripples in a pond the believers spread out into the surrounding countryside, and eventually throughout the whole known world.  Now, there are very few places on the planet where Christians cannot go, and literally nowhere that the Gospel can’t go through modern technology.  Like concentric circles in water, God calls us all to make a splash for Jesus, and then follow His mission in ever-increasing range and devotion.
            As the warmer weather turns hot, it’s time to open up the swimming pools.  In the pools, everybody wants to make a splash.  One of my earliest memories is when I was four years old.  My brother and I had taken only a couple of swimming classes, and we were playing in the pool in our backyard.  Something happened, and I was in over my head—literally.  My brother tried throwing me something, but all can remember was my head that kept going under the water and the panic that set in as I couldn’t breathe.  I remember trying to swim, trying to tread water, but only splashing.  Then, my mom’s hands were on me, pulling to safety, holding me up.  The good news is that no matter how big our splash is, and no matter how far our ripples go, God will always be there to save us, to hold us up.  I pray that you’ll make a splash for Jesus—and that whatever kind of splash it is, that you’ll trust God to hold you.

[i] All scriptures taken from the NASB.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

"No Apologies"

Rae Fitch, Associate Pastor of Amanda Flipper A.M.E. Church in Decatur, GA, tells the story of a man who took an evening flight on which dinner was to be served to the passengers:

Of course he was in first class, so we can expect that he would have received first class service and a first class meal. He was a bit hungry as he had missed lunch that day in order to attend a meeting so that he could catch an earlier flight home. He inquired of the flight attendant how long it would be before they would be serving dinner, and she was rather cross with him, but he tried to ignore her behavior when she responded that it would only be a bit longer. And so as dinner time arrived, the flight attendant came around with the cart and started passing out the wrapped dinner trays which included a tossed salad. When the passenger received his tray he was a bit anxious and began opening his salad, but he was met with a surprise upon peeling back the covering. There, on top of the mixture of lettuce and carrots and what have you, lay a roach. Of course after such a strong urge to eat, his hunger quickly left him and he no longer desired the salad or any other food they had to offer. He became quite furious and decided that when he arrived home he would most certainly send a scathing letter to the president of this particular airline. So he wrote the letter and mailed it off.

A couple weeks or so later he was surprised to receive a special delivery package in the mail. Lo and behold upon opening it up he saw that it was from the president of the airline. In contrast to his own letter full of contempt and anger, this letter from the airline president was just dripping with apology. He informed the passenger that the particular plane on which he had flown had been taken out of service. He told him it had been stripped and treated for bugs. He also told him that the flight attendant would most certainly be reprimanded, possibly up to and including termination from employment. And he ended by appealing to the passenger to continue to use this airline. As the passenger finished reading the letter, he noticed that there was another page clinging to the back of the letter. You see the secretary had made a grave mistake because the passenger noticed that this was his own letter. He pulled it apart and his attention was drawn to the unfamiliar scrawl of the airline president who had written these words to his secretary; "Send this guy the standard ’roach’ letter".[i]
            Sometimes you need to give an apology for mistakes that you have made or things that you have done that hurt, offended, or jeopardized another person.  When an apology is insincere, people can usually tell, but when an apology is from the heart, they’ll know that too.  James 5:16 tells us to confess our sins to one another.  When you have messed up, apologies are necessary to make things right.  They help people heal, move beyond the pain, and grow.  When you refuse to apologize for wrongs we have done, those things can become barriers in relationship between you and another person, and even between you and God.  So apologizing is important.
I’ll even go so far as to say that sometimes you even need to apologize when you don’t think you’ve done anything wrong.  After all, didn’t Jesus take the burden of our sins, when He Himself was guilty of none of them?  Didn’t He bear the blame for our wrongdoing, for the sake of reconciling us to God?  Maybe you need to do the same with someone, in order to bring peace.
Christians need to take seriously our need to apologize when we’ve sinned.  But the one area where we need to make no apologies is in the matter of our faith.  It seems these days that our culture thinks we owe it an apology, just for being Christians.  A generation ago, notorious sinners publicly repented of their sins.  Now, true believers are made to feel like they have to ask forgiveness for their religious convictions, if those beliefs run counter to the culture’s godless opinions and mandates.  We should not think, however, that this is the first time Christians have been asked to say sorry for what they believe.
In the fourth chapter of the Book of Acts, Peter and John find themselves on trial for the crime of Christianity.  God had done mighty signs and wonders through them.  Acts of healing and Spirit-filled preaching had resulted in thousands of new converts, threatening to overturn the religious and political status quo in Jerusalem.  Their trial had turned into an opportunity to testify to their faith.  Instead of suffering death for their “blasphemy,” they are threatened, beaten, and released.  Yet, instead of apologizing for their testimony, they preach all the more.  God continues to do miracles and the church continues to grow. 
In chapter five they are arrested again.  They do not remain in jail, because an angel of God opens the gates and sets them free, saying, “Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life (5:20).”[ii]   Again, they are arrested while preaching.  Verses 27-29 say:

When they had brought them, they stood them before the Council. The high priest questioned them, saying, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.”
This intentional, respectful disobedience almost earns them the death penalty.  However, the renowned rabbi Gamaliel wisely advises, “Stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God (5:38-39).”  Again, they are flogged and released—yet instead of apologizing for their message, verse 42 says, “…Every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.”
Just as they did in the days of the early church, it’s time for today’s Christians to stand unapologetically for their faith.  This doesn’t mean rudely throwing it in people’s faces or pointing accusing, judgmental fingers.  It does mean refusing to capitulate to the demands of society to sit down and be quiet about what we believe.  It means refusing to regret the teachings of our Lord.  It means no more backpedaling whenever people ask us about our faith.  As Christian teaching becomes more and more unpopular, the world will increasingly ask us to apologize.  But we must take Paul’s words to young Timothy as our own commission:

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom:  preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires,  and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (2 Timothy 4:1-5).

By now, everybody has heard about the riots in Baltimore as a result of the arrest-related death of Freddie Gray.  One viral video shows a mother, Toya Graham, grabbing her son Michael out of a crowd of rioters, slapping him repeatedly, yelling at him, pulling off his hoodie to reveal his face, and escorting him to the car.  Many have hailed her as a parental hero, saying that her use of force might have been excessive if it weren’t for the extreme nature of the situation.  Later in an ABC News interview on World News Tonight, Michael apologized for his role in the riots, saying, "I understand how much my mother really cares about me…so I'm just gonna try and do better.”[i]  Michael came to realize his need to apologize for his behavior, not just to his mother, but to the world.
Christians need to understand the importance for apologizing for wrong things that we’ve done, and for offenses we’ve given. In Matthew 5:23-24,[ii] Jesus says, “…If you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.”  Unapologetic Christians create a relationship barrier between themselves and other people, and between themselves and God.  Yet, while we should be quick to apologize for our sins, we must never apologize for what we believe.
In chapter six of the Book of Acts, Deacon Steven performs signs and wonders by the power of the Holy Spirit.  False witnesses rise up against him, and he is brought before the council on a charge of blasphemy.  In chapter seven, Steven gives a defense for his faith, but he never apologizes for it.  He reminds his hearers of their link to the past, calling upon the spiritual authority of patriarchs and prophets.  He leads them on an historic tour from Abraham to Moses and Aaron, to Joshua and David and Solomon.  Perhaps he intends to take them all the way to the cross and the empty tomb in his message, but he allows his emotions to get the better of him, and he never finishes.  What starts out as a well-thought-out testimony ends up as an angry tirade:

“You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did.  Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become;  you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it (Acts 7:51-53).”

            As a result of his insults, the Sanhedrin became bitterly angry.  They condemn him of blasphemy and stone him to death.  Christians often look to Steven as an example of faith, and admire him for his courage to become the first Christian martyr.  Yet I am not convinced that Steven needed to die that day.  We praise him because he didn’t apologize for his beliefs.  But he didn’t die because he stood unwaveringly for his faith.  He died because he defended his beliefs in an insulting manner.  He didn’t practice good apologetics.
            “Apologetics” is a word that is often misunderstood.  Many people think it means apologizing for what you believe.  In fact, it means quite the opposite.  It means defending your faith in a way that will hopefully win people over.  Unapologetic apologetics would mean steadfastly sticking to your testimony about Jesus, but giving such a testimony that would convince others to place their faith in Him as well.  Steven did one, but not the other.
            1 Peter 3:15 says, “…Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.”  This gentleness and reverence is what Steven lacked as he gave his testimony about Christ.  Christians need to be unapologetic about their faith, but they need to stick to their crosses, not stick to their guns.  Too often we get so defensive that we allow ourselves to become angry and offensive.  In a poor case scenario, this could lead to martyrdom.  In the worst case scenario, it could lead to a testimony that fails to achieve its purpose—the saving of souls.
            Practiced properly, apologetics can mean the employment of scripture as an authority, as long as you’re speaking to someone who already has a respect for the Bible.  Christian apologetics can use philosophy, science, history, law, or logic as a means of testifying to your faith.  Bear in mind, though, that we should never use these things as an attempt to prove that God is real or that Jesus is true.  God can defend Himself—He doesn’t need us.  We give a defense for our beliefs, not for God.  Sharing your testimony should also include a personal story of your relationship with Jesus, and a reason why you believe.  I highly recommend the writings of G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, and Lee Strobel if you want to learn more about Christian apologetics.  And remember—this is the practice, not of apologizing for our faith, but of defending it so as to lead someone else to believe.
            The Gospel can sometimes be an offense—but we ourselves should never be offensive.  1 Corinthians 1:23-25 says, “…We preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”  Because the subject of our testimony is so foolish and offensive to the world, we should take extra care to not be offensive ourselves.  “Speaking the truth in love,”[iii] we should strive to make love the technique of our testimony.  1 Corinthians 13:4-7 describes love in this way:

 Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

            Unfortunately, this was not the technique of Steven’s testimony.  And I’ve known too many Christians like him, who get carried away with anger toward their audience and sabotage their witness.  Believers need to make no apologies for their beliefs, yet they do need to practice apologetics in such a way that will lead people to want the faith that we profess.
            Come to think of it, while Christians should never apologize for what we profess, good apologetics can and should mean apologizing for those ways in which the technique of our testimony has offended our audiences.  We should be sorry for those hypocrisies in our personal lives, and in the history of the Church, that jeopardize our witness.  While we must never apologize for the Gospel, we ought to repent of the offensive way in which we may have pushed it down someone’s throat, misrepresented Jesus, or been a bad example of what a follower of Christ ought to be. 
Today as we celebrate Steven’s martyrdom, let’s be honest about the accomplishments of a hero of faith.  But let’s also recognize the things that his testimony lacked—the things that got him killed.  Let’s tailor our testimony so that, God willing, we’ll live to see the result.  Let’s remember that as offensive as the Gospel can be, it’s important that we remain as inoffensive as we can.  “Gentleness and reverence,” says 1 Peter  3:15.  This is the way that the Christian can practice unapologetic apologetics.