This is the third of seven in a countdown for 2015 commitments. Unlike typical New Year’s resolutions, making substantive spiritual commitments begins by asking, “What kind of person do I want to be?” then taking each day and acting on these commitments. I write them on an index card and look at it every day to recalibrate my mind and heart.
As followers of Christ, we promise ourselves to stop trying to be better and start being different.
The first two commitments are:
Commitment 7: Don’t get so easily offended
Commitment 6: Don’t be so offensive
Read the brief descriptions in the two posts below to review or catch up. All of the commitments will fit nicely together. Living differently means that we see the people around us as Christ does. We recognize that non-Christians act and talk like non-Christians so we should avoid the standard Christian default of getting easily offended or becoming offensive ourselves.
These first two commitments focus on changing our attitudes. Next, how do we graciously respond to people who have genuine questions about the faith?
Commitment 5: Get Equipped
I taught a weekly evening class at a local institute a number of years ago. One of the students was “Sal,” a secular Jewish fellow who signed up for the class on a lark. He was single, had a free night, and the topic (the Old Testament book of Nehemiah) sounded interesting to him.
We had many talks before and after class. He was a genuine seeker and was finding the idea of God and the person of Christ fascinating. When the class ended after two months, we parted as friends with the intention of staying in touch.
As it usually happens, we never really did connect. That is, until one day we ran into each other at a Target store. He came up to me with a look of surprise on his face. “Bill! You’re here!” Since I was in the ladies department (waiting for Lynne) I wasn’t quite sure how to respond.
Sal, threw his arms around and said, “This morning I decided to give up. And here you are!”
He then told me that for the past few months he had been on a search to understand the Christian faith better. He had questions about God’s goodness, the reality of evil in the world he created, problems with the Bible, and so on.
He said he made appointments with pastors of the major churches in the city. He was discouraged by his interactions wit them. “They couldn’t even begin to give me answers. Most of them told me I just had to have faith. A couple of them told me I might be demon possessed.” He shook his head. “So this morning I decided to give up. And I run into you!”
For the next hour, Sal and I stood in the ladies department in Target and talked about his questions. I gave him references to books and articles to help him in his research. I told him to search with an open mind and an open heart.
He was elated and left with a strong suspicion that our meeting was not a coincidence.
Lynne and I moved from that area soon after that and I lost track of Sal. I am always heartened when I remember his hunger for answers but saddened when I think about how he came up empty when he tried to get answers from those who should have been able to help him.
Able to Teach
Paul tells young Timothy, that the one who serves the Lord, “must not be quarrelsome, but kind to everyone, able to teach . . .” (2 Timothy 2:24).
When someone asks a question or expresses doubt about our faith, how confident are we to answer? If we are not, then we shouldn’t be surprised if they question whether we have really thought through what we believe.
That doesn’t mean that we have nice, neat answers for every question. In fact, there aren’t nice, neat answers for most questions. What it does mean is that you know the issues, you have seriously thought about them and have come to the conclusion that a resolution exists that affirms the Christ-centered view of life and the world.
Here are some questions people have addressed to me I have dealt with over the past few years:
. . . About God
Doesn’t science prove that God doesn’t need to exist?
If He does exists, why does God not make his presence more real?
Why does he let bad things happen to people, like children getting abused by adults or dying of cancer or a natural disaster?
. . . About the Bible
How can you have a book from God that was written by people?
Why the Bible and not the Quran, or the Upanishads, or other “holy” books?
Why did God order Israel’s army to kill all the people, including children (Deut. 20:16)?
Why does God order execution for disobedient children, gays, and people who work on the Sabbath?
Why did so many Bible heroes have a lot of wives? Why can’t we?
. . . About Christians
Why are many Christians so close-minded and mean-spirited?
Why do Christians hate gays and Hispanics?
How come Christians still sin as much as everyone else?
How come Christians dislike each other? Why are there so many denominations?
Why do churches spend so much money on their nice buildings while so many people suffer from poverty and disease?
. . . About the world
If Christianity is true, then why are there so many other religions who think they are right and Christians are wrong?
If Christianity is true, why haven’t most people in the world had an opportunity to hear about it?
Do you feel overwhelmed? I do.
Rest assured you don’t need to argue to convince, but explain to understand.
Time to Be Different
Get a good list of books, articles and websites that are helpful. Use these in two ways: for you to read and for you to give as references to those who ask questions. Read a little bit every day; even if it is just a page. Make it a daily habit. Get your mind used to thinking about how “to give an answer for the hope within you to everyone who asks” (1 Peter3:15).
Read C. S. Lewis, Ravi Zacharias, William Lane Craig, Tim Keller, etc. If you have daily drive time, download or get CDs from these speakers and listen as they think out loud about difficult questions. I like listening to the many debates that are available.
Here are some examples:
A Reasonable Response: Answers to Tough Questions on God, Christianity, and the Bible, by William Lane Craig and Joseph E. Gorra
When Skeptics Ask: A Handbook on Christian Evidences, Revised and Updated, by Norman L. Geisler and Ronald M. Brooks
And check out the “Reasonable Faith” website and app. It has a Q&A approach that allows you to see and hear several sides to questions.
And exploreGod.com is a good site to recommend to those who have questions.
Some of you may have other suggestions so please chime in.
Attitude is Everything
Getting equipped means more than merely having clever answers for these questions but relaxing and taking the time to have a conversation. To hear people speak and sense their heart behind the words.
Out world is weary of self-serving Christian organizations and individuals who call people “ungodly,” “ignorant” and “intolerant” before they even begin to engage them. We represent Christ in what we say and how we say it. Peter reminds us that we are to give answers “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” (1 Peter 3: 15-16).
Conventional wisdom says that Christians are mindless, unthinking, and mean-spirited. It’s time to turn conventional wisdom on its head and merely put into practice what our Lord asked us to do. Let’s put aside bumper sticker and refrigerator magnet theology. We are blessed with incredible resources at our fingertips and amazing opportunities every day. It’s time to be different.
NEXT: Commitment 4: Get Accountable