Hip-Hop kids to Christian Adults

In 2004, the Game and 50 Cent released a smash hit titled “How we do.” I know some of y’all remember this song, it went, “I been banging straight past the dealer saying — buck past the blunt.” I know that most of you don’t think of that lyric when you recall this song, but I post that lyric to show that I was such a die-hard G-Unit fan that I can remember specific lyrics like that even ten years later. Flash forward to 2014, now there are a group of pastors hanging out in a room and somehow that song comes on, you may not expect it, but every single one of the men in that room knew those lyrics. That is “Hate it or love it,” we all grew up on that stuff. We all also grew up listening to the two rappers found on the remix of that song, Eazy-E and Tupac Shakur.

I must admit that I am a recovering gangsta wannabe. So many young adults grew up loving Pac, Biggie, 50, Eminem, Busta, and all the rappers which took the hip-hop genre from the basement of “Rolling Stones” radar all the way to the top of the Billboard charts. Often times older generations believe they experienced the mainstream push of an event, and that’s no different for hip-hop music. Those from the 70’s experienced the earliest hip-hop music, and even early stylistic movements in mainstream music. The mid 80’s experienced the first huge shift for music away from rock n’ roll and towards hip hop with Run DMC and the Beastie Boys. There was a huge shift for rap music in the “Golden Age” of the genre featuring acts such as A Tribe Called Quest and Public Enemy. However, if you analyze the music and the statistics surrounding the genre of rap or hip-hop, you will notice that the older generations did not experience the breakthrough for rap music, but the most influential years for the genre began with the Gangster rap of the early 90’s and lasted throughout that decade and through the first half of the 00’s. Of course rap and hip hop are still very relevant to the modern music scene now in 2014, the difference is that it is no longer new; hip-hop has become more fashionable, less attitude driven, more culturally acceptable, and much tamer. The initial edge found in the rap I and many others my age grew up on from the 90’s and early 00’s has been replaced by a new wave of party music and hipster fashion. Let’s face it, Miley Cyrus would have never been played on a hip-hop station in 2003, and Bone Thugz would not have collaborated on a song with Justin Beiber.

The Pastor I serve under is from Scotland, and so the lines he has memorized from his youth are from old Presbyterian hymns, Simon and Garfunkel lyrics, and songs written by poets from the UK. I’m from a working class suburb of Dayton, Ohio, and so what I have memorized from my youth is very different from the Pastor of my church. I grew up memorizing every line 50 Cent, Young Buck, Eminem, the Game, Tupac, Ludacris, Outkast, Bone Thugz, Dre, Jay Z, and all those guys ever rhymed. I can remember driving in my Mom’s old white Toyota trying to bump “Get Rich or Die Trying,” while my Mom yelled at me trying to slap my hand from the volume button simultaneously attempting to drive safely. My friends and I were just average boys from the neighborhood; we weren’t living in the hood, but we ate that stuff up, we absolutely loved it. All we cared about as kids was sports, girls, and rap music; and I would argue this is true of most guys in their early 20’s today. So the question begs, “What happens when somebody like this becomes a Christian?” What do we do with all of our childhood memorizations when all I grew up hearing about God were quotes from rappers, such as 50 said, “I know He protecting me but I still stay on my gat,” and “In the Bible it says what goes around comes around. I got hit three weeks later then he got shot down..?” When your entire childhood is marked by secular culture, how do you use that once you become a Christian? Or can you?

I think the answer to this question probably lies within the passage of Acts 17:16-34. Luke writes this story of Paul…

The Text Acts 17:16-34:

“Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, ‘What does this babbler wish to say?’ Others said, ‘He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities’- because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, ‘May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.’ Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new. So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said:  ‘Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for:

‘In him we live and move and have our being’;

As even some of your own poets have said,

‘For we are indeed his offspring.’

Being then God’s offspring we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead. Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, ‘We will hear you again about this.’ So Paul went out from their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.

 

Stott’s Question:  “What should be the reaction of a Christian who visits or lives in a city which is dominated by a non-Christian ideology or religion, a city which may be aesthetically magnificent and culturally sophisticated, but morally decadent and spiritually deceived or dead?”

Paul’s Reaction

1.      What Paul saw: 

Paul had recognition that the culture in Athens was consumed by idols. The word Paul used to express his anger at the idols is not found anywhere else in Greek literature, but the idea expressed is Paul recognized the ungodly and idolatrous cultural center of the world to have been “smothered” or “swamped” by idols. We should be able to recognize that this is also true of the culture we grew up in.

Paul also recognizes that the Athenians are very religious. Xenophon referred to Athens as, “One great altar, one great sacrifice… There were more gods in Athens than in all the rest of the country.” Although we may not have statues of gods in our cities, we do have advertisements of famous athletes and gorgeous women everywhere we look in our cities and although we may not have Pagan temples of worship all over, we do have Madison Square Garden, Nationwide Arena, and other venues to host our cultural icons. Just as Paul saw Athens as a “city full of idols,” the culture we grew up in was and still is full of idols.

 

2.      What Paul felt: 

 

Paul was greatly distressed when he saw the idolatry of the Athenians. The Greek word here refers to Paul’s arousal to anger. It’s important that once we recognize the idolatry of our own culture, we should be filled with just anger. We are not to be apathetic towards sin, but we are to be angry at sin. However, this anger is useless if we can’t act on it and it’s sinful if we act on it in a way which is not loving, as described in Scripture. In regards to today’s topic-our anger at the idolatry of the rap game should lead us to want to engage such a culture as ours in a way which makes much of Christ in a biblical way, and proclaims the gospel while reflecting the ethics of the Bible. Jesus is dishonored in our society and this should cause us to want to act.

 

3.      What Paul did: 

 

He wasn’t angry or indignant, and merely reacting harshly, but he reacted towards the Greeks positively. He used their own methods of communication from within their own cultural centers. Also, notice the way in which Paul debated with them. When our society questions the claims of the Gospel, we are to defend the faith. When hip-hop culture makes fun of Christians, or speaks lowly of those who wish to please God, we are to respond not with separation but with engagement! Christians, we must go to cultural centers such as malls, parks, stadiums, venues, bars, and wherever else culture reigns as god, in order that Christian voices might be heard. Not only should we go to these places, but we should engage culture and invite these sorts of discussions to within a church context as well.

 

4.      What Paul said: 

 

Paul was made fun of, just as Christians will be when we engage our culture. Notice where Paul speaks from in this section, the Aeropagus-the largest center of Athens, most comparable to a modern day Madison Square Garden in New York City. Notice how the new teaching Paul gives to the people at the Aeropagus (or “Mars Hill”) is misunderstood-much like our culture misunderstands the teachings of Jesus today. So in the midst of a skeptical and misunderstanding audience, in their own cultural center, Paul preaches boldly. This is astounding for Paul to have done and we should learn from this. Paul calls out the Athenians for their ignorance of God and proclaims the God of the Bible in 5 ways: 

 

First, God is the creator of the Universe (24)

Second, God as sustainer of life (25)

Third, God as ruler of all nations (25-28)

          Paul uses a quote from one of their own philosophers in verse 28a. Paul takes a line which everybody there would have known and understood and then he uses it for his own purpose of declaring Christ. We are beginning now to see why this section specifically can answer the question I posed in the introduction of this blog.

Fourth, God is the Father of human beings.

          Paul quotes Greek poets again in 28b. Who are our modern day poets? Can you recite even a single poem from memory? If you are a male in your mid 20’s, I wouldn’t be surprised for a second if you cannot recite a single poem from memory. Our closest equivalent to this sort of a thing may be lines from movies, or quotes from athletes which are played over Sportscenter, but it’s definitely the rhymes we have memorized from our favorite rappers!

Stott says, “It’s remarkable that Paul should thus have quoted from 2 Pagan poets. His precedent gives us a warrant to do the same and indicates that glimmerings of truth, inishgts from general revelation, may be found in non-Christian authors.”

However, we must be careful when we quote our modern day poets. Our goal is to point our audience to Christ, not to simply be seen as cool and relevant. We use these lyrics as a way to show the inconsistency of our cultural norms with Christianity. For example, I can acknowledge Pac says some good stuff in “Changes,” such as when he says:

“We gotta make a change…

It’s time for us as a people to start makin’ some changes.

Let’s change the way we eat, let’s change the way we live

and let’s change the way we treat each other.

You see the old way wasn’t working so it’s on us to do

what we gotta do, to survive.”

 

But, we have got to point out his inconsistency in trusting us to make the changes and instead realize we must first embrace Christ who then changes everything. Therefore, we use the half-truth spoken in this song to point to what Tupac was truly seeking as he wrote these lyrics, for the answer to the problems raised in this song is actually Jesus himself. As Christians, we use common cultural language to identify idolatry within our society and point others towards Christ.

 

Well, with help from John Stott, I think we are able to see that Acts 17 answers the question I posed in the introduction, “When your entire childhood is marked by secular culture, how do you use that once you become a Christian? Or can you?” The answer is that yes we can use that, but we must be very cautious in how we go about doing that, and we must only do so in a way that points to Christ.

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In what Sense is America “Post-Christian?” If any sense at all…

The term “Post-Christian” is both striking and misleading. It is striking at first glance; because as a Christian myself it automatically makes me cautious of what was said in relation to use of the term. “Today the United States is Post-Christian.” If this term simply means as it’s defined as “a world in which Christianity is no longer the dominant civil-religion,” then I would agree with no issue. By no means would I say Christianity is the dominant civil-religion; but so I wonder while not pretending to have an answer; what is the dominant civil “religion.” I suppose your answer to this question will depend on how you define the word, “religion,” but this is just a side mental note, so I will move on. If by “Post Christian” we actually mean something like, “a world which has moved passed the former era of Christendom, thus no longer actually needing Christianity,” then I am actually filled with a lot of questions. This is the reason why I say the term is misleading, because the word seems to not be used in the same way consistently; some mean the first definition, but others the second. Here are some of the questions which arise from those who use the term in the way of the second definition:

–          What would make us believe that just because opinion and philosophical stances have changed that it makes our current opinions and philosophical stances more logical than the former (old) opinions and philosophical stances?

–          Just because society has dictated what is morally correct, and in many ways moved away from Christian morals, why should we suppose each of these changes in recent time are actually morally justified? In other words, just because something has become acceptable that doesn’t necessarily make it moral.

–          Why should we suppose that a Post-Christian world is better than a world which isn’t?

–          Who declares a world Post-Christian? What’s their standard for such a declaration?

–          If all things considered, our world is Post-Christian, then what’s our alternative?

You see these are very easy questions to come up with; I literally took about 3 minutes to come up with them as a collective group, because claiming the world is Post-Christian might sound attractive to people who don’t think through the ramifications of such a declaration, but to any logical thinker, I think they would notice the revolutionary claim this truly is! However, I think any claim that our world is Post-Christian, in the sense that the world no longer needs Christianity, is completely off base. You can’t view something which is proposed as a truth claim (religion), and analyze it through the lens of cultural relativity, and declare it is dead, invaluable, or not needed. Instead, you must answer the question; is it true? This is the error our culture has made in the declaration that our society is Post-Christian. We have decided we no longer need Christianity without considering whether or not Christianity is true. If Christianity is true, then there is no such thing as a Post-Christian world, even if a society perceives it is so. If Christianity is true, yet our society declares we live in a Post-Christian world, in the sense that we don’t need Christianity any longer, then my diagnosis is quite simple; our society is wrong. If our society is wrong in this regard, then I declare the logical answer is not Post-Christianity, but rather Post-American society. In other words, if Christianity is true, then we should view our world as not needing (although it will continue to exist) a society which has declared itself as Post-Christian.

God is Dead=Post-Christian World

But

God is Alive=A world which needs Christ!

You will notice the top equation is what the society in general supposes. I asked an above question about “If all things considered, our world is Post-Christian, then what’s our alternative?” There have been many who have already adopted “humanism,” which is essentially the answer to my question. Humanism is a diverse ethical school of thought, but in simple terms it is, “The movement which emphasizes the role of human agents to produce morally significant results in the world using rationalism and empiricism rather than adhering to any doctrine from a faith, specifically Christianity in this context (definition is my own).” This is basically the reaction which has come about from leaders, scientists, moral philosophers, politicians, and even liberal Christians to the claim “God is dead.” Regardless of whether we recognize it or not, I would argue the worldview of a large amount (if not a majority) of people in the American Society reflects that of the humanist.

At this point some readers may be reacting harshly claiming that I’m being too harsh on American society, and this isn’t a reality. Luckily for me, I do not have to look too far to support the fact of what I’m saying truly is relevant. 2013 was a year marked by literature about the (supposed) Post-Christian world we live in. The Huffington Post printed at least 3 articles in 2013 suggesting America as a Post-Christian society. CNN published an article titled, “Are we headed toward a post-christian Middle East?” In December I came across an article written by an Ohio politician titled, “Two Questions for a ‘Post-Christian’ America?” I mean, these are just a handful of what came up in the year of 2013 about the topic of Post-Christianity, but the term is actually much older than most realize. The term was already being used in the mid-1900’s as evidenced by the use of the term by C.S. Lewis’ dear friend and colleague, Dorothy Sayers in the mid 1950’s.

Luckily, I also do not need to provide statistics to support my arguments, because the Barna Group did that work for me in a study published in 2013. Below are the questions the study asked and some of the findings (courtesy of Christianity Today).

post-Christian = meet at least 60% of the following 15 factors (9 or more factors)

highly post-Christian = meet at least 80% of the following 15 factors (12 or more factors)

1. do not believe in God

2. identify as atheist or agnostic

3. disagree that faith is important in their lives

4. have not prayed to God (in the last year)

5. have never made a commitment to Jesus

6. disagree the Bible is accurate

7. have not donated money to a church (in the last year)

8. have not attended a Christian church (in the last year)

9. agree that Jesus committed sins

10. do not feel a responsibility to “share their faith”

11. have not read the Bible (in the last week)

12. have not volunteered at church (in the last week)

13. have not attended Sunday school (in the last week)

14. have not attended religious small group (in the last week)

15. do not participate in a house church (in the last year)

Barna examined past surveys and concluded that 37 percent of American adults qualify as post-Christian (according to its criteria), with roughly 1 in 4 of such adults qualifying as highly post-Christian. It also found that Mosaics (48%) are more likely to qualify as post-Christian than Boomers (35%) and Seniors (28%).

Among the 15 measures of non-religiosity among American adults, Barna found that:

47% do not feel a responsibility to share their faith.

57% have not read the Bible in the last week.

33% have not attended a Christian church in the past year.

However, by contrast:

27% have never made a commitment to Jesus.

18% have not prayed to God in the last week.

13% disagree that faith is important to their lives.

The Barna Group’s in depth research did not stop there, but it actually found the percentage of Post-Christians in each city, and recorded the averages, therefore, we are able to determine which region of the country, and which cities are the most Post-Christian. The Northeast is the most Post-Christian part of the country, according to the research, but there are specific cities throughout the United States which are near the top of the lists, such as Columbus, Ohio in my own home state. In case you are wondering, the most Post-Christian city in the United States is Albany, New York (Barna Group).

You see that it is not difficult to show that American Society is in one sense “Post-Christian,” meaning that Christianity is no longer the dominant civil-religion in the country, but instead Humanism now owns that title. For think of the majority of people you know and include those who claim they are “Christian.” You and I can both think of these people and quickly realize that although they may claim to be “Christian,” they do not have a thought out, or even elementary knowledge of what that means, and so without meaning to, they have accepted the dominant civil-religion, which is humanism, and we see this most clearly in the actions of these people. For if you claim you are a Christian, but you do not intentionally act as if you are a Christian, then the default action for the majority of these people shows what is the dominant civil-religion, and I think we’d be hard pressed to say it is anything other than some form or other of Humanism.

However

 

There is an enormous problem with American society if in fact the claims of Christianity are true. For as the equation I wrote above states, if God is alive then the world in fact needs Christ. Whether or not God is alive does not depend on culture. Culture is developed apart from what is true. Culture can be completely ungodly, yet God could exist. In either this case, the culture is wrong about what is reality. We need to be rational beings, as the Bible claims we were created to be, in order that we might analyze this world and ask the meaningful questions about the existence of God, rather than merely accepting what is taught to us at University and passively rejecting to answer such a difficult question in place of living as a Humanist. We need to answer not what is cool or what is relevant to modern society, but what is true about the claims made in the Bible. If the claims of the Bible are in fact true, then the current problem is no longer Christianity, but is actually the lack thereof.

I would be able to write all day about the conflicting claims of our culture vs. Christianity, but for the sake of time, I will give you three examples of what I am talking about.

Let’s begin with the origins of our world. For millennia, human beings recognized the creator God to have created the world and all things therein. Christianity and Islam became the two largest religions in the world over time, but both agreed there was an all-powerful being which created the universe. At the time of the Enlightenment, there began a large shift to take the miraculous events out of religion, therefore, the creator became simply that; this god created the world, but then left it to fend for itself. You see how this shift in thinking is a reduction of the sovereignty of an all-powerful creator God, so at this moment in history, about 1600 years after the New Testament was written, we already shifted as a culture towards the belief we did not need the Christian God. Once Darwin came around with his form of naturalism and evolutionary theory the shift had become even more dramatic. Darwin’s theories became at odds with the theory that God was the creator of the universe and all things in it, especially once coupled with the theory of origins known as “The Big Bang.” However, the Bible presents origins of man to be rooted in the creation by God, who created humans “in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them (Gen. 1:27).” If you read about the other things of the universe including all animals, land, water, stars, planets, heaven, and everything else, you will notice that all of them were created by God. For, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was (pay attention to this) without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters (Gen. 1:1-2).” According to the Bible, the Big Bang was not how everything came to be, but instead God created everything ex nihilo, or “out of nothing.” To answer the question of which view of creation we should have, we aren’t asking, “Which one makes most sense of culture?” If we are asking this, then we are asking the wrong questions. We do not ask, “Which one goes with what I was taught at University?” If we are, then we are asking the wrong question.” Instead, to answer this we must ask ourselves, “Which is true?”

The Bible claims humans are corrupt by nature. The story of Genesis 1-3 begins with God creating all things, as I mentioned above. Next, we see in Genesis 2 how God had intended for his creation to enjoy Him. The Garden of Eden was meant to be a place where God dwelt alongside His creation. The place was meant to be beautiful, peaceful, calm, and as blissful as any of us can imagine. He gave man the job of exercising dominion over the rest of creation, and God was even good enough to give the man, Adam, a helper who was a woman named Eve to be his wife. At this time, the relationship between Adam and Eve was unstrained and “good,” there existed no divorce, no sexual perversion, or any of the marks of relationships within society of today. God told Adam “You may surely eat of every tree of the Garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die. (2:17)” In Chapter 3, we are introduced to Satan “the serpent (Gen. 3:1)” Satan tempts Adam and Eve to eat of the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and the temptation succeeds, and immediately “The eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.” Sin entered into the world at this point, and for the first time in history, humans had become ashamed, and thus were unable to be naked before one another, marking the beginning of the bend we all now experience as humans-the bend inward towards ourselves rather than upward towards God and one another, as the Greatest Commandment tells us, to love God and love others. God had to punish this sin, because God is altogether Holy and righteous, and His standard is not the low standard of man. If God didn’t judge this sin, which first entered into the world with Adam but now finds root in the heart of every human since, then God would actually not be Just, Holy, Good, or Love. It is by being indignantly angry at our sin that God displays His attributes, but also displays His possession of Truth, as the creator of Truth and everything else. God is Holy, we broke His standard, and therefore sinned, and the result is obvious in the world we see today, just watch the news for five minutes if you want proof. What is astounding to me is that our society has begun to believe humans “aren’t all that bad.” We might say something like, “only you can save yourself,” or maybe “you’ve gotta look inside yourself to make yourself a better person.” It’s quite undeniable our world is quite depraved which is why I can’t understand why so many people fall for the pretty sounding rhetoric of the humanist who claims human beings can solve all of our own dilemmas. For if one human being is wicked, then how much more wicked will a group of humans be once we all come together as a race? Yet, I do realize a well-versed humanist may find my view that our human predicament is that we are naturally evil beings as purely detestable, while I at the same time find their view that humans are born neutral, or some might say good, as being equally detestable. The problem is that we can’t both be right. Either the Bible is right, and human beings sinned against God, inviting death and sin into the world, or the Bible is wrong and this did not happen; they are not both able to be true.

If Jesus is God, then His coming and dying is “good news (Gospel),” and so all other claims about God are false, and are thus bad news. I really am able to tell you that if the claims the Bible makes about Jesus Christ, a carpenter from Galilee in Israel are true, then this is the most significant truth of history and in the life of every individual living or to have ever lived. That is because, contrary to the lies some humanists have told, Jesus claimed He was God, and the New Testament claimed this throughout (Mt. 14:33; Col. 1:15; Phil. 2:6; John 1; John 14:5-7; John 8:58; Hebrews 1:2-4; Mt. 9:1-7; Mark 14:61-62; 1 John 5:20; John 20;) This is a good starting point of verses for you to get the point that Jesus was presented as God Himself. Not to mention the entire book of Revelation which seems to be the most obvious presentation as Jesus being God, and I’m not positive why anybody would put a lot of weight in trying to claim the New Testament doesn’t present Jesus as God, because it does. The question is not whether or not Jesus is presented to be God, or whether he claimed to be, but whether or not Jesus truly is God. You see, this is what we mean as Christians when we declare, “There is absolute truth, but no way to absolutely prove it.” I can’t force somebody to know Jesus is God. People will find all sorts of reasons to disagree with this statement that Jesus is God. However, what I can do is point to the claims of the Bible, and call for the need of each individual to accept the Bible for what it claims to be, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16).” The Bible is presented as trustworthy and reliable, despite many attempts to prove it is not, it is has withstood the test of time. Rather than joining culture in deciding we no longer need Christianity, you should ask yourself, “Is the Bible correct, or is it true that Jesus is God.” If this is true, then Jesus’ incarnation, which I wrote about in my blog from two weeks ago and you can go back and read about (Titled “Christmas and the Problem of Evil”) is the pinnacle of human history, and the absolute standard for all other truth is found in Jesus Himself. If Jesus is God, and he really did come to his people and die on a cross, because he was rejected by his own people, and atoned for the sins of the world, and then was raised by God three days later and ascended into heaven where he sits now, then it is impossible for our society to be Post-Christian.

For, you see that the standard for which we are to judge Christianity is not based off of whether or not our society feels the need for it. It isn’t based off of whether or not particular atheist proselytes make witty rhetorical arguments against the claims of Christianity which tickle our fancy, and strike our emotions. The standard which we are to judge the need for Christianity in our world today is Christ himself. If Jesus is God, then his coming and dying and resurrecting are good news for the entire world. If this is good news, then our society has got it all wrong. If Jesus is the “way, the truth, and the life,” then everything which claims otherwise is actually bad news. If you analyze the truth claims of the Bible, and you come to know they are true, then the lies which we find in a humanistic society are bad news. Therefore, we are left with the conclusion:  Either God is dead and so we must save ourselves if we are to hope, or God has saved us and He alone is our hope.

Christmas and the Problem of evil

The problem of evil, pain, and suffering

 

Many people have objected and continue to object to Christianity. Some object to Christianity for purely emotional reasons, and some people for selfish reasons, but others do so for reasons which stem from their human logic. The most often stated objection the Christianity alludes to the “Supposed Problem of evil, pain, and suffering.” For now, I will not be referring to the specific religion of Christianity, but only to “Theism,” and the definition from Webster will suffice, “belief in the existence of a god or gods, esp. belief in one god as creator of the universe, intervening in it and sustaining a personal relation to his creatures.” Below is the argument as usually presented, although people may not say it like this, it is actually a more thought out version of what they’re saying.

 

1.      If God exists, as theists believe, then God would be all-knowing, all powerful, and perfectly loving.

2.      If this God (1) exists, then surely God would desire the world He or She created to meet a certain standard.

3.      If God desires He or She’s world meet a standard (2), and God is perfectly loving (1), then the standard God desires is for a world without imperfection, moral evil, and unbelief.

4.      If God exists and is thus all knowing (1), then He or She knows how to bring about this standard (3).

5.      If God exists and is thus all-powerful (1), then He or She is capable of bringing about this standard (3).

6.      If God exists, then He or She desires to bring about this standard (3), He or She knows how to bring about this standard (4), and He or She is capable to bring about this standard (5).

7.      But, the world does not meet the standard (3).

8.      If the world does not meet this standard, and God exists, then either God doesn’t have the power to meet this standard, or doesn’t know how, or doesn’t want to.

9.      Therefore, God does not exist.

 

An advocate of the above argument is claiming a few different things: 

1.      There are facts about evil in this world which make it prima facie (literally “at first face”) unreasonable to believe God exists.

2.      This situation doesn’t change when all other facts are considered.

3.      So belief in the existence of God is unreasonable, all things considered.

 

In responding to the problem of evil, there are two ways in which a Christian should be able to respond.

1.      Philosophically

2.      Pastorally

And you will see the difference as I continue, and I will treat the less practical, but reasonable refutation from philosophy before considering what I would refer to as a “Pastoral response.”

Note:  This brief study should in no way be considered an exhaustive one. I merely intend for you and I to reason together and be pushed into a direction to think deeply of these tough issues.

 

Philosophical Response: 

2 possible approaches: 

Theodicy:  (definition from The Stanford Encyclopedia) “This involves, first of all, describing for every actual evil in the world, some state of affairs that it is reasonable to believe exists, and which is such that, if it exits, will provide an omnipotent and omniscient being with a morally sufficient reason for allowing the evil in question; and secondly, establishing that it’s reasonable to believe that all evils, taken collectively are thus justified.”

But, others favor the idea of giving a defense.

Peter Van Inwagen’s definition of “defense:”  “The idea of a defense is introduced that is, the idea of a story that contains both God and all the evils that actually exist, a story that is put forward not as true but as true for all anyone knows.”

Some may ask, “So what’s the difference?”

A:  A defense exists only to show that some God justifying reasons probably exist; but it doesn’t pretend to know what the reasons are.

So, how do you suppose theists can defend this “Problem of Evil?” Or can we? Should we throw in the towel?

Not so fast, because as Alvin Plantinga and others have done, we can use reason to deny the ideas:  1)God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and perfectly loving, and 2)There is evil in the world… are actually inconsistent.

          So, as Plantinga has claimed it’s actually possible for God to be all powerful, but it was not within His power to create a world containing no moral good and no moral evil. This argument has come to be known as “Plantinga’s Free Will Defense.”

          Here is a link to help us understand: 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YKx7l7NhHww

We should realize that a philosophical defense against the supposed “Rational Problem of Evil,” or providing a theodicy, can be formulated in different ways. I’m merely going to reconstruct the absolute basics of Plantinga’s argument for 2 reasons.

1.      Plantinga is probably the most celebrated Christian philosopher in the United States since the Puritan Jonathan Edwards in the 1700’s.

2.      We need to get a starting point on defending the faith and realize we do have good arguments against non-theistic attacks.

 

Here is an attempt to formulate Plantinga’s argument clearly: 

1.      Free will is a good thing-meaning a world with free will in it is better than the possibility of not having free will in it.

2.      God can create free creatures, but he can’t force them to do only what is morally right.

3.      God is perfectly loving.

4.      If (1) and (3), then God creates a world with free will.

5.      If (2), then God must create creatures capable of moral evil.

6.      If (5), then some creatures act out of their freedom to perform evil acts.

7.      Therefore, if (4) and (6), then God creates a world with free will and creatures act out of this free will in ways which bring about moral evil.

You see that what we get out of this defense is not a theodicy, but instead the three attributes given to God’s nature are not affected. God is perfectly loving, so He brings about a world of free will for creatures, because he creates the best possible world. God is all powerful, He creates the best world possible and continues to interact with it. God is all knowing-He knows everything which has happened or will ever happen. God is not responsible for evil, but instead men and women are responsible for evil in this world.

 

The Pastoral Response to Evil: 

As you will see, there is no religion or philosophy on this earth who can answer to the problem of evil in the way Christianity does. I don’t say this as a way to say “O my God is greater than yours,” sort of thing as if we were young boys having a competition to see who can spit the furthest, but I say this because understanding what it means that Jesus is “Emmanuel,” is life changing. Before I get into that, I need to approach an ancient text found in the Old Testament, Job.

Job

Many scholars believe Job to be one of the first, if not the first, book of the Bible to have actually been written. If this is the case then it should strike us that the book at its absolute core is a masterpiece display of human suffering. Struggling with the problem of evil, pain, and suffering is as much true to what it means to be a human as anything else, and the fact that the earliest book of the Bible is about this very thing shows the solidarity God’s Word has with us as we struggle with this problem of evil.

In Job, you find a guy who is considered by God to be “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” Then, Satan goes to God to ask permission to attack Job, and God allows it as long as Satan spares Job’s life. Already, we should be struck by the fact that Satan has to ask God permission for the evil he commits in our world. This is still true today. God is sovereign over all things including Satan. By the end of the 2nd chapter of Job we see that Job has lost all of his possessions, all of his children, his wife, and his health is failing. The majority of the book is then a dialogue between Job and three of his friends as they attempt to answer “Why?” Why God have you allowed such horrible things in Job’s life to torment him? These questions should sound familiar, because we shake our fists often and say things like, “Why God are there hungry people?” “God why? Why if you are real, and you are good, then why would you allow that person to die!?” You see when we go through suffering, we can never understand why it is happening. The Bible does not pretend to answer why to each individual instance of evil, pain, or suffering, but the Bible intends to give us an attitude towards this pain; it gives us a response of trust towards God in the midst of evil.

You see unlike what the leaders of the “Prosperity Gospel” claim, God does not work like a perpetual rewards account. God does not wait for you to just believer harder, give more to the church, do more this or more that, and then reward you with a BMW and a cool scarf. This is a perspective which we see misunderstood throughout the book of Job. The friends believed the reason Job was suffering must be because he did something wrong, and so God is punishing him, and they believed those who do good are rewarded with good. But, we know this is not the case for God Himself recognized Job as the greatest of His servants in chapter 1, but Job was going through this misery anyways! The prosperity Gospel is not the message of the Bible, and those who preach it are feeding you a bunch of garbage. Moving on.

We can identify with Job’s suffering in a very real way. In chapter 17:1-2 he says, “My spirit is broken; my days are extinct; the graveyard is ready for me. Surely there are mockers about me, and my eye dwells on their provocation.” Job had no hope, he wanted to die, and everybody around him judged and scoffed at him; have you ever felt that? I don’t mean to be too harsh towards Job. Yes, Job did shake his fist at God and say some foolish things, even believing God was absent, but Job was only human. His friends were not much better, as they each tried to diagnose Job’s dilemma, but all were wrong. However, if you read Job you will see this beautiful struggle with the problem of evil. But then, God appears in chapter 38.

Job 38:1-4, “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:  Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.”

You see, God appears to Job in all of his majesty and declares how small Job truly is as a human. Job wrongly believed he could question God and God would have to answer to him, but God declares, “I will question you, and you make it known to me.” In other words, Job, you are not God you fool. Then, God declares His righteousness and glory as the one who created everything! God is sovereign over all things. The magnitude of God’s glory is so vast that we can’t even begin to understand. The message is quite clear, “God is in control of everything, even when we can’t tell, or when it seems impossible, or when we believe we need to take the wheel.”

So, what is our response in the midst of evil? In one of the most humbling passages of Scripture, we get our answer in Job 42:1-6, “Then Job answered the Lord and said:  I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge? Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me. I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

This is Job’s confession and repentance before the Lord. Whereas before he was arrogantly shaking his fist at God, he now humbly declares that God is the one who does all things and that his will can’t be avoided. Job did not understand what he was claiming to know, and neither did his friends. Then, Job declares what I think is just an incredible thing, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you.” This was a man who God Himself had declared “a blameless and upright man,” but Job says that he merely knew of God by hear-say. Let that sink in for a second. Job is saying that he did not truly know the glorious God until he had suffered to the point he wanted to die, and then God revealed Himself in a way that Job can declare, “but now my eye sees you.” It wasn’t until after he was totally broken and in despair that Job could say, “therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

What is our posture, our attitude, our response in the midst of suffering? We get the answer right here in Job 42:1-6. We came from the dirt and from the dirt we will return. Our plans are worthless when compared to the plan of the sovereign God. Our response in the midst of evil is to be humbled by the glory of God, and to trust in God’s plan. John Piper puts it best, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”

The problem of Evil cont.

If you’ve ever seen the game show, “Who wants to be a millionaire,” you still cringe at the question “Is that your final answer?” Although I believe what is written in Job is accurate for our response towards evil Christians, I would not say it is my final answer to the pastoral approach the problem of evil. I would say that Job merely points to what is the ultimate answer. The story of job is a type of the true story, if you will. What is the true story you ask? Well, I would say the best answer to the problem of evil is…. Christmas.

The reason I said originally that Christianity is unlike any of the world’s religions or philosophies regarding the problem of evil is because in Christianity, God became flesh, and in this sense truly became “Emmanuel,” or “God with us.” This is what we celebrate on Christmas. We celebrate the pinnacle of human history, when God Himself broke into time, in order that he would fix the human dilemma. “Christ,” coming from the Greek Christos, meaning “Messiah,” or “anointed one,” began his “mass,” or from the Latin his “dismissal,” or “mission.” The word Christmas is a celebration of Christ’s mission.

Usually people recognize 5 major world religions, “Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism.” In Hinduism, one must follow levels of castes, and Goals of life, In order to reach a certain state, but there is no God who comes down and reaches their dilemma, and so it is entirely dependent on the subject participating in the religion. In Buddhism you have the Four Noble Truths and the 8-Fold path, but you never get a personal God, and so therefore the dilemma once again lies on the subject’s shoulders alone. In Islam, you get a transcendent God who would never stoop to the level of his people, and therefore would never have solidarity with human suffering. In Judaism, the Messiah has not yet come, and therefore there is no God who has involved himself in the human predicament. But, in Christianity you find Jesus “the word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men, The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:1-5)…… “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).”

You see, the Pastoral response to the Problem of Evil is Christmas, Christ’s mission to save humanity by becoming flesh and suffering with his people even to the point of death, even death on a cross! God did not create a world and then leave it to fend for itself as the functioning deists suppose, but instead God created a world which became completely evil as a result of the prideful actions of men and women, and God did not leave the world to suffer for no reason. Instead, God became flesh, in order that you and I no longer need to suffer at the sight of pain and evil and death, but that we might instead trust in Him and rejoice in His suffering at Calvary, and in that we have victory over evil and death. As the hymn goes, “Death could not hold you down You are the risen King. Seated in majesty You are the risen King.”

Before you do the Santa Claus and eggnog stuff this Christmas remember what Christmas really is. It isn’t just a simple birthday party with animals surrounding Joseph and Mary in a manger as they sing “Hark the Herald,” Christmas is literally the pinnacle of human history. Christmas is the truest answer you will ever find to the supposed “Problem of Evil.”

Christians are terrible at dating

My point in writing this post is very simple. I want to help people understand why it is we Christians are truly not very good at dating and relationships with the opposite sex. There is some truth to the obvious reasons:  we are sexual beings who allow this to blur our view of what is actually a good relationship, we are selfish beings who can’t forgive, etc. However, I want to introduce to you the even more basic reason why Christian dating is so difficult in a society of Christian dating which is dominated by Christianmingle.com. I will get to this reason in just a moment, but first a disclaimer:  I’m not a professional on dating. Those of you who know me may find this hard to believe, but the fact is I am an amateur. Before you read this and think, “Ok, well this dude’s an amateur so why would I care what he has to say,” you should realize that although it is good to be critical, you’re also failing to realize that everybody who gives good advice is at the root an amateur. Nobody has exhausted any subject matter, and nobody, yet everybody is a professional learner; therefore, amateurs learn from other amateurs in order to have a less amateur position on important matters. The only true professional teacher is God himself who has given us His word, which men have called the “Holy Bible,” and we use this trustworthy and relevant collection of writings which tell the story of the one true God, in order that we may understand the world around us. Dating for a Christian needs to be informed not by Chelsea Handler or Delilah or Late night sex talk with that one strange old lady (is that still on?), but it needs to be informed by the one who establishes relationships, withholds them, and so forth. For keep in mind the entire conception of “marriage,” as we know it today can trace its roots back to the Bible, which is where we see marriage in terms of how God meant it to be in the created order, which you can read about in the early chapters of Genesis (and I encourage you to do so). So, even though I’m not even 23 yet, and I myself have been an idiot in every relationship I’ve ever been in, I don’t rely on my own wisdom for my current view of dating, but I rely on the word of God. 

I’m not going to write out all sorts of in depth philosophy on this issue, but I will make mention of the core issue with Christian dating. The reason we are terrible daters is because we break the first 2 of the 10 commandments on a daily basis. It is this very fundamental reason that if we do date, it goes wrong, and if we don’t date, we aren’t content. These are the first two commandments as found in Deuteronomy 5:7-10:  

“You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

Some people may accuse me of being simplistic for using the first two commandments as the reason why dating is so difficult in the Christian church. Some of you may think to yourself, “There must be a deeper answer to this, you large stupid animal” but for those of you who would accuse me of that I want to ask, “If it is so simple and obvious, then why do you fail so badly with it?” Maybe it is better to realize that a core teaching, such as the ten commandments is perfect for understanding how we should view dating. Maybe Alistair Begg is correct when he says, “The main things are the plain things and the plain things are the main things.” So, you and I as young single Christians need to be aware of this reason why we suck at dating, because as John Calvin once said, “The human mind, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.” 

Okay, so the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me.” How are you doing with that? I don’t mean to be entirely negative, I just want us to be able to face the reality of things; you and I put lower case “g” gods in front of the upper case “God,” all the time. Sports, jobs, gadgets, family, music, fun, experiences, drugs, alcohol, sex, dating, dating, dating are all examples of things which an average American person will worship rather than the one God who deserves our worship on a daily basis. Back in the days when the Bible was written, there were temples of worship dedicated to the gods or goddesses of all kinds of things. I mean there were places of worship for supposed deities who were nothing more than government leaders, for goddesses of sex, for the god of war, the god of this and that and whatever. Before you laugh this off, you need to realize that America does this too. Have you ever been to Washington DC or seen pictures? To say we have places of worship towards our government is actually an understatement, because we actually have an entire District of worship for this. To say our culture worships sex is also an understatement, I can’t even go to a movie with somebody without at least one awkward encounter because of a graphic scene in a movie, oh and don’t forget what goes on over the internet. You get the picture, we are not much different from our Roman ancestors. So, why would it be surprising to suggest that you and I, and many other Christians also worship the idea of dating, or the person we are dating, or the person we used to date all the time! This is why if you are on christianmingle, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but if you are constantly awaiting a reply and obsessing over hearing from the man or woman of your dreams, you are not being content with God and what he has given you, and you are putting that potential suitor ahead of God. 

This idea of putting dating before God was never more clear to me than when I spent four years on a prominent college campus called Cedarville University. I will admit that I had a bad attitude for a lot of my four years there, and so my cynicism may cause me to react more harshly than need be towards this topic, however, I am convinced the pressure of finding a soul mate during our time at that school caused many of us to put this possibility ahead of God, thus resulting in an obsession with dating which is actually unhealthy. This is a large contributing factor to why the divorce rate for students who meet at Christian Universities is not much different from the divorce rate among the rest of the United States. Isn’t it possible that in setting a ridiculous standard for Christians to get married, and make sure they marry the “one God has for you,” actually can cause a person to become obsessed with dating and marriage, and to become actively seeking ways in which they can put something in front of God, but to do it while thinking they are in “just finding the will of God.” This is a problem folks. If my tone sounds condescending, then I must have you know that it’s because we can’t continue to hide behind “the will of God,” as a reason to worship other things and not worship God, but instead we need to be content with where God puts us, not over-think issues about dating, and not spiritualize our irrational and unbiblical decisions whether outside of a relationship or while we are in it. Okay moving on.

In reality, the first two commandments seem to be displaying a similar idea in regards to dating. Be honest with yourself, how many times have you not bowed down to God, but instead bowed down to your boyfriend or girlfriend instead (not literally). We aren’t literally in front of our boyfriend or girlfriend bowing to them, singing worship songs to them, and kissing the ground they walked on (at least I hope, or else I need to write another blog), but we do essentially the same thing when we make decisions or have attitudes towards that person which are out of order. They are out of order because we think of our girlfriend or boyfriend in that moment rather than thinking of God. This is why so many Christians fall into a cycle of constant impure relationships, because we give in to the needs and wants of the other person, and we don’t even think about what God wants for us- which is sexual purity. Hey yo, here is my advice to that. If your girlfriend or your boyfriend is not alright with your unwillingness to have sex with them, then you need to dump them as soon as you are done reading this blog! This isn’t a joke or an exaggeration. If you find yourself in that situation then do not give in to their demand for you to essentially worship them over God, but instead repent of your understandable desire to please this person, and turn your thoughts and actions to pleasing God himself. If this person hates you for it, then that’s their problem, you need to move on. 

I hope that this quick look into the first 2 of the 10 commandments helps you to understand why we Christians are terrible at dating a little better. It’s because we are prone in our hearts and minds to re-order what God intended for us. God intends for us to have him first, and then everything else will fall into place according to His sovereign will (see Matthew 6 for better description). However, since our hearts are a “perpetual factory of idols,” we put relationships, boyfriends, girlfriends, spouses, and all sorts of things ahead of God, and the results are often disastrous. Our greatest hope as single Christians is to worship God, and to trust in Him to take care of all of the dating stuff. In the meantime, we can take heed of the wisdom given in the Bible, and get rid of all of the things which are clouding our focus on Christ Himself, even if it means getting rid of your significant other, or your christianmingle profile. If you don’t have a boyfriend or girlfriend don’t freak out. If you do have a boyfriend or girlfriend don’t freak out-just continue to worship the one True God. Let’s not get caught up on what is meant to be secondary pleasures in this life, and let’s instead seek pleasure which lasts for eternity, which is in storing up for ourselves treasure in heaven rather than here on earth. Put no other gods before God, and do not worship any idols. This is the best advice I have for somebody on dating. 

 

Thanks,

Brandon 

 

I’m not ashamed

What is the first thing you would say after I say to you, “I’m not ashamed…? Would you say something like, “I’m not ashamed of who I am, or where I’m from, or what I did as long as you love me?” Okay, all Backstreet jokes to the side; let’s leave the 90’s and focus on the here and the now, and answer my question right now at your computer screen. What are you not ashamed of?

I google searched this term to see what some of the concepts in pop-culture are concerning this phrase “I’m not ashamed.” Yes, I did get a lot of Christian songs with these lyrics in it which shouldn’t be a surprise, but I got a lot of other concepts as well. First, I came across a Young Jeezy song with the lyrics in it declaring that he isn’t ashamed of who he is or the hood he came from-okay we speak this way often so no surprise. I found an article of a girl declaring she is not ashamed of her bisexuality-okay considering our society we live in that doesn’t surprise me much. Then, I came across an MSNBC commentator declaring, “I’m not afraid to admit I love Dick Cheney.” I thought to myself, well that’s nice good for you. Then, there was the somewhat odd article from a lady who was not ashamed of her feminism-once again, no surprise there. There was the quote from Alicia Keyes declaring she is unashamed of her body- I thought “well you’re basically a supermodel so I’m sure that’s encouraging to the millions of women who look just like you (not really).” I came across a movie by the title “I’m not ashamed,” and in all seriousness it looks like a great tale of addicts who go through rehab. Finally, I got to the fifth page on google before the Bible verse I was looking for appeared to my relief.

Romans 1:16:  The Apostle Paul declares boldly,

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”

The point to my opening paragraph is to show how it is super cool to be unashamed in our society. The bolder you are to be proud of something and to not be brought to shame by anyone about anything, the cooler you are. In our society it is trendy to be unashamed of your upbringing, your clothes, your sexuality, your religion, your lack of religion, your political stance, and the list goes on and on and even further on. There are lots of things people are unashamed of, which they should be. There is a lot of yelling out of the words, “I’m not ashamed!” Which should not be even uttered, nevertheless shouted. There is a lot of people who are not ashamed, but not many people who have thoughtfully decided why it is they are not ashamed, and why it matters to tell others about it. If you are reading this, and your answer in my introduction to the question, “I’m not ashamed of…” was anything other than something like “Jesus,” or “the Gospel,” then I want you to understand that you should be ashamed. For if you are not somebody who trusts in Christ, then regardless of what you are unashamed of, the reality for you is that you glory in your own shame (Phil. 3:18). Jesus tells us in Luke 9:26, “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”

My prayer for everybody is summed up well in these following lyrics from the 116 Clique: 

But don’t get it twisted, its reasons these boys unashamed

How bout 39 lashes of beatings, they laughing and teasing

These blasphemous heathens reject the passion of Jesus

He fasted from speaking even with nails bashed in His feat, and the cross,

He gasping and wheezing, His lungs collect as He’s breathing

The chief priest stone in the court of this chief

My Prince of Peace minus the pipe who bought my grief so no more chiefin

But like the rims that hit the curb (curb) we call em shoulder blades

We got out crosses on our back like our shoulder blade

This is death and resurrection that turned about my direction

Stepping toward perfection had nothing to do with me (do with me)

But the gospel is the power and power been men to pow out

We powed in the pavement takin the message to the streets

 

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel…”

Peter lived with Jesus for three years. He heard him speak, saw him perform miracles, laughed with him, ate with him, but when Jesus was being handed over to the chief priests, as we read about in Matthew 26, Peter denied Jesus three times, because he was ashamed of his Savior. If you and I are not ready to stand upon the truth of the Gospel, then we too are going to deny Jesus. Imagine something with me:  You are sent on a trip to New York City. You are standing in the center of Times Square and the beautiful lights of the skyscrapers outstretched to the heavens surround you. Everybody around you is walking by and giving you strange looks, because you are wearing one of those T-shirts with the words, “Jesus is my Homeboy.” Normally, nobody would say anything to you, but today is December 9, 2013, and the billboard you’re standing in front of is this one: 

 

 

Now let me ask you again. Answer me in this situation how do you finish the sentence, “I’m not ashamed of…” If you thought before that you were able to answer, I’m not ashamed of the Gospel, are you a little unsure now? Are you like Peter who knew Jesus and followed him for three years, but denied Jesus? If you are put in the situation I mentioned above, and you would not be ready to stand up to the questions skeptics ask you about Jesus, while you wear your “Jesus is my homeboy” shirt in Time’s Square in front of this billboard; if you are ashamed of the Gospel then, then you aren’t ready to follow Jesus. Those who truly believe the gospel are not ashamed of it.

 

The Gospel is God’s power for salvation

Romans 1:16 gives us grounds for our unashamedness (if I can make up a new word, and it’s my blog so I can). You, and I, and anybody who claims to be in Christ can be unashamed of the gospel for it is God’s power for salvation. There is nothing else which can save you! This is why if you responded to the phrase “I’m not ashamed of…” with anything other than Jesus, then I urge you to pay attention to this message! Men are wretched at the core. There is no such thing as a human institution which can save, for when you multiply men, as institutions do, then you simply multiply the wretchedness at the core of that institution! No government, political party, sports team, no nothing can save you if it is an institution of men. Salvation has two aspects: 1) present salvation-rescue from your own sin, and the fear of death in this life, and 2)future salvation-this is the salvation which rescues you from eternal death of your soul in hell. For it is only those who come to faith in Jesus Christ who are saved from hell. Another thing, you and I need to realize, is that this is not OUR power, it is GOD’s. A lot of us believe we can save ourselves, insofar as we keep God’s law and are decent human beings. For one, I will tell you that if you limit Christianity to merely keeping God’s commands and doing more good than bad, then you will end up a very sad and legalistic person, but furthermore, you are not truly saved. The entire concept of being saved includes the fact that you must recognize you need help. Imagine you are stranded on a beach. If you believe you can save yourself, then you will immediately begin to build a raft, and then you will get on the raft, and then you will set sail in an attempt to reach safe land, and thus you will have saved yourself. But, let’s suppose you do not believe you can save yourself. Then, you will get a log from the woods, and you will use it to write the acronym “S.O.S.” into the sand. You will then start a fire as large as you possibly can, and you will hope somebody sees you and comes and rescues you. It is this second example which is what God requires of us if we are to be saved. We must recognize that we can’t save ourselves, and thus cry out to God “Help! Save me!” It is when we have reached this point when we are ashamed of our own flesh, and unashamed of his perfect flesh, that we then can be saved by God.

Salvation is for everyone who believes

I’ve heard many people criticize Christianity. To be quite honest with you, I suppose more people are angry with Christianity than actually are Christians. Most of this criticism I hear from people in my generation (I’m 22) is based on this cultural perspective which claims we aren’t supposed to step on anybody’s toes, we aren’t supposed to question anybody’s beliefs or practices, or whatever. Then, this is usually followed up with some sort of claim, which I agree with, “Who would want to put those sorts of restrictions which Christianity requires on them anyways?” To this question, I would answer “Right! That’s what I’ve been saying.” When I say this, my unbelieving friends and family look at me like I’m stupid and I make no sense. The reason is because; we have this false perception of Christianity, as if it were merely a moral guideline for our lives. In the cultural view of Christianity Jesus is this wise philosopher guy, who didn’t really rise from the grave (because empiricism teaches miracles aren’t possible) but he was the best guy who ever lived, and so to be a christian means you follow his commands for your life. That all sounds very nice, but I’m telling you there is a very large problem with this view of Christianity, namely, that it isn’t in the Bible! If this is your view of Christianity, I’m sorry to be the first to inform you that you aren’t a Christian.

So, to answer the question, “What must I do to be a Christian?” Well, you must believe in the gospel. What does it mean to believe? It is not a merely mental work which you and I perform, but the word “believe” here is probably better associated with “trust.” It involves logos, ethos, and pathos, to steal from Aristotle. Belief means you rationally perceive of the gospel, which we know only from the word of God. It means that you emotionally respond to it properly with a distrust of your own ability for salvation and with a trust in only God’s ability to save you. This culminates in a change of your character-your life changes, because of what you have heard and felt.  

What is the gospel? Unfortunately, a lot of people mess up this simple question. A few years ago, Greg Gilbert wrote a nice and easy read which sums up this question quite well in his book titled What is the Gospel? If you want to look into the question deeply, I suggest you pick up a copy of that book. For now, the apostle Paul summarizes what it is you must believe (the gospel) quite well in 1 Cor. 15:3-11. You will notice in this section that Paul presents the gospel as a historically verifiable event which took place at the pinnacle of human history, which you and I can know with certainty, and which does not result in a legalistic religion, but a freeing from death and sin. Paul writes: 

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ dies for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.”

 

Anybody can believe the gospel and be saved. It doesn’t matter how far from God you think you are, or how poor or rich you are, none of those types of things matter. Jesus died for all people at all times, and anybody can believe in him and be saved. This is what it means in Romans 1:16 when Paul writes, “to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Do not be confused about the people groups Paul is referring to. In the time he was writing people were divided into only two groups, so it is better to consider Paul as saying, “to the Jew and then to everybody else.” The Jews were God’s chosen people from the Old Testament, and so God’s people before the New Testament were all Jews, but after the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, which we call the gospel, everybody was invited to be a part of God’s people. The offer of salvation is extended from Israel and out to the ends of the earth.

 

Do you share with Paul in being unashamed of the gospel? Do you realize the incredible truth that it is the power of salvation? Have you shown in your actions towards unbelievers the truth that this salvation is offered to anybody who will believe in Jesus? Or maybe you are an unbeliever. If you are then I want you to understand that you need to quit boasting in your shame, for that will end in your destruction. Trying to find your identity in worldly things is pointless, because these things have no eternal value. These things go away, just like your earthly body goes away, and so I urge you to look further into this gospel which is your only hope in salvation. Or maybe you read this and you are on the fence. You aren’t sure of Christianity, but you certainly aren’t ready to stand up for Jesus in the middle of Times Square. I urge you to allow the gospel to change you. Hear the word, perceive your need to be saved by God, and allow the Spirit to make you like Christ.

Believers, we need not be ashamed. Eminem wrote a song a couple years ago called “I’m not afraid.” Here are his lyrics: 

I’m not afraid (I’m not afraid)

To take a stand (to take a stand)

Everybody (everybody)

Come take my hand (come take my hand)

We’ll walk this road together, through the storm

Whatever weather, cold or warm

Just letting you know that you’re not alone

Follow if you feel like you’ve been down the same road (same road)

 

Now imagine if this were Christians singing this chorus about Jesus. We get so excited and emotional and pumped up when we hear Eminem sing these words, but so long as this concept of not being afraid is detached from the gospel, then the significance of these words are very small and they will die with whatever symbol for your activism you attach them to. The words will only be significant for a small portion of human history, BUT, if you attach these words to the message of eternal life found in the gospel of Jesus, then these words can have an eternal significance. Take this chorus to be a motivation for you to be “not afraid to take a stand for the gospel of Jesus. Everybody come take my hand and we will walk this road for Christian living together! And when the storm comes, which is persecution, just know you’re not alone, because Jesus is with you, and he’s been down the same road, by dying on the cross!”

 

 

How I became a Christian- explained with as little theological jargon as possible…

I write this in order that you may understand your own faith better, or that you might open your eyes to the possibility of the claims of Christianity, or furthermore, that you may be encouraged to actually become a Christian.

Language tells a lot. The way we humans use language is very telling of how we think cognitively. Your life is lived through your own perspective, and ultimately your experience is a subjective tale which has a starting point and an end. Nobody will ever understand your life through your experience, but they will understand it through their own subjective experience. Some of us do very poorly at understanding the world as it actually is, and so the result is a distorted version of reality, or it could come out in even “insane,” acts. I understand insane acts to be simply “Any act which is done by a person even though there appears to be no good reason to do so, but actually overwhelming reason not to do it.” The reason why many of us humans do not understand the world as it actually is, may be a result of a few different possibilities, but I would argue it’s mostly because we don’t stop and analyze why we live the way we do, and we are not honest with our own version of the human experience from our subjective vantage point. In the next few paragraphs, I will present to you my own experience of conversion to Christianity, and why I think you should continually “convert” to faith in Jesus Christ (even if you already are a Christian).

I was baptized in a church when I was probably 10 or 11, but I would suggest there is no good evidence which suggests this was the time I was “converted.” There is overwhelming evidence from my own experience that my conversion did not happen until some 5 or 6 years later, towards the end of my junior year of High school. Now, you may wonder to yourself, “How can you profess faith in Jesus, get baptized, but have not been converted?” This question is actually not too difficult to answer, because we all can understand a true conversion through the telling of a story. Think about the main character of your favorite book (I guess movie works too). Trace the storyline of that book, and put an “X,” at the point or points that you see a change in that person’s behavior. Where you put the “X” is what I suggest is the conversion. You do not know what is going on inside the character’s mind, but from your own perspective of that characters’ story, you are able to detect a result of that character’s change in mind, and this comes out in he or she’s actions.

In memory of Paul Walker, I will give you a very simple example. As far as I can remember, “The Fast and the Furious” was a story about a cop who went undercover to catch a bad guy. He became friends with a pretty popular street racing gang headed by Vin Diesel’s character. He did all the right things to appear he was friends with these people, but deep down he was just a cop trying to lie to these people so he could catch the bad guy. If my memory isn’t escaping me, I believe there was a point in that movie where there was a huge car accident while Paul Walker and Vin Diesel’s characters raced each other in separate cars. You can hear the cops are coming for Vin, and that the good guy cop would win the day, however, Paul Walker no longer believed he was the good guy. He had changed since earlier in the movie, he had been converted in his thinking, and it showed in his next actions. Rather than let Vin get arrested, which was what he had been working for the entire movie, Paul’s character hands Vin the keys to his own car, thus allowing Vin to get away, and surely leaving Paul to get in trouble in the place of Vin. This is a true story of conversion. When I was 10 or 11, I did make a profession of faith, but there was no true conversion in my life, at least as far as I myself can perceive.

So, how do I know I was converted when I was a junior in high school instead? Well, from my own perspective (which is the only one I truly have anyways), I was trying so hard to be cool. As far as I can tell my striving to be cool actually worked in many ways. I thought this because I was better than a lot of my peers at sports, I was never bored and alone because I had friends who wanted to hang out with me, I had a girlfriend that I thought was better looking than the other girls at my school, and this superficial view of myself sadly gave me the impression that I must be a cool guy and people must like me. The point of conversion came at the beginning of my junior year in high school, when I started asking deeper questions like, “Why does any of this stuff matter anyways?”

 Now, I want you to realize that it isn’t like I went to church at this time or anything like that, I really had no reason to be asking these deep questions of myself, but I was. This big question was a result of my deep feeling of emptiness at that time. It appeared I had it all figured out and I had everything any 16 year old could ever want, but I still felt like I didn’t have anything with any substance, so I decided out of my own deduction that I must just need to change my life. This came out in many, many ways at that time. First I tried getting new friends, I tried quitting one of the sports I loved, I broke up with the girl I had dated for a long time, I tried to start trying new and exciting things like trying new drugs, drinking, whatever. I thought (and understandably) that the reason I felt empty was because I was just simply missing something in my life which needed to be there, so I got rid of what may have been wrong and replaced it with other things which I thought may be right. “Maybe this will make me happy” was my thought process over and over again, and this went on for about 6 solid months. I view this 6 month process as being the point right before my conversion from worshipping myself, to the beginning to worship God.

It’s funny or ironic or something that we make religious conversion out like it’s this overwhelmingly philosophical and spiritual awakening. When somebody becomes a Christian, it isn’t unlikely for somebody to say, “O he went off and found God.” I would argue it doesn’t really happen in such a mystical way (although there is a lot of mystery surrounding the conversion to Christianity). My conversion was much more subtle, and it came through normal conversations. Also, I want you to realize that conversion doesn’t all happen at once and for one time sake. What I mean is that you do not convert to Christianity on Sunday and then wake up on Monday and everything in your life has changed- this is possible, but not likely. Also, the same thing you did at your original conversion is required of you daily afterwards. It is in this sense that I can say Christians are literally being converted to faith in Jesus Christ daily.

I don’t feel a need to go into the details of the conversion I experienced-no need to tell of the specific conversations, places, events etc. But, I will mention that the conversion happened, because in the midst of a 6 month long battle against what was normative for my life, I quit trusting in myself and my own worth, and instead trusted in Jesus. This first happened, when while I was eating food with somebody one day they asked me, “So what do you believe about Jesus anyways?” From my end of the conversation, this was sort of a strange question, because even if you never go to church you entire life, you still know something (or think you know anyway) about who the guy Jesus is. But this person then asked me something along these lines, “Like, do you believe Jesus is God? Or is he a good philosopher, or what?” Then, I was asked something like, “Do you believe Jesus died on a cross, God raised him from the grave three days later, and that he took your sin upon himself and gave you a new life?” For the first time in my life, that question was clearly asked to me (or at least it’s the first time I can remember). This was the first time I had faith in Jesus, which led to action, and so I can recall that this was my time of conversion. Before the conversation I had that day I felt one way about reality, which was centered on me, but after that conversation, I changed my mind about reality, and put God in the middle of it instead, for Jesus is God. This changing my mind is what Christians refer to as repentance, and this point of conversion is what Christians refer to as justification which is through faith in Jesus Christ alone.

So, you see that in my own mind a few things occurred at conversion. First off, I began to doubt myself, and this culminated in the reality that I was a wretched and sinful man, unable to give myself meaning or salvation. Then, I had to hear the Gospel, and comprehend it. Next, I made a decision about the validity of the claims of the Gospel. I decided that it was a valid claim. I then decided that it was a true claim. After this, I asked myself the questions, “Is Jesus God?” And then “what does that mean for my life?” Once I began to answer this question, which was evidence of my salvation, my life slowly began to change in accordance with the teachings of the New Testament. For if we come to acknowledge that Jesus is truth, and that he is God, and we trust in that truth, then the most logical thing to do next is to live in accordance with the teachings of the Bible, because it is presented as the word of God. This is God’s word, and in it, we find the instruction for how to live our lives. This is not a deeply philosophical concept to grasp. This is not something meant to be left up to only pastors or super righteous people, but this is the logical result of having faith in Jesus. This is the beginning of what Christians refer to as sanctification.

Sanctification, or maybe better understood as simply-living your life in accordance with your professed faith in Jesus, plays out much different in the lives of each believer. For myself, I honestly was a pretty obvious sinner. All of us are sinners before we convert to Christianity (and yes even after), but the degree which that is obvious to others is judged subjectively, and the degree to how deep certain sins control us is different according to each person. In all honesty, I viewed my sin as being relatively bad. I may have just been off base, but the point of me writing this is not to argue theologically or philosophically, but to simply provide the facts of how I perceived of myself at the time. Thus, after converting to Christianity, I think some of my major sin issues have been dying much slower than others.

Just to give you a couple of examples about what I’m talking about:  I will consider a positive example of Christ’s change in my life, and then I will examine a sin problem of mine which lingered far beyond my conversion, which I still must be constantly battling today.

The most obvious change in my life after coming to know Christ, and developing a relationship with him, was that my attitude genuinely changed. I was an extremely angry teenager, and I’m not positive why. Psychologists could probably answer the “why?” question better than I could, but as far as I’m concerned the reason why I was angry isn’t as important as the fact that I just was. This came out in all kinds of irrational and emotionally driven ways, most notably in my relationships with women. Once I turned to Christ, my anger consumed me less and less. I went from freaking out the second that somebody questioned me; or from intimidating somebody whenever I was threatened, to instead finding myself not caring nearly as much about myself, but instead trying to understand things from the perspective of the object of my anger. As I went on living the Christian life, I began to handle conflict and adversity much differently:  rather than act on impulse, I began to think through issues as they arose. I perceive that this new ability was the result of God’s work in my life, and I believe that if you are a Christian, then you can also point to a deep sin issue which God has rooted out of your life. By the way, this ability to control my anger helped me with other sin issues, such as honesty, pride, the effects of insecurity, etc. I’m a much more content person in the midst of adversity today.

The issue which probably most obviously lingered in my life is the one which most Christians won’t admit or talk about, and that is addiction. People can be addicted to all sorts of idols, and my point isn’t to focus on one in specific, but just on the term addiction in general. The effects of my addictions (plural) lingered much longer than my battle with anger, and the effects still continue in ways which are far more obvious to me. The reality of being a human is that you are a sinner who clings to idols at a rapid pace. John Calvin once said, “Man’s nature… so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.” The letting go of idols may be allowed immediately in the case of some Christians, but as far as I can tell, it has been a quite slow process for me (I’m not sure what slow is relative to, but that’s my perception).

I want you to know that this short explanation about me becoming a Christian is only a brief taste of all that relates to it. The goal of this article is that we can come to acknowledge in our own experiences what our story is. This is my story. The words above simplify very difficult concepts to explain theologically, such as justification and sanctification. The story of Jesus is told with a story which is found in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. This story was not recorded by accident, but it was written so that it would be read, that it would change lives, and that it would be re-told, and seen through our own personal human experiences. The challenge is that we have to be honest with ourselves in our own life-long experience. Honesty about experience is required in order to acknowledge our sin, repent, have faith in Jesus, convert to Christianity, walk with Christ, and to continue in the Christian life.

If you are reading this, then I encourage you to finish this, and then walk through your own experience up to this point in life while analyzing it with honesty and integrity. Do you see conversion? If you do, then ask yourself what it is you have converted to? Some have converted to Jesus, others to Buddhism, others to sexual freedom, and still others to something else. If you have converted from one thing to anything other than Jesus, then you are currently worshipping an idol. Now consider Jesus words, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you (Mt. 7:7).” The invitation from Jesus is for you to convert to faith in Him. He has died for every human being, and He resurrected in order that we may experience true conversion from death into life. If my story sounded a lot like yourself, and if these words are bothering you, then maybe you need to experience a conversion which leads to life-through faith in Jesus Christ- the day to accept and know Jesus may be today.

 

“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” – Hebrews 13:20-21

 

 

“An unexamined life is not worth living.”- Socrates

This quote written by Plato and attributed to Socrates is one of the great early quotes of a deeply rich philosophical history. It’s quite the celebrated idea philosophically, but the theological equivalent is far less celebrated. An unexamined faith is not worth believing. Socrates belief and insistence that simply walking through life as a walking cadaver, doing as you do simply because that’s the next step to take, is no reason at all to even continue breathing, since you aren’t really living you are merely breathing. The great philosopher believed as I do that you can walk around, get drunk on wine or women and feel alive for periods of time, but you always come crashing down. If you don’t live a life which you closely examine then you will wake up in the mornings and say to yourself, “I’m doing everything all the people tell me will make me happy, but why am I still completely empty?” You will be alone, whether physically or relationally or both, and you will be without hope. Socrates sought to find this “life,” marked by “happiness,” an end goal of life which gives it worth living. This insistence by Socrates to examine his own life and ask others to do the same in their own lives ultimately lead to his death by capital punishment. My hope for Socrates words is that it will push each individual to examine their lives deeply and to seek the reason for living, and to positively find what they seek. However, I have a deeper call to individuals based on the apostle Peter’s close parallel in the biblical text of 1 Peter 2:13-17:

“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them nor be troubled, 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, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.”

Immediately you should notice that the person who does not examine their own way of living is without hope (marked by Socrates words), but the person who has faith which has not been examined is also without hope. This is what the middle verse is explaining when Peter says, “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” Ask yourself this, “How can I hope in what I believe in if I don’t even hope to know what that might be?” The principle to understand here is that without examining your own belief, your own trust in God, you do not truly experience the hope which lives within you, namely God.

I.  Be prepared to suffer for the sake of Christ (3:13-14)

If you are able to read this blog then I am guessing your life is not at stake. You may believe that you are in the midst of great persecution, and in some ways some of you are, but not the type of persecution which was a reality for the early church under the Roman emperor Nero, and not the same type of persecution which faces today’s Christians in countries where they could die because they believe in the claims of the Bible (take Nigeria for example http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/sep/3/nigerian-islamists-gun-down-5-christians-after-the/). Real quick I’d like to make two notes about verses 13 and 14 which apply to today.

1. The author of this letter, Peter, was a disciple of Jesus, and although there are many who attack the traditional dating of this letter to the early 60’s, as an attempt to discredit Scripture by attributing a later date to the letter, it is obvious that Peter has not yet seen a great amount of persecution. There was an incredible amount of persecution Christians and Jews faced from the Roman government in the late 60’s AD, and the temple in Jerusalem was even destroyed shortly after Nero’s rule (70 AD). Peter does not write this letter to a group of people which is in the midst of a great persecution which took place during these years under the Roman government, therefore, based on the lack of urgency and the mere call to be prepared for persecution, it seems most logical to date this letter in the early 60’s. This makes it possible Peter did in fact write the letter, and it is a fair response to those who claim a later date for this letter.

2. Christian persecution in and of itself is a great apologetic; or a “defense of the faith.” You may be wondering, “what? Brandon you are making no sense with this one.” Well actually I am, and I’ll tell you why. Let’s suppose I’m with two of my friends Daniel and Sandra. One day we meet a talking dog which tells us to come hang out with him. Well, we end up hanging out with this dog for three years and we know he’s different, because he’s a talking dog, but then we notice he does all sorts of bizarre things which leave us wondering what the deal with this dog really is. Well, the dog then goes on to die of natural causes and although Daniel and Sandra and I are all very sad, we decide we should probably tell other people about this amazing talking dog we once knew. We tell everybody about it, and people laugh at us and ridicule us. We continue to insist we truly did have this experience with this talking dog, and then people eventually get quite sick of it and they threaten to torment us repetitively by punching us in the face once a day everyday until we finally admit that although we may have been friends with a dog, and we may have imagined it talked, let’s face it that isn’t possible and so we must admit the dog did not talk. However, we will not admit the dog did not talk, because it did in fact, and we don’t want to be liars. We get punched in the face every day and this goes on and on and on, and the people start to wonder, “Why don’t these crazy people just admit the dog didn’t talk.” Well, the two possibilities are that we are psychologically certain the dog did talk, but it didn’t actually so we are taking the beating daily because we are mistaken about the nature of the dog we befriended. Or! The dog truly did talk! There is no other logical explanation (at least not one that we can come up with which is within reason.

This is quite similar to the disciples with Jesus. They met a guy who they followed around for three years. At first they knew there was something different about this Jesus, but it became extremely bizarre when he told them he was the Messiah promised in the Old Testament. Jesus was then handed over to the Jews and then to the Romans, and finally executed under Pontius Pilate, and buried in the ground. The Bible declares that on Easter Sunday, Jesus rose from the grave and then appeared to his disciples. After Jesus ascended to heaven, the disciples began to go around and tell others about this Jesus. Many also came to believe in Jesus, as Acts shows us throughout. There came a point when these disciples had taken it too far and the Roman government wanted to kill them all.  It’s quite simple, to get out of being killed, the Christians could have simply admitted the lie, or ran. The problem with that is they weren’t lying, Jesus really did raise from the grave, and he really did tell them they had a mission to do, and so they can’t simply run away from harms way. My question for you if you are not a Christian and you are reading this is how do you account for the millions of Christians who have been killed because of their belief that Jesus Christ is God and that he lived, died, and resurrected from the grave if this thing they believed in didn’t actually happen? But, if you believe the more likely explanation for why these people claim this even though they will be killed is because it is true, and Jesus really did die and then come back to life three days later, then why not believe it’s also true that Jesus is God? I hope you will examine this claim.. But that’s all for now…

P.S. If you already do believe the claims about Jesus mentioned above, and so you consider yourself a Christian based on your faith in the Lord Jesus then I have a sobering message for you. Persecution will come. Hard times will come. There will be dark storms which rain on your parade at times. I believe in a lot of ways this is true of people from all faiths, whether we admit it or not. The difference is that those not in Christ have no hope within these storms, but the Christian has permanent hope which isn’t dependent on the weather. For as we see in the text, “Who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?” In other words, if God is for you then who can be against you?

II. Be prepared to honor God by giving a “reason for the hope within.” 

This is the “meat” of this particular section. It’s Peter’s answer to the question, “What should we do when we are being persecuted?” The question is for you and I and for all Christians. When people question me, thinking I’m strange because I believe in this Jesus guy, then what am I going to do? When my friends write me off, and my husband leaves, and I lose my son because they think I’m off the rocker for going to church and believing in miracles, then what do I do? Or, how about this reality, When somebody tells me they are going to kill me, because I’m wrecking their community’s status quo for all of my “Jesus-talk” then what am I going to do? How can I honor Christ, when I might die for trying?

Paul’s answer is to “make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” This is why Socrates’ words are so important. If you are being ridiculed for your faith, and somebody asks you “why do you have this hope about this Jesus?” and you can’t answer their question, then do you really have hope? I’ll answer for you, if you do not know how to answer the question, “why do you hope in this Jesus,” then you actually can’t because you don’t know him. I’m not claiming you have to have memorized all of C.S. Lewis’ arguments for the existence of God, I’m simply saying that you should be prepared to answer as to why you have hope. There’s a rapper named Lecrae, and he gives a reason for his hope in Christ in his recently released song, “Round of Applause feat. B.o.b.”

I ain’t supposed to be nothing but a dope dealer, but a hope killer
Supposed to brag on the guns and the coke kilo’s
Dropping molly’s in a coke zero
Ashamed of my education, then I’m finally off probation
Then I quit smoking, got a wife and kids and I’m a real father no faking
See I’m a black man who beat them odds
Supposed to be locked up with no job
Never should of went to college or learned who God is
You add it up it’s all odd
See I never knew my pop
I been abused, ran from the cops
I went to school high on them crops
Wasn’t a thug, never been shot
Running from God man turning my back
Never would of made it, Marvin Sapp
But He opened up my eyes and I can’t look back
While they look surprised, I just took my cap
Yeah he did it, he did it
He changed me and I’m with it
He made me what I’m supposed to be
You get close to me, you might get it

This is not a theological treatise by any stretch of the imagination. Lecrae doesn’t preach at you either, but he gives a simple and direct reason for the hope within him, and he’s not ashamed or embarrassed of what God has done for him. There are some of us who do need to give elaborate defenses of the faith through what is termed, “Christian apologetics;” however, some of us need to do as Lecrae did in these lyrics and present our apology for the Christian faith by telling our testimony. Salvation is a miracle. I’m not supposed to be a pastor right now, just ask my friends who have known me in High school and they will tell you. You can explain away why I am in full time ministry right now with a rationalistic explanation without God, but I’m prone to believe that the reason I’m in full time ministry right now is because God saved my life when I was 16, and he wants to use me as he saves others lives through faith in Christ. You notice that I could have rationalized my way right out of going into ministry, but God is beyond reason as he controls reason by his very word.

Part of the problem, though, is that sometimes Christians do apologize for the faith, but they ignore how Peter tells us to go about doing this, “with gentleness and respect.” We can’t detach the two. We are to give a reason for the hope within us whenever we have the opportunity, but not if we aren’t capable of doing it with gentleness and respect for the other person or people. In the same way, treating others with gentleness and respect is great, but you aren’t loving that person if you don’t give them a reason for the hope within you. We must read this verse and come away from it inspired to give a reason for our faith, and also inspired to do it with gentleness and respect.

Hopefully, this section shows you why the unexamined faith is is not worth believing.

III. Be prepared to correct your behavior

We have already seen how we are supposed to be prepared for persecution, and prepared to give a reason for the hope within us when we do face persecution, but we should also be prepared to correct our behavior at all times. This may actually be the toughest of these three principles for me personally, due to my personality. I need to preach this message to myself. We are to have a good conscience so that we can face persecution and give our reasoning for our hope, but to do it in a way which will glorify Christ. The reason for needing a good conscience, is so “those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.”

A huge problem for many of us who try to share the truth of Christ who showed his love for us, in that while we were still sinners, he died for us (Rom. 5:8), is that we don’t worry about our conscience, and so therefore our behavior isn’t what we should expect of a Christian. If our behavior, and our actions towards other people do not show the love of Christ, then when we face persecution God will not be glorified, because we will be put to shame once our works our revealed. I believe this is why I believe Jesus said, “this is how they will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” I believe Jesus is saying that unbelievers will be more likely to come to the Christian faith when his disciples live as if Jesus truly did raise from the grave! The problem then is obvious, that many hate Christians, because we do not show even those in our own community this love Jesus speaks of, nonetheless unbelievers!

We need to recognize that as Christians our greatest commandment is, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it:  You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets (Mt. 22:37-40).

Peter ends this section by explaining, “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” It seems plausible to state that you are going to suffer either way. Those who do not honor Christ, do not believe in him, they will suffer on earth and also after this earth passes away. Those who do honor Christ, and believe in Him, will suffer in this world, but will be given joy as well, and then when the old earth passes away, they will be on the new earth with God for eternity.

I urge you, brothers, to please do not get caught up in this American lie. Do not for a second believe that this world and what it offers you will actually bring you happiness. Do not live blindly! For the unexamined life is not worth living, and the unexamined faith is not worth believing. I call for you to examine yourself right now, and I will do the same.

Here’s the Lecrae song which I quoted in this article, listen to it you might learn something.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CgeafVXP4SI