How Can You?!

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14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who Do You Say That I Am?

During Jesus’ ministry on earth, there were many discussions about who he was, who he said he was, and who others said he was.  The Bible is full of the names of God, of Jesus, and of the Holy Spirit– there are descriptive names, prophetic names, genealogical references, allegorical names, sacred names…but one of the pivotal questions Jesus asked of his followers was this: “Who do YOU say that I am”? (Luke 9:18-27; Matt. 16: 13-18)

We can ask ourselves why Jesus might pose this question to the disciples– was it some Socratic technique, or a trick question?  The disciples had heard several theories, descriptions, and names tossed about.  Was Jesus trying to determine how effectively he had presented himself to the Jewish people– and to his closest followers?   I don’t think so.  If that were his motivation, he could have asked, “Who to you THINK I am?”, or “Who WOULD you say that I am?”  Instead, he asked “Who DO YOU SAY  that I am?”

This is still a very relevant question today, and not just as a matter of recognizing him as Messiah.  Even when Peter gave an answer, Jesus did not say, “Good job, Peter.  You nailed it in one!  That’s the right answer, and your prize is that you will become “The Rock” on which I build my church.”  That’s how some people might read it, but that’s not the true story– Peter gave a correct answer, an inspired answer, but it was not a definitive answer.  Peter recognized who Jesus was supposed to be, but he had not experienced, and did not know, the fullness of who Jesus was.  Peter would later go on to deny this same Jesus, and say that he did not even know him at all!  Only after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension did Peter fully recognize and live out the answer he gave earlier.  His last years were spent demonstrating  in words and deeds that he had truly encountered “the Christ, the Son of the Living God!”

How does this relate to a pursuit of prayer in our own time?  What we say about Jesus involves more than just a pat answer.  To say, “He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God” is a correct answer, but what does that really mean to us?  What does it mean as we live as a witness before others?  Is he Christ and Savior, and Messiah to me? When I say he is the “Son of God,” is that just another of his many names to me, or do I understand all the richness of that title?  When I review the many names of God, do they resonate with personal meaning?  Do I pray to the “God who Sees,” to the “God who Provides,” the “God of my Salvation,” the “Almighty”, and the “God who Hears?”  Or am I praying to a “God I studied and know a lot about,”  a “God I heard about at Church,” or a “God I hope will hear me?”  If I pray “in Jesus’ name,” is that just an affectation?  Is it just a formality, or does that name, that person, inhabit my prayers and my life?  Am I praying in the name of the “Lion of Judah,” “Emmanuel”, “the Risen Lamb,” or just “a great teacher who talked a lot about love?”

These are not questions meant to trigger doubt about my salvation, but questions designed to challenge my commitment and my faithfulness.  I bear the name of Christ–what I think I say about him; what I think I believe about him; what I think others see of him in me– it matters.  It is of supreme importance.  I need to be sure that I’m not taking for granted that what I know about my savior is the same as Knowing Him, and that what I think I’m saying about him is clear, consistent, and true.

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What do my prayers say about Jesus?  What do my actions say about him?  What does my life say about him?  Hopefully, like Peter, the end of my story will bring honor and bear truthful witness to the Great “I AM” of scripture, the God of MY salvation, and the God who has heard me, loved me, corrected me, redeemed me, sanctified me, and welcomed me home to be with Him eternally!

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