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Tough questions. Reasonable questions. The kinds of challenging questions you or someone you know may be asking that are worth the time to explore. In six sessions designed to get small groups thinking and discussing, each guide in the Tough Questions ...
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Tough questions. Reasonable questions. The kinds of challenging questions you or someone you know may be asking that are worth the time to explore. In six sessions designed to get small groups thinking and discussing, each guide in the Tough Questions series deals frankly with objections commonly raised about Christianity. You'll engage in the kind of spirited dialog that shows the Christian faith can stand up to scrutiny.
Author Biography: Garry Poole is director of evangelism at Willow Creek Community Church (www.willowcreek.org) in South Barrington, Illinois, and author of Seeker Small Groups and co-author of the Tough Questions series.;Judson Poling works with small group ministries at Willow Creek. He is coauthor of the Walking with God series and general editor of The Journey: A Study Bible for Spiritual Seekers.
Imagine turning on the evening news and hearing the top story: Christianity declared illegal! As you sit there in disbelief, the announcer states that anyone who is a Christian will be arrested and stand trial. Special police forces are already at work, dragging Christians out of their homes.
You turn off the television, hands shaking. You were born American and never chose any other religion. Is that enough to implicate you? You think of growing up: your mother made sure you were baptized and attended Sunday school. You were even (you shudder) confirmed! You've visited churches several times over the last twenty years. You also remember how at work you've commented on your dislike of all the eastern religions on the rise. Of course, you also know you're as honest, good, and kind as the next guy.
"Oh no," you think. "I'm toast!"
You hear a sound outside. You sneak over to the window and pull the drapes just as a dark blue police van pulls to a stop in front of your house. What will you do? Should you hide? Run out the back door?
There's a knock on the door. You brace yourself for the inevitable and open the door. Two police officers show their badges. You nod. They ask for your mother.
"Yes, we have information she is here with you."
"Um, no, she flew back to Florida two weeks ago."
"Thank you very much," one of the officers says as they turn to go.
They stop. "Yes?"
"Well, I just thought ... the new law..."
"Don't worry. We're only arresting Christians, not their relatives," the other answers abruptly.
"So you're not here to question me?"
"Like I said," the officer repeats, "We're only arresting Christians."
In this scene, not being accused of being a Christian would come as a relief. Yet so many of the ideas expressed above are what many think identifies a person as a Christian. If you're born in America, and you're not some other religion-and not an atheist-then you must be a Christian by default, right? Especially if you have some Christian exposure in your background. That goes double if you've attended a church with any kind of regularity. Surely that would qualify you to be arrested for being a Christian.
So, what kind of evidence is needed to put a person in jail for being a Christian?
Open for Discussion
1. Describe an occasion when you (or someone you know) believed you had the necessary ticket to attend a special event but for some reason were denied entry.
2. Do you think it is possible to have a false sense of security about being a Christian? If you answered yes, name some examples of false hopes. If no, why do you think a person can't be wrong about his or her claim to be a Christian?
3. If you were to identify someone as a Christian, what definitive factors or reasons would you need to support that claim?
4. Which of the following list of activities qualifies someone to be a Christian? Check all that apply and give reasons for your answer(s).
____ born and raised in a Christian family
____ infant or adult baptism
____ regular church attendance
____ observance of Christian holidays
____ service in the church
____ donating money to the church
____ being a good and kind person
____ participation in communion
____ formal membership in a church
____ obeying the ten commandments
____ frequent prayers
____ some kind of spiritual or emotional experience
5. What role does religious activity play in being a true Christian?
6. Do you think a person, in order to be a Christian, must be converted into the Christian religion, or could he or she be born into it, or both? Explain.
I Never Knew You
The Bible warns of a kind of rude awakening that awaits those who are counting on religious activities to get them into heaven:
Not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord," will enter the kingdom of heaven ... Many will say to me on that day, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?" Then I will tell them plainly, "I never knew you ..."
7. The people in the above example were definitely doing religious things. What do you think is the difference between a religious person who enters the kingdom of heaven and a religious person who does not?
8. What is the correlation between initially becoming a Christian (how you start the Christian life), and living as a Christian (how you cultivate the Christian life)?
You Must Be Born Again
The Bible records a fascinating encounter Jesus had with a religious man named Nicodemus. In the middle of their discourse Jesus replies, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again" (John 3:3). This man was not an atheist; in fact, he was well versed in the Bible and a respected teacher. Jesus was certainly not telling an irreligious person to start going back to church. Nor was he telling a hypocrite to stop his sinful actions. He was speaking to a devout member of a local synagogue-a leader no less-informing him that something was missing in his life. Jesus revealed that this man would not be in God's kingdom unless he became born again.
9. What do you think it means to be born again?
10. Why would Jesus tell someone like Nicodemus, who was already very religious, to be born again?
Heart of the Matter
11. In what ways are you similar to Nicodemus? How are you different?
12. If you were to encounter Jesus today, would He tell you there's still something missing in your life? Why or why not?
13. Why does talking about being born again often create negative images and angry reactions?
Charting Your Journey
With this session, you're beginning a journey. Keep in mind that you do not need to feel pressure to "say the right thing" at any point during these discussions. You're taking the time to do this work because you want answers and because you're willing to be honest with your doubts and uncertainties. You may also have others in your life who would benefit from hearing about what you'll be learning. So use these sessions profitably-ask the tough questions, think "outside the box," learn from what others in your group have to say. But keep being authentic about where you are in your process.
To help you see yourself more clearly, throughout this guide you will have an opportunity to indicate where you are in your spiritual journey. As you gain more information, you may find yourself reconsidering your opinions from week to week. The important thing is for you to be completely truthful about what you believe-or don't believe-right now.
Check the statement(s) below which best describes your position at this point. Give reasons for your response.
____ I still don't understand what it means to be a Christian.
____ I don't understand the difference between being a good person and being a Christian.
____ I understand that there are certain requirements for being a Christian, but I don't think I am ready to take that step yet.
____ I am glad to finally get what being a Christian means.
____ If believing in Jesus is all it takes to be a Christian, it seems pointless to try to be a good person.
____ I now have a better understanding of why some people say they are Christians and others aren't, but I don't agree.
____ I wish someone would just tell me what hoops to jump through and I'd do it.
____ I am now sure that I am not a Christian.
____ I am still unclear about Christianity and whether I am a Christian or not.
____ I am sure that I am a Christian.
I've got a job, a hot rod, and a racing bike.... I've got all the drugs, booze, and friends I want. What more could a man need? Besides, I don't need to be born again.... I'm Catholic! -Jim Giles, a.k.a. "Brother Jim"
Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. -Jesus Christ, Matthew 7:13-14
Going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile. -Billy Sunday.
Excerpted from Why Become a Christian? by Garry Poole Judson Poling Copyright © 1998 by Zondervan. Excerpted by permission.
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