Sucker Punched

Sucker Punched

I hold the distinct honor of being the only pastor in two thousand years of church history ever to sucker punch a spiritual skeptic in the middle of an evangelistic conversation.

A few months before my last book was published, a friend of mine asked me what it was going to be about. I told him it was going to be a book about hell. I told him about how most Christians don’t believe in it any longer, and how if they did, it would forever change the way they interact with the people around them who aren’t followers of Jesus.

No response. He just stood there silently.

“Well? Aren’t you going to say something?”

“You mean you want me to tell you want I think of that?” he responded.

“Well, yes. What do you think?” I said.

“We’re friends, so I’m just going be honest,” he said. “Do you realize how whacked-out that sounds? Don’t be offended, but that’s just not normal.” He continued, “Let me put it this way: On a crazy meter—with one being the Amish and a ten being those polygamous alien abduction nuts living in communes in the desert of New Mexico—what you just told me is, well, that’s, like, a twelve.”

“Oh, shut up, it is not,” I shot back. “It’s orthodox Christian belief clearly taught in the Bible.”

“I don’t care what you call it—it’s seriously messed up,” he replied.

“It is not. Every Bible-believing church teaches this. In fact, that Catholic Church you take your kids to—the one you only attend on Christmas and Easter—they believe this too.”

“But I don’t believe a thing they teach.”

“Oh, that’s great. You absolutely insist that your kids go there for CCD classes, but you don’t believe anything they teach. And you’re calling me whacked-out?”

“Brian, here’s what I don’t get—you’re, like, normal. You’re smart. You have a great family. You’re a pretty cool guy to hang out with. But now I find out you’ve got this crazy way of viewing me, and people like me who aren’t Christians. That’s just messed up …”

And that’s when it happened.

Just as the words messed up left his lips, something inside of me snapped, and I freaked out. Without thinking, I threw an explosive sucker punch to his gut, instantly dropping him to his knees.

I leaned over and slowly whispered in his ear, “Don’t you ever talk to me like that again. How’s that for being messed up?”

Then I walked away in disgust.

And that’s when it hit me—I had just single-handedly delivered the greatest pastoral butt kicking in the history of, um, my imagination.

That’s because I didn’t actually hit him.

I wanted to.

Believe me, I wanted to.

But I didn’t.

Instead, I let his demeaning words just sit in the air.

When it got too awkward to no longer respond, I halfheartedly cracked a joke.

“Wanna know what’s really messed up?”


“Your face.”

He kind of laughed. And I sort of smiled. Then he said, “Hey, I’ve got to run,” with an awkward “I’m leaving now and our relationship is never going to be quite the same” look in his eye.

And I felt small.

And ashamed.

And stupid.

And judgmental.

And alone.

The problem is that a Christian who believes in hell and believes people who don’t accept Jesus will go there for eternity is never going to be accepted by his or her non-Christian friends. It’s just not going to happen. Let’s be honest—hell isn’t one of those topics of conversation that gets us invited back to dinner parties.

Jesus warns us that if we truly believe what He taught and live the life He calls us to live, the non-Christians around us won’t accept us:

  • You will be hated by everyone because of me. (Matt. 10:22)
  • You will be hated by all nations because of me. (Matt. 24:9)
  • If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. (John 15:18)

Two thousand years of church history have validated Jesus’ claims. Read any history book if you doubt His comments. Turn on any late-night talk show. Or flip on the radio. Our culture ridicules Christians who take the Bible seriously and calls them Jesus freaks. If you truly live out your beliefs, non-Christians are going to think you’re nuts. And they will tell you so. To your face. A lot.

The only comforting thing about this is that it’s nothing new. It’s been going on for two thousand years.

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