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Monday, March 31 2014
John 20:30-31; Colossians 2:6-15; Isaiah 42:1-9; Psalm 118:1, 15-29
I have, over the last 20 plus years, done my best to explain to you the teachings of Jesus as I understand them. I have talked about his life – starting with his birth – the things that he said and did as a man – the places he went to – the people he hung out with – and certainly you have heard me talk about the meaning of his death and resurrection. Some of you have traveled with me to Israel on one of my four trips over there – to see firsthand the places where Jesus walked and talked – and the various churches and other shrines that have been erected in his honor.
But really – who is Jesus? Today, as we continue our series “Examine the Evidence” that’s the question I want to ask. “Who is Jesus?” So let’s examine the evidence that we have for who Jesus is.
What we know about Jesus is the Jesus we read about in the gospels. And as we saw last week – as we examined the evidence – we saw that the Bible – the Christian Scriptures are authentic. In other words – they can be trusted to a 99% certainty that the Bible you hold in your hands is what the original authors wrote.
SO there are many words – many titles – that we know Jesus by. Master. Teacher. Son of God. Son of man. Rabbi. The Word. The Good Shepherd. Friend. Lord and Savior. And – by golly – there are so many others.
But – and as I have often said before – you and I can know all there is to know about Jesus – but it doesn’t mean all that much until – until we also get to know him. And we can get to know him. I know that sounds strange. How can I get to know a person who lived and died nearly 2000 years ago! Well – if Jesus is alive – and this is the foundation of our faith – if Jesus is alive precisely because he IS risen from the dead – than he is alive for us. And therefore we CAN get to know him. Get to know him as a person. As a friend. As a Savior. As Lord.
But it also seems to me that of all that many ways we can get to know Jesus it is essential that we know him as Savior and as Lord.
As Savior – he is the one who through his life, death and resurrection – sets us free from the penalty of our sins. The penalty of our sins is what? Eternal separation from God. So as Savior – Jesus is the One who forgives. All the time. No matter what. No matter how bad you think your life might be right now. Jesus always forgives. Count on it.
And as Lord – he is our – well – he is our leader. Our commander in chief if you will. He is the One that we follow. So Jesus is Savior. He is Lord. Jesus is the Christ – the Messiah – which simply means that He is “The Anointed One”. This is who Jesus is.
Now, some will say that Jesus was just a great teacher. No matter what else you or anybody else might say about Jesus – there isn’t anyone that I know of – believer or non-believer – who wouldn’t agree that Jesus was a good man – a great teacher – with a great message about loving and forgiving each other. But Jesus was more – much, much more – than just a great teacher. If the only thing we believe about Jesus is that he was just a good teacher – then we have missed the point of who he was – who he is – and what his life was all about. So what evidence is there to suggest that Jesus was more than just a great teacher?
Folks – I am here to tell you once again that I believe that Jesus is exactly who he says he is. So I want you to think about something this [morning] [evening]. It is something that I have spoken to you about before on more than one occasion. I’m going to present to you an argument from C.S. Lewis. He offers us a limited number of choices about who Jesus is. So yes, you’ve heard me use this argument before – but I need to use it today again – besides, it’s really good – and I only use stuff that’s really good. So it seems to me that the choices we have about who Jesus is are these: Either Jesus was a legend, a liar, a lunatic, or he is exactly who he says he is, and that is Lord.
So what is it? Legend? Liar? Lunatic? Or Lord?
Is the story of Jesus a legend? Maybe. But no credible historian would ever say that Jesus did not exist. The Roman historians Tacitus and Suetonius spoke of Jesus directly. The Jewish historian Josephus in his “Antiquities of the Jews” mentions a Jesus who was crucified, and who was alleged to have risen from the dead. So there is evidence both from inside the New Testament and outside the New Testament that he existed.
So Jesus really existed. But then just who was he? One of the things that we need to say up front is that Jesus was fully human.
He had a human body. He suffered fatigue and hunger.
He experienced human emotions. Anger. Love. Sadness.
He had human experiences. Temptation. Learning. Work. Obedience.
As a man he truly did suffer an agonizing death on the cross when he was crucified. So we know that Jesus was fully human.
So if he is not a legend, what then? Is Jesus a liar? Maybe. But was he lying when he claimed to be the Messiah? Was he lying when he said he had come from God? Does Jesus come from God or not? Do his teachings come from God or not? When you consider all that Jesus claimed and taught, there can be little doubt that he was conscious as a man that his identity was that of God. And by the way – what this means is that he is both true God and true man – at the same time! Full humanity in undiminished deity.
So what evidence do we have to support that Jesus is who he says he is, in other words, that he is God? Jesus performed miracles in the presence of many people – sometimes thousands of people. Eyewitnesses recorded these miracles for us – and even his enemies could not say that these miracles did not occur. Could a man who was merely a man do the things that Jesus did? I think not.
What then? Was Jesus a lunatic? Maybe. But hey! Let me ask you. Could a liar or a lunatic have said and done the things that Jesus said and did? And gotten away with it? I don’t think so. And I don’t think his followers would have stayed with him either – especially following his death and resurrection – if he were either a liar or a lunatic. They wouldn’t have said what they said about him – written what they wrote about him – if he were someone other than who he said he was.
So who is Jesus? If he is not a legend – if he is not a liar – if he is not a lunatic, then what is left to us? We are left with just one choice. I can only conclude that Jesus is exactly who he says he is. He declared himself to be the Son of God, and then set about to prove it.
Friends, I am here to tell you tonight that Jesus is God. And therefore, Jesus is Lord. Think about it. Based upon the evidence, there is no other option. There is no other choice. Sherlock Holmes – yes, I know he was a fictional character – but what he says is true. “When you’ve eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”
So my challenge to you today is this. We must make a choice about who we say he is. For us – eternity hangs in the balance.
Folks, I believe Jesus is who he says he is. The Son of God. The Lord. The Messiah. He is the way. He is the truth. He is the life. If he is not – if he is not who he says he is – then he is either a liar or a nut case – wouldn’t you agree? Yeah? If he is not who he says he is, he is either a liar or a nut case.
I think more people would listen to Jesus if they understood who Jesus truly is. But one of the reasons we listen to Jesus, and continue to listen to Jesus is that Jesus is exactly who he says he is – the Son of Man. And the Son of God. He is Savior. He is Lord. We listen to Jesus because of who he is. And because of what he does.
And what is it that Jesus does? Well, it’s more a question of what he has already done. He has given his very life for you and for me. And because he was willing to go all the way to the cross – and think about it – would a liar or a lunatic be willing to do something like that? I think not. A liar would have recanted. A lunatic would have gone to the cross kicking and screaming and dragging his feet.
But Jesus was willing. And because he was willing to go all the way to the cross – to die on a cross – what he has done is die the death that we deserved to die – and in the process give to us the promise and the assurance that our sins – those thoughts, words and deeds that separate us from God – that our sins are indeed forgiven.
AND – and because God raised Jesus from the dead – what that shows us is that Jesus has victory over death. And because Jesus has victory over death, we don’t need to be afraid of death. That victory is our victory. SO although some day we too shall die – we know that we too someday will be raised again to new life. That’s what Jesus has done. That’s what Jesus has done for us.
So, let me ask you. Do you believe this? Do you believe what the Scriptures tell us about who Jesus is? Christianity is based upon the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, but what we also need to answer the question. “Who is Jesus?” What is it that you believe about him? Who do you say that he is?
It seems to me, we have four choices. Either he is a legend – in other words someone who never existed – or he is a liar, or he is a lunatic, or he is exactly who he says he is. So what is it? Legend? Liar? Lunatic? Or Lord?
Our Gospel reading today from John’s Gospel says that the things written about him were written for a purpose. What we read about Jesus in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John was written for a purpose. SO listen again to what John says. “These are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through believing you might have life in his name.”
Do you believe this? It seems to me that only three answers are possible. Yes. No. Or I’m just not sure. If you’re not yet sure – if you’re still skeptical – that’s okay. Being here – being among God’s people is a great place to wrestle with questions like these.
So think about it. The evidence is clear. I am here to tell you today that Jesus is God. And therefore, Jesus is Lord. He is not a legend – he is not a liar – he is not a lunatic. He is Lord. There is no other option. There is no other choice. Amen
Monday, March 24 2014
John 8:31-36, Isaiah 55:10-11, Hebrews 4:12, Psalm 119:10-16;105
I have been enjoying this sermon series I am calling “Examining the Evidence – Asking the Tough Questions About Why We Believe.” For the past two weeks, we have asked the questions, “Does God Exist?” and “How Did We Get Here?”
And for the past two weeks, I have presented the evidence – evidence that comes from science, and from mathematical statistics and probabilities. And what we discovered from those statistics – when we looked at the conditions that are necessary for life to exist on planet earth – when you look at the scientific constants – and the precision that each of these hundreds of constants has to meet – and how interdependent they all are – we saw that the probability that life on earth can exist and flourish – or that the universe came into being at all for that matter – as a result of blind chance or dumb luck – is virtually zero.
In fact, the universe is so very fine tuned that it has the appearance of being engineered. The only conclusion that I can come to – and to me the only choice that makes sense – is that the universe must have had both a designer and a creator and a sustainer. This designer, creator, and sustainer we have come to call God.
At this point, that’s about all we can know about God. That there is a God who created everything there is. We can know nothing else about this God unless or until this creator God reveals more of Himself to us. So let’s talk today about how it is that God reveals God’s self to us.
One of the ways is through his Son Jesus Christ. And we’ll be focusing on Jesus in the remainder of this series. But today I want to focus on a different way in which God reveals Himself to us – and that way is through His Word. So today’s question is, “Can the Christian Scriptures be trusted?”
First let me say a little something about God’s Word, the Bible. The Bible is actually not one book, but rather a library of books – 66 books in all. It is divided into two sections – the Hebrew Scriptures, or Old Testament – and the New Testament. If you’ve ever noticed the Route 66 symbol that we use around here – that is a reference not only to historic Route 66, but it is our way of encouraging people to read the Bible, and to study the Bible – using the slogan, “Driving the Word Home on Route 66.” Now, I wish I could take credit for that slogan. It’s not original with me. But – I’m going to keep using it anyway.
So – can the Christian Scriptures – the Bible – be trusted? Well, first let’s look at how the Bible came to be. The books of the Bible were written by some 40 different authors, over a period of more than 1100 years. It is the story of God, and how God has interacted with the human race throughout history. In a nutshell, it can be called a divine drama – beginning with creation and the fall of sinful humanity. The rest of the Bible is really the story of God and God’s people – and God’s great desire and efforts to reconcile sinners to Himself. Ultimately – the Scriptures point to Christ – both Old and New Testaments – his life, his death, his resurrection – and through his life, death and resurrection – we are reconciled by God to God.
Was the Bible written by men? Yes it was. It is not something that just dropped down out of the sky, or found under a rock. It was written by men, but – it is not a just a human document either.
One of the books of the Bible, II Timothy 3:16 says that “All Scripture is inspired by God.” The literal meaning of the word translated “inspired” is “God-breathed.” That doesn’t mean that the Holy Spirit whispered into the ears of the writers what God wanted that person to write. No. But somehow – someway – the Scriptures we have are “God breathed” – God’s Holy Spirit inspired the authors of the books of the Bible to write what it is that they did write. They wrote about what they knew – what they saw— what they heard – what they experienced.
But then we could ask, how do we know that what we have in the New Testament is actually what the authors wrote? How do we know that it wasn’t somehow changed over the course of history? To be sure, we do not have a single original copy of any of the books of the Bible in our hands. The best we have are ancient copies or manuscripts.
So it’s no wonder that critics are saying that the Christian Scriptures cannot be trusted. And they will say either one of two things about that. And they are wrong on both counts.
1. They say that our current English translations are taken from poorly transmitted copies. However, there is something called the “Bibliographical Test” of Scripture. This test determines the historicity of an ancient text by analyzing the quantity and quality of copied manuscripts, as well as how far removed they are from the time of the originals. This test flatly refutes this false argument. And over the centuries, the scribes and monks who copied the Bible by hand copied them very meticulously – very carefully. And yes, some errors were made. Sometimes there were errors in spelling or punctuation. Sometimes a line of text might have been inadvertently left out, or written twice. But by comparing the great number of ancient manuscripts that we have, these errors are easily discovered. So that we can say with 99% accuracy that the Bible we have today is the Bible that was written by the original authors. And none of these errors has had anything to do with any of the beliefs that we Christians hold to be true.
For the New Testament, there are more than 5,000 ancient Greek manuscripts. The oldest complete New Testament dates just prior to 300 AD. However, manuscript fragments as well as collections of New Testament books exist that were written as early as the mid 2nd century. And even if we didn’t have these, Christian leaders from the 2nd Century – also known as the Church Fathers – wrote commentaries on the various books – or quoted from these books that make up our New Testament. Virtually the entire New Testament can be reconstructed from the works of the Church Fathers.
So the time between when the books of the New Testament were actually written, and the oldest fragments or portions of Scripture we have is quite short – some as short as 40 years.
Now let me ask – how many of you believe that Alexander the Great really existed? The oldest manuscript we have that mentions Alexander the Great is 500 years after the time of Alexander the Great. The earliest copy we have of anything written by Plato is 1300 years after the time of Plato. There are 210 known ancient manuscripts of Plato’s work. Nobody ever questions what we have from Plato was really written by Plato! Compare that to the more than 5,000 ancient copies of the Greek New Testament.
Biblical scholar F.F. Bruce says, “the shorter time span in between when the book was written and the earliest copy of the actual event, coupled with the number of copies increases the accuracy of the writing.” …and thus less doubt about what the original authors wrote.
What we have is the most historically reliable, accurate document on the face of the earth – accurate to within 99% of what the original authors wrote. God has preserved His word to us. What you hold in your hands is the word of God.
2. Critics will also make the claim, and I have heard people make this claim, that the church did not decide until the year 397 at the Council of Carthage which books would make up the New Testament canon. Canon by the way simply means a rule or standard. The claim therefore is made that the books of the New Testament canon either were not written until then, or were manipulated and edited at that time in order for the church to make them say what they wanted them to say.
Let me just say that there is absolutely no evidence for this at all. As I said earlier, even if we did not have one single ancient text, manuscript or fragment, the entire New Testament can be virtually reconstructed from the writings of the 2nd Century Church Fathers.
So who did decide which books were in and which were out? The early church had three criteria for determining what books were to be included or excluded from the New Testament Canon.
1. First, the books had to have apostolic authority – that is, they had to have been written either by the apostles themselves, who were eyewitnesses to what they wrote about, or by associates of the apostles.
2. Second, there was the criterion of conformity to what was called the “rule of faith.” In other words, was the document consistent with the basic Christian tradition that the church recognized as normative.
3. Third, there was the criterion of whether a document had enjoyed continuous acceptance and usage by the church at large.
This process excludes many other ancient documents – what the History Channel on TV calls “The Lost Books of the Bible.” Let me give you just one example. The Gospel of Peter claims to be written by St. Peter, but scholars date it to the second half of the 2nd century. At the resurrection of Jesus – it tells about a cross that follows Jesus out of the tomb. And this cross talks. SO it fails the criteria for inclusion – a late date – no one knows who really wrote it – and I mean – the talking cross alone is enough to can it.
Suffice it to say, that scholars use a process called Textual Criticism to examine the texts as we have received them. It’s a complicated process, but Textual Criticism studies conclude that the New Testament has come down to us essentially unchanged from the time its books were originally written.
Let me quote F. F. Bruce again. “One thing must be emphatically stated. The New Testament books did not become authoritative for the Church because they were formally included in a canonical list; on the contrary, the Church included them in her canon because she already regarded them as divinely inspired, recognizing their innate worth and general apostolic authority,…what these [early church] councils did was not to impose something new upon the Christian communities but to codify what was already the general practice of those communities.”
Folks – I know that this has been more of a lecture than a sermon, but this is not just a book of great stories – of heroes – heroes who by the way were written about with warts and all. It’s not a rule book or a book of morals written to help you and me live a good life.
This is God’s word to us. Old Testament and New Testament. 66 books by some 40 different authors written over a period of more than 1100 years. And all with the same theme. This is the story of God. The story of God and His people. It is a story of creation – of humanity’s fall and rescue by God – fall and rescue by God – fall and rescue by God – over and over again.
SO here’s one more thing for you to think about. The last thing that I’ll say today about why we can know that this is God’s Word to us. It is the power of the Gospel – the Good News of Jesus Christ – to change lives.
Maybe you’re here today and you’re a skeptic. All I can do is invite you to get into God’s Word. Start with the Gospel of John. If you don’t have a Bible, take one from the pew rack in front of you – or see me after worship. I love to give away Bibles. Maybe you’ve got one at home, but you don’t know where it is.
Or maybe you’re like Archie and Edith Bunker. Some of you remember that TV show from the 70’s. Archie asks, “Edith –why’s the Bible sitting on the TV stand?” And Edith says, “I put it there because it keeps falling off the refrigerator.”
What will you find when this book gets off the shelf – or the TV stand – or the refrigerator? You’ll discover that this God who made the universe is the same God who loves you. In fact – He’s crazy about you. He wants you to be on this crazy adventure with Him called discipleship. From the book shelf – into your hands – into your mind – into your heart – and into your life. This is God’s Word – and He wants you to have it. Amen
Monday, March 17 2014
John 1:1-5; Genesis 1:1 – 2:3
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
This is the second in our sermon series that is taking a look at WHY we as Christians believe what it is that we believe. So today – as we continue to examine the evidence for creation – the question I want to deal with is – “How did we get here?”
If you recall from last week, we learned that science and Christianity are not opposed to each other – that in fact they are in agreement in many areas – especially when it comes to the beginning of things. That all of space, time, matter and energy came into being all at once – in one singularity – in what the Bible calls creation – and what science calls the Big Bang. Where science and Christianity disagree is how and why the Big Bang came about. For Christians – the simple answer – and the only answer that makes sense – is God. Science can only shrug its shoulders and say, “We don’t have a clue. It cannot be explained using the laws of physics and nature.”
We can summarize what is called the cosmological evidence into the following series of statements:
1. Whatever begins to exist must have a cause for its existence.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe must have a cause for its existence.
4. The attributes of the cause of the universe (being timeless, existing outside of space and time) are the attributes of God.
5. Therefore, the cause of the universe must be God.
And isn’t this exactly what Christians have always believed? The opening line of the first book in the Bible – Genesis – tells us, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” So what I hope to show you today – the evidence I want to show you today – actually is based on both science and statistics and probabilities. I‘ve always been a numbers kind of guy – so I really like this stuff. And I think you’ll agree that this is going to be unlike any kind of sermon you’ve ever heard me deliver. So let’s look at the evidence for God’s existence.
When you look at the world around you – have you ever been amazed? I mean – have you ever just stood in awe – just look up to the stars – examine the veins on a leaf on a tree – ever been in wonder about how and why it is that a seed planted in the ground produces another tree, or a bush or a flower?
I find all of this absolutely amazing. Just the very complexity of what it takes for life to exist on planet earth just blows my mind! That all of the hundreds of conditions that need to exist for life – for human life – to be possible is virtually impossible to have happened by chance or by natural selection alone.
Here’s what science is telling us. There are certain laws and physical constants that make up the building blocks of our world. These laws and physical constants that govern all matter in the universe – have the appearance to be precisely balanced and fine tuned for life not only to occur – but to flourish – here on planet earth.
What this suggests is that not only did the universe have a definite and intentional beginning – but that the universe also has both a designer and a builder. The universe is so finely tuned – what some call a Goldilocks – or “just so” condition – that it could not have happened by blind chance – that you cannot get a universe with this level of precision and order out of chaos and undirected blind chance. And I hope today if not to show you why – at least to get you thinking about it.
A popular way of illustrating this is to take a watch. I like this watch. It’s amazing! It tells time. I can use it as a stop watch. I can use it as an alarm. I can set it so that it beeps on the hour. All for – I think it was – $18 at Walmart. Now – someone designed this watch – wouldn’t you agree? Someone made this watch – put all of its components together which also were made somewhere by someone in the process. Now – if we waited long enough billions and billions of years – maybe even trillions – what do you think is the probability that a watch that looks like this and does everything that this watch does could come together through a series of random processes that are due to undirected, blind chance? I think the answer is virtually zero, right? Wouldn’t you agree?
What’s more complex – the universe or this watch?
SO – please stay with me because I’m going to get a little technical. I’m going to be throwing some numbers and statistical information at you. Not only am I a numbers guy, I’m a visual guy – I’m a visual learner. So I like to have these kinds of things sitting in front of me and I hope you’ll find these helpful. I’ve put together some power point slides as visual aids. When it comes to the fine tuning of the universe – let me present the following pieces of evidence.
By the way – this is called the “Anthropic Principle” – write it down – there will be a test. That’s simply a fancy word used to give a label to the highly precise, fine-tuned, and interdependent environmental conditions that are necessary in order for life to exist on earth.
We’ve already talked about the Big Bang both last week and today. Science tells us that the Big Bang expanded at precisely – precisely the exact speed needed to produce the universe. If the universe had expanded at one millionth more slowly than it did – expansion would have stopped. If it had expanded any faster, no galaxies would have formed.
Let’s take a look at the effects of gravity. The force of gravity is precisely what it needs to be for life to exist on earth. If the gravitational force were different by even a sliver of a percent – the way I read it was 37 zeros followed by a 1 to the right of the decimal point. If the force of gravity varied by even this tiny percentage, our sun would not exist – and neither would we.
Then there is centrifugal force. If the centrifugal force of planetary movements did not precisely balance the gravitational forces – nothing could be held in orbit around the sun.
The earth is on average 93 million miles from the sun. The earth’s orbit is not circular, but elliptical. At its closest, earth is about 91 million miles – and at its farthest, 94 million miles for the sun. The earth’s orbit exists in this Goldilocks range – or the just right range – in its distance from the sun.
If the rotation of the earth took longer than 24 hours, temperature differences would be too great between night and day. If the rotation period were shorter – atmospheric wind velocities would be too great.
The earth tilts on its axis at 23.5 degrees. This is exactly the precision needed to sustain human life. If the earth did not tilt it would become what is called tidally locked. One side would get stuck facing the sun all the time, the other side would never face the sun. One side would be too hot to sustain life; the other side too cold.
And why does the earth tilt at all? It tilts because 40% of the gravitational pull that comes from the sun pulls it over. The other 60% of that tilt comes from the gravitational pull of the moon. The moon in this pull is what allows earth to sustain life.
So where did the moon come from? No one knows. It could have been a meteor or asteroid that got stuck in earth’s gravitational pull. Another theory states that a rogue planet slammed into planet earth when our solar system was still forming – and the moon came together from the debris field left over from that collision. If that theory is true – scientists also say that the collision had to have happened at a very precise angle of incidence. Regardless – no moon – no life on planet earth.
The earth is the right size to support life. The earth’s crust is the precise thickness it needs to be to support life. The earth’s iron core produces the magnetic field necessary to protect us from cosmic rays that would otherwise strip away the upper atmosphere, including the ozone layer that protects the earth from harmful ultraviolet radiation.
Our atmosphere is 21% oxygen. Rising to 23% oxygen, no life on planet earth. Decreasing to 19% oxygen, no life on planet earth.
Hydrogen must convert .007 of its mass into helium on an ongoing basis on earth in order to sustain human life. .006 no life. .008 no life.
If water vapor levels in the atmosphere were greater than they are now, a runaway greenhouse effect would cause temperatures to rise too high for human life. Any less, and an insufficient greenhouse effect would make earth too cold.
The Oceans are 3.4% salt. This happens to equal the exact percentage of salt in the human blood stream. At 2% or 4% in either there is no life on planet earth.
If planet Jupiter were not in its current orbit – without Jupiter’s gravitational pull – the earth would be bombarded with damaging material from space.
What I have presented to you today – and if you were one of those who slept through science class in high school – you probably slept through this as well – but what I have presented is called the science of fine tuning. There are some 122 of these kinds of precise constants that need to be present for life as we know it to exist. These constants are all interdependent – in other words – a small change in one might affect others, and could prevent or destroy the conditions necessary for life.
Astrophysicist Hugh Ross has calculated the probability that life on any planet in the universe might have happened by chance. Even assuming that there are 1022 power number of planets in the universe – that’s 10 with 22 zeros behind it – really big number! – for life to exist on any one of these planets is 10138 power. That’s one chance in 1 with 138 zeros behind it. And you thought the odds of winning the lottery were stacked against you! In other words – statistically speaking – there is zero chance that any planet in the universe could have the life-supporting conditions that we have as the result of a random act of nature.
There’s so much more that we could have talked about today. I didn’t even mention for instance, DNA – the building block of all of life. One of the books I read is by Francis Collins – a scientist – and head of the Human Genome Project. He calls DNA the language of God. DNA is so very complex in its design and utility – quite frankly, I don’t understand how DNA could possibly have come into being by chance, or natural selection or evolution for that matter.
Anyway – you have in your mission minutes a list of the books I have been reading over the past few years. I really encourage you to do more research on your own. This is a starting point.
So how did we get here? What do you think? Creation by divine design – or blind chance? Today – just like I did last week – I have presented the evidence. So where does the evidence lead you? When you examine the universe – the world – and how these came into being – and all of the finely tuned constants that need to be in place for life to exist – for any of us to be here – from a purely statistical – mathematical probability of pure blind chance – it seems to me that we can arrive at only one conclusion.
The universe was created in such a way that looks like it must have known we were coming. That’s what it looks like. The only conclusion that we have left – and the only one that makes any sense is that the universe – and life as we know it on planet earth – had to have been the result of a super intelligent – super natural – designer and creator. And that designer and creator and sustainer is what we have come to know – as God.
Monday, March 10 2014
John 1:18; Romans 1:18-25; Deuteronomy 6:4-9
It is not often that I preach what is called a sermon series. In other words – a series of sermons over the course of several weeks that in some way are all connected. I have given much thought – and maybe read way too many books on the subject – but I have wanted for a long time to preach a series on why it is we believe what we believe.
So the title for the series is “Examining the Evidence: Asking the Tough Questions of Why We Believe.” Notice that I did not word the question to ask what we believe, but why. Most of you already know what it is that we as Christians believe. You know – through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God is reconciling the world to Himself. That we are saved from sin by the grace of God – in other words – God’s undeserved love and favor – as a gift received by faith.
Now, that’s what we believe in the smallest of nut shells. So I’ve been preaching and teaching WHAT it is that we believe for well over 20 years now. I’m not sure that I’ve ever spent all that much time preaching about the why – why do we believe what it is that we believe?
The reason I have decided to do this now is because I don’t think it can wait. We live in a world of skeptics and skepticism. We are being attacked – and I don’t think that that is too strong a word to use – we are being attacked – put on the defensive – by skeptics and non-believers alike. There is in our culture today a growing tide of anti-religion – and specifically – anti-Christian voices in what can only be called “The New Atheism.”
An atheist is, by the way, a person who says that there is no god. God does not exist. An agnostic, on the other hand, isn’t sure. There may be a god, or there might not be. In either case, we cannot know anything about this god even if this god does exist. Then there is the deist. A deist is a person who does believe in god, but that this god is indifferent to the world that this god made. This is the watchmaker god – the god who created the universe – wound it up – and at worst walked away from it – and at best just sits around somewhere watching, but otherwise doesn’t interfere in the affairs of the world or of human kind.
Christians, by the way, would rightly be called theists. A theist believes in a God, and unlike deists, believe that this god DOES care about and gets involved in the world that this god created. All of the mono-theistic religions would rightly be called theistic – although that is NOT to say that all theistic religions believe in the same God.
All of these isms are what you would call a world-view. You, by the way, have a world-view. Did you know that? You have a world-view. The way you look at the world – the way you look at yourself and people around you – the way you perceive God or not God for that matter – the way you look at life itself – you run through a filter that we call a world-view. So we as Christians have a Christian world-view.
So I am preaching this sermon series on WHY we believe what it is that we believe. And ever since sometime last year when I started dropping hints that I was thinking about such a series, I have been getting nothing but encouragement. “Boy, pastor, I’d really by interested in hearing about that.” “You know pastor, I’ve been angry at God for a long time, and questioning this whole God thing. I’d come back to church to hear a message like that.” Or just this past Wednesday, after our Ash Wednesday service, someone said, “Pastor, we’re going to be away for the next 3 weekends. But we really want to hear what you have to say about this subject. How can we get a hold of your sermons?” By the way – each week – usually on Mondays – you can find the sermon transcripts on Zion’s website.
So there’s a lot of interest in this subject. But another reason I think a series of messages like this is important is that we are in danger of losing a great number of our youth and young adults – who are buying into the message of the new atheists. We’ve got a whole generation that I’m concerned about.
So what I hope to do today and for the rest of this series is to present the evidence. And all I am asking you to do is to examine the evidence – and then decide. You see, we talk a lot about faith – and having faith – and putting our faith in God. Well, let me also say that the faith that you and I possess is also reasonable. I would never believe – and I would never ask you to believe – in something that wasn’t reasonable. As our reading last weekend from 2 Peter told us, “For we did not follow cleverly designed myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ…” You see – you don’t have to park your brains at the door when you walk into church. What we believe is reasonable. It is rational. It makes sense.
So I am convinced that when we come to the salad bar of world views – that the Christian world view – that there is a God who created the universe – that He is a personal God who cares about you and is involved in your life – that the Christian Scriptures are reliable and trustworthy – and that the God of the universe has made Himself known to us in the life, death and especially in the resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ – it is the only world-view that makes sense. All the others either don’t make sense, or are in some way inadequate.
Now having said all that, I want to be as fair as I can be. So at the outset let me say that no one can prove God. No one can prove the existence of God. On the other hand – neither can anyone prove that God does not exist.
So if you’re looking for proof – you’ve come to the wrong place. What we believe is still based on faith. And quite frankly – if you’re an atheist or an agnostic – or whatever your world-view is – your world-view is also one based on faith. But it is my hope to show you in this series that it takes more faith – after examining the evidence – it takes more faith to be an atheist than it does to be a Christian. One of the books I read has as its title, “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist.’ Based on the evidence, I’m here to tell you today that I think it takes more faith to be an atheist than it does to be a Christian.
You see, faith isn’t blind. Faith is not a leap into the dark. Let’s get rid of that thought right now. It’s okay to ask for and to look for evidence for your faith. In fact, not only is faith not blind, I would say that it is just the opposite. You believe – we believe – what we believe – in fact our faith is based on reasonable, rational, believable evidence.
So it is my hope that you will see – as I do – that evidence for God – and specifically the God who has made Himself known to us in the Bible and in His Son Jesus Christ – that the evidence is so overwhelming that when you follow the evidence – that it leads you to the truth claims – it leads you to the world-view – of Christianity.
Now here my sermon is more three quarters over, and I’ve not yet provided one shred of evidence for you to consider. So are you ready? Let’s get started.
When looking for answers, you always want to ask the right questions, so let’s ask the right questions. Let’s start with, “How did we get here?” Or the classic, “Why is there something instead of nothing?”
The Christian world-view states that there is a God – and that this God created all that there is. That the universe definitely had a beginning. And you know what? Science agrees. Science agrees that the universe had a beginning. They call it “The Big Bang,” and that it happened – roughly – 13.7 billion years ago. Science tells us that before the Big Bang there was – nothing. Space – time – matter – energy – none of these existed – and in fact – if I understand correctly – all four of these properties – space – time – matter – energy – all four need to exist for any one of these four properties to exist. You can’t have one without the other three.
So here’s the thing. Science – and for that matter atheists – have no explanation for how – or more importantly – why – the Big Bang occurred. Because what science also tells us is that you can’t get something from nothing. For Christians – we believe in a creator God – and that this creator God is the only answer that makes sense. God’s existence is the best explanation for our existence.
Of course one of the big mysteries for believers is to answer the question, “Where did God come from?” Well - if time did not exist, let’s say, until the occurrence of the Big Bang – if time itself is a product of creation – then it is reasonable to say that God has always existed – God has neither beginning nor end – BECAUSE God is outside of time. God cannot be measured by time as we know it.
The natural world – in other words – the things of nature – the physical world of space, time, matter and energy could NOT have created itself. That is both irrational and a scientific impossibility. If not be natural causes then it must have been by a super-natural cause. This first cause – as philosophers like to call it – the first cause had to have been a super-natural force – some power outside of the natural world. And that force we call God. Not to be confused with the Force of Star Wars. That’s something else entirely.
Now having said all that – and I want to say much more about creation next week – you know, design and architecture, statistical probabilities and improbabilities – I mean – how’s that for a cliff hanger? Having said all that – as we look at the created world – the created order of things – the fact that the universe exists, and that it had a beginning – what does this tell us about God? The only thing that we can deduce from the evidence I have presented so far is that God is. That there is a God who creates. That’s it. Tells us nothing more about who God is.
How we know what we know about this God who created – the God of the universe – we learn through God’s revelation of Himself to us. So first of all, God has revealed something of Himself to us in what we can observe in creation itself. But beyond that, God has revealed Himself to us in the Bible. The Bible is God’s Word to us. And more importantly – we know who God is through the person of His Son Jesus Christ.
Our Gospel reading says it so wonderfully: “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” In Jesus – in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus – we get to know who God is. You want to know what God is like? That God is real? Look to Jesus! That’s how God reveals Himself – through creation – through His Word – and through His Son Jesus Christ.
As we move through this series – as we move past the questions that ask how it is that we got here – I hope to show you that God’s Word – the Bible – and what it teaches us about God – about Jesus – is true and that the Bible can be trusted.
And then – we will focus on Jesus. Who was he really? Did he really rise from the dead? And what about us? Is there life after death? These are the questions we are going to wrestle with.
You can do your own research. I printed a list of books that you will find helpful in the March newsletter. Perhaps I should print them each week in our Mission Minutes as well. Would you like that? Do I need to do that?
I hope you can stay with me over these next weeks. I’m simply going to lay out the evidence. For years I have been saying that when I have my doubts – and I do have doubts on occasion – I know – hard to believe, but I do. But I always come back to two questions.
- How did we get here? I hope I have answered that question today, and again I will say more about this question next week.
- Did Jesus really rise from the dead?
These two questions are pivotal for me. There are certainly other questions, but these are two that need to be answered. Especially the second. Everything we believe – everything we are as Christians – rises or falls on this one thing – the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. And this is where atheists, skeptics and Christians agree. If Jesus is not risen from the dead, then Christianity falls flat on its face.
But still – it is still a matter of faith. So no matter where you put your faith – and you’re going to put your faith in something – after you examine the evidence – in whom or in what are you going to put your faith? For me – well – I just don’t have enough faith to be an atheist. Amen
Monday, March 10 2014
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
Ash Wednesday, I suppose, is not our favorite day on the church calendar. And I say that because Ash Wednesday reminds us of things that maybe – just maybe – we don’t want to be reminded of. And yet, it’s good that we are all here tonight. We know that we need to be here. There ARE a few things that we need to be reminded of. SO that’s what I’m going to do.
Tonight – whether you come forward for ashes or not – and again – receiving ashes is not obligatory – but whether you receive ashes or not – you’re going to hear these words: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” See? You just heard them.
Real uplifting though isn’t it! And yet – this is the reality check that you have come here to hear tonight. Tonight is a reality check. By the way, if you’ve ever wondered where these words come from – they are the words that were spoken to Adam after he and Eve sinned against God in the Garden of Eden. Just as they are about to get the boot from the garden, the Lord says, “…you [will] return to the ground from which you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
The first thing that Ash Wednesday does is to remind us that we are mortal. That we don’t live forever – well – at least not in these earthly bodies anyway. And the ashes placed on our foreheads or on our wrists is a reminder to us that eventually our bodies will turn to dust.
Now there’s a depressing thought! And yet, that’s one of the things that Ash Wednesday reminds us of. We do not live forever in these bodies. And some of you are probably thinking, “Thank God for that.” Ash Wednesday reminds us of our mortality – that our bodies – these bodies that we inhabit – will someday turn to dust.
Of course, most people just don’t like to talk about death and dying. It’s like the story of the man who felt he had to bring the subject up to his aging mother.
“Mom,” he said, “you’re no longer a spring chicken and you do need to think ahead of what’ll happen in the future. Why don’t we make arrangements about when . . . you know . . . when . . . you pass on?”
The mother didn’t say anything. She just sat there staring ahead.
“I mean, Mom,” he continued, “like . . . how do you want to finally go? Do you want to be buried? Cremated?”
There was yet another long pause. Then the mother looked up and said, “Son, why don’t you surprise me?”
Yeah, we don’t like to talk about death do we! But one of the things Ash Wednesday does is to remind us that “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
There’s another thing that Ash Wednesday reminds us of. And you’re not going to like being reminded of this either. Ash Wednesday reminds us that we are all flawed creatures. Romans 3:23 reminds us that, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Every one of us. And one of the things that Ash Wednesday encourages us to do – in fact – what the whole season of Lent encourages us to do – is to repent. To let go of the things that are dragging us down. To acknowledge that there are things in our lives that we are clinging tightly to – AND that are keeping us from being the people God wants us to be – AND doing the things God wants us to do.
The problem I think for most if not all of us is that even when we are aware of those flaws – sometimes – sometimes – we just refuse to let go.
Let me tell you “the story about a boy who jumped on the bumper of his Dad’s truck in order to hitch a short ride across the yard. His Dad didn’t see him.
The truck hit a bump and the boy accidently slipped down the bumper and was dragged for several yards before his dad heard him screaming.
The father ran around behind the truck where his son was still holding on to the bumper. He could see that he was not seriously hurt. Still, the boy’s knees and legs were scraped up pretty badly. The father asked the obvious question, “Why didn’t you let go?”
I wonder if that won’t be a question which our heavenly Father will one day ask us. “Why didn’t you let go? Why didn’t you let go of those things that separated you from me? Why didn’t you let go of your bad habits? That destructive lifestyle? Why didn’t you let go of your pride? Why didn’t you let go of your fear?”
These are the things that Ash Wednesday reminds us of. Number one, that we are mortal. And number two, that we are all flawed people. And if I were to say, “Amen” right here and sit down – you would all be thinking – “Well! That was inspiring. Glad I came here to hear that!”
SO I’m not going to say, “Amen.” Not just yet anyway. Because there is another side to Ash Wednesday. The message I want you to hear tonight is not all gloom and doom. There is a Good News side of tonight’s message. A Good News side – a Good News reminder – as to why we are here tonight.
And that Good News reminder is this. You have been redeemed. Yes, Ash Wednesday reminds us that we are mortal and that we are flawed, sinful beings. But the Good News message tonight is that you have been redeemed.
Listen again to what St. Paul says in our reading from 2 Corinthians. He says, “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” This is the greatest need that we flawed, mortal people have: to be reconciled to God.
Warren Wiersbe tells a story about a man who came by his office one day. The man said he needed help. “My wife and I need a re-cancellation!” he blurted out. Now there’s an interesting word. “Re-cancellation.”
Wiersbe knew the man meant “reconciliation.” But in one sense, he writes, “re-cancellation” was the right word. They had sinned against each other and the Lord, and there could be no harmony until those sins were canceled.
Folks re-cancellation is what tonight is all about. It is what the cross is all about. All our sins – your sins and mine – were canceled by Christ’s death on our behalf.
One pastor put it like this: If you were telling someone how to make a cross, you might say, “Draw an ‘I’ and then cross it out.”
As we make the sign of the cross – whether with oil at baptism – whether as a blessing at the table of the Lord – whether it be with ashes on the forehead or wrist – or whether you are simply in the habit of making the sign of the cross when you pray – the first thing we do is to make a vertical stroke, as if to say to God, “Lord, here am I.”
But then we cancel it with a horizontal stroke, as if to say, “Help me, Lord, to abandon my self-centeredness and self-will; make Yourself the center of my life instead. Fix all my attention and all my desire on You, Lord, that I may forget myself, cancel myself, abandon myself completely to Your love and service.”
As our sins are canceled by the death of Christ on the cross, then we are reconciled with God. Nothing stands between us and our Loving Father. This is not something that we should ever take for granted.
There is a Lenten drama in which a young boy is working in his father’s carpentry shop in Jerusalem. He is assisting his dad in building a cross.
At one point in the drama the boy is weeping. “What is wrong?” his father asks.
He responds, “I went to the market place and I saw Jesus of Nazareth, the teacher we love to hear, and he was carrying the cross we made in our shop! They took Him to Golgotha and nailed him to our cross.”
His father insists, “Oh no, son, that wasn’t our cross. Other people in Jerusalem build crosses. That wasn’t our cross.”
“Oh yes, it was!” says the boy tearfully. “When you weren’t looking, I carved my name on the cross that we were making. When Jesus was carrying his cross, he stumbled right beside me, and I looked, and my name was on his cross!”
Ash Wednesday reminds us that each of us constructed the cross on which Christ died. We are mortal creatures, we are flawed creatures, but by the cross of Jesus Christ we have been redeemed. We have been reconciled to God. That is the Good News of Ash Wednesday.
Tonight is a night of reminders. But the really important thing to remember is this. Let tonight be a reminder – let the ashes be a reminder – that you have been redeemed. Learn what this means. Your sins are forgiven! Your sins are gone! And it’s all because of Jesus. In Jesus Christ – God has reconciled you to Himself.
Good News! Good News indeed! And now I can say, “Amen.”
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