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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. 

  1. How did we get here?  I hope I have answered that question today, and again I will say more about this question next week.
  2. 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

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Zion Lutheran Church
9535 Clarence Center Road

PO Box 235
Clarence Center, NY 14032
Phone: 716-741-2656

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