Sermon: Psalm For An Election Year

Choose any day to look at Facebook or social media and you will find people engaged in conversation about the upcoming election.  It is evident by the newsfeed that people are anxious about who will be elected to the highest office of the land.  Mud slinging, conspiracy theories and scare tactics reveal a tangible fear in the home of the brave.  There are rightful things for any citizen to look at and be aware of when it comes to this political season.  Stir in passion and fear and things get ugly.  I have not been above the fray in my concern for the future of our country.  There are times that I have just shook my head in disbelief over the current state of things.  Really America? Is this the best that we can do?

As I read through Psalm 146, it spoke to my heart and God used it to direct my attention back to the ultimate reality.  It reminds me of where real authority lies.  It points me to the king of the universe and how there are no exceptions to his sovereign rule.  As we look at Scripture we see how God uses even poor leaders for his purpose.  Things may not be as comfortable as we would like, but we are never outside of the mighty hands of God.  In a time of great passion, anxiety and people “unfriending” one another for their views, may Psalm 146 serve as an important bulwark to your soul in a swirling political climate.

Below is a sermon I gave on this very topic preaching to my own heart.

A Few Thoughts on the Creation Debate

This week was the Ken Ham/Bill Nye debate. I’m jumping into the waters a little late, but I had a few thoughts. I’m not sure what the debate did as far as changing anyone’s mind from their respective position. Most likely if you went into the debate with a certain view point, you came out of it with the sense that your side “won”. I hope, of course, that God did use it in some way, even if in the life of one person, to open their heart and mind to him.

One of the responses I repeatedly saw on Twitter afterwards was quoting the following question from the debate:

“What can change your mind?”
Ken Ham – “Nothing”
Bill Nye – “Evidence”

This was the slam dunk for those that were Team Nye. However, it is really? The criticism, of course, is that creationists or Christians are just close minded and ignorant. Anyone that is not willing to change their mind is operating out of an oppressive and even dangerous world view. Bill Nye’s belief is that teaching creationism is holding society back and even pleads with parents not to pass it on to their children.

Scientific conclusions are based on observation and interpretation of patterns. Those patterns are used to determine how things function and how they will most likely function in the future. It is that closed system of being able to rely on repeated systems that make scientific discovery and conclusions possible.

In order to make conclusive claims, one must have a clear sense of the correct answers. Bill Nye in his response to the question is ultimately stating that there is something out there that could sway his mind. Granted, he hasn’t found it, but his admittance of this fact is important. Which answer better reflects the strength of their position? If a system were completely open, how could one concretely declare anything with confidence? How do we know a dog won’t give birth to a cat? This is also reflective on Stephen Hawking’s latest claim that there are no black holes, something that has been consistently taught for years. It seems like every few years there is some product that once claimed to be good for you actually causes problems. We need something more consistent than the theories and claims of fallible people, bound by their own limitations.

Ken Ham can answer is such a way because of confidence the system is closed. It is not simply stubborn thinking. It is based on something far more extraordinary than scientific analytics. Revelation changes the paradigm. That doesn’t mean observation and deductions are meaningless, but rather that they operate within the boundaries set by the Creator. It is what gives meaning and wonder to each new discovery, as each is to reflect the majesty and glory of the one who designed it.

Creation reflects a God who made it and is over it. He made it to operate in a particular way. He set the boundaries for land and water, day and night. He made creatures that find their homes on land or in sea. He did it all with a simple declaration, “Let there be.” It wasn’t a matter of a concoction of chemicals or processes. It was simply and marvelously divine power. People looking to find God’s signature on the universe are simply missing it, because his hand is on everything that is. Signatures are meant to identify a particular work of the artist so that it stands out from others. There is no one else who does or can do what God does. As Andrew Kuyper has said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!'”

In saying that nothing can change his mind, Ham is appealing to the ultimate truth. Ultimate in the sense that no power, no person, no circumstance can change or alter it. Culture does not like to think of something being so concrete, so sure. Yet, there is incredible freedom within the boundaries that God has set. There is much to explore, much to understand and experience. Instead of stifling confinement, God’s order brings about an incredible joy in this ongoing dependence. It is a reflection of his faithfulness.

The law of gravity sets limits upon us, but within it we experience the joy of all of life. I’m reminded as I watched the first night of the Olympics, that even when gravity is tested with magnificent athletic abilities, it is gravity that makes these feats possible. Life without gravity would bring about terrible consequences. We need not come up with a “Plan B” in the chance that gravity will cease to be.

There is contentment in knowing the ultimate truth, that God is creator and Lord. Don’t be swayed. It’s not intellectual suicide. It is life giving freedom. Scientific discovery grounded in creationism leads not simply to wonder, but to worship. Faith that is pleasing to God is based upon the unseen. That is the nature of faith (John 20:29, Hebrews 11:1), yet it is faith grounded in a historical context. Christian, there is not a magic bullet pulled from science that will make people believe. Even if someone were to rise from the dead (John 16:31). To know the one who made all that is, means that there is no discovery that can deter from a firm belief in the one who made it. Slam dunk.

As You Wish

“As you wish.”

Words made popular in the classic tale, “The Princess Bride“. A boy is sick and his loving grandfather stops by to read him the tale of love, adventure, giants and swordsmen. It is a tale that has been passed on for generations. Initially, the boy is hesitant to listen to the story, for what good can come from books? Interruptions and frustrations abound as the grandfather attempts to read. The grandson doesn’t want to simply listen, he desires the story to follow his own plot lines meaning mushy parts are skipped and the antagonist should meet a deadly demise. His impatience and frustration nearly cost him the telling of the entire tale.

I can see glimpses of myself in that character. I want to see the plot lines follow the path that make sense to me. How many of us believing in the happy ending expect every moment of the story to be treated as the end? In actuality, the telling of the tale holds many more twists and turns than just a comfortable solution. When things take a twist, our knee jerk reaction is to say, “You’re telling it wrong.”

At times we believe that if we are praying and have the right motivations, our prayers will be answered according to our desires. However, God is not bound by the good intentions of his people, anymore than an author is bound to the expectations of his readers. That is a good thing.  We see in the Scriptures, great prayers, good motivations that went unmet according to the desire of the person. Paul earnestly desired to see the Romans (Romans 1:9-11) as well as for the thorn in his flesh, his physical ailment, to be taken away (2 Corinthians 12:8-10). Jesus prayed that if possible the cup of God’s wrath would be taken away from him (Luke 22:42).  Each of these situations brought about a greater good through prayers answered differently than requested.

It’s not that our motivations or desires are bad, it’s that they are limited. Our sense of good cannot see the greatest good. We are limited in scope. What we can be sure of is that God is good (Psalm 34:8), that he gives good things to his people (Matthew 7:11) and that he promises good in all things for those that love him and called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). The good God has for us is far greater than our best intentions and motivations. Sometimes experiencing the greatest good comes through suffering. The very act of suffering makes us better receptors of the grace and goodness of God.  The good God has for us benefits not only us, it also benefits and strengthens the faith of God’s people.

Sometimes the chapters in our lives our enjoyable and fast paced. Other times they are drawn out and difficult. Heartbreakingly difficult. Don’t lose hope. The page will turn. It is all part of the story. We do not have the option of skipping chapters, as much as we may plead to at times. Each page develops the story and shows the incredible plan of the divine author.

Just like the sick grandson, the one who humbly engages finds themselves appreciating the tale being told. The long parts teach us humility. Trusting in the sovereignty of God helps us to endure even those inconceivable moments. The story is not done, but we know how it ends.

Therefore, God, keep the pages coming. Help us to be active listeners. You know the end from the beginning. You have it perfectly worked out. May we not rush the story, but learn from what each moment divinely brings. Help us to trust. Help us to see your hand in each page of our lives and may each day bring about a heart that proclaims, “As you wish.”

A Sure Thing

Earlier this summer, bird watchers in the United Kingdom were ecstatic with the news that the white throated needle-tail had been spotted. A bird indigenous to Asia and Australia, it rarely is seen on the other side of the world. In fact, it had only been seen there 8 times since 1946, the last being in 1991. As news of the sighting spread, people quickly made travel plans in the hopes of catching a glimpse of history. Through binoculars, countless eyes enjoyed the wonder of this bird capable of speeds up to 105 mph. It was a bird watcher’s Super Bowl. Then tragedy struck, or more like a wind turbine blade. The crowds gasped in horror as they watched the needle-tail fly directly into the spinning blade of a wind turbine. And then it was over. One moment things were flying high, the next they were crashing to the ground.20130912-164557.jpg

We’ve all had those experiences. Things were going well and then the unexpected happens. Perhaps it was a doctor’s visit, a job situation or a relationship that hit a rough patch. Maybe it’s just change in your life. There can any number of things that wake us up to life’s reality. We have a natural tendency during those times to want to hit snooze. We don’t like the wake up calls. Life is easier when we are comfortable, although not necessarily better.

There are no formulas to protect us from unexpected events or the frustration or pain they may cause. However, there is hope to carry into them. There is hope in the midst of them. There will be a greater appreciation for hope after them.

In Philippians 1:6, Paul states, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

A few things that bring encouragement from this verse:

1. In uncertain times, God is a sure thing. There are not many things you can be certain of in life. The only certainties the world can look to are not good things. That is why Paul’s encouragement stands in such stark contrast to our experience. Paul admonishes people who don’t know what life holds with a particular good. That certainty is God’s ongoing hand in the process. Tremors test the foundations of one’s life. The person who trusts Jesus can be confident. Things on the shelf may rattle, but the foundation is sure. This causes us to rely on Him even more.

2. God will finish what He started. It didn’t start with you and it doesn’t end with you. God is the beginner and the perfecter. Frustration and pain now serve as arrows to point us to Jesus and ultimately serve as conduits of His grace. Pain in the life of the believer is never wasted. Are you tired of the struggle? Take heart, God’s not done with you yet. He started a good work in you and He will see it accomplished. It’s not neutral work or busy work, it’s a good work. It’s God’s work in you.

3. Jesus says when. It serves to remind us that we don’t call the shots on when we think God is done with us. The completion date is “at the day of Jesus Christ.” This is a wake up call to those who think they’ve arrived. You haven’t. This is encouragement to those in the midst of the struggle. Press on. To those who are weary, Jesus will see you to the end. He will lead you to the end. And when you get to the end, you will realize a glorious new beginning.

False hopes bring real letdowns. Bird watchers looked to the skies for a hope that ends with disappointment. Believers look to the skies for a hope that is certain.

Get Out of Your Dreams, Get Into The Car

Does God need a makeover?

Many of you may remember Rob Bell from his popular Nooma videos from years ago or more recently his controversial book, “Love Wins“. In that book, he denied the existence of a literal, eternal hell, believing that in the end, everyone ends up in heaven. This is known as universalism. Since the fallout over that book, he has left his church “in search for a more forgiving faith.”

Now he’s back and touting a new book, “What We Talk About When We Talk About God”. Part of the promotion for this book is a Youtube video in which Bell compares God to an Oldsmobile. (Click here to see it.)

I have not read the book, but the message of the video should be of concern. While at first lauding the Oldsmobile he used to drive, he declares that they are extinct because the company could not keep up with the changing times. What worked then does not work now. What worked for them does not work for us.

From there he attempts to draw the same correlation to God. People have a view that God is outdated as well. Bell believes that our ever growing technology and diversity require us to have a new way of relating to God. God needs to be more accepting and cosmopolitan because to many, he appears narrow, mean and frankly not that intelligent.

So the question is, how do we relate people in an ever changing world to God? How shall we describe him? The short answer: As he describes himself. Is it really any surprise that Bell is saying these things? Once you begin to redefine the words of God, the redefinition of the person of God is only a small step away. Any attempt to redefine God is no longer describing God.

Recently I read of particular Hitler ideas as written by one of his closest associates and confidants, Joseph Goebbels (the Reich Minister of Propaganda):

“The insanity of the Christian doctrine of redemption really doesn’t fit at all into our time. … It is simply incomprehensible how anybody can consider the Christian doctrine of redemption as a guide for the difficult life of today. … A church that does not keep step with modern scientific knowledge is doomed.”

Understand, I am not trying to be sensational nor am I calling Bell a Nazi. What I am exposing is the similarities of mindset, namely that the beliefs of the church must change for the changing times. This is not about a matter of style, but content.

Bell aside, this does give us the opportunity to think through how we think about faith. It exposes whether our faith is a firm foundation for us, or it crumbles in the sands of culture. Does our faith define us or do we define it?

The Christian faith is a historical faith. It is not shifting in its demands. It sets the highest standard, to be holy as God is holy. This is impossible. That is why the coming of Jesus is so important. He paid the penalty that we deserved so that all who put their trust in him could be saved. Forgiven. Freed. The Christian faith is the story of God bringing a people back to himself for his glory ensuring they would enjoy him forever.

Hebrews 13 in particular helps us as we travel through cultural junkyards.

“Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods which have not benefitted those devoted to them.”
-Hebrews 13:7-9

Notice, the author does not delineate between the past, present or future. He is not saying that the present supersedes the past. The faith of those who taught the word of God is to be followed and clung to for each generation. Why? Because Jesus does not change. The need for and hope of Jesus is constant.

Culture’s continual rejection of the message is not cause for redefinition. It exposes the need for repentance. Redefinition does not lead to repentance, it leads to false converts. Where there is no biblical truth, there is no conviction. Our desire to redefine says more about us than is says about God. It touts the appearance of godliness, but denies its power (2 Tim 3:5).

Better decide which vehicle you’re going to get in. Many of them promise great things but leave you with an empty tank and stranded. God won’t be the one left behind.