Saturday, November 30, 2019

No One Talks About it Series: Week 7 - At the Heart of the Matter

I have three kids, each precious in their own way. Each one has a very outgoing personality, and all have their own unique traits. And since they were little, I have heard the same thing from people, “They’re so cute.” After a while I started replying, “From a distance.” Because the reality is, they are cute from a distance. Their personalities are fun, and when you don’t have to be around them all the time, they’re really fun. 
But then when they get comfortable with you, they’re not so much as cute, as they are cute mixed with chaos. But every time I say, “From a distance,” I inevitably get the response, “Oh their angels and you know it. Well I have a response for that too, “Lucifer was an angel.”
But there is something good about young children. They may lie, but their lies are usually so ridiculous that you can’t help but laugh. When they’re upset, they really are upset, with tears that cold fill a small pond. And when they’re tired, they just curl up, and you think to yourself, glad that’s over for the day. But children seem to have this innate goodness that a lot of us gravitate to. 

And it’s this idea of the innate goodness of people that brings us to the end of our “No One’s Talking About It” series. In the past six weeks, we’ve covered some of the ex-worship leader and song writer for Hillsong church, Marty Sampson’s reasons for why he is leaving the Christian faith.
We’ve talked about how he says no one talks about preachers who fall, and so we responded with how we need to be praying for people.
We’ve talked about how no one talks about there not being many miracles today, and so we responded how we need to seek God for who he is rather than what we can get from him.
We’ve talked about supposed Bible contradictions, when the reality is, the Bible is actually harmonious when we allow it to be understood in the context in which is was written.
We’ve talked about how God doesn’t send people to hell on a whim, but rather hell is the last action of a loving God to a person who completely rejects him.
We’ve talked about how all of humanity has sought truth for thousands of years, yet Jesus says he is truth, the only way to truth, and only in him can we experience truth.
And finally, last week, we talked about how modern science isn’t piercing the Bible, making it obsolete, but rather, science is finally catching up to the deep hints that the Bible points to about creation.
Six weeks we’ve talked about those things that Sampson says are not being talked about in the Christian Church. And to each one, we have given a response to Sampson’s reasons to why he is leaving the faith.

So the obvious question then is, if we were able to answer these questions, why wasn’t he? He says no one talks about these topics, but just doing a quick Google search, we can find page after page, and video after video, addressing each and everyone of these. So why is Sampson walking away from his faith based on easily answered objections?

To answer this question, I want us to go to the last part of his online post, because it’s in that quote that I think we will find the real reason why he is leaving the faith.

Sampson writes, “Lots of things help people change their lives, not just one version of God. Got so much more to say, but for me, I keeping it real. Unfollow if you want, I’ve never been about living my life for others.
“All I know is what’s true to me right now, and Christianity just seems to me like another religion at this point. I could go on, but I won’t. Love and forgive absolutely. Be kind absolutely. Be generous and do good to others absolutely. Some things are good no matter what you believe. Let the rain fall, the sun will come up tomorrow.”

There are several statements that he makes in the last part of his post. “I’ve never been about living my life for others.” “All I know is what’s true for me right now…” “Some things are good no matter what you believe.” “Let the rain fall, the sun will come up tomorrow.”

Statements like these reveal something, that I don’t think Sampson intended to reveal. By saying these things, Sampson thinks that he is trying to communicate that he is living the life that best suits him. Love, forgiveness, kindness, generosity, and just doing good, are all things that he thinks we all do no matter what our religion, and so Sampson is saying that life is just about doing what is good, no matter the god you believe in and that’s true living. And to top it all off, he gives a little worldly wisdom of there’s always a brighter tomorrow.

Sampson’s intent is to show that he isn’t a bad guy, and that all of us just need to be good to each other. It doesn’t matter what or who we believe, because it is all the same. And in his trying to be inclusive, he reveals that he truly doesn’t understand the God of the Bible, and the world around him.

I’ve run into this belief a lot. People talk about the innate goodness of humanity, never realizing that the goodness they see, is actually a result of the goodness of God. We touched on this idea back when we talked about hell. Hell is the absence of God’s goodness. In this world, we experience good things, because God originally created it to be good. And so even in this world’s fallen state we still get to experience moments of that goodness. But hell, is the complete absence of the goodness of God, that means, even on a bad day here, there’s still God’s goodness. Whereas hell is the worst day of deep dark depression multiply by thousand every moment.

But let’s back up and take a look at the goodness of the world without God. Taking God completely out of the equation, what do we have? Atheist William Provine in his book, Scientists, Face it! Science and Religion are Incompatible, says, “No inherent moral or ethical laws exist, nor are there any absolute guiding principles for human society. The universe cares nothing for us and we have no ultimate meaning in life…”
In his debate with Christian apologist Frank Truek, atheist David Silverman stated, “There is no objective moral standard. We are responsible for our own actions….The hard answer is it [moral decisions] is a matter of opinion.”
In his book, Atheism: A Very Short Introduction, atheist Julian Baggini writes, “If there is no single moral authority [i.e. if there is no God, then] we have to in some sense ‘create’ values for ourselves… that means that moral claims are not true or false in the same way as factual claims are… moral claims are judgments [that] it is always possible for someone to disagree with… without saying something that is factually false… you may disagree with me but you cannot say I have made a factual error…”
Finally, atheist John Steinrucken, in his book Secularisms Ongoing Debt to Christianity, writes, “Those who doubt the effect of religion on morality should seriously ask the question: Just what are the immutable moral laws of secularism? Be prepared to answer, if you are honest, that such laws simply do not exist!”

There is a consensus among atheist scholars and philosophers that without God as a  moral standard, morals or what we say are good and bad, are merely a personal or social belief. Having no absolute authority over anyone.
So what does the absence of God from the world look like, when all we have to go on is the goodness of humanity? Well, you get people like Josef Stalin who said, “Gratitude is a sickness suffered by dogs.” Or Vladimir Lenin, “Russians are too kind, they lack the ability to apply determined methods of revolutionary terror.” That flies in the face of Sampson saying, being kind absolutely.

What about the physical results of such belief? Well, you get 61,911,000 murdered in the Soviet Gulag; you get 35,236,000 murdered in communist Chin;, 20,946,000 murdered under the Nazis; and if you combined just the communist regimes in the world, you 131,501,000 people killed in the 21st century alone. Why are we focused on these regimes? Because at their heart they’re atheistic. Vladimir Lenin once said of Marxism, “Atheism is a natural and inseparable part of Marxism. Of the theory and practice of scientific socialism. Our program necessarily includes the propaganda of atheism.”
See the absence of God results in a goodness that is based solely on the whims of people, which tend to lead to the deaths of those who are deemed expendable.

Now a common objection that is out there is, “Well this might all be true, but religion has caused more wars than any other reason in the world.” But the reality is, that’s completely false. In their three volume set called the Encyclopedia of Wars, Charles Phillips and Dr. Alan Axelrod reviewed 1,763 major wars over the course of written human history. As they categorized all these wars, religion only occurred in about 7% of those wars, but had additional factors as to why they were being fought. That means 93% of wars throughout history were based, not on religion, but on the supposed goodness of humanity.

In other words, religion is a small reason for the wars in all of human history, what is the main cause? You and I. We are the cause of war, why? And this is where Sampson misses the God of the Bible. 
God calls us out of war and conflict and into his goodness. Jesus says in Mark 10:18, “No one is good—except God alone.” James later in the New Testament writes, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (1:17)”

God is good, and things that Sampson brings up, Love, forgiveness, kindness, generosity, those things only come from God, and without who he is, being left to ourselves, we reject all of them.

In an interview on the youtube channel Unbelievable, the agnostic author Tom Holland reveals his realization of where his morality comes from. He speaks of the Roman world and how alien it is to him, even though, the thought his morality came from it. Listen to how he describes it.

Sampson doesn’t realize that the goodness that he thinks comes from an innate human ability, really only comes from the God of the Bible. And he shows that his goodness is really a self serving one, when he states, “I’ve never been about living my life for others.” In the context, he’s saying that if people want to unfollow him, that’s fine, he’s not putting on a show for them. But with those words, Sampson reveals that his desire isn’t the true goodness of God, because the true goodness of God is a servant attitude. As Paul writes in Philippians 2, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. 5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!”

After spending these past seven weeks reading and re-reading Sampson’s words about leaving the faith, I have come to this conclusion: None of the reasons he gives are the real reason he is leaving. Instead, it it his desire to follow himself, rather than God, that he has decided to leave the Christian faith. He either has lost sight of who God is, or never understood him in the first place. Either way, this should break our hearts. We need to be in prayer for those who are struggling in their faith. We need to find ways to build them up, and show them the love of God, curbing our judgment for grace.
And for ourselves, we need to cultivate a servant’s mindset and heart. We need to have the attitude of Christ, because when we serve others, we see the true goodness of God.

As we wrap up this series, my challenge for you this week, is to pray for those struggling in their faith, please start with Sampson. Then, seek God to create in you a servant’s attitude that reflects him. Every question has an answer, but the the greatest answer is what Paul says about you and I, when he writes to the Colossian Church, “27 To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

Let us be revealers of Christ, who is in us, to the world around us, so that those who seek goodness, would find it in the only place it can be found, which is Christ Jesus. Amen.

No One Talks About it Series: Week 6 - Piercing Science

I am mostly the product of American public education. And because of that, the majority of what I was taught I simply believed. One of those areas was science. Whatever was taught to me, I took at face value, because the fact of the matter is, I had no desire to delve deeper into the subject. That is until my second year of ministering to the youth in Quartzsite. Some older teens were going through a science class where they were discussing evolution. We had several conversations on the matter in Sunday school, and I decided to do my own research into the the topic of evolution and the Bible. Now in college I was required to read a book on three interpretations of Genesis 1, and because of my public educational background, I tended to fall into agreement with the the Eras Argument. 
But as a I dove deeper and deeper into the various arguments for and against evolution, I began to see one major hole after another in the arguments presented. From cosmological events, to fossil records, to bio-diversity, all the way to how even the evidence is presented to people, the holes just kept growing and growing. After a year of study, I moved away from my beliefs of the era argument and now hold to a literal six day. 
I continue to read as new science is presented, or new interpretations of Genesis 1 are given, but I have yet to hear an argument that convinces me to change my position. 

And it’s with this idea of Christians taking a serious look into our own position on the science and the Bible, that we move into our sixth week in our “No One’s Talking About It” series.

Several weeks back we began a journey on responding to a man who says he is losing his Christian faith. This man is Marty Sampson, and he is an ex-worship leader and writer for the group Hillsong. In the last five weeks we’ve covered five of Sampson’s reasons for losing his faith. With the focus on him saying again and again, “No one’s talking about it.”
So, we’re talking about it. We’re tackling those subjects that have led to this man to walk away from the Christian faith, because there are answers and there are people talking about it.
Last week, we talked about where Sampson says, he wants genuine truth. Which is something that humanity has struggled with since Eve believed the serpent’s lie. To which the answer we came to is that, genuine truth is only found in the Word of God, because like the philosopher Plato stated almost twenty-three hundred years ago, the only truth we have access to are shadows on the wall. And what we need, is someone from the outside to come and reveal truth to us. This outside truth that Plato speaks of is found in the person of Jesus, and his spoke word, the Bible.

But let’s continue in this vein of seeking truth by going back to Sampson’s truth seeking quote. 
Sampson writes, “I want genuine truth. Not the ‘I just believe it’ kind of truth. Science keeps piercing the truth of every religion.”

I agree with Sampson, I want genuine truth. I don’t want ‘just believe it’ kind of truth either. And in fact, God doesn’t want us to have that kind of truth. See, the word that we translate into English from Greek for words like, trust, belief, and faith, all have as their root the word pistis. This word has the implication that you have been convicted by the truth to entrust your life something.
Faith in the Bible isn’t supposed to be blind in the sense that you just believe based on nothing. No, rather faith is supposed to be based on evidence that convicts us to believe.
One of the best examples of this that I like, is a situation that comes from Luke 7, where John the Baptist sends two of his disciples to see if Jesus was really the Messiah. In other words, John wanted evidence that his faith in Jesus was correct. Jesus replies to the two disciples in verse 22, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”

Jesus gives evidence to to backup his Messiahship. Faith in the Bible is being convicted of truth to entrust our lives to Christ. So we are not called to the “‘just believe it’ kind of truth”, instead we are called to evidence based truth. 

With that in mind, let’s answer the looming question, does science keep “piercing the truth of every religion” as Sampson says?
Now really, this is vague. What truth is Sampson talking about, it isn’t clear. So I am approaching it from a common objection I have encountered that fits within the frame of Sampson’s objection.
That common objection is, the Bible is outdated because science continues to refute it. To counter this idea, let’s look at three scientific branches where the Bible has been consistent, and it’s just in the modern era that science has caught up. But before we begin, what am I not saying. I am not saying that the Bible is a scientific text book. Meaning, the Bible was not written with intent of revealing to humanity the way in which the world works on a physical level. But within the pages of the Bible, there are hints that the creation of God is deeper than we can imagine.
So as we look at these three places within the Scriptures that I believe point to these deeper points, I want us to have that in our minds. We are not looking at the Bible as a scientific text book, but rather as God pointing us to search for deeper realities of his created order.

First, let’s look at what is called the finite universe that science says we see around us.

In Plato’s writing Timaeus, he tells how the universe came to be seen as we see it today. It was a place of disorder until the being he called Demiurge, or the craftsman, begins to bring order to fire, earth, air, and water. This idea of reconstructing the universe from chaos to uniformity is not unique to Plato. 
The Babylonian creation story, tells of an eternal chaotic swirl of water. The waters then divide producing two gods. From these two gods more gods are birthed. In the end a war breaks out and the god Marduk kills his nemesis Tiamat, then uses Tiamat’s body to create the universe and the earth. 
In the Aztec creation story, there was the eternal void, and from this void a god of both chaos and order created itself. In turn, through the children of this dual god, the universe is created through war, will live, die, and be reborn, continuing an eternal cycle.

In each of these creation stories there is a constant, the universe is an eternal entity of chaos. And for the rest of human history up to the 20th century, almost every civilization understood that the universe was eternal, with no true beginning, nor a true end.
Fast forward to 1917. It had been one year since Albert Einstein published his Theory of Relativity, and he had moved on to his next endeavor, the universe as a whole. Einstein began to work for the next two decades on a formula that would prove that the universe was eternal. The problem for him, was that he had to invent a constant in his formula to make sure that he would end up with an equation that would keep the universe from expanding and contracting. In other words, though the math didn’t add up to an eternal universe, Einstein created a way for math to prove it did.
Then it happened, in the early 1930s a man by the name of Edwin Hubble used a massive telescope to prove that the universe did indeed have a beginning. Einstein cursed himself, because he could have predicted this finding years before Hubbble, but he was so intrenched in thousands of years of human assurance that the universe eternal, that he forced science to prove a falsity.

Yet, the idea that the universe does have a beginning is not new to the Bible. That, until God created there was nothing. In the opening words of Genesis, it states, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” This simple opening line, flies in the face of a pre-existent universe. But rather boldly proclaims that not only is the God of the Bible the only God of creation, but that only he is eternal, and the universe in which time and space occupy comes from his creative work.

Arno Penzias, one of the men that lead to the discovery of cosmic background radiation, was quoted as saying, “The best data we have are exactly what I would have predicted had I nothing to go on but the five books of Moses, the Psalms, the Bible as a whole, in that the universe appears to have order and purpose.”
It took almost four thousand years for science to catch up with the simple opening of God’s account of creation.

Next let’s look at the age of the world around us by looking at one of the most controversial animals out there. In the book of Job, probably the oldest written book in the Old Testament, it says this about this animal,

“15 Look at Behemoth, which I made along with you and which feeds on grass like an ox 16 What strength it has in its loins, what power in the muscles of its belly! 17 Its tail sways like a cedar; the sinews of its thighs are close-knit. 18 Its bones are tubes of bronze, its limbs like rods of iron. 19 It ranks first among the works of God, yet its Maker can approach it with his sword. 20 The hills bring it their produce, and all the wild animals play nearby. 21 Under the lotus plants it lies, hidden among the reeds in the marsh. 22 The lotuses conceal it in their shadow; the poplars by the stream surround it. 23 A raging river does not alarm it; it is secure, though the Jordan should surge against its mouth. 24 Can anyone capture it by the eyes, or trap it and pierce its nose?”

I first read this when I took a class on the book of Job, and my first thought was that this sounded like a dinosaur. And I thought, could the behemoth of the Bible be that same as the dinosaurs we talk about today? The description given in Job chapter 40 seems to fit the bones of the dinosaur Diplodocus (Di-plod-i-cus). 
But science text books put the first appearance of dinosaurs at around 240 million years ago, with the reign of these beasts ending around 65 million years ago. So the only logical explanation is that the description of the behemoth of the Bible is either another living land animal like a hippopotamus or ox, or the people simply discovered the bones of an extinct dinosaur and used it as a story point.

Yet, as science has advanced, both in are ability to use microscopes and are ability to track down evidence in the past, two things cut a gash in this idea that dinosaurs are as old as the text books say. 

First off, I want us to look at a drawing reconstructing a Megalosaurus from 1859 by Samuel Goodrich.  
Goodrich had never seen a living Megalosaurus and so he based his design of the the creature solely on it’s skeletal structure. Fast forward to modern computer mapping and the new reconstruction looks something like this… 

There is a bit of difference here, which makes sense, Goodrich had never seen this creature before and so he tried his best to recreate it.
Now, I’m going to show you side by side comparisons of what were once called dragons with modern day reconstructions of dinosaurs.

4,000 years ago, a pendant was carved out of jade, this is what it looks like… 
It looks very similar to a modern reconstruction of a Gracilceratops (Grisl-sara-tops) 

On the Mexico Guatmalen border, there are glowing petroglyphs, one of which looks like this… 

Which looks very similar to a modern reconstruction of a Hypacrosaurus (Hypo-cro-sore-as) 

Finally, on the side of a rock face called the Kachina Bridge near Blanding, Utah a depiction of a creature is etched. 
This etching looks very similar to when I was growing up we called a Brontosaurus. 

There’s more we could discuss, in fact in his book Untold Secrets of Planet Earth: Dire Dragons, Vance Nelson goes around the world to document these types of similarities.  But all of this might be coincidence, simply sharing similarities. None of this can hope to prove that the behemoth in Job is what we modernly call a dinosaur, and that dinosaurs truly lived at the time of humans. But it is one of those holes I talked about earlier.
What is sure to be a bigger hole, and one that could point to man living alongside dinosaurs, is when in the early 90’s soft tissue was discovered in well preserved dinosaur bones. Then in 2004, red blood cells were found in the fossils of a supposed 70 million year old t-rex ( Red blood cells shouldn’t be able to survive for 70 million years, and yet they have.
Recently this has been dismissed as being caused by iron as the body broke down. But this explanation doesn’t follow logic to fit the millions of years that it would have to decay.

It seems like, ancient people encountered these behemoths, drew pictures, carved pendents, and wrote down their descriptions. And it seems like modern science is finally catching up.

Finally, I want to move into a different form of science. Away from cosmology, and archeology and into sometime we’ve hit on already in this series, called textual criticism. Where cosmology seeks to understand the universe and how it got here, and archeology tries to understand the past, textual criticism tries to explore the writings that are passed down to us.   
Every book of the Bible has been studied, torn apart, and put back together for hundreds of years. In the turn of the 20th century, a wave of scholarship began to permeate the academic world that viewed the Bible as simply unreliable and therefore unworthy of real academic scholarship. But in recent years, the scrutiny of the past that wanted to completely throw out the Bible, because it was seen as historic garbage, has turned. In fact we have come to a place where even skeptics of the Bible concede its authenticity.
In reference to 1st century historical practices, skeptic scholar Hugh J. Schonfield, who wrote The Passover Plot, notices in Acts 10:6 a detail that most of us would overlook. In the passage Luke describes Peter staying in the home of a man named Simon. Luke observes that Simon is a tanner of animal hides and he lives by the sea shore. Schonfield writes about this saying, “This is an interesting factual detail, because the tanners used sea water in the process of converting hides into leather. The skins were soaked in the sea and then treated with lime before the hair was shaped…” In other words, the Bible contains real details of everyday life which shows that it was written within the window of time that it claims to have been.
In reference to how modern scholars have reevaluated the genre of the different aspects of the New Testament, Gram Stanton in his book Jesus and the Gospel writes, “the gospels are now widely considered to be a sub-set of the broad ancient literary genre of biographies. (pg. 185)” This means that scholars have stopped looking at the Gospels and other books of the Bible through modern eyes, and have began to read them into the cultural context in which they were written.
In reference to the biggest event in the New Testament, which is the resurrection of Jesus, Bart Ehrman an agnostic and one of the leading New Testament Scholars states, “That Jesus’ followers (and later Paul) had resurrection experiences is, in my judgment, a fact. What the reality was that gave rise to the experiences I do not know. (Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium. p. 230-231.) Though Ehrman doesn’t believe in the resurrection, he cannot deny the proof that something happened to the disciples of Jesus to stop them from running away from danger and boldly embrace it.

This brings Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:24 into sharp focus, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”
Modern scholars affirm what the Scriptures speak and the Scriptures have shown them to be a constant even as scholars have changed.

Many people have the idea in their mind as Sampson does, that science is making the Bible and the teachings therein obsolete. Yet the reality is, the Bible has stood the test of time and continues to show how reliable it is, because even in the face of 21st century science it stands firm. Whether that be in the realm of cosmology, archaeology, or textual criticism, the Bible stands a solid rock that we can rest assured in. 

So my challenge this week is first, do your own research. Go, search, and challenge the Bible against modern science. Dive deep into the arguments on both sides, don’t believe this because Jeremiah says. Rather develop the faith that the Bible calls us to, faith that is convicted by the truth. Do as I did and study, because the Bible will prove itself solid.
The second part of the challenge, is to praise God. Praise him for the vastness of his creation, for his ability to continue confounding the minds of the smartest people in the world, and for his deep love for us as individuals.

I want us to leave with this quote from Albert Einstein, though not a believer, still saw through science’s ability to discover God on it’s own. “Human beings, vegetables, or cosmic dust, we all dance to a mysterious tune intoned in the distance by an invisible player.”

Let us recognize our Creator and give him the praise that he deserves as we dance to the tune that he is playing for us. Amen.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

No One Talks About it Series: Week 5 - Shadows on the Wall

One of the hardest crimes to investigate in this world is when you hear a thump in the other room, and two kids start crying. I’ve heard the thump and walked in with two of my kids crying and both of them swearing up and down it was the other one who caused the problem. I’ve tried to look around for clues, asked probing questions of each of them, but for someone reason children have an innate ability to dream up an alibi that is plausible. That is, until I realized early on in my parenting career, that their all lying and everyone is at fault. Now when this happens, everyone gets in trouble and it doesn’t matter who started it, or caused the most harm.
Truth for us can be one of those ideas that seems to hard to grasp; it’s not like a rock that is physically there. Sure there we can have things that point to the truth, the victim was bludgeoned to death, and look there’s a bat on the ground. But then the case goes to court, and what seems like a simple case of murder, we find out that the perpetrator was actually being attacked by the deceased, and the truth turns out that in fact the victim was defending themselves.
What can seem like undeniable truth, can get clouded, because we do not know all the facts, and when presented with more facts, what we believed was the truth begins to erode. Then we’re left with a sense of being lost, with doubts plaguing our mind.

This idea of trying to know truth is what brings us to our fifth week in our “No One Talks About It Series.” For the last four weeks we have been looking at an ex-worship leader and writer for the church Hillsong, named Marty Sampson, and his instagram post revealing that he is walking away from his Christian faith.

In the first week we addressed Sampson’s topic how no one talks about preachers who fall. We showed this to be untrue, and instead talked about how we need to not only being praying for preachers, but also for each other. Because none of us is immune to temptation, and it is a responsibility of the Church to be in prayer for each other. And when we’re cognizant of temptation, we can be better on guard in our own lives, so that we might not fall as well.
Then in the second week we talked about the idea that not many miracles occur today. And we saw how, though Sampson acknowledged that there were some miracles, the amount wasn’t enough for him. This led us into taking a look at two instances where Jesus was approached with people who wanted more signs and miracles from him. To these people he revealed that no amount of miracles would be enough for someone who simply desired them. So we talked about how, we need to make sure that we are seeking God for who he is, and not for the miracles that he can produce for us. Because if we seek God just for miracles, then he will never satisfy us, but if we seek him for who he is, we will be satisfied with whatever he gives us.
Our third week brought us to the common objection that the Bible is full of contradictions. We then took a website called, where fifteen contradictions are given. Then we took time and answered three of those contradictions, showing that every contradiction was due, not to the Scriptures being contradictory towards itself, but rather because we look through a twenty-first century lens at the Bible; not allowing it to be read as it was intended. Then, in a packet of paper, we answered the other twelve supposed contradictions. Showing the Bible is in harmony and is not contradictory.
Finally, last week, we talked about the question, “How can a loving God send people to hell?” In that question we talked about the love of God, and how, on his side of the relationship, his love is boundless and unending, even when we are in rebellion against him. But there is a condition on experiencing his love, and that condition is that we must accept it. And after we understood God’s love and what it meant to accept and reject that love, we talked about hell being the last loving gift of God to a person who has no desire to experience his love. How that when we come to a place of total rejection of God and his love, then we choose for ourselves a place where we do not have to experience God. This means that God sends no one to hell, but rather hell is a free choice given to those who do not desire God.

All this brings us to the fifth reason Sampson gives for why he is walking away from the Christian faith. He says, “I am not in any more. I want genuine truth. Not the ‘I just believe it’ kind of truth.”

There’s two parts to this statement, so this will be a two part response. We’ll tackle the first sentence today and the second next week.
Sampson brings up one of the most ancient desires of man. Biblically speaking, the discovery of and understanding the truth is as old as the first humans. If you have your Bibles, open with me to Genesis chapter 3, where we’ll begin in verse one. It is here that we are given a situation where Eve and Adam are within the garden God created for them. Eve is then approached by a serpent and a conversation ensues. Let’s read through this conversation.

1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

Let’s stop right there, where did Eve get this understanding that they were not to eat of the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden? We can say from God, but there is no explicit communication between God and Eve on this subject. On the other hand, we do get an explicit conversation between God and Adam in chapter 2 verse 16. In that verse it reads, “And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.’”

The command to not eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, was given by God to Adam, and in the very next verse, we’re told that God then moves forward in making a companion for Adam. So Eve was not involved in the giving of the command, yet she knew it. Now there’s two possibilities on how Eve knew the command: first, God said it again to both of them, or, Adam told Eve. 
I believe it’s the second option, because when Eve retells the command to the serpent, she doesn’t give the tree a name, it’s simply called the tree in the middle of the garden. And then she gives an additional perimeter to not only not eating the fruit, but not even touching the tree. This stipulation to not touch the tree was not in the original command from God to Adam, and sounds more like what an older child would tell their younger sibling to not even go near it, just in case you can get in trouble that way too.

So with this understanding that Even more than likely was given this command through Adam, let’s continue the conversation she has with the serpent.

4 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Right here, is the moment that truth is challenged. Up to this point Adam and Even simply believed God, no question, no hesitation. God’s command was truth and that was it. But now the truth of God is questioned.
To which we get Eve’s response in verse 6. 

6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

In this moment, Eve succumbs to the challenge of God’s truth, and eats the fruit. Now, Adam isn’t off the hook, because he’s right there too, not saying one word. But it’s within this conversation, that we see truth being questioned for the first time in the Bible. Eve states God’s truth to not eat fruit form a certain tree, the serpent questions that truth, and from then on, truth has become something that seems elusive to humanity to this day.

Fast forwarding to about the fourth to fifth century BC, the Greek philosopher Plato began to think deep thoughts about the world. In one of his analogies on truth, he came up with something I’ve shared with you before, called the Cave. 
Within this analogy Plato calls us to our struggle with truth. Within the deep dark cave, sits you and I, chained from foot to head with our bodies contorted to only look at the wall. On the wall, we see black shapes revealing the things of nature to us. We hear the sound of wind, crashing rocks, and other noises that seem to be coming from the shapes on the wall. These, are our truths. From brith to death, all we see are the black shapes on the cave wall. But we don’t know the real truth. The real truth is that the shapes are shadows that dance on the wall, because behind us there is a fire roaring and a puppeteer conducting a show for us. The puppeteer makes the shadows and the sounds we believe are truth, but are really only poor recreations of real nature. 
Plato tells us that we are chained to experience what we believe is truth, but in fact is not. And at the end, Plato tells us that we need someone from outside the cave to come in, break the chains that hold us there, and bring us out into the real world, the real truth.

Four to five centuries later, two men stand speaking to each other, with one of their lives being decided. One is a governor, one is a carpenter.

The governor speaks, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
The carpenter replies, “Is that your own idea, or did others talk to you about me?”
 “Am I a Jew?” The governor replies, “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”
The carpenter said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
“You are a king, then!” said the governor.
The carpenter answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
“What is truth?” retorted the governor, and he left the room.

This is the interaction between the carpenter Jesus and the governor Pilate as John records it in the Gospel of John chapter 18, verses 33-38. Pilate, a learned man, sought after truth almost two thousand years ago, just as Marty Sampson, and many others are seeking after truth today. Pilate must have understood Plato’s analogy of the cave, and how we are only seeing shadows of the truth, and when Jesus says that he born to testify to truth, Pilate scoffs, because he believes that truth is elusive to humanity.
But before Pilate scoffs, Jesus had already addressed Plato’s acknowledgement that we need someone from the outside of the cave to release us from our shadowy truth. Jesus tells Pilate, that he came into this world, into this cave to testify to truth, but Pilate is so enamored with his false truth, that he can’t see his Savior, the one who has come to break his chains, standing right in front of him. The one that could provide truth to Pilate goes unseen, by someone who thinks they are looking for truth, but in reality their more interested in shadows.

Just ten chapters before this carpenter and governor meet, Jesus says this about truth, in chapter 8 verses 31 and 32 of John’s Gospel, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Jesus sends us back to Genesis 2:16, when God commanded Adam to not eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of God and evil. Jesus sends us back to following and obeying the Word of God when it is spoken. Because only in the Word of God, is truth revealed. 
Tomorrow is Veterans Day, and we celebrate those who answer the call to stand between us and the forces of this world that would want to destroy our nation. In the founding of our nation, when the delegates met for the constitutional convention the whole thing was falling apart. Benjamin Franklin, who today is believed to be a deist that bordered on an atheist, at 81 years old stood up and addressed George Washington and the other delegates. 

Listen to what he said, “In this situation of this Assembly groping as it were in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when to us, how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings? In the beginning of the contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible of danger we had daily prayer in this room for the Divine Protection. 
“Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a Superintending providence in our favor. To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need His assistance. I have lived, Sir, a long time and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth that God governs in the affairs of men. 
“And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings that ‘except the Lord build they labor in vain that build it.’ I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall be become a reproach and a bye word down to future age. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing Governments by Human Wisdom, and leave it to chance, war, and conquest.
“I therefore beg leave to move that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the Clergy of this City be requested to officiate in that service. (”

This is just one instances where the founders of our nation realized that only in God is truth found, and we must seek him if we desire truth. And there is no other way to know truth, if we don’t first study the commands of God.

In our society right now, children are being aborted, yet the Scriptures say do not murder (Exodus 20:13).  In our society, love is being used as a justification for sex with anything, same-sex, trans sex, animals, even children, yet Scripture says that sex is for one man and one woman in the bond of marriage (Matthew 19:4-6). In our society, our justice system seems to be corrupted in that sentences are lenient for those who have money, and strict for those who don’t, yet the Scriptures call us to justice that is impartial to a particular party based on wealth or social status (Deuteronomy 16:18-19).

This world can’t find truth because we’re bond in chains looking at shadows of it. But Jesus enters into the cave to release us from our bonds, and tells us that truth is found in his Word. Marty Sampson is seeking genuine truth, but has missed that truth, for shadows on a wall.
We can so easily get into the idea that we, on our own, can discern truth from lies, but the reality is, without God’s Word as our foundation, any shadow of truth can lead us into a realm where truth can’t be discerned. And God’s prescription is simple, we need to know his Word to know truth, and it’s there that we will be set free from shadows, and brought into the light.

My challenge for you this week is to ask yourself, “Am I believing the Word of God as truth, or am I trying to discern truth on my own?” This week, I want to challenge you to read through Jesus’ words in John chapter 8 and 18, asking God to give you a desire for his word, so that you may know the truth.

Let us be people who seek real truth which is found in God’s Word, and not the shadows on the wall. Amen.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

No One Talks About it Series: Week 4 - Hell Is Just Right

This past week, I had the opportunity to be a part of a jury. On Tuesday we spent the whole day selecting the jury, and once we were selected, we were told that the case was scheduled to run until Friday. The next day, I saw why it might take so long when we got started a half hour behind schedule. The rest of the morning was spent listening to the prosecution and defense question two witnesses. Then, after a two hour lunch break, we went into deliberation. From the moment we entered the jury room, everyone was in agreement that neither side did a very good job, but in the end the evidence itself pointed to a guilty charge and that’s where we had to go.
One of the things that I noticed about the whole process, was the excruciating amount of time that was spent in making sure we the jury understood our role in the process. The judge on several occasions re-emphasized the fact that we were to make our decision on the evidence alone, holding no testimony higher than another. It hit home on the painstaking procedures that went into making sure that the defendant was treated with every ounce of innocents that could be afforded. And when the jury met, not one person seemed to want to give the guilty ruling based on their desire to inflict pain, but rather solely based on the evidence. One man spoke up and said, we cannot have an emotional desire to keep this defendant from the guilty verdict, instead, this might be a pathway for them to get the treatment they need. 
Leaving the courtroom after the verdict was announced, there was no doubt in my mind that the jury performed their duty correctly, and with as much compassion as possible, even in giving a guilty judgment.

And, by God’s design, this brings us to this week in our “No One is Talking About It” series, where we are going back into addressing the topics that Marty Sampson, an ex-worship writer and leader of the Hillsong church, presents for why he is walking away from the Christian faith. The topic we’ll be looking at this week is this idea of a loving God sending people to hell. And just like I saw the painstaking work to make sure innocents was afforded in the jury trial, we’ll look at how God takes painstaking steps before someone ends up in hell.

Now in this series we have covered three topics so far. The first topic was about how no one talks about when preachers fall to temptation. We showed this to be untrue, giving several examples both nationally, and personally. And we talked how we need to be praying for pastors, preachers, and each other, because as the Scripture says, there is no temptation that is unique to anyone, but temptation is common for everyone. So, prayer and standing against temptation is what God is calling us to do.
Then in the next week, we talked about miracles. Sampson said that not many miracles are happening. In phrasing it like that, Sampson acknowledges that miracles do happen, but he then falls into a trap that Jesus talked about. When confronted with people that wanted to see a miracle from Jesus, Jesus told them that it wouldn’t be enough. Even the greatest miracle of him rising from the dead, would not be enough for someone who is seeking miracles over seeking God. And so we talked about how God desires us to seek him, rather than seeking what we can get from him.
Finally, in the last time we talked, we tackled the idea that the Bible is full of contradictions. This is a common accusation against the Bible, so we took the fifteen contradictions that are given on the website,, and debunked three of them in our talk, and then the other twelve in a packet that was available in the foyer. Through that time, we were able to see that with a little work on our end, we can be assured that the Bible isn’t full of contradictions, but rather the problem lies with us taking verses out of context and trying to make it say things they don’t. 

With that refresher, let’s get into our fourth week answering Marty Sampson’s “No one’s talking about it,”and his reasons for why he is leaving the Christian faith. And as we’ve said before, we’re not trying to pick on, or demean Sampson, but rather, we’re using his words in the public sphere to make sure that we talking about these subjects and are able to answer these objections.

In his instagram post, Sampson’s fourth topic of why he is losing his faith says, “How can God be love yet send four billion people to a place, all ‘coz they don’t believe? No one talks about it.”

What’s the place he is talking about? It’s hell. 

About every three years or so, the youth watch a video called GOSPEL Journey Maui. In the reality show type series, there’s this girl named Racheal, who, out of the gate, tells people that she doesn’t believe in a literal hell. And in reality, there are a lot of people in this world that don’t. I’ve heard people say things like, “God is too loving, and wouldn’t send us to hell,” or “earth is more than enough of a hell for people, so there’s no other hell.”
And in fact, the idea in Sampson’s statement is a long standing theological discussion, that is phrased like this, “Why would a loving God send people to hell, simply because they do not believe in him?”

So let’s talk about these seemingly opposite ideas of God’s love and hell.

First, what is God’s love? Most of the time when we talk about the love of God, we talk about the unconditional love of God. But what if I told you, that nowhere in the Bible is the word unconictiopal mentioned? Just a simple word search of the top English translations reveals that the word unconditional does not appear anywhere in the Bible. In fact, the only time a word like it comes up, is in Genesis 2, where God tells humans they can eat unconditionally from any fruit in the Garden of Eden, except for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (v.16). But even in that case, there is a condition. 
See we misrepresent God’s love, when we talk about it being unconditional. Now, I want to take a moment and stop, because the inevitable question arises, “But doesn’t God love us even when we sin?” And the answer is yes. Romans 5:8, “…While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” John 3:16, “For God loved the world, that he gave his only Son…” Yes, God loves us even in our sin, but if we finish John 3:16 we see that there is a condition on us receiving that love, “…that whoever believes in him shall receive eternal life.”
And the Bible is full of passages pointing to God’s love. Psalm 36:5 says that God’s love for us is vast. The whole book of Hosea and the parable of the Prodigal Son speak to God’s unfailing and steadfast love for us. Verses like 1st Timothy 2:4, and 2 Peter 3:9, tell us that God’s desire is that no one should perish, and all would come to him.
The problem with the topic of love isn’t on God’s side, but rather on our side. To anyone who would accept God’s love, it is open. His love is freely offered by him to everyone. Jesus’ words in Revelation 3:20, “I stand at the door and knock,” reveals how close God’s love is to each of us, with God on the outside of our door and all we have to do simply open it.
But there inlays the condition, the door has to be opened, God’s love has to be accepted. 

If we take the three parables of the lost in Luke 15, we can see a pattern. The first two talk about lost objects. First a lost sheep. One sheep out of a hundred gets lost form the herd, and the shepherd goes and finds it. Then there is great rejoicing. The second parable deals with a lost coin. The woman searches for one lost coin out of ten. When she finds it, she rejoices.
Then there is the third one, the one of the lost son. A father has two sons, with the youngest wanting his inheritance early, and then leaving behind his father’s house and going to squander his new wealth. One day the son returns, and is met by a father that brings him back into his house and rejoices at his son’s return. In each of these parables, we learn about God’s love for us, but in the last one, we learn that to be brought back into the house, the son must make a conscious decision to return. And when he does, the father’s love, which has never stopped, is again experienced by the son.

And it’s here that we transition from God’s love given to us, to what happens when we reject that love. If we reject God’s love, what is God’s response?
Back in the 14th century a word came into the English language from a Latin word that meant to snatch, or take away by force (; That word is rape. Now, rape has sense become a term we use for forcible sexual attacks, but in it’s original understanding, it simply meant to take someone or force someone to do something against their will.
Well if God forces those who reject his love to experience his love, that would mean that, in a sense, he would be raping them. And I know that sounds gross and can make us uncomfortable, which it should. 
Because when people say, how can God be loving and send people to hell, what their saying is, how come God can’t force us to experience his love? But that is the original definition of a rapist. Someone forcing another person to do something against their will. 
This is what people miss when talking about God’s love, God isn’t a cosmic rapist. Think about this: God, the only being in the universe that is uncreated. The only being that can speak things into existence. The only being that has complete autonomy. This being gives us created, finite, and flawed beings the opportunity to either reject or accept his love. 
To those who accept, he gives eternal life with him to experience that love.

But what about those who reject? Who keep that door to God’s love closed? What is God going to do with them? Because if he really is love, then he won’t force them into that love. 

Now we’re getting somewhere. But before we can talk about hell, we must talk about what a rejection of God’s love really means. Many people that I’ve encountered, think that rejecting God’s love, just means that you reject following Jesus. That’s part of it, but not the whole. The way the Bible puts forth creation, is that it is out of God’s desire that it even exists. That God calls it perfect in that it reflects his attributes. With humanity being the crown jewel of creation in that we are made in his image. This all means that everything good in this world: joy, peace, kindness, mercy, grace, patience, faithfulness, self-control, beauty, these things are the characteristics and the fingerprints of God himself. When we experience something good, we’re experiencing the goodness that is rooted in God’s love because he desired to create. 
That means the rejection of God’s love, is a rejection of all these good experiences, because you can’t have one without the other. In fact, sin is the rejection of the things of God’s character, which, when we reject God’s character all it brings is pain and destruction. So without the love of God, you don’t have joy, you have sorrow. You don’t have peace, you have strife. You don’t have kindness, you have hatred. To reject God’s love is to embrace those things that are not of God.

So now, what is God’s answer to those who reject his love? It’s one last loving act. In the end, after all his pursuit of us in love, God gives us what we have always desired when we have spurred his love, which is a place where we can experience a total rejection of him. And with that we embrace everything that isn’t of him. All the joy we’ve ever experienced, all the kindness, mercy, peace, and everything that is good, gets rejected as well, because you cannot have those things without God, so when we reject him, we end up rejecting those things as well.

Therefore hell isn’t a place that God sends people, but rather a place for those that desire to reject God. In creating a place where we can receive our desire to be without God, God shows ultimate love. He does not force himself on us, but rather allows us to go our own way into eternity.

I remember hearing a pastor one time say something along theses lines, “Everyone in heaven will want to be there, and likewise, everyone in hell will want to be where they’re at too.”

The reality is this, we can think, like Sampson does, that hell is a destination that we get sent to because we just don’t believe in God. The reality is, God gives us the opportunity to choose our eternal destination. And it all hinges on either embracing God’s love, or rejecting it. 

So what’s embracing God’s love look like? First it’s a realization that God’s right. See God says as a loving Father, that we are in rebellion. We have rejected God’s created goodness by lying, cheating, stealing, lusting, hating, murdering, gossiping, and much more. The Bible calls this sin, and us sinners. And because we have done these things that are not of God, we cannot be with God, because he is all good, and we’re not. At this point, we’ve chosen hell for ourselves, it’s our destination based on our own actions. 
But God shows his love for us when he doesn’t leave us in that rebellion and in that choice. God the Son comes to us as Jesus, lives the good perfect life that we were meant to live, but was then killed. That death was unjustified in that only those who have sinned deserve to die. So Jesus was raised back to life, conquering our sin in the process and giving his perfect life as payment for our sinful one. When we embrace this truth and accept God’s work on our behalf, we are embracing God’s love. We’re that son that makes a conscious choice to return to his father’s house. Then we begin to follow him, spending the rest of our lives allowing him, by the Holy Spirit, to cut out every sin in our lives that is holding out in rebellion against God’s love. That eternal life that we have chosen begins at that decision to accept Jesus as our Savior and when this body fails and we die, God’s eternal love awaits us. 
And what do we do to earn this great gift? Nothing, we simply accept it. No work on our part can make it happen. We can’t earn it by praying enough, doing enough good things for people, listening to enough sermons and Christian music, or even fixing all our bad habits. The only thing we can do, is embrace God’s gift through Jesus for us, and then follow him, doing what he says to do as we are led by his Holy Spirit.

If we have accepted that, then we have made our choice and our life will reflect that. If we haven’t, then there will come a day when that choice will become an eternal one, and we will get our desire to reject God, and as a last loving act, God will release us to our eternal choice. And we will embrace hell.

But what about those who never heard about Jesus? What about those who lived before Jesus? Is hell eternal? What’s it like? There’s a lot more about hell to be talked about. But to answer Marty Sampson’s question about how does a loving God send people to hell, the answer is, he doesn’t. We choose hell, and God being loving, allows us our choice. Hell then is the greatest form of love, to allow a finite being to make an eternal decision, even after being pursued by a infinite loving God.

My challenge for you today, is first, where are you in making this eternal decision? Have you accepted it, or are you rejecting it? Maybe you have more questions, I would be happy to sit with you and talk about them. In fact on Sunday nights, we are starting our sermon discussions to allow these conversations to happen. But we must understand and be honest about where we’re at in our choice to accept or reject the love of God. 
Second, if you have accepted God’s love, are you praying for those who haven’t? Are you sharing God’s love with people? Are you communicating the result of rejecting God’s love with people? I have always loved the imagery of two beggars looking for food. Their clothes are in tatters, they smell, and they look like they haven’t had a bath in weeks. The difference between them, is the Christian has found food and now is eating their fill, and while they eat, they are calling the other beggar to the meal. Christian we need to call people to the meal of the love of God, because there will be a day, when the choice will be made, and the feast will be closed to those who have rejected it.
So seek God this week to bring people into your life that need to hear the Gospel message of Jesus’ loving work to keep us from an eternal hell.

Let us be people full of the love of God, overflowing to those around us, so that they may see that God desires them to be with him in perfect peace, joy, and love for eternity. Amen.