Archives for September 2017

God and the Culture of Disbelief

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The summer of the 2017 fire season will go down as one of the worst in history.  So far over 500,000 acres in Oregon have turned to ash, costing some 240 million dollars this year.[i]  Oregon is burning.  Pray for rain.  Over in Montana, the scorched earth has spread to over 1 million acres.  Washington, Idaho, Nevada, California, and Arizona are battling wildfires as well.  And believe it or not fires have burned over 100,000 acres in Florida earlier this summer, where they now await Hurricane Irma.

These wildfires are a parable for our country.  Our culture has become a tinderbox of disbelief that has exploded into chaos.  The morals, values and beliefs that once held our society together are now in smoldering ruins.  America is burning.

We live in a culture of disbelief.  More and more people refuse to accept that the Bible is true.  The world is quickly becoming skeptical.  Increasingly, faith is written off as the stuff of silly fairy tales.  We Christians who hold to the inspiration and inerrancy of Scriptures are now the object of scorn and ridicule.  And our message, that Jesus death and resurrection is necessary for salvation, has become so offensive that critics are clamoring to silence it.

But ideas have consequences.  And the consequences of disbelief are a loss of hope and a world in chaos.  In this message, we are going to address the serious problem of disbelief and show you the incredible power of faith in Jesus.  This is the first in a series where we will respectfully lay out our creeds and show you that what you believe makes a difference in how you live.  If you want to live well, you must believe well.  If you want hope, peace and joy, you must get a grip on the fundamental truths of the faith.

But first, let us address the culture of disbelief

The Culture of Disbelief

22 For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom;

Let’s begin at verse 22.  It details the two major reasons for disbelief.  The world does not believe because of two major obstacles.

#1 Some people demand a sign.

If God exists, why doesn’t he make it a little bit more obvious to the skeptic?  Why not make a big show of himself?  Why not give a sign of incontrovertible proof that he exists?  Have you ever asked yourself the question, what evidence is there that is convincing enough to prove to you that God exists?

One woman tells the story of how she begged God for a sign.  “Around three o’clock in the morning I decided to get out of bed and go sit on the balcony. Our room boasted a spectacular view of the Southern Rocky Mountains, looking out at two huge peaks. When I stepped outside I was stunned to see a storm raging silently between the two mountains. The only sound was the rustling of a mild breeze as the lightning flashed brilliantly to illuminate the great cloud, probably a hundred miles away. It must have been 60,000 feet tall with raging winds, battering the ground below with rain or hail; and yet it seemed like it was framed neatly there between the two mountains just for my amusement. An artist wouldn’t have painted like that, because it would seem too contrived.

“The rest of the sky was completely clear, and packed with stars. Just as I looked up to try to pick out some constellations, a large meteor sparkled across the sky. Then another. I saw probably eight in total that night, many of them large with long, dazzling trails. It was breathtaking.  It was the middle of the night and I was probably the only person watching this display.

“Well,” I smirked to myself, “be careful what you wish for.” I had asked for a sign, and this was about as “sign-ish” as it gets. What more did I want? Yet I wasn’t convinced. Even as my heart raced witnessing the grandeur before me I wrote it off as just a storm and an unexpected meteor shower. I refused to believe that there was anything more to this than a random cloud and some dust entering the earth’s atmosphere.

“I realized then that there was no sign that God could give me.  If this wouldn’t suffice, nothing would. I wasn’t open to it. Had I walked out on the balcony to see “HI JENNIFER, IT’S ME, GOD!” written across the sky I would have been impressed but ultimately written it off as a practical joke. If Jesus himself materialized to shake my hand and greet me I’d write it off as a hallucination. Because, in my mind, there was a natural explanation for everything, so therefore anything supernatural was impossible.”[ii]

Jesus perceptively said, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will never believe.”  John 4:48

But God does send signs.  Mahatma Gandhi once perceptively noted, “Mankind is notoriously too dense to read the signs that God sends”.

In that He was right.  The greatest sign ever given is the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  And yet the skeptic then and now disbelieves.  God gave the Israelites sign after sign in the wilderness on the way to the holy land, and yet they rebelled and did not believe.  And God let that whole Generation wander in the wilderness for 40 years for their disbelief.

When you say you need a sign, usually it means, no sign will do.  Let me tell you, in my lifetime I have witnessed a multitude of miracles, signs, and answers to prayer that the average skeptic would write off as just a coincidence.  The reason the world is disbelieving, is because they wish to disbelieve.

#1 Some people demand an explanation.

“Greeks seek after wisdom.”

Those seeking after a sign say, “show God to me.”  Those seeking after wisdom say, “explain God to me!”  They demand scientific, documented, indisputable proof.  They are looking for a naturalistic explanation

You can explain how creation can’t happen without a creator.  You can explain that something cannot come from nothing, that life cannot come from non-life, and that complexity cannot come from simplicity.

But they would rather believe that kissing frogs may evolve into princesses… if you give them millions and millions of years; that life will eventually crawl out of toxic primordial slime if there’s a chance in hell… that once upon a time great big bangs created entire universes instead the chaos that explosions create today.

Why do bicycles and Beethoven and root beer not pop into being from nothing? Why is it only universes that can come into being from nothing?  Nothing is the absence of all things: no matter, no energy, no substance, no potential.  For something to come into being, it has to at least have the potential to do so.

Listen, there are rational arguments, explanations and good science behind what we believe.  Can you prove that there is a God using science?  Of course not.  Would you weigh a hen with a tape measure or ruler?  Of course not!  A tape measure is the wrong tool for the job.  Not everything in life has a scientific explanation.  You can’t measure love or even explain it scientifically.  It is the wrong tool for the job.  You can’t measure or explain why we dream.  The same holds true for personality, humor, thought life, and spirituality.  Science is one way to measure the world around us, but it is not the only way we measure the world around us.

So how do we respond to a culture steeped in disbelief?  How should we respond to skepticism?  First of all, we should give solid reasons why we believe.  That is imperative.  But second, we must realize that our Gospel is not naturalistic, it is supernatural!  Faith requires the intervention of God!

The Message of the Gospel

In response to disbelief, we preach Jesus!  Faith in Jesus Christ is one of those factors that science can’t measure, explain or explain away!  Our job is to present the good news of the Gospel so simply, so clearly and so honestly that every person who hears it, understands that he or she must respond to the Spirit of God and believe, or they are eternally lost.  I find two guidelines in these verses for dealing with disbelief.

#1 We preach without sophistry

17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect.

Here is our first guideline: Christ expects us to preach the gospel without using what this verse calls, “the wisdom of words.”  The wisdom of words is a figure of speech which refers to the rationalistic methods and impressive sounding arguments that the Greeks used in their debates to try to convince others of their views.

They loved to wax eloquent and try to explain the world with educated sounding reasoning.  In their world as in ours, the man with the golden tongue and eloquent speech gained the largest following.

#2 We preach with simplicity

23 but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

Our simple message is that God sent His only Son Jesus to the earth in the form of a man.  He lived a sinless life, and was crucified and died in our place for our sins.  On the third day He rose from the dead.  This is the Gospel that leads to eternal life if you believe it.

We are not to dazzle people with our brilliance, nor baffle them with our baloney.  We are to preach a simple message, so simple that even a 5th grader could understand it.

One preacher tells the story of a Seminary course in homiletics (preaching). During that semester, each of the students was required to preach a sermon to the rest of the class. When it was his turn, everything was perfect:  Clear biblical points, great illustrations, fantastic humor.  When he received his evaluation, he was stunned by what his professor said, “You can’t convince people that you are wonderful and that Jesus is wonderful in the same sermon.”[iii]

Little more than a century ago, the British Isles were blessed with one of the best communicators of all the time, the great Charles Spurgeon.  A prominent scientist went to hear him. Following the sermon, his assistant asked him, “Well? What did you think of him?”  Still awed by the message, he answered, “Oh, Spurgeon! I haven’t been thinking about him. I’ve been occupied thinking about Spurgeon’s Jesus!”

Oh, that I could like that, so that when the sermons end, people would say, “I can’t tell you much about the preacher. I was too preoccupied with thinking about Jesus.”  I don’t want you to leave here saying, “What a preacher! What a preacher!” Instead, I’d like you to leave saying, “What a Savior! What a Savior!”

Only when the simple Gospel changes people by the power of God will we ever penetrate a disbelieving world.

[i] http://www.opb.org/news/article/oregon-how-many-acres-burn-2017-eagle-creek/

[ii] http://jenniferfulwiler.com/2009/08/asking-god-for-sign/

[iii] https://www.redletterchristians.org/what-a-saviour/

The Power of Confession

Why is it so hard to admit it when you are wrong? 

Many of us have a difficult time facing the facts, but according to a new book, it’s not all our fault after all!  Blame it on your brain!  Psychologist Elliot Aronson says our brains work hard to make us think we are doing the right thing, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Psychologists refer to this as cognitive dissonance – which is the brains attempt at self justification.  We know that it is wrong, and we condemn it in others, but to compensate, so we can live with ourselves, we minimize or dismiss the problem that we have.

For example: You think of yourself as an honest person, but you cheated on your last exam. You can either: #1 Admit that cheating is wrong and that maybe you’re not as honest as you thought, (but that would be harsh). Or, #2 you can apply cognitive dissonance and justify the cheating by saying that a lot of other students were doing it too, so it really just leveled the playing field.

Another example:  You think of yourself as a fairly competent and smart individual, but when your work is reviewed by your colleagues, they point out several errors. (Ouch) You can either:  #1 Acknowledge the mistakes and reevaluate your work. (You could, but that would make you look bad) Or, #2 Apply cognitive dissonance and accuse your colleagues of jealously, of not being on the same academic level as you, or bias.  Mistakes were made (But Not by Me).

To further complicate the issue, your brain is hard wired to reinterpret your memories in order to paint you in the best possible light.  While we all firmly believe our memories are accurate, and that misinterpreting our memories would never happen to us, studies have shown that “memories are distorted in a self-enhancing direction in all sorts of ways.” [i]

People remember voting in elections they didn’t vote in; they remember giving more to charity than they really did; they remember that their children walked and talked at an earlier age than they did.  They also remember catching a bigger fish and shooting a bigger deer than they really did.

If you’ve ever been sure that you remembered an episode of your past correctly only to later find evidence that your version of events couldn’t possibly have been true, you know how disturbing it is when you realize your memory isn’t as reliable as you once thought.

For example, some say, “I’m not really an alcoholic; I rarely drink more than I should.  I don’t have that big a problem with my temper; I’ve got it under control most of the time.  So I cheated once; I don’t make a habit of it.  Ok, so I lied, you can trust me!  I don’t have a problem admitting when I’m wrong; in fact I can’t remember the last time I was wrong!”

When asked, “What is the wrong with the world? G.K. Chesterton perceptively replied, “I am.”

If I choose to minimize, dismiss, or justify my problems, there is no hope that I will ever overcome them.  My ability to grow spiritually is directly proportional to my ability to objectively self evaluate my sins … or should I say, my wiliness to let the Holy Spirit reveal my sins.

And that leads us to today’s topic about the Power of Confession; it is essential to admit it when you are wrong if you are ever to overcome your sins.

Confession Conquers Self Deception

“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” 1 John 1:8

Notice that the word “sin” is in the singular.  (If we say we have no sin –  i.e. that we are not sinners). The reason it is in the singular is because it is not talking about our behavior, instead it is talking about our nature or who are we on the inside.

In preparation for this chapter I read numerous articles by psychologists on confession and cognitive dissonance.  Every one of those articles suggested that the reason we don’t like to admit fault is because we like to think we are really good people on the inside and that it goes against our nature to admit that we are anything else but nice, kind, good, innocent people.

This verse calls that “self deception.”  If you think you are a ‘good’ person, you have fooled yourself.  My Bible says that I was born in sin (Psalm 51:5).  That it is my nature to sin (Ephesians 2:3).  That the very best that I can do on my own is stained like a filthy rag (Isaiah 64:6).

Why should I believe that I am a sinner by nature?  Because if true, it is arrogant in the extreme to believe that my sinful nature could ever be reformed with a self help book, or rehabilitated in some kind of behavioral unit, or improved if I only try hard enough.  The reality is that all of us are deeply broken and that brokenness first and foremost greatly affects our relationship with God and then bleeds into every area of our life and community.

Instead I must strip away the deception and confess that I am a sinner who is unable to help myself, and that I need a savior to save and transform me.  That is the power of confession.

Confession Results in Forgiveness

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  1 John 1:9

In this verse the word “sins” is in the plural.  This is talking about the many sins that we commit because we have failed to live up to God’s standards.  These could be sins against our fellow man, or they can be sins only against God.  Any time you discover that you have failed to live up to God’s standards, as plainly stated in God’s Word, you should confess your sins.

Now what does the word “confession” mean.  The word confession in the Greek language is homologeo (ὁμολογέω) – coming from two words homo or homogenous meaning “the same” and logos meaning “the truth.”   It means to say the same thing God says about your sin.  It means to concede to the truth, to agree with the facts, to admit ones guilt, to declare freely, and say the same thing about your sin that God says about it.  It is to take personal responsibility for your own failures.

Here is how you can make a bad confession – some people call it an apology (which simply means that you are defending your actions):

“Look, I’m sorry, OK?”

“I’m sorry; I didn’t realize you were so sensitive.”

“I’m sorry your feelings got hurt.”

If I have offended you, I apologize.”

“I’m sorry, but it really wasn’t all my fault.”

“I apologize, but if so and so hadn’t gotten involved, I would never have done that.”

Regardless of what form self-justification takes, that justification is designed to minimize your responsibility for the mistake or failure.  However pure your intentions, this kind of apology is missing something pretty imperative: An actual apology.

Now let me tell you what a good confession looks like:

SEVEN “A’s” OF A GOOD CONFESSION[ii]

  1. Address all those involved. The scope of confession of fault should specifically reach those you have offended.
  2. Avoid saying “if I have offended you,” “but it’s not all my fault,” or “perhaps I was wrong.” Give an unqualified apology.
  3. Admit specifically what you own up to if you want to be believable.
  4. Acknowledge the hurt you caused. If you aren’t sure how you have hurt someone, you can ask, “have I understood how I hurt you?” or directly, “please tell me how I have hurt you.”
  5. Accept the consequences of your actions. If you broke something, accept responsibility and fix it.  If you have taken something, return it.
  6. Alter your behavior. Explain how you intend to act in the future to avoid this problem.  You may even want to write it down.
  7. Ask for forgiveness, and allow others time to process. Sometimes the people you have hurt are not ready to forgive that very second.

Now we’ve been talking about confessing our faults to one another.  The very act of telling another person of the wrong you have done helps to make you more deeply sorry for having done it.  That’s powerful.  But this verse is really about confessing your faults to God.

You can confess your faults to people all day long and still have them held against you!  If you want divine forgiveness, you need to seek it from God.  That’s when the transformation begins; true confession to High Priest Jesus results in forgiveness, cleansing and a clear conscience.  And that is a powerful step to real transformation.

Confession Makes us Rightly Related to God

“If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.” 1 John 1:10

While verse 8 warned us about the deception of claiming that we are born a sweet, good, innocent person with at clean slate at the core instead of a sinful nature, verse 10 is warning about the deception of claiming that we have achieved such a level of wonderfulness that we have are living a sinless, perfect life.

The danger here is twofold – #1 we make God out to be a liar – since God calls us sinful – He must be lying, and #2 His Word is not in us – that is talking about minimizing the standards of God’s word to such a degree, that that our misdeeds are not, nor have ever been sin.  It is about bringing God’s holy standards down to a low and finally achievable level.

Don’t waste your time pretending that you are better than you really are.  You know the old saying, “When you pretend you are perfect it only irritates those of us who really are!”  (NOT!)

The most successful people at overcoming their sins are extremely hard on themselves because they realize that God is holy, and that we should be holy as God is holy.

Confession has little to do with the flood of confessional disclosures that characterize our age on tell-all TV talk shows and social networking sites.  There is even an iPhone app for confession!  In this time of Internet connectivity, amid the din of over-sharing, we mistake spasms of self-revelation for honesty. Our inner voice is not so easily found and cannot be parsed into 10-second bursts or 140 character tweets.

Confession demands something for which there is no substitute: that we be honest with ourselves.  Confession strips away the veil that we often cast over our actions.  This kind of confession demands self-reflection and change.

We are at liberty to be real, or to be unreal. You may be true or false, the choice is yours. You may wear one mask now and now another later, and never, if you hide well enough, appear with your own true face. But you cannot make these choices with impunity. Causes have effects, and if you lie to yourself and to others, then you cannot expect to find truth whenever you incidentally want to know it. If you have chosen the way of prevarication don’t be surprised if truth eludes you when you need it!

When confession becomes a practice, a daily reevaluation of one’s actions — an art — its power grows, instilling a new sense of confidence, a vision of what life truly can be.  Confession is a treasured attitude. It is the cornerstone of the intentional life, not merely a clearing out of the debris that which is bad or wrong in us, but a realignment of what is best for us, an intention to live a better life.[iii]

[i] http://www.artofmanliness.com/2013/02/18/owning-up-to-mistakes/

[ii]   Resolving Everyday Conflict by Ken Sande – http://storage.cloversites.com/friedensevangelicalchurch/documents/Session%204%20-%20Resolving%20Everyday%20Conflict.pdf

[iii] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-wilkes/what-is-confession-and-why-is-it-good-for-you_b_1414795.html