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/

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