Tough Questions: Does Science Make the Bible Irrelevant?

In 2006, in his bestselling book The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins asserted that in today’s world, you cannot be an intelligent, educated person, especially a person who takes science seriously, and have religious faith.  The God Delusion was part of a string of books by “The New Atheists” like Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens, during that same post-9-11 decade.  Those books were all best-sellers and stirred up lots of conversation.  Statistically speaking, atheism hasn’t actually grown all that much in the decade since (the most recent Pew Research study put their number at 3% of the US population).  But the voices that publicly ridicule faith have grown precipitously louder.  Just read the comments on any online story that has to do with church, faith, or spirituality and you’ll see what I mean.  It’s no wonder that many Americans, especially younger ones, draw the conclusion that the smartest people are all unbelievers, and that people who believe in the Bible and accept Christian doctrines are just not all that bright.  One of the reasons often cited by young people who leave the church (even if they don’t completely reject belief in God) is that Christianity seems to be anti-science. Don’t misunderstand: We shouldn’t obsess about what people think of us.  But we should be very concerned that increasingly, intelligent people feel like they have to choose between what they learn through science and what they are taught in Scripture.  Is that true?

Dr. Francis Collins is one of the most eminent geneticists in the world, and was in charge of the project that ultimately mapped the human genome.  He was raised in a highly educated, irreligious home.  As a young scientist, he was struck by the fact that he had never really researched the evidence for faith in God.  He considered himself an atheist and didn’t expect to find anything pointing to God’s existence, but he thought that a scientist shouldn’t simply make up his mind without at least doing a little homework. A conversation with a Methodist minister led him to read Mere Christianity by CS Lewis.  That book (which has changed so many minds) posed a question Collins couldn’t answer.  He knew evolutionary science and was convinced it explained the existence of all life, but where did morality come from?  Why do we as humans all instinctively know there is such a thing as right and wrong?  Why don’t we simply follow the law of the jungle, in which the strongest do whatever they want, as all other animals do?  This question led Collins to belief in the existence of a Supreme Being, and then to Christian faith.  His book The Language of God shows very elegantly how he sees God’s handiwork in his genetic research.  That’s a great book if you want to see how science and faith can coexist in the same brain.  I would also recommend the books of Tim Keller.  He was for many years the pastor of a church he planted in Manhattan, where he preached to highly educated, mostly skeptical people.  His best books for working through intellectual issues with faith are The Reason for God and Making Sense of God. Let’s touch on three specific questions regarding how to live as both people of science and people of faith.

Aren’t science and faith in conflict?  This is very commonly believed, even by many Christians.  And we can all point to times when people of science and people of faith have indeed been in very public conflict.  But it shouldn’t be that way.  Modern science came out of a Christian environment, because Christians, unlike Platonists, believed that matter was essentially good and should be studied.  Most of the pioneers of science, men like Kepler, Galileo, Copernicus, Pascal, Priestley, Pasteur, and Newton were devout Christians who studied science because learning about God’s creation brought them closer to Him.  A few years ago, a Rice University study found that 36% of scientists believe in God.  18% attend church weekly, and 19% pray regularly.  Those numbers are much lower than in the general public, of course, but they certainly prove that it’s possible to be rigorously scientific while still holding faith in God.   So where did this idea come from?  Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith, in his book The Secular Revolution, asserts that, toward the end of the 19th Century, many major universities were under the control of Christian denominations.  Some university officials, wanting to gain control, promoted the idea that religious faith was opposed to scientific research.  This was during a time when some Christian leaders—who identified themselves as fundamentalists—felt threatened by recent advances in science and spoke out against them.  Even though these fundamentalists didn’t represent all Christians, and certainly didn’t represent those in leadership of major universities, the theory stuck, and has persisted.  The media plays a role in this too.  The 24 hour news cycle must be fed, and nothing drives up ratings better than conflict.  So instead of a story about a scientist like Francis Collins who is a devout believer, it’s simply good business to run a story about a small town science teacher who is fired for teaching evolution, a preacher who predicts the end of the world on a certain date, or about a religious group who opposes stem-cell research.  But let’s be honest: we Christians bear some blame, too. I sometimes see my Christian friends commenting on science-related stories when they don’t know what they’re talking about.  We haven’t done research or read any studies; we just don’t like what some scientist is saying, so we criticize him.  Or we post stories that claim to validate the Bible, but aren’t true.  For instance, I have seen Christian friends post several times that NASA has discovered a mysterious “extra 24 hours” in the history of the earth.  They can’t explain it, according to the story, but it corroborates the story in Joshua about God making the sun stand still in the sky.  I believe the story in the Bible, but the internet tale about NASA scientists is absolutely not true.  When we post such things, we leave the rest of the world thinking, “Those people don’t care about science.”

So let’s just say it out loud: Thank God for science.  I for one am glad that when I get sick, I can go to my local doctor and get antibiotics to fight my infection, instead of visiting a witch doctor who will kill a chicken and shove stinkweed up my nose to repel the evil spirit of sickness.  I’m thankful that when a solar eclipse occurs, none of us assume the world is ending, and that when hurricanes bear down upon us, we know ahead of time and can prepare.  These and so many other wonderful things we take for granted in our modern world are the result of brilliant men and women doing scientific research.  But science also has its limits.   Science can’t tell us why the world exists.  Why is there something instead of nothing?  What was there before all of this came to be?  How did inanimate matter become living tissue?  What is the purpose of life?  Science and faith are not at war. They each answer key questions that the other cannot.

But hasn’t science disproved the Bible?  As Christians, the Bible is our ultimate authority in telling us who God is and how we can know Him. In other words, the Bible is key to us understanding who we are, why we’re here, and how we should live.  And to many unbelievers, that’s a conversation stopper.  They wonder how we can base our lives on the words in a book so ancient, primitive, and blatantly unscientific.  For instance, they say, “Everyone knows that life on this planet developed over hundreds of millions of years, but the Bible teaches that all life was formed in six days.  That alone is reason enough to set the Bible aside as anything more than a book of myths and fables.”

There are certainly plenty of Christians who believe that Genesis 1 must be taken literally, that God created the world in six 24 hour days, and that any scientific findings to the contrary must simply be ignored as being based on false presuppositions.  They point to the discoveries of Creation Science and Intelligent Design theory to bolster their convictions.  I am not going to debate the merits of these beliefs here.  I just want to show that these people are not “anti-science.”  They have examined evidence and come to a different conclusion from most secular people.

There are also Christians (Francis Collins is an example) who point out that some portions of the Bible are poetic in form.  For example, in Judges 4, we read the straightforward account of Israel, commanded by Deborah and Barak, defeating the army of Canaan, commanded by Sisera.  Then in Judges 5, we read the same story in poetic form, as a song written by Deborah about the event. Here’s a line from the poem in v. 20: From Heaven the stars fought; from their courses they fought against Sisera.  No one believes that celestial bodies literally fought against the Canaanite army.  This is Deborah’s picturesque way of saying, “We didn’t win this battle by our own strength.  We had the supernatural power of Heaven on our side.”  These Christians would submit that Genesis 1 is also a poem, not a narrative.  It’s more like Judges 5 than Judges 4.  So God didn’t write it to literally tell us how many days it took Him to create the world, or when it happened.  It’s meant to tell us that He made the world and it was very good, and that there is a natural rhythm to life, including work and rest.  They might say Genesis 1 is meant to be a work of theological truth, not a biology textbook.  Some of these Christians believe that God used the process of natural selection to get us where we are today; some call this idea Theistic Evolution.  Others believe in a variation of this idea.  They believe God intervened at times in the process of natural selection.  For instance, they would say that God created human beings separate from the way the rest of life evolved.    By the way, those different perspectives within the church aren’t new; they’ve existed for years.

My point is that if you believe the Bible, you don’t have to be afraid of science, or vice-versa.  Follow the truth wherever it leads.  All truth is ultimately God’s truth.

Can an enlightened person believe in miracles?  I sometimes hear, “I can’t believe you actually pay attention to a book of fairy tales, like a man being swallowed by a whale and surviving, or a baby being born of a virgin.”  This isn’t a modern phenomenon, by the way.  Our nation’s third President, Thomas Jefferson, put together a Bible stripped of all miracles or any reference to Jesus’ divinity.  That was a Bible for an enlightened person, in his view.  But this reasoning is circular.  It says, “If science can’t prove it, it doesn’t exist.  Since no scientist has ever proven a child was born of a virgin, the story of Jesus being born that way must be an old legend, believed in by much more primitive people.”  This kind of thinking assumes that science is the only way anything can be known. I like the way the philosopher Alvin Plantinga puts it: It’s like a drunk looking for his keys who insists on only looking under a streetlight because the light is better there.  Since he can’t see anything out there in the darkness, he just keeps walking circles under that streetlight, saying to himself, “If those keys exist, sooner or later, I’ll find them here.”  We’ve already demonstrated there are things that cannot be known through science.

On the other hand, if there really is a God who created all things—as almost all people on Earth have historically believed—then would it really be difficult for Him to put a fetus in the womb of a virgin?  If miracles are rare, as the Bible asserts, is it really surprising that we have little scientific evidence to substantiate them?  To put it more plainly, if God only performed one virgin birth in all of human history, and it happened two thousand years ago, should we be surprised that no scientist has witnessed one?

2 Corinthians 4:4-6 says the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.  For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.  For those of us who are Christians, we need to understand that we’re not smarter than or superior to unbelievers.  We didn’t find Jesus on our own.  God turned on a light in our hearts, so that what would seem to be ridiculous superstition to us when we lived under the dominion of the “god of this age” has become the truth that changed our lives forever.  That’s a miracle, just like God saying “Let there be light,” and it was.  Be patient with your unbelieving friends.  Respect their questions and doubts.  But also realize that you cannot argue them into salvation.  When you get to know them well, you will often find that it wasn’t their intellectual objections that caused them not to believe.  Many, like Francis Collins, were raised in homes where belief in God was simply never taught.  Others grew up in a toxic church environment (like my favorite Christian author, Philip Yancey), or a dysfunctional family that caused them to doubt the faith of their parents.  Others experienced a traumatic event that made them doubt the existence of a loving God.  For many, the only contact they have with Christian faith is what they see on the news, or the occasional angry conversation on Facebook, Twitter or Reddit.  Instead of trying to prove their atheism wrong, which only makes them defensive, just be intentional about loving them.  Look for opportunities to treat them the way Jesus has treated you.  They will be won by your faithful friendship, not your arguments and certainly not by arrogance and self-righteousness.  If you have a relative who is not a believer, pray that God would introduce them to someone who would show them what the Gospel really looks like in the life of a person who has been changed by God’s grace.

If you’re not a religious person, you might find this Scripture offensive.  Does the Bible really teach that unbelievers are blind?  Yes.  But rather than be offended, consider the following:  Have you ever subjected your own convictions and doubts to the same scrutiny that you hold up against the Christian faith?  Your own beliefs are, in fact, a form of faith.  How do you know your faith in your own beliefs is valid?  What if you did what Francis Collins did all those years ago?  Why not investigate the possibility that the Gospel is true?  You don’t need to decide what you believe about Genesis 1 or whether Jonah really was swallowed by a whale or whether you agree with me on any particular social or political issues.  Just figure out who Jesus was, really.  Jeremiah 29:13 says If you seek me you will find me when you seek me with all your heart.   What an amazing promise!  Why not put that promise to the test?  If you need some guidance on how to investigate these things, I would love to help, and to answer any questions you have.

I know it’s much more comfortable to think that what you’ve always believed is still true.  I know it’s easier not to believe in a God who you will ultimately be accountable to for everything you say, do or think.  But here’s the good news.  Here’s why 2 Corinthians 4 talks about belief being like a light turned on in our souls: The story of the Bible is NOT that God wrote down a list of rules, and whoever is really good at following those rules, and gives money to a church, goes to Heaven and everyone else goes to Hell. The story of the Bible is that when humanity was lost and without hope, God became a man who lived among us long enough to live the life we should have lived, and then died the death we all deserved to die, so that we could experience true living, including a never-ending, always challenging, exhilarating, joyful, purposeful relationship with Him.  It says the Universe was created by and will ultimately be ruled by someone who loves you and has a beautiful purpose for your life.  In other words, the message of the Bible is that God would rather die for you than live without you.  Not only that, this God has a plan for the full redemption of the entire Universe; not an escape to a mystical fantasy world, but a renewed World, where things are finally set right, and things function as we all wish they would.  If there is even a possibility that is true, isn’t it worth your time to find out?

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Tough Questions: How do we know Jesus is who He said He was?

Last time, we looked at how it’s possible that, out of all the world’s many religions, there is only one that is true.  As we saw, Jesus certainly thought so.  To paraphrase CS Lewis, the claims of Jesus leave us with only three alternatives: Either He was a con man who duped innocent people into giving their lives to Him, or He was a lunatic who thought He was God incarnate, or He was Lord and God, just as He said.  How do we know which path to choose?

Why should we believe in Jesus?  After all, Mohammed, Buddha, Confucius, Joseph Smith, and many others have claimed to have a special link to the divine, have claimed to know exclusive truth.  Why should we believe that an obscure, uneducated, blue-collar Jewish guy who lived 2000 years ago and was executed as an enemy of the state is the only one who is right?  Easter is the answer.  One main thing that separates Jesus from all those others is the resurrection.  Think about it: Christianity is the only religion that is based on an historical claim.  For example, you don’t have to believe that Buddha ever really existed in order to practice Buddhism.  You can still follow the Noble Eightfold Path.  Muslims believe the events in the Koran actually happened, but even if they didn’t, you would still have the teachings of Mohammed, the Five Pillars of the faith.  If a Jew didn’t believe that the plagues of Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea occurred, they could still follow the Law of Moses, still believe in Yahweh as the One True God.  Christianity alone says, “It’s not about following Christ’s teachings.  It’s about knowing Him.”  Jesus didn’t say, “My philosophy of life is the way to God.”  He said, I am the way, the truth and the life.  He didn’t invite people to a new religion, or say, “follow my teachings,” He said, “Follow me.”  If the resurrection never happened, if Jesus is dead and in the ground, then He can be rejected out of hand.

Tim Keller pastored for years in Manhattan, and often irreligious people would come to him who had been attending the church for a while.  These were highly educated, sophisticated people, so they would say, “I’d love to be a Christian, but I just can’t believe the biblical account of creation.  That doesn’t square with science.”  Or, “I like some parts of Christianity, but I can’t go along with its teachings on sexuality.  It’s just too primitive.”  Keller would refuse to argue or defend Christianity on those points.  Instead, He would say, “What really matters is, did Jesus rise from the dead?  If you look at the evidence and believe the resurrection never happened, then why worry what the Bible says about anything else?  It can all be rejected as foolishness.  But if you believe He rose from the dead, then you have to believe the answers to those other questions are there, and that you’ll find them eventually as you follow Him.”

The Bible confirms this, by the way. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:14 writes, if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.  In v. 17, he doubles down: if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Why does everything hinge on the resurrection?  Because Jesus said He was more than a man.  He claimed to be the One sent from Heaven to save us, God in human flesh come to atone for our sins.  That’s very good news, but if it’s true, then He couldn’t have stayed dead.  If He stayed dead, then His predictions about rising are lies.  If He stayed dead, all His beautiful rhetoric was for nothing.  If, on the other hand, He did rise, then He is everything He said He was…He is indeed the way, the truth and the life.  That means the most important question in the history of the world is, “Did Jesus rise from the dead?”  I believe the answer to that question is yes.  I have staked my life and eternity upon it.  I realize, of course, there are all sorts of fantastic stories from antiquity that virtually no one believes today: Hercules slaying the Hydra is one example.  What evidence do I have that the fantastic story of Jesus rising from the dead really happened?

The eyewitnesses.  The Twelve disciples, Mary Magdalene and several female followers, James the brother of Jesus, and at least five hundred other people claimed they saw Jesus risen from the dead. One argument against the historicity of the resurrection is that it is much more likely to be a legend than a factual event.  Sometimes stories about beloved heroes get told so many times, eventually people start believing them, even though there’s no evidence they actually happened.  This is why we have the legend that young George Washington chopped down his father’s cherry tree or that Babe Ruth pointed to left field before he hit a home run in the World Series.  So according to this theory, the legend of Jesus rising from the grave grew up among Christians and was inserted into the biblical accounts by church leaders. But there are problems with the legend theory of the resurrection.  First of all, most New Testament scholars will tell you that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke were written while there were still people alive who remembered Jesus.  And Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, in which he says he personally knows of 500 people who saw the risen Jesus, in AD 55, about 25 years after Easter Sunday.  How many people here can remember the OJ Simpson murder trial, which took place around 25 years ago?  Imagine if someone today wrote a book claiming that OJ was declared not guilty because, in the midst of the trial, Nicole Brown Simpson walked into the courtroom and revealed that she was not, in fact, dead.  Such a book would be laughed out of existence.  Too many people remember those events to allow it.  In the case of Jesus’ resurrection, there wasn’t time for a legend to develop, because if Paul and the other writers had been writing down folk tales, people would have called them on it.  To recall an earlier example, there were people who witnessed the World Series game in which Babe Ruth supposedly pointed to left field before hitting a home run.  All said it was not true.  The pitcher who faced Ruth on that occasion, in fact, said that if Ruth had done something so flamboyant, the next pitch would have hit him in the ear.  Early Christian writers were able to claim that Christ was risen without anyone of their time saying, “No He’s not!  His body is still in the cave in Jerusalem.”

For me, the most convincing eyewitness was not an apostle, it was Mary Magdalene.  All four Gospels agree she was the first person to see the risen Christ.  Now think about it.  In that culture, women were not seen as equal to men.  A woman’s testimony was inadmissible in a trial, unless it was corroborated by a man. So if the church had been making up a story about Jesus being risen, why would they make a woman the first eyewitness?  The answer is that they didn’t.

The change in the apostles.  In addition, you have to look at what happened to the apostles themselves after Easter.  They were uneducated, fearful men, by their own accounts in the Gospels.  Yet they became the kind of men who changed history.  Something obviously happened to them.  And then look at Jesus’ brothers, James and Jude.  According to the Gospels, they didn’t believe in Jesus when He was alive.  In fact, they made fun of Him.  Again, why would the early church make up details like that if they weren’t true?  But after He died, they became leaders of His movement.  James became the head of the Jerusalem church and was martyred for his faith.  They both wrote books of the NT and called themselves the servants of the Lord Jesus Christ.  I have a brother, and I love him, but I wouldn’t call myself his servant if he paid me to do so.   I certainly wouldn’t tell people my brother was divine, especially if doing so put my life in jeopardy.  Why would they believe in Him when He was dead, if they hadn’t believed while He was still alive?  Keep in mind, there was no incentive at that point to declare Jesus the Son of God; for James, it meant leaving a secure life for an insecure one.  It ended in martyrdom for him, yet he never denied that it was true.

These faithful Jews began worshipping together on Sunday, when their tradition had always been to worship on the Jewish Sabbath, a Saturday.  Why did they make this change, unless something extremely important had happened on a Sunday?   Then look at what happened to their little movement.  120 people become more than 3000 within a few months.  Then within a generation, they were known in the Middle East as “These men who have turned the world upside down.”  Within three centuries, it was the official religion of the Roman Empire.  How on earth did a religion that was completely opposite traditional Roman religion (one God instead of many, with sexual ethics that were a stark contrast to Roman sexuality), that started with slaves and other disenfranchised people and emphasized qualities like humility and compassion, qualities the Romans tended to hate, spread so fast and win over so many?  Something must have happened after the death of Jesus that changed everything for His followers and His brothers.  It had to have been something transformative, and a resurrection would certainly fit the bill.  I’m certainly not the only one who thinks so.  Luke Johnson, a New Testament scholar from Emory University, muses, “Some sort of powerful, transformative experience is required to generate the sort of movement earliest Christianity was.”  N. T. Wright, an eminent British scholar, writes, “As a historian, I cannot explain the rise of early Christianity unless Jesus rose again, leaving an empty tomb behind him.”

The testimony of martyrs.  The legend theory of how the resurrection story came about doesn’t hold water. So instead, many skeptics believe the early apostles cooked up the idea of Jesus’ resurrection.  We can call this the conspiracy theory.  But it’s highly unlikely as well.  Here’s why: Let’s say you, me and a few hundred others decided to start a new religion.  We could sneak into a cemetery where a good friend was buried, we could dig up his body in the middle of the night, and we could start telling everyone he rose from the dead.  We could make up stories about how he had told everyone he was the Son of God, and predicted that he would rise from the grave.  We would have to be really good salesmen, because there are a lot of religions already in this world, and what we are saying is going to be pretty hard to believe.  Do you think we could pull it off?  People are going to treat us like freaks.  Can you stick with the story if your family disowns you, and you lose your job, and folks start making fun of you?  And then the police will come and arrest us for robbing a grave.  They’ll ask each one of us to tell what really happened to the body.  They’ll say, “Tell us the truth, and we won’t prosecute you.  But when one of your friends tells us the truth first, you’re going to jail for a long time…”  We all know that it wouldn’t be an hour before the first person in our group blurted out the truth: “Okay, we made it up.  Don’t send me to jail!”  See, the conspiracy theory sounds great, until you realize that almost all of the people who claimed to see the risen Jesus died a martyr’s death. They didn’t just go to jail, they died.  Their fellow Jews or the Romans said, “Renounce Christ or die!” and they died, confessing the resurrection with their dying breaths.  And we know that’s the case, because if even one of them had given in, had revealed that it was all a conspiracy, then the authorities would have published that story, would have displayed the body of Jesus, and there would be no Christianity today.

Now you may say, “Big deal.  People are always dying for their faith.  Look at suicide bombers, for instance.”  But there is a difference.  A suicide bomber believes that when he blows himself up, he is guaranteed a trip to heaven.  He believes this because he has been told this by his religious leaders and other people he trusts.  It does make one wonder why the young person doesn’t ask his leader, “If you believe in this so strongly, why don’t you blow yourself up?”  But at any rate, this devout person is willing to die for what he believes to be true.  But these first Christians knew the truth.  No one had told them Jesus was risen.  They either saw it happen, or they had made up the story themselves.  And while many people will die for what they believe to be true, no one dies for what he knows is a lie.

Theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg put it this way, “The evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is so strong that nobody would question it except for two things: First, it is a very unusual event. And second, if you believe it happened, you have to change the way you live.”  Do you believe that Jesus rose again?  If so, then He is everything He said He was.  If not, which category do you fall into?  If you disbelieve because it is hard for you to accept that a man could rise from the dead, I can understand that.  But consider the evidence.  What else accounts for the hundreds of eyewitnesses, the explosive growth of the early church, and for the martyrdom of most of the apostles?  If it is that second reason that bothers you, that you would have to change the way you live if Christ is truly Lord, then I appreciate your honesty.  But I urge you to consider the possibility that Jesus becoming Lord of your life would be the best thing that ever happened to you. What if He really is what you’ve always needed?

Frederica Matthews-Greene was raised in a Catholic home, but when she was a young teenager, she became convinced that the Gospel story was preposterous, something no sane, educated person could ever believe in.  She toyed with atheism, she studied other religions.  She was most intrigued with Hinduism because it was so different from what she was brought up with, but the one religion she was not interested in was Christianity.  She married a man who was a confirmed atheist, but on their honeymoon, as they were hitchhiking through Europe, he told her he had been reading the Gospels as part of a class assignment.  He said, “There’s something about Jesus. I’ve never encountered anyone like this before. I know that he’s speaking the truth. I’m an atheist. But if Jesus says there’s a God, there must be a God.”  That was very scary news for Frederica; the last thing in the world she wanted was for her husband to become a Christian.  Later in the same trip, while they were touring a church in Dublin, she suddenly found herself kneeling before a statue of Jesus.  A voice inside of her said, “I am your life. You thought that your life was your history, your name, your personality. You thought that your life was the fact that your heart beats. But that is not your life. I am your life. I am the foundation of everything else in your life.”  Frederica started reading the Bible at that point, and found that she disagreed with much of what she was reading. Yet she couldn’t stop reading the life and teachings of this man, Jesus.  Months later, a friend asked the two of them, “Have you asked Jesus to be your Lord?”  Their response was classic: “We’re not Southern Baptists.”  He said, “Actually, Jesus wants to be Lord for everyone.”  They objected, “But we’re in grad school.”  He replied, “No, even for you.”  There in that friend’s apartment, Frederica and her husband prayed and invited Jesus to take control of their lives.  Today, she is a highly-regarded Christian writer and he is a minister.

So what do you believe about Jesus?  Give Him a chance, and He’ll change your life forever.

For more, see William Lane Craig’s excellent article on evidence for the resurrection of Jesus: https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/popular-writings/jesus-of-nazareth/the-resurrection-of-jesus/

Tough Questions: Can There Be Only One True Religion?

Several years ago in their Easter Sunday edition, Parade Magazine asked six religious leaders from a variety of backgrounds to answer the question, “What is the biggest problem in the religious world today?”  The only Christian in the group was a Baptist, and he said the biggest problem was violence in the name of religion.  The other five all said the biggest problem was exclusivity.  They all said it in their own way, but they were agreeing that the biggest problem in religion today is that people believe that their religion is the only true one.  That seems to be a pretty common way to think these days.  In fact, several years ago, US News and World Report asked American Christians how many agreed with the statement, “The religion I practice is the only true religion.”  Only 19% agreed.  The rising sentiment seems to be that those five religious leaders were right.  If all the different religions would just stop arguing and admit that all religions lead to the same place, we wouldn’t have terrorism and hatred.

I certainly understand where this sentiment comes from.  First of all, there is a long, terrible tradition of religiously-inspired violence.  In the interest of being intellectually honest, let’s just talk about some of the terrible things done in the name of Christianity.  We can point to the bloody Crusades against Muslims over possession of the Holy Land, in which soldiers were told by the Pope that they would be forgiven of sins if they fought; numerous religious-inspired wars in Europe in the Middle Ages; the terrible things some Christian leaders—including Martin Luther, one of my heroes—have written and said about Jews, which led to terrible discrimination and violence against the Jewish people; terrible bloodshed between Protestants and Catholics in Ireland, the list goes on and on.  We may protest at those examples, since in most them the real issue was nationalism, ethnic strife, or the ambitions of a particular political leader, and religion was simply tacked on as a way to stir more people up.  We also legitimately  say, “Those people weren’t following Christ’s teachings, so you can’t blame Him for their atrocities.”  All true, yet history still shows that religious people did violence in the name of their religious beliefs.  And that’s not even counting any of the examples from Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, etc.  As Pascal famously wrote, “Men never do evil so cheerfully and completely as when they do it from religious conviction.”

Second, for most of history, people tended to live near and interact solely with people who looked and thought basically the way they themselves did on important questions, including religion.  I’m not yet fifty, but growing up, I didn’t know a single person from a faith other than Christianity.  Things changed quickly when I moved away from home; in college, I met people who were from Muslim, Hindu, and Jewish backgrounds.  When I was in seminary, Carrie worked for a man who was a devout Jew, and he was a wonderful, gracious boss, who lived with admirable integrity.  I have a cousin who married a Palestinian Muslim and converted, and they have a wonderful marriage, with three high-achieving, all-American kids.  I’m sure many other Christians have had similar experiences.  The world has become much smaller in the past fifty years.  Whereas once we could confidently speak of people of other faiths as if they were ignorant or even evil, once we get to know people with these other beliefs, we realize they aren’t so different from us.  From there, many of us take another step into thinking, “I know Amir is a Muslim, but he’s such a great guy.  I really don’t see how God could reject him just because he follows a different religion than I do.”  And so we begin to craft a view that says, essentially, “All religions lead to the same place.  As long as you are sincere in your faith and don’t harm others, God accepts you.”

There’s an old parable that talks about this.  Five blind men walk up to an elephant one day.  The first blind man feels its tail and says, “Whatever this thing is, it’s like a broom.”  Another one touches it’s side and says, “No, it’s like a wall.”  Another one feels its ear and says, “No, it’s like a fan.”  Another feels its trunk and says, “No, it’s like a hose.”  The final one feels its tusk and says, “You’re all wrong.  It’s like a spear.”  The point of the parable is that all religions are worshipping essentially the same God, but they’re so blinded by their pride that they can’t see this.  If they would just work together and learn from each other, they would together discover who God really is.

This parable is seen as being very humble and tolerant, and it certainly seems that way when you first hear it.  Two problems: First, it is anything but humble…it’s arrogant.  The person telling the parable is asserting that, whereas all the foolish religious people in the world are blind and limited, only he can see God as he really is.  Only he can see the elephant.  So the teller of the parable is guilty of the same prideful narrow-mindedness that he accuses religion of.

Second, this idea is incredibly disrespectful of all religion.  It’s anything but tolerant.  It’s basically saying, “Muslims, stop teaching that there is only one God.  That’s incredibly offensive to Hindus.  And Hindus, stop worshipping at your shrines.  Don’t you know how offensive that is to Muslims?  And Christians, stop saying that Jesus was God in human flesh.  Jews don’t believe that.  Stop saying He died for our sins.  Muslims don’t believe that.  In fact, all of you, stop insisting that there is a personal God who punishes evil and saves our souls, because Buddhists don’t believe that.  Can’t you just agree on a few ethical standards that you have in common?”  You’re telling people that they need to change the very most basic tenets of their faith. As a Christian, if you take away Christ’s divinity and His death for our sins, then it isn’t Christianity anymore.

If someone were to ask me that Parade Magazine question, “What is the biggest problem in religion today?” I would say it’s the desire to customize God.  Everyone, it seems, wants to make God in his or her own image, instead of the other way around.  That includes many Christians I know, as well as people who are “spiritual but not religious.”  It includes liberals and conservatives.  Everyone, it seems, thinks they get to define God in their own terms.  Let me explain the problem with that.  Imagine a young man approached a young woman and said, “I love you.  I want to marry you, have kids with you, and grow old with you.  I just need you to be blonde and about three inches shorter.  Also, your voice sort of grates on my nerves, so work on speaking in a lower register.  Then, drop about twenty pounds, take some cooking classes, go a little easier on the eyeliner, and get rid of those nutjobs you call parents.  Then you’ll be just fine.”  Only a fool (a short-lived fool) would ever treat a woman that way. Yet that’s exactly what we do to God when we want to customize what we believe about Him.  That’s what happens when, for instance, we say, “I love the sermon on the Mount, and how Jesus was so forgiving and accepting, but I don’t like what the Bible says about sexuality, or the existence of Hell.”  Or on the other end of the political spectrum, some say, “I am glad that God tells us right from wrong. It’s good to have standards that never change.  But I don’t like the parts of the Bible that talk about how we should love our enemies and put the needs of the poor ahead of our own needs.”  That would include people who say, “I believe in a God who is accepting of all religious faiths.” God says, “Take me as I am or don’t take me at all.”

So if it’s possible that there is only one true God, who is He?  The Bible claims that Jesus is God.  Colossians 1:15-20 says of Jesus, He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.  What did Jesus say about Himself?  In John 14:5-10, He said two things that make it very clear.  First is in v. 6, No one comes to the Father except through me.  Then in v. 9, He says Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.  Philip wanted to see God, and Jesus said, “You’re looking at Him.”  This is hardly the only place Jesus made these kinds of claims.  In John 11, just before raising Lazarus from the dead, He said, I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.  The morning He was crucified, He predicted His own second coming.  Standing before Caiaphas, the man who would stage-manage His crucifixion, He said, In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven (Mark 14:62).  Essentially, He was saying, “This isn’t the last you’ll see of me…I’ll be the one you meet face to face on your Judgment.”  Those who knew Him were so convinced of His deity, they began to say, Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under Heaven given to men by which we may be saved (Acts 4:12).

Of course, none of these sayings prove that Christianity is the one true religion.  We’ll talk about that next week. But they are proof that Jesus thought it was.  To paraphrase CS Lewis, Jesus was one of three things: Either He was a liar, a cult leader of the worst sort, to be counted along with Jim Jones and David Koresh; or He was a lunatic on the order of a man who claims to be from Mars; or He was exactly what He said He was.  More recently, the Catholic scholar Gary Wills has put it this way: “Either Jesus was God or He was a standing blasphemy against God.”  The one thing He could not have been is simply a good man, a wise and courageous teacher.  Good people don’t say the kinds of things about themselves that He did…unless it was true.  So yes, we as Christians believe in absolute, exclusive truth.  There are points of agreement with most other major religions, and as Americans, we celebrate their right to practice their faith.  But we believe Jesus is the only way to salvation.  To believe anything else is to call Him a liar or a lunatic.

Is that really fair?  After all, it’s easy for me to say that Christianity is the only way.  But think about the person who is born in Saudi Arabia, and is taught that Islam is the way, or someone who grows up in India and is taught that Hinduism is the one true faith, or someone who lives all their life in the most Orthodox Jewish part of Jerusalem and hears that the Jews are God’s only chosen people.  If there is only one way, why wouldn’t God spread it equally all around the world?  The biblical answer is that’s exactly what He’s doing.  Jesus, just before ascending into Heaven, told His followers to make more disciples, to take His message to the ends of the earth.  Notice all other world religions are still based in the places they began. But Christianity is mobile.  It started in the Middle East, then spread throughout Europe, then took root in America.  Now, it’s growing fastest in places like China, Africa and South America.  Other religions spread through migration or military conquest, but Christianity spreads through missionary work and evangelism.  It certainly seems the Gospel isn’t restricted to a particular cultural context, as other religions are.  I believe that’s because the Gospel of Jesus is the truth.

Even if you’re an unbeliever, that should give you comfort.  If you think the problem in the world is too much religion, think about this: One of the central doctrines of Christianity is that everyone is equally sinful and in need of a Savior.  So a true Christian would not look upon a person of another faith with arrogance or superiority.  He would expect to find people of all religious backgrounds—and no religion at all—who are kind, courageous, generous and wonderful.  He would never restrict any person’s right to believe what they want to believe, because Jesus never forced anyone to follow Him…He spread His message through persuasion and love.  So if you want a peaceful world, what we need is not less Jesus, it’s more.

Tough Questions: How Do We Know God is Real?

Today, we begin a new series, addressing tough questions.  My hope is that through this series, our faith in God will increase, and we’ll be less afraid to confront the really tough questions that come up in life.  I hope also that we’ll feel more confident in talking to people who have questions and doubts about Christianity or the Bible. These questions came from people in my mid-week Bible study, our College/Career group, and from my Facebook friends.  I asked each of the three groups to give me difficult biblical or theological questions that they would like answers to.   I’ve divided them up into three categories: Answering objections to Christianity, which we’ll start today and continue through the Fall.  Answering tough questions from Scripture, in which we’ll talk about specific Bible passages that are confusing.  We’ll get to those over the Winter.  And Applying Scripture to tough questions in life, where we’ll talk about the stuff that believers tend to wonder about, like “what will Heaven be like?”  “Does prayer change anything?”  “What should we think about issues like abortion, sexuality, suicide?”  We’ll deal with those in the Spring.

Here are my disclaimers: We’re all human, so our understanding of some things is going to be limited.  I cannot promise you that I can answer all your questions beyond a shadow of a doubt.  In fact, I know I can’t do that.  Where Scripture speaks clearly, I will share without reservation.  But there are plenty of questions and issues where the Bible doesn’t give us a clear direction, and I will let you know when I am just taking an educated guess.  Also, I am a preacher, not a philosopher or scientist.  I am not the best person on earth to be covering these issues.  So I will often refer to books that I have found helpful.  I suggest you read them to see the arguments presented far better than I am able.  The three best I  have found on the question of God’s existence are: The Reason for God, by Tim Keller, Reasonable Faith, by William Lane Craig, and The Case for Faith, by Lee Strobel.  I believe dealing with these tough issues grows our faith.  So be in prayer for all of these studies.  And feel free to ask me any follow-up questions you have.

I want to start with an illustration I stole from Christian philosopher William Lane Craig.  Imagine I went to see a friend at his workplace.  When I pulled up to the building, I saw his car in the parking lot.  When I went into his office, his secretary told me he was in.  I also saw notes in his handwriting sitting on her desk.  I could see a light on in his office, and hear sounds that indicated he was inside (the creaking of a chair, drawers being opened and closed).  Because I showed up that day with the assumption that he would be there, all of these signs merely confirmed my assumption.  On the other hand, what if a skeptical person came into that office, someone who doubted whether my friend had actually showed up to work that day?  They would interpret the evidence very differently.  They might see the car in the parking lot and say, “There are lots of those kinds of cars on the road today.”  They might think my friend’s secretary was mistaken, that she simply assumed he had come in, when he really hadn’t.  Or maybe she was even lying to cover for him.  The notes on the desk could be easily forged, or left over from the previous day.  And as for the sounds in his office, those could be coming from another nearby office.  Do I know God is real?  Yes.  I am in a personal relationship with Him now that has changed my life forever.  Even if I weren’t, there are evidences in the world today that show us He exists.  But these clues may not be convincing to you.  It depends on your assumptions.  If you want God to be real, then you will see evidence for Him everywhere.  If, on the other hand, you are convinced that there is no God, if the existence of God would mean changing your way of thinking or living, and you don’t want that to be true, then no amount of evidence will convince you.  My question for you is, do you want to believe?  If the answer is yes, then I think God has given us more than enough evidence to know that He is real.  If the answer is no, let me just ask you to open your mind to the possibility.  As Pascal famously said, if you bet that God is real and He’s not, you’ve lost nothing.  If you bet that He’s not real and He is, then you’ve lost everything.

So what are these evidences for God’s existence?  There are many arguments for the existence of God.  I will mention three of them here.  I will also talk about one big objection we have to deal with.

The first argument for God’s existence is the existence of anything. In other words, how does anything exist, if no one was there to create it?  This is called the cosmological argument for God. It goes like this: Everything that exists was caused by something else.  Since the Universe exists, it must have been caused by something that has always existed.  It’s quite often thought that Darwin’s theory of evolution destroys the possibility that God created the world.  It does no such thing.  Even if you believe that all life on earth evolved over millions of years starting with one tiny amoeba, that doesn’t explain where galaxies full of stars and planets came from.  Why is there something instead of nothing?  Some skeptics attempt to explain that by saying the universe has always existed. But science itself argues against that.  It’s accepted science that the universe is expanding, as if there were a point long ago when a great explosion took place, and everything in existence is still pushing out from the center.  We know this as the Big Bang.  Why would the universe be expanding if it has always existed?  So if there was a point in time when the universe (and everything in it) began, then something had to have made that happen.  The only explanation is that there was something that exists without being created, an “un-caused Cause” in the words of the philosophers, that made everything.

Second, there’s the teleological argument, or the argument from complexity: Here’s one way to understand this argument: Imagine you are walking through the woods and you find a small figure of a man made of wood.  He has eyes, a nose and mouth, arms, legs, a cigar in his mouth and a hat on his head.  You look closer and realize it doesn’t just look like a man, it looks like a specific man: Clint Eastwood.  There are two possible explanations for this object.  You might think, “Amazing.  A tree has produced a growth that looks exactly like The Man with No Name in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, then dropped it here on the forest floor.”  Or you could think, “Another person is in these woods.  Whoever he or she is must be excellent at carving, and must be a fan of Spaghetti Westerns.”  Either one is possible, but the second option is much, much more likely.  The life on our planet is so complex, the systems that sustain that life so intricately perfect, it is far more likely that some intelligent being designed it, than that it all happened by accident.

Third is the moral argument. Where have we come up with the idea that some things are right and others are wrong?  In the animal Kingdom, the law of the jungle rules.  Imagine a scene in the African Savannah.  Hundreds of animals are grazing in the fields.  Suddenly, a lioness attacks and kills a smaller, weaker animal, and begins to eat it.  Do any of the other animals stand up and say, “Wait a minute.  That hyena had rights?”  Do they band together to punish the lioness for using her strength inappropriately?  No, they go on about their business as if nothing had happened.  Now, imagine a busy street in downtown Houston.  A man attacks a woman on a sidewalk and begins dragging her toward a waiting car.  What happens?  People scream.  They pull out cell phones and call the police.  Some even physically intervene to save the woman’s life.  If he’s caught, the eyewitnesses are eager to testify against him, because we all know that this kind of behavior has to be punished.  Where did we get the idea that someone who is stronger can’t do whatever he wants to someone who is weaker?  If we are only more highly evolved mammals, why would we value concepts like courage, self-sacrifice, and love?  Why do we think that society is supposed to protect and provide for those who are disadvantaged, when the law of the jungle would say these people deserve to die in order to avoid being a drain on humanity?  These characteristics don’t come from some evolutionary desire to protect ourselves and strengthen our species.  They come from somewhere else.  This sense of right and wrong is a clue that we are made in the image of God.

All of these arguments prove that it’s much more likely that a god exists than that one doesn’t.  But some say that if a personal, loving God existed (like the God of the Bible), He would prove Himself to us.  They say, “Why does God have to play this game of hide and seek with us?  If I were God and wanted people to know me, I would appear to them personally.  I would go out of my way to convince them.  Why doesn’t God go on national TV and address the entire world?”  The short answer from Scripture is that we cannot see God and live.  Our own sin has separated us from Him and ruptured the intimate relationship He wants to have with us.  Only once we are fully redeemed will we be able to see Him face to face.

“Okay,” you may say, “But the Bible talks about God appearing to people in various ways.  Why doesn’t He still do that?”  How do you or I know He doesn’t?  The Bible says that God has appeared visibly or audibly to a small number of people at key moments in His plan, but it was never for the purpose of convincing people who were skeptical.  Look at the life of Jesus.  He had plenty of opportunities to work miracles when it would’ve persuaded skeptics.  The Pharisees demanded a confirming sign.  Herod, on the day of Christ’s death, wanted to see a miracle, but even though it might have saved His life, Jesus refused.  Even after the resurrection, Jesus didn’t appear to anyone who didn’t already know Him.  Why did He not go before the Sanhedrin in His resurrected form and say, “Do you see now what a mistake you made?”   God’s goal is not to make us believe in His existence.  He wants for us to know Him, to love Him, and to experience a true relationship with Him.  Coming audibly or visibly won’t make that happen, so God doesn’t do it.  Besides, aren’t all important relationships based on faith?  A child trusts that his parents have his best interests in mind.  I trust that my wife Carrie really does love me, and isn’t secretly scouting for someone taller, richer and better looking (although there are plenty of candidates).  I see plenty of evidence that she loves me.  If I were to say, “I need for you to prove that you love me,” it wouldn’t be the basis of a very good relationship, would it?

Romans 1:19-20 says this of unbelievers, For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.  So they are without excuse.  In other words, just looking at the world around us, we can see proof of God’s existence, power, and righteousness, if we want to see it.  But God went much further than giving us evidence of His existence.  He has gone to great lengths to let us know that He loves us.  He did speak to us—not on TV, but in three better, more compelling ways.  First, and most importantly, He sent us Jesus.  More than any other single thing, the life and teachings of Jesus—and His atoning death and resurrection from the dead–convince me that there is a God. He also gave us His Word, the Bible, the most amazing book ever written.  When I study the Bible, I am convinced that it is not a human document.  Later in this series, we’ll talk about both these things; how we know Jesus is who He says He is, and why we can trust the Bible as more than a human book.  Finally, He reveals to us the transforming power of faith in Him.  I have seen too many people radically changed by Christ for it all to be a fairy tale.  And I have seen transformation in myself that is not explainable in any other way. 

That brings me to my final point. I said at the beginning that I would tell you how to know for sure that God is real.  The answer is to seek Him.  It is one thing to look at this as an intellectual exercise, to study the evidence for and against the existence of God.  That’s a fine pursuit, and if that’s what you’re doing, I wish you well.  But Jeremiah 29:13 says You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  Proverbs 8:17 says Those who seek me, find me.  Think back to that analogy from William Lane Craig about going to visit a friend at his office.  You can see it as an intellectual exercise. You can sit out in the lobby or the parking lot playing amateur Sherlock Holmes, piecing together the evidence and trying to guess whether he’s really in the office or not.  Or you can do the most logical thing: You can walk into his office and see for yourself.  I don’t need evidences of God’s existence.  I know Him personally.  And you can too.  If you are not sure whether God is there, or if you are a believer who is caught in doubts, the best advice I can give you is to seek Him.  Since He is an invisible, all-righteous deity, it’s not as simple as opening a door, but it’s also not complicated.  My suggestion: Start reading the gospel of Matthew and keep on going until you finish the New Testament.  Pray every day and say something like this, “Lord, I want to know you and experience a relationship with you.  Show me how to seek you. Teach me who you are and how you want me to live.”  Hang out with some people who really seem to know Jesus—not just religious people, but men and women who walk with Christ.  See the activity of God in their lives.  He has promised us that when seeking Him becomes the highest goal of our hearts, we will find Him.  And we won’t need evidence anymore.

Independence Day

Did you know that our Founding Fathers didn’t actually declare independence on July 4, 1776?  That actually happened two days before, on July 2.  That day, after fierce dialogue, including a powerful speech from John Adams, they passed a motion, with only one dissenter, to declare independence from England.  In fact, Adams wrote to his wife Abigail that future generations of Americans would remember July 2 as the greatest day in our nation’s history.  The Fathers didn’t even sign the declaration on July 4…that didn’t actually happen until August 2.  But on July 4, they approved the final wording of Jefferson’s document. Immediately, copies later known as The Dunlap Broadsides were printed and sent to every Colony in our land.  They were headed with the date, July 4, which is one reason we associate that day with our freedom.

Those first copies of the declaration had one name printed on them; it was the name of the President of the Continental Congress.  It was the name of the man who was first to sign the copy of the declaration on August 2 (which is the copy in our National Archives today).  That is quite possibly the most iconic signature of all time, so large and flamboyant that today we call signatures by that man’s name: John Hancock.  Who was this man who was so proud of his name? Hancock was one of the richest men in America.  Like all of the Fathers, he had a lot to lose.  It’s one thing to complain about taxes and philosophize about freedom from tyranny; but when they signed their names to that document, they went from being political activists to traitors against their nation.  They were betting their collective fates on a tiny band of militias against the most powerful army on Earth.  Their outrageous boldness changed the world.

Several times, Jesus said, “Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it, but anyone who loses his life for my sake will save it.”  If you spend enough time in church, it’s easy to say the right things, to sound committed to Christ.  But our Lord isn’t looking for men and women who know how to play the part.  He is creating disciples.  He is drafting revolutionaries.  You and I should start every day by boldly declaring our independence from the values of this world, from the dictates of our own selfish desires and ambitions.  We should remind ourselves, “Today, I serve my King…that is true freedom.”  And that is how the world truly gets changed.

Spare change or something bigger

There was a man once who sat on a roadside near Jericho, begging for alms from pilgrims heading to Jerusalem to worship at the temple. One day he heard that Jesus was passing by. He started calling out “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” No matter how much people tried to shut him up, he wouldn’t stop. Finally Jesus approached and asked him what he wanted.
 
Think about it. For as long as anyone could remember, this man had been asking people for spare change. But now, in the presence of Jesus, he asked for something much bigger. “Lord, let me recover my sight.” Jesus did what he asked, but this was much more than just a physical healing. First of all, the man had called Jesus “Son of David,” which was a Messianic title. Not many people–including most of the disciples–were ready to go that far. Second, Jesus said to the man, “your faith has saved you.” That’s literally what the Greek word in Luke 18:42 means, even though our English translations tend to say “:healed” instead of “saved.” Third, Luke says he got up and began to follow Jesus. That means he became a disciple that day. So he regained his sight just in time to witness Jesus dying for His sins a week or so later.
 
But here’s the point for us: We each spend most of our lives like the blind man, begging this world for whatever it will give us: Money, sex, pleasure, power, approval. All are good, and all satisfy for a little while, but only for a little while. Then we meet Jesus, and everything changes. He gives us what the world never could. We get up and we follow Him. That’s the story all who are Christians share. But somewhere along the way, too many of us stop following Him and go back to begging the world for spare change. I’m not saying we’re not truly His. He never lets go of His own. I’m saying we live like beggars instead of like disciples. I’m saying we look to the things of this world to bring us happiness, meaning, peace, identity and security, instead of pursuing Him fully, with nothing held back. So where are you? Are you following Him and enjoying abundant life? Is every day an adventure of watching God slowly change you for good and use you to show love for others? Or are you back to living off the scraps this world leaves behind?
If you’re interested in learning more about the idea of giving everything to Christ, with nothing held back, check out our recently completed series: https://fbcconroe.org/sermons/nothingheldback/

Exodus preview

All In Study Notes: Exodus

Exodus is the second book in the Pentateuch (five books) that start the Bible and tell the story of God creating a chosen nation in Israel from which to share His love with the entire world. Exodus is the account of how the children of Israel, some 400 years after Joseph first brought them to Egypt, escaped from slavery.   The main character, other than the Lord, is Moses, the unlikely liberator.  You will read of memorable events like Moses meeting God for the first time, the plagues upon Egypt, the night of Passover, parting the Red Sea, and eating a previously unknown food called manna.  In Exodus, God also makes His covenant with His people, including the Ten Commandments.

 

Themes to look for:

God wants us to know Him by personal experience.  33:11

The Lord is the One True God.  This was a revolutionary thought when Exodus was written.  It still is.

God demands obedience.  The Law is there for our good.  He is a good Father.

God demands exclusivity.  He will not abide competition for our hearts.

God demands holiness.  Two ways this is seen: 1) People could not casually approach God.  Needed a system to get right with Him.  2) He was making a holy people.  But He demanded they be distinct.  That was the main point of the Law.

God demands both justice and compassion.  The Law is a balance between punishing guilt so as to eliminate injustice from society, and taking care of the hurting.  He wants both from us.

Spiritual leadership is hard work.  Moses’ story resonates with anyone who leads.  People are the most frustrating part.  Why don’t they get it?

 

The Gospel in Exodus

Knowledge of Exodus is key to understanding the New Testament from a Jewish perspective.  So many details of Exodus find their fulfillment in the four Gospels, it is hard to list them all, but here are some main themes:

We need a deliverer.  Hebrews 3 talks about how Jesus is the greater Moses.

We need a mediator between us and God.  Jesus is our Great High Priest.

The Passover Lamb: A picture of how God would one day save us through Christ’s death.

The Tabernacle: A place where Heaven and Earth come together.  That is a picture of Jesus.

The Covenant: A reminder that we can’t save ourselves.  Jeremiah 31 foretells a New Covenant in Him.