Thursday, May 3, 2018

Sermon Rewind: All Grown Up Part 5

In-Justice for All

Theodicy is the study of how we reconcile evil and injustice and suffering in the world with a good and all-powerful God.

The argument is if He's good, He would do something about evil and if He could He would do something about evil.  Therefore, if God is all-good and all-powerful why doesn't He?

More people have stepped away from faith (maybe not all the way into atheism, but away from faith) because they are unable to reconcile a good and loving God with evil and pain and suffering in the world.  Fair enough, it makes sense.

Here's the deal though, pain and suffering and injustice is not an argument against God's existence.  There's no rational argument against the existence or involvement of the God of Jesus based on injustice in the world.  It's passionate and emotional and powerful, but it is not a rational argument.  

Injustice in the world calls into question the justice of God, not the existence of God.  Which means it makes more sense to be angry at God than it does to be an atheist.  The existence of God is a different question than your personal experience with God.

Jesus was the one who brought the idea of a God who is good and loving into the world.  Jesus is the one who showed us a God who claims that every single person on this earth is of sacred worth.  Every single person matters.  Every single person has dignity.  Every single person is worthy of love and compassion.

Jesus introduced the world to this God in a time when there was neither justice nor dignity for most people.  The rich ruled over the poor.  The powerful ruled over the non-powerful.  If you had the gold, you made the rules.  Might made right.  In a world where there was no dignity, women had not rights, children were not named until a certain age because the infant mortality rate was so high.  Jesus comes along into that world and claims that God is good and loving.  

Jesus' first century followers embraced a God who was good and just within a culture that was characterized by injustice.  

If the Christian God had been so fragile as to be argued out of existence based on injustice, the Christian God would have never made it out of the first three centuries.  Because the Christian God's followers were persecuted consistently for the first 300 years of the churches existence.  

If there is no objective standard for justice, injustice ceases to exist as well as justice.  And if there is no objective justice or injustice, do you know what we are left with?  

My Justice
You Justice
Nazi Justice
Majority Justice
Isis Justice
Klan Justice 
Nature's Justice 
Street Justice
Power Justice
Rich Justice

When we reject God because of injustice in the world, we don't solve injustice, we lose the definition of justice.

We love the idea of a God of love, but we are uncomfortable with a God of judgment.  Here's the catch though: You can't have justice without judgment.  If there is not judgment of what is evil, then there is not justice.   

I think the reason we are uncomfortable with judgment is because we want God to do something about evil in the world, but it's usually someone else's evil and not our own.  We don't want our contribution to evil to be pointed out.  We don't want to be judged, we just want to be loved. 

So what does the God of Jesus and the God of justice have to say about all of this.  

When God saw the stay of humanity, when God saw that we all fall short and deserve judgment.  God didn't send a judge, he sent a savior.

Jesus says: I did not come to judge the world, I came to save the world.
-John 12:47

Before God ever judges anyone in the world, He offers salvation.  The God of justice saves us before He judges us and is perfect in His judgment. 

For the complete video messages from this series click here.
These messages are adapted from Andy Stanley's series Who Needs God

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Sermon Rewind: All Grown Up Part 4

The God of Jesus

Does what you do define who you are, or does who you are determine what you do?  Wherever you land on that debate, we have to agree that what you do is a major indicator of who you are.

So if we want to know what God is like, maybe we should look at more than just who Jesus was, but also at what Jesus did.  Please remember, not many people followed Jesus before His resurrection, it wasn't until after His resurrection that the church formed.  Christianity didn't begin because people came up with something to believe, it began because people experienced the risen Jesus then wrote about it.  They saw him die, looked inside an empty tomb and decided He was who He said He was.

In John 14 Jesus tells his disciples, specifically responding to Phillip, "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father."  In other words Jesus is saying, if you want to know what God is like, watch me.  If you want to know what God would do, pay attention to what I do.  In verse 11 Jesus says "Believe me when I say I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves."  In other words, don't believe just for the sake of belief.  I'm not asking to have faith for the sake of faith.  I'm asking you to test the evidence.  Do some digging.  Watch me and what I do and determine for yourself if I am who I say I am.  Don't have blind faith, believe on the evidence itself.  Believe in what I say and what I do.

So with that in mind, what did Jesus say about God?  Let's keep it simple, there's three main things.

First, He said God is Spirit (John 4:24).  Spirit is spaceless, timeless and immaterial.

Second, He said God is Father (Luke 11:2).  This is not the reflection of our earthly fathers, this is the perfection of father.  What Jesus is trying to convey is that God is personal.  God is not male, God does not have Gender.  Any personal image used to explain that God is relational will fall short.

Third, He said God is Love  (1 John 4:16).  Okay Jesus didn't say this, Jesus went one step further and acted this out by dying on the cross for us.  When we love each other we reflect the very nature of God.

If you have ever thought "I just believe God loves everybody" you have to concede that before Christianity that statement would've never existed.  The belief that "God loves everybody" was ushered into this world by Jesus.  It is a distinctly Christian idea.

May we love God and love one another the way Jesus showed us and taught us to.

For the full video message go here.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Sermon Rewind: All Grown Up part 3


So in the second week we covered this idea that Christianity doesn't exist because of the Bible anymore than you exist because of your birth certificate. The purpose of your birth certificate is to document something that happened. If your birth certificate ceased to exist, would you cease to exist? Of course not, in the same way if the Bible ceased to exist, Christianity would still continue on.

Why? It's simple, Christianity doesn't exist because of the Bible, the Bible (the New Testament specifically) exists because of Christianity. The Bible exists because people witnessed something that happened that was worth documenting. The Bible exists because within our human history this man named Jesus enters our world, says some crazy things, then backs up those crazy things by rising from the dead after he was crucified.

Jesus is crucified around 30AD, three days later he rose from the dead and the church was born.

On August 6th, 70AD the temple in Jerusalem is destroyed by the Roman legions. That historic event and others before it and surrounding it are not recorded in the documents of the New Testament because they had not happened yet. This fact tells us that the dating of all of the New Testament writings is before this time. This puts the dating of all the New Testament documents earlier than 70AD. And the earlier they are the more reliable they are.

The writers of the New Testament were not writing what they believed, they were recording what they saw. They were documenting historical events regarding the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Once Constantine rose to power as the undisputed emperor in 312 AD, he needed to find something that would unite the empire. He chose Christianity. Under severe persecution Christianity grew exponentially leading up to Constantine's rule.

This happened before anyone held a Bible in their hand. The 1st, 2nd and 3rd century Christians believed Jesus loved them before the Bible told them so. For the first 300 years of Christianity’s existence the debate was not centered on a library of books called the Bible, the debate centered on an event.

The question wasn’t “is the Bible true” the question was “did Jesus rise from the dead?” And all the evidence well documented by those first century witnesses and writers point to a resounding yes. For people like John, Peter, Luke and Paul the unequivocal answer was "yes" and they were willing to die to for their "yes."

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Sermon Series Rewind: All Grown Up part 2

The gods of the No Testament

In this message we took a look at one of the main reasons people walk away from faith.  We said that everyone who de-converts steps away from a version of Christianity.  It might be super-liberal, super charismatic, super fundamental, super Baptist, whatever the case may be, people who step away from Christianity step away from a version of Christianity.

There are two main characteristics of these versions of Christianity that people walk away from:

1. A Somebody-told-me-so-god: Here's how God is present, here's what they said God is like

2. A Bible-tells-me-so-Jesus: Everytime I asked a question the answer was, here's what the Bible says.

Whatever version of God we are presented with when we are young carries weight for how we think about God when we enter our adult lives.  Karen Armstrong says this in her book The Case for God:

"Many of us have been left stranded with an incoherent concept of God. We learned about God at about the same time as we were told about Santa Clause. But while our understanding of the Santa Clause phenomenon evolved and matured, our theology remained somewhat infantile. Not surprisingly, when we attained intellectual maturity, many of us rejected the God we had inherited and denied that he existed."

To some degree this is all our experiences. Because most of us were presented with a concept of God when we were very young. So I want to share some of these "gods" that we grew up with. Ideas, images, understandings of "god" that are popularly taught, or that we got into our heads when we were young, but that are wrong.  That we need to let go of.

1. Bodyguard god
-This is the god that never allows anything bad to happen to us.

2. On Demand god
-This is the god that does at least what we would do if we were god.

3. Boyfriend god
-This is the god whose  presence is always felt.

4. Guilt god
-this is the god who enjoys making you feel guilt and shame about your life.

5. Anti-science god
-This god forces you to choose between science and religion.

6. Holodeck god
-This is the god that becomes whatever or whoever you want god to be.

I'm sure there's more, but these are six wrong versions of God.  The somebody-told-me-so-god that many of us were presented with when we were children.  If you or someone you know walked away from faith or struggle with faith because of one of the versions of god there's good news, none of these are an accurate portrayal of the God of the library of books found in the Bible.

This series is based on Andy Stanley's series titled Who Needs God?

For the full message video click here.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Sermon Series Rewind: All Grown Up

Atheism 2.0

We just finished the sermon series All Grown Up at Covenant which was based on Andy Stanley's sermon series Who Needs God.  

This series was received so well at Covenant I thought I would offer a summary of each message over the course of several blog entries.  

The idea of the series is that we need a "grown up" faith to go along with living in a "grown up" world.  We need "grown up" answers to our "grown up" questions.  In an adult world we need adult answers to our adult questions.  The answers we have carried with us from childhood don't always withstand the rigor and experience of adult life.    

The first week was called Atheism 2.0.  We referenced several books by modern atheists that have shaped the nature of atheism in our world today.  Books like A Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam  Harris, The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins and God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens.  

By discussing what we don't believe it can help clarify what we do believe and why.  So we shared six belief's shared by atheists and discussed them:

1. The Illusion of the Mind
2. The Illusion of Freewill
3. The Illusion of Value
4. Something Came from Nothing
5. First Life Emerged from no Life with no Help
6. Natural Selection is Responsible for All Life after First Life

1 Peter 3:15 reminds us: Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.

I don't know about you, but for me, thinking through what atheists believe in a respectful way helps bring clarity to what I believe and why.

For the full message video click here.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Two Year Anniversary

Today (October 1st) marks my two year anniversary as Pastor of Covenant Community Church. I have felt so blessed and privileged to be in ministry with this incredible body of believers. I have been living a dream and look forward to leading the church into the wonderful future God has for her. 

To mark my two year anniversary, I want to share ten things I'm most thankful for as Covenant's pastor:

1. The way the people at Covenant welcome anyone who walks through our doors

2. The incredible support they offer their pastor

3. Their willingness to try new things

4. Their commitment to serve the Asheville community

5.  The incredible staff I get to work with everyday

6. Their love for Jesus

7. Their desire to be a part of something bigger than their individual selves

8. Their grace for my shortcomings as their pastor

9. The way they love on my family

10. Their generosity 

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed with the great responsibility God has entrusted to me, but I try to have the same mindset John had when he proclaimed "He must increase, I must decrease." I understand God has called and positioned me where I am for a reason, however, I also know it's not about me, it's about getting out of the way of what God wants to do through me and through this body. 

I have loved the two years I have been at Covenant and look forward to many more years and many more people connecting with God, each other and our community.  

Friday, September 23, 2016

Lessons from Pain

I recently hurt my back while on vacation. I think I did it on a roller coaster (the Rocking Roller Coaster at Hollywood Studios to be exact). I remember feeling a weird sensation in my back while riding it. It was about six hours later that the pain set in and I found myself lying on a bench telling my family to go have fun.

I think it's a bulging disc and it has gradually gotten less painful (or that could be the Advil talking) after eight days. I didn't sleep on the floor last night which is progress.

In my better moments I have used it as an opportunity to ask myself: what is God teaching me through this?  

Here's five things I've come up with.

1. I am loved
It is very obvious that I have people in my life who genuinely care about me. It's not that I didn't already know it, this situation just confirmed it even more.

2. Help is available
Many people have offered to help in various ways. One person even offered to help unload the van on our return knowing it would be at 2am in the morning.  I reached out on Facebook for resources and people responded with options and prayers.

3. I'm not alone
There have been so many people who know exactly the kind of indescribable pain I'm in.  There's just something comforting about knowing that other people have felt what I feel. That kind of solidarity creates automatic empathy. Maybe pain is God's way of bringing humanity together.  

4. If I want to do something bad enough, I can
The next day we were at Magic Kingdom for the Halloween Party. It was a bid deal for our family. My 8yr. old daughter is into the Disney villains right now. Her favorite is Maleficent. At the end of the night they have a special villain show on the main stage at Disney world. She kept jumping up and down trying to see. I decided I would give her the best seat in the house: on my shoulders. After five or six attempts and various shots of pain, she was up there. She was going to see the villain show no matter what it took.  

5. There's a reason for this
Maybe God is teaching me to be more empathetic, maybe I needed to slow down, maybe He needed to show me the support I have in my life...whatever the case may be, I know deep in my bones that God has a reason for me to be going through this right now. It's not fun, but I trust in His purposes.