Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sermon 10/19/08 Myth Busters Part 1 "Science vs. Creation: It is not a Matter of Verses"

“Science vs. Creation: It is not about verses.”

Genesis 1 and 2

I read a funny story in one of those chain e-mails that people send. It said,
What majestic trees! What powerful rivers! What beautiful animals!" he said to himself. As he walked alongside the river he heard a rustling in the bushes behind him. As he turned to look, he saw a seven foot grizzly charge towards him. He ran as fast as he could up the path.
He looked over his shoulder & saw that the bear was closing in on him. He tried to run even faster, so scared that tears were coming to his eyes. He looked over his shoulder again, and the bear was even closer. His heart was pumping frantically as he tried to run even faster,but he tripped and fell on the ground. He rolled over to pick himself up and saw the bear right on top of him raising his paw to kill him. At that instant he cried out "Oh my God!"

Just then, time stopped. The bear froze; the forest was silent; the river even stopped moving. A bright light shone upon the man, and a voice came out of the sky saying, "You deny my existence all of these years; teach others I don't exist; even credit my creation to a cosmic accident, and now do you expect me to help you out of this predicament? Am I to count you as a believer?" The atheist, ever so proud, looked into the light and said, "It would be rather hypocritical to ask to be a Christian after all these years, but could you make the bear a Christian?" "Very well," said the voice.

As the light went out, the river ran, and the sounds of the forest continued, the bear put his paw down. The bear then brought both paws together, bowed his head and said: "Lord, I thank you for this food, which I am about to receive"

We often make jokes about aethiests as I am sure they make about Christians, but at the heart of the debate there are some serious implications. In this sermon series called, “Myth Busters”, we will be examining three myths that atheists hold about religion in general and specifically Christianity. To get at the heart of the myth, I am going to analyze the arguments made by Christopher Hitchens in his book, god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.

The first myth we will explore is that the creation story in the bible is incompatible with science. Hitchens argument can be summarized as follows:

1. We know more about the world today that those who first founded the religions that people follow as a way to explain reality
2. Deists such as Einstein believed that the order and predictability of the world led to a belief in a designer
3. We can now believe that the answers to creation come from the universe
4. If we no longer need god to answer the questions about reality, then we can take or leave god
5. Belief in god actually makes things more complicated because belief in god leads to unanswerable questions.
6. If we no longer need god, belief is simply a private non issue.

Hitchens ends his chapter by saying that believers should actually take comfort in knowing that the answers to the origins of the world can be found in nature,

Thoughtful believers can take some consolation, too. Skepticism and discovery have freed them from the burden of having to defend their god as a footling, clumsy, straws-in-the-hair mad scientist, and also from having to answer distressing questions about who inflicted the syphilis bacillus or mandated the leper or the idiot child, or devised the torments of Job. The faithful stand acquitted on that charge: we no longer have any need of a god to explain what is no longer mysterious. What believers will do, now that their faith is optional and private and irrelevant, is a matter for them.

I do want to suggest that Hitchens’ criticism of religion is not a new one. There are well founded reasons for suggesting that religion is no longer needed because science can now answer the question that we used religion to answer in the past. For many Christians, science is a very scary thing because they see it as a direct challenge to faith and Christianity.

Our culture, at least in the Western world, believes that a person has to either believe science is true and that the Big Bang theory and evolution rule out the belief in God or that the creation story in Genesis is true meaning that science is wrong.

I have to acknowledge up front that I do not know all there is to know about evolution or the big bang theory. I could not argue for one side or the other from a scientific standpoint. However, I do know something about the Biblical creation accounts in Genesis. (Notice, accounts is plural) Some people do not know that there are actually two different creation accounts in Genesis. The first one is in Genesis 1:1-2:4 and the other is found in Genesis 2:5-25.

There are some notable differences in the accounts. (1) In the first account the name for God in Hebrew is Elohim which is the more generic form of God. In the second account the Hebrew word is Yahweh which is the personal God of the Hebrew people. (2) It then follows that the first story seems to point to a God who is entirely sovereign over creation and who speaks with a Word and creation happens while the second shows God as being personal and forming humans out of clay. (3) Notice the differences in order. In the first story everything has been created before God creates male and female. In the second one, while there was no wild thing on earth, God shaped man from the soil of the ground. Man, or adam which in Hebrew means human, is then given the freedom to name the animals.

What do we make of these things from Genesis? I think the stories in Genesis are not given to give us a detailed account of how God created the world, but rather they are there to remind us about the God who created us and to tell us about the world the God created for to live in. The stories are theological in purpose and they explain the realities of the world we live in. Going to Genesis for a scientific explanation of creation is like going to McDonalds for a whopper.
To understand the creation story the way it was written, we must understand the world view of those who were Israel’s neighbors. Those around Israel believed in a plurality of gods who were born out of chaos and struggled with one another for control. Out of their desire for control and power, they created human beings to be their servants.

Compare this over against the stories we find in Genesis. Notice that in the beginning God created the world out of the chaos. God was not part of the chaos, but has complete control over matter. In other words, the creation story shows how God orders and controls the chaos and matter. God shapes something good out of nothing.

In the second creation story we see how God takes great care in fashioning Adam and creating Eve. God cares about the happiness of his creation. God creates out of love, not out of the need for power. These creation stories are not so much about exactly how God created the world, they were stories about the sovereignty and love of the true God who created all the exists.
When I go to the creation accounts, I am not trying to prove the scientist wrong, rather I am trying to find an answer to a question that science can never answer. I am trying to understand “why” I am here and learn about the God who created me. No matter what science learns, it will always need religion and it will always be lacking without God. As Christians, I hope we can encourage science to learn while I hope science will allow religion to help us understand our purpose.

Belief in God Should Change Everything

I want to end this sermon by focusing on Hitchen’s real point in these chapters. While he does not believe the evidence from science supports the belief in a creator, he is really is trying to persuade his readers that a belief in god really does not matter. He thinks god is dead, not because people have stopped believing in god, but because their belief in god is only a person and private affair that really has no impact on the world. Sadly, I think us as Christians often bye into this philosophy with the way we live our lives. We have our personal god in our back pocket for times that we need him, but we choose to live as if god were dead.

CS Lewis once said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else." I do believe that science shows the need for there being a creator. When I see into the world, I see the footprints of God. But it is more than that. Because I know there is a God, it should change the way I live.

Melanie and I found out this summer that we are going to have a baby. One of the first things we did was to buy books about pregnancy and read them. In several of the books, it describes each stage of development of the fetus. I remember reading about how this lump of mass suddenly has a heartbeat and then begins to develop all of the major systems in the body. I am sure there is a scientific explanation for this, but in experiencing this I just sit back and think, wow, there has to be a God who sets this in motion.

As great as this is, it does not stop there though. Because I know that God is real and has God’s hand in this, I know that I have to be different because of my belief in God. I know that I have to be the best husband I can be to my wife, even when I don’t feel like it and I know that I have to be the best dad that I can be. You see, believing in God causes us to see the world differently and to live differently.

Sermon 10/5?08 The Gospel According to the Office Part 3: Moving to Authentic Faith in the Office"

This is our final sermon in the series on “The Office.’ The past couple of weeks we have looked at the office as a way to help us understand mission and why we reach out to people. Today I want to use the office to move us beyond religious talk to true worship.

The following clip from “The Office” takes place in the episode called “The Race.” This episode begins when Michael hits Phyllis with his car in the parking lot and cracks her hip. When the people from the office go to visit her, Dwight goes to take care of Angelia’s cat and poisons it with pneumonia. Due to the injury of Phyllis and Angelia’s cat dying, Michael believes the office is cursed. He calls everyone in the conference room to talk about their religious beliefs.

Time 14:46

Setting: Conference room about the recent bad luck in the office

Michael: Alright, I would now like to talk to you about each of your individual religious beliefs.
Toby Oh Michael, you can’t ask about people’s religious beliefs.
Michael Satan is the master of lies. Everything he says is the opposite.
Toby Alright, then you can ask about religious beliefs.
Michael Thank you for your permission… SIKE. Let’s just go around the room and tell me what you believe in.
Stanley I’m uh Catholic
Darrin Presbyterian
Pam Me too
Darrin Oh really
Pam Same religion
Phyllis I’m a Lutheran and Bob is Unitarian, it keeps him spicy
Angela That is why we are cursed
Creed (Privately to the camera) I have been a part of a lot of cults, both as a leader and a follower. You have more fun as a follower, but you make more money as a leader
Michael Kelly, you are Hindu, so you believe in Buddha.
Kelly That’s Buddhists
Michael Are you sure
Kelly No
Michael What are you?
Computer guy Well, if you are going to reduce my identity to a religion, then I am Sake, but I also like hip hop and NPR and I am restoring a 1968 corvette in my spare time.
Michael OK, so one Sake and….

Time 15:58

At the end of the initial religion conversations, Michael concludes that the problem they have is that they believe in God. He things they should invent a new god until he discovers that his fortune has changed. He finds out that due to hitting Phyllis with his car, they found out that she had rabbis, so Michael things he has saved her life. He then says,

Time: 19:40

Setting: Michael to the camera

Michael: Is there a God? If not, what are all these churches for? And who is Jesus’ dad?

Time 19:50

Of course this discourse is layered with all kinds of problems. The one thing that struck me the most was that I was reminded in this clip about how empty spirituality can become. Belief in god is turned into having a label attached to you and our beliefs are often limited to name only. When we limit our spirituality to names only, we begin to place people in groups and then we can claim we are better than they are. Take Angelia’s comment to Phyllis when she implies that the curse in the office is due to Bob being a Unitarian.

A bigger issue for me that this clip from “The Office” brings out is that we claim to be a follower of a particular religion, but we live our lives as if our faith had no bearing on our life. We completely divorce faith and life to the point that it becomes meaningless.

There is an article in the book The Office and Philosophy in which the writers define an “authentic person” as someone who understands themselves.” In this way, they would then know the truth about themselves. If we were to use this same definition for faith, would could say that authentic faith means to discover the truth about faith. In the clip we watched, it was quite obvious that the truth about faith did not rise to the surface.

This is somewhat the problem Paul is addressing in his letter to the Romans. Jews had become merely Jewish by name and Gentiles were just all the people who were not Jewish. By the time we get to chapter 12, he has leveled the playing field and said that both Jews and Gentiles had fallen short of being what God had created them to be. He also says that without Jesus, being a Jew or and Gentile means nothing. He says that while we were living a life without God, God chose to have mercy on everyone in Jesus Christ.

In Romans 12, Paul then urges his readers on to a higher plain by saying,
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is true worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

In order to walk you through these verses, it is important to note that Paul’s goal is to help his readers understand that they are calling to live a life quite different from the lives of non-Christians. He begins by stressing that they are living in response to God’s mercy, thus they should offer their body’s as a living sacrifice. The word “body” does not just mean your physical body. Paul means every bit of who you are and all of your actions should be offered to God.
Paul then goes on to say that we should be transformed by the renewing of our mind instead of being conformed to the pattern of the world. A lot of scholars believe “world” would be better translated, “age.” We are not to be conformed to the pattern of this age, but by the renewing of our mind, be transformed. In other words, we are to immerse ourselves in the things of God and change the way we think.

He says we need to do this so that we will be able to test and approve what God’s will really is. Think about this. If we fail to understand the world view of Jesus, how can we understand God’s will? Paul is telling us that when we give our everything to God, we will then be able to understand God’s will.

Paul Meets Michael Scott

As I was thinking through these two verses in Romans, it made me wonder what Paul would have said to Michael about his religion. I am sure Paul would have actually preached a sermon and Michael would have fallen asleep and then fell out the window, but if he were to keep it simple, here are some things I think Paul would have added to the conversation.

First, I think Paul would have informed Michael that his actions as a Christian are not based in following a set of religious rules or laws, but his life is based on responding to God’s mercy. Again, notice that Paul begins this chapter by stressing “In view of God’s mercy….” I am convinced that one of the greatest challenges to authentic faith is that we narrow religious belief down to following a set of rules. I do want to say that sometimes rules are good, but they are not the end for which we live. We live the way we do out of gratitude as a response to who God is and the mercy God has shown us.

Secondly, authentic faith is offering ourselves as living sacrifices. When Paul says body, he means all of who we are. Eugene Peterson in The Message says it like this, “Take your everyday ordinary life- your sleeping, eating, going to work, and walking around life- and place it before God.” Our faith today seems to be very compartmentalized. We go and do the God thing on Sunday or Saturday, but we leave God at the church door. Offering ourselves as a living sacrifice means we offer all of who we are, all of the time.

Do you realize that worship does not begin when you walk into this center? Worship is always going. As a staff we evaluate ourselves after the worship service. When we do, the evaluation does include how we preach, sing, run sounds, etc during the service, but it also includes our prayer time during the week, reading our Bibles, exercising, work preparations. Everything we do leads up to this moment on Sunday, but our lives Monday thru Saturday begins our worship.
Thirdly, we are to be transformed by the renewing of our mind so that we will no longer be conformed to the world around us. Colt Helton, our technical director made a good point during one of our meetings this week. He said that often we use religion when it is the cool thing to do. We use it when our friends use it. In the clip, Michael uses religion to solve the office crises. However, authentic faith is faith that goes against the grain. We don’t worship God because it is the cool thing to do. Often times our worship calls us to be transformed into new people.

When I see people who claim to be religious, I often find people who live just like everyone else, they just baptize their actions in religious language. Take Angelia from “The Office.” She claims to be on a higher spiritual plain than everyone else and judges people for not being a Christian. She often calls Pam bad names because she assumes Pam is sleeping around. However, we see that Angelia is having a secrete relationship with Dwight in which she is doing the very same thing. Authentic faith calls for transformation.