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The Science of God

As a pastor living in a college town I run into skeptics, doubters and unbelievers regularly. One of the most common objections I hear about the Christian faith is in regards to science. People just can’t seem to wrap their minds around God.

I get it.  I really do. I have a degree in biology and psychology.  I’m more than familiar with naturalistic evolution, evolutionary psychology and the behavioral sciences than I’d like to be.  I’ve taken physics, chemistry and genetics.  I, like many of my peers, appreciate hard facts, empirical evidence and measurable results.

In a world of scientific questions, factual evidence is our friend. Measurable outcomes are important, but when it comes to God I’ve learned that they just aren’t enough.

theosophical.wordpress.com

theosophical.wordpress.com

When Science Isn’t Enough

Science is built on the premise that what can be known is measurable.  It can be quantified with empirical evidence. This is true to an extent.

When it comes to the natural world we can use natural means to measure natural outcomes.  The problem is, God is not natural.  He is supernatural. He is beyond that which is natural and is therefore immeasurable by natural standards.

It is absurd to conclude that a supernatural God does not exist because he cannot be measured through natural means. How can what is limited measure that which is unlimited?  That’s like concluding that the ocean doesn’t exist because it doesn’t fit in a five gallon bucket.

The famed physicist Albert Einstein is credited with rightly saying, “What’s measurable isn’t always important and what’s important isn’t always measurable.” He, a self described agnostic, understood that even the most skeptical among us should have “an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being.”¹

Scientific Limitations

The infinite God cannot be defined by that which is finite. He who is limitless cannot be comprehended by that which has limits, unless he chooses to reveal himself within the context of those limits.

Imagine that we live in a two dimensional world with a three dimensional God. If this three dimensional God were to stick his finger into our two dimensional world we would describe his cylindrical finger as a flat circle because we wouldn’t have any way of accurately seeing his finger for what it is.

Our two dimensional science just doesn’t have what it takes to measure this three dimensional God. The limitless God is beyond the limits of science. Furthermore, to say that God must submit to the laws of science is to make science God.

Giving God His Rightful Place

The very definition of God refers to a supreme being who retains ultimate authority over the world he created.  By definition he cannot be bound by science, since he the Great Scientist is the one who put it’s laws into effect.

Just like a software developer has the power to by-pass the codes he put in place to make a software function in a particular way, so God also has the power and authority to by-pass the natural laws if he so chooses, and sometimes does. You cannot say that God must be measurable by science because that would make science God, which it by definition cannot be.

A Window Through Which to See the Creator

What does science tell us about God, then? A great deal actually.  In Romans 1:19-20, the apostle Paul explains that God has made himself known to us in part through creation.  We can learn about his attributes and enjoy his glory through that which his hands have made.

Jesus himself also used creation to teach his disciples about the Father, particular in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5-7). In them he used plants, animals, agriculture, seasons and weather to help his followers better understand the nature of God. It was from this very notion that many of the first scientists, who happened to be Christian or influenced by Christianity, pursued the sciences, because they believed that the study of science would better help us understand the Great Scientist

Science cannot, however, tell us all that there is to know about God. It is just too limited. The only way for man to fully know God is for God to fully reveal himself to man. The remarkable truth is that God has chosen to make himself known to us through his Son Jesus Christ.   John 1:18 tells us that “no one has ever seen God” but that “the only God, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.”

We don’t have to stress over how to scientifically prove God. He validated and vindicated himself in Christ. He can be known and enjoyed through Jesus and Jesus can be known through the Word of God.

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*For more on the historical Jesus and the Bible check out “Simply Jesus: Does the Church have Him Wrong?“, a sermon series from Living Hope Church about the person and work of Jesus Christ.

¹ Isaacson, Walter (2008). Einstein: His Life and Universe. New York: Simon and Schuster, pp. 390.

² Driscoll, Mark (2010). Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, pp. 97-104.

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How to Establish a Culture that is Consistent with Your Vision

December 1, 2014 12 comments

For as long as I can remember vision has been the primary topic of many leadership discussions.  It has long understood said that it’s the leader’s responsibility to get his people from “here” to “there.” Vision is the leaders ability to show people where to go, while inspiring them to get there.

In recent years, however, culture has become the new buzzword in leadership, and for good reason. Leaders from various arenas are realizing that culture will eat vision alive.  Or as Leonce Crump, Pastor of Renovation Church in Atlanta says, “culture is what most of the people do most of the time.”

It does not matter how compelling your vision statement.  If the people in your church aren’t carrying that vision through the actions of their daily lives, then you will never see that vision realized. For a vision to have an effect it must be accompanied by a culture that is consistent with that vision. Your vision must be something that most of the people in your church are working toward most of the time.

At Living Hope our vision is simply to glorify God by making disciples and planting churches. In other words, we want to see God made famous in the lives of people who are learning to believe in and obey Jesus through intentional relationships. This vision, as simple and straightforward as it is, does us no good if our members are not actively making it a reality. Our vision must become our culture.

Image via meetville.com

Image via meetville.com

The Five Building Blocks of Culture

The following five principles have helped us take great strides in developing a discipleship culture in our church.  We’re not doing these things perfectly, but as we consistently practice them we are, by God’s grace, seeing some decent progress.

1. Establish Clarity. Culture begins with clarity. If you want everyone in your church or ministry on the same page, heading in the same direction, then they need to know exactly where you’re taking them and why.  Paint a crystal clear picture of your end goal.  What specifically are you going for? For us, this means clearly defining what it means to be a disciple and identifying a clear process of making disciples.

2. Create Alignment. One of the quickest ways to sabotage your culture is to give people who are not aligned with your values and processes the opportunity to lead. If you want a culture that is consistent with your clearly defined objectives, then you must be intentional to guard the gate of leadership.

Do not, under any circumstances, let anyone into a place of leadership who does not clearly embody the goals and strategies you’ve established. At Living Hope, we create alignment through an apprentice development process that filters out anyone who is not aligned with who we are and where we’re going.

3. Communicate Consistently. Clarity and alignment are not enough to get your entire church, ministry or organization on board. Your people must constantly hear about your vision, values, strategy and processes until they can recite them in their sleep. Put simply, what gets repeated gets done.

At Living Hope, we accomplish this by dripping the big ideas of the gospel and discipleship through every means of communication we can.  We talk about them in sermons, in small groups, in emails, in one-to-one discipleship, in announcements and in leadership team meetings.  We do everything we can to keep sound doctrine, clear objectives and simple processes on the forefront of people’s minds.

4. Give People Experience. One of the reasons that culture doesn’t get established is because the leaders are too quick to do the work and not quick enough to give church members the experience of doing the work. It’s not enough for people to hear about your objectives and processes, they must experience them for themselves.

For us, this means practicing the buddy system.  If a current leader has a meeting to attend, a person to meet up with or a task to accomplish he is encouraged to bring an inexperienced leader with him.  This allows the current leader to get the potential leader experience, to coach him up and to thoroughly explain what we do and why.

5. Reinforce Right Behavior. There’s something powerful about celebrating your beliefs, values and processes that catalyzes culture development. On a large scale, the things that get celebrated get repeated.  Publicly celebrate the people, events and opportunities that embody the culture you’re wanting to build. This is because, as Erwin McManus, Pastor of MOSAIC in L. A. says, “whoever tells the best story shapes the culture.” Make sure the things you celebrate tell the best story of who you want your people to become.

Discipleship is one of our biggest values at Living Hope.  It typically takes place in small groups.  We reinforce our culture by publicly celebrating when someone steps into the apprentice development process, when new small groups start up and when people are added to the church through a discipleship relationship with one of our members.  This let’s everyone know that it’s important to us.

The best way to realize your vision is to make it become your culture.  These five concepts will help you take strides in establishing a healthy culture in your church or organization today. Give it a try.

The Myth of Tolerance: Why It’s Better to be Loving Than Tolerant

September 9, 2014 5 comments

The term “tolerance” has grown in popularity over the past several years.  It’s used most commonly to promote diversity, inclusion and a general acceptance of all lifestyles, worldviews and beliefs.  In many cases, when people call for tolerance they’re not actually asking for a general acceptance of who they are as a person (most people are ok with this concept), they’re demanding a celebration and embrace of their lifestyle and worldview, no matter how absurd they may be.

More Harm Than Good

The myth of tolerance is that it’s loving to embrace and celebrate other people no matter how damaging their behaviors.  While it is important that we love people who are different than us, that doesn’t mean we have to accept and celebrate their sinful choices.

Image via store.gospeltract.org

Image via store.gospeltract.org

At first glance, tolerance seems like the loving route, but it’s not.  When I was a kid for example, my little brother and I were playing in the yard when we discovered millions of little yellow pellets littering the grass.  We didn’t know what they were, but they looked fun, so we started playing with them.  We put them in our pockets, threw them in the air and rubbed them on our skin.  We did everything short of eat them.

It wasn’t long until my mom came out in a panic and rushed us into the house to wash off the fertilizer we had foolishly been playing with.  She cleaned us up, warned us never to play in the fertilizer again and sent us back outside.   It might have been tolerant for my mom to let us play in the fertilizer, but it wouldn’t have been loving.  In fact, tolerance would have done my brother and I great harm.

A Better Way

The truth is, at times genuine love must be intolerant.  Because I love my wife, I won’t tolerate anyone mistreating her.  Because I love my church, I won’t tolerate false teaching. Because parents love their children they won’t tolerate them eating fertilizer, sticking their hands down the dish disposal or playing in the street.  Why?  Because real love refuses to tolerate the things that do harm to the people we care about.

This doesn’t mean we should degrade, mistreat or condemn the people who are unlike us.  We should love, care for, respect, serve, bless and befriend people with different beliefs, world views and lifestyles, but that doesn’t mean we have to embrace and celebrate their sin. It means that we care for and respect others in spite of their sins and differences, not because of them. And it means that, at times, we should love them enough to correct them. Just like God does for us.

Love Wins

God accepts and affirms believers in Jesus Christ in spite of our sin, but that doesn’t mean that he is ok with our sin. Just like my mom refused to tolerate my brother and I playing in the fertilizer because we could get hurt, so God also will not tolerate the sin in our lives because it does great damage to our souls.  My mom loved my brother and I exactly as we were, but she refused to let us stay that way.

Similarly, God loves us exactly as we are, sin and all, but he loves us enough not to let us stay in our sin. He loved us enough to send Jesus to the cross to forgive us, clean us and free us. As we come to know the love of Christ, our sin is confronted and our hearts are changed.

Instead of tolerating people, try loving people.  Look past their sins and short-comings and accept them for who they are, just as God does for you in Christ.  Lovingly correct others when needed and be open to correction from others at all times. Point them to Jesus and let him be the one to change their world views and lifestyles, just as you look to Jesus to change your own.

This post is an excerpt from a recent sermon I preached in the “Sex, Singleness & Marriage” sermon series at the Living Hope Church-Maryville Campus called “Tolerance & Sexuality.” You can view the sermon by clicking here.

Categories: Culture, Theology Tags: , , , ,

A Theology of Manhood: How Masculine Are You?

When I was a kid being “a man” was measured by who could spit the farthest, run the fastest, burp the loudest and win the most. In high school, being “a man” was measured by the number of girls that liked you, your place on the popularity ladder and how rebellious you were. By college being “a man” was measured by who could drink the most, party the hardest and sleep with the most women.  Now that I’ve graduated, it seems like being “a man” is measured by the job you work, the amount of money you make, how much weight you can bench press or the toys you have.

In ancient times, becoming a man was a right of passage.  It wasn’t something that was assumed, it was bestowed.  Masculinity wasn’t measured in age or accomplishments, it was measured in one’s willingness to assume responsibility for his family and his tribe.  Boys knew what it was to be a man because they were told, by their fathers, what it meant to be a man.  They had treks, hunts, voyages, tests and various other ceremonies that taught them what masculinity was really all about.

 

Image from blogformen.wordpress.com

Image from blogformen.wordpress.com

In our day, it’s safe to say that dudes are confused at best and downright adrift at worst.  We live in a world where every guy wants to be a truly masculine man, but nobody knows what that actually means… or even looks like.  This generation grew up with single moms and drug addicted, alcoholic and absentee fathers.

Our role models were often work-a-holic dads and degrading coaches.  It’s no wonder we don’t know what it looks like to be a man, we didn’t have any to look up to. There were no rights of passage that told us when we’d become men.  We’ve just been pretending this whole time.

This same generation of guys is now marked by irresponsibility, passivity, laziness, cowardice, addiction, selfishness, disrespect for authority, rebellion, egotism and escape.  And those are the positive qualities. We (myself included) are a generation of boys who never grew up.

Restoring Masculinity

If this generation of boys really want to become men, then we must radically redefine, rather restore, what it means to be truly masculine. We must identify a new set of metrics for what it looks like to be a real man. In order to know what masculinity means and looks like, we must look to the man who embodied it better than anyone else who has ever lived.

Jesus Christ embodied masculinity better than anyone.  He, being without sin, lived as the perfect representation of all that masculinity was intended to be from the beginning.  If we want to know what it means and looks like to be a man, we need to look no further than his example.  Looking at Christ’s life reveals several things about masculinity. (Hebrews 4:14-16)

A man submits to God and the authority God has placed over him, like Jesus submitted to the Father. (Matthew 26:36-46)

A man relies on God for help in all things (not himself), like Jesus relied on the Holy Spirit throughout his ministry. (Luke 4:1-15)

A man matures physically, emotionally and spiritually, like Jesus matured in “wisdom and stature.” (Luke 2:52)

A man takes responsibility for himself and others, like Jesus took responsibility for humanity when he died for our sins on the cross. (1 Peter 3:18; Philippians 2:5-8))

A man selflessly sacrifices his own wants and desires for the sake of others, like Jesus selflessly sacrificed himself on the cross to bring sinners back to God. (1 John 4:9-10; 1 Peter 3:18)

A man is tough for others, but tender with them, like Jesus who defended the weak and marginalized, while caring for their needs. (John 8:1-11)

A man feels deeply, but controls his emotions, like Jesus who wept for his friend Lazarus without being paralyzed by what he felt. (John 11:1-16)

A man is actively involved in the lives of his family, friends and community, like Jesus who actively involved himself in humanity instead of waiting for us to figure things out. (Philippians 2:5-8)

A man protects those he loves, like Jesus who protects his people from Satan, sin and death by the power of his resurrection. (1 Corinthians 15:50-58; Hebrews 2:14-18)

A man provides for those he loves, like Jesus who provides for the forgiveness of our sins through his death on the cross. (Ephesians 1:7)

A man bestows masculinity on others by teaching them, like Jesus who taught his disciples what it means to be men of God. (Matthew 11:1)

A man serves others, like Jesus who served us through the sacrifice of his own life. (Mark 10:45)

A man is humble, like Jesus who lowered himself from heaven in order to elevate those who believe to heaven. (Philippians 2:5-8)

A man respects others, like Jesus who respected all people regardless of race, religion, gender or nationality. (John 4:1-45)

A man does life with other men (and women) in community, like Jesus who spent most of his time with the disciples. (Luke 5:1-11)

A man is secure in who he is, like Jesus who didn’t let the opinions of others keep him for openly confessing that he is the Son of God. (Mark 12:13-14; John 10:27)

Measuring Up

If you’re like me, Jesus’ example is a painful reminder of how much we fail to measure up.  I can’t say I embody these characteristics and I’m willing to bet you can’t either, at least not like Jesus did.  But before you give up and return to extended adolescence, take delight in knowing that Jesus is not only our example of masculinity, he is also our means for masculinity.

In 2 Peter 1:3, the Apostle Peter says that Christ’s “divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness.” Since a masculine man is a godly man, you could say that Jesus has given us everything we need for masculinity. By his death, Jesus secured for us everything we need to know and live for God as truly masculine men.

This means that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is available to us through the Holy Spirit.  We have the power to put childish ways to death, in Christ. We have the means to live a truly masculine life, in Christ. We simply need to look to Jesus as our example, trust him as our Savior and submit to him as our Lord.

Creation Care: Why Climate Change is not the Issue

There seems to be an ever increasing concern among both Christians and non-Christians on the topic of climate change.  This hotly debated topic has been controversial in the minds of Christians for quite some time, but in recent years there are an increasing number of Christ-followers giving more attention to the subject  Some Christians still deny that climate change exists, while many are beginning to accept it’s legitimacy to one degree or another.

Generally speaking, climate change is a change in the weather conditions of a particular geographic area as a result of the high use of fossil fuels and other carbon dioxide/monoxide/methane producing products and procedures.  Bill Nye, known as “the science guy,” in a debate on CNN’s “Crossfire” called climate change “our most urgent, number one priority right now.” Some Christians, however, are not convinced.

Image via thestandard.org.nz

Image via thestandard.org.nz

Is Climate Change the Issue?

Regardless of whether or not you take Bill’s claims seriously, the truth is climate change is not the issue, creation care is.  Climate change is the symptom of a much broader and more personal problem.  Creation care, or lack there of, is the root cause of much of the climate change debate.  It doesn’t account for all of the climate change factors, but it does account for many of them.

Creation care refers to the responsibility that God gave to our first parents, Adam and Eve, to “have dominion” over the earth and that which God created on it. (Genesis 1:28-31) To have dominion doesn’t mean to dominate, but rather to steward or care for something that belongs to another person.  God was giving Adam, Eve and the rest of mankind the responsibility of caring for that which belongs to him, namely the world we live in.

Creation Care: Our Responsibility

It doesn’t take a scientist to see that, until recent years, we as a culture have punted our responsibility to care for God’s good creation.  This is because sin has turned our hearts away from God, causing us to become self-centered consumers of our world, rather than responsible caretakers of it.  As a result, we dump waste hazardously, consume materials relentlessly and produce damaging bi-products extensively.

Our sin has wreaked havoc on our world.  Thankfully, God has made a way for us to return to him through Jesus Christ.  By dying on the cross, Jesus took our sin and gave us his Holy Spirit to overcome the damaging affects of sin on our worldviews, actions and lifestyles.  As 1 Corinthians 6 says, Jesus purchased believers for God, we belong to him and he gets to determine how we live our lives.

Christians would, therefore, do well to look past the controversial topic of climate change to the deeper issues of the heart.  Regardless of our perspective, we have a responsibility as God’s image bearers and his redeemed people to rightly care for that which is his.  Are we caring for creation in a way that honors God as our Creator and Jesus as our Lord?  Do we take responsibility for what we consume and produce?  Can we say with good conscience that we are being good caretakers of that which is God’s?

It’s a sad day when many of our non-Christian friends care more about stewarding the earth and caring for our God given resources than God’s people do. We don’t need to worship the earth by obsessing over it, but as God’s people we should worship him by caring for it. 

In reality, climate change (though important) is irrelevant in the argument for responsible stewardship. We should take care of the earth because it belongs to God, not just because we fear impending environmental doom.

Sabbath: Living From Rest

Image via hischarisisenough.wordpress.com

Image via hischarisisenough.wordpress.com

It’s late April, which means where I live classes are winding down at the local university, businesses are gearing up for their Spring and Summer promotions and families are making final preparations for their summer get-a-ways. Everyone’s trying to wrap up what remains of their winter projects, while getting a head start on summer responsibilities and vacations.

The tasks are piling up and time is running short.  This is the time of year when you grit your teeth, dig down deep and hang on for the weekend. With so much going on it’s easy to get overworked and under-rested.

Paradigm Shift

When times are busy like this most of us try to live to rest. We tell ourselves that we can rest only after we’ve completed our school projects and work assignments.  We say things like, “If only I can complete _____, then I can rest,”  “I’m too busy to take a break right now,” or “I’ve got so much to do I’m not even sure I’ll get a day off this week.”

Then, after working ourselves to the point of exhaustion, we self-medicate with our favorite junk food in front of the television for 2 hours every night and call that “rest.”  The result? We’re overworked, under-rested and in danger of burnout.

There’s a better way.  Genesis indicates that God created the heavens, the earth and every living thing in six days and on the seventh day he rested. Interestingly, though, he created Adam and Eve on the sixth day.  This means that the Sabbath, or “day of rest,” was God’s last day of creation, but man’s first day of existence.  Stated plainly, God created us to live from rest, not to rest.

Rest is a Person

Furthermore, in Matthew 11 Jesus invites his hearers to come find rest for their souls.  He’s speaking to a group of people who have been told their whole lives that they must earn God’s approval by what they do.  Christ must know that his listeners are weary from constantly trying to live up to impossible religious standards, so he invites them to stop relying on their own religious works and to rest instead in his finished work.

In other words, rest is not just in a day, it’s in a Person, Jesus Christ.  We’re not only to live from rest, we’re to live from rest in Christ. As Tullian Tchividjian says in his book One Way Love, “because Jesus paid it all, we are free from the need to do it all.”  Practically, this means we can take a break from our work and enjoy Jesus’ finished work.

Jesus has secured everything you need before the Father.  The work is finished. There’s nothing left for you to do.  He is ruling all things with your best interest in mind and he doesn’t need your help. Take a break and find your rest in the Lord. In other words, rest before you work so that you can be productive in your work. You know you need to!

This post is an excerpt from a sermon I preached at the Living Hope Church-Maryville Campus called “Living From Rest.” You can listen to the sermon by clicking here.

Categories: Culture, Theology Tags: , , ,

Easter Sunday: What’s the Excitement About?

April 16, 2014 1 comment

Christmas and Easter are the two days of the year when you can count on American’s to put their church clothes on and head to service.  I’m sure this trend is rapidly declining as America becomes increasingly post-Christian, but many who still have family or cultural ties to the church find themselves attending a service and eating a traditional meal with loved ones.

Many of the people who will cross the threshold of chapel doors, however, don’t have any idea what they’re celebrating.  It’s fun to sing happy songs, to listen to a life-giving message and to stuff our bellies, but what’s the excitement really all about?

Good Friday

To understand Easter we must first understand Good Friday.  It was on this day several thousand years ago that Jesus Christ was crucified.  The Gospel’s don’t say much about it other than that he was “led away to be crucified” and that they “crucified him.” (Matthew 27:26, 35)

The biblical account is brief simply because the readers of that day would have known exactly what crucifixion included: exhaustion, trial, mockery, scourged 39 times with a flagrum, forced to carry a 100 pound crossbar one mile up a hill, nails through the wrists and feet and asphyxiation. (Matthew 26; 27) They would have seen thousands of them performed by the Romans.

The details, though helpful for modern readers, aren’t what’s important.  The reason why Jesus went to the cross is.  Paul helps us understand this in 1 Corinthians 15:3 when he says “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.”  Paul is saying that Jesus died because of our sins and for our benefit.

In other words, Jesus died on the cross in our place for our sins so that those who believe can be made right with God through him. Our sins, failures and short-comings keep us from God.  Jesus removed the penalty of those sins when he died on the cross so that there would be nothing left to separate those who believe from the joy of God’s presence.

Image via nachi.org

Image via nachi.org

Resurrection Sunday

Thankfully, the crucifixion isn’t the end of the story.  Following Christ’s brutal death is his life-giving resurrection.  Without the resurrection Jesus is nothing but just another dead guy.  If he has not been raised, his claims to be God and Savior amount to nothing more than lies and empty promises.  Paul echoes this in 1 Corinthians 15:17 when he says “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”

But praise be to God who has raised the Lord Jesus from the dead!  The resurrection completes the good news of the cross because it validates that Jesus is who he said he is and he did what he said he would do.  He is the God who is worthy to be worshiped, the Savior who is able to save and the Lord who rules over all, including sin and death!

Through the resurrection we have life in his name.  Indeed there are no words that bring greater excitement to the Christian life than this: He is risen! (Matthew 28:6)

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