Thursday, July 29, 2010

Is the Church Still Relevant?

This week, I posted the question, "Is the Church still relevant?" on my facebook page and on the message board I got some enlightening responses. Many were from fellow believers who wrote about the criticisms they have heard from their unchurched friends about organized religion. Others were from folks who had an ax to grind about specific kinds of churches (Joel Osteen seems to be a favorite target). I also got some heartbreaking responses. Here's one from CoogStudentSam:

While I was growing up we went to church at least twice a week. I finally decided to leave church because I did not feel it offered me anything. I'm not trying to say that I don't need help or guidance, but I felt and still feel that organized religion as a whole is corrupt. Everyone claims to have the truth or a portion of the truth. That leads to the ultimate conundrum of who can profess their truth the loudest and to the most people. I think churches, for the most part, are run by very well-intentioned individuals who truly care about helping others or spreading their truth. Unfortunately, for churches to maintain their existence they must depend upon parishioners donations. This leads to a cycle of trying to accumulate and maintain as many attendees as possible. The focus inevitably moves away from helping others or even spreading a message to bringing in as many people and as much money as possible. My feeling as far as church and religion goes, is that if I live a good life and treat my fellow man the way I would like to be treated, then if there is a heaven, I'll probably get in. If that's not good enough, then so be it. If there's no god, it doesn't matter one way or the other then and I'm still happy with my life and the way I interact with others.

There are thousands of people just like him all around us. Most have some basic respect for Jesus and the Bible. Some have a sense of guilt about not attending church. All are people God loves, who He created, for whom Christ died. This Sunday, we'll finish our series "Reasons to Believe" with a message about how we can best respond to people like Sam.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Can We Trust the Bible?

Years ago, The Futurist magazine listed some of the worst predictions of all people who would have qualified as "experts" in their field:

"Inventions have long since reached their limit, and I see no hope for further developments." —Roman engineer Julius Sextus Frontinus, A.D. 100

"The abdomen, the chest, and the brain will forever be shut from the intrusion of the wise and humane surgeon." —John Eric Ericksen, surgeon to Queen Victoria, 1873

"Law will be simplified [over the next century]. Lawyers will have diminished, and their fees will have been vastly curtailed." —journalist Junius Henri Browne, 1893

"It doesn't matter what he does, he will never amount to anything." —Albert Einstein's teacher to Einstein's father, 1895

"It would appear we have reached the limits of what it is possible to achieve with computer technology." —computer scientist John von Neumann, 1949

"The Japanese don't make anything the people in the U.S. would want." —Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, 1954

"Nuclear powered vacuum cleaners will probably be a reality within ten years." —Alex Lewyt, president of the Lewyt Vacuum Cleaner Company, quoted in The New York Times, June 10, 1955

"Before man reaches the moon, your mail will be delivered within hours from New York to Australia by guided missiles. We stand on the threshold of rocket mail." —Arthur Summerfield, U.S. Postmaster General under Eisenhower, 1959

"By the turn of the century, we will live in a paperless society." —Roger Smith, chairman of General Motors, 1986

"I predict the Internet . . . will go spectacularly supernova and in 1996 catastrophically collapse." —Bob Metcalfe, InfoWorld, 1995

Even the smartest of people are often spectacularly wrong. Yet we Christians assert that the Bible--a book written by human authors--is infallible, divinely inspired, and without error. How can we believe this? This Sunday, we'll continue our series, Reasons to Believe by looking at some of the most persuasive objections to faith in Scripture:

"Isn't the Bible full of contradictions?"
"Wasn't the Bible's final content determined by politics?"
"Hasn't modern science proved the Bible is unreliable?"
"With so many 'holy' books in the world, why do we think the Bible is the only true one?"

Friday, July 9, 2010

Further reading for Reasons to Believe Series

Reasons to Believe will be a four-week sermon series that seeks answers to some of the toughest questions facing the Christian faith today:

Is God Real? (July 11)

Is Jesus the Only Way? (July 18)

Can We Trust the Bible? (July 25)

Is the Church Still Relevant? (August 1)

I've had an incredibly enriching experience researching these messages. I hope that these messages will lead many of you to do some research of your own. There are two books that I can highly recommend, and I thought I'd give you a brief review of each here. Either one would be great for personal reading, for a Bible study series in Sunday School, at work or home. These would also be great tools to use in sharing faith with a seeking friend ("Hey, let's read this book a chapter a week and meet for lunch on Fridays to discuss it"). So here are my two recommendations:

The Reason for God, by Tim Keller. Keller is pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, and one of my favorite preacher/authors in the world today. He is also a philosopher, and in this book we see the best of his philosophical mind as well as his pastor's heart. The first half of the book deals with intellectual objections to the Christian faith. His thesis is that people who are skeptical of Christianity need to apply the same skepticism to their doubts. If they do so, they will see that none of these objections is adequate to justify rejecting Christ. The second half of the book builds evidence for the existence of God and the truthfulness of the Gospel. Keller has been called a modern-day CS Lewis, and I could see the similarities between this book and Lewis' classic Mere Christianity. Keller's book is, in my opinion, easier to read, and is especially useful for deep thinkers.

The Case for Faith, by Lee Strobel. Strobel was a writer for the Chicago Tribune until he came to faith in Christ. Today, he is a teaching pastor at Willow Creek Community Church in suburban Chicago. This book is part of a series, including The Case for Christ and The Case for a Creator. Strobel writes like the journalist he is, interviewing experts in archaeology, science, philosophy, biblical criticism and theology to answer the tough questions about the Christian faith. This book is a little easier to read than Keller's, and very persuasive.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Reasons to Believe

In Lee Strobel's book, The Case for Faith, Strobel describes an interview with Charles Templeton. Templeton was a close friend and fellow evangelist with Billy Graham when the two men were just becoming successful preachers. Over time, Templeton began to doubt his faith, and ultimately walked away from Christianity entirely. His decision had a profound effect on Graham, who could not answer the intellectual objections of his friend. As a result, Graham went through his own crisis of faith (he describes this in his autobiography, Just As I Am). Finally, after many prayers and tears, Graham re-committed himself to God and to preaching the Gospel. He didn't know all the answers, but he trusted in God and His Word regardless. Templeton was disappointed, telling friends, "Billy committed intellectual suicide." Templeton went on to be a author and TV commentator in Canada. He also wrote extensively about his reasons for abandoning Christianity.

When Strobel met Templeton, he was in his 80s, beginning to feel the onset of dementia. Templeton was gracious but firm in his explanation of why he could not believe in a personal, loving God. Yet when Strobel asked about Jesus, the response was astonishing. Templeton began to weep as he spoke of Jesus as the most perfect moral mind in history, the most important person who ever lived. He said, "Everything good I know about life, I learned from Jesus...and if I may say it in this way, I miss Him." Filled with sorrow, Templeton refused to speak about the subject anymore.

There are a great many people in our world today who have a profound respect--even affection--for Jesus, perhaps even a desire to believe in Him as Savior, but who have intellectual hurdles they simply cannot surmount. There are also many Christians whose faith has been shaken because of the pain and suffering in the world today, scientific discoveries which seem to contradict the biblical record, stories that indicate the Bible was crafted for political purposes (ie, The DaVinci Code), and many other reasons. Can we know that God is real? Is Jesus truly the only way? Can we trust the Bible? Is the Church still relevant? In our sermon series starting July 11 called Reasons to Believe, we'll take a look at each of these questions and give honest, biblical answers.