Why You Should Still Believe In The Bible, Even If It Contradicts Evolutionary Theory

As I write this, I am preparing to participate in the Skokie Library’s panel discussion of religious leaders, interacting with the Smithsonian Institute’s Exploring Human Origins exhibit currently on display there. If you’re a follower of Jesus, I would certainly appreciate your prayers as I get ready for this exciting event. If you’re in the area, consider coming on on Monday, September 19th at 7PM to enjoy what promises to be a lively discussion.

Does the Bible contradict Darwinian evolutionary theory? I believe it does. Some disagree. But what if they do contradict one another? Would that be a good reason to give up belief in the Bible?  No; as I intend to show, there is good reason to the Bible, even if it does conflict with the accepted “scientific” paradigm of Darwinian evolutionary theory.
To begin with, I will freely admit my dependence on God’s revelation in Scripture. The truth of the Bible is my most fundamental presupposition about reality, and I reason outward from there. As we will see, that’s a good thing–especially given the alternative.
So why doesn’t it matter whether the Bible and Darwinian evolutionary theory contradict? It is because belief in evolution means believing in rationalism. The problem is that rationalism ultimately collapses on itself and turns into irrationalism. And irrationalism similarly collapses on itself and turns back into rationalism again.* The belief system turns out to be totally incoherent. We’ll look at this issue in two stages.
Clear as mud yet? Read on.

Stage One

  1. It is a rule of logic that two contradictory propositions can not both be true. 
  2. If Bible and evolutionary theory contradict (which, again, is the issue we’re considering–whether or not they actually do contradict is beside the point), then to believe in evolution is to disbelieve, from the get-go, in the Bible. Because rejecting the Bible means rejecting the God of the Bible as the standard for truth, to reject the Bible in favor of evolution would be to subscribe to a kind of rationalism.

    Rationalism, according to theologian and philosopher John Frame, is, “the view that the human mind is the final judge of truth and falsehood.” But remember that two contradictory propositions cannot both be true. Therefore the only way you can be sure that everything you think you know is not false is by knowing single fact in the universe. Unless you know every fact in the universe, for all you know there might be a fact out there that contradicts every single proposition you think you know.
  3. As an ape evolved by time and chance alone after an extraordinarily long series of random mutations out of a sea of goo, you don’t know every fact in the universe. After all–why should an ape think he is omniscient!?
  4. Therefore, for all you know, every single proposition you think you know could be contradicted by some fact out there.
  5. This means you cannot actually be certain about anything in the world.
  6. You are stuck in irrationalism: you are now forced to live in complete uncertainty and without any certain knowledge of anything at all.
  7. This means that, even if evolution were true, you would have no good reason for thinking that you should believe it–because you could never actually be certain that you knew it (or anything else in the world).
  8. Therefore, it doesn’t matter if the Bible and Darwinian evolutionary theory contradict. Because if evolution were true, and it did contradict with the Bible, then you couldn’t know that, or anything else. And this whole conversation is moot.
  9. “Fine!” You may say. I can see that there’s no reason to believe in evolution, if it’s actually true. But I still can’t believe the Bible, because I am now an irrationalist. With my limited mind, I can’t know anything for certain–including that the Bible is true!”

Stage Two

  1. Alright now, you’ve adopted irrationalism. Irrationalism, according to Frame, is, “A view of epistemology [the study of knowledge] that emphasizes the deficiencies of human reason, at the extreme denying the possibility of rational knowledge.”

    And now, like a good irrationalist, you know that you know nothing for certain. Here’s the thing: you DO know some things for certain about the world. For example, you now know that you have no good reason for believing in evolution, if it is true (see above). You also know you exist. And if you insist that you really don’t know anything at all, well then I would simply ask, “Do you know that for certain?” See the problem? You’re asserting irrationalism with rationalistic certainty. You know that you don’t know.

  2. Given that you do know some things for certain, and given that two contradictory statements can never both be true, there are only two possible options: either (a) you know everything–and therefore you are sure that there are no facts out there that contradict anything you think you know, or (b) God, who reveals Himself in the Bible, who actually does know everything and alone can be certain, has revealed some things to you–such that you can be certain.
  3. So the fact that you have certainty at all in your life, about anything, presupposes the truth of the Bible, God’s revelation about Himself and the world.
  4. To emphasize that point: because the Bible is true, we have certain knowledge about some things in the world.
  5. Because the Bible says that every book, chapter and verse within itself is “breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:15-16) we must presuppose that the Bible is true in its entirety. If we want to pick and choose which parts we will believe, we are substituting God’s standard of truth (Scripture) for our own fallible, fallen and incomplete knowledge. And then we’re right back to where we started.
  6. So this is why it doesn’t matter whether Darwin’s evolutionary theory contradicts the Bible. Because the Bible is true. So if Darwin’s theory contradicts it, then Darwin’s theory is wrong.

How to Respond

The Bible is God’s truth, given to us through men whom the Holy Spirit spoke through. And in the Bible, God reveals to us his holy character, his grand design of the world and His plan for the people He has created. As a people, we have rebelled against God. We have sinned and pursued our own autonomy–strongly desiring to live in God’s world, enjoying God’s benefits, but without God. As we have just seen, the desire for autonomy does not work out very well. In fact, it collapses in on itself!
In the Bible, God warns sinful people like you and me of the eternal consequence of living a lifetime in rebellion against him: everlasting punishment in Hell (Romans 6:23) says, “the wages of sin is death….” In the same Bible (in fact in the same verse!) God offers sinners like us complete pardon and reconciliation–through the man that he has chosen as judge of the world. God publicly confirmed that this man is both the perfect standard of goodness, and the perfect judge of humanity, when he raised this man from the dead.
You guessed it: the judge and God’s perfect standard is Jesus. And it is He who offers you reconciliation to God–even right now as you read this! The Bible says to change your mind (“repent”) about your so-called independence from Him and completely trust your life to Jesus, believing that He is Lord and that God raised Him from the dead (Romans 10:9-10). If you will turn and trust yourself to Jesus, God will forgive you and give you new life, that will last forever with Him.
I know. To someone who has believed that Darwinian evolutionary theory was true since grade school, the Gospel (good news) about Jesus is going to sound foolish at first. But remember, we’ve shown here that, even if the Bible contradicts evolution, you should still believe the Bible.  The Gospel may seem to go against what you’ve come to see as common sense. But then again, compared to Darwin’s theory with its self-defeating rationalist-irrationalist cycle, the Gospel doesn’t sound like such nonsense after all, does it?
If you would like to know more, or you read this and have become a follower of Jesus, I would love to hear from you. Would you please shoot me an email at jsettecase@parkcommunitychurch.org?
Thanks, and God bless you.
*apologies to John Frame and Richard Pratt

Want to learn more?

  • Pratt, Richard L., Every Thought Captive (Phillipsburg: P&R, 1979).
  • Frame, John, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (Phillipsburg: P&R, 1987).
  • Bahnsen, Greg, “Greg Bahnsen vs Evolution” on YouTube.

New Men’s Group Forming

I spent a few hours this afternoon contacting some of the men of Park Church (Edgebrook). I did this because I was recently tasked with overseeing the men’s ministry of our local church, and I wanted to invite them to be a part of a new initiative we are soon starting.

The good thing is this: I will not need to start things from scratch. Park Edgebrook already has a solid men’s ministry, which has been meeting semi-sometimely for breakfasts, book and Bible studies, as well as other initiatives. The men of Park Edgebrook are committed and involved in various ministries at the church. This is a solid church, with a solid contingent of men. Some of these guys have been attending the church for decades–since back when it was Edgebrook Church. But just about every week, there are new faces and new families that join our ranks.

A New Tribe

So my mission, as I see it, is to build on the momentum  happening here and to help provide opportunities for men who are already involved, as well as those who are newer or still unsure about the church, “to learn from God’s word and to challenge each other to live as men of wisdom and purpose.”

To do this, we are starting a new men’s small group, a tribe of friends and brothers to meet every week in community and on mission. 

The Biblical Pattern

In his letter to the church in ancient Galatia, the Apostle Paul writes,

Brothers, if someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so you also won’t be tempted.  Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.  For if anyone considers himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.  But each person should examine his own work, and then he will have a reason for boasting in himself alone, and not in respect to someone else.  For each person will have to carry his own load.

The Bible’s instructions for how we are supposed to live together involve all sorts of truly manly themes: restoring our fallen brothers, self-discipline, carrying one another’s burdens, fulfilling the law of our King, pursuing humility, self-examination, working hard, and learning to carry out our own God-given responsibilities.

It all adds up to the makings of a solid men’s group, am I right?

The Church’s Vision

On the back wall of our church’s auditorium this statement is posted in words made of metal: “We exist to be a biblical community where the Gospel of Jesus Christ transforms lives, renews the city, and impacts the world.”

The new men’s group will be the laboratory where we will strive to put the Apostle’s instructions and our church’s vision into practice.

Monthly Schedule

Following the guidance of Kevin Howells (Pastor of Small Group) and Park’s S. G. Ministry team, we will meet according to the following format:

  • Week 1: Group Study and Discussion
    An authentic, open and challenging discussion of a passage of Scripture and/or a chapter of a book, with a heavy emphasis on skills-building and practical application. 
  • Week 2: Meal
    Food, conversation, prayer and camaraderie.
    (Mmm… wings….*)


  • Week 3: Group Study and Discussion
    Same as Week 1.

  • Week 4: Third Place
    Time to unwind and hang out at a natural, neutral space in the community. Think: bowling alley, pub, restaurant, cigar shop, or coffee shop. I wrote an article about “Third Places,” which you can read here

Along with these regular gatherings, we will be open to getting together casually at other times, to watch a game, grab a bite to eat, get the families together, check out a neighborhood fest, serve the community, etc.

Next Steps

This new group will be open to all men of the church, single, married or divorced. Guys who are already committed to small groups should talk to their group leaders and wives (if applicable) before joining–but you are welcome too. Let’s form a tribe and get to work.

Do you want more information? Ready to sign up? Shoot me an email: jsettecase@parkcommunitychurch.org.

*Or maybe you’re a vegetarian, in which case just imagine I said, “Mmm… carrot sticks….”

 

Sermon Notes – Psalm 19

This Sunday I had the honor of preaching at Park Community Church, Edgebrook, on the 19th Psalm. In case you missed it or are curious to see what a pastor’s preaching notes might look like, here are the notes I used (very slightly edited–N. B. these are the notes I wrote before I preached and not a transcript of the actual sermon, which means what I actually preached may have been slightly (though not substantially) different than what you read here).

Further reading & watching recommendations can be found at the bottom.

*****

Psalm 19 – God has revealed Himself.

  1. INTRO
    1. Intro–scuba diving man and drowing man.*
    2. One day a diver was enjoying the aquatic world 20 feet below sea level. He noticed a guy at the same depth he was, but he had on no scuba gear whatsoever.
      This made the diver, who was proud of his skills, a little annoyed.

      The diver went below another 20 ft, but the guy joined him a few moments later. The diver, now downright aggravated, went down another 25 feet more, but soon , the same guy joined him.

      Alright, at this point the diver was straight-up confused, so he took out a waterproof chalkboard set, and wrote, “How on earth are you able to stay under this deep without equipment?”

      The guy took the board and chalk, erased what the diver had written, and wrote, “I’m DROWNING, YOU GOOBER!!!”

      See, that diver missed something the truth that was right in front of him.
      Today we’re going to talk about those times in life when it seems like God is silent. Like he’s not speaking. Like he’s nowhere to be found. And we’re going to see from our text this morning that, during those times, we have to realize that God has already

      1. You can miss something that is right in front of your face.
      2. You can even miss God.
      3. Although God is everywhere, it is possible to be out of sync with Him, and out of line for His declared will for your life.
      4. This Psalm is crucial because it teaches us what it takes for us to get back in line with God. And it turns out it’s nothign like what we would expect.
    3. Pray
    4. Read Psalm 19.
    5. The Big Idea this morning is this: God Has Revealed Himself
      1. We’re going to look at the ways in which God reveals Himself
      2. And we’re going to look at our proper response to that revelation.
  • Explain: in this Psalm, David describes reality in terms of three perspectives.
    1. These are
      1. The natural world
      2. The written Scriptures
      3. The human self.
    2. Two of these are in perfect harmony with one another. They declare the glory of God, and they reveal Who He is. He has spoken through these media, and He has done it clearly.
    3. One of these things is not like the other. The Self.
  1. God’s revelation
    1. God has revealed Himself in the world (especially the heavens and the skies), for my awareness
      1. The heavens are telling.” He is looking on the freshness fate morning, and all he sees is telling of God, bringing God before him. –Ellicott
    2. (2-3) The progression of the days reveal information
      1. Day to day “pours out speech” –is a blabbermouth! Think of walking through a forest during the day, and everything you discover there–it all SHOUTS unendingly–all the noise of the forest is incessantly repeating, “The glory of God!”
        • SLIDE: RAINFOREST LIFE
        • The idea is, that the successive days thus impart instruction, or convey lessons about God. The day does this by the returning light, and by the steady and sublime movement of the sun in the heavens, and by all the disclosures which are made by the light of the sun in his journeyings. –Barnes

      2. Night to night reveals knowledge. Nights are quieter. It’s harder to learn. And yet, have you ever walked outside on a clear night and looked up at the stars? They reveal knowledge about who God is. SLIDE: MILKY WAY

        • The heavens and the sky are like our instructors. They never stop lecturing. There is a certain glory in the day, and another one in the night, when the stars come out.

        • Picture two choirs, alternating their verses.

        • no wonder, Paul’s condemnation in Roman 1. we have evidence enough!

      3. The information is not in human language, but it is discernible.
        • “The communication of the sky is “eloquent, but mute; its voice is for the heart and emotion, not the ear.”
        • What is science, but the discovery and translation of what the world reveals about God into human language? QUOTE a SCIENTIST HERE.
      4. (4b-6) The sun displays God’s love
        1. (5a) God’s committed love shown in that the sun is like a bridegroom–triumphant and full of love for his beloved.
          • Tent – “chupah,” originally the bridal suite (chambers).
          • Eventually held over the couple during the vows (as in our wedding). represents the heavens, as well as the protection of the groom for his bride.
          • The sun even becomes a metaphor for Christ, the Bridegroom of the church. Mark 2:19 – Jesus calls himself the bridegroom
        2. (5b) God’s joyful love shown in that the sun is like an athlete who loves the joy of competition
        3. (6) God’s providing love shown in that the sun warms all the earth
          • Like Christ illuminating men (John 1)
        4. God has revealed Himself in His Word, for my good
          1. (7-9) Types of Scripture and their effect
            1. (7a) Law
              • Perfect
              • Revives the soul
                • Henry: The word translated law, may be rendered doctrine, and be understood as meaning all that teaches us true religion.
                • “Converts” the soul. Brings it to life.
                • “The one who does this things shall live by them.” was the mission statement of the Old Testament Law. LEv. 18:5; Romans 10:5
  1. (7b) Testimony
    • Sure
    • Makes wise the simple
      • Those who are ignorant of God, upon hearing the Gospel, become wise.
      • but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 1 Cor. 1:24.
  1. (8a) Precepts
    • Right
    • Rejoice the heart
  2. (8b) Commandment
    • Pure
    • Enlightening the eyes
      • Show us our sin. if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”
        • (i) Romans 7:7
      • Things are starting to turn here.
  1. (9a) Fear (right religion described in Scripture)
    • Clean
    • Enduring forever
      • Right religion, when carried out, will cleanse a sinner. Yet… who completes this? This sets up David’s plea later.
      • PErfection!
      • God’s standard of true worship hasn’t changed. It will endure forever. So there’s no getting around it.
      • So even Jesus says God must be worshiped in Spirit and in truth. John 4:24.
  1. (9b) Rules
    • True
    • Righteous altogether
      • More properly, “judgments.” Benson – “declarations of his righteous will; and, as it were, his judicial sentence, by which he expects that men should govern themselves, and by which he will judge them at the last day….”
      • The Bible says that God, “has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness…” by what standard? The answer is in Acts 17:31, “by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” Jesus is the perfect standard, and it’s by Him we’ll be judged.
  1. (10-11) Desirability and usefulness of all of Scripture
    1. (10) Objective and subjective value
      • These are all more precious than gold
        • Gold=the most valuable commodity in the ancient world
      • These are more enjoyable than honey
        • honey=the sweetest substance imaginable in the ancient world.
  1. (11) Sanctions
    • They warn God’s servants against disobedience.
    • They promise reward to God’s servants for obedience.
      • The perspective changes. God becomes the One being addressed after this point.
      • They warn and they promise blessing. So now–the Psalmist pauses, and he examines himself. And it is as though he invites you to examine yourself as well. As you consider God’s righteous decrees, do you deserve blessing or curse?
    • My response

      1. I’m out of step with the God who has revealed Himself.
        1. I see myself sinking down.
        2. The more I see of God’s glorious standard, the more I realize the truth of Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the GLORY of GOD.
          1. Alexander MacLaren envisions, “going down into the abyss, a ladder with three rungs on it.”
        3. (12) Forgiveness for unknown sins
          1. “The contemplation of the ‘perfect law, enlightening the eyes,’ sends the Psalmist to his knees. He is appalled by his own shortcomings, and feels that, beside all those of which he is aware, there is a region, as yet unilluminated by that law, where evil things nestle and breed.”
        4. (13a) Protection from known sins
          1. Help me avoid them
            • MacLaren: “The Psalmist is like a man standing on the edge of some precipice, and peeping over the brink to the profound beneath, and feeling his head beginning to swim. He clutches at the strong, steady hand of his guide, knowing that unless he is restrained, over he will go. ‘Keep thou back Thy servant from presumptuous sins.'”
            • The Hebrew tradition maintained a division between unintentional sins and flagrant (“high-handed” in Numbers 15) sins. Flagrant sins could not be atoned for.
            • There was no sacrifice in the OT law for high handed sins. David in asking for forgiveness is asking for a greater sacrifice than anything the law has to offer.
          2. Keep me from becoming enslaved to them
            • Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, who himself has said, “Everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” John 8:34.
          3. I want to be in step with God the God who has revealed Himself.
            1. (13b) Desire to be blameless, innocent of great sin
              1. The third and bottom rung of the ladder: “the great transgression.” Falling away. David knows the progression of sin.
            2. (14a) Desire for acceptability to God
              1. Outward (words)
                • Mt. 12:37- For by your words will you be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.
              2. Inward (thoughts)
                • 5:22 – “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment….”
              3. BOOTSTRAPS! The lie we tell ourselves here is that, all this is going to take is learning some principles and starting to live by them.

              4. But we have to see what’s happening here.
                1. DAVID IS EXAMINING THE LAW AND WHAT’S HE REALIZING?
                2. HE’s realizing his own inadequacy.
                3. He’s realizing that there is no way for him to get himself in line with who God is and what God wants. He’s a sinner.
              5. David longs to trust in the God who reveals Himself.
                1. (14b) God is my rock of shelter
                2. (14b) God redeems me (buys me back)
                  1. Henry: “No prayer can be acceptable before God which is not offered in the strength of our Redeemer or Divine Kinsman, through Him who took our nature upon him, that he might redeem us unto God, and restore the long-lost inheritance.”

 

  1. There is only one way to realign your self with what God has revealed.
    1. That is to run to Christ Jesus
    2. The Rock of your shelter
    3. The redeemer who purchases you out of your slavery to sin.
  2. Conclusion
    1. God has revealed Himself, and we are accountable to know him.
    2. Because of our sin and rebellion, we are out of sync with God’s will
    3. The more we focus on God’s law, the more we realize how short we fall of His glorious standard.
      1. As a matter of fact, the Bible says in Romans 1 that the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the wickedness and ungodliness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.
      2. Go on a little further in the book of Romans and we see that
        1. ALL KNOW GOD
        2. no one seeks God. No one is righteous, not even one.
      3. Our situation is hopeless, until we realize that Jesus Christ is the answer.
      4. Jesus is the perfect unification of the three perspectives.
        1. He is the creator of the natural world
          1. John 1:3 says that, “Through Him all things were made, and without him nothing was made that has been made.”
          2. Colossians 1:17 says, “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
          3. Jesus is the one who imprinted the creation with the glory of God.
        2. He (Jesus) is the Word of God.
          1. He is the ultimate revelation from God (Hebrews 1:2)
          2. He is the one the Scriptures are about (Luke 24)
        3. He (Jesus) is the perfect representation of the human perspective
          1. He is the one man whose existence and experience are perfectly aligned with the will of God the Father. John 8:28 says “I do nothing on my own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught me.”
          2. He is the representative of all God’s people.
            • All people are either in Adam or in Christ Jesus.
            • For if by the one man’s trespass the many died, how much more have the grace of God and the gift overflowed to the many by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ. Romans 5:15
          3. As our representative,
            • He perfectly fulfilled the Law and the testimonies and the judgments of God–everything David is talking about in this Psalm.
            • He alone was qualified to serve as the atoning sacrifice to wipe away our sins
              • The greater sacrifice David was asking for.
            • God made Him, who knew no sin, to become sin on our behalf, in order that we might become the righteousness of God (1 Cor. 5:21)
          4. Jesus died, and was buried.
            • He DIED–He was completely cut off from the land of the living.
            • But He CAME BACK. He rose from teh grave So now we can cry out with Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:55-57: “Death is swallowed up in victory! O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
          5. Jesus unites the physical world–the heavens–with the word of God, with the human self.
            1. When we want to hear from God–we Have to Go to HIM!
          6. So, if you’re waiting to hear from God, understand that He has spoken.
            1. He has revealed Himself in creation, which pours forth endless praise of His glory
            2. He has given His word
            3. And best of all, He has manifested His nature, character, love and grace in the person of Jesus Christ.
            4. The only way for us to have full communion with God–full mindfulness of the three perspectives in perfect harmony–is to focus on Christ. To live with Christ. To follow Christ.
  • Do you know JEsus Christ here this morning?
    1. Is He your ROCK and your REDEEMER?
    2. Do you turn to him when your life is out of whack?
    3. Has He forgiven you of your hidden faults and your presumptuous sins?
    4. Real understanding in life–hearing from GOd–comes when we fix our eyes on the things above, where our life is hidden with God in Christ Jesus.
  1. NEXT STEPS:
    1. Jesus is revealed in Scripture.
    2. I cannot stress this enough. You need to be in this book. [HOLD UP THE BIBLE]
    3. You not only don’t have to figure this life out on your own. You cannot do it.
    4. Get into the BIble and get into community of people who will help you understand it, whom you can lean on, to minister GOd’s grace to you.
    5. This is where we hear from God.
    6. This is where we learn of Jesus and how to follow Him more closely.
    7. May God’s word be the first–and last–place we go to hear from God. The God who has revealed Himself.

*****

Further reading & watching: 

A Christian Perspective on Morality

Last Wednesday I had a fun time moderating a lively discussion on the subject of morality as part of my monthly MeetUp series, “Ask A Pastor (Far Northwest Side Spiritual Discussions).”

Before we opened up the floor to questions and discussion, I gave a brief talk on the topic. Here are the notes I taught from, unedited (which means my sources aren’t cited, and it’s really formatted better for speaking than reading. Please don’t tell Larry Mroczek, my junior year Honors English teacher).

Morality Talk – Let’s discuss right and wrong!

Biblically, morality comes from God.

God’s moral proclamation is not an arbitrary decree, nor is it a higher standard. Rather, the Bible teaches, “Be Holy, because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16).

At creation, God gave Adam one command: “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”

Notice that God did not have to command the man not to murder, not to steal, or even how to practice religion correctly. There was one command, and it was a simple one. Really, the command amounted to this: “Respect God and obey what God says.” This is what is summarized as the “whole duty of man” in Ecclesiastes 12:13, “Fear God and keep his commandments.”

If you know the story, you know Adam did not keep God’s commandment. He was tempted by his wife, Eve, who had been tempted by the devil. Adam sinned, and his sin we now refer to as “The Fall.” Immediately after Adam sinned, God brought the earth under a curse, but the worst curse was for the devil. In Genesis 3:15, God promised that one of Eve’s offspring would destroy the devil, even though in the process the offspring would himself be fatally wounded. So God promised a self-sacrificing Savior at the dawn of human history. It is significant that this promise comes even before any of the moral codes God would soon give humanity.

The next moral code the Lord gave was to Noah, in Genesis 9, allowed the eating of meat, forbade eating meat with blood, prohibited murder, and gave a mandate for human reproduction.

After this, God began to establish a special relationship with a certain genealogical line of people, who were descended from Noah, through the biblical patriarch Abraham. It was with Abraham’s descendants, through his son Isaac and grandson Israel, that God established what we now refer to as the “Old Covenant.”

The Old Covenant was a legal-theological system based on conditional promises God gave to the nation of Israel, through the prophet Moses. If Israel kept their end of the bargain, they would receive life and blessings (Deuteronomy 30:19), but if they disobeyed God’s law, they would receive curse and exile from the Promised Land (Leviticus 26:33).

At the heart of the Old Covenant were the Ten Commandments.

During the period in which the Old Covenant was still in effect, God began to make more promises to humanity, building on the original promise of salvation, that he had given to Adam and Eve back in the beginning. He promised that an era would come in which every member of the people of God would know God and live morally—because from a biblical perspective, morality and relationship with God are bound up together. So in Jeremiah 31:33-34, the Lord describes the coming “New Covenant” era, saying, “’I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,’ declares the LORD, ‘for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.’”

Now in the meantime, developments in moral philosophy were being made outside of Israel. Every society has always had some kind of moral code of laws—many of which paralleled the kind of morality God gave to Israel. This is explained in that God gave all human beings a conscience; in Romans 2:14-15 the Bible says that “…when Gentiles, who do not have the Law [of Moses], do by nature what the Law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the Law, since they show that the work of the Law is written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts either accusing or defending them.”

What is also interesting is that two things take place: first, Israel does disobey God and break the Old Covenant, and they are exiled and dispersed. Yet, during that period, in which the Babylon Empire reigned supreme, we find that many non-Jewish societies made radical advancements in their moral philosophy.

According to Christian Scripture, the Hebrew Scriptures (“the Law and the Prophets”) hang on the two commandments, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind,” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” That second principle, loving one’s neighbor as one loves one’s self, spread to non-Jewish societies during the time of the Jewish exile.

A form of it reached Egypt between 2040 – 1650 B.C.—roughly corresponding the time when Israel were slaves in Egypt. But it was really primitive “Do to the doer to make him do.” It was just what we call the “law of reciprocity.”

Moses received it in around 1500 B.C.

But around the time of the Jewish Exile in Babylon, between ~597 B.C. and 538 B.C., we see nations under Babylonian rule adopting this Jewish morality. China, India, Greece, Persia and Rome all picked it up.

It was during that period that the Medo-Persian Empire conquered Babylon, and Darius (b. 550 B.C.) issued the decree that, “…all the peoples, nations and men of every language who were living in all the land…in all the dominion of my kingdom men are to fear and tremble before the God of Daniel.

The western end of the empire was Greece. The eastern end was India.

Buddhism was founded in India in the low 500s, B.C.

Confucius wrote around 500 B.C.

Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics was written in 350 B.C.

So it has been proposed that these moral advancements owe their development in part to the influence of Jewish morality on the Babylonian/Medo-Persian empire (which later became the Greek, and eventually the Roman Empire.*

So in the non-Jewish world, you have approximations of biblical morality—though never, or rarely, the heartfelt conviction over sin that is seen in the Psalms, for example—but the revealed morality from God is limited to the Hebrew Scriptures, that is, the Old Testament.

After a period of four centuries of silence, Jesus is born in the town of Bethlehem to a virgin girl, fulfilling further prophecies (Micah 5:2; Isaiah 7:14) about the coming Savior, that God had previously promised back in Genesis.

Jesus completely transcends and transforms morality in a way that is analogous to the great moral shift that took place around the Sixth Century B.C., but far greater than that shift.

The highest moral principle of Jesus is not, “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself,” but rather He says, “A new commandment I give to you that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”

Well, if you follow the rest of the story of Jesus’ life, you discover exactly what “as I have loved you” really means. Jesus lay down his life for his people. That model of self-sacrificing love becomes the new norm for the morality of the people of God. So when the Apostle John summarizes how to live in a loving way, He says, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16). Indeed, there can be no higher moral principle than this one—a fact that Jesus points out in John 15:13, when he teaches, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

Of course, Christian morality does not limit itself to love only for fellow Christians. Rather, believers are commanded to, “love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

Along with the command to love, Jesus gives many other moral imperatives—which echo some of the same morality of the Ten Commandments—recall, they had been at the heart of the Old Covenant—but which reflect the higher love to which Jesus’ followers (in the New Covenant era) are called. Rather than simply prohibiting adultery, Jesus prohibits lust. Rather than just murder, Jesus prohibits hatred and insult. In Matthew 5-7, Jesus lays out a moral code for his followers that is far beyond anything developed prior to that time, whether Jewish or Gentile.

So Christian morality is inseparable from Jesus—and it is only through unity with him that a person can actually live a truly moral life, according to God’s standard.

If you continue to follow the development of moral progress in the world after the time of Christ, what do you see? You see followers of Jesus fighting disease and plague while Roman pagans flee the cities. You see women gaining previously-unheard-of rights. You see Christians fighting against and ending slavery, which had been enshrined in human civilizations for all of history. You see the Church inventing the concept of hospitals and colleges, making huge advancements in art and music and education. Even the concept of childhood owes its existence to Christianity. That’s right, an article came out last year called, “How Christianity invented Children,”[1] explaining how Jesus’ attitude toward children revolutionized the ancient world, leading up to the modern time.

Christian morality is bound up with the person of Jesus. He is the best revelation of God’s moral character (Hebrews 1:1-2). He is the Creator of our world, and has the best understanding of how moral agents are to interact within it (John 1:1-3). He is also the ultimate human representative (Romans 5).

The moral bar he raises is actually an impossible standard to keep. But the Bible provides a solution for this. When Jesus died on the cross, he took all the moral failure of his people on Himself (2 Corinthians 5:21). In place of our moral failure (Romans 3:23), God attributes to followers of Jesus the moral perfection of Jesus Himself, and God gives the Holy Spirit to those same people, to empower them to live according to Jesus’ standard. Perfectly? No. But joyfully. Is it a struggle sometimes? Yes! But it is a struggle the follower of Jesus will ultimately win, by God’s grace.

So what about people who do not follow Jesus?

Can an atheist or non-Christian act in a moral way? Yes and no.

True morality, according to the Bible, is grounded in knowing God and loving him. Non-believers can approximate morality by doing moral things, yet if, in doing so, they are rejecting God, that cannot truly be moral.

Moreover, when a non-believer acts morally, he is actually being inconsistent. This is because, without God and the Bible, there is no way to ground morality in any kind of objective way.

So you have to ask yourself: Has God spoken about morality?

If not, then someone has to decide what is right and what is wrong. Who’s going to do that? It would have to be someone with comprehensive knowledge of the moral universe, in order to lay down any kind of absolutes. None of us possess that quality!

But then, maybe morality is subjective—varying from person to person or from culture to culture? This boils down to there being no morality at all. At least, it becomes impossible to differentiate between moral systems that are correct and ones that are incorrect.

John Frame, a theologian, asks this question, “How do you adjudicate between two different moral frameworks that sit before you, that each believe its morality is superior to the other person’s?”

James White, a Christian apologist, has pointed out, that the reality of the world is such that not every worldview actually desires peace and getting along. Ravi Zacharias, a Christian philosopher, has said this too: some people believe that they would “get along” much better without you in the picture!

How do we differentiate between these various worldviews? The Bible is the morally-infallible norm by which we do this.

So let’s say you answer, “Yes, God has spoken.” And there are moral standards that apply across the board.

Well then, are those moral standards found in the God of the Bible, as revealed in the Bible? If not, then how do we decide?

It boils down to something we have talked about a lot: presuppositions. When you presuppose the Bible to be true—that is, when you start with that assumption—you can make sense of the moral universe in which we live. When you start with anything else, you run into contradictions and self-referential incoherence.

To conclude: there are many moral systems out there in the world, but they ultimately boil down to two options: morality based on the perfect nature of God, or morality based finally on my ever-changing self and my own best judgments. With the radical, self-sacrificial love that Jesus calls us to live out, it ought to be plain to us which one is based on God’s character. Christian morality is not something any mere human could come up with, but it is something God calls each of us to.

The Bible says that, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For He has set a day when He will judge the world with justice by the Man He has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).

In other words, one day God will judge each of us by his perfect standard, which is his Son Jesus. Those who are his followers will have our sins forgiven and His moral perfection credited to us. Those who reject God’s offer will be judged according to the Standard. Will your life demonstrate that you loved God or hated Him? Your eternal destiny will reflect that!

So that is my best attempt to (somewhat) briefly explain Christian morality to you. Now, what questions do you have for me?

[1] http://theweek.com/articles/551027/how-christianity-invented-children

*I first heard of this theory from Derek Webster, lead pastor of Grace Pointe Church in Naperville, Illinois, while I worked there between 2013 and 2016.

A Commentary on Psalm 139

Here’s some commentary I recently drafted on the 139th Psalm. I’m sharing this, both to help me process through it, and in the hopes that it might be beneficial to someone down the line.

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from afar.
There is Someone watching you–Someone you have never seen, but who has observed everything you’ve ever done.

David has been brought through trial and given the throne. God has searched him in all his trouble. “God, you have seen my highs and lows.” Doctrine: Divine Omniscience. God knows all. The idea is that God knows me as a miner knows the earth (Barnes). He has bored, he has dug deep, and he has uncovered what is within. “O Lord, you have mined me.” 

You search out my path and my lying down
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
He searches me out, when I am on the move; when I am still. God doesn’t get bored from observing me. He is well aware of all my activities.

Sitting down, rising up. All daily activity. My thoughts are known from far off–long before they arrive. Long after I forget them. My daily activity matters to God–not just the “spiritual” stuff. There is no division between the spiritual and the secular here. Jesus likewise knew what was in a man (John 2:24-25). God sifts my life and layes it out before HImself. 

Even before a word is on my tongue,
    behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
He knows what I’ll speak before I do. This must make me pause. 
God is aware of every word. What we say matters to God. How many careless words do we utter? God knows them fully. God will never misunderstand you, either.

You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay your hand upon me.
He is close to me. He envelops me. He is immanent. Doctrine: Immanence of God. God is also everywhere. Doctrine: Omnipresence. God surrounds us as closely and intentionally as an army besieging a city. God’s attributes are not abstract to David. God is all-knowing of me. God is all-present with me. My life matters to God.

6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
    it is high; I cannot attain it.
I can’t comprehend how You do this, Lord. How can you know what I will do? 
David pauses. God’s knowledge makes him sit back in awe and comment on it. 

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
Here is the budding, incipient theology of the Holy Spirit. It will be fully realized in the New Testament. This is a comfort to the follower of Jesus. It is also a warning to those who want to live autonomously. God is with you, whether you believe it or not. We are as near to God as the soul is to the body (as one commentator has said). Spurgeon: “This makes it dreadful work to sin; for we offend the Almighty to His face, and commit acts of treason at the very food of His throne….” We cannot escape His view. “His mind is within our mind; himself within ourselves.” Imagine the patience of God, as we boldly declare our autonomy within His very presence!

 
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.
The wings of the morning–to the east. The furthest reaches of the sea–to the western end of the Mediterranean. If I were to discover come uncharted planet. There are 1,500 hundred planets within 50 lightyears of earth. If I were to leave here, go out and explore an uncharted world–I would discover that God was already there, waiting for me. I cannot escape Your presence. Were I to travel to the depths of the ocean or to the furthest reaches of space. Even there you would hold me, guide me, would be with me. We value our autonomy. So the idea that God is everywhere–there is no escape from Him–is, at first, scary. But King David says this is comforting to him. This means that God is there to guide Him. Doctrine: Human Dependence on God. We are not autonomous; we need a Guide, and God has not left us without one. My life matters to God. Doctrine: Sovereignty of God. 

11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”
David is afraid. The darkness will bruise him (Hebrew word here for “cover” can mean bruise, injure). He’s afraid of the dark. We have bodies, and we see through our eyes. We need light. Not so God. 

12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you.
God sees all and knows all. Doctrine: Divine Omniscience (God is all-knowing). I literally cannot hide from Him. God is a sure guide, because He can see in darkest night. Jesus is called the Light (John 1) for a good reason. In His light we have light. God sees clearly what is unclear to us. He is trustworthy. When He says to proceed, we can trust that. Because He can see what’s in front of us. Our lives matter to God enough for Him to guide us.

13 For you formed my inward parts;
    you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.[a]
Wonderful are your works;
    my soul knows it very well.
Made=set apart. The unborn child is not identical to the mother. He or she is a separate person. DNA is unique. Soul is unique. Person is unique. Life is unique. That life matters to God. No other creature is described in such terms. Doctrine: Human life is the greatest of God’s creations. Jesus became a human being. He validated every stage of human development. And all who come to Jesus in faith will receive new life. They will be “regenerated” and given life as it was meant to be lived, in restored relationship with their Creator. 

15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
He must be able to see me–He was there with me in the womb. Doctrine: Personhood of the Unborn.  Your work, that is, crafting each human being, is astonishing. Even my insides–you made them. My “inward parts” include my soul, the seat of my emotions and will. That’s your handiwork. And you formed it along with my body. Doctrine: the unborn person has a soul, even while the body is developing. The soul is there while the body is being formed. That person in the womb is the same person as the person writing this psalm. You did not come from a fetus. You used to be a fetus. That was you. If you, as a fetus, had been killed, you would have died. That was you. And even then, you mattered to God. From conception onward.  What beautiful imagery: “the depths of the earth.” It is mysterious, dark, hidden. But revealed to God, who is there, working, creating new life in the secret place. 

16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
    the days that were formed for me,
    when as yet there was none of them.
He wrote about me. He composed my story. Every day has been planned. What amazing intimacy. What care! What love! What tenderness the Creator shows me. Commentators discuss how, in the Hebrew, the “fetus” is described in almost scientific terms here. Lest we view the unformed person as a “potential” life, David tells us that his or her entire story is already written. That life matters to God. My life has always mattered to God–since before conception!

17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
David takes another praise break here. He just has to stop and glorify God for these miraculous truths. Think of a father, how frequently he thinks of his children. Thoughts on how to feed them, how to provide for them, to get them to sleep through the night. As they grow–thoughts of how to discipline them. To provide a quality education for them. To keep them safe. God’s thoughts are like that. Again, this is not an abstract concept. God’s thoughts are innumerable, but they are innumerable about me. My life matters to God.  

18 If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
    I awake, and I am still with you.
How could I possibly count all the blessings God has given me? I could study theology to learn more. God’s presence lasts longer than my studies about Him. My theologizing is temporary. Eventually I have to stop and get some rest. David seems to get lost in thought here. When I wake up in the morning, there is God! The Lord greets me every morning. He has kept me alive all night. Doctrine: the Dependence of Man upon God. One day, I will wake up and see Him face-to-face.

19 Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!
    O men of blood, depart from me!
20 They speak against you with malicious intent;
    your enemies take your name in vain.[b]
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
    And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
22 I hate them with complete hatred;
    I count them my enemies.
There seems to be a sharp break here. But it flows from the previous verses. David’s devotion to God makes him love God; therefore he hates evil. I love my wife; I hate the thought of anyone hurting her. Wickedness, thirst for blood, deceitful religion, hatred of God, rebellion against Him–these are affronts to God and to His image in the people He has made. After seeing the loving care God invests in man, we see the doctrines of Human Dignity and the Goodness of God. These evildoers, whom David hates and distances himself from, reject both human dignity and God’s goodness. Hence David’s sharp reaction to them.

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart!
    Try me and know my thoughts![c]
David invites God to do what He has already been doing. But this is faith. It’s not just belief that God knows me. It is asking God to know me. It is commitment. David would go to the Father; Jesus says in John 14:6 that no one comes to the Father except through Him. So this must be messianic faith. It is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus, the God-Man, who knows His people intimately, and who, having searched them and having known their hearts, takes their sinful thoughts and hearts upon Himself, paying the penalty on their behalf and bestowing on them His own heart of righteousness. 

24 And  see if there be any grievous way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting![d]
Even his outburst of jealous love, David here submits to God for review. He offers his willing consent for the Divine Gardner to prune from him anything that is not pleasing to Him. He invokes the Good Shepherd to lead him to everlasting life. Because God is his Caretaker, David entrusts Him with everything. This is faith. Our desire is the same. And our Shepherd is truly everlasting–from before the creation of the world, to long after the story of this world is ended. We must seek everlasting life from Him; this is what He freely offers all who come to Him in faith. Because all lives are important to Him. This motivates me to glorify and love God–and to go pursue the flourishing and safety of the life of my neighbor, including (especially!) my unborn neighbor.  

 

Notes: a key theme here is that God is always present with His people. Hundreds of years later, when Jesus (the ultimate Son of David) was preparing to depart from earth and take His place on the heavenly throne, He told His disciples, “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20). As good Jews, they would have already known the precious promise of the Old Covenant, presented here in Psalm 139, that God is always with His people. So when Jesus said, “I am with you always,”  He was taking the promise that God the Holy Spirit had spoken through David, and applying it to Himself. It was as if Jesus was saying, “You already know that God will always be with you. Behold, I am that God.”

Ten days later, at Pentecost, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit, who indwelt Jesus’ disciples and literally fulfilled the beautiful truths of Psalm 139. By His Holy Spirit, Jesus is present with His people, whom He purchased by His blood. He convicts them and leads them.

Along with David, Christ-followers may now cry to Jesus, “See if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” and absolutely believe, beyond the shadow of the doubt, that He will do exactly that. 

When we follow the way of the Lord to whom our lives matter so much, we imitate Him. When we imitate Him, we defend the lives and God-given dignity of those around us. Autonomy is unacceptable, but so is apathy, when lives that God is forming are being destroyed.

*****

ESV Footnotes:

  1. Psalm 139:14 Or for I am fearfully set apart
  2. Psalm 139:20 Hebrew lacks your name
  3. Psalm 139:23 Or cares
  4. Psalm 139:24 Or in the ancient way (compare Jeremiah 6:16)

English Standard Version (ESV)

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

 

My Recent MeetUp Teaching Plan On The Subject, “Meaning: What Makes Life Worth Living?”

For those who might be interested, here’s the teaching plan I wrote up, to facilitate a recent “Ask A Pastor” MeetUp (if you use this or any part of it, please properly attribute it–and let me know!)

Ask a Pastor MeetUp #3: Meaning Talk

“Absolutely futility. Everything is futile.” –King Solomon

“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” –Jesus

  • Ice Breaker: (state your name, then) name something you have no interest in.
  • What makes life worth living?

People I asked said:

  • “Family. God and family” (Tony, age 50, baby on the way).
  • “Family and my girlfriend” (Zladko, Starbucks patron).
  • “People I love, pursuing my passions, and standing up for worthy causes (Max, aspiring actor).”
  • “Worship. This life is temporary. But working to be perfect is easier said than done” (Omar, barista, Muslim).
  • “Family” (Andrea, fiancée).
  • “Experiences and how they shape me” (Josh, barista, depression-overcomer).
  • “The pursuit of happiness” (Nathan, musician, manufacturer, friend).

THE OPTIONS

  1. Love (Sex/Romance/Family/Friends)
    • Why it’s good
      • Man & woman created for relationship, marriage, sex (Genesis 2:18)
      • Family is God’s plan for godly children (Mal. 2:15)
      • Friendship is a gift from God (Prov. 17:17)
    • Why it’s not enough
      • Makes life meaningless apart from romance
      • Puts too much pressure on other, imperfect humans (Jerry Maguire effect)
      • Leads to fear of loss and control, manipulaion
  1. Wealth (Money, possessions, retirement)
    • Why its good
      • We are created with needs for food, shelter, etc. (fruit in garden of Eden, clothes after the Fall)
      • Gives ability to share (Hebrews 13:16)
    • Why it’s not enough
      • Practically it doesn’t work—false promise of security
      • Love of money is a root of evil
      • Makes meaning contingent on possessions—inaccessible for the poor. Who’s going to say that poor people have less meaningful lives!
  1. Success (Legacy; Personal sense of fulfillment; American Dream; Approval from others)
    • Why it’s good
      • We’re created for work, mission, quest.
      • “Do all to the glory of God”—we should seek to do our best at all times.
    • Why it’s not enough
      • Become a slave to work, when it is ultimate.
      • Work is not meant to be an end in itself.
      • Self-promotion, leads to fear, frustration, manipulation—self-focused striving.
  1. Power (Political power, promotion, personal influence)
    • Why it’s good
      • Government instituted by God (Romans 13) to protect innocent and punish evil.
      • Positive influence is a gift from God (“discipleship”—teaching others to live for God)
    • Why it’s not enough
      • Some may never have access to it.
      • When sought for its own sake, it leads to corruption, etc.
      • In its worst forms, inevitably leads to tyranny.
  1. Religion
    • Why it’s good
      • We’re created for worship and obedience (Ecclesiastes 12)
      • Has a positive effect on the individual and society (12 houses of worship in Philadelphia added $50M to their area).
    • Why it’s not enough
      • Impossible to know if you’ve done enough
      • Leads to pride, self-focus, because based on performance
      • Leads to oppression, fear, control, coercion.


These options come down to rejecting our Creator and taking the reins ourselves. A (temporary) life lived that way, in this world, inevitably leads to a (forever) death in the next world
(Revelation 21:8; Matthew 25:46; 2 Thessalonians 1:9; Matthew 13:50; Mark 9:43….).

THE BIBLE’S ANSWER:

A restored and right relationship with God, through His Son Jesus Christ, gives meaning to all of life.

  • Glorify God: 1 Corinthians 10:31
  • Know God: John 10:10
  • Obey God: Ecclesiastes 12
  • Bring others to God (Matthew 28:18-20)

Knowing Jesus ties everything else together:

  • Love:
    1. “We love because He first loved us.”
    2. Love based on Jesus’ sacrificial death for His people
  • Wealth:
    1. Treasure in heaven that can’t be lost, destroyed, or stolen
    2. Greatest treasure is knowing God
    3. Needs met in community (Church)
    1. “Glory, honor and immortality.”
    2. Running the race, fighting the good fight. Winning the prize.
  • Power
    1. Think clearly about human government (don’t put all your eggs in that basket!)
    2. Trust in God’s designed outcome, whoever is president.
    3. Freed from personal striving for more and more influence/fame.
  • Religion
    1. Flows from gratitude and future hope, rather than oppressive and uncertain obligation.
    2. Based on personal relationship rather than impersonal law.
    3. Actually effective, and it pleases God—“The righteous shall live by faith.”

How to be reconciled to God:

  • John 14:6 – “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
  • Matthew 11:28 – “Come to me all who are weary and heavy-burdened, and I will give you rest.”
  • In short, “repent” and believe” in Jesus.
    • Acknowledge that Jesus is Lord (and you’re not!) and Savior (again, not you).
    • Believe that God raised Him from the dead (in other words… the Gospel is true).
    • “Lose your life” for His sake, and you will find real life. Matthew 16:25.

“He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” –Jim Eliot.

*****

For further reading:

 

I’m on #CFTP Episode 14

I jumped onto the NCT Porch again this week. The NCT Divines and I had a solid, lengthy discussion on the “Conversations From the Porch” podcast about how to share the Gospel.

Key questions we talked about included, is it okay to use the Law of Moses to show people their sin? Also, we talked about open air preaching–which for Yours Truly means having loud conversations about Jesus in Starbucks–but for Bros. Paul, Chris & Joseph means something totally different.

You can listen to the full conversation here.

Join the conversation in the “Conversations From the Porch” Facebook group.

 

Why I’ve Been Doing MeetUps

Last night, nine conversation partners gathered at Barnes & Noble Cafe to discuss the question of what gives life meaning–what makes life worth living?

It was the third session of a MeetUp group I’ve been hosting, called “Ask A Pastor.” If you are a church leader looking for new ideas, I recommend starting a MeetUp.

MeetUp?

If you don’t know, MeetUp is a website/app that allows people from all over to gather around similar interests. There are MeetUps out there for nearly every interest imaginable.

As someone who enjoys bringing people together and combining teaching with genuine conversation, I have co-led discussion groups in the past. But I got the idea of using MeetUp as a platform for spiritual conversations from Tom Schmidt, a church planter and pastor in Naperville, Illinois. Tom has been an incredible resource for me–and he was even gracious enough to let me straight-up steal the name of his group. (Here’s his,  and here’s mine; see what I mean?)

Last night’s MeetUp was a really engaging conversation, and we spent our time talking on everything from where we look for significance, to textual criticism of the Bible and even Church history. It’s encouraging to see that folks are thinking about these things, and it’s even more encouraging to know that, through these “Ask A Pastor” MeetUps we are creating an environment where people of all religious stripes and philosophical bents can come together and discuss these issues.

Some weeks, the discussion has gotten heated, and certainly not everyone agrees with one another, but our conversation partners have always left as friends. And as I might have expected, some of the best discussion actually happens after the official MeetUps end.

Benefits of MeetUps

Along with the rich conversations, here are some of the other benefits that have come from the group:

  • The chance to make new friends.
  • Connecting believers with unbelievers in friendly conversation.
  • Offering Christians and non-Christians exposure to one another’s worldviews.
  • Presenting space for seekers to get their questions answered.
  • Gaining Christians valuable experience in having spiritual conversations with people who believe differently than them.
  • Providing a safe “front porch” for individuals who are interested in spiritual things, but are not yet ready to attend church.
  • For me as a follower of Christ, it’s been great to have the opportunity to talk about Jesus with people who don’t yet know Him.
  • Encouraging church members (at Park we call them partners) to bring their friends with them for spiritual conversation.
  • Bringing exposure to the local church in the neighborhood (we host our MeetUp around the corner from where our church gathers for worship services).
  • Giving people a chance to share everything they really believe about a subject without fear of judgment.

ask a pastor table.jpegThe Format

At our group, no spiritual or biblical background is required or assumed. Everyone’s viewpoints are welcome and encouraged.

Again, using Tom Schmidt’s format, our meetings look like this:

  • 5-10 minutes of introductions and ice breakers.
  • 15-20 minutes of teaching–I present a biblical view of the night’s question or topic (I spend the bulk of my time involved in the MeetUp with the teaching portion). During the teaching, I’ve handed out cards for participants to write down questions, comments, or observations.
  •  60-80 minutes of open discussion. Sometimes I provide prompts, but other times it just flows.
  • 3-4 minutes of wrap-up. I’ll recap the discussion and put my pastoral “bow” on the discussion. At this point, folks are free to take off, but some will typically stay and hang out. The official times run from 7PM – 8:30PM, but conversation has continued long into the night.

The Conclusion of the Matter

Whether you are a pastor, consider yourself an evangelist, or just enjoy getting diverse people together for enriching discussion, I highly recommend starting a MeetUp. There’s a fee, but it’s been worth it for us.

If you decide to go this route too, would you do me a favor? Let me know. Shoot me an email (jsettecase@parkcommunitychurch.org) and tell me how it’s going. I’m also happy to answer any questions you might have about what’s worked (and not worked) for us.

Final call to My Skeptical Friends 

Before I go, let me say: while “Ask A Pastor” is facilitated by an unabashed Christian (i.e. Yours Truly), our group is open to people of all faiths and no faith, and we work hard to keep the group non-judgmental and respectful to everyone. However, I have yet to find an atheist/secular humanist MeetUp group in my area that is open to having followers of Jesus participate. I totally understand the desire to share ideas with like-minded people, but there is a real benefit in opening your group to people who believe differently than you do. If you or someone you know hosts such a group, preferably in Chicago, would you let me know? I would love to attend and participate!

Live on the Northwest Side of Chicago? To RSVP for the next “Ask A Pastor (Far Northwest Side Spiritual Discussions)” MeetUp, click here

 

Join Me On The Porch

Last week I joined the “Divines” of the “Conversations From The Porch Podcast,” to discuss my New Covenant Catechism for Little Ones. You can check out that goodness here.

See you on the Porch.

Sermon Notes on Psalm 130:7-8

Yesterday, July 17, I had the privilege of team-teaching a sermon with Pastor Brenton on Psalm 130. The message was a follow-up to Park’s 7AM lakeshore baptism service, and it was interspersed with personal stories from our attendees who had just been baptized.

I taught from the last two verses of the Psalm, 7 and 8. The big idea was, “Place all your trust in Jesus.” Here are my notes (they read like this: left column top-to-bottom, then right column top-to-bottom). This message was part of Park’s “Honest to God” series, working through the Psalms this summer.

Psalm 130.7-8 Sermon Notes