Thinking Out Loud

June 28, 2019

Compelling: Believable and Beautiful

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:48 am

For the past six months, my friend Pastor Clarke Dixon has been preaching an epic-length series under the title “Compelling.” Six months is a long time, but it represents a commitment to assemble all the major apologetic arguments in one place. It was truly a labor of love — in many ways — and I decided we would share it here as well as we’ve been doing every Thursday at Christianity 201 for the last six months. Each of the points below is a link, and you can access the full articles for each subject by clicking through.

NIV.I Peter.3.13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.

Believable and Beautiful: Why Christianity is Compelling

by Clarke Dixon

Can we really believe what we read in books written so long ago? With so many world-views and so many religions, how could we ever pick just one? Does it really matter what you believe, so long as you are sincere, and don’t bother others with it? Don’t people need to leave their brains at the door of a Christian church? Many people are reluctant to consider Christianity. However, in our series we have considered how Christianity is compelling, both in being believable, and beautiful.

First let us review why Christianity is believable, why one need neither leave their brain at the door of the church, nor their faith in the university parking lot. (Click on the links to read the corresponding “Shrunk Sermon.”)

BELIEVABLE

  • Compelling Truth.  People who are “relativists” when it comes to faith and religion suddenly become “modernists” when they need surgery. Truth can be known and does matter. We consistently live as people who know truth can be known and does matter. The truth about Jesus can be known and does matter.
  • A Compelling Cosmos. We considered that the universe had a beginning, the “fine-tuning” of the universe to be life-permitting, and the fact that anything exists at all. What we learn from studying the universe points to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Morality. Very few people will say that there are not certain behaviors that ought to be considered evil for all people at all times in all places. The reality of objective morality points to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Life. Life began and now flourishes in a world that seems ideally suited for it. The realities of life point to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Minds. Thinking people point to the reality of a thinking God.
  • Compelling Religion. The appetite for the spiritual points to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Evil. The existence of suffering and evil is consistent with what the Bible teaches about our experience. Suffering and evil point to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Holy Books. What caused each of the books of the Bible to be written? The documents that make up the Bible point to the reality of God whose interaction with the world stirred up much writing.
  • The Compelling Man. The most compelling man in history, compelling in his activity, his teaching, his ethics, his presence, his good works, his love, and his impact, points to the reality of God.
  • A Compelling Turn of Events. The tomb was empty and disciples were going about telling everyone that they had seen Jesus risen from the dead. They were willing to die for that testimony. Naysayers like James and Paul, changed their minds. Devoted Jews took radical shifts in their theology. The events of, and following, Easter, point to the reality of God.

Cold-case detective J. Warner Wallace speaks of a cold-case trial as being a cumulative case. That is, the best explanation of the evidence is the one that explains all the evidence. With regards to religion and faith, certain world-views may explain some of the evidence. For example, with regards to suffering, Eastern religions have a nice tidy explanation. If you suffer, it is because you deserve it. Your karma is catching up to you. There is a cosmic justice and suffering makes sense. However, there are still many things that don’t makes sense. If Eastern religions are correct, then how did the Bible come into being? Why was the tomb of Jesus empty, why did the disciples go around telling everyone that they had seen Jesus risen from the dead and why were they willing to die for that? Why did naysayers like James and Paul change their tune about who Jesus is and what he is about? Likewise, atheism also gives a good explanation as to why there is suffering. However, again, atheism can not explain all the evidence. Christianity explains all the evidence! Therefore, not only are the truth claims of Christianity believable, there are compelling reasons why we can see them as being the best depiction of reality. God is for real, and in Christ, God is for us.

We can further ask if each worldview is consistent in where it leads. It would be strange if, while the evidence points to the existence of a good and loving God, belief in, and devotion to, that God led to a terrible way to live, and a horrible society. We have used the example of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. If you have read the novel, or watched the TV series, you will see the dominance of a worldview which leads to ugliness and not beauty. Does Christianity lead to ugliness, or to beauty? In our series we considered how Christianity leads to beauty.

BEAUTIFUL

  • Compelling Evidence. Science and Christianity point in the same direction. Christianity helped science get started. A perspective which denigrates science is ugly. That Christianity can work with science is beautiful!
  • Compelling Religion. While religion can, in the words of Christopher Hitchens, “poison everything,” a Biblical Spirit-led Christianity leads to healing. This is beautiful!
  • Compelling Grace. The love of God for people is beautiful. God’s grace and forgiveness is beautiful!
  • Compelling Grace, Part 2. The call to grace, forgiveness, and wisdom in human relationships is beautiful!
  • The Compelling God. The perfect justice and wonderful mercy of God is beautiful. Only at the cross do we see God being perfectly just while also being merciful. This is beautiful!
  • Compelling Mission. The sharing of good news is always beautiful. That we share the good news through words, rather than by force, and give people the space and freedom to choose for themselves, is beautiful!
  • Compelling Family. The Christian vision for parenting and marriage is beautiful. Yet the flexibility that no one is forced to fit the mold of “married with children” is also beautiful!
  • A Compelling Life. The Jesus-centered, Spirit-filled, life lived in wisdom is beautiful. That we don’t just follow rules, but grow in character, is beautiful!
  • A Compelling Society. Christians are not called to takeover the government and set up a society that enforces Christian living. That Christians are called to be salt and light is beautiful!
  • A Compelling Perspective on Humanity. No one has greater value than anyone else. That all people are created in the image of God, without exception, and without exception Christ bore the cross for all people, is beautiful!
  • A Compelling People. That the Church is to be a people who do good works in Jesus’ name, in allegiance to Jesus, under the influence of the Spirit, is beautiful!
  • A Compelling Future. The future of every single person, whether they receive Jesus or not, is reasonable & consistent with a good and loving God. This is beautiful!
  • A Compelling Invitation. Everyone is invited! You are invited! This is beautiful!

The outworking of the Christian faith is consistent with the good and loving God the evidence points to. There are many aspects of Christianity that make us say “of course that is how a good and loving God would do it.” However, Christians have often made a mess of things and been the cause of ugliness rather than beauty. When this happens, it results from a disconnect from Jesus, and often, an unfortunate understanding of God’s Word. The inconsistency is ours. The ugliness is ours. But there is beauty. There is beauty, because there is God.

Perhaps you still have questions. I do. We don’t need all the answers. I have long thought of faith as being like a jigsaw puzzle. As we are figuring out our view of the world, our spirituality, and the way things are, pieces come together. Some people start with the most difficult of questions and give up. But for many of us, the puzzle pieces come together in such a way that the picture begins to form. It is a beautiful picture. So beautiful, in fact, that we cannot help but keep working on it. Sometimes there are pieces that we cannot yet place. Sometimes we have the sense that we are forcing certain pieces together that don’t fit. Sometimes we need to take pieces out that we thought fit, and fit them in where they really belong. This is all a normal part of growing and maturing in our understanding. The picture that comes together as we grow in our understanding is beautiful, and well worth the effort. It is a picture of the cross, of God’s love in Christ.

My prayer throughout this whole series is that you would find the Christian faith to be believable and beautiful, that you would find Christ to be compelling.


Use the above links to read any of the posts in the series. At each you’ll find a link for the audio version of the full sermon on which they are based.


1 John.1.1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make our joy complete. 5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.

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July 2, 2014

Wednesday Link List

hypocrites

A Happy Independence Day to our U.S. readers and a one-day belated Happy Canada Day to readers in the land north of the 49th. On with the linkage…

When not playing one of the 820 Solitaire variants while listening to sermon podcasts, Paul Wilkinson blogs at at Thinking Out Loud, edits the devotional blog Christianity 201, and provides hints of the following week’s link list on Twitter.

July 18, 2013

Fall Sermon Series: It’s a Family Affair

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:57 am

Family Affair sermon series

I am not in vocational ministry. So it was weird to wake up at 4:30 Wednesday morning with the song Family Affair by Sly and the Family Stone ringing in my head, followed by the notion, “Hey, this would make a great fall sermon theme.” It was even weirder to be in the kitchen at 4:35 AM with a pen and scrap paper outlining the theme. And now, here we are writing about it. (If you’re not in full-time ministry, but write some of your own Bible studies, you could adapt this for a small group fall kickoff.)

The series slide can include a few seconds (audio only) of the song.  (But don’t play the verse!) (Alternative: We Are Family by Sister Sledge.)

Week One: A Common History

We only know bits and pieces of our family history, and the average person reading this can’t do much going back more than four generations. Photography didn’t exist either, so we have little in the way of a snapshot of where we’ve come from. The best genealogists can do is give us lists of names or a sketch of a family tree.

Still, we have a common ancestry. Family gatherings consist of people we might never choose as friends, but you can’t pick your relatives. Sometimes families cut across socio-economic lines, and, through marriage, even ethnic lines. There is truly neither “Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, rich nor poor;” but there is neither ‘young nor old, intellectually astute nor intellectually challenged.’  Families are a mix. But there is “one Lord and Father over all.”

Having developed that theme, you can then skew a bit and talk about adoption. (But being sensitive to people in your hearing for whom this is an issue.) God has adopted us into his family. An adopted son or daughter who fully integrates into the family takes on that identity of what it means to be part of the ________ family.   In God’s family there are no secondary members because we’re all adopted.   Lots of good stuff in Romans 8 and 9.

Week Two: Common Values

No matter where I travel, if I am among people of the family of God, we have a common set of things we hold to be important.

This section could go many different directions as we consider the “things that matter.” It could be an opportunity to present and review a local church’s statement of faith and discuss the propriety of Christ’s divinity in the incarnation and his atoning work, the authority of scripture, the basics of salvation, the anticipation of the second coming, and whatever 7-12 things your statement contains.  (Video suggestion: The song Creed by Rich Mullins, though it runs 5.5 minutes.)

But then, this can move from the doctrine to the ethic; the Christian distinctives that play out against the backdrop of a broader society. (It would be better to focus on things like compassion and generosity than things with political overtones.)  Concluding comments might include how we can work together on projects to change our world and witness the Good News.

Week Three: BFF – Best Family Forever — A Common Destiny

This message would look at our common destiny; the eternity that we will spend with each other; the idea that we are heading to a common place.

This also allows us to look at our joining with the “cloud of witnesses” described in scripture. What might it be like to walk alongside believers from the various centuries of both the First Testament and the Second Testament? Their experience of church life was far different from ours; we know they even regarded some scriptural passages in a different light.

It’s okay to ask questions here, too. Is our commitment level the same as the saints of old? Do we long for eternity? Do we anticipate spending eternity with that portion of the Body of Christ we are closest to?

This could also branch out into a study of what we believe about heaven vs. new earth. This is an area where many of us are still ‘unlearning’ what we were taught as children. It can also branch out into a discussion about the concept of eternity itself. (C. S. Lewis has some good material here about how we perceive time.)

Week Four: Families Eat Together –A Common Experience

It would be ideal to wrap this up on what would normally be a communion Sunday, and to share the significance of what it meant to enjoy table fellowship, to learn about the intimacy that still attributed in Eastern cultures to sharing a meal. This can be developed through reference to extra-Biblical sources, but also filled out with references to eating together such as Rev. 3:20, Jesus giving thanks and breaking bread with the two men on the road to Emmaus, Jesus eating at the home of Zacchaeus and/or the Pharisee’s house, and the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.

Much of this is covered in chapter two of Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s book, The Awakening of Hope which I reviewed here. The book deals with the features of monastic community, but there are ways we can borrow some of those concepts for our own 21st century lifestyle, in fact some of the chapters might even suggest alternatives for Week Two or Week Three if you chose not to go with those themes.  (There are some great movie clips of dysfunctional family gatherings around the Christmas/Thanksgiving table that work well here as a contrast to what such meals should not look like.)

Better still would be to have communion in the context of a full meal, as it was in that upper room. (Would everybody stay for a potluck dinner after the service? Depends on your church.) The Salvation Army doesn’t practice communion, but their ‘Love Feast” is probably closer to the original than anything we do with thimble-sized juice and crouton-sized bread as a worship service postscript. This probably only works in a small or medium-small church environment, and when you wish to either begin or return to the communion portion — especially if your church requires the Words of Institution — then everyone needs to be attentive.

…Anyway, I don’t know why I posted this today, but I hope it’s either helpful or inspiring to someone!  Some people wake up in the night and write songs, or sketch the ideal sports car, and then there’s church nerds who have been listening to far too many sermon podcasts… And yes, I realize this has been already thought of by others.

August 20, 2010

Coming Soon To A Video Projector Near You

Filed under: media — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:45 am

From Word Designs, sermon series graphics by Jim LePage

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