Pursuing Answers to Questions of Faith & Life

Monday, June 29, 2015

Sermon 6/28/15 Paul In Athens - Acts 17 - The Gospel in a Pluralistic Culture

This week we’ve had plenty of evidence to demonstrate that the culture of America is getting further and further away from the culture of the Bible.

I’ve said before, we are getting closer to the circumstances of the early church—a church which did not back away from going into that culture with the Gospel. 
So I do not believe that this passage was accidental.  How do we bring the Gospel into a pluralistic culture?

I’m sure it bothers you to see what’s been going on.  You’re not alone—turn to Acts 17 to what has been a trendy passage to look at in recent years for a gentle way to approach the culture with the Gospel.  The problem is that it wasn’t really that gentle.  And it’s success should not be measured by how many converts he achieved—but the truth for which Paul stood.

Troubled by the Idolatry of the Culture—16-17-- Acts 16:16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, his spirit was troubled within him when he saw that the city was full of idols.
Just like Paul, we look around in our culture and see idols everywhere.  We see their effect, we see their destruction, we see the lives that are ruined by them.  Our idols are our money and success, our sports teams and our sex, drugs and music or entertainment, even our national pride.

We should be troubled by what we see around us.  Because what we see is the bondage of the world, we see the influence of the enemy of our souls that seeks to enslave us.  We see so many who are held captive by those lies.

Our hearts should be troubled.  We cannot just sit around and complain about it—if you see it, you should be driven to do something about it.  If you have no desire to do anything about it, I wonder whether you really see and understand what is going on.  You awareness of the circumstances of lostness and idolatry should move you to action.
Consider Exodus 3:7—“Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of My people in Egypt, and have heard them crying out because of their oppressors, and I know about their sufferings.”

Imagine for a moment if the story ended there.  That God observed everything and just took a mental note of it, but never did anything about it.  What would you think of Him?

Thankfully, the story of God doesn’t end there—Exodus 3:8—“I have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and to bring them from that land to a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey”

What would the world think of us if we see what is going on around us and are motivated to do nothing?

Paul not only saw, but he was moved to action and sought to change the situation as much as possible by sharing the Gospel.  So he went to the Synagogue.

Acts 17:17— “So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with those who worshiped God and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there.”
 He began to speak the truth of God—and he would have addressed the issue of idolatry and their uselessness.

Psalm 115:5-8— “They have mouths but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see. 6 They have ears but cannot hear, noses, but cannot smell. 7 They have hands but cannot feel, feet, but cannot walk. They cannot make a sound with their throats. 8 Those who make them are just like them, as are all who trust in them.”

He went right to the people of God and began to teach—what are you doing about all this idolatry.  When he wasn’t in the synagogue, he went out to the marketplace and talked with anyone he could find and anyone who would listen.  The world needs to know it’s condition—needs to know of its idolatry and slavery and we are the ones who have the only message of hope.

Seeing the state of the world around us, the idolatry, the hurt and pain we see should drive us to pray, to seek after Him with all our heart mind and strength
And when we put the message out there, people will listen and be curious about it.

The World Is Willing to Hear to a Point—18-21—“Then also, some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers argued with him. Some said, “What is this pseudo-intellectual trying to say?” Others replied, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign deities”—because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the Resurrection. 19 They took him and brought him to the Areopagus, and said, “May we learn about this new teaching you’re speaking of? 20 For what you say sounds strange to us, and we want to know what these ideas mean.” 21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners residing there spent their time on nothing else but telling or hearing something new.”

While some in the market listened, the cultural elites will want to hear but already convinced they are superior intellectually—they called him a babbler or a pseudo-intellectual.  They recognize he is preaching a new idea and they wanted to get a better examination of him so they took him to the intellectual center of the city to find out about it.

So even though the elites in Athens didn’t really have the best motives in listening—at least they wanted to hear—because at least they heard something!  Here’s the point…
I love hearing your stories about the conversations you have at work, about the opportunities you have to pray with someone, to invite them to church or an event.  Those are praises and opportunities I want to hear about them every Wednesday night as we start our prayer meeting with Praises & Opportunities. 

But far too often, we go through the markets, go through our place of work, around our families and our sphere of influence and miss the opportunities.

No one asks us about our faith because we miss opportunities that God has for us to speak—it’s as if we don’t really believe the Gospel is the good News—the good works prepared in advance for us to do. 

At least Paul gave people reason to ask—at least he had something to say—at least he was not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus.  We cannot be ashamed and this will be more and more important.

The world my think you’re a babbler a pseudo-intellectual.  Your beliefs may sound strange to them, even ridiculous.  But they have to be confronted with them—they have to have something to choose between.  They have to hear there are options.  Because that is what we are called to.  We don’t confront them with the truth to be liked, to be accepted, but to be obedient to the Call, because it is the truth, and we actually care about their future and eternity.

And while we must be respectful in what we say, especially how we say it, we’ve got to realize that most of the world is going to reject it no matter how nice we are—so while we must not be a jerk about what we believe, we as believers

Believers Can’t Avoid the Root of the Problem and Must Speak the Truth—
17:22- “Then Paul stood in the middle of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that you are extremely religious in every respect. 23 For as I was passing through and observing the objects of your worship, I even found an altar on which was inscribed: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it —He is Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in shrines made by hands. 25 Neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives everyone life and breath and all things. 26 From one man He has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live. 27 He did this so they might seek God, and perhaps they might reach out and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. 28 For in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ 29 Being God’s offspring then, we shouldn’t think that the divine nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image fashioned by human art and imagination. 30 “Therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, God now commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because He has set a day when He is going to judge the world in righteousness by the Man He has appointed. He has provided proof of this to everyone by raising Him from the dead.”
·         This is not a timid speech.  He knows he is in hostile territory surrounded by people who are looking for the opportunity to tear him or his ideas apart.
·         But in that he does not avoid their spiritual condition, nor does he evade the truth.
·         Paul Recognized and Affirmed they were a Spiritual & a Seeking People
·         He was confident in the Gospel to be the Answer for their Heart’s Hunger
·         He started with God as Creator and His Lordship—this is something our culture is divided on and that many have rejected—but it is the foundation of what we believe.  It was also a statement saying that the God he was telling them about is superior to their gods, even Zeus.  Zeus is not the creator, he overthrew the Titans who did not create the heavens and earth either.
·         Buildings do not contain Him, nor does He need anything from us
·         Every person on the planet—no matter location, color, political affiliation, nationality is a descendant of Adam & Eve—all bearers of the image of God, all have dignity, value built into them.  There are no superior or inferior races, none less than human.  Therefore all are in the same spiritual condition—a broken condition that is searching for a fix, searching for answers, searching for God.
·         God encourages this search and wants to be found—but on His terms
·         No one will find God in an Idol or any object of gold, silver or stone.  He confronts the idolatry head on and says it’s useless and nothing more than the old song that says, “Looking for love in all the wrong places.”  In other words, you will never find God on your own terms, the way you want to, or in the place that you want to.  You and I do not get to define who He is, what He is like, what He approves and disapproves.  He defines Himself. 
·         He wants to be found, but you must come to Him on His terms in the way He approves of.  And the Way He approves of is through Jesus the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Christ who is The Way, The Truth & The Life—vs. 31—“He has set a day when He is going to judge the world in righteousness by the Man He has appointed”
·         Paul confronted the practice of idolatry by the educated elites by calling it ignorance—that’s a good way to win friends and influence people isn’t it?  He tells them that God has overlooked this sin like a parent giving their child the time to do the right thing—but like parents, there comes a time when the parents no longer overlook the wrongdoing of their children.  And so now Paul says God is telling these intellectual elites to Repent from their ignorance.
·         Any presentation of the Gospel must include the call of Repentance.  It means exposing someone’s sin and highlighting the need, the possibility and the expectation of change.
·         And that message is usually not accepted very well.  Being told that you are ignorant, especially when you think you’re smart, is offensive.  A person or a culture that has its sin exposed will not be happy with the messenger. 
·         That situation has not changed for today’s America either.  Our culture does not want to hear that it sins.  Does not want to hear that God has a standard because ultimately, they love darkness rather than life.
·         We must define our lives, our actions, our words by the biblical culture and values and not those of our nation.  For a time, the church has felt comfortable with the combination of America’s culture and the biblical culture—but that is changing more and more—we can no longer count on the values of America lining up with the values of the Bible as the Supreme Court just demonstrated on Friday.
·         Your first citizenship, your first loyalty is to the Kingdom of God—before America and before the Stars & Stripes.  Because some day, maybe sooner than we’d like to admit, someone, some government is going to make you choose.

In terms of not avoiding the root of the problem and still speaking truth, I found this powerful quote from a pastor named John Piper—“Christians know what is coming, not only because we see it in the Bible, but because we have tasted the sorrowful fruit of our own sins. We do not escape the truth that we reap what we sow. Our marriages, our children, our churches, our institutions — they are all troubled because of our sins.
The difference is: We weep over our sins. We don’t celebrate them. We don’t institutionalize them. We turn to Jesus for forgiveness and help. We cry to Jesus, “who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:10).

George Orwell—“The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those who speak it.”
·         As much as the people of Athens were getting irritated at Paul, and as much as America’s culture and the Bible’s culture are taking divergent paths—our countrymen may not want to hear it, but they will need it more and more.  we’ve got to keep in mind that…

The Resurrection Will always be the Turning Point—32 “When they heard about resurrection of the dead, some began to ridicule him.”

The idea that someone can come back from the dead was the last straw.  They could tolerate almost anything else, but ultimately, everything turns on Jesus—who He is, what He came for, how He won our freedom—the Cross and the Resurrection.  Paul doesn’t mention the cross—the instrument of Roman execution and torture, but he does the Resurrection—in order to be raised, someone has to die.

Paul looks at the Resurrection as God’s proof that Jesus is the Messiah—the world will be judged by “the Man He has appointed. He has provided proof of this to everyone by raising Him from the dead.”—vs. 31

But the intellectual elites thought it was ridiculous.  The Resurrection is the central turning point—because if the Resurrection really happened—then it really does validate that everything Jesus said is true, everything that He did has been accepted by the Father, death and sin have lost their sting.  That’s a game changer.

Paul realizes this, and later, rather than treading lightly in regards to the  Cross and the Resurrection he runs straight to it, highlights it, makes it the stumbling block on which the whole issue turns.

1 Corinthians 1:17-25—“For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to evangelize —not with clever words, so that the cross of Christ will not be emptied of its effect.
18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is God’s power to us who are being saved. 19 For it is written: I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will set aside the understanding of the experts. 20 Where is the philosopher? Where is the scholar? Where is the debater of this age? Hasn’t God made the world’s wisdom foolish? 21 For since, in God’s wisdom, the world did not know God through wisdom, God was pleased to save those who believe through the foolishness of the message preached.
22 For the Jews ask for signs and the Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. 24 Yet to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is God’s power and God’s wisdom, 25 because God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”

The cross & the resurrection are the turning point.  Together they represent a miracle that goes beyond reasonable experience.  They had never seen it, neither have we.

Our world today, with our scientific mindset, accepting a cold universe believes that death is the end and there is nothing beyond the veil—but the concept of resurrection destroys that. 
Our culture is full of people who accept aliens, bigfoot, the lochness monster, evolution, vampires & werewolves because those things are not threatening nor do they require anything from us—but God—don’t put that out there—
because if there is a God, I may one day have to stand before Him.  if there is a God, I may have to answer to Him.  If there is a God He may have legitimate authority over me.  If there is a God, He may hold me accountable.  If there is a God, I don’t have a chance.

Oh, but you do—because there is always Grace—repent—from your own way & believe in the name of the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.

While Some Will Believe—Majority will Reject –32b—
While some ridiculed Paul, “others said, “We’d like to hear from you again about this.” 33 Then Paul left their presence. 34 However, some men joined him and believed, including Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.”

We think of divisions in our country on political and racial lines—but those are not really what is most important nor real.

The division that is most prominent and eternal is one of belief—based on the answer to the Question—“Who do you say that I am?”

It’s the division between the sheep and the goats, the lost and the saved, the slave and the redeemed. 

Some believed Paul and accepted the message—they wanted to hear more and learn more.  But most did not.  Paul was not a failure—he preached the word and it did not return void.  He was Faithful.  So many measure Paul’s success by how many believed, but the better measure is His faithfulness.

Today you can change your eternity with a decision.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Sermon 6-14-15 What are We to be Known For

You’ve heard the phrase, “what do you want on your tombstone?”  it’s not just a pizza commercial.  There’s things you would like to be known for and things people remember you for.  
How much of a difference would there be if you wrote your own versus someone else?  The ideal would be that they would be the same.

In Acts 17 we get to see things that Paul and the early church were known for.  And the question becomes, are these things that we would want to be known for?  In today’s culture and world, are these characteristics still necessary or even more necessary?
We’re going to read vs. 1-15 and the go back and pick them out, but try and see these characteristics as we read.

Acts 17—Thessolonica
1—“Then they traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia and came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue . 2 As usual, Paul went to the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and showing that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead: “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah.” 4 Then some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, including a great number of God-fearing Greeks, as well as a number of the leading women. 

 5 But the Jews became jealous, and they brought together some scoundrels from the marketplace, formed a mob, and started a riot in the city. Attacking Jason’s house, they searched for them to bring them out to the public assembly. 6 When they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city officials, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here too, 7 and Jason has received them as guests! They are all acting contrary to Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king —Jesus!” 8 The Jews stirred up the crowd and the city officials who heard these things. 9 So taking a security bond from Jason and the others, they released them.

As soon as it was night, the brothers sent Paul and Silas off to Berea. On arrival, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. 11 The people here were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, since they welcomed the message with eagerness and examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. 12 Consequently, many of them believed, including a number of the prominent Greek women as well as men. 13 But when the Jews from Thessalonica found out that God’s message had been proclaimed by Paul at Berea, they came there too, agitating and disturbing the crowds. 14 Then the brothers immediately sent Paul away to go to the sea, but Silas and Timothy stayed on there. 15 Those who escorted Paul brought him as far as Athens, and after receiving instructions for Silas and Timothy to come to him as quickly as possible, they departed.

Reputations are built over a lifetime—a Good Name is worth more than…
Proverbs 22:1—“ A good name is to be chosen over great wealth; favor is better than silver and gold.”
1 peter 2:12—“Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that in a case where they speak against you as those who do what is evil, they will, by observing your good works, glorify God on the day of visitation.”
Revelation 3:1—“The One who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars says: I know your works; you have a reputation for being alive, but you are dead.”
What do we want to be known for as a believer and as a church?
Things to Be Known For
·         Reasoning & Examining the Scriptures
o   Paul was known for going into the synagogues to reason through the Scriptures.  He’s going into the heart of the challenge and willing to debate with others about the Scriptures. 
o   In order to do that you’ve got to have a good understanding of what it says.  You’ve also got to be able to demonstrate its trustworthiness and consistency of the Bible—knowing what you believe and being able to show what you believe to anyone who asks you.
o   We need to have this as a characteristic as well.  We need to be able to reason through the Scriptures, we need not be afraid to talk about them. 
o   You probably can think of friends or family that can quote to you baseball or football stats.  Or business people that never forget a name, can calculate numbers all in their head or keep track of stocks or futures.
o   And while those may be impressive, how much better would it be to be known for knowing the Scriptures.
o   Paul was speaking the truth—he was reasoning, persuading, debating the Scriptures with the people—the question was whether listening, you engage with it yourself—do
o   Paul was known for this and it was part of the training that he passed on.  He even looked for it in churches.
o   Compare the churches at Thessalonica & Berea.  Of the two, only one was known for really examining the Scriptures to find out if what Paul was saying was true.  The Bereans were of “more noble character than the Thessalonians”
o   As a people and a church lets develop the reputation that we know, examine and can reason through the Scriptures.  When we can do that, we’ll be better equipped to do what comes next.

·         Giving Evidence that Jesus is the Messiah
o   Vs. 3—“explaining and showing that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead: “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah.”
o   Where in the OT Scriptures are the prophecies about the Messiah?  How does Jesus fulfill them?  Can you show anyone the prophecies about Jesus’ birth from Isaiah?  Or His suffering in Isaiah 53 or crucifixion from Psalm 22.
o   In talking about the Messiah—can you describe His first coming as The Suffering Servant and the second coming as the Reigning King of Kings
o   Our lives must testify to this truth and we should be known as a people and a church that gives evidence to the fact that Jesus is the Messiah.
o   When Jesus asked, “who do you say that I Am?”  Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”  And it was His own identity and this confession that Jesus would build His church.  Out of this truth we should be known for
·         Convincing People to Believe
o   Vs. 4—“Then some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, including a great number of God-fearing Greeks, as well as a number of the leading women.”
o   Is your life and witness bringing people to Christ?  Are you testifying to your children and grandchildren and passing on a legacy of faith. 
o   It would be great to have a reputation as convincing or giving reason for people to believe and seeing them respond.
o   The mission of the Gospel, going out into the world and making disciples should be what we are known for.  If we did this, with effectiveness and passion we’d be doing what next we should be known for.

·         Upsetting the World – turned the world upside down
o   Vs. 6—““These men who have turned the world upside down have come here too,”
o   We tend to think that causing an uproar is a bad thing—but this is a statement from Paul’s critics—he’s making us uncomfortable.  He’s challenging the status quo.  He’s causing people to give up their idolatry, their drugs and alcohol and affecting the local economy because our city income is based on alcohol sales tax, lottery tickets, strip clubs, drugs and other criminal behavior and this Christian has come in here and messed up the good thing we had going.
o   This is the kind of Turning the World Upside Down that Paul had become known for.  And what we should be known for.  Causing an uproar and riots, dividing towns and families over the issue of Who is Jesus
o   Would you like to go to the church known for “turning the world upside down” causing a riot and an uproar! 
o   A church with that kind of reputation must really know the Scriptures, must really be giving evidence that Jesus is the Messiah, must be convincing people to believe.
o   Of course, Such a church would draw the interests of others higher up in the world’s power structure.  Because this world became known for
·         Acting Against the Decrees of Caesar
o   Vs. 7—“ They are all acting contrary to Caesar’s decrees”
o   Paul was a man who’s loyalty was not to the political power structure.  When the laws came down, Paul lived and was teaching the church that it is more important to obey God than men—no matter what the laws said, or how they might be changed in the future, this issue was settled.
o   Wouldn’t you want to be known as a church, as a people, and a disciple that cared more about the Decrees of the Bible than the Decrees of the Government?  If the Gov’t ever outlawed the Bible—would you still own it, read it, believe it? 
o   If the gov’t ever declared Christianity to be illegal or threatened to take away tax exempt status of this church if we didn’t get with the program of modern social issues, how would you respond?
o   Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s but to God what is God’s.  Because ultimately, and most importantly, we know with absolute certainty that our loyalty belongs to Him more than any government.
·         Claiming there is another, Better King
o   Jesus is a better King than all our Presidents combined, but you won’t see Him on a ballot, nor a commercial on the web.  We are calling people to loyalty to a new country and a new King, after all, this world is not our home, we're just passing through.
There is another King--King Jesus--who will one Day come to Rule and Reign on this earth and all the nations and kings of the earth will bow before Him--every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
But we do not serve a King that is only interested in power and wealth, He is One of Love, Service & Sacrifice.
We have a King that invites us into His presence, who is willing to lay down His life for us.
o   Christmas song—“How Many Kings”
Cause how many kings, stepped down from their thrones?
How many lords have abandoned their homes?
How many greats have become the least for me?
How many Gods have poured out their hearts
To romance a world that has torn all apart?
How many fathers gave up their sons for me?
This is the heart of the Gospel.  And you are invited to respond to it.  What are you, what is your church known for?