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Life’s Questions – Week 33 Notes

By September 1, 2019Sermon Notes

Mark 12:30 “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”

Jesus was not writing a new set of commandments to supplement or replace the ones given to Moses at Sinai.

He is not trying to compel mere behavior modification…he has always been after heart and life transformation.

Behavior modification can be helpful…teachers, coaches, drill sergeants attempt it all the time.

But it’s not adequate for the thriving human life…training mental and physical reflexes can be good but they are not the gospel.

When I give out suckers to children on Sunday mornings parents will ask that great rhetorical question of their children: “Now what do you say?”

The correct answer is of course…”Thank you.”

But as a parent is your primary goal to create a verbal reflex when people give your child what they want or is to raise up a young person who is learning to have a grateful heart?

That’s a rhetorical question as well…of course parents are after a certain kind of heart not merely a parroted response.

The goal for any good parent is not mere behavior modification (though that is a part of the process) but rather heart transformation.

So parents ask “What do you say?”…but they also model gratitude, they teach why it’s important, they celebrate right actions…with the hope that the little ones will grow up and enjoy the beauty and power of a grateful heart.

Because they love their children and they know that ungrateful people…are unhappy people.

We don’t have to teach young children to be selfish (if you think otherwise you haven’t been around very young children)…we have to teach them to become more grateful.

But some children’s hearts don’t change…as they grow up they merely learn the game…how to do on the outside what people expect to see from them.

Why go through the motions at all?…because they want things from people (so they do what people expect in order to get what they want).

Or because it is expected of them (and they are people pleasers not lovers of people)

But if their hearts remain unchanged “if the doing (“Say thank you”) remains detached from being” (having thankful heart) they will fail to thrive in the world God has made.

Though they have learned to do the things externally that mimic internal change… their hearts may remain full of selfishness, pride, fear, ingratitude…all kinds of harmful things.

Things that make them miserable…and those around them miserable.

These people…do not live thriving, joyful lives…no parent wants this for their child.

So they rightly ask “What do you say?”…because they are after “Who will you become?”

The Laws of God were never about mere behavioral modification…they were always about relationship with God.

So the commandment might “Say thank you”…but the intent was always “become thankful”

So when people who don’t have relationship with God…do a cursory or surface reading of the Bible…and then begin to mock, critique, condemn it.

It demonstrates they have failed to understand God’s goal for speaking to us…his invitation…as outlined in the Bible…is to enter his joy.

This joy is tied up in relationship with the Lord Jesus.

Bach’s beautiful song is titled “Jesus, joy of man’s desiring”…he is the that.

Or Issac Watt’s Christmas Hymn…

Joy to the world of people…the Lord has come! So let earth receive its King!

Jesus the King has come not to rule with an iron fist…but to bring us his joy…his joy is in relationship with him.

His rules…are to enable joy under his rule…as we learn to yield to him…we experience his joy.

So the rule “Say thank you” is so we will “become thankful people”…because therein is joy.

Joyful relationship between two people requires change on both parts…because they are both imperfect and they need to adjust in many ways in order to continue to grow together in relational joy.

In regards to relationship with God…he is perfect and his joy is complete…no adjustments are necessary (or even possible) for him…we are the ones who need to do all the changing in this relationship.

So God, in his kindness, gave us his Word (describing who he is and who we can be as we come to know and love him)

Many have given up on the faith because it was largely, for them, frustrating attempts to “do and not do” stuff.

They approached the Bible (A book on how to have “joy”)…primarily as a rule book.

Though “joy” like all good things has its rules…its boundaries.

The boundaries exist to enable joy…they do not exist for themselves.

Like the boundaries on a sport field…they don’t exist merely to have boundaries…but to enable the joy of the game.

“Hey, let’s invent a sport that will be fun and build relationships and character.”

“Let’s call it…boundary ball.”

“How do you play, what’s the point?”

“No point…just boundaries…”

“Gee…sounds fun.”

Boundaries exist in sports to enable people to “enjoy”…”experience the joy of”…the sport.

Boundaries/rules…exist in relationships to enable joy in relationships.

My relationships with family and friends bring me a lot of joy…these relationships are framed by strong boundaries…things that we do and don’t do that enable the joy.

There are many things, for instance, I will not do with other people because I treasure the joy I have in my relationship with Christy.

Some could possibly look at my marriage and say “You are bound up by rules…you don’t cultivate close relationships with other women apart from your wife, you don’t do whatever you want with your time…you are trapped in rules.”

I could only respond to that with amazement as to how far off the mark they are…”The rules, the limits are part of our joy…they enable and empower it.”

The point of the boundaries is the joy of relationship with Christy…I would accept any necessary “limitation” to continue to experience joy with her…it is a good trade.

For instance…I need to keep changing in order to love her well…to go farther into joy…it will be a lifelong process for me…two steps forward, one back…on good days.

Many say…”You shouldn’t have to change…you should be able to be yourself!”

Don’t you see…I don’t want to “be myself”…I want joy.

More joy with Christy requires ongoing change and leads to increased joy

*Don’t misunderstand me…she doesn’t demand I change…that never works anyway.

But Increasing joy in relationship demands that we both keep changing.

Stubbornly “being myself” is foolish and makes me unhappy…of course I want to change…thank God I can change.

God doesn’t demand you comply…like last week in Joshua we heard “Choose who will you follow?”

The Commandments can be broken and often are…God has the power the compel compliance…he doesn’t.

The Scriptures are invitations into relationship with God…which brings his joy into our lives.

How to you view the Bible?   Why has God given it to us?

It is to confine you…or to release you into joy?

Chaplain’s Conference: No tech rule for 1.5 days.

-Army likes rules…so I gave a rule (listen, engage, stay off electronics)

-Most engaged I’ve seen people in many years at a training like this…feedback was they enjoyed the training very much.

*Youth group instituting the same rule.

*So, my rule, my limitation…had a positive purpose not merely a negative restriction

“No tech” was really “Yes relationship, engagement, learning, skill training”

The gospel life is about a challenging, full-life demanding journey to become someone…not just to do or don’t do stuff…it is about becoming a Christlike person over time.

It is training for Christlikeness…not just trying (and often failing) to imitate Jesus.

Training is a life-long process…the only way you “fail” at training is by quitting…by stopping

Trying is pass/fail…either you do or you don’t.

We don’t “Try for Christlikeness”…we train for it.

*It it’s not our burden…it is our opportunity.

Training for a skill, a sport, a job…is about becoming equipped to experience the joy that comes from being able to play music, or a sport, or thrive in a job.

Let’s get a bearing on this week in the larger context of the year.

  1. This year: We are looking at the Bible as a single narrative that speaks with authority on all aspects of our lives. (listen to first quarter)…the goal is confidence in God’s word.
  2. This month we are zeroing in on…what it means to love God with all of our minds.

One part of the “Great commandment”…love God with all of our beings…includes our minds.

Again this is not a “Jesus Law” that we are supposed to go out and try to obey.

Jesus is telling us who we are to become…who we can become.

Becoming takes doing…choosing…but the goal is transformation.

Love God with all your mind includes reading, studying, thinking…taking in data, facts, information.

But it is much, much more than that.

Theology…the study of God…is not like geology the study of the earth’s physical structure.

Theology should have as it goal…relationship with a personal being…it’s not just gathering facts.

Geologists are not after personal relationships with rocks.

So we use our minds to learn to LOVE God not just know stuff about him.

With all your minds…is about love for God…the more we understand him, know him…the more we experience his joy in our lives.

1 Tim. 1:5 “The goal of this instruction is love…”

So far today we have been setting up the month: Now let’s dig into part one:

“How do we know what we know?”   Are Faith and Reason friends or foes?

Alex Rosenberg wrote in “The Atheist’s Guide to Reality” “There’s so much more to atheism than its knockdown arguments that there is no God. There is the whole rest of the worldview that comes along with atheism. It’s a demanding, breathtaking grip on reality, one that has been vindicated beyond reasonable doubt. it’s called science.”

There are several things amiss with his statement but the biggest problem is he sets up a false dichotomy between faith and science.

Or put another way…he couples atheism with science as if they were one and the same…they are, of course…not the same.

Science is the study of nature and the behavior of natural things and the knowledge that we obtain by that study.

Atheism (as he correctly stated) is a worldview…it is a belief or faith system.

MIT professor Daniel Hastings has followed Jesus since he was a teen in the UK he said “I start (my science) by saying there is a God who created the universe.”

MIT professor Jing Kong grew up in China and became a Christian as a grad student at Berkeley she says “My research is only a platform for me to do God’s work. His creation, the way he made this world, is very interesting. It’s amazing really.”

Nobel Prize physicist and Christ-follower, William Phillips writes:

“I see an orderly, beautiful universe in which nearly all physical phenomena can be understood from a few simple mathematical equations. I see a universe that, had it been constructed slightly differently, would never have given birth to stars and planets, let alone bacteria and people. And there is no good scientific reason why the universe should not have been different. Many good scientists have concluded from these observations that an intelligent God must have chosen to create the universe with such beautiful, simple, and life-giving properties. Many other equally good scientist are nevertheless atheists. Both conclusions are positions of faith.”

I could give a very long list of distinguished professors who echo these sentiments but I’ll give one more…

Cambridge professor of experimental physics, Russell Cowburn says “Understanding more of science doesn’t make God smaller. It allows us to see His creative activity in more detail.”

Human science, while not breathtaking in its grip on reality is incredible in its capacity.

This capacity for reason is evidence for God not against Him.

As image bearers of a thinking, choosing, creative God…we have those same traits.

I’ve been watching a PBS series on the Planets…one called “Ice worlds” talks about the exploration through probes of the distant places in our solar system.

Men and women designed and sent these probes out decades ago and they continue to transmit data back to us…I am amazed at what these people have done…and like them…amazed at what they find…they are continually surprised by new discoveries.

We will talk more about this in a few weeks.

So…here is a more precise definition of what science it is… “The intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.”

Now a definition of atheism…it is “The denial or disbelief in the existence of God or gods”

Those are of course totally different things…as evidenced in part by the fact that there are many top scientists who are not atheists and many atheists who are not scientists.

My purpose today is partly to debunk the myth that we cannot really love God with all our minds…because faith somehow requires us to suspend reason.

This is, of course, nonsense.

My larger purpose is more practical…that we would commit to submit our minds to God…to quote the title from the 1950’s sitcom…”Father knows best.”

We would believe that to the point of living it out more consistently.

You might think if all you do is watch PBS, or read news articles…that there are no intellectuals, scientists, or even just plain old smart people who are Christians.

But in every area of science…there are many committed Christians…they, like you and me…see faith and reason as friends not foes.

  1. The world is designed by God, it has order and consistency so science (reason) “works”.

“We can discover, design, build…there are physical ‘laws’ God has built into the cosmos.”

*He can suspend them when he chooses…he rarely does…they are called “miracles” or “signs”…they point people to him.

*Most of the time things work in regular order.

  1. We are created by God in his image so our reason “works”…we can trust our minds in terms of discovery and exploration and conclusions about the natural world…within the scope of our limited capacity.

*But we can come to true conclusions…so cars, planes, light bulbs…they work.

Even though we don’t understand completely how or why…we know enough.

  1. But most of the matters of greatest importance to humans are outside the scope of what reason (science) can tell us
  2. How and why are we here?
  3. What is our purpose?
  4. What happens when we die?

So as we discussed last week the resilient life depends on the “Big Why?”

Reason alone cannot tell us what this “Why” is.

We can use some reason, if we pay attention, we can see some things that don’t seem to work and some things that do seem to work in our lives and the lives of others…but our view is limited….we can be fooled.

We don’t see everyone and we don’t really know what is in the heart of people. (some have seemed happy and fulfilled…and turns out they were not)

Of course no one can use science or reason to peer into what happens after death…we can’t discover that…we can’t discover what works or doesn’t after this life.

What reason cannot tell us by itself…God must reveal to us if we are to understand it.

It is not really “faith versus reason” it is the fact that human reason only takes us so far…we must have access to the things only God knows.

To access what God knows…he must choose to reveal those things to us…this he has done in Scripture.

The problem is not between Scripture and Science…revelation and reason…most of these supposed problems that are put forth between the Bible and science…are the result of either a flawed approach to Scripture or a flawed approach to Science.

*Many books address this reality…here’s just a few…

Case Study from Scripture: A King who bet on his own mind over God’s mind and lost the bet.

King Solomon was what we now call a “Polymath”…someone with wide knowledge and ability in many areas…he was a scientist, botanist, builder, commander in chief, author.

He was rich and famous…he had grown up under the faith of his father David…David had experienced God revealing himself in many ways.

When God gave Solomon a sort of blank check to ask whatever he wanted…Solomon choose to ask for wisdom to lead the people well…good call Sol.

The problem was that at the same time he asked for that wisdom he was doing the things that made sense to him as a king (in opposition to what God had clearly said should be done).

*He made a marriage alliance with the King of Egypt for instance…good political move…terrible idea.

*Against the covenant will of God…he turned his people into slaves…became like Pharaoh.

*He built places of worship for his many wives…some even were sites were children were sacrificed.

He struggled with the tension between his own considerable intellect and with the clear instructions of God.

He eventually gave himself completely over (it seems) to his own ideas of how life works.

It was a disaster for him and for his kingdom, his people…he raised a fool of a son who split the Kingdom.

He, the first king after David…broke the covenant and sent Israel down the dark path that would lead to destruction and captivity.

God, of course would be faithful to his own promises…but the consequences for choosing to trust human reason as opposed to God’s revealed good…was untold heartache.

This story has repeated itself over and over…on national, local, and personal levels.

The problem is never that of a real conflict between “reason” and “revelation” or faith and science…there is no fight there…not a real one.

The problem has always been and continues to be…humans trusting their own minds over the mind of God.

The problem is when we become wise in our own eyes…we believe God is pretty smart…but in this case…in the case of what will make me happy here…I actually have a better idea than God…I know me, I know what I need.

Read of a scientist who admitted that the basic reason he held on to his atheism was not evidence but lust.

He said atheism was a world view that allowed him to sleep with the many women he wanted to sleep with.

Now, I’m not saying that all atheists are this intellectually and morally corrupt…they are not.

I am simply saying that for the atheist or the Christian…we have our “real reasons” for doing what we want to do in the face of what God wants done.

Christians who cohabitate before marriage for instance:

-It makes sense financially

-It makes sense intellectually “What’s the problem, marriage is just a ceremony, we are committed to each other.”

-It makes sense culturally “It is widely practiced, what harm is there?”

But God has said you should have sex with only your opposite sex spouse…marriage then sex.

**Now…either God is wrong or we are.

This rule, like all his “rules” align with how he has the world…they are not random any more than the order creation is.

They are for us to experience his joy…and to miss misery.

He is not trying to take your joy…he is trying to increase it.

An agnostic teacher at an undisclosed world-class university said:

“I routinely have female students ask me why they are having all the sex expected of a modern woman but are not experiencing the promised happiness.”

Men are repeating the same sad refrain…”This isn’t working.”

*What if God actually knows all the facts…everyone one of them.

What if he already knew what research has widely shown…that co-habitation before marriage is a key predictor of future divorce…not happiness.

Or that those have the most frequent and satisfying sex…are long term married couples…not swinging singles.

But even if future research someday tries to tell us otherwise…what if God knows things that can’t be discovered by human research…things about human hearts and relationships.

What about what you do with your money, your time, your thoughts?

What about forgiving someone, keeping quiet, speaking up…taking a faith risk of some kind.

What about when we have a good idea of what God wants…we just don’t want to do it.

What if obeying God just doesn’t seem to make sense…what then?

We all do what makes sense to us…what if what makes sense to us…doesn’t make sense to God.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

Proverbs 3:5,6

There is no real tension between faith and reason (or science)…the real tension is in our hearts…will I trust Him or “lean…put my weight on my own understanding”

We trust ourselves too much when it comes down to deciding what will really make us happy, fulfilled…what will work.

The tension is in whether we will put our faith (confidence) in our minds or in the mind of God.

To love God with all our minds is to yield to him when what we think best comes up against what he says is best.

“Yeah…but What if I don’t know what he wants?”

That is a different question…this is not about discerning the will of God it is about doing it when we know we should.

Will I yield when it costs me, or makes me feel unhappy (today), or when it is unpopular, or hard…or when I just want to do what I want to do.

The struggle is not between faith and reason…God is the smartest being in the universe.

The struggle is…will I trust him or myself? Is he really smarter than me? Actually, practically…smarter?

Is he smart and is he good? If so, then why would I want anything other than what he wants?

So will I love God with all my mind…as revealed by the real choices I make?

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