18th century Philosopher Immanel Kant (Kaant) thought he was rescuing Christianity from skepticism by placing it beyond the realm of the rational.
He wrote in his book, “Critique of Pure Reason”
“I had to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith.”
So, he initiated the infamous split between knowledge and faith, that we suffer with to this day.
(Historical Theology: Greg Allison)
This has led to the now widespread belief that science has real knowledge and matters of faith are about something else entirely.
So, becoming a Christian is an irrational leap of faith rather than a product of intelligent thought, followed by a choice to transfer trust to Christ.
There are not “scientists” who live by facts and “believers” who live by faith
There are just humans who can know some stuff by experience and other things that only God can reveal to us.
One of the most influential evangelists of science as a gospel in recent times was Stephen Hawking.
Hawking…brilliant as he was, wrote, “Because there is a law, such as gravity the universe can and will create itself from nothing.”
So, because we have named a force, gravity, and specified some properties of that force as laws…self-creation from nothing is possible.
There are lot of things wrong with that statement…people smarter than me have pointed them out in numerous ways.
But this is an irrational leap of faith…but people have read it, and because Hawking was so smart in one area…they place their faith in him in this area…the area of pure faith.
This is a statement of faith, not of scientific fact.
When Stephen Myer published a book called “The Signature in the Cell” he received a fair review from a philosopher named Thomas Nagel.
Nagel, a committed atheist…strongly disbelieves in God, but he read Myer with an open mind…and wrote accordingly.
In return he was attacked by other atheist philosophers and scientists, why?
Because he gave Myer credit for his thinking and writing and logic (though he disagreed with his belief)
But if you do not ahere to the atheist faith creed(and attack those who do not)…you will be charged as a heretic…even if you are one of them.
Years later, Meyer met with Nagel in New York, Nagel was honest with him…
He asked Meyer why he was believer.
Then he said that “He didn’t actually want the universe to be the kind of place in which God existed.”
Did you hear that…that is unbelief as wishful thinking.
He had earlier written that “I am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligence and well-informed people I know are religious believers…I don’t want this kind of universe.”
Christians have been accused of using their religion as a crutch, a way to deal with the universe to make it understandable, manageable.
But clearly, it’s not just religious believers but non-religious believers who grapple with their faith and how it corresponds to actual reality.
Because, as atheist physicist and cosmologist Lawrence Kraus has written, “The universe is the way it is, whether we like it or not” and “The universe doesn’t exist to make you happy.”
It is difficult for humans to admit how limited our knowledge, power, and reach are…it is also unnerving to come to grips with the fact that the universe…reality…is what it is, not what we hope or demand it to be.
Our lives…are not always…what we want them to be.
I talk frequently in counseling sessions about left/right column.
There are some important things in the right column(things that we can and must do)…but most things(we don’t like to admit it)…are left column.
We can actually control very little (we can’t control weather, others, cancer, death, our own physical limits, future, past…on and on)
I read of the CFO of Bed Bath and Beyond, who was working 16 hour days, day after day…to try and rescue that company and his own reputation from ruin.
He jumped to his death last month, from his luxury New York apartment…leaving a wife and two children.
I know that when people push this hard…they can easily become disorientated…we are frail beings.
The idea that I can work hard enough…to fix things…is often just not going to be true.
However, this is not cause for despair, if we have gospel hope.
The little we can control…we can find hope and meaning in being faithful in those things.
-What if my efforts don’t “work”?
-Be faithful, that is what in the end, matters…faithfulness works…the writer of Hebrews tells us.
The many things we cannot control…we find peace in trusting our faithful God.
-Not because of wish thinking…or passivity…but because this what is actually true and real.
Kraus, that Physicist who says the Universe doesn’t exist to make us happy also wrote(about humans), “We’re an accident in a remote corner of a universe that doesn’t care about us.”
“So” he continues, “In a purposeless universe that may have a miserable future you may wonder “how can I go about each day?”…his answer is “make your own purpose, make your own joy.”
Good luck with that.
Here is where purpose and joy are found.
Ps. 103 As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him.
We have spent the summer looking in this letter to the Hebrews at what God has done for us in Christ…the theme of this letter is: Jesus is better.
The greatest of all left column issues is: How can I have peace with God. How can I be forgiven for my sin. How can I have eternal life?
-This is what God alone has done for us…it is all left column.
Our right column choice is to believe and receive this gift.
Now, today, we wrap up with a couple of right column responses to what God has done in Christ.
Then, a final…left column/right column balance.
15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. 17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. 18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. 19 I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner.
Let’s look at the four right column choices in this concluding passage:
- Continually offer up a sacrifice of praise.
- Do good to others
- Follow spiritual leadership
- Continually offer up a sacrifice of praise.
We spoke recently about the “negativity bias” and how it affects our mental health, relational health, and decision making.
The fix is to “hunt the good stuff.”…actively go out looking for it, recognizing it…not making it up.
In contrast to our Physicist friend who said that there is no meaning (no lasting “good stuff”) so we have to invent some…
the writer of Hebrews gives us a different imperative…continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name…this this good stuff.
This continual sacrifice of praise on our part is a powerful contrast to the ongoing theme in the letter of the once-for-all nature of the sacrifice for Christ.
So, because we do not have to continually offer sacrifices for our sin…we can and we must continually offer a sacrifice of praise.
Notice that we continual offering of this sacrifice of praise is “Through him (Christ)”…Christ has made our offerings and our lives acceptable to God
I read an article recently asking “What is the soundtrack to your life?”
The author writing for Forbes gave songs that are linked with memories of his life:
-A song that his mom sang to him by “Blood, Sweat, and Tears” “Spinning Wheels”
And a song that reminded him of his first date with his wife.
And the Opening Theme song for the NFL…evoke powerful feelings…and is a part of his life soundtrack.
Both his boys were born during the football season and the game was on in the hallway when his second son was born.
For all of us there are sights, songs, smells that evoke…powerful memories…some terrific, some terrible.
These are the themes of our lives.
For the follower of Christ…this is to be the soundtrack of our lives…continual praise for Christ’s once for all sacrifice.
What he has done for us is to shape us through what comes from our heart, mind, mouth.
Not just in having certain songs playing on Spotify…but look at how he describes this sacrifice of praise.
“The fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.”
A tree is known by its fruit.
Fruit reveals the character of the source.
Praise is both shaped by what is in our hearts and it shapes our hearts in a Christlike fashion
We simply must make this a regular part of our lives.
We probably practice complaining on a somewhat regular basis…that is shaping us.
We have to practice gratitude…praise…thanksgiving.
This is in essence, an ongoing declaration of our allegiance to God.
I know people who cannot bear to hear certain songs…they evoke too painful of memories…from the past.
We all must make the soundtrack of our lives be continual praise for Christ’s once for all sacrifice.
This is not just “churchy” advice…this powerfully affects who we are as humans.
I have a friend who suffered terrible trauma as a child…but he has been rewriting his life soundtrack through his gospel hope and spiritual training…the fruit of change in his life flows from long allegiance to Christ.
This has changed and is changing his life.
The past is LEFT COLUMN (if the soundtrack of your life in the past is pain)…you can begin to rewrite it…a continual sacrifice of praise is RIGHT COLUMN.
- Do good to others, share what you have with them.
This is that famous Biblical one-two punch.
Love God/Love others
These two together: The continual sacrifice of praise and the sacrifice of your time, talents, treasure for others…are pleasing to God.
You don’t have to worry about the gifts, resources, opportunities that you DO NOT HAVE…that is God’s domain, it’s left column.
You only need be faithful with what God has given you…from what he has given you, live with an open hand towards God and others.
Not foolishly…be sure your help is actually helping others.
But be generous with your life…this kind of heart is pleasing to God.
- Follow spiritual leadership within Scriptural limits.
Next right column choice is: make your own life easier by making it easier for those who have spiritual leadership in your lives.
One our church’s heart attitudes is “follow leadership within biblical limits.”
The “given” in this imperative is “within biblical limits.”
Obey and submit…can be reactive words, but the implication here is that spiritual leaders are going to be held to account for keeping watch over “souls”.
You are submitting to Scripture when you follow them…so you don’t follow blindly…you follow them as they follow Scripture.
He could have used the word for “humans” or “people”…but he choose the word for “souls”…indicating that there are eternal implications for the responsibility of spiritul leaders.
Pastors, like me…we can’t go rogue and make stuff up…we must not misapply or deny Scripture…and expect to be “followed”.
If I did lead others astray with my words or actions…I can expect to be judged for the harm I would do.
I need to be very careful…work hard…the truth is serious stuff.
James will make this very clear when he says that teachers (of Scripture) will experience a more strict judgment than others.
In Scripture leaders are not better than others…those who see themselves this way are foolish and poor leaders.
Leadership is a stewardship…to be used like all stewardships…for the glory of God and the good of others.
My boss in the KS Guard is a two-star general…first name is Dave
I’m also fortunate that he is a long-time friend and a really good man.
He started his AF career as enlisted…he was once the lowest rank.
He is now the highest ranked member in the state.
In all the time I have known him his “rank” and “position” have been his platform to serve airmen, soldiers and civilians in Kansas.
I see my primary role in his life as making his work as easy as I can…why?
Because he is a general?
No, because as he succeeds so does the Kansas Guard that he leads and this is good for the state and nation.
As he thrives…those under him can thrive…including me.
He doesn’t see himself as “better” now that he wears stars on his shirt and not enlisted strips…he sees himself as responsible for the good of others.
This ought to be the model for pastors, really leaders of all types.
I will say this, without any attempts at flattery…leading this church is a joy for me and my family.
My work is not a burden…largely because of how we work together as a church family.
Okay, last “Right column” action…pray.
The writer of Hebrews asks, in fact “urges” that they pray for him.
When tragedy strikes politicians are known to say something like “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families.”
Sometimes this response is mocked as if prayer is not a real thing… “Keep your prayers and pass legislation or send resources.”
I can’t speak for the politicians who say this…as to whether they see “praying” as a real thing or just a cliche.
For us, we must see it as real action…as powerful right column behavior.
The author of Hebrews certainly did…Christ did.
We sometimes fail to pray because we become confused as to how it all works.
If God is sovereign then why pray?
It’s a bit like refusing to drive a car because we don’t understand internal combustion.
Most people driving around…getting places…powered by internal combustion engines (or batteries)…have no idea how those machines work…but look at em go!
Pray…because God has said to pray.
This is firmly in the human right column…should be at the top of the list.
“I can pray”
Okay, let’s look at a great balancing statement of how left column/right column work together in a life of faith expressed in faithfulness.
20 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
This is a powerful closing benediction or pronouncement of blessing…but its more than just religious words.
It is a statement of faith facts…that ought to empower faithful acts.
What would people trade for peace in their lives…a lot?
Where in the wide world do we find peace…nowhere really?
The God of peace, who raised Jesus from the dead…therein is our hope.
Jesus is the great shepherd, whose blood has brought the new and eternal covenant of peace with God to us.
Even though most of us have not lived around or worked with sheep…we all connect warmly with the image of a shepherd.
On my wall are three pictures my mom had framed for me when I became a pastor.
One is a shepherd feeding his sheep, one a shepherd leading his sheep, and one a shepherd protecting his sheep.
Pastors are called “under shepherds”…Jesus alone is called the “great shepherd.”
He leads, feeds, protects us…though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death…and indeed we all will do just that.
Look at what God, through Christ the Shepherd does for us…this is the writer’s closing prayer…
May God, through Jesus Christ, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him…for the eternal glory of Christ.
May God, through Christ, give you all you need to obey him, bring him glory.
May he work “in” you what is pleasing “to” him.
This is head, heart, hands…all rolled up in one.
There is sometimes thought to be a conflict…or at least a tension between God’s grace and human effort…but it is apparent not real.
In the real world…God works in us, what we are to work out.
This tension is not a math problem to be solved…it is a power to be plugged into.
We fully rely on Christ and his power in us.
We fully take responsibility to choose…to work out his power that he has given us in the gospel.
The letter concludes with some practical matters, let’s read them…they sound mostly like logistics and formalities but I want to use these to shape our application.
22 Brothers, I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written you only a short letter. 23 I want you to know that our brother Timothy has been released. If he arrives soon, I will come with him to see you. 24 Greet all your leaders and all God’s people. Those from Italy send you their greetings. 25 Grace be with you all.
In these 13 chapters, a long letter by today’s standards, are only a small part of what could be said about the vast subject matter…so he calls is a short letter.
In fact, he hopes to come to them in person, now that Timothy has been released from prison.
They can come as a team and talk at length about these matters he has introduced in the letter.
Then much like we would writes…”Say hi to everyone there…Greetings from Italy.”
“Grace be with you all…God bless you.”
Okay, how does that shape our concluding application?
Remember how we begin…with Kant and his irrational leap of faith?
How it is now widely thought that matters of faith are outside the realm of the real world of everyday life.
He ends, with real world logistics, prison, plans…there is no shift from the theological talk to plans on a calendar…I hope you see that connection.
If you walked through an oilfield…as a roughnecks are pushing pipe deeper and deeper into the earth…to pump out oil…does this church stuff play well there?
As they work with steel and diesel and danger and sweat…does it matter what you believe about God and the gospel…that is real world, it’s not church…they don’t talk much…except to yell and curse…especially if you mess up like I did.
I worked on a big oil rig in east Texas the summer of 1982.
The three shifts consisted of about 30 men total, called roughnecks…I was the newest, so I was called “the worm.”
In one summer…I was close to being killed or severely injured…twice.
Owing partly to the dangerous work…and partly to my “worm” level of experience.
That summer…of grease and steel and sweat and swearing…God joined us on the rig.
I’ll tell just one story: At one point a drill bit had spun off more than a mile underground.
We attached a shaped explosive charge to lower into the ground to blow it up.
I stood next to a man on the deck of the rig. Who had become my friend, who was far from God…and I saw him shake as we handled the explosive.
I asked him later, over lunch… “Are you afraid to die?”
“Yes” he said “I am”
I believe he came to Christ as I shared the gospel hope.
Several times in a single summer…I saw God and the gospel at work in that oil field.
My point is this…this letter is full of deep theological truths…words about God and covenants and angels…ends with…
“Hey, Tim is out of jail…we are coming to see you soon.”
There is no sense…of “Okay, I’m done with the religious stuff…now for the real stuff.”
Hebrews 13:12 “And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood”….flows naturally into “Everyone here in Italy says ‘hi””
Because it all the same world…a world designed by God…made up of people created by God…fallen from God…redeemed through Christ back to God.
A world of banks, and wars, and cars, and prisons, and hospitals and schools and graveyards and grocery stores…where Jesus is real and at work in all of it.
There is no reason and then faith…it is all a single world.
God is at work…everywhere…there should be no difference in how you live in the world…church, home, work, play…in the car by yourself…in your own thoughts.
Be a whole person…be a single story person.
You can…by God’s grace…work out, what God in Christ, has worked in you.