A Creation Sermon

7Days_of_Creation_week-NEW

“A Creation Sermon,” Hebrews 11:1-6, The Experiment of Faith

 Introduction

Malcolm Muggeridge wrote, “O God, stay with me; let no word cross my lips that is not your word, no thoughts enter my mind that are not your  thoughts, no deed ever be done or entertained by me that is not your deed. Amen.” That was my own prayer, and its form is an exception. That is why I wrote it down because I don’t very often feel induced to address my Creator in that sort of way. To me prayer is a sort of understanding.” I agree entirely.

I often pray in sentences, clauses, and direct statements to God. More frequently in prayer, I am silent listening for the still small voice of God, for a prompting, for clarity, feeling with my spirit for His presence. As often, I am silently seeking an understanding of Him. That understanding is faith.

CIS: The essence of prayer is faith. The foundation of faith is taking God at his Word about who I am, who He is, and how I may relate to Him.

Transition

This morning, I want us to see the connection between how we understand creation and the life of prayer. My thesis is something like this: how directly we understand God’s hand in our personal and collective creation directly relates to our ability to know God personally and collectively. In other words, only when I understand that God created me directly and personally will I have the ability to cultivate a direct and personal prayer life with Him.

Exposition

Why does Genesis and the biblical account of creation matter and what does it have to do with prayer? How we understand the shaping of the Universe, the Galaxies, the World, and us, shapes our understanding of our relationship to our creator at a fundamental level. Who is the God that made me? How did He create? Why did He make me?  Can I relate to Him directly and how?

How God created us holds the key to understanding why He created us…

There are three major Christian views as to how God created:

(1) Young Earth Creationism. This is sometimes called YEC. A popular voice for this view is Answers in Genesis with multiple platforms for education, ranging from videos, books, and curriculum to their creation museum and recreation of Noah’s Ark. The books, commentaries, and ideas of the late scientist Henry Morris remain popular among those who hold this view.

The essential tenants of this view are that God literally created the universe, the world, all the creatures in the world, and in six literal 24-hour periods. The Hebrew word “Yom” that is used in Genesis and translated “Day” in English literally means one day – a 24-hour period. It is used in that context in every place in the Old Testament, including when the sun “stood still” for 24 hours in Joshua chapter 10. This is based on a literal-grammatical reading of the text and a simple and plain reading of the Bible within the context that the Sacred Scriptures are the revealed Word of God.

(2) Day-Age Creationism. Another attempt to accommodate science to a literal, or mostly literal, reading of the Bible is the day-age theory. Here religion is accommodated to science by having each of the six days of creation be not twenty-four hours but long periods of time — even thousands or millions of years. This allows for recognition of an ancient age of Earth but still retains a quite literal interpretation of Genesis.

(3) Theistic Evolution. Theistic evolution is a theological view in which God creates through the laws of nature. Theistic evolutionists accept all the results of modern science, in anthropology and biology as well as in geology and elsewhere. Views vary in whether and how much God intervened — some believe that God created the laws of nature and allows events to occur with no further intervention. Others believe that God intervenes at critical intervals during the history of life (especially in the origin of humans). [1]

You can hold to any of these views and be a Christian. This is not about salvation. This is about knowing God. This is about knowing that God created you and me intentionally and with immediate and direct purpose.

The trouble with theistic evolution, as it relates to knowing God, is that the God who creates over countless millennia through evolution does so from a distance and with seemingly no regard for the immensity of the pain and suffering involved in millions and millions of creatures over millions and millions of years torturously grinding out survival as they evolve. That God is more like a detached mind behind evolution than a personal God. Then He pops on the scene after perhaps billions of silent years to know us personally?

This view is that of those who make the mistake of insisting that religious claims must line up with scientific claims to be valid. I do not think they do. There are many other possibilities. Religious claims are different categorically from scientific claims. They do not have to line up. They are different sorts of claims. In addition, modern science is always evolving like the evolution of the species that it increasingly claims as known fact, rather than theory.

 

Appearance of age is well explained by the Noahic Flood. (answersingenesis.org)

The trouble with day-age creationism, as it relates to knowing God, is less obvious but a bit more sinister. This view acts as if it is taking the biblical account seriously but instantly allegorizes the creation account. It sets out a manner of biblical interpretation that, if applied to the rest of Scripture, makes me the judge of what parts of the Bible ought to be taken directly as revealed truth and which I can say are allegory.

Both of these views turn biblical history on its head. They both say that perhaps the Genesis account is just a retelling of other ancient creation myths such as those of the Mesopotamians. If we take biblical history seriously, we can easily account for the commonality of creation myths with the Genesis account. At the Tower of Babel, humankind were spread throughout the world. They took variations on the Genesis account with them, retelling it from a place of having lost connection from their source, the God of creation. As the nations were paganized, the account of creation was paganized.

What is a sound way of considering our creation? What is a way of viewing creation that aids our ability to know God? Must we accept and hold firm to a literal 6-day creation to be saved in Christ? None of us was present at creation. None of us was present in the garden. We have in front of us, however, the record of Scripture, which was affirmed by the Early Church and the resurrection of Jesus to many witnesses, to be the Word of God.

The Bible, though, while commenting on science and history and containing the same is primarily a religious, not a scientific text. It makes theological claims which are frankly of a higher and more eternal order than that of human science, which is as helpful as it is often arrogant. What, then are we left to do and believe and how are we to think about our creation?

I accept first the primacy of Scripture. I see in the creation account the beauty of the intentionality of my creator in having created me to know Him. I read the creation account and the entire Bible through a historical-grammatical lens. The doctrines of salvation, which are intrinsically linked to Christ, are laid in Genesis, when God tells us that He will send the seed of man to crush the head of the deceitful serpent, who will bruise His, heal. That is the foretelling of Jesus at the Cross crushing Satan’s hold upon us in sin.

I read the Bible as God’s Word to me, telling me how I may know Him. That knowledge of Him begins with our intentional creation and ends with our intentional salvation. That is collective for the Church and personal for me.

Did God use evolution in creation? I am unconvinced, but perhaps He did. I am primarily concerned with knowing God and not with pleasing man. I am concerned with being a fool for Christ, not appearing wise to men. My faith, which is of eternal consequence if it true, is of far more real and personal consequence than thinking that my thinking must be in line with the fickle, limited, ever shifting, thoughts of even the most brilliant men.

 

I am free of any sense of obligation to synthesize my faith

with the findings of men, even brilliant men, in the world.

Even if God did use evolution in the creation of man, one still must explain the ex-nihilo creation of the universe, matter, and me.

Conclusion

The foundation for knowing God is, indeed, a kind of understanding. That understanding must be rooted in the knowledge that He created you and me with purpose. That is why it matters how we think about how He did that.

That is why it matters that we think about how and why He did that.

Verse three of our text for today, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” (Hebrews 11:3 NIV84)

Henry Morris said the Genesis creation account refutes atheism because the universe was created by God. It refutes pantheism [God as spirit of the universe] for God is transcendent. It refutes polytheism for one God created. It refutes materialism for matter had a beginning. It refutes dualism because God alone created. It refutes humanism because God, not man, is the ultimate reality. It refutes evolution because God created all things.

The essence of prayer is knowing God. The foundation for knowing God is knowing that He created us with intentionality and purpose. Don’t settle for a man-centered view of the world. We were created to know God. Amen.

[1] https://ncse.com/library-resource/creationevolution-continuum.

Reinhold Niebuhr and Faith Applied in the Real World.

I recently ran across Mayflower Baptist Church, formerly Bethel Evangelical Church, where Reinhold Niebuhr was Pastor in the early 1900’s for 15 years before leaving Detroit in 1928 to Teach at Union Seminary in New York for 30 years.

68583188_2908492209166361_606759070812078080_n
Reinhold Niebuhr

From New York he had his most fruitful and productive years commenting on politics and society from a distinctly Christ-centered point of view. I’ve been busy racking up late fees in the Michigan library system digging into what he wrote. He spoke a lot about the collective responsibility of the Church and Christians everywhere to care about and participate in bringing the justice of God to bear in practical ways in the real lives of actual people in the world through various means of engagement in the processes that make up the world social systems.

I’ve always been skeptical of Christian involvement in anything that looks like politics. I remain skeptical, largely because of the political excesses of modern Evangelicalism and being co-opted by political parties and modern Liberal Christians being guilty, I would suggest, of similar things, just in a different direction. Somehow, we’ve got to be bearers of the image of God in the world, putting Christ on display in every possible way without being co-opted by political parties and agendas.

68430151_2908492025833046_1498585970147065856_n
Bethel Evangelical Church

I’m fascinated by Niebuhr’s thoughts and life. It was Haiti’s plight that opened my eyes to the effects of ecology, sociology, economics, labor conditions, racism, corruption, and similar realities upon the spiritual conditions of people. There is of course biblical instruction for growth under difficult circumstances. There is also the reality that God is calling His Church to bring His power to bear in both leading people to freedom spiritually through faith in Christ and to share compassion in the real physical circumstances of people’s lives! (Matthew 25, 28, James I)

I don’t know if any serious minded Pastor-Scholar in our country will have the kind of influence of Niebuhr again. However, together, we can put our hands to the same plow and not look back. I heard Niebuhr in an interview with the late James Baldwin say, “The Protestant Church too often sentimentalizes love, avoiding action. Love is the motivation. Justice is the tool.”

The Gospel preached sets men free eternally in Christ. Free men fight the battles of liberating others from spiritual and physical chains. Christianity is not an escapist religion. It is a here and now revolution motivated by a love of eternal origin and consequence.

68802594_2908492105833038_1780222106915569664_n
Pastor Chris Surber

 

The Bible is our Lighthouse.

In the modern age we find ourselves adrift psychologically, philosophically, and spiritually. When each man is his own guide, he has a fool as his leader. How can we navigate the complexities of post-modernity apart from a lighthouse calling us safely home to the shores of sanity?

To find safety from the storm of ideas raging about us, we must not live in isolation from our creator, His Church, or His Word revealed to us as a guide to navigate the world on our pilgrimage home to Heaven. Where the Church rejects the Word of God, she stumbles, falls, even ceases to be the Church…

  • In an age of irreverence, calls to holiness are seen only as harsh criticism.
  • In an age of unbelief, calls to truth will always be regarded as judgmental.
  • In an age of compromise, biblical calls will be seen as archaic and foolish.
  • In an age of controversy, the prophet is judged; his message disregarded.
  • In an age of skepticism, prayer is suspect; man is removed from his source.

In an age of disrespect, a man honors his opinion above else and turns the pursuit of knowledge inward, cutting himself off from all right sources of truth, knowledge, and wisdom. Consequently, men, even men who claim to be Christian, become pagan. Irreverence removes the possibility of worship.

Unbelief removes the possibility of growth. Compromise nullifies the fertility of faith. Controversy dims our interest in the possibility of knowable facts. We are left to eat only the skeptic’s rotten fruit of eternal questioning, of a meandering pilgrimage leading nowhere to do nothing.

Bolster reverence in abandonment to worship and prayer. Bolster belief with teachability. Kill compromise by choosing this day whom we will serve. Cut through the fog of controversy with the two edged sword of the Word of God. Open the Bible and pursue its truth. Reconnect to the source of life in prayer and discover real power to reshape our skeptic hearts on the forge of faith.

“The man who does not pray is attempting the live his life in isolation.”[1]

At the root of Christian faith is choice to believe in invisible beauty rather than visible destruction. It is choosing the promise of Christ on the evidence of His resurrection rather than the emptiness of the world on the present visible evidence of its constant destruction. Hope heavenward and find the real spiritual power to reconstruct a life of purpose, meaning, and hope in this world.

To find real elevation for living, we have to set aside the all too common self-adulation of our culture and learn that truth that when we humble ourselves in the sight of God, He will life us up!

[1] The Experiment of Faith, Fiske, 1917

What Is Preaching?

 

IMG_20190809_122224.jpg

“What Preaching Is,” I Corinthians 2:1-5

The Experiment of Faith

 Introduction

Occasionally we need sermons about sermons; preaching about preaching and what to do with it! What is the purpose of preaching? What constitutes a “good” sermon? Is it one that stirs the heart? Arouses the intellect? Challenges the audience to be more Christ-like? Addresses relevant issues? Uses great rhetoric? Exposits the Bible?

 

What makes a sermon good?! Spurgeon said a fog in the pulpit makes for a mist in the pews. Edwards preached a sermon entitled, “How the listen to a Sermon.” We tend to take the cue from commercial society that the “best” preaching is whatever happens in the fullest buildings. Big crowds only necessarily mean popular. What is popular preaching in any given age may not be what is “best.” Too often, popularity trumps faithfulness. Sometimes faithful is popular, not always, and these days, perhaps not even very often.

 

Paul gave us the key concepts for God-honoring fruitful preaching in our text for today. These 5 principles come from those 5 verses.

 

  • (v.1) Sound preaching is not eloquence or human philosophy.
  • (v.2) Sound preaching has one great theme: Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
  • (v.3) Sound preaching is proclaimed with a great sense of inadequacy. (Genuine humility and sincerity at the monumental task of proclaiming the Word of God)
  • (v.4) Sound preaching is not persuasive words, but a demonstration of the Spirit and power.
  • (v.5) Sound preaching leads to faith.

 

Congregational Puritan Pastor, Richard Sibbes, said, “That age of the church which was most fertile in nice questions, was most barren in religion: for it makes people think religion to be only a matter of wit, in tying and untying of knots; the brains of men given that way are hotter usually than their hearts.”

 

*Faithfulness to Scripture, not oratory, is the measure of good preaching*

Transition

Pastors and Parishioners alike need desperately to think about sermons. We need more sermons about sermons, more preaching about preaching, more “How to listen to a Sermon” sermons. It is time the Church think critically about thinking and act seriously, about how we act in the world.

 

CIS: Good preaching is not subjective. It is in line with biblical mandate.

 

Exposition

(v.1) Sound preaching is not eloquence or human philosophy.[1]

Religion that is right and true is infinitely more than brilliance and philosophy. It defines, fuels, and enriches a godly Christ-centered life! We need preaching that supplies faith and sets it on fire!

 

Religion that is right and it is true and it is biblical, historically Christian, and consistent with the deepest principles and meaning of the with-God life, points us, not to the oppressive and tragic things of this world, not into ourselves for betterment, not to man’s wisdom for enlightenment, but to the Lord God creator and sustainer and giver of life and grace for definition.

 

Sound preaching is the opening up of the testimony of God in His Word. Sound preaching is shining a lamp in dark places and pointing to God’s hope.

Sound preaching is making known eternal truth with no prospect of approval.

Sound preaching is defined by and rests entirely upon the testimony of God.

Sound preaching is the art of making God known according to His Word alone.

 

In other words, “good” preaching is that which flows from God’s Word as it is defined by God’s Word, elucidated by the witness of the Church throughout history and, most notably, as defined in this passage of Scripture.

 

The art of preaching is the art of pointing people in the direction of the God-ward side of life; of making eternal truths accessible according to God’s Word.

That is why…

(v.2) Sound preaching has one great theme: Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

 

The Puritan Preacher John Flavel wrote, “All other knowledge, how much soever it be magnified in the world, is, and ought to be esteemed but dross, [rubbish], in comparison of the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ.”

 

“More than that, I now regard all things as liabilities compared to the far greater value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things –  indeed, I regard them as dung!  –  that I may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:8 NET) Preaching of any sort other than that which points men to Christ on the Cross is vanity, flattery, and platitudes. We need Christ.

 

(v.3) Sound preaching is proclaimed with a great sense of inadequacy.

 

No one who is not at least occasionally very intimidated at the prospect of speaking for God has no business speaking for God. Anyone who does not recognize the gravity of the task of preaching has no business preaching. It is famously an adage among preachers to tell would be preachers that if they can do anything else – do it! This sentiment is well rooted in Scripture,  such as James 3:1 , “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” (NIV84)

 

“Paul’s personal appearance was apparently not impressive, not to the Corinthians. Paul says that he was weak in body, and that he suffered some physical infirmity. This should not matter to a congregation of God’s people, but it did to the Corinthians. Some among the Corinthians were more interested in the charisma, worldly ability, and preaching skills of a pastor than in his depth and knowledge of the Lord. Unfortunately, this seems to have been the emphasis among many people of the Corinthian church.”[2]

 

Look for a life of honest pursuit of Christ from a preacher. None of us are adequate for the call but some are called. [Christina. Chris is so gifted and wise! No. He’s not that wise or that gifted. He’s just genuinely called.]

(v.4) Sound preaching is not persuasive words, but a demonstration of the Spirit and power. Sound preaching flows from the experiment of faith in the preacher’s life. A preacher must be a practitioner. He must be a learned friend on the journey, which implies, that we all must be on the journey together!

 

That is what listening to a sermon or a preaching ministry is all about. This is a pilgrimage of faith; at least it should be! This is not a lecture or a course I am teaching and you are receiving. This is the schoolhouse of lived faith.

 

(v.5) Sound preaching leads to faith. Preaching is not for my gratification or your simple enjoyment. Entertainment is not out aim. Lived faith is our aim!

 

Conclusion

That kind of preaching is aimed at producing in us the kind of faith that bears fruit. That radiates into our lives from the Word, flows through our lives by way of the Holy Spirit in ways consistent with the Word, and inculcates the world around us everywhere we go.  In other words, the fruit of biblical preaching is spiritual fruit. That is the definition of “good” preaching.

 

It is not good rhetoric, wise insights, passion, making us feel good, or any other arbitrary standard. Those things may be present in good preaching but they are not the litmus test for good preaching. Is it faithful to the Word? Does it center on Christ and Him crucified? Is the preacher more concerned with God’s glory than his own pride? Is the preaching accompanied by real evidence of the Holy Spirit power in the life of the preacher? Does the preaching have an impact on people’s lives that leads to spiritual fruit?

 

Striving for this, living like this, aiming at this is, has always been, and will always be how I will define the direction of my preaching ministry. Listening to sermons like this, aiming at hearing them for this ought to be your goal.

 

How ought we to listen to sermons? Listen for the voice of God using the preacher. Look for the examples in the preachers life that point us – though imperfectly – in the direction of the perfection of God. Bear Fruit. Amen.

 

[1] Gaius Glenn Atkins, “The Godward Side of Life,” Pilgrim Press, Chicago, 1917, page 16.

[2] Preacher’s Outline and Sermon Bible – Commentary – 1 & 2 Corinthians.

Sermons about Sermons

Occasionally we need sermons about the purpose of sermons; preaching about preaching and what to do with it! What is the purpose of preaching? If the preacher doesn’t know,surely the people in the pew won’t know. What constitutes a “good” sermon? Is it one that stirs the heart? Arouses the intellect? Challenges the audience to be more Christ-like? Addresses relevant issues? Uses great rhetoric? Exposits the Bible?

What makes a good sermon?! Spurgeon said a fog in the pulpit makes for a mist in the pews. Edwards preached a sermon entitled, “How the listen to a Sermon.” We tend to take the cue from commercial society that the “best” preaching is found in the fullest buildings. Big crowds only necessarily mean popular. What is popular preaching in any given age may not be what is “best.” That is only true when popularity necessarily trumps faithfulness. Sometimes faithful is popular, not always, and these days, perhaps not even very often.

Whitefield

Paul gave us the key concepts for God-honoring preaching in I Corinthians 2:1-5, “And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5 NASB)

  •  (v.1) Sound preaching is not eloquence or human philosophy.
  • (v.2) Sound preaching has one great theme: Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
  • (v.3) Sound preaching is proclaimed with a great sense of inadequacy. (Genuine humility and sincerity at the monumental task of proclaiming the Word of God)
  • (v.4) Sound preaching is not persuasive words, but a demonstration of the Spirit and power.
  • (v.5) Sound preaching leads to faith.

Congregational Puritan Pastor, Richard Sibbes, said it this way, “That age of the church which was most fertile in nice questions, was most barren in religion: for it makes people think religion to be only a matter of wit, in tying and untying of knots; the brains of men given that way are hotter usually than their hearts.” (The Bruised Reed)

“Good” preaching is from the Bible in a straightforward manner. It is Christ-centered. It is humbling to preacher and parishioner. It is active and alive, rooted in faithful action and example of the Holy Spirit’s power in the life of the preacher in the real world. Sound preaching, when planted in the hearts of hearers, produces the fruit of faith.

Pastors and Parishioners alike need desperately to think about sermons. We need more sermons about sermons, more preaching about preaching, more “How to listen to a Sermon” sermons. It’s time the Church think critically about thinking and act seriously about how we act in the world.

One in the Carton

The following article was originally published at Body Mind Spirit Guide, a freely distributed publication in Detroit. It was published online on July 9, 2019.  (https://bodymindspiritguide.com/2019/07/09/one-egg-in-the-carton/)

By Dr. Chris Surber

The recipe called for just one egg. “No problem!” I thought. I had noticed a full carton of locally farmed eggs in the refrigerator earlier that day. I gathered all of my ingredients on the freshly cleaned countertop. I plugged in the power chord on my vintage thrift store bought a mixer. I carefully collected the contents of my recipe in a sparkling glass dish for mixing my cornbread batter. Then, one at a time, I cracked eleven rotten eggs into a separate little dish. I washed the dish after each egg, certain that the next egg would be fine! I closed my eyes as the last egg splashed into the little bowl. It was the only good egg in the carton!

There are many rotten eggs in the churches today. From sex scandals to money scandals. From aggressive fighting fundamentalist rhetoric to sugary flittering fanciful scoops of meaningless. Religious eggs that would gladly mix in and spoil the batter of our lives are in no short supply. Baptist Minister of a century ago, Joseph Fort Newton, once stated, “Because a few get God and the devil mixed in is no reason why we should move out of the house of God into a bleak orphanage.” Religion is essential to the pursuit of ultimate meaning. Religious places are not all adorned with steeples. Not by a long shot!

Today, as in days gone by, people worship power, money, and material wealth. People worship their intellect, their inventiveness, and a host of human accomplishment. A society that claims to be non-religious does not cease to be spiritual just because it says so. Humanity has a worshipful design and when we remove spiritual dialogue from the conversation, the spirit does not cease to be hungry for worship. It just shifts its spiritual affections in the direction of material things. It substitutes right ingredients for our spiritual batter for rotten eggs.

Do not give up entirely on the Church simply because rotten eggs can be found in her carton. Do not reject religion simply because she sometimes wears a mask not her own. Do not move out of the house of God into a bleak orphanage of spiritual isolation just because some people mix good ingredients with rotten ingredients. There still may be a good egg in the carton that you are simply yet to find.

The fundamental aspect of religion that is good, right, and true is that religion which posits and helps its adherents attend to just one question, “What is the fundamental meaning of life? What, if anything, have we been created for?” Ministers who help others find the answers to those questions are not like elementary school librarians. They cannot point to one section of one book on a shelf. No. We are more like fellow pilgrims on life’s journey saying, “Out there exists a brilliant labyrinth. Give me a moment to strap on my sandals, pick up my walking stick, and I will sojourn with you.”

We will seek the answers together honestly. We will walk together in love. We will listen to the voice of God. Together, we will find the enriching ingredients for the batter of our lives one pure egg at a time.

Dr. Chris Surber is Senior Minister at Mt. Hope Congregational Church in Livonia, MI. He is also the Co-Founder and Executive Director of “Supply and Multiply” in Montrouis, Haiti. Visit him online at www.chrissurber.com