This week we continue with our series that we're calling "Brent's Friends" as we look at the questions that people—Brent's friends, my friends, your friends—are asking about faith and life and trying to answer them. And last week, we met two of Brent's friends, Princess and Travis, and we talked about worldviews and four basic questions. (BUILD)
Where did we come from?
What's wrong with the world, and how to we fix it?
What's our purpose in life?
What's going to happen after we die?
These four questions are a great starting place for conversations with friends; they aren't threatening, they aren't confrontational. We talked about how we might answer these questions and I hope that helped you in thinking about your answers to them. And I hope that you have a chance to ask some of them to your friends soon.
Today we are going to see more from our conversation with Brent's Friends; the worldview questions from last time were a good step for us to move deeper in our conversation with Princess and Travis. We heard about their beliefs and wanted to dig a bit more, and so we asked a question with a bit more depth:
(BUILD) Why do you believe what you believe?
And it was an interesting conversation.
There's a lot there, but there's a theme that comes out as they talk about why they believe the things that they do. Princess said that she lives her life by the golden rule—treat others as you want to be treated—and that she believes that because she's had experiences that positively support that philosophy. It makes sense to her; it just works.
Travis said that he was a big believer in karma, which he described as the idea that when you do good things, good things happen to you. He lives his life this way in the hope that others will see that in him, he like the idea that people will see that in him.
However, the theme that is coming out of their answers here is that they see themselves as the authority in their lives. They are the ultimate decider in the matter of what they believe and why. Because it sounds good to them. Because it makes sense to them. Because they like the results in their lives of those beliefs.
So how would you answer this question? Why do you believe what you believe?
I would say that I believe what I believe about God, life, and faith because of the Word of God. That book, those words, shape how I live my life. And the Word of God tells me that I am not the source of authority in the world. That I cannot look to myself for what I should do because I did not spring out of nothing. I was created.
Colossians 1:16-17 - For byhim all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together
God is the authority in our lives. He is our Creator and in Him, we are held together. And creatures should listen to their Creator. Which is why I allow my life to be shaped by the Word of my Creator, the Bible. It's not always easy. Some things in the Bible, we like to hear.
Matthew 7:12 - So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
Sound familiar? It's the Golden Rule, like Princess mentioned. It sounds good. Who doesn't want to have good things done to them by others? But what about when the Bible says things like this?
Matthew 5:44-45a - But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven.
Love your enemies. Jesus is saying, you know those people who hate you? The ones who want you dead? The ones who want to take everything you have, property, belongings, rights, freedoms? Love them. But they don't… Love them. But what about… Love them.
There is a decision that we must make: who will be our authority? Will it be us? Will it be another voice in the world? Or will it be our Creator? Will we insist on our own way or will we allow ourselves to be molded and shaped into His image?
But this question of who our authority will be leads us to another question, one that I wish I would have had the foresight to ask Princess and Travis about when we were talking. And that is:
(BUILD) Why do you believe what you believe?
Why do we trust our source of authority?
How can we trust a God that we can't see? How can we look to a book to tell us how to live our lives when we could look to ourselves and be our own authority? That sounds a bit more attractive sometimes.
These can be hard questions. And sometimes the church doesn't give very good answers to them, like "because the Bible says so." But I think that the key to this idea of why we trust our source of authority comes down to evidence.
If we look at the evidence of history, stuff that isn't in the Bible, we can confirm that Jesus was a real, historical person that walked around in the Middle East in the 1st century. We know that he was a Jew and that he was executed on a cross. We know this from records outside of the Bible and it is confirmed by the testimony of the Scriptures as well.
We also have Jesus' teachings recorded in the words of the Bible and it is the single most well-preserved collections of documents in human history. We have over 5,500 manuscripts of the New Testament alone—more than 50 times as many as other historical documents that we consider authentic and reliable. So we know that the Bible is reliable as a historical record. And so Jesus was a real person who walked around and whose teachings were at least partially recorded in the Bible.
And so it falls to us to make a decision on the evidence that exists about Jesus. How will we answer the question that Jesus himself posed to his disciples:
Matthew 16:15 - [Jesus] said to them "Who do you say that I am?" (ESV)
I have never been in the same place that Princess or Travis is. I have not questioned my faith in who Jesus is and what he has done for me. I have known it since I was a child. But as I grew, as I learned more about the evidence for Jesus, it strengthened my faith. That evidence helped me to hold onto faith when I had questions. Because the church is not asking you leap blindly into faith, to trust us and not ask questions. There is evidence to examine and a step of faith to take. But that step is shorter than you might think. Shorter than your friends might think.
Which is why we have these conversations with our friends, people who believe differently than we do. To walk along side them, to try and understand where they are coming from so that we can explain the evidence and our faith when it is our turn to talk.
Because when you start talking about these things with your friends and sharing what you believe and why—and you should—questions are going to come up. Questions about your church and what it teaches. And that happened with Princess and Travis. They brought up a few common questions that spring up in these conversations So I want to share a few of those now.
1:25 VIDEO - MONEY
(BUILD) 1) Money
Travis raises a common protest to the teachings of the church here: what about money? There's two parts to this question, so I need to break it up.
The first part is why should I give to the church at all? This goes back to our first question of who is the authority in your life? Where did the things you have come from? If you believe that you are the authority in your life and that you've earned everything that you have, you probably don't want to give to the church.
But if you believe that God is the authority in your life, that everything you have is a gift from Him, that changes the way we look at things. I didn't earn this, it was given to me by God. So what's the problem in giving it back to Him as an offering of thanksgiving? We give to the church out of joy and out of trust: I believe that God will give me the things I need, so I will make a choice to give away part of what I have been given by God, trusting that we He will provide for me.
The other aspect of this question that Travis raised was people leaving all of their money to the church and him feeling like the church might be taking advantage of older people. Sadly, this happens in some churches—and I'm using the word church with a healthy dose of sarcasm here—because this is NOT pleasing to God. Just because some churches might bilk old ladies out of money doesn't make all bequests to the church bad. I hope that God allows me to leave money to the church when I die so that I can keep on sharing Jesus with people even after I'm dead! And we have that here, people whose gifts are helping our ministry continue so we can reach people with the Gospel even after they are gone.
And we are very careful with our financials here at Christ Lutheran Church and report back to you, the people, what we do with the money you have given to us as the church. If you ever find a church that doesn't share that kind of information, that's when you need to be worried. And no amount of money given to the church will ever earn you a spot in heaven, it doesn’t matter how many zeroes are at the end of the check. Grace is not something that can be purchased.
But there are more questions and problems that came up than just money.
(BUILD) 1) Money
2) Questions and doubts
This problem is more common than it should be. The church sometimes gets a bad rap for telling people to stop asking questions. And I think some churches really do want people not to ask questions. But that is not the case here. I want your questions. Pastor Scheich wants your questions. Bring them on. Faith is not a state, it's a journey. We are constantly learning and growing and we should never stop asking questions about faith. If I can't answer it, I'll find someone that can. And if it's a question like how many angels can dance on the head of a pin—that's a silly question. Don't ask that one. But keep asking other questions. God has given us brains to use, people. Don't let yours fall down on the job.
I've got time for just one more question from Travis, and it's important, even if it is a bit short, and it comes up a lot in these kinds of discussions.
(BUILD) 1) Money
War. What is it good for? Apparently as an argument against religion. Travis is echoing a very common objection to religion in general: that they are responsible for most of the wars that have taken place in history and the loss of millions of lives. This fact gets stated over and over again in these kinds of discussions.
Fortunately, it's not true. If we do some adding up of the different wars that we read about in our history books and the casualties of those wars, a very different picture starts to emerge.
I found this book at the library. It's called the Encyclopedia of Wars. This is just volume 1. It's a set f three and it details each and every war in recorded history. It's fascinating reading, but in here, they diagram the wars in history that have been waged for religious reasons. Of the 1,763 wars they record in here, 123 of them are religious in nature. (PIE CHART of 123/1763) That's less than 7 percent of all wars waged in human history, which isn't great. But since this criticism is often leveled the Christian church, we need to do some weeding out. If we eliminate the wars waged in the name of Islam, we drop down to 57 wars (PIE CHART of 56/1763). 3.23 percent. Those are the wars waged by non-Muslims in the name of religion.
If we add up the big three Christian wars/conflicts in history—the Crusades, the Thirty Years' War, and the Spanish Inquisition—there are as many as 2.5 million causalities. (figure on BAR GRAPH) Certainly a terrible thing. But let's put that in perspective and add in some death tolls as a result of non-religious, even atheist, dictators. (ADD TO BAR GRAPH)
Joseph Stalin - 42,672,000
Mao Zedong - 37,828,000
Adolf Hitler - 20,946,000
Chiang Kai-shek - 10,214,000
Vladimir Lenin - 4,017,000
Hideki Tojo - 3,990,000
Pol Pot - 2,397,000
There are some truly horrible men on this list. But their wickedness came not from the church, but from their own hearts.
Mark 7:21-23- For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, 1fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, 1aenvy, slander, 2pride and foolishness. “All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.”
We are sinful. And yes, the church has made its mistakes and terrible things have been done in the name of God, but that does not make them God's fault. But this question still comes up, even though the facts don't support the idea that religion causes most wars. And it is still our duty as Christians to answer the questions that our friends ask. Because we can't run away from them. They are there. And when we are talking and listening, we need to remember our questions:
Why do you believe what you believe?
Why do you trust your source of authority?
Because these questions will always lead us back to the cross. Back to Jesus and what he has done for us. And that is something we can be sure of. Let's stand.