Friday, April 28, 2017

St Stephens Bible Church

Sun, May 22, 2016

Beyond Doubt #3

Did God make the world in 6 days? Racism I don't feel loved

Did God make the world in 6 days?

Psalm 8 and Genesis 1:1-27

 Prayer: Father, help me to be clear and truthful. I do not want to undermine the faith of any nor compromise your word. I do want to be truthful and certain where certainty exists but not dogmatic or blinkered where truth is uncertain.

 

Did God make the world in 6 days? That is the question I have been given. Now it is actually two questions…

 

Firstly, “Did God make the world?” And it is only if we answer ‘yes’ to that question that we can move on to the second part, “Did God then make the world in 6 days?”

 

So let me take a few minutes on each

 

Firstly, “Did God make the world?”

 

If you cut through all the noise, the vitriol, the anger and the debate of the evolution versus creation question you will find that there is a simple choice – either someone made the universe or else no–one made the universe and everything happened by a colossal accident. Secular, evolutionary science declares that the universe began in a cosmic explosion called the Big Bang roughly 13.7 billion years ago. It has drawn this conclusion largely from the size of the universe and the curious observations that were first noted by the astronomer Edwin Hubble in the 1920s. Hubble found that stars are not uniformly distributed throughout space, but are gathered together in vast collections we call galaxies. He was expecting that these galaxies would be moving towards us and away from us. But to his surprise, Hubble found that nearly all the galaxies are moving away from us. And this gave rise to the assertion that things started from a bang and are expanding.

The Bible however declares that God - the Trinity, made the universe by speaking. A Big Bang might have been the mechanism he used but the existence of everything that is, happened when God spoke everything into being.

 

Now one of the main reasons (there are others that I don’t have time for this morning), one of the main reasons that I think that it was God behind the making of the universe is simple. It is summarised by the word complexity. It is an observable fact that for complexity to happen intelligence is required.

So you come home from work to a delightful aroma. As you step into the kitchen there sitting on the table are freshly baked chocolate-chip muffins. And you are starving, you have been at work all day chewing on your carrot sticks – the smell is just amazing….now you do not conclude that they fell from heaven. You know that your amazing wife slogged to make them.

Now chocolate chip muffins are not particularly complex. So take a walk with me up the hill towards the university library where we will come across many PhD dissertations - complicated long tomes on intricate pieces of our world. And as you browse them you do not conclude that a lightning bolt struck the library and left them behind – that would be absurd. When you watch the next volcanic explosion on television you would never consider that the aftermath of that Small Bang might be an Apple Watch. When you buy your Apple Watch you know that behind it is complex and careful design. It has taken hundreds of the finest engineers that we have to produce something as simple as an Apple Watch. Now if we extrapolate this observable fact to the most complicated and intricate thing that we know - the universe - we must then out of consistency conclude that the universe has behind it a designer. To posit that the universe’s complexity happened by a cosmic accident is to actually make an illogical and unscientific faith statement. The observational basis to all science implies a creator not an accident. To observe one set of laws in the laboratory and the world and then conclude the diametrical opposite is either dishonest or is in fact to discard the scientific method itself and ironically choose instead a blind presuppositional faith statement. From the complexity of the universe it is much more logical and scientific to conclude a God behind it all…it was God that made the universe.

 

Now I realise that complexity does not answer the question of ‘who made God?’ Nor ‘How did he make the universe?’ but it does start us on our quest. If God made the universe we can now proceed to our next question – how? Did he make it in 6 days or did he take 13.8 billion years using an evolutional approach?   

 

Now the answer you to come to on this question, will come not from a study of science but from a decision you make about literature; and in particular a decision you make on the genre of the first 11 chapters of the book of Genesis.

 

Human writing takes different forms. On a Sunday you might pick up a Sunday paper and in that paper there will be different kinds of literature. Last Sunday’s Times led with the following headline ‘Pravin ‘arrest’ shock.’ Now as you read that you realised that it is ambiguous. It could mean that the minister of finance has been arrested or that he might be arrested. And its meaning is based on the kind of literature you are reading. Now the writers of the paper intentionally set up the ambiguity to cause you to buy the paper and find out the meaning. Likewise when you turn to the property section you encounter this sort of language, “Cosy cottage with potential in Constantia surrounds.” You know that cosy means tiny, with potential means it’s a mess and Constantia surrounds means it is definitely not in Constantia…you know not to interpret estate agent speak literally.

 

  

Now the Bible begins with the declaration that God made the universe in 6 days. In a monumental expression of power, the Trinitarian God, spoke. He spoke light into existence, then he spoke water into existence and then on the third day he spoke ground, land and vegetation into being. On day 4 he spoke sun, moon and stars. On day 5 fish, birds and animals. (One day I want to ask him why he spoke mosquitoes, couldn’t he just have not done that). And then on day six at the pinnacle of his speaking he made humans – a man and a woman - in his image.

 

Now if you answer the question, ‘what kind of literature is Genesis?’ with the answer that it is literal history, then you will conclude that God made the world in 6, 24 hour periods. And there is strong evidence to suggest that, that is exactly the way in which the writer meant it to be understood. The word ‘day’ is the normal common Hebrew word ‘yom’ which we use to describe a 24 hour period. And as you read the book of Genesis you will find lots of evidence to support that position. The book sets itself up as literal history. It tells the story of a man called Abraham from an Iraqi city called Ur. It speaks of his descendants Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. These are not metaphorical or legendary characters; they are real people and their existence is mandatory for the development of the Bible’s big story. Without Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph we have no Passover, no Jewish people, no promises of God and no foundations for Jesus.

In addition you will find that the rest of the Bible seems to interpret Genesis in this literal and historical way. Adam is referred to as a real man, not a legendary figure from ancient times. But if you are honest with yourself you will also realise that there are significant problems with interpreting Genesis as literal history. As you consider the tree of life, the serpent and the angels you will be drawn to the other times that they are also mentioned in the Bible. You will find them in the book of Revelation which is clearly set up as a metaphorical book. In Revelation when the ‘tree of life’ (singular) lines (plural) the river it is clearly a metaphor for eternal life. The Genesis introduction looks very much like the Revelation conclusion. In addition you will have to grapple with the problem of a day. If we define a day as the rotation of the earth on its axis through morning and evening then it is problematic because the sun, moon and stars are only made on day 4…and the earth seems to only be made on day 2. So by definition you can’t have a day defined by the earth’s rotation if the earth hasn’t been made yet. In addition as we meet God in the Bible we find that the time that defines us is of little importance to him. For him a day is like a 1000 years. And so if you answer the question about Genesis 1-11 by declaring that it is metaphorical history then you might conclude that God made the world in a significantly longer period. And there is good evidence to answer the question this way. We cannot simply dismiss science and its assertions as complete idiocy. In the same way we cannot simply trust science completely because science has been known to change its mind.  

If you want to hold to an old earth position what you will not be able to do is hold to the view that humans are millions of year old. Even secular historians and anthropologists find little evidence for human civilisation that dates back further than about 10,000 years. In fact it is true to say that other than a very few and often highly disputed pre-human ancestors…there is actually very little evidence for the human story being older than the biblical accounts suggest. In fact the 10,000 year framework that the Bible speaks of, fits quite well with the archaeological and anthropological discoveries.

 

But notice in all of this that your decision about whether God made the earth in 6 days has come not from science but rather from your decision about the genre of literature that is the book of Genesis…

 

Now, I doubt that you will let me get away without pinning my personal colours to the mast. I hold to a young earth position, but I am willing to concede that this position is not without problems. If you hold to an old earth position do so humbly conceding that you also have significant problems in your position. Did God make the world in 6, 24 hour days? I think so…were some of them maybe long days? Perhaps. Did God make the world? Absolutely! Does that mean that he has a claim on our lives? Yes! We best get right with him and his son Jesus, because soon we will stand before him.


Racism

 When I was asked to speak about racism for today’s meeting, I was a little daunted, because it personally took me a long time to recognise my own racism—and I like to think of myself as an introspective person. My attempts in the past to convince fellow white South Africans that we have a racism problem have not gone too well—we don’t see it, and we do our best to avoid seeing it.

It is almost as if we have amnesia about Apartheid—none of us approved of it, none of us were really influenced by it, and it was more than 20 years ago; haven’t we all got over it by now?

So I didn’t know how I would persuade you (all in 10 minutes or less) that our own racism is something we need to take seriously.

But then there was Matthew Theunissen.

Matthew Theunissen is practically a born-free. He was born in 92 or 93, I think. He went to a small private school with pupils of all races. He is privileged enough to have achieved two masters’ degrees, and in spite of being unemployed, he is able to live in Noordhoek. So he has no reason to be racist or angry.

Matthew, as we probably know, made my job here much easier by going on FB to let the world know that he thinks of the present government in the most racist and vulgar terms possible. There is nothing he could have said of a racial nature to be more hurtful to black South Africans. Why? Because the minister dared to touch his love for sport.

But then he did a beautiful thing. Seeing the response to his racism blow up to monstrous proportions, he went on a radio show to apologise. He heartily agreed with the interviewer that people who are not racists do not say such words—that it doesn’t even occur to a non-racist to use this language—and then with almost his next breath, he proceeded to insist that he is not actually racist.

Why is it that—even when there is indisputable evidence of it—almost no one can admit to being a racist? Why could even Matthew Theunissen not bring himself to say, “I am racist”? It is as if he has an image of himself as a good person, and so doing something deliberately awful, as he did, must be accidental—some strange intrusion into his character—but not who he really is. Even when his racism is plain to see, he wasn’t able to own it.

So perhaps the first reason why people don’t recognise their own racism is that we know that racism is bad—and being labelled a racist is a disaster—and we think better of ourselves. We’re not bad people; when we think or say racist things, it’s an exception to the rule, not really who we are.

The second reason why we I think we can’t own up to racism is that we think that racism must be accompanied by hatred, or hostility towards people of another race—it is something that you have to do. So if I were to ask you, “Are you racist?” many of you would answer ‘no’ on the grounds that you haven’t used the K word, or  assaulted a domestic worker, or whatever other prominent example from the media you might want to choose.

The problem is that racism is much more than just behaviour. On a social level, racism has more to do with how society is structured—the place that various race groups occupy in society. On a personal level, racism has more to do with our attitudes towards others—the place that members of various race groups occupy in our thoughts and feelings.

Racism is not active hostility; it is the passive assumption that whiteness is better, and that blackness implies some sort of moral or intellectual or social inferiority. Racism is not a matter of hate; it is a matter of prejudice.

Let’s think about the word prejudice for a second. ‘Pre’ is a Latin prefix that means ‘before; in advance’ (as it does on the word prefix!), and ‘judice’ has the same root as all of our judicial words in English—it is about judgement. Prejudice was not originally a word that referred to hatred or unfair treatment, but merely to a pre-judgement—an opinion about someone that is formed on the basis of some superficial quality, and without reference to who they actually are or what they are like.

One of the key moments for me, in which I realised that I was this kind of racist, happened only about 10 years ago. I was driving through Constantia heading to work, and I noticed a team of manual labourers working on the road. It may have been that one of the labourers was white, but one way or another, it occurred to me that I would have seen a white labourer as unusual, and working in some way below his station, whereas black labourers would be normal.

For the first time, I really understood how deeply that Apartheid way of seeing the world was ingrained in me. I didn’t act racist; I just realised that I saw a sort of rightness about black people occupying a lower station. I wasn’t violent, or angry—I had no ill-feeling towards anyone at all—but I did something that is at the heart of all evil behaviour—I put a different value on one person over another for completely arbitrary reasons. That makes me a racist at heart. Or, the label that I now prefer to use, I am a recovering racist.

Racism is not only a matter of what we do or say; it is an internal issue that has to do with how we see the order of society—it is the pre-judgement of someone’s worth or intelligence. It affects who we trust; who we employ to do jobs that require certain levels of responsibility or expertise; who we look to for advice or guidance.

So a racist is that lovely friendly mum at school who still thinks nothing of referring to an adult worker as ‘the girl’ or ‘the garden boy’.

Racism is what made the white American cashier—in a story I heard recently—refuse to take payment by cheque from a black woman right after taking a cheque payment from her mixed-race sister-in-law because she looked white.

Or if we use a sporting example to make Matthew Theunissen happy, racism is why white supporters called Alviro Petersen a quota player when he was selected for the Proteas cricket team in 2006, even though he had broken several domestic batting records in the year leading up to his selection. Racism is why every under-performing black player will be dismissed as a quota selection, and why under-performing white players “should be given time to show their worth”.

Racism is why the murder of a white girl usually makes the headlines, and why the murder of a black girl almost never does.

Racism is not about hostility; it is a prejudice that affects the trust that we put in people, and the value that we place on their work or on their lives.

The Bible doesn’t use the concept of race very often, but it is certainly aware of the damage that prejudice does.

James 2 on favouritism:

“2:2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?...

He goes on: “8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. 9 But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.”

By pre-judging the worth of people on the basis of superficial things such as their skin or their wealth, James says that we have become judges with evil thoughts—that we have failed in our duty to love others.

So, to get back to Matt T—he had no good reason to be angry, and he isn’t some grizzled member of the broederbond who bought into decades of apartheid propaganda. He’s a normal white South African. He is also clearly racist, and yet he is the only one who can’t see it.

So what about you? Why do I want you not to make Matthew’s mistake? Racism is clearly harmful to our country, and when we fail even to recognise that we have a problem, we unconsciously blunder our way into causing more hurt and more division.

But even more importantly, racism is also a barometer of a deeper problem. Racism is a clear fact of our national past and our national present, but in spite of it being a fact, it is a problem that we almost universally are unable to acknowledge. If we can fail to judge ourselves enough to see racism, what other prejudice and corruption lives within us undetected?

If you’re not a Christian, one of the main reasons why you should look into it more carefully is that racism is not the only hidden corruption that we fail to acknowledge about ourselves. And the more accurately you see yourself, the more you will start to realise that we all are carrying damage and we need to be re-created from the inside out. This is a big part of what Jesus came to do.

If you start to look at your own inner life more carefully and honestly, I think a lot more of what Jesus said will start to make sense.

 

I don’t feel loved

It is shameful for the church to be unloving

I don’t feel loved. I’m pretty sure that all of us have at some point in our lives felt unloved by people in various places and circumstances of our lives. This morning I want to talk specifically about feeling unloved in the church with the few minutes I have... because, even right here in the church, among God’s people, a lot of us have felt or perhaps are feeling unloved somehow. If you’ve never felt this way, that’s great. But the unfortunate truth is that you probably will at some point. Tragically some people have felt so unloved by the church, that they’ve decided that they want nothing to do with her anymore. That’s a real tragedy isn’t it? Now it’s possible to feel in a way that is divorced from the reality of course. That happens all the time with us. As we all know with emotions, some feelings are based on misunderstanding and misinterpretation and misinformation and that causes all kinds of unnecessary misery doesn’t it? So we’ve always got to check whether or not our feelings are consistent with reality.

But I want to say that there are times when you feel unloved and it really is because you really have not been loved in that situation. So it’s not good enough to say feelings are cheap or irrelevant or something like that or use intellectualism to trivialise someone’s feelings. Too many times I’ve seen people responding to other people’s pain by saying, “Ag, it’s just feelings. Come on.” ...We can and do feel in a way that is consistent with reality. And when feeling unloved is true of your experience in the church then it is really painful and it is a shameful thing for the church isn’t it? There’s nothing worse than a lack of love from the body of Christ. The Apostle Paul says “if we have faith that can move mountains but do not have love then we have absolutely nothing”. So it is a tremendous shame when God’s people are found guilty of not loving others. We should fall on our knees and repent. That should not be true of the church, whether it is St. Stephens or any other church.

 

 

 

A perspective of the church

But if you are a part the church this morning, I want to paint a picture of the church for you that will help you to not despair in your relationships in the church when you don’t feel loved. If you are not part of the church because you’ve been hurt by the church and are feeling like you never want to be a part of her, I want to paint a picture that will give you a perspective of her that will hopefully stimulate you to reconsider where you stand with her. So here’s the picture that I want to firmly imprint on your mind this morning.

The church is a hospital of healed but recovering patients

The church is not similar to a massage parlour. It is not similar to a day spa. That’s to say, it is not similar to a place you pay for a nice service. Nor is it like a social club of perfect people. The church is more like a hospital... full of diseased patients. It is like a hospital full of broken people that are deadly sick with sin. The church is full of patients you see... patients who have admitted that they are terminally sick with sin...

What they all have in common, however, is that they’ve all seen the masterful surgeon who came down from heaven, they’ve all been cared for by the good doctor, they’ve all been loved by that great physician. He is the one who said, “it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. Therefore, I have not come to call the righteous... but sinners.”

This great physician loved these patients so much that he healed them all of their terminal disease of sin... He healed them by winding Himself up with their death and by winding them up with His life. And so now they are out of the Intensive Care Unit: They are the living children of God who have eternal life. Now these patients are no longer on their death beds... but they are still recovering from the effects of their sin disease.

The great physician is still intimately working with them and working in them... using the scalpel... of His Word to bring about complete renewal. And so even though more and more and day by day they are displaying signs of the life that they have been given by the great physician, they still continue to do battle with the remnants of sin in their lives.

 

So if you are a part the church here this morning, you’re healed but you are still in recovery... but remember that your fellow patients... are in still recovery also. So let’s be patients who are patient with one another because we are all journeying on this road to fullness of life together. Bear with the church. If you are not in the church because you’ve been hurt by the church, it is my hope that you will mull over this perspective of her and that you will consider Jesus Christ the great physician and that you will consider being a part of the fellowship of His healed and recovering people.

God loves this hospital sick patients

So when you don’t feel loved by the church, think about this picture of her. The church is a hospital full of sin-sick patients who are lavished with love by God the great physician. Lavished with Love. The Bible says, “God demonstrated His love for us in this, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” When you don’t feel loved by the church think about how patient God is with these patients who deserve nothing but His just judgement and wrath because of their sin. Think about the God who humbled Himself and died on a tree, all in order to forgive those who sinned against Him. Think about the God who endured such humiliating dishonour on the cross of Calvary, all in order to honour this lowly bunch of people called the church. Think about the God who now does not keep a record of the church’s sins against Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our sins from us.

Let us have the same mindset as Christ

This is the mindset the great physician encourages to have as well with our fellow patients. Whenever we don’t feel loved by the church, instead of despairing, and instead of turning our backs on her and cutting ourselves off in anger, we ought to remember firstly that the church is a bunch of patients, patients who are loved by God. And whenever we don’t feel loved, we ought to remember the cross, we ought to remember the kind of love that God loves the church with. It is the love that pursues fellowship and restoration no matter what. Remember that God loves those who have failed to love Him. In fact, God expressed His love for us precisely when He didn’t feel loved by us. It is absolutely remarkable and unthinkable that God looks at us, this hospital full of broken people ailing with sin, and beats His chest and says “there’s my bride, there’s my treasure, there’s my delight”.

“4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always... perseveres” ... “Love covers a multitude of sins.”

Brothers and sisters, let us persevere in loving the church with this love especially when we don’t feel loved.

 

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