Last week Ken kicked off a new series for us, and I’m just going to say it’s a conversation that we are really looking forward to diving into with you. Now that isn’t because it’s an easy conversation, I will tell you, there will be some challenging moments in this series. You probably picked up on that last week as Ken got the conversation started. There may be some thoughts and ideas that make you think and challenge you. Which is a good thing if you ask me. If someone loves you, they will be honest with you, and we love you enough here at MRC to dive into some things that may make you a little uncomfortable, but hopefully lead you towards a full life in Christ. We hope this will help you focus, and deliberately think some things through, which allows you to grow in your faith and anchors you to TRUTH. That’s really what this series is focusing on…Truth. What makes it challenging is that not everyone in today’s world wants to hear about truth or accept reality. We are going to talk a lot about the Bible in this series, and how the world and our culture keeps pushing against God’s word, against TRUTH, and against those who follow Christ. We speak often of the pressure we face from the world, and we want you to see how that pressure from the world is wearing some Christians down, and causing many people from evangelical churches to adopt unbiblical beliefs.
Last year, the Cultural Research Center of Arizona Christian University surveyed 2,000 U.S. adults from four major groups: Pentecostals, Charismatics, Mainline Protestants, and Catholics. They surveyed them on about 51 topics including marriage, absolute truth, the sanctity of human life, and the authority of the Bible.
The leading researcher, George Barna, concluded the following. “The most startling realization is how many people in our churches are adopting unbiblical beliefs. American Christians are undergoing a ‘post-Christian Reformation.’ It certainly seems as if the culture is influencing the Church more than the church is influencing the culture.”
That last line in that quote from George Barna should really catch your eye. The world, our culture and this constant push against God is gaining ground and pushing back…TRUTH. The church is being influenced by culture, rather than being the influencer and making a difference in this dark world. And remember when we say the church, we are talking about you and I…it’s us people, not the building we meet in. As Ken and I began processing the startling reality of this survey, we felt like it was something we had to dive into with you. So we created a series that addresses TRUTH. We are calling this series, ‘Christian Atheist.’ Which may sound a little odd or maybe even a little punchy to you, but the name is significant. Why would we call it that? Well an atheist doesn’t believe in God, and more and more people who go to church, and would call themselves Christians are not believing in God. What the survey discovered is that many Christians are being influenced more by culture than they are influencing culture. I often use the imagery of us as Christians walking up stream in a culture that is going the completely opposite direction, pushing us from God. It’s a lot easier to walk down stream with everyone else…you know, to just go with the flow…and this survey is telling us that the world is gaining ground, wearing out Christians, and many are turning and going with the flow. We are seeing more and more Christian Atheists; these are people who say they believe in God but are living like God doesn’t exist. People who may not even recognize it but are being pushed and influenced by this world…people who would call themselves Christ followers who aren’t actually following Christ.
So let’s get started with some questions because I really want you thinking with me today. How do you respond to truth? Do you get uncomfortable with it? Are you thankful if someone gives you truthful and real feedback on your life? It’s funny, many people in our culture today don’t like hearing truth…it makes us feel uncomfortable at times and forces us to deal with things that we may not want to deal with…this is a problem, but not necessarily a new issue to our world today.
Ephesians 4:17-19 And so I insist – and God backs me up on this – that there be no going along with the crowd, the empty-headed, mindless crowd. They’ve refused for so long to deal with God that they’ve lost touch not only with God but with reality itself. They can’t think straight anymore. Feeling no pain, they let themselves go in sexual obsession, addicted to every sort of perversion. MSG
What does Paul say there? They refused to deal with God for so long that they lost track of truth and reality…wow! This leads to other questions that we must discuss as we get rolling here today. Where do you go to find truth? Jesus told us that “He is the way, the truth, and the life.” So, what determines how you live your life? Why do you do what you do? Do you deliberately think through things like this or do you just kind of go with the flow in life? What role does God and the Bible play in your decisions, your priorities, and how you are living your life? These are important questions to ask, and things that we will come back to all spring.
Listen, if we claim to be Christians…you know Christ followers…that means we will follow Christ. This means God is the source of all truth and reality in our lives. This means we rely on God to get us through life.
So Ken told us last week that each week, we want to do four things.
We want to give you a statement each week and ask you what you believe.
We want to share what the survey reported about how others feel about that statement.
We want to turn to scripture to see what the truth actually is.
Most importantly, we want to know what you are going to do with the truth we find in scripture.
So let’s look at today’s statement that we want to discuss. You ready for this? Ok, here we go.
TRUTH: The Bible is The Word of God. It is trustworthy and reliable. How do you feel about this statement? Have you ever thought about it? This is an important question because if you believe this statement, you can’t get enough of God’s word, and you will live your life guided by it’s teachings. If you do not believe this statement, you probably aren’t spending time reading your Bible, and you aren’t using God’s word in how you are living your life. You may think you are somewhere in the middle, where there are some things in Scripture you like, and some things that you don’t so you pick and choose bits and pieces of Scripture while ignoring other parts of Scripture that cause you more tension. Well, we need to think about this TRUTH statement…where do you come out on this? While you think this through, let’s look at our survey of 2,000 Christians from last year and see where they came out on this statement.
Over 2,000 people surveyed said the following. Evangelicals 74% agree, 26% reject. Pentecostal 68% agree, 32% reject. Mainline Protestant 63% agree, 37% reject. Catholic 47% agree, 53% reject. [Source: churchleaders.com/news/383605-george-barna-another-reformation.html]
This is incredible…last week’s Truth statement was that God is the basis of all truth…and it was eye opening to think that 30% of Christians surveyed reject that statement…and today, the numbers grow. Today we see that around 44% of Christians surveyed rejecting this TRUTH statement that The Bible is The Word of God…almost half of the Christians asked reject the idea that the Bible is trustworthy and reliable. This is tough to hear, and it has huge ramifications for our lives and our culture. If we do not trust the word of God and rely on it for direction, guidance, inspiration…we have no anchor to reality or truth, which is what Paul described earlier there in Ephesians 4. This also contradicts what the Scriptures teach us! Paul wrote this to his buddy Timothy about the word of God…
2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 17 God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. NLT
So there’s Paul using that word “all” again. We have seen him say that about “all” of us people right that we are all sinners in need of a Savior…and here he does it with Scripture. “All” scripture is from God and helps teach us what is true and helps us understand right from wrong…correcting us and guiding us to do what is right, equipping us to do good work. So, what is lost if we don’t believe that the Bible is the word of God trustworthy and reliable? We lose our ability to see right from wrong, we lose our connection to God’s reality…as Paul described in Ephesians 4…we will just fumble our way through life, with no anchor to God reality. Let’s build on that for a moment, David (you know the man after God’s own heart) talks about God’s word this way…
Psalms 19:7 The instructions of the Lord are perfect, reviving the soul. The decrees of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. 8 The commandments of the Lord are right, bringing joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are clear, giving insight for living. 9 Reverence for the Lord is pure, lasting forever. The laws of the Lord are true; each one is fair. 10 They are more desirable than gold, even the finest gold. They are sweeter than honey, even honey dripping from the comb. 11 They are a warning to your servant, a great reward for those who obey them. NLT
In the Message version the same Psalm reads this way, giving insight into something important…
Psalms 19:7 The revelation of God is whole and pulls our lives together. The signposts of God are clear and point out the right road. 8 The life-maps of God are right, showing the way to joy. The directions of God are plain and easy on the eyes….11 There’s more: God’s Word warns us of danger and directs us to hidden treasure. 12 Otherwise how will we find our way? Or know when we play the fool? MSG
I love this question David asks in the Message version here…if we aren’t engaging God’s word, trusting and relying on it…how will we find our way? This is so important for us to see, when we reject God’s word as trustworthy and reliable, we have to go somewhere else for guidance and direction, which is really scary if the guide isn’t God and His Truth. For many of us we just follow our next emotion, or latest feeling which is never going to guide us through the challenges we face in life. We need an anchor to reality, or we will lose touch with truth…and the next thing we know we are just going with the flow…doing what the rest of the world is doing. This is a slow, yet steady push against our churches and our lives and what we are seeing from this survey today, is that culture is gaining ground. The world is influencing the church more so than the church is influencing our culture.
Leading into this talk, I just kept thinking, how does this happen? How do people who go to church and call themselves Christians…who would say they love God…How do they then reject Scripture as trustworthy and reliable. I think some of it is just our selfishness as people always wanting to do life our own way…literally not wanting to surrender our lives and actually follow God, that is definitely part of it. I’m sure some of it is just our stubborn rebellion as people, but I have to say this…I think it’s bigger than that. You know MRC turns twenty years old this year, and for me it’s been twenty years of serving, preaching, and literally watching how people respond to the Gospel and the God mission! I will just say it’s been amazing to watch it all unfold. It’s inspiring to watch people come and find Christ and it can be tough to watch people walk away. We see some people come and get excited as we introduce them to God’s word. We have seen some people come that are immediately impacted and inspired by this message of Christ…they can’t get enough of it! They talk about being with us at MRC forever and how important it is to be part of our church family, but over time that passion kind of fades and they end up going to another church, or maybe just stop going to church altogether. Were they lying? Were they not excited about God and what He’s up to? NO, I don’t think they were lying, I think they meant what they said. We have had some people walk into this place over the twenty years and it was very clear that no matter what we said, what Scripture we pointed to…they were NEVER going to hear it, accept it, it was never going to become part of their lives…and we typically never saw those people again. Well it’s a small town, so we see them again just not in church. We have had some people come and find Christ, and fall in love with Him only to get so busy and cluttered with life that over time, they drift away from their relationship with Christ, and the word of God…maybe they like parts of God’s word, but there were so many other influences and thoughts from people, social media, and the world that eventually they just kind of fade away from their relationship with God. We have also had a lot of people come, accept Jesus and the word of God as trustworthy and reliable, who have surrendered their lives to Christ and are walking in that new life, you know that life to the full that Jesus told us He came to provide for us.
You know Truth is interesting because it draws lines in the sand. It divides, and forces a response, and what is really interesting is every human has a choice to make in how they will handle and respond to God’s truth. So when we present God’s truth, we have to be prepared for the comings and goings, and the ups and downs…and one thing that I have noticed is how hard that can be on our teams in both church plants. They would see someone come and think ok, we are doing well. They would see someone leave and think oh we must be failing and maybe get down enough to leave themselves…or just quit on the team or role they were filling without grasping the reality of presenting truth with love to people. We would have team members wonder what we weren’t doing right, while never grasping that this is all part of the free choice, we all have to accept or reject truth! You know what, this isn’t just something we deal with today. Jesus dealt with this as well. He describes this very scenario, and helps His disciples understand the response. He shows us something important in a teaching parable, then lovingly pulls his team together to help them understand why people seem to walk away. Why He is being rejected by the religious leaders of that time. I just couldn’t get out of my mind as I was thinking through our Truth statement and where the church and Christians are at today.
So let’s listen to Jesus’ teaching on how people respond to God’s truth…because it’s all I could think about as I thought about the varying responses and the fact that almost 44% of people who would say they love God and would call themselves Christians reject the truth that God’s word is trustworthy and reliable.
Luke 8:4 One day Jesus told a story to a large crowd that had gathered from many towns to hear him: 5 “A farmer went out to plant his seed. As he scattered it across his field, some seed fell on a footpath, where it was stepped on, and the birds ate it. 6 Other seed fell among rocks. It began to grow, but the plant soon wilted and died for lack of moisture. 7 Other seed fell among thorns that grew up with it and choked out the tender plants. 8 Still other seed fell on fertile soil. This seed grew and produced a crop that was a hundred times as much as had been planted!” When he had said this, he called out, “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.” NLT
So first I want you to picture being part of this large crowd, and this is what you get. A story about a farmer casting seed. You would understand the imagery, but Jesus doesn’t offer an explanation to what He means by it. He simply ends with this…
Luke 8:8 …When he said this, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” NIV
Imagine being part of this crowd. You have heard about this guy Jesus and you want to hear Him speak, and this is what Jesus gave you? A story about a farmer throwing seed…and no explanation at all, He just simply says, anyone with ears to hear, let Him hear…and understand. Umm….thanks!?!? It’s interesting because that last statement Jesus makes tells us something doesn’t it? Let him who has ears…most of us do, hear and listen and understand…it seems to let us know that we all probably could receive this teaching but doesn’t mean that we will! So, Jesus and the disciples leave this moment, and they are still stuck on His teaching, and they bring it up with him…
Luke 8:9 His disciples asked him what this parable meant. 10 He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of God. But I use parables to teach the others so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled: ‘When they look, they won’t really see. When they hear, they won’t understand.’ NLT
So this interaction with the disciples has always kind of messed with me because it sounds like Jesus is saying something to the effect of, I tell stories because some people just can’t get what I’m saying…and won’t get what I’m saying. Which is a bummer because I want everyone to get what He is saying! Well, to shed a little more light on this, we can go to Matthew, Chapter 13 where we find this same story, but Matthew gives us something a little different here so let’s look at this same interaction in Matthew…
Matthew 13:10 The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” 11 He replied, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12 Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. 14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. 15 For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’ 16 But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. 17 For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it. NIV
So, Jesus tells parables and stories because He is trying to penetrate their hearts. God’s word may or may not get in…this is important for us to see and understand. We people can really struggle when God’s truth comes to us, remember truth is challenging and forces a response, this is what Jesus came to do, because of His great love for us! So, if we cannot see it and accept it…is this God’s fault? It’s the world that has pushed in so hard on us, influencing us, hardening our hearts to a place where we become so unwilling to see anything that we do not want to see, that is why we struggle to accept truth. This is what the disciples were witnessing…I mean at this point Jesus is banned from teaching in the synagogues, the religious leaders are upset with Him and many are walking away from him. His ministry isn’t growing! In fact, it seems to be shrinking! He doesn’t seem to be winning from the disciples’ point of view here, and I’m thinking that was tough on them…later when they are alone He gives them the meaning of this parable…
Luke 8:11 “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is God’s word. 12 The seeds that fell on the footpath represent those who hear the message, only to have the devil come and take it away from their hearts and prevent them from believing and being saved. 13 The seeds on the rocky soil represent those who hear the message and receive it with joy. But since they don’t have deep roots, they believe for a while, then they fall away when they face temptation. 14 The seeds that fell among the thorns represent those who hear the message, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life. And so they never grow into maturity. 15 And the seeds that fell on the good soil represent honest, good-hearted people who hear God’s word, cling to it, and patiently produce a huge harvest. NLT
So, let’s go back to today’s TRUTH statement. The Bible is the word of God, it is trustworthy and reliable. Incredibly around 44% of Christians surveyed reject that statement. Which as we listen to Jesus’ teaching here today, maybe shouldn’t be as shocking as it comes across. Let’s walk through the meaning of this parable and talk for a bit.
First, we see what the seed is, the seed is God’s word and what is really interesting is, we who are sharing God’s word can do nothing but cast it out to people, and what happens next really depends on the hearts involved. Did you pick up on that? The word of God is cast out and lands on different ground (which really represents the different hearts of people, or the people themselves.)
Vs 12 The seeds that fell on the footpath represent those who hear the message, only to have the devil come and take it away from their hearts and prevent them from believing and being saved. NLT
This is the person that is hard hearted towards God, and wants nothing to do with Him, or His truth, and is not willing to accept Jesus as both Savior and Lord of their life. They are going to live as they want, how they want, doing what they want, when they want…and Jesus is saying this person is not going to hear and accept God’s word. This makes me think about what we read earlier from Paul who was talking about people not willing to follow God or accept His truth and His reality…
Ephesians 4:18 Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. NLT
This is God’s word being cast to those who are blocked from hearing it. Next, we have another soil…or person who hears the word of God…
Vs 13 The seeds on the rocky soil represent those who hear the message and receive it with joy. But since they don’t have deep roots, they believe for a while, then they fall away when they face temptation. NLT
We see this often. This is the person who is passionate and inspired but never allows the word of God to penetrate their hearts and minds and become part of their lives, they are here today, and gone tomorrow because they aren’t walking with God and allowing His word to take root in their hearts and minds. They are excited early, and gone after a while, they are well meaning, but don’t follow Christ.
14 The seeds that fell among the thorns represent those who hear the message, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life. And so they never grow into maturity. NLT
So, this person Jesus describes is one of the most common answers we see to God’s truth today. Someone who comes to church and hears the message, but it’s all too quickly smothered out of their lives by all the other things going on in their lives. How can I experience the fullness of a relationship with God while being so busy, so distracted, so cluttered with everything else in my life. My wealth. My material possessions. My stuff, my job, my kids, my social media appearance, the latest political issue that I need to fight and debate with all of my friends over, to all the other things our busy lives are filled up and controlled by…it doesn’t allow us to grow up into maturity in Christ.
Vs 15 And the seeds that fell on the good soil represent honest, good-hearted people who hear God’s word, cling to it, and patiently produce a huge harvest. NLT
So as we close this talk down today, I want to make this statement. The Bible is God’s word, it is trustworthy and reliable. It’s God’s word that guides us through life and keeps us anchored to His truth and understanding right from wrong. It is God’s Word that allows us to live intentionally in a world intentionally keeping us from living intentional lives. It’s also God’s word…His TRUTH that will force us to respond, and maybe make us uncomfortable from time to time and I think that is a good thing. I wonder if as we worked through all of this today if you ever really thought this all through?
Maybe today you realize you struggle to accept God’s word, because you are like that hard soil or path, you are just blocked from accepting God’s truth…well I pray that changes for you today.
Maybe you are one who heard God’s truth, and got really excited but if you are honest, nothing really changed in your life, and over time that passion you once felt faded away…well that can change for you today too.
Maybe you are one who heard God’s truth, but honestly you just have so much going on in your life, you could never slow down and engage God’s word and rely on it to guide you through all the stuff life throws at you because you are too distracted and too busy….well that can change for you today too.
Maybe you are one who has been around MRC for years and you have seen people come and go, and when people come you are inspired and over time as you have seen people leave you are disappointed maybe wondering what we aren’t doing for people as a church, well maybe through Jesus’ teaching today you can find new strength and inspiration in the understanding that we just keep casting God’s word out to people, and God’s word…His TRUTH forces a response. We want everyone to find Christ, but not everyone will make the choice to follow Him.
If you are challenged today to accept God’s word as part of your life, and want to be like that good soil, that allows God’s word all the way into your life to take root and lead you through life and you need help getting there please reach out to us. If you would like to accept Jesus into your life as both your Lord and Savior and need help with that, we would love to walk you through that as well.
TRUTH: The Bible is The Word of God, it is trustworthy and reliable.