Ready to Give a Reason

Posted on 05/26/2019 by Rev. Benjamin R. Faust D.D.

AUDIO: dialup - broadband - podcast

TRANSCRIPT: (does not contain everything found in the audio above)

*** listen to the audio for introduction and prayer ***


Public Prayer Requests:


Please pray for April's housing situation and for William's upcoming brain surgery.


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Please click one of the offering plates in Second Life or at http://almcyberchurch.org, and give as the Lord leads.

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I HAVE THE JOY
by George W. Cooke
edited by Benjamin R. Faust

I have the joy joy joy joy
down in my heart
down in my heart
down in my heart

I have the joy joy joy joy
down in my heart
down in my heart
to stay

I have the peace that passes
understanding
down in my heart
down in my heart
down in my heart

I have the peace that passes
understanding
down in my heart
down in my heart
to stay

I have the wonderful love of my
blessed redeemer way
down in the depths of my heart
down in the depths of my heart
down in the depths of my heart

I have the wonderful love of my
blessed redeemer way
down in the depths of my heart
down in the depths of my heart
to stay


CHORUS

And I'm so happy
so very happy
I have the love of Jesus
in my heart, my heart

Yes I'm so happy
so very happy
I have the love of Jesus
in my heart


I have the love of Jesus
love of Jesus
down in my heart
down in my heart
down in my heart

I have the love of Jesus
love of Jesus
down in my heart
down in my heart
to stay

(CHORUS)

And if the devil doesn't like it
he can
sit on a tack
sit on a tack
sit on a tack

And if the devil doesn't like it
he can
sit on a tack
sit on a tack
to stay

(CHORUS)


MY HOPE IS BUILT ON NOTHING LESS
by Edward Mote

My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus' blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
but wholly lean on Jesus' name

On Christ the solid Rock I stand
all other ground is sinking sand
all other ground is sinking sand

When darkness veils His lovely face
I rest on His unchanging grace
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil

On Christ the solid Rock I stand
all other ground is sinking sand
all other ground is sinking sand

When He shall come with trumpet sound
Oh, may I then in Him be found
Clothed in His righteousness alone
Faultless to stand before the throne!

On Christ the solid Rock I stand
all other ground is sinking sand
all other ground is sinking sand


BLESSED ASSURANCE
by Frances J. Crosby

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine
oh, what a foretaste of glory divine
Heir of salvation, purchase of God
born of His Spirit, washed in His blood

This is my story, this is my song
praising my Savior all the day long
This is my story, this is my song
praising my Savior all the day long

Perfect submission, all is at rest
I in my Savior am happy and blest
Watching and waiting, looking above
Filled with His goodness, lost in His love


*** Choose your connection speed and listen to the audio to hear the introduction. ***


Today, I'd like for us to talk about a subject that generally isn't addressed in church. Well, in a way, it is… The scripture saying we should be ready to give a reason for the Christian hope is quoted regularly. But I hope today we can follow this verse all the way to its end, without stopping short somewhere in the middle.

And I am fairly certain that all of you here and all of you listening love the truth, or you would be doing something else instead. So I'm confident that we can walk together, unafraid of what we might discover, unafraid of what the light of scrutiny and careful examination might reveal.

And I'm not going to give you things to believe or disbelieve. There's already too much of that going on.

If you sit in one church, you might hear that the way to avoid eternity in hell is to get baptised in a specific way, or just to say a certain prayer, or to regularly eat bread and wine blessed in a particular way by a particular person.

And the church down the road will be proclaiming that the revelation God has given them and the "clear" teaching of the Scriptures is in opposition to those other churches' heracies and deceptions, and if you sleep with any of those spiritual harlots, you will not stand in the day of judgment.

I'm sure you'd agree that they can't all be right. But if we use the same methods as they do to determine what is true and what is false, what makes us so certain that we are more right than the other tens of thousands of Christian denominations out there today?

Now, if you already accept that your belief is true, then it doesn't take much of an argument supporting your belief for you to think the argument is convincing.

If on the other hand you treat your belief with as much scepticism as you treat the opposing beliefs of others, it just might take something a bit more impressive for you to think an argument for that belief is good.

1 Peter 3:15 says this:

"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect." (1 Peter 3:15b NIV)

This verse ends with the words, "But do this with gentleness and respect." Are we gentle, or aggressive? And do we show respect for the other person? Or do we assume that they are just less spiritual or less intelligent than we?

And do we approach the conversation with the assumption that we are definitely right and they are definitely wrong, or are we open to learn from them?

So we should always be ready to give an answer. What type of answer do you suppose would be a good one? An answer that convinces those who are already convinced? Or one that goes beyond assertions and personal revelation and draws upon the reality we all share?

And we might ask ourselves this: "If I didn't believe anything at all, and I was as critical of my belief as I was of an ancient Sumerian religious text, what level of proof would I require that the belief is true?"

Consider this example with me:

If someone claimed to have been abducted by aliens who stopped time and performed numerous experiments on them, most of us would be rather skeptical even if their reports were very similar to the reports of many others.

What questions could we ask them? What evidence would we require, beyond their personal stories and experiences, that would convince us they were indeed teleported to a UFO and probed by ETs?

Now I realize that might not be the best example. After all, many Christians believe that if aliens ever visit earth, they will really be demons, and they expect that will happen someday if it isn't happening already. And since demons are unfalsifiable, we can't prove they don't exist. But keep in mind that we also can't prove unicorns or fairies aren't real.

Just hang in there with me. I'm not making the claim today that demons aren't real any more than I'm making the claim that any of the beliefs we're going to visit are necessarily false. I'm simply challenging us all to step up our examination of truth to a level that is greater than the methods used to create the vast confusion we see in the religious world today.

Isn't that something we all want? Isn't a full-on pursuit of the truth something we can all get behind?

Good. Then let's step back from the myriad of voices and take an objective look for ourselves.


It's been said that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. If I said I have a birthmark in a place I'm not comfortable showing everyone, you'd probably believe me. That is not an extraordinary claim. It's trivial. Lots of people have birthmarks, and it won't affect your life one way or the other if you believe I have one.

But if I said I regularly talk with garden gnomes who have been revealing to me the secrets of the universe, I HOPE you would ask for something more compelling than my word on the subject before you believe it is true.

We all-too-often accept significant claims as true without doing the least bit of research or employing more than the minimal level of critical thought, if any at all.

Let's take a few Christian teachings as examples. And while these all are based on other claims that may or may not be true, let's leave those alone for the time being.

One popular Christian belief is that angels don't have free will. I've heard this one used to prove various other points. And the claim generally goes completely unchallenged.

What should we do with such a claim? We should start by examining the idea that angels exist. But as I said, we're not going to do that today. Let's pretend that's been empirically proven already. So let's move beyond that and employ some critical thought to the claim and angels do not have free will.

If we accept that angels exist, and we accept that the devil is an angel who rebelled against God, then couldn't we reasonably conclude that either Satan had free will and thus angels have free will, or the devil being the devil was God's idea and, thus, God is the cause of the fall and of all the evil in the world?

Few of us would agree to the second possibility, so if there is a fallen angel named Satan and God does not cause evil, then angels do have free will.

Here's another one: The devil can't read your mind.

Of course this implies that mind reading is possible, but once again, let's pretend we've already investigated that one thoroughly and we have come to the reasonable conclusion that mind reading is a possibility and that it does happen.

Some of the same people who believe Satan can't read minds also believe psychics who seem to be able to read minds are really hearing from demons who did the mind reading and then relayed the information to them.

But if Satan is a demon and the leader of all the demons, and demons can read minds, why wouldn't Satan be able to read minds as well?

And as a side note, why would the devil be the least bit interested in reading your mind? Are your thoughts so important that he would bother even if he could? Doesn't he have more important things to do, like making the other churches believe things with which we might disagree?

Here's a third example. And this one is used by apologists when asked why God does not reveal himself to humanity in a way that no one could deny his existence. And the claim is this: If God revealed himself plainly to everyone in a way that no one would have any doubt he exists, then faith wouldn't be required and free will would be removed.

Have you heard this one? And I pointed out that it is used by apologists because the word translated "give an answer" in our verse today comes from the Greek word "apologia," which is where we get the English word "apologetics." So the fact that Christian apologists use this argument is relevant to today's topic.

So back to the claim: If God revealed himself so openly and undeniably that even the most gnostic atheist was forced to acknowledge he existed, would that be a violation of our free will?

Let's explore that for a moment. First, let's go back to the example of the devil. If he was an angel who, as most Christians would agree the Bible teaches, led worship to God in heaven, then he saw God face to face.

The devil is not an atheist. The devil has zero doubt God exists and that that god is the god of the Bible, assuming all those assumptions are correct. And yet he chose to rebel against God anyway.

And this brings us back to our first example in which we determined that, based upon the example of Satan and the other angels who followed him and became demons, either God is the author of evil or angels do have free will.

And if the demons all saw undeniable proof of God and they still had their free will which they used to rebel against God, is the argument that God cannot reveal himself to everyone in a way that cannot be denied because he will not violate our free will -- is that argument valid?

I'm sure you'd agree these are all interesting questions. And they all come from a healthy level of doubt. After all, if someone just accepts what they're told, doesn't that make them gullible?

When we consider the example of Thomas, generally referred to as "Doubting Thomas," we tend to think that his doubt was a bad thing. After all, didn't Jesus reportedly say, "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe?"

But Jesus gave him proof. He said, "Put your finger into the holes in my hands and side; let this proof lay your doubts to rest, and believe."

In an article on biblereasons.com, we read this:

"Putting God to the test is a sin and should never be done... Do not be foolish. Testing God usually occurs because of lack of faith and when God doesn't answer because you demanded a sign or miracle you doubt Him even more. Instead of testing God, trust in Him and build a closer relationship by having quiet time with God. He knows what he's doing and remember, we live by faith not by sight."

Most of us in the Church would hear this and accept it as true without examining it any further. It feels right, and an authority said it. In fact, it agrees with the Bible law which states, "Thou shalt not put the Lord thy god to the test."

But what about Gideon? He put God to the test, and asked for physical proof of what he supposedly said. Did God punish or reprove him for not walking by faith?

Let's read this story from Judges 6:36-40 (NIV)

36 Gideon said to God, "If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised,
37 look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said."
38 And that is what happened. Gideon rose early the next day; he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew -- a bowlful of water.
39 Then Gideon said to God, "Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece, but this time make the fleece dry and let the ground be covered with dew."
40 That night God did so. Only the fleece was dry; all the ground was covered with dew.

If God hates being tested, as we generally believe he does, why did he not choose someone a little more gullible than Gideon? Why did he not choose someone who shut his or her ears to doubt and, instead of testing claims before believing them, simply accepted them by faith?

There are other examples of those who asked for signs from God and received them, and I encourage you to look those up for yourself.

From an article on biblegateway.com, we read this alternative view:

"Far from bringing about apostasy and despair, those experiences of doubt usually lead to a deeper faith. And in each case, God's response is not wrath but patience; far from punishing His doubting followers, God honors those who seek after Him with earnest questions and doubt."

So should we ignore doubts? People who join dangerous cults are taught to dismiss doubts. People who join Islam are commanded to ignore doubts, and I've seen them respond to difficult questions by saying, "There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger." They are taught to answer doubt by repeating the unproven and unprovable claims, rather than seeking evidence and using critical thought.

And we in the Christian church are all-too-often taught to do the same thing. If doubts arise, we are told we should pray more, or simply ignore doubts about the Bible, for example, and quote Scripture instead.


James was raised in a Christian home. His parents believed in God, and they firmly believed the Bible was his infallible word.

James always knew deep down that what he learned in church was true. He read the Bible. And when he listened to the minister preach from the Bible, James felt the Holy Spirit confirming that every single word was true.

Let's imagine James came to speak with us here at ALM CyberChurch. And he joined us in the Fellowship Room after service with a very heavy heart. He said God led him here to share the Word with us about a very important matter.

With holy passion, he opens up the Scriptures and explains the verses about the Sabbath, rightly pointing to Exodus 31 in which God says the Sabbath is a perpetual covenant to be observed on the seventh day by all generations to come.

He warns us that the Mark of the Beast described in the book of Revelation is referring, in part, to gathering for worship on Sunday instead of on Saturday, which is the Sabbath.

You see, James is just as convinced that we are going to hell for profaning the Sabbath as some of us might be that practicing homosexuals are, as the Bible also teaches, abominations and will burn for all eternity in the lake of fire.

We could tell him he's wrong and make a strong case, but he could do the same. We both might be firmly convinced that are own understanding of the Scriptures is correct and the other's ideas are just plain wrong.

Which one of us is right? Or could both of us be wrong?

We both have studied the Bible and prayed. We both feel what we believe is the moving of the Holy Spirit, and feel that inner confirmation of what we believe to be the truth of God's word.

But at least one of us is wrong. And because we both are using the same methods for determining truth, and those same methods have led at least one of us to believe something that is false, then are those methods reliable ways to know what is real?


In an article on hopechannel.com, we read the following section titled "How to Know God's Will."

"Prayer. Whether the decision is major or minor, ask God to help you understand His will. This is especially important with life's major decisions such as marriage and a career to pursue.

"Wait. We humans don't like to wait. We want to know which course to pursue now. However, unless an immediate decision is imperative, a good way to know God's will is to let the situation develop, and pray while waiting.

"Scripture. Does the Bible offer guidance? Especially in making moral decisions, the Bible's counsel is invaluable.

"Signs. When asking for a sign, make it a part of the natural outworking of events. For example, when seeking God's will on whether to move to a different location, ask God to lead by bringing a buyer for your home if the move is in harmony with His will.

"Human freedom. In some cases God may be pleased with any of your options. So after praying and waiting, if no clear answer emerges, then use your best judgement."


As the first way to know God's will, they list Prayer. Which, of course, isn't a bad thing to do. But people pray about things all the time and come up with really bad ideas. So just because you pray about something doesn't mean you'll come up with the right solution.

Next, they say we should wait. And they clarify that by saying if we don't need to make a decision right away, we should wait until we know we're making the right one. That's good advice. But you could remove the references to God and the Bible and it would still be good advice.

Next, they say, "Scripture. Does the Bible offer guidance? Especially in making moral decisions, the Bible's counsel is invaluable."

And this is partially true. The Bible does contain some really good advice for some things. However, if you lived a hundred years ago and the decision you're trying to make is whether you should beat your slave when he or she doesn't please you, and you read Exodus 21:20-21, what moral advice would you walk away with?

Exodus 21:20-21 (NIV)

20 Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result,
21 but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.

So when they say, "Especially in making moral decisions, the Bible's counsel is invaluable," we should not just accept that statement as true without honestly examining it first.

Next, they list Signs as a way to know God's will, and they say, "When asking for a sign, make it a part of the natural outworking of events. For example, when seeking God's will on whether to move to a different location, ask God to lead by bringing a buyer for your home if the move is in harmony with His will."

So if someone buys your home, then moving is the right thing, right? Shouldn't you determine whether you should move before you put your house on the market? Surely there must be better ways to determine whether to move than this. With or without a god, if you sell your home, someone either will or will not buy it. That proves absolutely nothing in itself.

As humans, we naturally see patterns. And our minds amplify certain events in a way that could be called "confirmation bias." We think something is true, so our minds focus on things that seem to agree with or confirm that belief. But if the devil really is roaming this earth, couldn't he be the one who sent someone to buy your home?

And finally, they list Human Freedom. Or, Free Will. And they say, "In some cases, God may be pleased with any of your options. So after praying and waiting, if no clear answer emerges, then use your best judgement."

In other words, if you don't have a really strong feeling about what choice to make, do what you think you should do.

Now, I hope you don't walk away from this thinking I'm discounting the good things in the Bible or that I'm claiming there is no god. That's not what I'm doing. What I am presenting today is a challenge.

And that challenge is this: Dig deeper. Don't just accept things because they sound convincing, or because they're in the Bible, or because you had experiences, or because, for some other reason, you are simply convinced it's true.

Don't shut your ears to your doubts, and don't condemn skepticism. In fact, I encourage you to embrace them both.

Listen to those inner questions and boldly follow wherever the evidence leads.

Strengthen your skills of critical, rational thought. And be critical not only of the claims of others, but of your own beliefs as well.

Truth is not afraid of scrutiny and examination. On the contrary, those things should be welcomed and encouraged.

I'm sure you'd agree that if a claim is true, close observation and examination and questioning will eventually reveal that it is, indeed, true.

False beliefs, on the other hand, need faith and apologists to keep them from the damaging effects of the light of scrutiny.

If only those in Jonestown had challenged their beliefs and personal experiences without fear of angering a leader or a god, or missing the visitation of aliens, many lives would have been saved.

Believing a claimed prophet has led many people into serious trouble, so is the authority of a prophet a reliable path to truth?

Believing a strong inner conviction is what Mormons use to determine the truth of the Book of Mormon. The same method is used to varying degrees by Muslims, and by the various Christian denominations. So is a strong inner conviction, often called faith, a reliable path to truth?

If the verse from what's commonly called The Love Chapter is true that says we see through a glass dimly, isn't every single one of us susceptible to believing things that aren't true?

So as lovers of truth, I'm sure you'd agree that we should step back from what we've always been taught or believed and what we strongly feel is true, and use methods that are reliable and don't routinely lead people to wrong conclusions.

So in closing, here are some things we can remember when evaluating a truth claim.

Be an active learner, and not just a passive recipient of information. Ask questions, demand evidence, and examine that evidence to see if it is based on assumptions, presuppositions, or unproven sources.

Rigorously question ideas and beliefs, including your own. Seek to determine whether the ideas, arguments, findings, and claims represent the whole story. And be open to finding out they don't.

Identify inconsistencies and errors in reasoning. Don't just accept something because it sounds right or because it agrees with what you've always been taught or believed.

Regularly challenge whether your own assumptions, beliefs, and values are justified and based on what can be observed as real and true. And let go of those that aren't, suspending your belief until you have sufficient evidence.

As we've talked about many times before, believing your beliefs is often a mistake, because we are so often wrong. The human mind is incredibly prone to error. YOUR mind is incredibly prone to error. We would do well to never forget this.

And feeling as though your beliefs are a part of who you are is also a mistake, because even if you are wrong, you may never allow yourself to know it. When a belief is a part of your identity, anything that challenges that belief feels like a personal attack.

Instead, see beliefs, even foundational ones, as ideas and potential possibilities. Give yourself permission to discover your beliefs are wrong, and investigate them fully until there is nothing left but what is real and true.

When you hear an argument in favor of something you believe, search to see if it's been debunked or proven to be in error, even if that argument is one you came up with yourself.

And never ever be afraid to simply not know. When we encounter something we don't know, we try to fill in the blanks. We assume people's motivations, form false memories about things we didn't actually see or hear, and feel secure in our knowledge of things we actually do not know.

When you do not have the verified facts, saying "I don't know" is the truest thing you can say. If knowing the truth will set you free, then accepting the truth that you don't know is freedom indeed.


Let's end this service with a time of reflection. You can either stay at your seat or gather at the front.

As always, if you need ministry, you can contact one of us either in a private message here in Second Life, or by going to almcyberchurch.org and clicking the Pastors' Offices link.

In a few minutes we'll meet in the room up the steps to your left, and we hope to see you there.

But for now, come, and let us lay our convictions on the altar of truth.