Sunday, July 17, 2016

Christ in a World of Diverse Opinion

Chuck welcomed us warmly, then shared a story about Brad and Brooke's first day on the job at Adventurous Christians, something of a baptism by fire. Fortunately it had a happy ending. He then had Walt Cresman come forward to share that we have now found an interim pastor who will serve our congregation as we commence our search for a permanent replacement for Pastor Brad.

Chuck then shared a passage from the Gospel of John after the Last Supper and preceding the events in the Garden of Gethsemane, a message of promise and hope. Darlene then played Shine, Jesus Shine to usher us into worship.

There will be a Congregational Meeting next Sunday after the service.

After the offering and a time of prayer, our guest speaker Dave Peterson stepped forward to preach this morning. Dave is a longtime friend of the Covenant and currently pastor at Salem Covenant.

Christ in a World of Diverse Opinion

The passage Dave preached from is Acts 17:16-34. But first he shared a story from his college days. There was a gathering of young people from diverse points of view who met off campus to address and maybe solve all the problems in the world. The meeting took place at a building owned by a mainline denomination. As it turns out, everyone had their own ideas about what the truth was and the meaning of everything.  Whatever the issue, everyone had a viewpoint. Finally, someone asked, "What about God?" And everyone disagreed on this, too.

At this point the moderator exclaimed that he saw the answer. Some people find meaning in believing, some find meaning in not believing. "So what's important isn't what you believe but that you find meaning and purpose in it."

This is, of course, silly.

In many ways nothing has really changed in the past 40 years, and when we look at Acts 17 we find that in some respects not much has changed in the past 2000 years as the story from the book of Acts illustrates, in which Paul found himself in Athens. Paul's spirit was provoked and distressed by what he saw there, the pervasive worship of idols of a wide range of perspectives.

The incident took place on Paul's second missionary journey through Asia Minor (now Turkey) on his way to Europe into Greece. He found himself in Athens, a major center of trade and a bustling metropolis of diverse ideas. Here are some points Dave drew out of this story.

1) Expect to be distressed by what you see in your culture.
Paul looked around and saw that the city was full of idols and the Bible says his spirit was provoked. Essentially he had a mixture of sadness and irritation to see the emptiness, shallowness and futility of the city. Dave noted that we should not be surprised when sinners act like sinners.

2) Be ready to speak with anyone who God leads you to in any place.
Paul was willing and able to engage anyone in conversation. Paul spoke to Jews, God-fearing Gentiles, and people in the marketplace. Paul was at home speaking with people on Wall Street and Main Street. He also spoke with the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers there. Epicureans are functional atheisic materialists who emphasize pleasure and tranquility. Stoics stressed Reason as the rule of the universe, promoting a pantheistic view of God in everything as opposed to over all things. The Stoics emphasize duty and individualistic self-sufficiency.

While Paul was conversing with the philosophers there were some who took an interest in his "strange ideas." They brought him to the Areopagus at Mars Hill to continue talking.

3) That which is new and strange is at the core of today's spirituality.
The Areopagus was the highest governmental assembly in ancient Athens. It was was the ruling government met. Paul was brought before this diverse assembly to address it. Our speaker pointed out that there is a curiosity about spiritual matters that can be an both an opportunity and an obstacle for Christians.
As an Opportunity: there is an openness new ideas, even strange ideas.
As an Obstacle: People have developed an attitude that says, "I must remain open to other ideas," which precludes coming to any conclusions about anything. If I affirm something at Truth, then how can I affirm anything else that comes along that contradicts it?

Paul noticed that there was an altar "To An Unknown God."

4. Build bridges without avoiding vital and sometimes uncomfortable truths.

Paul built a bridge to his listeners by acknowledging that they were religious. In addressing them Paul quoted their own poets, again building additional connections.

There were some uncomfortable truths Paul had to share, too. This Unknown God is not unknown any more. We have a known God who has revealed Himself. Also, He is not a limited god that resides in a human-made temple. He is an unlimited God. In verse 26 he reminded them that He is their Creator and Lord. And next Paul notes that He is not far from us.

Paul's example is a challenge to us to be wise, truthful, loving and relevant as we engage our world today. The message Paul brings is that people everywhere are called to respond.

God's grace is available to all. Our job in response is to repent. God's mercy is not an approval of sin. There is a fixed day when God will judge all mankind. This is not a speculation.

Our job is to repent. To change our minds, our wills, and put our trust in Jesus Christ. The repentant sinner is in the proper position to accept God's forgiveness.

In verses 32-34 the writer states that some dismissed him and mocked him, but others were open to hearing more.

Dave shared why this passage gives him hope. When Paul went to Athens the people he found there had lived their whole lives in a culture unfamiliar with Christian truth. Yet even here God touched hearts through Paul's witness. We live in a similar culture that has a greater diversity of views than ever before. Despite their fuzzy ideas about God and the world we live in, there are many here among us to whom God is speaking, who may be ready to hear and receive the truth... maybe even through you.

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