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Help with sermons please

I've got four sermons at the start of February answering the following questions:

How can a loving God not accept everyone?

Does God even exist?

If there is a God, why does he allow suffering?

Aren't all religions basically the same?

What should my passages be?

What should I say?

21 thoughts on “Help with sermons please

  1. John Allister

    At base, one of my consistent premises throughout this series is that the popular aphorism “All religions are fundamentally the same and only superficially different” simply is not true. It is more correct to say that all religions are, at best, superficially similar but fundamentally different Ravi Zacharias, from the introduction to "New Birth or Rebirth - Jesus talks with Krishna".

    If answering "why does God allow suffering?", any answer which does not keep coming back to the cross - as the place where God enters into a suffering world, redeems it, points beyond it and points to the end of it - is completely inadequate.

  2. blogblunders

    Some quick thoughts...

    If there is a God, why does he allow suffering?
    - Humans have choice - Deut. 30:11-19. & Luke 6:43-45 - God 'allows' either choice - good or bad.
    - God's will is not always done - Isa 30:1 & Luke 7:30
    - But, God works in all to bring the best He can from any and every situation - but does not mean he started it - Romans 8:37-30

    Aren't all religions the same?
    Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.

    Does God even exist?
    Creation points to something else - Goldilocks principle, not to hot, not to cold - but just right. What would the world look like if God wasn't here?

    How can a loving God not except everyone?
    Character of God - love and holiness. We can never understand the fullness of sin in us and the holiness of God. We get a few pictures - God vomiting etc. but we try and play 'god' and tell him what he should and shouldn't do.

    Looking forward to hearing/reading your sermons. Some absolute beauties in those questions.

    Be blessed in your adventures mate!

  3. Erik Cornelisse

    good luck (or many blessings) with that one my friend. Here's my little ponderings upon these subjects:

    How can a loving God not accept everyone?
    He DOES !! We just want it all our way. Make God in our image instead of the reverse. It doesn't make sense for a chess club to allow me in if allI wanted to do is play rugby - pointless.

    Does God even exist?
    Which god is this that does or does not exist? Tell me the god you are asking this question about.

    If there is a God, why does he allow suffering?
    indeed blogblunders, one agrees, CHOICE. God wanted loving relationships, that went kinda sour, living with consequences (yes I dare to mention that c word)

    Aren’t all religions basically the same?
    once again, someone who has not looked into religion would state this. If the question was, what makes Christianity different from others, it has to be that amazing saviour of the world, Jesus Himself.

  4. Rich Owen

    Off the top of my head:

    For question 1 - Genesis 1,2,3 and John 3:16-18
    Sin is adultery, what is more loving for the jilted spouse - to allow adultery, turn a blind eye cause basically you are a lovely guy, or to exact justice AND seek reconciliation at the cost of your own life. Cursed and killed in Adam, raised and reconciled in Christ. The love of the Father in pursuing reconciliation comes to the fore.

    2. Gen 1:1 and John 17:24. In the beginning God... which God? Father loves the Son... etc.

    3. John 3:36 and Romans 1:18. See point 1. Cursed and dead - but the way is open, the curse punishes and warns, but the arms of Jesus are wide open.

    4. See point 2. Compare and contrast Allah to the Triune God. Not the same.

  5. kc

    All time reader, infrequent commenter but this one I couldn't resist! :-)

    “ How can a loving God not accept everyone? “ - He has accepted everyone but many have refused to accept Him.

    “Does God even exist?” - How could He not?

    “If there is a God, why does he allow suffering?” - He doesn't. Men do. The proper question is then, “why does God allow men?”.

    “Aren’t all religions basically the same?” - Yes.

  6. James

    Tim Keller's series (available free from Redeemer Presby.'s sermon store) 'The Trouble with Christianity' is good for these questions. They're pretty much his book 'The Reason for God' as sermons, I think.

    For the loving God one, it's worth firing back the question what do we mean by a loving God. Because God's love is far more intense than we want it to be. We are more sinful than we dare admit, more loved than we dare believe. God wants to get close, we want to keep him at arm's length, and exact blessing from him, rather than know him like a Father, or a bridegroom. Jesus' love burns against those who would seduce his bride (Revelation). Not sure I'd head straight there though! Could you say the essence of sin is rejecting God's love? Calling him a thief or a liar (bit of that in 1 John). Keller goes to the Rich man and Lazarus for this question I think.

    I tend to find the 'Does God even Exist' question slippery. You can end up going round and round in circles arguing about some abstract concept of God without ever getting to Jesus. I would start with his claim (one of them) to be God (perhaps I and the Father are one? Or destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up, i.e. he is the true presence of God among men?) and go from there. A sort of 'let me show you this man, who claimed to be God, and we'll see what you think about whether or not God exists.' Despite the loud voices of scepticism, when you get past initial caricatures, God is eminently plausible and reasonable. Worth baring in mind this question can be a smokescreen, for a variety of reasons (from pig-headed refusal to have a conversation about it to genuine pain and hurt).

    Suffering, the bit in Daniel where the three men are thrown into the furnace and 'a fourth' is seen with them. Or maybe even head to Job. If you want NT, Luke 13 is it, about the Galileans whose blood Pilate mingled with sacrifices, and the other people who had a tower fall on them? Could mention the man born blind; 'who sinned, this man or his parents?' etc.

    I love Keller's stuff on why Christianity is neither religion or irreligion but something different altogether. Religion says you save yourself by keeping the rules, irreligion rejects rule-keeping, but embraces some other form of self-saving, usually self-discovery, and making your own rules. Neither get to the heart of the problem, which is that we cannot be our own saviour, but need someone to save us, to take our curse, our guilt, our shame, and give us new life. Note Jesus calls his disciples evil - if you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children. Also, the view that 'all religions are the same' is an exclusive set of beliefs in itself, not (as it pretends to be) the universally tolerant, ante-religion solution. It's often grounded in a sort of modern humanism (people are essentially good, our problems can be solved by better education and moving towards some abstract notion of what constitutes good values/ethics, do good and it will be reflected back to you, humanity is progressing towards some sort of higher goal). C.S. Lewis unmasks this somewhat in 'Funeral of a Great Myth' and John Gray attacks it in 'Straw Dogs'. I'd recommend the Lewis, as I've only read an extract from Straw Dogs.

  7. curiouscatlady

    Some quick lines of thought...

    How can a loving God not accept everyone?

    Jesus' sacrifice is sufficient for EVERYONE... He died WHILE WE WERE STILL SINNERS- Not for the righteous. So He does accept everyone- it's whether we accept Him.

    Does God even exist?
    Lots of different apologetic lines of thought i.e. universe started from a bang- what made it go bang etc... Human conscience and morality- where does this come from? Beauty- how can 'meaningless pieces of protoplasm' be so awestruck when they see, for example, Niagra Falls!

    Ultimately- get them to see who the real Jesus is- investigate Him... Ask them who they think He is.

    If there is a God, why does he allow suffering?

    Suffering - doesn't the fact that people feel an injustice to suffering show that the world isn't how it ought to be? If suffering were a normal everyday part of life on earth wouldn't we all just get on with it?

    So the bible HAS an answer to suffering- WE caused it because of Sin. And what other 'theory' can explain suffering?!

    Also, it could be a way of God saying 'Wake up!' otherwise why would half the people care? There wouldn't be a problem would there? Anyway, most suffering stems from human sin. When it comes to natural disasters- it just shows the scale of how bad sin is. Anyway, we don't know for sure why god does everything. But If there were no suffering there would be a lot less people thinking about god... I mean, when something bad happens people think- how could god do this to me? Just a thought.

    Aren’t all religions basically the same?

    Christianity is different for these three reasons (from what I've found at least!):

    It's the only religion where god actually comes in human form - no 'prophet intermediates' ... Jesus is God therefore speaks from the horses mouth!

    Only religion which actually deals with the problem of sin.

    Only religion to rely on a historical event ... The resurrection! Prove it wrong and you can destroy Christianity- but it's water tight.. Check it out

    I'll be praying!

  8. Gordon Banks

    I found Yancy's book very helpful - he argues suffering is one of God's greatest gifts to us - it tells us something is wrong and needs fixing. For example those suffering from leprosy would welcome pain because that is what causes them to injur themselves and not notice. Check it out...WHERE IS GOD WHEN IT HURTS?: BEYOND SUFFERING Philip Yancy

  9. RichP

    For suffering... establish the problem, see how other worldviews deal with this problem, then what does Christianity say?... The cross shows that God understands suffering and the resurrection shows he is committed to ending it. Google tells me Mark 10:32-34!

  10. Chris W

    Rich Owen, those are some amazing and heart-warming answers! If you can come up with that off the top of your head, then all I can say is that I envy your head :P

  11. Duane Watts

    Hey Glen!
    To get to suffering, I like Job. Sure, the fall caused suffering and sin causes all kinds of suffering. But the question always comes up, "what about the child-victim or the 'innocent victim'?" Job viewed himself as an innocent victim, and to the extent that God extolled Job's virtues, he was right. However, Job increased his vexation by believing he was being unjustly punished. He was conflicted on his "punishment" versus the fact that he knew that God was righteous, but he would not justify God at the expense of the truth, which he believed his friends were doing:
    "Will you show partiality toward Him? Will you plead the case for God? Will it be well with you when He searches you out? Or can you deceive Him, as one deceives a man? He will surely rebuke you if in secret you show partiality [even towards God?]! Will not His majesty terrify you, and the dread of Him fall upon you? Your maxims are proverbs of ashes; your defenses are defenses of clay! Let me have silence and I will speak, and let come on me what may! Why should I take my flesh in my teeth and put my life in my hand!?! Though He slay me, I will hope in Him; yet I will argue my ways to His face." Job 13 ESV [emphasis mine, bracketed words mine]

    I love the drama in this passage. Job asks the very hard questions, never accusing God, but never relenting that this particular suffering could not have resulted from his own sin. In the end, God in the Dock interrogates His interrogator [I believe with great love, and empathy towards Job, and quite a bit of humor, waxing on about leviathan and beheamoth as he does]. Nor does he accuse Job, on the contrary vindicating him and convicting his friends. What God does not do is explain Himself. He does not answer throughout 66 books of the Bible, why people suffer for wrong they have not done, when it is in God's hands to prevent. But what He does do (so those who wrote it before me gave the best thumbnail sketch) is join in our suffering, and doubts and all. [Doubts? Why do you think Satan tempted Him to prove that He was who he claimed to be? True doubts roundly rejected, but still tempted]. I think the suffering of the mind (the kind that Job subjected himself to) are the worst kind of suffering on earth. To be 100% certain you are in God's will would be...
    Heaven!

  12. Michael Kenan Baldwin

    Yeah I don't think the whole free will thing is the best answer to the POE and I'm guessing you think that already as well.
    I agree with RichP that the POE needs to be seen by looking at alternative explanations as well...looking at eastern response, the new atheist response ('evil doesn't actually exist'; really??), islam?
    Might be useful to distinguish between different problems of evil...esp the logical problem which you can point out philosophers just don't even bother trying to defend anymore after alvin plantinga. Instead it's more of an existential problem when most people ask the question, like why did my mum die, why do my relationships never work out etc.

    I really really like Vince Vitale's stuff on the POE, he deals with it in an existential way which is also intellectually satisfying...i think the free will theodicy leaves a lot to be desired when i've explained it to my sceptical friends.
    You can check out a quick outline of some of vince's stuff here http://www.hazelden.org.uk/ref/ref008_suffering.htm
    Which i'm sure will provoke your thoughts!
    Overall then, laying out the alternatives is useful, distinguishing between the different problems of evil is very helpful, centering on the cross at some point essential, and asking, "Where do you get your idea of objective evil from in the first place?" is very effective.

    With "Does God exist?", use a bit of presup, with the cosmo and fine-tuning arguments, all acting as the precursor to the argument from history, the resurrection. I know you love natural theology ;)

    For why doesn't God accept everybody, the prodigal son?
    Or samaritan woman at the well?

    For all religions are practically the same, I sometimes like to point out the incompatibility between this objection and the "religion causes wars" objection. If they're fundamentally the same then surely a single war cannot have started over it cos there's nothing to fight over!
    I like ravi zacharias on other religions, so i agree with john on that count!
    Tim Keller is almost always excellent as well.

  13. Josh VB

    Write one sermon about how amazing the triune God who is revealed in scripture is that he loves us and gave his Son to suffer for us so that all who by the Spirit's work looks on him is accepted by the Father. This is utterly unlike any other religion, and resonates so deeply with us who bear God's image that it is self evidently true (and so we either accept it, or run away from it).

    Preach the same sermon four times and give thanks for the unexpected holiday God has given you!

  14. Glen

    THIS is why blogging is worthwhile. Brilliant responses guys and very helpful too. Thanks.

    Essentially I'll try to take Josh VB's approach, but don't tell anyone ;-)

  15. Dave K

    I thought this might be useful thing for me to think over for my own edification. Initially I thought of doing various episodes from Christ's life but then I thought of Psalms. Still a work in progress in my mind. Forcing myself to pick a psalm meant I found the answers God gave me to the questions were fresher than how I would have answered them myself.

    Accepting?
    Psalm 32/Matt 23:37 - Christ our hiding place (patience, constant invitation - covering yourself v. being covered)

    Does god exist?
    Psalm 19 (can't decide on Gospel passage) - Christ is speaking

    Suffering:
    Psalm 22/Mark 15:34 - Christ is the ultimate sufferer (questioning, identifying, praying, hoping)

    Other religions:
    Psalm 96/Matt 27:27-43; Matt 28:18 - Christ is the ultimate king (humble and universal - king in creation and redemption)

    Asking everyone to take on board Psalm 131 when dealing with every question.

  16. EmilyEmily

    Long time no comment... but I've been looking for resources and ideas on some similar questions too - for an interesting approach from someone who doesn't follow Jesus yet is looking into some of these issues, I'd recommend reading Julian Baggini's series 'Heathen's Progress', or at least the ones that seem relevant! They're over at the Guardian Comment is Free section.

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