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Good news for skeptics

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topical Scripture: Isaiah 55:8-11

I read this week that no piece of paper can be folded more than seven times. Donkeys kill more people annually than plane crashes. Walt Disney, the inventor of Mickey Mouse, was afraid of mice. A duck’s quack doesn’t echo, and no one knows why. Women blink twice as much as men. Elephants are the only animals that can’t jump. And it is physically impossible to lick your elbow. But you’ll probably try when you get home.

Why? Because we are skeptics. You looked skeptical as I recited those facts. You want to know how they know. We live in a culture which distrusts authority.

During Vietnam, we saw flags and draft cards burned for the first time in our nation’s history.

During the Watergate scandal, we watched the first resignation of an American president.

During the sexual revolution we watched morals change dramatically. In 1969, 67% of young adults said premarital sex was wrong; today only 38% agree. Over a million people reported sexually transmitted diseases last year. And the AIDS epidemic continues.

As the world’s religions have come to our shores, Muslim mosque activities have increased 75% over the last five years. There are more Muslims in America than there are Episcopalians, Jews, or Presbyterians. The Internet lists 67 different Buddhist societies in Texas. We have become the most religiously diverse nation on earth. As a result, 60% of young adults believe that God is not limited to a single faith.

As Christendom has declined, two out of three adults believe that religion is losing its influence in American society. The number of Americans who said they had no religion doubled in the last ten years.

What does it all mean for the concept of authority?

The number of Americans who believe that absolute moral truth even exists dropped last year to 22%, an all-time low. 93% of Americans say that they alone determine what is and what isn’t moral in their lives.

As Chuck Colson summarizes: “The emerging consensus seems to be that vague, comforting spirituality is healthy, but that doctrinal, authoritative religions may even be dangerous.”

Now you come to church and hear a sermon with this thesis: the Bible is the objective, absolute authority of God. When we know what God’s word says, we must do it. And we ask, Why?

Why trust the Bible? (vs. 8-9)

Today we discover that ours is a revealing God. He reveals himself to us. He speaks to us. He gives his word to us.

If he is God, he must: “‘My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord” (v. 8). Mark Twain was right: if I could understand every part of the Bible, I wouldn’t believe God inspired it. God speaks. God reveals himself.

Why believe that this book contains such revelation? It says it does:

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

“Prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1.21).

“The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8).

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Matthew 24:35). When God is your King, his word must be your authority.

But the Koran says that it comes from Allah through Mohammad; the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints maintains that the Book of Mormon contains further revelation from God to mankind; Buddhists and Hindus consider their sacred writings to be “divine” revelation. Why trust the Bible?

Because it keeps its promises. For instance, the Old Testament contains 61 specific prophecies concerning the coming Messiah, each of which was fulfilled by the historical Jesus. The odds of his fulfilling just 48 of them is one in 10 followed by 157 zeroes. To count that high, you’d have to count 250 numbers per minute for 6,589,000,000 years.

Because you can trust its transmission. The Greek New Testament we possess is judged by scholars to be 99.2% accurate with regard to the original, with no questions remaining concerning any facts or elements of faith.

Why trust the Bible?

Because archaeological evidence continues to validate its claims. Here’s a recent example: skeptics claimed that no evidence for the existence of King David exists outside the Bible. But a group of archaeologists recently found an Assyrian stone tablet in Northern Israel dating from the ninth century B.C. The Aramaic inscription listed Assyria’s foes, including the “king of Israel” and “house of David.” The skeptics were wrong again.

And because the risen Christ said it is the word of God. Neither the Buddha, Muhammad, Joseph Smith, nor the Hindu masters died on the cross for our sins and rose from the grave. And Jesus called this book the “word of God.”

When we trust the Bible (vs. 10-11)

Now, here’s the most compelling reason of all to make this book your life authority: when we trust it, God uses it to change our lives. His word “will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (v. 11).

What is his purpose for his revelation?

It leads us to salvation: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).

It keeps us right with God: “The word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

It guides us daily: “How can a man keep his way pure? By living according to your word” (Psalm 119.9); “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (Psalm 119.105).

It brings us to Jesus: “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20.31).

It still works.

St. Augustine was the greatest theologian after Paul in Christian history. But he was a notoriously adulterous sinner when he picked up the Bible one day, read it, and gave his heart to the Lord Jesus. Martin Luther was converted by studying the Bible, and began the Protestant Reformation. He read through the Bible twice every year, for most of the rest of his life.

Bill Tolar was dean of the School of Theology at Southwestern Seminary when I studied and then taught there. A brilliant science student as a youth, from a family with no church commitment whatsoever, he was challenged by a friend to read the Bible. And he became a Christian.

Dr. Isaac Mwase is professor of philosophy of religion at Ouachita Baptist University, and a former student of mine. Reading the Bible brought him to faith in Christ. Dr. Abraham Sarkar of our own church family was a Muslim missionary before reading the Bible made him a missionary to Muslims.

The American Bible Society tells the story of a missionary standing on the streets of a small African city with a tiny New Testament in his hand. An African man asked if he could have the little book, explaining that “Its pages are the perfect size for rolling cigarettes.” The missionary replied, “I will give you this book if you will promise to read every word on each page before you roll a cigarette with it.” The African agreed. Fifteen years later that missionary went to a revival. The evangelist was that cigarette-rolling man who said, “I quit smoking the Word and started preaching it.”

But God’s revelation changes us only when we read it. Nine out of ten American households own at least one Bible. But only 17% read it daily. Do you spend more time with the newspaper or the word of God?

And only when we obey it.

Billy Graham asserts, “Ninety-five percent of the difficulties you will experience as a Christian can be traced to a lack of Bible study and reading.” That’s been true of my life.

When we obey the word of God, we submit to the will of the King of the universe. Such obedience positions us to experience the salvation and significance he can only give to those who will receive them. Obedience is our response to the revelation of God. And the key to the purpose and peace he alone can give.

Conclusion

Now let’s close by applying this call to obedience to one very specific area of our lives, the matter of financial commitment.

What does God’s word ask of us? “A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord” (Leviticus 27:30).

How do we give this tithe? “You are to seek the place the Lord your God will choose…to put his Name there for his dwelling. To that place you must go: there bring your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts” (Deuteronomy 12:5-6); “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house” (Malachi 3:10).

Is such a commitment outdated? Jesus commended tithing (Matthew 23:23); it was collected by the church (Hebrews 7:8); and tithing was required by the early Church.

We give in gratitude for the grace of God. Not so he will love us, but because he does. And to advance his Kingdom, for the sovereign Lord of the universe has chosen to fund his work on earth through the financial obedience of his people.

We would not have a Heritage Sunday to celebrate next week, except that those who founded this great church were obedient to the word of God with their financial commitments. This congregation was founded 64 years ago next Sunday, with no monetary support from any sponsoring church or organization whatever. It would live or die on the financial sacrifice of its first members.

And sacrifice they did. In their very first worship service they collected an offering to be used for missions. Their first budget was five times greater than the church’s size would suggest. Before they were two months old they called a full-time pastor and promised to pay his full support.

The next year they bought the house on Lovers Lane which was the church’s first permanent home. They added property and buildings, then purchased this land, on the northern edge of the city of Dallas. The church committed herself to a capital project of $575,000 in 1946, when their unified budget for the year was $25,000. By that ratio, our current capital project should cost $207 million, not $32 million.

In the last 25 years, our church has given $35,327,205 to missions, $2,302,920 just last year. Such has been the financial obedience and sacrifice of our people across our history.

Now we stand on the edge of the next chapter, ready to cross the Jordan into the next part of our Promised Land. But we will cross over only by the financial obedience of our people to the word of God. Our heritage will guide our future only if we are as faithful as those who have come before us. As faithful to give sacrificially and obediently to our God.

If our future depended on your obedience to the word of God, would that fact be cause for concern or hope today?