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Unstained By The World - Romans 1

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11.26.2023 sermon notes
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When I was a kid, one of the most common tropes you saw in movies and tv shows was that school is boring and lame. There was a whole tv show dedicated to recess, and how awesome recess was - it was one of my favorites. But I never really got on board with the “school is boring” mantra, because secretly I loved school! I loved learning. And I think a lot of that comes from mother.  She had a habit, anytime we were learning something new - she would always say, “isn’t that so cool?” It didn’t really matter the subject - mathematics, history, science. I’d be struggling to understand something, like a new equation in my trig class and she’d say, “Isn’t this so cool, how God put the world together?” And that was the environment I grew up in - learning and science and mathematics and school were ways that we could understand what God is doing all around us. So I had an incredible hunger for knowledge, because the more I learned about the world the more I was learning about what God has done in our world. In my four years of high school, I took five years of math (2 classes at the same time), and 6 years of science. Anatomy, Chemistry, and then organic chemistry, genetics, bacteriology, embryology - I couldn’t get enough! The world is amazing and I want to learn how to it all works, with my mom’s voice in my ear, “Isn’t it cool how God has put the world together?” But then, as I got a little older - I discovered that there was a long brewing argument between academics and religion. As if God and science were against one another. God was all about faith and science was all about truth. There were people in my life who believed faith and science were opposed to one another. Like faith was about made up beliefs in your head and science was about evidence in front of your eyes. And I struggled to understand those arguments, because I never saw them as opposing -  but rather as beautiful compliments. It’s not oil and water, it’s peanut butter and jelly. Faith answers questions of why and science is all wrapped up in questions of how. You can tell me down to the molecule, how something happens out in nature - and none of that information will tell me why does it happen.


So when I graduated high school, I left home and went off to college and I was confronted with a question I think most of us ask ourselves at some point in life. We look at the faith we are given and we ask, “Do I believe what I believe because my mom and dad told me to? Or do I believe what I believe because it’s true?” That’s one of the things that bugs me about the science vs religion framework - sometimes people act as if only one side cares about truth. But what I found when I started poking at my faith and asking questions and praying and exploring - I found a core of steel. I believe what I believe because it is my best effort to discover the truth of what is out there. Faith is NOT a pile of beliefs I made up in my head because I like them, and they’re convenient for me. Faith, like science, is a search for the truth! I believe in God because he’s actually out there. I didn’t make him up. I believe in Jesus because the historical record and the gathering of eye-witness accounts are all things I can measure. Faith, truly trusting in God, is so much more than the evidence - but it’s not less than evidence. Today we’re going to dive into the book of Romans, and Paul spends some time talking about that evidence and I’m really excited to show it to you. So let’s dive in.


[read v.13-15]. Alright so let’s set the backdrop a little bit first. Paul was a Jewish man who hated Jesus, he had a conversion experience and became president of the Jesus fan club. He dedicated his whole life to telling everyone about Jesus. As we’ve talked about, Paul travelled around from town to town starting churches - and then he wrote a whole bunch of letters to those churches to help them with some of the teachings, conflict management and encouragement. But Romans is a little bit different. Paul has not been to Rome. He’s never met these Christians. And so while other letters like Corinthians or Galatians have lots of conflict management teachings and encouragement - Romans is mostly teachings. The book of Romans is basically an introduction to theology class. A few years ago I actually preached through the book of Romans chapter by chapter and it was amazing - I learned so much, and the amount of times I wanted to stop and say, “Isn’t this so cool?” was a little bit ridiculous. So Paul is writing this letter to a church he is very excited to visit.


He says, “I am eager to come to you in Rome, too, to preach the Good News. Now, let’s pause for a second and ask the obvious question - “what Good News?” He continues, [read v.16-17]. Basically, when we say “good news” or the word “gospel” we are talking about the story of Jesus. How Jesus came and died for our sins, rose from the dead so that we could be reconciled to God. All of us start out away from God. This broken world, call it sin if you want, has kept us away from God, we are so far away from God - but Paul brings good news that through Jesus we are brought back together with God. Through faith, through. Believing in Jesus, we are called to obey God and live in harmony with God. I like to break it down into five words - Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior. That’s the gospel, that’s the GOOD news. 


So then it continues in verse 18, [read v.18-20]. Now this is probably the most important part of what I’m going to say this morning, so I want make sure we’re very clear on it.  Verse 18 - God shows his anger against sinful, wicked people. That’s pretty straightforward, but I want to zoom in on 19. They know the truth about God, because he has made it obvious to them. The truth about God is supposed to be obvious.  I don’t know about you, but in my conversations with non-Christians, and even in my life when I think about faith and Jesus and belief - I’m not sure how the word “obvious” fits in there. If it’s SO obvious, then why do so many of us have doubt? What are we missing?  Verse 20 - “For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and the sky.” Period. There’s a period at the end of that. So far in this paragraph we’ve got - God gets really mad about sin…because the truth about God is obvious…because people can see the sky. I don’t know about you, but I missed it. How does the ability to see the sky… and see the earth…make the truth about God obvious? Hear the rest of the verse, [read v.20b]. Here’s the truth I want you to grab onto this morning - Creation is evidence of God. 


Now back then, what Paul is talking about is awe. The evidence is the awe we feel when we look at the world. We watch a sunrise, or witness a flower blooming and our hearts and minds are drawn upwards to things that are higher than ourselves. But in the modern world, through the brilliance of science, we actually know a little more. I did a little research this week and I wanted to share it with you. There’s something out there called the Goldilocks Principle. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s based on the story of that little girl and the three bears - and in the story everything has to be juuust right for the little girl. Too hot, too cold, just right. Too hard, to soft, just right. The goldilocks principle when you look at our planet is that the conditions of our world have to be juuust right for life to occur. For example, the rotation of our earth has to be JUST right. If the rotation was slower vegetation would burn up during the day, and everything would freeze during longer nights. If the rotation was faster, apparently the water would bulge around the equator and everyone would have to live at the poles. If the earth’s crust was ten feet thicker, the metallic elements in the crust would have combined with all the oxygen in the atmosphere - ruling out the possibility of animal life. Speaking of the atmosphere, if you change the thickness of the atmosphere by even just a little bit - we all die of radiation poisoning, and that’s if we don’t get hit by the meteors! Did you know that 20 million meteors enter our atmosphere every single day? They’re really small and they burn up on entry through the atmosphere. But if they didn’t, they travel at thirty miles a second - so I’m sure glad we’ve got that big pillow of an atmosphere up there keeping us safe. The physical size of our earth is just right - if our planet was smaller we lose our atmosphere like the moon, if our planet was bigger, gravity grows and affects life. The moon is just the right distance from the earth. It’s 239,000 miles from the earth. If you brought it closer - the tides (which are mostly harmless right now) would completely submerge our continents twice a day. Even the angle of our planet is just right. Our axis is tilted at 23.5 degrees. You mess with that, even a little bit and the seasons go away. I can keep going. The orbit of our planet around the sun has to be JUST right. If you adjust the orbit by 1/10th of an inch every 18 miles - we all freeze to death. If you adjust the orbit by 1/8th of an inch - we would all be incinerated.


So we gather up all the goldilocks data from nature, where we see over and over that things have to be just right for any life to exist and we ask the question - could this happen by chance? Could this be a coincidence? Look at it this way - if you had a friend who came up to you and said, “hey I flipped a coin three times and I got heads all three times in a row.” Now, if they’re a trustworthy friend and they tell you that - would you believe them? Probably, right? That’s a crazy feat and I might comment that they have too much time on their hands - but wow three times in a row, good for you. But what if the same person then comes and tells you that he flipped a coin 100 times, and it came up with heads every time - would you believe him then? The odds of that happening are SO small that you might suspect either somehow he’s rigged it, or he’s just lying to you. By the way, the odds that you get heads 100 times in a row is 1 in 2 to the 100th power, which is like 1 followed by 30 zeros. By the way I learned a new word this week. Nonillion - that’s thirty zeros, then there’s Octillion, Septillion, Sextillion, Quintillion, Quadrillion, Trillion, and we know the rest. Here’s my point with all of this - the goldilocks principle shows us that nature is rigged. When the odds are that bad, you start to suspect - someone out there is rigging the system for it to come up JUUUST right.


One more example - and I want to say, some of these resources that I’m using came from Christian sources - websites dedicated to arguing that God does exist, but this one comes from scienceforums.net. The thrust of the article I was reading was - what are the odds life would start on it’s own. Once you’ve got DNA, DNA reproduces DNA - but to take the primordial soup and get that first strand - and I’m quoting here, “two well known scientists calculated the odds of life forming by natural processes. They estimated that there is less than 1 chance in 10 to the 40,000 power that life could have originated by random trials.” Flipping a coin one hundred times in a row has thirty zeros after the odds, life by chance has forty THOUSAND zeros after it. And here’s my favorite part of the argument. Even if you grant every single part of their argument. People disagree about how old the world is or evolution or whatever - and that’s good, people can disagree about those things - but even if we grant them every single premise. You say the world is 30 billion years old, let’s assume you’re right. The odds are so low, that even if nature could produce TRILLIONS of genetic code combinations every second for 30 billion years, the odds of producing the simplest single cell organism are still inconceivably immense. What I’m trying to tell you is that, if you believe this happened by chance, 30 billion years isn’t enough time. Research and mathematician I.L. Cohen put it like this, “Mathematically speaking, based on probability concepts, there is no possibility..” Researcher Sir Fred Hoyle reportedly said it like this, “Believing the first cell originated by chance is like believing a tornado sweeping through junk yard might assemble a Boeing 747 from the materials therein.” Paul tells us, “they know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them.” The scientific and mathematical evidence of the existence of our planet demonstrates that the system is rigged. It could not happen by chance. Verse 20, he says, [read it]. Creation is evidence of God.


Creation points to the creator. From what has been made, from the stuff God has made - we see his qualities. His eternal power and divine nature are obvious if you pay attention to his creation. So go watch more sunrises. Spend time looking at the stars or marveling at the testimony of the flowers. Witness a mother with her child, and give praise to the one who made them both. All of creation surrounding you in this life witnesses to God’s awesome power if you’re paying attention. 

He keeps going, [read v.21-23]. This is another one of those moments where Paul’s problems are OUR problems. Instead of worshipping the God that is out there, we began to think up foolish ideas of what God is like. Here's the thing - humans are built to worship. We are built to give praise, to lift up and exalt… something. Look at the modern world -  we create idols, we share viral videos and click “like” over and over and over. We cannot help ourselves - we treat movie stars and musicians like gods and then we wonder why they all have ego problems. We treat politicians like heroes and saviors (or villains, if you’re on the other side). We worship so many things with our lives, and absolutely none of it is deserved. I’m not making this up - I heard a story this. Past week, it was a news story about a woman who was charging over $500 bucks a session, and she had a waiting list of over seven THOUSAND clients and she was a pet psychic! I will tell you what your dog is thinking, and I can how they are doing in the afterlife. As a culture we might be walking away from Christianity and the Bible - but the innate desire to worship and unravel the mysteries are still there. We’re NOT more advanced than those little wooden idols of two thousand years ago if we’re still running scams like PET PSYCHICS in the year of our lord 2023. Paul says, we know about God, but we don’t worship him or even give him thanks. What I want you to realize this morning is that there is only one thing in the universe worthy of worship, and we have a habit of swapping it out for lesser things. We exchange the worship of the glorious, ever-living God for idols made to look like mere people. Verse 25 lays it out, [read it]. We gave up the truth for a lie, we swapped out worship of the creator, for worship of a created thing! And when Paul lays it out like that it just seems so… dumb! What were we thinking? The glory of the ever-living God, exchanged for idols that look like people or birds or reptiles. It’s like having a bank account that has little infinity sign next to the dollar amount. Like an unlimited, never ending supply of money, and then trading that for a hundred dollar bill. Or, maybe better -  it’s like taking a REAL dollar bill and trading it for that I made up with construction paper and crayons. How could we be so stupid? We stopped looking at the evidence of creation all around us, and we settled for something much, much less. Something that we made up. The first thing I want you to realize this morning is that creation IS evidence for God, and the second thing is that the god you make up in your head is a lie! This thing we do is not an exercise in wishful thinking. Our process is rooted in the evidence that is all around us. There is something out there, we don’t get to decide what God is like - we get to discover it, because he has revealed it. But the true God is not something we came up with.


The good news that we see this morning is that God claims the glory. For his followers, he’s not going to let us worship something less. I think. For a long time, the modern church has been trying to limit God to make him more relatable. As people left the church, the prevailing wisdom was that you need to make God cooler, make God more understandable. Don’t freak people out by talking bout his glory and infinite power and wisdom. Make God sound more like a genie, or a vending-machine-santa Claus best friend type God. Because if that’s what God is, maybe they’ll come back to the church. I’ll let you in on a secret - it didn’t work. They limited the picture of God, made him less and then young people said, “why would I worship that.” In trying to make Jesus everybody’s best friend, we sold them a picture of something that was not worth their time. There’s a fancy word I want to teach you - it’s called “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” - you don’t need to remember that, but basically it's the idea that people have created a false God in their minds to give them a moral framework and make them feel better about themselves. It’s like build-a-bear God. You ever go to one of those build a bear stations? You go in, pick out the type of bear, accessorize it, and then they stuff it and hand you your very own personalized bear? It’s super cute, my boys have little build a bear dolls. But some people try to do that with God. One of the best ways you can tell if someone has slipped into the modern trap of moralistic therapeutic deism is if they start using personal pronouns in front of God. Like, you ever someone. Say, “well, MY God isn’t like that” or “MY Jesus would never do that.” Oh, he’s YOUR Jesus? I didn’t realize, did you create him? Or did he create you? When we put limits on what we will allow God to be like, what we will allow God to do. - that is humans making up a false god in their heads. And the scary part is that it has almost nothing to do with what’s actually going on out there. But the reality that Paul is reminding us of this morning is that God is bigger than created things. God is bigger than the idols of this world. The real God, as he reveals himself to us in scripture, is so much bigger than the personalized god we made up. In our minds. God claims the glory, because all that glory is his.


Creation is evidence of God. The God who is revealed is better than the one we make up. And so our response, our challenge for today - I have two. First, in your life, give glory to God alone. Stop trying to make up your own build-a-bear God. Give glory to God alone. Here’s how you do it -  ask yourself, how big is your God? Is the God you worship the one who created the heavens and the earth - or is he just there to solve your own personal problems? We try to make God a created thing, not a creaTOR worthy of praise. Challenge yourself with this - If God came into your life, like burning bush style, showed up and started talking directly to you - if God asked you to do something you don’t want to do, would you do it? If God asked you to quit your job or move to another country or sell your vacation home and give the money to an orphanage, or become a foster parent as soon as your biological children leave the home, or sit in a worship service where you don’t like the music - if God asked you to do something you don’t want to do - would you do it? And if you hesitate, is it possible you don’t understand just how big God is? Have you given up worship of the actual creator of the universe for worship of something you created in your mind, something that’s a little more convenient? That’s my first challenge for you - give glory to God alone.

Second, I want you to throw away all your idols. Now back in Paul’s day - the advice would have been to throw away literally, physical statues. In our world I think the best comparison is the way we treat famous people. With the way we can photoshop and edit pictures - magazine covers are not even pictures of real people anymore! We have created gods and we use them to sell products. Politicians, musicians, movie stars, models, social media influencers, even famous pastors! - people that have become, in our minds, more than people - images made to look like mortal human beings. But I think Paul makes it really simple for us - it all comes down to created and creator. Idolatry is where we substituted a lesser thing for God, something created substituted in our worship for the creator. So the best way to throw away our idols is to let creation point you to the creator. If you are idolizing a musician, let it point back to God. They have such an amazing voice that God gave them. I’m so grateful God created this world and filled it with music. That movie was so amazing, I’m thankful that God gifted those actors with talent, those writers with story telling - I’m just grateful for the gift of entertainment that God has given us as a way to rest. What an incredible sunrise - I’m so glad God made the sun and the world, and made it spin. Let the beauty of the world around you increase your awe and your desire for your Father in heaven. Let creation point you to your creator.


I think about how my mom approaches education, “isn’t it so cool how God put it all together?” Basically, I just want you to take that phrase and apply it to everything you bump into out there. If you bump into creation - don’t worship it, don’t trade the truth for a lie. For every good thing you find out there - just say, “isn’t it so cool how God put it all together?”  Let’s pray. 

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