August 7, 2011

Do You Really Believe?

Preacher:
Series:
Passage: Romans 10:9

Bible Text: Romans 10:9 | Preacher: Rev. Karl Burden | Series: 2011 Sermons

“If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Have you ever noticed that there are some people who, while claiming to be Christian,  insist upon qualifying their statement of faith?

I’m sure you’ve heard comments like this:  “Yes, I’m a Christian but I have trouble believing in the virgin birth”.  Or perhaps,-  “Of course I believe in Jesus, but I’m not so sure about His resurrection.”

A professor of physics once asked his class how many of them believed in the Law of the Pendulum; – the law that states that when a pendulum swings from side to side, it always decreases in the length of its ark with every swing.

Without hesitation all his students said –  they believed the law.

The professor then proceeded to demonstrate the law in a classroom experiment.  He nailed a rope to the wall just above the chalkboard.  To this he attached a rope with a baseball firmly fixed on the end of it.  Before releasing the ball, he once again asked the students if they believed in the Law of the Pendulum.  Again, all stated that they believed it.

The professor then marked the starting point of the ball on the board, released it , and carefully recorded the highest point the ball reached on the other side.  The end result showed that It was a little closer to the center than it had been at its starting point.  As the ball continued to swing, each subsequent high point was a bit closer to the center than the previous, thus proving that the Law was true.

Having convincingly demonstrated this in the classroom, the professor then took his class to the stage of an auditorium where he had earlier fastened a hundred pound weight at the end of a long rope.  At one side of the stage he placed a chair and asked for a volunteer.  When one of his students came forward, he placed the lad in the chair,  then took the 100 pound weight and carried it over to within an inch from the boy’s face.

“Do you still believe the Law of the Pendulum is accurate”, he asked.  The boy said he did.

With that, the professor released the weight, letting it swing across the stage.  As the ball started to swing back toward him, the boy leaped from his chair with a sudden burst of energy.

Now, did he, or didn’t he believe in the Law of the Pendulum?

Christians who qualify their statement of faith, are somewhat like that boy in the chair.  They may say they believe, but when it comes right down to proving their faith, they jump out of the way when they encounter difficult issues.

In preparation for this message, I went onto an internet site entitled:  “Reasons for not believing in God.”    What I found there was a list of fairly typical reasons most people put forth for not believing, such as –
i) I can’t believe in God, because my earthly father failed me so miserably.
ii) Or, I can’t believe, because the idea of God is man-made.
iii) And a very popular reason that says, – I can’t believe in God because what the Bible tells us about creation has been disproven by science.
iv) One person claimed that his reason for not believing in God was based upon a vague theory in Quantum Physics which claims that the Big Bang, (which many scientists say initiated our universe), wasn’t a unique event, but one that has been repeated many times over.  According to this theory,  there are other universes (yet to be discovered)  which have planets identical to earth, and which are likely inhabited by intelligent beings just like us.  The fact that this is a theory for which there is absolutely no physical evidence, didn’t seem to bother this atheist.
v) However, probably the funniest reason listed on this site was from one person who said he didn’t believe in God because  – ‘God’ spelled backwards is ‘dog’.

The truth is, of course, everyone, even the most hardened atheist, believes in something.  And, what’s more importantly, – what we believe determines the type of life style we will live.

Adolf Hitler, for example, was a greatly influenced by the Theory of Evolution.  Because of this, he was convinced that the only way Germany could become a strong, invincible nation was through racial hygiene and eugenics (otherwise known as selective breeding).  So Hitler introduced a number of programmes involving mass sterilization, and, of course, he attempted to annihilate all the Jews in Europe.

Many people use the scientific method to dismiss God, arguing that only those things which can be studied and explained are real.  So they reject anything which might be considered supernatural, (including God).   Yet surprisingly. these same individuals have no difficulty accepting scientific theories for which there can be no solid proof, such as the theory that the first living creatures emerged from inanimate material; or that the first plants were able to reproduce themselves in spite of the fact that they require cross pollination from other similar plants in  order to accomplish this.

The truth is that both religion and science require ‘leaps of faith’, so trying to disprove the one with the other, is futile.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BELIEVE IN JESUS CHRIST?

Of course, this discussion could go on endlessly, without either side convincing the other that it has the truth.  So this morning, let’s set confine our attention to the question:  what does it mean when we say ‘we believe in God’, or ‘we believe in Jesus Christ’?

Right from the opening words of his Gospel, John tells us that Jesus came into the world in order that all might believe.  (John 1:7)   Then later, toward the end of his Gospel, he adds this comment:  “These (words) are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in His name.  (John 21:31)

Believing that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, as John is describing, is very different from believing that Jesus was merely a wise and good man who lived 2,000 years ago in Israel.  There is no leap of faith required in saying that Jesus was a man who lived on earth.  There is plenty of evidence to document His earthly life.

Even saying that He was a good and wise man who showed us how to live exemplary lives, doesn’t require much faith.  It’s simply a statement of fact.  But when we say that this man Jesus was the Son of God; that’s very different..  That does require a leap of faith.

The Gospels tells us that Jesus Himself acknowledged that He and God were One.  (Luke 9:36).  This is what makes Christianity unique.  No other major religion in the world claims that their founder called Himself the son of God; only Jesus Christ was so bold as to make such a statement.

And so, to be a Christian, in the truest sense of the word, is to be a one who is willing to make a leap of faith, and believe that this is true;  that Jesus is the Son of God.  Failing to believe this, according to the Apostle Paul and all the other writers of the New Testament, means that you are not really a Christian; a true follower of Christ.

WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE?

So that brings us to an even more important question.  What do you personally believe?

To say that Christianity requires blind faith, is simply not true.  Honest questioning has always been respected and accepted, even by Jesus.  Jesus welcomed the questions and even the doubts of those who were sincerely searching to know the truth.

You’ll remember that when a desperate father came to Him with his son who was suffering from convulsions,  his plea to Jesus indicated that he wasn’t really sure if Jesus could help him or not, but in the hope that He could help, he had brought his son to Jesus.  When Jesus heard the man’s plea, he said to him:  “All things are possible for the one who believes.”

In reply, the desperate father said:   “I believe, help my unbelief.”   (Mark 9:17 -26)  And without another word, Jesus healed his son.

Even when one of His own disciples stubbornly refused to believe He’d risen from the dead, – Jesus was gentle with Him, and invited Him to come and see for Himself the marks of the cross upon His hands and side.

Having difficulty accepting something which is beyond our capacity to understand, has never been condemned by Jesus.  His concern is that we be actively seeking to know the truth.
But having said this, there comes a point in the life of every seeker, where the ways of God are simply beyond our human capacity to fully understand.  At such a time, we are confronted with things we simply can not explain or understand.  These are things we simply have to take on faith.

Soren Kierkegaard, the 19th century Danish theologians, said that the road to faith is very much like climbing a mountain.  You tread along a well-beaten path until you near the summit.  Then you enter the cloud zone, and your vision is obscured by fog.  It is at this point that you encounter an abyss, blocking your way forward.  However, you hear voices on the other side of the abyss, calling to you; telling you to jump.

“You can do it,” they shout, “just run and leap across,  You can do it.  You can reach the other side.”   This is what Kierkegaard called the ‘leap of faith’; something which is required of everyone who seeks to believe in the risen Christ.

Faith is a fundamental requirement of belief in God.  If we knew everything for certain.  If there was no mystery, nothing that wasn’t known for certain, – there would be no need for faith.  If we all knew, beyond the shadow of a doubt that when we die we will stand before our Creator, to account for our lives, – then no one, except the most fool hearty, would dare break any of God’s laws.  But we’d have no freedom either.  Everything we did, would be predetermined.

But that’s not how God created us.  God created us in His own image; free to make choices, so that when we do respond to Him, we respond because of our own decision to do so.   In order to have that freedom of choice, there must be those things that require faith, rather than certainty. We must be willing to make our leap of faith.

WHAT’S STOPPING YOU?

This brings us to our last question:  what’s preventing you from make your leap of faith?

There are many good, hard-working, moral people;  many of whom call themselves Christians, and perhaps even attend weekly worship services, – who have reached that point on the road to faith, where they are confronted with an abyss, something which is stopping them from reaching the top.

Many years ago, our United Church introduced, what was then known as ‘the New Curriculum’ for our Sunday Schools.  One of the elements of that curriculum was the introduction of a new way of looking at the stories of the Old Testament.  The creation story, the Fall of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, the Great flood, and many more of the ancient stories of the Old Testament were called ‘myths’; meaning that they weren’t to be understood literally, but only figuratively.  In other words, it was said that these stories were meant simply to suggest that God was active in history.

Unfortunately, the use of the term ‘myth’ suggested to many within the church the possibility that these stories weren’t true.  And it wasn’t long before the same interpretation was affixed to the story of the birth of Jesus; then to His resurrection; and suddenly the cement that had held together the faith of these Christians, began to crumble.

That process has been accelerated by secular influences, the media, the curriculum in our public schools, and many other forces, – so that today our United Church is on the verge of collapse.

Friends, God has given us the tools with which to achieve a strong, vibrant faith;  a faith that will provide guidance for our daily lives,  hope for the future and eternal life.  But in order for this resource to enable us to achieve this wondrous gift of God, we must be willing to take our own personal leap of faith; secure in the knowledge that Jesus is the Son of God, and that what He taught, and what He did on the cross and through the empty tomb, is true; and that it is the only way to achieve salvation.

For in the confident words of the Apostle Paul:  “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Amen