A sermon delivered by Joel Snider, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Rome, Ga., August 15, 2010.
Genesis 1:1-5 and John 1
Our Father, we have heard that you are the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. We have heard that you are unchanging and ever faithful. We who are born in the midst of this time, and in time altogether, who feel adrift in a world ever changing, seek your face today. Be an anchor for us when we feel adrift. Be our rock when all we see is shifting sand beneath us. Be what we need. Be constant in our lives and help us to set our sight totally and completely on you. Come to us and bring the security that we crave. We pray that you would also bring us the hope and the certainty that we need to move forward from this place. Teach us not to despise or to waste the life to which we have been called. Lead us not to neglect the tasks of today simply because we cannot see their affect on tomorrow or on eternity. We pray that you would use the small duties of today to prepare us for greater challenges and great responsibilities in service of your kingdom. Grant that we might see your work in the world, where the spirit wants to be effective and where willing hands are needed. Move us toward what you want done. Use our willingness to accomplish your purpose. Teach us to live in such a way so as not to fear judgment of the world to come nor to be frightened of the brightness of your eternal dawn. In the name of Christ, we pray. Amen.
The statement “God exists” suggests that the world we see and touch points toa power…beyond our own and outside our control, beyond our sight and touch, which must be taken into account even if we are to give an adequate account of the world that we can touch and see. To affirm the existence of God, then, means to affirm that the physical world, which can be measured and calculated, is not all that is. –Luke Timothy Johnson in The Creed: What Christians Believe and Why It Matters
We tell our children that it is the most important decision they will ever make. We tell our extended family, our co-workers, and our friends that it is a decision that is not simply vital, critical, or important but with eternal consequences. Of course, we are talking about the decision to become a Christian. We verbalize it in lots of different ways. We sometimes talk about inviting Jesus into our hearts. We use the old language that we have “gotten saved” and made Jesus Christ Lord. But the essence of it is that we have said that we now believe that Jesus Christ is God’s son, that he died on the cross, and that somehow God’s raising him from the dead has provided us with the means to receive God’s forgiveness. We believe that sin and death are in cahoots with each other to try to hurt and destroy us and to take us away from God. By making this decision, we have the means to have peace with God and to bring our lives back into harmony with God and God’s own heart. If we really believe that Jesus Christ died on a cross and that God raised him from the dead, does it make a difference in our lives?
I have this image of a claim ticket in my wallet for perhaps shoes that are being re-soled or pants that are being altered. I keep the claim ticket, waiting for the day when I can go back and claim what is mine. Until that day, I don’t think about it much. Unless I am looking for a receipt that I need to turn in or money to pay for something, and I happen to glance at the ticket in the back of my wallet, I don’t really think about it very much but I am holding on to it until the day comes when I can turn it in and get what is mine. I have my ticket punched and I am going to hold onto it until the day when I need to turn it in (the day of death or the day at the end of days) when I can claim the salvation that is mine through Jesus Christ. I believe that is the way that some people look at salvation.
But it seems to me that if Christ really did die on a cross, if the story of Jesus really being raised from the dead is more than just something we tell children, if Christ really did walk away from the tomb and lives now with God, and the Holy Spirit and reigns over the world, there should be something that is different in my life and in my actions. There should be something that is different in the way that I train my heart and in the way I live.
Which is it? Is it the claim ticket that you don’t have to think about much until it is time to turn it in or is there something that happens when we make what we say is the most important decision in life that changes us?
I know what the Apostle Paul thinks. In almost every letter that Paul writes, he talks about what Christ has done and then he comes to “therefore.”
â— Romans 6:12: “therefore, do not let sin reign in you.”
â— 2 Corinthians 5:12, “therefore, all who are in Christ are new creations.”
â— Galatians 5:1, “therefore, stand fast.”
â— Colossians 2:6, “therefore, as you have received Christ, so live in him.”
Paul says there are changes, implications, and consequences to saying Jesus Christ is Lord. Something changes when I say that. If we really are dead in our sins and Christ has won the victory, can anything be as it was? Is it that simple?
We begin a journey through the month of May entitled “Now That I Believe” in which we think about how things are different: What has changed? What is expected? What is my life like now that I believe? If it really is the most important decision that I will make in life, can I make it once and forget about it until someday in the unknown future? I don’t think so.
To begin our journey together, we take four weeks to look at simply the bare essentials of what it is that we believe. People say that they believe all manner of things. When we say that we believe in today’s world, we know how varied that can be and what people can think about it. Today, we start with just the barest of assumptions that God is. I believe that there is a God. I believe that God is real in this world. If I believe that, can there be anything more fundamental, more basic, more simple, or anything that changes life as much as saying that? The difference between God and no God is all the difference in the world.
I did a quick internet search to see the different websites that express what people believe. Here are a few that I found.
â— I believe in free speech. That is very American.
â— I believe in advertising. That is very practical.
â— I believe in fairness. That is very noble.
â— I believe in Harvey Dent. I don’t know who Harvey Dent is but he is running for District Attorney somewhere and there is a website that believes in him.
â— I believe in myself. That is very current with the day.
â— I believe in quantitative easing, someone who has been keeping up on economic current events.
â— I believe in the tooth fairy. I believe in unicorns. These are for the whimsical.
People have taken the time to write about these and to build websites. We want to respect everybody and to be tolerant of everybody. When people start talking about what they believe in, we often think we are all on equal footing, but none of these things shift life like saying, I believe in God.
If I say, I believe in unicorns, and I am right, what difference does that make in my life? I can go to the zoo, say, “That’s interesting,” and I am done. But if I say, I believe in God, then I view life differently. I understand myself differently, and I understand the possibilities of life and the world altogether differently.
The scripture today is a combination of Genesis 1 and John 1. If you have never seen the parallels before, you can see how John was taking what he said about Christ and making it parallel to what is said about God in Genesis. That is just one place, but it reminds us that as the Bible begins, it says there is something different if we believe that God has made all of this. If God has made all this, it offers a completely different view of how we look at life. If there is no God, then my life in the world is just about biology. We can go to biology class and study. We can look, see, and learn everything there is, but if we believe God is the creator of all, including us, then all of a sudden life is a gift. To simply try to look at biology and understand life will never be. If God is, and if God is the creator, then when people have babies, it is more than reproduction; it is a miracle. But if there is no God, it can just be something very simple—very much of the flesh, very much of science, and that is all. If there is no God, then we can simply look at the mechanics of the universe.
People want to make a breach between science and faith, and I think that is a mistake. What science is trying to tell us about the second law of thermodynamics, quantum physics, or the big bang theory vs. evolution is the how. It is telling us the mechanics of what happened. But when I pick up scripture and I read, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” we are not talking about mechanics and how it happened. We are talking about who did it and why it happened. Science can never answer those questions. But when we believe, we understand that life is more than molecules. We believe there is more than what scientists can answer about this world. The things that can never be touched, counted, or proven are the most important.
All of a sudden, we understand that because God is, prayer is possible. We understand that the date of fossils is not critical to our lives, but eternity is. We understand that things like love being stronger than death are really the most vital things in our lives.
We cannot prove any of this. If we could prove it, I don’t think God would be God. But when we make the statement, I believe that God is, we recognize that we open up a whole realm that other people don’t see. We have available to us a whole dimension that other people cannot comprehend and that is that the spiritual is real. While it cannot be touched or proven, it moves our lives every day. What can be seen ultimately fails us. We wonder why we are never satisfied by the things that we try to acquire by advertising. The person who says, I believe in advertising, and does not believe in God, never understands why those things don’t work. It is because what we know in God that is beyond all of this is the only thing that will satisfy.
I believe that God is and that changes everything. It changes the way I understand my life and my purpose. It changes the way I understand how I interact with other people—my family, my neighbors, church, people we encounter in the community. To say I believe in God is the one thing that changes absolutely everything.
From this, we ask ourselves, Now that I believe, what? I hope that in the coming months, you will consider what the difference is, not only in the topics that we list in worship, but also in your own heart and in your own relationship with Christ.
What does God ask of me now that I believe?
Joel Snider is a coach for the Center for Healthy Churches.