Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.
August 7, 2016
Text: Romans 8:28
Old Testament: Psalm 33:18-22
New Testament: Romans 8:18, 24-28
All of us believe in something. But do you believe in Jesus? What does it mean to say you believe in Jesus in a land where the only limit to your food is the money in your wallet? What does it mean for you to say you believe in Jesus in a country where you freely come and go to your home? What does it mean for you to say you believe in Jesus under a constitution that protects your equal right to employment? What does it mean to say you believe in Jesus where the deed to your home is guarded by a justice system that insures your ownership? What does it mean to say “I believe in Jesus” when you can escape seeing injustice around you through a world of entertainment? Why do we need Jesus when we have so much the rest of the world lacks? What does it mean to sing, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so” in a nation where no one cares what you believe as long as you don’t force your belief in Jesus on another person? Thomas Jefferson unleashed this laissez faire approach to religion when he wrote, “It does me no harm if my neighbor says there are 20 gods or no god. Religion neither picks my pocket, nor breaks my legs.” Belief in Jesus does no harm according to Jefferson. Or it does great harm, depending on the person with whom you’re speaking. For the first time since religious polling has been conducted, the number of people who don’t believe in God is growing. Unbelief is gaining traction among American young people according to Gallup polls. Religion must be doing harm. In the generation born since 1982, one in five identify with being agnostic, atheist, or non-religious. One in four born since 1992 don’t believe in God. A recent Christian poll claims people are leaving Christianity four times faster than they’re joining congregations. More and more people are going the opposite way from the Church. How does this trend affect your belief in Jesus? There are many reasons people turn away from Jesus. Many of them are related to personal experiences former Christians had with church members. They were unpleasant, to put it mildly. They would say their negative experiences with other Christians were hostile and judgmental. They blame these experiences for leaving the Church. There’s also the climate of global religious extremism that turns loving, reasonable people from believing in God. When evil people use God to justify doing horrible things to innocent people, all religious beliefs are subject to criticism. The fallout negatively influences belief in God as a God of love. That truth is, religious beliefs are powerful. They’re used to justify death for those who object to a believer’s religion. They’re employed by people in power to control the weak and powerless. Death dominates cultures where religion is used to destroy “unbelievers” in the name of a god. Claiming religious faith doesn’t benefit humanity is an intellectual dodge used by a lot of agnostics and atheists. The truth is even agnostics or atheists trust some type of power beyond themselves to preserve their lives by employing death to protect their secular society. Every earthly government uses death to preserve itself, even democracy. Death is the ultimate means of controlling dissent when rule by law fails. Death imprisons the status quo. Death inhibits revolution. Death inspires revolution. Death is usually revolution’s instrument to overthrow a government that employs death to control its people. Here lies the challenge to belief in Jesus Christ as God’s only begotten Son. Death’s ubiquitous presence in world headlines discourages belief in Jesus Christ. God’s Word this morning is now is a tremendous time for spiritual revival. What seems hopeless in the face of death is God’s time for belief in Jesus Christ. God is calling us to bring new life through our belief in Jesus Christ. Belief in Jesus Christ brings new life! Let’s look at several aspects of Jesus Christ that inspires us not only to believe in Him, but to share our faith so others will believe in Him!
Belief in Jesus Christ frees us from empty worship. So much worship is empty. It’s missing the kind of dynamic power that comes from love. The Psalmist writes in chapter 33 about worship as someone who fears the Lord. They don’t fear God because He could destroy them. They fear losing His love. Thanking God for His love is the purpose of worship. Worship that’s filled with God’s love is blessed with His power to celebrate life. God’s love delivers the faithful worshipper’s soul from death. Worship that’s full of God’s love celebrates God’s love. Loving worshippers are profoundly aware of the blessing of new life they’ve received as His believers. Years ago, I had a dear saint who lost her husband on the eighteenth green of Hillcrest Country Club outside New Kensington. Archie played his last round of golf and was quickly resurrected into the Kingdom of Heaven. He went the way most golfers would prefer. No questions asked. No regrets. No suffering or fear. But Archie’s wife Helen was equally at peace with Archie’s departure for the Kingdom. It wasn’t because Archie was cruel or unloving to Helen. Helen was loved by Archie and Helen loved Archie deeply. What Helen had was the power of God’s love to bear all things from her belief in Jesus Christ. She worshipped Jesus Christ each day. She rose in the morning to prayer and Bible study. She led Bible studies several times each week for her and her friends. Her love for Jesus was evident in her kind humility. Helen didn’t think belief in Jesus was a lesson to be learned. She didn’t believe in Jesus because some doctrine made sense to her. She didn’t believe in Jesus because she worshipped each Sabbath Day as God’s law requires. Helen worshipped daily because her belief in Jesus was full of God’s love. Her love for Jesus reassured her that Archie lived in the Kingdom of Heaven though Jesus Christ. She knew God’s love would reunited them in His time. Jesus’ love for Archie and her made this possible. So, every day she worshipped God with love – God’s love for Helen and her love for God – all through her belief in Jesus Christ. Too many worship from either their duty to God or their parents. They attend church because either they think God is ordering them to do so, or because their parents told them they had to go. They say the right things to God. But they are emotionally and mentally empty in worship. God doesn’t bless empty worship. In Isaiah 29:13-14, God complains, “Because these people draw near with their mouths and honor me with their lips while their hearts are far from me, and their worship of me is a human commandment learned by rote . . . the wisdom of the wise shall perish, and the discernment of the discerning shall be hidden.” Worship will be empty for those who come without yielding their heart to God’s loving spirit. They will come but not discover God. They will hear, but not understand God’s loving purpose for their lives. When our hearts are invested in loving Jesus Christ, worship will never be empty. Worship will express our love for Jesus Christ. Love for Jesus is the fruit of daily belief in Him. Belief in Jesus Christ frees us to love Him and to express our love for Him. Loving worship is powerful worship! It fills the congregation with energy and vitality through love! It unites a congregation in love, blessing worshippers with renewal and joy!
Belief in Jesus Christ frees us from fear. Fear is an emotional response to the possibility of dying. When we are strong in our belief in Jesus Christ, we are immune from fear. Belief in Jesus Christ frees us from fear. Belief in Jesus Christ is belief in God’s power over death. Nothing can frighten us when we believe in Jesus Christ. Nothing can stop believers in Jesus Christ from spreading the Good News because of God’s power over death. Jesus Christ and His resurrection are the ultimate signs that God loves us. Jesus Christ and His resurrection are the powerful means by which God inoculates Jesus Christ’s believers from death’s sting. Jesus Christ and His resurrection are the means by which Christ’s believers are fearless before death’s threats. He is the power, and the might. His love is the source of new hope. From faith in Him comes new life. Jesus Christ is the victor over death. He’s the defender of the innocent before death. He’s the force that lifts us at death. He’s the grace that blesses us after death. Jesus Christ’s victory over death gives us life – regardless of the world’s ways around us. I was reminded of this last week during the New Wilmington Mission Conference last Friday. The conference’s Summer Mission Team described the hardships of Christians in a predominately Muslim country. They’re surrounded by a culture of fear. Yet they courageously believe in Jesus Christ. Ninety-nine percent of the people around them are Muslims who live in fear of being condemned for being an unbeliever. The message they hear about God’s judgment on the infidels. Muslim women especially face the specter of honor killings from family members. Converts to Christianity dishonor the family. Throughout the Middle East, fear dominates. People suffer terrible injustices daily from random violence perpetrated by people with evil intentions – in the name of God. Amid this culture of fear, Jesus is coming to Muslims. He offers His love and encourages them to find Him through their dreams. Dreams are being confirmed by God interventions that can only be described as miraculous. These Muslims elect to believe in Jesus as God’s Son. They’re freed by Christ from fear. Freedom from fear is Jesus’ gift when you believe. You need not be afraid or discouraged. When Muslims who daily live with fear commit themselves to Jesus Christ, God’s salvation work is being spread. What is a time of despair is God’s time for salvation! The Apostle Paul knew this when he wrote those remarkable words to the church in Rome while he was in prison. He was facing his execution when he wrote these words. They are remarkable for their fearlessness. “We know that in all things God works for good for those who are called according to His purpose.” Believers in Christ know Christ is working for good while others are afraid. When others are defeated, believers in Christ know Christ’s love is working for good. When Christians lose their lives for believing in Jesus Christ, believers in Christ know lovingly and joyfully following their Savior to God’s Kingdom will inspire others to believe in Him. Christian fearlessness comes from believing in Jesus Christ. It inspires others to want what we have when they are afraid. Lovingly and joyfully following Jesus Christ wherever He leads us brings others with us who want to reach God’s Kingdom. Believers in Jesus who aren’t afraid, free other people from fear. They lead people to Jesus Christ. Christ’s love spreads and miraculously spreads. Believing in Christ amid a culture of fear gives frightened people new life.
Finally, believing in Jesus Christ builds a community of loving, fearless disciples. Where there are men, women, and children who openly share their love and fearlessness for Jesus Christ, a community of faith will grow. It will grow despite the powers and principalities that try to frighten people with threats. We need not look for reasons why people aren’t in church. It’s not really even important why they aren’t in church, or feel they need the church. What is important to remember is that every human being must face the challenge of finding happiness amid a culture of death. Wealth can’t save us. The greatest government in the world can’t save us. The police can’t protect us from death. Neither can entertainment save us. Every person who doesn’t think he needs God will someday face an accounting for how they lived their lives. They may say they don’t care whether there is anything called eternity beyond this world. They may not be willing to admit that they are helpless and need a savior. But the time will come when your next door neighbor, or the person on the street you pass, or the person at the doctor’s office with you will face a challenge to live that they can’t overcome by their own intelligence or strength. And they will turn to you to share their anxieties and what will they see? You will share the blessings of Christ’s love that has led you to join this community of faith. You will share with them your belief in Jesus Christ. You will explain to them that Christ is with you. He has been with you in the past. And, He will see you into the future, no matter what lies before you. You will share how you experience the presence of Christ through the love of the congregation with which you worship Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. And when they seem ready to find hope that frees them from their fears, you will offer to bring them with you to this fellowship of faith. You will do this because you believe in Jesus Christ. Belief in Jesus Christ is what draws us to this sanctuary, not traditions or rote. Belief in Jesus Christ is what fills our hearts with love for the people Christ has joined here. Belief in Jesus Christ is what inspires us to be concerned for the salvation of the people who walk the streets of this community Belief in Jesus Christ is what we have to offer that frees people from fear. Belief in Jesus Christ is our inspiration for courage no matter where God takes us. Belief in Jesus Christ lifts our spirits when others are in despair. Belief in Jesus Christ is our promise to give. We are not here for ourselves. We are here to pray for the people of Bellevue and the north Boroughs. We are here to love the people of Bellevue and the north Boroughs. We are here to free the people of Bellevue from fear and aimless living. We are Christ’s mission. That mission is to believe in Jesus Christ. Where there are men, women, and children who believe in Jesus Christ, nothing will deter their witness. Their lives will be blessed and they will bless others with the gift of belief. To Christ be the glory! Amen.