Pastor's Blog

Unbelief & Belief, Part 1

Links: PowerPoint

When I was 11 going on 12, fifty people came from the U.S. to Adelaide, South Australia for a "Campaign for Christ." This was the better part of fifty years ago. (I will be sixty in November.) The "campaigners" knocked on doors all day trying to set up Bible studies.

What sticks in my memory is their use of a teaching tool called, 'the Open Bible Study' series - OBS, for short. These four lessons walked the prospective convert through a series of scriptures, punctuated by "Yes" or "No" questions linked to each scripture. The OBS lessons were very effective when used with people unfamiliar with Scripture. In less than a month around 100 people were baptized.

I was 11 going on 12 and watching with big eyes. I was not a precocious Bible student. I was eleven years old and paid about the average amount of genuine attention to my father's sermons and teaching, which is to say, not very much. All my fault; I was a distracted kid.

But growing up in my home with two godly parents - and missionaries, to boot - I couldn't help but absorb more Biblical knowledge than the average eleven year old. So I remember thinking, even then, the OBS lessons were pretty thin stuff. Cherry picked texts, with leading questions, and all detached from anything resembling a larger story. 

Within a year many of those 100 newly baptized believers were not longer a part of the church. 

That made an impact on me. I fault no one, although the author of the OBS series and leader of the Campaign, left a memory more military than personal. After the flush of events connected with the campaign, and as the newly baptized receded  away from the church, the seed of question took root in my young mind.

"Why do some believe the gospel and some do not?"

It would be rewriting history to say I dwelt on this question. I did not. But seeing how (relatively) easily and quickly some people could be led to profess faith, and then walk away, made an impression upon me. The better of part of 50 years ago the evangelistic strategy of month-long, intensive campaigns was viewed positively. Who could argue with 100 baptisms? Further, some did remain ... and praise God for that!

But the question of why some believe and some do not, lingered.

John 12, verses 37 through 50, addresses this very question of unbelief. Over time I have come to realize my question is probably backward. It seems to me, now, the more Biblical question is ...

"Why do any believe ... at all?"

The default response to Jesus in a fallen world is unbelief. 

Belief is a spiritual miracle of amazing grace. Belief will not be generated by cherry-picked texts and leading questions ... and the rush to baptism. The overwhelming majority of the people in Jesus' day - who saw His signs and heard His preaching - rejected Him and killed Him. If Jesus can be rejected, then who am I to imagine my slick presentation of Jesus will always elicit faith? 

This did not stop Jesus. It ought not stop me ... or you ... or the church. But perhaps we can begin to cultivate a little more humility in the presence of the mystery of faith. 

Posted by Tim Alexander with

The Lifted-Up Jesus

Links: Sermon Notes & PowerPoint

Polly and I went to Washington D.C. a few summers ago. It was our first vacation without our children. It was our first vacation where we went to a city. Normally, we go places out of doors - National Parks, hiking , those kind of things. We are not shoppers. The idea of traveling some place just to shop makes no sense to us. But we thought we’d do something different, and we did.

Both of us love museums. We walked our legs off in the Smithsonian. We read all the fine print on all the exhibits. We clogged the flow of foot traffic. Yep, we’re those people. 

 But the most moving moment for the both of us was the Sunset Marine Corps Parade at the Iwo Jima Memorial. You’ve seen that Memorial, haven’t you? It’s huge. The soldiers are 32 feet high. The bronze flagpole is 60 feet high. 

But for us, especially for Polly as she remembered her own father, a WW2 veteran, we couldn’t help but stand up and pay respect when the Marines came out from behind that huge monument and began to play our nation’s songs. We got a lump in our throat when the lone Marine bugler, standing apart at sunset, played TAPS underneath the monument's flag that snapped in the breeze.

For all of us privileged to be there on that night, in the lengthening shadow of that monument, seeing old men rise from their wheelchairs to give salutes and young men pay their respects by their discipline ... it was all overwhelming. It called to something deep in me. 

To see that flag … lifted up.

Jesus said when he was lifted up he would draw all men to himself. Jesus was talking about being lifted up on the cross. Jess on the cross draws sinners. We would not come on our own. We must be called. We must be drawn. There is something about Jesus upon the cross that breaks through our natural resistance to God. The cross is the only power on earth that CAN break through our rebellion. 

We must always stay close to the cross.  

 

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