The names Gossage, Reardon, Eckersley, and Dibble conjure up that familiar scene when the manager strolls out to the mound, pats the starter on the fanny as he takes the ball, and then flips it to his closer and says, “Here, pitch!” The manager trusts the ace of the bullpen to save the game. It’s an act of faith. Certainly, the manager wouldn’t give him the ball unless he could get the job done. Or, as Tug McGraw said in rallying the 1973 New Yorks Mets to a pennant, “You gotta believe!”
Belief precedes behavior. The manager gives the ball to Eck or Goose or Dibs because he believes in him. Tug McGraw was right. You gotta believe.
Christianity becomes incarnate in a similar way. We believe in Jesus. And then we pray and work to behave like we believe in Jesus. Describing the experience of the apostolic church, Luke wrote, “All the believers were together.” Or as Clarence Jordan puts it in The Cotton Patch Version of Acts, all the “believers stuck together.” They were in the same place. They were confessionally in the same place. They were concretely in the same place. They hung out together in praise and proclamation and prayer and play. They were together.
All of them were together. No socioeconomic groups. No special interest groups. No cliques. No secret societies. No favoritism. No partiality. No private country clubs. They were together. And they were the kind of folks who could sing with Chet Powers’ popular song of the mid-sixties, “C’mon people now, smile on each other. Everybody get together … Love one another, right now.”
They were the kind of folks who could hang up the telephone and hum with a clear conscience, “Blest be the tie that binds.” They could sing with integrity, “We are one in the Spirit … And they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” It was the kind of church Jesus would join.
It was a humble church: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles … Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.”
It was an inclusive church: “All the believers were together and had everything in common.” It was a growing church: “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
First of all — the reason for it all — it was a believing church: “All the believers were together.” It was the kind of church Jesus would join. Or as Jesus promised, “where two or three come together in my name — praying and working to behave like they belong to Jesus because they believe in Jesus — there am I with them” (see
What does it mean to believe in Jesus? Well, let’s look at the text; specifically, let’s take a look at this word believers. It comes from pisteo which means to be persuaded. Or as Joseph Thayer wrote in his Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament in 1886, it is “the conviction and trust to which a man is impelled.” The root is pistis which we translate as faith. But unlike the popular notion of faith which suggests a person with two feet planted firmly in the air or a facial expression radiating religious revelation or the need to be told it’s down the hall and to the left, faith means trusting in someone or something because of a credible body of information which leads us to believe someone or something is true.
That’s what Christian apologetics is all about. It’s about sharing the intellectual credibility of Christianity. Simply translated, it means there is considerably more evidence for proving than disproving the truths of Christianity. Or as my late friend Bruce Ennis shared with me not long before going home, “If this Someone, whom I call God, has the power to grant life on earth, simple logic would dictate that He could also grant life elsewhere, which I call heaven.” He went on, “To any intelligent and perceptive human being exposed daily, as he is, to the beautiful miracles of this earth, and realizing that only some Power greater than he could produce such miracles, it must seem that an atheist has a low degree of intelligence, coupled with an abysmal lack of perceptivity, a deplorably egotistical self-esteem, and an unseemly arrogance.” Not bad for an engineer from MIT!
Christian apologetics, that part of theology which proves it’s smart to be a Christian and incredibly ignorant to be anything else, has taught us the absurdity of humanistic theories like The Big Bang Theory. It takes far more imagination to believe there was some big bang out there that resulted in the order of the universe with its billions and billions of galaxies than to believe our Lord willed the creation and order of our world and the universe. That’s like saying there was an explosion in the first print shop and the first dictionary just appeared when the dust settled.
To divorce our Lord from any of our explanations for what was and is and may come and replace Him with chance points to the intellectual dishonesty as well as inferiority of the non-believing community. As Christian apologists have said about those folks who have tried to discredit Christianity by attempting to disprove the resurrection of Jesus, “There is more evidence for the resurrection of Jesus than the birth of George Washington.” It’s smart to believe in God. That’s what Christian apologetics is all about. We believe in God because of the overwhelming evidence for His existence and involvement in our lives.
O.K., that’s what it means to believe. We affirm someone or something as trustworthy and true because of the information we have which convinces us that someone or something is trustworthy and true. That’s what it means to believe.
But what does it mean to believe in Jesus? To believe in Jesus means to have confidence or trust or to be persuaded that He is who He said He is: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (
To believe in Jesus is to know eternal life will be experienced through Him and whole, happy, joyful, and secure life is experienced in Him. To believe in Jesus is to know there is pie-in-the-sky and a sweet-by-and-by as well as the wherewithal to live triumphantly amid the meanness, madness, and misery of life in the modern world. To believe in Jesus is to acknowledge and applaud Him as Savior; praising Him for the grace to survive existentially and eternally. The apologetic or intellectually credible reason for this belief remains His resurrection from the dead.
“But all of this ‘J’ word talk is kind of spooky. It’s making me nervous. It sounds so radical. It sounds so fanatical. It sounds so Baptist. And I’m in the center. I’m theologically in the center. I’m not an extreme Christian, I’m, you know, moderate. Yeah, I’m moderate. I’m moderately Christian. And when I meet Jesus someday, I’ll say, ‘Jesus, I was moderately committed to you’.”
Sounds silly, doesn’t it? Sounds like the time Frank Layden, the former coach of the Utah Jazz, said to a player, “Son, I don’t understand it with you. Is it ignorance or apathy?” The player replied, “Coach, I don’t know and I don’t care.” If you’re like me, there is something extreme about Paul saying, “We are fools for Christ” (
You may have heard the story about the wealthy Texan who had a daughter of marriageable age and decided to give her a coming-out party. People in marketing refer to this as group prospecting. Anyway, a big party was planned at the Texan’s large estate. As the evening drew to a close, the Texan invited everybody to the pool which he had stocked with water moccasins and alligators. He told the men that the first one who jumped in and swam to the other end would be given his choice of three things: one million in cash, ten thousand acres of his best land, or his daughter’s hand in marriage. He even mentioned that his daughter was the only heir to his fortune.
As soon as he got the last word out of his mouth, there was a loud splash at one end of the pool followed immediately by the emergence of a dripping young man at the other end of the pool. As the fellow approached the Texan, the wealthy father of a beautiful daughter said, “Well, boy, it’s your choice. Do you want the million in cash?” “No, sir,” came the reply. “Well, how about the land?” “No, sir,” came the reply again. “Then I guess you want my daughter to be your wife,” the Texan said with a smile. “No, sir,” the fellow said.
“Well, boy,” asked the puzzled Texan, “what do you want?” And the young man said, “I want to know the name of the person who pushed me into the pool!”
The Church — especially our increasingly small part of it — has been pushed into the water. It’s sink or swim time. Unfortunately, like Peter, we’re sinking. And our Lord’s exhortation to Peter is ours as well, “You gotta believe.” Actually, He said, “You of little faith” (
Now here’s where I usually get into trouble. If I have not offended you yet, here it comes. So fasten your seat belts and start running through
Now here’s where I really get into trouble. You can’t give away what you ain’t got for yourself! To borrow a few lines from Lloyd Ogilvie about the apostolic church, “Evangelism was not based on elaborate handbooks or slick brochures. People wanted to be with those contagious, praising Christians and have what the Spirit had given them.” Simply, you can’t give away what you ain’t got for yourself.
As I used to tell my preaching students, “If you’re not excited about Jesus, you won’t get anybody else excited about Him when you preach. That’s the problem with too many of today’s pulpits. They aren’t being filled by preachers who are excited about Jesus. And the reason too many preachers aren’t excited about Jesus is because they don’t really believe He is who He said He is. Because if you know who He is, you can’t wait to tell people about Him.”
There is a profound belief gap in our church today. I am convinced our part of the Kingdom is politically dominated by people who don’t believe Jesus is who He said He is and Who our constitution and confessions say He is. I am convinced our biggest problem is unconverted clergy and unconvinced laity. As someone once said in describing the problem with too many churches, “Walking into a church makes a person a Christian about as much as walking into a garage makes a person an automobile.”
Let me prove it to you. After passing the peace one Sunday — that’s when we disrupt the flow and mood of worship to shake the hands we should be shaking before and after worship — the children came forward for their moment. After the children seated themselves on the chancel steps and stopped waving to their parents and all of the other stuff they do, the pastor announced he was going to talk about frogs. Then he asked the children, “When I say frog, what’s the first thing that comes into your mind?” Immediately, one child answered, “God!” “Why do you think about God when I say frog?” asked the surprised pastor. And the child replied, “Because I know you didn’t bring us down here to talk about frogs.”
But I ask you, do we hear more about frogs or Jesus during committee, deacon, trustee, elder, presbytery, synold, and General Assembly meetings? When is the last time you heard an issue or concern or motion or whatever preceded by these questions, “What would Jesus say about it? What would Jesus do about it?”
One of Princeton’s great as well as most notorious professors once served as the pastor of a small church. He was asked by some uppity-up to list the relevant things his church was doing. He replied, “We’re teaching boys and girls and men and woman about the love of Jesus.” “But what are you doing that is relevant?” the visitor asked. “We’re teaching boys and girls and men and women about the love of Jesus,” he repeated. “But what are you doing that is really relevant?” And our dear mentor replied, “Listen, if you don’t think teaching boys and girls and men and women about the love of Jesus is the most relevant thing we can be doing, then you can get the hell out of here right now!”
The point isn’t that our denomination has lost 11% of its churches over the last twenty years. The point isn’t that we’ve dropped 70% of our missionaries. The point isn’t that we’re baptizing 50% less adults and 36% less infants. The point isn’t that we’ve lost 30% of our members over the last twenty years and over 40,000 last year alone. The point isn’t that 60% of our children leave our churches. The point isn’t a 50% drop in Sunday School attendance. It’s a big point. But it isn’t the point.
The point is our country is experiencing the greatest religious revival since The Great Awakening and we are not a part of it. My statistics may be a little off, but don’t miss the forest because of the trees. Why aren’t we a part of this revival? You gotta believe! There is a belief gap. As one old elder in Greensboro, North Carolina, said to me in explaining our decline in the midst of such dramatic church growth in our country, “Preacher, watch the birds! They go where there is food!” You gotta believe!
It’s very simple. Eternally, anyone who believes in Jesus will live forever. Existentially, anyone who believes in Jesus will survive the meanness, madness, and misery of life in the modern world. These are the two most important reasons for believing in Jesus. And that’s why we are so privileged to believe in Jesus and encourage others to believe in Jesus. And when we believe in Jesus, we begin to act like Jesus which means the world becomes a whole lot nicer.
I few years ago, I gave my son David a big wooden cross from Israel. Immediately, he held it up in front of me as if I were a vampire. My oldest son Ben yelled from the other room, “David, if you don’t have faith, it won’t work!” Isn’t that the truth? Life without Jesus is Fright Night.
You gotta believe! It’s the only way to save the game. Here, pitch!