Essential: Believing

Pastor Terry Tatum

Last week, Pastor Craig touched on a concept that guided the church world for generations. The concept was BELIEVE, BELONG, BECOME.

Those words in that order represent a process for people to fully develop in Christ. For much of the last century this was the formula that guided many churches as they sought to spread the Good News of Jesus.

While that formula was responsible for much of the great foundation today’s Christians enjoy, over the last 25 to 30 years it hasn’t been as effective as it once was. In recent years, many people have been reluctant to pursue a relationship with Christ because they don’t feel like they belong. Consequently, if people don’t belong to a body of believers it’s nearly impossible for them to know what followers of Christ really believe. If people don’t feel like they belong and never learn what it means to follow Christ, how can they ever become all God has called them to be?

It’s for this reason a new way of “doing church” has emerged. It is what led me to follow Christ and, God willing, will lead generations of others to Christ. It’s not a new process, it’s simply a rearranging of the same old tried and true process. Are you ready? Here it is: BELONG, BELIEVE, BECOME. Craig mentioned this last week.

Lynn Haven UMC adopted this process about 20 years ago and it has led hundreds of people to know Christ and begin their journey to becoming the people God created them to be. I was fortunate enough to experience this in the early part of 1999. My soon-to-be wife Carrie and I sat down with Doug Pennington, who was the pastor here at the time. We began to go through pre-marriage counseling. We had a good interaction with Doug and when we felt led to attend church a few years later, this was the natural place to start.

I’ll never forget my first Sunday here. I had on nice dress pants, a button-up shirt, and readied myself for what I assumed would be a boring sermon. To my surprise, what I experienced was something much different. The music sounded a lot like what I listened to on the radio. A friend of mine met me outside with his shorts and flip-flops on. We were welcomed and immediately felt like we belonged here. And truthfully, the sermon wasn’t bad.

Not long after that we joined a Sunday school class and began to attend Wednesday night suppers. It was through those experiences that we received what we now see as the basis of our faith. We were taught what we now believe about Jesus. And hopefully we are both on our way to becoming who God wants us to be.

One thing I need to make clear right from the start is the type of believing I’m talking about. Any of us can put in the time and gain “head knowledge” of God and His son Jesus, but what we really need is a “heart knowledge” of God’s love for us.

Now some of you may be thinking to yourself, “what in the world does heart knowledge mean”? I would encourage you to phrase the question this way, “what do I need to know to experience what Terry is talking about”?  You see, we just don’t know what we don’t know. And that leads me to our first point, we have to figure out what we don’t know.

How do we know what we don’t know? Now that is not a play on words … it’s a serious question. We can talk about head knowledge, we can talk about heart knowledge, but in reality, many of us wouldn’t know what to tell someone if they asked us how to become a follower of Christ.

Many of you didn’t grow up in church. Many of you might have grown up in church, but only went because you had to. Most of us know something about God, but what about the big stuff? Could we really sit down and have a difficult discussion with someone who is truly seeking God? 

Here are some of the questions I’ve received over the years. Could you answer any or all of these?

• What’s the deal with Jesus being the Son of God?

• Why would God need a Son?

• Why would a loving God allow so many bad things to happen in the world?

• What’s this whole Trinity thing about?

• Will I really get to see my loved ones in Heaven?

• Who or what is the Holy Spirit?

These are just a few of the question I’ve heard over the years from people regarding “religion” and “church.” But the question still remains, how do we know what we don’t know?

Well the first thing you need to do is pray. Tell God what you’re having trouble understanding or believing and give him a chance to work in your life.

The next thing I would do is participate in worship weekly. Really hear the messages, take notes, reach out to Craig or myself if you have questions.

A third thing I would do is reach out to Mindy Clemons, out Adult Discipleship Director at mindy@mylhumc.net. Ask her to connect you with a discipleship experience such as a Small Group or Bible Study.

Finally, I’d buckle up. Once you start seeking God in the fellowship of other believers who are seeking the same thing, you’ll never be the same.

So how do we know what we don’t know? We truly seek God and we use the resources around us. You don’t have to have all the answers – or any of the answers – you just need to be willing to seek them.

So now you’re seeking what to learn and how to grow, you’re in fellowship with others, and you’re studying the Word. You’re pursuing knowledge of what you don’t know.

So what exactly do we need to know?

I believe we all must know the Four Spiritual Laws. Now some of you are saying to yourself, “I’ve been in church all my life and I’ve never heard of the Four Spiritual Laws.” Well, you’re not alone.

Once I present them to you, they will make sense but to be honest with you, I couldn’t have recited them before writing this message. Neither could the three other people in my house who have attended church most every Sunday for years.

In the mid-1960s, Bill Bright – then president of the Campus Crusade for Christ – formulated the Four Spiritual Laws. They have since become the standard model for conversion for many denominations of Christianity. To me, if someone asks “what do I need to know to be a Christian?” this is it.

Spiritual Law #1: God loves us and created us to know Him personally.

Our faith in Christ isn’t a one-way street. God’s word tells us specifically that we were made to know Him on a personal Level.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

That means we will have eternal life in Heaven with the creator of all things.

“Now this is eternal life: That they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)

God’s word tells us that we were made to be in a personal relationship with Him. It is one where we care about each other and long to spend time together.

Spiritual Law #2: We are sinful and separated from God, so we cannot know Him personally or experience His love.

In Romans we read, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and that “The wages of sin is death” [spiritual separation from God] (Romans 6:23).

You see none of us on our own can know God personally. Our sin separates us from him.

Here’s an illustration that might help in us understanding this more fully:

Our sin creates this huge gap between God and us and there is nothing that you or I can do about it.

Spiritual Law #3: Jesus Christ is God’s only provision for our sin. Through Him alone we can know God personally and experience God’s love.

To put it simply, Jesus fills the gap for us with his death on the cross. 

Read the words the Apostle Paul says to the Church in Rome, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8).

But the good news doesn’t stop there. In 1 Corinthians Paul writes, “Christ died for our sins… He was buried… He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures… He appeared to Peter, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred…” (1 Corinthians 15:3-6).

These things happened not to make a great story years later but to connect God with His adopted sons and daughters here on earth. I believe Jesus explained it best when he said; “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me” (John 14:6).

Spiritual Law #4: We must individually receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord; then we can know God personally and experience His love.

We have to accept that Christ died for us, just for us, and there is nothing we can do to change that. All we have to do is accept and believe and the gap between us and God will be filled forever.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.  (Ephesians 2:8,9)

We don’t deserve this, and we can’t earn it, all we can do is believe. Not just with our head, but in our hearts.

Jesus said; “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in….” (Revelation 3:20). Are you ready to answer the knock on the door? Are you a believer and ready to go to the next level but still have some questions? If you have already answered Christ’s knock and He has already come in, are you willing to help someone else?

As I pointed out earlier, here’s what you need to do:

1) Pray: Tell God you are ready.

2) Participate in weekly worship. Really hear the messages. Reach out if you have questions.

3) Reach out to Mindy Clemons, Mindy@mylhumc.net. We have some exciting things happening in the near future and she can help guide you on your next steps.

4) Buckle up. It’ll be a great ride.