(:God Has No Grandchildren:)
God Has No Grandchildren
1 Peter 3:8-16
As a sermon title this morning, I've chosen a well-known phrase that is attributed to David du Plessis, a Pentecostal minister from South Africa who was very active in ecumenical circles about 50 years ago promoting inter-Christian dialog. He described how he woke up one night with the words, "God has no grandchildren" coming to his mind repeatedly. He looked the phrase up in his Bible concordance to see if perhaps it was a biblical phrase, and while he found many references to "God's children," nowhere is the phrase "God's grandchildren" used. After thinking about it a bit, he finally realized the significance of this phrase. While we all have 2 sets of grandparents, namely the parents of our own parents, the same should not apply in the spiritual realm. We all have elder brothers and sisters in the faith, and for many of us, that includes our own parents. But we mustn't think of them or anyone else besides God as our "parent in the faith." God has no grandchildren, and so as "children of God," we only have younger or older brothers and sisters in the faith.
As we think about this point this morning, I want to share with you a short blog written by a fellow named J. Warner Wallace, who is a former police detective who for years worked on "cold case" homicides, ones for which the culprit had not yet been caught, thus making them "cold cases." He said that he came to faith at the age of 35 after being challenged to look at what Jesus had to say. He describes himself as a former, hard-core atheist who used to consider Jesus as a mere legend and Christianity as a meaningless crutch for weak people. But when he decided to read through the gospel accounts to see what this ancient sage actually had to say, he was struck by how the accounts read like the eyewitness accounts to the various crimes he investigated as a part of his job, and through this process of carefully examining the accounts, he became convinced that they were the true accounts of real eye witnesses. This and other experiences led him to renounce his atheism and embrace Christ. Anyway, I'd like to read you this short essay as a beginning point for our own thinking this morning.
Imagine that you and I are sitting in my family room. The television is turned off; it’s 5:20 pm. I lean over and ask, “What channel is the weather report on?”
“I really don’t know,” you respond.
“Well, just give me a channel number’” I insist.
“OK, channel 7,” you reply, shrugging your shoulders.
I turn on the television and switch over to channel 7. Lo and behold, the weather report is being broadcast at that very moment on the channel 7 nightly news. “Good call,” I proclaim as you grin with satisfaction. You made a proclamation about where the weather forecast was being broadcast and your claim about the truth was accurate. You were right. But you were only accidentally correct. You made that proclamation without any evidence to support your claim; you simply took a stab at it and happened to be correct. This doesn’t in any way diminish the “rightness” of your proclamation, but you came to it “by accident.”
There are lots of us who are Christians in a very similar way. We have trusted in Jesus for our salvation, acknowledging that he paid the price for our sin on the cross. We acknowledge that He is God. We accept the essential orthodox teachings of classic Christianity. But if you asked us why we believe these things to be true, many of us would have little to offer. We just happened to guess the right channel. We’re accidental Christians. We happen to hold to the truth the same way that you guessed the right channel for the weather report.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter, I suppose, how you happened to come to the truth that channel 7 was broadcasting the weather. I guess the important thing is that we saw the weather report at the very location you happened to pick. But if someone happened to be listening to our conversation, do you think they would trust you to tell them when the next weather report was going to be broadcast? I think they would know that you only found the first report accidentally. You had no evidence to support your selection, so there’s little reason to expect you to get it right the next time around.
Accidental Christians are saved just like those of us who have taken the time to study the evidence and can offer solid reasons why we believe Christianity is true. But they aren’t trusted by those who are watching or listening to our conversations. Accidental Christianity has a hard time competing in the marketplace of ideas, especially when alternate worldviews are being argued evidentially. We happen to possess the truth. It’s time to prepare ourselves so that we can demonstrate our faith is well placed, reasonable and certainly not accidental.
The sentiment that Wallace shares here is reminiscent of the admonition that Peter gave in the portion of his letter that we read from earlier. "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience." In order to do that, however, you not only have to know what you believe, but you also have to know why you believe it. So, we're each challenged to ask ourselves whether we are in effect "accidental Christians" due to the "accidents" of our birth, namely what culture we were born into and which family. Skeptics often use this tactic to challenge Christian belief by saying things like, "You only believe that because you were born in America. If you were born in Saudi Arabia, you'd be a Muslim." Of course, the "born in America" part only applies to a few of us here, as most of you are from somewhere else, including many countries where Christians are only a small minority. Well, what the skeptic says about the accidents of birth may have some truth to it. It's probably true that if I had been born in a Muslim society, I would have been an "accidental Muslim." But that says nothing about the truth or falsehood of my beliefs. In order to determine that, you have to actually look at the truth claims being made and see if they hold up in the face of the objective facts of the real world. Likewise, we must always keep in mind that the Holy Spirit of God is working mightily around the world to draw people to himself irrespective of the society they we're born into. I recently read an amazing book by a former committed Muslim entitled, "Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus," which describes his difficult journey to becoming a Christian case maker.
So the question I want each of us to consider this morning is: Are you an "accidental Christian?" Do you know what you believe and why you believe it? There are all sorts of aspects of this issue that we could think about this morning, but let's begin by considering the situation of Christian young people in the United States going off to college. Various surveys have all yielded rather discouraging statistics, indicating that over half of the young people raised in Christian homes lose their faith in college. Some become hardened atheists, while most simply drift off into secularism. "Been there, done that. It didn't work for me." Some eventually do return to the faith, but apparently most don't.
Why is this so? The main reason is that these young people were not prepared to face the onslaught of atheistic propaganda they would encounter. It's not at all uncommon to have professors who are on a "mission" to convince their students that believing in God is an outdated superstition that they need to abandon. The so-called "new atheists," such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, characterize faith as believing something without any evidence — and even in spite of the evidence. This certainly isn't new, of course, as over 100 years ago Mark Twain famously quipped, "Faith is believing what you know ain't so." But these "new atheists" have taken it to new highs — or perhaps I should say, new lows.
Over against this, then, they say that they have the "objective facts" of science, which we're told are all that is real and that trump everything else. Of course, these "evangelists for atheism" don't tell you that what they are calling "facts" are only what has been filtered through their materialistic presuppositions. Thus, for young people who have only had a "feel good" kind of Christian faith, the pressure put on them can easily blow away their superficial, not-well-thought-through belief system, leaving them with the impression that the Christian faith really is outdated and without answers to their doubts and questions. One reason, of course, that so many youth in churches around the world are so vulnerable is that they've been sheltered and not encouraged to ask tough questions and seek answers to their doubts. In fact, in some churches, young people are even discouraged from asking questions. Instead, they are encouraged to simply "have faith" and to "just believe." Such young people are by and large "accidental Christians" who haven't really made the Christian faith their own. Thus, when they end up "walking away from the faith," it's usually because they never really had it in the first place.
I want to come back to this point a bit later, but since getting a clear definition of faith is so critical, I want to first talk about that a bit. In order to illustrate what biblical faith is, in contrast to this common caricature of faith being portrayed by atheists, I want to use a story from the "Old West" that I think really makes this clear. It’s a story that took place about 80 years ago in the desert in my home state of Arizona. I think you all have probably seen movies of the American West in which there were similar scenes, and so let’s try to imagine it. It seems that there was an old prospector named “Desert Pete” who walked around the desert with his mule carrying his belongings while he looked for gold. This story became famous because of a letter he wrote.
As the story goes, there was a man who got lost in the desert and was in a desperate situation. He had run out of water, and there was no water anywhere to be found. He was loosing all hope of getting out alive. But he happened to come upon an old well that had been dug many years earlier. The well had an old hand pump on it, and it was his only hope of getting any water. You may have never seen one of these old pumps, but it had a long handle on it that you moved up and down to work the pump and pull up water from the well. But if the pump is dry, air leaks into the cylinder and so water can’t be pumped up. So you have to first “prime the pump” by pouring some water into the pump so that it will work. And since he had no water to prime the pump with, it seemed hopeless. But then he noticed a sealed can that had been wired to the pump, and he opened it and found a handwritten letter inside. This is what the letter said, and what makes the story so wonderful:
"This pump is all right as of June 1932. I put a new sucker washer into it, and it ought to last for at least 5 years. But the washer dries out and the pump has got to be primed. Under the white rock, I buried a bottle of water, out of the sun and cork end up. There's enough water in it to prime the pump, but not if you drink some first. Pour about one fourth in and let it soak to wet the leather. Then pour in the rest medium fast and pump like crazy. You'll get water. The well has never run dry. Have faith! When you get watered up, fill the bottle and put it back like you found it for the next fellow. (signed) Desert Pete. P.S. Don't go drinking up the water first! Prime the pump with it and you'll get all you can hold!"
That's really a wonderful letter, isn't it! It puts forth the basic principles of faith about as clearly as anything I've ever heard. In addition to the caricature of faith that atheists often promote, there is also a misguided view many people of faith have as well, as people often think of faith in terms of it being a mysterious thing. But it really isn't. When we talk about Christian faith, it is really just like any other kind of faith, except that the contents and object of faith are different. But in other ways, it works the same way as any other kind of faith.
In fact, most any thing we can think of in life includes an aspect of faith. We have to place our faith and trust in something or someone for practically everything we do. If we didn't place our trust in such things when there is no apparent reason not to, we would be so paralyzed that we couldn't do anything. If I didn't have a basic faith in a restaurant's cleanliness and a belief that I wasn't being purposely poisoned, then I could never go out to eat. Without this sort of faith, we would all be so paranoid as to be paralyzed. Thus, we need to have this kind of faith just in order to lead normal lives.
Now, when it comes to the Christian faith, the difference is basically only in the object of that faith — namely, we place our faith in God. I think this story of Desert Pete’s letter illustrates this very well. The situation the thirsty man found himself in really does illustrate many of life's times of crisis. What would you do in such a situation? Your actions would reveal what your own attitude towards faith is. Should you trust old Desert Pete? Or is that too big a risk to take with that precious little bottle of water?
When we compare what Desert Pete says in his letter with what we find in the book of Hebrews, we find the same three basic principles. Hebrews 11:6 states, "Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him." First, then, there must be an object of faith. These expressions we so often hear, like "Have faith!" and "Keep the faith!" are really rather meaningless unless the object of that faith is understood as well. For you can't just "have faith" — to "have faith in faith." You have to have faith in something or in someone. Now, in this case, faith would be putting your trust in an unknown friend named Desert Pete, and that certainly wouldn't be very easy. After all, you really have no idea who he is. Maybe he has a warped personality and is just playing a cruel joke. But then again, maybe there is enough evidence in the letter and in the life-and-death situation you face to convince you that he knows what he's talking about and that he's been kind enough to leave behind water to prime the pump with.
So, the first ingredient of faith is to trust in someone or something based on a reasonable amount of evidence. To use the example again of eating out in a restaurant, if I were to demand direct proof each time that there were no poisons in the food by, for instance, standing by the chef in the kitchen while he is preparing the food and having the chef eat a portion of the food first, that would not be exercising faith. A "reasonable amount of evidence" would be seeing that the restaurant looked clean, that the food looked and tasted good and that the other customers showed no evidence of getting sick, and then basing my "faith" on that.
This, then, leads into the second element of faith, which is risk. If you were walking down that trail without water and came upon that old pump and letter, you'd face a situation that involved risk. The most precious thing in the world to you at that time would be that little amount of water in the bottle. Now, Pete tells you that if you drink any of it, you won't be able to get any water from the pump. So you have to make a decision. Either you partially satisfy your immediate thirst, in which case you will have no more water, or you risk that little bottle of water — which is all you have — in order to get a really adequate supply. Faith always has a price to pay, for it demands a decision, which, at its heart, has a certain element of risk.
The third ingredient of faith, then, following the object of faith and the risk of faith, is action. When you make the decision to risk by placing your trust in something or someone, you must then follow through with action. Desert Pete says that after you trust him and after you risk by pouring the water down into the pump, you have to "pump like crazy."
In a way, we are in a similar situation to that of the fellow who found Desert Pete's letter. We have a special "letter" that has been written to us — the Bible, which claims to be the “Word of God.” It tells us about God and how he has revealed himself to us in Jesus and how life is supposed to be. But all of the stories, the promises and all of the rest aren't worth anything at all unless the person behind them is trustworthy.
The Christian faith is essentially this: it is faith in the character and the person of God, as revealed to us in Jesus Christ in the "letter." It is the trust that his character is reliable, because we have seen that character revealed to us first in creation and then to its fullest in the life of Jesus Christ. The basis of one's faith does not depend on some spiritual experience you have had, however wonderful it might have been. Neither does it depend on your feelings right now. It doesn't even depend on the Bible itself! Physically speaking, it is just paper and ink. It contains many wonderful promises, of course, but those promises are only as good as the character of the one who gives those promises.
Thus, with respect to faith in God, it all depends on the character of God — on his reliability and trustworthiness. His character is good, and thus his word is also good. Hebrews 11:6 says that without faith it is impossible to please God. And then it takes it a bit further when it says that "whoever would approach him must believe that he exists" — but more than that! One must also believe in God's essential goodness — "that he rewards those who seek him."
A lot of people have trouble deepening their faith or even really getting started in the first place because they don't have a clear picture of who God is and what his character is like. It's this point that ties this story of Desert Pete back into what we were talking about earlier — that of so many young people raised in the Church walking away from the faith their parents tried to pass on to them. They never get a clear understanding of who God really is and what God really is like.
In a new book by one of my favorite authors, Nancy Pearcey, entitled "Finding Truth," she deals with this very issue. The subtitle of this book is, "5 Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism and Other God Substitutes," and she does a masterful job at analyzing various worldviews and why every worldview other than the biblical Christian worldview fails to explain the world as we actually experience it. She also gives her personal testimony of how she left the faith only later to discover that it was true after all. Here's what she says:
Around the time I turned sixteen, I started asking basic questions: How do we know if Christianity is true? Are there any good reasons for holding it? None of the adults in my life seemed to have any answers. I once asked a university professor why he was a Christian. I hoped that such a highly educated person would offer a thoughtful response. But all he said was, "It works for me!" I thought, "It doesn't work for me."
Later I had the opportunity to talk to a seminary dean. I hoped that a person highly trained in theology might have answers. But all he said was, "Don't worry, we all have doubts sometimes" — as though I were just going through a psychological stage. I thought, "Then why don't you have answers for my doubts?" Finally I concluded that this pragmatic, psychologized version of Christianity had no serious answers. I rejected it and embarked on an intentional search for truth.
The decision struck me as a matter of intellectual honesty: In principle, if you do not have good reasons for holding something, then how can you really say you believe it—whether Christianity or anything else? Pearcey goes on to describe how she became a "thorough-going relativist and skeptic," and then how meeting some thoughtful Christians who engaged her in dialog with the kind of arguments she was seeking led her back to Christianity and the vibrant faith she had wanted from the beginning. But the point is that she was one of many young people who want real answers but so often don't find them and so end up walking away.
In 2005, two sociologists published a book under the title, "Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers," in which they described their research based on some 3000 interviews with Christian teenagers. What they concluded was that typically these kids had a belief system that amounts to what they termed "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism." The basic tenets of this understanding of faith are as follows: (1) A God exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth. (2) God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions. (3) The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself. (4) God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem. And (5) Good people go to heaven when they die. Needless to say, such an understanding as that is a far cry from true Christian faith, and so it's no wonder that if that is the faith they have "caught" during their formative years that it would soon crumble in the face of the secular onslaught.
I would hope that the young people in your sphere of influence would have a much better understanding than that, but in order for that to happen, we have to be intentional in encouraging them to find solid answers to the tough questions they will surely face. We all need to help each other understand what the basic content of the Christian faith is and what the rationale is for believing it to be true. We need to ask ourselves whether we are "accidental Christians" who just happen to have true beliefs that conform to the world as God created it; or can we articulate the rationale behind those true beliefs so that we will "always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks (us) to give the reason for the hope that (we) have."
So, how is it that we can be confident of the truths of the Christian faith? Is an emotional experience of God enough? I don't mean to downplay the role of our emotions and our personal experiences of feeling close to God. Those can play an important role, but they shouldn't be the foundation of our faith. After all, our Mormon friends claim to have a "burning in the bosom" experience that confirms to them the "truth" of the Book of Mormon and that Joseph Smith was God's prophet to restore his true church to earth. The actual historical evidence shows just the opposite, but in their minds, the emotional experience they had shows that in spite of the lack of evidence for and numerous evidences against, it still is true. It would be interesting to see what percentage of Mormon youth walk away from their faith as well, but there you have the added dynamic of a close-knit society and family structure that they are strongly dependent on. And so even if they have serious intellectual doubts about the truth of the Mormon religion, the social cost of abandoning it seems so much higher than what is typical in Christian circles.
The inner witness of the Holy Spirit in our lives can be a powerful confirmation of the truth of the Christian faith, and so again, I don't want to minimize that. However, unlike Mormonism and indeed practically all of the other religions of the world, Christianity invites testing and careful examination. It's an evidentially based belief system. Nowhere in the Bible do you see any "once-upon-a-time" type stories. All of the historical narrative is set in real places at specific times that can be tested against the archaeological record, and while there are still a few unresolved points, by and large the biblical accounts have been confirmed by the archaeological record. Likewise, there are numerous prophecies about events future to the time of their writing that can be shown to have come true just as stated. So, there is a whole range of evidences that point to the divine origin of the Bible, which in turn lends credence to the message it contains. This is, by the way, in stark contrast to all of the other "holy books" of the world's religions. Writings such as the Hindu Vedas, the Buddhist Sutras and even the Islamic Koran have very little content that can be tested against the record of nature and the facts of real history. What little they do have in that regard typically contradicts those real facts.
Well, what about science? Atheists claim that as their strong suit. But is it really? On the contrary, I think it's actually one of the strongest evidences in favor of the Christian faith. It only becomes a problem for the Christian faith when 2 things happen. First, when the deck is stacked against theism by dogmatically presenting only the scientific evidence that has been filtered through materialistic philosophy, and then second, when uninformed people are led to believe that is what science really shows to be true. One of the foundational teachings of the Bible is that God created the universe out of nothing and that therefore there was a beginning to the material universe. In contrast to this, however, from ancient times and well into the 20th Century, the universe was generally assumed to have always been here. But then scientists discovered that the Bible had been right all along, as we now have definitive proof that the universe did come into being literally "out of nothing." On top of that, the way it came into being was so incredibly fine-tuned that if even one of dozens of parameters had been even a tiny bit different from what it was, a life-supporting universe would never have developed. For instance, if the ratio between the force of gravity and the electromagnetic force had been different by more than 1 part in 1040 — that's a 1 followed by 40 zeros — then stable stars could not have formed. That’s how finely balanced this and a host of other such factors are. The probability of that happening by chance is so small that it might as well be zero.
That fact alone cries out for a Creator, and on top of that, there is the equally unexplainable origin of life and the vast amount of detailed information that each cell contains. The only rational explanation for that is that there is an all-knowing, all-powerful mind behind it. But, of course, if you've already ruled out such a conclusion before you even look at the evidence, then all you're left with is speculation about how some unknown mechanism produced it all by chance. Typically, atheists resort to the hypothesis that there must be an infinite number of universes being generated by some such unknown and presumably unknowable process so that by chance there would be one where everything comes together just right. And since that's the only universe that we could exist in, that's where we're going to find ourselves. So, you have the choice of a purposeful universe created by a super-intelligent agent or an accidental universe that just came into being on its own against fantastic odds. And then on top of that, you have life forming accidentally as well, and then that primitive life evolving by accident into beings that can think about all of this. Needless to say, that is one gigantic "leap of faith!" As one author quipped, "I just don't have enough faith to be an atheist."
Well, coming back to the issue of preparing our young people for the atheistic propaganda they are bound to encounter, there is one other aspect of this issue that I’d like to briefly raise. In college, I was a physics major, and so I have a deep interest in science. Later, I went to seminary to get a degree in theology, and so I have a particular interest in the interplay between science and the Christian faith. As part of that endeavor, I got connected with a ministry called "Reasons To Believe," which deals specifically with this issue and how it can be used to lead people to Christ. Within this context, I have studied what's called "young-earth creationism" and the issues that surround that. It's unfortunate that there has been so much acrimony within the Church surrounding the debate over the age of the earth. In one sense, it's not really important when the universe and the earth were created. In other words, it's not the "when" of creation that's important. It's the "who" and the "why" of creation that we should focus on. However, it does become an important issue when it comes to our witness to an unbelieving world, as well as the stumbling block it can become for Christians who have been taught that the Bible teaches the earth was created in 6 consecutive 24-hour days a few thousand years ago and who are then confronted with the overwhelming evidence for an ancient earth.
Prior to the advent of Darwinian evolution, whether the Creation Days of Genesis were understood to be 24-hour solar days or long periods of time was not a contentious issue. Among the "Church Fathers" in the early centuries of church history, for instance, there were those who took both of these positions as they interpreted Genesis. But no position was taken to be definitive of being the Christian position, and it never appeared in any of the creeds of the Church. When Darwinism began to dominate academia, however, various Christian communities typically took one of two paths. Those on the liberal side typically adjusted their theology to fit the Darwinian paradigm, accepting the gradualism-only scenario over millions of years as the way God created — what's generally termed either "theistic evolution" or "evolutionary creationism."
Those on the conservative side, however, often developed a kind of "fortress mentality" where the term "evolution" became synonymous with "godless atheism," and it was in that context that "young-earth creationism" came to be viewed as the biblical way to counter evolutionism. It became the default position of much of the evangelical world, particularly in the US. The central rationale for this view has been that this is the "plain reading of the text," as well as being the only way to reconcile the creation account with the supposedly "clear teaching" of the New Testament that there was "no death before the Fall." This last point is often couched in emotional language about how a good God would never have created a world in which animals suffered and were killed and yet call that world "very good," as it says in Genesis. In his book entitled "Peril In Paradise," Mark Whorton refers to this understanding as the "Perfect Paradise Paradigm" — an idyllic world with no death or suffering. He says, however, that what the Scriptures really teach is what he calls the "Perfect Purpose Paradigm." God didn't have a "plan A" that was thwarted by human sin that necessitated him having to devise a "plan B" — a rescue plan to bring things back to that original paradise on earth. No, that rescue plan was "plan A" from the beginning. After all, in Rev. 13:8, Christ is referred to as "the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world." Likewise, nowhere does the Bible teach that there was "no death before the Fall." Romans 5:12 is often quoted, and there Paul does state, "Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin…" If you stop right there, you can see how the verse might be interpreted to mean that death first came about in God's creation as a result of the Fall of Mankind. But if you continue reading that very same verse, it goes on to state, "in this way death came to all men, because all sinned." It's clearly not talking about animal death. Only humans are created in the image of God, and thus only they are capable of sinning against God. It clearly implies that the death being talked about here applies only to humans — namely spiritual death (eternal separation from God). The gospel message is that Christ’s sacrifice of his human life provided the way for redemption from the curse of sin and the spiritual death that accompanies it.
Well, much more could be said concerning this issue, and if this issue is a concern for any of you, I'd encourage you to talk with me afterwards about it. However, the main reason I have introduced it in this message relates back to the theme of knowing what we believe and why we should believe it. Likewise, when it comes to the issue of young people raised in the Church leaving their Christian faith behind and embracing a secular worldview, these issues related to young-earth creationism are something that really need to be addressed. I'm not aware of any statistics on what percentage of young people leaving the Christian faith have been raised in a young-earth creationist environment, but I suspect that it's quite a high percentage and that this issue plays a primary role in the dynamics of their losing their faith.
Imagine that you're a young person who has been taught all his or her life that the Bible clearly teaches that God created the earth (and indeed the entire universe) in 6 consecutive 24-hour days some 6 to 10 thousand years ago, and that the geology we see on earth today, such as the Grand Canyon, is the result of a global flood about 5000 years ago. Likewise, you've been taught that believing in "millions of years of death and suffering" prior to Adam's sin undermines the very gospel of Christ. Then you go off to college and are confronted with what appears to you to be overwhelming evidence that this scenario can't possibly be true. Needless to say, the doubts that this raises in your mind cause you to not only question this particular teaching but also the Christian faith as a whole. "If the Bible got it so wrong about that, why should I trust anything it says!" Ideas have consequences, and unfortunately, that includes our ideas about the Bible and its teachings. We need to really understand what the core teachings of Christianity are and what the rationale is for our believing them to be true. A "greenhouse faith" may be adequate if you remain in that "greenhouse" environment. But the storms of life and the cold winds of secularism don't allow for that. Being an "accidental Christian" in a hostile world simply won't do. We each need to think about what we believe and why we should believe it. True Christian faith is not something that we can inherit from our parents or anyone else. We have to make it our own. Remember, "God doesn't have any grandchildren." He has only children. We are all automatically God's children in one sense by merely being human — the "first birth," as it were. But in order to come into a saving relationship with God, we need to become his children in an additional sense, a "second birth." Let me close with a well-known verse from the prolog to John's gospel. Speaking of Jesus, John said, "Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God."
I want to close now with a brief prayer: Our Heavenly Father. We are so thankful that you accept us into your family as your children simply by putting our trust in you. If there are any here today who have yet to put their trust in Jesus, we pray for your Holy Spirit to work in their hearts to help them to do that. And for those of us who already are your children through faith, we ask you to help us understand our faith and the reasons we can know that it is true. Also, we ask that you help us to be able to communicate those reasons to those still outside the faith so that your Holy Spirit can use our witness to draw others to you. For it is in the name of Jesus that we pray.