If I were to ask you: Are you an atheist? I would expect all the good people of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference to respond with a resounding: NO! The word “atheist,” according to Webster’s Dictionary is a “person who believes that there is no God. An atheist “rejects all religious beliefs and denies the existence of God.” Surely we believe in God and as Christians we know the God who is revealed in the Trinity: the Father (creator), Son (Jesus, the redeemer) and the Holy Spirit (the sustainer).
The word “atheist” conjures up a reminder of a famous, now deceased woman by the name of Madalyn Murray O’Hair. She was best known for her lawsuit which led to a landmark Supreme Court ruling ending government sponsored prayer in American public schools in the 1960’s. Life Magazine referred to her as “the most hated woman in America.” Although she was murdered in 1995, rumors of her continued activity lived on in the form of internet spam claiming that she was suing the Federal Communication Commission in order to eliminate Christian radio stations. Fear of her atheistic power in a pluralistic society runs deep. Surely none of us would say we were atheists. We know there is a God.
So why do am I asking this question? You can say that you believe in God and that makes you NOT an atheist. But the proof is in your actions, not only what you say. James 1:19 says “Even the demons believe and shudder.” If we truly believe something we act upon it. If I believe that after an ice storm that the roads will be dangerous I will act upon this by staying home and not trying to drive on the ice. If I believe that summer is going to come then I order seeds from the garden catalog.
If I believe there is an active and all powerful, all knowing, ever present God in this world and I have given my heart and life to that God then I need to act like I believe that God is real and has an influence and a presence in my life.
Still you might say, I do believe, so what’s the point? My point is that often we good Christian people say we believe but we function (act) like we don’t believe. Here are some examples:
1) Worry We sing “His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me.” Then we worry
about things. We worry about our family, our money, our health, our future, our power, our influence. We even worry about food and clothes. Jesus said in Matthew 6:31-32 “Therefore do not worry saying, ‘what will we eat? Or what will we drink or what will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles (the unbelievers) who strive for all these things and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.” When we worry we are functional atheists.
2) Lack of Prayer We sing “Sweet hour of prayer, sweet hour of prayer that calls me from a world of care.” Most of us, if we are honest, do not give God an hour of prayer each day. Jesus prayed all night. Jesus prayed for 40 days in the desert to prepare for his ministry but we are so busy that we give God a few minutes in the morning and run out the door. This is evidence that we believe that it is all about us and not about God’s power. So much more good could be done in this world if we spent more time in pray and in faith believing that God was going to answer that prayer. When we don’t pray then we are functional atheists.
3) Studying the Bible We sing “Thy Word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path.” How sad that many of our Sunday School classes and Bible studies are poorly attended. The Apostles were relieved of temporal duties in the early church so that they could dedicate themselves to their teaching ministry “It is not right that we should neglect the Word of God.” (Acts 8:2) We are privileged to have Bibles in many translations and Bible studies of many kinds available for our public and private use. Why don’t we make that an important focus in our daily life? When we study it, why do we often neglect to follow what it says? James 1:22-24 says “But be doers of the Word and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the Word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror, for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like.” When we neglect to earnestly study and obey the Word of God we are functional atheists.
4) Love One Another We sing “Lord, I want to be more loving in my heart, in my heart” and then we spend time talking against our neighbors, passing judging and holding grudges.
I John 1:9-10 says “Whoever says ‘I am in the light’ while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness. Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light and in such a person there is no cause for stumbling.” Loving our enemies and those who annoy us is probably the hardest discipline of all. That is why Jesus said “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35) Love of neighbor is a unique and radical proof of a person’s Christian faith. If we are in conflict with our brothers and sisters we are functional atheists.
We are all human and we surely fail every day to live up to our high calling. The Good News is that Christ died for us and our sins are forgiven as we confess them. It is God who forgives and gives us the power of the Spirit that enables us to walk closer and more humbly with God. This is nothing new but we need to be reminded of it again and again. The enemy would want you to be ineffective. Don’t fall for it! During this time of Lent take a look at your walk with Christ. Do we act like we believe? Does our devotional life and subsequent behaviors demonstrate that we are walking with a higher power that sets us apart from the world? Let us act like believers and not functional atheists.