Tag Archives: doubt

Is your view of life upside-down? – Characters: David & Goliath, Part 3

27 Nov
Photo by Mathilda Khoo on Unsplash

Have you ever been in a situation where you were convinced you were right, but ultimately found out you were wrong? It can be shocking when that happens. We tend to go about life trusting our intuition, our viewpoint, and when we are believing something we think is so obvious, only to discover that we are wrong, it rattles us. One way this can happen is when we limit our view, though we have no idea that our view is limited. I’ve had this happen to me too many times to count. It could be a new piece of knowledge, a new theory, or something about which I was just simply wrong. As we continue the story of David versus Goliath, we’re going to see how some people in the story were completely wrong in their way of looking at the world, but they had no clue.

Yesterday we saw that David was aghast that the enemy Philistine giant Goliath was defying the armies of God, and no one was standing up to him. Teenage David’s outburst got him nowhere with his older brothers. So in 1 Samuel 17, verse 30 we learn that David brings up the matter to other people standing nearby.  He is persistent.  And eventually, in verse 31, other people report this to King Saul.  For the first time in 40 days, Saul gets a report that someone is willing to fight Goliath.  Of course Saul calls for this person to be brought before him, mostly likely because this will get Saul off the hook for having fight. 

Look at what David says to Saul in verse 32.  It is straight up bold: “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.”  What?  A 16 year old shepherd poet versus a battle-hardened trained, armored giant?  It’s ridiculous.

And that’s exactly how Saul responds in verse 33.  “Come on, David.  You’re just a boy.”  Saul’s first line in that response shows you where his heart and mind is at, and perhaps why not only he, but the whole army is gripped in fear.  Saul leads with, “You are not able to go out and fight against this Philistine.”  That shows you how small, how limited is Saul’s vision, how weak is his trust in God in the midst of what appears to be an impossible situation.  Saul limits himself to a human evaluation of the situation.  God is nowhere to be found in Saul’s vision. 

David, though?  Totally different viewpoint.

David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.”

How about that?  “The Lord will deliver me!”  In the midst of crippling fear from what looks like insurmountable odds, David is laser-focused on God, and he alone is able to view the situation with truth.

Saul’s human response in verses 38-39, however, is to have David put on the king’s armor before he faces Goliath.  Saul is viewing the solution within his limited view.  The Israelite army also seems to be putting their faith in human means, as they see no way to overcome Goliath, and yet they were the people of God with a super clear history of God’s intervention in their lives.  Fascinating, isn’t it?  They had the wonderful stories of God’s amazing miraculous work.  They could even remember Samson’s wild victories over Philistia, who likely was a judge in Israel only decades before. But they don’t remember any of that.  They each look at their size, their armor, their weapons, and they conclude they are no match for Goliath. 

And when one man does step forward with no armor, Saul, still thinking humanly, even though his vision is that David is no match for Goliath, believes maybe David will have a little more chance wearing armor.

David obediently tries on the armor, but knows immediately it will be counterproductive, slow him down, get in the way, and he says, “This can’t work,” takes off the armor, and heads out to face Goliath.

My guess is that for the most part, you have been tracking with this story, and so far it has sounded pretty much familiar to what you remembered.  The classic underdog story.  As David walks from the Israelite battle line, heading in Goliath’s direction, I would like to suggest, however, that this is not an underdog story at all. 

You might be thinking, “Well, of course, Joel.  David has God on his side, and therefore he is not really an underdog.”  True.  I agree with that.  But that’s not what I’m getting at.  We will certainly be talking about God’s involvement in this story, but there is something else important going on here. And we’ll reveal that in the next post in this series.

Mercy for those who doubt – Jude 17-25, Part 5

4 Oct
Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

“Be merciful to those who doubt.” 

Interesting phrase, isn’t it?  So often we conceive of doubt as a negative thing to be avoided, and the result can be that people who doubt are considered to be sinful or strange.  But is doubt wrong?

As we conclude our two-week study through the letter of Jude, we find that in verse 22, he writes that we should be merciful to people who doubt.  Why? Because doubt is not an indication of disbelief.  Doubt is normal.  Just about everyone doubts.  It doesn’t mean they have lost the faith.  They’re just questioning, investigating, wondering.  Their doubt is actually healthy, as doubt helps us go deeper in our beliefs, making them our own.  Let’s be merciful to those who doubt.  Instead of judging those who doubt, let’s listen to them share their concerns.

Someone recently said to me that where there is doubt there is hope.  In a society where there is growing doubt, this is instructive to us.  I’ve heard a stat reporting that only 30% of 18-30 year olds go to church.  We can choose to get upset about this, but Jude is wise to instruct us to be merciful to those who doubt.  Rather than dump on people for doubting, we should have an attitude of embracing them, even when they doubt.  Doubt means they are searching, and thus there is hope that they’ll find what they are looking for. 

Jude has more instructions for us in verse 23: “Snatch others from the fire and save them.”  Christians should be known as being active in outreach.  We can and should seek to help the ungodly impostors find God. But notice how Jude finishes verse 23, “To others show mercy mixed with fear, hating even the clothing stained with corrupted flesh.”  For people who are corrupted, meaning that they will not receive any help or guidance or word about Jesus, which seems to describe the ungodly impostors in Jude’s day, then it is time to part ways with them.  Remember our study in Titus when Paul said, “have nothing to do with them”?  That’s what Jude is getting at here.  

Jude then concludes his letter in verses 24-25 with an amazing flourish.  It is a prayer to God.  He starts his prayer, “To him who is able to keep you from falling.”  Falling is a word that refers to stumbling.  God is able to keep you from stumbling!  He doesn’t force us.  But we can depend on him, and rely on his strength and power through his Spirit within to help us remain faithful to him.

Next Jude says God is also able “to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy.” Combine that with how he finishes the prayer: “To the only God, our savior, be glory, majesty, power and authority through Jesus Christ our Lord before all ages, now and forevermore.”  When I think about that it strikes me how he focuses on giving glory to God.  He is placing God squarely in focus right in front of him, right in front of us, almost saying, “Look at God, he is real, he is alive, he is powerful, and we need to remember that.” 

These kinds of rich theological prayers are so important because they shake us out of a lull and help us focus on what is real, what is true, what is important about life. 

This, then, is what Jude is saying in his letter.  He is saying, “Wake up people, there are impostors in your church, and you are letting it happen.  You’ve let yourself fall asleep.  Wake up.  Focus on truth, on goodness; focus on God.  You’re probably going to need to repent of your lethargy and get down to the business of contending for the faith.  But remember that you are called, loved and kept. God is able to keep you from falling.  He is at work!  Focus on him.  Spend time with him.  Allow him to guide your life.” 

God wants me to be happy, not angry, and never to doubt? [False ideas Christians believe about…God’s desires for Christians. Part 4]

28 Mar
Photo by Bruce Mars on Unsplash

In 1 Timothy 3:12 we read that “all those who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”  Woah.  Maybe God doesn’t want us to be happy, and only cares about us becoming godly or holy, even if it takes us being persecuted? How are we to understand this?

Does God want us to be happy?  It sure seems like he would, right?

In this series of posts we’re fact-checking common phrases Christians believe, and in this post there are two phrase: “God isn’t interested in making you happy; he’s interested in making you holy.”  VERSUS “God always wants me to be happy.” Which is it? This takes some explaining.

First of all, God is most interested in our character, in our heart.  And sometimes going through trials is the way to get to our heart.  But as we have seen in previous posts in this series, the trials we go through are not necessarily from God.  The world is broken and fallen, and we will have troubles in this world.  God can redeem those struggles, though, as we strive to follow him in middle of our troubles.  And he promises that he will be with us always.  The result is that we do often grow in godliness during difficult times. 

But can we grow in holiness through joy and plenty and comfort?  Yes.  That’s why a life of spiritual practices and habits is so important.  God calls us to pursue practices like prayer, biblical meditation, silent listening, generosity, and disciple-making all the time, not matter if life is going great or if it is really difficult. 

So the phrase “God isn’t interested in making you happy” is wrong.  God DOES want us to be happy!

Remember the festivals in Deuteronomy?  God embedded happiness and celebration in the life of the nation of Israel.  Ecclesiastes talks about enjoying life.  Philippians says “Rejoice in the Lord always!”  And James 1:2-4, says “Consider it joy when you face trials of many kinds.”

It is very hard to feel joy in the middle of the pain. 

Is there a difference between happiness and joy?  Can we be joyful while being unhappy? 

Happiness is fleeting.  Joy is a choice.  It can be hard to distinguish the two.  Especially for those who struggle with anxiety.  “Consider it joy?”  This means that you can use your mind to control your emotions.   Happiness is an emotion, and emotions do not always tell you the truth.

So we need to remember verses like Psalm 46:1 “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.” 

The song “Just Be Held” by Casting Crowns speaks to this when it envisions God saying to us, “if your eyes are on the storm, you’ll wonder if I love you still, but if your eyes on the cross, you’ll know I always have and always will.”   

Isn’t that so similar to the lamenters in Psalms?  In the pain they turned and ran to the Lord rather than running away from him.  And when they ran to him, they brought all their pain and doubt and anger to him.

And that is a great lead-in to the next phrase we’re fact-checking:God is not OK with doubt and anger.

We’ve referred to James 1 already.  Take a look at verse 6.   “When he asks he must believe and not doubt”?  Wait, is doubt wrong?  And later in verse 19, “be slow to anger, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life God desires.”  So doubt and anger are wrong?  Or are they?

Read the psalms, the laments.  In them you’ll find gut-wrenching doubt and anger.  Raw pain. 

That means we can also declare that this is a false idea.  God is absolutely okay with doubt and anger. 

Saying that God is not okay with doubt is potentially dangerous, making it seem like a good Christian should never struggle with doubt. There is a sense in which God doesn’t want us to doubt.  He wants us to trust in him.   We should have faith in him.  But even then, we have to remember the promise of 2 Timothy 2:13, “if we are faithless, he is faithful for he cannot disown himself.”

In Mark 9:17, we read a fascinating story that relates to doubt.  The disciples were trying to cast a demon out of a boy, but to no avail.  The father of the boy brought him to Jesus to help.

Notice the father’s response to Jesus: “I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief.” We all doubt, and we all get angry.  Remember that there is nothing that can separate us from the Love of God.  But God’s gracious love for us should also not be an excuse to just stay in our doubt or anger.  Instead, God’s grace should motivate us, make us grateful, to trust in him and allow our anger to subside.  If you have an anger problem that keeps popping up, and you can’t control it, I urge you to get professional help.  It’s not okay to be angry and damage people. 

Does God require faith that is 100% without doubt?

9 Oct

Image result for faith and doubt logo

Faith Church. That’s the name of our church. Back in 1968, when they got this church started, why would people choose to name a new church, Faith Church? I wonder what they were thinking.

What is faith?  Most often we think faith is belief. And for good reason. Faith does mean belief.  It means that in our minds we agree with certain statements or facts or ideas.

But we also read in the Bible, in James chapter 2, that “faith without works is dead.”

Think about that.  Faith is belief. But it also must have works, James says, or it is dead.  So what is faith?

Just belief in our mind, or must faith also have some kind of work?

As I mentioned last week, this October at Faith Church we’re commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation by talking about the Five Solas of the Reformation.  The Five Solas or Alones are what many scholars consider to be the best way to summarize the teaching of the Reformation.  Last week we looked at Sola Gratia, or Grace Alone.  The second one is Sola Fide.  Fide in Latin means faith.  Today we are talking about Faith Alone.  In Ephesians 2:8-9, Paul combines Sola Gratia with Sola Fide: “it is by grace you have been saved through faith, not by works, it is the gift of God.”

So somehow, Paul says, we receive the gift of grace by faith, and not by works.  But as I mentioned above, James said faith without works is dead.  See the apparent contradiction? This brings us back to the question I started with?  What is faith?

In Hebrews 11:1 we read, “faith is being sure of what hope for, certain of what we do not see.”

Does that clear it up for you? I have to admit that on first reading, that definition of faith doesn’t really help me.  So we have to look a bit deeper.

The writer of Hebrews describes faith two ways.  Let’s look at each:

First, Faith is being sure of what we hope for.  We have hopes.  We want them to come true.  It may be a promotion we hope is coming.  It may be hopes for our children and grandchildren.  It may be hopes that we will get out of debt.  It may be a hope that eternal life is in our future.  What hopes do you have?

Faith is being sure of those hopes, that they will become reality.  It is saying, “I know that I know that I know that what I hope for will come true.”  But if we’re honest, we rarely feel that certain.  The opposite of being sure is being unsure.  Uncertainty also goes by the name “doubt”.

Frankly, when we read the Bible, it can be a bit tough to understand how the interplay of faith and doubt works. On one hand we read Jesus teaching that if you have faith, you can move mountains.  On the other hand we read the psalms and the psalmists express their doubts quite a lot.  Does that mean they are lacking in faith?

Is the writer of Hebrews saying that the only true faith is a faith that doesn’t have even one little tiny iota of doubt?  Is that even possible?  Haven’t we been told that expressing our doubts is healthy, and that God welcomes us to converse with him about our doubts?  How would we know if our faith is totally without doubt?  What would that feel like?

Before we can answer that, let’s see what else the writer of Hebrews says about faith.

Second, faith is being certain of what we do not see. What the writer of Hebrews is saying is that there is a side of life that is beyond what we can perceive with our five senses.  You can’t touch it, smell it, taste, see or hear it. It is the spiritual side of life. The realm of God, angels, demons, heaven and hell.  Faith believes it is real, though we cannot see it.  Again, though, the writer says that faith is certain of this. And I ask the writer, “how certain?”  Is it okay to doubt a little bit?  Is it okay to wonder or speculate?  And don’t we all do that at least a little bit?

As I wonder about the tension between faith and doubt, James the brother of Jesus says in chapter 1:

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.

“He must believe and not doubt”?  If 100% belief is required by God to answer our requests for wisdom, then it seems to me that very, very few of us will ever receive wisdom from God.

Does faith require 100% perfect belief, with no doubt whatsoever?

I don’t think so.  Here’s why.  I personally appreciate the honesty of a guy Jesus once encountered whose child was really in a bad way.  The child was possessed by a demon.  The man brought his child to Jesus, but ran into Jesus’ disciples first.  They tried hard, but couldn’t cast out the demon. When Jesus shows up a bit later, the man is desperate, pleading with Jesus to help.  You know what Jesus says to the man?

“If you can believe, all things are possible for him who believes.”  Wow. All things?  I like the sound of that, but I also think, “Whew, I don’t know if I can believe like that.”  It seems similar to what the father of the demon-possessed child might be thinking too, because he says back to Jesus,

“Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”

I love that line. It resonates with what I so often feel.  The tension between faith and doubt.  The knowledge that while I have faith, I don’t think it is perfect faith.  Jesus knew this about the man, and you know what Jesus did?

Maybe Jesus said, “Wait a minute, you have some unbelief in there? Sorry, man.  Game over.  Take your demon-possessed child elsewhere.”

But Jesus did not say that.  He saw the man’s tension of faith and doubt, and he healed that man’s child.

Let’s remember this man’s tension between faith and doubt, and think about it in light of the definition of faith in Hebrews 1.  God doesn’t require us to have perfect faith.  He does require faith, though.  And tomorrow we’ll talk more about what it means to place our faith in God.

For now, I think we should be like the man who brought his demon-possessed child to Jesus, and say “Lord, I believe, help me in my unbelief!”

Questioning Jesus – Luke 7:18-35

24 Jun

In our study of Luke’s Gospel, our next story reintroduces us to a guy who was feeling confused about who Jesus is.  He is doubting Jesus.  Jesus used to be very real to him.  But now it seems that Jesus has gone away.

That doubting guy?  You’ve met him before.  Maybe you know him quite well.  Maybe Jesus seems to have gone away from you too.  In the story from Luke 7, the doubter is John the Baptist.  He was Jesus’ relative, and he was the guy who ushered Jesus into the ministry.  He had a reputation for being bold, but John has changed. Maybe a year has gone by, John has been in prison probably for months, and his doubts about Jesus start growing.  John still has a couple disciples caring for his needs in prison, and he sends them to Jesus to ask if Jesus is really the One.

Questioning Jesus. Have you ever done that?

In response to John’s question, Jesus doesn’t say a word.  Instead he does what the One was supposed to do: miracles upon miracles.  Only after that Jesus tells John’s disciples, “What do you see with your own eyes? Just tell John what you see.” What did they see? They saw the manifest presence of the Holy Spirit working powerfully through Jesus to perform the miraculous deeds which would confirm that he was who he said he was. The Messiah. The Savior. The promised One. He was who months ago John said he was, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the World.

John might be languishing in prison, and that would be terribly difficult, but Jesus’ miracles are a response to John to not give up. Jesus was doing what the Messiah was supposed to do. And as difficult as it would be to have to hear about that from a prison cell, John could still rejoice that the long awaited Messiah actually had come.

Is it possible that for those of us who don’t see God, don’t feel God, and feel distant from God, we need to see Jesus differently?

Jesus was right there. He was doing what he was supposed to be doing.   Perhaps prison had affected John’s viewpoint.  He couldn’t see Jesus anymore.  He felt very distant.

What about you?  Don’t see Jesus? Feel distant from him? Be assured that Jesus is right there. He is doing everything that he is supposed to be doing!   It is no different in our day. He is alive and well.

But perhaps our expectations are wrong!

So often in my own life I want Jesus to answer my prayer a very specific way. And when he doesn’t, I can get upset. I can think he betrayed me, that he didn’t show up when I wanted him, when I felt I needed him.

But he was there. He was doing what he was supposed to do. It was I who needed to see him differently.

I have heard this many times over the years when a loved one has passed away. We don’t want that person to be gone. We miss them. The passing is hard. In many cases we have prayed that God would heal them and prolong their lives. But our loved one dies, and we are left wondering why God didn’t answer our prayer the way we want. In those moments our faith in God can be rocked.

But know that Jesus is there. He never left. Most likely we need to change our perspective of who he is, what he does, and how he should act. Like my one seminary professor Ken Miller says “we try to fit Jesus in our back pocket, as if we own him, as if he could fit there.” We shouldn’t even try.

You might not be in prison for months like John, but there are plenty of other situations that have you feeling imprisoned, trapped, hopeless, and you wonder why Jesus isn’t rescuing you like you want him too. The longing and the waiting can be tiring and many times we can get to a point where we want to give up on Jesus. But he is there.  He just might fit in our pocket.

You might not be able to see his work in your life. You might have such a specific idea of what you want him to do, to be, to look like, how you want him to answer your prayer, get you out of a difficult situation, make life easy, peaceful, and because he isn’t doing what you want, you feel like giving up.

But he is there.   Right in front of you. Doing what a Messiah is supposed to do. He hasn’t left.

You just might need new eyes, a new heart, a new mind to see him.

So hang in there. Stay strong. Pursue him. Ask the Lord to open your eyes to him, to see things the way he does. He is the miracle working God. He brings new life. He wants to transform our hearts.