can you rewind the tape please?

I used to live with my grandparents during my elementary years. I remember my reward for good behavior was a trip with grandma to the mall and visit to McDonalds. Now McDonalds back in the day was not like the massive metro-play-lands that they are today. It was just a sit-down meal in a box with a toy, commonly known as a Happy Meal. I would always get the fish filet, fries, with orange High-C. I loved those Happy Meals with grandma.

The Bible talks about another Happy Meal [John 6:1-14]. Jesus had performed a fish filet and French fry Hebrew Happy Meal miracle for 5000 people. His popularity was at an all-time high. After this miracle everyone wanted to crown Jesus King [not the burger King, v.15]. Jesus had something else in mind. How about taking a boat trip? What? So Jesus’ 12-followers boarded a boat across the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum and Jesus meets them later taking a stroll on the water [6:16-24].

Meanwhile all the people who received the Happy Meal were looking for Jesus. What about another free meal? The crowds caught up with Jesus on the other side of the sea. Jesus was not looking to draw a big crowd. When crowds showed up Jesus would get all OCD [Operation Crowd Deduction]. Jesus says something really strange, “I know why you are here. You want another free meal.” [6:25-26] I could imagine what the disciples were thinking, “Jesus cool it. You got all these crowds captivated and you go ahead and say something crazy like this?” Jesus continues to talk about food, rather spiritual food and what really matters is relying on eternal food that on He can offer [6:27-29]. This brings about some serious questions in their minds:

“What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” [6:30-31] This brings up a Hebrew History 101 lesson. Do you remember the Sunday School lesson when the people of Israel were wandering in the wilderness and God miraculously feed them? The manna miracle proved to the Jewish people that Moses was their leader. The people were making the same connection with Jesus, but wanted more proof. However, Jesus was not interested in being some miracle producing David Copperfield, rather he answered their doubts and corrected their wrong thinking [6:32-33]. Doubts or questions either draw us to God or away from Him.

Jesus now gets controversial by removing the cape from a Jewish superheroes: Moses. And makes one of the most radical claims of all that either labels Him a lair, lunatic and/or Lord: He says He is the cosmic carbohydrate [6:35]. The disciples must have thought He flipped out. He even goes on to say cannibalistic things like, “eat my flesh and drink my blood.” Surely Christ’s career is over.

Sometimes it would be nice if life and God’s plans were recorded on DVD. Could I have season 8 please? There are times when watching a movie that I miss an important line or did not completely understand something. It is easy to rewind and replay. At times you want to fast forward to the good part. What happens when God does something you do not understand? What on earth are you doing here God? How should we respond?

Don’t press pause [6:60]. Don’t get all bent out of shape over unanswered questions. For Jesus’ followers it was a tough day. They had a lot of questions. I have felt like that after reading some of Jesus’ words. Pausing in our questions and doubts can handicap us. If you are in a boxing match and you pause for a moment you will become a TKO. Why pause? Is it because you do not want God to look under your hood and see all that is broken?

Don’t push eject [6:66-67]. Many bailed on Jesus even after they saw His miracles and heard His teachings. They were not ready to commit after counting the cost. Stay to the course.

Press fast forward [6:68-69]. Look ahead. Consider the long-term benefits of following Christ: Life eternal. What are the alternatives? “The only thing more difficult than having a personal relationship with an invisible God is having no such relationship”—Phillip Yancey. Is it a personal relationship? Yes, really personal.

Press rewind. Look back. Remember what God has done. He has a proven track record. For Peter the changes were dramatic—from fish to following Jesus. What is your story? How has God changed your story? [ie. David; 1 Sam.17:37 & Ps.77:11-12]

Push play. Press on. The best remedy for questions and doubt is “faith.” In the boxing match and blows to your faith, when you are against the ropes faith is the where we can regain strength. Sometimes God and our faith are difficult to understand. Like many who have gone before you and will come after have said, “God this is hard for me to accept, but I have faith you are who you say you are and you will do what you say you will do because you have already done so much.”

Does God really care for me? Even when my life seems to be falling apart? He cares more about me than I care about myself [1 Pt.5:7]. During my freshmen year of college I had major doubts. Why am I here? Does it really even matter? I have distant friends, my grades are collapsing, my family is splitting again, and God seems distant. I was to the point of taking my own life to escape the misery. I was at a crossroads: I am either going to throw away my faith and life or come running to God. I had a heart to heart with a professor. In that moment, my pride crumbled, I didn’t have the answers. I wept in relief, broken before God. God has given us the church to encourage our faith, to ask questions to one another and build on our faith.

a plastic faith

Doubt can be a good thing. Some are taught never to question God or their faith. That is silly. Even Billy Graham had doubts. Doubt can strengthen and secure your faith. They can also drive you away if you are unprepared. Stats say that 50% of Christian teens will abandon their faith by the end of college. Jesus was more comfortable with doubt than most Christians are.

You can take some major blows your can take for your faith. Like a boxing match we can take intellectual upper cut, this is when you are sitting in science class at school and your view of creation is challenged, or in philosophy faith is reasoned as irrational, or spirituality is stated as not for the smart. Then there are psychological gut checks, which can happen when you experience a flawed view of fatherhood, have a bad church situation, or observe hypocritical Christians. The most common is the sinful right and left hook. By its very nature sin separates us from God. Sin fuels pride, arrogance, or invincibility from God.

When we receive these blows it can leave our faith damaged, bruised, and scarred. When I was in high school I took a baseball to the face. My nose was even more crooked and broken than it was today. I visited my doctor Rocky, and the he said the only way to fix my face was through plastic surgery and a face-lift. When we take blows to our faith we need a faith lift. As a messenger of truth I need to help bandage and repair sagging faith and God’s Word comes into your life like a surgical knife. How do I know if I need a faith lift? Can you answer ‘yes’ to any of these questions?

Are you convinced God doesn’t listen to doubters? God never says doubting is dumb. He never calls us stupid for using our brains to question or consider our faith and relationship with God. It really takes faith to enter a relationship with Him. God is more comfortable with our doubts than many Christians are. Take the example of Thomas from the Bible [John 20:24-27]. Thomas had good reason to doubt. His friend, teacher and Savior had been unrecognizably beaten to death and executed on the cross. People were saying Jesus was alive. How could he believe that after all we saw? Jesus didn’t give Thomas all the answers for how He rose from the grave, but He did give Thomas enough to believe and relieve him of doubts.

Are you searching for absolute proof? You want every questioned answered to satisfaction before you make the leap of faith. Truth is, having every questioned answered removes the need for faith. Jesus did not answer all of Thomas’ questions [John 20:28-29]. Doubt and faith go hand in hand. If you have no doubt, you have faith. If you doubt, you do not have faith. [note: Abraham had endless examples faith mixed with doubt.]

Faith is attached to trust. I have faith every day and I often take it for granted: I have faith my alarm will wake me up in the morning because the electricity works. I have faith my car will start. I trust my office chair will keep me sitting up straight. All of these have failed me from time to time, but over time they have been faithful. I do not understand electricity, mechanics or the engineering behind an office chair, but I trust they will work. I do not have to have all the proof before I trust. That is faith.

We may not have proof that Jesus rose from the grave, but we do have evidence. What is some of the proof or evidence we have that Jesus rose from the grave? Christianity has some very compelling evidence, but what it comes down to is do you have faith that it is all truth? What I have found is that sometimes people can have all the facts before them, all the proof and evidence to their questions, but they still doubt because they want to keep their lives hidden from God. They do not want to change their lives because they are too comfortable in their sin and keeping God distant.

Are you waiting for a miracle? You say, “If God would just speak to me, or write it in a book, or come down here to my level, then I would believe.” Do you really? People posed that same question in Jesus’ day. God did speak to them, He did write them a Book and He did come down to their level, and many did not believe [note: miracle of Lazarus; John 12:9-11]. A miracle does not guarantee faith, but assists it [John 20:30ff].

Are you waiting until it feels right? You might think to yourself, “It just doesn’t feel right. I will know in the moment. If Jesus is really for me then I will feel it.” As a good friend once told me, if you are looking for a warm and fuzzy feeling, wet your pants. Feelings are often a byproduct of faith, but not always. Feelings can be freaky. There are some songs and movies that really move me, but they do move me the same as my wife. The other night I was watching Rudy with Sarah, I was in tears at the end, Sarah said with a straight face, “He should have quit the team.” Does that mean I have more feelings than her? No. We are all wired differently. God is emotional and emotions are not wrong, but faith is not anchored in feelings.

Are you bargaining with God? You might think that if you have faith you will get everything and more from God. Just because you have faith doesn’t mean you will all of a sudden ace all your future exams, your family will be pieced back together, you will never again struggle with sin, and a new car will show up in the driveway with you name on it. You cannot use faith to bully God to get what you want. So what is in faith for me? Life. Eternal life. Being with God forever, and being spared from His ferocious wrath that would shun me out of His presence forever.

So tell me what I need to do to get a faith lift? Get off the couch of doubts and talk to someone who has a strong faith. Get into good books: Bible, apologetics, and more. Go to church and immerse yourself into some good teaching and relationships. Faith is a gift [Eph.2:8-9]. You do not earn it or deserve it. God gives it to you because He infinitely loves you. From God it is a gift, but for us the decision is to take it or leave it, to receive it or reject it, to give up on trying yourself, and give your life over to God in faith. Is your faith borrowed from your parents? Is your faith real? Do you see your faith lived out everyday? Do you love the world more than your faith? Will you keep your faith?

faith TKO

Do you ever feel like your faith is getting a gut check? Or that doubts and question plague your mind? I like to ask questions. When I was younger my mom would get so annoyed with all my questions, “Why…?” “What if….?” “How come…?” At times she would pleasure me by giving answers, but when it just got to be too much 20-Questions she would say, “That’s enough.” I still ask a lot of questions. Just ask my wife and she will agree. I am curious.

I am glad that God does not say, “That’s enough,” when we come to Him with questions. He doesn’t get annoyed or have a question quota. He welcomes our questions and doubts. The older I get I ask God more and more questions. Truth be known, many of our heroes of faith in the Bible had serious questions and doubts they poses to God. If you were honest, I would guess you struggle with doubts at times. What are your biggest doubts?

There are different levels of doubters. First, there are doubters with the little “d” who do not have major doubts they are fight with at the moment, but they might one day. Second, there are Doubters with a big “D” who actively doubt, doing battle with nagging questions that come in like a ferocious front line attacking over and over again. Third, there are those who are dead. The only way to not have doubts is when you kick the bucket.

Since God is invisible we bound to have periods of doubt. We will have times in our life when our have has gone flat like a 2-liter bottle of Coke or when our faith has the full-blown flu. We ask questions like: Does God really love me? Can He really forgive the bad I’ve done? Why does He allow such pain and suffering? How can evolution and biblical creation be at odds? What about other gods from other religions? What if I were born somewhere else in the world? These are real and good questions.

Overcoming doubt is all about what we do with our questions and where we take our questions. Dealing with doubt can electrify our faith. Here are some truths about doubt:

Doubt is different than unbelief. Doubt does not mean you do not believe. I seriously believe in a God that saves, but I do have some serious doubts about God at times. The word doubt comes from the Latin, “dubet re” which means wavering between two issues or bouncing back and forth between two options. The word, believe means to be in one mind about something I agree or trust. The words are different in nature.

Doubts can become unbelief. If we do not deal with our doubt in the right way it can become unbelief. Doubts can become like bunnies, you might have two today, but tomorrow you will have a thousand if not deal them urgently. Doubts can choke out your faith like an uncontrollable weed. Remember, it is where we take our doubts. If all your questions were answered there would be no need for faith. Faith says, “I do not have all the answers, but I know One who does.” [Mark 9:24, “Immediately the boys father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me to overcome my unbelief!”]

Doubts are not a cosmic crime. Doubting is not the same as sinning. When John the Baptist saw Jesus he said, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”  He saw the Holy Spirit descend like a dove. Later he was thrown into prison. For Johnny-B this is where the rubber met the road. How did the baptizer of Jesus respond? He doubted [Luke 7:18-19]. I love the way Jesus responded to John’s questions [7:28]. Note where John goes with his doubts and questions, to Jesus. Remember, it is what we do with our doubts that matter. Who do you go to?

Doubts can distance us from God or can draw us to Him. I love my wife. I definitely take her for granted when we are together. I do not concentrate on her character, voice, beauty, her sweet spirit, and all that has drawn me to her. I do not fully appreciate her until we are apart. It is when I am sitting in my office working or away on a trip and she is not there, then I appreciate her fully. It is the same way with doubt. When we feel distant from God, He uses those times to draw us near to Him.

What are you doing with your doubts? Are you allowing them to defeat you? Or are you allowing God to deepen your faith? How can you win the bout with doubt when your faith fizzes flat? First, Go to God. Ask God, “What is my driving doubt?” Admit you do not understand, but are willing to listen. Second, if you have not already, receive Jesus Christ. Beginning a relationship with God brings you close to Him. Sin separates you from Him, but forgiveness brings you freedom. Third, get off the island. Don’t doubt alone. As a kid I would watch Gilligan’s Island. It was the same story every week. Even thought the Professor could build satellite dishes our of bamboo and radios with coconuts they could not get off the island. They tried too much on their own. Do doubt in church, small group, with others you trust in the faith.

If you don’t deal with doubt it will deal with you. The result will be a TKO punch to your faith.


Doubting Thomas

A good friend of mine Ben Houchen posed some curious questions:

What if doubt is not the opposite of faith? What if Thomas was simply the only one willing to ask the question? What if doubt is not the opposite of belief? What if I am simply willing to ask the question? What if doubt is not the abandonment of truth? What if Jesus wanted us to hold mystery and truth together? What if doubt is not against God? What if we stopped pretending to know the answer, to hold the key, and once again look to Jesus for the strength to find answers where we can, and where we cannot, to praise Him all the more? What if doubt is not the opposite of faith? Thomas held the hand of Jesus on his way to belief, what if there is still power in the wounded hands of Christ?

“Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted. Jesus came and told his disciples, ‘I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth.Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations,_ baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’”

What if Doubt is not the opposite of faith???