Have Doubt? Mercy!

The Incredulity of St Thomas - Caravaggio, 1601-1602

The Incredulity of St Thomas – Caravaggio, 1601-1602

Everyone has doubts.  Believers have doubts of all kinds whether they admit them or not.  I have doubts even about some of the strongest convictions I possess. As in many things, there are two ditches on either side to fall into.

Often, doubt is seen as the deadly enemy of true faith.  If we have uncertainty then our faith is not strong or it is failing.  The existence of doubt, however, is not what makes or breaks true discipleship.  Rather it is how doubt is walked through, handled, wrestled with.  After the Lord’s rising, Thomas famously doubted the truth of it.  Instead of wallowing in doubt, Thomas sought after truth and ended up making an amazing confession:  My Lord and my God!  Doubt was not the antithesis of his faith but was part of his path of discipleship.  Doubting Thomas becomes Saint Thomas after all.  So we need not avoid or deny struggles with doubt we may have.  The struggling part, though, is not to be overlooked.

Jesus does not condemn Thomas’ uncertainty, but neither does he commend it.  The second ditch to fall into is a notion that to doubt or be uncertain is somehow to be more authentic or “real”.  Sometimes an aura of depth is cast upon the one who is perpetually in doubt – that’s depth as in, “oh that’s so deep, man!”  Christian books are written lionizing doubt, and a virtue is made of never being certain of God or truth.  These books are trendy (or at least were in 2008 or so).  I fear, though, that this is a false virtue and a cheap illusion of depth.  Thomas’ virtue is in his confession after doubt – not in perpetually staying in it.  As Matthew Milliner pointed out (in probably the best blog post ever – READ IT!) wrestling with difficult questions is “…called normative Christian maturation” but “perpetuating those questions indefinitely, however, is another thing entirely: Frozen adolescence.” 

The Bible does not condemn doubt and Thomas’ path shows that.  But neither does it commend it as though it were,  in and of itself  a mystical state.

The apostle James has nothing nice to say about doubt:  But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord;  he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (James 1:6-8).

And what does the Apostle Jude prescribe for doubt and doubters?  Mercy. (v22)  As a pastor who chats with those, inside and outside my congregation, I always must remember to be merciful on doubts, uncertainty, and wrestling matches with difficult questions.  Always reminding myself that this could be someone’s path to greater maturity or to the loss of vibrant faith.  And that I could be wrestle with the same sort in my own walk with God.

Does it ever occur to us though, when we doubt, to ask for mercy?  Rather than condemn or congratulate ourselves for it?

Who Am I? vs Who Are You?

How do we respond to God properly?  How do we respond with thankfulness and not with presumption?  How does our response show how we have received (or not received) His grace?

"I heard there was a secret chord, that David played and it pleased the Lord..." King David Playing the Harp, Gerard von Honthorst, 17th C

“I heard there was a secret chord, that David played and it pleased the Lord…”
King David Playing the Harp, Gerard von Honthorst, 17th C

King David was a man of many failures.  Also, he had many high points in his relationship with God.  Perhaps that is why he can be of such help to us as we all struggle/stumble/trip/fall/get back up in our pursuit of God.

2 Samuel 7 records an amazing prayer of thankfulness that David prayed God makes covenant with him.  It is well worth meditating upon but the first line jumps off the page.

Who am I, O Lord GOD, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far?

This is how to pray.  This is prayer to God that understands his grace.  And when we understand God’s grace, our disposition to Him will be similar.  When we don’t, it tends to veer to the opposite.

Who am I?   David prays with total humble thankfulness.  He knows that he deserves nothing from God.  Why?  Because he remembers where he’s from and that it was God’s grace alone that brought him to where he is.  He is King (no small achievement).  he has had success (by God’s power).  And he knows that everything is his life is a gift (it’s this way for us all).  He has a low view of himself and his efforts – not in a low self-esteem way but a healthy way.  He has no sense of entitlement.  He is at the top of his life and knows he doesn’t deserve.  God’s grace has made him amazed, thankful, and reverently worshipful.  He gives all the glory to God.  This is a response of one who has a sense of God’s grace.

Who are You?  Without a grasp of grace, we will either become arrogant in ourselves or will turn demanding of God.  Instead of an amazed ‘who am I?’, we may begin to ask God ‘who are you?’.  Not in a searching, seeking way but in a demanding way.  We believe that God owes us something – for our good behaviour, or just because we’re entitled to a good life.  But we’re not.  Everything comes as a gift from God.  When we forget that, our amazed thankfulness will turn to demand.  And because the life we want is rarely the life we get, we could doubt God’s goodness or blame Him in some way.  Who are You? we could ask, demanding that He give the life we desire.

God’s grace given to the undeserving is the heart of Christian faith and a key to the amazed, worshipful, and thankful soul.

Do You Have Enough For Today?

People gather manna (Народ собирает манну небесную), Alexander Ivanov.

People gather manna (Народ собирает манну небесную), Alexander Ivanov.

Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not.  Exodus 16:4

This is as big a test of faith for us as it was for Israel in the wilderness.  While literal manna from heaven is not always what we need, the challenge remains:  Has God supplied us what we need today?

This is a challenge we often put forth to God.  Does He have enough for us today?  But as with most challenges to God, it falls upon us:  Will He be enough for us today?  He meets all of our needs.  He gives us fresh grace every day.  But how often do we imagine that if only I had _____, if only I were _____, then life would be more fulfilled.  Then my relationship with God truer or richer.  Then my obedience to Him would be accomplished.

This is doubly more dangerous for a pastor or minister because we deal in spiritual things.  If only my church was like ______.  If only we had ______.  If only the people weren’t like ______.  Then the mission would get off the ground.  Then community would be rich and satisfying.  Then we’d grow.  Then we’d be deep.  Then we’d reach the city.

But the wonderful truth is that God has given exactly the grace needed for today.  We can believe we don’t have enough and grumble.  We can believe we can’t follow Him unless we have ______.  Or we can have confidence that He has supplied – even is Himself the supply – for this day in front of us.

After all, He taught us to pray  give us this day our daily bread.

Be An Ass!

donkey

Here’s a famous question:  If you could be any animal, what kind of animal would you be?

Did you pick something strong, beautiful,or majestic?  Or maybe something able to fly high or run far?

Well, if you were to ask the great theologian Karl Barth he would reply…  I’d be an ass!

Referring to the story of Christ entering Jerusalem on the back of an ass, Barth found affinity with that donkey and said:

“If I have done anything in this life of mine, I have done it as a relative of the donkey that went its way carrying an important burden. The disciples had said to its owner: ‘The Lord has need of it.’ And so it seems to have pleased God to have used me at this time…”

Wanting to be used by God.  Wanting to carry Christ and His message where he went.  He wanted to be an ass.  There is great humility in this statement.  Nobody was looking at the donkey on that day.  They were all looking at the One that was carried.  Wouldn’t it be great if all our lives were more like that?

Why Aren’t We Into The Prosperity Gospel? – or – some thoughts about wealth, greed, and God as Provider

If you're reading this blog from America or Britain or somewhere else:  Yeah, I'm Canadian.  And, yeah, our money is a bunch of funny colours.

If you’re reading this blog from America or Britain or somewhere else: Yeah, I’m Canadian. And, yeah, our money is a bunch of funny colours.

Last night, my wife and I were reading the Bible in bed.  (yeah, we do that)  We work our way through Luke were at Chapter 11:  And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.  What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?  If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! Luke 11:9-13.  

That is a wonderful passage about asking, receiving, and the incredible generosity of Father God.  Having just read it to my wife, she turned to me – ever-wise – and asked “So then, why don’t we follow the prosperity Gospel?”

That was a good question!  Why, in light of the truth that God gives to those whatever they ask out of his generosity, do we not believe that we should have whatever we want?  Prosperity Gospel is shorthand for the belief that:  1)  blessing = financial/material blessing, 2)  God blesses those with faith, and so therefore 3)  faith = $$$.  Given what Jesus – Jesus Himself, mind you – says about asking, receiving, and God’s giving in Luke 11, doesn’t it follow that we should pray for whatever we want and get it?  Well no…  But why not?  Reflecting upon this, a few other truths 

1)  Greed Ain’t Good.  The Bible has other stuff to say about wealth other than ask and receive.  We flipped ahead and read 1 Timothy 6:5-10 where Paul, talking about false teachers says that they are:  imagining that godliness is a means of gain.  But godliness with contentment is great gain,  for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.  But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.  But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.  That is pretty heavy duty and kind of settles it.  False teaching will advocate material greed.  We ought to be content and not be greedy for wealth.  Desire to be rich is called a snare.  And the love of money leads to all kind of evil.  It is even a path out of true faith in Jesus.  The Bible is an entire revelation from God and many parts balance out others.  While many passages seem as though we can pray for whatever we want and ought to get it, others check us in our desires.  Greed ain’t good and any ‘gospel’ which encourages it shouldn’t be followed.

2)  But Money Ain’t All Bad.  Nevertheless, we shouldn’t be ashamed that God is a wonderful provider.  Money isn’t ‘the root of all evil’, the ‘love of it’ is.  Money arriving in your life, especially in unexpected and unusual ways, can be a great spiritual encouragement.  Money is needed to further God’s work in the world – both of mercy and proclamation.  And perhaps most of all, the God-Who-Is-Loving-Father ought to seen as One who provides wonderfully for those who seek Him.  There have been many times in my life where God has provided for me in amazing ways.  There have also been times where He has taught me to get over myself and ask Him for real, material things as I have found myself needing them.  “Father, I need some money, give me some money” has been a prayer that he has been pleased to answer several times in my life.  The Father receives glory when we seek Him for our needs and when we can testify that He has come through.  I have known some who, in scrambling to avoid name-it-and-claim-it type distortions, fall off on the wrong side of the horse.  And they forget the simplicity of Jesus’ teaching.  Need.  Ask.  Receive.  There’s a Father who loves you and is taking care of you.  We ought not to flinch from what Jesus teaches.  It is possible to ask God for $ without falling into the trap of:  more faith = more $ = we should have lots of $$$.

3)  There Is A Greater Treasure.  A final reason why we’re not into the Prosperity Gospel is worth mentioning.  Jesus teaches us that God gives us the desires of our hearts and where our treasure is our heart will be also.  And in Luke 11, he tells us what the greatest provision of Father God is.  He, being a good Father, will not withhold Holy Spirit to those who ask.  A Prosperity “Gospel” implicitly teaches us that wealth is the greatest thing, and so to be truly rich is to have more money.  The Gospel teaches us no such thing.  The greatest treasure is God Himself – Holy Spirit = God = Him.  When we have more of Him, it may actually lessen our desires for the comforts and padding of material things.  The greatest treasure (and our greatest desire) ought not to be what God gives but God Himself.  And that is Good News.

My Chaos/God’s Ordering – or – a personal reflection on the state of my kitchen

This isn't my real kitchen table.  But it's the same idea!

This isn’t my real kitchen table. But it’s the same idea!

So we’re doing a little renovation on our kitchen.  Tiles are ripped up, dust is everywhere, and saving account is draining.  Doing it on a budget, we’re just re-painting our cabinets not replacing them.  But nevertheless we’ve had a few days of everything out of them cupboards and covering every available surface.  Our dining room table is gone!  Our coffee tables – gone!  Even a couple living room chairs are now holding cups, dishes, dry goods, basically all the contents of our cupboards.

I have a hard time with renovations!  It’s not just watching all the money disappear from our savings account (although it is that!  I’m a good saver but not a good spender!).  It’s not just the dust (although I hate dust!).  It’s the chaos, inconvenience, and the clutter!  I’ve always been an organized person.  I like things in their place.  Being ex-military does not help in this predilection.  I actually think it’s a good thing to be like this, although… when chaos, inconvenience, and clutter comes I get anxious.  I have a hard time sitting down.  I don’t know where everything is.  I just want to make breakfast the old, convenient way.  It is actually really hard for me to see the normalcy of my routines, home, schedule, and life upended.  But, I keep telling myself, it is for something good in the end.

Often life isn’t the way we would have chosen it in a given season. Routines give way to Chaos – “this feels out of control somehow!”  Ease turns into Inconvenience – “why can’t things be easier!”  And what it feels like we can handle becomes Clutter – “this is more than I feel I can handle!”  Life can become like a kitchen in the process of renovation.  But there is one truth we can remember – God is in Control.

Yesterday, I was feeling anxiety about my mid-reno home and life.  My kids were eating pizza in the living room (on the new couch, no less!  Gasp!). My brother-in-law was busy painting.  My wife was trying to keep the household running.  I felt anxious.  I couldn’t sit down.  I was on the verge of allowing myself some grouchiness. I couldn’t rest!  But I felt the Lord remind me that it was all for a good end.  My little kitchen was going to look much nicer.  My wife was going to be happy.  I would find satisfaction in a the completion of the job.  It may be Chaos, Inconvenience, and Clutter but there was an end, a purpose.

My life is similar to my kitchen.  I’d prefer no chaos, no inconvenience, no clutter.  But I am not in control of my own life.  That would be a scary thought if it were not for the wonderful truth that God is.  God is in control.  He guides all human history.  He causes the waves to rise and fall on the ocean.  He clothes the lilies and feeds the sparrows.  He is the Grand Author of the world and He is author of my life.  And everything is for a good end.

What we feel in our hearts really isn’t about my kitchen and the state thereof.  It is about whether we can trust that God is in control working all things to a good end for us.  This doesn’t mean that it isn’t difficult, or shouldn’t be.  It doesn’t mean that overwhelming seasons will pass quickly.  Even my renovations aren’t as big or long as many kitchen renos are.  It doesn’t mean that it won’t hurt to have the order of our lives disrupted so that God can do His more important ordering.  But it does mean that He is in control.  And there is some rest to be found.

At least my kitchen isn't this bad!

At least my kitchen isn’t this bad!

Who am I? And What Do I Worship? another self-administered test

This is a little self-test from Peter Kreeft.  It can help us determine who we are and what it is that we worship in our lives.  You can answer as quickly as you can and then check your answers with the key.

First, Some Personal Questions:

Who do think are the three greatest living persons in the world today?

1) ____________

2) ____________

3) ____________

4)  Who do you think is the most powerful person in the world today, whether for good or for evil?  ____________

Name the person you turn to first for advice and help when you have problems in each of the following areas of your life:

5)  mental health ____________

6)  marriage ____________

7)  money ____________

8)  sex ____________

9)  family ____________

10)  career ____________

Next, Some Theological Questions:

11)  Why did God create the universe?  ____________

12)  How can we know God?  ____________

13)  What is God like?  ____________

14)  Why do you believe in life after death?  ____________

15)  What is the secret of getting wisdom?  ____________

16)  How can a wicked person become righteous?  ____________

17)  How can you become a saint?  ____________

18)  When you die and meet God and He asks you why He should let you into Heaven, what will you say?  ____________

19)  What is the Church?  ____________

20)  What is the solution to the problem of war?  ____________

21)  What did St Paul know that you do not that made him such an effective evangelist?  ____________

22)  Christianity seems to be just one religion among many in the world.  How can this local, Western, Jewish, particular thing be for everyone, universally?  ____________

23)  What is Christianity?  What does it preach, say, claim, or proclaim?  ____________

Next, Some Philosophical Questions:

24)  What is truth?  ____________

25)  Define your way of life.  ____________

26)  Define “Life”.  ____________

27)  What is death?  ____________

Next, Some Psychological Questions:

28)  What is the end, goal, and purpose of your life?  ____________

29)  What is your solution to boredom?  ____________

30)  Define your true identity?  ____________

31)  Why is your identity so mysterious?  ____________

32)  What is the best cure for loneliness?  ____________

33)  What can you do when you feel tired all the time?  ____________

Finally, Two Questions To Pull It All Together:

34)  What is the last command of the last apostle?  ____________

35)  What is the most frequently disobeyed command?  ____________

source:  Peter Kreeft, Jesus Shock, pages 6-35

for the Answer Key, scroll down, way down.

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Answer Key

1 – 3) Luke 24:5: If you didn’t answer “The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, why not? Do you think of God as real persons or impersonal abstractions?

4)       Mt. 28:18: It’s Jesus, man!.

5 – 10) Phil. 4:19: God supplies for all your needs through Christ, not just the spiritual or religious, but all of them.

11)     Col 1:16: All of creation is through and for him. He is not just Savior of the world. He is its purpose!

12)     Jn. 1:18: All true knowledge of God comes through Christ, the Light of the World.

13)    Jn. 14:8-9: “God is love and love holds nothing back, so the Father holds nothing back in expressing himself in God, the Son.”

14)    Jn. 11:26: “Death is not a philosophical problem but a live one. Its solution is not a philosophical argument but a live person.

15 -18) 1 Cor. 1:30: Jesus isn’t merely the cause of wisdom, righteousness, sanctity & redemption… he IS our wisdom, righteousness…

19)    Eph. 1:22-33: The Church is the Body of Christ, “It is an organism before it is an organization, and incarnation before it is an institution.

20)    Jn. 14:27: Jesus is our peace.

21)    1 Cor. 2:2: “Less is more.” Catherine of Sienna once said, “Everything I know I learned at the foot of the Cross.”

22)    Col. 3:11: The Gospel is the story of the Author of the universe redeeming the universe. Hence, Christianity is truly the only universal religion.

23)    Col. 1:27-28: Our faith is all about a relationship with the Living God.

24 – 26)    Jn. 14:6: “Once again, abstractions acquire hands and feet and lips.” Jesus doesn’t just teach the way, truth and life. He IS the way, truth & life!

27)    Phil. 1:21: “If your life is Christ, then your death will be only more of Christ, forever.”

28)    Eph 4:13: “The meaning of human life is to grow up, and to grow up means to become more like Christ.”

29)    2 Cor. 5:17 (see also, Eccl. 1:9, Rev. 21:5): “Behold, I make all things new.”

30)    Gal. 2:20: To live is to love. To love is to give yourself, fully, freely, fruitfully, faithfully, forever. Anything else is death. To love is to be God-like and you are made in the image and likeness of God!

31)    Col. 3:3: Our lives are hidden in Christ, ‘We are all caterpillars (Adams) in process of transformation into butterflies (Christs).”

32)    Mt. 28:20: You are never alone. Christ is with you always.

33)    Mt. 11:28: With Christ as your center, there is no storm, no trial, nothing that can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

34 – 35) 1 Jn. 5:21: What are the idols in your life? All of us have them, money, sex, drugs, TV, shopping, etc. Each and every time you put yourself first, you act selfishly then you are placing some idol on the throne of your heart and pushing Jesus aside.