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living the resurrection: FROM DOUBT TO DEVOTION


Moving From Doubt to Devotion

In 1957, Lieutenant David Steeves walked out of the California Sierras Mts. 54 days after his Air Force trainer jet had disappeared. He related an unbelievable tale of survival after parachuting from his disabled plane. For almost 3 months he said he had eaten berries and dug snow tunnels to sleep in, had seen no one during the entire time & finally walked out on his own. By the time he showed up alive, he had already been declared officially dead and his story was viewed with much skepticism because during that same time frame his assigned unit had been sent to the Korean War. When further search failed to turn up any wreckage, a hoax was suspected & Steeves was forced to resign under a cloud of doubt. He lived for 2 decades branded as a deserter and possible spy. One story had him selling the plane to the Russians, another shipping it piecemeal to Mexico. Steeves died in 1965. In 1977 a troop of Boy Scouts hiking through Kings Canyon National Park discovered the wreckage of Steeve’s plane and his story was confirmed. His family was issued an apology from the military and was told that Lt. David Steeves’s name was reinstated with honor. One of Steeves friends, Eugene Junett, after the ceremony told the Associated Press. “This is nice, but then he added: “I just wish someone would of believed Dave back then.”

All of us at one time or another has doubted something. Maybe there are times when you even doubted the existence of God.

Following Christ resurrection He had several interesting encounters and conversations. We are going to study some of them over the next couple of weeks. There is a classic story of one of the disciples named Thomas. Many refer to him as doubting Thomas because he is best remembered as being slow to believe that Christ really came back to life.

The study of personalities is interesting and fascinating and while we are not going to do an in-depth analysis of Thomas’s personality let me give you two other biblical reference that are made about Thomas.

In John 11, Thomas makes a pessimistic and perhaps sarcastic statement about following Jesus to Lazarus’s tomb, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” On another occasion when Jesus was explaining to the disciples that he was about to go to his Father’s house, “Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’” (14:6) There was something about him that made Thomas question things from somewhat of a negative position. He was what many would refer to as a glass half empty kind of person. He reminds me of the old story about the man and his dog.

A man and his dog are walking along the beach when they see a visitor to the beach. The owner of the dog is proud of his dog’s newly mastered feat - so he says to the visitor, "Watch this." He tosses a piece of driftwood far out into the sea and the dog immediately runs on top of the water, fetches the wood and runs back. The visitor shacks his head in disbelief. The owner of the dog repeats the trick two more times. Finally, he asks the visitor, "Did you notice anything unusual?" The visitor replied, "Your dog can’t swim can he?"

Certainly Thomas would have had the same kind of response.

Here is the most recognized interaction of Thomas with Jesus after the resurrection.

 24 One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), as not with the others when Jesus came. 25 They told him, “We have seen the Lord!” 

   But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.” 

 26 Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!” 

 28 “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.   29 Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”
John 20:24-29 NLT

This message in this story is very simple and shouldn’t take a long time to discover. Here was a guy struggling with his faith and ability to believe. After a personal encounter with Christ, he believes and from his act of belief we learn a lesson about our own struggle with belief and doubt. 

1. Seeing is Believing

25 They told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.” John 20:25 NLT

Seeing is believing, is a very common phrase. In the movie Polar Express it is line that encourages that is used to encourage the children to believe in something they have never seen. Scientist and theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking uses the phrase in his writings about the universe as well. Most of us use it or hear it stated in casual conversation.

But there is a much deeper implication when it comes to thinking about Jesus Christ. In Thomas’s case I don’t think we should be too hard on him. It was a traumatic week. He had watched the rabbi that he had given up his own life to follow be crucified and buried. The wounds he mentions would suggest that he has a vivid memory of the crucifixion like any of us would that experienced a similar scene.

He missed the first encounter with Jesus and the disciples and when he heard about it he was quick to doubt the story. I understand that.

Where are you in this whole notion of a relationship with Christ? What kind of encounter have you had with Him and is it life changing?

There are people in this very room that have never prayed or believed because they can’t see who they are praying to. It is a struggle for them. There are also some people in here that have been dealt a blow of one kind or another in their lives and you have lost ground in your faith in Christ. You are wrestling today with trying to reconcile a loving God and why you have to endure the situation you find yourself in. I understand that and want to push you to consider the next section of this story.

Is it possible to turn that phrase around? Is it possible to move from “seeing is believing,” to: 

2. Believing is Seeing

26 Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!” 

 28 “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.”
  John 20:26-28 NLT

It is critical to note that when it came right down to the moment of belief Thomas didn’t need to quite see as much as he thought he did. In an encounter with Christ the act of faith is a big deal and we need to spend a few moments talking about it.
Jesus just shows up, which is a miraculous act meant to encourage His disciples to believe. This is the second time He just shows up in the room without coming through the door. 

You may need to have faith to come to Christ for salvation or you may need to rekindle your faith because you have drifted away from your rock solid belief in Him. Regardless of the exact circumstance it hinges on your believing before you see.
You will never experience Christ truly unless you believe in Him. When you are believing and putting your trust in Him on a daily basis then you will experience and encounter Christ on a regular basis. No, he won’t show up in your house without opening the door but He will show up in your house and home when you put Him first. No He won’t show up to always prevent you from facing challenges in life or provide you with a parking spot closest to the door of the grocery but He will go with you through every life experience if you only believe. You can see Christ. You won’t literally see Him with your two eyes but you will encounter Him when you believe.
UCLA alumni and fans made UCLA football coach Pepper Rodgers’s life miserable during a season when his Bruins got off to a horrible start. Nobody in Southern California would hang out with him. "My dog was my only true friend," Rodgers said of that year. "I told my wife that every man needs at least two good friends. She bought me another dog."

Rodgers can be rigid in the face of adversity. When his players at UCLA were having difficulty adapting to the wishbone offense he’d installed and the school’s alumni demanded that he adopt another system, Rodgers didn’t budge. The wishbone, he said, "is like Christianity. If you believe in it only until something goes wrong, you didn’t believe in it in the first place."

Look again at Thomas’s response: “My Lord and my God!
His He your Lord and your God? 

3. What do you believe? 

 29 Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.” John 20:29 NLT

Even Jesus recognized that our coming to believe without seeing Him would be a tremendous act of faith. 

A recent issue of Christianity Today magazine has an interesting article on doubt. The author (Mark Buchanan) tells of meeting a man who called himself a skeptic. He asked if the man had ever read the Bible. The man answered, “No, not really. I told you, I’m a skeptic. I don’t believe it.” The author’s response: “This is not skepticism. This is a refusal to investigate, to scrutinize, to ponder deeply.”
Buchanan further writes:

“Thomas's doubt itself is pithy, earthy, real. His is a doubt that often taunts us. It is a doubt that stands between the world's believing and doubting. Because his doubt is this: is Jesus really risen from the dead? Has he really conquered death, with all that such conquest means? Or is the claim that he is risen just the deluded wish-fulfillment of a few men and women made unstable by grief, needing to fabricate a resurrection to console themselves, to vindicate their naïve faith?

Is this not our doubt, too? Is this not the doubt? To second-guess and explain away Christ's resurrection is, of course, the vogue of academia, a virtual growth industry. It has been for a long time. That's neither particularly surprising nor particularly interesting. But this is: even dear Mrs. Smith, a tithing laywoman so reverent and faithful and faith-filled—so abounding in good works and unshakable in her convictions—even she feels, from time to time, the chill of this doubt's shadow.

Unless I see it with my own eyes, touch it with my own hands, I will not believe. This is the heart of the matter. This is what stands between Thomas's believing and his doubting: unless I.

I know what he means. I can have all the personal testimony and logical airtightness and empirical verification in the world, but unless I see it, touch it, have an experience of it, a shade of doubt exists. Nothing—not the witness box, not the lab report, not the field dispatch—substitutes for the power to convince that my own seeing and touching can deliver. Unless I is the doubter's mantra.

Biblical faith is not sentimental, not sloppy, not vague.

Thomas was a true skeptic. He doubted, not to excuse his unbelief, but to establish robust belief. He doubted so that his belief might be based on something more than rumor and wishful thinking.  Doubt has its limits. It can be faith's tonic, a cleansing and invigorating force. But doubt can quickly turn corrosive or cancerous, burning or mutating healthy tissue. It can become a way of holding God for ransom. Our lives can degenerate into a fruitless and futile round of "Unless I see, unless I touch, unless I have the experience, I will not believe." Indulged too long, doubt becomes just a parlor game.

Philip Yancey makes the observation that miracles, especially in the Old Testament, almost always created distance rather than intimacy between people and God. And those who saw Jesus' miracles and believed hardly come off as unshakable and unswerving in their decision to follow him.

Christ's concluding words to Thomas are not so much an endorsement of "mere belief" as a warning that the quest for "proof" is not the path of blessedness. "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

Just what is the connection between seeing and believing? Jesus tells Thomas after he sees him to stop doubting and believe. Belief is still called for, still demanded. Seeing does not remove the necessity of belief: seeing is not believing.

All this makes more poignant the nature of Thomas's doubt and Christ's answer. What, after all, does Thomas want to see and touch? What does Christ show him? What is the evidence sought and then offered for the resurrection?

Wounds. "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my fingers where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe." And Jesus says to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe."

Christ demonstrates his victory over death, not by feats of strength, not by more and more spectacular miracles, but by wounds: nail holes, spear marks. Behold, the lamb who was slain.

It is no accident that the more squeamish our culture becomes about wounds—denying death, cloaking sickness, hiding away the old and the decrepit—the more we are plagued with doubt about the resurrection. We shun wounds, and our doubts breed. And the opposite is true. To see wounds, to touch wounds, often displaces doubt. Mother Teresa, with her vocation of touching wounds—real flesh-and-blood wounds—and seeing them as Jesus' wounds, never seemed to doubt the resurrection. Put your finger here. See my hands. Stop doubting and believe.

Doubt, when honest, should set us on a quest for that which is true, real, that for which we can give not only our intellectual assent but, even more, that to which we can entrust our very lives. Thomas's doubt led to this place. Jesus shows his wounds to Thomas, tells Thomas to see, to touch. He sees, but he doesn't touch. He knows when enough is enough. And here is the real sign that Thomas is not some poseur, some mere academic trend-chaser: his seeing gives way, not just to belief, but to worship: "My Lord and my God!"

“I am inwardly fashioned for faith, not for fear. Fear is not my native land; faith is. I am so made that worry and anxiety are sand in the machinery of life; faith is the oil. I live better by faith and confidence than by fear, doubt and anxiety. In anxiety and worry, my being is gasping for breath--these are not my native air. But in faith and confidence, I breathe freely--these are my native air. A John Hopkins University doctor says, "We do not know why it is that worriers die sooner than the non-worriers, but that is a fact." But I, who am simple of mind, think I know; We are inwardly constructed in nerve and tissue, brain cell and soul, for faith and not for fear. God made us that way. To live by worry is to live against reality.   Dr. E. Stanley Jones.

Hope motivates us to keep going and not give up. Without hope we don’t want to do anything.

Peanut’s cartoon: Lucy and Linus were sitting in front of the television set when Lucy said to Linus, "Go get me a glass of water." Linus looked surprised, "Why should I do anything for you? You never do anything for me." "On you 75th birthday," Lucy promised, "I’ll bake you a cake." Linus got up, headed to the kitchen and said, "Life is more pleasant when you have something to look forward to."

Do you have a steadfast unshakeable hope in God? Hope not only opens the door to receive a touch from God, hope also moves you through the door. Like Linus, when you have hope you’re willing to get up and do something.

I would like for you to ponder and pray during this video response time. We are going to watch images on a screen but my hope is that you utilize this time to review your own doubts and I encourage you to believe so that you might see.
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2010/04/18