Tag Archives: Doubt

God’s People, part 95: Habakkuk

Read Habakkuk 1

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“I will climb up to my watchtower and stand at my guardpost. There I will wait to see what the Lord says and how he will answer my complaint.” (Habakkuk‬ ‭2:1‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

  Part 95: Habakkuk. An obscure prophet, of whom little is known, Habakkuk is believed to have lived around, or somewhere following, the rise of the Babylonians (aka the Chaldeans). Living during the seventh century BCE (ca. 612 BCE), he was an early contemporary of the prophets Jeremiah and Zephaniah. Thus, Habakkuk saw the rise of the Babylonian Empire and the imminent danger that empire was to Judah. 

His short prophetic book consists of a series of questions and answers, concluding with a song of praise to God. It starts off with Habakkuk question God. “How long, O Lord, must I call for help? But you do not listen! “Violence is everywhere!” I cry, but you do not come to save. Must I forever see these evil deeds? Why must I watch all this misery? Wherever I look, I see destruction and violence. I am surrounded by people who love to argue and fight. The law has become paralyzed, and there is no justice in the courts. The wicked far outnumber the righteous, so that justice has become perverted” (Habakkuk‬ ‭1:2-4‬ ‭NLT).‬‬

In this, as you can plainly see, the prophet was openly questioning the working of God. He reminded God of his cries for help and then accused God of not listening. He accuses God of ignoring the need for salvation and justice, leaving the wicked to far outnumber the righteous and, as a result, allowing justice to become perverted by wicked people.

Habakkuk has been praised by scholars for his literary genius, believing that he intentionally wrote his letter in this question and answer style in order to deliver the message with dramatic effect. Whether these prayers to God were prayers he actually prayed, or whether these prayers were articulating the serious questions of the “righteous” people of Judah, Habakkuk gives voice to the lament against God’s seeming inactivity in the midst of such corruption.

More than give voice to this kind of lament, Habakkuk actually gives people permission to lament in such ways, to pray in such ways, to pour out one’s heart to God in such ways. The prophet to does not record God’s response in a way that rebukes the inquirer; rather, God entertains the questions and gives answers to the specific work that God is doing.

This pattern happens in the second chapter and, in the third chapter, Habakkuk praised God for the work that God was doing, for God’s justice, and for God’s enduring presence. Thus, after a series of questions and answers, Habakkuk leads the reader into a song of praise of God, reinforcing the reality that God not only can handle our questions, but God will answer them.

This challenges the view of God that many people have, the view that God is distant and hard to approach. Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever found yourself questioning God? Have you ever felt guilty for questioning God? Habakkuk teaches us not only that God will enact justice and hold the wicked, the greedy, and those who abuse their powers accountable, but that God listens to us and does not get angry when we ask questions.

The challenge for us is to grow in our knowledge of God so that we can strenghten our relationship with God. The better we get to know God, the more we honestly and openly communicate (aka pray) with God, the more comfortable we will be with asking God the tough questions. The more we commuicate with God the better we will get at listening to God as well, and hearing God’s response. I pray, if you haven’t already, that you experience such growth.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Those who are able to see beyond the shadows and lies of their culture will never be understood, let alone believed by the masses.” —Unknown Author, possibly summarizing “The Allegory of the Cave” from Plato’s Republic

PRAYER

Lord, lead me into a deeper and stronger relationsip with you, one where I ask questions and listen for answers. Help me to see you clearly, so that I may see truth beyond the shadows that surround me. Amen.

God’s People, part 23: Moses

Read Numbers 20:2-13

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
Then the LORD said to Moses, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have now allowed you to see it with your own eyes, but you will not enter the land.” (Deuteronomy 34:4 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

charlton-heston-as-moses-in-the-ten-commandmentsPart 23: Moses. We all know Moses, right? Or, we all think we know Moses. He’s that guy who had a really tall stature, with a flowing white beard. He grew up a prince of Egypt until he murdered someone. Then, fearing for his life, Moses fled Egypt and settled out in Midian where he married Zipporah (if we even remember her name), the daughter of Jethro (aka Reuel), and tended to the sheep of his wife’s father.

It is there that he came “face to face” with God in a burning bush, went back to Egypt along with his brother Aaron, and demanded that Pharoah let God’s people go. After refusing to do so several times, God sent the angel of death to take all of the first born sons of Egypt, including Pharaoh’s son. Finally, the pharaoh relented and allowed the slaves to leave Egypt. But that only lasted so long, and Pharaoh ended up chasing the Hebrew slaves out to the red sea. Moses parted it and, as the Egyptians were giving them chase through the sea, Moses sent the waves crashing down on them when the Hebrews made it to the other side.

The rest is history right? The Hebrew slaves made it to Mount Sinai where Moses climbed up and received the two stone tablets carring the commandments of God. The Hebrews chose to make a golden calf as they were worried Moses had died up there, since he had been gone for so long. When Moses saw that, he threw the stone tablets at them and the earth swallowed the wicked people up. Then Moses went back up Mount Sinai to receive a new copy of the Ten Commandments, and all lived happily ever after or something to that effect.

While that summary probably feels very familiar to you, and probably feels very Biblical, it is only part of the story. Moses, as we all are, was a very flawed individual. Most of us think of his flaw being the fact that he murdered someone. The problem with that is that murder is the “unjust” killing of another human being, and Moses was very justified in killing the person he killed. He saw that individual crueling beating a Hebrew slave and he rushed in to stop that from happening. Of course, the Egyptians weren’t happy about that, but we’d be hard pressed to say that Moses was a cold-blooded murderer without just reasons for what he did.

Moses’ flaw was not murder, but was his being such a wish-washy partner in what God was doing. He was literally hot and cold. Some days he was glowing in the radiance of God, other days he was cursing God and complaining about having to take care of God’s people. What’s more, his ego seemingly new no ends. In fact, his sister Miriam and Aaron complained to God about Moses’ claim that he was the ONLY prophet of God. Miriam, herself, had the prophetic voice before Moses even was able to walk and yet her brother seemingly wrote her prophetic gift completely off (Numbers 12:1-15).

Between Moses’ hot and cold leadership, his fiery temper, and his ego we have someone who looks a lot like most of us. When he was on, he was really on; however, when he was off, he was really off. Moses certainly led the Hebrews to freedom and paved their way to the Promised Land. What he did, in that regard, was nothing short of heroic; yet, he also allowed the people to get to him and he allowed his own ego to possess him. In doing so, we find a prophet who sometimes forgot who he was speaking for and why he was called.

It is for that reason, that the Scripture says that Moses was only permitted to see the Promised Land but was not allowed to enter it. While I don’t believe that God literally kept Moses from entering the land that God was delivering them to, it’s clear that his flaws certainly had. I also believe that Moses, in his own self-reflection, understood that it was not his own doing that got them to where they were and that it would not be his own doing that brought them to their final destination. The challenge for us is to, like Moses, be self-reflective enough to see where we have fallen short and how God has provided and come through despite our kicking and screaming along the way. If we can do that, we can at least behold the glory of God before we depart from this life and leave our legacy to those who follow us.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
The ultimate aim of the ego is not to see something, but to be something.

PRAYER
Lord, help me to silence my ego that I might see and allow you to be. Amen.

God’s People, part 5: Sarah

Read Genesis 21:1-7

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
So she laughed silently to herself and said, “How could a worn-out woman like me enjoy such pleasure, especially when my master—my husband—is also so old?” (Genesis 18:12 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people truly are like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

SarahAndIsaacPart 5, Sarah. I don’t think that we in modern Western Civilization have a good or healthy understanding of the character of Sarah. When we think of her story we only think of one thing, her pregnancy with Isaac in old age. That is not entirely our fault because the Bible presents that moment as the crowning moment in Sarah’s life and, no doubt, it was. What’s more, we are so far removed from that ancient world, that the context is almost nearly lost to us.

If we think of anything else, regarding Sarah, we think of how she had an incredibly hard time believing that what God said would happen would come true. We almost hold that against her contemptuously, as if it isn’t completely insane to believe a woman of 70+ years was going to bear a child! “Oh, but God said it would happen,” one might contend, “and she should have believed God because God is all-powerful and can make anything happen.” Well, that’s easy for one to say, but I would reply back, “Whose god? And why don’t you start believing that God can make your grandmother pregnant, if that is so easy to believe?”

We forget Sarah’s story, and we also forget that there’s more to her life, to her worth, than her ability, or lack thereof, to get pregnant. Yet, Sarah came from a world where pregnancy was the crowning achievement for a woman. In fact, it was understood at the time to be the main reason a woman existed, to bear the man’s male child so that the family could have an heir and the patriarchy could continue. It was a man’s world, through and through.

But back to the question of “whose god?”. We forget that Abram (Abraham) and Sarai (Sarah) were not Jewish and they did not always worship Yahweh (I AM that I AM). They came from a foreign land (Ur) and worshipped many gods. So, it is all well and good that Abram had this inkling to follow a new-found god, but why would that make Sarah believe that this god could make the impossible happen?

Don’t get me wrong, Sarah was far from a perfect person. She certainly doubted that God would make her, barren and at an advanced age, pregnant. She even laughed when an angel told her husband that she would conceive a child. She “convinced” her husband to sleep with her servant girl, Hagar, in order that Hagar might serve as a surrogate mother to Sarah’s “child.” She harshly abused Hagar and Ishmael out of jealousy when her own son, Isaac, was finally born. She was so jealous that she eventually had Hagar and Ishmael banished out into the wilderness where she had hoped they would die.

Be that as it may, she also was a woman who had a tough life and endured abuse at the hands of her sometimes-cowardly husband. She was barren and no doubt believed by her family to be under the curse of the gods because she could not give her husband what every good wife was supposed to produce: a male heir. She had to leave everything behind, her family and friends and homeland, to chase some crazy dream of a promised land and descendants that match the number of stars. She had a husband who, fearing for his life, sexually trafficked her to the courts of kings. Sarah’s life was not one that any of us would hope to have. It was hard, it was uncertain, and filled with much woe.

Yet, despite her flaws and hardships, God still favored this woman and richly blessed her. God did keep the promise to give her a child and God rose up out of that child innumerous descendants, including many kings of many nations. What’s more, out of Sarah came the descendant who would be the Light of the World. Sarah’s laughter of disbelief became her laughter of joy.  Do you laugh at what God’s called you to do? Do you see God’s call as impossible? Do you even know what God’s purpose for you is? Have no fear, even in disbelief and doubt, in turmoil and struggle, God’s faithfulness is never ending. Have faith and believe.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“What do you mean, ‘If I can’? Anything is possible if a person believes.” – Jesus of Nazareth in Mark 9:23

PRAYER
Lord, fulfill in me your purpose for my life and turn my laughter of doubt into laughter of joy. Amen.

Doubting Thomas

Read John 20:24-29

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the LORD. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find Me.’” (Jeremiah 29:11-13, NLT)

The Tomb of St. Thomas. Mylapore, India.Do you remember learning about the twelve disciples in Sunday school? To be honest, I don’t remember learning about the twelve disciples. I remember learning about the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Only two of them were were named after one of Jesus’ disciples. I remember learning about Peter and Andrew as well as John and James. They were the two pairs of fisherman in the group. There was Matthew (formerly known as Levi the tax collector) and Phillip (though I am not sure what he did prior to joining Jesus). And, of course, there was Judas Iscariot. Everyone knows Judas as he is the disciple who infamously betrayed Jesus with a Kiss.

The other disciples are largely skipped over and not taught about, in my experience, with the exception of one: Doubting Thomas. He was the guy who is infamously known for his doubt. Ironically, Thomas is only shown in one Gospel to portray that “doubt”, and only in one place. What’s more, that Gospel, John, was the last of the Gospel’s to be written and does not follow the same format or chronological timetable that the other three (Synoptic) Gospels follow. Thomas is seen in John 20:24-29 as not believing the other disciples when they tell him that Jesus had risen from the dead. Thomas says, “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.”

As a result, Thomas has forever gone down in history as the guy who DOUBTED the resurrection. Jesus chastises him following his sudden change of heart upon seeing the risen Christ: “You believe because you have seen Me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing Me” (John 20:29). Poor Thomas, upon seeing Christ, had let go of his doubt and chose to believe, only to receive a cold shoulder from “[his] Lord and [his] God” (John 20:28). It’s as if Christ is saying, to all believers everywhere, “Do NOT doubt. For if you doubt your faith, in the end, is worth less than those who believe in me without doubting.”

For many people, these words have been a stumbling block to faith. To be fair to the text, they were meant to encourage people who had not been eyewitnesses to the resurrection to continue believing even though they had not seen; however, since then, they have become words of admonishment for those who DARE question the veracity of the resurrection, let alone any other matter of faith. The clear message that is taught to children in Sunday school is, shut down your questions lest you be found to be like doubting Thomas. Unfortunately, that fearful message has hindered the growth of many people who have suppressed the urge to question.

Yet, people fail to realize where Thomas’ “doubt” led him. He may or may not have questioned the resurrection; however, he did, without question, find himself in India preaching the Good News of his resurrected Lord. It is there, thousands of miles away from home, that he was martyred for Jesus and it is there, in Mylapore India, that his body lays at rest. Thomas’ doubt led him to be grow into a great proclaimer of the hope, healing and wholeness of his risen Lord and Savior.

Don’t let fear stop you from questioning and, even, from doubting. Doubt is neither good nor bad. It exists whether we want it to or not. Even as a pastor, I doubt. It is not doubt that is bad, but what we do or don’t do with it. Embrace your doubt, ask the tough questions, and allow the risen Christ to appear to you. Then it will be come REAL for you and you will grow in leaps and bounds in your faith. Christ does not admonish you for your doubts; rather, he calls you to embrace them, rise above them, and grow beyond them!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Modest doubt is called the beacon of the wise.” – William Shakespeare

PRAYER

Lord, teach me to not deny my doubts, but to rise up and grow as a result of, and in spite of, them. Amen.

 

The Bedrock of Faith

Read John 20

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)

BedrockOver the course of the month of March, my family and I sat down to watch the Bible series, which aired for five consecutive Sundays on the History Channel.  The last two and a half episodes were centered around the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It is during those episodes that we become acquainted with Thomas, one of the twelve disciples.

In the series, the shaved headed Thomas always looks dour and disgruntled. He always seems to be warring with his being a disciple and the things Jesus is teaching. He is never fully convinced of who Jesus is, or so he appears, and the miracles just don’t seem to be convincing him.

Even when Jesus appears to him in the upper room, following the resurrection, Thomas still refuses to believe. “No, I can’t believe it,” Thomas exclaims, “It can’t be real.”  Even as Jesus is standing right before Thomas, he is shown to be doubting the reality of what he is witnessing. In fact, in the TV series, it seems that Thomas isn’t doubting at all…he just simply doesn’t want to believe.

While the series wasn’t entirely true to the character of Thomas, as Thomas never refuses to believe the reality of the resurrection when Jesus is standing before him in the room, it is a fact that Thomas has become known to us as the doubter.  And in his doubt, it seems that often times the Bible, and we people of “faith”, seem to look down upon him for having his doubts.

What’s more, often times we, as Christians, look down at people who struggle with doubt.  We act as if we are so sure about everything.  We say  amongst ourselves, “Oh come on! How could you not believe?” Perhaps we feel good about ourselves in doing so. Perhaps it gives us a sense of comfort to know that we are standing on a faith of solid rock; yet, even if that is the case, we are only left with a false sense of security.

Even the most solid rock in the world can be utterly cracked and disheveled by a major earthquake. There is nothing on this earth that stands the test of time without experiencing uncertainty and doubt.  I can be said that the life that denies the existence of doubt denies the very nature of what it means to be alive.  After all, what do we know? Honestly, what are we so sure of that there is no room for doubt?

The truth of the matter is that there is no life lived that has not experienced doubt. Thomas is not the weakest link in Jesus chain of disciples, he is one of the strongest links. He refused to believe something just because someone else told him it was true. He had to experience it for himself; it had to become real for him in order for him to accept it.

When we stop to think about it, one would have to say that, in fact, one cannot truly believe something unless they have experienced the truth of it. Mary had the privilege of witnessing Jesus outside the tomb, why then would we deny Thomas the experience of witnessing Jesus? Why would we want to deny anyone, including ourselves, the opportunity to personally witnessing the presence of God in our lives?

The next time you have doubts, be honest with yourself. Embrace those doubts and ask the necessary questions you need to ask.  Recognize that doubt is not your enemy, doubt is not the opposite of faith. Come to the understanding that doubt is the bedrock from which faith springs! Know that you are not alone in your doubts and that from your doubts your faith shall rise.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Doubt is the bedrock from which faith springs.

PRAYER

Lord, I believe. Help me with my unbelief. Amen.

Every Step of the Way

Read Ecclesiastes 4:1-6; Mark 14:26-42

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1, NRSV)

Every Step of the WayHave you watched the news lately? It seems like every time I watch the news I see politicians metaphorically throwing each other the bus, buildings around the world that are burning, families that are destroyed due to horrifying violence and other such atrocities. These stories are bombarding us every day, often bombarding us multiple times a day.

It’s to the point where I often find myself questioning what the meaning of all of this really is. Does God really exist out there and, if so, what does that say about God that the world is the way it is? Is life meaningless? Is there any point to all the chaos that people suffer day in and day out? These and so many more questions run through my head and I am sure that I am not alone in that?

As a pastor and a spiritual leader, some people might find it shocking to hear me confess moments of confusion, deep questioning and doubt. Some would say that it must mean that my faith isn’t strong, or that my doubts put into question my calling as a pastor. Many have this notion that in faith there can be no doubt; however, the Bible clearly shows that to be false.

For instance, have you read Ecclesiastes lately? If not, I must suggest that you do read it and that you read all of the twelve chapters that make up the book. It is a fascinating read. The author seriously questions the meaning of life, the point of existing in a world that is so needlessly cruel. What is the point in living out our seemingly trivial lives just to die in the end? To the author of Ecclesiastes, life seems utterly meaningless.

We can also turn to Jesus to find moments of doubt and intense spiritual questioning. The obvious place to look is in the garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus questions God’s will. He asks for God to remove his cup of suffering. While the Gospels make this account short and sweet, they do say he was in the garden for hours, praying to God…and the specific prayer that they point out is the one where he asks God to not have him go through with dying.

The fact of the matter is that it is perfectly human to have doubts, because as human beings we do not, in fact we cannot know everything. What is unknown to us gives us reason to doubt, but doubt is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it is false to assume that “in faith there can be no doubt.” Rather, it is quite the opposite. It is from the depths of doubt that arises faith. Faith is, in fact, made stronger as a result of, and certainly in spite of, our doubts.

The next time you have doubts, do not chase them away or harbor any kind of unnecessary guilt. Instead, embrace them and wrestle through them like the author of Ecclesiastes did and like Jesus in the garden did. Know that having doubts necessary to building faith and that many saints have had their share of doubts. From Paul to Thomas, from Joan of Arc to Mother Theresa, from Martin Luther to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., many Christians have faced their doubts only to find themselves riding the waves of faith that were produced by the surge of the storm of doubt. You are not alone in your doubts, and your faith will show you that you are not alone in surmounting them. God is with you every step of the way!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds.” – Alfred Lord Tennyson

PRAYER

Lord, I believe! Help me with my unbelief. Out of my doubt, build up a foundation of faith. Amen.