Overcome :: Doubt

At Gateway Church in Austin, we continued our series, Overcome.

Are you a doubter? Do you struggle with believing things that seem too good to be true? Thomas, a follower of Jesus, struggled in the same way. But in the end, Thomas became a powerful messenger for Jesus, sharing His teachings wherever he went. How can we welcome doubt in a way that leads us to a deeper sense of faith?

Next Steps

These discussion questions are designed for your life group or family dinner to help you apply the message to your life.

HERE IS THE VIDEO OF THE MESSAGE JOHN SHARED:

Overcome – Doubt from Gateway Church on Vimeo.

HERE ARE THE NOTES FROM THE MESSAGE BY JOHN BURKE:

Have you ever felt like you have too many doubts for God to accept you? Maybe some of you are here at the invitation of a friend or family member—you have lots of doubts, you don’t believe any of this Jesus stuff we’re singing about. But you’re being nice to come since your friend or family member is so into it.  Way to go, at least you’re not close-minded or just anti. But you probably feel like there’s no room for the doubts because “faith is just believing—you don’t ask questions—you just take the leap, right?”

I remember before I was a Christian, my high school girlfriend grew up Catholic (which I have nothing against catholics—just like us non-denoms, some have authentic faith, some are playing games), but I remember one night she called me crying—very upset.  Because after they prayed before dinner she asked, “How do you know there really is a God?” Her dad turned red-faced angry, “Don’t you EVER” and slammed his fist on the table “Question God’s existence in this house, young lady, go to your room.” What’s really sad is that she was wrestling to understand—wanting a faith that was real—but her dad had somehow gotten the idea that faith and doubt are opposed. Doubts are bad, wrong, don’t ask questions—it’s an affront to God–just believe. But is it either/or – doubt or faith?

Well, obviously, we don’t believe that.  We say “Doubters Welcome.” We actually think that doubt and faith are not opposed to each other—not fully anyway.  And for me, it was finding a place where I could wrestle with my doubts where I found a genuine relationship with a God, which I discovered to be as real as electricity—which, by the way, you can’t see, but certainly see evidence of it once you understand it better.

But let’s be honest—once you come to faith in Jesus—all doubts don’t just Poof, up and float away, do they!  Many of you have “believed” in Jesus for years, yet you doubt some things the Bible says, or you doubt if you can trust God’s promises fully for safety, security, prestige, success. What do we do with doubt?

We’re in week two of this series Overcome.  We’re looking at the claims of the resurrection of Jesus through the eyes of those who struggled—just like we do.  Last week, Easter, we looked at how strange and revolutionary that Jesus chose his women followers/disciples to be the first eyewitnesses of the resurrection, and how this makes the testimony even more credible—Jesus met [the women] and greeted them. And they ran to him, grasped his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid! Go tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there.”  Matthew 28:1-10 Jesus appears to the women only—and He forces the men believe their testimony (which was not accepted in a court of law in that day) and go all the way to Galilee (a 10 day journey) if they want to see him. Yet all 4 Gospel accounts, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John make it clear Mary Magdalene was there with other women, Jesus appeared to them first, told the men, they didn’t believe–but they were wrong.  

I kind of wonder if Jesus had to make a concession to his original plan. He said “Go tell the guys go to Galilee and I’ll appear to you like I did for you women” but the men stubbornly doubted—they wouldn’t believe. They weren’t gonna go. And I wonder if Jesus was like “Guys, you’re totally ruining my surprise—come on.”  I had a plan and you’re blowing it. Because Jesus appears to change plans. Jesus appeared to the Eleven [in Jerusalem] as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen. Mark 16:14. Jesus had told them many times what was about to go down, all of this had been foretold, yet still they struggled, they doubted.  These were Jesus closest friends—so there’s great hope for you and me, despite our doubts and struggles.

So Jesus opts for plan B, appears to the men and rebukes them for not believing the women, but Thomas (also known as Didymus [Twin]), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” John 20:24-25 Thomas says “No way… I’m a man of science—I need tangible proof. Unless I stick my finger in the nail holes (a little excessive and gross, don’t you think?) I will not believe.”  And of course, if you want the nickname…Doubting Thomas for the next 2000 years, do that. Thomas is like “Look–When it sounds too good to be true, it’s probably not true.” You can’t totally blame him.

Kind of like when our family was driving to California for vacation one summer.  Kathy, my wife, was so excited on our first day because she got this amazing hotel deal at the Ritz. The Ritz is one of the most posh, luxurious hotels on earth. She is incredible at getting great deals, and but this was the deal of all deals–to stay at the Ritz hotel—for only $45 a night!  That was my first “this sounds too good to be true” clue. The second is that it was in Amarillo—really? The Ritz Carlton does Amarillo? But we drove on across the barren Texas panhandle, 15 hours of tumbleweeds, turbines, and Lubbock to top it off–dreaming of luxury at the end of the rainbow.  We get to Amarillo, drive up to the hotel, and it IS the Ritz. It says “Ritz” right there on the plexi-glass window with the bullet hole in it. We all start laughing so hard (Kathy included–BTW, Kathy is super-smart, like Magna Cum Laude smart, but she’s a sucker for deals)), we laughed so hard we could hardly walk, but decided to go in just for laughs. It was a corregated Tin building—a giant warehouse, with plywood rooms fashioned around the sides and a noisy over-chlorinated pool in the middle, surrounded by golf grass, plastic palm trees, and giant gnomes everywhere—the field of gnomes, if you build it, gnomes will come–scary. Not the Ritz-Carlton, more like the Bates-Carlton motel. But that wasn’t the end of our “too good to be true” saga. Amarillo was hosting the national Jehovah Witness conference—there were no rooms in the inn anywhere. We ended up paying $250 for a room by an all-night Karaoke Bar, at 3am I’m still lying awake listening to some drunk cowboy howl “Sweet Caroline”.

So sometimes when it sounds too good to be true—it’s not true. And that’s why doubt, and a measure of skepticism is actually good—even with faith. Paul, who persecuted Christians until the resurrected Jesus appeared  to him. But still he says, test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good.” 1 Thessalonians 5:17  God doesn’t want us to cut off our heads and stop thinking, he gave us our minds to use. Faith in Christ is not counter to reason, it’s not a blind leap of faith as some think, it’s a reasonable choice to believe and trust in God.

I used to have doubts that Jesus was the Messiah, the human revelation of the infinite, unseen, unknowable God. I definitely doubted the resurrection. But I discovered that never everything that seems too good to be true is untrue—sometimes mysterious things are true. This is where doubts can lead to truth, or doubts can lead to laziness.

For instance, up until the mid 1500s it was a no brainer that the earth was the center of the Universe—it’s obvious and observable— The sun is much smaller than the earth—clearly—and the sun, moon, planets and stars all go around the earth—they rise and set each day. Duh! But some who took the time to study it, noticed things that didn’t make sense, didn’t fit. Like planet retrograde motion. So astronomers came up with epicycles to explain it. But doubting led Copernicus and others to question current assumptions and find a better explanation. The Sun is at the center. Some doubts lead to truth, but some doubts are excuses—like the religious leader’s doubts about Galileo and Copernicus heliocentric theory- based on dogma. They didn’t take the time to let doubt spur inquiry to learn truth and realize it didn’t contradict the Bible.  

Ironically, I find many skeptics I talk to, exhibit Dogmatic Doubt like the Religious in Copernicus’ time. They just know it can’t be true, because science has disproved God and faith, yet I can’t get them to look at the evidence that convinced me otherwise. That’s lazy, Dogmatic Doubt.  But Catalytic Doubt can lead to inquiry which leads to greater understanding of truth. But Catalytic Doubt is not easy—it requires work—and most people just want confirmation of what they already believe.

At first, that’s where Thomas landed—in Dogmatic Doubt. Thomas was a commercial fisherman, who eventually bought into Jesus as Messiah hook, line, and sinker (pun intended). He left his business to follow Jesus for 3 ½ years, he saw Jesus do miraculous healings, feed 5000, he heard Jesus’ teachings—he believed, at one point at least. But what he had in mind was the typical Messianic idea of that day—the Messiah, which he believed Jesus was, would fight and conquer their Roman oppressors and set them free–usher in a golden age of blessing. That’s what the prophets foretold—and he will—but they mysteriously also foretold a suffering Messiah who would go to the cross.  Most Jews ignored that part—let’s just skip to the good part where we get everything we want. Many Christians do the same. I’ll follow God because he’ll make me happy and everything will go my way. And then it doesn’t.

Thomas is there, ready to fight for Jesus’ Kingdom there in the Garden of Gethsemane. When Jesus commands them not to fight, Thomas runs for his life. On Good Friday, he watches at a distance as they spike his friend to a cross on the Roman killing grounds of Golgotha. As Jesus’ life drains away, so does Thomas’s hope. Thomas’ doubts are rooted in disillusionment with God. I find most of our doubts are rooted there as well—if we’re honest. Thomas knew the Messianic Hope—But when Jesus said things like “The son of man must be turned over to the rulers, killed, but will rise again.”  That didn’t fit his paradigm—so instead of letting Doubt and struggle lead him to a deeper understanding of God’s ways—he just ignored that part. Then Jesus died, his faith coded too.

Ever have a Messianic hope, that God was going to do things a certain way—if you…then God will…but God didn’t do things that way, and it caused severe doubt and disillusionment with God?  What do you do with that doubt—does it become Dogmatic, Lazy doubt that keeps you from seeking God, or does it become Catalytic Doubt that propels you to seek truth and learn more about God’s will and ways? See Doubt and faith can coexist—faith is trust—and unless you are God, you must trust in things outside yourself. So we all have faith. It’s a lie that only religious people have faith, we all believe certain things and then put our trust in them—never with 100% certainty, but hopefully with reasonable assurance it’s true.

Let me prove it to you—let’s say this stage represents all possible knowledge in the universe—all there is to know about quarks, neutrinos, all sub-atomic activity, all knowledge of the human body, mind, soul, and all knowledge of every one of billions of galaxies, stars, and planets and all that’s on them.  Of all that is possible to know, how much do you currently know with certainity? It’s a small, small dot—right? And yet, you are forced to answer questions about what’s out there beyond your knowledge—God? Nothing? You live by faith. But is it reasonable faith?

In a court of law, we don’t prove what happened in the past with scientific facts—you can’t use science to prove the past because science is based on repeatable observation. But that doesn’t mean we can’t prove things “beyond a reasonable doubt.” That’s the standard—not beyond “any possible doubt”—there’s always a way to doubt everything. 

That’s what Christian faith is meant to be—faith that’s reasonable.  Now, some people need more reasons than others—and that’s actually okay.  My mom had an intuitive faith in God, and I saw it in her—I had doubts she didn’t have. At first had Lazy Doubt—My doubts were excuses to ignore God and not seek God. Cause truth be told, I didn’t want to find God, I wanted my will be done, my plans and ways, and nothing shall stop me. But as Dad was dying, I came to the ego-shattering realization that I’m not Master of the Universe (don’t tell anyone).

We all have faith in something. Faith is just trust. I know people who are terrified of airplanes. They doubt the safety of airplanes, they fear flying.  Yet they fly. They doubt, yet they have faith. You can doubt whether a plane will crash or not, doubt if the pilot is sober or not, doubt if the landing gear is maintained or not, yet as soon as you step on the plane—you exhibit trust, or faith, despite your doubts. Faith and doubt can coexist. The way you overcome doubt is to take steps toward God while being honest about your doubt.

So the goal is not to doubt God, Jesus said to Peter as took his eyes off jesus and sank after doing the impossible: “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” The goal is to let doubts lead you to seek to understand Who God is and How God works and let it catalyze trust more and more until doubt is no more. What’s encouraging is that God is not afraid of your doubt—in fact, in the scriptures God gives us examples of believers who doubted, yet they didn’t succumb to Dogmatic, lazy doubt, but turned it to Catalytic Doubt—as a result, their faith became tested and solid and more confident. How did they deal with doubts in faith-building ways?

John the Baptist was the prophet foretold by Isaiah and Malachi to announce the Messiah’s arrival. Isaiah in 700 B.C. said watch for one in the wilderness saying “Prepare the way for the Lord” Then in 400 B.C. “Look, I am sending you the prophet Elijah before the…day of the Lord arrives.” Malachi 4:5, 400 B.C.  John baptizes Jesus in the wilderness and says “This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” – he believes and announces Jesus as Messiah. And Jesus says John was the Elijah-like prophet and greatest of men.  And yet after all that, John doubted Jesus identity. John gets arrested, thrown in prison, King Herod’s lover wants him dead. But this wasn’t how John envisioned things going. The Messiah was supposed to crush all their enemies and bring everlasting peace and prosperity—but prison and execution—that wasn’t in John’s gameplan. John the Baptist struggles with doubt, and gets his friends to go ask Jesus “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” Matthew 11:3-6

Jesus doesn’t rebuke John for his doubt, he says, look harder at what I’m doing John.  Just because you don’t understand everything doesn’t mean I’m not the God you originally believed in.  Jesus points out all that he is doing—He says, “John, look beyond your circumstances, look at what I’m doing.”  That’s true for you and me as well. When life doesn’t go our way, often it causes us to doubt God, to doubt our faith—yet that’s because we’re looking at our circumstances—that’s the time to look at Jesus and what he taught and did. If you keep looking at yourself and your circumstances, you’ll get tripped up. Word stumble “Scandalizo” – blessed is the one who does not get “scandalized” or trip flat on her face because of me. He’s saying “God doesn’t do things according to your plans, but he does have a great plan. Your doubt can cause you to run away from God, or to look harder at what God has revealed in the Bible about his will and character and how He typically works. Let Doubt lead you to study Jesus’ life and teachings deeper.

God revealed himself through Jesus so we could know him in a personal way, so we could see and understand who God is and what He’s like, and what to expect. Jesus said ““I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 If you’re doubting God’s identity because you’re having trouble—let your doubt drive you to learn more about God. Look at Jesus—what he said, what he did, what he promised, what he didn’t promise.  Because he didn’t promise “follow me, and life will go just the way you dreamed.” He said “In this world where most people consistently play God rather than seek God and his will, you will have trouble, But take heart, I’ve overcome the world—and in me, so will you.”  So let your doubt and struggle lead you back to scripture to learn more about God.

And then decide to trust in what you do know, even though some things you don’t know. See, not all doubt is equal. What do I mean by that? Well, if I doubt that God exists and choose to not trust God or seek God or move towards God—that’s HUGE if it turns out I’m wrong.  But if I come to believe God exists, revealed himself through Jesus who loved me and died for me, forgives me, and will lead me through life in relationship. And If I choose to trust in God (and relationally get to know him more), yet maybe I still doubt or struggle with lessor tenents of faith—like did God create in 7-24 hour days or in 7 long-periods of time? Or other less practical questions. Who Jesus is and what you do with him—trust more or not at all—that’s Central.

I’m very confident we will get to Heaven and many of us will have our theologies and understandings corrected (and then I’ll say “I told you so” – no I know I will have things corrected).  But I also know you can be very certain—beyond a reasonable doubt about the claims of Jesus, so start there, and hold tightly to what you know even as things cause you to doubt. God wants you to trust HIM more and more – because trust is relationship—and the more you trust God, the more he reveals himself in very personal ways that make some doubts senseless. That’s been my experience.

King David was a lowly shepherd boy promised by God he’d become King of Israel.  And then for 13 years, Saul, the current king chased him down like a hunted animal, trying to kill him.  And I love it that God put it in the Bible. Psalm 13–What I call the Friday the 13th Psalm for when it feels like a bad luck day or year or decade in David’s case. How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?… But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me. Psalm 13 God’s okay with your struggles and doubts, he even gives us a Friday the 13th Psalm to voice how we sometimes feel.  I had memorized this one at one point. But the doubts can also lead to a choice to trust—that even though you don’t understand why or how God’s working, you will hold onto what you do know—to trust in God’s unfailing love, in the promise of what’s to come, and in the ways you’ve seen him work in the past.  That’s how doubt catalyzes faith.

Jesus appeared to over 500 eyewitnesses in those months following the crucifixion. One of them was Thomas. A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:26-29 Thomas chooses trust—in fact Thomas was the one who brought the great news of Jesus love and forgiveness to Iran then to India—he trusted in Jesus even when they killed him for it—he doubted no more. But Don’t miss what Jesus says, cause it’s for us who don’t get to stick our fingers in the nail holes. Jesus says “It’s good that you believe now that you’ve seen, Thomas, but more blessed are those who have not seen, yet believe—yet trust me.”  

God wants a heart that’s truly seeking him—a heart that’s willing to wrestle with doubts until it understands what’s true. God wants a life that holds onto trust in what you know about God, even when you have other questions or struggles.  A life that chooses trust, even when there’s still some doubt. Because at the end of the day, trust is the currency of relationship—and relationship with God is what God created you for. So let your doubts lead you to trust more and more, until there’s no need for doubt at all—because you have Overcome.

 

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