Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Doubting Thomas

One of Jesus disciples, by the name of Thomas, is often  delegated to our lower levels of esteem.
Poor Thomas - we tend to look at him sideways almost embarrassed for him that he should have such doubts !

A few posts back I wrote about "Doubt - An Enemy?" .. and want to follow it up with a look at the bible character whose very name is synonymous with doubt. Doubting Thomas.

What if we remove our pre-conceived judgment about him ... and look at him again with a fresh and unbiased eye.

In Matthew, Mark and Luke we only find Thomas mentioned in the list of Jesus' twelve disciples.
It is  in John's account that we glean something of who he was as a man and something of his story, as well as a life-example for us to learn from.

John first refers to him in John 11:16 when Jesus told His disciples that their friend Lazarus had died, and He said "Let us go to him."
John records Thomas' comment to the other disciples. "Let us also go, that we may die with him."  A rather strange thing to say, isn't it ? Does it indicate a tendency of Thomas' to see the 'dark' side of things?  Hopelessness?  Seeing the problem without an answer?   A man who see his glass half full? Or a man who is sensitive to the suffering and sorrow of others?

The next time we see Thomas is in John 14:1-6 where Jesus speaks the words we all know by heart ... "Let not your heart be troubled .....  I go to prepare a place for you .... I will come again ... that where I am , you may be there also.... and the way you know."  
Again, it is Thomas' response that is recorded.  He said, "   "Lord, we do not know where you are going, and how can we know the way?
I believe those questions resonated in all the disciples' minds,but only Thomas had the courage to ask it, the honesty to reveal his lack of understanding.  Those who dare to ask the questions are the ones who seek the answers. Was Thomas a deep thinker? One whose mind absorbed the words of Jesus, thought not only about what the words meant, but also what they meant for him personally?
Jesus does not rebuke him for his question, He patiently gives him the answer! Why? because Thomas asked!

Then we do not hear anything more about Thomas until John 20:19-29.
Jesus, had risen from the dead, and  suddenly appeared to the disciples who had gathered behind locked doors for fear of the Jews. Jesus responded to the disciples' joy in seeing Him by extending to them words of peace and a commission.
Missing from this group gathering was Thomas.  Where was he? We don't know, but we know he wasn't 'hiding' with the rest of the disciples. Perhaps he chose to be alone with his thoughts, trying to figure out what had happened, and why?  Grieving that Jesus had died and asking over and over again,"Why?"

The disciples sought him out, eager to tell him that Jesus was alive - they had seen Him !  A miracle had happened!!
Once again we have recorded Thomas' response - the one he is famous for...."Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe."   
We are so quick to shake our heads at Thomas and say ... "Oh you of little faith!!!"  but wait -  How many times in bible history do we see people who doubted and were brave enough to express it?

We can look at Abraham, whose faith faltered and he said, "Lord, could my servant not be my heir?  or my son Ishmael?"   and God patiently answered Abraham and assured him that God's promise to him would be fulfilled.  He needed to wait just a little longer.

We can look at Moses who shook his head at God's assignment saying he could not speak, he was not the man God needed - He should choose another.  And God patiently answered Moses and showed him God had indeed called him to deliver God's people.

We can look at Gideon who doubted that God could possibly have meant him - the least of the least family in the least tribe!  In his doubt, he put out a fleece, still doubted and put out another fleece and then when he dared not ask for another sign - God so patiently told Gideon "If you still doubt, go down tonight to the tents of the enemy."

We can look at the desperate father who brought his possessed son to Jesus, begging Jesus to heal him. When Jesus said all things were possible to those who believed, the father reached through his doubt to grab hold of faith. "Lord, I believe! help my unbelief!" 

We can look at Mary, the mother of Jesus, when confronted with the 'impossible' asked... "How can this be?"

I believe God showed us the examples of doubting people in the bible - about whom we we forget their doubts because we focus on what their resulting faith brought about in their lives.
God wants us to voice our doubts, because voicing them puts us in a place where we can conquer our fears, over come them in our seeking for the truth. Having faced our doubts and found the 'faith' answers, we then stand on a solid foundation. We have tested God's word and found it to be sure!

And so we see Thomas, the last time we hear him in scripture, once again asking the question, seeking the answer that will slay his doubt.  Jesus never speaks a word of rebuke to Thomas but comes to him personally.  Jesus stands before him and holds out His hands and shows him His side saying .. "Touch me .. and believe."
And we see Thomas; response ... he worships ... "My Lord, and my God !"  His faith will never again be shaken!
One more reference to Thomas in Acts 1:13 - when the disciples gathered in the upper room to wait the coming of the Holy Spirit, Thomas is not missing from this gathering !

Instead of seeing Thomas as an example of something I don't want to do - feel guilt because I doubt -  I have come to see him as an encouragement.   When I feel the uncertainty of doubt, I don't need to fear asking the questions.
I know that God will acknowledge my doubts, in fact, He invites me to voice them, seeking the answers He is waiting to give me.
Listen to the words of James 1:5, "If any of you lacks wisdom  let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and WITHOUT REPROACH, and it will be given to him."
When my doubt gives way to faith, my response will be like Thomas' -  I will cry out that He is the Answer, He is the way and the truth! - the One true God I love and worship !

**There is an interesting detail provided about Thomas in John 11:16, It tells us that Thomas was also known as Didymus.  Didymus means 'double' or 'twin' - Thomas was a twin.  Is there a 'hint' of  hidden meaning here? Can we infer from Thomas' names   -  that 'doubt' is the twin of 'faith' ?  If we let 'Doubt' ask the question that leads us to truth, do we encounter the other twin, 'Faith' ?


Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Greatest Event in History

In John 3:14, Jesus says, "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up." 

We know the old testament story that Jesus is referring to. It is found in Numbers 21:4-9 

           The Israelites had sinned. Discouraged and angry, they grumbled against God and against Moses. God sent fiery serpents to punish them for their sin and the bite of the serpent was fatal. Then, when they cried out to God for deliverance, God commanded Moses to erect a bronze serpent, and everyone who simply ‘looked’ at the bronze serpent lived.
        It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word used in verses six and eight in our Numbers passage,  and is  translated into our English ‘bit’ or ‘bitten’, is a word that means ‘to strike with a sting’. Then when we go to I Corinthians 15:56, we see that Paul uses that word ‘sting’ in reference to sin, “the sting of death is sin.”  
     We are familiar with scripture references to Satan being called a serpent; therefore, we can see that the serpents that bit the people represent the sin that bites us and causes our death.  When the serpent bit the people, they died.  When Adam and Eve sinned and brought death upon the whole human race, we all, in turn, are bitten by sin and are condemned to die.  Only when Jesus was lifted up on the cross did salvation come - people could look to Him and live!   
       I used to wonder why Moses was commanded to lift up a bronze serpent - after all, it was the serpent that was responsible for the death of the people. Why was it now commanded by God to be the instrument of giving life?
       Then, I understood.  It was sin that caused us to die, and until our sin was lifted up on the cross of Jesus - placed upon Him - we could not have deliverance. 
Though the bronze serpent had the power to give everyone life, simply lifting it up in the wilderness was not enough.  Every person that was bitten had to look up at the bronze serpent believing that, as Moses had promised, it would give them life.
        To live spiritually, each one of us must look up at the cross of Christ and see our own sin hanging there.  And we must believe that only Jesus, through His supreme sacrifice, can save us - by taking our sin upon Himself and suffering our punishment. Through Him, we have life, now and forever!
        That is the conclusion we see in John 3:15, which follows the verse we began with, And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up,  that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life’.

May the Lord bless you, dear reader, this Easter season, 
and as you think on His sacrifice and His resurrection, 
may you remember that "the joy set before Him" 
was YOU! 

Monday, March 21, 2016

In a Fog

We have all heard and used the expression "He has his head in the clouds".|
The meaning of this expression according to a dictionary is ... 

  • to be out of touch with the everyday world and to be unrealistic because of it. 
  • to be living in a fantasy (world) 
  • to have impractical ideas or dreams. Sometimes the person doesn't know the facts or reality of the situation.
I took the above photo this morning from my deck overlooking the valley below.  As I stood looking down on the sea of clouds, I thought of what it must be like for the thousands of people living under it, covered in 'fog' - how far could they see? a few feet? 

I thought about how aptly my view pictured the expression referred to above. 
While their view was limited and shrouded, mine was clear and unobstructed. 
While they walked about in a fog blocking the light, I enjoyed the sun shining from a blue sky. 

My mind moved from the physical to the spiritual application, recognizing how closely they paralleled one another.  
If we have our head in the fog of this world, we will be out of touch with reality as God defines it.  Worldly wisdom 'so called', offers only a very limited and unrealistic view, having no idea or understanding, of the Son Light that is shining above the 'fog' they walk in. 

I did a little word search and found some verses that take on clarity when laid aside my above 'fog' photo. 
"Have you heard the counsel of God? Do you limit wisdom to yourself?" 
~Job 15:8 
Would those words not be fitting to someone who has his head 'in the clouds' , judging his day by how far he can or cannot see, or by what he can or cannot see, rather than by the Truth of God  that shines above the 'fog' - not thinking or reasoning clearly because he is choosing his own wisdom over God's? 

"And the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not comprehend it." 
~John 1:5 
I have found myself in dense fog and been frustrated by how difficult it was to see, and I totally focused on my 'fog reality',  never once thinking about how the sun was shining on those who were 'above the fog'.  It is so easy to make our own experience the reality we choose to live by, without 'comprehending' that there is a reality infinitely higher and wiser than what we see around us. 

"When His lamp shone upon my head, and when by His light I walked through darkness." ~Job 29:3 
When we walk in the Light of God's truth, our view is unlimited, our mind clear. We can 'see' even when we walk in darkness, because the Son shines upon us, in us, and through us. The 'fog' of this world cannot 'hide' His wisdom and truth when we walk "in His Light". 

Monday, March 7, 2016

Doubt - an Enemy?

Is doubt the enemy of faith?  I read a quote recently that made me think.

"The beginning of wisdom is found in doubting; 
by doubting we come to the question 
and by seeking 
we may come to the truth."
~ Peter Abelard

Doubting is not the opposite of faith, nor is it sin, if we do not hold onto doubt, if we do not sink into it, if we do not let it take away from what we know to be true. 

Doubt always begins with a question.  "Is that true?"  "How can that be?"   
But questions have a built-in invitation for the inquirer to seek the answer.  While a doubting question can threaten faith, finding the answer always strengthens faith. 

In my experience, I have  found that when people struggle with doubt in their understanding of God, it is often the result of not having all the pieces of the picture. 

 If something - a question -  makes us doubt God's word, or God's character then we need to be diligent in seeking the answer. 

Let me share an example. 

In Numbers 16 we have the story of the rebellion of Korah against Moses and Aaron. 
Korah, was a Levite, a leader in Israel, but he was ambitious and greedy for more. He allowed bitterness and jealousy toward Moses fester in his heart until he could no longer keep it hidden.

Not wanting to stand alone in his rebellion, he organized a revolt against Moses. Rebellion spreads quickly and soon 250 men , all respected leaders of the people, joined with Korah. They came in the unity of their complaint demanding that Moses answer to their charge. He had overstepped his authority, taking too much into his own hand. They declared that they were just as holy, just as qualified as he was and Moses had no right to claim his own exalted position and deny them equal standing before God and the people. 

If you read the story you will see that God's wrath came upon Korah, Dathan and Abiram and the men with them and God declared that He was going to destroy them for their rebellion against Him and the ones God had called. God commanded the Israelites to move away from the tents of these wicked men, least they be consumed with them.  In verse 27 we are told that Korah and Dathan and Abiram came out to stand at the door of their tents with their wives and their sons and their little children. Verses 30-33 describes God's judgment against them - how the earth opened up under them and swallowed them up, with all their goods and everyone with them. 

Doubt questions - "Is this the God we serve?  One who would  destroy the children for the sins of their fathers? Does God punish the innocent for the sins of the guilty? Would God punish me for what my parents did?"  

What do we know about the character of God?
We know God says ,"For I am the Lord, I do not change." ~ Malachi 3:6,  and we know that God is a righteous judge. "He shall judge the world in righteousness, And He shall administer judgment for the peoples in uprightness." ~ Psalm 9:8
We also know what God commands regarding the sins of the fathers and the sins of the child.
He says in Deut. 30:16, "The father shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall the children be put to death for their fathers, a person shall be put to death for his own sin." 
And again in Ezekiel 18:20 we read ... "The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself."

If God does not change and God is always righteous, then what do we do with this example in Numbers 16, where God seemingly does the opposite of what He declares in Deut. 30? Does God say one thing and 'sometimes' do another?   If He says that He will not punish the children for the sins of the fathers ... then how do we explain this story about Korah in Numbers 16?  Does this mean that we cannot fully trust God to be consistent in what He says and does?

Awwww....  of course not !  God is always the same, God is always true, God is always worthy of our trust and confidence in who He is !!!  

Let me show you the answer .... Turn to Numbers 26:9-11 and see that here is added a clarification, more detail added to the story as we find it in Numbers 16.  
While the men stood at the door of their tents with their wives and sons and little children ... it was only the men that were swallowed up, only the men that were burned - the children did not die