Doubting Thomas…Not so Different

How do you know when something is true? Do you base your decision on facts? Do you base your decision on your own experience? How about your feelings?

The fact is, most of us, though we say we base things on fact, lean more on our own experience and feelings than we’d like to admit.

In our passage, Thomas, faced with the facts – 10 other witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection – didn’t believe them. He based his decision on his own experience that people don’t rise from the dead. The people he had seen who had died, had all stayed dead. Though he was facing the eye-witness testimony of his trusted friends and companions, he still doubted.

I think that most of us, if faced with the same situation, would have been with Thomas as opposed to the other disciples. I know we don’t like to think that, but in reality, we would probably have doubted as well.

Even today we face myriad of facts and theories and evidence that attempts to refute the claim that Jesus rose from the dead. Books have been written, speaking engagements have been booked, all claiming that Jesus’ resurrection was a hoax or just a fable.

I’m not going to get into refuting some of those theories right now, but I would encourage you to check out any of “The Case for …” books by Lee Strobel. He was an atheist who set out to disprove Christianity. Instead, he found that the evidence points to what the Bible teaches.

Thomas was a man who had lived with Jesus for three years, studying him, listening to him, loving him. Yet when it came time for him to believe what had happened he doubted. If you have doubts today about your faith or your future, Thomas would make a good companion for you. His example, and the way Jesus spoke with him, set the stage for how we should combat our own fears and doubts.

First, Thomas was open and honest about his doubt. The first thing we must do if we are ever going to get the answers for the questions we seek is to be honest about having the questions in the first place. God can handle the questions that we have. In fact, he wants us to ask the questions and find the answer. And that leads us into the second thing to note.

Second, Jesus never rebukes Thomas for doubting. Instead of yelling at him and telling him he should have believed, we see Jesus calmly and lovingly showing him the evidence he needs. God doesn’t want you to hide your doubt, he wants you to express it so that he can help you overcome it.

When you have doubts about the faith, it is important to share those with a trusted Christian leader who can help you find the answers that you seek. Certainly there are always going to be questions we can’t answer, but there are many answers found in Scripture that can help us through our periods of doubt.

When you face doubt, know that you are not alone. God will never leave you or turn his back on you because you have questions and doubt. In fact, some of the greatest understandings about God you have may come directly from the period of doubt you’re currently in.

Don’t be afraid of your doubt, but don’t stop in that doubt. Work through it so that God can show you the wonderful truth of him and his word.

But Thomas, sometimes called the Twin, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples told him, “We saw the Master.”

But he said, “Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it.”

Eight days later, his disciples were again in the room. This time Thomas was with them. Jesus came through the locked doors, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.”

Then he focused his attention on Thomas. “Take your finger and examine my hands. Take your hand and stick it in my side. Don’t be unbelieving. Believe.”

Thomas said, “My Master! My God!”

Jesus said, “So, you believe because you’ve seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.”

– John 20:24-29 (MSG)

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Finding New Strength

You caught me. I’m still engaged with those eagles! (http://www.dickpritchettrealestate.com/eagle-feed.html#) But this time I’m thinking about this verse from Isaiah 40:31:

But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles.

2016 was a very difficult year for many people. There were certainly some cultural issues, whose effects are still being felt. But there were also personal struggles – illness, financial hardship, heart break, and loss. What I see in this verse is that when we put our trust in God, God will give us new strength. And not just any strength, but strength like eagles soaring in the air.

When you look at the baby eagle in the video, though, you don’t see much that you would want to aspire to. At just days old, the baby barely moves around and is totally dependent on mom and dad. Yet that’s how we all start out in our faith. We don’t yet have wings that will carry us through the hard times – we are just babies. It takes time and perseverance to develop the wings of an eagle. And even after the wings develop, it is still a challenge to learn how to use them.

If you’re going through a tough time right now, I would encourage you to not lose hope. Rely on God to get you through this, and have faith that he will. In saying that, I encourage you to seek the counsel, support, and love of your local faith community and pastor. They will be there for you as you walk through this troubling time. And as you traverse the valley together, you will come out the other side stronger in your faith and feeling more like an eagle whose wings will carry you through your next journey.

If you’re struggling to have hope for the future, take a little time and write down in a journal or even a Word document, how God has blessed you. Make this gratitude list so that you can see the many ways God has been faithful in the past. This will help encourage you for the future. God will never leave you nor forsake you – even if it feels like it sometimes.

Whatever your struggle, I pray that God would bless you and help strengthen you in the days and weeks ahead. If you have a personal situation that you’d like me to pray for, please contact me (kevin@hayschristianchurch.org) and I will pray.

Grief is a Strange Thing

Grief is a strange thing.

For those of you who don’t know, we have begun the process of adoption. We decided to foster to adopt, so we went through the process of becoming a licensed foster home. During this journey, at two different points we were told that a child was going to be placed in our home. And at two different points, we were told that that was not going to happen.

With the first child, it was a situation where the kids and I never had visits with him, and so it never felt real to me. I purposely didn’t want to know much about him and I never wanted to meet him until I knew that we were moving further in the process. I guess I was trying to protect myself from getting attached.

With the second child, we had already had family visits with the child, and were, as a family, actively talking about the possibility of adopting him. Due to some things outside of our control, we now know that that boy will be placed with another family as well.

Though the circumstances were different, it still makes me wonder what God has planned for us.

When I shared our situation on Facebook, many of my friends committed to praying for us, and I am grateful for their prayers. I truly do feel a peace that I didn’t have when I initially posted. But now I’m faced with the grieving process. I know that I didn’t know the boy for very long, but there’s something different about meeting someone who you are told could be added to your forever family. You think differently. You feel differently.

I’m feeling stuck now between feelings of peace and sadness and anger. Honestly, I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be feeling. There are times when I feel OK, and there are times, like when I took Kamryn on a daddy-daughter date yesterday, that I feel happy. Yet in that happiness, I felt a tinge of guilt. Can I truly feel happy when this has happened? I asked my friends and family to pray, and I genuinely feel saddened by the situation – I feel the loss – yet now I find myself feeling joy with my daughter. Is that OK?

I’m going this weekend with Logan to Seattle for a guys’ weekend for the Seahawks playoff game. Am I allowed to feel happy and excited to take my son to his first home Seahawks game? If people see me being happy, posting pictures of our fun, will they feel like maybe I wasn’t so heartbroken after all? Should that matter? I don’t know.

All I know is that my emotions are wide-ranging right now and all I can do is be honest about them. I can’t control what people think about me, and I’m going to try not to worry about that and just live in the moments that I have with Logan this weekend.

God sees the whole picture and has a plan. I choose to trust in that and trust that God will never leave me, and that God loves me no matter how I might be feeling at any given moment. Thank you, friends, for your continued love and support! It means the world to me.

The Eagles – Dare to Share

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been captivated recently by the live video stream of the eagles’ nest in south Florida (http://www.dickpritchettrealestate.com/eagle-feed.html#). It is a feed of the nest of two bald eagles and their two eggs. The first egg hatched on the morning of New Year’s Eve. The young baby is so cute! Unfortunately, the experts are saying that there is little hope now that the second egg will hatch.

The life cycle that is on display in this nest is similar to the life cycle of a person of faith. When we come to faith, we are dependent on God’s Spirit filling us and nurturing us, just as the baby eagle is dependent on its parents for care and growth. We are also nurtured by other believers who have come before us; those in Scripture and those around us in the community of faith.

Prior to coming to faith, however, we are like the baby still in the egg. We may sense things around us, but we are unaware of the spiritual realities that are in play. Until someone comes along to shepherd us and point us to Christ, we remain in the egg. Ultimately it each one of us who will have to make the choice to break free from the darkness, but we do so because someone cared enough about us to tell us about Jesus.

Who in your life do you know who is still living in darkness? Who do you need to share the truth of God’s gift of salvation with? Let us not waste a single minute when it comes to sharing the Good News of the Gospel! Then let us commit to nurturing new believers so that they may grow deep roots in the faith.

Make 2017 the year that you dare to share your faith with those you love, so that they may be set free into the light and love of Jesus!

“You are Verified!”

I got a spam email today and the subject line was “You are verified!” That got me really excited. Not for the promise of making thousands of dollars a day that was contained in the email, but rather for the fact that the “you are verified” promise is one that I needed from God at just that moment.

The calling of a Christ-follower is difficult. There are many road blocks and pitfalls along the way. And at times, even those of us in vocational ministry, begin to question God’s timing, methods, and selection. “You are verified” reminds me that I have been chosen by God and given a specific calling that no one else on earth has been given. I have been called to a specific place to a specific people and for a specific purpose. I may not recognize all of that at every moment, but I trust that to be the case.

I am a verified servant of the King and as long as I seek to answer the call that God has placed on my heart, I will be doing the right thing. Hard times will come; times of questioning will come; but through it all I have confidence in Christ’s call – my verification – on my heart and life.

Am I a Hypocrite? The More Important Laws

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things. Blind guides! You strain your water so you won’t accidentally swallow a gnat, but you swallow a camel!” – Jesus, Matthew 23:23-24 (NLT)

I was reading a book tonight and it led me to a chapter in Matthew that I thought would hold deep significance to me. I thought that chapter was 23. I don’t know what chapter I was looking for, but chapter 23 definitely hit me like a ton of bricks tonight.

There have been many discussions regarding The Law as of late, and I’m struck particularly by the words of Jesus above, indicating that the Law is not all equal. There are parts that are more important than others. He clarifies by stating that it doesn’t mean that you can pick and choose, or ignore the less important parts, but there are definitely more important parts.

It seems to me that we often make too much out of the less important parts. Jesus’ example here is about tithing. I think every pastor I know would think that teaching people to give (whether we agree on the tithe or not) is essential. But what about “justice, mercy, and faith”?

When was the last time I preached a sermon about justice or mercy? I have preached many sermons about faith, but the last one I preached (just this last week) was about faith requiring action. Faith is not just what I believe, it’s also what I do. James says that “faith without good works is dead.” Jesus in this chapter says basically the same thing.

The Pharisees and religious teachers are not living the way that they are supposed to be living. They are legalistically requiring people to obey the law that is easy to monitor and enforce, but they themselves are not being obedient to what really matters.

Listen further to what Jesus says:

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.” – Jesus, Matthew 23:27-28

What is my heart filled with? I don’t believe I am a hypocrite – but neither did the Pharisees. I tithe on my income, yes, but what am I doing about justice and mercy? Am I obeying the little parts of the law and feeling good about myself without focusing on the bigger, more important parts?

I can think of answers to these questions, but for now, I think I’m going to let them marinate. I believe that I opened my Bible to the “wrong” place for a reason tonight, and I need to allow the Spirit to speak to me.

What words is God speaking to you when you read Matthew 23? Don’t allow yourself to quickly dismiss the idea that you simply can’t be a hypocrite or Pharisee because you do x, y, and z. What are you doing with the parts of the Law that matter more?

Just Do It. Faith Requires Action

When asked about my favorite Bible verses, many come to mind. For a long while my favorite passage was Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”

That passage sums up well how I have faced difficult decisions in my life. I have trusted that God will see me through the decisions and that He has a plan for me and my family. I look back and see myself trusting God, however imperfectly, through every turn.

Over the past several years, however, a new verse has caught my heart: James 1:22: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”

Throughout my life I have studied the Bible. I have a bachelor’s degree in Bible. I have a 3-year Master of Divinity degree. The Bible was the main focus of all my higher education. Yet that knowledge is meaningless if I don’t do something with it.

You can have earned degree upon degree, done study after study, gained more Trivial Pursuit knowledge than a Biblical scholar, but James says that if you don’t actually do something with it, you’re deceiving yourself. Without putting your faith in action, without being obedient to Christ, you have tricked yourself into believing that because you have the right knowledge your relationship with God is good. In reality, however, that is not the case.

In chapter 2, James says: “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

He doesn’t just say that faith without action is not so great – he actually says that it is “dead.” The Greek word translated dead comes from the word for corpse. There is no mistaking the meaning James has here. If you’re not putting your faith into action – being obedient to all God has called you to – then your faith is dead as a doornail. In other words, what good does a head full of knowledge do if you aren’t living differently because of it?

Do you want to know what God’s will for your life is? Then start doing what you know you’re supposed to be doing! Don’t sit around twiddling your thumbs just wondering what his plan is – do something! God has called all of us to do certain things as followers of Christ. We are to love others, take care of the poor, worship, pray, study Scripture, etc. If you’re trying to determine next steps, then do what you already know you’re supposed to be doing, demonstrating your real, life-altering faith. That faith which is lived out, is the only true, saving faith there is. By being obedient to what we already know we are to do, we are proving ourselves to be good and faithful stewards of that which God has entrusted us.

If we truly believe that the two greatest commands are to love God and love your neighbor, then we can’t do that only in our heads. We have to put legs to the gospel. We have to live and act differently. We have to allow God’s Spirit to transform not only our mind, but also our actions and who we are as individuals.

Do not merely listen to the word, do what it says!