Surviving Your Bout with Doubt (Resurrected Witness – Part III)

Sermon Title: Surviving Your Bout with Doubt

Good News Statement: Jesus removes our doubt

Preached: Sunday, May 15, 2022 at Dogwood Prairie UMC & Seed Chapel UMC

Pastor Daniel G. Skelton, M.Div.

 

Scripture (NRSV): John 20:24-29 Today’s scripture reading comes from the Gospel of John chapter twenty verses twenty-four thru twenty-nine. Listen to these words spoken by the beloved disciple…

Jesus and Thomas

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

This is the Word of God for the People of God; And all God’s people said, “Thanks be to God.”

 

Introduction:

                A husband and wife who worked for the circus went to an adoption agency. The social workers there raised doubts about their suitability. The couple then produced photos of their 50-foot motor home, which was clean and well maintained and equipped with a beautiful nursery. The social workers then raised doubt about the education a child would receive while in the couple’s care. “We’ve arranged for a full-time tutor who will teach the child all the usual subjects along with French, Mandarin, and computer skills,” the couple replied. Then the social workers expressed doubt about a child being raised in a circus environment. The couple replied, “Our nanny will be a certified expert in pediatric care, welfare, and diet.” The social workers were finally satisfied. They asked, “What age child are you hoping to adopt?” The couple responded, “It doesn’t really matter … as long as the kid fits in the cannon.”

No matter how many satisfactory answers we may receive, the concept, idea, and emotion of doubt still creeps in our life; and to some degree, it changes how we perceive the world around us. In 2019, Psychology Today conducted a survey and found out that roughly 85% of people worldwide (adults and adolescents) have low self-esteem or doubt. According to Barna, a religious research group, doubt is much a part of the Christian community as any other. In 2017, Barna concluded that 65% of Christians experience doubt on a daily basis, 26% say they experience spiritual doubt, 40% say they have experienced spiritual doubt but have worked through it, about 35% say they have never experienced doubt at all, and 19% say they are still experiencing doubt today. Doubt does not discriminate: whether one is a believer in God or not, whether you pray multiple times a day or just once a day, or whether you laugh at the pastor’s jokes or not, you have or will experience doubt at some point in your life. You may even experience doubt later today.

Consider this your warning: doubt may just be around the corner. However, what are you going to do when you turn that corner and meet doubt face-to-face? Are you going to turn away from God or are you going to turn towards God? Are you going to get in the canon and have faith that everything will be okay or are you going to avoid the thing that can take away your doubt? What are you going to do when you meet doubt face-to-face? Remember, Jesus removes your doubt by the faith He gives you in your heart.

Opening Prayer:

            Let us pray… Dear Faithful God, life is not easy: doubt confuses our faith and challenges our belief. I pray that this message encourage all those here to know that their faith is stronger than any doubt they may encounter. May my words fall to the ground as Your words find the hearts of all those before me. In your Resurrected name we pray, Amen.

Body:

Three weeks ago, we began our journey of travelling with Jesus during his resurrection by walking with him on the road to Emmaus. As we walked with Jesus and the other two men—we realized that Jesus recognize us, before we recognize Him. On the road to Emmaus, Jesus recognizes you. Jesus recognizes you in your defeat, doubt, joy, and excitement. He recognizes you when you approach the altar, feel abandoned, or need healing. Jesus recognizes you when you don’t recognize him.

Last week we ate with Jesus and the two men around a shared table after making it to Emmaus. The story of Jesus eating with these two men is our reminder that as Christians our actions, our love for all “strangers”, speaks louder than our words, and that we must not miss our opportunity to notice the important people in our life. We must love and recognize our neighbor before we can love and recognize ourselves. We must be willing to do the work, to break the bread, with those around us. We must not be afraid to open our eyes and allow our faith to overcome our continuous doubt. Jesus breaking bread with these two men is our reminder that it’s never too late to notice the important people in your life.

Today, we encounter another moment of recognition. Jesus has vanished from the two men, the two men are rushing back to Jerusalem to inform the eleven and their companions about how their doubt has been removed—their hearts have been “strangely warmed” and their eyes are now opened—and we are introduced to someone who we can all relate to. Today, we are introduced to Thomas, the twin, who has doubt about the resurrected Jesus. Today, we recognize that with Jesus in our life and faith growing in our heart, we can face the bout with doubt with confidence and grace. It may take some time, but as long as you don’t give up you can overcome the doubt in your life.

James Dobson, an American Evangelical Christian author, tells the story about a lady who was watching a butterfly as it struggled to work its way of the cocoon. After a while the lady began to feel sorry for the butterfly, so she got a tiny little knife and carefully cut the cocoon just enough to help the butterfly work its way out. And sure enough, the beautiful butterfly got out and stretched out its wings and began to flutter for just a second. Then without any reason at all it fell to the ground and was soon dead. This lady discovered too late that the struggle to get out of the cocoon is what makes a butterfly’s wings strong enough to fly. So without the struggle the butterfly has no life. I’ve got a feeling that God uses doubt in many of our lives like that cocoon. He forces us to struggle with the realities of our faith, not because he wants us to fail but because he wants us to spread our wings and fly. In the case of Thomas, Thomas was still in the cocoon. Jesus wasn’t upset with the notion that he had doubt and that he struggled to believe. As a matter of fact, Jesus allowed Thomas to doubt for an entire week so that Thomas might find a way to overcome his struggle with his unbelief. We must all struggle with doubt before we can learn to fly and have faith in Jesus’ plan for us. We must have faith to overcome our bout with doubt. Here are three steps to help you survive your bout with doubt.

  1. Acknowledge your doubts

If you’ve grown up in the church then you may have felt the pressure to ignore your doubts or pretend that they’re not there or at least keep them hidden in some secret place so nobody else finds out about them. But if you do that long enough those doubts will come back to bite you. They’ll always be a weak spot in your faith. So you’ve got to deal with your doubts!

I know that some of you feel like acknowledging your doubts would automatically disqualify you from God’s service or at the very least it would make you a little less spiritual than other Christians. But that’s simply not the truth. Raising questions and having some doubts is never the sign of a weak faith…but rather it’s the sign of a growing faith. Did you know there was a time in Billy Graham’s life when he questioned the truthfulness of the Bible? His faith was shaken and he began to have some doubts. So what did he do? He acknowledged his doubts, he got some help, he trusted God and of course the rest is history.

Moses had doubts about leading the Israelites to the Promised Land, but God strengthened his faith. King David had doubts about being a successful ruler, but God gave him faith when he defeated Goliath. The people of the Old Testament had doubts about those who came to judge over them, but God, with unrelenting faith, still delivered His people. Peter had doubts when walking on water, but Jesus reached down and saved him and restored his faith. The Apostle Paul, who helped build numerous Christian villages, had doubts about his past decisions, but God promised him a better future by guiding him in everlasting faith. The beloved disciple, John, even had doubt as he ran to the tomb—out running Peter; he hesitated to go inside the empty tomb because he doubted what he had been told, but God gave him the faith to witness the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection. The point is, even the strong leaders of our faith had doubts but because they recognized them God was able to give them even more faith. If you doubt yourself right now—you doubt your ability to do something—let God hear those doubts. Acknowledge the doubts in your life and allow God to replace those doubts with faith and belief. He did it with Thomas, so He can do it with you too.

Before we can feel comfortable about acknowledging our doubts, though, we probably need to know a few things about doubt itself. For instance, doubt is the act of calling into question the truth, having a lack of confidence in something or someone. Doubt does not remove your salvation. You’re not going to lose your salvation just because you’ve got some unanswered questions. We all do. Doubt is not the same as unbelief. Unbelief is a willful decision. It’s a deliberate decision to stand against the truth. Finally, doubt is not necessarily an unhealthy condition. For too long we’ve been taught that it’s wrong or dangerous to doubt. But if doubt is handled properly then it can become the springboard to a deeper and stronger faith than you’ve ever experienced. Look at Thomas’ decision in verse 25: the other disciples had just told him “we’ve seen the Lord.” But Thomas makes a willful decision – “I will not believe UNLESS I see and I touch.” Thomas acknowledges his doubt. He says you guys may believe it, but I sure don’t and in fact I won’t believe it unless I’ve got some pretty clear answers.

A week later Jesus simply told Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt by believe” (John 20:27). When we acknowledge the doubts in our life, Jesus will be there to turn our doubts into faith and belief. After all Jesus is the one who turns a mess into a message, a test into a testimony, a trial into a triumph, a victim into a victory. Acknowledge your doubts and turn to God for help.

2. Turn to God for help.

Thomas isn’t the only who had doubt. When God told Sarah that she would have a child in her old age she laughed and said, “How can an old woman like me have a baby?” In other words, she doubted God’s word. John the Baptist even had doubt. He saw the spirit of the Lord descend on Jesus, he heard God say “this is my beloved Son” and yet when John was thrown into prison, when his circumstances changed, he doubted. In Mark 9 we come across another famous doubter. A man’s son is possessed by an evil spirit. So he brings the boy to Jesus and asks for help. Now there’s a smart man…he turned to God for help. Listen to the interchange between the father and Jesus. He explains the boy’s condition and then he says to Jesus, “Do something if you can.” Jesus says, “WHAT DO YOU MEAN, IF I CAN?” Then Jesus goes on and says, “Anything is possible if a person believes”. Here’s the father’s response – “I do believe, but help me not to doubt.” I love that statement. Isn’t that the way you feel so often? I really do believe, but oh God help me not to doubt! That’s the kind of response God is looking for in the life of a doubter. You may still have some unresolved doubts, but you’ve got enough faith to come to God for the answers.

What about Thomas? How did he handle his doubt? In verse 24 we’re told that when Jesus appeared to the disciples, Thomas wasn’t with them. Now we don’t know why he wasn’t there. He could have been afraid of what would have happened if the authorities caught the disciples together. Maybe he was just disillusioned. He had followed Jesus for three years, given up everything for this messiah who was crucified three days earlier and now it was time to get back to reality. Regardless of his reasons, he missed the first appearance of the Lord and it resulted in doubt. Have you ever missed Jesus’ appearance in your own life?

Now here’s the exciting part of Thomas’ story. Once he acknowledged his doubts, he was ready to get some help. Look at verse 26; a week later, the disciples were together again and this time Thomas was with them! He’s still struggling with his doubts but at least he’s willing to put himself in a position where those doubts can be removed. Thomas makes himself vulnerable in community of believers! I love that image! Thomas didn’t cut and run when he had doubts. And the other disciples didn’t condemn him for his doubts: no one threw a stone at him. Instead of fear and judgment, the community of faith became a place where doubts were confronted and handled. When we turn our doubts over to God, we are letting God know that we need His help, that we need more faith in our life, that we are seeking to believe more than what we did yesterday. We are seeking a community of believers.

On Thursday, I gathered with others from our community and prayed for all those who are battling cancer. We prayed for healing, recovery, for God to wrap His arms around them. We even prayed that their hearts be filled with faith and that this faith would remove any doubts in their mind. We turned to God and asked God for help. God is never too busy to give you help, to place you with people who can lift up your spirit and build up your faith. Allow God to do the worrying for you. Allow God to remove your doubts. Don’t be afraid to turn to God for help, especially if life keeps piling things on you.

3. Receive what God offers

What did Thomas need at this moment in his spiritual life? He needed some comfort, some reassurance. Put yourself in his place. Everybody else BELIEVED, but you still doubted. You want to believe, but you can’t…there’s still some nagging doubts. Do you know how the bible describes the person who is struggling with doubt? James says they are like a double-minded person, that is, they can’t come to a conclusion. If you’ve ever been through a season of doubt, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. And what you need is exactly what Jesus gave to Thomas. Look at the end of verse 26 again: “Peace be with you.” Luke 24:36-38 reads, “While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?’”

When everything about Thomas’ life was filled with chaos, Jesus offered him peace. Do you know what I like best about these words? It’s what Jesus didn’t say. He didn’t say, “Thomas, I can’t believe you doubted me? Or I’m hurt because you didn’t believe the other disciples”. He didn’t shame, judge, or condemn Thomas for his doubt; he simply gave him what he needed. He gave him what we need at a time of doubt: peace and comfort. God doesn’t condemn or judge you because you have doubt. Instead He chooses to love you. Jesus says to Thomas, “It’s time to stop your doubting and start believing”.  When you turn to God for help, God receives your offer and will bring you faith, belief, and peace.

Conclusion:

Now as a result of Jesus responding to Thomas’ doubt with grace and patience, what happened? Thomas made one of the greatest faith declarations in the whole New Testament – “My Lord and My God!” (John 20:28). Thomas’s life was changed radically and forever. Tradition tells us that Thomas took the gospel to India and gave his life sharing the good news of the freedom found in a relationship with Jesus Christ. Thomas knew what it was to have great doubts and great faith. The bible says in Jude 1:22 “Be merciful to those who doubt.” In other words, don’t kick me when I’m down. Help me up and point me in the right direction so I can find the answers I’m looking for.

Sometimes in life we will have to get into the canon, doubts and all. But when the time comes to exit the canon, we must remember that God has given us the faith to fly, to overcome our doubts, and to believe that He will be there to catch us. When you experience doubt this week remember to acknowledge the doubt, turn to God for help, and allow God to offer you the faith that you need to end your bout with doubt. If Thomas can remove his doubt, then I believe you can as well.

The time has come to start believing. If you are serious about your faith then there’s going to come a time when you have unanswered questions about your circumstances, about the world situation or maybe why God no longer fits neatly into your little man-made box. Doubt doesn’t mean you’ve lost your faith, it simply means you’re trying to figure out how your faith works in this chaotic and sinful world. So instead of being afraid of doubt, why don’t we let God use your doubt as a means of making you stronger in your faith and drawing you closer to Himself.

Closing Prayer:

            Let Us Pray…Dear Faithful God, help us to survive our bout with doubt and help us to conquer the doubt in our life. Lord strengthen our faith, build up our belief, and guide us to recognize that because of your resurrected Son, Jesus Christ, we can soar on the wings like eagles as we come to believe in his resurrection. Amen.

Benediction:

The bad news is, is that you will experience doubt this week. But the good news is, is that God will replace that doubt with faith and belief if you allow Him to live in your heart. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, go, transforming lives as you live well and wisely in God’s world. Amen. Amen. Amen.


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