You're going through a disaster in your financial or personal life. Somebody comes up to you, pats you on the shoulder and says, "Just have faith!" You're trying to get through a pandemic and some spiritual guru says, "Just have faith!" Your marriage is on shaky ground and a friend says, "Just have faith!" You go to bed every night worrying. It makes sense to you when your insightful pastor says, "Worry is worshiping your fears," but you still can't shake it. Somebody tells you, "Just have faith!" It's like going to somebody who fell and broke their arm, and telling them, "Just don't hurt!" It doesn't work.
Just have faith! Why do people say that?
I don't want somebody to tell me, "Just have faith!" That's not what people need. That's not what we need. What we need is someone to come alongside us and say,
"Here's how you have faith."
Have you ever bought one of those "Dummies" books? Those books are a goldmine because most of us are dummies about some things in our lives. I have a book in my library, "Christianity for Dummies." True story. It's very helpful. It's a simple, basic, and common sense guide to Christianity.
For the next two weeks, we're going to look at how to have faith. How to have faith in all situations and circumstances. We want that, right?
Here's what we learn from a man named Thomas. We know Thomas wasn't there when Jesus first appeared to the disciples. The text doesn't tell us where he was. Could have been he was depressed or discouraged. Maybe he was afraid. Whatever the reason, Thomas wasn't with the others. He didn't see what the rest of the disciples saw. So when they told him that they had seen the Risen Christ, he didn't believe them.
"Just have faith, Thomas!"
Jesus was with the Twelve. Thomas wasn't there. They told Thomas Jesus was with them. Thomas said he'd believe them when he saw Jesus' wounds, and touched the places where he was hurt. Chances are, I would have had the same response Thomas did. How about you?
Let's start with a name. "Thomas" literally means "twin." Clever name, right? He had a twin. We don't know anything about the other one. But we do know Thomas has a lot of twins still today. A lot of us have struggled with doubt. In fact, Thomas became the de facto patron saint of doubt. Doubting Thomas. A bit unfair. I'd hate to be permanently tagged because of a momentary flaw of character or outlook. I think, instead of Doubting Thomas, we need to call him Thomas who doubted but came to a great experience of faith where he made the greatest confession of any of the disciples. That's would we should call him. Thomas worked through his doubt to have faith.
Thomas teaches us one of the most important lessons we can learn as believers:
It's okay to have honest doubts.
Don't ignore them or set them aside. In fact, honest doubts can grow into
great faith if you handle them the right way. And that's what we're going
to learn from Thomas…how to handle doubts the right way.
Let's start with John 20:24-25:
Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”
1. Admit your doubts.
It's important to realize doubts are real. And last time I heard, no one went to hell for having doubts. There's absolutely nothing wrong with a momentary lapse of reason. You can't get rid of something until you admit it's real, right? Doubt can be like ants invading your house. Have you ever had that problem? One time, years ago, before kids, my wife and I were at her mom's. I grabbed a bag of Nacho Cheese Flavor Doritos that had already been opened and began crunching away. After several hand-full's I noticed movement in the bag. It was crawling with grease ants. Has that
ever happened to you?
If you've got ants in your house, you don't ignore them. You don't go to bed at night, thinking they'll be gone by morning. If you say, "We can live with them," the problem's just going to get bigger. You have to respond with extreme prejudice. You don't want them around. The same is true with doubts. We don't have to let them stay in our lives.
It's okay to admit doubts. I've got these doubts…here's where I struggle. Here's the second thing we learn from Thomas:
2. Drop requirements for belief.
Notice what Thomas did. He said, "Unless I see…" He made his own benchmarks for belief. "Unless I see in his hands…unless I place my finger into the mark of the nails…unless I place my hand into his side, I will never believe." And we do the same thing. Maybe not in those exact terms, but we sometimes project the notion that unless I get everything in my life the way I think I should, then I won't take this great step of faith. If something bad happens in my life, then my faith will weaken. Unless every Christian I meet is an always upstanding person, then I won't believe. Unless God runs the world the way I think it should be run, I won't believe. Do any of those sound familiar? Like Thomas, we put our own requirements on faith.
Some might call Thomas a skeptic. Some might call him a pessimist. Some might call him a realist. Skepticism came easy for Thomas. Someone once said of Thomas, the cross was what he expected. He expected Jesus to go to the cross. Once, when heading down to Jerusalem with Jesus and some of the other disciples, Thomas said "Let's go down and die with him." Even in that declaration, we can hear his pessimistic spirit.
Now, I think for a lot of people, pessimism is not altogether uncommon. Things have to be seen, measured, and verified. I have to prove it in order for it to be real. We're like that.
But there are some things that are real that we can't see. My love for my wife, granddaughters, and sons is real. My love for the people of Covenant Church is real. Some things are real that we can touch, but others are just as real even though they can't be touched. Love, God, grace, and heaven,
Thomas lived with doubt because of unrealistic requirements on faith. He said I have to see it. Have you ever been like that? Hebrews 11:1 says, "Faith is the conviction about something you're hoping for. Faith is a certainty about something you do not see." There's a foundation to that certainty. It is faith.
Here's a good definition of faith:
We're informed by the Bible that Jesus came to this world. That's been the focus of our walk through the Gospel of John. Jesus came to this world and he gave his life for us on the cross and God has invited us into His family through faith in Jesus Christ. That's what the Bible tells us. That's information. But the information isn't enough to have faith.
There also has to be trust. Can I trust the information? Can I trust that this truth can meet the faith needs of my life?
Make no mistake. There are people who have an uninformed trust in the
wrong things. Medical quackery thrives on uninformed trust. So do cults,
get-rich-quick schemes, and fad diets. Some people end up trusting in anything that comes along.
At the other end, there are those who have lots of information and learn lots of things and study like crazed graduate students and yet nothing helpful or edifying and useful translates into their lives. Some people are smart and informed, yet they don't trust much of anything.
Faith is informed trust. Thomas had to learn to remove his doubts.
Next week is Easter. We're not going to be able to be together for worship. We're stuck doing what Thomas did. It became an impediment to his faith. Thomas was off by himself. We're not going to let that happen to us, because the Sunday will come when we will gather as the church for worship. We're going to come together.
In the meantime, here's the third thing we learn from Thomas:
3. Don't Withdraw from Fellowship.
Thomas struggled with doubt because he wasn't with fellow disciples. This is a major cause of doubt in people's lives. We'll picks things up here next week. It's a perfect focus for Easter morning.