Stop Doubting and Believe

Scripture Reading: John 20:24-29:

24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25So 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.”

26 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.”

I remember growing up and being told by my Sunday school teacher, “Don’t be a doubting Thomas.” There were several men named Thomas in our church and community and I could never figure out which one she was talking about and how they got mentioned in the Bible. It was not until I heard our pastor preach on this text from John, that I finally realized that it was Thomas the Disciple that my teacher was talking about.

I can relate to the disciple Thomas and his moment of doubt. We all have moments of doubt throughout our lives and sometimes we need a reminder from someone to stop doubting. Most of the time, my doubts have to do with myself. Like Thomas, I want to have a sign, something that gives me a clear answer. Often I find myself praying for a “sign” from God so that I can put an end to my doubts. Jesus tells us however, “Stop doubting and believe.”

Doubt is exactly what the evil one wants us to have plenty of. He wants us to second guess ourselves and replay our failures in our minds so that we become weak and ineffective followers of Christ.  We come up with excuses or reasons not to try; I’m not smart enough, I can’t talk to or pray with that particular person, I can’t teach that Sunday school class, I can’t visit someone who is hurting or sick because I don’t know what to say….and the list goes on and on.

Like us, the disciples also had doubts and I’m sure they had their moments when they also felt weak and ineffective. It is in those moments that we forget whom we serve as our Lord and Savior. As believers, we serve God, whose power helps us to overcome our own human weaknesses. The Apostle Paul reminds us that God’s power is made perfect in our weakness. As believers, we are not alone; we have the name of Christ to call upon to help us overcome our doubt.

Do you believe in the power of Jesus? Do you have enough faith to overcome doubt and live out a life that frees you from your doubting ways? Hebrews 11:1 tells us, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”  Jesus tells us to have faith and to “stop doubting and believe.”

Jesus told Thomas that “because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  And that is the Good News for us as believers. We have not personally seen Jesus, but because we believe in Him, we are saved for all eternity. And we are also saved from living a life filled with doubt.

 

 

 

 

 

Ask In My Name

Scripture Reading: John 14:13-14: And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

Jesus spoke these words to his disciples while at the Last Supper. Jesus had already washed his disciples’ feet in order to given them a lesson in humility and to set an example of selfless service. Then Jesus predicts his betrayal by Judas Iscariot and Peter’s denial of Jesus. After this, Jesus begins to comfort his disciples: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me” (John 14:1). “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). And then Jesus says, “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father” (John 14:13).

Many of us read this passage from the Gospel of John and we think that we have a blank check to ask for anything from Jesus. We stop reading before we finish verse 13. We read: And I will do whatever you ask. Most of us know that it doesn’t work that way, we just ask Jesus for anything, and he will give us whatever it is that we asked for. We fail to finish the verse by reading and understanding the phrase, “in my name.” We know that we can’t control or manipulate God by praying for whatever we want, for our own satisfaction. However, we all pray those kinds of prayers often.

We can all think of prayers that does not bring glory to God.

  • God, help me to win this reality TV show and the million dollar prize
  • God, I need a new car, a new house, and some new electronic devices
  • God, my neighbor is always bragging about what he has. How about causing him to “lose” some of his possessions so that he is not so high and mighty anymore

What does it mean to “ask in my (Jesus’) name?  It doesn’t imply that if we simply mention the name of Jesus that our prayers will be answered. It is prayer that is focused on carrying out the will of Jesus and of God. If we are asking in the name of Jesus, we are asking for help in continuing and expanding the ministry of Christ. We are seeking to help others and to love others and to make a difference in the community and world that we live in.

Last week my telephone rang just as we were getting ready to go out and eat. It was the local hospital in Athens where I serve as an on-call Chaplain. I did not realize until the phone rang that it was my week to be on call. I answered the phone and was told immediately that I was needed at the hospital. The nurse in charge told me that it was someone who was on suicide watch and they were asking for a minister to pray with them.

As I drove over to the hospital, I remember praying to God for the words and the strength that I would need in this difficult situation. I would be going in with very few details and even less time to prepare, so I just prayed that God would help me to represent Him in a caring and professional way. I prayed for God to give me the words to speak.

I talked with the patient for about ten minutes and then I was asked to pray with this person. I began to pray and I really don’t remember all that I prayed for. It was one of those moments where I could feel the Holy Spirit taking over and giving me the words to say. When I finished, this person thanked me for the prayer and told me that they felt a sense of peace come over them.

I drove back home thinking about what had just happened. I continue to be amazed at how God can give us the words that need to be said in difficult circumstances. Jesus said, “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it (John 14:13-14).

United in Christ

Scripture Reading: Galatians 3:27-28: For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Our church, Milledge Avenue Baptist Church, in Athens, Georgia, participated in a combined worship service with Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church, also in Athens. Mt. Pleasant is an African- American Baptist Church and their pastor invited us to join together with our brothers and sisters in Christ, in worship at their church. And what a wonderful and uplifting service it was. I had the opportunity to reunite with some dear friends that I had not seen in a while and also to meet many other folks for the first time.

Our pastor, Edward Bolen, preached on the text from Luke about the Good Samaritan. He challenged all of us to wrestle within ourselves on how we should extend mercy and love towards our neighbors. Pastor Bolen used a phrase from one of Dr. Martin Luther King’s Ebenezer sermons, “What’s mine is thine.” In other words, whatever gifts or resources we have been given from God – belongs to God. And in turn, God wants us to have this attitude towards our neighbors. Jesus gives us the image of a neighbor, as one who has mercy on his fellow man, regardless of color, nationality, or religion.

Paul, in our scripture reading for today, is also saying that if you are baptized into Christ, then you are one in Christ Jesus. It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, black or white, Jew or Gentile, man or woman. If you belong to Christ, then you are part of a family of believers from many different backgrounds. Christ is what unites us as neighbors and as believers.

Our family came away from this beautiful service today with a true blessing. Spending time with our brothers and sisters in Christ from Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church was something that made this day very special. We all have more in common that we realize and we must continue to get to know each other better and work together as followers of Christ. And we also must strive to be good neighbors to those in our community that need our attention. May God continue to speak to our church leaders and draw these two congregations even closer together as we go about the work of the Kingdom of God, here in Athens, Georgia.

 

 

 

Rejoice In the Lord

Scripture Reading: Philippians 4:4-8

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.

The Apostle Paul is writing to the Philippians, exhorting them to stand firm, as they faced persecutions. Paul also was encouraging them to rejoice in spite of the circumstances that they faced. I believe that he was teaching them to put their focus upon God at the beginning of each day. Beginning the day with their focus on God would enable them to face whatever came their way.

How often do we start our day with even an acknowledgment of God? If we are honest with ourselves, we probably don’t do it as often as we should. God should be at the center of our thoughts as we start each God given day, but many times it is the TV, the internet, or the newspaper that jumpstarts our day.

If we begin our day with God, we can obtain a “peace” that will help us to navigate the many obstacles that we face throughout our day. Now I am not saying that your day will be without problems, but you will have the “peace” of God to help you get through those moments, as you bring glory and honor to God.

As believers, we bring glory and honor to God by being gentle, showing Christ like concern for others. We bring glory to God by being honest, by doing whatever is right, by being pure. Paul tells us that we must continue to think about those things that are excellent or praiseworthy throughout our day.

There are many things that we encounter throughout our day that are not good and pure, or honest and praiseworthy. As believers, we sometimes fall into the trap that the evil one has set for us and we do things that don’t bring honor and glory to God. Paul tells us that in those moments we must call upon the Lord, who by His peace, will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus. “And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:9b)

 

 

 

 

 

Praying Like a Child

Scripture Reading: Mark 10:13-16: People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.

In the adult Sunday school class that I teach, we are beginning this new year with a study and discussion on prayer. We have started out by studying the teachings of Jesus on becoming like little children, and how that relates to our prayer life. Children come without any pretense and they are usually, brutally honest in their assessment of life.

On many occasions, Jesus tells his disciples that they need to become like little children. Imagine what these grown men must have thought when Jesus told them that they needed to become like little children. The disciples seemed to have struggled with this teaching of Jesus as we see many instances of Jesus telling them this over and over again throughout the Gospels.

From Mark: 9: 33-37, we find the disciples traveling with Jesus to Capernaum. As they arrive at Peter’s house, Jesus asks his disciples what they had been arguing about on the road to Capernaum. The text from Mark tells us that the disciples kept quiet because on the way they had been arguing about who among them was the greatest. In another teachable moment, Jesus sits down and says to them, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” Jesus then takes a little child and had the child stand among them. Then Jesus takes the child in his arms and tells the disciples that unless they become like children they will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

This becoming like a child has importance for us as we go before God in prayer. Jesus wants us to be more like little children when we pray, to be without pretense. Many times we try to be something that we aren’t. We come before God in an almost mechanical way, we try to be more spiritual and we try to impress God with our words and our lengthy prayers.

Jesus says, come as you are, come before God with all of your problems and worries. Come messy, come with stumbling words. It doesn’t matter if you get prayer right, what matters is that you come before God without any pretense and ask for guidance and help. Trust less in yourself and trust more in God.

As a father of four, I can say with certainty that children are not shy about telling you what they are thinking. They blurt out their thoughts and are usually very honest in their assessment of life. I believe that God wants us to be that way also in our prayer life. Jesus seems to be urging us to come before God in prayer, just as we are.

Matthew 11:28: The Words of Jesus: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” It’s ok to come before God in prayer as a weary and heavy-burdened human being. It’s ok to come before God as a needy child and ask for guidance and rest. The important thing is to go before God in prayer on a regular basis.

 

 

Jesus Ministers to Great Crowds

Scripture Reading: Matthew 4:23-25

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.

Jesus was attracting a large crowd of followers across a wide geographical area. Jesus was teaching and preaching and he was also “healing every disease and sickness among the people.”  This healing ministry of Jesus was touching upon a need for the people that lived in a land of darkness. The light of the world was shining through that darkness and those who had been unnoticed and forgotten suddenly had hope.

Just a few years ago, I can’t remember seeing many homeless people around the area that I work in East Athens. But over the last year, I know of at least two men who slept outside under a tree for about four months. I came to know one of the men very well as I would see him and talk with him almost daily. This gentleman would stand on the corner at the stop light and hold up a sign asking for money. I tried not to judge whether this man was able to work and look for a job, but many others did, and I did also on several occasions.

There was something about this man that I thought was a little different. He was very polite and was always smiling and rather upbeat. Many people thought that his politeness was a disguise for some ulterior motive that he had. And many people would simply fail to notice this man and not give him or his circumstances any thought.

One day when a local police officer was shot, this man asked me for a dollar that he needed to buy this officer a $4 get well card. We went over to the card aisle, he picked out a card, we went to the register and he paid for the card. He was concerned that the officer had been shot and he wanted to express his gratitude because he said that the officer had always looked out for him and was a friend to him. He gave the card to another officer who delivered the card to the officer’s hospital room that afternoon.

Three weeks ago, this man got a job working at a local fast food restaurant. He came in to tell us his good news and you could just tell how excited and thankful this man was to be working again. He said that this was going to be the best Christmas in many years because he could now afford to buy his loved ones and friends a small gift. He also wanted to thank several of us for being kind and for “being a friend” to him over the past year. Many of us felt guilty that we had questioned this man’s intentions, but we were so happy for his ability to land this job.

Hebrews: 13:1-3
Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.