Will You Be A Doubting Thomas?

John 20:24-29 (NLT)

24 One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), was not with the others when Jesus came. 25 They told him, “We have seen the Lord!”  But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in His hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in His side.”

26 Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them.  The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them.  “Peace be with you,” He said. 27 Then He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at My hands.  Put your hand into the wound in My side.  Don’t be faithless any longer.  Believe!” 28 “My Lord and my God!”  Thomas exclaimed.  29 Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen Me.  Blessed are those who believe without seeing Me.”

  • Doubt can be called the leprosy of faith, eating away at our hearts until we are unable to sustain that life-giving faith. 
  • Doubt can be called a thief, robbing us of the truth of God’s unfailing grace. 
  • Doubt can be called blindness, causing us to believe that God doesn’t love us. 
  • Doubt can be called demoralizing, making us feel unworthy to ask God to forgive us. 
  • Doubt can be called deafening, denying us the ability to hear God calling us to His Heart. 
  • Doubt CAN Be All Of This WHEN We Refuse To Acknowledge It And Deal With It In The Presence Of God.

This leads me to the one thing you need to remember: 

Knowing About Jesus Is No Substitute For Knowing Jesus In Our Heart.

It seems that after I turned 50, a lot of my notions and ideas began to change, and one of them is about Thomas.  When someone doubts something, we often say, “Oh, don’t be such a doubting Thomas.”  Doubting Thomas.  What a moniker to be stuck with nearly 2,000 years later.  Now I have come to a different opinion of Thomas. 

Some of it has come out of my own personal experiences, and some of it has come by reflecting more on the Scriptures without the usual and typical comments people make about him.  I have found that Thomas’ strength comes out of what WE callHis Doubts.

Be fair to Thomas.  He wasn’t there the first time Jesus appeared to some of the disciples—the same disciples who Doubted the report of Mary and the other women.  And don’t make a big deal about him not being there.  The scriptures do not say why he wasn’t there. 

Maybe the others sent him out to Burger King for some food, or to Publix for some groceries.  They were afraid of the Sanhedrin, but it was Thomas who said, “Let us go to Jerusalem with Jesus that we may die with Him.”  He’s not afraid of the Sanhedrin, send him out.  And we don’t know When Thomas was back with the other disciples.  And it doesn’t matter When he came back.  Point is, He Came Back!

Now they are telling him, “We saw Jesus and He’s alive!  Isn’t that great Thomas?”  And Thomas should believe them, right?  After all, these guys believed the women’s report from the cemetery.  I mean, James and John were fishermen and we all know fishermen never lie. 

And there’s Matthew who was a tax collector and everyone knows how truthful and honest tax collectors are.  And there’s Peter telling the same story and we all know how reliable and stable Peter is.  And Mary Magdalene is saying the same thing, and everyone knows she’s always been the sanest person around.  I mean, with these kinds of witnesses, Thomas should be saying. “All right!  I just knew Jesus would do something else!”

But Thomas doesn’t say that.  His response to all these witnesses is:  “Unless I see . . . I won’t believe it.”  I have come to like Thomas and even more—I love his response.  Of all the things said by them after the resurrection, Thomas makes the most profound statement of all.  His Heart Is The Heart Longing For Faith.  He does not want to be known as the doubter.  His heart wants to believe in the deepest way possible. 

So I have sat in the class taught by none other than Thomas, and I want you to join me as Thomas teaches us some powerful lessons about what it means to be a Real Disciple of the Risen Jesus!  Don’t call him the Missing Disciple.  Simply mark the role of who is there and who is not present.  Don’t read more into this than what’s here. 

Sure, he may have had his doubts about why Jesus had to die, but so did all the others.  They have been on a roller coaster ride.  One day Jesus is hailed as King, and a few days later called a criminal. 

Each of them had their own notions about what Jesus should do.  Each of them was weighed down with the traditions they had been taught about the Messiah.  And Jesus met none of their expectations or traditions.  It was bound to be disappointing.  But none of them seem to say what they are feeling.  None of them seem to be willing to deal with their doubts.

Only Thomas has the courage And The Faith to deal with his doubts.  And here is the first lesson Thomas teaches us:

1.  Doubting Can Be The Most Fertile Ground For Faith To Grow.

When We Seriously Deal With Our Doubts Before God, It’s Ripe For Growth.  Why do you try to hide your doubts from God?  Do you honestly think God doesn’t know when you doubt?  Life can be tough and there can be lots of things that make us question our faith and even question our God’s goodness and love.

A child is stillborn.  A promising high school student dies in an automobile accident.  A trusted spiritual leader falls flat on his face.  Someone’s son commits suicide.  A faithful leader and servant in church dies from ALS.  My Mother suffered from dementia.  Bad things, horrible things happen to good people. 

So we seek God’s counsel.  We pound on the doors of heaven but there’s no answer.  But because of the seed of faith that God put in us, we keep on pounding.  And It Is Faith Making Us Pound On Heaven’s Door Because We Know There’s No Other Place Where We Can Find The Answer.  It is in these moments that our faith can grow the deepest—when we know that we can keep coming back and that God will not stop loving us.  Where else can Thomas turn with these doubts? 

Their word about the Resurrection is not enough for Thomas. 

Their experience does not satisfy the hungering and thirsting of his heart

Thomas is living out one of those beatitudes:  Blessed Are Those Who Hunger And Thirst For Righteousness For They Will Be Satisfied!  In my imagination, I can just see Jesus doing a fist pump when Thomas makes that declaration and saying, “He gets it! I’m proud of Thomas! Just look at that hunger of his!”

So Thomas says out loud for everyone to hear:  “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.”  And if you are paying attention, you will hear the second lesson from Thomas:

2.  You Can’t Live On The Experiences Of Others!

Some people never get close enough to God, they never surrender their heart completely—in order to have a faith story about God in their life.  They Want Just Enough Of God In Their Life To Feel Comfortable In Their Complacency.

They listen to the stories of others and protect the traditions and say “This is enough!  This is all I need!”  And Those Without That Genuine Experience Will Fight For Those Traditions More Than They Will For The Message And Ministry Of Jesus Christ.  Our culture is sick to death of precious traditions and ancient stories.  They told their story.  But Thomas wanted more.

And the good news for those witnesses is this:  They Were So Genuine, So Convincing That Thomas Wanted That Same Presence In His Life!  No Bible stories about Jesus for Thomas, no sir!  He wanted the real presence.  And our culture wants none of the traditions and ancient stories—

But They Do Want A Genuine, Authentic Story Of What Jesus Is Doing Right Here And Now In Relationship With Us

The Greek word for I see is eidō.  It means more than to see with the eye.  It Means:  To Cherish.  To cherish means we recognize the real value.  There are many things we cherish which have little or no monetary value.  But they are important to us because they have personal meaning. 

Resurrection Had To Have Personal Meaning For Thomas Or It Was Nothing

To cherish the Resurrection, it must have personal meaning for us.  Thomas wanted the relationship, not the Cliff Notes and not the Readers’ Digest version.  And if you are paying attention to Thomas, you now know the third lesson he teaches us:

3.  He Stayed Until Jesus Came To Him!

Even with those doubts Thomas stayed with it for 8 days.  And because he did, he was there when Jesus came again. 

Our Doubts Never Disqualify Us From The Relationship God Seeks To Have With Us.  And Our Doubts Do Not Disqualify Us From Serving God

Thomas chose to hang in there, to wrestle and struggle and seek for himself the reality of the Risen Lord.  His hunger for God couldn’t be satisfied with “their” story—he knew that the only way his hunger would be satisfied is through HIS own story

Personally, I would rather go into battle with 1 Doubting Thomas than 100 comfortable pew sitters.  There are too many sitting in churches this morning who want an Easy Faith, so easy even a caveman can do it.  They want it to be neat and tidy.  But life isn’t so neat and tidy, and Jesus understands this. 

That’s why Jesus came back 8 days later for Thomas, to bless Thomas with His presence.  Some people look at verse 29 and think Jesus is chastising Thomas:  “Why couldn’t you believe without seeing?”  But most of the ancient manuscripts do not use Thomas’ name.  The pronoun used by John can be plural:  Jesus said to THEM.  Literally it says:  “Blessed are they, believed, and now you (plural) are blessed; yet no less blessed those be who believe in my resurrection, without the evidence.” 

Now I understand:  the blessing is equal for Thomas and the others and for us.  Their blessing is not greater than ours, nor is ours greater than theirs. 

The Blessing Is In Coming Face To Face With Jesus. 

And if you are struggling to believe, then remember Thomas: 

He Stayed Until Jesus Came To Him, And Jesus Did.  And Jesus Will Come To You. 

Sometimes life can be a real mess and the upheaval can feel like an erupting volcano.  What do you do when life is like that?  What do you do when there are more questions than answers?  What do you do when the neat answers don’t fit the messy questions? 

Be a Doubting Thomas.  It’s looks like this:

  • Refuse To Settle For Neatly Packaged Answers That Rarely, If Ever, Satisfy The Heart. 
  • Don’t Be Content With What Someone Else Says About Jesus. 
  • Yearn For Your Experience—Know That The Force And The Power Of Resurrection Can And WILL Have Meaning For You!
  • Have That Unquenchable Thirst And Appetite To Cherish The Living Presence Of Jesus Himself.

Our culture isn’t interested in our traditions or stories told of long ago.  But they are interested in and are hungry for a relationship.  Be a Thomas—and hang in there, because Jesus is coming to you.  A lot of people know ABOUT Jesus, and that is good—But…It…Is…Not…Good…Enough!

The Gospel insists and demands that you KNOW Jesus personally.  Have you been struggling?  Doubts can only lead to growth when we bring them into the presence of God. 

The Good News about bringing our doubts to God is this:  Jesus is coming for you, and He’s coming with the blessing.  Will you accept Him today?

Next Steps

  1. Do You Know More About Jesus In Your Head Than You Have Experienced In Your Heart?  Then today is the day like Thomas had—to experience the Risen Lord and fall in love with Him—and His beauty.  To give up WHAT you know, for the One who knows you and desires for you to know Him!
  2. Are You Having Any Doubts About The Future About This Place?  Thomas was looking for a future with Hope And Promise.  He would not have found it unless he brought it to Jesus.  When he brought those doubts to Jesus, everything changed.  I’m asking you to bring your doubts about the future of this place to Jesus.  It changed the outlook of Thomas—it will change your outlook, too!

Devotions Or Devoted?

As a pastor, I admit I tend to first read a passage through the lens of a pastor. I look for what I need to teach, share and preach in order to fulfill what I like to term the Ephesians 4:11-12 model–to build up and equip the body of Christ. But this journey through Acts, I’ve sought to read this first and foremost as a disciple of Jesus. And as I look at this journal I’m keeping, there’s this haunting question I wrote: “How devoted am I to Jesus?”

It seems I’ve been so focused on building up others, that perhaps I’ve forgotten how to build myself up. But any pastor who never or rarely asked themselves the tough questions they pose to the flock, well, let’s just say I wouldn’t stay with that flock very long. The verse that leaped off the page and sliced open my heart is in chapter 2, verse 42

All the believers devoted themselves…

Acts 2:42 (NLT)

It seems I’ve been quick to do my “devotions”, but I’ve come face to face with the issue of being “devoted”. These words sound similar, but they are light years away from being the same thing. I can’t complete shake the lens of being “Preacherman”, so I know that I am not alone in this issue. I have seen many others who have substituted “doing their devotions” for “being Devoted“.

I am coming to understand what being devoted as a follower of Jesus should mean. It is found in how Dr. Luke paints a powerful word picture of being devoted. As the Holy Spirit was wiping up all that blood that had gushed from my heart when He sliced it open, He looked up at me and said, “It’s about the foundation, Randy. The foundation holds up everything on top of it. If the foundation is solid and strong, it holds up the rest of it. But if it’s not……well, you know what Jesus said about that.”

After regaining my composure, I looked for that foundation built by those first believers. It’s found in what they were devoted to. I read that list, and saw ever so clearly why the Body of Christ in Africa, Russia, Asia and other places were growing and thriving, and why the Body of Christ in the Western World is declining and in such chaos. It all comes down to that word “devoted“, and what they were devoted to.

1] The Apostles Teaching: There was an insatiable appetite. It seems that they could not get enough of it. They were hungry for what God had to say. This formed their core beliefs.  These would be the things that everything else would be built around.  We would call them the non-negotiables.  And what they were teaching was what they were learning—from Jesus and through the Holy Spirit.  This happened because Jesus promised it would happen with the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

2] Fellowship with each other:  The Greek word Luke used is “koinonia”.  It means “joint participation”.  It’s a word used to describe close and caring relationships.  In fact, as the Gospel continued to spread, they weren’t known in their culture as “churches” but as Koinonia.  It was something everyone had a share in—a belonging.  It wasn’t a building or denomination that marked these early believers—but their desire to be deeply connect TOGETHER in Christ and with each other

3] Sharing in meals:  The Greek used by Luke is literally “the breaking of bread.” Now, when we think about the breaking of bread, what do we usually think about?  Holy Communion. But in the Middle East, and most of the Mediterranean breaking of bread meant a meal.  Meal time was considered special.  In fact, if someone invited you to a meal and you refused, it was considered offensive.  I know that one time my son Matthew told me when he was in Iraq, sometimes he had no idea what he was eating—but he never turned down any invitation to a meal.  Whether it was a meal or The Lord’s Supper, breaking bread was considered a sacred and holy moment.  See, there is something Biblical about Methodists loving to Meet And Eat.

4] They prayed: Early on they knew the importance of prayer.  Remember we are talking about the foundation.  Prayer wasn’t a last resort—but the first step. They really believed in the power of prayer because their faith was filled with that hopeful expectation that God was present and at work. And honestly, I don’t think their prayers were anything at all like those “stained glass prayers” spoken in church. For them, prayer was dialogue with God–both talking to and listening. They may have been considered by today’s standards, rather simple minded, but oh what results came from those prayers.

5] And remember, they did all this TOGETHER! What those disciples did just before the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit, being together, was so important and it continues to be important today.  Some of the later writing by Paul focused on the importance of TOGETHER, and said a lot of harsh words when TOGETHER was being broken.

This is the Kingdom Foundation.  What happens next comes out of that Foundation. Well, the Holy Spirit has stitched up my heart where He sliced in open, and it’s better now than before. So, to you the reader, remember the difference between devotions and devoted. Devotion are what we do. Devoted is the pursuing the Kingdom of God with all that is in us. It’s following the pull of the Holy Spirit into the direction of what God is doing in our world. Being devoted isn’t a casual thing, or a part time job as a follower of Jesus. It’s throwing yourself completely into the Kingdom of God and what HE is doing in our world.

Remember, love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!

(P.S.–the next edition is about the kind of life that comes from our devoted foundation….)

The Big Lie!

old new clothes

Yesterday afternoon I was at the Opening Session for our Tribe’s thing called “Annual Conference”.  It was my 43rd consecutive Conference.  For “outsiders”, Annual Conference is this thing that when all is said and done, more is said than done.  Bishop Sharma Lewis preached for our opening Worship, and normally I would have considered it a great and powerful message.  She chose the passage from Colossians 3, verse 12 and it was about putting on the new clothes of love and she presented us with a great question:  What are you wearing?

Normally, I know there’s nothing normal about me in many folks eyes, but that’s their problem, I would have really been inspired by the message.  I mean, what’s better than wearing the new clothes of love.  Or, as The Message puts it:

Now you’re dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. 

But this crisis that the United Methodist Tribe is facing, has caused me to have this deep-seated thought that Bishop Lewis was only telling half of the story–literally a half-truth.  And a half-truth is at its root and core, a lie!  As I was talking to God about this “disappointment” in my heart, it hit me.  She, like so many in our culture today, didn’t talk about the first part of Paul’s letter.  Yes, be clothed in God’s love–after all, it’s His personal label.  But….

But these new clothes don’t fit or look well as long as you keep wearing the “old” clothes underneath them.  He starts off in Verses 1-2

So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.

It’s one of the few things I remember from my cemetery, excuse me, seminary days–that a text without its context is only a pretext.  Bishop Lewis never mentioned verses 1 and 2.  And there’s more to the context, and it’s summed up in verse 5

And that means killing off everything connected with that way of death: sexual promiscuity, impurity, lust, doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy. That’s a life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God.

Our Tribe is being asked to change our church polity and order to accommodate what is now called “Progressive” theology.  We are being asked to give up the traditional view of human sexuality in order to not only accommodate our culture–but here’s the BIG LIE–but because of God’s love, it’s OK to be “gay”.  Progressive theology on human sexuality says that God created some people “gay”, ergo, it’s no longer a sin.  Just wear love!

Yet how can anyone put on God’s love, wear these perfectly fitting clothes, IF we continue to wearing the old clothes?  The truth is, the painful truth is, you can’t!  In the south we would say it like this, and for you poor unfortunate souls who aren’t in the south, I will help translate this for you:  Put a silk dress on a sow (NOUN: a female pig) and she’s still a sow, and she’ll get that silk dress muddy.  And we cannot wear God’s New Designer Label of Love until we get rid of the old clothes of sin.

I say this not from the “high ground” of being morally superior to others, but from the “low ground” of realizing that I still have sin in me.  I admit that I’m broken and am always turning back to God to help put shed off the old clothes so that I can be fitted with the right clothes.  Those who insist that sexuality outside of the husband (man) and wife (woman), in other words, being “gay”, is their identity.  There is no offer of personal transformation into the identity that has nothing to do with sex–but everything to do with The Creator.

Progressives offer no hope for a new identity–just put on the new clothes of love without ever taking off the old clothes of, as The Message puts it, “doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy. That’s a life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God.”  I am wondering now, could it be that the suicide rate is above average in the LBGTQI community, especially among teens who feel or believe they are gay, because they are not offered Hope–hope for not just a new identity–but their TRUE identity.  A person’s true identity is found in their relationship with God–NOT with whom they are having sex.

And my heart breaks for the LBGTQI community because they have been told to believe that there is no way to shed their old clothes for the new designer clothes.  As long as we try to wear the Divine Designer Clothes of Love OVER the old clothes doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy you will never be able to wear them as they are designed.

I’m not saying homosexuality is the worst sin.  And it certainly isn’t the only thing that can be called an abomination.  Proverbs 6:16-19 (NLT) describes those things this way:

17 There are six things the Lord hates—no, seven things he detests:
17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that kill the innocent,
18 a heart that plots evil, feet that race to do wrong,
19 a false witness who pours out lies, a person who sows discord in a family.

One time I was asked, “Bro. Randy, what do you think is the worst sin?  Rejecting Jesus?”  I think my response shocked her.  I said, “No, even that’s not the worst sin.  I believe that the worst sin is the one that makes God want to vomit–and that is being lukewarm (Revelation 3:16).  No other condition, no other sin that I can find in the Bible makes God want to puke.  I just noticed something–3:16.  One 3:16 tells us we can have eternal life (John 3:16).  This other 3:16 says we make God want to puke, and thus, be eternally separated from Him.

I am smart enough, wise enough, and humble enough to know that I still have times when I try to wear God’s Designer Jeans over my filthy yard clothes.  They don’t fit, they don’t look good because that’s not the way these “Designer Jeans” are “DESIGNED” to be worn.  We have to put off the old in order to wear the new.  So I pray, pray hard first for me to be sure I’m not trying to wear the new over the old.  Second, I pray hard for the LBGTQI community to stop believing the Great Lie.  And third, I pray for those who are deceiving the LBGTQI community WITH the Great Lie.

Before new life happens–before we can experience the Resurrection Life–there are things that need to, MUST die in all of us.  Otherwise, we’re just an old sow wearing a silk dress.  That’s not how this works!

Do You Serve Before God’s Altar?

OK, since God calls us to be a Kingdom of Priests (1 Peter 2:9) I ask you:  Whose altar is it?  Priests in the Old Testament served before the Altar of God, meaning God owned that altar.  If the altar is yours then the Fire of Revival will never fall on it.  The fire from Heaven didn’t fall on the altar of Jezebel’s priests because it wasn’t God’s altar.  As long as we try to control the altar, God’s fire won’t fall on it!

tozer3

Tamed And Domesticated. How Sad!

1

I was just thinking this morning.  In my world of those who know me, many shudder when I say this.  Some even do the face palm thing while shaking their heads wondering to themselves, “Dear Lord, what is this man up to again?”  And a few even run and hide.  I’m OK with that because I am convinced God gave me a mind–a mind to learn with and a mind to question things–sometimes everything.

I am thinking about that word “TAME” and its partner word “DOMESTICATED”.  Somehow, there are those who think that the purpose of a relationship with God is about taming us.  There are many tribes (tribes are groups of people with a similar belief system and mindset about God, also known as denominations in some circles) who believe that in order to follow Jesus, we must be tamed.  They treat desire as if it were the modern-day equivalent of Biblical times leprosy.

And so this idea of desire is pushed back and beaten down so that respectability can rule and reign.  As I was thinking about that word TAME I realized that it rhymes with another word:  LAME.  So what if we started seeing DESIRE as something to, well DESIRE, to want, to insist on having?  Not just any DESIRE, but to have DESIRE for God–for what God is doing–and especially for what God wants us to do!

Can we agree, at least those smart enough to believe in Intelligent Design, that we have been created in God’s image?  OK!  God has DESIRES.  So if HE has DESIRES, why shouldn’t we?  Unfortunately many have traded in the God who has Great Desires for a god who is nice and kind and always gentle.  In others words, a domesticated god.  When something is domesticated it means we have TAMED it for OUR use, to use the way we want.

The True and Living God is neither TAME nor DOMESTICATED.  He is wild with DESIRE!  Oops, someone just said, “I don’t believe that!  Prove it from the Bible!”  Okey Dokey, be careful what you ask for; you just might get it, as in this case.  God sent a messenger to Eli the priest saying He, God, would take away the priesthood from Eli and his sons and raise up priests who do what, and I quote God, “I DESIRE!”  And in Isaiah 55:11–“It (His word) will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I DESIRE and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”  And Jesus said in John 17:24–“Father, I DESIRE that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.”

Now, when it comes to US, should their be desire?  Now David was called a man after God’s own heart.  When he selected a worship leader, he chose Asaph.  I am sure David, who loved to worship God, wanted someone just as passionate as he.  Read these words of Asaph:

24 You guide me with your counsel, leading me to a glorious destiny.

25 Whom have I in heaven but you?  I DESIRE you more than anything on earth.

26 My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; He is mine forever. (Psalm 73:24-26 NLT)

Let’s stop being Tame And Lame, and reclaim that word DESIRE.  The enemy has used it for too long as a sign of evil.  Desire, as God put it in us, is both good and necessary.  When we become “tame”, the enemy no longer fears us.  He has domesticated us, meaning, we are here for his pleasure and guess what else.  His “desires”, desires which are to keep us away from our created purpose and to prevent us from being Warriors.  One of the things that makes the enemy tremble with fear and trepidation is when he sees one of God’s Image Bearer’s doing exactly what Asaph wanted, to DESIRE God more than anything else.  When God’s designed DESIRE flows through you, the enemy runs and hides.  He wants you domesticated, God wants you wild and free as He designed you.  If you are not living out your relationship with God with that God-Designed-And-God-Pleasing DESIRE, you have been Tamed And Domesticated by the evil one.  And you are just plain old LAME.  And that is so sad, so very sad!

Love God with all you heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him and it will as you DESIRE Him more than anything else on earth.