Saint Andrew United Methodist Church

1528 Church Road

Toms River NJ 08755

Faith Wins Over Doubt

Posted by on Monday, April 9, 2018 @ 7:05 PM

Is SEEING believing…   as the old adage goes? And, if physical, tangible, experience like seeing defines what is possible to believe…   what is faith? How about this…   does BELIEVING change the way we see?

Tough philosophical questions this week that, when probed, can really mess with our common understanding of what faith is, what believing means, and what role ‘seeing’ (aka physical, tangible, experience) plays in it all.

Because it’s such a well-known story in the Bible…   and features such a well-known disciple (doubting Thomas). Let’s look at the Scripture first:

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.” (John 20:24-29)

Jesus had appeared in resurrected form to the disciples but Thomas wasn’t there. When they told him about it, he says, “unless I see and touch…   I will not believe”. On the surface this looks like a classic case. Thomas is in a condition of doubting…   and he claims that only a physical, tangible, experience can clear up his doubt and verify the truth.

Jesus, seemingly directly addressing Thomas, appears again and provides this physical, tangible, proof while repeating the very words Thomas used, “put your finger here and see my hands, reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe”. Is this the climax of the story? Is this the most important point: Jesus appeared miraculously to a doubting Thomas and convinced Thomas with physical, tangible experience that indeed Jesus had been raised? I don’t think so.

First, those words “Do not doubt but believe”, in the Greek, actually mean “do not be faithless but believe”. That may not seem like a big difference, but it does have an impact on the way we should understand what is really going on in these passages.

Being faithless and being doubtful (or doubt-filled) are different. Doubt acknowledges that we are not the first or final authority, we are not the first and final control. Doubt means that we are leaving space for what is not understood, not comprehended, not comfortably accepted. When I say “I doubt”, I am saying I’m pretty sure I know, but I’m leaving the possibility open that some further experience might change my mind. I’m leaving the possibility I might not have it all figured out. When I say “I do not believe” (i.e. I am faithless or have no faith in the matter), that is much stronger. When I am faithless, it is a kind of arrogance. I am convinced that my knowledge and my authority on the matter is settled. I am convinced that I can control how and when and what I will believe and what I will not believe. I’m not leaving the possibility open to have my mind changed by some further experience.

Jesus does make an appearance, specifically to confront Thomas in exactly the way Thomas arrogantly and faithlessly challenged, but this is not the teaching point. If it were, we would expect Jesus to do the same for all of us whom, deep down inside, arrogantly require the same satisfaction and proof. But no, his appearance here is in service to a more foundational teaching point. Jesus goes on to say, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” In other words…   seeing may be believing but that’s not going to be enough…   it is more important to let your believing…   your faith…   lead the way.

In its fullness…   faith does not grow out of our own arrogant, scientific, facts-oriented deduction of our physical, tangible, experience that eliminates ‘doubt’. Instead, faith grows out of engaging the mysteries of life, holding out the possibility that the ultimate truths are so much bigger than we can fully grasp and analyze. It embraces doubt…   but is not controlled by it!

This is good news because we all regularly experience doubt in relation to our lives of faith. It’s necessary because God’s full reality: love, grace, plan, purpose, presence cannot ever be confined and defined by our limited capacity for understanding. The kind of ‘seeing’ that Jesus encourages is the kind that sees and embraces the outworking of God’s presence and promise in all things even while in the midst of doubt.

Courage Wins Over Fear

Posted by on Tuesday, April 3, 2018 @ 10:30 AM

When something bad happens its like a bomb goes off in our lives. Everything is blown out of place, broken, and out-of-sorts, and we are left trying to pick through the pieces. All forward progress stops, and we go into survival mode. Hopes and dreams may be buried, left behind, or put on the back-burner.

The fear and grief that descends upon us when bad things happen can leave us feeling lost, adrift, and without hope. If we are not careful…   this can permanently undermine our joy, our success, our opportunities, and our life’s purpose.

I’m a Star Wars geek, so I’ll use an illustration from the original 1977 Star Wars movie (known as episode 4 ‘A New Hope’). Obi Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader are engaged in a lightsaber battle in which it is clear that Vader has the upper-hand. As he gloats in his anticipated victory, Obi Wan ominously warns Vader, “if you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine”. The warning goes unheeded and Darth Vader kills Obi Wan with huge stroke of the lightsaber.

Young Luke Skywalker witnesses the tragedy…   and is devastated by it. What will he do now that is friend and mentor is gone? How will he learn the ways of the force? How will he succeed in fighting the evil Empire? All hope seems lost for Luke. But, as it turns out, Obi Wan is not dead and gone. He has, in fact, become one with the force. Now, Obi Wan is now able to be powerfully present and active in Luke’s life everywhere all the time; guiding him, teaching him, even empowering him to reach the fullness of his success and purpose.

After Jesus is crucified…   there’s this same sense of tragedy and devastation among his disciples and friends. What will they do now that their friend and mentor is gone? How will they live the ways of God? How will they succeed in declaring the Kingdom of God’s victory over the world? It’s like a bomb went off in their lives…   everything is broken, out-of-sorts, and fear and grief have settled in over everything. Then…   Jesus appears to empower, guide and teach:

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  (John 20:19-22)

No…   Jesus didn’t become ‘one with the force’ like Obi Wan…   its even better than that! In his resurrection victory, he comes with the gift of the Holy Spirit. Far from an impersonal, universal ‘force’, the Holy Spirit is the personal presence of God in all places at all times, given specifically to guide, teach, and empower those who have put their faith in Jesus.

Jesus assures them with the promise of a divine peace and power great enough, and enduring enough, to overcome their fear and grief. And, he sets their sights once again on their future success, opportunity, and life purpose…   “as the Father sends me, so I am sending you”.

We have the very same assurance and promise in the Holy Spirit that those first disciples were given as they cowered behind locked doors in fear for their lives.

Whatever bomb has gone (or might go) off in our lives.

No matter how much everything is blown out of place, broken, and out-of-sorts.

When we are left trying to pick through the pieces and all forward progress seems stopped.

When our hopes and dreams seem buried, left behind, or put on the back-burner.

Jesus is there saying “peace be with you”. The Holy Spirit is there breathing into us, replacing fear and doubt with hope and courage for a future with joy, opportunity, success, and victory.

 

Pastor Erik

The End of the World

Posted by on Monday, March 26, 2018 @ 9:20 AM

Holy Week

Prayer of the Week

(pray this prayer each day this week)

Lord God Almighty,

The prophets through the ages said you would come. They said we should be watchful, ready, obedient, and willing to submit to you when you did come. As Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey the people cried out Hosanna, which means SAVE NOW. They saw, in him, your promised messiah. Within days, the people realized he was not what they expected. The religious leaders hated him because he challenges their ways. The Romans hated him because he was a threat. Although Jesus came in perfect love and justice, he was hated and unjustly executed. How could everyone get it so wrong? This week, help me not to make the same mistake in my life. Show me that salvation means submitting myself in faith, hope, and love to Jesus. As I pray out HOSANNA, enter my life and lead me to overcome my doubt and fear so I may live the life you promised the faithful. In Jesus name I pray. Amen

 

 

Read Psalm 118 & John 12:12-15

Holy Week: Questions for Reflection

 

What happens when perfect justice and perfect injustice clash? We find out when Jesus enters Jerusalem riding on a donkey and fulfilling Zechariah’s prophecy: “Lo, your king comes to you, triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey”. At first, he is received with much celebration, but when his ways of perfect justice and mercy are misunderstood as weakness, heresy, and rebellion…   the world reacts with perfect injustice: false testimony, imprisonment, harsh interrogation, torture, and wrongful execution.

Adoring people were shouting Hosanna (Save Now!) in the streets at Jesus’ coming. How could something so good end so badly? Why do you think that Jesus’ ways represent perfect justice?

Have you ever misunderstood God? How did you react? Did you resist and reject? Or, did you humble yourself and submit? Why do you think the ways of the world represent perfect injustice?

Is this the end of the story? It certainly seems like it. Jesus is killed despite his love, his healing, his teaching, and his promises. What did he say would happen after his death?

 

Action for the Week

READ THE STORY prayerfully and deeply through the week. Matthew 26 & 27; Mark 14 & 15; Luke 22 & 23; John 18 & 19 all tell the story. Save the next chapters for Easter morning Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20. He is Risen!

 

Pastor Erik

Extravagant Justice

Posted by on Monday, March 19, 2018 @ 9:10 AM

5th Week of Lent

Prayer of the Week

(pray this prayer each day this week. Adapted from Psalm 108)

 

Merciful God,

I exalt you with all that I am. I do not forget how you have been kind to me…  forgiven me…   healed me…   redeemed me…  and crowned me with your love and mercy. Such extravagance! You are slow to anger and you abound with steadfast love. You don’t treat me as I deserve but instead treat me with kindness and generosity. You promise me your enduring love and presence. You ask for me commitment to your will and your ways. Even though I am imperfect…   even though my life passes quickly…   your perfection and eternal life and love and rule and reign establish you as Lord over all creation. I am blessed to be yours. I exalt you with all that I am. This week, help to simply, but deeply and powerfully, remember your love and grace and how you have dealt kindly with me. Rekindle the fire of my heart to exalt you in all I do and commit my life to your will and ways. In Jesus name I pray. Amen

 

Read Matthew 20:1-16

Week 5: Questions for Reflection

Human nature is funny sometimes. Often it seems that we don’t get concerned enough when a fellow human being is suffering oppression and injustice and being treated unfairly. But, on the other hand…   we seem to get all too concerned when we feel someone is being treated better than we are…   even when the treatment is an underserved and gracious gift! We may grumble to ourselves “well, why didn’t I get such a nice gift”. That’s the case in the parable of the vineyard workers. Jesus tells of a landowner who pays the same fair wage to all the workers…   even the ones that show up at the end of the workday. Instead of being thankful for a fair day’s wage…   the all-day workers became mad at the landowner’s generosity. Yet another example of God’s unmerited favor for the least and the last.

How much does it bother you when someone else is treated with injustice? Enough to move you to action? How?

How much does it bother you when someone else is treated with extravagant generosity? Does it make you resentful?

Are you grateful? Do you rejoice in how God has been extravagantly generous to you? In what ways can you ‘count your blessings’?

 

Action for the Week

Practice gratitude. Remember daily (even hourly) the blessings that God has showered upon your life. Let that sense of gratitude control your mood this week.

 

Pastor Erik

Good Company

Posted by on Monday, March 12, 2018 @ 8:59 AM

4th Week of Lent

Prayer of the Week

(pray this prayer each day this week)

 

Most High God,

You are Lord over and above all the kingdoms of the world. Yet, often I crave the ‘success’ of this world: wealth, fame, happiness, comfort, pleasure, and other similar things. You remind me that those who receive their reward in the world don’t necessarily receive a reward in your Kingdom. You remind me that while I may suffer sorrow and lack and want in pursuit of your will and your way…   my real reward is your everlasting love. So, you call me to be courageous in speaking and acting for justice and mercy rather than for fame and fortune. You call me to lift up the poor and oppressed rather than aspire for wealth and comfort. This week, give me the courage to endure hardship and sacrifice in this world while caring and serving others. Remind me that by these means I am accomplishing your will for justice and mercy for all people.

In Jesus name I pray. Amen

Read Luke 6:20-26

Week 4: Questions for Reflection

 

Jesus’ warning is clear: if we are rich, well-fed, comfortable, happy, and famous in this world…   chances are we haven’t been living God’s will or ways. If we are poor, hungry, weeping, and un-liked in this world…   chances are we have been living God’s will and ways. The message is simple, the world is unjust and heaps ‘rewards’ on those who commit injustice.  To be right with God means giving ourselves in service to justice and mercy. Often this means the unjust world will punish us with hardship and suffering. But, God rewards us with full and everlasting victory and life

 

How often do you feel rich, well-fed, comfortable, happy, and well-liked?  Can you point to the sources of these comforts and pleasures? What is the source God or the world?

How often do you feel poor, hungry, sad, and un-liked?  Can you point to the sources of these hardships and sufferings? What is the source God or the world?

How can you shift your priorities to more deeply and more often find yourself living God’s will and ways and giving yourself in service to justice and mercy?

 

Action for the Week

Stretch with your courage. There are lots of comforts and securities we hang onto even though we know they have no real value in our lives with God. Do something this week that represents a Lenten sacrifice. Give something up that is familiar but unhelpful. Take on some act of service that promotes justice and mercy.

Pastor Erik

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