I doubt it.

Doubt is a crazy thing isnt’ it? Sometimes doubt comes directly from past experience. Like when I ask my youngest daughter, “Did you clean your room?” “Yes” she replies. I continue, “Did you clean it well?” She says, “Yes, I did.” I doubt it. Experience has taught me that she is not the tidy type who enjoys the simple joys of life, like having all her dresser drawers pushed all the way in.

Doubt can also be a result of a collision between fact and feeling. When something happens that we didn’t see coming or didn’t think should happen, we have a sense of doubt. Take Thomas as an example. He knew Jesus was dead. When he was told otherwise–voila–say hello to “Doubting Thomas”.

But doubt by definition is hinged on our feelings, isn’t it?  Isn’t doubt our trump card for faith, hope, and belief?  Doubt is our reasonable response (or so we think) to adversities of life.  We think its reasonable because we use our emotions and sensations as our compass; as the thing that dictates to us what is true, what is real, and what isn’t.  And in those moments, doubt becomes the very poison Jesus warns us of.

You think the word “poison” is too strong?  Check out what James said in the first chapter of his book:

But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.” –James 1:6-8

Wow, did James just say that those who doubt shouldn’t expect to receive ANYTHING from the Lord?  Sheesh, if that’s not poison then I’m not sure what is! So, how do we stop ourselves from doubting?  Well, I’m not wise man on a hill, but I do have a few thoughts.

First, understand where doubt comes from. We can trace the origin of doubt back to the Garden of Eden when the serpent introduced it to Eve in the form of a question that started, “Did God really say….?”  Eve, meet doubt. Doubt, Eve.

Now, believe me when I say that I’m absolutely not a “the devil the made me do it” kind of Christian.  But I do believe that we should rightfully acknowledge the adversary of our souls.  Satan wants nothing more than to drive as big a wedge between you and God as he can; and he’ll often use the wedge of doubt to start the process of your demise.  So, knowing where doubt comes from can give us a sobering reminder of what (and who) is behind it.

Next, we need to be realistic about what doubt does. Doubt weakens our view of God’s ability.  Doubt takes a subjective viewpoint (ours) and imposes it on an objective reality (God’s power).  We often allow what we see to dictate to us what is.  This is also referred to as notion that “perception = reality”.  My sister-in-law Markelle has battled with cancer for 5 years now.  And for 5 years we have prayed daily for her healing.  Every day, all of us.  Not just us, but people across the country and in other parts of the world.  5 years. Everyday.  And what does God do?  Nothing.  Now, we could say, “God isn’t really there, isn’t really listening, and doesn’t really care.” because that’s our perception; that is our angle on the information.  But we all know (Markelle included) that her current reality does not decide the goodness of God.  In truth, God is good no matter what.  He can heal her this instant and He is good.  He can take her home right this moment and He is good.  He can leave her to continue to walk with Him on the journey of chemotherapy and other medications for years to come and He is good.  But doubt tells us that God’s goodness is in flux.  It ebbs and flows based on how things are going for us.

Lastly, doubt keeps us from fullness in our lives. Jesus scolded the disciples who didn’t seem to have the ability to do what Jesus did.  Jesus only explanation for that was the presence of doubt.  When Thomas came to Jesus after He had risen from the dead Jesus said to him, “Stop doubting and believe.”

Dealing with doubt is not an easy thing to do, especially when every message around you screams that you are justified in your disbelief and doubt.  But consider the possibility that God is calling you to trust Him.  Trust Him with your job, your education, your house, your family, and your life.  It’s a huge faith step, but as far as I can tell, God is batting a thousand on rewarding such faith.

Apparently, its what’s on the outside that counts

I was driving along the other day and heard a piece of information that I found interesting. Statistically speaking, the name of a professional sports stadium has a lot to do with the amount of winning and losing the team does. For example, stadiums named for the car companys that sponsor them see more home team wins while stadiums named for technology companies don’t do well at all. Which stadium is at the bottom of the statistics barrel? Monster Park, home of the San Francisco 49ers. What’s worse, Monster Park used to be Candlestick Park, a stadium rich with history and tradition.  While corporate sponsorship is simply the name of the game in today’s professional sports business, the findings of this peculiar research reminds me of something completely different, and yet slightly related.
You may have heard the old adage: “It’s what’s on the inside that counts.” But I’d like to poke at and possibly even challenge that notion when it comes to our identity as followers of Christ. Take a look at the way God worked through the Old Testament and you’ll notice something I noticed. God seemed to start His work in someone’s life from the outside in, not the inside out as you might suppose. Consider Abram and Sarai, Jacob, and Jonah to name just a few. The name on the outside gave way to victory on the inside, so to speak. It was an “external” change of name marking an “internal” change in character, purpose, and destiny.
And not only those, but think about those in the New Testament who’s identity was changed from the outside in; Matthew, Simon, & who could forget the greatest Christian-hater turned greatest Christ-follower Saul of Tarsus?  God most certainly does some renovations outside as well as in.
People know me by name. But my desire is that they’d hear that name and thoughts of graciousness, generosity, passion, and fiery zeal for Christ would come to their minds. I pray that they equate my name with humility, with servanthood, and above all with Christlikeness.
Read the book of Revelation and you’ll see one final name change recorded in Scripture.  We’re told that Jesus will come from heaven with a name written on Him that only He knows.  (Does your theology have room for the possibility that you’ll one day know God by a different name that you don’t know now?)  Whatever it is, we can rest assured in what God’s Word says: “He has been given the name above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow and ever tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father!”
What is God going to do with YOUR name today?

Fireworks and I…

There are certain things in our culture I don’t understand the appeal of.  Two of them are parades and fireworks.  I don’t see the point.  I’m not trying to be a jerk here, believe me.  I’m just sharing my opinion. 

But just a little while ago, we returned from a July 4th fireworks display at our local county fairgrounds, having been invited by some friends to come along.   After a great cookout and laughter at their house, we all piled in the cars and caravaned over to the fairgrounds.  We meandered through the thick crowds until we finally found an open patch of ground to lay our blankets and unfold our chairs.  As darkness fell, we laid back on the ground, looked skyward and watched fireworks.  And you know what I thought when they were over?  I thought, “Yep, those were fireworks.”

I know, I know.  I can already hear some of you screaming at your screen, “But you’ve never seen the fireworks in MY town!”  Or maybe you’re thinking I should see the fireworks in New York City put on by Macy’s or in Washington D.C. over all those historic monuments, or in Boston where they thought up the ridiculous idea of having a live symphony orchestra play music synchronized to the explosions.  You’re thinking, “Jerry, you shouldn’t make up your mind until you see THAT.”  Maybe you’re right, but I’m guessing that you’re not.  To me, fireworks are fireworks.

What I DO love about the fourth of July is the freedom that we’re celebrating.  I can do without the explosions.  Give me a good piece of cheesecake and I’ll be just as happy–no, happier.  What I DO love about it all is the fact that we’re stopping and remembering what makes this nation so great: freedom.  Freedom that allows me to speak my mind, even when its something you think is idiotic, like my view on fireworks.  Freedom that lets me write a blog like this to share my thoughts on anything under the sun.  Freedom that affords me the greatest privilege I have as an American citizen; the freedom to worship the God I love so desperately; the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  The God who cares enough about me to save me by dying on a Roman cross in my place, all while I was still sinning against Him.  The God who right now is both on His throne in heaven AND residing within this frail, flawed, faulty, and often faithless jar of clay I am. 

So I think about freedom on this day of the year more than any other.  I think about both my grandfathers and my dad who served proudly, heroically, and honorably for this great country.  I owe to them and to all service men and women an unpayable debt of gratitude for their gift of freedom.  Before them, I remember those who fought and died in the Revolutionary War, and the great minds and hands the crafted the Declaration of Independence which is perhaps one of the greatest if not the greatest document in all of human history.  I think about them and my freedom and how we are connected.  I’m thankful to live where I do, to be who I am, and to know what I know.  I understand that to be an American is not just a lucky break for anyone born here or immigrated here.  It’s a solemn responsibility to live up to our ideals, to handle our freedom with care, and to make the most of every chance we have to improve ourselves, both individually and collectively.

As much as my mind has been on the idea of national freedoms today, I must admit that I am also in thought about the words of Jesus regarding freedom as well.  Jesus spoke those very well-known words in John 8:36: “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  Free from what, though?  What is Jesus referring to here?  Here are a few things…

1. Freedom from sin’s power.  As a willing recipient of God’s forgiveness and grace, I am also in the position of having been freed from sin’s grip and power.  I am now free NOT to sin.  I now have a choice.  I am no longer enslaved to the power of sin in my life any longer. 

2. Freedom from sin’s penalty.  Imagine yourself convicted and on death row.  Imagine your execution day quickly approaching.  Imagine waking up the morning of the day prescribed by the courts for your death.  Imagine hearing the sounds of the guards shoes as they approach your cell.  Imagine hearing the sound of the key slide into the lock of your cell door, turn, and release the bolt holding you in.  Imagine looking up to and hearing the guard tell you that you are free to go.  Your debt has been paid.  You are free. 

3.  Freedom from sin’s guilt.  Satan is a trash-picker.  He spends lots of time going through the trash of your past and bringing things back to your attention, even things God has forgiven you for.  He will keep you paralyzed in guilt and shame while Jesus only wants you to experience freedom.  Not only freedom from guilt, but freedom from having to pretend any longer.  Knowing that you are accepted by your Creator, you are set free from having to earn the acceptance of anyone else. 

There is much more to say, but I hope that this has encouraged to to live fully in the freedom that comes from Jesus Christ, the lover of your soul, the redeemer of your eternity, and the purchaser of your freedom.