A BOUT WITH DOUBT
November 12, 2000
As I take a panoramic view of this church throughout this auditorium, I’ll just be frank with you—I think many of you need to go under the knife. I think a lot of you need some surgery. I’m not talking about plastic surgery, external surgery. I’m talking about surgery in a deeper sense, in a spiritual sense, because a lot of us have a sagging faith. A lot of us don’t really look before God like we should. We kind of feel like we’ve been in a bout with doubt for so long that the punches of cynicism and skepticism have rearranged our faces. I truly believe many of us need a “faith lift.”
Maybe you are dealing with doubt. Maybe you’re dealing with these questions and issues because quite frankly, you’ve just rubbed shoulders with a lot of people who rag on God, who “diss” God, who mess him around every opportunity they have. I want to tell you something: never trust what someone’s enemy says about them.
Maybe you’re keeping your distance from God. Maybe you’re kind of keeping him away with your jab because you don’t want God to have a backstage pass to your life. You don’t want to be accountable to him. Maybe you have a bout with doubt because of some intellectual reason or some psychological deal. Maybe it’s a sinful situation. I don’t know. A lot of us are having bouts with doubt.
Doubt is a good thing. What’s so funny is Jesus was much more comfortable with doubt than the church has been. We want our church to be a place where we welcome those who are doubting, where we welcome those who are questioning, where we welcome those who have issues. I have to ask you one more time, “Do you think you need a faith lift?”
I’m going to go through in rapid fire succession why many of us here are candidates for a faith lift. We have to understand right up front what faith is not. A lot of people are confused about faith. How do you know if you need a faith lift? Here’s the first sign that you need a faith lift: when you think you must “dumb down” to have a strong faith. “I’ve got to check my intellect at the door, Ed. I’ve got to have a Jethro-Bodine-type mentality to really seek after the Lord.”
Two weeks ago, I was boarding a plane on the West Coast bound for Dallas/Ft. Worth. The plane had maybe twenty-five people on it. I walked on board with my briefcase, a carry-on, and a sack of stuff I had bought for my four kids. When I made my way onto the plane, the flight attendant said, “Excuse me, you’re going to have to check one of those bags. You cannot board with all of that, sir,” in front of everybody. And I am going, “Okay, okay. You’re right. I should not have had this sack here.” I’m so glad God does not have that mentality. I understand why the airline industry has that mentality, but God doesn’t. God doesn’t say, “Excuse me, sir. Excuse me, you cannot board with that baggage.” I’m glad God does not say that.
God doesn’t say to check your intellect at the door. God doesn’t say to dumb down. God doesn’t say, “You have to be Jethro Bodine to know Me.” No, no, no. God says, “Bring it on. Bring the bags. Bring the questions. Bring the luggage. Bring the issues. Bring the doubts and all that. Welcome to my craft.”
I’ll say it once again. God is much more comfortable with our doubt than oftentimes the church has been. But look at how Jesus dealt with doubters. Look how Jesus dealt with Simon Peter. Look how he forgave, for example, the prodigal in advance through that powerful illustration. You don’t have to dumb down to become a believer, and if you believe that, you’re dumb. Some of the brightest and most intelligent people I know are Christ-followers. And conversely, some of the brightest and most intelligent people I know are not Christ-followers. You don’t have to be, “Uh, huh, okay, I’ll just—you know—kind of have faith.” Believe simply, but don’t simply believe. Have a child-like faith but not a childish faith.
Here’s the second reason that you know you need a faith lift: if you are looking for absolute proof. “Oh, if I had absolute proof, man, that would do it. I want absolute proof.” Here’s what Jesus said to a guy in John 20:29: “Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’”
Now check this out. Doubt and belief, doubt and faith, go hand in hand. If you don’t have doubt, you have certainty; and if you have certainty, you don’t have faith. The Bible is not a book of proofs. The Bible does not set forth facts to prove God. Christianity begins with two assumptions that you cannot prove. Number one, the assumption is the fact that God exists. God is. You cannot prove that. The second assumption Christianity shares with us is that God has revealed himself to us—his character, his expectations, his guidelines—through the Bible. If we believe that, by trust and by faith, everything else takes care of itself. If you are looking for every question answered—every “i” dotted, every “t” crossed, all issues settled—you will never, ever, get there.
Now some are saying, “Well, Ed, I’ve got to have proof, you know, in this post-modern rationalistic world. I’ve got to have proof, you know. If you can prove to me that Jesus Christ is who he said he was, if you can prove to me scientifically that he died on the cross for our sins and rose again, if you can prove to me the Bible is the Word of God, then I’ll believe.”
If I could prove it to you—I’ll say it once again—there would be no faith. Choose any belief system, friends. Choose any belief system away from God. You’ve got to have a big-time measure of trust and faith to go there.
Dr. Murray Murdock says it this way: “Every belief system begins with presuppositions that cannot be proven.” To be an atheist, you have to, by faith, believe that there is no God because that is not provable. The agnostic takes a step of faith that you can’t prove. Freud takes that initial step of faith and the primary assumptions of the system. The Darwinist takes a step of faith in unprovable assumptions. So don’t worry about the fact that, as a Christian, you are placing your faith in two presuppositions. Once again, doubt and faith are critical to one another because if you throw out doubt, you have certainty; and with certainty, you have no faith.
Faith is a choice tethered to trust. We live by trust. Think about my life. I mean, I’m up here on stage, I’ll use myself as an example. I flipped the light switch on this morning when I got up very early. I just flipped it on, and the lights came on. I made Starbucks coffee. The coffee just happened. I poured it into the pot, took it, poured it in my mug and— man, yeah—Starbucks coffee. I started my truck. My truck started! I knew the sun would come up. It was kind of rainy, but I knew it would go from dark to light.
Those just happened to me today. Isn’t that cool? Now, why did I do those things? I did those things because of their track record. I trusted those things. The lights had come on thousands and thousands of times. Hundreds of times, I should say. The Starbucks coffee was made, and I just poured it into my mug. I just trusted that. I trusted that my truck would start. I trusted the sun would come up. Just look back at its track record. All those things, I can tell you, are going to happen.
Can I prove those things? Do I understand those things? No. I might give you an elementary definition of electricity or something like that, but I don’t really understand it. Most of the things we do, we cannot understand. We cannot explain. Those things I just talked about—the light, the coffee, the truck, and the sun—are based not on proof, but what? Evidence.
Let’s do some definition work. The first definition: “The way of showing beyond doubt the truth of something” is…proof. “Whatever points to the truth or falsehood of something” is…evidence. “Believing without conclusive proof but with convincing evidence” is…faith. It’s a choice tethered to trust. At the end of the day, you’ve got to trust. I’m telling you something: Christianity has the most compelling and convincing evidence around. Just check it out. Just chase the rabbits. Follow your leads. Seek answers to many of your questions. They are there.
Here’s what I have found about most intellectuals. Most intellectuals don’t have real questions about this stuff. Really, the intellectual stuff is a smoke screen for a deeper need. Oftentimes, if you cut through the veneer, the intellectuals have some deep pain in their lives—usually from their family—and they project this pain onto God. They are not really rejecting God. They are rejecting, oftentimes, their family of origin. That was just for some extra credit work.
Here’s another reason maybe you need a faith lift: You are waiting for a miracle. “You know, Ed, if God would do some skywriting for me, I would believe.” Would you really? I don’t buy that. “I mean, come on, Ed. If God on a clear beautiful day walked out and said, ‘I’m going to write for you on this blackboard, I love you, you’re mine,’ then I would believe.” I still don’t buy that. Jesus raised his friend, Lazarus, from the dead. People saw it. They checked it out. A lot of them wanted to kill Lazarus after he came back from the grave.
I want to ask you a question. What do I have in my fist right now? What if I told you in my left hand, I have a twenty-dollar bill? When I say that, some of you believe that. Some of you probably don’t. But those who believe that have accepted it. You trusted me because of my testimony. The Bible says in Hebrews, Chapter 11, Verse 1, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”
Now, I’m going to destroy your faith. There is a twenty-dollar bill. I’ve just ruined your faith. You don’t have faith anymore. Your faith has transitioned to knowledge. Your knowledge is based on proof. You can check this out with your senses. You can see it, taste it, smell it, and touch it and all that. God does not subject himself to that kind of cross-examination. God transcends our senses. 2 Corinthians, Chapter 5, Verse 7, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”
Here’s the fourth reason why many here need a faith lift: You believe faith is a feelings-based commodity. Do you believe that? A feelings-based commodity. A lot of people believe that. If I have this feeling, if I have this high, if I have this euphoria, if I have this spiritual nirvana, that will take me above the rest. If I have this experience or this gift or this blessing, I will fly above the normal Christians in my own little world. I will be super-spiritual, never again to block and tackle or do the meat and potatoes thing in the Christian life, never again to live on the rugged plains of reality because I have this feeling all the time. Faith is not a feelings-based commodity. It’s not. Yes, feelings follow our faith—often, but not always.
I saw an incredible movie the other night, “Remember the Titans.” I love Denzel Washington. What a fantastic actor. I was sitting there on the fifth row with my wife. During the movie, I began to cry. I look over to my right, and here’s Lisa with a deadpan expression. I cry much easier than Lisa. Now would you say, “Oh, well, that movie touched you much more than it touched Lisa.” That’s not true. We are wired up differently.
Here is a hilarious example of that. I have maybe cried over the last three years about six times while I was speaking. Invariably, if I am down front greeting people at one of the doors, here is what happens if I have cried in a message. People run up to me and go, “Oh, Ed, that was just from the heart.”
I want to say to myself, “Well, like the other ones aren’t?”
I know what I’ll do. I’ll tell a sad story every week, and I can do it. Man, I know stories. I can make you cry every weekend. “Oh, we really worship because Ed made us cry. Wow, that’s faith.” I thank God for the times I am emotional because God is an emotional God, and that’s good. But faith is not a feelings-based commodity. Do you think it is? Go under the knife.
The fifth reason you might need a faith lift: If you view faith as leverage. “Well, faith is this thing out there, and I can use faith to kind of back God in the corner. If I have enough faith, it can help me get what I want.”
I saw a guy on television the other night—and I will not mention his name—say something totally heretical: “I want to show you from the Bible why God wants to give you everything you want. I spoil my children. God wants to spoil his children.” That is a lie. That is not true. What is faith? Is it for us or for God? It’s about God, not us.
So I say, “Okay, God, you’re the Candy Land God. Give me the Benz. Give me the clothes. Give me the car. Give me the millions.” No, faith is not leverage. If I have this faith, God will do that for me. It’s not about me, it’s about thee, t-h-e-e.
The sixth reason why a lot of us here need to go under the knife: We see faith as something to attain. We see faith as something to attain. If we just try hard enough, if we muster up enough stuff, then we can kind of attain this faith. The Bible says faith is a gift.
A close friend of mine gave me a turtleneck sweater three years ago. It was a gift. When someone gives you something, tied into the gift is a response. It’s a choice. It seems paradoxical. God gives us the gift of faith. He builds within us the infrastructure, the capacity for faith, and it’s a gift. Yet, in our will, we either choose to receive the gift or not. When the guy gave me the sweater, I could either receive it or not.
Let’s let the Word, God’s Word, clear up the confusion. Hebrews 2:8-9, “For it is by grace that you have been saved through faith; and this is not from yourselves….” It is nothing that you or I can do. “It is a gift of God not of works, so that no one can boast.” What kind of deal would Christianity be if we could get to God through works.
We would be saying, “Okay, I did this, and I did that.” We don’t deserve it. On my best day, on your best day, we don’t even come close to it.
Here’s what Romans says: “There is no one righteous. Not even one. There is no one who understands. No one who seeks God.” So, on God’s side, it’s a gift. On our side, we either receive it or not. “But, Ed, I want to believe.” If you want to believe, good. Just say, “God, give me the desire to do so.” Receive the gift. He’s given you the capacity. He’s given you the infrastructure to do it. Just say, “God, okay. I am turning my will to you. I want to receive this gift.”
Those are some reasons. There are many others why a lot of us need a faith lift.
Let’s now talk about how to get one. Years ago, I met a gentleman in Houston, Texas, and—you won’t believe this—who invented the weed-eater. His name is Mr. Ballace. I had the privilege of performing his son’s wedding. That was one of the wildest weddings I have ever performed. One day I’ll tell you the story. You won’t believe what happened. But anyway, this guy, Mr. Ballace, was kind of an eccentric-type person. He would just invent stuff.
Think about the weed-eater. I’m sure most of us have weed-eaters. Fishing line that goes around and around and around to whack those weeds. Think about your spiritual yard. Think about your intellectual yard. A lot of us have these intellectual weeds: questions and issues. Maybe weeds have sprouted up because we rub shoulders with people who “diss” God and rag on him, or maybe we don’t want God to have a backstage pass to our life. Weed-eat your yard. That’s the first way to get a faith lift. Just crank it up.
When you weed-eat your yard, it will take out those weeds. Check me out now. It will take out those weeds. Watch it now. It will pave a path so we can come to a point of stepping over the line to make a faith decision to trust Christ. The weed-eater can help us pave the path of evidence that points us compellingly, and I believe convincingly, to this step of faith.
So, evidence clears the path. That is why apologetics is so important. It is a defense of the faith. That is why apologetics gives us some rational, measurable evidence that compels us to come right to the point of a faith step and then to step over the line. We are not going to have every question answered. We are not going to have every issue settled. It’s still by faith.
I have listed for you several books that I encourage you to pick up that will rattle your intellectual cages. The first is The Case for Christ, by Lee Stroebel. It is an excellent book where Lee goes around the country and interviews people, experts in different fields of thought about Christianity, about the compelling evidence for our faith. After you read it, he will bring you up to the line of making that step. Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis is another classic. Evidence That Demands a Verdict, by Josh McDowell…. Pick these books up. They are outstanding. They will help weed-eat your yard.
Here is another way to have a faith lift: We’ve got to feed the fires of faith. Feed the fire of faith. I remember going to football games with my father as a kid. Dad would sometimes yell at the referees. He loved to do that. I remember him saying this to the referee, “Move around, Ref, you’re killing the grass.” These guys would kind of look up, “Isn’t that the pastor of the local church?”
I want to say to a lot of people who are Christians, “Move around. You’re killing the grass.” If you have doubt, if you have questions, if you have issues, if you have concerns, don’t just stand there. “Well, I must be the only one who has doubts.” No, you’re not. I do, too. “I must be the only one who has issues.” No, you’re not. I do. We all do. “I’m just going to stand here.” Are you going to press the pause button and have a little baby faith for the rest of your life? Or are you going to step out, and feed the fire of faith? You’ll hear me say it over and over again. When you have doubts, when you have questions, feed the fire. Put a Duraflame on it. Go to where faith is. Talk to a great friend who knows Christ personally, who has a strong faith. Doubt in community, not in isolation.
A lot of us don’t understand faith. Let’s say, for example, you’ve got this flight taking off from Dallas/Ft. Worth to, let’s say, Las Vegas, Nevada. Let’s just say, hypothetically, you are sitting on board watching people board. Isn’t that fun to watch people board the plane? Let’s say you kind of key in on three men. The first guy walks on the plane, and you can tell it’s his first time to ever fly. He is like, “Wow, man, wow.” The second guy, you can tell, has flown a good bit. He is still a little bit freaky. The third guy who boards is Mr. Frequent Flyer. He has flown, man, you can tell. You can just see it. He’s just kicking back.
The plane takes off. Between here and Las Vegas it hits some choppy air, some turbulence. Well, of course, the guy who has never flown, he’s trying to remember some prayers, “Now I lay me down to sleep….” The second guy is a little bit nervous. The third guy is just kicking back, reading the Wall Street Journal, and sipping on a club soda with lime. No problem. The plane lands, and they all get off the plane. They all had faith. It’s not the amount of faith, but the object of the faith that matters. They all had faith. It’s the object.
Now why was the seasoned traveler more confident? I’ll tell you why: he had put his faith, maybe small, on the object—an airplane—week-in and week-out. And that object had become trustworthy in his mind, in his psyche, in his mentality. Thus, he had a strong faith. Remember that. Feed the fires of faith and think about the object.
There’s another on how to get a faith lift: Program your VCR. I cannot do that. Most of us can’t. That clock is always flashing, you know. I’ve no clue about recording stuff. This one is a major, major point because when doubt dogs us and devastates us, when doubt knocks us to the canvas, oftentimes we don’t know what to do. I call VCR faith a Very Critical Response of faith to doubt. This is so critical—because a lot of us don’t know what to do when doubt dogs and devastates us—that I’m going to devote next week’s message to this issue. So you be right here at Fellowship Church next week. I’ll be here, and I think we will leave this place with a true face lift? No, no, no…faith lift.