A BOUT WITH DOUBT
November 19, 2000
When I was in college, something pretty amazing happened to me. I received a phone call from an attorney friend of mine and he invited me to fly out to Los Angeles, California, with him along with World Heavyweight Boxing Champion, George Foreman, and a writer from a magazine that most of us recognize, Sports Illustrated. It took me about a nanosecond to say, “Yeah, I’ll go on the trip.”
While in LA, we spent the lion share of our time with Mohammed Ali. While I was talking to Mohammed Ali and George Foreman, this guy took all these photos of me. When we flew back to Houston a couple of days later, he invited Lisa and I over to his home to pick up the photographs. Obviously, I showed up. This guy paid my way to LA, hooked me up with Foreman and Ali—a once in a lifetime experience. He showed me the photos, and as I was looking through them, I was thinking, “Wow, I could blow that up and put it in my office or the house.” You know how that is.
Then he said, “Ed, Lisa, would you mind coming into my family room? There are some videos I’d like you to see.” I said, “Yeah, we’ll do that.” So we walked in and this guy had stacks and stacks of boxing videos around his television. He made Lisa and I sit down while he popped in tape after tape. He showed us bout after bout. He’d push the play button, fast forward, rewind, slow motion, and pause.
“Ed, Lisa, look at this knockout. This guy’s head almost came off of his shoulders.” You know, all the blood and stuff. After awhile, we said, “We have class tomorrow morning and we need to head out.” He would say, “One more tape…one more tape….” Finally, we were able to leave. Little did I realize that through that interchange, that experience, I would learn the relationship between a bout and a VCR: two things on the surface that seem unrelated but in reality have a critical connection, especially with today’s subject matter, doubt. But more on that relationship a little bit later.
He was on a roll—“He” being Jesus. He was coming off the fish and chips miracle. You know, where he fed the five thousand with five loaves and two fish—the Hebrew Happy Meal. Opinion polls were at an all time high. After that miracle, everyone wanted to make Jesus the King. Jesus, though, told his disciples to climb aboard a boat and to row and sail across the Sea of Galilee to a place called Capernaum.
Jesus jetted to a mountain to be alone. So often you will find Jesus drawing away and getting quiet after an intensive ministry activity. While the disciples were going to the other side at night, a storm hit. They began to row and wig and sail and all this. Jesus walked down the mountain and walked across the surface of the water to Capernaum. The next morning, all the people who had been fed, who had scarfed down the Hebrew Happy Meal of fish and chips, were looking for Jesus. They wanted to see another miracle, something else. “What will this guy do? He’s the man. He needs to be the king!”
Jesus was nowhere to be found. So they chartered a bunch of boats and set sail to Capernaum, thinking he might be in Capernaum. Sure enough, he was in a synagogue, and our Lord began a synagogue sermon. The place was packed out—standing room only. I am sure the twelve were right there at courtside, hanging on his every word. Everyone was expecting a typical Jesus lesson. A Sermon-on-the-Mount-type situation: blessed are the peacemakers. Maybe he will elaborate some more on prayer. So everyone was thinking, “Oh, boy, this is really cool.” The disciples, I’m sure, were saying, “We are with him. We are the disciples. We are tight with Jesus. We are going to be right there with him.”
So everything was flowing, and Jesus does something at the beginning of his message that is strange. I speak often. I know one of the most important things you can do is to concentrate on your introduction. When you walk up, you have two or three minutes to get into something pretty interesting. If you don’t, the audience will just zone out. Christ’s introduction is very unique to say the least. You know what he did? Jesus stood up before the people and he said, “I know why you’re here. You’re here because your stomachs are growling again and you want some more food.”
Can’t you see the disciples going, “Where is Jesus going? What is he doing? This is not working. That’s not the right introduction.” He began to talk about food. He said, “You know, we did a miracle yesterday. But let’s talk about food. Let’s talk about eternal food.”
Then his shocking statements caused some serious Q & A. That brings us to this narrative in the book of John 6:30-31; it says, “So they asked him (“they” being the hangers on, the people checking him out in the synagogue) what miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you?” Once again, they had seen so much, so many miracles, so many experiences of life change yet, “What will you do? Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
Now, let’s do a quick little history lesson. Remember the children of Israel? They were in the wilderness wandering around, and God fed them supernaturally from heaven. He fed them manna.
So then, listen to Christ’s answer in John 6:32-33. Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth. It is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven.” Now, let me stop right there for a second. This was a Jewish audience. You didn’t jack with Big Mo. “I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father, who gives you the true bread from heaven.”
Now watch Jesus: “For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven (he’s starting to point to himself) and gives life to the world.” In verse 35, Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life.” He said, “I am the cosmic carbohydrate.” “…he who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.”
Then from there—you talk about an odd talk, you are talking about Jesus verbally coloring outside the lines—he said, “and, by the way, eat my flesh and drink my blood, and you’ll live forever and ever.” Again, picture the twelve. Were they going, “Jesus, do the prayer thing again. Talk about the peacemakers. Talk about…. Don’t do this. This doesn’t make sense.” What was going here? Most of the crowd was having a bout with doubt.
What happens when God puts in a tape that you don’t understand or I don’t understand? Many times, we have a bout with doubt. This bout with doubt always causes a VCR—a Very Critical Response. As I have said throughout this series, doubt either drives us closer to God or it drives us away from God. What is your VCR? What is your very critical response when you are hit with doubts, issues, questions, concerns, problems? What happens when God pops in a tape that you don’t understand, that rattles your spiritual cage, that knocks the wind out of your faith? What do you do?
Well, it’s all about a VCR. Ninety percent of Americans have a VCR. Over the last several months, 13 million VCRs have been shipped from manufacturers to retailers. We know all about them, we think. Now, the first couple of things I want to share with you are things I do not want you to do. In John, Chapter 6, this text says don’t do these things when you are hit with a bout with doubt.
First, don’t press the pause button. Don’t pause. Don’t obsess over questions. When you obsess over questions, you become like the dot at the bottom of the question mark. You become under the question, beneath it. “I’m just a dot. I’ll just live here the rest of my life. I’ll just do the pause thing. That’s it. That’s it.”
John 6:60: “On hearing it, many of the disciples (not a few, many of them) said this is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” Boy, that resonates with me. I’ve said that before. It should resonate with every doubter here because, if you are alive, you are going to doubt. I have talked on and on about the critical balance between doubt and faith. I’ll say it once again: If you take doubt totally out of the picture, you don’t have faith, you have certainty. With certainty, you don’t have any faith. On hearing it, many of his followers said this is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?
What happens if you press the pause button when you are in a bout? If you are fighting something or someone, and you just say, “Okay, I’ll just pause.” Boom! You are going to get way-laid. Boom! You’re going to get blindsided. You’ll get knocked out. Don’t do it. It’s the problem of the pause. Every time you are tempted to press the pause button and just obsess on a question, ask yourself this question: “What is the cause behind my pause? What’s causing this? What’s driving this? Is it a rebellion type situation? Is it a true intellectual problem I have? Is the pause deal because I don’t want God to have a backstage pass to my life?” It’s kind of the postmodern thing to do—to doubt, to question.
The evil one loves for us to obsess over questions. He loves for us to go, “Okay, there’s the question. There’s the mark. I’m just going to be right here, and I’m just going to pause on this. I’m just going to obsess on this question.” Because if we freeze frame our lives, we never become what God wants us to become.
“But, Ed, I’ve got to have all the answers. Once I have all the answers and all the issues settled, then I’ll be a Christ-follower.” Well, good luck. Remember this: just because you don’t have all the answers, doesn’t mean there aren’t answers. Think about a VCR. I doubt there is a person who could answer every single question about how a VCR operates. Maybe one or two, but I doubt it. It doesn’t keep you from using your VCR, does it? If you say, “Well, you know, I don’t understand everything about Christianity. I don’t understand everything about the Bible. I don’t understand everything about this or that, but I’m just going to press the pause button and obsess over the question.” Don’t do it.
Here’s something else not to do. Don’t push the eject button. Don’t bolt before the breakthrough. Don’t push the eject button. Again, we go back to our text, John 6:66-67: “From this time, many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” All of these people who had heard all this stuff, seen all the life-change, all the miracles, just pressed the eject button. “See ya, Jesus. I’m bolting. I’m bailing. Bye, Bye.”
Anytime you walk away from Jesus, you are always walking toward something. They popped out this tape and put in another tape. Let’s keep going in Verse 67. These people were leaving. I mean the core group was just saying, “See ya.” The disciples were freaking going, “Oh no, what’s happening? This is terrible. The wheels are coming off. Jesus, go back and change your message.” Jesus could read people’s minds. You couldn’t lie to him. You couldn’t put up some kind of façade or veneer or smokescreen. He looked at those disciples sitting courtside and he said this in Verse 67: “You do not want to leave too, do you?”
Don’t hit the eject button because Jesus could feel them placing their fingers lightly on the eject button. Don’t do it. So often, we end up bolting before the breakthrough. Often—and I love this, so please don’t miss this—often, when you are hit with a bout with doubt, that is the signal for significance. In other words, there is some serious clout behind every doubt. Say that with me, “There is some serious clout behind every doubt.”
Think about the disciples. They were thinking about ejecting. They were thinking about leaving. What if Jesus would have said this, “Okay, guys, okay. Let me just sit here and level with you guys. Let me tell you what is going to happen to you, Matthew, John. You guys are going to write some bestsellers. You are going to write books that will outsell Grisham and Shakespeare and Clancy. Universities will be named after you. Children will be named after you. They will paint ceilings and portraits about you. Movies will be made about you. You guys are going to rock the world.” I’ll bet you the disciples would have said, “Oh, no problem. Man, my doubts are erased. Thanks, Jesus, let me give you a high five.”
There is always some serious clout behind every doubt. I have been reading the life story of Billy Graham. Billy Graham’s biggest bout with doubt occurred right before his most important crusade in Los Angeles, California.
Think about the life of Jesus. Jesus, after his spiritual high point, after his baptism, was driven out into the wilderness. The evil one came and tempted him. What did the evil one say over and over again? He hit Jesus with doubt. “You say you’re the son of God. Are you really the son of God? If you’re the son of God…. You say you’re the son of God. Are you really the son of God? If you’re the son of God….”
What happened? There’s some serious clout behind every doubt. Satan knew if he got Christ off track, it could cost him to fall, to stumble, to sin. Jesus would have missed his focus, which was a sinless life and a sacrificial death on the cross for your sins and mine.
Let’s see if we can get more practical. I thought about my life. Lisa and I were praying about becoming the first staff member of Fellowship. I had some serious doubts. I had some issues. I had some concerns. It was a difficult decision for me. Now, what if God would have said, “Okay, Ed, you’re doubting. You’re questioning. This tape I am putting in, you don’t understand. You don’t even want to come to Dallas, but I am leading you here. Let me tell you what is going to happen, Ed. You are going to be a part of something that is going to be phenomenal. I’m going to allow you to be a part of something that is going to change many, many lives throughout Dallas/Ft. Worth. You are going to meet great people and work in an awesome church. I would have gone, “Okay, I’m in. No problem. That’s a no-brainer.” There wouldn’t be any faith, would there?
Don’t press the pause button. Don’t eject. Here is what to do. Press the fast forward. Fast forward. Consider the alternatives. Simon Peter had a statement that was packed with power. Verse 68—remember, Jesus had already asked “Are you guys leaving too?” here is what Simon Peter said—“Lord, to whom shall we go? Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Simon Peter was pressing the fast forward. He was putting in another tape and thinking, “Okay, if I bolt, if I bail, if I cruise, what are the alternatives? What are the options? What else is out there? Jesus, I would just cycle back. I mean, this is the best deal going. What other system, what other belief, what other philosophy offers a clear conscience, eternal life, a personal relationship, a community of believers, forgiveness of sins. I mean, what else is there, Lord?”
Fast forward: I do that all the time when I am hit with doubts. I just press the fast forward. Consider the options. So, play a game, whenever you are in doubt, called Simon Says. That’s Simon Peter, that is. Make this your prayer, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” Don’t obsess over the questions. Don’t push the eject button. Consider the alternatives. I like what Philip Yancey said. He said, “The only thing more difficult than having a personal relationship with an invisible God is having no such relationship.” That’s the true VCR, isn’t it? That’s the true Very Critical Response, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” So press fast forward.
Next, press the rewind button. Remember the history. Simon Peter did. Or you could say remember His story. Remember His story in your life. That’s what Simon Peter did. Simon Peter said, “Okay, rewind. Think about my life before I met Jesus. I was wandering aimlessly. I was floating on the seas of relativism trying to catch some fish and it wasn’t working. I didn’t have any direction or focus. Then I met Christ and things happened.”
Maybe you have been a Christ-follower for a long time. Maybe you have a lot of years under your belt. Maybe right now—due to a trauma in a relationship, due to an illness, due to some looming large question—maybe you are doubting. Maybe you are really having a tough time. Press the rewind button. Think about His story in your life. Think about what he has done in maybe your marriage or your career or maybe with the habit that was messing you around. Think about the lives you have seen changed. Think about the emerging church. Think about those things.
Maybe you are a brand new believer. Maybe you are just taking the plastic off your Bible and going, “Oh, man, okay, I am brand new at this stuff.” When you are hit with doubt, think about the set of circumstances that led you to your faith decision. Think about meeting that person at the office. Think about that small group. Think about that opportunity you had to bow the knee and accept Christ. Think about that. That’s rich stuff. That’s good stuff. I was talking to a friend of mine who is one breath away, one prayer away, from becoming a Christ-follower. He told me this, he said, “Ed, I know, man, it’s not by accident that I met this group, this bunch of people, and I am here. It’s not by accident.”
Remember David, that Hebrew hick, little teenage boy? He looked at Goliath and said, “Let’s get ready to rumble.” No, he didn’t say that. I made that up. But here is what he did say. David pressed the rewind button. Before he took out Goliath, he said, “I’ve taken out the lion. I’ve taken out the bear. And God will deliver me from this ugly bad-breath Philistine.” He didn’t say bad breath. I added that too. But you hear me. Psalm 77, here’s David: “I will remember the deeds of the Lord. Yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all your works and consider all of your mighty deeds.”
Fast forward, rewind, now let’s push play. Sharpen your spiritual sword—play. We have been in John, Chapter 6, and in this book, the book of John, the Gospel of John, the word “faith” is used a bunch. It’s never used as a noun. It’s always used as a verb with action behind it. Yet, we try to take faith and we try to make it a noun, don’t we? The disciples didn’t. Despite their doubts, they still went to where faith was.
When you are doubting, when you are spinning, when you are against the ropes, go to where faith is. Push the play button and say, “God I don’t get it. This tape is messing with my intellect. I don’t understand it. I’m having a hard time reconciling you allowing this tragedy to happen to this good Christ-follower. But I am going to move out in faith, in trust, even though I don’t get it. I give my life to you.”
When we do that, great things will happen. I have been reading in the book of Romans during my devotionals, and God showed me this verse Monday morning in Romans 1: “I long to see you (this is Paul talking) that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong; that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.” We are not talking about a baby food Christian here. We are talking about the Apostle Paul. Paul is saying, “Man, I want to be mutually encouraged by your faith.”
Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Don’t doubt in isolation. Don’t doubt on an island. Doubt in community. Do you remember Thomas, one of the twelve? All the disciples are talking about the resurrection. Jesus is coming back from the grave. He came back. Thomas is going, “Man, no he didn’t.” The quintessential questioner, Mr. Doubter, Thomas, “He didn’t come back.” In fact, Thomas said, “I’ll have to see him. I’ll have to touch the nail prints and then I’ll believe.”
Did Thomas press the pause button? No. Did he press the eject button? No. Thomas pressed the play button. He sharpened his spiritual sword. He went to where faith was. He hung out still with a community of Christ-followers, the disciples, and Jesus revealed himself to Thomas in the midst of this bout with doubt. It is the same for you, and me too, during a very critical response to a bout with doubt.
For the most part, I have been talking to people of faith—people who have bowed the knee to Christ. But I want to talk right now to some people who are outside the family of God. A lot of you right now maybe know some things about God but have never made the ultimate VCR, the ultimate Very Critical Response. Maybe already, through this series, God has cleared out some of the questions and some of the issues; and you are right here standing on the edge, needing to make that faith step, that trust. I have been praying for weeks that many of you would do this. I know many here who know Christ are praying for you too.
Why don’t you say, “You know what? Today is the day for me. Today is the day I am going to trust Christ.” It’s nothing you can do. You can’t clean yourself up. You can’t change your ways. You can’t say, “Well, I’ll just turn over a new leaf and then, you know, I can become a Christian.” It doesn’t work that way. At the end of the day, we are all a bunch of moral foul-ups. We are sinners. Yet, God in his love, in his grace, sent Christ to die on the cross for our sins. He did it because we don’t deserve it. He did it because we matter to him.
If we come to a point where we turn from our sins—remember we have the infrastructure for faith, it’s a gift—and we say in our will, “Okay, I want to choose this,” then Wham! Christ will come into our lives! Jesus said, “If you just have the faith of a mustard seed.” It’s not the amount of faith, remember, it’s the object of faith. So why don’t you put your faith, right now, in Jesus? Right now.