Doubting because of our Circumstances

May 12th, 2024 | Series: When In Doubt

This week’s sermon reflects on doubt, transformation, and the presence of God in the face of uncertainty.

Sermon Resources
Sermon Content

Well, hello. Welcome. It’s good to see you all this morning. If you’re new or new ish, my name is Aaron Bjorklund. I’m one of the pastors here. Our fearless leader is traveling overseas this week. And so I get the opportunity to share the message. this morning, um, and finish up this series, uh, that we’re calling Doubt.

And before we start, I just want to pray. Father God,

I thank you so much for this morning. Thank you for the opportunity we had to lift our voices to you, to praise you, to celebrate all that you’ve done, all that you’ve accomplished. Lord, I pray that this morning as we hear your word, as we encounter your, your plan and your way for us, that you would soften our hearts.

That you would enable us to hear your plan, your heart for us. That you would give me the ability to, um, to only speak the things that you would have me to speak. And if I speak anything else, Lord, I pray that it would just fall, uh, fall on deaf ears. But Lord, if you would speak today, we’re open to you now.

We pray all this in your, in your precious name. Amen. Amen.

The past several years had been a roller coaster. It had been a whirlwind of emotions. It had been a Let’s be honest. It had been amazing. It had been terrifying. It had been revolutionary. It had been scary. It had been all of these things. But now, it’s like their gamble hadn’t paid off. It felt all meaningless to them.

What had it all been for?

They were dehydrated from all of the tears that they’d shed over the past several days. They were exhausted. They were disillusioned. They were terrified.

And it wasn’t just tears that they’d shed over the loss of a really good friend. It was also the tears that they’d shed because they had given up on a dream. A dream had died. You see, they’d hoped, they’d hoped that that this was going to be their future. And now it was all over. These two friends had been followers of Jesus.

That’s the operative word. They had been followers of Jesus because Rome had killed him brutally. See, they’d hoped they had hoped that this Jesus character was going to be the Messiah. That was what was in their hearts. That’s what they’d longed for. But the, the Roman machine had destroyed all of those things and they’d watched their Messiah die.

It wasn’t, you know, they hoped that he’d bring revolution. Jesus had made them think just for a moment that he might be the answer. He had managed to make them think it was, he’d been just so much different than anyone they’d ever met. In fact, he’d been so different than anyone they’d even heard of. The faith of their forefathers and of the prophets paled in comparison to the palpable presence of Jesus of Nazareth.

And in just a moment, when the rubber met the road, when push came to shove, A petty little trial and Rome wiped him out in a second. What had it all been for? What had it all been for? They were disillusioned. And now it was three days later after they watched him die and they cried their tears and they asked the questions why, but around that three day mark, what else are you supposed to do?

What else are you supposed to do? You have to get up and you have to move on with life. And even though they didn’t feel ready, they, they got up that morning and they ate a meal and they set out on a journey back to their old life. So I don’t know about you, but I’ve never doubted God’s faithfulness because he didn’t, because he failed to overthrow the Roman Empire.

But some of the emotions that these two characters felt might be more familiar to us than we would like to admit. You see, doubt often creeps in when the reason we start our journey runs into the reality of taking that journey. We often feel similar emotions that they felt. Is this really what I signed up for?

Is this all there is to the Christian faith? And I don’t know why you started your faith journey with Jesus. Or if you’re not in that space yet, maybe you haven’t taken a faith journey and hey, welcome. We’re glad you’re here. If you haven’t decided to embrace faith in Jesus, today’s going to be interesting to you because we’re going to peel back the curtain of some of the heaviness that comes along with that journey.

And so, uh, that might be interesting for you to hear. But for the rest of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus, you started your journey of faith for a reason. And I don’t know what that was for you. Perhaps the reason was your life was a train wreck. And someone came along and introduced you to Jesus and told you that if you embraced faith in Jesus, he was going to heal the wreck of your life.

And he has, but he hasn’t removed all the consequences of your past decisions. And you’re still haunted by some of those things. Or maybe you’re still struggling with the addiction that you struggled with before you met Jesus. And you’re like, this doesn’t feel like a complete healing yet. Is this all there is?

Or you entered your faith journey because you wanted healing from a past trauma and he’s brought some of that healing, but it’s felt incomplete. It’s felt like some of those traumas still linger under the surface. It’s like a, like a soundtrack in the background of your life. Or maybe for you, it’s you believed that if you, if you believed correctly and you obeyed, then your life would be blessed by God.

And you tried. You threw everything you had at it. You read your Bible. You tried to learn how to pray. You went to youth group. You went to camp. You started to go to church consistently. You started to pray more. You started to volunteer. You started to give. And yet, somehow, along the way, you’ve realized, is this really paying off?

My marriage is still struggling. My kids are struggling. My finances are a mess. I don’t know what it was for you. Does this, all this moral effort pay off for anything? Or maybe for you is if I’m good enough and I live the Christian life well enough, my family will be protected and they’ll be safe from the foolishness of this world and they’ll be protected and you lost the child anyway.

Or you had a friend who was way more faithful than you were. and they died in a car accident. How is that fair? Any of these questions ring familiar. You don’t have to raise your hand. And so today, as we continue and finish up our doubt series, we’re asking this question, why isn’t the Christian life is fulfilling as I thought it would be?

Or maybe a different way of putting it. Where’s the good part of the good news?

Well, I think our story today is going to give us some deep, profound insight into some answers to these questions. We pick up our story. If you want to turn in your Bibles to the book of Luke chapter 24, the story of these two characters that we meet in Luke 24 there, it’s three days after Jesus was brutally crucified on the cross.

And that morning the women had gone to the tomb and they’d found it empty, but they didn’t know entirely what was going on. They claimed that they’d met an angel that said he was risen again. And these characters, even after that news, they wake up that morning and they set off on a journey. We pick up the story here in verse 15.

As they talked and discussed, these things with each other. Jesus himself came up and walked alongside them while they were walking. Even if, even if you couldn’t hear the content of their conversation, the, the air between these two characters in our story was like static, full of emotional energy. The text hints at us in the original language that there was almost an argument or a disagreement Taking place as Jesus approaches them as they Jesus himself came up and walked along with them, but they were kept from recognizing him.

He asked them, What are you discussing together? As you walk along, they stood still, their faces downcast, and one of them named Cleopas asked him, What are you discussing? Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened in these days? Are you the only one who doesn’t know?

The irony of that, that last statement is Jesus is the only one who actually does know. This is the beauty of this story and God’s wisdom and in Luke’s masterful retelling of this story, he’s using this, this literary device to say, to show us who Jesus is, but to hide Jesus’s character or personality from these two characters.

But we know the inside of the joke. We see Jesus actually is the only one who really knows what’s going on.

But he finds these two characters escaping the epicenter of his work. Jerusalem in our story represents where Jesus last was, where his, his work was taking place. It’s where he was crucified and they’re exiting stage left and going back to a different city. Most scholars think it was about seven or 10 to 10 hours walk.

And they already knew that they’d heard rumors of the women going to the tomb, and yet they still were leaving the scene. It’s interesting. It’s interesting to me. Jesus finds them on the escape path. And he does that sometimes. Sometimes he finds us at the exit sign. We say, I’m fed up with this faith journey.

I’m out. And that’s right where he meets these two characters.

It might surprise you that Jesus is at the exit door of your faith. You may have given up on him, but he has not given up on you. You may have given up on Jesus. You may have tapped out or at least said, I’m taking my foot off the gas pedal because I don’t understand what’s going on. This isn’t what I signed up for.

And right at that moment, he still has not given up on you. When doubt creeps in, he’s right there. He’s right there. So what else do we see in this story? Well, we pick up here in verse 19. Look at it with me. Jesus asked them, what things, what things are you talking about that took place in Jerusalem? Heh.

About Jesus of Nazareth, they replied. He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. This is what we’d hoped for.

And once again, as the readers of the story, the irony is they weren’t wrong. He was the one that they’d been hoping for. They wanted freedom from Roman oppression. Jesus wanted to bring freedom from evil’s oppression. The problem wasn’t that they got his identity wrong. The problem was they had a different definition of what a Messiah meant.


Doubts often. creep in when our ideas of God’s plan run into God’s actual plan. Doubts creep in oftentimes when our ideas about God’s plan run into God’s actual plan. Or another way of saying that is doubt is often the side effect of mind change, and mind change is the sign of transformation. So maybe, just maybe, this morning.

If you face those doubts, you’ve hit that roadblock in your soul or that question mark or that experience that took place in your life, and you’re not sure what’s going on. This is not what I signed up for. And your soul is like, should I back down? Should I tap out? Should I move on? Maybe just maybe you’re on the cusp of transformation.

Maybe just maybe you are being invited into a new stage of your understanding of what his plan is. Maybe he wants to redefine for you. What a messiah actually is.

Romans 12 2 says it well, do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is. His good, pleasing, and perfect will. See, see what’s going on here. is a mind is being changed. That’s a sign of transformation.

This roadblock, that emotion, that doubt, that fear that you might have in your soul. Is this it? It’s actually potentially an invitation to transformation. So don’t miss an opportunity to step into that. But here, let me ask this question. Why is it so hard to accept a change of expectation? Well, our brains are wired to try and see things on their horizon, to plan the future, to organize our lives, to make sure that we’re safe and secure, to make sure that we understand what’s going on and to control our worlds.

And when expectations change from that plan, it is very disorienting. So if you felt doubt, it makes complete sense. Because the plan is shifting and your brain and your body all the way down to your physiology is not okay with that change. But Jesus is, because he’s inviting you into a deeper thing. He’s inviting you into a deeper perspective of what he has in mind.

I think of it like maybe an illustration you’d think of is like going skydiving. You know, you’re invited to go skydiving. There’s an exciting prospect of going skydiving, right? It’s going to be the adventure of a lifetime. It’s exhilarating all the stuff, right? But then as you climb for many people in the smallest plane they’ve ever been in with the door wide open, your body, your very physiology starts to, I’m not so sure about this situation and you get this sort of experience.

It’s and then they. They lean out of this airplane, and oftentimes the person that they’re strapped to just jumps on their behalf, whether they’re ready or not. And this is the face that you get. Maybe this is the face of doubt. I thought this was supposed to be an adventure. I knew it was gonna be hard.

It’s not like I was naive. This Christian life, you know, it’s an adventure. It’s a, it’s a different way of thinking. Yeah, sure, sure. But then, as time goes on and the altitude goes up, And the winds are swirling, and your body and your mind and your physiology starts to scream, No, no, no, not safe. I can’t fall from here.

It’s not okay. I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna anymore. Sound like doubt to me, right? So let me be honest with you. As I was preparing this message, I had this fear. I had a doubt. I had a doubt Because I was wondering if I was going to take all of the good stuff out of the good news and I was just going to tell you, yeah, it’s hard.

Good luck with that, you know, and I didn’t want to do that. And so I was wondering, is Christianity a bait and switch religion? Is Christianity a bait and switch religion? Do you know what I mean by that? They, they lure you in with all these promises of hope and life and energy and community and relationship and all this stuff.

And then you get along the journey. You’re like, Wait a minute, I, where’s the good stuff? Is Christianity a bait and switch religion? And so there was this dissonance in my soul as I started preparing. I was like, am I leading them down a path to just tell them? Yep. Now it’s the hard stuff. Well, fortunately for me, all I had to do was trust God’s journey and the text that he’d put on my heart because he answered that question for me.

As I continued to study, look at it with me. here in verse 25 to 27. He said to them, how foolish you are. Thanks Jesus. How foolish you are and how slow to believe all the prophets have spoken. Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory and beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the scriptures concerning himself.

Here’s what these two friends on a journey away from God’s plan learned. The plan had never changed. Their perspective needed to be changed. It was all over the scriptures. They just missed it. It’s not like he went back and rewrote the Old Testament to inject the crucifixion into it. All he did was go back and reveal something that was already there.

And if you look at Jesus’s ministry, he’s been giving them stones all along the way. This is the journey we’re taking. I’m going to suffer and I’m going to die. Even at the upper room, when he’s serving them communion, he says, this is my body. This is my blood. I sacrifice this on your behalf. He’s been trying.

Jesus has been telling him about the journey. The problem was their expectations were misaligned with the reality of what he’d been telling them. And so the disorientation they were feeling, the plan had never changed. Their perspective needed to be changed.

As we continue through the story, here’s what we read.

Verse 28, As they approached the village, which they were going, where they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going further. But they urged him strongly, Stay with us, for it is nearly evening. The day is almost over. So he went in to stay with them. So along the way, as he’s unpacking this story of, that this is, this has always been part of the plan, guys.

They don’t know who he is. This random stranger, stranger calls them, calls them fools. And then he starts to teach them the scriptures. But what he’s also doing is he’s depositing, depositing a seed in their soul. What if, what if the story isn’t over? What if the dream that we dreamed, Wasn’t gone yet. What if, what if the plan is right on track?

I mean, it’s right there in the scriptures. This stranger is showing us a different way of thinking. What if? What if, what if?

And so when Jesus pretends like he’s gonna move on, they’re like, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. We are not okay yet. We’re not okay with letting you move on because there is something about this person who’s been. speaking to us that is reawakening some emotions and some hopes and some dreams that we thought had died three days ago.

And he says, they say, please, please don’t leave us yet. Jesus meets them on the exit path and he follows them right smack dab into the depths of their doubt and he plants a seed of hope. And my hope for you today is if you find yourself in that place, if you find yourself in a place where you’re like, I might tap out or at least not, if I don’t tap out, I’m done growing.

I’m just going to sort of rinse and repeat because Christianity at this point in my life is just part of the sort of thing that I do, but I’m not going to press through any more walls if that’s where you find yourself today. My hope is that a seed of a dream would be planted in your soul today. And that Jesus would plant that seed and he would say the plan is right on time.

The plan is on track. See, Doubt often arises when God is changing our minds from weaker beliefs to deeper beliefs. This is when doubt oftentimes creeps in and we have an opportunity, we have an opportunity to either break through that doubt and go to deeper depths in our understanding of who he is and what his plan is for the world, or we can tap out or we can take our foot off the gas and just coast for the rest of our lives.

And this is what these characters are experiencing.

So they invite him in and he sits down with them. And then he does something strange. He takes over the dinner. He’s their invited guest and he decides to act like the host. What in the world, Jesus? Of course, they don’t even know who he is, but instead of them taking bread and praying the normal prayers, he takes up bread and he breaks it and he gives thanks to the Lord.

And he starts to distribute to them. And this is something that these followers of Jesus, these close disciples of him had seen Jesus do time and time and time again. And it was right at that moment when they started. It’s also, it’s also a moment. Where us as the reader are, we’re supposed to be reflecting back on the communion table when Jesus said, this is my body and this is my blood.

We as an audience and as a reader are supposed to remember these sort of scenes and tho that remembrance, that activity, that familiar behavior of breaking bread and of giving thanks, suddenly they know who he is and their eyes are peeled back. The blindness of their eyes is a physical illustration of the blindness of their souls to God’s actual plan in this story.

But when they encounter his character, his character that reminds of his sacrifice, his character of a Jesus who gently serves loaves of fish and of bread, and of body and of blood to them. It’s that character that opens their eyes and they see him for an instant and then he disappears again. And then they say to themselves, this in verse 32, were not our hearts burning within us while we talked to him along the road, they got up and returned at once to Jerusalem.

So listen, listen, listen, church. If you’ve encountered those moments of doubt, those moments of uncertainty, remember this. Doubt is often the roadblock between stagnation and transformation. Doubt is often the roadblock between stagnation and transformation. If you’re doubting, it’s okay. It might be part of your journey.

Because he might be inviting you to something deeper. He might be inviting you back into an adventure,

and it might be more beautiful and more good than you could ever have possibly imagined.

Christ doesn’t, or Luke, who’s writing this account of Jesus doesn’t want us to miss the connection to the cross. If you were to read chapter 24, he hits that subject over and over again. Right before this story in Luke 24, we hear a story about the women going to the tomb and they encounter This, uh, these angels who tell them this, why do you look for the living among the dead?

He is not here. He is risen. Remember how he told you while he was still with you in Galilee. The son of man must be delivered, uh, to the hands of sinners, be crucified, and on the third day raise again. And then Jesus retells that story. Hey guys, why do you think the plan is over? Didn’t you know? I’ve been telling you all along, the Messiah must die and he must suffer.

And then later on in this chapter, these two characters run back to Jerusalem and they tell their friends, he is alive, we saw him. And then Jesus comes to them in the upper room and he eats with them and he meets with them. And he says again, This is what I told you in verse 44 while I was still with you, everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the Psalms.

And what I find is interesting is he returns them to the gospel of his suffering. That’s what’s going to comfort them in the midst of their doubt. He doesn’t tell them, Oh, by the way, all of your hopes and your dreams, all of that really good life and easy life and all of that stuff. He doesn’t say, Oh, that’s all restored.

Now everything’s going to be dandy and your life’s going to be easy and you’re going to be financially wealthy. What he promises is that he is a good enough God who sees us languishing in our darkness and he enters into time and space and he dies. On our behalf, and he encounters us in our broken place, and his body and his blood represent that sacrifice.

What he tells them is, I love you, I love you enough to die, and I’m not going to answer all the questions, but I’m right here. That’s what he tells them in the midst of their doubt, and I don’t know what that doubt is for you. But he tells you the same thing. I love you. The cross is a shouting declaration across all of human history that I love humanity enough to enter in and to die, to call them back.

And if that’s not good enough for you, that’s what he has to offer. So if that isn’t a good enough, good news, then there isn’t a good enough, good news for you. His presence, his palpable presence is what he calls you. He offers to you. So is Christianity a bait and switch religion? No. It’s the plan that’s been going on.

When doubt creeps in, don’t tap out. Hang out. I think it’s interesting. They had to take a 7 to 10 mile journey that day. If they just hung out in Jerusalem for a little bit longer, they would have seen Jesus. All of it come to pass, but God in his kindness met him on the exit path, and he brings them back into not the easy life, but the good life in his presence.

So let me peel back. Uh, this is pretty much the story we have to look at today. But before I invite Chris back up to sing, I just want to let you in on a little secret about why we talk about Giving here itself regularly. That seems like, Whoa, blindside weird switch of subject matters, but it’s actually very strategic.

Here’s why, why do we talk about giving so much here itself? And why do we practice these things like the communion table? And here’s why there is almost nothing like taking some of our possessions or our plans, our safety nets, our, I’m okay right now because I’ve got enough stuff. Plans and then setting those things in front of God’s presence and say, you know what, God, here’s my plan.

I trust you for your plan. There’s nothing like giving that does that in a soul. That’s what we talk about. Yes, we need to keep budgets and lights and all that. It’s actually a soul thing. As human beings, we need to relinquish our plans so that we have eyes to see His plan. That’s what we talk about it.

And I’m gonna invite, Chris and Matt up and they’re gonna sing a song here and we’re gonna take communion again. I know we took communion last week, but the same thing takes place here. The presence of God, when we take communion, it’s a reminder of his sacrifice. It’s a reminder that this God is so good, so loving, so kind that he’s willing to die on our behalf to demonstrate that love.

When we take this, it doesn’t answer all the doubts. I get it. But what it does say is you have a loving God. that died to show you how deeply he loves you and he will stay with you. But before we do that, Chris is going to sing the beginning portion of this song and I just want you to listen. I want you to listen, whether you can pray for any giving you’ve done this week, you can pray to prepare your hearts for taking communion.

I don’t know what you need to do right now, but here’s the activity that I want you to do as she’s praying this song called Rebel Heart. I want you to do some serious surrendering because until you surrender, the scales on your eyes of his actual plan will never be lifted. Surrender is the mechanism.

That God uses to open eyes and restore our higher hearts. So let’s listen to this song and I’ll be back up in just a moment to lead us through a time of communion. Just sit, listen, pray, ask Him to open your eyes. Ask Him.

Doubting because of our Circumstances2024-05-16T13:15:31-06:00

Doubting God’s Character

May 5th, 2024 | Series: When In Doubt

The sermon delves into the topic of doubt, faith, and suffering, emphasizing the transformative power of Jesus and the invitation to find healing and hope through communion.

Sermon Resources
Sermon Content

Good morning, friends. How are you doing today? Welcome. My name’s Alex. I’m one of the pastors here. If you’re visiting, I’m going to start us in a moment with a passage of scripture. But if you’re a follower of Jesus, what I want you to begin to do in the midst of this is To begin to orientate yourself, or orient, I don’t know with you guys, it could be orientate, it could be orient, in the direction of the tables, here and at the back.

What I’d love us to do today is concretely move fairly quickly, but also intentionally, towards these tables, that you may have grown up knowing as mass, The Lord’s Supper, Communion, the Eucharist, any of those names. There’s something that we’re going to conclude by doing here that churches have done for a couple of thousand years.

But that is truly life changing. If you grew up in a Catholic church, you may have heard that when we do this, the bread becomes the literal body of Jesus and the wine becomes the literal blood of Jesus. And we might say maybe it’s a little less than that. If you grew up in a Baptist church, you may have heard the bread becomes a wafer and the wine becomes a cracker becomes grape juice, and it’s not a good joke.

. We’ll get better. Don’t worry. And we might say it’s a little more than that. There’s something here that I would describe and others have described as a real. There’s something in the midst of it that is truly life changing and we’re gonna bring some stuff here And we’re gonna receive some words over us as we continue to process The doubt that we’ve talked about over the last few weeks There’s this idea that doubt and faith are partners on the journey towards If you grew up in a community, a culture that said there was no space for any doubt, that if you expressed any, you felt shut down, that is not the way of Jesus.

In his disciples lives, they experienced and articulated, even after the resurrection, moments of doubt. I grew up in a church that didn’t handle doubt well. I can still remember occasions where I was wrestling with a question, perhaps with a group of fellow followers of Jesus. And as we began to express some of those questions, even in just a small circle, the associate pastor that was leading the group felt called to say no, we don’t talk about that.

here. That’s not on the table for discussion. The problem with that approach is this. What kind of things grow in the dark? Bad things, right? Hidden things don’t tend to be healthy things, and so it felt to me like in shutting it down, it didn’t bring healing, it didn’t bring change, it actually meant that we just landed in that place by ourselves for a long period of time.

period of time. Also, what Chambers says doubt is not always a sign somebody is wrong. It might be a sign they are thinking. Last week I shared a modification with you. Doubt is not always a sign somebody is wrong. It may be a sign they are hurting. And actually, you may need space to process that with someone.

Aaron, could you just take a look at the PowerPoint? Because that’s last week’s keynote, and so I’m not gonna be able to use that for very long.

You’ll get that fixed. Here’s our text. My faith in this team at the back is incredible. They’re gonna sort it out and we’re gonna be, we’re gonna be fine. And if not, I can talk for a long time without any kind of notes. John chapter 14 says this. Jesus said to his disciples, Don’t be worried. This is the contemporary English version.

It’s gonna read a little different. Don’t be worried. Have faith in God and have faith in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s house. Amen. I wouldn’t tell you this unless it was true. I am going there to prepare a place for each of you. After I have done this, I will come back and take you with me. Then we will be together and you know the way, we’ll be together, you know the way that I am going.

Thomas said, Lord, we don’t even know where you are going. How can we know the way? I am the way, the truth, and the life, Jesus answered. Without me, no one can go to the Father. If you had known me, you would have known the Father. But from now on, you do know him, and you have seen him. Philip said, Lord, show us the Father.

That is all we need. Jesus replied, Philip, I have been with you for a long time. Don’t you know who I am? If you have seen me, you have seen the Father. We’ll get to that text in a minute. Doubt can be a head thing, it can be a heart thing. What I would suggest, wherever you sit in the midst of that, whether wrestling with intellectual doubt, whether experiencing something feels like a trauma, something that has led you to question God’s goodness or even role in your life.

Somewhere what we want to open up the possibility to is that there is healing, whether an experience of the head or the heart and need is for hope and healing. And I would suggest that table offers some of that, especially In the moments where you wrestle with what you might call heart doubt that deep existential sense that not all is right with the world.

But today we wrestle with perhaps the most difficult area of doubt that we’ll wrestle with in the whole of this journey. We wrestled last week with doubt around the actions perhaps of other followers of Jesus moments that we’ve experienced that kind of trauma. And we’ll get to process some of that at this table as well.

But today we wrestle with the idea that I’m going to say this carefully, that in our doubt, God might feel like the one that we’re struggling with. We’re talking about primarily the question of suffering in the world. The thing that, outside of the Christian question and the actions of other Christians, is the number one reason people Say that they experience doubt.

It’s the question of, is God there? And if he is he powerful enough to impact this world? And if he is both of those things, why doesn’t he do it? The idea is that if God can, then he should. And if you’ve been in a moment where there’s some kind of part of your life that you say this just seems so broken or you’ve looked at the world in general and said wow this whole thing seems so broken, you know what I’m talking about, that heartfelt question of a child saying why is this the way it is.

That’s what we’re going to wrestle with today. And so first I’d like to start with a question. Have you ever met anyone and started to get to know them? Perhaps you’ve built up an early relationship. There’s something about the person you like. It feels like you’re having good conversations. It’s not necessarily a romantic relationship, but it might be just a platonic thing, but you’re starting to have these moments together and you’re like, I just, this person seems like a person I want to spend more time with, a person that I’d like to get to know, and then somebody says something.

Something that implies that there’s perhaps a hidden secret, a thing behind the thing, a thing that, that maybe they don’t say out loud, but you suddenly start to say, huh. Do I know this person at all? I had this experience some years ago. I was working on a golf course and there was a gentleman that used to wander onto the golf course late in the afternoon, he never paid, which wasn’t uncommon, but he brought a golf club and a dog and he would just chip balls on to the green and he was fun to talk to, seemed like a, a, a.

cool kind of guy. He had this kind of this great mustache and he had this kind of slick back hair. If I’m honest, he looked actually something like this guy.

And then I got talking to some people and it turned out that he was this guy. They just started to drop kind of hints into the conversation. You know what that guy does, right? And it made sense when I started talking about it. He was always asking me about going to the mattresses, or to take the cannoli and not the gun, or making me an offer I couldn’t refuse.

All of those kind of Pieces of language, but it turned out the guy I was hanging out with just having these good conversations with was Involved in one of the biggest criminal gangs in the whole of the area And so suddenly I had this moment where I’m like do I want to be friends with this guy? Or actually, maybe I should be friends with this guy maybe I don’t have a choice about being friends with this guy anymore.

It was one of those encounters, and perhaps you’ve had something like that, you’ve started to get to know someone, started to push into a relationship, and suddenly there’s been these flags that say, maybe take a step backwards. And maybe you’re married to that person today, and that’s great. But maybe you’ve been there.

Uncertainty about character can challenge a relationship. And that’s exactly what we’re going to see today. In the story of a guy called Abraham. Abraham is a guy that’s had two really in depth personal conversations with God. God has appeared to him in a way that the early part of scripture is unique outside of Adam and Eve and their story.

Abraham is a man that knows God. God has talked to him. Up until this point only about Abraham. He has promised Abraham certain things. He’s told Abraham something of what his future will look like. And now he’s going to have a third conversation with Abraham. And suddenly the conversation won’t be about Abraham, but will be about the world in general and very specifically about a town called Sodom and another town called Gomorrah.

Two towns that are famous for having been destroyed in the Old Testament narratives. In Genesis 18 verse 17 we read this. Then the Lord said, Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, the impending destruction of these two towns? Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him.

For I have chosen him so that he would direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised. God has a conversation first with himself, shall I bring Abraham into the picture? It’s similar in some ways to the flood narrative that has come just a few chapters before.

That, in that narrative, God informs Noah, the main character, but it’s not really a conversation as such. Noah gets information and gets things that he’s supposed to do, gets a list of tasks, but here it’s a little bit more. There’s more of a dialogue. Verse 20, and then the Lord said, The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sins so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me.

If not, I will know. In actual fact, the list of sins against Sodom, or the list of things against Sodom and Gomorrah is fairly huge. There’s a whole bunch of sexual sins that are part of the equation And there’s actually just the question of hospitality, which they have apparently not shown to people.

Ezekiel holds that as one of their significant sins. He says they have not cared for the poor around them. Something that maybe gets us a little bit like, wow that’s a serious thing. I didn’t know God maybe held that so seriously. The men, the two men that are described as being with God turned away and went towards Sodom, but Abraham remained standing.

And now this is where we get the conversation. Because Abraham is going to do something that up until this point has not been done in Scripture. He’s going to have a conversation with God about the actions that God is about to undertake. And he’s going to intercede for these people. He’s going to push back on the actions that God has told him that he will carry out.

Check this out, it’s just an amazing piece of Scripture. Verse 24. Then Abraham approached him and said, will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Will you make those that have done nothing wrong to suffer? Is that really who you are? Will you make the righteous suffer with the wicked? What if there are fifty?

Righteous people in the city. We don’t know how the, how big the city is, but let’s suppose it’s in the 2, 000, 5, 000, 10, 000 range. 50 is already a fairly small number. What if there are 50 righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the righteous people in it?

It’s a fundamental question which is more of an infraction of justice, to allow the guilty to go unpunished or to punish the innocent alongside the guilty. And Abraham seems to lean towards the latter of those being the greater infraction. For the sake of fifty, will you really destroy it? Unlike Noah, Abraham advocates for the people of the world.

Defends them in the midst of God’s impending action. Far be it from you to do such a thing. Have you ever prayed a prayer like that? That’s a bold prayer. This isn’t you, God. This isn’t how you act, right? I’m fairly confident you wouldn’t do something like this to kill the righteous with the wicked.

Have you ever prayed that in the midst of some kind of natural disaster? Some kind of man made disaster? Maybe you haven’t prayed it, but I bet you’ve asked it. I bet you’ve wondered, God, why is it that this seems to hit people indiscriminately? With no sense of, it lands on the guilty, in actual fact, if anything, at times it feels like the innocent are more likely to be.

to be punished than the guilty. David, the Psalmist, praise those exact things. He asks those exact questions. Far be it from you to do such a thing. Far be it from you. Will not the judge of all the earth do right? Feels like it could be a rhetorical question, but I wonder if it is. I wonder if it’s a real question.

And I think for many of us, we might say at times in our lives, it has been a real question. Is this right? Is this fair? Is this how it’s supposed to be? God, will you really allow these kinds of things to happen? Perhaps you at the moment, observe all the things that are going on in the Middle East and say, God, is this you?

This what you want? Perhaps you’ve watched people go through starvation through drought and say, God, is this you? Why is this the way it is? Why do you allow this to continue? Abraham raises the important question in the midst of this, of God’s character. Won’t you do the right thing? Aren’t you going to act in some way?

It raises the fundamental and challenging question that perhaps is the dark secret that you’ve kept at different moments in your life, and it looks like this. Can God be trusted? Is he trustworthy? This question at times has rocked the faith of people that have been deeply involved in the life of the church This is a picture of Charles Templeton in the 1950s.

Charles Templeton was the Charismatic evangelist the one that was going out and sharing the good news of Jesus with people all over the place He was close friends with this gentleman, Billy Graham, the greatest evangelist ever to live. A man who shared the message of Jesus with more people than any people in history.

And if you talk to people that were watching at the time, they said, it feels like Charles Templeton was going to be the one that spoke to the most people that reached the most people. He had this deep charisma and passion for Jesus. And then one day he saw a picture that looked something, but not quite this, something like this.

It was a picture of an emancipated woman in Africa. This is a lady suffering through drought. Her name is Faria. She lives in Somaliland. This is her son. The picture Charles Templeton saw was different in one way. The woman was nearer to death, and the child was dead. And Charles Templeton said, I looked at that picture and I knew in that moment there could be no good God that would allow this in the universe.

And nobody wrestled with him with that. Nobody helped him navigate that. Because there are times I would suggest when we see something like this and say, this feels existentially wrong. How is it that 1 billion people on this planet don’t have enough to eat? And how is it that 700 million people on this planet don’t have clean drinking water?

How can this be? And some of it, sure, it’s man made, it’s our own fault. I used to work a lot with the country of Haiti and the deforestation of the nation has destroyed the landscape, has made starvation almost a certainty. Sometimes we do things that seem to destroy and break this world. But sometimes we might ask the question, God, why don’t you just fix this?

Why can’t you send this woman rain? If that’s all that stands between her and a family that are fed and a family that are healthy. Faria said this, if the rains do not come, none of us will survive. None of us will survive. This is the existential question of suffering that we wrestle with. The challenge of our visibly broken world often leads atheists to reaffirm that there can be no God.

Conversely, for theists, a broad group, including those of us that follow Jesus, the question is usually phrased this way, is God really good? Why doesn’t he do this? And then it becomes deeply personal because if he doesn’t do it for Pharaoh and he doesn’t do it for the people of Somaliland, what about when it’s our turn?

Will he do it for us? Can God be trusted individually? Can I trust him? With my everyday struggles and needs, the moments of my deep suffering and pain. In Matthew chapter 5 verse 45 Jesus suggests that in actual fact rain and sun are provided just without reference to good or bad. God, he said, causes his son to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

Growing up in a place that had more rain than we could handle, I never quite read that the right way. I was like, yeah, he just keeps making it rain on all of us, right? We’re always, there’s too much rain and I’m good and there’s still rain landing on me. But here in this culture, it was rain as a positive thing.

Rain is the thing that gave crops life. And so to phrase it this way, when I need rain, will God provide? And what does it mean if he doesn’t? What do I do if he doesn’t? As most problems of doubt, there’s an intellectual side to this and an experiential one, and so the first question I have for you is there an intellectual answer?

And there is, but I don’t know that you’ll provide it, find it particularly satisfying. I think you’ll find it to be a struggle still, especially if in this moment or in your recent history you are going through an experiential thing that says to you, suffering is very real. If to you it’s personal and deep right now.

Despite much suffering, this world is, some people have suggested, the best that can be imagined while maintaining both free will and a sense of need for the divine. If there are no needs in the world, if there is no suffering, why does anybody need God? Why would anyone reach out to find him, to look for him?

Some people would say that this world needs some of those things to be able to create that opportunity. The other aspect is free will. We are free to do with this world to an extent what we want to do and we, as we already address, we have not always treated this world as it should have been treated.

We’ve destroyed elements of it. We’ve made it a more difficult place to live in. That’s true of Adam and Eve and the earliest sin of human beings, and it’s true for people like you and I. But some people have argued this. That we need a world that looks something like that. The poet John Keats said this, Do you not see how necessary a world of pains and troubles is to school an intelligence and make it a soul?

The something that our own individual suffering brings out of us that is actually deep and profound. The writer C. S. Lewis, who himself experienced a great deal of suffering, said, we were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told blessed are those that mourn and I accept it I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for.

Of course It is different when the thing happens to oneself not to others and in reality not in imagination Suffering has a way of transforming that almost nothing else does. How many of you have ever said these words, I’ve grown more than I can have believed as a Christian over the last two years, and it’s been the two easiest years of my life.

Nobody has said those words. Our struggles have a way of bringing us to our knees and bringing us to the feet of the God of the universe. There’s something about it that is transformative. And if we’re honest, we enjoy suffering. when it’s other people. Not in a schadenfreude sense, not in a truly bad sense, but there’s something compelling about someone or particular people that experience their sense of suffering.

Soren Kierkegaard says this about poets, and you could extend it to songwriters, to musicians today. A poet is an unhappy person, an unhappy being whose heart is torn by secret sufferings, but whose lips are so strangely formed that when the sighs and the cries escape them, they sound like beautiful music.

And men crowd about that poet and say to him, Sing for us soon again, that is to, as much to say, May new sufferings torment your souls. If you go back and look at most of the movies you love, most of the songs that you love, most of the poetry you love, it’s formed in the crucible of suffering. Because it is the truly transformative thing.

The Apostle Paul says in 2nd Corinthians verse 4, this light momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory. Some of your texts may say something about follows, but in actual fact preparing is correct. Preparing us for an eternal weight of glory. There’s something about suffering that is truly transformative to a life.

Victor Frankel who experienced the horrors of Auschwitz said, When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves. I’ve tried to be intentional today about giving you outside voices that have experienced suffering to the maximal degree. These are people that are versed in what it is to suffer and still speak of the beauty of transformation in their lives and in the lives of others.

Despite much suffering, this world is perhaps the best that can be imagined, while maintaining both free will and a sense of need for the divine, and that even in suffering, it is better to have existence than no existence. Very few people in the midst of suffering come close to saying, I wish it had never been.

And sometimes when they say it, it’s not actually really meant. We’re still predicated to choose life over no life, to choose that in the midst of this world we see that is full of suffering, that the horror of a universe that never has a voice to cry out, never has a species to see what is out there, never has a species that can sing songs about it, that can write about it, can imagine about it, to not have any of that.

would be truly horrific. And to not have a species that deeply searches and longs for God would be the most horrific thing of all. Even in the midst of that almost universal suffering, we say it’s still better that life exists. The movie, One Day, captures this perfectly. It’s a story of a relationship between 1980s, or it begins there anyway, and it takes place.

A day each year and sees where they are in their relationship. St. Swithin’s Day, 14th of July. And so the narrative jumps forward year by year and you watch the ways that they experience trauma, they experience heartache, the ways the relationship breaks, becomes dysfunctional, comes back together.

There’s the moment where she suddenly dies in a most surprising way, and we watch his heart break and loss afterwards. We watch them struggle through life, moving towards each other and away from each other at different points. But what the movie does so beautifully is this. It ends with the beginning.

It ends with their meeting in this moment where it seems like they won’t stay in touch, where they won’t meet, and she walks away and says have a nice life. And knowing all of the trauma, knowing all of the heartbreak, there’s this pause where you wait and you say to him, sitting there as an observer, run after her, don’t leave it.

There and then there’s this moment where you hear footsteps as he runs up behind her and he catches her and he says I need your phone number. And you breathe a sigh of relief because something inside you tells you that with all the pain, it’s still worth it. Still, we want it to happen. Still, we want the relationship to continue.

Even when suffering is great, life is still preferable to no life. That may not be universally true, but it’s often true. That’s the best intellectual answer that I can give you, and I don’t know if it means much. Because really what we need is something more than that. In the midst of suffering that is often tied to personal experience, a reality we have seen, a diagnosis we have received, a loved one we have lost, an experience we have had, the only satisfying answer I would suggest is the person of Jesus.

who entered into this world and embraced suffering, who took it on to the maximal degree, who experienced it and lived in it. In John chapter 14, Jesus expresses some of who he is. He recognizes that the disciples will experience deep loss and deep struggle, but he also gives them answers to some questions that they have.

He tells them, do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in me. My father’s house has many rooms. If that were not would I not have told you that I, would I have told you that I’m going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you may also be where I am.

You know the way to the place where I am going. Thomas said to him, Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way? Jesus answered, I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know Him and you have seen Him.

Philip said, Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us. Show us the God of the universe as He really is. Give us the thing that we are longing for. Jesus answered, Don’t you know me, Philip? Even after I have been among you such a long time, anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, show us the father?

In the moments where you ask whether the God of the universe is truly good, whether he can be trusted, and whether he cares, know that the God of the universe is seen uniquely and most clearly through Jesus. Through the Jesus that wept at the grave of his friend. Through the Jesus that suffered horrific torture and death at the hands of an empire.

Through the Jesus who loved his disciples until that end moment. That’s how we see God. When you have questions about his character, when you struggle with all of the existential elements of this world, know that Jesus is seen through the, that God is seen through the person of Jesus. The contemporary English version says of Colossians Christ is exactly like God who cannot be seen.

The message version says we look at this son and see the God who cannot be seen. That’s perhaps the only answer to the struggle of suffering. That God is in it too, with you too, present in it by choice, entering into it. God is like Jesus, we might say. He has always been like Jesus. He will never not be like Jesus.

He is the image. He is the one. When wrestling with questions, look at Jesus. When having wonderings, look at Jesus. He has given us that image of his father. He’s the one we serve. He’s the one we follow. He is the one we love. God is best seen in the one who chose to die for his enemies rather than to fight against them.

God is best seen in the one who wept at the grave of a friend. God is best seen in the one who will restore all things, who will bring healing to this broken world, who in the midst of a creation that gasps and moans, God will bring healing. And we see that most perfectly in Jesus. My invitation to you in the midst of all of the ways you experienced doubt is to bring it to Jesus, who suffers it with you.

who has been in the midst of it, who didn’t turn away from it. We come to this table and we remember death and we remember resurrection. We come to a God who loved his enemies, a God who faced death and defeated it. We come to the God that is seen in Jesus. So my invitation to you is to bring all of the angst that you have, Last week we talked about those of us that have experienced deep hurt at the hands of other Christians.

And I invite you to come and take this communion. Come to this table with that. The writer K. J. Ramsey, who experienced herself deep trauma at the hands of the church, talks about the final action for her as a pastor on staff was to serve communion to the lead pastor who had lied about her. who had destroyed her career, who had left her deeply traumatized at the hands of the church.

And she said, in that moment, what I realized was that I followed a God who chose to love his enemies. And so as that man walked down the aisle, I handed him the bread and the wine. And I said, the blood of Jesus given for you, the body of Jesus broken for you. That’s the faith we follow. If you’re wrestling with your own suffering, there is no intellectual answer I can give you, but I can offer you this table and space to come to it.

Space to come to the table of the God who loves his enemies, who dies for them, who sat with his earliest followers, 10 of whom would run away from him, 11 of whom would run away from him, one of whom would betray him, and does this, my body broken for you. My bloodshed for you. Whatever you have to bring can come here to the real presence of Jesus who brings healing, who brings transformation.

As you come, there’ll be some people at the tables. They’re going to read a very short prayer over you. It’s to help you process, but I’m going to invite you to take some time in the midst of this song to listen before we come. Jesus, would you speak to your people? Amen.

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