Tag Archives: Doubt

Doubts & the Mission of Jesus

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Great Commission in Matthew 28.  It’s a passage many know well, finding it an inspiration, a call, a light to guide the way. It’s a powerful text, one that has inspired Christians for thousands of years, so it’s not a passage usually associated with doubts.

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”   (Matthew 28: 16-20 NRSV)

There are many things about this passage that may jump out to you.  But for me, in this season of life, what jumps out to me is verse 17 – When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.  Yeah, that’s me right now.  Many right now are worshiping Jesus, but I feel like I’m over in the corner, doubting. 

Yes, Lord, I know you’re risen from the dead – but no one is watching our videos.

Yes, Lord, I know you’re risen from the dead – but I’m afraid we are starting to lose people.

Yes, Lord, I know you’re risen from the dead – but finances!

Yes, Lord, I know you’re risen from the dead – but there is so much pain and loss and hurt right now.

Yes, Lord, I know you’re risen from the dead – but I am inadequate to meet this moment.  

Right now, I feel like my faith is: “Yes, Lord, I know you’re risen from the dead, but…”

Do you ever feel like the disciples who were overcome by their doubts? Sometimes I do. I should know better. Has God ever failed me?  Of course not.  I know God won’t start now.  I know that God is with us.  I know that he is King of Kings and Lord of Lords – but

Let me tell you why this text gives me comfort.  Notice what Jesus didn’t do to those doubters.  He didn’t kick them out.  He didn’t fuss at them.  He didn’t say they didn’t measure up to the moment. 

And look what Jesus did do.  He saw them. He sent them out. He included them in the mission. They were still part of his team, his flock, his people.  Their doubts did not exclude them from the family. Their doubts did not exclude them from the mission. 

Neither do my doubts; neither do yours.  Jesus still has a place for us, in spite of our fear or inadequacy or doubts. And here’s the cool part of grace: what if Jesus can even use your uncertainty?  In a world full of folks with rock-star faith, maybe it can be the doubters and the “yeah – but…” people who are approachable to doubters; who are realistic, who are touchable.  Maybe, to a world reeling from pain after pain, a perfect God who sits with uncertain people with incomplete faith is exactly what we need right now.

The doubters had a place in the mission. In this moment, that gives me great hope.  Here I am Lord, even with my doubts.  Send me.

Aaron Duvall ~ Wrestling with God

Chera, my wife, was glaring at me with the type of fire normally reserved for people who tell her Christmas music should wait till after Thanksgiving.

“God is good,” she said.

I nodded, more than slightly annoyed.

“Say it,” still glaring.

“God is good,” I half-heartedly indulged her.

And then what I knew was coming.

“Say it like you mean it.”

I met her eyes smiling as best I could.

 “God. Is. Good.”

I affirmed something that I had said, from the pulpit no less, hundreds if not thousands of times. Something I had quoted in hospital rooms, promised to dying people, swore to college students during pastoral care times, and clung to during some of my darkest and scariest moments. Yet, as I was staring at my wife, who three days before had been diagnosed with what we were told was Stage 3 breast cancer, I no longer had his praise in my lungs, or on my lips.

We were preparing to go to a Sunday morning service at my home church in Ohio. Chera was going to be anointed. I was going to be expected to smile, to cry, to look grateful, to sound hopeful, when in reality I wanted to run. To avoid. At my worst I wanted to fight. In my arrogance and anger, I wanted a good old-fashioned wrestling match with God. And for that, I felt guilty.

We walked out the door of my parents’ home, where we had been staying since the diagnosis. We were 460 miles from what we now called home in New York. The different mattress had caused my hip to hurt. My three-year-old daughter, who was refusing to sleep on her own, was not helping the matter.

I didn’t want to go to church. I was empty. I was angry. And my hip hurt.

As we walked out, Chera looked at me and whispered, “God is good.  God is God.  And God is good at being God.” I nodded. I didn’t doubt that God was a good driver… I only wondered, if at times, he was asleep at the wheel.

I didn’t sing much during the service. My wife, three days past diagnosis, was raising her hands and crying; my daughter was doing the same. I was clenching my fists. I don’t remember the songs, the words, or even the melodies. I do remember the pain. In my chest. In my throat. In my hip.

We were called down to be anointed, and I walked down to the altar like a prize fighter approaching the ring. Maybe now I would get my answer; if not, I would at least get my showdown. I knelt.

And I broke.

The sadness, anger, and disappointment that flowed out eventually turned to questioning, and then begging. If we were having a fight, I was losing.

I’ve never heard a voice from God but I’ve always wanted to. I assume God sounds like James Earl Jones, or maybe Morgan Freeman. If I finally hear from God, and he’s a tenor, or as my Scottish soccer coach believes, speaks like Sean Connery, I won’t recognize him at all. But at that moment I got a deep sense that God was communicating to me, perhaps an echo of the previous conversation: “I am good. I am God. I am good at being God.  And I don’t sleep.”

“Sure,” I thought.

As my wife walked back to our pew, head held high, eyes shining, tears wiped away, I limped back, our daughter in my arms. After three days of calling God out for being silent and absent, I started to realize that I wasn’t ready to hear from God. I wasn’t ready to see him. Honestly, I wasn’t even sure what I would do if he actually showed up. But God did show up, as he always does. He showed up at the end of the sermon. Chera could tell you exactly what it was about. She probably has notes stored someplace. I on the other hand can tell you the last scripture reference. I can tell you because exactly as the pastor read Genesis 32:22-27, my hip started throbbing along with Jacob’s.

Yes, the last passage the pastor read was about a man wrestling with God and his resulting injury: pain in his hip. I think I might have audibly gasped from both the pain and surprise when she mentioned the words. And suddenly my world shifted.

“I am good. I am God. I am good at being God. I do not sleep, and I’ve always been right here.”

And I knew it to be true, because I had been wrestling with God for the past three days. And gracefully, mercifully, God had taken it easy on me. He had taken the words, the punches, the doubts, the frustrations, the elbow drops and body slams, and in return he had simply touched my hip.

At the end of their fight, Jacob clings to God in desperation, exclaiming that he won’t let go until God blesses him. It makes me wonder how often I missed a blessing because I avoided the wrestling.  It wasn’t until recently that I really felt I could fight with God. I’ve been angry before, and certainly disappointed, but this new season brought me to a place of engagement. I’ve often heard that in pain and crisis our natural instinct is to either run or engage with the “fight or flight.” My natural instinct over the years has been to run, or at the very least to clam up in pain. In college I nearly left the faith over some painful experiences, and during that time I simply shut down. No prayer, no engaging: just silence.

This time, instead of shutting down, I leaned in. I decided we were going to fight this out.  And in muscling up, I got closer than I ever had before. It was not in the silence that I was finding him, but in the fighting, in the lamenting, in the pain.  If God is in the redeeming business, if God is trying to use all things to redeem, it makes sense that he would use even our pain and anger to draw us in.

After the service, as I walked up the stairs into my parents’ house, my hip gave out on the second step and I limped. This time, however, I didn’t respond in anger. I responded in thankfulness. It was a reminder that although I had been silent, God had not. Although I hadn’t felt him, he was there. The distance I sensed certainly wasn’t on his part, and it took a wrestling match for me to draw close; that may have been the only thing that would.

I don’t know how long I’ll have this limp and pain. For now, it’s a reminder, a holy pain that testifies that sometimes God lets us limp, and that in the wrestling, we are not alone.

Edgar Bazan ~ A Hard Reset

What do you do when a phone freezes, stops working, or is unresponsive? You toss it to the ground, step on it really hard, and make sure is completely crashed, right?

Well, probably not. Most likely you do what most of us have done: we reset our phones to reactivate its functions, we don’t discard it. Depending on how bad it is, we may remove the battery, or do a hard reset which restores the factory functions, deleting everything in the hard drive. It’s not a good situation, but you get your phone back and start all over again.

Have you thought about your life along those lines? That sometimes we need some kind of reset when life gets so thick and unbearable that we stop functioning in healthy ways and find ourselves thinking, behaving, or making choices that are not good for us or the people we care about? In such times, what we need is a fresh start. I know I do sometimes for a variety of reasons, and maybe you do too.

Why bring this up? Maybe you have a bunch of stuff going on in your life right now that keeps getting in your way and keeps you from fulfilling what you know is God’s plan and calling for your life. You may have regrets, remorse, or guilt, the sadness of unmet goals and past disappointments that distracts you from seeing a future for your life to the point that you give up hope, saying: I am broken, I will never be whole again, there is no future for me, I gave that up long ago. These experiences and memories from the past threaten to overpower us to the point that what happened in the past is ruining our present and our future.

The sad part of it is that we think it’s normal, that we just have to deal with it. In a way, we do have to deal with the not-so-positive happenings in life. But here is the trick: we are not called to do this alone.

God wants to work his good will in everything that happens in our lives, and God is in the business of making things new, in transforming the old into a new creation. Our God is a God of opportunities and new beginnings. Our God is a God of the ultimate Reset.

Do you need a reset today, a new way of living, of moving from what was to what can be? If you feel purposeless, broken, or like a frozen, unresponsive phone, then it is time for a reset, and you are not alone.

Now how do we do this? Well, let’s learn together.

The scripture for today is 2 Corinthians 5:17. It is just one verse. And it says,

If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

Let’s get some context first.

Like us, the Corinthians were struggling with many problems and difficulties. One of them was living into their new identity as followers of Jesus. As new believers in Christ, they were becoming a part of a new way of living that was in drastic contrast to their old ways. The Corinthian Christians needed to be reminded of this and encouraged constantly about their faith, to not give up and give in to the old ways of living before they knew Christ.

For this reason, in this text and within the context of the letters to the Corinthians, Paul talks of a “new creation” as the transformation that takes place in us that makes us to be “born again,” meaning, saved from the condemnation of sin and death, and the evil powers of this world, to become people of God: children of light with a restored and new life.

However, there is always conflict when you have two elements at odds, in this case the old versus the new. There is a sort of battle between these opposing elements. The moment we embark on our new life, the old yells back at us, reminding us who we were, what we did, or what happened to us, with the only intention of holding us back by discouraging us and putting in doubt our worthiness.

For this reason, a common struggle Christians face today as much as back then is to fully leave behind the old and fully embrace the new. Although your soul has been saved, maybe your mind has not caught up: a part of you is still stuck in the past, in the old, in the very thing about which God has said: “you are the one talking about it, I don’t even remember that anymore!” In other words, what happens in practice is that the devil will always bring up your past to discourage you, but God will always remind you of your future to encourage you to keep moving on.

So when I talk about a reset in this context, I mean the ability to embrace and move into the new things that God has for us by not allowing the hurts of the past to hold us back. Becoming new creatures, as Paul says, is the ultimate reset for anyone, “for everything old has passed away and everything has become new!”

But this is one of the most difficult practices, isn’t it? How do we move away from the old? Is it possible?

I think it is, but we have to change it. What do I mean by “change it”? Like changing the past? Yes, like changing the past.

At first this sounds like a contradiction. How can we change something that already happened? But why does the past matter at all? What is the past to us today? What do we get to keep from something that already happened? Why does the past have so much power over us?

Well, because of the memories; we get to keep those –either the bliss or the trauma.

When we talk about the past, it is really the memory that we are talking about. The story that runs on a loop in the back of our minds of what has happened. This is critical because the past – those memories – only exists in our mind; but they have a direct effect on what happens today and will happen to us in the future. Why?

Because they define us. Although those events may not even matter anymore, they have so much power and control over our minds that they affect our decisions.

Recently I learned about epigenetics, the science that tells us that we are the sum of our experiences, that what happens to us – mentally, physically, emotionally – affects our biological composition, which means that everything that happens to us lays itself like tire tracks tattooing itself across our body-mind and literally making us the product of what has come before.

For example, an experience of trauma from the past seen through a certain lens can physiologically create stress responses like cortisol, stress hormones, and anxiety. All these responses may exist today –even if the event took place many years ago. According to epigenetics, we are the product of what we were and what we continue to allow to affect us today. That is why it is so hard to let the old go. Because it is tattooed all over our lives and we think that that is normal. And the more we replay it in our minds, the more it takes over us, printing itself all over our lives, defining who we think we are.

This idea led me to ask the question, “can we change what has already been, meaning our past experiences? Can we remove those unhealthy marks out of our lives?”

I think we can.

Here is something amazing: our cognitive framing, our interpretation of reality, our use of thoughts, memory and language to frame our past experiences, even how we speak about them, can actually allow us to change our very past experiences. The story we tell, the story we choose to tell about what has happened, can change what has happened insofar as it may change how we respond to those very experiences today.

Of course, we can’t change the facts of the past; but we can change how we feel about the facts and how we allow them to affect us today. So, if the past can affect you negatively today, perhaps you can change the past positively by changing your response to those negative past experiences by reframing them and seeing them through a different lens.

While we can’t ignore the past – it happened – we can reframe it into a story of redemption by looking at it, by talking about it, by thinking about it through the lens of Jesus’ love and grace. We change our past by allowing it to be redeemed.

This is the reset we need! We stop keeping our future a hostage to our past. We free our future by allowing God to redeem our past and reframe our whole lives around a new story with the hope we get through Jesus Christ. We don’t let our past get in the way of our future anymore. We break the cycle of oppression. We don’t choke on our fears and disappointments but rework these experiences through our faith in Christ. And in turn, we output all of our stories from the past into a story of redemption, knowing that we are more than we were because of what has happened to us today, because of our faith in Jesus the Christ.

I believe that there is a lot more for us in our lives that God wants to bless us with, but we don’t see it because we continue to allow an unredeemed past to dictate our future. And just like the Corinthians, we may find ourselves with a new faith but old thinking, old behaving, old brokenness marking us for life.

We can’t ignore the past. It is never going to go away, as long our memories of it exist. So, change it; redeem it; let the gospel of Jesus, the Word of God, bring healing into your past and transform it into a beautiful story of redemption. Don’t let it haunt you anymore. Look straight at those fears, unmet goals, disappointments, and hurts, and say: you are forgiven, you are redeemed.

I know this is not easy at all. The brokenness from the past holds us by making us feel as if what has been must always be. But here is the truth. We were never created to live defeated, guilty, condemned, ashamed lives defined by feeling unworthy. We were created to be the ultimate reflection of God’s self, full of light, life, and goodness. Let us stop building on brokenness and start building on hope, forgiveness, reconciliation, and acceptance. Let us allow our past to be transformed into a story of redemption, where our decisions of today reflect our hopes for the future and not our fears and brokenness from the past. Remember, new faith with old thinking does not work well. So let’s also stop acting on the brokenness of our past, and start living in the power of the new life Christ makes possible for us day after day.

Finally, let us be certain of this: what God is offering to all of us today is a wonderful thought: the best days of our lives haven’t happened yet. We are not here by accident. This is your confirmation. Everything is going to be alright. God is making a way for you right now. All you have to do is to welcome God’s Word into your life, so it can speak new life into your mind and soul, reframing your feelings, thoughts, and everything from your past that has been getting in your way for so long.

I invite you to frame your life, your whole self, in the gospel of Jesus Christ, in the love God has for you, in the grace that has been bestowed on you. That is our reset!

Be encouraged today: you are going to make it. Your life still lies ahead of you. You are becoming as you keep on living and walking the pathway Jesus sets before you. Go ahead. In the words of Toby Mac: “You’ve got a new story to write and it looks nothing like your past.”


Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ A Reasonable Doubt

On a recent hot summer day, I pulled down the flap of my mailbox and discovered an official-looking summons. For the first time in my life, I had Jury Duty – those dreaded words that bring pained expressions to millions of Americans every year.

Being a woman of a thousand and one opinions, however, I immediately waved the paper under my husband’s nose. (My armchair interest in crime – most notably evident in the time I spend in armchairs reading old Agatha Christie stories – came bubbling indecently to the surface.) The case, however, ended up being a relatively boring one (because somehow I did get on the jury). Before the proceedings began, the defense lawyer and the prosecutor each gave their pitches on the nature of reasonable doubt.

Employing two heavily loaded words – reason, and doubt – the two men attempted to lay their early groundwork. One needed to convince us beyond a reasonable doubt. One needed only to create a reasonable doubt. And in the end, assuming innocence as we were sworn to do, the six of us came to the consensus that, like it or not, reasonable doubt was present.

And what, I wondered as I drove home, does reasonable doubt look like to a person of faith?

Not reasonable doubt as it exists in the criminal justice system, but reasonable doubt as it exists in its dance with faith.

Many believers position doubt as one pole and faith as the other, opposites that most people slide back and forth between on a spectrum. But as a citizen, I had just sat with a “juror” tag on my shirt well aware that we were deliberating, not between doubt and faith, but between doubt and certainty – a reasonable doubt, a reasonable certainty – which would the evidence – and the portrayal of the evidence – create?

It’s fascinating to note that if you read the words of the author of Hebrews from the NRSV, chapter 11, verse one renders, “now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” – faith is assurance and conviction of the longed-for invisible. But if you flip the pages of a worn King James Bible (or flick the screen of your iPad), you will read, “now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” – faith is substance and evidence.

And so we come to the mystery of our faith – Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again…

I love reasoning about my faith. Intellectual curiosity and faith, far from being antagonistic towards each other, fuel each other.

But part of the mystery of our faith is that faith is evidence; not faith in evidence, or certainty about evidence, but faith, the evidence of things not seen – which conjures Flannery O’Connor’s words in the novel Wise Blood, “faith is what someone knows to be true, whether they believe it or not.”

Because, as anyone who has slogged through the dark night of the soul eventually learns, faith is never blind; faith, instead, knows all too well. And until your faith has a head that is bloodied but unbowed, you will look for evidence that will strengthen your faith. But of course the logic of faith is that your gritted teeth, your plummeting down into the void until you fall through the other side – these are the evidence.

This makes sense only in the mystery of the dead Christ, the risen Christ, and the coming Christ – which means that it makes all the sense in the world…