Triumph of Faith
Hello everyone, and for those guests we have today a warm welcome to St. Andrews Lutheran church and we hope you are blessed with the spirit as we are blessed with your presence here today.
I must admit I am coming up here to deliver a message today with some pressure from several members of the congregation to do "something" . What some of you may not know is that I attend the worship team practices every Thursday I can but only as a spectator so far. I bring the flautist and at this time the pianist just about every time so I'm sort of a roadie, or church band groupie. I have been asked if I find that kind of dull but the truth of it is it represents a homecoming to me and a part of my regular work/home schedule I find to be quite "healing" for lack of a better word. I enjoy every minute of it.
All right I have to come clean. Yeah I can sing.....I can even dance....but mostly I get a lot of laughs...especially with the singing and dancing!
Ok, so with that out of the way I hope my message today is not the sole reason the offering comes BEFORE the message.
Todays gospel reading deals with doubt and fear, the true enemies of faith and trust. In this scripture we have Peter at first walking on the water and then seeing the stormy conditions began to sink as his doubts took over. This is surprising considering his early success, but all to indicative of human nature. This subject is no doubt one of the most difficult for us to understand and to deal with, a truly nasty subject worthy of the most unruly David Borth bible study.
So, what is fear? what is doubt? why do we experience it as Christians? I am going to try to explain through scripture exactly how God uses it to lift us up.
Let's have a look at what our modern version of the Encyclopedia Brittanica known as Wikipedia says about fear. The passage is a bit heavy but considering the high intellectual capacity of the congregation this should be a walk in the park, right??. I have only included a small part of the article as it is the scripture regarding doubt and anxiety that will interest us the most as this is what God wants us to know about it.
"Fear is a feeling induced by perceived danger or threat that occurs in certain types of organisms, which causes a change in metabolic and organ functions and ultimately a change in behavior, such as fleeing, hiding, or freezing from PERCEIVED traumatic events. Fear in human beings may occur in response to a specific stimulus occurring in the present, or in anticipation or expectation of a future threat perceived as a risk to body or life".
"Psychologists have suggested that there is only a small set of basic or innate emotions and that fear is one of them. Fear is closely related to, but should be distinguished from, the emotion anxiety, which occurs as the result of threats that are PERCEIVED to be uncontrollable or unavoidable".
So that's fear and anxiety. What does it say about doubt?
Doubt characterises a status in which the mind remains suspended between two contradictory propositions and unable to assent to either of them. Doubt on an emotional level is indecision between belief and disbelief. Doubt involves uncertainty, distrust or lack of sureness of an alleged fact, an action, a motive, or a decision. Doubt questions a notion of a perceived "reality", and may involve delaying or rejecting relevant action out of concerns for mistakes or faults or appropriateness.
Ok so that's a lot to think about. Wikipedia, by the way, is wisdom that has been collected by thousands if not millions of people in the world and they have freely submitted their knowledge to create a world library intended for the benefit of all.
Later in the article about fear one thing caught my eye that I should share with you that did not surprise me.
" In a 2006 study of Christian men and women the hypothesis was tested that traditional, church-centered religiousness and de-institutionalized spiritual seeking are ways of approaching fear of death in old age. Both religiousness and spirituality were related to positive psychosocial functioning, but only church-centered religiousness protected subjects against the fear of death". Do you agree? I do. Apparently "new wave spirituality" as it is so called fails the acid test.
Notice though, in the explanations the word "PERCEIVED" comes up a lot. You know, I was going to get in to a discussion about how fear and doubt are relative to the viewer, in that all of us vary in what we doubt and fear. The trouble with that is it would have missed the message entirely of its true meaning, and why. If I may, I would like to point out one undeniable fact, that both anxiety and doubt can be managed.
Well that's Wikipedia but let's more importantly look to what scripture, the ultimate authority has to say about doubt and anxiety.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7
“Do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?” Luke 12:22-26
Jesus in this scripture from Matthew perfectly acknowledges our worldy anxieties himself:
“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:34
The common reasons for doubt and fear are abundant on this fallen world. There is no guarantee of good health, prosperity, protection from loss, painlessness, etc, etc. We have physical and spiritual limitations in that we have really no defence against the bad things that come along. Ultimately we have to depend on God to defend and maintain us through times of crises. The book of Job explains this fully in that we can't understand the mind or plans of God and that we very importantly have no right to question God on the way things are.
I struggled with this for many years myself as I observed and experienced the human condition in all its forms. I take this world as a place of random destruction, completely without form or design. Some people were fortunate, others were not with no apparent reason or logic. There was clearly no magic potion and no clear path to emerge unscathed.
We are conditioned by this world to doubt and to fear through the many disappointments, immediate threats and failures that either befall us personally, or through others. Peter, when his doubt surfaced and he began to sink in the water was doing exactly what this world had conditioned him to.
It's often been said that the greatest trick Lucifer ever created was to convince everyone he didn't exist. I would argue that the greatest tools that evil ever had are doubt and fear as we are condittioned by this world to feel.
God tells us through scripture that he will be with us and that he will protect us while we are here in this place. Ahhhh, but the lesson for us here on earth is exactly how he does this. Remember, God looks at things quite differently than we do with our limited understanding.
The answer for me came through scripture and a lovely article by a woman named Karla Hawkins. Karla is the wife of a pastor in Minnesota and she wrote this article through a Christian magazine called the "Christiancrier".
Top Bible Verses About Weakness
March 27, 2015 by Karla Hawkins
A paradox is a statement that seems to contradict itself but may nonetheless be true. God’s written word, the Bible, is full of paradoxes. This is certainly true when discussing the terms “weakness” and “strength.” For example, many Christians say and believe that we are strongest when we are on our knees in prayer. This seems totally erroneous and contradictory to unbelievers, and yet when we turn things over to God in prayer our lives are strengthened and refreshed.
Romans 8:26 “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”
Our daily lives are often full of difficulties and challenges, and discouragement can come upon us quickly as well. We often find ourselves struggling with fear and anxiety about the unknown or because of the hardships we face. As Christians, though, we do not have to despair or give up. This verse gives us so much hope and encouragement, because the Lord is saying to us that the Holy Spirit will help us when we are weak or struggling. Sometimes in the middle of life’s storms it is even difficult to know how to pray, and once again the Lord tells us here in this verse that the Holy Spirit himself intercedes for us even when we don’t know what to pray. The Lord cares about us at all times, and he has covered us with every contingency plan necessary.
I Corinthians 1:25 “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”
We all know that the Lord is wiser and stronger than any man that has ever lived, and this verse reinforces that fact. It is also a paradox to think about God being foolish or weak, as he certainly is neither of those. So the apostle Paul’s statement here verifies that we should never underestimate the paradoxical strength and wisdom of the Lord.
I Corinthians 15:43 “It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power.”
The apostle Paul is describing what will happen to our human bodies when we die as Christians in this passage. He explains that when we die, our bodies are laid to rest in dishonor but raised in glory. They are also put to rest in weakness, but that the Lord will then raise us up in power. Even though it seems contradictory, God’s plan is always to raise us up to a new level with him. Whether that is here on earth during our ministry time or when we go to heaven to be with him forever.
2 Corinthians 12:9 “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
In a culture that promotes strength and independence, it may seem strange that weakness should be exalted and even desired. In this passage, the apostle Paul had asked the Lord to take away a “thorn of the flesh” that Paul was struggling with. However, this verse gives the Lord’s response, as he tells Paul that God’s power is made perfect in our human weakness. This is obviously a paradox, as we would never think that a “weakness” could make us stronger. But in God’s economy, God’s strength can shine through us more easily when we are weak. This is true, because when we die to ourselves and give up our own desires to the Lord, then he is able to work amazing things through us. We become his vessels to be filled and used at his discretion.
2 Corinthians 12:10 “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
The apostle Paul is such a great example of a man who loved God so completely that he was willing to suffer much for the cause of Christ. In this verse he even admits that he will endure insults, hardships, and persecutions for the sake of his Lord and Savior. Paul not only states that he will survive them, but he even says that he is “content” with these challenges. So in this verse there are several paradoxes, as who would be content with hardships? Also, he states the great contradiction that when he is weak, then he is strong. When we are “weak” and we turn our lives over to God, then he can be “strong” and work great things through us.
2 Corinthians 13:4 “For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God.”
Jesus himself was considered weak by the Romans, because he went to the cross “like a lamb to the slaughter.” Likewise, as Christians we can be considered weak, because of God’s humility working in us. However, Jesus was actually filled with the power of God when he submitted his will to that of the Father, and that is the same for us. When Jesus lives in us, we can live by the power of God.
Hebrews 4:15 “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”
This verse is very powerful, because it truly shows God’s love for us in that he sent his one and only son to live here on earth with us. That experience enabled the trinity to not only sympathize but actually empathize with our human struggles and weaknesses, as Jesus was tempted just like we are on a daily basis. However, Jesus never sinned, and he made a way for us to come back to the Father as well. So he is our high priest—a model of perfection—that even though he appeared weak to worldly standards, he actually pointed the way to heaven.
The Bible is full of paradoxes that God uses to teach us key elements in our walk with him. Prayer is one of the tools that he has given us to submit and lean on him as well. The Lord wants us to be totally dependent and reliant on Him for our guidance and salvation. He even tells us that our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against unseen spiritual forces. One such paradox is the biblical relationship between weakness and strength. So when we die to ourselves and are “weak,” then God is strong, and he can manifest his power and truth through us.
Well, I think there is a lot of truth in that. When the hardships of this world are at it's worst and we turn to God for help, he is always there. Always, just as he promised. It wasn't about you sailing through life with no struggle and hardship, but being there in strength when you are weak and helpless. Looking back at my own life I can bear witness to that with no doubt whatsoever. How about all of you?
So now, looking back at our gospel lesson, isn't that precisely what Jesus did when he extended his hand to help Peter? When Peter was weakest Jesus was the strength to lift him up. And therein lies the real lesson, doesn't it? The fulfillment of scripture in a single action by our Lord Jesus. And now I am going to speak about a time in your life where this will matter the most.
One last question. Now that we have been told through scripture and then given a real demonstration from Jesus that God will lift us when we are weak, just when do you think a person is weakest? I am not speaking about daily life, but in the entire span of a lifetime?
I thought about this for some time. I began to see the event on the water as much more than a recorded miracle or a demonstration of man's weakness. The words of the scripture rang through my mind " When man is weakest God is strongest in him". Remember the passage in 2 Corinthians 12:9 :
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
Is it reasonable to say that a person is weakest when alone? Especially when that person is compromised in some way physically or emotionally, would you agree?
Well there is one time in every life where a person must face a particular test and do it completely alone. No one on earth can help you, not family or friends, no one. No person on earth is exempt from this test. This test is not voluntary, it is not pleasant, it carries vast uncertainty and the outcome is decided by belief and faith alone. That test is the passing from this world in to the next.
So why am I talking about this now? When Jesus pulled Peter up to safety when he would have certainly drowned it represents the absolute confirmation of all the scripture written before and after the event. " I will be with you always" Jesus said.
It meant that even though we doubted at times, we sinned, we were weak, that Jesus would come for us when we needed him most at the time of our passing. It was the perfect live demonstration to us that he would be there through your life, and especially at the end of it.
If you believe, if you truly believe who Christ is and his sacrifice for you, that same strong, sure arm that lifted Peter from the water will reach down and pull you up to a better place, a place without doubt, without fear, without death. It will also come to lift you through your struggles in your life here on earth.
As an aside I have to mention this about the triumph of faith over doubt. You can find it right here in St. Andrews. In this congregation is over 5000 years of human experience. There is experience with tragedy, loss, despair, war, divorce, depression, monetary problems, physical and emotional pain, injury, doubt, fear, etc. etc. Yet, you are all still here and you believe. I tell you as I look out at you today and see you all, I am redeemed. The world tried to teach you to doubt, to fear, but you have faith and you remain.
So, knowing this as Christians, all those things we doubt and fear aren't so bad anymore are they? Not when you have the power of God through Jesus Christ to back you up if and when you fall. Truly, this is the peace Jesus gave us when he said this:
“Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.” John 14:27
In closing I would invite you to say these words with me, and please let the spirit come inside you and fill your mind with the peace of God and his son Jesus Christ.
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,[a]
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
May the light of God be with you always, Amen.
Copyright © 2017. St. Andrew's Lutheran Church, Kamloops.
St. Andrew's Lutheran Church is the Founding Member of the Canadian Association of Lutheran Congregations (CALC).
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