The online journal of Luke Dockery

Tag: Doubt

Selling God Short

Being A Pessimist Realist

My wife likes to say that I am a pessimist; I argue that I am a realist. For example, when I’m watching an Arkansas Razorback football game, it doesn’t take me long to decide that we aren’t likely to win. To me, that’s not pessimism, it’s realism, based on the reality that the Razorbacks have only won 7 games over the past two combined seasons.

And I’m that way about other things too. As a minister, I’ve had ample opportunity to become very familiar with a lot of really good people, and in the process see how flawed they are. So when it comes to most people, I really don’t have very high expectations. Again, Caroline would call me a pessimist; I would argue that I’m a realist. Either way though, it’s really just an issue of semantics.

My realism/pessimism is useful in a lot of situations because it keeps me from getting my hopes up only to be disappointed by the end result. However, it’s neither helpful nor particularly faithful when it comes to my expectations of what God can do.

Which brings me to the Elf Party.

The Elf Party

A few years ago, a sweet lady at church came up with the idea of an “Elf Party” for our youth group, where our teens would play the role Santa’s elves by purchasing and wrapping gifts for the kids of a needy family. Generally, we would “adopt” a family from one of the local schools (anonymously), and our 10-15 teens would get a bunch of gifts for 3-4 kids who otherwise wouldn’t get much of a Christmas. It was great.

In addition to this, several adult members from our church would also “adopt” a child from one of the local schools on their own, and purchase gifts for them.

Well, during my study and practice of youth ministry, I have become increasingly convicted that young people need to spend a lot of time with older Christians. Developing relationships with older Christians is key ingredient to building a faith that lasts, and furthermore, serving alongside older Christians helps younger Christians to learn that service is an inherent part of the Christian life rather than an isolated youth group project.

With all that in mind, we decided that this past Christmas, we would expand the Elf Party to a church-wide event, and invite those adults who had participated on their own in the past to join in. We would all meet together, split up in groups to shop, and then come back and wrap the gifts together. Teens (and kids) working alongside adults all along the way. Also, since we were expanding our numbers, we decided to expand the number of kids we would adopt, so instead of the usual one family (of 3-4 kids) that I was used to, we adopted 26 kids (a large increase, I know).

And so we were all set. We picked a date on a Monday night, made a series of announcements about it at church, and got ready. For my part, I started worrying. Had we taken on too many kids? What would we do if we didn’t have enough people show up and volunteer to spend their money buying presents for others?

Then a winter storm came, a good bit of ice with six plus inches of snow on top (which is significant for here). Schools were closed on the Thursday and Friday before the Elf Party. Church services were cancelled on Sunday. It stayed so cold that the roads didn’t improve much—they would melt a little during the day and then refreeze at night and become hazardous again. School was cancelled again on Monday, and we decided to push the party back one day, to Tuesday night.

As Tuesday came around (and school was cancelled once again), I began to get really nervous. I received calls and texts from people who I had expected to be there who weren’t going to be able to make it because of the weather. The roads were still really bad in some places. By not having worship services on Sunday, we had missed our opportunity to push the event one last time to the whole congregation. Donations I had expected to receive in advance were minimal.

I really wasn’t sure what we were going to do when we had a dozen or so kids not get presents. I figured I would just go and pay for a bunch of stuff personally, which would have been a real concern—now that Caroline doesn’t teach and we are basically living on one salary (she has a small part-time job), there’s not a lot of extra money to go around.

And in the process of all of my worrying, I basically sold God short. I should’ve known better than to think that He would let us fail in an effort to show our love for our neighbors.

Because then Tuesday night came, and it was awesome. We filled up our 21-seat bus with people who had braved the roads to come help, and had to take several other vehicles besides. We all headed to Wal-Mart, and what a fun experience it was to bump into shopping groups from our church around every corner! We returned to the church building, and our fellowship hall was overflowing with happy, cabin fever-crazed people (this was the first time some of them had been out of their houses in days because of the storm). We spent the next hour or so in fellowship, sharing a quick meal together and then wrapping the gifts we had purchased.

And, as it turned out, we had just enough volunteers and funds to cover all of the needs. Our church family came together on an icy night and provided a Christmas for 26 kids who might not have had one otherwise.

Our Elf Party gifts filled the stage in the auditorium.

An Important Lesson for a New Year

The point of this post is not to highlight what we did, or to emphasize how amazing we are. I was proud of and thankful for my brothers and sisters who came out to help, but that’s not my focus here. My focus is on how faithful God was at a time when my faith proved to be pretty weak. When I was full of worry and doubt and could see no way that we would be able to live up to the commitment that we made, God was faithful, providing all that we needed and teaching me a helpful lesson that I will remember.

Although our Elf Party was almost a month ago, it’s fitting that I share this story with you at the beginning of a new year. Because in 2014, I am determining (or resolving, if you will) that I am not going to sell God short. I am going to make big plans, and attempt big things (doing my best, of course, to make sure that those plans and things are in accordance with His will), and let God provide results that glorify Him.

The Tension between God Can and God Will

I’m currently reading, The Derision of Heaven, which is a guide to the Book of Daniel written by Michael Whitworth. It’s been a great read so far and I plan on writing a review of it when I’m finished, but I came upon this quotation which was so good that I wanted to go ahead and share it:

“I want you to appreciate the tension that exists between “God can” and “God will.” We live our lives within that tension. We know God can do something about our suffering, but will he? In this tense area of in-between is where Satan thrives. In this soil, he plants seeds of doubt in our hearts and nurtures them until they have borne the ugly fruit of indignation, rebellion, and death. But there is something we can place in that gap to frustrate Satan’s schemes—not faith in God’s deliverance, for he does not always do so, but confidence that God will do what’s ultimately best for us. God always does whatever will bring him glory, and God glorifying himself is what is ultimately best for us.”

(The Derision of Heaven, p. 111)

Be More Like Thomas

Doubting Thomas.

That’s what we call him. That’s what he’s remembered for. When the rest of the apostles told Thomas that they had seen the resurrected Christ, he didn’t believe them. He said that he wouldn’t believe until he had some tangible proof, until he had placed his hands in the wounds of Jesus. Then he does get to see Jesus, and he immediately believes. And Jesus rebukes him mildly, saying that those who believe without having to see first are blessed.

And for this exchange, Thomas goes down forever as Doubting Thomas, as if that were the defining, overarching characteristic of his life.

But that doesn’t quite seem fair to me.

First of all, I think you could argue that Thomas didn’t show any less faith than the other apostles. John 20 records that Peter and John believed after entering the empty tomb and seeing Jesus’ burial linens piled on the ground. Later, in John 20.19-24, Jesus appeared to Peter, John, and the rest of the apostles except Thomas. The rest of the apostles had the benefit of seeing first hand the type of tangible proof that Thomas was seeking, while Thomas just had to rely on the testimony of others.

Should Thomas have believed the other apostles? Sure, but the fact that he didn’t doesn’t automatically make doubt the primary characteristic of his life. Like the rest of the apostles, as soon as Thomas saw the evidence for himself, he immediately believed in the resurrected Lord.

Another, more admirable picture of Thomas that is often forgotten is found earlier in the Gospel of John, in chapter 11. Here, Jesus receives word that Lazarus is gravely ill, so He decides to return to Judea to see him (and ultimately raise him from the dead). The problem with this plan is that Jesus has just come from Judea, where the Jews had previously tried to stone Him. The disciples try to talk Him out of His plan, but Jesus is determined, and Thomas bravely speaks up to the other apostles, saying, “Let us also go, so that we may die with Him.”

I would argue that this picture of Thomas—a man of courage and determination—is the defining characteristic of his life, and it is also supported by extra-Biblical historical accounts. Following the Great Commission of Jesus to make disciples of all the nations, Thomas is believed to have evangelized in the Malabar coast of India. Strong early tradition holds that he was martyred by spearing in Madras in AD 72—he died for Christ, just as he was willing to do so many years before.

It’s not hard to find Christians who, like Thomas, experience moments of doubt. After all, until the hope that we have in Christ becomes reality, I think some degree of doubt is an inherent part of faith. And while Jesus did take a hard stance against the willful unbelief of the Pharisees, He seemed understanding of genuine doubt (see His reaction to John the Baptist in Matthew 11).

But Thomas overcame his moment of doubt, and once he made up his mind on what he believed, it seems clear that he stood by his convictions and devoted his life to following Christ.

Unfortunately, I think it’s much harder to find Christians who also possess that characteristic of Thomas—the courage to follow through with our convictions, and the willingness to live our lives for Christ and, if necessary, to die for Him. I think it’s safe to say that the Church, and the world, could do a whole lot worse than to have a few more Thomases running around.

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