One of LBC's pastors at large shares his thoughts on facing doubts.

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Warming Our Chill of Doubt

November 22, 2017

Fall is my favorite time of the year. I love the sights of colorful leaves, the smell of the smoke arising from fireplaces that are holding off the seasonal chill, and of course the tastes of the cider and pumpkin pie. Now living in a retirement community, my colorful leaves are quickly dispatched by the grounds crew. I have no fireplace. Cider and pumpkin pie are carefully rationed to guard against the battle of the bulge! Coupled with the pleasant aspects of fall are other thoughts. Anniversaries surface of past events. The tragic shootings in October 2006, of Amish children at Nickel Mines School come to mind. The deaths of my mother in November and my father in December percolate to the forefront of my memories. The unpleasantries of past memories can shroud the joys of fall much like the present autumn chill tempers the memories of hot summer days.

So too much of the past can be nullified by present realities. In that process, things of the past that should be a comfort to us are often lost. Examining the life of John the Baptist, it appears he went through a period when the realities of his past dimmed in the face of his current situation. John’s earlier ministry was exciting. He had been part of a revival in Israel where people came into the wilderness of Judea to hear his message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). He had seen masses of people respond to the message, humbling themselves in a baptism of repentance and confessing their sin (3:5-6). He saw people produce works of repentance as people were challenged to undergo a cultural transformation (Luke 3:7-18). He also had the privilege of recognizing and announcing that Jesus was, “The Lamb of who takes away the sin of the world,” and adding that Jesus was the Son of God (John 1:29, 34). John was so committed to who Jesus was and what he would do that he influenced two of his disciples to follow the one he announced (1:37). John was not ministering to gain a personal following, but to have people follow Jesus. His ministry was one of humility as he pointed people to Jesus saying, “He must increase, and I must decrease” (3:26-30) – a comment worth remembering.

One person in the audience of that day did not appreciate John the Baptist’s ministry or message of repentance. King Herod the tetrarch despised having his evils brought under the scrutiny of such a message. John the truth speaker was rejected and imprisoned by him (Luke 3:19-20). Now all John had experienced and passionately preached was chilled by the doubt generated by his present realities. Doubts like the cold drafts from autumn winds seeping into a house, filtered into John’s soul. Matthew records that John sent his disciples to Jesus to confirm his former opinion and message about Jesus (11:1-3). In essence he is asking, “Why am I in prison if you are indeed the Messiah I have been announcing? You are doing miracles. Do one for me and get me out of this prison!” Jesus answers his doubts with revelation. He tells John’s disciples to report to John what “you hear and see” (11:4). Then Jesus quotes Scripture that confirms His Messianic credentials from Isaiah (29:18; 35:5-6). In the cold day of doubting, he needed to be warmed by reflecting upon what God had already revealed. What an encouragement to see that Jesus did not lecture a doubter for his doubts, but spoke truth that he needed. This reassured him in his prison experience.

Jesus shared with the multitude what he thought about John’s greatness, as well as the value and the humility of his ministry (Matthew 11:7-11). Christ’s opinion of us is not based upon our present circumstances. His opinion is based upon what he sees and knows about our ministry and heart attitude. Later of course, John was beheaded by the cowardly Herod, who was forever haunted by the humble spokesman that prepared the way for the Lord (14:1-12). Christ’s approval is no guarantee of human acceptance.

What current reality is causing you some doubts about Jesus’ person or His love for you? Possibly you are in some sort of “prison” in your personal world. Perhaps unjust criticisms are coming your way from those who once supported you. Maybe relationships are frayed that were once warm and beneficial. Maybe you have prayed and expected deliverance from the “prison” you endure. You may think you served Christ and certainly do not deserve this kind of treatment. In those times perhaps it is time to turn to Scripture and recall the comforting assurances God has given in the past that will strengthen you in your current circumstances.

There are abundant encouragements that can support us in the Psalms. As I reflect on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, I recall Martin Luther’s words about Psalm 118, “It is nearest my heart and I have a familiar right to call it mine. It has saved me from many dangers.” Before he was put on trial for his beliefs at Worms he quoted verse 6, “The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” When you feel the cold blast of doubt enter your soul, perhaps reflecting upon God’s revelation will warm your heart just as it did for John the Baptist and Martin Luther. Perspective is often adjusted by reflection upon divine revelation.  

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