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Doubters welcomed

By Jeff Brawner

Have you ever struggled with doubts you simply couldn’t shake — doubts that actually shook you?

Maybe there is someone in your life you thought you knew and could trust. Then, something happened, and now you are no longer sure. Perhaps you’re plagued with doubts about yourself, or your confidence has been compromised by some mistake you’ve made.

On a deeper level, you might have doubts about God that sink deep down to the salvation story itself. Was there really an empty tomb? Did the Resurrection really occur?

In church, we tend to discount our doubts or pretend they don’t exist. Yet these questions are normal and inevitable, and we are far from the first to experience them. Jesus’ closest friends (eyewitnesses, no less!) struggled with serious uncertainties. Even so, they experienced the first Easter in a personal and life-changing way — and so can we! There are two very important reasons why.

1. Jesus never writesoff doubters

We need to remember that doubt is not the opposite of faith. It comes from a word that suggests having two minds or struggling to choose between opposite directions. So, doubters aren’t always people who refuse to believe; often they are people who are struggling to believe. And you’ll never find Jesus abandoning or dismissing people who honestly wrestle with doubts.

In Mark 9:17-27, a desperate dad brought his demon-possessed son to Jesus.

The father pleaded, “If you can do anything, please have a heart and help us.”

Jesus responded, “If I can? Anything is possible if a person believes!”

“Lord, I believe,” the father replied. “Help the part of me that doesn’t.”

In other words, “Help me not to doubt.” Jesus didn’t walk away from this man saying, “Sorry. If your faith isn’t 100 percent, you’re out of luck.” Instead, the man went home with a healed son.

Of course, the “poster child” for all doubters is the disciple Thomas. On that very first Easter night, he happened to be away when Jesus appeared. Here’s what happened when Thomas reconnected with the other disciples:

“The other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it’ ” (John 20:25, NIV).

Thomas never actually refused to believe. He simply needed more than a secondhand encounter with Jesus. That need was met the next weekend when Thomas was with the other disciples and the Lord showed up again.

“Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe’ ” (John 20:27). Jesus was telling Thomas, Don’t be lacking in faith; be full of faith.

Thomas had been swimming upstream with all his might against a rushing current of doubt. Jesus wasn’t about to let him be swept away. Rather than writing off the doubting disciple, Jesus empowered Thomas to experience Easter in a personal and life-changing way. He’ll do the same for you and me.

2. Jesus challenges us to work with Him

When Jesus died and rose again, He provided everything we would ever need to live an eternal and supernatural life. But, like those furniture items that you buy in a box, some assembly is required. We must put the pieces together by working with Jesus (and letting Him work with us) if we’re going to experience the life-changing potential of Easter.

• Jesus works with us by giving us the evidence we need to trust Him. Faith (or trust) in God isn’t a leap in the dark; it’s a step into the light. It’s real, and it has a basis.

Consider the evidence Jesus gave His followers. Besides the empty tomb and the collapsed grave clothes, He ate food in their presence, cooked breakfast for them and did a number of things dead people simply don’t do. You’ll find a more complete list in two books I highly recommend: The Case for Faith and The Case for Easter, both by Lee Strobel, a former atheistic journalist.

• Jesus works with us by giving us the time we need to trust Him. Long after you and I would have rolled our eyes, shaken our heads and given up in frustration, Jesus still waits faithfully as we work through our doubts. “The Lord is … patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance”( 2 Peter 3:9).

• We work with Jesus by giving Him our willingness. All the evidence in the world won’t convince someone to trust in Jesus if they are completely unwilling to do so. Matthew 28:17 tells us there were some who saw Jesus after His resurrection, but still refused to believe. Obviously, the “don’t confuse me with the facts” mentality is not a new phenomenon.

God will never force us into faith, because He has chosen not to cross the picket line of our free will.

• We work with Jesus by giving Him our worship. Worship is more than singing songs; it’s offering our life — everything we are and everything we have — to God.

“So then, my brothers, because of God’s great mercy to us I appeal to you: Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him. This is the true worship that you should offer” (Romans 12:1, TEV).

When we give everything we are and have to God, we don’t lose our lives or our stuff. Rather, we discover their real meaning and purpose! That’s when we experience life as it was meant to be lived.

If there are doubts standing between you and God’s promise of new life, join the club! The disciples who saw Jesus face to face and lived with Him day in and day out struggled with doubts too. Don’t ignore your questions and concerns. Confront them with openness and sincerity. Just as you would with the furniture in a box, start putting the pieces together. As you do, you’ll begin to recognize the reality of Easter with all its promise and potential … without a doubt!

JEFF BRAWNER is senior pastor of Bonita Valley Community Church (AG) in Bonita, Calif.

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