Wrestling with Your Faith

doubtToday, I want to tackle something that at times is a bit controversial…doubt.

Because, here is the truth – all Christians, at times, face doubt. Doubt is often the crucible through which faith grows. Doubt doesn’t mean you don’t have faith; doubt means you are working out your faith. But, we need to be honest with this so that when we are in those places, we can actually have honest conversations with one another; that we can actually support and love one another; that doubt doesn’t have to have the last word, rather doubt can be the catalyst for conversations that lead to deeper and truer trust.

C.S. Lewis is a name many of you might be familiar with. Someone you might not be as familiar with is George MacDonald whom Lewis said was a tremendous influence and the catalyst for some of his writings. MacDonald writes this,

“Do you love your faith so little that you have never battled a single fear lest your faith should not be true? Where there are no doubts, no questions, no perplexities, there can be no growth.”

And I think that MacDonald is onto something – that when faith stops struggling, it often stops growing.

So, I write all this to remind us of one simple truth – it’s okay to have doubts and struggles; that’s part of the journey of faith. But, what isn’t really okay, healthy or helpful is to just try to deal with those doubts on your own. The Christian faith isn’t individual and isolated; it’s about community and journeying together. So today, if you have struggles, why not share them with a trusted friend? Why not have coffee and work through some of your doubts or difficulties? Because, when we bring them forward, sometimes that’s when we actually find the way forward.

We actually see this frequently in the Bible – people wrestling with their faith. We see this all the time in the Psalms as people cry out to God and wrestle with difficulty. We see this all the time in the lives of the saints who have gone before us.

So, don’t be surprised if you find it in your life too. Just don’t try to go it alone. Because others have been there along the way, others can help you find your way, and it’s in wrestling through things together that we all come to deeper faith, which is the point.

Strong Start: Friendships, Family, and the Direction of Your Life

friendship-1483251-640x455On Sunday we opened up the book of Proverbs to learn about friendships. Friendships are these things that are all around us, that I think we end up taking for granted so often. But this is something that not only do we need to change, that Solomon would argue we must change to have a full life.

So we jumped in looking at various different sayings of Solomon pulling out three key points:

  • Friendship can matter more than family
  • Friendship will determine the quality and direction of your life
  • Friendship based on deep trust is all that matters

So first we looked at how friendship can matter more than family. This is something pretty shocking to say; not only in our day but in Solomon’s day and age. Because in his day and age you had no health insurance, crop insurance, or retirement. Your insurance or safety net was your family. Family was obligated to help in a time of crisis.

And this is actually why Solomon says that friendship can matter even more than family. He writes, “there are “friends” who destroy each other, but a real friend sticks closer than a brother”. (Proverbs 18:24). Friends can stick closer than family.

And Solomon’s point is that any relationship built on chosen love, rather than obligation will be stronger and better. And this is just true. He’s not saying family doesn’t matter, but that friendship can run deeper than just family relations. Any relationship (family based or not) built on love, and choice will always beat any relationship based on obligation. And this is why we need to invest in our friendships and why they matter because they are formed by love and not by obligation.

Secondly, we learned that friendships determine the quality and direction of our lives. Solomon writes this, “Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm” and this is true. That the people we are close to rub off on us for good or for bad. This is another reason that we need to choose our friends carefully, and invest in them wisely. We choose our friends, but once our friends have been chosen they will choose our destiny. This is why we need to continue to see and raise the importance of the value of our friendships.

And also, but not least, Solomon reminded us that if our friendships are not based on deep trust that they aren’t really friendships. That if someone lies to us and laughs it off, they are worse than a destructive killer (Proverbs 26:18-19). That a true friend will not let us walk into difficulty but will warn us (Proverbs 27:5-6). That true friends provide heartfelt care and counsel, not just what we want to hear.

So on Sunday from these three general themes: friendships matter more than family, friendship determines the quality and direction of our lives and true friends are built on trust; we came to our main theme. Our  main idea was simple but needed: We need to choose and invest in good friendships.

We need to choose and invest in good friendships.

If we want to have a strong start we will not regret investing in good friendships, and key relationships. We will never regret strengthening our relationships, and distancing away from difficult ones.

So we gave a challenge to choose and invest in good relationships. To seek out good ones and to cultivate them. No relationship just “starts” and becomes amazing without work and effort. Friendships require cultivation to be forged. So we challenged one another to actually put the effort in. To put the time into the good relationships built on trust, and limit the ones that cause harm. To seek out good friends and invest in them with our lives.

One thing is sure if we want to have a great 2016, a strong start, it won’t happen with poor, nonexistent, or shallow relationships. A great year starts with great friendships, so start investing in them today.

The Chinese have a proverb, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

The best time to invest in friendships was 20 years ago. The second best time is now. 

Sermon Notes:

Big IdeaWe need to choose and invest in good friendships

Teaching Points:

  • Three challenges: Serve weekly, connect with God daily, journey with 2 others
  • “Is it wise” is always a better question than “is it wrong”
  • Friendships are more important than family
  • Relationships built on love beat relationships built on obligation every time
  • Friendships determine the quality and direction of our lives
  • We choose our friends, but once our friends have been chosen they will choose our destiny
  • True friends are honest and trustworthy friends
  • We need to choose good friends
  • We need to invest in good friends
  • Friendships are not “found” but forged and cultivated
  • Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself. C.S. Lewis
  • Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival. C.S. Lewis
  • The best time to invest in friendships was 20 years ago. The second best time is now. Chinese Proverb

Adult Discussion Questions:

What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? What was new? Had you thought about friendship being more important than family before? What do you think of that? How have you seen it be true that friendships determine the quality and direction of our lives? Who are your closest friends? Are they trustworthy and honest? Who should you be investing in? And how can you be better investing in them?

Discussion Questions / Responses for Young Families

Talk to your kids about the importance of friendship and how it determines our quality of life. Ask them who their best friends are? And ask them are they wise friends? Do they make good choices? Help them to think through making the best friends.

Challenge for the Week: Choose to invest in friendships this year.

Understanding and Exploring Spiritual Warfare

854353_87050096On Sunday we started to open up a series taking a look at the topic of Spiritual Warfare. We began with a great quote by C.S. Lewis who writes this:

There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve their existence. The other is to believe and feel an unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.

And I think he’s right. There are two dangers; one of dismissing the reality of evil that is external to ourselves, and the other is to search for it and become totally fascinated with it.

We talked about how in the Bible from Genesis through to Revelation there is a clear picture of an opposing force to the will of God in the world. Sometimes this force or forces goes by many different names; evil, chaos, Leviathan, Satan, principalities and powers. The point is that the Bible seems to point to the reality of evil and powers of darkness that are outside of humanity and seeking to affect humanity. This viewpoint is especially seen in Jesus. Jesus did not just come to free us from personal sins, but to conquer evil, Satan, sin, and death. Jesus saw himself as combatting and challenging the forces of darkness that bring about death, destruction, and division.  N.T. Wright, writes: “One of the key elements in Jesus’ perception of his task was his redefinition of who the real enemy was . . . The pagan hordes surrounding Israel [including Rome] were not the actual foe of the people of the YHWH. Standing behind the whole problem of Israel’s exile was the dark power known in some Old Testament traditions as the satan, the accuser. The struggle was coming to a head and was therefore cosmic.”

The point is that if Jesus believed in the powers of darkness around him, we should be open to believe it as well. Because once we recognize the reality, we can work towards their finality.

I ended with this quote on Sunday and I think it’s true, and deep. So I’ll end with it here as well.

Some think spiritual warfare is only deliverance. Others emphasize pulling down strongholds in the heavenlies. Still others say spiritual warfare is doing the works of Jesus – preaching, teaching and living the truth. Yet another group says all this is impractical. They claim we should focus on feeding the hungry, resisting racism, and speaking out against social injustice. I believe we have to do it all. Pulling down strongholds is only important if people are led to Christ as a result. However, some are deaf to the preaching of the gospel until we deal with hindering powers.  And some can’t break through into victory until bondage is broken in their lives. We must do it all, as appropriate and as God leads. – Dean Sherman

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: Darkness is real and we need to change it

Take Aways…

  • Spiritual Warfare: Is standing and fighting against the darkness and evil in this world
  • There are forces that stand opposed to the will of God
  • We need nuanced views, not bumper stickers.
  • There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve their existence. The other is to believe and feel an unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight. C.S. Lewis
  • The Bible right off the bat recognizes a force opposed to the will of God.
  • The Bible unequivocally speaks of powers of darkness, Satan, demons, spirits, and other powers not only consistently but pervasively
  • Three approaches to interpreting passages with supernatural evil: dismiss them as figurative, ignore them as unnecessary, or engage them critically
  • Jesus believed in supernatural evil
  • Understnaidng Jesus means understanding what he came to change
  • Jesus did not just come to save us from our personal sins, but to overthrow all evil, hate, war, sin, and hurt.
  • The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. 1 John 3:8
  • The assumption that undergird Jesus’ entire ministry is the view that Satan has illegitimately seized the world and thus now exercises a controlling influence over it. Greg Boyd
  • If we don’t believe in the reality of evil and darkness around us we will not be effective in destroying it
  • There are two equal dangers to dismiss the reality of the devil, and to search for the devil in all sorts of ways
  • We need to use discernment to discover what is health and unhealthy

Adult / Group Discussion Questions: What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was new, what was challenging? Did you have an areas of disagreement?

What are your thoughts about supernatural evil? What did you think of C.S. Lewis’ quote? What darkness do you see around you? How can you stand against it this week?

Discussion Questions for Young Families: Take sometime to talk to your kids about today’s topic. Remind them that whenever they face anything dark in their lives, or scary that Jesus is stronger and already defeated them. Give them a sense of security that Jesus is always with them.

Challenge for this Week: Stand against the darkness around you

Don’t Pick Up the Jawbone

On Sunday we talked a bit about forgiveness. You can download it here. We looked at Samson and saw how violence, anger, and hurt can just escalate and grow if we don’t deal with it. That, unless we actually learn to deal with our hurt, it can end up driving us, depressing us, and distancing us from our loved ones. We looked at Judges 15 and how when you pursue revenge you never get even, you simply get worse. The story begins with a man, a goat, and a troubled marriage and it ends with hundreds dead, an economy wrecked, and a man hated by both his people and his enemies.

We ended our time thinking about the last scene with Samson where he picks up a jawbone to go another round with the Philistines. This can happen so easily in any relationship where we get hurt and so we want to hurt back. We take a swing with a “jawbone” through words, actions, and thoughts. We lash out saying “they made us do this” (Judges 15:3), trying to get even (15:7), and paying them back for what they did to us (15:11).

The problem is that’s not how Jesus acts or treats us. Jesus gives us a different example where we don’t respond to hate with hate, or hurt with hurt. Jesus shows us a different path where forgivness leads to life. Jesus reminds us that avoiding forgiving simply leads to prolonged hurt. C.S. Lewis’ says “Every one says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.” I agree forgiveness isn’t easy, but it is right…

So we ended with this challenge for this week: don’t pick up the jawbone. This week when you are tempted to lash out, to say something snarky, or to get even, break the cycle of hurt by stepping up and forgiving. And next Sunday we’ll be looking at how to practically forgive…

Questions for Discussion

  • Adult Discussion Questions
  • How have you seen violence or hate “cycle” in your life?
  • Why is so hard to break the cycle of revenge, hate, or violence?
  • Is there any cycles in your own life that you need break? To take the first step and “drop the jawbone”?
  • Questions for Young Families
  • Ask your kids what they want to do when soemoen hurts them. Get them to share about the feelings. Ask them what the right thing is to do when someone hurts them. Share with them how if we try to “get even” it always “get’s worse”.
  • Weekly Challenge: Don’t pick up the jawbone – practice forgiveness