Point of Reference
by Fred Price
“...without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Hebrews 11:6
Belief and unbelief in the same person; is that even possible? Does your faith ever waver? Are we a REAL Christian if it does? Can a person question God’s existence, wondering about his ability to provide for us? Did he really love us enough to die for us? Can we even ask those questions and not be immediately condemned? First of all, we must realize that there is a difference between honest questioning – a seeking for answers – and a non-conforming, rebellious challenge. The attitude we convey when we do have questions is key to whether we have a legitimate lack of understanding or a deliberate misunderstanding. Sometimes we don’t understand because we don’t really want to; for if we acknowledge a weakness or discover the solution to a problem, we would be compelled to correct it. On the other hand, God doesn’t resent an honest question; when we humbly and earnestly seek understanding, he will bless us with it. It may not come right away or all at once, but if we keep searching we will find it. Our response to the challenge of remaining faithful should be the same as the apostles recorded in Luke 17:5. They wanted to understand, to do well, to be more productive in their daily lives but they feared they couldn’t, weren’t sure of their strength or ability; so they pleaded with the Lord to, “Increase our faith.” That requires not just hearing but listening on purpose; not just knowing the facts but developing an understanding of the personality of Christ. A process that never ends.
Suppose you have a family member critically ill. You go to God in prayer and ask for his blessing on your loved one but you’re not sure what to expect. You’ve seen others grow ill, be prayed for and yet become progressively worse and even die. What is God’s will for you and your loved one? Is it his will to restore their health, or is it time for them to return to God, experiencing the ultimate healing of a new body lived in perfection in heaven? Can he heal them? Will he heal them? You want to believe that he can – that he will – so much; but somewhere in the back of your mind lurks doubt! You can’t express it for fear of having your worst nightmare come true. So you think positive – beg – strike a bargain with God. If you do this for me, I’ll never miss church again, I’ll give to the needy, I’ll witness to all my friends, I’ll do anything, whatever you want! But what if he doesn’t? Mark 9:14 - 27 records just such a dilemma for a distraught father and his ailing son. When he asked for Jesus’ blessing on his son Jesus used it as an opportunity to challenge the man’s faith by declaring, “Everything is possible for him who believes.” To which the father immediately replied, “I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief!” I do believe, I want to believe, help me believe more! (Or consider Paul, who was “afflicted” with personal suffering as a means of developing humility, perseverance and joy in the midst of difficulty. 2 Corinthians 12:7-9)
Nicodemus came to Jesus with questions about his teaching, his miraculous power, his purpose and how he – Nicodemus – might fit into it all. He didn’t understand but wanted to. (John 3:1 – 21) The rich young ruler questioned Jesus concerning obedience and eternal life, but turned away; dissatisfied by the answer because it conflicted with his own preconceived expectations. (Matthew 19:16 – 30) Zacchaeus went looking for Jesus, literally; climbing a tree to get a better view of this man creating such a stir throughout the city. He did whatever it took in his quest to learn more. (Luke 19:1-9) Nathaniel doubted. He just couldn’t believe what he was being told by others. So he went to see, to hear for himself and was convinced by the seeing and hearing. (John 1:43-51) Throngs of people came to hear Jesus speak, to listen to his “new” teaching, to witness his response to the unbelievers who followed him about as well. What were they after? Answers for their doubts, a way out of difficulty, a reason to live, a way to live? Others undoubtedly just wanted to see this miracle worker do a trick, reveling in the almost circus-like atmosphere around him. (Matthew 4:23-25) Some probably came to see how they could benefit from an encounter with Jesus, having heard of his ability to provide much from little; wanting to fill their stomachs more than their minds. (Matthew 14:13-21,15:29-38) John the Baptist asking straight out, “Are you the one we have expected or should we look to someone else?” Not a challenge nor a declaration of unbelief; but a direct, honest appeal for knowledge – the type God will surely answer. (Luke 7:20) Unlike those who were never satisfied, constantly demanding more. ‘Give us a sign. Perform on command. Just one more miracle and we’ll believe.’ Mocking, demanding, challenging. (John 6:30 and Matthew 27:42)
Many answers sought from Jesus were merely attempts to get him to say something disappointing to the crowds following him or to anger the Roman authorities who were cooly, carefully watching. (Mark 12:13-17) ‘Should we pay taxes (to the government of Rome) or not?’ and ‘Should we obey the Mosaic law and kill this woman caught in adultery or what?’ (John 8:3-11) They further asked “By what authority are you doing these things?”; which could have been a legitimate question but wasn’t in this case. It was a challenge to his right to cleanse the temple practices as well as the hearts of the people worshipping there. (Matthew 21:12-17 &23) Doubting Thomas got his nickname because he found it difficult to believe the report that Jesus had risen. He replied, “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.” A week later the Lord appeared to the disciples and allowed Thomas to do just that. He saw, he felt, he knew, he believed. (John 20:19-29) But many just didn’t get it! That has always been the case and will undoubtedly continue to be. Some understand because they want to – they try to. If and when they don’t, they ask questions, seeking answers until they find them. Others whine, complain and challenge as they go their own way. Scripture actually records these two responses to the first Christian sermon preached by Peter in Jerusalem. Some took notice but made fun, not really understanding how, why or what it meant for them. Others listened, questioned, yet believed. (Acts 2:1-13)
How about you? Do you have doubts that need to be addressed? “... faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1) However, that kind of complete trust comes with time as we “test” God through living and find him dependable, developing through his faithfulness a sense of confidence in him and loyalty to him. The Book of Hebrews defines faith as faithfulness given substance in the actions and reactions to life by true believers; none of them perfect, but all of them trying. (Hebrews 11:2-40, see also John 6:29) Jesus assuring us, “..., if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move..” Matthew 17:20 or “..., you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.” Luke 17:6 “Nothing will be impossible for you.”
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Fred Price - married (48 years), father of two grown children, grandfather of six.
Fred retired earlier this year after 42 years as a factory worker. He has always had a heart for young people and the challenges they face today. Over the years Fred has taught Discipleship Groups for High School and college students.
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