Trust and Faith in the Lord: Our Keys to Hope, Joy and Peace

BLCF: faith_in_God

Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church Message for Sunday:

‘Trust and Faith in the Lord: Our Keys to Hope, Joy and Peace’

© May 17, 2015 2015 by Steve Mickelson

BLCF Bulletin May 17, 2015

BLCF: hope_joy_peace 

Announcements & Call to Worship: Responsive Reading #601(Faith and Confidence – Psalm 27); Prayer

Opening Hymn #235:  “What Must I Do?” Choruses

Tithing and Prayer Requests: Hymn #572: Praise God; Prayers

Today’s Scriptures: Psalm 91:1-6, Matthew 13:53-58, John 20:19-29

BLCF: i_believe

 

Let us pray…

For our lesson today May 17, 2015, with Pentecost Sunday just one week away, I would like to discuss the disciple of Jesus who, thanks to a short passage of the Scriptures, been tagged with the unfortunate moniker of a doubter or skeptic. As you have likely guessed, I am talking about Thomas or Didymus, which means “the twin”, who we more commonly refer to as: “Doubting Thomas.” Thomas comes from the Hebrew or Aramaic root which means “the twin.” Didymus is from the Greek and also means “the twin.” It is likely that Thomas was born as a twin hence the unusual nickname.

But the skeptical response by Thomas to the his fellow disciples, as described in the following Scripture in John 20, verses 19-29, helped to earn him the unfortunate title as doubter:

John 20:19-29 (ESV) Jesus Appears to the Disciples

 BLCF: resurrected

19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews,[a] Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

Jesus and Thomas

BLCF: Incredulity of St Thomas

24 Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin,[b] was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Footnotes: a. John 20:19 Greek Ioudaioi probably refers here to Jewish religious leaders, and others under their influence, in that time b. John 20:24 Greek Didymus

To be clear our terminology, I will refer to what I commonly “Wikibits.” So what is meant by the term “skeptic,” often applied to Thomas?

Dictionary.com: skeptic – noun

  1. A person who questions the validity or authenticity of something purporting to be factual.
  2. A person who maintains a doubting attitude, as toward values, plans, statements, or the character of others.
  3. A person who doubts the truth of a religion, especially Christianity, or of important elements of it.

 

Both the secular and Christian community, make frequent use of the term “Doubting Thomas,” in reference to Jesus’ disciple. Another idiom associated with Thomas, is “Seeing is believing.”

 

Wikibits: Seeing is Believing

BLCF: Augustine-Of-Hippo-faith-reward

Seeing is believing is an idiom first recorded in this form in 1639 that means “only physical or concrete evidence is convincing”. It is the essence of St. Thomas‘s claim to Jesus Christ, to which the latter responded that there were those who had not seen but believed. It leads to a sophistry that “seen evidence” can be easily and correctly interpreted, when in fact, interpretation may be difficult.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seeing_Is_Believing

The Scripture Verses, featured in today’s lesson and printed in this morning’s bulletin, talk about how important belief, trust and faith are, in our faith walk, as believers in the Resurrected Christ.

The first Scripture, taken from Psalm 91, verses 1-6, we see that trust and faithfulness used interchangeably, describing a mutual regard between a believer and God. Just as we are faithful to God, He is faithful to us:

Psalm 91:1-6 (ESV) My Refuge and My Fortress

BLCF: Psalm_91_1-6

91 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High     

will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.

I will say[a] to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,     

my God, in whom I trust.”

For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler     

and from the deadly pestilence.

He will cover you with his pinions,     

and under his wings you will find refuge;     

his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.

You will not fear the terror of the night,     

nor the arrow that flies by day,

nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,     

nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.

Footnotes: a. Psalm 91:2 Septuagint He will say

The next Scripture passage in the bulletin is Matthew 13, verses 53-58, describes how our Lord was rejected, in spite of his wisdom and miracles, because of the “unbelief” among many of the people in his hometown of Nazareth:

Matthew 13:53-58 (ESV) Jesus Rejected at Nazareth

BLCF: Jesus-preaching-at-synagogue-at-nazareth

53 And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, 54 and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? 55 Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56 And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” 57 And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” 58 And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.

While John 20:19-29 does describe the doubts of Thomas, who was absent when Jesus first appeared to the other disciples in the Upper room on the day of his resurrection, the Lord did show the disciples the very same wounds that Thomas asked to see, as well as breathing the Spirit into the disciples, to help them understand the significance of what they were witnessing.

While Thomas was skeptical of the Lord, when he first encountered Jesus, he was by no means the only disciple to have doubts on that day. Let us look at a passage of Scripture, not found in some of the earlier manuscript’s:

Mark 16:9-20 (ESV) Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene

[Some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9–20.][a]

BLCF: Jesus_appears_to_Mary_Magdalene

[[Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. 10 She went and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept. 11 But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it.

Jesus Appears to Two Disciples

BLCF: road_to_Emmaus

12 After these things he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. 13 And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them.

The Great Commission

The Great Commission Matthew 28:16-20

14 Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. 15 And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

19 So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. 20 And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.]]

Footnotes: a. Mark 16:9 Some manuscripts end the book with 16:8; others include verses 9–20 immediately after verse 8. At least one manuscript inserts additional material after verse 14; some manuscripts include after verse 8 the following: But they reported briefly to Peter and those with him all that they had been told. And after this, Jesus himself sent out by means of them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation. These manuscripts then continue with verses 9–20

In Mark 16, verses 9-20, the remaining eleven disciples demonstrated the same level of doubt and skepticism towards Mary and the two disciples on the Emmaus Road, when they had reported seeing Jesus on the day of his resurrection. And like, Thomas, the eleven were rebuked for their unbelief.

Our previous Upper Room account of the Resurrected Jesus appearing before the Eleven Disciples in John 20:19-29 does not give a reason why Thomas was absent. The diciples had cloistered themselves in the Upper Room because they feared that the angry mob would crucify them as they had the Lord. Whatever the reason for Thomas’ absence, whether it was to get food for the disciples or to attend to the needs of others, it was important enough for him to risk his own personal safety while the other disciples chose to stay behind a bolted door. We do know that the reason Thomas left the the safety of the Upper Room, it was not for doing something nefarious, as was the case of Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. The Mark 16 account has the Lord returning specifically for the assurance of Thomas, so that the disciple would believe. In the John 20 account Jesus gave a mini-Pentecost, breathing upon the eleven the Holy Spirit which gave them the power of the Spirit and to understand the Lord’s purpose.Thomas being absent did not receive the Spirit at that time. The Lord’s prerequisite to receive the Holy Spirit is that a convert demonstrates faith in the Jesus, which Christ ensured by his returning to the Upper room to reveal himself to Thomas. This was an act of both compassion and faith by the Lord, and shows us that he would not leave any of his sheep behind.

Unfortunately, Thomas bears the brunt of the blame for his skepticism towards the others’ news of the Lord’s resurrection, which overshadows the ministry that Thomas performed in spreading the Gospel of Christ, which is the “The Great Commission” given by Jesus to all the disciples. In the sharing of the Gospel, the disciples became apostles or messengers of Christ. Here is a brief summary of work of the Apostle Thomas, which is really germane to his work:

BLCF: St_Thomas_Apostle

Thomas the Apostle (called Didymus which means “the twin”) was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ, according to the New Testament. He is informally called doubting Thomas because he doubted Jesus’ resurrection when first told, (in the Gospel of John), followed later by his confession of faith, “My Lord and my God”, on seeing Jesus’ wounded body.

Traditionally, he is said to have travelled outside the Roman Empire to preach the Gospel, travelling as far as India.[2][5][6][7] According to tradition, the Apostle reached Muziris, India in AD 52 and baptized several people, founding what today are known as Saint Thomas Christians or Nasranis. After his death, the reputed relics of Saint Thomas the Apostle were enshrined as far as Mesopotamia in the 3rd century, and later moved to various places.[citation needed] In 1258, some of the relics were brought to Abruzzo in Ortona, Italy, where they have been held in the Church of Saint Thomas the Apostle.[8] He is often regarded as the Patron Saint of India,[9][10] and the name Thoma remains quite popular among Saint Thomas Christians of India.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_the_Apostle

I feel that by focusing on an account which describes Thomas as having some doubts, which were no more severe than that exhibited by the other disciples, instead of his service in spreading the Gospel as far east as India, we do the apostle a disservice.

The New Testament is full of accounts describing the disciples as having doubts or lapses of faith, particularly before receiving the Holy Spirit. But the work that the disciples, now as apostles or messengers of the Gospel, was accomplished by them, even to the point of their own deaths, is far more significant to the Christian Church of believers, The Apostle Thomas is included as an important contributor to the Great Commission  given to all believers in Jesus, as Lord and Savior.

Let us pray…

Closing Hymn #317: Blessed Assurance, Jesus Is Mine

Benediction – (Romans 15:13):  May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

BLCF: believe-without-seeing

 

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Steadfast in Faith and Sanctified in Times of Distress’

Why do bad things happen to good people?

Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church Message for Sunday:

              ‘Steadfast in Faith and Sanctified in Times of Distress’ 

 © August 18, 2013, by Steve Mickelson

                             BLCF Bulletin August 18, 2013     

Call to Worship Responsive Reading #650:

‘Trials and Temptations’  (James 1 and 1Peter 1)

   BLCF Church: Trust God                                                        

Let us pray…

For his birthday a week or so ago, our younger son, Jeffrey was asked where would he like to dine out. Jeffrey chose to go for a Chinese Buffet for the family celebration. Along with the bill, we were given the traditional fortune cookies. Now I don’t take much stock in fortunes or horoscopes, but my cookie opened to reveal a message that was more profound than just a fortune, as it read: “In prosperity, our friends know us; in adversity, we know our friends.”  Such was the story of Job, where Satan challenged God that the faith of Job was a result of his prosperity and it would soon evaporate once Job faced adversity.

The book of Job is considered by most Biblical scholars to be the oldest of the scriptures and Job was believed to be the wealthiest man of his time. It documents the story of this faithful servant of God, who was tested to the point of death by Satan, Job 1:1-12 (ESV):

There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. He possessed 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 female donkeys, and very many servants, so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually.

  Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. The LORD said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the LORD and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.

You may recall that Job lost wealth, family and suffered personal afflictions. His friends told Job that the Lord was punishing him for some sin or transgression committed either by Job or a member of his family. Even Job’s wife told her husband that she suffered almost as much as Job. Except for her health, she too lost everything: home, family, and possessions. Her attitude and response exactly matched the one Satan had set out to evoke from Job – that of cursing God. How ironic that Satan seemed to have achieved his goal with Job’s companion, though not with Job.

Did Job’s wife realize that she had surrendered to Satan’s manipulative scheme? Did she feel her loss so great that she didn’t care that she was wrong? Or did she respond to her calamity merely in a fit of emotion, which later passed, taking her bitterness with it? We don’t know the answer to any of those questions. All we know is that she responded just as most people would likely have under similar circumstances: she got angry at God and insisted that Job do the same.

We know that Job’s story ended in Job being restored to health, wealth, and family. But the question arises: “for what reason did God have to allow Satan to test his obedient and faithful servant?” Were the Lord and Satan involved in some idle chess game, with Job as a pawn?  I believe that the Lord had several reasons for allowing Job to be tested by Satan.

Satan challenged God, indicating that Job’s faith was the result of the hedge the lord has built around Job. The Lord allowed Satan to take away Job’s wealth and family, in short, to remove the so-called hedge that Satan had claimed were the reason for Job’s faith. The toughest part for Job was the fact that Job had sensed to some degree that the Lord had distanced himself from a person who had demonstrated steadfast trust and faith in God, (Job 23:3):

Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his seat! 

David, too, had undergone a period of similar testing, (Psalm 22:1):

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?                                                           

Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?

And even though Satan, may have his way at times, the key to making it through the snares and traps that the devil sets is to maintain our trust in the Lord, having the faith that He will rescue us from our predicament, (1 John 5:19):

We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.

And in Psalm 31:14-15, David maintains his faith:

But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, “You are my God.”
My times are in your hand; rescue me from the hand of my enemies 
and from my persecutors!

 

trust-in-the-lord

 

Not only, did Job and David go through similar tests, at some point, each had experienced a separation from God, but Jesus too was left alone in his suffering on the cross at Calvary, Matthew 27:46:

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? 

In order to suffer the full weight of the judgment and punishment for our sins, Jesus had to be abandoned by God. Was this really necessary? We see in Isaiah 53:4-6:

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.

 But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.

 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

The lesson taught by Job’s test by Satan was meant not only for our benefit but also as a lesson to the heavenly hosts (angels).  It taught both the angels and us, that faith does not come from having worldly wealth, but the wealth of the Spirit. Remember Satan was once an Angel, who had fallen from grace by rebelling against God’s authority.

You may recall in John’s gospel, that as soon as Jesus had received the Holy Spirit, he was tested by Satan in the desert. The reason why Jesus suffered, unlike Job, was to atone for our sins and to show us an example of obedience and faith to the Father in Heaven, 1Peter 2:21-24:

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

While we demonstrate our faith and trust in the Lord, he offers in return, his promise of salvation and sanctification by way of the suffering of Jesus on our behalf.

We see that Job was allowed to suffer, to teach us and the heavenly host where faith should be based, and how much faith we might need, by bringing us salvation and sanctification from the Lord. We are also given through Jesus, the promise of eternal life and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

But what about suffering today, particularly amongst the innocent? Does God have a plan in that suffering?

Paul Paraskevopoulos

Paul Paraskevopoulos

I have shared with some of you about my brother-in-law, Sophie’s brother, Paul Paraskevopoulos, who passed away almost two years ago after a short, unexpected illness. Paul was brain injured in childhood, having been run over by a truck. His injuries left Paul with the intellectual capacity of an 8-year-old. Even though mentally and physically challenged and being confined to a wheelchair in the last decade of his life, Paul was generally a happy soul, enjoying many of the simpler things in life.

I recall a few years before his passing, a time when Sophie and I were called into the hospital, as Paul had suffered from a kidney and blood infection which had a very poor prognosis. Paul was not expected to survive the night. I recall having a concern about Paul’s faith walk, whether he had made a decision to accept Jesus Christ as personal Saviour? I knew, as a youth, Paul had attended church with his siblings and later with some of the staff from West Park Hospital. My fears about Paul were dispelled when upon our arrival at Paul’s hospital room, before either Sophie or I had said hello, Paul opened his eyes and spoke: “You know that Jesus is in my heart. I love Jesus.” I knew that Paul was right with the Lord.

Paul eventually recovered from that illness in 2008 but passed away a few years later. Although he was not able to speak the last time I had arrived to see Paul in the hospital, I had the assurance that he was still right with the Lord.

It was not until Paul’s funeral, that I had the opportunity to fully understand why Paul was allowed to suffer so much.  Our family was moved to see that some forty or so support staff, as well as doctors and nurses,  attended Paul’s funeral. The impact Paul had upon this extended family was quite apparent. Paul was loved and appreciated by his caregivers as much as by his family.

At the memorial, I shared some of the happier times with Paul, as well as the story of Paul’s faith and testimony. At the cemetery, a staff member who had returned from her vacation to attend Paul’s funeral approached the family and shared a story about how Paul was at a get together that was recorded on video. And in the middle of the video, Paul broke into a chorus of “He Is Able” for the camera. It was then I realized that the staff was aware of Paul’s faith. That is faith had shown through his personality, and that many staff members had listened and learned from Paul’s testimony, where they may not have otherwise listened.

God had a plan and a purpose with Paul, as we see that both family and staff had learned through the simple childlike faith of a child in a man’s body can, the Holy Spirit had enabled Paul, as a believer in the Resurrected Christ, to maintain a happy, positive outlook in spite of a life of injury, suffering and pain. Though God did not cause of Paul’s predicament, still the Holy Spirit was able to teach others that through faith the believer is able to rise above his or her circumstances, and thus provide living testimony to others.

Paul Paraskevopoulos between Steve and Sophie Mickelson

It is interesting that Satan plans to destroy the believer’s faith when ‘bad things happen to good people’ fails, when the Holy Spirit allows the faithful to endure   adversity and distress, and empower them to become a living testimony which if far more powerful than words alone as we read in Isaiah 54:10:

For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed,
but my steadfast love shall not depart from you,
and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,”
says the LORD, who has compassion on you.

Though a man of strong faith and love for his God, Job was subjected to pain and suffering. Still, Job’s faith was steadfast and unwavering. Job demonstrated that faith will bring us through adversity. And if we keep our faith and trust in God, we may rest assured that we will be restored, sanctified and blessed. Let our faith rest in Jesus, who was tested and suffered greatly, yet maintained faith, trust, and love for his Father in heaven. As our Saviour, the Lord is our example that we may overcome suffering, pain, death and the testing of Satan.  For Jesus demonstrates the rewards of faith are the gift of sanctification, the promise of resurrection from death, and the comfort by way of the Holy Spirit.

Let us pray…

Hymn #317: Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine

Benediction (James 1:12):  Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. – Amen

Trusting God