Topic Scripture: Mark 9:14-29
“Donkeys kill more people annually than plane crashes. A duck’s quack doesn’t echo—no one knows why. No piece of paper can be folded in half more than seven times. Walt Disney, the inventor of Mickey Mouse, was afraid of mice. Elephants are the only animals that can’t jump. Women blink twice as much as men. It is physically impossible to lick your elbow.”
A friend recently e-mailed me these statements. I had no way to test the truth of any of them (except the part about licking my elbow). So I did some Internet searches, and discovered that everything my friend sent me is wrong, except the fact that elephants are too heavy to jump. I even watched a girl lick her elbow on YouTube, checking off yet another item on my Bucket List.
On the other hand, how do I know that the articles I found are any more correct than the e-mail I received? I’m not sure how the YouTube video could have been faked, but I’m forced to take the rest of my discoveries on faith.
They say that the Sun is 93 million miles from the Earth, that our planet tilts at a 23 degree angle, and that the Milky Way galaxy is 100,000 light years across. But how would we know if it’s so. I hope I have a brain, but I’ve never seen it.
These reflections are of interest to me in light of a recent experience. I was privileged this summer to debate a philosophy professor on the question, “Is religion the basis of morality?” He graciously but firmly maintained throughout our encounter that he does not believe in the existence of God. I was reminded of a church billboard I once saw: “Since I don’t believe in atheists, atheists don’t exist.”
On the other hand, most of us have times when we wonder if God really is the all-loving, all-powerful deity we have been told he is.
Moses questioned the word and will of God. Peter, after he denied his Lord, went outside and wept bitterly. Paul had a “thorn in the flesh” he asked God three times to remove, but God didn’t do what he hoped. Even Jesus cried from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).
Where is the reality of God a questionable supposition for you today? Are you dealing with a problem or suffering and wondering how God could allow this? Are you waiting for him to answer a prayer or meet a need? Has he disappointed you in some way? Does he seem more a Sunday sermon topic than a present, transforming reality?
Let’s learn how to deal with our doubts and find in them God’s hope today.
My favorite prayer
As Mark 9 opens, Jesus has just been transformed before Peter, James and John on the Mount of Transfiguration. When they came down the mountain to the other disciples, they found them surrounded by a large crowd and the religious authorities, engaged in a heated argument.
He asked them what they were arguing about, and a man said, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not” (Mark 9:17-18).
Here we encounter the subject of Satan and demon possession, our topic for next week as we consider demons and the power of God. But for today we’ll move on.
Jesus asked them to bring the boy to him. He manifested his demonic possession again, so Jesus asked his father, “How long has he been like this?” “From childhood,” his father answered. “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him.” Now comes our point for today: “But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help him” (v. 22).
Jesus replied, “If you can? Everything is possible for him who believes.” There is a clear and significant connection between faith and the power of God. Now we come to my favorite prayer in the Bible: “Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!'” (v. 24). I like the King James Version here: “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief!”
Jesus responded by rebuking the demon, healing the boy, and giving him back to his father. Afterwards his disciples asked him, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.” This will be our topic in two weeks, when we deal with the issue of unanswered prayer and consider prayer and the power of God.
Trust and obey
For today, we’re exploring the relationship between faith and the power of God. Why must we believe to see his power manifested in our lives? Why is everything possible “for him who believes”? Why do you need faith to see God’s power in your life and problem this morning?
Let’s deal first with the wrong answers. Faith does not earn God’s favor. He does not measure our faith and reward it when it gets to the appropriate level. There is no grade scale with God—A level faith gets to see miracles, B level doesn’t, and so on. We are saved by grace through faith. Everything we have from God is his gift.
Nor does faith manipulate God’s power. It is not that if we have enough faith we can command God to do as we wish. We cannot obligate the King of the universe. It’s not that we meet the conditions and then God must keep his end of the bargain.
Here’s the biblical answer: faith positions us to receive what grace intends to give. Grace is a gift, but gifts must be opened. Christmas presents are not much good if they stay under the tree. A surgeon can operate only if I will let him. A pilot can fly me only if I’ll get on the plane. A boat can take me to see Hell’s Gate only if I’ll get on the deck.
All through Scripture it’s this way. Moses had faith to stand before Pharaoh; God then sent the plagues that set the people free. The priests had the faith to step into the flooded Jordan River; God then stopped the river so they could cross to the Promised Land. Peter had faith to get out of the boat and walk on the water to Jesus; Jesus then caught him and saved him. Peter had faith to preach at Pentecost; God then sent his Spirit and 3,000 came into the Kingdom. John had faith to worship on Patmos; Jesus then gave him the Revelation.
Why believe in God even when it hurts? Even when your son is demon-possessed or our marriage is in trouble or your job is in question or your health is in doubt? Why trust him in the hard places? Because he redeems all he allows.
God is holy. He can never make a mistake. He must therefore redeem for greater good everything he allows. He must use everything that happens to us for his glory and our good. All things work for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).
We may not see his redemption this side of glory, but it’s coming. Paul told us that our present sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory to be revealed. It’s always too soon to give up on God.
So give him your pain or problem, by faith. Trust him to redeem it for his glory and your good. Let us not be weary in well-doing, for in due season we will reap a harvest if we faint not (Gal. 6:9). Keep walking, trusting, obeying. You cannot measure the eternal significance of present obedience.
Two of my faith heroes are named Robby and Allison Ates.
Some years ago I stood with them at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas as they had to remove the life support for their precious baby girl. As Robby held Emily’s tiny hand, he happened to look out the neonatal intensive care unit’s small window. At just that moment, a pink balloon floated by and on up into the blue sky. He sensed God’s Spirit encouraging him to know that he could let his little girl go, that God would catch her and bring her to heaven with him. And so he did. At her graveside service, Robby and Allison brought balloons which we released together.
How has God redeemed their tragedy? By helping them trust him together in the hardest places of life, through financial challenges and health issues and family struggles. Theirs is one of the strongest faiths I have ever seen. And by using them in his ministry. Whenever a couple in our church loses a baby, we call Robby and Allison. Caring for grieving families is part of their ministry.
They know they will see Emily again, that she is in her Father’s hands. They know that in the meantime, they are in the same hands. So are we. This is the promise of God.