Today we are talking about exercising our faith in God even when it is difficult.

You may click here for today’s passage which is Matthew 16:21-26

Introduction

Today we continue our series, “Figuring Out Faith,” in which we are taking phrases from the hymn, “Come Thou Fount,” and looking at them through the lens of Peter’s life. Peter was one of the close friends and followers of Jesus and an important leader in the early Christian church.

Last week the phrase was, “Praise the mount,” and we said that the mount was God’s unchanging love which gives us confidence in our calling to praise God in the presence of others. Today we are focusing on the phrase, “I’m fixed upon it.” We are fixed, steady, on the mount of God’s unchanging love.

I’m fixed. I’m steady because God is always committed to me. The world may change, but God does not.

My Personal Story of Shaky Ground

I want to start with a personal story. I’ve held back on telling this story for almost 8 years now, just waiting for the right moment to tell it.

The story starts in mid-2011. Barb and I were living in Memphis, Tennessee. Our second child was only two months old. 

Me? I was on a business trip 545 miles away and I was lying on my back in an emergency room in Dallas, Texas as the medical staff was cutting the shirt off my body, trying to figure out if I had or was having a heart attack because I had lost consciousness during a conversation with coworkers. I fell directly onto the floor, suffered a concussion, and was in very bad shape.

Let me assure you of this: I survived. After six months of tests, the doctors and specialists found nothing wrong structurally with my heart or anything else. They suggested dehydration, stress, or this or that—something fixable, nothing permanent. 

Now, I promise you that these rails around me were here before I got here. They are not custom-made for me. Relax. I’m in very good health based on my annual physical that I had 7 weeks ago.

We moved to Memphis 5 years prior to start a church, which we did. A few weeks before moving, my dad died of a heart attack. To make ends meet for our family and the church, I worked two other jobs. Barb and I were starting a family.

The stress was high. The church work was hard. My theological beliefs were changing. I felt conflicted and had little peace. I knew I was on the verge of burnout, and I knew it was best for me to resign from the church, which I did.

Barb and I didn’t know what would be next. We trusted God the best we knew how. 

We began attending a great, presbyterian church in Memphis. Through new friendships in that church, I got an opportunity to work at a local startup software company, which I’ve mentioned a few times. 

Within 6 months, I felt so much better physically and mentally. The church was feeding me spiritually. I enjoyed the challenges of my new job and took on added responsibilities. The company promoted me to manager and after our acquisition by a publicly traded company, my job changed. I thrived in this new way of working and living.

It felt like all the hard work and trust was being rewarded. Instead of 3 jobs, I only had 1! I had more time with my family, was serving in our church, and helping our pastors. Barb and I were enjoying a great small group together.

I was serving as pulpit supply around Memphis and my spiritual life was positive and growing. I was praising the mount of God’s unchanging love.

I would have said, “I am fixed upon it.” On that business trip, I arrived in our Dallas, Texas office at 9:05 am with 12 hours of work meetings ahead of me, and at 9:12 am I dropped like a sack of potatoes. 

I woke up with a coworker holding my head in place and praying to the Lord for me. 

Every time I opened and closed my eyes, I lost consciousness again. What’s happening? I don’t understand.

Eyes open. Eyes close. Darkness. 

Parkland Hospital, Dallas

Really, God? 

My kids. Barb.

I opened my eyes, and a first responder was there, and I mumbled, “What?” and he said, “It’s your heart.” I said, “Sure.” I realized at that moment, as I looked into the fluorescent lights, that I had zero control over the outcome of my life. I closed my eyes and went back to darkness.

Opened my eyes and woke up in the parking lot on a gurney.

I closed them and opened them and then woke up in the ambulance.

Then I woke up hooked up to an IV and other lines in the emergency room and people tugging at my clothes and cutting my shirt off of me and explaining what they were doing as if I had a memory. They wanted to stick sticky things all over my body to monitor every organ possible. Meanwhile, my head felt like it had had a date with Mike Tyson.

Seminary. A pastor. Planted a church. Trying to mentor and pour into these young professionals in Dallas and Memphis. None of it titled the scales one way or the other.

God, are you here?

Understanding the Faith inside Peter’s Statement

I grew up in a small, country Baptist church. Pastor Mike would preach through books of the bible, sentence by sentence. And for 18 months he preached through the gospel of Matthew, and when he came to this passage, I thought Peter was the dumbest guy on the block. 

Jesus is always right. I was young in my life and in my faith. Jesus is always right. No questions asked. Peter was foreign to me. How could you even talk or even allow yourself to think the way Peter was thinking?  

But if you rack up enough life experience, you begin to see it, don’t you? I’m with Peter. “Jesus, how dare you ever think you can show up in my life and choose a course of action that would affect me like this.” God forbid it!

How many of you want to say this morning, “Yeah, what Peter said?”

Sometimes me and God have not been on speaking terms. Sometimes I have just left the room. You know what I’m talking about. You know those conversations you have with someone where you just take a deep breath, slap your knees and say, “Whelp!” and just get up and leave the room. Same with God. 

I’m just telling the truth because I’m fixed on the mount of God’s unchanging love. I can say all of this and know God loves me, is proud of me, and holds me close to his heart. I change. My feelings change. God is always good and gracious.

Later that night, my head began to clear. I was able to talk to Barb on the phone, which was a huge comfort. My friend, Haley, who was in HR, was there with me for hours. 

I’ll tell you a funny story. A nurse came in about 8 pm. She said, “Hello. What’s your name?” 

I said, “All my life, people have been calling me Jason.”

She said, “Good. What’s your social security number?”

And I answered.

She said, “That’s not what it says on this sheet of paper.”

I know my social security number. I repeated it.

That’s not what’s on the paper though.

I replied, “Yeah, the number you have on the paper? I told you that when I had a concussion. So who are you going to believe? The guy who had a concussion or the guy who knows he had a concussion and knows he got it wrong?”

She smiled and said, “Good. You are doing so much better than you were.” 

They woke me up and monitored me through the night since I was concussed. At 3 am I was awake and looking at the morning sky outside the hospital window. A new day. I made it. Gratitude filled my heart and aching head.

Accepting the Presence of Doubt with Faith

I am saying today that God has an unchanging commitment to us in our ever-changing circumstances. Remember, God promises minimum protection and maximum support

Jesus said, “In this world, you will have trouble.” That is minimum protection. “I give you my Spirit.” That is maximum support.

Last week, Jesus said you are Peter and upon this rock, I will build my church and the gates of hell (minimum protection), the gates of hell will not prevail (maximum support).

The question might be, how can I thrive in my faith, knowing that I am going to go through painful, scary, and difficult times in my life and I am going to think difficult things about God?

You can’t and you won’t unless you allow two things to become friends that you think are enemies; that is faith and doubt.

We will not deeply thrive on the mount of God’s unchanging love until we the blessing of doubt.

I used to think that faith was all about killing doubt before doubt could mortally wound your faith. I prayed, fasted, evangelized, went to church, worshipped, memorized scripture, read books, read the bible, and mediated, so that I could just slaughter any question that came at me. 

For years, I thought doubt was holding a sword and it would pierce through my fragile faith. Over time, I’ve come to see that doubt wasn’t holding a sword. Doubt was holding an olive branch, and it was offering friendship.

Faith and doubt hold hands. Let me explain.

If you choose the path of faith that means you will more often choose a path that has the higher likelihood of pain and uncertainty. Your thoughtful trust in God will help you take a risk you would not otherwise take. You will have a higher likelihood of pain and uncertainty.

When we face pain and uncertainty, we ask questions that lead us to the end of easy answers. That, in turn, leads us to realize life is complex and we experience the limits of our knowing and we experience doubt, during which we learn to trust God. When we learn to trust, we build our faith and we are more likely to choose yet another path that leads us to possible uncertainty.

The path of faith is the path of doubt, and the path of doubt leads you to God. 

No wonder Jesus says to Peter, what you just said is exactly what your spiritual enemy would want someone like you to say, “Don’t let hard things happen to me.” Keep me small. 

Don’t call me to get out of the boat and walk on stormy waters with you. Don’t ask me to grow beyond the current size of my faith.

Peter wants a fixed faith and Jesus wants Peter to be fixed on him by faith. 

Peter wants a fixed faith: a life in which faith is never tried, tested, challenged, or changed. Me too by the way!

Tomorrow afternoon I would like to walk down my driveway, open the mailbox, open the manilla envelope, and pull out a shiny blue ribbon that says, “You finally did it, boy. #1. Smooth sailing from here on out.”

Jesus wants Peter’s life to be filled with trust even as it may be filled with trouble.  Maximum support. Take up your cross and get to walking. I’ll walk it with you.

Notice, that Jesus didn’t say anything about ever arriving. Wherever you go and whatever you face, I’m there with you. 

Conclusion

Jesus invites us to allow faith and doubt to hold hands, to see the olive branch, to view the mystery, and to love them both for what they are—a mirror of your humanity that is also a window to the Divine.

No matter where you are in your life or your faith, Jesus invites you to come and find yourself by admitting the truth: you have faith AND you have doubt. 

He knows how to help us because he walked a similar path of faith and doubt.

He went to the Garden of Gethsemane on the night he was betrayed, right before he was unjustly arrested, and said, “God, I do not want to do this, but if this is what your mysterious will is for me, I’ll do it. But I’m telling you and I’m making it clear to you, I don’t want to do this.” 

Y’all, he did it. Doubt, uncertainty, and then faith in action. He stood upon God’s unfailing love AND had questions. So can you.

Now we follow him to Golgotha, the name of the hill upon which he was crucified. Jesus Christ cried out in agony. 

Jesus was in immense pain and suffering. At one point he cried out, “God, I feel abandoned by you right now.”

There with him, another man was crucified. That man was in agony, both physically, emotionally, and spiritually. He was agonizing about the decisions in his life and his actions that led him to be crucified. And Jesus looked at that man and said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

There is doubt, honesty, dignity, reverence and a resolute belief in a thing called grace, a grace that is greater than all of our sins. 

Friends, praise the Lord! There is a mount that is greater than all of our sins. There is a mount that is greater than all of our doubts. 

There is a mount that is greater than all the faith we could ever muster.

There is a mount that is greater than Mount Golgotha.

It is the mount of God’s unchanging love.

And no matter where we are in our life or our faith,  because God is good, we are fixed upon it, because God is fixed upon us—by grace, forever. 

Rejoice and be glad! 

This is the word of the Lord!

This sermon series on figuring our faith is inspired by the work of www.sanctifiedart.org. The liturgical help and scriptural framing were beneficial for my study and sermon writing. Each week I highlight a phrase from the hymn “Come Thou Fount” and view it through the life of the disciple Peter.

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