I remember the first time my father tried to help me to understand the joys of the combustible engine. We walked out to the car, opened the hood and he started pointing at things. He talked about pistons, carburetors, spark plugs, camshafts, crankshafts and an array of other engine parts. He described in great detail about the process I would need to follow to change the oil in my car. I have to confess that his passion for how engines worked and the mechanical language he spoke with such comfort was absolutely lost on me. No matter how hard he tried, the mysteries of the engine escaped me. I heard what he was saying, but just never got it. To this day I still take my car by the shop for every oil change.
It seems that there were times when Jesus wondered if his disciples understood anything he was teaching them. He spoke, they listened, but when it came to the real life every day practice of faith they just kept missing it. They just did seem to get it. We encounter one of these moments in Matthew 17:14-21. Come with me at as we listen in on a crisis of belief. Eugene Peterson begins the story in his interpretative translation The Message this way; 14-16At the bottom of the mountain, they were met by a crowd of waiting people. As they approached, a man came out of the crowd and fell to his knees begging, "Master, have mercy on my son. He goes out of his mind and suffers terribly, falling into seizures. Frequently he (tumbles tco) [is pitched] into the fire, other times into the river. I brought him to your disciples, but they could do nothing for him."
The story starts like many others when a family brings a hurting member of their family to Jesus. Over and over across the sweep of the gospels we see them come to Jesus. They come wanting Jesus to do something – anything – to help their loved one. In this story the see their son twisted by seizures, claimed by a demon, suffering with no end in sight. The boys father comes, falling to his knees, begging for Jesus to help. What makes this tragic scene even more shattering was found it its last line; I brought him to your disciples, but they could do nothing for him."
These words struck Jesus and drew an immediate response. 17-18Jesus said, "What a generation! No sense of God! No focus to your lives! How many times do I have to go over these things? How much longer do I have to put up with this? Since Jesus has sent the twelve out with the authority to heal and caste out demons they had seen him feed the multitude and walk on water. They had listen to Jesus teach and heard Peter’s great confession of faith. In the moments just before our story Peter, James and John had been on the mountaintop and had witness the power and the wonder of the transfiguration. Now, he discovers they have failed a family desperately in need. It sounds as if he can hardly believe it. What more did he have to do? What more did they have to see? What more did he have to say before they would understand the power and authority they had been given as his disciples?
Jesus first had to deal with the matter at hand. He saw the pain of the man and had to respond. Bring the boy here." He ordered the afflicting demon out—and it was out, gone. From that moment on the boy was well. It would be a good story if it ended right here. A boy who was broken was restored; a family who was shattered now experienced joy. It is a great healing story. It is a great act of restoration.
But the moment was not complete. The disciples knew there was a problem and they faced it head on. 19When the disciples had Jesus off to themselves, they asked, "Why couldn't we throw it out?" I imagine the question must have hung in the air. Jesus looks at them and answers; 20"Because you're not yet taking God seriously," said Jesus. "The simple truth is that if you had a mere kernel of faith, a poppy seed, say, you would tell this mountain, 'Move!' and it would move. There is nothing you wouldn't be able to tackle."
The disciples faced a crisis of belief. They knew what Jesus had told them. They knew what they had witnessed. But the somewhere between the word and act the crisis occurred. It is the moment when they know what we are called to do but the seed of doubt blossoms. When they came to this moment they faced the same issue we face every day. We wonder if we have enough strength, enough resources, or even enough heart to follow through on what God calls us to do. Casting out a demon is no walk in the park. It required the disciples to confront evil face to face. It demanded that they become participants in the eternal conflict between God and evil. It would be scary. It would demand great faith. It was more than they could muster.
Jesus wanted them to understand the power of faith. They had the spiritual resources they needed. God has called them. God had commissioned them. God was with them. The presence and the power of God was available to them. Jesus wanted them to know if they took God seriously – if they took God at God’s word – if they claimed the kind of faith he meant for them – then they could do what seemed impossible. He wanted them to understand that it was not about them changing their minds; it was about changing their hearts. It was not about them just hearing and understanding – it was about them believing.
For the past two week our Experiencing God small group studies and the messages on Sunday morning have focused on hearing God’s voice. Our struggle is found in the moment between hearing God speak and choosing to do something about it. It is a quiet crisis of belief. Today you heard Scott share his story of responding to God’s voice. We will hear from stories several others in the coming weeks. I’ve spoken to still others in phone conversations, in small group meetings, and in church hallways over the couple of weeks who have heard God’s voice and shared stories of how they have begun to respond. I believe that God is up to something special in our midst. God is calling people in our midst to new steps in faithfulness. God is speaking into ordinary lives and calling people to take simples steps toward extraordinary faith.
I believe that God is calling us as a church family to continue to reach out into our community and the world in boldness. On Thursday I drove to Texas to meet with the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Arlington, his wife who leads their congregational mission organization, and the great mission strategist Bill O’Brien. In a very ordinary side room at a Braums in Denton we agreed to do something together that could launch a new era in congregational collaboration in missions among Baptist. In November we at FBC OKC will host a meeting of somewhere between 35 to 50 pastors from leading moderate Baptist churches across the nation to look at how we work together to help reach the world in word and deed in the name of Jesus. The potential is extraordinary. We will look at how we come together in faith to move mountains.
I am confident that God is speaking across the life of congregation. For some the call is about giving of your life or your life skills. For others the call is about giving of your resources. For others the call is about joining this congregation and its journey with God. Regardless of what kind of call you might be hearing it is time for us to claim an unapologetic crisis of belief. It is not the kind of crisis that makes us doubt God – but rather that makes us reexamine how we have been living out our lives of faith – to be like the disciples and dare to ask the question “why have we not been able to do all you have asked of us?”. This crisis of belief will demand that we rethink what it means for us to take God seriously. This crisis will make us change our ways to doing life and faith. This crisis of belief will call for us to listen for God’s voice and to respond to God’s call regardless of the price or its seeming impossibility. It is about us accepting that God can and will speak into our lives – to hear – and to allow God to reshape our lives according to His purposes. But, be forewarned. There will be moments when we will join the disciples in fear and trembling wondering if we are up for the task. There will be moments when we will wonder if we have the spiritual resources to sustain us. There will be moments when we wonder if we are more driven by the balance sheet than the voice of God. There will be moments when the task before us will seem bigger than we are. There will be moments. But in these moments we will have to decide if we are ready to take God seriously. We will have to decide if we trust God enough to say “yes” and follow through.
The words of Jesus still hang in the air for me; "The simple truth is that if you had a mere kernel of faith, a poppy seed, say, you would tell this mountain, 'Move!' and it would move. There is nothing you wouldn't be able to tackle." Are we ready to listen and boldly respond?