My nearly 93-year-old mother helped me with Sunday’s sermon. I was in the car headed to the First Baptist Church of Waggaman, a small New Orleans bedroom community located alongside the western shore of the Mississippi River, where I was filling in for Pastor Bobby Malbrough as he recuperated from knee surgery. Mom and I were having our daily morning chat covering the usual stuff.
Mom’s great-grandson Jon Cagle had spent the night with her. She said, “I asked if he was going to church this morning. He said he didn’t feel like it. I told him if I went only when I felt like it, I’d never go to church.” She paused and added, “He said he was going right home and getting dressed.”
I was primed to preach on Faith that morning, based on our Lord’s question to the panicky disciples in Mark 4:40. When the storm threatened to swamp the boat, they awakened the sleeping Jesus with an accusation: “Lord, don’t you care that we perish?” The Master awakened, calmed the seas and winds, then turned to the frightened twelve and said, “Why did you fear? Where is your faith?”
Great question, isn’t it?
We could ask that question of all kinds of people. Someone is considering giving his life to Christ in salvation. He hesitates, wondering what kinds of changes this might involve, what Jesus could possibly require of him, and how his friends may react. We want to say, “Hey friend, why do you fear? Where is your faith?”
Someone who has already made that private inner commitment to the Lord is on the cusp of going public — confessing Him, joining a church and receiving believer’s baptism. She hesitates, not wanting to step out in front of all those people, not knowing all the workings of this church, wondering if the pastor will drown her during baptism. We say to her, “Why do you fear? Where is your faith?”
A believer thinks of going down the street and welcoming his new neighbors and perhaps inviting them to church. He hesitates, not knowing who they are or how he will be received. “Why do you fear? Where is your faith?”
Your co-worker is in big trouble. His marriage is failing, he is distraught, and you think of comforting him with prayer and encouragement to turn to the Lord. You hesitate, afraid of intruding, of being thought presumptuous, of being rejected. Why do you fear; where is your faith?
The offering plate will be passed shortly. You pull out your checkbook to write a check to the Lord’s work. You think of this bill that is due and some possible expenses you may be facing soon, and consider making the check for a smaller amount than you had planned. Why do you fear? Where is your faith?
Fear is frequently the opposite of faith.
But faith is such a grand and multi-faceted concept, it has numerous opposites.
Doubt is one of faith’s opposites. Now, most of us have learned enough about doubt to find it can be the best thing that ever happens to a person, causing us to reconsider faulty suppositions and inadequate commitments. But doubt about the truths of God is never a positive thing, but the opposite of faith. “He who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. Let not that man suppose he will receive anything from the Lord. A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:6-8)
Unbelief is the opposite of faith. If faith is “confidence in the Lord” — that is my own working definition of it — then, lack of faith or unbelief is a vote of no-confidence in Him. That’s why the author of Hebrews writes, “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” (Heb. 11:6) When Jesus healed the woman with the hemorrhage, He said, “Your faith has made you whole” (Mark 5:34). Her confidence in the Lord is what made the difference.
Fear is an opposite of faith. In the sermon Sunday, I enjoyed pointing out that while faith is contagious — as Paul himself mentions in Romans 1:12 — so is fear. In Deuteronomy 20, Moses is preparing the Israelites for warfare and names four groups that will be exempt from military service: anyone with a new house, new vineyard, or new wife, and one more–anyone frightened out of his wits. “Lest the heart of his brethren faint like his heart.” (Deut. 20:8)
And lastly, the one my mom reminded me of, but which I had not thought of….
Feelings can be the opposite of faith. We can run our lives by our feelings or by faith, but not both. We all know people whose spiritual lives are a litany of excuses: “I don’t feel like going to church this morning; I don’t feel like reading my Bible today; I don’t feel like praying.” As my mom says, “If I went by my feelings, I’d never do anything.”
My observation is that 90 percent of those who go on to church in spite of how they are feeling soon find themselves glad they went.
I asked the congregation at Waggaman, “How many of you have ever said to yourself,