Posts Tagged ‘Emily Esfani Smith’

Sermon 03-19-17: “Dealing with Doubt”

March 30, 2017

Do you ever have doubts about your faith in Jesus Christ? In today’s scripture, John the Baptist, surely one of the most headstrong of Bible heroes, expresses doubt in Jesus. He sends his disciples to Jesus to ask, “Are you the One”—meaning “Are you the Messiah”—”or should we expect someone else?” How could John, of all people, ask this, unless doubt is a normal experience for Christians? Nevertheless, God doesn’t want us to remain in a state of doubt. This sermon explores reasons we often doubt and potential traps we may fall into while we’re doubting. If you’re in a season of doubt, I pray that this message encourages you.

Sermon Text: Matthew 11:1-15

My boys and I have been bachelors this weekend, since Lisa and Elisa are out of town, which means we’ve had the TV all to ourselves. On Friday, we watched that recent Tom Hanks movie Captain Phillips. It’s based on a true story about a cargo ship that got taken over by pirates off the coast of Somalia in 2009. It was good—suspenseful—and Tom Hanks, as usual, was outstanding.

Last April, Hanks gave an interview to Terry Gross on the NPR interview show Fresh Air. He said something that may surprise you. He admitted that he was plagued by self-doubt. He said,

No matter what we’ve done, there comes a point where you think, ‘How did I get here? When are they going to discover that I am, in fact, a fraud and take everything away from me?’…

There are days when I know that 3 o’clock tomorrow afternoon I am going to have to deliver some degree of emotional goods, and if I can’t do it, that means I’m going to have to fake it. If I fake it, that means they might catch me at faking it, and if they catch me at faking it, well, then it’s just doomsday.[1]

I guess I’m naive. I thought that acting was supposed to be about faking it, but what do I know?

Tom Hanks is one of the most successful and critically acclaimed actors in the history of Hollywood. He’s starred in some of the most beloved movies of the past 30 years, which have earned $8.5 billion worldwide. He’s won two Oscars and two Golden Globes—and he’s been nominated for a ton more. Literally a ton, if you could add up the weight of all those trophies. In 2014, President Obama awarded him a Kennedy Center Honors medallion.

If someone like Tom Hanks can doubt something—in spite of all this evidence to the contrary—is it any wonder that we Christians will sometimes also have doubts—about God, about Jesus? Read the rest of this entry »

Being grateful that our lives don’t go according to plan

March 29, 2017

I shared a version of the following in a recent sermon, which I’ll post later today.

It’s become a cliché these days to talk about “narratives”—a pretentious word for stories. If you’ve studied liberal arts in college, you’ve learned a lot about narratives. In theology school, homiletics professors speak of “narrative preaching.” Even on political news shows and in White House press conferences, we often hear about narratives—for example, someone is always trying to “change the narrative.” In a recent episode of Mockingbird Ministries’ podcast, The Mockingcast, co-host Scott Jones interviews a positive psychologist named Emily Esfani Smith, who also had something to say about narratives.

Smith has written a book about what it takes to live a meaningful life. She said that one thing we need to do is to see the way in which all the events in our lives weave together to tell a story: which means, “Taking your experiences,” she said, “and knitting them together into a narrative that explains who you are, where you came from, and where you’re going.” She said,

Storytelling is particularly powerful when it comes to dealing with a low point or an adversity that you’ve experienced because these are kind of blips in our narrative—these are places where the story that we’re living was not the story we expected to live. And so we have to integrate those experiences into our story and kind of understand how they shaped us.

She said that this involves what academics call “counterfactual thinking”:

Thinking about some pivotal event in your life and imagining that it hadn’t happened and asking yourself how your life would have been different if that hadn’t have happened. So if you went to X college, what if you had gone to Y college? You moved to X city. What if you had stayed home or moved to Y city?

Researchers find that this is a powerful builder of meaning because it helps you realize the benefits of taking the path you did end up taking.

In other words, people who are happiest and most fulfilled in life are those who have learned to be grateful that their lives don’t go according to their own plans. The low points, the adversity, the setbacks, the failures, the disappointments—all of these things, which we might have dreaded at the time, are good and necessary for us because they help to shape us into the people that we are.

I completely agree—even though she’s speaking from a purely secular perspective.

From a Christian perspective, however, this seems even more true. Why? Because we understand that our heavenly Father is constantly working through adversity, setbacks, failures, and disappointments. He’s constantly redeeming these events—making them work out for our good, for the world’s good, and for his glory.

Sure, things may not be going according to our plans—but that doesn’t mean they aren’t going according to his!

Like Joseph, who was sold into slavery by his brothers and faced one adversity after another, we can say of any evil or harmful thing that the devil sends our way: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done.” We can say with Jesus, “In this world we will have tribulation. But take heart: Christ has overcome the world.” We can say with Paul, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?… No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” We can say, “In all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.”

As I’ve said many times on this blog, nothing has helped me more during these past five years than learning to appreciate that God is in charge, and I can trust that he knows what’s best for me. Yet, for reasons that have nothing to do with Mr. Wesley—who spoke of God’s sovereignty often—we Methodists tend to be allergic to the idea.

Not me! I’m gratified to know that Dr. Smith’s research hints at the Story, even if she doesn’t name the Storyteller.