“That you may believe”

Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:
Acts 3:13-15, 17-26

1 John 5:1-6
John 20:19-31

“These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31).

Herbert F. Brokering’s hymn, “Earth and All Stars,” urges all kinds of inanimate objects to “Sing to the Lord a new song!” The list includes planets, storms, flowers, trees and even dry leaves. It contains musical instruments, carpenter’s tools and raw materials, classrooms, labs, test tubes, athlete and band. Here and there we even find some people. A critic once poked fun at Brokering’s use of the adjective “loud” for such unlikely things as falling snow, rustling leaves and boiling test tubes. That same critic apparently thought it laughable that any of these things might sing. I wonder what he thought about Jesus’ suggestion that stones would sing His praises if the people didn’t.

The hymn stands in the great tradition of the psalms that call on everything alive and every other part of creation to give praises to the Lord. The psalm for Sunday, Psalm 148, invites sun, moon, stars, waters, sea monsters, fire, hail, snow, fog, mountains, hills, fruit and cedar trees, wild beasts, cattle and, again here and there, all kinds of people to praise the Lord. I think these songs provide a marvelous image of the whole creation, including mankind’s inventions, uniting to give glory to God.

It is tragic that the idea of inanimate objects singing praises to God offends some people’s sensibilities. It is even more tragic that some people think the birds and buds of spring offer no glory to God. The biggest tragedy, however, is that some people think they can practice Christianity alone.

When Dr. D.T. Niles served as a pastor in Sri Lanka, he met a member of his parish on a street one day. Since he hadn’t seen her for some time, he asked where she had been. She answered that she had been terribly discouraged of late and that God seemed far away, so she had just not come to worship. Niles told her: “You are going to have times of discouragement–everybody does. There are going to be times when God does seem far away. The trouble is you have been trying to hold on to God alone.”

In Maeterlinck’s treatise on the “Life of the Bee,” he remarks on the honeybee’s need for community: “She will dive for an instant into the sea that is filled with pearls, but under pain of death it behooves her at regular intervals to return and breathe the crowd as the swimmer must return and breathe the air. Isolate her and, however abundant the food or favorable the temperature, she will expire in a few days not of hunger or cold, but of loneliness.” Someone else added, “This is a way of saying you cannot keep a bee; you can only keep bees. Nor can you keep a Christian; you can only keep Christians.”

The Scripture lessons for Sunday include a sermon from Peter attempting to convince his fellow Jews that Jesus is the Son of the God of Abraham and his son, Isaac, and his son, Jacob. The relationship between loving God and loving His children is emphasized in a letter from John. Finally, in the concluding words of John’s Gospel, Thomas is reprimanded by Jesus–not for wanting to see Him and His wounds, which is no more than the other disciples had already done–but for not believing his friends. Jesus says, “Blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed.”

John concludes his Gospel at that point by stating his purpose for writing it: “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.” We are the children of God today because of the witness, love and fellowship of someone else. If it is not our parents, friends, family or pastor, then maybe John or Peter or Jacob or Abraham or Eve.

The very word “church” is a collective. Jesus’ classic description of a disciple is one who is in a loving relationship with other disciples. His only commandment necessitates fellowship with other believers. There is no such thing as a congregation of one. Whenever someone says, “My faith is a matter just between me and God,” I can’t help but think how M.A.S.H.’s Sherman Potter would respond: “Horsehockey!”

The famous preacher Harry Emerson Fosdick wrote: “We ask the leaf, ‘Are you complete in yourself?’ And the leaf answers, ‘No, my life is in the branches.’ We ask the branch, and the branch answers, ‘No, my life is in the root.’ We ask the root, and it answers, ‘No, my life is in the trunk and the branches and the leaves. Keep the branches stripped of leaves and I shall die.’ So it is with the great tree of being. Nothing is completely and merely individual.”

Another famous preacher, Peter Marshall, was known as a man of fierce personal pride and no small ambition, but he also had a consistent grasp of the connection between Godliness and good human relationships. He once prayed, “Lord, when we are wrong, make us easy to change. And when we are right, make us easy to live with.”

There is a stirring account of the imprisonment of Bishop Hanns Lilje in 1944. It was a Saturday afternoon in August. He was in his study putting the final touches on the sermon he was to preach the next day in St. John’s Church, Berlin. Two men from the Gestapo came to his door and arrested him. In a few hours he was alone in a cell. He tells how it took every ounce of his courage and resolution not to lose self-control when the steel door clanged shut behind him. He dropped to his knees and put himself and his cause at the mercy of God. Suddenly, his faith was multiplied by the sound of someone whistling an old hymn. He quickly whistled back through his window. “O For A Thousand

Tongues to Sing My Great Redeemer’s Praise.” The whistling of hymns back and forth continued each answering the other–a congregation of two–now, of two multiplied by One other.

If you are a child of God, then God has called you into His fellowship and into His mission. Thomas’ friends may have been disappointed when he didn’t believe their witness, but they kept witnessing. So must we. Tell the Good News about Jesus to everyone you can. Support God’s mission to tell the Good News around the world with your daily prayers and with your gifts.

If, on the other hand, you are like Thomas, wanting to believe the witness, but just can’t, then these words along with John’s Gospel are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son ofGod, and that by believing you may have life in His name. But I urge you to involve yourself with the people of God. Embroil yourself in their fellowship and join them in the study of God’s Word. Jesus paid an extremely costly price to bring you into His family and fellowship. He won’t stop caring for you now in your struggle. He didn’t abandon His friend Thomas and He won’t abandon you. He loves you to death…and resurrection!

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