Main Street UMC, Kernersville, NC

Game Changer Series – ‘Cranium’ – John 20: 19-31

Game Changers, Week 2
CRANIUM
JOHN 20:19-31
We’re in a series called Game Changers. Each week we’re looking at a popular board game that represents one of the struggles of life. And then we’re seeing how the resurrection of Jesus changes the game.
The game for today is CRANIUM. Cranium is a mental game. Like most board games, you have a little piece and you’re trying to get it around the board.
But while you’re going around, Cranium presents a series of mental challenges. You might have to answer a question. You might have to spell a word — or unscramble a word — or spell a word backwards. You might have to guess the definition of a word. You might have to draw something. You might have to sculpt something out of clay. You might have to hum a tune. You might have to act something out.
In order to go forward, you have to face these mental challenges. And you know, it’s the same way with our faith. In order to go forward, we have to face the challenges presented by our cranium. We have to face the doubts and questions that arise in our mind.
Cranium, the game, throws all kinds of challenges at your game playing skills. This cranium, where the mind resides, throws all kinds of challenges at our faith.
As a United Methodist minister, I’m not supposed to bet. But if I did, I would bet there’s not a person among us who has never struggled with DOUBT about the things we believe:
– Did Jesus really rise from the dead?
– What if my faith is just wishful thinking?
– Is there really life after death, or have I seen my loved one for the last time?
– If God is real, why is there so much suffering?
– If Christ is real, why are Christians so mean?
– If God is love, and Christianity is true, then why do I have so many problems?
If I asked, “How many have ever struggled with questions like these?” I pretty sure that every hand in this room would go up.
We all struggle with doubt. I remember in college, I took a course called Philosophy of Religion. I was fresh from a dramatic conversion experience. I was excited and pumped up about God. Jesus
was so real for me. And I knew that Christianity is a reasonable faith, so I was ready to expand my mind a bit.
The professor of the class won my respect right off. He was young, extremely intelligent, incredibly objective. He told us that he would not tell us his personal beliefs until the last day of class. So we all tried to figure out where he stood. I just knew he was a Christian because he was so nice, he had assigned Christian books in the reading list, and he always gave Christianity a fair shake in class discussions.
Finally the last day of class came. We were all were waiting to hear what the Prof was going to say. He said, “How many think they’ve got me figured out? How many think I believe in God?”
I raised my hand….
….and he looked at the class, and said matter-of-factly, “I don’t think God exists.”
I WAS CRUSHED! And for the next week, I went through a very dark period of DOUBT. I questioned EVERYTHING. It was horrible. My whole world was threatened. The thing that was most important to me in my whole life – suddenly I wasn’t sure about it.
(Interesting side note: The professor, Dr. Warren Nord, later returned to Christianity and became a member of Binkley Baptist Church in Chapel Hill, where Coach Dean Smith was a member!)
I’ll never forget what it feels like to struggle with doubt:
It’s a horrible feeling,
It’s a lonely feeling,
It’s a dark, despairing feeling.
If you’re struggling with doubt, or someone you know is struggling with doubt, today’s Scripture has some incredibly good news for you!
Open your Bible to John 20. And I’m gonna show you three things about the man we call Doubting Thomas
The first one is in verse 24:
24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” –John 20:24-25 New Revised Standard Version
Now, Thomas has been put down and maligned for centuries because he doubted. But I think we ought to applaud Thomas, because
(1) Thomas was honest about his doubts.
Thomas had the courage to say, “Guys, I know you’re excited about this, but I’m not so sure. I need more evidence. I need to see it for myself.”
Thomas was honest about his doubt. And if you’re struggling with doubt, that’s the first thing you need to do:
Be honest.
But what do a lot of us do instead? We HIDE our doubts – we don’t want people to know we’re struggling. Or we IGNORE our doubts—maybe if I just don’t think about it’ll go away.
Thomas shows us a better way, which is to face our doubts head on. Because when you’re playing the game of Cranium, the only way to go forward is to face the challenges.
Be honest. That’s the first thing.
And now here’s the second thing – Verse 26:
26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. –John 20:26a NRSV
Apparently Thomas has hung around the other disciples for an entire week!
(2) Thomas stayed with the community of faith.
And apparently they accepted him, DOUBTS AND ALL! Because an entire week went by – an entire week in the same house – and there’s no record of Thomas saying, “I don’t wanna be around you freaks.” Nor is there any record of the other disciples saying, “Thomas, you heathen—if you don’t believe, you don’t belong.”
So if you’re struggling with doubt, the second thing to do is
Stay in.
But, what do a lot of us do instead? Here’s what I’ve seen: People start to doubt, so they drop out of church! “It just wouldn’t be right for me to go to church when I’m struggling with what I believe.” “I have too many questions.” “I’ve gotta figure this out on my own.”
Thomas shows us a better way, which is to stay in. Stay with the community of faith! Because when you’re playing the game of Cranium, you should never play alone.
Stay in. That’s the second thing.
And then here’s the third thing – Verse 26:
26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” — John 20:26-27, NRSV
Thomas was honest. Thomas stayed in. And after a period of time went by,
(3) Thomas got the answers he needed.
Notice in verse 27 that Jesus repeats Thomas’ request almost word-for word: “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side.”
Jesus gives Thomas exactly what he needs to overcome his doubts!
And I don’t think Jesus was rebuking Thomas: “Thomas, what’s wrong with you! Why did I have to show up like this! Why can’t you believe my apostles?” I don’t think it’s like that at all. I think Jesus has sympathy for Thomas. I think when he stood there before Thomas, his voice was compassionate, and His eyes were full of love and joy. I think it was like, “Thomas, Thomas, I love you so much, and I want you to believe, so you can be at peace.”
So, here’s the third thing to do if you’re struggling with doubt:
Trust Jesus
-Trust his grace and compassion
-Trust that he’s not mad at your questions
-Trust his desire to give you what you need to believe
-Trust that in due time, he will answer your questions
One of my preacher friends said it like this:
If you’re honest about where you are,
Jesus is faithful to show who he is.
So be honest. Stay in. And trust Jesus to show up. Because when you’re playing the game of Cranium, surprising things happen – and those surprises change the game.
Thomas was playing Cranium and the challenges were getting the best of him, but then Jesus showed up and changed the game.
Because look what Thomas says in v. 28:
28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” –John 20:28 NRSV
And my friends, that is the strongest statement of faith recorded in any of the Gospels! Doubting Thomas has become Thomas the Confident Believer. The one who was last to believe is now the first to bow down and worship.
So, how about you? Are you playing the game of Cranium right now? Is your Cranium presenting challenges to your faith? Questions you can’t answer … doubts about what you believe?
Then follow the example of Thomas:
1- Be honest
2- Stay in
3- Trust Jesus
Like my friend said,
If you’re honest about where you are,
Jesus is faithful to show who he is.