Some of you may remember Martha McKeen. Martha was a charter member of Berean from 1940 when the church began. When I came to Berean she had just finished her tenure as church secretary. During her lifetime at Berean she probably served in just about every capacity she could have in the church. She was one of the sweetest ladies I have had the privilege of meeting.
A few years before she died she made an appointment to come and see me. She sat down in the office and after exchanging a few pleasantries I asked what I might do for her. She said, “Pastor, I’m afraid to die.” Now, Martha was not sick at the time but she was of the age when death starts to seem pretty near even for those with good health. I probed her a bit with questions about what her fears were and really, in my evaluation, it boiled down to this; Martha had never died before. She believed Jesus had saved her many, many years ago. She was certain he rose from the dead and paid the penalty of her sin. I reaffirmed the promises of God to usher us into the presence of the Lord upon our death, to live with him forever, and to give us all glorified bodies…you know, the standard truths which we all affirm. Finally she said, “Pastor, I’m just so ashamed that my faith is not stronger.”
Gently I reminded her of the man in Mark 9:14-24 that brought his son to Jesus who had been beset by an evil spirit that made him mute, foam at the mouth, grind his teeth. The disciples were not able to help him and so the man appealed to Jesus. Jesus told him, “All things are possible for one who believes.” The man’s response has been a source of great comfort to me over the years. He said, “I believe, help my unbelief.” I explained to Martha that none of us has perfect faith. We believe to the extent that we can but as the Puritans were wont to say, “I cannot pray but that I sin. I cannot preach but that I sin. My repentance needs repenting of.” Because we are such creatures of this earth and the vast, vast majority of our sinful earthly lives have been spent trafficking in the realm of the physical cause and effect world, none of us has experienced what it means to have perfect faith.
In my sermons, words, and blogs of late, I may give the sense that I am a stalwart of the faith…there is no doubt in my mind and heart about anything that I affirm to be true. My bravado might seem impenetrable. I affirm that there is an eternal Heaven. I affirm that my sins are forgiven. I affirm that Jesus will meet me in Heaven. But…while I believe, are there times when I wonder…what if we just fade to black and that’s it? What if we have gotten it wrong? What if there is no resurrection for me?
Do I sound heretical? Do I sound weak? I think I am like the man that said…”Lord, I believe…help my unbelief.” Our lives as believers are spent attempting to overcome the dilatory affects of sin in us. That sin does not allow us to have perfect faith. The only perfect faith we have is “saving faith” and that was a work of God given to us as a gift. But our experiential faith is often weak. It is imperfect. It needs to grow. A lifetime of prayer, Scripture, and walking with God helps to grow our faith. But until sin is eradicated in us, our faith will not be perfect.
Please do not think that your pastor has perfect faith. It might sound like it at times but my sin continues to militate against my faith. I’m just like the man who had faith…but it was imperfect. Do I have a stronger faith than I did 10, 20, or 30 year ago? Yes, I believe I do. But my faith still needs to grow. This cancer is an opportunity for that to happen. God is drawing me further and further away from the “realities” of this world to the “more real” spiritual realities of the coming world. Whether God is preparing me for the last years of a longer life or he is preparing me for the ultimate reality, he is growing my faith. Your prayers to that end are coveted.
Martha was a dear, dear, saint of God. She taught me that it was okay to not have perfect faith. She died a few years later and I believe she died in peace. I believe she is with the Lord today… at least, my imperfect faith convinces me of that.
Still on the journey, Terry