Here is the message that I shared on Sunday, January 17 at First Presbyterian Church- Bend, OR. The sermon scripture is 1 Peter 1:3-9 32 days ago my wife gave birth to our first child. Sophia Ann Bolt came into the world on December 16th at 12:16 AM. (this should be an effective memorization tool). Sophia is the single cutest, most adorable baby that has ever been born on this planet…if I do say so myself. Here is the evidence to prove it! I am sure that I am not the first parent that thinks their child is unbelievably beautiful and intelligent in every way nor will I be the last.
Enough gloating about the utter brilliance of my one-month-old child, what I really want to talk about today is this idea that has been burning in my head since I held my daughter only a few minutes after she was born.
Faith is like a child. Faith is like a child.
I started this week thinking about that idea that related my recent experience as a new father to my experience of recognizing that I, in fact, had faith. It was clear to me what the Holy Spirit was calling me to share, what I didn’t know was that God wasn’t done yet...
I started with the idea that when you have a child your head is swimming, you think you know what’s going on, or what to expect, you get your mind around the idea that your life is about to change radically and at best all you can do is hold on.
You read books, you take classes, you talk to experts, you start making theoretical decisions about how you are going to raise your child, you search the internet, you watch the Discovery Health channel. (just for the record I would not suggest watching any program having to do with pregnancy while you are or your partner are pregnant, it sends my worst case scenario imagination into overdrive, which isn’t a good thing)
The baby comes and then you realize the magnitude of your ignorance. This book said this, that book said that, Bob said this, Karen said that, you become sleep deprived, your reasoning skills go out the window.
Then the "help" comes.
Well meaning individuals tell you how to soothe the baby, get them to sleep, get them to eat, they’ll tell you horror stories about staying up for days on end with a screaming child. You go to the doctor, the lactation consultant, you go in for a weight check and they say, "Do you have any questions?" and you say, "No" not because you don’t have any questions but because you don’t have enough information to ask a question. I, who take pride in knowing a little bit about a lot of stuff, want to the ask the question, "What questions should I have?" I think the doctor is testing my parenting skills or that they are going to think badly about me if I don’t ask the right questions or if I ask the wrong questions. I’m frozen…with anxiety, with fear, with ignorance, with fatigue.
Sometimes in a brief moment of clarity you think of a question or you come to some realization about how you’re going to do it, OR you decide to just ask for help.
Then "help" comes again.
Well meaning people ask you how’s it going, and you tell them, "I’m frustrated, I’m tired, the baby won’t eat, won’t sleep, won’t gain weight, gains too much weight, sleeps too much, etc, etc." You then might even tell them what your plan of action is...that’s when they you give you that look. You know the one, the "you’re not really going to do it THAT way right?" look smile included.
Before I get to far down this road, I need to be clear all the folks that have provided us information, suggestions, stories, opinions...end up being remarkably helpful, but sometimes it just adds to the feeling of being overwhelmed when we get information from SO many different sources at once. Heidi and I both know that we are incapable of raising our child without the love, support, prayers, and presence of our church communities, our families, our friends, and God. Ultimately, however, it will be up to us, Heidi, Sophia, and me, how we figure out the obstacles in our life as family, we’ll need help but in the end we have to figure out what works for us.
So thank you for that digression, and now after that let’s get back to the point.
Faith is like a child.
The point that I was going to make is when you first think about the idea of God or faith you might do some research, read some books, talk to people of faith, essentially try to figure out this whole Christianity thing. Then at some point you have an awakening, some call it being born again, some call it a burning bush. Whether that experience is one cataclysmic event or a long process, my hope is that eventually you come to an awareness that you are a child of God and that God loves you no strings attached.
(Please let me assure you that this might not be your experience AT ALL, these are the similarities that I have noticed in my own journey as a person of faith and a new dad.)
Once that faith is born, once you realize you have faith there will probably be a lot of people telling you how to live a life of faith or how not to live a life of faith or criticizing you for not living the right kind of faith, you’ll probably read some books, hopefully the Bible will be one of them, you’ll probably listen to experts, maybe even watch a little TBN (much like Discovery Health, I would not recommend this option)
People will ask if you have any questions but you won’t know enough to ask any questions. You’ll have made plans and then life will happen and that thing that Joel Osteen, Pat Robertson, Rick Warren said, the thing that I said won’t make any sense to your faith journey. Ultimately it will be up to you and God to figure out your relationship. You can’t do it alone, I can’t do it alone, we can’t do it alone; we need the community to stand by us, walk with us on this journey, and carry us when needed. When our life events don’t fit with what someone has told us about faith, or what we have come to understand about God. When all that "help" just seems overwhelming and we, when I, can’t figure out which end is up. We remember although we have not seen him, we love him; and even though we do not see him now, we believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy that defies all logic. Sometimes we can’t see what’s next.
That was my message for this week, but God only showed me the first step, then the next step was illumined. Then I heard the news, and the message changed.
Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase." We take the next step...
We hear that a nation that was already one of the poorest nations in the world was hit by one of the worst natural disasters in history. We see pictures and hear stories of dead bodies littering the streets of Haiti and scared children looking for their parents, we hear there are hundreds of thousands left homeless in a matter of minutes tens of thousands of people have been wiped off the face of the earth in the blink of an eye. We look to God and say WHY?!
Why do those who are already weak, already broken down, already forsaken by the world have to suffer this? The pictures, the stories, the horror is too much for me to take! I can’t watch, I can’t hear, I can’t imagine the pain! GOD PLEASE GIVE THEM A BREAK! Please give me a break, give me a sign that you are still here with us, with them.
We see pictures of a 7 month old little girl being held by her neighbor dug out of the rubble after being trapped for 48 hours ALIVE. We hear about people from all walks of life donating millions of dollars for aid. We see faith communities unite, we watch as social networks are used to share news of survival with family members overseas, we hear through World Vision that all of the 52,000 children sponsored through their program are unharmed, we are reminded to hug our children, reconnect with our families, ask our neighbor how they are doing, we are reminded to pray.
We are assured that even if now for a little while we have suffered many trials, so that the genuineness of our faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
We see Jesus revealed to us through the eyes of a newborn baby, through the connection of a community of faith, through the tears of those who have lost everything, we see Jesus revealed when we don’t know what to do but we know something must be done.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said in a sermon during the Montgomery bus boycott, "we are gravely mistaken to think that Christianity protects us from the pain and agony of mortal existence. Christianity has always insisted that the cross we bear precedes the crown we wear. To be a Christian, one must take up his cross, with all of its difficulties and agonizing and tragedy-packed content, and carry it until that very cross leaves its marks upon us and redeems us to that more excellent way which comes only though suffering."King, Martin Luther, Jr.Strength to LoveFortress Press Philadelphia 1963 pg. 28
I can’t tell you what the future holds for my daughter, I can’t tell you where God will lead you on your faith journey, I can’t tell you how the devastation of Haiti will transform that country or our world, I can tell you that it will not always be pretty, there will be times when I am ready to give up on my dreams for my daughter, there will be times when I ready to give up on God and the world, it is in those times that I will need to remember that by his mercy God has given us a new birth into a live hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. A hope that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.
May it be so.