Ooh, also, ignore my punctuation. When I write a speech, I punctuate for speaking, not for grammatical correctness. And, obviously, it's kinda chatty because, well, it's a chat!
I’m very interested to know where somebody comes from in their faith life because for me, it’s been quite the journey and I figure I’m only a little more than a third of the way through it. And honestly, it’s been a real struggle for me, too, and continues to be, so I am always encouraged to hear how others have wrestled with God over things that seem to come so easily to others. So, I thought that tonight, I would tell you that: where I am, how I got here, what I’ve learned on this leg of the trip.
Faith has always been very hard for me because believing anyone or anything is very hard for me. I think a lot. I always have, and when you think, naturally, you come up with questions. Like, for some reason, when I was a kid I got really hung up on why God would let Abraham wander through Sodom looking for a handful of people that would be worthy enough that God wouldn’t burn down the whole place. Didn’t God know they weren’t there? Wasn’t that really cruel of God to lead Abraham on like that?
The very strict school I went to encouraged critical thinking when it was directed at how politicians were chipping away at our religious freedom or how Hollywood was forcing the abortion agenda on us, but when those critical thinking skills were turned on the Bible or their theology, it wasn’t welcomed at all. I asked my 8th grade science teacher a question about where dinosaurs were in the Bible, and his answer was an angry “So are you saying you don’t believe the Bible?” right there in front of the whole class. That’s embarrassing! My youth leaders and other adults said things like, “Well, you just have to have faith” or “Oh, I don’t know. I don’t ask those kinds of questions.”
The God I had come to know by the time I was in my late teens was a big, temperamental guy with carrots and a stick. He wasn’t real keen on being asked a lot of questions, and he was like a dad who loved his daughters but secretly wished they’d all been born sons. I had learned that if I asked too many questions, started poking around where I wasn’t supposed to, the whole thing might fall apart. And somewhere in the back of my mind, I couldn’t shake the thought that it might all be one big charade.
I spent my last school years in a smaller, rather charismatic school. I met the Holy Spirit there. I saw adults who were the very houses where the Holy Spirit lived. I wasn’t quite sure what I was seeing, but it was new and different, and I thought that if this was what I’d been missing, I wanted in. Maybe. I still had to think it through…a lot. But you know, what I learned from them that it was okay to think it through, that it was important to work out my salvation. They didn’t always have answers to my questions, but they respected that I had them.
So, God gave me about ten years to freely wallow in my questions. I read the Bible, all kinds of books because I’m secretly convinced that the answer to anything can be found between the covers of a book, and around that time we joined West Hartsville. At the time, I didn’t feel like I was growing in my faith at all. I felt like I was completely paralyzed by all of these plaguing doubts and questions. Like, I was going to keep looking around corners until suddenly, I was going to find that God wasn’t there after all. Looking back now, though, it is very clear that God was teaching me all sorts of things during that period.
I had a really long commute then and most days I spent that commute talking, loudly, to God. Arguing and complaining about things that didn’t make sense to me. And there was this one Fall day I remember so well, I was saying things like “I can’t understand. Help me understand. Give me understanding.” and eventually, I rambled around to “Lean not on your own understanding.” That verse had, for a long time, meant to me that you were just supposed to have blind faith, something I am obviously NOT good with. But that day, what I understood God to mean was this: that I didn’t’ have to figure it all out. It wasn’t up to me and my brainpower. If I would just trust God, He would help me to understand. He would open my mind, present it to me in a clearer way, or help me to understand what it was that was really important and help me move past those things that I may not get an answer to here on earth.
I remember this time so well. Everything is a little bit brighter in my memories. Finally. It was also around that time, I think, that Kevin preached about a little pep talk/kick in the pants that Paul gave Timothy. I don’t know exactly where it was, 1 or 2 Timothy, but basically, Paul said to Timothy, “Look, you’ve got a good foundation. You’ve had a good, solid Biblical education. It’s not going to be all roses, but you need to get up and get back out there.” And I’m telling you, it really may as well have been written directly to me. That was what God told me, too. God said, “In all the things you’ve questioned me on, haven’t I proven myself to be big enough to handle them? Has there been one riddle you could throw at me that I couldn’t resolve? Ok, then. You need to trust me, and keep moving. Enough of this wallowing.”
And so, I went home that Sunday, and I sort of “got up” and have been trying to keep going ever since. Now, I’m in a different place with different struggles. I still have all of these questions, but they don’t paralyze me like they did before. God already told me that He’s big enough. I have to remember that when a new doubt confronts me. my God is so much bigger than that small imposter of a god that I thought I was supposed to worship. No wonder I had such trouble believing, worshiping. It wasn’t the real, true I AM.
Now, one of my struggles is to be obedient when I hear God telling me to do something I really don’t want to do. Small things, sometimes. Make eye contact with the homeless person passing you on the street (there’s a lot of homeless people near where I work). She’s are a person, too. “But God,” I whine, ”What if they talk to me????” Share with your friend, who you know is going to ridicule you, that you go to church several times a week and yes, you actually do believe that stuff.
You know, I think God’s timing is best (imagine that!). While I was feeling guilty for not being able to figure it all out fast enough, for not having enough faith, God was using that time solidifying a base for me, building up a firmer foundation for me to stand on because He knows, these questions are never going to leave me alone. I have found that a lot of the questions and arguments were with the philosophies of man, not the gospel of my Jesus. My anger, angst, hurt, a lot of that was misdirected at what I thought was God. It wasn’t from God, and when I finally figured that out, I was able to lift my head ever so slightly and say, “Ok. I’m in.”