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Posts Tagged ‘faith’

A man came into my office this week to ask me about my column, my work as a pastor, and my identity as a Christian. He asked me about a particular belief that is held by many in the Christian tradition but certainly not all. It is not a particular belief that I have and I do not believe it to be foundational for following of Jesus as the Christ.

It got me to thinking. A heard about a pastor that would write down a statement of faith every January and if his faith had not shifted, opened, grown, or changed he knew that the coming year would involve some serious spiritual work. You see we are not designed to remain stagnant. Our faith is to be a living faith, not one set in stone; it is to be rooted in Christ (if you are a Christian) not sealed in monuments. We can never fully know God, yet we can always seek God, and seek to know God more. In John Calvin’s systematic theological treatise called The Institutes of the Christian Religion Book One Chapter 1 says, “Without knowledge of self there is not knowledge of God… Without knowledge of God there is no knowledge of self.”

From what I know about myself and from what I know about God, from the authoritative witness of Scripture and prayer, is that actions are more important than words. Throughout the Hebrew Bible the prophets are decrying the worthless festivals, the books of Amos Chapter 5 and Isaiah Chapter 1 come to mind. In our study at First Presbyterian Church this season as we move through the Gospel of Mark, we find that Jesus has an immediacy about him. He wastes no time with long-winded rants, fancy robes, or state of the art worship centers. Christ comes to preach the Good News, and the Good News is not in words but in his actions, his healing, his forgiveness of sins, his breaking of bread with all comers, his seeking out those who are outcast and bringing them in.

All of this is about action. I’ve been to glorious worship services that felt and sounded like rock concerts in which I knew I was in the presence of God, I’ve been to mighty cathedrals all across the world, and stood in awe of the craftsmanship and sheer majesty of place. I’ve worshipped in tin roof steel buildings in the woods of Nicaragua. All of these mean nothing if they do not inspire me to action, if they do not call me to “repent (turn), and believe in the good news.” (as Jesus says in Mark 1: 15) then they are like a clanging cymbal.

If they don’t push me, drag me, coerce me into loving my neighbor more deeply, to blessing those that curse me, (both behind my back and to my face), to breaking bread with the outcast (you know, “those people”), to feeding the hungry (the physically and spiritually hungry in Nebraska City), clothing the naked (those without cover from family and friends and those without proper clothing for the weather), forgiving more (even though I really like holding grudges), listening more to those whom I have hurt (even when I think they are wrong), speaking up and speaking out in the name of justice (even when it isn’t politically or socially popular), and being open to conversation (with those I disagree and with those I agree because the Spirit works through all of us). If my faith in Jesus Christ, as my Lord and Savior, only calls me to go to church on Sunday morning or Bible study on Wednesday night, to feel good about myself, or to ensure my ticket to Heaven, then I believe I have missed the point, I have not heard the Good News.

This is but a piece of what I believe but it is foundational to my understanding of the God and myself. My parents taught it to me, I will teach it to my kids, and I will proclaim it to all who will listen or see. As Saint Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the gospel always, use words if necessary.”

I hope that my actions reveal my faith; I hope that I live up to the standards that God sets for me and I set for myself. I know I will stumble, I know I will fall down. I share this with you to ask for your help. I’m asking for you to hold me accountable. I’m asking for a relationship with you so we can work together to bring about the kingdom of God. If you think I’m not living into the faith articulated here, if you’d like to hear more about my faith, or what’s in the Bible come talk to me, I’d love to share a cup of coffee or a meal with you. Better yet, come to our Wednesday Night Bible Study at 6:00 PM, Sunday School at 9:15, or worship at 10:30.

At dinner every night, my family goes around the table and shares their high points and low points of the day. We call it “Favorite” and “Not Favorite”. Here are my “Favorites” and “Not Favorites” of the week.

Favorite: By the time you read this, I should be landing in Maui with my family for a weeklong family vacation with my in-laws. I’m really excited.

Not Favorite: I think my son is getting cabin fever or something. He is bouncing off the walls at home and at school. I’m hoping the sun and being outside will calm him down a little.

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c1e69-123I have been asked to contribute a weekly column to our local newspaper, The Nebraska City NewsPress, my goal is that people are reminded that they are loved, they are not alone, and that we can do positive things together as a community. Here is this week’s column, it’s called “Teach the Faith”.

I think a lot about my kids’ education. I want to do my best to prepare them to be receptive to teaching and to provide any support I can to their teachers. As my children begin to get more fully engrossed in school I’m sure that I will continue to get involved with teachers, volunteering, and being there to support the classroom teachings at home. If I don’t agree with or I have questions about the lessons or the philosophy of the teachers I won’t complain to my children, I’ll set up a meeting with the teacher and do my best to be open minded and understand their side of the story. My child’s academic education is one of the most important things for me. I trust the teachers called to create a space for my child to excel in their academic growth and their growth as a well-rounded person.

One thing I absolutely do not want my children’s teachers to be teaching them is lessons on faith. As a parent, I am called to be the primary teacher of faith and belief, of values and ethics in my children. It’s not the teacher’s job to teach my child faith, spiritual practices, and religious rituals, it’s not even the job of my child’s Sunday school teacher, coach, or, even, their pastor. That might be shocking to hear from a person whose day job is as pastor, but ultimately the Sunday school teacher, the coach, the pastor are support for the parents.

I don’t want my kids’ teachers to be teaching them about faith; I want them to be teaching them about math, English, history, and science.

As a pastor, I am entrusted to talk about and teach faith to people of all ages, especially children. The dirty little secret of pastors is that there is no way we can have as much influence as an active parent. I have an opportunity to be with people two to three hours a week maximum, even if all that time is spent in critical, deep, faithful spiritual development that’s still not enough to overcome the modeling, the conversations, the actions of parents.

Luckily as a parent, I have support. I have teachers, coaches, other parents, and pastors. Luckily you have an opportunity for support. There are 24 churches in this town to which you can go for support, there are great teachers, coaches, and other parents here to help you to honor your responsibility to pass on ethics, rituals, and faith to our children.

There’s even a group at First Presbyterian Church called MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers).  It’s for moms who have children under 5 years old. They get together about once a month to eat, make crafts, talk about being moms, and help to impart faith. There are other small groups, bible studies, worship services, meals, and many opportunities to find support for each other as we raise our kids to be positive members of society.

If we abdicate our responsibility to teach the next generation, we abdicate our ability to complain about who they become.

At dinner every night, my family goes around the table and shares their high points and low points of the day. We call it “Favorite” and “Not Favorite”. Here are my “Favorites” and “Not Favorites” of the week.

Favorite: The nice weather, I hope I get to play golf this week.

Not Favorite: My wife is on a business trip. I’m all by myself this week.

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After reading this book, I now deeply respect Bruce Reyes-Chow more than I did, if that is even possible (we are bordering on mancrush, here), he was able to articulate things in a clear and concise way that does not end the conversation but helps build a framework to begin the conversations, I feel like now I have at least something to start with when conversations about race, or the other, come up in my very white, very Midwestern context.

I self-identify as a white, Appalachian, male, I am married with two kids, I have two masters degrees, and was raised very comfortably in the middle class. I was born in South Carolina, went to elementary school in Georgia, and went to middle and high school in Texas. I am a person of privilege.

The first person I have recollection of hanging out with was T.J., my dad was his mentor in the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program in the late 70s. In elementary school, my friends were Peruvian, Indian, Greek, Anglo, Korean, and African-American. When I was in middle school I played on the basketball court at the play ground with mostly black dudes from government housing, with all that diversity and with all that experiences you’d think I’d know how to talk with folks who were different or of a different race than I. You’d be wrong, for a large portion of my teens and early twenties I was an out and out racist. Slurs, bigotry, and condemnation were the name of the game. I used all the previous information to argue that I wasn’t, I was lying.

Luckily through many interactions, confrontations, and soul searching I realized, I remembered where I had come from and what I had been taught, that we are all God’s children worthy of respect.

Last summer I attended a gathering of religious types in Corvallis, Oregon called Wild Goose West. During my preparation for that gathering I read that Bruce, a friend and someone I’ve long admired, was going to lead a session on race I thought, “Well, not going to that.” I thought I already knew about how to talk to people about race, I’m good. That’s not for me, maybe a more timely issue.

Then I began reading another book called, The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander and my pretty, little bubble of liberal, white privilege was shattered. About one chapter in to Alexander’s book I thought, “Damn, should’ve gone to that session with Bruce.”

I then heard through the social media grapevine that Bruce was writing a book on race. I think I was one of the first few peoplethat donated my meager sum to the project. I couldn’t wait to read it, because…1) I deeply respect Bruce, 2) Bruce often is able to articulate things in a way that I have been unable to (see # 1), and 3) I felt a lack of knowledge on how to approach people when talking about race without sounding like a blowhard, a bleeding heart, or an idiot.

This book is, providentially, timely in my own world and the in the larger community with the conversations revolving around the George Zimmerman verdict, DOMA, Immigration reform, and institutional racism being batted around on social media, in coffee shops, and on street corners.

Just this past week, I was at a gathering of religious folks, mainly Presbyterians, where I heard many comments that began with “Well, you know those [insert group here]…” (The groups ranged from Africans, African-Americans, Hispanics, and, even, Catholic priests.) Now I don’t believe that any of these people were racist or malicious, but I do believe that they were unaware of how their language was being heard by others. I was thankful that I had read this book because I noticed my own language issues and I could then steer the conversation into a more productive place or at least acknowledge that we were in headed down a dangerous path.

I would encourage anyone, young and old, religious or not, well versed in conversations about privilege and those that don’t think it exists to read this book. This book will not answer all your questions, it might not answer any of them, but it will begin the conversation and, hopefully, provide you an opportunity to make amends, to move forward, and to begin the healing work of reconciliation that is much needed in this world.

 

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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.

Blessings,

Buttface

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