Growing in Faith
Old Testament Reading- Psalm 34:11-19
New Testament Reading- 1 Peter 2:1-3
By Henry J. Rafferty CLP -June 13, 2021
We all have to start somewhere, but where? Sometimes we start in the middle or sometimes two-thirds of the way towards our goal. Sometimes we even try to start way at the end of what we want to achieve, but if we are wise and patient, we start at the beginning. What are we talking about? Well, anything really, anything that we want to learn or achieve we must have a starting place.
When we are born, we all start the same way, as infants, completely helpless, reliant on someone to do everything for us, to eat, to clean ourselves, to clothe ourselves, everything. In the process of growing up, we learn many things like, riding a bike, reading, writing, getting dressed, learning to drive, so on and so forth, for many things that we do every day. How we learned each of these things is different for everyone. We didn’t all learn to ride a bike the exact same way and we don’t all write the exact same way, yes, the words may be the same, but how we hold our pen and how our writing takes shape is different from each other. Some kids want to jump right on the bike and sail down the street, this usually ends up in a skinned knee, but each person will start in a different place.
When Zach was little, he fixated on peddling the bike so much that he didn’t think about balance, so he would end up falling over and with each fall came more frustration until it was a just a lesson in futility.
One day we had him playing some sport with other kids and I overheard a man, more my Dad’s age, telling someone about his son having the same problem Zach experienced trying to ride a bike. I listened intently as he said that he solved the problem by taking off the pedals. Perfect, what a great idea, that’s what I would do. The next time I took Zach out to try the bike I took the pedals off. His first response was, “Dad, I can’t ride the bike without the pedals.” I told him to be patient and focus on balance first. I told him he already knew how to balance himself, to which he claimed up and down that he did not. I reminded him about the scooter he so often rode. “Zach,” I said, “Doesn’t your scooter have only two wheels.” You could just see the light bulb go off in his head, and the next thing I knew he was sitting on the bike ready to give it a try. “Don’t let go Dad,” he said, “Not until I say so.”
We started down the road with no pedals, his feet just above the surface of the road and me holding onto the back of his seat. Soon, I could see he had it and I let go, without saying a word. A few seconds later he said, “Ok, let go Dad.” “I already have,” I said, from about ten to fifteen feet behind. He went a little farther and then stopped and turned around, I can still see his face, he couldn’t have been happier, and I couldn’t have been either. He did it, and most importantly, he proved to himself that he could balance a bike, he could go on two wheels. Barb got home from work and Zach is now showing off, most proudly to his mother, how he can ride on two wheels. “Put the pedals on Dad,” he said, “Are you sure? Maybe we should just do this a while more,” I said. “No, Dad, I’m ready.” I put the pedals back on the bike and the first two trips ended in falls. Now, the wind is back out of his sails and he is frustrated again. “Zach,” I said. “Why are you falling? You just proved that you could balance, now quit trying to do it so fast and take it easy, one step at a time.” Soon, he was doing it again, a little shaky, but he was doing it. The smile came back to his face and within weeks he took to it like a duck to water.
We each learn at a different speed or in a different way, but we have to learn. The problem comes when we try to skip the steps at the beginning that are meant to be the first steps for a reason. We try to speed up the process and end up doing more harm than good. When riding a bike, maybe speeding up the process ends in a broken arm, instead of a skinned knee. In some things, speeding up the process can end in too much frustration that might have been avoided with more patience. Like I said before, wisdom is what teaches us when to say when.
When I was younger, I sang a lot of choral pieces. When I would be learning the part, each first time would end in my frustration, and sometimes the frustration of my teacher as well. The next practice session though would always be different and would go much smoother. I soon learned about myself, not to push it, learn something, run through it, then sleep on it. There was no good to come out of frustration and soon I learned that, for me, that is how I learned best, and don’t try to make it perfect the first time through. “Practice makes perfect,” as the old saying goes.
Our faith is no different really. It is not going to be perfect at first, we will not quite get it all at first, God does not work that way. He wants us to be patient with ourselves and others as He is patient with us. In our Old Testament reading today, the psalmist tells us,
“Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies. Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry; but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to blot out their name from the earth. The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. The righteous person may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all.” These are your first steps, baby steps, so to say. Know this first, to learn to fear the Lord your God, that is, to respect Him, to revere Him and to know that He has your best interests at heart. “
How do you begin?” First, keep control of your sharpest and most deadly weapon, your tongue.
Worried about weapons of mass destruction? Then worry about the human tongue, it is capable of the worst crimes, the most wars, the biggest lies, and the most egregious sins imaginable.
The only problem is that you can control only one and that is the one in your own mouth, but start there. Second, turn from evil and do good. Jesus said you can tell a tree by its fruit, if you are good, your thoughts, your tongue, and your deeds will be good. If they are evil your fruit will be rotten. The Lord is watching you and He is helping those who are doing His will and is opposed to those who are not, you don’t want to be on the wrong side of God
on the last day. Lastly, know that the Lord hears us and is attentive to our cries for help and our broken hearts. God is eager to help those who love Him and believe in Him.
Yes, these are your first steps, but don’t stop there. The apostle Peter tells us in his first epistle that once you have tasted that the Lord is good you should crave more spiritual milk. As you crave more of God’s goodness and ask Him for His guidance and His wisdom, He will give you more as you are ready for it. God will not give us too much at first but will help us at each step along the way. Peter again tells us to rid ourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Notice he does not say some of these things, but all of them of every kind. We cannot keep justifying our sins by trying to find loopholes in God’s word. We may fool some people some of the time, but we can never fool God, not even once. He knows our game and who we learned it from, and He is not having any of it.
As we grow and mature in our faith, we learn to be more like God and we begin to see, in our own limited way, to look through His eyes. As we rid ourselves of evil thoughts and deeds, we begin to purify our sight. Jesus said, remove the timber from your own eye first and then you can see clearly to remove the splinter from your neighbor’s eye. Just like we said before about controlling our own tongue first, we must correct our own sins before we can help others with theirs.
Our faith keeps growing until we begin to realize that we are all in this together, that I am not me and you are not you, but that you and I are we and we together are us.
We begin to understand that Jesus is right when He said that all that listen to Him are His family, His brothers, His sisters, and His mother. We are all God’s children, and He loves every one of us. God desires all to be saved and to be with Him forever. As we grow in our faith, He gives us the wisdom to realize that we are not God, that we are not capable of being God, and that we should focus more on serving others than judging them. We should rejoice in every person that comes to know God, not throw a late-night revel about those who do not. The kingdom of God is not an exclusive club meant for a select few and it has no boundaries that allow only a certain number of people to enter.
We, the followers of Jesus Christ, Christians, are to come to maturity in our faith and learn that God is the first and last greatest being in all that has been and ever shall be and that if we want to be like Him we must first trust Him to enter into our lives, into our very beings and to allow Him to show us how best to serve Him through love and mercy towards others. Christ has paved the way for us and paid for our sins in full. Now is the time for our decision, the one thing God will not do for you. You must choose God’s way or your way. Don’t skip ahead in your faith journey, choose to start at the beginning and then allow your mature faith, the faith that you have chosen, and that God has given you to guide you in this. God’s amazing grace has the power to save us all, go out and tell all who will have ears to listen about it and just watch what a harvest God will make. Thanks be to God. Amen.