Where do babies come from?
I never heard the stork story. I guess my parents figured I would see through it too quickly or that it would only prompt more questions they weren’t ready to answer. I never heard the story about the birds and the bees either. I still don’t know what that one is about. But I can tell you without a doubt the day I found out where babies come from. February 16, 1977 – the day they aired the ABC Afternoon School Special, “My Mom’s Having A Baby.” I remember my mom sitting on the couch behind me as we watched. I was sitting on the floor and listening intently while they described with funny cartoons, the biological process of how a baby developed in the womb. It was really ingenious, and at nine years old, that simple show was enough to quench my curiosity. Eighth grade was when we had “sex ed” with Mr. Reller. I needed to get my mom to sign a permission slip to take the class and afterward I could see why. Mr. Reller took the up front approach to sex ed and let us ask whatever questions we wanted, and some of the questions were pretty graphic. I was surprised at how much I didn’t know. To his credit, he answered them all. It was probably one of the most informative classes I ever had. But if you had told me all of that when I was nine? I might have had a really twisted childhood. That’s because I wasn’t ready or equipped to handle that kind of conversation at the time. Most of you who are parents would probably agree. When you talk to your kids, you talk to them at a level they can understand. You don’t answer the same question when they are 5 years old as you would at 15. They just aren’t ready to handle it yet. The same is true for our faith. We don’t talk about God the same way to a 5-year old as we would a teenager or an adult. They have different levels of understanding. But what happens when you grow older and your faith doesn’t grow with you?
When we leave our faith in childhood, our God stays there, too.
When we leave our faith in childhood, our ideas about God stay there, too. Lots of people leave the church in their teens and don’t come back until they are ready to have children, and most of the time, our ideas of God haven’t changed while we were away. So whatever God we believed in back when we left the church is the God we still believe in when we come back. The problem is that our adult ideas don’t match up with the idea of a Sunday School God. The problem is our adult ideas don’t match up with our Sunday School God. Sometimes people never come back because they can’t reconcile the God they believe in with the life they know. And that makes sense, right? Why would you believe in something that doesn’t seem to make any sense? But it’s not that God doesn’t make sense, it’s that our ideas about God haven’t changed as we have. And this isn’t a new problem either. If you have a Bible or a Bible app on your phone, would you please go to Hebrews 5 beginning with verse 11. Hebrews 5:11. You’ll find that most of the problems and issues we come up with today are the same problems and issues that we’ve had all along. Even the 1st century church had these problems. You’d think being so close to the time when Jesus actually lived, they might have an advantage, but not so. They struggled with issues of faith just as much as we do today. Maybe even more so because everything was so new.
1 We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. 12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
Is your faith still in its infancy?
Because going to church doesn’t make mean that it’s grown. Just look at my garden at home. Just because there’s a box with seeds and soil doesn’t mean that plants are growing. If we don’t tend to it and take care of it and keep up with it, it won’t grow. And even if it does grow, if we don’t keep the birds away and the bugs away, they could destroy it no matter how much we feed it. Our faith is the same way. If we don’t nourish it and challenge it to grow, it will stay pretty much at whatever amount of care we decide to give it. In the letter to the Hebrew people, the writer (some say its Paul, but most don’t know who wrote it) seems frustrated with the early Jewish followers of Christ. He is frustrated by their lack of spiritual growth. He even insults them, “You need milk, not solid food!” treating them like little kids. He tells them by now they should be teaching this stuff, but they still haven’t mastered the basics. And he says, “But solid food is for the mature, who by CONSTANT USE have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” Constant use. It’s hard to say someone’s faith has been in constant use if they don’t nourish that faith. It is s one thing to say you believe in God or some high spiritual being, but its another to take that seriously and practice it. Some people might be tempted to push back against that and say, “I’m nice to other people, how can you say I’m not practicing it?” But let’s be honest, is that all it means to be a Christian? Be nice to people? Don’t murder anyone? Is that really all there is to faith? If that’s the vision you have of Christianity, then maybe you still have a Sunday School God in your mind.
There are a bunch of different versions of God we grew up with that do not exist.
In one of his sermons, Andy Stanley mentions some of these versions of God we believe in that do not exist, but we keep them around anyway. One of them he calls Bodyguard God. Bodyguard God is the God that always protects us from harm. This is the God who never lets bad things happen to good people. This is the God that we tell children that if they listen to God and obey God then God will make them happy, but to a child they interpret this as God won’t let anything bad happen to me because I believe, and that’s just not true. This is also why so many people leave their faith behind, because something bad happens to someone they love – they get diagnosed with a terminal illness or they develop dementia or get in a tragic accident – and it just doesn’t make sense. Bad things shouldn’t happen to good people and if bad things happen to good people then God must not exist. And that’s true. This version of God doesn’t exist, because God never promises us a life free from harm. He even says it out loud, and the apostle John recorded it. Jesus told them, “In this world you will have trouble.” I don’t know how much more plain he could be. “In this world you will have trouble (John 16:33).” Then he goes on, “BUT (my emphasis) take heart! I have overcome the world.” Jesus doesn’t promise us a life free from trouble. In fact, he guarantees it! It’s just that we don’t have to lose hope just because we run into it. We have hope in Christ for something better. So if you left your faith behind with Bodyguard God, that’s good, because he doesn’t exist.
Then there’s Blanket God.
Andy called him Boyfriend or Girlfriend God, but I think this description fits God better. Blanket God is the God of comfort, the God who is always present. He reminds me of Linus from the Peanuts gang because his blanket is always with him and gives him a source of comfort. People who believe in Blanket God think God is like this, always present and always there and if you’ve ever been to a spiritual retreat, maybe a youth camp when you were younger, you probably had an experience like this. For me, I felt like this when I went on my Walk To Emmaus. It was a transformative time in my life and I have rarely felt closer to God. But there are also times in our lives where we are distant from God. There are times in our lives where we not only don’t feel his presence but instead feel his absence. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t exist. And that doesn’t mean that just because we don’t notice him, he wasn’t reaching out to us. That happens all the time. When you’re in the middle of a relationship that’s going bad, your friends can warn you, they can give you hints, they can have interventions and you still don’t hear them. That doesn’t mean they didn’t try. It just means you couldn’t hear them at the time. A friend of mine from Sunday School back when I was in Georgia gave me the best advice ever and it’s stuck with me ever since. He told me when he looks back on his life he can see all the ways where God helped him through the valleys. He couldn’t see it at the time because he was stuck in his own grief or anger or depression or whatever he was feeling at the time. But afterward, he would look back and see how God was present for him and that when he was going through another valley, that’s how he could keep his faith in God, knowing that even if he seems absent that God is still at work in his life. So if you left your faith or if you have doubts about your faith because God doesn’t seem to be there, just remember, just because you don’t feel his presence doesn’t mean he isn’t there.
There’s also Gap God.
Gap God is the God who fills in the gaps of our faith. This God is the God who explains the unexplainable. Whenever something happens when we don’t understand or can’t explain, we say, “It’s a God thing.” And while that might seem to be giving God his props, it’s really undermining our faith. Because God becomes a crutch for the unexplainable and we start to use God in that way. Remember when the AIDS epidemic first began and there were people like Pat Robertson who said that it was caused by God to rid the world of homosexuality? Then they had to backtrack when heterosexual people started getting it too. Or when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005 and those same God pundits declared it was God’s wrath upon a sexually promiscuous society? As if that was the only den of ill repute in the entire world. Using God to fill in the gaps of our knowledge is not only small-minded but denies the real power of God. We don’t believe in God because of the mystery of God. We believe in God because of his revelation in Jesus Christ. We don’t believe in God because of the things we can’t explain, but because of the things we have experienced ourselves.
Before Emma was born, I went through a really difficult period of doubt.
I not only felt God was absent, but I began to doubt whether he existed at all. I went to go see my pastor, Jane Nugent, and she told me that she was sure when I witnessed Emma’s birth all doubt about God would vanish. I hoped she was right, but I remained skeptical. But sure enough, the first time Emma’s little tiny hand reached out and grabbed hold of my finger, I knew I had just witnessed God’s presence in a way I can’t even explain. By then I knew exactly how babies were born. I knew how it happened in the first place because I was there. I knew all the biology behind it. But what amazed me was that God would come up with such an amazing way for our bodies to be a part of the miracle of life. It wasn’t my lack of knowledge that made God real. It was the very fact that I understood it completely that was even more amazing to me.
If you have lost faith because of one of these versions of God, I implore you to come back.
These are simplistic views of God that were meant for a time when we didn’t have the life experiences we have now. I want to challenge you to open your heart up to the possibility that it isn’t God that’s the problem, but instead our outdated views of him. Get to know God again. And if you are solid in your faith, I challenge you to keep studying, praying, and looking for God in your life because God doesn’t disappear overnight, but in the slow erosion of our faith. God vanishes because we allow life to chip away at our vision of God until there isn’t enough for God to rest upon and it all collapses beneath us. Question God. Question your faith. Don’t be afraid to put God to the test but be open and willing to listen to the response he returns. Don’t outgrow your faith, but instead nurture it, feed it, protect it and let it grow with you. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 From Andy’s sermon to North Point Community Church, “Who Needs God? Gods of the No-Testament.”