Talk Prepared for July 27, 2014
Having moved in just two weeks ago, we have been slightly in shock at how freakishly organized this ward is. In our two weeks, we’ve already been visited by the Elder’s Quorum Presidency, the Relief Society Presidency, and the Bishopric. The icing on the cake was the multi-paragraph email we received with this assignment to speak. I think my wife’s words were “Is there such a thing as so ideal and organized that it’s weird”? That letter asked that I speak on Faith in Jesus Christ and to take some time to introduce you to our family and tell you a bit about us.
My name is Matt Witten. Before me, that was my amazing wife, [Wife] Witten. A friend of mine told me once that she is the most capable woman he has ever met. Her first name is [Wife’s First Name], but she goes by [Wife], her middle name. We have three amazing daughters, [Oldest Daughter], [Middle Daughter] and [Youngest Daughter]. [Youngest Daughter]’s first name is [Wife’s First Name], but she goes by her middle name. So you won’t have to ask later, No, we’re not trying or hoping for a boy. My wife’s lived in San Antonio since her senior year of High School. I’ve lived in San Antonio since 2002. How we met is a story about Faith.
In 1998, I had been offered two summer job opportunities. One working for the boy scouts in New Mexico at Philmont Scout Ranch, the other sailing on a barge up and down the Mississippi River. The barge job paid 4 times as much as Philmont, but the scouting Job meant being close to mountains, which I had never done up to that point in my life. I felt like I needed the money. I was not very religious at that point in my life, but remembering the Faith of my mother, I decided to pray about which job to take. When I finished praying, my dad called and told me I didn’t need the money and to do what I thought would give me the best experience for the rest of my life. I decided to take the job working at Philmont, as I really felt like there was something really important for me there. So with just a tiny seed of Faith in my heart, I jumped on a plane and headed to New Mexico. I was 20 years old.
At the same time, [Wife] was at BYU and was also 20 years old and about to turn missionary age, then 21. Despite that, she felt a prompting to postpone going on a mission, but did not know why. So she was looking for a summer job rather than putting in her mission papers. Walking on Campus one day, a woman approached her and asked her if she were looking for a summer job. [Wife] felt the spirit within her prompt her to take the invitation. The job was at Philmont Scout Ranch. [Wife] accepted the job, although the only camping she’d ever done was at girl’s camp and she was a vocal performance major. Having taken a missionary preparation class, she decided to pack a Book of Mormon to give away, and to mark scriptures in it. She had Faith that the Lord had a plan for her. [Full Story Here]
This is how the Lord works. [Wife] just mentioned divine positioning, which we also heard about last week from [Guy who spoke last week]. I believe in divine positioning. The Lord put me in a place to find my relationship with Him through meeting her. He didn’t violate my agency, and I believe I could have chosen to do otherwise, but he knew what to put in my path to get me where he wanted me to be, which is standing here right now today. Sometimes, I think we overcomplicate Faith. We speak of Faith as if it were the Force from Star Wars, or as if it were some applied form of the scientific method of hypothesizing and testing hypotheses. Faith is not accepting the right set of propositions, not is it to have the correct beliefs, except to the extent that those beliefs bring us into a closer relationship with God and Jesus Christ. [This is from Blake Ostler’s Fire on the Horizon]
To have Faith in someone is to trust them. A common proof text for talking about Faith is Alma 32:21 “Faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.”
This has two parts, First faith is not a perfect knowledge.
To go along with [Oldest Daughter]’s request for stories, I’d like to illustrate this with a story from the life of John the Baptist found in Matthew 11:2-11, which features Christ’s praise of John the Baptist as more than a prophet, but also something else. In these verses, John is in prison, and is very aware that he is about to be killed. He calls out to Jesus “Art thou the Christ or do we wait for another?” Or in other words, John, in his moment of darkness and need, calls out to Christ in doubt and uncertainty. While we cannot be certain, one plausible reason for this is because John’s expectation of the Messiah was that he would be a conqueror sent by God who came to overthrow those people who now held John captive. This was the normal understanding of what the Messiah was to do at that time. In any event, here is John, who was “more than a prophet” but who is in many ways “the prophet”, having weakness and doubt. In response, Jesus calls for these messengers to tell John what he’s been about, blessing, healing, and raising the dead. He states this as evidence that he is the Messiah, and then asks John to “take no offense in me”. He asks that John not be offended by who he is in actuality. He was not the Messiah that was culturally expected. He was and is the true Messiah. Jesus does not release him from his allotted punishment, as we all know. John dies, his head put on a platter, and Christ mourns his loss. [From N.T. Wright’s Simply Jesus]
I take a few things from this story. First, I take heart that if John could misunderstand what the Messiah was about, but still be the Prophet of his generation, there is hope for me as I attempt to be a good Father, a faithful Latter-day Saint, and descent human being. Second, Even John the Baptist had a moment of doubt. Third, When John had questions, he took them to the Lord himself. Fourth, and finally, when Christ responded, John’s faith strengthened and he accepted his fate. He was like Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego who when about to be thrust into the furnace said “Lord spare us, but if not, we will still believe.” Except they were spared, and John was not. This is trusting the Lord.
This brings us back to the second part of Alma 32:21 “if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.” This is a fantastic definition and example of Faith as Trust. When you trust someone, you do not need to see what they are doing, because you trust them. You require no proof of what they are up to. For example, I cannot prove without any doubt that my wife is faithful to me, but I have faith that she is. My faith guarantees and proves her faithfulness. Though I don’t have proof, I don’t require it. I never worry about her faithfulness. [This is from a Blog post by Jim F. at Feast upon the Word]
Speaking of Faithfulness, this is another aspect of Faith in Jesus Christ to be discussed. Just as my wife is faithful to me in our relationship, am I faithful to Christ in my relationship with Him? When we trust the lord, it changes our map of how reality works. When we are faithful to Christ, we have a determined commitment to doing his will. Another word for being faithful is fidelity. When I was very young, we all wanted our music to be high fidelity, though with the technology we have today, this isn’t so much a concern. All music is high fidelity. For an audio recording to be high fidelity, that means the sound on the recording was a perfect copy of the original, with as few distortions from the original as possible. When we are faithful to Christ, the patterns of our lives are like that. They are as perfect a copy of Christ’s life as we can make them. This does not mean they are a perfect copy, just like high fidelity recordings are still not a perfect copy of the original, even today. God requires only that we do the best we can, and he has provided his own aid, via the atonement, to reach out the rest of the way toward us. This is why, when we talk about Faith, we talk about Faith in Jesus Christ. We Trust in him to make up the difference, to seek us out when we are lost, to pick us up and wipe off our skinned knees, to make good out of the mess we call life. When we do the best we can, we can be High Fidelity images of our savior, receiving his image into our countenance.
Shortly after I joined the church, I went on a mission to the Philippines. At the same time, [Wife] went on a mission to Italy. [Wife] would send me pictures from her mission and I would see that Christ like image in her countenance. I knew she was doing well and I longed to serve my mission in a way that could reflect the same. At about the midpoint in my mission, we had a baptism for a lady named [Lady Baptized on my Mission]. She told me one reason she was baptized was that her young son told her that when the missionaries came to her home, he said he no longer saw just men, but saw the savior coming to his home. We can be high fidelity. In Latin, Fid means faith, and Fidelity means faithful. There is another word that derives from this same root. Fiduciary. [ed. I know this is not exactly correct Latin, but keeping it at the level I can pronounce] Today when we hear this word we think of banks with their fiduciary responsibility. A fiduciary is any relationship of trust between two or more parties where one person, in a position of vulnerability, justifiably vests confidence, good faith, reliance, and trust in another whose aid, advice or protection is sought in some matter. In such a relation good conscience requires the fiduciary to act at all times for the sole benefit and interest of the one who trusts. While we could reasonably say that we are the vulnerable party vesting our good faith in God, who is working for our sole benefit, and while I definitely believe this is true, I would like to suggest the opposite. Our Father in Heaven has put himself in a vulnerable position, placing his most valuable possessions here on earth into the care of another party. We are those valuable possessions and we are also the party to which God has entrusted their care. We have a duty to care for one another, to protect, aid and advise one another. Or as Christ put it. “As I have loved you, Love one another.”
I’d like to close with a thought from LDS theologian Adam Miller. “They say in Zen, waking up to life requires three things: great faith, great doubt, and great effort. Faith isn’t a way of going to sleep. It’s the work of waking up. And, in order to wake up, you’ll need both great faith and great doubt. In itself, doubt is neither good nor bad. Its value depends on what you do with it. You can doubt what’s real in order to stay asleep or you can doubt your daydreams in order to wake up. You can use doubt to protect you from the truth or you can use doubt to leave you vulnerable to it. You’ll have doubts regardless. Repurpose them for the sake of faith. Saving doubt is a strong solvent that can burn holes in your [worldview] and lead you back to the work of being faithful to life and, thus, to God. Practicing doubt for the sake of faith is hard work and it demands great effort. Great faith, great doubt, great effort. When your faith falters and you’re tempted to run, stand up and bear testimony instead. A testimony is a promise to stay. A testimony gives form to your great faith, it gives direction to your great doubt, and it publicly commits you to the great effort of trying to live what God gives. It is less a measure of your certainty about a list of facts than it is a mark of your commitment to bearing the truths that, despite their weakness, keep imposing themselves as a grace. In this way, bearing a testimony is like saying “I love you.” A testimony doesn’t just reflect what someone else has already decided, it is a declaration that, in the face of uncertainty, you have made a decision. Saying “I love you” or “I know the church is true” commits you to living in such a way as to make that love true.” [From Letters to a Young Mormon] I testify of these things in the name…