Returning To Church

On May 5, 2012, CNN’s “Belief Blog” featured a column by Andrea Palpant Dilley entitled, “My Faith”  Returning to Church, Despite my Doubts.”

She described her doubts and reasons for walking away from church this way:

I was sick of church. I was sick, too, of all the spiritual questions plaguing me: Why does the church seem so culturally insulated and dysfunctional? Why does God seem distant and uninvolved? And most of all, why does God allow suffering?

After walking away from church, she writes about how she began the journey back.  She concludes:

In reality, I left the church more because of my own internal  discontent than the lure of so-called secular life. When I came back, I still carried that same discontent. I was confused, and still bothered by questions and doubts. I stayed in the back row and didn’t sing or pray. I wasn’t really sure I wanted to be there.
And yet I sat there, Sunday after Sunday, listening to the pastor and the organ pipes and trying to figure out what was going on in my dark, conflicted heart.

Although I never experienced that dramatic reconversion moment, I did come to peace with two slow-growing realizations.

First: My doubt belonged in church.

People who know my story ask what I would have changed about my spiritual journey. Nothing. I had to leave the church to find the church. And when I came back, the return wasn’t clean or conclusive. Since then, I’ve come to believe that my doubts belong inside the space of the sanctuary. My questions belong on the altar as my only offering to God.

With all its faults, I still associate the church with the pursuit of truth and justice, with community and shared humanity. It’s a place to ask the unanswerable questions and a place to be on sojourn. No other institution has given me what the church has: a space to search for God.

Second: My doubt is actually part of my faith.

In Mark 9:24, a man says to Jesus, “I believe, help my unbelief.” The Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor called this the foundation prayer of faith. I pray that prayer often and believe that God honors my honesty.

I also believe God honors my longing. The writer and theologian Frederick Buechner said “Faith is homesickness.” C.S. Lewis called it “Sehnsucht,” a longing for a far-off country. I feel that sense of unshakable yearning. It comes from the deepest part of my heart, a spiritual desire that’s strangely, mysteriously connected to my doubt.

Sitting in church every Sunday, my doubt is my desire – to touch the untouchable, to possess the presence of God.

I appreciate Andrea’s honesty.  I also found it powerful that being in church, where God was present and where she experienced him being bigger than her doubts was a powerful part of bringing her back to faith.

May we experience the presence of God this week during our church services to strengthen our faith, and bring others to Him.

Blessings,

Jim

Favorite Sermons of the Year — #1

Here it is….my favorite sermon from the past year:

#1:LIFE {TOGETHER} (#15): Identity

This sermon used an illustration about the clothes that we wear to represent our identity in Christ.  This is a powerful metaphor for how we think about our lives and I really enjoyed the way that God put this whole sermon together.

So, this week as you look in your closet, don’t forget that you also have the choice about what attitudes and beliefs you will choose to wear.

Will you put on…

or will you choose to put on…

Blessings,

Jim

Favorite Sermons of the Year — #2

Several of my favorite sermons came from our “Ten Commandments of Community” mini-series.

My second favorite sermon of the year was…

#2: LIFE {TOGETHER} (#18): Talk Truthfully

The first sermon in the Ten Commandments of Community series struck me as one of the most powerful since how we speak to each other is so absolutely important for our relationships in community.

Blessings,

Jim

God Told Me

JIM’S NEW BOOK IS OUT!

We weren’t expecting his book to be released until mid-July so we were surprised to get the following picture from a friend who visited Baker Book House today.  We haven’t even seen an actual physical copy of the book yet!

The book is Jim’s perspective on seeking God’s will, probably the topic he gets the most questions about as he ministers both at Calvary and in other settings.

In addition to the book, there is a website, GodToldMethebook.com, where Jim has already begun to post verses, stories from history and follow-up stories from the book specifically on the topic of hearing from God.

This book has been a major project for over a year now so it is fun to see it in print.  Thanks for letting me brag on my husband!

Olives & Coffee will continue to serve as our blog for sermon insights, the things God is teaching us, and just general things we find interesting.  We so appreciate all the encouragement about this blog — it has been fun to do and glad that is has been a blessing.

All is well,

Lisa

Favorite Sermons of the Year — #3

As we continue my list of “Top 5 Sermons” of the year, my third favorite sermon was:

#3: LIFE {TOGETHER} (#24): Avoid Idolatry

This sermon really surprised me.  No one likes talking about sexual immorality and greed, yet instead of feeling heavy and dark – the sermon felt full of the Holy Spirit.

The results of this sermon were very tangible as a number of people came forward and confessed sin in their lives.  It is amazing to see these people begin to experience freedom in Christ.

Blessings,

Jim

Gardening 101

On Sunday May 6, 2012, The Grand Rapids Press Homes section featured an article entitled, “Gardening 101.”  One of the tips for gardening success was: “Water properly.  Don’t water frequently for only brief periods.  Doing so causes plant roots to hover near the soil surface.  Instead deep-soak each time you water to encourage roots to grow deeply into the soil.”

Gardening provides an almost unlimited source of metaphors for thinking about the Christian life.  In this case, the comparison between frequently, but briefly watering a plant, versus providing a deep soak offers a helpful comparison for understanding self-esteem and identity in Christ.

As Christians we all need and long for affirmation, just like a plant longs for water.  But just as there are two kinds of watering – each with a different result – there are two kinds of affirmation that we can receive.

The first is the quick hit of affirmation, which comes like the spray of a squirt bottle.  This usually occurs when we first take on a service project or begin a ministry.  In the first few weeks of volunteering in children’s ministry, for example, we may receive encouragement from the pastor, our new team leader and appreciative parents. It is appropriate that they are grateful for our willingness to serve and the new energy we bring to the task.

However, with time, our contributions become routine, expected even, and may begin to feel that we are taken for granted.  The frequency of encouragement and verbal affirmation decreases.  It is at this point that we can be tempted to jump ship; to find another ministry and experience another season of initial affirmation and encouragement.

But the danger in doing this is that it creates a Christian identity based on seasons of brief watering, which causes shallow roots.  Our self-esteem as a servant of Christ becomes wrapped up in the verbal affirmation and encouragement of others, and it is possible to become almost addicted to these quick-hit “brief waterings,” and dependent on them to feel valuable in God’s kingdom.

However, there is another kind of encouragement and affirmation that comes when we are serving Christ.  The encouragement that comes from the faithfulness of long-term service.  This kind of affirmation and encouragement can still come from other Christians, but also from God.  We hear His Spirit telling us, “well, done good and faithful servant.”  We see the fruit of sustained, faithful ministry.  Such a faithful ministry over time will require us to rely heavily upon the Lord, and that becomes the deep watering of our soul.

The “thank yous” that come in those situations are not because we have brought a new energy or a fresh approach or filled a vacancy.  The gratitude comes because we have effected real life change in others and communicated something about Jesus’ sustaining grace in the process.

That kind of affirmation is like a deep soak.  It causes the roots of our identity to grow deep into Christ.  We see that he carried us through the good times and the bad.

We need to be frequently asking the Lord about what ministries he wants us to be invovled in and how long to serve.  However, I see some Christians today who have become addicted to the quick hit affirmation –bouncing from ministry to ministry looking for that initial gratitude and encouragement and then leaving for seemingly greener pastures when it dries up.

But there is great value in doing one thing and sticking with it.

Blessings,

Jim

From Lisa — Since Jim wrote about gardening, here are some shots of flowers I’ve loved from our current study break travels.  I’m just learning about gardening so hopefully I got all the names right!