Sacred and holy moments

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The upcoming birth of our second child (due in less than two weeks!) and the fact that Christmas is just around the corner remind me of a chapter from Sarah Bessey’s book Jesus Feminist, where the following quote comes from:

I can assure you: there isn’t anything very dignified about giving birth.

And yet, that was the moment when I felt my carefully constructed line between the sacred and the secular shatter once and for all. The sacred and holy moments of a life are often our most raw, our most human moments, aren’t they?

The bolded section resonates with me when I look back on my life so far. Two of the moments which, both at the time and on further reflection, have been the most sacred and holy were also my most raw…

The first moment was when I was made redundant from my job in 2010. I’d been working for the company for the first three years Kim and I had been in Dunedin and, while there had been a lull in work – not great if you’re a consultant – being called into the manager’s office and told that I was going to lose my job absolutely blindsided me. I remember feeling completely numb returning to my desk after the conversation. I nervously headed home at the end of the day and it wasn’t long before I shared with Kim what had happened, tears streaming down my face. The following day I spent at home and found myself scrubbing the kitchen floor and crying out to God – asking “why?” In this moment I felt so close to God, it was incredible.

The second moment was while Kim and I were in the midst of infertility, holding on to the hope of a child after three years of trying to conceive. In October 2012 we attended our church’s annual camp at Pounawea in the Catlins. After one of the sermons there was an opportunity for those who wanted prayer to be prayed for by others. We asked for prayer and were surrounded by a small group of familiar faces. As I tried to explain what we wanted prayer for I found myself choked up with tears, unable to get any words out. Up until that point our infertility journey had emotionally impacted Kim much more than me, but in that moment, opening up to others about our pain, I struggled for words. We were covered with prayer on that day and I recall a great sense of peace about the situation following this. One year later our wee surprise arrived – an incredible blessing after trying for so long.

In both of these moments I was faced with a loss of control and certainty about the future. I was weak, vulnerable, on my knees, crying out to God. I’ve found that these moments of inadequacy and uncertainty are such amazing opportunities for God’s grace to shine through.

In his book, Man Enough, when discussing vulnerability Nate Pyle says:

There are going to be times in our lives when we are not strong enough to change the situation. Cancer. The loss of a job because of an economic crisis. Losing a loved one in a car accident. Only when we realize how truly little control we have over the world around us will we being to accept just how weak we are. And if we can embrace our weakness in the world and stop the pretense that we are super-natural he-men impervious to the threats of a broken world, then we will begin to see the strength of Christ move in and through us.

This is so true, and is something I will continue strive towards in the future. I want to be someone who is vulnerable and aware of the inherent uncertainties of life, who is willing to share these weaknesses with family and friends, and who endeavours to create an environment where others can also be vulnerable.

This is crucial to creating a close-knit community of disciples, where we journey with each other to seek Christ through the good times and the bad, where our human-ness shows through in sacred and holy moments. One further quote from Sarah Bessey:

[God] never shied away from our most piercingly human experiences – birth, pain, death, sickness – and so, can we not find him and his redemption ways there still?

Finally, I’ve been reading 2 Corinthians recently and what Paul writes in chapter 12 speaks directly to this topic:

Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 10 That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Image source

Is it wrong to doubt?

doubt

At our church members’ meeting this week (which I mentioned in my previous post), a Word for Today devotion was shared on the topic of doubt. The devotion suggested that doubt is ‘the doorway through which Satan enters your life’ and that ‘your doubts reveal a lack of confidence in what God says’ – I’m not sure I agree with these statements.

Surely some level of doubt isn’t unhealthy, or is even healthy. I believe that questioning what we believe and why we believe it strengthens our faith. Sharing these doubts and working to understand them with others is crucial to developing a truly authentic community of Christ followers.

I recently listened to a sermon by Nate Pyle where he touched ever so briefly on the topic of doubt in the context of speaking about the Great Commission. Matthew 28:17 says “When they saw him [Jesus], they worshiped him – but some of them doubted!” Here it is in black and white – it’s not wrong to doubt, it doesn’t make us a bad Christian. Nate finished by saying that doubt only becomes a problem when we use it as an excuse to not continue seeking God. Doubts, knocking on the door, asking him to answer, is okay.

Rachel Held Evans, in her book Evolving in Monkey Town, discusses doubt and makes an important observation:

Doubt is a difficult animal to master because it requires that we learn the difference between doubting God and doubting what we believe about God. The former has the potential to destroy faith; the latter has the power to enrich and refine it. The former is a vice; the latter is a virtue.

I think this differentiation is key, and perhaps the Word for Today devotion was primarily addressing the former. However, it portrayed it in such a way that it suggested all doubt was wrong, which is so unhelpful for those of us sitting in the pews with nagging questions of ‘why?’, ‘how?’ and ‘when?’ running through our head.

I’ll finish with another quote from Rachel’s book (which is a great read if you haven’t already picked it up!):

Doubt is the mechanism by which faith evolves. It is a refining fire, a hot flame that keeps our faith alive and moving and bubbling about, where certainty would only freeze it on the spot.

Faith isn’t about being right, or settling down, or refusing to change. Faith is a journey, and every generation contributes its own sketches on the map. I’ve got miles and miles to go on this journey, but I think I can see Jesus up ahead.

And for further reading, few interesting articles on Christians who aren’t afraid to doubt:

Image source

Initial reflections on the pastoral search committee

Searching

A month ago, in late September, the pastoral search committee I’m part of were very excited – we had been through an intensive six months of groundwork, interviews and prayer to get to the point where we had a person to bring to our church congregation – the person we believed God was calling to be our new senior pastor.

Then we received the news that he had decided to withdraw his name from the call – we were shell-shocked – up until that point it had been such a smooth process. The reasons why he no longer wanted to proceed were entirely understandable and commendable, but it was still disappointing for us as a committee to have to farewell the person we thought would be have been leading the church from early next year.

Over the past month we and the church leadership have been reflecting on a number of matters stemming from this event, culminating in a report back to the church members early next week on the process so far and where to next.

We’re going to be taking a bit of a hiatus as a committee, looking to reform again in the New Year – we’re still very aware of God’s guidance and the fact that he has great plans for our church in the future. But as always, God’s plans and timing aren’t always as we expect them to be.

Back in September I was starting to form the ideas for a ‘lessons learned from being on a pastoral search committee’ blog post – naturally this will have to go on the backburner for a while until the process has successfully finished – however in the interim I wanted to share a little bit of advice I received earlier this year.

I’m a firm believer in seeking the advice of others who have gone before you, and in this instance I sought out the advice of one of the pastors whose blog and sermons I follow, Nate Pyle (Lead Pastor at Christ’s Community Church in Fishers, Indiana).

Nate gave this advice:

“Often, in the anxiety of wanting to find a pastor, churches put their best foot forward. Just as the pastor, a candidate for a ‘job,’ is putting their best self forward. To me, the process often felt like dating. The key is to get beyond that as fast as possible. A church must, as best it can, authentically represent itself. So, if the pastor asks if the church is willing to change, the church should be as honest as possible in the minute lest both church and pastor get into a relationship that is founded upon false expectations.”

As a committee we really appreciated this advice, particularly the analogy of the process being similar to dating. We used this analogy during the interview process to communicate to candidates how we intended to approach the interview.

Incidentally, I saw on Twitter the other day that Nate also had some other good advice:

Image source