Three Authors That Remind Us Questions Are Okay

Do you have questions and doubts about faith? I do. I have been a Christian since age seven, but as I get older I find I have more questions about God, not less.

When I have questions, I find it comforting to know I’m not the only one. One place I have found that comfort is through memoirs from other Christians. Because here’s the deal, it’s not just you and me, it’s pretty much everyone that has questions. Some people are just more comfortable talking about it than others.

 

Here are three books I have read recently written by people who have chosen to be vulnerable and let us glimpse their story so we can be more comfortable talking about our own.

 

Remember God by Annie F. Downs

“I know God is loving; I know He is good; I believe He is big and powerful. But sometimes I wonder if He is really kind – really deeply always kind. Is He?”

 

I feel as though Annie and I have become friends (we have never met but she is a great social media follow). I recently went through a season where I was just not interested in pursuing spiritual growth. I wasn’t rejecting my faith, just the hard work that comes with improving it. During this time, Annie’s work helped gently lead me back to a renewed excitement for growth and relationship with God.

 

In Remember God, Annie opens up about her own disappointments and frustrations. She walks you through her journey and all the ways she felt God didn’t match her dream, and all the ways God showed her that his dream was better.

 

The Most Beautiful Thing I’ve Seen by Lisa Gungor

“The journey toward new sight can be equal parts beautiful and all out hell. But it comes to all of us the same—slowly, in moments separating old from new, before from after. Moments that split time or split our very souls, and we suddenly see life as we have never seen it before.”

 

I loved this book, not because my journey is very similar to Lisa’s (her and her family have truly been through a wild journey of deconstructed faith and devastating events), but because I can understand how she ended up where she did and it is amazing how she was able to pick up the broken pieces. Lisa’s writing is poetic and emotional. It made me contemplate my pre-conceived notions and helped me reconsider what aspects of my faith could use some breaking down and rebuilding. 

 

The Wondering Years by Knox McCoy

“[Faith] Was something I held in my heart from a very young age; and while I never lost it or had it taken from me, I couldn’t help but notice how both it and I were changing. And it has been during this process of change that I realized how you can be grateful for something while also being occasionally discontent with it.”

 

This book hit home with me in a very different way than the first two. First off, Knox is a very funny writer. I have never been more interested in footnotes as I was while reading this book. But also, I saw a lot of my childhood in his story. There are certain pitfalls that are more easily stumbled into when you have not known a life outside of Christianity. You sometimes do silly things like try to evangelize to the neighborhood dogs or try to warn all your friends about the dangers of “The Simpsons” even though you haven’t watched a single episode.

 

Another thing that has helped me become more comfortable asking questions is finding a community I can trust. For me, that community is City Chapel and if you are in Grand Rapids, we welcome you to join us and bring all your questions with you. We are a community of people who are all on a faith journey and are not afraid to talk about the real things and the hard things. Your doubts are welcome here. You are welcome here.  

Written by Elizabeth Bosscher

World Refugee Day

Today is World Refugee Day. It’s a day dedicated to recognizing the millions of people around the world who have become displaced from their homes for various reasons. It’s important for us as a church to see and welcome our neighbors who are new to Grand Rapids because of difficult circumstances wherever they once called home.

We’re grateful for our friends at Treetops Collective who do an amazing job at welcoming out newest neighbors. In observance of World Refugee Day, we hope you will take time to read this testimony from Sylvia Nyamuhungu, a Treetops Community Connector.

A Starting Point for Understanding the Holy Spirit

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“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

2 Corinthians 3:17

This Sunday, June 16, is Trinity Sunday. For those of you that are like, “What? What is that?” or “How come I didn’t know?” Here is a handy calendar for things like this :) It’s called the “church calendar,” and it’s handy for things like this. It helps us in the church remember, celebrate, teach, and learn about important topics and events for the body of Jesus.  

Anyways, this Sunday is Trinity Sunday, and last Sunday was Pentecost--where we commemorate the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles and, really, the start of the church. So, with these two days in mind, I wanted to write a quick thing about one of the persons of the Trinity--the Holy Spirit.  

There can be some confusing things surrounding the Trinity, and especially the Holy Spirit. So, I wanted to try and make things just a little less confusing. This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive attempt at tackling the Holy Spirit or the Trinity (how is one supposed to ever imagine even coming close to covering everything there is about God?!), but it’s a good starting point. I’ll be using scripture, and some other resources throughout, but mainly scripture, as well as trying to keep each point short and sweet.


Let’s start with four big places in the New Testament where we see the Holy Spirit mentioned and two in the Old Testament:

New Testament

  • John 14:26: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

Here we see the Holy Spirit be called the “Helper” or “Comforter” by Jesus.

  • Romans 8:26 a: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness…”

Here we see, again, that the Spirit is a helper.

  • Galatians 5:22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

Here we see what “fruit” the Holy Spirit produces (or grows, or creates, or brings out).

  • 1 Corinthians 12:4-6: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

Here, we (sort of) see the whole of the Trinity in one section (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), but since we’re focusing on the Holy Spirit, I’ll just highlight that it is one Spirit who is working in all of us and that work is meant only for building up others (1 Cor 14:26) and the common good.

Old Testament (Jesus’ Bible)

  • Isaiah 11:2: “And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.”

Here, again as in the letter to the Corinthians, we see the Spirit being active in building up others, bringing wisdom, and drawing one closer to God.

  • Psalm 104:30: “When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground.”

Here we see the Holy Spirit being active in (new) creation, renewal, and reconciliation. We also see it going out ahead of us and working in and around us.

I mention all of these verses to highlight one important thing about the Holy Spirit and the work the Spirit does. That one thing is this: Everything the Holy Spirit does is for the building up of the church. Not tearing down. Not dividing.

If someone is doing something in Jesus’ name, or claiming to do it by the power of the Holy Spirit, but you don’t see more love (agape), joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, or self-control coming about, then it is not from the Holy Spirit.   

The Holy Spirit offers gifts (we see one of them at Pentecost--speaking in tongues, or other languages, and there are many more--1 Corinthians 12, and Romans 12 are good starting places), but these gifts are exactly that. They are extra. They are an overflowing of God’s grace (John 1:16 “...grace upon grace”). They are not necessary to be part of God’s family (be in the church and follow Jesus), nor are they a “sign” or “proof” that someone is a Christian (Matthew 7:21-23) or not. The gifts of the Spirit, if I were to dive deeper into them now, would require more than just one blog post . . .  so I’ll leave that for another time.

Here is the main thing:

Everything the Holy Spirit is about is building up the church (body of Christ), drawing us closer to God in Jesus Christ, giving us peace and comfort (especially in hard times), and growing us up and helping us to mature (fruit of the Spirit). Everything else, if it’s good, is just extra grace. And, if it’s not good, well, you can be sure that it’s not from God. Because God is good, and God is love, and “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of all he created.” (James 1:17-18)



Written by Pastor Ron Radcliffe


It's Not Easy Being Green.

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As Kermit the frog once shared in a ballad of intense emotion, it’s not easy being green. And I really feel for the guy. He sings about blending in with his green surroundings. He feels ordinary. He blends in. He doesn’t feel like people really see him. But by the end of the song, he realizes that there are, in fact, beautiful things that are green. And maybe, just maybe, if green is all he can be, maybe green isn’t so bad after all.

While Kermit comes around pretty quickly to his positive thinking, that is often not the case for most of us when we feel down, depressed, or anxious. Instead, it’s easier to let the sad, mad, frustrated, overwhelmed emotions overtake us. Instead of recognizing that being green, or having depression, or having anxiety is just an aspect of us at times, we begin to believe that being green is really all we are. It’s a scary place to be. But what’s scarier is its also the reality for so many people in our communities and our larger culture today.

As we near the end of Mental Health Awareness Month, I want to draw our attention to the reality that those dark spaces exist. They are real and raw and so very very difficult for so many people. And if you’re feeling them, I see you. But I also want to draw our attention to the fact that the lies we can sometimes tell ourselves that we’re in this alone or that no one is fighting for us are, in fact, just that--lies. They aren’t true. We aren’t destined to fight alone.

Whatever season you are in, don’t wade through the “green” alone. Check out these three prayers to help calm your anxious heart and remind you just how mighty your Father (and greatest advocate) is.

Pray for Peace

God, when my head is spinning, bring peace. You are the God who calmed the storms and the rushing waters. I know that the crashing waves of my thoughts, emotions, and doubts are no more of a challenge for you.

You are a God of peace. Help me take refuge in your peace. Help me remember that there are things I can not worry away. Give me a peace that calms my soul, even if I don’t have all of the answers and I’m not sure what tomorrow, the next hour, or the next minute will bring. May your peace bring calmness, even if everything still feels so unclear.

Amen.

Pray for Security

In a world filled with problems that feel way bigger than I even know how to handle, God, bring your shelter. Spread your wings over me and cover me with your security. You are my home and my safe place. Whatever harm or hurt I have experienced in the past to shatter my sense of security, I pray that you will continue to remind me that I am not in this world alone. You are my refuge.

Amen.

Pray for Strength

Father, replace my worry with perseverance, my doubt with certainty, and my weakness with your strength. You are omnipotent, God. Instead of continuing to live in this pain, remind me that today is a new day. Yesterday has passed away, but today you bring renewal and life and hope. Renew me with your love.

Amen.


Written by Kelli Gilmore

The Persistent Low

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In response to May being Mental Health Awareness Month, we’re sharing a blog previously published on the Network, an online resource of the Christian Reformed Church. This piece was written by retired pastor Louis Tamminga in 2016. You can read the original blog here or below.


Do you feel vaguely unhappy almost all of the time? Are you burdened by a sense of gloom that you cannot explain or fully account for? But you feel the weight, there is no escaping it. You wake up at night and it is there. It may have been your guest for years.

Henri Nouwen, who lectured with great acclaim in most major university centers across the continent, knew this heaviness that sometimes assumed the reality of a deep depression for which he knew no explanation.

Here is what he wrote:

“It was the most difficult period of my life…a time of mental anguish, during which I wondered whether I would be able to hold on to my life. Everything came crashing down – my self-esteem, my energy to live and work, my sense of being loved, my hope for healing, my trust in God…everything. Here I was, a writer about the spiritual life, known as someone who loved God and gave hope to people, flat on the ground and in total darkness. I had come face to face with my own nothingness. It was as if all that had given my life meaning was pulled away and I could see nothing in front of me but the bottomless abyss. (The Inner Voice of Love – A Journey through Anguish to Freedom – Doubleday)

There was an additional ironic element about this siege of mental pain: it should not have happened! Nouwen had spent many years at centers of learning where he had lectured, had found acclaim, but where he had never completely felt at home. And then he became a member of L’Arche community of men and women with mental disabilities, just north of Toronto. In that community he had been received with open arms and been given all the affection he could ever hope for. It had offered him a safe and loving place to grow spiritually as well as emotionally. “Everything”, he wrote, “seemed ideal. But precisely at that time I fell apart. Just when all those around me were assuring me that they loved me, cared for me, appreciated me, and yes, even admired me, I experienced myself as a useless and despicable person. Just when people were putting their arms around me, I saw the endless depth of my human misery and felt that there was nothing worth living for. I felt absolutely homeless…I felt that God had abandoned me.”

I think that most of us, perhaps in a milder manner, can personally relate to Nouwen’s experiences.

This article is not meant to address your possible sadness or even depression, light or heavy as they may be. 

But there are two themes in Nouwen’s book on which we may wish to reflect.

For our mental health we need to keep whatever contact we can find with trusted people in our life, even though we may find it hard to seek their presence. We are meant to live in community. Much of our mental health is connected with the way we can relate to people close to us, to accept and be accepted.

And also we must remember that we have a faithful God. He loves us. His love is, as we say, unconditional. He reaches into the depth of our hearts with that love. In that depth He invites us to say ’yes’ to Him. Where we so confess Him, in our inner being, our burden has already begun to dissolve. We are not alone.

Written by Louis Tamminga