A Vending Machine Faith


In my high school, we had a very large area to gather and eat. It’s been nearly a decade since I’ve walked into my high school, but I remember it clear as day. Walking in the main doors, you were immediately standing in what was referred to as the Commons: a massive space with long tables with the small stooled seats attached to them. There were rows after rows of these tables.

To the left of the Commons were four vending machines. Two for soda (or pop depending on where you’re from), and two for snacks with absolutely zero nutritional value whatsoever. One of these vending machines was notorious for your candy bar or chip bag getting stuck. So there you were, waiting to get your non-nutritional snack in time to make it to class before the bell, and suddenly the rotating coil would stop, leaving your candy suspended.

Now your time before class was running out, and after doing a quick scan for a Dean or a teacher and determining the coast was clear, you decide to try to shake or kick the vending machine to loosen your candy hostage. Most often this worked and you went on with your day not giving it much thought whatsoever.

It was a pretty simple transaction, really: determine what you want, insert money, shake it when it felt stuck, carry on once you get it, get to where you were going.

I wonder if we have a tendency to approach God in the same way. It can be so tempting to treat God like a vending machine. A broken vending machine, at that.

If I’m honest, it can absolutely be a temptation for me even now.

It is so easy to reduce our relationship with the Triune God of Grace to nothing more than a cheap and convenient transaction, offering our obedience like pocket change. We approach God with a clear menu of potential blessings we could receive and we make a selection:

That relationship.

That job.

That acknowledgement.

The child.

The particular healing.

And when the self-selected blessing doesn’t come in our timing or doesn’t come at all, we are tempted to get frustrated and feel rushed to get wherever it is that we think we are going to be late arriving to. Suddenly we look around to see if the coast is clear and we shake our fists and kick our feet wondering why God seems broken.

Our minds wander to wondering why we should offer up our obedience at all if there was no guarantee on our assumed return on investment. This is such a heartbreaking posture to have because it completely misses the point of what we are being offered in life with Christ.

And we all are susceptible to it.

When we reduce life in Christ to nothing more than a transaction of goods and wishes, we will always be left wanting because the very thing that we desire is found not in God’s stuff, but in God’s self. We, like the Prodigal Son in the Gospel of Luke, rush in demanding our inheritance instead of seeing greater value in nearness to the Father.

To be clear, it is good to approach the Father with what we need — even what we want. Throughout scripture, we see that God delights in giving good gifts to His children. But when we are able to see obedience to God as an overflowing response to who God is, rather than a coercion or transactional shortcut to get what we want, we are freed to fully enjoy the gifts of God that are sure to come — even if they don’t come in the way we want or expect.

So may we seek to be a people who are quick to desire the person and presence of God more than the blessing or benefit of God. For it is in the very person of God where we will find our satisfaction and rest regardless of the blessing that does or doesn’t come.

Written by Lindsey Bandy Blodgett

Get the 616: November Update

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While Advent doesn’t officially begin until next month, November is the perfect time to begin preparing our hearts for the birth of our King! Regardless if your house is already decked out for Christmas or you refuse to touch the garland until after Thanksgiving, there are a lot of exciting things happening in the month of November at City Chapel. Here’s what you need to know:

Let’s Celebrate!

City Chapel has been meeting every Sunday for the last month! A big THANK YOU to everyone who has given their time, prayers, and energy into making City Chapel possible. And most of all, a BIG THANK YOU to our Heavenly Father who has ultimately been the reason for our existence as a church of the gospel for the city of Grand Rapids.

We have so much to celebrate! And who doesn’t love a good party? Invite your friends to join us at City Chapel this Sunday at 10:15 a.m. at CityFlats Hotel.

What We’re Up To

While Sundays are for gathering together as a large body of believers, we’re excited to join in smaller communities throughout the week. Enter City Groups. Save the date for our City Group launch party on Sunday, November 18. More details to come on location and time, but be prepared for a festive fall gathering where you can learn more about City Groups and how you can get involved in more intentional community through City Chapel. Come find your 2 a.m. friends! For more on City Groups, check this out.

Get Involved

  • For the month of October, we highlighted our partnership with Treetops Collective and the work they are doing with refugees and immigrant families in Grand Rapids. If you’re looking to get involved with Treetops or any of our other partnerships throughout Grand Rapids, check out the Testimony page on our website.

  • City Chapel is a church plant. That means we are small but mighty! We’re grateful for the continued encouragement from our supporting churches, but the reality is church plants take a lot of hands, willing hearts, and planning. If you’ve been blessed by the ministry of City Chapel, please prayerfully consider volunteering and/or giving a monthly donation. We’ve made it easy. Contact citychapelgr@gmail.com for volunteer opportunities and follow this link to give.

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A Dangerous Place

Happy Reformation Day everyone!

At City Chapel, we’ve been talking a lot about how God blesses before he commands (Beatitudes at the front of the Sermon on the Mount) he offers freedom and grace before judgment (Frees the Israelites from bondage in slavery before taking them to Mt Sinai and the Ten Commandments). So, in the same spirit, if you haven’t read our last blog by James Gilmore, I’d say read that one first before continuing with this one.  It can be found HERE.  

Ok, now that you’ve read that, now what? In light of the reality and truth of what James wrote, now what? Here’s the next part:

City Chapel is also a dangerous place. In fact, I would hope every church, in a sense, is a dangerous place. Dangerous because we worship and follow the Living God. The one who raised Jesus from the dead and sends the rain on the just and the unjust. The Creator God who made the heavens and the earth.  

Dangerous because this God delivers us out of our bondage and sin and sends us out to the world God loves. Dangerous because God might (will) call you to step out of your comfort zone.  Dangerous because God might (will) ask you to defend the marginalized. Dangerous because God might (will) call you to care for the widow and orphans. Dangerous because God might (will) call you to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow him. And THIS, is a dangerous thing.

Annie Dillard puts it this way:

“On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of the conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies' straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.” from Teaching a Stone to Talk

She nails it on the head. God may draw us out to a place where we can never return.  

And, yet, it is also the safest thing in the world. For there is no life outside of Jesus. Eternal life is found only in him. We are given the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, so even if we were to die, and it wasn’t in God’s plan for us to die yet, God could just raise us back to life!  This is the safest “dangerous” place there is.

City Chapel is both a safe place and a dangerous place. Safe because, like God, we strive to offer grace and blessing and mercy first. Come as you are. You need not “fix” yourself before coming.  Forgiveness and grace abound. Dangerous because we serve the Living God who calls us out of our comfort zones to defend the poor, the widow, the orphan, the marginalized, the sojourner, to build bridges between broken communities, to share his love with a broken world, to be non-retaliatory, and to live a life worthy of our calling. May we offer safety and peace as we live dangerous lives.

Written by Pastor Ron Radcliffe

A Safe Place


We are living in truly unprecedented times, where to quote U2 in "Sunday Bloody Sunday,” fact is fiction and TV is reality. We are experiencing a culture-shifting moment, where a generation of people will only know this country as angry, divisive, and dismissive of anything that doesn't represent their personal needs.

We can blame social media, we can blame political affiliations, we can blame organized religion. These days, it seems like there is enough blame to go around. What I do know is that how we consume our information will affect our reactions regarding our knowledge.  

Regardless of where you sit on the political spectrum, whether you have an addiction to Insta-stories, or whether you've pointed your angst to the heavens over your beliefs, these times are extremely important. These are the days where the extent of our humility will define our humanity. It's really no longer a time for us to sit on pins and needles and hope the moment passes.

Even as there are thousands of people literally walking (and risking their lives) toward our country, hoping to make life better and safer for themselves and their children, our government is pushing back, openly calling them, "very, very bad people". These are people who are fleeing violence, corruption, and poverty and want to give their families a better chance at life. What should grieve us the most is that our political leaders have grown openly hostile towards these human beings. Simply not being American citizens shouldn't disqualify anyone from feeling security and peace.

As a community we need to instead open our arms, our doors, and especially our hearts for those who are crying out for assistance. At City Chapel, our mission is to be a church of the gospel for the city of Grand Rapids. That means we are here for everyone, not a specific ethnicity or gender. We are here for everyone, we aren't targeting those who reside in a higher tax bracket. We are here for everyone, even those who've never read the Bible and don't care if they ever do. If you need food, we will feed you. If you are lacking clothes, we will find you something to wear. We do this because it’s what the gospel commands; it’s what Jesus called us to do.  Because the gospel of Jesus Christ is both truth in word and deed. And if we forget one, we don’t have the whole gospel. We love because Christ first loved us. And Jesus said, “all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). So, we show our love to all people.

City Chapel exists as a safe place to rest to those who need it. Our church is not perfect, nor should we be (though we’re trying to do our best).  Because we don't have all the answers and we aren't great at everything, we have partnered with local agencies and organizations who are better at things than we are. From HQ Grand Rapids to Dégagé Ministries to Treetops Collective, our purpose is to find help and care for those who need it.

If you've walked thousands of miles to our doors or are a native of West Michigan, you are always welcome at City Chapel. We exist not simply as a church, but as a community of people who hope to make our world a better and safer place.  

“You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”

(Leviticus 19:34)

Written by James Gilmore

On Patience and Prayer


Being patient is one of my worst qualities. Whether it’s waiting for my two-year-old to pick out which shoes she will wear or waiting for the next step in my career, it’s really difficult for me to be in the moment instead of wishing people or time would move a little faster.

Patience is also one of the hardest things for me to pray for. I’m almost too stubborn to pray for patience. I have this feeling that if I ask God for patience He might give me one too many opportunities to practice it.

All that to say, it feels too hard to learn the rhythm of patience. Because that means I’m not in control (yes, I realize that I might have underlying control issues). When things happen on my watch, life feels more comfortable. And with comfortability comes less relying on the One who is actually in control of my life, whether I want to admit it or not.

Romans 12:12-13 in the Message says, “Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality.” The NIV’s version is a bit shorter and may be more familiar. It says, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”

But I want to go back to the Message version. I really love the phrase, “Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder.” It fits with where I am in life right now and probably is the opposite of what I feel like doing. Lately, when I have to do hard things, it just feels like too much. I would much rather curl up on my couch and binge watch Parks and Rec for the third time with a big bowl of popcorn. But that’s not real life (at least, unfortunately, it can’t be all the time). In real life, I (and you) have to do hard things. We have to get up each morning and tackle the day’s agenda. For me right now that means waiting for what’s next. For you that might mean working an eight plus hour day while trying to balance your social life, spiritual life, and self-care. Or maybe it’s getting through one more day of staying at home with a grumpy toddler (I see you stay-at-home parents!). Wherever you are and whatever your hard times might look like, Paul urges you to not quit but pray harder.

Pray harder. That’s one of those “easier said than done” phrases (in my mind). And thinking about praying harder means, for me, getting uncomfortable. It means praying for patience and being willing to put it into practice. Praying harder also means being a little more honest in my prayers. Instead of staying on the surface with God, praying harder means diving deeper, getting riled up (and knowing it’s okay), and taking time to listen to what God is really saying. Paul also reminds us to be cheerfully expectant even when things are hard. He calls us to find ways to cheer on our brothers and sisters even if we might feel like we’re stuck in the mud. That’s when community thrives. When we wade through the hard together and encourage one another to pray harder.

So, instead of curling up on the couch for another episode, I’m choosing to reflect on what it might mean for me to pray hard for patience and listen even harder to God’s response. And, specifically, what it might look like to even practice patience harder during this muddy, unclear season. Whatever your hard situation might look like right now, I urge you to join me in praying harder. Let’s lay down our control and lean into the One who has it all in His hands. We can do hard things. Let’s start by praying harder.

Written by Kelli Gilmore