Waiting, Watching, Wandering

I didn’t grow up in a church that followed the church calendar.

To me, when I heard the words Advent I thought of the countdown calendars with chocolate that seemed to have its own brand of taste — the Advent Calendar Chocolate Taste.

Then there was something about Ash Wednesday when kids would leave school and come back with a smudge on their forehead.

The word Lent just conjured up thoughts of a time where people would try to give up a habit that would ultimately make them cranky the entire 40 days until Easter when they could once again indulge themselves (see aforementioned chocolate).

I remember not liking the concept of Lent because it felt like people around me were waiting in anticipation to once again drink coffee or have ice cream as opposed to the risen Christ himself. I’m embarrassed to admit that I, at times, had an attitude of ironic and shameful superiority when looking at the people around me who observed these moments of the church calendar. I thought it was legalistic tradition for the sake of tradition.

This all changed when I went to a college that had deep roots in liturgical tradition. It was there that I was invited to see what wonder could be found in observing these spaces of time. In a season of waiting for what felt like forever, a season of seemingly never-ending longing, the season of Advent became a season of grace for me. Before all of the merriment and glitter of Christmas, there is not just space, but intentional and welcomed time to name that things are not as they should be. To claim that we are waiting for our promised Christ-child. And waiting is hard.

The hymns like “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” that felt strangely dark and dreary for the Christmas season, suddenly felt like prayers from my very soul. Yes there is anticipation, yes there is joy, but there is also longing in that anticipation. There is longing for that joy. Rushing to the joy past the longing does no one any good.

When some of my friends suddenly died in an accident, the season of Lent made way more sense to me. Like Advent, there was space carved into the year to name that things are not as they should be. Where, along with the Church all through history, we are invited to wait and watch for the promises we have been given to be fulfilled in the middle of what feels like aimless wandering. Our brothers and sisters across time who are not strangers to loss and suffering know what it means to ache for the news of the empty tomb, and Lent invites us to find our place among them and keep watch alongside them.

I think there is a temptation and even tendency to skip past just how much waiting, watching,  and wandering there is across the narrative of scripture. All we have to do is flip the page from Malachi to Matthew to see where promises pick up. We forget the nearly 400 years of silence that was endured during that time. All throughout scripture we see our patriarchs and matriarchs waiting, watching, and wandering.

Advent and Lent invite us to posture ourselves alongside them doing the same. In some sense, we should feel at home in this discomfort. It invites us to not pretend we aren’t weary or suffering while we live in the tension of our certain history and promised future. These seasons aren’t about subpar chocolate countdowns or breaking a habit which they are often reduced to. These seasons are invitations to participate in faithful waiting and watching while we are in the midst of our wandering.

As we begin to move closer to the Lenten season, perhaps this is an invitation to think deeply about what exactly it will mean for us to find the tomb empty.

That we will not find the living among the dead.

That our King is alive.

That our exile will end.

That Emmanuel will ransom captive Israel.

And yet we are still waiting for this to be fully realized.

We are still watching for Christ to return in glory to put all creation to rights.

And in the waiting and watching, Christ goes before us.

And in our wandering, we do not wander alone, but along with the communion of saints who has gone before us. Let us find our place among them.

Let it be so.

Written by Lindsey Bandy Blodgett

Lessons from a Hard Season

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“The blessedness of waiting is lost on those who cannot wait, and the fulfillment of promise is never theirs. They want quick answers to the deepest questions of life and miss the value of those times of anxious waiting, seeking with patient uncertainties until the answers come. They lose the moment when the answers are revealed in dazzling clarity.” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I’m coming out of a really hard life season. And, it’s still pretty fresh. The clouds are just beginning to let small rays of light peak through. In some ways, it feels like the hard part is over. The light of excitement and opportunity has shown just enough of its presence to know that there are good things ahead. And I’m extremely grateful for it. It feels fresh and new and reminds me that God is good through all things. But yet, at the same time, it’s so easy once the hard things are over to jump right back into “normal” life. The life where we can go a whole day (or more!) without thinking about talking to God or without picking up our Bible, because things are good. We are good.

So, as a way to call myself out of slipping back into a life where God takes the sidelines, I’m going to use this space to briefly share a few lessons I’ve learned (and am still learning!) during a hard season, in hopes that it will keep me grounded on God’s truths, but also in hopes that it might help anyone who might be going through a hard season.

  1. God is faithful. As someone who has experienced enough trials in my life to know this is true, it is so easy to forget when I’m in the midst of a dark place. It’s easy for me to let anxiety and worry and doubt cover up the promise that God is always there. God pulls through. He’s got you and He’s got me. Nothing is too big for Him. This is something I’m still learning and leaning into. While I know it is true, actually living like He is faithful is something I always need to work on. As this new season begins for me, I’m choosing to keep this at the forefront of my mind by remembering how He has molded and shaped me in the last five months. He’s shown up, even if I didn’t recognize Him at first; He’s been there. He’s been faithful.

  2. God shows up through people. There are things that have happened in the last few months that I think only God could have orchestrated. Phone calls were made. I was in the right place at the right time. Or having the confidence to trust my gut when nothing else seemed to make sense. But I also have learned just how much God shows up through people. Friends who sent texts of encouragement on my darkest days, City Chapel family members who would give glances from across the room that said, “I understand” or, “I’m here for you,” without actually saying anything at all, and people who I could cry with and celebrate with all within a matter of weeks.

    I believe that God reveals Himself through all of creation, and that includes His image bearers. I have learned so much about Him through the people He has put in my path this last year. People say you learn who some of your closest, truest friends are during trials and tribulations. I believe that is true. But, I also believe we can learn so much about God by the way He puts people in our path during some of the most difficult and most joyous times. I think I’m only beginning to understand all that He was up to during this last season, and I’m excited to continue to understand and uncover what more He wants me to learn as I process and grow with the people He’s placed in my life.

  3. New does not equal easy. In 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul talks about how when we choose to live in Christ the old is gone and the new is here.  But the newness doesn’t mean things will magically be simpler or easier. That’s probably quite far from what he was getting at. Instead, newness is hard. Newness means stretching, adjusting, learning . . . newness takes work. You can’t just slide into a new season without some growing pains. And that’s okay. It’s even healthy. Someone once told me that they saw me thrive whenever I was forced to stretch and grow. I became a glimpse of my best self when I was forced out of my comfort zone. Because if it was easy, I wouldn’t have to try. I wouldn’t have to lean on others or be reminded that the One who makes all things new is on my side through it all (coming back full circle to lesson number one =) ).

These three lessons are nothing new. Instead, these three lessons remind me of where I’ve been, how God has brought me through, and help me refocus on who God is through this new season. Whatever season you’re in, I pray that you will clearly see God’s faithfulness, see Him revealed through the people He’s placed in your life right now, and never be afraid to dive into the hardness of new things. Cheers to new seasons, wherever you are and whatever you are experiencing.


“He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11

Written by Kelli Gilmore

Developing Spiritual Rhythms

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I’ve been feeling super vulnerable lately. My response, when I feel this way, is to introvert - and if you know me, you know I’m not particularly introverted. Maybe it’s the cold weather, maybe it’s hormones, but I also think it’s our life circumstances and starting the church. I feel soft inside - like someone could make one comment after church and I could melt into a puddle. And when I think about how I got to this place or the long couple of months that it took to get here, I am reminded of my lack of spiritual rhythms I have developed throughout the past few seasons. I was simply riding the wave of a wonderful life season, rather than strategically developing my heart for the coming seasons.  

It’s similar to the patterns of sleep we develop. When we get a good night’s rest we feel the effects a few days later. I believe spiritual rhythms are similar. If we hope to maintain a balanced spiritual life a few months from now, we must build up the muscle to maintain endurance for the long haul.

And so, tonight, when I was feeling extra sad and introverted, I decided, instead, to write about my next faithful steps. Because I’m always preaching about them, I figured I better start listening. And, because I believe in the accountability of community. We are a community at City Chapel, and as a pastor, I must be held to the same accountability standards as the rest of our tribe. So, for you and for me, here are my next faithful steps.

Tonight:

  • Spend time praying both for forgiveness and discernment in what the next few months of spiritual formation will look like.

  • Establish a plan for the next few months (January through March).

January through March:

  • Live into my plan

  • Ask someone to hold me accountable to my next faithful steps

Sometimes this process of spiritual development feels super synchronized, and when it does, I give myself permission to continue to rest in prayer, rather than creating an immediate action plan. God doesn’t need us to follow a rigorous plan simply for the sake of following it. Instead, God invites us into a place of fellowship for our sake - and that is the real purpose of the plan. I choose to discern a plan because it works best for who I am. You might need to develop a different routine. Either way, if you find yourself feeling out of sorts - like me these past few weeks - consider your spiritual rhythms. How are you spending time discerning the voice of God?

Written by Pastor Anna Radcliffe

Get the 616: January Update

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Happy New Year! However you closed out 2018, it is our prayer that you find yourself more aware of who you are and Whose you are as we begin 2019 together. A new year brings lots of new opportunities. Here’s what you can look forward to this month at City Chapel!

Let’s Celebrate!

Did you know that January 6 was our three month launch-iversary? We can’t believe it either! When City Chapel began over a year ago as a small gathering of individuals in living rooms around Grand Rapids, we could have never imagined where we would be today. While there were dates to check off and a plan to follow, the individuals (you!) who make City Chapel what it is now is something we couldn’t have predicted. We’re so grateful God brought you here. Let’s celebrate where God has taken us as a church thus far and where He plans to take us in the future!

What We’re Up To

Since October, we’ve been working our way through the book of Matthew. We’ve learned that the gospel is both word and deed and that God offers grace and mercy before challenge. We’re also in the midst of launching City Groups, intentional, deep communities that meet throughout the week. Learn more below!

Get Involved

  • City Groups are in motion! These small, intentional communities (learn more here) are meant to help us be the church throughout the week as we disperse into the city. Several City Groups have already launched and others will launch this week. If you’re interested in joining a group, check out the hosts below and contact them regarding their address and information about their next meeting. We ask that you please RSVP before attending a group so hosts have an idea of who to expect! We encourage you to join a City Group based on your neighborhood, chemistry with a group leader(s), or simply what time/day works best for you. If you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to contact citychapelgr@gmail.com.

City Group Leader(s):

Thursdays, 7 pm, Grand Rapids Brewing Company

  • Doug and Dianne McClintic (dianne.mcclintic@gmail.com)
    More details to come!

  • We’re looking for volunteers! From setting up to nursery to picking up coffee, we have a job for you. If you’re interested in getting involved, contact citychapelgr@gmail.com for volunteer opportunities. Also, if you’ve been impacted by the ministry of City Chapel, we are always accepting donations here.

God With Us

Incarnation is not only a big word—it can also be a kind of confusing part of the Christmas story. Sometimes we avoid talking about things we don’t understand, but incarnation is the sort of miraculous, mysterious thing we should take some time to talk about. And this is the perfect time of year to do it.

It starts with a prophecy. Long before Jesus was born, there was a prophecy, or a prediction, about Him. You can read it in Isaiah 7:14. It was such an important prophecy it is also quoted in Matthew 1:23. It says, ““Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel, which means, God with us.”

That’s the idea behind incarnation—the idea that God is with us. God came to earth to be with us.

So, fast-forward about 700 years after the prophecy and Mary is engaged to Joseph. It’s a story we’re familiar with: one night an angel comes to tell Mary she is going to have a baby. But this baby is going to be called the Son of the Most High, the Son of God, as it says in Luke 1:32b and 35b.

This comes as a shock to both Mary and Joseph—for different reasons respectively. But they both knew, or had some suspicions, that God’s prophecy was coming true. So it’s another surprise when it’s time for the baby to be born and nothing glamorous happens. Jesus, God’s own Son, didn’t make a royal entrance. There was no big to-do and no epic party, which should be shocking to us. It’s probably why so many people in Jesus’ time didn’t suspect He was fulfilling God’s prophecy. This is God’s Son we are talking about—He should be dressed in a robe and have a royal entrance, or at least a party of the century!

Instead, Jesus was born in a dirty stable, to poor parents, in a country where they were not welcomed. He was a refugee.

It almost seems unbelievable, doesn’t it? But this is what we celebrate at Christmas. We celebrate that God doesn’t just love us; He loves us so much He wants to be with us. Jesus is God incarnate—God in human form. He is Emmanuel. He is the God who chooses to be with us. He isn’t inaccessible or unreachable. He doesn’t live somewhere else, somewhere far away. He doesn’t care about who we’re connected with on LinkedIn, how we drink our coffee, or what clothes line our closets. He chose to be close to us and He chose to make a way for us to be close to Him. And it’s not just at Christmas. God is always with us, not because He has to be but because He wants to be.

Just flip back all the way to the beginning. God created the world and said it was good. Then He created people—we were made in His image. And when He was finished, He said His creation was very good. You are very good and He wants to be with you.

The next time you hear the word incarnation, just think Immanuel. Just think God with us. God with us in the ordinary. God with us in the hard stuff and the happy stuff. God who never leaves us and loves us like crazy. God with us.

 

Written by Kelli Gilmore