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Murky Waters: Seeking His Face in Discernment


You have said, “Seek my face.”
My heart says to you,
   “Your face, Lord, do I seek.” – Psalm 27:8 ESV

Many of us know the parable of the drowning man. It is not one of Jesus’ parables, but it is one that is frequently mentioned in Christian circles. If you haven’t heard this parable before, here it is:


This is the story of a drowning man.
As the man is drowning, he has no fear. Why? Well, this drowning man is very religious.
“God will save me!” he says.
A man in a canoe comes by and offers the drowning man a life jacket. He says, “No thanks. God will save me!”
Then, a helicopter comes overhead. The crew throws a ladder down to help save the drowning man, but again the man says, “No thanks. God will save me!”
Finally, a person swims out to the drowning man to save him and the man says, “Climb on my back. I will swim you to shore.”
Of course, the drowning man still refuses and says, “No thanks. God will save me!” And so, the man that had come to save the drowning man returned to shore.
Sadly, the drowning man did drown. He went to heaven where he sees God.  He says to God, “I prayed every day and was a very religious man.
I did everything the prayer books told me to do, so I have to ask you, why did you let me drown?”
Then God replied, “I sent a canoe, a helicopter and a man to bring you to shore and you refused their help!”

https://www.brandonsteiner.com/blogs/what-else/the-story-of-a-drowning-man

Nice little parable, right? I do think there is some truth to it. Oftentimes, when we are so preoccupied with with our own version of God and what He ought to do for us that we can miss His promptings and invitations.

However, there is, in my mind, a major problem with this parable–it doesn’t take into account the murkiness that is discernment. Sometimes in our life when we feel that we are “drowning” and we need to make a big decision or else we “miss the boat,” it is difficult to discern whether or not there is a boat in front of us at all. Or, sometimes there might be multiple vessels offering to pull us out of the water but we cannot decide which is the rescue boat and which is the pirate ship.

Nautical metaphors aside, there are just simply times in our life when we feel the weight of large, looming decisions and it seems impossible to discern the next right step. It might seem that there is no clear path forward and making a decision seems like a total shot-in-the-dark. It could be that there are a few options in front of us, but none of them align with what we have envisioned for ourselves. Or, it may be that there are many good opportunities we have to choose from, and it seems impossible to distinguish which opportunity is the best one. Finally, it may simply be that we have trouble hearing God’s still-small voice in this season and cannot discern what His will is in this moment.

Whatever unique situation we find ourselves in, the process of discernment is often overwhelming and much unlike what the parable describes above. Many of us feeling burdened by a looming decision desperately wish for someone to “swim” out to us and pull us to shore. The fact is that these liminal times–the transitional, “in-between” spaces where things seem so unclear and so pressing–make up much of our lives. So, how are we do navigate them? How do we stay afloat in these waters?

Simply put: we have to seek God over and above His plan for our lives. It is precisely in these periods of intense discernment that we desperately desire for God to send a rescue boat (or maybe a cruise ship) to take us to the destination He has for us. We want God to illuminate our path so that we can run towards the work He has for us. The problem with is, when our hearts are set on the “boat” or the “path,” we tend to forget God Himself. God knows that our ultimate destination is not a place, not a title, not a reputation, but Himself. Because God fashioned us, he knows that our ultimate joy and contentment is found in communion with His triune life. Much like Peter, when we focus on being saved from the waves instead of gazing upon the very face of God, we begin to sink faster.

As we do our best to navigate these waters, the various crossroads of our lives, we must remember to look up before we look forward. We must remember the words of Jesus himself, the one who has not only walked this same journey perfectly, but who has sent His Spirit to guide us along the way:  “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33 ESV).

I leave you with two prayers. The first is written by Thomas Merton and the second is my own prayer that I wrote in a season of difficult discernment. My hope is that they encourage you as you yourself discern God’s will and “seek His face” in this season.


My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going
I do not see the road ahead of me
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think that I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you
and I hope I have that desire in all I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this, you will lead me on the right road
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore, will I trust you always.
Though I may seem to be lost
and in the shadow of death,
I will not fear, for you are ever with me
and you will never leave me to face my struggles alone. Amen.
(Thomas Merton)



Lord, it is good to ask you to light up our path

but it is better to ask you to illumine our hearts.

Let me not be dragged about by concerns for the future

but ground me with your grace so that I might desire your presence.

We cannot walk this road without your guiding hand

and we cannot hold your hand if we are anxiously hurrying along.

Give me the desire of all desires, the desire to seek your face.

All of my ambition and all of my uncertainties are consumed by the beauty of your presence.

The road does not seem so unsure when I am looking up.

Lift up my gaze to you, Lord. Amen.

Mike Terry, New City Stories Contributor

From Resurrection to Resurrection: A Reading of 1 Corinthians 15:12-23

As disciples of Jesus, when we hear the word “resurrection,” what comes to mind? Certainly the resurrection of Christ our Savior – as it should! Yet, every Easter when we teach on the resurgence of our Lord from the grave, I am struck by the way in which our theology seems inescapably bound to our present age alone, when Scripture has so much to say about future hope. In the West, our context is so saturated with rhythms of instant gratification that even the Church lives in the here and now. We quickly and easily forget these striking words from Paul to the church in Corinth:

12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope  in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

Paul is making two bold and unabashed points in this letter. Firstly, he wants the Corinthians to know that the belief in the resurrection of Jesus has been unmistakably tethered to the belief in the resurrection of all believers at the end of the age. These ideas in Paul’s mind have been fused together like two metals that can no longer be separated or distinguished. If we wholeheartedly believe in the one, we must fully cling to the other. This is why Paul says that if there is no final resurrection of the dead, then not even Jesus has been raised.

The second statement Paul is making is that if we only have hope in this present life, we are “of all people most to be pitied.” What can Paul mean by this? Hasn’t Jesus died so that we can have “life and life more abundantly”? Certainly! Yet, the New Testament seems to suggest that our ultimate hope is to be set on the hope of the resurrection. Peter references this in the first chapter of his letter to the exiles when he says, “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

Paul continues in 1 Corinthians by making a correlation between the the inheritance that we have through Adam and the inheritance that we have gained through Christ:

20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.

Although Paul (in true Pauline fashion) is making weighty theological statements here, he is also setting before our eyes a beautiful promise – that we who belong to Christ shall be raised from the dead just like he was! This is one of the many ways that Christ is fashioning us into His image. I want to postulate that this is a hope that transcends all other hope – the hope of being raised from death to be with our Lord unto life eternal. May it be so!

Here are some questions to continue this conversation…

  • Where do you place your hope?
  • When you think about the resurrection of Jesus, do you also long for the resurrection of the saints?
  • What do you think Peter means when he says to “set your hope fully” on the resurrection?
  • How can we have a hope that transcends this life?

Melody Hickey, New City Stories Contributor

Unveiled Faces: A Reflection on Galatians 4:8-20

This week at New City we heard about Galatians 4:8-20.  In this passage Paul writes, “Formerly when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather be known by God, how can you turn back again…?”

Paul describes not knowing God as being enslaved to things outside of God. He is concerned that the people of Galatia will turn back to these old ways which he calls “the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world” (Gal. 4:9). When Paul describes where the Galatians are now, he does not just say that since they know God they should know better than to go back to their old ways but he says that God knows the Galatians. For Paul, God knowing people is the primary reason to not turn away from faith.

Why does Paul make this distinction between knowing God and being known by God in Galatians 4? Paul’s image in 2 Corinthians 3:16-18 helps us grasp what Paul is saying to the Galatians.  In 2 Corinthians 3:16-18 Paul writes,

but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all with unveiled faces, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit

In Galatians we see language of enslavement, and in 2 Corinthians Paul speaks of freedom. Where does this freedom come from? Paul says it comes from the Holy Spirit. How do we learn about the Holy Spirit?  When we pray and worship we can see the Spirit working in our lives and other’s lives and we come to know the nature and work of the Holy Spirit. These are great ways to see the Spirit of God at work. However, in this passage to the Corinthians, Paul seems to offer another way to know the Spirit of God and the freedom it offers.

Joao Zeferino de Costa, Moses Receiving the Law

The first line of this passage offers the first step: “but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.” When you see the word “veil” maybe you think of the veils women wore in this time that covered their faces. Or maybe you think of a veil worn at a wedding. Both of these images can add to our understanding; however, what Paul has in mind can be found in the verses right before this passage when Paul describes Moses putting a “veil” over his face after going into the presence of God in Exodus 34:34. Moses would go before the Lord with his face unveiled and, when he returned to the people, his face was shining.  Because his face shone so brightly, Moses would then veil his face when he spoke to the people in order to protect them from the sheer glory of the Lord.  In the same way that Moses got to speak with God with an unveiled face, Paul says here that the Corinthians too can have “unveiled faces” before the Lord.

However, Paul’s concern in his letter to the church in Galatia is that some people are approaching God as if they have veils over their hearts. The people want to get to know God without letting God get to know them. Psalm 139 tells us that God already knows us because he formed us from the start. Maybe it is scary to let God in on the pieces of ourselves we do not like or we do not think He would like; but Paul assures us that there is freedom in the presence of God’s Spirit. Just as Moses was invited into the presence of God despite his unworthiness, we too are invited.  On our own we are not worthy to be in God’s presence, but as Paul says, “the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom.”

This is not freedom to do what we want. This is a freedom to stand before God unveiled, to not hide our shame from God. When Adam and Eve hid and clothed themselves in Genesis, God looked for them and made a new covering for them (Gen 3:8-21). And God has made a new covering for us today in the person of Jesus Christ.  Paul says that if we are in Christ we are “clothed with Christ” (Gal. 3:27).  Because of Jesus and the coming of His Spirit, we do not remain in our sin, but “we all, with unveiled faces, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed” (2 Cor 3:18).

We do not have the enslavement of sin anymore, because Christ took the sins with him on the cross and he came back resurrected with new life. This is something we know about God, that he loved the world so much that he sent his son to die for us (John 3:16). Do we know that, because of Christ and his righteousness, we can now have unveiled faces before God? Do we know that when we are known by God he transforms us into his image? This is why we do not only seek to know God, but we rejoice in being known by God. This is why Paul begged the Galatians to not turn back to their old ways of enslavement, because they have freedom already in Christ Jesus. Instead of reaching for our veils, for our coverings for sin, we go into the presence of God and reach out to Him. We trust that Jesus really did take our sin to the grave, and returned with new life and freedom for all of us to be transformed.

May we live with unveiled faces, and invite others to do the same.

Mary Katherine Wildeman, New City Stories Contributor

Little Sabbath: A Reflection on Rest

It’s kind of like a short deep sleep. The kind where you wake up feeling like your body is in peace. A wakeful rest.

Opposed to this, however, the first half of Isaiah 49:4 regularly defines how I feel about life:

“In spite of my hard work, I feel as if I haven’t accomplished anything. I’ve used up all of my strength. It seems as if everything I’ve done is worthless.”

Life seems like a never ending fight. The finish line just as tangible as fog. I want more but I can’t grasp it. I can’t attain it. But I strive to. I run the race. I scratch at success.

There’s something I’ve found that contradicts all of that. Something pulls me out. Each morning there’s a moment. It’s defined by a discipline but it’s made up of a thing called grace. And there, a little bit each day, the verse I mentioned above is finished:

“But the Lord will give me what I should receive. My God will reward me.”

Do I practice this time with Jesus every single day? Nope. (I wish I did). Do I sometimes avoid it? Yes. Is it always amazing and delightful? Nope.

But there’s something hidden inside the little daily Sabbaths. Rest. A reminder that it’s not just my strength that’s not nearly sufficient, it’s not just my striving for success that’s undeniably inadequate. In fact, I actually have a strength that doesn’t come from me at all. And if I am weak, that strength never dissipates. In fact, success and failure were both demolished on my behalf by a helpless death followed by a triumphant resurrection.

In fact, the finish line is broken behind me. And, I find I was not the runner, but the cherished prize.

Jessica Fleck, New City Stories Guest Writer

Dignity, John 8, and Christian Love

“Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” John 8:11b

At New City, we are currently going through a series on our core values of Love, Rest, Risk, and Send. This past Sunday, we covered our core value of “Love” and Zach shared that one of the essential features of Christ-like love is a focus on restoring dignity, both in others and in ourselves.

To put it succinctly, our dignity ultimately finds roots in our identity.  If our identity is based in fleeting and superficial realities, then we will find ourselves constantly searching for worth and dignity in all the wrong places.  To illustrate this point further, Zach gave us the biblical example of Adam and Eve before and after they rebelled against God in Genesis 3.  Before their turning away, Adam and Eve were living in “Shalom,” a kind of perfect peace and harmony where there was no fracturing of their identity in God.  Because of this, they experienced a fully dignified life harmonized with the One who gave them life.  What happened, however, after both Adam and Eve removed themselves from identity in God is that their understanding of their own worth and dignity began to fall apart.  They were now flooded with shame (v 7) and fear (v 8-10).  This is precisely why they hide from God in the Garden (v 8), it is why Adam immediately blames Eve for what happened (v 12), and Eve immediately blames the serpent for her sin (v 13).  When our identities fail to be rooted in the Creator, our relationships, both with God and each other, unravel.  In other words, there is a kind of outward ripple effect that takes place when our identities shift from God to something lesser and the first causality of this ripple effect is our own inherent dignity and worth.

Humanity’s rejection of God and His perfect love in Genesis 3 began a bleak trajectory where the loss of identity is followed by the disintegration of dignity and relationships. However, this “bleak trajectory” also set up the stage for the most beautiful restoration that could ever take place. The Fall of humanity establishes the impetus and context for the mission of God to reunite Himself with His wayward people.  This mission climaxes in the person of Jesus Christ.  The mission of Christ needs to be understood in light of the rebellion and sin of humanity because it demonstrates the steadfast and perfect nature of God’s love for His creation and it gives insight into the nature of Jesus’ ministry.  These will be explored now.

Towards the end of his sermon, Zach shared that wherever Jesus went during his earthly ministry, he was always dignifying others.  In other words, Jesus was (and is!) re-weaving the world back together through providing a way for our identities to be rooted in God once again.  You see, because Jesus’ own identity was and is perfectly aligned and at one with the Father, he is able to ignite the inherent dignity in others all around him.  Zach said that “dignified people dignify people,” and Jesus is our ultimate model of this truth.  If our identities are in Christ, they are in God (John 1:12) and if they are in God, then our dormant dignity is awakened and inflamed by our renewed knowledge of His love for us.  This then pours out of our own life into our spheres of influence, whether that be our homes, workplaces, or other spaces where we spend our time, like the local coffee shop or neighborhood park (Phil 2:17).  Christian identity is contagious because its very nature is to re-ignite a wildfire of dignity in all who come in contact with it.  And when this doesn’t happen amongst God’s people, we know something is amiss. When the life of the Church doesn’t reflect the life of Jesus, when the Body is misaligned with the Head, it means that our identities have strayed from the identity Giver.  This is why Christocentric practices are so important! Another topic for another time.

Now that we see the downward trajectory of sin’s undignifying effects and how this trajectory set the stage for Jesus’s mission to provide identity and, consequently, dignity to all who call upon his name, we can now explore what this looks like in practice.  And, to do so, our gaze will remain fixed on the one who practiced it perfectly.

In John 8, the Pharisees toss a woman in front of Jesus who has been accused of adultery.  Under the Law of Moses, adultery is punishable

Christ and the Pharisees by Earnst Zimmerman

by stoning to death.  The Pharisees knew that to be a faithful Jew one must adhere to the Law and they wanted desperately for Jesus to be unfaithful to the Law, giving them reason to undermine his ministry so that they could hold onto religious and political power. You see, the Pharisees weren’t at all concerned about the state of the woman who they threw down at Jesus’s feet–they weren’t even concerned with the sin she represented! They were only concerned with the woman insofar as she provided a means to their twisted end.  How many times have we called out the sin of political candidate or church leader from another tradition only to validate our own tribes?  I know I have been guilty of this.  In his sermon, Zach called this the problem of “diagnosis.”  It isn’t that diagnosis is wrong in and of itself–it’s that diagnosis isolated from grace and love becomes Pharisaism.  For example, we would never want our doctor to break the news to us that we have a serious illness as if it were mere routine.  This kind of behavior violates the image of God in others. When we aren’t concerned about the state of another’s heart, we neglect God in them. This is precisely what the Pharisees were doing to that woman, who now sat in the dirt, with stones raised above her head, between the religious leaders of the day.

Jesus, on the other hand, understood the law differently.  He understood that the purpose of the Law was to facilitate communion between God and His people.  Its primary aim was to capture hearts so that true relationship could be restored.  This is why in that moment, instead of dismissing the dignity of the woman before him, it becomes his primary concern.  Jesus speaks his famous line in verse 7 when he says, “You without sin cast the first stone,” and in this moment he extends protection and grace.  The heart of the story, in my estimation, is what takes place after the Pharisees leave and Jesus is left alone with the woman.  The text says in verses 10-11: “Jesus stood up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.’”

Jesus knew that to heal her life of sin, this woman did not need to be beaten or harassed or arrested–she needed to be dignified.  This bloodied, dirty woman who is standing with her head down before Jesus, the one many are calling a prophet of God and some are even calling the Messiah, must have been feeling so little in that moment.  Jesus, recognizing this, clothes her with dignity.  He does this in two ways.

  • The first is that he extends grace by protecting her, not condemning her, and setting her free. He could have given her a moralizing lesson about sexual sin.  He could have chewed her out for her sins.  He could have even given his own sentence.  And at times, this approach is appropriate and necessary (e.g. Jesus and Peter!).  But instead, recognizing her hearts deepest needs, Jesus decides to speak freedom and worth and dignity to someone who was starving for it.
  • The second is that he tells her to stop sinning. This is so crucially important for us to hear in the Church today.  In our fear of offending others and in our emphasis on inclusion and tolerance, we must never forget that the Gospel demands holiness.  Jesus dignifies this woman by expecting her to be holy.  Jesus sees this woman as really is, a beautiful daughter of a loving Father.  In this vision for her life, Jesus sees purity and radiance and joy, but she can only ever achieve those things when she chooses beauty over depravity.

Dignity demands both grace and expectation.  We must extend mercy, inclusion, and acceptance of those who need it, but then we must see them as Jesus sees them –we must have a vision for their life beyond what it is in its current state.  This is not judgement, this is hope.  Jesus spoke dignity to this dirty, ashamed woman who was entrapped in a life of sin by extending grace and freedom but also by calling her higher to a life worthy of her identity in God.  When we, in our current 21st century Western context, move out into the world and are presented with the God-given opportunities to dignify others, we must see as Jesus sees. We must extend grace and uphold holiness; we must offer freedom whilst clinging to the truth.  This is the tension of Christian love.  It is a tight-rope walk that can, at times, feel impossible to accomplish.  How can we diagnose and care? How are we to accept and demand?  How can we include the person but not their lifestyle?  We begin with what Jesus did and what He does through His Spirit, and that is by reminding people of their real identity and by dignifying them every step of the way.  This is what love lived out looks like and a dignified world is the fruit of this love.

I will end with these thoughts from C.S. Lewis’s famous sermon “The Weight of Glory”:

The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else

a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics…And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.

Mike Terry, New City Stories Contributor

Theology of the Workplace

“Whatever your hand finds to do, do with your might…” Ecclesiastes 9:10a NRSV

Is our work just for money and are we living from clock in to clock out? Does everything we do from day to day mean anything? Are pastors the only ones out there that do ministry for a living? These questions have been discussed repeatedly and will always be discussed on this side of eternity. When we think about these big questions about our work, it is important to remember that the Lord is inviting us into even the remedial tasks.

Ecclesiastes 9:10a says “whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might…” God is inviting us to work, and to work well. If we read on, the verse says, “there is no work, knowledge, planning or wisdom in the grave.”  This means that we have work to do on this earth that is fulfilling and full of purpose.

But how is this work to be done? Are supposed to just put our head down and forget the others we work with or are we to work with one another towards common goals?

I believe God created us to work in community with others. Think about it, our jobs are all about connections. I used to have a ritualistic response to my mom when she would ask me about studying.  As quick as I could, I would respond, “It’s not about what you know mom, it’s about who you know.” Even though I was using this as an excuse to run from my responsibilities, there are elements in this statement that are true. For us as Christians, there is more to the phrase “it’s about who you know” than just collaborating, it’s about an opportunity for the gospel.

In our work we develop networks, networks that the gospel can be shared through. A good example of this is “The Poverty Cure Project”, which pursues different solutions to help the world’s economic issues as a Church body. To explain their approach to doing collaborative work, they use the illustration of a table and how so many people’s hands have assisted in helping create the table: from the farmer, to the man at the lumberyard, to the man who makes the saw blades that cut the wood. “Every product is a result of collaboration” and we get the opportunity to engage in those collaborations.  As Christians, God is inviting us to combine the skill of our bodies with the fruit of our labor and as we do this with others, our work has meaning both practically and spiritually. We can share the gospel through our work.

Networking is another term for these collaborations. Networking, when done often, creates a community and we as humans are made for community. Dr. Steve Seamands says, “A reflection of the Trinitarian imprint is that we were made for community.”  In other words, we are made to be in network with others.  When we live and work in community, we are reflecting the image of God in us and are fulfilling God’s design for our lives.  Community is how we survive and how we work and arguably how we spread the Good News of Christ.

So, don’t just look at work as something you do to survive. Work is something that gives us purpose and defines our lives, by allowing us to fulfill our callings and meet the needs of others. Work is an opportunity to enter into networks and community so that the Gospel can be spread into all the world. In that exchange the value of work is created.

Here are some questions to reflect on this week as you work:

  • What part of our work have we neglected because we see it as meaningless?
  • What can we do to change our mindset and find purpose in the small things?
  • How has a working community given you the opportunity to share the Gospel?
  • With “fresh eyes” how can you now see how those doors have been open all along and how can you now actively step into those situations to fulfill your call to spread the gospel in your work?

Kendall McKee, New City Stories Contributor 

The Importance of “Why?”

Everyone experiences loss in their life–loss of a loved one, a job, an important possession, or even simply the way life was before a major event. Really, loss is any transition that disorients us, causing us to work towards reorientation and form a “new normal.” This is why grieving is often so difficult–we will never get back to the way things were before, no matter how hard we try.

Why do these painful losses have to happen?  Everyone can agree that our fallenness makes us feel alone and absent from God. When confronted with a loss, we often feel further from His goodness, experiencing anger and indifference because we simply cannot understand how God’s goodness can overcome the present grief. Unlike God, we are inside of time, so we cannot comprehend the vastness of His plan or how any loss could be used for overall good.

The good news is that we do not need to understand. In fact, it is good to admit that brokenness exists and that we can’t understand it. Even in the psalms, the writers going through disorientation express frustration and anger with God—they don’t understand the losses they are going through, and they are questioning. Psalm 22:1 exemplifies this kind of anguished questioning:

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.”

David understands that trying to make sense of or justify any loss on our own will simply not hold ground. In fact, we often cause more harm than good by trying to be optimistic in the face of loss and explaining it away as “God doing everything for a reason.”  Instead, David is honest about his experience and honest about God’s relation to that experience, even if he is limited in his understanding.

Indeed, this idea of questioning God seems wrong to many of us, even though it is a very natural thing during times of grief. “Why me?” “Why did God let this happen?” Even Jesus on the cross, praying David’s words from the psalms, cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). In his deepest moment of grief and darkness, Jesus questioned the presence of his Father in his suffering.

However, what we often fail to realize in asking the question “why?” is that the questioning itself is putting God foremost, knowing that He is the only One with the answers. Sorrow itself needs God to validate it. Both complete confidence in God and asking God “why?” are equally Christian ways of handling loss. Both responses admit that God is in control of our lives even though we can’t necessarily understand His reasoning.

We ask “why?” because we do not understand or agree with evil, but we still know that God is in control and is able to redeem the brokenness of this world for His good purposes. This is why David, right after he questions God’s presence in Psalm 22:1-2, affirms God’s character in verses 3-5:

“Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.  To you they cried, and were saved…”

Jesus provides us with the ultimate example of simultaneously wrestling with and trusting God in suffering.  Despite his anguish on the cross under the weight of the world’s guilt, Jesus trusted in His good Father and His plan for him and for the world (Matthew 26:39).  God’s overarching plan of redemption and restoration has and will continue to come to fruition, and we must take that into account when we experience loss.  

Optimism is claiming that we know what God has in store for us and we can explain away each instance of loss. Hope, however, is admitting that we hate and question loss—we are angered by it, but we don’t give up our faith in Christ, the One who redeems suffering and overcomes evil. Loss may lead us to a confusion of identity, but if we look to Christ during times of loss and suffering we are reminded of our identity in Him.  This fact will lead us and help us be with others through the dark times of disorientation into reorientation.

 

Autumn Terry, New City Stories Contributor

Holy Confusion

I form light and create darkness,
    I make weal and create woe;
    I the Lord do all these things.

Shower, O heavens, from above,
    and let the skies rain down righteousness;
let the earth open, that salvation may spring up,[a]
    and let it cause righteousness to sprout up also;
    I the Lord have created it.  Isaiah 45:7-8 (NRSV)

I’d come to the place where I knew that God was the Sovereign – the mighty protector and holy giver of destiny.  But now there comes the life of moving nowhere.  I’d learned that God’s blessings are given in his own deep other-worldly timing.  So, it wasn’t the loss of anything that became real, though there had been loss and wounds and healing and love.  And there will be more.

That wasn’t the deal.  There was a vastness to it.  A wide and long sort-of lush desert.  I was living within it.  Above, below, behind, before, right, and left – a space.  My counselor called it “the liminal”, the in-between.  Perhaps it was.  Perhaps it is.  It feels like a dance floor with no one on it.

When I was a girl, I used to go to the indoor basketball court in our church and lay down right in the middle of it.  The floor was cool, the space was large and dark – lush with nothing.  No one was playing or present at all.  But it felt like healing.  I’m not sure I knew the name for the feeling then.

Now I do.  I know because I’ve marched through unhealth and church wounds.  Now I know what healing feels like.  And it’s like laying in the middle of a basketball court in the dark.  An allowing of the empty so Something larger can be present.  Or Someone.

It’s a sense of the holy milling quietly and gently in the soul – a non-forceful but working entity reminding of love and grace and fullness.

But that’s not what I’m talking about.  It’s after that.  Well, maybe there’s no “it”, but it’s after.

They’d always said that ministry was and is and should be me acting with God for his purposes.  Maybe they are right.  But that means there’s an “it” hiding somewhere in the after.  But I haven’t found it – “it.”  There’s a kind-of God given confusion.  Can that even be a thing?  It doesn’t sound quite right theologically and my education is pushing it away like a cup of spoiled milk.

Most of the time, we think of confusion as a bad thing – or maybe I just do.  We think knowing is key.  But here’s the deal, God is the only All-Knower.  So, when the holy descends, I can’t and will never understand it all.  It brings with it the unknown lapping over the soul like a kind but rushing river.  I swim gleefully and carefully within it because it is both a comfort and a challenge.  It’s an expansive feeling – a lostness in the Known without knowing.  It’s a feeling of goodness beyond myself, beyond my need and want.  It’s a joining to the Immense.

And because of that, it is a confusion.  And because of That, it is holy.

 

Jessica Fleck, New City Stories Contributor

Sticks and Stones

John 8 begins with Jesus teaching in the local temple, as he often did. The gospel helpfully tells us in verse 2 that “all the people” were present. We do not know how many people were there, but we do know that Jesus was teaching in Jerusalem, on a popular Jewish holiday, at the height of his ministry. Safe to say there were a good number present.

The Pharisees bring a woman in front of the crowd, and make three claims: 1) this woman has committed adultery, 2) we (the Pharisees) follow the Law of Moses, and 3) according to the Law of Moses, this woman should be stoned. They then ask Jesus, “What do you say?”

The Pharisees’ attention, and even the attention of the author of John, is on Jesus at this point. The woman isn’t even addressed until the end of the whole ordeal! However, as I read this story recently I was struck by the position of the woman. She had been kidnapped, put in front of a massive crowd of people, and had her deepest and darkest secrets announced for all to hear. As I was praying about what this story meant for the church today, the Lord pointed out is how we consistently do this when speaking about others.

I am not a subtle person. Sometimes I can use that as an excuse to be a little edgy in what I bring up for conversation. It can be fun to bring up controversial topics about celebrities, politicians, acquaintances, or, in the right situations, people I call friends. We can use the excuse of being concerned, or having an “intelligent conversation” about the state of our country, or that it can be a lesson for ourselves or others.

Unfortunately, what I am really doing is stripping people made in the image of God of their dignity.

Much like the Pharisees, I have made a value-based decision that a person’s worth, reputation, and image in my own eyes as worth less than the joke I am about to make or the story I am about to tell. I have taken a person, dragged them before the crowd, and sentenced them as guilty. In the process I’ve even goaded others, innocent bystanders, into the stoning of the other person.

Now, obviously, we are not actually stoning anyone. And there is no reality where we could never talk about another person ever again.

Jesus teaching the crowds in his Sermon on the Mount

However, I wonder if the same spiritual principle Jesus speaks of in Matthew 5:21-22, where the hatred of another person is equated with murder, is not applicable here. When we throw another person under the bus, even people who we don’t know, are we condemning them as irredeemable or less than human, much like the Pharisees did to this woman?

I think Jesus’ response offers two redeeming options. The first option is to not engage. In verse 6, Jesus’ first response is to make himself busy. He simply does not acknowledge their charge. Sometimes this has to be your response, especially with people you don’t know well or with folks who are not Christians. Refuse to pollute your mind with the lack of dignity given to another person.

The second option is confrontation. In John 8:7, when ignoring the Pharisees wasn’t good enough, Jesus responds with a charge of his own. Now, I am not suggesting we throw our sins in each other’s faces, but I am suggesting that the way we treat and talk about one another matters enough to get personal.

If you have a brother or sister in Christ who cannot stop talking about other people, whether they are talking about someone in culture, your family, your friends, or your church, be willing to confront them on this issue. Paul deals with gossip extensively in his letters, naming it along with other horrific things which cause division amongst Christians. Proverbs addresses those who gossip and slander twelve times, calling those do so a “fool.” It even say that someone who does gossip sets snare for their own downfall (Proverbs 18:6-7).

At the end of this story, Jesus and the woman are alone. He’s face to face with the one who has been accused. But, instead of condemning her, he gives her grace and dignity. He acknowledges her humanity and sets her free, not just from her situation, but from sin itself! What opportunities are we missing out on to love one another? What does it mean for us to be people who spread grace instead of hatred? Can we lift one another up instead of tearing one another down? Can we make it so that our words “build others up according to their needs?” (Ephesians 4:29). Lord, make it so.

 

By Jordan McCain, New City Stories Contributor

 

(Featured Image Artwork by Gustave Adore)

New City’s Heartbeat: Our Core Values and Questions

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Matthew 11:28 NRSV

When my wife Kristin and I heard God’s call to plant New City Church here in Lexington, we specifically heard God call us to begin a community marked by rest.  As we developed this vision and listened for God’s intent in and for our ministry, we landed on four core values of Love, Rest, Risk, and Send that we utilize to lead all of our decision making. I believe that not only knowing who we are (landing our core values) is essential but that these specific DNA markers have been God ordained for ministering to our context. I have seen unconditional “love” draw hurting and burnt people into our community, “rest” attract exhausted and performing Bible-belt Christians, “risk” free us up to think outside the box, and “send” get tested early in our lifetime as we are generous to other churches and as we look to plant new expressions.

New City Church

As I personally continue to wrestle with these 4 markers of New City Church, I asked myself some questions about the foundation of this community of God. I share these with you so you can marinate in what your community is built on; you can utilize these questions in a huddle, during your quiet time journaling or praying, or even in a conversation with another New City family member. Here they are:

            Love                               

  • What is the root of my love for others?
  • How is my love expanding the hospitality in my life?
  • How is my love speaking dignity into everyone around us?
  • How am I complicating loving others? How have I simplified and missed out on loving someone in a unique way?
  • Who is someone in my life I’m not excited to love on right now?

            Rest

  • How do I rest well?
  • Where in my life am I competing, comparing, or striving?
  • What do I see God creating in my life? How can I partner in what He is creating instead of stirring something up myself?
  • How am I living in the reality of abiding as portrayed in John 15?
  • How am I experiencing the truth of rest taught in Matthew 11:28-30?

            Risk

  • Where in my life am I quick to “play it safe” or choose comfortability?
  • Who might God be asking me to risk on?
  • What is something I am holding as a “sacred cow” that I might need to risk and give up?
  • What question do I not want to be asked OR need to answer that I might need to engage in?
  • How am I engaging in dark, risky areas in our community?
  • What do I see the Spirit leading me into that freaks me out?

            Send

  • How does my life express the Great Commission found in Matthew 28:16-20?
  • How am I celebrating sending in this season?
  • Do I live a “commissioned” lifestyle?
  • How can I be radically generous this season?
  • How could I be a part of New City’s sending in this season?

My prayer is that you would grow in ownership, understanding, and comfortability with these concepts as you dive into them. My desire is that our entire community, every brother and sister, would make these their own as we partner in ministry together in 2018.

Zach Meerkreebs, New City Church Head Planter