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Navigating Uncertainty: Exploring Tough Questions on Faith and Christianity  |  POD 023

Navigating Uncertainty: Exploring Tough Questions on Faith and Christianity | POD 023

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Show Notes

Navigating Uncertainty: Exploring Tough Questions on Faith and Christianity

Have you ever looked at the Christian faith and wondered, “But what about”? In this episode, Bill Gorman is joined by special guest Ben Beasley, interim campus pastor at our Leawood Campus, while they explore the “But What About…?” series, which addresses tough questions head-on. Whether you are a firm believer or wrestling with uncertainties, we will all have moments of doubt and wrestling. Bill and Ben discuss their own “but what about…” questions, emphasizing the importance of patience, charity, and epistemological humility in working through doubts and questions. They also share their hopes for the series, which includes modeling a healthy approach to addressing tensions and guiding listeners towards humble confidence in their faith. Join us as we dive into this thought-provoking sermon series with an aim to know Jesus more and be his hands and feet in our community and world.

 

THREE KEY TAKEAWAYS:
  • Patience and charity are essential when grappling with tough questions or doubts in our faith journey. Be patient with ourselves and others, recognizing that these questions are not only intellectual but also have emotional and personal aspects. It’s important to extend grace and charity to those who are wrestling with difficult questions.
  • Wrestling with doubts and questions is an important part of Christian formation. There is a deep significance in engaging with doubts, questions, and tensions as part of the journey of faith. This engagement, done in a healthy way, can lead individuals towards Jesus instead of away from Him.
  • Addressing tough questions head-on, including topics such as the church, the Bible, the treatment of women, Christian sexual ethics, politics, suffering, and hell. The goal is not only to provide the truth, but also to present a vision of human flourishing and beauty, fostering a sense of humble confidence and trust in the Christian faith. The series also encourages the community to engage with the Bible as a means of resolving tensions and providing insights into these challenging topics.

#theFormedlife #ButWhatAbout #ToughQuestions #ChristianFaith #SpiritualJourney #DoubtsAndQuestions #BiblicalTruth #ChurchCommunity #HealthyDoubt #HumanFlourishing

 

RESOURCES:

Spirituality of the Psalms – Walter Brueggemann
After Doubt: How to Question Faith Without Losing It – AJ Swoboda
The Reason For God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism – Timothy Keller
Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion – Rebecca McLaughlin
theFormed.life – Sermon Series Resources

 

GUEST BIO:

Ben Beasley enjoys communicating God’s Word in speech and writing, and he is interested in the church as a place of transformation for people individually and collectively. He is fond of exploring the many questions of faith and spiritual formation by engaging with the works of authors, poets, and artists. Ben received his Master of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and his Master of Theology from Princeton Theological Seminary.

 

QUOTES:

“I think just about doubt being an important part of our Christian formation, even or wrestling with these questions being an important part of our Christian formation. Even the word Israel in Hebrew is ‘to wrestle with God’.” — Ben Beasley

 

“We can trust that there have been Christians going before who have really wrestled thoughtfully with a lot of these questions. Seek out those thoughtful Christians who have done that work, and look for those resources.” — Ben Beasley

 

“We want to be patient with ourselves because there’s a lot of reasons we can be asking these questions at different points in our lives. These questions will bubble up, and Some of those reasons aren’t only intellectual reasons, and we just have to be patient with ourselves and grace filled with our own selves as we seek to find responses, thoughtful responses, and answers to these questions.” — Ben Beasley

 

CHAPTERS:

00:00 Introducing a new sermon series, exploring “what about” questions.

03:47 Wrestling with the concept of hell and suffering.

07:57 Questions about Bible trust and suffering.

11:24 Patience and charity in seeking answers.

14:17 Community support is essential for our faith journey.

20:06 Upcoming topics in the sermon series.

24:33 Recommend reading.

Eyes of Faith: Exploring the Advent Season and Christmas  |  POD 021

Eyes of Faith: Exploring the Advent Season and Christmas | POD 021

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HOSTS & GUESTS

Johnny Daigle – Guest

Paul Brandes – Host

 

Show Notes

Eyes of Faith: Exploring the Advent Season and Christmas

In this episode of theFormed.life podcast, host Paul Brandes sits down with our on-staff guest, Johnny Daigle, to talk about the Christmas season. Together they explore Christmas through the eyes of faith and how sacrifice can be a powerful spiritual discipline during the holiday season. They reflect on the stories of characters like Ruth, Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph, and the Wise Men and shed light on the interplay of faith and sacrifice. Join them as they unravel the profound significance of these characters’ experiences and discuss the hope for the listeners to identify their next step of faith during this special time of the year.

THREE KEY TAKEAWAYS:
  • Seeing through the eyes of faith: Johnny and Paul emphasize the significance of seeing life through the eyes of faith, where faith is described as a form of perception beyond sight. It’s about stepping beyond what can be controlled and facilitating God’s work beyond human control.
  • Sacrifice as a spiritual discipline: They highlight how sacrifice as a spiritual discipline is pivotal, emphasizing the importance of sacrificing for others and abandoning personal security to trust in God’s provision. This perspective is connected to the characters in the Advent series, reflecting the idea of offering oneself to help others and experiencing God’s provision.
  • Living out the light of God with us: Johnny and Paul underscore the idea that the light of God with us should resonate throughout the year, not just during the Christmas season. The hope is to encourage individuals to identify their next steps of faith, embracing the call to sacrificially step into and experience God’s presence in a deeper and more profound way.

#AdventPodcast #ChristmasThroughFaith #ChristmasSeason #SacrificeAndFaith #EyesOfFaith #ChristmasTraditions #LightOfTheWorld #ChristmasCharacters #ChristmasSacrifice #WeddingSingerDream

 

GUEST BIO:

Johnny Daigle was born and raised on the north side of Pittsburgh, PA, and met his wife Kelly at Wheaton College. They stayed in Chicago after graduating in 2015, and in 2019 Johnny began attending Trinity International University to pursue his Masters in Divinity. Johnny and Kelly have two children Benjamin and Zoe. In 2022 the Daigles moved to Kansas City and Johnny joined the Christ Community staff.

 

QUOTES:

“But when you stepped out on the reality of God, it is so much more blessed because God is there at the end. When you step out, you’re stepping into the hand of God and he will uphold you. And that’s what Jesus shows, and that’s what we get to do.” — Johnny Daigle

 

“What does it look like for us to really sacrifice with an expectation and an eye on something that God can do far beyond what we could control or manipulate on our own terms?” — Johnny Daigle

 

“Why do we do lights? Well, Jesus is the light of the world. Why do we give gifts? Because Jesus is the greatest gift ever given, and we rehearse that. And it’s easy with the secularization of Christmas to kind of forget those fundamental truths.” —Paul Brandes

 

CHAPTERS:

00:00 Meaningful Christmas lights symbolize Jesus as light.
03:08 Christmas is about faith, love, and joy.
06:43 Inspired by faith to see beyond appearance.
11:32 Form Life offers online resources for spiritual growth.
12:55 Sacrifice expands beyond self for others.
17:56 The death of Christ leads to the blessing of sacrifice.
19:50 Identify the next step of faith, and embrace sacrifice.
23:07 Colleagues enjoy Johnny’s loud and regular singing.

Waiting Well When It’s Hard to See

Waiting Well When It’s Hard to See

Learning to wait well is one of life’s greatest challenges.

The author of the book of Lamentations knew this to be true when he referred to waiting as a “yoke”—a difficult burden—that people should learn to bear in their youth (Lamentations 3:27). In other words, we never “graduate” from waiting, which means that the sooner we learn to do it well, the better.

This verse sent me on a mission to try to help my kids learn to wait well. So far, so difficult!

Some time ago we had friends coming to visit from out of town. As I withstood a barrage of “Are they here yet?” type questions from my kids, I realized that I could leverage the intuitive connection within each of us between waiting and looking.
“Why don’t you go out on the front porch and keep an eye out for them?” I suggested. I don’t think I had even finished my sentence before they were gone.

 

Waiting and Seeing

When we’re waiting, we’re also typically on the lookout. This was certainly true for Simeon, whose story comes to us in the book of Luke.

There was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, waiting for Israel’s consolation, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he saw the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, he entered the temple. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him up in his arms, praised God, and said,

Now, Master,
you can dismiss your servant in peace,
as you promised.
For my eyes have seen your salvation.
You have prepared it
in the presence of all peoples—
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and glory to your people Israel. Luke 2:25–32 (ESV)

Do you see it? The connection between waiting and seeing. God had promised Simeon that he would not see death before he saw the Lord’s Messiah. And then, Simeon’s masterful declaration, with the baby Jesus in his arms, that my eyes have seen God’s salvation. Amen and amen.

The Advent season is upon us again. Advent literally means “coming,” and this season is a time we seek to grow in our ability to wait well for Jesus’ second advent/coming by reflecting back upon his first advent/coming. In other words, we ought to “be out on the front porch, keeping an eye out” for Jesus.

But what do we do when it’s hard to see what God is up to? How do we respond when it feels like God has forgotten about us and all we can see is darkness? How do we wait well when we’ve already been waiting for so long?

 

Waiting and Christmas

I imagine that Simeon sometimes wrestled with questions like that. Anna too (Luke 2:36-38). Maybe Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the wise men, and perhaps even the angel Gabriel also struggled waiting and wondering. You can almost picture him, right? “God, what ARE you up to with this strange plan?”

This Advent season let’s connect anew with the sometimes strange Christmas story, and what some people saw that first Christmas, waiting and watching for God to show up and fulfill his promises.

“Hey! Unto you a child is born!”

“Hey! Unto you a child is born!”

According to the original Brandes family (my family of origin: my dad David, mom Janice, and sister Annie), The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is, hands down, the best Christmas story ever.

A short novella written by Barbara Robinson in 1971, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever casts the six Herdman siblings as the extremely unlikely heroes of their local church’s annual Christmas pageant. Rough and tumble with a difficult home life, the Herdman children only darken the door of the church because they hear false rumors of an exorbitant snack situation in Sunday School. 

The snacks don’t materialize, but the Herdman siblings fill every material part in the pageant. From there chaos and hilarity ensue. But as the Herdman children come to understand the fresh wonder of Christmas for the first time, humility and joy also ensue. Deep, abundant joy. 

One of the climatic moments in the book comes in the midst of the actual performance of the Christmas pageant. Designed to be an opportunity for the church to quietly contemplate the wonder of Christmas, the only character with a speaking part is the Angel of the Lord, who announces the birth of Jesus to the shepherds. Gladys Herdman, the youngest and most unruly sibling steps to the front of the stage to fulfill that role. And, at the top of her lungs, shouts at the audience:


“Hey! Unto YOU a child is born!”

Departing after the pageant, one previously cantankerous church member comments to another, “It was so nice to actually be able to hear the Angel of the Lord this year!”

To which I say, amen! The message of the Angel of the Lord from Luke 2 should be SHOUTED from the rooftops:

[The shepherds] were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

 “Glory to God in highest heaven,
    and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

Two hundred years before Barbara Robinson drew upon this passage for The Best Christmas Pageant ever, Charles Wesley, the prolific hymn writer, brother of John Wesley, and one of the co-founders of Methodism, also found inspiration in the same passage for what he originally called “Hymn for Christmas Day.” 

A couple decades later in 1758, Wesley’s original was given an update by another founder of Methodism, George Whitfield, eventually resulting in the version we know and sing today, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” The first verse displays clear allusions to Luke 2:9-14 (and to The Best Christmas Pageant Ever):


Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn king;
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled”

Joyful all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim
“Christ is born in Bethlehem”

Hark! The herald-angels sing
“Glory to the new-born king”

“Hark” is an old English word that means listen. It is an entreaty and invitation to stop all other affairs and pay attention to what comes next. Or, in Gladys Herdman’s shorter, gruffer version, “Hey!”

And what comes next IS a big deal. What comes next WILL bring “good news of great joy.” The long-awaited Savior Messiah has been born! The final verse of “Hark! The Herald Angels SIng” teases out the enormous implications of this good news proclamation, revealing why it is that the Herdmans experienced so much joy upon learning the truth of Christmas for the first time:


Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth

This Christmas season, it is my hope and prayer that you experienced the same joy and wonder that the Herdman siblings did. Because “Hey! Unto YOU a child is born!” 

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

It is difficult to comprehend the long anticipation for the coming of the Messiah experienced by the people of Israel. In our twenty-first century instant gratification world, we really have no imaginable category to equate the centuries of frustration and longing endured by generations of God’s people. And although we commemorate the season of Advent in the Christian calendar each year, even the congregations most committed to adhering to this season of waiting only experience it in a performative manner. We can’t fully immerse ourselves in such a posture because in the back of our minds we know that Christ has come. As much as some of our greatest Christian calendar enthusiasts try to commemorate it and we try to convince ourselves, we can never emulate that same kind of longing. 

This may be a contributing factor to the lack of Christian hymns and carols that meaningfully capture the Advent season. Therefore it is important to consider those Advent hymns that have endured. One of the most familiar is “O Come Emmanuel,” with text originating over 1,200 years ago and a chant-like melody that shifts from a minor key in the verses to a major lift in the refrain “Rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.” 

Aside from these aesthetics, the most compelling reason for its longevity may be the deep sense of longing for the Messiah’s deliverance beautifully woven with rich biblical allusions to Jesus Christ and the expectant hope of his coming. Each verse of the song begins with an invitation that highlights a particular biblical attribute of Christ, then describes a new reality once the Messiah comes. 

Considering the lyrics verse by verse provides a better understanding of their meaning and strong Christological foundations. 

__________

 

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel;
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.

 

The first verse begins with an invitation from a waiting, exiled people looking forward to the coming Messiah’s rescue. It also alludes to the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 that “…the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”


O come, Thou
Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory o’er the grave.


The invitation in the second verse references Isaiah 11:1 regarding the lineage of Jesus: “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.” 


Both of these stanzas focus on the Messiah’s expected liberation of God’s people. In the first, the deliverance is from Israel’s physical reality. When the Messiah comes, the text infers, he will bring deliverance from earthly suffering and oppression. The second verse calls for spiritual and emotional deliverance from the schemes of Satan, the grips of hell, and the sting of death as described in 1 Corinthians 15:56-57. “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 


Come, the first two verses say, and set us free!


O come, Thou
Day-Spring, come and cheer,
Our Spirits by Thine Advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.


Zechariah’s prophecy in Luke 1 finishes with these words “…the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” This phrase, “sunrise from on high,” is translated as “Dayspring” in the King James Version and refers to the Messiah as one who brings a new dawn (The Christian Standard Bible translates the sunrise as the “dawn from on high”). As the sun ushers in a new day, so the Messiah will bring new life to our spirits, will cover the darkness with light, and push the darkness of death away. 


Come, verse three shouts, and bring new life and light!


O come, Thou
Key of David, come
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.


In Isaiah 22:22 the prophecy refers to the Messiah as the “Key of David”: 
“And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.” We see this phrase again in Revelation 3:7, when Jesus is referred to as “the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.” Jesus, our Messiah, is the one who opens the gates of heaven to those who believe and, in doing so, closes the path that leads to death, providing the way to eternity with him. 


Come, we sing in verse four, and lead us to our eternal home with you!


O come, Thou
Wisdom from on high,
And order all things, far and nigh;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And cause us in her ways to go.


When the fifth verse refers to Christ as “Wisdom from on high,” it not only draws language from Jeremiah 51:15 but also from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians when he refers to Christ as “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24). The last two lines of the verse are almost directly lifted from Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” 


Come, verse five calls, and teach us to walk in your ways!


O come,
Desire of nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind;
Bid envy, strife and quarrels cease;
Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.


The final verse of “O Come Emmanuel” refers to a phrase used in the prophecy found in Haggai 2:7 (KJV) “And I will shake all nations, and
the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts.” Christ, Paul writes in Ephesians 2:14, “himself is our peace.” He knocks down the dividing walls between us and reconciles us to God in one body through the cross.


As we sing the last verse we invite the Messiah to come and bring peace to the world. 


Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.


Each verse ends with this refrain. Rejoice. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)  Rejoice because the Deliverer
has come and is coming again to make all things as they ought to be!

Why I Can’t Stand Christmas Music but Love This Carol

Why I Can’t Stand Christmas Music but Love This Carol

Confession time…I’m not a huge fan of Christmas music. Maybe that’s because I get tired of hearing the same tunes every year. Maybe it’s just because “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” or “dreaming of a white Christmas” don’t evoke the same nostalgia for me as they do for others. These songs don’t resonate with my experience growing up in Africa. Or maybe it’s because the quaint sentimentality of many Christmas songs feel out of touch with my life and the concerns of a broken world. Call me a ‘Scrooge’ but I don’t plan on voluntarily listening to much Christmas music this year.

That being said, when I get past my personal music tastes and really pay attention to the lyrics of many traditional Christmas carols, I find them to have a deeply rich theology. One such song is It Came Upon a Midnight Clear. This carol was written by Edmund Sears in 1849 during the aftermath of the Mexican-American War and popularized during the Civil War. The lyrics draw out the disconnect between the announcement of peace from heaven at Christ’s birth and continuing war and suffering on earth.

It came upon the midnight clear,
that glorious song of old,
from angels bending near the earth
to touch their harps of gold:
“Peace on the earth, good will to men,
from heaven’s all-gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay,
to hear the angels sing.

This opening stanza references the angels’ announcement of Jesus’ birth to the shepherds (Luke 2:14). The carol doesn’t treat this pronouncement as something only given one time in the distant past, but envisions how this message is continually proclaimed. This happens despite the discord and division among humans, referenced by an allusion to the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9). 

Still through the cloven skies they come
With peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heavenly music floats
O’er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever o’er its Babel-sounds
The blessed angels sing.

The next stanza is often omitted in contemporary hymnals, but it is my favorite. Unlike many sentimental Christmas songs, this carol is not unaware of the suffering and brokenness still experienced in this world. Even two thousand years after Christ’s coming, sin and death still reign in our world. Even still, the lyrics call us to hush the messages that lead us to strife and focus on the message of the Promised King.

 But with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring; –
Oh hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing!

The beauty of Christmas is not found in sanitized and picturesque images of an ideal nativity scene, but rather in God’s entrance into the broken messiness of human life as a real baby to save us. He is the one “who redeems your life from the pit” (Psalm 103:4). This song names those messy experiences of pain and suffering we have, and it invites us to look to Christ in the midst of it.

And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing; –
Oh, rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing!

This carol captures the profound tension of the Advent season. We are caught in the already-not-yet, looking back to Jesus’ first coming with joy, and also looking forward in faith to his second coming, when he will make all things right. Unlike out of touch Christmas tunes, this carol connects with that enduring and timeless struggle.

For lo! the days are hastening on
By prophet bards foretold,
When with the ever circling years
Comes round the age of gold;
When Peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.

Listen to the recording of this beautiful carol performed by our campus worship pastors. As the music washes over you, may you experience God in the midst of pain, disappointment, and brokenness. He doesn’t ignore the pain you are in, but instead sees you there and enters into the mess to redeem it.