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The Holy Spirit Points Me Back, Even When I’ve Lost My Way

The Holy Spirit Points Me Back, Even When I’ve Lost My Way

I’m a runaway. When I accepted Christ at the age of thirteen, I recall the pastor celebrating my decision and describing its impact on my life. He spoke of how my heart would long to hear from God. The pastor told me that I would seek God in the Scriptures and that my kindness, forgiveness, and thoughtfulness would reflect Jesus. The pastor’s words should have given me confidence and hope about my relationship with God.

 

However, his words fueled me to fear disappointing God and meeting His expectations. I was not trained in spiritual disciplines, and my faith was immature. Sunday school stories made God feel angry and judgmental to me. As I entered the baptism waters before our congregation, I tried to put all of my worry behind me and clung to the promises the pastor described. I had barely made it through the car ride home after church when bickering and frustration with my siblings bubbled into anger that burst from me. Immediately, I was so full of shame and grief over not pleasing Jesus that I ran away. Ran away from my family. Ran away from God. Ran away from believing there was anyone who could guide me. 

 

This was the first of many times I would run away from my faith because I felt alone, lost without understanding spiritual disciplines, and lacking guidance to draw me home to the Father.

 

The twist and turns of the human heart are filled with our ancestors’ amnesia for forgetting our God knows our hearts and paths. His plan is for the Spirit to help us, intercede for us, and bring us back to the Father.

 

Never Alone

“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever.” John 14:16

 

We are never alone. The world applauds autonomy, but God designed us for dependence. Maturing followers of Christ must be aware of modeling dependence on God when we put on display seeking God with the Spirit in prayer, the study of Scriptures, handling our emotions around disappointments, or supporting others. We can counter the world’s celebration of being self-reliant and independent, where Satan can stir up glory in our minds and greed in our hearts. 

 

Jesus knew his apostles and followers were anxious to be left alone. So he spoke the words of John 14:16 as a promise that through the Spirit, we have a helper and guide on God’s narrow path.

 

Word Warrior

“The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Romans 8:26

 

When we lose our way, we can also lose the words to describe what is occurring in our hearts and minds. Romans 8 is a powerful reminder that the Spirit intercedes where our words and emotions fail. We can find it hard to process our feelings and frustrations into words. The Spirit takes the raw groanings of our hearts and emotions and communicates to God on our behalf. I’ve learned to create stillness before God by repeating aloud, “Be still and know I am God.” I focus on my breathing and drop one word from the phrase each time I repeat it until only the word “Be” is left. Then I sit and let the Spirit comfort and speak to me.

 

Abba Father

“And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Galatians 4:6

 

The Spirit leads us to move toward God, our perfect Father. We know we have arrived at the destination at the end of most paths because there will be a home, park, marker, or person who lets you know you made it.  

 

The first time I ran away, I recall crying so hard that sobs caught in my throat. Words couldn’t escape, and my mind raced with distorted thoughts of being unlovable, unseen, and unworthy. I was messy, dusty, tear-stained, and worn out from imagining God’s disappointment when I knocked on the door of the house at the end of the road. 

 

The Spirit never left me in my sadness. Instead, it directed my feet to a path that my mind didn’t recognize until the door opened. Blinded by the sun and eyes almost swollen shut from crying, I was welcomed inside, invited to sit, and given a cup of water to refresh me. A cool washcloth softly wiped away my tears as my grandma whispered, “Child, you have walked a long way.” My grandma comforted me, listened to me, and prayed for me in the minutes that followed. Then, I was surprised as my mother came through the door with a suitcase and sat in the chair across from me. I could not have anticipated what happened next.

 

She laid the suitcase down, opened the locks, and revealed clothing packed for her and me. She knelt before me and took my hand, saying, “Wherever you go, I go too. I have been searching for you and love you. We can continue on this path together or go home.” 

 

Home. The work of the Spirit can feel so mysterious, but reflecting on this memory, I see the beauty of God in the person of the Spirit. A faith journey toward God is through the power of the Spirit, who is always with me. The Helper guides me toward God, whether the path is through valleys or on mountain peaks. And Abba Father receives the prodigal wanderer at the end of the journey.

E90 Is Over… So What’s Next?

E90 Is Over… So What’s Next?

“I have loved watching my heart soften toward the individuals that I have been praying for, and how often I’ve been thinking of them and noticing things about them. Much more intentional interactions!” – Linda

 

Spending 90 days praying for others to come to know Jesus was an amazing time together as a church. Over the course of these 13 weeks, close to 400 different people across all five campuses texted me about their experiences witnessing and praying for others. I was blessed to hear so many people, just like Linda, share how praying each day for the same people shifted their perspective toward them. It is surprising (though it really shouldn’t be) how many opportunities for greater connection with others arise when you intentionally and regularly pray for them. I was even more deeply encouraged when I heard about perseverance through the challenges people faced in their witnessing.

 

A handful of people let me know that one of their nine made a decision to follow Jesus during these 90 days. Beyond these, so many more had their nine make significant movement toward God. Some of their nine reached out with spiritual questions for the first time. Others reached out while facing significant life difficulties and asked for prayer. Some of their nine decided to visit church with them. Others saw their relationship with their nine deepen in new ways. There are so many more powerful stories that you can read about on theformed.life/e90

 

But if you’re like me, as soon as these 90 days finished, you wondered what’s next.

 

Was this just a cool 90 day challenge? One more project to mark ‘done’ and move on? No, from the beginning of our team’s planning process, we hoped e90 would be a catalyst for continued growth in prayer and personal evangelism for our church. Though this initiative is done, we continue to be a caring family of multiplying disciples, influencing our community and world for Jesus Christ. Here are four ways you can continue to grow in this even after e90.

 

Keep Praying

 

Just because the 90 days are over does not mean you need to stop praying intentionally and specifically for others to come to know Jesus! This season hopefully started a habit that remains with you well after it officially finishes. Consider how you can keep praying regularly for others. Think about how much movement you’ve seen in yourself and in them over 90 days. How much more could happen through the rest of the year? Maybe your list of nine grew to fifteen. Keep praying for your fifteen! Perhaps there are just two people from your nine God has highlighted to you these past few months. Keep praying for those two!

 

Pray Together

One of the best parts of e90 was that this was something we did together as a whole church. It reminded me that I’m not alone in witnessing to others. This doesn’t have to end either! What if your community group decided to keep praying for others specifically to come to faith as a part of your regular prayer time? What if you and just one other person committed to praying together for your lists? You could do a short phone call once a week and pray together. Or you could exchange names and pray for their list in addition to yours. This would encourage you to stay consistent in praying for others.

 

Learn Together

 

Another awesome part of e90 was how praying and witnessing motivated greater learning about the gospel and how to practically share it with others. This doesn’t have to end either! What if your community group, or just you and one friend picked a book about evangelism to read together? In addition to discussing what you’re learning from reading, you can also debrief how you’re practicing those things as well. If you don’t know where to start, two of my favorite books on evangelism are The Sacrament of Evangelism by Jerry Root, and Questioning Evangelism by Randy Newman.

 

Keep Inviting

 

Lastly, we can continue to grow in personal evangelism beyond e90 by continuing to invite others. Continue to invite them to hang out with you in a relaxed setting with other believers, to read one of the gospels from the Bible together, to come to church with you, to hear your story of what God has done in your life, to consider what following Jesus might look like. Not every invitation will be responded to with an enthusiastic “Yes!” but that does not mean we’ve failed. Even small invitations and planting seeds over time can be used by God to draw others to Him.

 

I encourage you to keep praying, keep learning, keep inviting, and do all these together with other believers. And I hope I continue hearing how God is working through it all to reach others with His love for His glory.

 

Understanding Our Metamodern Moment

Understanding Our Metamodern Moment

Maybe you are familiar with the terms modernism and postmodernism…or at least you’ve heard them before. But how about the term ‘metamodernism’? Have you ever heard someone describe the cultural moment we live in as ‘metamodern’? Probably not…but it’s time we wrap our minds around this fairly new terminology. Let’s start by refamiliarizing ourselves with modernism and postmodernism:

 

The modernist era – late 19th and early 20th centuries – was a movement that, in terms of religion, was largely defined by the idea that science and reason had overtaken faith. It’s almost like modernism was saying we know too much and we’ve learned too much to believe in religion anymore. The famous Nietzsche quote represents this era well: “God is dead, and we have killed him.” Nietzsche meant that we have progressed with science and reason to the extent that we have killed off any thought of the divine being real. 

 

For quite some time philosophers, sociologists, historians, theologians, and artists have agreed that we moved beyond modernism and we have been living in a postmodern moment (starting in the mid-twentieth century). 

Postmodernism claims that conflict in the world surrounds the common theme that there are many people who claim absolute truth in many ways. Because these people know the ‘truth,’ they try to enforce this knowledge on others. Knowledge is used as power, and thus ‘truth claims’ are used as forms of control. Postmodernism is a reaction against modernism and is ultimately defined by its cynicism. When cynicism dominates, everything is relative. Ever heard the phrase, “I just have to live my truth?” That’s a product of postmodern thinking.

In a postmodernist framework there is complete suspicion of any ultimate truth claim. A large reason why living missionally as a Christian is difficult in the postmodern era is that people are very suspicious of the gospel, which is the Truth claim of all truth claims. 

A taste of postmodernism’s interaction with the Christian faith is illustrated well in the exchange between Jesus and Pilate in the gospel of John: 

 

“Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” (John 18:37-38)

 

Postmodernism offers the predominant idea that there isn’t really any ultimate truth. It leaves us grasping for something concrete, yet never really finding it. It ultimately leaves us yearning for more, but at the same time, it asks the question: what use is there in yearning? 

 

Here is a different kind of question: Does postmodernism have the final word in our cultural moment? I’m convinced it does not. 

 

Since the early to mid-nineties, artists, particularly in literary spheres, began to recognize that something else beyond postmodernism was afoot. They sensed that artists were moving and gesturing beyond the dominant postmodernist framework. 

 

The ‘New Sincerity’ movement in the late eighties and early nineties started to break away from traditional postmodernism. One of the authors on the forefront of this movement was the prolific author David Foster Wallace. In the early 1990’s, David Foster Wallace wrote an essay, E UNIBAS PLURAM: Television and U.S. Fiction, where he articulated this shift: 

 

The next real literary ‘rebels’ in this country might well emerge as some weird bunch of anti-rebels, born oglers who dare somehow to back away from ironic watching, who have the childish gall actually to endorse and instantiate single-entendre principles…The new rebels might be artists willing to risk the yawn, the rolled eyes, the cool smile, the nudged ribs, the parody of gifted ironists, the ‘Oh how banal.’ To risk accusations of sentimentality, melodrama. Of overcredulity. Of softness.” 

 

Wallace suggests this new thing, movement, terrain…or whatever it is…is post-postmodern. The ‘new rebels’ gesture to an oscillation between irony and sincerity, between cynicism and hope, between apathy and nostalgia, and between relativism and truth. 

 

This ‘thing’ is not just a back and forth between these two eras…the oscillation requires something new simply because there’s a dialogue of the two with each other and not a simple one-way, singular rejection of postmodernism to modernism. Something new is formed, and whatever this new movement is, it transcends beyond what we have known thus far. This thing has now been labeled as an entirely new era known as metamodernism. 

 

Metamodernism is as global and as big as modernism and postmodernism. It encompasses philosophy, social science, politics, and more. That means just like modernism and postmodernism, it’s difficult to encompass in a blog. It’s better that I try to illustrate it for you with another example from a recent work of literature. 

 

Here’s an excerpt from Karl Ove Knausgaard’s famed work, My Struggle. The final segment of his three thousand six hundred page novel was published in 2011. His novel won over twenty international awards, and the Guardian called it “the most significant literary enterprise of our lifetime.” The New York Times called his writing “arrestingly beautiful.” Here’s a brief excerpt, where Knausgaard’s main character (himself) is wrestling with the Christian faith:

 

“... when I read the writings of Christian mysticism or the Church Fathers, pervaded as they are with the rapture of religious excitement, I find myself confronted by something utterly alien to me, which does not occur at all in my life or in the world around me, other than the occasional glimpse offered by TV into some ecstatic religious movement… the kinds of experience that were once the most important of all, meditations on God and the divine, holy rituals and cults, visions and raptures occurring in lives wholly devoted to God and the divine mystery, this resolve to seek meaning, this fervor, with all its spectra of intuitions, moods, and emotions, is no longer sought or, if it is, then only on the peripheries of society, outside our field of vision, perhaps occasionally evoked in respect to some odd and obsolete phenomenon in TV entertainment: So, you’re a monk? What’s it like not having sex? When we closed the door on religion, we closed the door on something inside ourselves as well. Not only did the holy vanish from our lives, all the powerful emotions associated with it vanished too. The idea of the sublime is a faint echo of our experience of the holy, without the mystery. The yearning and the melancholy expressed in romantic art is a yearning back to this, a mourning of loss.

 

Knausgaard is grappling… but can you recognize with what or with whom? In this quote, Knausgaard embodies a metamodern framework: he’s cynical and yet sees both sincerity and hope in faith. He’s noticing the apathy of his world toward faith, and yet for some reason, at the same time, he’s nostalgic for faith. Knausgaard believes in relativism, but he’s not satisfied with it, he yearns for truth. We see the oscillation. 

 

A characteristic of metamodernism is a willingness to engage something that might carry with it a truth claim. Knausgaard is yearning for more than postmodernism and suggests he is open to more.

 

Here’s where I think it gets concrete for us: people in our world are yearning for more. People in the west are skeptical of religion, and yet paradoxically, in fact are often very open to it. People feel like something was lost when we did away with religion in the eras of modernism and postmodernism.

 

As I live my life in downtown Kansas City, engaging many different kinds of people from different walks of life within my sphere of influence, many are often skeptical of faith but they aren’t opposed to it. Most commonly, people are very intrigued about my vocation as a pastor and my journey of faith into the pastorate. The notion of being a person of faith draws them in. It’s almost as though there’s a desire pointing them beyond the apathy they’ve known into a place where sincerity and hope lives. 

 

Here’s the question we are left with: how do Christians – how do we – live on mission in this kind of metamodern cultural moment? How does the church live on mission in a world that is suspicious of Christianity and yet paradoxically very open to faith? 

 

What metamodernism engages that postmodernism doesn’t are things like hope, real actual hope, and the potential for truth claims to actually be, well… true. Within metamodernism there’s a resurgence of sincerity in chasing after truth, while still not forfeiting all that was learned from postmodernism. Metamodernism is the great yearning for authenticity and real truth at the same time.

 

I don’t know all the answers on how to navigate this complex reality. But – in a very metamodern type of way – I think this new era should give Christians hope. Metamodernism tells us that there are fresh ears open to the gospel and eager to hear what it has to say. Maybe we’ll have the confidence to share it. 

What Harvard Discovered About Kids and Church

What Harvard Discovered About Kids and Church

Getting kids to church can be a challenge — at any age. When they are infants it’s because it just takes so much work to pack them up. Kids at that age require so much gear! Later as toddlers, separation anxiety can make dropping them off at the Children’s Ministries area challenging to say the least. With elementary-age kids, sports and other activities can easily compete with and crowd out opportunities for kids to participate in church events. Then as pre-teens and teens, a normal and healthy burgeoning sense of autonomy can be challenging to parental suggestions or expectations for church involvement. 

So as a parent — at any stage — the question on any given weekend can understandably be Is it worth the effort and energy to help get my kids to church this week? 

Now I am a pastor so I know you’re probably not going to be shocked if I say, Yes! It’s worth it. (It feels a little like asking a personal trainer if working out is worth it. Of course they are going to say yes.) So I’m going to let someone else answer the question. 

Recently, Christianity Today magazine published a summary of findings about children’s health from researchers at Harvard’s (yes, that Harvard) T. H. Chan School of Public Health (i.e. not pastors). 

The researchers led by Tyler VanderWeele “…examined a large swath of data, collected over more than a decade, which tracked the development of 12,000 nurses’ children into their young adulthood. The longitudinal study surveyed social, physical, and mental health trends across the group—like substance abuse, anxiety/depression, community engagement, and sexual activity.”

The team was curious about how schooling choices and religious service attendance correlated to health outcomes. Here’s what they found:

In comparing key health indicators, the researchers found little difference between the long-term well-being of adolescents who attended public school and those who went to private school. (All of the kids who participated were between the ages of 9-14 when the study began.)  

So parents you can breathe a little sigh of relief there. But what about religious service attendance? How much does that matter? 

“What we found was that religious service attendance makes a bigger difference than religious schooling,” [VanderWeele] said. “Religious service attendance has beneficial effects across the different school types and has stronger effects than religious schooling.”

 

In other words, the kids who grew up attending church regularly rated far higher in overall well-being as young adults than those who went to a religious school but did not go to religious services during their formative years.

Did you catch that? If you take two kids — one who attends church once a week regularly and another who goes to a religious school five days a week but attends church only sporadically — it is the regular church attendee who fares better. The researchers concluded that “…religious service attendance in youth was clearly the more dominant force in shaping health and well-being, at least as this pertains to the data and experiences 20 years ago.” 

Here’s the bottom line from the Christianity Today summary: 

Furthermore, “regular service attendance helps shield children from the ‘big three’ dangers of adolescence: depression, substance abuse, and premature sexual activity,” VanderWeele writes in his latest article for Christianity Today. “People who attended church as children are also more likely to grow up happy, to be forgiving, to have a sense of mission and purpose, and to volunteer.”

 

“So regardless of school type,” VanderWeele says, “it’s beneficial to go to religious services, both as an adolescent and as an adult.”

These findings highlight the beauty and wisdom of God’s design for the local church. When parents dedicate their children at Christ Community, one of the questions they are asked is: Do you promise, before God and this congregation, that you will be faithful in worship, both in the home and in the church?

Those two spaces —the home and church — are vital to human health and flourishing. This is why Christ Community’s Children’s Ministries and Student Ministries staff and volunteers put so much effort into equipping parents. Parents play an outsized role in their children’s faith development. However, what the Harvard analysis shows  is clear. It isn’t enough to simply be faithful in worship at home if we want our children to truly flourish. It also requires being faithful in a worshiping community; a local church.

Four Lessons St. Patrick Has for the American Church

Four Lessons St. Patrick Has for the American Church

It is unfortunate that St. Patrick has become synonymous with wearing green to avoid being pinched, dyeing rivers green, and consuming large quantities of beer while pretending to be Irish. Little is widely known about the tremendous influence that this man had on the nation of Ireland and western Christianity. Patrick is easily one of the most successful Christian missionaries of all time. The indigenous Christian movement he started took root where missionaries had failed. Patrick’s influence grew to even re-evangelize much of western Europe in the centuries following the chaos of the Dark Ages and the decline of the institutional Roman church. His success is especially remarkable considering this was all done without any aid from other institutions of political or cultural power. As the current American church declines and we are in an increasingly post-Christendom world, we would do well to listen to voices like his.

The Life of Patrick

Patrick was born in roughly 389 AD to upper-middle-class parents in the British part of the Roman Empire. This was only a few years after Emperor Theodosius made Christianity the official religion of the Empire and Christendom was established. Patrick’s father was a Christian deacon and a member of the city council, both highly respected roles. His grandfather was a priest, so it would be fitting to characterize his family as a pious one with high social standing. Despite this, Patrick described his own Christian upbringing as nominal at best.

A drastic change to this life of privilege happened when Patrick was 16. A band of Irish warriors raided his town, and he was taken away to Ireland, outside of the Empire, in captivity. He worked as a slave herding pigs for six years. Finally, apart from his complacent life where he tacitly accepted nominal Christianity, Patrick was forced to consider the ramifications of his faith. In his own words, “the Lord opened the sense of my unbelief.” He began to pray daily and call out to God to sustain and deliver him. His interaction with the religious beliefs of the Irish also strengthened his faith. Their belief in multiple gods and spirits that roamed throughout the land needing to be appeased aroused a deep sense of peace from the security he had in Christ.

After spending six years in Ireland, he received a vision that encouraged him to escape. While sleeping, he heard a voice tell him to rise and find a ship to take him home. He awoke, ran down to a nearby port, and found a ship that took him away from Ireland. He went to Gaul (modern day France) and spent some time learning and living at a monastery in Lerins. Although he felt called to live a life with common men, during this time he developed a strong appreciation for the monastic rule of life. When he left the monastery he returned to Britain to be reunited with his relatives. Later, at the age of 48, he received his version of the ‘Macedonian call’ (Acts 16:6-10). In a dream an angel brought him letters from his former captors in Ireland, and he heard their voices cry out “we appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.” After consulting with the bishops of the British Church, he was ordained a bishop and sent out to Ireland in a missionary band.

His method differed greatly from other Roman missionaries of his time. Instead of forcing conquered “barbarians’’ to convert or waiting for them to come to him as spiritual inquirers, Patrick and his companions would set up a community of faith in each village they visited. They would practice a monastic life of prayer and work, not in a cloister far from society but in the midst of the Irish. As they looked for receptive villagers, the band would pray for the sick, exorcize demons, and mediate conflicts. They were interested in the felt needs of the communities, even regularly praying for fish in the village river. In open-air settings, Patrick would speak about the gospel, using his vast knowledge of Irish culture to communicate the gospel in a way that would connect with them. Parables, symbols, drama, and other visuals were used because of the Irish people’s vivid imagination. Responsive villagers would join the monastic community and partake in their practices.

After a few months, a church would be officially born and the new converts would be baptized. Patrick’s group would leave behind a priest and a few others to continue instruction in Christian doctrine, but take some of the converted villagers with them as they moved on to the next village. It is estimated that Patrick started 700 churches, commissioned 1000 priests, and reached 40 out of the 150 tribes in Ireland, during his 28 year ministry.

Four Lessons for Us

1. The gospel is central.

Patrick’s ministry was rooted in a profound belief that humanity’s only hope was God’s intervention of grace through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. His personal experience of liberation from slavery by divine intervention no doubt made this truth a vivid reality for him. Each of his surviving writings begins with the words: “I, Patrick, a sinner.” This humility was not from self-loathing, but from an honest recognition of his need for a savior. Patrick was zealous to maintain that salvation is a result of God’s work of grace, in opposition to his contemporary fellow British monk, Pelagius, who taught human effort alone was enough to be saved. Patrick’s strong conviction that the unconverted would suffer damnation and had no hope apart from Christ motivated him to return to his former captors to share the good news with them.

The Church today should never grow weary of proclaiming the gospel and trusting in God’s grace. We should take care and not water down the biblical gospel. We must also be zealous like Patrick so that the good news does not become old hat.

2. The gospel changes everything.

Patrick’s missionary bands differed significantly from Roman missionary models by doing their Christian life in the midst of pagan communities. Patrick himself was deeply influenced by the Irish reverence for nature and so developed a sacramental vision of all of life, where the line between the natural and spiritual was paper-thin. Work was an integral part of their monastic life and not a distraction from it. Their concern for the economic realities of their Irish neighbors bolstered their witness.

One of the greatest dangers facing the church today is the unbiblical distortion that creates a sharp sacred-secular divide. This can lead us to believe our Monday work does not matter to a Sunday-focused God. As our culture becomes increasingly post-Christian and the influence of the institutional church wanes, we need to be faithful disciples of Jesus in the particular places He has us the majority of our week.

3. The gospel demands justice and reconciliation.

Similar to the previous lesson, the gospel Patrick preached did not only restore sinners to God but also led them to love one another and pursue justice and peace. In his writing, Epistola, he writes a letter rebuking a nominal-Christian warlord named Coroticus. He had raided some of Patrick’s converts and taken recently baptized women off as slaves. Patrick commands him to release them because he is compelled by “the zeal of God, the truth of Christ… (and) the love of (his) nearest neighbors.” His concern for justice and the flourishing of the Irish was also evident in how he ended the slave trade in that region. Patrick earned the respect of various Irish tribes by acting as a broker for peace to end conflict between clans. His evangelistic effectiveness was integral to his concern for the whole-life flourishing of the Irish.

The American Church would do well to follow Patrick’s footsteps. As we allow the gospel to speak to all of life, it will inevitably move us to work toward a society that is ordered by God’s justice and enables the flourishing of all.

4. The gospel is lived out together.

Though Patrick gets all the recognition and a holiday all to himself, we must never forget that he did not evangelize the Irish by himself. He was not a lone ranger, solo-climber, or solitary pioneer that set out on his own. Patrick owes much of its success to the many unknown members of his missionary bands that evangelized together. They demonstrated a different way of being in community among the Irish that became a compelling witness. Rather than requiring a profession of belief from ‘barbarians’ before partaking in Christian community like the Roman church, they recognized that belonging often precedes belief. Irish inquirers could join their monastic community, “tasting and seeing that the Lord is good” by experiencing the care of His people before making intellectual assent to Christian doctrine.

In a similar way, the American church will go nowhere relying on its celebrity leaders. It takes communities of extra-ordinary believers doing life together so that others can be drawn in to experience the reality that the gospel changes everything.

Let us take time this St. Patty’s day, in addition to any other celebration, to thank God for the work He did through St. Patrick and his friends. Let us also consider how we might emulate him by being a faithful, gospel-centered presence in our communities.

A Skeptic Goes to Church

A Skeptic Goes to Church

By Colman Murphey


I wasn’t raised in a church, but I decided to attend a year ago, and here I am a year later, still attending. I’ll try to sum up the reasons for that decision as concisely as I can, because I really could write a thousand-plus words about it.

Back in my college days, I listened to a lot of Jordan Peterson’s podcasts (I can maybe feel some eyes roll at this statement). He cracked the defenses I’d built up in my ignorant youth against all that is traditional. Suddenly, I became aware that the stories in the Bible contained powerful truths that pertain to the lives of all people, religious or secular. 

My memory isn’t perfect (probably due to the undergraduate alcohol culture) but I think it was after hearing many things that Jordan Peterson had to say that I started to notice a light emanating from the people of faith I encountered in random places. By light, I mean that their behavior resonated positively with me in some way. I did not literally see light around them.

I remember I felt particularly good when a stranger at the financial aid office said “God bless you” as thanks when I directed him to some other administrative office he was trying to find. I remember Anna and Nick, who were fellow counselors at the summer camp where I worked. They did not keep their faith a secret, and it seemed they were working with children for all the right reasons. I remember George, a history major studying at CUNY Hunter College in Manhattan whose coptic faith seemed to animate his passion for history. I felt these people were particularly admirable and I would remember them years later. 

During the pandemic, I moved to Kansas City and I had to start rebuilding my social life. I made a few friends through work, but I was also ready to try new things. Over the years, I had consumed a great deal of media produced by public intellectuals like Jordan Peterson and Glenn Loury. I found myself not as comfortable sharing my thoughts or being myself around the people I usually associated with through school and work. I hate confrontation, and I can be very timid when it comes to sharing contrarian views, so politics and religion were off the table most of the time, even though I was deeply interested in those topics. 

At the time, I was doing an online church with some friends back home, and I remember how those sermons empowered me to face the challenges of my job when other activities didn’t. They also provided me with validation for certain beliefs. The thought crossed my mind that maybe going to church in person would be a good idea.

Weirdly enough, I found a link to the Gospel Coalition’s website through a math pedagogy page I was exploring for work. 

I typed in my zip code and Christ Community’s Downtown Campus was the closest church to pop up. I emailed one of the pastors, who suggested we get coffee. When we met, I was relieved by his understanding demeanor. It made me feel relaxed, and I felt comfortable talking openly around him. He invited me to church on Sunday. 

Upon arrival at my first Sunday service, I was warmly greeted by a stranger my age who introduced me to his friends who were similarly welcoming. This receptive environment and the relationships I began to form kept me coming back. I eventually joined the men’s group where I got to meet and converse with guys from all walks of life about topics of masculinity and faith. This environment of a unified group which also contained so many diverse opinions was such a welcome change from others I inhabited in university and at work. Many of the people I met at church were admirable like those other Christians I’d encountered, which didn’t feel like a coincidence. Church has felt like an answer for a deep yearning for community and meaning that I sometimes forgot I had. 

While I’ve found community at church, I wouldn’t consider myself Christian in the colloquial sense. I’m not yet willing to concede that the miracles in the New Testament are historical or more than symbolic. After watching many hours of debates about the resurrection of Jesus on YouTube, I came to the conclusion that if I were to someday believe that Jesus really did rise from the dead, my belief wouldn’t come from rational arguments. Maybe rational arguments would play some role, but the belief would mostly come from something more akin to a feeling powerful enough to fend off the disbelief. 

That isn’t to say that scholarship on the historicity of the gospels hasn’t altered my views. It was interesting to learn from the Wikipedia page on the historicity of the gospels that John’s baptism of Jesus, and Jesus’ crucifixion at Calvary, are held to be historical facts. John’s baptism is supported by something called the criterion of embarrassment which essentially just says early Christians wouldn’t have made up that story since it might have been used to argue that John was in authority above Jesus. The writings of first century Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus make reference to Jesus’s crucifixion at Calvary and therefore serve as strong evidence for the historicity of that event. Now that I’ve seen how some aspects of the gospels stand on historically solid ground, I am more open to the possibility that the gospels as a whole may be historically true. 

I also have yet to satisfy many questions before I’m willing to take next steps with Christ. There are other spiritual practices outside of Christianity that seem to produce positive changes in people. How is Christianity reconciled with cognitive behavioral therapy, Buddhist meditations, or reports of positive changes in behavior from therapy involving psychedelic drugs? What about the positive effects that MDMA therapy has reportedly had on people experiencing PTSD? How is Christianity reconciled with the findings of research where cancer patients had their death anxiety alleviated by doses of psilocybin? I want to understand how Christianity can incorporate these findings, and I feel confident there’s a way. I still have a lot of exploring to do, and, in the meantime, I’ll keep attending church.