Faith and Doubt [Guest Post]

Kathy Stock Shares Her Journey of Faith

Reading Time: 7 minutes

I’d like to thank Andrew for inviting me to participate on his blog. Andrew is a great writer and a passionate leader. I’ve read his interesting thoughts and teachings and have personally benefited from the discussions I’ve seen afterward between people on different sides of many different issues.

Faith and Doubt - Kathy Stock

I am a lover of conversation. As a flaming extrovert, I thrive off of the company of others. Drop me in a room full of strangers and I’ll leave with a long list of new friends.

This temperament of mine has served me well, especially as a musician and public speaker but it has its downside. I share a bit too easily, I care a bit too recklessly and I am dramatically affected by the thoughts and feelings of others.

Wearing my hungry heart on the outside of my sleeve has served me both well and negatively in ministry. I’ve been a Christian my whole life. I am told I came to know Jesus at the ripe ol’ age of two when I knelt beside my mother and wanted to do what my five-year-old sister did at church that day. So, at five and two, we surrendered our sin-laden lives to the Lord, knowing full well the gravity of that decision and went forth, sinning no more.

Just kidding.

We had no idea what we were doing!

Yet, I remained ingrained in Christ, and He in me, from then until now…sometimes fervently on fire for the gospel, sometimes gripping tightly with white knuckles while doubt all but swallows me whole.

Faith is a rough and beautiful sea of bluish, grayish waves that toss and stir and ebb and flow. Click To TweetWhat I have learned is that faith isn’t a black and white issue. Faith is a rough and beautiful sea of bluish, grayish waves that toss and stir and ebb and flow. It’s complicated and beautiful and terrifying and filled with unknowns.

I’ve done a lot of living for a thirty-three year old woman. I was married at twenty, a mother at twenty-two and again at twenty-six. I’m a published author. I have lived in two countries, three states, two provinces, and have changed addresses thirteen times in the last thirteen years.

I’m a musician who performs (unapologetically) secular music during the week and joyfully leads worship in a congregation I love on Sunday mornings (Spruce Hills).

I had cancer while my children were two and six years old and have been in remission for three and a half years.

I recently went back to school, where I sit in classrooms surrounded by other students who are closer to my son’s age than my own.

What has stayed consistent (outside of the love of my family) is my belief in Jesus. Click To TweetLife has been more interesting than I can properly articulate in one blog post and I have had some high highs and some low lows along the way but what has stayed consistent (outside of the love of my family) is my belief in Jesus.

Ironically, (and perhaps I’m over sharing here, in true Kathy form) I am writing this during an intense season of doubt.

Some do not believe that faith and doubt can co-exist but I am living, breathing evidence that they indeed can. I embody both. The disciples embodied both. John the Baptist embodied both, and he saw the sky open up and watched a dove appear out of nowhere, landing on Jesus and then heard God audibly say, “This is MY SON” and he STILL questioned who Jesus was from the darkness of his prison cell. If John the Baptist can doubt, and still be labeled by Jesus as one of the greatest human beings ever, certainly we can too (Luke 3:21-22; 7:18f).

This truth has brought an enormous amount of comfort to me as I navigate life, especially in my thirties. For the majority of my twenties, I lived in the Southern USA or the ‘Bible belt’ as it is sometimes referred.

I was so entrenched in church and church culture that I didn’t have one friend that wasn’t a Christian. I worked at church, sang at church, socialized at church…and the energy that I should have spent going out into the world and being Jesus to people was instead spent arguing about theology with other Christians.

My faith was very, very strong during that season but I wasn’t fulfilling the great commission. I wasn’t being Jesus.

When I was twenty-eight, my little family of four immigrated back to Newfoundland with nothing but the clothes on our backs and six suitcases in our hands. We settled swiftly and I quickly realized that I wasn’t in the ‘Bible belt’ anymore…and I was quite honestly relieved… so I set out to meet as many different people in as many different places as I could.

I began playing music at events and restaurants, eventually landing a permanent gig at a piano bar in downtown St. John’s (The Fifth Ticket).

After I finished chemotherapy and began my remission from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, I set out to meet as many young adult cancer survivors as I could, and pour into their lives in a way I so desperately needed when I was sick. No hidden agenda, no bait and switch to evangelize…just living out love in the way that Jesus has asked us to and seeing what happens. Faith, usually, naturally comes up in conversation.

Through all of this, I have met so many different kinds of friends. People from varying spiritual, religious, socio-economic backgrounds, same sex couples, single parents, transgendered men and women…I’ve met ex-cons and CEOS, reconnected with people I knew from high school and been blown away by how we have all developed and evolved throughout the years.

There isn’t anyone you couldn’t have empathy for if you took the time to learn their story. Click To TweetAnd through all of these encounters I have learned one very valuable lesson: There isn’t anyone you couldn’t have empathy for if you took the time to learn their story.

Breaking through the Christian bubble that I had created for myself has opened my heart and mind up to a world of doubt and questions that challenge me on a daily basis.

They challenge how I raise my children and the words I speak behind the microphone on Sunday mornings…but it has also allowed me the powerful opportunity to be Christ to people who haven’t experienced Him in a real way. Not by preaching at or fighting with or segregating myself from them, but by doing life shoulder to shoulder with them and seeing what God does through relationship.

I’m finding the older I get, the less I can claim to know for sure but the more O.K. I am with not knowing.  As exhausting as it is, doubt is worth wrestling with.

There are many days when I wonder whether any of this is legitimate at all, but I rest in the words of John 6:68, when Jesus asked Peter if he was going to leave and Peter responded, “Lord, to what person could we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

When doubt creeps in...I choose Jesus with my head and my heart eventually follows. Click To TweetWhen doubt creeps in, or bursts the door down, I choose Jesus with my head and my heart eventually follows. When I am challenged by the non-sense that is grace, the arrogance that is self-sufficiency, the ridiculousness that is child-like faith, I cling with both hands to Jesus!

I recently heard someone say that the opposite of faith isn’t doubt.  The opposite of faith is certainty…because what do the certain need with faith? The Bible says, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for,” and my hope is in Jesus (Hebrews 11:1).

There is no one else for me. None but Jesus.

[Guest Post] Book Review: The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler with Jared Wilson

Reading Time: 9 minutes

When we think of missions, what do we picture? People groups in faraway lands? Perhaps major urban centers and cultural hubs like Los Angeles or New York City? If you really want to get ambitious, maybe the province of Quebec?  But how many of us really think of church-folk—especially those in the Bible Belt–as a mission field?

explicit gospel

As the pastor of The Village Church, Pastor Matt Chandler has seen firsthand that there is as great a need for the gospel in Texas as in Kathmandu. But where in many contexts the gospel has simply never gained a foothold, in churched cultures, the problem is that the gospel is assumed and supplanted by something else altogether—moralistic, therapeutic deism.

The moralistic, therapeutic deism passing for Christianity in many of the churches these young adults grew up in includes talk about Jesus and about being good and avoiding bad—especially about feeling good about oneself—and God factored into all of that, but the gospel message simply wasn’t there.What I found was that for a great many young twentysomethings and thirtysomethings, the gospel had been merely assumed, not taught or proclaimed as central. It hadn’t been explicit. (p. 13)

It’s this desire to see the gospel proclaimed as central that has been the driving force of his ministry and is the heart of his book The Explicit Gospel (written with Jared Wilson).

The Gospel on the Ground and the Sinfulness of Sin

Divided into three parts, The Explicit Gospel examines the gospel from two perspectives before moving into its implications and applications. The first part, “The Gospel on the Ground,” is the essentially the gospel as man’s need for salvation (what one theologian might derisively call the “salvationist” view of the gospel). Here, Chandler uses the God-Man-Christ-Response motif to help readers catch the sense of wonder at the nature and character of God and horror at the awfulness of our sinful condition:

The universe shudders in horror that we have this infinitely valuable, infinitely deep, infinitely rich, infinitely wise, infinitely loving God, and instead of pursuing him with steadfast passion and enthralled fury—instead of loving him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength; instead of attributing to him glory and honor and praise and power and wisdom and strength—we just try to take his toys and run. It is still idolatry to want God for his benefits but not for himself. [The universe] shudders because [it] is the theater of God’s glory and the Scriptures portray this theater as having the instinct itself that it is there to showcase worship. When we, who have been placed as stewards over God’s creation, go rogue and worship not the Creator but the creation, the theater is shaken by this blasphemous treason. (pp. 39-40)

“The universe shudders,” and this reader couldn’t help but do the same when reading this passage. Chandler gets just how bad sin truly is—he understands, as Owen put it, the sinfulness of sin; but he equally understands the grace of God, reminding us that it is all of grace that any hear the message of Christ’s atoning work and are saved. “Blessed are the eyes that see and the ears that hear because the Spirit of God has opened them to do so,” he writes. “The power in the gospel is not the dynamic presentation of the preacher or the winsomeness of the witness. . . . The power in the gospel is the Spirit’s applying the saving work of Jesus Christ to the heart of a hearer” (p. 77).

Chandler gets the gospel exactly right in is understanding of the God-Man-Christ-Response pattern—but he also rightly reminds us that this is not the only way the gospel is revealed in Scripture.

The Gospel in the Air and the Hope of Glory

Part two of The Explicit Gospel looks at the gospel as “the Gospel in the Air.” Here, Chandler uses the Creation-Fall-Reconciliation-Consummation motif to describe the gospel. And as with the gospel on the ground, his exposition is insightful and eminently quotable as he paints a picture of the sheer grandeur of the gospel. The gospel in the air gives us this conception of the scope and the ambit and the greatness of the gospel,” Chandler writes.

If the Bible gives us a wider context than personal good news for personal sin requiring personal response, let’s be faithful to it. At the end of the biblical story, the gospel’s star figure says, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:5). If his word is true, we must take his reference to “all things” seriously. As Lloyd-Jones says, “The whole universe is involved.” (p. 90)

And indeed he does take the “all things” seriously. Chandler navigates through the Creation-Fall-Reconciliation-Consummation pattern with great skill and efficiency. He is serious about wanting the reader to see that “when we look at the gospel from the air, through the grand narrative of the Scriptures, we see that the gospel is not just about God’s forgiving us of sins and giving us eternal life, but also about what we are being forgiven for and what eternal life is like. . . . It is imperative that our gospel take the shape of the Scripture’s epic vision of God’s redemptive plan. It is imperative that we embrace a gospel that is scaled to the glory of God” (p. 172).

This is a theme that many authors, particularly in the last decade, have been picking up on to varying results. Chandler displays a grasp of the grandness of the gospel, without forsaking the message of that is intrinsic to the gospel.

The Danger of an Unbalanced Gospel

In the final part of the book, Chandler addresses the implications and applications of the gospel to the Christian life. And it’s here that The Explicit Gospel is at its most powerful. Chandler has been blessed with a keen ability to cut right to the heart of the dangers we face when we overemphasize one aspect of the gospel story over another.

If we remain “on the ground” too long, we miss out on God’s grand mission, our faith devolves into a “rationalized” one built more on intellectual accumine than Spirit-fueled tenacity, and a self-centered gospel. Ultimately, when we’re on the ground too long, Chandler argues, the gospel becomes all about me. “This is just a short slide away from the worst forms of sectarianism and isolationism,” he writes. “This is a great way to become prideful and arrogant, to rationalize disobedience to the Great Commission and the Great Commandment” (p. 188). Simply, if we only see the gospel as personal, we’ll begin to see it as only private—and if it’s only private, then it’s completely irrelevant.

Equally dangerous is remaining “in the air” too long which, he argues, leads to syncretism, a Christ-less gospel, becoming ensnared by the idol of culture and, inevitably, the abandonment of evangelism.  Ultimately, “when we stay in the air too long, we can mistake a sketchy ‘redemption of all things’ for the whole story” (p. 193).

Something subtle but dangerous happens when the gospel is put purely in terms of God’s restoration of all things: it becomes easy to embrace the biblically deficient “social gospel,” . . . Red flags should go up, for instance, when we see the phrase “Be the gospel” or hear the unfortunately oft-repeated line, “Preach the gospel at all times; if necessary, use words” . . . Really, the issue is not with the meta-narrative or social justice but with those who stay in the air too long and leave the atoning work of Christ behind as they press into God’s call to care for the poor, the widow, and the orphan, engaging in works of justice and mercy in only vaguely biblical or theistic ways. (pp. 189, 193)

Chandler’s corrective on this point is one that is desperately needed today. Much of my time is spent engaged in “social justice” related activities (such is the nature of working at a Christian non-profit) and this sort of talk is rampant in those circles. Social concern is a good and glorious thing, to be sure, but it should not be conflated with the gospel.

On Tone and Temporariness

While I had few if any concerns about the content The Explicit Gospel, I did have one regarding its tone. It reads like the definitive Matt Chandler sermon series. If you know Chandler’s cadence and rhetorical style, it’s incredibly effective. You know exactly where the emphasis ought to be with each statement; in fact, reading the book I frequently found myself “hearing” it in his voice. That Chandler and Wilson were able to capture this at all is extremely impressive. However, for those unfamiliar with Chandler’s style, it could be confusing, if not downright frustrating.

Secondly, although Chandler’s message is bang-on and the communication of it is incredibly effective, reading it I was left with a deep sense of—and I’m not sure if there’s a better way to put this—temporariness about it. The Explicit Gospel is a book that is very much rooted in the context of its time and Chandler’s ministry, for better or for worse. And truth be told, I’m not sure that this is an entirely bad thing. I love the fact that this is a book written for a specific need that exists right now. Chandler and Wilson don’t come across as trying to write the definitive book on the gospel. They’re writing something to help believers in the 21st century come to grips with the gospel in their day. And maybe that’s enough.

Regardless of questions of rhetorical style or contextual ties, The Explicit Gospel is bound to be a great blessing to all of its readers as it challenges us to bebe men and women who understand the difference between moralism and the gospel of Jesus Christ” (p. 221). Read this book and drink deeply of the riches of God’s grace as found in the explicit gospel.

Title: The Explicit Gospel
Author: Matt Chandler with Jared Wilson
Publisher: Crossway/Re:Lit (2012)

This book review, of Matt Chandler’s The Explicit Gospel, is a guest post republished with permission from Blogging Theologically.

[Guest Post] “Dear Parents with Young Children in Church”

Reading Time: 5 minutes

My wife and I pastor a church that has a whole lot of kids!  It’s awesome!  But, with a lot of kids, comes a lot of noise, commotion, laughing, crying, talking, and sometimes even screaming.  Tradition would say, “it’s inappropriate during a Sunday morning service.”  I ask, “how can we modify our Sunday morning service to include our kids?”

While we think on that, read how one mother reflects on bringing Children to church in her blog post “Dear Parents with Young Children in Church“…

“You are doing something really, really important. I know it’s not easy. I see you with your arms overflowing, and I know you came to church already tired. Parenting is tiring. Really tiring.

I watch you bounce and sway trying to keep the baby quiet, juggling the infant carseat and the diaper bag as you find a seat. I see you wince as your child cries. I see you anxiously pull things out of your bag of tricks to try to quiet them.

And I see you with your toddler and your preschooler. I watch you cringe when your little girl asks an innocent question in a voice that might not be an inside voice let alone a church whisper.  I hear the exasperation in your voice as you beg your child to just sit, to be quiet as you feel everyone’s eyes on you. Not everyone is looking, but I know it feels that way.

I know you’re wondering, is this worth it? Why do I bother? I know you often leave church more exhausted than fulfilled. But what you are doing is so important.

When you are here, the church is filled with a joyful noise. When you are here, the Body of Christ is more fully present. When you are here, we are reminded that this worship thing we do isn’t about Bible Study or personal, quiet contemplation but coming together to worship as a community where all are welcome, where we share in the Word and Sacrament together.When you are here, I have hope that these pews won’t be empty in ten years when your kids are old enough to sit quietly and behave in worship. I know that they are learning how and why we worship now, before it’s too late. They are learning that worship is important.

I see them learning. In the midst of the cries, whines, and giggles, in the midst of the crinkling of pretzel bags and the growing pile of crumbs I see a little girl who insists on going two pews up to share peace with someone she’s never met. I hear a little boy slurping (quite loudly) every last drop of his communion wine out of the cup determined not to miss a drop of Jesus. I watch a child excitedly color a cross and point to the one in the front of the sanctuary.  I hear the echos of Amens just a few seconds after the rest of the community says it together. I watch a boy just learning to read try to sound out the words in the worship book or count his way to Hymn 672. Even on weeks when I can’t see my own children learning because, well, it’s one of those mornings, I can see your children learning.

I know how hard it is to do what you’re doing, but I want you to know, it matters. It matters to me. It matters to my children to not be alone in the pew. It matters to the congregation to know that families care about faith, to see young people… and even on those weeks when you can’t see the little moments, it matters to your children.

It matters that they learn that worship is what we do as a community of faith, that everyone is welcome, that their worship matters. When we teach children that their worship matters, we teach them that they are enough right here and right now as members of the church community. They don’t need to wait until they can believe, pray or worship a certain way to be welcome here, and I know adults who are still looking to be shown that. It matters that children learn that they are an integral part of this church, that their prayers, their songs, and even their badly (or perfectly timed depending on who you ask) cries and whines are a joyful noise because it means they are present.

I know it’s hard, but thank you for what you do when you bring your children to church. Please know that your family – with all of its noise, struggle, commotion, and joy – are not simply tolerated, you are a vital part of the community gathered in worship.”

Let’s rephrase that last sentence… “Please know that your family – with all of its noise, struggle, commotion, and joy – are not simply tolerated [at Bethel Pentecostal Church in Bay Roberts, NL], you are a vital part of the community gathered in worship.”  Hopefully we can all insert our local assemblies.  If we can’t…

Let’s think about this…
If you’re a parent of young kids, do you bring your kids to church?  If you don’t, is it because of what others may think?  If you do, know you’re making an awesome impact, can keep doing it!

If you’re not a parent of young kids, how do you respond to “noise and commotion” during a service?  Remember being reverent is more than being quiet, it’s also acting in obedience – Jesus said, “let the children come to me.”

The next time you see a young mom or dad in church with their young children, make sure you let them know how proud you are of them!