Defining Moments: Week 1
Psychologists tell us that when we evaluate a single experience or even a season of our life, we don’t judge the experience as a whole. Rather, we tend to judge and evaluate experiences or seasons of our life based on specific moments in that time.
Moments tend to stand for the whole of our experiences or perhaps an idealized version of our experience. This is why even though a vacation can have many difficult and challenging moments, you remember it fondly, you have to, you spent too much money not to!
This is why two people can attend the same event and walk out of it with completely different opinions about the experience. Their minds have fixated on different moments.
Your view of church may come down to certain key moments from your experiences at church. If you like Church, it may well be that you associate Church with comfort or encouragement because you found it in church at key moments in your life.
Or, maybe you have stayed away from Church for a long time because there were key moments that were the exact opposite. Someone from the church criticized you or put you down or made you feel guilty and so because of that moment you don’t associate good things with the church.
Moments matter because they come to stand for so much of how we view the world. Moments matter because they form a kind of lens through which we understand ourselves, our world, our place in the world, our relationships and God.
Moments matter, and some moments matter more.
Defining Moments are brief experiences, so brimming with meaning that they bring definition and clarity into our lives. And, there are different kinds of defining moments.
Moments of decision, saying yes to the job, making the down payment on a big purchase or walking away from an unhealthy relationship.
Teachable moments, when a parent, teacher, or coach imparts a real life lesson, a poignant and moving experience that leaves a lasting impression or a value discovered.
Moments of insight and understanding, where suddenly everything adds up and makes sense, you find out what’s behind the curtain, a secret is revealed or you recognize a new or different direction to take. Bill Hybels calls this the “Popeye Moment.” The famous comic strip character was an easy going sailor man who always got pushed around by the villain Bluto until Bluto inevitably makes a move on Popeye’s girlfriend Olive Oil, which would set Popeye off as he’d announce: “That’s all I can stands, I can’t stands no more!”
I recount my own Popeye Moment:
I have had several of these moments in my life, some more personal than others, and some more embarrassing than others. One that really stands out is from college.
In high school I was a part of the band. I loved it. I loved music and I wanted music to be my career. I had every intention of being a band director. My goal was to one day direct the Million Dollar band for the University of Alabama.
Then college happened. In my first semester I took an undergrad course, Music Appreciation. This was a freshman level, introductory course. I failed it. I did. I remember telling my band director at the time that I had failed the course. His response was, “well, there are other things you can do with your life.”
That failing changed the course of direction for my life. Failing that class is a big reason why I am here now as a minister of the Gospel.
Moments of insight or understanding.
But then, there is another kind of defining moment, in a class all by itself. I would call them moments of significance. Moments of significance are times when we connect our every day life to something bigger than ourselves, something greater. These are moments in which we see, we are part of a greater story or a greater mission.
We see this played out in the passage we read today in the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew writes:
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the new born king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to worship?”
Though probably not actual kings, to have made this kind of trip they would have been wealthy members of high society. The Magi were probably Zoastrians, a monotheistic pre-Islamic religion in Persia. Zoastrians, early astrologists, closely tracked the movement of heavenly bodies and claimed to read them as omens of earthly events. As Zoastrians these men would have been studying the stars from their youth. But here, they have a defining moment, that is definitely a moment of significance.
Suddenly they see something completely different from anything they have ever seen before. This is often how defining moments come to us: In the midst of attending to the ordinary, the everyday, the expected, something different stands out.
We see this happen over and over again in Scripture. God meets people in their normal routine by doing something out of the ordinary. God gets Moses attention with a burning bush while he’s working as a shepherd. Jesus changes the fisherman Peter’s life on an ordinary fishing trip. Jesus stops by Matthew’s table when he is busy at his job collecting taxes.
Here, the Magi notice something different in the sky. The appearance of a new star, and a major new star, that would predict the birth of a great leader. Not good news to everyone.
When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled. By all historical accounts, Herod was an insecure and emotionally unstable figure. When he was unhappy, everyone around him was unhappy. And he was very unhappy to hear the news of the magi.
So Herod goes to the religious leaders to find out what Scripture had to say about the birth of the Messiah. He would not have known the Scriptures himself because he wasn’t a practicing Jew.
Scripture does indeed foretell where the Messiah would be born. Herod then shares this information with the Magi, so that they might find the child whom Herod intends to murder.
After their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising proceeded them until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house, they saw the child with Mary, his mother.
Now we see another defining moment. After traveling hundreds and hundreds of miles from Persia to Bethlehem, the Magi see the star where Jesus was. They have an epiphany or insight that the reason they have traveled is to encounter the person of Christ,
“They were overjoyed at seeing the star.”
All the years of studying the stars, all the travel comes down to this moment where they see the reason for their efforts. And then, there is another defining moment; they prostrated themselves and paid him homage. They opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
The three gifts have always suggested three magi: the gift of frankincense honored his divinity as it was an incense that would be used in worship; the myrrh honored Jesus’ humanity as it was used for embalming; and the gift of gold honored Jesus’ kingship.
There was a happy-ending for the magi: “They had been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, so they departed for their country by another way”
As a result of these key moments, the Magi realized that they were in a bigger story. The biggest story of all, the biggest story ever. Up until this very moment, God’s revelation and the design of his loving purposes were directed toward the Jewish people. With the presence of the Magi in the Christmas story, the gift of God, that is Christ, is given to the whole world, to all people.
The Magi’s story was shaped by key moments. Moments matter. They help us to define where we are and where we are going. When it comes to faith, they matter for three reasons:
First, God uses moments in your life to reveal his connection to you and his purpose and plan for your life. Everyone I know who has a personal relationship with Christ can recall those moments. Our role is to be on the lookout for those moments and pay attention to them.
Second, moments are also key for understanding ourselves. Some of your greatest fears or deepest hurts can be traced back to a few moments in time. One moment that happened a long time ago may be holding you back. If you recognize and understand those moments, God can help you break their power over you.
Third, as human beings we have a fundamental need to be understood. So understanding others and their perspective can be greatly improved by knowing their defining moments.
So over the next few weeks we are going to take some time to look at defining moments.
My challenge for you this week is two-fold.
First, take some time in your quiet time this week to simply name 3 to 5 defining moments in your life. Name them and then pray about them. Ask God to show you what He was doing in your life.
Second, we will begin our 3 Conversations groups again, starting next week. These groups are an opportunity to connect with others here in our parish. They are simple, easy, and only 3 weeks long. Even more, you can do them live here on campus in the PLC or you can participate online. We have had several instances of people realizing their defining moments. For some, 3 conversations have been a defining moment. Make a three-week commitment to be a part of them.
Another year, a new year, is a perfect time to remember: our time is God’s gift to us. It’s all in His hands. He is working all things together for good, even when we don’t see it at the time. He is at work in our lives at every moment. Be on the look out for these moments. You can choose how these moments will define you.