I tend to read challenging books. I mean the type that push me to think and not entertain me. I started reading a new morning devotion last week. It’s focus is integrity. 

You may know I am a fierce supporter of Willow Creek Church and the Willow Creek Association. I attended my first Willow Creek conference in 1996. I learned more about leadership and the church from Bill Hybels than anyone I’ve ever known including all my education in seminary through the academic rigors of an MDiv degree and a DMin degree.

The controversy surrounding Willow these last six months has caused me to pause and consider what I believe about leaders and leadership. 

I attended the Global Leadership Summit opening worship Wednesday night with our Next Gen Global leaders. Most of them had no idea what was going on in the background. They were blessed to be at Willow. They were blessed to be part of a global network whose focus is Jesus Christ and his church having greater impact in the world. They were blessed to be part of what God was calling us to to do on a greater scale.

There was a great sense of spiritual sadness in worship as we sang the awesome opening worship songs. I kept thinking of all the people that have been part of Willow’s story and influence. I thought about Bill Hybels.

Everything he taught me about leadership and the church belonged to God. He was the conduit God chose to use as the delivery system. I accepted what he taught because of the spiritual credibility and integrity of the content. I knew what I faced as a church leader and the challenges are real! I couldn’t even begin to imagine the pressure he faced as the leader God chose to lead Willow to become a global force for the Kingdom.

We aren’t born with a heart of integrity, and if we want it, we have to fight for it. If we want to fight for deep-rooted integrity, it means that we must intimately know, understand, and love God’s truth. It’s this truth that develops wisdom in our lives and helps us discern and put into practice the standards and boundaries that form a heart of integrity. 

To fight also means to surround ourselves with people who are always watching and holding us accountable. Sins multiply in silence and seem smaller with a lack of accountability. We are much more likely to continue to compromise when no one cares that we are doing it or will not find out. Accountability is hard, but is a key ingredient to taking responsibility for our actions and words. It’s how we mature. It’s how we understand grace.

Fighting for integrity will grow our capacity to face and change the obstacles that continually force us to compromise God’s truth. It makes it a little easier to not over-promise things, change jobs or find a different circle of friends. Fighting for integrity keeps us grounded in God’s truth and greatness not lost in our own delusions of grandeur.

Fighting doesn’t mean we will ever be perfect. *We all fall down. We will never be perfect. We fight for integrity because it matters to God. His greatness is not compromised by our inability to be great. As a matter of fact, where we are weak he is made strong. That’s how our God magnifies himself. In the midst of our sin, destruction and failures his greatness is made known. The Apostle Paul would remind us that this is not a license to prove God’s mercies by being even more sinful. But more aware of that grace as the motivator to keep our hearts right and to fight for integrity until the day we die. The revelation being that our successes were never really about us but about God and his ability to fulfill his purpose in spite of our actions.

Yet there is one ray of hope: his compassion never ends. It is only the Lord’s mercies that have kept us from complete destruction. Great is his faithfulness; his loving-kindness begins afresh each day. Lamentations 3:22-23 NLT

Pastor Jen

I call it my anchor theory!

It’s deep. It’s what holds me together when everything is falling apart. 

Bill and I love to sail. One day we hope to take an extended vacation on a sailboat. I love the cold water and the icy wind is friendly to me. So Lake Superior or Lake Michigan are on the list. One thing that every captain comprehends is how to securely anchor their vessel whether the waves are still or rolling. We all know that our lives are in jeopardy if our vessel isn’t secure. Talk to anyone who’s rowed a fishing boat into waters they wanted to fish only to discover their boat was carried farther and farther away from that hot spot because the undercurrent was stronger than they expected it to be. Or worse, the captain didn’t even notice the undercurrent until it was too late. It takes forethought, commitment and skill to secure your boat.

You may need a picture to capture what I am talking about. I encourage you to go to West Marine’s sight here: https://www.westmarine.com/WestAdvisor/How-To-Anchor-Securely

Solid rock can be a captain’s best friend when it comes to securely anchoring your vessel large or small. Setting your anchor in a rock bed makes all the difference. Imagine setting your anchor in shifting sand or getting it caught in something that felt secure but with just a little wind your vessel was torn away. Now imagine what it means to have your anchor hold in high seas or a storm. 

So, this anchor theory is what I use when it comes to what I believe with regards to scripture, theology and doctrine. I have explored many different expressions of God Talk. A friend of mine suggested to me years ago that I know my opponent’s arguments better than he does when it comes to arguing points of scripture, theology or doctrine. I’ve explored the expansive world of biblical interpretation. I listened as creative ideas and astute philosophy was presented with great vim and vigor. I had fun discovering the Nag Hammadi Library, reading books and articles written by current and ancient theologians that helped me develop ontological clarity and I dove deeply into the current political ocean with regards to politics, feminism, racism and the LGBT issues

My little boat has been tossed by rogue waves. It has been challenged by fierce winds. It has also been caught in the doldrums. But my anchor holds.

My anchor theory may not work for everybody. I tend to feel secure in the power of Christ Jesus to rescue any one of us and his ability to either quiet the storm or walk on challenging waters. My devotion to Christ has flourished. The Holy Trinity as the perfect divine community and the blueprint for the perfect church community became more of a reality for me as I understood the diverse dimension of each of the Three Persons and their unique role within that Holy Perfect Community. Politics continue to drive secular culture. I became an astute student of Jesus and his way to confront secular social issues with the agape so readily available to him from heaven. I believe that I could become more like Jesus with more help from the Holy Spirit. A vision of the local church emerged as I captured in my heart what it would be like if people became more like Jesus and we built a church that reflected what Jesus intended. That vision keeps me going most days.

Sunday we welcome the candidates from India, Tanzania, Jordan and Poland at the Naperville campus for worship at 8:30 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. Our Faith Promise partner from China may also be with us. We all share the general revelation about Jesus Christ. But, we will discover how each culture interprets Christ Jesus in their own individual diverse contexts. How Jesus is interpreted within each of these contexts is fascinating to me. How do people in India come to know Jesus as the unique expression of God among the 300 million gods and goddesses? Africans experience a deep sense of Pentecost every time they worship—could this be our time to receive our Pentecost too? What happens when Arabs, Syrians and Persians commit to Christ with the Holy Spirit fire in their hearts? Europe is currently a secular society entrenched deeply within an ancient Catholic community—where is the space for Wesleyans and grace? China is a dark place for Christians but the Light still shines in the hearts of millions under the cloak of persecution—the Church still lives and flourishes.

Maybe it’s time for you to consider what you truly believe about the bible, theology and doctrine. Check your anchor. Be sure it holds.

This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast. Hebrews 6:19 NASB

Pastor Jen

I’m wishy washy.

It’s true! When it comes to doctrine and values, I can be totally honest with you. My values have changed over the years because of personal experience or relationships that challenged me to the core. I really thought I knew it all when I went to seminary. When it came to scripture, I could argue points of law better and more intensely than anyone else. I fought with others about political historical views that seeped into the church drastically altering long held biblically based truths. Bill suggested I wear a sign that said “doesn’t play well with others.” 

I remember distinctly a very heated match in the seminary coffee shop. I should’ve sold tickets. But, here’s the skinny. I was seated at one of the old rickety wooden tables drinking coffee and eating bagels with my best friends. We were discussing abortion and a woman’s right to choose. Holy moly. The argument went to scripture. Biblical precepts were flung everywhere like a ticker tape parade. If someone would’ve had an iPhone, the video would’ve gone viral. But, as I recall this vivid memory, I knew I was wrong. But, oh man, I was not going to lose. 

Doctrine classes were honestly my favorite classes in seminary. I dove deeply into the scintillating waters of theology. Men of incredible sacramental depth wrote books so profound I would lose all track of time reading them. If you’ve ever seen what I do to books I love, you can imagine the color coding, multi-color tabs and double-dogged ears of texts that were truly transformational for me. Thomas Torrance, Karl Barth, Jurgen Moltmann, Miroslav Volf, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and my beloved John Wesley captured the essence of theology and doctrine in a way that catapulted me into a hemisphere I never knew existed.

But, then I descended from that pristine, lofty academic high place into the rugged, muddied soil of reality and made my home in the local church. It was only then that doctrine began to make sense. Doctrine isn’t meant to thrive in the well-worn pages of documents settled onto library shelves. Doctrine is meant to flourish within human hearts and lived out through daily life within the Christian community. I found it far easier to make doctrine into something I believed strongly and could strongly defend. I held strong biblical beliefs and expedited superior arguments to support it. But, in the end, my doctrine reflected more me and less of Jesus. I needed a community of faith to help me discover the fullness of doctrine and its profound impact on me first and then the whole world. The local church is the holy ground where God chisels perfect master pieces from blocks of earth-made marble. It is where mercy, correction, forgiveness, repentance and healing grace are not only discovered but stretched, molded and shaped to fit into human souls. 

We begin a new series Sunday. I hope you come ready to learn. We have much to discover together with regards to what we believe and what we value at this point in our lives together. My sincere prayer is that we discover what GOD believes and how we can live into His reality for us, for our families, for our church and for the world Jesus loved so much he died for it.

We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God’s original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment. And when it comes to the church, he organizes and holds it together, like a head does a body. Colossians 1:15-18 The Message

Pastor Jen

"There has to be more than this!”

Thoughts like this tend to permeate my heart and mind following a significant event in my life. My mission trip experiences in India, Jordan, Tanzania and recently, in the Dominican Republic, opened my heart to the practical work of Jesus Christ in a specific daily way. Bible study places me into a face to face engagement with God’s Word. In a holy way, my soul was captured forever the minute I opened God’s Word on a daily basis. Over the years, I have developed deeper connections with significant Christian leaders. Without their consistency in my life, I recognize that I would never have gone on a new path without God’s leadership in my life. I am not someone who can simply pay lip service to Jesus. I can give you my personal testimony about what it means to honestly be led by Jesus Christ to do good work at Wheatland. Jesus has a new and exciting direction for all of us to go. But, vision casting what Jesus Christ has called us to do is impossible without his leadership and his Spirit.

I’ve often witnessed how positive experiences can be a catalyst toward long-term change in our lives. Sometimes we experience Jesus in a very personal and meaningful way. His action in our life is so significant, we cannot live the way we were living any longer. The robust nature of a spiritual intervention is designed to turn our lives upside down. However, I think we all can be tempted to settle for going through the motions in life or living out of habits or belief systems we developed over time. It’s just so much easier. Same. Same. Same produces more of the same, same, same.  

What if there is more?

Solomon was someone who I believe asked God for more and he got it! Solomon is often credited with writing the book of Ecclesiastes. I encourage you to read it. I think the Book of Ecclesiastes revealed Solomon’s heart and soul. He had everything he could ever want. In the midst of being incredibly successful by all the world’s standards, Solomon placed this little gem: "I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race.  He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:10-11NIV.

Achievement has its immediate rewards. But, what if at the end of the day what we achieve doesn’t really matter? The next pastor will do greater things at Wheatland. The next person to take your job will do greater things than you did. The next invention will nullify almost everything we think is important today. Everything we put our hearts and minds to will one day pass away-the house we live in will crumble, the people we love will die, the society we desperately worked to improve will degenerate to it’s lowest possible human behaviors again and again. Solomon recognized the impact that God had by placing something that does have significance in the middle of our heart. Eternity.

We will all die. Death is certain. What I believe about death and eternity will ultimately determine how I live. Eternity challenges me to consider what I invest my life in and how I work to make God’s will known. One day I will answer for the life I lived. None of us move into the next life in an artificial sense. Everything will be known. We must face who we are and what we’ve done. This is why we work together to help others realize what’s at stake and how a spiritual intervention must turn our life upside down in order for Jesus to put it right side up.

What happens when we die? This is the question I hope generates some incredible conversation. More importantly, my prayer is that you take this message more seriously than ever. More and more people move away from the truth and grace of the gospel because no one really engages with them about faith and life matters. People’s eternities are on the line. What we believe about death and eternity matters. One of my greatest anxieties is that people I came into contact with didn’t understand the impact they could have on the lives of others. At the moment when they are led into the place of judgment, God sits down with them face to face and asks, “Why didn’t you do more?” The only answer they give is “No one ever told me how serious the consequences would be.”

 “Don’t look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don’t fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires total attention. Matthew 7:13-14 The Message

Pastor Jen

Suffering

Why did this happen to me?

There is nothing that levels the playing field like suffering. We all hurt. We all lose something or someone we love. Endings happen. Situations develop in our lives over which we have no control. Pain is an equal opportunity offender. No one gets through life without experiencing their share.

How could a good God allow so much evil, pain and suffering—or does he simply not care?

This issue is always included in the top ten list of questions. Barna Research* reveals this is the number one issue causing people to doubt or disbelieve the existence of God and it has been for millennia. How we respond is vitally important for the spiritual progress for almost everyone we encounter including our own family and friends.

Suffering is. 

Consider for a moment that it is part of the created order. Read through Genesis 1. You will find God established endings, limitations and boundaries within the created order. Days, nights, water, land, air, animals, stars, moons, planets all have lifetimes. Death is established as a partner within the created order so that when something ends something new can become fully alive. As the tree falls in the forest, it decays bringing life to creatures that play an internal part in the foundation of creation. The brilliance of a supernova is evidence of the last moments of a star’s existence. It’s evidence that creation is ‘undergoing.’ The Apostle Paul addressed the concept of ‘undergoing’ for the Christians in Rome. 

“For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now.” Romans 8:20-22**

Suffering is not always linked to punishment. Yes, there is pain and suffering caused by sin. But, sin is not the only propagator of pain. Love. We can love so deeply we hurt. I think once we grasp how deep the Father’s love is for us and for his creation we dive into the deep pool of God’s suffering. Most people stand on the edge not bold enough, not strong enough, not courageous enough to follow Jesus into the depths of God’s love. Resisting the call of God creates tension, disequilibrium and disturbance. Our first responses are residence, anger, sadness and finally disbelief. We question God. He cannot ask me to give up what I have in order to be free and open to accept what is yet to be. Yes. Yes he can. Yes he does.

Discover what’s within the question. 

Here is something interesting. We often phrase our deep needs as a question. But, we aren’t really looking for reasonable rational answers because we are hurting. We can have accurate descriptions of why things happen but those answers never satisfy the heart and soul of the issue. That’s because we are crying out for help and comfort. When we are in the midst of suffering, pain and grief, we are probably not asking for explanations as much as we are looking for empathy, concern and tangible expressions of love. As Christ followers, it is our opportunity to hear humanity's heart cry. You say you know Jesus, will you please show his kind of love and care?

How we respond makes all the difference.

Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. John 16:20-21

Pastor Jen

The Crucifixion of the Failed Messiah?

The disciples were scattered. What was once a promising and rising movement began to unravel as Jesus was brought before the Sanhedrin. The culmination of the last three years of Jesus’ ministry had the hopes of his followers at an all-time high. Even the Pharisees confessed that the ‘whole world’ had gone after him. And now, the man who had just been celebrated and welcomed as a king riding on a donkey into Jerusalem was arrested and subjugated by the Roman Empire and their puppet-leaders in that very same city. Accusations were made, interrogations conducted, testimonies given, exchanges facilitated, and hands washed. Jesus would be condemned to death and along with him, the hopes of his followers.

Jesus’ death was not going to be a swift Roman execution. Instead, it was to be an agonizing death by crucifixion. The cross was intentionally brutal and served as a public statement for everyone to remember who was in charge. The statement of a Roman crucifixion ultimately declared that those who hung upon the cross had been defeated by the Roman Empire and now were to suffer for it. To make matters worse, it was written in Israel’s ancient scriptures that to hang upon a ‘tree’ was to be cursed. So when Jesus breathed his last, it was not seen, by Roman and Jew alike, as a victorious savior. Instead, Jesus was seen as a criminal defeated by the powers and principalities. The sealing of the tomb came as the final proclamation that this would-be messiah was finished. Yet, no one anticipated what God had planned next.

The disciples were hiding. The supposed ‘raid’ upon the tomb and the missing body of Jesus had the Sanhedrin in an uproar. As a result, the disciples had locked themselves in a room out of fear of the Jewish leaders. Even though Mary Magdalene had shared the news of her earlier sighting of Jesus, there were several in the room who did not believe her. Then the unexpected happened. With doors still locked, Jesus came and stood among the disciples. Their fears and unbelief would be directly challenged by the resurrected Jesus standing in their midst. And, like their perspectives of Jesus’ ministry just days earlier, the resurrection began to unravel the disciples’ understanding surrounding the cross.

Jesus upon the cross was an attempt to use sin’s greatest weapon against him--death. It was an attempt by the powers and principalities to have the final say over Jesus. It was an attempt to close a story that started before the creation of the world. Yet, in the resurrection, God would announce the last word over Jesus. The resurrection caused the huddle group of Jesus’ followers to reinterpret recent events and, ultimately, their story. And, it would be in the months and years to follow that the resurrection would allow Jesus’ followers to interpret his crucifixion in an entirely new light imbuing it with enormous significance.

Do you want to know what really happened in Jesus’ crucifixion? You can find out this Sunday at our Naperville or Oswego campus services. Come join us to hear more.

Pastor Corey

You're Incharge

Find out how it works!

Scientific discovery requires a dedicated thorough process. An idea, or a theory, is formulated. Questions are asked. Through a series of experiments, we search for answers and find meaning, purpose and value. The Scientific Method can be a wonderful tool of discovery. It is the exploration of the unknown, known or maybe the previously known. Science develops conclusions from facts, data and evidence. Tests are done to prove or disprove theories. Science can help prove something exists.   

Take a drive down memory lane with me. The scientific world was all a flutter post World War 2. I wonder if one day in the future we might name this time period a mini ‘Scientific Age.’ Space exploration, nuclear power and the theory of relativity ignited the scientific world and stoked the flames of human desire for discovery. The Soviet Union launched the first man into space in 1961. President Kennedy responded by saying, "I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.” The Moon Race was on!

I was born in 1966. The twentieth century Scientific Age influenced my generation greatly. Science was part of our DNA. The whole world was awash in colorful ideologies of discovery like free love, drug experimentation, Civil Rights and the threat of communism to mention a few. The word revolution was used. John Lennon wrote a song. Evidently a rock band could easily influence the world with a crazy guitar riff and some very challenging lyrics. Funny thing about a revolution I learned from a science teacher. She noted, "A perfect revolution of a wheel will take you right back where you started."

The Scientific Age of the twentieth century influenced the church in very complex ways. I found an interesting article from Religion News Service this week about the 60 year decline of religion here: https://religionnews.com/2014/01/27/great-decline-religion-united-states-one-graph/. Church leaders wonder where everyone is on Sunday mornings and why people don’t attend church anymore. The decline didn’t happen over night. Maybe you’re familiar with the term ‘post Christian.’ Google the term. Familiarize yourself with it. I’m pretty sure we currently live in the ‘POST” era: postmodern, post Christian, post Scientific Revolution.

Maybe my science teacher friend was onto something. Maybe the revolution did take place. Wouldn’t it be interesting if we wound up right where we started?

Can we reconcile science and faith? Certainly. I believe God intended for humanity to explore the intricacies of the created order from the very beginning. Read through Genesis 1. Discover the great progression for yourself. The piece de resistance is Genesis 1:28. God gave the command and waits with an expectation. The Imago Dei would do something with what God created. Challenge yourself to consider what God says: 

1. Be fruitful—have something to show for your work. 

2. Increase in number—become many or great, diversify, multiply.

3. Fill the earth— accomplish, dedicate, endow.

4. Subdue—kabash when things get wild and out of control.

5. Rule—a royal decree: you’re in charge.

Consider the themes represented in this passage as you consider the expansive themes throughout the bible. Fruitfulness, become great—do greater things, accomplishment—disciple making and church influence, kabash wildness and wild living and rule with royal responsibility as you become part of the royal priesthood. Imago Dei, you’re the steward and you’re in charge. 

Join me at our Naperville campus Sunday as I offer a response to the question: can we reconcile science and faith? You may want to attend worship at our Oswego campus to hear Pastor Derek’s last message with us. There will be a Summer Picnic meal at the Oswego campus following worship. Bring a dish to pass. Visit with Pastor Derek and his lovely wife Breann. Join family and friends as we celebrate Derek’s contribution to Wheatland's ministry.

So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth. Genesis 1:27-28 NRSV

Pastor Jen

Books

I Buy Books!

I buy a lot of them. I love the written word and cannot remember a time when I didn’t love reading. Sometimes I aimlessly browse through a library or bookstore simply to take it all in—the titles, the classifications, the depth of knowledge humanity is capable of inspires me. I even like visiting second hand book stores or used book stores. One used book store I visited in Oxford had first edition books that were written in the 1800’s. It was a privilege for me to hold them.

One visit to a Christian bookstore stands out in my memory. I had selected a number of books and waited in line to purchase them. A clean-cut, buttoned up twenty-something man and I engaged in checkout line small talk. But, then our conversation quickly heated into an argument when he ventured into his rehearsed ‘salvation message.’ He began to beat the salvation drum so loudly that everyone in the checkout area and those browsing could hear it. He challenged me if I knew whether or not I was ‘saved’ and if I knew whether or not I was going to heaven.  I answered his questions with definitive answers and challenged him right back by asking, “how do you know that just because you have a date and time that you're saved? I think there will be many that will be be surprised where they wake up.”

Who can be saved?

The answer has eternal significance. Many have tried to answer the question definitively. Salvation is sometimes taught as limiting God. Much like Fed Ex or UPS, emphasis is placed on a decision with a specific date and time. Once saved—always saved. Others create such nefarious ambiguity I wonder whether they believe 'it’s all roads lead to heaven or to hell.’ Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Bultmann, Moltmann and Bonhoeffer captured their knowledge and understanding in sermons and in books which contributed to the salvation library. All interesting perspectives and worth your time to explore if you are so inclined. 

Salvation, as a term, has a curious history. 

Strong’s Concordance can help us. The Greek term is sṓzō (from sōs, "safe, rescued") – properly, deliver out of danger and into safety; used principally of God rescuing believers from the penalty and power of sin – and into His provisions (safety).  Sṓzo is the root of sōtḗr “Savior.” Soteriology is the study of salvation: sōtēría("salvation") and the adjectival form what is "saved/rescued from destruction and brought into divine safety. Salvation has deep European roots. Old English, West Germanic, High German, Middle Dutch terms link the word salvation to healing, ointment, or salve. We can even investigate and find a link to the term salvage. 

The definitions all have deep significance for me.  I can easily recognize why God received an S.O.S. signal. I consider the brokenness around me. It’s not hard to admit humanity’s need for a healing salve for injuries caused or sustained by ungodly humanity. We cannot limit ourselves to the sinful acts we do to one another but we must address the source of our brokenness—the inherited sinful condition of the human heart. The God of the Bible considered our wreckage worth saving. Perhaps we need to comprehend Jesus on a salvage mission. Jesus’ mission and work was not limited to save our personal souls but included a more comprehensive restoration project that meant restoration of the entire created order to what God intended. 

Salvation. Who can be saved? This is the question Pastor Terry Clark and Director of Worship John Dudich will unpack for us Sunday. I hope you can join us. 

Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” Luke 18:26-27 NIV

Pastor Jen

 

Why Doesn't God Do Something About Addiction?

My dad loved to drink and have a good time. 

It was like he was the party machine. Where ever he was—everyone was guaranteed a great time. My dad was the life of the party. He told awesome stories and jokes. He’d buy rounds for the house. He laughed loudly and never met a stranger. He was well known in the region and personally knew every business owner and wait staff by name at every establishment he frequented. My mom participated with him for years. I grew up in a party family. We had no idea what it was like to have fun without alcohol. It never occurred to us not to drink. Having fun often meant intoxication to the point of wild behavior, blackouts and relationship issues of epic proportion. Every generation participated exactly like the previous one. Excess wasn’t ever an issue! It was a family inheritance.

In the early days, my parents both were business leaders in the community. We believed in the Lord and went to the right church. My parents were members of all the right clubs. They both owned separate small businesses at one time. We built a four bedroom, three bathroom dream house. We chose sculptured shag carpet for a sunken family room with a field stone wood burning fireplace. Soft pastels were accents to the celery green formal living and dining area. Our house was spectacular on a wooded lot surrounded by other spectacular homes built from the same builder. We had a camper, a cottage, two vehicles and spent family time with other families who lived and acted just like we did. Party central! Every weekend, all weekend long, Summer, fall, winter and spring.

The problem was we didn’t ever consider how these actions affected our family. As you may already know, my parents divorced when I was about sixteen and my brother thirteen. The whole system crashed. Businesses dissolved. Partnerships were broken beyond repair. My mom, brother and I ended up living in subsidized housing for most of my high school years. My dad bought a mobile home. We lived there part-time for several years every other weekend and every Thursday night. But, the party never ended. 

My dad died three years ago at age 70 from complications of an excessive lifestyle. After my dad’s funeral, we went to clean out his residence. It was a place a friend of his let him live rent free for years. We found unopened medication he was supposed to take that filled a large black trash bag. He suggested to me that his medicine would make him sick. What he wanted was to party and party hard right until the end. That’s exactly what he did.

I am a regular at the Recovery groups on Thursday nights at the Naperville campus. I go for my own reasons. I also listen as parents or loved ones tell their story about someone they love having a substance abuse issue. Many of the families have sons or daughters that overdosed on heroin. Some of the families now meet in a different room because their children died from an overdose. I think it’s pretty common to think of the folks that meet on Thursdays as ‘those people.’ Most people don’t realize we can all have an excess problem. We don’t typically recognize our own behavior as excessive. We don’t imagine that our behavior affects the next generation. These are common phrases I hear: “I can quit any time.” "I can put it down and never look at it again.” “Our credit card balances aren’t that big." "I have a special diet.” “I just need a little bit and then I am fine.” “My spouse doesn’t know I do this."

The question for Sunday is ‘why doesn’t God do something about addictions? I encourage you to invite someone to come and listen with you. Go out to lunch afterwards and talk about what you hear. I will be speaking at Naperville and Rev. Terry Clark will be speaking at Oswego. It may take courage for some to listen to what we have to say. But, transformation is possible and life can get better.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves  be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1 NIV

Pastor Jen

 

I Have A Question

Excuse me, I have a question.

For anyone who’s been questioned to death by a four year old, you know why the Greek authorities made Socrates drink the hemlock in 399BC. He was corrupting the youth. Socrates developed a method that incorporated debate as a form of cooperative argument and dialogue. His method is based on asking questions that were theoretically designed to stimulate critical thinking and draw out new ideas. However, authorities rarely tolerate being challenged.They often do not want questions.

A four year old has no idea their questions drive everyone else bonkers. They just do it…endlessly. Think about it for a moment. How do you feel about questions or being questioned? 

I remember listening to a teacher say to my elementary class, “There is no such thing as a dumb question. It’s only dumb if you have a question that is never asked.”

I find it interesting that Jesus asked questions. He asked his disciples penetrating questions all the time. Jesus boldly questioned the motives and actions of the religious authorities on a regular basis. He questioned Nicodemus in private. He asked the crowds deliberate questions publicly. He even questioned God in the Garden of Gethsemane. We could say that asking good questions is one of Jesus’ hallmarks. It is the tool of a master teacher.

Socrates taught his pupils a reduction method. His style of questioning reduced and diminished meaning, purpose and value. Jesus taught his disciples an amplification method. Jesus’ style of questioning opened minds, hearts and souls to the thoughts and work of God. I believe Jesus eloquently reclaimed this ancient teaching method for his kingdom purposes. And so will we.

We begin a series titled ‘I Have a Question.’ Easter Sunday we gave the congregation the opportunity to write down a question. The question could be about faith, the bible, Jesus, God, Christianity or anything  individuals had been wrestling with personally. We received great questions. The Teaching Team put them into categories and discovered themes. The Teaching Team then put them into an order. So, for the next six weeks, we will be focused on questions. We will incorporate many different voices for this series. Each person who stands before you on a Sunday will give you some things to think about. The discovery process is truly up to you and the Holy Spirit. We don’t claim to be experts. We do love Jesus. He seems to be the one with the answers because he is the answer.

See you Sunday. The first question is ‘what is God like?’

From the fulness of his grace we have received one blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known. John 1:16-18 NIV

Pastor Jen

 

Well Worn Path

A friend of mine had to give up something he valued his whole life this week. I’ve known him for a long time. I’ve known him to be a compassionate leader and fiery advocate for social justice issues. He is a leader. He is a great dad. He is a superior trainer in my book. I learned so much from him—too much to include here. I borrowed his hat once. That’s the kind of guy he is. I later returned his hat because that’s the kind of gal I am.

I suspect he wandered off the path. Something tempted him. It must have caught his attention more than once. That happens to everyone—we glance sideways and all of the sudden we notice something or someone. That’s all it takes really. One moment too long, one arrogant thought, one lapse of judgment, one step off the well-worn path and we can get lost. To think that won’t happen to me is ridiculous and I would even call it sinful. We all fall short. We all are in need of a Savior. I remind myself of that daily.  I, too, am interested in what’s out there…just off the well worn path.

Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6a)

1. Way, like the well worn path trodden by so many it’s clearly distinguished and easily discernible. 

2. Truth, like the bright shining sun after a long dark night.

3. Life, like the first breath following a cardiac arrest.

So, what is our response to those who wandered off the well worn path? How then shall we live? The Apostle Paul made a powerful remark to the Philippians because they asked the same question, even before Francis Schaeffer did in 1976. Paul stated, "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21 NIV) Dying in the Christian life and practice is a daily occurrence. We must die to the right things. I’ve included a prayer below to help discern what I mean by ‘right things.’

I’m constantly perplexed by this notion that when someone does something morally wrong, blatantly sinful or even inadvertently wanders off the well worn path we shame them. It’s like we shine the gigantic spotlight on someone as if we have done something noble. Jesus doesn’t shine a light on my failure. He shines a light to show me the path back onto the way. Imagine what it would be like if we all had flashlights we could use to help others find their path back to the Way.

Sunday is Confirmation Sunday at both campuses. Extended families will be visiting. The Scullen Middle School Choir will open our 8:30 service with some amazing sacred music you may not want to miss. I am excited about what God is doing in us as a community. Go find your flashlight. I already have one. I hope to see you Sunday.

The following prayer is from Prayers for Today: A Yearlong Journey of Devotional Prayer by Kurt Bjorklund. Moody Publishers, Chicago. 2011.

Father—the truth about me is that I often choose sin:

Sometimes I choose hatred. Sometimes I choose slander.

Sometimes I choose envy. Sometimes I choose greed.

Sometimes I choose pettiness. Sometimes I choose lust.

Sometimes I choose gossip. Sometimes I choose pride.

Sometimes I choose self-reliance.

Sometimes I choose self-righteousness.

Sometimes I choose self-aggrandizement.

Sometimes I choose unkind words.

Sometimes I choose to ignore the obvious needs around me.

Sometimes I choose to hoard my resources.

Sometimes I choose to neglect Your command to share the gospel.

The list of things I wrongly choose could go on and on. And sometimes I act on these things in ways that are darker than I even care to state. Each time I make such a choice, I choose death. (Romans 6:23) Today, I ask that You breathe life into my soul afresh,

And enable me to choose life—to choose You and Your ways. Amen.

“I, even I, am the one who blots out your transgressions—for my own sake. And I will remember your sins no more.” Isaiah 43:25

Pastor Jen

 

Hold Onto The Vine and Swing

Some days, you just hold onto the vine and swing!

I thought of Tarzan as I meditated on the next “I AM” scripture: I am the vine. Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle was one of my favorite Saturday morning cartoons. I was totally hooked and so was my brother. We watched it every Saturday morning and often imagined ourselves as Tarzan or some of his friends when our mother demanded we get up off the couch, go outside and find something to do. We created the perfect jungle paradise in our wooded neighborhood. We tied ropes to trees and connected from tree to tree and from tree to treehouse. We built forts and dreamed about being able to talk with the chipmunks, birds and neighbor's cat.

In a similar way, I held onto the Vine this week…and swung! 

Tree One: Monday, Bill and I went to the Northwoods of Wisconsin to attend the funeral for my aunt who was my mother’s eldest sister. The visitation and service were held in the church my mother’s family has influenced for generations. We have some complicated family dynamics. I wasn’t truly aware of how very stressed I was until afterwards. We did get to open our cabin for the season. All in all, we spent 24 hours at the lake, got into our vehicle and drove 6 hours home.

Tree Two: Wednesday, I drove to LaSalle to officiate for the funeral service and burial of a dear friend. I met her when I officiated at the funeral and burial of her husband fifteen years ago. Over the years, I had the privilege of officiating at her grandson’s wedding and the baptism of their twin sons. She was part of my dissertation group and was a huge support to me in ministry. She was very much a second grand mother to me and much more the friend I needed. She always told me I was special. She always believed in me. She never gave up on me. I used 1 Corinthians 13 for the scripture.

Jungle underbrush: Paint teams began the exterior and interior work at Naperville campus! My brother and I negotiated the sale of my mother’s house in Madison this week. We received eight offers. The real estate agents were amazing. They connected us with cleaning crews and professional teams to help sell property. My cousin came to visit Wednesday night with her husband. They stayed the night and left early Thursday morning to attend the graduation ceremony of their daughter-in-law from graduate school in Indy.  Deb Lionberger and I have been working through emails to get Invitation and Visa letters to the US Embassy in China, India, Tanzania, Jordan and Poland. Wheatland is hosting an event that includes five of our Faith Promise Partners in August for a Leadership Learning Lab. This a whole new process for Deb and I. She has been an incredible trooper through it all. Leading the Dominican Republic mission team is a daunting task. Details, finances, individual needs and praying daily for each participant is never far from my mind.

Now, I’ve included you in my little jungle feature. But, I know you do the same thing. Maybe not every week but you swing from that vine, too. It is a huge comfort to me to know Jesus probably figured us out long ago. Jesus already knew how demanding our life can be. I believe he had us in mind when he said, "“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) Grab onto that vine and swing!

Pastor Jen

 

New Day

We made it over the $100,000 mark! We are currently at $100,150 of the $114,000 need.

The painting crew has done a fantastic job preparing the building. After the caulking and power washing was completed, we discovered 19 exterior lights that are attached to the building but not currently working. I didn't even notice them until now! We can exchange all the old fixtures and bulbs for new LED fixtures and bulbs for about $4,000.

Take a look when you drive by and see if you can locate the exterior lighting fixtures. It would be super cool to have them lighted at night on that new paint.

Thanks for what you've already done. I am truly grateful for your feedback and support. We are making progress every day. Let's keep the momentum going!

Sunday is also commitment Sunday. You will have the opportunity to present your commitment card to God as we experience communion together.

Pastor Jen

 

Water projects have been great mission projects for local churches. I remember hearing about digging wells in developing countries when I was young. It sounded like the right thing to do. People walked miles to get clean water. Photographs of women and children carrying heavy water containers as they walked always accompanied the request for financial support. 

It was only recently I learned a hard lesson.

There is a culture that develops around water. An African woman gently but firmly shared her story with me. She walked to get clean water as a child. Sometimes it took hours. She laughed as she recalled this, “As a mother now, I understand why my mother needed all of us kids to get out of her way. She sent us for water. It was a job with great responsibility. We learned that if we dropped the water or spilled some along the way we would not have enough. The family suffered. Children learned to be responsible and that their choices affected the family. Sometimes, no water affected the whole community. You see, Jen, water has a culture.”

The African woman continued to educate me. Brothers, sisters, cousins and friends learned what it meant to share a burden. They created games to help the hours pass. They took turns and even trained the younger children how to participate. It sounded like a right of passage to me. All that exercise gave the children a safe place to put their energy.  I also learned that sometimes when the machinery from the wells broke, the villages had no parts to fix it. So, they went back to getting water like they had for generations. But, as the children had no previous ‘water culture,’ they complained and grumbled because the work was a huge burden. It was labor intensive and took so much of their time.

The next part was hard for me to hear. She said, "Jen, your children have water in their homes. They turn on a faucet, hot and cold come rushing out. They have all they need. How do your children learn to be responsible? Do they know what it is to suffer as a family? How do they learn their choices affect the family not just themselves? Do they understand their irresponsibility can affect their whole community?

There is a culture that develops around water.

A Samaritan woman went to Jacob’s well to get water for her household. Historical bible studies reveal most women went to get water in the cool of the morning. There was an established 'water culture.’ The Samaritan woman arrived at noon. Interesting. The Samaritan woman already lived outside the accepted water culture of her time. Jesus met her at noon. Together they established a whole new ‘water culture.’ He challenged her understanding of just about everything that mattered in life. Their conversation included topics like racial prejudice, gender equality, family inheritance, worship, Spirit, thirst, marriage, honesty, authenticity and the Messiah. The Samaritan woman’s heart and mind were so transformed by Jesus and his ‘living water’ that she left her water jar and ran into the village. She became one of the first evangelists! She was one of the first people who helped develop a whole new living water culture

Living water became a sacred symbol for Christians for a multitude of reasons. It cleansed and sustained. It washed and filled. Water was deemed necessary for true repentance in our baptism. I wonder now, if our church would consider what it means to have a culture that developed from the Living Water. Could we, like the Samaritan woman and Jesus, talk about racial prejudice, gender equality, family inheritance, worship, Spirit, thirst, marriage, honesty, authenticity and the Messiah? Would we be so transformed by Jesus and the Living Water that we too would be evangelists and go into our villages and communities to invite others to experience the Living Water for themselves?

Come Sunday to worship. We will provide an opportunity for you to experience living water for yourself. Who knows what could happen next?

Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” They came out of the town and made their way toward him. John 4:28-30

Pastor Jen

 

Darkness is always present!

We could only do it after 9 p.m.

Darkness finally arrived in Northern Wisconsin after 9 o’clock during the Summer months. So, by the time we were told it was time to come out of the water, we all knew there was still more fun to be had. After changing out of wet swimming clothes and into dark sweatshirts and shorts, all the cousins would disperse into the darkness to hide behind the cabin, random trees, neatly parked cars or the secluded out house. One of the older cousins would be ‘it.’ He or she wielded my uncle’s 1950’s edition of an old metal industrial flash light. That old, heavy flashlight could have sent signals to Sputnik had we known how to do that back then. The light beam was that intense.

Flashlight tag was a favorite game of Summer. So was Capture the Flag and Jarts. I loved hiding in the darkness. People I trusted were there to help guide and protect me. I expected to outwit the older cousin that was ‘it.’  We all committed to the game. We all took turns being ‘it.’ Even us 'littles' were given a chance to be ‘it.’ I needed both hands to hold the flashlight. Running while holding the flashlight was truly challenging for me. I think I may have been five years old for this memory. But, I was surely not going to allow them to think I couldn’t handle being ‘it.' 

I didn’t understand, then, that it would be difficult for my eyes to adjust to the bright beam in the midst of the darkness. It was certainly easier for me to hide in the darkness. I could see everything in the dark. I could especially see where the light was from any vantage point. But, being the one with the light was different. Imagine my surprise when my light beam met my 6 foot 5 inch favorite cousin as he came running up to me out of the darkness with his arm outstretched like a 747. High-pitched squeals, terrorizing screams and suddenly belly laughter developed as those big arms threw me into the air and caught me again.

Through the years, my relationship with darkness changed. Maybe it changed because the darkness of adolescence or adulthood wasn’t fun. It brought uncertainty, chaos and confusion into my life. Not even being a committed Christ follower kept me safe from the things that go ‘bump in the night.’ I definitely learned to respect the darkness. I tried to avoid it whenever possible. But, whether it was self-imposed or it crept in without invitation, I found myself lost in the dark. 

Surprisingly, I found other lost people in the darkness. It was appealing to believe they were true friends that were there to help guide and protect me. But, lost people rarely make great companions.The Light was always present. I knew where it was. I was’t blind. I could see things even in the dark. Eventually, I learned valuable lessons. Most of the lessons I learned were costly and way too numerous to mention here. I am sure you can relate at some level.  

Darkness is always present. There are innumerable revelations and pathways darkness tries to hide. Darkness can cleverly disguise a uniquely constructed passageway as a dangerous place or it can be a place of adventure and discovery. Some people allow darkness to rule their lives as it cloaks them in self-perceived isolation. They can know darkness as addiction, depression or chaos. Some experience darkness as fear, gluttony or laziness. For others, darkness is a place of wonder, peace and tranquility. Whatever the expression, it’s all darkness. We are all affected by it. God separated darkness and light in the beginning. I wonder, now, if darkness has a Godly purpose after all.

There is One True Light. The One True Light illumines everyone and for him darkness isn’t dark. Sunday we discover more together about Jesus could have meant when he said, “I am the Light of the World.” (John 8:12)

Pastor Jen

 

What makes someone ‘good?’

What standards do you use when describing someone as ‘good?’

1. Consider your children, grandchildren or children in general. Did you grow up in a culture where good children were seen and not heard? Is it possible for good kids to do as we say not as we do? Does a good boy or a good girl abandon their calling to care for a parent or someone else in need? Does a good son or a good daughter cause problems, if so what kind? What is a good son or a good daughter?

2. Consider your relationships. What makes a relationship good? Is it limited to good times, good communication or good emotional support for you? Does a good relationship call out the best in you, challenge you to consider different perspectives and drive you into new directions? What makes a relationship good?

3. Consider your influences? What constitutes a good influence in your life? Can an enemy become a good influence? Theology, philosophy, economics, math, science can be influences. Are they good? Does an influence have to compel you to respond to be good? What makes a good influence?

Jesus redefined much of what I thought was good. I find him turning over more than tables in the Temple Court in my life. The gospels of Mark and Luke reveal Jesus asking a next generation leader a similar question: why do you call me good?* I imagine the next generation leader being savvy or arrogant. I imagine him trying to impress Jesus with his actions. I imagine him to be a lot like me.

What makes someone or something ‘good?'

Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd.” As a child, I was influenced by artwork that hung on walls of our Sunday school rooms. There was a painting of Jesus carrying a lamb as other sheep followed him that had a powerful influence in me. The title of the painting was engraved on the brass plaque: I am the Good Shepherd. I really liked the nice Jesus. The Jesus that was always there for me and could carry me when I needed it. I like the good Jesus who comforted me, the good Jesus who filled my emptiness, my loneliness and my every need. I really like the Jesus that allows me to be just as I am…me. Never in a million years did I imagine that my definition of a good Jesus was as juvenile, limited and ultimately stagnated my own spiritual growth. 

After some great time with our teaching team, I realized how I totally misjudged the John 10: 1-18 passage.  Jesus spoke to the Pharisees at the Temple Court. He was not sitting on the mountain side speaking to his potential followers nor was he trying to describe the Kingdom of heaven. Jesus was making a point. One that stings.

Pharisees were self-made men. They were not Sadducees born into the lines of priests who automatically inherited their position serving at the Temple. Pharisees were kings of personal sacrifice. They forfeited fortune, family and friends for a potential position in the Temple. They fought hard and worked their way up the ranks to get to the Temple Court. It is a mystery to some as to how some Pharisees actually made it into the Temple Courts. Sadducees were born into the ruling class.Their Sadduccean blood kept them in the highest place of honor whether they ascribed to the Lord and his commands or not. Pharisees measured each other on how they kept the law’s commands. They had their own definition of good.

I think Jesus made a serious indictment against the Pharisees and their ’sheep pen’…the Temple. He challenged the self-made men about leadership, salvation and motivation. He then masterly compared a good shepherd to a hireling. Jesus challenged them to consider if their faithful service to the Temple was faithful service to God. Or if they coveted the position at the Temple more than anything else in life. Dangerous territory for sure when challenging leaders with the truth of behaviors they believed to be….good.

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. John 10:14-16 NIV

Pastor Jen

 

I AM

Four funerals in six days. 

I put my fourth Seven Layer Salad on the counter next to the other salads. A red jello salad, garden-fresh coleslaw, green pea salad and a fresh-cut fruit salad were already displayed beautifully in cut crystal bowls. Several women buttered buns and filled them with honey baked ham. A pyramid of funeral sandwiches would eventually make it to the place of honor. The women of the church quietly chattered with each other. The usual plates, napkins, silverware and serving spoons were already set out. Hot potato casseroles would be set next to the sandwiches. Arlene’s lemon pie, Joyce’s triple chocolate layer cake and Shirley’s German Chocolate cake were cut into decent sized portions and placed onto the normal yellow plates. Irene’s chocolate chip cookies were always arranged in a lovely basket.

That week occurred in early November during the second year of my first solo pastorate. Nothing can galvanize long term relationships like the intensity of ministry in the local church, especially in a church that did remarkable outreach to families in need of a place to hold a funeral service. Some of the local old guys teased me from time to time. “They say you’ll marry or bury anybody up there on that hill, pastor!” The Methodist church I served was located uphill from the downtown area where the taverns also doubled as an early morning coffee shops. There were no Starbucks or Duncan in Midwestern small towns.

I loved to banter with the old guys. 

In truth, I did bury the old guy who teased me most. He visited our church frequently during the years I served that congregation. He asked if I would even do his funeral. I assured him I would take care of him, too. He died at home. His son and I went to check on him because he didn’t make it to coffee one morning. “I think something happened to Dad,” his son looked desperate. “Let’s go together,” I said. My fourth salad was for him.

“How do you do this?” asked the son. He questioned the way I was handling all the deaths, my disposition and ability to do his father’s funeral in the midst of the other three that week. 

“It’s not hard if you really believe it,” I said. I meant it. I meant it then and I mean it still.

Sooner or later we will have the opportunity to consider what we believe about what happens to us when we die. Maybe you’ve heard the old joke: death doesn’t scare me—it’s the getting there that I am afraid of! I respect death. I don’t joke about it. Death is the ultimate boundary. It is absolutely something every created thing will experience. Many of my dear friends and family members struggle with what it means to go on living without a loved one or a significant person in their life. There is a lot of unfinished business. Sometimes people feel abandoned. Others feel set free and released from the guilt or shame of a relationship that had gone sideways. Grief is personal and painful. I don’t have any cliches or answers. But, I do have an assurance that I can share.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ changed everything. The promise of resurrection for us who believe came from the same God that raised Jesus from the dead. He is the Alpha and the Omega. He is the beginning and the end. The worst thing is not the last thing. I don’t have to understand something fully in order to believe that it is true. I do need a robust faith that sustain my belief—especially when it is challenged. Even in death, we are active in this holy pursuit. It is worth your undivided attention and apprehension to know Jesus Christ was and is raised from the dead. It’s not wishful thinking. It’s not some made up story to satisfy the masses. It is the very truth we stake our lives on.

Sunday, we begin a new series titled “I AM.” The gospel of John includes the “I AM” statements of Jesus. We will learn what these statements are and what meaning they have for us. We begin with Jesus’ words, “I am the resurrection and the life.” What could happen if you really believed this? Would anything change, if so, what?  Join us Sunday for worship and so much more.

But let me tell you something wonderful, a mystery I’ll probably never fully understand. We’re not all going to die—but we are all going to be changed. You hear a blast to end all blasts from a trumpet, and in the time that you look up and blink your eyes—it’s over. On signal from that trumpet from heaven, the dead will be up and out of their graves, beyond the reach of death, never to die again. At the same moment and in the same way, we’ll all be changed. In the resurrection scheme of things, this has to happen: everything perishable taken off the shelves and replaced by the imperishable, this mortal replaced by the immortal. Then the saying will come true:

Death swallowed by triumphant Life!
Who got the last word, oh, Death?
Oh, Death, who’s afraid of you now? 1 Corinthians 15:51-57 The Message

Pastor Jen

 

Peter and Paul

Paul had more influence than Jesus!

Many scholars believe the Apostle Paul had extraordinary influence as Christianity advanced from the nucleus in Jerusalem toward regions such as Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the world. Within Paul's undisputed letters of Romans, I&2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, I Thessalonians and Philemon we discover amazing and courageous statements of faith about Jesus, the followers and how God chose to continue to work through men and women. No one ever disputed that the Apostle Paul was a real person. No one ever claimed he was crazy. No one ever made any statement that the Apostle Paul lied or invented the story. No one could ever do what Paul did. His entire life validated his belief.

Paul did not create Christianity. Christians didn’t create Christianity. The resurrection created Christianity.

Before the resurrection, there were no Christians.The resurrection of Jesus Christ set Christianity apart from any other belief system. The resurrection of Jesus Christ was such a powerful event, the early followers referred to dying as ‘falling asleep.’ (I Corinthians 15:6) Because of the resurrection of Jesus, Christians believed they too would rise from the dead. They had confident assurance. Many faithful men and women were eye witnesses who watched the Romans execute Jesus. No one disputes the Romans nailed Jesus to the cross in a very public, painful excruciating process. No one disputes the death of Jesus Christ. The resurrection changed everything. Jesus shocked and awed during his resurrection appearances. No one expected to go to the tomb and see no body. More than his body was raised. Questions were raised. Questions about belief in God challenged skeptics and fired up followers to share the news that Jesus was not dead but alive. 

It is within the questions we find belief. 

You might question the claims of Christianity. Maybe you once gave your life to Christ praying with a trusted mentor or during a Sunday school class. For others of you, it was a camp experience or on a mission trip that you experienced Jesus Christ as real and life changing. But, that was a long time ago and now you have questions. You’ve faced college scrutiny. You were exposed to life experiences and came out the other side questioning your belief. Perhaps your confidence was stolen because someone challenged you and you felt embarrassed by the simplicity in which you first believed. Past hurts, habits and hang-ups tend to clutter the hallways of our judgment with guilt and shame reducing us to powerless devotees of some ancient belief system no one considers credible. 

Maybe you never truly believed any of it. You went along because you loved the people who seemed to be so devoted to the cause. You attend Easter and Christmas with the family to placate a family member but you’ve never really allowed any of it to penetrate your heart, soul, mind or strength. Perhaps you’ve been far too suspicious to accept the claims that Jesus could rise from the dead, appear to many faithful witnesses and then ascend to heaven. But, the confidence in which you once doubted Christ and Christianity is now shaken by the culture of deception. A lie mixed with the truth erodes everything. Deception  creates mistrust. Now, you’re looking for truth. You will find it like many others when you experience it for yourself. This truth remains: his tomb is still empty.

Join us for an incredible celebration Sunday. We will proclaim Jesus Christ is risen from the dead—foolishness and a stumbling block for the unbeliever but to those of us who are being saved…it is the very power of God! (1 Corinthians 1:18) 

Happy Easter!

Jen

For further reading: 1 Corinthians 15:1-22, Galatians 1:11-24, Acts 4:8-20, 2 Corinthians 3:1-6, Romans 6:1-10, 1Thessalonians 4:13-18

Finishing Well Is Hard!

Finishing well is hard!

I don’t always know when the end is near. It catches me off guard. My defenses low. My vulnerability revealed. Depending on the severity or the intensity of an ending, it can be traumatic and painful for me. I understand why people rip their garments, drop to their knees and throw dirt into the air. I can identify with the agony of the end. I’ve been that person whose hot unending tears stream down my saturated face. I've called out to the sky, my hands gripped in tightly held fists, gurgling the primordial scream, “why?” 

Sometimes, I know the end is near. I’ve had time to prepare. I could see it coming like the train on the proverbial tracks. Over the years, I learned to anticipate finishing well by dealing with what accompanies the end. Waves of nostalgia wash over me or sometimes heart-felt sentiments roll through me like a spring thunder storm. That’s the healthy way. But, I’ve also learned how to dodge it all. Ignore it. Put it on the shelf and deal with it later. Dangerous, I know, but I try to be honest with you when I write these blogs. 

I noticed something about myself. I agonize about not having enough time for all the wrong reasons. I often feel the heavy weight of my own limitations like a stone in my gut. I feel like I don’t have enough time to do all the things I need to do. Oddly, I noticed that when something is over, I declare the same ironic truth: I didn’t have enough time

I have a deep commitment in the pit of my soul to finish well. Maybe it’s a blessing. Maybe it’s a curse. I judge others by my lofty standard because I feel like finishing well reveals who we really are—our truthful character. For me, finishing well is the true revelation of our intent, our gratitude and our submission. Anyone can be a great starter. Everyone loves the beginning: puppies, kittens, babies, new beginnings, new jobs, new shoes, new car smell. But, finishing well requires us to make a commitment to carry out the mission regardless of the pain, suffering or loneliness we may recognize as companions along the way to the end. Few people hang around afterward. It’s just so…depressing.

Palm Sunday is the beginning of the end. Some believe Jesus knew everything before it happened and went through the events of Holy Week as a triumphant, omnipotent, omnipresent God. Others deny that claim citing Jesus isn’t a fortune teller. He may have known the plan but he had a choice. Each of the participants had a choice. Each step Jesus took, from entering into Jerusalem on a donkey to leaving the tomb once and for all, was a choice to finish well. 

When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” John 19:30 NIV

Pastor Jen

I Don't Want To Be Here!

I don’t want to be here.

I didn’t need them to tell me. I could see it in their eyes. I spoke with several Syrian refugee children about their artwork as our Faith Promise partner interpreted for me. Airplanes, bombs, explosions and destruction were all colorfully displayed on the paper. Some of the artwork included what I interpreted as family. There may have been four or five upright stick figures illustrated on the paper and one drawn on the ground or a house on fire. Preschool children can communicate very well through art. Their vocabulary was limited. Their imagination was not.

I don’t want to be here.

I didn’t need her to tell me. I could see it in her eyes. Hundreds of people spoke in hushed tones, smiled briefly and offered words of condolence. The lights were dim, piano music played in the background and the room smelled of a mixture of flowers and heavy perfume. I noticed she mentally checked out every once in a while as she glanced at the urn on the table in the midst of pictures of the life they lived together.

I don’t want to be here.

I didn’t need them to tell me. I could see it in their eyes. They had drifted apart. They fought all the time. She complained loudly with hands actively proclaiming her consternation in the air. He sat defiantly defending every accusation dejected with his arms crossed. I eventually seized an opportunity to ask a question as one of them took a breath. I asked why they had come to me and if their marriage vows were worth keeping.

I don’t want to be here.

I didn’t need him to tell me. I could see it in his eyes. His dream died long ago right along with his bankruptcy. The job search was dehumanizing. It erased his self confidence and played a rugby match with his soul. His family was counting on him. The employment environment was a new landscape he didn’t know how to negotiate. He had always been the captain. He made all the decisions. Now someone else would do that for him.

The essential meaning of exile is that we are where we do not want to be. We are far from home. We are in unfamiliar surroundings. Many times we are forced to be in a place where nothing is recognizable. Desolation, dislocation, distance all lead us to unexplored territory. It’s often hard to discern how we arrived at this destination. Exile is often traumatic and terrifying. Our sense of right and wrong is completely upended. Our worth and significance is easily destroyed in a heap of ruble when don’t fit anymore. No one needs us. We are no longer necessary.

The absolute foreignness of exile can provide a new liberty if one can mute the mental and emotional noise long enough to reasonably assess the situation. Our world is not predictable. We seem to know that on the surface and use that unpredictability to our advantage when the outcomes are favorable. But, its a very different story when we are the alien in a foreign land.

Exile is included in God’s story. We will learn about it Sunday from Jeremiah’s perspective. It is far more complex than any of us can comprehend. I am not sure if anyone can even prepare for exile. The circumstances are often far too complicated to discern while we are travailing through a foreign land. There is one important thing to remember—God is with us. Not in control, not allowing us to wallow in self-pity, not angry nor distant. He’s right in it with us. Emmanuel.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 NIV

Pastor Jen