It’s a four letter word all of us use and few of us like.

Wait.

I’m going to confess something to you. I like fast. I love to drive fast. It’s totally a habit. I like to think I can beat the traffic. I’m usually late to an appointment or my next destination. So, I’ve convinced myself that it’s okay to speed. It’s normal for me to dart back and forth from lane to lane in the traffic like I’m 007. The exhilaration and pump I get is easily matched with the sound level of my Spotify playlist in my car. I received a speeding ticket a few years ago while I was driving too fast on Washington, North of Odgen. The officer walked up to the side of my little black Acura as I rolled down the window. 

His eyes met mine. He grinned and said, “Looks like you’re having fun in there. Do you know how fast you were going?” 

“I’m listening to praise music, sir!” I sheepishly replied and added a cheesy grin.
“Sure you are. License and insurance card, please ma’am.” Rats. I was listening to praise music and singing to the LORD. And, I was driving too fast.

My mom always chided me when I was younger to slow down. I loved to be the first to get to the playground. I didn’t wait around for kids to beat me to the kickball diamond. I raced through my multiplication tables so I could always win. I read all the assigned books first, so I could get all my book reports in before everyone else. Don’t ask me what books I read. I won’t remember them. As an adult, I usually attend the first showing of a new movie. I like to try new restaurants or new menu items so I can recommend to others how the food is or what type of place it is. I was the first one to finish writing my doctoral dissertation only to receive a ‘DO OVER’ from my professors. I hate do overs. But, I hate to be late even more.

I was really antsy one morning as I anxiously waited to pull out into the stream of traffic near our home. No kidding. I heard a voice ask, “Why are you in such a hurry? It’s twenty seconds.”

Not even a minute.

I was struck by the intensity of the revelation. None of us really wait that long to get into traffic. Maybe a few seconds, often less than thirty. I inhaled deeply and exhaled. I purposely waited. Then the guy behind me laid on his truck horn! Ha! I think you get the picture.

Advent is a holy season designed to slow us down. Darkness is cause for us to pause. Think clearly and thoroughly about decisions, life, relationships, work and choices we make. Slow down isn’t a curse. Wait isn’t a swear word. But, it can be a blessing as much as it is a warning. 

How we wait reveals a lot about us. What we do while we wait often exposes our level of maturity. We all wait for others, wait for answers, wait for diagnosis, wait on God. There’s the rub, right? I want the new job, now God! I want a better relationship with my kids now God! I want to be successful now God. I think it’s the “NOW GOD” that’s truly revealing. Who are we again? Who are we to tell God how to do something and hurry up! We’re burning daylight. We can’t let moss grow under our feet. Time is money!

The Deceiver would like for you to rush through your life and pay no attention to the still small voice whispering into your ear to slow down. Your children’s childhood is a short time compared to their adult life. Don’t squander it thinking you’re providing for them financially when all they want is your attention and heart. Don’t look for love outside your marriage and family. If it’s been hard in your relationships, slow down and remember a time when it was really good. Date them again. Treat them like a boyfriend or girlfriend. Even if it’s not your fault. Do it anyway. Your job isn’t killing you. Your attitude might. Humble yourself and listen to God. You may be in the position you’re in for Him and not for you. Think long and hard about how you respond to people before you actually speak. Learn to wait. Practice.

Sunday introduces the second week of Advent. Wait is our word. Israel waited more than 400 years to hear from God. Imagine what was built during that time of silence. Then, imagine finally hearing the good news. We can still hear it today and we don’t need angels or shepherds to tell us. We can hear it now. You might discover that God has been patiently waiting for you to listen.

But those who wait on the Lord, Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31

Pastor Jen

“I’m not feeling it.”

I’ve said it a lot over the years. I’ve said it in a whispered prayer to God as I walk toward a podium to preach. I’ve said it at the gym more often than I want to admit. I’ve said it to people whom I love when I felt like our relationship was going sideways. Thirty years is a long time to serve in any career. A million and one times I said it and I meant it. Walmart greeter sounded better. You and I both know this statement always says more about me than the other things I mention here.

Maybe you’ve said it too. “I’m not feeling it.”

Please know that I love my job, my gym, Bill, (especially Bill) my friends and family too! I am incredibly grateful that God has placed me here. I'll be honest with you though, some days are just hard. Regardless of my personal feelings towards something, the show must and does go on.

TRUTH
The truth is, things that matter in this life rarely have anything to do with our feelings. The things that really matter, a life's work, a thriving marriage, a positive impact, a right relationship with God, we don't always feel like putting in the work and care to make these things happen. But if we truly want these things, we have to be obedient to our commitment. We have to be faithful to our calling and follow through regardless of how we may feel in the moment.

When it comes to the things that matter, I believe God is searching for men and women who will commit to their calling and learn to prevail over the spider-web like complexity of our feelings. When we feel like it, it's play. When we don't, it's work. Both play and work are important. It’s a sign of maturity that we even recognize their relevance in our lives. The rewards for consistency and for follow through far out weigh the difficulties and temptations we face. Trust me. More over, trust God!

TRUST

The first word in our Advent sermon series is trust. There are actually seven different words for trust in the Old Testament. Trust includes seeking refuge with God, building confidence which provides the security we all crave and waiting with hope that will not disappoint us. The New Testament sums it all up in one word: faith. Faith shows up 254 times in the New Testament. It’s kind of a big deal.

Advent can be a season where we recalibrate our lives. Make room in the inn, so to speak. Maybe this year, you’re all excited about the holiday season! Things are going well. Praise God! Praise Him all season long. Go ahead and make people roll their eyes when you sing Christmas songs and dress in ugly Christmas sweaters or fun Christmas leggings. But, there are a number of you out there for whom Christmas is so hard you don’t really know how you’re going to make it. You. I’m writing to you. Advent is for you. There is a Light in the darkness. The darkness has not overcome it. So, prepare. Too often we ask for clarity when God is calling us to trust him. 

“Yes, indeed—God is my salvation. I trust, I won’t be afraid. God—yes God!—is my strength and song, best of all, my salvation!” Isaiah 12:2

Pastor Jen

I am a sinner.

I am a sinner saved by grace.

These two sentences have enormous impact. One keeps me in prison. The other opens the door.

Thursday I sat in a room filled with international leaders that face persecution in their own countries for being Christians. I honestly keep asking God why I keep being invited to be part of this prestigious group. “Keep showing up.” That’s what I hear from him. My heart stirred within me as I listened to their stories of resilience. They get beat down but they get back up. My heart was on fire within me because I know what it feels like to be judged, mocked, knocked down and excluded for what I believe. I’m an odd duck. I don’t really fit into the categories. You know some of the categories: political, liberal, conservative, independent, inclusive, exclusive, consumer, contributor, rule follower, rule breaker, lover, hater, bystander, joiner, team player, loner, giver, taker. 

Some have called me weak in the past because I don’t ascribe fully to one camp or the other. People have identified me as ‘wishy-washy,’ uncommitted and a poor leader. Others have tried to recruit me because they believed me to be an influential leader but to no avail. So, when I refuse the invitation to join in or to fit into one of those categories, I get dropped like a hot rock. No longer interested. It’s painful. But, over the years, I’ve learned how to overcome some pretty devastating disappointments. I was betrayed by my best friend on more than one occasion. I was fired from a ministry job. I was in an abusive relationship for three years. None of these experiences define or limit me. They certainly contributed to who I am but these experiences have not defined me or limited me. Because, in my heart, I believe Jesus opened a door for me.

I believe I am free. I refuse to be limited to my sin or the sin others cast onto me trying to limit who I am. I’ve made horrible choices today and it’s only 9:30 am. I am selfish. I am motivated my by own desires. I have a short-sighted vision for my life. My mind wanders, I get sidetracked and I get bored easily. I don’t listen. I’m disobedient. I will go my own way if I am allowed to go that way…just long enough to recognize I’m in over my head and in need of a Savior. I hate. I love. I am confused. I get angry. I am aloof. I am all this and so much more. But, categorically…I choose to believe I am a sinner saved by grace. 

The Apostle Paul says it this way, "Because of this decision we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don’t look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you." (2 Corinthians 5:16-20 The Message)

I am free. I will stand firm and not allow myself to be burdened by a yoke of slavery. This is good news! No, it’s great news! And it’s for all people. Jesus completely redefined what I value and how I live my life. My identity is found in him. His love compels me.

Do you want to be free?

Do you want a fresh start?

Do you want to settle relationships with others?

Do you want forgiveness for your own sins?

The Apostle Paul encourages us in this way. We’ve been given the task of telling others what God is doing. We are Christ’s Ambassadors. Let him set you free to become friends with God…he’s already friended you.

Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you. (Galatians 5:1 The Message)

Pastor Jen

South East Asia. Europe. French Speaking Africa.  English Speaking Africa. Central Africa. East Africa. West Africa. South and Central America. Middle East. Bahamas. US.

I’m attending the global summit in Atlanta and celebrating twenty years of ILI today. ILI is supported by our Faith Promise initiatives each year by sponsoring a National Conference Training event in Southeast Asia. Wheatland has hosted an ILI Training at our Naperville campus and we’ve also experienced the congregational curriculum called Christian to the Core.

I am a Board member of ILI (International Leadership Institute) and have the privilege of experiencing first hand the move of God among the nations. God is working to train leaders to influence others for the Kingdom of God! I sit with key leaders from all over the world and listen to them talk about multiplying their leaders while equipping them to know the Word of God and be filled with the Holy Spirit. Each key leader then releases leaders to do the work God called them to do. 

The prophet Ezekiel proclaimed our God is the God of the Nations. Belief in Jesus isn’t limited to a personal relationship or private matter. What we do matters. How we live reveals to others who we are and what we believe. Let us be so filled with the Holy Spirit others will want to know more.

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:37-38

Pastor Jen

Eugene Peterson died this week.

Bono, the lead singer from an Irish rock band U2, reached out to him years ago but Eugene turned him down because he was translating the Old Testament. Eugene had not heard of Bono. He had no idea who Bono was and it took years for these two rockstars to meet. Here is the video of how they met: The message of the Psalms https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-l40S5e90KY

Toward the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus mentioned the contrast between the wise and the foolish builder. The most essential part of what we build is not as important as our foundation. Do we build on something solid or something shifting? Foundational comes to mind when I think of Eugene Peterson. I consider the work, including The Message translation of the bible, Eugene has given to us secondary to the man, the pastor, the author, the Christ follower he was. His stories and translation gave us a deep soulful insight into God that only comes from a lifelong relationship with God. Passion, hatred, anger, love, sacrifce, repentance and the mystery of Jesus are graphically depicted in his work whether we read The Message translation of the bible or any of the countless books Eugene wrote during his tenure on earth.

I’ve spent some time trying to imagine the face to face conversation between Jesus and Eugene. How was the great love these two men shared for one another expressed in their final reconciliation? Eternity with Jesus is our reward. The writer of Ecclesiastes stated that eternity has already been planted in the hearts of humanity. (Ecclesiastes 3:11). It provides us with a sense of sacred wonder and awe. Eternity is the essential, dare I say foundational ,witness to those who believe and are astounded by the audacious claim that Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Man, died for our sins and was buried, he rose from the dead and was seen.

What is the foundation upon which you've built your spiritual life? 

Jesus explained the rain will come, the waters will rise and they will beat against us. Jesus was honest as he used a common illustration known to the shepherds and people who lived in the desert region that surrounded Jerusalem. Gentle rain can fall at the upper elevation but it soon becomes a rushing torrent with a hellacious fury as it tumbles downward toward the desert floor without warning. Sheep and people drown to this day because they have no idea what is coming. Anyone who knows better would never build anything on the shifting sand of the desert bottom, but it is tempting. We need each other. We need to look after one another. Sometimes we really do not know what is coming and we need protection even from ourselves. 

Please join us for worship Sunday and invite others to join us as we finish our Kingdom Come series. It is important that our community shows up regularly to worship together and strives to stay connected, devoted and generous followers of Jesus Christ. Corporate worship is essential to keep the foundation of our personal spiritual lives strong. We stand to sing praises to our God. We renew our personal covenant. We sing for those who cannot sing. We commit. We hear the Word of God. We surrender to the Spirit of God and we fortify our own spiritual house as a community. Come Sunday!

When Jesus concluded his address, the crowd burst into applause. They had never heard teaching like this. It was apparent that he was living everything he was saying—quite a contrast to their religion teachers! This was the best teaching they had ever heard. Matthew 7:28-29 The Message

Pastor Jen

"It takes one to know one!"


I heard that in kindergarten. It's a protective response when someone is throwing verbal darts at us. It can start with name calling and escalate very rapidly into violence if it is not wisely capped off or diverted. Maybe you've already figured that out what I am talking about, but I'm painfully aware as an adult how truthful of this statement really is. 


Jesus' sermon takes a decidedly personal tone in Chapter 7.  He blatantly says, "Don't judge others, or you too will be judged." He uses a simple metaphor: a speck and a log or plank. Notice his eloquence in identifying the same substance is in both eyes. One is just greater than the other. It takes one to know one. Here is an interesting insight, a plank is refined and measured and perfected. A log. Is just a log.

Perhaps Jesus states that we do a little introspection before we call out behaviors or wrong doings in others. But, few of us really do. The truly wise disciple of Jesus would notice the speck-plank issue as it unfolds.

    1. A parent gets upset about a son's failing grade but doesn't own his own failure to connect with his son to find out what's going on.

    2. A spouse becomes more detached and considers what single life would be like not considering they too are drifting away from the covenant they once made.

    3. A Christ follower no longer attends worship because the sermons just don't do anything for him or her but fails to recognize they haven't truthfully worked on their relationship with Jesus in a long...long time.

    4. A co-worker is caught stealing but no one reached out to ask what was going on in their life or confesses they too steal from the company whether it's pens or countless hours on Facebook.

As we were talking about this well known scripture at Teaching Team, we decided to use the word compare, instead of, judge. That may be what it all boils down to: comparisons. It's human nature to want to fit in or be seen in our best light. Jesus expressly states the opposite! Chapter 7 could be read and understood as an expansion of the 'Do not Covet' clause in the Ten Commandments. When we covet or compare we lose our true self in the process because we want to be just like someone else. God designed us to be unique--one of a kind---never to be repeated individuals. By coveting or comparing, we give away our sacred worth and throw what is precious away to be trampled and lost forever.

Jesus simply states we need to ask, seek and knock. The door will be opened to you. God is really that good. Honestly, why waste any more time pointing out specks? God has greater things for you than you could ever dream or imagine.

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who seek him! Matthew 7:11 (Notice the exclamation point!)

Pastor Jen

“God cannot possibly know. You haven’t made your decision yet."

His words still carry the same power for me today as they did while I attended my sophomore year of seminary. I took three credits of independent study with Dr. Donald Bloesch* who was one of the most influential theologians in the evangelical world at the time. His retirement was imminent. So, being someone who wanted to impress others with my credentials as a female minister, I approached him with my request to add one more impressive award to my already large collection. He only allowed one student per semester. It was a daunting task. But, no one else applied. So Dr. Bloesch was stuck with me.

My assignment was to read several volumes of his work and do a fifty page paper for my grade. Easy peasy. Blow off course! I already knew it all. I had all of his books. 

I made three appointments to meet with him during the semester to discuss my progress with my paper and he agreed to answer any questions I might have. I was so arrogant. I read all his books. I took copious notes. I didn’t have any questions. We chatted about his new books when we met but I never asked him any questions. What I’ve learned over the years is that there are times in my life when the teaching of the Holy Spirit is incredibly slow and meticulous. I believe he does this effective style of teaching so that the results have a life long impact. 

Dr. Bloesch was months away from retirement. He didn’t need to spend time with me but he did. I wrote a magnificent treatise on Dr. Bloesch’s theological method. It was a thing of beauty. My paper included 67 pages of spectacularly edited content and 14 pages of notes from his own works which included virtually inaccessible articles he wrote. Impressive. I gave it to him expecting an A. He was as congenial as his theology. Be gave me a B minus.

“You’ve done a rather large book report, Jenny. What I wanted to know is what you believe.”

I was crushed. I had convinced myself that I would be the very best woman in the pulpit with the very best credentials. A B-minus? What a colossal failure. I committed to do more. I would go deeper. I would show everyone that women could really be exceptional ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ. After all, I was representing all women clergy. I believed it was my solemn duty to be better than everyone else, including the men. So, I took extra hard classes. I wrote more papers. I attended more seminars and double majored in my Masters of Divinity with a concentration in Historical Theology. I hung out with all the smart people. I could recite the theology of others verbatim. But, I had no clue what I believed.

I stored up all the wrong treasures, literally. 

Me being me, I made an appointment to discuss my grade with Dr. Bloesch. Several weeks passed. He knew what he was doing. Our final discussion eventually yielded some fine gold theologians spend their whole lives developing. In Dr. Bloesch’s case, his entire career. Our conversation separated the dross and created something pure within me. Dr. Bloesch helped me understand the work of the Holy Spirit in my life and he assured me that my experience with him would eventually pay off.

One of his very clear critiques of my paper helped dispel my belief that God knew everything and controlled all my circumstances. I still remember him stiffening in his high back chair. "How can God possibly know. You haven’t made your decision yet.” 

What kind of a relationship would that be? Is God a puppet master? God enters into a relationship with us. He doesn’t predetermine our thoughts or decisions. Yes, God is omniscient, but we do not abdicate our responsibility for making decisions. It is in those moments, the intersections we’ve been talking about on Sundays, where God does his best work. Those intersections are Jesus’ favorite part of abiding in a relationship with us. This is where we participate. We are not robots, not slaves trying to appease an angry God. We are cherished. We are loved. We get to weigh in and make choices. The Holy Spirit, God’s very presence, lives in me and in you, creating that pure gold. The more we actively engage with him, the more like Jesus we become.

If we are going to store up treasures, we need to store up the right ones. Jesus clearly commands the crowd listening to him to store up treasures in heaven and to not waste our time on things that can be destroyed or stolen. Or in my case, graded.

“Stop collecting treasures for your own benefit on earth, where moth and rust eat them and where thieves break in and steal them. Instead, collect treasures for yourselves in heaven, where moth and rust don’t eat them and where thieves don’t break in and steal them. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19-21

* Just in case you’re wondering who he is—my favorite seminary professor, Dr. Elmer Colyer, wrote an article to help us understand him:https://digitalcommons.luthersem.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1000&context=jctr

Pastor Jen

I had it all wrong. And for some time.

But, an awareness came to greet me like a welcomed friend, one I hadn’t seen in a long time.

Bill and I went into the city Monday for a little afternoon getaway. We meandered through the sidewalk gardens, marveling at the artistic ingenuity and undisturbed beauty in the midst of the downtown chaotic hubbub. The sun shined on our side of the street so it was warm as we held hands and walked toward the river on Michigan Avenue taking in the splendor of this gigantic intersection called Chicago. The architecture always inspires me. The intersection of the modern and the ancient is so exciting to me.  The superior man-made steel cages enclosed in glass embellished with the ancient God-made stone and marble chiseled from a process that took millions of years to make sparked something deeply creative within me. The whole cacophony of sight and sound, vision and implementation, money and desire, faith and reality…. it's beautiful to me.

I soaked in that essence for a while. 

We stopped for an afternoon treat and coffee at a restaurant located on the sixteenth floor of one of those towering skyscrapers. They are truly modern marvels. I sipped my coffee and gazed at the panoramic skyline exhibited before me. I just took it all in. It was so beautiful. An intersection of beauty, style and grace. It was during my deep appreciation of it all an awareness saturated my soul.

Intersections. They are beautiful!

For most of my life, I believed intersections were stressful and to be avoided. I become very anxious and overwhelmed when many divergent things like styles, beliefs or visions come to a head. An ancient belief has guided my life. There had to be one right way, one correct answer, one specific will and I missed it. This is especially true in my own faith life. I’ve struggled to know God’s plan in my life. There has been no overarching goal, no single-minded direction that propelled me forward. I’m more like Mr. Magoo and less like someone who’s an inspired visionary.

But, while I was seated in that beautiful restaurant on the sixteenth floor, a new awareness was brought to my attention. The diversity of our Chicago skyline makes life interesting. Divine in nature. Inspiring to behold. Many collaborative decisions were made over time to create something so completely one of a kind and never to be repeated again….a priceless masterpiece lovely to observe and invigorating to the soul. 

Matthew chapter 6 indicates there are behaviors that become fundamental for believers. The Christlike behaviors are to be practiced among the hypocrites—the actors in society. I couldn’t help but think about how to apply this section of Jesus’ sermon in our present day lives. How do we practice Christlike giving, prayer and fasting among the actors in Chicago, our town or village or in our relationships? Is Jesus asking us to collaborate with him, instead of, simply following his orders and going through the motions because he told us to do so? Giving, prayer and fasting require our participation, input and response.

Quite frankly, I don’t follow orders well. I am a sinner. I go my own way. I don’t always know what to give, how to pray and I stink at fasting! I continue to beat myself up because I should know all of this, especially, the will of God by now. But, I don’t. I honestly try to avoid interactions where Jesus and I come to a head because I don’t always want to follow him or go in his direction. But, here is a new thought, a different perspective. What if at those intersections where Jesus and I meet he actually gives me the grace to decide which direction I want to go. Over time, those intersections actually make my life interesting….like a priceless masterpiece lovely to observe and invigorating to the soul. What if during those very anxious decision making times in my life were Jesus' favorite times in our relationship?

What was the awareness I received on the sixteenth floor Monday? Intersections can be beautiful. The diversity of decision making whether Jesus chose or I chose actually makes life more interesting and beautiful not embarrassing. I don’t have to have a plan. I am different from the one next to me. And maybe that is okay with Jesus. As a matter of fact, it is exactly what he has always wanted me to know.

‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth (within my heart) as it is in heaven.’ Matthew 6:9 NIV

Pastor Jen

Some of the most influential people in my life have been coaches. They made me sign a Code of Conduct when I played high school and college sports. They gave me clear cut expectations about behaviors but, more importantly, the person I was to become. I agreed to abide by the terms of the document when I signed the bottom line and turned it in. We all knew some people signed it, tossed back at the coach and went on living the way they wanted to live. They didn’t take it seriously. Some of them were elite athletes at the time. The rest of us were average at best. But, I believe deep down, we understood exactly what the coaches were trying to do by requiring us to sign such a document.

Sometimes it’s not what we do but the people we become along the process. Sports, dance, music, chess, academia, race car driving are all means to an end. But, sometimes we mistake the doing over the becoming. I believe this is why some elite performers can be real jerks. They get puffed up because they can do a certain thing. What some don’t realize is there will be a day, in the not too distant future, when they won’t be able to do the thing. One day, they have to get up in the morning and look at the reflection in the mirror. More often than not, they have no idea who that person is staring back at them.

Christ followers can fall into the similar trap. The signing of our Code of Conduct is optional. We have a choice. The decision to even follow Jesus Christ is sometimes clouded in emotion. We can get overcome when confronted with the truth about ourselves. It is easy for me to get swept up and I could sign any document if I am emotional and convicted about my sins or behaviors. Once the emotions fade, it’s also pretty easy to move on without changing. It’s like believing my emotions should count for something. Getting emotional isn’t repentance. The kind of repentance God is calling us toward is different than being emotional and sorry things turned out the way they did. ‘Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.’ (2 Corinthians 7:10)

Jesus signed our ultimate Code of Conduct with his own blood. Many say they are followers and are grateful for what he did for them. But, I wonder sometimes if followers of Jesus understand what is required to be part of his expanding team. Jesus outlined some very distinctive expectations for his followers in the Sermon on the Mount. This week we talk about our the power of our word, treatment of difficult team members and care of out right enemies. Fasten your seat belt. Coach wants a sit down with you. Please don’t be late for your appointment.

When he saw the vast crowds of people, Jesus’ heart was deeply moved with compassion, because they seemed weary and helpless, like wandering sheep without a shepherd.  Matthew 9:36 The Passion Translation

Pastor Jen

"If only we could get it together!”

I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard that phrase. I hear it at church meetings all the time whether I am serving at the top of the United Methodist Church in Nashville or listening to others plead for unity in our church. The pressure to produce a vision that everyone wants to get on board with and follow is a daunting task. But, I wonder sometimes if we have uniformity in mind when we cry out for unity. Uniformity can be good if we want to create consistency in a department like administration or communication. But, to impose our ideas onto others as if they were the way to go is arrogant and often leads us in a direction we don’t want to go. 

I also hear this same phrase when I listen to a husband and wife talk about navigating a rough patch in their marriage. It can be scary when we experience something for the first time or we wrestle with a major issue for hundredth time with no resolution. Serious challenges happen to marriage all the time. I believe most couples have a vision of what they believed marriage was going to be like and the reality of marriage is completely different from their vision. Dangerous territory to explore for sure! But, these challenges are not without promise and hope when both husbands and wives are first committed to Jesus Christ as their Lord.  

My personal Facebook community includes a lot of people who feel strongly about the current culture of our country. Friends opinion about the president or the ‘situation of the day.’ I see many posts about “If only…” I respect everyone’s opinions and views. I love hearing about what people are passionate about and why. Even if I don’t ‘like’ it all the time. I also hear vitriolic anger and toxic disgust directed at situations that are complex and require our respect before we tackle solutions. I believe our souls cry out with a deep longing for unity hidden within the pleas for solutions. Why can’t we get it together?

What if the deep longing for unity was actually placed within our human soul by our God who longs for his people to return to him? 

I don’t believe we can ever achieve unity outside the local church. Secular culture values individuals and individual rights over the consensus of the group. Individual opinions matter more than truth. Secular society says truth is relative. So, if there is no Truth and we are to believe everyone’s opinion must be heard and examined, there is no way forward. It’s a great way to get stuck or isolated. Listen to how many people use this ‘stuckness’ as an excuse to not grow, challenge or mature in their faith. 

For Christ followers, unity isn’t a what, it’s a Who. 

God presented a formula long ago that would unite his people. God’s ways do not require fairness, political correctness or a false sense of tolerance. Tolerance can segregate us further because we put up with someone or their view but never truly engage with them, see them as a beloved child of God or truly learn from a divergent point of view. I don’t believe Jesus entered into humanity with tolerance as a heavenly value. His ways are pure. They always have been and always will be. Jesus is about what the Father intended for all of us from the beginning.

If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their nation. 2 Chronicles 7:14 KJV

Pastor Jen

It’s not an easy thing to do.

Knowing your values. We all think we know. I will argue that we don’t. I takes discipline to get to the bedrock of our life. Arrogance can creep in unannounced and trick us into believing we are something we are not. I felt like the minute I identified mine they dribbled away like water from my hand. I couldn’t simply write something down on a piece of paper. What I was asked to do was identify my values. No one had ever done that before.

Family

Let’s start with something simple. A lot of people say, “I value family.” But, what if beneath that value of family lies a bedrock value of order. People order their lives in such a way that family comes first. Family is golden. Family gets the best. They get our attention, time, money and emotions. But, why do we get resentful when the family we value so dearly acts like….human beings? They betray us, let us down, disappoint us or don’t meet our expectations. Resentment can be a revelational partner. "Why don’t they remember my birthday?" A valued family member envies our job position and makes comments like, “You make a lot of money. So, why don’t you take care of it?”  Once in a while is all right. But, soon it becomes awkward and then it leads to tension. Or here is a good one. That beloved family member regift the gift you gave them at Christmas. That gift cost you endless hours of searching on line. You may have even ordered it early for them because you knew it would be out of stock. (sigh) Remember what I suggested. Family is not the value. Order is the value. First, second, last…those positions matter to you.

Service

Let’s try another value like service. Sometimes people tell me serving is their value. But, what is actually happening inside is they love the feeling of accomplishment. I often hear, “I feel so good when I am here contributing and accomplishing something at Hesed House!” Instant gratification can mean that I receive something to show for my effort. I delivered food, participated by cooking a meal or listened to someone’s story. Satisfaction for a job well done cannot be ignored. When we live a life filled with doing things for others but never getting any recognition or reward, we can feel taken advantage of and can feel like we’ve achieved nothing in the process. Achievement is the bedrock value not service. Serving is the means to accomplishing something and feeling satisfied.

Trust

Trust is almost always at the top of the list of values for people. I wonder if it is there because we know deep down we cannot be trusted. We all lie and we are lied to everyday millions of times. Turn on the television. Google it. Advertisers and marketing campaigns enforce lies that continue to bombard us by telling us in creative and intense ways that we're not good enough—so we buy their product. So, when someone looks us in the eye and tells us the truth or they can be trusted with the gory details of our story we are utterly amazed—even shocked! We’ve found a true pearl. I would challenge you to consider that even though trust is a major issue it’s not really your bedrock value. Loyalty is the foundation you build your house upon. Loyalty can be a commitment that no matter what happens—no matter how many times lies, deception and false expectations are played out—we’re still connected. We are still loved. We still matter. We are loyal and will defend what is precious to us.

So there you have it. It isn’t easy. But, I believe it it crucial to your life. I came to believe it was crucial to mine. I began ordering my personal life differently because I was allowing patterns of negative thinking I inherited from my family to intersect where God was at work. I will save that discovery process for another blog. But, know this: the quest for discovering your values is a worthy journey. I’m frustrated with some of my choices because I am convicted to my core about how much time, money and emotional resources I wasted. I’m serious. It was easy for me to get caught up in things that don’t really matter in the long run. So, I am working on becoming more free with myself, my gifts and my love. Freedom came from knowing I am an individual made in God’s image. We reflect God when we are authentic to who we are—maybe created to be--and don’t try to be someone we are not. Go be awesome. There is no one like you. You are worthy. Jesus thought so that’s why he secured your place with him in heaven. YOU are Jesus’ eternal focus. Yes, you. You are His bedrock value.

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

So God created mankind in his own image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:26-27 NIV

Pastor Jen

Values based leadership.

The first time I heard these three words put together in one sentence was during the preparation for our International Leadership Lab. I worked with Piotr G. as we developed our curriculum. I will not forget what he said to me.

“Many people have no idea what their true values are. They may think they know. But, they really do not know until they are put to the test.”

I immediately thought of myself.

I would like to think I am driven by noble values like service or compassion. But, my heart doesn’t pound for the sufferings or misfortunes of others. No one will ever mistake me for a Mother Theresa. I pondered further. Maybe I am driven by structure or order but anyone who knows me knows I love the randomness of life and chaos is cause for creativity in my book. I have family members who are driven by a fierce sense of fairness and equality. So, we all get the $5 bill at Christmas. I know life isn’t fair and all people cannot be treated fairly, so fairness cannot be one of my values. I worked harder. Meditated longer. Thought deeper.

I honestly wanted to discover I held some values that were considered ‘pastor-like’ or values that others thought highly of so I could feel some level of satisfaction. After all, I am a pastor and a leader. I should have satisfactory values that meet everyone’s approval and expectations. I continued on my journey of discovery.

Encouragement! That’s a good one. My gym buddies all think I’m very encouraging. I can be. But, I don’t think that encouraging others motivates me out of bed at 4AM in the morning. I don’t rehearse ‘encouraging’ words and I don’t wear a perpetual smile. Honesty and truth seem like stalwart values to have but I know we all tell and accept versions of the truth about ourselves and each other. I know the honest truth is often painful and most people don’t want honest truth. They want grace filled truth and to keep it scriptural.

Here’s a list of values I’ve already mentioned and I clearly admire but do not possess: service, compassion, structure, order, creativity, fairness, equality, encouragement, honesty, and truth. Maybe one or more of these resonate with you. We can always determin what our true value is when someone tromps on it or disrespects it. It hurts when someone doesn’t value what we value! We can throw a holy tantrum, complain and try to get others to see the light! We will control, advocate and hammer when necessary. Hopefully, by now, you figured out that we cannot make anyone do something against their will. 

If you’re an order or structure person….the mess in your house will make you crazy. Constant yelling and punishing others will only develop a deep chasm between you. STOP! Discover what motivates them. They are different than you and have other values. Discover what they value and share your value for order and structure with them. I considered this exploration exercise fun—like an adventure. I was up for the challenge of discovering my own beautiful values so I could somehow win the prize. AND…there they were! Wow, holy, commendable and Jesus-like right?

Fun. Adventure. Challenge. Beauty. Winning. 

I had to make peace with who I am years ago. Some very wise people taught me to be the best version of me so I could help others become the very best version of who they needed to be. I am not noble, structured or orderly. I love a mess. I come alive when the worst challenges are right in front of me. I am the one you want in a serious situation because we will laugh about something. I thrive doing something for the first time and flourish living day to day. I love a random schedule. I see movies on opening day. I try new products. I watch for the new car styles. I notice new eye glasses, hairstyles and facial hair on others—well, mostly men. I google the new seasonal color palettes for fashion and decorating. I crave information that will help me come out on top. I love to win and hate to lose.

I value the values of others. I get revved up thinking about how we can work together. We all win when we understand how significant it is to have diverse people with us who are unashamed of who they truly are and really do see the world differently. It is beautiful to pay attention to how they hold diverse values close to their heart. Maybe that’s what it means to have Kingdom values and belong to the Kingdom community. Maybe that’s how the healing begins.

And He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to perform healing. 9:2

Pastor Jen

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