Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day. It is a day of remembrance for those who have died in service of the United States of America. Waterloo N.Y. was officially declared the birthplace of Memorial Day by President Lyndon Johnson in May 1966. Many historians debate exact dates because it’s difficult to prove conclusively the origins of the day.

Regardless of the exact date or location of its origins, one thing is clear – Memorial Day was borne out of the Civil War. A divided nation was called together in a desire to honor our nation’s collective dead. Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868 by General John Logan. Logan was a national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. He instituted what is known as the General Order Number 11. Logan proclaimed, “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.” The date of Decoration Day, as he called it, was chosen because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle.

On the first Decoration Day, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, and 5,000 participants decorated the graves of the 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there.

New York was the first state to officially recognize the holiday in 1873. By 1890 it was recognized by all of the northern states. The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I when the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring all Americans who died fighting in any war. It is now observed in almost every state on the last Monday in May with Congressional passage of the National Holiday Act of 1971 (P.L. 90 – 363). *

God calls us to remember. It’s far more tempting to forget, move on and live free from the entanglements of the past. But, we don’t learn from our mistakes if we move on too quickly. We don’t honor the good or find value in each other’s pain if we forget. God calls us to remember even though recalling experiences, people or events may be difficult emotionally. The bible includes a narrative that can capture our imagination brilliantly as God calls the Israelites to remember and to move on. 

Joshua was a Godly military and political leader for the Israelites. When the tribes were ready to inherit the Promised Land, they were given specific instructions as to how to proceed. They were also called by God to remember and build a memorial. The next generation would inherit what God promised. God called the Israelites to remember all that God accomplished and how he provided for them. Many from the previous generation died during the years of wandering in desert. I believe the Israelites were also called to remember them. Death was part of the price the Israelites paid for their unbelief and rebellious hearts. It’s not hard to imagine how the faces of loved ones may have come to mind as each of the appointed twelve men hoisted a stone to their shoulder. They would’ve personally recalled mothers, fathers, warriors, children, friends and even enemies that died. To this day, it is a custom of the Jewish faith to place a small stone on the headstone when visiting a grave. Their small stone is a visible reminder loved ones are not forgotten. It is an act of love and remembrance.

The LORD remained faithful to the People of Israel especially during times of difficulty, suffering and pain. The LORD remains faithful to us today.  Invite loved ones and friends to join you for our annual observance of Memorial Day at Wheatland Sunday. We will take time to remember and encourage you to do the same. 

So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, and said to them, “Go over before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.” Joshua 4:4-7 NIV

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AuthorMolly Sommer

“The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.”― Steven Furtick

I heard Steven say this quote at a Willow Creek Leadership Summit years ago. It has stayed with me. It’s a gentle correction for me when I struggle with my meaning and purpose or when I get spiritually stuck. I’ve been thinking about my own next steps lately as I challenge you to take your next steps. Part of discovering what my next step will be is doing a personal inventory. I can be really hard on myself. I am far more grace-filled with others than I am with myself. So the voice in my head says, “You should be doing more, Jen Wilson! You should be further along by now.” 

Let’s be honest. There are many voices vying for the top spot. These voices are real and some are imagined. We are going through the budget process now. So, many will take a look at the money promised or the money we don’t have and try to tell me we cannot do the things I believe God is asking us to do because we have no money. Other leaders will step up to try and encourage us to ‘develop our vision’ or attempt to convince us to accept the fate of the downward spiral of the Church in America. There are the voices of negativity that have been with me since the beginning, “A woman should not be leading a church,” or “We sure aren’t the church we were 10/20/50 years ago!” 

All the chatter seems overly dramatic now. It has the potential to derail me. It did years ago. But, I’ve lived through many of these seasons and I have received God’s affirmation of his will and purpose each and every time. I’ve matured in age as well as my spiritual life. I’m not ’there’ by any means but I’m not where I used to be either. I’m on a spiritual life continuum. 

Continuum: a continuous sequence in which adjacent elements are not perceptibly different from each other, although the extremes are quite distinct.

I believe God designed the whole universe and everything in it with this continuum in mind. All creation is designed to grow, mature and reproduce. Jesus would say, ‘produce fruit that will last.’ (John 15:16 NIV) Human beings are the only created beings that can circumvent the process and choose not to grow. We can make choices to remain the same or even regress. There is a reason we all know what it means when someone accuses us of acting ‘childishly.’ 

We are all on our own spiritual journey. It’s deeply personal. There are some indicators along the way that can help guide us toward maturity. I was privileged to be part of a study done years ago to discover what spiritual transformation and growth is all about and if it was truly happening in our local churches. I’ve included a diagram Molly Sommer and Kim Neace have developed called our Spiritual Life Continuum. Take a look. Consider where you might be and what next step God may be calling you to take. We will learn more about the Spiritual Life Continuum. If you want to learn more about the research, please look here:  https://www.willowcreek.com/move/Move_Forward_Ch1.pdf

The apostle Paul had some important words for the early church in Ephesus. He knew how difficult developing a mature faith in Jesus Christ would be back then. I believe his words are meant for us today. 

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. Ephesians 4:14-16 NIV

-Pastor Jen

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AuthorMolly Sommer

Imagine things staying exactly the same as they are right now. Consider what is happening not only in the world but also in your personal life. What if nothing changed?

I’ve been constantly aware of change. Especially when it comes to church news. Since my seminary days, in the 1990’s, data and researchers told us the church in America was dying. Death of the Church by Mike Regele was required reading. But, I was on the front lines of the protest declaring the church would not die—not on my watch. I participated in vivid debates. I pledged I would not participate in ‘rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.’ I believed then and I continue to believe in the local church as a powerful force for God to reach people with the gospel in unconventional ways, challenge believers to grow into maturity in Christ and cultivate leaders to truly embrace the mantle of leadership.

I believe the church is the bride of Christ. Jesus is responsible for her. The Church will never die. But, local churches close weekly in America. Which brings me to my concerns about Wheatland. I am part of a long list of pastors and leaders that have influenced Wheatland since 1852. There is an ebb and flow to church life over the years. Like many other local churches, I believe we are at a crucial crossroads. Data and facts will tell us that Wheatland will not be here in 20 years if nothing changed. You can read more challenging news here http://www.churchleadership.org/apps/articles/default.asp?articleid=42346

I believe it’s our time to accept the mantle of leadership and not succumb to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. The local community surrounding our two locations has changed over the years. We have lived through major changes. Fewer people attend church in America and that means fewer people attend Wheatland. We have less money. Our resources are stretched. It’s time to rise to the occasion and challenge each other to change. Jesus Christ is calling his bride to stand up and come alive.

This week we will make our financial pledge to the ministries of Wheatland Salem Church. It’s time to take some next steps toward real and lasting change. I can lead the protest. I can preach challenging sermons. Wheatland staff can come up with fantastic resources, programming and worship. But, the real change must happen within you. We have an opportunity to truly make a difference now and for the future of our church. Imagine the story someone would tell of the people who took God’s call in their lives to heart at this crucial time. They were filled with the Holy Spirit. They devoted themselves to the scriptures, to fellowship with one another, to communion and prayer. Everyone was filled with awe. Signs, wonders and miracles were a daily occurrence. All the believers were united and had everything in common. They sold possessions and goods. They gave to those who had need. They met for public prayer, they shared life together with glad and sincere hearts. The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Wheatland thrived during a difficult time because the people believed.

Wheatland, this is our time. Let’s make the change.

"Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up.” Luke 8:55a

-Pastor Jen

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AuthorMolly Sommer

I think every parent, teacher or leader wants to impart their insights, knowledge and experience to someone who will learn and grow. I know I do. There is something magical about witnessing the ‘aha! moment’ in someone else’s life for me. It’s as if what I said really did make a difference and now someone is living differently. Maybe I was part of a break through in their faith and they understand God’s love more fully. Or someone took a challenge I gave to heart and the outcome was a personal healing. Some people doubt what I say until they do their own research, find out what I told them was true and come back to tell me what I told them helped change their mind about something.

I’m astonished when I get the credit for something I didn’t do or say. People have thanked me for things I know I didn’t do or say because there is a catch in my heart or a twinge in my spirit. Initially, I argued with them or tried to set them straight. It never worked. Their joy was overflowing. A transformational moment in someone’s life is a sacred occasion. During the last thirty years, I discovered that I needed to celebrate with them not correct them. I’ve honored transformation and savored the significance. It’s been incredibly faith-building for me because most of the time I wonder if I am doing any good at all.

You might be familiar with the only sermon Jesus is credited with preaching. His sermon is included in chapters 5-7 in Matthew’s gospel. Most Christians know it as The Sermon on the Mount. Luke’s gospel includes a shorten and condensed version scholars call The Sermon on the Plain probably because Luke 6:17 says, “He went down with them and stood on a level place.” There are many similarities in these passages. It’s worth your time to read each passage, compare them and gain some very important insights to what Jesus believed to be the core of his teaching and the basis for the foundation of the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth.

Luke chapter 7 describes that after preaching his sermon to the crowd, Jesus went to Capernaum. There, a Roman military leader was having trouble within his home. A servant whom the officer valued highly was sick and about to die. The Roman Centurion sent some elders of the Jews to Jesus. They implored Jesus to come and heal his servant. “This man deserves to have you do this,” was their rationale. So Jesus went with them.

Jesus was not far from the house when the Centurion sent friends with a message: just say the word and my servant will be healed.

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him.

Was that event an “aha! moment’ for Jesus? Someone actually believed! 

The Roman Centurion put his faith into action. Military people understand action. They follow commands, receive orders and get the job done. The success of a military structure lives within the hearts and minds of the soldiers. They have faith in the system. They believe in the cause. They understand authority. Those in positions of authority rise in rank because they are rewarded for their dedication to the overall mission. This transformational moment was certainly an occasion to celebrate. The Roman Centurion got it! He applied Jesus’ teaching as he would any command he received. He got the job done and his servant who was highly valued was restored! For some, it is easy to stand at attention and say, “Yes, sir!” We accept the command, receive the order, get the job done. For others, it’s much harder to believe. Still others, wonder if we’re doing any good at all. 

Sunday we continue with the Believe series. Wheatland, we do a lot of good. I am boldly asking God for many ‘aha! moments.’ I pray we get it! I implore you to put your faith into action. I want to celebrate your transformational moment with you. Together, we will witness restoration and we will be known for having a faith that amazes Jesus.

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” Luke 7:9 NIV 

-Pastor Jen 

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AuthorMolly Sommer

“I don’t believe it!”

I wish I had a dime for every time I said that. I’d be a wealthy woman! Unbelief has been a companion for far too long. I think it’s part of my DNA.

  • Unbelief can be brazen and obvious: like when I’ve been really good with my eating and work-out habits for weeks and hop on the scale to see no change. UGH! I can’t believe it.
  • Unbelief can be deceitful and embarrassing: like when Bill and I set sail for the first time of the year with 4-5 foot waves and he shouts, “Let out the sail!” I look at the rigging and don’t remember which rope I need to grab. Then, he shouts louder, “Let out the sail!” I see the rock wall. I am tossed by the waves I believe are too big for us to be sailing and my adrenaline takes over hijacking my normal calm, cool, collected mind. We start to bicker. Bill steps up to release the rope with one easy motion. I lose it! Then I realize a couple sailing near us is about to break into applause for the show they just got for free. Ugh! I can’t believe it.

Unbelief can be crushing: like when I get the call to officiate for the funeral of a twenty-something friend who died of a heroin overdose. Anguish floods my heart. I don’t believe it.

Unbelief is a powerful force that can harbor me in blindness or drive me to become the greatest skeptic that ever lived. I can question something to death. "Where did that come from? What do you know that I don’t know? Who do you think you are?” Been there—done that!  The temptation is even greater to question my own ability and motivation. Soon, an opportunity has passed me by because I was shrouded in unbelief. I didn’t believe. Not in myself, others or God.

Unbelief is something that amazed Jesus. Mark’s gospel illustrates a story many of us can identify with. Jesus went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples but he could not do any miracles there, except lay hands on a few sick people and heal them. (Mark 6:1-6) I think it’s super important for us to wrestle with why Jesus couldn’t do any miracles. We may even stumble onto why we’re stuck or not living the blessed, miraculous, abundant life Jesus died to bring us. Could it be unbelief?

There is a better way. Join us for worship at our Naperville campus this Sunday to learn how unbelief might be the kryptonite depleting the super-hero faith available to us all. Celebrate with families and attend our Children’s musical at the Oswego campus. Wheatland has so much to offer.

“When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.” Mark 6:2 NIV

-Pastor Jen

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AuthorMolly Sommer

Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for? Robert Browning

I’ve been called out on a lot of things. When I was about ten years old, my mom called me into her room and asked me how her favorite antique hand mirror got broken. One fateful day during my eighth grade English class, a teacher picked up and read a note I wrote calling him a SOB. Before sunrise, I stood next to my dad as he pointed out the dent in his brand new Mirada. Not my finest hour. 

It takes a while to appreciate and to accept those defining moments as crucial to the man or woman we are called to be. We’ve all had crucible moments where our character was been ground down or refined in some way. The temptation is always there to resist the experience or diminish it in some way. I can recall what the pit in my stomach felt like the day my mom handed me the broken pieces of her mirror. It’s not hard to summon up the shaky feeling that electrified my body as my English teacher read my note out loud to the class. I can recall how my words evaporated into thin air as I explained the circumstances involved with backing into another friends' car while leaving a party. The intense shame I felt afterward cut into the fiber of my heart like the blade of a skilled surgeon. I have the scar to prove it.

I believe I have something in common with one of the disciples. Jesus asked Simon Peter a series of questions in chapter twenty-one of John’s gospel. Notice the master craftsmanship of a skillful author. He used ‘Simon Peter.’ Simon was the name given to him at birth from his parents. Simon was the name he was known by before he met Jesus. But, Jesus renamed him Peter. Peter, the rock on which he could build something great. Simon Peter and another disciple had been present in the high priest’s courtyard after Jesus’ arrest. Simon Peter was asked three times if he had been a disciple of Jesus. Simon Peter denied it. The rooster crowed. Not his finest hour. 

Simon—are you going back to your old ways or Peter—are you going to be the man I call you to be? Definitely a crucible moment. 

It helps to consider a process of character building and refining. For Simon Peter, there was a three-step process:  

1. Say the right thing.

2. Do the right thing.

3. Become the right person.

It is tempting to get caught up in the process or settle for the safety of being comfortable with what we’ve already accomplished. There is a continuum to disciple making. As we discovered at Easter, belief is only the beginning. Jesus lead the way. He fulfilled the process perfectly. He invites his followers to reexamine the evidence of the thousands of little choices we make daily in light of his grace. More importantly, Jesus doesn’t abandon us during our process. He doesn’t want us living in a prison of guilt and shame. He is the key that opens the door for us to become so much more. The transformation is so personal he may even give you a new name.

“I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. The he said to him, “Follow me.” John 21:18-19

-Pastor Jen

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AuthorMolly Sommer

“Father, the time has come, Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.” John 17:1 NIV

I’ve lost track of how many funerals I officiated over the years. You might say, “It comes with the territory.” The rituals are basically the same in all parts of our nation. Christian burial is a solemn experience. I’ve only visited my dad’s grave once since he died. He’s buried near his mother and father. They are buried near their mothers and fathers. Their lichen covered headstones reveal very little about their lives. Their full names along with their birth and death dates are etched in stone. Some of my relatives place flowers or wreaths on the headstones to commemorate special occasions like Memorial Day, birthdays and holidays. 

To remember is to honor.

Mary Magdalene must’ve been so brave. She got up before the sunrise to visit the place where Jesus was buried. Getting up early before the sunrise to pray had been Jesus’ practice during his ministry. I wonder if that’s why she went so early. Maybe it was just to be alone with him. When she arrived while it was still dark, the stone had been rolled away. I cannot even imagine what I would think if I went to visit my dad’s grave only to see it disturbed in any way. Her first thought was to report what she saw to Simon Peter and the other disciple-the one Jesus loved. All three mustered their courage and ran to the tomb.

Consider how each of them approached the tomb.

1. The disciple ran faster than Simon Peter and arrived at the tomb first. He bent over, looked in and considered the evidence. He saw and believed.

2. Simon Peter was behind him. He arrived and went in. He considered the evidence.

3. Mary stood outside crying.

How do we approach the tomb of Jesus?

1. There are people who only need to see the evidence to believe. 

2. Others need to see the evidence and ponder a while before they believe. 

3. Still others emotionally engage their heart which confuses and confounds those who make decisions with their head or gut. 

To believe is only the first step.  

Mary had been present through it all. She and two disciples out of twelve showed up. There were other disciples who didn’t or maybe couldn’t show up. I noticed. The disciples went back. But, Mary stayed. Mary spoke with angels. She engaged with a one on one conversation with the risen Lord. She heard Jesus say her name. Of course she’s going to want to hold on! “Instead,” Jesus says, “Go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

What I choose to remember this year is Mary’s heart. The human heart has always been God’s focus. Many would come to believe. Few would truly be transformed. 

Transformation is my Easter hope for you this year. I pray for boldness and courage for you. Imagine the story your family and friends could tell when they visit the place where you are buried. Instead of your birth and death dates, what if the words 'truly transformed' were etched in stone? What changes need to take place in your life to fulfill that proclamation? Belief is the first step. Transformation is a life-long journey and commitment. So,stay. Speak with angels. Have a one on one conversation with Jesus. Don’t hold on too tightly. Jesus has already told you to, “go and tell.”

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me. I am sending you.” John 20:21 NIV

-Pastor Jen

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AuthorMolly Sommer

Cubs Win! Cubs win! Cubs win the world series!

An estimated 5 million people lined the streets of Chicago on a perfect day in November to celebrate their baseball heroes. One ESPN writer called it ‘Blue Heaven.’ If that number is accurate, it would be the 7th most-attended event in human history!

Fox 32 of Chicago put together the top 10 list:

1. Kumbh Mela pilgrimage, India, 2013 – 30 million

2. Arbaeen festival, Iraq, 2014 – 17 million

3. Funeral of CN Annadurai, India, 1969 – 15 million

4. Funeral of Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran, 1989 – 10 million

5. Papal gathering in the Philippines, 2015 – 6 million

6. World Youth Day, 1995 – 5 million

7. Chicago Cubs World Series celebration – 5 million

8. Funeral of Gamal Abdel Nasser, 1970 – 5 million

9. Rod Stewart concert, Brazil, 1994 – 3.5 million (Who knew Brazil loved Rod Stewart THAT much?)

10. Hajj pilgrimage, Mecca, Saudi Arabia, 2012 – 3 million

History in the making. Cubs fans displayed their love as they honored their baseball heroes. In return, the heroes shared their love of the game and of their fans. Players, coaches and Cubs staff took their turn at the microphone bringing to life the personal thoughts lodged within the hearts of the millions gathered to celebrate. The Chicago Cubs World Series win was a long awaited prize. Many had hoped since 1908. Many walked away disappointed over the years. Almost everyone on the planet knows what the saying “there’s always next year” means. The Cubs finally knew what it meant to win and now say, “there’s always this year."

I couldn’t help but think about that November day as I read John’s account of the parade that led Jesus into Jerusalem. John 12 recounts the experience.  History in the making. There was a great crowd in Jerusalem for the Passover Feast. There was also the crowd from Bethany that had just experienced the raising of Lazarus. Then there was the crowd who followed Jesus. It would’ve been a site to behold. They were all there. The crowds lined the street.  They cheered! They celebrated! Jesus and his team entered the great city as a king and his court. Many had hoped since the days of the Garden. Many had walked away disappointed over the years. But, that moment in Jerusalem, hope was restored at least for one day.

They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the King of Israel!” John 12:13 NIV

-Pastor Jen

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AuthorMolly Sommer

In Dostoevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamozov, a wealthy woman asks an elderly monk how she can know God exists. He reveals to her that no explanation or argument can achieve this—only the practice of 'active love.’ She confesses that she sometimes dreams of a life of loving service to others. During such times, she thinks she may even become a Sister of Mercy who lives in holy poverty and serves the poor in the humblest way. But, then a thought crosses her mind. Some of the people she would serve could be ungrateful. They would probably complain that the soup she served wasn’t hot enough, the bread wasn’t fresh enough or their bed was too hard. The wealthy woman confesses that she couldn’t bear such ingratitude—and so her dream about serving others vanishes and she once again finds herself wondering if there is a God.

Love in practice is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to the love in our dreams.*

Loving well may be the goal of Christian discipleship. Loving others is easier in our dreams than loving others in the reality of our daily active practice. Love requires us to grow into emotionally mature adults. Love demands we empty ourselves of preconceived notions and unrealistic expectations. It challenges us to deeply examine our motivations and understand that loving others is a long term commitment which transforms us. We readily forget death comes along during the transformation process. We die in order to live. It is in emptying ourselves we find true love.

Jesus demonstrates this in John 13. I suspect the disciples were hi-fiving and living the dream. They were in Jerusalem with Jesus for the Passover. They just celebrated Jesus riding into the capital city as a long awaited king. So, this dinner party was their celebration too. After all, the disciples were postulating as to who would get elevated positions in this new kingdom Jesus would elaborately establish. Imagine the banter and celebration of the Twelve. High on life. Their dreams coming into focus. And then Jesus does something radical.  

"It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” John 13:1-5 NIV

Allowing their assumptions to be displayed, Jesus modeled how to truly love someone by serving them not only during the awkward moments at their last supper but right to the moment of his death on the cross. Assumptions misrepresent reality. I am certain the disciples had already mapped out where their new offices would be and picked out their color schemes. Most of their hidden assumptions were revealed as their Thursday evening dinner joy would turn to terror, horror and desperation as the hour would come for Jesus to fulfill his ministry. 

One of the greatest gifts the church can offer is a community dedicated to loving well. May you find yourself empty kneeling next to Jesus as you practice loving well. 

  "he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!” Philippians 2:7-8 NIV

*Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: It’s Impossible to be Spiritually Mature while Remaining Emotionally Immature. Peter Scazzero.

-Pastor Jen

Posted
AuthorMolly Sommer

I don’t get it.

Being a Christian is often confusing. It can be downright frustrating for me. In truth, I’m confessing to you that I can be a fickle Christian. I am tempted to interpret daily experiences in light of being a ‘good’ versus a ‘bad’ Christian. For example, when things are going well, I believe God is blessing me. It’s easier for me to believe in Jesus when things are blessed and balanced. I think it’s easier for people to believe that I am a good Christian when my life is blessed and balanced. If I am a good Christian, I must be a good pastor. Right? High-five, Jen Wilson!

But, what happens when things aren’t blessed and balanced? 

When things don’t go as planned, I am tempted to take my eyes off Jesus and enter the Maze of Interpretation. The gateway is huge and welcoming. It’s so enticing to hear what others have to say—especially people I admire. I wander through the gate and meander along the intricate twists and turns. It’s intoxicating to listen to the platitudes from those along the initial wide, well-lit pathway of interpretations. It’s like a parade. I keep walking and waving to the crowd. I invite others to give me advice as I walk along the parade route just to find out what others think of me and my experience. I encourage others to interpret my situation from any number of vantage points. It’s easy to forget that none of them has any idea of what’s really going on inside me. So, the temptation to hear good things about myself as I take the initial steps into the Maze of Interpretation gives way to listening to deceitful comments along the way as the path narrows, twists and turns. It leads toward dark desperation. This is where I can stumble and fall into hidden pitfalls of panic. It’s terrifying to be lost in the dark trying to feel my way through a disheartening maze. It's the thoughts and emotions of the darkness that keep us hidden and often lead to a path of destruction.

What did I do to deserve this?

John chapter 9 portrays the story of a man born blind. I can only imagine what this man may have heard and interpreted over the years. His parents and extended family also carried a burden. It was commonly believed that someone sinned because this son was born blind. The disciples chimed in with what most people would’ve thought. The Pharisees confirmed their interpretation. You can read the details of how Jesus interprets his situation and how he handled it. Jesus did a new thing.

It’s so much easier to stick to what we know. I wonder sometimes if it’s just easier to remain blind. So many of us turn a ‘blind-eye’ to sin, our own or others. If you don’t show me yours—I won’t show you mine. We settle for a less-than mediocre spiritual life. We get stuck. We end up begging or hopeful for anyone to toss a few coins our way—to pay attention. So, in keeping with the Maze of Interpretation metaphor, many of us crawl, grapple and scratch our way through the maze. We settle for a benign spiritual life interpreted from poorly chosen sources and misinformed authorities while Jesus stands at the door and knocks. His call is universal and his voice is crystal-clear. He leads along the path of righteousness. He saves us from utter darkness. He sets us free. He gives sight to the blind.

What else is there?

So, do a little self-analysis. Consider where you are on the spiritual path. Like all of creation, there is a maturity continuum. What is the fruit of your spiritual life? Be honest. Have you progressed or are you stuck? Are you focused on Jesus or looking to something or someone else for validation? The good news, the gospel, is that Jesus came to seek and save the lost. But, don’t keep getting lost. He’s offering you a completely new path that leads toward amazing and supernatural things which you cannot know nor understand right now. This is why we need him even more desperately as we mature and grow. 

So, the question for you is whether or not you really want to see.

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned.” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” John 9:3

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AuthorMolly Sommer

I’m shocked sometimes at how paralyzing it can be for me to make a decision. I get overwhelmed easily when there are too many choices. I’m a recovering perfectionist, so when I am unable to make the ‘right’ decision, I shut down. I abdicate my decision making power. I give up, often terrified of making the ‘wrong’ decisions. Wrong decisions have served me well as defining moments not to repeat. I become aware of the early warning signals when I honestly consider all the circumstances that surrounded my ‘wrong’ decisions. I must learn not to get into the same predicament and not to repeat the same mistakes. 

I’ve developed a personal process that has helped me over the years. It’s not rocket science but I did learn it in a lab. I dissect my personal experience like the worm from my tenth grade science class: 

1. I open it up.

2. I examine what’s inside.

3. I discover the truth.

4. I remove that which does not belong.

5. I learn—in this case ‘what not to repeat.'

6. I apply what not to repeat toward the next opportunity to learn.

This process does not preclude me from making new mistakes. It does give me a platform for advancement. The process forces me to slow down and take a look inside when I get stuck. I’m often tempted to rush through the process as if I’m in a hurry to get it over with and move on. I’ve learned over the years that my arrogance or stubborn insistence to 'get it over with' provides me with another opportunity to learn from the same mistake over and over again. So, maybe when we find ourselves experiencing deja vu all over again, it’s time to slow down and go through the dissection of our heart.

A woman caught in adultery was brought before Jesus in a publicly humiliating way. I wonder what she thought as the strong arms of her accusers dragged her from her bed most likely not giving her time to grab a coverup. Exposed, embarrassed, guilty she stood in the dust as hundreds of people crowded around trying to get a good look. The strong arm of the law flaunted her guilt. The Law of Moses was not wrong. She stood guilty among her accusers. 

Jesus had been seated in the Temple area teaching. As the Pharisees brought the woman caught in adultery before Jesus, he bent over to write in the dust. He was tasked with what to do about this situation. The religious leaders wanted to expose, embarrass and humiliate Jesus. After all, he supposedly could forgive sin. The Pharisees kept badgering Jesus. 

He straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again, he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 

Jesus straightened up (a second time) and asked her, "Woman where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 

"No one, sir,” she replied.

“Then neither do I condemn you.” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:7-11 NIV)

Someone greater than the law put himself in our place in order to fulfill the law’s requirements. The Law is not wrong. It exposes, embarrasses and reveals each and every one of us as guilty. From the oldest to youngest we recognize the accumulated sin. Without forgiveness, we are doomed to make all wrong decisions. We may even use the law as a strong arm to deflect our own guilt and accuse others when we are the ones standing alone in the dust. 

Jesus stood up for me. He will do it for you. He also gives us this command, “Go now and leave your life of sin.” Forgiveness is the first step of many to open up, examine, discover, remove, learn and apply what Jesus teaches us. This is why we call him Savior. 

“I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12 NIV

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AuthorMolly Sommer

“I was a Christian for twenty-two years. But instead of being a twenty-two year old Christian, I was a one-year-old Christian twenty-two times!” Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Pete Scazzero

We don’t have much to do with our physical birth. 

We don’t choose the date or the time. We don’t choose the circumstances. The whole process of how a spark becomes a complex network that is knit together to create a human being is mind bending to me. Each and every human being is a marvelous creation. We are individuals, unique. Yet, we share many commonalities. Incredibly dedicated people spend their entire careers studying the human body and it’s miraculous systems. They still cannot completely explain how it all works. We know theories. We have data. We continue to work tirelessly to crack the codes of disease forever trying to beat the one enemy humanity simply cannot overcome…death.

Isn’t it interesting Jesus uses birth to describe the beginning of our spiritual life?

Unlike our physical birth, we do contribute to how and when we begin a spiritual life. The whole process of how a spark becomes the complex network that is knit together to offer a human soul an invitation to enter into a new life of eternal significance is mind bending to me. It is a marvelous event to share. I never tire of watching the tears flow from the eyes of someone who’s made the connection. Much like our physical development, we are called to develop and mature in spiritual stature. Sadly, many people stay stuck in the delivery room of their spiritual journey. They have no idea what’s possible. They haven’t pressed the doors open to a robust spiritual life that’s waiting for them just outside the door of the delivery room.

Why don’t more people venture out of the delivery room?

Since each of us is unique, we have our very own set of hang-ups, habits and histories. One common reason I hear for not responding is “I know what Christians are like. I don’t want to be like ________.” Now, I don’t know what your theology is or whether you believe the devil’s schemes are at work or not, but I believe we can botch this up without any tampering from the evil one. We’ve made an adventurous spiritual life either infinitely complex or incredibly dull. We are constantly tempted to diminish the powerful, creative, ingenuous acts of God by settling for a life prescribed by a counterfeit belief system based in a set of laws ruled by command and control. Religion can get in the way with rules and regulations when Jesus simply invites us to participate in the spiritual life with the offer of a relationship.

Jesus and Nicodemus take first steps together.

Nicodemus is somebody. He worked most of his adult life in religion and was a member of the Sanhedrin—the ruling Council of justice in Jerusalem. Nicodemus entered the Temple daily to worship God. He prayed. He memorized scripture. Yet, he must have known something was missing. So, Nicodemus went to see Jesus at night. I believe Nicodemus was familiar with sleepless nights. I believe he struggled with his spiritual life. How can someone be so close yet so far away? What Nicodemus found that night wasn't a complicated legal strategy or a theological recipe to follow. What Nicodemus discovered was the love of God present in the man he knew as Jesus. This same Rabbi Jesus incredulously challenged one of Israel’s great teachers to believe that the Kingdom of God wasn’t wrapped up in regulations or found among the polished stones of the Temple. The spiritual life Nicodemus longed for was something that needed to born within him.

Join us this Sunday for worship. This powerful story will be shared in such a way that could help you may make a discovery of your own. Maybe this Sunday you will push open the doors to welcome a brand new spiritual life of your very own.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 NIV

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AuthorMolly Sommer

Imagine for a moment that you had all the power and authority of the universe at your fingertips. 

Would you engage and deal with the world and its problems or disengage altogether remaining distant, aloof and uninterested? How would you handle the overt infractions or the intricate subtleties of the sin? What steps would you take to deal with corruption in the halls of the world’s governments? How would you handle the nuances of culture, compassion and human flourishing? What exactly would you do about human sexuality, marriage, families and the vast array of human relationships? Are limitations part of your plan, if so how do they work?

I believe we all have dreamed about what we would do if we were in charge. It’s a common slippery slope and a temptation for every one of us. Eve succumbed to it. The devil even tried to tantalized Jesus with it unsuccessfully.  Our human arrogance will shift into overdrive in an instant with the first whiff of power. Power is intoxicating. It ignites something within us that blinds us to reality and strengthens our pretentious human nature to believe we can handle it. But, power’s essence is to consume. It will exhaust it’s fuel source—often those we love or lead--with it’s insatiable appetite for more until every last bit the fuel source is drained and it finally burns out. Poof! It’s gone.

So, maybe you’re wondering, how does God handle all that power? Why does he even give us access to something so dangerous?

Scripture declares that Jesus has been given all power and authority in Heaven and on earth. (Matthew 28:18) How is it possible for Jesus to have power but not be consumed by it? Jesus doesn’t keep things secret. He shows us the way. Jesus chooses to let us in on what he’s up to and how to live the powerfully abundant life he’s more than willing to offer. His choice is to reveal God’s plans and Kingdom goals. He winsomely continues to attract people to follow him and extends an invitation to “come and see.” 

As a matter of fact, Jesus delivers a number of invitations. He has big plans. There is so much to do. I want to get started on fulfilling his plans for Wheatland Salem Church. I believe he is being more clear and decisive as we continue to surrender our hearts and minds to him. It’s about surrendering the mini-power source we’ve been given in exchange for his mega-watt power source—the Holy Spirit. God reminds us his plans are higher and greater: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.” Isaiah 55:8 NIV

So, this year we will read the Gospel of John together during the season of Lent. Come and see. Invite friends. Open your heart to your family and colleagues to the awesome invitations of the Kingdom of God. Who knows, maybe you will respond to one of the invitations and your life will be utterly changed. You may even discover a whole new direction. He’s ready. Are you?

“Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi-which means ’Teacher', where are you staying?” "Come and see,” he replied. John 1:38-39 NIV

-Pastor Jen

 

 

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AuthorMolly Sommer

“I could not help but think that somewhere along the way we had missed what was radical about our faith and replaced it with what is comfortable.” 

― David PlattRadical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream

Jesus calls us to a radically different life. Few of us comprehend the implications of the call at the beginning. The love of God simply overwhelms us. We who are satisfied drift along in the river of grace, love and mercy until our fingers and toes are all pruney. We may decide to take a break once in a while to sit along the river bank. I think most Christ followers are content to bob along the surface level satisfied with receiving all that Christ has done for them. I’ve been impressed by others, however, who have a different interpretation of what it means to follow Christ.

There is a story from Luke 21 that caught my attention a number of years ago. It’s the story of the widow who gave all she had to live on to the Temple treasury. As I first meditated on her story, I tried to imagine how old she may have been. There were many young widows during the time of Jesus because of illness, accidents and military tours. If her husband died of illness, did his illness use up all their money and did she decide to give all she had left out of desperation? What’s the point of keeping a few meaningless coins when you have nothing to live on, right?

I wondered if their marriage was an abusive one and if she gave all she had left as a freedom offering. Maybe she gave all she had to live on as a ‘freedom offering’ as she thanked God the chapter of her miserable life was over. I could imagine a dozen scenarios. I think of women from all over the world I’ve met who are widows. They are extremely resourceful and they continue to live each day as it comes. Christian widows have been curiously inspirational to me. There was a woman I met in India who had a gleam in her eye and a smile on her face that could only come from a deeply rewarding relationship with Christ. She had nothing. She lived at the mercy of other people. But what she did have was a robust belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and her savior. He provided for her daily needs. I honestly was a little envious of her faith. Simple. Deep. Real.

Could there be a more robust faith life available to us? Maybe it’s not limited to the surface where we are so contented to live. Having resources doesn’t mean we are shallow. But, our tendency as human beings is to make sure we take care of ourselves first and think of God as an after thought. Some people may believe it is our calling to take care of ourselves so that we can care for others. I propose we consider this call to follow Jesus as a radical upheaval to our common garden variety of everyday faith. Emboldened followers of Christ change the world. Even ones sitting along a roadside in India. They realize the power in giving all they have to live on to the God of more than enough. The great temptation for the rest of us is to remain ineffective and content drifting along in the shallows of faith. I don’t believe you are one of those people.  I believe Christ is calling us to more.

Imagine, just for a moment, what Jesus truly meant when he said, “Follow me.” What were his intentions for you? Could he be calling us to a more radical way of living? I look forward to worshipping with you this Sunday. We have much to talk about and to celebrate as we tackle one last myth: giving is for people who have extra. See you there.

“I tell you the truth,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” Luke 21:4 NIV

-Pastor Jen

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AuthorMolly Sommer

"I've been at my store for seven months, I make way over $9.75 and I bust my butt everyday and I've earned every penny of it”  Big Box Store Employee 

I’d like to tell you that I’ve always respected money. But that’s not the case. I’ve abused money. Ignored it. Hated it. Pleaded for it. Made some and lost it. I could say I’ve had a rocky relationship with money. Sometimes I went for a long time not talking about it and that’s okay with money. Money doesn't care. It seems like money can just fly out the window and never return.

So, rather than feel rejected by money, I stopped acting like a victim and took action. I really took a hard look at my money habits and considered what I really knew about money. I grew up in a household of mixed messages. This was certainly the case when it came to money. I had my first piggy bank as a very young girl, maybe when I was three or four years old. Saving my pennies was a fun thing because I put them into this neat little bank. But, as I grew up, I was told I couldn’t do certain things because we had no money. Huh? I couldn’t play a sport because of money? Doesn’t that sound crazy?

I was told that if I really wanted something, I would have to pay for it myself. So I began earning money at a very young age. I worked in the barn early in the morning before school feeding calves, cleaning the barn and doing basic farm tasks. I started working at my mother’s flower shop and greenhouse when I was ten. I thrived in the workplace because I knew I was earning all my money and I could spend it on what I wanted! That money was mine!

My parents dropped my brother and I off at Sunday school most of our growing up years. I learned from very dedicated Sunday school teachers that it pleased God to give him a portion—a tenth— of our earnings. I had money. It felt great to give dollars in the plate—not the quarters that parents gave their kids to drop in the brass plate. I was generous with my money and it felt great.

I loved the feeling of being generous with my money. I felt a sense of accomplishment and confidence. I could control it and tell it what to do and where to go. As you may already know, trying to control something or someone never works. Soon, I was consumed with the thought of making more because I spent more. Saving money never occurred to me. I could always make more. My earning theory came to a screeching halt when I was fired from a job. I depended upon money and that experience of having my power ripped away affected me deeply.

Now, I am 50 years old and married for almost 20 years. My husband and I have learned about money together. We’ve learned a lot as we’ve met and overcome obstacles built from histories of bad money decisions. We recognized years ago that our resources really aren’t ‘ours.’ Neither of us earned or deserved or were entitled to them. They come from God. God was our source-not our earning potential nor our job. There was not a special ‘aha!’ moment. Over time, Bill and I could recognize God’s provision or his withholding was the way a great parent teaches about money. As our relationship with God matured, our relationship with money matured. We still have a lot to learn. I hope you will come along and we can all learn together.

This weekend we will talk about the third money myth, “I made this money, it’s mine.” Bring your bible. We will all learn from one of the bible greats, King David. I Chronicles 29 captures the essence of what a great leader or parent can leave as a legacy for the next generation: a healthy respect for all the resources that ultimately come from our God. See you Sunday.

Both riches and honor come from You, And You reign over all. In Your hand is power and might; In Your hand it is to make great. And to give strength to all. I Chronicles 29:12 NKJV

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AuthorMolly Sommer

"Many of us have been living the life we’ve always wanted, or so it seems. But just under the surface of that lovely life is exhaustion, or isolation or emptiness. It doesn’t matter how pretty things look on the outside if on the inside, there’s an ache from a lifetime of trying to prove your worth." Shauna Niequist

I’m trying to make peace with a healthy medium.

But, it seems like the world wants me to be really thin and really tired. I hear myself say, “If I could just lose twenty pounds and get one more thing accomplished, I’d be perfect." It’s easy to get sucked into the ’skinny-hustle’vibe when I listen to other people compare their weight loss regimens and daily schedules as I drink my skinny latte. It can sometimes feel like we’re all competing for the “Most Ridiculous Life” award. To be honest, I grew up in a family where we were very conscious about what we ate and the clothing we wore. Initially, it was because we needed to wear the uniform of all the other families in our tax bracket. But, after my parents’ divorce when I was fifteen, money became scarce so we became very conscious about what to wear and what to eat for other reasons.

In my mind, I translated the perfect weight as having the perfect life. The perfect life was within my grasp. It was only six months away.

Perfection. I think the world wants us to believe perfection exists somewhere between exhaustion and starvation. I think some of us are okay with the idea. We know that it will cost us everything to gain that perfection. We have what it takes. After all, doesn't it say a lot that we are willing to sacrifice so much to get it? So, we accept we must live in some kind of depleted state. We cope with the obvious signs of depletion such as anxiety and depression. Day by day, the message of 'all we need is just a little bit more’ is fed, watered and cared for so it grows continuously isolating us. The mixed messages the world sends keeps us on edge. We can feel panicky and strung out because someone else found the new and improved secret to achieve that elusive perfection. That’s where the myth of “I just need a little more’ abides.

As you can imagine. Jesus has something to say about this.

Jesus confounds the listening ear and astonishes the diminished heart. He offers a relationship of indulgence based in radical abundance and outrageous acts of hospitality. Matthew captures his words succinctly. They almost sound too good to be true.

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” *

"But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”**

Sunday, we will talk about the myth of 'needing a little bit more.' This myth convinces us that we will never have enough which translates into we will never be enough. At one level that is absolutely true. We, as human beings, can never be perfect. But, that’s where Jesus makes up all the difference. Whether we need 5% or 95%, his perfection makes up for all shortcomings and imperfections. His perfection isn’t linked to anything we can scramble to achieve or accomplish. With Jesus Christ, we are enough. We might even call it luxury of the heavenly kind. It’s not available in six months. It’s available now to anyone who would believe. 

*Matthew 6:25-27

**Matthew 6:33

-Pastor Jen

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AuthorMolly Sommer

“Growing old is not an option. We don’t have a choice. But we do have choices that will greatly affect our quality of life for the rest of our life.” Henry K. Hebeler, 

Bill and I finally made it to our financial planner’s office for the first time. Our retirement plans had been on our mind. It was time to take responsibility for our financial future. I’m still kind of amazed at how nervous I was. I think Bill was nervous too. Earlier that day, we visited the Social Security Administration office to get an online account set up so we can access our information at any time and to have a print out of what our Social Security benefits may be when we retire. 

Afterwards, Bill and I sat with Aaron, our financial planner, for 90 minutes. He asked for our current numbers. We put numbers into a projection formula. I honestly felt like I was doing a good job saving and investing for my retirement. I started saving more than 20 years ago. I will also receive a ministerial pension from the United Methodist Church. But, Aaron showed us a projection graph that made my stomach tie up in knots. I saw a lot of red toward the right side of screen. That red symbolized my shortfall. It didn’t matter if I thought I did a good job. I missed the mark. 

We needed to make some changes.

Aaron told us the truth. He also gave us some much needed financial advice. We could make some adjustments now that would impact us positively in the future. So, Bill and I made immediate adjustments where we could. We now think differently. We pay attention to financial news. We met some amazing people whose hearts are truly in the right place and want to see us succeed well into our mature years. I also know that I am at the beginning of the financial journey and want to learn all I can to be a good steward of the resources God has entrusted to me.

I recognized a distinct parallel with my spiritual life. 

I think most of us believe we’re doing a pretty good job when it comes to being a devoted, connected and generous follower of Jesus. In our own minds, we consider all the good things we do and some of us have done for years. I wonder if any of us would have the courage to go in for a spiritual review. It might be interesting to sit down with Jesus for 90 minutes now to get the truth. Imagine listening to Jesus talk with us about how we lived our lives to this point. As someone who truly cares about us and our future, he would tell us the truth. He would encourage us to make some adjustments now that could have an enormous impact for eternity. These little changes don't just impact you but your family, loved ones, friends. I believe Jesus may even challenge you to think about impacting your enemies.

We begin a new series this Sunday called Money Myths. 

What if we all had the courage as a community of faith to do a financial, spiritual and relational assessment? Jesus gave us some very profound counsel from his message encapsulated in chapters 5-7 of Matthew’s gospel. If you have been with us for the January Clean Slate series, you know that Matthew has a special place in all our hearts as someone who accepted the invitation to follow Jesus and his life was utterly transformed. Matthew was a tax collector. He was very good with numbers and finances. I believe Matthew has some very cool insights into money, life, Jesus and transformation. Don’t miss church Sunday. It’s an honor to welcome our Boy Scouts to worship with us. They will have an active part in our worship at the Naperville campus this weekend.

‘When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.’ Matthew 7:28-29 NIV

-Pastor Jen

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AuthorMolly Sommer

What if I told you that 10 years from now, your life would be exactly the same? I doubt you'd be happy. So, why are you so afraid of change?--Karen Salmansohn

It was about this time in 2013 I got the call from my district superintendent. All United Methodist pastors know about this call. It usually means the Bishop and Cabinet have been deliberating about where a pastor’s gifts and graces can be best used for the Kingdom of God. Now, as you may expect, some pastors believe they can make better decisions than the Bishop and Cabinet. But, we as ordained servants of the United Methodist Church, put our hands in the air and solemnly promise to serve the local church as the Bishop and Cabinet see fit. There is always room for input from pastors since other personal circumstances may be at work the Bishop and Cabinet know nothing about.

January 2013, I got the call.

I had some inkling that my tenure at Grace was coming to a close. I had served ten years. The parish was in great financial shape. We were looking to expand to a second site. Ministry was empowered by the Holy Spirt and mobilized hundreds of volunteers. I had my own radio show that aired Sunday mornings. We advertised positive messages via the radio waves during the weekday drive time and during the long nights of the weekend. I was the pastor to the community and loved playing an influential part in the local community’s cast of characters. David Murrow even made a film about our local church and its influence with getting men back into church. 

I day-dreamed about which churches I thought I could serve next. I made several selections. I even let my District Superintendent know my selections and my rationale as to why I was best suited to continue the great work at that parish. Wheatland was not on my A-list. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t on the B-list. It wasn’t even on my list. I never would’ve picked it. But, the Bishop and Cabinet did.

Announcements were made. God did amazing work behind the scenes. Bill and I went through the agonizing process of emigrating from a community we loved. We purchased a home and began to learn the culture of a whole new region. Bill got a job right away. I began the transition to become senior pastor at Wheatland. We both went through our own personal gauntlet of relocation.

At our Annual Conference meeting in June, a colleague from a neighboring community inquired, “So,what’s it like being the Senior Pastor of Wheatland?” I thought for a moment and replied, “Obedient.”

There really isn’t a lot of support for pastors asked to serve such a unique challenge. I checked. I did the research. I joined a group of solid Christian business leaders. I knew exactly what was going through some of my colleagues’ minds. Their condescending comments, sideway glances and personal jabs at my gender, age and inability to lead Wheatland with all it’s ‘challenges’ confirmed my speculation—this was going to be ‘me and God.’ And that was exactly what God wanted. I was pruned, right down to the soil line. Anything above that line was not existent. But, my roots grew deep and rich and strong.

Negativity was a constant companion. I was certainly swimming in it. I learned long ago to stay focused on God, even during the most excruciating components. I was tempted to dive into negativity’s unrelenting waves and I did on a number of occasions. I fought hard not to get overwhelmed and lost the battle. My feelings of hopelessness and unworthiness were compounded by a sea of situations and circumstances beyond my control. Apathy soaked into my soul. I welcomed apathy and finally surrendered. In-truth, I began to believe that maybe all the nay-sayers were correct. I wasn’t what Wheatland needed. 

But, then there was God. He spoke to the waves and they were stilled. 

It was just recently that I began to thank God for the process of becoming a better servant. I think Matthew and I may have shared some similar experiences. This weekend we read the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard he in included in Chapter 20:1-16. God isn’t interested in creating fair, just or equitable servants. God is most interested in making us holy. Negativity will not only steal, kill and destroy us. Apathy keeps us from being effective for the Kingdom of God. Negativity and apathy's effects influence those around us for generations. Consider what's planted and the fruit in your life. Have you been pruned? Are you in the process of becoming a servant? You may find out what’s really going on as we discover the scriptures together Sunday. See you there.

-Pastor Jen

But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?' Matthew 20:13-15 NIV

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AuthorMolly Sommer

Bitterness is an Old English word meaning ‘to bite one’s own heart.’*

I still remember the first time I read that statement. It took my breath away then and it still causes me to pause. 

Before I met Bill, it seemed like I was the queen of relationship failures. In my twenties, I was able to maintain a close friendship with my best friend Anna. We met at church and almost instantly became friends while I lived in Tulsa. I was pretty good at being a friend but could not seem to keep a boyfriend in my life for very long. I wasn’t good at balancing my time with friends and boyfriends. Every time someone new came into my life, I threw myself into that relationship and forgot all about my friend Anna.

I did manage to hold onto a very dysfunctional relationship for almost three years. I think about all the toxic drama that unfolded from that one relationship now and wonder how I could’ve made the mistakes I did back then for so long. I was young. I grew up thinking dysfunction was normal. I migrated toward the dysfunctional because that was all I knew. While all that was true, I underestimated the effects of that long-term dysfunctional relationship even long after it was over. I turned into someone I didn’t want to be. I became bitter.

I believed in my heart people were basically mean, manipulative and out to get what they wanted from me. Bitterness effected my world-view. I saw negativity and darkness everywhere and in everyone. Bitter words and sarcasm became tools to project my internal toxicity onto everyone else. Bitterness’s toxicity pumped like sludge through my beating heart while I was a believing Christian. So, don’t believe for one minute that just because I professed Jesus Christ as my Savior I was a healthy mature Christ follower. I wasn’t. I was angry, resentful, unforgiving, bullheaded and my heart was hard.

God was at work in my life when I had no reason to believe in him or myself. I call this the Hansel and Gretel method. Do you remember their story from the Brothers Grimm? Small clues were left for me to find along the way. These clues kept me motivated to discover something extraordinary. While on his path, God revealed to me insights as to why my relationships were always filled with drama. My favorite way to learn is to recognize something on my own. Back then, I didn't like being told what to do or how to think. So, God, being infinite in wisdom knew what would keep me engaged and on the pathway to a healthy mature spiritual life. 

Bitterness had truly invaded my life and I can honestly tell you, I was biting my own heart and beating myself up for all the wrong things I had done. Bitterness convinced me I was not worthy of a healthy life let alone a healthy relationship. I was wrong. I was the problem. I cut myself off from God, family, friends and anything positive in my life. It took me years to accomplish some very intense heart and soul work. Little by little, I received a blood transfusion from Jesus that led to my healing. I’ve heard of people being instantly healed. That’s awesome. Praise the LORD! My healing and restoration took a long time. I could not give something I did not have. I couldn’t lead others if I wasn’t completely surrendered to Jesus’ leadership in my life. I don’t know exactly when it all happened. There was no “SHAZAM!” Just the awareness the bitterness was gone and forgiveness became my preferred way of living a life Jesus would be proud of.

This weekend we will explore what it can mean to have a clean slate with regards to bitterness and resentment. Someone may be healed instantly this weekend. I know that for sure. Someone may see the light for the first time. Someone else will be encouraged the pathway they are on is the right one that God honors over time. I pray for those who continue to sit in the dark and allow bitterness and resentment to eat away at their heart. If you know of someone who’s struggling with bitterness and resentment, invite them to attend worship with you this Sunday. Read Matthew 18:21-35 in order to prepare. God is at work. Come expecting him to do something in your own heart.

Make sure that no one misses out on God’s grace. Make sure that no root of bitterness grows up that might cause trouble and pollute many people. Hebrews 12:15 CEB

Pastor Jen

*Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype. Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes.1996.

Posted
AuthorMolly Sommer

“It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.” Lou Holtz

Anxiety is part of our daily lives.  It is the evidence we are alive and that we are still spiritually learning, challenging our minds and expanding our hearts. Some people call it our growing edge. Most of us are familiar with performance anxiety. I remember feeling anxious about my speech class my Sophomore year of high school. Somehow knowing I was to practice public speaking in front of my peers made me very uncomfortable. But, getting better at public speaking didn’t help me feel less anxious. It opened doors for me to speak in places I never dreamed including the Oxford Union Society which is a debating society in the city of Oxford, England. I had the privilege to debate in the same chamber as hundreds of others over the years such as Benazir Bhutto, President Ronald Reagan, Mother Theresa, Yasser Arafat, and Malala Yousafzai. I used the same podium Prime Minister Churchill used to make is address in 1945 that the war with Germany had ended.  

You may have noticed a slightly different variety of anxiety plaguing our society. Global competition, increased longevity, 24/7 technology are some of the factors that drive the type of anxiety known as pressure anxiety in our contemporary lives. Pressure anxiety is different from the performance anxiety or general anxiety most of us experience. Performance anxiety is related to performing a task. Pressure anxiety is a perpetual feeling that if you do not continue to produce—you will be weeded out. There is no task to perform but there is a feeling that certain expectations and results must be met. For example, a corporation needs to meet third quarter sales goals in order to remain solvent or educators need to see improved test scores or lose important funding. Parents may feel this pressure as they consider what type of parenting their children require. The pressure is increased by the underlying feeling of uncertainty. We wonder whether or not we’ve got what it takes to meet the expectations and to gain great results.

72% of Americans feel stressed out.* That’s 3 out of 4 of us! Stressful feelings, pressure and performance can be ingredients of a whipped up life of chaos. They can block our ingenuity. They stand in the way of our creative, innovative and explorative process. The keep us locked in a tiny, ineffective jail cell. When I think about it, stress, anxiety and fear have been negatively effecting our God-honoring ordered world since we left the Garden of Eden. Sometimes, the harmful effects of all types of anxiety are tied to feelings of worthiness or self-loathing. I don’t think anxiety is evil but it can mess with our internal world if we are not fully convinced of our place with Christ in God. Just think about the chain reaction that follows the chaos-induced line of thought and why Jesus Christ must intervene. Jesus can and will intervene by your invitation. 

This Sunday, we will talk more about anxiety and fear. Matthew’s narrative describes an epic story about Peter as he was challenged to expand his faith and get out of the boat. Not only Peter learned who Jesus Christ really is. I believe Matthew was sitting in the boat in the midst of a storm. How else could Matthew tell the story with such passion and detail? Peter actually did walk on water. But, when he focused on the circumstances instead of the one who called him, he began to sink. He lost faith in himself and reached out to Jesus. 

Friends, you and I are called to do great things in the name of Jesus. Far too many of us are still waiting for the opportunity when Jesus has already called us to ‘come.’ Consider what you could accomplish if Jesus provided a clean slate for you with regards to anxiety and fear.  What could the next chapter of your life include? 

‘For we live by faith, not by sight.’ 2 Corinthians 5:7

*Pressure Anxiety: A Contemporary Plague : https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/thicken-your-skin/201503/pressure-anxiety-contemporary-plague

Posted
AuthorMolly Sommer