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

 

My dad loved to drink and have a good time. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Jen

 

I Have A Question

Excuse me, I have a question.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Jen

 

Well Worn Path

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes I choose hatred. Sometimes I choose slander.

Sometimes I choose envy. Sometimes I choose greed.

Sometimes I choose pettiness. Sometimes I choose lust.

Sometimes I choose gossip. Sometimes I choose pride.

Sometimes I choose self-reliance.

Sometimes I choose self-righteousness.

Sometimes I choose self-aggrandizement.

Sometimes I choose unkind words.

Sometimes I choose to ignore the obvious needs around me.

Sometimes I choose to hoard my resources.

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

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

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

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

Pastor Jen

 

Hold Onto The Vine and Swing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Jen

 

New Day

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Jen

 

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

It was only recently I learned a hard lesson.

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

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

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

There is a culture that develops around water.

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

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

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

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

Pastor Jen

 

Darkness is always present!

We could only do it after 9 p.m.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Jen

 

What makes someone ‘good?’

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

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

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

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

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

What makes someone or something ‘good?'

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Jen

 

I AM

Four funerals in six days. 

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

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

I loved to banter with the old guys. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Jen

 

Peter and Paul

Paul had more influence than Jesus!

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

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

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

It is within the questions we find belief. 

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

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

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

Happy Easter!

Jen

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

Finishing Well Is Hard!

Finishing well is hard!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Jen

I Don't Want To Be Here!

I don’t want to be here.

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

I don’t want to be here.

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

I don’t want to be here.

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

I don’t want to be here.

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Jen

Never Give Up

“You are so stubborn!”

I wish I had a dime for every time I heard that phrase growing up. My dad tried. He really did. He tried to teach me, mentor me and be a dad to me but all I wanted to do was ‘do it myself.’ I wasn’t interested in listening to my dad pour out his wisdom for me so I could glean little nuggets of truth. I wanted to do things on my own. Now, I understand that I am an experiential learner. Back then, I was a bad girl, disrespectful girl, rebellious girl. I was a hard head. I was obstinate.

I’d like to tell you that I’ve developed new respectful behaviors and learned how to patiently listen to others all the time. Wouldn’t it be transformational if I could now apply all the wisdom that has been freely shared with me over the years? But, I honestly haven’t changed that much. I have a tendency to evaluate things pretty quickly and I often make my decision whether or not I’m going to listen or disconnect and move on in a flash. I have learned to respect others and allow for differing opinions but it’s rare that I honestly listen and take what is said to heart.

This ‘do it myself’ mentality has been a tough way to learn my life lessons. But, isn’t it my decision to learn this way? The more I talk with people, the more I learn there are a lot of us out there. We think we can do things better on our own. We can be more efficient. We can get the job done with less hassle. We’ve convinced ourselves it’s just better this way—so just let us do it.

I’ve been rewarded for this behavior.  Others have acquiesced and just let me do it. I can make things look easy. After all, I’ve convinced myself that if I can do it, so can you! Anybody can do what I do. I’ve been celebrated for being trustworthy and able to initiate things. I get the job done efficiently with fiscal responsibility. I’ve earned the ‘good girl’ badge of approval and it’s very tempting to wear it on my sleeve so that you’ll notice just how good I am.

Now, you and I both know that the very thing that makes me strong is also my greatest weakness. That steely resolve or that obstinacy gets in the way. It trips me up, limits my influence and exhausts me every time. I overdo it. I’ve over valued my own opinion, my abilities and my stamina. The only antidote that I’ve found to combat my ‘do it myself’ sin-sick illness is humility.

Please feel free to ask me how my practice of humility is going. Anytime. Anywhere. I am sincere in my request. It’s the only way my obstinate, stubborn, hard heart can be softened. I suspect it’s the only way for all of us.

Jeremiah had some big conversations with God about stubborn, hard headed, obstinate people and God had plenty to say about them too. Both Jeremiah and God remained steadfast and committed to their tasks: Jeremiah to deliver God’s message and God to speak the truth to those he loved the most.

I think this is what endears me most to Jeremiah. He continually spoke the truth to people regardless of their ability to accept or understand it. A prophet is not welcomed in his own hometown and he found that out the hard way. Maybe Jeremiah’s message wasn’t limited to a group of people that lived 2600 years ago. Maybe his message is as fresh for me today as it was for them so long ago.

“You refused to listen to my prophets, who kept telling you, “Stop doing evil and worshiping other gods! Start obeying the Lord, and he will let you live in this land he gave your ancestors.” Jeremiah 35:15 CEV

Pastor Jen

Intimacy

“The enemy of intimacy is secrecy.”  I immediately wrote it down, scrambling for pen and paper.  It was just one small point of many made by the facilitator of our premarital counseling session that day, but it is the one that resonated most.

How many times has it played out true in your life?

Maybe in a relationship?  You want to grow closer to this other person but you sense a wall, defenses up, something standing in the way.  There is just something not being said, something not being shared.  Intimacy won’t develop without openness, authenticity, vulnerability.

Maybe in the organization where you work?  You want to see it prosper and thrive, but not everyone is on the same page, communication isn’t great, transparency is non-existent.  There is the inside circle, and everyone else.  A lack of trust, humility, and collaboration will only result in floundering instead of flourishing.  

Or maybe in your faith life?  You go through the motions, and say all the words, but something is still missing.  It feels dry.  You’re not getting fed.  After a while of wandering in a seemingly endless desert, you give up, having lost all desire to try any harder.

Of all the prophets in the Old Testament, Jeremiah is the one who we get to know most intimately.  He holds nothing back.  He lays it all out there.  He’s an example to us and can teach us a thing or two about true intimacy.  This weekend we’ll learn from Jeremiah what intimacy requires, what hinders it from developing, and why it is so essential to our relationship with God and our relationship with one another.  

“You know where I am, God! Remember what I’m doing here! Take my side against my detractors. Don’t stand back while they ruin me. Just look at the abuse I’m taking! When your words showed up, I ate them—swallowed them whole. What a feast! What delight I took in being yours, O God, God-of-the-Angel-Armies! I never joined the party crowd in their laughter and their fun. Led by you, I went off by myself. You’d filled me with indignation. Their sin had me seething. But why, why this chronic pain, this ever worsening wound and no healing in sight?You’re nothing, God, but a mirage, a lovely oasis in the distance—and then nothing!”       (Jeremiah 15:15-18, The Message)

Pastor Derek

Change Direction

It was 1996. I listened intently to everything he said. He recalled what it had been like marching in Memphis with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I could visualize every step. His descriptions were graphic. His sentences were breathlessly short as the cauldron of his passion ignited. I wondered if his story would become the next best-seller on the New York Times list or if I was listening to the development of the movie script for next summer's block buster. 

I became his friend. I chose him to be the clergy person who placed my red stole onto my shoulders following the bishop’s prayer at my ordination. I broke all protocol and bear-hugged him in front of the bishop, cabinet and the entire crowd. Everyone clapped and cheered. He was old school and I embarrassed him for sure. But, there was a glimmer in his corrective gaze. He faded from my adventures for several years until I saw him walk to the podium and give that same speech I heard in his office at his retirement service. He continued to be a district superintendent, fulfilled his term and his words still pierce my heart, “I am outa here.”

Retirement did not suit him. Health concerns piled onto his husky frame. The last time I saw him was a few months before his death during an Annual Conference meeting. He was seated alone, a large oversized man whom I hardly recognized. I approached and asked if I could join him. Awkwardly, he looked up over his eye glasses. He didn’t recognize me. He mentioned he was about to leave. I apologized and excused myself. This time I was the one who was embarrassed. I wonder now, as I write this to you, if I was the one that had changed so much a friend would not recognize me or if he had. Or maybe he had not changed at all. At least not since those days in Memphis.

That’s my concern—we can be lured into believing we are a ‘one-hit wonder.’ Sometimes our experiences in life are transformational. It could be scoring the last second touchdown that won the game, landing the dream job you always wanted, acquiring the relationship that changed your life or closing the deal of the century. Sometimes I hear people speak so intensely about the past I feel like they’re stuck there unable to move forward or maybe they’re paralyzed by the fear that life could never deliver the same incredible experience. 

Maybe that was Jeremiah’s concern too. The People of God had not honestly kept their passion for God alive. He faded from their spotlight and had not been the God of their heart. Some might even say a smugness seeped into the Jerusalem culture as God’s chosen people were gently, methodically, intentionally lured away from their passionate love of God into pursuing the heartless rules and rituals of a religion. For God, it was like the marriage bed had been violated and that somehow going through the motions and saying all the right words no longer the same effect. God was looking for his bride and she was with another.

Complacency is dangerous. It is a feeling of smug or uncritical satisfaction with oneself or one's achievements. It’s a defining moment or the ultimate feeling of “I’ve arrived.” There’s an air of entitlement or covert sophistication that can cloud our judgment when we approach the zenith of a journey that has cost us great sacrifice, plunged us into deep peril or transformed us from obscurity. Complacency isn’t always overt. Celebrities, athletes, politicians and business leaders have scaled that lofty mountain only to reach the loneliness of the summit. I feel like my clergy friend may have experienced something like this, too. My prayer isthis shall not be so with you. (Matthew 20:26) 

Jeremiah was called by God to deliver an important message to his people. It was God’s word of correction to change. I hear Jeremiah’s corrective words as from One who was hurt, heartbroken but hopeful the love of his life would listen to his message and change. Repentance means to change direction. I find the first step is always the doozy because it’s always to my knees.

If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever. Jeremiah 7:5-7 NIV
 

Pastor Jen

You Are The Author of Your Story

This is your mission. There will be changes. Be prepared.

Intellectually we all imagine there will be challenges in life. We just don’t imagine the challenges will be that difficult or last that long. Its very tempting to simply brush them off with an eye-roll, chuckle and a “suck it up, Buttercup” mentality. Super smart people have a name for it: compassion fatigue. Sometimes it’s called ‘disaster fatigue.’ One more illness, winter storm, school shooting or story about a Chicago police commander murdered in the street can send us right over the edge into the ‘I don’t care anymore” abyss.  It can be relationship, work or school related. The symptoms include an overwhelming sense of psychological, mental and emotional paralysis. We get stuck. We don’t feel, don’t cry, don’t care….about anything.

"Sufferers can exhibit several symptoms including hopelessness, a decrease in experiences of pleasure, constant stress and anxiety, sleeplessness or nightmares, and a pervasive negative attitude. This can have detrimental effects on individuals, both professionally and personally, including a decrease in productivity, the inability to focus, and the development of new feelings of incompetency and self-doubt.” (Thanks Wiki)

I did a little research. How do we overcome or heal from this disorder? Each article gave some basic directives like get educated, take time away from the news or be kind to yourself. Blah, blah, blah. It felt like platitudes. A revelation to me that even people who work in these expensive institutes dedicated to investigating the problem don’t know what to do for people or societies who suffer from this problem. I was in Africa seven months ago, mention the word Rwanda. Trust me. Whole societies suffer.

Jeremiah’s story reveals a very personal struggle between a prophet and God. A nation is involved. In order to be equipped to be what God calls us to be—prophet person—and not be crippled all our lives by inadequacy, we need to know supremely these two subjects: God and the world, and to be trained in them thoroughly. In both subjects, first impressions and surface appearances are deceiving. We underestimate God and overestimate evil. We don’t see what God is doing and conclude he is doing nothing.* Despondency set in for Jeremiah. Despondency develops with wrong expectations. He plummeted to the depths of despair after receiving a great call and visions from God. It’s very tough to slug through chapter after chapter of disaster it’s like eavesdropping on a heartbreaking disastrous relationship argument. Read chapters 1-11 for yourself. It’s a great Lenten exercise. Finally, in chapter 12, Jeremiah complained and loudly. God responded in an unexpected way. 

Join us Sunday for worship. I challenge you to put aside your expectations about the world and God. A major break through can happen in an unexpected way when we disconnect from our diminutive,   narrow, restricted points of view to allow the holy, sanctified, God-sized expansion of our heart, soul, mind and strength. This is the invigorating life God longs for us to lead, friends. Let’s get out there and get it!

“I’m convinced: You can do anything and everything. Nothing and no one can upset your plans. You asked, ‘Who is this muddying the water, ignorantly confusing the issue, second-guessing my purposes?’ I admit it. I was the one. I babbled on about things far beyond me, made small talk about wonders way over my head.” Job 42:1 The Message

*Run with the Horses: The Quest for Life at its Best. Eugene Peterson.
 

Pastor Jen

Excuses

But I said, “Hold it, Master God! Look at me.I don’t know anything. I’m only a boy!” Jeremiah 1:6          The Message

Hold it, Master God, I am.....(.you fill in the blank.)

Excuses. My list is long and often punctuated with exclamation points. I have done my very best to try to avoid God’s direction in my life on numerous occasions. On second thought, I ignore God pretty much on a daily basis. I attempt to do my own thing and continue to struggle. I’m honestly amazed by God’s patience with me. I tend to lose my patience easily and slide into blaming others for most of my blunders when I could easily accept God’s help and the outcomes would be dramatically different.

I find it comforting the ‘Bible Giants’ struggled with God too. I’ve really enjoyed the research and preparation we’ve done for this next series ‘Run with the Horses.’ Jeremiah is my kind of guy. Even though God had previously made plans for him, Jeremiah had some ideas of his own about life, leadership and his faith in God. Don’t we all.

So, this weekend, we meet Jeremiah. Read chapter one. Familiarize yourself with the scriptures. The book is filled with prose and poetry. You will not find a linear story line or dramatic character developments. What you will find is something like journal entries—the internal workings of a man’s struggle with God. You will read authentic grievances from Jeremiah and from God.  I find this book refreshing! I think you will too!


Pastor Jen

Run with the Horses

Things have changed a lot for the church. 

The American Church seems to have lost our savvy with regards to what we have to offer. Many leading strategists are stepping up to provide directives for renewal and reform. But, if the sociologists are right, more and more people are becoming more and more disappointed and disaffected with the church. Some might say, “we’ve lost our market share.”

Serious attempts have been taken to rebrand or repackage church. Since Americans are world class champion consumers, the gospel has to be repackaged and reinterpreted for each generation in order to satisfy their addiction for the new and improved—the bigger and better.

There is a great irony at work which I believe is God’s handiwork. I mean his finger prints are all over this! The more we try to offer the gospel in slick new consumeristic terminology the more disappointed consumers become. The gospel is not a product designed to be consumed. I can’t hold onto it. The gospel doesn’t satisfy what we determine as our need. It is something completely other. It is holy. It is life altering. It belongs to God.

We’re all starved for authenticity. 

There is a reason we scrunch our noses when we sense someone is being inauthentic. We are designed with an internal authenticity meter of sorts. It’s an unquenchable desire for wholeness and for righteousness. It’s like we’ve always known what is good and right and authentic but we’ve lost our way when we wandered out of the Garden. So we search for something—anything—to satisfy our deep need. It’s like we all suffer from an addiction but we don’t quite know what we’re addicted to.

The anti-hero has emerged as someone we look up to. Maybe he knows the way. It’s way easier to identify with him. The film industry has certainly capitalized on him and introduced us to Tony Stark, Bruce Wayne or the weird character Deadpool who all inspire the sarcastically inclined. So, for the next series we will explore this anti-hero phenomenon. We will meet and get to know an authentic anti-hero: Jeremiah.

Dr. Baruch Korman is a biblical scholar par excellence. He’s kind of a big deal and he’s a new Wheatland partner in ministry. He will introduce those of us who worship at the Naperville campus to Jeremiah Sunday. Pastor Roger Jenks will deliver the Fit finale at our Oswego Campus. Either place will offer you an amazing experience. I’d like for you to consider what you truly believe about the gospel, about authenticity and what you require for becoming a fully connected, devoted and generous follower of Jesus. Maybe you’re a lot like Jeremiah. Let’s find out together.

“So, Jeremiah, if you’re worn out in this foot race with men, what makes you think you can race against horses? And if you can’t keep your wits during times of calm, what’s going to happen when trouble breaks loose like the Jordan in flood?” Jeremiah 12:5


Pastor Jen

God Has Uniquely Created You

“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you… We have different gifts, according to the grace given each of us.”  (Romans 12:3, 6a)

God has uniquely created you.  Yes, you.  Not only that but God has uniquely gifted you.  Yes, YOU!  

In Romans 12, Paul is urging us to come to a reckoning with who we are and what it is we are called to do.  Be self-aware, he effectively says.  Do some self-assessment.  Discern from the Spirit.  Discover your identity in Christ and your gifts from God.  Then live into them!

The way John Ortberg puts it in his little book Overcoming Your Shadow Mission is: “You and I were created to have a mission in life.  We were made to make a difference.  But if we do not pursue the mission for which God designed and gifted us, we will find a substitute.  We cannot live in the absence of purpose.  Without an authentic mission, we will be tempted to drift on autopilot, to let our lives center around something that is unworthy, something selfish, something dark—a shadow mission.”

Are you living with purpose?  Do you know the authentic mission God has designed specifically for you?

When I was in high school and college, I was wrestling with what I was going to do with my life.  All throughout my academic career I had excelled in the areas of math and science, but I also loved writing and had a keen interest in history.  I believe I could have literally done anything with my life.  I envisioned careers in medicine and engineering.  But something just didn’t feel right.  So I got a second opinion.  I asked God.

And when I turned to God—or as it says in Romans 12:1 when I “offered myself to God as a living sacrifice”—I got a very different answer as to what my unique combination of personality and gifts were for.  I was convinced that I felt God calling me to ordained ministry.  It’s something I hadn’t considered.  It didn’t seem right at first.  But the more and more I questioned it, the more and more I felt affirmation.

As I look back on it now, I still think I could have done anything.  But if I had, I believe my life would have been exactly as Ortberg describes in that quote, my life would have centered around “something that is unworthy, something selfish, something dark.”

Even now I realize that I must continually return to Romans 12:1, and re-“offer myself to God as a living sacrifice.”  Otherwise, I get off track.

It’s never too late.  Offer yourself to God.  God has uniquely created and gifted you.  God has a purpose for you.  Find your fit today.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.  Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:1-2)

Pastor Derek