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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

AuthorMolly Sommer

What’s your spiritual health quotient?

Over the years, a lot people have come to me for guidance or direction. I think they believed God was going to rescue them from a bad situation at work or miraculously intervene for them while they’re going through a tough spot in their marriage. This mindset reminds me of the ‘get out of jail free’ card from the Monopoly game my brother and I used to play when we were kids. I think God fully expects us to grow up and take responsibility for the life we’ve been given and the choices we’ve made. That may mean taking time to discover what put us ‘in jail’ in the first place. It can also mean learning how to have that difficult conversation at work and doing the hard work of relationship building with your spouse. It requires us to stop avoiding, complaining about and blaming others and do the hard work of self-examination first.

So, ask yourself, why are some people successful at work? What does a great marriage require of me? Why am I experiencing my current results?

Think about this for a minute. Are you convinced that you are worthy of having a great career and marriage? Do you get to a certain point and then fail to move forward? Sometimes we stumble over the same old obstacles of guilt and shame. Guilt is an emotion of conviction. Guilt says, “I made a mistake” or “a mistake was made.” Once we recognize there was a mistake, we can work on fixing the problem. People actually make a living discovering mistakes and fixing them. They are called 'trouble shooters.' The key is to begin the hard work of trouble shooting in our own lives. Don’t aim for someone else’s trouble. 

I believe we confuse guilt and shame. Guilt is meant for course correction. Shame is very destructive. It’s not about a course correction or making amends. Shame drives deep into our soul. It says, “I am the mistake. I am shameful. I am unworthy because of who I am. There is nothing I can do to change.” Shame is a lie. It’s origin is with the father of lies.  Brene Brown calls shame the epidemic behind many forms of broken behavior.

According to Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says he can do something about both of these problems. It’s as if Jesus equates sin with illness and Jesus is the doctor. Look it up for yourself in Matthew chapter 9. We all have the problem. Who among us is sick? There is a remedy for this sort of thing. You can have a healthy work life and a rockin' marriage. But, there is some work to do. Imagine going into that troubling work situation or relationship challenge with a clean slate because that’s exactly what is possible and available to you. You simply need to see the doctor.

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. Matthew 9:12 NIV


AuthorMolly Sommer

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6, NIV)

In my family, every single year on Christmas morning, before we dig into our stockings and unwrap our presents, we pause for a moment to read the Christmas story from Luke 2.  You know the story, it’s a familiar one about a census and an engaged couple on a journey, a manger and no room in the inn.  There is an angel choir and a bunch of terrified shepherds.  There is Mary, Joseph, and a child who is a Savior, the Messiah, Lord.

Every single year we read the same story.  It never changes.  I vaguely remember one year on Christmas morning (long before I became a pastor, I’m sure) asking my mom why we had to read the same story yet again.  “I know the story!” I reasoned somewhat irrationally, really just wanting to get to the good stuff waiting under the tree.  I don’t remember what she said to my protest, all I know is we still read the story and I survived.

Every single year we read the same story.  It never changes.  

But we do.

And that’s why we read it over and over and over again, year in and year out.

Our story is always changing.  One year there is laughter and celebration; the next year there is failure and despair.  One year there is a graduation, or a marriage, or a newborn child; the next year there is a diagnosis, or a fractured relationship, or the death of a loved one.  One year there is love and joy; the next year there is desperation and sorrow.

There are some stories worth repeating, and then there are other stories that need repeating. This is one of the latter.  We need to hear this story again and again and again.  We need to hear again and again and again “do not be afraid.”  We need to hear again and again and again this “good news of great joy for all people.”  We need to hear again and again and again that the glory of the Lord shone around them, that a Savior has come, that God is with us.

Regardless of who you are, or where you are, or what’s going on in your life, this is the story you need to hear: “To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

Merry Christmas!  We look forward to seeing you at one of our 9 Christmas Eve services in Naperville, Oswego, or at the Barn, as well as on Christmas morning at 10:00 a.m. in Naperville and 10:30 a.m. in Oswego.

“All who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.  But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.  The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” (Luke 2:18-20, NIV)

-Pastor Derek 

AuthorJustin Sommer

The Prince of Peace

For to us a child is born,

to us a son is given;

and the government shall be upon his shoulder,

   and his name shall be called

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

   Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

--Isaiah 9:6

It can be overwhelming—the barrenness of sin that perpetuates oppression, destruction, and lifelessness. The sex trafficking of women and children; refugees fleeing for their lives, being blockaded by numerous countries; and social shooters killing in public places are all overwhelming systems of injustice and sin. Looking at such turmoil, the prospect of peace may seem unimaginable. Yet, despite what seem to be impossible situations, the longing for peace never truly fades. And it is precisely in that space of longing that we ask the question, “from where does the hope of life arise amidst such barrenness?”

The Advent season is also a season of longing. Placed on the church calendar right before Jesus’ birth, Advent reenacts and remembers the deep-set longing of the Jewish people for their Messiah. The Messiah was an Old Testament figure who God would use to restore Israel and bring about peace upon the earth. If anyone understood what it meant to yearn for peace, it was the First-Century Jew. The land of Israel was a hotbed for political turmoil and empire conflict. Because of its geographical location, Israel was in the middle of a constant tug-of-war between major empires. To make matters worse, before Jesus arrived on the scene it had been over four hundred years since God had last spoken to Israel. Talk about barrenness!

The Gospel of Luke sheds light on the theme of barrenness and life. Luke introduces us to Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, who was unable to conceive a child. Elizabeth’s womb was barren. Amazingly, Zechariah (the husband of Elizabeth) would experience a vision while tending to some duties in the temple. In this vision, an Angel of God would reveal the good news that life would be brought from Elizabeth’s barrenness. A husband and wife would bear a child through the life bearing work of God. Barrenness would be overcome by life.

Luke does not stop there. The narrative continues with Mary who is without a husband and is clearly stated as being a virgin. Why bring that up? Because Mary’s barrenness is of a completely different nature. This is not a husband and wife who are unable to conceive. It is a situation where life is completely impossible apart from God. Like her cousin Elizabeth, Mary would also be visited by an Angel revealing the astonishing news of the life to come. From barrenness, in which life is completely unexpected, a virgin gives birth to a child and his name shall be called Prince of Peace.

The Advent season is a time of acknowledging the barrenness in our lives: the systems of injustice, the pains of sickness and disease, the wounding of friends and family, and the loss of those closest to us. And yet Advent is also a season of hope. It is a season of longing for Christ to enter those barren places in our lives and birth his peace and life in those spaces. In a mysterious way, Mary and Elizabeth represent all those who long for the hope of life. We too can clutch to that same hope in the midst of barrenness, in the midst of injustice, in the midst of sin, in the midst of mass pain and suffering. Rather than remaining aloof from such places, Jesus brings his very self by the Spirit and enters into the barren womb. It is Jesus who can bring life from the impossibility of life. It is in Jesus that our hope is found. During the Advent season, we prepare with eager expectation for the peace of Christ to come. My prayer is that we would not forget that what we often see as hopelessly barren places, God sees as fertile ground from which Jesus, the Prince of Peace, may be birthed.

May the peace of Christ be with you.

-Corey Ashley

AuthorMolly Sommer

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6, NIV)

In his prophetic writing Isaiah lets us know that this long anticipated Savior-Messiah will be called Everlasting Father.  Now for us as New Testament people we are very familiar with this title.  We’ve come to know God as precisely this, a Heavenly Father.  Jesus uses the expression more than 150 times to refer to God.  Most notably he taught us to pray to “Our Father in Heaven.”  And the Apostle Paul also urges us to cry out to God our “Abba, Father.”

But for the first audience hearing Isaiah’s message, it would have been almost completely unheard of to refer to God as Father.  In fact, while the word Father is used over 1,200 times in the Old Testament, less than ten of those instances refer to God as the Father.  Isaiah uses the title the most, four times alone, nearly half of all the references to God as Father found in the Old Testament (9:6; 22:21; 63:16; 64:8).

Now I fully understand that a lot of people are hesitant at, even resistant to, this idea of calling God their Father.  Usually because there is a lot of negative association between them and their earthly fathers and so they can’t bear the connection.  As someone who personally didn’t really grow up with a Father because he took his own life by suicide, I get it. I really do.

But I think to ignore or avoid this title of Everlasting Father because of those negative associations would be a huge mistake.  

Because what we see beginning to happen here with the prophet Isaiah is a revolutionary shift.  The more familiar understandings from that day and age of God as almighty, unapproachable, impersonal, mysterious, and all-powerful are slowly being replaced with an image of God as personal, intimate, and relatable.

For people who had gone their whole lives thinking of God as some distant supreme entity, think about what it must have been like for them to consider God as a person instead of a power, as someone focused on relationship rather than requirements.

Not only is there a shift happening here to a concept of God as more personal, intimate, and relatable as denoted by this title “Everlasting Father.”  But this revolutionary concept is carried even further in the incarnation, which we celebrate this season of Advent.

It is through the birth of Jesus that we can come to know God for ourselves in relationship, because he has taken up residence among us.  This God who would otherwise be thought of as distant or impersonal or detached from our lives, is suddenly intimately involved and entirely relatable.  We can now personally come to know him as a Father, a parent, someone who gives life, loves unconditionally, provides for our needs, encourages, and protects.  This happens on a worldwide scale, but it can also happen on a personal level in each one of our hearts and lives.

Part of what it means for us to search for the Savior this season, is to search for this God who is personal and relatable.  And to learn to live into this new revolutionary reality that he is our Everlasting Father, but also that we are his children.  All of which, we’ll be exploring more this coming Sunday, so see you then!

“But you are our Father, though Abraham does not know us or Israel acknowledge us; you, Lord, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name.” (Isaiah 63:16)

-Pastor Derek


AuthorMolly Sommer

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6, NIV)

When the prophet Isaiah recorded these words of promise and hope that he received from God, things looked pretty bleak.  Judah was on the verge of moral and political collapse.  The nation was surrounded by their enemies.  The great Assyrian Empire, who had already overtaken all the surrounding neighbors, was breathing down their necks.  The people of God were on the brink of defeat.

Yet, God revealed to Isaiah that He was still on the throne, still in control, still in charge.  He was at work in the present—as he had been all throughout their history—as the Mighty God who would rescue his people.  Those living in Jerusalem had forgotten all the previous events that had been told and retold from generation to generation where God had stepped in to fight for them, to stand up for them, and ultimately to save them.

How often is this the case for us as well?  How often do we need reminding that we have the Mighty God on our side who promises to never leave us or forsake us?  How easily do we forget the amazing ways that God has stepped in at just the right time in our lives to rescue and redeem and deliver?  How often do we believe in the lie that God doesn’t care about us, that he isn’t concerned about us, that he’s not even there?

This season of Advent is a reminder to us, just in case we had forgotten, that God is most decidedly for us.  The birth of Jesus as the Mighty God is living, breathing evidence of hope and promise even when things look most bleak.  He has come to dwell among us, to meet us in our places of pain, helplessness, despair, and fear.  He not only does for us what we could never do, but he also empowers and emboldens us to do what we could never dream of doing on our own.

To be sure, this Mighty God, doesn’t always work in ways that are expected, or even preferred by us.  He doesn’t work on our schedules, and often we don’t get the results that we would have liked.  But that is not for us to complain.  We are simply to trust and obey.

This Sunday we’ll be exploring more of what it means for us to put our trust in the Mighty God.  In the meantime, consider what places in your life that you need a God who is mighty to fight for you.  Confess the ways you have sometimes forgotten or refused to trust in the promises of the Mighty God.

"Energize the limp hands, strengthen the rubbery knees.  Tell fearful souls, 'Courage!  Take heart!  God is here, right here, on his way to put things right and redress all wrongs.  He’s on his way!  He’ll save you!’"  (Isaiah 35:3-4, The Message)

-Pastor Derek 

AuthorMolly Sommer