(The following blog is the outcome from a conversation I had while having lunch with some of our Faith Promise partners. They live in a distant land sharing Christ in a culture that has become increasingly hostile to Christians and Christianity. I am sharing a story with you. My prayer is that you are inspired to pray a bold prayer and ask God to reveal to you how you may be called to respond. Maybe it's time for you to say ‘yes’ to God.)
 

Lunch with a Missionary
Our Faith Promise partner was completely captivating as she recalled her story. “We stopped at the traffic light at 75th & Naper Boulevard when a woman drove up next to us and rolled down her window. She motioned for me to do the same, so I did.” 

The motorist shouted, "You must be special people. I heard you talk at our church this morning!"

"No.” Our Faith Promise partner responded, “We are ordinary--reeeeally ordinary people."

"You are very SPECIAL people!" The woman insistently proclaimed. More vehicles started to accumulate. People waited anxiously for the light to change.

The missionary smiled but equally insisted. "No! Honestly! We are really ordinary people being obedient to God!"

"Exactly!" The woman proclaimed as her car was absorbed into the long stream of suburban vehicles headed East in her lane, "Most people are not obedient to God!”

What I learned about Christianity in East Asia.
There are an estimated 100 million Christian missionaries serving this East Asian country of 1.6 billion people. Most live in communities where there is an environment of suspicion. This atmosphere was left behind like wreckage from an abandoned airplane crash by the former
communist regime. It's perpetuated by the current concern for cultural or what is commonly described as traditional family values.

The young are not allowed to have 'ideas.' They are expected to finish school, attend college, get a job and fulfill their duty to their family. The young must sacrifice their dreams when necessary. All income is pooled into a family fund. They must support and serve the family as
their first priority. Problems occur when someone becomes a Christian. Christian beliefs threaten family traditions when young converts will not honor family tradition but choose to serve and honor Jesus Christ.

Public shaming is part of life. It is a disgraceful and painful weapon. Christians are singled out by family members and community people not necessarily from the government. Families identify Christians and publicly humiliate them in hopes of shaming them back into the family
fold. Christians are often ostracized by community leaders who publicly identify them as people who are trying to destroy long-held cultural family values and traditions. Sometimes the persecution is so intense, teacher contracts and students visas are cancelled because they are evangelizing too successfully.

Stability is cloaked in fulfilling undefined legalism and opaque cultural traditions. Riot police are part of life. Many riots erupt but are never reported or talked about publicly. Unemployment, underemployment, land grabs, government crack downs and merchant class corruption toward the poor create daily disturbances. Minority segregation is a reality dividing ethnicities with unique languages, cultural traditions and of course religion. There are 400 Ethnic minorities in this East Asian country.

Jesus is still Lord!
The local church is thriving in spite of the persecution. Evangelism is expanding to include the Muslim population where mosques have been built in every community. Our mission partner shared she was blessed to witness young women starting house churches. “It's as if they have
no fear and many are only 21-25 years old! They've accomplished college. They've professed to follow Jesus Christ wherever he leads.” She said.

These young leaders work closely with our Faith Promise partner on a daily basis. They learn what it means to read the Bible together, sing praise songs and love, care and support each other. These zealous young disciples relocate with a vibrant faith which was fostered while
making gingerbread cut-out cookies. The simple act of decorating cookies became a way to tell the Jesus story. The college Students who help with the extraordinary ministry start house churches in the communities where they relocate. To this date, eight house churches have been
planted in other communities. There is one house church thriving in their local town led by college-aged volunteers working with our Faith Promise partner.

What can we do?
When I asked our partners what more we could do, she said, “Pray for the house churches that are an outcome of our ministry. We never expected this. Pray for faithfulness to God’s Word. Their translation is difficult to understand. Most translations use a classical language which
makes it difficult to read and use.”

This vibrant champion of Jesus continued, “Isolation is a problem for Christians and the house churches. They take an enormous risk when they share their faith. As for financial resources, we do not make long-term financial commitments. We are training them to become self-sufficient
and trust God to provide. People are very, very poor.”

Our Faith Promise partners support all the house churches in varied ways. Sometimes they financially support the pastors, pay for their rent, buy food for the congregation, pay salaries, or pay the electricity bill. All the money is pooled together for the benefit of the house churches and for reaching the community with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

People who attend the local house church that meets in our Faith Promise partner’s home are mostly people who teach English or attend college. Many Christian missionaries are from Africa: Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, and Zambia are represented. Other countries such as Japan, South Korea, Russia, Inner Mongolia, Singapore, Britain, The Netherlands, and New Zealand are represented.

What does Wheatland actually do?
We support ‘reeeeeally ordinary’ people who are obedient to God. We agreed to be part of what God called these Faith Promise partners to do years ago. We actively engaged with what they were doing in the field. It’s certainly a God-thing that Wheatland help plant churches when we committed to save infants! This particular Faith Promise partner was obedient to God by moving to a foreign country and accepting abandoned babies. Some babies were abandoned because of circumstances we don’t understand. Some were abandoned after a doctor proclaimed the infant as blind or deaf.

Our mission partner passionately explained, “We do what Jesus called his disciples to do: reach the ‘lost.’ These babies are loved, nourished and taught Christian values. They are given a second chance at life. A Christian foundation of love provides a safe place for these special
children to thrive. They are accepted into our temporary mission home until they are fitted into homes belonging to their forever family.”

“We pray that each child is eternally saved. We pray the families that adopt them are God's choice. Not every adoption attempt is successful. A family may not accept one of these children. Some inquisitive parents that come to adopt leave empty handed. We know it’s not right. Not right for them nor for the child. Not all adoptions are successful on the first try. These children know what it means to believe. We can see Jesus in them. There is a significant difference in their disposition.”

Wheatland is an awesome church! We believe the best witness for the gospel of Jesus Christ is a transformed life. There is so much more to do. We can have even greater impact in the world for Jesus Christ. What would it be like if we took becoming a world changer seriously ? Imagine the greater things God has called us to do. What is God calling you to do? Where is God leading you? What wrong in the world keeps tugging on your soul? Is there an issue that ignites your passion to actually get involved and do something significant with your life? Are you searching for or running from God?

“So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is".           Colossians 3:1-2 The Message

 

Posted
AuthorDeb Lionberger
CategoriesWorship

Leadership matters.

'A great leader surrounds himself or herself with other great leaders' is a common leadership proverb. You’ve probably heard it a thousand times. Strong sports teams, companies, churches, and organizations are built on a foundation of courageous, competent leadership over time. I believe leadership must be a shared endeavor. No one has all the answers. We all fail. Jim Collins reminds us that good ideas are the enemy of great ideas. It takes a self-aware leader to admit their ideas are not always great. Sometimes it takes a team to help a great leader recognize the season they are leading in is difficult not by their own making but by what the market demands or what the environment requires. A leadership team shares the burden of consequences but they also share in joy of the reward. Insight. Stamina. Strength. Each of these characteristics contribute to the common goal.

A great leader rises to the occasion and they continue to rise until the job is done. Often, what makes a great leader is the ability to get back up one more time after being beaten down hundreds of times. They shake it off and make a conscious choice to be a lifelong learner. A great leader will discover new insights into their own vulnerability, strengths and weaknesses while he or she builds up the team. A great leader also receives good counsel and knows how to apply the truth to their own life no matter where the truth comes from or how it is delivered.

Wheatland Values, Vision and Mission Statements.

Wheatland has a vibrant history. We’ve been part of the Naperville community since 1852. We decided to become more influential in the Oswego community in 2010 because God called us to become more than a small community of believers who met weekly to worship and live a quiet Christian life. God called us to become a church of leaders with Kingdom-minded values. Wheatland values personal transformation, relationships, the Next Generation, worship and missions. Our vision statement is ‘Love God, Love others, change the world.’ Our mission statement is connected to our vision statement: Love God, love others, change the world by being a connected, devoted, generous follower of Jesus Christ. 

Impact.

Great things are accomplished when great leaders have a clear vision and a common purpose. I believe we are called by God into a season of exploring innovative ideas and receiving a fresh anointing to attempt great things for God. We are called to have impact in our communities and around the world. You are part of God’s great work. It’s time to act. It’s God’s call. You’ve been faithful and committed to your church community. I believe our season of greatest impact is about to commence.

We begin a new series this Sunday titled Wheatland University. It’s a series designed to help you learn about the scope of our ministries and to ignite your personal passion for serving Jesus Christ. We will hear messages from a spirit-filled team of Wheatland leaders. Pastors will be present each week to lead, encourage and step aside in order to let the team speak from their heart about their passion for making Jesus Christ known and how to make huge impact in our lost and broken world. Don’t miss any of it.

We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. Colossians 1:9b-12 NIV

-Pastor Jen

Posted
AuthorMolly Sommer

“What did you learn?”

It’s a question I love to ask following a big event. Mainly because I don't want to miss the main thing God meant for me to learn. I believe we can certainly learn something from everyday experiences but there are major events that are designed--some may even say destined- by God to deeply impact our transformational process. This was one of those experiences for me.

“What did you learn?” 

I smiled and waited like a dog anticipating a bone. The sound technician adjusted the audio recorder Radio Joy used to record each of the jam-packed leadership sessions of the four-day event we hosted. I could sense his internal wheels were turning. I wondered if there was something wrong with the equipment. My curiosity quickly gave way to concern. He seemed to be deep in thought. Was he searching for an answer? Would he offer a simple one-word answer that would please me or would it be authentic and honest. He chose the latter.

Without looking directly at me his words simply floated in the space between us, “Your question has many levels, Pastor.” He peered through this Ben Franklin style spectacles at the audio recorder still determined and focused as he tinkered with it perched at the top of its stand. I was hoping for a quick polite answer. A session I was scheduled to teach was about to begin. Delegates were already streaming into the Community Center. Some were already seated excitedly chatting in groups of three or four. I hoped he would reveal the Radio Joy audio team learned some great insight into sound design or how they could implement a new piece of equipment.

“If you're asking me if we learned something we can use at Radio Joy--then, yes. We learn a great deal every time we do events like this. But, I don't think you're asking me that question.”

I suddenly got the overwhelming feeling like I had unexpectedly waded into the weeds. I felt like I was getting sucked into something. I was clearly unprepared. I truly did not want to engage in a sublime intellectual conversation minutes before my next talk. I simply wanted a one-word, high-five answer and move on. The sound technician lowered his arms from the recorder and turned toward me after he accomplished his task. The same intense precision now fully focused on me. His patient gentle demeanor was disarming. He was genuinely ready and willing to engage. But, I backed away and tried to backpedal out of what became an awkward situation for me.

I quickly glanced at the clock and noted we were about to begin my next session. I nervously thanked him and excused myself from the conversation. His countenance fell. He appeared to be disappointed. I suspect he knew he hit the mark. The radio technician was also a great journalist. Later that same week I witnessed how far he would go for a great story. He seized the opportunity to get a great interview with a village elder during one of our mission expeditions. The man is clearly in his sweet spot and is willing to do great things for God in miraculous ways.

I'm not always ready to be generous with my internal world let alone reveal my idiosyncrasies. I’m far more stingy, especially when someone can see right through me and has detected there is something worth excavating. I noticed most of my African friends have this unique discernment quality. I found it alarmingly easy to be open, present and generous with them mostly because of their sincere authenticity. They were first generous toward me. They made the best of things and seized an opportunity when it was presented. They invest in meaningful conversation. I'd like to imagine I’ve stumbled onto something I will call ‘the African way.’ It's very different from the ‘American Way.’ It’s impossible to remain superficial or disconnected when someone you barely know can read your soul and help you discover your true self by simply asking a question.

Let’s talk more about generosity. I’m working on accepting generosity as a lifestyle not simply an adjective describing a feeling, event or person. Sunday we will have some ideas we want to share with you. Come to worship. Let’s start something that will make my African friends smile.

I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. Philippians 4:11-12 The Message

-Pastor Jen

Posted
AuthorMolly Sommer

Every baseball player and baseball team is prone to slumps.  A hitter has a string of hitless games—the dreaded “0-fers”—that last day after day, night after night.  A pitcher suddenly loses control of the strike zone and can’t throw one over the plate to save his life.  A team goes into an inexplicable downward spiral racking up loss after loss after loss.

"All slumps end,” says ESPN Senior Writer Tim Kurkjian, “but while they are going on, it is a helpless feeling for a hitter.  A bad slump will keep you up at night… There are countless stories about what players will do to end a slump, countless times that a hitter will stand in front of a mirror at 3 a.m. swinging an imaginary bat, wondering what he is doing wrong, and wondering when he will get another hit, if ever.  On the final day of the 1984 season, after going 0-for-3 with three strikeouts in a perfect game thrown by the Angels’ Mike Witt, Rangers outfielder George Wright, who finished the season in a terrible slump that left his average at .243, was asked what he was going to do next.  He said, ‘I’m going to change my name and move to Africa.’”

Slumps are not reserved only for baseball players, though.  Everyone goes through slumps.  The marital slump when spouses are just not on the same page mentally, emotionally, or intimately.  The vocational slump when you lose the joy and excitement of the job, and you wake up in the morning dreading the day ahead of you.  The spiritual slump when try as hard as you might you just can’t “feel” the presence of God anymore, or see the need for church or faith at all.

The Apostle Paul, I believe, knew a thing or two about being in a slump.  I can only imagine what it must have been like for him in those months and years he spent in prison, or in those weeks when he was overcome by some outside force like shipwreck or persecution.  I think it was his experiences being in a slump that produced the letter to the Philippians we’ve been studying all throughout this sermon series.

On Sunday, we’ll close out our Batter Up series by looking at the anatomy of a slump, what causes them, and what practical things we can do to break out of them.  Pastor Jen and the rest of the Tanzania mission team will be back.  And we’ll also be announcing the winners of our Cubs/White Sox ticket giveaways.  You’re not going to want to miss out this week!

I know the experience of being in need and of having more than enough; I have learned the secret to being content in any and every circumstance, whether full or hungry or whether having plenty or being poor.  I can endure all these things through the power of the one who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:12-13, CEB)

-Pastor Derek

Posted
AuthorMolly Sommer

The “bible” of baseball—the Official Baseball Rules book—makes it pretty clear what the overall objective of the game is:

1.02The offensive team’s objective is to have its batter become a runner, and its runners advance.

1.04   When a batter becomes a runner and touches all bases legally he shall score one run forhis team.

1.05   The objective of each team is to win by scoring more runs than the opponent.

1.06   The winner of the game shall be that team which shall have scored, in accordance with these rules, the greatest number of runs at the conclusion of a regulation game.

Pretty clear and simple, isn’t it?  The goal of the batter is to get on base.  The goal of the baserunner is to score a run.  The goal of the team is to score more runs than the other team.

Now don’t you wish the Christian life was that easy?  That the objectives to govern how we're to live in faith were laid out just as plainly?  I mean, really, what is the goal of this life?  The objective of faith?  How will a “winner” be determined when all is said and done here on earth?

The Bible doesn’t exactly lay it out in the specifics that the baseball rule book does.  Paul says in Philippians 3 about the overall objective of our faith life: “The righteousness that I have comes from knowing Christ, the power of his resurrection, and the participation in his sufferings.  It includes being conformed to his death so that I may perhaps reach the goal of the resurrection of the dead.  It’s not that I have already reached this goal or have already been perfected, but I pursue it, so that I may grab hold of it because Christ grabbed hold of me for just this purpose.  Brothers and sisters, I myself don’t think I’ve reached it, but I do this one thing: I forget about the things behind me and reach out for the things ahead of me.  The goal I pursue is the prize of God’s upward call in Christ Jesus.”

Well do you have it?  Do you know the goal, the main objective?  No?

Okay, well, think about that between now and Sunday.  What do you think is the goal?  Why are you part of the church?  What does it look like to “win” in Christianity?  What is it about what we do here at Wheatland Salem that helps you to accomplish the main objectives of the life of faith?

-Pastor Derek

Posted
AuthorMolly Sommer

I remember a Sunday morning when I was seven years old riding in the car with my mom to church.  It was the first time that we were going back to church after my dad died.  I remember that just as we were about to turn left onto Lions Road from Main Street in my hometown of Sandwich that I asked my mom: “Why are we going back to church?”  Now, I don’t know if these were the exact words that she used, but I remember her saying something to the effect of, “It’s what we have to do.”

It’s what we have to do.  Maybe as that seven-year-old boy I thought that Mom meant that church was a place that we were obligated to go to every week.  Maybe there was a moment when I thought that church was something that you had to do to be a good person.  I’m not sure exactly what I thought at the time.  I was only seven years old, after all!  But if I did have those thoughts I don’t think that they lasted very long, because eventually I came to understand what my mom meant when she said that going to church was what we had to do.

You see, my mom had experienced the importance of the community of the church.  And so for her the question wasn’t, why are we going back to church, it was: Where else would we go?  Who else could we turn to?  Other than that place and those people?

Now I know exactly what my mom was talking about when she said that going to church was what we had to do.  You see I learned very quickly that Church is much more than a couple of hours on Sunday morning.  I learned that Church is much more than a building.  Church is the community that feels like home, because everyone knows you and accepts you for who you are.  Church is the people you run and tell about your greatest joys, and Church is the people you trust to call up when you are at your worst.  Church is the community of brothers and sisters in the faith who are united together by love and hope in Christ.  Church is a family.  It’s a team.

I can honestly say that it is because of my home church, and the relationships that I still have from my youth group growing up, and the relationships with other Christians in college and seminary, and the relationships with people at all the other churches I have worked at, that it’s because of those relationships that I am who I am today as a person, but most of all who I am today as a Christ follower.  I would be completely impoverished if not for them.  Because I couldn’t do this on my own.  I can’t do it on my own.

This week we continue our Batter Up sermon series by focusing in on the importance of a team.  Our faith is a team sport.  We need each other in the church to come together in cohesion and collaboration to achieve our mission, and to support each other.  We’ll look with Paul in Philippians to Christ our head.  See you Sunday!

“Most important, live together in a manner worthy of Christ’s gospel… Do this so that you stand firm, united in one spirit and mind as you struggle together to remain faithful to the gospel… Complete my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, being united, and agreeing with each other.  Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves.  Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others.”  (Philippians 1:27, 2:2-4, CEB)

-Pastor Derek

Posted
AuthorMolly Sommer

I remember vividly the first time I stepped foot in Wrigley Field to attend my very first Chicago Cubs game.  I don’t think it’s too far to say that it was like a religious or spiritual experience.  There was (and still is) a sacredness to that place.  A sense of tradition.  The devotion that I saw etched on the faces of the fans, and embodied in those stands, rivaled the devotion I witnessed in my home church.  I used to refer to those Friendly Confines on the corner of Addison and Clark as “heaven on earth.”  When I was in college I would (jokingly?) say that I had learned more about faith, hope, and love from being a lifelong and long-suffering Cubs fan than I had from being a part of the church my entire life.

Now I’m guessing some of you will scoff at this idea.  Baseball isn’t your thing.  It’s just a sport.  How can it possibly be compared to religion or faith?  And if it is wouldn’t it be sacrilegious?  But I’m reminded of what George Will, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, once said, “Baseball, it is said, is only a game.  True.  And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona.”

You see in baseball, like a lot of things in our world, we can catch glimpses of the Divine.  In this simple sport there are lessons for us to learn and apply to our lives of faith.  I believe this because I believe God created all good things, from the game of baseball to the Grand Canyon to the Church.  The Psalmist insists that the “heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”  Jesus said that the stones have the power to cry out the message of our Lord.  Throughout the Scriptures we are let in on the secrets of the Kingdom of God with stories about everyday people and things from farmers to widows, and from pearls to clay pots.  So why not baseball?

This week we begin a new sermon series entitled Batter Up: Lessons from Baseball for the Life of Faith.  Over the course of this fun four-week series we will help you to connect America’s pastime with your spiritual life in ways that you’ve maybe never before considered.  To help us connect our faith to baseball we’ll be studying Paul’s letter to the Philippians and hearing messages about living with passion and purpose, the importance of teamwork, having our eyes on the ultimate prize, and embodying joy in the midst of suffering.

Come on out to the ballgame.  Step up to the plate.  We’ll see you Sunday!

“For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:16-17, NIV)

-Pastor Derek

Posted
AuthorMolly Sommer

I’ve discovered something interesting about myself. I have a personality quirk. “Oh girl….,” you might be thinking to yourself. I know, I know, I know I’ve got several quirks. I have a lot to work on. But this one quirk—or uniqueness-has been something I believed to be a rebellious nature in me. What I discovered recently, by working with a small group on the Enneagram, is this personality trait is actually part of who God created me to be. The Fall Program Guide will be out in August. You can register on line and take a course or workshop with me if you want to learn more about the little nuances that make you who you are. You can sign up for the 3-Week Workshop called ‘The Enneagram Workshop’ in November. The workshop follows the Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Course which begins August 29and runs through October 24. 

So, here goes. This is my quirk. I discovered the minute someone tries to define me or what I do, I’m immediately tempted to defy it in every way. I don’t like to be defined by conventional classifications whether it is for women, pastors, wives, friends, sisters or even in my choices for fashion. I will attempt to purposely wiggle out of any formal description. So, whenever someone tries to define me or something about me, it feels like someone is trying to pigeon-hole me and limit me or my influence. That makes me crazy inside. Sure, I may smile and accept a compliment. I acquiesced to ordination within the United Methodist Church. I am married, happily I may add. I love participating in fashion trends and look forward to discovering what little make-up tip will be all the rage the next season. This quirk I have either gets me ridicule or admiration.

Conventional teaching is part of the Church. Christian teaching in most Evangelical churches has often tried to classify things. I think it’s because the Church has been influenced by corporate culture. So, now we love to measure success and define failure. The church growth movement challenged local churches to identify how successful they were by accounting for how many people were attending worship, small groups, Women’s ministry gatherings and Men’s basketball leagues. Success out-ranked significance. Now, we are asking deep questions in the Church about why so many people don’t attend worship, tithe or know what is in the bible. Maybe we measured the wrong things or misdiagnosed failure.

I believe it’s time to wiggle out of conventional Evangelical Christian teaching with regards to the Holy Spirit. I believe He’s received a bad rap. Wesleyans understand this because we’ve been misdiagnosed as ‘Enthusiasts’ since the beginning. There is no way to measure the Holy Spirit. We cannot easily categorize, organize or pasteurize him or his work. It may be difficult for some people to become comfortable with emotions, feelings and outbursts of praise for no apparent reason. The Holy Spirit’s role is to help us govern our own self-control but He cannot be controlled. As a matter of fact, the minute we try to control the Holy Spirit, we lose him. Scripture even says, we grieve Him. (Ephesians 4:30)

Read I Corinthians 12 in order to prepare for Sunday’s message. The line that has always captured me is in verse 31 ‘use your ambition to try to get the greater gifts.’ There are greater things for you. There are greater things for all of us. I pray for you all to wiggle out of your comfortable spiritual malaise and to be awakened by God. I pray for the divine inspiration and blessing in your life. I pray you hunger and thirst for righteousness. I pray you are so ignited by the pain and suffering you see in the world that you can no longer settle for the placid answers and do something about it. I pray you are wrecked by the influence of the corporate culture in the Church and work along with me to reveal the Church as a living body which belongs to Jesus. The Church is His bride. He will provide. He will sustain. He will lead and He will lead where we may not want to go. But, in the end, the glory we experience is nothing short of the eternal glory which is Christ Jesus our Lord. To him be the glory forever.  See you in church Sunday.

What I want to talk about now is the various ways God’s Spirit gets worked into our lives. This is complex and often misunderstood, but I want you to be informed and knowledgeable. Remember how you were when you didn’t know God, led from one phony god to another, never knowing what you were doing, just doing it because everybody else did it? It’s different in this life. God wants us to use our intelligence, to seek to understand as well as we can. I Corinthians 12:1-3 The Message

Pastor Jen

Posted
AuthorMolly Sommer

It’s personal.*

It’s different for everyone. It’s dynamic. It’s creative. It’s convicting. Revelation is brought about by waiting for it. Confirmation and assurance comply to it’s influence. It is a wellspring. It is the Source, the gut-check, the righteous indignation when one of the poor, aged or handicapped is ill-treated. It is the angst of someone lost crying out in the Wilderness for help. It is the sound of a simple tune played with eloquence on a guitar. It is an infant’s first gasp for air bringing forth human life and the final departure of that breath as it escapes the bodily enclosure free at last from encumbrance. It’s discovery. It’s adventure. It’s trust. It’s quiet. It’s is beauty. It is holy.

It’s powerful.

God chose to share it with us. It's perfectly at work within each of the three persons of the Trinity as they live in a perfect community. The Father has it. At his word the heavens were made, and by his strength all things continue, and through him they fulfill their destiny. The stars, although they travel in their orbits and no one can stop them, yet they have neither power nor force except that which God gave them. The Son has it. Like his Father, he is the Creator of all things; “Without him nothing was made that has been made” [John 1:3], and “in him all things hold together” [Colossians 1:17]. And the Holy Spirit has it. The entire foundation of our spiritual life is built on it. 

We can lose it!

We can have it and we can lose it. Sometimes we want it more than we want God. Companies rise and fall. Sports teams dominate and then bottom out. Ministries soar then fade. When we lose focus, we can try to produce our own version of it. Sometimes we are convinced we can buy it, work for it or create it ourselves. That’s when we lose it. It gets messy. Maybe you’re one of those people who want to be noticed by someone special. It doesn’t have to be publicly! Most often our desires are a deeply personal private thing. We want to be appreciated and affirmed. Deep down, we long for that special someone to think highly of us, admire our leadership successes and consider us worthy of their blessing. We can become consumed by trying to get it on our own. Ultimately, God allows us plenty of time and space to exhaust our own resourcefulness. 

I want it!

Do you really want it? Do you realize you lost it? First, admit you want it or you want it back. This may be difficult. Not many of us like to admit we were wrong or that we failed. Sometimes it is helpful we begin with confession like “I’ve never really had it. I want it.” Or, “I lost it. I got distracted.” Second, decide to get it or to get it back. The second step may cause you to make a big adjustment. There is usually a significant change of direction or priorities that comes along with this step. A quick fix is not going to get it and nothing may happen at first. Waiting for it will give you an opportunity to develop other skills that have amazing results. For those who once had it, try practicing what you did before when you had it. It will come. God knows where it is and will give it to you as you work on your relationship with Him. 

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in faith so that you overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13 CEB

*IT: How Churches and Leaders Can get It and Keep It. Craig Groeschel. 

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AuthorMolly Sommer

What comes to mind when you think of the Holy Spirit? 

The image of a fruit bowl overflowing with fruit pops into my mind. Church curriculum has done a great job of branding the Holy Spirit. Joy is a banana. Peace is an apple. Faithfulness is a clump of grapes. I’ve had ample opportunity to teach on this subject over the last 30 years of ministry and used the same branding. The gifts of the Spirit have also been branded. Small boxes wrapped in shiny paper with red ribbons and bows are neatly displayed on altars or communion tables as an insightful teacher or pastor challenges a class or congregation to imagine receiving gifts from God. 

Sometimes the Holy Spirit is branded as a dove with a bright light behind it. Other times, like Pentecost Sunday, congregations are encouraged to wear red as a symbol of their solidarity in belief that the Holy Spirit is going to be mentioned that Sunday. Red cloth usually decorates the altar or communion table. Flames, fire and abstract art often decorate the cover of the bulletin in an attempt to capture the metaphor used in Acts 2. I wonder if all this clever branding has become a stumbling block for us. Could it actually be in the way of us experiencing God? 

It’s tricky. The images we create and the reality of God don’t always line up. We are not supposed to allow images of God to filter or get in the way of how the Divine is actively seeking to relate and create with us. We may expect one thing but experience another. We have faith but it’s not working very well. Could it be that our judgments about God keep us from what we want most? 

Think about it. If our images and expectations of God have been hindering us from consciously experiencing the presence of The Divine, all we have to do is give our expectations a rest and learn to work with what God is offering. *

In the Bible, God approached people in many different ways. Adam and Eve walked alongside God. Noah obeyed God and built an ark. Jacob saw a ladder. Moses experienced God in a burning bush on top of a mountain. David experienced God as a confidant. Angels, visions, signs, wonders and dreams all became common ways human beings interacted with the Divine. God’s Spirit is referred to over 50 times as a mist or cloud. God spoke dramatically from the cloud to startled disciples during Jesus’ Transfiguration. These are some of the most mysterious and significant passages in the bible. Sacred scripture offers us a glimpse into how others experienced the Living God who invited them to participate in his ongoing, creatively loving, difference-making work. I wonder if any of us believe that Divine interaction could be available for us today. Could God be reaching out to us in a fresh new way?

The Holy Spirit is a Person.

Supernatural is the title of our next preaching series. Let us discover someone new together. Allow Jesus to introduce you to the relational Person who is the Holy Spirit. Give your expectations a rest. Let go of all the silly images or ideas that hinder His introduction into your heart. Lower your guard. Resist the desire to control. Keep the ego in check. It’s time to connect the hose to the end of a spigot. 

The Spirit will show you what is true. The people of this world cannot accept the Spirit, because they don’t see or know him. But you know the Spirit, who is with you and will keep on living in you. 

John 14: 17 CEV

*The Rest that Works: Living a Life of Loving Mindfulness. Scott Daniels. 2015

-Pastor Jen

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AuthorMolly Sommer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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AuthorMolly Sommer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Pastor Jen

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AuthorMolly Sommer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Pastor Jen

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AuthorMolly Sommer

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

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

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

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

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

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him.

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

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

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

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

-Pastor Jen 

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AuthorMolly Sommer

“I don’t believe it!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Pastor Jen

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AuthorMolly Sommer

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Say the right thing.

2. Do the right thing.

3. Become the right person.

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

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

-Pastor Jen

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AuthorMolly Sommer

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

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

To remember is to honor.

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

Consider how each of them approached the tomb.

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

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

3. Mary stood outside crying.

How do we approach the tomb of Jesus?

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

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

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

To believe is only the first step.  

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

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

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

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

-Pastor Jen

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AuthorMolly Sommer

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

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

Fox 32 of Chicago put together the top 10 list:

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

2. Arbaeen festival, Iraq, 2014 – 17 million

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

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

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

6. World Youth Day, 1995 – 5 million

7. Chicago Cubs World Series celebration – 5 million

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Pastor Jen

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AuthorMolly Sommer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Pastor Jen

Posted
AuthorMolly Sommer

I don’t get it.

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

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

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

What did I do to deserve this?

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

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

What else is there?

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

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

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

Posted
AuthorMolly Sommer