Gut, heart or head?

Think carefully about the following questions:*

1. When I encounter a new situation or problem, am I likely to do something, anything, even before I possess all of the relevant facts? (gut)

2. When I am anxious or stressed, are people likely to tell me I’m overreacting? (heart)

3. When I am anxious or stressed, are people likely to tell me I’m shutting down or overreacting emotionally? (head)

Consider this: Am I a doer, feeler or thinker? Ask someone you love and trust to answer these questions if you want to get some honest feedback.

We make gazillions of decisions every day. 

Most of us don’t even think about how we make decisions. It takes a mature person to do some self-reflection to consider whether or not there is another way or if there is a better way to make decisions. Rarely does anyone consider how Jesus would want us make our decisions. But, becoming a more connected, devoted, generous follower of Jesus requires us not only to ask ourselves but ask Jesus how he wants us to handle the decision making process. 

Decision making is called discernment when we process with the Christian world view. How will I discern with help from the Holy Spirit? THAT is the ultimate question. Interesting, let this sink in... it’s not how I decide but how can I discern and how can I discern the will of God in this situation? Remember we are not to be conformed to patterns of this world but to be transformed by the renewing of our mind. Then we will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2) Jesus wants to infiltrate your mind, heart and your gut. Here's why.

Compassion actually comes from the gut. 

The word used in the Greek is splagchnizomai. It means from the bowels where love and pity reside. Emotions had locations within the human body for the sophisticated Greeks. I think they were on to something back then. Maybe you’ve heard the term, “gut-wrenching.” Or become aware of the term "stress eating" or realize that people stuff emotions in our gut. It may be hard for some people to think with their gut because they’ve trained themselves their entire lives to be 'head people' who plan every move and try to predict other people’s moves and reactions. 'Heart people' wear their emotions on their sleeves. They cry easily and remain hurt for a long, long, long, long time. It’s hard for 'heart people' to make an decision without becoming paralyzed by the thought of how other people will be hurt. Don’t ask a 'heart person' to go with their gut. You will experience tears almost immediately because of the internal pressure they feel. You, my friend, will become Public Enemy #1 because you ‘gut people’ don’t understand the ‘heart or head people.’ Curb your frustration because they don’t have the capacity to do what you ask. We must all learn how to discern.

Our winsome Jesus is ridiculously compassionate with some of the people he came into contact with during his ministry. Notice, I didn’t mention he was ridiculously compassionate with everyone. He could discern when to be a gut person, a head person or a heart person. He was Jesus. But, the same Holy Spirit that empowers him can empower us. He expects his followers to do the same. Notice how Jesus responds to the crowds in this scripture passage. "Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (Matthew 9:35-36)

Please come to worship Sunday. Our community needs to work on our Spirit filled, Christ-like compassion. We really do need each other. Prepare for gut-wrenching gospel that will definitely change our world.

*The Road Back to You. Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile. 2016.

Pastor Jen

When God is doing a deep work within me, it feels a lot like being exposed in the rain. I cannot hide or resist. I just get soaked….everywhere.

I heard this word ‘winsome’ years ago with regards to describing the character of Jesus. Maybe John Ortberg shared it first. I don’t recall when but I think it was him. He painted this beautiful picture of the winsome Jesus for me and I was totally captivated by it. How wonderful, I thought, to become like that. Little did I know then what it would mean and eventually cost me in the end.

My pride was soaked with the rains of God early. I developed a tough outer layer as a kid to protect myself from being hurt. I was bullied and learned to bully right back. I think I am a fighter by nature, so I had to learn how to train the fighter within me to fight the good fight. The first raindrops felt like stinging nettles when I was in fifth grade. I tried to defend a developmentally disabled boy on the playground. I ran off kids that were picking on him. As I turned to reach out to him, he punched me so hard, the wind was knocked out of me. He ran away. As soon as I caught my breath, I went looking for him. He was huddled up beneath his coat in a dark corner of the building. I approached him carefully. He acted like a caged animal that had been deeply hurt. 

“John, are you all right.” I asked. He looked at me with cold, serious eyes and his body was shaking. “I don’t need you to fight my battles for me, Jenny.” John changed schools shortly after that incident. I never saw him again. But, that sucker punch left an impression.

I couldn’t fight other peoples’ battles for them. I had to learn to keep my pride in check and how fight my own battles. I needed to be trained in the way Jesus would want me to approach any situation—especially the tough situations when my first impulse is to fight. I learned that Jesus was tough but in a completely different way. He didn’t use his power as a weapon but as a radically forgiving power for good. He didn’t need a tough outer layer to protect his heart. He was totally vulnerable and unashamed. He didn’t need defending or anyone to fight a battle for him. His heart was already pure which meant his motives were always righteous and holy. My motivations to fight came from a deep sinful place where anger and sadness reside. I had an overwhelming need to prove myself worthy. So, I could be just as tough as any boy—just as good as anyone else. If I am really honest, I held onto that guiding principle even into ministry. I would fight the good fight. That doesn’t work. I had quite a few sucker punches over the years leaving my pride bruised and battered. Jesus had something different for me.

The Jewish community lives with a concept known as the ‘circumcision of the heart.’ (Deuteronomy 30:6; Romans 2:29) I think this is what Jesus had—his heart was pure and accessible—which made him winsome. It could be hurt and broken. That’s what he was asking of me. Not to be so tough but to become softer and accessible. Knowing my heart would be broken over and over again wasn’t something that I ever believed would be part of the winsome character development curriculum but it certainly has been a work of transformation in my personal life soaking every layer of my being. 

Sunday, we will talk about a Sinful Woman who winsomely did the right thing in the midst of a crowd of righteous people whose hearts were so callously overprotected they couldn’t have known they were fighting for all the wrong things. Her act was a beautiful illustration of what a heart broken by Jesus could be capable of and how Jesus revealed a simple and deep teaching for all of us standing among the party goers at Simon’s house. Bring your bible. You may want to take notes. Or maybe, your’e like me and need a few more coaching tips on developing the winsome character like Jesus.

Then He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Luke 7:48

Pastor Jen

Fear doesn’t ever go away. It must be overcome.

It’s a bitter irony. Fear is a compadre of growth. Sure, we all hear talk about growth like it’s something we want. We nod our heads in agreement that growth takes courage and we treat it like a hot commodity. Research is painstakingly done in order to understand the elements of growth. After all, the experts say, “If we aren’t growing we’re dying.” None of us wants that! So, we take immediate steps to quick fix what’s wrong. But, rarely, does anyone really make transformational changes until we’ve accepted the challenging truth that our deepest fear resides within the growth we are all so enamored with and that is why we aren’t growing. Secretly, we are all afraid.

We have to face that fear do something or be derailed by it.

Kick and scream all you want. Avoid it. Ignore it. Act like it doesn’t exist. But, I believe fear needs to be honored, respected and understood. Rational courageous people understand that fear is absolutely necessary for families and society to function. Fear is an excellent teacher and points us toward areas we need to investigate. It’s often during the discovery process our fears can be overcome. But, for some people, just the mention of or the idea about their greatest fear sets off emotional hurricanes within them. People can be paralyzed by their fear or worse—they live with it day in and day out. Their fears take over their life and destroy everyone and everything they ever cared about. 

I am kind of a nut. I grew up in a family that encouraged us to do dumb things. It is in our family DNA. I am willing to try almost anything once. I’m an experiential learner and it's how I build trust with people. When I find someone else who wants to do dumb things, I believe I’ve got a winner! We learn from each other and can regale stories of epic failures. What’s really cool is when my epic failure can be used to help someone else avoid their epic failure. My learning style is directly related to my fear factor. It’s also the way I love to have fun. 

Yep, I’ve gotten hurt. That’s not the end of the world!

Of course, I’ve been embarrassed more times than I like to admit. I accepted the consequences of doing dumb things long ago but I’ve also reaped the rewards. I am good at some tasks and awkward in other areas. But, I’ve learned that everyone is awkward when we try something we’ve never done before and we will make mistakes. Geesh! Lighten up! Face your worst fear, discover something about it and innovate. You’re smart. You’ve gotten this far in life but maybe now it’s time to take it up a notch. Stop procrastinating. If you want me to come along, I will be there with you. But, surely you want to take Jesus’ word over mine. (Matthew 28:20)

Sunday we plan to explore a well known parable Jesus told with regards to fear. (Matthew 25:14-30) Eugene Peterson interprets this passage so well, I cannot improve on it. Read it for yourself:  

“The servant given one thousand said, ‘Master, I know you have high standards and hate careless ways, that you demand the best and make no allowances for error. I was afraid I might disappoint you, so I found a good hiding place and secured your money. Here it is, safe and sound down to the last cent.’

 “The master was furious. ‘That’s a terrible way to live! It’s criminal to live cautiously like that! If you knew I was after the best, why did you do less than the least? The least you could have done would have been to invest the sum with the bankers, where at least I would have gotten a little interest.

‘Take the thousand and give it to the one who risked the most. And get rid of this “play-it-safe” who won’t go out on a limb. Throw him out into utter darkness.’ Matthew 25:24-30 The Message

Pastor Jen

Silence. I used to interpret silence as punitive. It was my passive-aggressive human nature. Maybe you know about the game The Silent Treatment. It’s a game played with moody attempts at trying to control others. I remember traveling with someone years ago who was a master at manipulating an entire group with her silent behavior. We were traveling in the Middle East. It was her first time there. I keep a rigorous schedule while we are there and I keep people moving because there is so much to experience. But, she would show up late and purposely use her ‘slow’ mode. There were thirty-six other people on this trip who kept up amazingly. But, Miss Slow Mode controlled the entire group with her game playing. 

I grew up with this game playing, so I was onto her right away and knew I needed to nip this little master mind in the bud as soon as possible! Many of the other travelers asked her if she was all right, she would respond, “Oh yes. I’m fine.” And then she would sigh, look away as if no one really cared. She wouldn’t speak to me. She would just glare at me when I smiled and kept people moving. Fellow travelers would talk with me privately, letting me know she was really angry. But, all I got was the Silent Treatment. She was ruining her own trip. I could see it only because I played that game myself and knew the rules of the game so well. God had worked on me and now it was time for me to work on her.

“You don’t care about me.” She said. 

“You care more about everyone else.” She said.

“It’s like I don’t even exist. You’re ignoring me and what I want.” She said.

I had to decide how to respond. If Jesus had really done any work on me at all, I knew I had to respond the way he would. I couldn’t simply defend myself—that’s just playing the game. I didn’t want to be sarcastic, belittle her or embarrass her in order to win this game. Ignoring her was amplifying the game. Logic doesn’t work with emotional or spiritual needs. I knew she hated me at that moment. But, there was more at stake than playing a game. 

I honestly sat down next to her and didn’t say a word. She pulled away and looked out the window of the bus. Ah, the Cold Shoulder. I waited, patiently. I knew it would be a long drive. Thirty minutes went by. Miss Slow Mode also had an iron will. Still the Cold Shoulder. I loved her. I sat beside her and said absolutely nothing. Sixty minutes went by, then ninety minutes. It’s a good thing the scenery was spectacular.

She softened. We started talking about what we saw. We shared. Hearts were opened. Not to past but in the present. We moved on from there. So often silence is misinterpreted friends. I’ve learned to accept that God is often quiet with us. I no longer accuse God of giving me the Silent Treatment. That’s not him. His response to our needs are far more complex than we can comprehend. Sometimes all we need is his grace and presence. 

The Apostle Paul asked God to remove something painful from his life. Now, I consider the Apostle Paul to be a major player in the New Testament—like someone who could get God to do something for him. Three times he asked God to remove it. Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-9)

Jesus asked his Father for something while he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane.  He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” (Matthew 26:39) Three times the Son of God asked for something knowing that all things were possible. Quiet. That’s what the Son of God received. But, instead of wanting something that would serve his immediate need, the Son of God pressed onward knowing fully his Father was with him.

Consider this...in your relationship with God there will be times of quiet. How long will it take for you to soften your heart? Pain may never leave you but His grace will get you through. Yes, all things are possible with God. But, who’s will is at work…yours or His? 

Sunday we will learn about silence. Or what I like to call God’s quiet.

Pastor Jen

If I hear this one more time, I am going to explode!

“God won’t give me more than I can handle.”

This is one among many misconceptions we believe and perpetuate in the Christian community. It’s to placate us when things get hard or when things don’t go the way we anticipate. Let me reassure you that life will become more than you can handle. People will become more than you can handle. Circumstances will become more than you can handle and the sooner we accept the truth is the sooner we will grow to become the Christ followers and Christian community God longs for us to become.

Do you remember WWJD movement? (what would Jesus do?) 

It was followed by the FROG movement. (Fully rely on God)

But, there was never meant to be FROM movement. (Fully rely on myself)

We were never designed to handle everyone or everything ourself. Self reliance gets us into trouble. We could say it’s what got Adam and Eve kicked out of the Garden and instead got them a one-way ticket to Isolation Island. It's easy to make up the rules when we live on Isolation Island even if it’s only in our mind. Problems arise when we are in charge because no one else wants to live on Isolation Island with us. I mean, you’re fabulous and all, but I don’t want to get stuck on your island with your stuff. I don’t want to get stuck on my island either. Disillusionment, heart break and loneliness are wicked life partners. They take charge of keeping the misconceptions about God alive. They deceive and confuse you. Sometimes they even dress up for the welcome party to Isolation Island! They convince you that you deserve better, you are entitled to be happy and you can make your own decisions. They will be committed life partners and will stay forever if you let them. 

Let’s deal with one misconception: God does not expect us to handle every situation alone. Why would you not at least take advantage of God’s perspective or advice? I mean what a resource! He is omnipotent and knows everything. You and I have a limited perspective and give advice from our own minuscule experiences. God could, at the very minimum, give us an advantage or perspective we hadn’t thought of before and would never dreamed on our own. He doesn’t expect or want us to deal with life, people or circumstances on our own. But, He won’t crash our party. He will wait to be asked and invited in. We must make the decision to give up disillusionment, heart break and loneliness. Be very careful because these life partners can and will define who we are and cloud our judgment…even as Christ followers. I believe you could believe in Jesus and your salvation secure but live a miserable, disappointed life on earth.

We are limited. We have limited information and experience. There will always be too much to handle. It is in these moments when we turn it over to God. Surrender. Yield. It’s like a wrestling match and the strong man holds the weaker man with the death grip. He yells, “Do you yield?” If the weaker wrestler says, “No!” The strong man holds tighter and longer but still asks, “Do you yield?” It’s when the weaker man finally surrenders and yields that the grip is loosened and BOTH PARTICIPANTS are released.

You see, most of us never realize the Strong Man is totally engaged in our wrestling match. As a matter of fact, we are more likely to focus on the pain in our limp, embarrassing blow to our ego or our utter failure in losing the match, instead of, considering that it was the Strong Man all along whose arms were wrapped tightly around us and who’s voice was whispering in our ear.

Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” Genesis 32:28 NIV

Pastor Jen

I am a colossal disappointment.

First to my parents. They had ideas about my life and what I was to become. I, of course, had my own ideas. I believe there is a direct correlation between an expectation and our disappointment.

I became slave labor along with my brother for my dad’s great ideas. My parents used all our savings to buy a hobby farm with 100 acres when I was about twelve and my brother was nine. My father’s great idea was to buy calves at auctions, bring them home to us and we would feed them milk replacement until they were full. He would then take them to market and sell them. He purchased 200 to 250 at a time. After several weeks of doing this, the Vice Principal called me into his office to explain why I was truant. I’ll never forget the look on his face when I told him what we were doing. My father also decided it was better for us to heat our farm house with wood. After all, the prices of heating oil would bankrupt us. He purchased cords of wood. My brother and I would unload it from the truck and stack it in our basement where the wood-burning furnace was located. Wood heats making it, loading it, unloading it, and burning it. Except when the fire goes out. I remember his favorite word back then was lazy. It was a word he used liberally to describe our work ethic.

About the same time, my mother had a Flower Shop and Greenhouse she purchased with her inheritance she received when her mother died. I worked every day after school and on Saturday mornings in the greenhouse for years. I also became a master designer which meant working very long hours every holiday. She owned the shop twelve years. I learned an insightful revelation when I was about twenty-five years old. I asked my mom about the shop and why she paid me. “It was cheaper to pay you by the hour than a babysitter at the time.” I did work for retail florists in Tulsa while working part-time for churches in the early days of my church career. That was helpful.

My father didn’t understand the church or what I did. He never heard me preach. He didn't attended anything I ever did whether I competed in sports,I performed in 65 plays or musicals in theater or I served in any capacity in a local church.  His expectation was that I would get a good job at the local plant or at the local bank. He challenged me for years by saying, “When your done with that I will help you find a real job.” My dad died four years ago. I never met his expectation of getting a real job.

My mother wanted me to care for her physical needs. She has had MS for most of her entire adult life. I’ve never known her healthy. I attempted to deal with her needs as a high school student. I didn’t have the desire nor the capacity to do long term healthcare for her. Eventually, both my brother and I left. We could not be what our mother needed. She lived on her own for almost twenty years in Madison with home health care support. It wasn’t until a few years ago she hired someone to care for her while we visited her for holidays. I did care for her when we visited on holidays for years. But, her expectation was that I would care for her indefinitely. Thanksgiving, Christmas or birthdays were always about taking care of mom. She’s now in hospice care. When I we saw her last week, all she talked about was how bored she was and that we needed to get her out of that nursing home.

I am a colossal disappointment to others, too.

Second, to my friends.

Third, to employers, colleagues and other staff.

Fourth, to my significant relationships.

Fifth, to my extended family members.

Sixth, to the people in local churches….for years. My favorite comment has been, “You’re a great public speaker but you’re no pastor.”

Seventh, to any number of retailers who wanted me to purchase something from them.

God is making new wine.

I could go on and on and on about who I’ve disappointed during my fifty-two years on the planet. But, I know that I’ve never disappointed God. I am pretty sure his expectations are in check when it comes to me. He’s been the one true stability in my life since I was a little girl. He helped me work through and actually heal through some of my very own disappointments. I can write about the life I lived growing up with an honest heart of forgiveness and grace. Yes, I learned from those early experiences. Some things take longer to un-learn. But, all of it goes into the wine vat. And what does God do with all of it? Through a miraculous process, He makes new wine

Samson is our choice of biblical characters for this week’s message. Read through Judges 13-16.  Samson proved he could be a disappointment. His incredible birth story is combined with his incredible strength. But, Samson was not paired with an exemplary character. His feats usually resulted in the death of huge numbers of the enemy Philistines. But, the purpose for which he had been set apart to lead was useless until his end. You might be appalled at the cruelty and disregard for God that emerged from his exploits. It seems like Samson had his own code which included breaking every vow that was ever made.

I want you to hold onto a simple truth about most of the bible characters: just because the Spirit of the Lord empowered them doesn’t mean He endorsed everything that happened or everything they did. I believe this can be applied to each and every one of us. God can bring meaning and find a purpose in everything. (Romans 8:28) It takes time and patience. It also takes a healthy respect for the discovery process. Much like the bible characters, you’ve been set apart too. From your very beginning in your mother’s womb, God has had a plan for you. (Psalm 139) But, God has not sanctioned every experience nor has He blessed everything that was done during our lives. 

I really like the prayer Samson’s father prayed. Maybe it could be a helpful beginning for you as well. A surrendered, teachable spirit is key.

Then Manoah prayed to the Lord: “Pardon your servant, Lord. I beg you to let the man of God you sent to us come again to teach us how to bring up the boy who is to be born.” Judges 13:8 NIV

Pastor Jen

Our new series begins Sunday, December 30 at all services! 

Discipleship is actively and intentionally choosing to live in a different way. Following Jesus means we put him into the leadership position. Maybe you've heard the phrase,"the view doesn't change if you're not the lead dog.” Consider your current view. Are you leading or are you following? Following Jesus means we make a conscious effort to live in a transformed way. We could say that living the way Jesus intended from the beginning takes practice, repetition and strong discipline. Notice the connection between disciple and discipline.

We all lived a life on our own before we met Jesus. We all bring the previous life experiences with us where ever we go. We cannot erase our old life or act like it didn’t happen. It has enormous value—the memories, the lessons and the people bring unlimited potential for God to do great things. God can use all we offer and so much more for something beautiful and good when we allow him. Previous life experiences can often derail a robust love for Christ and community. Can you imagine the new outcomes to our past experiences? 

Jesus offers a new life and an extraordinary way to understand the experiences of our previous life. Much like the process of wine making, everything is used to create something exceptional. In the crushing, in the pressing, God is making new wine. Our story is never wasted. If we are going to be true to ourselves and to God, we must be our most surrendered, healed and healthy selves. We have the potential to become the people God created us to be.Our souls are designed to respond to God's truth. But, the soul becomes clouded, shrouded in darkness. It is easy to be deceived in the dark.

We are constantly tempted to turn and go our own way.Temptation is real. If our temptations had 'warning labels' what would they say? I believe God constantly tends to our meandering much like a parent does to a toddler. Most of us don’t like the idea of considering ourselves as toddlers. But, we are toddlers who can be easily deceived. Deception is designed to draw us away from God's Truth so our attention, affection and worship is misplaced. God doesn't expect perfection, but he does expect us to be completely surrendered to him.


Come Sunday. Join us for worship. Listen to what we have to say. Let the Holy Spirit speak to you and quite possibly in a new way.

"And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins.” Luke 5:37-38 NIV

Pastor Jen

Let’s talk about the Ghost of Christmas past.

After arriving at Scrooge's house, the Ghost of Christmas Past takes his hand and they fly over London. We first visit a memory of Scrooge’s early years at his boarding school. We learn that he stayed there alone while his schoolmates returned to their homes for the Christmas holidays. The spirit then reminded Scrooge of the day when his beloved, deceased, younger sister Fan came to him after he repeatedly asked their cold, unloving father to allow his return home. Fran joyfully claimed their father had changed and was a kinder man than he ever was. Next, the spirit took Scrooge to a Christmas Eve years later in which he enjoyed a Christmas party hosted by his first boss, Mr. Fezziwig. Fezziwig was a kind and loving man who treated Scrooge like a son and was more compassionate to him than was his own father.

The spirit also revealed a tragic event that happened on Christmas Eve when his beloved fiancée Belle ended their relationship. Belle realized that Scrooge cared more for money than he did for her. Scrooge did not ask Belle to end their engagement but he did not fight for her or their relationship. Finally, the spirit revealed to him how she married and found true happiness with another man. After this vision, Scrooge pleaded with the spirit to show him no more, to which the spirit replied, "These are the shadows of things that have been. They are what they are, do not blame me!”

I’ve dramatically over simplified the Dickens’ classic. But, I wanted you to get an idea of how complex a visit from the Ghost of Christmas Past can be.

I believe our own Ghost of Christmas Past can visit this time of year awakening memories for us that have been asleep or pulling to the surface memories that have been buried for some time. Maybe you see a Facebook friend request from a grammar school friend or from someone you once had deep feelings for…even your first love. Memories and emotions are like clusters of grapes hanging on a vine, you cannot pull one grape without realizing they are all connected. One memory, one scent, one emotion and it’s like we can be right back there in the moment reliving it. Complicated.

This is a place for us to discover something about our spiritual formation. As Christ followers, we acknowledge the places where we were malformed in our previous lives and where we are under construction. Remember the point of our following Jesus is transformation. There is a painful reality when I turn on the light after I had been asleep. The light hurts, right? When the Light shines, we might be tempted to go back and erase our previous life. But, Jesus can use every previous experience to build something new and meaningful.

Spiritual giant Richard Rohr said this, "Pain that’s not transformed is transmitted.” We tend to throw our sorrow, anger, disappointment and failures onto others unless we meet each one of these experiences with a renewed sense of resurrection hope and holiness. We must accept the promise Jesus made to us when he said he could make all things new. Healing will come. We must allow the time healing requires. All of the past is somehow used by God in a foundational way. None of it is wasted. None of it forgotten. None of it is lost. But, all of it, appropriately understood through the work of the Holy Spirit, can become our message of hope for others. Our mess becomes Christ’s message. We cannot simply go back and erase our previous life or wishfully act as if it didn’t happen. Jesus Christ can work with us to accept it and transform it. So, the past has no hold on us. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever.

We read from the prophet Haggai this Sunday. Haggai’s voice is God’s voice calling people to remember the former days in Chapter Two. God also declared his promise and covenant was still at work. God reveals his plan to shake things up and for the people to be courageous and have no fear. No one really knew what or who the Messiah would be. That’s just like God, isn’t it? He knows when and how to reveal a plan with his purpose. We will learn more together about the timing of this well placed encouragement. Let me leave you with this: The God who began a good work in you will see it to completion. Let the past remain in the past. Let things really die. Let it go. It is only when we truly let it go we are released to accept what is new. Let your house be filled with glory.

“This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty. Haggai 2:6-7

Pastor Jen

It’s been a dark season for me.

I honestly didn’t pay attention to how dangerously depleted I had become until I was so tired recently, I took a mid-morning nap. Things tend to pile up. Administering a large organization is always a challenge especially with regards to the people and important relationships that are dependent on clear communication that sometimes doesn’t get done in a proper way or in a timely manner. Officiating funerals is part of my job. Walking alongside a family before, during and after a loss can bring the very best of us to the forefront. It is a true act of faith to believe in the promises of eternity, especially with a broken hearted family grieving the loss of an infant. Christmas decorating is one of my favorite things to do. But, it got sandwiched in-between meetings, bible studies, setting up for a large event and Sunday morning worship. So, the joy of preparing our campuses for Christmas was lost in the demands of a busy schedule.

Our basement flooded. We discovered our sump pump failed on the night our area experienced torrential downpours. We’ve dealt with flooded basements before. I get overwhelmed by the devastation water can do. Old memories of traumatic childhood experiences saturated my mind. The clean up after a flood is totally demoralizing for me. It’s such a total loss. Since we had so much previous experience, we were better prepared and not much was lost. An old area rug I purchased years ago when I lived in Tulsa needed to be thrown away. That was symbolic. The rug was the last thing I had from the influential days accepting God’s call in my life. And for the past week or so, we’ve been helping our cat Sam die a natural death at home. Sam was part of our family for 20 years. We found him at a Shell gas station as a tiny kitten. He never knew anyone else as his family. He was part of our every day routine as much as a partner in keeping life stable. There are too many memories for me to recount here. I will tell you that he died yesterday and today it feels like there is a hole in my heart.

Recovery

I know how to recover after a dark season. I couldn’t last in ministry as long as I have without learning how to accept these dark times as seasons properly placed along my life's timeline. Not all weeks or months are like this. Sometimes, I thank God for knowing there is a beginning, middle and an end to all things. I am incredibly grateful to God this season is over. I feel like I finished this season. It’s winter and time to rest. Spring is on the horizon.

The dark season lasted so long for Israel. Four hundred years of darkness. No consolation from God. No glimmer of hope to redeem their relationship. Prophets had come and gone. God’s voice remained silent. There was so much loss, devastation and hurt. Disappointment left a bitter taste in everyone’s mouth. There was no indication how long the darkness would last. So, the people took matters into their own hands. They rebuilt the city of Jerusalem and the Temple. But, like rebuilding a house or relationships after a divorce, something was missing. It wasn’t the same.

Scripture became the place where Israel could remember. The promises of God were often read aloud during worship services. God gave his word. He would restore and to redeem that which was lost. 

Imagine hearing this: Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations. (Isaiah 9:1) The promise of better days and in Galilee! Hope that God had not abandoned Israel could restore the faint of heart and replenish the soul sickness darkness had fostered.

So what do we look for and what are the signs?

Let God know you mean business and that you’re serious about what’s next. Look for the Light. The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.(Isaiah 9:2) Maybe you’re living in the land of deep darkness and things have been hard. For some of you, things have been hard for a long season. God’s Word is true. His promises will be fulfilled. The Light has already come into the world. But, it also needs to come into your world. Look for the signs, move toward them and don’t turn back. Prepare. Trust Him. He will follow through. These words weren’t just for Israel. Allow the prophesy to be for you. Insert your name where there is a word us:

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. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)

Pastor Jen

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

Wait.

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

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

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

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

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

Not even a minute.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Jen

“I’m not feeling it.”

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

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

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

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

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

TRUST

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

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

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

Pastor Jen

I am a sinner.

I am a sinner saved by grace.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you want to be free?

Do you want a fresh start?

Do you want to settle relationships with others?

Do you want forgiveness for your own sins?

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

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

Pastor Jen

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Jen

Eugene Peterson died this week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Jen

"It takes one to know one!"


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Jen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I stored up all the wrong treasures, literally. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Jen

I had it all wrong. And for some time.

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

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

I soaked in that essence for a while. 

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

Intersections. They are beautiful!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Jen

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Jen

"If only we could get it together!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Jen

It’s not an easy thing to do.

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

Family

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

Service

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

Trust

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

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

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

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

Pastor Jen