What we celebrate—we become!

It’s a common phrase used in church leadership circles and corporate life. It’s a great question to ask as an icebreaker for anyone—even your group! Imagine sitting around a table at your favorite establishment. Look for the right time to ask the question. It’s usually when there is lively banter and everyone is excited to get together anyway. Ask the question: what are you celebrating? It’s a way to find out what people value, where they put their energy and what makes them come alive. It also reveals a lot about the attitude in which they live.

You will notice an amazing shift when you focus on celebrating. It’s kind of like the glass half full perspective. You and I are ridiculously in charge* of how we live our lives and what we choose to focus our energy on. Sure, it’s normal to get down in the dumps. But, we all have a choice as to how long we stay down in the dumps and who we pull down there with us. I don’t want to be around someone who’s always negative or the cold bucket of water on a great conversation. That doesn’t sound very ‘Christian’ of me but it’s true. It’s easy to saddle Jesus and Jesus people with the task of being around difficult people. I challenge you to look through the gospels and let me know how much time he spent hanging out with people like this. I like the idea that Jesus ate and drank with sinners. I really like that all of the gospels agree on this subject. You and I both know how to identify people like this and we all know people who douse a positive, upward, momentum building conversation.

1. Sometimes it starts with self-defeating words like:

  • ‘I can’t…..’

  • ‘I’m not good enough…’

  • ‘I’ll fail.’

  • I’m not up to the mark.’

  • ‘I’m useless.’

  • ‘It’s impossible.’

When we put ourselves down and keep repeating these words like this, we limit our beliefs behind these words. What we think will become reality. Sometimes people do this to get attention or to control the conversation. Side step this right away. Don’t get sucked into the negative abyss. I noticed something about myself—that if I acquiesce into this behavior or succumb to the ‘humdrum,’ I get a little on me. It’s like that wad of goo on the bottom of your shoe. You can try and pull it off—but be prepared for it making a mess. 

2. Often negative assumptions are made: (I just want to go on record to remind you what it means to ‘assume' things.)

We tend to evaluate situations, jump to conclusions and assume the negative. Pay attention to people who tend to say, ‘The traffic’s horrible,’ or ‘Why even bother planning, we’re going to have pouring rain.’ There’s no denying the truth behind those words. But they can reveal deep seeded cynicism. They also highlight that someone has already raised the white flag. Tweaking the phrases we use changes our relationship with our circumstances immediately. It’s the “glass is half full or half empty” philosophy. 

3. Negative comparisons are like wearing concrete boots to the beach.

Negative people compare themselves to everyone else because our human desire tends to focus on how to get ahead or succeed in life. It’s hard to accept but this leads us to compare ourselves with others. We tend to envy those who are more attractive or have more money. Therefore, we often use negative words such as ‘I’m just as good as she is,‘ or ‘He’s got so much money, he won’t know what to do with it.’ The words that come out of our mouth are revealing what’s really within our heart. Look how often the bible mentions this: Matthew 12:34; Proverbs 4:23; Proverbs 10:11; Psalm 14:1; Proverbs 21:2; Proverbs 24:12; Ezekiel 11:21; Ezekiel 16:30; Luke 6:45. Research shows that the negative comparisons cause stress. Like any of us need more stress!

4. Christ followers have to work on disempowering beliefs about difficult people. (This is where I struggle.)

“This one is a piece of work!” Toxic people. We all have them and sometimes we are them. We can harbor negative thoughts, memories or experiences about toxic people and we become super-toxic people ourselves.  Whether they are narcissistic or maybe passive-aggressive, we tend to think or say, ‘This person is lame.’ Such statements disempower us from responding in a Christ-honoring way. It’s kind of ironic—don’t you think—when we act like this but point it out in someone else? Be careful—it takes one to know one. (Romans 2:1-3) Give yourself the opportunity to learn how to address potential conflicts or misgivings by confessing your own stuff to Christ. It sounds like this, “Jesus, I get defensive or I am really negative about this person. I am a heart attack waiting to happen. That’s on me. Forgive me for judging them. Put me in the right place spiritually so I can deal with them the way you would want to deal with them. Amen.” 

5. Decide whether or not you want to play the blame game.

Finally, we tend to hold others responsible for our misery, failures and adversity. We’ve all heard it. “It’s all _______ fault.” Notice whether or not this is a habit. I’ve shared with you before about those deep pathways in your brain. Imagine if one of them is negatively blaming others. How deep is that crevice? Hurt people, hurt people. I know you know this but it bears repeating here. Other people who you may be frustrated with don’t realize you’re hurting and they often don’t care. It's the truth. While our anger may be justified—none of us can see a positive resolution through the fog of our own victimization. Jesus can give us power, cleanse us and even heal us if we are able to allow him to do his work in our lives. Empower Jesus in your life and permit yourself to work through the difficulties with a trusted friend or coach, instead of dwelling on the one who’s hurt you which simply adds to your anger. Imagine saying, “Let’s solve this.” Move toward a new belief.

Sunday, we concentrate on the parable of the Great Banquet. I find myself thinking about the attitude in which I attend a great party. If it’s a swanky party, I tend to be nervous. If it’s a “I have to go to this,” obligation event, I tend to be cynical. But, if it’s a party that I really want to attend, I prepare. I plan what I am going to wear. I look forward to the people I will see or meet. I get excited. What’s your attitude about the Great Banquet? Who else do you know needs to attend? What’s keeping you from inviting them?

"When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.” Luke 14:15

Pastor Jen

*Henry Cloud:https://www.boundariesbooks.com/boundaries-for-leaders/leadership-ridiculously-charge/

 Stripped—beaten—left for dead.

I think we can all feel like this from time to time. I know I have lately. The last few months have been really tough emotionally and mentally following the death of my mom. I don’t think her death would be so daunting except I have other things that are happening right now, too. I call it the 'pile up.’

Sometimes the 'pile up’ is caused by circumstances we cannot control. Someone we love dies, family situations deteriorate, financial concerns accumulate, cultural pressure escalates or relocation removes a key support mechanism we once relied on. I mention these because I have first hand experience with them during these past few months. Add some sparkling work situations, travel to Israel with an awesome group and co-leading a life-changing Middle School Mission trip. Sometimes the circumstances are super positive—even really great experiences can simply add to the ‘pile up.’

But, then there are the circumstances we can control. Like how we respond instead of react to the circumstances, situations or the people involved. I had to learn how I can learn to take control of the story in my head. I’m not always good at it but I practice. We are responsible for our own behavior. Consider it this way—you own 51% of you. A brilliant counselor shared that tip with me long ago. So, before reacting, check your your own behavior, interpretation or perspective. If you’re living with a negative point of view, then take the positive high road and believe the best of someone instead of believing the worst. Just attempting to do this takes guts! Super smart people, brain specialists for example, tell us we have very deep pathways entrenched with our minds. It's called our brain’s neuroplasticity.

We first have to become aware of what we are doing in order to change. If we travel that deeply entrenched pathway to Negativeville, it’s most likely because we’ve learned that behavior or we've been taught to go that way. For some people, the deeply entrenched negative pathway was modeled for you, so you inherited it as it was passed on from one generation to the next. If you’ve ever heard the phrase, “You sound just like your mother/father/Great Aunt Gertrude,” you saw something you liked and from that point on, that’s the way you’ve always done it. But, if that’s the only way you've ever travelled, then maybe it’s time to consider a change. If not for you, for the people in your life who really do care. Which leads me to the parable for Sunday's message.

An expert in the law stood up to challenge Jesus. The expert questioned Jesus about what was involved with inheriting eternal life. Jesus began with what the expert already knew. Jesus asked him what was defined in the law. He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27) Ding, ding, ding! Well done, Player One! But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29) Imagine the deeply entrenched pathways in the expert’s mind. He wanted to justify himself—what does that mean? Justify his behavior, belief or attitude? Jesus was about to model how to reroute a pathway by using the power of a story.

Go ahead and read that story in Luke 10 on your own. I’ll share some of my own insights with you Sunday. By avoiding the man stripped, beaten and left for dead the priest and the Levite kept practicing what they had always done. These guys couldn’t touch a dead body. There would’ve been cleansing rituals involved and a huge investment of their time. The Samaritan didn’t live within the priestly or Levitical restricted laws. The Samaritan lived by a totally different set of rules. Imagine that. Living by a completely different set of rules. What would that be like? Personal transformation would take place—but friends, that would take courage and great responsibility.

Consider the fruit of your life. What’s really going on? What’s the big picture? How do you respond when situations develop or when it’s your turn to sift through the ‘pile up?’ Christian living, discipleship or what some identify as sanctification requires us to develop a strong and healthy spiritual life that leans into Jesus during these times. Respond as a Samaritan next time. It’s going to take courage to catch yourself in your own deeply entrenched pathway and reroute yourself out of the mud. Jesus is right there with you. He will lead the way. A whole new way of being awaits. Just breathe and let Jesus lead.

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:36-37NIV)3

Pastor Jen

 “Don’t be so humble. You’re not that great.” Golda Meir

I had a terrific trip to Israel. It’s a special place for me. I never tire of it. I always learn. I am always challenged. This trip was exceptional for me because I came home with a challenge from our tour guide Rotem Litov. He said, “You are the type of traveller that’s the hardest for us as tour guides because you know more than we do about a lot of things.” I smiled. My ego swelled. I encouraged him and my ego got in the way. He wasn’t accepting my humble attempts at uplifting him. He didn’t want or need them. He continued, “You spend so much time in the first century—why don’t you know anything about the twenty-first century Israel?”

Ouch. He caught me. I love a good conviction. It challenges me like nothing else.

“I will go home, study, learn, share and come back if you promise to lead with me on the next tour,” I said valiantly.

Rotem said, “You’re on.” Rotem is a Captain in the IDF. He is tank commander and trains soldiers in the military when he is not leading tours. He has a perspective I had never heard before. I am working on preliminary options for our next tour.

I immediately began researching twenty-first century Israel before I left Israel. I purchased videos and books from Amazon which were waiting for me when I arrived home. I blew through them in a few days. I watched YouTube videos. I visited websites and did a lot of the type of research I love to do. I cannot wait to learn about twenty-first century Israel with you and to watch the films with you. I believe you will offer even more insights to the Israel issue than I can ever discover by doing research on my own.

Golda Meir became someone I wanted to learn more about and so I did extensive research about her. Yes, I’ve only been home thirteen days. Yes, I went along with some amazing leaders to Stronghold Camp for a week with Middle School students since I got home. I have a lot of energy when it comes to things like this. I was awake all kinds of weird hours—so I had the time and passion.

Golda is someone that I admire—not for her greatness but for her authenticity in her leadership role. Leading is no picnic. Many don’t want the responsibility but accept it as a burden. Leaders are placed under immense pressure and scrutiny. Golda's responses and even her well thought out quotes or speeches are communicated with eloquence from the heart of a Jewish lioness who was tenacious, raw, a mistake maker, obedient, messy, strong, sensitive and a world class leader during Israel’s seminal years. That’s what I’ve learned so far. I challenge you to google her quotes or statements to learn more, too.

This brings me to the message for Sunday about prayer. The parable we will focus on follows the disciples’ request for Jesus to teach them to pray in Luke 11. Jesus heard a request to teach the disciples how to pray like John taught his disciples. Seemed fair enough. Jesus taught them to focus on their Father and forgiveness. After all, John’s baptism was focused on repentance so teaching about God and forgiveness made sense. Jesus went even deeper to question our motivations or desires when we pray to God but ask for stuff. I wonder sometimes if He is ever insulted by what we ask for.

I won’t give you all the ‘good stuff’ here but I will ask you a question. When you pray, do you align yourself first with Kingdom goals? Do you begin your prayer time by aligning your heart, mind, soul and strength with all that Jesus values? When you pray, do you begin with God, align yourself with his will and change yourself before praying for others or asking for stuff? Are you willing to accept the answer from God when it requires you to do life-changingly hard, serious or introspective work on yourself first?

I have been convicted a lot recently and in very important ways. First, because my ego got in the way and I needed to surrender, ask for forgiveness and make a change. Secondly, because my ego got in the way and I needed to surrender again, ask for forgiveness again and make a more serious change about my prayer life because I thought I knew something when I really didn’t know anything at all. God’s will in our lives is clear and always accessible. We, or maybe I, on the other hand, usually get mixed up with thinking I know what’s best. Our Father in heaven knows what is best—prayer is our opportunity to align with him not align him with our self-seeking and indulgent ways.

If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who seek Him? Luke 11:13

Pastor Jen

 I was standing on the shores of the Galilee. It was unseasonably super hot. The water actually cooled my body temperature. I started to feel restored. Jesus. It’s all about Him right here—right now. He did something we couldn’t do on our own. I was overwhelmed with a deep sense of gratitude. My heart was full.

Jesus. Jesus restored the relationship between the entire human race and God. Jesus corrected it to be what God designed it to be. This is what Jesus Christ did in redemption. Jesus. It’s about Him.

I’ve wondered for a long while now about what God thinks is happening in the greater United Methodist Church. As I stood on the shores of the Galilee, I wondered if we’re only interested in the development of our own human organization. I listened to a church leader profess to us that “it’s all about Jesus. It’s only been about Jesus.” This leader also went on to tell me about the UMC pension plan and how it was intact no matter what happens in the future.

The reconciliation of the human race according to God’s plan meant realizing Him not only in our lives individually but also in our lives collectively. I don’t sense that what’s happening in the greater church has anything to do with reconciliation or Jesus. Lines are drawn. Parties hold the line. People identify with a specific caucus or social action group.

When I travel to the Holy Land, I always meet Jesus. It’s like a spiritual chiropractic adjustment. He restores my soul. From that tiny little geographic location, Jesus Christ sent apostles and teachers for this very purpose— that the corporate Person of Christ and His church, made up of many members, might be brought into being and be made known. We are not here to simply develop a personal spiritual life or to enjoy a quiet spiritual retreat. Pension plans and 401k plans make sense. Insurance is a big deal. But, I wonder what Jesus thinks of the current full realization of the church. I struggle with this current environment and if it is really for the purpose of building His body.

So ask this question: am I building up the body of Christ or am I only concerned about my own personal development? Is the essential thing my personal relationship with Jesus Christ— “…that I may know Him…” (Philippians 3:10) or whether or not my pension plan is fully funded? To fulfill God’s perfect design for me requires my total surrender— complete abandonment of myself to Him. Whenever I only want things for myself, the relationship is distorted. I often suffer great humiliation as I come to acknowledge and understand that I have not really been concerned about realizing Jesus Christ Himself but only concerned with knowing what He has done for me or keeping an eye on my retirement portfolio.

My goal needs to be Jesus Christ Himself. My goals get off course when I lose sight of Him. I’m not in ministry for joy, peace or even blessing. Those are outcomes of the relationship with Jesus regardless of the circumstances or the situation. My visits to the Holy Land reveal much within me—the state of my heart, soul, mind and strength. I’m reminded of the parable for this Sunday. Jesus taught about the wheat and the weeds. (Matthew 13:24-30 and 36-43) I think it’s tempting to get caught in the weeds. We never see anything good. Focus is key. Allowing things to unfold is hard. Some may say it takes discipline. I know it takes discipline for me to focus on what is right, good, holy and pure. Focus on Jesus. I am very much aware that I can measure my life by some other standard.

Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy.

Pastor Jen

Imagine yourself working for Jesus in the marketplace. 

That was the meditation we experienced during a senior level seminary class I took titled Redeeming the Routines. The class was taught by my favorite professor, so naturally I took the class thinking it would be time well spent with my favorite theologian and friend. What I learned I put into practice in my own ministry—sometimes successfully and sometimes…not so much.

My professor’s thesis integrated the fact that we don't turn off our spiritual life when we leave worship or a bible study or prayer time. We are who we are all the time. He pointed out that we all spend a lot of time at work. The average person spends 40 or more hours at work with work people. Evidently, God is very interested in who we are during those hours and what we do during those work hours may actually have more Kingdom impact than all the hours Christians spend in study, prayer and worship combined.

A very intelligent theologian named Miroslav Volf wrote extensively about work and God. Miroslav Volf is Founder and Director of Yale Center for Faith and Culture and Henry B. Wright Professor of Theology, Yale University Divinity School.* Like I said, the man has some serious brain power! He’s amazing and reading his work is not easy nor is it for everyone. But, he has amazing insights and life experience.

The book we read for the class is titled Work in the Spirit: A Theology of Work. Dr. Volf wrote intellectually and deeply about the rise of modern industrial society. Work pervaded and ruled the lives of men and women. Think about this—what is the first question most of us ask when we meet someone new? Although there have been many popular books on the Christian understanding of work, this is the first scholarly effort to articulate a developed Protestant theology. Volf interpreted work from a new perspective--in terms of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit--and explores the nature of work in both capitalist and socialist societies. Within these macroeconomic frameworks, he considers a variety of work, including industrial, agricultural, medical, political, and artistic. Volf rejects the traditional protestant understanding of work as vocation and argues for a doctrine of work as cooperation with God.

Imagine yourself working for Jesus where you work. How would you approach your tasks and ’to do’ lists? Would you act any differently at work or speak differently about work-related issues like work place gossip, attitudes about management or stealing something from work? 

Sometimes we consider work as a means to get things we need and desire. For example, people work in order to receive insurance benefits, pay checks or prestige. Sometimes people work because they are responsible adults who want to care for their family. Other people work but create hell on earth for their colleagues around them. Work can also be a place of violence. Think for a moment about al the people who work for tyrants in systems that reward the same behavior. I’m sure you know someone who’s workplace is a painful experience and a place many dread going on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.

Work is important and most likely necessary for many of us. We must pay close attention to our attitude and heart when it comes to the way we think of work, the workplace and the people we work with. How would you unclutter your work? Maybe it is a simple practice. I share with you something I began it long ago after sitting in a class taught by my favorite professor. 

Imagine yourself working for Jesus in the marketplace. Imagine your office. Imagine the people. Imagine how Jesus coached you to respond to your enemy. What did Jesus say about gossip and our attitudes about others?  What were the ‘blessed’ sayings again? Wasn’t there something about a speck I noticed in someone else and a log in my own eye? Judgment. Jesus was clear on that but maybe it’s time to make an appointment for a one on one meeting over coffee. Allow the Holy Spirit to teach, guide and convict you of behaviors, thoughts and deeds that need redeeming. Do the work, the harder work of redeeming those routines because the most important work you may ever do for Jesus in in your workplace.

“We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.” 
― Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God

*Thanks Wiki

Pastor Jen

“I think you may have talked me into it.” (7th grade boy)

So much happened during my career as a junior high student. I am surprised that I made it through those years. I was super connected to a group of girls but discovered they were vicious and made fun of me behind my back. I tried smoking cigarettes with that same group in seventh grade. We all met after school one day and tried to smoke a cigarette one of my friends stole from her mom. We doused each other with perfume so no one would know we smoked. What a bunch of idiots. Like, no one would question why five junior high girls smelled of Vanilla Sky and White Shoulders?

I also went ‘boy crazy’ in junior high. Boys were the only thing we junior high girls ever talked about. My mom would tell me I had five minute limits on any phone calls. Back then, we had one telephone and it was attached to the wall in the kitchen. It was Harvest Gold in color and had a super long cord so I could hide in the laundry room and talk to whomever I wanted to talk…but for only five minutes. Boys were the topic. And body changes. We were all terrified. But, somehow the changes of life happened to all of us and we learned to deal with it.

I played a lot of sports during junior high but was never a first string or ‘A Team’ player. I had fun and was good at softball, basketball and volleyball. I participated in track with the shot-put and discus throws. I was an anchor on my swim team and competed in Summer swim team. Yes, I grew up in Northern Wisconsin. We only had swim team in the summer. We ice skated on that same water and played snow sports for the other nine months of year.

My maternal grandmother died when I was twelve. My whole world crashed. She was a world traveller and died of encephalitis which I had never even heard of before. I remember how sick she was at our cottage that Summer and a few days later she was gone. My mom never really recovered. I remember her being super focused on telling my brother and I that she loved us…constantly. She said it was because her mom never said that to her and mom felt like we needed to hear it and know it.

I say all of this to share with you that junior high students are my favorite group of people to work with in the whole church. I love working side by side with everyone. (Well, almost everyone). But, I have a soft spot for 6th-8th graders. Confirmation classes that I have had the pleasure of leading in the past parishes were always packed. I can tell you that I even packed them into class in the small church and the medium sized churches I served. How did I do that? I talked about dating and sex. I talked about parents and friends. We played bible games, we went on retreats, we memorized scripture and celebrated confirmation. 

One super group I led a gazillion years ago had the very best of Jen Wilson. I made plans to take them to a behind the scenes experience at a funeral home. I thought that experience in a funeral home would help them process death when it was time for them to experience the funeral home when a loved one died. I didn’t tell them where we were going but I did clear it with all the parents. 14 junior high students climbed into vans, played their music loud and tried to guess where we were headed for this mystery tour. I wish you could’ve witnessed their expressions when we pulled into the parking lot at the funeral home. That whole experience was mind blowing and it was very good for all of us. I’ve officiated at most of their weddings from that class, as well as, many of the weddings from other confirmands.

I believe the LORD spoke clearly and precisely in Deuteronomy about teaching and modeling the God-honoring life to the next generation. He gave us a command to be diligent about keeping the Word close to them and to keep them engaged. Do everything you can to teach them—attach God’s Word and symbols to your body. I still personally wear gold cross necklace to this day—to help me remember. Sunday we celebrate Confirmation. We will have the opportunity to meet the students, parents and adult leaders who’ve dedicated their ministry to teaching and modeling exactly what the LORD prescribed to us long ago. Don’t miss this. You will be blessed. I know I have been. I was talking with a seventh grade boy recently about becoming part of our Youth Ministry. I told him about the benefits and shared what I thought about the students. He looked as uninterested as anyone could look. But, then he smiled and said, “I think you may have talked me into it. When do they meet?"

These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. (Deuteronomy 6:1-2) 

Pastor Jen

It’s not a lack of money—it’s a lack of creativity.

Money plays such a huge role in our lives, it’s hard not to think about it constantly. I’m always amazed by how people question the whole stewardship issue in local churches. “Why does the church need my money?” “How does the church spend my money?” “I gave. That has to be enough.” “I want proof from the bible that tithing is really God’s idea.” “I want to see the budget.” “I want to see how much the pastor makes.” I want to see how much the pastor gives.” “What do I get out of it?"

Oh my goodness. Money talk makes people absolutely lose their religion. I am pretty sure Jesus already knew this about the people of the first century, too. He spent a lot of his time talking about resources. The Bible references money and possessions 2,350 times. This is more than Jesus spoke about love. It’s more than he spoke about heaven and hell…combined.*

God’s economy is so different. He actually reveals to us we have great gain when we are not driven by a quest for more money. Contentment is something most of us don’t understand because we may confuse it with apathy or lack of ambition. God’s contentment allows us to be free of the entanglements that always accompany an unbridled desire for more. I think God blesses ambition when it’s tied to Kingdom goals and values. When we think long and hard about making purchases or where we put our money it means we value it and what it can do for us. When we value money, we put thought and energy into what we are doing. Making expensive purchases is fine with God! Thinking about how to take care of an expensive item and how that item will be used all makes sense when we value money

I discovered long ago that I did not value money. I know that sounds nutty. Let me explain.

I didn’t pay attention to money. I didn’t care about it. I had a good job. I’d always find a way to make more money. I didn’t put a lot of effort into balancing accounts, paying bills or asking God about what He thought of the ways I spent my money. I didn’t honor God nor money. I really enjoyed being generous. I loved picking up the tab for people. I loved paying for large ticket items and giving them away! I bought people’s groceries for them. I even gave money away. I did not value it. I treated it like a pathway to people. Money talks. Money is power. If I had it, you had it. Whatever I have—you have. Let’s have fun.

I remember the impression I felt as I prepared for a message at my first parish about stewardship. It was almost as if God was speaking directly to me. He said, “Why do you think you can talk to a congregation about their money when you won’t talk with me about yours?” He went on to impress upon me the great revelation that I truly didn’t value money and that I would not get any more until I learned to respect, honor and value….money.

Thirty years later, I still struggle. I don’t put a lot of thought into money but I place a great deal of respect, honor and value into what God says to spend my money on—see…it’s still an issue because I think of it as my money. All resources belong to God. It’s not only about money. It is also about the heart—the human heart and if God truly has influenced it in any way. How we deal with God and money reveals so much about what we truly believe. 

God trusts us with His resources. We have been given so much, it is somewhat overwhelming to even think about it. God trusts us with what we currently have. You and I have been entrusted with resources like creativity, our knowledge, wisdom from our experience, belief and faith. God trusts us with people. TIME! What you do with your time matters to God—where you spend time and how you invest your time. Stewards take care of things. What you put your mind to and take care of has great value to God. I believe there will be a time of reckoning with regards to what we did with what we were given. I don’t know if grace is enough or a great answer for this one. Grace is enough for salvation. Once we are initiated into Christ’s Kingdom, I believe He expects maturity. He expects us to become different than the world and more like Jesus. How much more like Jesus are we really….especially with regards to our resources?

Godliness with contentment is great gain. 1 Timothy 6:6 (NKJV)

*Stewardship.com3 Things the Bible Says about Money. Chris Brown. Life. Money. Hope. (podcast)

Pastor Jen

What exactly is standing in your way?

It’s a simple question but the answer may surprise you. 

Most of us are pretty confident we know how to do something. Ask engaged people how they learned to become a successful married couple and you will get answers that will certainly surprise you. Ask someone at the office how they learned to be a great team builder that always looks out the well being of others and never takes credit for innovative ideas. You may get a blank stare. Talk to parents of teenagers about their expertise in dealing with the angst and cynicism that seems to plague the next generation and they may laugh out loud at you. Or sit with someone who’s aging and really listen to their anxious questions about managing their day to day troubles with social media or phishing schemes, their expectations as to health care and fears about their end of life issues.  

Why do we settle for fumbling through something as important as life without someone to instruct or coach us do so?

Instruction is crucial to how we grow and ultimately transform our lives. Someone way wiser than me revealed the truth about us long ago. He wrote, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction." (Proverbs 1:7) Marie Kondo came up with the same conclusion. Her instruction and wisdom brings clarity to our situations in life. It’s not limited to just tidying up.

“Think back to your childhood. I’m sure most of us have been scolded for not tidying up our rooms, but how many of our parents consciously taught us how to tidy as part of our upbringing? Our parents demanded that we clean up our rooms, but they too, had never been trained in how to do that. When it comes to tidying, we are all self-taught. Instruction in tidying us neglected not only at home but also at school.” (Page 10)

Self-taught. Hmm…well, no one ever taught me—so I will teach me. But, I’m so limited. I make mistakes. What are other people learning? What does God say about this? Is there someone who can teach the right way to respond to crucial intersections in life and how to apply Godly wisdom to important life lessons? Most certainly! But, what really stands in the way of us becoming all we need to become is….us.

Jesus has an interesting exchange with the dynamic leader Peter in Matthew 16. 

Jesus begins to instruct his disciples about his upcoming death and how the religious authorities would do all this. Peter must have been exploding inside because he jumps up to Jesus and says, “Never in a million years would I let this happen to you!” (My interpretation) Jesus confronts Peter and says something none of us ever want to hear, “Get behind me Satan.” Peter didn’t have God’s will in his mind. Peter was responding from his own needs and his own understanding. Peter himself had been self-taught about things.

Jesus went on to say things would be different with God leading the way. He instructed the disciples about the coming to that all important intersection of our will and God’s will. Jesus instructed his disciples to pay attention to the people we surround ourselves with and the influences we allow into our lives. He instructed his disciples to pay close attention to the will of God and do our very best to fulfill it and to reminder there will be others who will want to derail our efforts. Mostly derail God’s goodness to be displayed in our lives.

Come Sunday. Let’s learn more about what God may be up to in your life. We will ask some good questions, learn a little more about the transformed life Jesus died to bring us and we may even learn a little more about tidying up. See you in church.

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. Matthew 16:24-25 NIV

Pastor Jen

It’s easy to forget what Jesus is doing. Don’t get me wrong, as a kid, stories were told of what Jesus had done (his life, death, and resurrection) and yet, the story would get fuzzy once Jesus vanished into the clouds. We read in the scriptures that during the forty days between his resurrection and ascension, Jesus was seen by numerous people, shared meals with others, and had intimate discussions concerning the Kingdom of God. It was during those forty days that Jesus also gave his disciples a command to wait for the Holy Spirit to come. The disciples were to prayerfully and expectantly prepare for God the Spirit.

Picture this: Jesus has just made a mockery of the powers and principalities through his resurrection. For the past forty days he’s been gathering crowds while teaching about the Kingdom of God which has the disciples’ hope for the restoration of Israel at an all-time high. Then something unexpected happens. While pondering questions of their movement’s next steps, the disciples witness the astonishing ascension of Jesus. Jesus leaves and the disciples find themselves sitting in an upper room.

Just weeks earlier, the disciples had already gone through a period of waiting. During Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion the disciples had scattered and eventually regrouped in another room—though this room was different. The disciple were hiding. They hid themselves behind locked doors out of fear of the Jewish Leaders.

The disciples’ hiding after Jesus’ death stands in stark contrast to the image of their prayerful and expectant preparing in the upper room. But even in that state God would show up by entering into the disciples’ locked room and beckon them toward the upper room.

Jesus’ ascension and his ongoing role are connected. Traditionally, the ascension is viewed as Jesus’ enthronement to the right hand of God in which he assumed his role as King over his people and creation. However, I think it is safe to say that the disciples did not have these things in mind when Jesus left. In fact, two angels finally came and had to shake them out of their cloud fixated trance. Just when things were supposed to get interesting, the disciples find themselves waiting in the upper room. They were waiting for God to do something and, strangely enough, I find that I can relate. Then again, it could just be a lot of transference.

Much of my Christian life has felt like ‘waiting.’ There have been long periods of waiting for something to happen, for God to move, and it can start to give you cabin fever. As the fever sets in, the panicking begins to happen. That is when I begin to do the upper room equivalent of flinging windows open in hopes of catching some fresh air and, occasionally, use a “holy language” to describe my discontentment. Sometimes my waiting is more akin to the disciple hiding in fear after the death of Jesus then the prayerful preparing for God the Spirit in the upper room. It is in these moments of frustration, fear, and failure that Jesus as King comes as a fresh reminder.

The Gospels make it clear that the Kingdom of God is important. Jesus' ministry is filled with 'Kingdom' language and imagery. In fact, the term basileia means “kingdom, reign, rule, domain” and is used over 126 times in the four gospels. Yet, our lives often do not reflect that priority. We fill our minds, homes, workplaces, bank accounts, and time with clutter then leave little room for God to work. Like the disciples hiding behind locked doors we wait for God to clear our lives rather than expectantly preparing and praying for his “thy Kingdom Come.”. We invite you to join for our Uncluttered series as we ask, “What would it look like to expectantly unclutter our lives for the Kingdom?”

Pastor Corey

Events rarely happen as people report them.

For example, have you ever read the funny things people report to insurance companies? 

          Incidents with Pedestrians

  • The pedestrian ran for the pavement, but I got him.

  • The guy was all over the road. I had to swerve a number of times before I hit him.

  • I was sure the old fellow would never make it to the other side of the road when I struck him.

  • I saw a slow moving, sad faced old gentleman as he bounced off the roof of my car.

  • Accidents with other vehicles.

  • A truck backed through my windshield into my wife's face.

  • My car was legally parked as it backed into another vehicle.

  • I was unable to stop in time and my car crashed into the other vehicle. The driver and passengers then left immediately for a vacation with injuries.

  • The gentleman behind me struck me on the backside. He then went to rest in a bush with just his rear end showing.

  • Collisions, calamities, and injuries.

  • I pulled away from the side of the road, glanced at my mother-in-law and headed over the embankment.

  • I was thrown from my car as it left the road. I was later found in a ditch by some stray cows.

  • The telephone pole was approaching. I was attempting to swerve out of the way when I struck the front end.

  • The claimant had collided with a cow. The questions and answers on the claim form were - Q: What warning was given by you? A: Horn. Q: What warning was given by the other party? A: Moo.

  • Who is to Blame?

  • I didn't think the speed limit applied after midnight.

  • The indirect cause of the accident was a little guy in a small car with a big mouth.

  • I was on the way to the doctor with rear end trouble when my universal joint gave way causing me to have an accident.

  • I had been driving for forty years when I fell asleep at the wheel and had an accident.

It's kind of the same thing with scripture. We sometimes have a hard time communicating the sequence of events in an accurate way. The events of Holy Week are meaningful to Christians all over the world. The Oberammergau Passion Play has been performed since 1634. You can get tickets for the 2020 season or take a magnificent Viking cruise with some friends and experience something truly extraordinary. But, it's one intense week and then back to busy schedules. Most people don't know what was happening in Jesus' life before he entered Jerusalem as a Jewish king riding on a donkey. 

One week before Jesus rode into Jerusalem, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. (John 11) That event precipitated such a firestorm, the religious authorities looked for a way to get rid of Jesus and make sure Lazarus stayed...dead! Jesus threatened the status quo so much that the only way the authorities could imagine dealing with the situation was to finish Jesus once and for all. I wonder if we still think Jesus threatens the status quo any more. Maybe we need to fill out an accident report for our Ultimate Insurance Agent. What would yours actually say about your collision with Christ?

Then the Pharisees said to each other, “We’ve lost. Look—the whole world has gone after him!” John 12:19 TNL

Pastor Jen

I received my mom’s death certificates in the mail today. I guess it’s real.

I can see April 27 in the distance. It’s like looking at Mt. Everest for me. My friends Rick Poole, his wife Meagan and his daughter Sydney are actually climbing Mt. Everest as I write this. They will arrive at basecamp tomorrow. The elevation at Everest basecamp is 17,600 feet. They will stay there for a while. Meagan and Sydney will turn around and come home. Rick is going to summit Mt. Everest at 29,029 feet. It’s taken him eight years of training, three summits of major elevations and ‘school’ to get to this level. There are requirements for climbers to summit Mt. Everest. Experienced sherpas and guides won’t take just anyone. Well….maybe they do if someone has the chops to pay them enough. It’s still one of the most grueling climbs in the world. I invited Rick, Meagan and Sydney to come speak to us when they all get home.

We all have our Mt. Everest, don’t we?

April 27 is the day my brother and I will host a visitation and memorial service for my mom in her hometown. She left there fifty years ago. She visited on occasion throughout the years but lived most of her life away from ‘home.’ The church where we will host the visitation and service is our family church. Six generations of my mother’s family has worshipped in that church. My mom was baptized there. She was a God send to my grandparents. Two infant sons died between the birth of my mother and her middle sister. I cannot even imagine the trauma of burying two infant sons. I discovered the truth of their situation myself. No one shared that information with me until I asked about the names imprinted onto the two separate headstones near my grandmother. Now my mother will be buried there too. Nearly all of them gathered together in one place like a hen and her chicks.

All this life is training. There is nothing wasted in the spiritual life. Everything matters and contributes to the character being formed within us. I believe it is God’s great hope that we resemble Jesus. We have a biological family but we are to have a spiritual family resemblance to Jesus. Our inner self needs to reflect Him. Life is the classroom and events are the tests. We cannot shy away from the exams. We have times when we are tested. I believe it is during the difficult times we learn the most. Think about it. Did you learn more when you were going through difficulties, challenges and downright crappy times? Or did you learn the most when everything was copacetic and tranquil with no challenges whatsoever?

April 27 probably isn’t Everest. It’s more like basecamp. I assure you it will be hard to breathe at that elevation and it will be difficult to greet all people who stop by to pay their respects. Each person is part of my mother’s greater story. They all bring memories, myths and fables. My brother and I will listen to all they have to say and then we will have something to say after we worship our awesome God for a while. Bill will be with me. He will be my sherpa. My perfect guide God gave me because I could not climb this high on my own safely.  

I think a lot about Abraham climbing that mountain with his son Isaac. I can relate to his mountain climbing story because these 40 days have been a difficult time for me. Bill and I walked alongside John and Ashley, Marc and Sarah for a while. Ash Wednesday was the same day as my birthday. My mom died as Spring was announced via our calendars. Each day brings with it such complexity or challenge as we climb. From each elevation the most breathtaking beauty is revealed. I understand the view from the summit is visually astonishing and overwhelmingly emotional for the climber. I suppose that’s how Abraham would describe it. He heard God’s voice at the summit. Once to stop him and once to confirm a promise pregnant with a blessing. That’s it. 

When someone asks you why you climbed your Everest. You can tell them because it was there. Be grateful for the people you may have already intersected with throughout your climb. Imagine the people you may still come into contact with and the person you may become. Somewhere along that climb you will meet Abraham and Isaac. Be sure to take some time and get to know them. They have a story you will want to hear.

Then Abraham returned to his servants, and they set off together for Beersheba.And Abraham stayed in Beersheba. Genesis 22:19

Pastor Jen

“Do you really believe this stuff?”

“Yesssss, with every fiber of my being. I believe it.”

It was an interaction with someone in the hallway yesterday. Have you ever noticed how often short, intense and meaningful conversations can happen almost instantly? There was a shift within me. It was so powerful, I was afraid I scared the person I was talking with. I followed my comment with a ‘let’s crush it’ high five. Friends, I am not fooling around here. Believe. Don’t believe. The truth exists whether we believe it or not. That’s a huge relief to me. I don’t have to convince you or anyone else to believe. The only person we short is ourselves when we delay or derail the truth reaching our heart.

Many years ago now, I started solo ministry in a small Mid-Western town that greeted me with seven funerals the very first month I was there. SEVEN!! Those who died ranged from a beloved school administrator who died after fighting a long battle with cancer to a brother of a prominent family who died of HIV-AIDS in California. The others included two twenty-something guys who died tragically while road drinking, a brutal suicide and elderly people who died at a ripe old age. Each story incredibly significant paved the way for me to make significant impact in the lives of the living for the Kingdom Jesus died to bring us.

Yes. I believe it. I hear the Apostle Paul in my mind as he wrote to the Corinthian church: "Let me now remind you, dear brothers and sisters, of the Good News I preached to you before. You welcomed it then, and you still stand firm in it.  It is this Good News that saves you if you continue to believe the message I told you—unless, of course, you believed something that was never true in the first place.” One translation says, "otherwise you believed in vain.” I hate to be made a fool of and I am no fool. Truth to truth. Jesus Christ is the real deal. Plain and simple.

"Otherwise, you believe in vain." Oh, man, that strikes a chord deep within my soul. It gets me going. Winds me up. I’m telling you. I respect death. A friend who recently went through a devastating loss called death ‘ominous.’ He is so right. Death is to be respected. It is the ultimate end and we will all face it ourselves and multiple times with people we love, like and hate. There is something more powerful than death that inspires me to keep working in the vocation I work and keep pushing as hard as possible. It’s regret.

There is a scripture that illustrates what I mean. It is located within the interchange of the Apostle Paul and King Agrippa in Acts 26. Paul has been brought up on charges which put him in front of the Roman court where he shared his life changing gospel story and almost convinced King Agrippa to believe in Jesus. “Almost Christian.” No friends, that is not acceptable to me. Almost Christian is someone who is missing out on the greatest thing that has ever happened in human history. The evidence is remarkable. There are people who’ve dedicated their lives to the truth of Jesus and many of them died believing in the confidence of their place with him for eternity. Witness testimony is often more compelling than the bible story. It is the very action of God in a blood and guts kind of reality.

This brings me back to Abraham and his long journey to the place of sacrifice. I know how hard, long and demanding that climb can be. I’ve made that same climb myself and with hundreds of people during my ministry. I’ve got stories that would curl your toes, pop your eyes and make you run to the altar and give your full heart and life to Jesus Christ. But, I don’t tell those stories because we have a tendency to compare our stories with the life events of others. That’s not helpful. You must climb your climb. I can help. I can encourage you. I will even carry you to the next place so you can rest. But, to that mountain you must go. You must sacrifice your Isaac there. There cannot be two kings of your heart. Abraham was interrupted and he received a ram. Blood was spilled. Atonement was made. But, there was still more.

The ram was not the Lamb. God made sure His promise to Abraham (Genesis 15) was lived out until the fulness of time arrived and Jesus could take over from the ram sacrifices to become the Lamb of Sacrifice. Believe in him. Believe in it for yourself. It’s worth your time and effort. Become more involved in his Kingdom building business. There is so much to do and so many lost people who are ‘almost Christian.’ Don’t let a moment of regret go by wishing you had one more shot at at a conversation with someone about Jesus. If there was ever a time that we could do great things for the Kingdom, it is now. Believe. Even if everything within you screams it’s a bogus lie. Become aware of why that voice is working so hard to convince you that it’s a lie and why everything within you wants to believe Jesus is true. Believe.

And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you. Galatians 3:29 NLT

Pastor Jen

The first step is always the hardest.

The entire bible could be read as a book of ‘first steps.’ The Bible describes both the positive and negative outcomes of taking that first step in detail. It also includes stories of people who did not take their first steps and decided to back track or jump the track all together. There are benefits and consequences. They had to decide which one they wanted to manage. They also were very much aware that God called them to go and do something that always required them to build trust in His provision and grace. They all experienced multiple levels and opportunities to make sacrifices along the way.

1. One Israelite slave needed to take that first step into the Red Sea!

2. Moses had to take his first step toward the Holy Mountain.

3. Joshua and Caleb failed to convince the Israelites to go into the Promised Land the first time—they were sure to be successful the second time!

4. David had to take his first step toward becoming a leader when he faced Goliath.

5. Elisha needed to take his first step as he followed Elijah.

6. Mary had to take the first step toward becoming the mother of the Messiah.

7. Peter had to take his first step toward redemption as Jesus questioned his love for him after the resurrection.

8. Paul had to take the first step onto the platform to present the gospel to Caesar and his household in Rome.

Don’t judge the first step. 

Fear will get in the way every time. It can be disguised in a number of ways. For example, we can be psyched out before we even take the first step, often because we invent the ‘worst case’ scenario in our minds. This is actually one of the personalities in the Enneagram! It’s #7. My husband Bill is like the perfect #7. He makes his living processing ‘worst case’ scenarios every time someone comes into the ER. Lives are saved or injuries are discovered because there are people like Bill who think this way. AND…then there’s me and people like me that don’t think that way at all. We poo-poo that whole thought process by asking, “What’s the fun in that?” Be creative! Be spontaneous! It’s a darn good thing Bill married me. I think we balance each other and we've learned to respect each other’s personality while maintaining our own. We laugh a lot when we think about how miserable we would make two other people if we were married to someone else.

1. Feel the fear—but do it anyway.

2. Pick up your foot.

3. Place it one step in front of you.

4. Open your eyes. Look up so you can see ahead of you.

5. Allow your body to shift forward—intention is everything.

6. Bring your mind along—you need to think through this.

7. Your heart has to come with you—or your heart won’t be in this.

8. Ta Da! Your first step.

The first step does not define the outcome but a lack of one will.

How we prepare for a next step is a big deal. Some ‘first steps’ require practice, training and outside coaching. Here is a helpful acronym we will use Sunday to help us understand our part of the journey. Pastor Corey came up with this and I think it’s brilliant! We will use the letters PREP. 

P = Prayer

R = Read Scripture

E = Experience Community

P = Practice

Read through Genesis 22 on your own. Focus on Genesis 22:3. I wonder if Abraham struggled all night and finally decided to get up or if he slept well that night and woke up refreshed. Either way, he made the decision to go through with what God asked. But, I am certain of one thing…that first step Abraham took was the hardest. See you in church.

So Abraham got up early the next morning and chopped wood for the fire. He put a saddle on his donkey and left with Isaac and two servants for the place where God had told him to go. Genesis 22:3 CEV

Pastor Jen

I’ve noticed a pattern in my life. I wonder if you’ve noticed something like it in your life, too.

Whenever I feel like God asks me to do something, it ends up being a test. Honestly, it could be a little thing or a big thing. Sometimes I can feel that Godly nudge or impression to do something like call someone or send them a ‘checking in’ text. Other times God asks me to do something that’s out of my comfort zone and I struggle with whether or not to go through with it. Small or large, I noticed that sacrifice will be part of the equation of meeting His request and moving onto the next level in my spiritual life.

My tests are always relationship related. 

Romance. I didn’t always make good choices when it came to the romance department. Most of the selections I made were great guys. We just weren’t a great match. Former relationships came to mind over the years and at different times. Each of them carried a deep revelation for me to discover and learn from if I was humble and willing to accept the education. Sacrifice with regards to a romantic relationship was one of the hardest kinds of sacrifice I ever made. Leaving a relationship meant severing an intense emotional tie with someone. Ask anyone who knows me well. Once I finish a relationship, you’re dead to me. 

Parish relationships. Every time I made the decision to accept a new appointment, it meant I had to leave one church for another. Ministry relationships are often forged from the metal of intense life experiences. Weekly worship, bible studies, hospital visits, anniversary celebrations, vow renewals, baptisms, weddings, funerals, meetings….meetings….and more meetings are only part of the ministry we do as pastors. I truly left bits and pieces of my heart at every step along the way. I developed deep friendships while I worked and lived in each community. I stay connected to many people from former parishes, but it is never the same when we relocate.

Reputation. I made choices that were popular because I wanted to please people. I love fitting in, being liked and admired. I discovered I could lose myself doing that. I could lose my soul—the essence of who I am because I was so enamored with wanting others to love me that I lost my sense of personal value even what was right or wrong. I believe they call this the ‘Chameleon Effect.’ It’s unintentional mirroring of other people in our interpersonal relationships. It’s the ability to quickly identify socially with others. The Chameleon Effect often applies to people who get along well and mimic each other’s body posture, hand gesture and speaking accents, among others. * You may have heard the cliche “imitation is the best form of flattery.” I had to give up my deep yearning to please people, in order for them to love me, if I was to ever be honest with God, myself and others. I had to relinquish that ability in order to speak God’s word with any integrity. Speaking God’s truth is often linked with the integrity of the speaker. 

Sacrifice and faith are interrelated.

Two thousand years before Jesus came, Genesis 15:6 states, "Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” Abraham, like us, was justified by faith. There are some astonishing similarities between the story of Abraham and Isaac and Jesus. Words are not wasted in scripture. When we discover themes or hear similar stories we are meant to pay attention. There is something special, unique and precious about each of these stories. Each of them reveal a story of sacrifice and faith. More importantly, these two stories reveal a story of love.  

Sunday we begin a new series. We will study Genesis 22 through the Lenten season. I believe you will find some deep meaning for your own spiritual life as we make comparisons between the faith stories of Abraham and Isaac and our own. We may discover some relationship insights together. Each of these stories can be read as a type of blueprint from which we can build meaning our own faith stories of sacrifice and faith. You may discover that some of the most meaningful intersections in life have included decisions related to sacrifice. I look forward to spend this Season of Trust with you.

After all this, God tested Abraham. God said, “Abraham!” “Yes?” answered Abraham. “I’m listening.” He said, “Take your dear son Isaac whom you love and go to the land of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I’ll point out to you.” Genesis 22:1-3 The Message 

*The Chameleon Effect. Chartrand and John Bargh.

Pastor Jen

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