Have you noticed that someone has way too much access to you?

This awareness can be frustrating. On the one hand, you may love this person. It could be someone like your spouse, children or mom. But, sometimes….when you look at the name on your phone or see that name pop up on your Caller ID, you ignore it. You have your own emotional eruption, get mad, roll your eyes and cringe. AND then, you lie about why you didn’t take their call. On the other hand, you take a look at the name on your phone or see that name on your Called ID and you say to the person or people you’re with….”Hey, I have to take this.” IGNORING the people right in front of you, never realizing what message that sends to them.

There are levels of intimacy. Not everyone should the same access to you.

If we live the God-honoring life, there is an order of intimacy God prescribes from Genesis: God, spouse, family, other. Boundaries help us manage our lives in an orderly way. Time, energy and resources are limited. Chaos takes over when we don’t have a solid understanding of how to put a boundary in place that is loving and honoring to others and to ourselves. Drained. Empty. Frustrated. This is how we feel when we don’t have boundaries protecting our time, energy and money.

Jesus knows you like nobody else.

Whether you prayed ‘the prayer’ or not, there is an intimate place within you that only has room for you and Jesus. He knows us better than we know ourselves. (Psalm 139) Jesus is actually omnipresent and omniscient. Reality check—we cannot be everywhere and know everything. Only Jesus can do or be that. If you’re married, the next layer of intimacy is your spouse. You both agreed before God and everyone that your relationship would be above all others for life. If you’re not married, this person could be a parent, sibling or friend. These are people who know you and your stuff. They choose to love you inspite of all that. (I’m constantly amazed at Bill’s love for me…he is absolutely the best thing that happened to me—oh, and Jesus.)

Third level of intimacy is your immediate family and close friends. You will have more people in this circle of influence. You have more room for more people, but they have less access to your intimate place. The fourth level of intimacy is your church friends, small group members, work colleagues, soccer people, gym friends and people that you would help if they called upon you. Fifth level of intimacy is your other friends and acquaintances where there are many of these people you know but they don’t have the same access to you as the others.

What about scary people?

I bet you thought you were off the hook on this one. Not so fast. We all have scary people in our lives. Imagine the chaos that erupts when a scary person has direct access to you and your heart! As Christ followers, we don’t turn our love off because of their disrespect, irresponsibility, poor choices or their character flaws. But, we do have control over how much access scary people have and how much of our time, energy and resources we expend on them. A boundary in this area alone will provide you amazing results. I am not kidding. When we place a boundary between scary people and our heart, we protect that which is most sacred to us and JESUS. That’s right! Consider whether or not the scary person has more access to you than JESUS? Who’s voice do you hear and listen to? Jesus has the power to heal. He has the power to build your confidence and place you back into a position of authority. Scary people are not equal to Jesus. They don’t have the same power that He does. We have to believe that Jesus has our best interest at heart and build a protective boundary around our most intimate place.

Access varies.

I wish I could tell you that it is easy to keep people in their space or that they “stay in their own lane.” Life happens. Relocation is a reality. Careers change. Children mature, go to college, get married or move into a career that takes them away. Other people may have more access to your life than they had previously because change is inevitable. There is a fluidity attached to all relationships. Some call it an ‘ebb and flow.’ Research done on intimacy in longterm marriages suggests that individuals develop a capacity to lean in, love deeper and learn how to sustain the marriage during times of disruption or chaos. Couples understand what it takes to protect important relationships and rebuild boundaries out of the rubble.

Boundaries are loving and place value on what is inside.

I haven’t always valued what’s inside. I have not protected my heart nor my relationship with Jesus above all else. (Proverbs 4:23) I allowed other people and things too much access. Sometimes people and things become thieves or criminals. They get away with my valuables and murder. I have boundaries that are made up of a lot of different materials like inherited mindset, old baggage, heavy burdens and betrayal. Experience is a tough teacher. My perfect ‘bullseye’ image has been wrecked and rebuilt many times. The process of rebuilding is relationally, physically, mentally and spiritually painful. I’ve tried to learn and apply what I learned each time. Some lessons are still so hard to accept. Restoration takes time, energy and resources. My internal structure has been pummeled multiple times. My hunch is yours has too.

Let love in.

I was talking with someone last Sunday who said, “I think I was a good father to my children but I don’t think I was a good pastor to them.” I said, “Well, the good news is we are always at the beginning place with our spiritual life. Begin now to be the pastor to your children. Build an eternal legacy starting today.” It can be the same way with regards to re-establishing boundaries in our own lives. If you look around and all you see is a chaos. STOP! Don’t add to it. Chaos can be habit forming if you don’t stop and take an assessment of where you are. Let love in. Allow love to be your guide. Be filled with the Holy Spirit. (Proverbs 1:23)

1. Does your personal life reflect the biblical structure and principles: God, spouse, children, other?

2. Make it right with Jesus. Place him at the top, then your spouse, then your children, then the other things and people in your life. (This may require the work of repentance and restoration.)

3. Invite Jesus and the people you love to help create new boundaries.

4. Talk about your boundaries with Jesus and the people you love.

5. Write down goals about keeping your boundaries—know they are fluid and relationships have an ebb and flow.

6. Practice confession, repentance and restoration.

We will talk more about boundaries Sunday. I am praying for you. I know how hard life change can be. Other people may not understand. But, this is between you and Jesus. He’s available. He wants the very best for you. His love for you can be a strong foundation to build the best life you ever dreamed you could have. Begin. Let me know how it is going.

Some of the material is from “Keep Your Love On: Connection, Communication and Boundaries” Danny Silk. Loving on Purpose Publishing 2015

Pastor Jen Wilson

 Vision leaks.

I heard, 'vision leaks,' loud and clear from my mentor. He reminded all of us in the room that day. The leader's role was to keep the vision white-hot. I was wondering why I needed to hear that back then. I understand it now, very well. Vision gets lost in the day to day details of life. If the vision doesn't get kindled, rekindled and kindled again--we lose it. Maybe you've heard the quote, "Without a vision the people perish." (Proverbs 29:18) I like how Eugene Peterson translated this same scripture in The Message translation, 'If people can't see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves.' I don't want to stumble.

Worship, Personal Transformation, Relationships, Next Generations and Mission

When people ask what our church is about, I pray these values come to mind. We don't just give lip service to these values, we live into them daily. Wheatland invests resources, time, energy, thought and money into these areas. We have Christ-centered staff who lead our congregation because we believe in these values so strongly. We are blessed to have John Dudich leading our worship ministry, Kim Neace leading our Adult Ministries, Justin Sommer leading Young Adult and Youth Ministries, Susie Sottosanto leading Children's Ministry, Deb Lionberger leading Admin and Facilities Ministries, Tom Harle leading our Tech Ministry and Michele Lantvit as our new Financial Administrator. Rev. Corey Ashley embraced the role of Oswego campus pastor. New energy continues to be infused into the multisite model because we believe it is the best way to reach people for Jesus Christ.

There are other stellar staff members like Academy Director Kelley Lemley, Michele Jenks, Emerson Tonon, Vicay Lauderdale, and our new Oswego Campus NextGen Coordinator William Victory who support these ministries and help them grow. I am incredibly grateful for part-time, quarter-time and some-time staff who do so much behind the scenes work--not because they get paid--but because they believe in our mission, vision and values. Wheatland has what it takes to become a greater influence for Jesus Christ--and you are part of that vision!

Come Sunday!

Sunday is our ONE SERVICE at Naperville Campus which begins at 9:30 AM. We have a huge party/picnic planned afterward. Kim Neace is desperately praying it does not rain--maybe you can too. I'm bringing a roaster filled with pulled pork because my last name begins with 'W.' I checked the list. I am to bring a main dish to share. Check out what you are supposed to bring!

You have an important role to play. You are called by Jesus Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit to go into all the world with a message of hope and reconciliation: to love God, love others and change the world! What is it going to take to keep this vision white-hot in your own life? What compels you to care about the lost, broken and messed-up world? What causes your heart to burst into flame? How has God equipped you for ministry and what is He asking of you? Don't sit idly in the fan section while the game is being played on the field. You were born for more than sitting it out. One day we will all answer for what we did in this life. It's time to get active and onto the field. We will get dirty. We will make mistakes. We will get back up and try again. This is our journey and it is our time. Let's do this.

"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." Jeremiah 29:11-13 NIV

Pastor Jen Wilson

 “You know, when I think about it….I am ridiculously in charge.”

It was like a light bulb went off in his head. He could create the culture he wanted. One that was positive, highly energetic, accountable and responsible, innovative and authentically resilient. Once he realized what he could have—he needed to make changes because he previously allowed certain destructive behaviors and attitudes to exist. The changes would be hard. For some, they would leave and abandon him. But, ultimately, he knew from that point on that things would be different. He owned it. The realization that what he allowed was in the way of what he could create was the game changer.

What are boundaries?

Essentially, boundaries are made of two important things: what we create and what we allow. Typically, a boundary is a property line. It defines where your property begins and ends. If you own property, you know what is going on there. You are in charge of it. You own the vision, know people that are part of that property, set goals for that property and decide what it’s purpose is truly going to be. You allow certain things to go on there and other things are off-limits. It’s all yours. You set the agenda and make the rules. You also define the shape of what its going to become. You are in charge.


A defining principle of boundaries is who owns it. The owner defines and creates boundaries that also drive other behavior. If something happens on that property, it always comes back to the owner. The owner has certain values. Those values are displayed in positive and negative ways. Just look around you. Everyone in your neighborhood knows who has the most beautiful yard and everyone knows who’s property needs a little work. The outside world can see exactly what is going on within the property. But, sometimes it’s difficult for the owner to see what’s going on.

Transformation is one of our Wheatland values.

Creating transformational opportunities is one of the most important things we do as a church. The moment people discover the resolution to their problems, satisfaction replaces angst. Peace floods the system. We sometimes joke about Jesus being the answer for everything. I know, it’s an inside joke. But, the reality is Jesus IS the answer. We must struggle to find out for ourselves what’s in the way. Transformational moments can lead to a whole new identity. This is something that I struggle with when I hear of the multitude of ways people can self-identify. A friend recently shared with me there were nine different responses for self-identity on a form he was filling out. I wonder if we've become so confused, self-centered and egotistical that we really don’t know what we look like from the outside. But, everyone in the neighborhood knows what’s going on in our property.

The Bible is pretty clear.

God doesn’t mess around. He is clear about what He created and what He allows. If you read the first pages of Genesis, you can see that boundaries defined everything in Creation. Day from night. Land from sea. Birds, wild animals and fish in the sea. Certainly, there are some creatures that can migrate between the land and sea. Airplanes can blast through boundaries that set the air from the land. Humans have always questioned, stretched or gone beyond boundaries that were set for us from the beginning. Chapter three of Genesis was the beginning of the Fall. We’ve been out of bounds since then. The Bible is also pretty clear about how redemption works. Jesus. Remember, He’s the answer. But, that answer needs to propel us toward maturity and transformation. Not only for ourselves but for the world.

The Congregational Survey and Pain Points

We have a better picture of the people of our congregation and the pain points you face because you and many like you responded to the survey. “Overwhelmed and too busy” was the overall description. It’s not just us—it is everyone. I think we started to believe what people told us years ago—that we could be anything we wanted and we could do anything we wanted. So, we became more and did more. Now, we are paying the price of more. There are always consequences or outcomes to the choices we make. We choose which pain to manage and live out our lives handling the pain the best way we know how. Self-medication is the number one tool for managing pain. Open your cupboards and look at the medicines or supplements you take. Some in our families didn’t have the emotional capacity to handle the pain—so they compromised in other ways. You know what I mean. Sports, alcohol, other substance abuse, pornography, food, gambling, excessive television or gaming steal the time needed to build true connection. It’s a vicious cycle….and we know it.

How can boundaries help?

We will learn together. According to some great friends of mine, Dr. Henry Could and Dr. John Townsend, boundaries are the one of the most serious problems that Christ followers face. Our Boundaries series may challenge your long held theological stance or your understanding how the bible is interpreted or applied. Boundaries will set you free and restore your hope. There will be changes that need to be made. We’ve allowed destructive behaviors and attitudes to exist. For some, they will leave and abandon us. But, ultimately, our lives can be different. Own your boundaries. Know what you will allow and understand how you can create. I pray there are many transformational moments for you during this series. I know there have been several already in mine. Come join me and learn more.

Above everything else, guard your heart; for it is the source of life's consequences.

Proverbs 4:23 The Jewish Bible

Pastor Jen Wilson

 Worship, personal transformation, relationships, Next generations and Mission.

These are the Wheatland values. These are not items we ascribe to but live into every day. We’ve focused on these values for years. Each week you can experience what it means to be part of a church that takes them seriously. Sunday we focus on relationships.


Take a moment to think about the most important relationships of your life: Jesus, spouse, children, family, colleagues, friends…enemies. Are there any new relationships that bring some added energy to your life? Maybe you’re attending a new small group at church and you were introduced to someone new or a gym membership got you swimming again and you met someone that’s a lot like you! I’ve included a quick resource for you in today’s blog. Use these questions as a check-in:

1. How much time or effort do you put into building better relationships with others? (Jesus, spouse, children, family, co-workers and colleagues, friends, enemies)

2. Which skills have you worked on lately: listening without judgment, expressing love and positive emotions, having fun, doing more than your share when they’re stressed, boosting their self-esteem, soothing your own irritability.

3. Do the people that you’re in relationship know you care—that you actually care about them more than yourself? How do you express to them that you care?

4. What’s the greatest source of stress right now and how is it effecting your relationships? (Money, job, busy schedule, work load, age-related issues, health issues, parent or child issues)

5. Connection is key. You can believe you’re doing all the work in the relationship but if it’s not reciprocated and things are not good, look at yourself first. Don’t blame them for what’s going on in your head. Trust me—no one knows what’s actually going on inside your heart or mind. You must speak and communicate in such a way that the others in your life hear you without guilt or shame.

Relationship Truth

Most of us carry a lot of baggage when it comes to relationships. We all carry damage and good stuff from our families of origin. We inherit behaviors that were passed down from generation to generation. Some of those behaviors need to be addressed and transformed—and you know it. We’ve said and done things we are not proud of—others have said and done things they are not proud of, too. I like to think about whatever situation I am in as a test. Good days won’t last. Enjoy every second! Bad days won’t last. Thank GOD!! But, most of us live somewhere in-between and we tend to remember the ‘out of ordinary’ experiences or situations. Consider this: what is the ratio between the normal, mundane, daily routine experiences to the out of the ordinary experiences? Is the ratio 100:1? So someone treats you normally 100 times but it’s the 1 time you remember? hmm...

Building Trust through Honesty

Conflict is actually a healthy sign in a relationship. I remember a newly wed couple who came to see me. Both of them were devastated because they fought and couldn’t make up afterwards. “He said!” “She did..!” “This isn’t the person I married!” “I think we made a mistake.” Maybe you’ve heard or thought that same thing. Discovering forgiveness and reconciliation means there is intimacy and trust developing. Relationships are hard work! The work is worth every cross word or silent treatment. It’s worth healing and making up every time. Resiliency is the greatest reward for any relationship because it measures the elasticity of your relationships. Are you bendy? Or are you stiff? Are you humble or stubborn? Are you like Jesus or more like…you? Be honest with your own stuff and don’t project it onto someone else. Honesty with yourself builds trust but you have to begin by being honest every time. Blaming someone else won’t work—it never does. Take responsibility for you own stuff.

More resources

We cannot take any THING with us. But, relationships have eternal significance and value. Eternity is the reality. It may be tempting to think of you being in heaven and the jerk in your life being in hell. But, wake up. That’s not God honoring and certainly not what the bible says—oh, the BIBLE? Loving enemies, praying for those who persecute you, being committed to the relationship—look it up. You’ll be glad you did. Henry Cloud is a Christian psychologist. He and John Townsend worked together for years. They produced some of the best relationship stuff for Christians I have ever seen. They wrote the book, (actually a library of books) on boundaries. We will spend some time in September working on boundaries. YES, boundaries. Many of you responded to our survey and said you are overwhelmed or too busy—but then said you had no problem with boundaries….HA! Let’s have some fun together. Laugh and learn together. Grow and mature together. See you Sunday.





Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:23-24 NIV

Pastor Jen Wilson

 For the past three years, we’ve taken the entire month of August to focus on our Wheatland values: worship, personal transformation, relationships, Next Generations and mission.

Each year, I’ve invited ministry leaders to share their story and how ministry is going in their department. This year we have already heard from specific leaders like John Dudich, Vicay Lauderdale, Michelle Jenks, Kim Neace and Pam Moga. These leaders have a passion for what they do. They lead and sustain excellent worship every week. They inspire others to go on mission trips, manage our Faith Promise budget and maintain meaningful connections with our global partnerships. They help lead Adult Ministries like Hospitality, Small Group development, event planning and Congregational Care ministries. Their responsibilities are numerous and great. I am incredibly grateful to them for their commitment to Jesus Christ and to Wheatland. We are a stronger community of faith because of their devotion, sacrifice and leadership.

Our Wheatland value this Sunday is Next Generations.

I am so proud of what God accomplishes through Wheatland leaders and students. I know firsthand how important Youth ministry can be. Middle school was a difficult time in my life. A lot happened during those years for me. My parents divorced during my teen years which left a huge hole in our lives. My brother and I spent most of time without parent supervision. We learned to figure life out on our own. I made mistakes and had no consistent authority in my life. My life changed when I was invited to a Wednesday night Youth Group meeting. I met Jesus and was baptized later in Lake Michigan at a Summer camp. The bible became a crucial part of my personal life. I purchased my own black, leather bound, New American Standard Bible with my own money. I printed 'Labor Day, 1979: The day I invited Jesus Christ to be my Lord and Savior,’ on the front page. I was not a perfect church kid—far from it. I took my detours from Youth Group but never from Jesus. Wheatland Student Ministry is changing the lives of students right here at home. Why don’t you get involved with us—I can guarantee your life will never be the same!

It is so important to hear from our ministry leaders.

I believe you need to know who is leading our ministries. I believe you need to know their character and what they’ve faced as Christ followers. Wheatland celebrates a strong history of raising up leaders and sending them out. I believe that’s exactly what God calls us to do—produce more Christ-honoring leaders! The Church is desperate for them. We take this mandate seriously. We must provide an alternative to what the world and even religion have to offer. The political landscape of the greater church is filled with mine fields that collide with biblical values and continue to confuse or distract us from Jesus’ mandate to go out into all the world and preach the gospel. It’s a new day. Leadership is difficult. Leaders are pummeled privately and publicly for what they say and believe. I believe we can bravely take steps to live out our call to live as fully devoted followers of Jesus. It’s more impactful when we do this together.

Lives are changed because of the gospel.

A few years ago, we received a great financial gift from Mike Sieg. The Leadership Team made a decision to tithe 10%. Part of that tithe went to investing in training for next generation leaders from our own church and with our Faith Promise partners in India, Tanzania, Jordan and Poland. Life long relationships were forged during that time last Summer as Wheatland families hosted these young leaders. We all experienced powerful intentional leadership lessons. Each of the Next Gen leaders was given an assignment to develop new ministries to not only sustain what we are currently doing globally—but to also develop new outreach and evangelism ministries. Lives have been changed because of the efforts of these Next Gen leaders. I received reports of new commitments to Christ during Youth Evangelism conferences held in Tanzania. Fantastic new ministry is expanding in Poland as dance and anointed worship music is being included into life-changing experiential worship. India is being set ablaze with the teaching, administrative, healing and deliverance ministries of two powerful Next Gen leaders. Jordanian Youth are being introduced to Jesus Christ and making commitments to Him, even in the midst of a dominant Muslim culture. There is still more to come!

I will be the key note speaker for a leadership conference in Medellin, Colombia in September. I have deep connections to the people of this country and believe the next generation will have a great role to play guiding the future. I am part of the International Leadership Institute in Carrollton, GA. We share a values-based training for leaders. I have been working with an incredible team in Medellin to reach next generation leaders with an important message about resilience and values based leadership. I need your prayers and support while I am there.

Wheatland has so much to offer.

Get involved. Learn more about what is happening. Join a small group, attend a workshop or class to renew or mature your own faith. Serve on a team. Provide a meal for students in Oswego or Naperville. Commit to pray for an international partner. Give financially to make sure all ministry needs are met! Go to another country and serve the people there as Christ serves them. Get out of your comfortable, controlled, boring life and discover what Jesus Christ is all about. There is a place for you at Wheatland. Let’s do great things together!

They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved. Acts 2:47 CEB

Pastor Jen Willson

 “The Contrariness of the Mad Farmer” is the title of one of my favorite poems by Wendell Berry. In the poem, Berry’s reveals how the life of the protagonist, the Mad Farmer, stands in contrast to the society around him. In a beautiful way, the Mad Farmer reveals the contrariness that the People of God are to exhibit to the world around them.  The world has its interpretations of how things should operate and as “Kingdom folk” we often look contrary to those interpretations. When we turn to the gospel of John we find a striking picture of two interpretations in conflict.  

Imagine this: It was early in the morning and Jesus had been teaching in the temple courts. Suddenly, the Pharisees bring before him a woman caught in the act of adultery. With stones in hand, the Pharisees 'remind' Jesus of what their law says about such things: "Are you going to follow our law? Will you have this woman killed?"  The Pharisees were really asking these questions in order to trap Jesus. In an unexpected turn of events, Jesus kneels to the ground. He quietly confronts the Pharisees who, one by one, walk away. The woman and Jesus are left standing there.

The Gospels make it clear that Jesus and the Pharisees often disagreed. In fact, their tension ran deep enough that the Pharisees eventually plotted to arrest and kill Jesus. Just what exactly was the source of this tension? The gospels show us that the major tension between the Pharisees and Jesus centered on the practice of Torah. The Torah is Israel's sacred scriptures which contains commands concerning every aspect of a Jewish person's life.  According to the Pharisees, to obey Torah was to ultimately receive YHWH's blessing signaled by the arrival of the coming Messiah and his Kingdom. In fact, the Jewish people had developed an entire system in order to keep Torah properly. This system of laws was called halakhah or the Jewish Law. 

Because of Torah and the laws concerning it, an Israelite knew what they could eat, what they could wear, who they could associate with, how to worship, and even when they should wash their hands. It functioned as a way of ordering and regulating the world and allowed one to know "what and who belong when and where." To say it another way, Torah was a way of living out the Story of YHWH. Therefore, the primary focus of a Pharisee was to practice these laws to perfection—and that is the issue. The Pharisees couldn't stand how Jesus practiced Torah. Why? Because in their eyes, Jesus was not practicing Torah. 

The gospel of Luke gives a perfect example. Jesus, upon being invited for dinner, walks into a room of Pharisees. One can imagine a twinkle in Jesus' eyes and maybe, just maybe, a smirk. Rather than pausing for the ceremonial hand washing that the law required before a meal, Jesus goes and finds a comfy spot to sit and eat. The Pharisees are astounded! Jesus just blatantly ignored Torah by eating with 'defiled hands!' Hand washing, however, was not the only tension that the Pharisees had with Jesus. In fact, there are five primary tensions that the gospels use as examples:

1. Hand Washing

2. Food Laws

3. Divorce

4. Sabbath

5. Tithing

The five tensions revolved around the Pharisees concern for purity. When a Jew did not adhere to Torah properly they were uncleanClean and unclean were qualifiers for where one stood in relation to God and his people. This is why the Pharisees couldn't make sense of Jesus' miracles. Surely someone who ignored Torah could not have God's blessing! They are unclean! The Pharisees’ idea of clean and unclean forced them to conclude that Jesus’ power came from the devil. At one point, even Jesus’ own family claimed he must be mad! The supposed mad messiah was seen as a direct hindrance to the redemption of Israel by throwing the Pharisees’ system of purity off balance. No wonder they sought to kill him!

Strangely enough, Jesus actually claimed he was not seeking to ignore or even abolish Torah, but to truly fulfill it. This is where the conundrum lies. The issue was not Jesus' living of Torah, but the Pharisees' interpretation of Torah. As Scot McKnight says, "the Pharisees taught love of the Torah, and were good at it, but Jesus taught a Torah of love, and he was good at it." The Pharisees' interpretation of Torah kept the ‘who’ and ‘what’ where they wanted them kept. They did not have to deal with mercy or justice, because the Pharisees’ interpretation of the Torah created a distance from others. However, Jesus redefined those notions. Jesus redefined clean and unclean. Jesus revealed the nature of Torah. 

Let’s go back to the Gospel of John. The woman and Jesus were left standing there after the Pharisees dropped their stones and walked away. "Now, where did they go," he laughs, "Is there anyone here left accusing you?" The woman's response is quite radical. Jesus had not made his official judgment about her case and yet she claims that no one, including Jesus, has condemned her. Why? Because Jesus is living a Torah of Love.

Jesus was living out the Story of YHWH—a story filled with lament and tragedy, with joy and forgiveness, with hope and expectation, with restoration and resurrection—a story centered on love. Love ultimately encompasses all those elements. Love ultimately encompasses the whole Torah. From this vantage point of love, Jesus’ tension with the Pharisees begins to make sense. This is why Jesus could claim that the Pharisees were truly the ones shutting the doors of the Kingdom despite their strict adherence to the Torah. This is why Jesus could call the Pharisees clean on the outside, while in reality they were unclean on the inside. The Pharisees were unclean because they lacked love.

We enter into the story much later than the Pharisees, but the tension still remains—we too have our own interpretations. We have interpretations that keep the ‘who’ and ‘what’ where we want them to be kept—often at a distance. We have our interpretations of what is clean and unclean without ever having to deal with things like justice, mercy, or love. Yet, as we experience more of Jesus and the story of YHWH, our tightly held interpretations begin to drop their stones and walk away one by one.  And after some time has passed, we are ultimately left sitting at the feet of Jesus--our beautiful and contrary mad Messiah.    

Pastor Corey

 There is a difference between forgiveness and reconciliation.

Let's focus on the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. God is clear that we always need to forgive. He is also clear that you cannot always reconcile with the person who hurt you. You may recall Jesus mentioning this in Matthew 18.  Jesus mentions that we are to confront those who harm us, clearly letting them know how they wronged us so that they will have a definite opportunity to change and make things right. However, in verse 17, God describes that, after a process of varying attempts to allow the harmful person to make a life change, it is spiritually and morally correct to distance yourself from a person who continues to harm you. When you have a clear understanding of this resolution process and of the definitions of forgiveness and reconciliation, it can (1) free you from the past to move forward and (2) release you from the guilt of breaking off a relationship.

Discovering your voice and speaking your truth is an important part of personal growth and establishing healthy boundaries.

Speaking to someone who wronged you was considered a positive action even under Mosaic law. The Jews have a saying that the ruin of a nation was caused by not confronting the person who harms other people. It is easy to see how the complete breakdown of relationships, families and all social structures can be attributed to not correcting a destructive person. Correcting someone is not taken out of ill-will or hatred, but with the desire of restoration of the relationship. Restoration may not be possible. However, speaking your truth and voicing of the harm done to you is necessary for your own well-being. Check out Leviticus 19 in the Mosaic law.

-You shall not hate your brother in your heart but you shall surely rebuke your him lest you incur sin because of him. 

-Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke him frankly so you will not share in his guilt. 

-Let there be no hate in your heart for your brother; but you may make a protest to your neighbor, so that he may be stopped from doing evil. 

God’s Scriptural guidelines on confronting a harmful person are still effective for us in our culture.

After doing a little research on this passage from Matthew 18, I was impressed with how Scriptural instructions dealt with a harmful person. I believe they still apply in modern culture.

1. Privately speak to the person who harmed you and explain why their words or actions were a violation of your boundaries and socially acceptable behavior. [The exception to this would be if you are in a situation were physical harm is possible.]

2. If the destructive person does not desire to make a lifestyle change after this initial discussion, take 2 or 3 people of credibility who are familiar with the situation to again speak to the person in hopes of restoration. [This is similar to family members confronting the person before taking the matter outside the family.]

3. If the person with harmful behavior still feels no remorse and motivation to change, one last attempt is made by a group of credible people to again explain the violations of the boundaries and the need for change for healing to take place in the relationships. In Scriptural context, this is referring to a group of church leaders such as the pastor and elders. This is actually comparable to doing what is termed an Intervention in our culture, where you have family, credible friends, and a therapist as a group sit down and reason with the destructive person.

4. If all attempts fail, Scripture says that the person is to be treated as “a Publican or tax collector,” meaning that you should no longer have social interaction with the person due to their decision to continue a destructive behavior or lifestyle. Publicans and tax collectors were people that Jews did not have social interaction with due to their lack of moral character.

This withdrawing of social interaction is (1) in hopes that the person will be ashamed of his or her harmful actions but also (2) that you will not continue to be affected by it. Henry goes on to say, “Those who show contempt for the rules of society forfeit the honors and privileges of it until they are willing to change, submit to [society rules] and follow through with reconciliation.”

Resolution can come to your heart either through forgiveness alone or forgiveness and reconciliation. But, since the actual wrong can never be undone, forgiveness within yourself and canceling the person’s debt to you, must take place. 

A Definition of Forgiveness is:

“Forgiveness is something that we do in our hearts. We release someone from a debt that they owe us. We no longer condemn them. The person who owes me the debt does not have to ask my forgiveness. It is a work of grace in my heart. It is freedom from the abusive person who hurt you. The Bible compares forgiving people to releasing them from a legal debt. (pp. 251, 262 Boundaries, Townsend and Cloud).”

This can be very difficult. Drs. Cloud and Townsend point out that forgiveness means “that we will never get from the other person what was owed us because we have decided to cancel the debt and not try to collect. And this is what we do not like. It involves grieving for what will never be. (Boundaries, p. 263).” Grieving is part of the healing process, we have to allow ourselves to grieve over the fact that the past cannot be changed. The past cannot be the way we wished it would have been. Unforgiveness keeps you involved in the destructive relationship because you are still expecting some form of repayment from the harmful person. Allow yourself to grieve over the past so that you can release it, be freed from it and live for a healthy present and future.

Reconciliation cannot always take place because it involves the cooperation of both people.

The spiritual work of Jesus through His death and resurrection was to bring a “legal” payment for our sins. Jesus paid off our debt. His actions restored us and opened the possibility for reconciliation. Even though God has offered forgiveness on His part to all, not everyone takes advantage of the opportunity to have reconciliation with Him. It takes both people to have reconciliation. Though you forgive someone for hurting you, it does not mean that they are trustworthy. It takes time for them to prove a lifestyle change. There are people living harmful lives who verbally say they are sorry, but then continue to live the same harmful, destructive lives. Such a lifestyle is so horrendous in the sight of God that John the Baptist called religious leaders who lived this way 'a brood of poisonous snakes and enemies of all that is good.’ (Matthew 12:34) A changed life is the only proof of a changed heart. The Greek term here for repentance, metanoeo, is a reversal of one’s decision, including the reversal of one’s thinking and feeling–the logical result then being a reversal in one’s actions (Strong’s Dictionary of NT Words).

Forgiveness focuses on releasing the past. Reconciliation is a matter of having a healthy future with proper boundaries.

If the harmful person is not repentant and will not change the destructive patterns of his or her life, forgiveness is all you can do. Forgiveness alone will bring you resolution. However, when a true change of heart occurs and then of lifestyle change takes place in the hurtful person, reconciliation is the next step. Realize that it takes a passage of time for the repentant lifestyle to be proven. Many therapists suggest that the social separation has to take place like in the Scripture mentioned. You need to see that an appropriate lifestyle-one that is not destructive-is lived out by the person who harmed you for a period of at least 6 months before working toward social interaction again and reconciliation in the relationship. Your part in the reconciliation is to live out proper boundaries in your life, only allowing healthy social interactions and speaking out clear messages when someone violates the rules of healthy social behavior. Healthy boundaries also involve resulting consequences for those who violated your boundaries. 

Consequences vary with the situation. If someone dumps on you, that isn’t healthy. Don’t do their work for them again. Don’t make excuses. Don’t cover it up. Allow them to experience the loss. If someone is verbally, emotionally or physically abusive, speak out the violation of your boundaries. Like the Scriptural example, stopping social interaction with that person is necessary so they experience the consequences of their behavior, i.e. the loss of a relationship with you.

When people fail, we continue to forgive. But reconciliation can only take place with people who are honest about their failures, learn from the mistakes and make changes in their lifestyles. This is the type of situation that is healthy and one we can all work with. As Scripture says, “We all fail in many ways."(James 3:2) There is a clear difference, though, in a person with whom you cannot work toward reconciliation. When a person continues in dishonesty by denying that they have hurt you or lives like the religious leaders of Jesus’ time, claiming to have done no wrong, they do not live in reality. A complete change of direction must take place for reconciliation. Your boundaries need to stay in tact, keeping out the harm, even though you have forgiven them. Move on. Take time to grieve and heal.

“Boundaries: When to Say, “Yes,” When to Say, “No,” to Take Control of Your Life” by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend.

Pastor Jen

 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