ADVENTURES IN GETTING TO KNOW PEOPLE

A photo by Anna Dziubinska. unsplash.com/photos/mVhd5QVlDWw

My mom is awesome. Around 8AM every day of the week, she sends me a quote. She’s been collecting them for as long as I can remember and ever since I stepped into the lead role at Immanuel Church, she’s been sending me a little encouragement each day from her notebook. It’s great. One in particular has been stuck in my mind for a while now and I thought I’d share it with you: “The only normal people are the ones you don’t know very well.” Joe Anis said that; an executive with GE who sounds an awful lot like a philosopher from centuries gone by.

Could a statement be more true? Why is it that the closer we seem to get to people the more flaws we find in them? I mean, who annoys you more than your family? And yet, when you look at everyone else, they seem to be all smiles, hugs and kisses. Everyone else’s office is normal. Everyone else’s neighbors are normal. Everyone else’s cousins are normal. Or so we think. With this misconception of everyone else in mind, we go about trying to fix the people we do life with. We try to adjust them so they can be normal too.

But what if there aren’t “normal” people? What if life isn’t about conforming to a standard; a usual, a typical, or the expected? Last time I checked, our society values being unique; being who we are and not apologizing for it. So why then are we so consumed with being normal? Normal is average. And who wants to be average?

I love these few sentences from the Bible: “You alone created my inner being. You knitted me together inside my mother. I will give thanks to you because I have been so amazingly and miraculously made. Your works are miraculous, and my soul is fully aware of this” (Psalm 139:13-14). “Yet you, LORD, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand” (Isaiah 64:8).

To think God made us on purpose with a purpose is nothing short of mind-blowing. David says that we’re “amazingly and miraculously made.” Those are gigantic words to describe you and me. Then Isaiah says that God made us like a potter forms clay into a bowl or vase. Think about that, a potter shapes that clay into precisely what he or she wants it to be, and then people pay good money to put them in their homes. Astounding, right? That’s you! You are the priceless piece uniquely made by the Potter. There’s nothing normal about that. No two are exactly the same.

So what if getting to know people well, blemishes and all, really is about seeing how they aren’t normal? And what if instead of trying to reshape them into a standard, you were appreciating the uniqueness of who they are? This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t all be striving to change into the likeness of Jesus; of course we are to do that. But I know an awful lot of Christians who are good, God-loving people, but don’t seem “normal” to some. Think of how different the 12 disciples were… Peter was loud and brash. John was quiet and reflective. Thomas was a skeptic. And yet they all followed Jesus.
We’re going to find differences with whoever we’re close to, I promise. But maybe, just maybe, we can come to appreciate that, instead of long for someone to be more like someone else. What would that do to our marriages? What would that do to our friendships? Our work relationships? The dynamics with our kids? I think it would do a lot. So Mr. Anis, you’re right about normal people being the ones you don’t know very well, but that’s what makes God all the more incredible and the adventure of getting to know people so great. Here’s to abnormal.

THE “SO FAR”

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Lately my son has become obsessed with being in a band and becoming a world-famous rock star. He’s eight years old. But he is determined and convinced it will happen for him. So he’s begun writing songs–lots of songs. Everywhere I go in our house I find pieces of paper with lyrics scribbled all over them. And any time I go to use the family iPad, it’s too full of videos to do anything else. Here’s the thing: if you read those lyrics and watch those videos you’ll find that they’re pretty repetitive; seriously, it’s the same line over and over again. It’s not Grammy-winning material, so far…

And that’s the thing I can’t shake: it’s “so far.” Like I said, he’s an eight-year-old boy who has a wild and crazy dream, and if he has the wherewithal to write down even simple lyrics at this young age, what might he be capable of in 10-15 years? It would be easy for me to not think that way; it’s my default after all. Be realistic. Be serious. Think reasonably. Most people never make it as musicians; at least to a level that can support a family. As his father, isn’t it my job to help him grow up with his “head on straight?”

Can I be honest with you? I hate how that’s my default. I hate that I’m not better about dreaming with my kids and fanning sparks into flames. What if Justin Timberlake’s parents told him that a music career wasn’t a serious one? I bet they’re glad they didn’t when he pays for a nice vacation or meal. And I don’t want to think of this from the perspective that sees a possible retirement plan via my child’s riches, but the perspective that’s simply trying to love my son and grow him into the man God has created him to be.

Have you ever thought about that idea for very long? The fact that God created your children? We love to take the credit for that, but we overestimate ourselves. Psalm 139 reads, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well” (v13-14, NIV). My son is fearfully and wonderfully made. He is a wonderful work of God Himself. And let me tell you, God has knit together one created little boy. So I’ve begun looking at the dreams of my sons as an opportunity to shine light on the amazing creativity of God. Their creativity is His creativity. Me cheering them on and at times playing along is a chance for me to worship God and celebrate His creative work.

I don’t know if my son will ever stand in front of an auditorium and sing songs he’s written… but he might. Because right now, he’s just in the “so far.” Isn’t it interesting how much we are all in the “so far?” We’re all becoming. Whether we’re 7, 17, 37 or 77, we’re growing in our person. Some of us are simply growing in our knowledge and understanding. Others of us are doing our best to grow in our likeness to Jesus. We’re not very much like him, so far, but we’re working. So what if we did a better job of cutting each other a little slack? What if we understood that we’re all fearfully and wonderfully made? You may not have children of your own, but you have co-workers, or brothers and sisters, or neighbors that aren’t quite where you think they should be. Do you see their potential? Or their shortcomings? Do you see the lyrics they’re writing and think, “that’s not much to write home about” or do you see what they could become one day?

I’m thankful God spends more time thinking about the latter with me. And my goal is to spend more time thinking about the latter with my sons, my co-workers, the people I go to church with, and the people I sit in traffic with. Because in the end, we’re all still in the “so far.”

RADIANT LEADERSHIP

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Not long ago, I introduced a concept to our staff that has shaken me up a little bit. At first it was just a leadership principle, but lately I’ve found it seeping into other parts of my life; like my parenting, my spousing (is that a word?), my friendships…everything. This might seem like a good thing, and I suppose it is, but it’s made things uncomfortable in my already complicated psyche. And so, I share it with you here so I’m not alone.

I call this concept Radiant Leadership. And it stands at the other end of the spectrum from leadership styles like Compliant Leadership. Allow me to define each of these briefly. Compliant Leadership has, you guessed it, a leader. This leader stands in front of followers and tells them where they’re going and how they’re going to get there; while they lead the way. This is pretty standard practice in most classrooms, offices, families, and even friendships. It’s  worked (sort of) for a very long time. It looks something like this:

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The hardest part of this arrangement is it’s dependency on the followers being compliant. They have to actually respond and do what they’re being told they should do. This model hinges entirely on THEM. That makes for frustrating leadership. Have you ever tried to tell a four-year-old to eat their vegetables? How about a disgruntled employee that they need to have a better attitude? You might use every strategy from every book in the parenting or leadership section of Amazon and still find THEY don’t listen.

So what if we flipped the script? Here’s what I mean: instead of depending on THEM, let’s focus more on YOU. In order to do that, we need to change the model all together; this is where Radiant Leadership comes in. It looks like this:

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In this model, the leader is at the center instead of at the front or on top of the proverbial organizational chart. And they function more like a pebble that’s thrown into a pond. Have you ever noticed the monumental effect a small stone can have on a still pond? The ripples it creates often make it all the way back to the shore. The leader (or parent, or friend, or life group leader) in this model focuses on themselves and how they are doing things. They do—as an example—and that doing affects those around them, who affect those around them, and so on and so on and so on.

The truth is, you and I cannot control anyone else, just ourselves. So why not lean into that instead of continue to bang our heads against the wall trying to move others? Let’s just move ourselves. Let’s be the people we want them to be. Instead of constantly telling others what they should do—show them what you do. Lead by example.

Like I said, this is uncomfortable. But I think there is something to it. After all, Jesus spent 3.5 years leading the disciples, and most of what we read in the gospels is Jesus showing his disciples and then explaining. When he said, “Come, follow me,” he didn’t stop there. He also said, “and I will show you how to fish for people!” (Mark 1:17, NLT). He showed them how to do what he wanted them to do. So this week, as you parent, or spouse (again, probably not a verb at all) or work, let’s be like Jesus and be radiant in our leadership.

FINAL DESTINATION

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Have you ever started something and not finished?  Maybe it was improving at a sport or doing well on a project.  Have you had a vision of something you wanted but sold out short on? Maybe your vision was more difficult to attain than you realized, became too time consuming, or a number of other things. I know I have and I settled for less than best for reasons such as these. If I am being honest I think this is true of a lot of us in our walk with God.

I mess up so much and I can be really hard on myself. I also forget stuff like it’s nobody’s business.  (You can ask my friend Sarah, she is always reminding me of things we have going on).  But I’m the worst when it comes to God.  I forget so easily the things he’s done for me, his promises, and the things he teaches.  I lose my vision of him and as a result I lose sight of who I am in him.  Instead I become discouraged and distracted because somewhere along the way I got side tracked and am not where I want to be.

Like a road trip to Disney, I lose the bigger picture and become focused on the wrong things. Things like traffic, being cramped in a car, the many pits stops, detours we have to take because accidents happen, and so on keep getting in the way. I forget that going through the less-than-fun times is worth all the struggle because at the end I will finally be where I want to go.  What I am learning is this: the journey is just as important as the destination.  It’s in the journey process that we learn, grow, and bond with God and others riding with us.  Therefore, just keep swimming. At times you may only be moving inches but at least you are moving towards the goal, you aren’t alone, and that is huge.

I am currently doing a study on Colossians that reminded me of something  Josh talked about Sunday: the key is consistency.  The more I walk with God the more I find this to be true.  This thing called life is a journey.  We will mess up, maybe lose focus, and face road blocks.  But we cannot be lackadaisical in our walk.  We must continue, remain, abide, persist, and press on in the journey because where we end up is more than worth the challenges we face. I leave you with two verses from Colossians that have been a great encouragement to me and I hope for you too.

You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions.  Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body.  As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.  But you must continue to believe this truth and stand firmly in it.  Don’t drift away from the assurance you received when you heard the Good News. -Colossians 1:21-23

“Let your roots grow down deep into him, and let your lives be built on him.  Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.” -Colossians 2:7


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Katrina McElvain is the daughter of Trisha, and oldest of her siblings, Grace and JP.  She loves spending time with family and friends, watching movies, dancing, and writing. She teaches dance at night and is a teacher’s aide by day. She also loves Immanuel and listening to the sermons every Sunday morning.

 

 

TEAM FAMILY

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Have you ever tried to give a cat a bath? Personally, I haven’t but hear it’s pretty difficult to pull off. Most cats don’t like water and will contort their bodies in very unnatural ways just to avoid taking the plunge. It’s not unlike when a cat sees a cucumber (look it up on YouTube – it’s weird). Now, imagine how difficult it would be to give four cats a bath.

If you snuck into my house on any given morning when we have to get our four sons someplace by a certain time, that’s what you’d find – cats, water, chaos. What’s extra insane is that at our house, while the boys are avoiding shoes and backpacks and teeth brushing, they’re also fighting with one another… a lot. So awhile back I sat them down and gave them a new definition for what it meant to be a family; more precisely, I shared with them what it meant to be a team. Here’s the jist of it:

Teammates SACRIFICE for each other.

In other words, there are going to be times when you are called to give something up for a teammate. In the family context, you’ll need to sometimes give up the front seat for your brother who hasn’t had the chance to sit there for a long time. So our goal is the best for the unit, not just for ourselves. 5-year-olds hate this part the most, because they love “mine” and are faced with the possibility of making “mine” “ours.” But again, that’s what it means to be a family.

Teammates SERVE each other.

No, you did not take out those Legos, but will you serve your brother by putting them away for him? Some form of that question shows up every day at our house. Because we value serving our family; our teammates. Here’s why that’s important: because I believe we’re never more like Jesus than when we serve someone else. And I want my boys to be like Jesus, so I lean into the ever-present sibling group around them as the practice field for their future. And serving can’t be done begrudgingly, because that’s not the same thing. We want to serve our brother because we love them and this is a great way to express that love.

Teammates SUPPORT each other.

We always have each other’s backs. Always. Throw in any cliche you like here (like blood is thicker than water) and I use it with my boys. You might pick on your brother but nobody else does. You stick up for them and defend them. You are your teammates’ (and family’s) biggest cheerleader in whatever it is they’re doing.

I’m sure by now you caught that all three start with an “S.” So in our house we call them “The 3 S-es of a Team.” It might sound cliche and cheesy, but it’s helped us be a little more consistent and while the cats still don’t want to get in the water, they’re at least working together to avoid it.


JP

After serving as the Student Ministries Pastor for 10 years, Josh Petersen is now the Lead Pastor of Immanuel Church. He’s married to Heidi and together they live with Jake, Logan, Cole and Sawyer at the circus they call home.

CEREAL IS AWESOME

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What’s your favorite kind of cereal? I’m gonna cheat and say that I have a tie for the number one spot in my cupboard. First is Cookie Crisp. I know, it’s dessert for breakfast, but it’s so good. Number two is Cracklin Oat Bran. It’s like saw dust pressure-packed into little o’s with sugar and cinnamon sprinkled in. Sounds gross but trust me, it’s fantastic. I’ve always been a huge cereal fan. I could eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; and it’s a simple recipe—just add milk. I wrote a paper in college on why cereal is the greatest food ever. And it’s because of this simple fact: I could eat cereal for every meal of every day for a month and never have the same flavor twice…but still be eating cereal.

I wonder if God thinks of us (people) like cereal. I bet He does. We’re all so different, aren’t we? We’re racially different. We’re socio-economically different. We’re culturally different. We are all kinds of different. And yet, we’re all still human. There’s more diversity in humanity than any aisle in your grocery store but we all fall under the same category. But here’s what kicks it up a notch: God made it that way. He’s that creative. He’s that impressive. Which means He loves us way more than we could ever possibly love cereal. And when you factor in that we so often reject Him and His love, it makes it all the more breathtaking. Think about it: if your cereal turned on you and decided it didn’t want to be your cereal anymore…into the garbage disposal it would go, right? But that’s not what God did with us; because He loves us more than we could possibly love cereal.

Instead, he sent his son to save us. That’s love. No matter what flavor we are, He loves us enough to allow His son to be brutally murdered on our behalf. I’ve grown up going to church my entire life and need reminding of this mind-boggling truth regularly. And when the news is full of stories about division and hate, I need reminding all the more. We’re different but the same. We’re diverse but loved by the One who made us that way. I’m trying to become a person that looks at the diversity in humanity like I do my cereal and appreciate it for it’s diversity. Listen, Cheerios are no gourmet meal, but what makes them great is the fact that the next time you have cereal, it might be something different. Cereal is great because it’s so vast in it’s manifestations. Why not appreciate God’s creativity in us with the same bend?

Listen to God’s words through Paul: I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth. For, there is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone (1 Timothy 2:1-6).

All people. Everyone. Humanity. If every heartbeat on the planet matters so much to God that He’d go to the great lengths He did to reconcile us to Himself, then they’d better matter to us. So today, let’s be a community of people that lives as citizens of the Kingdom—a wonderfully diverse Kingdom—by loving it for being that way. Let’s be people who bridge the gap when there’s division, just like Jesus bridged the gap between us and God. Let’s be different from the world.


JP

After serving as the Student Ministries Pastor for 10 years, Josh Petersen is now the Lead Pastor of Immanuel Church. He’s married to Heidi and together they live with Jake, Logan, Cole and Sawyer at the circus they call home.

THE WORSHIP OF MY LIFE

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I don’t know how it goes in your life, but in my family’s, plans go awry. 

And they go awry often.

This makes me feel crazy to say the least. 

But with five children, two parents and one dog, it seems inevitable that plans change. Sometimes, they change moment by moment, depending on the need and the circumstances that either slowly bubble up or explode, volcano-style. 

Take last weekend, for example. Our whole family, all seven of us, had intended to spend the weekend at my in-law’s family cottage. 

But because a lot of life happened, and I’ll leave it at that because you know what that means, we ended up splitting up and going separate ways. Our youngest daughter went with my mom and step dad. Our small and medium boys went to the lake as scheduled with their grandparents. My husband and I stayed home with our teenagers. 

My initial reaction to this change of plans was frustration, sadness and longing. I’d really wanted to go to the cabin and enjoy the lake with our family. 

But that’s not what was happening. In that moment I stood at an emotional crossroads. 

The disappointment and frustration were building inside of me and threatening to overcome while at the same time the Holy Spirit was whispering, “Maybe you didn’t see this all coming, but God knew. You can either sink into a pity party or you can respond in worship.”

“Worship?!” I snorted as the inner dialogue continued. The Spirit began then bringing to my mind words that He was inviting us to embrace that weekend. 

Words like rest, beauty, celebration, creation, feasting, connecting, laughing, growing and enjoying flooded my mind.

Worship. 

And so as I began processing those words, I also began praying that God would help us enter into a weekend of worship despite the fizzling of our best laid plans. 

We brainstormed with the teens how we would play out rest, beauty, celebration, creation, feasting, connecting, laughing, growing and enjoying that weekend, and one of the ways we chose to connect, grow and enjoy was through taking turns picking songs that meant something to our hearts while we were driving to destinations through out the weekend. 

As we each picked, listened and appreciated, we grew to know each other on a deeper level and understand each other a little bit better. 

Some songs were of love. 

Some were of loss.

Some songs were heartbreakingly sad. 

Some were of joy and overcoming. 

Some, a mixture of it all. 

And some were just plain hilarious, ones that made us laugh. {You just haven’t lived until you’ve rocked out to What Does the Fox Say? with teenagers!}

Each of them revealed a little bit about the song picker, though, helping us to know more about each other. 

We were all a little surprised when we walked into Immanuel Sunday morning and the message was about worship having spent the weekend intent on living out worship. 

When Josh likened our lives to songs on Sunday, I realized then that each of our lives are essentially a song of expression that tell a great deal about each of us — just like the songs each of us picked during our weekend together were small reflections of each of our own hearts. 

As I pondered living life as a response to God — living a life of worship — I asked myself what I wanted the song of my life to say. 

Do I want to the song of my life to be a reflection of my circumstances?

A reflection of my emotions?

A reflection of my heart?

A reflection of my God?

Yes. 

The answer to all of those is yes. Well actually, the answer is “yes and.”

I want the song of my life to accurately reflect my circumstances, my emotions, my heart, and I want it all to be in response to who God is. 

Yes, some of my circumstances are hard pressing, and God is there and bigger. 

Yes, many of my emotions are big and difficult to navigate, and God is strong enough to walk with me through each one. 

Yes, my heart is equal parts joy and mess, and God can take it all and make something good of it. 

I want my life-song to accurately reflect my life, and I want it to sing a song of the God who came so we could have life and have it to the fullest. 

I want my life to sing that when my plans go awry, it’s ok. Because God is over it and in it and permeating through every space. 

May He remain the chorus of praise in the worship of my life. 


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Hyacynth Worth is beloved to God, wife to John, mom to two boys and two girls and author of Undercover Mother. 

AWE-FTEN

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I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of being awestruck lately. If I’m being honest, it’s an important part of loving God that I don’t practice enough. And here’s what I mean by awestruck: respect, fear and wonder all wrapped up in a mouth-wide-open-head-scratching stare at God. I don’t think those moments are hard to come by because God is anything short of awe-inspiring; it’s more we’re just too busy to remember that He is indeed just that. And most of us don’t have the resources (time, money, energy) to go on retreats and/or vacations that allow God the space to stir that up in us. So lately I’ve been trying to find ways to stand amazed at God between the proverbial “spiritual highs.” Because I think we should be in awe, awe-ften. See what I did there? So here are 5 places I’ve been in awe of God in the in-between lately:

Sitting in traffic. The most frustrating place on earth is a traffic jam. But look around you. In a two-mile stretch there are roughly 3000 cars. Let’s say half of them carry two people. That means there are about 4500 people within two miles of you on that interstate. That’s 4500 people God created and no two are the same. That’s 4500 people with a number of hairs on their head that God knows precisely. They each have a name and a story that matters to Him. That’s awesome.

Lawn weeds. Think about it, we spray chemicals and pull until our hands hurt and yet they’re back next week, waiting for us even if we’re talking about concrete. We don’t water them or care for them and yet they grow. We’ve actually made our children’s growth spurts sound impressive because they behave like something in the yard. God created a hardy, incredible mechanism when He created weeds. They have no support and still they thrive. That’s awesome.

Humidity. At this time of year where I live in Chicago, it’s hot and humid. And a lot of people would say they don’t mind the heat, it’s the humidity; preferring the “dry heat” of Arizona. But did you know scientists are finding that the flu has a harder time surviving in a humid environment? Haven’t you ever wondered why your mother always says you should run a humidifier when you’re sick? Summer in the Midwest usually lasts a week or so; isn’t it cool that God set it up where our likelihood of being sick for that short timeframe is lessened? That’s awesome.

Election season. I live in a country where I get a vote; where I get to worship my God every weekend without fear for my life. So even though it all feels uncertain, and everyone has a strong opinion, and I don’t know who to believe…there are millions and millions of people all over the planet that would trade places with me. I’m fortunate. I’m blessed. That’s awesome.

Exercise. I’m not a fan. I’ve tried so hard to find joy and pleasure in working out, but I can’t. However, it’s amazing to me—what our bodies can do if we start to move around a little more often. Every November and December I put on a few. That is not awesome, but I can’t get over the contraption God created in my body. It can literally change shape over time. If I run long enough and lift heavy enough, my physique changes. And all I am is bones, muscle fiber, and water; yet it can morph like an Autobot (shoutout to Transformer fans). That’s awesome.

So I’m convinced the key to being in awe more often is not getting away with more regularity— although I think that’s important to do every so often—instead, I think it’s finding the incredible in the mundane. I think it’s finding a big God in the little things; finding the good in the bad. Because God is that…awesome.


JP

After serving as the Student Ministries Pastor for 10 years, Josh Petersen is now the Lead Pastor of Immanuel Church. He’s married to Heidi and together they live with Jake, Logan, Cole and Sawyer at the circus they call home.

FEELING VS. TRUTH

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I don’t know about you, but I don’t always feel like the daughter of the King, much less that the Holy Spirit lives within me.  I make a ton of mistakes.  I still get angry, frustrated, and depressed at times.  I know no one is perfect.  Even if you have been faithfully walking with Christ for years, I know the truth of humanity is that everyone messes up.  We all struggle with something regardless if you are Christian or not and no one gets it all right all the time (…unless you’re Jesus).  Yet knowing all this, at times I still struggle with feeling like a child of God, feeling the Holy Spirit living within me. Well, thank the Lord that our adoption to sonship, through the Holy Spirit, and our Christian faith is not based on feelings.

It is hard to be a Christian.  People are dying for the faith, facing persecution, and oppression.  While we do not face any of those harsh realities in America, it is nevertheless hard here too.  In the American culture we are taught to be independent, follow your heart, be happy, and do what feels right to you.  It’s literally reinforced everywhere: in schools, music, movies.  We are taught from a very young age that those are the honorary goals to strive for throughout life.  

The problem is that feelings are fleeting and ever changing.  So today I might feel on top of the world, but tomorrow I might suffer from feelings of condemnation because of a mistake.  Whatever the case, the Bible tells us feelings cannot be trusted.  We literally have to unlearn everything we have been taught. Thankfully, we have a God who is never changing and tells us truth through scripture to battle the ever raging war on feelings versus truth.   

“He who trusts in his own heart is a fool…”  -Proverbs 28:26

“The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick.” – Jeremiah 17:9

 The human heart, both mine and yours, is deceitful and desperately sick.  But even during the times when you don’t feel like a child of God, or like the Holy Spirit is even there, when you feel condemned because you have made yet another mistake, rest assured that that is not the truth. We have hope. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ.  In the battle of feeling and truth, truth always wins.  So choose to live, act, and believe based on what the Bible says, not on what your feelings tell you.      

Even if we feel guilty, God is greater than our feelings, and he knows everything.” – 1 John 3:20.


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Katrina McElvain is the daughter of Trisha, and oldest of her siblings, Grace and JP.  She loves spending time with family and friends, watching movies, dancing, and writing. She teaches dance at night and is a teacher’s aide by day. She also loves Immanuel and listening to the sermons every Sunday morning.

WHO VS. WHAT

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I just started reading a phenomenal book called “Good To Great” by Jim Collins. It’s one of the most popular tomes in the business sector, ever. It’s guaranteed to be on the “must read” list for anyone working in the marketplace. Two chapters in, I see why. Don’t worry, this isn’t a book review or a commentary on what the church can learn from the business world. Instead, I want to share with you how one concept from the book is deeply spiritual and true to the way God works. Ready? Here we go.

Collins talks a lot about a bus in his book. The bus is the team that’s going to take a company to it’s desired destination. He emphasizes that the people on the bus are the first thing to worry about when creating an effective organization. In fact, the individuals on board should be considered before it’s even determined where the bus is going! The right people need to be in the right seats and the wrong people need to be off the bus altogether. The best leaders focus on who before they concern themselves with what or where.

Have you ever considered the fact that God has invited you onto His bus? Yes, you are part of the “team” that God’s put together for accomplishing His mission in the world. Crazy thought, I know, but God created leadership and gets it right every single time. Jesus initiated this thing called the Church that is full of individuals uniquely gifted and positioned to participate in His reconciling the world to the Father. He invited fishermen, tax collectors, garbage collectors, lawyers, school teachers, stay-at-home moms, CEOs, cashiers, landscapers, scientists and literally countless others to be on the team.

I love the way Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 5: All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. (18-20)

You might not feel like you have much to offer. Too many people think they need to be an eloquent public speaker, theological scholar, or an exceptional leader in order to be used by God for God’s goals. No, you just need to sit in your seat. God has you here because He knew you had a particular role to play. Part of Jim Collins’ findings was that the right people had to be in the right seat. You are called to be all that God’s made you to be right where you’re at. Remember, the church isn’t a place, it’s a people. So participating does NOT mean you need to work at a church—you need to be the church wherever you are. That means in your cubicle, your classroom, or your living room. That’s your seat. If you aren’t sitting there, no one else will.

God called you to follow Him because He had something for you to do, and you’re the right person for the job. He knows your history, your mistakes, and all your shortcomings (mine too). And yet, He invites you on board. So have a seat—let’s do this.


JP

After serving as the Student Ministries Pastor for 10 years, Josh Petersen is now the Lead Pastor of Immanuel Church. He’s married to Heidi and together they live with Jake, Logan, Cole and Sawyer at the circus they call home.

THE GRAND CONDUCTOR

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 **Photo Nasief Manie / Foto24

Last Sunday couldn’t have gone any better.  To start off, there were baptisms in service, which is always a highlight.  To make it even more special, my little brother was among those getting baptized!  Afterwards, I rushed over to College of Lake County for the big day my dance studio had been anticipating all year long… The Recital.  Unless something goes terribly wrong, I’ve always thought recitals to be a ton of fun.  You get to dress up, wear fabulous costumes and makeup, perform on a big stage for an audience, and there is glitter everywhere!  Basically, I feel like it’s a little slice of heaven.  

As I sat backstage watching my dancers perform, I couldn’t help but be in awe.  They did such a good job, had come such a long ways, and danced so beautifully.  One of the other instructors came up to me and told me how impressed she was across the board with everyone’s performance and all the teachers’ hard work. She felt inspired to be even better next year. She literally took the words right out of my mouth. 

I focused on stage again as another group of girls took the floor, wished each other good luck as the music started and the lights came up.  A bazillion thoughts started to flood my head, like how cool it is that the God of the universe, who created all things, created these girls and boys to move their bodies the way they do, that God created all the lighting and tech people to be so good at what they do, how lucky I am to be a part of such a fun and loving studio – all orchestrated by God.

I got to thinking about how each of our lives is like one big recital, and was reminded of a famous Shakespeare quote I’ll put in my own words: we enter the stage, play our very small and short part, and then exit.  Yet, we are allowed to be a part of the greatest production, one in which God is the grand conductor and star. (I told you I was flooded with a ton of thoughts!)

Sunday was a beautiful day and a reminder of how God has had a hand over my life from the start.  I am certain that if you spend five minutes thinking about where you are now and where you have been, you will see God’s awesome conducting skills in your life too.


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Katrina McElvain is the daughter of Trisha, and oldest of her siblings, Grace and JP.  She loves spending time with family and friends, watching movies, dancing, and writing. She teaches dance at night and is a teacher’s aide by day. She also loves Immanuel and listening to the sermons every Sunday morning.

RHYTHM WITH REASONS

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Sunday was a huge day at Immanuel Church. Well, we tend to think of every Sunday as a huge day, but there was an extra buzz in the air last weekend. We launched a brand-new issue of WAIC Magazine, baptized 10 people, and held our first ever WAIC Feast, complete with food trucks and face-painting on our front lawn. Our campus was full of energy and excitement. It was a great day that hopefully made God look good.

But here’s what’s crazy: I went home feeling depressed. Honestly? Most weeks I leave incredible Sunday services feeling blue and incompetent to be leading a church like Immanuel.

I know, that seems stupid. I’m not entirely sure why that is, but have you ever been there? Have you ever had a great victory at work, or an awesome night with your family, or managed to navigate a really difficult conversation well, only to feel deflated later on? How do we avoid that feeling? The answer isn’t that we need a rousing pep talk. It’s not that we need more pats on the back. It’s not even that we need greater victories going forward. In fact, I’m not sure we can avoid the feeling at all. Because that feeling brings us to an important place – a quiet place.

If you were to open the Scriptures to 1 Kings 18 and 19, you’d hear about this unbelievable contest between God and the prophets of Baal. Seriously, read it – it’ll blow your mind. In it, Elijah sees God utterly mop the floor with Baal’s prophets. It’s a contest that’s no contest. But right after this great victory, Elijah runs for his life and asks God to end his life. “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died” (1 Kings 19:4, NLT).

How could Elijah, the great prophet of God, after witnessing what he just had, be at this low of a place? I don’t know that there’s any rhyme or reason to the way our brains and emotions work. I’ve tried to figure out my own and that’s as daunting as detangling the Christmas lights. What’s clear though, is how God responds to Elijah’s feelings. Verses 5-9 tell us that Elijah slept and God sent angels to essentially be his nurses. Later in the chapter God wakes him up and speaks to him—not in a mighty wind storm, not in an earthquake, not even in a great fire—a whisper. God speaks to Elijah with a whisper. And the first thing God says is in the form of a question. “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (19:13b). He allows Elijah to respond and only then gives him directions for what’s next.

Here’s how things seem to progress:

1) hard work

2) fatigue

3) rest

4) assessment

5) direction.

I love this passage because Elijah’s a great man of God who displays real humanity. Why do you and I think we’re better than that? Why do we think we don’t need breaks and rest and honest assessment of how we’re doing? No one ever said Christians were supposed to be super-humans. One of the greatest forms of worship is dependency. Dependency on God to lead us to victory and dependency on God to bring us the energy for the next one. We simply cannot sustain a God-sized pace, only He can. So don’t apologize for rest. Don’t be sorry you need a vacation. Just be purposed in it; be conscious in it. Allow God to whisper to you and care for you. Be honest with Him about how you’re feeling and wait for Him to pick you up and move you forward.

Sunday was awesome because God was moving in great ways. And for me, Monday was awesome because God was whispering in great ways to my spirit through rest. Fatigue is real, so don’t pretend it isn’t. Find a few minutes today to allow God to care for you. His ability to nurse Elijah back to health was as equally great as his ability to devour a water-soaked altar and all the rocks around it with fire.


JP

After serving as the Student Ministries Pastor for 10 years, Josh Petersen is now the Lead Pastor of Immanuel Church. He’s married to Heidi and together they live with Jake, Logan, Cole and Sawyer at the circus they call home.

THROUGH TRAGEDY AND HEARTBREAK

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For just a moment, picture your Facebook feed. There’s likely some political argument going on, you might scroll past an album labeled Summer 2016!!🙂, Chewbacca Mom is probably mid-belly laugh, and I bet someone shared something that’s supposed to make you emotional.

Over the past few days, though, I have been seeing heartbreaking event after event. News of a Stanford rape case is trending on Facebook. I learned about another family that is grieving the loss of their daughter after a tragic accident. Young people are losing their battles with cancer. It’s right there, in black and white. But if there’s anything I feel we can take away from all of this it’s this: we serve a mighty God. No really, we do.

Through tragedy and through heartbreak, we can hold tight to the promise that God never moves. He never gets weak. We might get shaky, but God never will. He can, and will, turn our anger and fear and despair into glory and goodness. Lamentations 3:22-23 says “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” God doesn’t promise that life is going to be easy, but He does promise to give us new strength. He promises to be there for the weak and the weary. He promises to hear us when we call out to him. When the going gets tough, rest in The Lord’s promises. Cling tight to Him. Cherish your moments on earth and love fiercely.

“The Lord will fight for you, you need only be still.”


Gracie Adamek attends the College of Lake County and hopes to one day be a special education teacher. She likes to sing, act, knit, and write. She hopes you enjoy your time here, reading these blogs, and is very grateful for the opportunity to glorify God through her words

LEDGER OF LAMENT

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Everyone goes through a season where they wonder if anybody else is paying attention to them. Christians are certainly not exempt from this feeling, even with God and especially when times are tough. It can feel like God’s not paying attention when we’re experiencing sorrow, like He somehow forgot about us. We might even feel like He enjoys seeing us go through pain, because for many, pain seems like the norm. Why doesn’t he rescue us? He must be so busy holding all of creation together that we just fell through the cracks.

But recently I was listening to Psalm 56 and was reminded in verse 8 of an incredible thing that David says about God. Check this out:

You keep track of all my sorrows.

You have collected all my tears in your bottle.

You have recorded each one in your book. (NLT)

God has kept track of David’s hardship and does not take his sorrow for granted. Can you even begin to fathom that? The creator of everything; God, who made things like black holes and cells and humming birds, deeply cares for people—especially people in the midst of sorrow. Tears are not wasted or dismissed. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

This verse is surrounded by two things: 1) David complaining about his enemies, and 2) how David isn’t afraid because God’s on his side. Where does that sort of confidence come from? I think it’s from experience with the bookends of sorrow. God fills David up through victory and then allows him to experience sorrow, only to fill him back up again. That’s the rhythm of David’s Psalms: up, down, up, down, up.

It’s not unlike the way a rainy day helps us appreciate the sun. Without winter, would we enjoy summer the way we do? It’s a little give and take, like the ledger in your checkbook – I mean your online banking statement (sorry my old-school came shining through there).

Back to the verse. Why would God keep track? Why would He record our sorrow? Well…because He keeps a balanced book. And even if we find ourselves in the “red” most of life, His promise is to even things up on in the end:

He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever (Revelation 21:3-4, NLT).

So no matter what you’re facing today, know this: He is paying attention.


JP

After serving as the Student Ministries Pastor for 10 years, Josh Petersen is now the Lead Pastor of Immanuel Church. He’s married to Heidi and together they live with Jake, Logan, Cole and Sawyer at the circus they call home.

THE WAY YOU LOOK

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Studies show that the average person says 15,000 words each day; we do a TON of talking. And because of that, we give a lot of attention to which words we use. Are they politically correct? Are they mean? Uplifting? Smart? This list could go on forever, but you get the point. Our concern for words could never be more prevalent than when we consider sharing our faith with someone not familiar with Jesus. How many times have you worried you wouldn’t know what to say to a difficult question? How many times have you worried they’d respond negatively to what you say? It can be debilitating, can’t it?

I was wrestling with this very question recently when I came across an interesting incident involving Peter in Acts. “One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer — at three in the afternoon. Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple later called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John” (Acts 3:1-4, NIV).

I love that Peter and John didn’t begin with words. Eventually they start talking and go on to heal this man, but the start of it all is a look. Luke, who wrote the book of Acts, says they “looked straight at him.” The New Living Translation says they “looked at him intently.” And yet another translation, the English Standard Version, says Peter “directed his gaze at him.” Eye contact. That was step one in this interaction. Looking at someone on purpose, with intent, making sure that person understands — before you say anything — that they are the center of your attention.

Here’s why I think that’s important: because being treated with such focus and attention is such a rare thing in our day and age. How we look at people as we walk down the street, or check out at the store, or sit next to them at a traffic light really matters. It says more than words ever can.

Can you imagine what it was like to have Peter look at you intently? I wonder what it would have been like to have Jesus look straight at you. What’s it like for other people when you look straight at them? Is it anything like what this man felt? His conversation with Peter ended in healing and an understanding of who Jesus of Nazareth was. Can people see that in your eyes? Can they see your eyes at all? Or are you too busy to look intently?

Peter didn’t have money to give this man — but he did have something of even more valuable. And you know what Peter’s first words were according to the ESV? “Look at us.” Maybe what your eyes say carries a little more weight than what your mouth says. This week, show people Jesus by the way you look.


JP

After serving as the Student Ministries Pastor for 10 years, Josh Petersen is now the Lead Pastor of Immanuel Church. He’s married to Heidi and together they live with Jake, Logan, Cole and Sawyer at the circus they call home.

A FISHER OF MEN

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I’ve never been fishing but I don’t think I would be a fan. For starters, large bodies of water scare me because of what’s lurking in them. Second, fish are scaly and weird-looking and the thought of eating one grosses me out. Third, it requires a lot of waiting and doing nothing, which I am not so keen on. Even the thought of fishing with a net, which requires no waiting and almost assures that you’ll get something, is still not appealing.

I am obviously no fisherman, yet I am called to be a fisher of men. On Sunday Josh preached about how Jesus fished with a drag net which catches everything in its path. What fascinated me was that no one can fish with a drag net alone, as it requires two people to hold opposite ends.  Hearing that just reinforced the importance of being a part of a church community – not just sitting through Sundays, but to really be connected to other believers.

When I first started coming to Immanuel, I had a hunger for God.  Then I became a fish caught up in the net my friend had casted over me. Although for some time before that point I was a believer who tried to walk with God alone, it wasn’t until after I got connected with a small group and people actively seeking God that I realized what I was missing out on.  When you are connected with other believers you benefit from each other.  Small groups help keep each other accountable, support one another in our faith, and encourage and help each other to become more like Christ.  When one falls others are there to pick them up. In community we help each other to see more clearly who God is and what He’s doing in our lives. One of the greatest things I love about the church is seeing godly character lived out in others, seeing what it looks like to be a fisher of men.

I hate to admit it but I think it’s true of most of us – we’re most likely to sin when we are not walking with other believers.  Living for Christ is not easy and cannot be done alone.  When you are in fellowship with others trying to do the same, it makes life a little less heavy.   Because of the connections I’ve made, I am walking closer to God than ever before. I am not saying my walk is perfect because it’s certainly not.  I struggle and fall all the time and I know I need to work on being a net.  Thankfully God has provided in His Kingdom living, breathing examples of what being a net looks like so I can strive to do the same.


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Katrina McElvain is the daughter of Trisha, and oldest of her siblings, Grace and JP.  She loves spending time with family and friends, watching movies, dancing, and writing. She teaches dance at night and is a teacher’s aide by day. She also loves Immanuel and listening to the sermons every Sunday morning.

THOUGHTS ON “LOVE, SEX, & DATING”

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Please bear with me as I express how much I’ve enjoyed our recent series on Love, Sex, and Dating.  I LOVED IT!  If you have been a Christ-follower for any amount of time,  you’re probably familiar with 1 Corinthians 13. I was asked difficult questions (my paraphrase):  “Are you the kind of person you’re looking for? ” “Are you someone you would want to marry?”  “Are you trying to become the ‘love list’ from 1 Corinthians 13?”  If you’re anything like me, you’ve got a lot of work and a long road ahead of you.

Those questions have been on repeat in my head ever since the first message. They hit me so hard because, as a Christ-follower who is single and hopes to get married one day, it was revealed to me that I am nowhere near ready.  It also occurred to me that whether I marry or not, I was reminded of the type of person I should be striving to become in Christ. This is the kind of person we are all called to be as Christians.   After the sermon I had a serious talk with God. I asked him to make me into that kind of person. I think He is answering my prayer, but I am learning that His answers require a bit of pruning!

For example, I think God has been trying to tell me that I need to change my spending habits. I have never been willing to deal with it because – news flash – that would mean not spending how I want. Right after I prayed I knew God was calling me to change in this area. This was confirmed when my small group called me out for having an addiction to shopping. It was hard to hear because I knew it was true. The next days were tough.  I felt angry, embarrassed, and condemned. Then… enter the grace of God.

As I sat in church the next Sunday, the message told me that it isn’t okay to stay immature in love, that our pasts will follow us into the future and the patterns we practice now will follow us into our marriages. As if a veil had been lifted, I was reminded what I asked God to start doing exactly one week ago. Money is one of the top reasons people divorce, and if I were to carry my spending habits into a marriage, well, it would be disastrous. If I remain single the rest of my life and continue to spend the way I do, it would ruin me. Tears came to my eyes as I saw what God had been doing in the past week. The next two sermons filled me with assurance that God was working in my heart. They sparked a lot of self-reflection, too, especially on my past relationships. I think what I’ve taken away most from this series is that it’s time to grow up and put the ways of childhood behind me. It’s time to for us to become the kind of people God is calling us to be. Are you ready?


(null).jpgKatrina McElvain is the daughter of Trisha, and oldest of her siblings, Grace and JP.  She loves spending time with family and friends, watching movies, dancing, and writing. She teaches dance at night and is a teacher’s aide by day. She also loves Immanuel and listening to the sermons every Sunday morning.

AS LONG AS I HAVE BREATH

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On Sunday morning, we sang a song called Great Are You Lord. It’s probably a favorite amongst our congregation so this song is no stranger to our set list. The words in the chorus are, “It’s Your breath in our lungs so we pour out our praise to You only.” I’ve heard those words a hundred times, but this time was different; I was reminded of a verse I’d recently read. Psalm 116:2 says, “Because He bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath.” I love that line, “as long as I have breath.” This isn’t just a flippant thing, but something that matters at all times: when we feel at peace and close to God, when we have never felt more distant, when we need direction or wisdom… the list could go on. Praising God, praying to him, it’s as natural and constant as breathing.

After all, it’s because of God that we’re here. He gives us life, the air in our lungs. With the same breath that God gives us, we’re going to use it to praise Him! See, we only have the ability to sing and shout praises because God has given us that ability. I was recently hit with this realization and I just can’t get over it! It finds itself into every aspect of my life. For example, it makes me think hard about the words I speak every day. Why use the air that the Lord so graciously gives me to speak unkind words or to say things that He is so clearly against? What am I feeding my soul with? How is my prayer life? Am I using that breath, my life in a pleasing way? As long as I am alive and breathing, I am going to pray to my God who listens; as long as I have air in my lungs, I’ll speak for the God who hears.


Gracie Adamek attends the College of Lake County and hopes to one day be a special education teacher. She likes to sing, act, knit, and write. She hopes you enjoy your time here, reading these blogs, and is very grateful for the opportunity to glorify God through her words

CLOUDED EYES

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My eyes have not been working well this past week. I woke up Tuesday morning with so much gunk covering my contacts that I could barely make out which of my kids climbed into bed with us at 4 am. The next night I slept without my high prescription contacts, meaning that when I awoke again with goopy eyes – I was literally blind.

This got me thinking about eyes and how we use them. We can see a clock to tell the time. We can see our child or wife and let them know how nice they look today. We can even use them to successfully navigate rush-hour traffic on the interstate. However, they can just as easily lead us into danger and hurt if we aren’t careful. They can linger on an attractive woman’s body or internally criticize how someone is dressed. They can draw us toward the newest and shiniest or to covet something owned by our neighbor.

Eyes can also go bad and not work well anymore. Things don’t look quite as bright, we miss some of the details – maybe even all the details if you are like me with no contacts and clouded eyes! These eyes can miss the beauty God created and just as easily not see clearly injustice happening right in front of us.

Something hit me: we treat someones as somethings all the time when we don’t clearly see people as being children created by God. We choose so often to instead focus on the external look of things or, worse, miss seeing them all together. People on the street become everyday objects that we simply pass by. People at the airport become obstacles to avoid crashing into. An acquaintance sending a Facebook message can feel like browsing spam mail.

But what if we asked for the eyes of God in order to see people as he sees them? What might happen? Instead of “undressing” someone with our eyes, we could see a hurting heart; instead of being disgusted by a man with a cardboard sign, we could see his pain. This change of mindset and establishment of new neuropathways that are needed in my own mind will continue to take time to develop. In the meantime, though, I am going to practice remembering a few things and I encourage you all to do the same.

The woman on the internet you were fantasizing about last night by yourself with the door shut, her name is Anne and she is a person created uniquely by God.

The man you had your eye on at the gas station because he wore very different clothes than you and had dark skin, his name is Marcus and he is a human being uniquely knit together by God for a purpose.

The child’s picture you saw featured in a post on Facebook during orphan awareness week, she lives in Ukraine, her name is Vita and she is a princess of the King.

My prayer tonight is this: “God, please help me see people as you see them. Help me to remember that there are no ordinary people. Father, help me to see with your eyes and love with your heart. Please help me to never view a someone as a something.”


 

 John Worth is a lifelong attender of Immanuel and husband to Hyacynth. John and Hy are parents of four ranging in age from 4 to 14. When he’s not nose deep in spreadsheets at work John enjoys helping others navigate the waters of life.

 

THE WAITING ROOM OF HOLY WEEK

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Why is the day after Jesus’ execution called ‘Holy Saturday’? It seems there’s nothing holy about it. What’s holy about sobbing and wailing? What’s holy about coming to terms with the finality of death? What’s holy about loss, about crying out and receiving no answer? Jesus was dead. Saturday forced the disciples to dwell on it. What’s holy about that?

Easter, now that’s holy. That’s something to shine your shoes for. I mean, we’re talking about a miraculous event here, the resurrection! Saturday just sits as the annoying waiting room of Holy Week, a time to run errands and iron your Easter clothes, a time to stuff the Easter baskets. Holy Saturday is more of a nuisance than anything, right?

I mean, what does Jesus have to do with stillness? What does God have to do with trauma and confusion? What does the Spirit have to do with tears? “Get on with it! Get to Sunday, would you?” says the crowd. Saturday is awkward, like figuring out what to do with our hands during a photo, we’re just not sure what to do with it. Saturday doesn’t fit with us, with our schedules. Saturday isn’t fast-paced enough for us…

So maybe we need to slow down. Maybe this Saturday of mourning is holy after all. Holy Saturday is the space between life and death, between sorrow and celebration. Too often we view Saturday in light of Sunday, and I think it strips Saturday of its power. In the midst of their grief, the disciples had no idea that Sunday was coming, so they were forced to let the pain of Friday sink in. Saturday, then, teaches us how to mourn. Saturday reminds us of the finality of death. Saturday, then, proves the helplessness of humanity.

The truth is, we need Holy Saturday; we need it because, in a sense, we’re living in our own Holy Saturday, caught between the miracle of Easter and the promise of Jesus’ return. We’re in that middle space, clinging to hope while dealing with confusion, pain, sorrow, unknowns. We need Holy Saturday when we watch the news, when we pray “Come, Lord Jesus!”, when we’re faced with oppression and violence and injustice – because God isn’t surprised by Saturday, he’s in it with us.

This seemingly pointless day teaches us that God is present in the sludge of life, that mourning is necessary, that unanswered questions will find their answers in God, that hope is vital to life. Holy Saturday teaches us that God doesn’t gloss over difficulties, that he doesn’t leave when the going gets tough. And though we are privileged to stand on the side of history that let’s us know and live with the reality of Sunday, there’s a whole world out there perpetually stuck in Saturday. We walk in that tension, confessing hope from the middle space, remembering always the importance of Holy Saturday.


 

“Give Us Saturday Ears” by Walter Brueggemann

Sometimes it seems as though you have given us

     eyes so we cannot see,

     and ears so we cannot hear,

     and hearts so we cannot know,

     and we miss it. 

Work on our ears today.

     Clean them, circumcise them,

     turn them so that they may tingle with the ways

     in which you have turned loose among us the powers of death

     and the forces of life.

Gran that we should not live int he safe middle ground,

     on the surface

     but push us to the edge,

     where the action is.

Your action, where you cause all those terrible Fridays

     and all those amazing Sundays. 

Give us Saturday ears for your tingling.

We pray in the name of your Saturday child. Amen. 


 

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Holden can usually be found spending time with his wife Kira, drinking better-than-great coffee, listening to obscure music while cooking, or passionately discussing wooly mammoths. A recent graduate of Moody, he’s on staff at Immanuel as the Director of Communications.

 

WHO IS THIS SON OF MAN?

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John 12: 31-36 reads:

“The time for judging this world has come, when Satan, the ruler of this world, will be cast out. And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.”  He said this to indicate how he was going to die.  The crowd responded, “We understood from Scripture that the Messiah would live forever. How can you say the Son of Man will die? Just who is this Son of Man, anyway?”


Just who is this Son of Man, anyway?  That’s such a heavy question with a loaded answer!  It’s a question that many, including myself, have asked and still wrestle with.  It’s a question the crowd asked when Jesus made his entry into Jerusalem. As he entered the city a large number of people gathered and made way for his coming; they praised him and cheered joyfully, quoting prophecies about the coming Messiah. The people spread branches and cloaks on the ground so Jesus could walk over them. By doing this, the crowd was giving Jesus royal treatment, fully acknowledging that he was their long awaited Messiah.

  Thinking about the crowd cheering him on, knowing who he was, and then days later demanding his crucifixion makes me cringe. It is scary to think how quickly their allegiance turned because he was not the Messiah they wanted. Everyone expected Jesus to liberate them from the Roman government and set up his kingdom in that moment. He certainly came to liberate them, but from something far worse than the Romans. He came to liberate them – and us – from something they could not see or understand: their captivity to sin. They were so blinded by what they felt would make things right that they missed the bigger picture.  If I am being honest, when I look at that crowd, I see myself in them.

How many times have I rebelled against God because he’s shown up in ways I did not really want or expect? My answer is selfish but true: too many to count. Can you relate? The crowd thought they needed to be freed from the Roman Empire, from their immediate circumstances. What they didn’t see was the war being fought for their souls and what the cross of Jesus would accomplish, the true reason he came to them. Looking back, when I accepted Christ it was because my world had been shaken, revealing deeper issues and my need for a Savior. The circumstance was unwanted, but if it hadn’t happened I would not have searched for God and found the truth.

So, just who is this Son of Man? Honestly, I still have a lot to learn about Jesus’ character.  One thing I do know is this: we serve a God that does not always give us what we want, but always gives what we need. I am so thankful for that truth. Not everything I’ve ever wanted in life was necessarily good for me. Even if fulfilling those desires was fun for a time, God knew it would lead me to death in the end.  If the crowd received what they had wanted (their earthly King) then Jesus’ blood would not be covering the world’s sins. Thank goodness we serve a God who always has our best interest in mind, a God who loves us enough to give us what we need, even if it doesn’t seem to make sense at the time.

Take a moment this week as we approach Easter and think about who the Son of Man really is. What does he want for you, where is he showing up in your life, and how will you respond? What he has in mind for us might be something we don’t expect or feel entirely comfortable with. But we know he will never lead us down the wrong path, even when we can’t see the end result. We can be certain His way is the best, most fulfilling, rewarding, and the only way that leads to life.


(null).jpgKatrina McElvain is the daughter of Trisha, and eldest of her siblings Grace and JP.  She loves spending time with family and friends, watching movies, dancing, and writing.  She teaches dance at night and is a teacher’s aide by day.  She also loves Immanuel and listening to the sermons every Sunday morning.

RICH OR POOR MATTERS LITTLE

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I grew up poor.

The kind of poor where we scraped coins together to buy milk or bread some weeks; the kind of poor where our small country church brought our quaint family of three boxes filled with food.

At age 8, I remember feeling awed as our pastor and his wife unloaded the bounty given by others onto our kitchen table.

I was grateful for the sharing of blessing because I knew even at that young age how hard my mother worked to provide for my sister and me. (And, honestly, I was pretty elated because they brought the brand of cereal I’d only ever had at my grandparent’s or friends’ houses.)

While my mom cried and thanked them, I remember feeling not only grateful but also inspired; I wanted to be like the pastors. I wanted to give, too.

After the pastor and his wife left and my mom thanked them, she threw my little mind through a major loop when she almost promptly started dividing the food into two piles.

“One pile,” she’d explained, “is for my friend Joy and her two girls because really, I think they need it just as much, if not even more.”

I believe she introduced me to a new term that day; if we were poor, they were dirt poor.

I didn’t quite get the saying (and I still don’t), but I got the concept loud and clear: what’s “ours” is meant to be shared. So really none of it is mine anyway.


This past Sunday, Pastor Josh asked us to become temporary stewards of our neighbors’ wallet or purse.

As I sat there holding two wallets from two people sitting near me, I felt the weight of responsibility to attend well to their belongings.

I didn’t want anything foolish or malicious or irresponsible to happen to their belongings while I was holding them.

In the holding of these wallets, I grasped even more so that with privilege, there is always responsibility. And what will we as believers — believers who believe we are not dictators of an empire we are creating; rather we are citizens in a kingdom that already has a king — what will we do with that responsibility to steward well that which comes to us?

Will we shoulder it well, remembering to do with it what the Rightful Owner would move us to do or will we mistake ourselves as the owners and do with it what would serve only us as owners?

My mind wandered to that scene in my kitchen from childhood.

Who would have ever given to the family in need – my family, Joy’s family – had they sought to only serve themselves?


At 33, I am no longer poor.

I haven’t been poor in quite some time; my husband and I have both had opportunity after opportunity that have afforded him the privilege to establish a solid career and me to launch my own organization.

But, I remember.

I remember vividly.

I remember in the shear emotion of lingering reactions to everyday situations like trying to decide if I have enough money to buy a new package of underwear (and let me assure you we do!); it’s a gut-level reaction every time.

Being poor has imprinted on my brain a reaction that says almost always, “do you need it, and are you sure you have enough to meet this need?”

I remember what it is like to have little to nothing.

But the Holy Spirit has imprinted on my heart that being rich or poor has little to do with good stewardship because with God there is never a lack; there is always abundance.

So, are we being good stewards? Are we listening well enough to know what to do with what He’s given us?

Are we hearing Him when He tells us to meet others’ needs?

Are we spreading what we have – the very great of it or the very little – to where He’s directing?

I’ve had little, and I’ve had much, and none of that matters a whole lot when we’re talking about being stewards because whether rich or poor, because none of it is ours to keep.

So the question becomes not “Do I have enough?” but rather “Will I steward well what God has given to me? ”

Because with God there is always enough; it all belongs to Him anyway.


 

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Hyacynth Worth is beloved to God, wife to John, mom to two boys and two girls and author of Undercover Mother. 

HOSANNA IN THE HIGHEST

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The past year has been a tough one. I privately struggled for months before I let anyone in on what was really happening in my life. I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to admit to anyone that I struggled with anxiety, and I definitely didn’t want to admit to myself that my depression was sneaking back in. I only really started talking about it recently, and I wish I had started earlier.

It’s a lot easier to combat the lies Satan puts in our minds when we talk about them with other people who know and love Jesus – but I didn’t talk to anyone. Like I said, I didn’t even want to admit to myself that anything was wrong. I let myself believe that I wasn’t good enough to handle all the responsibilities of adulthood. I took on other people’s issues and made them my own. I started dealing with health issues that put me in an even more anxious state. I’d been watching my mom navigate Lyme Disease and really learned what people mean when they say, “It will get worse before it gets better.” I was being drained. I knew something had to change but I didn’t know what to do – so I prayed.

I started praying that God would take my life and flip it around. As I was praying, I kept hearing the word Hosanna over and over in my head. I’ve sung, “Hosanna in the Highest” plenty of times, but I never really knew what the word meant – even after hearing the story every year about Jesus riding in on the donkey and the people of Jerusalem shouting, “Hosanna in the Highest Heaven!” (Matthew 21:9). After a little digging around on Google, I found that the word “Hosanna” was basically an SOS from the people of Jerusalem – not just a shout of praise. Hosanna carries more weight than that; it’s a plea for deliverance. Crying “Hosanna!” is begging God to restore your soul. That is exactly how I felt and, if I’m honest, still feel.

A few months ago, I needed God to deliver me. I felt “Hosanna” in every part of my soul. I needed a break from the weight I was carrying, weight than wasn’t mine in the first place. Every day is new and full of uncertainty, but I’m learning to fully rely on God and to trust His words. I’m learning the real meaning of Hosanna.


Gracie Adamek attends the College of Lake County and hopes to one day be a special education teacher. She likes to sing, act, knit, and write. She hopes you enjoy your time here, reading these blogs, and is very grateful for the opportunity to glorify God through her words

EMBRACING UNKNOWNS

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I start a new job this week.  I know where to go, what time to get there, what time to eat lunch and what time I leave – but that’s it.  Everything else is pretty much an unknown.  This normally might not sound like a big deal, but I’m a planner and unknowns to a planner communicates death (or at least disaster!).

I accepted this position two months ago and I’ve been dreading it ever since.  Until recently I’m not even sure why I said I would take it!  I just felt like I should… To help me deal with the anxiety I’ve been feeling about it, I started seeing a psychologist.  I learned a lot from my most recent session.

I saw a perplexed look come across my psychologist’s face as she listened to me answer to her question, “What are the thoughts that you’re having when you feel anxious about this?”  When I finished my tirade she said, “So, it sounds like unless you know every detail of how this job will look and what you are supposed to do each day, you feel anxious.”  I told her that she had about summed it up.

After explaining to me that it’s impossible for anyone to know every single thing that’s going to happen ahead of time, she said some words that I know were God speaking through her to me. She said, “I think this is a great opportunity for you to learn be okay with not knowing everything.”  

You see, even if I know everything there is to know about this job ahead of time, there will still be unknowns.  And I’m learning to thank God that there are unknowns.

Thank God there were unknown motives for why Joseph was hated by his brothers, or why he sold into slavery and thrown into jail.  Of course, reading the Joseph account now, I can see clearly that God had a bigger plan.  The gift of Joseph’s story is that because he lived his life with faith and assurance of what he couldn’t see, I can have faith and assurance as well that there is more God in every situation of my life than I know.  

For two months my faith and assurance were being smothered by thoughts of worry. I was swarmed by the fear of not being able to know my new job completely, fear of not doing it perfectly.  I was so paralyzed by these thought patterns that I completely lost the ability to see beyond myself.  Yet, even in that seemingly colorless black hole of anxiety and self-focus, God has been at work.  Using Joseph as a model, I am learning to not only be okay with the unknowns but be excited about them. And slowly, that black hole is becomingcolorful.


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Martha has been a wife for 17 years and is the mother of three children ages 10, 9 and 5.  When she’s not folding laundry, c
ooking meals, helping with homework, kissing boo-boos, grocery shopping, cleaning house and running errands; she loves to hold babies at Immanuel MOPS!

YOUR LEGACY

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Have you ever thought about your funeral, or what people will be saying about you on that day?  It may seem like a morbid and depressing thought.  Maybe for some, it feels like something far off that needn’t be worried about now.  But it was a thought many of us were challenged to think about this past Sunday.

I have to be honest, at twenty-three, my funeral (let alone my eulogy!) is not something I’ve often thought about.  Yet we’re faced with an eye opening truth: our eulogies are in fact being written right now.  So what kind of legacy are you leaving behind?  I think it’s safe to say that most people want to be remembered for good things like being kind, caring, and loving.  I know those are all things I want!   Some more specific answers popped into my head pretty quickly, too.  There are many things I strive for, but one in particular is to be a person of godly character. This is especially tough to live out; for example, when I was driving home from a sermon and reacted to another driver in a not so Christ-like way.  (And ironically Josh had even talked about reacting nicely to people while driving!  Epic Fail on my part!)  So the question we would do well to contemplate is, “What am I doing now to ensure how I am remembered when I am gone?”

The past two months we have been looking at the life of Joseph and we finally got to see him at the end of his life; as God’s finished work of art.  And what we found is nothing short of  one of God’s glorious masterpieces. Joseph’s life is a shining example of what it looks like to be living in the “now” but also for the future.

We can clearly see this in a choice he made after his father died.  Joseph was the second most powerful man in all Egypt.  He could have gone unchecked and taken justifiable revenge on his brothers without the worry of what his father would think.  That was exactly what his brothers thought and they were afraid.   But as we know that is not how it happened.  His response was amazing:

‘But Joseph replied, ‘Don’t be afraid of me.  Am I God, that I should punish you?  You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good.  He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.  No, don’t be afraid.  I will continue to take care of you and your children.’  So he reassured them by speaking kindly to them.’ (Genesis 50: 19-21).

How amazing is that? Talk about Godly character and wanting to leave a great legacy, even after he had been wronged in such horrific ways.  I genuinely hope that one day I can have even an ounce of that kind of mercy and compassion.  I sit here and think of how many times have I mistreated someone just because I took offense to something they said.  Or waited until it suited me to show forgiveness to someone.  The list can go on and on.    The point is: it’s not enough to say how you want to be remembered.   You have to put it into action and live it out because how you live now is how you will be remembered.  You eulogy is bring written now; don’t wait until the last couple days of your life.

When I think about the legacy I want to leave it’s not so different from Joseph’s. However when I look at how I live life, I can get discouraged.  I would much rather be God’s finished work than take all the steps to get there.  But like every legacy, it does not happen overnight.  The person Joseph was when he spoke so kindly and reassuringly to his brothers did not happen in just a couple years; but several!  The person God molded him into was a lifelong process.  Joseph saw that and we should too.  Being aware of that process can give us comfort in knowing that we are all a work in progress and will continue to be until the day we die.  But we also need to see how our behavior and choices in this moment can greatly affect the legacy we leave behind.

So thinking about your eulogy can be depressing, but only if you let it.  The same God who had his hand over Joseph is the same God who has his hand over you and me. No matter your age or how bad you’ve messed up, God can wipe our slates completely clean and make us new.  It’s a long process, but one worthwhile.

‘For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.’ (Ephesians 2:10)

Remember, your legacy and eulogy is being written right now!


(null).jpgKatrina McElvain is the daughter of Trisha, and eldest of her siblings Grace and JP.  She loves spending time with family and friends, watching movies, dancing, and writing.  She teaches dance at night and is a teacher’s aide by day.  She also loves Immanuel and listening to the sermons every Sunday morning.

BEING SOUGHT

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A few years ago, I called my grandmother, seeking her advice and her listening ear on a most difficult matter. Funny thing it is, I don’t remember the most difficult matter or what exactly she said but I remember the feeling of being in over my head at the beginning of the call and feeling like I finally had ground beneath my feet by the end of it.

During that conversation, I shared with her how grateful I was to have her in my life – an older wiser woman who could weigh in with her experience wisdom and love. How priceless, I told her.

It was then that she said something that’s stuck with me: “Yes, she said. That’s the hardest thing about being the oldest generation she said; you dearly miss having someone with that kind of wisdom and experience.”

That perspective, it changed me. It helped me realize the very beautiful gift of having someone who could walk beside me, listening, asking perplexing questions and then placing in my hands gems of truth about life, like small diamonds that were excavated from the intensely hard and rocky places of life and then lovingly shared.

While for a long while, this perspective fueled me to seek out older, wiser people in the older generations with whom to be in relationship, it wasn’t until recently that I realized the life-giving beauty of not only seeking but also in being sought.

God gave me a teenage daughter last year. Talking about placing gems in my hands, this child is among the most precious.

Through her and our developing relationship as mother and daughter, I’ve also come to know the joy of giving pieces of my own hard-fought for wisdom to another who is collecting experiences along the rugged path of the teenage years.

And in that giving of myself and my gems of wisdom about life to her, I have come to understand the value of not only giving but also listening to her and seeing life through her perceptive eyes. There is gift in this, too.

This past Sunday, the ever-emerging theme of story came roaring to the forefront of my mind as I pieced together these unique life experiences of hearing and being heard, and I remembered anew that each of us is a living story God is writing as a piece of His greater story.

If that isn’t enough to slow us to a more careful amble rather than a full-force brisk step during interactions, I’m not sure what would.

What if we approached each other as such?

How would that change the way we listen, the way we respond, the way we work together?

If we really believed we were a part of one body, how would that play out in our everyday lives?

For me, it would look like slowing down, letting go of my own agenda, really listening instead of only hearing and then taking note of the holy ground into which I stepped before opening my mouth to speak.


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Hyacynth Worth is beloved to God, wife to John, mom to two boys and two girls and author of Undercover Mother. 

FREEING HEARTS

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Forgiveness is much easier said than done. But you wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?

Listen, if it was easy to forgive someone, life would be a breeze. But – reality check – it’s not. In fact, it is a difficult thing… a really difficult thing. When someone hurts us, we want them to know we’re hurt, right? We want other people to validate our feelings, all while we put conditions on our forgiveness. We will forgive, but only once we feel the other person is truly sorry. Once they’ve made it unmistakably clear that they know what they have done and are never going to do it again, then we forgive. Sounds a lot like Jesus, huh?

I think being the forgiver gives us a false sense of power over the forgiven because it’s all done on our time, our pace, once we, the Great Forgiver, have healed emotionally. Or we tend to draw out the process of forgiveness, telling ourselves constantly, “I’m just not in a place to forgive them yet.” The reality of it is, though, we really don’t have the power we think we do. God calls us to forgive freely, not to hold things in our hearts until we feel like it.

Mark 11:25 says “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

When we hold grudges, it only brings an emptiness into our lives. Often times, the other person doesn’t even know about what we’re holding onto, or they don’t know how they can help. Maybe they feel they’ve done all they could do and now it’s on us to take the next step. But if we are still waiting for them to feel remorse, nothing gets better; we only get more bitter.

“Bitterness leads to emptiness, forgiveness leads to wholeness.”

Forgiveness frees not only their hearts, but ours as well.


Gracie Adamek attends the College of Lake County and hopes to one day be a special education teacher. She likes to sing, act, knit, and write. She hopes you enjoy your time here, reading these blogs, and is very grateful for the opportunity to glorify God through her words

INTEGRITY IN THE SMALL STUFF

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Years ago, I was camping with my in-laws. Like many campgrounds, the road connecting all the campsites was one big loop. Unfortunately, our particular campsite was just left of the entrance/exit on the one-way road, which meant that every time we had to drive up to the store to get ice or wood (which, I found, is every five minutes when you camp!) we had to veer right and go around the entire 10 mph loop when all we had to do was pull in the wrong way for a split second and we’d be there. Talk about annoying.

My father-in-law drove on one of the umpteen trips up to the store, and as we turned to the entrance to the loop my mother-in-law suggested he just turn left into the campsite since no one was coming from the other direction. A quick but technically rule-breaking maneuver. I wholeheartedly agreed with her suggestion but watched as he turned right to go around the loop the right way, the long way. I’ll admit, I totally rolled my eyes.  I’m not proud of that. I’m just being honest.

I’ve thought of that loop several times since it happened and what it said about me and my father-in-law.  Just as a little gray paint dilutes the brightness of a color, a little gray in our ethics dilutes our impact in this world, even when it’s as small as driving the 10mph loop the right way. Integrity matters, even in the small stuff.

Every time I choose to do what the Bible says is the right thing to do, there is more of a contrast between the life I live and world around me.  And each time I make a decision to be like the world, I blend in a little more.  If you asked me if I could choose any color to be there are many I would choose, but gray wouldn’t be one.

Join me in praying this prayer this week as we choose to stand on God’s word no matter how big or small the decision, no matter where we are, no matter what the cost and no matter who is watching:

Father, You know the true content of my heart though others may be fooled by my words and actions. So it is with You that I must keep a short account and pray from a genuine heart that I will act in accordance to Your revealed will and think upon those things which are honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report. Thoughts form in my mind before they are spoken from my mouth, so I pray that You would purify my mind, keep my tongue from evil, and enable me to stand for that which is honorable in Your sight so that I pass the tests of life and hear you say, “I am pleased with your integrity.” In the name of Jesus I pray.  Amen.


 

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Martha has been a wife for 17 years and is the mother of three children ages 10, 9 and 5.  When she’s not folding laundry, c
ooking meals, helping with homework, kissing boo-boos, grocery shopping, cleaning house and running errands; she loves to hold babies at Immanuel MOPS!

COLOR RUN: A REFLECTION

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I suppose it’s only fair that if my good friend pastor Bryan has to preach twice on the topic of sexual temptation that I should be able to write the blog post (click to hear his sermon). However if I would have known about the topic ahead of time I would have been tempted to trade with another writer.

My hesitance stems from the fact that this is an area that I have struggled with more than any other throughout my life. Starting from puberty the preponderance of sex in our American culture invaded my teenage brain and setup shop. Throughout my adolescent years the temptation consisted of programs on tv, images in magazines and the advent of the internet.

Coming from a very strong faith background and practically growing up at Immanuel I was very aware of the dangers of sex outside of God’s design in marriage. I knew the stories of great men like King David and Solomon who were corrupted by giving into their sexual lusts and was positive that I didn’t want to be counted among them. However every time I resisted by tearing up magazines or smashing DVD’s the temptation would just show up around the next corner. This constant back and forth persisted constantly up until a couple years into college when something changed. Instead of looking for ways I could fight and do battle with the sexual temptation in my life I started pursuing God more regularly and fervently.

Without even realizing it the desire and temptation had by and large disappeared. At times there would inevitably come periods when I wasn’t as diligent in my pursuit of God and like clockwork those were the times when sexual temptation reared its head. Through this experience I learned first-hand that the words Bryan gave us Sunday were absolutely true. “Fleeing sin is less about running away from something and more about running toward someone.”

My encouragement to you as we reflect back on Sunday’s message is when faced with any temptation fix your eyes, thoughts and behaviors on God and His word and the power that sin can have will begin to melt away. For me this looks like spending time regularly in Scripture and in intentional spiritual relationships where I can find accountability and support during times when I may be struggling. Our bodies are a temple purchased at a high price, let’s be sure to honor God with our whole selves and “run from sexual sin” (1 Cor. 6:18-20 NLT).


 

 John Worth is a lifelong attender of Immanuel and husband to Hyacynth. John and Hy are parents of four ranging in age from 4 to 14. When he’s not nose deep in spreadsheets at work John enjoys helping others navigate the waters of life.

 

LIFE IN THE MIDST OF DEATH

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One of the more common questions I’ve ever heard non-Christians ask is, “If God is good, why do bad things happen?”

And it’s a good question. Why do mass murders happen? Why do people get sick? Why are there people with no home and no food?

Honestly, I don’t have the answers to these questions either.

But what I do know is that sometimes, God uses terrible events and circumstances to create glorious outcomes.

When I think about this, I’m reminded of a time when I was fifteen years old.

One of my best friends passed away suddenly in a car accident in late June of that year. It was absolutely the worst thing that had ever happened to me up to that point. I constantly asked God why he would take my friend, someone I was supposed to grow up with, someone who had yet to share laughs and jokes and smiles with the world.

What I didn’t know was that God wasn’t done using her, that her life had meaning even after her death. After the accident, her friends became interested in God and even started coming to our youth group. One friend in particular stuck around enough to get connected and ended up accepting Jesus – someone who might’ve never come to church otherwise.

God gave new life to someone in the midst of another’s passing.

I’ll admit, it’s still hard for me to go on without my friend, but at least I know her loss wasn’t in vain. God takes, but he gives too. These moments of confusion and pain will lead us to despair if we take them individually. Yet, God is at work, orchestrating all of these events. When you’re in that dark place, remember: there’s more God in every situation than we think.

 


Gracie Adamek attends the College of Lake County and hopes to one day be a special education teacher. She likes to sing, act, knit, and write. She hopes you enjoy your time here, reading these blogs, and is very grateful for the opportunity to glorify God through her words

THAT THEY MAY HAVE LIFE

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The thing I love about Christianity is how it’s filled with paradoxes.  I love how it’s complex theological ideas keep brilliant minds debating and deliberating while at the same time Christianity’s message is so simple it is received, responded to and lived out even by children.

I love that it teaches that in order to gain life, one must give up their life.

I love that it teaches that only by admitting I am tainted by sin I can be washed clean.

Christianity is a religion that is rooted in one choice I must make. But this decision is not merely an idea I must choose to believe or a rule I must choose to follow.  Rather, it is a person, and that person is Jesus.

So really, the thing I love about Christianity isn’t the paradoxes.  It is Jesus, the ultimate paradox. He lived the perfect life so he could die as he took on our sins, giving up himself so that we can have new life.

Hear this truth in the following verses:

John 10:10 reads, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

John 10:28 reads,  “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me.”

John 14:6 reads,  “I am the way the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”

By saying, “Yes!” to Jesus, I choose relationship over religion.  I choose freedom in Christ over bondage to self.  I choose life over death.

 


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Martha has been a wife for 17 years and is the mother of three children ages 10, 9 and 5.  When she’s not folding laundry, c
ooking meals, helping with homework, kissing boo-boos, grocery shopping, cleaning house and running errands; she loves to hold babies at Immanuel MOPS!

IMMANUEL: GOD IS WITH US

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Here at Immanuel Church we just celebrated our 120th birthday a few short weeks ago. The word “Immanuel” has been a part of our name for 89 of those years.

As our Swedish founders recognized that they needed to change the language used in services, they also knew that the name Swedish Baptist Church needed to change as well to better open the doors to all who needed to hear about Jesus. So, they chose to rename their local body with the word Immanuel in its title. The Hebrew word means “God is with us,” and so He has been for over a century.

The prophet Isaiah proclaimed, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” This was a continuation of the promise that God first spoke in the garden of Eden when he told Eve and the serpent in Genesis 3, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

God’s promise to humanity would take thousands of years to begin its fulfillment.  Yes, BEGIN its fulfillment.

The promise made to Eve was added to in the promise made to Abraham and then to Jacob and then to David. The town of Bethlehem was even promised to be the birthplace of a ruler of Israel from “ancient times.” The Messiah, Immanuel, God is with us.

When Matthew concluded Jesus’s genealogy at the beginning of his gospel, he gave us (ever so briefly) Joseph’s decisions around whether to marry Mary or not and the intercession of an angel in his dream. It is here that Matthew let us know that this all happened to fulfill the words of the prophet “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us).”

And so it begins: Immanuel, God is with us.

Jesus lived life for 33 years “with us” here on planet earth. Christmas puts into full motion God’s rescue plan for a humanity that could not reach Him on their own. He comes to be “with us.” Even after Jesus’s death & resurrection, He confirmed to His disciples then and to us now that “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Thus, he instructs us, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” He will still be Immanuel, God is with us.

So we return to December 2015 and that by the fact that our very name as a local church, we are Immanuel, God is with us. And He has been. And He will be.

One hundred twenty years of committed Jesus followers experiencing God’s growing, pruning, blessing, leading and walking alongside. It is in the seeking to be with Him that He continues to reveal that He is with us. In His being with us, we are drawn to seek after and to be with Him. Growth does not happen without this circle of relationship, and yes it is just that, a relationship. Why, you ask? Because He is Immanuel, God is with us. Proximity allows for the beginning of real relationships.  So it was with God when Jesus came to be “with us.” So it remains as in Jesus’s physical absence as each Christ follower is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. He is still with us.

Is this a season of joy?  He joins us.  He is Immanuel, God is with us.

Is this a season of sorrow?  He joins us.  He is Immanuel, God is with us.

Is this a season of uncertainty?  He joins us.  He is Immanuel, God is with us.

Is this a season of wondering if Jesus is even real.  He joins us.  He is still He is Immanuel, God is with us.

So, in this Christmas time when we often reflect upon the past and begin to look towards the future, may it be with this filter…..

We are Immanuel because He is Immanuel, God is with us.

Amen.


Ben Ondo is the father of four (Noah, Jacob, Sarah, & Caleb) and the husband of Robyn (of whom he says he truly married up!). As a long-ben-sketchy-square.2.pngtime member of Immanuel, Ben has served in a number of ministries over the years. Currently he serves as an Elder, Coordinator of VP3 with Robyn, member of the 2nd-5th Grade Sunday morning Worship Team, and occasionally you’ll catch him on stage on a Sunday morning as well. Ben loves Immanuel and desires for her to continue growing into a community where all “help others to know Jesus and grow to be like Him.”

BEAUTY AND LIGHT-BEARING

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It’s 45 degrees and raining, and I’m outside attempting to make our house festive by hanging the Christmas lights because, darn it, this year, we’re going to have lights and pretty and shimmery adorning the outside as well!

We will not be the neighborhood “Scrooges” again this year. We WILL have pretty, and we will have light lighting up the December darkness.

However… there’s no Christmas music playing or excited children gathered around to cheerfully hand me the next strand of lights. 

No, they’re inside arguing themselves into oblivion while my saint-like husband is at the helm, cooking dinner; two had offered to help. But I said I’d rather decorate alone than listen to their bickering. 

But what if I fell off the ladder, one mused?

“So be it!” I declared in a moment of supreme maturity and drama before shutting them inside the house. 

(Can you hear the tiny violin playing the saddest music as our heroine begins her decking of the halls?)

It didn’t take long before I realized there was nothing perfect or iconic about the not-so-quintessential-fairytale-Christmas happening with the hanging of these lights; there’s just me, the cold rain, a wobbly ladder and a little epiphany ready to unfold around the time I’m totally soaked and at the end of my figurative and literal strand.

So here’s the truth about this situation.

I am really angry with my children because they are acting like a bunch of angry bees.

I am angry they are ruining a perfectly good Norman Rockwell Christmas scene. 

I huff up the ladder, in all of its wiggly glory, and exhale in frustration.

As I string the lights, I continually try to steady myself. 

It’s sorta exhausting. 

I figure this out by 1/18 of the way through. 

(But our heroine, she perseveres in her exasperation and continues to climb the wobbly ladder time and again to hang another section of the strand.)

At this point, I almost face plant into the front shrubbery. 

It’s only then that I begin to realize something: wobbly ladders are a whole lot like pedestals; God help the fool who climbs onto them. 

Oh, and I feel quite foolish as I climb down carefully as possible. I am angry with my children for falling short of my vision for a beautiful Advent. 

And I am standing on the shakiest of ladders, perched up on my high horse hanging lights on hooks carrying around an anger at those who fall short when I, too, am at risk of falling as well. 

This is where the guilt comes in:

I never should have been up on that rickety ladder alone anyway. 

I never should have … 

I should have just smiled through the kids’ complaining and arguing and controlled myself.

I should have …

Slowly, I plant my last foot on wet cement of our front porch. 

I exhale. 

I don’t know about you, but I can get lost is a whole sea of should-haves and could-haves.

Before I do, though… grace. 

I breathe it in. I exhale it out. I let go of that which doesn’t serve any of us, and I regroup, ready to reenter the house and try again. 

But before I do, I take a few steps back.

A few steps back from the reentry. 

A few steps back from the micro lens portrait. 

A few steps back from the porch and into the darkened cover of night. 

And I realize though we didn’t get there perfectly, not all is lost. 

There is still time to redo, regroup and rebuild.

And the intent of beauty and light-bearing remains. 

Because the lights, just like the Light of the world, they are shining, glimmering beautiful against the inky sky. 


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Hyacynth Worth is beloved to God, wife to John, mom to two boys and two girls and author of Undercover Mother. 

HOW TO ENJOY THE HOLIDAYS AGAIN

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“Where’d the magic go?”

That’s the heart’s cry of countless adults every time the holiday season rolls around. We long for the days when wonder was the only feeling we had come late November. We were excited and believed anything could happen, that dreams could come true! But somewhere along the line something broke. Not only did the magic seem to go away, but even the basic sense of joy disappeared.

I think it’s because the older we get the more responsible we become. Now that we’re grown-ups we have stuff to do. We don’t get to just be there; we don’t get to just enjoy, we have to produce. There are cookies to bake, presents to buy, boxes to wrap, and parties to attend. The most wonderful time of the year is often the most stressful time of the year. It’s why we get annoyed when we come across the rare person that’s giddy when the radio starts playing Christmas carols before Thanksgiving (Confession: I listen to Christmas music all year… I just can’t help it!). But I don’t think it has to be this way. I think that even for the person who likes Christmas the least, it can be a season of joy, fun, and beyond all that, full of wonder. So here are a few ways to bring the magic back. Maybe a few ways to be a little less responsible.

  1. Slow down. I know, you just thought about closing your internet browser because I sound like an idiot talking that way. I get it. You can’t stop. You can’t just not go to the office party. You can’t just not buy gifts for your family. You can’t just not bring a dish to pass for the block party. You can’t just not. But I don’t mean physically, I mean mentally. In those moments, the very moments that make the memories, stop to cherish them. Protect that moment in your mind. Look around the room. Smile at each face and thank God for them. With each of the eight dozen gifts you’ll wrap, thank God for the one you’re giving it to. Ask Him to bless their holiday. Slow down without stopping, because I know you can’t do that
  2. Sing loud for all to hear. I know, that’s not original to me. Buddy the Elf was the one that famously said, “The best way to spread Christmas cheer, is singing loud for all to hear.” Yes, the songs can be cheesy. Even the ones at church can be super high and out of your range, but sometimes we need to force ourselves to participate. Did you know singing uses a different part of your brain than speaking? And science is showing that music significantly lowers anxiety. So just try singing Jingle Bells and Silent Night this year—see what happens.
  3. Spend time with kids. The Bible tells us that bad company corrupts good character. Well maybe we’re hanging out with too many grown ups. That magic we’ve lost is still very present in kids, and if you spend any amount of time with them they’ll share it with you. They’re still completely irresponsible, so they aren’t stressed out when it comes to this time of year. No, they’ve actually been looking forward to it! Ask them questions about what they want for Christmas. Ask them what their favorite ornament on the tree is. Ask them about what they’re getting or making for someone else. I promise you’ll smile.
  4. Watch your favorite Christmas movie alongside someone else. The best movies are ones you share with others. It’s tradition in our home that we watch at least one Christmas movie as a family every week between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s always a mess of popcorn kernels, spilled hot chocolate, and too many questions to find answers for…but it’s great. Even if you aren’t married or have kids, invite some friends over and make a night of it. Watching Elf? Dress up. Watching A Christmas Story? Have a bb-gun shooting contest…just don’t shoot your eye out, kid.
  5. Make it spiritual. Confession: I don’t see the jingle bells and holly as the opposite of Jesus. I look at it as the biggest birthday party imaginable for the greatest one imaginable. Think of how much decorating you do for your kids’ birthday parties. Streamers, balloons, and cake are that much different than tinsel, ornaments, and cookies (did you think I’d say fruit cake?). The “holidays” for me, whether the world wants to see it the same way or not, are the largest and most extravagant celebration ever. And He deserves every bit of it.

Nothing too game-changing here. But hopefully it makes your season bright. Merry Christmas everyone! And just think, on December 26, Christmas is just 365 days away…

 


JP

After serving as the Student Ministries Pastor for 10 years, Josh Petersen is now the Lead Pastor of Immanuel Church. He’s married to Heidi and together they live with Jake, Logan, Cole and Sawyer at the circus they call home.

LETTING GO OF OUR CROWNS

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I am a control freak. I’ll admit it. I want to be in control of every aspect of my life and letting someone else have control is the most stressful thing for me – because what if something goes wrong? Or, what if things aren’t done the exact way I planned it? Do you ever feel like this?

I hear people say all the time that we need to take charge of our own lives and that our future depends on us and I think when we hear this it’s easy to agree, but I don’t think we should. I mean, have you ever thought about what it means to have our future totally in our hands? That is a ton of pressure! If we’re being honest, humans mess things up constantly. Just look at the world we live in. That is why we are not supposed to be the ones in control. God is supposed to be the one in the drivers seat. So why is it so hard to give God control? I honestly don’t know. Because ideally, God would be the one in charge. He would make all the decisions because He knows and wants what’s best for me. But I always get in the way. My pride and my fears always make me want to take control back. I want to wear the crown. This reminds me of King Hero’s response when Jesus was born. Matthew 2:1-12 tells us about when Herod learned that there was a new king in town, a baby named Jesus. Herod had been appointed to king, and this child was to inherit a kingdom. Herod, clinging to his crown, took drastic measures to make sure he wouldn’t lose his title to a child. We’re all like Herod sometimes. We fight and fight to maintain control and we don’t even deserve it. Herod’s crown wasn’t real. Neither is ours. God is the one with the kingdom. It’s time we let go of our crowns. They’re fake anyway.


Gracie Adamek attends the College of Lake County and hopes to one day be a special education teacher. She likes to sing, act, knit, and write. She hopes you enjoy your time here, reading these blogs, and is very grateful for the opportunity to glorify God through her words

LIGHT-HOUSES

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Twice a week we host different groups from church in our home.  I’m always inside scurrying to get things cleaned up and then hosting, so I don’t often think about what it looks like from the outside—until my neighbor mentioned it one day.  Through her thick Ukranian accent she said, “Every time I look outside there are cars at Anita and David’s!  All the time they are having parties!  They are party animals!”

On one hand, this was so humorous to me, but then I realized the irony of it.  And sadness of it.  Our home is where we gather Christians to dig deeper into His word and in relationship to Jesus and each other, but how shamefully we fail to reach out to our neighbors.

It’s almost as if we have our home’s doors locked shut to the outside rather than opened for neighbors to come on in and stay awhile.

Recently we talked at church about the environments of our church, homes, and hearts:  the foyer, living room, and kitchen.  Since much of what I do is attempt to make our house a home and a sanctuary from the world, this has really resonated with me.  But I’ve started to think more about how I can make our home a sanctuary for the world, or at least for some in my corner of the world.

Matthew 5:1 says,  “You are the light of the world.  A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.”  

I’m reminded again how we have the answer to what the world yearns for and unknowingly seeks—Jesus.  And it’s in the darkest dark where the light shines brightest, which seems about right now.

So, I’ve got some house cleaning to do, so to speak, so I can shine some Light a little brighter.

The foyers of my home and heart need facelifts.  Simply that—more smiling. Who wants to engage with a preoccupied, too worried, unsmiling face?  We get our heads so buried in our phones or mental checklists that it debilitates us from connecting with those around us.  The people at the bank, Target, or Starbuck’s are relationships that can lead to a connection with Jesus.  But in order to share the joy of Jesus, we have to look up, smile, ask some questions and really listen to the human across the counter.

The living room can be a little tougher to spruce up.  It requires we invite people inside to come sit on the couch that’s a little lumpy and stay for awhile next to the walls that have paint chipped in the pretty color.  We may struggle with this because our “living room” isn’t as pristine as someone else’s.  But that’s actually what most people are looking for, the cozy spot where they can sink in and stay awhile.  No one wants the couch covered in plastic.  Off with the protective veneers.  Let’s just experience life and sit in places that are real, stained, and exposing some holes.   There’s truly a comfort about being in such places together.

The kitchen in my home, and the one in my heart, can be very possessive places for me.  The “kitchen” is my hub and oftentimes I feel quite capable all by myself in there, without any input from anyone else. But when others join me in that small space, they start to add in a little of their “ingredient” to the mix of my life.  Sometimes it’s pleasant and other times it can pack a punch, yet in the end, it’s always of benefit to the wholeness that’s being created there.

Let’s face it, no one has time for all this preparation.  So, we have to make time.  For most of us that means saying no to some good things to make room for the best things.

We are the city on a hill.  In our individual homes and hearts, we are lighthouses pointing the world in darkness to the Light of the World—Jesus.

There may be no better time than now, the upcoming holidays, for opening the door wide and inviting people to come have a seat and stay awhile.   For we have the best Gift in the world to share this Christmas.  Imagine if they never got the opportunity to know about it.

Maybe one day we won’t just live next door to people we only know on the surface, but we will stand beside them in church and then be seated next to them at the banquet table in our Father’s House!  Now, that is a party I want to enjoy for eternity!


Anita Everly is the wife of David and mom to their three sons.  She can be found watching the lives of her men unfold, creating a home, and encouraging other women in life and motherhood.  She is striving to live life on purpose because she is crazy in love with the One who is crazy in love with her.

PAUSING TO SAY, “THANKS”

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I still remember 11 years ago when a close friend found out the baby growing inside of her might have a rare chromosomal disorder which would result in death soon after being born.  Any attempt to thank God during that circumstance was choked out by cries to him to have mercy on my friend and her baby.  It was only after we received news the test results were negative that gratitude could again flow from my heart or my mouth.

In the day to day as well, when tasks, obligations and responsibilities send me into a stressed out flurry of activity I rarely pause long enough to consider the gift of each moment or the gifts in it.

Reading “One Thousand Gifts” by Ann Voskamp last year deepened my understanding of gratitude.  In her book, Ann speaks of a loss she endured early in her life rendering her and her parents incapable of feeling or giving gratitude to God.  As an adult Ann is challenged by a friend to begin the work of recovering her gratitude.  She does so with a list where she is to write down one thousand things for which she grateful.  Her list includes things large and small like “#526 New toothbrushes” and “#783 Forgiveness of a sister.”

As a reader I too was challenged to begin regularly writing down the things I am grateful for.  At first I was skeptical.  How does thanking God for a parking space or a flower make me more grateful?  I felt like it was making my relationship with God more of a business transaction. I couldn’t see how this would make me grateful in the hard stuff.  But as my list grew, so did my gratitude.  I never realized it before but gratitude is a practice just like Bible reading or prayer.  The more you do it, the better you get at it.  In thanking God for all the little things is the acknowledgement that everything is from Him and He is in control of everything.  Being mindful of all of the little things like a cardinal on a tree branch, my functioning washing machine or my children playing nicely together have become a mountain of evidence that God is good and He does love me.

Sometimes, it seems there is a mountain of evidence in the world that says otherwise.  We need the small, simple things as tangible reminders of the truth when the big, bad things come and we question God’s goodness.  So in this season and beyond, let’s be grateful in all things and pause to say, “Thanks.”

Yes, terrorists attacked Paris.

Thank you that you are a God of peace.

Yes, Christians are persecuted and killed around the world.

Thank You that You are a God of hope.

Yes, my friend is battling cancer.

Thank You that You are a God of strength.

Yes, my neighbor is out of work.

Thank you that you are a God of mercy and grace.

Thank You.


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Martha has been a wife for 17 years and is the mother of three children ages 10, 9 and 5.  When she’s not folding laundry, c
ooking meals, helping with homework, kissing boo-boos, grocery shopping, cleaning house and running errands; she loves to hold babies at Immanuel MOPS!

 

SEATED AT THE TABLE

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“Lord of all pots and pans and things, make me a saint by getting meals and washing up the plates!” – Father Lawrence, Practicing the Presence of God

Kitchens are vibrant places. Whether you’re twisting and turning, hot pans in hand, avoiding a collision with family members as you navigate the flurry of holiday meal prep, or you’re quietly embracing the warmth of the oven as you pray in the peaceful, candle-lit evening, the kitchen is an intimate environment. It’s a place where we meet to rummage through the fridge for that late-night snack. The kitchen is a space where we lean against counters and share stories while water boils. It’s a space where, at times, voices get raised and tears flow. What memories take place in your kitchen?

Those that know me best know that I absolutely love cooking. Yet, what I love more than merely throwing something together is throwing something together for someone else. Here’s why I love the kitchen: nourishment. There’s just something sacramental, something that draws me in spiritually about the idea that what I create and craft in the kitchen will bless and serve another – and on a number of levels. In the kitchen we’re nourished physically, we enjoy flavor and color (lots of color!) and texture. Through food and companionship we are comforted, we’re entertained, we love and feel loved, we find common ground and grow to appreciate our differences. All through Scripture we see scenes of reconciliation and redemption that take place around a table, food in hand. The kitchen, food, meals together, all of these things reveal to me in real time more and more about God and the life he has for us in Jesus Christ. The kitchen is a place of invitation, of intimate meeting.

Have you ever felt that subtle shock when a relatively new kitchen-invitee casually throws open the door to your fridge? I’m convinced that can only be a result of knowing that the seemingly-ordinary items on those shelves and the way they appear in our lives is special and sacred to us – they speak volumes about who we are. But I’m also convinced that if someone new in your life feels comfortable enough to act like family in your sacred space, you’re doing something right. (Can you imagine the rough and tumble crowd that followed Jesus sitting neatly at his table? I’d like to think they felt such love and comfort with him that they couldn’t help but spread crumbs as they tossed each other bread and sloppily touched their cups of wine.)

You see, in the midst of fear, worry, of pain, we must continually be nourished. Our bodies don’t stop needing fed because of the trauma around us. God continually calls us to take and eat, continually meets us in the sludge of life. And when there is no food on the table (whether for fasting and prayer or by tragedy) we are nourished by the Scriptures and by prayer, by story, by those seated at the table across from us and beside us. As we meet at the table together, we’re drawn into deeper relationship with God through those around us, through the food before us, through the prayer and discussion we have.

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One of my favorite professors sat down to lunch with me last year and casually glanced at the empty seats at our table. He then turned to me and said, “Who in your life has yet to be seated at the Lord’s table? For them, brother, we pray.” I hope I never forget that moment, because it was then that Scripture stepped out of the book and into the landscape of my life. So as you read this, I ask you to glance at your table, at your kitchen and see the empty seats, the empty plates and bowls, and pray for those in your life who haven’t yet made it to your table, to his table. Might we find more than just food at the table, but healing, nourishment, and growth.

For meditation:

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. – 1 Corinthians 10:16-17

If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. – James 2:15-17

When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” – John 21:9-14

 


 

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Holden can usually be found spending time with his wife Kira, drinking better-than-great coffee, listening to obscure music while cooking, or passionately discussing wooly mammoths. A soon-to-be graduate of Moody, he’s on staff at Immanuel as the Assistant to Lead Pastor.

 

ABOUT THEM

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Have you ever listened to yourself pray?

Seriously, when was the last time you sat down and thought through what you talk to God about? If you’re like me it’s probably been a long time, if ever. Recently I was reading Paul’s first letter to Timothy and I came across a few sentences that got me started thinking about this. Check them out:

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior… (1 Timothy 2:1-3a).

I can’t help but notice that Paul skipped me. He skipped you too. As he talks about prayer and the subject of our prayers, his focus is on other people.  It’s about them. That prayer inventory I’ve been doing on myself has not yielded very good results. I pray for myself more than anyone else. “God help me out of this jam,” or, “God show me what to do in this situation.” Sometimes it’s, “God help the boys to sleep through the night so I can get some sleep.” Me, me, me.

But Paul challenges me (and you) to pray for others. And not just as part of our normal prayer routine, but as the primary subject. We should be praying two things: 1) that God would help them, and 2) prayers of thanks for them. I so appreciate the lack of complexity here. Thank God for them and ask Him to help them… simple. In other words, go to God on their behalf; speak up for them. Pray for them what we so desperately want for ourselves; and when we do, God is pleased. What an interesting thing: God is pleased with us when we pray for others. It certainly speaks to the selflessness that is such a deep part of what it means to be like Jesus, who died for everyone else.

And we simply can’t move on until we note what might be the most difficult part of these sentences for some of us. Paul tells Timothy to pray for all who are in authority. All is a tough word here. There are no exceptions or caveats… just pray for the authorities. When was the last time you asked God to help our president? When was the last time you thanked God for him? Democrat, Republican, or anywhere in between—it sounds like we’re called to pray for the president; whether we agree with them or not, we should certainly be praying for them. Hard stuff to be sure, but it can’t be glossed over. I wonder what would happen in America if the millions of Christians that live here made a daily practice of asking God to help the president, with an emphasis on God’s will above our own. And did you see the reason we pray? Peaceful, quiet lives.

It might feel frustrating to come back to that prayer inventory. It sure is for me. And by the way, I don’t think God doesn’t want us to ever pray for ourselves. He longs for an intimate relationship with each of us; that’s for sure. But it seems that at least part of growing to be like Jesus plays out in selfless, others-centered prayer. The beautiful thing is, if others are following God’s instructions… they’re praying for you.


JP

After serving as the Student Ministries Pastor for 10 years, Josh Petersen is now the Lead Pastor of Immanuel Church. He’s married to Heidi and together they live with Jake, Logan, Cole and Sawyer at the circus they call home.

NEED FOR SPEED

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Today, we seem to have the overwhelming need for speed. We can have almost anything we want when we want it. Having to wait for things has become agonizing. We want our food fast and our internet faster. We skip through commercials and advertisements. We like our convenience. But the problem I’ve found with this emphasis on speed is that it’s made me less patient in other aspects of my life. For example, when I pray for things, I expect to get an answer or see results right away. Don’t we all? But, I’ve found that oftentimes God makes us wait for His answer. If I’m honest though, it’s easy for me to become frustrated with God when He doesn’t deliver on my schedule. Impatience and frustration with prayer is something I’ve been struggling with for a long time. It hit very close to home for me a few years ago when my grandma was battling cancer. I remember praying every day that God would take it from her. I prayed for months and eventually, she passed away. I had to wait for an answer only to find I didn’t even get what I had specifically asked for. In these moments, it’s easy for the doubts to creep in, and that’s when we need to hold strong. Though I couldn’t see it then, God’s answer was truly the best for her. My grandma got to go home. She gets to rest in the arms of our Creator. While all of that was going on, I found a passage from Psalms that has stuck with me ever since. Maybe this will be a comfort for you when you’re in the middle of something difficult.

I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. Psalm 27:13-14

I can only conclude one thing: that despite our constant need for speed, God is going to show up on his own time, that He is going to answer our prayers – and maybe even surprise us in the end.


Gracie Adamek attends the College of Lake County and hopes to one day be a special education teacher. She likes to sing, act, knit, and write. She hopes you enjoy your time here, reading these blogs, and is very grateful for the opportunity to glorify God through her words

QUALIFIED TO CRITIQUE

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If you’ve ever looked online for anything – a gift, a restaurant, a movie, a car – you’ve probably read a few reviews before actually buying that thing. What other people have to say about something, their critique, seems important to us. We read things like, “I’d give this toaster 5 stars,” or “I’d give it one, it electrocuted my cat!” Remember though, these aren’t professional cooks giving the reviews, but every day people making judgements and giving their opinions. But every day people LOVE to judge and give opinions. We all do. Look at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Everyone is critiquing everything and everybody else. But what qualifies us to speak on politics, medicine, movies, restaurants or toasters when we really aren’t experts in those areas? We’re just exercising our freedom of speech and can’t help ourselves. Pretty soon we become constant critiques of our friends, our jobs, our lives – and even our churches. And it becomes habitual.

Jesus had something else in mind for His followers. He told us to save our “reviews” for ourselves. In Matthew 7:1-5 we are told:

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

Pretty straightforward advice. Unfortunately, we focus on criticizing others when we really need to be focusing on our own growth.

I remember in the early stages of my faith journey the excitement of finding answers to life’s questions. Before long I thought I had all the answers. How to think, how to dress, how to behave, how to vote, what music to listen to;I even had all the Christian lingo down. Of course this made it easy to judge those who didn’t agree or weren’t like me, and I quickly became a critic of “the world.”  They were wrong. I was right. And I wasn’t afraid to let them know. Their views, their music, their lives had low ratings on my scale. Somehow I forgot it wasn’t my scale that mattered. I imagine I’m not the only one who started their Christian life like this.

Then, after spending a number of years inside the Christian community, guess what? I started turning my critical eye away from the world toward the Church. Christians seemed so rigid and judgmental – hmm… –  and all I could see were the flaws in my brothers and sisters. Still doing my “reviews” but with a different focus. I could hardly go to church or a social event without picking it apart. I suspect we’ve all been there too.

It was a long process (and I haven’t finished), realizing all the energy I spent finding specks elsewhere before deciding to keep my focus inward. Trust me, I still have to work at it. But the only person I can change is me. And if I can grow in grace maybe that’s how others are influenced. I’m an inside expert on me, so this is the only subject I’m truly qualified to critique. And if we each focus on ourselves, we won’t have time to judge each other.

I started by asking if you’ve ever shopped online; I have and I’ve looked at the reviews. But sometimes what’s more powerful than a review is an actual demonstration of the product. What a great idea! While the world gets more opinionated and caught up in writing their reviews, Jesus wants something different from us: to stop with our reviews of others and start demonstrating our faith through love, grace and acceptance.


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Heidi Petersen is a Corporate Trainer for RDR Group who specializes in diversity, resilience and generational
differences. She has been engaging audiences across the country for nearly a decade and credits her success to great story telling and a sense of humor. Heidi is also the better half to Lead Pastor Josh Petersen and the mom to 4 wild and wonderful boys. In her spare time she enjoys Scrabble, reading and wandering around Milwaukee with the love of her life.

PLANTED, NOT BURIED

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This came across my Facebook feed this week: “Sometimes when you’re in a dark place you think you’ve been buried, but you’ve actually been planted.” (Christine Cane)

The day that I read this I felt a bit buried myself. It’s not that there was anything major going on in my life, but the cumulation of just, well, everything began to weigh down on me. As all of the little things pile up, I often feel the reality that life here on this swirling sphere of sin can only be described as one thing: hard.

I find it interesting that when James writes about trials (James 1:2-4), he doesn’t define what exactly a trial is. I’d like to think it’s that feeling of being buried. Yet, he just writes, “Consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds.” James expands the definition to encompass anything that tests our faith (1:3). This means that even when my trials aren’t about physical burying, about life and death, they can still result in growth (1:4). Growth is found in the everyday, ordinary huff-and-puff of life.

Mary and Martha didn’t appear to consider it pure joy when Jesus took his sweet time responding to the news that their brother was on his deathbed (John 11). I find myself in their disappointed, frustrated responses. How often have you stood at the precipice of a life-changing trial, only to feel that God was taking his grand old time coming to your aid? Yet, there is so much to learn form these women. Rather than sitting in the disappointment, they took their circumstance to Jesus, even as they prepared to bury their brother in the uncertainty of what Jesus could or would do about it. Jesus himself flat out says, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe,” (11:14-15). Did you read that? Go ahead, take another look. Jesus was glad?! He was glad he wasn’t there, at the bedside of a beloved friend?

Yes, so that we may believe.

It’s during those times when we’re “buried” – whether literally like Lazarus, or in grief and sadness like Mary and Martha, or like me in the daily grind – that faith can make all the difference. Faith in Jesus, in his authority over our circumstances, and in his power to do something about our troubles, this faith is the thing that can change our focus from an earthly perspective to a heavenly perspective. Jesus brought life again to Lazarus and he can bring life again and again to us, especially during those times we feel buried by our circumstances. Because Jesus is true to his promise to bring life, I can have faith that I have been planted, not buried.


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Martha has been a wife for 17 years and is the mother of three children ages 10, 9 and 5.  When she’s not folding laundry, c
ooking meals, helping with homework, kissing boo-boos, grocery shopping, cleaning house and running errands; she loves to hold babies at Immanuel MOPS!

 

EXCUSED: WRESTLING WITH READING THE BIBLE

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Confession time. I’m a pastor and I struggle to regularly read the Bible. I’ve been wrestling lately with the dissonance between what I say and what I actually live out in my life. Every Sunday I preach from a passage of Scripture and tell others to read it every day. Then the week hits and life happens and the excuses flow. I have a long list of excuses, too. Do you? For the next minute or so, I thought I’d share a few of mine with you, and maybe you’ll find we’ve got some things in common.

I DONT HAVE TIME. This is, without question, my most common excuse. I’m constantly telling myself (and God) that the day’s hours just simply ran out. I mean, does that sound like passionate devotion or what? I love God so much that spending time listening to Him through Scripture gets placed dead last on my priority list and more often than not, has no place on my schedule.
Yet, it’s amazing how much time I have to watch television and surf social media – there’s always time for that. Facebook reports the average American spends 40 minutes per day on its site. This leads me to question whether its that I don’t have enough time, or that I don’t make enough time. It’s always the latter, isn’t it? The solution is simple: let’s reevaluate our priorities and make time for what’s most important.

I ALREADY KNOW WHAT IT HAS TO SAY. I grew up going to church every Sunday (and Wednesday) of my life. The only excuse for not going was being sick. And, by the way, being sick in my house was defined as including vomit or having a triple-digit temperature. If you weren’t sick and you weren’t dressed when it was time to leave, you were going in your underwear. Because of that dedication—which I’m very thankful for—I’d heard every Bible story in the book and had memorized countless verses by the time I was a teenager. David and Goliath, Daniel and the Lion’s Den, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednigo, these were stories I could tell forward and backward. I’ll admit though, back then it was more about the Bazooka bubblegum reward than the discipline of hiding God’s Word in my heart. It’s easy for me to think of the Bible as something I’ve mastered. As a pastor, that misguided notion is amplified by Scripture often taking the role of a work-related document for me instead of the Living Word.
Here’s the crazy thing though: do you know how many times I’ve seen the original Star Wars trilogy? I think I can say, honestly, that I’ve seen each of those movies at least once each year for the last 25 years of my life. I know every line, every move and even the name of Luke Skywalker’s uncle and aunt, and yet I never get tired of it. In fact, I notice something new every time I watch them. Yet, for some reason I don’t allow myself to see the grandest adventure ever told in the same way. Maybe it needs to become more about enjoying the parts I do know and keeping an eye out for the bits here and there that I missed before. Or, maybe I need to be okay with knowing what I do, and celebrate that like I do being a “Star Wars nerd.”

I LOVE ME MORE THAN I LOVE GOD. It’s shameful, but it’s the absolute truth. I love my comfort. I love my sleep. I love my shows, music, social events, money, and family time more than I love God. If He truly is the most important thing in my life, wouldn’t deeply knowing the pages all about Him be the highest and most looked-forward-to thing in my life? This is one I never say out loud, but it’s one that’s true. It’s the message underneath the first two excuses I’ve listed.
When I was going to school in Chicago, I would get letters from Heidi (my wife now, girlfriend then). The mailbox door wouldn’t even have shut before I’d torn the envelope open and began pouring over the words inside. It was one of the signs I loved her. My hope is to grow in my love for Jesus to the point where I look forward to the moment I open His letter in the same way.

It’s an incredible thing, the God of the universe getting His thoughts on paper for us to know Him better. Seriously, think about that — it’s an absolutely crazy thing. When I think about it long enough, it makes me scratch my head and open my mouth in awe. And so, I’m finding it more and more difficult to come up with excuses. Let’s get to it.


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After serving as the Student Ministries Pastor for 10 years, Josh Petersen is now the Lead Pastor of Immanuel Church. He’s married to Heidi and together they live with Jake, Logan, Cole and Sawyer at the circus they call home.

 

EXTRA STRENGTH: REBIRTH DAYS

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A friend asked me yesterday via Skype my thoughts on why we started celebrating birthdays in the first place.

There’s no mention of this kind of celebration anywhere in the Bible, so where, she mused, did it come from anyway?

I’m sure someone, somewhere who is burning with curiosity can consult with Mr. Google and discover the answer relatively quickly; I am not her. But her question got me thinking about the beautiful things in our lives like relationships and celebration.

Birthdays in our house are big deals. These days remind me of the beauty and wonder of new life as well as what is and the hopeful anticipation of what that life will hold, do, be. I hold so tightly to these celebrations of our births, guarding fiercely these days of joyful remembrance and hopeful anticipation, planning purposefully and lavishly for each one in our family. Birthday celebrations are reflections of the individual we’re celebrating that day, and we often go around the dinner table recalling a favorite memory with that person or our favorite thing about that person. Birthday celebrations often end in our home with a blessing for what’s to come. And every year (starting this one), I began writing in the children’s birthday books (created as a way to preserve memories and thoughts and all.the.feelings because cards get lost) about what we see in their lives, what we hope for their lives and what they’ve been in our lives.

As I reflected on these celebrations and why I hold them so closely, my mind went immediately to how God lavishes the best gifts in the world on us in the form of people. He’s done it in my own life with my family and circle of friends, and on a much grander scale by sending us Jesus, wrapped in the swaddling clothes of a baby boy, our Savior.

It is God’s way to celebrate life.

And so we do. We celebrate these lives we’re given in all of their beautiful messiness. We take the time at least once per year to honor the God who gave us these very unique lives because daily these lives bring something to the table  — our dinner table, the lunch table at school, the tables at the coffee shop, the train tables at church — that wasn’t there before God made it so.

And this is so for everyone we encounter, so what if we encountered everyone with a spirit of celebration? What if we, instead of simply passing by, put to words the very things we see God doing in their lives? What if we began calling them by their very names and naming them as what they are — creations of God meant to do and be very specific, individual, beautiful people bringing much to each of their respective tables… including the tables at which we find ourselves sitting with them.

I think every relationship in which we commune might look pretty different, and I think each day of being in relationship with the people who sit at all of our respective tables might look at a whole lot more like a rebirth day than just any other day.


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Hyacynth Worth is beloved to God, wife to John, mom to two boys and two girls and author of Undercover Mother. 

DEVOTIONAL: GRATEFUL FIRE

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Have you ever known someone you would describe as being “on fire” in their relationship with Jesus? I sure have. There are times when I have said to myself, “I wish I was more like that.”  Have you ever felt that way? It’s interesting that for some of us, the passion and joy we might have once experienced in our relationship with Christ, can ebb after time. As time passes, other things in our lives begin to take priority and focus. For some of us, if we’re honest, that “fire” has never really existed in us, which might be because we were saved at an early age and have been a Christ-follower for nearly our entire life. Here’s the deal: whatever the reason might be, you’re not alone. In fact, the Psalmist even asked for that joy to be restored as it once had been.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you. (Psalm 51:12, NLT)

What impresses me most in reading this is that salvation is from the Lord and not of our own doing. I’ve actually heard people, when reciting this verse, make the mistake of substituting the “your” with “my.” Maybe we lose that “fire” because we inadvertently make that same substitution in our lives, and lose the grateful heart that fuels the fire of joy. God reaches down in his deep love and grace, and rescues us. HE saves us, and we can’t take the credit for that – not one bit. Today, read these verses and focus on the work of Jesus in our salvation. Ask Him to bring back the joy of the Gospel that may have taken a backseat in your life.

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. (Romans 3:23 NLT)

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. (Romans 5:8 NLT)

For there is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. (1 Timothy 2:5 NLT)


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As a devoted follower of Jesus, Kelly Davis is deeply grateful to be Christy’s husband and Dad to three awesome sons. Kelly is also the Pastor of Service Design at Immanuel Church, and loves creating experiences that help people engage their hearts with God. In his free time, you’re likely to find Kelly in a guitar store or on the links.

DIRTY > CLEAN

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Though I’m the mom of three boys, I’m a girly-girl at heart. I’ve never liked climbing trees or playing with dirt; I mean, as an adult I don’t even like to deal with landscaping! When my husband asked me to help him pull weeds, however, I very reluctantly agreed. I grabbed my gloves, my knee pads, and was sure to put on long sleeves and jeans. I was going into battle, after all, and I was not about to get dirty! Then, something terrible happened: a bug appeared. (Did I mention I don’t like creepy, crawly little bugs?) I persisted though… until another came, and then another! It didn’t take long for me to jump up and tell my husband – let’s be real, I begged him – that I would do anything else but that! My husband needed my help, but because the situation was too uncomfortable for me, I couldn’t give it.  Eventually, he finished it on his own, but it took longer than it would’ve if he’d had some help.

As a mom, there are many times like this, where I want to just get up and run. I want to run from the attitudes and the responsibility of shaping and molding characters. I want to run from the bickering when what’s needed is a lesson in communication. I want to run from the yelling when my kids need to learn self control. Oh, and did I mention that I homeschool? Talk about God giving me nowhere to run and nowhere to hide! For those of you who can relate, there really is nowhere to hide – not even the bathroom is off limits! More often than not, I want to run away because helping each of my boys learn in a way that fits their personality and individual way of learning is tough and uncomfortable. If I’m honest, I’d much rather just make them think like me than go into battle and get dirty.

But God wants us to get our hands dirty, figuratively and literally. He wants us to jump in with both hands, lifting them up as we surrender our wills for His. It won’t be easy, and it sure won’t be comfortable, but it’ll be worth it. And starting that journey really entails just being prepared to get dirty.

God has made it clear that my family is my first ministry. It’s with this realization that I’ve gained a new perspective and have come to see that God has allowed me to go through so much in my life in order to prepare me to better shape and mold my boys. So to what, or where is God calling you to minister? It may be no further than your own front yard! No matter where He is taking you, remember that He has prepared you through your past experiences to help those around you. And He will continue to prepare you as you seek His guidance daily. So get ready, get set and all hands in!


Sheryll Belonga iwife to Jurrell and homeschooling mom to their three great boys. Her desire is to glorify God in all she says and does in spite of life’s daily happenings.

BELONGING IS FOR PEOPLE

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Belonging.
That feeling of inclusion, acceptance, and safety is something we long for, however often we tend to push it away. We are thirsty to belong to someone, something, or somewhere. Belonging, in its truest form, is when we are remembered, heard, seen, and known. It’s an intimate space that you know you can return to and find familiarity. Belonging, in today’s culture, is sometimes like trying to grab hold of a slippery pool noodle.

As my husband and I have moved frequently over the past few years, it seems we’ve bounced endlessly between Christian communities, despite studying at a Christian school and being surrounded by churches. It’s been a rare occasion that I’ve thought to myself, “This is where we belong!” With time, though, I’ve realized that I’ve been approaching belonging all wrong, and here’s why:

  1. You don’t have to belong everywhere. For those of us whose stories involve a lot of change, you may feel isolated when people don’t understand where you’re at in life. You might be frustrated that, after years of living in this new place, you still haven’t found that group or that place, the one that feels comfortable and familiar. Maybe you’re on the verge of a big change and feel like new relationships just aren’t worth pursuing. Maybe you’ve felt misunderstood by your family or the people around you. Or maybe you’ve lived in the same place your whole life and have had a core group of supporters around you, but can relate to feeling a little bit on the outside at times. What I’m getting at here is that we all want to fit in, to feel valued, and to fill in the gaps of emptiness or longing that we see. And sometimes we expect others to be that for us, too. Yet, I’m in constant need of the reminder that I can’t be everything for everyone, that none of us can! We just simply can’t have every relationship or expect to be involved in everything, and – brace yourselves – that’s okay. Talk about relieving! So let’s live freely; let’s practice the art of thriving where we are, of recognizing our limitations, and continually trusting that God is big enough to work in places that we cannot reach.
  2. We belong to Christ alone. Before anyone or anything, this is the foundation we must stand in. This world is not our home, because we don’t belong here. We feel it when we sin against others, or others sin against us. We see it when tragedies happen unexpectedly to people who don’t deserve it. We hear it when we pray. As believers, we need to remember that Christ calls us his very own! This means that we are brought into his family, that we have a place at his table. Our true family is in the Father, Son, and Spirit, and it’s unlike any other relationship we will ever have. This reality comforts us during the hurt and pain we feel in this world because it reminds us that despite the pain and suffering, God is always inviting the world into a healing, nourishing relationship with Him. We truly don’t belong in this sinful, broken world, but we do belong to Christ. He is loving, gentle, and just. He is ever-present with us. He knows us, hears us, and sees us more than anyone else. Even if we don’t sense his presence, the truth remains. He is our constant. In him, we always belong. Because of this, we can be secure in all other situations.
  3. Community starts with an invitation. Do you remember that one friend who always invited himself over? How often do we subtly do the same when desperately trying to fit in? The best community starts with an invitation, whether it be an invitation into a community of faith or to a dinner with friends. Out of the overflow of the belonging we find in Christ, invite others into that belonging too. Be the one to invite people over. Be the one to invite people to be honest. Be the one to tell someone, “You can come back here because you’re welcome and you’re loved.” Sometimes fear can keep us from making authentic connections with others and from being our true selves. For some, it’s easier to live in isolation than to make an effort to be known and to know other people. But the truth is, we need each other. And we always will. Sometimes we just need a reminder of the power of community. In community, when we are honest and vulnerable with each other, we find ourselves in a healing place. Community is where we share together, learn together, and grow together. None of us are perfect, and we can’t prevent the inevitable strain that always comes in relationships, but we can choose to continually love each other and to forgive. This is the authentic, exciting, and fulfilling life of the Church.

I’ve found that belonging is less about feeling, and more about recognizing. One of the best examples of this is at a wedding. Usually, if you’re not in the wedding party, you find yourself at a table full of people that you don’t know. If you’re anything like me, I tend to think the bride purposefully put us at this table to become friends with their other friends. The pressure is on. Small talk ensues and the usual pleasantries are asked. Maybe it’s just me, but it drives me crazy to know I’m putting effort into forming relationships with people I will never see again. It feels pointless. But it’s in moments like these that I remind myself that it’s still worth it, because when I recognize where I truly belong, and whose I am, I don’t have to fear rejection from anyone. I can confidently share myself with others, valuing them and learning their stories, even if it’s just for a few hours. It’s not about feeling like I belong in this moment to these people; it’s about recognizing that I belong to Christ and am included in his family.

In life, we will go through times of loneliness, hardship, confusion, as well as joy, peace, and comfort, sometimes simultaneously. No matter where we are in life, because we are human, we desire belonging. As we seek to fulfill this desire, let us unabashedly cling to the one whose we are and choose to walk in that freedom.


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Megan Hill is a graduating student at Moody Bible Institute in the Counseling/Psychology program. She is passionate about discipleship, missions, and striving for authenticity. She also weirdly loves to wrap gifts, ride her bike, brew coffee, and pull pranks on those she loves most.