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.

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.


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.


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!



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.


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 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.


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


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)


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.