AWE-FTEN

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

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.

AIRPORT SANCTUARY

I love airports. If you ask me, they’re the most entertaining places on the planet. Here’s why: they have more food options than the food court at a mall, they have stores filled with trinkets you’ll never use but somehow feel you need, and they have people from all over the world passing through their corridors—and that’s the best part. I’m fascinated by the different ways people move through life, because no one is the same. Have you ever thought about that for very long? There are no two people that are exactly the same. It’s amazing how much diversity there is in this world. And for me, that speaks to one thing: the creativity of our Creator. God doesn’t know how to be boring, does He?

I recently found myself sitting around a baggage claim carousel with roughly 100 or so people in Orlando. In that crowd was a family from England, one from India, a couple from South Carolina, and one man from eastern Europe. The differences between them culturally was stark enough, but then I noticed their personalities; the way they engaged with each other; their patience or lack there of; all the way down to the kind of cell phone they were using. The differences were exponential. It was stunning.

My wife’s career takes her all over the country working with companies on how to connect with people in the office every day. I love the way her company defines diversity: any difference that makes a difference. Because the truth is, you can have a room full of 100 people from the same town, same socio-economic level, same gender, and same race and STILL have differences between them. Again, that’s creativity. God’s amazing in that way. Seven billion people are walking around right now and no two are alike. Just try to sit down and draw 25 distinct flowers from memory, good luck trying to make them unique from one another.

Isaiah 64:8 says “But now, O LORD, You are our Father, We are the clay, and You our potter; And all of us are the work of Your hand.” Psalm 104:24 states, “O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.” I know some people really connect with God by getting out in nature and beholding His creation. I get that, it does my spirit good too. But for me, thinking about the massive number of people and the countless unique qualities they each carry with them, reminds me that God is huge. Because he not only wove them each together but He knows, loves, and cares for each of them every minute of every day—even if they don’t acknowledge Him. Just listen to what Jesus said, “And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows” (Luke 12:7). Like I said, God is huge. Need a reminder? Go to a busy place, sit down, turn your phone off and watch His handiwork. It might turn your next long wait in the airport security line into a time of worship!


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.

WHO VS. WHAT

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

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.