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. 


I’m someone who naturally likes attention. I’m an extrovert. I love people. It’s in my brain! I also happen to serve in a number of roles in our church. Because of these two things, and the fact that I’m a human being, I love to soak up the compliments. While I believe that it’s fine to receive compliments and to be appreciative of them, I’m constantly reminded of the need for humility. Can you relate? Good. I’m glad I’m not alone.

On Sunday, Josh spoke about using our God-given gifts in the midst of the temptation to use those gifts selfishly. It’s so easy to look like we are using our gifts to give God glory when in reality, we’re really giving it to ourselves. I am so guilty of this. On a Sunday morning, for example, I often find myself worrying about how my voice sounds on stage or what the congregation thinks of me rather than actually worshipping – which is why I’m up there in the first place! Even when it comes to blogging I find myself trying to phrase things in a way that paints me in a smarter or more holy light. I want people to read my posts, to listen to me sing and think, “Wow! She’s so wise!” or, “How old is she again? That girl can sing!” But here’s the kicker: my relationship with God isn’t a show, and neither is yours.

This temptation isn’t just for people in leadership, though. Wanting the spotlight can take shape even behind a screen. Take social media, for example. What’s a quick way to get enough “likes” to make us feel good? Easy: post a picture of your Bible to Facebook. Not only do you get likes, but you build up that spiritual reputation while you’re at it. There are countless spotlights and stages in each of our lives where we stand for recognition; what’s yours? Regardless of the setting, when it all boils down, God calls us to dig deep and really look at our motives. Do we post on social media for the recognition? Do we get up on stage for a chance to stand in the spotlight? Or, are we letting those things be an outworking of what’s going on internally, behind closed doors?

Matthew 6:1 says, “Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven.” Our relationship with God isn’t a show, and if we’ve started to make it that, maybe it’s time to get off the stage and out of the spotlight to get alone with Him. Josh reminded us this weekend that our faith will never magically be perfect, so we can’t walk around pretending like it is. Rather, when we spend time with God privately, letting him shape and form us, we see growth and feel a worth that no stage could every give us. So let’s get honest enough with ourselves to recognize where we’re needing practice, where we’re wanting to grow and start making time to pursue that. Let’s take some time this week to practice our faith with the Perfect One, to explore the spiritual disciplines, to look into new ways of reading Scripture or to form a prayer plan for the next few weeks. And, in the process, shine the spotlight on Him.

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

Extra Strength: Be the Love Letter

We leave the church building inspired and filled with Truth and encouragement each Sunday … and somewhere along the course of the week, often we find ourselves in need of a little bit of something to help us through.

Welcome to Extra Strength: a mid-week pick-you-up for the soul. Be sure to scroll all the way to the bottom for extra encouragement and challenge. 

We are Church: We Alter  {Sunday, September 20, 2015 }

By Hyacynth Worth

It’s a little bit like my secret weapon, but keep this between us, ok?

I don’t know about you, but I can ask my four children myriad questions about their days — what was great? what was terrible? what just was plain old funny? — and I barely get any responses.

But I can go, on a whim, nonetheless, print out 48 questions from Momastery and stick them in a jar, thus creating The Key Jar, and we have people almost arm wrestling to pick the question out of the jar each night while we eat dinner.

I’ll admit: the questions are good. Really, really good.

But they are deep. Like, really, really deep. And while I knew our 13-year-old and eight-year-old would likely have something to say about those really, really deep questions, I wasn’t sure about our 6-year-old or our 3-year-old … and I definitely wasn’t prepared for the kind of conversations these questions would spark.

So one night last week we’re sitting around the table and my oldest son picks a doozy of a question from The Key Jar.

“What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the world today?”

The table goes silent and then my youngest son shoots up his hand and shouts: “moving an erupting volcano from one place to another!!”

We all laugh, because, you know, that’s pretty much true. That would be an enormous challenge. But the most interesting thing happens when the big kids answer: our oldest daughter says, “I think the biggest challenge is people believing in God.”

Our oldest son disagrees; “That’s not hard,” he says. He’s so black and white, and he wears his concreteness in his answers.

And then the real conversation revs up when the kids start talking about why God doesn’t just put an end to suffering and pain and hardships and humanitarian crises.

Both of the big kids grow pretty perplexed by this in only just moments, and so we begin discussing the role of people, God’s church, and how God puts His Holy Spirit in us and calls us the light of the world. 

You know — light dinner conversation, my friends.

We talk about how when things make us really angry (like people not having enough food) or when things make us sad (like disasters or humanitarian crises) that God can use that to help spur us to action.

IMG_1174At one point as we talk about the kinds of things that make us really sad the conversation turns to John and me, and we talk about how we were really, really heartbroken about children not having parents … And how God used that strong, very hard and heart-wrenching emotion to spur us to act; we talk about how God intended His people to be kind of like a love letter from God’s heart to a broken world. And how do we do that? By loving!

Truth be told, that’s all we’re really attempting here in our house. God broke our hearts so deeply for what breaks His that it spurred us toward action and movement. It made us want to be a love letter to a hurting world through our actions, our giving, our connecting and our time.

The kids leave the table pondering what breaks their hearts, and we find ourselves thinking about it, too, as we witness a world of hurt unfolding in our own home, our communities and across the globe.

Speaking of needs, they are massive and varied, aren’t they? They come in so many forms. But when we boil it all down, we need to love and be loved. God does that for each of us wholly and perfectly and it looks like forgiveness, mercy and grace, to name a few; we are lights in the darkness when we share His love and grow to be more like Him. When we love like God loves, we are like a love letter to a hurting world from the heart of God. And what does love look like? 1 Corinthians gives us a cheat sheet, if you will, and ends the chapter reminding us why it’s so important to get this love thing, right.

“Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13

So let’s be the love letter that changes everything, Church.


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

Be Challenged:  

Think and pray about how you can be a love letter from the heart of God to those who are around you.

Extra Strength: How Are You Giving {Sheryll}

We leave the church building inspired and filled with Truth and encouragement each Sunday … and somewhere along the course of the week, often we find ourselves in need of a little bit of something to help us through.

Welcome to Extra Strength: a mid-week pick-you-up for the soul. Be sure to scroll all the way to the bottom for extra encouragement and challenge. 

Extra Strength

We Are Church: We Give  {Sunday, September 14, 2015}

By Sheryll Belonga

One thing that I have realized on more than one occasion is that I have been given kids to help me become a better person.

Sometimes God uses my attempt to discipline my boys as a way to discipline me or He uses them to help me change my attitude when I am grumpy by giving me the kind of hug that would make butter melt. During the message on Sunday Pastor Josh helped me to see that God was using them once again, to show me that every little bit counts.

I consider myself a very giving person. I am giving of my talents, my time and my finances. I often wish I had more money so that I could give more away.  But what I am not is a consistent giver. Let me explain.
On many occasions while going into Walmart, someone has been out in front asking for money. I rarely have cash on hand so I am not always able to donate. There have been times when the only cash I have had on hand was a few coins.  I would never donate my coins though because I felt they weren’t enough.
My boys however, are a different story. They will donate four pennies if they have it and they would do it with joy while I would do it with shame. Why is it that we feel as if the little we have is not enough even if that is all we have to give?
Pastor Josh talked about a widow, who gave all she had and I believe she didn’t hesitate. Could I be like her and just simply give what I have? According to Josh’s calculations in his sermon from a few weeks ago titled We Serve, God was able to feed roughly 20,000 people with a small amount of food. Couldn’t He take my offering and use it just the same to benefit those who need it? What do you have to offer?

Sheryll Belonga is wife 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.




Be Challenged:

  • Do you give in church? If so, is it out of obligation or out of gratitude.
  • Do you give out of excess? If so, is God calling you to make a sacrifice.
  • If you don’t give because you feel like you don’t have anything to give try giving your coins. Pray that God will bless them so that you can give even more.

Extra Strength: WHEN DIFFERENT ISN’T BAD {Martha}

We leave the church building inspired and filled with Truth and encouragement each Sunday … and somewhere along the course of the week, often we find ourselves in need of a little bit of something to help us through.

Welcome to Extra Strength: a mid-week pick-you-up for the soul. Be sure to scroll all the way to the bottom for extra encouragement and challenge. 

Extra Strength

“It’s different,” my six-year-old said as he carefully chewed the cracker with a decidedly undecided look on his face.

In my head I was thinking, “It’s a cracker. How different can it be from all the other crackers that you know and like?”

What I’ve learned about his definition of “different” when it comes to food is that different = bad or I don’t like it. Rarely, if ever, has there been a food he has tried which he labeled as “different” that has made it into the regular repertoire of meals or snacks.

For me different in the food category has not been much of a struggle but if I’m being honest, different in almost any other area of my life is a struggle. If something is different than another thing or if a situation is different than it used to be it means there has been a change.

At Immanuel Church we have recently undergone some changes and there are some things that are different. There have been a lot of changes to the physical building itself and there have been changes to the staff, the most prominent change being that of Josh Petersen stepping into the role of Lead Pastor as Joe Boerman retired.

In my head, I know that the changes that have taken place with the building, programming and staff are good but it’s different.

Uh oh, those words again. It’s different.

Same is familiar, safe, easy. Different is scary.

Maybe I’m the only one who feels this way. Any risk takers out there are probably rolling their eyes about now. But if you’re like me and you’re feeling the effects of the changes at Immanuel, I want to encourage you that different does not have to be bad or scary, not when God is involved.

As I have become aware of these feelings about the changes at the church that I love I took my feelings to God in prayer and here’s what He has shown me.  It’s o.k.

It’s o.k. to feel this way, to mourn and miss what is no longer, to be unsure or even afraid of what is to come. I can trust God in this change. I can trust that He is working all things for the good of the people of Immanuel Church. This isn’t about me. It’s about God and what He is doing through this church, through us. I can trust that my leaders at Immanuel are being led by God in every decision they make and I need to pray for them.

Thank you, Father for the Church and how you’ve designed it to help accomplish your mission. Thank you for Immanuel and its leaders. Amen.


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, cooking meals, helping with homework, kissing boo-boos, grocery shopping, cleaning house and running errands; she loves to hold babies at Immanuel MOPS!


Be challenged:

Whether these changes have been easy or difficult for you, I invite you to pray with me for our church and its leaders as we begin a new leg of Immanuel’s journey.

Thursday: Pray for Pastor Josh, his marriage and his family
Friday: Pray that we will be united in our mission to “help people know Christ and grow to be like him.”
Saturday: Pray for the student and children’s ministries and their leaders
Sunday: Pray for Bryan Bicket as he leads the men’s and small group ministries as well as Anita Everly as she leads the women’s ministries
Monday: Pray for the Alpha and Recovery ministries
Tuesday: Pray for the World Outreach team and its leaders and those going on mission trips
Wednesday: Pray for all other staff and ministry leaders (a list can be found at immanuelhome.org/leadership-team)