On Love, Risk, and Two Lewises

Lewis curled upBy: Mark Deisinger

My friend Lewis was rescued very young from a dumpster in Duluth and eventually made his way to our house. I remember when we first brought him home. He seemed to like going under the futon in our spare bedroom, inquisitive but very unsure about us and what was happening. It wasn’t long before Lewis had the run of the house, dozing in the sun on one surface or another, and, in the winter, jumping up into our laps the moment a fleece blanket was deployed. He was affectionate, gentle, and liked everybody. Growing up I was a “dog person,” but I had now fully become a “cat person.”

Several weeks ago, Lewis’s breathing became labored and he started losing his appetite. The latter was especially alarming because he was legendary for scarfing down every molecule of his daily allotment in three minutes and then immediately begging for more. The vet’s x-rays revealed that his chest cavity was filling with fluid, a condition called pleural effusion. The exact cause remains a mystery, but it was likely that he suffered from congestive heart failure or possibly even cancer. He was about 11 years old by this point, still youngish for a cat. He lingered for a few weeks, but we knew that cats don’t really show distress and we worried that he was in pain. He seemed content to sit on a lap or in his basket, but he was only comfortable in certain positions, and those not for long. We knew the end was near, and we were sad and in distress ourselves. We didn’t want him to suffer. We didn’t want ourselves to suffer watching this play out.

Eventually he couldn’t move very well on his own, and one afternoon we heard him meowing loudly from another room, which was unusual. We approached to find that he had soiled his surroundings because he could no longer make it to the litter box. It was time. We held him as closely as we could without causing him discomfort, and we held each other closer.

The morning of April 9, I had an early commute to work for some training that I could not avoid or reschedule. I said my last goodbye to Lewis as he sat uncomfortably in his basket on the bathroom floor. Sharon took him to the vet a few hours later, and now Lewis is gone and the house is less bright and less warm. We are glad his suffering is over, and we are grateful that he spent his life with us, but there is real pain in our hearts.

Lewis

All of this puts me in mind of a passage by C. S. Lewis (yes, the name of our cat is no accident) from his phenomenal The Four Loves:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”

Like many, I had some negative experiences growing up and learned the bad habit of shielding myself from pain by removing myself from people. It was mostly schoolyard kid stuff, but it stuck with me. I became distrusting and cynical as I grew older, and generally started regarding most other people either as threats to be avoided or irrelevant to my daily life. By God’s grace I’m much less that person any more. I’ve been known to jokingly tell people that I’m a recovering misanthrope, but it’s not a bad assessment of my past and present attitudes.

This self-imposed isolation, this cutting people out of our lives, is, as the human Lewis implies, extremely dangerous to our spiritual health. The number of reasons is large: others who are honest with us act as mirrors, showing us ourselves, flaws included; others can be there to hold us up when we’re dealing with calamity; others can pray for us. You can think of a dozen examples without straining yourself.

The older I get and the longer I spend as a Christian, the more I believe that relationships are at the core of the human condition, that they are the purpose for the Christian faith, that they are the reason for the existence of the universe, time, everything. God, who is our example and after whose image we are made, expresses in the Trinity the perfect loving relationship within Himself, as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit remain in unity and love with each other. Jesus, the Son, came to Earth to save us from our broken condition so that we could eternally be in perfect harmony and love with God and each other. I thank God that He cares enough about me to keep working on this area in my life. I know it makes me vulnerable to the risk of tragedy. I would have it no other way. Jesus himself faced the agony of death by crucifixion so that the way would be opened for love.

Lewis climbing

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The Intersection of Faith, Vocation, Stewardship and Pie

pie

By: Deron Vaupel, Ministry Administrator

Tuesday night has become one of my favorite times of the week. A group of guys from enCompass gather each week to catch up on life, consume amounts of coffee that seem extremely unreasonable given the time of night, indulge in half price pie, and spend some time in engaging conversation.

While I would love to write a second consecutive blog post about pie, I will instead elaborate on one of my other passions. In high school, a mundane moment led to Ephesians 2:10 becoming one of my favorite verses:

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. –Ephesians 2:10

Over the past 20 years, this verse has become pretty influential to my understanding of purpose and calling. By the grace of God, we can be saved from sin and death, made alive through Christ so that we can do the things that God has gifted us to do and be a blessing to the rest of creation. And God has already been at work, setting the stage so that we just have to join in with what’s already happening. It requires effort on our part, but there’s freedom in understanding that we’re working with the creator of the universe to accomplish something that he’s passionate about (the restoration of creation to a right relationship with him). It’s pretty exciting.

Coming back to Tuesday nights…Our recent course of discussion has revolved around this concept, directed by a book called Kingdom Calling. It’s all about deepening the integration between our faith and vocation and what happens when we understand and apply God’s call to stewardship with our whole lives. Don’t believe what any of these guys say about their naivety regarding faith-based discussions…the level of discourse when it comes to practical theology is quite spectacular. I’m constantly challenged and humbled by this group of men.

As we unpack this concept, there’s a renewed sense of excitement in me about what it means to be created by God for a purpose. I’m blessed to be able to work through this with a group of people who are open to understanding and applying Paul’s words. With that in mind, I’ll give you two questions for pondering:

  • How has God created you to be a blessing to the world around you?
  • Who can explore this with you?

Conversations like this can give great perspective and insight. enCompass offers several different Connect Groups each week that can provide a venue for those conversations. And I’m always willing to sit down for coffee and conversation. I love to talk about how God is at work. And pie.

The Chain Breaker

By: Brenda Wetzel

chainIn grieving the recent loss of my dad, I’ve been reminded of the many wonderful characteristics he has blessed me with, but of also the shortcomings we share. I credit him with my deep faith and heart for God, adventurous, independent spirit, persistence and resourcefulness. But there are also some less attractive traits, one of which I will call “Right.” For me this includes the need to be right and the need to do it right (perfectionism). Both of these are toxic to relationships. Ask Al.

If you’ve read The Hobbit, you know that Gollum has a ring that has so much power over him he calls it “my precious.” Well, Right is “my precious” and its power over me is straight from Satan. He uses all the usual scare tactics and lies to have me believe I need and must have “my precious.” He whoops with glee and does his happy dance every time I succumb to it. And it has me in chains.

The only Chain Breaker I know is God. He is the only force strong enough to break the chain of “my precious.” To relinquish something so precious requires that I relabel it. Instead of considering it precious, I need to recognize what it is. Poisonous. But merely giving it up leaves its power intact. Not good enough. Just like the ring, it needs to be destroyed. And God has promised to do it.

God knows my struggle and reminds me that my part is to keep my eyes fixed on him and resist the devil. I trust his promise. The devil will flee from me. Some days I remember my part and others not so much. But through it all, he wipes away every tear and assures me that while the battle rages on, I can believe that the victory has already been won.

To borrow the lyrics of a favorite song, my Victory has a name. Jesus.

Pride and Authenticity

By: Hickory Smith

comparisonI have a pride problem. I want to say that it’s other people’s pride, but it’s really my own.

Prideful and arrogant people bug me. I hate their cockiness and over confidence. I can sniff it out a mile away and it turns me off. I might even think something like. “Ooh, look at you in your little self-righteous high tower.”

But then again, there are times where people could say the same about me. Also, if I am judging others on their level of confidence, am I not being prideful and arrogant myself?

The reality is that my own pride is unstable. Sometimes it’s fragile, sometimes it’s volatile. Sometimes it’s both.

What I notice sometimes is this: Where I gristle at others’ confidence and pride is often where I am one of two extremes – either I am envious of their own strength in that area because I am lacking, or, on the flip side, I am over confident in my own position thinking I have it all together.

Competence is important to me. I put my standards high and then get frustrated when I or others do not meet them. My frustration comes when others do not meet those standards. But sometimes I am more frustrated with myself.

One person in the Bible that really interests me and that I find myself identifying with often is the Apostle Paul. He is an interesting study in how he handles his pride.

One of the verses I have posted up on my wall at work to help me with my own pride and confidence is 2 Corinthians 3:4,5:

“Such confidence we have through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God.”

It is helpful for me to be reminded that any successes or points of my own significance are really because God sets my situation. Any pride because of results or my own capabilities needs to be seen in light of the source of any competence and resulting confidence.

If I am down on myself for any weakness I may have, I try to remember that God’s grace is sufficient for me, for His power is made perfect in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

On Sunday, Pastor Vince spoke of getting rid of our pride for authenticity and mentioned Hubristic Pride versus Authentic Pride. Are my actions and pride about me or is it about the God who saved me and enables me?

I hope and pray that I can be oriented by what Paul said in the last verses of 2 Corinthians 10,

But, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.

Let’s boast in the Lord and seek His commendation, letting him align our authentic pride.

The Epic Journey to Leave My House

By: Amber Harder, Communications Specialist

rain.jpegAttempting to control anything when it comes to small children is futile. The absolute worst is trying to get out of the house. I make my plan to leave at a specified time, taking into account missing shoes, bathroom breaks, and little people running around elusively. Yet with all those things factored in, I still cannot leave at the time of my choosing because of unforeseen circumstances and meltdowns…sometimes my own meltdowns!

When I am trying to get out of the house at a specified time and the world is not cooperating with me, I get so incredibly wound up. Just thinking about it now I feel my shoulders tensing! I wonder what my blood pressure would be if I wore a monitor during those agonizing moments when we’re trying to get out the door. I freak out because nobody is cooperating with MY PLAN! It would all go so smoothly if they could just do what I asked the first time.

On the rare occasion that I open up my clenched fists and release my plan, God does amazing things. I recognize an immediate change in my stress level when I say, “God, I have no idea how we’re going to get there in time, but You’ve got this. I trust You.” Then the whole situation gets put into God’s hands – where it should have been all along – and it’s up to Him. There is such freedom in releasing it back to him and waiting and watching to see how He’s going to work it out.

I remember one day in particular when we were running late, I started to back out of my driveway and noticed a woman I didn’t know walking slowly along the street and looking at me as if she wanted to speak to me. I rolled down my window and greeted her. She asked if I had a minute. I didn’t. But I engaged in the conversation anyway. Turns out that I didn’t have a minute in my plan, but God needed me to have a minute for her in His plan.

This woman worked in an assisted living group home in our neighborhood. While the residents were away at the day center, she would come in and clean the home. She had accidentally locked herself out of the house when she left to take out the trash that morning. Her keys, phone, wallet, everything was inside the locked home. She asked if she could use my phone and I invited her into my car because at that time it had started to drizzle too.

She was able to contact her supervisor and got back into the house. She was very grateful for my help, but I knew it wasn’t me. This was a divine appointment that God had given me for the day, and I was glad that I had stopped trying to control my day and instead submitted to His plan for my day. It was an honor to be there for this woman. I experienced deep peace and joy when I looked to God to control the situation instead of myself.

I wish I could say that I have lived happily ever after since, releasing my plans and control to experience God’s plans and freedom. That is not the case. But I’m trying. I’m learning. And the moments when I get it right are so rewarding that it leaves me wanting even more.

What About the Missteps?

By: Sarah Arend

“16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give

thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of

God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the

Spirit.”

1 THESSALONIANS 5:16-19

footstep

The Lord seems to work in ways that often that don’t make complete sense to me until down the road when I look back and see His hand in them. I have had many failed projects, missed opportunities, and missteps that I’ve taken. It’s easy for me to focus in on those failures or screw-ups.

I like things to go my way. I like to predict, dictate, and control my circumstances, my success, and my growth. But that is not always–and maybe not even usually–the case. There have been numerous times where, out of my control, things happen that weren’t in “the plan”.

No, I think, I need to fix this, this wasn’t the way it was supposed to be! What can I do?

Sometimes I can’t do anything. Sometimes my path is completely re-directed. And sometimes I need to sit in the fact that there might be a different road to a new destination for me.

It is in these times that resentment can begin to creep in because I felt entitled to my path, my plan. I can quench the spirit because when I am so fixated on my plan that fell through, I am blind to the work of God in other areas of my life.

I had it figured out, it was so perfect, it didn’t need changing.

I can’t say whether or not God intentionally alters my path to teach me to be pliable to his will. But I know for a fact that as I look back on some of the most “path-altering” moments of my life, when I felt the most entitled and grieved the loss of control the most deeply, the hand of God was working. He takes the failed projects, missed opportunities, and missteps to gently guide my feet towards a new destination, a new goal–one that is always greater than I could have imagined.

I feel resentment when what I want doesn’t happen how or when I want it to. I grieve the painful loss of control. But gradually, as I redirect, I can begin to see that somehow, this new path is better. It opens up opportunities, gives me time to grow, helps me to take moments of rest, or even is a chance to challenge my character. And suddenly, in the place of resentment and grief, I feel thankful. The change wasn’t supposed to be a stumbling block, but an opportunity for a blessing.

It’s almost like you knew, God. It’s almost like you know what I really need and what is really best for me.

I don’t know if my life being redirected will ever be easy, but I do know that how I view it is beginning to change. I have more hope that something good will grow. I am looking for the  change of plans to be an opportunity instead of a stumbling block. And I am trusting that the same God that has used my failures and made them into blessings will continue to transform and lead me through life.

Thank you God. Thank you for knowing me and what I need, even when I do not. I trust you, take my life and use it because you know what is best.

Pie for Dinner is Wonderful, but…

By: Deron Vaupel, Ministry Administrator

pieExcuses can feel like wonderful things. Any parent can tell you of the countless times that they heard an excuse from their child to make a punch ok, provide excellent justification for a job partially done, disprove decades of research on the nutritional benefits of cookies, and generally absolve responsibility for mischief…at least in the mind of the offender. For anyone on the receiving end, though, it’s more often a source of frustration or comic relief.

As I’ve thought through my own (vast) experiences with excuses, it’s pretty easy to see that they are an incredibly powerful tool of self-delusion, usually just trying to appease some aspect of my perceived emotional/physical/spiritual well-being at the expense of my actual emotional/physical/spiritual well-being.

-‘I don’t need to worry about praying at dinner…I read my Bible this morning.’
-‘I hugged my kid this morning…he knows I love him.’
-‘Sure, I can finish that pie…I ran 4 miles today.’

If I’m truly serious about anything in life, what reason do I have to not make every effort possible to show that I’m serious about it? Pie is wonderful, but isn’t a healthy body better? My kids are great, but how often do I let them know that I think they’re great? Following Jesus is an amazing opportunity, so why delay any opportunity to improve that relationship?

As we continue through this series about giving things up,  we’re challenged to give up our excuses for commitment, to recognize how our excuses pile up to hinder our growth in every area of life. If we’re honest with ourselves, we probably make many small excuses each week that can eventually have a huge impact on our relationships with God, others, and ourselves.

In the coming weeks, I invite you to ask me about my excuses and how I’m moving toward commitment. I also invite you to identify one specific area where you’re ready to give up your excuses in order to be more committed. As we share honestly with one another, the self-delusional power of excuses breaks down and we have a greater ability to grow.

When God Said, “Enough Already”

By: Al Wetzel, Church Chair

I was going to write about a cavemen Bible study group but that vignette was dropped when I heard the need for a story about “Giving up resistance to God for obedience to God”.  It’s a story that’s easily recalled and at times I’m compelled to give.

From the age of nine to thirty-six there were probably a half dozen times when I could feel God calling me and a strong urge in me to yield, but I just couldn’t.  In my youth my family, including cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents, attended a charismatic church.  Sunday evening services were not fun; school was the next day, homework was not done AND there were altar calls.  Altar calls were accompanied by the beckoning sounds of Softly and Tenderly played by the organist (typically the pastor’s wife), all heads bowed, and the preachers’ exhortations to prostrate ourselves at the altar and accept Jesus.  Usually I shuddered at the experience, but one time when I was about nine, there was an overwhelming desire in me to heed the urging and accept Jesus at the altar.  This same evening my cousin Tom was altar bound but I noticed my parents wanted to leave so I resisted the altar.  Tom’s life became God filled, dynamic, and productive from that point on.  For me, the urges became harder to feel and they lay dormant for many years.

It took twelve more years for me to feel God’s calling again…and in Vietnam of all places!  I had been ‘in country’ for about four months so had become desensitized to just about everything.  By this time the days and even months began to blend together, but there was a Sunday when my friend, Gerry, asked if I would accompany him to a missionary led church service held in an empty Quonset building.  What’s to lose, so I went.  There was an incredible feeling of peace that filled my heart and I pondered it for the remainder of the day.  However, I put it aside and continued my crazy life.

Over the course of the following years my life got crazier but there were still a few times when I felt God calling and sensed a peace he alone could give.  Unfortunately, alcohol does not like to share its dominion so I continued my increasingly downward ways until God said, “enough already”.  Sometimes choices are imposed in a way where there is only one choice and for me it was to quit the booze.  But it wouldn’t leave my mind – it was all I thought about.  At my first AA meeting a friend, Doctor Dave, casually mentioned he had prayed for God to remove the urge to drink.  That night under the oak tree I asked God to remove the urge to drink and that I give up and submit to whatever He gives me.  Life started to make sense again.  Nine days later I realized that I hadn’t thought of alcohol and it no longer controlled my thoughts.  To this day I can feel completely comfortable in a ‘alcohol rich’ environment and not feel the need to partake.

What a deal, you give up some crazy thing to God and he gives you something over-the-top in return.  For me it was the emptiness of alcohol addiction for a wonderful and loving family.

My Time on Death Road

By: Amber Harder, Communications Specialist

Back in 2004, there was only one way to get from La Paz, Bolivia to Caranavi, Bolivia. One tiny road called El Camino del Muerte – which translated means “The Road of Death.” This one-lane road held two-way traffic, and it snaked through the mountains descending 8,700 feet in altitude. It was estimated that between 200-300 people died on this road each year, which isn’t surprising because there are at times cliffs of up to 2,000ft with no guardrails.

In 2004, it just so happened that I needed to get from La Paz to Caranavi, so I needed to travel Death Road.

I remember the morning clearly. My music ministry group and I arrived with all our gear at the designated spot to catch a bus down Death Road. I remember the fear I felt when I stepped onto that bus. I was about to travel down what was later to be named the Most Dangerous Road IN THE WORLD. Sometimes the bus drivers were known to have a drink or two before they got behind the wheel for this trek to help ease their nerves. I was 22 and wanted to live for many, many more years. I wasn’t sure this was a good choice.

The bus started and we began our journey. At first the road was like any typical highway, but then it got smaller and narrower, and soon we were on a one-lane gravel road. I was struck with a deep fear. I found myself oscillating between holding my breath, praying that the driver was a good one, and then going on to envision our bus careening off the edge.

Somewhere during that first hour I realized I had to let go. I had to release my fear and rest in the truth that God had already numbered my days. He knew if Death Road would be my end, or if I had decades to go beyond that day. When I started to let go of my fear, I began to look around with eyes of wonder.

The dry, cold, high-altitude of La Paz gave way to jungle. There was green everywhere and new plants and trees that I had never seen before. The mountains rose sharply on our right, the carved-out walls that nearly touched our bus dripping with small waterfalls or covered in cascading vines.

But if I peered out my window and looked straight down on my left…well, I couldn’t see the road under us. All I could see was thousands of feet down. Just writing about it now, 14 years later, my feet still sweat with fear! I had to give over my fear again and again and again on that bus ride.

It was all worth it. The glory of God’s creation I saw in those mountains remains unmatched to this day. And the people we met when we arrived in Caranavi still take up space in my heart. God was waiting to show me amazing things. I only had to open up my hands (hands that were so tightly gripping my fears!) and use those hands to hold onto God’s.

      

If you’d like to see a few images of Death Road, check out this National Geographic video, or if you’re feeling particularly brave, here’s a link to two cyclists using their GoPro as they bike down Death Road.

 

Who Is the One Hurting?

By: Darcy Mears, Children’s Ministry Coordinator

Forgiveness gives us warm fuzzies, it is a happy and welcoming word. Forgiving someone a small transgression is easy enough. Letting ourselves off the hook for human foibles is doable. We bump into each other in the hallway and say ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘excuse me’ and we do truly mean it.  How quickly do we ask for forgiveness for the ugly and hurtful actions in our life? How often do we offer forgiveness to others when we are hurting inside? How often do we relive moments in our past that bring anger and tears to our eyes?

The sincere act of forgiveness can be difficult to achieve and can be even more tough to accept from others. Righteousness over how poorly we have been treated is hard to dismiss. The fact is, sometimes the past gives us a reason to explain our resentment and an excuse to hold the familiar feelings close. The other fact is, we are only hurting ourselves and our relationship with God. That other person has long since moved on from those atrocious actions and words. We are left to deal with our own hearts and heal ourselves. It begins with forgiveness. We must forgive others and ourselves to wholly move on with healing.

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. 1 John 1:5-7

We had a horrible experience with a sick parent in our family. He was far away and his wife was in charge of his care. Over the course of one and a half years, we went through many moments of fear, anger, grief, and resentment. It felt like we were living in a nightmare. We couldn’t change what was happening and Grandpa was slowing fading away; only his wife could see him on a daily basis as all other family and friends live here, like us. I was rightfully upset at the events that had transpired and could not forgive those who were making decisions. I was also feeling very guilty for how my anger seethed inside. I felt blackness in my heart for other human beings. When the call came that the end was here and he was left alone on life support, rage reared its ugly head and camped in my soul.

Psychologists generally define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness. …Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, nor does it mean condoning or excusing offenses.

Until I accepted my feelings and the realization we all live with evil in our lives, I was not able to forgive myself. Until I forgave myself, I was not able to forgive others. Until I forgave others, I was not able to leave the past behind. Realizing I could forgive, and it didn’t mean I was saying it was by any means okay, was liberating; releasing my own feelings of resentment was a turning point. It required a tremendous amount of prayer and effort. Time does help heal wounds and soften the edges. Learning to embrace that God would make it right when it fit into His plan was a final moment of release for me. Forgiveness, regardless of the past, became a reality.