Baby Don’t Hurt Me

By: Deron Vaupel, Ministry Administrator

Vaupel Boys.jpg
(the screaming little monster and the negotiator-in-training plotting about what lesson to teach dad next)

A preface…being a dad is great. I have so much fun with my boys and I know that there will be many amazing and rewarding experiences in the future. There is a lot of adventure, energy, creativity, and joy in our house right now.

But then there’s the other side. I’ve been a dad for 4 years now. That’s a lot of diapers, messes, screaming, consequences, negotiations, and frustrations. I knew this would all be part of the experience of parenting, but nothing can prepare you for life with a three-nager.

In all honesty, though, what’s been most surprising is what those moments of anger and exasperation have taught me about love. A couple stories to add some context:

  • A few weeks ago, my son was pretty frustrated with me for some reason or another. He expressed this frustration by declaring that he no longer wanted to live in our house, so I thought I would help him understand the implications of his request. I started packing up his pillow, blankey, a couple stuffed animals, extra underwear, a couple shirts, and some pants. He was growing ever more concerned at the direness of this situation, and started sobbing. The sobbing quickly turned to coughing, and the coughing quickly led to him throwing up a bit. (**heavy sarcasm** makes you feel like a great parent when you make your kid throw up). The tone of our interaction quickly and understandably changed. Within minutes, we were sitting and laughing, having gotten things cleaned up and processed through the interaction.
  • On an almost daily basis I have to tell my 14 month old to stop doing something. It’s not something he enjoys hearing and his response is usually along the lines of looking at me with a blank face and then quickly morphing in to a screaming little monster. The amazing thing is that that screaming little monster more often than not runs right to me, the bearer of the worst news in the world, to pick him up. That’s the sort of thing that seems like it only makes sense in the mind of a 1 year old. It baffles me.

With my boys, love means stepping in to provide correction and direction, but it also means learning how to quickly move beyond my own heightened emotions to the constant reality of our love for each other. The same can be said of my relationship with God. If I could even begin to understand what it looks like to respond on a daily basis to the unwavering love that God has for me, I can’t even imagine how much easier all the screaming and negotiating would be.

My boys are teaching me. I hope they can be patient with their slowly learning dad.

 

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For the Birds

By: Kevin Thomas, Lead Pastor

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?

Matthew 6:26

finch-at-feeder-2Over the past couple of years we’ve added bird feeders as an additional backyard feature. I’m not exactly sure what motivated us to invite birds into our yard—it just seemed like a nice thing to do: to provide for these little creatures and summon nature to come a bit closer into our very suburban lives.

I won’t be any help if you ask me what variety of birds flutter into our area. My best guess is they are yellow finches, grey/brownish chickadees and the very occasional red cardinal. I’m clearly no ornithological expert on feathered endothermic vertebrates of North America. Yet my past few years of “birding” have revealed two truths regarding these flappy creatures:

  1. They really like my food. After putting out fresh seed, the birds can down a whole canister’s contents in a matter of days. (Which is pretty much the same rate that teenage boys consume the contents of our formerly well-stocked side-by-side refrigerator/freezer.)
  1. They’re really, really scared of me. Even though I kindly and thoughtfully offer them food, they still don’t seem to like or trust me. If I step within 20 feet of their “zone of safety”, they cock their heads in caution and quickly fly up and away to the haven of a higher branch.

It’s perplexing.  They completely misinterpret my overtures of friendship—seeing me as a threat, not recognizing me as the source of their care and comfort.

Sound slightly familiar?

God provides for us in an amazing array of thoughtful ways: friends, family, words of comfort and instruction in Scripture, an encouraging church community, daily provisions of food and safety, and, of course—the opportunity for a friendship with him through Jesus.

Yet what’s my most common response when he gets too close? Get scared and fly away. He’s just too big for me to feel completely comfortable in his astonishingly impressive presence.

It’s my prayer that “Loved, finally” (our September/October Sunday series) helps us all become a bit more comfortable in God’s presence. Sure, he’s big—he’s the creator and sustainer of the Universe, after all. But he’s also very, very friendly—looking to come close and provide for us in ways that we can’t anticipate or comprehend.

He’s invited us to fly right into his own backyard. Let’s take him up on his happy invitation.

 

Photo credit: Mr.TinDC via Visual hunt / CC BY-ND

Truth, Lies, and Recalibration

By: Amber Harder, Communications Specialist

cup-of-teaOver the past few years, the amount of time I spend in prayer and reading the Bible has significantly decreased. I used to wake early and sit with a cup of tea at the kitchen table in the quiet of the morning. I’d pray, read my Bible,
journal, and watch the sunrise each day. It was bliss.

When we had Feven, I was still able to do this to an extent, but it wasn’t always so predictable or guaranteed. There would be days I would miss, but for the most part, I still did this regularly. Then we had Kai, and well, it’s just been near impossible since.

This lack of devotional time has been a source of immense guilt for me. I feel so guilty that I’m not carving out time in the day to be with God. I feel weak and undisciplined and worry what others would think if they knew how little time I spend in the Word.

When Kevin spoke on Sunday about our new sermon series, “Loved, finally” and asked us to look inside ourselves and see if there was anything that we believed deep down about God’s love that was untrue, it didn’t take me long to come up with an answer. I believed that I couldn’t be fully loved by God because I’m so undisciplined in spending time with him. I need to journal more and pray more and read my Bible more to be absolutely loved by God (Because it’s all about what we DO, right? Wrong!)

I’m really looking forward to this series to see how God speaks truth into my heart, into the deepest places where currently Satan’s whispers play on repeat “you’re not good enough…you’re not doing enough to experience God’s fullest love.” I sure need this healing. I’m hoping for a recalibration of my understanding of God’s love, this time making it less about who I am and more about who He is.

 

Photo credit: ToastyTreat via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-ND

How I Landed at enCompass

By: Alex Blackwell, Pastoral Internalex-blackwell

When I was 16 years old I was adamant that I would become a pastor someday. I have no idea why – most sophomores in high school have barely started thinking about specific vocations. For me, it wasn’t even the top option among many… it was the only option. I had just decided to become a Christian, after a two-year process of looking into the intellectual foundations of a number of different worldviews. Long story short, after coming to stall at a crossroads between humanist atheism and Christianity for a few months, Christianity presented itself to provide the most viable explanation for everything. I began to read my Bible with a new passion and interest – and it wasn’t long before I took it in cover-to-cover. I ran into a lot of questions as I read through it, particularly the Old Testament, but my philosophical and apologetical mentors helped me through it. More than the questions that the process brought up, God revealed Himself to me over and over through His word, and a bond strengthened between us. My eyes were repeatedly opened to who God was, and who God continues to be in our lives today – and THAT is what made me want to become a pastor. I couldn’t keep those eye-opening moments to myself. I had to capture them and share what I had seen in every passage with the people around me.

College was spent with good community at Winona State University, discussing and taking in everything the Bible had to offer us. I loved to share my insights with people and I loved to hear theirs. My trajectory of becoming a pastor was becoming more and more clear to me. After college, however, an opportunity presented itself to me. InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a ministry that works with college students around the country, invited me to work for them and reach college students at Winona State. I knew that this meant tabling my aspirations to go to seminary and become a pastor, but I had great relationships with the college resident hall staff as I was an RA in college. I couldn’t let these relationships and the influence that I thought I had go to waste – so I took the job.

I have now been working for InterVarsity for 7 years – 4 at Winona State and now 3 at the U of M. As I have been a pastor for college students, I thought that I was possibly still honoring the calling that I felt that I once had when I was 16. I do believe that God has used and continues to use my time with InterVarsity to shape me in great ways, but He had a more specific idea for me that He presented two years ago. I was meeting with a person I had never met before to discuss the possibility of him speaking at one of my events for my college students. After we had ironed out all of the details, he paused before leaving our meeting and asked me if I had ever considered going to seminary. As I considered my aspirations from years ago to one day go to Bethel Seminary, I said, “yeah I’ve considered it a lot, but I guess I’ve pushed it aside for six years for financial reasons.” This is where things started to line up. The man I was meeting with told me about a scholarship that I could apply for by the time I turned 27 – I was turning 27 in a few months. Then he explained that the scholarship deadline had been the week prior – but had just been extended two weeks. Then he disclosed that the scholarship covers 90-100% of tuition – there go my financial barriers. After two weeks of cramming in an application and an 8-hour interview with Bethel staff, I found myself with the 90% scholarship getting ready for my first day of school just a few months away.

When I stepped into my first classroom – I felt at home. I’m not a believer in everything happens for a reason or that every step I take is planned out by God, but when I stood in the seminary building, I knew I was meant to be there. Fast-forward to last year. I found out that only 2/3 of my required internship could be with InterVarsity and that 1/3 was required to be in a church setting – God continued to straighten out my trajectory in this direction. After thought and prayer we decided that the church my wife and I were involved in at the time was not the one for me to do my internship. Rather than find a list of internship opportunities and start applying for them, I wanted to make sure I was at a church I loved and believed in – so my wife and I started to hunt. In February, enCompass became the 5th church that we visited, and it was the first church that we felt we needed to visit a second time.

Nothing against other churches, but we had developed more community at enCompass after just a few weeks than some churches I had been involved in for much longer. We felt welcomed in. The second thing we experienced is that people at enCompass were not afraid to be real. My wife and I had experienced churches where people felt like they had to be someone else when they were inside the church – people at enCompass were refreshingly authentic. Finally, we found genuine continuous curiosity at enCompass. In other words, no one at enCompass claims to be done with learning from God. There is a hunger for growth and learning that is so evident among people here. My wife and I fell in love with our new church and everything that I saw in enCompass lined up with what I felt was going to help me grow as an aspiring pastor – and so I asked the guy that I knew to be the pastor if they had an internship available. The board said “yes,” and here I am – and that’s my road to becoming the pastoral intern at enCompass. I’ve loved the experience so far and I am greatly looking forward to the next semester here.