What Does it Mean to Love?

By: Amber Harder, Communications Specialist

we-choose-loveThe last few weeks have been challenging ones for me. Our nation and our world seem to be an ever-growing tangle of hostility and fear. I find myself paralyzed, unsure of who I can trust and wondering all the while about the condition of the hearts of those in my day-to-day life.

A few weeks ago I was so overwhelmed that I just wanted to shut the shades, pull the bed sheets over my head and hide from it all. It seemed safer and easier than doing anything about the animosity that seemed to be ever more powerful in the world.

With increased hate-incited incidents showing up nation-wide and even in our own metropolitan area, I fear for my own biracial family as well as my family, friends, and neighbors who fall into groups who have been the target of resentment and violence.

As I thought about all these treasured people, I wanted to reach out to them in some way and let them know I cared about them and would have their backs no matter what. However, I felt timid and awkward in doing this, so naturally just put it off. For weeks.

The other day I was driving through my neighborhood and saw a neighbor of mine who I wanted to reach out to, but hadn’t yet. I battled in my head – should I stop? Should I keep going? I had two seconds of courage, so I pulled over on the street by his house and called him over to my open window. I let him know that the last few weeks were tough for me and I wondered if they were for him too. I told him that I love him. I told him that my family loves him and that we are so happy he is our neighbor. I told him I want him to feel safe in our neighborhood and that I would have his back.

And you know what happened?

He looked at me with tears in his eyes, squeezed my hand, and told me how much it meant to him to hear that. He shared how hard the last few weeks have been and how he is looking around his community with new eyes, wondering who is safe. Wondering, like me, about the condition of people’s hearts.

I was so glad God gave me the courage to reach out. I especially wanted to do so because I know my neighbors know my family’s routines. I know they see us leave for church each Sunday morning and believe us to be Christians. And honestly, the title of Christian has been tarnished and wrapped up with words and acts of hate instead of Jesus’ message of love. I want my neighbors to know that I am a Christian and I am not going to judge them. I am not going to persecute them. I am going to love them.

I believe love speaks more of God than anger, fear and hate ever will.

So while the future seems uncertain and there are times when fear grips my heart, I am moving forward with love. I want to start in my own circle – my family, friends, and neighbors, and then move from there to my community and world. I believe we all have been given the power to love and therefore positively influence the world around us.

I find it no coincidence that our upcoming series at church is “Peace on Earth: Bringing Calm to a World of Crisis.” God has a way of giving me exactly what I need, sometimes even before I realize I need it. I look forward to journeying with you in this series to learn how we can all bring “much-needed peace and joy to our fragmented world.” Lord knows we need it, and as His followers, it’s up to us to bring His message of love here on Earth.

 

Photo Credit: We Choose Love

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Blessings in Disguise

By: Mark Deisinger

(Disclaimer: Nothing I say here means that I have any of this figured out or perfected in my own life. We’re all on the spiritual path together, though, as you’ll see, you may want to take a different physical path than me.)

November is one of my favorite months. A big part of the reason for that is the best holiday of the year, Thanksgiving. It’s the best both because of what it stands for and because it isn’t as encumbered with some of the negative trappings that are added to other holidays, even Christmas.

But that’s not the only reason. I just like the idea of Thanksgiving – as a holiday, and as an attitude. Our current teaching series at enCompass is “A Generous Serving of Gratitude.” As I move through my days on this planet and get older, I find more and more that being thankful for what I have is crucial. If I tried to count my blessings, I’d never get any sleep.

But what about bad experiences? Two of mine come to mind:

  • blessings-in-disguise-photo-2About a month ago, my lovely wife Sharon and I were on a bike ride on the trail system near our house. I wasn’t paying enough attention as we were exiting the trail system, and I biked straight into one of those pillars they put in the way to keep cars from driving on the trails. My bike stopped, but I catapulted over the handlebars and landed, hard, on the ground. I broke my collarbone and ended my bicycling for the year.
  • blessings-in-disguise-photo-1Just last week, as Sharon was heading to work in our minivan, the power steering failed and the battery light on the dashboard popped on. She was close to work and nursed it there. Motorheads will recognize that it was likely she “threw a belt.” As it turned out, a bolt holding a tensioner broke, but the belt was intact. A tow to the mechanic and several hundred dollars later, the car was functioning again.

If you’re like me, and I suspect you are, because in this case being “like me” means being human, you would find the above two experiences to be expensive, time-wasting, and unpleasant.

As time has passed, though, I think I’ve gained some insight into these experiences. It’s not a shocking insight, and it may seem trite, but here it is: It could have been worse. For these two experiences, I actually know exactly how it could have been worse:

  • Yes, I broke my collarbone, missed some work, and had to have a series of visits to the doctor, which cost money. However, two things are true: 1) I do not need surgery, and am healing quickly, and 2) If I had hit that post at an angle, it’s likely I would have very seriously injured my leg, possibly even destroying my knee. I’ll take a broken collarbone over that any day.
  • What I didn’t tell you about Sharon’s minivan story is that she was going to leave just a few hours later to drive to Wisconsin and spend some time with her father. If that very thick bolt had held out for another 100 miles, she would have been stranded on the side of the road in farm country. The part that needed to be replaced is unusual and normally doesn’t fail, so it’s likely that the closest mechanic would not have been able to fix her car, once she got there, for some time. The whole thing would have been more time-consuming and more expensive, and would have made her (and possibly her father) miss a memorial service for members of her father’s community who had passed away this year (including Sharon’s mother).

Blessings in disguise are hard to see through the veil of our immediate reactions when things go wrong. They’re hard to be grateful for because there are Problems that we are mad about. But, in them, I see the loving Father’s hand.

Okay, I can hear you already. “Mark, these are stupid examples. You’d have been fine, eventually, anyway. People suffer much worse than you, you whiny suburbanite.” Granted. Life would likely have gone on, relatively unchanged. People do have much bigger problems. Like you, I struggle to find the good when a loved one or friend dies (I lost two different close childhood friends to cancer this year — one was father to two children; Sharon’s mother passed away in July after fighting a debilitating disease for years), and I can’t come up with a good reason why truly awful stuff is done to innocent kids anywhere in the world, or why the Holocaust happened and stands as a blight on world history, or why injustice just seems to be everywhere these days.

What I have to fall back on, though, is what Paul wrote in Romans 8:28 (NIV):

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

And in 2 Corinthians 9:8 (NIV):

And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

What these tell me is that I can trust Him. He wants the best for me. He wants me to turn to Him when I am in need. He will give me “all that I need.” Something that has become clear to me in the last few years is that God is much less interested in my comfort than He is in my heart. He is willing to let me suffer if it means that I will grow closer to Him, which is the greatest good possible. I don’t really need to be free of pain or trouble, but I desperately need to be in a right relationship with God.

Job himself, amidst all the pain and confusion, said this in Job 13:15(a) (NIV):

Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.

Let’s all choose to hope in Him and be grateful to Him no matter what he puts in our path.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

Learning Across Generations

By: Deron Vaupel, Ministry Administrator

When I first started coming to enCompass back in 2007, I immediately felt a very real sense of belonging. Perhaps it’s because I was along with Lisa and she was already connected. Maybe it was because I found out that an acquaintance of mine was college roommates with Jada Sanders (and those random connections always help me feel more connected). Whatever it was, it was real enough to keep me wanting to come back.

The more time I spent around enCompass, the more I started to appreciate one of the hidden gifts of the community…older people. I’m not sure where, outside of a small-ish church community, I would have the opportunity to interact with people from so many different generations on a regular basis. At the time, I was in seminary and most of my interactions were with my peers either in class, in my apartment building, or at work. Coming to church on Sundays and other groups during the week provided a very different experience than my day-to-day as I had a chance to interact with people in a variety of life stages. For the most part, my formative faith experiences had been in faith communities with little to no generational diversity. Being able to talk with parents, retired people, and even ‘more mature’ peers was a huge benefit.

Growing up, I attended a small rural church in Illinois. Looking back, I’m amazed at how many adults from different generations made an effort to invest in the small number of rowdy munchkins. It was a gift that I didn’t even know was being given. Had I had a deeper recognition of what was happening, I probably would have been a much more mature and responsible young man. But alas…

Over the past year, a lot of college students have started attending enCompass on a regular basis. This gets me pretty excited, not only because I highly value ministry to college students, but also because I see it as a great opportunity for everybody in our congregation to grow in their practice of what it means to be a community. For a church our size, we have a pretty broad range of generations represented. That means a lot of different experiences and perspectives coming to the table on a regular basis. All that being said, here’s my challenge:

  • If you’re a bit younger, engage. Keep coming around and get to know people. One of the hardest transitions to make coming out of college is finding your place in a church community, so the work you do to connect now will have a lasting impact, especially if you’re able to connect with people from other generations.
  • If you’re on the older end of things, see what opportunities might be around to invest in others. You probably have more life lessons to share than you realize, and there’s a pretty decent chance that what you’ve been through is quite relatable to those from younger generations. Work to find those points of connection.

We all have a desire to belong and grow…the more we can invest in others, the better we’ll be able to do that.

Freedom in Brokenness

By: Samantha Barrett, Connect Group Leader

Coming to the end of the Loved, finally series, I have many emotions to sort through. You see, with the feeling of love comes freedom and that is not an emotion I regularly equate with my God.

The vast majority of my knowledge of God has come from a previous church that was more about how your relationship with God appeared than the condition of your heart. You didn’t sin. You didn’t show any brokenness. So when my now husband and myself found ourselves pregnant without a marriage we did not see God’s love from the church. Since the pregnancy was something that would be clearly visible, the church required us to make a public confession of our sin to the congregation. The unfortunate result was our far drift from the notion of church. We were angry and bitter. We knew that while our pregnancy was not in the order God intended, this was also not the feeling that we should be feeling in a church. Attending became about putting on a face of repentance and looking sorrowful about my growing stomach. We went to repentance counseling and had acts of service homework. Inside, instead of finding grace and moving forward, I found my heart hardening. I knew I did not want to be part of the “church” and at times struggled with knowing who God was and if I wanted to still seek Him. We moved to Texas after our marriage which afforded us a fresh start. Getting away allowed me to refocus on my personal relationship without the baggage of attempting to look like I had it all together and would never sin again.

Slowly we started bringing our children to various churches but never really called one “home.” We found enCompass upon our move back and appreciated the open nature of the attendees. I felt like people attended because they enjoyed seeking Christ and finding His love. There was no tally counting if you stayed home some weeks. I found a light sparking back up in my heart. A passionate longing to know God and His love ignited in me. The beauty of this new relationship with God was that it was not about who was following which rules and who knew what book such and such event happened in. This relationship is about feeling the lavish love God has for me and pouring it out unto others, regardless of their circumstances.

As I journey and grow in my faith, I find myself looking back and seeing God’s love even in times I felt alone. It was so easy to feel shame and guilt about the premarital pregnancy. Instead of carrying those feelings, I choose to feel God’s immense love and be grateful for the innocence a new baby brings. The little life shows grace. Even in times of shame God forgives us and pours out love. He forgets our mistakes and like the newborn, has nothing but love and a readiness to move forward with life.

“Rewrite the shame or guilt and find love” is the message I feel I have been hearing for awhile. I want to break free of the bitterness so there is room for joy.  It is such a foreign concept to accept love when we have not earned it. I have seen though that I am free to take the love, Christ just wants me to pour it back unto others.  I hope to find such extreme amounts of love, that it pours out of me and immerses others in it. I do not expect to finish this here on Earth, and I think God loves me enough that He is ok with that.

 

Renewing My Mind

By: Brett Carey, Worship Leader

brett

Photo by: Ben McKeown

 

 

I would like to dedicate this post to my Mom, my roommate Tanner, and my best friend Caleb as they have inspired the words I wrote for this.

As I’m thinking about how to start these thoughts, I reflect upon this past season of life. I feel as if I’ve turned into a hollow body. It’s easy to move my limbs as if I’m a functioning human, when really I feel emptiness on the inside. One of my closest friends, Tanner Nickell, wrote a poem that has a line that rings in my head constantly. “Maybe this is what normal is, just the right amount of apathy.” These words are penned in my head like the sounds of screaming silence. For those of you who didn’t pick up on that, “screaming silence” is almost oxymoronic, or maybe it’s a metaphor.

Throughout the years, I’ve felt that the closer to God I got, I would start to feel further and further from Him. I remember all of the crazy testimonies where people would rave about the most terrible situation that anyone can think of, but God still saved them from this horrible life they were living. Honestly that is great, and I praise God for those testimonies, but my depressive mind likes to twist this reality. My thoughts will try to tell me that I haven’t been through the worst of it so I haven’t truly experienced the fullness of God’s redemptive glory. The best way that I can describe this is by quoting a line from a song that I wrote recently. “I’m so tired this morning, because I’ve been locked out of my head. Jesus saves those in mourning, I fear I’m not there yet.”

Believing that I don’t experience any pain worthy of God’s redemptive glory is a self-defeating cycle and it’s one that is hard to shake off. I’ve tried to force the “just be happy” mindset, but I find that I don’t have much strength to keep that act up. For some reason, it’s easy for me to think that if I just treat my symptoms that I’ll be better, but it never works. Fortunately, my good friend Caleb Anderson recently reminded me about this reality. He said to me, “You can try to force yourself to be better, but you need to get to the root of the problem. Sin and pain stem from the heart and mind, and the way to get better is to pray for God to renew our minds.” Caleb is absolutely right about that. I can force myself to behave anyway I want, but that still won’t change my heart’s desires. Only God can change my heart and mind.

My prayer for all of us is that God will do just that. This is a prayer that I try to pray for myself every morning, and I know of other people in my life who do the same for them as well as other people, and I praise God for those people.

Romans 12:2 “2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Ezekiel 36:26 “26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”