…And That’s How You Make Lemonade

lemonsBy: Deron Vaupel, Ministries Administrator

Just like any other August, I expected our conversation to be about budget revisions for the coming fiscal year, but I was very mistaken. Instead, I was hearing from Kevin about his new job with Young Life, and my mind started going several different directions. What does that mean for me? What does that mean for enCompass? What time frame? What needs to happen in the next few months? How much of that do I need to do? What other questions need to be answered? What haven’t I thought of yet? That all went racing through my mind over the next several days.

I’ve had similar conversations in the past, but this one was a bit different. In some form or another, Kevin’s been my boss longer than any other supervisor. I’ve learned a lot from him and grown to appreciate several aspects of his leadership style. I remained a bit numb for the rest of the week, but as I began having conversations with other staff and people from the congregation, the numbness started to turn to hope, expectation, and excitement.

Change is an inevitable part of life. How we handle those changes says a lot about our character. That applies not only to individuals, but also to organizations. enCompass is a church of doers, and in my conversations, that doer attitude really came out. I found that there were several other people asking the same questions and taking the same steps to prepare for what’s ahead. There are many new faces around on Sunday mornings, and that’s especially encouraging because if I were the one showing up to a church right around the time a significant leadership transition was happening, I’d seriously consider moving to the next one on my list. In the past few weeks, a significant number of people, especially young adults, have stepped forward to say they’re invested in the future of enCompass by becoming Church Community Members. Connect Groups are going well, exciting things are happening with Childrens’ and Student Ministries, and the teaching series that are coming up are very intriguing. There’s a lot happening that gives me hope.

Yes, there’s a lot of work to do. There’s a lot of uncertainty. But in it all, we’re called to keep coming back to the truth that a congregation isn’t solely defined by the identity of the lead pastor…it’s about how the members of the congregation use their individual gifts and abilities to follow God’s call for the sake of his Kingdom. From all I’ve seen in my years at enCompass, we’re ready to take this next step. The essential thing in approaching the transition is to keep coming back to the mission and values of the church, asking how our unique abilities contribute to God using enCompass in the world around us.

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Mirror Neurons and Role Models

ice cream coneBy: Alex Blackwell, Student Ministry Pastor

I’ve been fascinated lately with mirror neurons. I was having a conversation a couple months ago with a group of parents. This is when I learned about mirror neurons. We were talking about how incredible it is that our little babies were able to look at our faces, see our smiles and smile back. I can look at a hundred things people around me do, and there’s no way my body translates it in the same way – knowing exactly what muscles to use to mimic and do the same thing. “It’s almost instinctive,” I said. Another dad across the room smiled at me and said, “it’s mirror neurons.” He went on to explain that there are neurons in the brain specifically wired to help the body mirror what someone else is doing when they see it. Gabriel can look at my smile and smile back, without even thinking about it, because these neurons help his face muscles do what they have to do to form a smile, instead of a frown or a hundred other faces. There’s no trial and error to figure it out. It just happens. He will continue to grow into a boy and a young man, and learn how to be so with the help of mirror neurons. Fascinating.

A few weeks ago we had a student ministries event getting Nelson’s ice cream. When we walked in to the room we would sit down in to enjoy our MOUNDS of ice cream, I noticed what was very likely a date outside the window. I looked up at the students at our event and I started making up the voices and words that the couple was conversing about. Very innocent, I assure you – nothing against the couple. I said things like “MMM I love ice cream nom nom nom” (in a low manly voice), followed by “yeah I can tell it’s all over your face” (in a high-pitched girl voice). The students giggled, and maybe even laughed a little – but there was no way they were going to partake in the voice-over game. Somehow the subject changed, undoubtedly one of them said something to shift the focus away from doing something that may even slightly risk their embarrassment. What if what they came up with wasn’t all that funny to the rest of us? A while later we started cleaning up, and got up to leave. As I started walking toward the door, I heard the voice of one of our students playing the voice-over game with the couple one last time before we left – something about the girl being embarrassed with the idea of being seen in public with a guy with ice cream all over his face (the guy didn’t actually have any ice cream on his face). The student risked embarrassment, but also took the risk, meeting my original hopes that shared experience and comfortability would grow in the midst of our small growing community of students.

This story is a metaphor for the greater experience of modeling good character, a strong faith, and continual growth for the students at enCompass. I am thankful for a team of solid volunteers who have been showing up in the lives of our students, through one on one experiences and at our events. I am thankful for those beyond our volunteer team, in the broader enCompass community, who model community, desire for growth, and a heart to serve the city, country, and world around us. Whether with the help of mirror neurons or with help beyond what mirror neurons can provide, I believe, because of our great models, that we are poised to see significant growth among our students.

Take It Easy

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By: Kevin Thomas, Lead Pastor

Ah, summer. Birds chipping in the morning, warm sunshine in the afternoon, quiet conversations in the evenings.

Ahhh!  It’s summer.  In the midst of all the chirping, sunning and chatting, my brain races to track the various bunny trails of my life’s endeavors—phone calls to return, emails to compose, sermons to write, meetings to set-up, events to prepare, gatherings to attend, conversations to continue, meals to plan, drives to coordinate, repairs to complete, outdoor projects to start, appointments to schedule, social opportunities to initiate, interruptions to navigate.

We all want to relax: to take deep breaths, enjoy the people around us, and soak in a deeper sense of God’s peace. Yet it’s quite obvious that we’re really not very good at it. I often find myself reflexively growling at the on-going responsibilities and ever-present interruptions that flare up in my over-booked brain and over-loaded life.

Can’t the world just stop and allow me to catch my breath for a moment?!?

We don’t have the power to stop the world. Instead we have to pull off an even more astonishing miracle: to stop the noisy, frenetic, impatient, panicky world that spins inside of each of us.

This isn’t going to be easy. We’re far more comfortable with over-packed schedules and constant demands. It makes us feel important. It also makes us rather miserable human beings. God didn’t create us to go full-tilt each day. It’s simply not humane. He created us to work diligently, then rest artfully. Even He took a full day off every once in a while. (e.g. take a glance at Genesis 2:1-3)

Over the next four Sundays (June 18 & 25, July 2 & 9) you’re invited to join me as we attempt to “Take it Easy”. This sermon series is designed to teach me (maybe you, too) how to unwind from a stressed out life and discover new pathways to personally and patiently enjoying God’s goodness.

It won’t be easy to “Take it Easy”. Yet, if we’re going to truly enjoy the summer ahead, it’s probably exactly what we need.

The Cherith Experience

By: Maran Halverson

CherithHave you ever stuffed 12 marshmallows in your mouth at once? Or watched shooting stars at 2am? Or eaten pudding through pantyhose? Or had a food fight with week old oatmeal? Or dressed up like a clown for dinner?

At Camp Cherith, these are just everyday, “normal” activities. Campers and staff alike have the opportunity to be their goofy, authentic selves while learning new skills, making lifelong friendships, and getting pushed outside their comfort zones.

Camp Cherith has been an essential and life changing part of my life for over fourteen years. Like many other staff and campers at Cherith, this camp has impacted my spiritual life, friendships, and sense of adventure in countless ways. As a camper, I had the chance to learn fun skills such as archery, kayaking, outdoor cooking, guitar, and water skiing. Camp also created a safe space that encouraged me to try things I would have never tried at home. If you had told my nine-year-old self that someday as a camp staff member I would dress up in an 80’s business suit and charge through the camp dining hall holding a live duck as part of a skit, I would have said you were nuts. But somehow the environment and community at Camp Cherith fosters a sense of goofiness and fearlessness – all while confirming that no matter what, we are all fully and equally loved by Christ.

The staff that poured their time, energy, and love into me at camp ensured that I connected each activity back to my relationship with God. The schedule at Cherith provides a perfect balance of having tons of fun, making connections, and learning about Christ in different settings. As a camper, Cherith provided a refreshing reminder of my identity and worth. Then as a staff member, Cherith provided me with the opportunity to pour prayer and biblical truth into campers while they in turn taught me about faith and authenticity.

Volunteering at Camp Cherith to prepare it for the summer is a wonderful ministry opportunity because it gives you the chance to invest in and serve its many staff and campers. Cherith is truly an incredible place, and I think that investing your time, energy, and prayer into this camp will reap incredible rewards this summer. AKA if you haven’t signed up to volunteer over Memorial Day Weekend, GO DO IT! I can guarantee you’ll have a blast and that your efforts will make a huge difference!

Rise Above

By: Kevin Thomas, Lead Pastor

Rise AboveRancor. Distrust. Prejudice. Irritation. Antagonism. Fear.

Seem slightly familiar? Our present era of political rancor, racial distrust, and prejudiced religion leaves us weary and confused.  I believe we’re all pretty tired of the irritation, antagonism, and fear we see and feel each day.

Our collective experience, however, is nothing new. Humanity’s seen it all before. In fact, as we embark on our Christian Holy Week, it’s strikingly similar to the situation Jesus faced as he stepped into Jerusalem.

Jerusalem’s religious and political climate was a tinderbox of tension. The Roman authorities were exasperated trying to the keep the Jews from upsetting the peace.  The Religious Elites (known as the Sanhedrin, Sadducees, and Pharisees) played a continual cat-and-mouse game to protect their national, religious and personal interests. The Zealots were hoping to ignite a civil war that could create enough chaos to reestablish their long-lost political and theological power.

It took Jesus less than a week to light this tinderbox on fire.  Never one to be a “people pleaser,” he openly mocked the pride of the religious elites, ignored the power-play of the Zealots, and expressed his personal superiority over the power of Rome.

We know how the story ends. In choosing not to choose sides, he opted instead for his own demise. As he willingly, thoughtfully and compassionately laid down his life, Jesus publicly exposed the deep darkness lurking inside human nature.  He was lifted up on the cross to show humanity that he is the only one who can rise above the hatred, hypocrisy and selfishness of our egocentric ways.

Intriguingly, only one man seemed able to grasp what was happening in real time. As Jesus exhaled his final breath, a gristled military Captain gasped in astonishment,

“Surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39)

For this one week, let’s put aside our smug sense of moral superiority and marvel at the only man in human history that truly rose above it all. Join us on Friday evening at 7pm as we contemplate the depth of Jesus’ love. Come back again at 9am on Easter Sunday for a joy-filled breakfast and then engage in heart-felt worship at 10am as we celebrate the only man who can truly save us from our sins.

Rancor, distrust and prejudice will not soon go away. Yet through Jesus, we can learn how to rise above it all and live with greater love, hope and faith.

That Tingly Feeling

By: Nicole Quast

photo-for-nicoles-blogThere are some things in life that just give you that feel good tingly feeling or a high you just can’t explain.  It might be a baby’s laugh, a child saying I love you, a hug or kiss from your spouse.  For me it is all of those things but it is also serving others.

A few years back, my New Year’s resolution was to serve more.  I tried multiple times to corral my friends and family and have them commit to dates to do larger events.  I would always get responses like, “well I think I can make it” or “I will try to make it”.  It was so challenging to get a firm commitment and I was starting to feel defeated.  This is when I stumbled upon enCompass church.  I was overjoyed to find out they had a Community Service Team and felt it was an answer to my prayers.  I was so nervous to join the team but I am so glad I did!   I enjoy being part of the Community Service Team.  I enjoy the planning phase, the collection phase, the conversations etc.  I think it is a wonderful group who are giving, loving, and serving people.  Some of our most recent service activities have focused on filling the needs within the backyard of enCompass – at Central Park Elementary School.  Through our service ministry, we have developed a relationship with this school and have been able to support them in many areas.  Some of these are Bucks for Backpacks, Warm and Wooly Winter Wear, Sheridan Story weekend packs, and a few other things.

After joining the Community Service Team, I continued to have a strong desire to serve! So, last spring, I organized a Mom’s Night Out at Sheridan Story to do a packing event.  A group of enCompass moms and church goers showed up at their warehouse and packed weekend food packs.  We worked hard and filled so many weekend packs!  Before leaving, we discussed with the staff how much fun we had and our desire to do it again.  They told us that they were full for the rest of the school year.  We were bummed, but realized that this was a good thing! I left that night a little more tired than when I got there but with a tingly heart filled feeling!

So this fall, I decided to plan 4 Sheridan Story meal packing events for our church.  So far, we have completed two of the events.  At both of the events, we have had a great turnout!  I have enjoyed each one and have gotten the chance to get to know some enCompass goers better.  Each time I leave exhausted but with a tingly heart filled feeling.  Our next packing events will be April 6th and May 4th.  Please consider joining us and getting your heart filled! You can learn more here.

These past few years, I have been working hard to fill my heart, but this year I also really wanted my children to learn about giving and serving.  It is my desire to teach them about serving and helping them to develop a sense of pride when they do things for others and ultimately get that tingly heart filled feeling when they do!  This Christmas at our house I wanted my children to understand that Christmas is about giving and not receiving.  I decided to have them do an advent basket for the food shelf.  Each day we added an item to the basket of something they used or ate that day to try to make it relevant.  A few days before Christmas we delivered it to the local food shelf.  I wasn’t sure my kids truly understood what or why we were doing it, but when my youngest son said to the volunteer who helped us with our food, “Merry Christmas,” with the proudest smile on his face, I didn’t care if he totally understood, I thought it was enough because I had tears in my eyes and that tingly feeling in my heart!

I don’t want my children to just think that we give at Christmas time, so I have been thinking about other ways to get them involved in serving.  My oldest son and I participated in a Feed My Starving Children event right after Thanksgiving.  We had so much fun and he wants to do it again.  So, I am interested in setting up a Feed My Starving Children (FMSC) event.  This allows families with younger children to participate; children 5 and over are welcomed to pack bags at FMSC.  I am also interested in setting up an event to make sandwiches for the homeless.  This event would allow children even younger to help out.  Please send me a message if you would be interested in having your families participate in events such as these or if you know of other service activities that allow children to participate.

With this I will leave you with a Bible verse I came across when thinking about writing this:

1 Peter 4:10, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms,” (NIV)

There are so many ways we can serve; I encourage you to find yours and I bet you will receive a tingly heart filled response in return, for God will know you are doing good works through Him!

An Inside Look at VBS – Day 1

By: Amber Harder, Communications Specialist

Vacation Bible School started today and WOW, what a morning we had!

Over the last few years, I’ve brought my daughter Feven to VBS and I’ve always been very impressed with the quality of the program enCompass runs. However, this year I have the privilege of getting an insider perspective because this year, I got promoted to Snack Lady.

I know, I know. In case you’re wondering – yes, I’ll give you my autograph next time I see you. No biggie. 🙂

But in all seriousness, my small role serving at VBS this year has given me a new window into all that goes on behind the scenes to offer a polished, well-run, Biblically-sound program for the 50+ kids that attend this event.

Today I saw volunteers prepping spaces. I cannot count how many times I saw people setting up tables and tearing them down to place them in new locations. There were props and supplies being carted all over Concordia Academy and yet nothing seemed to ever be out of place. The logistics that go into something like this are astounding, and with Darcy at the helm and a fine group of volunteers, everything seemed to be just where it needed to be just when it needed to be. Volunteers were even tucked away in the kitchen an hour or so before lunch was served, preparing food for the kids. So much effort went into ensuring the teachers and kids had exactly what they needed when they needed it!

Today I saw volunteers caring for kids. Sometimes that meant comforting the shy and nervous ones who were at VBS for the first time. Sometimes that meant shuttling kids to and from the bathrooms. Sometimes that meant chasing the youngest ones down the auditorium stairs to retrieve them and bring them back to their row (thank goodness for those color-coordinated t-shirts!). Sometimes that meant kneeling down and listening – really listening – to how a child was doing. And sometimes that meant showing extra patience and grace to kids who were really hyped up on sugar. From the newest volunteers to the seasoned ones, each person exhibited a heart bent on service and love. Thinking about it again as I reflect on the day, the love and care each volunteer gave these kids – wow. We are blessed to have so many people like this in our church.

Today I saw kids learning about God’s love for them through the life of Paul. I listened as our guest musician Beth reinforced the details of today’s story. I watched as teachers used movement and games to teach the students today’s memory verse. I served at the snack station and saw other stations that were used to continue the theme of the day, ensuring kids were getting the point of all of this. Sure, the fun and games and prizes are great, but at the end of the day, we all do this because we want these children to grow up knowing the deep love of God and his gift to them in Jesus Christ.

Today I’m grateful for a church that is passionate about sharing the love of God with all ages, and I’m grateful for a place where there are so many people who give their time and their hearts to walk alongside these children and plant seeds of faith.

 

The Progression of VBS

By: Deron Vaupel, Ministry Administrator

Vacation Bible School…those 3 words put together can elicit a huge range of emotions from utter joy to complete exhaustion. While I remember very little from my childhood VBS experiences, I do know that I got pretty excited about the songs, crafts, and snacks (the puppets were a bit scary). It’s possible that tucked away in the deep recesses of my brain is a lesson or a song that has proven somewhat meaningful in my life, but I do know at the very least that my VBS experiences as a kid helped me grow in my general understanding of God and my relationship with Jesus.

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In my twenties, I spent quite a bit of time working at Vacation Bible Schools, doing everything from games to music to lessons to puppets. Unlike when I was a kid, there are plenty of things that I remember all too well from those experiences. After playing a song or doing a puppet show for the umpteenth time, it can become so deeply ingrained that it will stick with you for the rest of your life (no matter how much you try to get rid of it).

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There are, however, plenty of great things that I remember from those years as well: the contagious excitement in the auditorium every morning as kids showed up, the expectation that they were going to learn something new about God each day, and the friendships that were built over the course of a couple days.

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Now as a parent, I find myself at a happy medium. Yes, I’m still in ministry and experience the exhaustion that comes with running around for 3 days making sure that groups of kids make it to all of their stations and find some deeper meaning to their experience. Some of the songs that I led way too much in my twenties still haunt me and become quite unwelcome earworms*. But I also see my son experiencing the same things I did when it comes to VBS: an excitement for the time with friends, happiness from singing silly songs together, a love for snacks, and an occasional nugget of truth about God.

As we prepare for VBS at enCompass (July 19-21), my hope and prayer is that any kids in your life will be able to join in with the exciting and exhausting experience that is VBS.

*earworm – a catchy piece of music that continually repeats through a person’s mind after it is no longer playing

A Little Coffee and a Lot of Conversation

By: Laura Kalkwarf, Connect Leader

Recently I was asked “So, what is Women’s Coffee and Conversation?” I responded that it’s a time when women of all kinds of life experience get together, without an agenda, to chat about anything that comes up. We talk about whatever topic emerges, laugh together, grieve together, and try our hardest to build each other up.

TWomen's Coffeeheir jaw dropped slightly. They were so amazed to find out that it was a group of women who just got together and talked. Only then did it dawn on me that this doesn’t happen much anymore. Usually there’s a meeting over coffee with a specific agenda and defined, desired outcomes. Maybe it’s a project that you’re working on together. Maybe you just want to zone out and work on your laptop. But when was the last time you just talked? Without checking your phone. Without an agenda. Without spelled-out topics.

The initial reason that I was drawn to the group was simply that I wanted to get to know more women at enCompass. Well, that and the fact that I love coffee and the coffee shop atmosphere! Some of the gals from church personally invited me to join them for this informal time, and the fact that I could simply come and chat was appealing to me.

My first experience was exceptional. All of the women were welcoming, and I could relate to them no matter what stage of life they were in. The more I got to know these women, the more we nourished our relationship. We cherished the wisdom of the more life-experienced ladies, especially when it came to gardening, finding purpose, and goals. We celebrated the gifts God had provided – new children, new homes, heck, a new necklace that made us feel great. We grieved together – loss of a fellow Women’s Coffee member, spouses, experiences.

While the group is dynamic – never the same one twice – I continue to be blessed by this ministry. Knowing that we come to the table with some semblance of faith, or the desire to have faith in God and Jesus Christ, makes this monthly meeting that much more impressive. The atmosphere is intended to be accepting, loving, and inviting. Come as you are, stay for as long as you can. What has gone without saying, but will now be added to my invitation is “come and be loved in Christ”. No strings attached. No experience required. Come, enjoy the company of other women, and just be loved.