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.

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.

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.

Cutting Through the Chaos to Listen

By: Deron Vaupel, Ministry Administrator

seagullMy house is pretty loud. That’ll happen with a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old. Hourly nonsensical screaming, arguing with each other, and songs randomly being sung at the top of their lungs are the norm. Trying to cut through the noise can be challenging, but it’s often necessary because important things need to be communicated: go brush your teeth, don’t sit on your brother, and many other statements I never really expected I’d have to say.

Psalm 46 contains a pretty well-known command: Be still and know that I am God. What’s truly fascinating is that the rest of the chapter (just 11 verses) describes absolute chaos. In the midst of that, God is calling us to ‘be still’ and refocus our understanding that He is exalted, He is in control.

I’ve never had an easy time listening to God. My mind too quickly jumps to everything else that’s on my list. That’s even more true when I’m stressed or anxious, when there’s a lot of chaos around me. But as I’ve thought through what it means to really listen, to take that time to have my focus shifted back to what’s important, I find a great reminder right in front of me. As I try to cut through the chaos to get my boys to listen to me, I will use those times to also, if even briefly, listen for those quick reminders from God that He’s in control.

Connecting With And Knowing Jesus

By: Vince Miller, Teaching Pastor
knowing Jesus“When he was at the table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.”  –Luke 24: 30-35
It would not have been strange for a few Passover pilgrims to join up along the road while traveling. In this passage, Cleopas and an unnamed disciple are in an intense discussion, walking along the way to Emmaus. Given the weekend’s events — the crucifixion of Jesus — this conversation was remarkably full of emotion and question. Little did they know, the risen Christ was walking and talking with them. They paused for the evening and invited Jesus, the stranger, to stay with them, as was their custom.
Jesus throughout this whole experience pretends to be unaware of the recent events. And Cleopas goes on to explain their understanding of Jesus, yet the disciples seemed to understand everything explained except the living fact that Jesus was right before them. But as Jesus breaks bread, this moment of devotion opens their “eyes.” So why? Clearly it had something to do with their communion that changed what they knew and how they connected to Jesus. This is because there is a cavernous difference between knowing about someone and truly knowing someone. Connecting those two sets of knowledge gave the men a glimpse of the risen Lord!
DO THIS TODAY: Connect with Christ in a deeper way today, not just with knowledge about but relational knowledge.

Fresh Coffee

By: Mark Deisinger

Where I work we have a newly-opened café area. My employers believe that what software writers do is turn coffee into code, so they provide coffee and a few other amenities to us. Some other outfit keeps things stocked and functional. It’s a nice arrangement, though the coffee and donut table at enCompass wins, hands down, for friendliness and, let’s be honest, because of the donuts.

Caffeine does unpleasant things to me, but when I head downstairs in the morning to get a cup of decaf, I always see this sign, which I have arranged just so for a photo:

Fresh Coffee pic

Delightful and reassuring, no? Yes. But also, sometimes, just completely wrong. In fact, sometimes the sign is dusty from not being touched for weeks. It just sits there, advertising the availability of fresh coffee, when in reality it has no clue whether the coffee is fresh or not. The sign is not smart or informed, and is not reliable.

Today as I write this was one of those days when the sign was … mistaken. I got a cup of decaf (it’s the one with the orange proboscis), but when I took a sip I immediately and fully knew, as much as I’ve ever known anything, that the coffee was brewed the previous afternoon and had been sitting in the decanter for roughly 16 or 17 billion hours. All of the aromatic oils had dissipated or chemically changed into nasty, spiteful, cynical molecules with grudges. Oh, and trust me, those of you who can ingest actual caffeine, decaffeinated coffee doesn’t really need any help in the “being bitter” department.

I’ve learned to be more careful about how much I trust the sign. Some things just aren’t what they advertise themselves to be. You can certainly come up with your own examples. We all know that department stores that have sales all the time aren’t really having sales; they’re just playing with pricing to draw interest. Movie trailers are designed to hide flaws. I’ve heard it said that the goal of dating someone is to conceal information until it’s too late.

But most of us need a jolt in the morning, for one reason or another. I don’t think this is an accident. I think it explains why there is dew on the grass, and why sunrises can be so beautiful, and why the presence of newborns is refreshing.

The Israelites, after escaping Egypt, were given manna every morning (and a double portion the day before the Sabbath) to get them through the wilderness. That was a gift direct from God’s own hand, and it kept the people from starving. It’s also, of course, a lesson for us all that God stands ready to provide for us on a daily basis. Lamentations 3:22-23 says this (NIV):

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

His compassions are new every morning. If you put a sign in front of His compassions that said “Fresh Brewed This AM,” that sign would never be lying to you.

But that’s kind of half the story. Just like I have to go to the café to get my decaf every day, the Bible hints quite a lot that we need to go to Him every day, too, to stay in touch and get some blessing action. I’m not a particularly stellar practicer of Christian disciplines, but I know they’re important – private and communal prayer, private and communal worship, fellowship with other believers, acts of service and giving, and daily devotions.

I’m reminded of something a pastor of mine once said to me, speaking about a meeting he had with another person (he did not say who the other person was, and I don’t even know if I knew the man). The man he was meeting with told him, speaking of his own spiritual state, “Pastor, I’m starving, but I’m not hungry.” What I believe he meant was that he knew, intellectually perhaps, that he desperately needed to be closer to God, to partake of the compassions that God had laid out for him, to eat of the spiritual food that was provided for him every day. Sadly, he didn’t feel the urge to partake. His heart had gone cold toward God. A sad state of affairs, robbing him of the benefits of having a close relationship with the One who loves him best.

But there is hope, for that man and for us, all of us who have dry periods in our relationships with God and with others. Ezekiel chapter 37, which I will not quote here but you should go read right now, is the scene with the dry bones. God raises the dry bones up and gives them flesh and breath again so that they once again live. He is, after all, the God of resurrection. Go get some fresh coffee.

What Are My Kids Learning?

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By: Amber Harder, Communications Specialist

 

It was Sunday morning and I was tired. It had been a particularly hard night with the baby, and not just that night but the 100 nights prior to it too. The thought of making it to church early to attend 9am Connect seemed overwhelming, exhausting, and next to impossible.

We broke the news to our kids over breakfast. “We’re not going to make it to 9am Connect today. We’ll just be going to church today.”

This did not go over well. What ensued was a mixture of whining, debate, and heart-felt promises of “I’ll get ready right away if we can go to Connect!”

I looked at Zac. He looked at me. Our kids were begging us to go to church. In the grand scheme of things, this was a really good problem to have. So, with the energy of a team breaking from their huddle, we finished breakfast and scattered to our separate corners of the house to get ready and GO!

I am grateful that my kids like going to church. I appreciate that enCompass has a nurturing, energetic, Bible-based place for my kids to soak u

 

p what it means to follow Christ. My oldest, Feven, is learning amazing information about the Bible and its history through her 9am kidConnect group. I’m in awe of what she tells us on the car ride home and throughout the week. Recently I shared a Bible passage with her from the book of Luke and she said, “Mom, did you know that Luke wrote Luke?!?” Incredible. My 6-year-old is learning who wrote specific books in the Bible!

My daughter is also learning what it means to be in community. On one of our car rides home from church recently she said, “Mom, some of my friends and I have been talking. You know there’s a Dad’s Night Out group and a Mom’s Night Out group? Well, we think there should be a Girl’s Night Out group for me and my friends. We were thinking maybe on a Wednesday. We want to build community.” Yes, my 6-year-old actually used those words “build community.”

Through her experience at church, she sees the adults in our congregation building community by checking in, praying for one another, and spending time with each other. She sees that as important, and it’s further emphasized in her Sunday mornings at church with her Club E! class. Cate has stressed to her students the importance of building community, and they have taken it to heart and are looking for more ways they can do so.

 

I love it. I love everything about this. I’m grateful God is working through our church to teach my children what it means for them to follow Him – both in their personal lives and in their social lives.