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.

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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.

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.

Weird Uncles, Crazy Cousins, Wacky Aunts – Our Family

By: Samantha Sir

SamanthaHey, enCompass family! This year has been transformative for me, to say the least. It was my second year of coming to enCompass services, but really my first year of coming regularly. Although I haven’t been able to get as involved as I would like, I have finally let myself feel a part of this family. I am going to talk a little bit about the ways I see God working in enCompass and what God has been doing in my life, and how they work together. I hope it is encouraging to you.

When I first came to enCompass, I did not let myself get attached. I have been hurt by the Church in the past and have been a part of several church families, causing me to stay guarded. Through a combination of the authenticity of the sermons, music, and most importantly the people, I have really felt accepted and valued in this family. This is also significant because it is my first church (as an adult – without my parents). As a college student, I long to be a part of a family that includes people of all ages since I’m used to being surrounded by other students in the same stage of life as I am. The adults – the sisters, mothers, fathers and brothers – of enCompass have taken me in, just as the body of Christ. This started to occur as I came more consistently and did other things such as Connect group, leading worship, and prayer meetings.

This semester was a very rocky, twisty, sometimes dismal chapter of my life. It was a time that I was trying to complete an education in a major that I was not meant to do, but God led me to try it – and fail – so that I could learn to trust Him. I felt useless, incompetent, and frustrated, but God showed me that I can do more than I imagined, and that he can give us more strength and joy than I ever thought possible. The words of encouragement and exhortation I received at enCompass were one of the ways that God did this.

When He finally ended that journey, showing me a different path, I learned to listen to him. He had been telling me deep down that I was not using my gifts and passions fully, and that I was not a fit for the job that I was striving for, but I didn’t listen until very late in the process. Even though I was not very connected with enCompass throughout this process, they were praying for me. Also, the truth that I heard on Sundays lingered in my brain and heart throughout the week, and the Lord used it to speak to me. As the chapter ended and I was freed, I started getting more connected, and found that even though I felt as if I had offered nothing these past months – because I was physically and spiritually not able to – the people of enCompass were not bitter, guarded, or annoyed. No, instead, they embraced me and showed me that I am valued for just being there, not for what I accomplished.

This year, I have seen what sets enCompass apart from a lot of other churches. We still have room for improvement, but we are acting more as a family and a body of parts working together. I have seen growth, not necessarily in numbers, but in becoming a family in which we have the weird uncles, crazy cousins, wacky aunts, and everyone has their issues, but we love each other. As believers, we need to be real. We need to accept our own flaws and the flaws of others. I have seen this developing at enCompass. In fact, the weirdness makes me feel so at home that I almost feel… normal!! … Well, I don’t believe in normal, but seriously, I feel a part of this family. I have room for improvement too, but I look forward to seeing how we continue to grow together.

We can’t do this alone. Jesus made us to live in community with each other, loving and serving as he showed us to by example. Let’s keep striving for this and learning what this means in our own lives. As I learned this year, there are seasons in which I may have nothing to offer, but I am still valued as a part of the body! We are all called to love each other and be loved, and we do this by being open and vulnerable to God working through each person.

 

 

Mind Mountains

By: Ben Behnen

Mind Mountains PicAbout a week ago, I had a conversation with my parents over the phone. I was recently accepted into the marriage and family therapy program at St. Mary’s University, and I wanted to settle with my mom and dad that this was the right choice. The conversation began delightfully because my parents are the sweetest and silliest. Soon enough, however, we got down to business. They started asking questions about what my schedule would look like, when I would have to start making payments, how much those payments would be etc.

My head started to ache and race as I realized that I had no idea the answer to most of these crucial questions. I became defensive and shut down inside, to no fault of my parents. They were just looking out for my best interest. However, I felt really inadequate, really small and incapable.

After I hung up, my thoughts started to race faster and I could feel anxiety building up inside me. It got to a point where I knew I had to go for a walk and get some air. I talked to God about it and that helped some. But for the rest of the week these thoughts loomed large, like mountains I’m trying to climb over or push away.

Recently I have been learning just how prominent these “mind mountains” have been in my thought life. For a long while it seems like I’ve been surrounded by them – whether it’s worries about grad school, or if I’m doing this Christianity thing right, or if I’ll ever find that special someone. These formidable, scary thoughts form this mountain range in my head, and it always seems like I have to tackle at least one (usually multiple) of them right now. And I can’t. I just don’t have all the answers or even know where to start. But I still feel like I have to do something about them, so I’ll ruminate over and over about them.

After a long week of this worrying cycle, the glorious weekend showed up with beautiful weather. I thought it might be nice to watch the sunset, so I stuffed my hammock and a blanket in a backpack and drove to the superb lakeside view on campus. I found a friendly pair of evergreens, strung up my hammock, and sunk in. I probably got there about an hour before the sun would fully set, and felt a little restless. I checked my phone a couple times but thankfully it died on me. Eventually I decided to just sit and watch.

I sat and watched for that full hour. I saw muskrats swim calmly on by the shore. I heard birds cut through the cool evening air. I smelled the damp freshness of the lake. And when the heart of the night emerged, when the soft, heavenly pink toward the west mingled with the deep blue of the north, a thought slipped into my mind: maybe all of this is good?

And with that thought, it was as if my soul heaved a deep sigh.

I don’t know how to handle these mountains of mine. I don’t have the strength to move them or the know-how to scale them. Regardless of what I’m capable of, though, these are good. These mountains – scary and daunting and insurmountable as they may be – they are good.

I think they are good because God formed them. And I think they are good because God led me up the one I’m standing on now. I look back and realize the mountain range is only in front of me. Behind me is this rich view of a million miles travelled with my God. Sometimes I forget we’ve been going at this for quite some time now. Nevertheless, he’s sure to remind me and he’s sure to point out all the little good things he’s done.

So if all that has been is good, why not all that will be? I may get scared and confused and lost, but I’d like to think at the end, when I’ve worried my last, God will look me in the eye and point behind me. And there we’ll just sit and watch. For an hour, maybe two. Maybe the time won’t matter at that point. And we’ll look over this great mountain range and everything will seem so small, so good.

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.

I Am Enough

By: Amber Harder, Communications Specialist

I am enoughIn case you missed church on Sunday, it’s worth a listen and you can find it here. Dr. David Clark spoke in our current series, Heaven on Earth: Learning to Live in God’s Kingdom, and preached specifically on “A New Personal Mission.” One of my main take-aways from the sermon was that whatever I am doing, whatever my “work” is day in and day out, God can use me as a Kingdom Ambassador in that role.

From Colossians 3:17 –

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Dr. Clark even mentioned we can honor God by changing diapers. This hit home because these days I am changing a lot of diapers between my two littlest ones! I don’t often consider it important work, but God can use me here at home in some very big ways. I don’t have to try and be someone else or do what I deem to be “great” things for the Kingdom – I am enough and the work I am doing is enough when I give every effort to glorify God through my work.

Sunday’s sermon gave me a lot to chew on, but then a funny thing happened. I heard a similar message again on Monday…

This time it was at the U of M while watching a self-reflective documentary, “The Diaspora Journal” by Nathan Araya, a first-generation American whose parents were Ethiopian. In it he mentioned that one of his struggles growing up was that to Americans, he wasn’t “American enough,” and to Africans, he wasn’t “African enough.” He didn’t know where he fit.

In a follow-up Q & A, one attendee asked what Mr. Araya would say to his 8-year-old self if he could go back in time. He said “I would tell my 8-year-old self, ‘You are enough.’ You are American enough, you are African enough, you are good enough, you are smart enough. You are enough.” God has a specific purpose and place for each of us, and we need to live that out. By sharing his own story and struggle, he reminded me that I am enough.

What I am doing and not doing is enough.

Who I am and who I am not is enough.

I am enough. And God has a plan and purpose for me.

And then I came home from the screening and needed to hold a crying baby. I turned on “Last Man Standing,” a show I’ve been watching on Netflix intermittently. In this particular episode, Kyle, one of the employees of the outdoor store, was unwittingly promoted to a boat salesman. Kyle had no skill selling boats and it didn’t make him happy. Once this came to the surface, his supervisors wanted to switch him to another role. In a conversation with this employer, it became evident that Kyle had a knack for knowing the personalities and talents of the other employees in the store and understanding where those individuals would be most effective on the sales floor. Once moved into a position where he could use this skill, Kyle thrived.

Huh. Another instance of someone doing great things when using their unique personality and skill set in the right role. Though it was a sitcom, the truth of the lesson resonated with what I heard in the previous 36 hours.

Because of these 3 encounters, all so close together, I began to sense God reminding me that I am unique; I have a skill set unlike anyone else, and I can glorify Him and be a Kingdom Ambassador right where I am.

Who I am and what I can give right now – it’s enough. It’s enough and more than enough when I seek to do everything for Him.

Nachos & Oatmeal

By: Deron Vaupel, Ministry Administrator

pic-for-derons-blogI always feel bad writing a blog about my interactions with my kids. There truly is more to my life than being a dad, but I learn so much from my boys…

Dinner can be challenging for a little one, especially when they’re sick, teething, and want nothing to do with one (or more) of their parents. After a few minutes of fussily picking away at the delicious assortment of food on his tray, we decided it wasn’t worth the fight and took the sick teething child out of his seat so he could go somewhere else and we could perhaps eat a bit of our dinner in peace.

That of course failed to pan out. More fussiness and frustration (from parents and child) and an overall feeling that the day was going to end on a hopeless note. To her (somewhat) delight, mom had an obligation outside the house, so I was left to handle the bedtime routine with the perturbed little one. Still more frustration, but then some glimmers of hope. And then the weirdest thing started to happen. Angry sick child started making his way around to the table. And showing interest in what might be available for his sustenance. Never mind that the warm succulent options were now tepid and unappetizing. Or that his eventual meal looked more like what you’d find at an early morning tailgate party. His attitude was gone, his tummy was full, and bedtime was solid.

The whole experience got me thinking…What do we miss out on when we reject God’s wonderful gifts because of our own pride? What more can we hope to experience by trusting God even through frustrations? I don’t necessarily have great answers to those questions just yet, but I pray for the awareness to be able to trust in God’s goodness even when I see very little of it in myself.

Matthew 7:9-11

9 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

 

Breathe, Just Breathe

By: Nicole Quast

The other day I was passing by a coworker on the way out of a building and I addressed her by saying “hello.” She then said, “hello, how are you?” Without even thinking I said “Good. Have a great day!” and I continued walking. As I exited the building and began walking to my car I thought to myself I’m not good. I’m exhausted and I’m feeling lots of anxiety about all of the things I need to do. I’m back to work full time, taking a graduate level class (that I waited until the last minute to finish) and there are so many extra things to do because it’s the holiday season! Don’t get me wrong, I love all the hustle and bustle of the holidays. I love all the little events and traditions that go along with it like lights, trees, parades, parties, seeing Santa, and celebrating the birth of Jesus.

photo-credit-steven-leonti-via-visualhunt-cc-byAs I got into my car and started driving to the next place I needed to be, the song “Breathe” by Johnny Diaz came on the radio.  It was as if the song was written for my life at that exact moment! I have been moving so fast and doing too much!  I broke into tears and could truly feel God’s presence and words speaking to my heart.

After the song was over, I started thinking about the interaction I had with my coworker. Why is it our natural response to say we are good? Is it because we don’t want to expose our imperfections to others? Is it because we don’t want to admit to ourselves that we don’t have it all together? Is it because we feel like no one really cares about how we feel? Is it because we are “Minnesota Nice?”  I’m really not sure and I think for each of us it may be for different reasons.

I was reminded by this song that God cares! So I decided I don’t need to say I’m good but I also don’t need to dump my current problems, feelings and issues onto coworkers and friends. Instead, I can breathe and turn to God in prayer and let him know my struggles and insecurities.  I know he already knows them but by giving them up to him in prayer I realized it helps me not only to acknowledge them but also to release them and let them go!

Through all of this Psalm 55:22 kept ringing through my head:

Cast your cares on the Lord
    and he will sustain you;
he will never let
    the righteous be shaken. (NIV)

Such a powerful and important message in my life right now!

So with all the hustle and bustle this time of year, it is my Hope for us all that we can slow down and breathe and  remember the true meaning of Christmas.  God loves us so much that he gave us his only son to die for us. No present under the tree can even come close to that amazing and everlasting gift!

 

Photo credit: Steven Leonti via Visualhunt / CC BY

 

 

Peace on Earth

Editor’s Note: A committed member of enCompass brought forth this heartfelt response to Sunday’s message. We pray it is an encouragement to you to continue to lean in to what God is doing in our current series.

As we enter into this Christmas season, how oh how are we supposed to be filled with hope, wonder & joy when we feel no peace on earth? How do we find that peace for our hearts so we can share that light with all the other hurting hearts?

This Sunday, Pastor Kevin’s sermon on Matthew 5:3-9 spoke volumes to me. My heart is raw from the broken relationships within my extended family, the animosity throughout and after this last election season, and the wars devastating families & nations around the world. I feel angry & hurt. I mourn for those who are persecuted, forgotten, unheard, disenfranchised, hungry & killed. I mourn for the broken relationships in our family. I am angry for those who are being mistreated. I am angry for what I have to tell my kids. My spirit is poor & broken. I am in mourning.

Despite the heavy heart, I have a glimmer of hope & see a little light. In Luke 2:14 the angels sang “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” I cannot bring peace & good will to Syria, my government or my family…but I can ask God to bring it to my heart. I can ask God to help my heart be meek and filled with mercy. I can ask God to continue to help me be a peacemaker one relationship at a time.

I invite you to listen to the sermon (possibly again) online this week and to join me this coming Sunday to hear the next sermon in our teaching series “Peace on Earth: Bringing Calm to a World of Crisis.” It will be encouraging, challenging and well worth your time.