Take It Easy

Heaven_on_Earth_Web_Screen

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.

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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.

Trouble Shooting

By: Kevin Thomas, Lead Pastor

cubicle-topsIn a previous life (circa 1992), I was employed as a customer service representative for a large legal research firm. A very familiar customer problem was often routed to the phone in my cubicle . . .

Me:                      Customer Service, may I help you?

Customer:        Yeah. I need to cancel this service. It doesn’t work.

Me:                      I’m sorry to hear that. Can you tell me what you’re experiencing?

Customer:        My computer screen is completely stuck. It’s a total disaster. I need to cancel.

Me:                      Hmm. That sounds challenging. Would you be willing to try something with me?

Customer:        I guess. But it won’t matter.

Me:                      Can you go to the “FILE” pull-down menu and then click on “RESTART”?

Customer:        The “what”? The pull-down menu?  I don’t know what you’re talking about.*

Me:                      In the upper left corner of your screen, can you see the word “FILE”?

Customer:        Oh yeah. There it is. How did you know it was there?

Me:                      Great. Go ahead and click on it. A list of words should then appear under it.

Customer:        Wow, you’re right. Cool.

Me:                      Near the bottom of that list do you see the word “RESTART”?

Customer:        Holy cow. Yes I do. This is kinda fun.

Me:                      If you can, go ahead and use your mouse to click on “RESTART”.

Customer:        Oh, no. My screen when blank. Did I break it?

Me:                      No, just wait a bit. I’ll stay on the phone with you.

Customer:        Thanks. You’re very helpful.

{Pause}

Hey—my computer is starting up again.

Me:                      Give it a little while here. After it completely restarts, I’d like you to try starting up the software again.

{Another Pause}

Customer:        Okay, here it comes. Yep, it looks good so far . . .

Me:                      Now try entering your search query in the software. Let’s see what happens.

Customer:        {typing} Okay, there we go . . . and hit enter . . . and  . . . oh my . . . it worked. It actually worked! This is amazing. What a great product.

Me:                      I’m glad the system is working well for you. Thanks for calling in.

Customer:        You’re a genius. Thanks so much.

Me:                      Have a great day. Good-bye.

 

To some of us, this conversation might seem ridiculous. Yet believe me—it happened countless times each day. While a few customers had significant technical problems, most just needed to reboot their computer to get things running smoothly again.

We all get stuck. As we endure a painful circumstance, a challenging relationship or a repeated failure, we have moments when we believe all is lost. Yet through Jesus, we’re offered a very familiar opportunity: A personal re-boot. Each day we’re given a fresh opportunity to welcome the grace of God. If yesterday was awful and today is not looking so good either, that’s okay. God’s Spirit daily offers us the opportunity to be repeatedly transformed through his love and care.

In the midst of a run of tragic events and painful circumstances, the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah offered us this gem of hope and grace:

Yet this I call to mind
               and therefore I have hope:

 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.

Lamentations 3:21-23

As we venture deeper into 2017, it’s pretty much a guarantee that we’ll have some tough days. Yet in the midst of those less-than-acceptable moments, never forget: His grace never wears thin and his love never runs out. With God, no pain is permanent and no failure is final.

So go ahead: call Him up and ask for a re-boot.

 

*Those familiar with this era of computing will recall the time of great transition from DOS operating systems to Windows 3.1. Many truly intelligent people were still quite confused by “pull-down” menus.

Photo credit: Michael Lokner via VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-ND

The Purposeful “Yes”: Saying No to Busyness

By: Laura Kalkwarf, Connect Group Leader

Kalkwarfs.pngThere are so many places and people who need good help.  I’m the type of person who usually will jump in and assist at the first sign of distress.  However, that has gotten me into deep trouble over the last six months.  I’d said “yes” to so many things that I was neglecting my children, my husband, and my homemaker duties big time.  I got pneumonia for the first time in my life in August and was down for the count for 6 weeks.  Who gets pneumonia in the summer anyway?  Someone who hasn’t figured out how to say “no” yet, that’s who!

It was always my thought that if I said “no” to a need, that meant I didn’t care about that person or issue, or that they would look down on me for not doing what was needed.  What if no one else stepped up?  What if they didn’t do it “as well as I could”?  (How’s that for narcissistic?)  What would happen if the need went unmet?

Well, when I was in the ER getting a nebulizer treatment because I literally couldn’t breathe, through me constantly apologizing to my husband that I was so sick, he looked at me and said “we have to take better care of ourselves.  We can’t keep saying ‘yes’ to everything!”  With tears in my eyes and a strain in my voice, I quietly agreed.  I’d have to do what I thought was letting people down by saying “no”.

I started slowly, after I began to feel better.  I looked at all the things I was currently involved in, and I’ll list some of them just so you get an idea of how I couldn’t say no:

  • Stay-at-home mom (SAHM) to 3 beautiful kiddos, under 6 yrs old
  • Primary Homemaker including budget management, planning, errands, meal planning, etc.
  • La Leche League member and consistent monthly meeting attendee
  • Dog foster through Ruff Start Rescue
  • Co-Chair of Dayton’s Bluff ECFE Parent Advisory Council
  • Volunteering in 3 -4 separate teams/groups at enCompass
  • Dayton’s Bluff ECFE weekly class attendee with Ben
  • Coordinator for Women’s Coffee and Conversation with enCompass
  • Independent contractor for small business in WI

Yeah, some of this had to give!  There was no way I was able to honestly honor God in all of my busyness, which is what I was trying to do.  I’d gotten myself confused – just because God had given me gifts and interests in all these different areas didn’t mean that I had to use them for all of these passions AT THE SAME TIME.  I was literally going crazy!

Obviously I can’t, and was in no way interested, in giving up my “day job” as SAHM and Homemaker.  🙂

I started slowly, with people I trusted to love me, to say “no”.  I’ll admit it, I had tears in my eyes when I said I could no longer help with things that I truly was passionate about.  And you know what?  People praised me for taking care of myself first!  They said they completely understood, they valued my participation and experience, but honored my need to step back.

The list above is now a little smaller, and I’ve taken steps toward even more honing.  It is a constant learning process, and when I have some manic phases in my days, I really have to contain myself.  I’ve given myself some “rules to live by” when I’m asked for help:

  1. Think about it for 24 hours. If I’m still wanting to say “yes”… (see step 2)
  2. Run it by my husband (or someone who knows me extremely well) If I’m still wanting to say “yes”… (see step 3)
  3. Look at my week (I’m type A personality – it’s color-coded on my Google calendar)
    1. Do I really have time to do it?
    2. Do I really have passion about this?
    3. How will it affect my current plans for that day or week? (see step 4)
  4. Run it by my husband again (or someone who knows me extremely well)
    1. Get Blessing to say “yes” or say “no”

Now, when I do say “yes”, it has been thought through and I’ve run it by someone else who can help me process it well.  It helps me see the things that I’m really passionate about, and for the other things that I certainly could help out with, either someone else will come along to do it (probably better than I could have!) or it won’t get done now, which usually isn’t the end of the world.

Honor God with your “yes”.  Honor yourself too.  Happy New Year!

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.

Rest

ox picture
Photo Credit: http://images.wisegeek.com/standing-ox.jpg

By: Hickory Smith, Board Member

Yes!! Our 7 month old daughter has turned a corner (we think) and is actually sleeping at night. I am finishing my Master of Divinity this spring and can see the end in sight. I received a promotion through the military and I have some fun training ahead of me this summer. Additionally, I was offered chaplain residency positions at two separate hospitals starting in the fall. Praise the Lord for these incredible opportunities. I am wonderfully blessed.

I have to admit something though…I am tired. Not just lack of sleep tired, I am exhausted. With a myriad of things to do, my mind is always going, I’m always ON. Sometimes it takes all I can muster to accomplish the next thing on my endless list. How good and how long can I fake it? The road has been good but I’m weary nonetheless.

Staying busy and getting a lot done is good, right? In a life where most people have numerous things calling for their time and energy, am I different from anybody else, am I special? Can I complain that I have it any harder than anybody else? Often, I’m the one that gets myself all stressed out and tired anyway. I have a problem with saying “Yes” to too many things, thinking that I can handle more than I really can. Rather than saying “no” or asking for help I just keep plodding away like a beast of burden, even adding things to my load showing my pride in how much I can bear.

God has something to say about this.

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

I’ve been a Christian for as long as I can remember. I have heard and read these verses from Matthew so many times I can nearly quote them. But, do I truly believe them? Do I do what they say? Do I really cash in on this wonderful promise of Jesus? Unfortunately, NO, I don’t do it often enough.

When I finally do come to Jesus about my weariness and burdens, too often I just keep my own yoke on. In my stubborn-as-an-ox mentality, I don’t trade for Jesus’ yoke or even take the time to learn from Him like he says. Ironically, my own pride gets in the way from really finding rest in the one who is gentle and humble in heart.

It seems antithetical, Jesus, in all his power is the gentle and humble one. He is the one who can handle the greatest load and yet His yoke is easy and his burden is light, so easy and light that he tells us to take it. Maybe I should actually take that yoke and do a little learning from Him. That rest for my soul sounds pretty good.

Worry Wart…

By Sharon Deisinger, Board Member

Have you felt your days are filled with worry? A financial problem, someone’s circumstance, and the fate of the world consume you. Your worry can become your idol, thinking about it all the time.  Worries pop up like little whack-a-moles, wanting attention, keeping us up at night, causing us physical pain and unhappiness. We can’t do anything about most things, and it steals our joy, our time and our trust in God and His plans. If we worry, we are not believing God is in control. That’s what we all struggle with, isn’t it?

As I think about the day ahead of me, I settle on the worries, but God wants me to break free from this bondage of worry. Proverbs 3:5-6 says “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” In this passage I can imagine Trust is a staff I lean on as I journey uphill with the Lord. The staff will bear as much of the weight as needed. I hear Him telling me each day to give the worries over to Him. It’s a struggle I go through.

He also tells us in Psalms 112:7 “He will not fear evil tidings; His heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.” I’m not saying I have it all figured out. There are times when I lie awake at night mulling over one thing or another. My husband Mark and I get started on a topic of concern and spend way too much time bringing up things to worry about. On the other hand, I also believe we shouldn’t be oblivious to the issues in our lives. So God wants me to take them to him in prayer, so HE can do the things that He does best!

We all struggle with worry in one way or another, and it seems God knows it. Find a scripture that speaks to your heart and put it on your bathroom mirror. Spend time with Him each morning and give him your troubles, He can take it, believe me.  Because when you let go of the worry, your heart will be light knowing God is above all things, even your problems!