Tension, Intentionality, and New Questions

One of the fundamental challenges my family and I are facing during Safer At Home is this: How can we continue to live missionally when our movements and interactions are so limited?


You may have heard those of us at the Church use the phrase “Circles of Awareness” in the past. Simply put, these circles are the natural and organic places where you live life, where you have access to building relationships and sharing the good news of Jesus. It is a practice in intentionality. 


In the past, my circles have been fairly typical -- home, work, neighborhood, my children’s schools, and playgroups. Yours may include the gym, clubs, etc. 


If the idea of creating your own “Circles of Awareness” is new to you, here are the basic steps:

  • List the places where you interact and think through the relationships that God is allowing you to build in those places. 
  • What needs do you notice?
  • Where do you see God working? 
  • Are there one or two people in each of those circles who you could be intentional about serving, praying for, and opening up dialogue about spiritual things?

When we moved to Mount Horeb, I was thrilled about the opportunity to connect deeply to our new neighborhood and community. Ollie started kindergarten and I eagerly awaited opportunities to meet other families at field trips, birthday parties and school events. I keep my freezer stocked with popsicles to share with neighborhood kids when they come to the park in our backyard.


And then COVID-19 happened.


No more field trips or birthday parties. The neighborhood park in our backyard is now empty. Rec department classes are cancelled. Our hoped-for backyard VBS session this summer probably won’t happen. We can’t invite classmates over to play, community events are being cancelled, and we see our neighbors less often. 


Confession time: For a while I just wrote off this time as a break -- a time to focus on our family. “The season of intentional missional living will return again.” Certainly this was easier, but it left me feeling like the purpose that God has called our family to wasn’t being lived out. Then I tried fitting my old ideas of missional living into the current reality. That just created frustration and resentment. 


Regardless of the environment or circumstance, however, God calls us to live as His light. He calls us to invest in the people in our lives. He calls us to generosity. He calls us to intentionally share the hope and love He provides with others in our lives. 


I have had to accept some new realities. And I have started to ask myself some new questions. I haven’t settled on the answers yet, but I thought I’d share them with you in case you are grappling with this same tension of how to live missionally in a restricted world:

  • My original idea of these “Circles of Awareness” was primarily based on a “where” (locations, events, etc.). How can I change my understanding of those circles where God has placed me to a question of “Who?”. 
  • Is there a mix of both? 
  • Who am I currently connecting with on a regular basis? 
  • Who/what am I missing the most? How can I use that as a catalyst to create a new “circle”?
  • What CAN I do in my neighborhood? 
  • What resentment or frustration is getting in the way of me seeing a door that God might be opening?

These are the questions that I’m going to pray about. The ones that I will bring up with Micah and the kids. 


How would you answer them? How is your previous understanding of missional living being altered by this current reality? Perhaps you can take some time this week to list out those new “circles” in your life, and the people who make up those circles, where you can be intentional in living out the love of Jesus. 


Praying for Impact

Now more than ever what we have been discovering over the past 15 years is true. The church is not a building, or a place we go.  The church is the body of Christ living out the mission of connecting people to life in Jesus wherever we are. We need to be the church.  The world needs us. Our city and neighbors need us. Each person needs us. What do we have that they need?  Simply put, Jesus.  They need the peace that the presence of Jesus brings. They need the hope that does not disappoint. They need the power that the Holy Spirit brings. There is no mistake where you live and who you interact with, and the impact you can make as you are your authentic Jesus following self and bring Jesus with you wherever you go. 


We need to keep learning to discern who God has purposely placed in our circle of influence. And learn to discern who God is calling you to develop a spiritual friendship with.


Once we have discerned the names, we then can begin to intentionally pray for those people and develop relationships that allow us to share Jesus. Prayer is vital in asking God to prepare their hearts and make them ready to receive the truth about the Gospel. Prayer is what is needed to prepare ourselves as well, to listen well and know what to say and what not to say and to have opportunities to share about Jesus. 


We use the term impact list to refer to a short list of people in our lives with whom we are intentional in cultivating a spiritual friendship.  Ask God who he wants you to be intentional with. When you have discerned who it is, write their names down on a 3x5 card or on your phone so you frequently are reminded about them, and then pray for them. Perhaps you already have a list like this, ask God if there is someone else he wants you to be praying for. Watch God at work. Trust him with those people you listed, seeing them like God does, as dearly loved people made in His image in need of a relationship with their Creator, not as a project. 


Here are some scripture verses to pray for those people, place their name in the blank and daily pray for them.


Although _____________ has been spiritually blind, please give him/her eyes to see

Jesus. (John 9:25)


Lord, may ____________ know that You desire for him/her to be saved and come to the

knowledge of Your truth. (1 Timothy 2:4)


As _______________ begins to hear Your voice, may he/she not harden his/her heart.

(Psalm 95:7-8)


Jesus, I pray ____________ will be pierced to the heart when he/she hears the good

news about You. (Acts 2:37)


May _______________ know his/her sins have caused a separation between him/her

and You, God. (Isaiah 59:2)


Help ________________ to understand that he/she can have forgiveness through the

blood of Christ. (Ephesians 1:7)


Jesus, may you make your home in ______________’s heart as he/she learns to trust

in you. May his/her roots grow down into your love. Help ___________ to have the

power to understand, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep God’s love is and

be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from you.

(Ephesians 3:17-19)


Awesome God, by your power, rescue __________ from the kingdom of darkness and

move him/her to your Kingdom so that ____________ can share in the inheritance that

belongs to all your people who live in light. (Colossians 1:12-14)


Perhaps there are other verses that you have been praying for those on your Impact List, there are certainly more than are listed here.  We have the greatest news to share, and there are countless ways we can be a part of the work that God is doing RIGHT NOW.  


 “...enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.” 

Acts 4:29b


Supporting Teens during Safer-At-Home

Today's blog post is brought to you by our fabulous youth ministry intern, Renata Jaeger. Currently a junior at UW Madison, Renata loves coffee shops, her kitties, and helping teens love Jesus!

Students of all ages are facing some pretty stunning losses during this uncertain time of Safer at Home and social distancing. Slowly but surely, everything that they’ve been looking forward to has been getting cancelled: Graduation ceremonies, prom, sports, jobs, internships, etc. If you have a student stuck at home, chances are that their emotions have been all over the place as they try to cope with these sudden losses. I know that my siblings and I have been trying to navigate feelings of frustration, anxiety, confusion, and sadness on a daily basis. Here are some strategies for parents/guardians that might help to support their students and address the unforeseen challenges that this pandemic has created… especially when most adults are probably struggling just as much as we are. 


Offering Outright Empathy

All students know deep down that it’s not their parent’s fault that they’re stuck at home. At the same time, it can be very easy to assume that they know you feel bad that they’re stuck at home, even if it’s not your fault. A vocal validation of their feelings, such as a genuine “I’m really sorry that you’re missing out on that, I know that’s so disappointing,” is a really powerful way to let your student know that you feel for them. It won’t solve all their problems, but it’s a way to support them as they navigate their emotions. 


Make Room for Happiness

When every single day is the same cycle of online classes and walks around the block, it can be really easy for students to detach themselves emotionally from whatever they’re doing. One way that my parents have helped my siblings and I remember that good things are still happening is by asking us each to share one thing that made us happy at the end of every day. Making time to celebrate the little joys in this new normal is something small that goes a long way. 


Remember the Value of Alone Time

All students, no matter what age they are, gained some degree of independence by going to school every day. With that gone, they can be scrambling to have control over some aspect of their lives and one way parents can help them do that is by setting aside some alone time every day. Simply communicating that you won’t take it personally if they need to take a break and have some quiet time to themselves makes a big difference. This may also alleviate the pressure some students may feel from being around their parents 24/7. 


Treat Students as Competent Decision-Makers

Making students a part of the decision making process is another way to give them some control over their daily lives. For example, giving them a list of things you’d like them to complete throughout the day but asking them to put together their schedule may help them feel like they’re bringing something to the table. It could also be as simple asking them to plan dinner one night a week. Being genuinely interested in their solutions or ideas can not only help them feel like their voices are heard, but also let them know that you trust their ability to be independent. 


When Emily and I meet with your students at our virtual Higher Ground, most say that they really appreciate all the extra time they get to spend with their family. Your students really are enjoying spending time with you, even if it doesn’t seem like it. I encourage you to take this as an opportunity to give them a little extra support and to learn more about them as people. You’ve got this!


An Update for my Church Family

Mid-April finds us all continuing to navigate changes and establish new routines, asking questions about when closed spaces will reopen, caring for ourselves and others as best we can, living mindfully one day at a time.  For me, this month is characterized by an additional, significant transition.  


This week I started a new job as general manager of Perennial Yoga and Meditation, which has studios and vegan cafes in two locations (Agora in Fitchburg and Garver Feed Mill in Madison).  I have been part of the Perennial community for several years, practicing yoga there regularly, completing my yoga teacher training with instructors there, and building strong relationships.  After prayerful consideration and discernment about where God was leading me next professionally, I responded when this role opened.  


I’m happy to share that I will retain several hours a month as a church employee in the role of Community Development Coordinator.  This means I’ll continue to stay abreast of community needs and celebrations by serving in several capacities: as our church’s Adopt-a-School liaison with Leopold Elementary School, on the leadership circle of the Dane County Domestic Violence Community Coordinated Response team, as a participant in Joining Forces for Families meetings, and co-leading the Fitchburg Faith and City Leaders network.  I’ll communicate regularly with other church staff members to share ways our church, corporately and as individuals, can partner with and serve our neighbors.  


My teammates here have graciously agreed to take responsibility for tasks I performed in the capacity of Staff and lifeServe Coordinator.  Jess O’Malley will take over human resource responsibilities such as employee benefits administration and will serve as point of contact with our accountants and insurance companies.  Amy Meyer will take over the lifeServe area, focusing on supporting and building our team of volunteers who serve here at church, and creating monthly Server Schedules. I’m also grateful to Pastor Jeff, Pastor Matt, Emily, Karen, and Tom, who will help with other tasks as needed. I hope you’ll join me in saying a prayer of thanks to God for creating each of these amazing human beings, including all of our Preschool teachers as well, in unique ways to serve on staff here, connecting people to life in Jesus.

I am so blessed to have been part of the church staff team since 2013.  My time here has been characterized by growth, support, challenge, faith, transformation, and, most of all, love.  In addition to working at church, I married Matt here, sought counseling here, participated in Maryke’s and Ceren’s baptisms, helped with Higher Ground, belonged to three lifeGroups, and served on the leadership board.  I cherish all of these milestones and seasons, and thankfully my transition to a new job does not mean I have to say “goodbye,” as my family and I will continue in our church membership and participation in lifeGroup, lifeWorship, and lifeServe alongside you, our beloved church family.  I put together a wordle to highlight the many ways I’ve experienced my time as a Jesus follower here in Fitchburg thus far; there are some heavy, difficult words interspersed with the more positive words, and for me that is a testament to how this place has (i.e. YOU have) truly cared for me and one another.  I’m happy to answer any questions you might have about my departure from my previous role at church or what’s next, so don’t hesitate to reach out: egumm@livelifetogether.com. Peace be with you, and I look forward to seeing you, virtually and in person, again soon.


If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law 

(Romans 13:8b, NLT).




For many, this Easter season seems a bit underwhelming.  Maybe social-distancing has you in a general malaise.  Maybe your usual family get-together is becoming a meal of shifts, a drop-off, or is just canceled.  Maybe news about the COVID-19 pandemic is overwhelming all the other news.  Maybe you’re sick, or know someone who is. And maybe you’re life has been disrupted by the loss of a job.  In addition there is fear, anger, and many of the stages of grief, as we grieve the loss of the way things were, even the loss of the way we expected to celebrate Easter.  We may even admit to ourselves that we’re expecting to be underwhelmed this Easter.

On the Today Show, the morning of Maundy Thursday, Cardinal Timothy Dolan addressed the difference this year in how our practices have been disrupted.  And he suggested that this,

“might be an invitation to all to rediscover the genuine mystery and message of what Passover and Easter are all about.”  “Most of the time when we celebrate Passover, some of my Jewish friends tell me, or when we Christians celebrate Easter, we’re kind of remembering something that happened long ago.  Well, that isn’t bad.  It’s good to do that, to remember the Exodus, to remember our Lord’s suffering, death and resurrection.  Remembering that isn’t bad.  But for both of us as Jews and Christians, the celebrations of our holy days are a lot more than remembering, because we actually re-live them.  The Lord asks us to enter into these mysteries and to be absorbed by them and to make them part of our lives which he intends them to be.” 

This is why we have a Maundy Thursday worship service, a Good Friday service, and Easter services.  We re-tell, re-enact, and re-live the central events of Human History.  This is the time when everything changed, when our lives turned upside-down. This is our story.

As the disciples were with Jesus in Jerusalem for the Passover, I’m sure it was strange.  They felt Jesus clean their own feet.  They heard Jesus say that one of them would betray Him?!   They went out after dinner to pray, and Jesus was arrested.  Everything seemed to be coming undone.  There was a secretive trial at night. Only a few days ago “Hosanna” rang in their ears as crowds praised Jesus as the Messiah, and now the crowds chant “Crucify Him!”  They see the great healer beaten and whipped bloody, and raised up on a cross.  None of this is what they expected when the week began.  The one who raised the son of the widow of Nain, the daughter of Jairus, and Lazarus from the dead, died.  The Sun itself stopped shining from noon until 3 in the afternoon.  And the temple curtain was torn right down the middle.  They must have felt both underwhelmed by what they expected of Jesus, and overwhelmed by how upside-down everything was. 

Our Easter experience is very different this year.  Underwhelming according to our expectations, and we’re overwhelmed by how wrong this all seems.  This year, Easter hits much closer to home.

We need to be delivered.

We need to be saved.

We need everything to be fixed.

Where is God?

We’re tired of being afraid, isolated, and alone.

And this is the very world God sent His Son into.  The disciples were grieving, feeling isolated and alone.  Everything that happened that Easter was so wrong and upside down.  Overwhelmed by grief and circumstance they couldn’t believe the news when the women ran back from the empty room. 

The one who hears your every prayer, every sob, and dries every tear has overwhelmed your weakness, your isolation, your brokenness, your fear, your need, and your sin.  HE overwhelmed death.  God sent His Son to be near us, so that we would never be alone, so that we never have to be afraid, so we wouldn’t suffer death as a final separation from God, so that we could be with Him forever. 

This season things seem upside-down.  But God, through Jesus, flipped the upside-down right-side-up, and we are restored and guaranteed life in Him.  This is our story.  It’s overwhelming to be in a place of such need and to know that Jesus came near to keep us near.  We can live confident new life in Him right now through our baptism.  And just as Jesus’ tomb was empty, so ours’ will be when Jesus comes again.

Christ is Risen! 

And so shall we!  

Share your Easter celebration in the comments, on Facebook, or via email: mwipperman@lifelivetogether.com