Values: Generosity +

This week I would like to highlight "Generosity+" (read, generosity plus).  "Generosity+" is one of our five newly articulated values.  You can examine all of our re-articulated values here.

We articulate it this way:  


because generosity empowered by Jesus fuels a contagious, others-centered culture.  


Take some time to reflect with me:

Read 1 Chronicles 29 (if time is short, read vs. 10-19)

Answer this question:

When was the last time you were so moved by someone's generosity that you simply had to stop and worship God?     

Generosity is contagious. The generous love of Jesus is still fueling Jesus-followers to actively love others. Here's an example:

Gererosity + Story

Summertime is mission trip time for the youth at the Church. It's a time of great anticipation - going to new places, meeting new people, driving for ridiculously long hours in overcrowded vans, and waiting for those moments when we so clearly see God working in powerful ways.
One thing that has been a priority in Higher Ground, however, has been the importance of knowing that we just don't go to foreign lands to do mission work. We don't need to travel 15 hours to make a difference. We don't have to visit the most impoverished counties in America to meet people who need Jesus. Those needs and opportunities are present in our backyards. In fact, we can't properly go and serve elsewhere until we have spent time first immersing ourselves in how God is wanting to work right here in our own communities.
As a way to remind ourselves that God is wanting to use us TODAY, HERE and NOW in our communities, Higher Ground spent June 18th-20th participating in LOVE MADISON DAYS. It was three days dedicated to being on mission here in Madison, and learning simple, replicable ways that we can make a difference.
What did we do? Simple - we fed the hungry and gave water to the thirsty. On Tuesday, students worked at St. Vincent de Paul food pantry sorting and stocking food. Then, they passed out 200 fliers to the homes in the church's neighborhood, advertising a food drive and the needs of the food pantry. On Wednesday, we spent a few hours weeding and watering in one of Madison's 5 food pantry gardens. After dinner we went to McKee Farms Park and passed out water and freeze pops to the multitudes. Finally, on Thursday morning, we took up that food drive. We went back to each house where we had dropped off a flier and collected food for the food pantry - 529 pounds of food collected in just 1.5 hours! What a fun three days we had! We laughed, we bonded, we worked really hard, and we knew we made a difference.
Nothing we decided to do was too hard. We didn't need extra training. We didn't spend much money. It didn't take a ton of coordination. All it took was for the students (over 30 different students!) to be willing to GO AND DO. What can you GO AND DO this summer?  
How can you create your own LOVE MADISON/VERONA/FITCHBURG days this summer?
Emily Powers
Director of Youth, the Church


Values: Step +

This week I would like to highlight "Step+" (read, step plus).  "Step+" is one of our five newly articulated values. You can examine all of our re-articulated values here.

We articulate it this way:


because simple steps guided by Jesus accelerate the impact of new life.    


Take some time to reflect with me:

Read Acts 8:26-27a 

Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch

26 As for Philip, an angel of the Lord said to him, “Go south[a] down the desert road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and he met the treasurer of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under the Kandake, the queen of Ethiopia. The eunuch had gone to Jerusalem to worship,

Answer this question:

When was the last time, in obedience to Jesus, you "started out" not knowing where your steps would take you?  

One of the things that keeps us from joining Jesus in the work He's already doing is our failure to take the simple steps He prepares for us to take. We want to know how it will all turn out. I praise God that as this value gets lived out more and more, it will accelerate the impact of new life.



A "Step+ Story"


Some things have been transpiring in lifeGroup over the last couple of weeks that I wanted to share.  God has been teaching me a lot lately (when I take time to listen) and I think this story might be encouraging for others.

The theme is listening to God and being obedient. :)  Sorry it's long, but I have a lot of thoughts.

Regina (lifeGroup member) has been having a lot of joint pain lately so the doctor told her to try taking a hot bath, which normally would never happen because she is super busy mom of two.  Her back was hurting so bad one night that she made time for her hot bath.  She grabbed a book (The 5 Love Languages) from her nightstand and jumped in the tub.  She was leading lifeGroup that week, and immediately God put on her heart to encourage us to be loving people (and she listened!). She challenged all of us to perform a random act of kindness for an enemy or a complete stranger (and she was obedient!).

The day before lifeGroup I still hadn't performed my random act of kindness. It is much easier to do an act of kindness for people you know rather than a stranger!  I decided to use my lunch hour to walk around the Capitol Square and asked God to make it apparent what He wanted me to do, but in my heart I very much doubted something would just pop up.  I wasn't even 1/2 block into my walk when my head immediately spun around (almost involuntary) to see a rough-looking young man sitting against the wall with a very dejected posture.  I looked up at the sky and thought, "Really, God?  You really want me to strike up a conversation with this guy?" I decided to play this little game with God: "Ok, I'll walk around the square one time and if he's still there after a lap, then I will know that you want me to talk to him."  I made a lap and, yep, he's still there.  I still had no idea how to approach him, so I started walking around and then sat on a bench about 20 feet away from him.  As I was sitting there thinking, "Lord, how do I strike up a conversation with him?", a lady walking around the Capitol made eye contact with me, smiled and said, "It sure is a beautiful day, isn't it?"  We proceeded to have a 5 minute conversation about the forecast and the cold Spring.  "There you go, Michelle," says God.  "That is how you start a conversation with a stranger."  Okay, fine.  I'll go. 

So I walked up to the kid and said, "This is going to sound very strange but do you ever get the feeling that you are supposed to talk to someone?  Because I really think I'm supposed to talk to you."  "Ok," he said.  I asked him where he's from, and he said Madison.  I asked him what he's up to today, and he said he's waiting for someone to bring him some money so he can get a hotel room for the night and take a shower.  I ask if he had a home and he said no; he had a court date soon because he has to go to jail.  He looked like all hope had been sucked out of him. 

When his girlfriend arrived with a pizza she seemed very unhappy I was there.  After I explained that I was just saying hello, she still was not very happy, so I wished him luck with everything and continued on my walk.

These events are really amazing to me.  While the ending isn't exactly spectacular, it has really opened my eyes.  I've been making a conscious effort to be intentional about listening to God while going about my normal business.  The whole point of my lunch was to walk around the square and LISTEN to Him and see people the way He sees them.  And guess what?  He spoke to me.  It was plain as day that he wanted me to let that kid know that someone - even a stranger - cares about him.  Then I didn't obey - I kept walking!  And He still provided me with the stranger who struck up a conversation with me to show me that I could do it.  And when I actually did it, the guy didn't freak out. It was obvious he wanted to tell his story to someone.  Regina pointed out that if I had been immediately obedient, I would've had an extra 20 minutes with him and an opportunity to go even deeper into conversation than I was able to due to the pizza delivery. 

Several other people were deeply affected by our lifeGroup's "random acts of kindness." First, my co-worker and fellow lifeGroup member Abbey came up to me with tears in her eyes the morning after we shared our stories.  "Michelle, I made a very bad choice this morning! Every morning when I get off the bus the same homeless woman is on the corner.  This morning she was sobbing, but I didn't stop to talk to her because I was worried about being late to work.  I feel horrible - I should have talked to her."   Two days before it wouldn't even have been on Abbey's heart to notice or think it was her place to talk to the woman!  The next day when Abbey got off the bus, she followed up with the woman and asked if everything was okay.

The second story is that Leslie (our neighbor) has been volunteering at the Children's Museum to help out another lifeGroup member, Andrea.  On our lifeGroup day, Leslie was going to drop off something at my house for Andrea to pick up, and Leslie waited to come until lifeGroup started!   We invited her in for dinner and I prayed, prayed, prayed that God would open her heart to stay for Word time.  After dinner, she said, "So what's the topic tonight?"  I said we were going to continue to discuss our random acts of kindness and I told her about Regina's challenge to us.  She stayed and got to hear all of our stories!

Maybe these events seem way more awesome in my heart than they actually are, but I really think it would be inspiring if stories like this could be shared frequently within our church.  I'm so encouraged right now and I want others to be energized, too. 

What a big lesson. If you listen, He will speak.  If you obey, He will hold your hand.  If you share, He will open hearts.





Values: Ordinary +

Over the past number of months we have been working diligently to give an overhaul of our church's core values.  We have recognized the need to more clearly articulate the shared convictions that guide our actions and reveal our unique strengths.  In this way, our values work as missional motives.  They answer the question: "Why do we do what we do at the Church?"  These values become the springboards for daily actions and filters for decision-making.  They distinguish our philosophy of ministry and shape our culture and ethos.

Over the next few weeks I will be highlighting another one of our five newly articulated values.  You can examine All of our re-articulated values here.

This week I would like to highlight "Ordinary+"

(read, ordinary plus).  We articulate it this way:



because ordinary people connected to Jesus share in Christ's extraordinary mission.   

(Mark 1:16-18; John 4:1-30, 39-42; John 15:16;
Acts 4:13


Take some time to reflect with me:

Read Mark 1:16-18

Mark 1:16-18

New Living Translation (NLT)

The First Disciples

16 One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. 17 Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” 18 And they left their nets at once and followed him.


Answer these questions:

Do you ever dismiss God's personal call because you don't feel your contribution could be significant enough?  


The Good News about Jesus makes missionaries of all God's people. How does this truth change your perspective?


One of the major barriers to our active response to God's call in our lives is the misbelief that "the call" is "for someone else." We somehow have gotten duped into believing that participation in Christ's extraordinary mission is for a select few; that it is for the extraordinary. I praise God that as this value gets lived out more and more, it will inspire greater participation in Christ's extraordinary mission.


An "Ordinary+ Prayer"

"This is the day the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it. We rejoice, God, today as we gather to celebrate an ordination and installation. And yet, we know that a pastor is simply a gift given to the church, by your design, like a father to a family, a mother to a family, or a child to a family. Ordination is not where we become servants of the Lord, to be about the Lord's Work. That takes place in Baptism, when you adopt us into Your family. We thank you for making us your children, and for making all of us bearers of your Holy name. Bless us, in every vocation that you place us in, whether our role at work, play, home, school, as neighbors, friends or anywhere, that we would bring glory to you, by being visible reflections of Jesus. As we learn to follow Jesus, help us to invite others to learn with us. Send your Holy Spirit, to change hearts and minds and make followers of Jesus from all over Madison who, in turn, make more disciples, until all of Madison is transformed. ..." a portion of the Prayer for the Church that Pastor Matt prayed on our behalf at the end of his ordination on Saturday, June 8th.

 Pastor Jeff 


Disciple // shift

In the month of June, The Story will make a pretty big shift, from the Old Testament to the New Testament, from Israel to Jesus, from mighty and stubborn kings to the suffering servant, from the great kingdom[s] of the Promised Land to a common stable in the little town of Bethlehem and the promised King.

I was recently blessed to attend a conference in Orlando, FL, thanks to the Church and our district, who sent 6 pastors and aspiring pastors from the Madison area. My father attended the conference with me and we had a great time discussing what we heard and how it might apply in our contexts. This installment of the year-ly Exponential Conference was called “Discipleshift.” If you hadn’t already guessed it, the conference was based on the idea that ministry needs to shift, from attracting people to our churches, to making disciples who make disciples [2 Timothy 2:2.] Discipleship seems to be one of the newer buzztopics in the evangelical community, and many churches have begun to see a trend where church goers are simply shifting between churches, instead of new people being reached for Christ. There were 5 parts to the conference, each represented by a proposed shift in ministry.

1. From Reaching to Making
2. From Leading to Being Led
3. From Teaching to Modeling
4. From Assimilating to Creating Community
5. From Attracting to Deploying

Obviously these are all related, but the one I want to ask you to focus on, today, and this month, is the second shift, from leading to being led. As a disciple of Jesus, what does it look like if you’re focused on leading, and being a good leader? For those you’re leading, what will they see that they need before they can lead others? Now, as a disciple of Jesus, what does it look like if you’re focused on being led, and being a good follower? For those you have invited to follow Jesus with you, what will they see that they need before they can lead others? In each scenario, where are the eyes of each person focused?

What is the difference between the Old Testament, and the New Testament? Is God different? Is one part Law and the other part Gospel? We’ve been reading and hearing about God’s upper story, and seeing how He has always been pursuing His people, always redeeming them back to Himself, and how His people always end up turning away. We hear about God’s grace and His pursuit every week. This verse from last week’s [for me, Israel: Battle Between Gods] sermon is sticking with me right now: 1 Kings 18:37 “Answer me, LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.” So that they will know that you are God, and so that they will know that You are turning their hearts back again. God is always the one reaching to us. Jesus is the line between the Old and New Testaments. Jesus is the Alpha and Omega [beginning and end] of God’s creative and re-creative action. He is the focus of the Story.

So if our focus on leading has people looking at us, instead of Christ, what story are they getting? God is the one who changes hearts. This discipleship thing isn’t nearly as difficult as we’re trying to make it. Let’s be 23 Disciples [2 Timothy 2:2.] Let’s be followers of Jesus, who make followers of Jesus, who then make more followers of Jesus. You don’t even have to be a leader to make a follower of someone else, unless you’re trying to get them to follow you.

Take a moment to pray with me.

Dear God, Your Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. Jesus is the Word, the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father except by Him. Light a fire in my heart, God, make me hungry for and keep me sustained by the Word. Keep my eyes fixed on Jesus and as He leads me make me dependent on Christ. Make me a visible reflection of Jesus, so that people would see Him, not me. And as I go, break my heart for what breaks Yours, grant me the missional heartbeat of God.

Matthew Wipperman
Director of Missionary Multiplication


Blind Spot

“We need each other.”

“We need God.”

“We need His wisdom and truth.”

“We need that truth to freely flow between us in this community of faith.”

“We need deeper friendship; more honest reflection, deeper thought, richer personal interactions with one another.”

These are some of the thoughts I have been entertaining since I read this article today.  The author shares 7 common blind spots that block out reality. 

“Here are 7 Common Blind spots:

  1. Denial of Reality - Feeling so strong about our own beliefs that we deny the beliefs of others, or deny facts right in front of our eyes.

  2. Control – Seeing ourselves as being more responsible for things than we actually are, or having more control over things and events than we truly do.

  3. Made-Up Memories – Making decisions based on memories that did not happen. Often we confuse our imaginations, or our dreams, with reality.

  4. Reality Distortions - Distorting reality to conform to preconceptions.

  5. Know it All – Thinking that we know more than what we really do. (We simply don’t know what we don’t know.)

  6. Listening Only to Validate What We Know - Failure to listen to others.

  7. Undervaluing What We Do Know – Listening too much to others, and allowing others’ beliefs to talk us out of our beliefs; or in some cases cause us not to trust our instincts.”

You can read the entire article here.

Which of these 7 common blind spots do you think might be blocking reality for you?                                                                                  

Pastor Jeff