Sabbatical: God is Faithful

And we know that in all things
God works for the good of those who love him,
who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

 

We are four and a half months into this time of sabbatical. While in the big picture it is a blip in time, for those of us who are owners of the Church it has been a time of journey and reflection, possibly seeming to be a much longer time. God brought this verse to mind, and I have spent some time reflecting on what it means for us as the Church.

 

Friends, from what I can tell, God is good and faithful and keeps His promises. During the past four months, God has faithfully kept this promise outlined in Romans 8. He DOES work for our good, and He does this regardless of our intentions or desires.

 

Pastor Jeff’s sabbatical came as a surprise to most. It was not something we had prepared for or anticipated. And so, our responses have been varied. Some understood and supported this time of reflection and space, while others didn’t agree with it for this time in our church. For some, it has caused great frustration and sadness, while for others it has been a time of experimentation and engagement. Perhaps you have been in a place of wondering, “Why?” or “Was this right?” Most certainly, across the board, we all experienced some anxiety and uncertainty to some degree.

 

None of these questions or emotions are right or wrong. We each have a unique story and journey at the Church, a unique perspective and reason for our time and place in this ministry. AND YET, in the midst of these varied perspectives, God is good and faithful. He has worked good here. Whether you view the sabbatical as right or wrong or the appropriate timing, God has worked good.

 

Consider what has happened at the Church in the past four months:

  • We have incorporated new communication methods to help make information more accessible (family minute, monthly calendar update emails, Meet Your Leader booklet)

  • We have gathered in forums to help us learn more about the leadership at the Church and to give us space to openly discuss concerns. (Coffee With…, Horizon check-in)

  • We have at least 20 people committed to being trained in a new lifeGroup curriculum. With this curriculum, more lifeGroups will have the resources they need to have more intentional conversations and accountability in missional living.

  • We are using faithBuilders time to continue to build the skills and tools we need to love God and love our neighbors as effectively as possible.

  • The Elders and the Mercy Ministry team have strengthened their partnership with each other to better meet the care needs of those at the Church.

  • New leadership has emerged in our ministries for youth and children (Kids Connection, tweens, new parent teachers in Life in the Word, new adult leaders in Higher Ground)

  • We have launched more opportunities for gathering with each other socially, to encourage and build relationships with each other.

  • We have had hard, open, reflective conversations with each other. This kind of reflective dialogue is healthy and good, and helps us to continue to refine each other.

  • We have people serving in new roles within the Church.

  • Ministry leadership has taken on new roles and flourished within the challenges undertaken.

 

 

God is good. He WORKS FOR OUR GOOD. Regardless of our feelings about the sabbatical, I truly believe that God has been using this as a time for His good and our good. Struggles aren’t a bad thing. Our response to those hard times can be questionable, but struggles themselves are a way of being shaped and molded into the image of Christ. Hard conversations allow for growth. And when we are weak, God’s strength and mercy is ever more present.

 

These are truths that are constant in all areas of our lives. We don’t understand cancer. We feel defeated because of a broken relationship. Whether it is a situation in our church or pain in our personal lives, the question stays the same: Will we be open to acknowledging God’s good work, even when it stems from a place that we don’t understand?

 

The hard part about a time of struggle and uncertainty is that we can’t always see the other side. We don’t know the outcome or even, at times, what we are working toward. But we do have this promise that God will work for our good. And so, we trust Him. And as we learn to trust Him more, step by step, we relinquish more of ourselves and see that the good that God works is often right in our own hearts. I have seen this happening at the Church. We all have our own learning curve, but I believe that God is teaching us to trust Him and give our church to Him.

 

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. God has called us, church, to join Him in HIS purposes. Sometimes we struggle to trust God or see him at work. Sometimes that is part of the journey we are on -- to better know God. And sometimes, we need to ask ourselves if we are seeking God’s purposes or our own.

 

When we recognize that our homes, our church, our whole lives belong first and foremost to God, then we seek His purpose and we can more closely live out the call He has given to us. We become less. The desire to know and seek God becomes more. That is how we live in unity, even during times of uncertainty.

 

As the sabbatical comes to an end, we still have questions. Will Pastor Jeff come back? What will the Church look like? What will happen? Will things change yet again? I can’t answer those questions. But I can know this with certainty: God is good, and He WILL continue to work for our good. Whatever happens in the next few months, we will still love God and He will still love us. He has carried us thus far. He has been faithful to His promises thus far. He will continue to be the foundation of the Church and He will continue to work for the good of His church, who loves Him, and has been called according to His purpose.

 

 

Horizon: 90 Day Update

What might happen if we, together as a body of Christ called to join Him in mission, experienced together the contagious joy that comes from following Jesus and partnering with Him to impact our neighborhoods, communities, and cities?

 

What might happen if we abandon our perceptions and preconceived ideas about what it means to live a missional lifestyle?

 

What might happen if we, together as a community, spend time reflecting on what it means to be called as missionaries and experiment with fresh and life-giving ways to be a reflection of Jesus in a world desperate for Him?

 

These “What If’s” and possibilities, these conversations, and experiments with fresh perspectives, are the focus of what we as the Church are engaging in during 2017, and we are calling it Catalyst 100.  It is a focus that helps us, as a church, move closer to seeing our vision of Regional Impact realized. When we have a common goal, and common purpose, we are stronger together and can more intentionally live out the purpose that we as a community believed God has called us to.

 

Catalyst 100 says, “By the end of 2017 in true reformation style, we will be experiencing a significant increase in contagious joy because we will be able to identify 100 people who are re-examining missional living as they practice and experiment with what it means to live missionally.”

 

To get a jumpstart on Catalyst 100, we started 2017 with some 90-day objectives that would help build a solid foundation for all of us to build on over the course of the year. These objectives included goals on new methods of communication, gaining clarity about who our church is and how it operates, a better understanding of leadership roles at the Church, and launching a new curriculum for lifeGroups. It has been a busy few months, and much effort has been put toward achieving these objectives. Some of those efforts include:

 

  • “Coffee with…” gatherings with staff, board, and elders.

  • Additional communication through weekly Family minutes in services and lifeNotes, as well as an “overview of the month” email.

  • 12 households have signed on to lead lifeGroups through our new Catalyst curriculum.

  • Faithbuilders time has been re-designed to focus on missional living and discipleship skills for the remainder of 2017

  • More opportunities for relationship building - the Family Movie Night and Ash Wednesday Soup Supper kicking off these gatherings.

 

And now, it is time for us to celebrate what has been accomplished in our first 90 days and to look forward to what next steps we will take together to see Catalyst 100 realized in 2017.  I would like to invite you to join the staff and myself on Sunday, March 26 at 9:15am for our Horizon Check-In. We will review the initiatives begun this year. We also will brainstorm what is next as we work together to see contagious joy for missional living become a reality for the Church and for God’s Kingdom, as 100 people or more experimenting with how God uniquely calls them to join Him in mission.

 

Friends, I am excited for what is yet to come at the Church. These past few months, we have been having bold and courageous conversations with each other. We have been reflecting on who we are as the Church and reminding ourselves of how God has led us to this place. I have been so encouraged by the support that the staff and I have received during Pastor Jeff’s sabbatical as well as by all those who have used this time to engage in our ministry in new or fresh ways. I am hopeful and eagerly anticipate what God is doing in our midst, and look forward to continuing on this journey with you.

 

God’s Timing

 

 

 

 

 

As I was thinking about the Scripture (Romans 5:1-11) and topic (Perfect Timing) of Sunday's worship, I recalled an article I recently read that spoke to this idea: it’s called ‘Finding God’s Timing’ and was written by Diane Markins for the Christian Broadcasting Network blog. I hope you find, as I did, that it brings some clarity about issues where we may feel stuck or unclear.

“Have you taken a moment lately to look at life as it is and consider some possibilities of how it could be? It’s easy to put this off and wait until later… but sometimes it seems that much of our life is spent waiting.

In a small sense, we wait in line for a vanilla latte, we wait for our car to fill up with gas, we wait for the cable guy to show up (between 8 and 12… ha! usually it’s 2:10). In a bigger sense, we wait to meet the man of our dreams, we wait nine months for our baby to be born, we wait for a job promotion or a pay increase. Waiting is a fact of life on earth.

But are you looking at your own life and evaluating how much time you’ve spent waiting? Have you waited (maybe too long?) to make a change, chart a new course, or accept an unchangeable situation?

I waited a long time to make a serious commitment to writing and speaking. What held me back? As with each of us, my answers aren’t simple. I was raising children, working at having a good marriage and helping our business grow. Those are valid reasons, but in complete honesty, I held back because of fear and lack of mentorship. When I finally broke through the fear and dove in, God was there to meet me and encourage my progress.

‘But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles,’ says Isaiah 40:31.

The opposite is true as well. Sometimes we jump in and take action without spending much time or thought on the process or likely results. Have you ever tried to fix a situation instead of allowing God or others to take care of it? Acting too quickly can lead to comedic and sometimes tragic results.

Too many times to mention I’ve confronted people about things I believed were unfair or done poorly, just to find that they had good reasons for their actions or had already remedied the situation. Boy, do I hate to go after someone with a full head of steam only to learn that my issue is obsolete or invalid. Alexander Pope said, ‘Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.’ I’m guessing he knew that angels are much wiser than we humans can be.

In either case, there is an antidote and a way to prevent a repeat. Check in with the Lord, A LOT! Talk to Him, read His word and get confirming wisdom from a spiritually mature friend. It would look something like this:

Father, I really hate my job but am grateful to have it. Thank you for provision. Please bring me clarity about when/if I should take any action to change my circumstance.’

  • Then consider why God may have you there and the possibilities of making a change.

  • Find a believing buddy and ask for his/her prayers, insight and encouragement.

  • Read in your Bible about people who’ve waited on the Lord and others who’ve taken obedient action. (Jesus has done both.)

Psalm 138:8 says, ‘The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me; your love O Lord, endures forever.’ His timeline is frequently much different than ours. When we wait on God’s timing, then take deliberate action, the outcome is likely to be refreshment and contentment. I hope your life is filled with intentional waiting while God strengthens you, then fruit-bearing action when the time is right for you to soar like an eagle.”

Get in touch with me (egumm@livelifetogether.com) if you’d like to talk about the ideas in this article - I’d love to hear from you!

 

Kids Connection

We talk a lot at the Church about the value of talking about your faith with your children at home, as well as the importance of having a group of adults, whom your child trusts, who can surround and encourage your child. Our Kids Connection gatherings at 9:15am each week (at our Fitchburg location in the Preschool) are a great avenue for helping both of these things to be realized.

 

Kids Connection is a gathering for children 4th grade and under. It is a multi-age setting where children build relationships, play, and learn about Jesus in creative and interactive ways. Led by parents, children are surrounded each week by not one, but a multitude of other adults who they can build relationships with. The topic covered each week is directly tied to the sermon, reinforcing what your child is hearing in worship.

 

Recently, a group of 10 families met to continue planning for Kids Connection. These families have been so blessed by this time already and are excited to continue facilitating and preparing this time for children each week. One of the major blessings that families have found during this time is the multi-age aspect. Older children are teaching and playing with younger children, and the younger children have older role models. Also, we have noticed at the Church that when parents are engaged with teaching and facilitating in a structured church setting, they are more comfortable with talking about faith at home.

 

I was so excited at this meeting with families to see how the body of Christ can really work together. Some parents are more comfortable setting up organizational systems, some are creative with crafts, some are more comfortable in front of children or with leading worship for kids. When everyone’s gifts are used well, we can see God glorified and our children receive the benefits.

 

While parents are encouraged to come with their children when possible, there are 4 parents who sign up each week to have the responsibility of supervising Kids Connection. That allows space for other parents to pop in at faithBuilders if there is something of interest to them. On the second Sunday of each month, Amy DeBaker leads a Family Week. Crafts and activities are planned to help create space for families to learn about Jesus all together. In March, the 2nd and 3rd grade students will receive Bibles during Family Week.

 

Do you have children 4th grade and younger? The families at Kids Connection would love for you to join them! Pop in any week and see what they are up to! You can talk to any parent there, or myself, if you are interested in helping with facilitating or planning. Do you love kids but don’t have any smaller ones at home? You are still needed! We would love to have any passionate adults at the Church offer their time to help plan, supervise, or facilitate our Kids Connection time. I know our parents would love a break and your influence in a child’s life is valuable. Let me know if you want to get involved. We are a community and we have a precious responsibility to help our children love Jesus and I am so thankful to all of the families who are so generous to help make this a reality!

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Rummage Sale: Discipleship & Community

Even if you’re not a member of our church, if you’ve been around the Fitchburg building at the end of April in years past, you know when it’s Rummage Sale time! Each year, so many of you generously donate clothing, shoes, toys, furniture, sporting goods, and other household items to be sold at our annual sale. The Rummage Sale offers amazing opportunities to us each year to serve by giving our treasures and time, and to enjoy some fun and fellowship, too! In this article I want to highlight one special opportunity this year, and one way the Sale reaches beyond the church building’s walls.

As you probably know, Lois Korth and Connie Thompson have been faithfully planning and executing the Rummage Sale for many years. The 2017 sale will be Lois and Connie’s last year leading the sale, and so the rest of us have the opportunity to ask ourselves a question: is God calling me to apprentice with Lois and Connie during this year’s sale and take over its leadership in 2018? To help you answer this question, I present a few Rummage Sale facts:  

  • Lois and Connie have made the sale a well-oiled rummage machine, with processes organized and recorded on paper for sale leaders and volunteers.
  • Coordinating the sale affords built-in time for conversations and early shopping! 
  • The time commitment for this service opportunity is contained to the week prior to the sale and the weekend of the sale.  

If you’ve served during the Rummage Sale in recent years, or even if you haven’t yet but think this one-week-per-year lifeServe opportunity is right for you, would you please talk to Lois, Connie, or me? We’d love to chat about any questions you have.  

Each year, some of the proceeds from the sale go toward church ministries (such as Higher Ground mission trips and Preschool scholarships) and facilities improvements (like new tables for the fellowship hall). And each year we also prioritize giving back some of the sale’s proceeds to our community. In the months since the 2016 Rummage Sale, we’ve been able to help 10 clients of Domestic Abuse Intervention Services (DAIS) with crisis funding that has allowed them to secure safe housing after surviving domestic violence. After one of the DAIS social workers heard about our church’s willingness to help her client with relocation funding, she said, “Thank you so much, my client is in tears!” The Rummage Sale allows us to help those in our community who are hurting in a significant way, and I hope you’ll consider serving at the Sale again (or for the first time) this year!