Who's In Your Boat?

The focus of Sunday’s message (Refined: Arrogance) contains the words “We’re all in the same boat. Everyone needs Jesus’ righteousness, and the rest needs to be melted away.” The idea of being “in the same boat” got me thinking about Mark 4:35-41, which tells of Jesus calming a storm that led his disciples to fear and doubt:

A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

The political environment in our country lately has left me feeling like there’s a large storm encircling us, and I admit I’ve felt fear and doubt more often than I’ve trusted God with my concerns.

One of the pieces of feedback I heard following the January 19th “Coffee With the Board” gathering was that it’s helpful, in a difficult or turbulent situation, to remember the ties that unite your community and to assume others have good intentions. I think this is a good reminder, whether the community in question is a church or a nation, and it reiterates the idea that we’re all “in the same boat.” But practically speaking, it’s tough to keep that bigger perspective in mind when we’re faced with problems that seem to affect an entire community, problems whose potential solutions are as varied, and as politically divisive, as they come. How do we confront problems we see without being overwhelmed by their scope or fearful of the conflict our position might cause? What if those in “the boat” with us seem to be steering in the opposite direction?

I’d like to propose that each of us discern and focus on our own “boat,” and on the common goals or vision me might share with our boat-mates. God has strategically placed each of us geographically right where we are for a purpose. We live in a neighborhood, work, learn, and play at certain locations, and travel intentionally within specific regions. We can use those locations to recognize the needs and strengths (broken shalom and shalom) of the local communities of which we’re already a part, and begin (or continue!) to build our relationships in those communities to confront the storms we see. Just one example of this is that, if your heart is touched by the struggles of immigrants, you could discover how your school, our church, or local social workers with city/county-funded organizations are already providing resources and sanctuary to immigrant and refugee families in your city, and join those efforts. For instance, next time our church hosts another new Bhutanese refugee family, you could provide some necessities to welcome them and ask how else you can help. These are things you can do alongside someone who may hold a different opinion from you regarding our country’s immigration policies, but with whom you share a desire to help those in need in your own community.  

We can also pray that God helps us discern what should occupy our time. Anything that we’re not confident is bringing us closer to him, that might be steering us away from serving him and others, “needs to be melted away.” And we can commit to staying in our boats, even when the waters are rough, grabbing onto God’s strength to help us see past our fears, and paddle with our boat-mates toward God’s grace!

Dear God, show me my arrogance, where I look past or over other people, and replace it with your humility. Thank you for placing me where you’ve placed me, and for helping me to navigate life’s stormy seas.


Coffee with the Leadership Board

Ever wonder how an organization like a church is run? How are decisions made and who makes them? What does the board do? What do the elders do? How can I make my voice heard? The Church has launched a series of informal gatherings to increase and improve communication between the congregation and the leadership of the church.

On Sunday, January 22, 2017, we held the first informal gathering called “Coffee with the Board.” Each board member sat at a table with members of the congregation, and the groups got to know one another a little better. It was fun, lively and engaging, and met the goal of increasing communication between the congregation and the board.

We started out with a general “get to know you” icebreaker at our tables; this included introductions and sharing how we were connected with the Church. From there, we let the conversations take their course and used a guiding set of questions if needed. These questions included:

  • What do you do for a job and for fun?
  • What nudged you to come today?
  • In what ways are you engaged in the Church? (worship time, do you serve, lifeGroup)
  • What are some of the strengths you see in this Church?
  • What one thing would you need to feel even more supported as you grow and follow Jesus?

Personally, I was able to sit down at a table with eight other people whom I hadn’t had the opportunity to chat with before. I learned about their lives and what was important to them, and took notes on their comments and concerns.

Other board members also reported that at their tables, in addition to getting to know each other better, they enjoyed in-depth conversations about policy-based governance, communication methods and styles of the church, Pastor Jeff and Amy’s sabbatical, and other church issues.

Why is it important to have these conversations? How does the church benefit from them? God’s word has some insights for us:

As iron sharpens iron,  so one person sharpens another. (Proverbs 27-17).

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching (Hebrews 10:24-25).

Conversations were amiable and supportive, and lines of communication were opened. Praise God for his goodness, mercy and grace extended to all of us.

The next informal gathering is Sunday, February 19, at 9:15am, with the staff of the church. As owners of this missional congregation, please put it on your calendars to attend this “Coffee with the Staff” and get to know the staff who serve us and each other a little better. There will also be a “Coffee with the Elders” on Sunday, March 19.

In February, the Board will be creating their goals for 2017. Those goals and objectives will be shared with the congregation in March through the bulletin and on the website. As always, if you have any questions or concerns please feel free to contact me or any board member.


Refining Ourselves for Mission

Each week in the current “Refined” sermon series (part of the 2017 “Reformed” series), we’re delving further into Romans and learning how we may need God to mold our hearts and spirits.  Alongside prayerful introspection, I hope you’ll check out the ideas in this article as an accessible way to reach outward with some “gospel intentionality” and share God’s love with those around you. I’ve included a few of my own thoughts, interspersed below in italics. At the end of the list of five ideas are several Scripture passages that illustrate the significance of meal sharing and hospitality.


The following article is based on an original blog post, “Practical Examples of Everyday Rhythms,” by Pastor Josh Reeves (Redeemer Church, Round Rock, TX) published in March 2013. The text below is Verge Network’s adaptation of the post.


Much of what we do (to be on mission) is meant not to add things to the schedule,

but to bring intentionality to the things we are already doing.



1. Monthly dinners

Start a monthly dinner night at your house that has an open invitation for anyone that wants to join and bring people.

2. Help others grow

Find people in your church community who love cooking and get them to help others grow in their appreciation for fine food. One way this could work well at our church would be to have your family, lifeGroup, or other “high interest” group (as defined by you) cook dinner for Higher Ground periodically, and invite the teens to help you cook!

3. Set goals

Set a goal to have more meals with neighbors/coworkers than you are currently having. Talk it out with your fellow household members and decide on what is a good starting point.

4. Make a schedule

Make a schedule each month with the nights you want to host people for meals. Prayerfully consider who you will share a table with (neighbors/co-workers/church family). For example, you could say to your spouse or roommate, “I’d like to have these 5 people/families over for dinner in 2017; can we put some potential dates on our calendar and then send email invitations?”.

5. Start a supper club

Start a supper club with people in your neighborhood or network of relationships. Have each person in the club sign up to host a night. Have the host share the recipe with the rest of the group when they come over. Spend time during the meal sharing things you are thankful for, building in a rhythm of intentionality into your meals together.

Consider the following Biblical texts:

Matthew 6:11, 26:17-30

Acts 2:42-47

Romans 12:13

Leviticus 23

Do you have any other rhythms that allow you to be on mission in everyday life? Please share them with me!  


Book Review: Renew Your Life by Kai Mark Nilsen

Words are important.  Words we say, words we read, words we receive from God.  Words give life and hope.

A few months ago the words Rest, Refresh and Restore kept coming to mind.  I longed for rest, to be refreshed and restored by the Lord.  Then early in December God gave me the word Renew.  I found scripture promises associated with the word Renew.   One was very familiar, from Psalm 51:10. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.  I’m always encouraged and thrilled to discover God does the work in me.  He creates a pure heart in me and He Renews a steadfast spirit within me.  I can’t muster up more of a pure heart or renew a steadfast spirit myself.  As I write this in early January and as you read it at the end of January we remember that changes in heart and mind won’t be from us trying harder or making more effort to keep any new year’s resolutions.  What can be done is rest in God’s promises, read his Word and allow Him to refresh and restore and renew as only He knows what is needed and is possible.  All things are possible with God.

As one who enjoys books and figures and is always looking for a book that will help me and others discover more about a topic of interest, I found and am reading a book by Kai Mark Nilsen titled Renew Your Life: Discovering the Wellspring of God’s Energy.  Author Nilsen is a Pastor who went through a season in his life similar to where many Christian’s find themselves at one point or another.  His emptiness and wondering if his faith was genuine led him on a journey towards patience with himself and discovery of the power of the Holy Spirit given to him and all believers.   The power of the Holy Spirit is often ignored or not understood as a gift God provides for his children.  Pastor Nilsen, like many of us today, discovered that a quick, self-help route just doesn’t work.  Rather, God guides, teaches, restores, refreshes and renews us over time.  As we daily surrender our control and moment by moment trust him, God will lead us in the specific way he has for each individual.  God’s love never fails.  

Published in 2015, this book contains self-reflective questions that are relevant to the concerns Jesus followers face today.  I really appreciate the Essential Life Questions Pastor Nilsen scatters throughout the book.  Spend time with these questions: What is my image of God? How does my image of God affect the way I see the world, others, my own life? What hopes shape and give meaning to my life? In what ways have I been blessed by an unwanted gift? How does affirming that all people are created in the image of God affect how I see and treat them? What am I here for at this time? What in life brings me joy?  As you can tell, the questions lead one to look deep within and, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit over time, can help us discover what has held us back.  Depending on the Holy Spirit will free us, guide our choices and attitudes and will “renew that steadfast spirit within me.”

Whether you chose to read this book or not, I encourage you to take a step of deeper dependence on the LORD.  Our Father longs to grant us Rest (Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28), He will Refresh those who rest in him (he refreshes my soul.  He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.  Psalm 23:3).  He does Restore those who wait on him (who Restores to me the joy of your salvation and grants me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Psalm 51:12).  If you decide not to read this book, then by all means incorporate a daily time with God.  Try something new, like a devotion or book that will challenge you and encourage your daily walk with Jesus.  Commit to a regular time with God in His word in prayer and journal the words God gives you.  Join a Bible Study Group, a Prayer Group, or a lifeGroup.  Because each person responds to something different, consider this Essential Life Question: “What in life brings me joy”?  Then integrate that activity or spiritual discipline in your time with God.  See how He Renews you daily for the plans and purpose he has for you as His chosen child.   Be aware and rejoice (I just love re words) in what God is doing within your spirit for his glory and for the sake of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  God will Renew (but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.  Isaiah 40:31)  

Reformation is another important word for 2017.  God is at work as the Church focuses on Reformation.  What will that mean in your life?  Rest-Refresh-Restore-Reform-Renew in the Jesus Our LORD. 

New Year’s Resolution?

Did you resolve to do something different in 2017?  If so, how is it going? 

I wish I had a dollar for every time I said I wanted to read the Bible more, or said I wanted to have a quiet time more regularly.  Actually, I would rather have just done those things. 

When I look back at the times I’ve been most successful, and most engaged in my own reading of scripture, it’s been when I have someone to discuss it with.  lifeGroup can work this way, but so can family or anyone willing to talk about what you’re reading and learning. 

So, here is my New Year’s challenge: ask someone to read and talk about the Bible with you.  For me it works better to read and think about it before I get together to talk with someone.  For others, it’s better to journal, or to read it right when you’re going to talk about it. However you think it might work best, do that. 

I’m meeting with a friend and we’re going through Nehemiah one chapter per week.  Pick a book of the Bible, maybe Romans to help prepare you for what we’re talking about in worship.

If you want a reading plan, there are many available at www.biblegateway.com

If you find you’re not sure how to read the Bible, check out our Disciple’s Utility Kit under resources on our website: www.livelifetogether.com/discipleship-read You don’t need to have any experience reading the Bible to jump in with any of the resources there. Whatever you do, invite a friend or family member to discuss it with you, and see what God will do with it in this next month and year. 

If you haven’t kept up with a resolution, or didn’t start, consider this a chance to start again, and have fun! 

I would love to hear how God uses your time reading and talking about how He wants you to respond to His Word.  If you have a story or feedback, please Share It with me in the comments below or via email: mwipperman@lifelivetogether.com

Matt and his wife, Kate, have lived on the East side of Madison since 2003 and love it. They can't wait for the day when they walk to lifeGroup and lifeWorship with neighbors. Matt and Kate were married in 2000, have been lifeGroup leaders and are coaches. Matt worked as an Electrical Engineer for 11 years prior to joining the church team and completing the Specific Ministry Pastor (SMP) program through Concordia Seminary St. Louis. He loves wrestling with ideas and is always looking for teammates who are looking to practice living as disciples. You might find Matt working at a library or coffee shop, exercising at the YMCA, playing basketball or ultimate Frisbee, hiking, or camping with Kate. Looking for a teammate?