When Life Gives You More Than You Can Stand

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Sometimes life is excruciating.

People always say that “God won’t give you more than you can stand,” but that’s not biblical and I don’t think that is actually true.

Recently I celebrated the life of a gentleman who endured greater suffering and hardship than I can’t fully imagine. Just one example: he felt everything and everyone he loved slip from his grasp after the death of his beloved wife just weeks after the birth of their first and only child.

He entered a time of darkness and shadows that left him doubting. He doubted God, the worth of life, even the reason for living. Those who loved him feared that he might harm himself. Out of the grief and anguish of life he poured himself into the consuming purpose of building a business. That pursuit created an opening for God to act over time. Through family and friends this man was led from the dark world of despair into the light of hope and faith.

He came to peace with God, and to a new and deeper appreciation of the Word of God.

Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:7 that God has placed a sacred treasure in “clay pots, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.”

What this gentleman learned through the life of his church and the ministry of loving friends was that when life gives you more than you can stand, it is time to kneel.

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Celebrities and Faith

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In a recent blog post, Amy McGuire reflected on the number of celebrities that have been coming out about their faith.

Denzel Washington has talked of faith, prayer and gratitude to God. Mark Wahlberg spoke to an audience in Boston and described how his faith is the anchor that supports everything he does in life, “In my daily prayers, I ask for guidance, strength in my vocation as a husband and as a father.” Actress Leah Remini posted photos on Instagram of her daughter’s baptism, saying that faith is “a beautiful thing.” Stephen Colbert and Jim Gaffigan are two celebrities that frequently acknowledge and celebrate their faith, and even Mark Zuckerberg, who described himself as an atheist, recently said that he now believes that, “religion is very important.”

What does all this mean?

We now live in a broadly diverse culture where faith is no longer assumed. It was unnecessary to even discuss faith or belief 50 years ago because of the assumption that everyone believed in God.

Today, people are searching, and very few know where to turn to even discuss matters of spirituality. That is why it is essential to think through what you believe about faith, prayer, a relationship with God; because there are people you love who would love to know what you believe. The only way to ever have the conversation is to begin to speak about your experience of God in your life.

Who do you know that doesn’t know Jesus’ love in their life? How can you share your personal experience with them in a way that opens doors?

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Peaks, Valleys & Finish Lines

_f9rjr86qf4-michal-parzuchowskiRecently, a young pastor asked me what I know now that I wished I had known when I was his age and just starting in ministry. What a good question. How would you answer that query regarding your life?

I thought for a long moment, and this is what I told him:

Life is a series of peaks and valleys. When you are in the valleys of life, perspective is severely limited as the view is so dark and narrow, but when you attain the peaks of life the view is expansive and unrestricted – you can actually see clearly the circumstances surrounding your life.

Unfortunately, in life we spend more time in the valley and on the middle ground than we ever do on the mountain top. Compounding the problem, we tend to make critical decisions when we are in the depths of the valley, which is the worst time to make crucial course corrections because we see so little and feel so much fear and apprehension. The best time to make life decisions is when we approach or reach the summit, for then we can truly see. If we give up in the valley, we will never reach the peaks of life.

And that brought me to finish lines.

I believe that that greatest joys and rewards are reserved for those who persevere in life and press on to the finish line. It feels altogether different to finish a marathon, as opposed to any short dash. Life is a marathon, and the sweetest rewards belong to those who press on to the goal. The greatest years in work, marriage, ministry, parenting, and friendship are not the very first years, but the years when the relationships have been tested and found true; when people have endured the valleys and pressed on together toward the summit. Most folks don’t ever make the finish line because they have quit the race in the shadows of the valley.

I said to that young pastor that I wished someone had told me that the journey would be far more difficult and challenging than I could ever imagine, with deeper valleys and darker shadows. Ah, but even more so I wished someone had dared to tell me that the peaks would be higher, the rewards richer, if only I kept the faith and followed the Unfailing Guide.

He nodded. Not sure he understood, but then I’m not sure I would have understood, either.

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When Life Gets Crazy

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I’m embarrassed and a little ashamed to admit that when I first started in ministry and life became chaotic, the easiest place to cut back was in my time with God.

That may seem completely crazy for a preacher to say, but it was true. The prayer time, the time in the Word, the time with devotions and books that fed my soul, all of that was far less demanding than the staff member that needed to be seen, the funeral that needed to be done, the sermon that needed to be written, the son or daughter that needed loving time and attention.

So, I would give God short shift. Dashing off a quick prayer, scanning a few verses of scripture, I would promise God that I would do better when time allowed. And God never complained. It is the nature of God’s love to allow us the freedom to turn our backs on Him anytime, anywhere, under any circumstance. And God never complains. But there are significant consequences to be suffered: a sense of loss and lacking, the lost sense of intimacy with the Divine, a hollowness of life that leaves me feeling more fatigued. I quickly realized that when life becomes crazy the very last thing I could afford to lose was my connection to God.

Now, when life verges on the overwhelming, I stop writing and start listening to God with greater time, intensity and focus. It keeps me grounded and well equipped for the challenges of the moment.

Since Christmas I have been dealing with my mother’s deteriorating health and mental acuity, as well as many funerals, staff transition, the demands of a two-campus strategy, and everything else that goes with large church ministry. I’m not complaining; quite the contrary, actually. I’m at peace with my mom’s health, praying daily for her eventual transition from this life to the life that is ours in Christ. For her, she will be with my dad again for the first time in more than 45 years, and she will hold in her arms the child she lost right after birth. That will be such a blessing.

As for the funerals – for me it is such a privilege to celebrate the lives of the saints in our church. It is a rare blessing to be able to tell their stories and rejoice in their lives that have not ended, but dawned anew.

Ah, and the staff – they are so incredible; I’m more excited now than I have ever been about working with the amazing professional team of people we call The Summit Staff! Our new building should be open in 18 weeks, and that is nothing short of a miracle! We now have the congregation and staff to make it a place of incredible ministry!

In short, it is well with me; I just haven’t had the time to tell you so. Please forgive my lack of writing, it is not indicative of a lack of love or commitment. I’ve just needed to spend the time with God.

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Hugs Mean More Than Words

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Personal Note from our Counselor in Residence, Peggy Brooks  

As one of the leaders of the GriefShare Program that The Summit Church has provided the past four years, Staci Allen The Summit’s Care Ministry Director, approached me last summer about hosting a Grief Support Group this fall. Knowing God would bring the people that could benefit from this group, the praying and planning began.

I was absolutely delighted that God brought together five amazingly wonderful women. Four had been recently widowed and one had been widowed for a number of years. My job was to make the book assignments, ask the first question, and then sit back and watch these ladies share and minister to each other.

There were tears shed as each woman shared her personal story that first meeting, but as the seven-week group progressed, there was lots of laughter mixed in with the tears. Hearts were shared. Comfort was given. Helpful ideas as to how to survive the loneliness that can consume you after the death of a loved one were also shared. I learned so much from these lovely ladies, and will share the two things in which they all agreed: weekends are the loneliest times and hugs mean more than words.

As the end of the group neared, I was so pleased when the group decided they wanted to continue meeting together at least once a month and asked if we all could go out for dinner together after our last formal meeting. We did have dinner together and it was such a blessing to sit there and observe what God had done in the lives of these women by simply spending time with a group of people who were also on their own individual journeys through grief. The healing had begun.

Note: GriefShare is a 10-week program The Summit does every year and runs from February through the first part of April. We will meet Tuesday evenings from 6:30 – 8:00 pm beginning February 7, 2017 and end April 11. Men and women are welcome to sign-up for both programs. Sign up here! Questions? Contact Staci Allen at sallen@reachingthesummit.com.

Embarrassed by Tears

pexels-photo-24165After worship a few weekends ago, a woman approached me and apologized. She said to me, “I’m so sorry . . . Every time I come to church I cry, and I’m so embarrassed by the tears that I rarely come anymore.” I’m not exactly sure what I said in the moment; folks were pressed around us and it always feels rushed at the close of worship. But what I think I said – what I hope I said – was that she should never be embarrassed by tears shed in the house of the Lord.

Laughter and tears are closely intertwined with the heart, the very seat of our emotions. Being in God’s house, daring to truly worship and choosing to truly listen, leaves us susceptible to the very emotions we often work so hard to keep in check. Bottling up deep feelings, or pretending they don’t exist, may be what we are taught to do out in the world, but that is not what we are invited to do in the presence of The Divine.

Last weekend in worship I told the story of strong man who lost his granddaughter to an incurable cancer. He wept, deeply, as would I. The house of God is the place where tears are seen and laughter is heard, for this is the one place we can stand before God and others and be revealed for who we are – His beloved children.

If that woman didn’t hear me then, I pray she hears me now: Never let your tears keep you from God’s house, for in this place you can fully, and freely, experience His love and grace.

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Accidental Invite

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Not sure if you caught this on Yahoo News, but they carried a great story of an accidental invitation for a Thanksgiving dinner.

It seems that Wanda Dench had texted her grandson to invite him over for the family Thanksgiving dinner at her house. Her grandson had gotten a new phone and new number and had forgotten to let his grandmother know, so her text went instead to Jamal Hinton. Wanda and Jamal quickly realized that they were not related and that he wasn’t invited for Thanksgiving. That’s when Jamal asked if it was possible to “still get a plate?”

In true grandmotherly fashion, Wanda invited him over for Thanksgiving dinner by saying, “Of course you can! That’s what grandmas do.” The story went viral and Jamal was asked about the experience: “I’m thankful for all the nice people in the world. I never met her… and she welcomed me into her house, so that shows me how great a person she is.”

Thanksgiving is past, but Christmas is right around the corner. Why not think out of the box and extend an invitation to someone you don’t even know well to join you at The Lord’s House? Such an invitation from you might just renew their faith in humanity, and lead them to discover a new faith in God!

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What’s Behind the Logo…

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(Guest Post: Cigi Embry, The Summit’s Graphic Designer)

Everything we do at The Summit Church revolves around one man who lived a perfect life and died on the cross for our sins. Everything we do at The Summit Church is to help people Love God, Grow in Faith and Live for Others by pointing to Biblical truths about Jesus.

Everything we do points to Jesus. Including our logo.

You may have noticed in the past few months we have re-branded. I’d like to tell you about it from a graphic designer’s standpoint.

A logo is the core of our identity, it’s purpose is to define and symbolize the character of our organization. This means our logo must not only be visually attractive and functional, but also must mean something. As a designer, I don’t consider myself an artist; my job is to visually problem solve. When I was given the challenge to re-brand The Summit’s logo, I had to solve what our brand looks like, I had to consider what our church is all about.

Let’s start at the bottom. The blue “summit” symbolizes Love God. It represents Jesus as our foundation. Believing in the sinless life, death and resurrection of Jesus is the first step to Loving God (Romans 10:9-10 NIV). He is our rock, and we hope that people will find life or be reminded of their foundation here. This is a very important aspect of the logo; for the church’s purpose and existence doesn’t even matter apart from the foundation of Jesus.

The negative space of the white “arrow” symbolizes Grow in Faith. It represents a vertical relationship with Jesus and continual spiritual growth as individuals and as a congregation.

The gray area, I like to call “the world” symbolizes Live for Others. I believe once we authentically Love God, understand what Jesus has done for us, and begin or continue to Grow in Faith, that Jesus calls us to “go into all the world and preach the gospel,” (Mark 16:15 NIV) and serve others. We are to fill the world with the Good News, whether that’s locally or overseas, as the gray area completes and fills the space in the logo.

Lastly, the outer stroke on the logo symbolizes the importance of all three statements. For example, you can’t Grow in Faith without Loving God. The stroke of the logo holds our three mission statements together. One cannot happen without the other, just as “abundant and purposeful life,” (John 10:10 ESV) cannot happen apart from the one true God that hold our lives together.

So there you have it. Possibly a bunch of nerdy design information that you may have no interest in. But, I hope you’ll join me in being proud of The Summit, it’s logo and it’s character as we are on mission together for the Kingdom of Jesus.

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Christmas Conversations

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Thanksgiving is past, so it is now permissible to play Christmas music at my house. My better half, MaryAnn, believes that Christmas prep cannot legitimately begin until after Thanksgiving has been appropriately celebrated.

While thinking and planning for Christmas, I stumbled across some stats that surprised me. For instance, 92% of all Americans celebrate Christmas, including 81% of non-Christians. Even more surprisingly, 87% of people with no religious beliefs whatsoever celebrate Christmas, as do 76% of Buddhists and 73% of Hindus.

As if all this isn’t interesting enough, 51% of all Americans say that they celebrate Christmas as a religious celebration; 32% celebrate it as a cultural holiday. Ah, but 73% of Americans believe that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary; 81% believe he was laid in a manager; 74% believe that an angel announced Jesus’ arrival; and 75% believe that wise men, led by a star, brought Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Only 14% of the American population believe that none of the above actually happened.

So, as you listen to Christmas songs, make lists, and hang decorations, what do all the stats mean to you?

To me, it means there is fertile ground for great conversation with people you know who do not know God’s love in their lives!

You can start the conversation by just asking what their Christmas tradition is, or if they do anything special to celebrate Christmas. If that goes well, ask what they think it all means. The stats above may be great grist for the conversation. Who knows? You may be asked what you think of Christmas, what you believe it all means. And what an opportunity that is, not just to reminisce about past Christmases, but to talk about the God you know loves you so much He sent His Son to be born a babe in Bethlehem. This Christmas may afford you the first chance to share true Christmas love and joy with someone who has yet to experience it.

Be ready for the moment!

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Thanksgiving Wishes

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In 1863, when Abraham Lincoln invited the nation to focus their hearts on Thanksgiving, he offered one of the most eloquent presidential proclamations of gratitude to God, specifically for the blessings showered upon this great nation. What was distinctive about his Thanksgiving message of 1863 was the call for national unity. His words still echo through the ages:

“The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies…”

This opening statement stunned the nation, given that the country was in the depths of the Civil War. In that particular year, the Battle of Gettysburg had cost the lives of 27% of the Union forces, 37% of the Confederacy’s soldiers.

And yet, in spite of the deep divide in the nation, Abraham Lincoln spoke of “the whole American people,” inviting the nation to observe Thanksgiving “with one heart and one voice.” He made no specific reference to the North or to the South, but instead spoke of the one nation under God.

For the past year we have witnessed, and participated in, one of the most divisive presidential campaigns of my lifetime. The fault lines in our nation are more evident today than at any time in my recollection. Anger and frustration seem to echo in the strident voices raised across the political spectrum. Exacerbating the divide, politics has become deeply personal, in attack and rebuttal. Such a political environment has caused some to even despair of the future. I do not.

I believe that God is a significant player in all of history, working for the good in all circumstances. It is dangerous demagoguery to point to any politician and to identify him or her with God’s will, or for that matter, with the devil’s. Instead, I think we should take a broad view of history and see how God has engaged the hearts of good-willed women and men and then used them for hope, not hate; blessings, not curses. That is the healing touch our nation needs at this moment of brokenness.

Evidence of God’s involvement in the past gives me hope for the future, and cause for Thanksgiving. On Thursday, as I help at church to prepare meals for delivery to those in need in our community, I will be thinking of and praying for our nation, and for the people like you who make it great. And I will thank God for you, and for the joy of being part of a community of faith committed to a future of blessing!

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