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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People are Fascinating

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The market for athleisure clothing has exploded over the past 7 years. The trend includes athletic footwear, apparel and accessories. Names like Lululemon, Lucy, Lorna Jane, Gap Body, Athleta and Nike have become hot, with rapidly growing demand and matching profits. But there is a fascinating aspect to the explosion of athleisure attire. It seems that although the clothing is designed and sold to accommodate an active, fit lifestyle, most people just wear the clothing, shoes and accessories, without actually ever working out in it.

For example, sales of yoga pants are 10 times greater than the actual number of folks who ever actually do yoga, which suggest that we love the look without necessarily embracing the lifestyle.

Much has been made of the exploding number of people who respond “none” when asked about their faith or religious beliefs and practices. Some are shocked and terrified by the stats; frankly, I’m not. For most of the 20th century there was a strong stigma attached to being agnostic or atheistic, prompting some to wear the trappings of faith without ever embracing the lifestyle. Coupled with the stigma was a strong incentive to be affiliated with a church, as a recommendation from a pastor was often required for a new job or a mortgage loan.  A significant shift in our culture is the dropping of any expectation of faith and practice. People really don’t care what others believe or how they live, so long as it doesn’t intrude on them.

In reality, people no longer pretend about church.

So, what does that mean for the 21st century church?

First, it shatters the illusion (delusion?) that everyone is already a Christian. I came of age when everyone assumed everyone was a Christian, so there was no need to even talk about faith. As is now clear, that is gross misperception.

Second, it makes clear that there is an incredible opportunity to impact the world, and the greatest mission field is right here where we live!

And finally, it finally reveals who is with you on the journey and who could care less. It is the label versus lifestyle distinction.

You see, when it comes to matters of faith, it is not so much about what you say or insinuate (label), but it is all about what you choose to do (lifestyle). As has been true in every generation for the last 2 millennia, those who are committed to following Christ will do so, and in the process change the world. For those who do more than merely wear the labels, this is going to be an exciting, exhilarating adventure! I’m thrilled to share the journey with you!

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Prayers for our Nation

pexels-photo-28637-largeListening to Christians describe their choices for President I detect a note of panic. The sentiments expressed, especially the frustration and apprehension, is completely understandable, but I must challenge the panicked conclusions.

Sometime tonight, or very early tomorrow, the announcement will be made declaring a winner in the presidential campaign. Despite the dire predictions, the sun will come up and God will still be God, and in the morning I will be praying for whoever our next president will be, as I have prayed for our present and previous presidents.

The reason I’m at peace about the outcome is not because of my faith in either of the candidates; quite the contrary, actually. The reason I will find hope and confidence is because of God.

If you study the scriptures you realize that God used a drunkard (Noah), a prostitute (Rahab), and an adulterous murderer (King David) for His divine purposes. Just reading the names of the Kings of Israel triggers in most instances a sense of deep revulsion. If God was able to work in and through them, there is no doubt in my mind that God can and will work in and through Hillary or Donald. That, my friends, is the nature of faith.

Ah, but such faith in God does not absolve me, or you, from the responsibility of making the world a far different place. John Lovell, in his LinkedIn blog post, written in response to worship last weekend, said this:

“Leading starts with serving–serving your community, your organization, your teammates, your business, your family. To serve, is to lead.

Adopting the servant leader mindset will create wholesale changes in our communities, businesses and families. A new set of leaders will rise up and begin to represent our country as we know it should.

Mahatma Gandi said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

That change starts with serving.” 

I couldn’t agree more.

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Surviving When You Fear it Will be a Blue Christmas

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After my father died, I recall my mother saying that the “firsts” were the worst: the first birthday without him, the first Thanksgiving, the first Christmas, the first anniversary of his death.

I think that she was partially right. The “firsts” are heartbreaking and painful, but that doesn’t mean the “seconds” or “thirds” will be significantly better, unless you do something to change the patterns of pain.

If this is your first holiday season of Thanksgiving and Christmas without someone you love, or if it is the 2nd, 5th or 10th and you are still struggling, I want to offer heartfelt help in coping with the pain, while preserving the precious memories. Here is a process that will move you closer to the comfort and strength of the heart of God:

First step: Make a list of the blessings and joys you shared over the years with the person you love. Rather than making you feel worse, such a list shifts your focus from the loss you have endured to the joy you have experienced. This is a key step in the grieving process, as it moves your heart from the ache of grief to the comfort of gratitude. Thank God for every blessing and joy listed, and list even more. Dare to share elements of your list with people who love and support you. Refusing to talk about the one you have lost only isolates you in your grief.

Second: Step out of your isolation and make plans now to attend the Surviving the Holidays event at church on November 5th from 3-5pm. This time with members of our Pastoral Care team will help equip you for the difficult days when the grief may seem overwhelming. Such moments may cause you to feel all alone; being a part of the church reminds you that you are never alone. Christ is always with you, and He sends people to be His love in your life. Make plans to attend, and make a commitment to someone else to be present. Such a commitment is difficult to break if you waver at the last minute. Reach out to Staci Allen, our Director of Pastoral Care, and let her know that you will be coming so we can expect you or register here.

Third: Offer your help to someone else. Nothing opens your eyes to the love of God like sharing that love with another. There is no doubt that there is someone you know who is struggling this season with grief or pain. Even though you may feel ill-equipped, reach out to them and offer your support. It may be a phone call, a letter, or even something made with love delivered  by you . . . In whatever love language you are comfortable, reach out to someone hurting this holiday season.

Final step: Start something new: a new tradition, a new endeavor, a new Thanksgiving observance or Christmas practice. Whatever appeals to you, start something new, as it stirs the heart and comforts the soul!

And if you take all the steps, will you cease to grieve? No. You may always grieve, but with each step you take that draws you closer to the heart of God, your grief will change from heartbreaking pain to heartfelt gratitude for the love and life shared with the one you are missing.

Blessings this Thanksgiving and Christmas season,

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We Don’t Need Any Extras…

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It’s a pleasure for me to be a guest writer on The Summit blog! I’m not Yale educated like Pastor Jim, but I hope to be able to spark some thoughts for us. I’d like start with a question, share some scripture, and then make you an invitation. First, let’s start with the question. It’s one that, as a worship leader, I’ve had to wrestle with. Do you want to know what it is? Can you feel the anticipation building? Do you wish I’d just shut up already and ask the question? Okay, okay, here goes: why do we sing at church?

Hmm. Have you thought about that lately? Have you ever thought about it? If so, what have you come up with? Maybe it’s answers like, it’s traditionally something you do at church. Or the Bible tells us to. Or that singing is a form of prayer. Or because the worship leader tells me to! All of these are true, but I’d like to suggest something that you may not have thought about. Ephesians 5:18-19 says, “Do not get drunk with wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord…”

You may think that the first part of verse 18 kind of sticks out. Here’s the context: in certain pagan religious rituals in the first century, alcohol would be used to “enhance the experience,” as it were. People believed that by using alcohol they could reach a higher level of consciousness during their religious ceremonies. What the Apostle Paul is saying here is that we don’t need any of those extras to meet with God and ‘be filled with the Spirit.’

What’s that have to do with your question, you may be asking. Why do we sing at church? Paul tells us: to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Singing together with the body of Christ empowers us and turns our hearts back to God. When we sing and make music to God, our souls are reminded of the gospel and what’s been done for us. Gratitude grows, and we’re filled with the Holy Spirit.

If you’re reading this blog, it’s probably safe to say you’re following Jesus and want to continually be filled with His Spirit. Here’s how: sing. I’d love to have you join us in our Worship Center on Sunday night November 6th at 6pm for a special night solely focused on worship. We’ll sing, we’ll remember what Jesus has done for us, and be filled once again with the power of His Holy Spirit. I hope you’ll join me.

 

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Jesse Land
Contemporary Worship Director at The Summit

Desperately Seeking… What?

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Alison Stewart, investigative reporter and former news anchor, has penned a book about our obsession with stuff. The book, Junk: Digging through America’s Love Affair with Stuff, takes a critical look at the lives of those caught in the unhealthy addiction to stuff, and the businesses created to accommodate the compulsion to acquire.

In one section Steward describes the self-storage business that has arisen to make space for all of our stuff. This is what she wrote:

“Self-storage has its own association and lobbying group because it is big business, generating more than $24 billion in revenues in 2014. The United States is home to reportedly 48,500 to 52,000 self-storage units. That’s about 2.3 billion square feet of storage. It is a business that has been called recession resistant by the Wall Street Journal.”

$24 billion! Just to help us deal with all the stuff we have already spent a lifetime and a fortune collecting.

Stewart goes on to list the new genre of reality tv that has arisen around the cult of stuff. The partial list of shows includes American Pickers, Auction Hunters, Auction Kings, Buried Treasure, Flea Market Flip, Hoarders, Junk Gypsies, Junkyard Wars, Pawn Stars, Picker Sisters, Storage Wars and the spinoff – Storage Wars Texas.

Just skimming the book leads to the irrefutable conclusion that Americans are desperately seeking something. Since we don’t know what it is, we feed the hunger by literally acquiring tons of stuff. And why? Because there is a sense that what is most treasured and precious is missing from our lives.

Jesus said that coming to know Him is like finding a buried treasure; once discovered you just have to have it if you are to ever find true peace and joy.

Here’s the real irony: the true treasure can only be held in your heart, not your storage unit. That treasure is His love for you.

And by the way, it’s a gift and completely free.

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