On April 29th, 2018, Nikki Blanton walked into the water at Bethune Beach and—moments before she was baptized—her eyes filled up with tears. Nikki, who grew up in South Africa and attended an Anglican church every Sunday, explains that while she had a foundation of faith growing up it “always kind of felt like it was out there, not in here.”
In Ephesians 1:17, Paul tells the Ephesians he prays for them as follows, “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.” There you have it: Father, Son and Holy Spirit all working together for the Ephesians’ (and our) benefit.
Of course Jesus was a storyteller. He is the one who created us for story. He knew we would need stories to pass down his wisdom from generation to generation. He knew we would need stories to build depth of relationship in community. He knew we would need stories to make sense of this broken world.
When I first learned that Summit would be producing Godspell, my response was simple. I Googled it. Sure, I had heard the name “Godspell” before and had a general idea of what the show was about (God…?), but beyond that I didn’t have much to go on. For anyone who, like me, missed the memo on this popular, almost 50-year-old musical, the premise is simple. Based on the Gospel of Matthew, Godspell follows Jesus and a small group of friends as they bring his teachings to life.
For the few years my husband Josh and I have been attending Summit, there’s been a backpack drive. Last summer was the same as previous years. Walk into Sunday service, take a postcard in the shape of a backpack with a nifty list on the back of what to fill in it. We love the idea of helping our community, especially children, but it can be expensive to do on your own.
Last year I spoke at For Her and it was the most surreal night of my 2017 and I met the Backstreet Boys in 2017, so there was some fierce competition. Female friendships have always been a challenge for me. I worry a lot that I’m too much and yet simultaneously not nearly enough.
My story is one that is all too familiar to many—growing up as a girl from all over, searching for community and meaning in different places, enduring under the hand of someone who was not who he appeared to be, and longing for freedom. I lived a life that, at the time, an outsider would assume was right up next to perfect. But in our home things were rather opposite, leaving the this girl seeking escape. Escape came in the form of moving across the country for college and finding some of that longed-for community. The figurative wounds began to scar over and life began to feel different.
As the Holy-Spirit-inspired historical accounts of four men about the life and death of God’s son, Jesus, the Gospels highlight the tension of varied perspectives. While each Gospel can stand on its own as a reliable account, the authors—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—wrote with different purposes and to different audiences.
Erich Schurga couldn’t believe it the first time one of his fellow Starting Point group members asked the exact question he’d been thinking, but was hesitant to ask. Growing up in a rule-based, Catholic home, Erich thought his questions showed a lack of faith. But in Summit’s Starting Point group he and his wife, Jackie, were encouraged to explore their faith in a conversational environment where no questions were off limits.
I am not very good at prayer, I think because I’m too busy doing stuff—stuff that I think is important and necessary and, well, I just don’t have time to stop and pray. How would I ever get things done?
It looked like a quiet camp site, deep in the woods of Wisconsin, where Lauren and Mark Lanker took a week to journal, canoe, marvel at God’s creation, and actually rest. It was in that quiet that the words they had heard in a sermon almost a year prior finally took root, not only in their hearts, but in their lives. It was there that their need for true and routine rest became more real than the fear of dropping all the plates they continually had spinning. It looked like going for it, even though it didn’t seem possible.
I use to not really like kids. (If you think you’ve accidently clicked on the wrong blog post, you didn’t. This is, in fact, for Team Summer!) I mean, they were fine to be around and I was super glad that other people had them, but when they were in my care, I had no idea what to do. So when a friend asked me if I wanted to join Team Summer in 2012, my gut reaction was “Ummm, no.” But, she asked me to think about it and I told her I would. After some polite nudging on her part, I decided to give it a try.
I’m more of a behind-the-scenes person or a sideline cheerleader, and I love planning events. I’ve had the opportunity to oversee Summit’s Beach Baptism event for the past six years, which—if we are giving numbers—that is 13 baptisms and exactly 1,033 people taking their next step to be baptized.
I’ve been in this season recently where I’ve encountered a potential disconnect between my will and God’s will. I’m hoping and praying for something seemingly impossible. Something that could very well be in God’s plan, but maybe not. I don’t know yet. In this tension God is teaching me some things about my relationship to his will. And one of the ways he’s taught is through Summit’s Gospel Reading Plan.
What is your response when you encounter Jesus? Not necessarily a conversation, but when something in your life clearly suggests that Jesus is at work, or you read a verse of Scripture and find it striking.
When I was asked what I would want to record for the Jesus Songs project, my answer was pretty quick. I had written the bulk of a song called “I Call Him Lord” right after completing my first ever worship album release last year. It’s pretty typical (and frustrating) for me that whenever I get done with some big creative project, it’s usually followed by a wave of creativity that makes the project I just finished seem obsolete already.
When 2017 rolled around, Farrah Torres wanted more than a resolution. She was heartbroken from a seven-year struggle with infertility and done with a faith that felt empty. Even as she went to service every Sunday she felt alone, longing for greater connection with her Savior and a church community. Farrah says, “It was all just a routine. I was in church, but I honestly didn’t know how to allow God in; how to worship him or live his way. I was ready for more.”
You wouldn’t be surprised to hear 4 and 5 year-olds Caroline and Amelia Frye explain how tall and fast the waterslide at Family Camp was. Nor would it seem odd that they had a favorite camp song that they’re happy to sing for anyone who’s interested (it’s about bananas and it has some pretty cool hand motions to go along with it). However, it was the answer to the question, “What was your favorite part of Family Camp?” that made me stop and realize what a special experience the Frye family had.
In late 2013, Becky had just moved to Orlando and realized really quickly that finding new friends in early adulthood can be tricky. A freshly-graduated Jordan knew she needed an environment to keep up with her faith. And after a previous Connect group had died a “natural, painless death,” Susanna was ready to start her own. And that’s how they got here—varied stories in their rearview mirrors, with different perspectives driving them, and solid friendships up on the horizon.
A few summers ago, Zach posed the question: “If you never get __________ (fill in the blank with your heart’s deepest desire), is Jesus still enough?” I sat there in the Herndon Sanctuary with sad, mad tears streaming down my face because I knew my answer to that question was no. I knew deep down that my hope was not in Christ alone.
I have never been very good at the whole Lent thing—even though I’ve successfully given something up for Lent a number of times. Growing up in the Southern Baptist church, Lent wasn’t something I had any awareness of. So as a freshman in college, newly involved in a church that celebrated the season with the option of fasting from something, I remember being genuinely excited to try it.
I grew up Catholic, so the Lenten season is very familiar to me. I can recall many years trying to find something to give up, usually landing on chocolate or TV (because being in 2nd grade and not having chocolate is a real hard thing). For the past several years, since becoming a mom, I have tried to focus more on a specific spiritual practice to add into my life that will draw me closer to God rather than giving up something tangible.
It happens the same each time: the sermon has just been wrapped up, the band reenters the stage, and the campus minister explains the process, which leaves many wondering how to spell the word intinction.
“Jesus said I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.” Those were some of the first sentences I learned in Wolof, a language spoken in a fair few places in West Africa. Though it’s been more than 10 years since I spent time working there, I have yet to hear or read that verse without it being replayed back to me in my head in Wolof.
As we have begun our journey through reading the Gospels and discovering who Jesus really was as he walked this earth, I have kept this one verse on a loop in the back of my mind. As I’ve allowed the stories of the Gospel of John to play out in my imagination, I find myself looking for the moments in which Jesus faced all of the struggles I face in my own life today—from the intense and painful moments of my life to the seemingly mundane and innocuous ones.
I once asked my 9th-grade girls at Edge if Jesus feels real to them. I asked if they felt the bigness of what God did for us in sending the Messiah to die for our messes. I don’t know that they actually understood what I was asking, but I kept going. “It’s one thing to logically know it, it’s another thing to feel it,” I said to them. Then I told them what I so desperately wish someone had told me when I was their age, “It’s OK if it doesn’t feel real to you right now. It didn’t feel real to me for a long time.”
Not long after leaving the Summit offices for the last time (I was carrying my goldfish under my arm while the staff gave me hugs—it was all very dramatic), I was invited to go on a trip and experience the work of IJM first-hand. As you may imagine, it was a life-altering journey.
Last June, I walked into Cathy Drake’s Thornton Park home—full of strangers—for a Connect group meeting. I didn’t go because I wanted to make new friends or because I wanted to get plugged into Summit. I went because I thought I should go. I was wrestling with whether or not Jesus is who he said he is and the implications it would have for my life if I chose to believe it.