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.
So maybe you’re thinking about joining a Summit team going to Africa this year. Or maybe you’re thinking about sponsoring a child. Or maybe you just find yourself thinking about Summit’s partnerships in Africa but you’re not exactly sure why.
When my wife Kelly asks me, “Do you love me?” I know something is off in our relationship. That’s not the kind of question that gets asked just because. She doesn’t ask me that so she can hear me poetically describe my love for her using the Song of Solomon—saying her hair is like a flock of goats or her cheeks like pomegranates. She’s asking because she doesn’t feel loved.
One of the most beloved traditions we have at Summit is giving away the entirety of our Christmas Eve Offering to ministry outside the walls of Summit. Past offerings have gone to church planting, non-profit startups, global justice work, strategic initiatives with our global partners, etc. This year I am thrilled to inform you that the Christmas Eve Offering will be used to benefit vulnerable children in our own city through the very exciting work of two churches with whom Summit is forming a committed friendship.
A little over three years ago, while traveling with my oldest son Samuel to visit friends in Uganda, I was struck by the thought that not everyone in our world or even in our church has a clear sense of our core identity as a church.
The Riverside community is a small area that lies in the northern region of the Central Florida area. For years, though most of us didn’t even know exactly where it is, Summit’s staff, prayer team, and I have known it’s name. You see, one of the most consistent prayer requests I can expect to see from the Lake Mary Campus each week is, in one way or another, for Riverside.
The sun is shining, although there’s a chill in the air. The sound of hammering is thick and chaotic. There are ladders and boards, and people milling about everywhere. There’s work being done, by many different hands. A laugh echoes across the property and you see in the faces of those gathered that there’s more being built here than just a house: we’re building a home.
It feels impossible to express the joy the children of Ethiopia gifted me. It feels impossible to express the courage and strength of the women I now call sisters. It feels impossible to tell the story of how I flew across the world with 11 strangers and flew back with the only 11 people who will ever understand why I’ve got the joy down in my heart.
Over the summer, during times I was exercising, I listened to The Boys in the Boat, a very well-written book on the 1936 USA crew team that won the Olympics in Nazi Germany. It is an inspiring true tale of the quest for glory undertaken by a group of young men who rose from depression-era underdogs to icons of their sport and the American spirit.
The first time I prayed a desperate, cry-from-the-heart, kind of prayer was when I was about 8 years old and our cat went missing. I went into my bedroom, kneeled in front of a small statue of Jesus, and begged him to bring Smutty Nose back. While I was still on my knees, I heard my sister yell from the driveway, “Guys! Guys! Smutty Nose is back.”
Movies have always been really important to me. In moments of boredom, a movie is a quick and easy cure. In uncomfortable social settings, when my confidence is nothing more than a dog with its tail between its legs cowering in some dark corner of my mind, hearing someone quote a line from a movie I love is an instant bonding experience, one that gives me some ground to stand on.
“Do you know Jesus?” “What? Yeah, I know Jesus.” “No. I mean do you know him as your personal Lord and Savior? Do you know that he died for your sins on a cross and rose from the dead three days later?”
“For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.” There it was. The first verse I was supposed to dedicate to memory during my summer long study on Romans. I was a little annoyed by it. I had memorized this verse when I was about 6 years old. Hello! Awana Bible drill, platinum crown holding Christian club member here! I’m gonna need a little more than a 12 word prepositional phrase to feel challenged.
David Kaplan sits in a room full of men. The mood is somber, yet welcoming. Heavy, yet free of judgement and shame. He fidgets slightly in his chair as another man shares why he showed up tonight: the struggles he can’t beat on his own, the sins he’s been fighting for ages, and his desire to be known and loved despite how messed up he is; how messed up he feels.
Have you ever been a part of something historic and experienced that moment when you think, “Wow, I am so glad that I got to be a part of that!”? I am thinking of truly historic culture defining moments like, the moon landing, the fall of the Berlin wall, the first Free Willy movie, and now Summit’s 2017 Backpack Drive.
When I showed up last summer for the first night of For Her, I expected it to be a good opportunity to hear from some of the prominent female voices in our congregation and to hangout with my girlfriends. But I did not expect to feel so deeply understood and seen in a room full of women.
I’m going to be honest... this spring the Connect group I am a part of did an in-depth study of the book of James chapter-by-chapter. It was amazing. However, when we found out that Summit was doing a summer long series on the book of James there was a little (or maybe a big) moan of “oh man…we just did that!”
My friend, Maria, is a social worker for an elementary school in a distressed neighborhood outside of Atlanta. At the end of this last school year, a third grade girl was brought to her office after having a melt down. The girl had always been a good student and never had any behavioral problems. The teacher’s aide escorting her in said that the young girl had been found crying in the bathroom clutching her backpack.
When I first accepted Jesus into my heart, I experienced a supernatural peace that defied all logic or understanding. It went to the very core of my being and I knew that there was a God who loved me and that my sins and guilt were washed clean.
I often viewed Christianity as simply one giant do-not-do list. Stay away from doing X, Y, and Z and you’ll be in favor with God. I suspect much of the outside world views Christianity in this same light as well.
At the IJM Orlando Prayer Gathering, we got to hear about the work that’s happening to end slavery and we had the opportunity to pray for some specific issues IJM is facing around the world. Whether or not you were able to make it, these are the things that were prayed for and we will continue to pray for.