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Guess What?

Posted: June 17, 2013 in Uncategorized

I’m moving to a new page! I decided I needed to get focused on something God started to stir in me last year. Last year, in my Leading by Design post, I have been getting more and more drawn to the idea artistic leadership. So, if you’re curious, check it out at leadingbydesign.org. I may still post here from time to time if I write something that doesn’t fit in the mold of creative leadership. Thank you so much for your encouragement and support over the past few years. I’ve had a blast connecting with you!

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Here is most of the message I preached at Resonate Church on Mother’s Day, 2013: 

Before my mom was born, she had the RH factor. The RH factor meant that your blood type was incompatible with your mother’s blood. These days we have treatment for it, but in those days treatment was risky. So there was a good chance that my mom would have been born with serious brain damage as she was being born. The doctors encouraged my grandmother to have an abortion. Not only was her daughter’s life in danger, her own health was also at risk. My grandmother (Marlene) flatly refused the abortion. She bravely said, “I will never kill my baby.” There was a doctor who had been experimenting with blood transfusions at birth and he performed the procedure on my mother and she was born a healthy little baby girl. However, my grandmother had many other health issues and remained in the hospital for two years after my mother was born. See, my grandmother was a woman of courage and a believer, but she was a woman who had experienced many setbacks in her life. She was a little like the mother in this story, the story of Naomi and her daughter in law, Ruth. 

So we’re going to be exploring the story of Ruth and Naomi. It would be hard to find a more depressing start to a story. It goes like this: A Jewish lady Naomi has two sons and then they marry two wonderful women. Naomi is a blessed woman. Something you need to understand about this culture is that a woman who has sons is considered more blessed than a woman who has daughters. Basically, the mother in law rules over her daughters in-law until she dies and then the daughter gets to do the same thing to her daughter in law if her son happens to marry. Naomi is the matriarch of the family and she has earned this honor by having sons. So Naomi enjoys this honor and security for 10 solid years. Two sons afforded her the ability to live a long life because they would provide for her needs as she aged. There was no social security or retirement plans. Naomi had to depend on the men in her family to provide. Tragically, in two little verses, Naomi’s world is turned upside down. 

Chapter 1, vs 3-5

Now Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died and she was left with her two sons. They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Kilion (her sons) also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband. 

So, Naomi has lost everything dearest to her. And verse one tells us that there is a famine in the land, so this is not a good situation for Naomi. The only hope for orphans and widows in those days was to go out into the fields and after the harvesters had picked off all the grain, they could come behind them and pick up the scraps. It would be almost like if our bussers in our restaurants could get paid only by eating the scraps left over from people’s dinners. That was how people survived and didn’t starve. 

Well, in a famine, as you can image, people are starving and things could get ugly in those fields, especially for a poor defenseless old woman. Naomi knew her fate and she is kind enough not to wish that fate on her young daughters in law. She encourages them to do the sensible thing and go on without her. Their best bet would be to find new husbands so that they could be provided for and so that they could hopefully have sons who would take care of them in their old age. 

She encourages them to go back to their own people. So Orpah does leave for her homeland, even though her goodbye is tearful. She goes back to her hometown to try to find a husband and we never hear from her again. She returns to her people and her gods, her old way of life. She sees no other way and neither does Naomi. The Jewish God and the Jewish way of life will only be a distant memory for her. 

But Ruth is different. See, when she married into this family, she made a vow, but it was not just to her husband. She made a vow to serve this Jewish God, to be loyal to all the members of her household, even unto death. This Ruth was hard core! She was a Jew in her heart and nothing could change that. She would not allow it.

Do you ever feel like life has afforded you no choices? That you cannot afford to life the way God wants you to live? Maybe you tell yourself, I know I’m not supposed to, but God knows I can’t afford to live by myself, so I’ve got to live with my boyfriend. I don’t have a choice. Or maybe you make morally questionable choices to get ahead at work, thinking you have no choice. Many people have done crazy stupid things in life because they felt that they were out of options. One thing we see from this story, you always have a choice. 

Orpah felt that she had no choice. She left Israel with tears. She didn’t want to do it, but felt she had no choice but to go back to her old life and her old gods. And Naomi agreed with her. Naomi was in such a state of despair that she could not believe that there was a better way. 

Check out what she said to her daughters in law in the second part of vs. 13

“It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has gone out against me.” 

Then, after Naomi goes back to where she grew up, her friends see her and they think, can this be you? She says this to them, down in vs. 20,

“Don’t call me Naomi (which means pleasant), call me Mara (which means bitter) because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me (or testified against me); the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the climate in Naomi’s life. It was bitterness and utter hopelessness. Remember how I said that Moms set the tone for the family? Naomi and Ruth were now a two person family and it must have been hard for Ruth not to sink into the depths of despair right along with her. 

I think if I were Ruth, I might have taken offense at my mother in law telling everyone she came back empty. I would think, “Hey, Mom, you still got me! What am I? Chopped liver? Don’t I bring any joy into your life? Don’t I count for something?” 

 Have you ever tried to comfort someone who won’t be comforted? It is one of the most powerless feelings, isn’t it?

I want to continue the story of my grandmother Marlene and my mom, Cathy. So, I told you that Marlene was in the hospital for two years after my mom was born. This did not create the greatest bonding experience for my mom with her mother. She called the nanny “Mama” and when Marlene finally did come home, she remembers thinking, “Who is this woman that my dad is kissing?” This mother and daughter were going to have a hard road ahead. The stresses of life overwhelmed my grandmother. She became addicted to pain killers and spent most of her time in bed. She never taught my mom how to dress or wear makeup or how to drive. Marlene’s marriage didn’t last and my mom found herself sort of parenting her own mother because she had no choice. Marlene was no longer seeing things from a clear perspective. She was depressed and she didn’t have any hope. Like Ruth’s climate with Naomi, the climate around my mom was a stormy one. 

One day when my mom was 16, she found her mom had been drunk. Out of anger and resentment, she said, “This is your fault!” At that moment my mom had some choices. She could have believed that it was her fault and wallowed in self loathing, or she could have rejected her mother’s words but lived a life of resentment and bitterness. 

I want to show you the first thing that my mom and Ruth were able to do that is so important when we experience stormy weather: 

1. Assess the Climate

We are all affected by life situations. We need to be able to quickly assess the spiritual temperature of our environments. So, if you go to work and you sense something in the air you can say, “A thermometer says, the temperature is 50 degrees.” A spiritual thermometer can say, “It feels like depression in here.”

We need to remember that the information a thermometer supplies is very valuable. It tells us what kind of clothing we need and prepares us to face the elements. Well, knowing the spiritual climate around us causes us to be prepared and handle each situation more wisely. 

Notice that Ruth does not chastise her mother for being bitter and feeling pain, even though it may have hurt her. She knows that would not be a wise course of action in a climate of misery. Just like it’s not wise to wear bald tires on the ice, it’s not wise to chastise an already embittered and hopeless person.

We also need different types of protection in different climates, don’t we? Just like we wear clothing to discourage the biting wind from giving us frostbite, so we can protect ourselves from a toxic environment. When we leave ourselves open to the elements, we can get seriously wounded. 

So, what is Ruth’s response? Does she allow her mother in law to take her down into the pit of despair? Does she believe what Naomi says, that the Lord has abandoned them, the the Lord must have rejected them? No, she doesn’t dwell on Naomi’s words. Instead she protects herself from them.

Not only does she protect herself, but she choses to change her environment.

2. Impact the Climate 

 Some of us are great thermometers. We can easily read a room and know how to protect ourselves. But so few of us go to the next level. Instead of merely being spiritual thermometers, we can become spiritual thermostats. You see, a thermostat can also read a room accurately, but a thermostat has the power to change the temperature in a room. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, you have been given the power to begin to change your spiritual environment. 

Ruth 2:2

And Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi, “Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor.” Naomi said, “Go ahead, my daughter.” 

Ruth took a small step toward hope. And it was a brave one at that. She could have been abused or even killed, but she took the chance.  

The first thing Ruth decided to do instead of naval gazing, was that she looked around her and found something to do. When you make a choice to get moving and doing something proactive in your life, even if it is nothing more than getting dressed when you are feeling like staying in bed all day, you are making a choice to change the climate in your life.

Do you have areas in your life that need a climate change? If you’ve felt powerless to effect that change, take the power of the Holy Spirit and begin releasing life into your environment. Change your thinking. Change your words. Change your actions. Instead of merely protecting yourself from the weather, begin to make your own weather. Even if you don’t feel like doing it, you will notice that the climate around you will begin to change.

Inevitably, it will begin to affect others. 

When we move toward hope we also do this, our third point. 

3. Forecast Hope for Others

When Ruth steps onto that harvest field she finds a climate of hope. 

Look at verse 4 in Chapter 2: 

Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, “The Lord be with you!” “The Lord bless you!” they answered.

What would you think if your boss gave you a greeting like this when you came to work in the morning? And can you imagine everyone repeating blessing back to the boss at your workplace? 

This was a radical climate of blessing and hope that Boaz had created in his fields. Blessing was going back and forth everywhere. They were like spiritual rainbows of promise. This is the kind of company I’d want to work for! So, when Ruth encountered this gracious man and his workers, she immediately receives a verbal blessing, a forecast of hope. 

She goes back and simply reports the forecast of hope to her mother, Naomi. Naomi responds by radically changing her climate. Instantly, she goes from seeing God as a source of bitterness, she now begins to see God’s hand of kindness in her life.

But it never would have happened if Ruth hadn’t taken that forecast of hope and brought it to Naomi’s ears.

What kinds of messages are reaching your ears? Are you putting yourself in a position to hear a forecast of hope? This is a good place to get it right here at Resonate Church. And what are you doing with the forecast? Are you keeping it to yourself, or are you forecasting hope in the lives of others?When Ruth takes the tiniest steps towards changing her climate, she immediately runs into favor. Immediately Boaz notices her and is drawn to her. When you make a choice to change your climate, you will immediately attract other climate changers. You will stand out in a crowd. (Read the rest of the story. It is incredible.) From this point on she is thrust her into the destiny God had for her. Not only is she well taken care of, but she is honored to be Jesus’s great, great, ….. Grandmother. 

Now the story doesn’t end with the evil stepmother cast into the night, no, God is bigger than that. Naomi isn’t evil: she is hurt and depressed. Just like my grandmother was. She could not find her way, she could not see the light.

When we are able to choose hope, all the people who are connected to us get to bask in the sun of that hope. You may have people in your family or close friends who are bitter and disillusioned. You have a choice. You can become bitter and disillusioned right along with them. Or you can choose to reach for hope. You can choose to be a thermostat for change instead of merely a thermometer who accepts things as they are. You can choose to start with one small act of faith. There are people whose only connection to any sort of hope is you. You may not think what you do matters to them, but it does.

At one time Naomi was Ruth’s only link to the God of Israel. Now Ruth is Naomi’s only link to hope and to a future. In the same way, my grandmother’s courage was the only way my mom would have been born. Later in life, my mom had to be the strong one. My mom had to choose a different climate.

Your attitude toward your life circumstances can mean the difference between life or death for someone else. I know that’s a lot of pressure, but I can’t help it. It’s true. Your life will either lift others up or bring others down. There is no getting around it. Without Ruth, Naomi would have probably died in her bitterness. How many will die in their mess without your simple act of faith? We will probably never know. But we can look out into the fields around us and simply move toward something.

One more interesting tidbit that will give you insight into this story. Do you know who Boaz’ mother was? Matthew 1:5 tells us it was Rehab, the prostitute, back in Joshua’s day. Rehab was the one who was in Canaan before Joshua and his army took the land. She was on the wrong side of the war, but at the last minute, she risked it all to be on the right side of the war, on the side of Israel’s God. Not only was she saved from death, but she was adopted into the family of God. 

Boaz must have seen the unusual fire of faith in the eyes of Ruth that he saw in his own mother, Rehab. Both Ruth and Rehab were foreign women without a shred of social standing in the Jewish community. Both were women who said essentially, “I’d rather be a slave in the house of the true God than be an honored woman in the house of all my foreign gods. I’d rather let go of all that I have if I can just be a part of this family and serve this God.” It proves that even if you have no connection, no possible way of having a good life, all it takes is one step, one choice to change your climate forever.

Ok, so one more story about my mom. You’re gonna like this one. So my mom is living with Marlene at the time she was dating my dad. They had just come home from a date and Marlene was knocked out from her usual dose of prescription drugs, passed out in the other room. When a man came into their room and began to threaten my mom and dad. My mom thought she saw a knife flash in his pocket. My dad tried to defend them, but the man had managed to get ahold of my dad by his shirt and had him pinned against the wall. He reared back and was about to punch. My mom, who had spent time getting to know God, time learning about him in church, and time exposing herself to a different climate, all of a sudden spoke up with boldness and authority she had never before experienced. She said, “In the name of Jesus, you can’t hurt this man.” Just then the man swung his fist at my day’s face. His hand stopped just in front of my dad’s face and he shook his hand as though he was hurt. He tried it a second time and he shook his hand. Then my dad punched him in the jaw and he ran away. 

My mom, who was living in a depressing environment, void of power, was able to overcome her climate. She was able to be a thermostat instead of just a thermometer. She was able to speak into the spiritual realm and make an impact. And in so doing, she was able to profoundly impact those she loved most.

After I told my mom I’d be sharing this story today, she realized that it was on Mother’s Day during a time of worship in church, that they Lord miraculously healed her from all the emotional scars from her mom. Today it will be 14 years from this Mother’s Day that my mom was healed. Today, God can do the same thing for you. He is available for you to heal you and make you whole so that he can graduate you to the next season of your life. You will no longer be merely a thermometer, but a thermostat to change your environment. 

 

Resonate Church Vision

Posted: April 30, 2013 in Uncategorized

Here is the basic message Jake Sloan preached at Resonate Church on April 28th, 2013.

This message is about the specific vision the Lord has given us for Resonate Church.

You know, vision is very important to any group of people from a business to a civic organization to a church. Vision is the glue that holds all the pieces of our individual gifts and backgrounds together. We are all so unique and that is great, but vision aligns us. Vision mobilizes us as a group to do what we could never do alone.

So we were asking the Lord, what portion of scripture would best illustrate the vision we are about to describe to you.

And we chose Acts 10, where God shifts some mindsets in the church. He causes the Apostle Peter to get a new vision of what he wanted to do in his church. I want to let you know that Peter has been one of the three major pillars of the church along with James and John. So far the church is growing rapidly and many miracles are happening. People are being healed, this guy Philip is traveling through time and space to preach the gospel. Radical stuff is happening!

One of the main Jewish leaders who has been persecuting the church, killing Christians all over the place in the name of God… You know, Saul? Well, rumor has it that he has had an experience with God and that he is now a believer. The disciples hear the news, they cannot believe it. They don’t want to touch this evil guy Saul with a ten foot pole. They are afraid he will infiltrate their ranks and kill even more believers. So Saul hangs out with good ole Barnabas for a while. Meanwhile, Peter goes about his everyday business of healing the paralyzed and raising the dead, staying with friends.

So all of this background brings us to Chapter 10. We’re gonna look at this from the perspective of Peter. Peter is just having a regular day at his buddy, Simon the tanner’s house. He was waiting for dinner to be prepared, so naturally, he was hungry. Now, it’s normal to dream about food when you’re hungry. But this dream was no normal dream. Let’s read it starting in verse 10 of Acts 10.

He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.

Peter was still fuzzy about what this trance was all about. But little did he know that God had a plan in mind.

The day before, he had spoken to a man named Cornelius in a dream. This Cornelius was not a Jew. He was a Roman. But he loved God the best he knew how. But Cornelius did not know about the saving power of Jesus yet. Basically all God tells him is that he is pleased with his life of prayer and giving and that he needs to meet a guy named Simon Peter who is staying with Simon the Tanner by the sea. Cornelius doesn’t have a phone or even a GPS so he can be sure he has got the right place, but he sends his servants out to go find Peter.

The exact moment that these guys get to the house was the moment that Peter wakes up from his strange trance. These guys say basically, “Hey, man, an angel talked with our boss and he sent us here to get you.” So, Peter follows God’s spirit and no doubt his curiosity is peaked. You think God knows what he is doing? I have noticed he doesn’t give us all the pieces to the puzzle. I think that might be because he wants us to seek him out. He wants to see if we’ll follow the path he creates regardless of where it is going.

Now, God has got these two guys together and he is about to give them a vision that neither of them was expecting. He is about to radically change their paradigms about God and about his people.

Let’s read vs. 24-35

The following day he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence. But Peter made him get up. “Stand up,” he said, “I am only a man myself.” While talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people. He said to them: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?”

Cornelius answered: “Three days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me and said, ‘Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor. Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He is a guest in the home of Simon the tanner, who lives by the sea.’ So I sent for you immediately, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us.” Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.

Peter was no dummy. He got the message God was trying to communicate loud and clear.

God was saying, stop putting up barriers to people of other nations! Stop making them act like you in order to come into the kingdom of God. Instead, you need to embrace them into the family of God.

You see, what people ate and who they ate it with was very important back then. Eating with someone was no casual thing. Eating with someone meant that they were accepting you as friends. Sharing a meal meant that you were creating an alliance. Refusing to eat with someone meant that you were distancing yourself from relationship with them. The customs of the Jews were keeping people out of the kingdom of God. The Jews did not associate with non-Jews, and so they never bridged that gap so they never got a chance to tell them about God. See, it wasn’t about the eating, it was about accepting people into God’s family without reservation.

And that brings us to the first tenant of our vision here at Resonate Church: EMBRACED

God cannot move fully unless we are willing to embrace each other, putting aside our cultural preferences, unless we are willing to accept people who do not fit into our paradigm of someone we’d want to associate with. Each of us have different walls we put up. Some of us have racial walls, even if we may not know that we have them. We have preconceived notions about people about all kinds of other things like age, income, education, or even politics.

Galatians 3:28 says this

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Notice that Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, erases, racial barriers, socioeconomic barriers, and gender barriers in the kingdom of God. He’s saying that none of that superficial stuff matters in the kingdom of God.

Almost anything can be a barrier to keep us from relationship with people. There are many many people in the world who will not step foot inside a church because of the judgement they have experienced from people in the name of Jesus Christ.

That is really sad. Tell me this: Why are we, as believers, surprised when unbelievers act like unbelievers? We should not be surprised. We were never called to make judgments about people who are outside of the truth, but we do it all the time.

Later on, in Paul’s teachings, the only reason he gives where we are to distance ourselves from people is when they claim to walk in the ways of Jesus, but they disobey his word. If you wanna look it up it’s in 1 Corinthians 5:11.

See, people of the world should not be threatening to us. They are merely doing what is in their nature to do. We should be excited when we encounter them because we have the remedy! And it is by kindness that we lead people to repentance. Just like it was through kindness that God led us to repentance.

I cannot help but wonder if this thing with Cornelius also helped soften Peter’s heart into accepting this formerly murderous guy Saul into the family of apostles. It was key that Saul, who later changed his name to Paul, was fully accepted. He was meant to be one of the up and coming church pillars to carry on the ministry after many of the other apostles had died.

So, what happened when Peter finally embraced his Roman brother Cornelius in to the family of God? The power of God fell and they received exponential expansion in the kingdom movement. This brings us to our second point: the early church was IMPASSIONED. This is the second tenant of our vision. We are impassioned with the passions of Jesus and then that passion spreads to others like wildfire.

As Peter was impassioned by his new revelation of God, he began to speak it boldly to anyone who would listen. Check out what happens when Peter expresses his passion.

take a look at verse 44

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message.

When your passion is released in the way that God has made you, whether it is through speaking, through creating. or through that thing that is in your heart to do, you attract the power of the Holy Spirit. It was while Peter was speaking passionately, that the Power of the Holy Spirit fell.

When the Holy Spirit came, they were immediately EMPOWERED. Which is the third tenant of our vision.

Now, Peter had obviously been empowered by the Holy Spirit before this day. Like I said, he was raising the dead and healing the sick. I think that counts as empowerment. But when Peter got a revelation of those he needed to embrace, more and more people also caught that fiery passion. When he released his passion for this new revelation, many others were empowered, Jews and Gentiles alike.

in verse 45 and 46 it says this,

The circumcised (or Jewish) believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles (or non-Jews). For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.

So then they were like, “Well, this is obviously the work of the God we know. I mean God’s done this kind of thing before, back in Acts 2.
I guess this is proof enough for us that God accepts them. We might as well baptize them with water and let them come into our family. Who could argue with that?”

As leaders of Resonate Church, we think it would be great if you were embraced into God’s family. And we know that it would be even better if you were impassioned to live out your calling by expressing your passion in the way that God created you. But, the only way that Resonate Church is going to create a movement in Alaska and in other parts of the world is if we are ourselves empowered and if we are willing to help others walk in the same power that we enjoy.

We can only embrace others when we are fully aware of how God has embraced us. We can only impassion others when we ourselves are full of passion for Jesus and for the calling we have. We can only empower others if we ourselves are walking in the power of the Holy Spirit.

In Anchorage, Alaska, there are people who are just looking for someone to accept them as they are, regardless of their sin, regardless of their demographics, or their strange hangups.

In Anchorage, Alaska, there are people who are void of passion. They are eeking out an existence, but they may not even realize they can have meaning and purpose in their lives. They may not realize that God has created them to do something that only they can do.

In Anchorage, Alaska, there are people who long for power, to find power in all the wrong ways. They try to exert power in their relationships, in their occupations, or even through hobbies. But the legit power they are seeking is in no one else than the Holy Spirit that we have access to through Jesus Christ.

Are you willing to join with us on mission to make Resonate Church a movement that sweeps across Alaska and even extends to different places of the world?

You can join with us in prayer, serve with us, or invest in us financially. Thank you for your support!

The Wooden Spoon

Posted: December 4, 2012 in Uncategorized

20121218-104812.jpg

My sister, Natalie, and I created a book called, The Wooden Spoon. We included family recipes, historic photographs, and stories. These stories were mostly stories of miracles that God performed on behalf of the Phillips-Fontana family. This family is unique in that a brother and a sister from one family married a brother and a sister from another family. Consequently, there are very strong ties between the Italian/Norwegian families. We decided that these recipes and stories were too good to keep to ourselves, so the book is now available for purchase on Lulu.com. Enjoy!

The Wooden Spoon

The key to so many good recipes is in the sauce. Each family has its own special recipe, seasoned to fit the unique flavor of the family. Our family’s particular marinara sauce takes eight hours to cook. Every person has an opinion on how it should taste. There is the right way that has been handed down for generations, and then there is the way that Aunt Lori makes it when Grandma’s not around (wink, wink). One thing is for certain: in this family, no one is allowed to use anything but a stainless steel pot to cook and a wooden spoon to taste. These things are absolutely non-negotiable. Around the dinner table at our family, you’d typically hear arguments about the correct way to pronounce a particular Italian word, how the food turned out, and what we’d be eating for our next meal. Grandpa Fontana would be in his chair playing the mandolin, making a mouse out of his handkerchief to jump for the kids, yapping like an obnoxious little dog to scare the cousins, or telling you one of his famous “did you hear the one about the..” jokes. And if you’re not used to loud, get used to it or don’t bother talking!

Great-Grandma Fontana stands proud at 4 feet 7 inches, she is also affectionately known as Tiny Nonna. She makes her sauce and spaghetti every Saturday night. Friends and family come hungry for delicious food and a hefty helping of love. This year she will have lived a full century. Many faces from around her table have gone on before her: the love of her life Grandpa Fontana, intelligent quadriplegic son Matt, his beautiful and talented daughter Suzette, and her daughter Matilda’s husband Al. All the memories of their voices we all hold dear. Tiny Nonna, you make us who we are, you live to remind us of the love that binds us, the family ties that won’t let go.

Love at First Sight: Inez and Pasquale Fontana

Pasquale (or Pete, or Pat as he was sometimes called) was a young man who had a distaste for rules and a voracious appetite for beautiful clothing and beautiful women. He had a date the night he met his bride, but the date was not with her. His friend had convinced him to give up his date for the night in order to come play the mandolin at a party he was having. He convinced Pat to come because of all the beautiful women that would be there. At this party he spotted a somewhat shy sweet little girl with big brown eyes. As their eyes met, she later confesses, she knew that he was the one she would marry. Only seventeen at the time, she was not sure she would be allowed to go on a date with him. Things progressed nicely, even though she had to take her two younger sisters on almost all her dates and she could only see him once a week. When he proposed, everyone was excited. Pat had especially grown attached to Inez’s mother, Matilda.

They were excited until one day. A mysterious man pulled up next to Inez as she was walking along the street. Another man pulled her into the dark car for a little “chat.” Inez was frightened and began to cry. The man assured her that he meant her no harm. But then he began to tell her of the many young women that her fiancé had proposed to. One of them had been the man’s daughter. He warned her sternly to go straight home and tell her parents to have this man checked out, that he had suspicions that Pat must have had a wife and children that he was hiding somewhere. Inez went straight home and the family had his background checked and then had a serious talk with Pat. Thankfully, he was just a big talker and had never intended to marry any of the women to whom he professed his love. Inez was the one woman who always had his heart. But this scare let him know that if he did not mean business, he’d better watch his step!

The Gasoline Incident (from the stories of Mother Phillips)

Phil had been fixing his oil burner which he installed in our brick chimney that had an opening into the kitchen. In doing so he had set a tin can, which contained gasoline and some chemical acid, on the floor close to his work. Sharon, our 9 months old baby, was crawling on the floor. I don’t know how it happened but somehow she got ahold of the tin can and drank some of its contents. She became violently ill. I gave her some milk to try to counteract the poison. She became limp and seemingly lifeless. Her face turned blue, especially around her mouth. The other children were very concerned and, as usual when there was a need,we prayed for God to help us. Elsworth was sitting on a stool with his head in his hands rocking to and fro, then he spoke loud and clear, “Mom, the Bible says, ‘If we drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt us.'” I nodded and said, “That’s right.” I laid Sharon on a couch which was in a room close to the kitchen and went upstairs with the other children to their bedrooms and, as a parting goodnight, said, “Be sure to pray for Sharon.” They said they would.

When I came back downstairs I again took Sharon into my arms and she was still limp and blue. As we prayed, she suddenly began to cough and I hurried to the bathroom and out of her came the deadly poisons. Her color changed to normal and she acted as though nothing had ever happened to her. I set her in her high chair and she smiled and waved her arms gleefully. I fed her and she ate her food and was back to her normal self… This was truly a miracle! The next morning she was riding around in the house on her tricycle as if nothing had ever happened.

My prayer is that you would consider the miraculous power of an Almighty God in your life! God bless.

Excellence vs. Perfectionism

Posted: January 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

I come from a family of people who pursue excellence. I guess it is in my DNA, which is why I’m so passionate about it. My dad instilled this value into me from birth. People used to misunderstand his pursuit of excellence and think he was a perfectionist because he was constantly asking for higher quality. One of his favorite things to say was, “We have the technology.” In other words, “Yes we can. Nothing stands in our way.” His father was also a tireless pursuer of excellence, but in very different ways. He was a preacher who used no notes when he preached and dressed perfectly except for his tie, which was just a tad eschew. He did this purposefully. It was an expression of his belief that things are much more beautiful when they are slightly flawed; that flaws are not our enemy. Maybe it was his small artistic way of preaching a beautiful gospel of mercy and grace. Even my great great grandfather who came over from Italy was a pursuer of excellence. His pursuit led him to invent the paint to create colored light bulbs at the Sylvania light bulb company where he worked.

Now there are those of us who want to be excellent, but struggle on the side of perfectionism that really keeps us from excellence. If I was still a perfectionist, I’d never be writing this blog. What if I made a mistake or said something wrong? That would be catastrophic to a perfectionist. However, there was a time when I had major perfectionistic tendencies, as so many firstborns do. At the zenith of my perfectionism, I was a full blown anorexic and didn’t even realize it. Thank God, I was able to gain freedom from this tyrant called, “perfectionism.”

It was Dr. Kevin Leman in his Birth Order Book and Rory Noland in his Heart of the Artist book, who first articulated for me the concept of excellence vs. perfectionism. Here are some thoughts I have put together in a cohesive chart. See if you can recognize yourself in this.

Excellence vs. Perfectionism Chart

Leman talks about “frustrated perfectionists.” They cannot have everything perfect, so they let everything go. They look far from perfectionistic, but inside, they are longing for something so much better. They reason, “If I can’t be perfect, why even try?” If I am not the most amazing in my field, what good is my contribution?

The ironic thing about a perfectionistic attitude is that it is self-sabotaging. With a perfectionistic attitude, your gifts are stunted because it paralyzes you so that you cannot move forward in growth. You see, mistakes must be made in order for growth to happen. If you are not patient with yourself in making natural mistakes, you will never grow or move past your mistakes. You will find that the people who achieve the most do not have a perfectionistic attitude, though others may perceive them as such. Those who are not Pursuers of Excellence or Perfectionists are often slaves to mediocrity. I don’t know anyone who knowingly celebrates mediocrity except for humorists on TV and despair.com. Mediocrity is funny, except when it happens to you. We can fail in our pursuit of excellence. That is part of the process. But when we know it is in our power to improve and we choose laziness– that is mediocrity. I hope you are not in the rut of full blown mediocrity. Probably not likely if you are reading this post. More likely you are dealing with seeds of perfectionism. You want to be excellent, but your behaviors are sending you reeling into a sea of mediocrity… the last place you want to be. I hope this post helps you see where you are getting tripped up on your road of excellence.

Where do you find yourself struggling with seeds of perfectionism?

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I am a church girl. I have been attending church since I was just a few days old. (Above is a picture of the inside of the church I grew up in.) I try to relate to the unchurched as best I can, but I’ll never fully understand life for those who have not grown up in the church. Along with the gigantic blessings of such a life have come some….how shall I say it…special needs. You see, sometimes knowledge can be an obstacle, a gift, but an obstacle.

I studied gifted education in grad school and enjoyed the paradigms that were shifted for me there. One major paradigm shift was that students with a high IQ or “gifted” students were not more advantaged than everyone else. Sure things came easier to them, but they had internal struggles that they did not share with the rest of the population. They were starved for learning. No one was challenging them because they were getting by. Most kids learned something new every day. They did not. Like a cheetah penned in, they were not getting the mental exercise they yearned for. They were truly a special needs minority.

Back to the church world. If you are a believer who has also grown up in the church, you probably have more knowledge than 80 percent of pastors of churches overseas. When a population has so many that are educated in the faith, this is a highly spiritually “gifted” population. I know we often berate ourselves for not acting on most of what we know, but many of us are sincerely doing the best we can. It is easy to put on a happy face and nod your head at everything the pastor says when you are ignorant of the Bible. But it is hard when you have so much knowledge and you are trying to grapple with so many unanswered questions that the unchurched person doesn’t know to ask. How do you think the 12 year old Jesus felt when he was discoursing with the religious leaders of his time? I have a feeling that there was this burning on the inside for more. I have a feeling that sometimes it was hard for him to relate to the other Jewish boys. So many of us, church kids young and old, are often starved for learning, starved for fascination, starved for satisfaction.

Like some gifted kids I knew, some of us are content to pretend it doesn’t bother us. I will admit to you there was a time in my life when I stopped studying the Bible because I was tired of having questions. I was tired of disagreeing. I was afraid I’d know more than my leaders and I just wanted to be a safe follower. Some gifted kids ignore the desire they once had for learning, concluding that it is more trouble than it’s worth. They make an effort to fit in like the girl who plays dumb so the boys will not be threatened by her. How sad.

Other gifted kids will buck the system. They are aggressive. They will raise their voices and cause trouble for the adults. They won’t be concerned with their grades. They just won’t conform to the mold. We don’t know why they won’t get in line. We feel that they are wasting their talents. Instead of making “good use” of their brain by, say, going into the medical field, they choose instead to pursue something unnerving… like music. These kids often have mismatched maturity for knowledge. They have a lack of experience to go on. Their frustrations can almost be too much to bear.

So what happens to those “church kids,” that “gifted” population within the church? They are often bored. They are often cynical. They often have walls up. Some of them are so disillusioned that they stop trying, stop yearning. Faced with the prospect of living a boring existence, some of them give up on church, trying to find fascination elsewhere. Tragically, we are losing some of our brightest and most talented potential leaders.

Gifted kids, like church kids, don’t always know what to do with the gifts they have. They don’t know how to use them or develop them. Church kids grow up never learning how to make disciples because they themselves were never really discipled. There are aging adult church kids who have never had someone believe in them and invest in them. So, instead of reaching out to others and reproducing, they become stunted in their development. They can be preoccupied with their legitimate need for fathers and mothers of the faith.

I’m not blaming our churches for this phenomenon, I am merely making the observations. My desire is that leaders in the church would at least be aware that there are “church kids” everywhere who are dying inside. They have all the answers and they may even be living right. But they are starved for a challenge, to exercise the full potential of their leadership. Instead of berating them, maybe we need to pour more into them and expect more from of them. Instead of dismissing them, maybe we just need to hear them out. If you are one of those church kids, there is hope. If you have never been discipled the way you would have liked and if your dreams were never realized, there is hope. Jesus gets you. He is no cliche. And he has what you are looking for. So go out and get what you need to grow. Never stop, never settle, never get used to boredom. We need you now like never before.

Ah, Christmas, it is that time of year when people try their best to guilt other people into doing things they don’t want to do. I’m not trying to make a value judgement, but you know it’s a simple statement of truth. Lots of people halfheartedly throw their change to the bell ringers, feeling like maybe that will prove to everyone what a good person they are. While all the while, inside, they feel the sting of inadequacy. They feel the truth that they don’t love people like they should, that so much of the “good” they do is out of obligation and not springing from the goodness within.

Don’t think I am a Scrooge, but white elephant gift exchanges are not my most favorite of holiday activities. The basic idea is that you buy a gift out of obligation to attend the party or to participate, not knowing who will get it. Then you throw it in the pot. People steal from others, take a risk to open or not to open, so it is really the entertainment value of it that is the thing. These can be times of laughter and fun. So, in that sense, I get it. But, I think things like white elephant gift exchanges have a tendency to allow our culture to become unaccustomed to understanding the true nature of gift giving. In most gift exchanges, the fundamental elements of gift giving are gone.

Whenever I had a job, no husband, and disposable income (maybe one or two years of my life), I really enjoyed giving. (Not that I don’t enjoy it now, but it is a little more complicated at this stage of life.) At that time, there were some kids I especially loved and I would give them gifts just because I wanted to see their smiles. I would enjoy putting lots of thought into something that was just right for the individual I was shopping for. The instant the person opened the gift, I knew whether or not I “scored.” The feeling of getting the perfect gift was intoxicating to me. It is always the most fun when you get something for someone and they were not expecting any gifts at all. One time, one of the kids I liked to buy gifts for said he felt bad that he didn’t get me anything in return. He was surprised to find that I actually liked it better when the gift was not reciprocated. That’s what makes it truly a gift.

I heard a saying that I have come to believe to be true. “A true gift is for the receiver, not the giver.” I know this sounds obvious, but, have you ever gotten a gift out of desperation or re-gifted just to be sure you had the obligatory gift for the custom of the event, not because you truly wanted to give? That’s the difference between a mere present and a true gift. A true gift will be about the other person’s joy, and not to make the giver look good or to get something in return. It does not expect to be reciprocated, but enjoyed, like a grandmother doting on her grandchildren. Nothing brings her more joy or satisfaction than giving a gift that the children could never repay. A true gift is given to someone who knows the person well enough to know the need of the particular individual. It is specific and relevant to the life of the receiver. It speaks of love.

Jesus Christ, the precious man of perfection, was given as a true gift. God does not merely exchange gifts, he loves to give to the spiritually bankrupt who could never possibly repay. When we feel bad for not having anything to give back, he wishes we would understand the fact that he just wants us to enjoy the gift, no strings attached. He did not just give his son to throw in the pot of humanity as though he did not know you by name. No, the gifts God gives have names attached to them. And they are chosen according to our individual needs. Beyond the incredible gift of salvation, he also gifts us with his presence, his voice, his protection, his provision, divinely appointed relationships, healing, miracles, abilities, and more. This Christmas, I hope you can truly learn to receive from him, something lasting, something surprising, something you could never repay. Then give to others from the overflow of joy and love that springs from a happy heart. Merry Christmas!