It’s A Wonderful Life

Our city’s newspaper, The Public Opinion, will publish the article below today (Dec 26, 2019). I thought I would go ahead and share it with you here on my blog. The newspaper has a limit, as you might imagine, regarding the length of the article. So, it’s a quick read!

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One of my favorite Christmas movies is “It’s a Wonderful Life.” It might surprise you to know that it was put on the official list of the greatest movies of all-time. Chances are pretty good that most of you have seen the movie, but allow me to briefly summarize the story-line. George Bailey (played by James Stewart) lives in Bedford Falls, NY. On Christmas Eve George is considering suicide. George has lived a good and moral life. He has made many sacrifices for the well-being of his family and for the city that he lives in. But he can’t help but think that he is missing out on something. He longs to travel, see the world, and to go on an adventure. He feels deeply unhappy with his family, job, and his seemingly insignificant life. God intervenes and sends an angel by the name of Clarence. Clarence shows George what life would have been like if he had never lived. Through this process George realizes all that he has to be grateful for and he becomes a truly changed man. Let me be clear about this, I love this movie. I can’t watch the movie without something getting in my eye. OK, fine, the movie makes me cry. But, each time I watch the movie I realize that something really important is missing.

When George is given the vision of what life would be like if he had never lived he becomes grateful for all that he has. The problem is that his job, family, and even his life, are all things that can be lost. If George anchors his deepest sense of hope, contentment, and satisfaction in these temporal things he will find that his joy is like a mere vapor that easily dissipates when trials and suffering enters his life. Discovering that life does not meet our expectations can lead us into some dark places, just like it did for George Bailey. Our job, family, health are huge blessings from God and we should be grateful for them. But there is only one place to turn to if we want to find true, eternal joy, and his name is Jesus Christ.

If you and I were to slow down this Christmas season, we would find beneath all of our busyness and activity that we have a heart that is desperately searching for happiness. Maybe you, even among all the holiday festivities, are realizing that what you once thought would make you happy is not delivering as you had hoped. The sobering reality is that there is nothing on this earth that can fill the hole in our heart. St. Augustine wrote these words, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” In John 14:26 Jesus says something really bold, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” My prayer for everyone who lives in Watertown, and everyone who is reading this article, is that you find the “life” that is only experienced and enjoyed by having a relationship with Jesus Christ. Merry Christmas! (END OF ARTICLE)

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Watching the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, reminds me of the city that I live in (Watertown, SD). I dearly love this city and the people who live in it. If you want to read a few books that gives you a greater appreciation for the small city I would like to recommend the following:

Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry

Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry (just got this for Christmas)

A Big Gospel for Small Places: Why Ministry in Forgotten Communities Matters by Stephen Witmer

 

Spiritual Awakening

I wrote this article and it can be found in Wednesday’s edition of the The Watertown Public Opinion. 06.12.19

“SPIRITUAL AWAKENING”

I love the city of Watertown. I have been in Watertown for a little over four years and my family and I have found the people here to be friendly, kind and welcoming. Because of my love for this city I have a growing desire to see God work in a new way in our community. My greatest prayer for my family, my church and this city is that we come to know and love Jesus Christ more than anything else on earth. In the book of Philippians 3:8 the apostle Paul clearly communicates what life is all about when he writes this, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.”

I would briefly like to mention a few barriers that keep individuals, churches and communities from experiencing a spiritual awakening. One obstacle is lifeless, dead religion. Due to the fact that I am a preacher’s kid I know what it is like to be very religious and yet at the same time to be far from God. Going to church, being baptized, and church membership simply do not mean that a person knows or loves Jesus Christ. So the first barrier we must overcome is simply going through the religious motions that give one the semblance of Christianity but fails to have the heart of Christ. Second, we must be aware of how short sighted it is to make pursuing pleasure and comfort our primary goals in life. We live in a great country and we have been blessed with so many material possessions. The problem is that we end up making our hobbies, jobs, sports, education, retirement, bank account what life is all about. Third, many people simply misunderstand what Christianity is about in the first place, so we end up disregarding it or thinking that it is irrelevant. Christianity is not first and foremost about rule keeping. Christianity is not keeping you from the good life. In fact, Christianity is the doorway to where the deepest joy and satisfaction that your heart could ever experience is found.

So, the question we should ask at this time is how do we experience a spiritual awakening in our life, churches, and in our city? I believe with all of my heart that the place it begins is when we seek after God in prayer. In 2 Chronicles 7:14 we read this, “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” Seeking after God in prayer will mean turning off the TV, putting down our iPhones, refusing to be distracted by a million trivialities, and asking God to do in a new work in our day and time.

A group of local Watertown pastors have begun what we are calling a “Community Evening of Worship and Prayer.” We have already met twice over the past few months and we have experienced a great time of singing, prayer and fellowship. This is a gathering that goes beyond denominational lines. We are, and should be, focusing on more than our own religious turf and thinking about the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33). The next Community of Worship and Prayer will be at Midwest Bible Camp on Sunday, August 18th, 6-7 PM. If you want more details you can go to www.prayforwatertownsd.com. Whether you have been in the church for years, or you have never been to church, you are invited to join us as we seek after God and ask him to be at work in our community in a powerful new way. We hope you will join us!

Pastor Michael Wallenmeyer
New Life Church

Finding Holy In The Suburbs by Ashley Hales

February 22-23, 2019, we are going to have Ashley Hales come out and teach at our Women’s Retreat. One of the moms, Jenna Moffatt, who attends New Life Church, knows Ashley fairly well. So I asked Jenna if she would be willing to share a little bit about “Finding Holy” via my blog. So here you go! BTW-Great job Jenna!

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My third child will be six months old in a few days. I had expected our son’s birth to usher in the highest amount of stress, since research shows (of course) that three children are more stressful than any other number—higher or lower. In many ways, having three has been harder, my husband and I are outnumbered, more time spent nursing than attending to my two daughters or cleaning the house. But, in other ways, number three has ushered in an easier season. I no longer feel the need to strive for perfection around the house, socially, in parenting; rather, three has shown me that these lofty goals are impossible.  I cannot fix myself or parent in such a way that my children will turn out to be the cutest little moral beings that you ever did see. In many ways, Ashley Hales’ book came at a pivotal time for me as a new mother trying to find my place in the craziness of new life.

As I’m feeling temptation of “keeping it all together” slip through my fingertips and combating the guilt of a disheveled stay-at-home mom with discolored grout creeping up my all-white bathroom tile, I wonder what higher calling God has for me in this time. Have you also wondered how the gospel is relevant for where and how you live? In her new book, Finding Holy in the Suburbs, Ashley wrestles with temptations of everyday living in America and graciously orients us toward the story we ultimately were created for. I found that one reviewer stated it best, “[Ashley] only cuts where it can bring healing.” Throughout her beautifully written words, most often with first being vulnerable herself, she consistently points us back to our redeemer, Jesus.

If you’re not from the suburbs, don’t stop here. Her words are relevant for anyone who lives in any community with at least a modest income in America (including in rural communities like my own). The book consists of three sections: common idols that suburban Americans face, living in repentance and belovedness, and then counter steps to take when pursuing holiness.

Idols of the Suburbs

Through these chapters, I discovered that I had fallen victim to idols I had previously fought to identify. Ashley writes in a way that puts words to and holds up a mirror to clearly reflect our sinful desires. In four chapters, she highlights the idols of consumerism, individualism, busyness, and safety, all as means we use to fill healthy hungers like, “having good work to do, to be significant or safe.” Each is a counter-narrative to finding our identity in Christ, who wants us to come home to Him like the prodigal son and celebrate grace from the Father, rather than trying to earn our way like the elder brother.  

The discussion on busyness was particularly convicting. Ashley writes, “instead of trusting in a God who is with us even in the wilderness, in the suburbs we use our busyness to stiff-arm God.” We fall into the belief that our actions will save us, even if they are true and good. When the world is racing madly on, how do we as Christians take a step back and find true rest? The anecdote to all of these temptations is to turn to Christ’s work on the cross: the Gospel.

Now What?

Weaving in Biblical stories of exile of God’s people and then provision for their every need, Ashley points us to the true One who will quench our thirst and satisfy our hunger. At the end of each chapter, she shares practical ways to orient our hearts back to Christ.  She also shares how we can partake in God’s great adventure even if we aren’t called to missions overseas but rather a middle-class cul-de-sac. In the second section of her book, the first steps forward to finding holy are redemption and belovedness. First, to participate in God’s beautiful story and find his kingdom on Earth, we are called to repent. This, “is both a turning from [sin] and a turning toward [God]”. These are the first small steps to being embraced by your Beloved and, consequently, having the ability to extend forgiveness to others in community.  We are also called to quit chasing belonging through what we look like, buy, or do, rather resting solely in being beloved by God. Here, our greatest failures fall away and we find true rest, beauty, joy, and hope.

In the last portion of the book, Ashley presents the practices of hospitality, generosity, vulnerability, and shalom that train our hearts to be fed by God wherever He has us. We must begin small, finding ourselves content in Christ’s redemptive work on the cross to propel us outward, bringing glimpses of the kingdom to our neighborhoods. It requires that we switch the narrative from my story to God’s story. As Ashley states,

The work of beloved is a constant returning to the story of creation, sin, redemption, and glorification. It is in remembering and embodying the story together in our local churches. It is in starting daily liturgies that draw us in to a beauty that overwhelms and is even present through pain.

Only then can we practice true hospitality, give of our time, money, and resources generously, be vulnerable in a way that brings healing to both people and the place we live in, and bring shalom or God’s “faithful presence within” our communities. These exercises give us a taste of the glory of the ultimate Kingdom we await: God coming down to live among us, with no more tears or pain. It is the culmination of joy and beauty and love.

If you, like me, struggle to find the plan God has for you in the trenches of early motherhood, or question why God has brought you to your hometown, rather than the inner-city or abroad, there is hope. You can find Holy in the Suburbs.

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If you are interested in attending the retreat with Ashley please be watching for more details coming soon on our Facebook page.

Partnering With Other Churches For The Good Of The City

PastorsSince I have been here at New Life Church I have slowly gotten to know a number of the local pastors. There is a group of us that meets every week for lunch at Perkins. It has been good just to get to know each other and share the ups and downs of ministry. Over the past few months we have begun praying as pastors on a monthly basis for revival here in Watertown.

“The coming revival must begin with a great revival of prayer. It is in the closet, with the door shut, that the sound of abundance of rain will first be heard. An increase of secret prayer with ministers will be the sure harbinger of blessing.” -Andrew Murray

I am excited to let you know one of the things we have decided to do is work together as churches and begin hosting times of worship and prayer. Praising God in song for who he is and asking God to work in a new way in the city of Watertown. In order to get the word out we have created a website that encourages people to be praying for the city of Watertown. You can find the website HERE.  We have also created a Facebook page HERE.

Goss Opera
The Goss Opera House. Thanks to Grace Ramey Photography for these great pics of Watertown!

Would you do me a favor? Take a moment to pray for Watertown, South Dakota. Pray that the Holy Spirit would be at work in a mighty way. Pray that Christians would be energized with renewed passion to love God and love others. Pray that those who do not yet know Christ would come to know and worship him. Pray that in all that we do that God is glorified. Thank you!

“All revival begins, and continues, in the prayer meeting. Some have also called prayer the “great fruit of revival.” In times of revival, thousands may be found on their knees for hours, lifting up their heartfelt cries, with thanksgiving, to heaven.”

-Henry Blackaby