Ache in My Bones

I have an ache in my bones to start new churches like Illumine in the Charlotte Metro Area. Watching God work through his Word and his people - if there are ways that I can be involved in the exponential increase of that miracle - please, Lord, let it happen.

Did you know Indian Land is the fastest growing part of the fastest growing part of South Carolina? Did you know Gastonia expects dozens of new housing developments in the coming years? Did you know Fort Mill is having to build even more schools because they can't keep up? Did you know that almost half of the population of Steele Creek has lived in the Carolinas for less than two years? 

It's not just about new movers, though. Rock Hill is averaging a shooting every week. One of the main reasons York County DSS case workers quit because they're overworked - too many cases coming in all the time. There are estimates that over 400 people in Rock Hill are homeless. Divorce lawyers aren't hurting for business. One of the most up-and-coming churches in this town just closed. People still ask me if Illumine is diverse - or if your skin has to be a certain color to belong there. 

It's not about new movers. It's about the sick who need a doctor. 

Sure, Rock Hill is in the Bible Belt, but in a real way the rest of the armor of God is missing - and we can bring it to them. 

We want to help so much it hurts. Can you feel the ache?

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:14-17)

-Pastor Kent Reeder

Yearbuilding

Two months in a row, Illumine is making up words.

Last month: Christmerosity. The kind of generosity you see at Christmas - inspired by Christ.

This month: Yearbuiliding. You want a successful 2017? Big surprise - so does everybody. Illumine doesn't exist (and wouldn't promise) to help you have a financially or physically helpful 2017 (even though that's the stuff most New Year's resolution are made of.) But spiritually? This is why Illumine is here. 

God wants you to have a spiritually beneficial 2017, too, and he's given you tools to help make that happen. The Bible, the sacraments, Christian community, prayer - all of these are gifts from God to help you grow closer to him. So, the question is: How will you use those gifts this year? 

Just so it's clear: a spiritually successful 2017 is very attainable. The tools exist, they're free, and they're for everyone. But you're a lot more likely to use them well if you make a plan, tell people about your plan, and then take it one step at a time. 

That's what this month is about around here. I hope you get to take advantage of it, and I know God has helpful things in store for your soul if you do. 

"“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it?" (Luke 14:28)

-Pastor Kent Reeder

The Forgiven

Illumine's current sermon series, "The Given," uses God's promises to dissect this sentence: 
THE FORGIVEN ARE GIVEN THE GIVEN FOR GIVING.

Our first Sunday, which was 11/6/16, focused on the group of people known as "the forgiven." When Jesus died on the cross, he paid for all sins that ever had been or ever would be committed, but that doesn't mean that all sinners are part of the group we're thinking of in this series when we talk about "the forgiven." 

One of the ideas that exists in the meaning of "forgive" is to remove or to take away. When we think about "the forgiven" in our key sentence for this series, we're thinking about those who, through faith, have had their sins taken away from them. They don't hold onto them any more. 

Imagine you were on an island in the South Pacific, and you stumbled on an old US soldier who didn't know World War II had ended. Though the victory has been won, he was still carrying the weight of the war. The Gospel means that Jesus has one the victory, and faith in that Gospel means we don't have to be carrying the weight of our battles against sin anymore. That's what it looks like to be "the forgiven."

There's nothing that you can see or touch or hear that God has not given you as a gift - but let us not forget that it started with him taking something away. 

Psalm 103:12 |  ...as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

- Pastor Kent Reeder

How Big is Too Small?

Illumine has always existed to help start more churches, because more churches (should) make more disciples. In planning documents, the focus has been on the number 50: whenever Illumine reaches 50 member families, a few of those families get asked to take the leap and start a church in another location. 

At the moment, there are about 35 member families, and there are a few more in our membership course. If things keep going at the rate they are now, 50 families could be here pretty quickly. That's exciting. 

It also brings a few concerns to mind. How can a church of 50 families (maybe 150 people) afford to have people go and focus on another place? Every family and individual who gets involved at Illumine is essential, valuable, and important to everyone else. So is it wise to split up a family like that? On a more practical note, can Illumine afford to have that kind of flux occur in membership and still maintain the ministry efforts at the level everyone would like?

Those questions definitely won't get answered in a single blog post (and that's definitely not the point of this one,) but let's start here: at what point could Illumine be sure? There will always be ways to grow and expand Rock Hill's ministry. Things could always be more secure. But at what expense? More churches can make more disciples than fewer churches. At the end of the day, even though it isn't about numbers in general, there are two numbers that matter: the total number of people who are in God's family versus the total number of people who aren't.

Whatever decisions we make, whatever calculations and specifications lead to those decisions, let's remind ourselves that those two numbers matter most. 

Matthew 28:19 | Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Pastor Kent Reeder

Dirt is Everywhere

For the past 3 Sundays (and we'll be closing it out this coming Sunday) Illumine's been focusing on the idea that "Dirt is Dirty." The point of this series so far has been to talk a serious look at sin - what it is, why it is wrong, and just how dirty it makes us (even if it seems to have little consequence or societal impact.) 

One of the main reasons we've taken this careful look at sin is to help each of us improve at identifying and wanting to avoid broken behaviors (and all sin is broken.) We've wanted to stress how easy it is to trivialize sin, because we realize that, quite frankly, dirt is everywhere.

There isn't really any place you can turn (not even church) that isn't affected by sin. It's all over the place. If people are there - so is sin. So often we see where sin is particularly prevalent or obvious and we think, "I'll avoid that place," which is good, but then we move on from avoiding temptation to looking for paradise. We try to find the purest, most pious, most outwardly excellent setting (sometimes referred to as the most religious) and we convince ourselves that if we look hard enough, we'll find a place where there is no sin. 

So people move from church to church, friend group to friend group, denomination to denomination, philosophy to philosophy, all in pursuit of a perfectly clean place on earth. But no matter where we turn, there is dirt.

If everything you touch has dirt on it, maybe your hands are dirty. 

And that's the thing, isn't it? Everywhere we look, there's sin, but it isn't because this place or that place has an inherently sinful quality. It is because all people have an inherent problem with sin. The filthiness comes up out of us and ruins everything we touch. Even if you were adopted by a family of God's holy angels and spent time exclusively with them, you and your sin would ruin it. It wouldn't be perfect anymore. 

Dirt is everywhere. So maybe, instead of running from it, we need to clean it up. This coming Sunday, our service theme is Soap. That's the response to dirt. We don't throw away a piece of clothing after it is dirty. We don't buy new dishes each week. Instead, we wash things. The forgiveness and reconciliation that come from Jesus are the solution that can wash away dirt - even as pervasive as it is in our world. 

So maybe you don't always have to run from people who sin. Maybe you can offer them a free way to clean themselves, and show them just how good it is to be cleaned by Christ. 

1 Corinthians 6:11
But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 

- Pastor Kent Reeder

A Church in the Bible Belt

Last night, a waiter in a restaurant asked me what has been a pretty common question: "Why did you guys decide to start a church in the BIble belt?" It's reasonable; there's about a million churches here, and most people have some connection to one of one of them. More than a little bit of ministry difficulty here at Illumine has come because of the power that the "matriarchal church" (the church your mom goes to) has in southern culture. 

So why would we do this? Illumine's existed for 2.5 years now, but the question is still relevant, especially because (God-willing) in the very near future we'll be doubling-down on our commitment to doing ministry in Rock Hill by purchasing the Center. 

Here's a few reasons. 

There are things we offer that aren't offered by other churches. Certainly every church in Rock Hill or York County can say that, but for us it is true in a couple of ways. We are the only church that is a member of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (our national church body) in York County...for now. This connection means that we have two top-of-the-line ministerial education high schools to offer kids. We have one of the best pastoral training programs, which means we can come close to guaranteeing that Illumine will always have a pastor who teaches what the Bible says. 

But it's more than just "affiliation"  or "denomination" that lets us offer something unique. Illumine is (along with having a super-unique name) is the only church in Rock Hill that emphasizes a discipleship cycle of Worship, Education, and Community Service the way we do, in that we prioritize all three of those methods of being a disciple equally. We show this to be true in a few ways. We don't act like Worship is the most important thing - in fact, for 3 non-consecutive months of the year we replace worship with education. We don't act like Education is more important than Community Service - in fact, for 6 months of each year we bring Community Service to the forefront on Sunday mornings. 

We seek to serve the de-churched and the un-churched. Yes, pretty much everyone who grew up around here can claim a church in one way or another. Some people can claim multiple (I went to VBS there, got married there, my mom went there...) That's a cool thing, and it binds our community together in a unique way. There are many, though, who currently don't attend church. Drive in Rock Hill on a Sunday morning and you'll see - the roads are pretty clear. So Illumine people are always talking about how we "make decisions based not on those who have been here the longest, but on those who aren't here yet." It's always going to be part of our DNA to think about what we do in that way. 

There are a lot of churches in this county, but there aren't "enough." One of the most encouraging things about starting Illumine is that whenever I (Kent) meet other pastors who serve various congregations in the area they are excited for Illumine, because they realize that the 75,000 residents of Rock Hill aren't all going to be able to come to or be served by just their church. Rock Hill has real, lost, hurting people - and some of them are going to be reached (or already have been!) through Illumine. 

New movers need a place to meet people. Rock Hill continues to grow very quickly, especially in this northeast corner of town (where the Center is located.) Illumine helps people connect to their community in very powerful ways - through fellowship at a church that really cares about individuals, through our regular featuring of local organizations so that you can know what's up in your community, and through our third-party and community based events. We were able to host a local power-lifting competition in April that brought in hundreds of people from all over the Charlotte Metro Area and allowed them to connect over something about which they were passionate. Our Mornings with Mommy program usually has 25-30 moms with their children, the majority of whom have moved to Rock Hill in the last 3 years. 

Why start a church in the Bible belt? In Charlotte? In York County, SC? In Rock Hill? Mostly, it's because Jesus loved the people in this place so much that he was willing to die for their sake, and he's called all believers to share that with the people around them. 

- Pastor Kent Reeder

 

Heroes & Victims

Sometimes people treat Christianity like there are two choices:
You can either be this bold, courageous hero,
or you can be this humble, long-suffering victim.

But Christianity walks a line between these extremes.

We don’t breed heroes, 
we don’t baby victims,
we just tell people somebody already saved them.
We don’t praise arrogance,
or shame the humiliated.
we just love like we’ve been loved, without discrimination. 

We admit that we aren't perfect, 
but we aren’t okay with the status quo.
We admit we don’t know everything,
but we don’t think we're stupid.
We admit we haven’t finished,
but we know how this is going to end.

We don’t oppress,
we won't belittle,
but we can’t enable.

We are here to fight, so that someone else can win.
We are here to preach, so that someone else can be heard.
We are here to love, because someone else first loved us.

We walk a line in between, 
where loving Christ and loving others can both be everything.
We take this narrow path,
careful to tread,
focused on the cross,
where that truth and grace and courage and humility come together in Christ. 

We do not stray toward the broken extremes,
they are sirens that would sink us.
We do not run as though fate would overtake us.
We do not stand like we have nowhere to be.
We press on, on this narrow path,
not as heroes,
not as victims,
but as people who have been saved, and who KNOW IT. 

Read Important Things

An unprecedented amount of content, new and old, enters your purview every waking hour. This is the world in which we live, having dropped the limitations of page size and word counts in favor of the limitless internet-content-fire-hose. The only limit we now have is time - and we're probably working on getting rid of that one, too. 

It's not a crime to read the dumb articles on Facebook or dive down a Wikipedia rabbit hole just to see where it leads. These things even have some value, in limited doses, because our brains need to relax. It is a crime, however, to allow those distractions to steal from you your ambition and potential (and therefore your ability to serve God and glorify him with your vocation.) And when you read the word "crime," don't be mistaken. It's not as though Buzzfeed actually has any power to take something from you against your will. It's a crime because you give them time you don't have to give, making you the thief, robbing the one who gave you the time you have [read: God].

Since we can't make time stop, so that we could endlessly peruse, and since we were created for a greater purpose than our whims, we must be stewards of this limited resource, which brings us back to the title: read important things. Every day. A diet of Doritos is not a legitimate way to live, and a diet of nutrition-free reading is no way to learn. Read important things. 

Solomon is pretty clear on this: Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body. (Ecclesiastes 12:12) Read important things, and make sure you do it with the mind of a diligent steward. Put the biggest rock in the jar first (the Bible) and make sure other important rocks are getting in as well - otherwise you'll be filling yourself up with sand

Finally, if you're reading this because you were on a Facebook binge and clicked it because you thought you had time to waste but now you feel bad about it, it's going to be okay. Jesus made perfect use of every moment of his life, and when God looks at you that's what he sees, because Jesus covered your wasted moments with his perfect moments. Theologians rightfully call the period you live in right now your time of grace. So, how shall you use it?

-Pastor Kent Reeder

Scrutiny

Means care.  

Means understanding.  

Means truth.  

Means analysis.  

Means conclusions.  

Means confession.  

Means judgment.  

Means justice.  

Means accountability.  

Means progess.  

Means potential.  

Let's embrace it.  

Psalm 139:7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.

11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” 12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.


 

Better than One

We mostly hear the words "a cord of three strands is not quickly broken" (Ecclesiastes 4:12) at weddings. They're well-used in that context. 

But they're part of a much bigger picture of community. Imagine a person who accomplished a lot, but had no one on whom to spend it or with whom to share it. They'd really only have one option: keep working. This would be a miserable option, because they would be working for nothing, but at least they'd be doing something. 

But having someone else (friends, neighbors, relatives, etc.) makes it all worth doing. You have partners in celebration. You have beneficiaries in work. You have support in difficulty. 

At Illumine, we particularly like to apply this way of thinking to our Community Service. Having outlets, whether through the Non-Profit of the Month or the Free Yard Sale or something you've found to invest in personally, outlets that allow you to take advantage of the wealth of knowledge, resources, and love that Christ has given into your stewardship makes life make sense. Looking at the world through the lens of generosity and seeing that it binds us to others and gives us friends on this long road of life helps us see servanthood better.

"Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!" (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)

-Pastor Kent Reeder

Chasing the Wind

"And I saw that all labor and all achievement spring from man's envy of his neighbor." (Ecclesiastes 4:4) 

So, are we wiser if we decide that we will motivate people by making them envious of their neighbors? Show them the better worker, the better practice, the bigger idea, the further along, and they'll achieve something? Maybe.

Maybe we can even do this in the church. Get people together and let them rub shoulders with Christians who are smarter, deeper, more mature, and wiser. Move them to achieve. 

Even better, though, maybe we can remember this and use it to help people who don't know how good it is to be part of God's family want to be part of God's family. What can you do, today, to make someone "jealous" of your place in God's kingdom? 

Once they want it, though, don't forget to tell them about how incredibly free it is.

-Pastor Kent Reeder

Worship for Today

When we worship, we spend a period of time - however long it lasts, however long we can stay - resting in the promises of God. At Illumine we talk about God shining "on" us in worship, meaning we do what a beach vacationer does as the sun shines on them. We let go, we relax, and we get some much needed rejuvenation. The difference between Sunday morning at Illumine and a week at the beach is that the rest you get in worship is spiritual, not physical or emotional (at least not primarily.)

Fortunately, most of us have the opportunity to get this spiritual rest at least once a week. (Much more frequently than most can afford a vacation!) Unfortunately, this weekly pattern of worshiping can make us forget how fortunate we are to have this rest built-in. When Monday comes, we feel spiritually drained and dread the coming week because we haven't recharged - even though that's a big part of why Sunday exists. 

The great thing, though, about worship is that even on the Mondays when "Sunday didn't cut it" (because we couldn't worship, or couldn't focus, or forgot why we were there) the promises in which we basked in public worship shine just as brightly as they did yesterday. Unlike a sunny beach, the promises of God are never further away than the Bible. If you haven't got a Bible, check out a sermon (and then call Illumine - we will get you one!)  

So take advantage of this rest. It's freely available and not hard to get. Let it carry you through the week, and then come worship on Sunday, realizing that you aren't doing it to make God happy or to be a dutiful Christian - you're doing it for next Monday, Tuesday, and all the other days when your primary purpose will be to reflect the light of God he gave you in worship to others. 

Psalm 62:1-2
My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken. 

-Pastor Kent Reeder

Strays

I promise not to listen to you. 

If I said that to you, would you talk to me? If you were a glutton for punishment, maybe. If you had a lot to say and knew that simply saying it out loud would make you feel better, maybe. But most of the time, of course not. 

We don't want to talk to people when they aren't listening to us. 

For this reason, it's remarkable that God chose to use the prophet Jeremiah. Not because Jeremiah was a bad listener - no, he was pretty good. What's remarkable is that God choose to use Jeremiah at all, because the people to whom Jeremiah brought God's words were absolutely unwilling to listen.

Look at what is said about them in Jeremiah 5:

3    O Lord, do not your eyes look for truth? You struck them, but they felt no pain; you crushed them, but they refused correction. They made their faces harder than stone and refused to repent. 4 I thought, “These are only the poor; they are foolish, for they do not know the way of the Lord, the requirements of their God. 5 So I will go to the leaders and speak to them; surely they know the way of the Lord, the requirements of their God.” But with one accord they too had broken off the yoke and torn off the bonds. 

The fact that God chose, despite their behavior, to speak to his people through Jeremiah is exactly what we'll be focusing on in our upcoming sermon series (which is based entirely on readings from Jeremiah.) 

You see, God loves the strays, even as they stray. Not only that, he seeks them. 

So, go ahead. Promise God you won't listen. He's going to keep on speaking words of mercy and grace to you, every chance he gets.

- Pastor Kent Reeder

P.S. I hope you can join us for this series, which begins this Sunday, January 31st.

Evangelism is the Frontier

Ambition is a powerful force. It has driven us to dive into oceans, explore uncharted territories, and reach for the stars. Starting a new project with a new goal brings with it an exciting, even giddy feeling - one that comes whenever we're face to face with great potential. 

Ambition is a powerful force.  

One thing I love to do is listen to ambitious people talk about what they're up to. Writers, artists, directors, CEOs, entrepreneurs - anyone who is running after an ambition. I love the way they can get you excited about something you didn't even know existed, and all because they care so much about reaching a goal. Connecting with other ambitious folks inspires us, not so much to do what they're doing but to find and do that thing that we love and believe in. 

We need ambitious people to inspire us.  

I think the early American pioneers were nuts. They absolutely should not have ventured into the frontier/wilderness/Nebraska without better equipment and more preparation. But they did. Can you imagine it? Put everything you own in a bag or on a wagon, start walking West, and don't stop until you get somewhere that isn't on the map yet. Somewhere uncharted. Talk about a giddy, exciting feeling - coupled with at least a little fear. 

The Christian's frontier is evangelism.  

It's unquestionably nerve-wracking to try to introduce faith-related talk into a conversation. Even when you're talking with someone who knows you're a Christian, there's a real and justifiable fear factor in bringing up Jesus - especially when you know that the person you're talking to doesn't believe in God. Carrying nothing more than the Scripture you understand and the things you believe, you're going to try to venture into what is, for Christianity, uncharted territory: the heart of an unbelieving person. Every new heart, like every new bend in a river, is going to be different and unpredictable. Every new person is going to bring a new set of challenges that have never been arranged in the same way before. It's unexplored and wild, and if you look at it with fear you will do nothing more than stay where you are and pray that the wild gets domesticated.  

But if you look at it with ambition, if you yearn to explore more deeply the heart of those who do not know God, if you are inspired by the potential for impact that you can glimpse as you peer into the heart of someone mired in denial - fear is replaced by excitement. Why go to the moon? Why cross the Mississippi? Why dive down a continental rift? Because it's going to be amazing. It will be fascinating and valuable. Because amazing things that take place in the future may very well be built on the back of this adventure. 

Sharing Jesus with people who hate him, who ignore him, who don't understand him, and who need him is an unbelievable adventure. Just ask Peter, or Paul, or Philip, or John. Ask GoetzingerQuandt, or Spiegelberg, or Bourman. Surround yourself with people who are telling stories of their Faith's ambition, and feel that giddy excitement that comes when you stand face to face with great potential.  

And go. Explore. Don't live every second of your life in already-charted-territory. 

Meet people who aren't like you. 

Find people who aren't afraid to speak negatively about God.

Befriend the skeptics. 

Have conversations about questions you can't answer yet.

See through other's eyes.  

And if you're thinking that it's dangerous, that you might be led astray if you spend so much time around people walking in darkness, that's understandable. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't do it. It just means you should be careful. Don't isolate yourself from other believers. Don't quit studying and learning. Don't forget to worship and give yourself time to spiritually rest. 

But also, don't miss out on the adventure of 10,000 lifetimes. Preach, teach, share, show, explore, and discover. Find and claim something new in the name of the gospel. 

Organizations

People can accomplish more when they work together than when they work alone. Even the most fiercely independent have to admit that they depend on the people who know how to do what they don't. Where did your clothes come from? Your computer? Your car? Your education? We, each of us, depend on others, and when we work in community we accomplish more than if we go it alone. 

When a person attends a church, they, too are taking advantage of the power of cooperation. Music, decor, preaching, building, scriptures - you wouldn't have these if people who weren't you didn't help. Together, we accomplish something valuable and greater than ourselves. 

This is true on an organizational level, too. Multiple organizations accomplish more together than they do alone. That's why Illumine is part of the WELS. It's why we partner with organizations like Project Hope. It's why we invited On Eagles Wings and about a dozen other organizations to be a part of our human trafficking seminar in March. 

The greatest application of this cooperation principle, of course, comes in being saved. You could be fiercely independent about it, but you'd fail. You need Jesus, because he gives you victory over sin. In all honesty, it is a bit of a misnomer to call it a cooperation, because Jesus does all of the work and you receive the benefits. That's why it is crazy when we get it into our heads that Jesus' gift of salvation is only for me and him to know about. He puts us together in churches so that we who have been saved by his work and grace can remind each other, lift each other up, encourage each other, and learn from each other. 

It's important that we remember - this is the purpose of the church. Connecting people to and through the gospel is the reason the church exists. When this stops being the goal, we're no longer organized. But when gospel connection is the goal...things can really get accomplished.

1 Corinthians 12:12 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 
14 Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. 
27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

-Pastor Kent Reeder

This Could Be Your Year

This could be your year. Theoretically. You could keep resolutions, catch the right breaks, and accomplish great things, becoming the person you want to be.

This could be your year. Possibly. Depends on how much year there is to go around, and if you're one of the lucky ones who has things work out the way you hope. On the other hand, things could go well for someone else. 

This could be your year. Maybe. What would that accomplish? If it is "your year," does that mean that someone else doesn't get theirs? 

This could be your year. I guess. But it doesn't have to be. We could all focus on making it a successful year for Christ and for the people around us. That way, maybe, when we get to next January, we can look around and say, "This was our year." 

This could be our year, but only if we set our selfish agendas aside and focus on a universally applicable agenda of peace, hope, faith, and love (also known as the gospel.)

This could be your year if it stays yours. This could be our year if we give it all to Jesus.

"May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me." (John 17:21)

Happy New Year.

-Kent Reeder
Pastor - Illumine Church

A Newborn Bloom: The Backstory

Illumine has developed an entirely new take on the German poem, Es ist ein Ros' Entsprungen. Our worship coordinator, Drew Sonnenberg, introduces the song in this post.

This song came into existence in a fairly roundabout way. Kent and I were discussing how the hymn “Behold a Branch is Growing” can be a little difficult to sing. It's a beautiful melody, but some of the rhythms just make things difficult for a congregation. We mentioned maybe someday writing a new melody for it.

A few weeks later, I was sitting in Bible Class paying very close attention to what Kent was saying when a melody popped into my head. I wrote it down on the spot, not wanting to lose it. The next day I fleshed it out a little bit and added the chord structure. It came to me fairly quickly, so I was worried that I was accidentally ripping off a song that I had forgotten I knew. I played the song for my wife, to see if she recognized it. She told me that it didn't sound like any melody she had heard, but it definitely sounded like a Johnny Cash song. So the song in its first incarnation was going to be a Carter/Cash duet by my wife and me. (Which you can look forward to hearing in a few weeks!)

Kent heard it and loved it, but decided he wanted to take a crack at re-translating the original German poem Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen, on which "Behold a Branch" is based. He found that the original poem had a lot of ideas and symbolism that he wanted to highlight in new and different ways (he will tell you more about that in a future blog post.)

Now we had a new melody, a new text, and we wanted to try it out. Luckily, Advent started shortly after we completed the song. The night of rehearsal, a friend of ours named Hannah was finishing up teaching a violin lesson at church and we asked if she wanted to stick around and play with us. She graciously obliged. As soon as she started playing, Kent and I looked at each other - we knew that this is what the song had been missing.

After all of this, we're pleased to present you with “A Newborn Bloom." We have a few items available for you now, with more to follow. First we have a lead sheet for those of you who want to play it with a band or just on a guitar. Second, we have a piano accompaniment for those of you who don't use a band or prefer solo piano accompaniment. The piano arrangement was written by our good friend Steven Springborn, an extremely talented pianist who teaches and directs the choir at Nebraska Lutheran High School. We would like to thank him again for his great work. Finally, we have an recording of our members here at Illumine performing the song (complete with Hannah on violin.) We are very happy with how it turned out and we hope you like it too.

You can purchase the song from it's page on our website.

-Drew Sonnenberg
Worship Coordinator - Illumine Church

O Jesus, So Sweet, O Jesus, So Mild

Away in a Manger and Silent Night tend to run away with all the "Christmas lullaby" glory. Since they're both good, that's fine, but one lullaby-to-Jesus that doesn't get quite enough credit for its beauty and simplicity is the hymn "O Jesus So Sweet, O Jesus So Mild." A poetic prayer that's simple enough for a child and deep enough for thinkers, this hymn deserves to be part of your Christmas vocabulary. 

Therefore, Illumine is making that possible by offering this recording. Illumine member Gregg Prange, Jr. played the interlude saxophone parts and improvised the part over the 3rd verse (which is fantastic!) Pastor Kent Reeder created the guitar part and the vocals were performed by Jared Colòn. Illumine's Worship Coordinator, Drew Sonnenberg, was at the helm for the recording process.

Truth is, we all need a little Christmas saxophone action, and this is a great place to get it. While it isn't likely that Valentin Thilo, the 17th century professor of rhetoric at the University of Königsberg, felt that way (since the saxophone wasn't invented until the 1840s), we feel confident that he'd have at least appreciated this arrangement of his text. We really hope that you do, too.

The world is on fire.

That's a direct quote from a man with whom I was standing in a checkout line looking at newspaper headlines. "The world is on fire," he muttered, and we exchanged looks.

Just the other night, when talking about a drug that ISIS soldiers are taking to help them feel invincible, Stephen Colbert said, "I think I speak for everyone who has been watching the news when I say, 'Can I get some of that?'"

ABC News' December 14th article "The Anatomy of Trump's South Carolina Supporters" also paints a picture of people, people who live here in SC, who are so afraid of potential terrorist attacks and mass shootings at the mall that Donald Trump's strong words about immigration and defense have made this a one-issue decision for them. 

The world is on fire. Paris, San Bernardino, Colorado Springs, Charleston, military bases, Syria. A pile of words that are kindling to an escalating unease that every-once-in-a-while starts to look a lot like panic. And here we thought it was beginning to look like Christmas.

I don't want the world to be on fire. Most of us, in fact, would prefer those things that Christmas so often brings to mind - peace, love, hope, and joy. We like those kinds of things (it's part of why we like Christmas so much,) and we like them, mostly, because we believe that they work. When hope and optimism, compassion and kindness, love and grace are employed in a life, a community, or a nation they seem to lead to better and better things. They work. 

This fire stuff - violence, ignorance, oppression, fear - these don't seem to work so well. (You'd think we'd remember that, what with Star Wars paraphernalia everywhere you look. These things lead to the dark side, people.) All joking aside, though, when compared hope and kindness, violence and fear are broken. They do not lead to increased life or quality of life. They do not lead to better societies or communities or families. They lead to deterioration, destruction, and pain. They lead to fire. 

The world is on fire. The fire is sin, and sin is anything that doesn't work. The broken things that cause more brokenness. The ignorance that leads to hatred. The prejudice that leads to injustice. The ambitions that leads to deceit. The deceit that leads to ignorance. The sparks that lead to fires. The fires that lead to infernos. 

The world is on fire, and so I'm asking you, as a regular guy who doesn't want to see anyone else get hurt: Please, don't fight fire with fire anymore. You're allowed to be passionate about your beliefs and active to pursue your rights. But please, everyone, do not fight fire with fire. When people speak out in ignorance, do not respond in sarcasm. Both destroy. When people shout hateful things, do not respond unfairly. Both are broken. When people are deceitful, don't hate them. What will that accomplish?

Some may suggest that, sometimes, fiery words offer a kind of light to a situation that wasn't there before. Certainly, this particular presidential season has seen angry, fear-filled comments lead to important, necessary conversations. For some, it's been appealing to have light where there had been only dark deception or ignorance.

But even when the fire offers some light, are we okay with the destruction it guarantees? Isn't there some other way that light can be brought into our confusion without also bringing so much pain? I know we're frustrated, I know we're scared, I know we just want a safe and good world for our kids. Why aren't we doing the work that know, that we believe, brings a satisfying solution? If you're singing about peace on earth this holiday season, don't forget that "on earth" includes everyone, not only you. If you're singing about good-will toward men, don't forget that that includes people who aren't like you, who don't think like you, who don't worship like you. 

Do you want a solution that works? Do you want to put out the fire? Then please, please, stop fighting fire with more fire. Start fighting it with things that we know work. Let those good things that come up so frequently in the Christmas season shape your next steps. Follow them toward a solid solution to these increasingly complicated problems that we're all trying to navigate.

And, if I may, don't just follow them forward, toward a solution. Look back. See where they came from - identify their source. Realize that Christmas wouldn't be about those good things if it weren't for the best thing - the free, unlimited, peace-bringing love of God.

The world is on fire - don't add to it anymore! We have been given a better way to fight it - the same way that God did. With love and hope and patience. With kindness and compassion. With justice and fairness. With truth and knowledge. With hearts that seek not to be served, but to serve. May these good things give us a way forward and open our eyes to a vision bigger than our ideals, our desires, or our personal well-being. May our minds be the same as that of God himself, who sees each person on this planet as someone he desperately loves, and may we act accordingly.

Give Thanks to God on High - RELEASE POST

Click here to preview and purchase "Give Thanks to God on High" as performed by Illumine.

How many of you, without looking, know the words to the hymn Give Thanks to God on High? It sounds like it would be the fanfare of every Thanksgiving service ever, right? While it certainly works as a general thanksgiving hymn, it actually has a much narrower focus.

Through the four verses of this hymn, we thank God for 3 specific things:

1. The “saints of other days” who faithfully worked to spread the Gospel message
2. The privilege to be numbered among those saints as we continue to spread the good news of the Gospel.
3. God’s promise that the church will endure forever because he will send future saints to continue this work.

In short, we thank God for the Church.

Most of the time, when we think of "the church," we think of the buildings that we worship in.  We think of the Sunday morning services where we get to give praise to our God.  However, the word that Jesus used that is often translated as “church” is the Greek word “ecclesia”. This word does not refer to a building or a service, but instead to a gathering or a group of people. When it comes to Christianity, that's the invisible church of all believers. It is this group of people that we thank God for in this hymn. We thank God for the people in the past, present, and future who have faithfully, do faithfully, and will faithfully carry out his work.

(Speaking of which, I am especially thankful for the members of my local ecclesia who have helped with the recording of this song. Jill Howe, Jared Colon, Alex Reeder, Jill Sonnenberg, Gregg Prange Sr., Gregg Prange Jr., Cody Holderbecker, and Pastor Kent Reeder. Without their talents, none of this would have been possible.)

Our version of this hymn uses a new melody that we think gives some new life to a great old text. It begins simply, with an acoustic guitar and a single vocal and continually builds throughout the song. By the end, there's a horn part that evokes the feeling of New Orleans jazz as well as gang vocals where we all join in to single the chorus in exuberant three part harmony.

This is Illumine's first recording, ever! We certainly have some things we can do better as we learn. You'll notice little discrepancies. There are some pops and clipping. We are excited for the ways we'll improve in future recordings, and we are very proud of this one - and we hope you like it. We really think many of you will, and we pray that it helps you in your life of worship.