PASTOR BRIAN RENEWAL UPDATE #4

Update #4: Out West

It is with mixed emotions that we share this fourth update of our renewal leave. We spent some wonderful time with dear friends and family out west, we learned that our daughter back home was in the hospital facing some serious health issues, and we say good bye to a dear friend.


Arizona, Utah, and Idaho

Linda and I made our way to Scottsdale for some rest and relaxation. We had a wonderful time enjoying the sun, eating some great food, taking in the sites, and getting some much-needed relaxation. During this time, we spent a couple of days with my uncle Paul in Prescott, Arizona. Paul was a great encourager to me as I was growing up, and I will be forever grateful for the positive influence he has made on my life. Linda, Paul, and I sat around a table for two days recounting memories, sharing laughs, and catching up. It was a rich time of enjoying one another, and Linda and I both came away feeling very blessed.


After our time in Scottsdale and Prescott we headed north through Arizona and Utah enjoying some scenes along the way: the ancient cliff dwellings at Montezuma Castle National Monument, the unique mining town of Jerome built on the side of a mountain, the beautiful red rock buttes of Sedona, the soaring red cliffs and weeping rocks of Zion National Park, and the scenic rock formations of Red Canyon in Dixie National Forest. We finally ended up in Trenton Utah at our friends Noel and Paula. Noel was an associate pastor for several years at our old church in Aurora. Noel was a great role model for me as an associate pastor and was one of the influences in me choosing to be an associate pastor. Pastor Noel and his wife impacted both my wife and I during a critical time in our life and our marriage. We had a great time catching up with Noel and Paula and getting to know their five horses and 6 cats. On Sunday, we headed 15 miles north just over the border into Idaho, to Preston Presbyterian Church, where Noel serves as the pastor. We got to know this wonderful congregation a bit as we worshipped together and as we sat down to a delicious potluck afterwards. In all, we thoroughly enjoyed our time with Noel and Paula and feel refreshed by our time with them.


Meanwhile back home in Illinois . . .

It was on this drive north to Noel and Paula’s, that we first heard that our daughter Caitlyn was in the emergency room because of some acute abdominal pain and was first diagnosed with a kidney infection. She was sent home with some antibiotics, but the next day she was back at the ER because the pain had increased and had moved into her chest. After a blood test, they determined that something else was wrong, but they were not sure what. They then moved on to do a CT scan of her chest and that is when they found that she had blood clots in her lungs, a shower of clots in all four quadrants! She was immediately put on blood thinners and admitted to the hospital, where she stayed for four days. The doctors eventually determined that Caitlyn had developed the blood clots because of a very rare side effect to a medication she had recently been prescribed. For Linda and I, this was all a rollercoaster of emotions as we were clear across the country as all of this was unfolding. We praise God that Caitlyn and our other daughter Christina paid attention to the symptoms and got to the hospital. Christina was such a great sibling and took wonderful care of her older sister through the whole ordeal. We are so thankful to Laura Lense, my Dad, and our friend Lauri who came to the hospital to fill-in in our absence – they were, and are, all such a blessing! Caitlyn is home now and doing much better. She is off the pain medications and is feeling better and better each day. She will be on blood thinners for the next three months, but she is able to return to all normal activities. We are grateful for each and everyone of you for lifting Caitlyn up, and our whole family, in prayers and we praise God for healing our daughter.

“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” Ephesians 6:18

Saying Goodbye

On a much sadder note we say good bye to a dear friend of ours, Jeff Weiss, this week. For those who have been following our updates you might remember our small group reunion in Aurora. During that time, we had the opportunity to pray for Jeff who had just been diagnosed with cancer the week before our reunion. We were all hopeful as we lifted up Jeff and his family in prayer. The doctors and the family were all optimistic as he began his treatments. At the end of last week, Jeff over exerted himself trimming a 30’ tree. He was exhausted and feeling weak on Wednesday morning, which the doctor said was normal. However, he fell in his bedroom and broke his nose and was taken by ambulance to the ER this past Wednesday. They found that he had fluid around his heart and a blood clot in his lungs. Again, the doctors were optimistic as they dealt with his issues and did a procedure to remove the liquid around his heart. However, just over 12 hours later, on Wednesday night, Jeff graduated home to be with his Savior and His Lord. I cherish the words that Jeff’s wife posted on Facebook:

Dear friends & family my soulmate Jeff went home to the place the Lord has prepared for him. My soul rejoices he is with Jesus but my heart is hurting. He was my best friend & my hero & I will miss him. Jeff wanted me to thank you for your prayers & encouraging messages as do I. He told me from the day we found out he had cancer that no matter which way it turned out he wins. He was simply the best. Until we meet again Jeffy rest easy. I know Jesus is telling you well done good & faithful servant.

As Jeff and I talked at our small group reunion, he shared that he is ready no matter what the outcome. He had no doubt of his final destination, and he longed to be with Jesus. I am grateful that Jeff is home now, but I will miss my friend and look forward to our next reunion together.

“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. Revelation 21:3-4

“. . . there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb . . . And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb’”


PASTOR BRIAN RENEWAL UPDATE #3

Update #3: Our Road Trip Out East

Western Illinois

After a couple of weeks at home, Linda finished up work for the remainder of the renewal leave and we packed up the car and headed out for the open road. Our first stop was a couple hours west in Rock Falls, Illinois, to see our friends Ric and Carol. Linda and Carol have been friends since 4th grade. The four of us became friends when we were all newly married way back when Linda and Carol were finishing up their senior year at Judson College. It was great to catch up with each other over dinner and a game of Pinochle (the boys won in case you were wondering).

Southern Illinois

From Rock Falls, we made our way to Pinckneyville in southern Illinois to see Pastor Don and Luan. Linda and I know Luan from our old church in Aurora. Luan was the youth pastor for the middle school and asked Linda and I to join her as volunteers and later to take over the middle school ministry as Luan moved up to oversee the high school ministry. Luan has been a dear friend and a great encourager to both Linda and I over the years. It was so good to catch up with her and to share memories as well as what God is doing in each of our lives now. On Sunday, we attended the Pinckneyville United Methodist Church where Luan’s husband Don is the pastor. The church was so welcoming and Don has such a shepherd’s heart for this wonderful congregation. We enjoyed getting caught up with Luan and riding around town in their golf cart – many in Pinckneyville use a golf cart rather than a car to get around town.

West Virginia

From Pinckneyville, we headed east to the hills of West Virginia, to the town of Buckhannon and the home of our friends Jay and Amanda. Linda and I became friends with Jay and Amanda as Jay and I attended Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Jay is now the pastor of First Baptist Church of Buckhannon. Linda and I really enjoyed spending time catching up and sharing quite a few laughs with our friends. It is amazing how much of our seminary years were such a blur for all of us and it was great trying to recall all that happened in our lives during that time as well as catching each other up on what has happened in our lives after our graduations and calls to ministry.

New Jersey and New York City

From Buckhannon, Linda and I made our way north to New Jersey and the town of Rutherford to stay at an Airbnb. Rutherford is just a half hour public bus ride from New York City. Linda and I took a little time to see a few of the sights in the Big Apple. (In case you ever plan to visit, you might want to go for more than a day and a half!) We had time to take a ferry ride out past the Statue of Liberty, to enjoy an open air tour bus ride through part of the city, to take in the night view from the Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center, to take a stroll through Times Square, and to enjoy some good food along the way. The most memorable time was on our second day as we went through the 9/11 Memorial and Museum – a very moving experience.

New York

From Rutherford, we made our way north just past the state capitol to the town of Troy. This is the home of our friends John and Jen who we know from our youth ministry days in Aurora when John was the associate pastor of our church. John and Jen were among the first people we told when I decided to go to school to pursue pastoral ministry, and it was John’s solid dedication to the church as an associate pastor that was a model for me as I felt called to be an associate pastor myself. While with John and Jen we enjoyed seeing some of the sites of Troy, picking apples, and catching up with each other. We also had fun getting to know their three large dogs: Zeke, Gracie, and Maggie. On Sunday, Linda and I joined John and Jen at Third Presbyterian Church where John is the pastor. This church was very welcoming and it was a joy to worship alongside them.

After our time in Troy, we headed back home again to spend some time with our daughters. As I reflect on our time with friends on this trip, I can’t help but feel grateful for the impact they have made (and continue to make) on our lives, and how nice it was to pick up right where we left off after not seeing each other for so many years. It is also a testament that they are all still serving God and others in their communities. In many ways, it was our love for Jesus that brought us together in the first place, and because of God’s grace, each of us are still seeking to love him with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength.

The verse that comes to mind after this portion of our leave is from Philippians 1. “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart…”

Our hearts are full after spending time with these dear friends! While we are thoroughly enjoying this time, I can’t help but miss each and every one of you at GCC. You are all dear to my heart, and I look forward to being back with you all again.


PASTOR BRIAN RENEWAL LEAVE UPDATE #2

OCTOBER 9, 2018

Greetings! My first update covered our pilgrimage to Scotland. After returning to the states, Linda went back to work for two weeks, and I took the opportunity to do a 3 day silent retreat at Christ in the Wilderness in Stockton, IL. In addition we have had the opportunity to worship in different churches with family and friends.

Worship with my sister Bethany

On September 16th, we worshiped with my sister Bethany and her daughter Clara at Cornerstone Anglican Church in Oak Park, IL. Both before and after the service, members told us to stay for fellowship and snacks afterwards, especially the guacamole – we did have the guacamole and it was very good. They were a very welcoming congregation of mostly 20 and 30 year olds with lots of young children.

Worship with my brother Joseph

On September 22nd, we worshiped with my brother Joseph at Beth Emeth Messianic Hebrew Synagogue in Minooka, IL (Beth Emeth means house of truth). The congregation meets in the home of the rabbi as he has created a place for their worship services in his basement. Immediately following, we joined them in their usual time of fellowship, which included sharing a meal together. During our time there, we could tell that this small group of believers cared for each other very much.

Family Reunion

In the evening, after our Sabbath service, Linda and I made our way to Linda’s parent’s house to spend time with her extended family. This mini reunion included family from Wisconsin, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and of course Illinois. It was great to reconnect with family from different parts of the country and to sit around the fire making s’mores.

Worship at First Pres & Small Group Reunion

The following day, September 23rd, we worshipped at our old church, First Presbyterian Church in Aurora, IL. Our son, Zack, played guitar and led one of the songs. It was great to see and worship with friends and family. After church we had a gathering with friends and families that we had been in small groups with during our years at First Pres. We enjoyed a great time of food, fellowship and prayer.

When I first put the plans together for this renewal leave the theme that God put on my heart was reconnection. It has been a blessing to reconnect with family members and to worship alongside them in their home church. Our God is a great God and it has been a wonderful blessing to reconnect with God in different traditions and to worship alongside other believers in each of these traditions.

Silent Retreat

As I mentioned earlier I also was able to take a silent retreat at Christ in the Wilderness (CITW); a personal retreat center about two hours west of us. I stayed in my own hermitage which was a small cabin with a bed, a desk and chair, a comfortable reading chair, as well as a small kitchen and bathroom. The grounds of CITW include a beautiful wooded property with a stream running through it as well as hills, meadows, hiking trails, and plenty of wildlife. I really enjoyed spending time alone with the Lord in this gorgeous setting. I spent my time reading, praying, worshiping, listening, hiking, and enjoying God’s creation. This was a very rich time of resting in God’s presence and focusing on him. Looking ahead I think I may make a two or three day personal retreat a yearly occurrence – it is so nice to slow down, to be still and to focus on God.

A great verse that captures both my worship times and my retreat time is Psalm 46:10-11 “Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”

We are presently out east visiting with friends and will update you on that in a week or two.

Grace & peace,

Brian & Linda

PASTOR BRIAN RENEWAL LEAVE UPDATE #1

SEPTEMBER 16, 2018 - UPDATE 1

Greetings all!

The first part of our renewal leave was a pilgrimage to Scotland with Jeff Johnson and Wonder Voyage. This was a unique opportunity as I have been listening to Jeff Johnson’s music since I was 16 years old. This pilgrimage began in Edinburgh where we met Jeff as well as our tour host Shawn and the rest of the pilgrims – 19 of us in total. All through this pilgrimage we ate together, traveled together, and worshipped together and quickly became fast friends.

Our first stop was Bamburgh and Lindisfarne – also called Holy Island. Holy Island was the home of a monastery which began with Aidan in the early 7th century and was the base for very successful missionary efforts in Scotland and northern England. In the small village of Bamburgh, in the shadow of Bamburgh castle, we had our first worship services at a church dating from the late 12th century - St. Aidan’s, which sits on the site of an original mission church that dates back to Aidan in 635 AD. Our services were very simple including several hymns or songs, a scripture reading from the Psalms and the Gospels, a prayer or two, and a time of silence. We always began and ended these services with the ringing of a trinity bell, three solemn rings from a hand bell. My experience in our first service was very emotional as I experienced God’s presence in this simple service in this place where our Lord has been worshipped for over 1300 years. I felt a simple invitation from God to come to him and find rest, to lean on him and find comfort.

IONA

From Holy Island on the east coast, we made our way to the west coast and the Isle of Iona. Iona was the home of a monastery founded in 563 by Columba. This small island monastery became the center of Christianity for Scotland and beyond for many years. The current monastery dates back to the early 12th century. This small island is very remote as it took us a 4 hour bus ride across Scotland, an hour and a half ferry ride to the Island of Mull, an hour bus ride on a single lane road across Mull, and finally a 15 minute ferry ride to the Isle of Iona. On Iona, all of our travel was on our own two feet as there is no public transportation for this small community. On this remote island we were able to enjoy not only the wonderful Abbey but also the hospitality of the people of the Island and God’s wonderful creation around us. On our first day, most of our group hiked over to the far side of the island to St. Columba’s bay, the place where Columba first landed when he made his way here from Ireland. This is a beautiful bay and I really enjoyed sitting on the beach and listening to the sound of the waves rolling along the rocks on the beach. A joined in a long tradition for pilgrims on this beach, the practice of picking up two rocks from the bay, one rock representing one thing I want to take with me and the other rock representing something I want to leave behind. The first rock I brought home with me, the second rock I threw into the water. This was a peaceful time on the beach soaking in God’s peace and presence in this place as I pondered what I needed to take from this place and what I needed to leave behind. 

On Iona we were able to have several services together as a group. We had most of these in a small chapel in front of the Abbey. These again were simple, peaceful, and meaningful services. On Sunday, our third and last day on the island, we enjoyed our own service in the chapel and then we joined many on the island as well as other pilgrims for a service in the Abbey. The Abbey was nearly filled to capacity as we enjoyed worshiping together in this unique setting. It was wonderful to hear the voices fill the church as we lifted up our great God together. We had one final service on this Island later in the afternoon as our small group of pilgrims were able to enjoy communion together, this service was a longer service and Jeff lead our singing from a keyboard that he was able to borrow from the Iona community. This was a special service as we enjoyed a longer time of worship and as we shared in the Lord’s Supper together.

As we completed our time in Scotland we had a final meal and a final worship service in Edinburgh. Again, Jeff was able to lead from a keyboard. This was a very meaningful service as we enjoyed God’s presence as we lifted up his name together in a small chapel filled with the warm glow of the setting sun filtering through the stained-glass windows. This pilgrimage to Scotland was the perfect beginning to our renewal leave as it led us to a place to disconnect from the world for a short time in order to put our sole focus on God. Linda and I very much enjoyed our time with God, our fellowship with the other pilgrims, and our time with each other. It was a joy to connect with other believers on this trip and to connect with God in such unique locations. God has been worshiped in theses places for generation after generation after generation . . . it is such a privilege to join with all those that were before us in seeking and praising our great God and Savior.

Psalm 145:4-6 (ESV)

4 One generation shall commend your works to another,

    and shall declare your mighty acts.

5 On the glorious splendor of your majesty,

    and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.

6 They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds,

    and I will declare your greatness.