Gut Feelings

By Jennifer Johnson

Scientists have told us for years there is a strong link between our feelings and the state of our stomach. The “enteric nervous system,” or ENS, in our digestive system has sometimes been called the “second brain,” and a 2013 study found that introducing different bacteria to the stomach can cause changes to our emotions.

The Las Vegas strip
The Las Vegas strip.

Chalk one more up for the ancient Greeks; long before today’s research, they’d coined the word splagna, which roughly translates to “compassion” but literally means one’s guts. They knew that when we feel empathy in our hearts, we can also feel it in our bodies. In fact, sometimes we almost physically hurt in our deepest places for the needs of others.

Both Vince Antonucci at Verve in Las Vegas and the team at Real Life Christian Church in Florida are meeting those needs in risky ways. For Vince, it was the commitment to staying on the Strip instead of planting in the suburbs, launching the Vault Conference to equip other leaders to learn from his experience, and starting a new church planting movement focused on people far from God (click here to read a related article). For the team at Real Life it’s tackling some of the toughest and most controversial issues, live, on-air, and in a public forum (click here to read a different related article).

“Sometimes the pastors appearing on the show are working through the issues in their own minds even as they participate in the discussion,” Marc Naugler and Chris Gingrasso told me. “We talk about being real, and these are definitely very real and unscripted conversations.”

I’m not much of a risk-taker by nature; my parents like to tell the story of arriving at the church nursery to pick me up after services one Sunday morning and finding me hiding under a crib. According to family lore, I sat there solemnly, without tears, fat-dimpled hands resting on stubby legs, blinking out at the world and venturing forth only when Brandon Abercrombie crawled in next to me and pulled my hair.

But almost every Bible character who allowed God to use his life in a significant way did so because he took risks. Abraham left everything familiar to travel to a far country, David spent years on the run from a mad king, Mary delivered a baby alone in a cave, and Paul survived shipwrecks and endured prison. Throughout Scripture, God’s people feel fear as a noun but don’t indulge in fear as a verb, and I love the way Vince and Marc and Chris and many other leaders are doing the same, following a Messiah who went to parties with tax collectors and a Father who said, “Fear not.”

Both compassion and courage are needed to take our faith to cynical people with complex questions. When we feel splagna as we encounter a hurting world, it should give us the guts to share Jesus.

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