Adventure with Pastor Aaron

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1-2-3 (Part 2) - December 2019

As unique individuals, each of us have a set of interests and characteristics that we get varying levels of opportunity to express. Some of us love our jobs because we enjoy the kind of work they provide. Most people are good at their jobs because they have a certain degree of natural aptitude for the task, which is sharpened and shaped and deepened by years of experience. Many of us have hobbies or interests that spark our imagination and provide considerable enjoyment, and yet, sometimes even our closest friends have little clue as to how deeply our love for our hobby can go. We don’t talk about it. People don’t ask. It’s a hidden part of us that doesn’t often manifest itself.

But there are precious and unexpected moments when you discover that a friend or acquaintance has that same “bug” that you do. Who would have thought it! You’ve made an instant friend, and in just a few short moments you’re deep into the nuances of gardening or cosplay or indie punk rock or home brewing or interior design or organic cooking or Broadway or DIY or canning or golf or… the list could be endless. Discovering that another person has heard of, much less LOVES your favorite author (who happens to be fairly obscure) provides an opportunity to take a deep dive with a kindred spirit. When you find someone who has fallen just as in love with Baby Yoda as you have (Mandalorian fans will understand), you have an opportunity to “nerd out” with someone who has just as keen an interest in whether Rey will be “light” or “dark” by the end of Episode IX (if she survives, that is).

Now, if I’ve lost you with that last sentence, hang on! Some of you will know exactly what I’m talking about, and would be giddy to start a conversation about it. Others might even stop reading right there for fear of an even longer diatribe on the finer points of Star Wars lore. But by now it should be no surprise that I’m a Star Wars fan, or that I love Marvel superhero stories, as well as almost anything Disney. And I’m guessing you’re either like me in that respect, or not so much. It’s not something that I hide, particularly. I just try really hard not to bring it up too much. I don’t want to make people feel weird by my over-the-top fandom.

And here’s the point: I think many people treat their faith life like something that should be kept private, or mentioned lightly, like a hidden piece of personality or interest. The trend is well-documented. Americans see the privatization of religion to be a good thing. It’s not exactly a “dirty little secret,” but it’s not something that you announce with fanfare in polite gatherings. It’s personal. Something to keep to yourself. Don’t get preachy. Live and let-live. Don’t invade my personal, interior world, and I’ll stay out of yours. Everyone stays comfortable.

Some Christians will even start to believe the lie that what happens in church should be kept in church by leaning on the prayer of Jesus in John 17. It’s the place where we get the idea that we are called to be “in” the world without being “of” the world. "I have given them your word. The world hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I am not praying that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” But if we focus just on that idea, we miss what Jesus says next in verse 18: "As you sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.”

As we prepare to celebrate Christmas, we would be foolhardy to gloss over the fact that God SENT His Son into this world, to be the “with-us God,” Immanuel. He doesn’t stay where it’s safe. He puts Himself out there. In the world. He stays connected to His Father, but He lives a very public, quite unapologetic life. He spends time with His disciples and with the crowds. He debates with His opponents. He is sent to complete the mission to save us. And He’s willing not just to become a lowly human being, in the form of a helpless infant. He’s also willing to die for you. He does that publicly. In plain view. Allowing Himself to be killed in a situation that could only be viewed as embarrassing and shameful, from a human view. This is where we find Jesus, on the cross. IN the world.

So while it’s great to have a place where we can be fed, hear God’s truth proclaimed powerfully, and be together as a family, it’s not the only place where the work of the church happens. We have one mission: make disciples (as we talked about last month). And it happens in 2 places: at church (temple) and in daily life (extended family life or oikos). We’ll be talking about these two places and fleshing that out in the coming months.

Jesus sends us into the world, just like the Father sent Him, to be a light in a dark place, salt in a tasteless world, and a picture of the kingdom coming. Our homes, our places of work, where we shop and engage in society all become opportunities for the love of Jesus to be conveyed to a hurting world. Yes, there is comfort and growth inside the church, the family of God that gathers. But Jesus calls us to more than that, scatters and sends us to accomplish His mission, because…

Adventure is out there! Pastor Aaron

PS. I pray you have a blessed, merry Christmas, and that the joy of Jesus makes your celebrations meaningful and encouraging.

1-2-3 (Part 1) - November 2019

I love books. Well-crafted books. Hardcovers, if I can get them. A cloth-covered, embossed book with deckled edges and the smell of a library or a print shop all over it is a feast for the senses to me. As a self-proclaimed bibliophile, one of my biggest daily regrets is that I haven’t had enough time to read.

And if “Who’s your favorite author?” is your next question, I will try very hard not to look too giddy and wide-eyed as I say, “C.S. Lewis!” Aside from being a Bible nerd and a lover of Luther’s acerbic wit, I know of no other author who can activate my imagination and engage my heart. The Chronicles of Narnia, where most people start their journey with Lewis. The often-overlooked Space (or Ransom) Trilogy. Creative Christian fantasy like The Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce. Lewis' many, fantastically-crafted works of religious philosophy. The modern reader can learn much from this Oxford don, and the contemporary Christian will be well-fed in devotional introspection and bolstered for a robust life of mission and witness.

As of late, I’ve been slowly digesting the chapters of Mere Christianity, arguably Lewis’s best and most accessible philosophical work. And just the other day, I read a passage that fit so well into the internal conversation I’ve been having with God. A pretty distinct “poke” in the plethora of nudges He routinely gives me. A gentle hand on my shoulder, to direct me where He wants our conversations here at Immanuel in the coming months to go. I just had to share it with you. Here it is:

"This is the whole of Christianity. There is nothing else. It is so easy to get muddled about that. It is easy to think that the Church has a lot of different objects—education, building, missions, holding services. Just as it is easy to think the State has a lot of different objects—military, political, economic, and what not. But in a way things are much simpler than that. The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life. A husband and wife chatting over a fire, a couple of friends having a game of darts in a pub, a man reading a book in his own room or digging in his own garden—that is what the State is there for. And unless they are helping to increase and prolong and protect such moments, all the laws, parliaments, armies, courts, police, economics, etc., are simply a waste of time. In the same way the Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became Man for no other purpose ” (2001, p. 199).

So if God has placed us in this place, for such a time as this, for the purpose of shaping and crafting us into people who look like Him, shouldn’t we be paying attention to that? When Jesus models disciple-making by His own life and practice, then encourages us to do the same in His final “marching orders,” the Great Commission, shouldn’t that mean something to us? What does it look to walk in the footsteps of the Master? If making disciples, making embodiments of who Jesus is out of our everyday life, is what we were made for, will the gracious, loving God we serve not also, by His Spirit, give us what we need to accomplish His will? I am confident that He who started this work in us will bring it to completion when all is said and done (Phil. 1:6). Keep your eyes peeled and your ears attentive to a more in-depth conversation about this starting after the first of the year. But in the meantime,…

Adventure is out there! Pastor Aaron

ConsumerChristiansorFruit-BearingDisciples-Oct2019

I have a confession to make. So, here goes. I love to eat. I do. There’s something very satisfying about a combination of high-quality ingredients prepared with excellence. It holds the same appeal and opportunity for delight that you’d experience in a sublime piece of music, played with excellence, or a work of art, appreciated for all of its nuance and expression. Food is good. Good food is even better.

And sometimes, even though my head knows better, I eat too much. I’ve heard enough of the statistics about nutrition, obesity, and health that I could even consciously know, in the moment, that taking another bite isn’t in my best interest. That I should probably eat only half of the over-sized portion the server puts in front of me and take the rest home. That I can still function with the mentality of my teenage years, when titles like “Bottomless Pit” and “Hollow Leg” were commonly applied to me.

But if I’m being honest, I know that’s not the case. Eating too much isn’t good for me. I can’t follow those patterns of excess that were common in my youth. I can’t rely on a high metabolism to zap every calorie I put into my mouth to smithereens. And if ever I forget, all I have to do is look back to my first year of college and what the infamous “Freshman 15” (or 25!) can do to a person. Too much food, without the exercise to balance it out, is unhealthy and unproductive.

The same is true for the Christian life. We need to eat good “food,” the Word of God, to sustain our hearts for the journey with Jesus. We need to have our physical bodies filled with the Spirit of Jesus and His promises as we take the Lord’s Supper, so He truly does dwell in us bodily. We need good, nutritious spiritual food. And gathering together to “eat” on the weekends, to gather as the church, to be filled with God’s goodness, is essential to solid community and the unity it needs to thrive. Eating during the week is also essential, spending time in the Word personally, listening for God’s voice between the rustling of the pages.

However (and this is the point), we are not called to be spiritually flabby. We eat to work. We feed our hearts to engage in the mission. We are filled with God’s goodness to have something to share. God puts food on the table not so that we can get fat, happy, and lazy. He bountifully provides for His family because He knows their work in His harvest fields is hard! We consume to produce. And what is a godly life to produce? Personally, it produces the fruit of God’s Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). And in relationship with others, it produces a community of disciple-makers and -shapers.

The benefits of this are two-fold. First, we are much less inclined to be so concerned about whether we like the “taste” of the food than how it will fuel the mission Jesus left us: making disciples. We become less caught up in the consumeristic attitudes of our culture, much less concerned with having things our way. Jesus didn’t promise His disciples long stays in 5-star hotels. He called them to follow Him…to the cross and beyond. The same is true for us. Our culture says to us, “Your will be done,” but we say to God, “Thy will be done.”

Second, our view of what happens when we gather to eat changes. We gather to eat. We eat to be healthy. We consume to produce. We engage God’s Word not only to be found standing with God…which is important (we’ll talk about that this coming month). But we engage God’s Word to be saturated with His presence and truth, so that our lives produce good works that others can notice and praise God (Matthew 5:16).

So…eat! Drink! Enjoy the company of God’s people! It’s a GOOD thing to do so. But also remember why you eat. It’s not just for you. It’s for the people around you, too. The people that share their lives with you in everyday life. And the miracle that Jesus is still doing, two millennia after His ascension, is feeding millions (not just 4,000 or 5,000) with His very self. With simple bread and wine. And He uses His body, you and me, joined together and enlivened by His Spirit, to deliver this food to those around us. So here’s to a healthy, growing, well-exercised body…and the Savior who feeds it! Cheers!

Adventure is out there! Pastor Aaron

A Family of Immigrants - September 2019

A few weeks ago, we had our air conditioner break down. When we bought our house, we weren’t sure how well the unit would function, considering the home inspector couldn’t turn it on during the winter. Thankfully, a home warranty was included in the sale of our house, and the company covered the lion’s share of the replacement unit. It was a huge relief from a potentially massive financial burden, and a beautiful bit of evidence of God’s providential care.

The couple of weeks we were without air conditioning were some of the most hot, muggy weeks of the summer, and we frequently found ourselves sleeping over in the accommodating, hospitable homes of friends and family. We were thankful to have cool sleeping conditions, and the community and enjoyment we found in spending time with those who opened their homes to us was invaluable. However, you know as well as I do that Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz spoke some real truth about the human condition with these words: “There’s no place like home.”

We long for stability. We long for permanence. We long for a place to put up our feet at the end of the day, breathe a sigh of relief, and know that we’re in a good place. We long for a place of security and safety, where we can get the rest we need not just to survive, but to thrive. We long for home. It’s not just about comfort. It’s about having a place where you belong. Home is a fundamental human need.

So what do you do when your home feels less like home and more like a prison? When Egypt became more slavery than home, God’s people sought a way out…and God provided a way. When people of Jesus’ day felt the weight of the Law, condemning them in their brokenness, He went to the cross to free them from that brokenness and all its effects. He turned a lack of belonging to God’s family that came through the Law into a rekindled relationship with their Heavenly Father that could only come by a righteous sacrifice. God’s house became home again. God’s people found a place to belong again.

In my estimation, the word “immigrant” is a word that describes someone who is looking for home. For a place of belonging. For a place of stability and safety. A place that looks more like life and freedom than death and slavery. As human beings, then, and especially as God’s people, we are immigrants. We are a migratory people, moving from places of slavery and brokenness towards places of fullness, from Egypt to the Promised Land, from the tyranny of a killing Law to the City of God produced by the Gospel.

One of my favorite songwriters, Derek Webb, put it well in his song “A King and a Kingdom:” “Who’s your brother, who’s your sister/You just walked past him, I think you missed her/As we’re all migrating to the place where our Father lives/Because we married into a family of immigrants.” God’s people, the Church, the Bride of Christ, married into a family that moves.

My point, after all that, is this: you can’t hear the words of Jesus, “Come, follow me,” take them seriously, and stay stock-still, remaining motionless. His invitation and call is a call to movement. Movement means change…changing circumstances and changing scenery. Change is hard, but change is life! Movement is hard, but movement is godly, for our church and for you personally.

So where is Jesus calling you? How is he inviting you into places where He is already working, inviting you to join Him on the mission of loving and serving people, like He does. He might use a little bit of life change to spur you on to connect with new people. He might use a new interest or hobby. He might use a change of setting. Or, perhaps, he could even use something as mundane as a broken air conditioner to set you up for some really great conversations. He’s faithful, and He has meaningful things in store for those who walk with Him. Here’s to the journey ahead!

Adventure is out there!  Pastor Aaron

Rest is Godly - August 2019

As the summer starts to wind down and the minds of those involved in all levels of formal education start to drift, sometimes reluctantly, toward the classroom and its pursuits, it’s good to reflect on a simple truth: rest is a godly thing.

If Almighty God, who created the world in six days, rested on the seventh day, what should that tell us? That even the most powerful being in the world seeks to set an example, a pattern for His creation to follow. God Almighty doesn’t need to rest. In fact, Isaiah states very clearly that God “does not faint or grow weary” (40:28, ESV). Not only His love and affection for His creation is indefatigable, but His power is, as well. So the reason God rests on the seventh day of the week is to give us an example, a template to follow.

In many ways, the godly impulse to rest is not only written into our biological rhythms, but it also revives and enlivens us. You may have heard me say in my sermons that following God is becoming more human, and that sin is anything that makes us less human. Life without rest, without a break, without a vacation, dehumanizes us. I’m guessing you probably know what it feels like when you’ve been in a season that has sapped the energy out of you, taken away the zest of life, broken you down physically or emotionally, or made you feel like you’ve got nothing left. There are so many other ways of saying it, but the need for rest from work is an important part of following in Jesus’ footsteps. Even He, God Incarnate, Immanuel, took time away to recharge and reinvigorate Himself by being with His Father (which should probably tell us something, right?).

Our society was built upon the backs of hard workers, and in many ways, the American ideal of a hard day’s work has been retained to this day. However, you don’t have to be a certified workaholic to get tired and worn out. There is much conversation about having a solid awareness of work/life balance and being intentional about maintaining health between the two…and rightly so. The simplest way I can think to put it, at least right now, is that you will not have the fulfilling, meaningful life for which God created you if you have too much work OR too much rest. Having purpose demands work, but maintaining the energy to engage that purpose requires rest.

So as I sit here at my computer, just a couple of days after a week and a half of vacation myself, my prayer for you as the summer finishes up is that you would hear the words of Jesus in Matthew 11, believe them, and put that belief and trust into action: "'Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (28-30, The Message).

Adventure is out there!  Pastor Aaron

Preparing for Transformation - July 2019

If you’ve ever done a home improvement project of any scale, you’ve probably noticed that preparing for the project often takes just as long, if not longer, than actually doing the work. Purchasing supplies, examining plans and schematics, cleaning out areas that need space, ensuring all tools are available and at the ready - the list of preparations can be immense and often stall the beginning of the project, much less its completion. Yes, a project usually begins with a great deal of preparation.

The same could be said of spiritual transformation. God is constantly working on our hearts. Sometimes He uses blessings and victories to encourage us. Sometimes He allows brokenness and defeat to shape us. But whatever He sends us, it is with His express purpose of making us more like Him, teaching our hearts to beat with His, and gifting us with the tools we will need to do His work of redeeming things that are sad and ugly in our present reality. Whatever circumstances He uses, it often takes time. And we almost never understand why He’s putting us through the moments of shaping until they're past.

The apostle Paul encourages us in Romans 12, "Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God” (vs. 2, CSB). God is at work transforming us, making us into something different, not “just because” (even though…let’s face it…that reason would be enough!). He’s transforming us so that we can discern His will. And we know that God’s desire, and what would please Him most, is for "everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4, CSB). Yes, God’s plans, and the changes He is constantly making to us are never willy-nilly, purposeless, or unintentional. He has a plan to save the world, and He wants to prepare you and me to play a part in that mission. There is not a greater calling or purpose in this life.

I believe that Immanuel is in the midst of a transformation. God’s been working on our hearts for some time, preparing us for what’s next. And with that transformation comes a variety of outward evidence. It may feel like a boost in the openness or friendliness of the atmosphere of our gatherings. It may look like a new vitality and liveliness in our social gatherings and studies of God’s Word. It may look like new building projects getting underway (after a LONG period of preparation). And it may look like an influx of new people (or people who are coming back to our family after a long absence) who are curious to discover what God is up to here.

So my encouragement and charge to you is this: ask God to work internal, spiritual transformation in your life, so your life looks more like Jesus, who laid down His life for you. Enjoy the external evidence of His work that He gives you eyes to see, both in your own life and walk with God, and also in the midst of our congregation. But never neglect to listen to the voice of God, calling you to deeper relationship with Him, and deeper relationship with the people around you, people who are different than you…people Jesus died to save. Transformation is never easy, but God is a tireless worker, and promises complete, final transformation for all those who trust Him. May you find unexpected blessings pouring into your life from extraordinary places as you follow in the Master’s footsteps.

Adventure is out there!  Pastor Aaron

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