Adventure with Pastor Aaron

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A New Name

My family and I love to play board games of all kinds, and the Christmas season all but guarantees that new selections to our game library will be forthcoming. One that has recently become a standard is built on the premise of discovering whether the person you are traveling with through a mafia-controlled town is in danger like you or the one looking to silence you. Like other games of skill, you are playing not only the game, but also the person across from you. Who are they? How will they respond to different situations? Can you discover their hidden identity...before it's too late?

Human beings have been learning to hide from the very beginning. It started in Eden after the Fall. We don’t always show all of who we are to everyone we meet… and for good reasons! Jeremiah tells us that the heart of a human being "is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable—who can understand it?" (17:9, CSB). So part of hiding looks like pushing back against those sinful impulses, taking every thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:5), and refusing to act them out in the world. This can be a deep, godly thing, and an intimate part of our walk with God.

But in other cases, hiding who we are looks like putting on a front for people around us. We are happy to present an image of ourselves that looks shinier and nicer and more kind and more generous than who we often are on the inside. There is a lack of correlation between our inner life and how we present ourselves. Sometimes it spills out in the way that we treat people in one area or space, with people in another space experiencing a whole different "side" of us. 

Nobody likes a phony. Being genuine with people is a cardinal virtue of our culture these days, and people can smell inauthenticity a mile away. This creates problems for all of us. Sometimes those problems are with other people. But they're always rooted in a lack of right relationship with our heavenly Father. We have all sinned and deserve nothing from Him (Romans 3:23), but He calls us His family and invites us to live out that identity in the real world. Jesus was born, lived, died, and was raised so that this incongruity can and will be finally rectified when all things are put right someday. But this side of heaven, living out the family name "Christian" in every situation is a brave but impossible task to complete perfectly, as God commands us (Matthew 5:48). We can envision the ideal, but always fall short of achieving it. This in turn makes us appear to those around us as people who don’t often live out what we say we believe.

However, the  depth  of God’s love, grace, and mercy is deeper than our inabilities. Our failure to live out our Christian identity doesn’t automatically exile us from the family. Living in repentance, Jesus' challenge to follow Him remains, even in the aftermath of our failure, especially as a way forward, a meaningful life of forgiveness and restoration. What Jesus wants from us is a life that is fully integrated, so that who we are in every setting is authentic, true, and consistent. 

As people of the truth, who side with the language of Jesus, we have to be authentically us wherever we go. There should never be a version of us who shows up in God‘s house, with another image that we display to the world for one reason or another. Jesus lived a fully integrated life. He was consistently HIM wherever He went. He lived His life with His Father, with His followers, and with the crowds openly, and He invites us to do the same.

God wants a strong relationship with you, one that carries over from times of being in His Word and with His people to your day-to-day life. He wants to transform you. He also wants you to live in community with other members of His family who will love you through every circumstance but also challenge you to grow in ways that will grow the Kingdom. All of this is not just for the benefit of His own family, but to all people who will join in the joy of knowing the goodness of a Father who loves unconditionally, gives generously, and always keeps His promises. 

What’s in a name?“ It’s a question I’ve been asking myself as I’ve considered an appropriate change in the name of our newsletter. I wrestled with that question a lot. It's a much more involved conversation than I have space for here, but if you’d like to hear the story and join me in that continued wrestling, I'm in! This is an open invitation to come have a cup of coffee with me and talk it through. I’m serious. Shoot me a message or call me and we’ll set it up. 

For brevity's sake, here's the short version: at the heart of my internal conversation has been how to properly express what we want to be about as a church. What we have been about for decades, and how we need to reframe and refresh that mission as we move forward. To me, it looks like living a fully integrated life. Being open and honest about who we are and Whose we are, even the things we’d like to hide, and bringing the conversations that start in the four walls of the church building into our daily lives in ways that bless people around us and benefit the growth of God’s kingdom.

The great good news that Jesus would have us hear is that as we strive to discover the shape of that integrated life in a constantly-changing world, He doesn't change. His love, grace, wisdom remains consistent, even when we fail to be. His forgiveness for our missteps and mistakes is deep, and He stands ready to affirm us and cheer us on when we take bold steps to follow Him. His name for YOU remains, "Beloved," regardless of how well-integrated His love is in your life.When all is said and done, He remains the true Lord of the Church, and we can find true joy as we work with Him in the Kingdom as we learn what it means that...

Adventure is out there!
Pastor Aaron

C***** (AKA, The Word Nobody Likes to Hear)

In 1972, George Carlin included a segment in one of his comedy routines that has become well known for its commentary on so-called "curse words." He zeroed in on seven words that are universally regarded in broadcast media as being unacceptable and unfit for general consumption. Carlin was quick to point out that there is great inconsistency as to which words are banned or avoided, and that the enforcement of such standards is equally nebulous. Now, much has changed since the 70's, and the volume and kinds of profanity in many broadcasts (to say nothing of the ubiquity and accessibility of media platforms) has changed a lot. However, in many circles, especially amongst people who are conservative in their view of decency and language, the standards about what constitutes a curse word and what does not are still fairly clearly defined. But there is one word that quite often rises to the top of that list. I have often joked satirically that there is one word that is seen as a curse word amongst Lutherans, and more broadly amongst human beings: change.

For a number of solid reasons, people don’t like change. We spend so much energy attempting to arrange our lives to a standard where they are "normal" and comfortable and pleasing to our own sensibilities. And then, often without any input from us, somebody changes something and blows apart our cozy little fiefdom. Sometimes we can quickly and accurately assign blame to another person or group of people for bringing that world-destroying change about, but sometimes a change happens quite independently of any human being's will. A company’s changing its policy on something that directly affects you is an entirely different matter from a medical diagnosis that threatens your life and radically rearranges your schedule, relationships, and priorities.

On the other hand, there are some changes that happen in our lives that we deeply appreciate. While the death of a loved one and the subsequent funeral can be heartbreaking, the birth of a child to a family and the baptism celebration that follows can be an occasion for great joy. A new job can be a change for the better, as a new relationship or a new purchase can be. It’s easy to give the word change and everything it brings a bad rap, but there are some very good things that come from changes in our lives.

You've probably heard some variation on the "lightbulb joke." The way I tell it is like this: How many Lutherans does it take to change a light  bulb? Just one, and a whole congregational meeting to argue over the fact that it never needed to be changed in the first place! So as much as stubborn, German Lutherans may moan about and push back against all kinds of change, it is absolutely essential to the economy of God‘s kingdom. In order for us to be right with God, changes had to take place. A debt had to be paid, and death had to be turned into life. On the cross, Jesus paid the price. In his resurrection, Jesus turns death into life. Repentance involves a change of the heart, and God seeks to transform us into people more like him. That transformation is impossible without significant change taking place.

Advent marks a change in our focus. We turn our eyes towards the moment in time when God changes the conversation, changes the whole story of our world in a way that brings great good. "Good news of great joy" (Luke 2:10) is what the angels brought to shepherds, simple people like you and me, at the birth of the Savior. And we are changed by that good news. We are transformed by the birth of a little Baby who would grow up to change the world, and invites us to do the same by the power of His Spirit living in us. 

As I reflect back on the year that is drawing to a close, it is clear to me that there have been many changes taking place in our world, in our community, in our congregation, and in our own homes. Some of them have been difficult. Some of them have been awesome and life-giving. Some will be fleeting, while others will become more permanent. As we move toward a new year, there are some changes we may long for, like warmer weather and opportunities to be outside more often. Other changes we may avoid at all costs, like rising prices and visits to the doctor or dentist. In the midst of a world that is continually in a state of flux, there are a few things that thankfully will never change. God‘s faithfulness. The good gifts He always showers on His people. The saving sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. His resurrection promise that gives us hope. Reasons to celebrate the changes He continually makes in us as we look to him, and the way it all started: a baby in a manger in Bethlehem.

May God grant you a rich Advent and Christmas season. I pray that the changes the season brings about will be pleasant and enjoyable. May God grant us all eyes to see His work in the changes around us, and a willingness to embrace the ones that bring health and joy.

Adventure is out there!
Pastor Aaron

A Tale of Two Brothers

The Barones. The Corleones. Two Italian-American families well known in Western culture. Both have some of the same attributes, as is often characteristic (if not stereotypical) of certain people groups. Loud, over-bearing mothers. Fathers who oscillate between aloof and intense. Siblings that engage in rivalry for parents' affections and approval. Food and time at the dinner table as a centerpiece of family life. The potential for tempers to flair at any moment. These and other Italian-American tropes (whether deserved or not) play into the life of these two families, one depicted with great humor by Ray Romano and company in the sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, and the other immortalized by novelist Mario Puzo and filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola in The Godfather.

While these two families share much in common from their roots, they couldn't be more different in the way they handle relationships within the family. In particular, the relationships between two sets of brother showcase the contrast in approach to authentic, caring relationships. For the Barones, this is expressed in the constant back-and-forth between Raymond and his older brother Robert. The screenwriters make it abundantly clear that Raymond is the favored son of his mother Marie, and even though Robert has served as a New York City police officer for many years, his achievements in the community do little to remove the favoritism his younger brother receives. Ray's solid and fruitful marriage to his wife Debra, along with Robert's troubles in love and need to live with his parents, further solidifies Raymond's place in the pecking order. These seeming disparities are played for great comedy as Ray and Robbie get into consistent, constant competition over just about anything, sometimes to a baffling degree. Nevertheless, in spite of all the one-upmanship, the resolution of each of these brotherly jousts makes it obvious that the brothers have a deep, abiding love and affection for one another after the dust clears. It never stops them from "getting into it" again, but they know there is genuine care on the other side of it.

Not so with the Corleones; the tone couldn't be a starker contrast. While the chosen professions of the Barone brothers are solid and upstanding (Raymond is a sports writer and Robert is a police officer), Michael and Fredo Corleone make their living as mobsters, criminals of the highest degree, hidden behind thinly-clad veils of valid business. They take after their father, whose life and career has been both marred and supported by murder and violence, and the boys take after him, seeking his approval and a share of his power. Fredo, the older yet weaker brother, yearns to get the respect that both his older brother Sonny and his younger brother Michael receive. when Michael becomes the new head of the family, the snub cuts deep. Fredo's resentment makes him more likely to put loyalty to the family on the back-burner... a fatal mistake. He makes a series of horrible decisions, even by mafia standards, that unmasks his betrayal. When Michael realizes that Fredo has sold him and the family out to a rival, he reaches his breaking point. "I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart. You broke my heart!" It doesn't take long for Fredo's demise to follow. 

On the outside, the Corleones present themselves as smooth, tough, and together, but underneath all the bravado is a culture that has little room for weakness and severely punishes failure. The relationship between Michael and Fredo is cold and calculated, lacking all the warm that characterizes the Barone brothers'. Moreover, it has the subtle but distinct tension of a pair of unevenly-matched boxers sparring, waiting for the stronger of the two to land a devastating, bout-ending blow to his weaker opponent. There is no grace, no allowance for mistakes, no middle ground. There is only power or loyalty to power. Fredo is weak, and doesn't belong.

Now, I'm not an expert on either of these nuanced family stories, but my point is this: our life as God's family should be much more like the Barone's than like the Corleone's. I always say that family is messy, and sin does a fine job of creating spectacular messes. However, I would rather have a place in a family that acknowledges the messiness and turns to the One who can clean it up, now AND permanently, than live a cold, lifeless existence in a family that accepts only strength or cancelation.

As we continue our conversations about cancel culture this month, I pray that we continue to stand firmly with God and His truth rather than allowing the culture and its narrative dissuade us from standing with God. In contrast, let's follow what God tells us through Paul in Ephesians 4: "Let all bitterness, anger and wrath, shouting and slander be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ" (vs. 31-32). God cancels our sins, refusing to stop pursuing us, refusing to cancel us from His family. This is why Jesus came. This is why Jesus died. This is why Jesus lives! We are beloved, not canceled!

Many people in our world feel like they HAVE been canceled, and they need us to embody and express that the radical inclusion of Jesus is for them, too. So let's live to show our neighbors and all the world that they can belong to the best family ever! Guided by the Spirit, let's embrace the opportunities to lean into such life-giving interactions and conversations, because...

Adventure is out there!
Pastor Aaron

Miracles Still Happen...Discuss!

"Question: If a tree falls in the forest and no one's around, and it hits a mime, does anyone care?" This is the dark humor of the cartoonist Gary Larson, best known for his single-cell comic strip The Far Side. Its oddball humor has often tickled my funny bone, and at other times struck me as just... weird. But then again, that's probably a big part of why I like it. In the case of this particular quote, Larson's humor is not only comical, but also insightful and poignant.

If something happens outside of the realm of your personal experience, does it matter? If you don't have empirical evidence, did it actually happen? There's a big part of what we believe as Christians when it comes to miraculous occurrences. The Bible is littered with God's mighty power on display for all to see, identify, and remember. Here are just a few examples:

"Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back with a powerful east wind all that night and turned the sea into dry land. So the waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with the waters like a wall to them on their right and their left" (Exodus 14:21-22, CSB).

"[Elijah prayed,] 'Answer me, Lord! Answer me so that this people will know that you, the Lord, are God and that you have turned their hearts back.' Then the Lord’s fire fell and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench" (1 Kings 18:37-38, CSB).

"After [Jesus] said this, He shouted with a loud voice, 'Lazarus, come out!' The dead man came out bound hand and foot with linen strips and with his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, 'Unwrap him and let him go'" (John 11:43-44, CSB).

"God was performing extraordinary miracles by Paul’s hands, so that even facecloths or aprons that had touched his skin were brought to the sick, and the diseases left them, and the evil spirits came out of them" (Acts 19:11-12, CSB).

At this point, you don't have to be a Bible scholar to know that this list doesn't begin to scratch the surface of the historical evidence of God's miraculous actions in this world. Acts He used to save and protect His people, and to show all creation His loving intentions. In fact, this list leaves out three miracles that encapsulate the beating heart of the Christian faith: the Incarnation (God becoming human), the death of Jesus (God dying is pretty miraculous, if we're honest), and the Resurrection of the Son of God at Easter. Even that final miracle had to be expressed with a certain amount of experiential evidence to be believed by Jesus' closest followers, and one disciple pushed that investigation to its breaking point (John 20:19-29). I like to call him "Thomas the Scientist" rather than the traditional "Doubter."

Yet, the greatest miracles that can happen are much akin to what Jesus does right after He presents the empirical evidence of His resurrected life. He says words we all need to hear, LONG to hear: "Peace. Be still. Don't be afraid. I'm here." To anyone who has ever faced sin's brokenness and what it does to a person's body, mind, and spirit throughout one's life, these are life-changing words. Miraculous words. To be released from fear because there is nothing left to fear (not even death!) is a miracle. To have a God who is as close to us as our next heartbeat, because Jesus' death unites us to Him, is a miracle. To find supernatural stillness in a turbulent world IS a miracle. So as much as we may look for supernatural evidence of God in a world where what we can observe in essence is matter and energy, the greatest miracles God has ever accomplished are the ones that turn a person's heart back to Him.

I am a thankful recipient of that miracle. God has worked on my heart throughout my life, and I'm thankful to be the person I am today because of His consistent, gracious work in my life. You also are a recipient of that miracle. God continues to work on you, to transform you into someone more like Him. Someone who trusts Him. Someone who acts more like Jesus. And along the way, I'm sure He's provided you with ample evidence in the natural world that could properly be described as miraculous. Whether it's technological breakthroughs that we take for granted today but would have appeared magical in eras gone by, or circumstances in your life that a materialist would explain away as coincidence or "luck," you have evidence that God is still doing extraordinary, miraculous things in an ordinary life like yours.

So will you firmly believe that God can still do miracles? Not just theoretically, as we're honor-bound to do as Christians, but in actuality? Will you be willing to boldly ask God to do miracles in your life and the lives of those around you, trusting that His answer will bring the greatest good? I'm learning to say, "Yes!" to those questions. I pray you will join me. I firmly believe that God is on the move here in our midst at Immanuel, and He's leading us to places that we wouldn't have imagined in the past. "Now to Him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us— to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen!" (Ephesians 3:20-21).

Adventure is out there!
Pastor Aaron

Many Books

"There is no end to the making of many books, and much study wearies the body" (Ecclesiastes 12:12b, CSB).

Books, books...more books! I have too many. I don't read enough. And yet, God continues to place things before me to read, and sometimes to pass on to others around me. Here are a couple that you may have heard me mention or talk about that I think are worth your while.

BEING Challenge (Zach Zehnder)
Pastor Zach is back! At the beginning of 2019, we took a journey as a congregation through the Red Letter Challenge. In that corporate study of the words of Jesus and putting them into practice for 40 days, I saw so many seeds of growth that are continuing to bear fruit to this day. It's time to dig in again and grow as a congregation. If there's one book on this list that I would most highly recommend for us as a group of Jesus-followers seeking to walk together, this is it.

One of the hardest things to do is to simply BE. If we're using biblical language, then we have no farther to look than John 15 and Jesus' admonition to "abide" in Him as He abides in the Father, so that like a vine, we bear much fruit. God continues to call me to learn from Him what my identity is supposed to BE. This world does a pretty good job of distorting the image of God that He has placed on you and me, and it's easy for us to believe the enemy's lies about who we should BE. This is a chance to rediscover what it means to truly BE a very much-loved child of God and what it means to live that identity out every day. DOing always flows out of BEing, not the other way around, when it comes to our relationship with God. That's grace!

Future Church (Will Mancini and Cory Hartman)
For the past 7 years or so, I've been intentionally learning what it means to follow Jesus by being a disciple who makes disciples, just like He did and as He commanded. It's been a long journey, and in many ways I feel like I'm just getting my feet under me. At the same time, I have known the joy of seeing people who love Jesus and seek to follow Him come alive in new and significant ways as we gather around His Word and Gifts, as we discern together what He's trying to tell us, and as we earnestly walk in the direction He points us. It's deep, faithful growth, and the fruit is so patently good. It's something I want for all God's people.

In this journey, I have noticed that what the church does, how it structures and orients itself, what it values, and how it functions doesn't always align with this disciple-making goal. I have often been at a loss to describe that issue well, especially without unnecessarily raising the hackles of those who might misunderstand for one reason or another. The goal of church is not, as Will Mancini and Cory Hartman point out in this book, a more dynamic pastor or flashy programs that draw crowds or functional, aesthetically pleasing buildings or a close group of friends who get together once a week. Don't get me wrong. All of those things are important (as Mancini is quick to point out...and I agree!). But shouldn't those things all point to a deeper life for God's people? Quoting Alan Hirsch and Tim Katchim, the book reminds us, "It is not so much that the church of God has a mission as the mission of God has a church." If we're going to engage in the mission of God in a meaningful and world-changing way, we're probably going to need to have our hearts and patterns trained in a new way that more closely mimics the ways of Jesus. This is the essence of discipleship.

The question for me has always been how to bring the organized church into conversation with the process of discipleship when they often seem incompatible. I'm not even close to having all the answers, but this book has certainly provided me with a wealth of healthy perspectives, practical wisdom, and a winsome but faithful expression of many concepts I often fail to communicate well. There is a tension between the organized and the organic, but faithful growth and biblical fruit are found between the two. Future Church gets the conversation started. Its purpose is to touch off a variety of "a-ha" moments for us to address and wrestle with. It bravely speaks the truth then provides a healthy framework for a way forward. Please give it a read and join me in the conversation.

Saturate (Jeff Vanderstelt)
Being on the mission of God every day seems like a lot of work, right? If you don't have time or energy to put one more item into an already-busy life, where does this fit? This book encourages us to see each day as an opportunity to be saturated with God's grace, presence, and power, and to saturate those around us with His goodness wherever we go. I've often used the term "Jesus-in-the-room" people to describe what this looks like. In any room into which you step, you get to be Jesus to other people. So Jesus is present in and through you. Jesus is always in the room, and you get to be His representative wherever you go. As we each do our small part in growing the Kingdom, God uses us collectively to saturate the world with His grace and goodness. The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is never more alive than when we love people around us, and His resurrection hope is never more alive than when we bring good news to those who live in difficult situations. The guys who attend Men of the Word with me every other Monday night are going to be talking about this, but I'd heartily recommend this to both men and women who want to follow Jesus in everyday life.

I am confident that God is on the move in our midst, in this season and always. The truth in His Book, the Bible, and all other books that point back to it, amplify it, and deliver it in new and life-giving ways will always remain. I hope that you pick one (or more!) of these up, ruminate on it, wrestle with it, and let it exhaust you in all the right ways. So here's to good reading, and good following, because wherever Jesus goes and His people follow...

Adventure is out there!
Pastor Aaron

Plans for Future Church

"'For I know the plans I have for you'—this is the Lord’s declaration—'plans for your well-being, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. You will call to me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart'" (Jeremiah 29:11-13, CSB). Many catechumens have learned this passage (or at least the first verse). Countless Christian speakers have included it in addresses for graduations, confirmations, and other milestone events. The reference is written in congratulation greeting cards the world over. The message of "God's got big plans for you, and a hopeful future" is such a powerful affirmation not only of His faithfulness up to this point but also His continued presence throughout the next leg of the journey. A future with God is always bright, especially in light of our final destination, the promised "new heavens and new earth."

This potent dose of Gospel is rendered even more powerful when put in its proper context. The fact that I'm starting to feel like a broken record with the following phrase doesn't change its importance: "Context is key." In this case, context is everything. God's people weren't sitting on a mountaintop vista after conquering the uphill climb, as many people may feel when they read these verses. God's people were in exile! Far from home. Stuck in a bad place with no movement. Scattered among the nations instead of gathered in their homeland.

Nobody has to tell us that isolation is a tough spot to be in in the year 2021. "Isolation" is a pretty compact summary of what we experienced last year and are carrying into this year. Being scattered instead of being joyfully gathered has been a common theme. Being stuck in place instead of going where we want to go hasn't been for geo-political reasons like Israel's exile by Babylon, but a medically-induced quarantine can't feel much different. The angst and uncertainty feels almost antithetical to the hopeful tone of Jeremiah's letter to God's scattered people.

But hope remains! Hope prevails! Jeremiah doesn't sweep the hard circumstances of exile under the rug. He acknowledges them, and provides hope and direction in the midst of them. Listen to this: "This is what the Lord of Armies, the God of Israel, says to all the exiles I deported from Jerusalem to Babylon:  'Build houses and live in them. Plant gardens and eat their produce. Find wives for yourselves, and have sons and daughters. Find wives for your sons and give your daughters to men in marriage so that they may bear sons and daughters. Multiply there; do not decrease. Pursue the well-being of the city I have deported you to. Pray to the Lord on its behalf, for when it thrives, you will thrive'” (Jeremiah 29:4-7, CSB). In other words, "Don't give up on life until God plants you back in your homeland. Don't forget to live and thrive while you're in exile...because home can be found wherever God dwells with His people."

I really resonate with the plight of these exiled people of God. Not only has the current tone of isolation and disconnection in our culture made the growth of God's Kingdom difficult, but cultural forces throughout the world have also made me feel like the church has been exiled from crucial, mainstream conversations. I do my best to listen to what God is trying to tell me, as I trust you do, too. By His Spirit and for His glory alone, I seek to communicate what I'm hearing to those around me. But I often wonder if people are listening, following.

Yet hope remains! I trust in the power of God that has always led His people through good seasons and bad, through wilderness and Promised Land, in battle and peace. He's always faithful to us regardless of our great orthodoxy or devastating heresy. The future of the church has always depended upon nothing less than Jesus' power to take dead people, conflicted families, disheartened communities and broken nations...and make them alive and vibrant. The Kingdom comes when God's people humble themselves, turn back to the King, confess their weakness and sin, and find healing and wholeness at the foot of the cross (2 Chronicles 7:14). The great Good News is that even sitting in exile, feeling hopeless, God's people can find hope in the final resurrection of all flesh, and all of the tiny reminders in everyday life that it WILL happen someday. God promises; God delivers. Praise God!

I've been reading a really good book recently about how the church needs to reclaim some of its roots to find a way back to being what Jesus has always wanted it to be. It's called Future Church, and it says many things that I've noticed or tried to express in the past, but with a clarity I have often lacked. You should read it, too. Chapter 7 in particular should encourage any dyed-in-the-wool Lutheran with its strident defense of the Gospel over cultural relevance. While it's not hard to read, the concepts the book presents are incredibly challenging to digest and embrace. It forces the reader to confront many of the unhealthy patterns the church has fallen into over the years. Making healthy changes is never easy (Luther could tell you a bit about that!). But if we're going to thrive as God's people, hearing His call to mission and faithfully answering it, we're in for some hard work and some hard conversations.

Nevertheless, I have hope (Can you sense a recurring theme here?). My hope isn't in a book or human wisdom. It's not in the fortitude of the human spirit. It's not in earthly power or intelligence. My hope is in the saving, majestic grace of a Man hanging on a cross, showing you and me what it will take to reach a dying world. My hope is found in the nail-scarred hands of the same, resurrected Man, who beckons you and me to follow Him into broken places where resurrection is the only repair. My hope is in the power of the Spirit of Jesus residing in His people, whether in exile or at home, whether in cultural prominence or disgrace, that leads us to do the things Jesus taught us, shaping and moving us as His disciples. So embrace the journey! Take on the challenge! I am confident and hopeful that you'll find joy in following Jesus, because...

Adventure is out there!

Pastor Aaron

God's Message: Rest - July 2021

I heard from God the other day. No, I'm not talking about an audible manifestation of His Words. It wasn't a loud, mighty voice from heaven or a soft whisper. Nor did an angel appear to me. Nothing so dramatic as that. But I heard something that I had heard from God before, put in a new way, and it spoke to me in a new way, nudging my heart closer to God's.

What do you do when you hear a word from God? If Scripture (and hopefully personal experience) is a good indication, then you perk up. You listen. And when God tells you to do something, you step out in faith. You don't merely examine the "ladder" of God's directions to you. You trust that what He says is true and you step up on that ladder in faith. Faith implies action; faith without works is dead, James tells us (2:26). Put another way, God doesn't want a lifeless Body, but He wants His Body, the Church, to be filled with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of Jesus living in us individually and collectively. The Spirit that moves us into action, bringing the Kingdom where He sends us everyday.

I wouldn't be at all surprised if your next question was something like, "How do I know when God is speaking to me? How can I make sure it really is a message from Him, and not something else?" The answer is a question: "Have you heard God say this in Scripture?" Has God communicated this to you in the past, in a place that God's people believe to be authoritative? Does that Bible say this, as God's own Word? Is what you hear Him saying to you now match up with that clearly-expressed Word?

Lots of very personal questions here, I know, and ones that often require some focused reading of Scripture and deep reflection to properly answer. It also requires a knowledge of what God has said in the past, so we know what the truth is. Jesus said that knowing the truth sets us free (John 8:32). Part of embracing that freedom is knowing God's Word well enough to know the truth of Who God is and who He calls us to be and to do. With that knowledge as a part of us, through a lifetime of seeking God in His Word, we can hear more clearly when He is seeking to emphasize something He's telling us, encouraging us to pay extra-careful attention.

So the other week I had one of those "God's-underlining-something-for-me" moments. I heard one of my favorite verses, and it spoke to me in a new and poignant way. In Matthew 11:28, Jesus says, "Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." I was reminded that I, me personally, was someone who is often weary and burdened. With that phrase already identified and properly "aimed" at myself, I was able to hear the verse as Jesus' words for me: "Come to me, Aaron...I'll give you rest." A tender invitation. A promise of care, respite, and a lifting of burdens.

I often need to be reminded that I can't make God's Kingdom come on my own. I feel the responsibility. But like Greg Finke likes to say, Jesus always does the "heavy lifting." A pastor friend of mine recently said it like this: "Work like it all depends on you; leave the results to God." God invites us to join Him in the harvest fields where He alone makes things grow. When I start to feel like I have to do the impossible work of making things grow and produce fruit, work that truly belongs only in the capable hands of God, He gently invites me back to my identity as His very much-loved child: "Come to me... I'll give you rest." 

I pray that this summer provides opportunities for you to hear these words of Jesus for yourself, and to step out in faith, to embrace the physical, mental, and spiritual rest that comes with spending time with Jesus and others. Wherever God sends you this summer, it's still true that...

Adventure is out there!

Pastor Aaron