Adventure with Pastor Aaron

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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

Living the Story

Good stories… Told well. Whether it is book, a movie, or a TV show, my interest in narrative is always guided by that principle. It must be a good story. It must be told well. Authors who use beautiful, engaging words. Screenwriters who understand the power of a substantial story and well-written dialogue. The cast and crew of a show or film that know how to bring the story to life and delve into the deepest parts of human existence, even touching on a relationship with God. What it means to love. To serve. To sacrifice everything for the sake of goodness and life and healthy freedom. If a bit of media is going to capture my attention and hold it, it has to be a good story, told well.

While I enjoy hearing the stories of other people's lives, God continues to nudge me in the direction of living a beautiful story myself. I may not have the adventurous life of some of my favorite characters and heroes, both fictional and historical, but God has given me a story to live, and He has a story for you to live, too. It’s all a part of His greater, overarching narrative by which He is constantly calling all of creation back to Himself. When we have eyes to see and hearts to perceive His action in the midst of ours, it can be a stunning revelation or a place of deep-seated comfort and rest. Your story may not be as exciting as the lives of others, but God has given you a part to play in His story, and He’s a screenwriter, producer, and director who will never allow your story to fall flat.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live my life by proxy. I don't want to live vicariously through others. I keep on getting a nudge from God (sometimes a quite forceful one!) to get out there and live the adventure to which He has called me. To put my fears of failure aside. To trust that He is capable of making inconsequential actions and decisions into powerful moments of His kingdom breaking through. To dare to live a life worthy of imitation, one worth remembering and telling about in years to come.

We all look for ways to leave something of worth behind for those who come after us. We want to be remembered in positive ways. With our lives connected to the life of Jesus, by the power of His Spirit living in us today, we can touch the lives of people around us in ways that are significant and lasting. It’s not always going to be easy because the way of Jesus always leads to the cross, but we can find deep comfort in the promise from Him that we'll never go it alone. The disciples who follow Jesus in His earthly life couldn’t have possibly known the adventure story they were about to embark on when they responded to Jesus' calling to follow Him. Not much has changed in that respect. If we are to follow Jesus fervently and faithfully wherever He leads us, it’s going to be a life worth living and a story worth telling.

I firmly believe that every corner of creation was designed by the Creator to point us back to Him. The first few verses of Psalm 19 express this beautifully: "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world" (Ps. 19:1-4, CSB). Every part of the story reveals His providence and His plan to restore everything that sin and death destroys.

There are certainly some strange and peculiar parts of God's story that are recorded. A few of them we might be surprised to find in Scripture. But God has left them there on purpose to get our attention and draw us back to His heart, to teach us things we need to understand, but more importantly to drive us to follow in His footsteps. To take the adventure He sends us. To live a story worth telling under His grand narrative of redemption. I pray that as we examine some of these peculiar stories and connect it back to the heart of God and the great good news of Jesus' death and resurrection, you will be inspired to live the powerful story that God has for all who venture to follow in Jesus' footsteps.

Am I always ready to embrace that story wholeheartedly and dive in headfirst? I’d like to think I am. Some days I feel more confident than others. God is still working on me, nudging me. But I’m confident that He will work even through my weaknesses and doubts to bring about a story worth telling, because…

Adventure is out there! Lead on, Master Adventurer!

Pastor Aaron 

Christians Lament

As a fan of the Chicago Cubs, I know a thing or two about lament...and I haven't been following them as long as some people I know. But before that, growing up, I was a fan of the Detroit Tigers, so I guess that does qualify me to speak into the agony of following a sports team just a little bit. There are a whole slew of emotions connected to rooting for a group with whom you identify, and sports is one of the most overt ways we show it in our culture. We are incensed when a call doesn't go our way. We groan inwardly or emphatically express it outwardly when a respected, dependable player makes an avoidable error. We chafe at the coach or manager who fails to implement what we see as the optimal and winning strategy, and fault them loudly when the outcome of their choice leads to the failure we could have obviously predicted. We feel like things are right in the world when our team is at the top of the league or division, but fall into an emotional funk when our team's name falls to the bottom of the list. It's not easy to be a Cubs fan (or any fan, for that matter), and "at least we have next year" simply doesn't calm the notion that we could have done better this year.

Being a part of God's family isn't much different. God has placed us together, for better or worse, to fulfill His mission, and we all play a part on His team. We function as a body (1 Corinthians 12). There's no such thing as "Lone Ranger" Christians, I always say. We need each other. However, I've also been known to remind people of this fact: Family is messy. Family is good, but family is messy. Things don't always go as they should, and sometimes they're just downright hard and sharp and broken. Sin and death does a pretty effective job of throwing God's family into discord and urging them to deny their identity as His very much-loved children by their actions. And so whether it's Christian leaders highlighting the moral failings of their people or members of the family pointing out the shortcomings of its leaders, there is plenty to lament about what happens in the church. And let's not even get started with what happens out in the world...there's plenty more to lament there!

My point is this: we all experience losses, and we may often feel ill-equipped as God's people to handle the big emotions that go along with those losses in a way that honors God and leads us closer to healthy relationships with Him and others. Does sin's brokenness find a way to slither into the church and cause trauma and divisions in God's family? Unfortunately, yes. Does this world and its leaders often make choices for all of us that makes us feel like we don't belong and that our beliefs are antiquated?  Yes. Are some of the parts or formats of our life together as God's people that we hold dear and have been strongholds in our lives as long as we can remember slowly (or sometimes strikingly quickly) passing away? It's almost physically painful to admit that they are. Are there big emotions attached to these developments? Of course there are! Anger? Sorrow? Indignation? Disgust? Frustration? Fury? Groaning? Discontent? Check, check, check...and the list could go on. If you've felt some of these big feelings in the church before, I'm with you. I've experienced them too. Being a follower of Jesus often involves engaging the wide spectrum of human emotion. But how are we to start finding our path toward a healthy expression of these big feelings...and maintain our integrity all the while? We know we've been called to orthodoxy ("right belief"); how do we also move toward orthopathy ("right feeling")?

I firmly believe that it begins and ends with the two most important events in Jesus' life: His death and resurrection. These two events should inform and encapsulate our approach to the complex art of Christian lament. It starts with a firm resolve to lament the only thing in this world that truly deserves an outpouring of sincere lament: the unjust death of the only God-Man who didn't deserve it. We don't just mourn our own sins on Good Friday. We also mourn the results of them, and our complicity in this genuine tragedy. If Christian lament starts with the laser-focused sorrow over the death of God's own Son, we'll be starting down the right path. The Greek word for "sin" is properly used as an archery term, and expresses the idea "missing the mark." Not only do our actions, words, and thoughts miss the mark or fall short of God's intent and glory (Romans 3:23), but even our lament over the things we have lost are often untargeted and unintentionally wound those around us. But Jesus' death on the cross and the great love He showed in those moments lead us not only to lament the effects of sin in this world, but also to be eternally grateful that we have a God who handles them, full-force, no holding back.

When we truly lament Jesus' death, we'll also be in the right posture to celebrate with unfettered joy what came after it: the resurrection of God's Son. Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! No more lament! The great destroyer is destroyed! "Death has been swallowed up in victory. Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting?" (1 Corinthians 15:54d-55). Mourning and weeping at the cross of Jesus gives us all the emotional fuel we need to dance at His empty tomb, to celebrate the victory He has won for us.

This side of heaven, separating out these complicated mix of emotions will never be easy. But we have Jesus' promise that one day, in the new heavens and new earth, all lamenting tears will be wiped away (Isaiah 25:8), and the only thing left will be the joy of knowing God, living always in His presence. That will come to pass. We have God's Word. But until that day, we look to God to lead and direct our path through lament and sorrow, giving us glimpses of Easter joy, because...

Adventure is out there!

Pastor Aaron

Seeing AND Speaking

I recently asked a couple of friends how they would describe hope. Not surprisingly, they had to think about it for a bit. I have, too. Most specifically, I've wrestled with how to describe the difference between faith and hope. The best way I can think to describe the dynamic between these two words that are connected by solid trust in God is that faith is a solid place to stand in the present, but hope is what empowers us to step boldly, bravely into the future reality that God is bringing to us.

 

Hope is a powerful force. Many thinkers and writers have expressed the strength of the human spirit that God has placed in each of us to varying degrees, and how integral hope is to facing the suffering that naturally accompanies human life in a sin-broken world. G.K. Chesterton put it this way: “Hope is the power of being cheerful in circumstances that we know to be desperate.” The Roman statesman Cicero put it quite succinctly: “While there’s life, there’s hope.” The English novelist George Eliot said, "What we call our despair is often only the painful eagerness of unfed hope.” And much to my point, the well-known preacher Charles Spurgeon proclaimed, “Faith goes up the stairs that love has built and looks out the windows which hope has opened.” It seems to me that both committed followers of Jesus and secular thinkers alike would probably have a hard time disagreeing with St. Paul's assessment in 1 Corinthians: "Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love" (13:13, CSB).

 

Many of you may have noticed a conversation that has been occurring quietly in little pockets of our congregation, in connection with the social media hashtag #seehope. Essentially, it's a simple reminder to all of us here at Immanuel to have our eyes peeled for how God is bringing hope to our lives during the continually-unfolding situation with the pandemic, and even to notice ways in which God may be leading us to bring hope to people that we meet, whether well-known or just encountered. When you slow down a bit and intentionally observe the world around you, it's not hard to see the work of Jesus, bringing the Kingdom, and the people to whom He is bringing it, sometimes through people like you and me. It starts with seeing opportunities for hope to break in.

But hope is also expressed most poignantly in the work and person of God Himself in the flesh, Jesus. You can place your hope in a lot of things. Like an economy or government. A March Madness team. A bank account. Your own ability to figure things out. But at the end of the day, when human ingenuity and power have exhausted themselves and lie lifeless on the floor, it's only the resurrecting power of Jesus that can pick dead, lifeless things off the floor and make them come alive. It's not a fairy tale. It's a promise, bought with a sacrificial death on Good Friday and sealed with overwhelming evidence of resurrection victory on Easter. It's our mission, our duty, our joy as Christians not just to see the hope of this great story, OUR story, but also to speak about it.

 

So as we all bask in the glory and joy of Easter during the season immediately following it, we're going to have a conversation about how we can raise our competency in not only seeing hope, but also speaking up about it. Jesus gave us plenty of metaphors to describe Himself and what He does, and learning to have those words on our lips regularly so we can naturally speak them into the lives of others will help us accomplish the mission Jesus gave us. Even in the midst of a great deal of death and mourning the loss of both people and patterns we treasure, we want to embody the hope we have, not to grieve like others do who have no hope (1 Thess. 4:13). The truth is, this hope is for everyone. We just have to get the Word out.

 

Ironically, Sir Frances Bacon, the English philosopher and statesman, expressed a truth about hope in this way: "Hope is good for breakfast, but it is bad for supper." I know that some will argue with me that bacon is not just a breakfast food, but neither is hope. My prayer this Eastertide is that God gives us eyes to see His work in the world, and that spring gives us plenty of reminders of His resurrection power to make all things new. May we be so well-fed by the feast of hope that is the Easter season that we are able to express the great news of Jesus' triumph over death, not just at breakfast, but whenever we break bread and celebrate the eternal life He gives us. The journey's not done yet, and our Savior gives us abundant provision for the road. There's plenty of hope to go around, and plenty of ground yet to cover before we reach our Father's House, because...

 

Adventure is out there!

Pastor Aaron

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