Adventure with Pastor Aaron

RSS Feed

Mind Your Own Business

I had an opportunity to preach during a chapel service at my alma mater, Concordia University Chicago, a couple of weeks ago. The service also included the installation of a new member of the staff. Perhaps a message directed at a group of academics and college students will bless you, too.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, and greetings from your brothers and sisters at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Mokena.

“Mind your own business.” I’m sure you’ve heard that phrase in a variety of contexts before. Perhaps it was in the form of a post-punk rock song playing over an Apple ad that lauds the company’s commitment to your privacy and the security of your personal information. Maybe it’s in the context of a French knight, standing atop the battlements of a castle, smack dab in the middle of England, having a terse but hilarious conversation with Arthur, King of the Britons (Monty Python fans will understand). Or, perhaps you’ve found yourself in the unenviable circumstance of having a friend, a roommate, or classmate telling you off with those words, signaling with their language and the anger behind it that you’ve crossed the line into their personal business, where you don’t belong. Mind your own business!

Now, I don't think this is what Paul is intending when he speaks these words in our text for today. “Mind your own business/affairs” is not part of a frustrated bid for privacy, but more like an admonition to build a solid foundation for life, a platform on which the love of Jesus can be displayed. This portion of Paul’s letter to the Jesus-followers in Thessalonica marks out the shape of the Christian life, and his admonition and encouragement is to live a quiet, peaceable, and productive life, free of gossip and prideful ambition.

At a time when ambitious Roman citizens often sought to elevate their social status through skilled oratory, by socializing and through trade, all the while expecting others to bear the load of sustaining their household, Paul’s encouragement to live counter-culturally reinforces what he has already taught them personally. Instead of using their time being loudmouths and busy-bodies, He expresses the way of Jesus, the consummate Servant Leader, who comes to serve those around Him instead of being served.

Jesus always stays on task, being about His Father’s business of seeking to save the lost…and this is a template for us. He lays the groundwork for the movement of the Early Church, all the while staring down the specter of the Cross. His focus on bringing the Kingdom in all its forms is so clear during His ministry that when He does arrive at His destination on Good Friday, His followers have a striking picture of God’s love on full display, as Jesus spreads His arms to embrace a hurting world, even as it hurts Him and kills Him. A gallows is a platform, and elevated on this platform, Jesus’ message is clear: “There isn’t anything I’m unwilling to face to demonstrate the length of my service to you, the depth of My love for you.”

So where does that leave you and me? How shall we “mind our own business?” When you’ve built a firm foundation for your life, living in peace, studiousness, and industriousness, you’ll have the bandwidth to be able to serve others the way Jesus did. Selflessly. Sacrificially. Tirelessly. Does that mean you must force yourself to be more focused on your work, to be diligent and self-controlled? Yes, certainly. It does.

Let me put it to you this way: as I think back on my time here at Concordia, I can remember moments when I should have made myself available to those around me, to serve them and care for them, to be fully present. But my next class or rehearsal or lesson or assignment was calling my name, and I rushed past countless gift-wrapped opportunities from God to be fully present with a friend or classmate who needed the inviting presence of Jesus. We will all struggle with the commitments that God has lovingly placed into our stories as we pursue the vocations He gives. He gives grace upon grace upon grace as we seek to be like Him and love sacrificially like Him…to be about His business.

Now, I’m sure that you’ve got plenty of other “business” to attend to when you walk out these doors, and I’m sure that most of it is great and is what God is calling you to. My prayer for you is that this brief sojourn you’ve taken with Jesus here will encourage you to continue setting your life in order in such a way to free you up to embody Jesus in whatever room you step into today…and always. Whether you’re being installed in an official capacity or it’s simply another day in the classroom, the King and the Kingdom are calling you into service…and He’s a king so much greater than Arthur, King of the Britons. May God richly bless you as mind His business. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

Pastor Aaron

A Harvest of Prayer

As the season begins to change, moving from the dog days of summer into the crisp, fall weather, I find myself reflecting on several things all at once. A few of the foremost can probably be summed up by three words beginning with "F" that encapsulate the mood of the season: Faith, Family, and Football. Many people in our culture believe that a fall Sunday is not quite complete without each of these three elements. The routine is, 1) Go to church in the morning, 2) Spend time with family throughout the day, and 3) Make sure that football is turned on either in the background, or even as the primary focus of the afternoon.

However, I was reminded that a great portion of our culture has removed “Faith” from that list. I heard an astounding bit of evidence of this just this morning. An advertiser, cajoling us to soak up the enjoyment of the football season while we can, made the audacious assertion that a Sunday without the gridiron becomes “just the day you go to the grocery store and stock up on oat milk.” It is a regrettable but self-evident fact that we live in a post-Christian culture in which the church is not the central social hub it used to be. In the absence of a churched culture, a variety of other “religions“ have hastened to fill the void. One of these is football.

Now, please, don’t get me wrong. I love football! Even when my Michigan State Spartans are having a crummy season (or even several in a row, as currently seems to be the case), I relish the opportunities I have to watch them make big plays. Our family does watch quite a bit of football on Sundays, and fantasy football has become a fun part of the fabric of our life together. I love football… but it could never come close to becoming a substitute for the relationship I have with Jesus.

Relationships thrive on communication. God tenderly invites us into relationship and communion with Him by taking the first step. He calls US at baptism to BE His beloved child. He calls out to us! And He welcomes us, and invites us to call out back to Him, both in times of joy and sorrow, both in thanksgiving and in fervent request. I love how David puts it in Psalm 27: "My heart says this about You, 'You are to seek My face.' Lord, I will seek Your face" (vs. 8, CSB). To learn the contours of God's face through what He says and does is meant to be a delight, and His presence shines on us when we take the time to pay attention to Him. He wants us to pray fervently as we eagerly hear His Word and seek to learn His heart. He wants to hear from us, even though He knows us inside and out much better than we know ourselves. In many ways, this is the essence of being family, and God calls us to be part of His. He wants YOU! For always! For keeps!

So while the fall is an opportunity to engage in family and enjoy football, my encouragement to you is also to let this be a new season of engaging in your faith, especially when it comes to the practice of prayer. We are going to be leaning into this in a variety of ways in the coming months, and my prayer is that you would so grow in your personal practice of prayer that you see the absolute blessing it is to live in relationship with a God that just doesn’t talk at you, but invites you to talk and walk with him. He has vibrant life in mind and in store for you, a life full of all the best things. A growing, dynamic conversation with the One who made you, died for you, and lives for and in you will inevitably confirm the fact that...

Adventure is out there!
Pastor Aaron

Tasty Words

I saw a sign once, a pithy saying that someone had hanging up in their house, and it struck me as a very healthy encouragement, towards good relationship with those around me the saying was this: "Be sure to taste your words before you spit them out."

As we’ve been reflecting on the power of "salty" words in our summer sermon series, the power to bless or to curse, to kill or to make alive, to hurt or to heal, that expression has come to my mind more than once. There is a deep and rich power in what words can do. They are one of God’s greatest gifts to us, and whether they are produced by the vocal cords in an organic, natural way, or written down to be passed along throughout generations, the power of words is matchless. If we’re not careful with them, we could misuse this amazing, powerful gift that God has given us. Hence the advice of the saying on the wall.

I think it goes even deeper than that, too. When John describes the coming of Jesus the Messiah into our world, he talks about Him as the Word made flesh, the eternal Logos that brings everything into existence, gives it life, loves it, fights for it, and carries it along. If Jesus is the Word made flesh, and He moves into our world and our space and our neighborhood, what kind of impact could that have? It makes all the difference in the world! The cross is God's signal to us that He has not abandoned us, and that He loves us more than we could ever imagine.

How did Jesus accomplish this great and amazing work? It was His ministry to and love of people before He faced the cross that had the most immediate impact. John tells us in his Gospel account that Jesus came "full of grace and truth" (1:14). This matches very well with Paul’s encouragement in Colossians to have all of our words salted with grace (4:6). If Jesus came with truth in His language, not shying away from the things that people didn’t want to hear, but delivering those words graciously, does that set a precedent for us? I think it does. Should we shy away from the hard truths? Certainly not! In a world that will often deny even the most fundamental of truths (not to mention the actual existence of absolute truth), especially when it is inconvenient, we must be willing to speak the truth. At the same time, the truth MUST be accompanied by a loving, tender heart, and a gracious posture towards people around us, people made in the image of God, people as much broken by sin at the foot of the cross as we are. What makes our words savory? The grace of Jesus, added to the power of pertinent, unwavering truth.

This summer, as people get outside into the warm weather a little bit more, as we go different places on vacations or other trips, the words of Jesus go with us. We have opportunities to interact with friends or relatives that we see along the way, as well as brief interactions with servers, cashiers, public servants, and a whole host of other people. We may see our neighbors more often as we tend whatever patch of ground God has given us in this world. How can those interactions be opportunities for the powerful, truthful, gracious, salty words of Jesus to come alive in the lives of others?

My prayer for you is that you trust the Spirit of Jesus gives you the relationships in which those words are needed, the courage and confidence to speak them boldly when the opportunity arises, and the wisdom to salt all of your words with the gracious, loving posture of the One who died for you. As you engage in that most important work of being a follower of Jesus, I am confident that you will find once again that…

Adventure is out there!
Pastor Aaron

Have you ever read…?

A friend of mine recently started a a conversation with a question I normally love. It started like this: “Have you ever read…?” 

Now, I normally love questions that start with “Have you read…?” Or “Have you seen…?” Or “Have you heard…?” Connections to literature, movies and TV, music, and art always fascinate me. Such creative expressions can be windows into a bigger world and can be a fantastic starting point for a conversation about what really matters. So even if I’ve never listened to the album, never heard of the author, or have no clue what the story is about, I’m in! Tell me about it! Let’s dig into whatever you’re talking about and learn something about what it means to be human and maybe even what it means to follow Jesus.

But this particular version of that question put me on my back foot because it revealed something I wouldn’t readily admit. The question was, “Have you ever read The Princess Bride?” I was embarrassed to admit the truth. Though I can’t seem to contain my enthusiasm for the movie and my family says I’ve used it as material for sermon illustrations a bit too much already, I have not read the book. I feel like, with as often as I quote it or reference it, I should have read it by now, but I haven’t. I know…it’s inconceivable! (And I DO know what that word means!)

That sense of embarrassment and wistfulness reminded me of something I heard recently in my study of God’s Word. I heard a verse that started to compose a picture of knowing God well. I firmly believe that it is the fondest desire of every faithful Christian preacher or teacher that the people who hear their words will know God better. It’s kind of the point. 

Yet, statistics show that Biblical literacy is at an all-time low in the history of our country. Spiritual fervor has waned in many corners of our society, and those who do have an interest in God would rather be known as “spiritual” than adherents to any particular organized religion. Morality in our society often seems to be far afield from its foundation on a Biblical worldview, with not much difference between those who claim Christianity as their belief system and those who claim none. 

These kinds of trends and statistics can make Christian leaders concerned, frustrated, or even despairing of the efficacy of their work. “Does anybody listen to God anymore? Does anybody care about getting to know Him? What am I doing with my life?” It can be easy to bemoan the fact that everything is NOT, indeed, the way it should be. In many ways, it’s always been this way; in the days of the Judges, a whole generation of God’s people forgot the mighty works of God that their forebears experienced in Egypt and the wilderness (Judges 2:10). We can understand in our heads that it’s all because of sin, but that theological truth doesn’t necessarily remove the sense of disquiet and melancholy from our hearts.

This is where the good news of God’s promises come in. We have His assurance that our work is never in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58) and that He never allows the seeds we sow to be wasted (Isaiah 55:11). One day, on the truly glorious Day of the Lord for which we all long, God will do what we often feel powerless to do. “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people. And each person will not teach his fellow citizen, and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know Me, from the least to the greatest of them” (‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭8‬:‭10‬-‭11‬, CSB‬‬).

Did you hear that? We won’t have to be embarrassed when someone asks us a question like “Have you read through the Bible?“ or “When was the last time you went to church?” or “How well do you know God?” We will be so well-acquainted with Him because we will be living in His own house, eating His royal food, in constant communion with Him. We will be so immersed in the goodness of God that to ask such questions would be simply absurd. We will know God. Period.

I’ve recently started to rectify the inconceivable omission in the collection of books I’ve read by working through The Princess Bride. It is just as enjoyable as the movie is, perhaps more so. I’ve learned that there’s more to the story, too. For instance, in the prologue, William Goldman, the author, has created a fictional persona for his writings, and that persona claims that the original book was written by an author named Morgenstern (also fictional!) and read to him by his father. Well, Goldman’s persona relates the account of giving his (fictional) son a copy of his book and hoping that his son will like it. I often find myself longing for the same thing. I want people to know God, certainly. I also want them to like Him… actually, to love Him. So I tell the story, and trust God to do what I can’t. I can only speak to my own experience that when you live the story that God is boldly and lovingly writing for you, you will be on the brink of discovering that…

Adventure is out there!
Pastor Aaron

Anticipation and Realization

Flowers poking through the ground. A twirling circle in the middle of a screen. A pitcher rearing back and preparing to hurl a baseball. A chrysalis starting to wiggle and break apart. A blinking cursor on a computer. A conductor raising a baton. Birds gathering twigs and other debris to construct nests.

In everyday life, we can observe a plethora of instances of the tension between anticipation and realization, a plan being formed and then watching it come to fruition, the dreaming and the coming true. It imbues the story of our world from creation to end and rebirth. It gives cadence to the seasons of our families as one generation rises up to take the place of the previous. Most importantly, it points to the tension between death in this world and resurrection into the next, as exemplified by Jesus during Holy Week and Easter. As Christians, we have a unique perspective on the natural processes that we witness around us. We see in them a reflection of the greater truth of our faith, the hope of resurrection and fulfillment in heaven. In the midst of the cycles of life and death that we see all around us, we hold fast to the promise of new life and eternal joy in the presence of our Lord.

One of the most vivid examples of this hope can be seen in the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly. The transformation that takes place is a stunning display of the power of growth and change. As Christians, we see in this process a reflection of our own transformation through faith. It is the process of a million tiny deaths of sin and a million tiny resolutions to leave that sin behind and be a new person, to follow Jesus. St. Paul expounds on this theme beautifully in Romans 6: "For we know that our old self was crucified with [Christ] so that the body ruled by sin might be rendered powerless so that we may no longer be enslaved to sin, since a person who has died is freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him, because we know that Christ, having been raised from the dead, will not die again. Death no longer rules over Him. For the death He died, He died to sin once for all time; but the life He lives, He lives to God. So, you too consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus" (vss. 6-11, CSB). We are called to leave behind our old ways and embrace a new life in Christ. In doing so, we are transformed from the inside out, becoming new creations in Him (2 Corinthians 5:17).

The seasons themselves remind us of the cyclical nature of life. We witness the beauty of spring, the warmth of summer, the changing colors of fall, and the stillness of winter. Each season has its own unique beauty and purpose, and yet they all come and go in their appointed time, as Solomon noted in Ecclesiastes 3. As Christians, we look beyond the cycles of this world and place our hope in the eternal promise of our Savior. We look forward to the fulfillment of all things in Him, when all tears will be wiped away and death will be no more (Isaiah 25:8).

Ultimately, the hope of resurrection and fulfillment in heaven is grounded in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Through His death on the cross and His triumph over the grave, He has paved the way for us to experience new life and eternal joy. We look forward to the day when we will be reunited with Him and all who have gone before us in faith. Until that day, we hold fast to the promise of our Savior, trusting that He will bring to completion the work that He has begun in us (Philippians 1:6), perfecting and resurrecting us to reign and celebrate with Him.

So the next time you have to wait for a video to load, or for a stop light to change or a train to come into a station, or for the long-awaited beginning of vacation to arrive, take a moment to pause. To slow down. Observe your own anticipation of the good that is to come. Let the Spirit of Jesus remind you that there is a greater anticipation for you, a faithful anticipation of the perfect, eternal life with Jesus that He has promised you. It's only a matter of time. But in the meantime, embrace the journey He's placed before you, and revel in the joy of this fact:

Adventure is out there!
Pastor Aaron

In the Wilderness for Lent

The Wilderness is not a fun place to be. In Scripture. In the American West. In Saharan Africa. Wilderness is a collection of misery, a host of harsh conditions all rolled into one, a survival nightmare. So why does it come up in Scripture so much? And why do we find some of the most important biblical characters in that space at crucial times in their lives?

Who do we find there?

Moses is shepherding his sheep there after being exiled from Egypt for murder: "He led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. Then the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire within a bush," (Exodus 3:1b-2). His brother Aaron finds him there before his return (Exodus 4:27), and Moses tells Pharaoh that's where God's people must go to worship Him: "We must go a distance of three days into the wilderness and sacrifice to the Lord our God as He instructs us," (Exodus 8:27). The wilderness is where God's people wander for 40 years while they await their opportunity to enter the Promised Land (which they miss out on the first time around).

David used the wilderness as a gigantic hideout during the season when King Saul had turned away from God: "David then stayed in the wilderness strongholds and in the hill country of the Wilderness of Ziph. Saul searched for him every day, but God did not hand David over to him," (1 Sam. 23:14).

Elijah also used the wilderness wasteland to hide from the wrath of Queen Jezebel after his overwhelming victory over the prophets of Baal at Mt. Carmel: "He went on a day’s journey into the wilderness. He sat down under a broom tree and prayed that he might die. He said, 'I have had enough! Lord, take my life, for I’m no better than my ancestors'" (1 Kings 19:4). He's discouraged because even that victory hasn't changed the hearts of God's people...or so he thinks.

And let's not forget the two most important times a journey into the wilderness shows up in the New Testament. John the Baptist conducts his entire foundation-laying ministry out in the wilderness (Matthew 3:1), and Jesus spends time there before beginning His ministry: "Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil," (Matthew 4:1). Jesus intentionally goes to a place where physical privation and spiritual assault are promised before He begins His work of bringing the Kingdom to those around Him.

The point is this: before embarking upon a task of great importance, it is crucial to spend some time in the wilderness to make sure your heart is in the right place. Moses led God's people out of Egypt, and David became a mighty king after God's own heart. Elijah called people back to faithfulness in an idolatrous generation and set up faithful leaders at God's direction. John the Baptist called a faithless and confused generation to repentance and back to a right relationship with God. Jesus faced harsh criticism, cruel humiliation, torture, and a horrific death on the cross. If you're going to be about the business of the Kingdom, the time you spend being alone with God, refocusing your attention on things that last and gaining the inner strength that comes in such desolate places will be well spent.

Lent. A season of reflection. Of refocusing. Of reevaluation. Of repentance. This is your time to spend in a spiritual wilderness, with all of the distractions stripped away, to simply BE with God. How is God going to use the call of John the Baptist, the call to turn away from sin, in your life? What growth will the journey to Jesus' cross produce? What is He calling you to accomplish? What joy will come on the other side of the cross He's calling you to embrace? What will the resurrection celebration of Easter look like and feel like when seen through the lens of the cross's suffering? I pray that however deep into the wilderness God calls you, it will strengthen you to welcome expressions of the Kingdom wherever you find them, because...

Adventure is out there!
Pastor Aaron

I Want to Be Like "----------"

How would YOU fill in that blank? Who are your heroes? Whose shoes would you like to walk in? If you're in a Disney mood, then you might sing with King Louie from The Jungle Book, "You-hoo-hoo/I want to be like you-hoo-hoo." Or perhaps you might be led to consider the 1991 Gatorade ad campaign that was inspired by that movie and song: Be Like Mike. 

In the 90s, there were few sports teams that could compare with the synergy and star power of the Chicago Bulls, and the king of that bunch was the inestimable Michael Jordan. Chicagoans adored him. Pistons fans hated him for what he could do. Sports fans everywhere instinctively knew he was something special. Kids of that era found great fulfillment in putting a ball through the hoop with their tongues hanging out to the side whether it was a simple layup or a slam dunk on a lowered rim. Being like Mike made sense. Everyone wanted to be like Mike.

Do you remember the song/jingle that went with the ad campaign? The lyrics went like this: "Sometimes I dream/That he is me/You've got to see that's how I dream to be/I dream I move, I dream I groove/Like Mike/If I could be like Mike." The desire to be like someone who exudes or even embodies greatness is understandable. It is a good thing to encourage excellence in the lives of all people, and we have to have solid examples to imitate. In basketball, no one of that era was quite like Michael Jordan, though there were many exemplary basketball players. Like all of us, his personal life and choices made it impossible to follow him without any reservations, but when it came to basketball, being like Mike was the high standard to shoot for.

Do you ever dream about what it means to be like Jesus? To move like Him? To speak like Him? To exude His confidence and godly influence? When Jesus says to His disciples, "Come, follow me," that call applies not just to the exact individual to whom He was speaking in the moment, but it extends to us as well, thousands of years later.

What does it mean to follow Jesus, to walk in His footsteps, to be like Him? There are some ways in which we cannot precisely replicate the actions of the Savior. He altered the realities of many people by healing the sick and even raising the dead. I don't know of anyone who has exhibited that kind of miraculous God-power on a regular basis, even though I have heard isolated stories of miraculous power that I'm not willing to discount. God works in mysterious ways, as the saying goes.

But more important than the physical healing that Jesus brought to this world, He brought words of hope and truth and comfort. He said, "You are forgiven," and it was so. He said "You are dearly loved," and it was true, because He was speaking from the highest level of authority. He said "It is finished," and in a moment limited the victory of sin, death, and suffering to this world alone. He still speaks those words and many others into your life. He wants His Word to change you, to transform you, to spur you on to action that looks like His.

You may not be able to alter the state of reality like Jesus did, but you can speak powerful words of hope into the lives of those around you. You can do simple acts of kindness with great love that change the life of a single person in a powerful way. That is the essence of being like Jesus, hearing and responding to His call.

So here's the question that starts to get at the heart of discipleship and the movement that Jesus started: Who do you want to follow in your footsteps? Who is looking up to you and imitating you? Children do this with their siblings and especially with their parents. Adults aren't immune to influence from one another. So who values your opinion? Who seeks you out when they feel disconnected or out of their depth? In a simple phrase, who's "on your 6?"

Jesus has invested His life in you. He's called others around you throughout your life to give you images of Who He is and lessons on following Him. He's done this not so that you can hoard it or keep it to yourself. Jesus gives generously and liberally out of a bottomless supply of love, insight, and care. He gives it so you can give it away. My challenge to you is to rigorously examine the following question and answer it: What would happen if I spent time intentionally investing in just two or three other people who are walking in my footsteps as I seek to walk in Jesus' footsteps? I think that if you take some time wresting with that and praying about it, you'll find another dimension to your life with God, and plenty of reminders that...

Adventure is out there!
Pastor Aaron