Adventure with Pastor Aaron

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Confessional Lutheran or Missional Lutheran?

MARCH 2020

Symbiosis is defined by Webster as 1) "the living together in more or less intimate association or close union of two dissimilar organisms” and 2) "a cooperative relationship (as between two persons or groups).” Two Greek words shoved together create a word that means “living together.” In biology, this can be seen in two primary ways, either as mutually beneficial (mutualism) or one organism living off the other one (parasitism). The former is positive, the latter is negative. Even the human body, made up of many members who excel at some things and do not excel at others, works best when all our organs work harmoniously. This is precisely why St. Paul uses the body as such a powerful metaphor for God’s people, the body of Christ, in 1 Corinthians 12. We function best when we work together, even those of us who excel at seemingly opposing tasks and gifts.

There is a conversation in Western Christianity, especially among those of us who claim the name of Luther, about being “confessional” versus being “missional.” One person might say, “I am a confessional Lutheran.” Another might say, “I’m a missional Lutheran.” Maybe you’ve heard snatches of this conversation here and there. Someone who would lean toward the side of “confessional Lutheranism” might sprinkle their conversations with phrases like “biblical inerrancy,” “faithfulness to the Confessions” or “doctrinally sound.” Those on the opposite end of the spectrum as a “missional Lutheran” might use words like “Jesus' heart for people,” “reconciling all creation to God,” or “Spirit-led fulfillment of God’s redemptive mission.”

Now, let’s start to get this all out in the open, if it isn’t already. All of these things sound like good, solid parts of a Christian worldview, right? Nobody who has begun to know the heart of God would argue against faithfulness to God and His Word on one side or engaging in His redemptive mission to draw all creation back to the heart of the Father. So why the divide? Why the polarization and politicization of two things that are both critically important to the life of God’s family? 

I think a big part of it is that both are clearly under attack in our season of the church (and maybe they always have been). Furthermore, our enemy has always used the most elementary military tactic in his war against us: divide and conquer. If he can get us to quibble over one matter or the other, the infighting saps our energy: the strength, power, and authority that Jesus gives us in abundance both to stand on His Word and to be about His mission. 

I like to think about these often polarizing points like shoes. A good, heavy set of boots makes it easy to stand firm, to stay put…but they’re terrible for running. And shoes that are designed for speed are not usually also designed for finding a solid foothold in uncertain terrain. Some Christians might say we Lutherans have cement boots. Then again, we might look at them and think them too footloose-and-fancy-free for their own good. 

Or maybe we go with a quote often attributed to Billy Graham, that the Lutheran church was a “sleeping giant” that needed to “wake up.” Whether this quote is an urban legend or not, the sentiment rings true: the theology we stand on, that we believe, teach, and confess, makes us a giant in the American church. How is it that we allow ourselves to doze off and not enjoy the adventure of following Jesus into a broken world, to participate in His redemptive work? 

So, I wouldn’t be surprised if you had asked yourself the following question as you’ve read this article: I wonder which “kind” of Lutheran my pastor is? Which “team” does he play for? Is he a confessional Lutheran or a missional Lutheran? And I hope it doesn’t surprise you too much to hear my (whimsical) answer: yes! Or, more clearly, both! Will these two live in tension, both in my inner wrestlings with God, and also externally as we seek to follow Jesus as a confessional, missional church? Absolutely! Is it a good idea to forsake either our confession or our mission in favor of the other? Not a chance! What I believe God wants is a healthy symbiosis of these two frames of reference. From what I can see, our confession drives us into the world to represent Jesus, and our mission is to call people back to the conviction, the confession that God is for us, comes to save us, and loves us to death and beyond. 

Jesus has given us a perfectly sound vehicle for our voyage through this life: the ark of the Church, complete with its confessions. He’s also given us a mission and purpose, to seek and save the lost. This isn’t a pleasure cruise. So the question I have for you is, how far out of the boat are you willing to lean to save someone who’s drowning? Do you trust the other people in the boat to stabilize you? And what happens if you fall out of the boat in that attempt? I sometimes worry about that. But I also know a Guy who can walk on water. So do you. His power to rescue is unbeatable, and He alone can lead us to be solid in our confession and passionate about the mission He left us. So lean out of the boat! Trust that it’ll support you! Find the life you were designed for you as you Join Jesus in the world. After all…
 
Adventure is out there!  Pastor Aaron

Honesty - February 2020

There’s an old Billy Joel song for which the lyrics of the chorus go like this: “Honesty is such a lonely word/Everyone is so untrue/Honesty is hardly ever heard/And mostly what I need from you.” SO true, right? In an agreeable society like ours, honesty can be a rarity. On the positive side, it’s good that we’re paying attention to the lessons of our history, lest we doom ourselves to repeat them. The story of God’s people is littered with chapters and whole volumes in which our spiritual ancestors exchanged the beauty of a relationship with God for a counterfeit identity. Jesus saw it in the fanatical devotion of the Pharisees to the temple and the Sabbath. The Crusades were a dark blot of misdirected religious fervor toward geographic expansion instead of fishing for people’s hearts. Luther and other reformers had to valiantly oppose the economic machine of the medieval church/state that ran roughshod over the Gospel on its way into people’s pockets. Yes, the story of God’s people has its dark chapters of misfires and failures. Not much better can be said for the broader society in general, either, if we’re being honest. We all struggle with honesty, whether it’s as blatant as actively promoting lies in court or fudging our age or the speed we were driving. And heaven help the husband whose wife asks him, “Honey, do I look fat in this?"

So honesty is NOT generally very popular. It can be rather painful to be brutally honest. But we have to be honest with God and ourselves to admit when we’re wrong, and taking an honest look at our own lives can be mighty uncomfortable. If we say we have no sin, we’re fooling ourselves and not allowing the truth to lead us to a right relationship with God; only in honesty and through contrition can we find forgiveness and restoration (see 1 John 1:8-9). Looking at the lives of those around us with a gracious but appraising eye is a dangerous enterprise, and even with pure motives of helping another grow in faith and love, our ability to communicate it with the right balance of grace and truth is near-impossible to get right. And while we DO live in an amazingly good society that provides us with manifold benefits, it has its issues. That’s the truth. But are we willing to address those issues honestly and openly?

When we are willing to start an honest conversation about the current state of the church, one of the easiest things to do is to criticize the wider society. “The reason the church has seen such a precipitous downturn in our time is the shift of culture away from Judeo-Christian values, or a prosperity that keeps people from spiritual pursuits, or the breakneck speed of our society…take your pick.” And while each of those concerns could be accurately described as a legitimate factors the church must address, it doesn’t get at the heart of the matter, the disease that is underlying it all: a slow but steady abandonment of biblical, relational discipleship, the kind of spiritual formation Jesus practiced. 

I know I must be honest about what I’m seeing and experiencing.  It may not be popular. It may provoke some frustration or anger. It may break some hearts (as it has mine, on occasion). So here’s my moment of honesty: sometimes God’s people have lost their collective focus on the things that really matter, and start chasing after things that are poor replicas of the life He longs to give them. I don’t think it’s often intentional; in fact, most of the time I believe it’s done with the best of intentions. I have participated in some of these misguided efforts myself, as I’m guessing you have as well, and found myself just as frustrated and empty at the end as you may have felt. It doesn’t feel good. It feels a lot like failure. If we’re all honest, we have fallen into patterns in which it was easier to simply go with flow than fight for something meaningful or valuable. And yet, I cling to the promise that God doesn’t allow His Word, sown in the hearts of people, amount to nothing (see Isaiah 55:9-11). I am confident that by the power of Jesus’ Spirit that still lives on in each of us, we can reclaim the healthy patterns of biblical, relational discipleship that Jesus modeled for us. I know it’s going to take some work. It won’t always be easy. But I am confident that with some intentional shifts in our focus, being willing to allow God to shape our lives so that they reflect both the character and competencies of Jesus, the tide will turn. But we can’t do it alone. We have to be on the same page…all of us. 

These simple but powerful shifts will be part of the conversation at the Church Chat 2.0 on February 22. I really hope to see you there because we’ve got some important, life-giving things to talk about, and there’s a seat at the table for you. It’s about being ready to go where Jesus calls us, to take on the adventure of spreading the story that He’s already won the victory for us. And that’s some beautiful honesty that is hardly ever heard in this world, but mostly what we need from God, what we need to hear from one another, and what a broken world is dying to hear. Good honesty. Life-giving honesty. Good news!

Adventure is out there!  Pastor Aaron

1-2-3 (Part 3) - January 2020

“FOMO” is a pretty common concept in our culture these days. The “fear of missing out” is strong, especially during a season flush with opportunities to celebrate, enjoy, even indulge. The one-two punch of Christmas and New Years can have a dramatic effect on our wallets and our waistlines, and yet, we may still feel like we missed out on some treat or trinket along the way. “I mean, who really just takes ONE bite of their (new) favorite Christmas cookie…and throws out the rest?” Or “Who in their right mind could possibly resist buying just ONE more little toy, for the opportunity to watch a child’s/grandchild’s eyes brighten with delight? The cost is insignificant compared to that feeling!”    

So we eat the whole cookie, before finding a new favorite. We buy the toy and are surprised how quickly that twinkle of delight dissolves from the child’s face. Did we miss out on something? Was it worth the cost? We’ll never know. Then again, we won’t wait to find out. On to the next thing!

While the concept of FOMO, developed by Harvard MBA Patrick J. McGinnis, was originally aimed at companies that overreach in their desire to capture a part of their market, it certainly developed a life of its own in popular culture. FOMO has been used to justify any kind of consumerism or hedonism imaginable. Similar to YOLO (“you only live once”) in its sentiment, the fear of missing out on life, REAL life (whatever that looks like) drives us to consume, consume, consume, both goods and experiences.

And where do we find ourselves, at the end of this way of thinking, believing, and behaving? Some have put it this way: “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” It’s a pretty bleak outlook on life, and pretty closely echoes the nihilism that seems to echo throughout most of the book of Ecclesiastes. Solomon had access to all the goods and experiences of his day, and he found it all to be “futile, a pursuit of the wind” (1:14, CSB). And the truth is, if we’re just looking for our next material “fix” with which to satisfy our cravings, our lives will be quite meaningless, indeed.

But you and I know that that is NOT the life for which the Father created us! It’s not the life that Jesus died for…He died not so that we could carry on in meaninglessness, but could pursue the meaning of following Him, imitating Him in loving others like He did. That life, the full, abundant life that God desires for us (and that we desire deep down inside, even if we’re unwilling to admit it) is living in complete and full harmony with the Spirit of Jesus in us. It’s not a life of “stuff” or “me.” It’s a life of relationships, an everyday investment in connections that are begun here in time and continue on into eternity. Now THAT’s meaningful! Something that never dies! 

It turns out that if we’re feeling like we’re missing out on something good, the answer is probably that there’s a relationship in our life that needs more intentionality and focus. So that we don’t miss out on the fullness of being human, even in a broken world, Jesus shows us the way by His pattern of life. He has a strong relationship with His Father, and makes Him a priority. He invests the fullness of His life in a close group of followers, His disciples, to whom He gives a fuller picture of the Kingdom as they journey each day together. And He makes Himself accessible to the community at large. He engages in three key relationships: with His Father, with His disciples, and anyone who was looking for Him.

If we’re observant of Jesus’ patterns and intentional about following Him, then our treasured relationships will follow a similar template. We’ll spend time with God. We’ll invest in the lives of people who know Jesus and follow Him. And by the power of the Holy Spirit, we’ll be on the lookout for people to whom God is sending us, people who don’t yet know how much Jesus loves them. By investing in these three key relationships, we’ll be following the two Great Commandments Jesus gave us: love God, love people.

Many people search despairingly for a life devoid of FOMO, when what they’re looking for can genuinely be found in the patterns of intentional relationships that Jesus demonstrated in His own life. I can tell you from personal experience that in the moments when I feel least fulfilled in life, one of these key relationships has faded into the background. I’m guessing you’re not much different from me. But the great thing about relationships is that by God’s grace, and through the power of Jesus’ resurrection, they’re eternal, begun in time, going on forever. The Spirit perpetually mends, renews, and grows these relationships. He’s even capable of placing people in our paths to whom God is sending us, to love like He does. My prayer for us all in 2020 is that we have eyes to see God working in the world, strengthening old relationships and creating new, and that He inspires and encourages us to join Him where He’s already working.

Adventure is out there!  Pastor Aaron

P.S. Keep your eyes peeled for more information on Joining Jesus…a journey we’ll take together during Lent 2020.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adventure is out there! Pastor Aaron

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adventure is out there! Pastor Aaron

ConsumerChristiansorFruit-BearingDisciples-Oct2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adventure is out there! Pastor Aaron

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