Adventure with Pastor Aaron

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Taking a Break

Solomon in all of his wisdom, opportunity, and power, wrote this admonition to those coming after him who would seek knowledge: "But beyond these [wise teachings], my son, be warned: there is no end to the making of many books, and much study wearies the body" (Ecclesiastes 12:12, CSB). As someone who does quite a bit of studying, researching, and thinking, I very much resonate with this sentiment. The study of God's Word and paying attention to the world around us are both noble, vital tasks to being the people God made us to be, no doubt. But it's also exhausting.

Enter summer.

It's a time to do a lot of "RE's." RElax. REcreate. REstore. REvitalize. REnew. We all need moments or even extended seasons for this God-honoring activity...and often we must intentionally mark off the time and space for it. Working from a place of rest is good, while the other way around drains our life and sometimes our humanity.

Jesus needed time away. If we're following in His footsteps, we should take time away, too. So in the interest of actively following His pattern, I'm keeping my article short this month, especially as I prepare to head off on a vacation with my family. Instead of more of my words and musings, here's a part of Jesus' story:

"Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, [Jesus] got up, went out, and made His way to a deserted place; and there He was praying. Simon and his companions searched for Him, and when they found Him they said, 'Everyone is looking for You.' And He said to them, 'Let’s go on to the neighboring villages so that I may preach there too. This is why I have come.'" (Mark 1:35-39, CSB). 

Notice how Jesus doesn't apologize for not being available to those who sought Him. He was spending time away with His Father, and being purposely "unavailable" for a specified time can be empowering and life-giving.

I am very grateful to everyone in my Immanuel family who actively support my well-being and the health of my family. We pray that you also have time for relaxation and renewal during this summer, as we seek these things for ourselves. I am confident that when your aim is to get away, or even specifically because you're getting away from your normal patterns for a while, you'll discover the Kingdom wherever you go, because...

Adventure is out there!
Pastor Aaron

Freedom in the Truth

Have you ever had a moment when you started to doubt something that you had been told multiple times, had previously believed to be absolutely true, but had become nearly impossible to reconcile with your current circumstances? As someone who puts a lot of stock in intellect and enjoys deep thinking and thought experiments, I am perpetually amazed by two opposing ideas that often come crashing into one another: first, the ability of the human mind to grasp and even start to understand the world and environment in which God has placed us, and second, our failure, often at critical junctures, to remember and act upon the things that we hold close and know to be true.

Truth is a beautiful thing. Truth is a life-giving thing. Truth is foundational to our relationship with God, with one another. Truth is crucial to our very existence. God has spoken Truth into our world, and we participate in it. He spoke it in the Old Testament through the prophets, and He brought it into existence through Jesus. The truth is manifold in our world. Why then do we have such a difficult time remembering the truth? Why is it so easy to believe lies about God and about ourselves? Conversely, why is it often so difficult to believe the truth?

On the first Easter, we have several accounts of the actions of the disciples of Jesus, both male and female. In Luke 24, we hear of the women's desire to honor Jesus by giving Him a proper burial, but when they bring back news of an empty tomb and angelic messengers proclaiming Jesus' resurrection, the disciples refuse to believe, perceiving these reports as nonsense (vs. 11). How could they have missed this point when Jesus expressly communicated to them that He would die and rise (Matthew 16:21)? It boggles the mind that none of them would have been drawn back to the truth that Jesus stated so clearly.

As the saying goes, "truth is often stranger than fiction," but sometimes the truth also feels almost too good to be true. But that's the absolutely remarkable, singular thing about Jesus' story. It. Is. True. Period. "Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!" This is our motto and banner as God's people, who die with Christ and rise with Him. It's a truth so big and beautiful that it can't be comprehended by the human mind, but it's only apprehended in the purest, fondest desires of the human heart. We desire life to the fullest, and while we may not understand what that is or be able to see what it looks like, God promises to provide the purest fulfillment of that exact desire to those who trust Him. This is the message of Easter and the truth upon which we stand.

Why then is it so difficult for us to believe the truth? It's part of our sinful human condition, and it reeks havoc in our lives. It happens in scripture and it happens in real life, and everything in between. The fateful words of Darth Vader to Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back, "I am your father," are quickly followed up with Luke's repudiation, "No, no, that's not true. That's impossible!" An accounting error on the part of our hospital's billing department is clear to us, so we're quick to say, "That can't be right...would you look into that for me?" Or Pilate, when confronted with Jesus' declaration that all who follow Him will be people of the truth, questions it himself: "What is truth?" (John 18:37-38). Even when it's so delightfully real, like the other disciples sharing the joyful news of their Savior's resurrection and appearance to Thomas, the truth is often hard to believe.

Likewise, lies can often be easy to believe. Paul summarizes this shift from truth to lies and idolatry that leads to depravity in Romans 1: "They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served what has been created instead of the Creator, who is praised forever. Amen" (vs.25). Our own experiences are often confirmed by the characters we see in the Bible struggling with lies they must confront, and how God firmly, lovingly brings them back to the truth and reality. Jonah believes that he can run away from God, and is confronted by the great fish. Moses believes that God couldn't possibly work through his feeble mouth, and yet God uses him powerfully to deliver the law and instructions for living to His people. David believes that he can get away with adultery and murder, and is confronted by the truth in the person of Nathan, who also delivers God's forgiveness when David repents. The woman at the well, who believes she will never have healthy relationships with the people in her town, is confronted by the gracious presence and friendship of Jesus.

The world is full of what is often called "fake news." None of us would want to be played for a fool, to believe outright lies. And yet, not all of the most devastating lies are writ large in our society. Some of them dwell in the hidden places of our hearts. Places we dare not go. Ideas we dare not address, lest they prove to be true. Lies that plague us, hurt us, confound us, and drag us down. What would happen if we allowed those dark lies to see the light of day? To be exposed to the Light of the World. As Jesus said to those who were starting to believe but were still held captive by their sin, “If you continue in my word, you really are my disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32, CSB).

Truth cuts both ways. It wounds and destroys those who deny it. But it also cuts the bonds of those enslaved by lies. I want to have conversations with people about the lies they've believed, because chances are, I've believed them, too, at some point in my life. It's not a comfortable thing to engage with these difficult issues, but I believe it is at the heart of what we are called to be and do as a community of God's people. I also believe that it will be a profound liberating experience to address the pernicious lies we've believed, and find freedom on the other side in Jesus' truth. It'll be a journey of the heart, but I hope we'll all find joy in the truth that...

Adventure is out there!
Pastor Aaron

A Story to Tell (Pt. 2)

"We all have a story to tell." "YOU have a story to tell." If you've been keeping up with our most recent sermon series, you've probably heard something akin to that sentiment expressed several times in the past few weeks. I believe it's absolutely true. God created us as storytelling beings. He relates His identity and intentions toward us through story. He invites us to live in the story He has created. He sends His Son into the story of this world to transform it and restore things that are sad and broken about the story. The best stories are ones with happy endings, and we celebrate occasions like Easter for that exact reason. Death doesn't have the final say. Jesus is alive! We have hope! A story that has that kind of ending is worth living.

If I asked you to think about the most impactful moments in your life, I'm guessing you would probably tell me a story that has a certain amount of nuance to it. Insights that have been gained over countless retellings. Moments when your life was transformed. Struggles that gave way to seasons of rapid growth. Whether the circumstances surrounding the story were delightful or gut-wrenchingly horrible, they all contribute to the person that you are today. Do you remember these moments and tell that story because God was at work, and you feel deeply that you can contribute to the growth of the Kingdom by telling it? This has certainly been my experience, and I'm guessing it might likely be yours as well.

While telling your story is important, every story also needs a hearer. Now, you've probably heard plenty of boring stories in your time. Maybe there are some stories that you have NOT heard simply because they were too boring to be focused upon, and you found yourself tuning out. This is much like the impression I get when my wife tells me, "I told you that a few days ago," and I have no recollection of what she's talking about. Then again, if there is someone important that you are meeting for the first time, or someone who has the potential to be important in your story going forward, they may tell the most mundane, boring story you've ever heard, and yet you will give them your rapt attention. People are fascinating, and so are their stories, when you allow for the time and relational space to give them a fair hearing.

It's clear to me that when Jesus told stories, people listened. I like to imagine Jesus sitting down, whether on a mountain or on a plain, and waiting for people to lean in and listen. I'd like to think they hung on His every word. Maybe they did. But maybe they were distracted. Maybe they weren't convinced yet that He was worthy of their attention. Maybe they were surprised by what they heard, or maybe they were able to tune it out. One way or another, some people were really listening carefully to what Jesus shared, the stories He told, the teachings He set before them, because they recorded His story. And now, centuries later, we still tell the stories because of God's faithful work in their lives, His leading to write the story with pen and paper, transmitting it throughout the ages.

Some of the most delightful conversations I've had recently have come out of subtle details people have dropped gently into a more public, open conversation. A thrill of excitement. A touch of pain or angst. Wistfulness about unaccomplished tasks or a celebration of a personal victory. A tiny part of the story was shared more publicly, but I've found that if I go back to the person privately later on, and say something like, "I heard you say…," there's usually SO much more to the story. Asking someone to share a part of their story, especially something that is personal and deeply felt can be a beautiful gift. That gift of attention and care was a life-changing blessing Jesus gave generously throughout His ministry.

Nicodemus pursued the story of Jesus even when it was not necessarily clear that it was in his best interest to do so. John 3 tells us that he came to Jesus by night, when prying eyes wouldn't be around to out him as a secret follower of this rebel rabbi from Nazareth. He opens up to Jesus and expresses his own wrestling with the regeneration and restoration Jesus is bringing to the world and to their shared culture. He doesn't have it all figured out when they part, but his gift and contribution to the story of the world is a conversation that includes the most concise, powerful expression of the gospel ever recorded and the most well-known Bible reference in the world: "For God loved the world in this way: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16, CSB). Apparently, the story of Jesus was so compelling that even after He was crucified, Nicodemus and his friend Joseph of Arimathea were willing to risk their reputations and even defile themselves during the Passover to bury the body of Jesus. Did they have the hope of the resurrection beating in their hearts? Scripture doesn't explicitly tell us, but I think their actions powerfully communicate a living hope in Jesus.

What about you? Do you have the same kind of hope? You have never met the risen Jesus in the flesh, and neither have I. We have the benefit of knowing the rest of the story, a benefit Nicodemus did not have, even though he had met Jesus face-to-face. We all operate on faith. We trust that Jesus died for us. We trust that Jesus was raised for us. We trust Jesus' promise to return and put all things right. This is the heartbeat of our story, the motivation that continues to move us forward. As we settle into the high holy days of Holy Week and Easter, my prayer for you is that the story of Jesus would continue to loom large in your imagination. I pray that His passion and deep love for you would motivate you to trust him in every area of your life. And I pray that you would both live a story worth telling, and find those who have the ears and hearts ready to hear how your story has been transformed by nail scarred hands and an empty grave. I'm confident that when you tell your story, you'll recognize personally the beauty and joy of the statement…

Adventure is out there!

Pastor Aaron

A Story to Tell (Pt. 1)

We all have a story to tell. It's in our nature. God created the world with His powerful Word, and He made us co-creators in a world full of raw materials that only He could create. And while great monuments have been erected to the adventures and exploits of humankind, they are simply markers for something deeper. They point to a story that must be told, and stand as a reminder that some stories should never be forgotten.

Our scriptures, the Bible, stands head and shoulders above all other historical documents and artifacts as a testament to God's work in our world. Just under 43% of the entire text is considered narrative, with the rest of the documents and genres supporting that narrative, fleshing it out, giving it life through rich detail. It is often referred to as the "Greatest Story Ever Told," and its central figure is the One we call Savior and Lord. St. Augustine, one of the forebears of and greatest influences on Dr. Martin Luther, once said, "The New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New." Every bit of the Bible story points toward Jesus, the Word made flesh. The One who makes every story come alive through redemption, through resurrection in the wake of a death.

God's word has a story to tell. So do you. Jesus loved to tell stories, and if we are going to follow in His footsteps, then telling stories should be something we embrace and aim to master. Now, I could imagine a simple objection that many of you may give to this crucial encouragement and even command from Jesus to tell the Good News story: "I'm not good at telling stories." I beg to differ. EVERYONE has a story to tell. Just ask them what they did throughout the day. For the past week. Ask them what their highlight was from the past year, or the biggest struggle they encountered.

Just about anyone who pays attention to their own life will be able to tell you a story. Like my favorite public intellectual Dr. Jordan Peterson likes to say, people are fascinating, and if you think they are boring, it reveals more about your lack of attention to them than it does about how fascinating they are. The stories you tell may not be as grand or deep as the biblical narrative, but they are stories nonetheless, and they have a place in the tapestry of history. Then again, I'll bet you could come up with 10 moments in the history of your life that would be worthwhile to craft well, share, and retell throughout the years as you gain the insight that a well-examined life often provides. Yes, YOU have a story to tell.

The apostle John starts his gospel out with Jesus' place in the beginning of all things. He calls Him the Word. Before the first chapter is done, he places that creative Word, the character of the Logos, embodied by Jesus Christ, into the warp and weft of human history. Now THAT is a story to tell. What does this Word Incarnate do? Apart from the miraculous healings and feedings, apart from the central episode in human history, when he died and rose, Jesus told stories. Stories. Most of them could be simply understood by a small child. The depth of insight below that surface level hearing, however, reaches straight down to the substructure and foundation of history, philosophy, theology, and every other aspect of human civilization.

So what part is Jesus calling you and I to play in this grand narrative? I don't know, but I'm excited to find out! Literature teachers will tell you that every protagonist is the hero of his or her own story, whether they end up in a place of comedy or tragedy. God has a story for you to live, to tell. He is working powerfully in your life even now, if you have the eyes to see it. By virtue of your baptism, as a child of the King of all things, YOU have a story to tell. So go tell it. And you know how these things go. One good story often leads to another, then to another, all the way to Kingdom come. I believe that one of the most beautiful and important things we can do in this lifetime is to live out and SHARE the truth and beauty of the following statement:

Adventure is out there!
Pastor Aaron

The House of Martha and Mary

In his introduction to Jordan Peterson's popular book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, psychiatrist Norman Doidge suggests that whenever there is a party, there are usually two parties that actually take place. The first party is more formal and consists of the planned activities and small talk. The second party, which normally takes place after hours, is the place where those who want to have a deep and intimate conversation congregate. The group is smaller, the atmosphere is more relaxed, and the conversation flows more freely. The first of these parties might conceivably be a dream for extroverts, who generally get their energy from high levels of interaction with lots of people. On the other hand, the second party is the ideal situation for introverts, who thrive in smaller, more intimate settings and look for relational space to be able to tease out deep and often introspective conversations about political opinions, religious movements, and the nature of reality. As someone who trends slightly toward introversion, I might marginally enjoy the first party , but the second is where I find the greater fulfillment. Both parties are good. I just know which one I prefer.

The story of Jesus' time spent with Mary, Martha, and their brother Lazarus is well documented. Between John's account of Lazarus' death and resurrection in John 11 and Luke's story of the dynamic between the two sisters (10:38-42), it's clear that Jesus and his disciples shared their lives with this family from Bethany. In Luke's account, Martha's concern that Mary wasn't helping out with domestic tasks is something she expresses to Jesus directly - "Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to serve alone? So tell her to give me a hand” (vs. 40) - is not something you would say to a casual acquaintance, much less a celebrity guest. Jesus had been a repeated guest, this must have been a repeated pattern. Martha is in the kitchen, preparing and serving. Mary is soaking up the presence of Jesus, sitting at His feet, listening.

It is worth noticing that Jesus never condemns Martha's actions. She is being a good hostess. She is providing an environment in which people can interact. She bears the burden of their comfort. Perhaps she wishes that she could go sit at Jesus' feet, too. But if she doesn't make the food, clear the dishes, clean the counter, then who will? I know many people who feel that way. Their opportunities to socialize are restricted by the work that needs to get done. Sometimes they even feel frustrated or angry at the uneven distribution of labor. If everyone abided by the axiom, "Many hands make light work," then even they would have a chance to socialize.

Jesus places the greater value on Mary's listening ears and attentive heart. But in doing so, He doesn't devalue or disparage Martha's hard work. I believe this falls right into line with what Will Mancini says in the book I keep on talking about, Future Church. He talks about a healthy church being like a two-story house. The Lower Room is where people enter. Where they get their first impression of who God's people are. Where they start to see what we're about. The Upper Room is where God's people sit at Jesus' feet and soak in who He is. Where they hang on His every Word. Where they commune with their Maker, Savior, and Sustainer.

Mancini rightly argues that both of these rooms are valuable and truly part of the same house. We would do well to attend to both of them, and we neglect them to our own detriment and peril. The danger comes when we give undue emphasis to one over the other. In the Lower Room we find 4 P's: Place, Personality, Program, and People. Each of these are valuable components of community life. Having a building that creates space for conversations about God's plan is good. A friendly atmosphere, especially expressed by the leadership is good. Programs that are faithful and well planned can certainly lead to spiritual health and are good. Being surrounded by people we enjoy and with whom we get along is good. But without the Gospel to drive and animate them these Lower Room elements fall short of God's mission and aim.

Where the Upper Room is concerned, we can sit faithfully at Jesus' feet each day. We can be inspired to walk with Him, encouraged by His Word...and still fail to take action. If our Upper Room experiences don't translate into the way we approach both the Lower Room of the house with its elements AND the larger world, we miss the point. The Upper Room is meant to be a launching point into the world. Jesus didn't just gather His disciples...He sent them out, too! "Mary has made the right choice, [the one necessary thing]," Jesus says, "and it will not be taken away from her" (Luke 10:42). But Jesus doesn't intend us to sit at His feet forever! As the Father sent Him, He also sent His disciples. He continues to send us, too, with His mission. The time we spend in the Upper Room is fuel for the mission of God: spreading His glory thought all the earth.

These two rooms and what happens there are never meant to be pitted against each other. They're designed to work in tandem. Mary and Martha can work together. There are two questions that continue to come to mind for me as I consider the practical implications for us here, questions that will continue to be on my heart as we seek the Kingdom together here at Immanuel. 1) How can we work on building the staircase from the Lower Room to the Upper Room (next steps)? and 2) How has God uniquely gifted and equipped us to be the Gospel in our place and time (a picture of the Upper Room)? I only have a part of the answers to those questions, and I believe you do, too. More importantly, the Spirit of Jesus that lives in us will continue to lead us toward a healthy dynamic between both rooms. Of this I am certain. But I believe He works in faithful, earnest, open conversations in our midst. So let's be talking about this. Let me get you a cup of coffee and let's discover together what God's up to. When we engage in such conversations, I believe we'll find joy and fulfillment in the truth of this statement:

Adventure is out there!
Pastor Aaron

A New Name

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adventure is out there!
Pastor Aaron

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adventure is out there!
Pastor Aaron