Adventure with Pastor Aaron

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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

New = Change

It’s a new year! What is your response? Positive or negative? “Yippee!” “Ho-hum.” “I’m excited!” “Just another day.” Responses to anything new, including a different number on the yearly calendar, vary widely from person to person.

Some new things in our lives are certainly worthy of unfettered excitement and joy. The birth of a child or grandchild. A new job that holds a lot of promise. A new relationship that seems full of potential for solid friendship or lifelong romantic love. A new opportunity in business, travel, or a hobby. We appreciate new things, especially when the downside or challenge seems low.

But what about the new things that are more challenging? A renewed commitment to a marriage that is faltering. A job that has been seriously impacted by economic circumstances or mismanagement within the organization. An unexpected revealing of a hidden weakness within oneself or even more publicly. A desire to improve some aspect of life (New Year's resolutions, anyone?). Some new things require a lot more energy, focus, and even patience to accomplish. It’s more like climbing a mountain than coasting down a hill.

But newness must include change. And many changes are good. In fact, as Christians we must insist that God continue to make changes in our lives. This is the essence of repentance, which is central to our life with God and one another. We trust Him to mold and shape us to look more like Him. Sometimes this sanctification process is easy, and even enjoyable, as we lean into new opportunities for which we are well-equipped, or dive deeper into the depths of God's love and grace for us. Other parts of this process are much more difficult, as we surrender parts of ourselves to God that are unhealthy in repentance, or even let loved ones go. Change isn’t always easy, but in the hands of God, it can be a powerful force for growth and goodness in our lives.

In the midst of so many things that constantly change, it’s good to know there are some things that don’t change. There’s a passage in Lamentations that communicates beautifully the truth of God‘s unchanging care for us: “Because of the Lord’s faithful love we do not perish, for His mercies never end. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness! I say, ‘The Lord is my portion, therefore I will put my hope in him’” (3:22-24, CSB). “Great is Thy Faithfulness” consistently ranks as one of Western Christianity's favorite hymns, and its popularity can be attributed in large part to the promises contained in this verse. When a new day dawns and the change from night to day is almost complete, we still have the steadfast and unchanging love, grace, mercy, and joy that God promises us each day.

Our world is changing. Your life is changing. What will happen in the midst of those changing circumstances is uncertain. But you can find comfort in the fact that the unchanging, unchangeable God, Who made you, Who went to the cross for you, Who continues to love and shape you, will not change. So how is God calling you to lean into healthy changes this year? How is He beckoning you to walk in His footsteps, to follow His path, to be more like Him? It’s a lifetime journey, and yet when we take moments to examine where we are on the path, and how God’s grace and care has attended us each step of the way, we are often delighted to rediscover that…

Adventure is (still) out there!
Pastor Aaron

Adventure Is In Here!

"'Tis the season to be ______." Yes, it's a beautiful, joyous, JOLLY season. But it's so many other things, too...and many of them could easily fit within that two-syllable portion of that Christmas song. "Busy." "Crazy." "Tired out." "Silly." "Bonkers." I'm sure you can come up with a few yourself to fit your mood and situation. The truth of the matter is it's a busy season in which you probably have as little time to read this as I have to write it, so I'll be brief.

God's people have always been in a pattern and cycle of being gathered and scattered: gathered together in His house and the company of His family, and then scattered to the places where we live, work, and play. In the Old Testament, the Israelites gathered at God's house to worship, whether it was the tabernacle in the wilderness or the temple once it was built in the Promised Land. On other occasions, they gathered together to fight their adversaries. But then they went back to their tents or their designated tribal lands. They were scattered during their time of exile, but always longed for the gathering of God's people one day in the Land He had promised.

In the New Testament, we certainly see this in Jesus' ministry as well. He gathers His disciples together to teach and train them, then sends them out. They come back with stories to tell and a renewed hunger to follow Jesus and serve alongside Him. He gathers them for the Last Supper before they flee during His trial and execution. Jesus' resurrection and promised return after His ascension is what naturally binds His people together and prepares them for the exponential growth of the young church at Pentecost. When persecution hits, it only serves God's plan to scatter them to new places where they tell the story of Jesus and what it all means.

Yes, the cycle of being gathered in places of unity and family, then scattered to places of work and play has been in place wherever God's people have been found. Gathered in Temple spaces to be with God. Scattered to Table spaces where we do life with others. It's natural. It's God-honoring. We need both.

Where does this season find our most important gathering place? Simply put, it's around a manger. Why do the shepherds, angels, animals, and Jesus' parents focus so intently on Him? Why do they marvel at such a seemingly small and insignificant event as the birth of a little boy in a backwater town in one little corner of this planet? It is because they are gazing into the radiant glow of pure goodness, mercy, love, and affection that our tender heavenly Father has always held for His creation. And now He's here, in human form. How could you NOT be mesmerized by that? God comes to earth, and gathers all creation to look and see.

This season, we will do the same. We will gather in our Temple space to "come and worship, come and worship, worship Christ the newborn King." The King is here! Hooray!!! We will also spend time with others in our Table spaces, with opportunities to gather around a real source of celebration: the coming of the Savior of the world. Wherever we go this Advent and Christmas season, God goes with us, our Immanuel.

By now you know that I always sign off with "Adventure is out there!" (see last month's post for more insight into that catchy phrase). But the opposite can be true. Adventure is also "in here." In God's house. Even in our own hearts, His tabernacle within us. Trusting God isn't always easy, but there is plenty of adventure to be found when the King sets off on a quest to invade our hearts with His grace and goodness. Maybe it isn't lost on you that the beginning of the word adventure is Advent, which means "arriving" or simply "coming." When Jesus comes to town and invites YOU to follow Him, there is plenty of adventure to be found. It's my prayer that you know the joy and exhilaration of that journey all throughout the year, but especially at Christmas, because...

Adventure is out there (and in here, too)!
Pastor Aaron


Faith is an Adventure?

/adˈven(t)SHər, ədˈven(t)SHər/
noun - an undertaking usually involving danger and unknown risks.

Every once in a while, it's a healthy practice to look back on where you've been, enjoy the highlights, learn from the disappointments and failures, and reflect on what got you here. When I started writing this article for the newsletter almost 4 years ago, I made the choice to use a line from one of my favorite Pixar movies, Up, as a final flourish and sign-off, and the name stuck. Reflecting on that choice of words, I have wondered if the title has served its purpose, if it still fits, and what encouragement it can still express to hearers, regardless of what format this bit of communication may take.

What is the nature of an adventure? You've got Webster's definition undertaking usually involving danger and unknown risks. It's the heroic episodes of the characters of Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia, Tolkein's Lord of the Rings, Rowling's Harry Potter and Andrew Peterson's Wingfeather saga. It's Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. It's Tintin and Katniss Everdeen and Sherlock Holmes. These characters have exciting lives full of danger, struggle, loss, and quite often, victory. Their stories are inspirational, and make us feel a longing to be in their shoes, to experience the zest of a life well-lived. We live vicariously through them, even as we sit comfortably on our couches, a world away from their struggles and triumphs.

The ancient stories of God certainly fit within the genre of adventure stories. Using our roaming ears on our whistle stop tour through the Bible these past few weeks, we have heard of the wondrous tales of Abraham and Sarah, Moses and the children of Israel during the Exodus, the exploits of the 12 spies in Canaan, the intrigue of Rahab's turning against her native city to follow God, Gideon's fleece and conquest of the Midianites. This is to say nothing of the many other characters from the Bible and their stories that are ahead in our journey. If that weren't enough, we also have the godly examples of those who came after Paul and early church, from Polycarp to Cyril, Ambrose to Augustine, Martin and Katie Luther, CFW Walther, and the list goes on. Their stories can encourage us and inspire us to walk with Jesus where we are, in much different circumstances than they probably could have ever imagined.

In light of all of these fantastic stories, it can be easy to look at our own lives and wonder how our stories could even come close to containing even a sliver of the kind of life-giving adventure that these heroes of the faith experienced. We participate in their stories without going anywhere, doing anything, and often without leaning into the abundant life our heroes and heroines experienced personally. There is a rich story of steadfast trust in God woven in to the warp and woof of the Biblical narrative, and all of the most admirable people in the Bible are known to live and walk "by faith" (Hebrews 11). If we read this grand narrative as it's intended, God intends our response to be "I long for my faith to be strong like that. God, grant me strength and wisdom to walk with you like that!" The writer of Hebrews rightly points in this direction, too: "As you carefully observe the outcome of [your leaders'] lives, imitate their faith" (13:7b). There is adventure in their faithful exploits.

All of these bits of truth lead to a very poignant and crucial question: "Why don't I see more of that kind of adventure in my life?" Maybe your immediate and visceral response to that question is akin to something like, "MORE adventure in my life? Are you crazy? I feel like every day I face the shifting landscape of another jungle, and it's a pretty good day if I can hack my way through it, survive the multitude of deadly critters and make it home in time for dinner. More adventure? No thanks! I'll take a pass!" Some days certainly feel like that. I have those days, too.

But more often than not, I find that my response could be better described as longing or wistfulness. "I wish there was more adventure in my life. Overall, I lead a pretty routine life. Nothing particularly special, and nothing truly spectacular. Nobody would call me an adventurer!" It reminds me of another Pixar favorite of mine, a short called "Inner Workings" that ran before the feature-length movie Moana. The protagonist has to be forced by his internal organs to get on with a very hum-drum, boring life, with certain death lurking behind any deviation from the mechanistic track he's on. He longs for a bit of simple adventure in his life, but is too afraid to follow his heart's impulse to live a little, step just a little out of line, and see what happens. Eventually he does, and his life is richer for it. He doesn't become a pirate or knight or hacker or hobbit or wizard, or some other kind of heroic character, but he's been transformed by a simple act of daring and faith.

Living a mundane, boring life that only consists of routine is not what God desires for His people. He's not necessarily calling us to travel far and wide to seek out adventure in daring and heroic exploits. However, if we have eyes to see and hearts to pay attention, I truly believe we can find adventures in faith in the everyday cadence of interactions He sends us. That adventure can be in our own homes and inside a church building. It can be found where we go to school or do our work. It can sometimes be found in the company of those who share hobbies and similar interests, or in the worlds opened up to us by electronic communication and social media. It can be found in the simple pleasantries between neighbors, or just about anywhere. Wherever God is sending you today, adventure can be found. Trust the power of His Spirit to guide you to the conversations He's preparing for you. Trust Him to lead you to live out His image in your contacts with those around you; trust Him to fill your mouth with the words that need to be spoken, and sometimes with the restraint to hold off. Jesus enters the world every day incognito through you and me, and when we embrace that mission He has given us we are bound to find out that...

Adventure is out there!
Pastor Aaron