Adventure with Pastor Aaron

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Plans for Future Church

"'For I know the plans I have for you'—this is the Lord’s declaration—'plans for your well-being, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. You will call to me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart'" (Jeremiah 29:11-13, CSB). Many catechumens have learned this passage (or at least the first verse). Countless Christian speakers have included it in addresses for graduations, confirmations, and other milestone events. The reference is written in congratulation greeting cards the world over. The message of "God's got big plans for you, and a hopeful future" is such a powerful affirmation not only of His faithfulness up to this point but also His continued presence throughout the next leg of the journey. A future with God is always bright, especially in light of our final destination, the promised "new heavens and new earth."

This potent dose of Gospel is rendered even more powerful when put in its proper context. The fact that I'm starting to feel like a broken record with the following phrase doesn't change its importance: "Context is key." In this case, context is everything. God's people weren't sitting on a mountaintop vista after conquering the uphill climb, as many people may feel when they read these verses. God's people were in exile! Far from home. Stuck in a bad place with no movement. Scattered among the nations instead of gathered in their homeland.

Nobody has to tell us that isolation is a tough spot to be in in the year 2021. "Isolation" is a pretty compact summary of what we experienced last year and are carrying into this year. Being scattered instead of being joyfully gathered has been a common theme. Being stuck in place instead of going where we want to go hasn't been for geo-political reasons like Israel's exile by Babylon, but a medically-induced quarantine can't feel much different. The angst and uncertainty feels almost antithetical to the hopeful tone of Jeremiah's letter to God's scattered people.

But hope remains! Hope prevails! Jeremiah doesn't sweep the hard circumstances of exile under the rug. He acknowledges them, and provides hope and direction in the midst of them. Listen to this: "This is what the Lord of Armies, the God of Israel, says to all the exiles I deported from Jerusalem to Babylon:  'Build houses and live in them. Plant gardens and eat their produce. Find wives for yourselves, and have sons and daughters. Find wives for your sons and give your daughters to men in marriage so that they may bear sons and daughters. Multiply there; do not decrease. Pursue the well-being of the city I have deported you to. Pray to the Lord on its behalf, for when it thrives, you will thrive'” (Jeremiah 29:4-7, CSB). In other words, "Don't give up on life until God plants you back in your homeland. Don't forget to live and thrive while you're in exile...because home can be found wherever God dwells with His people."

I really resonate with the plight of these exiled people of God. Not only has the current tone of isolation and disconnection in our culture made the growth of God's Kingdom difficult, but cultural forces throughout the world have also made me feel like the church has been exiled from crucial, mainstream conversations. I do my best to listen to what God is trying to tell me, as I trust you do, too. By His Spirit and for His glory alone, I seek to communicate what I'm hearing to those around me. But I often wonder if people are listening, following.

Yet hope remains! I trust in the power of God that has always led His people through good seasons and bad, through wilderness and Promised Land, in battle and peace. He's always faithful to us regardless of our great orthodoxy or devastating heresy. The future of the church has always depended upon nothing less than Jesus' power to take dead people, conflicted families, disheartened communities and broken nations...and make them alive and vibrant. The Kingdom comes when God's people humble themselves, turn back to the King, confess their weakness and sin, and find healing and wholeness at the foot of the cross (2 Chronicles 7:14). The great Good News is that even sitting in exile, feeling hopeless, God's people can find hope in the final resurrection of all flesh, and all of the tiny reminders in everyday life that it WILL happen someday. God promises; God delivers. Praise God!

I've been reading a really good book recently about how the church needs to reclaim some of its roots to find a way back to being what Jesus has always wanted it to be. It's called Future Church, and it says many things that I've noticed or tried to express in the past, but with a clarity I have often lacked. You should read it, too. Chapter 7 in particular should encourage any dyed-in-the-wool Lutheran with its strident defense of the Gospel over cultural relevance. While it's not hard to read, the concepts the book presents are incredibly challenging to digest and embrace. It forces the reader to confront many of the unhealthy patterns the church has fallen into over the years. Making healthy changes is never easy (Luther could tell you a bit about that!). But if we're going to thrive as God's people, hearing His call to mission and faithfully answering it, we're in for some hard work and some hard conversations.

Nevertheless, I have hope (Can you sense a recurring theme here?). My hope isn't in a book or human wisdom. It's not in the fortitude of the human spirit. It's not in earthly power or intelligence. My hope is in the saving, majestic grace of a Man hanging on a cross, showing you and me what it will take to reach a dying world. My hope is found in the nail-scarred hands of the same, resurrected Man, who beckons you and me to follow Him into broken places where resurrection is the only repair. My hope is in the power of the Spirit of Jesus residing in His people, whether in exile or at home, whether in cultural prominence or disgrace, that leads us to do the things Jesus taught us, shaping and moving us as His disciples. So embrace the journey! Take on the challenge! I am confident and hopeful that you'll find joy in following Jesus, because...

Adventure is out there!

Pastor Aaron

God's Message: Rest - July 2021

I heard from God the other day. No, I'm not talking about an audible manifestation of His Words. It wasn't a loud, mighty voice from heaven or a soft whisper. Nor did an angel appear to me. Nothing so dramatic as that. But I heard something that I had heard from God before, put in a new way, and it spoke to me in a new way, nudging my heart closer to God's.

What do you do when you hear a word from God? If Scripture (and hopefully personal experience) is a good indication, then you perk up. You listen. And when God tells you to do something, you step out in faith. You don't merely examine the "ladder" of God's directions to you. You trust that what He says is true and you step up on that ladder in faith. Faith implies action; faith without works is dead, James tells us (2:26). Put another way, God doesn't want a lifeless Body, but He wants His Body, the Church, to be filled with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of Jesus living in us individually and collectively. The Spirit that moves us into action, bringing the Kingdom where He sends us everyday.

I wouldn't be at all surprised if your next question was something like, "How do I know when God is speaking to me? How can I make sure it really is a message from Him, and not something else?" The answer is a question: "Have you heard God say this in Scripture?" Has God communicated this to you in the past, in a place that God's people believe to be authoritative? Does that Bible say this, as God's own Word? Is what you hear Him saying to you now match up with that clearly-expressed Word?

Lots of very personal questions here, I know, and ones that often require some focused reading of Scripture and deep reflection to properly answer. It also requires a knowledge of what God has said in the past, so we know what the truth is. Jesus said that knowing the truth sets us free (John 8:32). Part of embracing that freedom is knowing God's Word well enough to know the truth of Who God is and who He calls us to be and to do. With that knowledge as a part of us, through a lifetime of seeking God in His Word, we can hear more clearly when He is seeking to emphasize something He's telling us, encouraging us to pay extra-careful attention.

So the other week I had one of those "God's-underlining-something-for-me" moments. I heard one of my favorite verses, and it spoke to me in a new and poignant way. In Matthew 11:28, Jesus says, "Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." I was reminded that I, me personally, was someone who is often weary and burdened. With that phrase already identified and properly "aimed" at myself, I was able to hear the verse as Jesus' words for me: "Come to me, Aaron...I'll give you rest." A tender invitation. A promise of care, respite, and a lifting of burdens.

I often need to be reminded that I can't make God's Kingdom come on my own. I feel the responsibility. But like Greg Finke likes to say, Jesus always does the "heavy lifting." A pastor friend of mine recently said it like this: "Work like it all depends on you; leave the results to God." God invites us to join Him in the harvest fields where He alone makes things grow. When I start to feel like I have to do the impossible work of making things grow and produce fruit, work that truly belongs only in the capable hands of God, He gently invites me back to my identity as His very much-loved child: "Come to me... I'll give you rest." 

I pray that this summer provides opportunities for you to hear these words of Jesus for yourself, and to step out in faith, to embrace the physical, mental, and spiritual rest that comes with spending time with Jesus and others. Wherever God sends you this summer, it's still true that...

Adventure is out there!

Pastor Aaron

Living the Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adventure is out there! Lead on, Master Adventurer!

Pastor Aaron 

Christians Lament

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adventure is out there!

Pastor Aaron

Seeing AND Speaking

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Adventure is out there!

Pastor Aaron

A View from Inside & Outside - March 2021

Which way does the church face? Taken one way, this is mainly the provenance of those who practice geography, cartography, architecture, and the like. Does it face toward the main road? East, west, north, or south? With the sun rising to throw light through the stained glass window in the morning? These and other questions like it deal with which way the physical structure of the church building faces.

But to me, this question has resonated in a different way as of late. Which way the church faces is not about a direction on the compass. Rather, it is an expression of which way the church faces relationally: inwardly or outwardly. How is the church positioned in relation to the community? What does the community outside look like through the doors and windows of our church building? From the safe places where we gather and find comfort in the word of God? And on the other side, what do people see when they see it from the outside? How do they perceive us? More importantly, how does it represent the King we serve, Jesus?

I think it's easy to admire the outside world from the places that we know are safe. Here's a picture of the area outside my office window from inside.

I'm comforted and encouraged by the beauty of the stained glass hanging there, and the symbols lead me to remember the things that are most important. The Triune God who created, redeemed, and grows me. The amazing, sacrificial love of Jesus that saves me. The ship that reminds me that God has placed me in the holy ark of His church to be transported through the flood of this life to eternal life with Him. To me, these symbols are comforting.

But how do those things appear to those outside the church? Do they bring them comfort and hope? Do they point them to God? Or do people outside the church see a place where they won't be accepted or understood, where they won't understand what is going on, or where they will be judged for whatever choices they've made that don't meet the standards and approval of God and his people? Here's a picture from outside my office window, looking in.

I often think about the contrast between these two views of the church: from inside and from outside. It's the same thing, the same building, the same symbols, but it means two different things to two different groups of people. This leads me back to the initial question: which direction does the church face? Does it face inward and look mainly to its own interests? Or does it face outward to the world and look for ways to love the community, people broken by sin (just like us!), and draw them closer to the heart of the father?

We've talked quite a bit in the past year or so about the 1-2-3's here at Immanuel, what's going to be important to us as we move forward. 1 Mission: making disciples. 2 Places where it happens: Temple spaces and Table spaces. And we're called to engage in 3 Key Relationships: with God (UP), with people who know and love Jesus (IN), and with those who don't yet know how much He loves them (OUT). In His ministry, Jesus spent time with His Father (when He could sneak off for a few brief moments), but He spent a great deal of His time with people.

With regard to people, Jesus faced both inwardly toward His disciples, spending a great deal of His time and energy with them, and outwardly, loving and feeding and healing the crowds, proclaiming the Kingdom to them. Matthew 13 is a beautiful expression of this dynamic. Jesus tells the crowd the Parable of the Sower (OUT), then spends time unpacking it with His disciples (IN). He was facing both inwardly and outwardly.

My point is this: if we're going to be faithful followers of Jesus, we also must be both inward-facing AND outward-facing. To neglect one over the other is a terrible error, and the history of the church is littered with the wrecks of those who didn't hold them in faithful tension. My prayer is that we always find comfort in the Temple spaces God has given us, and encouragement and inspiration to keep following Him. But I also pray that the time we spend there helps us see those outside in a new light. As people for whom Jesus died. As dearly loved by Him, even though they may not know it yet. As eternal beings made in His image, being called closer to Him. Which direction does the church face, inward or outward? The answer is BOTH. And when we embrace and even enjoy that tension, we can find delight in the fact that...

Adventure is out there!

Pastor Aaron

Practicing Christians - February 2021

I caught myself doing it the other day. Something I had told myself I wasn't going to do anymore. A habit I thought I had kicked. I was looking down at my feet. Now, I could absolve myself by saying that I was deep in thought or that the sharp January wind made it difficult to look up, but we all know that those would just be excuses. I had once engaged in the practice of holding my head up while walking from place to place, with the intent of paying more attention to my environment and especially the people in it, but the habit of that practice had slipped. It was time to re-engage that practice and rediscover its value.

I've met quite a few people in my travels who could be considered "nominal Christians," in-name-only Christians. They do "Christian things" (sometimes). They would lightly express their fealty to the Christian church, if asked. But when their lives are examined, there is little to no evidence of their travels with Jesus, or that His life has had much impact on theirs.

It would be far too easy to contrast "nominal Christians" with "practicing Christians" and place ourselves comfortably on the "right" side of that line. But even those of us who are heavily involved in the life and operations of the church can be shown at times to present evidence that our priorities don't line up with God's. That's a pretty good definition of sin. Or idolatry. "I want what I want" versus "I want what God wants." We all have the propensity to pay God lip service. Thank God that He doesn't just talk about things...He does something about our sin, by bearing it all on the cross. The Word made flesh shows us what a life with the Father looks like (John 1). The Word sacrifices Himself so that we can live, and He challenges us to give our lives each day, just like He did.

How do we live like Jesus? Well, it takes practice. You never get good at something overnight. It takes some experience. It often takes some failure...sometimes a lot. But it takes practice. So what kinds of things should we be practicing? What kind of spiritual practices should we engage in to walk more closely with God?

Two that come immediately to mind are the two "sides" of a conversation with God: Word and Prayer. Reading God's Word and insights into it through devotional books or other resources is a way that God can speak into our lives. And one of the most important responses we can give is simply to respond through language, spoken or thought. Prayer. While God knows us intimately, through- and-through, and knows all the words in our hearts before any of them leave our lips (Ps. 139:4), He still invites us to approach Him in prayer as a dearly-loved child (Luther's Small Catechism - Lord's Prayer Introduction).

During the season of Lent, I'd like to invite you to take a journey with me into a deeper life with God through a new practice of prayer. We'll be using the book, Prayer: Forty Days of Practice by author, songwriter, and pastor Justin McRoberts and illustrator Scott Erickson, to excavate what God is doing in our hearts and lives. We'll learn to convert those thoughts, feelings, and impulses into prayers that honor God and grow His Kingdom in our hearts and lives. We'll learn to convert those thoughts, feelings, and impulses into prayers that honor God and grow His Kingdom in our hearts and lives. I'll be inviting you all to join me for a brief, 5-minute foray into this conversation each day of Lent at 10 AM online (FaceBook Live & YouTube), and these brief conversations with some of you and other guests will also be available afterward to guide you in your engagement with the book.

I really appreciate the perspective that Justin and Scott present at the beginning of the book, that the illustrations and short prayers are not "content," but that our lives and God's Word connected to it are the real content. "They are excavation tools that help dig toward and into the real content: the ongoing, ever-present conversation between us and the Divine." The words on the page and the simple but poignant pictures are meant to open us up to recognize how God is at work in our lives, "messing with us," gently nudging us (sometimes not so gently!), trying to get attention that He is living and active inside us, shaping us for love and service. This approach follow beautifully in line with how John presents Jesus at the beginning of his Gospel: "The Word became flesh and took up residence among us" (John 1:14a). Indeed, if God had only remained in words on a page, His power would have never been expressed through all the powerful miracles in Scripture, especially the matchless miracle of our God dying and rising again. God invites us to walk with Him, to allow His Word and His Spirit to spur us into godly action, to love and forgive like Him. We participate in the Word made flesh when we live like our Savior did. 

I'm still working on my walk with Jesus. I'm still learning to pray. I practice everyday, but I still have much to learn. I'm grateful for fellow travelers on the road, and I'm thankful to count you as one of them. I pray that our individual and congregation-wide practice of prayer will lead us all into deeper relationship with God and shape our hearts to be more eager to follow where He leads.

So, I'll plan to see you out there on the "road." And hey, if you ever happen to catch me looking down as I walk by, please feel free to flag me down with a gentle, "Hey! I'm up here!" I'm still learning to enjoy and embrace the gift of the people that God puts in my path. And I'm often delighted to be reminded that...

Adventure is out there! 
Pastor Aaron

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