Adventure with Pastor Aaron

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Respectfully Disruptive - June 2019

“When a new pastor comes to a congregation, things naturally change,” a friend once told me. While this statement is true, I think it’s safe to say that different people will respond to it in different ways. Some may approach the inevitable changes with apprehension or downright fear, while others may embrace the changes wholeheartedly and seek to encourage an attitude of moving forward. Some may mourn the loss of a beloved, longstanding pastor who had walked with them through many joys and sorrows, and become a part of their family. Others may look forward to the new ideas and fresh approach the newcomer brings. Please understand, I’m speaking in generalities, but I also can see the truth of these ideas playing out here among us, as I have before in other settings, and for brother pastors as I’ve had opportunities to hear their stories. Perhaps you have, too.

I believe that one of the most difficult dynamics in congregational life to navigate is how to preserve the historic treasures of our tradition without remaining stuck in the past. Or, inversely, finding a way to move forward, to pursue new avenues for the Gospel to spread, without losing or abandoning our base, our foundation. Our doctrine and traditions give us a firm place to stand, certainly, but we should be vigilant so that they never become cement shoes. On the other hand, we should never play fast and loose with the truth of God’s Word and His promises. It’s pretty clear to me that it’s easy to fall off the mountain on either side, and from there, it’s a slippery slope.

Both Jesus and Luther had to push up against the power structures of their day that had run far afield from the solid rock of the Gospel, God’s unconditional love for His people, even though their sin constantly put them outside His good graces. Jesus had to contend with the Pharisees and Sadducees, whose adherence to the Torah and its structure of institutional and political power left them little room to live out the freedom they had received from God. Jesus was incredibly disruptive to this system, pushing those around Him to embrace the Kingdom of a King who loves His people and would do anything for them. Even send His only Son to die for them. Luther, likewise, was disruptive to the power structure of the medieval Roman Catholic Church, challenging it to return to the truth of the Gospel. It almost cost him his life on multiple occasions.
Changes had to be made. But change is difficult. Especially when it hits so close to the things that people hold dear, and are foundational to their worldview.

I want to be like Jesus. I want you to be like Jesus, too. And if we’re going to take seriously His call to walk in His footsteps, it means we’re going to be disruptive to the world around us… in all the right ways! I’ve been struggling to describe what this looks like, and how I want to be. The best I’ve been able to come up with is that I will seek to be “respectfully disruptive.” Jesus was disruptive to the lives of everyone He met, challenging their assumptions and presuppositions, pushing them to reexamine what they believed. But He never sought to disrespect the basic human dignity of those around Him. In fact, He wanted people who met Him to become more dignified, more alive, more human, not less. I want the same for you.

All that to say: if I ever do something or say something that disrupts your assumptions or rattles your heart a bit, please understand that
I mean no disrespect. I’m just trying, as best I know how, to encourage you to be like Jesus.  Here’s to being more like Jesus, and embracing the life He gives!

Adventure is out there!  Pastor Aaron

Easter Joy & Next Steps - May 2019

“Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!” This is the great Good News that brings us joy as God’s people all throughout the year, but especially during the Easter season. Death has lost its sting, defeated by life and the One who brings it. Sin won’t be a permanent fixture in our existence as humans, but will be completely, finally wiped out one day. Our old evil foe, the devil, has only a short season to wreak havoc before he is completely powerless. These things give us hope in a broken world, and it’s appropriate to revel in Jesus’ victory during the season of Easter. Because He lives, we will live also. Praise God! Alleluia!

But here we are, still, living in a broken world. The victory is not complete. We still see what sin does to the world that God originally called “good.” It leads broken, bigoted people to commit acts of violence in houses of worship around the world, against Christian, Jew, and Muslim alike. It leads broken parents to commit the atrocity of ending their own child's life (The murder investigation of Andrew Freund has hit especially close to home for me, considering that he lived and died in the area where we used to live). It leads broken people to speak so negatively and harshly to some around them that it diverts their life down the path of despair, depression, and even suicide. It leads broken people to feel so overwhelmed and overcome by their circumstances that they turn to drugs, pornography, alcohol, gambling, or any number of other destructive behaviors, looking for some relief, and often finding something worse. Each of these evils is worthy of more discussion, certainly, but for the time being, let’s suffice it to say that living in a broken world is terribly difficult.

Jesus promises that the last enemy that will be defeated is death (1 Corinthians 15:26). It’s not a “maybe.” It’s a solid-gold, unshakeable promise. It WILL happen! But what to do we do in the meantime? We must live in the tension between a promise given and a promise fulfilled. Between the words of Jesus: the “It is finished!” and the “Go…make disciples.” Between the “now” and the “not yet.” The victory has been won; Christ is risen! Alleluia! What next?

If we are looking for some guidance for the next steps after our Easter joy, the book of Acts is a fitting, instructive story. It’s a picture of what it looks like after Jesus ascends, delivers the gift of the Holy Spirit, HIS Spirit, to live in and through the lives of His followers, and then scatters them to all points of the compass. There were certainly remarkable things that the leaders of the early church did in Jesus’ name, but many of them were distinctly unremarkable, simply human behaviors. They ate together in their homes. They invited others to “do life” with them. They did everything in their power to create spaces and opportunities for the Good News to be shared, for the story of Jesus to be told. So also with us, here in 2019, two thousand years later.

What are the next steps for us, here at Immanuel? I have some ideas. I’m sure you do, too. I don’t have it all figured out. But I do know that whatever circumstances in which we find ourselves - good, bad, and ugly - the Good News is still good, and I want everyone I meet to have a space and place to come into contact with the One who spread His arms open wide to hug the whole world…and died, for them! May God bless our efforts to shape our places and spaces into “soft landing spots” (more on that later!) for people to learn of His love for them.

Adventure is out there!  Pastor Aaron

Stay Hungry - April 2019

As I’ve shared in a few places recently, both in big spaces like public worship, and also in private, I LOVE…(yes, all caps!)…LOVE March Madness!  It is, in my way of thinking, one of the few unblemished arenas of athletic prowess and public competition. The Olympics are a close second, in my humble opinion. I know that some would be quick to debate with me on this fact, saying that the lackadaisical, passionless nature of professional sports has begun to leach down into collegiate athletics. I wouldn’t too hotly contest that point. Earning potential and scholarship considerations have certainly taken a toll on the desire of college athletes to win. But there is still nothing like the Madness!

And madness it is! Anything can happen! A team with the lowest seed, 16, can upset a #1 seed who has been highly touted as a potential champion. In 2015, my Michigan State Spartans were taken out in the first round by Middle Tennessee (who’s ever heard of Middle Tennessee? I wondered before the game. I know where it is now!). The Bradley Braves almost did the same thing this past weekend.

It drives people practically out of their minds!  They’re passionate for their team. They yell at the TV (and the refs, who remain unwavering, despite their outbursts). They stand up from the couch, sometimes upending refreshments, when a buzzer-beating 3-pointer goes up, hoping that it goes in…or that it doesn’t!  People are hungry, passionate for a win.

And God is passionate for us. He wants a win for us, a satisfying, long-lasting, wholesome win for us.  It’s His greatest desire for us. But He also knows that we only find the deepest level of fulfillment, the greatest “win,” when His Kingdom comes in our lives. When it is vibrantly alive in our relationships. When our hearts beat in rhythm with His, passionate about the same things He so desperately desires for us and for all human beings. He is hungry for YOU!

And so a deep part of His nature, played out in your life, is a deep hunger for Him. His Word.  For conversation with Him. For opportunities to serve sacrificially like He did on the cross. To give your life away to those around you, one tiny piece of attention at a time. To go into the places and spaces where the needs are the greatest. His passion, His hunger is for you, and for all. He wants your hunger to be for
Him and for all.

So, from one person who is eager and passionate about God’s Kingdom coming, to another, here’s my admonition to you: Stay hungry! Don’t get too settled or comfortable where you are! Be willing to listen to the voice of the Spirit, driving you to places He’s preparing for you. Find joy in the adventure of faith. I believe that God has put us together, this merry band of peculiar people (thanks again, Pastor Haney!), for a purpose. So let’s stay hungry! Here’s to passionately pursuing the Kingdom together…and everything God brings to us along the way.

Adventure is out there!  Pastor Aaron

Tilting the Table - March 2019

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” This African proverb is something that has been resonating with me as I consider Jesus’ command to all of us to GO and make disciples. That mandate is clear. But it’s not something that we are made to do alone. We need each other, by God’s design. So one of the key questions we must answer as a community is, “Where is God leading us? Where does He want us to GO as a community, following in Jesus’ footsteps?"

At its core, the work of the church has never been to build and maintain buildings, or to maintain a balanced budget (although these pieces have certainly become a necessary and godly part of how the American church functions and stewards its resources). The work of the church isn’t even primarily focused on the weekend gatherings, though the importance of being in God’s Word together can hardly be understated or undervalued.  To be clear, all of this activity is moral and godly, and it’s necessary for good order in our community.

But the purpose of the church is, as Paul put it, "equipping the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ" (Ephesians 4:12, CSB).  Worship services, and the gathering of God’s people (church, from Gk. ekklesia) serve as an opportunities to be filled with the great Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection, what it means for our daily lives, and how we live it out. Equipping ALL of God’s people, not just the leaders, to be a light in a dark place, maximizes the impact of the Gospel and our common mission, given to us by Jesus.

God’s Word, the inviting and challenging words of Jesus, is the best tool for our equipping. And Lent is a season of reflection, prayer, and intentional study of the Word. The Red Letter Challenge (RLC for short) is a vehicle we’re using to engage not just our minds, but our hearts and our lives, too, in the process of faith- and life-formation. It’s my prayer that as we engage in the RLC together, God’s Spirit will begin to bolster our hearts for the road ahead, and give new insight and direction as to where we should go together. We must seek the heart of the Father, and spiritual maturity before we start to move!

A few weeks ago in church, I brought out a table, marking it with a starting line and an X for the finish line. With a bouncy ball on the table, I and a group of people, of various ages and other characteristics tried to land the ball on the “X.” It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t a straight line. And I’m not sure if we actually ever got the ball to stop rolling. But it was fun!

Our journey together will be similar. I pray it will not be swift and lonely, but far and together. May God grant us vision to see where He wants to go. And may His Word continue to be the thing that fills us up and gives us strength for the journey ahead!

Adventure is out there!  Pastor Aaron

Conversation Starters from Pastor - February 2019

Right before Jesus ascended, He gave His disciples their marching orders: “Go!  Make disciples (people who imitate you as you imitate Me). How? Baptize them! Teach them how much I and my Father love them! I’ll always be with you!” (That’s how I’d put the Great Commission, Matthew 28:19-20, in my own words).

But the story continued. Jesus ascended. He gave the power of His own life and Spirit at Pentecost.  The church grew in Jerusalem, but eventually it was scattered into the world (Acts 8:1). And the world has never been the same, as the great Good News of Jesus has been shared, over and over.

I’m certain that the people of God in that season of the world, our spiritual ancestors, weren’t thinking that that scattering after Pentecost was a good thing. But like so many things in our world, what people intended for evil, God turns into good (i.e., Jesus on the cross). The church wasn’t allowed to get too comfortable in its original surroundings. It became an apostolic church, a gathering of the “sent-out ones."

So it is, even today. We participate in the gathering together of the church, only to be sent out again.  My prayer for you, as your pastor, is that our time together become a time of being filled up, fueled up, for the way that God is calling YOU to engage in His mission. I want our church to be a Launching Point for you, launching you into the world. And I want you to go, being able to identify what He’s trying to tell you, or how you’ve heard from Him while you’re here, so you have something to share wherever you go. That’s my intention for the Launching Points-To-Go we’ve been writing down the past few weeks.

So, where is God sending you? To whom is God sending you? Where is He leading us as a church? The answers to these, and many other questions, come from sitting at the feet of Jesus, inhaling His presence and His Word, and exhaling our prayers through His Spirit. My encouragement to you is to be in God’s Word, intentionally, regularly, prayerfully, as we seek His guidance as to where He’s going to lead us. I’m not sure of the details myself, but I’m ready for the journey with you and the adventures it will bring.

Adventure is out there!  Pastor Aaron