Pastor’s Corner

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Setting Goals, Dreaming Big

What plans do you have for tomorrow? Do you have plans for Thanksgiving or Christmas?  Have you dared to dream about five or ten or more years from now?  Ask someone about their dreams for the future this week.  It is truly fascinating to hear all the different goals and dreams people have!

Since we have recently been dreaming as a congregation about the future of Cross Lutheran Church and School, I have had the pleasure of hearing future goals from many people. Disciples of Christ at Cross have talked with me about new cars, retirement, college, vacation homes, touring the country, taking vacations and so much more.  It has been an honor, and down-right fun, to hear and share so many different ways God is leading His people at Cross.

God loves it when we dream; it means we are looking forward to the future. He loves it even more when we bring our dreams to Him to bless and refine.  How often do you bring your dreams and desires to God?  Are you afraid He will say no?  I think God often gets misunderstood to be a God who squashes dreams and demands we don’t have fun.  The common image of God is heavy piety and self-restraint, but while these remain true, they do not tell the full story.

Jesus loves to celebrate and enjoy the blessings of life. Jesus turned water into wine, Jesus fed thousands of people at once, and Jesus walked on water and spooked His disciples.  God used prophets to taunt those who worshipped idols and describes heaven as a marriage feast (think wedding reception) with the best food and drink we’ve ever had.  God could be very straight laced and legalistic about things, but He isn’t.  God would use teachable moments and dramatic events to inspire and celebrate.

The reason I take my dreams and goals to God, and would encourage you to do the same, is described well in Ephesians 3:20: “Now all glory to God, who is able, through His mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.”  God is capable of accomplishing more than we might ever ask or think!  My dreams are often too small or too narrowly focused.  My vision is frequently limited by my experiences or my perceptions of this world.  God’s vision is not limited, and when we take our dreams to Him, He refines them to be greater than we ever imagined!

Does this refining mean that sometimes our dreams are re-directed? Can that feel like a “no” from God on our dreams?  This can certainly be our perception, but my experience is that when I allow God to refine my vision, it becomes a much greater vision with more clarity and increased impact than it ever was before.  If you’ve never done this, try it; bring your request, your dream, your vision before God, and see what He does with it.  If you think He’s telling you “no,” prayerfully consider this reality, and ask Him what His “yes” is.  His “yes” is always good, and His “no” is always out of love.

His servant and yours,

Pastor Erik Gauss

 

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Pastor’s Corner

Unlikely Saints

Unlikely Saints “2”

                In light of the recent events in Sutherland Springs, Texas, the Unlikely Saints theme becomes even more meaningful.  Anytime we are reminded of the fragile nature of life in this world, the promises of God become more meaningful.  The promises of God bring extra comfort when we are hurting more than normal.

                Unlikely Saints is a reminder that the lives we live on this earth make an eternal impact.  As we live life each day, it is easy to forget the little things that we do, and, often take for granted, can make an eternal impact.   The faith of those believers, gathered for Sunday morning worship probably did not think they were risking their lives to go to worship services.  But, they were and we are too.

                Our country has, for the most part, been a nation where it is “safe” to be a Christian.  We are free to assemble without persecution.  Churches are still, technically, allowed freedom of speech to teach what the Bible teaches.  Churches, and many church workers, have tax benefits that allow us to do more ministries than we would be able to do if we had to pay higher tax rates.   Because of these factors, and so many more, we convince ourselves that we are “safe” from harm and danger.

                1 Peter 5:8 reminds us we are never safe and we need to always be on guard.   “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”  The reality of the devil hiding in the weeds, waiting for his moment to attack, should be a poignant reminder to us all.  Evil lurks around every corner, the brokenness of this work, relational strife, financial duress, and weaknesses of the flesh are realities every day.  Each day we are kept safe from these hardships is not a normal day—it is a blessed day!

                We tend not to think about the evil and broken nature of our world (although with technology and news media we are made much more aware).  If we think about it too much, we will live in fear.  God calls us to live in love, not in fear, and, that this is only truly, fully possible in Him.  1 Peter continues on, after warning us about the hardship of evil all around us, to show us how to not only endure hardship, but overcome it.  God will be our source of strength when we suffer, or when others suffer.  In the end, God will be proven victorious and we will be restored!

“Resist him (the devil), firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To Him (God) be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 5:9-11.

Unlikely Saints

All Saints Day

Unlikely Saints

November 1st is a day that has been set aside as a day to remember those of great faith who have been a blessing to us.  We call it All Saints’ Day, and we especially remember those that have died in the faith and the legacy they have left behind.  How good must you be to be called a saint?

A Christian is no more perfect than any other person. We, too, are filled with sin and failures, weaknesses and struggles.  The difference is a Christian acknowledges these sins fully and receives forgiveness for them.  Christ paid the price for our sins, He received the punishment we received and so we are called Saints!  Fully forgiven people without the stain of sin!

Followers of Christ are, at the same time, fully sinners and fully saints. God does not require any action on our part to be deemed a saint, it only requires forgiveness earned and given to us from Christ.

The reality of being both sinner and saint isn’t easy to grasp. In fact, more often than not we lean too far one way or the other.  One day, I might think I am not good enough to serve God or be loved by Him.  Another day I might be so excited about what Jesus has done, I think I am better than someone else.  This challenge is real, and we are not alone.

Generation after generation, normal people, like you and me, are called to rest firmly in God’s grace. We are called to celebrate our forgiveness and find joy in our failures.  We are called to live our faith in such an authentic way that it inspires others around us, just like someone living their faith inspired us! We are called by God to be the most Unlikely Saints.

You may not think you are the one up for being such a role model. You may think your past is too great to overcome.  I assure you, these things only make you MORE qualified.  The more we lean on Christ’s forgiveness, the more He shines through.  The more we point to Him, the greater example we are to those who are furthest from Him.  If you could be a Saint, live like a Saint, forgive like a Saint without God’s power, you wouldn’t need God.

Let’s celebrate the blessings of God’s faithful people who have passed down the faith to us. Together we will “spur one another on toward love and good deeds,” (Hebrews 10:24).  And, in the end, we will be the most unlikely of Saints together!  Others will know the most unlikely gift of God’s unconditional love through us.

Pastor’s Corner

Reformation 500

Reformation and Commitment Weekend

This weekend, October 28-29, we will be celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.  The Reformation is a time in history when people of faith rose up to the big challenge in front of them.  What was that challenge?  The leadership in the church was not teaching Biblical truth!

This isn’t an accusation of unfaithfulness; it is a reality we call experience. We make decisions on what we think is best rather than on what the Bible teaches.  Initially our decisions may be informed by Scripture, and that is great.  But if we don’t remain rooted in the Word, decision after decision has the chance to, unintentionally, take us away from Godly decisions.

That is why I am so excited this week that Cross, as a family of faith, is re-committing itself, each one of us, to live out our faith more intentionally. We have a big goal to have 500 adults commit or recommit to discipleship at Cross.  Discipleship is the faithful following of Jesus Christ and our Triune God.  At Cross we define this as Walking with God in worship, Growing in Faith Together and Loving Our Neighbors.

So far the results have been exciting. This fall we started 14 new community groups with the Living (n) Active materials.  Eighteen families will commit to discipleship for the first time at Cross.  Thirteen students will receive first Communion and four will confirm their faith!  This is just the beginning for what God has been doing this fall!  Come join us on Sunday, October 29 for our Reformation celebration and our recommitment to life and ministry together here at Cross!

P.S.  Don’t forget to celebrate with us on Saturday night, October 28 for the Jubilee Celebration!  Kick-off is at 5 PM!  See you this weekend!

Pastor’s Corner

Faith

Invigorating My Faith

                “What can I do if I am going through a dry spell with my faith?”  I am frequently asked this or very similar questions.  First of all, it is important to know that like all things in life, there are times where our faith takes the front seat and is the most important thing in our life.  There are also times when it drifts to the back seat, or possibly, even the trunk!  I love the questions about how to improve our faith because it means we are craving the joy and excitement we once had in our relationship with God.

  1. Remember… The word “remember” is frequently used throughout scripture. The prayers of the psalmists and other faithful people crying out to God for Him to remember. Jesus tells us in Holy Communion to “do this in remembrance of me.”   When we pray to God and ask Him to keep His promises the scriptures say he “remembered his/people/promises/covenant” and answered their prayers. Our world often asks “What have you done for me lately?” This is disrespectful to God, as the blessings He has promised cover the past, present AND the future.
  2. One Another… Faith is meant to be lived out in community, just like life. When we withdraw or isolate ourselves, or when circumstances cause us to be isolated, our faith can run dry. It runs dry because instead of looking to the source of our faith, we look inward at the source of our frustration. Get into a community of faith where you can be yourself, share your struggles and be encouraged by one another as we live life together in this world.
  3. Pray… This should be at the top, but I was afraid you wouldn’t read any further if it was.   I realize that sometimes our faith is so dry we can’t pray, or don’t want to pray, or don’t know how to pray. But, just like a relationship where you have “drifted apart,” the first step in reconnecting is reaching out and communicating again. The same is true with our relationship with God! When you don’t know “How” or “What” to pray, pray the Bible. Just open it up and read the words as if you are in communication with God. As He is speaking to you or you to Him. You will be amazed at how much more rich it all becomes.
  4. Mentor… Faith is not meant to be acquired, it is meant to be given. We often attempt to acquire more faith. We want to store it up for a rainy day when we need it. We want to learn all we can to answer our questions or win an argument. But, that isn’t what faith is for. Faith is given to us by God so we can give it to others. Our faith grows the most when we see others growing in the faith again or for the first time. They ask us questions to challenge and refine us and through their growth we grow too.
  5. Apply fire… Faith grows when we need it. If we live our life comfortably our faith won’t need to grow. It won’t need to grow because we have convinced ourselves we are good! If you want to grow in faith, take a risk. Not a completely mindless risk, but not a safe risk either. Ask God to open your eyes, your ears, your mind, your heart and ask Him what He is calling you to do. You’ll know when He reveals it to you; it will likely scare you at first. When you use your faith to follow where the Lord is leaning, your faith won’t be dry anymore!

Friday, Day 7 Guatemala City

Day 7, the last day.  It really is hard to believe the week here is over.  It truly seems like we have only just begun our work here.  Perhaps it’s knowing that we saw only but a glimpse of the work that goes on here on a daily basis.  We all feel like there is more that we can and should do.

We stayed in Guatemala City today. To wrap up our week, we started with some relaxation and sightseeing. Andy, Nick, Ryan and Jack went to visit a coffee roasting operation, and Julie and Jason visited the local Mayan Ruins.  After lunch we had our faith lesson at the ministry house with a small group of people that live here in the city.

The week was full of emotions.  There were moments of surprise, expectation, frustration, sorrow, anxiousness, fear, joy, love, you name it, it was felt by at least one member of this amazing team.  We saw and learned so much about the struggles of daily life in Guatemala, and that for many, it is only by the love and grace of God that they are able to make it to the next day.  Many of our experiences are simply something that can not be described.

We just completed a “debreifing” with our hosts, Kevin and Ginny, to help us reflect on our week, and think about what we are going to do with what God has shown us here when we return home.   I ask myself, how will this change me? How will I recognize need in our congregation, our community?  More importantly, how will I address it or respond when I do recognize it? Am I really equipped, or smart enough, or brave enough to do anything? Is anything I do really going to make a difference?  The answer is simple. It’s the same answer Pastor Conrad had us respond with when we were commissioned as a short term mission team before we left.  Yes, with God’s help.  The week here makes one thing clear.  WE can’t change things.  GOD, can change things.  We are merely the messengers.  However, without the messenger,  the message doesn’t get delivered.  That is our job and our purpose, and it is an important one.

I ask for your prayers for this mission.  For Kevin, Ginny, Rachel, and Randy. For the Guatemalans who work here, Ana, Aracely, Carlos, César, Julián, Manuel, Oscar and Sandra.  They face every day what we did for a week.  The task is monumental, and they need your prayer and support.

Please pray for us and for our safe return.  We leave the ministry house here at 3:45am and will hopefully be landing on time in Chicago betwen 5 and 6pm Saturday.

Thank you for your prayers, and for reading this blog and taking interest in us and this mission. Adiós and God Bless! And most importantly, Gracias a Dios

From Guatemala City: Andy, Nick, Jason, Julie, Jack and Ryan are signing off.

Submitted by Ryan Schmeckpeper

 

Pastor’s Corner

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Power of Prayer

“The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” James tells us this powerful truth in the fifth chapter of his book.  We are told to pray over the sick, the troubled, the happy and the sinner.  Elijah, a prophet of God, prayed for a drought and then prayed for rain.  Both times Elijah’s prayers were effective.  If this describes all or part of you — sick, troubled, happy, in need of something or a sinner — you are a prime candidate for prayer!

Last week in the aftermath of the Las Vegas shooting, a person came into our thrift shop. He told the team that a loved one who attended the concert was still missing four days later.  He was very concerned and asked for prayer for his loved one, that she would be safe and that she might contact him.  They prayed for her right there on the spot.  As soon as they said, “Amen,” that man received a text from his loved one saying she was OK!  The man replied, “I had no idea God worked that quickly!”

Sometimes our prayers are answered immediately, sometimes even before we pray! Other times, our prayers aren’t answered for quite a while or seemingly at all. “The prayers of a righteous person are powerful and effective.” This Biblical truth rings true even when our prayers seem to go unanswered.  The power of a prayer is in the praying and the hearing.  It is in the conversation and the trusting.  The power of a prayer is the faith clinging to God that the prayer will be heard and answered.  The answer to our prayers is always from a good and loving God, no matter the outcome.

If you are reading this article and you are already a disciple of Christ, then please expand your prayer life. Expand it for the sick and the happy, the weak and the strong.  Pray for all things, without ceasing, as you constantly present the desires of your heart to your almighty God.  Increase your listening to God’s responses, and your relationship with God will grow.  When you communicate with Him and trust His leadings in life, you will grow in joy and effectiveness in ministry to others.

If you are not a disciple of Jesus Christ, I’d still invite you to pray. Pray to God for whatever it is that comes your way and see if He doesn’t listen to and answer your prayer.  Our God loves you, even if you don’t know Him or aren’t happy with Him right now.  As you pray to Him, you are opening up a conversation with the Creator of the entire universe, your God who made you, and wants to be loved by you.

Nothing is too big; nothing is too small. Your heavenly Father invites you to call on Him in all circumstances; He promises to listen and answer every prayer.  When God hears the prayers of His people, it moves Him to compassion as a loving Father who keeps His promises, and it reminds us that we are loved in miraculous and amazing ways.