Good to Great

good-to-great-946608“Good is the Enemy of Great!”  This is quote from the groundbreaking research of Jim Collins in his book Good to Great.  At first it sounds ridiculous, but as you ponder it the truth of the statements starts to hit home.  If things are “good” we are much less likely to take the actions needed to make things better.  The change to make things great feels risky and could turn out bad. Who wants to risk bad when things are currently good?

‘Good is the enemy of Great’ has been resonating in my head a lot lately.  We have a really good country so we’ve stopped taking the risks needed and as a result have lost a lot of our “greatness.” This isn’t a political statement and I do realize one candidate claims to be able to make America “great” again.  The same is true in the church.  We have had a good run as a Christian church in the United States.  We’ve developed cultural and societal norms around the core truth of our Triune God. But we became comfortable in that and stopped leading with courage. As a result, we have lost a generation or more of believers in what is being called the “nones” because they claim no religious affiliation.

So what about right here at home? What about Cross?  Cross has been a really good Church and School.  I would say it has been one of, and at times, the primary leader of Christian influence in Kendall County for 135 years!  But are we still willing to make the sacrifices, and take the risks that have allowed us to endure other tumultuous times in our community and nation?  Are we willing to invest in God and His truth ABOVE the desires of the flesh in this world so we can be great for the Lord? Or, are we satisfied with being a good church?

In Luke 12:13-21 Jesus tells a parable about a farmer who gets a bumper crop and then saves it so he can have a good life for himself.  It doesn’t end so “good”.   God challenges us, deep within our spirit to be rich towards Him and stingy towards the world.  Not that things in this world don’t matter, they do, greatly but, things in this world are temporary.  They come to an end.  The things of God go on forever.  In this fast-paced world it is easy to feel like we are getting behind if we don’t do all the things everyone else does; God reminds us that we have forever to take it all in.  Maybe we don’t need to worry so much about our experiences and possessions, but should concern ourselves more with what is necessary to “Go and make disciples of all nations.”

His service and yours,

Pastor Erik Gauss

Bargaining with God

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In Genesis 18 Abram (later known as Abraham) appears to bargain with God regarding sparing the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah. This may well be the case.  But, we would be remiss to ignore the fact that living in Sodom was Abram’s nephew, Lot.  It is very reasonable to interpret Abram’s bargaining with God over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah as a bid for God to have mercy on Lot.

Abram had no children of his own. He invested much love and energy into Lot and had already taken many risks for him.  In Genesis 12 when God called Abram to leave his kinsmen and travel, Abram took Lot.  In Genesis  13 we read that Lot had become quite wealthy along with Abram.  This can only be because Abram shared and paid well.  Abram gave Lot first choice of land.  When Lot’s choices got him captured by foreign kings,  Abram took his own men into battle to defeat the adversaries and rescue Lot.

Now Abram takes on God for the sake of his nephew, Lot, and the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. Have you ever been so moved, desperate, attached to someone or something that you would take on God?  I think at different points in life each of us has.  It may be an unjust death or an unfair circumstance.  It could be desperation of finances or relationships.  There are many reasons why we might be moved to talk to God in a bold and daring way.  Is it ok to bargain with God, or should we really only do it when we are desperate?

Abram’s prayer in Genesis may not be the best place to get an answer to this question, but we have many teachings on prayer from Jesus. “Whatever you ask in My name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.” John 14:13-14.  No limitations on our requests!  God doesn’t chastise us for being bold in prayer when we are desperate; He implies that we are not bold enough!

I often don’t ask God for something because I assume God doesn’t want me to have it. It is a desire, not a need.  When I do this I am doing God’s job for Him.  It isn’t my place to decide if I need it; it is God’s role to determine if it will be a blessing or a curse.  What have you been afraid to ask?  Predetermined it isn’t worth praying for?  Given up on before you even tried?  Too scared to even dream about asking for?

Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians in 3:20 starts out “Now to Him (God) who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think…” This once again assures us that when we fail to dream God will still bless us, but if we aren’t dreaming, will we recognize the gift when it comes?  Join with me this week, month and rest of the year to embolden your prayers and mine to dare to dream again.  Let us invoke the power of God and the love of our Father that we would be blessed by Him to be a blessing to one another.

His servant and yours,

Pastor Erik Gauss

What Keeps You Busy?

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“How are you?” is a question we often ask each other, and one of the most common answers is “Busy!” I can’t tell you how often I share that answer with someone.  Usually it’s the first answer that comes to mind when someone unexpectedly drops by.  It doesn’t matter the time or the place – my day was full even before I woke up that morning.  There is so much to be done and so very little time to accomplish it all.

Do you ever feel that way? Do you ever feel busy?  We have all sorts of obligations, whether they be work or school, chores at home, caring for the kids, maybe even just trying to keep in touch with all those people important to us.  There’s more than enough in life to keep us busy.

Sometimes we’re busy because we’ve procrastinated. We’ve put off things we know we should have done earlier.  We’ve wasted time doing other things.  I’m always surprised how easily I can get distracted watching one YouTube video after another; suddenly an hour has passed because I kept clicking link after link.

But sometimes our busyness just comes from our obligations in life. All of us have some sort of calling, some sort of vocation, and with this vocation comes certain responsibilities.  We have things we need to do because of our job.  We have responsibilities at home because of our family.  We have work we need to do because we’re in school.  No one would say that making sure the kids are fed, dressed and ready for school in the morning is a horrible thing – but that doesn’t happen on its own!  It takes time.

In our Gospel lesson this weekend, Martha finds herself quite busy because Someone special stops by to visit. Jesus comes to her house, and Martha is frustrated because Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening, rather than helping Martha with the responsibilities of being a responsible host:

“Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”  But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things,  but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:40b-42

Jesus reminds Martha that there is a reason for her serving – it’s Jesus. Mary recognized the most important thing that holds together all of our activities is Jesus.  And this is a reminder for us as well.  We find ourselves busy with all sorts of activities.  But in the midst of our activity – even our serving in the church – don’t neglect the most important thing:  Jesus.  He is the reason we serve.  He is the focus of all of our callings and the reason we serve.  Recognize His presence, enjoy His presence, sit at His feet – even if you have so many other things to do.  He is the one thing that is necessary in every aspect of our life.

In His hands,

Pastor Matt Conrad

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?


“It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine?  Could you be mine?”  These first few lines of this song bring back wonderful memories of watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood as a kid.  Mr. Rogers was that wonderful “neighbor next-door” who embodied kindness and patience as he taught children how to handle all sorts of feelings and difficulties in life.

Mr. Rogers’ song is very different from the question asked by the lawyer in this weekend’s Gospel lesson: “and who is my neighbor?”  The unspoken aspect of his question is this:  “and who isn’t my neighbor?”  Jesus had just challenged this lawyer to do what the Law commands – love God and love your neighbor as yourself.  But the reality of actually loving like God loves has put this lawyer in a difficult position.

If this lawyer says he loves God, well, then he needs to love his neighbor, too. And if he says he loves his neighbor, someone could ask him for proof that he actually loves his neighbor.  So to help get out from under this responsibility, the lawyer asks, “and who is my neighbor?”  Clarifying this would allow the lawyer to determine who is “us” and who is “them.”  It would help him know whom he should love and whom he could ignore.

“Us” and “Them.” We know this well.  As a society we divide ourselves in many different ways.  We are constantly bombarded with divisions of race, gender, sex, education, financial means, and religion.  Sometimes we use these issues to determine who is just like us and who is not – and in making that separation, we can be very unloving to “them” because they are not like “us” at all!

What Jesus brings to light is that we, like the lawyer, are like that man left for dead on the side of the road. We all needed someone to love us, show us mercy, heal us, pay for our hotel stay, and help us get better.  Jesus is the One whom everyone despises because He associates with sinners, but Jesus is the One who perfectly embodies God’s love.  Jesus fulfils the Law – He loves God perfectly and He loves His neighbor perfectly.  And now as ones who have been shown God’s mercy, we too can love God and love our neighbor – not motivated by a rule of “us” and “them” but rather living that love of God we’ve already experienced, and living toward everyone.

“It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine?  Could you be mine?”

God has said to you, “you are Mine.” How then should you live?  What if that little song played in your mind this next day?  How would you live life differently toward your neighbor?

In His hands,

Pastor Matt Conrad

Celebrating Karen Hardecopf and Parish Nursing

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In worship services this weekend we celebrate and thank Karen Hardecopf for 20 years in ministry at Cross. She is retiring after serving as Parish Nurse and growing our Care Ministries to what they are today.  When Karen started here there was no parish nurse at Cross.  As an active RN, she was convinced this medical knowledge, along with God’s truth, would provide powerful wholistic care to people in difficult circumstances.

She was so convinced of the blessings of wholistic care she served as a volunteer for 15 hours a week for two years! Eventually the pastors and people of Cross were compelled to provide a salary for her work and the continued blessings of this ministry.  The size of the congregation and the blessings of the ministries grew into full time work through Cross, extending into the surrounding communities.  “Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages.” Luke 10:7.

It was never the goal to reach only the people of Cross or to have Karen “do” all the ministry. Our Care Ministries, led by the Parish Nurse, have gone beyond the walls to wherever people are in need.  Karen and Cross would “tithe” her work hours in service to the church at large.  She has served in various capacities in the Northern Illinois District and the national offices of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod.  Karen has recruited, trained and supported many RNs to be volunteer or paid, full- or part-time parish nurses throughout the United States.  Karen has even worked internationally as she has gone to Israel/Palestine to support wholistic parish nurse ministries in this most volatile region.

Karen’s love for the Lord and compassion for those in need is contagious and sincere. She yearns to encourage others to fulfill their God-given desire to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the most difficult of times.  She has only been able to do all this through the blessings of God and a strong army of volunteer ministers who have served alongside her.  It is this team that will continue her legacy, but more importantly, will follow Christ into service wherever He calls them.

Of course we cannot forget the countless hours of support provided by Karen’s husband, Mike. It truly has been a team effort, and Karen would be the first to tell you that.  God’s richest blessings to you both, and may the Lord provide many opportunities to love on those grandkids.  The greatest calling any of us has is to raise up those around us in fear and love of the Lord!

“But the love of the Lord remains forever with those who fear Him. His salvation extends to the children’s children of those who are faithful to His covenant, of those who obey His commandments!”  Psalm 103:17-18

His servant and yours,

Pastor Erik Gauss