Pastor’s Corner


Pastor’s Corner – Life is Sacred

Writing this week’s Pastor’s Corner has taken on increased meaning.   We sit in the shadow of the tragic death of Kobe Bryan and his daughter and friends on his helicopter.  While prepping for this, I received a text from a fellow disciple at Cross notifying me her sister passed after a fight with disease.  Another disciple is struggling to find health care for the elderly as the world revolves around profitability not care of an individual.

I didn’t intend to be so glum in the intro, but at the same time the world is hurting and broken and acknowledging it is the first step toward healing it.  This Sunday at Cross, we will be celebrating life; life on this planet and eternal life in Christ Jesus.   Every breath, every day, is a gift from God and is to be cherished, but too often it takes a tragedy to remind us it isn’t the quality of life but the quantity of life that is to be cherished.

It is easy to grieve when a popular celebrity or a cherished family member is sick or suffering.  What God reminds us in the Bible, however, is that every life is cherished by God no matter what the world says.  The purpose of Life Sunday is to help us better see life and the world as God sees it.  We will take a deeper look into the value of the elderly and the unborn.  We will consider the disabled and the differently-abled and the value that we each bring to the world.  The poor and the mentally ill bring important perspectives to light for us all.

Sometimes, the greatest accomplishment of the devil is to convince us that OUR life is meaningless or insignificant.  We fall into the trap of measuring ourselves against earthly standards, or worse, false or unachievable standards, and then get discouraged when we don’t meet them.  The greatest value we have in life is to be a willing servant of God.

God is the one who gives life, who designed life and who gives value to each and every life.   This is a difficult truth to believe because it requires faith that we are bringing value when it doesn’t feel like we do.  It means trusting that God redeems our failures to add tremendous blessings and faith to others.  Believing our life has value means trusting that the one who gives life, protects from all harm, overcomes evil with good and is actively at work in our lives in ways we can’t fully comprehend.

The greatest way to cherish life is to live life.  To live life not for ourselves, but for the one who gave and continues to give us life every day with every breath and every heartbeat.  To live life with great joy, even when happiness is impossible to find; to dwell in His joy until he calls us home to eternal life with Him.

Join us this weekend as we celebrate life and receive God’s forgiveness to cover our failures in life.  Together, we will cling to His promises that the brokenness of this life is incomparable to the blessedness of eternal life with Him and one another.

In Christ,

Pastor Erik Gauss

“Remember your word to your servant, in which you have made me hope.  This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.”  Psalm 119:49-50

Pastor’s Corner


Pastor’s Corner – Back in the States

January saw Matt and Kayla on a mission trip to Kenya, Will on his honeymoon and me in Israel to learn and to serve the Lutheran Church in Israel.  I find myself first, so thankful for an amazing team that functioned seamlessly without us!  I am truly blessed.

I have written blog posts for about half the trip so far that you can find at  or Pastor Matt’s trip is available on his blog  My trip to Jerusalem was very overwhelming to be honest.  I feel like we packed about half a semester in college into one week, not to mention some of the most spiritually formative moments in my life.  I stood there in the temple courtyard among the mountains and then in the Galilee and just was in awe of everything I saw and how different it was than I had imagined through my studies.

Our leader (not a guide) kept saying that “now you have the memories in your legs.”  He was convinced that once you learned with your body your retention increased dramatically.  After this trip, I fully agree. As I read my devotions now, (I have started over in Matthew), I imagine the places as we stood in them and follow Jesus’ travels on the paths we walked.  It makes everything fresh and new.

On the other hand, my mind and heart filled with sermon illustrations that I had created that just fall flat now that I have been there.  It isn’t anything that I remember was horribly wrong, just not accurate.  The guilt I feel for not having my stuff together hit hard on this trip.  Our leader would talk about details of biblical accounts and how meaningful those details were and I have always glossed over the details as extra information I didn’t need.  Now those details bring the account to life and increase its credibility. It is inspiring that after all these years the accounts of scripture have new and more vibrant meaning–I just need to get past all the things I’ve had wrong in my mind.

On another positive, if Jerusalem and Israel are this much more impressive in person than they are in the biblical account, I can’t even begin to consider how much better Heaven will be than I’ve imagined.   God has a way of humbling us that can do one of two things.  It can break us because of our guilt or shame or insecurities.  When our inadequacies are on full display it can be downright unbearable.    But, if we will get over ourselves and embrace our failures, we can learn and grow.  We can become confident and competent in ways we never were before.

These truths have always been right in front of us, revealed through God’s Holy word.  I guess I just needed a set of fresh eyes and a new perspective; a little less of me and a little more of God’s word.

In Christ,

Pastor Erik Gauss

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:8

Day 4: Bethlehem

Today is a big day and to be honest, is a bit disconcerting. The day before we went to Bethlehem Iran attacked the air bases in Iraq. Bethlehem is in Israel but it Palestinian controlled. Giant walls have been built around Palestinian settlements with checkpoints to get in and out. It feels like going into a military base. These areas are poorer and have different colored license plates to help keep people “where they belong”. I am not going to elaborate on this thread, it will be its own thread for people interested. Suffice it to say that we were going into the most tenuous place on the trip on the most tenuous day of the worldwide unrest, there was lots of praying.

We left very early(around 6am) as we were going to take public transportation and once again had to go into the Arab portion of Jerusalem to find a bus that would travel into the Palestinian controlled Bethlehem. We wanted to get to the birthplace of Jesus before the lines got long and there was a lot of walking to do. We arrived about 7:30 and there were no lines yet!

Here is the entrance to the church of the nativity. It had been attacked and destroyed by so many militaries on horses that they finally built the entrances to be impossible to enter on horseback or with large weapons.

Inside it was once again breathtaking. Under the current floor was an opening to see an older floor. Remember these places have existed for thousands of years and have been damaged and rebuilt multiple times.

When we finally approached the entrance to the grotto (cave) that was believed to be the birthplace of Jesus, it is located under the altar of the main church. We noticed immediately the people were worshipping. A great reminder these places are not just photo opps but are in fact active places of worship. But this also meant we couldn’t go in for another 3 hours or so. Such is the reality when attempting to visit active ministries :-). We hung around for a little and listened to them worship in Latin. We could recognize some songs and portions of the liturgy by the tunes. It was pretty special even though it meant we left so early for no good reason.

When we came back we were able to descend the stairs and go into the grotto. On one hand there is serous reason to doubt this as the birthplace of Jesus being properly kept track of after all these years. Lots of thought that Jesus wasn’t born in cave or barn but rather at a family home where there wasn’t room in the “guest room” or “Inn”. On the other hand, it was set apart to commemorate such a sacred event and that alone made it pretty special.

Unlike other sites this guy kept things moving!

As with all these places there are different sections of the structure for different denominations. This is the Roman Catholic section which is broadcast on Christmas Eve midnight mass.

After we visited here we went shopping at a store of a Christian Palestinian. He was amazing. I won’t show his name or store since I am unfamiliar with the legalities. He gave us great prices. Most tour guides take a cut of all sales from the stores. Ours did not. Also, this man knew we were there as Christian theologians, not typical tourists. Also, there is something with the taxes there. You are supposed to pay 17% tourist tax and then claim a refund in the airport but he was able to give it to us while we were there. I do not know how all this worked but the end result was the store was basically 50% off. This next picture isn’t his store but is an example of the woodwork. I was able to get Alicia a nice nativity for her collection at a very nice price.

That ark is all one piece of wood, including the animals!

Thankfully, we made it through the security checkpoint just fine and back to Jerusalem to see the last few sites.

Day 3: Temple Mount

The temple is the the most highly anticipated stop for me. Probably because it is a tangible structure and a clear representation of where God meets man. The portable temple was the tabernacle and then, finally, under a United Kingdom and the leadership of Solomon it was constructed. A glorious temple of the finest materials imported from all over the known world. And we still have no idea what it looked like.

The temple was built and destroyed on numerous occasions and today is the sight of a Muslim prayer building and a mosque. Below is a look from a stair well toward the famous Western Wall. A wall, not of the temple but, rather, the retaining wall around the temple.

If you look below and to the left of the gold dome you will see a tunnel entrance and then four more to the left of that. In Jesus day that would have been a tunnel under a two story street bridge which would have given the people from the more wealthy communities more direct access to the temple. Since you can only see the top of the second story you get an idea of how much the valley has filled in around the temple on this western side.

Inside that largest tunnel is a place where many pray and hold Bar Mitzvahs. That is like our confirmation for boys. A Bat Mitvah is for girls. Girls are allowed but women are not allowed in this area. But our group was all men so we were able to go in and see these young men read The Law out loud for the first time. The women do have seperate way to get into a balcony area with one way glass so they can see out. They are able to throw candy and cheer from there.

It is required to cover your head so they have free disposable Kippah (think Jewish skull cap) available. I was told my University of Michigan stocking cap was acceptable and even got a Go Blue from the man at the entrance. It was surreal to be a part of this sacred place. Jewish men who were posing in front of the wall we reprimanded by the older men for being irreverent but our group of poorly dressed men were never spoken to harshly or given dirty looks as we were respectful.

Here is the best video we have of the Bar Mitvah celebration. At the beginning they are holding up the law which will be read. Then you can see an “ultra orthodox” praying. They are taught to pray with their body. Hence the bobbing. The ones in “normal” clothes are probably orthodox. Anyone else would not likely be coming to the wall for such an event. For reference. We are filming from under the balcony where the women and sisters are throwing the candy.

(I can’t get the video to upload from my phone)

We then toured around the outside of the Temple Mount. And underneath the bridge to see some of the History. These first pictures are along the south wall. The likely main entrance and entrance for the normal people. Remember the bridge entrance is likely for the ultra rich and priestly class. Jesus and the disciples definitely would have traversed these places as they are from that time period.

I took a side shot of the stairs up to the temple entrance. Notice it is two short and one long step. The best guess is this was to help the people going up tot the temple to be alert and not just go through the motions. Think of when we use an alternate wording for a creed or the Lord’s Prayer. It makes it difficult to just go through the motions.

This is a Mitvah or ritual bath. These are all around the temple grounds. At least a dozen we have found. Probably more that have not been uncovered. These are not meant for bathing, that is done prior. These are more for rinsing for holiness. One would descend on the right as unclean, then go under the water and come out on the right, clean. There are many prayers and types of ritual cleansings. On the Day of Pentecost these are likely what were used to baptize 3,000 that day. Most would not have seen this as a rejection of the Jewish life or the temple. In fact a strong argument can be made to keep the Jewish ways for those who were already Jewish. Why this baptism would have been is a ritual cleansing in the name of the Father, Son and The Holy Spirit. A sign of wealth and/or holiness was to have a Mikvah in your home.

These pictures are intended to give some perspective to the enormity and precision of the Temple Mount construction. The current was is built on the wall during Herod’s realign, or as Ir would have been in Jesus time. We are truly blessed that Jesus was at the same time as the height of Jewish interest known as Second Temple period. That means the stuff the Jews are most interested in uncovering is the same as the Christians.

The guy in the picture is 6’2″ for perspective. This isn’t the largest stone by any means, b it simple a good representation. Look at the seems, or lack there of! Also the fancy edges around Herod’s era of stone. The street always left as found instead of being reconstructed. This made a pretty strong impression about how heavy the stones were that were pushed off the tops of the wall during one of the times it was conquered.

Finally, here we are underneath the bridge. This an active digging site and was sort of exciting to see “new” stuff. Stuff the people on the tour before us didn’t see since it wasn’t uncovered yet. They go a bit faster these days since they aren’t as interested in the little fragments since they have “Lots” of that stuff. This is underneath the western wailing wall and the American Jews in our tour were very excited to see this sacred spot uncovered. There is so much to share but I’ll stop here on Temple Mount for now. Please ask questions if there is something you feel I missed or would like to know more about!

Day 3: Heading to the Temple

We went “up to the temple” from the city of David. This is both a theological description and a physical reality of ascending to a place of worship and being “closer” to God in heaven. David’s City is down and to the right as we look at the south west corner of the temple here.

Jerusalem has been a critical city in the region for over 3000 years at this point. The city has been built and destroyed more times than I can count. Each time it is destroyed the buildings lay in rubble. When it is rebuilt they would “fill in” the cracks and rebuild on top of the rubble.

As we walk around Jerusalem today we walk around about 100 feet above the ground where Jesus walked. Another interesting reality is that the bricks are used over and over again. They get knocked down and when the town is rebuilt these stones lying around are the most economical. It also means less rubble to bury, everyone wins! It is funny to see an old pillar top upside down on the bottom of a building. This one happens to be an old ossuary or bone box for the dead. At the bottom of a tall tower.

When the Jews came back to Jerusalem in 1947 they had been gone for quite some time. The Muslims who had possessed it prior destroyed the area where the Jews had lived when the Muslims conquered them. As a result there were no buildings in the area. The Jews, when they moved back into the town would not allow anyone to live in the destroyed area until it had been excavated. This has led to some amazing finds and some interesting solutions. Much of the Jewish Quarter” as this area is called is built on stilts over the top of old archaeological finds. Here is an old Roman road that was discovered. The mural shows what it would have looked like.

This colonnade is from Greek (Byzantine) rule. You need to go deeper to get to biblical (Roman days. These next few pictures are underneath buildings and represent a wealthy community. There are ritual baths in what appears to be private homes. There are tiled floors and large rooms. this is looking down into a ritual bath. I’ll explain more in the temple post.

In this area is an extraordinary find. A partial discovery of what appears to be a temple courtyard that matches the style of King Herod’s other temples around Jerusalem. In an area that is eager to capitalize on discoveries they are hesitant with calling this Herod’s temple court but a lot of details point to a really good candidate. This may have been the very courtyard that Jesus was brought to be questioned by Herod. The feeling here was pretty powerful. The next post will be all about the Temple.

Day 3 : City of David

We started the day in the “City of David.” For Christians, especially so close to the Christmas season, we might think of this a Bethlehem, where Mary and Joseph went to be counted. Here in Israel the City of David is clearly the oldest part of Jerusalem. The part that David conquered from the Jebusites about 1000 BC and which unites the Nation of Israel under one king. (2 Samuel 5)

Below is a current dig that is uncovering part of the city at that time. Likely important homes due to its proximity to David’s palace. David’s City is immediately south of the temple and is just “down the hill”. David saved the very top of the hill for the tabernacle and the future temple.

The top of this picture is East and where the white van is located is approximately where David’ palace would have been. The top of the hill with regard to the developed City at the time. To the left is up the mountain toward the temple.

This next picture is from the other side looking back.

It is thought that this may have been part of the foundation wall of David’s palace. This itself is a home of some sort. I had to include the picture above that has what is thought to be a biblical time toilet seat carved in stone, which would indicate a level of means and would probably be a bit chilly on the colder days.

This next picture is from a structure that is for tourists but it is on the site where David is thought to have lived. It gives you a view into the valley and explains a bit how David may have come to see Bathsheba bathing on her roof. Here is looking Northeast at the Mount of Olives. I think this gives a pretty good perspective at how the valley and the wall make a rather impressive defense against enemies.

Next we continued down the Hill into the Gihon Spring. The Gihon Spring is what makes life possible in Jerusalem which is largely a mountainous desert. The spring brings water to the surface and makes it much easier to sustain healthy human society.

This spring is where Solomon was anointed King by Nathan the prophet in 1 Kings 1:45. Like everything it seems, they have built a structure over it and make it difficult to get your bearings.

The image above has a plaque showing what it may have looked like in David’s day with a stone wall to retain the water as a reservoir.

From here we had a decision to make. Some time after David, Judah was under attack. Hezekiah was king and decided to rerout the water from the spring to be inside the city wall. This tunnel has been found so a few if us went down to the pool of Gihon through the tunnel. Others on dry ground. Look closely and take attendance if you had any doubt. As you can see the technology wasn’t perfect. There were parts it looked like they had to dig two or three times. Some real bends and some clear mistakes of digging the wrong direction. The veins are clear the they uses a thin chisel no moe than an inch wide to chisel our this tunnel by hand from opposite directions and eventually figured out how to meet in the middle. The water would be safe. Below is the end of the spring tunnel and you can see a small part of the pool. We stopped again to read the a biblical account and get dry.

The rest of the pool isn’t dug out because it is Palestinian owned and at one point we could see the razor lined barb wire at the top of the un excavated hill of dirt. Constant reminders you are in a disputed territory. But more on that on the trip to Bethlehem. looking back on the exit from the tunnel into the pool.

Into Jerusalem

My writing is at 4am since I couldn’t sleep and the days are too full to write. Please excuse the rambling or typos. I figure it better to get them out.

As we headed down the Mount of Olives toward Jerusalem we are making the same journey Jesus did that Holy Week. Riding in on a donkey from there would certainly have made a scene. The valleys and hills make it even closer that it is and I now understand how everyone would have known Jesus was coming as they shouted Hosanna! across the valley. You could also imagine the leaders of the temple not appreciating it.

If you look closely, just to the left of the gate a small tip of the golden dome is peaking over the wall. The temple would have been here, and to the right the temple guards stayed during Herod’s time. You could yell to the gate on a quieter night, but it would still be quite the walk up the hill.

As we entered the city through the Lion Gate (biblical times it was called the sheep gate), immediately on the right were the pools of Bethesda. This is where the lame were allowed to bathe to be healed in John 5. Jesus does this on the Sabbath, and the man goes to the temple to worship — something he would not have been allowed to do as a lame man for the last 38 years. He immediately showed his gratitude to God.

From there we walked the Via Dolorosa or the route Jesus may have took to get from His trial to the crucifixion. There are seven stops along the way with chapels that have been built to commemorate different moments. Interestingly most scholars believe this is not the correct path.  As they have uncovered more archaeology they found they misplaced Herod’s temple and now believe Jesus would have been coming in from the other direction on a much shorter route.

The traditional route will never move as it has essentially become an indoor mall with street vendor after vendor selling goods to tourists. Just another illustration of the many ways we don’t know the exact locations of things, but wow are we close, and it is pretty special none the less.

From here we went to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher which contains inside of it Golgotha where Jesus died and His likely tomb. Again, in my head I had no idea they were so close, but this is a massive structure, too.

As I think about that Good Friday and the locations of things it makes sense. They would have had to prepare Jesus’ body and then get home to Bethany before sundown. There aren’t a lot of fancy ways to carry a body very far. We opted not to go into the sepulcher as it is pretty clear that the original tomb was destroyed at some point in history, but there were other authentic graves that there was no line for and were quite inspirational themselves. We bent down to go into them and the Scriptures again became quite vivid.

This is the structure inside the church that they built around the spot they believe to be Jesus three day resting place.

Inside the Church there are many other churches. They struggle to decide who “owns” what so they can’t make decisions very quickly. In the first picture you see a ladder which hasn’t been removed because they can’t decide whose it is. Ironically they are fighting over who gets to remove it because that would mean they “own” it. The Church is still opened by a Muslim dating back to the time of Muslim rule because again, no one wants to let the other church body decide who else should open it.

We are all sinners in need of forgiveness. This is most certainly true.

We went to the Lutheran church across the street and climbed the bell tower. This was extremely taxing physically but well worth it to get your bearings after walking through the town. The two pictures below show the more likely route Jesus took:  from the castle looking structure on the far left, which is in the location of Herod’s palace, to the dome on the far right of the second picture, which is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and has been built over Golgotha. Hopefully you can line them up as I took them through chicken wire in a bell tower.

We walked back to where we are staying and went down to Qumran. The cave that contained the Dead Sea scrolls is quickly eroding which is sad but due to natural causes.

Took lots of pictures on the way since it was like a totally different country and brought to life the imagery of a shepherd leading to green pastures. They are far between. This is where Jesus wandered and was tempted before His ministry. There are still shepherds here today.

Day 2: The Old City and the Dead Sea

We started at a reasonable 7:30 am which is 11:30 pm. (I was told to stop thinking this way but I don’t think I am capable). The historic (biblical) Jerusalem was ruled by Arab Jordan until the land was “acquired” in the Six-Day War of 1967. While it is Israel today, Jews do not go across the public transportation tracks that divide the old city from the rest of the city.

This is a long way to say that in order to go to the Mount of Olives and the biblical city of Jerusalem we first had to walk to an Arab area to catch an Arab cab because the Jewish cabs are not permitted in that area.

This feels very uncomfortable for an American who is reading about the bombings going on in Arab nations. As God would have it, our cab driver knew the pastor from Norway from the time he lived here and the many times he has visited in return. They didn’t realize it at first, but as they did it became quite humorous and reminded me that we are all God’s people and desire to be known by Him.

We stopped on the “back side” of the Mount of Olives and read the account of the ascension.

This picture is from that backside. The roof at the bottom of the picture is a house in front of me; that is how steep it is there. Bethany was down there some where. It is all connected now, but that added to the realization of how close all this stuff is. In my head it was so much farther, but Bethany to Jerusalem is closer than Cross is to Route 71.

If you look to the horizon of that picture you can see the Dead Sea, which is about a 30 minute drive but also a change of 1,500 feet of elevation.

This is the other side of the mountain. The golf dome in the center is where the Temple would have been. The giant wall is in the same place. All the rectangles in the foreground are crypts where faithful Jews await the arrival of the messiah at the gate to Jerusalem.

This picture is another angle just to try to highlight the valley. Two dimensional pictures don’t do justice to the valleys that surround the city of Jerusalem and protect it from attackers. Jerusalem is surrounded on all four sides and then with the walls it makes for a pretty strong defense.

Here is the Garden of Gethsemane which means “oil press” for the press that would harvest the oil from the olives on the trees. You can see how close it is to the original main gate to the temple. This gate has been stoned closed by the Arabs to prevent the messiah from returning. But imagine Jesus praying here on the night before His crucifixion and seeing them come to arrest Him.

A sacred chapel was built to commemorate the stone where Jesus prayed that night. This site was built by the Roman Catholics; about 100 yards away was another site commemorating the same thing built by the Eastern Orthodox. I found another stone I deemed more likely to be used for praying and prayed there instead.

This is probably a good time to note my skepticism about authentic sites, especially with everything that has happened over the years. But, I found myself overwhelmed at this site which may not be “The Rock” but was instead a rock, consecrated for the purpose of remembering our Lord and what went on that night.

It made me think about my faith journey and how unlikely I am to be the Pastor of all pastors, or the Dad of all dads, but how I am set aside by God for the purpose of reminding others about Him.

Day 1: A moment to consider the reality

Israel, and in particular Jerusalem, is the most important place in the world… Seriously.

Standing on a hill, overlooking a valley and seeing the Dome of the Rock, it hits me. This is a tourist/pilgrimage/destination for all three of the world’s largest religions.

Jews, Muslims, and Christians all have the history of their faiths rooted in this very place. Currently that number is roughly 6 billion of the world’s 8 billion people who have this Holy Hill as the place where God made Himself known to the world.

This picture did not turn out so well, but the tall tower on the far right is the Mount of Olives. The bright lights toward the left is Old Jerusalem with the current Muslim “temple” where Solomon’s original temple used to stand.

It becomes evident very early that even in this most sacred of spaces cultural “advances” seek to drown out the holiness of God. I guess it isn’t just in America.

We made it!

Here is the small but mighty group!

We will meet two more pastors after we get through customs, one from Norway who has lived in Israel before for 10 years, and the other from Germany.

The flight was rather uneventful except for the usual lots of people in a small space for a long period of time type of way. I had trouble sleeping on the way to London but was so exhausted by the time we boarded for Tel Aviv that I got a couple good power naps.

The adjustment to the time has gone very well except for the one issue that I have woke up at 2am each morning which I think is 6pm. This makes for long days but that makes it easy to get to sleep even if I don’t sleep for long.

Maybe I am just too excited for what lies ahead for the next day!