Pastor’s Corner

Pastor’s Corner – Blessed Christmas 2020

God is with us!  The story of 2020 seems to be one event after another causing us to ask the age old question “God, where are you?”   Well, Christmas is finally here to remind us of the eternal answer — “I am with you!”  The child born in the manger is a gift from God; He is God!   He is God who came to save us from the heartache and brokenness of the world.  

Christmas isn’t a day to hide the bad with good.  Pretending everything is “ok” for a day doesn’t solve the problem; in fact it usually makes it worse.  According to the Chicago Tribune, divorce rates skyrocketed 200% – 300% after the first of the year. reveals that more deaths happen in January than any other month of the year.  Unfortunately, it appears, pretending to cover over our own heartache doesn’t fix anything, it only delays it.

How in the world can this horrible news be titled Christmas blessings?  Please read on!

God sees our heartache and did something about it! He left His throne and came to dwell, live and experience this earthly world in the same way we have.  He didn’t come to earth for its beautiful seasons and happy people.  In other words, He came to save us, not be like us.  He only became one of us because it was necessary to accomplish His gift of salvation.

A few years ago, I went to Guatemala for a mission trip.  I learned a saying there from the missionaries “Fixing things doesn’t change things.”  It is a normal human desire to see something that is “unjust” or “inequitable” and want to fix it immediately.  This immediate solution usually makes the issue worse because it only changes the circumstance, not the sin issue that is behind it.  We can make the same mistake with our Christmas celebration.

Christmas celebrations often try to pretend everything is fixed, if even for a day.  Divided families pretend to get along and we plan to gather like there is no pandemic.  No holiday or amount of pretending will fix any of this.  BUT, God can and did bring about the power to change that which is necessary.  In Christ, we have the power to cope with and even overcome the heartache that comes from broken families and pandemic.  In Christ, we have the ability to feed the hungry and heal unjust circumstances. 

This is best expressed in the reality that, even though Jesus came to save us, many of the troubles we endure didn’t disappear.   We still experience death, temptation, illness, heartache and sorrow.  If God saved us why do we still endure these things?  Because removing these issues wouldn’t change the problem; the problem is systemic sin.  Our nature is sinful and selfish, we spend lots of energy defending ourselves and protecting those we love.   This instinct to defend and protect end up causing hurt in the world.  Only when we lay it all down and trust in God to provide; only when we truly believe He has provided it already in His Son our Savior, in the manger; will we be free and our world be changed. 

This is what happened at Christmas.   Jesus lay down His rights to the throne, His power to destroy selfish people (all of us) and became one of us, except without sin.  He came to save us by being one of us and it worked!  Everything is changed.  When we live in that truth and trust our Heavenly Father with our own lives it changes us too!  When we know He would die for us before letting us get hurt we, too, have the power to bring that same change to the world around us. 

At Christmas, God came to earth to remind us, “I am with you!” Christ laid down His life for us and we are saved; this is the Gospel.  Believing in Him allows us to lay down our lives for one another; this is the fruit of the Gospel and is made possible only by the change that occurs in us through the Holy Spirit. What a blessed gift to you and to me. 

Merry Christmas and may your full life in Christ be renewed again in Him; may your heart and mind be transformed by the Gospel and fill you with His peace.  “And when the Shepherds saw Jesus, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child.  And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.” Luke 2

In Christ,

Erik Gauss

Pastor’s Corner

Pastor’s Corner – Toy Drive Thank You

“You are the Light of the World.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden” Matthew 5:14. Jesus doesn’t waste any time before He shared the nature of what it means to be a child of God.  In His Sermon on the Mount, which begins in chapter five, immediately after assuring the crowd of God’s blessings, Jesus shares with His disciples how their identity changes.  They become a City on a Hill that cannot be hidden. The light of which people see from far away.  Not because the city is trying to show off or be the center of attention; no, but by its nature.  It is a city, it is on a hill; it cannot be hidden, so it is with us, the children of God.

Your light has shone bright this Christmas through our Thrift Shop.  Eighty-seven families representing 216 children were able to shop for new and used toys donated in love by you!  Even greater than that, more than 20 volunteers served to be the presence of Christ to these families as they waited and shopped.  We cannot forget the Caring Hands Staff who worked long hours to get this all together!  

Among the families served were not just children but, also some grandchildren. Parents or grandparents will be able to give the children they love fun toys to unwrap at Christmas.  They will be able to see their smiles, play together with them and feel blessed to be able to experience this joy because of Christ working through His people.

One Grandparent was having a particularly difficult year as her husband was out of work.  They had a blended family so she was shopping for her own children while also shopping for her grandchildren that started living with her, not their own parents, a few months ago.  In addition, to having several extra children in the home and being out of work, the whole household had battled through COVID.  This toy drive was more than a little light in her life, it was a place to go to be loved, to have her tank refilled so she could keep loving on her family.  

That is how it goes at Caring Hands Thrift Shop.  People come for the great deals, but they keep coming for the love of Christ that is poured out by the staff, volunteers and donors.  Thank you for being a part of making it all happen.  I know it doesn’t seem like a lot.  That is because it is who you are.  You ARE the Light of the world.  God’s love for you cannot be hidden!  

A special thank you to the donations of hats, mittens, quilts and stuffed animals that were also able to be provided to families in addition to the toys!  Those families went away blessed and loved in Jesus name by the children of God.

In Christ,

Erik Gauss

Pastor’s Corner

Pastor’s Corner – Help this Christmas

“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” – Ecclesiastes 1:9. These words of exhaustion from the “son of David”, King Solomon, in the book of Ecclesiastes have filled me with much needed perspective over the years. Different situations have, at times caused me to feel overwhelmed or shocked. The thought “How can this be happening” has filled my thoughts and consumed my energy. These words ground me in the truth and restore my proper focus.

Remembering that there is nothing new under the sun is about trusting that no matter how shocked or overwhelmed I might be, I have the power of Almighty God within me and He has seen this all before.  Even more comforting is that our God has declared victory over this very situation.

The Pandemic has brought many new things to our life and experiences.  We have had to make adaptations and decisions that we never could have imagined just a few short months ago.  Even with a vaccine on the horizon, we still have a way to go and challenges await.  Vaccines don’t fix economies, relationships, mental health or bring back lost loved ones; only God can do that. 

No matter what each and every day brings, God’s people have a calling. That calling is to be and bring the presence of God into the world.  The first Christmas marked the birth of the King of a new Kingdom.  John the Baptist ushered in the Kingdom of God as he prepared the way for the Lord.  Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection showed us what that kingdom can do.  The Holy Spirit gives us the power to make that kingdom known now and for all people!

This Christmas, I pray that God is making His kingdom known FOR you.  That you cling to your king and find peace, joy and strength in adversity.  He has been through this and has declared victory already for there is nothing new under the sun.  Then, by that same strength allow God to make His kingdom known THROUGH you.  Sharing hope with others in their time of greatest need.  

You, the people of God at Cross have already made a tremendous impact through our Christ over COVID funds.  Real help for people in real need.  You have blessed families with thanksgiving meals.  You have supported in-person learning in our school.  You have called and asked to adopt a family in need and offered to shop for people who are quarantined.  God is working through you in powerful ways.  

If you are struggling this year, don’t struggle alone.  Let your family of faith at Cross come alongside you as we bear one another’s burdens.  And if you, regardless of your life situation, want to bring Kingdom blessings and hope to others, prayerfully consider supporting one of our efforts this Christmas.  

First, start with prayer.  Every single one of us has that ability and any successful kingdom work needs to be bathed in prayer.  Second, consider serving at our Thrift Shop Toy Drive.  We have 100 families with 200 children signed up to shop.  Unfortunately, that is the most we are able to serve right now.  We need help before the event to sort and set up and we need help at the event on Tuesday night to help with traffic flow and assist families.  Third, if you are able, consider a donation of a new $10 toy.  This gift will make a larger impact than I can put into words. 

There is nothing New under the sun, but the Son, Jesus Christ, declares that when we die to self we are born again in Christ Jesus.  The Old has gone and the NEW has come.  While this world has nothing new to offer us except the same old troubles, God’s Kingdom is making all things new.   May your hope and faith be renewed this Christmas and may you allow God’s kingdom work to be done through you.  His Kingdom brings Good News of Great Joy even in the middle of a Pandemic.

In Christ,

Erik Gauss

Pastor’s Corner

Pastor’s Corner – Advent:  Voices from the Edge

A divine encounter happens when we experience something from a new perspective and it changes our outlook on the world.  Certainly, a new perspective could increase negativity as well, but for believers we ask God to keep His promise to “work good in all things.”   We must also be cautious, because often times a divine experience SEEMS like a negative experience at first.  We humans are resistant to change and do not like anything messing with our preferred life choices.  One only need to look at the ultimate divine encounter, Jesus himself, which caused many to enter a deep turmoil that led to His crucifixion.  

Through divine encounters with his word, God changes our ways in the world. At first, those encounters are strange, mystifying. Upon closer examination, however, they deepen our vision and awaken our participation in the gracious work God does in the world.

In 1961, a visitor walked into the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow. He was carrying a brick. He found a painting of the crucifixion, took the brick and started to destroy the painting. In the context of our world’s increasing violence against religion, you would assume this man’s anger, his violence, his desecration of Christian art was done out of hatred for Christianity. It was not. It was done out of love for Christ. This vandalous visitor objected to the way an artist had portrayed the crucifixion of Jesus.

Salvador Dali was the artist and the painting was Christ of St. John of the Cross. In it, one sees Jesus, hanging on the cross, over the world. The problem for the visitor was not the crucifixion, but the way this crucifixion challenged him with its strangeness. Dali had changed the traditional perspective people have when they look at a crucifixion. When we see a crucifixion, we are accustomed to looking up into the face of Jesus. Dali, however, asks us, for a moment, to be situated above the cross. We look down upon Jesus, who himself is looking down upon the world. For the visitor, this stance was sacrilegious. Unholy. The painting accused of inviting one to place him/herself above Jesus. 

For others, however, this painting’s strangeness invites wonder as one sees the world-encompassing mission of God. Dali’s painting challenges preconceptions of how a crucifixion has to be seen. It creates an encounter that changes your vision and invites you to see things anew. Dali invites the viewer, for a moment, to see the crucifixion through the eyes of God the Father. Our heavenly Father looks down upon the fallen world and sees it through the eyes of his Son Jesus, dying on the cross, for all people. Seeing the crucifixion that way reminds you of the larger mission of Jesus. This mission certainly includes you (something you see when you stand in front of a traditional crucifixion looking up into the eyes of Jesus), but it is also a mission that doesn’t stop with you (something you now see when you look at Jesus on the cross hanging over the whole world). God’s love in Christ reaches to the ends of the earth.

This sermon series is built around the theme of Advent encounters. In each sermon, God’s people will hear a word of Scripture, a voice from the edge and through that word experience a reorientation toward their life experience. Someone on the edge of this world’s ways will speak and what is said will change the way God’s people live in the world. In each sermon, therefore, you will find two tensions: the tension of what it is like to hear a strange word from a strange prophet and the tension of what it is like to have that word challenge you and transform you and change the way you live as God’s people in the world.

In a sense, this sermon series is very traditional. Advent has long been considered a season of repentance and repentance means change. Reorientation.  In the midst of those who escape from life and those who celebrate an excess of life, Advent calls God’s people to a change of life: to turn from their sin, to correct their misunderstandings and to prepare for the coming of Christ. In another sense, this series will challenge us to have a divine encounter with God that is anything but traditional.

Advent has long been a time of preparation, preparation for the celebration of Christmas.  Yet the road to Christmas is anything but easy. It twists, it turns and we meet many strange figures along the way. Prophets cry out in visions. John the Baptizer preaches in the desert.  Angels appear whether you are asleep or awake. The voices are varied, the places are strange, but one thing is certain in each encounter:  God is preparing us for the celebration of the greatest encounter of all, the birth of Jesus, his Son, our Savior, the Redeemer of the world.

In Christ,

Erik Gauss