Pastor’s Corner

Pastor’s Corner – Great Expectations

In the Charles Dickens classic, Pip has tremendous dreams for his life.  Like us, and the Israelites of Jesus’ day, these expectations are focused on eliminating adversity and creating a life that is better than it is today.  The journey of Pip is one we can all relate to as our expectations are shattered, or at least appear to be.  But, as we persevere, we realize our expectations aren’t shattered, they are unwrapped.

This weekend is Palm Sunday and few other days in history are more filled with expectations.  Jesus enters Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, riding a donkey.  This is the historic way that a new king would enter the city on the common working-class mount and ultimately conclude his journey on the royal throne of the King. 

The Israelites’ expectations had been growing as they heard the whispers of Jesus’s miracles and teachings around Israel.  Now the miracle messiah was entering the city walls to claim the throne of David, Solomon and all their descendants.  Except, instead of a throne, Jesus’ journey ended on the Cross. 

Life is filled with hopes and dreams.  As people we have desires and expectations for our life.  Then, reality sets in and we often lay aside those dreams in the midst of difficult times.   Jesus’ death caused the disciples to scatter, hide and give up on their plans for a king to lead Israel out of Roman oppression.   Their expectations were shattered, but the story wasn’t over. 

Jesus’ resurrection did two unexpected things.  First, His resurrection restored hope for all who would trust in Him.  Second, it fulfilled all expectations by transforming our perspective, not in the way we expected. 

As humans our expectations are inherently self-centered or “I-focused.”  We want a life with few or no trials for ourselves and our loved ones.  We want privileges and blessings; we want to be free from hardships and trials so we can have a blessed life.  Our expectations are shattered when we get what we have been promised, a world filled with trouble.  But, our Savior still does what He did that first Easter.   He transforms our shattered expectations into a fulfillment that is greater than we could have ever imagined.  

If Jesus was just a great earthly king, eventually his reign would have ended and someone else would have conquered His kingdom.  But, when He ascended the Cross and wore His crown of thorns He established a throne that can never be conquered.  God’s kingdom and the blessing for His people were extended beyond any life or era.  To this day, all Jesus’ followers remain undefeated against our enemies and certain that all our expectations have been met.  

The issue that stands between us and a life of joy with fulfilled expectations is really a matter or selfishness.  When we lay down our pride and rise again as a child of God, we see that we are not controlled by our fears, or the world or politics or the fact that our life didn’t go exactly as we had planned.  Instead, when we embrace our heavenly Father and His abundant blessing, we are free in Christ Jesus and literally nothing can take that away.  

This Palm Sunday and Holy Week we endure a journey of shattered dreams.  As we travel that journey, we already know how it resolves.  The same is true right now and for each and every day of our life.  No matter what trial or disappointment you are enduring, Jesus has already died and rose again in order to transform that brokenness into abundant blessing.  May your expectations be rooted in God’s promises for your life and your expectations will always be perfectly fulfilled.

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!  Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.  Zechariah 9:9

In Christ,

Erik Gauss

Pastor’s Corner

Pastor’s Corner – On Equality

The so-called Equality Act is at the forefront of our nation’s conscience this Spring.  Like many other headlines and soundbites in recent history have attempted to do, the “Equality Act” attempts to make people who disagree with its contents feel unamerican or worse, unchristian.  

As Christians, and as Americans, we should be at the forefront of defending freedom and equality for ALL people.  When we get accused of, or falsely depicted as being unloving it hurts and, as a result, our Godly nature desires to change that perception and attempt to be more “loving and accepting.”  This is a false dichotomy.

The false dichotomy is that because we believe God created Male and Female that this belief and our efforts to support it is somehow discriminating to those who don’t.  There could be nothing further from the truth.  As God’s people, we are fully capable of loving ALL people and, at the same time, standing up for what is true.  

Let’s start where we always need to start, repentance.  We must first start with our own failures to “Love our Neighbor as ourselves.”  We have all looked down on someone or lacked compassion.  We have all gotten defensive when our “rights” have been threatened and we have overreacted with fear instead of love.  We have also failed to truly love others by enabling people in their sin and failed to lovingly call them to repentance. 

Part of repentance and love is not saying “I’m sorry” when it isn’t warranted.  Apologizing where sin doesn’t exist can be as hurtful and harmful as the sin itself. When we feel guilt and try to apologize for someone else’s sin, we enable the sinner in their ways and deny them the necessary honest reflection of God’s truth in their life that may lead them to repentance.  When we are led to feel guilty because of the blessings or privileges we have received, we rob God of the thanks and praise He deserves from us because of the blessings He has honored us with.  We also are more likely to use those blessings in a way that dishonors the one who blessed us in an effort to lessen our guilt instead of stewarding or managing the gift.

From this perspective of true repentance and forgiveness, and only from this perspective, are we able to have true compassion for other’s perspectives and lovingly share ours.  We have an amazing God who loves us and blesses us abundantly.  He blesses us so greatly that we are able to and called to sacrifice those blessings in order to truly bless others.  The only true blessing is when we are lovingly shown truth and shown compassion as we wrestle with our own sin. 

With regards to the so-called Equality Act, in its current form, it isn’t about equality.  In its current form it is written to undermine the ability of Christ-followers to live out Christian truths. It specifically exempts itself from the Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed in 1993.  Why does it do this if it isn’t attempting to discriminate against people of faith?  People who are saying this law won’t discriminate against faith-based organizations are flat out lying, or at best, uninformed.  

We have already seen this happen in Illinois.  The Christian faith has historically led the way for adoption and foster care.  In the state of Illinois, Christian adoption foster care leaders have either closed or been forced to abandon our Christian belief that a child is best cared for when placed into a married Christian household (to be clear, a Christian marriage is one man and one woman who repent and forgive).  This truth is not a discrimination nor is it hateful.   It also isn’t a statement that other homes can’t raise a child.  It is our current cultural and political climate that demands us to pick a side.  As human beings, we can simultaneously believe the biblical truth and the mountains of research that show a child in a two-parent household is more successful and better adjusted than in other environments and, at the same, time lovingly support ALL households.  To demand approval and placement in households that don’t meet the standards of faith and research these long-standing organizations have established is to demand contradictory standards.  To be clear, there are other organizations that can accommodate those desires; why force the church out of Christian adoption and care for families in crisis?

Also, at Cross, we are much more limited in our ability to provide Christian support for new marriages.  Historically, marriage is a time where people who have drifted away from God look to reconnect with Him and His church.  Cross frequently has people approach us that reach out in such a desire to be married at Cross.  Under current state law we must be very careful when dealing with people who are currently part of the “public” and not currently “members.”   If we are “open to the public” for heterosexual marriages we must also be open to state-recognized, same-sex marriages.  Again, there are organizations that can provide those services.  To require the Church to endorse other people’s beliefs, that directly contradict what God teaches us to be true, is faith-based discrimination.  There are many more realities, but these two are the simplest to explain.

So how do we move forward? We must be open, honest and loving.  We cannot fall into the trap of false guilt which leads to us giving up, or lash out defensively, which causes us to reinforce the false stereotypes.  When we first confess our sin and accept God’s forgiveness, we can then effectively help others trapped in their sins.  God gives us wisdom and insight we never thought possible.  Please stay informed, contact your state, local and national officials, and at the same, time remain in the presence of Christ in this world.  Christ loves us all; each of us, right where we are, in the midst of our sin and at the same time, calls us to repentance and to live a life transformed in Him!  The Devil is constantly attacking; we don’t need to get angry, but we do need to fight against sin, death and the Devil with the grace and mercy that Christ alone can provide in His Gospel truth.

“…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

In Christ,

Erik Gauss

Pastor’s Corner

Pastor’s Corner – Come Alive Again

If you have listened to or read any medium anywhere this week, you know it has been one year since our COVID lockdown.  This makes it even more exciting to announce our reopening plan at Cross!  It has been a long cold year.  But, now the vaccine is here and we have had a strong roll out in Kendall County for our most vulnerable community members.  

The days are getting warmer and longer while the grass and trees begin to grow with new life.  This all leads to Easter, the ultimate new life in Christ.  This year is especially meaningful as we come awake again from our quarantines and lockdowns and re-emerge into our daily lives. 

On Easter, in addition to our 5 mask-required services in the sanctuary, Cross will be offering two mask-optional worship times in our Large Gym.  We will host “traditional” at 9:00 AM and “contemporary” service at 10:30 AM.  These will be simulcast services where individuals and families can attend worship together and feel free to take off their masks during worship.  We do still ask you to wear your mask upon entering the facility and while walking through the hallways.

We are also hosting a special, family-centered, outdoor worship on Saturday April 3rd at 10:00 AM.  This will be another mask free opportunity to gather safely outdoors and to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord. 

After Easter, we will continue offering our mask-optional simulcast in the large gym at both 8:00 AM and 10:30 AM throughout April.  In May, we plan to begin outdoor services on communion Sundays (1st and 3rd) as long as the weather permits. 

Once we are able to have a team of volunteers who are willing and able to lead and serve on a regular basis, we will open up a mask-optional worship time in the Sanctuary on Sunday mornings.  Please be patient as there are a lot of factors that go into holding a worship service and the greatest need is volunteer support.  If you’d like to see any of this happen more quickly, you can probably help to make it happen by regularly volunteering your time to serve at Sunday Morning worship.

We aren’t completely out of the woods yet, but it is time to wake up, stretch and re-emerge from this year of social distance and isolation.  What better time to do that, then on Easter morning?  Come awake and celebrate with your family of faith, together at Cross.  There are multiple times and multiple options—we can’t wait to see you all again!

“Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”  Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”  Ephesians 5:14-16

In Christ,

Erik Gauss

Pastor’s Corner

Pastor’s Corner – Mind (and Spirit!) Over Matter

Now that spring has sprung, I have been trying to get outside more.  It isn’t that I don’t like snow or winter, I just don’t like the cold as much as I enjoy the sun and warmth.  I’ve learned to embrace this character flaw.  Regardless, getting back outside and starting to run again has reminded me of a strange phenomenon I can’t quite get my head around.  

I live in a hilly neighborhood and, no matter what distance I run, I deal with a significant change of elevation.  The strange phenomenon is that the most difficult part of a hilly run happens immediately after you complete a hill.  You read that right—the hardest part of a hilly run isn’t the hill itself, but immediately after the hill.

This is true of many things in life.  Severe injuries are frequently less painful when they happen than they are shortly after that when the adrenaline wears off.  The pains of grief are worse, after typically the initial 4-8 months after the loss, when the body lets down its guard.  As people, we have a unique ability to be strong in the face of adversity to overcome the immediate challenge.  Then, after the challenge has passed, we deal with the physical pain and heartache that we experienced during the trial.

Currently, we, as a culture, can see the light at the end of the tunnel with regards to the pandemic coming to an end.  But in reality, we should be prepared to experience the most difficult leg of the journey.  Different people will struggle with different challenges just like we have throughout this journey.  We should be on guard for the way our mind and body will start to give us conflicting messages.  

Some of us will need patience as we eagerly await the end which can’t get here fast enough.  Some of us will need perseverance as our mind and body tells us we can’t take this any longer; when the truth is the worst is behind us already!  Kindness will be in short supply as we will be tempted to take out our frustrations with the pandemic on one another.  Joy is a fantastic antidote to the sorrow and anger we will no doubt feel as we grieve the weight of what we have all gone through.  

There are many more emotions and challenges that we may face, but the good news is that each challenge has an antidote in the Holy Spirit.  The fruit of the Holy Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  In these waning days of the pandemic, which will likely last well into the Fall, we will need the Holy Spirit as much or more than last year.  Our thoughts and emotions we have put on the back burner in order to cope with this pandemic will likely rise to the surface as the pandemic fades. 

While this is an interesting and no doubt frustrating phenomenon, it isn’t new.  Paul identifies these truths as he encourages the people in Corinth to run the race with endurance and discipline so they will finish well and not lose in the last moments (1 Corinthians 9).  In Hebrews 12 Paul again reminds us to run the race of life and faith with endurance, just as Jesus endured the Cross and claimed the victory for us!

Finally, I want to remind each of us that through these challenges and hardships, God is STILL working and transforming these challenging and suffering times into positives in our life.  Paul repeatedly reminds us of how God does this amazing miraculous work in Romans which brings up an excellent reminder for all of us.  The best way to have our mind and soul overcome whatever is in front of us, including the lagging issues that surface, after the trial has ended, is to remain in God’s word!  Nothing heals the soul and keeps us focused on the truth than that encouraging and inspiring word of our loving heavenly Father.

“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5

In Christ,

Erik Gauss