Pastor’s Corner

The 99

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about people who don’t know Jesus.  This reality is eye opening for two completely opposite reasons.  On one hand I am not certain as to why people far from Jesus are so heavy on my heart right now.  On the other hand, I am also wondering:  When did people far from God stop being at the top of my prayer list?  

The Gospel reading this weekend is Luke 15:1-7 and comes at a perfect time for me.  The text is Jesus discussing with the disciples how a shepherd with 100 sheep reacts when he notices one of them is missing.  The shepherd does not count the sheep and then says, “Aww shucks, I guess I lost one.  I hope it comes back!”  Nor does the shepherd try to convince the remaining 99 sheep to search for the missing one.  No, the shepherd leaves the 99 together, to fend for each other, and then takes off to find and retrieve the one missing sheep. 

In this parable Jesus tells His disciples exactly what He means.  The 99 sheep represent people who already know God.  A better use of terms might be people who are already being tended to by the Shepherd.  The one sheep that gets lost represents people who are unbelievers or believers who have wandered away from God and are in danger of being lost for eternity.  

We are not Jesus; we are the sheep.  I say this because it is crucially important that we remember that we are saved and tended to by the Shepherd.  We cannot save ourselves nor do we need to save ourselves.  Our salvation is whole and complete in Christ Jesus.  I say this because it is not FOR salvation but it is FROM our salvation that we are able to put ourselves in the role of Jesus, the Shepherd.  Pastors in local churches are undershepherds for the public ministry in that place.  Parents are undershepherds of Jesus for their households and families.  Bosses are undershepherds of Jesus for the people they manage.   

As believers, part of the 99, we are confident and assured that we not only have the Shepherd caring for us but also the rest of the flock to lean on.  At the same time, we are called to live as an undershepherd in areas of life where we have that influence, like our neighborhoods, workplaces and families.  That means we too are called to leave the comfort of the flock to pursue the lost that are under our care.  We do not take the place of Jesus, but rather, we bring Jesus to them no matter how far away they are.  

The last couple years have been time for us all to consider what matters most and where we find our strength.  I, personally, have grown in realizing I find my strength in the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, and the comfort of His flock.  This realization is powerful and Godly, yet it has also come at a cost.  The time and energy I have given to the one that is lost has greatly diminished with respect to the time and energy I have spent with the 99.  

It is now from this security, this position of stability of the Shepherd tending and the sheep supporting, that I find strength.  From this strength I feel empowered to once again place the lost at the top of my prayer list.  Not only that, but to pursue those far from God so they can feel and hear God’s love through my presence.  I pray that God will call you also, right where He wants you, and you will be open to follow where He leads – right to the place where the lost sheep can hear His voice through you and return to the flock of the Good Shepherd.

“He calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’”  Luke 15:6

In Christ,

Pastor Erik Gauss

Pastor’s Corner

When God Says, “Not Yet” 

Our God is a God of grace, mercy and provision.  Unfortunately we often think of God as One who punishes or tells us “no”.  While God does occasionally tell us “no”, I find it more accurate and helpful to talk about God telling us “not yet”.  

God is good and ”desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”  1 Timothy 2:3-4.  God is constantly working to overcome evil with good to bless those who love Him in such a way that they are able to pass those blessings on in His name.  So when He doesn’t answer our prayer the way WE wanted Him to, it isn’t because the prayer was bad; it is because God’s good and perfect will is being carried out in a different way than we are asking. 

This truth may very well result in feeling like God said “no” to our prayer, and maybe it actually was a “no”.  But, there is also a “yes” in that “no” which is “Yes, I heard you and answered you and am working for that prayer to be answered in a way that brings honor and glory to everyone involved.”

I share this because this week Kyle Klemp returned the Call to serve here as Principal.  After much prayer and deliberation he and Heather and the whole family believe God still has work left for them to do at Trinity Lutheran in Hawaii.  When we extended the Call, we were not confident they would come.  In fact, we knew it would be difficult for them to leave their home and church family of 20 years.  In our conversation they had also expressed a moving of the Holy Spirit that maybe it was time to move to the mainland as their two youngest begin their time as high school underclassmen. 

I share all this in order to see God’s “yes” even in the “no” to our prayer request that Kyle and his family would serve here.  The “yes” is that the Principal Call Committee felt God wanted us to recommend him, even though we were not confident he would come, and the congregation voted (unanimously!!!) to extend the Call.  If there was a time and place to leave their ministry, this was that opportunity.  Only in that opportunity to leave where they are did they find the conviction to stay and serve. 

We often pray for a blessing we think we want only to get it and realize we are already blessed perfectly.  Kyle and his family thought they might need to leave; now they know God has them right where He wants them.  This is an important part of the process for God’s Church on earth.  Kyle and Heather will both serve Trinity and their family with a renewed conviction, and their entire family has a new found assurance that they are in fact fulfilling God’s Call for each of them. 

As for Cross and our Principal Call Committee, we move forward knowing that God has used us to be a blessing and will bless us with His provision in His perfect timing.  I assure you I too am saddened we didn’t get our “yes”, but I am still very confident this was just a “not yet”.  Please continue in prayer with all of us, and if you have a great candidate for us to explore, please share that name and contact information with us here at Cross!

In Christ,

Pastor Erik Gauss

Pastor’s Corner

When Sadness Is Goodness

Lent is often considered a season of sorrow or sadness.  I guess I can’t blame anyone for thinking that way.  The season starts off with receiving ashes and considering our mortality, and its penultimate highlight is the brutal torture and death of our God and Savior.  In between, the services and remembrances don’t get much better; the music is often slower, and the keys are frequently minor (which enhances that sense of sorrow).  Why would we take seven weeks out of the year and focus on such sadness when most Christian holidays (like Easter and Christmas) bring so much joy?

In Psalm 30:5 David writes about this very reality.  The joy that “comes in the morning” is always preceded by “weeping/sorrow which lasts for the night”.  In this Psalm the night and morning words are poetic language.  We know all too well that sorrow can come during the daytime and even last for long periods of time.  In the Psalm, David is reminding himself and all the children of God that though sorrow does exist and does last for some time, joy will soon follow. 

The darkness of night best describes the feeling of sorrow.  When we mourn or grieve, we frequently wear black.  When we are in a season of sadness, we talk about a dark cloud hanging overhead or a feeling of walking in a fog.  The imagery continues when joy does break through, and we describe this as the light breaking through the darkness.  The light is always brightest when we have been in darkness.

Imagine yourself in your dark bedroom in the morning and somebody turns on the light.  It is so bright and overpowering you have to squint or even close your eyes for a few moments while your eyes adjust.  After some time the light doesn’t seem so bright because you become used to it.  The light isn’t any less bright; we adjust so it seems to be less bright.

The light of God’s blessing in our lives is always bright, but we often take it for granted.  If you don’t believe me, just think back real quick to the beginning of the pandemic where there was no toilet paper anywhere.  We are so used to so many of God’s blessings that we don’t realize how bright they are shining in our lives until we are forced to live without them for a while.

The season of Lent is not a season of sorrow; it is a season to remember how dark things could be and even remember that eventually we will all experience the sorrow of death.  We take the time to remember this so that we can see how bright God’s light is shining in our lives.  When we intentionally take the time to consider how dark it could be or will be, we get to experience the joy of the light breaking through in the morning but only experience the memory of the sorrow.

We can easily get wrapped up in the sorrow and sadness of Lent.  Some are tempted to stay home until it is all over.  Personally, I have come to appreciate that the joy of Easter morning is so much more meaningful when I take the time to consider what my life and eternity might be like without Easter.

This Lenten season we are focusing on how the world intentionally works for evil but God is intentionally transforming that evil into good.  In every season of darkness God is shining His light. Evil will be defeated; God’s will shall be accomplished.  So join with me this Lenten season as we remember our mortality and sorrow for a moment so the light of Christ would shine more brightly in our lives and through us into the lives of those around us. 

“For His anger lasts only a moment, but His favor lasts a lifetime!  Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.”  Psalm 30:5

In Christ,

Pastor Erik Gauss

Pastor’s Corner

Evil Transformed

When we picked our series for Lent this year, we knew there was a possibility for war in Ukraine.  We were hopeful it would be avoided.  We knew there was a lot of pandemic fatigue.  We were hopeful it would get further in the rearview mirror.  When we picked the series, we knew mental health issues, especially in children, were at an all time high.  We hoped they would come down.

All day long we hope that the evil things that are possible in this world will be avoidable.  Sometimes our prayers are answered as tensions resolve, sickness is healed and temptation is defeated.  Other times we must take the long road to our prayers being answered as we travel through the valley of the shadow of death.  We must endure sin, death and the devil on our path to the next green pasture.   

What do we do with evil as followers of a God who is only good?  Oftentimes we think of evil only as the opposite of good, and so when evil prevails, we think good has lost.  The most optimistic of us wait for good to win “next time”.  The Bible actually tells a more complex reality where God is able to take that which is evil in its intentions and transform it for good.

In Genesis 50:20 one of the most famous of the patriarchs says this very phrase to his jealous brothers who had lied, stolen and caused Joseph to experience all kinds of trials:  You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”  This very sentence serves as the theme this Lenten season and a poignant reminder of the truth:  God never fails.

Even when the worst of humanity is on display, when the most gruesome of evil is rearing its ugly head, when good seems nothing more than a slogan on a bumper sticker, God is still winning, He is still working.  Lent is the time in the church year we remember that the ultimate evil, the torture and death of God’s own Son, seemed to be the end of all things good.  Everything was lost as they lay His lifeless body in the tomb.  God was still working.  We celebrate that work on Easter morning and every day when we put our hope and trust in Jesus. 

Believing that God is still working doesn’t take away the grief of evil.  No, we still yearn for a time when evil is defeated for all eternity.  But, knowing that God is still at work takes the sting of evil away and inspires us to work for that good to be made known.  When the children of God show up in the darkest of hours and shine a light on God’s goodness, it changes eternity for all who would receive it.  

God is good, all the time.  Evil is evil, even though God promises to transform it and work good through it.  As God’s people we are called to resist evil and work for good and, at the same time, take great comfort and joy that when evil does occur, God will work through it to still accomplish His good and gracious will.  We do not lose heart because “God is our shelter and our strength, the ever present help in times of trouble.”  Psalm 46:1

Come explore the Word of God with us this Lenten season.  We will taste and see the Lord is good.  Even when the world and everything in it seems to focus on evil, God is working good for His Kingdom and all who seek it.  

In Christ,

Pastor Erik Gauss