Pastor’s Corner

Happy Hallow’s Eve!

No, the title is not a typo! Halloween is, historically, one of the most celebrated nights for the people of God. Hallow literally means holy or to make holy. We pray this word persistently every time we pray “Our Father who is in Heaven. Hallowed is your name.” Of course, it wasn’t always called Halloween. The word Halloween is a contraction of the formal name and is derived from the day AFTER Halloween.

The day AFTER Halloween, November 1st, is now called All Saint’s Day. The traditional name for this day is All Hallow’s Day and is a day in the life of the Church when we remember people of faith. Specifically, we remember those who have gone before us and now rest at peace with the Lord. Baptized believers are made holy by God each and every day and yet we also still struggle with sin. When we die, we no longer struggle with sin and are only holy. The hallowed people of God we now call “saints” but the meaning is still the same.

Think of it as a Christian Memorial Day. Traditionally, the people of God would worship at Hallowmas services (think Christmas) and remember their loved ones and their sacrifice for the Kingdom of God on earth. Just like Christmas Eve today, the night before All Hallow’s Day became equally as sacred to celebrate together. Many would worship at night on the eve before All Hallow’s Day then hold vigil at their sainted loved one’s grave until the next morning. This Eve before became known as All Hallow’s Evening. Which eventually contracted down to Halloween.

This is still an important day in the Church. Martin Luther chose Hallow’s Eve to be the day he confronted the leadership of the Church with where they had strayed from the Bible. This became a celebration all its own called Reformation. This action of Martin Luther would cause Christians around the world to leave the Church and return to worshipping God as He taught us to in the Bible.

Unfortunately, today Halloween has become commercialized and is considered by many to be a night of evil or sorcery. This secularization of Christian holidays for worldly gain is not new to us, but it is still sad. Let’s ask Luther’s question “What does this mean?”

It means we ought to fear love and trust God enough so that we can live our faith as disciples of Jesus in the world. It means we need to remain connected together so that we do not fall into the temptations of the world. It means as beloved people of God we can go out into the world and shine light in the darkness.

Many Christians have strong feelings about Halloween. I agree with most of them, even when they don’t agree with each other. See, each of us is in a unique context and therefore have a unique opportunity to shine God’s love. Some embrace the community gathering that occurs around free candy and child centered activities. I know some Christian families that shine the light of Christ by being the house everyone talks about (Large candy bars, hunted house, etc.). I know others that don’t participate and instead have a more subdued celebration around Jesus in their home or at their church.

I believe both of these strategies can work if we do them with love toward God and love toward others. Like foods sacrificed to idols or our presence in Godless places, these can become a weakness of the flesh and we can be led astray. These strategies can also be seen as us as sheep among wolves, missionaries being sent to Godless places to bring the Gospel of Jesus to all people.

Regardless of how you feel about Halloween, it certainly is a highlighted day in our society. It is a Day people talk about and plan for. Because of this, we too can participate in these conversations and allow these conversations to be a blessing. It is not easy to be a believer in a culture that increasingly is turning away from God, but there certainly are many opportunities to shine God’s light and share His love with one another.

In Christ,

Erik Gauss

Scripture Reading for Sunday, October 30
Romans 3:19-28

Pastor’s Corner

The Final Challenge

It is often much easier to begin something new than it is to finish something well. Some studies have found that about 8% of people who make a New Year’s resolution have kept that resolution by the end of the year. This statistic is self-reported, so the chances are that this percentage is much higher than what it actually is.

About 40 days ago we started the Being Challenge. Pastor Matt gave a rousing sermon that inspired many people to start flossing every day. I won’t ask you to report on how your results have been, but I am curious if you have made and followed through on any changes to your habits over these 40 days? Personally, I have improved on a couple of habits, including prioritizing prayer. I am literally praying right now that I will be able to maintain and improve on these habits I have begun. I am also praying for each of you.

If you haven’t yet begun a new spiritual habit, or ceased an old neutral or negative habit, I would strongly encourage you to do so now, before this series ends. We have established tremendous momentum with regards to what habits, why those habits and how to implement those habits over the last 40 days. The worst thing that we can do now is move on to the next series and not change anything in our life habits.

I am not over exaggerating here. In Matthew 7, Jesus tells a parable about the wise and foolish builder. The difference between the two wasn’t if they went to Bible study or to worship services. The difference between the two is that the wise man “put into practice” what he had learned. “And everyone who hears these words of mine [Jesus] and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.” Matthew 7:26

Sometimes we don’t put it into practice because we don’t try; sometimes we try hard and fail. Jesus, the prophets, the apostles and all of Scripture agree that the issue of trying and failing is common to us all. Left alone we will all succumb to the frailties of our broken and cursed flesh. Praise be to God that we have a Savior and His name is Jesus! In Christ our sins are removed and in Christ’s Church we are encouraged to live out that forgiveness with gratitude toward God and grace toward one another.

Living in the grace, we are encouraged to spur one another on toward love and good deeds. So here is some encouragement and an invitation to get connected to one another. If you are tired, discouraged or even overwhelmed Commit to Community to share those burdens. And Choose Church to spur you on!

We can’t do everything and we certainly can’t do it all at once. Choose one habit and make a specific and measurable goal. For example, the goal to “go to church more often”, is not measurable and doesn’t require any change. It also requires a lot of effort to try to remember how often you went to church “before”. Do you have a record of attendance? How far back do you track? See how easy it is to get lost in the weeds? Try this, “Go to 8am worship service 3 times a month”. This is a very specific and measurable goal. You will know in a few short weeks if you accomplished it. You can “reset” if you fail or even better you will be able to celebrate when you accomplish it!

Clear, simple, achievable goals that have an end date where you can celebrate and reset is a key to success. Share your victories and your challenges with others who will pick you up when you are struggling and who will celebrate your victories with you! Above all, remember that these are keystone habits that are intended to help you with the overall goal. Missing one day of prayer or two days of reading Scripture are not the problem. The problem is that too often we feel distant and discouraged in our walk of faith. These simple habits will help you feel nearer to God and one another. These habits help us remember God’s promise “I will never leave you or forsake you” Hebrews 13:5. And that promise give us joy and is worth celebrating no matter what!

In Christ,

Erik Gauss

Scripture Reading for Sunday, October 23
John 4:31-38; 2 Corinthians 12:8-10

Pastor’s Corner

BEING Challenge – Day 34 – Choose Church

Church is a Being thing, NOT a Doing thing.

Sometimes life is more difficult when you share it with others; sometimes it is infinitely more wonderful. The challenge is that we don’t get to know in advance which it will be.

This week, Pastor Matt and I went to a conference with hundreds of other pastors from Northern Illinois. While we were there, we studied the Holy Scripture and learned from each other different ways the people of God were living out those truths in their local congregations. In some ways the conference was required, certainly expected for us to attend. There were many other pastors who “should have been there” that weren’t. As I was also preparing for the message this weekend on “Choosing Church” from the Being Challenge I couldn’t help but see all of the similarities among the pastors that we see in the world today.

Sometimes us pastors don’t see eye to eye on everything. Sometimes we choose not to participate in the larger church context because we have enough challenges in our local churches. Sometimes it is just easier to choose not to attend. The devil tells us all of the things we will lose if we go and convinces us that the blessings won’t offset those losses.

The excuses for not going to the pastor’s conference are as varied as the reasons we don’t attend worship or engage in the life of the church–”the topic or speaker don’t sound interesting”, “it costs too much money”, “it takes too much time”, “I could do so many other things with that time”. This is the importance of the title “Choose” Church. We must choose what matters, choose what we are to prioritize, and choose what is foundational and non-negotiable in life.

For Matt and I, we could easily say we have too much to do and in fact say we have each other so we don’t need to waste time and money going to a conference. Instead, Matt and I have chosen to take those blessings and use them to serve at the conference, to bring in great speakers and have it be the best it can be. More work, not more rest, but more blessings multiplied.

Church is about recognizing the blessings we have, thanking/worshipping God for them and sharing them with one another and the world.

Church is not a commodity to be shopped or a product to be evaluated. Church is who we are. We are each individual children of God, united as one in Jesus Christ. The Bible calls us the Body of Christ united under the one head, Jesus. We are referred to as members of the body where each member does its part, not each member getting its benefit. The benefit is seeing, being and growing in the recognition that this world is bigger than my little world.

Many times, seeing the world through that larger context helps us put all of the trials of the world into perspective. Sometimes living a life in that larger context feels more challenging, especially as we fight against the demands and challenges of the world. But I have always found the blessings to outweigh the challenges. To know that I have a God who sees all of the pain, suffering and injustice I see but is also fighting against it and will one day restore justice, mercy and salvation. Nothing brings me more peace in the chaos than that.

But, I can’t always remember it and neither can you. I need you to lift my spirits just like you need Matt and I to lift yours. We need the whole body of Christ working together, not just for ourselves, but for the sake of the whole world.–for the sake of God’s Kingdom here on earth and for all eternity.

Choose Church is a lot less about the blessings we receive but about the calling we have. Yet, the true and powerful mystery is that as we choose to make room for the bigger things in life, everything gets more complicated and more peaceful all at the same time.

May the peace of God and the blessing of the Church family be yours, but just as importantly may you remember that you are that same blessing for others as you Choose to be the Church at Cross and in the world.

“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” 1 Corinthians 12:27

In Christ,

Erik Gauss

Scripture Reading for Sunday, October 16
Hebrews 10:24-25, Acts 2:42-47

Pastor’s Corner

BEING Challenge – Day 27 – Seek Solitude

“It is not good for man to be alone” – God. 

 Solitude and Community seem to be two opposing ideas that cannot coexist. This is for good reason. Either a person is alone or they are not alone. If a person is not alone then they are in a community, albeit a small one. This really comes from a misunderstanding of what it means to be “alone”.   

In our western culture to be alone is equated with a feeling of loneliness. A person could literally be in a crowded football arena or a worship service and claim to feel alone. A social media influencer with millions of followers can be and feel alone. Loneliness is bad, lack of meaningful social interaction is arguably a leading cause of death for humans. Human touch, community and close friendships are closely tied to a long life expectancy, right along with diet and exercise. 

Jesus often sought solitude to be alone but not because he wanted to feel lonely. Jesus sought solitude to be alone with God. Think of your closest relationships in your life. Would it be good or bad for you to spend one on one time with those people? Typically, relationships are enhanced and strengthened through quality individual time together. This time can be fun, challenging, emotional or lighthearted and all of those experiences contribute to the depth of connection and strength of the relationship.  

How often do you spend time alone with God? For most of us the answer is…not that often. Frequently the issue is when we are alone without people or activity we struggle with the worries and anxieties of life. Most of us would rather be out solving a problem than sitting alone and thinking about it. Another habit is that we wait until we are exhausted to be alone with God and then we fall asleep before any meaningful relationship is developed. When we have no other options we will resort to looking at our phone or watching a screen rather than sit still and think. 

Like any relationship, it can take time and effort to be alone with God and feel comfortable. But, once you experience the power and blessing of that relationship you will crave that time with your best friend. The answer to life’s worries and anxieties is not fixing them, it is casting them on Christ’s shoulder’s. This happens best in solitude with God because then and only then do we truly realize the thoughts and feelings that are drowning out our ability to hear God’s voice.

Every year the sixth grade students in our school go to camp. One of the activities they participate in is a star lab where the night sky is replicated by directing light onto a completely blacked out dome. The instructor asks the students what happens to the stars during the day.  Light pollution and clouds can drown out the stars, but the stars are still there even when we can’t see them. So is God. He is still calling to us and blessing us even when activity pollution and our thoughts drown out our ability to hear Him. 

Find some quiet time with God. Turn off your phone, your watch, your computer, your music. Listen to God through His Holy word, the Bible, talk to God through prayer. Share your laughs, struggles, worries. What is stopping you? Whatever it is, give THAT to God. Schedule, worries, tasks. Write them down on a to do later list. Pray about them. Set a timer at first, but for me I do this until all that I can hear is the voice of God saying, “I got this, and I got you” which is my paraphrase of 1 Peter 5:7, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

Think of that alone time with God as an opportunity to better hear and recognize the voice of God. Once we can hear it in solitude, it becomes much easier to hear it cut through the noise of life. And let’s face it, there is a lot of noise in life.

In Christ,

Erik Gauss

Scripture Reading for Sunday, October 9
Mark 1:32-39