Pastor's Page Archives
“What are you giving up for Lent?” This was a question I remember getting asked regularly when I was in elementary school. Most kids would answer with things like “chocolate, candy, pop, or sugar.” My answer was always “Ummm, I’m not Catholic.” In my Sunday School classes we always talked about Jesus’ death and resurrection, but our teachers (and even our pastors) never talked about giving something up for Lent. Many times when people give something up for Lent, it turns into a “can I do it” game. It certainly was for my elementary classmates. The intention of giving something up for Lent, however, has nothing to do with that. The idea of giving something up is not about testing our will power, but rather about creating need in our lives so that we can learn to depend on God. It’s not about curbing bad habits (though it can be effective there). Instead it’s about helping us discover the things that we are using to meet our need for a relationship with God.
I have tried a few times to give something up, and it doesn’t really work for me. I usually start off strong, but inevitably fail. This leads to shame related to my inability, and instead of bringing me closer to God, it actually serves to drive me farther away. (Think about Adam and Eve hiding in the garden). A few years ago I decided to forgo trying to give something up, and instead tried taking something on. An extra hour of Bible study one year, daily walks another year. One year I spent an extra hour each week volunteering in my community. Some of these things stuck and became part of my spiritual routine; others did not. All of them helped me to focus more on God and who God was calling me to be.
Giving up something for Lent is not about torturing ourselves so that we can prove our dedication through suffering. Instead its about removing things from our lives that distract us from who God is calling us to be. When we remove the distractions we are able to hear God more clearly and not only change ourselves, but the world for the better. If you gave something up for Lent this year, that’s great! How are you growing closer to God through that experience?
If you haven’t done anything for Lent, that’s okay. How can you use this time to strengthen your relationship with God? Lent is not a season for punishment. It’s a season of self examination where we discover what we need to change so that when we reach Easter and the empty tomb, we won’t be too distracted to see it.
You are all in my prayers this Lent. I pray that God removes the things that are distracting you and speaks to you in a new and overwhelming way. May you be blessed by just how much our incredible God loves you!
The Power of Words
One of my favorite Lenten studies to do is the seven last sayings of Christ. These are all of the things that he said from the cross. It is such a blessing to reflect on how Jesus was teaching, reassuring, and prophesying even as he was being tortured on the cross. As we embark together on this journey we will see Jesus’ pain, his courage, and even his love. So often we read over the crucifixion story and rush as fast as we can on to Easter and the empty tomb, but so much of our faith is built on what Jesus taught us from the cross.
This year especially, I think, it will be really helpful for us to reflect on what Jesus had to say at the height of his pain. Not only was he in physical pain, but it is clear that he felt like everyone, even God, had abandoned him. As we continue to deal with Covid and what that means for us, we can this year perhaps more than ever, identify with that loneliness.
Lent is a season for examining our innermost selves and searching for the things that keep us separated from God. It’s a time for being real and acknowledging our feelings. As Jesus was dying he didn’t remain stoic. He didn’t keep it all bottled in and put on a brave face. Instead he openly grieved and expressed his frustration. It is helpful for us to remember that if Jesus struggled with what he had to go through, it is probably okay for us to struggle too. Yes, our struggles make us stronger, but if we fail to acknowledge the pain in those struggles we do a disservice to ourselves and to others who will endure similar trials.
The temptation for us is to “be strong” and not admit to struggling. We try to stay silent, but silence isn’t what God wants from us. Odds are if you are struggling, so is someone else, and if we all keep silent we will always feel alone. So here is some advice we often give to whiny toddlers, “Use your words!” Speak out about what you are going through, not just so you can be an inspiration to others, but so that others can stand alongside you and keep you strong. Our words have healing powers, but we can’t be afraid to use them.
Here are some words for you today: You are not alone; this too shall pass; God is with you every step of the way; GOD LOVES YOU, and so do I!
The First Christmas As I think about Advent and Christmas I am deeply saddened that many of our traditions just aren’t possible this year. Even as I write this, our families are working to rearrange Thanksgiving plans in order to comply with Covid precautions. We know that joining together in the Sanctuary holding lit candles and singing Silent Night is not an option. We also know at this point that we won’t be worshipping in person during Advent. There will be no kids Christmas play or Christmas dinner at the church. I am saddened that I will not be able to share with our church kids during the children’s message one of the many fun Advent lessons I have. Very few things will be the same, and that is a hard pill to swallow. Even as I find myself wanting to hibernate and sleep through this Covid “season,” I am reminded of Mary and Joseph that first Christmas. Their culture had all kinds of traditions and a lot of them got thrown out the window. They had courtship rituals and lifestyle expectations. I am certain that it was not easy for Mary to tell Joseph that she was pregnant. In their culture this carried great shame and should have resulted in Mary’s death by stoning.Joseph had every right to walk away, but he chose to participate in something outside of the ordinary. Even the trip to Bethlehem was an unusual event, and in a normal setting Mary should have given birth to Jesus surrounded by family and friends, not all alone in a stable. So, why have I been thinking so much about that first Christmas? The more I contemplate it, the more thankful I am that they were willing to do something not “normal.” We long to hold on to our traditions, to do the things we’ve always done, to cling to something that feels comfortable. If Mary and Joseph had chosen to stick with what was normal, we wouldn’t have Christmas at all. Mary would most likely be dead, Joseph would spend his life grieving for what was, and the Shepherds (who represent all of us) would never even know that something could have happened. Not only would Christmas not be what we have come to expect, but it wouldn’t have happened at all. Here’s the thing. Jesus’ entry into this world was not easy. In fact, it required a lot of sacrifice and faith. This pandemic has not been easy. Most of us are ready for Covid to be “OVER.” But, the reality is that for the time being it is here to stay, and that means that we need to be willing to make sacrifices and be open to new ways of doing things. If Mary and Joseph hadn’t been willing to make sacrifices, Jesus would not have been born and could not be our Savior. (*Disclaimer: I am certain God would have found another way, but that is a discussion for another day). This year we will have to do things differently. We will have to make sacrifices. Most importantly we will have to trust God. When Mary and Joseph did those things, Jesus was born. When we do them, I have no doubt that God will work something almost as incredible into our lives. No, it won’t be Christmas as usual, but it will still be Christmas and maybe, just maybe, a new tradition will be born. Blessings, Pastor Kristen
October 2020 40 Years in the Desert
When I was in seminary in my preaching class I learned that a sermon series is best at four weeks. It was communicated that six weeks would work, but anything longer than that, people would get bored and loose interest in your topic. Your best bet was to keep things short and concise to maintain the attention of your intended audience. This year’s lectionary (they rotate every 3 years) includes 10 weeks on Moses. This leaves preachers with several options. One could break it up into chunks of Moses or the Israelites story; skip the Old Testament focus all together; or choose one half or the other pre/post the Exodus. I am breaking all of the rules and spending the whole 10 weeks with Moses and the Israelites.
Why would I choose to do this? After all, I am not really the rule breaking type. The answer is simple; 2020 has thrown out all of the rules. As we find ourselves wishing the pandemic and civil unrest will be over tomorrow, yesterday really, the reality is that we could be dealing with this for years. Yes, you read that right, years – There is seldom an easy answer, and it almost never comes in our desired timeline. So, back to our Israelite friends. Their journey is going to take us 10 weeks, but it took them 40 years. That was long enough for an entire generation to die off.
You may be asking, “Pastor, if their story is so miserable, why are you talking so much about them? The Bible is full of hope; can’t we talk about that?” We are focusing on the “miserable” Israelites because their story is not unlike our own. Their story may seem depressing and hopeless, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The entire time their story is taking place, from Moses’ birth to their entrance in the promised land, God is performing miracles all around them. Incredible things are happening, but it is so far outside of their expectations that they can’t even see how miraculous it is. I am choosing to focus on the Israelites to help encourage us to find the miracles that God is performing in the midst of our suffering. None of us would have chosen our current reality, but its nowhere near as bad as the Israelites. Think about it; they were three million people tent camping in the desert. If God worked miracles for them, doesn’t it stand to reason that God would work miracles for us?
Friends, we are sticking with the Israelites, because just as they needed to be reminded that God was with them, we need that reminder as well. The Creator could have spoken the words and turned their desert into paradise, but he had different plans for them, just as he has different plans for us. Our unfortunate reality is that we live in a broken creation. Fortunately for us the Creator continues to walk along side of us and promises to meet all of our needs. Like the Israelites, we need to take a step back and consider what God is doing in our lives in this season, and choose to be thankful rather than filled with fear. It took them 40 years (Oh how I pray ours is shorter!), but the Israelites did in fact reach the Promised Land. God delivered them, and he will deliver us as well. Stay faithful and I know that we will see God do some incredible things in the midst of our tragedy; we simply have to choose to trust and be thankful!
It always amazes me how God’s message for us and our reality tend to go hand in hand. September’s worship line-up is no exception. As I considered the lectionary scriptures for this month, one glaring theme became apparent; don’t complain and figure out how to get along. Now I try not to get too into politics, but I will say that is a great reminder for the fall of an election year. Of course, this is no ordinary election year. Tensions always get ramped up a bit during an election year, but add in social unrest and global pandemic and it seems that all we do is fight with each other.
If you are not on social media (good choice), you may not be aware of how heated things are getting, but my guess is that you are still encountering the unrest. In our collective memory (of the last 100 years or so) we can’t imagine a time that has ever been as bad as this. But then, we look through our Bible and realize that what we are enduring is nothing new. This is what it means when we say that the Bible is the Living Word of God. The Holy Spirit will show us examples of how God wants us to handle our current situations with examples from history.
This month’s lectionary addresses how we should behave under pressure, that is by walking with the Israelites as they went from bad to what they thought was worse. It has Jesus giving us examples of what fairness means. In Sunday worship, we will delve a bit deeper into all of this. I will give you the overall message now: “You can’t see the big picture, so trust God and try to realize that we can have different perspectives.” Essentially, don’t judge your neighbor just because you have a difference of opinion.
It can be very helpful to educate people we know about the realities that we have, but the flip side of that is that we need to be willing to learn from their point of view as well. It’s a conversation, not a lecture. At the same time we need to resign ourselves to the understanding that agreeing to disagree does not mean casting judgment or holding grudges. The best thing we can do for people we perceive as wrong is pray for them. No, threatening to pray for them is not helpful.
Friends, there is a lot of anger and hatred in our world right now, and it is exaggerated by the fact that nothing is normal.
There are no areas of our lives where we can go to escape what is happening in our world; everything is affected by the pandemic. Well, almost no areas. We can still go to God. We can still seek God’s peace and refuge from the unrest in our world. We can still ask God to help us trust in Him, and remain calm when our friends say things that make us angry. It won’t be easy. God never promised easy, but we won’t have to do it alone. God will be with us every step of the way!
The Coming Flood
“I just want things to get back to NORMAL!” While I haven’t uttered these words aloud, other than in jest, I have definitely felt them a lot lately. I feel them every time I have to remind myself not to hug someone on Sunday morning, or even when I quietly hum the words to a favorite hymn. I feel them when I can’t pray with someone (in person) before surgery, and as I try to figure out what we can “do” without gathering. It is frustrating having to distance and learning all of the new, ever changing rules. It is easy to get discouraged and feel hopeless, but then I am reminded of the disciples.
In August, we will be looking at the miracles of Jesus in worship. As I prepare even now for those worship services, I think about how the disciples must have felt. These were men who left their everyday normal lives and followed Jesus on a mission, stranger than they could have ever conceived. He showed up out of nowhere, called them to walk away from their jobs and families, spoke in riddles they rarely understood, and performed miracles beyond their wildest imaginations, usually in answer to their frustration.
The thing is, I really want things to get back to normal. I want that because I know what to do with normal. I know what to expect, how to react, and even what needs to be done. In the middle of this season I am tired of the unknowns, but I also know that progress requires change. When I was in college a pastor helped us understand change this way: Rivers have set paths. In order for a river to change course it requires a flood. Only when everything is destroyed and the flood waters recede can we see the new direction.
Friends, right now we are in the midst of the flood. We are up to our eyeballs in Covid “rain,” and it seems like it may never stop. Here’s the thing though; even when it stops we will still have the flood to deal with. There will be businesses that won’t return, there will be families who have lost loved ones, there will be new school practices, and yes, the way the church functions will probably not be the same. This doesn’t have to be all bad.
Already we can see ways that this has changed our course here in the church. We have become more technologically savvy, both from a church and an individual perspective. People who would have balked at the idea of worship online are finding the blessing in having it available. We have doubled our efforts in communicating with those who have been shut-in, and I know that has been a blessing for both the callers and the callees. In the future there will be many more things that we are forced to do differently and so we will do them better, or will do something new. Just like when Jesus called the disciples into something new, the good news is that God is on this journey with us. Even though we long for what was, even though our limited vision is frustrating, the good news is that God has something incredible for our future. We just need to hold on a bit longer and put our trust in him.