The Past is the Past

Posted on: August 23rd, 2016 by Brad Peterson

On August 1st, I spent my 14th anniversary of being pastor at Trinity at one of my favorite places: Wrigley Field, for the annual trip and the new tradition of taking my Logan nephew to a game. But the next day I did something I hadn’t done in at least 20 years: I played golf at the place where I learned to play, Cedardell Golf Course in Plano, IL, my hometown. It was there that I started caddying for my Dad and occasionally hitting a few putts to learning the ethics of the game to learning the rules and how to play and finally falling in love with this game I play as much as I can today. Of course, this was also the place I learned to curse as well (thanks Dad!)

It was amazing the memories that came back as I played my round (not the best either. So there might have been some cursing!). When I was in junior high I played three or four times a week, riding my bike over in the morning as I had a locker at the course. Sometimes I played with some of the old men from the church early in the morning and sometimes with my friends Curtis or Matt. Even now, I love to play a round early in the morning, something born from my youth.

For much of my high school years I didn’t play as much as other sports took priority, but I reconnected to golf in a big way in Seminary and now I can’t imagine not playing. But it all started there in Plano, IL.

While I was in my hometown, I snuck into my high school gym to see a plaque that we put up in honor of my Dad when he passed (the rest of the school has been completely remodeled, but not the gym), swung by the old house (looks exactly the same), and took a drive around town. It was fun to reconnect with my past, to relive old memories, to remember people and places from my youth, to look back for a bit.

But that is the thing: it’s the past. As much as I enjoyed the memories, especially on the golf course, they are just memories. I think the desire to drive back into memory lane was prompted by my 40th birthday, but in the end the place where I grew up no longer exists. It has moved on. I have moved on. Some might say that is sad, but I didn’t feel sad when I left. Sure, I had moments of grief and sadness as I recounted memories of my parents who are now long gone or friends that I don’t see or interact with anymore, but there was no desire to go back to that time. I left feeling content and happy. I was blessed to grow up in Plano, IL, though maybe I didn’t always appreciate it while it was happening. It shaped who I am today and for that I’m grateful.

In every place I have ever lived, there have been good times and bad times. There have been ups and downs. I have forged relationships that have been both live giving and soul draining. But we can’t truly go back to the past because we grow and change and so do the places. It is ok to look back but we can’t wallow in the past. We have to live, to move forward, to take what we learned and experienced and keep moving forward, one day at a time.

I know that I will visit again. I might even tee it up again. I know I’ll go worship at my home church again at some point. And when I do, I’m going to continue to be thankful for the way God guided my life in that place and helped shape me. I’m going to remember. I’m going to give thanks. And I’m going to keep moving forward.

Calling

Posted on: July 23rd, 2016 by Brad Peterson

One of the summer shows I watch is “The Jim Gaffigan Show” on TV Land. I’ve always enjoyed Jim Gaffigan’s comedy and have even seen him live (of course I would love his comedy. He does ten minutes on bacon!). What was interesting was the episode that originally aired on June 20th titled “The Calling.”

In this episode, Jim keeps seeing his priest everywhere in a dream and that every time he sees his priest, he asks Jim to do something. Eventually Jim runs into him in real life and the priest asks Jim to be on the parish soccer team. While playing soccer, Jim notices that the priest, Father Nicholas, is really good at soccer. In a subsequent conversation, Jim finds out that Father Nicholas was a soccer star in Africa, a model, went to the London School of Economics, and then gave it all up to go to become a priest. This flabbergasts Jim that his priest would have given up all that to become a priest and Father Nicholas explains that being a priest was his calling and that everyone has a calling. This perplexes Jim and he isn’t sure what his calling is. We find him talking with his wife and friends about their callings and they are all clear to them and Jim is still stumped. Jim thinks that a calling needs to be something significant, something that can change the world. Eventually he decides that his calling must be as a stand-up comedian and at the end of the episode, as Jim is at the pearly gates, he finds out his true calling was to be a father.

I enjoyed this episode a lot but it also brings a point that I think many of us struggle with: what is our God-giving calling? Like Jim, we might think that means some sort of earth-changing kind of thing. But I believe it might be more simple than that. I think our calling is not about our vocation (though it can be), but rather about who we truly are. What gifts we have that help spread the love of Christ in ways obvious and not so obvious. We often resist our calling, especially if it has to do with the church in any way, because our callings often push our boundaries or take us in directions we might never have thought we could go.

The other thing is I think we might have multiple calling. That it might not just be one thing. We can be called to be a farmer and a father, a teacher and a mother, a Wal-Mart greeter and a friend. I think we have callings both inside and outside of the church but that our calling is still a gift from God that can be used to build up the body of Christ and spread the love of Christ in word and deed.

So, how do we know when we have found our calling or callings? I think that is a question that can have a variety of answers (and doesn’t come with a beam of light that shines on us, like in the episode) but I can only answer for me. For years I had dreamed of being a teacher and coach. Yet, when I finally (after many years of resistance, denial, and outright running as fast as I could away from it) accepted that God was calling me to be a pastor, it was unbelievably scary and comforting at the same time. I cannot imagine doing anything else in the world and that even if I won 500 million dollars in the Powerball I would still be here on Sunday mornings preaching. The only other thing that brings fulfillment and happiness and joy in the same way is being a husband.

You have a calling from God. It might not be obvious, but it is there. Live out your calling and continue to use that calling to spread the love of Christ.

God is . . .

Posted on: April 18th, 2016 by Brad Peterson

I was driving the other day when I saw a car with a bumper sticker that said “God is . . .” and it listed a political position. I thought that it was kind of interesting as I was pretty sure that there wasn’t anything in the Bible that described God in that way.

But that got me thinking. What normally does follow the words “God is?” So I did a little search using the NRSV version of the Bible (the version we use in worship.) I found 172 results but I focused on times when “God is” was followed up with a verb or an adjective or a phrase. And there were lots of choices but a few stood out. It was amazing how many times the phrase “God is giving” was used, especially in the Old Testament. “God is God” popped up a few times. “God is gracious” and “God is faithful,” and “God is my salvation” appeared a decent number of times. “God is with you” was all over the place.

This begs a question: what is the point of all of this? Here is the point: we get in trouble when we try to make God something God is not. To assign something at the end of the “God is” phrase that is political is a very dangerous slope. It assumes we know what God is thinking and how God acts in the world. It makes us put God into a box.

You know what God does when God is put into a box? God destroys that box. God showed through the death and resurrection of Jesus that God will break through every barrier in order to save us. I think instead of trying to define God in our ways we should let the Word of God speak for itself.

And what do we find? We find a God that is concerned about the other. God is giving, gracious, faithful, and loving. God projects outward from Himself unto you and all of creation. Maybe this is how God wants us to be? To be giving, gracious, faithful, and loving. Maybe this is a clue that God would like us to live for the other instead of for ourselves. “God is with you” is repeated so often as a reminder that we are not alone and that God meets us where we are and walks with us every day.

Maybe we need to make bumper stickers with phrases of “God is giving,” “God is with us,” or “God is faithful” to counteract the poor bumper sticker theology that wants to define God beyond the witness of scripture. But even better would be to live as people of God trusting in a faithful, loving, and giving God. Even better would be to emulate those characteristics in our daily lives. Most importantly, remember that God is with you. For that we can say, “Thanks be to God!”

Give thanks

Posted on: April 10th, 2016 by Brad Peterson

This week includes two of my very favorite things as a sports fan. First, this weekend and into Monday is the Opening Day of baseball. I’m not a huge fan of the Sunday opening games and then everyone else on Monday. I liked it better when everyone started on the same day, especially with a bunch of day games. But it is still super awesome. It means spring is here and this year there is some actual hope as a Cubs fan. I’m not super happy that many people are picking us to go to the World Series, but I’m excited to watch them this year and see what happens. The other event happens at the end of the week and is probably my second favorite sporting event of the year behind the Super Bowl, and this is the Masters golf tournament. I love watching the golf, the beauty of the course, and just the prestige and history that surrounds the tournament. This year I’m even reading a book on the Masters, so it should be even more fun. It is one of my dreams to go to Augusta National to watch the Masters one year, even if it is just a practice round.

With these two events, I also think about people who have been important in my life. With Opening Day and the Masters I always think about my Dad. They were also some of his most favorite events and I get my love of the Cubs, and golf, from him. It makes me miss him but also gives me many fond memories of watching both the Cubs and the Masters on TV together. I also think of Dennis Rettke when I think of the Masters. Dennis and I golfed many a round together and he volunteered at the Masters for a few years. I used to try to spot him if I could when I would watch. He would encourage me to try to get tickets, even for a practice round, and he often purchased official Master’s items for me and would also bring me back stuff like glasses and programs. It is fitting that we are having a Men’s Choir concert on the final day of the Masters. I will think about him often that day. His presence is still felt every time we sing.

Events in life help us remember those who have gone before us. Their memory lives on in us as we remember and give thanks for them. I think that is one of the gifts God gives us: things that trigger memories of those we have loved who are now gone. Sometimes these memories make us feel sad. But for me, they often make me feel thankful that I had the opportunity to be impacted by them. They make me feel joy instead of sorrow and I look forward to the events that remind me of them. By enjoying them still and remembering them, they are still alive to me. I hope the Cubs have a great season and I hope for an exciting finish to the Masters. But most of all I look forward to giving thanks to my Savior for the gifts of baseball, golf, my Dad, and Dennis.

Looking Back but Looking Forward

Posted on: March 22nd, 2016 by Brad Peterson

On Friday night I attended the Boyceville High School production of “Once Upon A Mattress.” A great job was done by the cast and I was so proud of the kids in the show. What made it interesting was that I was in that show in high school my sophomore year. I played the Jester and as I watched the musical, so much of the dialog and songs came flooding back. I was filled with memories of that time in my life, way back in March of 1992.

At that time in my life, my priorities were thus: 1. Girlfriend. 2. Work to be a Varsity starter in Football the next fall. 3. Get good grades. 4. Get my driver’s license. 5. Job for that summer.   That was really it. I was unbelievably naïve and super hyper. Nothing really tragic had happened to me in life. And I was somewhat insecure. I wasn’t really sure I was good at anything other than getting good grades in school and possibly playing the trumpet. I thought I was funny but wasn’t sure anyone else did. I thought I was an ok athlete but nothing special. I loved to sing but I definitely thought I wasn’t a good one. I had been told many times, by family and others, that I really wasn’t a good singer.

This is important because when I tried out for “Once Upon a Mattress” I specifically put on my audition form that I didn’t want a solo. I had played a bunch of small roles the year before and I figured that was what I would do this time. There was no way I should have a role that has a solo or be important in any way.

So I was surprised when I was cast as the jester and I figured that since I could occasionally get a laugh that was the reason for my casting. But then when I looked at the part more closely I froze in terror: I had a solo. I had to sing, all by myself, in front of people. Crap. My sisters were the singers in the family (and still are. Fantastic voices). I was not. Definitely not. I had been told I wasn’t a singer. This was going to end very, very badly.

Yet, it didn’t. As I learned the role and the song, I grew to love it. I got positive feedback from other cast members and I gained confidence. I felt like I could do it. I felt like I wouldn’t suck. And this became a moment in my life. It became the start of a time when I gained confidence in who I was, a time when I really fell in love with performing, of being in front of people and seeing a reaction from them. In some ways it had always been there, but I didn’t have the confidence to see it. Singing “Very Soft Shoes,” all by myself on a stage, helped to change that.

But when I look back at that time, I realized how much would change in a year, when I was in my third show (and favorite), “Kiss Me Kate.” I was way more confident as a person. I had a girlfriend. I did become a varsity starter in football. I was still getting good grades and I had my driver’s license. I felt that I could do anything and I embraced an even bigger role in that year’s play.

However, my innocence and naiveté was being shattered as my Dad had cancer. I started to see the foundation of my life begin to crack. I was worried about things much bigger than singing in front of people or having a girlfriend. Just about six weeks after the show my Dad would be dead and my life would be changed forever.

In many ways, being at “Once Upon a Mattress” transported me back to an easier time. And I can see the appeal of going back there. I see why people always want to go back in time where everything seems better, the hurts seem less hurtful, and life seemed full of possibilities. Where there are less scars and wounds. It would be fun to be that Brad of March of 1992, just for a moment.

But we can’t go back. No matter how hard we try or want to. It is fun to look back but we must move forward. We must live not in the past but in the now and into the future. For though we have more scars, we also have more joys. We have come through the difficult times. We have survived the battles. We have loved and lost and learned and grown. God has guided us along the path of life and there is no turning back. We can look. We can remember. But we can’t go back. It is impossible. Instead, we put our faith in our Savior Jesus Christ who gives us strength for the present and walks with us into the future.

   For our young people who were in the show this past weekend, I hope it is a time that they cherish. I hope they learned something about themselves. I thank them for giving me the gift of looking back, just for a moment. It was fun. 

Crushed but not Destroyed

Posted on: March 14th, 2016 by Brad Peterson

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. 2 Corinthians 4:8-10

I have been thinking about these verses a lot this past ten days. As a faith community and as a community in general, we have been hit pretty hard. We are grieving the loss of so much, filled with pain, anxiety, questions, doubt, and sorrow. For many of us, it seems like we have been walking around in a daze, stumbling around in the dark looking for a light. It seems surreal, almost like we are in some sort of horror movie and looking down at ourselves from above, thinking that this could not possibly be us.

But in the midst of our pain, something extraordinary is happening. We are not crushed. We are not destroyed. Though surrounded by darkness, there is light shining in and that is the light of Christ. I see it in the way that people are interacting with each other, the way people are giving strength and compassion to each other. I have seen it through text messages, emails, calls, hugs, and a thousand other ways. As a community, we are rallying around each other and giving support to everyone who needs it. We are standing because we have a foundation of faith in Jesus Christ. Even as we cry, we feel the love of Christ coming to us, a love that defeats sin and death and gives us new life. Even as our hearts ache we feel the strong arms of Christ wrapping around us. Even if we are not sure what the next step forward, we see Christ guiding our path. The life of Jesus is being made visible in us.

The road is long. We will have ups and downs. We will continue to grieve and wonder and question. But we will not be destroyed because we are not forsaken. We are there for each other. We will need to continue to be, to reach out to each other for support, prayer, and help. But most especially, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is there for us as well. Every day. We can lay our burdens at the foot of his cross, we can lift up our eyes to the hills because our help comes from Christ who is our refuge and strength.

On a personal note, I want to thank everyone who has said kind words or given me support of any kind during these hard times. A special thanks to my wife Amy for continually being the greatest wife ever. Thank you, Trinity, for reminding me that ministry comes not just from me but from all of you to others and to me as well.

I’d like to end with more words for 2 Corinthians 4, this time verses 16-18: “16So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, 18because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”

Whom shall I send?

Posted on: February 9th, 2016 by Brad Peterson

So I must admit I had no idea what to write for my Musings this week. No idea had popped into my head over the past few days and I had nothing. (This is not fully true. I have plenty of thoughts on Star Wars, Bacon, and Football, but didn’t want to go to that well AGAIN). So I went ahead and did something I have done before: I randomnly opened my Bible and wahtever I saw on those two pages, I would write about. Today my Bible opened to Isaiah chapter six, one of my favorites. Here is what it said:

 

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. 2Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. 3And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” 4The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.

5And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” 6Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” 8Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”

 

I love in that last verse as the Lord asks a question: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Who indeed! Who will go to proclaim the word of the Lord? Who will go to serve the poor, comfort the grieving, welcome the stranger, lift up the orphan and the widow? Who will go to spread hope and love, to proclaim the saving grace of Jesus Christ? Who will embrace a child and share God’s love with them? Who will remember people in prayer? Who will give of their financial blessings to further the ministry of the church or to do something as simple as allow the church to pay its mortgage payment? Who will be an ambassador for Christ in word and deed? Who?

When we see that question posed, I bet our initial reaction is this: not me. Maybe that one over there or that person over there. But not me. We often know the needs and we hear the call. But our answer is rarely, “Yes. I’ll go.” We rarely answer as Isaiah did. We don’t answer God’s call not because we can’t or we don’t have the means or the gifts or the talents or the time or anything else. I believe we answer “no” or pass the buck because we are afraid. We are afraid to live out our faith. We live in fear of what we don’t have instead of what we do have and what we have been given. We live in fear of being judged or ridiculed and so it is safe to do nothing or wait for someone else to do it than for us to do it.

Fear is a powerful motivator and too often that motivation stops us from answering God’s call. Fear paralyzes us. Fear makes us apathetic. Fear makes us not take responsibility to the ministry that we have been entrusted. Fear stops us from answering God’s call. There is fear here in this reading from Isaiah before he finally answers. Fear made me question my call to become a pastor for a long time too.

God knows this. In the Bible, the phrase “Do not be afraid” appears 59 times and the phrase “Do not fear” appears 43 times. That is over 100 times! And we don’t need to fear because God promises to be with us. God promises to take away our fear and help us. We do not need to fear because the Lord is with us.

As we begin our Lenten journey, ponder the question God asks: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Think about how you will answer that question and who you might answer that question differently than you have been. Remember that you do not have to be afraid, because the Lord is with you.”

The Power of Bible Camp

Posted on: February 2nd, 2016 by Brad Peterson

This past Saturday I attended the Luther Park Bible Camp Annual Meeting in Chetek.  It was the my first annual meeting as a Luther Park Board Member and it has been a great experience so far.  The camp is growing, the bills are paid, and we are looking to the future with a capital campaign on the horizon to help bring them camp into the future and expand our programming.

Speaking of expanding programming, we have been blessed to send our confirmation students to Luther Park for camp every summer.  It is one of my requirements for confirmation and I was super happy when I came to Trinity that it had been a requirement for some time.  Camp can provide an experience that we cannot duplicate and I see it as one of the most important experiences we can give our youth.  Again, this is nothing new to most of you.  I wouldn’t be your pastor without my experience at Bible Camp as a youth and then as a counselor.

Of course, for almost a decade we have had Luther Park come to Trinity to lead our Vacation Bible School which has been an amazing experience.  When I was the annual meeting I ran into a counselor who had stayed in the past with Pat Rettke and asked about how she was doing.  One of my pastoral colleagues led VBS at Trinity as a Luther Park counselor and even though she is now in Northern Minnesota in her first call still asks about Connie Lystrom, whom she stayed with.  Not only have we been impacted by Luther Park, Luther Park has been impacted by us.

But, like many of our churches, we are underutilizing Luther Park.  We see it as just a place where we send our middle school youth. But they have amazing programs for kids of all ages and even adults!  Last year we had a youth go to the special MADD camp week which focuses on music and she absolutely loved it!  We had a fourth grader who came for a week when I was there with our confirmation students and his mom and dad were already asking about when we are going this year.  Luther Park has a lot of amazing programs that just aren’t using like we could.

Camp is an amazing experience and it helps in building a foundation of faith.  Most of the time I hear that people don’t want to send their child to camp because of cost.  Yet, there isn’t much thought to cut a check for a sports camp for something that their child might not really use after high school.  Bible camp gives a foundation of faith that will last a lifetime and impact youth in ways we can’t possibly imagine.  When I was looking for a faith experience seven years after I was at Bible Camp, it was Bible Camp that I thought of and sought out.

Cost should never be a factor in sending a child to camp.  Trinity has committed to helping reduce the cost of camp.  Luther Park is committed to help any child that wants to go to camp to be able to come, regardless of financial situation.  The money is out there.  We will help you and make sure your child gets this amazing experience.  You just have to be willing to give your child an incredible faith experience.

The week that I will be at camp with our youth will be July 10th-15th.  During that time there are programs for kids from 1st grade through high school.  You can register by either grabbing a brochure in the Narthex or going online at www.lutherpark.org

Give you child an amazing faith experience.  Send them to Luther Park Bible Camp, where faith is nurtured through holy play!

What do we sow?

Posted on: January 25th, 2016 by Brad Peterson

1 Again he began to teach beside the sea. Such a very large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the sea and sat there, while the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. 2 He began to teach them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: 3 “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. 6 And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. 8 Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.” 9 And he said, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”  Mark 4:1-9

 

Above is a very familiar parable, the Parable of the Sower.  I’d like to say two things about this parable really quick.  One, the sower is a TERRIBLE farmer.  I mean, who just starts tossing seed everywhere?  C’mon.  But second, and most importantly, I think that I have, and maybe all of us, have thought of this parable in the wrong way before.

So often when I have read this parable I think of myself as the soil and God as the sower.  I have to get my heart ready to accept the seed that God sows, which is the Word of God..  In other words, the success of the sowing is all up to me.  I have to prepare and get my heart ready so that I can grow faith in my own heart.  It makes some good sense.  But what if, in reality, we are the sower?  What if God’s job is to harvest, but it is our job to spread the word, to sow the seed?  What if instead of worrying about the final planting and what will come of it, what if our focus is to be on spreading the word as much as possible, no matter the soil?

But then I had another thought: since we might be the sower, the one spreading the seed, what if what we are sowing isn’t the word of God?  What if we are sowing something else?  I thought of this because I see in the world an increase in fear and paranoia.  I see seeds of distrust and hatred that are creeping into every fabric of life: home, schools, community, politics, media, everywhere.  I see the sowing of bigotry and hatred and a lack of compassion and willingness to talk to each other.  Even worse, I see that being sown in the hearts and minds of the people of God and calling it “Christian.”  I see thoughts blooming in our culture that somehow being a Christian means hatred, exclusion, and fear.  I think that sometimes we have forgotten the seed we are to be planting is the Gospel of Jesus Christ and this seed is one of hope, acceptance, compassion, and forgiveness.  This seed is not about stiff arming the other but welcoming them.  It is about loving our enemies and about praying for those who persecute us, not revenge or hatred or violence.  It is a seed that is about changing hearts with grace and love, not bigotry and persecution and power.

We are the sowers.  God is the harvester.  What will God find to harvest if the seed we are sowing is not his Gospel of hope, grace, and love?  The seed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, of a God of hope who sends his only Son to defeat sin and death to bring us to everlasting life, who calls us to lead lives of compassion, faithfulness, and love. This seed can change a heart.  This seed can change a life.  This seed can change a world.  But it must be sown.  It must be scattered.  And it must trust that God is at work.

Go out into the world, brothers and sisters, with a huge bag of seed.  May that seed be one of new life and hope, of love and forgiveness, of acceptance and joy.  The world needs it.  God will grow it.  Scatter that seed.  For that we can say, “Thanks be to God!”  Amen

Do Not Fear

Posted on: December 22nd, 2015 by Brad Peterson

It is always pretty neat when someone comes up and compliments me on the Christmas lights and decorations that we have on our house.  They often want to find out how long it took me to put them all up!  The funny thing is that I didn’t’ grow up with a ton of lights outside of our house for Christmas, if at all, but I have always been fasicnated by Christmas lights.  I used to sit on Christmas morning, just staring at the Christmas tree all light up in the darkness.  When I was super sick a few weeks ago, I just stared out the window at our lights and it made me feel a little better.

I think I put up so much stuff because I know that others enjoy it.  I remember as a kid walking down the street from my grandparents to see the huge Christmas light display on this house.  They had all sorts of moving figures and everything and there was always a decent crowd.  I know that people like to drive by the house to look at the lights and if it gives people a moment of joy, then it is worth all the work.  For myself, I know there are times when I have come home from a long day and it is just a little uplift when I see the lights on the house.

Christmas is often a time where we shine our lights in the midst of darkness, and as I reflect and think about life and the world at this moment, I have been feeling and seeing a shroud of darkness that threatens to envelope our world.  That darkness is fear.  President Franklin Delanor Roosevelt once said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”  I see fear creeping into every part of our lives.  I see it in our schools, our workplaces, our neighborhoods, our families.  I see it in the way we interact with each other.  I even see it in our churches.  The scent of fear seems everywhere.

Frankly, I can understand it.  Mass shootings seeminlgy every week.  Terrorist attacks at home and abroad.  War and conflict that seems to be never ending.  Rhetoric from politicians and the media that inflame and stoke our deepest fears and insecruties.  Family strife, cancer and other health issues, natural disasters, tragedy and death.  With all of this and more occuring, no wonder we have started to live as people enveloped and consumed by fear. It seems that the light has almost gone out in the world.

As Yoda once said in the Star Wars movies, “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.”  And that is what troubles me so much.  Fear will always be there but now we are letting it rule us, we are letting it guide our actions and betraying our own selves.  Fear is making us target people different than us and having people put forth proposals that would have made the Nazi’s proud.  Fear is starting to make us turn on the concept of religious freedom which America is founded on.  Fear is starting to make us suspect our neighbors and to shut down dialog with people that think differently than us.  We think of people with different views from us as our enemy.  We are starting to deal in absolutes instead of listening to each other and trying to understand each other.

Even worse, we are starting to betray our own faith as disciples of Jesus Christ.  Christ came to shine light into darkness and to drive away fear and to bring hope.  Instead of seeing the best of each other, instead of looking at the world of eyes of compassion and grace, we are seeing only the worst of each other and having no compassion.  We are not living in hope, a hope that comes in trusting and believing in something greater than ourselves.  We are forgetting that we are all our God’s children, all of us, and that instead of fear we are to bring love, forgiveness, grace, and hope to a world that needs it.

Jesus tells us to be the light of the world, to be the Christmas lights that shine brightly in the darkness.  And we need to proclaim a voice of hope in a world that is steadlily losing it.  We need to stand up to hate, to bigotry in all its forms.  We are called to welcome the orphan and the stranger, the hopeless and the sinner.  We are callled to proclaim peace and to serve ALL in need.  We are called to proclaim something greater than fear: hope.  We can proclaim hope because we belong to Christ.  Jesus says to us in John 14, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

The prophet Isaiah proclaims God’s word in chapter 43 when he says, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” “YOU ARE MINE.”  We belong to God and because of this, fear cannot and should not rule us.  We have nothing to fear because Christ has taken care of everything.  The angels sing and the shephereds rejoice in the Christmas story because the Messiah has come to destroy fear, sin, and death.  As it says in John 1, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

Do not let darkness overcome this world, people of God.  Do not fear and hate become the norm.  Shine your light.  Proclaim the Good New of Christ and the love of God for all people.  Remind others that our nature is not fear but compassion, grace, and love.  Be that house full of Christmas lights that gives a little joy.  Shine brightly trusting and knowing that you belong to your Savior who has given everything for you.  As it says in again in Isaiah 43, “Dor not fear, for I am with you.”  For that we can say, “Thanks be to God!”

Have a very Merry Christmas!  Let your light shine!