Have you ever had your phone working but not quite right, dropping calls and apps suddenly closing? Sometimes the best thing is to reset the phone! On my phone, that means pressing the power button at the same time as the up-volume button. Then, I swipe "Turn off" and the phone powers down. I wait a bit and then press the power button and the phone turns on again--and, voila, it seems to work like new!
The New Year can be like a reset in our lives. We make resolutions to change; we redouble our efforts for a healthier lifestyle; we make new plans. We clean out the cache of last year so we are able to receive the blessings and the challenges of the new year. What are you going to "reset" in 2024?
All this is well and good, as long as we keep it in perspective that our own capacity to reset lasts, well, about as long as a cellphone in 2023. In this life, we will always struggle with the Old Adam in us, our struggle with the sinful, selfish disease that infects every human being. This doesn't mean we abandon the struggle or avoid resets to our lives, but that we acknowledge their effect is temporary.
Our eternal hope is always in Christ, who on the cross reset humanity's relationship with God. The Holy Spirit is our strength in our struggle with Sin, and our guide even as we seek re-starts in any year, no matter how temporary. Look to Christ, dear friends! He truly clears out the habits, inclinations, and thoughts that draw us away from God!
St. John's Council approved a sabbatical for me this summer, May 20-Aug 30, 2024. A "sabbatical" is an opportunity for both pastor and congregation to reset, evaluate, and renew God's priorities for our ministry together. It is not a vacation or just “time off”, but a series of activities designed for renewal.
One part of my renewal will be a trip in the footsteps of Paul through Turkey and Greece. As I experience where Paul first shared the Good News of Jesus, my prayer is God will renew my creativity for sharing the Gospel. Another part will be time in the White Mountains of Arizona in prayer and reflection on building relationships. I am grateful that St. John's is allowing this time of renewal!
But the time of renewal is also for the congregation. Sundays Feb 18 and 25 at 9:45am during the adult forum, we'll brainstorm renewal activities for the congregation. We as a congregation are just beginning to emerge from the pandemic. We developed habits and ways of thinking during the pandemic that helped St. John's survive and even thrive. But are these the best long-term strategies? The sabbatical will be a chance to reset, to step back and pray for the Holy Spirit to clear away the things we don't need and open us up to the future.
There are many areas for the congregation to consider during this sabbatical. For example, during the Pandemic, Phoenix-area Lutheran Youth (PhLY) led by Casey Goslin was "magical," as one youth called it. Casey has now moved on to lead the West Valley Young Adult Ministry for people ages 18-35, but the need is still there to help junior and senior youth build relationships with God and each other. A new program, NextGen will start January 6 (see elsewhere in the Newsletter), but the bigger question is: where is the Holy Spirit leading youth ministry at St. John's? Please take some time to ask God in prayer: how can you help young people know the living love of God in Christ?
As 2024 begins, may God press reset and fill us with creativity and passion as we face the new year!
Blessed New Year to you and those you love!