Our pastors thoughts on many of today’s events

Dear FPC—
How are you holding up? Many of us are feeling a little worn down, worn out, or stretched thin by pandemic that won’t go away. If house guests, like fish, start to smell after a few days, this uninvited guest has truly worn out its welcome!
Please know that your pastors are praying for you and that we and your session are planning both for continuing our ministry together through this time and planning for that day when the pandemic is in the rearview mirror (yes, that day is coming!). God is still in control and still at work— we can trust Him.
This Sunday we will be looking at how Jesus transforms things. Sometimes he transforms our circumstances and sometimes he transforms us. Either way it is for our good and for God’s glory. How might Jesus be transforming you and your circumstances right now? What could you bring out of this time of pandemic that is valuable and that will help you love God and others better?
I hope you can join us in worship on Sunday, either in person or online as we see some of the surprising changes Jesus can bring!
Hope, trust in God, do not fear!

Pastor Steve

Dear FPC—
How are you doing with Numbers? This week we are getting into Deuteronomy—our last book in Immerse Beginnings! It is easy to see the big differences between us and the life described in the Torah—we don’t live in tents in a desert, we don’t sacrifice animals, our culture and society are very different. But I want to encourage you to think about how we are SIMLAR to the Israelites. One thing that has really struck me is how ungrateful these people are. Time after time we find them complaining. Griping about not having the same food as in Egypt, even as they are eating food God miraculously gives them everyday! They had gotten used to miracle manna each morning, and miracle water from the rock, and miracle quail falling from the sky. And still they found ways to complain and gripe and be ungrateful!
Are we really different? Alice told me that she had been feeling ungrateful lately. Then (after reading Numbers! And talking with her Immerse Group!) she noticed that actually God has incredibly gracious to us. Let’s just look at our congregation—we are healthy and moving through this pandemic together and moving out on mission in powerful ways.
We have pulled together to make homewarming kits for refugees and people moving out of homelessness.
Over 2000 people have watched our Kirkin service online!
Our capital campaign is off to a powerful beginning with over 575,000 dollars ALREADY pledged towards our goal of 2 million!
Our congregation is moving out of two years of pandemic disruption in good spiritual, emotional and financial health
We have refreshed our Fellowship Hall and common areas
Our flood caused little damage that can’t be dried out and our roof held under major stress!
We have been blessed by Pastor Chris’ ministry with and to us for almost 8 years and as she begins to plan on moving to the next step in her ministry, we are blessed to have Pastor Bre with us to smooth that transition. How amazing that God brought Bre to us last summer!
I can go on. We have MUCH to be grateful for! Praise God for his goodness to us!
As we approach stewardship time, I hope each of us will focus on what we can be grateful for and respond to God’s loving kindness to us.

I’m praying that each of us can adopt an “attitude of gratitude!”

Pastor Steve

Dear FPC—
Today is a beautiful, sunny day. But several days this week have been quite stormy. Some folks even had trees fall on their homes (so grateful Pastor Chris and Mark are safe and sound!).
Life feels like that too—storms come and can be overwhelming. Later they end, but during the storm it is easy to cry out like Jesus disciples did when they were in a storm on the sea (see Mark 4) –Teacher, don’t you care? This week Lectio 365 reminded me of this teaching—the storms in our lives can uncover our deepest fears, including “does God really care about me?”
The good news is that he does—he will never leave us or forsake us, as the Torah teaches us. Jesus is actually with us in the storms, just like he was with the disciples in the boat. Remember how Jesus responded to the disciples’ cry—Peace, be still! Jesus’ word of peace can change our experience of life’s storms. Lectio 365 gave us this prayer: “Lord Jesus, Yours is the voice that brings peace, freedom and life. There is far more danger in me ignoring Your words than in obeying them. Give me courage to obey You today, come what may.” Amen!
I hope you can join us in worship as we look at what it means to be set apart (holy) so we can live with God.

Pastor Steve

Dear FPC—

What do you do when people are coming over? I know at our house we pick up. We vacuum. We dust. We put things away—we want everything to look nice for our guests. Think how much more you might do if a famous person were coming to visit. What if GOD was coming? This week in Immerse we are reading about what was involved in God coming to live among the Israelites. There is a LOT of getting ready when God is coming!

One of the themes all through the Bible is about God’s desire to live with us – from the Garden, to the tabernacle, to the temple, to Jesus, to the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, to the great end of the story with the coming together of the New Heavens and the New Earth– all of it is about God’s desire to be with us. As we see the laborious detail spelled out in Exodus about building the tabernacle, let’s think about what we do to welcome God into our own lives today.

In some ways our Christian life is about us becoming people in whom God’s Spirit lives. That involves us picking up our trash and cleaning up our mess, and it also involves us being transformed by God’s presence with us. How is being a Christian changing you? How are you different compared to last year because you are following Jesus?
Join us on Sunday as we look at what it means to have God living with us, right now!

Grateful for you—
Pastor Steve

Dear FPC—
I am getting to celebrate my daughter’s delayed wedding reception! They were married in May of 2020, and now finally get to have a party! Of course, even after all this time, they are not getting to have the party they hoped for. Not even what they expected as they starting planning again last spring. Traveling and preparing for the party feels like a bit of normalcy at last, but with constant (and unrelenting) reminders that things are still NOT (at all) normal. It is frustrating. I wish my girl could have something more like what she had dreamed of, but this is the life we have now.
THIS is the life we have NOW! All of us have gotten used to certain disappointments in life—I’m never going to be a rock star or a pro athlete, for example. But we still get to treasure and enjoy the actual life we have. That is part of growing up to be a healthy adult.
We all need to apply that learning to our current circumstances too. The COVID pandemic has upset many, many plans, changed many dreams, and even worse—ended many lives. All of us are sick of it and sick of trying to understand what to do, how to respond, etc. The promise of a more normal summer replaced by a fall with dramatically increased cases and overwhelmed hospitals is frustrating and exhausting.
All of us have versions of the disappointment I feel for my daughter this week, and all of us are struggling with how to cope with that. The desire to just forget about it is strong. So is the temptation to crawl back into our shell. I get it!
But the fact is that God has given us one life— THIS LIFE! We are here to glorify God, to enjoy him, to love and serve our neighbors, and to live in community as best as we can. We do that in whatever circumstances come— sunny day, dry hurricane, earthquake, pestilence, good harvest, drought or plenty— we still are called to follow Jesus out into our community. We are taking some steps as a congregation this fall to try to be loving towards our neighbors and each other in our activities. Like having our community concert online this Saturday. Our hope is these steps will allow us to continue to return to being together while acting responsibly. As we do that though, the key thing is our ATTITUDE!
As I approach this wedding reception, my prayer for my daughter, for myself, and for everyone involved is that we can set aside any sadness about the things we do NOT have and instead be grateful for and enjoy the things we DO have. That is also my prayer for our congregation. As we celebrate the Kirkin, begin to celebrate our 150th anniversary, worship God each week, gather in Immerse Groups, whatever— may we celebrate God’s goodness in all that he has given us. Let’s live these lives that are in front of us now and make the most of them! May we appreciate this life as a gift, not wish for a different life.
In the world we may have times of tribulation, but they are passing. We always have Christ, who has overcome the world and offers us lasting joy and purpose. May you enjoy all of God’s good gifts today!

Choosing joy today—
Pastor Steve

Dear FPC—
Labor Day. What does that mean to you? The end of summer? The end of backyard grilling? The beginning of school? I really appreciate a labor day holiday because it recognized the importance of work in all of our lives. Work is essential to a healthy, well-rounded life, it is not merely a way to make money.
Did you know that God gave people work to do BEFORE the Fall? Yes—while they lived in paradise—the Garden of Eden—Adam and Eve had work to do. Work is a gift from God—it gives us purpose, meaning and a sense of accomplishment. See Genesis 1:28, 2:15, 2:19-20) After the humans rebelled in the garden, then came toil. See Genesis 3:17-19.
Work is a gift from God, toil is the result of our rebellion. I love to celebrate the goodness of work and the blessings of our occupations, avocations, and callings to service. Whether you are working at an education, working in a job, or working after retirement, all of us have Godly labor to do that will bless us and bless those around us. Stop and thank God for the blessings he has given you for work!
Here is prayer about work that my friend Matt Kaemingk wrote in his wonderful book Work and Worship: Reconnecting our Labor and our Liturgy.
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, We gather this morning from all over your city; we gather from the places you’ve called us to serve.
We come with hearts, minds, and hands that are full, Lord, full of stories to tell: stories of praise and thanksgiving, stories of sadness and confession.
Some of us carry urgent requests for you, Lord; we need you to move quickly in our lives and our world.
We carry these things before you, Lord, openly and honestly as an act of love for you and our neighbor.
May all of our offerings be a sacrifice of praise to you this day.
Gather our stories into your story, gather our work into your work, bring our lives into your life.
For you have called us here, Lord, you have carried us, and all these things, to you.
And so we gather, Lord, for worship, not by our power, but by the power of your Spirit; not in our name, but in the name of your Son.
May we, today, be a sacrifice of praise to you. Amen.

Amen! May you and I be a sacrifice of praise to Jesus today! God bless you this week and see you on Sunday!

Pastor Steve

Kaemingk, Matthew; Willson, Cory B.. Work and Worship (p. 216). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Dear FPC—
I am so proud of this congregation! I am grateful for your support and care for our staff, for our building and (most of all!) for our neighbors. Our outdoor worship last weekend was a lovely and meaningful time. The Organ Concert on Sunday was a terrific kickoff to our 150th Anniversary celebration. All of that happened because of YOU. We are collecting items for Homewarming Kits for our Homeless Friends—we are making at least 150 kits in honor of our 150 years of ministry so far. I am also excited about how many of you have already signed up to participate in Immerse Beginnings. There is literally nothing like reading God’s Word—and doing it so we can learn and discuss it together is particularly powerful. It is not too late to sign up and our books are here and available to pick up. We will be doing the first week of readings the week of September 12. I love how our refurbished main floor is looking (thank you Lisa, Shannon, Karla, Mike, Andy and Nathan!! Thank you Squeak Squad!!) and I am astounded at our beautifully refinished sign that is now near the C St main door (thank you Bob Cook!!). Your generosity, hard work and commitment are inspiring.
Many activities are good and a sign of a healthy, vigorous congregation. But busyness is not the goal. Busyness can even be a distraction from the goal! Our goal is to become more like Jesus—to reflect Jesus’ love into the world. Each of us as individuals and all of us as a congregation are called to follow Jesus and let him shape us to be more and more like him. That is why we worship, pray, study the Bible, make sandwiches, make phone calls, reach out to care and more. As we step into this busy fall let’s keep first things first—Jesus, then Others, then You (that spells JOY!). I hope you will set apart special time to pray and read scripture and listen to what Jesus may be calling you to do at this time. Let His Spirit refresh and renew and energize you. As we all get better at stopping, at “wasting time with Jesus”, and at listening for His nudges, who knows what God will do through us! I bet we can make more than 150 homewarming kits!

Thanking God for You!
Pastor Steve

Dear FPC—
School is underway, there is (sometimes!) a little snap in the air, plans for the fall are cranking up. I love the promise of new things! New activities, new people to meet, new experiences. I hope you will join us as we jump into the end of summer and the beginning of fall! Here are just a few things THIS WEEKEND!
Outdoor worship THIS Saturday, up Millcreek Canyon at the Terraces. Bring your own Picnic with a casual time of worship at 6.
Worship on Sunday morning—Pastor Chris will lead us as we see the great story of God’s redemption played out in the end of the Book of Ruth
The 150th Anniversary Organ Concert on Sunday evening at 7 pm—both in person and on line! This will rock your socks off!
Coming up in a few weeks are the Women’s Retreat, the Youth Retreat, the Avenues Street Fair, and the launch of our Immerse Beginnings Study. Actually ALL of those things are the same weekend 🙂 September 10-12! Choose your adventure and join us!

I am excited about Immerse Beginnings. We will get to see the great stories that lay the foundation for the whole Bible and see how God’s rescue mission was put into action so long ago. Visit this page for more information and to order a book or sign up for a group!
Immerse – First Presbyterian Church – Salt Lake City (fpcslc.org)

I can’t wait to see you soon!

Pastor Steve

Dear FPC—
The beginning of School is here. I never really got used to school starting in August, but whether it is now or in two weeks, school, fall, and everything that comes with it are upon us. Even all through my work career (so far!) this time of year has marked the kickoff of a new time of busyness and productivity after a more relaxed summer time.
I know some of our students started school this week (!) and more are starting next week. I have to say that the weather certainly seems to be doing its bit to make it feel like fall!
I am excited about the fall we have coming up at First Pres— Immerse Beginnings (starting September 12), our choir returning from break, the Avenues Street Fair, and most of all, our 150th Anniversary and all of the celebrations we will have as part of that. I hope you will be a part of it!
I came across these prayers for people returning to schools and wanted to share them with you Collect Prayers for Back to School | Churches for the Sake of Others: C4SO

Here are prayers for parents and teachers::

A PRAYER FOR PARENTS
O Lord, you who promise to guide us through the wilderness and to protect us through the storm, we ask that you would make us wise where we cannot clearly see the way forward, make us brave where we feel afraid, make us strong in the face of our weakness, and make possible what to us seems impossible, so that we might joyfully entrust ourselves and our children into your tender care in these trying and troubling times. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

A PRAYER FOR TEACHERS
O Lord, you who have called and equipped the teachers in our community, we pray for them today. Watch over them, provide for them, guide them, sustain them. May you be their sun and shield, so that they might do the work that you have entrusted to them and sense your care in these uncertain times. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
May God bless you in whatever adventures this fall holds for you!
I hope that you can join us in worship on Sunday, where we’ll learn more from Ruth and see how God’s love shows up in unexpected ways.

Pastor Steve

Dear FPC—
Have you ever had enough? You know, just suddenly feel completely overwhelmed? That was me earlier this week. Between the worst air quality in the world, horrible news about climate change, surging COVID cases, increasing uncertainty about delta, lambda and more variants, multiple health crises in family members, discomfort at feeling behind or off kilter in my leadership in various areas at church, and lots of items on my to-do list—I just wanted it to stop! Can you relate?
The truth is that we are all exhausted. We are grieving. We are frightened of all the uncertainty that is around us. Friends—all of those things are NORMAL responses to the abnormal situation we are in. So—what can we do? How do we cope when it feels like the waves will swamp you?
Eugene Peterson gives some great advice: Find the goodness of God in your actual life NOW. Don’t pine for some version of the good old days or wish for the “if only” future—no, look for where God’s goodness is showing up right in the middle of your mess, your stress, your hurt and your exhaustion. The good news is that God’s goodness is there! God will never abandon us (Joshua 1:5-6), and he is with us and for us, despite what our external circumstances look like.
For me finding the goodness of God in my actual life right now started with YOU. I got to call and visit with several of you and it was so refreshing! Seeing how God is acting in and through you, how God uses our community at FPC to encourage and build each other up—it was wonderful! God’s goodness was apparent through the church being the church! Then last night I found myself sitting with Alice in our backyard. Listening to the crickets, looking at the stars, watching for meteors. It was wonderful again! Peaceful, beautiful, a reminder of the majesty of creation, grateful for skies clear enough to see some stars. God’s goodness showed up in creation—once I stopped to pay attention.
You see—God is faithful still. Sometimes we have to work harder than others to find his goodness in our lives—but it is there! This Sunday we are starting the story of Ruth—which begins with a woman in a horrible situation. How does she respond? With desperation and bitterness or with devotion and trust? I hope you can join us to see what happens!

Grateful for God’s goodness (and for you, who reflect it to me so often!),
Pastor Steve