Our pastors thoughts on many of today’s events

Dear FPC—
Hurricane force winds in Utah! Seriously? I’ve about had it with 2020! My prayer is that you are safe and well and have your power on. I’m staggered as I go around town and see the scope and breadth of the destruction. It is really amazing that more people were not hurt and that more homes were not damaged. Trees mostly seemed to find a way to fall on the street or the yard. At our house we are still waiting (on Thursday afternoon) for a return of power. That means out with the stuff in the refrigerator, it means chilly mornings as we get out of bed, it means gratitude for candles in the evenings. And for Kindles! There is a big pine tree in our neighbor’s yard just north of our lot. Because of the slope of the hill, that tree’s roots are above the roof of our house—it just sits up above the retaining wall at the back of the lot. Thank God that tree is still standing up there and not lying down with us!
So on one hand I am very grateful that we have gotten off with so little damage. At the same time, I am reminded of how much we rely on electricity, cable, internet, hot water, heating and air conditioning, etc. All of those things need power to work. One wire down disrupts so many things! It is the same with our relationship with God. When we clear the way and reach out, God’s Spirit pours through us, and empowers us, just as we talked about last Sunday. But it is easy for the storms of life (or our own distractions) to “disrupt the service.” Then we sit around wondering why things aren’t working! We all need Spirit power at work in our lives every day! I encourage you to daily invite God into whatever you are doing today. Just a simple prayer can make a huge difference. Something like: “Good morning Lord Jesus! Please be with me today and use me in all that I do today. Amen.” Let’s turn the power on in our lives!
This Sunday we will be welcoming new members into our congregation and talking about the importance of prayer in our lives, including the importance of praying for each other. I hope you can join us!

May you feel God’s blessings to you through whatever storms may bring—

Pastor Steve

Labor Day Weekend—for me that means the end of summer and the beginning of fall—a new school year, a new church program year, a new rhythm of life, work, play, rest and worship. The beginnings are at least as important as the ending. For years when I lived in Seattle there was a big music festival over Labor Day weekend—we marked the end of the summer with a bang! Alice called them my ‘high holy days’! Three or four days of music spread across 6 or 7 stages at the Seattle Center. It was fun and exhausting! I think some kind of celebration to mark the change of season is good—are you doing anything this Labor Day?
As I look ahead to the fall, I am excited. We are welcoming new members on September 13 (can you imagine, new members in the midst of a pandemic?). Our session approved our mission study and we have submitted it to the presbytery for their approval. The next step is electing a Pastor Nominating Committee. Your nominating committee is already at work on this, and we will announce a congregational meeting soon for the election. You should expect the search process to take something like 6 to 9 months (but it could be more or less—the key thing is finding the person God is calling to lead FPC in this time).
We launch Immerse on September 20. I hope you will sign up to join an Immerse Group for this 8 week period! Whether you are a relative stranger to the Bible or it is an old friend, this experience could reshape your faith. Don’t miss out! Get more information and sign up here: http://fpcslc.org/immerse/
Finally, our session is reviewing the reopening task force recommendations this coming week. Please be in prayer for wisdom and discernment as we look for how and when we can worship together physically. Of course, we will continue to worship on line throughout as well and will keep you informed of all developments.

Blessings to you as we say farewell to summer and welcome to a new season of growing closer and walking with Jesus!

Pastor Steve

Dear FPC—
I can’t believe it is August 20. It feels like August just started! Even in the middle of this weird summer the sudden rush up to September seems to be happening. All around the church there is a drumbeat of progress and forward movement. Your mission study team is meeting TODAY and hopes to finish its work on the mission study. The next steps are for our Session and the Presbytery’s Committee on Ministry to approve it. Your Reopening Task Force is finalizing its recommendations to Session with a plan and metrics for when and how to do a phased reopening. Session meets next week with a full agenda!
Then coming quickly after that, starting one month from today is Immerse—our congregation-wide read through the New Testament. You’ll find information, resources and more on our website very soon. A key part of this experience is talking about what you are reading with others—joining a group. Some of our existing groups are choosing to discuss Immerse together during this 8 weeks, and others are forming new “book clubs” to discuss. Either way, I hope you will join a group. What a great way to connect with others and to learn from one another!
This Sunday in worship we will turn to Paul’s remarkable description of Jesus’ Upside Down Victory. I hope you can join us in worship—either live on Facebook Live OR YouTube, or whenever is convenient for you during the week.

Blessings to you as the drumbeat of September builds for all of us!

Pastor Steve

Dear FPC—
Happy Pioneer Day! I hope you enjoy some fireworks, some pie, and possibly a cold beverage—all at a safe distance from people outside your “bubble” of course! I am inspired by the pioneers—they risked everything for a new life in an uncertain country. Civil rights pioneers are similar—risking even their lives for the hope of a better, more just society. Rep. John Lewis, who passed away last week, once said: “Freedom is not a state; it is an act. It is not some enchanted garden perched high on a distant plateau where we can finally sit down and rest. Freedom is the continuous action we all must take, and each generation must do its part to create an even more fair, more just society.”
Our life of faith is kind of like that too. We are called to be pioneers—leaving the “safety” (illusory as it may be) of what we are used to so that we can live into a new life with Jesus. Like Lewis’ description of freedom, it is not a single, once-upon-a-time decision but a continuous choice to walk with Jesus in the current moment. This Sunday we will see the contrast between the way of death and the way of life that Jesus offers. I hope you can join us. Then in August we will be looking in more depth at this New Life In Christ, led by Paul’s little letter to the Colossians.
Blessings and courage to you as we venture out towards this new life!

Pastor Steve

Dear FPC—
Do you find yourself grateful or grousing more often these days? I was struck by a quote a son of FPC posted today on Facebook—happiness does not make us grateful, gratitude makes us happy. I remember James Baird as a kid, and here he is teaching me! Developing a practice of gratitude is a very powerful way to reshape your experience of life. Thank you Pastor James!
Dallas Willard was one of the spiritual giants of the last 70 years. While he was a professional philosopher, his spiritual advice was often very pithy. Pastor John Ortberg once asked Willard how to become more spiritually healthy. Willard paused a long time and then eventually said: “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” Great, Ortberg said, got it, what’s next? “There is nothing else,” Willard responded. “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” I wonder if we have been able to eliminate at least some hurry during this time of pandemic.
Today I heard another story about Willard’s advice. Todd Hunter once was complaining to Willard about various circumstances of his life. You know—the way that we all do—”I’ve got too many meetings, I’m overwhelmed, these people are driving me crazy,” etc. Dallas responded by saying “You have got to discover the love of God in your actual life.”
We have to discover the love of God in our actual life. The place we encounter God’s life changing love is right here—in our everyday life right now. What is happening in your life today? Worried about COVID? Maybe you can be grateful for a day of health and strong lungs. Anxious about tomorrow? Maybe you can be grateful for provision for today. Exhausted from an endless stream of Zoom meetings? Maybe you can find someone to bless in those meetings. Irritated by someone close to you? Maybe you can surprise them by being helpful to them or by sharing your gratitude for them.
Look for the ways God’s love is showing up in your life right now. And look for the ways you can share His Love today. We don’t have to waste our time griping, we can join in God’s amazing plan for our lives! Just turn your focus out from yourself and onto what God is doing and the needs He’s put around you for you to help with!
May you be blest to be a blessing this week!

Pastor Steve

Dear FPC—
How are you doing? We all are tired of the pandemic, and yet the risk of catching COVID 19 in our community is much higher than ever before. That is discouraging. All of us are sick of having our lives disrupted, worried about jobs and the economy, and anxious about getting sick ourselves. Then there is social injustice and unrest and political fights. It is crummy! It is ok to say that! You can say it to God too! About 40% of the psalms in the Bible are laments—lifting up our sorrowful situation to almighty God. Lament is our natural response to asking “Why” and getting no clear answer. I invite you to pray some lament psalms to expand your vocabulary of what feels ok to say to God. Try Psalm 10 (“Why do you stand so far off, O Lord, and hide your face in the time of need and trouble?”), Psalm 13 (“How long will you utterly forget me, O Lord?”), and Psalm 22 (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
Then I encourage you to close your prayer time with Psalm 19. It reminds us of God’s amazing work in nature, in His Word, and our response to our loving God—ending with “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” Amen! We can bring our fears, our sorrows, our anxiety to our rock solid redeemer God and we can re-center ourselves in the reality of God’s love and power and faithfulness.

Lord—we praise you—the one who enters into our sorrow and our pain, who bears the hurt of the world on your shoulders. Give us patience. Give us hope. Give us energy. Help us to move through and beyond our shut in feelings and reach out in love to those you have put around us. Help us to pick up the phone and to reach out in love. In Jesus’ name we ask it. Amen.

I am praying for you all and am thanking God for the blessing you are—to me, to one another, and to the world. Let’s unleash the power of God’s love in our neighborhoods!

Grace and Peace to you!

Pastor Steve

Dear FPC—
Happy July! That means that the first half of 2020 is over! Frankly, I’m ready to move on to something new . But, of course actual events—pandemics, systemic racism, economic turmoil, political disputes, etc. – don’t care about our turning over the page on a calendar. So our lives today look a lot like our lives last week for most of us.
I am encouraged by your broad engagement with our book study on Race Talk. We had over 50 people involved and everyone was very open and honest in their reflections, which I really respect. I am hopeful that we will all learn some new things about ourselves and about how our society has embedded racism in some surprising ways that most of us are unaware of. My prayer for this time is that each of us will learn something about ourselves and become more open to listening and learning from others, especially others from differing backgrounds.
Of course, many of you are not able or inspired to join an 8 week book group. That is of course fine! But, we have gathered some resources that any of us could find helpful. They are on the Resources for Anti-Racism page on our website. http://fpcslc.org/anti-racism-resources/
Some of these were shared by some members of the congregation! If you have other resources you think would be helpful, please feel free to let Pastor Chris and I know about them.
Have a safe and happy Fourth of July. For all of our challenges, it is good to celebrate our country and the aspirations of freedom, equal justice for all, and opportunities for life, liberty and happiness that it still points us towards.

This Sunday we will be looking at the surprising power of forgiveness and mercy. That kind of power is sorely needed today. As Abe Lincoln once said—do I not destroy my enemies by making them my friends? If you really want change in our world, we need to start making friends, one person at a time.

God bless you!

Pastor Steve

Dear FPC:
Last Sunday we saw God’s expansive welcome—sending us out into the streets, the alleys, the highways and the hedges to invite all kinds of people to his banquet. Do you think of being with God as a party? The Bible often describes it as a great party—a banquet or a wedding feast. Our future is not an unending pew sitting, it is a rich, sumptuous celebration! I hope that none of us miss out!
This Sunday we are talking about how far God will go to bring each one of us home. I think you might be surprised! One of the big questions our society is facing today is who is included in the “us.” We are wired to look for differences and to treat people who are different from ourselves as “the other.” As not part of “us.” My question for you is where do you think Jesus would draw the line between us and them? Who is our neighbor that we are called to love?
Do those questions make you uncomfortable? I have to admit that they often unsettle me. Let’s walk together as we let Jesus disrupt us!
Grace and peace to you this week!

Pastor Steve

Dear FPC—
The other day Alice looked outside and said “what a beautiful fall day!” I think we will be back to summer by the weekend, but how strange that we have had this run of cooler weather (and how about that rain the other day!?).
All of this reminds me—even though it is still June, Fall is coming. We are making plans—not just for VBS and youth service projects, but for our fall programing, the Scottish Festival, and more. Of course all of those plans are impacted by the continued uncertainty of the coronavirus. Pastor Chris, the Session and I all appreciate your prayers as we navigate these uncharted waters.
A great thing about our faith is that even when our times are uncertain (as they really always are!), we can trust that our lives are held tightly by our loving Savior Jesus. We are not doing any of this alone, and we are in good hands. That is a powerful and encouraging truth. I hope you feel its impact. Pastor Chris and I (and your deacons!) are available to visit with you and talk through the challenges you are facing.
But, we are constantly reminded that we are not just recipients of good news, we are supposed to be conduits of it! We are blessed to be a blessing. One way you can do that is to let your neighbors know that you are there for them. Walk to your neighbors and drop off a note (or one of our Neighbors Helping Neighbors door hangers) with your name and phone number (or email if you prefer) and let them know that you are there—willing to listen, to pray, to help if you can.
I’ve heard from many people how good they feel when our calling tree checks in with them. All of us love to be remembered and included. So—pass that blessing of remembering and including on to your neighbors!
Let’s transform our neighborhoods by being the helping neighbors!
This Sunday we will be looking in worship at God’s extravagant invitation and what it means for us. Don’t let the busy-ness of life distract you from the meaning of life!

Grace, peace and joy to you from our Lord Jesus!

Pastor Steve

Dear FPC—

Suddenly racism is on everyone’s mind.  Many people’s reaction is “Racism?  Not my problem!”  With respect, it really is our problem.  People of color are the victims of the racism of white people—both conscious and unconscious racism.  Our brothers and sisters have been mistreated and even killed for years and we are mostly ignoring it.  That is a serious problem.  

The starting place is for us to listen and to learn.  Here are two videos that I highly recommend you watch and one very short thing to read: 
Deconstructing White Privilege by Dr. Robin DiAngelo.  This is a very accessible 22 minute talk that could change how you look at the world.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=DwIx3KQer54
Racism and Corporate Evil:  A White Guy’s Perspective—a sermon by Tim Keller.  In 26 minutes Rev Keller shows how we should care about group (corporate) and systemic evil, how we are sometimes unwittingly part of it, and how we can change. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EhJJcTKTVGo  
Here is some advice from a black pastor: To all of my non-Black friends who are sincerely asking “what do I do?” While there are so many answers to that question, the best starting place is to draw near and “mourn with those who mourn.” It is PROXIMITY that moves us from apathy to EMPATHY. Our Empathy moves us to ENGAGEMENT and the aim of quality ENGAGEMENT is always EQUITY! #kingdomleaders #georgefloyd
 
Pastor Chris will be introducing a great opportunity for all of us to learn on Sunday as well, so don’t miss that.   Finally, Intervarsity Press is making a number of books about Justice available for FREE https://www.ivpress.com/pages/resources-for-faithful-justice  I particularly recommend “Disunity in Christ” 

Thanks for listening and for risking connecting about this important issue.  
 
Pastor Steve