It was Christmas Eve, and I was not done with my Christmas shopping. So I got in the car and headed out. Driving to the mall was horrible. Driving through the mall parking lot was even worse. Once in the store, the aisles were crowded. I searched and searched, found what I wanted, and headed to the long cashier lines.
In front of me were a couple women much more frustrated than I. Exasperated, one of them huffed to the other, “I just can’t wait till blankety-blank Christmas is over!!” I think she was missing something about Christmas. She was belting out loud what a lot of people feel.
Christmas can become a burden or a drudgery, too many same-same parties, too many gift obligations. This might be you. It is definitely some people you work with, or friends you hang out with, family you love and pray for, or a lonely neighbor.
If I were Dr. December, I would offer a prescription to the worn-out woman in the shopping line; to your searching coworker, friend, family member and neighbor; and to your heart if it’s heavy. I would prescribe a Silent Night; some Joy to the World; a pilgrimage to far Away in a Manger, in O Little Town of Bethlehem, where Of the Father’s Love Begotten an Infant Holy, Infant Lowly was born for you and for me. I would prescribe a late night encounter with Angels We Have Heard on High announcing God Rest You, Merry! (pssst…This song is saying that God wants to make you merry, not that God wants to give rest to merry gentlemen.) God did not give us Christmas as a sentimental holiday In the Bleak Midwinter. The core of Christmas is Mary’s Boy Child.
These are the things that I Wonder As I Wander. And when I kneel on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, I will whisper in wonder, “What Child Is This?”
I have two pleas for you this month: 1) O, Come All Ye Faithful. 2) Who can you invite and bring with you to hear some great Christmas music and to encounter Jesus as the meaning of Christmas?
God makes dreams come true…because God has already planted dreams in your heart.
As a kid, I longed to be a football player, an opera singer or a firefighter. Kind of a strange list but there you have it. I would walk around singing Handel’s Messiah at the top of my lungs. My brother would say, “Mom, make Ben be quiet.” No, I will never be an opera singer, and it is rather obvious that God did not create me to be a professional football player.
I had also given up on becoming a firefighter. But God had not. In October I was made an officer of the Audubon Fire Department—Chaplain. I have the privilege of serving alongside some of the bravest people you will ever meet. Every day they report for work to offices, farms, businesses and government facilities. At a moment’s notice, they abandon their paid duty stations to save someone’s life. They do not look to me to run into a burning building or drive an ambulance. But I have met them at the hospital, and I will follow them to a fire.
It was surprisingly emotional when I first tried on my vest that reads: CHAPLAIN. After so many years, the dream of serving with a fire department was dead, dead and gone. However, whatever God starts, he can finish. God knows how he wired you. He knows what gives you joy. He knows the calling he has on your life.
Step one was yielding my will to Jesus. Step two? That is up to Jesus. It may look different from someone else. He will guide you along straight, and sometimes winding paths, to bring you to a place you have dreamed about. Maybe given up on ever reaching.
God promised his exiled, hopeless, people, “Surely I know the plans I have for you…plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). How do we connect with these perfect plans? Two sentences later he offers us the secret, “Seek me with all your heart.”
What dream is God seeking to fulfill in your life?
Pastor Ben Unseth
Someone came by my office and said, “Your message on Sunday made me want to open up the Bible and read it!” That is exactly why I am at Our Saviour’s. I want you to fall in love with Jesus all over again…or for the first time. When God stirs up individuals, congregations or nations, it begins with God’s people opening our hearts through the Bible and prayer.
This summer a pastor told me, “God has made the Bible enjoyable for me again.” I do not know if that makes you want to laugh or cry—a pastor liking God’s Word “again.” I appreciate his honesty. He is a faithful servant, and God has blessed his ministry. However, on the inside he was functioning from duty and obedience. Then he put himself into a new fellowship and Bible study group, and God has renewed his joy.
I cannot imagine any parent at Our Saviour’s coming home after work and ordering, “No more smiling. There’s too much happiness around here. We need to look serious all the time.” God calls us his children, and the Father finds joy in your joy. Jesus said, “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9-11).
The best gift God can give us is a sense of his presence day by day, confidence of his love toward us. Ask God to show up in your life! Then, respond when he does.
What is the next best gift you can imagine from God? Ask God for that too—whatever is in your heart. He wants to bless you and make you a channel of blessing to the people in your circle of influence.
How will I know what to ask him for? On your own, read God’s Word and pray daily. Set aside a slot in your daily schedule—a dedicated time in a dedicated place. (In September, I pointed to Genesis; that book is still great. The book of Job is challenging, but if you read it in October with our Sunday messages to boost you along, you will see yourself and God in Job’s story.) Just like my bored pastor friend, join a group that meets to read God’s Word and pray. Women: you have several groups to choose from at Our Saviour’s. Men: join us at 7:00 a.m. Tuesdays, starting on October 2nd! Share your life with people who will encourage you in Jesus.
I want you to fall in love with Jesus all over again…or for the first time.
Blessed to be with you,
Pastor Ben Unseth
Iowa is where I am from, and finally, Iowa is where I am. Even our DMV officials are friendly and helpful!
Right where I belong. That is a great feeling. That describes my heart as I walk through Audubon City Park, enjoy a meal with new friends downtown, and especially as I gather with you to worship as Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church.
Right where I belong. That is how I want you to feel with Our Saviour’s. If we are honest, people come to church for very different reasons. Some of us simply find joy in coming together in the presence of Christ. I aim to keep that going for you. Some of us come to church because we feel like we have to–for social, business or family reasons. I hope to see that change; I want you to begin experiencing Sunday worship as the highlight of your week. Talk to me about it. Some of us come to church now and then, hoping God exists and church is not a fraud. I pray that God will blow on that ember of yearning so that you will experience life as you have only dreamed it could be. I long for you to tell me, “Finally, I am right where I belong.”
You may have asked yourself: What is an interim pastor? For the next 12-18 months I have the tremendous privilege of serving as the bridge to the next long-term pastor. As an intentional interim minister, I see my role as twofold—Conservationist and Catalyst. As Conservationist, I am here to encourage and preserve ministry. I did not come to Our Saviour’s to remake it in my mold. I am with you to strengthen what is good, to keep what is best.
As Catalyst, I open the door for a congregation to consider, plan and implement change. I invite you to tell me about our strengths and weaknesses, our achievements and our conflicts. Tell me about your dreams for the future of our church. I ask lots of questions, such as: When people visit for the first time, what are their challenges? Or, does this policy help us fulfill our mission?
I am here to affirm Our Saviour’s in cultivating and strengthening our best practices. I am here to empower you to discuss and reconsider whatever is not helping us fulfill our mission. I am here to prepare Our Saviour’s to welcome and to thrive with its new long-term pastor.
Blessed to be with you,
Dear friends in Christ,
It is a difficult task to say goodbye to the Our Saviour’s Lutheran faith family after serving with you in ministry and mission since August of 2010. Julie and I want to express our heartfelt appreciation for all you have done with us and for us. Your prayers, your presence, your friendship have all been truly amazing and a blessing beyond measure.
As our time together comes to a close there are numerous people to thank and a multitude of highlights that I believe give us reason for rejoicing. Throughout our time together God has provided me the privilege of being your servant-leader, to partner in ministry and mission with a talented and committed staff, a hard-working, faithful and delightful team of congregational leaders, and a wonderful family of believers I have come to love and appreciate.
Yes, throughout the years there have been challenges we have faced as a congregation, but let me say that, for me, the joys of our time together far outweigh the difficulties we have experienced. I want to encourage everyone not to lose sight of what God has in mind for each new day he blesses us with. Be diligent in discerning the Lord’s will for your life, for your family, and for your faith family. Live your life for the Lord, giving sacrificially in response to what our gracious God has first given you!
God bless all of you and the investment of your precious time, talents and treasures in your future ministry and mission together. In closing I leave you with these words from our Lord, the Apostle Paul writing to the Christian community in Colossae: “For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.” Colossians 1:9-12
In His Service,
Pastor Doug Opp