October 2, 2021

Dear Prairie Avenue Family,

Fourth Quarter 2021 has begun! Can you believe only three months till 2022? How do you perceive the future? With hope? With dread? With a blend of the two? Recent COVID reports indicate that the delta surge has peaked and is gradually in decline. While there are other variants circulating, we seem to not have an aggressive strain pending in the near future. After plateauing and slowing, vaccination rates are increasing again, as sadly, more people have personal stories of suffering and anguish, whether themselves or someone close to them dealing with COVID. We can deny and excuse, doubt and ridicule until it impacts our homegroup. Then it becomes "real."

Our last encounter with exploring what it means to have a good life is this Sunday. And it deals with suffering and anguish. Perhaps one of the most familiar (and often misunderstood) stories of unmerited and undeserved suffering: the book of Job.

Most of us operate in the way that Scripture tends to view suffering and pain: blessings come from obedience, curses come from disobedience. It is true most of the time: consequences happen in how you direct your life and affairs. But the key is most. Job, much like the character, stands against this rewards and punishment system. Job has all the things for a good life: a good reputation, a successful business, a large family, and good health. All of these things are taken from him without any explanation. When the operating system breaks down, where do you turn? When the pattern of life is upended, what do you hold on to? In bad days as well as good ones?

We begin a new worship series, a new book study, and our stewardship campaign for 2022 in the next couple of weeks. More about that to come.

Worship This Sunday:
A Good Life: A Good Practice
The faithfulness of Job. It is more about endurance than faith. You can have a stellar reputation, educational acumen, a cause to work for, and sense of purpose and yet have it all not matter in the midst of an unexpected misfortune. Job is confronted with the kinds of misfortunes we fear most: personal, financial, and physical. He loses his children in a building collapse. His economic livelihood is stolen by bandits. And then sores from feet to the top of his head. Yet all Job wants is not a return of good fortune, but an explanation from God alone. His wife responds how many have when God has seemingly turned away and they have encountered misfortune they expected to be exempted from; they curse God and die. Job sees this as foolish.

His friends arrive, like vultures hovering above roadkill, with tired cliches and unsolicited advice. All of it affirming the presumption of misfortune as the outcome of disobedience. Job refuses to accept scripture quotes and aphorisms. He protests and prays.

What Job reveals is an unexpected truth: suffering often draws us to encounter God rather than run away. Suffering makes us reexamine our lives, our beliefs, our habits and structures for faults. Job is right not to curse God in the midst of this. Job is also right in seeking an explanation. Ironically, an explanation never appears (although the strange God's court meeting in the second chapter reveals the Satan as challenging God to permit misfortune in Job's life to reveal Job's motives).

Job did not have an unassailable faith: it was challenged and he protested. Yet he did not sin. Whether good day or bad, he sought God. In the midst of suffering, God shows up. While we should not seek suffering, neither shall we believe that suffering is necessarily God's will or purpose. The foundation of Job's relationship with God remained when nothing else was present. In seeking God daily, we may find him on the bad days even more than the best day.

Happy Birthday Prairie Avenue Reception following 9:30 Worship
We will gather in the parlor following 9:30 am worship for a little cake and refreshment (unfortunately there is not a digital on-line option for this) to celebrate the recent milestone of Prairie Avenue's 97th Birthday.

Beginning next Sunday, we will begin a discipleship series on a consecutive series of passages from the gospel of Mark. Jesus calls his followers to "take up their cross and follow me." In the tenth chapter of Mark, we will first encounter a man who has many possessions that will keep him from picking up the cross. Secondly, two disciples, James and John, while following Jesus, want the first pick of executive offices, without understanding what genuine office holders in the kingdom of God should seek: servanthood. Finally, we meet Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, who does everything a cross-bearing follower of Jesus ought to do.

Cost of Discipleship Book Study Begins October 10
To explore the subject of discipleship further, I am going to lead a book discussion on The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The Cost of Discipleship is a compelling statement of the demands of sacrifice and ethical consistency from a man whose life and thought were exemplary articulations of a new type of leadership inspired by the Gospel, and imbued with the spirit of Christian humanism and a creative sense of civic duty.

We are looking at creating an online and in-person group classroom for this study. Details will be forthcoming for those who would be interested in joining the study via online. I encourage you to check out the book from your local library, or purchase a copy from your favorite bookstore or online retailer. Copies can be purchased for less than $20.

2022 Stewardship Campaign Begins
Beginning this month we anticipate with joy the abundant blessings God has already shared with us and strengthening our response to what God is calling Prairie Avenue Christian Church to be in the coming year. A thank you and updated contributions report should be arriving in your mailbox this coming week.

Many things have changed in our COVID-19 habits. The deacons no longer pass the offering plates in worship, but a moment for stewardship and receiving our gifts still happens each week. It is your faithful generosity that makes our ministry and outreach, our gospel and fellowship, happen.

As we approach a time of reflection and consideration of God's gracious favors upon our faith community, I share our giving record with you.

It is not without fear or trembling. What if, in your eyes, I give too little, and then I feel ashamed? What if, in your eyes, I give too much, and then you feel ashamed? But if we are going to get beyond shame entirely, we must move through it; and if I am going to ask you to be open with me, then I must be open with you.

We give more than 10% of our income to the church and other charities and organizations we support. I must model what I encourage others to consider. In spite of Amanda losing her state of Illinois job last year and accepting a position with less pay and fewer benefits, we remained committed to demonstrating generosity through our finances, even increasing our pledge to Prairie Avenue to $100 a week. This year marks our sixth year of such commitment. It took us years of deciding what really matters to us, and the realization those things that matter always require commitments of time, talent, and treasure. C.S. Lewis said that Christians are called to give away so much that it pinches--that we can't do everything we'd like to do, because we've been so generous with others. And we discovered sharing our resources to help others or buying additional items to help Prairie Avenue serve its mission has become not just what we like to do, but what we love to do.

Amanda has since returned to the state of Illinois workforce, starting in the Department of Human Services on September 1.

We are including Prairie Avenue in our estate plan and will (please get a will!) and we want this church to transform our legacy into the kind of love that only a church can truly offer.

Why do we give? We give because God tells us to, because we know it is not ours to begin with. But we also give because we believe in the mission and efforts happening in the places and people we are supporting: the university where we met and were provided valuable financial aid to achieve becoming the first college graduates in our family histories; the seminary where I received the best theological education and faith formation experiences of my life; and this place that is filled with loving people, servant people, changed people who realize the grace of God, the love of Jesus Christ, and seek to help others find what they have already found.

Our giving does add a little strain, but as a good exercise program, my spiritual health is better for doing it. It hurts a little, but it feels so good, too. It is in how we manage our time, our talents, and our treasure, each given by God to be shared in God's glory, that we demonstrate God's love for others.

Invite friends to join you for worship
this weekend, in person, online
In-person on Sunday mornings at 8 am or 9:30 am. Masks are encouraged regardless of vaccination status if social distancing cannot be kept.
Online at prairieavenuechristianchurch.org, and Facebook Live Sunday at 8 am or 9:30 am.

See you this weekend online or in person,

Blessings to you all,
As a church family, we care for and pray for one another.

As a matter of online privacy, we will only disclose public sympathy to a church friend or family member whose passing has also been publicly disclosed.

The Family of Barbara Kater, who passed September 7, 2021
The Family of Darla Sue Lienemann, who passed September 26, 2021

If you would like prayer, please submit your prayer request online, and Pastor Jason and prayer team members will pray for you.
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