October 23, 2021

Dear Prairie Avenue Family,

We conclude our discipleship series and will soon begin a new series on living life with a sense of abundance. I have a special word to those who remain "absent" from in-person worship, but "present" in obedience to God as we still discover what it means to be faithful in the midst of a pandemic.

Worship This Sunday:
Take Up Your Cross: Ask For Help
We come to the end of our discipleship series this Sunday as we encounter an unlikely model disciple: Bartimaeus. Out of our three different encounters, whether the children who were being pressed towards Jesus and refused entry by the disciples, or the young man with many possessions who marched straight through and proclaimed his desire to do something to receive eternal life, or the request of James and John to have preferred positions of power and rule when Jesus entered as victorious Messiah, it is a blind beggar who reveals discipleship.

Bartimaeus is outside of Jericho, seated along the road to Jerusalem. Crowds are urging him to stay quiet as Jesus passes, but he persists in calling a royal name even louder to get Jesus' attention. Jesus hears and calls him to come. And when Jesus asks the same question as he did when James and John made their demand of glory (What do you want me to do for you?), Bartimaeus responds, "Let me see, again."

Without touching, sight is restored. Unlike the young ruler, Bartimaeus has left his possessions, his cloak, along the road. Unlike James and John (and by extension the other 10 disciples with their anger for not asking before!), Bartimaeus wants mercy, not glory. And when Jesus tells him to go, that his faith (not belief, but rather a persistence) has made him well, Bartimaeus follows Jesus into Jerusalem, where suffering and death are about to unfold.

True Christian maturity is not marked by independence but by a deep awareness of our dependence. Rather than desiring to sit on a throne at Christ's right or left, he wants us to sit in the dirt beside Bartimaeus. We are children of dirt in need of the rain of mercy that falls from his clouds of compassion.

It is telling whose names we know. Other than the 12 (with 14 names) disciples, a few women followers, and family members, most of the people Jesus encounters are nameless. Two poor people are given their names: Lazarus (in the parable with the rich man) and Bartimaeus. Do you know a poor person by name? Do you call them by it (or try like the crowds to keep him away from Jesus)? What will you say when Jesus asks you, "What do you want me to do for you?" More of what you already have, or to ask honestly what we want that we actually need?

Next Worship Series
More Than Enough
Begins October 31
This series is about living with a sense of abundance, not scarcity. We are taught to hoard what we have, that more is better, and that we will never have enough. But that sense of scarcity does not compute in God's economy, where there is more than enough for everyone and where our lives are enriched by living generously and assured of God's abundance.

Cost of Discipleship Book Study Continues
Sunday, October 24, 10:30 AM
We are still tweaking our online presence for this great spiritual book, and will begin our discussion on the first chapter of The Cost of Discipleship. The temptation is towards cheap grace: preaching forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession, absolution without personal confession, grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus.

In this Season of the Great Resignation
A few words to those who appear to others as "lost."
You have not been "in-person" since March 2020. Maybe you have watched our rapid deployment from in-person to online worship, every time, none of the time, or somewhere in between.

What we expected to be a momentary, perhaps even welcome break of routine for a couple of weeks in the spring of 2020 has stretched to nearly two years. This pandemic disruption has provided something unexpected for you - a reset -- a pause -- a reevaluation of commitments and values, obligations, and expectations.

Some "had to" items are no longer scheduled or pressing. Church worship attendance has become one of those optional activities. You have been harboring some of these thoughts for months, if not years. You were not even sure why you were going, or if it was something you even wanted to do, but because habit, obligation, and expectation are powerful persuasions, you got around to getting to church nearly every Sunday.

Until you did not "have to." You discovered that not going felt better than going. It was nice to gather next to the phone or computer, to not fuss and fidget with difficult kids or others, to fake concern or false friendship, to just grab what was around for communion, and wear whatever was comfortable than necessary in the privacy and sanctuary of your place.

You may even have a family member who resisted joining in-person worship who faithfully attended online gatherings.

Something more meaningful has happened than anything you lost.

So you have not come back. And there might not even be a "yet" at the end of that sentence.

If that is you, please know, trust, and hear what I am about to share: Choosing to not attend in-person worship, or attend any worship service at all, does not mean you do not believe in God, or that your faith is somehow lacking or in peril.

It has never been true, even if someone has already accused you of such nonsense.

There are a lot of reasons you may have decided to stay away, and I hope you understand when I say that each and every one of them is valid.

You may be wrestling with what you believe in now, and part of that wrestle is that you know it cannot be what it used to look like, and what you are looking to believe cannot be found in believing as you once did.

You may still feel it is not safe enough to gather, and you do not trust others who gather to be considerate of your safety. Some seem to always move on and some may be afraid of being left out or behind.

It would be foolish to not take the moment to pause, to evaluate, and to decide how to respond to these valid situations and circumstances.

Large groups, in various versions of masked and unmasked, make me nervous.

This season has challenged what I believe, or even if I can believe, too.

It is clear that many who claimed to be looking out for my interests were not, and cannot be expected to.

Becoming an audio and video technician and expert overnight was not an expected "duty as assigned."

And for vulnerable ego, and a weakness to please others first, I have failed to take breaks or vacations as provided and then too tired to enjoy even the briefest of rests. As one who is looked to as a model of fearless faith and confident leadership, it has been an unprecedented season of challenge, fear, and anxiety.

But I am just as human as you and feel all the things you have been feeling too.

You are not alone. And whenever I have said that we are more than a building, I meant it. Prairie Avenue as the church has always been people, relationships, and partners on a journey together to follow Jesus, serve others, and worship God through faith and life.

Such things are better demonstrated outside of walls rather than within them.

If the first thought of returning to in-person worship is "Do I have to?" Then you have my permission (and my blessing) that it is okay. If you can't, you won't, or aren't sure yet, it is fine. Just know we miss and still care for you. God does not need the church's mailing address in order to meet you where you are.
On A Personal Note...
In celebration of our milestone anniversary, Amanda and I will be traveling to Mackinac Island Michigan to stay at the Grand Hotel during the Somewhere In Time weekend events. The movie, starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour (and Christopher Plummer), is one of our favorites. My brother Nathan and his wife Karen will be joining us. We will depart on Wednesday, October 27, and return Sunday evening, October 31. And yes, worship for October 31 is covered.

It will be our first vacation since December 2019.

Invite someone 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 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 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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