This week the local paper is filling up lots of pages with stories about our state. With all the tourists in town for the Super Bowl and the Golf Tourney, this is an excellent opportunity to tell about the wonders of the Grand Canyon State and to sell newspapers (or is it the other way around?).
One writer shared about seeing the desert as something beautiful instead of barren. Another described how he came to love the state because of its unique "off the beaten path" locations. Spring training baseball got a mention. And a couple of folks suggested that there was a lot more to know about Arizona besides the notoriety we receive because of how we do politics out here in the wild, wild west.
My take is a bit different. I love Arizona because of family - my own family and my church family.
I just recently celebrated my 10 anniversary serving as pastor (now senior pastor) of Life in Christ. But when my wife and I pulled into the LaQuinta parking lot at 83rd Avenue and Bell, on January 2, 2005, we celebrated because we were being reunited with our three kids.
They all had migrated back to Arizona after having spent many years in the mid-west. They were born here in the Valley and, one by one, came back to the place that really felt like home to them. So when I received the call to Life in Christ, one wonderful benefit was to rejoin our kids.
For 10 years now our house on Sunday afternoon is the gathering point for family. The additions have been wonderful: two great son-in-laws and one beautiful daughter in law; 4 sweet grandchildren (and one on the way!); my mother and father in law living two doors down from us. My dear, sweet wife calls most Sunday afternoons "happy chaos." Happy and very loud, I'd say. But we love it!
Sherri and I are blessed with a second, much larger family - our church family. Our Life in Christ clan is very special to us.
They are a generous and encouraging group. We have much in common - one Savior, one confession of faith, one baptism. We have one mission - live and grow in Christ ~ encourage and reach others. Our fellowship events are great fun and provide opportunities for the family to grow closer together. We study together, pray together, mourn together, and serve together.
CFW Walther, the first president of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, once wrote that a pastor should see the place where is called by the Lord to serve at as "paradise." If that's the case, then I'm living in paradise for sure.
Like all families, we sometimes have our troubles. Some people don't get along with each other. Different folks have different ideas about how to worship or serve or give. Arguments sometimes happen. Sound familiar?
In those moments we practice what we know. We love each other in spite of our differences. We talk to one another and try to understand each other. We seek forgiveness when we've offended; we give forgiveness when sinned against.
It's hard, sometimes, to live with each other. But the Holy Spirit, working through God's Word and Sacraments, leads us to live out our new life in Christ, to love both God and our neighbor.
There are places in the state that I truly enjoy - sunrise at the Grand Canyon and sunset at Lake Pleasant. I like poking around Flagstaff and Sedona. It's fun to spend a morning at the Butterfly House or an afternoon at the Musical Instruments Museum.
But my Arizona? It's all about family. Wouldn't have it any other way.