2015 Noter fra Presten (“Notes from the Pastor)

December 2015

Christmas and Easter people live in hope, not fear or despair

World headlines on any given day are full of violence. It is easy to live our days in fear and despair thinking the world is a dark place. It is true; the world is often a dark place because of sin; the sin of our own doing and the sin of others.

However, we are Christmas and Easter people. At Christmas, we proclaim Jesus and his coming to this earth to be “the light of world.” The light no darkness can overcome. At Easter we proclaim Jesus to have died for the sin of the whole world, including our own and to have risen from the dead. Jesus is raised from the dead and is bringing his kingdom of love, grace, peace, forgiveness, joy, hope, etc. to this world. Each day Jesus lives and seeks to live in you and me, in our actions and in our words, to make this world a new creation, full of God’s grace, truth, and light.

In the face of the news each day, we are tempted to believe that what I do and what I believe means little if anything. That is a lie of the evil one, who uses the daily news to cause us to fear and to despair. (See the Bible verse for December.)

Jesus Christ is the light of the world. The light no darkness can overcome. How do we go about living in His light?

Jesus, through the example of his life, shows us the way and the words of the hymn, Build us up, Lord, #670 gives us more clues. Here is the first verse. 

      Build us up, Lord, build us up;

set in us a strong foundation.

Lead us to do your holy will;

form and shape your new creation.

Build us up, Lord, build us up;

as we guide and teach each other,

help us to share your love with the world:

ev'ry sister, ev'ry brother. 

Build us up, Lord, as we guide and teach each other. Set in us a strong foundation. Living as Christmas and Easter people is a community project. We can’t follow Jesus in isolation. We need each other, young and old.

There is no other organization that gathers people of all ages and all walks of life just like the church. When we gather for Worship, Sunday School and fellowship, ages range from newborn to people in their nineties.

We especially want our young people to have a strong foundation of faith. But not only our young people. I believe our prayer for each and every one of us is a strong foundation of faith.

To have a strong foundation of faith, young people need a network of faithful and caring adults numbering at least five, preferably more, to demonstrate what faith looks like. These adults need to express care and interest, encourage and challenge, show support, and make a point to include young people in all aspects of the life of the community. We need an openness toward sharing our faith with each other.

In the coming month, I encourage you to learn the name of at least one young person in the congregation and then when you see them greet them by name. Learning names is a first step in expanding our circle of contacts.

What does this have to do with being Christmas and Easter people? Everything! Because a strong foundation of faith is based on relationships; relationship with God and with each other.

Build us up, Lord! 

Bible verses for December.

      “So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.”   1 Corinthians 15:58, New Living Translation 

In Christ’s service,

Pastor Dennis 


October  2015

What’s new?   

Last month I wrote about “The times, they are a changin’.” That was not news to any of you. This time I will start by talking about some of the new things that are happening with youth and family ministries.

The biggest change that is new this year is to welcome Kelsey Degerman to Faith and Grace. If you haven’t heard yet, we are sharing Kelsey half time with Luther Crest Bible Camp as our Ministry associate. Kelsey will spend 22 ½ hours a week with us, and the same with Luther Crest. Her normal days with us will be Wednesday and Sunday. Wednesday nights there will be programing for 4th – 9th grade youth. Confirmation, grades 8 and 9 and parents, will meet with me. Kelsey will lead 4th – 7th with the help of some parents.

For confirmation this year, the focus is “The Bible’s Big Story.” We will explore the major themes of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. It will be kind of like a jet plane over view of the land scape of God’s word. Also we will focus on the importance of relationships in our lives and what it means to be a good Samaritan to each other. Relationships include our relationship with God, with each other as the church, and with the world.

4th-7th grades will meet on Wednesdays three times a month with a variety of activities including and rotating between service nights, study nights, and fun nights. Wednesday night schedule will sometimes include food at 6:00 followed by the evenings activity from 6:30 until 7:30 PM. The Wednesday night program for 4th – 7th grades needs a name. If you have any ideas, please submit them to Kelsey! In addition to Sunday morning Sunday School 4th and 5th grades are also invited to take part in both the Wednesday evening activities.

For the confirmation group’s first meeting I asked them three questions. 

1.     What do you believe to be the purpose of confirmation classes?

2.     What do you think are some of the reasons that most people do not attend worship on any given Sunday?

3.     What do you believe to be the next step you need to take in growing or deepening your relationship to God?

Their answers were interesting and thought provoking, and there will be time spent in the coming weeks talking over these questions. How would you answer these questions? And for those of you reading this article, I would add two more questions. 

4.     What do you believe to be the purpose of the church?

5.     What do you believe to be the next step you need to take in improving your relationships with other people?

I would be interested in your answers to those questions and I would share them anonymously with the confirmation group. If you would like to share your responses with me, please write them and drop them off at church or email them to me at dennisleepreston@gmail.com.

Thank you for being the church! See verse below!

Bible verses for October.

“We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” 

1 Thessalonians 1:2-3

In Christ’s service,   Pastor Dennis

 

September  2015

“The times they are a changing”

The pace of change in our world is amazing. Just think back a few years, and all that has changed. Change is naturally a part of life, but I think what takes us by surprise today is the pace of change.

Because of all the change going on in our lives, it makes it harder to know how to be the church today. Perhaps we would like to go back to the way things were 50 years ago, but maybe things were not perfect then either. 

Just doing things as we always have as church, does not seem to work today if you look at the numbers. The decline in church participation is happening all across the church in almost all denominations and all across the country. We can wring our hands in despair or we can embrace today as presenting an opportunity to explore new ways of being the church in this ever-changing fast-paced world. What do we have to lose? One thing I know is that no one has the answers. No one has it figured out. A question to explore is, "What is God doing in our communities and how do we join in?"

Our greatest asset as the church is you. Yes, you! And to think about that, I would encourage you to take your Bible and read 1 Corinthians 12-14. These chapters speak of the church as the body of Christ and how each person is a member of Christ’s body. Each one of us is gifted in unique ways. By putting our gifts together. Amazing things happen.

Be sure to notice what Paul talks about in chapter 13, the center of his discussion of spiritual gifts. He says that greatest gift any of us possess is love. The ability to be loved and to love others. Faith, hope, love, and the greatest of these is love.

The love of God expressed through the sharing of our personal gifts is the greatest thing we can give ourselves, each other and the world.

The times, they are a changin’.

Be sure to notice that worship times will be changing periodically throughout the year. Both congregations have members who prefer worship at either 9:00 or 10:30. So to give opportunity to both groups, worship times will change according to the schedule adopted by the councils in August.

The times, they are a changin’.

At our joint council meetings this past year, and as we talk about the changes facing us, we have talked about youth and family ministry as a major priority. In trying to give legs to that priority and encouraging our many wonderful leaders in children’s and youth ministries, the councils have chosen to employ a ministry associate in partnership with Luther Crest Bible Camp. Our ministry associate’s name is Kelsey Degerman from Moorhead. Her ministry among us is not yet totally formulated, but will include involvement and leadership in a monthly Wednesday night program for 4th – 7th grade, assisting me at times with confirmation, involvement in Sunday School and worship, and other ministries not yet identified.

But adding Kelsey Degerman as our ministry associate in partnership with Luther Crest does not take care of youth and family ministry in our changing world. Ministry involves all of us in all of our daily interactions as God's people. (See 1 Corinthians 12-14.)

Tom Schwolert as our coach from Vibrant Faith has been and continues to be very helpful to me in finding our way through our working together and addressing the question of how to be the church in our changing world.

Sunday November 15 Tom Schwolert will be with us for the day. In the morning, he will preach at both Faith and Grace. In the afternoon, there will a workshop around the questions of how do we grow and encourage a Vibrant Faith in ourselves and the people around us. 

Another opportunity is the Vibrant Faith for all Ages and Life Stages training event in Wadena on September 19th. I believe all who attend will find the day to be inspiring and helpful. More information about this training event is available at church or from church council members.

The times, they are a changin’. The following is a great prayer as we continue to explore our future together.

Lord God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Bible verses for September.

1 Corinthians, chapters 12-14

In Christ’s service,

Pastor Dennis



August 2015

New ventures together

In January we started an experiment. What would it look like for East and West Moe, Faith and Grace to work together in ministry and share their pastors? It has been a great experiment and we have enjoyed working together. We have worked together for Lenten services, we have exchanged pulpits once a month, among other things. Sarah Evenson’s gifts for ministry have been appreciated in many ways. Faith has welcomed me as pastor. We have learned things and also done some discerning.

At the last Faith and Grace joint council meeting, for a variety of reasons it was decided to end the contract with East and West Moe effective August 31st. Faith and Grace leave the door wide open if, in the future, East and West Moe would like to further discuss partnering. We are very thankful for the ministry we have shared these past months with Sarah Evenson and East and West Moe Lutheran Churches.

Going forward, the Faith and Grace councils have agree to work together as a two point parish for the coming year, sharing my pastoral services, and also pursuing the possibility of additional staffing for children and family ministries.

Please pray for your leaders as plans are being made for the coming school year. Worship times, Sunday School times, confirmation, youth ministry, etc. all need to be negotiated. If you have any ideas and/or concerns, please talk to one of your church council members.

It will be exciting to see how things progress in the coming months. The goal is to strengthen the ministries of each congregation by sharing our strengths.

The following is a great prayer as we explore our future together.

Lord God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.  

For more information on this please read the Church Council Minutes 

AMEXTRA trip

On August 26th, four people from Faith and four from Grace, and your pastor will be traveling to southern Mexico for a seven day Seeds of Transformation immersion trip to witness how Amextra is transforming lives in the Mexican state of Chiapas.

We will spend a week exploring Amextra projects, cultural heritage sites and the natural wonders of the area. We will be meeting with community leaders and Amextra staff to discuss the history of the region and the holistic approach to alleviating poverty advocated by Amextra. We will also be participating in some of the work projects. Our group will fly in and out of the Tuxtla Gutierrez airport. We will divide our time between San Cristobal de las Casas and Palenque.

Seeds of Transformation strives to provide opportunities to experience Christ’s community in a different social, political, and economic context, strengthening our faith in a living God and deepen commitment to building Christ’s kingdom of peace and justice.

 AMEXTRA was created 30 years ago by Mexican Christians and has a history of partnership with our Global Mission of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America).

Traveling from Faith are Larry C, Sharon D and Rollie and Elaine K; from Grace are Tom H, Michelle O, Leila P, and Tom T.

We ask for your prayers as we travel and look forward to sharing what we have experienced and learned when we return.

Bible verse for August.

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Jeremiah 29:11

In Christ’s service, Pastor Dennis 

June 2015

What does this mean?

Have you ever heard this question before? If you are at all familiar with the Small Catechism written by Dr. Martin Luther, you know that this is his favorite question all through the catechism. Actually, in German, the question is “Vas ist das?” “What is this?”

One professor said that at the time Martin Luther was writing the Small Catechism, Luther’s son, Hans, was probably around three years old. What is one of the favorite questions of a three-year-old?

Thursday evening, May 21, council members from East and West Moe, Faith and Grace met together and agreed to continue our working together for another year. The question we will continue working on together as congregations and pastors all through the coming year is, “What does this mean? What is this?”

This leads to more questions. What can we do together that we can’t do alone that strengthens God’s church and reaches out to people in the community? What are the strengths that each congregation and each pastor brings to this shared ministry? How will we continue to support and encourage each other?

What continuing adjustments do we need to be making that will help this arrangement to work well? How willing are we to try different ideas, to take risks, and to not fear that some of our ideas might not work.

The answers to these questions will be lived out between us through the coming year. The hope is that in seeking ways to work together and to encourage and support one another, God’s ministry in our communities will be strengthened.

Task number one, and in the middle and in the end is, “Pray.” Pray for our communities. Pray for our congregations. Pray for our leaders. Pray for our pastors. And most importantly, pray for God’s mighty Spirit to guide, direct, and empower our ministries together.

Task number two is to recognize and celebrate the variety of gifts God gives through each and every person and congregation. Paul writes about this in 1 Corinthians 12:4-7, (See below “Bible verse for June”). It is through sharing our various personal and congregational gifts with one another and beyond, that God’s work happens in the world. “God’s work, our hands.”

Thank you for your partnership in ministry. Together we will work on the questions!

Synod Hunger Ride – June 19

June 16-23 six people from the Northwestern Minnesota Synod will be riding bicycle from community to community to foster greater awareness of world hunger both locally and around the globe. June 19th they are riding from Fergus Falls to Alexandria and will be stopping at Grace for lunch at 12:30 PM. If you are available, you are invited to bring a dish to pass and join in a meal at Grace to welcome the six riders. They will offer a short program to tell about their experiences and share information they have been learning.

Those who like to bicycle would be welcome to bring your bike to Grace and either ride out to meet the group before they arrive in Brandon or accompany them for a while on their way to Alexandria. Another idea is for folks in Evansville to meet them at the trail and accompany the group to Brandon.

That evening in Alexandria at 5:00 PM there will be an event by the Hunger Ride group at the First Congregational UCC, 221 7th Ave. W. called “Feeding Souls.” There will be a meal at 5:00 PM and program at 5:30. You are invited to come and learn about hunger in our own communities and around the world and about what things are being done in God’s name to address these issues.

Bible verses for June.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” Philippians 4:4-7

In Christ’s service, Pastor Dennis 


May 2015

The gift of Seed and Soil

Growing up on the farm, I enjoyed all the seasons. I enjoyed the summer farm work of haying. I drove the mower and the rake. I drove the baler while my father stacked the bales on the wagon following behind. I enjoyed riding horseback with cousins and friends.

In the fall I enjoyed the corn harvest, hauling the loads of corn home to put in the silo or the corncribs. In the winter I enjoyed playing in the snow and caring for the livestock by feeding them and cleaning their pens.

I liked all the seasons, but perhaps my favorite time was spring calving. I would ride horseback each morning and evening when I was in high school to check the beef cows that were calving and to tag the newborn calves. The beauty of spring, new life and the freshness of the air were all a delight to the eyes and the senses. It is in the spring that I have missed farming the most.

“We Plow the Fields and Scatter” is hymn number 681 in Evangelical Lutheran Worship.

The first verse goes like this:
“We plow the fields and scatter
The good seed on the land,
But it is fed and watered
By God’s almighty hand.
He sends the snow in winter,
The warmth to swell the grain,
The breezes and the sunshine,
And soft refreshing rain.
Refrain: All good gifts around us
Are sent from heav’n above.
Then thank the Lord, oh, thank the Lord
For all his love.              
By Mattheus Claudius

This hymn acknowledges that we can cultivate and plant, but we can’t make the seed grow and mature. We can’t create a baby calf or a new born colt. All good gifts around us are sent by God. Everything in our life hinges on God’s provision. For those of us who no longer plant and harvest or raise livestock, it is important for us to continue to remember our dependence on the earth for sustaining our lives with food, water, air and all we enjoy and depend on.

It is always good to give thanks and acknowledge our complete dependence on God for everything in this life. May we thank God for all His goodness and all his love. We ask God to grant another season of growth and abundance, in order that we may harvest and live.

So thank the Lord for all His love!

Thank you for your partnership in ministry

Paul’s words in Philippians 1 are also mine:

“I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.”

I pray for you every day, not by name, for there are too many of you, but as a congregation and as partners in the ministry of Jesus Christ.

I thank God for you, just as Paul thanked God for the Christians in Philippi. And I pray that God would protect us from the evil one, the principalities and powers and our own brokenness within. I pray that God would draw us ever deeper into the realm of his love.

Thank you for your partnership in ministry.

Bible verses for May.

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:4-7

In Christ’s service,

Pastor Dennis 


April 2015

Is God a habit with you?

We are creatures of habit, aren’t we? Think about it with me a little bit. No matter what we do, we tend to do it over and over again. We tend to talk with the same people. We tend to eat the same foods. If we have the habit of exercise, we tend to do that. If we have the habit of sitting and watching TV, video games, web-surfing, or chatting online, we tend to do that. Maybe we are in the habit of staying up late or getting up early. Whatever we do, we tend to form habits.

We can like our habits or we can dislike our habits. Some of our habits can be good for us and for other people. Some of our habits can be harmful to us or to others. We tend to get into routines and sometimes, ruts.

This is what makes change so difficult. We can get in the habit of complaining. We can get in the habit of always thinking negatively about ourselves or others or both. We can get in the habit of behavior that is extremely risky or harmful. We can even become captive to addictions. To change our usual ways of behaving is extremely difficult.

People tend to either have the habit of prayer or not. For some people, God is part of their entire day. They talk with God when they get up. They talk to God throughout the day. And perhaps they even end the day asking God forgiveness for the mistakes of the day and thanking God for the goodness of the day.

Other people don’t have the habit of God during the day. They don’t give God a thought as they rise. They don’t consult God or talk with God about the events of the day, and they don’t ask God for forgiveness for the mistakes of the day or thank God for the goodness of the day. They perhaps even would like to talk with God during the day, but it just doesn’t cross their mind. God has not become a habit for them.

Making God a habit in your day is not an easy task. Change is very difficult. Psychologists say that it takes at least three weeks of daily repetition to learn a new task or habit. Then is takes another three weeks of repetition until the new behavior becomes a part of you, or a true habit. The reason why many people are not successful in making changes that they desire for their life is that they can’t make it through that six week barrier. It is really difficult to stick with a new way of behaving daily for six weeks in a row. It is so easy to slip back into the more comfortable and familiar old way of behaving.

Another part of the battle that we often fail to realize is that if the new behavior is God pleasing, Satan is going to do everything possible to prevent us from making the change. Satan wants us to keep serving him by serving ourselves. Satan is very happy when we are comfortable and satisfied with our personal lives if we keep our focus on ourselves.

Satan does not want us to make God a habit.

When God raised Jesus from the dead on that Easter morning long ago, God began a process of change in our world. Through Jesus, God wants to make each one of us into a new person for whom God is a habit. Jesus died and rose again, not only so we could go to heaven when we die, but even more importantly so that he could live in each one of us day by day. God wants to be a habit for us. God wants us to live lives that please him. God wants his life and love to be daily and real in each and every one of us.

To make the resurrection real in our lives, one place to start is to make God a habit, to daily have a meaningful time with God. There are an unlimited number of resources to help one do this. There are daily devotionals available at church. A devotional that is very personal and is written as though Jesus is speaking directly to you is called Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. It is available at the Mustard Seed, or through Amazon, or as an app on a smart phone.

May God be our habit, but not taken for granted.

 

Bible verse for April.

“But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’” Mark 16:5-6

 

In Christ’s service,

Pastor Dennis


Noter fra Presten (Norwegian for “Notes from the Pastor)

Greetings from one of your pastors for the coming months. This is my first time to write to you in the Seeds of Faith. I look forward to getting acquainting and serving as your pastor. Please be patient with me as I try to learn about your congregation and attempt to learn your names. I hope I have permission to keep asking until I learn them!


Why does Pastor Dennis call his column, “Noter fra Presten?”

Years ago I was playing around with some ideas for names for my column in the newsletter each month and decided on the one above. My last name sounds very much like the Norwegian word for “the pastor,” which is “presten.” (For all you Swedes at Faith, it believe it is similar in Swedish.)

“Prest” means “pastor or priest” and the “en” on the end means “the.”


For a year, from June of 1994 through June of 1995, I served in Norway as an exchange pastor. My name sounds funny in Norway, because to address me as “Prest Preston,” (pastor Preston), sounds to a Norwegian like one is saying “pastor, the pastor.” So, Noter = notes, fra = from, and Presten = the Pastor. So now you know why Pastor Dennis calls his column, “Noter fra Presten”!


We are the body of Christ

These words come from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Paul specifically addresses this letter to both the church in Corinth and to all who call on Jesus as Lord, 1 Corinthians 1:2. So Paul wrote this letter to you and to me and to all Christians of every time and place. It is best known for the “love” chapter, 13:1-13.

One of the themes in 1 Corinthians is the unity of the Christian church. The church in Corinth was very divided. Paul writes that what unifies the church is Jesus Christ; his crucifixion and resurrection.

I find the images in chapter 3 to be bold and exciting. The church is described as a field in need of planting and watering, 3:5-9. Then he describes the church as a building with Jesus Christ as the foundation, 3:10-15. Then he names the building as God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in us, the church, God’s temple, 3:16-17. This is a breath taking thought; God’s Spirit dwells in us.

Chapters 12 and 14 speak about spiritual gifts. Sandwiched between these two chapters is the love chapter, 13. You have probably most often heard this chapter read at weddings. However, notice that the original intent for this chapter was for unity in the church, and especially in how we use our gifts. When one is gifted, it is easy to lord it over others or to compare gifts, thinking that some gifts are more important than other gifts. Paul says no. May love temper all things, especially as we work together sharing the unique gifts each of us individually bring with us. In chapter 12, Paul speaks of the church as the body of Christ. Together we are Christ’s presence in the world. As parts of the body work in unison and harmony, we of the church are to work together in unison and harmony. As parts of the body, we need each other and we are to care for one another. Paul writes, “If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad. All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.” 12:26-27.

With the departure of Pastor Zachary Johnson, there has opened up an opportunity for Faith, East and West Moe, and Grace to explore what working together could look like. Interim pastors are in short supply. So I hope this arrangement will be helpful for you at Faith in the short term. In addition, this is an opportunity to explore what some of the advantages for the future our cooperation could entail without having to make a formal long-term commitment at this time.

First Corinthians is a great letter from the Bible to keep before us as we work together as Christ’s body, the church, and especially in the coming months as we experiment with cooperating and working together.

In Christ’s service,

Pastor Dennis Preston


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