2016 Noter fra Presten (“Notes from the Pastor)

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

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

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.


DECEMBER 2016 

NOTER FRA PRESTEN   Norwegian for “Notes from the Pastor”

The light of Jesus’ coming

The Christmas season can be on all ends of the emotional scale. There can be great joy in celebrating our Savior’s birth with family and friends through social gatherings, special worship services, family gatherings, and of course exchanging Christmas gifts. But the Christmas season can also have a more difficult side. Parents and family members can be tempted to over spend their means, wanting to meet all the requests by children or the expectations of others. Use of the credit card can mean trouble for January bill paying time. Stressed relationships become more difficult with the many felt demands of the season.

I have no easy answers or solutions to it all. But it brings to mind an underlying factor which is how our natural desire to have enough has a way of turning into greed.

There is a rabbinic story about a man who, after death, entered another world. An angel led him into a large dining-hall.

What he saw made him extremely sad. Around a huge table, set with the most delicious food, there was a multitude of miserable looking people, haggard and starving. Why were they in this state? The food, placed at the center of the table, could only be reached by an extra long spoon. The tragic thing was that everyone in the room had a 10-foot spoon. Though it was too long to reach their own mouth, it was just the right length to feed the person across the table. But not a single person did that. Everyone preferred to starve.

After seeing this, the man was led into a second room with the same table, set with exactly the same delicious food. Around this table was a group of joyful people holding the same long spoons—however, they were well-nourished, happy, and celebrating. Everyone was using their spoons to feed someone else.

“This is heaven,” said the angel. “The other room—that was hell.”

Greed produces hell on earth. It destroys community, harms the environment, and undermines the happiness of the person who gives into greed.  Greed isn’t a popular subject of sermons and church newsletters, but Jesus talked about greed more than any other sin.

Why does Scripture make such a big deal about greed? James called greed the primary obstacle to peace in the world. I wonder if greed is also one of the obstacles to peace in our families. Biblical teaching is all about serving God by serving others.

God seeks to determine our decisions. But greed makes money, comfort, experiences, etc. our god. The funny thing about these things, our possessions and the rest, is how they have a way of possessing us. Things and gifts can so easily become the focus of Christmas that they replace the one who came as light of the world. 

What is interesting about greed and other destructive behaviors in our lives is that behind the sin lies a God-given desire that is necessary for life. Behind greed lies sustenance, the desire to have enough for food, housing, clothing, heat, comfort and enjoyment. Sustenance is the desire to have enough resources to enjoy life and to provide for others. The question becomes how we choose to use our resources.

A remedy for greed in our lives is sharing what we have received, so that others can experience the love of God through us. It is all about connecting the goods that we have (experiences, gifts, knowledge, time, money) to the needs of others, and especially to those who haven’t yet experienced God’s love.

It is interesting that Christmas gift giving, when done responsibly without over spending and including giving to people beyond ones immediate family, points us away from greed to the light of Jesus’ coming. What will we do with our 10-foot spoon?

Bible verses for December

Luke 2:1-20 (Read before opening gifts!)

Sincerely in Christ,

Pastor Dennis

 

NOVEMBER 2016 

NOTER FRA PRESTEN   Norwegian for “Notes from the Pastor”

Your ministry is needed

11 The gifts (God) gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints (God’s people) for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.

Ephesians 4:11-13

Dear…..(insert your name)

You're it! I am handing off the ministry to you. I just can't keep up. 

Why do I say that? You have friends, classmates, co-workers, neighbors and even people to whom you are related.  I can't possibly care for all these people, but you can!  You already know their joys and sorrows. The most important ministry is being among people, listening to them, caring for them, celebrating with them, and loving them because Christ first loves us. 

I am sorry if  we have made ministry look complicated. It really isn't. I want to do my best to help you. Remember you can’t do effective ministry alone. You need others to work with you. That is why we gather each week as the church, in order to encourage each other in the work of ministry. Let me know how best I can help or encourage you. 

Your pastor!

 One thing we don’t talk about enough is the subject of your ministry. Contrary to popular notions, the pastor is not “the Minister.” Did you notice in the passage at the top of the page what my job is? My job is to equip you for the work of ministry and to help you build up others in the faith.

Your daily life and home is your main place of ministry. How do you minister God’s love to the people around you? And what are you doing to build up other people “in faith toward God and in fervent love toward one another.”

Remember this begins with your own faith renewal. Without practicing the faith (worship, prayer, giving, study of the Bible, service, inviting and encouraging others) it is difficult to minister God’s love to the people around you.

Your ministry is needed! Thank you for your ministry! 

Personal Notes

Thank you for your prayers for my daughter Siri. For those who might not be aware, she has severe ulcerative colitis. She was hospitalized for   11 days last summer. She is much improved now and able to resume her normal activities and continue her new training program in Application Design which will continue until February. She is on medication and needs to be very conscious of her diet.

Also you might be interested to know about my daughter-in-law, Megan, who is now in her final year at Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa (not to be confused with Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa). She is in the midst of the approval process for ordination in the ELCA. Next spring she will be assigned to one of the 65 synods of the ELCA. She will graduate in May and be open for call to a congregation.

Our son Erik works as the Data Specialist for Wartburg Seminary.

Thank you for your ministry of prayer.

Bible verses for November

 22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,  his mercies never come to an end;

23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  Lamentations 3:22-23

Sincerely in Christ,

Pastor Dennis

 

 OCTOBER 2016 

NOTER FRA PRESTEN   Norwegian for “Notes from the Pastor”

What is your faith legacy?

September 16, 17, and 18th was the Christensen family reunion in Germantown, Maryland. Christensen (Danish) is my mother’s maiden name. All prior Christensen family reunions have been in Nebraska where we all originate from. This time we met in Maryland because that is where my last uncle and aunt (my mother’s youngest brother and the last living family members from that generation) live. They are 92 years old and no longer able to travel to Nebraska.

For me, it is always a gift to gather with family, to remember, to catch up, and enjoy each other’s company.

Leila and I drove, two days out; two days back. As we started the day in central Minnesota and ended the next day in Maryland, I got to thinking what my ancestors who homesteaded in Nebraska in the 1850’s and 60’s would think about that! Getting into a vehicle with no horses that propels itself and follows roads that are smoother than anything those ancestors would have ever experienced would seem like something out of a science fiction book to them!

One of the legacies we have received from all the people who have gone before us is the hard work and innovation of good roads and technological inventions that have and continue to change our lives and world. We hope these changes are for the better. Like all material things, they can be used for good or ill. It is all pretty amazing when you stop to think about it, like getting in a car, turning the key, and gliding down the road.

On Friday, some of us drove into Washington, D.C. to tour some of the monuments and museums. Visiting our nation’s capitol and seeing the monuments reminds me of the legacy of freedom and opportunity that we especially as European Americans have inherited. 

Saturday was spent with family, sharing stories, looking at pictures, catching up on our lives since we were last together.  To visit with my aunt and uncle brought back all sorts of memories of family and growing up in Nebraska.

My uncle told me how much he respected and appreciated my father. He told how my father had encouraged him as a young man. My father had written to my uncle while my uncle was serving as an air force pilot in WWII. After the war, my uncle and his brother operated the lumber yard in town for a short time. My father, when picking up a few boards and while paying the bill, asked my uncle if he was sure he was charging enough for the lumber. He wanted to pay my uncle more. That is one of the legacies I received from my father, always to try to be fair and generous with others, to never to take advance of another person.

Spending time with my family brought to mind all the nurture, their example of faith, and the desire to serve others. I am very grateful for the legacy I have received and that I want to try to pass on to the next generations.

Sunday morning we went to worship with my uncle and aunt. Sunday mornings you will find my uncle at the door of the Sunday School area greeting the children as they come. Many gave him hugs and called him Grandpa Chris.

The whole adventure renewed my gratitude for the legacy I have been given.

We have each received the legacy of faith from those who have gone before. Who are the people in your life whose faith you admire? And how are you seeking to pass on the legacy you have received?

“From Christ’s fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” John 1:16

Sincerely in Christ, 

Pastor Dennis


SEPTEMBER 2016

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

Important things to remember!

Over the past few months, I have asked varioius questions and given resources for you to ponder. It is easy in the business of the every day to sometimes forget important things that you may intend to do, but don’t get around to them. Below are some of the things I have asked or talked about that may serve as reminders. 

· Youth ministry properly understood is spelled “Adult Renewal.” 
What is your next step with God? 
How or where is God nudging you to learn, grow and mature? 
Who will you talk this over with and how will them keep you accountable? 

Seven Faith Practices

To think further about how God is calling you to go deeper into God’s love, I would invite you to consider a list of “7 Faith Practices.” These are:

· Worship God in Christian community

· Study God’s word

· Invite others deeper into God’s love

· Prayer

· Encourage each other

· Serve others

· Give generously

In which of these areas do you believe God is calling you to go deeper? 

Commitments made at Affirmation of Baptism (Confirmation)

· to live among God’s faithful people,

· to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper,

· to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed,

· to service all people, following the example of Jesus,

· and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth? 

A possible way to begin your day

Trace the sign of the cross on your forehead remembering that you are baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. This means that God created you, Jesus gave his life for you to love you unconditionally, and God seeks to fill you with his loving Spirit.

Then pray, "Lord Jesus Christ, take me away from myself anew this day.  Use me as you will, where you will, with whom you will.  For I would belong to you and not to myself. Amen”

Questions for hospitality and to nurture relationships. (W.A.T.E.R. Card)

W – Where are you from? Stories from life growing up, etc.

A – Activities, what do you like to do with your free time that you love?

T – Travel, is there somewhere you’ve been that’s had a big impact on your life?

E – Experiences, share an experience that has had a lasting impact on your life. Perhaps a God experience.

R – Relationships, who is a person who has had a major impact on you and your faith? 

Quote to ponder

Most certainly father and mother are apostles, bishops, and priest to their children, for it is they who make them acquainted with the Gospel. In short, there is no greater or nobler authority on earth than that of parents over their children, for this authority is both spiritual and temporal. Whoever teaches the Gospel to another is truly his apostle and bishop.

Martin Luther, The Estate of Marriage

Sincerely in Christ,

Pastor Dennis


August 2016

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

Youth ministry properly understood is spelled, “Adult Renewal”

The following quotes are from David Anderson of Vibrant Faith and his book, “Frogs without Legs”.

At the present time, the United States is rapidly building prisons to warehouse our youth. We house more people in our prisons than any other industrial nation. Younger and younger children are bullying, intimidating, or shooting their classmates. The cry is for tougher and tougher laws. The direction of the courts is to try more of them as adults.

Pastor Anderson suggests that “As adults we need to question this strategy and look within ourselves. Could it be that a desert exists within us, a vast empty spiritual dryness that the young have discovered? We have filled the void in our lives with things, entertainment thrills, consumer habits, and exotic vacations and yet we are still empty. The kids know it, and for some this is acted out in reprehensible behavior.

Being a Christian parent, pastor, youth worker, volunteer, mentor, Sunday school teacher, instructor, choir leader, godparent, or peer minister is all about one’s own spiritual life—a life to be shared with others.”

How do you react to Pastor Anderson’s assertion that our personal spiritual life is related to the wellbeing of the people, especially the young people of our congregation and community?

Parents and many other adults powerfully shape children’s lives directly or indirectly. No one can predict which adult and what circumstance will be a faith and life-shaping influence on any individual child or youth. Parents who have children know that it takes more than one or two adults to raise children; it truly takes a village. While some adults might resist the notion that they are parents for children who are not their own, the impact they can have by their actions as well as their lack of action is important. One research group notes that at least three adults outside the home are vital to the development of Christian faith in adolescents.

Whether adults like it or not, children and youth are watching, listening, and interpreting adult lives for the sake of their own. This comes logically from the other four principles. (Vibrant faith puts forth five principles.) Since faith is formed through personal, trusted relationships, and the church is a partnership between home and congregation, and the home is church too, and faith is caught more than it is taught, it follows that all Christian adults teach faith, values, and character formation to children and youth. It takes Christian parents and other adults to raise Christian youth.

Pastor Anderson concludes. The old paradigm for youth ministry assumed that the congregation would delegate the faith formation of children and youth to a youth pastor, a youth director, or a charismatic volunteer. But one cannot hire out faith formation.

The act of “faithing” the next generation is directly related to the faith formation activity that takes place in the home, the extended family, and the congregation.

I know I have given some pretty long quotes from Pastor Anderson. However, I think these quotes give some good insight to the vision around Vibrant Faith.

Bible verse for August.

Deuteronomy  6:4-9

 June/July 2016

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

Continuing to say “Yes”

Last month I wrote about being a believe means saying “Yes!” to God.

The ways that we say yes to God will be as varied as we are people. God is inviting each and every one of us to go deeper into God’s love. But each of our paths will be as unique as our very being, our bodies, our personalities, our hopes and dreams.

To think further about how God is calling you to go deeper into God’s love, I would invite you to consider a list of “7 Faith Practices.” These are:

·         Worship God in Christian community

·         Study God’s word

·         Invite others deeper into God’s love

·         Prayer

·         Encourage each other

·         Serve others

·         Give generously

In which of these areas do you believe God is calling you to go deeper? In the coming months I plan to speak about each of these practices. I start this month with the Bible. For more ideas you could Google “ELCA Faith Practices.” If you don’t use a computer ask someone who does and explore faith practices together!

Making sense of the Bible

As followers of Jesus, we realize how important it is to be biblically informed and to read the Bible regularly. But let's be honest: Reading through all 66 books of the Bible can seem like a monumental task. Why is it that we can easily read hundreds of pages of a best-selling novel but cannot make it through more than a few pages of the perennial best seller, the Bible?

 Here are some important factors that play a role in the challenge that we face in reading through the Bible:

·  We are in a spiritual war and the enemy does not want us to know the overall plan and ways of our Creator and rightful Owner.

·  Although the biblical texts (originally written in Hebrew, Greek, and a bit of Aramaic) have become very accessible to modern readers through the careful work of biblical scholars and translators, the text is immersed in foreign and ancient customs, geography, people, and kingdoms that can cause readers to lose interest and heart without outside help.

·  It is not readily clear to the uninitiated that there is an overarching plan that spans the books of the Old and New Testaments.

·  Frankly, there are portions of the biblical books (especially in the Old Testament) that seem irrelevant to modern readers (for example, see Genesis 36).

·  There are some portions of the Scriptures that are difficult to understand and there are other portions that are easy enough to understand but are difficult to take to heart and obey.

There are many online resources. Two that are available from Luther Seminary are: www.enterthebible.org
www.bibletutor.com/

There are many other resources available today to help readers navigate their way through the texts to learn as much as possible about God's plan and where human history and planet Earth are heading. But some of these resources are misguided and do not fall in line with our Creator's intent for humankind and our planet. It is important to use a trustworthy resource.

I am not an expert, but I do have some experience finding my way through the Bible’s Big Story. Let me know if I can be of any help to you. Also I would be curious if there is interest in tackling a two- to three-year study which would go in some depth through the whole of Scripture using the Crossways study. I use a shortened overview with the confirmation called “The Bible’s Big Story”. 

Memorization verse for June.

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14

In Christ’s service,

Pastor Dennis



May 2016

Saying “Yes” to God!

It is always a risky thing to make an invitation, to ask another to do something. There is always the possibility they might say no. When asking another, whatever it may be, we are pleased when they say yes.

Maybe it is as simple a thing as inviting friends for an evening of fun and fellowship. Or maybe it is asking a company for a job. Or maybe it is even a bigger deal, like asking someone to marry you. No matter the ask, it is always good to hear, “Yes.”

God is always looking for a “yes” to God’s invitation in our lives to follow Jesus, to believe in his name, to say “yes” to our Baptism.

In the Lutheran tradition, most of us are baptized as infants; a time when we had no say in the matter. Our parents brought us to the water and word of Baptism and we could not say yes or no and we do not even remember the occasion.

Therefore, we are given the opportunity when we are older to publicly say “yes” to our Baptism. We traditionally call this opportunity confirmation day. In the hymnal the name for this occasion is “Affirmation of Baptism.” On confirmation day, we give young people the opportunity to publically affirm, say “yes” to their baptism.

This May 1st, four young people at Faith and two at Grace will be affirming their baptism. Here is the question as it is stated in the service.

You have made public profession of your faith. (They have just recited the Apostles’ Creed.) Do you intend to continue in the covenant God made with you in holy baptism:

·   to live among God’s faithful people,

·   to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper,

·   to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed,

·   to service all people, following the example of Jesus,

·   and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth?

The young people are invited to respond, “I do, and I ask God to help and guide me.”

They are invited to say yes to their baptism and to seek to live out that yes in their daily lives.

If you have been baptized and confirmed, that means that you have said something similar on your confirmation day. How is living out your “yes” to baptism going?

In reality, every day, actually every moment, and in every decision we either say yes or no to God.

On the cross, Jesus said “Yes!” to you. Jesus said, “I love you. I forgive you.” In creation of you, God said, “You are mine.” At your baptism, God said, “I love you, and I give you my Holy Spirit to walk with you, in you, and over you, every day.”

And then our words and actions each day become our “Yes” or “No” to God “Yes!” to us.

Here is a wonderful little prayer that you could use to start your day. But I would caution, only use this prayer if you want to say “Yes” to God this day.

“Lord, Jesus Christ, take me away from myself anew this day. Use me as you will, where you will, with whom you will. For I would belong to you and not to myself. Amen”

When you were confirmed, this is what you promised to do. You said the following:

·         I will find time to hang out with other people who will encourage me in my life of following Jesus.

·         I will regularly gather with other followers of Jesus to listen to Jesus’ words in the Bible and share Holy Communion.

·         I daily try to live out Jesus command to “Love one another as I have loved you.”

·         I will try to serve others like Jesus did.

·         I will try in my words and actions each day to make this world a better place for everyone.

These things describe a disciple, one who seeks to follow Jesus.

Now, I know that I fall short every day. Jesus knows that, he went to the cross to solve that problem. But because of God’s huge big “Yes!” to me and to you, I will try to say “Yes” to God today to the best of my ability.

God this day makes an invitation to you. What will your answer be? 

Bible verse for May.

 “This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  Psalm 118:24

In Christ’s service,

Pastor Dennis


April 2016

The need for forgiveness

Imagine a world where there was no forgiveness. In response to any wrong, there would always be a punishment or a retaliation.

In the movie, Fiddler on the Roof, when the Jews of Anatevka are being forced to leave the village, one of the villagers says they need to fight back, quoting from the Old Testament, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” Tevye replies, “What would be the good of that? The whole world would be blind and toothless.”

In the famous feud of the Hatfields and the McCoys, there was never an end to the violence. There was only revenge.

One of the most amazing acts of forgiveness that I am aware of is that of the former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela. Mandela was imprisoned by the white South African government for 28 years of his life for opposing apartheid. Apartheid was the system of extreme racial discrimination. Finally in 1990 at the age of 72, Mandela was released. All those years he had been separated from his family and friends and had been humiliated in prison. Upon his release, Mandela said, we have to forgive. We cannot take revenge for all the wrongs that have been done to us. And Mandela worked with the white government to end apartheid. Amazingly in 1994 he was elected president of the country and served for five years. Mandela will long be remembered for his refusal to take revenge and his willingness to forgive those who had committed unspeakable wrongs against him and many others.

We have all committed wrongs against others. You can’t live in a family without stepping on each other’s toes. You can’t work in an office or a business or in any kind of work situation without in some way doing wrong to your coworkers, often unintentionally. It is the nature of who we are. Try as we might we will all fall short. As the Bible says, in Romans, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Therefore we all need forgiveness.

God, being totally aware of this, gave us a remedy in his son Jesus, the forgiveness for all our sin. Jesus gave his life for this purpose as we hear in the words of Holy Communion, “…given for you for the forgiveness of sin.” “Love one another as I have loved you,” Jesus tells his followers. That includes forgiveness.

The purpose of this forgiveness is to allow us to start afresh. Imagine in South Africa, if the black people had insisted on punishment and revenge on all the white people of the country who had wronged them. The bloodshed would have never stopped. A new start for the country would never have been possible. Violence and bloodshed would have gone on indefinitely in South Africa as it does today between Jew and Arab in the middle east. The only possibility of peace in that place will be when someone steps forward and says, “We are willing to forgive.”

Jesus has forgiven us so that we can forgive others; so that relationships can begin afresh. When we sin against God, God always responds with forgiveness. Jesus asks the same of his followers; when we are wronged that we can forgive and try again. That doesn’t mean you have to simply allow others to hurt and demean and take advantage of you. Mandela was in prison because he had resisted the violence against his people. But when he had the opportunity for revenge, when he was in the position of power, he instead forgave. Forgiveness is the way of God.

Forgiveness needs to be the center of our life together as God’s people, the church. As Paul writes in Colossians 3:13, “Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”

It is how Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” We all need forgiveness. Forgiveness is the way of God.

Bible verse for April.

Colossians 3:13 See above.

In Christ’s service,

Pastor Dennis

March 2016

The need for forgiveness

Imagine a world where there was no forgiveness. In response to any wrong, there would always be a punishment or a push back.

In the movie, Fiddler on the Roof, when the Jews of Anatevka are being forced to leave the village, one of the villagers says they need to fight back, quoting from the Old Testament, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” Tevye replies, “What would be the good of that? The whole world would be blind and toothless.”

In the famous feud of the Hatfields and the McCoys, there was never an end to the violence. There was only revenge.

One of the most amazing acts of forgiveness that I am aware of is that of the former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela. Mandela was imprisoned by the white South African government for 28 years of his life for opposing apartheid. Apartheid was the system of extreme racial discrimination. Finally in 1990 at the age of 72, Mandela was released. All those years he had been separated from his family and friends and had been humiliated in prison. Upon his release, Mandela said, we have to forgive. We cannot take revenge for all the wrongs that have been done to us. And Mandela worked with the white government to end apartheid. Amazingly in 1994 he was elected president of the country and served for five years. Mandela will long be remembered for his refusal to take revenge and his willingness to forgive those who had committed unspeakable wrongs against him and many others.

We have all committed wrongs against others. You can’t live in a family without stepping on each other’s toes. You can’t work in an office or a business or in any kind of work situation without in some way doing wrong to your coworkers, often unintentionally. It is the nature of who we are. Try as we might we will all fall short. As the Bible says, in Romans, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Therefore we all need forgiveness.

God, being totally aware of this, gave us a remedy in his son Jesus, the forgiveness for all our sin. Jesus gave his life for this purpose as we hear in the words of Holy Communion, “…given for you for the forgiveness of sin.” “Love one another as I have loved you,” Jesus tells his followers. That includes forgiveness.

The purpose of this forgiveness is to allow us to start afresh. Imagine in South Africa, if the black people had insisted on punishment and revenge on all the white people of the country who had wronged them. The bloodshed would have never stopped. A new start for the country would never have been possible. Violence and bloodshed would have gone on indefinitely in South Africa as it does today between Jew and Arab in the middle east. The only possibility of peace in that place will be when someone steps forward and says, “We are willing to forgive.”

Jesus has forgiven us so that we can forgive others; so that relationships can begin afresh. When we sin against God, God always responds with forgiveness. Jesus asks the same of his followers; when we are wronged that we can forgive and try again. That doesn’t mean you have to simply allow others to hurt and demean and take advantage of you. Mandela was in prison because he had resisted the violence against his people. But when he had the opportunity for revenge, he instead forgave. Forgiveness is the way of God.

Forgiveness needs to be the center of our life together as God’s people, the church. As Paul writes in Colossians 3:13, “Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”

It is how Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” We all need forgiveness. Forgiveness is the way of God.

 Memorization verse for March.

Colossians 3:13 See above. 

In Christ’s service,

Pastor Dennis

February 2016

The gift of Lent

What is Lent and why do we celebrate Lent?

The central event of the Christian faith is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our faith revolves around these historical events. Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians that without the resurrection, our faith is in vain. In other words, without the reality of the death and the resurrection of Jesus, the Christian faith is virtually meaningless.

Jesus’ death and resurrection are the focus of the church year. The forty days of Lent prepare for it. The fifty days of Easter are the celebration of it.

It is interesting that during Lent, the Sundays during this time are not included in the reckoning. Sundays are always considered a little Easter. So in a way we celebrate Easter once a week on every Sunday.

Lent originated as a time of special preparation for those who would be receiving Holy Baptism on Easter morning. At the Sunrise service on Easter morning after a long night of prayer and scripture reading, those desiring to become Christians would be baptized as the sun rose in the east. In this way they would be greeted by the Son of God.

In some parts of the church, those preparing to receive baptism would fast during the 40 days before Easter and would receive intense catechetical instruction. The importance of the number forty comes from Jesus’ 40 days of temptation in the wilderness, Moses’ 40 days on the mountain while receiving the Ten Commandments, and also the 40 years of wandering of God’s people in the wilderness in the books of Exodus and Numbers.

Later the 40 days of Lent became a time of preparation for all Christians for Easter. As early as 300 AD ashes are mentioned as a sign of repentance on Ash Wednesday.

What is the purpose of the ashes used on Ash Wednesday?

Ashes are a very rich symbol rooted in ancient customs and practices. In the Bible, ashes have been connected to judgment and God’s condemnation of sin – Genesis 3:19; frailty, our total dependence upon God for life – Psalm 90:3, 104:29, Ecclesiastes 3:20, 12:7; humiliation – Genesis 18:27, Esther 4:1, Jonah 3:6, 2 Samuel 13:19, Daniel 9:3; and repentance – Job 2:8, 42:6, Matthew 11:21, Luke 10:13. We are reminded forcefully in the words of the committal, which are in the burial service, “…earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” For one day these words will be said over us.

Also, ashes are a symbol of cleansing and renewal. They were once used as a cleansing agent in place of soap, and on Ash Wednesday the ashes have been seen as a substitute for water as a sign of baptism. Water both stifles and refreshes, drowns and makes alive; so ashes also tell of both death and renewal. A further example of death and renewal shown by ashes is the ancient custom of burning the fields in the spring to destroy the old and to prepare for the new

Verses for Lent, Mark 10:33, 34, 42-44.

In the following verses, Jesus explains to the disciples both what is going to happen and what it all means.

33“See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; 34they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.”

42“You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

In Christ’s service,

Pastor Dennis

January 2016

Love came down

Pastor Martha Grace Reese tells the following true story.

Mary, her husband and two children moved to Oak Bluff. Mary is a beautician. Have you ever had your hair cut? You know how hairdressers tend to be not so shy? They ask you about your life. You get to hear about their new puppy and what the kids are doing. It’s great to get your hair done. You hear the next installment. You get to talk about your life. You only pay for the shampoo and cut, not for the therapy. Someone who cares is listening!

About a year after Mary and her family moved, her husband left her. Her clients were wonderful. One of them brought her a couple of bags of groceries. Another gave her some of her kids’ outgrown clothes. One called out over the blow-dryer, “Why don’t you let me take care of the kids when you go to the lawyer’s office tomorrow?” Mary talked. People listened. They were wonderful.

The kids were with their dad one weekend. Mary walked around her neighborhood on the verge of tears. She passed a church on the corner and thought, “I ought to try to go to church. I liked it that year I was 12 and went with Brittany’s family. Maybe that would help.”

She got up at eight the next morning. Squadrons of butterflies did double flips and twists in her stomach as she got closer and closer to THE CHURCH.  It was huge. It was scary. She stopped at the curb.

A couple of teenagers ran out the front doors and came up to talk with her. “Hey! How are you? Come on in! Have you been here before? Wait! You’re Tom’s mom, aren’t you? We’re really glad you’re here!!” They swooped her up to a couple of people at the front door. Those people gave her a bulletin, showed her the coat rack, took her in and introduced her to Sue, who was sitting halfway down the aisle on the left.

Sue was great. The service was powerful. Mary heard a terrific sermon and music she liked. There wasn’t too much stuff that made her feel as if she didn’t know what was going on. “Anyway, Sue was there, explaining.) Mary loved it.

Halfway through the service, she spotted the client who had offered to watch her kids during the lawyer’s appointment on Thursday. Three minutes later, she saw the woman who had brought her groceries and the family that had given her their kids’ outgrown clothes. Five of her clients were in the sanctuary. The sixth one always went to the 11 o’clock service. How many of them had been wonderful to her? All six. How many of them had shown beautiful Christian love to her? All six. How many of them had invited her to church? None. How many of them had mentioned that they were Christians? None.

Love had come down to Mary. And these wonderful Christians had forgot to tell Mary that the love all came from God.

Learning new names

Last month I encouraged you adults to learn a new name or two of a young person in the congregation and to use it. How did it go? I hope you will keep using those new names and this month add some more.

The confirmation class has been doing some new things too. One of their assignments during December was to find a time with an adult in the congregation and carry on a caring conversation. I gave them a sheet with lots of possible questions. They said it was a little scary at first, but that it was interesting and fun to get to know a little more about an adult that was not a member of their family.

Keep learning names and I invite you to ponder the true story above and the ways you take part in letting God’s love come down! Thank you for being God’s church!

 Hymn verse for January.

      Love has come and never will leave us! Love is life everlasting and free. Love is Jesus within and amoung us. Love is the peace our hearts are seeking. Love is the gift of Christmas.                                                                                Love has come by Ken Bible #292 verse 3

 A belated Merry Christmas and God filled New Year to you all!

 Pastor Dennis