Interim Pastors 2006-2007 Journal – by Rev. Ralph Gipson
January 2006 A new year has dawned and we should all begin it by thanking our God for this most wonderful blessing. Custom has it that we make a new year’s resolution. That is, a promise made to one’s self to improve or change something in our behavior that will make us better people. I suggest we take a look at Psalm 90:12, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” We have been blessed with the gift of life. Waking up each morning becomes a habit and we can take it for granted. Just because we woke up today doesn’t mean we will wake up tomorrow or even finish the day. The Psalmist wants us to be aware of our mortality and to be accountable to God in the living out of our lives. In numbering our days he simply wants us to take the full measure of our lives into account. Otherwise we live in arrogant defiance of God. A heart of wisdom is the joy of God to grant to those who awake each morning with a word of praise and thanksgiving on their lips. Life isn’t promised to any of us and one day we will surely die. Graciously acknowledging God’s care of us is the kind of humility God expects from all of His creatures. Doing so demonstrates that we understand that it is God and not us who rules the day. Rejoice Lutheran Church is teetering on the precipice of a brand new day.
The past year has seen us weather a storm the likes of which we’ve never seen. God has shepherded us through this very difficult time. He now lays at our feet an opportunity for new life…much like the Israelites as they were preparing to enter the new land and God placed before them life or death. He now places before us the very same options. Deuteronomy 28:1,2,&15, ‘If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all His commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all nations on earth. All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God. However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow His commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come upon you and overtake you.” We can and will grow and prosper in the body of Christ if we measure our days by allowing God to be God in our lives. That is realizing that our very being is found in God. What other purpose could we have as a church, if it is not to follow God? Individually and collectively we must beseech God on a daily basis, seeking then yielding our lives to His will. Change is never easy but change is necessary. Leadership is always vital and always necessary. But it must be the right leadership for the right time. Moses could only lead the Israelites to the precipice of the Promised Land. Joshua had to lead them in. Once in the Promised Land, the Lord raised up Judges to lead them. The point is, the former pastor planted the seed and saw it grow. Once grown, it was up to another pastor to come in and build on the foundation that was already laid, and to prepare the congregation for yet another pastor. That’s where I come in. I am here to prepare you for your future. The Lord placed me here to plant the seeds of love in your hearts. God is love and each of us were made in His image…we were made in the image of love. Therefore all that we say and do must be filtered through the hourglass of love. Certainly you possessed love long before you knew that I existed. My planting the seed is a metaphor for speaking to the love that is already in you. Speaking to love activates it and makes it the reality that it should be. Love should be our guide as we move into this New Year. Love should be our guide as we move into our future. With love as our guide, we will number our days and in doing so we will bring glory to God. In numbering our days filled with love, we will each be the person and together we will be the church that God calls us to be and we will gain a heart of wisdom. Happy New Year and May God richly bless you.
February 2006 Upon starting here as your interim pastor, in my second newsletter article, I asked the question: “Is there a balm at Rejoice?” The reason for my question was, when I arrived as your interim pastor, your pastor of fourteen years had just resigned. His resignation came after a long period of strife. He was the founding pastor and the church was split down the middle; those who opposed him and those who favored him. Sure there were some that were straddling the fence. But for the most part, the church was polarized. Many members left before I arrived and there were some that left as I came on board. My concern in asking the question, “Is there a balm in Rejoice?” I needed to know, did you have the ability to heal yourself. A living organism has the ability to reproduce cells that have been destroyed. The smaller the organism, the greater its ability to reproduce limbs that may have been destroyed. In humans, though we can’t reproduce a limb, we do have the capacity for healing wounds. There were some very deep wounds when I arrived and I needed to know was there a physician on duty. I needed to know was there enough love to overcome the hate, the anger, the frustration, the hurt, and the pain that I know all of you felt. I needed to know if I was going to sit at your bedside as you slowly came to your demise. Or was I going to pray with you as you were being nursed back to health. I’m happy to say that I have been pleasantly surprised by your ability to bounce back. You have shown a great love for God and for each other. Certainly there have been some anxious moments and that’s to be expected when you are experiencing a transition. Yet through it all, you have hung in there together. You have participated in the various ministries and you’ve certainly done all I have asked of you. During Hurricanes Katrina and Rita you went above and beyond the call. You gave unselfishly and tirelessly of yourselves. You did not wait to be called. You sprung into action right away, gathering clothing food and even housing for our displaced brothers and sisters. The crowning moment was when we had fifty visitors from Katrina to worship with us. We even had the joy of baptizing one of the families. The Starfish Mission trip to Central America was a success. Bernd, Lynn, and all those that participated did an excellent job. Nancy and Pastor Ginger did a great job organizing the fundraiser for Sierra Leone and we raised quite a bit of money. As usual, the Pumpkin Patch was a great month long event and it brought joy to the church and the community. We are grateful for the tireless effort of Kim, Sandy, and Cheri and all of the volunteers put into making it a success. In spite of the upheaval that started our year, you continued to minister to all of those that God placed before us. I Peter 4:11, “If anyone speaks, they should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory and the power forever and ever.” We are finally at a place where we can look objectively at our past. There is now enough distance from the pain and the loss to make a fair assessment of our history. Surely there is much to be gained because Rejoice has a rich history. The pain, the disappointment, and all of the bad feelings must be released and buried. Then we can move forward in love. With love as our guide, we will be able to take hold of all of those wonderful promises that God makes to us. Philippians 3:12-14, “ Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” God bless you all as we enter into this new phase of our life in Christ. Amen
March 2006 The new year is just two months old and already we have seen a flurry of activities. The Congregational Forum that I called for last month was a major step in the healing process. I presented to you my findings from the interviews that I had with most of the members. They revealed many areas that we needed to address. I’m happy to say that, to a person, we are in one accord in dealing with them. The church council, with Lyn Zastrow’s leadership, presented to the congregation its list of members for the new Call Committee. They are a group of diverse people: young and old, old members and new members, and men and women. They are a capable group and I’m pleased that the congregation accepted them. They have a great task ahead of them and I know that we all will be supportive and patient, as they go about selecting the best possible candidate for your sitting pastor. The season of Lent is upon us and it is a time of introspection and repentance. It could not have come at a better time because we are at a crossroads in the life of our church. With much prayer and supplication, we must understand anew, who we are as the people of God. For fifteen years you forged an identity and you were quite happy with who you were. A paradigm shift occurred. Your former pastor was successful in starting and leading the church. But a point was reached where he had to leave and for a time you were on your own, with no direction. The shift occurred when he left. A new way of being you had to be implemented or you could not have survived. God in His abundant mercy sent me to help you through this transition, to help you construct a new paradigm. Transitional Ministry was created for moments like these. There are many serving in this capacity, but I was chosen to lead you. For that I am grateful. Jeremiah 29:11-13, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart.” God has wonderful plans for Rejoice. He has assembled here an eclectic group of people. People that have a passion for Him: and people who are able to think outside of the box. He has given you an accepting spirit…and a heart filled with compassion. He has enabled you to see beyond the person…as He…Himself, is no respecter of persons. You have a “what can I do?” spirit. That spirit avails you to God. It pleases God. With much prayer and supplication, these attributes will lead you to select the right person to lead you into your future. You must look closely at God, you must look closely at yourself. You must understand the wonderful gifts that God has given you as a congregation. You must also look at your diversity in thought and in gifts, and led by a spirit of compassion and discernment, God will guide your hand. Corporately, you must repent of your sins of the past.: sins which, if not repented of, will come back to haunt you. God loves a repentant and contrite heart. Psalm 51: 17, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Corporately, we are the body of Christ. Individually we are a part of the body. Each part comprises the whole. It matters what each of us do. It matters that we each give of our selves unselfishly because the body functions better when all are contributing. The eyes guide our steps, the feet mobilize us, our hands engage the world, and our mouths praise the Lord. They along with all of the other parts of our bodies are essential for us to be who we are. Each of you are important to the over all ability of Rejoice, the body of Christ to function. You are needed, your contribution is needed…we all are needed for the wholeness and the success of our mission on behalf of Christ. I encourage you all to give of your selves joyfully because we are creating a new Rejoice. Let love be the foundation of your new life in Christ. May God richly bless you as we spend this time in self examination. Amen
April 2006 Wednesday, April 5th, will mark the last week and a half of our Lenten Journey. Sunday, April 9th, Palm Sunday, begins Holy Week when we commemorate the last week of Our Saviors life on Earth. On Easter Sunday Jesus was resurrected to new life, overcoming death and the grave. In so doing, the gift of Eternal life was made possible for all who believe. I share this with you because of the corporate significance of it for the life of Rejoice. This is a time of metamorphosis for the church. You are transitioning from what you were, to the church that God is calling you to be. Change has to occur inwardly for it to manifest outwardly. You have been busy examining your past and you are now positioning yourselves to apprehend your future. You have gone through a period of catharsis by laying your past before you…talking about the good and the bad and letting go. You are not throwing the baby out with the bath water. You will of course hold on to those things that made you a great church; and all of those things that were harmful will be surrendered to God. This period of Lent has been your opportunity to examine yourselves and repent of your complicity in the poisonous relationship that existed with the former leadership. Understanding that whether you tolerated it or played an active role; you are never-the-less culpable because by omission or commission, you share the guilt. For that you are sorry and you have asked God for forgiveness. Our Lenten Order of Confession at the beginning of each service states that very clearly. Psalm 51:1,2,17…“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love: according to your great compassion, blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sins. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O, God, you will not despise.” The Psalmist provides us with the proper attitude that’s pleasing to God. The interviews that I had with most of the members, reflected the feelings of the whole church. They spoke of the weaknesses and the strengths of Rejoice. They were also a commentary on the venomous feelings that had existed for so long. The letter was placed in the time capsule as a sign of burying the past. On Easter Sunday Morning, the survey will be taken from the capsule and burned as a sign of the past being surrendered to history forever. We will commemorate the resurrection of Our Lord Jesus and we will celebrate the new birth of Rejoice Lutheran Church as well. The past year has been spent letting go and relearning God’s message of love. God has blessed me to lead you in the renewing of the spirit of love and reconciliation .You have lovingly responded and , have exhibited an honest desire to grow closer to God and to serve Him by reaching out to each other and to those beyond our doors. Indeed you are becoming new and Easter is your day for offering up the sacrifice of your new lives to God. Romans 12:1-2, speaks to this. “Therefore, I urge, you brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God…this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is…His good, pleasing and perfect will.” You were made a new creation in Christ when you accepted Jesus as your Lord. Yet there are times when we need renewal. The old way of being church died with the departure of the former leadership team. A new way of being church must emerge if Rejoice is to blossom. In your transformation over the past year, you now have the ability to test and approve what God’s will is for you. Look with your new heart and your new eyes as you begin your new life. Examine yourselves and understand what God is saying to each of you. Share your visions with each other and fashion in your hearts and minds what it is that you see God saying to you. We will have visioning sessions in the coming months and I can promise you that you will come to a consensus on what God desires for Rejoice. It cannot be done over night so I ask that you be patient with yourselves and the process. Philippians 4:4-7, reminds us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Amen My prayer is that this Easter Season will draw you ever closer to God.
May 2006 Alleluia, Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. This is the mantra of the Christian church. Indeed, it is the Foundational Truth upon which the Christian church stands. This is the message that we take to the world because of that glorious first Easter morning. Death has been defeated and we no longer have to fear its destructive attributes. Death is no longer our future, but rather it is our past. We can now look to our future with a sense of peace because the gift of eternal life is now ours. Apprehending this gift…this eternal life frees us from the anxiety of the past and allows us to live in peace and freedom. We acknowledged ourselves dead in sin when we owned up to the mistakes of our past. The Lenten journey was a time of repentance and letting go of that past. On Easter morning we released our past consigning it to the past. We look now at the world with new eyes, with a new attitude, and with a new heart. I want to thank everyone for the commitment that you made during the Lenten Season. The meals were great and it was an example of what true community is. We shared our food, our time, and our presence. You came, we had fellowship, and we worshipped. Indeed, we drew closer to God each week. Easter Sunday was another example of the church working together. The breakfast was scrumptious and well organized. I am eternally grateful for the love and care that went into the planning and execution of such a wonderful event. All three services were well attended and I know that God’s Holy Spirit was with us. We came before God as we should, with prayer and supplication. In the new life found in Jesus Christ, we are now empowered to move into our future with purpose. The writer of Hebrews tells us, in Hebrews 2: 14,15 “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” We rejoice in this wonderful gift of eternal life from our Lord and savior Jesus Christ and we look to our future with great anticipation. Immediately following Easter, on May 7, 2006, we will be celebrating our sixteenth anniversary as a church in the body of Christ. What better time is there to look at what the Lord has done for us and commit ourselves to even greater service in His name? Jeremiah 29: 11-13, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, declares the Lord, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all of your heart.” We are no longer a fractured church, a boat without a rudder. We have a sense of wholeness and purpose and it is now time for us to fashion our future. Immediately following the anniversary celebration is our annual Congregational Meeting. You will be electing new officers to serve and lead you. You will be making new commitments to Rejoice commitments of your time and finances. You will have a new budget and new goals. It will take everyone’s support to make your commitments a reality. The church operates off of money and to have the programs that we need here will take the collective resources of everyone. My prayer is that you will look at the needs of the church as you would the needs of your home. This is your church this is where you come to engage God. This should be your treasure because it is where your faith and that of your family is formed and nurtured The summer months are coming – a time when many of the activities of the church are suspended till the fall. Many of you will go on vacation, please remember to leave your tithes so that we can continue the good work that we have started. Happy Anniversary and may God richly bless you, your families, and Rejoice. Amen
June 2006 Summer is almost here and my, my, my, how the time flies when you are having fun. The meals and worship services during the Lenten and Easter Season were community building. There was so much participation and people were having fun getting to know each other better. I was told by some that they were able to talk with people that they had been seeing, yet had never really gotten acquainted with. The mountain top experience of Easter carried us into our anniversary and oh how wonderful it was. It was a joy to see the food line extending from the social hall around the corner almost to the front of the church. What a great day. What a wonderful fellowship. The sixteenth anniversary celebration was a great opportunity to take a look at where we are and to take stock of how far we have come as a community of faith. Our God has truly been good to us. We have one more great day of celebration and the long hot summer will be upon us. The day of Pentecost, the birth of Christ church will again remind us of the infusion of God’s Holy Spirit in our world. We are reminded of the fact that we no longer have the physical presence of Christ, yet he did not leave us as orphans. Clearly he comforts us in John 14:15-18 – “If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever…the Spirit of Truth. The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you know Him, for He lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” God in Jesus Christ has made provisions for our long term care. We are not left in this world to fend for ourselves. The Spirit of Truth that same Spirit that raised Our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead, now resides in us, and with us. Yet unless we are obedient to Jesus, we cannot abide in the comfort and care of His Spirit. “If you love me, you will obey my command,” Jesus says to us. What then is Jesus’ command? Nothing was left to chance. We have no excuses. Jesus was abundantly clear in what we’re to do. John 15:16-17, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit…fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other.” We are commanded to love one another and the Spirit of Pentecost will then be our guiding light. As we meander through these approaching long hot summer months, we are not aimless as we move forward. This in reality is a time of refreshment. Much of the programming in the church will cease until the fall. Many of you will be on vacation and many of you will be doing new things with your families. We have been very aggressive in our programming. We have been doing new things and learning new ways to be church. We have gone through a period of catharsis, a time of letting go of the past. A metamorphosis has occurred in your midst. You are no longer the church you were last year. A paradigm shift has occurred. You are a new people, on the precipice of a new and exciting life in the body of Christ. Now is the time to let all of that sink in. Now is the time to relax and dream about what you really want your church to look like in the future. Enjoy this down time because I can assure you we still have a lot of work to do. Plans are already in the works for retreats and seminars that will help you shape the future of Rejoice. The apostle Paul is clear about resting on our laurels when he says in, Philippians 3:12-14, “Not that I have already obtained all, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” There is much work to be done so enjoy your summer and come back ready to work because the prize is still in front of us. Remember Rejoice this summer. As you well know the summer months are the hardest for churches because many folks go on vacation and they forget about the church. It still has to operate and be here when you return so please leave your tithes. Have a wonderful summer and please know that my prayers go with each and everyone of you. God bless you all. Amen
July 2006 The Apostle Paul emphatically states in II Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” He was passionate about this new identity that is formed in a person’s life once Christ is Lord. His passion grew out of his own personal encounter with Christ as he witnessed the transforming power of Jesus in his life. We are called to ponder this new life as it is revealed to us in our lives. Now the summer is here with its increased activities and vacations. Finding the time to be still and ponder with God, the meaning of this new life that is in us can be hard. It’s so easy to be caught up in the world around us…it’s so easy to not see the change. The new life comes to us very quietly, without fanfare. Not so with Paul. He was thrown from his horse and blinded for three days. He had to be led by people whom he had set out to kill. Now they had to lead him by his hands. We call this, Paul’s Damascus Road experience. It was so incredible and so life changing, that we all wish for a Damascus Road experience. But it doesn’t always happen like that. The Spirit of God moves so quietly through us, if we are not paying attention we will miss it. Competing forces in the world occupy our time and our thoughts. We have become versed in living as we do and so it takes little effort. We have been members of the old world all of our lives. How do we let go of it and become citizens of this new world? Indeed, we are torn between two eras: the old world of sin and the new world of freedom in Christ. It is true that we are aliens in this world and we have a heavenly home. Yet God is not calling us to turn away from the world. We are called to live in the midst of the world. How else can we win others for Christ? The problem is that the church is becoming enculturated by society instead of society becoming acculturated by the church. We are bringing societal values into the church. With societal values comes attitudes that are not conducive to the Christian life. The church is powered by volunteerism; the giving of oneself in service to God and the body of Christ. We are called to a humility that’s foreign to the world. Our actions in and out of the church are to glorify God, not ourselves. The only payment is the joy of serving the Lord. We have been blessed abundantly by God and our natural response should be one of gratitude. We first have to realize that we have been blessed. We must understand the life we lived and what Christ paid to save us from that. We must understand how wretched we were and what God sacrificed on our behalf. Only through seeing ourselves as we really were will we appreciate what God has done. Only then can our will be yielded to God so that the work that He wish do in us will be done. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is…His good and perfect will. As new creations, we are called to see the world and its people with new eyes. We are not to look at them as we did before Christ come into our lives. How could we if we are truly new creations? The Spirit of Christ has taken root inside of us and is trying to make a home. We can not change our ways, our attitudes and our actions. The Spirit of God residing inside of us will conduct those changes. The transforming power of the Holy Spirit will renew us and help us to live the Christian life.
August 2006 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you,” Matthew 28:19. Jesus Christ could not have been clearer about what we, the church should be doing. For many churches today, their concern is centered on adding more and more members. In so doing, they miss the real work that we should be doing. In The Great Commission, Christ did not say make members of all the nations. Rather, He said make disciples. Essentially, the church has been misdirected; it is making members as opposed to disciples. Membership in a church or any organization requires very little of its members. Much like membership in a health club; you pay your dues and you continue your membership as long as you feel your needs are being met. If for some reason you feel you are not getting what you want, you change your membership to one you feel more comfortable with. Unlike membership where the focus is on being served, discipleship is about serving others. We are to make disciples of all nations and teach them to obey Jesus commands. We find Jesus commands in John 13: 34, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” In his book, “Power Surge,” Michael W. Foss states, “Perhaps the greatest weakness of the membership model of church has been the loss over time, of its vision for the mission of the church. A mission that can be characterized quite simply as participation in God’s love in Jesus Christ for the world. As the membership model gradually changed its focal point from the mission of the church to the member of the church, the church was tamed, privatized, turned in on itself. Powerful individuals and families, including clergy, were able to control the ministry of a congregation according to their private agendas. Instead of a people organized for mission, the churches frequently became institutions organized for those already there. Decisions could be made with little or no reference to the church’s role in the world as the historical presence of Christ.” It is important that we at Rejoice see ourselves as disciples. As Disciples of Christ, we know that we are infinitely loved by Him. In turn we are to love others in His name and sprit. We are to emulate the life of Jesus to the world. In love, he came to save us from our sins. Yet, through living his life, He showed us what is required of us. The way to the Father is the way of love. The apostle Paul tells us in I Corinthians 13: 4-8a, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” As we seek a new paradigm for ministry, a new way of being a church here at Rejoice; the foundation must be love. The last two Saturdays of August will be spent in a visioning retreat. I urge you to carefully think about the way God’s love has changed your life. Think about what it means to you and your families. Think also about what love calls you to do, realizing if you are being loved you also must love. The task of calling a new pastor is a Herculean task. It is not something to be taken lightly. You must be clear in your needs and in the direction that you feel God is calling you to take. You should also go into the retreat knowing that we are called to be servants of God. We can only serve God by serving others. You must move away from the idea of membership and see yourselves as disciples. Membership is about getting; discipleship is about giving. Membership is about dues; discipleship is about stewardship. Membership is about belonging to a select group with its privileges and prerogatives; discipleship is about changing and shaping lives by the grace of God. May God richly bless you as you endeavor to do His will. Amen
September 2006 Rally Day has come and gone, signaling the beginning of our fall and winter programming. Summer vacations and the fun we had are but memories, snapshots of moments with family and friends, as we shared our love with each other. God blesses us with those kinds of moments to nurture us and restore our souls, as we go about the work of making His Kingdom a reality in our world. We don‘t cease being church in the summer, but with so many people on the move we are handicapped as to what we are able to do. Now we can be more proactive in our planning because most of our members are back. To prepare ourselves for the coming months, the last two Saturdays of August were spent in a visioning retreat at Briarwood. It is clear that if we are to be in God’s will, we must seek His desire for us. “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Proverb 29:18, so eloquently states. You hear me speak of the fact that Rejoice is in a transition. That transition will exist as long as I am here as your Interim Pastor. It will exist until you have a Called Pastor, installed and leading you in worship. Transition does not always have to connote instability. I feel that we have a degree of stability in this transition process. We are able to dream, to plan, and to do wonderful and exciting ministry. I say this because I don’t want any of you to be anxious about anything. “The Lord is near”, Philippians 4:5-6. This transitional period is a wonderful time for all of you to participate in shaping the vision for your future. Rejoice is a relatively young church: just sixteen years old. There has been only one paradigm for being and doing church. Establishing a new paradigm is the work that’s before you now. We have gone through many steps to get to where you are now. It began with recalling your past: the good moments and the bad ones, your failures and your accomplishments. That was the beginning of the catharsis of healing. Next you were called to repent of your part in allowing the church to get to the unhealthy state it was in: sins of omission and commission. On Easter Sunday, the past was handed over to God, allowing you to become new once again with the new birth of Christ. Now, the work of examining yourselves and casting a new vision is the work that the Lord has called you to. “Who are you and what are you to be?”… is the question at hand. The people perish without a vision. Simply put; the people perish without a revelation from God. The retreats gave you an opportunity to call upon God for His Word and to examine yourselves. We talked about calling a pastor and the various styles of pastoring. We talked about discipleship churches as opposed to membership churches. And we finished up with asset mapping. You now have a better idea of the kind of preacher you would like to lead you. You also understand how important it is that you adopt the model of discipleship that Christ exampled for us. You understand more clearly, that we don’t attend church to be served, quite the contrary; we attend church to serve, all to the glory of God. In our asset mapping sessions, we began by looking at those assets that were all too obvious. Next we looked a little deeper and you saw some assets that you sometimes overlooked. Then we looked at the assets that you had forgotten about or just didn’t see how useful they were. We arrived at the point that we can always look even deeper and you will find still more assets. We concluded that the cup is always half full; we just need to looked more closely. In the past year, you have made wonderful strides in seeking the wholeness of God, found only in our Lord Jesus Christ. I commend you in your diligence. Everything that I have asked of you: you have found a way to make it happen. From the depths of my heart, I thank Julie Thompson for the work she has done these past years with our youth education department. I also want to thank Nancy Ulrich for stepping forward when I asked for a replacement. Kevin Devine, the council liaison for the education department stepped in the gap and held everything together. For that I am grateful. God has given me a vision for you and through His grace I have planted that vision in your hearts. Your hearts are now fertile ground and I know that as you continue to search yourselves, God will make known to you, His good and perfect will. Hebrews 13:20-21, “May the God of Peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing His will, and may He work in us what is pleasing to Him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”
October 2006 This time last year we were busy ministering to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Out of the blue…out of the merciless onslaught of a natural disaster, we were given a ministry which taxed our church, our synod, our city, our state, and our country. We at Rejoice met the challenge and we provided food, clothing and shelter for some of the victims. We even worshipped with over fifty evacuees and were blessed to bring a family into the household of God through the sacrament of Holy Baptism. Emergencies can bring out the best in us. It can also bring out the worst: pointing to areas where we must grow. Yet these moments of peace and calm that we now have are the times of our greatest challenges. How do we spend our time when there are no emergencies where people’s lives hang in the balance? How do we the church, the Body of Christ, define ourselves when all is well? King David tells us in I Chronicles 22:17-19a as he told the Israelites, Then King David ordered all the leaders of Israel to help his son Solomon. He said to them, “Is not the Lord your God with you? And has He not granted you rest on every side? For He has handed the inhabitants of the land over to me, and the land is subject to the Lord and to His people. Now devote your heart and soul to seeking the Lord your God.” We are at rest now and this time should be spent seeking the Lord our God. For it is these periods of rest that allows us to grow in His Word, enabling us to face the challenges of an uncertain world. We are His instruments of praise and worship and indeed His instruments of blessings to a lost and uncaring world. Now is our time to revel in His Word, revitalizing our souls as we seek to example the life of Christ to all we encounter. Aside from the experiences of Hurricane Katrina, you have spent the last nine months examining yourselves, trying to understand who you are as a part of Christ Body. The Cottage Meetings were great because they allowed you to articulate your vision for Rejoices’ future and your part in making it a reality. The visioning retreat juxtaposed two models of the church: the membership model and the discipleship model. There is clearly a distinction between the two; one is about serving self and the other is about serving others. Membership churches remove the Gospel of Christ as its core and replaces it with the needs of the members. Christ calls us to a life of service and the Discipleship model is about serving God, with the understanding that we serve God by serving others. The Cottage Meetings and the retreat have served to help you visualize and articulate your dreams for the future. You can now go into these fall months with a sense of accomplishment and a heart at peace. You have done what you have been called to do. Proverbs 14:30 counsels us… “A heart at peace gives life to the body, and envy rots the bones.” You have been challenged throughout this year and you have risen to the occasion. Let now your heart be at peace so that you can experience this new life that God promises. He is waiting to bless you with His good and perfect gifts. Yet you have to be at the place in your spiritual growth where you can receive them and make them a blessing to others. You have given of your time, your talents and your money. But ministry must continue to operate and offer avenues of blessings for all of God’s people. What do we do when there are no disasters and we are not called upon by others for help? What do we do when peace exist within our midst and all is well? We work on being better. We seek God and we ask Him to help us to be better disciples and to be better stewards of his Kingdom. Discipleship and stewardship is at the very core of our beings. We are called to follow and obey and we are called to oversee all that God has created. Geneses 2:27-29, 31 makes that patently clear; “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’ God saw all that He had made and it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning…the sixth day.” Amen
November 2006 I thank God for you and for the opportunity that I have been given to serve in minister to you. I thank God that you have given me a receptive heart and a listening ear. I thank God that He has given me a vision for you and the ability to convey His desires for you. I could go on naming all of the things that I am thankful for, because God has indeed been good to me. Yet this letter is to remind you that Thanksgiving is a few weeks away and I’d like you to begin thinking about your reasons for thanksgiving. Individually and collectively, God’s transforming presence has moved in your lives. The apostle Paul encourages us in Philippians 4:4-6, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God.” My reading on this indicates to me that we should always be in a posture of thanksgiving. The very nature of our relationship to God in Christ should illicit praise and thanksgiving throughout our day. We were lost and now we are found; we were far off and now we are near. We were enemies and now we are friends; we were nothing and now we are something. God Himself removed all of the barriers and we can now go before His throne of grace in our times of need. Our sin is no longer the obstacle because Christ has died for our sins and He has been raised from the dead. In our baptism we died in Christ and are now raised from the death of sin. In deed, we are a new creation. Alleluia, glory be to God. The Festival of First Fruits and the Festival of Weeks recognized the Lord’s bounty in the land and there was a show of joy and thanksgiving by the Israelites. So too are we to show our joy and thanksgiving for God’s bounty in our land. It is an opportunity for us to collectively say “thank you God.” As a visible presence of the body of Christ in Coppell, the Spirit of God has been busy washing away those things from your past that are no longer useful. A clear example of what is happening is found in John 15:1-4, “I am the True Vine, and My Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in Me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in Me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me.” The last two years have been a time of pruning and a time of preparation. A new paradigm is being developed…a new approach to ministry is beginning. It doesn’t begin when the new pastor arrives. It begins now in your time of preparation. Knowing who you are is important in finding the right pastor to lead you into God’s future. God tells you who you are so you must have ears to hear and a heart that is fertile to receive God’s Word. Since I have been in your midst, you have demonstrated an earnest desire to know God and to do His will. Therefore His blessings are being poured out abundantly and His spirit permeates this church. All the more reason for an offering of thanksgiving. Rejoice, you have been blessed with a true spirit of love. One of the fruits of love is a contrite heart and a spirit of gratitude. In your contrite heart you must approach God knowing full well that it is by grace that you have been saved. Your cup must overflow with gratitude because God did not forsake you. In those dark days when you wondered ,“where to from here?” God raised new leaders up among you and He sent me and others from the outside to help you find your way. I now beseech you, in the name of our Almighty God, “Let your light of gratitude shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your God in heaven.” Matthew 5:16 Amen. Happy Thanksgiving
December 2006 God is love and He created this world in love. Love has no limit and in God’s limitless love, He did for us what we could not do for ourselves. In our desire for knowledge, to be like God, we militated against Him. Yet, in His boundless love, His response was love. Instead of rewarding our unfaithfulness with a like offense, He gave His only begotten son for the salvation of the world. It is humbling to think of the length that the Almighty and Omniscience God would go to restore His wayward children to Himself. In light of this wonderful action on the part of God, the Apostle Paul tells us that our attitude should mirror that of Christ. Philippians 2: 5-11,“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death…even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Christ Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God.” The season of Advent is a call to the world to recognize the good and gracious mercy of our God. We were given a gift in the Person of the Christ child…a gift so marvelous and so sweet as to overcome death and the grave offering eternal life to all who believe. At Advent, we stand at the precipice of the most incredible miracle of all…the birth of God in our world. We are called to a position of knowing and waiting; we know that Christ has already come, yet we wait expectantly for His return. John 1:14 declares “The Word became flesh and dwelled among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” The Advent of Jesus Christ was the beginning of our lesson in love. God Himself came to us to show us His love and to teach us how to love. What a most wonderful gift: the gift of God…the gift of love. There is no greater power; there is no greater force than love. If God Himself is love…if our world, you and I are an expression of that love, what can be greater? The season of Advent is a call to arms…we are called to arm ourselves… to immerse ourselves in God’s love and share it with the world. We are called to love one another as we have been loved. In the life of Jesus, God shows us His love. He brought healing to our world…healing the sick, the blind, the lame, and the broken hearted. He brought hope to our world. Before Jesus, human life was of no consequence. He helped us to see that all life mattered…that no life is expendable. The season of Advent is a restoration of our faith. We see that the Omnipotent God cares for us…that He indeed loved us so much that He became incarnate and walked with us…sharing our pain and ultimately dying for us. From that we know that God loves us and no matter what, we rest in His care. We have no need to live in hopelessness and despair…there is a hope and our faith is based on that hope. The season of Advent serves as a reminder to us that we are new people in Christ and we are to conduct ourselves accordingly. In the second Book to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul eloquently makes this appeal. II Corinthians 5:17-20, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation: the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting our sins against us. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God.” The season of Advent is a time of joy, because God did not give us what we truly deserved. Instead He showered us with His love…He sent His son to redeem the world unto Himself. “Joy to the world the Lord has come, Let heaven and nature sing,” the hymn implores us. May the Advent and Christmas Season find you rejoicing in the Lord, because He has indeed been so good to us. Amen. Merry Christmas
January 2007 Welcome Rejoicers and friends to this, the new year of our Lord, 2007. This is the day, indeed the year that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it. We have been shepherded by God through this past twelve months, and we now stand at the precipice of a new and exciting year. Rejoice, you face challenges that you’ve never experienced before. This is the year that you call a new pastor to lead you into God’s future. Your founding pastor is tucked away in your past; I, your transitional pastor am your present, and your new pastor is your future. Your job has been to reconcile your past, firmly grounding yourselves in your present and preparing for your future. I am pleased to say that these last two years have been a time of tremendous growth, measured in love, and guided by our Lord. You yielded your hearts to the great Physician, allowing God’s will to be your will. We have had a virtual love feast, immersing yourselves in God’s love. God is love and when we love, we participate in God. You have been reminded of His wondrous, sacrificial love for you. That awareness is a call to you for action. We are given a mandate to love one another as He has loved us. John 13: 34, 35 proclaims, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Every act of love, every expression of love and every deed of love is a participation in God. We are His eyes and ears, to hear, to see and to understand the mercies of God unfolding in our lives. Our lives then become a proclamation, a living testimonial to God’s wondrous love. Our hearts long for God, our hearts hunger and thirst for God. Therefore our hearts have become the sanctuary, the repository of God. From there we are to issue forth in great abundance, the life sustaining love that is God. Our hands and feet must be busy seeking out the least of these: all who hunger and thirst for God’s love. We are His purveyors of this wonderful gift that is so needed in this sin sick world. Our love in God is the cure, the balm that will bring healing and wholeness to God’s creation. As I said in talking with you after our children’s Christmas program, Rejoice is a microcosm of the Kingdom of God. We enter His Kingdom at our baptism and for the rest of our lives, we are being taught the way of God. We are taught to repent, to love and to forgive. We are given the example of the life of our Lord Jesus Christ as our pattern for living. Philippians 2: 5-8 directs us, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death…even death on a cross!” Now that we are members of the household of God, we are endowed with certain privileges. We are invited to eat at our Lord’s Holy Table and we are moved by His mercy and grace to rejoice in Him and to praise His Holy Name. As Kingdom dwellers we reside in His love and are therefore commissioned by Him to be His light to the rest of the world. Illumining the way for others to come, to taste, and to see. In revisiting your Mission Statement last year, you saw the new vision that God placed before you. That necessitated the writing of a new Mission Statement. The church council, under the leadership of Lyn Zastrow, refined it to read, “We are shepherds of the Lord, we will feed and grow His flock.” That is the mantra with which you will appropriate your future. You now understand the task that God has set before you. In these last two years you have let go of your past and you have been armed for your future. Let love be your guide. I Corinthians 13: 13, encourages us, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” Amen. Happy New Year
February 2007 In reading our Bibles, many times we get lost in the historical account: seeing how God manifested Himself in the life of the people of scripture. In doing so we lose the magic of God’s Word. Though the account may be about God’s revelation in their lives, we are to place ourselves in their place and know that God works in our lives as well. Holy Scripture is replete with the actions of God and His grace for those He loves. The birth of Jesus was the human incarnation of God; a light for all of those living in darkness. Simeon and Anna, the prophetess, had waited for years for the revelation of God. Upon seeing the Christ child they were able to go to their rest knowing that God’s salvation was at hand. The season of Epiphany is pregnant with examples of God revealing Himself to those whose hearts were yielded to receive Him. At the wedding in Cana, Jesus performed His first miracle. John 2:11 says, “This the first of His miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed His glory, and His disciples put their faith in Him.” Thus, the revelations of God are intended to inspire faith in Him. They are to show us that we are not alone in a world which is too big for us. Too big in that the elements of life be they people or natural disasters can wreak havoc on our lives. In Christ the world becomes manageable because we are a new creation and we are no longer controlled by fear. We no longer are tossed to and fro by the waves of despair and hopelessness. In Christ we become overcomers of life because we share in His Death, in which He overcame death. Jesus further revealed Himself in Luke 4:18-19, 21b “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to preach Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” There is no greater proclamation of God’s presence with us than these verses. This was a visual epiphany for the people of His day. This historical account of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ is not intended to remain in the ash heap of history. We are to appropriate His very Words, His very presence in our lives today. Epiphany is not a once in history kind of a thing. Epiphany is a daily kind of a thing. God reveals Himself daily, but only for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. God reveals Himself daily, but only for those who are willing to humble themselves and yield to His saving presence. We are not intended to go it alone. But we go it alone when our hearts are hard and we are determined to live our lives our way. We go it alone because we have not yielded space in our hearts to receive the Living God. Indeed God is alive but we are dead if we have not seen His Epiphany in our lives. If God has not been revealed in our troubles, we go it alone. If God has not been revealed in our suffering, we suffer alone. If God has not been revealed in our captivity, we languish in our torment alone. The Good News has been preached to the poor, yet if we have not received it, we remain poor in spirit. God has come into our world. Do you know Him…can you feel His presence? Have you received His peace… does His favor rest on you? Epiphany is about seeing God and feeling God and about living in the presence of our mighty God. Are you walking alone? Are you finding life to be harder and harder? Are you greeted by failure at every turn? Are you alienated from those you love and abandoned by your friends? God’s favor rest on those whom He loves. They are the people that recognize His finger prints on everything in their lives. They are the ones that are bound together by a tapestry of love and are infused with His Spirit. They are the ones whose cup runs over with God’s grace, peace, and love. They are the people that are concerned for the well being of others. They are the people who like Dr. King, live by the words of the prophet Amos in 5:24, “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never ending stream.” When God has been made known to you, sharing Him with others is the natural next step. The epiphany of God in your life will not allow you to be complacent. If you are not living in favor with God, of course you have nothing to give. But if you have found favor with God, then you have found favor with your brothers and sisters. As God has been revealed to you, so too should you reveal God to others. Matthew 5:16, “In the same way, let your light shine before others that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Amen.