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Mardi GrasIn Louisiana, Mardi Gras is celebrated the day before Ash Wednesday.  Mardi Gras began as a festival to enjoy the things a person was “giving up” for Lent.  During the parades, beads are tossed from the floats to the onlookers.

Okay, let’s talk about what happens after Mardi Gras.  The day after Mardi Gras – tomorrow – is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.  Lent is a season of the church that we use to concentrate on the suffering of Christ.  People “give up” something, usually a sweet food, a bad habit, etc. for the 40 days, representing Christ “giving up” his life for us.

What is the difference between a crucifix and an empty cross?  The empty cross represents Christ’s resurrection. The crucifix represents Christ’s choosing to suffer for us.

Christ didn’t have to die on the cross, He could have saved Himself, but He chose to die for our sins.

Prayer:  Dear God, help us to remember during Lent, and always, of Christ’s suffering for us. Amen.

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Share the Love of Christ through the movie SON OF GOD – In Theaters Feb 28

Son of God movie 2

“The best I’ve ever seen.”   Rick Warren 

“Engaging and compelling.”  Cardinal Wuerl, Washington DC

“You’ll be enthralled and inspired.”   Bishop TD Jakes

“An epic work.”  Joel Osteen

               

Click here for a preview!

From The Pastor’s Desk: Lent 2014

10Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ ”  Matthew 4: 10  

Grace and Peace to You my Brothers and Sisters in Christ!

Winter RoadsWhat an incredible season of winter we are enduring!  That is, incredibly snowy, incredibly cold and incredibly grey.  It is often difficult to find joy in these days-but then spring is just around the corner.  Just this past week we had a nearly 50 degree, sunny day and the ground was visible.  There is hope!

Our faith life, like God’s creation, has seasons. Sometimes we find ourselves in a winter season-feeling cold and barren. We may have lost our sense of joy as we succumb to the frustration of life lived relying on our own power and devices.  The harder we try to be good and the harder we work to help our church thrive; it just doesn’t seem to be enough.  In these times, God’s presence can seem far away. Things seem to get in our way of joy in our relationship with Christ. Yet just as in winter, right under the surface of all that snow-growth is happening. The ground-our foundation-Jesus Christ is always present providing love and grace. Growth and rebirth are imminent and possible even though we can’t see anything happening.

These past weeks our churches have been talking about our life together as God’s Temple and how we are building on our one foundation-Jesus Christ.  Along the way we have found that many things can stop us in our tracks or get in the way of our full commitment to a way forward in relationship with one another, with God and fulfilling the mission to invite, include and embrace others who do not know Christ. We continue taking steps as a worshipping community to begin dreaming again about how we might best practice personal holy living and social holiness (holiness of heart and life, as Wesley would call it) in building relationships with our community.  We continue examining and striving to order our lives, our worship and our church to honor Christ as our source of life.  We continue to demonstrate, in action, the love God has poured out on us through Christ. 

This pouring out of God’s love and Spirit calls to mind our baptismal covenant and provides an extension of the vision of the worshipping community as God’s building, God’s Temple (1 Cor 3: 9). The main purpose of Lent, from the earliest record of the church, is to prepare folks for baptism, to help them renounce sinful ways and to fully live a new life in Christ from that day forward.  In preparing candidates, the church itself was and is challenged to examine its own wholeness of life and to examine its progress and commitment to living into the covenant.

As we move forward in our journey together this Lenten season, we will remember our baptism- a Sacrament that, while performed and recognized once in the life of believers, represents the ongoing outpouring of God’s grace and Spirit. It is that primary, covenantal relationship which initiates, guides and sustains the life of the whole church.   We recognize within this outward sign of an inward work of grace as a call to die to self and be raised to newness of life in Christ.  We witness and experience this in the church as well.  Within this covenant, God promises to be our God and to sustain the promises we make together. 

Our Lenten theme for 2014 will be:      Living Water:  Serving Jesus Only.   He Is the Water that Leads to Salvation, Eternal Life and New Beginnings. 

We will explore, through worship and study together, our baptismal covenant as a source of living water which saves feeds, heals, and sustains our community as we fulfill the mission of God to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. Christ invites all God’s children into this journey to God’s heart by his gracious actions on the cross. Like the stream that begins as a trickle bubbling up under the threshold of the Temple (Ezekiel 47), we have this living water bubbling in us as we put on Christ and live out this promise of God.

We will begin this season of Lent by preparing for, examining and, above all, practicing living into the promise of this covenant.  Our Lenten worship sermon series will begin on March 9 with a call to renounce that which holds us back in living the promise.  The readings from the Gospel of John will challenge us with statements and questions posed to baptismal candidates that are extended to every congregant and to the worshipping community.

Each week, the gospel readings and the Scriptures will work together to remind us of the essential elements and actions needed that result from our calling to Christ in baptism and discipleship.

The First Sunday in Lent:    Called to Renounce

The Second Sunday in Lent: Called to Be Born Again

The Third Sunday in Lent:   Called to Drink and Share Living Water

The Fourth Sunday in Lent: Called to Be Healed of Blindness

The Fifth Sunday in Lent:   Called to Come Forth and Enable Others Left for Dead to Do the Same

The ministry of Jesus began with his baptism and the proclamation of Good News of God’s Kingdom. Right now!

Let us do likewise. You are invited into this season of examination and renewal. You are invited to hope and the possibility of new beginnings.  As we begin together on Ash Wednesday in worship, consider how you might renounce those things and actions which lead you further from an “all in” commitment to relationship with Christ.  How might God be calling you to live differently and to act toward others in love.  What keeps you from going deeper?

Let us continue on in mission and ministry together as we worship and share this great gift of God’s Kingdom to all those who hunger and thirst for the knowledge of God and who desire freedom from the oppression of a world that is not yet perfected. We have every reason to hope in Christ who died for us while we were yet sinners.   Christ is our hope and our salvation and we are God’s beloved children!

Wishing You God’s Grace, Peace and Joy,

                                               

Pastor Heidi

North Korea Arrests Another Christian Missionary

North KoreaChristianity Today reports that North Korea has arrested another Christian missionary—this time a 75-year-old Australian on his second trip to the country.

During a visit to North Korea’s capital city Pyongyang on Wednesday, John Short was taken into custody, according to The New York Times. He had religious materials with him that had been translated into Korean.

“He won’t be intimidated by the communists,” his wife, Karen Short, told Reuters. Her husband even read his Bible in front of government guides on his first trip there. “I’m not upset, we’re Christian missionaries, and we have tremendous support for what we do.”

Short is the second missionary detained by North Korea in recent years. American missionary Kenneth Bae is currently serving his second year of his 15-year prison sentence, despite the U.S. government’s efforts to call for his release. In addition to Bae, an 85-year-old Korean war veteran was also arrested in November, but authorities released him about a month later.

Australian officials remain in close contact with the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang for assistance and information on Short’s wellbeing, although services in the dictatorship have been “extremely limited,” according to an Australian embassy spokesman.

“He’s courageous, this is my husband’s character,” said Short’s wife. “I hope things get better — he’s in God’s hands, we both totally believe that.”

The Shorts live in Hong Kong with their three children and have spent more than 40 years sharing the gospel in Asia. John Short was arrested by Chinese officials multiple times in the ’90s for his missionary efforts and barred from entering the country for several years.

His recent arrest in neighboring North Korea follows a United Nations report out this week, detailing the human rights abuses in the country and calling them “crimes that shock the conscience of humanity.”

“Systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations have been and are being committed by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, its institutions and officials,” the report said.

The report noted the extent of religious discrimination in the communist country:

Christians are prohibited from practicing their religion and are persecuted. People caught practicing Christianity are subject to severe punishments in violation of the right to freedom of religion and the prohibition of religious discrimination.

Please pray for John Short, Kenneth Bae, and all those who suffer in the name and cause of Christ.

Valentine’s Day – Nourish and Cherish

Valentine - CandyKey Bible Verse:  Husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies.  For … no one hates his own body but lovingly cares for it.  Ephesians 5:28-29

A husband nourishes his wife by caring for her physical, spiritual, and emotional needs.  He shows her that he cherishes her when he makes her a priority and regularly expresses his affection, his devotion, and his commitment to her, not just on Valentine’s Day, but throughout the year.

One night several years ago, after Mary Ann had gone to bed, I took a notepad and a pen and sat down at the kitchen table to write her a series of short, one-line love notes. Each one said something very simple: “I’m glad you’re my wife”; “I love you very much”; “I still find you wildly attractive.”

Once the notes were written, I went to work.  I placed them strategically all over the house.  One was in a spot where she would see it the next day.  Another was tucked away in her Bible.  A third was put in a recipe file in the kitchen.  And so on.

For the next few weeks and months, the notes continued to pop up in unexpected places—glove compartment, mailbox, fine china cabinet.  That one night of note writing sent its message for weeks to come.  In fact, the one in the recipe file is still where I put it, more than a decade ago—not because Mary Ann hasn’t found it, but because she has left it right where I put it!

—Bob Lepine in The Christian Husband

 

Thought to Apply: They do not love who do not show their love —William Shakespeare (English playwright)

 Adapted from Being White (InterVarsity, 2004).

 

Prayer for the Week:  Help me, Lord, to sacrificially love my wife in practical ways that will bind us tightly together.

Valentine’s Day – Treasured Gift

Valentine - ShoesBible Verse for Valentine’s Day:  “Your gift will return to you in full measure.”   Luke 6:38

How you celebrate your wife’s birthday or your anniversary is an art, not a science.  The scientific approach puts a lot of stock in the material, the expensive.  

Suppose one man buys his wife a Mercedes for her birthday.  The other man takes his wife out to the park and they go for a nice walk and share feelings of love and closeness as he tells her how much she means to him.  On the way back to the car, he finds a small, flat rock, picks it up, and brings it home.  Then he writes a little poem or some other notation on it and presents it to her as a memento of the walk they took that day.  Whose wife will appreciate her gift the most?

The natural male inclination is to think that the expensive gift would be far more meaningful to a wife.  After all, if you bought another man a Mercedes, he’d go around telling all his friends, “Wow!  What a great guy Joe is.  I can’t believe it.  He gave me this wonderful car!”

But when you buy a woman a Mercedes, she is much more likely to say to her girlfriends, “Look, he got me a Mercedes.  I wonder if he is trying to buy me off or something.”

Let’s get back to that little rock.  When she’s 93 and you’ve been dead for a decade, what is she going to keep on her mantel?  A picture of the Mercedes? Absolutely not!

She’s going to keep that rock, because it symbolizes a time when her husband gave her special attention, devotion, and esteem.

—Emerson Eggerichs in Love & Respect  (Thomas Nelson, 2004)

God’s Love and Valentine’s Day

Valentine - Candy Heart“If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them!”  Luke 6:32

Valentine’s Day is a day in popular culture set apart for celebrations of romantic love.  So it seems only appropriate for me to reflect on Luke 6:32, a passage that focuses on love.

The origins of this holiday are somewhat obscure.  Several men named “Valentine” (Valentinus) were recognized as martyred saints by the church.  One of these was buried near Rome on February 14.

Medieval tradition held that this particular Valentine, a priest, was conducting marriage ceremonies in a time when the Roman emperor prohibited young men from marrying.  For this crime, he was arrested and killed by the Roman government.

In recent times, an addition to this story claims that Valentine, before his death, sent a love note to a young girl whom he loved, signing it, “From your Valentine.”

Unfortunately, there is little reason to believe that any of the historical saints named Valentine actually did any of these actions that might be associated with romantic love.  Apparently, the connection between St. Valentine and romance was popularized by Geoffrey Chaucer, the 14th-century English writer and poet.  Later, writers on the saints embellished Chaucer’s story, leaving us with the Christian saint who honored marriage and sent the first Valentine’s Day card.

I grew up hearing very little about St. Valentine.  February 14 was simply a day when we did special things to express affection for our friends and family members.

The “big event” happened at school, when we would exchange valentines with our classmates.  As soon as I got home after school, I’d dump out my pile of valentines to see if any of them included special notes from the girls in my class or those Sweetheart candies with little messages on them.  (Honestly, I was happier with the candy than the notes.)

At this point, you may be wondering what any of this has to do with Jesus’ call to love.  Our Valentine’s Day traditions seem to be completely disconnected from what we read in Luke 6:32: “If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that?  Even sinners love those who love them.”

Yet, in a way, my boyhood Valentine’s Day practice did express love like that of Jesus.  You see, I did not give valentines only to my friends or to the girls I hoped would like me in a special way.

Rather, my fellow students and I were expected to give valentines to every person in the class, including those whom we didn’t care for, those whom we judged to be “weird,” and those we might have considered to be our “enemies” on the playground.  We even gave cards to the kids who did not reciprocate.

Ironically, our valentine exchange was more a reflection of the kind of love Jesus commends in Luke 6 than it was a celebration of exclusive, romantic love.

I think it’s fine to be reminded to express love to those who are most special to us.  If Valentine’s Day encourages spouses to say “I love you” to each other and friends to commemorate their friendship, that’s great.  Goodness knows, the world would be a better place if people expressed their love more often.

But Jesus encourages us to love, not just those who love us back, but also those who do not reciprocate.

All of us have such people in our lives at work, in the local store, perhaps even in our families or our church.  Our calling, as followers of Jesus, is to love them and do good to them, not in order that they might respond, but so that we might live each day as beloved, faithful children of our heavenly Father.

          Adapted from the original article “Happy Valentine’s Day!” at TheHighCalling.org.

Happy Valentine’s Day

Happy Valentine's Day

Valentine’s Day – Noteworthy Tactic

Valentine - Love NotesBible Verse:  Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.  Romans 12:10

Bonus Reading:  Ephesians 4:31-5:2

A husband nourishes his wife by caring for her physical, spiritual, and emotional needs.  He shows her that he cherishes her when he makes her a priority and regularly expresses his affection, his devotion, and his commitment to her.

One night several years ago, after my wife, Mary Ann, had gone to bed, I took a notepad and a pen and sat down at the kitchen table to write her a series of short, one-line love notes.  Each one said something very simple: “I’m glad you’re my wife”; “I love you very much”; “I still find you wildly attractive.”

Once the notes were written, I went to work.  I placed them strategically all over the house.  One was in a spot where she would see it the next day.  Another was tucked away in her Bible.  A third was put in a recipe file in the kitchen.  And so on.

For the next few weeks and months, the notes continued to pop up in unexpected places—glove compartment, mailbox, fine china cabinet.  That one night of note writing sent its message for weeks to come.  In fact, the one in the recipe file is still where I put it, more than a decade ago—not because Mary Ann hasn’t found it, but because she has left it right where I put it!

—Bob Lepine in The Christian Husband

 

Thought for St. Valentine’s Day:  They do not love who do not show their love.—William Shakespeare (English playwright)

Adapted from The Christian Husband (Regal, 1999).

 

Prayer for the Week:  Deliver me, sovereign Lord, from attempting to manage You.  Help me to honor You by trusting and submitting to Your control.

Valentine’s Day – Icy Response

Ice Cube TrayKey Bible Verse:  Quick!  Catch all the little foxes before they ruin the vineyard of your love.  Song of Solomon 2:15

Bonus Reading:  Mark 10:42-45

When I grew up, my family lived by a simple rule:  If you take out an ice cube, you refill the tray before you put it back in.  Now I’ll put out a tray and find nothing more than half an ice cube—which I call an ice chip.

It’s amazing how much such a small detail irritated me.  I asked Lisa, “How much do you love me?”

“More than all the world,” she professed.

“I don’t need you to love me that much,” I said.  “I just want you to love me for seven seconds.”

“What on earth are you talking about?” she asked.

“Well, I timed how long it takes to fill an ice cube tray; it’s just seven sec—”

“Oh, Gary, are we back to that again?”

It finally dawned on me one day that if it takes Lisa just seven seconds to fill an ice cube tray, that’s all it takes me as well.  Was I really so selfish that I was willing to let seven seconds’ worth of inconvenience become a serious issue in my marriage?  Was my capacity to show charity really that limited?

Marriage has forced me to face my character flaws and sinful attitudes, and encouraged me to be cleansed and to grow in godliness.

—Gary Thomas in Sacred Marriage

 

My Response: This Valentine’s Day, the marital “pet peeve” I’ll let go of is …

Adapted from Sacred Marriage (Zondervan, 2000)

 

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, give me a resolve to relate to my wife with Your kind of love.

Valentine’s Day – “Just Because” Gifts

Valentine - DogKey Bible Verse:  Husbands, go all out in love for your wives.  Don’t take advantage of them.  Colossians 3:19, The Message.

Dig Deeper:  Ephesians 5:25-33

It’s very likely that gifts (of any size) mean more to your wife than you imagine.  Of course, the art of gifting takes high priority at the Big Five: Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Christmas, your anniversary, and her birthday.  But those are obligatory gift-giving dates.

Spur-of-the-moment gifts can be much more satisfying than Big Five gifts.  Your wife may not say that out loud, but I’ll bet she agrees.

Again, I’m not talking about gifts connected to any holiday. I’m also not talking about a gift designed to get you out of the doghouse.  Husbands, you need a plan to give your wife a gift (cards, flowers, candies, jewelry, jammies) for no reason.

Here’s what you do: Pull out your calendar and mark weeks during which there are no holidays or other days that are special to your wife.  Every family calendar is different, but the idea is to find a window of opportunity to give your wife a “just because” gift.  Mark that week on your calendar and then surprise her on that predetermined date with a gift box or bouquet.

When she asks, “What’s this for?” simply say, “Just because.”

—Jay Payleitner in 52 Things Wives Need from Their Husbands

 

My Response: I will plan to give my wife two or three inexpensive “just because” gifts over the next two or three months.

 

Thought to Apply: Love is not communicated in the big event but in the small acts of kindness.—Richard Foster (theologian, writer)

Adapted from 52 Things Wives Need from Their Husbands (Harvest House, 2011).

 

Prayer for the Week:  Creator of Marriage, forgive me when I take my wife for granted, acting as if she’s not there or doesn’t even matter to my life; show me how to love her more tenderly, passionately, and selflessly.

Valentine’s Day – Valentine’s Disaster

Valentine - DisasterKey Bible Verse:  Blessed be the man who took notice of you!  Ruth 2:19

Bonus Reading: Ruth 2-3

“That February 14, the first of our marriage, I went to the USC library and spent eight or ten hours studying.  At home, Shirley cooked a wonderful dinner, baked a pink, heart-shaped cake with “Happy Valentine’s Day” written on top, and placed red candles, a small gift, and a love note on the table.

About 8 p.m., I got hungry and ordered a hamburger at the University Grill.  Then, heading toward home, I stopped by to see my parents.  Mom served up a great slice of apple pie.  When I put my key in the lock about 10 p.m., the apartment was almost dark and deathly quiet.

On the table, a coagulated dinner still sat in our best dishes.  Half-burned candles stood cold and dark in their silver-plated holders.  Then I noticed the red-and-white decorations.

“Oh no!” I thought.  I felt like a creep.  I didn’t even have a Valentine for Shirley, much less a thoughtful gift. I couldn’t even pretend to want the dried-out food before me.

After a brief flurry of words, and a few tears, Shirley went to bed and pulled the covers up around her ears.  Fortunately, she is not only romantic but forgiving.  And I determined never to forget Valentine’s Day again!

—- James Dobson in Focus on the Family letter

 

Personal Challenge:

  • You’ve got four days to— mark your calendar and make your plans.

 

Thought to Apply:  Whatever else love is, it is not passive. – Frederick Sampson

Valentine’s Day – God’s Love

Valentine - God Loves You“If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that?  Even sinners love those who love them!”  Luke 6:32

Valentine’s Day is a day in popular culture set apart for celebrations of romantic love.  So it seems only appropriate for me to reflect on Luke 6:32, a passage that focuses on love.

The origins of this holiday are somewhat obscure.  Several men named “Valentine” (Valentinus) were recognized as martyred saints by the church.  One of these was buried near Rome on February 14.  Medieval tradition held that this particular Valentine, a priest, was conducting marriage ceremonies in a time when the Roman emperor prohibited young men from marrying.  

For this crime, he was arrested and killed by the Roman government.  In recent times, an addition to this story claims that Valentine, before his death, sent a love note to a young girl whom he loved, signing it, “From your Valentine.”

Unfortunately, there is little reason to believe that any of the historical saints named Valentine actually did any of these actions that might be associated with romantic love.  Apparently, the connection between St. Valentine and romance was popularized by Geoffrey Chaucer, the 14th-century English writer and poet.  Later, writers on the saints embellished Chaucer’s story, leaving us with the Christian saint who honored marriage and sent the first Valentine’s Day card.

I grew up hearing very little about St. Valentine.  February 14 was simply a day when we did special things to express affection for our friends and family members.  The “big event” happened at school, when we would exchange valentines with our classmates.  As soon as I got home after school, I’d dump out my pile of valentines to see if any of them included special notes from the girls in my class or those Sweetheart candies with little messages on them.  (Honestly, I was happier with the candy than the notes.)

At this point, you may be wondering what any of this has to do with Jesus’ call to love.  Our Valentine’s Day traditions seem to be completely disconnected from what we read in Luke 6:32: “If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that?  Even sinners love those who love them.”

Yet, in a way, my boyhood Valentine’s Day practice did express love like that of Jesus.  You see, I did not give valentines only to my friends or to the girls I hoped would like me in a special way.  Rather, my fellow students and I were expected to give valentines to every person in the class, including those whom we didn’t care for, those whom we judged to be “weird,” and those we might have considered to be our “enemies” on the playground.  We even gave cards to the kids who did not reciprocate.  Ironically, our valentine exchange was more a reflection of the kind of love Jesus commends in Luke 6 than it was a celebration of exclusive, romantic love.

I think it’s fine to be reminded to express love to those who are most special to us.  If Valentine’s Day encourages spouses to say “I love you” to each other and friends to commemorate their friendship, that’s great.  Goodness knows, the world would be a better place if people expressed their love more often.  But Jesus encourages us to love, not just those who love us back, but also those who do not reciprocate.  

All of us have such people in our lives at work, in the local store, perhaps even in our families or our church.  Our calling, as followers of Jesus, is to love them and do good to them, not in order that they might respond, but so that we might live each day as beloved, faithful children of our heavenly Father.