Newsletter, Spotlight

Devoted

Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Are you devoted? Who/what are you devoted to? What does it even mean to be devoted??

I haven’t often stopped to examine this word or idea, but that’s exactly what Pastor Jonathan and I were invited to do at a recent Theological Symposium. You’ll see in his article that we were given an enlightening definition of the word devotion: A deep reverence for a particular teaching of the faith that manifests itself in contemplative and active practices in the world. Contemplative and active…

The most obvious type of “devotion” seems to be personal devotions—I picture a quiet morning with a cup of coffee on the kitchen table with the sun’s rays gently illuminating the pages of an open Bible. I confess to you: I have NEVER experienced this setting, and I don’t think I ever will! Firstly, I don’t like coffee. Secondly, I don’t particularly like mornings! That’s right, your DCE–one of your spiritual leaders–doesn’t start her mornings with quiet time pouring over her Bible. Before you contact our District President to explain why I should be removed from my position immediately, please humor me and continue reading.

I am not proud of this. I have spent a lot of time feeling guilty that I don’t find joy in early morning studies.  One of the speakers at the symposium shared something that really resonated with me, though. He said something along the lines of “Many Christians doubt their devotional life, or wish that it was better.” My first thought was “Yeah! That’s me!”. My second thought was “EVERYONE could have a better devotional life – even if we feel like we are doing a pretty decent job!” He went on to say that we tend to have a very narrow view of devotion (flashback to the coffee and Bible on the kitchen table). We often only consider individual meditative study as ‘proper’ devotional activity. This view does not encompass what the church has considered ‘devotion’ for centuries!

A life of devotion shows itself in many other ways, including but not limited to service, acts of charity, worship, mission, praising through songs, being in fellowship and community with believers, and so much more.

Having a late-night conversation with a friend digging through what Scripture teaches us about dealing with life’s situations is living a life of devotion. Having a late-night conversation about how our feelings drive our actions, not as much.

Treating our teammates and opponents on the soccer field with respect and concern because you recognize them as God’s beloved children created in His image is living a life of devotion. Routinely choosing sports over worship because you’re focused on improving your skills or reputation among the other athletes, not as much.

Working diligently in your career because you recognize that God is using your gifts to serve His children in necessary ways is living a life of devotion. Becoming a work-a-holic for the sake of money or stature and forsaking time with your brothers and sisters in Christ, not as much.

This life of devotion is not possible when we separate ourselves from scripture–when we do not hold God’s word sacred and gladly hear and learn it (from Luther’s explanation of the Third Commandment). John 15:1-11 describes us as branches, with Christ being the vine. We connect to our life-giving Savior by abiding in Him through Word and sacrament! This is not something that comes naturally to sinful, broken people who are faced with an abundance of strains on our time, focus, and energy. This takes diligence, perseverance, and it usually takes accountability! It is GREAT to be spending time in the Word at our kitchen table with our coffee and the sunrise!! It is also REALLY GREAT to be in the word in community!! God has given us an incredible blessing in his instruction to be connected to a community of believers. Though I would never discourage someone from continuing the practice of personal devotions, I encourage (perhaps even challenge) each of you to also seek out opportunities to be in devotion with others.

There are many days when I have a hard time focusing on my daily devotions, but I recognize that being in the Word is good regardless of my attention span. One of the beautiful things about being in devotion with other Christians is that the wonderful blessings of God’s creation (the people around us) become a tool helping to point us back to the Word, and even to see Scripture from a different perspective!

I’m not always in a great mood when it comes time to study scripture. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by my to-do list, or I’m physically and mentally drained. One of the beautiful things about being in devotion with other Christians is that I will have brothers and sisters in Christ to share my frustrations with, as well as my joys. When there is a group of other people expecting to study with me, I will have much more motivation to show up, even if I don’t really feel like it at that moment! There is accountability in community, which helps us to build these habits and disciplines that are so important to our spiritual well being.

Sometimes, I have doubts and misunderstandings. I believe that this is the most important benefit of being in devotion with other Christians: I will have that much more of a defense against Satan’s lies and attacks when I am in devotion in community. The devil can lead us astray even as we strive to do what is right! God gives us the gift of community so that we will have guidance and support in standing strong against his schemes! We can trust in God’s enduring truth, spoken to us not only in His Word, but also from the mouths of our brothers and sisters in Christ!

We may be sounding like a broken record already, but it is our earnest desire for each and every one of you to be engaged in our Immanuel community, and living an intensely devoted life! We strive to offer many opportunities for Bible study with peers or with people crossing many generations to offer a wealth of perspectives and experiences. There are also many opportunities to serve, worship, and recognize the many gifts that God has given us through other ministry opportunities at Immanuel. If you are looking for a way to practice contemplative or active devotion and you haven’t found something that seems to be a good fit for you, please contact Pastor Jonathan or me! We would love to walk with you in that, and we would love to hear more about the passions and skills that God has designed you with to use in this life of devotion, and furthering the Kingdom!

If you get anything from this article, I hope that you have a new motivation to sign up for a new Bible study and take another step toward living a fully devoted life. If you get anything else, I hope that as you’ve been reading you have had moments of your own life flashing through your mind where you’ve seen God at work in areas other than our church building or that sun-streaked kitchen table. Living a life of devotion is more than a 10-minute slot in your schedule, but it is a reverence for God in every moment and every action.

Your hopefully devoted sister in Christ,
Tara Barrett, DCE

 

Newsletter, Spotlight

Let’s DO this (together)!

New pencils with untouched erasers

Sharp, pointy crayons and fresh markers

New clothes and shoes

Crisp, clean backpacks

Re-arranged classrooms

There is a lot of hope and excitement at the beginning of the school year! There may also be a little bit of apprehension as students worry about getting along with a new teacher, or new classmates. Change is always a mixture of exciting and scary! As we come into this fall at Immanuel there is a lot of change, and I, personally, am very excited! Pastor Jonathan and I have been doing a lot of praying, brainstorming, and planning as we put plans into place. It is our fervent prayer that we are following God’s will as we seek to serve this congregation and lead you all through opportunities to Share, Grow, and Serve!

I’m not going to list all of the opportunities to get involved, as Pastor has already done a great job of that in his letter, but I AM going to echo his encouragement to get involved! We are incredibly blessed to be a part of a community of believers that is excited to do ministry together! It’s easy to become intimidated when we think about going out into the world to share Jesus’ love, but it’s a little easier to take those steps when we are not doing it alone! It’s easy to fall into the trap of being intimated by the language of scripture, or to think that we aren’t equipped to understand these things on our own, but it’s a little easier to crack the cover and dig in when we are walking alongside others in the same boat, and when we can trust those leading use through the pages!

Are we always going to do it perfectly? Nope.
Are we always going to have the right words? Nope.
Are we always going to avoid misunderstand or hurt feelings as we interact with others? Nope.
But, are we in it together? Absolutely!

I was recently reminded by the book “Life Together” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer that it isn’t our perfection, or knowledge, or even common goals that bring us together.  We are brought into community through Christ, and Christ alone! “What does this mean? It means, first, that a Christian needs others because of Jesus Christ.  It means, second, that a Christian comes to others only through Jesus Christ. It means, third, that in Jesus Christ we have been chosen from eternity, accepted in time, and united for eternity.” (p 21).  Later in the same chapter, Bonhoeffer describes,

“But God has put this Word into the mouth of men in order that it may be communicated to other men. When one person is struck by the Word, he speaks it to others. God has willed that we should seek and find His living Word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of man. Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged… He needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation… The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother’s is sure.” (pp 22-23).

That’s pretty good stuff, right?!  Probably because he pulled all of these ideas directly from scripture!  Please take some time to check out just one small section of scripture that addresses this: 1 Corinthians 12

So, here is the invitation: Please, join with us, through Christ, to grow in our relationship with God, to grow in our relationships with each other, and to reach out in service to others, inviting them to do this Christianity thing together with us!

Your sister in Christ,
Tara Barrett, DCE

1 Corinthians 12

Newsletter

Here we go!

September is the engine revving up, the sprinter taking off, the shuttle launching. It’s the beginning of the school year, but for adults and kids alike, it’s really the beginning of what our schedules will be until next summer. So, here we go! It’s a year of work, growth, new experiences. What are you planning to do to grow in your faith? You could start by checking out our new recommended resources page for growing in faith and study of Scripture! immanuelrapids.com/church/resources

But, while individual study is a wonderful and recommended practice, just as crucial is study and fellowship with your church family. Well, you’re in luck, because we’ve got a whole heap of it coming this fall!

*Inhales*

  • ALL NEW Discipleship Hour for adults AND KIDS!
  • Altogether Beautiful Women’s Bible Study
  • Fit for Life
  • Monthly Men’s Breakfast
  • Immanuel Family Potluck and Open Gym
  • MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers)
  • MOMSNext
  • A Monthly Devotion Service at Renaissance
  • 7:00 Sunday Morning Study on Church and State Relations
  • Tuesday Morning Bible Study at Renaissance on Revelation by Pastor Jonathan
  • Tuesday Evening Bible Study
  • Thursday Morning Bible Study at Four Star
  • Women’s Evening Guild

*Exhales*

Whew! Okay, some of those things have been around for a while. But here’s the thing: they’re awesome. And full of really cool people. And this time of year is the perfect opportunity to join in because everyone else is! (Is the peer pressure working?) But there are also TONS of volunteer opportunities!

*Inhales*

  • Stephen Minister Class is starting this fall (and there’s a huge need for more Stephen Ministers!)
  • Ruby’s Pantry
  • Church Tech Team (slides ‘n stuff)
  • Discipleship Hour Volunteer
  • Childcare for MOPS
  • Hospitality Team
  • Love INC
  • Project Compassion
  • Offering Counters
  • Newsletter Assembly 
  • Altar Guild
  • Usher Team
  • Communion Assistant
  • Facility Maintenance and Care Team
  • School Library Assistance
  • Adult Choir and Praise Team
  • School work nights/days

*Exhales*
Whew! Bottom line: there is a TON going on at Immanuel. And I want YOU to be part of it. For more information on all of these, check our website (immanuelrapids.com) or look for the Sept-Nov 2019 Ministry Connection catalog. 

One last thing: we need your financial help. WAIT! Keep reading! First off, the weather has been crazy this last year. (Did you know we canceled church FOUR times since the start of 2018?!) Giving tends to go down when we cancel church (mainly because we don’t collect offering that week—go figure). But beyond the offering plate, we need to put air conditioning into some classrooms, install internal and external security cameras, and install controlled door access points at the school. Would you be willing to help Immanuel cover these costs? Any donation amount helps, so if you would be willing to make a donation, please indicate it is for the Special Funding Project. Thank you!

Pastor Jonathan Petzold

Newsletter, Spotlight

REAL. PRESENT. GOD

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

I have just returned from an absolutely amazing trip with our youth to the LCMS Youth Gathering in Minneapolis. Words cannot adequately express how thankful I am for the generous support of this congregation that made this trip possible. THANK YOU!

During our time at the Gathering, we dug into what it really means to have a REAL. PRESENT. GOD. The Gathering officially started with a “Mass Event” on Thursday evening. We first came together with all 28,000 youth, adults, planners, and volunteers we looked at our theme as a whole. lft_full_2019YG_blk_RGB

On Friday, we dug into how our God is REAL. We are real people with real problems. It’s easy to try to edit and add the right filters to every part of our lives, but real life is broken and messy. Because Jesus is real, we can be real, too!  We can come to God real, broken, and unedited. He loves us as His children made perfect by the blood of Christ, and that is how we can face the world!

On Saturday, we looked at what it really means to be PRESENT. We are so easily distracted in this life. Between phones, busy schedules, Netflix binging, and so many other things, being present with the people around us is becoming a lost art, let along being truly present with God! We were reminded of the blessing of presence, and the promise that we have of God’s constant presence in our lives! Our God is not only all-powerful, but He cares about the minutia of our lives and is always drawing us closer. God is present in His Word (through Christ Himself, Scripture, the Sacraments, and His Word proclaimed). God is also present through His people – those He’s placed in our lives to encourage us in our faith. God’s presence is our refuge and strength, no matter what!

On Sunday, we were collectively in awe of the power and magnitude of our God! This God who created the universe and all of its beautiful and intricate details has also created each and every one of us. (If you’d like to connect to the kids that attended on this topic, check out this video and then ask them about Carl!) We are His individual children and we are all an amazing part of this amazing creation. Our God is all-powerful; our God is all-personal, and this God is for us in Jesus!

Some of you were able to tune in and view portions of these mass events (and if you didn’t, I’m telling you now, you missed out!), but that was only one aspect of the gathering. Through your generosity, these kids (and adults) were also able to spend time together in Scripture and attend seminars on a variety of topics. We heard the Biblical perspective on topics including but not limited to bullying, dating and sex, witnessing to peers, understanding scripture, dealing with drama, leadership, transgenderism, and so much more! It was an incredible blessing to see these kids’ faces light up at being able to speak frankly about these issues, and actually hear some helpful answers.

This experience and spiritual growth would not have been possible without your prayers and financial support. I have been incredibly grateful and encouraged to see your investment in members if our congregation. I’ve got another request, though: Please continue to support and encourage the youth that are choosing to be part of our congregational life. Please thank them for the many ways that they are currently serving in worship. Please ask them about their experience, and if they were not one of the 10 that traveled to Minnesota, ask them about their summer, their sport or job, or their plans for the fall. It takes more than parents and a couple church staff when it comes to building up these believers, and I am confident that each and every one of us could learn a couple of things from these amazing kids!

Your Sister in Christ,
Tara Barrett, DCE

Sermons, Spotlight

The King is Dead…

The King is dead! This is the King’s gift to you: the crucified King takes all of your sin.

The one called “King of the Jews” hangs naked on cross. He is bloodied. He is bruised. He is beaten and scarred. What hangs upon that cross is revolting. Naseauting. Ugly.

In the crucified King, we see our own, true self. What hangs upon that cross is your sin and your selfishness.

What hangs upon that cross is our wretched hearts. Our coveting. Our conniving. Our scheming.

What hangs upon that cross is our gossip. Our manipulations. Our assassination attempts of reputation.

Upon that cross are all the times we lie, steal, and cheat; all the times we tell God that he doesn’t provide enough.

Upon that cross is our lust, our molestation, our dreams of twisted fantasies, pornography.  Our resent of spouses, the ways we use and abuse marriage. Divorce. Cohabitation. Adultery.

Upon that cross is murder. Stabs in the back. Harm, self-harm, failure to prevent harm. Suicide. Alcohol. Drugs. Addiction.

There hang hatred of parents, dishonor of authority, our attempts to destroy the reputation of our leaders.

There hang all the times we fail to make church a priority. All the times we have better things to do than to treasure God’s Word.

There hang all the times we make a mockery of God’s Name by our lips and by our character.

There hang all our doubts and all our failures to fear, love, trust God above all things.

God the Father takes all sins of the world, the darkness of all our pasts, all the skeletons in our closets, all our anger at how wrong and terrible the world is, all abuse and tragedy, he takes it all…

and he takes it all out on his Son.

The King is dead! This is the King’s gift to you: your sins are pardoned.

Jesus takes all the sin of the world so that he himself is the greatest sinner in history.

His wounds from the cross were not the worst part of his suffering. No, it was his separation from God for you. It was your sin that made him suffer.

He is the God King who was separated from God for you. The word for being in a state of separation from God is hell.

Upon the cross, your King suffers your hell for you.

Upon the cross, your King decrees for sinners the highest pardon.

Because of your crucified King, nothing stops you from coming before your God with confidence.

The King died to pardon all sins, all doubts, and all the treasons of his people.

Your sins have been placed in the tomb of Jesus. Your sins have been buried there forever. For sins, this tomb is escape-proof. And sins don’t rise from the dead.

That means, for the Christian, all pangs of guilt are fake news from the devil himself. God’s disgust with your sin is forever buried in the tomb of Jesus.

The Christian may feel disappointment when they encounter sin, but the scandal of the cross is that the Christian remains forgiven even in the midst of commiting sin.

Guilt that condemns, damns, and separates from God has been forever vanquished by the cross of the King.

The King is dead! This is the King’s gift to you: it is by the cross that you see your true king.

King Jesus was separated from the Father in order to unite you to Father.

King Jesus was cut off from the Creator so that you again are a royal subject of your Creator.

King Jesus came to offer himself on the cross for you. It was his divine mission. He was born into a manger for this very reason. His highest act as King was to die to free you.

Therefore, the way of the Christian is no longer by being good enough, being sincere enough, or feeling it enough. It isn’t by doing the right things, saying the right things, thinking the right things. It isn’t by avoiding sin, by avoiding failure, by avoiding doubt. It isn’t by obligation, by act, or by failure to act.

The way of the Christian is in the shadow of the cross. Nothing that you do or don’t do will get you any closer to God than the cross of your King already has.

Whatever is his is yours and whatever he is we you will become.

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.
Romans 6:4-8

Baptism takes you into the death of your King. Baptism buries you in Christ and binds you to Him and to His resurrection.

This is the King’s gift to you. The King is dead!



…Long live the King!