Newsletter

We are the Church Together

Brothers and Sisters in Christ,


 I am the Church! You are the Church! We are the Church together!      

“Church” has looked a little different this past year, and we are very thankful to begin the return to “normal”, but there are a few things that will never be quite the same. For many of us, absence has absolutely made the heart grow fonder when it comes to certain aspects of church/worship/Christian fellowship that we have been very thankful to experience once again. I fear that many have fallen out of the rhythm that included regular participation in worship. We long for the days when our entire Immanuel family is regularly gathering! 

This pandemic has been an excellent opportunity to reflect on what it really means to be the church. A resource that has been helpful in this reflection is the explanation of the Third Article of the Creed. 

Question #202 in Luther’s Small Catechism (2017 edition) asks What is the Church? It is the body of Christ–that is, all people whom the Spirit, by the Means of Grace, has gathered to Christ in faith throughout the world (John 10:16, 1 Corinthians 12:27, Matthew 18:20, Revelation 5:9). 

I heard comments during lock-down about church being “taken away”, but I’m not sure that these remarks came from a proper understanding of what “Church” really is. Things certainly changed (and not all for the better), but sickness and governmental policy certainly cannot stop the Holy Spirit from gathering people to Christ!! 

Another question in this section of our Catechism asks What are some of the privileges and responsibilities of members of the Church? 

  1. We should regularly receive the Word and Sacraments within the community of believers (John 8:31-32, John 15:5, Colossians 3:16). 
  2. We should belong to congregations that confess and teach the pure Word of God (Acts 17:11, 2 Corinthians 6:14, 2 Timothy 4:3-4). 
  3. We should beware of and avoid false teachings, false teachers, and organizations that promote false teaching. (Matthew 7:15-16, Galatians 1:8, Romans 16:17-18, 1 John 4:1)
  4. We should tell others about Jesus, participate in works of mercy and service, and support the ministry of the church with prayer and financial gifts (John 12:21, Luke 10:2, Galatians 6:6). 

Some of these items are things that our congregational staff and leadership provide for our members, but most of what is described here is what we as the Church (the Body of Christ) do as we commit to faithful living! 

As we return to “normal” the opportunities for works of mercy and service are growing! We are looking for more ushers, greeters, tech helpers, and musicians to assist with worship services. We are looking for adults to pour into some of God’s children through youth activities and Vacation Bible School. We are looking for leaders and participants to build up Bible study opportunities. Most of all, we are looking for families who are recommitting to regular worship attendance so that we can be encouraging one another, and holding each other accountable in a world where so many things would tear us away from God and His will for our lives. 

There may be some ministries still on “pause” that you’re passionate about. If so, let us know and work together to get these things going! There may be obstacles or concerns that have not been addressed for your family. If so please contact us! We value your input! 

Your Sister in Christ,
Tara Darling, DCE

Newsletter

C’est fini!

Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

C’est fini! It’s finished! All done! 

I’ve been reading a lot of Fancy Nancy with my daughter lately. The main character likes to speak french phrases because she thinks that they sound fancy. I think ‘all done’ sounds pretty good in any language (unless we’re talking about my favorite dessert or vacation time)! 

Many of us are more than ready for that deep breath that comes with the end of the school year. Our graduates are certainly ready to celebrate their accomplishments and move on to the next thing. Our confirmands have completed their instruction and are ready to stand up in front of the congregation and publicly confirm the promises that were spoken over them in their baptism. 

C’est fini! It’s finished! All done!


Or is it?? 

Each of these occasions marks the completion of something, but none of them are really the end. Whether it is another grade, a new class of students, another school, or new responsibilities/jobs, the end of the school year is really just a stepping stone to something else. Confirmation is not the end, by any means, but the beginning of adult membership, and taking ownership for faith and personal ministry as an integral part of the body of Christ. There is a quote that I particularly appreciate:

This life therefore is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness, not health, but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it, the process is not yet finished, but it is going on, this is not the end, but it is the road.”

Martin Luther

God is constantly sanctifying us–molding and changing us, and we’re not quite ready, yet! 

There are two very significant times where we read that phrase “it is finished” in scripture: It is one of the phrases that Jesus utters from the cross as He completes the work of salvation for us – taking all sin and shame upon himself. We also see Jesus speaking this phrase in Revelation 21:6 right after he declares that He is making all things new! 

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.”

Revelation 21:3-7

Through the calling of the Holy Spirit we have all been included in the amazing story of God’s people that started with Adam and Eve in the Garden. No matter how many “endings” we may experience, God is still writing our story. We have the promise that one day He will come to declare that “it is done”. The really cool thing is that we’ve already read the last page of that book: Jesus wins and we believers live happily [for]ever after!  

Your Sister in Christ,

Tara Darling, DCE

Newsletter

Can you imagine the resurrection?

He is risen!  He is risen indeed! ALLELUIA!!

Happy Spring to all of my brothers and sisters in Christ!

Every once and a while it feels like God is trying to hit me over the head with something. Have you ever experienced that? Have you ever noticed times when everywhere you look the same thing keeps popping up…?

Two of the classes that I teach have discussed the resurrection of Jesus this past week, shortly after Easter, and just after showing the movie Risen for our congregation on April 9th. These discussions not only talked about the events that transpired but what this actually meant for the people of that time and what it actually means for us, today! I’m thinking God probably wants me to dwell on this for a while…so I’m inviting you to dwell with me! 

I have been very blessed to have been raised in a Christian home, and I know I have that in common with many of you. My entire childhood was littered with opportunities to celebrate Christ’s resurrection – things like worshiping regularly on Sunday mornings with my family, learning at Immanuel Lutheran School, and involvement in many youth activities. All of these things consistently pointed me to the hope and the promise of new life through Christ’s resurrection. Because this has always been part of my life, I don’t really know what it feels like to have one big “Aha!” moment, but I try to put myself into the shoes of others when they first heard or understood this news. It’s been a great exercise in remembering the significance of this beautiful gift and awesome display of God’s powerful love for us. I invite you to take a moment with each of the following questions to really imagine what it would have been like. 

Can you imagine…?

Can you imagine watching the man that you’ve grown to love and respect being mutilated and killed? To Mary, the Apostles, and others who were close to Jesus, He was not only the fulfillment of a long-awaited prophecy, but He was a man that they loved. They were powerless to stop these events (though Peter certainly tried with the whole sword-to-ear thing). 

Can you imagine what it would have been like to experience the temple curtain being torn in two? That curtain symbolized the people’s sin – making us unworthy of coming into God’s presence. That barrier has been removed!

Can you imagine the fear that enveloped the Apostles that Sabbath day between Jesus’ death and resurrection? How could the man who commanded the wind and the waves be killed by the Chief Priests and the Roman soldiers? Were the soldiers coming for us next? What about all of the amazing things that He taught us and promised us?

Can you imagine coming to the tomb to honor the mortal remains of your friend, but instead being greeted by angels? Talk about emotional whiplash! I cannot begin to fathom what it would be like to experience something so terrifyingly amazing first-hand!

Can you imagine being one of the people telling others the unbelievable news that you just witnessed firsthand? Think about that word: unbelievable–this news defied human logic. This news would make people seem like raving lunatics. This news changes EVERYTHING. This news is what the Jewish people have been waiting to hear for centuries. This news is what the world has been waiting for since God first described His solution for sin to Adam and Even in the garden. 

Can you imagine hearing this news for the first time? Would you believe it? Would you question? Would it seem too good to be true? Who would you share the news with, first? Who would you look to for guidance as you explore what this really means?

Can you imagine being given a terminal diagnosis one day, and then waking up with the body of an olympic athlete the next? That’s sort of what it’s like being freed from our bondage from sin but even more so! We go from being completely broken with no hope at all, to being untouchable by death. 

Can you imagine feeling unconditional, unwavering, unstoppable, unmeasurable love from the Creator of the Universe? It feels pretty good, doesn’t it? 

It’s a lot to take in. It’s a lot to process. It’s a lot! These things may begin to seem normal, or routine, but they are just as meaningful for each and every one of us, today. This resurrection that we celebrate every single Sunday is just as big of a deal as it was when it happened nearly 2000 years ago. So, I invite you to continue dwelling with me in this promise and this hope that we have. I invite you to continue celebrating this defeat of sin and death every single week as we worship together. I invite you to find refuge in the power of your Risen Lord every time Satan tries to steal any of the significance of these events from you. I invite you to shout our victory cry over and over: 

He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!! 

Your Sister in Christ,
Tara Darling, DCE

Announcements, Newsletter

The Law and the Gospel of Ash Wednesday

Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

One of the things that I love about our Lutheran teachings is the emphasis on both Law and Gospel without sacrificing one for the other. I remember one college course that spent weeks on this particular topic, teaching us how vital it is to know when to apply which and never to confuse one with the other. 

I appreciate how Ash Wednesday is such a beautiful and important reminder of both aspects of our relationship with God. 

The Law of Ash Wednesday: “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Genesis 3:19 This was spoken to Adam as a consequence for the fall into sin. It is a staggering reminder of our unworthiness when we stand before God. We are made from dust, we are temporary, we are dirty, and stained by the sin of the world. On our own we are nothing and we will return to nothing. The ashes we receive are a reminder of this dirt and grime and unworthiness. They are in the shape of a cross to remind us of our sin holding Christ to the cross. It was our guilt that condemned Him, and held Him there. 

But… 

That shape also reminds us of God’s great promise for us.

The Gospel of Ash Wednesday: Just a few verses earlier we heard a great and wonderful promise from our Heavenly Father: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” God shows us His plan to save us from the moment of the fall: Jesus. Those ashes that we receive are in the shape of the cross to remind us of God’s fulfilled plan to make us righteous. We now receive the same sign that we received in our Baptism to show us that we are washed clean with the blood of Christ. We are made new through Christ’s sacrifice, we are restored and able to once again stand before God. We are worthy, not through our own actions, but through the work of Christ for us. 

We need a proper understanding of both Law and Gospel in our lives. The Gospel is what changes our hearts. Through the Gospel, we have hope in Christ of eternity with God. Through the Gospel, we learn what Christ has done for us, not because of our worth, but because of His great love for us. The law shows us just how much we need our Savior, and without the law Christ’s great love and great sacrifice are meaningless! 

Part of the design of our worship as the body of Christ is to show us both Law and Gospel again and again and again as we come together. We have the promises of the Gospel to bring hope during difficult seasons. This life is not the end for us, we have far greater promises laid up for us through faith, and in the end, it’s all going to be okay (in fact, it will be much better than just okay)! When we come together with the body of Christ we share in the joy of the Gospel and we can support and encourage one another in faith with the promises of God. We also gain from the accountability of the law when we come together as the body of Christ. The law gives us our marching orders as we go forth into the world. 

We are entering into the season of Lent, which is a time to re-focus. I think it is very fitting that the theme this year is “Return to the Lord”. It IS time to return! Satan has been having a lot of fun this year attacking us in so many ways, but God is still at work in His church! 

We are very thankful for the technology that allows us to stay connected when we need to keep some distance, but we also know that this is not how worship is supposed to be. We have been working very hard to find the balance between safe distance and quality connection and worship for our in-person worship services. We invite you to come back! If you have been choosing to participate in other activities, it’s time to return to worship. Live-streaming worship is an incredible blessing, but it is easy for Satan to distract you and to distance you from your church family. If you are still worshiping online due to health concerns, please use this season as an opportunity to re-focus. Make sure there are no distractions, take some time to prepare yourself for worship, and take some time to reach out to the Christian brothers and sisters that you used to see when you walked into our building. God has called each of you to this place and to this Christian community for a reason, and we cannot let Satan win this one! 

So, I invite you, Return to the Lord with me! We have all strayed. We have all fallen short. We have all given into the fear and distractions of this world. We are all dust and to dust we shall all return. 

But…

Our God is the King of the Universe, and He calls us to Him. Through Christ, we are redeemed and restored. We are God’s beloved children and he has set us apart from this sinful world. 

Your Sister in Christ,
Tara Darling, DCE

Newsletter, Spotlight

New

Happy New Year!

January is often a time of thinking about new habits, new goals, turning over new leaves (even though we live in Wisconsin and there’s not a leaf to be found underneath the snow outside), and trying to improve upon ourselves in general.

New. Let’s think about that theme in Scripture for a moment. There is a lot of hope and comfort tied up in that word.

We hear about the New Covenant that is given when Jesus first institutes the Lord’s Supper (recorded on Luke 22 and 1 Corinthians 11). The first covenant was given to Abraham and passed on through the Nation of Israel throughout the entirety of the Old Testament, but we hear the promise of a New Covenant from the prophet Jeremiah. Paul references this prophecy, and there are many other New Testament teachings that assure us of this New Covenant through Christ–we have this beautiful promise in Christ who FULFILLS our end of the covenant for us, restoring our relationship with God completely and eternally!

When Jesus knows that his time on earth is limited, he gives his disciples a new command “…, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

Romans 6 beautifully describes the new life that we are given in our Baptism when Paul writes “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..”

We have further reassurance in 2 Corinthians Chapter 5 when Paul writes: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

We have encouragement from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians to take our Christian walk seriously, and to “put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” He gives very similar instructions to the Christians in Colossae when he urges “But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.” (Col 3:8-11).  How beautiful is it that our identities before Christ are wiped away, with all of their baggage and sinfulness? We are simply beloved children whom God has chosen to be His own!

We are given many assurances of what Christ as already done to make us new. Our sinful condition has been resolved by His blood on the cross, and we no longer bear the burden of that eternal punishment through Christ’s sacrifice, but it doesn’t end there.  Not only do we have hope of the promise of the resurrection, but we also have the promise of a new, fully perfect life, to come!

In 2 Peter, Chapter three, we are warned of the coming of the Lord, and given a wonderful piece of comfort in verse 13: “But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.” Peter affirms Paul’s previous writings and speaks of the destruction that will come when Jesus comes again, but believers need not fear any of this because of God’s sure promise: For us, there will be a new heaven and a new earth. God’s perfect design will be restored, and we will be blessed to experience it!

We have this promise reiterated once again in Revelation 21:1-5: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’”

When we experience this new heaven and new earth, we will not only be bystanders, but we will be that beautifully adorned bride! We will be honored as God’s perfect and wonderful creation – not because of what we have done, but because of Christ’s final and complete victory over sin, death, and the devil!

All of this — the new covenant, being new creatures, promised the new heaven and new earth — is God’s amazing and undeserved gift to us. We have done NOTHING worthy of this privilege and honor. Frankly, we have done a whole lot that should disqualify us from it. That is what makes it so amazing, and so beautiful. As we walk into a new year, together, please join me in choosing gratitude for God’s grace every single day. Please join me in seeking to live a life worthy of that to which we were called (Eph 4:1), as children of God, made new by the washing of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). Please join me in not only remembering the fresh start that Jesus gives us daily in our baptism, but reveling in it! Here’s to a new year!

Your Sister in Christ,
Tara Barrett, DCE
(Or possibly Tara Darling, depending on how quickly you’ve gotten to your newsletter. 😉 )