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

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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. 😉 )

 

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