A Word from Pastor Linda
What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus? Is it about holding a certain set of beliefs? Attending church on Sunday? Saying a particular prayer and turning your heart over to Jesus? Being upright and morally responsible?
As Lutherans, of course, we believe in the primacy of grace – that God loves us and saves us not because of anything we have done, but because of who God is. We do not earn God’s love or our salvation – we couldn’t possibly. Just as parents don’t love their newborn babies because of what they do (sleeping and crying and pooping just aren’t that lovable), God doesn’t love us for what we do or what we fail to do. God knows us, warts and all, and loves us anyway. This is the good news of the gospel.
However, God also calls us to live out our gratitude for God’s love and imitate Jesus in lives of love and service – NOT to earn our salvation, but as our grateful response to God’s abundant love and mercy.
What does that call look like? What does it look like to follow Jesus? There are many answers to that question and no two people’s paths will be exactly alike. However, there are certain central spiritual practices that throughout most of the history of the church have been considered “marks of discipleship.” Martin Luther encouraged people to practice their faith through core practices like sharing the Lord’s Supper, giving and asking for forgiveness, praying, praising, and teaching the faith.
In our time, the call to practice our faith visibly is perhaps even more urgent. While we might not be surrounded by people trying to work their way into God’s graces, our culture is filled with idolatry, as so many put their “fear, love, and trust” in many things besides the creator of the universe. Our spiritual practices can help the world to come to know the God we know in Jesus.
Our spiritual practices also help us to grow closer to God and live lives of love and service in imitation of Jesus. Sometimes we hear the phrase “spiritual disciplines” instead of “spiritual practices.” I prefer “spiritual practices,” in part because “discipline” connotes harshness and a sense of compulsion or obligation. Thinking of “practicing” our faith, however, reminds us that none of us is perfect as we try to follow Jesus. We are all still practicing and that’s OK.
Our mid-week Lenten series this year will take a look at some core Christian faith practices: prayer, worship, giving and serving, inviting, and encouraging. You can participate by joining us in conversation over our Lenten dinners, by coming to worship to hear about these practices from your brothers and sisters in Christ, or by joining a small group study.
I hope to see you at “practice” this Lent.
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” Mark 1:3
As I write this in early November, the Halloween displays in the stores have already been replaced by Christmas wrapping and presents. Radio stations have begun playing Christmas music and at least one of my friends on Facebook has bragged about having his shopping and wrapping completed.
What’s the hurry?
The church has traditionally done its best to resist the culture’s rush to Christmas, but it often feels like a losing battle. We can be tempted either to give in and start getting out the decorations as soon as the Halloween candy is finished or we can become the churchy versions of Scrooge – railing against all things Christmas until December 24th at the earliest.
We do have another alternative, however. The season of Advent allows us to celebrate and prepare for the coming of Christ in a way that can give us space to escape the hustle and bustle of the world’s Christmas frenzy and pause and reflect on the magnitude of God’s gift to us at Christmas.
We live in a culture of immediacy and are usually not very good at waiting. Advent, however, asks us to do just that. We may resist it, but, as with so many things in life, taking the time to wait and prepare for Jesus’ coming at Christmas makes our Christmas celebrations that much sweeter.
Here at Christus Victor, we will be waiting and preparing for Christmas in a variety of ways this Advent season:
· Our Advent study “A Not-So-Silent Night” is already underway, but it’s not too late to connect with a group.
· Pick up an Advent calendar or devotional to use with your family at home throughout the season.
· Join our Sunday School families for an afternoon movie outing to see “The Star” at the Elk Grove Cinemas on December 3rd.
· Enjoy our Children’s Christmas program at worship the weekend of December 16 and 17 and our annual Christmas concert by our musical groups on the evening of the 17th.
· Join our Confirmation students and their families in serving at Feed My Starving Children on Wednesday, December 20th.
And, of course, we encourage you to worship with us throughout the Advent and Christmas seasons. On Sunday, December 24, we will have one service in the morning at 10 to celebrate the Fourth Sunday of Advent. (NOTE: There will NOT be Saturday worship on December 23.) Then, we will celebrate Christmas Eve with three worship services at 4:30, 9, and 11pm. On Christmas Day, we will have one service at 10am.
You can find additional details about all these activities in this issue of The Communicator and on our website.
Have a blessed and peaceful Advent as you watch and wait for the coming of our Lord.
We spent most of our recent western vacation hiking in National Parks. During those hikes, I found myself remembering a newsletter column I had written for the congregation where I previously served after a summer vacation in Acadia National Park in Maine. Back then, my younger children were the ones who had trouble keeping up on the hikes, but this summer I was the one often lagging behind! My thoughts then still seem relevant as we begin another program year and embark on our Vision 2020 journey.
Here’s what I said back in 2008: As we trekked up and down mountains and took in the beautiful scenery, I spent some time reflecting on church and the nature of Christian community. The more I thought about it, I realized that our journeying together as a family through Acadia was a lot like the ways we journey together as a church community. So, I offer some reflections from our travels. Perhaps you will recognize these experiences from your own family vacations and ponder how they might apply to our life together as a congregation.
- No pain, no gain.
- Sometimes before you can move forward, you need to stop and look back and see how far you’ve come.
- Not everyone travels at the same pace.
- Sometimes you need to slow down and wait for those who’ve fallen behind.
- Prodding and harassment are not the best methods for getting the reluctant to move forward. Patience is better.
- There are great views all the way along, not just at the mountaintop.
- If you don’t periodically stop and check the map, you’ll lose your direction.
- Sometimes you end up where you’re supposed to be, even though you didn’t go the way you intended.
- Don’t stop the momentum when you’re heading uphill.
- Periodic nourishment makes for happier campers.
- Overcoming adversity is good for building community.
We have already begun our new program year here at Christus Victor with our Kickoff Sunday on August 20. There is lots of energy and excitement as we begin a wide variety of educational programs, musical opportunities, fellowship events, and service projects. While this is wonderful, some of us may be overwhelmed by changes and all that is going on, or simply wonder if we are trying to go in too many directions at once.
At the same time, however, we are also beginning another round of long term planning and visioning with our Vision 2020 Team leading the way. In the weeks to come, you may hear more about this and about opportunities to share your thoughts about where God is calling Christus Victor.
As we do move forward, let us remember that we do so together as a community of followers of Jesus, committed to sharing the good news of the gospel and Making Christ Known.