Forgiveness

As he was being crucified, hanging on the cross:Forgiveness

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them,
they know not what they do.”
Luke 23:34

What is it to forgive?

  1. let go, send away, give up one’s spirit, cancel,
  2. cancel, remit, pardon – predominately of divine forgiveness, “to err is human; to forgive is divine.”

We recently watched a Rob Bell video – “Breathe” in his NOOMA series from a number of years ago. It seems to fit well with Ash Wednesday, and then this coming Sunday as we enter into Lent. Ash Wednesday is about, “you are dust & to dust you shall return.”

God breathes life into this dust – “Then the Lord God formed Adam from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.”  (Gen. 2:7)

According to nurse Cindy, exhaling – letting your breath out, is actually the important part of breathing – the part that is most important for life.

You have to breathe out before you can breathe in – you have to get rid of the old air before you can take in new air.  Try it: take a deep breath & hold it.  You can’t breathe any more in until you first breathe out.

To forgive is to breathe out. If you refuse to forgive, it is like holding your breath and not letting it go – the bad air, the used up air, the air that does not give life.

Refusing to forgive is to refuse the breath of life.

But once you forgive … once you let that go … once you breathe out … then you have room for God’s breath of life.

Welcoming the Newcomer

By Rachelle Lessard

I recently read an article titled “20 Ways to Welcome People to Church.” The article contained the obvious (but sometimes forgotten) points—treat visitors as guests of God, smile at everyone and offer your hand, don’t let visitors sit alone—but there was one statement that really stood out to me “Loving unbelievers the way Jesus did is the most overlooked key to growing a church…” My first thought was wow, that fits right into our theme for the year, “Love as Jesus Loves.” My thoughts then went to a woman several of us have gotten to know over the last several months. When we first met her, she was living in a tent in the woods across the street. Her story is long and complicated.

In the fall I had the blessing of bringing her to church here at Pilgrim. She had grown up attending a Mormon church, but had not practiced that faith for about 30 years—as a matter of fact, she had been ex-communicated quite some time ago.

As we entered the building, I could sense her nervousness growing. Honestly, I was feeling nervous for her. I know she is not comfortable around a lot of people and I could sense she just wanted to run! How would this go? I literally had to coax her into the sanctuary—convince her that it was okay for her to enter this sacred place. And you could tell that was exactly how she regarded it—a sacred place.

As the service started, she had lots of questions. What does that mean? Why do you say that? When it came time to share the peace, I looked at her and said you’re not going to like this part! You are going to have to talk to other people! The look on her face showed her complete panic. As I left her side to share the peace with all the familiar faces I so look forward to seeing every Sunday, I thought back to when my family first came to Pilgrim and how much I honestly dreaded this part of the service—putting myself out there to people I didn’t know. It was so uncomfortable and honestly kind of scary for me. Now I love this part of the service!

As she continued to talk and ask questions throughout the service, it made me think about each piece of our worship service and why we do and say some of the things we do. Thinking about the worship service in this way really made each part more meaningful for me and honestly caused me to think about it in a way I never had.

Communion was coming up. She told me she would really like to take communion, but could she? I felt panic setting in—who in the world was I to tell her whether or not she could receive communion?! I asked her if she believed in Jesus Christ and if she had accepted Him as her personal savior. She told me she did and had, but that she was a sinner and not worthy of communion. I told her that we are all sinners, that everyone in this place was a sinner and that acknowledging our sin and asking for forgiveness was the important part. As we went up for communion, she held on to the back of my sweater like a little child. It hit me that she was approaching the Lord’s table the way I should each week—with awe, a sense of unworthiness, and maybe even a little fear. The emotion I was feeling at that moment was hard to contain. This was a grown woman with more burdens than most of us will ever bear holding on to my sweater for dear life. Needless to say, that worship service ended up being very emotional for me and caused me to give a lot of thought to several things.

The first thing I thought about was how comfortable church had become for me. I love this place and the people inside it. But with that sense of comfort, do I sometimes not give proper thought to what it is I am saying or doing during a worship service? Am I sometimes just going through the motions? It caused me to think back to when church wasn’t comfortable for me. I didn’t grow up going to church—why are we doing that, why are we saying this, what exactly does that mean? Are there people sitting around me that feel that way right now?

Second, how does it feel to walk into Pilgrim Lutheran Church for the first time? Are we welcoming? Does it feel safe and comfortable? I do know that while she was scared, she did feel as safe and comfortable in this place as she was capable of. I thought back to the first time my family came to Pilgrim. While I did feel a bit uncomfortable as a newcomer, I do remember how warm, friendly, and welcoming people were. Do I go out of my way to notice visitors and LoveLogothen take that next scary step to approach them? It is so important for each of us to remember the most important person for a visitor to talk to is you! Every one of us has the responsibility to make sure anyone coming through our doors feels welcome. We all need to take a minute to say hello, tell them you’re glad they’re here, introduce them to others, ask if they enjoyed the service or have any questions. Believe me; I know it isn’t always an easy thing to do! But, it is vital and important!

I guess it really does come down to “love as Jesus loves”.

 

Hospitality

By Melody Rath

Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13:1-2pineapple-welcome

In May, I had the privilege of working at the Synod Assembly for the second time. The theme this year was, “Hospitality: All Are Welcome.” With very little “business” to attend to, the assembly was free to explore this theme through worship, workshops, presentations, and more. And there were pineapples everywhere! (Pineapples are a symbol of hospitality dating back to Colonial times).

Bishop Rick Jaech preached and led a Bible study on the ideas of “Home” and “Road” Hospitality. Jesus at the home of Mary and Martha (Luke 10) was his definition of “Home” Hospitality. Martha truly had the spiritual gift of Hospitality—providing a warm welcome that demonstrates God’s love—while Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and lavished her attention on Him (much to the chagrin of Martha!), another way to help guests feel welcome.

Here at Pilgrim, we call this kind of Hospitality “Nurturing Congregational Care:” Pilgrim members strive to model Christ’s love and nurturing care to one another. From Health Ministry to Fellowship events, there are dozens of examples of Home Hospitality going on at Pilgrim on a regular basis.

“Road” Hospitality was defined by the Bishop as “leaving home to walk with someone when they are in a difficult moment in life. Providing love, emotional support, concrete help, and needed challenge and education.” The difference between “Home” and “Road” hospitality is in “leaving home,” moving beyond the known into the unknown. The most obvious “Road” Hospitality story is the Good Samaritan. This Samaritan took pity on an injured stranger and provided “love and concrete help” to a person tradition told him was his enemy.

This, too, sounds familiar—like our Core Value of “Intentional Outreach:” ‘Pilgrims’ share with others the abundant life that they have received through faith in Christ and intentionally reach out to people of all ages with the love of Christ—beginning with South Hill, Washington, and moving outward to the ends of the earth…’ We are very good at this outreach thing; we are constantly looking for new ways to help and to serve. Here is a short list of the outreach programs here at Pilgrim: VBS, Pilgrim Lunch Club, meal-site serving at Mt. View and The Armory,  Jobs for Life, and holiday baskets, along with our benevolent giving to international and national relief organizations and, through our Love Fund, our own neighborhood. Pilgrim is well-known for our loving and giving hearts for those around us.

The point that really struck me was when Bishop Jaech said, “Jesus ministered to people on the road in both intentional (planned) and random (unexpected and in-the-moment) ways.” Every time we reach out to serve our neighbors we pray that someone will feel the love of Jesus through our work or our presence with them. We don’t always get to know the “random” ways our “intentional” actions affect those around us. It is rare for anyone to come back months or years later and tell how their life was changed by assistance they received.

Sometimes, though, we do get to see the fruit of our outreach. One Pilgrim thought she was simply offering water to a homeless woman and inviting this woman and her friends to Wednesday night dinners (never really expecting anyone to show up…). But they did show up—a couple of times! Not only that, our “welcome” opened a door to someone in need of acceptance and companionship along with food, water, and a place to charge a cell phone. She has experienced the love of Christ through Pilgrim and a simple invitation. We pray that, even in some minute way, her life has been changed. Only time will tell.

In a newsletter article summarizing his sermon and Bible study, Bishop Jaech states that both types of hospitality—“Home” and “Road”—are natural responses to the love and mercy we receive from God through Christ. He also said that they are “crucial for our future existence as a church. Not as many people are coming through our doors on Sunday morning as they used to. Therefore, we need to go out those doors to find people wherever they are hurting and minister to them in Christ’s name.”

Maybe we can adopt a theme song for our “Intentional Outreach” ministry:

On the road again – like a band of Christians we go down the highways
to make new friends and bring the love of Jesus to the by-ways, for all days!

 

Advent Devotional 2014-Day 25

The Greatest Love Story Ever

Luke 2:1-20 (The Message)

As we near the coming of the Christ Child, ponder these words from Luke:

About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancée, who was pregnant.

While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a Son, her firstborn. She wrapped Him in a blanket and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel.

manger2013There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a Baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”

At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises:

Glory to God in the heavenly heights,
Peace to all men and women on earth who please Him.

As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the Baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this Child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed.

Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they’d been told!

Amen.

The Greatest Love Story Ever—Luke 2:1-20, The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

Advent Devotional 2014-Day 24

Love Fights Cancer

Ruth Rhodes

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 1 Corinthians 13:4

As we approach this holiday season, my family is experiencing the sense of loss. My sister in law was diagnosed with terminal cancer on Memorial Day Weekend. Doctors only gave her two weeks to live.

Jan is one of the most dynamic people I know. Her answer to the doctors was “No, I refuse to go without a fight.” She proceeded to research the disease and fight it. She has been a force, fighting and showing strength. In and out of the hospital, ICU, chemo, and surgery—through it all, she says, “God is good.” In place of anger, she puts love of God, love of family, and faith.iStock_000002145962XSmall_hands

I have watched her friends and family show compassion and love. Her girls and husband have come to understand that this challenge was given to them to make them stronger. I have watched their family grow in their faith. The amazing thing is that their love and faith are stronger than they ever knew it was.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. Love also fights cancer, makes you stronger, keeps your faith, and strengthens family.

Lord, help us to love as You taught us to love. Amen.

Advent Devotional 2014-Day 23

He Delights in You!

Ann Schumacher

He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing. Zephaniah 3: 17.delights

As a singer, I enjoy music of all kinds. I’m sure many of you do as well. It’s interesting, isn’t it, that most important events in our lives are filled with music. Weddings, graduations, funerals, even Presidential entrances. Of course, the church’s seasons are no exception. “The Old Rugged Cross” was my grandmother’s favorite during Lent. My Dad has always enjoyed, “Lo How a Rose e’er Blooming” and asked me to sing it with him at the tiny country church he served when I was about twelve. And certainly few Lutherans can make it through a Reformation Sunday without singing, “A Mighty Fortress” in full voice.

Christmas is, of course, the most obvious holiday when it comes to music. I suspect your family, like ours, has many a Christmas album. These songs become tradition and an integral part of the celebration. Our kids still ask for Harry Connick, Jr.’s Christmas album after opening presents. We know all the words to White Christmas and can recall that ‘cheesy’ photo of Bing Crosby on the cover. When you hear the quiet strains of “Silent Night,” do you picture a sanctuary darkened and full of candles?

Cathy Warr once shared with me that she sings over her granddaughter every time they meet. It all began in the delivery room and Cathy hasn’t missed an opportunity to sing since! Her granddaughter, Abby, remembers the song now and has come to expect this beautiful moment. It made my heart skip a beat to hear about this special bond between grandparent and granddaughter. It also brings to mind those words of Zephaniah.

What an amazing thought! Our love of music surely comes from God; in fact, God seems to love music as much as we do! But if that were not enough, God goes further. He REJOICES over YOU with singing. It is amazing to me that the God of the Universe would take the time not only to love me but to pause, breathe, and sing thoughtful songs over me. This act of stopping, pausing, and singing words … words which quiet… words which show great delight… reveal God’s purpose, dedication and all surpassing love. What a gift! What joy! I can only feel deep gratitude for the one who gave His Son for this world and
wishes to take the time to sing songs over me.

Dear Father, Thank you for your promise to take great delight in me, to quiet me with your love and to rejoice over me with singing. Help me to be ever grateful for your extravagant love. Amen

Advent Devotional 2014-Day 22

When Love Takes You In

John & Kim Waterstraat

I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them. Isaiah 42:16

“When loves take you in, everything changes… and this love will never let you go.” Steven Curtis Chapman

Years ago, sitting at a Steven Curtis Chapman concert, these lyrics he wrote about his precious adopted girl from China rang in our hearts and thus the seed was planted to consider taking in a little girl for our own family. Truth be told, John was far more passionate about this prospect than Kim was, his desire to have a little girl far surpassing my exhaustion from having two very small active boys. Yet through the next couple of years, it never escaped our hearts and minds and the seed began to sprout. One day, we were out on a family bike ride and suddenly, thoughts crossed Kim’s mind of god leadshow our life would change by adding a little girl to the mix. None of my thoughts were expressed out loud, yet out of the clear blue, Nathan says to me “Mom, I just wish we had a little girl in the family!” I look around, stunned that those very words just exited his mouth. Did he truly say what I thought he just said? From there, paperwork on a “talkative” little one appeared in our laps and in twenty-four hours, we decided to blindly have faith that this was God’s desire for us.

God speaks to us through others and when we slow down and really listen, His direction and purpose is so clear. Through His immense love for us and that little girl over in Panjin City, China, he guided all of us blindly across unfamiliar territory to the other side of the world, and our lives have been immensely enriched in unconditional love beyond any capacity we could ever imagine.

Lord, help us to listen to you through others and embrace the unfamiliar paths You lead us down, knowing that all You do is out of love and your will for us in this world. Amen.

Advent Devotional 2014-Day 21

Who Am I?

Mark Reiman

When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have set in place, what is mankind that You are mindful of them, human beings that You care for them? Psalm 8:4

Through the privilege of assisting with worship in Pilgrim’s praise band, I have had the opportunity to learn many songs from contemporary Christian music. One of my favorites, by Mark Hall, seems particularly well-suited to the Advent season:earthrise800-mine-2

Who am I, that the Lord of all the earth
Would care to know my name
Would care to feel my hurt?
Who am I, that the Bright and Morning Star
Would choose to light the way
For my ever wandering heart?

To be sure, who am I to receive this gift of love? I cannot fathom the depths of God’s amazing love for us through Christ. God sent His only Son, the beginning and end of all things that have been, are, and will be, to save us from sin and provide a perfect model of life with Him and in Him. It is an enduring mystery that sustains us in our care and compassion for each other at Pilgrim and in our daily walks beyond. God’s never-ending, never-failing love for us is an awesome thing! This Advent, we think again of the incredible gifts He’s given us: our families, our friends here at Pilgrim and beyond, and the very faith in Christ that sustains and connects us. As the great Advent hymn says, He is “of the Father’s love begotten,” a perfect expression of God’s undying love for us.

Heavenly Father, we give You thanks for loving us so much despite our sin that You sent Your Son Jesus. Forgive our consistent failure to love others as You have first loved us. Be for us once again the “joy of every longing heart”. Help us to honor You with joy by being instruments of Your perfect love and forgiveness to one another during this Advent season and beyond. Amen.

Advent Devotional 2014-Day 20

Unconditional Love

Mike & Catherine Warr

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13

 Jesus had a lot to say about love. Just check out the Gospels. Jesus taught about love over 28 times. Why is love so important? When asked by a teacher of the law which of all the commandments was the most important to follow, Jesus mentioned two, one from one from Deuteronomy 5:4 and the other from Leviticus 19:18. Both had to do with love. Jesus said that all of the commandments were given for two simple reasons—to help us love God and love others as we should. What else did Jesus say about love? As God loves us unconditionally we are to extend that same kind of love—not just to those who are easy to love, but to love our enemies, or those who disagree with us, or are different from us, or who have harmed us. How is this possible? We can love with God’s love when it is hard to love. As we love God, He makes it possible to love others.Greater Love_det

Jesus demonstrated His love for us by giving His life for us. We may not have to die for someone, but there are other ways to practice sacrificial love: listening, helping, encouraging, giving. Think of someone in particular who needs this kind of love today. Give all the love you can, and then try to give a little more. When you are uncertain about what to do, ask yourself which course of action best demonstrates love for God and love for others.

May you feel the empowering of God’s unconditional love this holiday season.

 Father, just as you shower us with your unconditional love, help us to extend unconditional love to others, especially those you put in our path each day. Amen

Advent Devotional 2014-Day 19

What Is This Thing Called Love?

Maynard Hedegaard

But the fruit of the Spirit is love… Galatians 4:22

Before Paul became a Christian, his sinful nature was in rebellion against God. Luckily for Paul, the Spirit came to integrate his life with God and man, centering his life in the unifying love of Christ.

Love. It’s one of the fruits of the Spirit mentioned by the apostle Paul in Galatians 5:22. But why is love listed as the first fruit of the Spirit? Is love the most important “fruit?” Are all the “fruits” in Paul’s list simply love in other forms?

Children don’t know about the fruits of the Spirit, but they know love. These little people haven’t yet been programmed with society’s norms or expectations. A group of 4- to 8-year olds was asked, “What does love mean?” Their answers were broader and deeper than anyone could have imagined. Here are a few of my favorites:

  1. When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You know that your name is safe in their mouths.
  2. Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen
  3. There are two kinds of love: our love and God’s love, but God makes both kinds.
  4. Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you have left him alone all day.PuppyLickingBoysFace

We humans sometimes leave God alone all day or all week. But when we finally stop to call out to Him in prayer, God is like the puppy who doesn’t hold a grudge because he has been neglected. God is ready to listen, to lift us up, or, like the puppy, to give us a loving little “lick” of blessing and reassurance.

Dear God, This Advent season, help me to understand the full measure of Your unconditional love. Let me live every day with this fruit of the spirit: love. Amen.