Dear Partners in Ministry,
If I had one person offer me condolences on the approach of Lent, I have had a half dozen. Those sympathetic well wishers leave me wondering exactly what Lent means to us?
Obviously, to a lot of our people, Lent means extra work. I’m sure that’s what was behind the expressions of sympathy that were sent my way. I could see it in their eyes: “You poor pastors, as if you don’t have enough work to do!…”
And the expressions of sympathy don’t just apply to the pastors. I know in a couple of our congregations, Lent means fish fries and all the extra effort that goes into them. Then there are the extra worship services, soup suppers and Bible Studies. Add to all that the traditional practices of Lent: prayer, fasting, and acts of charity and the season of Lent can turn into a real load…unless, that is, we keep our focus on what it’s really all about.
The word “Lent” means “spring”. I don’t know about you but, as I sit here waiting for the last weeks of winter to come to an end, the notion of “spring” literally puts a spring in my step.
That’s what Lent is designed to do. It’s not about gloom and doom as we walk with our Lord to Jerusalem, although it is a time that is meant to be more sober and reflective. It’s about taking time, in anticipation of the celebration of Easter, to clean house spiritually so that we’re not bogged down when the warm weather (read that “good news”) hits. It’s about taking time to throw ourselves open to the living Word of God in a way that lets in the fresh air of God’s amazing love and mercy, won for us by Jesus and made available to us by the Spirit. We’ve all experienced it before, just as we’ve lived through many springs. But just as each new spring lifts our spirits with the promise of new life and warmer weather so, too, does revisiting the basics of our faith during Lent.
When we practice Lent by holding Jesus Christ at its center, Lent becomes a time of refreshment and renewal. It’s a time when we take conscious spiritual steps that remind us of our need for what Jesus has done for us and then delivers a new, spiritual, lease on life that brings joy and hope for our future.
So what steps are you going to take to open yourself to the spiritual fresh air of the Gospel this Lent? Here are some suggestions.
1) If you haven’t been worshipping regularly, make a special commitment to worship on Sundays.
2) If you are already regular in your worship attendance, add a Lenten mid-week service to your schedule.
3) Attend one of the Bible Studies or Sunday School classes being offered this Lent in our PLUM congregations.
4) If it’s not already a daily practice, set aside time each day for conversation with God (otherwise known as prayer). Need help getting started? Just talk with the pastors. There are a lot of devotional resources available, many especially designed for Lent.
5) If you’re planning on fasting this year, give the money you save to a charity of your choice.
6) Try practicing “Faith Fluency”! Share your faith story with someone. Speak well of your faith community with your friends so they come to know how important a church home is to your well-being (instead of listing your worries or concerns about the future of the church!). Invite a neighbor or co-worker to worship with you. Give your time to a charity and when asked why you do it?...take the opportunity to share your love for Jesus.
May the next six weeks of Lent put a spring in your step!
Speaking of Faith Fluency….as a pastor I am privileged to hear testimonials from parishioners. Just last Sunday a parishioner took time to share with me a wonderful spiritual awakening he had at a funeral service. The service began with a passage from the 8th chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans which ends with Paul saying that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” He said that he had never heard that passage before and, in the face of losing his loved one, it made all the difference. He could experience joy and peace in the presence of death instead of being overwhelmed by sorrow. He went on to say that if it hadn’t been for time spent at the church with his pastors and fellow believers he didn’t think he would have been open to that new understanding of the faith. He absolutely glowed!
It’s important to share these moments that I like to call “faith impact moments” or moments when the Holy Spirit leads us to grow spiritually in a significant way. Here’s another example of such a moment offered to us by Michael Long from Trinity Lutheran Church in Sheraden...
A PRIVILEGED CONFIRMATION
By Michael Long
A Testimonial for My Savior Jesus Christ
Postscript: After writing my original testimony, I realized the story was not complete, so I offer this important addition. One weekend, while home alone, my wife away on an overnight work trip, I had been scanning the TV for something to watch. I came across a local telecast of a Pittsburgh woman preacher giving a sermon. For some reason instead of continuing to channel surf, I felt the need to watch the show. She was very intriguing. Her message was that we must constantly and diligently wear the armor of GOD and Christ in our daily lives especially, our helmet and breastplate, to keep our mind clear and protect our heart to keep it pure and void of Satan and the evil that is constantly being thrust upon us! That message became very clear to me. Later the next day I realized I had heard this before and thought it peculiar that I remembered scanning a show some time ago where a man was preaching the same subject matter on a national religious program…little did I know the impact that would have on me!
I feel it necessary to write this for all to read. I was inspired to tell it to my church congregation after it occurred as I am now, compelled to share it with the world. I was made witness to something that forever stays with me and offers me concrete strength anytime I feel weak. May it touch others in the same way.
Has anyone ever seen Bill Engvall’s Blue Comedy Tour or heard of his “here’s your sign” routine? Well, if so…it will surely add to this testimony.
I want to preface this by saying my faith had been somewhat slacking. Years of constant bombardment of things going wrong, to the point I just couldn’t believe anyone could have that much bad luck. [It was pathetic, the things that would happen to me all the time!] I started to think it was just pure evil that surrounded me; the devil and his demons just messing with my life to keep me from GOD…[from truth]. Probably not unlike what I would think many other people encounter in life’s cold hard realities. Maintaining faith in the midst of it all can be challenging to say the least.
Anyway, a few days ago my wife went out of town on a 24 hour junket. Even so, I missed her dearly and anxiously awaited her return. I had a real worry of her flying but I kept a positive outlook. On the evening of her return I decided to have a little party for her so I went out and bought a few fancy snack items and a balloon.
I returned home and went to get the balloon out of the car. Before I could grab it, it shot out of the trunk and high into the air. I screamed “NO!” and gave chase but to no avail. It had disappeared high out of sight into the dark and rainy night! Once again victim to my ridiculous luck. Then suddenly it entered into my mind in a disturbing symbolic gesture that the balloon was gone but more importantly that Satan would put that disgusting thought in my mind! I screamed out loud ---“Devil, you can’t beat me! Christ’s blood was shed for me and I accept that sacrifice! There is nothing that you can do! You will not ruin my night and you are definitely not taking my wife!” I cleared my mind and focused on a mission to get a replacement. For the next hour I tried everywhere but could not find one like I had before. I finally settled for a different balloon and got home just in time for her arrival. My wife did make it home and we had our little meal and I told her the story and we had a good laugh.
Then next day we had both worked very hard. We returned home and decided to take a little nap. It was not very long into my sleep and I was awakened from choking on something. What?…I did not know. At the same time, my dog, Murphy, wanted out. He was sitting at the bed with his typical whine when the call of nature came. I said, “Alright, Buddy, let’s go.” and went to the front door. When I opened the door, directly in my line of sight, in the neighbor’s yard about 75 feet away was a bobbing balloon! There was my balloon almost 24 hours later, pulling and tugging in the wind. When I got up close, I was in disbelief. The balloon string was being held by a very tiny thorn about half the size of my little fingernail. The string was not wrapped up in the grass or entangled but just lying there across the grass. The approximate half way point of its length was at exactly at my view point from the door. I just could not believe it, but there it was! What are the statistical odds of this occurring?
Then I knew the answer. The answer was it couldn’t have happened without purpose. It was impossible! It was a MIRACLE from GOD. It then came to me that it had occurred because it was tied into my last 24 hours of my thoughts and actions. It was clearly a confirmation of GOD’S presence. Absolute divine intervention! To have all the things required to have happened and be lined up in just the right order to have the outcome that was produced could simply not have happened any other way!
It gave me new hope and new Spirit! Finally, something wonderfully good and incredible! A proof of his existence, his love, his everlasting control over all things. This did not just randomly happen. God made it happen. He does exist and he reminded me in a very unique and special way. With God and Christ all things are possible! And to us, his greatest gift, Eternal Life through Christ.
This is my testament in my reaffirmed faith. I ask GOD to give all people boosts in their lives as needed and be able to find Christ and that Christians stay the course.
Written on my balloon was……. WELCOME HOME
In true Bill Engvall fashion……. “HERE’S YOUR SIGN!”
[I tied that balloon to my kitchen chair and it floated there for 1 month!]
ABUNDANT LOVE AND GRACE IS EVER PRESENT AND IN CONTROL OF ALL THINGS; A GIFT FOR LIFE FROM GOD AND FAITH RENEWED THROUGH THE HOLY SPIRIT.
Thank you, Michael! Now, does anyone else have a “Faith Impact Moment” to share? Let me know.
Pittsburgh Lutheran United Ministries (PLUM), 405 Kennedy Avenue, Duquesne, PA 15110 412-466-7773