Third Sunday of Lent

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Dust from the road stuck to the bottom of my shoes as I walked down the foggy path towards the kitchen. I could see my breath as it went out and then I sucked in the cool morning air though my nostrils. I sat down inside the dimly lit room next to fellow staff members, we let our first words join in singing adoration to our Lord and then audible prayers for the work of the coming day. “Oh God, you are my God, and I will ever praise you! … I will seek you in the morning and I will learn to walk in your ways.”

When I read Psalm 63, I remember working as a lead counselor at Westminster Woods in Northern California and how it taught me discipline. I was up each morning before the sun rose to gather with others and pray. Every stopping point called for prayer and worship. Each lesson I taught and counselor I led depended on the Holy Spirit. We prayed before each meal. At each meeting. As we put our campers to bed each night in their cabins. We prayed. After evening program we gathered together and prayed. It became as natural as walking down the path.

While in college (at Whitworth University) I learned that I could add a discipline during the season of Lent, rather than take something away. One of those was writing in my journal each day. Remaining in a spirit of reflection for the month leading up to Easter reminded me of Christ’s obedience to the Father. I woke up each day and set my mind on Jesus. It gave me focus.

As a mother of young children, it’s nearly impossible for me to have the same type of mornings that I had when I served at Westminster Woods and finding time to journal is increasingly difficult. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been reminded that things that seem small, like taking five minutes to read Scripture or praying before each meal can help to realign my focus towards Jesus. The story of Jesus sitting in the home of Mary and Martha comes to mind. I have to be disciplined to walk away from dirty dishes and unfolded laundry, to focus my heart on Christ and sit at his feet.

Each morning, seek Christ. What discipline can you add to your life that will help you walk in His ways? Pray. Reflect. Write. Memorize Scripture. Be alone with God. Study. Read a devotional. Be quiet. Fast. Where is your focus this Lenten season?

– Hailey Rohde

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Second Sunday of Lent

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Psalm 27 has many parallels with my life experiences. Obviously, with God ever present, you manage to come out at the other end even stronger. Verses 1 through 3, “When evil people come to devour me,” – Well, I’m not sure they were doing that, but they certainly were on the attack. It was stressful where I was working at the time. I was concerned not so much for myself, but I was working at a major university, and I had a daughter attending there tuition-free. I didn’t want to compromise that, so I was in a dilemma. It was the best job I ever had, and the worst boss I ever had. Maybe you

have experienced those same conditions. Reflecting back on it, and how present the Lord was in working things out, it was still not a pleasant experience to have to live through, but I had the support of a Church I was attending at the time. They supplied some food and much prayer. I had been suspended from my job, of course without pay, which I found out subsequently was totally illegal. I had joined a service club on campus, and had made some contacts, not that I thought I would need them in this way. One of the persons worked out of the office of the Vice President of the University,

and I spoke to her about it. She said, “They can’t do that.” Well, they had done it. By the afternoon of that day, I had several weeks of back pay and a check in my hand. Things, at that point, took a better turn.

Verse 6 says, “Then I will hold my head high above my enemies who surround me,” – It’s not that I will hold my head high in a haughty manner, that kind of thing, like “I gotcha, you guys.” I will hold my head high above my enemies indicating that these attacks will be ultimately futile. “At his sanctuary I will offer sacrifices with shouts of joy, singing and praising the Lord with music.” Shouts of joy – I feel that, but singing and praising the Lord with music – let’s run that past Lynn to get her expert opinion . . . I try, but she can bring a little more realistic take on that.

Moving on through verses 7 to 10, “Hear me as I pray O Lord. Be merciful and answer me.” Obviously my prayers were answered. I was still feeling things in an emotional sense more than in a practical way; however, when you’re in that situation, it is difficult. “My heart has heard you say, come and talk with me,” and I did that in a conversational way. It was more along the lines of “Help me, Lord!”, not “O Thou who sitteth on the edge of the universe . . .”; “Don’t abandon me,” . . . and then IT happened.

One evening while sitting and reading, I became less aware of my surroundings and I was surrounded by light. There was no sound, totally silent, and through the light, almost as a cloud, a white robed arm was extending downward. I reached up and we grasped forearms. As we did so, I saw a trickle of blood descending on my own forearm, again in total silence. The implication was “Renny, I am always present with you.” The light gradually faded. Did I dream? Was it a vision? It matters little because I knew then that I was being held close.

The outcome of all this is, of course, “Teach me how to live O Lord. Lead me along the right path. My enemies are waiting for me.” Oh, yes. “Do not let me fall into their hands for they accuse me of things I’ve never done” and that was so true, so true. “They threatened me with violence.” They threatened me with the loss of my job, and that would have meant my daughter would have been in great distress, too. “Yet I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness while I am here in the land of the living,” I never lost confidence, but it was extremely difficult to go through those times. The sense of his presence was always there, and it was just up to me to have faith.

“Wait patiently for the Lord.” – Not one of my finest virtues, but I am working on it. “Be brave and courageous.” There is a verse in Joshua that says “Be strong and courageous,” and that’s exactly what you have to be, but in the strength of the Lord. I was no where near strong or courageous enough, but you know in your heart that you have the Lord at your back. And then, “Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.” I still have trouble after all this and knowing what he has done and will do for me. I am impatient, but I am a work in progress, and it’s step by step.

This was just a single event in my life in that job situation. Actually I wound up still working at the University, but in a better position. In contrast to the situation at my previous assignment, I was recognized for my contributions. I was transferred to a teaching hospital at an extension campus of the same University where I finished my working career.

Well, as believers, we know the Lord has plans. Life has worked out just wonderfully.

Subsequently other situations have arisen, but I’ve been able to overcome them. So, all in all, guess what? God really does have a plan for your life, and it’s best that we don’t interfere. Just wait for the leading, look for guidance, and it will come. Praise God for that.

– Elder, Renny Nelson

First Sunday of Lent

FullSizeRenderPsalm 91: 1-2

Those who live in the shelter of the Most High

will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;

he is my God, and I am trusting him.

 

With five kids in the house, each one of us trying to give up a certain food for Lent would have been a nightmare for my Mom. So instead when I was growing up, one of our traditions during the Lenten season was to have a glass jar on our kitchen table. Anytime someone would say a bad word or say something unkind they would have to put money in the jar. As I remember, it started out as a nickel. By the time I was in high school it had been raised to a quarter. On Easter Sunday we would take all the change to church and put it in the offering. (I’m sure the counters loved that!)

When I was little I thought it was fun to put the money in. I would come home from school and confess my indiscretions (either real or made up) and put my nickel in. But as I got older I began to understand the true lesson that my parents were trying to teach us. We are to be aware of what we say and do because our words and our deeds have consequences, both good and bad. As we all got older it became a badge of honor to have the least amount of money in the jar. During this whole process our parents guided us with discussions about what we had said or done and how it affected others. My parents made it a safe place to make mistakes and to learn. To this day I find myself thinking, “Is this going to cost me a quarter?” when I am faced with a situation that I need to respond to.

Now that I have been many years out of the shelter and safety of my parent’s home, I find my refuge, my safe place, in the words of scripture and the conversations through prayer with God. His guidance, concern and, yes, discipline comforts me. I can trust Him with my indiscretions and know that through His grace I am protected and loved.

During this Lenten season ask yourself, “What does it mean to make God my refuge?” are you willing to put your trust in Him? The days of the glass jar are long gone but the lessons learned of guidance, love and acceptance will stay with me for a lifetime.

– Margot Backman

Ash Wednesday

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Psalm 51:10-12

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 

Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. 

Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. 

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday. As a kid, I remember being fascinated by all the people walking around with black crosses on their foreheads. I had no idea what it stood for or why someone would wear one. I just knew it meant that I better hurry up and choose something to give up for Lent. I wasn’t even sure why I was supposed to fast…it was just what Christians did before Easter.

I went to my first Ash Wednesday worship service when I was in high school and the solemnness of the whole thing gave me a new perspective. Then, while in seminary, I had the opportunity to administer the ashes while working at a children’s hospital. I got chills every time I put my thumb in the ash, placed it on the forehead of an ill child and made the symbol of a cross. I’d say, “From dust you have come and to dust you will return. Repent and believe the Good News, God is making you whole.” By the end of the day, I was emotionally and spiritually fatigued.

Ash Wednesday serves two purposes. It reminds us of our own frailty, mortality and sinfulness. It highlights that we are broken and completely dependent on God’s grace. And, it signifies the beginning of the Lenten season, where we are reminded of the forty days that Jesus spent fasting and being tempted in the desert before his ministry began. We’re invited to live into the reality that God alone sustains and restores us, from the moment we’re born until our last breath.

Our temptation is to take the same approach to Lent that much of our society does with Advent before Christmas. Instead of a being an intentional season of reflection, we see it as a time to prepare for the Easter party. Instead of being something that is significant in our walk with Christ, fasting from something like chocolate, meat or television  becomes routine and almost a childish game (that is, if we even participate).

My hope for our community during this Lenten season is that it would be a time that brings us to our knees — that we, as a church, would recognize that we are totally lost without Christ and that we’d come to a deep understanding of His sacrifice. If you choose to fast, I’d hope that every time you are reminded or tempted by that particular thing, you’d spend time in prayer. Even if you aren’t giving something up, I’d love for each of us to commit to listening to God in prayer EVERY DAY. May we be restored and renewed as we journey through this season together.

– Pastor Dave

Blog, Why?

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The Long Room of the Old Library. Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

Years ago, my wife and I took a trip to Ireland. Before we went, I dove into the works of James Joyce, Bram Stoker and James McCourt – all wonderful storytellers of Irish dissent. By the time we landed in the country, I had already spent hours dreaming of its beauty.

We spent one of our days in Dublin at Trinity College. Trinity was founded in 1592 and is one of the seven ancient universities of Britain and Ireland. The campus is most notably known for housing the Book of Kells, which is a work that displays the four Gospels with intricate calligraphy and illustrations. It was created in the 800’s by Columban monks in the British Isles. The attention to detail of the icons on the pages was astounding, with the images of each pages brilliantly telling a story.

We took a tour of the library, where the Book of Kells is kept. While most of the people in our group were paying careful attention to every inch of the Kells pages on display, I got lost in the Long Room (pictured above). Its smell was incredible. The echo of my feet on the hardwood floors and the thousands of books that were hundreds of years old forced my mind to wander. Who had walked these halls? How many hours of studying had taken place here? How many stories are in those books? 

Throughout history humans have built community through story. We pick up a book, watch a movie or listen to a friend tell us about it was like to grow up in a different part of the country. We’re drawn in by the illustration of a sermon or by a conversation we have in a living room – we connect by story.

Jesus mastered the art of storytelling. And before he taught through parables, poetry and prose were a mainstay in the life and worship of God’s people. The goal for this blog is that it would be a place where St. Peter’s can grow together. We will post devotionals and reflections; stories from our past; information and updates on current happenings; and hopes for our future. Some of the content will come from the pastor(s) and staff and some will come from you. Ultimately, my prayer is that this will be another place where we connect as a community.

– Pastor Dave