From the Pastor's Desk
Dear Friends and Members of St. Paul Lutheran Church:
The sermon text for Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, is John 10:1-18. Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd.” (v. 11) Earlier, he said, “He calls his own sheep by name. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.” (v. 3-4) In Lent, we are reminded that we need to listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd, and follow him wherever he goes. One of the words we use for following Jesus is Discipleship.
What are some of the ways we can listen to the Shepherd’s voice this Lent, and grow as his Disciples? The illustration below gives us a few ideas as we begin.
This illustration comes from the Navigators (www.navigators.org). It gives us a simple picture of the Christian life. It is a picture of a wheel. Just as the purpose of a wheel is to move forward, so the Christian life is to be one of movement, as we follow Jesus. The spokes of the wheel are Prayer, the Word, Witnessing and Fellowship. The hub of the wheel is Christ. By the way, the word in the Bible that is translated as “obey” means “to hear”. To obey is to hear and to follow.
The wheel gives us a picture of a simple way to follow Jesus in Lent. First of all, the focus is on Christ himself. Anything that helps us focus on Christ and to hear his voice is good for us. Anything that distracts us, or focuses on something or someone else, is bad for us. For instance, many have incorporated fasting into Lent. It’s not that fasting by itself does anything for us, but if fasting helps us to turn away from our idols and focus on Christ, then it can be good.
There are four simple things to do to help us grow closer to Jesus. They are Prayer, the Word, Fellowship and Witnessing. You’ll notice that the wheel has two dimensions. One is vertical, the other is horizontal. The vertical spokes have to do with our relationship to God. The horizontal spokes focus on our relationship with our neighbors. (Lutherans call this the Two Kinds of Righteousness.)
Let’s start with the vertical spokes. How might we grow closer to Jesus during the next 40 days? One way to begin is by planning to spend one hour of quiet time with God each day. That quiet time is to be spent in Prayer and reading the Word. There are many ways to Pray, and you probably have a devotional or a prayer book to help you do that. If you don’t, get a copy of Portals of Prayer from the narthex. For a daily pattern of prayer, you can use Daily Prayer for Individuals and Families, which is also available in the narthex.
In regard to reading the Word, you can just pick up your Bible and start reading. Start with the Gospel of John, since we are studying John this year. When you finish John, you can either read the Letters of John, or read one of the other Gospels. If you like, you can follow the readings that are in Portals of Prayer, or any other reading plan you like. (Contact me for more suggestions.)
There are also two opportunities to learn how to Pray and study the Word this Lent. The first is our Contemplative Prayer group that meets each Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. Each week we engage in what is known as Centering Prayer, followed by Lectio Divina, which is a way of meditating on the Word. The second is the course being offered on Sunday nights, called “Holding Your Family Together”. In this course we will learn the Faith5, which is a simple but profound way to study the Word and Pray together as a family. Our first class will be held on Sunday, March 13, at 5:30 p.m.
How about Fellowship and Witnessing? There is a lot to say here but, to begin with, how about joining us for worship and fellowship on Saturday night, or Sunday morning? There is also our congregational meal followed by Lenten worship each Wednesday night. For witnessing, you might start by inviting someone to church. You might also invite a family member, friend or neighbor to join you in reading the Bible or Prayer. (Again, if you want more ideas, just let me know.)
Let’s help each other to listen to the Shepherd’s voice and follow him this Lent.
Yours in Christ,
The Olympics and Lent
The Winter Olympic Games ended not too long ago. We saw dozens of talented young people striving for perfection in their respective sports: skiing, skating, sledding. It was inspiring to see how hard they worked, heard their personal stories, and rejoiced with them as they achieved the highest level of skill they could attain. We cheered when our "home team" prevailed and winced when they fell short. We followed the medal count to see how we compared with the rest of the world. It was a time of high competition, high drama, and high emotion.
For me, the most important part of the Olympics were not the stories of the victors who decimated their competitors, but the stories of those who were thrilled when they exceeded their own expectations; those who fell short of perfection yet attained their personal best; those who fell and should have been out yet got up and finished their program or race even though they wouldn't win. These are the most moving stories for me.
It was rare for any Olympian to attain a perfect score. Even with their lives of discipline and hard work, those who won gold medals were a few notches short of flawless. And in a strange way, this reminds me of Lent.
Lent is a time when we are reminded that we are called to a discipline of love and service, of striving to be the best people, the most Christ-like people we can be. We are given the way we should live: to love God with all our heart, and to love our neighbor as our self. Jesus calls us to be active in love, not just toward our friends, but even toward our adversaries. Jesus asks us to give of ourselves so that the world will know grace and mercy.
And yet Lent is a season in which we recognize that we are not perfect. We all fall short of the goal God has set for us in how we live and how we treat others. We, in our human weakness, often put ourselves in competition with others, making ourselves feel better by rejoicing at the injury of others.
This is not the life of faith at its finest. The life of a disciple is to strive for the perfection to which God calls us, but to recognize that we can only go so far. On our own we will always fall short. And as we recognize our shortcomings, we remember the reason Jesus came to us in the first place. Jesus came to remind us that though we are imperfect, he has given his life that we might attain the crown of glory.
The best acts of discipleship are those in which disciples strive to improve on their personal best and attain a greater level of faithfulness. Evolving as a process, we recognize that we can do more to love God and neighbor. That grows into an inspiration to do more. Then we begin to live life as an act of worship, and we do not grow weary of doing good. Rather, it becomes second nature for us. Finally, we approach the best of who God calls us to be.
St. Paul challenges human competitiveness in our faith discipline in this way, "Love does not rejoice in wrong but rejoices in the right" I Corinthians 13:3. He also encourages us in our drive to become all God would have us be in this way: "Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made us his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made (perfection) my own but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus" Philippians 3:12-14. Biblical scholars have suggested that Paul is using language of the games which would have been the Olympics of his day.
Paul knows that we are not saved by our own efforts or understanding, but only through faith in Christ. But Paul also knows that the life of faith calls us to strive to be more like Christ with each breath we take. And just as athletes strive to attain a perfection they cannot fully reach, so it is with the discipline of faith. In striving we grow, and in our imperfect journeys our stories connect. We are moved by others' lives of faith, and they are moved by ours. And as we strive and fall short we are reminded of what Paul says to Timothy: "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing." II Timothy 2:7-8.
May God inspire us to strive for his perfection, that we might show his glory in the world. May we all press forward until that time when Christ crowns us with the victory he himself has won for us and sets before us in the Kingdom of God.
Pr. Bob Lutz
News from the Mission Field
Our missionary Kristin Engstrom arrived in Zambia on February 10, 2022, to begin her new call as the ELCA global missionary for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Zambia. Zambia is a landlocked country in south-central Africa. It is situated on a high plateau and takes its name from the Zambezi River. It has more than seventy ethnic groups with a blend of spiritual tradition Kristin received a warm welcome and is settling into her new community. You can follow her on her blog at http://alongwithpastorkristin.blogspot.com/
Paula Lofstrom from the International Health Partners (IHP) sent word of her and Denny’s continued work for the people of Zinga. The Lofstroms indicated there is a need for money to repair vehicles, maintain equipment, and care for indigent patients. In addition, Paula noted they are supporting an organization called Days for Girls. This group provides feminine supplies and literature to female students so they can attend school regularly. Follow the Lofstrom’s work with the IHP at http://ihptz.org/
Our newest mission outreach is the Palms Deaf Church. This is an up and coming worship community being developed in conjunction with St. Mark’s by the Sea Lutheran Church and the Florida Bahamas Synod. Their purpose is to provide a means for hearing impaired individuals to have access to God’s word and experience a Church community through the use of American Sign Language. Find out more at https://palmsdeaf.org/volunteer/
If you are moved to support Kristin, the Lofstrom’s or the Palm Deaf Church, please prayerfully consider adding a line-item offering to your weekly giving. You can write in “missions” and it will be equally divided between all three groups, or you can give specifically to any one of the above.Thank you for your support.
Calling All Young Adults
A new opportunity will soon be available for those roughly age 18-30. On two consecutive Sunday evenings, March 20 and 27, young adults are invited to come at 5:30 and enjoy food fellowship and a viewing/discussion of the movie “The Case for Christ.” We’ll also discuss potential long-range plans for this new group. Food and drinks will be provided at the first meeting, where we’ll discuss a possible “pot-luck” format for the second week. Young adults…come and see!
CALM House News
Crisis Aid for Littles and Moms is an organization literally housed up the street from St. Paul(across from the fire department). This Christ-based program offers young women and their small children (under the age of 6) a place to live, classes in parenting, financial stewardship, self-esteem, and God's Holy Word, while expecting 20 hours of work in a local business per week.
Some of our church members have been affiliated with this group since it opened about 5 years ago; currently Pastor David is on the Board of Directors. He has baptized 3 Littles in one memorable service. WELCA has a well-stocked closet located in our school. Household items like kitchenware, linens, curtains, clocks, trash cans, etc. are offered as House Warming Gifts for the graduating Mom, who has applied for Public Housing and finally been given a moving out date. On February 12, a Mom "shopped" our stash; her favorite item was the long ironing board. (I kid you not!)
C.A.L.M. House Public Relations Director, Wanda Siefke, recently shared with me an exciting next phase: the construction of CALM Village, 6 houses to be built behind the Big House. Each bungalow will have 2 BR/1 Bath, a combination living room/kitchen, and space-saving stackable washer/dryer. This community will provide a residence, oh, so much sooner than Public Housing can, which often results in a wait of up to one year! Ironically the cost of public housing is seldom affordable for the young women.
Our church has an opportunity to financially support this endeavor through CALM's 5th Annual Fundraiser, scheduled for Saturday, April 9, beginning at 5 pm at their meeting and event property: VenYou201, at 201 Redwood Ave., Niceville. This fun evening will include food from 5 different restaurants, beverages of your choice, music, silent and live auctions, and great fellowship for a greater cause!
Tickets may be purchased online at www.nicevillecalm.com via Venmo and PayPal for $75 per person. Also, checks and cash are accepted.
Imagine the convenience and security for half-a-dozen graduates who will reside in CALM Village, literally behind their former school and home. Godly friendships and support among the Moms may be nurtured and continued. Perhaps childcare will be shared and rotated, keeping monies in the household budget.
Our church and school are only a hike down the road. All church events are available to the young families: Sunday worship, Sunday school, Wednesday night meals, parenting classes...donuts and coffee! Some Littles may enroll in VPK classes. Before and after school care may mean more working hours for Moms. It is no coincidence that CALM House grows and grows literally blocks away from God's House!
If you have any more questions about the CALM Vision or Fundraiser in April, please contact Wanda Siefke at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Treasure from the Trunk Sale
WELCA/LMM'S 2nd Annual Trunk sale will be held Saturday, April 2, from 7 AM until noon. Everyone from the congregation is welcome to park in the lot and hawk your wares from your vehicle's trunk (one car per household, please). If you need one or two tables to stack your treasures or a clothes rack for non-foldable items such as coats, dresses, etc. indicate this on the sign up sheet available in Underdahl Hall by mid March.
The Trunk Sale works like this: you collect your goodies from home, you wash/dust/label and price or make your own price list by category, you pack your car and sell out of your trunk or from tables, you add up the $ total on a 3X5 card (final dollar amount only, this is not a list of items, phew!) and hand to your buyer, bag the goodies, and then sell even more to the next shopper! No one takes any money or makes change.
LMM will once again act as cashiers in front of the glass doors. The Trustees move the tables and racks (please and thank you). WELCA comes up with all these brilliant ideas, walks about to assist where needed, helps Phyllis Shure with the baked goods tables (by partnering with her or providing homemade confections prior to the sale), and generally makes sure that our parking lot is in good shape before Sunday morning. Coffee, of course, goes with baked goods. Bottled water always sells. Pick a partner and help sell cups of java. Maybe the featured brew will be donated by The Blue Collar Restaurant or Waffle House or Dunkin' Donuts, get the idea? Pure Profit. Water may be solicited from grocery stores: Walmart, Grocery Outlet, Winn Dixie, or Publix. Never hurts to ask.
Any teams or individuals willing to help in this way, please contact Elizabeth Jones 850-714-7812 or Linda Nelson 850-499-8509.
Car parking begins at 6 AM. Spots are first-come-first-taken. No need to sign up. If you want to return home with your unsold items, you may. If you prefer to donate those treasures (never to see them again) mark that on the sign up sheet as well. The charitable organization will be FAITH HOPE & LOVE out of Crestview.
This year gently used prom gowns/formals will be for sale. Rocky Bayou Christian Academy and Niceville High School's proms are in May, I believe. If NHS's is earlier, then our sale is just in time! A private area will be needed, so any church gals who would rather sit in the "changing room", zip up the young ladies, and "ooh ah" behind them in the mirror, please contact me. (Not everyone has excessive treasures to sell, like the Nelsons do.)
All proceeds will be used by WELCA and LMM for their service projects, charities, or scholarships. The Trustees help because they are terribly good guys.
Let us pray for perfect weather, but if the rain must fall, perhaps the following Saturday will do. So come on out, Saturday, April 2, whether you have lotsa stuff to sell, or want to help someone depart with their wares, or have always thought of yourself as a barista or Gunga Din, or just want to inhale the deliciousness of the Shure "bakery," we look forward to a day in the sun.
It's all good. It's all God.
Lutheran Men in Mission: March 2022 Bible Study Breakfast
The LMM monthly Bible Study will be Saturday, March 19, at 7:30 A. M. in the Parish Hall. We are continuing the Course on "Spirituality.” This is the third session where we will be discussing the subject "Pain and Suffering: Where Is God When It Hurts?” The Bible study topic is “Hard Questions: ‘Faith despite circumstances‘” (Hebrews 11:1-40). This Bible Study will follow Option 2: Advanced: Teaching with Margin Questions.
Chapter 11 of the Letter to the Hebrews serves as a parenthesis; 12:1 resumes the theme of the last part of Chapter 10. The words of 10:39 regarding those who believe lead to the description of the faith that causes Christians to hold on and not lose hope in the face of persecution and trials. In this wonderful and well-known chapter, faith is explained as the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. Faith starts with believing in God’s character, that he is who he says he is. Faith culminates with believing in God’s promises that he will do what he says he will do.
Some have given Hebrews 11 a nickname: “the hall of faith,” comparing it to the hallways in schools where all the trophies are stored. The best athletes make it into the hall of fame. Similarly, Hebrews 11 covers the stories of some of the best faith-keepers ever… at least, the best faith-keepers of the Old Testament! If we are looking to answer the question, “What is faith?” these stories are a great place to start. Here, we get to see faith in action.
Hebrews 11 tells us what it means to have faith and obtain life. Those with true faith accept God’s word, focusing on assurance about what we do not see, looking beyond the situation as it can be perceived by natural vision. By exercising this kind of faith the ancients gained the warm commendation of God. By faith they discerned God’s majestic power in the created order.
This relating of how these Old Testament “heroes of faith” faced their situation gives us insight into the very basics of faith that we should follow in our lives. We see that faith is trusting, responsive, persistent, and dependent on God’s promise.
Discussion will focus on how we develop complete confidence that God will fulfill his promises even when we may not yet see any evidence. How does the example of Abraham and Sarah encourage us to exercise faith? In what ways does 11:1-16 help us keep our eyes fixed on the future? How does faith help us when facing hard times? Looking through the examples presented in 11:17-32, how do they encourage us to persevere in faith? Faith looks to Christ and his sacrifice. How does 11:33-40 enable us to keep looking to Christ?”
All men of the congregation are invited to attend.
Women of St. Paul
Our next get together will be on Saturday, March 12th at 10:00 am in Underdahl Hall.After a brief meeting, we will play Bunco, led by Regina Humphrey, complete with prizes! Each person is asked to bring a snack to share! All women who attend St. Paul are automatically members of our women’s organization! Contact Dona Charlton at 850-716-2731 if you have any questions. Join us for fun, food, and fellowship! Hope to see you on the 12th!
Bible Studies and Fellowship
Wednesday Evening Meals - The meals are served at 5:30 PM. $8 for adults and $4.00 for children.
Youth Group meets at 6:00 PM. It is for grades 7-12.
Ladies Thursday Morning Bible Study – All ladies are welcome to the 9:30 Bible study in Underdahl Hall every Thursday. (Please enter through Jimi's office.)
Lutheran Men in Mission - The Purpose of Lutheran Men in Mission (LMM) is to bring you together in Christian fellowship with other men in our congregation. We hope to get you involved in an existing LMM activity which interests you and we also hope will stir up ideas for new activities. LMM breakfast at 7:30 am, the 3rd Saturday.
Lutheran World Relief Quilters – The third weekend on Saturday beginning around 9:30.