Still Working on Forgiveness
Don’t blink! If you do you just might miss the Season of Epiphany this year. Easter comes early this year and that means Ash Wednesday does too and that Epiphany is short; just five Sundays and Transfiguration! Quite often we have been so busy in December that we kind of just wander through the beginning of January trying to recover. Then when we get focused again we are half way through Epiphany.
I encourage you to try not to miss Epiphany. It is such a beautiful season in which our Lord is revealed to us. We learn once again of his appearance, his nature, and his works. As we review those stories of the disciples discovering for the first time who Jesus is, we have the opportunity to delve ever deeper into the mystery of our Lord Jesus Christ. From the visit of the Magi, to his baptism, to his miracles, to his transfiguration, we learn that Jesus is both God and man and has come to us to be our savior from sin, death, and the devil. As many times as we hear the stories and read the Scriptures, there is always more that God is revealing to us.
Eyes open, let’s not miss Epiphany!
Over the last several weeks I and four others from our District have been preparing for our Synod’s Reconciler Training. The good news is that after three weeks of training we will have four more trained reconcilers in our District! But the point here is that the very heart of reconciliation is forgiveness; both the forgiveness we receive from Christ and the forgiveness we give to others. It is as we pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…” In this preparation I was reminded again that even as we are always learning more about our Savior, we are always working on forgiveness!
Because of our sinful nature we have a proclivity toward excusing or justifying our sin, dismissing our need for forgiveness, and being stingy in giving forgiveness. I will admit that sometimes this preparation was hard because we were asked to apply our learning in case studies from our own life (yes, real ones!). Remembering, reviewing sometimes hurtful situations pulled back the curtain of the way that I sometimes deal with sin in a shallow way. It reminded me that the life of repentance, confession, and forgiveness is never over; that I’m still working on it and need to keep working on it.
As you delve more deeply into the mystery of Christ, let me encourage you also to think of his forgiveness. We will be truly blessed if we do two things this Epiphany:
January traditionally houses Life Sunday for many of our congregations. In correlation there has been a Life Rally at the Mall in Washington DC as well as a local rally in Trenton. Because of recent legal rulings and because of weather, the NJ rally in Trenton is being moved to September 26th this year (and for following years).
Pastor Erhardt of Messiah Lutheran Church, Princeton and I have regularly attended these rallies in Trenton for a good number of years. The two of us are now involved with the organization to move the rally to September. We would like to invite you and your congregation to join us in this march at the State House. Since parking is limited, buses will be leaving from various locations throughout the state and taking participants to the rally. The times and places of pick up will be announced in the upcoming months.
For now, you are encouraged to appoint a person in your congregation to coordinate the efforts to bring a group to the rally.
Visitation for Convention Resolution Evaluation
In an effort to bring Synod closer to congregations and to make Synodical resolutions relevant to ministry here in NJ, a plan has been developed for each congregation to be visited by a District representative. We are requesting that the representative be given 30 minutes out of your next regularly scheduled Council meeting to lead a discussion about the resolutions passed that may be applicable and beneficial to your congregational ministries.
Please be assured that our purpose is not to sell, promote, or influence a congregation in regard to any one resolution. The purpose is simple to share the work of the Synod on your behalf and to have a discussion about resources and ministry opportunities.
Please welcome the representative when he/she calls to schedule a time to meet with your Council.
Initiative for Ministry Development (IMD)
The first rounds of Small Church Clarity and NJDU are now complete. We had 21 congregations participate! For those congregations who completed the assignments, they are now working on implementing their plans. I know of one congregation that is presenting their Ministry Plan as the center piece of their annual congregational meeting. What a great way to stimulate excitement for ministry in the coming year and give meaning to the annual budget.
We are now moving into Phase 3 of IMD, the Advanced Studies phase. Currently we have three events scheduled
One of the concerns that I hear over and over again from our churches is that their membership is growing older and that they have few children. It doesn’t take much thought to understand this us an unsustainable trend. But how does a congregation reverse this trend?
Dr. Dave Rueter, trained and tasked by the LCMS, has put together a process whereby congregations could learn about and reverse this aging trend. He went to Fuller Youth Institute and learned about the Seven Core Commitments of Congregations that are growing younger. He then teamed that with the LCMS’s Seven Practices for Youth Ministry to come up with a comprehensive program to help congregations connect with younger generations.
One question that may immediately come to mind (and frankly is the first question I had) is “Will this work only in small and medium sized churches?” The answer is “Yes!” The principles and practices that are a part of Growing Young have been tested in churches of various sizes and have been found to be successful in all sizes! That is good news for us in NJ. Few of our churches are of the larger variety. We need solutions that work for medium and especially smaller congregations.
Dr. Rueter will be coming to NJ to speak to our Spring Pastors Conference in May, 2024. Pastors will be able to hear and evaluate Growing Young to see if it is something that will be helpful for their congregation. Those congregations that are interested in joining a cohort of NJD congregations to implement Growing Young will be able to do so.
The cost per congregation for participating in a cohort is reasonable and the NJD hopes to be able to subsidize those costs to some extent. My hope is that you can begin to have leadership conversations about this possibility over the next several months. Also, please see the separate article about this in this month’s Grapevine.
District Short Clips
Official Visits are resuming in January. I am currently scheduled through mid-February. At that time I will need to take a break as I recover from a double knee replacement surgery I have scheduled. I ask for your prayers for this surgery and recovery. While recovery is always variable from person to person, I hope to be fully back to my travel and visitation schedule sometime in May.
Pastors Wives. The NJD Pastors Wives retreat will be held on Saturday January 14th at Redeemer Lutheran Church, Westfield 10:00 am – 3:00 pm. Please see the article in this issue of the Grapevine to register.
Educators Conference. The NJD Educators Conference will be held on Friday April 12th at Somerset Hills Lutheran Church, Basking Ridge from 10:00am – 2:00 pm. All teachers and directors from our schools are encouraged to attend. Continuing educations credits will be awarded to participants. More details regarding speakers and times will be published in future Grapevines.
Reconciler Training. Five members of our District will be trained this month by our Synod to be Reconcilers. They will be added to previously trained reconcilers and be available not only for Synod reconciliation cases but also for local unofficial reconciliation cases. We will be blessed to have this resource in our District to help us live as the children of God.
Convention Management Training. Yes, it is time to start thinking about the 2025 District Convention! It seems like a long way away but planning for the convention is starting now. In preparation for this planning all new District Presidents are gathering in early February in St. Louis for convention management training. This intensive training is intended to introduce new DPs to the knowledge and skill set required to prepare for and conduct a successful convention. Here we go!
Arise, shine for your light has come! And the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
And we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Blessed are you… for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.
May Christ and his forgiveness be revealed to you in ever greater and deeper ways this Epiphany.
The LORD with you,