Lent is a springtime for our souls!
My daily devotions recently brought me to a selection from Caesarius of Arles’ (470-542) “Lenten Instructions”. I was not familiar with this churchman and so I quickly did a little research. First you will notice the years of his life; still fairly early in the history of the church. He was a Bishop and Church Father in Merovingian Gaul and is venerated in both the Roman Catholic and Easter Orthodox Churches on August 27th. Caesarius was particularly enthusiastic regarding the preaching of the word by the clergy, promoting it as important in educating and encouraging morality.
Hearing the Word in church, however, was not enough. Reading the word at home, especially during the season of Lent, was important too. Take a minute to reflect on his ancient words:
Let it not be enough for you that you hear the divine lessons in church, but read them yourselves at home or look for others to read them and willingly listen to them when they do. Although through the mercy of God you frequently and devoutly hear the divine lessons throughout the entire year, still during these days we ought to rest from the winds and the sea of this world by taking refuge, as it were, in the haven of Lent and in the quiet of silence to receive the divine lessons in the receptacle of our heart.
Devoting ourselves to God out of love for eternal life, during these days let us with all solicitude strive to repair and compose in the little ship of our soul whatever throughout the year has been broken, or destroyed, or damaged, or ruined by many storms, that is, by the waves of sins.
During these holy days of Lent if you cannot cut off the occupations of this world, at least strive to curtail them in part. By fleeing from this world, through an expedient loss and a most glorious gain you may take away from earthly occupations a few hours in which you can devote yourselves to God. For this world either laughs at us or is laughed at by us.
Let me also encourage you in this Lenten season to part from the world for a bit to devote yourselves to Christ and his Word. Renew your commitment to midweek worship and to daily Scripture reading. Reflect upon God’s mercy for you in Christ. This is the way that God softens our hearts, strengthens our faith, and draws us close to his breast.
Back to Church?
The lifting of many of the covid mandates was welcome news this month. We are all ready for things to return to “normal”. But what about our churches? Some churches are reporting that they are back to 90% of what their attendance was before covid. But I also hear that many of our churches are far from that level of recovery. In Lent we sing, “Return to the Lord your God for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” Perhaps it is time to be quite literal about that. Perhaps it is time for our congregations to make a concerted effort to call our people back to worship on a weekly basis. Yes, I mean for our Pastors, Elders and members to literally pick up the phone and call our members inviting them to return to the table of the Lord to fellowship with him in the midst of his people. Each member is dear and precious and we are less when any of them is not with us.
From our Synod
The people of Ukraine are very much on our hearts and minds these days. Let us continue to pray for them and for peace in their part of the world. Pray for our sister church the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ukraine, her Bishop, pastors, and people. For more information go to https://www.lcms.org/ukraine.
Recently our Synod announced that it is offering a Million Dollar Match for pro-Life work through our churches as they reach out in acts of kindness and mercy to their communities. Projects eligible for this grant include existing, expanding or new projects that support the needs of families during the beginning-of-life stage of their children. Projects must be carried out in close proximity to the Word and Sacrament ministry of the congregation. The link to the Synod’s website for more information is https://www.lcms.org/serve/grants/life-grant.
One of the best kept secrets is that this year is the 175th Anniversary of our denomination, the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. The birth date of the Synod is April 26th 1847. Synod’s website says,
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod celebrates its birthday on April 26. Initial members, which included 12 pastors representing 14 congregations from Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Michigan, New York and Ohio, signed the church body’s constitution on April 26, 1847, at First Saint Paul Lutheran Church in Chicago, Ill.
Originally named The German Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio and Other States, the name was shortened to The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod in 1947 on the occasion of our 100th anniversary.
The roots of the LCMS run deep, tracing back to Saxon and other German immigrants establishing a new church body in America, seeking the freedom to practice and follow confessional Lutheranism.
Resources to celebrate this anniversary will be made available soon on the Synod’s website. Please consider observing this day in your congregation.
Initiative for Ministry Development
Last month I wrote about and unveiled our NJ District Initiative for Ministry Development. I am especially excited about the positive response I have received so far. We will kick off the Initiative this April with the I-80 Corridor Small Church Clarity. The invitations have been sent, host sites have been established, and commitments to attend have been received! Leadership Teams from each of the congregations will gather to talk about and plan unique ministries for their congregations. With the possibility of up to 16 congregations from the I-80 corridor attending we expect that there will be a sharing, discussion, relationship building, and ministry planning going on.
What if your congregation did not receive an invitation? Well, that means that your congregation is either not in the designated area, or not in that size category, or maybe you haven’t seen the invitation yet. First ask you Pastor or Congregational President if your congregation received and invitation. If you still have a question contact me and I should be able to help you.
In addition, please know that there will be additional Small Church Clarity session held in other parts of the state and the NJDU will be offered in the fall for larger congregations. Every congregation will be included in our Initiative for Ministry Development.
We are pleased to welcome into our NJ District family two new members:
Lillian Renee was born to David and Laura Small on January 16th. She was 7lbs, 15 oz and 21 inches.
Welcome Lillian and congratulations to the Smalls. We rejoice with you!
Lily Alice was born to Dale and Kori Fjordbotten on March 9th. She was 6 lbs, 12 oz and 19 inches.
Welcome Lily and congratulations to the Fjordbottens. We rejoice with you!
We rejoice additionally and especially over their baptisms and God's grace to them.
They are his precious one!
Other items from our District
Our Annual Missions Golf Classic is schedule for Thursday May 5th at Heron Glenn. Save the date now. More information may be found on the District website at https://www.njdistrict.org/mcgolf.html. Proceeds will go primarily to support Pastor Dan Fenco and Camino de Fe. Can you gather one or two foursomes from your congregation to support this work. It is always a fun day. Besides, it should be really easy to beat the Bishop this year!
Our second NJ District Holy Land trip is scheduled for January 30-February 9, 2023. Whether this is a return trip or the first time you go, the experience is very special and spiritually moving. It has been 5 years since I went but I can still see the places where our Lord walked and so many of the biblical stories happened. Pastors, this will be a blessing to you in your ministry. In fact, I so believe this that I have secured a grant to help facilitate your being able to go. Please ask me about it and bring a group from your congregation. You will have a wonderful time.
Finally, Pastors don’t forget to register for our NJ District Pastors Conference on June 6-8 at Tuscarora in Bethel, PA. Chaplain Greg Janns will present on Engaging Our Muslim Neighbors.
I pray that this Lent may be a time of devotion, piety, and growth in faith. May God work a good work in you. May you be well prepared to celebrate with sincerity and joy the Pascal Feast of our Lord.
God bless you,