From the Senior Pastor
Lent 2018: Pursuing the Heart of Jesus

At its core, the season of Lent is an exercise in spiritual growth, a time when followers of Jesus become intentional in the things they do as believers in order to go deeper in their experience of the faith. Traditionally the disciplines of Lent include repentance, prayer, fasting, and acts of love. As with exercise, these spiritual practices build “spiritual muscles” and draw the believer into what many would describe as a closer relationship with God.

This year’s Lenten theme, “Pursuing the Heart of Jesus,” is all about helping each of us to develop a more intimate relationship with God and with Jesus, the One whom God sent into our world to convey the depth of God’s love for us and for all creation.

While Lutherans tend to be very good about learning about God and lifting up the value of doctrinal documents like Luther’s Small Catechism, we tend to be less adept at expressing our love for God.

The truth of the matter, though, is that the heart sometimes knows truth that the head does not fully comprehend. Lent then, by its very nature, can be a time, a season, when we follow our hearts and throw ourselves into the arms of a God whose love for us is endless and thereby experience a deeper intimacy with Jesus that can be elusive when we live lives that leave us little time for anything spiritual.

Mark Allan Powell, in the introduction to his book Loving Jesus, gets to the heart of this:

The essence of spirituality is loving God. The Bible, the Talmud, and the Qur’an all direct their followers not merely to believe in God, to trust God, to obey God, or to serve God…but to love God. Spirituality may be more than this, but it can be nothing apart from this.

Many people today seem to be interested in becoming “more spiritual,” and there is an abundance of spiritual advisors who help people with their inner lives. Oprah Winfrey has featured a regular segment on her television program called “Caring for Your Spirit.” As near as I can tell, she and others like her offer good tips for pursuing the spiritual life (for becoming “more spiritual”). Yet I want to say this: when caring for the spirit, do not neglect the heart. What your spirit needs most is to love. Our spirits, our innermost beings, our true selves, yearn to love the God who made them. Satisfying spirituality, I believe, is found when the spirit and the heart come together as one and our innermost being is imbued with the capacity for adoration and ardor that the heart is so adept at providing.

When people say that they want to be “more spiritual,” what exactly do they mean? They probably have some idea regarding how spiritual people talk or act or think and they want to be more like that themselves—but there’s more. They want to be changed within. They don’t just want to copy the way spiritual people act or talk or think; they want to be spiritual people themselves, transformed from the inside out. What they want, I think, is to love God. Richard Foster says that true spirituality “comes not from gritting our teeth but from falling in love.” The reason spiritual people act and talk and think the way they do is that they love God. Becoming people who love God is the only reliable path to being more spiritual. Loving God transforms people from within and connects them to something eternal and ultimate.

People also say that they want inner peace. They feel disconnected from a world where so much seems to be superficial. The routines and rituals of daily life become ways of passing time while something deep within yearns for life to be more meaningful. There is an element of fear. The most meaningful aspects of our lives are often our relationships, and these are fragile. Friendships sour, marriages end. People move away and lose touch. And people die. Even people we care about and depend upon. They die, and someday we will die. So how can our hearts find peace? The Bible speaks of a peace that “surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7) and of a joy that yields contentment in all circumstances (Philippians 4:12-13). Such joy and peace are the result of loving God, a consequence of being in a relationship with a God whom we have come to know as a real being who inspires our devotion and affection.

For Christians, such devotion is often directed to Jesus Christ, through whom God is made known. Christians may describe themselves as people who “follow Jesus” or who “believe in Jesus”; such expressions, however, can be euphemisms for what they really mean but avoid saying because the language is so intimate. Christians are people who love Jesus. Indeed, the Bible practically defines Christians as people “who have an undying love for our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 6:24).

The Christian faith is not just a religion (a system of rituals and beliefs), but a relationship—a relationship of love with Jesus Christ who is risen from the dead. When this basic point is missed, the Christian religion becomes hollow and staid. Jesus warned against a day when the love of many would grow cold (Matthew 24:12) and, in a memorable passage from the book of Revelation, he told a church, “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance…but I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first (Revelation 2:2, 4). When Christianity is not, first and foremost, a relationship of love, it becomes a matter of works and toil and patient endurance – all worthwhile, perhaps, but a far cry from the spiritual experience of joy and peace that it is supposed to be.

But how do we do it? Love God? Love Jesus?

Powell goes on to answer that question by suggesting that it has to do with a healthy dose of piety, a way of living the faith that combines commitment and sentiment in a “spiritual mélange” that emphasizes the experiential dimension of faith. He writes (p. 19), “…pious people (or people who want to be pious) are typically unashamed of their emotional devotion to Jesus, and yet they know better than to ground that devotion in their emotions. Their commitment to faith as something to be experienced prompts them to temper the emotion with an appropriate sense of obligation (duty). They do what they do (go to church, read the Bible, say their prayers) whether they feel like it or not—and yet they often do feel like doing such things and are not embarrassed by those feelings. There is something healthy, something appealing about this.”

Could Lent this year be a time when you unashamedly throw yourself into an experience of greater intimacy with Jesus? Might there be something healthy, even appealing about pursuing more actively the heart of Jesus?

I would suggest there is, and I along with the OSL pastoral team invite you to join us for midweek Lenten worship on Wednesdays, beginning on February 21, at noon or 6:40 p.m., for a 35-minute worship experience designed to reunite each of us with a God whose love for us is deep and wide and never-ending. Together let’s explore where a closer walk with Jesus might take us.

In Christ’s love,

Pr. Randy Gehring

Baptisms
December 30, 2017
Sunny Thi Nguyen, the daughter of William Knutson and Kiem Ngoc Nguyen.

January 14, 2018
Evan Robert Wallner, the son of Joel and Krysta Wallner.

Telecasts
January 14, 2018
Telecasts sponsored by the family of Deloris Harmon in celebration of her 91st birthday.

January 21, 2018
Telecasts sponsored in loving memory of Lou Madsen from Helen Madsen and family.

January 28, 2018
Telecasts sponsored by Bryan Peters and Safe-N-Secure Security Equipment in memory of Marilyn Peters.

Memorials and Honoraria
November–December 2017

In Memory of Sigmund Elle
Don and Coryill Weeg

In Memory of Joan Hilmoe
John Hegg
Arlen Viste

In Memory of Bernice Nelson
Dorothy Sittig
Don and Coryill Weeg

In Memory of Irene Peterson
Frances Kilen
Norman and Clarice Eitrheim

Your Offering Makes a Difference
Your generosity is making a real difference in people’s lives through the mission and ministry of OSL. Thank you for your faithfulness in giving and your passionate commitment to God’s work through this congregation. Your continued generosity helps us reach our congregational goal of fully funding our ministry of connecting faith to everyday life.

Ministry Support through December 31, 2017

Annual Giving
Pledged $2,008,616
Received YTD 1,933,651
Remaining $74,965
Projected YTD $1,966,285
Ahead/(Behind) ($32,634)

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