December 2021 – A Letter from Pastor Lori

Merry Christmas! I know it’s a little early to say that.  I am writing this well before Christmas. This year for Advent, Dean and I will be preaching from Adam Hamilton’s book “Faithful-Christmas through the eyes of Joseph.”  The chapters include: A carpenter named Joseph; Whose Child is This?  Raising a Child not your own; The journey to Bethlehem

 

We know the Nativity story from many perspectives and I am excited to see the nativity story through the lenses of Joseph.  Matthew and Luke both trace Joseph’s family back to David’s royal family tree. Prophecy required that the Son of God also be the Son of David. But surely Joseph wasn’t the only one qualified for that DNA/prophecy match. Here are four other reasons I believe God chose Joseph.

 

  1. God chose Joseph because of his convictions. In first century, Palestine/Israel, there was no legal difference between being engaged and married. The engagement set the marriage contract in place, not in motion. The wedding was the formalization and celebration of it, similar to baptism. To get un-engaged, they had to do more than cancel their wedding, they had to get a divorce. Joseph had an out that was both legal and moral. He could have divorced Mary on the grounds of adultery and moved on with his life.
  2. God chose Joseph because of his compassion. Joseph handled this sensitive situation in a compassionate way by preparing to divorce Mary privately instead of humiliating her publicly. Being “righteous” means doing the right thing in the right way. This is the kind of father God chose to raise God’s only Son. It’
  3. God chose Joseph because of his courage. Some fear is healthy and normal. Fear of death makes us drive slower…theoretically. Fear of punishment prods us tell the truth to our spouses, friends, church members, and CPA. Fear of being stoned for your fiancée’s indiscretion is a good reason to keep from marrying her. His options weren’t obvious. There was no easy way out of this jam because if Joseph couldn’t prove that Mary was unfaithful to him, the divorce idea could backfire.
  4. God chose Joseph because of his compliance. When Joseph woke up, he did as the Lord’s angel had commanded him. He married her but did not have sexual relations with her until she gave birth to a son. And he named him Jesus. (Matthew 1:24-25) Godly compliance is the result of blending convictions, compassion, and courage together.

 

Joseph took a pregnant Mary almost 100 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem, then from Bethlehem to Egypt (760 miles) with their newborn. Eventually, he’d back-track at least 900 miles from Egypt to Nazareth, having taken the long way to avoid trouble in Jerusalem.

Joseph wasn’t chosen because he was a smart man, a rich man, or a famous man. Joseph was chosen because he was a “yes” man.

 

In Christ’s service

Pastor Lori



November 2021 – A Letter from Pastor Lori

On television there are a load of insurance ads and phone ads, along with many others.  Recently I saw an ad for a 5G network. It occurred to me that there are 5 “G”s that are keys to our faith as Christians. Then I thought of another one! So, here are 6 “G”s:

Of course, the first G is God. God is always first! God is constantly supporting us with countless blessings for life—both now and forever, through our Savior Jesus. God is here for us, in love, no matter what, in times of joy or sorrow. We can always turn to God and depend on God to care.

Another G is grace. God is eager to be merciful and invite everyone into life together. God’s grace goes far beyond our imagination. How often people have been surprised and inspired to find God’s grace at work. Just one example—long ago a former slave trader who turned to Jesus and reformed his life wrote the hymn “Amazing Grace”.

We respond with another G, gratitude. The more we understand God’s grace, the more we will be thankful. The old song “Count Your Blessings” remains true—no matter what, we are surrounded by more good gifts of God than we can ever imagine. During this season of Thanksgiving, we should live with an attitude of Gratitude.

Gratitude leads to another G, generosity. In gratitude for God’s grace, we want to share it with others by being kind caring and generous. The more we understand God’s blessings to us, the more we want to be generous in blessing others in whatever ways we can. That includes offerings, of course, but much more—our time, our talents, a supportive word, a smile. In all our Christian living, we look to God for guidance.  It is the season of setting budgets and evaluating our offering and tithes and the amount of money it costs to keep the church operating.  COVID has reduced our giving greatly.

Finally, it occurred to me to add the G of grow. I’ve read more than one article asking if we have learned anything during the pandemic. In terms of our faith, we have been reminded that the church is the people, not the building! There has been a lot of creativity as congregations have found ways to worship, for instance.

It sometimes seems that life now is a lot like wandering in the wilderness, but we know that story. God is there even in the wilderness, with something new—manna—to sustain the people on their way to the promised land.

This Thanksgiving season, may the Spirit guide us as we trust God, live by grace in gratitude and generosity, and grow in our faith and life!

 

In Christ’s service,

Pastor Lori



October 2021 – A letter from Pastor Lori

I recently had the opportunity to attend a clergy retreat in North Platte.  The title was “God’s Call: Remember, Renew, Reimagine.”  What a great 24 hours away and a great retreat and lesson.  The district superintendent, Cindy Karges, and two of the other leaders had attended the training from the Disney leadership seminars.  The concepts are very usable in any leadership role. 

The first idea was evaluating our values.   Out of at least 75 ideas, we were to come up with our top four values.  These were personal values that we hold dear to who we are.  After coming up with our values, we shared in our network group.  In our group there were three women and one man.  I found it fascinating that the three women’s values were the same all the way across the board.  The women found integrity, honesty, loyalty, compassion and caring for others high values for each of the women in our network.  This was an in-depth look of who we are and who we are striving to be.  I struggled with this idea, by reading the list I would say there were about nine that I would say are values, but at times I fail miserably at incorporating them into my life.  The true matter of wrestling with these was attempting to be perfect with them before I could say it was value. “God does not call those perfected,” 

God does not call the perfect, God calls the broken and cracked pots and moves them to progression.  Jesus was the only perfect human.  So, the struggle for us is not perfection of our values, but progress in our values to be the person God is calling us to be.  “We do not start riding a bike without training wheels”. 

After the idea of values, we had to write a personal vision statement for ourselves.  This again is a tough idea to write a vision statement that expects personal growth but not perfection.  For me it needs to include the journey with Christ, compassion for others and personal growth. 

Disney has its own way of running a business.  Safety is their utmost concern.  They value people and people’s ideas.  They encourage individual growth and their employees to grow into their personal vision and live into their personal values. 

God calls us to be light, freedom, and Glory.  God also calls us to serve him, to be faithful, to serve others and do good to those in Love.  The Methodist church uses the Gospel of Matthew to state our call “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (28:19-20).   So, what is our vision as an individual and corporately as a church and as a Parrish.  These are the things with which we wrestle.   To what is God calling you?  What values and vision has God laid on your heart?  Where and to what is God leading you?

 

Pastor Lori



September 2021 – A Letter from Pastor Lori

Everyone needs a place of respite and peace where our spirit can be nourished and fed. I have many of those places.  One is on the back deck of the parsonage.  One is in the quietness of my spare bedroom, no TV or radio, just quietness and many books.  Another is in the sanctuary at Loup City and Ansley during the week, when no one is in the building.  Another place is in God’s creation-around a river, outside in my flower beds, inside watching it rain outside…these are just a few ways I spend time in God’s nature. These are times to meditate, read God’s word or pray.

In these places, in the quiet beauty of the day, I give thanks to God. I give thanks for the wonder and gift of God’s good creation that I see all around me: the light of the rising sun playing on the leaves of trees; the ever-deepening green hue that is seen in the leaves of the trees as the season progresses. I see and hear birds busy at their tasks and singing their morning song of praise. I see flowers and plants that testify to intricacy of design and stunning color combinations from the hand of the Master Gardener. Sometimes I see a tiny darting shadow among the flowers, and if I look closely, can even get a glimpse of that hummingbird. And I am reminded that I am not the only one who calls this place home. Home is shared with countless other creatures and plants – something which good stewardship reminds me that I can never forget.

The psalmist writes: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the earth proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). So true! This is the gift that I receive when I’m on the back deck early in the morning. It’s a gift that changes with each day because no two days are ever the same. Our faith confesses this truth in the First Article of the Creed: “I believe in God the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.” You and I should be spending more time in God’s creation, observing what God has made that is right there before our very eyes. And in observing, we also give thanks to God. My family has been blessed by many beautiful tomatoes and other produce from other’s gardens. 

There is so much that weighs heavily on us individually and collectively right now: the situation with COVID-19, the continuing struggle for racial equality in our nation, Afghanistan, and the great divides that threaten to tear our country apart. Within the ALL Parish, in the past year we had to pivot quickly to online worship, learning, and fellowship.  We learned how to do youth group over zoom.  We have come back together in worship, but are still missing members of our church families. 

We are seeking to discern with much prayer what the Lord is doing in all of this. What would the Lord have us do? How do we best accomplish what He is calling us to do? These are all questions that I wrestle with, and I will tell you that none of this is easy. In fact, it’s extremely challenging. There is no script on how to do any of this because none of us has done this before! But we press on, trusting that the God who made the heavens and the earth, who gave his only-begotten Son to be our Savior, who loves us with an everlasting love, has not abandoned or forsaken us. He will provide strength and blessing for the way ahead.

On my own, I don’t have the wherewithal to navigate these uncertain steps, but I draw strength and blessing from the Lord as I spend time with him in prayer, quietness, and safety. I encourage you to do the same.

Pastor Lori



August 2021 – A Letter from Pastor Lori

Ecclesiastes 10:10 “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”

Proverbs 27:17 “This man (Saul) is my chosen instrument to carry My Name before
the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.”

Acts 9:15b “You are a chosen instrument in the hands of Almighty God.”

We are created in God’s image, deeply loved, persistently sought after, and sacrificially and highly paid for, not to mention greatly valued. No matter who might ever read those sentences; whether rich, poor, young, old, successful, down and out, highly educated, mentally disabled, repentant sinner, or rebellious sinner, or any other possible human identity that exists, those statements are true and applicable to us. It’s God’s definition of who we are as human beings, not what we’ve done or how we feel about ourselves that matters. The only thing that makes the difference in any of our lives is very simply whether or not we will agree with God, or go to our grave rejecting Him.

 Once we’ve heard the good news (Christ died for us and faith in Him is the source of all healing and forgiveness), trusted Him for salvation, then the next step is to make ourselves available for God’s good and wonderful purpose in our lives. Our lives automatically are infused with eternal purpose and meaning. The question will come; what is God’s will for my life…? At this point I would refer you back to the Scriptures I referenced above.

Three things are important to take notice of:

1) You are a chosen instrument. The instrument is most useful in the hands of a skillful worker, namely Christ.

2) Christ is wise, and prefers to work with sharp instruments. If the instrument is dull, the work is much harder (and harder on the instrument!).

3) Christ sharpens His instruments using other instruments.

My dad has his wood working shop set up in the garage at the parsonage in Ansley.  I have been helping a little bit.  I have come to the realization that it takes all of these tools to complete the projects that he is building.  How sharp of an instrument are you in the Master’s hand? Are you allowing yourself to be sharpened by those around you? When I’m sharp, Christ can use me, but when I’m dull more strength is needed. What about you? How is God sharpening you? Will you let God? Will you let the Word of God transform your mind? Will you let godly council inform your decisions? Will you let difficult relationships teach you about perseverance and forgiveness? Will you let tough situations strengthen your faith? If you’ll do these things, you’ll see what wonderful things God can create, shape, remodel and produce with your life in God’s hands.

IN CHRIST’S SERVICE

 

PASTOR LORI



July 2021 – A Letter from Pastor Lori

Dear Beloved,

     Festivals are happening almost every weekend.   If not Festivals then City Wide garage sales.  Parades somewhere every weekend.  Vacations that have been planned, are coming to fruition.  Places close and far away being visited.  VBS at Ansley is quickly coming up.  The VBS at Loup City is still in the planning stage.   Baseball and softball games are being played.  Traveling teams are going places and seeing different things along with playing a sport that they love.   Families going along to support their player(s), as well as the team.  Summer is in full swing. 

     I looked at my July schedule and was overwhelmed with meetings and events coming up.  I was talking to a friend and she stated and after July the kids are getting ready to go back to school.  How true that is.   Scary.  July in its busy-ness will fly by and then summer will end quickly thereafter.  

     In our Busy-ness of summer and the start of school we cannot forget about the relationship with Christ that we all search for and need. 

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5:6-8, NIV

As Christians, we can sometimes forget it. We can forget that Christ died for the “weak”. We can forget that Christ died for those who brought nothing to the proverbial table. We can forget Christ died for us precisely at the time when we had nothing to give Him. Verse 6 in the above passage says it all. “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” This word “weak” in the Greek conjures up the image of someone who is sick. The word describes someone who is frail, someone who is helpless, someone who is so weak they are not even able to raise an arm to care for themselves.

     The image is almost like that of someone who is on their deathbed. That is quite different from a “righteous” person; who might be deemed “worthy” of dying for. That is quite different from a “good” person; whose kindness in the world might warrant their being saved. No, all of these pictures of “good” and “righteous” people are thrown out the window when it comes to our being saved in Christ. Jesus came to die for the sick, the frail, people so weak they can’t even raise an arm to care for themselves. The image is stark: a deathbed, with a person so frail, so sickly, that they are moments away from dying. That is us. Jesus could have found such more “noble” people to save; people much cleaner, much healthier, much wealthier. Instead, Jesus chose us. Jesus chose to save us when we are at our lowest in life; literally at death’s door. I hope we never forget this. As Christians, we can so easily forget how it is we have been saved, how it is we have such hope, how it is we have the Holy Spirit; it all happened because of Jesus’ mercy shown to you at the darkest moment of your life. All this because at just the right time, while we were still weak, Christ died for us, the ungodly.

Chief of sinners though I be,

Jesus shed His blood for me.

Died that I might live on high,

 Lived that I might never die

As the branch is to the vine,

I am His and He is mine.

 

In Christ’s service

 

Pastor Lori

    



June 2021 – A Letter from Pastor Lori

Dear Family,

    As you read this Great Plains Conference annual conference will be over.  Decisions will be made, votes will be tallied and a way for us to continue as the Great Plains Conference.  However the big meeting that we all are anticipating is the General conference which will happen August 29 through September 6th, 2022 in Minneapolis. So another year of discernment and anticipation.  We will have another annual conference (2022) without a clear direction of where the UMC is heading. 

“Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders . . . and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 5:6; 21:3, 4

 

    So with all the turmoil in our denomination we have to ask “Why go to church?” I’m not sure if you have ever thought about such a thing. Maybe you’re on auto pilot and when Sunday comes you just get up, put on your ‘Sunday best’ and head off to church but . .. Why go to church? People could do all kinds of different things on a “freed up” Sunday morning and yet, all around the world – from the United States, to Nigeria, to Russia – people get up and go to church. That still doesn’t answer the question though, why go to church?

     Maybe we would respond to such a question and say, “Well, the third commandment says we should worship.” This is true. The Third Commandment does say “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” However, I hope there is a greater reason why you are drawn to come and worship with other Christians. I hope it is not just the whip of God’s law that gets you out of bed, dressed and moving to church (although sometimes that is needed!)

     The scripture from Revelation gives us a glimpse into heaven. In that glimpse we see Christ, the Lamb who looks as if it had been slain, surrounded by His followers as He creates a new creation for all of us. That glimpse we see of heaven in Revelation, is also a picture you witness as we gather for worship. As we gather together, heaven is cracked open through the wounds of Christ and His mercy spills down into this world. In our sanctuary Jesus Himself stands among us, the living Lamb who looks as if Jesus had been slain, and Jesus feeds us, Jesus speaks to us, Jesus comforts us. Jesus comes to forgive us and refresh us for the days ahead. I hope this is why we gather around God’s Word and Sacrament. Anyone can be beaten into church with the law of a commandment, but I hope we all yearn to be near Christ; Jesus certainly yearns to be near you!

In Christ’s service

 

Pastor Lori



May 2021 – A Letter from Pastor Lori

    I had the pleasure and honor to spend a week with Joan Chittister at the 2 year spiritual formation academy in Schuyler Nebraska at the St Benedict center. Joan Chittister entered the Benedictine Sisters of Erie at the age of 16 and has remained a faithful and instrumental member for over 60 years. As a young student in Rome, Benedict tired of the decadent culture around and resolved to change the system not by confronting it, but by positing an alternative. Benedict simply refused to become what such a system modeled and began living otherwise, refusing to accept the moral standard around him and forming other people into organized communities to do the same. His communities outlawed slavery where they were, devoted themselves to the sharing of goods; committed themselves to the care of the earth and vowed to grow together into full humanity and stable, productive communities through a daily rhythm of prayer, work, love, forgiveness and reconciliation.   

    Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister, in her commentary on The Rule of Benedict, writes:

“Benedict does not believe that the simple reading or study of spiritual literature is      sufficient. He tells us to keep this Rule, its values, its concepts, its insights.  It is not what we read, he implies; it what we become that counts.”

Every major religious tradition, says Chittister, calls for a change of heart, a change of life, “rather than for simply an analysis of its literature.” The Jewish Hasidim, for instance, tell the story of the disciple who said to the teacher,

“Teacher, I have gone completely through the Torah. What must I do now?”

The teacher replied, “Oh, my friend, the question is not, Have you gone through the Torah?

The question is, Has the Torah gone through you?”[1]

     Habits shape us from the inside out—for good or for ill. We need a community to help us dwell in habits that shape us toward the good, that help us discover and remain connected to the triune God. , During those times when we sheep are surrounded and vastly outnumbered by wolves.  We follow Christ, in spite of our weakness, in the face of all that the world throws at us, Christ wins.  This is the meaning of the cross and resurrection.  Christ finds us even in our failure and grafts us back to him and leads us home.  We are never beyond the reach of the Risen One!  Death has no power over us when we abide with him.  Yes, we lose our way; life prunes us.  So this changing of seasons let us be reminded of the healthy habits of serving God, loving God and being loved by God. 

In Christ’s service

 

Pastor Lori Stevens

 

[1] Joan Chittister. The Rule of Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century.  (New York: Crossroad, 2010) pages 302, 303.

 



April 2021 – A letter from Pastor Lori

As I stood in the choir room on Sunday, I was watching two men that served in the military receive an incredible gift of a Quilt of Valor.  A Quilt of Valor is a quality, handmade quilt that is machine or hand quilted. It is awarded to a Service Member or Veteran who has been touched by war.  The Quilt says unequivocally, “Thank you for your service and sacrifice in serving our nation.”  These beautiful quilts were wrapped around these veterans, as if enveloping them with love, security and hope of a tomorrow. As I left one church to go to another church to preach I thought a lot about our service to God and Christ who lived and died for each of us.  As we are coming to an end in our Lenten season, I pray you have found the study of the last words of Christ from the cross fulfilling, uplifting or challenging.  I pray that this Lenten season has encouraged you to write God’s words on your heart.  I pray that your giving up or adding something to your life has taught you about sacrifice and service. So, as I was driving, two verses kept coming to my mind.  The first was “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)   The second was “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45) I have a youth group young adult, from years back, in Army basic training.  He misses his family.  Terribly homesick.  I write letters to him almost daily.   I remind him of why he chose this route.  He had a rough life his first 5 years of life.  He was eventually adopted by his Grandparents, which was the ultimate greatest event for him and the family.  We are not on this earth to be served.  We are not here waiting for the cosmic bellhop to give us what we want and desire. These two men and many other veterans and soldiers, understand the seriousness of protecting and serving with fellow soldiers.  They understand about serving and giving up selfish desire, to follow the commands of the government and higher officials.  Jesus came for the sole purpose to serve us.  To give us the avenue for salvation.  To make a way for us to live life eternal.  Jesus came to seal the prophesy.

Jesus wraps us up in His loving arms. Jesus makes a way for us to love one another as Christ has loved us.

  In Christ’s service Pastor Lori Stevens

 


March 2021 – A letter from Pastor Lori

We are in the midst of Lent.  The very beginning of April is Easter.  The Loup City Youth group with the guidance of Kelli Loos and assisted by Dean put on an incredible Ash Wednesday service.   It was a reminder of what the season of Lent and Easter is about.  It is about self-reflection.  It is about forgiveness and redemption.  It is about giving up the old self and taking on something new in its place.  It is a time of getting made right with God. Have you ever thought about what God calls you to.be? God does not call to be perfect.  Jesus is the only perfect human. What would happen if it was ever decided to CANCEL imperfect people from the Bible, we would be left with only one person… Jesus Christ. God left the imperfect ones in the Word so that the contrast between perfection and imperfection would be crystal clear. We can learn lessons of failure and success from people who have tried, failed, got back up, and tried again—David, Peter, Thomas, Moses, Samson, etc. The message is clear. Leave the imperfect examples there so we can learn what “not” to be like, but leave Jesus alone so we can learn WHO to be like.  In this world of “cancel culture,” there is only one who can genuinely cancel or remove our past sins and failures, and His Name is Jesus. Romans 8:1 (NKJV) There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. Lent is that time to be reminded that Jesus dying on the cross is a true and pure gift given to us.  It is a gift of grace that we do not earn.  It is our salvation and promise of eternal life.  Easter is upon us.  I pray you continue to journey with us as Dean and I preach about the seven last phrases of God.  A Fascinating journey through the last hours of Jesus’ life. I pray you continue to sacrifice or give up something for God during this Lenten season. I pray that God softens you heart and opens your minds to God’s working in your life.  I pray that you continue to lay your sins at Jesus’ feet.  I pray you look at the new opportunities that God is offering you instead of living in the muck and mire of sin and misery of not forgiving or not being forgiven. May you seek this Lenten season to be the Person God is calling you to be.  One that is not perfect but a person that is open to God’s leading and guiding.  One that is willing to serve God, no matter what and where that may be.  A person that lives a life pleasing to God.  May God bless of you always and especially this Lenten season.

In Christ’s service

Pastor Lori Stevens