I recently read a statement of someone saying that the only way to build your faith is to endure trials, as if difficult times are only some kind of exercise for the soul. I will admit that after a period of difficulties we can often come out on the other side with a stronger faith, but I feel that the statement above is giving too much credit to the individual, as if it is through suffering that we can pump those spiritual muscles to get better and better! Look what I did!

In reality, I feel that faith comes from God as a gift, and that it is the gift of faith that helps us to get through those rough patches, not the other way around. As Pastor B. stated in his sermon last week, God is with us, no matter how difficult things are. It is God who comforts us, who gives us hope, eases our anxieties, and yes, if it is his will, also gives us healing.

These gifts are the miraculous, unearned gifts of grace, and all he asks from us is that we give him our trust and love, that we turn to him in our sorrows. I pray for healing and the gift of faith for those who are suffering in this world. May the Lord bless them and keep them, may the Lord make his face shine on them and be gracious to them, may the Lord turn his face toward them, and give them peace. Amen.

— James T., President

I recently visited the Ephrata Cloister in Ephrata Pennsylvania.  For those that don’t know, this was a Christian community founded in 1732 by German settlers that came to Pennsylvania to experience religious freedom. Life at Ephrata was very strict, and although some of their practices seem a little overzealous to me, my impression was that this was not only about following a set of rules to earn salvation, but that these were people sincerely practicing their faith while participating in their community in deep and meaningful ways. They not only interacted with other members of the cloister, but they developed strong bonds and relationships with the farmers and townspeople in the immediate area.

This got me to thinking about the bonds and relationships that I have formed at church, and reflecting on these bonds and this sense of community made me thankful for Trinity.  As time goes on I feel a stronger sense of community at Trinity, and I am thankful for the many wonderful people that I have gotten to know since I joined the church. It is also a comfort that we strive to serve our neighbors, and that we love, support, and yes, forgive one another. I am thankful for the fellowship and sense of community that Trinity provides, and I pray for guidance from the Holy Spirit in all that we do.

— James T., President

Growing up in Nebraska, I was always a Lutheran, not that there was any real choice in the matter but nor was there any desire to be something else. My mother’s side of the family was Lutheran and had been for generations right back to their Danish heritage. To me as a child, being Lutheran was just who we were.

One of my fondest memories of my early childhood was attending the Christmas services and hearing my Grandma sing in the choir. She had a booming voice in the choir and when she sang you knew it, instantly recognizing her from the rest of the choir. When I was in elementary school we switched churches to a Lutheran church closer to town and although I had a few less cousins at the new church, I gained several of my good friends from school. It was there that I was confirmed and attended youth camps and grew into a young adulthood. Going to college things changed a bit, there was no longer anyone to push me to get up for church service. Church became something I did on holidays or when visiting my parents on the weekend which wasn’t that often.

As with many young adults, college brought about some newfound questioning of life and how things worked. In my favorite studies of physics and astronomy, I was able to find the answers to what and how things worked but never really the why. When Kristina and I met we discussed our faith pretty heavily. She grew up Catholic in Germany and many of the issues she had with what she understood Church to be were rather resolved in the Lutheran Church so for us it was a pretty natural fit. Though she would quickly tell anyone that Lutheran churches in America are very different in a good way from the Lutheran churches she knew in Germany.

We knew we wanted to build our marriage on a bedrock of faith in Christ. We were married in my hometown Lutheran Church in Nebraska and yet even then we still rarely attended Church ourselves save only for special holidays or trips back to Nebraska to see my family. Once married and even though we knew we were on the same page about what role our faith would play in our lives there were still a few years of staying out late on Saturday night and sleeping in on Sunday morning. At some point in becoming an adult it was easy to start to think that I was in solid command of my life or that maybe I could control things more than I really could in this world. A sense of achievement and even pride took hold, fueling the thought that the good things in my life were there because I earned them.

I suppose it’s a variety of things that snap people out of this, but in my life I am quite certain what it was. What put Christ back at the center of my priorities was the birth of our son. It was the whole process really, from when we were praying to be able to start our family, to hearing his heartbeat, to seeing his face on the ultrasound, to hearing his first cry as he was born. There was never a time in my whole life that I felt less in control, or prayed more often, or felt more grateful for every single small moment. There is no amount of good I could have ever done to deserve these blessings and much like my salvation, I know they are only given through grace. Even now as we anxiously await the birth of our second son, I am reminded every day as I look at my wife and son that Christ is front and center in our lives.

At Trinity we have found a great place to worship, to serve and we have met several new friends. We are excited to be able to share worship each Sunday and for those fond memories to hopefully be what our children will also look back on one day.

—Hagen S., Council Member

Generally by this time of year I’m pretty excited about the trappings of Christmas. The tree is up and decorated, the calendar is full of events, and the “must-do-before -12/25” lists are endless.

This year not so much. In our house, 2016 was marked with loss, grief, and questions with minimally satisfying answers. We were anxious, at times defeated, and perpetually waiting for the next proverbial shoe to drop. And there were a lot of shoes. Perhaps you can relate in some way. In my attempts to get out of what felt like a funk, I thought maybe I could get excited about the four weeks leading up to Christmas: the season of Advent. In doing some research I found this: “God beyond time, help us to live in the tension between what you have done and what you will do, and into the truth that Christ will come again. Amen.” – Bishop Elizabeth Eaton

This prayer reminded me that Advent is about preparing for Christ’s coming in glory at the end of time as much as it is observing his birth more than 2000 years ago. I can get excited about this kind of preparation. And so deliberately the tree will be delayed, the calendar less full, the “must-do” lists shorter. And not only is this okay, it is a gift of time and space to wait patiently for the birth of a new creation. I wish for you the same gift.

– Nathan L., Council President

One of the most remarkable aspects of the ministry of Jesus is that he made it clear that God’s grace and forgiveness is for all humans no matter their racial or cultural status. Jesus preached to the poor, to foreigners, and to the marginalized. All of the recent rhetoric about “foreigners” has gotten me thinking a great deal. As Christians, we are called to love those who are different . . . but we are sinful, making the loving of others very difficult at times.

A few years ago, I had an experience that taught me how deeply rooted is our fear of others. Until this, I never thought that I was fearful of others. I learned how quickly the knee-jerk reaction of the fear of “the others” could kick in. I had walked into an airport bathroom. There was a group of four young men of African descent just standing by the sinks. They all looked at me when I walked in, and then they huddled up and started whispering among themselves. One of them looked up at me, as if waiting for something, and then turned back to the group. In their every action I read hostility. I am ashamed that every ugly stereotype reared its ugly head. Simply put, I was afraid. Pretending that I had only come in to wash my hands, I headed straight to the sink closest to the door to quickly wash my hands and get out. The sinks were motion controlled. As soon as I waved my hands under the faucet and the water came out, a curious thing happened. They gave out a shout of delight! They all rushed to the faucets and waved their hands to make the water come out. They were laughing and talking in a language that I didn’t understand, and it was clear that they had no malicious thoughts at all – it was just that they could not figure out how a motion controlled sink worked. One of them even turned to me and gave me a smile of thanks. I was so ashamed. I felt sick with disgust. They only wanted to wash their hands. I later learned that they were refugees from a war-torn African nation. How hard it must be for them, in a completely different world, and yet I greeted them with fear. I realized that I am not always the accepting person I thought that I was, and that my sin runs deep. Thankfully Jesus has shed his blood for the forgiveness of my sins, that I have been given the gift of love and forgiveness that I do not deserve and I cannot earn. It is so easy to say “yes, I love others” but I learned that day that without Christ I would quickly become a slave to fear and hatred. This is true for all of us. I pray that God guides out our nation, that we as a people never succumb to the sinful nature that Christ came to conquer, but instead embrace a love of others that reflects the grace and forgiveness that God offers to every person on Earth.

Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Hebrews 13:1-2

— James T., Council Vice President