DECEMBER 2019

Dear Cross of Glory Family and Friends,

Happy New Year! Yes, the first Sunday in Advent, December 1st marks the beginning of a brand new church year. I recently have returned from the second part of my 2019 Sabbatical. Since October 8th, I have been in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico studying Spanish at the Downtown (Centro) Spanish Experience Center from 9:00 AM to noon every Monday through Friday. I want to thank the congregation for making this educational and re-creational experience possible. I knew going into this venture that I would benefit in SO many ways. I know that I will be processing this entire experience for months to come as I have been enriched far beyond my initial hopes or thoughts.

Upon returning to Cross of Glory, this against the backdrop of busy and beautiful Advent and Christmas observance, I welcome the chance to visit with you personally about what I gained in Vallarta. To be sure, I DID learned some additional Spanish! Frankly though, I did not learn as much as I thought I would, but rather, learned how much YET I need to know about the language! There is ALWAYS room for improvement in so many different arenas of our lives. I am trying to discipline myself each day to spend at least 15 minutes working on my Spanish. I pray over the next year, I come closer to truly speaking and writing the language. Hopefully at this time next year, we will be talking about implementing a Spanish-speaking worship service at Cross of Glory.  Help anyone?

Let me share with you one of the many special encounters I had with precious people of Mexico.

It was Sunday morning and consequently, as has been the case in the years that my family has been fortunate to visit Vallarta, I made my way to the principal Roman Catholic cathedral that accents Puerto Vallarta and its downtown Centro area. After the High-Church 8:00 AM Roman Catholic mass, I walked the half-mile to Vallarta’s oldest hotel, Rosita. For years, my family has attended church and thereafter enjoyed the breakfast buffet at Rosita. That Sunday, Hotel Rosita was hustling and bustling with “mucha gente,” a lot of people!

Most of the breakfast eaters were teenagers! I would soon learn that 30 kids and their adult sponsors were in PV that weekend for a prestigious dance competition highlighting the unique dances and flavors of various Mexican states. As I loaded my plate up with Rosita brunch that morning, one young girl kept staring at me from a nearby table. I figured Esmeralda was looking at me (in disbelief) given that a plate should ONLY hold so many omelettes, pancakes and frijoles! I was mistaken. Esmeralda was looking at me in an attempt to determine whether I could be a friendly “gringo” to practice English with her.

Believe me, I know the hesitancy of speaking with someone in THEIR language, not mine. Esmeralda overcame worry and reservation. In a strong (fuerte) voice, she blurted out, “Do you spoke English?” Esmeralda’s dancing friends giggled in unison. Maybe surprised, I responded in Spanish, “Si, yo hablo ingles.” I then asked Esmeralda, “Do you speak Spanish?” Teenage giggles turned to raucous laughter! Esmeralda pulled up a chair. Not speaking in full sentences but rather with isolated words she thought I would understand, Esmeralda asked about my house, my family, work, and the reason (Por que?) for my being in Vallarta. Soon, other teenage kids, beautiful, spirited, full of life and laughter, unparalleled talents in Mexican dancing, (they had taken 3rd place

out of 26 PV entries) gathered around my table. Sometimes the kids dared to interject a question or a statement in broken English. Leonardo (I kept calling him “The Lion”) asked about my meal. Angel wanted to know if I had a dog. Andrei, turning 15 on November 1st, All Saints Day, the day before Mexico’s holiest of times, Dia de los Muertos, tried to tell me in English about dancing. Cell phones came out and I was privileged to watch the group’s past performances on YouTube. Within minutes of Esmeralda’s coming over, there were a dozen Mexican teenage dancers sitting with me at Rosita!

The teenagers howled when I tried to say certain things to them in Spanish…and then politely corrected me! Como te dices, “Ouch” in espanol?!!! I told Andrei that I would text him on his birthday (something I did…and within minutes I received texts from both Esmeralda and Angel) and that I would remember our Rosita time together forever. After 20 minutes of broken English and broken Spanish, adult sponsors called the kids away from my table.  The dance group needed to catch a bus for the eight-hour ride back to their home in the Mexican state of…Sinaloa.

Some things are easy to understand whether one knows the language or not. “Gracias” is pretty simple. “Thank you” is easy. Tears in eyes because of laughter and a beautiful connection is hard to misinterpret.

I told people in my Spanish school that I was in Vallarta to do a lot more than learn additional Spanish. I told them about how I desire a deeper spirituality and that I have forever been impressed with SO MANY precious Mexican people who, possessing materialistically “nada”, seem a lot happier then I usually am! It was days after my unforgettable encounter with the Mexican dancers that I learned they were returning home to a Mexican state that had been in WORLD news. Cullacan, Sinaloa had experienced the bloodshed of a horrific battle between cartel drug leaders and Mexican Federal agents. Agents had arrested one of Mexico’s premier drug kingpins. Those sympathetic to the kingpin, shot at habitants in Cullacan from the back of trucks with machine guns demanding that the drug lord, the son of El Chapo, imprisoned in Colorado’s Supermax prison, be released. Mexico’s president Andres Manuel Lopez Labrador ordered the Mexican federal agents to release the drug kingpin in order to cease hostilities, a controversial move among Mexicans and others.

And to think that I might complain if a Rosita cook forgets to put in the mushrooms I had wanted in my Sunday morning omelette! “Forgive me Lord, please, in patience, forgive me! My troubles pale in comparison to those who REALLY struggle with difficult things and people in the world today.”

Some would say that the primary purpose of language is to communicate. I now am contending that the primary purpose of language is to make connections. I will resolve to work on my Spanish so that when I meet the Esmeraldas, Leonardos, Angels and Andreis of the world I might better meet them in their joy AND sorrow. I have always thought that the most important word in the Spanish language is “Corazon,” Heart. Mexicans ARE passionate, hot-blooded in heart, in romance, in dance.  Their celebrations are spirited and heart-warming, vibrant in color and expression.  How I want to connect, all the more, with THAT! The Grinch’s heart in Dr. Seuss’ Christmas tale grew a little as he eventually experienced the true meaning of Christmas. MY heart grows a little bit also when I am able to understand someone else’s need AND possibly do something to alleviate the hurt. I am richer, you are richer, when WE (nosotros), together (juntos), hold each other in prayer and…heart.

Jesus came to Earth because people didn’t get it. The LANGUAGE of the Scriptures, of the prophets and of the Law wasn’t cutting it. God NEEDED to send His only Son into the world to make known His unparalleled love. By becoming one of us, human while at the same time entirely divine, Jesus makes the connection with us. Emmanuel will forever be with us! Hope was born at Christmas…

Gracias a todos Cross of Glory y A DIOS (do you see God in the Spanish “Goodbye?”)!  Let us make 2020 connections with soon-to-be friends, Whoville ever, wherever they are! Feliz Navidad amigos!

Pastor Mike Lemke

NOVEMBER 2019

Happy November!

With fall now here, we are experiencing another beautiful time of year.  The leaves on the trees have either turned colors – or blown off.  As we look to the west, God has provided a “heavenly scene” as we see our snow-capped mountains.  Our skiers are especially happy.  Life is good!

At Cross of Glory, we are experiencing a temporary leadership change for November.  Please read a portion of Pastor Mike’s October newsletter article below:

Dear Cross of Glory Family and Friends,  

Just a reminder, everyone! God willing and depending on possible concerning needs in the next couple of weeks, I intend to complete the second part my Sabbatical beginning Monday, October 7. I intend to study Spanish at the Spanish Experience Center in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, Mondays through Fridays from 9:00 AM until noon through the end of November.

For the longest while, I have dreamed of taking concentrated, disciplined Spanish lessons to complement what I already know about the language. Thank you for this wonderful opportunity to additionally learn Spanish…this in a beautiful, familiar place. I hope the additional Spanish I learn will translate into adding a Spanish-speaking worship service at Cross of Glory in the near future.

You will be in the capable hands of assisting ministers, Ron Powers and Carl Hansen, in my absence. Pastor Todd from Prince of Peace has also volunteered to assist should emergencies arise while I am gone. As you are able, please additionally do ministry in extraordinary ways at Cross of Glory in my absence. Thank you so very much for your many helps that I, we, can feel better about my being away!

I look forward to being with you the first Sunday in Advent, December 1st as we begin a brand new liturgical year together!

God’s Peace and Joy!

Pastor Mike Lemke

During October, Pastors Ron Powers and Carl Hansen have led us in worship in Pastor Mike’s absence.  We thank them for the ministry they provide. Pastor Carl will be with us during November.

Pastor Mike is having a wonderful time in Puerto Vallarta.  As he is attending classes at the Spanish Experience Center, he is becoming even more familiar with Spanish words, phrases, etc.  We may need to teach him some ENGLISH when he returns!

Although Pastor Mike is not physically with us, his thoughts are with us.  We are remembered in his prayers.

CROSS OF GLORY HAS MANY MINISTRY OPPORTUNITIES IN NOVEMBER!  JOIN US!!!

OCTOBER 2019

Dear Cross of Glory Family and Friends,  

Randy had been so vibrant and capable in younger years, a star on our church softball team. But his motorcycle accident changed everything! Struggling consequently with a head trauma injury, Randy experienced seizure after seizure and unbearable migraine headaches. He had lost most of his nose in the accident and was destined to walk with a limp and accompanying cane.  

Within the first year of Randy’s recovery, family finances were devastated. When stress is high, patience is limited. Randy began to self-medicate. One drink to take the edge off turned into many drinks. Randy’s wife, Judy, threaten to leave the marriage. Within a year, Randy went from being the right fielder who could throw out anybody at second to the disfigured 32-year-old who wanted to throw in the towel.

I visited Randy at Spaulding Rehabilitation Center on Good Shepherd Sunday years ago. I brought him a bulletin from church…and Randy, considering the picture of Jesus holding a lamb on the cover, asked me to recite the 23rd Psalm. I began: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in need.” I recall Randy stretching out his arms drawing attention to his racked body as if to say, “Hello? I’m DESPERATELY in need here!” I went on. “He makes me lie down in green pastures.” Randy responded, “I have not had a good night’s sleep in a year.” When I got to the part, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I do not have to be afraid,” Randy confessed, ‘I am not afraid of death, Mike.  I actually welcome it.” Though in our continued friendship over the years, Randy, being always kind and considerate, said he no longer needed a pastor. He claimed to have lost his Christian faith. He considered God to be a bad joke and the Bible to be a book of lies. 

Barb and I eventually moved from the town homes in Parker…and our neighbors Randy and Judy. My contact with Randy lessened and then diminished. It had been several years since we had seen one another when out of the blue, on my September 11th birthday, Randy called to ask if we could get together. Meeting at the Denny’s restaurant for a piece of pie, Randy shared with me that he had returned to his Baptist Church. He talked about how he had come back to faith given weird coincidences of providence and protection since we had last met. He contended that the coincidences were TOO coincidental to be happenstances! “When that friend came over to say ‘Hello;’ when I was able to make a little more money working; when my AA sponsor put the screws to me and got me back on track, I started to entertain the notion that God just might exist.” Randy said in time that with the help of his wife, he contended that God not only exists, but must truly care! 

I remember Randy wiping coconut cream from his mouth before saying, “Planes can fly into buildings and skyscrapers can topple, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that God is piloting the jetliner.” Randy went on to explain that he is not giving God a pass given all the terrible things that happen in the world, but that he now believes that, nonetheless, God is first on the scene to sort through the debris and weep with those who weep.

Many of you know of my friend in Puerto Vallarta Jesus. Yes, his name is actually Jesus! Recently, Jesus moved from Vallarta to a small community an hour south of PV. In a frantic telephone conversation to me, Jesus told me about the hurricane that was creeping up the Mexican Pacific coast threatening devastation and destruction. Torrential rains had already begun to slam his community.

Jesus had sheltered his two dogs and white cat inside his modest concrete structure of a home. But Jesus was emotionally-shattered over the plight of the lone sheep next door. The owner had been away. The sheep had no cover. Pelted by the unforgiving torrential rain, the sheep cried, over and over again, in pitiful pleas for someone, for something, resembling help. Jesus considered herding the sheep into his home, but feared being accused of stealing the sheep! Eventually the anguish of the sheep became too much. Jesus braved the storm in an attempt to guide the sheep into shelter…but the sheep, too terrified, too big and too heavy to move, would not budge! Jesus could not get the sheep indoors! 

Jesus found several large trash bags, and returning to the sheep, placed them over her drenched fleece. He covered the sheep with the one blanket he had from his bed. Then for the next hour, while the rain mercilessly pelted small-community Tuito, JESUS STAYED ALONGSIDE THE CRYING SHEEP, SPEAKING TENDERLY TO HER AND REMINDING HER THAT SHE WAS NOT ALONE.

I am glad that Jesus’ name is Jesus because it helps draw the obvious connection between Jesus helping the sheep and Jesus, our Good Shepherd, helping us! How we are the unmovable and terrified and drenched and pelted and alone creatures much of the time! How we have been disfigured and jaded by a world that God had not originally intended! And yet Jesus, our Good Shepherd, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, covers us not with trash bags but with His blood. He reminds us the we are not alone and that He, forever unmoved, will ALWAYS stay close to us to shield and comfort us.  

During the month of October, Lutheran churches everywhere especially appreciate the contributions of Protestant Reformer Martin Luther. Luther’s favorite Psalm was not the 23rd. Luther opted for another marvelous psalm of God’s protection and promises, Psalm 46. The psalm begins with a wonderful proclamation of promise and surety: “A mighty fortress is our God.” In the midst of the accidents, the storms and terrors of our world, might we continue to believe and find hope in a God who was pelted for our sakes and yet, who “like a lamb that was led to the slaughter, did not nonetheless open his mouth in his defense.”  

Just a reminder, everyone! God willing and depending on possible concerning needs in the next couple of weeks, I intend to complete the second part my Sabbatical beginning Monday, October 7. I intend to study Spanish at the Spanish Experience Center in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, Mondays through Fridays from 9:00 AM until noon through the end of November.

For the longest while, I have dreamed of taking concentrated, disciplined Spanish lessons to complement what I already know about the language. Thank you for this wonderful opportunity to additionally learn Spanish…this in a beautiful, familiar place. I hope the additional Spanish I learn will translate into adding a Spanish-speaking worship service at Cross of Glory in the near future.

You will be in the capable hands of assisting ministers, Ron Powers and Carl Hansen, in my absence. Pastor Todd from Prince of Peace has also volunteered to assist should emergencies arise while I am gone. As you are able, please additionally do ministry in extraordinary ways at Cross of Glory in my absence. Thank you so very much for your many helps that I, we, can feel better about my being away!

I look forward to being with you the first Sunday in Advent, December 1st as we begin a brand new liturgical year together!

God’s Peace and Joy!
Pastor Mike Lemke

SEPTEMBER 2019

Dear Cross of Glory Family and Friends,

Remember the television game show, “To Tell the Truth?”  As I recall, Gary Moore hosted the show.  Kitty Carlisle and Orson Bean were always panelists.  In a thirty-minute television show, panelists would ask questions of three contestants, two imposters and the REAL “so and so.” After rounds of questioning, Gary Moore would ask the panelists who they thought the REAL “so and so” was.  He would then ask the contestants the question that became a trademark for the show:  “Will the REAL “so and so” please stand up?  Contestants would in turn ALL stand up at one point or another pretending to be the REAL “so and so,” before eventually, to the delight or chagrin of all, the REAL “so and so” would remain standing.

I have had various church experiences.  When I grew up in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, my family attended one of the largest Lutheran churches in AMERICA!  Though Sioux Falls had a population of approximately 90,000, 4000 of the 90,000 claimed church membership at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church (and Our Savior’s was not even the largest Lutheran church in Sioux Falls)!  Church attendance boomed in the 1950s and 1960s.  Men dressed in suits and ties when worshipping.  They polished their shoes on Saturday nights before church the next day.  Ladies wore dresses, pill-box hats and even white gloves.  My confirmation class had 80 kids in it!  80 kids!  Confirmation was split between the Monday-nighters and the Saturday-morners.  Mom and Dad ALWAYS made my brother, sister and me go to church on Sundays.  I was NOT about to go to church on Saturdays.  Consequently, as a Monday-nighter, I had to sing in the choir and miss something on television that was just beginning in the early 1970s: Monday Night Football.  Sigh…

The sanctuary of Our Savior’s was astounding (it STILL is)!  Stained-glass windows characterized the worship space.  The magnificent pipe organ sat in the balcony.  Classical music, Bach and Beethoven, reverberated the sanctuary as prelude, postlude AND every hymn in-between.  Mozart would have been considered TOO lively, TOO playful to “appropriately” be heard.  And the Senior Pastor, Pastor Howard M. Blegan (we always had to say “M” when reciting his name), was probably as “scary” to the 80+ year-olds in the congregation as to ALL 80 of us who were in confirmation!  In the fourteen years that I was a member of Our Savior’s, I cannot remember Pastor Blegan EVER speaking to me.

Skip to 1972!  Dad had been offered a construction management position in Golden, Colorado (He would become Vice President of Asphalt Paving Company, eventually President of the Colorado Contractors Association and recognized nationally for construction ingenuity)!  The only thing I knew about Golden, Colorado was a beer I HEARD about (hehe) made from Rocky Mountain spring waters:  Coors?.  The Denver Broncos were a sorry football team (incidentally, NEVER on Monday Night Football until the season AFTER their 1977 Super Bowl against the Cowboys) and Denver was a long, long, long ways away from my Sioux Falls friends.  Dad had checked out schools before the rest of our family joined him in Colorado.  We would live in Lakewood.  I would go to Bear Creek High School.  Our family would worship at nearby Atonement Lutheran Church.  (Did I mention that Mom and Dad ALWAYS made my brother, sister and me go to church on Sundays?).

Atonement was a bit different than Our Savior’s…but then again, church CERTAINLY was different in the West than in the Midwest!  The Simunicks who lived across the street from us in Lakewood for instance were Methodists (whatever they were).  Our good friends, the Rhodes, were Presbyterians. 

And in 1972, I would guess that you could gather ALL the Lutheran churches in Denver and STILL not have as many Lutheran Christians as there were in miniscule Sioux Falls, South Dakota by comparison!      

And Atonement Lutheran Church? Men wore short-sleeve shirts to worship.  Ladies wore pant- suits to church on occasion (Well, you might say, Colorado gets snowy and frigid during the winter.  Ladies NEED pant-suits.  But wait a minute!  Have ANY on you “weathered” a Dakota blizzard?  Have any of you been in the Midwest when the snow, flying right before Thanksgiving STAYS until Easter?  Gimme a break!).  Atonement’s worship space was TINY compared to what I was used to.  You had no choice but to get to KNOW Atonement family members (A GREAT THING!). The sanctuary was cozy, inviting and warm.  It felt homey while at the same time…churchy.  Even today, when I am feeling down-and-out, out-of-sorts with things, I like to go to the “original” Atonement sanctuary and “recover” there.  Despite Atonement renovations over the decades, the simplistic cross made of brick on the north wall of-the-then sanctuary remains.  It was the backdrop to my confirmation and ordination worship services and the hundreds upon hundreds of heartfelt, impacting services of “Lift High the Cross” Atonement gatherings.

Let me but say this one thing about Pastor Del.  There is NO pastor better.  I have done thousands of funerals.  I DREAD thinking about doing the funerals of certain people.  I DREAD thinking about doing his.  If I should be honored some day to do Pastor Del’s funeral service, I, we, will need the WHOLE BODY OF CHRIST to help me, us, through it emotionally. 

And then there was my first church as a pastor:  Joy Lutheran in Parker.  I was 26 years old.  Parker Road was a dirt road that headed south of 225 towards the small community of Parker 14 miles away.  The Sunday I was installed, the Safeway store opened off Main Street.  In NO TIME it would drive out of business Hills Market, the ONE Mom and Pop grocery store that had served the community forever. In the years that my wife Barb and I pastored Joy, the congregation grew SIX times over (!!!) to eventually 1500 members. People would ask us “Isn’t it nice working with each other in the same parish?” Barb and I would look at one another and say to peoples’ amazement, “We never see one another.”  We were young and energized.  We thought pastors routinely worked eighty-hour work-weeks.  Rarely were we at home with each other.  Joy became one of the largest churches in the Rocky Mountain Synod.  Some would contend we were…successful.  Numbers-wise, absolutely!  We were off the charts! But let me say this: Growth begets growth.  The absolute hardest part about growing a church is INITIALLY GETTING IT TO GROW.  Once a healthy church is off and running, it virtually grows itself!  As we struggle with growth at Cross of Glory, please, please, please do not confuse success with numbers.  Be faithful!  Trust in Jesus!  Honor God and love neighbors!  Therein lies TRUE success!  And I am so proud of your faithfulness Cross of Glory!    

I can tell you dear stories of special people at Joy, challenged people who loved Jesus and others tremendously.  So many members mentored Barb and me with their discipleships of devotion, wisdom and heart. We will forever be grateful to these precious ones, these loving ones, but church in Parker… well… it even surprises me to write it… church in Parker was for me…  a blur. 

And you Cross of Glory?  We are unique indeed!  We who are tucked away in a neighborhood where few kids are seen outdoors riding bicycles or playing in front yards.  To your credit, you lovers of Jesus, you keep plugging away.   You are up for anything!  As churches go, your participation breaks the rules.  Whereas most churches worship a third of their membership on any given Sunday, you defy the odds.  More than half our membership shows up on Sundays!  Even when GETTING to church is difficult, day and night, you show up!  You do the deal.  In our small parish, we know one another very, very well!  We attempt to live out our Mission Statement of being “Rooted in the Scriptures, Rejoicing in God’s Grace and Reaching Out in Love.”  You encourage others to join us. For a small church, you offer plenty of activities for all to enjoy.  

And I am privileged to be your pastor.  For fourteen years, I have been your pastor.  I thank God for you, you crazies of Cross of Glory Lutheran Church.  We are like the misfit toys on that island in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  So precious and dear.  So loving and willing to give.  How we need each other and a Savior who leads us through “foggy Christmas Eves,”  and dark nights into a future of promise, impact and life!

Remember when I started this newsletter article by asking you if you could recall the television game show, “To Tell the Truth? 

You tell me! Given the four different churches that I have described, the one in Sioux Falls that formed my initial thoughts about church, the one in Lakewood that in many ways continues to be my church home, the hustle-and-bustle of rapidly-growing Parker and Joy and OUR church family of faith, heart and embrace, which of the four churches is in your estimation, the REAL Church? If you were Kitty Carlisle, which one would you say best characterizes…Church?  It is an interesting question. Instantly we are challenged with maybe even a surprising answer. This is one game show in which all of the contestants WOULD REMAIN STANDING after Gary Moore asked the trademark question:  “Will the REAL Church please stand up?”

As we wonder about Cross of Glory’s future, where we are going and how are we going to get there, please be open to the possibility that YOUR conception of church may be vastly different than someone else’s!  Let us allow the Holy Spirit, forever with us, to inform our upcoming discussions of mind and heart as together we build on the good things God (and the saints who gone before us) have done. Let us be open to the sentiments, the prayer-informed hopes, of our dear church family members whose thoughts about church may be quite different from our own. Whatever we decide in upcoming times about ministry at Cross of Glory, about church in general, may it always be said of us that we do so in love and in faith, trusting that “the God who has started a good thing in us, will complete it in Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.”

RALLY SUNDAY

Please plan on being with us at Cross of Glory on Sunday, September 8.  Churches around the nation will be welcoming worshippers and students back to church after restful summers.  Rally Sunday is intended to energize congregants.  We are planning an outdoor worship service of joy, surprises and delights.  The fun we experience on our lawn on Sunday, September 8, should propel us well into an autumn of many activities at Cross of Glory.

BEGINNING SPANISH

Hola! Habla Espanol? In our continued attempts to offer various church-sponsored activities for all ages, Pastor Mike is once again teaching Beginning Spanish at Cross of Glory on Saturday mornings from 9:00 – 10:00 AM.  Por favor, pase la palabra!  Habla con su maestro, Pastor Mike.  Those of us in attendance on Saturday mornings are having a “fantastico tiempo.”  Help Pastor Mike practice his Spanish in preparation for his extended time in Mexico this Fall as he will be studying Spanish weekdays in Mexico! And thanks Vilma Gelster for all the help you are being in class as a native Spanish speaker!  Class resumes on Saturday, September 14.

WE ARE THE CHURCH…THE BODY OF OUR LORD.  WE ARE ALL GOD’S  CHILDREN…AND WE HAVE BEEN RESTORED!

Pastor Mike Lemke

JULY 2019

Dear Cross of Glory Family and Friends!

July is here! With it comes yet another American birthday! We are so very fortunate to live in the United States. We have the ability to choose our laws and our leaders. I pray that on the 4th of July especially, we would thank God once again for the many blessings of country and the people of the past and present who help secure our liberties. God bless the United States of America and may she be a light to the nations, using the gifts she has been given to help others in need.

July is here! With it comes the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon! Many remember exactly where they were as they heard the historic words, “That’s one small step for man, a giant leap for mankind!” Recently in a Sunday morning worship service, we lifted up Psalm 8, “When I consider the work of Your hands, the sun and the moon and the stars, what is man that You care for him and the son of man that You attend to him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the angels?” Neil Armstrong walked on the moon 50 years ago and to be sure, we celebrate human ingenuity and consequent technology. We revere commitment to doing the impossible,but let us always remember: God preceded it all. Let us always remember that God gifted man with his abilities. Apart from God we really cannot do anything.

July is here! With each passing year, it seems like we wonder all the more about even having a Yard Sale! We certainly are not getting any younger and the thought of bringing items to the church, pricing them ahead of time, seems more daunting. And then, of course, there is the business of getting to the church as the sun rises on the Saturday of the sale! Carrying the tables and tents to our lawn, the chairs and box after box of items to be sold makes us cringe indeed! Will we realize a reasonable profit given all our many efforts? Will the weather hold out? Will we sell a lot of items so that we don’t have to load as many back up again as we always have committed giving unsold yard sale goods to area charities?

Yes indeed, each year the question is raised, should we hold our annual Cross of Glory Yard Sale?

And I will say real quick (before I change my mind), “YES! YES INDEED! Hear me out…

As 2:00 in the afternoon neared on Saturday, June 15th, the date of our Yard Sale, I saw a lot of tired Cross of Glory family members and friends on our lawn. Let me repeat, I saw A LOT of Cross of Glory family members and friends on our lawn. I would speculate that there were more Cross of Glory folk on our lawn then even buyers of our Yard Sale stuff! I saw a lot of Cross of Glory family members and friends visiting easily with one another. Many were laughing with each other. Some were already boxing up unsold stuff. Certain Cross of Glory friends were breaking down the tables getting them ready to be rolled back into the church. I saw A LOT of Cross of Glory family member and friend interaction as 2:00 PM neared.

In the weeks that followed, I heard about new friendships forged on the day of our Yard Sale. Yes, it is entirely possible after worship on Sunday mornings to have a bite to eat in our Fellowship Hall and chat with other Cross of Glory family members and friends. But most likely, Fellowship time after worship doesn’t allow us to chat with each other with delicious grilled cheese dripping from our chins! Thank you, Trevor Wilson, for luring a lot of our Cook Park buyers to our Yard Sale with your grilled cheese sandwiches and easy-going background music! Most likely, Fellowship time after  worship  doesn’t  allow  us  to chat  easily  with  each other  in our  flip-flops and decorative, summer shorts! It doesn’t allow us the opportunity to pet Poppy, Cherry and John Test’s dog, a hit on our lawn during our Yard Sale. Fellowship time after worship does not allow us to meet our Cook Park neighbors like we always do on Saturday Yard Sale days. There were those neighbors who told us about the merits of our church in the community. Some spoke to us in Spanish. Others gave us money donations atop the money they spent on yard sale trinkets in appreciation for the ministry we are doing in Cook Park.

Yes, the annual Yard Sale is hard work indeed…and it is not getting any easier… but the pluses still seem to outweigh the negatives.

Friends from next door, the Korean Baptists came to assist. Members of The Gambler Anonymous group, meeting in our building that Saturday morning, came to the lawn to express gratitude for allowing them a place over the years to congregate. As I prepared my remarks to our Church leadership regarding the success of the sale, I had jotted down the names of 40 people from our congregation who had either brought in items and/or physically helped on the day of the sale. 40 people! Not 40 days of flooding! Not 40 days before the Ascension! Not 40 days in the wilderness, but 40 people, 40 PEOPLE from our congregation who, in extraordinary ways, helped us touch each other and our community on Saturday, June 15th!

I marvel at the many ways given our unique challenges at church that nonetheless YOU rally to do God’s work! It may be God’s work, but it certainly has been YOUR hands! Good for you! Rather than sit back and count the number of ways in argument that we cannot do this or that in ministry at Cross of Glory, YOU trust that the Lord of the church will help us accomplish extraordinary things as we put our faith in Him!

God love you, Cross of Glory!

One buyer came to our church on the Saturday of our sale. He was disheveled in appearance, his hair matted. He kept looking at the sleeping bag we had for sale. One of our members in confidence with me suggested that perhaps the man, living on the streets, needed a sleeping bag to counter even chilly summer evenings. As the man paid for his sleeping bag it was what happened thereafter that really caught my eye. Rather than embarrass the homeless shopper at our cashier table, this kind-hearted member allowed the man to pay for his sleeping bag and THEN, approached him as he was leaving our lawn, away from everybody else. I saw this amazing, compassionate church member of ours give the man some money in behind the scenes, unassuming LOVE.

I’m reminded of the Scripture passage from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount that says,  “When you pray, shut your door and pray in secret to you Heavenly Father lest others pat you on the back for your religiosity. When you share charity, do not sound trumpets before you that men might praise your actions but in quiet, in secret, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

I know it sounds crazy, but how about if we host our annual Cross of Glory Yard Sale not so much because it raises money for our church, but instead, because it allows us opportunity to BE the church! It allows us an opportunity to get to know one another better that cooperatively, united, in faith and fun, we try to accomplish God’s good hopes for us? How about if we host our annual Cross of Glory Yard Sale because of the benefit it may be for someone else?

I have a sneaking suspicion that if God helped Neil Armstrong walk on the moon, God will help us walk from our Fellowship Hall in times ahead carrying boxes and tables to our lawn that a fantastic blessing might be realized by all in our church (and beyond) in yard sale times ahead.

God love you, Cross of Glory! Let’s keep making a difference given the grace and the help of the One who carries not tables and chairs to a lawn, but who instead, carries us!

God’s Peace and Joy!

Pastor Mike Lemke

 

JUNE 2019

Dear Cross of Glory Family Members and Friends!

He is risen! He is risen indeed! The message of Jesus’ victory over Sin, Death and the Devil (consequently our victory as well) continues to encourage us well beyond Easter into a promising future. Because Jesus lives, we live also!  Christ is our Hope, our Light and our Life!  He is risen! He is risen indeed!

Recently, our good friend Linda Burk, now living in West Des Moines, Iowa emailed me. With Linda’s permission, I share with you words of our back and forth communication.  I hope you find strength and hope, greater faith and belief (as I did) as you peruse our correspondence.  Sean, Linda’s nephew, already in heaven’s kingdom, shares heartfelt sentiment and truth in coming to a deeper realization of God’s Amazing Grace during the toughest of times. Sean died of cancer on his 49th birthday, June 4, 2015. He fought cancer for over two years and spent much of that time in a wheelchair because the surgery damaged the nerves in his spine. He tried to walk as much as possible, but it was very painful for him, and with that he also lost his ability to work. What an extremely difficult time that was for him:

Hi, Pastor!
I ran across something this morning that I had always intended to share with you. It was written by Sean (my nephew) in his last days and reminds me that even through all our struggles (and believe me, Sean had a lot of them!), God loves us and has a plan for each of us. It’s a story of Sean’s coming to complete surrender. 

Here is Sean’s writing:
I smile now. From deep inside me, I smile. Why? Because I am alive on my terms? Because life has slowed to the point where I understand it now? Is it because I am able to do for myself now and without judgment or feeling judged? Is it because in the past I let myself be drawn into depression and corruption for the taste of a penance, whereas now there is no price on my soul?

Even though I have lost it all by the standards of my soul, I have been paid for. I have been ransomed by something greater and far more simple than anything I’ve ever known. Forgiveness and love. I smile now.

I then responded to Linda:

Dear Linda,
And thank you for once again sharing with me such a sacred writing. You DID share with me Sean’s writing. You obviously cannot remember doing so… but then again you were overcome with emotion as you  shook my hand  after  church  one  Sunday morning.    Beating  back  your  tears… and honoring your nephew… you shared Sean’s heartfelt,  soulful sentiment  of recognized GRACE (God’s Righteousness  At Christ’s Expense). I SO appreciate you sharing it with me once again this morning. 
Thank you.

But there is more Cross of Glory! I was equally moved by what Linda wrote in response as I asked her permission to use Sean’s sentiment and our emailing in the newsletter.

Linda wrote back:

Good morning, Pastor! 
Yes, you have my permission to use Sean’s writing and our communications in your newsletter article – just please don’t emphasize me. (You know how I am!)

It’s interesting to hear about Rizzy and his poem, and to think about the different perspectives of two young men – one “I cry blood” and the other “I smile” – both conveying their complete dependence on our Heavenly Father. Rizzy’s struggle is ongoing while Sean’s was ending so he could surrender – he no longer had to deal with earthly worries such as supporting himself, relationships, temptations, shame and judgment.  (Isn’t temptation, shame and judgment the cliff notes on our daily fall from grace?)  I know that God uses our struggles to bring us closer to Him, but the true challenge (anyway, it’s MY challenge) is to remember that He has a plan and is in control, especially when it feels like everything is spinning out of control.  Thank you so much for sharing your encounter with Rizzy. I’ll put him in my prayers.

Linda

It is easy to leave Easter in the sanctuary with the lilies and the trumpets. The challenge for us is to remember that God does not leave us.  Easter changes EVERYTHING.Though we are tempted TODAY in the distractions of the world, to forget about God and the hope and life truly found only in Christ, God does not forget about us.The joy of Easter ought to be carried out of every church, every home, out of every nook and cranny EVERY DAY.  Sean reminded us to smile. Rizzy reminded us of the cost God paid that we might always BE ABLE to smile.

Summer, yes!  Easter, ALWAYS Cross of Glory!
Pastor Mike Lemke

May 2019

Dear Cross of Glory Family and Friends,

“Pourquoi cherchez-vous le Vivant parmi les morts? Il n’est pas ici, il est ressuscite.”  

I think I know what that says in French.  I know I do.  I infer by certain words in the phrase the meaning.  “Pourquoi” is close to the Spanish “Porque” meaning “Why?”  “Vivant” capitalized comes close to our English word “vivacious” or “vibrant”  meaning “lively” or “living.”  And the French word “morts” certainly reminds us of “mortals” maybe even “the dead.”  Make no mistake about the concluding word “ressuscite.”  Even in French, English speakers can recognize our close parallel “resurrected.”  “Why do you seek the Living among the dead?  He is not here.  He is resurrected.” 

A week before Easter, Palm Sunday, Barb and I got off the cruise ship and made our way into the sleepy community of Sete, France.  We figured we would find a church and worship with other Christians the beginning of Holy Week.  Certainly there would be 11:00 AM services somewhere, right?  Fortunately the girl at the city information kiosk spoke English.  She suggested the 20-minute walk to the Church of St. Joseph.  Barb and I proceeded.   We passed French people in outdoor cafes, eating croissants and drinking expressos.  On occasion, we would run into people carrying leafy branches but certainly NOT palm ones. 

Barb and I arrived at the Church of St. Joseph 45 minutes early.  We were told that there was not an 11 AM service; that worshippers would soon be leaving the church’s earlier 9:30 one.  We set out to find another church and a possible 11:00 AM service.  Seeing a magnificent cathedral on a hill overlooking the city (the cross on top of the steeple the give-away), Barb and I ventured yet another 10 minutes to worship.  To our disappointment, upon arrival, the grand cathedral was boarded-up.  Graffiti marred its elegance.  Barb and I back-tracked to the Church of St. Joseph.  Maybe we could at least get a palm branch…maybe see the insides of the church.

Nearly all worshippers had left.  A nun was making her way through the pews, collecting leftover bulletins.  The French that passed us as they exited smiled. Barb offered the word, “Hosanna” not knowing whether the word would register.  It did not.  I signed the guestbook, resigned to knowing we would have to arrive earlier the following Easter Sunday (our cruise ship would visit the same port the following weekend) to attend the St. Joseph 9:30 AM service.

And then came Joao.  Joao was an Angolan-African, making his way to Southern France over the years and stories by way of Portugal.  He did not speak English.  Fortunately, beyond French AND Portuguese, Joao spoke Spanish.  I could connect with him in my broken Spanish.  Maybe it was the look of disappointment in our faces.  Maybe it was the look we oftentimes had in Spain, Italy and now France, that of being COMPLETELY LOST!  Whatever motivated Joao to make his way over to us was welcomed.  Beyond language, beyond race and cultural differences, Joao was understood EASILY.  His smile said it all.  Jesus oozed out of this guy!

Joao explained that he was a member of the congregation and that he was delighted that we had attempted to worship in his church.  Handing us an olive branch (instead of a palm one), he noted that some of the Palm Sunday Gospel accounts said “leafy branches” and that the olive branch suggested “peace.”  With an enthusiastic handshake and an encouragement to join him for Easter worship the following Sunday, Joao THEN scribbled down his full name, address and phone number.  He remarked, “if you need anything while in Sete, please contact me.” 

I think my smile was as big as Joao’s as we left St. Joseph that day.  I hope it is said of us at Cross of Glory that we can be half as welcoming and helpful as Joao was to us on Palm Sunday.  I had picked up a worship devotional in the church.  It was called “Semaine Sainte,” likened to the Spanish “Semana Santa” meaning “Holy Week.” Over the next days, I shared with Barb my excitement about being able to figure out the suggested daily readings by recognizing the similarities at times between French and Spanish/English words.  I especially appreciated the extra time it took me to make sense of the lengthy Passion Narrative shared on Good Friday, a reading shared around the planet on Good Friday in countless different languages. “Jardin” means “Garden.” “Flagelle” means “Whipping.”  “Le Crane,’ liked to cranium, means “Place of the Skull.”  

Barb and I knew we would return to St. Joseph…and Joao…the following Sunday, Easter.

Not wanting to miss things, we headed for the Church of St. Joseph well before 9:30.  We were surprised at how deserted the city streets were.  It was as though Barb and I had our days mixed up.  Where were the people?  Where was the Easter joy?  When we worshipped in an astounding centuries-old cathedral in the heart of Livorno, Italy on the Good Friday before, laden with gold, Renaissance paintings and stained glass windows of remarkable beauty, we were shocked that a church capable of seating 1000, only had 100 in attendance.  At 9:00 in the morning on Easter Sunday, 2019 in Sete, France you would never have known it was Easter.  I took a picture of Barb I will have to show you of her standing in the middle of a busy street with NO ONE in the background.  It made us miss, home, Cross of Glory, Bethel, YOU, all the more as we knew YOUR worship service would be “Vivant,” lively, upbeat, hope-filled and celebratory.

Barb and I were among the first in worship that Easter morning in the mass of St. Joseph. WE COULD HAVE LIT THE ALTAR CANDLES!  Walking on stone in a magnificent cathedral with few people around is LOUD!  Silence was interrupted by our footsteps.  We sat near the front and took the time to peruse the worship bulletin. To our delight, though all in French, we recognized a familiar format…the format of predictable liturgy.  Even though we would not understand a word about to be spoken, we knew that the Readings would follow the Gloria, that the Creed would be after the Sermon and that Communion would be celebrated after the Prayers of the Church.  We heard people arriving to the church in back of us filling pews.  There was the occasion shuffle of hymnal pages.  At 9:30, altar boys (one of which was Joao’s we would later learn) in procession carried in the Bible, the Baptism bowl, and the “crieux” (see how close the French word for cross is to crucifixion) leading a middle-aged priest who smiled at us profusely.  He knew something he couldn’t wait to share with the rest of us.  You could see it all over his face.  You could see it oozing out of his heart.  Beyond language, this priest could not wait to tell us the life-changing, forever hope-filled message that:

“Pourquoi cherchez-vous le Vivant parmi les morts? Il n’est pas ici, il est ressuscite.”  

When the priest began the worship service with what Barb and I thought was “He is risen!,” Barb and I in unison, the only English speakers in the place, right or wrong, responded, “He is risen indeed!”

Easter is a boast.  Easter is a shout.  It is a proclamation yelled in every tongue, in every place, over thousands of years.  It is a retort at the Devil.  It is a denunciation of Sin’s power.  It is a confession that Death is crushed, that Jesus lives…and with Him…his kids.  Heaven IS for real… and the saints who have gone before us, our parents and siblings, our grandparents and church friends, our kids who we have outlived…wait for us as eagerly as Jesus does to embrace us in greater life, even greater love.

When the priest invited the congregation to come forward for communion, Barb and I joined members and friends of St. Joseph in a line to the altar.  Jesus’ death split the curtain of the Temple in two.  No longer is there separation from God.  ALL are invited into the Holy of Holies.  ALL are invited to partake in the GRACE that is God.  I felt someone from behind touch my elbow.  Turning around while in the communion line, Barb and I saw once again the beaming smile of Joao.  Some things need no language.  Some things need no introduction.  We were not Americans, nor Frenchmen, Spaniards nor Italians.  We were Christians, a Common Family of the Crucified but Risen Christ. 

After worship, Joao made a beeline to us.  He was so excited to see us.  He could not wait to introduce us to his son.  And then, to our surprise, after the pleasantries, after the “it was so nice to see you again” conversation, Joao said in Spanish, “Por favor, ven a mi casa!  Es cerca aqui!  Podemos tener tiempo junto, talvez café o postre.”  In English, “Please come to my house.  It is close to here.  We can have time together, maybe coffee or dessert.”

Barb and I were dumbfounded.  How amazingly gracious!  Missing Denver and loved ones, wondering about how our lily-filled sanctuaries looked, hoping you were experiencing the joy and promise, the life of Easter, we were awed and humbled by the invitation of the Angolan…no, brother in Jesus.  We walked to Joao’s modest home, shared with a couple of other families.  We learned of his journey eventually to France…of his wanting to be a missionary…of the heartache of divorce and the challenge of raising kids as a single parent.  Over coffee and cookies, we overcame language difficulty in a meeting of heart.  In an Easter Barb had said she was hesitant to experience (away from the Easters we have known, with family and friends, with YOU), Barb said upon leaving Joao’s home, “Joao made Easter for me.  I will ALWAYS hold this one, especially dear.”

I come back to Denver with a lot of new stories and friends.  Europe was absolutely incredible for a number of different reasons.  As I shared with you before, I thought going there would strengthen my faith.  It certainly did.  I have SO much more appreciation for Christianity in general as I was challenged by the commitment of Christians over the centuries.  To build the churches, the monuments, the cities (Vatican?) Christians did in adoration of Christ and the precious Gospel message of life in Jesus moves me profoundly.  To recognize the price that the martyrs paid for the faith humbles me beyond words…and I come back home with greater resolve to honor Christ and the saints who have gone before me.

Easter is more than Jesus getting up from the grave.  It is more than carrying an olive or palm branch or even proclaiming, “He is risen indeed!”  Easter is about OUR getting up from the grave.  It is about OUR talking with strangers, potential friends, and welcoming them into our homes,  the  joy of our faith.   It is about living TODAY  (not just on the Holy Days)  as though Jesus is risen IN OUR LIVES ALSO.  It is about bringing Easter to others…across language…across differences…beyond our reservations or fears.

Thank you, Cross of Glory, for my Sabbatical and already, new lessons learned and appreciated.  I hope to come back to you refreshed and fired up to be doing even better, more conscientious ministry with you.  I have so many stories to share with you…and I look forward to the stories you will share with me as TOGETHER we proclaim in word and deed the hope that is in the Resurrected One!

Au Revoir! Arrivederci!  Adios!  Bye for now!

Pastor Mike Lemke

 

April 2019

Hello Cross of Glory Family and Friends!

He is risen! He is risen indeed! And the Church has gloried in the Easter message for 2000 years!  Because Jesus lives, we live also!  What is left behind in the tomb is all that would otherwise keep us from heaven. Our sin, our shame, our humiliation is buried in the grave. When Jesus stepped into the sunlight of that Easter morning, He brought with Him a new beginning. No longer would sin, death or the devil reign. God’s victory is our victory!

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

Biblical scholars generally agree that the Gospel According to Mark was the first of the gospel accounts to be written. It is shorter than Matthew, Luke and John. It does not contain the Christmas story. Its sixteen chapters concern themselves with the public ministry of Jesus, His death and consequent resurrection. Matthew and Luke seem to use Mark’s Gospel in writing their own stories of Jesus’ significance. John, already assuming his audience to know the Jesus story, explains that Jesus is truly God in the Flesh, the Word Incarnate, the Messiah of the Old Testament. John does not use much of Mark, Matthew or Luke in his narrative.

It is interesting that the Easter story contained in Mark’s gospel has a couple of endings! Look at Chapter 16, Verse 8: “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them: and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”  The women had gone to the tomb early Easter Sunday morning to attend to Jesus’ dead body. No doubt, they had not slept much given the terrible events of two days before.  When Jesus had been crucified, darkness blanketed Golgotha as early as high noon! Religious Jews bewildered, if not terrified by the mid-day darkness, interpreted that the all-holy Sabbath was at hand (always beginning at sundown on Fridays). Work was forbidden on the Sabbath. Little work was consequently done on Jesus’ body in preparation for His burial. The women, followers, lovers of Jesus, went to the Easter tomb that morning with their spices to anoint Christ’s body. They wished to pay their Lord one final act of homage, of love, of gratitude. But when they arrived at the grave, to their “amazement and terror,” Jesus was nowhere to be found!  The stone had been rolled away from the entrance to the tomb!  A “young man dressed in a white robe” relayed to them the astounding news that Jesus had been raised from the dead. The women were instructed to tell the disciples, particularly Peter, that  Jesus would soon be with them again.

And then one version of the ending of Mark’s Gospel concludes with Verse 6 from Chapter 16: “So they (the women) went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”  The very first Gospel account written of Jesus’ triumph over death ENDS with NO Easter fanfare: NO Easter egg hunts; NO Easter breakfasts; NO Red Rocks sunrise services; NO trumpets, tympanis nor trombones!  Mark ends his Gospel with the women running away from the tomb because they were terrified and bewildered! NO jellybeans, NO bunnies, NO lilies… just fear and wonder!  How very, very disappointing!

Now if you or I had written the first story of Jesus’ resurrection, we would have jazzed it up a bit… a lot!!! We would have had Jesus sitting on the top of the Easter stone, waiting for any and all those who crucified Him to come near!  We would have noted how the disciples, now full of belief, would have run to the tomb, no longer afraid. Our Gospel accounts would have had all the world understanding that Jesus fulfilled prophecies of the Old Testament. The women with their spices, Peter with his church-building leadership, all Jerusalem and beyond trusting in Christ… OUR Easter stories would not have ended so wimpy-like!

But the Bible is a lot truer than we are! It DARED to tell the Easter story the way it really happened. Of course, the Good News, the Great News of Jesus being alive would have been absolutely phenomenal to believe! The lovers of Jesus would have forever been traumatized by the events of Good Friday. The story of Christ’s resurrection would have seemed far too unbelievable to believe. But the accounting of Jesus’ Easter, Christ’s victory, our victory is told by ALL four Gospel writers.  He is risen! He is risen indeed! As incredible a story as a dead man coming to life again is, the world has not been able to refute it.

Christianity was born in the very city it would have been easiest to disprove its claims. As empowered disciples preached Jesus in Jerusalem, and Him alive, on Pentecost, less than two months after Easter, the crowds could have pointed to the nearby tomb scoffing, “Your God is still in there!” But He wasn’t!  And the crowds couldn’t! Jesus is risen! He is risen indeed!

Our lives will never, ever be the same. We no longer have to live as people without hope. Our God, alive, loves us so very much.  He breathes new life into us.  We can face the challenges of today knowing we are never, ever alone. God forever is pulling for us. And the Bible, daring to tell the truth, IS truth! It informs us of what kind of God this Jesus is, encouraging us to follow in His footsteps.

God’s Peace and Love!
Pastor Mike Lemke

MARCH 2019

Dear Cross of Glory Family and Friends!

The following newsletter piece is a departure from what I normally do. I am writing this piece a day after my brother Steve and his wife Jillene decided to put their cocker spaniel Valley to sleep. Valley has struggled with ill health. It was time. My thoughts today are with Steve, Jillene and Valley…and consequently, it seemed like God directed me to pen what follows. You will not be able to relate to some of the details. You understand I am writing to Steve and Jillene with a familiarity that only members of our family will fully understand. But I wanted to share this generally with you for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, many of you know Steve and Jillene and you join me in appreciating their support of our Cross of Glory ministry.  Secondly, some of you knew of Valley’s decline.  You have been asking about Steve, Jillene and Valley, sharing your warmest regards and loving prayers. And lastly, I share this piece with you because of the magnificence of our Lutheran theology and the powerful point even Valley’s death makes: Christ’s victory over sin, the devil and DEATH is not only Jesus’ victory. Linked in baptism to Jesus’ death and consequent resurrection, Christ’s victory is OUR victory as well. BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE! Look for instance at Romans 8. Christ’s victory over sin, the devil and death is CREATION’S VICTORY! Humans were not the only ones marred in the Original Sin! All creation was tainted. God redeems EVERYTHING in His Amazing Grace of costly, costly price: The death of His only Begotten! Valley was indeed rescued by Steve and Jillene 4 years ago in Phoenix…but truly…beautifully…lovingly…Valley was rescued BY JESUS 2000 years ago on a “Hill Far Away” where there stood an “Old, Rugged Cross.” Here goes. Steve and Jillene have not seen this sacred note…nor do they know that I included you in this sentiment from my heart. They will read this from Arizona perhaps at the same time you are reading it. Go with it, okay?

To my brother Steve and his amazing, sweet wife Jillene!

How many times have I been to the Puerto Vallarta airport? Figuring that Mom and Dad bought the timeshare in 1992…and that we have been able to visit PV every year thereafter, arriving AT the airport and returning back to Denver FROM the airport means at least 50 trips, right? But then add the frequent trips to Vallarta’s airport to greet “incoming” family members once we had arrived. I would guess, without exaggeration, I have been to the Puerto Vallarta airport…80, maybe 90 times over the decades! It occurs to me as I write to you, that in EACH of those trips, whether coming or going, my heart was full of expectation and joy, excitement and thanksgiving.

You know the special place Puerto Vallarta has in my heart. Barb and I talk about retiring there, most likely keeping our home in Colorado, but living hopefully at Los Tules for at least half of each year. As we have been SO fortunate over the years to visit PV, our home away from home, we always come back to Denver, to reality, with new and heartwarming stories. We watched Hector grow up at Los Tules from being the bellboy of 18 years to the fishing boat captain that he is today. How many times have we heard him talk about red snappers and that his soccer team is either in (or about to be in) some championship match? And then there’s Rocio who cleans 4-103 with a sweet smile and gentle spirit. Don’t forget about your good friend, Magdalena at the front desk, who Mom adores, but I detest! I still say Magdalena tried to rip us off for that lost towel back in the day.  And security guard Leo, who upon learning that I was a pastor, spontaneously preaches sermons in Spanish to me about the marvels of God and the soon-to-be Kingdom of Heaven on Earth! Apart from the unparalleled, dear people of PV, there have been the cherished memories of purple sunsets, cobble-stoned streets, snorkeling trips in icy cold, take-your-breath-away ocean waters and the cry of the Muffin Man just beyond Chapultepec near the beach wall. If I have been to the PV airport 90 times, I certainly have been to that sacred wall overlooking the Pacific 300 times over the years! Either alone, with you and/or other family members, we hear the ocean kissing the beach as we peer across the bay on starry nights appreciating the twinkling lights of Centro and the malecon. I have prayed a thousand prayers from that Los Tules wall as perhaps my most heartwarming times with God have been spent there.

As I write you, I realize Puerto Vallarta is enchanting for a NUMBER of different reasons, but PRIMARILY because we, as family, have been able to spend good times TOGETHER there. No doubt, my love of Vallarta would be minimized to be sure, if I, we, spent times alone there. The magic of the place in large part is because we have laughed often there and have appreciated Mom and Dad all the more for making the decision nearly 30 years ago to buy for all of us a piece of Heaven on Earth. I smile, as I’m sure you do, when we think of Dad in a Ricardo Montalban accent, speaking not Spanish, but ENGLISH, to Chan while dickering over the price of ironwood. And then Dad after the sport of dickering, would pay Chan and/or the other beach vendors, the WHOLE PRICE they had initially requested! No wonder “Roberto” was well-known on the beach!                                                    

But back to the Puerto Vallarta airport! I think of the many times with overflowing heart, in great anticipation and excitement, I have waited in the PV airport. Just to be there…to see the faces of those we love, emerge from customs into the main terminal! You know! I run to the “Arrival” monitor near the Subway sandwich place to check the flight status of Denver flights hoping not to miss family members emerging from customs. I longed to greet them with a kiss and/or “brazos fuertes,” a hug. Anymore, our relatives come to Vallarta tired, worn and hobbling! Mom, who used to walk the beach with us to Centro (nearly 2 miles!), now arrives to Vallarta in a wheelchair…as do Aunt Joanie and Cousin Kathy. None of us, have the strength, the health, of 30 years ago!

The whole point of this letter to you, Steve and Jillene, is to remind you of the joy and love, the family and friends, the soon-to-be new adventures and the makings of forever memories for Valley as SHE arrives in heaven. Your decision to put her to sleep after these many last months of discomfort, imbalance and fatigue was a LOVING one. You have entrusted Valley to God…and to those who in great anticipation, greet her in Heaven’s Kingdom. She arrives to the terminal with wobbly legs and tiredness, but Valley is about to get out of her wheelchair, kissed upon and hugged, swamped, by Dad and Grandma, Ginger, Precious and Honey (Barb reminded me to add Qi!  Haha!). It is as though all our loved ones in heaven will push God to the side (!!!) to get FIRST dibs at greeting and loving Valley! They will take her back to Los Tules, get her out of those confining Arizona clothes and whisk her away to the John Smith swimming pool (ASAP)! Together, they will run to the Los Tules wall upon hearing someone yell, “Ballena!” They will look at the majesty that is God’s creation, Banderas Bay, and TOGETHER, hearts pounding, anticipate the spray of water through the blowhole, the flop and splash of a tail and the breaching of humpback underneath orange, Mexican afternoon sun! How Valley would love to join all the ocean ballenas, or dolphins, or pelicans having practiced a few times with those ducks at her baptism park!

The both of you could not have been better parents to your precious little girl. With sleepless nights, you prayed constantly, hoping for her relief. It was any number of trips to the vet office as you wondered about a new diet, a possible procedure or even a telling diagnosis, a direction for healing. YOU LOVED VALLEY EVERY DAY, even over the years, as she was entrusted to your care. You would be the first to say that she gave you so much more in return!  But be reminded of the Bible verse that says: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no imagination wild enough, to comprehend the beauty and the marvel, that is God and Heaven. Valley is arriving at the Puerto Vallarta airport…and is met there with unmatched love and embrace, promise and future. God Himself wipes away EVERY tear. No more crying, no more pain, no more worry. Because of God’s love, because of Jesus’ victory over sin, the devil, and even DEATH, Valley passes INTO greater life. You will have this hole in your heart for the rest of your lives…but as I have said to you now many times, that is NOT a bad thing. It means that you have loved deeply and without reservation. You would not want it any other way! We look to that day when in Heaven’s Kingdom, we are able to be with those who have gone before us, who even now, are experiencing the splendor  and  beauty,  the joy and love of a place,  a  reality,  just beyond our  faculties, but certainly NOT beyond God’s grace and care… Hola Valley! Want to go fishing? Love, Me

Dear Cross of Glory Family,

With thanksgiving, I thank you for encouraging me to take a Sabbatical this year. As most of you are aware, in the 34 years I have been a pastor I have never had one. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), of which we are a part, hopes that pastors will take a Sabbatical once every 6-7 years. Sabbaticals are intended to give pastors the chance to re-create, re-educate, and re-energize themselves. They normally last 3 months. The hope (and expectation) of course is that pastors return to their congregations re-freshed, re-vitalized and re-newed to do even better ministry with congregants.

When my wife Barb, pastor at Bethel Lutheran Church, heard that Cross of Glory was encouraging me to take a Sabbatical, she approached her own church council about taking one. Bethel was wonderful. Barb’s council unanimously voted to allow Barb a Sabbatical as well. Barb, who has been a Lutheran pastor even longer than I have, has not had a Sabbatical over the years either.

Barb’s congregation had not budgeted for HER being on Sabbatical in 2018. Of course, Barb and I want to do our Sabbaticals, at least part of them, together. Consequently, it is THIS year that we will try to take ours. Beginning Monday, March 25, we hope to begin our mutual Sabbaticals. Though Barb will be away from her congregation for 3 months straight, I am choosing to split my 3-month Sabbatical with the first segment beginning on Monday, March 25 until May 11, the Saturday before Mother’s Day. I hope to take the remainder of my Sabbatical in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico come mid-October until right after Thanksgiving and the beginning of Advent. I am thrilled at the prospect of taking Intensive Spanish classes in an accredited Puerto Vallarta school, Mondays through Fridays, from 9 AM until noon.

Though I am excited about the benefits of a Sabbatical, for me, for us, I am also apprehensive about being away from Cross of Glory for extended time. Though I have full confidence that the pastors who will cover Sunday worship and emergencies in my absence will do marvelous ministry (and you with them), I am VERY concerned about the growing number of truly “shut-in” members of our congregation. Could you, would you, consider joining the class I teach on Tuesday mornings at 10 AM on “Christian Caregiving?” More and more of our members are attending the class. I would feel better knowing that YOU, people our “shut-ins” KNOW, would be visiting our dear ones. I would think our “shut-ins” would feel better knowing familiar faces, friends, would be seeing them! The class gives some practical, helpful suggestions about visitation. PLEASE!  PLEASE!  Consider attending the class. How about it?

THANK YOU! THANK YOU!
Pastor Mike

 

FEBRUARY 2019

Dear Cross of Glory Family and Friends,

Can you believe it? Just about the time we wondered where 2018 went, today, we wonder where the month of January went! How is it that we can already be moving into February? I pray that this last month has allowed you opportunity to regroup from a busy, oftentimes hectic, December. 

As we leave January, we continue to embrace the sacred season of the church year called Epiphany. Epiphany accents the Divinity of Jesus. Consequently, our Sunday Bible readings highlight Jesus’ extra-ordinary abilities. During Epiphany, we note how Jesus walks on water. He exorcises the demons. Jesus teaches with astonishing authority. Christ stills the wind and the sea. All our Sunday morning texts, during the sacred season of Epiphany, accent Jesus’ “Otherness.” How wonderful to know that we have a God so very “Other” YET PERSONAL who knowing us through and through, even better than we know ourselves. In extra-ordinary ways, God meets us where we are in both better and worst times. Jesus, the Divine One, Omniscient, Omnipotent, Ever-Loving, Emmanuel in our midst, promises to hold us in His care.

What an Epiphany!  

Yesterday, as I visited Bert Carlson at Cherry Creek Care Center, (Edie his wife having had an eye surgery), I left the center with an Epiphany of my own. As I walked to my car, I saw a frisky little brown dog prancing in the snow. Perhaps he was prancing because it was cold. Maybe he was jumping about because he enjoyed the outdoors. Who knows? He seemed to be having a glorious time, until that is, he threw up in the middle of the street! As I looked more closely at this cute, playful puppy, I realized he was not wearing a collar. Immediately, I looked around for a concerned owner. No one was in sight. I wondered if the puppy was lost or maybe even sick. Perhaps he was prancing around because he had hurt a paw or jumping about because his paws were so very cold. I approached the little, brown, playful, cute, but now scared puppy. I still remember his eyes as he looked at me with both curiosity and fear. What thoughts must have run through his little head as he wondered about this stranger approaching him!  

I tried speaking tenderly to the puppy to coax him to come closer. This puppy, suspect of my intentions no doubt, decided to prance in a different direction! With his tail between his legs, he ran off away from my reach. For the next 10 minutes I drove around the apartment complex across the street from Cherry Creek worried about this lost, perhaps even hurt puppy. I tried, in vain, to find where he had run.  

Just about the time I had given up on his whereabouts, I had an Epiphany of my own. As I was walking back to my car, I saw his brown little body in the distance, outlined by the white snow backdrop. I approached the puppy again, this time from my car. Pulling up close to him, pleading lovingly, “C’mon Honey, come here,” I opened my car door in the hopes he would jump in. No such luck! The puppy, continuing to be scared, hurried off in a quick attempt to get away from my voice and presence. Once again, I drove around the apartment complex looking for him. I prayed to God asking that the Jesus of Epiphany, the Divine one, Ever-Knowing, Ever-Powerful, Ever-Loving, would show compassion for this precious, scared, maybe even sick little one. I prayed that he would be safe and reunited with a family of love and care. 

About the time I had resolved I would not find the puppy, there was a lady who ran at me from the shadows, waving her hands and yelling, “Hey you! Hey!” She was disheveled, her hair a matted mess. She was wearing a bathrobe and bedroom slippers. She must have seen me slowing driving through her neighborhood, scouring the apartment complex. She had concluded that I was searching for something. Looking both exasperated and relieved, out of breath, she managed to tell me that she had found her lost little dog. She informed me that the puppy’s name was Milo and that Milo was too smart for his own little good! He had learned how to open his in/out door on his own! The lady (Margaret) thanked me for my interest and assured me Milo was home and drinking water from his dish that moment. I thought to myself, “Wow, God sure answered that prayer in a hurry!” My heart was at ease knowing this little brown puppy, Milo, was now at home.  

How often do we go through a day with our cares, anxieties and worries choosing to run from the One who wants to help us? How frustrating it must be for God to drive around our neighborhoods, calling our name, hoping we all jump in the car to him! If only we would but trust! If only we would heed the call of the One who loves us so very much. This Epiphany God is so very capable, doing far more than we could ever imagine and yet we distrust Him. We choose to prance around any number of places before…coming home. 

As we move through the season of Epiphany, with new revelations about Jesus and our faith, may we resolve quickly to depend on God’s promises this new year? The groundhog may choose to hide his head on February 2nd. Let US choose not to burrow in our apprehensions and worries but instead call on the Epiphany God who always calls out to us in love. Let us trust that Jesus is both willing and wanting to help us. Let us run to Him instead of running away from Him! What’s an Epiphany to know of Jesus’ always searching, always loving heart towards us! Let’s jump in the car with Christ this year, allowing Him to do the driving, as we trust, as we count, on God’s love, care and grace! 

Happy Epiphany, Cross of Glory! 
Pastor Mike Lemke

JANUARY 2019

Happy New Year Cross of Glory!

Yes! As we continue to move through the Twelve Days of Christmas, we experience yet another brand new year!  We welcome 2019! Over the past year, there have been the special times and tougher occasions. We hope that 2019 will be even better for us congregationally and personally.

As the ball dropped in Times Square December 31st, now with Ryan Seacrest replacing the ageless Dick Clark, did you begin to FEEL new?  Now that January is here, do you FEEL different, newer, than you did a month ago?

Consider what was going on a month ago. We resolved around Thanksgiving that we would not get caught up in the hustle and bustle of too often December rushes. Then the first week of December came, and to our surprise, our intentions to slow down were left to the wayside like cookies left for Santa! We tried to keep it together. We tried to remain calm! But Christmas cards needed addressing. Aunt Doris decided out of the blue to drop over for the holidays.  Our Thanksgiving resolution to ENJOY December raced past us like Santa’s magical sleigh!

Too often, the beauty of the Christmas season is blanketed not so much with snow as it is our stress. After the parties and pageants, the malls and the mailings, the New Year comes upon us and we feel anything but new! We instead feel worn-out and wearied. We feel beat and battered.

I lived in Sioux Falls as a kid. Gary lived next door to us. I remember Mom asking him one day what was new. Gary, probably six at the time, responded, “Nothing!  All we have is old stuff!”

I think we are pitied people if to the question, “What’s new?” we respond, “The same old, same old!”  At the very least, as Christians, we should be able to say to our friends, “I am!” “I am new!” “I’m not quite yet what I hope to be, but I thank God I am not longer what I used to be!”

The Apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore if any person is in Christ, he/she is a new creation. The old has passed away. The new has come!” John, given a revelation on Patmos wrote, “And God Himself will wipe away our tears.There will be no more crying, no more pain. The former things will have passed away. Behold, He who sits upon the throne makes all things new!” As Christians, daily, we are encouraged to conform to the image of Christ. We are to lay aside those things impeding our ability to be more like Jesus. Each day we should be working on our “newness.”

There is a church around the corner from where I live that puts cutesy sayings on its outdoor sign.  Recently the sign read, “Christianity is a journey not a destination.” I need to remember that. When I get discouraged, I need to remember that tomorrow is another day… a new chance for me to be all that God wants me to be. When I allow sin to get the better of me… when I am failing miserably in following Jesus… I need to remember that regardless of HOW I FEEL, “I AM NEW in Christ!” J.R.R. Tolkien wrote, “Not all who wander are lost.” There are those times we FEEL pretty lost.  But it is precisely at those times that we need to believe God knows where we are and that God, Emmanuel presence, will direct our ways. Jesus redeemed us. God bought us. We are His… and… we are new. We are brand new! As we face the joys and challenges of a new year, congregationally and personally,  we can be assured of God’s support and lead. Baptized, Called,

Equipped, Sent, we DO ministry knowing the God who made us, RE-CREATES US, RE-FRESHES US, and MAKES US new indeed. We do not know what 2019 has in store for us, but God does!

Over the centuries, there have been so many exaggerated stories about Martin Luther. As his influence spread well beyond Germany, tales about him turned into far-out legends.  Some say for instance that Luther was responsible for the Christmas tree. Looking out his window one snowy afternoon, many contend he remarked to his wife Katie, “My, how beautiful that pine tree is!  It is white… though forever green… ever green… hmmmm, EVERGREEN! Let’s run outside right now, chop it down and put candles on it! We will call it a Christmas tree and urge all villagers to do the same.” This is most certainly true… NOT!

I would like to believe certain fanciful stories told about Luther, principally, the one about his throwing ink bottles at the devil and the one about his hanging a sign around his neck that said, “I am baptized!” You see, if great people like Luther needed to go to such lengths, even hokey ones, to remind themselves they belong to God while FEELING defeated, I might just believe that I, we, are taking steps towards the Kingdom even when occasionally taking steps backwards! We ARE journeying towards a distant country, this a Heavenly one… even while FEELING old and not new.

I want to thank Cross of Glory ahead of time for helping ME attempt to be NEW, refreshed and better equipped to responsibly BE your pastor. For the last year, your Church Council has encouraged me to take a Sabbatical. A Sabbatical is a three-month educational experience AWAY from the congregation, in addition to vacation, that hopefully translates into practical ministry-building helps. Our Rocky Mountain Synod urges pastors to take a Sabbatical every “three to five years in the present call.” I have been a pastor for close to thirty-four years. I have never gone on Sabbatical. I am excited about the prospect and I have begun to share with your Church Council some ideas about how I intend to spend Sabbatical months away from church this 2019.  

Of course, whether this happens is speculative. So much depends on pressing needs in our congregation and the ability to responsibly cover and expand present pastoral and congregational ministry obligations and opportunities. I will try to take Sabbatical in conjunction with my wife, Pastor Barb Lemke.  Her congregation, Bethel Lutheran, is encouraging Barb to take a Sabbatical in 2019 also. Barb and I hope to spend part of our Sabbaticals together, learning alongside one another while being refreshed (and better equipped and energized) to DO ministry with you.

Thank you for your kind consideration ALWAYS but especially as I wonder about the ability (responsibly, practically and financially) to be physically away from Denver for extended time this year. I know that I will not be taking Sabbatical in a three-month block. I envision the three-month period split up between one 6-week segment this Spring and the other 6-week segment later on this year.  I will be very busy this month, working with your Church Council, in making preparations. I look forward to visiting with you soon as I may be asking you to “take on” certain tasks, needed helps. Please start thinking now about practical ways you may help us additionally at Cross of Glory.  Share with me your ideas. I WOULD SO APPRECIATE IT!

So Happy New Year Cross of Glory!  Let’s lean on one another in 2019! Dick Clark may have SEEMED like the ageless one. In reality, it is God who is ageless. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last. God holds the ages, and us, in His care and it is God who promises to make us NEW this year and beyond.  This is most certainly true!

Pastor Mike Lemke