Pastor Bob’s October Message

Dear people of God:

Over Labor Day weekend I made the Christmas pudding. I don’t complain that people start too soon to prepare for Christmas, since I usually start 3½ months in advance. I love to let the Christmas pudding cure for a long time. It sits in a cool, dark place, the flavors mixing and the consistency growing uniform. Many of you have enjoyed my Christmas pudding at our annual open house.

Well, almost annual. It didn’t happen in 2020, and so I never made a Christmas pudding. I didn’t buy a Christmas roast, didn’t make a big bowl of eggnog. Kathleen and I had a quiet Christmas alone, without the gathering of friends we usually enjoy. No Christmas pudding needed.

Hope is concrete when you do something. Someone said that planting a tree is an investment in the future. Many have dedicated their lives and careers to space exploration; they are investing themselves in things they will not see come to fruition. You plan a trip, you start a garden, you begin a business: you do things because you hope they will amount to something.

Although we are not having food events in the Church building now; although we wear masks whenever we are together; although many are remaining sheltered at home: I hope things will get enough better by December that we can celebrate Christmas together. I’m grateful for the beautiful Christmas services we did last year, and it was fun to get creative and, for example, give the sermon seated by a fireplace. But I hope we can have Christmas together this year, to light candles and sing “Silent Night” as midnight approaches. I hope I can look in your beautiful faces and recite the Prologue to the Gospel of John.

And I hope that you can come to the Church apartment for food. There will be Christmas pudding.

Pastor Bob

Pastor Bob’s September Message

Dear people of God:

Since I have two things on my mind and I can’t decide which is more urgent, I’m going to write about both of them.

The first is to note that we are now two-thirds of the way through the year, meaning that we are two-thirds of the way through The Year of the Bible. I hope you’re still reading! It gets hard, doesn’t it? Many of us start a new discipline at the beginning of a year with great enthusiasm, but any discipline (whether it’s reading the Bible, practicing the piano, or working on your golf swing) can get awfully tedious. I hope you’re still at it, even if you’re behind or you find yourself skipping sections. Since we just finished Proverbs, I’m interested in hearing from you what your favorite Proverb was. I can’t pin down one favorite, but I have long appreciated this one: “Well meant are the wounds a friend inflicts, but profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” (27:6)

The second is to add my caution to one you may often see on TV or the newspaper, although you may not often see it on the Internet. Beware of scams. Recently two of our staff got emails purporting to be from me, asking them to change their passwords and to send “me” their new ones. Fortunately, they looked at the email address and noticed that it wasn’t really from me. This sort of thing has been going on for some time. Years ago a staff member got an email from “me” asking her to buy gift cards for a worthy cause and to send the information to “me.” She checked it out with me – after all, my office is close by! – and it was a scam.

You may get emails claiming to be from a grandchild in prison, or from the IRS, or from your bank, or from a friend in a foreign country… you may get requests for money through Facebook… and you may, of course, get an email claiming to be from me and asking you for money. Always check it out. Don’t click on links in an email unless you are certain you know where it’s taking you; go to the appropriate website instead. Don’t buy gift cards or send money without checking if it’s legitimate. If it says it’s from me, don’t reply to the email; send a new email directly to my address. Phone or text me. My email address and cell number are in the church directory and have been published in the bulletin every Sunday for the last eight years. You have no excuse for not having them handy!

Smart people can easily get caught in scams, especially when, like you, they have a big heart. Jesus talked about the importance of being wise as serpents and innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16). When it comes to interpersonal relationships, be doves. When it comes to money: serpents. Please be careful.

Pastor Bob

Pastor Bob’s August Message

Dear people of God:

I’m feeling another opportunity to say, “Thank you!” As always, I’m certain to miss someone, but I’ll take that risk. First, I want to thank everyone involved in our first-ever participation in Heartland Pride. To the task force who organized our involvement: Sue Skeans, Jeff Koerten, Chris Petersen, Cleve Evans, Debby Marsh, and me. To those who marched in the parade: Brenda Norton, Colleen, Darrin, Ian, and Annaliese Collins, Ginny and Frank Thompson, Kathy Sutula, Cindy Harvey, Katie, Chris, Jordan, Rain, and Max Petersen, Jeff Koerten (and thanks, Jeff, for getting the terrific banner made!), Maurine and Bob Beason, Connie and Jerry Ludwig, and Suzie Payne. To Bill Norton, for designing the great tee-shirts and for taking pictures at the parade. To those who made a witness at our table during the Festival: Cleve Evans (who also set it up), Sue Skeans, Kathy Egr, Cindy Harvey, Carol Sanderhoff, Brenda and Bill Norton, and me. To Margo Forsythe, for arranging for the very popular popcorn, and to Becky Widhalm, for designing and ordering the equally-popular lip balm and for designing and printing the information cards.

Participation in Pride served two great purposes. For one, it brought attention to our Church. If we are going to grow in our life and witness, we need to be willing to get “out there,” to go to places where we will find people who need the Gospel we share. Sitting within our walls and hoping people will come to us will be self-defeating. Second, and perhaps more important, we witnessed to people who have been hurt by the Church; we shared the grace of God in Jesus Christ. As folks came to Baxter Arena for the Festival, they were greeted by Christians shouting at them that they were going to go to hell, and other loving (!) words. Within the Arena, they found us, inviting them to participate in a life in God through Jesus Christ. Many were understandably wary of us and others were simply uninterested, but many took the time to say, “Thank you for being here.”

As I write this, we are still cleaning up from the storm, but I want to thank some folks who have been working hard on the cleanup so far. I’m certain there will be others after I write this, but so far I can thank Chuck McGavren for helping me get the patio and courtyard ready for Sunday morning worship and for getting up on the roof to check for possible damage (there was none), Tim Lambert for hauling away large tree branches that were felled by the storm, Doug Wise for finishing the cleanup of the courtyard, and Ted Wohlers and Mel Heitmann for helping clean up.

Of course, we also have a crew of fellows who have been taking care of the lawn while Denny Peters has been off recovering from surgery. Jeff Koerten, Ted Wohlers, Bill Norton, Mel Heitmann, Tim Lambert, and Andy Zidon all come immediately to mind; if I missed someone, I hope you’ll let me know.

Between now and the time this is published, I’m sure there will be more persons who should be thanked. Because of your dedication to the Lord Jesus and His Church, I am truly blessed to be your pastor. “I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you” (Romans 1:8).

Pastor Bob

Pastor Bob’s July Message

Dear people of God:

The year is half over, which means we are halfway through our reading of the Bible together. It has been an interesting challenge for me to preach on the Sunday readings every week, and I have deeply enjoyed the Wednesday evening conversations we have had.

I did not expect, but am not surprised, that some of you have been disturbed by what you have been reading. The Bible has a lot of challenging material in it. For some, the sexism (from our point of view) implicit in the most ancient stories is upsetting. Many are troubled by the amount of violence in the oldest stories. I am so accustomed to old stories that violence in them doesn’t disturb me; I tend to expect it. I forget that we are living in an age in which we expect society to be peaceful and we expect international relations to be peaceful; for most of human history, that is not how things were.

What I need to consider most, however, is how many of you are troubled by the portrayal of God in much of the Bible. God not only sanctions violence but demands it; God appears almost irrational in the reaction to events and people; some of God’s favorites do horrible things. I’m not going to try to explain, rationalize, or harmonize here: that is too big a job for a message in a newsletter. What I will ask of you is that you express your thoughts and feelings: ask me questions, tell me what’s going on with your faith, invite me to pray for you.

I have never complained that people ask me too many questions about Faith or the Bible. I have complained – more than once! – that people ask me more questions about the air conditioning than they do about Faith or the Bible. I’ll try to be proactive and do some more public reflection about this as I can, but again I invite you: be in touch. My main purpose is not keeping the organization running; my main purpose is teaching you the Christian Faith.

Pastor Bob

May Pastoral Letter

Dear people of God:

In my imagination, there would be a Sunday when suddenly all of you would be back again. After a long absence, all restrictions would be dropped and suddenly the house of prayer would be filled with the people of prayer. Singing, children getting fidgety, and a meal to follow… well, I wasn’t the only one to imagine all this, I know.

Instead, folks are coming back slowly and intermittently. Most are waiting, as I’ve suggested, until two weeks beyond a full course of vaccinations. Some are waiting longer, continuing to exercise caution. As of this writing, we’re still not singing as much as we usually do, and we’re not having a children’s message or doing in-person Sunday School. All returns gradually.

And some things will probably never return. Last year the Worship Committee talked about what is essential for Reformed worship; those conversations will guide us as we slowly rebuild our life of worship. And I hope some new things will emerge. Since I’m doing adult education on Wednesday evenings – and will continue to do so – what shall we do for adults on Sunday mornings at 9:00, beginning this Fall? I’m open to suggestions.

In the meantime, look at the story in our newsletter for our plans for the summer; I’ll post about them here later this month. Some folks want to worship outdoors, as we did last summer; yet we need to make use of our excellent webcasting equipment permanently installed in the Sanctuary. I think we found a creative solution.

Frequently what we imagine will be does not occur. And often what does occur is better than we imagined!

Pastor Bob

April Pastoral Letter

Dear people of God:

I recently read a story about a Presbyterian pastor who suffered through and ultimately recovered from COVID-19. She described the ordeal, including her family’s fear that she would not live, and concluded that she has “deep insights of dismay” that she would not have imagined a year ago. That phrase, “deep insights of dismay,” no doubt expresses for many of you the experience of the past year and possibly the annual experience of the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus.

This year’s Good Friday evening service, available only via webcast on Friday, April 2 and thereafter, is our attempt to make the connection between the Crucifixion and Resurrection, and the experience of the past year. We have experienced sickness, loneliness, anger, fear, and death; and we are experiencing renewal. The use of psalms, visual images, and music in a way that links Good Friday to Easter, and the subtle (or not!) detail that at the end of the Good Friday service I’m wearing my Easter robes: these are part of our design.

In other words, I don’t think of the Crucifixion of Jesus as something that happened only on that hill two millennia ago; it recurs in us when we experience sickness, loneliness, anger, fear, and death. And I don’t think of the Resurrection of Jesus as something that happened only in that garden two millennia ago; it recurs in us when we experience renewal.

I hope in the coming months you will share with me your stories of renewal. Has the pandemic simply been something to get through, with no lasting effect other than losing a year of your life? Or has it resulted in something good, some form of renewal in your life that would not have come otherwise?

Without the Passion and death of Jesus, there would have been no Resurrection. That is, I am convinced, not simply a truism: it is a fundamental reality of the universe. Only with loss can there be renewal. And so: Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.

A blessed Easter to you.

Pastor Bob

“State of the Church”

Here are my remarks from the congregational meeting January 31:

I would like to say a few things to summarize the annual reports, about the year past and the state of Presbyterian Church of the Master right now. I read the reports and am grateful to those who wrote them for their thoroughness and clarity; remember that if you have questions about any of them to please contact the writer. They all identify themselves, but you can always ask me or Andy Cook whom to contact.

You don’t need me to tell you that it’s been a challenging year. We needed to pivot quickly last March when the pandemic forced a sudden shut-down of nearly everything. Elders, deacons, committees, and staff all were forced to change the way we do nearly everything. One decision I made was to keep the office open, so that the people of the Church could still come to the building when they needed to. Whether anything else was able to function normally or not, your office volunteers and staff have continued to keep the office open.

I am grateful to and admire those who have found ways to continue to minister despite the pandemic. Here are a few highlights:
• The Mission Committee pivoted from doing as much hands-on to emphasizing financial support. Yet Manda McLaughlin has weekly posted the needs for Siena Francis House in our Facebook Family & Friends Group so we can continue to be a people that does mission.
• Sunday School and adult education moved to Zoom format
• Outreach gave tangible support to AA, health care workers, and a church family
• A new Benevolence Fund was created which has already provided support to our members
• The Deacons rebounded and changed the way they provide meals to Rainbow House and supported compassionate connections between members of the church
• The Building & Grounds Committee, with its Aesthetics Subcommittee, has continued to improve the appearance and functionality of the facility. When you return, you will see new furniture, bulletin boards, a beautiful stained glass window, and other improvements.
• Personnel Committee used online resources to meet, support our staff, and especially to hire Joey Ann Knoell as Children’s Music Director and Becky Widhalm as Church Administrator.

But I want to emphasize especially what Worship and Technology have done. When we were able, we held worship outdoors in the Courtyard. Since March we have webcast worship via YouTube and have built a following not only among our church members but from New York to Ohio and California. Because the Technology Committee installed webcasting equipment, we are doing evangelism that we had not imagined a year ago. They have not only installed it, but operate it weekly; without them I would be standing up front talking to an empty room and without your being able to participate at all. A conservative estimate is that we are now reaching at least half again, if not twice as many, people as we were when we were meeting in the sanctuary and doing nothing else. In addition, the Technology Committee has improved the WiFi throughout the building and has purchased and installed new monitors in the Sanctuary. I am eager for you to return and experience all this for yourselves.

I should also highlight for you that we have done well financially. Although we forecast a budget deficit, we actually ended the year with a surplus. That was partly due to reduced expenses during the year, but largely due to your continuing commitment to your church. In addition to strong regular contributions, not included in ordinary income are a grant from the State of Nebraska for healthy worshiping spaces and a Paycheck Protection Program loan which has been forgiven. These are listed as special grant receipts and have helped to maintain our program at the level it has been.

As far as we can tell, about 90 of you are participating in the Year of the Bible. That and increased frequency of the Lord’s Supper will help our spiritual life. When we are able to begin worshiping together in person, we will have stronger spiritual resources to bring.

When will that be? We do not know, of course. As the positivity rate in Douglas County continues to decrease, I foresee at least a partial reopening before too long. However, Dr. Krampe and I are making plans for a virtual Holy Week experience, in the possibility that we’ll still be apart at Easter. Dr. Fauci has predicted the likelihood of herd immunity in the United States by late summer or early fall. If we cannot be together in the Sanctuary soon, we will certainly resume outdoor services when the temperature gets up to sweater weather.

For now, thank you for attending today’s meeting; thank you for your commitment to Jesus Christ and His Church; and thank you for seeking Christ every day, everywhere, and in everyone.

Year of the Bible: January 25 – 31

As I’ve said, the next shipment of Guides to Reading the Bible have come in, so this will be the last time I post the readings for you. Please come by the church building for your book (They are in the Welcome Center in the Commons) or ask us to mail it to you.

January 25: Exodus 1, 2; Psalms 11, 12
January 26: Exodus 3, 4; Matthew 19
January 27: Exodus 5, 6; Matthew 20
January 28: Exodus 7, 8; Psalms 13, 14
January 29: Exodus 9, 10; Matthew 21
January 30: Exodus 11, 12; Matthew 22
January 31: Exodus 13, 14; Matthew 23

And remember to look at my video posted on Facebook every Monday for more about the readings of the week.

Pastor Bob

Year of the Bible: January 18-24

Still no more books, so here are the readings for this week:

January 18: Genesis 37, 38; Psalm 9

January 19: Genesis 39, 40; Matthew 14

January 20: Genesis 41, 42; Matthew 15

January 21: Genesis 43, 44; Psalm 10

January 22: Genesis 45, 46; Matthew 16

January 23: Genesis 47, 48; Matthew 17

January 24: Genesis 49, 50; Matthew 18


Year of the Bible: January 11-17

Our books haven’t come in yet, so here are the readings for this week.

January 11: Genesis 22, 23; Psalms 5, 6
January 12: Genesis 24, 25; Matthew 9
January 13: Genesis 26, 27; Matthew 10
January 14: Genesis 28, 29; Psalms 7, 8
January 15: Genesis 30, 31; Matthew 11
January 16: Genesis 32, 33; Matthew 12
January 17: Genesis 34-36; Matthew 13