Pastor Bob’s December Letter

Dear people of God:

Life is messy. A former custodian once volunteered to clean the apartment, but I said I liked to clean it myself; I found it therapeutic. Given the realities of human interaction, bodies that don’t always do what we want them to do, squabbling organizations, and all the other messes in life, I love to be able to impose a semblance of order on something: straighten and dust pictures, vacuum the carpets, clean the porcelain. I can’t make people behave, but I can make the kitchen floor shine.

People have sometimes thought of God as pure, pristine, above the human fray. I suppose there’s truth to that picture, as long as you don’t read the Bible. From the time God says to Adam and Eve, “You don’t want to eat from that tree; you won’t like the consequences,” God has been involved in the mess. Later this month we celebrate the most outrageous thing God chose to do about the human mess: become part of it.

“Jesus is God’s show-and-tell,” I quoted for you in a recent sermon. It’s an affront to our reasoned conclusions about God that the Word of Creation should sleep in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes. He learns how to read and write, to plane wood, to play games with his friends. He has a short, difficult career as a preacher and prophet and is convicted as a criminal against the State. It all begins to make sense when his life is restored and he becomes the source of life for the rest of us.

God doesn’t act as a well-behaved, austere Deity ought, but becomes part of the mess. God doesn’t make us behave, either, but if we permit it, God can make us shine.

Pastor Bob

Pastor Bob’s October Message

October 2019

Dear people of God:

You may wonder why we are doing another capital campaign so soon after the last one and that is a fair question. Let me tell you the story and then I’ll finish with some numbers.

Before I was called as Pastor it was made clear to me that major renovations and improvements to the building were on your minds. Over our first couple of years together the scope of our needs became clear, and we prepared two possible scenarios: remodeling our existing facility or erecting a new building. We chose to remodel.

As we completed our plans, the next big question was whether to do all the work at once or to do it in stages. Although we aimed for a building cost of $1.6 million, we were fairly certain we would not raise that much money in one capital campaign. So, we considered two options. One option was to do the entire project, borrowing the money for a long period, knowing we would need to have one or two more campaigns to pay for it. The second option was to do the work in phases: take a construction loan, but only do as much work as we could pay for in one campaign. Then we would have another campaign and do the next phase of work.

If we had chosen the second option, then the $1.2 million we raised would have paid for the HVAC work, carpet, walls, and other renovations, and electrical and plumbing work. We would probably have new restrooms, furnaces, air conditioning, etc., but would not have the new Commons or new kitchen. Those would have waited. Instead, we chose to do the whole project at once, which gave immediate benefits and, of course, cost less in the long run. But it means we have a large debt to pay.

The construction cost $2,000,251.88; that includes not only the expected costs, but changes we requested, and additional equipment (such as for the kitchen) that we purchased. In addition, we paid $165,944.56 in design, engineering, and construction management, and $57,380.35 (4.8% of the amount pledged, $1,199,286.52) to conduct the capital campaign itself. So the entire project cost $2,223,576.79. Toward their pledges, people gave $1,139.934.19 (95% of the amount pledged) to the campaign. We borrowed $1,692,266.14 from the Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program (this does not include the approximately $69,000 borrowed this summer for the recent roof project) and paid the balance from campaign funds. Since the loan was initiated, we have paid $130,411.84 in interest and closing costs and $53,918.10 in principal. So, as I write this, we owe the Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program $1,638,348.04 and we have $476,000 in our capital campaign investments. To ensure the vigor and security of our future mission, we need to raise (if not now, then soon) an additional $1.2 million.

This is, of course, over and above the ongoing cost of being the Church, which is supported by our regular tithes and offerings. As the Bible says, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:34).

Pastor Bob

September Message

Dear people of God:

We’re listening; I hope you’re speaking. First, the Financial Planning Team and the Session are listening to what you say about readiness to give major gifts again to support the work we’ve done on the building. New Commons, new kitchen, renewed Sunday School rooms, new heating and air conditioning, new rest rooms… well, you know. It all needs to be paid for. Although some may call it “debt reduction,” I’ve been calling it the Fund for the Future. This will make it possible to focus energy and resources on our Church’s mission in the world. If you haven’t completed the survey, please do so.

The other thing we’re listening for is what God is saying to you about the future mission of our Church. What shall we do with the resources God has provided for us? We have a versatile facility, talented leadership, an amazing array of gifts among our members… how does God want them used in the future? Don’t wait for a minister or elder to come up with the ideas and tell everyone what to do; what is God saying to you? Whether you’re certain about it or not, talk to someone; I’ll always listen, and other leaders will too.

As I get closer to that movable line between “middle aged” and “old fart,” I resist the temptation to live in the past and yearn for a time that never really was (at least, not as we tend to remember it), and instead continue to devote my attention and labor to the future. That’s why I care so much, for example, about combatting climate change. I won’t live to see any improvements, and I don’t have descendants of my own to see it. I care about other people’s grandchildren; maybe even yours.

And so we’re listening to you and, through you, to God to call us into the future.

Pastor Bob


Capital Planning Study

In recent weeks, you may have heard about a planning study Church of the Master will start Aug. 19. The study will provide our leadership your feedback about the possibility of a major fundraising effort to eliminate our church’s debt. The debt stems from our much-needed church renovation. We’ve hired the Steier Group, a local fundraising firm which assisted in our last fundraising effort, to conduct the study.

Here are details:

Q. What is a planning study?

A. The study gauges support for our plan to eliminate the debt and for a potential fundraising effort called a capital campaign. The study, which lasts four weeks, also will help identify possible volunteer leaders and set a financial goal should the church choose to move forward with a campaign.

Q. How will the study determine whether there is support?

A. The study involves surveying the entire Church of the Master community. The Steier Group will administer the study and survey. The firm will compile your feedback and present it to our church leadership. We will then make an informed decision about our plan and a potential campaign. Hiring an experienced, professional development firm like the Steier Group ensures an effective and successful planning study.

Q. Why should we conduct a planning study?

A. Many churches use planning studies when considering a fundraising campaign. It is a wise first step. That’s because the study provides valuable information on how everyone feels about the proposed plan and a potential capital campaign.

Q. What is a capital campaign?

A. A capital campaign is a fundraising effort for big projects and needs, such as major renovations, and eliminating debt. Capital campaigns fund specific needs. They are not for regular, ongoing costs, such as salaries and utility bills.

Q. What do you expect of church members during the planning study?

A. Initially, we will be asking only for your feedback and prayers. Your input and participation will help us make wise decisions about our plan and a potential campaign. You will be hearing more about how you can participate in the coming weeks.

Pastor Bob

Time To Focus

Lent I; March 10, 2019

Luke 4:1-13

Your Worship Design Group has decided this Lent that we should focus on the Cross in its various forms. For years we have had a wonderful selection of crosses hanging in the front of our Sanctuary during Lent, but in the years I have been here we’ve never talked about them. This year we’ll tell you about each one and we’ll take time every Sunday to focus on them.

Whenever the many demands of life begin to feel overwhelming, it’s time to focus. Have you ever tried to have a meaningful conversation with a friend in a sports bar, where multiple screens all around you are showing several different events? If you are able to have that conversation, it’s because you have trained yourself to focus: you can focus on your friend’s face and your friend’s words, even though someone has just made a three-pointer or a terrific spike.

When we pray it usually helps to have a focus. Some may use a candle, others an icon or a picture, or a cross. And Lent is a good time to focus on the Cross, even if for only a few minutes, and to let the other distractions wait for those few minutes.

Jesus didn’t have a visual thing that he focused on during his time in the desert, but he had something internal. He had his calling. I don’t know what you pray about for forty days – I hardly ever pray for even forty minutes – but Jesus had a lot on his mind right after his baptism. Right after his baptism, Luke says, Jesus was “full of the Holy Spirit,” and where did that lead him? To a great praise service with a really wonderful band? Last Sunday I preached in a Pentecostal church, New Harvest Church in San Juan de la Concepción, Nicaragua, and it was exciting. A great band with a driving beat, really raucous singing and praising, people jumping up and down and shouting “¡Gloria a Dios!” and “¡Alelúia!” It was grand. It was what you and I normally think of as being “full of the Holy Spirit.”

There was no drum set and subwoofer when Jesus was “full of the Holy Spirit;” instead, he went into the wilderness and fasted forty days. And then he was hungry. Oh, yeah. And the rest of the story suggests to me that he spent a lot of his time there praying about his calling. I’ve had this amazing experience – the Holy Spirit descending in the form of a dove, a voice saying, “You are my son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” – so what do I do now? What is my calling? What is the road that I am supposed to walk?

The Devil came to Jesus, focusing on his surface needs: “Jesus, you’re hungry; why not make these stones into bread? You’re the Messiah of God and are to rule over the nations; let me make it easy for you. You need to reveal to people your glory; I know just what you ought to do.” The Devil tried to distract Jesus with his surface needs; they are real needs, but not his deepest needs. Jesus was able to stay focused on his deepest need: the need to follow his calling, to walk the way of God.

And so the Devil left him, figuring he would get his chance later. The Devil thought that the Cross would be his chance to get Jesus for his own. Boy, was he wrong. And maybe that’s why we focus on the Cross during Lent, because the Cross shows us that Jesus’ deepest need was to walk the way of God, a way that led him to the Cross.

Although all of us who think of ourselves as people of Jesus Christ have this in common, that we are trying to walk the way of God, each of us has a slightly different calling on that way. Perhaps you know clearly what your way is. Some of you may think you’re retired; no, you retire from a job but you don’t retire from walking the way of God. But I’ll bet a lot of us still struggle, every day, to know what our calling is, how to walk the way of God. It’s time to focus, to set aside distractions, even if for only a few minutes a day, and focus on the way of God.

Here’s a question for you to ponder this week: What can you use to help you focus on the way of God? Maybe you have a picture or an object or something you can look at every day for a few minutes to help you focus. Or perhaps it’s a song that puts your mind in the right place. Or a short piece of Scripture, or one of the Lent devotional books we have for you this year. What will help you focus?

Robert A. Keefer

Presbyterian Church of the Master

Omaha, Nebraska