This One’s For You

Many of the things that are strong and healthy about BelPres are a result of Dick Leon’s leadership here. During his 15 years as senior pastor he moved us from being a neighborhood church to a regional church, leading multiple building campaigns for the current Sanctuary and Community Center/gym which allowed us to expand our reach. He not only built BelPres wide, however, but he also built it deep.

Dick recognized that this is a gifted, generous, faithful congregation that wants to follow Jesus and make a difference in the world.  He was quick to identify people’s gifts and deploy them into leadership that would strengthen their faith and their connection to Jesus.  When I arrived I was impressed with how deep the bench was with lay leadership and with people who did not just attend church, but were devoted followers of Jesus.

More than anything else, however, Dick was a spiritual father. When he first came to BelPres he was in his early 50s, and he did what good fathers do. He encouraged, challenged, blessed, empowered, and tapped the potential of so many.  I cannot count the number of people who have said Dick was the spiritual father who was crucial in the growth of their faith. I’m one of those people.

Through conversations, breakfasts, and coffees, Dick was a mentor, counselor, advisor, and   father figure to me, and always so encouraging. He always gave great advice, and then a pep talk that ended with —


“You can do it, you’re doing great.”


Just the sound of his voice made me feel empowered, encouraged, and eager to face the next challenge. He never made me feel like I had to fill his shoes, but always sought to help me be my best self.  And not just as a pastor, but as a Christian, husband, father, and friend. Because he was those things—and so much more—losing him is very painful.  One woman said to me, “I feel like an orphan,” and in many ways I feel the same. While I celebrate the hope we have in the resurrection, and the knowledge that we will meet again, I am still left with a void in my life and deeply mourn his loss.


“Class act, One in a Million, A Man of Character, Integrity, Honor. They don’t make them like that anymore.”


These are just a few phrases that describe Dick Leon. It would require a very long book to detail all the ways Dick changed so many lives for the better. We can’t list them all here, but we want to dedicate this Messenger to Dick and all the ways he made BelPres, and our lives—better. The Bible says to give honor where honor is due, and if ever honor is due to anyone, it is to Dick Leon. His was a model life in many ways; a life extraordinarily well led, and as one way to give honor and say thank you, we dedicate this Messenger to him.

The Builder Pastor

Words are strangely inadequate to describe Dick Leon or capture what it meant to work alongside of him here at BelPres.  Dick was my mentor, spiritual leader, friend and great encourager.  He made me a different person.  Many of us say the same thing.

Dick has often been referred to as the “Builder” pastor to describe his legacy here.  Among his Builder accomplishments, Dick built church attendance, the Sanctuary building, choir wing, staff offices and Community Center.  But Dick’s last years were dedicated to building and catalyzing the missional impulse of BelPres to heal and restore our community and world.

I came to BelPres in Feb 1999, as the first full-time Mission pastor.  Dick was leading the Session through a book written by Princeton Seminary professor Darrell Guder called “Missional Church”.  The book was one of the first to call “The Church” back to its Biblical mandate to go into the world and demonstrate God’s Kingdom through its life and witness. Dick had a marvelous way of translating densely packed theological material into easy- to-understand and applicable bites for church leaders.  The study prepared the way for three main initiatives before Dick retired. The first was the completion of a new Community Center  which was purposed to reach out to the Bellevue community and provide dedicated space for sports events and various other non-church activities. The second was a series of meetings which resulted in a 5-year plan called “Your Voice, Your Vision”


“Dick was a builder. But he always wanted more for us than to be vending machines.”


Most notable was the missional emphasis on increasing congregational participation, mission partnerships and a signature project on the Eastside “big enough for all who desire to participate.”

(Can you say Jubilee REACH?) The third was an “Assault on Poverty” based on Ron Sider’s book, “Just Generosity”.  It was then that Dick skillfully handed the missional reign to the rest of us. After preaching through a sermon series based on Sider’s book, Dick invited those interested to form into focus groups around employment, hunger, housing, education and health care. Each group studied poverty as it impacted their specific area, researched what was being done and shared where the gaps were. 

After several months the result was  the formation of ministries, like KidREACH and Auto Angels, that are still reaching out to the Eastside today.  Dick was a builder.  But he always wanted more for us than to be a vending machine, dispensing good programs and ministries to everyone who stepped inside the church.  Leading us to take the first steps toward discovering our calling to love and heal our world was part of Dick’s legacy too.  Good leadership outlives itself.  It builds vital environments that are free to innovate and create something better, fuller and richer.  Telling stories like this one reminds us of the man, pastor and friend Dick Leon was; of the vision he cast, the sacrifices he made and of the hard work he did to prepare the way.  We owe it all to Jesus. And, we are so very grateful for you, Dick Leon.  Thank you.

5 Lessons Dick Leon Taught Me

After seven years of full-time music ministry at my previous Lutheran church in Southern California, I felt called to a Presbyterian Church and prayed for a pastor who I could respect and trust—an excellent preacher, but also a leader who loved people and built consensus; a boss, yes, but also a pastor, mentor and even friend from whom I could learn and grow with mutual admiration.  I was blessed to find that in Dick Leon.

Here are 5 of the many lessons Dick taught me:

1.  “Eat crow while it is fresh.” When you are wrong, own up to it and apologize. Learn from it and move on.

2.  “The history of the world swings on small hinges.” Details, details, details. From names and people, to finances and numbers, to theology and sermons, Dick paid attention to details—myriads of details.

3.  “Everyone has their cross to bear.” Sometimes when people present anger or frustration about an issue there is almost always something deeper going on in their lives. And, in love, he would pursue the hurting heart.

4. “The hard answer is usually the right answer.” Do the right thing, regardless of its difficulty, regardless of the cost, because nothing else will do. (And in the end the easy answer usually costs more and is much less satisfying.)

5.  “Hupomone” is a Greek New Testament word translated as “patience” or “endurance,” but I recall Dick’s interpretation as “patient endurance”. No matter the short-term setbacks, or long- term frustrations, the longer we endure, the stronger we become. Regardless of the sins on the surface, and mistakes in daily living, God worked through the saints and patriarchs of our faith who had the “hupomone” to be steadfast in their faith and service. Integrity, patient endurance. That was my boss, pastor and friend, Dick Leon.

My Legacy

The day will come when I am a memory

The light in my eyes will fade

My name will be referred to in the past tense

And I shall have no more to give

I hope on that day

You know that I have loved you

No breath wasted

No thought unturned

I lived and I lived,

And when I am gone

I hope and pray you will live too

Because you have been deeply…loved

Sitting in the Shade

When I first starting working for BelPres in 2003, volunteer after volunteer shared with me how much the church had progressed over the years. Dr. Richard Leon was always a part of that conversation. They would recall how Dick was always interested in the details—from microphone choices, cues and even in his style of preaching. All stories which told of a man who was an honorable and commendable leader.

I first met Dr. Leon at the 50-Year Jubilee Celebration in 2005. It was a big event with many moving parts and details that had to be just right in order for the services to be successful. Everyone was excited, and what an occasion it was! Foremost in my mind was how this huge event would give our current and former pastors a glimpse of really how much God has worked in this community through and beyond their leadership.

Although, at the time, Dick may not have known it, I owed my current position to his leadership. After a time of struggle in Los Angeles working at a professional recording studio, God clearly let me know, “I have something different for you; all you have to do is follow.” God is so amazing. He is always at work. Little did I know, years earlier First Presbyterian Church of Bellevue had broken ground on a brand new Sanctuary, and one day would have an increase in AV needs. That is where my story intersected with the BelPres story.

In a Legacy Foundation video, Dr. Leon shared this quote: “Mature stewardship has to do with planting trees, under whose shade we may never sit.” Dr. Leon was fortunate to see a glimpse of the shade his leadership provided. God still has so much more for BelPres to further His Kingdom, and with good and faithful servants like Dr. Leon, may it be so. I am honored to say that I am currently sitting in the shade of trees planted by Dr. Leon, by offering his life to be formed, changed, and led by our Lord Jesus Christ. The stewardship of Dr. Leon’s heart has been a large part of the 50-year story of BelPres, and his legacy has touched countless lives and will continue beyond.

More Than Sad

by Rich Leatherberry, Mission Pastor

Yesterday, I was at a funeral to support a friend of mine. He called me last week with the horrible news that his nephew had been killed in a drive-by shooting. The young man was walking on a sidewalk in Dallas when suddenly someone pulled up alongside him, pointed a gun at him and pulled the trigger. He was 26 years young. The father of two and no one can figure out why this happened or who would do this to him. His family and friends here in Seattle are shocked, heartsick and grieving that yet another senseless killing has stolen one more human life. He had a name and a history. He was:

a friend
a nephew
a brother
a father
a son.

And now he is gone. The funeral concluded with everyone passing by his open casket to say goodbye. Then his sobbing father, who is younger than me, slowly lowered the varnished wooden lid down over his son and they carried him away.

In my Presbyterian tradition we call a service like this “A Celebration of Life and the Hope of the Resurrection.” But in my friend’s Christian tradition; they grieve. They cry and they wail and they let it all out. I grieved too. I grieved for a young man I didn’t know and for his kids who will grow up without him. I grieved for my friend and his family and I grieved because they were grieving. I grieved because stuff like this goes on and on and on and I’m tired of it. I grieved because we live in a fallen, broken, messed up world where people can steal lives and apparently get away with it. The murderer has still not been found out. And in the midst of all the crying and sobbing, I suddenly realize I’m more than sad. I’m mad.

I’m mad because life can be so unfair, fragile and unjust. I’m mad because there is very little we can do to protect ourselves from things like tragedy and death. I’m mad because life has become so cheap. That which God made in His own image became so cut-rate and despicable that it could be ended without a second thought.

So someone pulled the trigger… Which is a thought that, as it so forcefully races across the surface of my brain, causes me to realize what I’m really mad about: I am mad about sin and darkness and depravity and everything else that distorts the value of human beings and treats them like the dirt we sweep up off the floor. But I am not helpless. Because Jesus didn’t just come to die on a cross so we could all leap into heaven some day and be finally rid of this awful mess. Jesus came to rescue everyone, everywhere…..here on earth. And then, just before he ascended into Heaven, Jesus said; “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Mtt 28:19-20.

Jesus and His way are the only hope for this crazy, sin-sick world. As followers of Jesus, going and teaching and baptizing are our job. The rescue of this world depends on our obedience. As much as we might wish otherwise, God could do it all by Himself but He chooses to do it with us. And if we disobey, God will wait for another faithful generation to step forward. I hate the sin that steals life and makes me so mad. But the solution to it all has been placed in our hands and in our hearts.

What makes you sad and mad about the world? What is God asking from you?

Impact Team Reflection: Why go?

Becky Gonzalez
BelPres Director of Global Outreach

We often wonder what is the impact of short-term mission experiences (or as we call them “Impact Teams”)? At BelPres we typically only send individuals or groups to serve with Ministry Partners where we already have a relationship, so it is usually not just a one-time experience. But the question remains, what impact are we making?

“I sat…wondering what I could do as one person to make an impact in the lives of the 27,000,000 people enslaved around the world today. I’ve gone on lots of mission trips, but do those really make a difference?” Read more of this reflection on Why Short-Term Missions Matters for Social Justice and how Isaiah 61 has changed one person’s perspective short-term missions.

To learn more about opportunities to engage in Impact Teams through BelPres click here.
Learn more about Adventures in Missions, click here.

Acres of Diamonds Provides Hope for Women

Hope: a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.
Homeless women are finding hope and developing critical life skills at Acres of Diamonds, an outreach ministry supported by BelPres.
While the name may puzzle you, Acres of Diamonds — or “Acres” for short — is a transitional housing organization that operates on large piece of property in Duvall. With a house and apartment complex, it can accommodate up to 16 homeless women and their children.
Acres of Diamonds takes each woman on “The Path to Graduation” which helps her rebuild a solid foundation for independent living. At Acres, each woman receives personal counseling. Staff and volunteers also provide parenting and budgeting workshops, employment coaching, tutoring and other services.
Acres is also distinctly dedicated to helping women learn to walk with God, and ensures that each woman has a home church community and attends a regular Bible study either onsite or within their community. Uplifting Kids, the children’s program for residents, also provides an introduction to Jesus and opportunities for relationships with tutors and mentors who encourage the children in life and school.
While Acres has experienced some challenges in recent years, it is now moving forward. Jen Paddock, former BelPres Community Outreach Director, became the organization’s executive director a year ago and sees God clearly at work in the life of Acres. Volunteers are vital to the operations at Acres Diamonds—working on projects, providing supplies, being a mentor, tutor or child care giver—all help the ministry expand and enrich its programs to the women and children. Jen says volunteers and community organizations have rallied around the ministry, enabling it expand and enrich its programs to both women and children. A number of area churches, notably Timberlake Church and BelPres, have come alongside Acres to provide vital support.
You and your friends can learn more about Acres of Diamonds at their spring fundraising event on March 7 at Efeste Winery. Come nibble gourmet pizza, sip a glass a wine, and hear what God is doing at Acres. Click here to sign up online!

Birth Announcements Feb 2015

Molly Elizabeth Daggett
Born 12-18-14 to
Di Alexander and Brian Daggett

Elston Birch Edisi Ofori
Born 12-21-14 to
Enyo and Charles Ofori

Cayla Mame Fraser
Born 12-12-14 to
Christine and Seth Fraser

David and Jonathan Ma
Born 12-4-14 to
Grace and Jeffery Ma

Guilianna “Gigi” Victoria Vallos
Born 12-15-14 to
Lindsey and Steve Vallos

The New Baby ministry seeks to greet new babies in our church community with the love of Christ. If you know of a family who is due to have a baby or adopt a baby in the coming months please contact Jenelle Mullet at jmullet@belpres.org or in the church office, (425) 454-3082, so we may include them in this ministry.

The Secret Service of Ruth Brewster

Ruth Brewster’s passion and excitement about music is contagious. She began singing at the age of two or three and has been part of the Ensemble and Sanctuary Choirs since joining BelPres almost 13 years ago. Ruth officially joined BelPres as Director of Handbells in Spring of 2014 and previously volunteered as the director from 2003- 2007 and 2010 until she was brought on staff last spring. In honor of the dedication and zest she brings to the program, we recognize her as February’s Secret Servant!

“Ruth has been the ‘light keeper’ for the handbell program, continually engaging people, recruiting new and younger members so that it is truly intergenerational, choosing the music to challenge and delight the players, and generally being at once drill sergeant and cheerleader to them all. Ruth is a small dynamo who has been able to keep the BelPres Handbells ringing along for many, many years!” says Music Associate Karen Nelson.

While hand bells were not Ruth’s first instrument, they have held a special place in her heart since she began ringing in the mid-1980s.

When asked, “Why handbells?”, Ruct explains: “[Handbells] are something people can do. I’ve had many people come to me and say, I’ve always wanted to do something with music, but I’m not musical. Can I do this?’ Sure!”

Ruth emphasizes the importance of sharing handbells with all ages. The Handbell Choir has performed at Jubilee Reach and Ruth taught the Bellevue Youth Symphony Camp how to play handbells during the summer months. Several of the children enjoyed ringing so much they not only joined the Bel Pres Handbells, but for many it was the first time they had stepped into a church.

“I plant seeds. You leave it up to the Holy Spirit to increase the seed. But that’s how l plant the seed. We are always looking for new ringers to join us,” says Ruth. “Ruth has an innate ability to make room for all levels of players while still pushing the group for their best. She has a kind heart, a firm hand, and a nice strong downbeat. She packs a lot of energy into her small frame and brings her best every single time she is on the podium,” explains Karen.

Ruth, thank you for continuing to share your passion and love for music with the BelPres community!

Joseph

BelPres composer-in-residence Alicia Lewis is committed to exploring the deeper elements of faith through her compositions. The great joy of that exploration is when the music leads her to new perspectives and understanding.

Of the composition that eventually became a featured work in concerts, she has chis to say:

“When tenor Ross Hauck casually mentioned thar he wished that he had a musical version of the story of Joseph to sing in concert, my first response was – Joseph?? My Sunday School flannel-graph image was of a spoiled dreamer who led a charmed Life. Yes, he was enslaved by jealous brothers, and imprisoned by a frustrated femme fatale, but he made out all right; he rose to the cop, eventually saved the Near Eastern world from famine, and maybe even rescued Western civilization … Oh, and he learned a little bit about forgiveness, mercy and providence along the way. Still, it seemed to me that Joseph the character was pretty two-dimensional.

After a year of living with this story-an amazing biography that receives the most loving attention of any biblical figure, outside the Gospel accounts of Jesus – I reconsidered my position.

The more l explored, the more deeply I was guided through the months to complete the words and music for the concert piece Joseph. The two-dimensional figure took on substance for me in surprising ways; I finished the work with a very different view from the one I started from. Ross Hauck got his musical version of Joseph (which will also be accompanied by narrator Robert Barnett) and I got a fresh new perspective on a familiar story.

This piece evolved as I gained understanding; his life story of strange reversal after strange reversal, of privilege and imprisonment, of penitence and prophecy, of power and providence, moved me to realize that his story is, in very many ways, our story, too.

If you have ever experienced jealousy, abuse, betrayal, anger, despair, remorse, anguish, culture shock, drudgery, exploitation, entrapment, loneliness, ostracism, or have been touched by God’s mercy, I think you will find something familiar in the story of Joseph. It has been both a privilege and a challenge to walk alongside chis man of the Bible, discovering a path that took me to new places in my own faith journey. I hope it does for you, too.”

No Wonder You Look Familiar

One night I went into her room and sat in the shadows for a few minutes to see if she was asleep. After I knocked on the bedside stand she awoke and asked who I was. It was quite dark, so I turned up the light. She still did not know and asked again. I told her I was her husband and that we had been married for 58 years. “Really,” she said, “no wonder you look familiar!”

Usually at bedtime I think of Joyce as a little girl – which I guess she really is. I sometimes remind her that she is tired, as am I, and that she should close her eyes and go to sleep. She often accepts this, but more often than not, it is a time of statements and questions. “I really trust you.” “Fine,” I say, “but close your eyes and sleep.” “I’m still confused.” I try to encourage that it will be better tomorrow. One night I followed with, “I love you.” Then, an ultimate feeling as she opened her eyes yet again, ”Then could I love you?”

One night, she refused all attempts by the nurse to take any medicine. Spitting the pills out, we finally added them as a white icing on her brownie. Then a series of loud, “What are you looking at?” to several around her. Some ugly comments for me, grabbing my arm and pushing me away, but then, as if a switch was thrown, I was a nice person, a wonderful husband, and we loved each other again.

A very astute question of herself: “When I can’t remember something I don’t know if I have forgotten it or I just never had it there to begin with!”

The soup is sometimes “too soupy.” The ice cream and salad ” too cold.” A few nights ago the food was “not as bad as it could be.” But within nanoseconds, “No, it is as bad as it could be.” “Who is that girl that is looking at you?” It was a male neighbor. I suggested the waitresses not talk and smile at me or touch my shoulder. They could be one of my girlfriends.

We traded “I love yous” at the cable. One of the caregivers heard us and smiled at us, “She loves you too.”

One night it was, “Go to hell.” I had never thought that or been told that before. I kept talking. I kept talking. ”Just shut up!” And then, “You should stay where they put you!” I told her I was going to leave now and she did not budge. An hour later she was in bed and we were friends again.

Often an entire evening will pass when I cannot understand one word. I show her that I followed her with standard comments like, “I will think about that and we’ll talk about that tomorrow.” Most nights, she can sing every word of the old songs. l often sing to her or with her. One of our favorites is, ” I Don’t Know Why I Love You Like l Do.” One night after we had said goodnight I told her that I’d be seeing her in my dreams. She then sang that song, never missing a word. We pray and she wants me to go first. When she prays it is sweet and I can usually understand every word.

I can’t imagine our family traveling this journey without the loving care and touch of God every day and at every turn of the road. Sometimes it seems as if everything is in good working order. He gives me blessings along the way – a touch of her arm on mine, sharing a song or prayer – or maybe just a smile. Caring for her can be overwhelming and lonely. But a sermon at church touched me deeply and I have adopted a song heard in worship as my light song/plea/prayer to Him: The African-American spiritual, Guide My Feet.

Guide my feet; Hold my hand while I run this race. Stand by me, for I don’t want to run this race in vain. I’m Your child, Search my heart. I am not now (and really never have been) alone.

Where is she – the wife I once knew – in all this? I have no idea. There was a time when l was busy with necessary tasks, but to her I was trying to get away. “I don’t know why you can’t be with me all the time – I never talk about Alzheimer’s.” To go to a support group I disguised it as a how to be a better husband meeting. This is not the case now. l could be gone for hours or an entire day and she will not wonder or remember. Where will she be tonight? What will I find? I’m going now.

Blessing at Difficult Times

God has equipped each of us in such diverse ways, and it’s our unique privilege to walk alongside others as they journey through difficult times as well as times of joy; God doesn’t intend for us to go it alone. We are gifted with the desire to bless those we join in their journey. I have personally received this blessing of companionship on a difficult journey.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I had many questions for God and my doctors. The medical team answered the questions and God answered with, “Glorify Me!” These were not my words; my words were more like, “Poor me, why me?” I heard it again, “Glorify Me!” God’s words helped me take the focus off of myself, and focus on healing and modeling God’s healing to others. Chemo was part of my treatment, and God again reminded me to Glorify Him. What did this mean? I’m still figuring that out. I know God carried me through the nine months of treatment as well as the months spent regaining my strength and getting back to the new normal.

As I reflect on this time, some of the ways that God brightened my days were emails and cards of encouragement, flowers arriving unexpectedly, and knowing others were thinking and praying for me. A friend sent texts on chemo days: “3 down only 5 more to go.” Just knowing that someone else is thinking and praying for you is so uplifting. My friends gave me a hat party, which helped turn tough days into fun days. My Deacon visited each week after chemo, bringing treats or flowers.

It was such a gift to have someone from my church care enough to visit me each week. I know I was not always the best company, but we laughed, cried, and loved the Lord together. Our lives travel through many seasons and you may and that this is the year when you or people close to you, struggle, grieve or suffer. One of the 200 plus BelPres Deacons wants to walk alongside you, both when things are tough and also at times of joy. So don’t be shy. Let us know when we can join you in your journey.


We laughed, cried and loved the Lord.

If you would like to be part of the amazing Deacon Team here at BelPres, nominations are now being accepted. Please do nominate that person whose caring heart is apparent, or if you feel God nudging you, nominate yourself. Contact Debi Gordon in the Church office.

dgordon@belpres.org

A Deeper Repentance

Repentance is the act of reflecting on oneself, admitting you were wrong, feeling regret for wrongful living, and committing to live for God. An experience of repentance is the decision to turn from one direction to another. Turning toward God is filled with hope, joy, love, and peace; it changes your life: thoughts, desires, decisions, relationships, and purpose in life are no longer for yourself but for his glory.

What are we turning from, to God?

It is important to examine the life we are turning from so that we can expose and repent of our selfish desires. The reason why many are still troubled after experiences of repentance is because they have not come to the end of themselves. They are still crying to be in control of their lives, crying to give God orders. If you have spent many years building your own tower of success and self-importance, you will not want to leave it. You have created and are invested in your own salvation project. These deeper desires continue to hold power in our lives. Pride is the part of you that loves the self-orientated status quo, even when it is not working. Although we may repent in our external actions, our repentance is often too shallow.

What does a deeper repentance look like?

Identifying and experiencing our emotions is a step toward deeper repentance. In the minds of many, the repression of feelings has become a sign of spiritual maturity. Denying anger, ignoring pain, covering depression, withdrawing from conflict, excusing anxiety, escaping from loneliness, avoiding confusing doubts, and turning off our sexuality have become a part of our spiritual lives. But taking the time to focus on your emotions is helpful because your emotions indicate what you want. Why are you happy? Why are you angry? Why are you lonely? In neglecting our emotions we are false to ourselves and we avoid being honest and vulnerable before God.

It will take courage to identify your emotions and deeper desires, but it will lead to a fuller understanding of yourself and God. A deeper repentance leads to a life where you no longer have an image to protect or project but a freedom as a child loved by God. Allow God to penetrate the emotional component of your life to expose untouched areas of your soul.

Refreshed by Repentance

Repentance is a harsh word. An expression like, “repent or go to hell,” comes to mind. Repent, a word used like hot coals to scare crowds into the submission of the church. It is a word with a thousand barbs, as to have no escape when flung in your direction. Is that repentance? Something we should fear and be forced into by guilt? Or is it something completely different?

There was a time when I decided to participate in a 21-day fast with other believers. I had never fasted for longer than a day or two and really did not know what I was getting myself into. But I felt convicted that the Lord was calling me to participate and I made a plan on how to go about it. Fasting can be tough on the body and mind; it requires care and proper planning if one is to fast at such lengths. With proper counsel on how to best participate physically, I also made a plan to prepare my mind.

Along with slowly reducing my diet, I decided to wake up every morning and spend up to an hour in prayer. At first, my thought was, “How am I going to fill up an hour with prayer?” I have to admit in the beginning it was difficult: my mind would wander, I was tired, and I wanted to go back to sleep. As my fasting grew more intense, I began to become weaker physically, which meant I had to conserve my energy for my daily activities. Fasting also began to clear my mind of all the clutter it held.

My mind at times feels like a hallway closet filled with the junk you have nowhere else to put; anytime you open it to get your coat a dozen things come pouring out. In my weaker state I had to choose what I could handle on a daily basis; therefore I had more time to think and meditate. Soon my prayer time became more intense and my heart more sensitive to my interaction with God. Looking back on my experience I gained a deeper understanding of repentance; it is not a word that should be used as leverage, but a word of liberty.


TO REPENT IS TO CHANGE ONE’S MIND FROM REJECTION OF CHRIST TO FAITH IN HIM.

Clearing my mind allowed me to be completely humbled at what Christ has done in my life. It began to break down my hard shell of “I can do anything” to “I can do nothing without Christ.” This month will mark the beginning of Lent with Ash Wednesday, a time of reflection and humbling ourselves before God. BelPres offers several options to spend time with God, from Ash Wednesday services to literature in the library to help in your journey. May our repentance turn from something we may possibly fear to become something refreshing as described in Acts 3:19:

“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins mayy be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord “

Dust to Dust

Dust to dust, ashes to ashes. From dust we have come, to dust we will return. This simple phrase from the Ash Wednesday service is a stark reminder of the duality of our creation in the image of God and our brokenness that is righted only in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In the Ancient Near East, the area around Israel during the Old Testament, grief, sorrow, and contrition was displayed visibly were through the wearing of sackcloth and ashes, fasting, and crying out loudly in the streets. In the book of Esther, chapter 4, when Mordecai learns that the Jews are to be slaughtered, he “tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly” (4:1). Daniel says that when he realized how long his people would be in exile, “I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes” (Dan 9:3). In public confession of their sins, Nehemiah writes, “On the twenty-fourth day of the same month, the Israelites gathered together, fasting and wearing sackcloth and putting dust on their heads” (9:1).


Dust to dust, ashes to ashes. From dust we have come, to dust we will return.

The purpose of the Lenten season is the preparation of the believer for the coming celebration of Easter through prayer, repentance of sins, good works, atonement, and self-denial. Many choose to give up a favorite food, beverage, or activity for the period of Lent as a reminder of the season. Some choose to take on a new spiritual discipline. Others do nothing outward, but turn their hearts toward reflection, personal contrition, and repentance. At BelPres, we have opportunities to engage with Jesus in a reflective way through the Ash Wednesday service (February 18), Worship and Prayer Night (March 6), Immerse Saturday (March 7),and of course Holy Week services (Palm Sunday March 29, Maundy Thursday April 2, Good Friday April 3, and Easter April 5).

However you choose to celebrate Lent, let it be a time that you find yourself putting down roots in God’s Kingdom, recognize the divine image that God placed in you at the time of Creation, and your brokenness that needs Jesus’ body and blood in order to be put right.

Repentance

Lord, I don’t like the word repentance

I don’t like the topic, I don’t like the fact that I need to repent, often

Because I am guilty of all manner of things

All the things I’ve done that I ought not to have done

And all the things I didn’t do that I ought to have done

As the old general confession states,

There is no health in me.

Where can I go with my guilt, my sin, my shame, my self-loathing?

The only healthy place to go is to run to Jesus

When I want to hide, and not be seen, and when I don’t want anyone to know my sin

I need to run to Jesus

When I’m embarrassed, ashamed, and sick of myself

I need to run to Jesus

When I’ve messed up, missed the mark, fallen short, disobeyed God

I need to run to Jesus, not drag my feet, or turn in the other direction

I need to run to Jesus

Why?

Because Jesus is the only one who understands me, and can help me

He is Grace and Truth in person

He won’t let me get away with stuff, but he won’t condemn me either

He loves me and you completely, unconditionally

He wants us to repent, turn back towards him

For our sake, for our sanity, for our healing

Repentance is good for the soul

And for the body, for your total being

So practice repentance, saying you’re sorry, you were wrong, you did the wrong thing

To those you have hurt, and to God

Ask for forgiveness from those you have hurt and from God

See Jesus with his arms wide open waiting for you to turn and run to him

To be forgiven, to be loved and to be healed

Make repentance a habit, your friend, not your enemy

And learn to live a life of humility because you are accepted by God’s grace

Letter From the Editor

This month, the Messenger’s theme is repentance. What a funny word. For years I have fallen into the easy and all too common trap of placing the worst construction upon this word and action. Why must I constantly live in awareness of my sin? Can we move on yet?

In the following pages, our writers advance a different perspective toward repentance: aspiration.

The experiences and outlooks taken underscore God’s grace, compassion, and eagerness to be in relationship with us. The Gospel calls us to repentance: to change our actions and our minds. It is merely the act of turning our perspective to God’s point of view. When we do this, His blessings abound.

I am very grateful to our writers for their personal and meditative reflections on this topic. Repentance is very personal and exposing even when it is just between you and God. Thank you for your willingness to share your insights.

It is my hope that as you read and reflect on the articles this month you will adjust your perspective on this word as I did.

“Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9: 13.

BelPres Congregations for the Homeless Hosting: A Gift Received

Mary McCracken, Community Outreach Director 

 

This past December, BelPres hosted the men from Congregations for the Homeless. This is an annual event for BelPres, one we look forward to and find great joy in doing. Our BelPres congregation went above and beyond in providing meals, gifts, and relationally connecting with the men. Last week, BelPres Missions department received the following email from one mom whose family had participated in providing dinner one wintry evening.

“My family just had a wonderful time doing this. My 16 year old daughter sat and talked to one of the men for the longest time. Then William and I joined them. The gentleman was very outgoing and just plain fun to talk to. He gave my daughter advice about boys and life and from what I heard, it was very good advice!

I volunteer for Open Door Legal Services and I had met a couple of the men there as clients, so it was fun to recognize them and be able to chat with them in a more informal setting. All of the men are so truly grateful and appreciative. One gentleman told me about how the dinner we made reminded him so much of what his grandmother, who raised him and is now deceased, used to make. You could tell what fond memories it brought back. There were tears in his eyes.

This last week I met with one of the men who had been staying at our Church in December. He went on and on about how wonderful the meals were and how well they were treated. He felt appreciated. I am so glad our Church does this!”

We are deeply thankful for our BelPres community and your heart for service. Thank you to all who provided meals and supplies, shopped for gifts or made them yourselves, and spent time in a busy season to sit and visit with the men. Even though other churches are now hosting the men, there continue to be opportunities to provide meals and grow relationships. For more information on how you can stay involved year-round with the Congregations for the Homeless, please contact Elizabeth Hayford at ehayford@belpres.org or GetConnected. You can also find out more about CFH HERE.

Ebola Response

BelPres Ebola Response
Highlighted Global Ministry: Children of the Nations
Highlighted BelPres Member: Lynn Pelton, Greatest Goal Ministries
Becky Gonzalez
BelPres Director of Global Outreach

The 2014 Ebola epidemic is the largest in history, affecting mostly several countries in West Africa. As of February 2015, 9,019 people have died from the disease in six countries; Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, the US and Mali. When it comes to global crisis like Ebola it feels like there is nothing that we can do. Yet, BelPres is a church that is actively responding to crisis around the world in various ways.

Our own member and Greatest Goal Ministries co-founder, Lynn Pelton is currently serving in Sierra Leone as an Ebola Nurse with Partners In Health. Learn more about what her daily life is like serving in Sierra Leone by reading a blog here written by another Ebola nurse. Also follow Lynn’s personal and ministry blog here.

300 of you participated last week packing 70,000 meals for villages in Sierra Leone where Children of the Nations is working. One of the special projects they are working on is caring for Ebola Orphans. Learn more here.

Thank you for joining us in prayer for these ministry efforts and for being a part of the Mission Movement of BelPres that is extending reach to communities who need the love and power of God most.