Friday, June 30, 2017

June 30th - A day of lasts

     Today has been a day of lasts. Other than being the last day of June, this was the last day of VBS at Grace Lutheran Church. This was my first year as a director and I have learned a lot through the experience that will carry me through to my next VBS director experience. The success of VBS would not have been possible without the support of volunteers and without the VBS Directors team of Shelley Savant, Serena Pace, Jennifer Chavez and myself. So from the bottom of my heart once again, thank you to everyone who had a part in making VBS 2017 successful.
     Today is also the last day of my internship. That's right; it's been an entire year since I came on staff at Grace Lutheran Church to start my 3rd internship. During this year I have had my highs and I have had my lows. I've learned a lot about what it takes to be a DCE from my mentor and sister in Christ, Serena Pace. She has helped me to grow as a professional church worker and supported me in this experience through words of affirmation, tough love, hard truths, spiritual devotions and heart to heart conversations.
     Serena is not the only one who has helped me through this internship experience. Before setting out, Dr. Jacob Youmans and Dr. Grant Carey taught me about church work through my studies at Concordia University Texas. Dr. Youmans taught me that everything we do is ministry. He also taught me that you can use many different methods to do ministry; from teaching Sunday School to watching and talking about movies with others.
     Dr. Carey taught me what apologetic's was and how to have conversations with people of different beliefs. He also challenged me with assignments that tackled the fundamentals of youth ministry and the do's and don'ts of DCE ministry. He has been my direct supervisor from CTX during each of my internships and has provided help during internships when I've had difficult questions to tackle while also being a voice of encouragement when my self-confidence wasn't quite where it needed to be.
     The day that my second internship was terminated, Dr. Youmans and Dr. Carey took me out for a drink. It was a difficult day but one that had to happen. While sitting in a pub in The Woodlands, we talked about the 6 weeks I was in that church and the next steps. I asked the question that I dreaded the answer to; "do you think that this is God's way of saying I'm not cut out for ministry?" Dr. Youmans answered with a simple "No. You will know if you're being called out of ministry and I don't believe that's happened yet." So I waited for a few months and moved back home. I got a call in October that year about a potential internship placement, was officially placed and then removed within 24 hours. Dr. Youmans explained the situation to me a few weeks later. I will never forget the way he started that phone call; "Nicholas...Rittgers... God must have great things in store for you because Satan is working very hard to keep you out of the church." Sitting here writing this, I can still hold onto these words with the hope that with the help of God, I will do great things in his name.
     My parents and Mamaw have also been with me on this journey from the very beginning. With my parent's help, I was able to attend Concordia University Texas. I could call them with any issue I had and knew that they would be there for me. I knew how true this was when the second internship ended and I had to move home. I will never forget the words of encouragement my mom and dad sent me when I told them that my internship had ended after six weeks. My mom texted me that "Things will work out however they are supposed to. Don't worry." Shortly after, my dad texted "The future is bright for you." My Mamaw also had many conversations with me encouraging me to not give up and I still talk with her through my struggles. I would not be where I am without the support of my family.
     Grace Lutheran Church is another entity as a whole I have to thank. Grace brought me in as an intern after learning of my struggles. The congregation has helped to support me during this trip and I have bonded with our staff in a way I never did in the other internships. Micah, Lou Anne, Sharon, Serena, Jennifer, Pastor Hildebrandt, Pastor Ardy, Pastor Sabir, Scott, John, Mark, Debbie and many others, thank you each for all you have done for me during the internship. May God continue to bless our team as we continue to grow as a staff.
     There are so many other people I need to thank but I don't have the space for it. You know who you are though, so thank you all of you. You've all helped me in different ways and have each been significant to me on my journey. This is the first time that an internship has ended and I won't be moving onto another one. I ask that everyone continue to support me as I continue to grow and mature as a DCE. Let us all remember the words of Jeremiah 29:11 "'For I know the plans I have for you' declares The LORD." I didn't know what God's plan was for me through this journey; I still don't think I have but a small piece of the larger picture figured out. But I know that whatever it is, it's going to be great.
     Sunday, July 30th will be a very special day. For 24 years, I have shared this day with my dad as we celebrate our birthdays. This year, I will be commissioned and installed at Grace Lutheran Church as the DCE of Outreach on my 25th birthday. I get to add my mentor Serena Pace to the special day my dad and I share. 20 years ago on July 30th, 25 year old Serena Pace was commissioned as a DCE. It's no coincidence that she and I have shared similar journeys and the same commissioning date and age. God knew what he was doing when he paired us together. Please join the two of us as we celebrate my commissioning, Serena's 20 years of ministry, and my birthday.
     With many thanks,
     Nick

July Newsletter Article - Post VBS

     Let me start my notes by saying THANK YOU to all of the volunteers that came to support VBS. We prepared for 180 students at VBS this year and had about 150 students and 60 volunteers come! We also reached out to the basketball camp that uses our gym during the summer and had many of the older students serving as assistants in the different stations at VBS. God was definitely at work in the lives of many during VBS this year.
     This is a very special Nick’s Notes to me. If you are unaware, the DCE internship through Concordia University Texas officially ended at 12:00am July 1, 2017. I am no longer the DCE intern at Grace Lutheran Church; thanks to all of you. Grace Lutheran Church brought me in as an intern on July 1, 2016 to focus on the area of outreach and to assist our DCE of Family life ministry, Dr. Serena Pace. This would be my third internship and I prayed vigorously that it wouldn’t be like my previous two. It blew them away.
     As an intern, the congregation at Grace helped to mentor me collectively. Many of the members took me in to support me through this new endeavor. We’ve shared jokes, stories, tears and way more cake than one person should have in one year. Members called to check in on me and added me on Facebook to follow some of my escapades with Grace and with my family in North Richland Hills. The congregation at Grace has supported me when I excelled and lifted me up when I was down. I was truly blessed to be your intern for a year.
     Alas, we all know that good things come to an end. In this case, they are coming to an end to make room for better things. Sunday, July 30th will be a very special day. For 24 years, I have shared my birthday with my father and thought it was very cool. This year, I will also celebrate with the woman who has mentored me for twelve months and longer a commissioning birthday. Sunday, July 30th, my 25th birthday, will be my official commissioning and installation at Grace Lutheran Church as the DCE of Outreach. It is also the anniversary of my mentor, Serena Pace’s, official commissioning and installation at her first call; she too was 25.
     I once again have to thank Grace Lutheran Church on the support you have shown me during the internship journey. I ask for your continued prayers and support as I transition from DCE Intern over Outreach to DCE of Outreach. Be sure to keep a look out for new and exciting opportunities to serve our Arlington community through Grace Outreach Ministries.
With Christian Brotherly Love,
Nick Rittgers, DCE - Outreach Ministries

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Nick's Notes - Gearing up for VBS

     Summer has finally arrived! The days are longer, warmer, fuller with activities and children can be found everywhere! During the next two and a half months, mom's and dad's will work while children spend their day at daycare, on a campground, in a swimming pool and hopefully at church too.
     There's an amazing opportunity to provide the children of our community with a safe and fun place to learn about Jesus this summer. June 26th-June 30th from 9:00 am to noon is our Maker Fun Factory VBS here at Grace Lutheran Church. Shelley, Serena and I need the help of our members to make this year's VBS a spectacular event. You can help us in one or more of the following ways:
  • Sign up as a volunteer at www.vbs.grace.lc to help us lead stations or to become a crew leader. You can also sing your children and grandchildren up here as participants.
  • Donations are needed for snacks, crafts and decorating. You can sign up for these items in the Narthex at our Maker Fun Factory display.
  • People are needed to prepare daily supplies at home such as making take home bags for our Imagination station or cutting out craft items for our preschool craft station.
  • We would like to provide our volunteers with a breakfast treat such as fresh fruit, pastries, donuts, etc. and would be appreciative if a team of people would sign up to provide these items for our volunteers during the week of VBS.
     If god is tugging at your heart to help with VBS and you aren't sure where or how you would like to help, call me at 817.274.1626 ext. 113 or email me at nrittgers@grace.lc and I will be happy to get you plugged in and helping! All of your help and prayers are both needed and appreciated as we prepare for Maker Fun Factory. Thank you for your help in bringing the hope of Christ to the families of our community.

With Christian Love, 

Nick Rittgers, DCE Intern.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

May newsletter article: Honor your sabbath

     It’s that time of year where we seem to be merging onto the Autobahn; everything is moving very fast and everyone is making sure they can keep up with the pace. Prom season is in full swing, graduations are fast approaching, college students are returning home for their summer break and our lives are becoming full with summer plans and activities. Life is getting busy and for some it’s very stressful. You might wonder how you will get everything done, make sure everyone is taken care of and how you’re going to make it through the summer season. Have you thought about how you’re going to take care of yourself? Philippians 4:13 tells us “I can do all things through him who strengthens me”. Many people use this verse as a motivation to keep going and giving their all for others. I’ve caught myself using it as a prayer at times saying “God, I need your strength to keep going. I can make it through with your strength”. We’re missing the point of this verse. We’re forgetting about our Sabbath.
     It’s true that Christ empowers us to do everything if we ask for his strength. However that doesn’t give us reason to run ourselves ragged to get everything done. We have to remember to take our Sabbath. That is why God gave us the 10 commandments in Exodus; to follow the commands that God gives us so that we can glorify them.
     Sabbath was instituted for us as a day of rest and it is more than just a day off. In Luther’s Small Catechism, Martin Luther wrote out answers and explanations to questions we may have. Pay close attention to questions 35 and 39 found in the back about the third commandment. Question 35 asks “What is the Sabbath day?” Luther’s response is “In the Old Testament God set aside the seventh day (Saturday) as a required day of rest and worship”. God is telling you directly that you need to rest. Question 39 follows question 38 explaining how we sin against the third commandment. Pay close attention to answer C; “when we use the Word of God and the Sacraments negligently or carelessly”. Do you find yourself using the motivation of Philippians 4:13 to keep moving forward while neglecting your Sabbath? You are breaking the third commandment if you do.
     Sabbath is such a gift to us and it’s more than just a “day off”. Everyone needs to observe and respect their Sabbath every week but even more so when life gets busy. By neglecting your Sabbath you are doing yourself a disservice and you are sinning against God. Don’t fill your Sabbath with tasks like housework or grocery shopping and don’t waste your Sabbath by having a Netflix binge. Use your Sabbath as an opportunity to rest physically and spiritually by doing something you enjoy and by spending time in prayer and worship of our Lord.
With Christian Love,
Nick Rittgers

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Passion

     I normally don't speak very much on Good Friday unless it's required of me, if there's something urgent, or if there's something that I feel needs to be shared. This post is the latter.
     For a couple of years now, I've set aside time on Good Friday to view The Passion of The Christ. I do this as a personal experience and journey to the cross and it's something that for now will continue to happen for many years to come. Every time I watch The Passion there are three things that happen.
     The first thing that happens every time I watch this movie is that I cry. The Passion is by far the most graphic film, and possibly piece of media, that I have ever seen. The scene where Jesus is punished is gut wrenching and difficult to watch. To see our savior beaten and tortured in such a way; to see how the centurion soldiers smile and laugh at the pain they are inflicting and the blood they are drawing. Granted I wasn't there on Good Friday and neither was Mel Gibson. Some of the scene could be Hollywood theatrics making something seem more dramatic. But I doubt it. 
     The second thing that happens is I see small details that I recognize from scripture, and it's usually something I haven't caught before. Today's was something that I must admit, I'm embarrassed I didn't notice before. In the opening scene in the Garden of Gethsamane, we see Jesus praying that if it's possible, let God take away the cup he is about to drink. Jesus is not alone in this scene; Satan is there mocking him, trying to cast doubt, asking "who is your father?" During all of this, we see a serpent slither out from Satan's robe and start to crawl on Jesus. When Jesus stands up, we see him step on and kill the snake. Now, if you're watching this from the "I'm going to just watch a movie" point of view, your probably not going to think twice about this scene. After all, if a snake was crawling over me, I'd probably scream and stomp on the snake repeatedly. But if you've spent time studying the bible and prophecies, you'll recognize this as something foretold by God in Genesis 3:14-15 after the Fall of man; "The LORD said to the serpent, Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring, he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel." (ESV) Jesus not only bruises the serpents head in this scene, he crushes it. Just as the LORD tells us.
     Then there's a third thing that happens, and it's something that happens with nearly every movie I watch; not just The Passion. A scene in the movie, unrelated to the climax (and sometimes unessential to the plot), sticks to me. We see in The Passion a scene where Jesus is putting together a table. Not surprising considering that by trade, Jesus was a carpenter. Mary, his mother, tells him that the table seems to be too tall. They banter a little bit and then Mary tells Jesus to take his apron off and wash up for a meal. He does this and while washing his hands, he splashes his mother, laughs about it with her and gives her a kiss. This scene sticks to me because it shows me and the audience at large a true look at Jesus two natures. We talk in confirmation, Sunday school and service about how Jesus is 100% God and 100% man. When thinking about the natures, most people tend to recognize the 100% man part by his birth, the fact that he eats and sleeps, and the fact that he suffers. Here though, we see a playful, grown Jesus playing with his mother the way I might or anyone else for that matter. He truly was 100% man, and he definitely loved his momma. =)
     However, this scene of joy lasts but a few minutes. Eventually we are taken to Golgatha and are exposed to the crucifixion. It's an emotional scene to say the least, and truly the movie could end right there. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was bruised for our transgressions and died for our sins. But it doesn't. *Spoiler alert. The movie ends in the tomb. We see Jesus alive, with holes in his hands. He stands up and walks.
     Tonight, many of us will make a decision whether or not to attend a Good Friday church service. It's a difficult service to go to. I know people that refuse to go because of how depressing and dark it is. Tonight is a dark night; tonight is the night our savior dies. Tonight is a night where at the foot of the cross you might cry. And that's appropriate. Good Friday service is essentially, in my mind, the funeral service for Jesus. But remember, we aren't Good Friday people; we are Easter people. We know that on Easter morning that the tomb will be empty, our Lord will be risen, and our sins will be paid for. Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior, the Lamb of God, the Bread of Life, the Light of the World, and the God of this City and all cities. Remember that tonight at the Cross. Greater things are yet to come this week.


Friday, April 7, 2017

Learning through illness

It's no secret that since the beginning of 2017, I've gotten very sick very often. I feel like I'm going down a list of illnesses and checking them off one by one. But being sick has actually taught me a few things.

1. Modern medicine is a gift. To be able to go to the doctor, get a prescription and start to feel on the mend within 48 hours is amazing. Though going to the doctor every few weeks really stacks up a bill.

2. If you aren't resting, you aren't recovering. I had to learn this lesson by force. My first round of illness I tried to come back to work sooner than I should have and against the advice of my mom, Mamaw, mentor and friends. Turns out this decision led me to relapse and get even sicker than I originally was. You're doing yourself no favors trying to recover without rest.

3. While your sick, use your time to get closer to Jesus. Jesus tells us in Matthew 11 "Come to me all who are weary and I will give you rest". Going back to number 2, Jesus tells us to come to him for rest. We also know from the Great Commission that "(Jesus) is always with you, to the end of the age". So use this time to learn about your Savior and why it matters that he doesn't leave us.

4. Things move on without you. Every time I have gotten sick, there has always been someone there to help out with the responsibilities I have. Whether it's as simple as my Mamaw running up some cupcakes to the church that you promised would be there, a member doing a children's message, an elder teaching confirmation on a last minute notice, or someone willing to meet and mingle with people on a Saturday morning with the YMCA, there has always been someone there to help out with the responsibilities I have. God has blessed me, and you, with people who will take care of you and your responsibilities.

5. You do bounce back. You might feel like there's no end in sight, but there is if you rest and follow your doctors instructions. But everyone bounces back at a different pace. When you wake up one morning and you feel like yourself again, give it one more day. Allow yourself to be 100% you without pushing yourself. It makes getting back to the grove of things much easier.

I hate being sick. There's nothing very enjoyable about running a fever and not feeling like myself. But I know that I'll get better. I always do with the help of medicine, rest, and God. If you're feeling sick today, I pray that this reaches you and that you find healing. As for me, I personally hope this is it for sickness circuit 2017.

Friday, March 31, 2017

April Newsletter

This is undoubtedly one of my favorite seasons in the church year. The journey
to the cross happened 2000 years ago and during the Lenten season we get to go on
that journey as an observer. Every service we attend is centered around the ministry
of Christ and what he’s doing day to day. It’s arguably the time of year that I feel most
close to Christ as my Lord and Savior.

Like every year though, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday must come. The
day our Lord is hung on the cross and tortured for hours and hours. Church services
on these days have always reminded me of a funeral service. Everyone is dressed in
black and there is little to no socializing like we get on typical Sunday mornings.
They’re very somber in tone and can even bring tears to my eyes. There’s joy with
these services as well though.

I will never forget the Maundy Thursday church service of my freshman year at
Concordia. I went to a church in Cedar Park with 2 of my friends. Since I didn’t have a
car of my own I asked my roommate, Mike, to drive. He as usual had no problems with
this. Service ended on the very quiet and somber note that it always does on this night
and we proceeded to the parking lot in silence along with the rest of the congregation
to leave. It was a particularly warm evening so we rolled the windows down. Out of
habit, Mike plugged his iPod into his car jack. The car automatically read the iPod
music and played the first song on shuffle; a very explicit song by Dr. Dre. The glares
that were shot our way were terrifying and neither Mike, Liz or myself could seem to
get the music to stop. Needless to say we were very embarrassed at the time. We left
the church parking lot as fast as we could and after we got about a mile away, Liz and I
turned to each other and just laughed harder than ever while getting a glare from Mike.

It’s an embarrassing story but I share it to share two points. The first is make
sure your radios are off and your windows are up before leaving church on Maundy
Thursday or Good Friday. The second point is the main point. This service was
somber in nature and left us feeling pretty down. But five minutes later we (mostly)
were able to laugh and share joy with each other. Seven years later my friends and I
can still laugh about this story. I don’t doubt for a second that this “accident” was a
message from Christ saying “have joy knowing that I am your savior and that I’m
coming back on Easter Sunday.” So remember that as Good Friday approaches.
It isn’t the end, it’s a joyous beginning. Laugh, celebrate, and praise Jesus in all you
do this Lenten Season.

With Love,

Nick Rittgers