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Discussions on being faithful with what God has given us

Pastor Dave Efflandt
Lead Pastor

Greetings everyone! I hope that you had a wonderful summer, and that this finds you well-rested and ready to make our way into the program year!

As the program year gets started, I’d like to personally invite you to be a part of an important conversation we are having here at St. John’s: a conversation about stewardship. Over the course of eight weeks, from September 8 – October 27, we will explore what scripture teaches us about being faithful stewards of everything in our lives. We will also welcome the words of Mark Allan Powell to partner with us on this journey, through his book Giving to God; The Bible’s Good News about Living a Generous Life. Discussions for this series will take place in the Fireside Room between services on Sunday morning and after worship on Wednesday evenings. Listed below are the dates and topics we will explore.

Each week during worship, we have invited a member of our congregation to share their stewardship story with us right before the offering. I am certain that we will be blessed by their stories and inspired by God’s faithfulness at work in their lives.
Come, join us as we dive deeply into what it means to be called as faithful stewards of all that God has given us.

Stewardship Discussion Schedule

Date Theme
Sun, Sept 8
Wed, Sept 11
Belonging to God
1 Corinthians 3:21-23
Sun, Sept 15
Wed, Sept 18
Stewardship as an Act of Worship
1 Chronicles 29:14
Sun, Sept 22
Wed, Sept 25
Stewardship as an Act of Faith
1 Corinthians 4:1
Sun, Sept 29
Wed, Oct 2
Stewardship as a Spiritual Discipline
Matthew 6:21
Sun, Oct 6
Wed, Oct 9
Stewardship as Faithful Living & Giving
Acts 20:35
Sun, Oct 13
Wed, Oct 16
Stewardship as Support & Sacrifice
2 Corinthians 9:7
Sun, Oct 20
Wed, Oct 23
Financial Stewardship: How Much is Enough?
Psalm 116:12
Sun, Oct 27
Wed, Oct 30
Make a Stewardship Pledge

Called to represent God in our world

Pastor Dave Efflandt
Lead Pastor

What passages from Scripture have the greatest influence on your walk of faith? One of my favorites is 2 Corinthians 5:13-20. It gets to the very essence of how we’re meant to see the world, and then, how we’re called to engage it. Really, it all comes down to an understanding of both who and whose we are: children of God.

So, who am I? The answer begins by remembering that I was created by God in His image, to care for this creation and everything in it. I was created to worship God, and Him alone. And yet, I am a descendant of Adam and Eve, and therefore, I am also a sinner. We all are. But then I read verse 14, and I’m reminded that God sent Jesus to die for us all; taking all our sin to the cross with him, dying with it on the cross, thereby mending our relationship with God. I am someone worthy of God’s love in Christ.

So, how is this supposed to help me live my life? The answer, though simple, isn’t the easiest thing to do. Paul says we’re to see in others the same need that we had for God’s grace; to recognize their worthiness of God’s grace. We’re to see ourselves in the other. I am someone worthy of God’s love, and so are you.

And, because we have received forgiveness and the reconciliation that it has worked in our relationship with God, we are to do our best to represent God to the world in the same way. We are to use this as a guide when it comes to all our relationships; especially the broken ones. We are called to be the bearers of this grace which brings reconciliation as a sign of God’s kingdom come near.

Exploring our faith together

Pastor Dave Efflandt
Lead Pastor

Greetings everyone! I hope this message finds you well, and that your summer is off to a great start!

Over the past month, I’ve been spending time with many of you at our table talk conversations, learning about you and your families, hearing some of your cherished stories about St. John’s, and also dreaming with you about what possibilities await our congregation out there in the future. It has been so uplifting to share this holy space with you, gathered in fellowship with God in our midst. (There are still more times available—sign up on the board in the Narthex, right inside the main doors.)

From those conversations, I’ve been reflecting a great deal on how we, as people of faith, navigate a world that often doesn’t provide us with easy decisions or clear answers. In short, I’ve been pondering how we remain faithful during times of doubt, fear, uncertainty, confusion, and grief. And what a better place to engage and explore those difficult questions than with each other, gathered together worship on Wednesday evenings. We will be utilizing the book series: Can I Ask That? from the Sticky Faith Curriculum to help us on our journey. Take a look at the subjects below, and come join us as often as you are able:

  • June 5: Can I Trust the Bible? Does the Bible Contradict Itself?
  • June 12: Does God Discriminate Against Women?
  • June 19: Can I be a Christian and Believe in Evolution?
  • June 26: VBS Family Fun Night
  • July 10: Is Jesus Really the Only Way to God?
  • July 17: Does God Test People in Their Faith?
  • July 24: Does God Endorse Violence?
  • July 31: How Can I Follow a God Who Would Let Christians Do Such Bad Things?
  • August 7: Is it Wrong to Doubt God?
  • August 14: Is Hell Real? How Could God Send Someone There?
  • August 21: Can I Do Something So Bad God Won’t Forgive Me?
  • August 28: Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?
  • September 4: Is Sex Outside Marriage Wrong?

May God continue to bless your walk of faith, encouraging you to ask the difficult questions, to be comfortable with the uncertainty, and courageous as you face the mysteries of life. Amen.

Let’s build on our ministry together

Pastor Dave Efflandt
Lead Pastor

Christ is Risen!
He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!

We have gathered together as Church under this truth since the beginning, celebrating what God has done for us in Christ, overcoming death and the grave, working forgiveness and life for us all.

And, it’s this very truth that drives us out into the world; sent forth by Jesus to let the world know what God is up to in this place, as we love others as we have been loved first.

And you know what the funny thing is? Every individual church throughout the world expresses this love in so many ways, and that’s what I’d like to let you know about this month, as we continue making our way forward in ministry together.

Here are a couple of ways that you can be a part of things in the months ahead:

Table Talks.

I’ve gotten to know a small group of folks here in my first couple of months, but what I’d really like to do is to get to know this congregation and so many more of you in the months ahead. So, I’m opening up the calendar for you to come in, spend an hour or so with me, thinking about your own gifts for ministry, sharing your thoughts and experiences about our church, and introducing yourself and your family. You can sign up in the Welcome Center. We have morning, afternoon, and evening times available, as well as couple of Sunday morning times after fellowship, so hopefully you can find a time that works for you.

Welcoming New Members.

Whether you’re brand new, or you’ve been here for a while but just haven’t made it official, please come and let us welcome you into our fellowship here at St. John’s. Here are the dates:

  • New member “class”: Sunday, May 5, at 11:30 am in the Fireside Room. Lunch will be served
  • New members received: Wednesday worship on May 8, at 6:30 pm and Sunday worship on May 12 at both services

I am looking forward to getting to know you even better over the next couple of months. Please continue to pray for God to encourage you to use your gifts in the life and ministries of our church, and to be good stewards of all that God has given you. See you soon!

God’s love is for everyone to experience and share

Pastor David Efflandt

Each year in Lent, I am thankful for the opportunity to think deeply about my relationships, both with others and with God. This year I am finding myself keenly aware of this: all of us need to experience the nearness of God. When I look out at the landscape of my own relationships, I can see those mountaintops and valleys of my faith journey, where I have felt very close to or very far from God’s presence. I have often felt closest to God through the love shared by friends or family, or in worship. It is ironic, though, that through the words and deeds of these same people, I have also experienced what felt at the time like the complete and total absence of God.

This leads to what is a difficult reality to encounter: our relationships are not perfect because we too are not perfect. No matter how hard we try, we cannot live or speak perfectly in our lives of faith. Nobody can. And yet, even as we come face to face with this truth, we are also welcomed into the full knowledge of who we truly are: while we are indeed broken people, we are also people who have been made whole through the love of God in Christ. All of us.

How might this help us in our relationship between God and others? Plant this truth deeply in your hearts: there is nothing in this world that can stop God from loving you. Nothing. Let it blossom into a harvest of God’s faithfulness in your words and deeds. Remember God’s patience, kindness, compassion, and steadfast love given without strings attached, and give it away in the exact same way in all your relationships. In this way, you will help others experience the nearness of God.

Foundations of faith

Pastor Dave Efflandt
Lead Pastor

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. (1Cor 3:10-11, NRSV)

Grace and peace to you all! I am so excited to finally be here with you, to accompany you on this sacred path of faith, to encourage you through the proclamation of the Gospel, to provide leadership, to extend God’s peace, but most importantly, to be a fellow sojourner along the way, partnering together for ministry.

You know, this passage from Paul is fitting as we find ourselves together here, at the beginning of our time together. Paul encourages us to gives thanks for the pastoral leaders that you’ve had in the past, for their proclamation of the Gospel, and for the leading of the Holy Spirit through the mission and ministries of this church in the past. And, Paul wants us to remember that we take this precious treasure that is our faith, and do our best to nurture and care for it during our lives. Then, we find ourselves doing what our parents and grandparents have done for us: we hand this treasure along to them, and help nourish their faith as well. We take what was handed on to us, care for and build upon it the best we can, and hand it on. That is the way of the faith. It was never meant to be kept solely for ourselves. This faith has, and always will be, meant to be shared with the world.

And so, let’s step out together with this precious treasure. Let’s get out there into the community, sharing the good news of God’s love for it, and for the whole world. Let’s do our best to plant the seeds of God’s faithfulness in our homes, in our schools, in our communities, and yes, even in the places where we work. Let’s scatter the Word of God far and wide, and show the world that God is up to something amazing here in our community of faith.

God’s peace and courage to you as you do your best to take the faith handed on to you, share it with the world, and watch as God goes to work in and through you.

Thanks be to God.

Committing to God in the New Year

Pastor Nirmala Reinschmidt
Interim Pastor

“I never make New Year’s Resolutions, anymore,” the man told me, “I never keep them, anyway.” I can remember all too many resolutions I’ve made and let slip away, too. But I believer New Year’s resolutions are worth making. Let me tell you why.

First, we all need changes. Some we find very hard to admit to ourselves. I’ve heard people say, “I have no regrets about my life, if I had it to do over, I’d do it the same way again.” But that attitude is way too blind and self-serving so far as I’m concerned. There is great power in confession-to ourselves, to God, to others. Owning up to our failures is the first, painful step on the road to something better.

Second, when we change calendars is a good time for assessment. How did last year go? What do I want to do differently this year? This time of year always reminds of a passage of Scripture, better understood by farmers than suburbanites: “Break up your unplowed ground, and do not sow among thorns” (Jeremiah 4:3). It makes sense. The more land you put into production, the more prosperous you’ll be.

Let me as ask you a question. What percentage of your life is producing something of value to God? How much “unplowed ground” do you have that ought to be broken up in this coming year and made useful? Reassessment. The brink of a new year is a good time for reassessment.

Third, New Year’s is an excellent time for mid-course corrections. Sure, we might fail in what we set out to do, but if we fail to plan, the old saw goes, then we plan to fail. One of my favorite characters in the Bible is Apostle Paul. Talk about failure! Throughout his life he was opposed, persecuted, shipwrecked, and stoned. Sometimes it seemed that projects to which he had devoted years were turning to dust before his eyes. But during his time in prison, he wrote” Forgetting what is behind, and straining toward what is ahead, I press toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). No wonder he made a mark on his world. He stopped looking back and looked forward instead. He didn’t let the fear of failure keep him from trying again.

Fourth, New Year’s is a time to learn to rely more heavily on the grace of God. Now I’ve met a few self-made men and women and so have you, but so often these people seem proud and driven. There is another way: beginning to trust in God’s help. One more lesson from the Apostle Paul: “I can do all things through God who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13)

If this last year, you didn’t practice relying on the Lord as much as you should have, there is no time like the present to make a New Year’s resolution. In fact, why don’t you say a short prayer right now-use these words if you like. “Dear God, I want the new year to be different for me.” Now spell out in prayer some of the changes you’d like to see. And close this way: “Lord Jesus, I know that I’m going to need a lot of help for this. So right now, I place myself in your hands. Help me to receive your strength. Amen”

I encourage you to commit your life to Jesus and make Him as your Lord who is willing to guide and direct your life. Please continue to Worship and Serve Him with your gifts and talents. I extend my heartfelt thanks for supporting the mission of St. John’s Lutheran Church.

Have a Blessed New Year!
Pastor Nirmala Reinschmidt

Waiting…

Pastor John Allen
Interim Pastor

‘O that I might have my request,
and that God would grant my desire; 
that it would please God to crush me,
that he would let loose his hand and cut me off! 
This would be my consolation;
I would even exult* in unrelenting pain;
for I have not denied the words of the Holy One.
What is my strength, that I should wait?
And what is my end, that I should be patient? 
Is my strength the strength of stones,
or is my flesh bronze? 
In truth I have no help in me,
and any resource is driven from me.
–Job 6:8-13

There’s old expression about “the patience of Job,” as in, “She must have the patience of Job to live with that old goat!” In the verses above, Job isn’t showing much patience, and I can understand why. Job was righteous and without fault in his trials, yet everything worth clinging to in life was taken from him. He is in grief, sorrow, and unrelenting pain—yet his greatest challenge is waiting on God, who seems to be absent and uncaring. He would rather that God would “crush” him than endure this waiting.

Don’t most of us find waiting to be hard? Whether it is for the birth of a child, the arrival medical test results, the grade on a final exam, the coming of spring, or the removal of stitches; waiting is harder than most other things. Even when what is expected is a bad thing, we’re likely to say, “Let’s just get it over with.”

The season of Advent is a practice of the discipline of waiting, watching and praying. A discipline is a hard thing, from which we gain growth. During Advent, we intentionally wait and practice being still. Christmas can wait, spring can wait—there will be times to break out the trumpets and open all stops on the organ, but let’s leave time to rediscover the exhilaration of expectation. We proclaim in the past, present, and future tense, “Christ was born, Christ is risen, Christ will come again!” Like a dog sitting with a Milk Bone on its nose, waiting is hard, but it’s good training, too.

Have a Blessed Advent Season.

Cheerful Givers

Pastor Nirmala Reinschmidt
Interim Pastor

“Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful givers.” (2 Corinthians 9:7)

There are three types of givers: the flint, the sponge, and the honeycomb. To get anything out of the flint, you have to hammer it. Then you only get chips and sparks. To get water out of the sponge, you have to squeeze it. The more you squeeze, the more you get. But the honeycomb simply overflows with sweetness.

When a person understands what God has done for them, you don’t have to prime them to give and you don’t need ten requests. They understand that He is a great God. In fact, at offering time, we ought to jump to our feet and applaud that we are here to give, have something to give, and have been blessed to have strength enough to work that we might be able to give. We ought to just applaud the privilege of giving.

Apostle Paul talks about the Macedonian Christians who are cheerful givers. Their hearts are filled with thankfulness to God. So they share their blessings with Paul to do his mission. Apostle Paul was so proud of them. We pastors at St. John’s are proud of you too. You are like honeycombs. You share your time, talents, and treasures generously to support the mission at Christ Lutheran.

As you consider your future giving to St. John’s, please prayerfully consider to increase your giving as well sharing your time and talents to support the mission of St. John’s Lutheran church

Thanks again for your generosity!

Priorities for our future

Pastor John Allen

Interim Pastor

Most or all of you know that we are in the final stage of a transition period we started two Christmases ago. Your Call Committee is conducting interviews to identify a solid candidate to call as your next Lead Pastor.

This is a good time to review some very powerful work your Transition Team produced and published. This work is not meant to be relegated to the scraps of history, but, much like a catechism, it is meant to be used over and over again to guide and coordinate all of the work of the St. John’s congregation.

Here are the most enduring four answers to six critical questions pondered long and hard by the Transition Team. The answers are very specific to St. John’s. As you do the work of commissions, council, or the general work of individual members, please read and re-read these carefully to guide your thought and work. With God’s blessing, they will work to unite this ministry and define it for years to come.

Why do we exist? Living in God’s grace, St. John’s Lutheran Church is an inclusive community worshiping together, growing in faith, serving others, and living as witnesses of Jesus Christ.

How do we behave? We reflect God’s love in our actions and decision-making by: Providing hospitality; Embracing each individual’s faith journey; Modeling forgiveness and; Committing to a life of devotion and service.

What do we do? We provide worship, service, fellowship, and faith formation opportunities for the members of our congregation, community and the world.

How will we succeed? We will succeed by Investing in and empowering people to lead and serve; by offering unique and innovative forms of worship, fellowship, service and education; by fostering intergenerational faith relationships; by connecting with the greater community in visible ways; by communicating clearly and consistently using all media types; by teaching and modeling generous giving to remain financially viable and; by being intentional in our evangelism.

True disciples

Pastor Nirmala Reinschmidt
Interim Pastor

Our western idea of faith as cushioned pews and convenient sacrifice flies right in the face of what Jesus called us to. It’s in Luke 9:23-24: “Then He said to them all, ‘If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.’” To which you can almost hear someone saying, “In that case, I think I’d rather run my own life. It sounds like there’s too much to lose in following Jesus.” Well, you need to listen to Jesus’ startling equation, “For whoever wants to save His life (or hang onto his life) will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” Hang onto your life, you lose it. Give it away and you find it.

Maybe you’ve tried to discount Christianity. It’s very popular. Of course its only a pale shadow of the disciple Christianity Jesus calls us to. You go to the meetings, you believe the beliefs, you give in the offerings, you sometimes read your Bible, and you pray. But it’s a surface commitment, a commitment that still leaves you in control. My guess is that discount Christianity has left you unfulfilled and unsatisfied. It can’t satisfy you. You were made to be abandoned to Jesus, taking up a cross, making choices that might cost you, building His Kingdom instead of yours, and accepting assignments from Him that go way beyond your comfort zone.

And as for “the honor and the rewards?” Jesus said that no one who sacrificed for His great adventure” will fail to receive a hundred times as much in the present age…and in the age to come, eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30). You can’t out-give Jesus. True Christianity is expensive but it’s ultimately fulfilling and rewarding.

Jesus asks you to take your commitment to Him at a whole new level. And you can be sure the cost of not following Him is far greater than the cost of following Him. He’s waiting for your answer to His invitation. By God’s grace, your answer will be, “Jesus, I will cheerfully join you and I will partake of the dangers, difficulties, and fatigues. I anticipate the honor and the rewards.

As we are beginning a new fall season, let us encourage each other to worship regularly, pray daily, give generously, and to serve others to show our love for God and for others. There are many opportunities here at St. John’s to help you to make that commitment.

Please keep our call committee in your prayer as they are discerning to call our new senior pastor.

The Cross Symbolizes a Cosmic as Well as Historic Truth

Pastor John Allen
Interim Pastor

The cross symbolizes a cosmic as well as historic truth. Love conquers the world, but its victory is not an easy one.
— Reinhold Niebuhr, 100 Days of Prayer

This year, in worship, we are reading mostly from the Gospel of Mark. If there is one central theme and truth expressed it that book, it is the one stated so well above. Early in the Gospel, Jesus seems to command everything. He heals the sick, casts out demons, commands the seas to be still and the storm to end, and confounds his enemies. He even raises the dead, as in the story of Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:41-42).
The story only gets complicated, it seems, when Jesus comes face to face with human pride, greed, hatred, and unbelief. The old saying, “Familiarity breeds contempt,” seems to be born out when Jesus came to his home town of Nazareth, and the people “took offense at him” (6:5). “And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief” (6:5-6).

Jeremiah (5:21) prophesied, “Hear now this, O foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes, and see not; which have ears, and hear not.” That thought was repeated in 1738 by Jonathan Swift in his Polite Conversation: “There are none so blind as those who will not see.”

The one who came as the Word of God, and with a word commanded all the forces of nature, seemed to have met his match in human sin. That victory could not be easily won. It would take a cross. It should be no surprise that our work of sharing the Gospel in a busy and conflicted world will not be an easy one. It will take nothing less than a cross.

Praying Together

Pastor Nirmala Reinschmidt
Interim Pastor

What is the distinguishing mark of the Christian church?

PRAYER

Throughout redemptive history, corporate prayer has been a primary focus of God’s people. Former ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson once commented that “A praying church is a growing church.” I am convinced of that truth throughout my ministry.

We must be praying people, first, because we know that our only help in the name of the Lord. It is the Lord who builds the house and watches over the city, who gives success to the church’s mission. In praying together, we admit that we are helpless. In prayer, we ask God to do the awakening, regenerating, maturing, and gifting that only He can do.

Secondly, when we pray together, we testify and remind one another that our hope comes from somewhere else entirely. We are not wringing our hands, desperate for human solutions.

Thirdly, when we pray together we grow in love for one another. Each person who is united to Christ, everyone who loves Him and is loved by Him, is also bound together with us in love.

I write this article to remind ourselves of the power of Corporate Prayer. It is a critical time in the life and the mission of St. John’s Lutheran Church. We have formed a call committee to choose our Senior Pastor.

We need to come together in Prayer seeking wisdom and discernment in selecting our new shepherd.

I am available on Mondays at 10:00 am to lead a prayer group. We gather just to pray. All are welcome!

Can luxury distract us?

Pastor John Allen
Interim Pastor

Apsley Cherry-Garrard was an English gentleman who was, as they say, born with a silver spoon in his mouth. In 1907, he inherited his father’s large estate. Though he knew luxury, he had always been thrilled, hearing of his father’s achievements in India and China, fighting with the British Defense Forces.

At the age of twenty-four ‘Cherry’ applied to join Robert Falcon Scott’s Terra Nova expedition to Antarctica, hopefully, to the South Pole (1910-1913). His first application was rejected. Scott felt he had nothing to add to the expedition. He would be a detriment and a danger to himself and the entire expedition. He applied a second time and offered to pay one thousand pounds. He was turned down again but gave the money anyway. Scott was impressed with this unselfish act, and a close comrade persuaded him to allow Cherry to sign on as assistant zoologist. This man who had only known luxury was in for the experience of a life-time, and the most torturous battle between life and death imaginable.

For two years the men endured temperatures as low as -77°F in winter. In one event Cherry’s teeth chattered so hard that he shattered most of them. The men were frost-bitten and on the verge of death several times. Scott and four of his men, with the support of the others, did reach the South Pole, but tragically died on the return trip. Yet Cherry remembered those days as some of the best in his life. He wrote in his memoirs:

Those Hut Point days, would prove some of the happiest of my life. Just enough to eat and keep warm, no more – no frills or trimmings: there is many a worse and more elaborate life…the luxuries of civilization satisfy only those wants which they themselves create.” 
–The Worst Journey in the World

That final phrase has stayed with me – what a profound saying! Is it true that luxuries we live with can be a liability, blinding us to the joys of a simpler life? My own trip to Antarctica and the South Pole, taught me that I could live comfortably for months with less than seventy pounds of luggage, including winter survival gear. I’ve traveled lighter ever since.

St. Paul teaches:

…I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.
— Philippians 3.8

Blessing

Pastor Nirmala Reinschmidt
Interim Pastor

Each Sunday, at the conclusion of our worship, I stand before the people, extend my hands, and speak a blessing over them. If I were ever to stop being a pastor, this may be what I would miss most.

In biblical terms, to bless is to declare God’s truth into someone’s life and to announce God as the gracious, sovereign Lord who intends to flood His children with goodness and joy. When we pronounce a blessing, we serve as witness to the truth that God’s generosity and power has not been extinguished. Regardless of the difficulties we face or the despair we know, God’s tenacious love will have the final word.

In the sermon on the mount, the Lord speaks blessings that reflect the subversive reality of God’s kingdom. Blessed are the poor in spirit, says Jesus. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the meek and the hungry (see Matthew 5). With these strange words, Jesus makes a prophetic announcement declaring who is included in the blessing of God’s kingdom. Again and again, He affirms that blessings come to us not because of our ingenuity or effort but because God is kind and always working for our good.

Because we belong to the Lord who blesses, we live as a people who bless. In our corners of the world, we announce—and live as instruments of—His blessing. Whenever we bless others in Jesus’ name, we join God’s healing and restoration. We participate in His intentions to bless the world.

May the Lord help us to become people of blessing!