Last week, I wrote about the devastation of Hurricane Harvey as it took aim at the Gulf Coast, not once, but twice. Now, as I write, Hurricane Irma is bearing down on Haiti, following a demolishing blow to islands in the Caribbean. Irma is projected to lash Florida, this weekend, and then possibly crawl up the coast with more relentless destruction. Residents on islands and the mainland are scurrying for higher ground – or at least property that is at a safer distance from the shore – unsure of what this category 5 storm is going to do. They are bracing for the worst.
On the other coast, massive wildfires are burning from California to Montana, now consuming over 1.5 million acres of precious forestland. 800,000 immigrants, who came here as undocumented children, are trying to figure out what the recently rescinded “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” (DACA) protections means for their future.
Across the globe, massive floods have impacted 16 million in South Asia, not to mention escalating wars, food insecurity, and the plethora of other natural and man-made disasters that bring daily despair.
So often, we are overwhelmed by the need. We want to help. We want to give. We want to share. We want to make a difference, but we feel ill-equipped for the struggle and destruction around us.
Romans reminds us that we can make a difference. Filled with the power of the living God, we step forward trusting that the Holy Spirit will empower and guide us for loving and serving our neighbor. “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers” (Romans 12:9-13).
You may have heard of Jim McIngvale, known as Mattress Mack to many in the Houston area. He wanted to make a difference for those suffering in his community, so he did the only thing that made sense to him. As the owner of a large furniture store, he opened his doors to anyone in need. Warm beds, hot meals, and compassionate conversations brought hope to hurting people in his corner of the world. Watch his story here: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/houston-businessman-jim-mcingvale-opens-furniture-stores-to-evacuees/.
This weekend, God calls us to serve, too. After refueling and reconnecting in worship, we’ll head out into our communities to serve. We’ll be showering the West Chester Police Department and West Chester Fire Stations with food, posters, cards, and affection, helping with outdoors projects at Union Elementary, and setting up for the Family Promise homeless shelter and preparing a delicious lunch for the entire crew. Pick a project and sign-up if you want or just show up ready to serve on Sunday. We are collecting restaurant gift cards, snacks, and drinks to fill the baskets for the police and fire departments of West Chester.
There is much destruction and sorrow in the world, but there is also one Jesus Christ who brings hope to the hopeless, light into the dark, and life from death.
Called to serve!
If you are looking for a way to contribute to the relief efforts for Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, or other natural disasters around the world, Lutheran Disaster Response is one of the best organizations around. “Lutheran Disaster Response brings God’s hope, healing and renewal to people whose lives have been disrupted by disasters in the United States and around the world. When the dust settles and the headlines change, we stay to provide ongoing assistance to those in need.” You can find donation and volunteer opportunities here:
Thrivent will match up to $3 million in personal donations made online through Thrivent.com to specific disaster relief organizations (including Lutheran Disaster Response) responding to Hurricane Harvey.
As I write, Hurricane Harvey is coming back to shore to thrash the Gulf Coast, once again. After dumping record amounts of rain over the last week, Harvey swirled back out into the Gulf of Mexico to refuel for a Round 2 beating on the Texas and Louisiana coastal cities. Many are predicting that rain totals may reach at least 50 inches by the end of the week.
The Houston Chronicle states that there have been as many as 13 million people affected in over 50 counties, with 13,000 water rescues, and 31 deaths, including a police officer in his cruiser and a family of six in a van. 10,000 people are sheltering at the convention center, while 274,000 are without electricity. 14,000 Texas National Guard troops have been deployed with another 24,000 in the queue for next week. (www.chron.com August 30). These numbers are staggering and we have no idea what the level of need will be after the waters recede, other than the recovery will be massive and will extend for years.
A Lutheran pastor in Indiana posted a reflection earlier this week:
“My daughter came downstairs for breakfast, saw the pictures of Houston on TV, and said – without hesitation – ‘We have work to do.’ It took me a minute to realize she was talking about the ELCA Youth Gathering, and the recovery work we'll contribute to next June.
I am proud of her for not asking, ‘Oh, shoot, how will this affect me and my friends having a good time?’ but instead for instantly seeing her calling in the midst of this tragedy. And, this makes me realize even more how important these experiences are for our youth.”
It is no accident that 30,000 teens - yes, you read that number correctly – will be descending on the greater Houston area in June 2018. Who could have imagined, when the initial planning began for this gathering of Lutheran High School students more than four years ago, that Houston would be ground zero for this devastation?
A friend of mine lives on the banks of the Ohio River. Their home was built to include flood vents, confident that rising waters will sometime threaten their property and home. These vents allow water to flow in and through the house in the hopes of reducing structural damage from flooding.
This can be a powerful image for us as people of faith who often find our identities in the waters of baptism. We speak of dying and rising, washing away sin and rebirth, cleansing and renewal, but we also recognize that God’s love and generosity flows in and through our lives. As we pray for and stand with the people of the Gulf Coast, may we remember that God calls us to love and serve our neighbor.
Here we go!
If you are looking for a way to contribute to the relief efforts for Hurricane Harvey or other natural disasters around the world, Lutheran Disaster Response is one of the best organizations around, with a rating of 93 out of 100 on Charity Navigator. You can find donation and volunteer opportunities here:
What a weekend! This past Friday, Saturday, and Sunday were loaded with congregational goodness and you were part of it!
Friday night, busy teens took time out of their late-August days for a Sr. High Lock-in. Twenty of us spent the night playing wacky games, studying the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12), worshipping around the campfire, and snacking and munching our way through the night. What an excellent way to kick off the Fall!
Saturday morning brought set-up crews for Summerfest and the continuing work of preparing the Preschool classrooms that will soon be bustling with children and their families – 104 kids at last count are signed up for the 2017-2018 school year! Wow!
When Sunday came around, we gathered for one celebratory worship together with our seminarian Corey Wagonfield, who shared snacks with everyone during the Children’s message preached. Little Annabelle Potter had a bundle of family to surround her for her baptism and welcome her as a child of God.
Following worship, we shared a massive potluck of BBQ pork (thanks to Phil Panning and John Morrell for providing the meat), macaroni and cheese, side dishes, salads, and sweet treats, before enjoying an afternoon of field games and bingo, colorful face painting, target practice with the dunk tank, and creativity at the tie dye table.
Big thanks to all who planned, set up, cleaned up, led, and participated in any of these events. You can view photos from these events on our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/LordofLifeWestChester) and in our upcoming printed Lifeline newsletter.
Our theme for this year of worship, learning, and serving moments is “God Blesses the World through Lord of Life.” We are blessed when God meets us in times of worship, education, and fellowship. God uses us to be a blessing as we are sent into our neighborhoods for living, school, work, recreation, and service. Our dollars and other gifts are a blessing as God uses them to impact churches and communities around the globe.
We want to hear your stories. Tell us how you’ve seen this in your life or the lives of others. How have you witnessed God blessing the world through Lord of Life?
“Blessings in the Bug.”
For the next month, a 1974 yellow VW Bug will be our mobile recording studio, ready to capture your reflections.
It’s as easy as 1,2,3:
1. Think of a Blessing.
“How have you been blessed by Lord of Life?”
“How have you seen Lord of Life be a blessing?”
2. Climb in the VW Bug.
3. Record your blessing.
You can also record elsewhere and send it to us.
Psalm 71:15 says, “I will tell of your goodness; all day long I will speak of your salvation, though it is more than I can understand.” Thanks for helping us name and celebrate how “God Blesses the World through Lord of Life.” We’ll let you know in the coming weeks how we’ll share these encouraging stories of faith and hope.
Wishing you peace.
Last week, I attended the inaugural ELCA Rostered Minister’s Gathering in Atlanta, where 900 pastors and deacons assembled for a week of worship, lectures, workshops, service projects, and fellowship. There were congregational leaders, military, hospital, and prison chaplains, campus pastors and seminary professors, and interim and retired ministers, as well as regional and churchwide staff. The event was promoted as a time to be encouraged, challenged, and renewed as leaders in the church, and did not disappoint.
Each day, I had opportunities to reconnect with friends from around the country and meet new friends and colleagues as we shared the joys and struggles of ministry. Bible study leaders led us into the rich story of Jesus meeting the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24), with comparisons to this chaotic season filled with death and resurrection moments. Our own Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton confronted the rumors that Christianity is dying, with a bold response, “The Church of Jesus Christ is not dying, but changing!” She continued by sharing stories of how God is using people, congregations, and ministry organizations in new and creative ways to share hope with the world. God is doing a new thing! (Isaiah 43:19).
There were many good moments of challenge, too. Presiding Bishop Eaton, in her opening remarks, reminded us, that ministry can be overwhelming and we can lose focus. “As leaders, you need to love Jesus because Jesus loves you... then, you need to love your people!”
Rev. Ronald Bonner, in his workshop Racism and the Church: No Bigotry Allowed, argued, “If you can fix the heart, you can fix the other part... Racism will end when white people stop accepting racism as normative.” As we spoke candidly about our own biases and histories, none of us could have imagined the events that would unfold in Charlottesville by the end of the week.
Rev. Dr. James Forbes, Jr., Senior Pastor of Riverside Baptist Church and professor at Union Theological Seminary (both in New York City), preached on Romans 12, saying, “the invitation to offer our lives as living sacrifices is not a graveyard death, but an invitation to die to our priorities, die to our selfish agendas, die to our fear, and say ‘My life is in your hands, Lord.’”
Just before we went on our separate directions, popular speaker and writer, Rachel Held Evans, spoke pointedly about the ways we beat ourselves up as people of faith for not being and doing enough for the sake of Christ. She said, “Our insufficiencies are the point. Death is something empires worry about, not resurrection people. We need to let [things] die! We win with surrender. We have a God who knows the way out of the grave.” Although Easter is a long way off, promises of resurrection fuel us, today.
I was also renewed by being part of the musical team for worship and other events throughout the week.
Thank you for valuing continuing education and professional development. This gathering was a tremendous boost. The introductory words proclaimed, “We are a church that believes God is calling us into the world – together. Together, we can achieve things on a scale and scope we could never do otherwise. As we continue to deepen our ecumenical partnerships, confront racism and boldly respond to the needs of the world, this gathering provides the opportunity for leaders to gather and explore what God has in store for us.”
Always being renewed,
For more about this event and to view a photo gallery, https://www.livinglutheran.org/2017/08/25087/
Smack! The door slammed shut in front of me. I may have been a few feet from entering the classroom, but when the bell rang, the teacher shut the door – even if all the students were not in their seats. It was a daunting and embarrassing walk to my seat after the door was closed. With my shoulders slouched and my head down the teacher would shout, “90 percent of life is just showing-up!” Although this trademark saying was meant to teach a lesson about the importance of being on time, it turned out to be an important life lesson that I continue to carry with me.
When traumatic and life-changing events occur in our lives, and our heart aches, often all we need is someone to walk alongside us. As a Christian community, we are not meant to bear our burdens alone. Recently, Ava Fiebig and I attended a week-long training event focusing on Stephen Ministry. This is some of what we learned:
What is Stephen Ministry?
Stephen Ministry equips people to provide confidential, one-to-one Christian care to individuals in their congregation and community who are experiencing difficulties in their lives.
Who is a Stephen Minister?
A Stephen Minister is any caring congregation member who feels called to serve in this role. Once called, Stephen Ministers receive 50 hours of training in providing emotional and spiritual care. As our community continues to grow, the need for active listeners also continues to grow. Stephen Ministers care, listen, encourage, and pray for those in need.
Who would benefit from a Stephen Minister?
Almost anyone can benefit from having someone present to listen to what is on their heart. Grief, divorce, illness, job loss, loss of a home, military deployment, loneliness, and spiritual crisis, are a few examples of life struggles that a Stephen Minister can walk alongside you through.
This past week, I was reminded of the importance of presence and how simply showing-up is vital to our calling to help one another in difficult times. As you are enjoying the last days of summer, I urge all of you to take the opportunity to be present, especially with those around you who are struggling. If you feel called to share your skill for listening, please join me for an informational meeting about becoming a Stephen Minister at Lord of Life this Sunday, August 13, in the Fellowship Hall following 9:30 worship.
With Christ's Presence,
What does church music look like to you? As Lutherans, we embrace a rich tapestry of styles and textures from traditional hymns to praise songs; from chants to global rhythms. We lift up the gifts of those who wish to offer them. Some days, that might look like piano, drums and singers. Other days we might hear guitar and violin. Every day, everyone assembled is invited to sing along to lift up our message and praise.
This year, as some of the threads of our musical brocade come out, what threads will we weave in to replace them? What musical gifts do you have to offer? Could you play your clarinet once in a while?
I’d especially like to work on special music offerings, as we build up to our 500-year Reformation celebration in October.
The blazing summer sun, knee-high cotton socks, shouting rhymes for the sake of annoyance, these are the days I remember standing in far right field waiting for a baseball to roll passed a few defenders and into my glove. On a good day, I might have gotten to field the ball once or twice a game, that is, when I wasn’t distracted by picking dandelions in the outfield.
Finally, it was my turn to bat! Marching up to home-plate was where all the action was! Although I loved the rare feeling of hitting a homerun, my swing was never all that good. Instead, I was known on the team as the speedster, the one that could make it to first base in the blink of an eye. So, nearly every time I went up to bat, no matter the situation, I went for the bunt. Needless to say, Billy Hamilton is my favorite Redleg! Bunting was my gift. Most often, my team didn’t need me to bunt, but it gave me a sense of identity and purpose. In fact, using my gift of bunting, especially when the team didn’t need it, was when I thrived the most. It was incredibly freeing to bunt when the pressure of succeeding wasn’t on the line.
Much like any team, it is easy for any church to slip into a needs-based mindset for ministry. There are always vacancies that need to be filled and duties that need to be done. As we look toward restarting many of our ministries at Lord of Life for another meaningful year, we can become overly focused on what is needed. Certainly, the church needs volunteers, teachers, musicians, Ministry Area Coordinators (MACs), Stephen Ministers, communion assistants, council members, tutors, worship leaders, organizers, choir members, Family Promise hosts, gardeners, visionaries, cooks, acolytes, and ushers; but God invites us see things a bit differently. Rather than need, God calls us by our gifts.
The apostle Paul reminds us that “there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit” (1 Cor 12:4). This is the same Spirit that will sustain the church until the end of time. As opportunities to serve begin to increase, you are encouraged to live into your gifts; whether that is bunting, swinging for the fences, or strategically waiting for the right pitch. Now is the perfect time to get involved and dive-into wherever your gifts are calling you to serve.
When it was my turn up to bunt there was no anxiety or pressure to get on base. Bunting brought joy to the game. So too, you can rest assured that God will care for the church. God will provide the church with exactly what it needs. Our mission is to live into the gifts God has given us, to rally around those gifts, and to lift one another up because of the gifts we offer. Serving where we are led by the Spirit is what brings joy and abundant life. Whether you are up to bat, in the outfield, on the mound, in the dugout, or managing the equipment, you are an important part of the team. You play an invaluable role in the Body of Christ!
With a Serving Spirit,
Intern Lucas McSurley
“Mom, I think I have a problem with alcohol.” That was ten years ago. Those life-changing words confirmed why our family had been thrown into a condition of insanity and hopelessness. Our first-born child had become a victim of a disease over which we, as parents, had absolutely no control.
Our journey of faith and hope crystallized one October night at the Al-Anon meeting in the library at Lord of Life and our daughter’s miracle of sobriety began seven years ago at AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) in the fellowship hall. Al-Anon is a gathering where friends and families of problem drinkers find understanding and support. Alcoholics Anonymous is an international fellowship of men and women who want to do something about their drinking problem. This past Sunday, our daughter and her husband celebrated their first wedding anniversary! God is good! I shared that miracle with Pastor Lowell as I left church and it hung on his heart. He wondered if I’d share a bit of my journey of faith at LOL – “Why Lord of Life?”
I struggled with my faith through my teen years. Life and family circumstances sometimes made it difficult to trust that God loved me. I “walked away” from God and the church where I’d been baptized and confirmed in my teens after my dad took his own life due to depression aggravated by tinnitus. “How could the God my parents and I worshipped, trusted, and loved become so heartless?”
I subsequently played the devil’s advocate throughout much of my late teens and early twenties, arguing against God and his love. God stayed with me, despite my chosen estrangement from him.
You’ve heard the phrase before. This three-word admonition is shared as soothing balm following a tense or difficult moment, but often has the opposite effect. Rather than offering comfort, it stirs up irritation. When my car has run out of gas, when I have bounced a check, or missed an important appointment, please don’t demean me by suggesting that out of the trials of unpredictable or irresponsible living there may come a nugget of wisdom. “Live and learn” often lands on our ears as a reprimand of sorts with a silver lining.
But what if we hear it as something else? What if we embrace living and learning as a declaration of a vibrant Christian life? It isn’t an admonition, but a sustained promise of who and how we hope to be.
We live and learn when we pause to listen to the joys and sorrows of a child.
We live and learn when we look for the lonely and isolated.
We live and learn when we engage in Bible reading and study with others.
We live and learn when we meet one another in worship moments.
We live and learn when we serve our neighbors in need.
We live and learn when we wrestle with complicated issues of race and culture.
We live and learn when we respond with gratitude.
We can’t help but live and learn as people of faith. It is who we were created to be.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Deuteronomy 6:4-9
From the earliest pages of Scripture, God’s people were instructed to put their faith into action, as a way of sharing God’s goodness with the world. “Listen, obey, talk, and write. At home and beyond, love God with your whole being.” Ours is not a stagnant faith, but one that is always growing as we live and learn the ways of Christ.
Lord of Life takes this command seriously by making life-long learning a priority. That’s right. Preschool kids, children, youth, teenagers, college students, newlyweds, mid-lifers, retired folks, and centenarians are all active learners at Lord of Life.
As you begin to fill your calendar with Fall activities, I encourage you to make room to continue living and learning in the faith. Consider stepping into a teaching role with Sunday School. Be a mentor with our teens. Plug into a Bible study. Pray for all in need. Commit to being generous with your finances. Step up to serving. Show up for worship. Jesus will meet you.
Living and learning in hope,
For those of us who start our morning worshiping at St. Arbucks (that’s StarbucksTM, for those of you who don’t take your coffee as seriously as I do), coffee is our first step to facing the world each morning; it provides an opportunity to stop and think about the day ahead; it is a vehicle for conversation and fellowship. I could write a few chapters drawing parallels between coffee and our life as a worshiping community!
For now, I’d like to talk about fellowship and the opportunities we have at Lord of Life. So how does coffee affect our lives in fellowship with each other?
A few years ago, I spent Martin Luther King, Jr. Day with my family at The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in downtown Cincinnati. It was our first visit to this monument and museum which “celebrates the heroes who created the secret network through which the enslaved could escape to freedom, the Underground Railroad... [and encourages] everyone to take part in the ongoing struggles for freedom.”
As we watched the films and heard the stories from both sides of the Ohio River, I was reminded that there were many secret codes associated with the Underground Railroad, including special words, distinct door knocks, laundry on the clothesline flapping in the wind, and lights in the windows, each signaling others that you were a safe place or a “friend of a friend.”
Jesus talks about our visibility as Christians being a signal of hope to others. We are salt and light. Salt bringing flavor to the world and light bringing vision and clarity in the darkness. He said, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.”
More than twenty-five years ago, I visited Dachau concentration camp just outside of Munich. I have never experienced such an overwhelming barrage of sorrow and fear as I did that day. Arriving by car, I entered the camp through the same gate that some 200,000 prisoners did as the box car delivered them against their will. I was greeted by the same promise of freedom that they were, “Arbeit macht frei.” This iron sign notified them, that their freedom could be found in their efforts, proclaiming “Work makes you free.”
We know, of course, that work did not provide their freedom. If anything, the harder they worked, the closer they moved to the grave. For many in the camp, nothing provided freedom except death or, finally, if they survived the war, liberation from an outside force. They were labeled Jew, gypsy, homosexual, rebel, traitor, or other perceived threat and condemned to face daily peril or extermination. “Arbeit macht frei.” Nothing could be further from the truth.
Each time we look at the cross of Jesus, we are reminded that our work does not make us free. So, why do we continue to try to prove our worthiness by working our way to freedom? Daily, we strive to wriggle ourselves free of our shame and guilt. We wear ourselves out trying to escape the fears of our past. We work and work and work, trying to earn God’s love and favor. We expend our energies trying to please others, while fortifying our hearts and minds, disguising our fear and pride. We cower in dark corners hiding from the realities of weakness and sorrow.
Friday in German is Freitag – Free Day – the day of the week that marks the end of work and effort. It is that beginning of freedom. It is a period of relief and a cause for celebration. Each Spring, we gather on a Freitag, a Friday that we dare to call “Good,” and mark the beginning of our freedom in Christ. In the prisons of our own hearts and minds, God meets each of us and offers a word of relief. He says, “It is finished. Complete. I have accomplished the work.” The cross is a light of hope for us on a hill.
Jesus continues to come to us with liberation. Jesus comes with forgiveness and renewal. Into the dark places of our lives, the Light of God shines. The one crucified on a tree steps forward and meets us wherever we find ourselves and says, “You are free.”
Driving around Cincinnati on a dark night, you can still see many homes with lights in the windows, a signal of welcome and hope. By God’s power and promise, may our church and lives be such a place, a place of hospitality and welcome for all, and may we continue to shine light into the dark places.
Trying to shine,
Vacation Bible School (VBS) at Lord of Life...if you haven't seen it in action, you really should try to find a way to be a part of it in the future. It is such an amazing week of singing, laughing, learning, and fun! The time, energy, and love I see the volunteers put into this week overwhelms me. Each day we take a simple message of God's love for us and help to make it really stick in the minds of our youth by singing, crafting, playing, eating, and discovering. And boy do these kiddos eat it up!
The theme for this year is Maker Fun Factory: Created by God, Built for a Purpose. It is a journey with our loving Creator who not only made us, but promises to be with us through the good and bad. Our daily themes are:
Monday - God Made You. Psalm 139
Tuesday - God Is For You. Joshua 1&2
Wednesday - God Is Always With You. Judges 6:11-7:25
Thursday - God Will Always Love You. Luke 22:66-24:12
Friday - God Made You For A Reason. 1 Samuel 25
Throughout this week, I have heard from countless parents who tell me how much their child is loving VBS. Suddenly, all the time, sweat, and love put into this week becomes so worth it. Seeing the joy in the faces of the children, hearing about their God sightings, and watching them dump their hard-earned allowance into our Clean Water collection bottles warms my heart and gives me hope for the future. We’re hoping to collect $500 by Friday for Lutheran World Relief and will ask the congregation to match our total this Sunday. God is at work here at Lord of Life this week and it's amazing to see!
We have exactly 100 registered youth this week, ranging from 3 years old to 13 years old. Some are learning about God's amazing and creative love for us for the very first time, while others are simply being reminded. We have a dozen 5th and 6th graders participating in the Leader in Training program, preparing them to be peer leaders at future youth events. We also have nearly 50 youth and adult leaders working together to make this the best week possible for the kids.
I want to thank everyone who helped make VBS possible this year. Whether you donated money or supplies, volunteered to lead a station or a crew, or simply prayed for our success this week, I thank you! Feel free to stop by on Friday to see our final celebration. If you miss it, we’ll sing some of these songs at 9:30, this Sunday.
Yours in Christ,
Lord of Life VBS Coordinator
What a Spirit-filled experience! Our life-giving week hosting Family Promise once again revealed the beautiful ministry that can happen when we come together to be Christ at work in the world. In Butler County alone, there are more than 500 hundred children living in homelessness. Family Promise works to bring people together to respond to that need. Lord of Life came together: forty-three different people volunteered in many different ways throughout the week to provide comfort, safety, and hospitality to our Family Promise guests. Along with all those who were praying over Family Promise, I felt the impact of poverty and homelessness. Family Promise plays an important role in our claim that service is at the core of our calling to be the heart, hands, and feet of Christ. Although our work is never complete, it is important to pause and reflect on the impact we have made so far.
In January, we embarked on a visioning journey at Lord of Life with help from Luke Bouman. Our time with him and our following leadership conversations have been exciting, fun, and much needed as we continue to grow and look to the future. As part of our initial session, we gathered as a congregation and recognized our strengths, developed our short and long term vision, and drafted our five key goals.
As we identified our strengths, we listed Outreach, Music, Leadership, Youth, Being a Welcoming Community, and Worship. Luke shared with us that these strength areas are something every church strives for and, indeed, we are very blessed here.
As we continue to grow, it is important to transition to the next phase where we can further develop these strengths and ensure we are building the foundation for where God is leading us in the future. With this in mind, we identified these five key goals:
- Cultural shift toward mission mindedness
- Develop and implement a staffing plan
- Develop and implement a building plan
- Develop and implement a financial plan
- Council shift toward focusing on strategy
In the past few months, Council has been praying and working together to take the visioning journey to the next level.
This past Memorial Day, I had lunch with some of my extended family. Right at noon, we served up hot dogs with sauerkraut, bbq chips, watermelon, cookies, and glasses of milk, punch, and water. It was your typical Memorial Day picnic fare that could’ve been served in any backyard or under any park pavilion. It wasn’t anything big or fancy. What made this gathering different, though, was that it was in the basement of First Lutheran in Over the Rhine.
As we gathered from various locations for the community meal, small moments and gestures of joy were everywhere. There were smiles and handshakes. Conversations were laced with words of gratitude. Damp washclothes wiped down tables in between guests and one guest pushed his lunch aside for a few minutes while he played spirituals and gospel hymns on the piano in the corner. By themselves, each of these didn’t amount to much, but together, these little acts of kindness swirled in a beautiful expression of our shared humanity.
God has a habit of using little things to do big stuff.
Just off the back porch of my house growing up sat a big beautiful birdhouse. My family and I spent countless hours watching all different kinds of birds perch themselves on the front peg for a tasty nibble. These birds ranged from all different colors and sizes, some coming from other areas of the country and others coming from more exotic parts of the globe. It was always fun to think about what brought each bird to our particular birdhouse. Were they filling their stomachs for a long journey ahead, was our yard just a pit stop, or had they reached their destination?
On occasion, we would spot a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird hovering over our feeder. Can you believe that the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, weighing no more than a penny, flies to Ohio from South America, which includes a 500-mile flight over the Gulf of Mexico? My mother would always point out the bright blueness of an Indigo Bunting, which was her favorite bird to see. I also loved catching a glimpse of the yellow Kentucky Warbler, which was usually heard before it was seen because of its unique sound. Birds of all colors and sizes would eventually find their way to that birdhouse in our backyard. Each one having a story about where they had been and what they have seen, all of them simply longing to be fed.
The expanse of green space on our property gives us a unique opportunity to serve the community by growing food for our local pantries. The same expanse provides an especially fruitful hunting ground for one of nature's most keen predators. I love all the bunnies and chipmunks and squirrels so it is hard to stomach the idea that each day one of them becomes a victim of our resident hunter.
Mary Oliver, one of the greatest poets of our lifetime, gives beautiful imagery to the hawk's stalking of its prey.
A few weeks ago, I mentioned something about spicy food in a children’s message. I recalled a fifth grade trip to South Texas when I ate my first jalapeño, that not only heated up my mouth, but blew my mind. In a single nibble of that delightful, green pod, I caught a glimpse of an expansive world beyond my own. Back in my little corner of Summit County, OH, the only ethnic restaurant was Italian.
Not long after I mentioned my love of hot sauce, Leah showed up with a box of the firey bottles. Her brother, who recently died, was also a fan of the cayenne. Not sure what to do with to do with the dozens of hot sauces and rubs he collected, she bequeathed them to me. Some were old friends, while others were unfamiliar traveling companions. What a delicious gift of heat and flavor.
As I glanced at the box, I couldn’t help but think about the biblical images of God’s children as various parts of one body.
The good work we do at Lord of Life makes a difference in our community. From Stepping Forward to Faith Food Pantry; from big projects like Family Promise to actions as simple as helping to pay fines at Woodland Elementary Library so students can continue to explore and check out library books; we are always looking for ways we can help.
We're always glad when we find out what an impact we are having in the world.
It’s time to pull out Sonny Rollins Saxophone Colossus, Matthew Sweet’s Girlfriend, and Van Morrison’s Days Like This. One of the great joys of May is rotating out the “late-winter” music in favor of “springtime” music.
Vivaldi’s Four Seasons can obviously be listened to all year long, as well as any Miles Davis, Lyle Lovett, and Ray Charles, but there are some cds and albums that are best listened to when spring is in full swing. Driving around with the windows down, mowing the grass, and eating ice cream outside each beg for appropriate soundtracks.
What a whirlwind few weeks we’ve shared together! Thank you to all who organized, led, read, sang, served, and attended Holy Week and Easter worship moments. Together, we journeyed with Jesus from death to life!
On Palm Sunday, we waved palms and shouted “Hosanna!” as we remembered the entrance of Jesus to Jerusalem. “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!"
On Maundy Thursday, we embraced Jesus’ invitation to love one another as we washed feet, confessed, prayed, and marked ourselves once again in the waters of baptism. Our service concluded with the stripping of the altar, as we leaned into the grim realities of Good Friday.
On Good Friday, with words of betrayal, denial, abuse, and crucifixion, we experienced the growing darkness and crushing gravity of Jesus’ death. We waited in darkness for the Light of Christ to return.
The Easter Vigil found us gathered around the Light of Christ, remembering that the “light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” We heard God’s promises as we read through God’s salvation history and then were led into the blazing light and sound of the resurrection!
Easter morning found us gaping at the empty tomb. In wonder and joy, we joined Christians around the globe with shouts of “Alleluia! Christ is risen indeed!” In joy-filled song, Scripture, prayer, and Holy Communion, we savored that Christ is alive!
This Sunday, the journey of Easter continues. On Easter evening, Jesus met disciples on their way to Emmaus and in the breaking of the bread, "their eyes were opened and they recognized him.”
This Easter season, isn’t just about looking back, but also looking ahead. Jesus meets us, too. Look for him. Our risen Lord continues to come among us, bringing life, light, and hope.
Today is Maundy Thursday. In the Christian Church, it is the day we remember Jesus giving his disciples one last instruction, one final mandate, a new maundatum. He said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you... By this everyone will know that you are my disciples." John 13:34-35
I caught a glimpse of that love this past Sunday, when, in an act of solidarity with Jacqui Roell and her journey of breast cancer, a dozen women donned headscarves. I asked them why they did it and what they experienced. Here are a few excerpts:
We had some crazy wind in and around the metro Cincinnati area this week. Branches landed in our gutters and yards. Rain came down sideways. Garbage cans ended up in the neighbor’s yard. Thankfully, some of the wide-spread destruction that was predicted didn’t happen.
Wait, what season are we in? This year, the in-breaking of spring as been chaotic to say the least. Still, despite the fierce chill, the buds on the stems and branches have fought through the cold and have sprouted into life. There is nothing more beautiful in all of God’s creation than to see the colorful flower petals peeking through the snow.
When I was younger, I never understood the idea of giving someone flowers. If you think about it, how romantic is it to give someone a gift that will die and wither away?