Saturday, May 27, 2017

Taking the wings of the morning

“Where can I go from your spirit?  Or where can I flee from your presence?  If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.  If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me…” – Psalm 139:7-9
            Well it’s back to days in the 90’s and one Sunday service -- must be summer is here.  While Florida summer can feel like down time, maybe we should see it as an opportunity.  As things go by a little slower, there could be more chances to stop and reflect, more opportunity for fellowship – get-togethers, visiting friends, getting to know each other better.  With the hectic pace of getting through each week easing up just a bit, summer gives us a chance to build on what we’re supposed to be about anyway – relationships.
            Events and projects, committees and meetings – sometimes that’s all the church seems to be made of.  But remember the old Sunday school hand trick: “…open the doors and see all the PEOPLE.”  We people of faith are not God’s special project, but God’s holy community.  In fact, church is not some offhand second thought God had while He was busy making stars and planets.  No, this is His divine plan to reveal and distribute His love to all the world.  The church is about worship, but it’s especially about the worship and prayer that happens when we gather as God’s faithful people.  Church is about helping others, but it’s especially about the kind of help we can give when we are working together on Jesus’ team.   That’s our job, and even through summer’s endless parade of 90 degree days, we’re sticking to it.
            Throughout the summer people will continue coming on Wednesdays for food.  Friday lunch times will remain open for drive-through prayer for anyone who needs a listening ear and a blessing from God.  Though Sunday school will be taking a break, there will be Day Camp in July for the children of our congregation and the community.  People who come here should always find that we dispense more than some bags of food or a few kind words.  Here the heart of Jesus still beats, here His hopes are pursued, here the ideas of justice, peace, and grace are lived out.  At Atonement, we are a love pantry.
            God’s love is not just a warm feeling or a polite disposition.  When we love, we help fulfill the mission of Jesus (John 3:16).  When we love we are connected to God, because all love comes from God (1 John 4:6-7).  When we love, we welcome those who are different whether they are neighbors (Mark 12:31), foreigners (Deuteronomy 10:19), or even enemies (Luke 6:35).  Lovers are fearless (1 John 4:18-19), loyal (John 15:13), constant (Proverbs 17:17), chivalrous and respectful (Ephesians 5:25, 33).  When we love, the best of us rises to the top (1 Corinthians 13:4-8, Ephesians 4:2, Colossians 3:14), and the worst of us sinks away (Proverbs 10:12, 1 Peter 4:8).  When we love, we are connected to the ones we love through our concern and commitment to their well-being (1 John 3:16-18). 
            We’ve said quite a few good-byes in the last couple months.  Among the usual snowbirds heading back up north, a few have sold their Florida homes and are done with the back-and-forth.  We don’t know when we will see them again, but we know when they look up at night, they will see the light of the same stars we see.  We know they’ll feel the warmth of the same sun that we stand under, and that they remain in the hands and heart of the same God who holds us.

            The cross of Jesus and the promises of baptism unite us wherever we may go.  We are connected by love to the same God, regardless of the distance between us.  Wherever you may find yourself this summer, God’s Holy Spirit will follow you.  Whether you are climbing a mountain, fishing in the Gulf, or sitting and knitting quietly at home, you will find the insight of the psalmist true that wherever you go, “…[God’s] right hand shall hold [you] fast” (Psalm 139:10).  So when you put on the wings of the morning and fly off to your next destination, make sure you take love along with you. 

Pastor Scott

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Reading the Heart

"But there are also many other things that Jesus did.  If every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”  -- John 21:25

“Every day I write the book” – Elvis Costello

            At the end of the Gospel of John, we have this surprising statement.  John says that this gospel he wrote was only the very tip of the iceberg in telling the full and complete story of Jesus.  So what we have, as beautiful and amazing as it is, is more like the Cliff Notes to the life of Jesus than the full Director’s Cut.  He does his best to hit the highlights because he wants us to know this man whose story he tells.  But he picks and chooses, and he does so with a clear purpose: “…these are written so that you come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing, you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).  So we’re informed that he’s given us the stripped-down version of a story that, if it were fully told, would require an earth-sized library to hold it all (or at least buildings crammed full of terabyte hard drives).

            Atonement will turn 30 this year, just one week after the Lutheran movement turns 500 on Reformation Sunday.  We have lived through interesting times as a congregation – we’ve gone from being a mission church in the boonies to finding ourselves right in the heart of a booming suburb.  We’ve weathered storms of conflict, low attendance, and insufficient income.  We carried on through years when the church almost closed and we witnessed years when we’ve made great strides in our mission and ministry.  We’ve gone from being a barely seen church sitting a ways back from the main road to one that is up front and known in the community as a place where people find help. 

            But think of all the things the community doesn’t know about us.  Sure, they know we care about the community, but do they know that we have an active youth program and Sunday school?  They surely know about our food pantry and drive-through prayer, but do they know we have a worship service where all are welcome and where young and old together sing new and old songs to the praise of God?  Do they know we believe in God’s radical grace that empowers us all to be ministers, priests, and witnesses to God’s love?
            As our council came together for our annual retreat last month, we tried to identify the core values that flow from our identity as Lutherans and from our mission to share the love of Jesus, glorify God and extend His kingdom.  These values are the important principles that we are passionate about – things we hope to communicate clearly to our community, and to always keep before us as we move forward.  Here’s what we came up with:

At Atonement, we give praise and glory to God by…

Å      sharing the love of Jesus in Word and Sacrament

Å      helping others in need, whether they are members or not
Å      growing enriching relationships with God and our neighbors
Å      creating a safe haven where faith is nurtured and people experience Jesus
Å      seeing and treating all people as Christ in our midst
Å      reaching out to our community to bring people closer to God
Å      having fun

[OK, I admit it.  I put that last one in there.  But I do feel that following Christ brings with it an undeniable and irrepressible spirit of joy, which I see over and over at Atonement!]
            John wanted people to know that there’s much more to knowing Jesus than they can get from reading his book.  Still, he wrote to change hearts and share the story of our Risen Lord.  It is this Jesus himself who brings us new life.  By knowing him we gain a new life perspective.  By following him we develop a new life-style. 
            Just so, we hope to be an open book like John’s gospel.  We hope that when they read us, they find out about our Risen Lord.  Can they see his face in ours?  Will they sense his heart in our actions and hear his grace in our words?  Will our events and hospitality at Atonement --  will our outreach and work in the community communicate that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God and that believing in him brings life?  Do they see that life in us?  May God continue writing his Easter story in each of our hearts, and may we always be ready to be read!

Pastor Scott

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Don't Hold On

“Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned, and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher).  Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the father...’”                                                                   -- John 20:16-17

 Dear members and friends of Atonement,

            It’s a moment that takes your breath away.  Mary hears her name spoken by the man she thinks is the gardener, and suddenly her mind clears and she sees that it is Jesus.  He is alive!  In her wildest dreams, she never dared to believe it could happen.  The man she’d followed for so long, the man who revealed God’s love to her and spoke heaven’s wisdom into her heart, the one she thought she had lost forever was right there, so close she could touch him.  And what did she want to do more than anything in that one moment?  Every fiber of her being must have told her to run to him, to throw her arms around him, to hold on to him and never let go.  But Jesus said no. 

            Jesus asks us to listen to him, to follow him, to trust him, and to love him.  These things are all hard enough, but perhaps the hardest thing he asks of us is to not hold on to him.  We are to cling to his Word and his promises, but not to Christ himself, for He has ascended to the Father, and now comes to us in many ways… He comes in works of love and healing, He comes in, with, and under the holy sacraments, He comes through the wisdom of the scriptures, He comes in deeds of peace and hope, He comes when two or more gather in His name, he comes in and through our prayers, He comes in humble and believing hearts that seek his mercy and desire to share his love.  Through all of these He comes, He who spoke our name at baptism, and when we finally recognize that firm and fair voice and realize that our Master, Redeemer, Savior and Friend has been calling out to us all this time, our hearts burn with Easter joy.

            The Easter season reminds us that we are not to hold on to the things of this world.  The anger and hatred we hold for others, the guilt and shame that keeps us from seeing God’s love for us, the regret and longing for a past that is long gone, the ideologies and prejudices which put more value on one kind of person than another, all of these things belong in the tomb, buried with the crucified and broken body of the One who died for us.  But now, that One is risen.  He said to Mary, “…go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God…” (John 20:18).

            The risen Jesus calls us to new life, and to recognize that our destiny is in heaven with Him.  This new life is a letting go of the old, a setting of our spiritual sights on our true eternal home.  Our life in the church looks forward to this everlasting life he gives.  Together we prepare for heaven by learning to let go, to find ways of loving unselfishly, to give graciously in response to His giving himself to us.  We love because God first loved us (1John 4:19), and we give because God first gave His Son for the life of the world (1 John 5:11). 

            Your giving to Atonement this year enables us to bring the Word of hope into the lives of those who gather with us Sunday mornings, but also to bring prayer to those who come for drive-in prayers on Fridays.  It will allow us to provide concentrated caring ministry through the Stephen Ministry program, to bring food to over 1000 local families through the food bank, to reach our Hispanic neighbors with the hope of the Gospel, to continue men’s and women’s Bible studies and children’s Sunday school, to give a home to community support groups and Scout groups, to provide a website with Live Streaming for our shut-ins and sign language translations of sermons for the hearing impaired.  The risen Jesus calls to us in countless ways at Atonement as we worship, serve, and share the life He gives. 

            Our Lord is risen indeed!  This and every Sunday He comes in Word and sacrament, speaking your name and calling you to follow Him to new life.  Thank you for hearing God’s call and sharing His love through your generous tithes and offerings.  Come join your church family this Easter as we celebrate the resurrection and receive the light, life and joy that this world cannot give.

Pastor Scott

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Wedding of Russell Young and Cassie Lenz

"My beloved spoke and said to me,
“Arise, my darling,
my beautiful one, come with me.
         See! The winter is past;
the rains are over and gone.
Flowers appear on the earth;
the season of singing has come,
the cooing of doves
is heard in our land.
The fig tree forms its early fruit;
the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.
Arise, come, my darling;
my beautiful one, come with me.”

-- Song of Solomon 2:10-13

Years ago, when Cassie was being trained at Publix as the new employee she met this man standing beside her.  By that time Russ had been working there many years, had seen many employees come and go, and didn’t pay much attention to the new recruit.  But Cassie remembers what Bobby told her when they were first introduced: “Russ is your man if you want something in the kitchen.”

            I’ve known Cassie for 10 years now, and ever since I met her, I’ve been delighted with her smiley and sunny disposition.  I’ve had the pleasure of being her pastor, teaching her in confirmation, hearing her dreams of becoming a bartending librarian… and for a while there, had to put up with constant questioning from church members: “what’s up with Cassie and your son…they’re always together.”  At some point I lost count of the number of times I used to tell people, “Nothing…they’re just good friends.” 

            But family friends and church friends do become very special to you, and when you see someone every week over a period of several years and watch them grow up, you start to feel a little protective of them.  You look with wonder to see this flighty young teen grow into such a smart and responsible young adult, but then here she is…following the call of God and the urgings of her heart to join in this blessed bond of marriage, to become a family with Russ and Bailey, to allow that love which is bigger than us all to make the two into one.

            Two becoming one – blood and bone, body and body.  Russ and Cassie have made the choice of a lifetime in coming here before us and before God, to share their wedding vows.  They have been thinking ahead and planning for this life together literally for years now.  Even before they knew it themselves, from the time Russ drove half an hour to give her a Twix candy bar, or from their official public appearance as boy friend and girlfriend on Christmas eve 2012, Russ and Cassie have been journeying together towards this moment. 

            Love is patient, indeed, as St. Paul tells us.  And kind.  Cassie looked at Russ and saw someone who has worked long and hard to do the right thing and struggled to care for a family in the face of many difficulties.  She was able to make him laugh and get him out of his shell, and experience life in a new way.  Before Russ asked Cassie to marry him, he talked to Bailey and they looked at rings at the mall.  Nervously, he went to ask Nils for Cassie’s hand in marriage, but he wasn’t home.  The tension just got worse when it happened again.  The third try, he and his future father-in-law finally came face-to-face.  And rock-hard Nils was all tears of joy….

            A week later, Russ and Cassie were back at the Ruby Tuesdays where they’d had their first date.  Somehow the atmosphere in the restaurant just never seemed right for the moment.  Instead of popping the question over dinner, they got back in the car, buckled their seat belts, and then it happened.  By the time they got back to the Lenz house they had one question for Cassie, “So, you got new jewelry?”

            Russ and Cassie, you will both be leaving this ceremony with new jewelry.  Although you are two people, you are determined to live as one.  Through our prayers and presence we declare that same God who created you and brought you together will also make you a new creation through the promises and commitment, the love and determination you share today. 

            Together, you have created a vision of what your marriage will look like.  You’ve agreed not just to love each other, but to say “I love you” to one another often; not just to care about each other’s feelings but to talk about whatever’s bothering you, to have each other’s backs, to laugh a lot, clean up after one another, and to share your toys.  In the vows that you are about to exchange, you will give yourselves to each other through Christ, who gave himself to us and to the world.  With his own body and soul, the one who knows us inside and out, who sees the truth of our inmost spirit, also gives us his life and our heavenly Father’s love.  Through Christ, God accepts us completely and enable to love others the way St. Paul describes: with both gentleness and wholehearted passion, with great tenderness, and with a strength that endures to the end.

            Today we join our prayers and best wishes, and our own promises to support you in your new life together.  May God grant you joy and adventure, long life and a full house.  The best part is yet to come, so you better buckle your seatbelts…


Your spiritual DNA

“I [Paul] am grateful to God – whom I worship with a clear conscience as my ancestors did – when I remember you [Timothy] constantly in my prayers night and day.  Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy.  I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.  For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.”

                                                                        -- 2 Timothy 1:3-7

            Two unusual boxes arrived in the mail at my house this week, one from my uncle and one from sent a DNA kit so I can find out a little more about my biological background.  It arrived in the mail yesterday, and I have yet to open it, but as I understand it I will swab my cheek with a Q-tip, send it in, and they’ll send me a report telling me how much German, Irish, Italian, Scandinavian, Asian, African etc. I have in my DNA.  Who knows, I may be related to Ole and Lena after all…

            The box from my uncle contained this old German coin:

He found it while going through a closet, and apparently my grandparents picked it up at some point.  It is dated 1661, and has a picture of Martin Luther on one side, and a German city on the back.  There is a poem that reads: Gottes Wort und Luthers Lehr vergehen nun und nimmermehr “God’s word and Luther’s teaching never dies.”

            When Paul wrote to Timothy, trying to comfort him from some disappointment, he first reminds him of who he is.  He is a man of “sincere faith,” something not easy to come by in this world.  He is also part of a heritage, the receiver of a treasure that has been passed from one generation to another.  First his grandmother, then his mother, now Timothy himself carries this faith in his heart and his life.  Now is the time, Paul tells him, to rekindle that gift.  Now is the time to take it out of the box and turn it on.  Now is the time, not to be timid and hide your faith, but to stand up in courage and love and be who God made you to be.

            Like Timothy, you were made to bear a special gift to the world.  You have a heritage, a spiritual family, and a purpose in life to share the love which has been passed on to you.  But just what is your spiritual DNA?  How has this gift been put into your hands?  Who is in your faith family tree that makes you the recipient of so much blessing and so much responsibility?

            In Timothy’s case, Paul points to his immediate family members.  Perhaps you too had a mom or dad, grandma or grandpa who took you to Sunday school, taught you the catechism, or simply was a good model of Christ’s forgiveness and love for all.  Maybe you had certain individuals who encouraged you in faith, who loved you in special ways that echoed the unconditional love Jesus gave on the cross.  Perhaps you knew special people who told you that you too were special, or who lifted you up in prayer.  Any of these would be powerful faith-boosters that might set you on the road to follow Jesus.

But beyond the family that you know and the friends that made evident contributions to your understanding of God’s love and Christ’s ways, there is a greater lineage and ancestry that influences your spiritual DNA.  You are connected to a wider family of faith – fellow followers of Christ who do God’s work with their hands and hearts, serving in churches, senior facilities, hospitals, seminaries, synods, missions, and a host of social welfare ministries worldwide.  Wherever you go in this world, you may run into fellow Lutherans who will recognize the common spiritual DNA that connects you to them. 
            That DNA goes back to Martin Luther, and the ministry he did back in the 1500’s to set the church straight from the wrong turns it had taken which led it away from the way of Jesus.  But Luther was not the only reformer, or the only spiritual leader who called the church back to faithfulness. In fact all the great saints and teachers of the church have had a hand in keeping Christianity on course and keeping our focus on Christ.  From St. Augustine to Martin Luther King Jr., there is a long lineage of incredible people whose lives were on fire for spreading the good news of Christ, serving those in need, and unleashing the healing and liberation of God in the world.  They too, are part of your spiritual DNA.

            What’s more, we confess in the Apostle’s Creed, our most basic summary of Christian beliefs, that we believe in the “holy catholic church…”  That word “catholic” means that we believe the church of Jesus Christ is not represented by a denomination or officially recognized group.  Jesus’ church – THE Church (with a capital “c”) – is a catholic (meaning universal) Church.  Not simply a Roman Catholic church with a pope, or an ELCA with a bishop, but nothing less than all Christians scooped up together into the arms of our Savior has the right to be called the true Church of Jesus Christ.  Anyone whose faith grows out from what that man did, anyone who sees his blood as precious, who knows his body was given for our own – anyone who looks back to the events of the original Good Friday and Easter and sees them as the turning point of all history – they too are in our DNA.  The history of all Christian faiths, and truly, of all Christians, is also our history.

            We could go back and point out that our heritage as Christians has deep DNA roots in the faith of Israel, in the stories, wisdom, and Torah of the Old Testament and the faith of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  But the Bible, that most remarkable and uniquely insightful of all books, does not stop there.  It takes us back to the beginnings, to the primal origin of all humans.  Biblical faith calls us to recognize that God’s law is written on every human heart, that every human is God’s child made by God’s hand and given God’s most fundamental blessings.  Our spiritual chromosomes bear witness to that most basic truth: we are all members of the human family, formed from the dust of the earth, enlivened by the breath of God’s Spirit, broken by sin but alive in the shadow of the cross of Christ. 

            The DNA in our cells carries the signs of the great diversity of influences in our genetic makeup.  But it also expresses the unique character traits we exhibit as individuals.  Even twins (or triplets) can look and act very differently, and can live out the gifts and blessings of God individually in ways that only they can.  As you come to discover who you are in Christ and the great riches that are yours in knowing his grace and love, you know even more if you know what’s in your spiritual DNA.  We share this community, this earth, this universe with others who may not know or see the gift that God has placed in their hands.  This month we’ll see it all unfold in worship: the Son sent by God to redeem the world carries God’s deep forgiveness and love to the very end – and that end becomes the new beginning… for me, for you, and for every fellow child of God through all time and all the world.

Pastor Scott

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Lent can dance

 Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.  What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?...”                                -- Matthew 16:24-26a

      So everybody loves Christmas and Easter, right?  And why not?  After all, they are festivals of the church -- times when we celebrate the high points in the story of Jesus, and who doesn’t love a festival?  But between those peak experiences of our church calendar comes this time of Lent… not a festival, but a time of quiet and reflective prayer and penitence…not a feast, but a fast.  I understand: Lent is not the popular season.  It’s the one left sitting alone in the corner, not the one everyone picks to take to the dance.  But don’t let that fool you -- Lent can dance.  It won’t do the Charleston, but it will, with slow deliberate steps, take you somewhere you need to go. 

      The dance of Lent begins with the two-step of Ash Wednesday, recognizing that we are dust, and to dust we shall return.  We remember our human limitations, and that this life which began in our mother’s womb shall end one day in the womb of the earth.            
      It picks up with the waltz of repentance.  Instead of the regular 4/4 drumbeat of the other seasons, Lent is whole 40-day season that moves to its own rhythm.  The ¾ waltz-time movement of Lent is a reminder that we are skipping something, giving up a piece of our regular routine.  In Lent we try to drop that regular self-centered beat that keeps turning our attention back to our own desires.  Try not to scratch that itch.  Try not to eat that candybar.  Bet you didn’t even know you were hungry till you just started thinking about it.  Whether or not you “give something up” for Lent, hopefully you at least try harder to resist those mental messages.

      In preparation for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation this October, the “tune” we will be playing for your dance of Lent this year comes from Luther’s Small Catechism.  The Small Catechism was designed as a teaching tool of the faith, not just within the church but in the home. Martin Luther intended for the home to be the place where faith was first shared and taught. To that end he created the Small Catechism—a simple explanation of the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the sacraments. He included basic prayers for morning and evening, and suggested ways to worship, praise, and revere God during each part of our day.

      In addition to weekly Wednesday services at 4pm and 7pm which will focus on the parts of the Catechism, we are offering copies of the excellent Lenten devotional Free Indeed, which invites us to consider each day how the Small Catechism helps us keep in step with God in our lives. 

      An old folk-hymn tells the story of the what happens to Jesus in between Lent and Easter.   The song calls Jesus the “Lord of the Dance” because He shows us how to move through life with grace and love.  He showed it most vividly when everyone thought the dance was over, when his life ended on a still and bloody cross.  But the dance, as we know and as the final verse tells us, went on. 

      Our lives of faith include the daily rhythm of prayer, the weekly rhythm of worship, and the yearly rhythm of celebrating the seasons of fasts and festivals.  Within that spectrum of spirituality, Lent serves as the slow-dance number that leads into and prepares us for the all-out swing dance jumping and jiving of Easter.  But on the way to that all-out energy and exuberant joy, we slow-dance with Jesus through Lent, and hopefully by the end of it, we’ve learned how to let Him take the lead.

Pastor Scott

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Neighbors by the numbers

“Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus.  “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”   He said to him, “What is written in the law?  What do you read there?”  He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”  And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this and you will live.”
            But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?
              -- Luke 10:25-29

             The lawyer speaking to Jesus must have gotten straight A’s in Sunday school.  He knew his Bible verses, pulling the best ones out at the moment they were needed.  From Deuteronomy 6:5, he quotes the famous “Shema” verse about the duty of God’s children to love their heavenly Father, and from Leviticus 19:18, God’s command to not seek revenge but instead love the neighbor.  “But who,” he asks Jesus, “IS my neighbor?”
            We ask the same question in a different spirit.  Where the lawyer was trying to get Jesus to define the term so he could look for loopholes, we seek to find out more about the neighbors who surround us.  We know Jesus wants us to love all the people in our community, and that there is no boundary separating those who are neighbors and those who are not.  When we ask “Who is my neighbor?” as a church, we are asking as servants.  We want to know the makeup and the breakdown of our community so we can continue doing a better job reaching out with our mission: “Sharing the love of Jesus, glorifying God, and extending His kingdom.”
            If you were looking for the right place to plant a garden, you would look for the land with the richest soil.  There are many ways to reach out to our community, many services we could provide, many ways we could advertise, many neighborhoods in our area where we could establish a presence.  But where to begin?  Where is the richest soil to grow new ministries to reach new people, to share God’s love in the best way possible right here in the Wesley Chapel area? Here is where it helps to know what is happening in our community.  Who ARE our neighbors?  Where do our strengths and the things we have to offer coincide with the needs and longings of those around us?  What aspects of our ministry do we need to strengthen in order to better serve those most likely to come through our doors?

            Just like a business wants an accurate picture of the community where they do business, we can also benefit greatly by looking at our neighborhoods by the numbers.  Demographics will show us the socio-economic trends, as well as behavioral, life-style, psychological and spiritual tendencies we are likely to find.  The Wesley Chapel area has been growing for some time now – what new opportunities does that give us?  Where is it growing the most and what are these people like who are coming into our area? 

            This month, we’ve invited Pastor Jefferson Cox to join us for an evening of discovery.  He brings with him knowledge and expertise in the powerful demographics engine called Mission Insite.  Our Florida-Bahamas Synod makes Mission Insite available to us through special mission funding.  I have used it often to create basic reports on areas around our church.  Pastor Cox has much deeper knowledge of how this program works, and can show us with great detail what has been happening and can illuminate the future trends which will impact our ministry.

            We realized that we needed more in-depth information as we began strategizing for our Hispanic ministry.  School statistics showed us that 20% of our community has a Hispanic background.  But what does that mean?  Are they of Mexican, Caribbean, or South American descent?  There are cultural differences in the prayer and faith traditions of these groups.  The makeup of the community will make a difference in the way we celebrate holidays or the kinds of spiritual practices we would establish in our Hispanic outreach.   That’s when we knew we needed Pastor Cox’s help to see what we are dealing with.

            The detailed look at our growing area which Pastor Cox will bring to us this month can benefit all of our ministries.  From deciding where to advertise to looking at choices of music, events to offer, or ways to enhance our childrens’ ministry, the information available through Mission Insite can apply to just about anything we do.  One especially interesting feature of Mission Insite is their set of “Mosaic Groups.”  They have applied sociological and generational research to identify key aspects of 19 different categories of Americans, from “Golden Year Guardians” to “Middle Class Melting Pot.”  Segments of the population can represent “Flourishing Families,” or “Blue Sky Boomers,”  “Suburban Style” or “Singles and Starters.”  Think of how important recognizing certain segments of the population was in the recent presidential election.  It is also important for us in knowing “Who is our neighhor,” and how to reach out to them.
            So I’d like to invite you to join us on Friday, February 17 for our Mission Insite worshop with Pastor Jefferson Cox.  Come for the Hispanic focused segment from 4-6pm or the General community workshop from 7-9pm, or both.  Either way, you are welcome to join us for dinner in between.  I’m sure it will be fascinating for anyone who has seen the amazing growth and change we have been through in the last few years.  Bring your thoughts and questions, ideas and insights. There will be opportunity to learn and share as we discover our community in depth and think about ways to apply that knowledge to better love God and to better serve our neighbors. 

Pastor Scott