Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Year in Review

            Be at peace among yourselves… Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  Do not quench the Spirit.               -
- 1 Thessalonians 5:14, 16-19

            Think back over the headlines that have flashed before us this year.  The earthquake in Haiti, oil in the Gulf, trapped Chilean miners, foreclosures in a faltering economy…  Again and again we have read about struggles for survival in the midst of great difficulties.  Again and again, we have prayed for God’s healing to touch people’s lives in the midst of disaster.
            Going ahead into 2010 from last year, we had great concerns that our own congregation might be heading for disaster.  We were concerned about attendance in the midst of construction, fearful about income in an upside-down economy and troubled by differences in our own denomination.  Despite the anxieties, the local headlines from Atonement this year have told a very different story – a story of growth, perseverance, and God’s abounding blessing:

An early service from January through May becomes popular with regulars.

Atonement youth helped start a VBS, paint houses and clean up after a tornado.

Beyond the orange barrels lies a future with a whole new look.

Atonement gives space and support to a brand new scouting outfit.

Shut-ins and others can now receive copies of our weekly Sunday messages.

A whole week of fun, faith-filled activities rounds out youngsters’ Summer.

A new Hispanic congregation begins meeting Saturday evenings.

Five adults begin a two-year course in intensive discipleship.

As numbers swell, Bridgewater and Thrivent help pantry for holidays.

A visitor from faraway Finland attends and applauds evening program.

Families share God’s presence around dinner table by passing the Blessing Cup.

Yes, 2010 has been a year of labor pains.  It’s been a lot of work – requiring a lot of sweat and a lot of pushing, and we’ve generated enough friction and frustration to go around.  But by numbers alone, this could very well be the best year Atonement has had in the last 10 years.  As we keep coming back to the table there is the clear and confident sense that we are moving on towards better days. 
Just look at the numbers of people being served through our food mission.  Look at our growing partnerships in the community.  Look at the variety of ministries and activities we’ve experienced throughout the year (check out the pictures available on the web at:

Look through this annual report, and you will see page after page of good news --  from the ministry team reports to the finances, you will read the stories of the year some feared would be a disaster –  a year that has become a milestone.
           While we struggle with parking, aging facilities, lack of space, the need for more volunteers and other internal issues, it becomes easy to miss the huge blessings that God brings: we’ve made it!  This “little congregation that could” is doing it!  God has given us all we need to meet our challenges, and your faithful participation helps make the difference.
My special request to you for 2011 is a vitally important one as we move ahead: PRAY FOR EACH OTHER (1 Thessalonians 5:25)!  With all that’s going on in our congregation, your fellow members need your prayers more than ever.  Pray for volunteers, leaders, planners, teachers, children and youth, shut-ins, prospective members, working members, out-of-work members, musicians, snowbirds, deacon candidates, inactive members, new members, young parents, singles, retirees, and (oh, yeah) your pastor.  God has brought us all together to make us members of His family, our family, your family.  Through the power of the cross He brings new life from out of the jaws of disaster, turns our doubts into hope, our misgivings into love. 


Pastor Scott

            As you celebrate the birth of our Lord and the new year He brings, may the child of Bethlehem open your hands to share with others may He open your eyes to see the wonders of life.  May He open your heart to His mercy and grace may He open your soul to find the peace of that sacred, silent night. Merry Christmas!

We love you all –                     
Pastor Scott, Susan, George, Brian, Harold & Smudge


Pastor Scott greets Margirita Romo on her 74th birthday party at Resurrection House in Dade City.
They knocked at the door, hoping to find a room inside. They were cold and tired, their bodies ached, their stomachs growled for food, and the mother-to-be worried that that the baby might be coming any minute. “Sorry, no room,” they were told. No room for weary travelers, no room for a man returning to his hometown after many years, no room for a baby to be born…
When people come to our doors, we can always find room for them. When people show up with hearts that are tired, souls aching and lives hungry for love — we will make room for them. When the world has told them they have no place, we show them how Jesus makes a place for everybody.
God has come into our world and into our lives. He will be born in the humblest place, in the tiniest corner of our hearts. In the end, though, He wants it all — all your love and laughter, all your sorrow and anger, your pain and sin. He will take it all to make His kingdom, where, with all the children of our weary world, we find our place.

Peace, Pastor Scott


"The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly,
and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully"
— 2 Corinthians 9:6
 The verse above from 2 Corinthians is often used to encourage people to be generous givers. In fact, that was why it was originally written. The apostle Paul wanted the Corinthians to send money to help out their poor, struggling fellow Christians in Jerusalem. “Don’t forget,” he’s saying to those in Corinth, “your gifts are like seeds — and God will use them to produce a wonderful crop that will ultimately benefit everyone.”
But no matter how generous we are in our giving, one thing’s for sure: we can’t outgive God! Ultimately, God is the one who sowed the seeds in our lives that have allowed us to do all we do and to be what we are. Our joy comes from seeing what God has done in our lives and realizing those were His seeds, not ours, that took root, His seeds that grew, His seeds that blossomed. If we had a hand in it at all, it’s because God put a few of His seeds into our hand and let us scatter them where we could.
So what seeds has God given you? That’s the big question as we approach the holiday of
Thanksgiving. And how many of those seeds will you be scattering in the coming year?
When’s the last time you’ve closed your eyes and from the bottom of your heart said the words “Thank God!” Maybe you were driving in heavy traffic, and a big truck missed you by inches. But God was there and kept you safe — Thank God! Maybe you heard your doctor tell you what you were longing to hear. Your tests are clear — Thank God! Maybe you recently laid a loved one to rest, someone you know was a strong, believing Christian who is now with the Lord — Thank God!
Our “every member response” program this year is called “Thank God!” When I think about my wonderful wife and children and their health, about my best friend who has come back safely from Iraq, about my congregation which is growing in so many ways, about friends and family far and wide, I can’t help but say, “Thank God!” Then I think about what my Savior Jesus has done for me and it’s almost embarrassing to realize how blessed we all are, and how many seeds God has put into our hands.
So it’s time to do some sowing. It’s time to “Thank God!” not just with words or token gestures but with those seeds God has put right in our hands. How will we use our time and talents, our income and assets to bless others and share God’s love with the world in 2011? He’s given to us generously so that we can be generous people — Thank God!
Peace, Pastor Scott


 Feeling stressed out? If not, you may be in the minority these days. With construction all around us, the economy as unsure as ever and a new report that lists the Tampa Bay area as the fourth most stressful place to live in the nation, we shouldn’t be surprised that muscles are tight and blood pressure is rising.
If you have stress in your life, you’re invited to take advantage of some special offerings we have this October. Wednesday nights at 7pm we will be holding “Nights of Reflection” with prayers, readings and reflective activities to help center us is Christ’s love. The 10am service on October 17 will focus on healing, with individual prayer and laying on of hands available.
Now is the time people really need to turn back to their faith to find a clear and comforting answer. Our gracious God never leaves our side. He constantly calls us back to a relationship with Him, one where we’re able to let go of concerns that overwhelm us, and find peace once again. Jesus reminds us how God feeds the birds and clothes the flowers. When we come back to God, He feeds our souls and clothes our hearts with much-needed calm and simplicity.
Peace, Pastor Scott


It feels like a whole new beginning. After holding our breath for 6 months hoping and praying that our congregation would be able to hold together financially, we’ve seen the Lord bless us with steadily growing income in 2010. I want to thank you for your faithful giving and thank our council for replacing the 5% of my salary that I declined for the first 6 months of the year. Not only that, they generously granted me a 1% cost of living increase. All this gives me the freedom to continue serving as your full-time pastor and to continue our partnership in God’s work.
Summer Day Camp was a big success. Thanks to all our donors who made this wonderful program financially feasible. Three wonderful counselors, Drew, Daniel and Emily, spent 5 full days praying and playing with 17 children at this, our first Day Camp. I can’t remember when I’ve seen so many big bright smiles on young faces.
You wouldn’t know it to look at the thermometer, but summer is over. School is up and running and we’re looking forward to a busy September. The weekend of the 12th I’ll be heading over to Orlando with the youth for the Rock the Universe weekend at Universal Studios theme park. My schedule makes it difficult to attend many events with the youth, so I am grateful to the council for granting me a Sunday to spend a full weekend of quality time with our young people.
Sunday school will be starting at the end of the month. Outreach is planning some great outings. Confirmation class will start meeting and of course, our Helping Hands food pantry will continue their outstanding work for those in need. It’s all happening at Atonement — can’t wait to see you there!
Peace, Pastor Scott


The evening was perfect for fishing. Martin Luther and his friends were pulling up trout, carp, pike, and a few other varieties from the little pond behind their house. When he turned and saw his wife Katherine with a broad smile on her face, Luther said, “Katy, you are more pleased over these few fish than a nobleman who fishes in the lake and catches thousands. Rich men sit around with all their luxury, but can’t enjoy what they have. God’s gifts are overwhelming, but it’s too bad people who don’t know God can’t even recognize them.”
I hope and pray that you are able to recognize and appreciate the blessings God gives you. Your home and family, daily food and shelter, friends and companions, health and well-being are all gifts that come to you because God loves you so much. Everything we do as members of God’s family the church, reminds us of this basic fact.
This month we will begin a new tradition at Atonement that will help us remember and celebrate those gifts. On August 29th, we will send out “The Blessing Cup.” This special chalice will travel from house to house among our members, to be shared by each family. While it’s in their possession, each family will place it on their table, say a special prayer and drink from it at a daily meal. The hope is that every Atonement family will eventually take a turn being a steward of the blessing cup.
We will start off with families of confirmation students, and then open it up to others. Singles, couples, families with or without children are all welcome to partake. Everyone gets blessed by God, so everyone gets a turn with the blessing cup!
Pastor Scott


The theme for our youth mission trip to Louisiana was: “More Jesus Less Us.” Maybe this should really be the theme for all of life for us Christians. The “me” stuff always gets in the way and never leaves us feeling total fulfillment. The “Jesus” stuff usually brings with it some joyful surprise, and the feeling that everything’s in God’s hands.
This newsletter is your invitation to the “Jesus” stuff. Here you will find opportunities to add worship, fun, serving others, finding God in the Word, and a whole host of other things to your summer. Come join us at Atonement and get into the Jesus stuff!

Pastor Scott

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Tyler's Triumph

Our very own Tyler Hanks was part of a group that won in their division at the national robotics championship. His father, Ken, sends us this:

Below is a link to a Scientific America video that shows pretty well what these robots that Tyler’s team built are all about. Below it is another link to a Scientific America article that mentions “Smoke and Mirrors” (Tyler’s team) as the winning FTC team at the Atlanta world championship.



June 2010

"Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
The whole earth is full of his glory."
— Isaiah 6:3

It seems like, once we get through Easter, all heaven breaks loose! Suddenly we have baptisms left and right, families back from spring break are out and about doing service projects, and already our thoughts turn to the Fall and what new ministries God may be stirring up. Through it all, we have been well aware that what we have and what we do are not a result of our own strength, or even our own sacrifices. Whatever good has happened in and among us has happened through the grace of God. Because of God’s love we have been able to love our neighbors and provide a community-supported food pantry. Through God’s Spirit, we have a facility we can share with scouts, 12-step programs and even other churches. With God working through us and alongside us, we keep discovering new ways to do these ministries God gives us — joyfully and for Him!
Each of you has helped this congregation in some way, large or small. Bringing a friend to church, telling someone about the food pantry, supporting one of our teens fasting for world hunger… Whatever it might be, thanks for being a part, because together we’re making the world a little better for as many people as we can. Together, we’re helping people see why Jesus is such a big deal. Together at Atonement, we’re becoming people others know they can turn to and find hope.
Pastor Scott

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Helping Hands -- Atonement's food pantry

Drive through Wesley Chapel on State Road 54 any Wednesday morning and you may wonder what so many people are doing lined up outside the big white building. By 8:30am there is already a long line waiting for the doors to open at 10am. They are there to receive food, a little friendly conversation, and much more. Every Wed. from 10am-2pm we pass out a 2-day’s supply of food to each family. In March of 2010, Helping Hands distributed over 30,300 pounds of food to over 850 families consisting of 2951 individuals.

Helping Hands Pantry began distributing food weekly in March of 2009. Though it is held in a local church it is truly the community’s pantry, supported by over 200 individual volunteers as well as stores such as Sweetbay, Bagelicious, and Walgreens. Academy of the Lakes has designated us the official charity of their Giraffe Club. We have benefited from food drives from local subdivisions such as Saddlebrook and Bridgewater, and from organizations like the Boy Scouts. In October of 2009 we became the local distribution point for USDA foods. This has helped tremendously meet the growing needs.

Keeping this all-volunteer program going is a big undertaking. It requires picking up food on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, setting up the tables and filling bags on Tuesday with the passing out of foods on Wednesday. The volunteers come from everywhere. They are not only adults who have the time to volunteer and want to give back to the community, but youth from groups like the Honor Society of Wesley Chapel High School, youth obtaining hours for community service, and recipients themselves who want to come back and show thanks for the help they’ve received.

Not only do we give assistance in supplying food, but we now have clothes, toiletries and occasionally baby and pet items as well. Special donations allowed us to register over 300 children who received Christmas presents, and gift bags were distributed on Easter and Mother’s Day. We find it just as important to befriend and encourage people as it is to pass out food, so we try to help any way we can. We are often able to direct people to other local agencies and resources that can help with their specific needs.

It is with the help of people like you that we continue to serve these needs in our community. With the current economy, we see those needs increasing weekly. Please do what you can to help us keep up with the demands and purchase the basic food (peanut butter, spaghetti, etc.) and personal items (tooth brushes, toilet paper, soaps, etc.) that are not provided by USDA. Helping Hands operates entirely on donations, and you can be assured that all donations are used exclusively for the pantry.

Many recipients themselves tell how they found encouragement to carry on through the help they found here. One lady whose husband deserted her and their infant child told us this food pantry saved their lives. Others have found jobs, friends, and hope for the future through the relationships they built here. There are so many stories to tell, but don’t take our word for it – stop by on a Wednesday morning and see all the people being served, watch the hard-working volunteers and you’ll catch a glimpse of why this is such an important and effective outreach.

Quarterly statement thank-you letter

“Even the sparrow finds a home and the swallow a nest for herself
where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts”
--Psalm 84:3

Dear friends & members of Atonement Lutheran Church,

I can’t say thank you enough. Not to God, and not to you. First to God, who is always blessing us in a gazillion ways. Nobody said it better than Martin Luther, who reminds us how much God gives us through the gift of life and the gift of the Church:

For since in all days and hours you have received the blessings of God, such as life, being, feeling, mind, besides food and clothing and the service of the sun, of heaven and earth and all the elements in exceeding variety, it is clear that you owe thanks for what you have received. But who does not here see his own endless omissions and ingratitudes? Who has sufficiently given thanks even for one day?
Second, consider the sacraments and blessings of the Church, which serves you no less than the whole world. Therefore without ceasing you receive life, feeling, being, understanding, food and clothing in spiritual things, the service of the sun of righteousness, of heaven and earth and of all the blessings in the Church.
Luther’s Works, Vol. 10 – Lectures on the Psalms

So join me in thanking God for each new day, and for sweeping us up in His arms and bringing us into the safety and shelter of the community of Christ, the Church. What a joy it is to see Atonement becoming the community church for the Wesley Chapel area. In May we become the home to area Alcoholics Anonymous and Overeaters Anonymous groups. We will also charter the new Boy Scout Troop 2 on May 26. The overwhelming support for the food pantry is leading us to seek more space for our ministries. Praise God for the expanding mission and ministry of our congregation! It’s good to see more people finding their spiritual home here.

Now to you -- thanks for your faithfulness, your enthusiasm, your participation and support, your prayers, your witness to others, your words of encouragement, your faith and goodwill, and all that you share in the name of our Lord. With God’s unwavering blessing and your prayerful support, there’s no doubt 2010 will be another year of continued growth. May your days be full of joy and thankfulness for life, family and loved ones, and for your spiritual home, the Church!

In Christ,

Pastor Scott Lindner

May 2010

"Blessed be the Lord
Who daily bears us up;
God is our salvation."
— Psalm 68:19

It’s starting to show. As snowbirds fly up north, the worship services thin out, offerings go down, and we all have to sing a little louder to fill up the sanctuary with our praises. This year it seemed like our snowbirds were especially enthusiastic and got more involved than ever in helping out with our many ministries. They are part of our church family and we will miss them, even as we remember that God always holds us together in His heart.

Meanwhile, we will continue Sunday school through May 16 and the 8:45am Heritage Service through May 30. We have a month full of baptisms, confirmation, Mother’s Day and other special events. The food pantry and other ministries continue to need volunteers. Our youth will experience a 30 hour fast to benefit world hunger, and we’ll hear reports about what’s going on in the wider church. May is a month when we watch Atonement become a whole different congregation — smaller, but just as full of God’s joy and love.

Pastor Scott


April 2010

"So now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? Only to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul..."
— Deuteronomy 10:12

Nobody expected Easter. No one anticipated the empty tomb. Neither the disciples, the guards, the Roman and Jewish leaders, nor the women who came to anoint the body of our Lord — none of them had any idea that God was going to make that serene Sunday morning the turning point of all history.
And here we are 2000 years later, and what are we expecting God to do in our lives, in our homes, in our church and community? Easter should be the flame that always lights the fuse of hope in us. It should shake us up to realize that God can bring things to life that we thought
were dead, and force us to re-think life’s limitations. Easter is there to inspire us to live beyond boundaries and love beyond expectations. It turns us into “Easter people” who are moved and shaped by this incredible good news.
So what does it mean to be Easter people? It means:

1. We are different — where the world tells us we need to keep climbing higher and accumulating more, we know we’ve got all we need. So we act a little differently from people who think all we need is (in the words of Howard Hughes) “just a little more.” Instead, we spend our lives as Jesus did: giving ourselves away. On April 18, “Time and Talent Sunday,” we will look for new ways we can share in God’s work and give away some of what God has given us.

2. We are family — trusting Jesus to accompany and guide us, we find our lives bathed in the light of the empty tomb. His grace enlightens our relationships and his concerns become our own. Jesus opened the circle and brought us into his family, and now brothers and sisters in Christ are all around us. This month we will celebrate a baptism and a new member reception — as God continues to keep the circle open and call more and more people to come join the family.

3. We are ready — God placed us in the center of a world of needs. People need help, people need hope, and we have both to share. Thanks for being ready to share your time and talent and treasure on behalf of Jesus, our Lord. Imagine — this adventure that began with a cross and an empty tomb, carries on through your hands and your heart!

Pastor Scott

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Peace on earth and at Atonement

After a visit from the congregation of Peace Evangelical Lutheran Church, a New African Descent/Multicultural ministry, their pastor sent us greetings:
February 9, 2010
Dear Pastor Scott,
On February 7, 2010 we had wonderful time in our worship with you. I felt the spirit of joy, love, humbleness, gladness, peace and unity. I believed angels around is all pleased for the glory of God. More over our God the source of all these gifts rejoiced and pleased with our worship and unity. He deserved the praise from each and every one of us. That is why he created, called and saved us. Thanks be to Him.
I also wanted to thank God, you, your congregation, and Peace congregation for the offering gifts that I received for the ministry support for Peace church. I received three checks two from your congregation and one from Peace. The rest of envelopes contains different amounts of bills from $1.00, $5.00, $10.00, $20.00, $50.00, and $100.00. I received $554 .00 in cash and $71.00 in checks with the total amount of $625.00. All amounts directly goes to the mission support fund for Peace church.
I thank you in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and the Peace Congregation. Please address my appreciation and thanks to all of your members for they saw the seed for the mission and glory of God.
Again thank you and God bless you all!

Pastor S/Michael Birra