Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Deacons are coming! The Deacons are coming!

"[Deacons] must hold on to the deep truths of the faith. Even their own minds tell them to do that. First they must be tested. Then let them serve as deacons if there is nothing against them."
— 1 Timothy 3:9-10 (NIrV)

You’re in for a treat! I can’t wait until May, because we’re going to have some tremendous guest speakers preaching at the 10am service. They are not movie stars, past presidents, or motivational speakers. They are not retired sports figures or pastors. But they do have some great things to share with you about how God’s love has worked in their lives. Best of all, you know these people!

These are the deacon candidates being trained for lay ministry here at Atonement. They have been reading, studying, bringing communion to shut-ins, and attending classes with me every other week. They have committed to a two-year training period before being eligible to be consecrated as Atonement’s very first “synodical deacons.” Since we began last fall, we have covered classes in Communion, Old Testament, Preaching, and are now studying the Lutheran Confessions. And in May they will be preaching in worship.

This is more than just a training exercise. In our class, they’ve each had an opportunity to practice preaching. I am very proud of each one of them, because each brings a special gift to bear on their unique presentation of God’s Word. Some of them are nervous, some excited to be speaking in church. I know you will listen and receive their messages graciously and enthusiastically, and have encouraging feedback to give them. What’s more, I believe you will leave each service blessed with new insights at God’s amazing love and a whole new wonder at the gifts God gives his people!

Pastor Scott

On Earthquakes and Easter

"He has been raised from the dead, and is going ahead…
there you will see him..."
— Matthew 28:7

The man stood looking over the concrete sea wall down into the harbor. It was low tide and water pooled in small puddles on the muddy floor of the inlet. Suddenly out to sea, the large level wave could be seen bearing down silently upon the shore. The man saw the wave crash and the water pour into the harbor, the boats bobbing up and down like toys in the bathtub, with a second wave on its way. This time, the wave’s impact on the shore shot vertical sprays of dark water forty feet into the air. The man decides to move to higher ground. As soon as he has climbed up a nearby observation platform, he glances back to where he stood a second ago. A veritable Niagara Falls of muddy water is now pouring over the sea wall and the sidewalk has disappeared. “Oh my God,” he says, in Japanese.

After seeing the vast devastation caused by earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear emergencies across the ocean, we ought to give a second thought to our own lives. Today is a gift from God — tomorrow no more than a hope. The only certainty we have for tomorrow comes from Jesus Christ. His death on the cross was a tidal wave, smashing through our sins and drowning death itself. His Easter life is a new chance He’s given us here on earth and a place with Him in glory to come. Experience it all close up this Holy week & Easter!

Pastor Scott

Praise God!

April 4, 2011

 “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord…’”
-- Isaiah 61:10
Praise God!
Once again, thanks to your faithful giving and careful stewardship, we have been able to meet all our financial obligations. Not only that, we are growing in worship with the addition of Ruby Agnir as our new choir director. I want to fill you in on a few more things that are going on in and around Atonement as we move towards Easter and the celebration of God’s promises fulfilled in the Risen Christ! –

  • This is our third year without the extra income that Little Pioneers Daycare brought in, but income from offerings has grown almost to the point of replacing it. We are now heading into the summer months when our offering income takes a dip, but we still hope the offerings will take care of most of our regular expenditures.
  • By Easter, you should see results of our next phase in improving audiovisual technology in the sanctuary. We will be installing screens that should result in better flow in worship and less expense printing bulletins.
  • We have now established a building fund for the new construction that we have planned. This includes work redoing our parking and landscaping as a result of the road construction. It also includes putting up a new building, which will serve as multi-purpose gathering space (with full kitchen) along with much-needed additional food pantry storage. Special gifts may be directed to this fund at any time. 
  • Our national church body has been hit much harder than expected by reductions in giving. Mission congregations throughout the country have seen their pastors’ salaries reduced by 30%. This includes our own mission partner, Peace Lutheran Church in Tampa and their pastor, Michael Birra. At our meeting yesterday, Tampa area churches voted to use some of our conference dollars to support Pastor Birra’s salary and another $1000 to develop a support team that would assist that church in reaching out and growing.
  • Thanks to the local papers, tv stations and word-of-mouth, our Helping Hands food pantry has gotten great exposure lately. More people are calling the church and asking about it – both people needing help and people wanting to donate food.
  • We will be hosting a short seminar with luncheon on Sunday, May 1 after the 10am service called Charitable Giving: How to Make a Difference by Giving Back. Deb Kretchman, our local Thrivent representative will be sharing information and leading discussion. You can sign up at church, or call the church office at 813-973-2211.
Take a moment and think of some of the blessings in your life. Thanks to our faith and awareness of God’s presence and love for us, we know who we are and what life is about. As we prepare to bring our Easter worship to God, we remember that He gave his Son Jesus for us and we want to give Him back our very best. As Atonement member Lilja Taylor reminds us in her poem “Easter Parable,” “He did what we could not”! Bring Him your best this Easter, your thanks, your praise, your heart!

Pastor Scott

Blessings Abound in 2011

January 8, 2011

“Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the presence of all his people,
‘No, my lord, hear me; I give you the field…’”
-- Genesis 23:10-11

Blessings Abound!

Even in the midst of grieving for his beloved wife, Sarah, Abraham remembered that God is good and His blessings abound. Gathered around his friends and neighbors, he asks for some land, a beautiful and secure place where he may bury the love of his life. He asks for a specific place, a field with a cave owned by a man named Ephron, and he offers to pay the full price. But Ephron is touched by his love for Abraham and the pain in Abraham’s hurting heart – and he offers Abraham the land, the field, the cave – all for free. But Abraham will not have it so. He pays for field, a good fair price of 400 silver pieces and thereby officially becomes an owner of a piece of the land God promised him.

This is what you call a win-win-win situation. Abraham wins, because he acquires the specific piece of property he wants. Ephron wins, because not only does he get to show his generous heart to Abraham and all his friends, he still gets a good price for his land. And God wins, because His purpose is fulfilled, His will is done, and His children have worked it all out in love.

This is how God’s grace works in our lives. Christ has given us his love, generously and freely on the cross. We accept His love and forgiveness, and even though we know we could never repay such generosity, we try our best. We use our gifts, we care for each other, and we always look for ways to give more for God’s work in the world. And then God is blessed too. He sees our appreciation for what He gives us, He knows the love in our hearts, and the glory we give Him becomes our reward as well.

May blessings abound to you in 2011. May you live and give generously, so that every day is a win-win-win. May God’s grace come to you in the joys and sorrows of your life and remind you what a great gift you are, and what a great gift you have!

Pastor Scott

Marching into Lent

"There is a season for everything;
a time for every occupation under heaven."

— Ecclesiastes 3:1

If there’s one thing I hear Floridians say they miss about living up north, it’s the change of seasons. Many miss the dramatic changes, the fiery Fall colors and the green shoots peeking up through a white blanket of snow. But even here in Florida the signs of approaching Spring are emerging. The grass is a little less brown, the lizards are moving about more, and the oak pollen covers our mailboxes. With our record lows behind us, we are experiencing more of the beautiful Winter days Florida is known for.

We will soon be seeing a dramatic seasonal change in worship. The mountaintop glory of Transfiguration Sunday at the end of Epiphany (March 6 this year), ushers us down into the valley of Lent the following Wednesday (Ash Wednesday, March 9). The mood changes quickly from celebration to introspection, from exultant praise to quiet contemplation. This year, Lent (and Easter) will be coming much later than usual. In fact it can only come one day later, and this won’t happen until the year 2038! So just when the temperature outside is warming, we will be finding the tone of worship darkening as we look into our hearts and rediscover our deep need for Jesus and his forgiveness.

Here at Atonement we will delve into Lenten worship in three ways. As usual, we will be having midweek Lenten services at 7:00 pm, beginning Ash Wednesday and continuing through the week before Holy Week. Except for Ash Wednesday, each of these services will be preceded by a soup supper. During the midweek services our Jesus in Film series we will examine different ways Jesus has been portrayed in the movies. We’ll watch clips from films such as The Miracle Maker, Jesus Christ Superstar, and The Passion of the Christ to see what they reveal and what they distort in how they present our Lord.

Sundays in Lent, we will take a serious look at the sins of the church. We have a wonderful congregation at Atonement, and we do many things well. Still, we are susceptible to the same temptations and shortcomings that any Christian church in our culture is liable to. Our Sunday sermon series, The Broken Body, will be a thought- provoking and enlightening examination of some of the obstacles keeping us from fulfilling our potential to be God’s people.

Finally, we hope you are able to take the opportunity to join us for the “Spring Safari” weekend up at Luther Springs camp, March 18-20. This year, we are receiving an unprecedented low rate for our congregation — only $55/person for the two-night stay in a fine, clean cabin with restrooms and 4 meals included! And only $75 if you prefer the “hotel style” room. Beautiful scenery, walks by the lake, an archery range...all this plus the Bible study, fellowship and worship program add up to a fun and memorable weekend.

Join us, and don’t forget to tell your friends and neighbors about the meaningful and memorable Lenten worship lineup at Atonement this season.

Pastor Scott

Better Living Through Faithfulness

In an experiment conducted at UCLA, 2 groups of participants were given a test. Both groups were given an opportunity to cheat on the test, and some members of the first group did. Nobody in the second group cheated. What was the difference? Well, before the test, members of the first group were asked to list their 10 favorite books. Members of the second group were asked to list as many of the 10 commandments as they could recall. Most of them could not recall more than one or two, but somehow just thinking about the 10 commandments made them all more honest.

The 10 commandments are one of God’s great gifts to humanity. Our world needs these words from God like never before. When we leave God and His will for us out of our lives, we become less honest, less thoughtful, and ultimately less happy people. Join us at the 10am services through February for What Love Demands, a series on the 10 commandments and how they can change your life.

Pastor Scott