Saturday, December 21, 2013

All Things New

“…See, the home of God is among mortals -- He will dwell with them;
They will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them;
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; 
Death will be no more..."
 — Revelation 21: 3-4
                       Do you have a favorite Florida theme park?  Maybe it’s Busch Gardens or one of the Disney Orlando parks.  Legoland?  Sea World?  I’ve been to Universal now several times with our youth group for Rock the Universe, enough to know my way around the park and know which rides are the best.  These parks create a whole new world for us to visit, making it easy to imagine we are somewhere else — an old western town, a cave or jungle adventure, outer space or a place of monsters and magic.

                      Sometimes reading the Bible can feel like we are entering a whole other world.  We are suddenly whisked away to a land of strange names and customs, people without cars or iphones encountering talking snakes and pillars of cloud and fire.  We can easily feel detached from this world and question if it has any more to do with us than the latest movie with dragons and wizards.  But as we explore deeper into the treasure chest that is our Holy Scriptures, we find that the strange and supernatural falls away.  The Bible tells the story of a family blessed to know God as a friend and companion through life.  It is the story of everyday people caught up in an amazing story, the story of what it means to see and hear this God in the midst of life.  We notice that these people can be fallible and foolish, and yet try to keep God’s presence before them as a part of their lives.  This is the story of their forgetting and remembering God, and of what it does to their families and friends, to their neighborhoods and nations. 

                      Eventually, we come to see that the Bible is not some kind of theme park we walk through, imagining ourselves in another time and place.  Instead, it is a story of which our lives are a part.  We begin to recognize our failures and foolishness, and times we’ve remembered and forgotten God ourselves.  We learn things that the world doesn’t tell us — that our greatest strength is weakness, that we please God most when we stop trying to impress Him, that simple acts of love are life’s most profound moments.  Instead of describing some strange fantasy world, the Scriptures bring us a clearer vision of the world we’re in now, and bring us into the story of the world that is coming in Christ.  
                      I love a challenge — trying new things, or doing something in a new way.  This year, once again I’m challenging myself to read through the Bible, this time with the version translated by Eugene Peterson called The Message.  If you’ve never read the entire Bible, I encourage you to pick up one of our Bible in a Year handouts at church and join me in the adventure.  It gives a 3-4 chapter per day reading plan that helps you stay on track reading just 20-30 minutes a day.

                    I’m also challenging myself to develop a new 7-week Bible study based on the book of Revelation.  Of all the books in the Bible, Revelation can be the most confusing.  My new Bible study Revelation: Prophecy Remixed examines the book’s major images and shows how Revelation presents new reflections on themes from the ancient Old Testament prophetic tradition.  I think this is a helpful and enlightening way to make Revelation a little less mysterious.  I’m hoping to have this study ready to go by the end of February.
                   I am excited by the new year, 2014, and all the possibilities that it brings.  Last year we built onto our building — this year we will be building new ministries and new visions for the future.  We will begin putting together new visitation and caring teams as the Stephens Ministry program gets underway.  We are also looking at expanding Outreach and Stewardship teams, and restarting our Prayer Ministry.  With all this, we will be putting together a group to develop a new vision and long-range plan for 2015 and beyond.  In the midst of this, we will celebrate the first year of the Capital Campaign next month as donations continue to be matched by an anonymous donor. 
                    Congratulations to our new leadership team elected to council positions — to Scott Giesking, president; Julie Kaufmann, vice-president; Carol Rothgeb, treasurer; Kay Edwards, secretary; as well as council members Shad Latson, Robin Frank, Laurie Chairamonte, and Bill Anderson.  Together, we thank our Lord who makes all things new (Revelation 21:5)  for the gifts, the wonder, and the challenges of a new year, a new Spirit, and a new day!
Pastor Scott


Monday, December 2, 2013

Bright Star of Bethlehem

“…Fear no more!  I am announcing to you good news that will be a great joy for all the people.  Today in the City of David a Savior was born for you.  He is Lord Messiah..."  — Luke 2:10-11

If you’ve ever been to Washington D.C., maybe you’ve felt a shiver down your spine as you walk surrounded by marble memorials to veterans and presidents, or experienced the solemn majesty of standing in the shadow of the Capitol dome or the Washington monument, or gazed across the lawn at the pillars of the White House, awed by the history that still happens there.  The buildings and statues there call attention to great happenings and larger-than-life personalities, personages who guided and governed and fought for our nation.  The imposing stature of those edifices testify to the greatness of the ones they are dedicated to, and to the immensity of this great project of democracy and freedom in which we all take part.

What a contrast it all makes to the “little town of Bethlehem," the City of David where Christ was born.  Our Lord and mighty Savior, the King of Kings and Prince of Peace was born in an out of the way place, far from the halls and palaces of worldly power.  Bethlehem had no fortress or battlements, no walls or watchtowers.  It was a peaceful place of farms and fields of sheep.  Bethlehem had an important place.  It was where Jacob’s wife Rachel had died on a journey through the territory.  Her burial place had been revered for centuries.  It was where Jesse’s family settled, and where his youngest son David had been  singled out as Judah’s king and anointed by the prophet Samuel.  And when Jesus was born, it was the place where David’s descendants were to come and register for the Roman census.

And so it was that history’s grandest figure was born in this quiet crossroad town, a place whose historical importance was hushed and hidden, but could be uncovered and revealed by those who knew where to look.  For those who remembered the words of the prophets, the promises of God were not secrets.  For those who searched the scriptures and found Micah’s prediction that “from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule Israel, whose origin is from old, from ancient of days…” (Micah 5:2) there was a hope and expectation that God could bring his mighty Messiah among us, even from a small and nearly forgotten backwater town.

So here’s to our God who doesn’t forget the ancient promises, whose hope lives on even when ours has died.  Here’s to a Savior who became born for us, whose advent into this world came without trumpets or monuments, but was heralded instead by angel choirs and choruses of cows, donkeys and common shepherds.  He has not left us here alone, but has come among us with flesh and blood, born a baby to grow and live with us, and then to die for us, and then again to live so that we too may be carried through the gates of his Kingdom.  Here’s to a time that has nothing to do, really, with shopping and holiday specials, and everything to do with beauty and love and the restoration of our world.  Here’s to a place that was not too lowly or unimportant for the Lord of the Universe to choose for his entrance into our world.

This Advent season, our worship celebrates that little town, and the “Bright Star of Bethlehem” who came from there to bring peace to all the earth and good will to humankind.  Come join us as we prepare our souls to receive our King.  Come sing, give thanks, and open your hearts as we hear and live the story and share his love with our family, friends and neighbors. 
Pastor Scott

Bible Study Lesson 6 - Faith. Questions #1-7

These online questions are posted as an additional resource for the Bible study series Your Spiritual Survival Kit.  They are not required to go through the group study.  Rather, they are here to provide you with food for thought and spiritual reflection.  You are also welcome to post your own answer or reaction to each question as a comment here on this blog.  Just remember to respect the opinions and responses of others.  Blessings!

1.      What statements about God do you have trouble believing?

2.      How is faith different from belief?

3.      How do you think God feels about people of other religions?

4.      How important is church attendance for people of faith?

5.      Read Romans 3:21-28.  What does a Christian have faith in?

6.      How does faith relate to humility, gratitude, joy, hope, and love for others?

7.      How can you help others strengthen their faith?

Thursday, November 7, 2013

2013: Atonement gets a facelift

“You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.  In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.”             
-- Ephesians 2:19-21

        She came into my office with a bright smile on her face.  “Pastor, I’ve been living here for years and drove down this road almost every day, but I never realized there was a church back here.  And you know what?  I’ve been looking for a church like this one.  She’s now a member, worshiping here almost every Sunday.
            Between all the construction, the sign being back up, and all the action happening here on Wednesdays, people are taking notice of Atonement Lutheran Church.  I’ll never forget my visit here 8 years ago when I flew down for my interview.  The young lady at the rental car agency down at TIA had lived in Wesley Chapel all her life.  “Then you know about Atonement Lutheran Church,” I said hopefully.  She looked at me funny: “Well… there are lots of churches in our area.”  “But this one’s right on State Road 54,” I said, trying to jolt something loose in her brain.  No dice.
            Back then it was par for the course, but today I’d be shocked to run into a local resident who doesn’t know we are here.  People come in through the week, bringing donations and telling me they appreciate how much we do for this community.  I’ve even had a local business person promise me Atonement will have a share of stock in their new business start-up because of the good work we do.
             Perhaps the biggest change to our community visibility in 2013 has happened because of the new church front.  I’ve honestly had more feedback from people outside the congregation than from our own members on this one.  “I finally see there’s a church there,” people tell me. The complicated roof lines and corner angles have been smoothed out.  The stone facade and textured stucco bring a warmer, more organic feel.  The rose color (not pink!) invites the eye, and the overhang reaches out toward the road, beckoning people to pull in (even in a Florida downpour).              As the construction began in January, we had a feeling of déjà vu, remembering last years long wait to see completion of the parking lot.  We continued to use our vinyl road signs, having new ones made and adapting old ones to tie up to the pvc posts by the road.  It made the call to new construction all the more urgent as we officially began our Capital Campaign in February.  Jean Zabel and the Capital Campaign team designed a wonderful event hosted at Holy Trinity Lutheran in Lutz to kick off our Laying Foundations for the Children of God campaign.  With a 3-year goal of $300,000, the campaign will raise funds for a new building which will provide additional storage and multi-use space for our ministries.  We already knew our present building has inadequate storage.  In fact, we became so pressed for space that we added a new storage garage in the back last year.  But we also face difficulties holding dinners in our small fellowship hall and preparing food in the present small kitchen with no stove.  The new building should help relieve pressure in numerous areas.
            Barb Turner and Joe Zummo helped bring the Tree of Life back to life this year.  We have re-thought what it’s about and decided that it will be used to commemorate all our deceased members.  Other people can be added to the memorial tree for a donation of $50 or more.  We also want to thank Ariel Esposito for finishing the beautiful undersea mural that lines the hallway in the Sunday School wing.  She spent many hours putting meticulously detailed work into the seascape.  I’m especially fond of my customized swordfish.
            Special thanks to Matthew Aeppel, who chose as his Eagle Scout project the construction of a prayer garden out behind the church.  He created a wonderful environment in a peaceful spot out by the hedge, complete with benches and a birdbath.  In October we added a columbarium just to the north of the prayer garden.  A granite cylinder rising up from a circle of brick pavers, the columbarium has 80 compartments for sets of 1 or 2 urns.  Church members will be given the first opportunities to purchase the use of a niche.




            I will always remember 2013 as the year of my first sabbatical.  Like the “Sabbath” in the Bible (there are Sabbath years every seven years in addition to the Sabbath day every week), a Sabbatical is intended to be a time of rest, refocus and renewal.  Many pastors are given Sabbaticals these days in recognition of the need to step out of one’s normal ministry setting every so often to gain perspective and “reload” one’s self spiritually.  So every seven years, pastors are encouraged to take some intentionally structured time (usually 3 months) to gain some new experiences and work on projects that the normal routine of the parish would make difficult.
            For years, I’ve had people encouraging me to go to Germany.  My brother Paul, who went back in his college days, is one of those people.  When I told him about my Sabbatical coming up, he suggested we go together and offered to help pay if one of the boys wanted to come along.  As it turned out, my son Brian was excited at the prospect.  Then last year, Rick Will encouraged me as he shared pictures from his trip to “Luther country” at our Reformation dinner. 
         Things fell into place and plans were made for an epic trip to Wittenberg, Berlin and Bavaria this past June.  Thanks to the generosity of many Atonement members, enough money was donated to my Sabbatical fund to cover my plane fare.  We primarily stayed at youth hostels and inexpensive (but nice) bed and breakfast type places, one of which was the monastery where Martin Luther himself had studied in Erfurt.  To walk in Luther’s footsteps, see where he lived and worked, to hear ancient music played in the Wittenberg castle church (where the words to “A Mighty Fortress”
are inscribed on its own mighty tower) was an unforgettable experience for all three of us.
           On returning to the US, I was blessed to have time to work on my records and files.  The laptop I had been using for the past year and a half died, and took much of my data with it.  I had records of baptisms, funerals, calendar items, indexes of various sorts all of which had been lost to a faulty hard drive.  I spent weeks of my Sabbatical trying to recreate these as best as I could.  Then in July, we took a family trip out west to visit my birth mother in California.  We saw some other relatives on the way, along with the Dr. Pepper museum in Waco, TX, Carlsbad Caverns in NM, Yosemite National Park, the Grand Canyon, and, yes, Las Vegas.  This was our first time seeing any of these places, and quite possibly the last chance we’ll have to take a trip like this as a family.
            August was spent battling with a bout of cluster headaches, which made it difficult to get anything done in the first half of the month.  Once that was over, I spent the last couple weeks (and a week or so after I got back to work) working on my major Sabbatical project – the OUT-WORD Bible study series.  For years I have been looking for a good small group curriculum that would be easy enough to use that we could kick off a series of small group studies meeting at different places, different times throughout the week.  Atonement has not had a strong history of consistent Bible study, and I want to see that change.
            My goal was to create a Bible study that would focus on practical application, rather than details of doctrine or esoteric aspects of the text.  Knowing that I couldn’t be there to lead each one, I had Scott Giesking record me giving a series of talks about specific scripture passages and their themes.  We shot about 3 hours of me talking, which Scott put together into a pair of DVDs.  The idea was that all the hosts would have to do is play the DVD lessons and give the guests time to discuss each one.  Scott also gave me some valuable help making a Participants Booklet, which Suzi Morgan also helped edit. 
            When I was done, I had all the materials for a 6-session Bible study called “Your Spiritual Survival Kit,” based on themes suggested by our October and November gospel readings.  We had three groups go through the material, and so far the feedback has been very positive.  Based on the feedback I receive from those who have completed the study, I hope to prepare a second OUT-WORD Bible study for the Spring.   Maybe you would consider hosting a group at your house?


“And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.”                                                     -- Philippians 1:9-11

         Going forward into 2014 and beyond, it is clear there are plenty of projects before us, and much work to do as we continue to spread God’s love into our community.  My deep-felt thanks and appreciation go out to all our ministry leaders, to Kay and the office staff, to Carla, Yvette and all the food pantry volunteers, to Ken and Ruby and the choir, to our praise team, and all our ministry partners.  You all help make Atonement much more than a church – we are truly a family of faith.
          We have been blessed through continual improvements to our property.  We keep the Capital Campaign before us as we look forward to 2016 and the new building.  Talks with members and various ministry teams need to happen at regular intervals so they can give input and hear updates on the projected plans.  We also have a new capability to play audio through speakers placed in the bell tower.  This could be music, or simply a bell sound played throughout the day.  With the mural in the hallway done, we have arrived at a point where we can replace the original stained and splotchy carpet with something that will be more inviting to new families whose children go down that hall to use the nursery, Sunday school or youth room.  As we develop the columbarium, prayer garden and other resources in the back of the property, we look forward to the future installation of some kind of access drive to benefit the people using these.

            A new year will also mean new council leadership, and big thanks are offered to Suzi Morgan and all our outgoing council members.  Big thanks go to Joe Zummo, who will be moving from the treasurer position to finance committee member.  Years ago, Joe tackled the tough job of moving our financial books over to the “Revelations” online software, where our records are now secure and privacy is assured.  We are looking forward to a more active finance committee this year, and will be working to make all of our ministry teams as full and functional as possible.  For instance, we expect to see a revamped stewardship team become active, as well as a Caring Team renewed by the Stephens Ministry program.
            Our worship life will see some small changes this year.  We have not forgotten the goal of developing powerpoint slides for the 10am service.  We are still looking for people who can help with this.  People have mentioned an interest in volunteering to contact people we haven’t seen in worship for a while, including families who had children baptized at Atonement.  We have also begun a search for a music leader for the praise team, which will continue to play for the 8:30am service.
            Our Helping Hands ministry is feeding more people than ever before.  New people are joining us for worship.  More people are coming to know Jesus through our services, Sunday school, youth work and one-on-one works of service and friendship done on behalf of our Lord.  Wesley Chapel is growing, but Pasco County remains one of the most unchurched counties in the country.  How do we deal with the new challenges and changes in our church and community?  Four years ago, we developed a Vision Team who studied, researched, interviewed, prayed and worked out a document which helped us move forward as a congregation.  This Vision 2009 document included goals for particular ministries and long range plans for the whole congregation. 
        Our big focus next year will be re-creating that process with a new Vision Team to develop a Vision 2015 document.  This revised vision will help us keep on track with God and each other as we continue to grow, reach out, serve, build, and worship.  What new possibilities will God open up to us as we seek to be God’s people in this community?  Maybe you have some ideas or insights that you could share with the new vision team, or perhaps you’d like to help us put this new vision together.  Whatever happens, we value your generosity, participation, and partnership in the work of the gospel and we know that God goes with us to inspire us, enlighten us, and empower us for a future of blessings!

Pastor Scott

Monday, November 4, 2013

Bible Study Lesson 5 - Joy. Question #1-7

These online questions are posted as an additional resource for the Bible study series Your Spiritual Survival Kit.  They are not required to go through the group study.  Rather, they are here to provide you with food for thought and spiritual reflection.  You are also welcome to post your own answer or reaction to each question as a comment here on this blog.  Just remember to respect the opinions and responses of others.  Blessings!

1.      How does the way you are treated by other people affect your level of joy?

2.     List your three most joyful experiences in life.

3.     Where is it you find joy in worship?

4.     What kinds of things rob you of joy?

5.     How do you express joy?  Post a photo of yourself looking joyful.

6.     Read 2 Samuel 6:12-23.  Was David’s expression of joy appropriate?

7.     Read Acts 13:49-52.  How does joy relate to hardship?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Lord's

If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord;
so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s”
 -- Romans 14:8

Friends of Atonement,

            You are God’s!  Your faith declares it, and your baptism seals the deal.  Jesus has given his life for yours, and he says to you, “Nothing can snatch you out of my hands.”  We have many names for this comforting fact: “Amazing Grace,” “Blessed Assurance,” or simply the good news.  This is why we do what we do: why we worship, why we pray, and why we reach out to share God’s love – because we know whose we are.
            And because we are God’s, we can feel secure even when we face death.  To know that the God who made us, who has loved and redeemed us is also the God we will meet in eternity brings a comfort nothing else can give.  Knowing you are God’s brings a special peace, like that of a lamb following the caring shepherd to drink beside the clear, cool stream. 
Who could ever put a price tag on this inner peace?  How much would we spend if we could, to give that peace to those we love?  But we know it doesn’t work that way.  God’s grace is free of charge, even though Jesus paid the most precious price of all to cleanse us of our sin.  But we can still share the story of that amazing grace, and still show the world how God has blessed us with the comfort of knowing we are his, both in life and in death. 
In November we begin a new ministry here at Atonement.  We have purchased a columbarium, a memorial to hold the cremated remains of loved ones.  This large granite edifice will be placed behind the church, near the prayer garden.  We will soon be making it available for members to purchase compartments to lay to rest the ashes of themselves or family members. 
            We also are continuing the “Tree of Life” memorial in the entryway.  The brass leaves of the tree commemorate deceased members of our family of faith, and anyone can get a leaf engraved with the name of a loved one for a donation of $50. 
            It may not be your favorite thing to think about, but we know we are not going to be here forever.  God has a new and wonderful creation in store for us after death, but we still do our best to care for those who remain.  I encourage you to think about your legacy giving, and to continue supporting the causes and people who are important to you, in death as you have in life.  Does your current will include your congregation and charities that are dear to your heart?
            As St. Paul reminds us, whether we live or die we are still in God’s hands.  People of faith do not see death as an end, but as a transition to new life.  We celebrate the communion of saints that goes beyond the bounds of death, and we do our best to plan for a future we know is coming.  We do so with hope, and with gratitude to God.  I remember the closing words to one of my favorite old hymns, “…in life, in death O Lord, abide with me.”  May God bless you always with the sure and certain hope of eternal life with him!
Pastor Scott

Bible Study Lesson 4 - Love for others. Questions #1-7

These online questions are posted as an additional resource for the Bible study series Your Spiritual Survival Kit.  They are not required to go through the group study.  Rather, they are here to provide you with food for thought and spiritual reflection.  You are also welcome to post your own answer or reaction to each question as a comment here on this blog.  Just remember to respect the opinions and responses of others.  Blessings!

1.     What makes a person easy to love?

2.     How has your understanding of love changed over the years?

3.     How do you know someone loves you?

4.     What makes it hard to love others?

5.     What gets in the way of loving Jesus?

6.     Read Gen. 18:1-5 and Hebrews 13:2.   How do you show love to strangers?

7.     Jesus tells us to love others as he has loved us.  How has he loved us?

Bible Study Lesson 3 - Hope. Questions #1-7

These online questions are posted as an additional resource for the Bible study series Your Spiritual Survival Kit.  They are not required to go through the group study.  Rather, they are here to provide you with food for thought and spiritual reflection.  You are also welcome to post your own answer or reaction to each question as a comment here on this blog.  Just remember to respect the opinions and responses of others.  Blessings!

1.      Describe a time when you felt like giving up.  What got you through?

2.      Are you hopeful about the future?  What do you put your hope in?

3.      Without naming anyone, do you know a person you’d describe as “hopeless”?  If so, why do you feel that way about them?  If not, why do you think that is?

4.      What kind of false hopes do people have?

5.      How does our understanding of an afterlife affect our hope in this life?

6.     Read Romans 5:3-5.  Where does hope come from?

7.      How do your religious beliefs help you to have hope?

Bible Study Lesson 2 - Gratitude. Question #7

These online questions are posted as an additional resource for the Bible study series Your Spiritual Survival Kit.  They are not required to go through the group study.  Rather, they are here to provide you with food for thought and spiritual reflection.  You are also welcome to post your own answer or reaction to each question as a comment here on this blog.  Just remember to respect the opinions and responses of others.  Blessings!

7. How do we express gratitude to God in worship?

The full package

"...since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. ."     — Romans 3:24-25

           The football commentators are surprised this season that the Kansas City Chiefs are the only undefeated team left in the NFL.  Teams with a decent quarterback are having trouble with receivers, teams with decent receivers are having trouble with defense.  Nobody seems to have the full package.  The good thing is, this makes football a whole lot more unpredictable, which can make it more fun to watch.  Any sport can get monotonous when the same teams always win.  

       The wonderful thing about our faith is — despite all the struggle and conflict we witness in our world, we know God will win in the end.  Despite all the sin that’s left in the world, healing and restoration is available to all through the redemption Jesus has offered all humanity.  Sometimes we feel like we’re watching a cosmic contest between God and the devil, and we worry that the devil is scoring more points.  But Paul reminds us of the true nature of things: we have all been justified by grace as a gift.  This has already happened — Christ died for all.  His resurrection confirms that the final score will be a blowout — God triumphs over death, pain, and evil.  

         In the meantime, the battle rages on.  People suffer and die, children go hungry and nations wage wars.  As people of faith who know the outcome of history, Jesus has drafted us to be disciples, workers on the front lines of his war against the devil.  November is the traditional harvest time.  It is a season of family and Thanksgiving.  We count our blessings and realize how well God has equipped us in this life.  We also realize he has given us a lot to share.

             I give thanks for our Helping Hands Food Pantry, and all of you who have supported it by volunteering, bringing food, praying for their ministry, or telling someone in need about it.  It is truly a work of God and a major force on the frontlines against hunger and poverty in our area.  If you have not seen the food pantry in action, I encourage you to come down on a Wednesday and watch the operation at work.  You will see a well-organized and friendly group of people serving over 250 families. 

       This month the food pantry has had a record number of clients.  The USDA government supplied food has been very low at just the time when the need is growing.  As we go into the season of Thanksgiving, we anticipate the numbers will get even higher.  I urge you to find ways to support this vital ministry even more at this crucial time.  Donations of non-perishable goods are always welcome.  I hope you will also consider being part of the S.O.S. pancake breakfast coming up on November 9.  Once again, the Wolf’s Den restaurant is donating their delicious pancake batter to help us celebrate this ministry and to raise money to Stock Our Shelves.
       I had a call from a relative this week who asked if instead of exchanging gifts this year for Christmas, we could give donations to our local food pantries.  She has been noticing how low the shelves are at her church’s food bank up in Ohio,  and wanting to make a difference for her community.  I don’t know about you, but our family has plenty of stuff, plenty of food to eat, and we know how much our loved ones care for us.  I told her I thought that was a fantastic idea, and the Lindner household will be making a donation in her name to our own Helping Hands pantry as our Christmas gift to her.
       None of us has the full package.  We are all sinners who have been picked up by our gracious Lord, hungry souls fed by our merciful Savior.  We can’t do much about poverty by ourselves, but Jesus has gathered us as his people and equipped us to help our neighbors, each of us bringing a little which adds up to make a huge difference.   As I count my blessings, I remember this family of faith and the spirit of our Risen Lord which lives in each of you to bring hope to the world and food to the hungry.

Pastor Scott