Friday, November 28, 2014

2014: Atonement makes strides

“With all wisdom and insight, he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.  In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purposes of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.” 
                                                               -- Ephesians 1:8-12

by the Atonement Praise Band

 Isn’t it crazy how we get a little lazy when we’re running out of energy
Feeling tired and uninspired with our boats floating out at sea
Then all of a sudden the Lord shows up to show us how things could be
We leave our boats behind and go off to find the way of generosity

CHORUS: When we’re doing God’s work with our hands
We’re doing and pursuing God’s work with our hands, it’s God’s work, our hands

Isn’t it funny when we’re running low on money how it causes such anxiety
It makes us so pathetic that we can’t be sympathetic to our wayward neighbor’s plea
But the hungry and the thirsty are filled with grace and mercy when they’re given God’s own currency
Come to the water, every son and daughter, and get what you need for free


We look around at the country and town, people don’t understand
We give them a surprise and we open up their eyes when we lend them a helping hand

Did you ever see how you can grow a tree when you plant a little mustard seed
The birds of the air make their home in there and God gives them all they need
Isn’t it a wonder how things work out according to the prophecy
The gifts of God’s Spirit are all poured out on people like you and me

CHORUS (twice)

People first

 We’ve heard it before: the church is not a building -- the church is people.  It seems in the last few years, we’ve been worrying about our building, focusing on our building, and spending lots of money on our building.  The big story last year was getting the renovated front of the building nearly finished (there are still a few finishing touches left to be done).  Not so this year.  The big story in 2014 has been the people serving in ministry here at Atonement.  People have been stepping up and stepping into new positions of leadership.  There are some new faces filling important ministry roles, and some new people jumping into ministry with both feet. 

One of the most time-consuming and central roles in a congregation is that of treasurer.  Our new treasurer, Carol Rothgeb has made a huge impact this year, bringing confidence and clarity to our church finances.  Concerns about the state and accuracy of our books have been put behind us thanks to a financial audit and to Carol’s many hours of work reconfiguring the whole layout of our finances.  She has spent hours researching different financial institutions and the products they offer in order to find the most appropriate and secure places for us to have our savings.  Improvements have been made all the way around, not the least of which in the organization and ease of understanding the treasurer reports.

Our long-standing financial secretary, Donna Averill, heads to Texas this month to be near her daughter.  Year after year, through many challenges and changes, Donna has faithfully led the process of ordering the envelopes, counting the money, and reporting on the churches weekly income.  In addition to this, she has been in charge of the Time and Talent surveys.  Her smile, dedicated heart and yes, even her stubbornness will be greatly missed.  Taking over for Donna, Jamie Bartell will be the new financial secretary and Robin Boyd has been working for several months now coordinating Time and Talent.  Our thanks to both of them for their willingness to serve and to help fill Donna’s big shoes.

We’ve also seen the face of new member Dick Lambert working hard.  You may have seen him with a camera in hand, taking pictures of people and places in the church for the newsletter.  After filling in for Carol Reams as newsletter editor when she was on vacation, Carol was so impressed with the job he did that she asked him to take it on for good.  Dick has told me he wants to make the newsletter the best it can be, which he feels means using ample pictures and keeping the articles short and readable.  Thanks, Dick, for tackling this big job.

New leaders are in place for some of our ministry teams as well.  Carol Reams has been coordinating the prayer ministry this year.  We had several conversations and a luncheon to discuss possibilities for ways that team could promote and lead prayer in the congregation.  They are meeting regularly, and have many good ideas for possible prayer projects. 

Iris Aeppel has taken the lead role for our fellowship team.  They are looking at more than simply being the “food committee” of the church, but actually coordinating some activities and programs that will give us all chances to get to know each other better.  Karen Erickson, who joined Atonement recently along with her husband Paul, has volunteered to lead a resurrected caring team.  There are many people excited about this, and many who have said they are willing to help, so I am really looking forward to seeing the directions this will take this year.

Atonement members are also taking on roles beyond our congregation. You may remember that our own Scott Giesking is helping the Tampa Conference of our Florida-Bahamas Synod with their communications.  At this year’s annual conference gathering, our own Nils Lenz was voted conference vice-president.  I wonder when he’s going to get back at me for nominating him? (Just kidding, Nils…)

Also in a new role, big enough to suit his tall stature, is Terry Martin.  He is the head of the reconstituted Building Team.  This is the group which is working to design a new multi-purpose building that we’ve been raising money for through the capital campaign.  Many people have remarked that it’s hard raising money when we don’t know exactly what this new building is going to look like, or what it’s made of, or what the layout is and what’s going in it.  To help answer those questions and get us ready to begin construction once the campaign is over, Terry and the Building team have been engaged in conversations with ministry leaders and other members.  They will be bringing possible layouts and bids before the congregation in a few months.

In addition to all these new volunteer leaders, we’ve also added a staff member this year.  For me to begin to step back from full involvement with the praise band, it was clear last year that we were going to need to hire someone with more experience and musical training.  God led us to Kenneth Watts, a man who already leads several community ensembles, church choirs, and musical groups.  Even with his very full schedule, he was excited about working with us and the praise band was impressed with his array of talents.  He will not only be directing, but also singing with the group, and occasionally adding some flare with trumpet or tambourine.  Not only are we back on track with the 8:30am service, but we will be adding a Christmas Eve service, led by the praise band, at 4pm on Dec. 24.  We are pleased to welcome Kenneth to the team.

Ministries moving forward

            Some long-term projects made considerable progress this year, especially our columbarium and capital campaign ministries.  The columbarium was placed late last year as a final resting place for ashes.  After many months of wrangling over words to get the paperwork right, the niches are now available for purchase and inurnments will be starting soon.

            The capital campaign celebrated its first anniversary in February with an impressive talent show called “Acts of Atonement.”  Another is being planned for the second anniversary, this coming February.  The capital campaign is nearing the $150,000 mark, which is ¾ of the way to the initial goal of $200,000 and ½ way to our “miracle goal” of $300,000 by the end of three years.  With the new “treasure hunt” program, everyone is encouraged to find valuable items in their homes that they can turn into cash donations toward the campaign.  This new building will be the biggest project our congregation has done together, so let’s keep making the capital campaign a priority for our special giving. 

            Sunday school made big strides this year as a whole cadre of volunteers responded to Jan Gerle’s plea for help.  She had been doing most of the teaching by herself, and with more children showing up it was not possible to continue that way.  Fortunately, she now has enough help that she has been able to sit in the worship service on Sundays and share some of the responsibilities, like Children’s moments, with others.  This group of volunteers will provide a strong foundation for a Christian education team that will meet next year and look at ways to strengthen our faith formation program. We also had an awesome Day Camp this year.  Even though the Lutheran camp was struggling with changes in administration and we weren’t sure until late in the year just what week we were going to be able to hold it, children showed up in record numbers and most of it was paid through generous scholarships bought by members.

            At the same time that our numbers of younger children are growing, the youth leaders are dealing with a big drop in the number of older youth among our Atonement membership.  With most of the last few years’ youth group members graduated, that leaves just a few available for youth meetings and other events.  Still, they are planning a trip for next July to the National ELCA Youth Gathering in Detroit.  Stay tuned for more info on that.
             In order to do a better job leading the congregation, the council began holding quarterly meetings after the late Sunday service.  These meeting are called “Glows and Grows” meetings with the hope of sharing both “glows,” areas of progress and appreciation, and “grows,” areas where we can make some improvement.  We’ve sometimes heard more grows than glows, but these meetings have been an important way for council to communicate what has been happening across the congregation, for people to ask questions and for the leadership to listen.

            Our condolences to Scott Giesking, whose mother Alice passed away a few weeks ago.  Scott had been keeping admirable focus on his duties as council president despite his mother’s progressively ailing condition.  He has stepped aside for the rest of the year, and Julie Kaufmann has graciously stepped up to lead the council and annual meeting. 

My areas of focus in 2014

            My biggest project this year was working with the Vision team to update and refine our congregational vision.  The vision is our planning document, and the previous version was put together in 2009.  How amazing it was to look back at it and see all the many items that we had accomplished since then, and to realize what a different congregation we are now.  Today we have new opportunities that have come to us through new members, through changes in the community, and through successful ministries like WELCA and the food pantry. 

            In order to collect the ideas and insights of our members and the desires and dreams of our ministry teams, the Vision team conducted a number of events this year to stir up thought and invite prayerful input to the new vision.  We invited people to accompany us to the synod assembly in Orlando, where a series of workshops had been opened to the general public.  We put together a cross of ministries to raise awareness of what kinds of things go on at Atonement and where the biggest needs are.  We had a special emphasis on September 7, God’s Work, Our Hands Sunday, with a luncheon after the service, followed by a session of asset mapping.  The asset mapping took place in the fellowship hall, where people sat together at tables and answered a series of questions on post it notes.  Once everyone’s notes were posted all over the walls, each group brainstormed what new ministries and events could come out of their collected ideas.  The results became part of the new vision.

            Our new bishop, Bob Schaeffer, was also encouraging congregational planning this year.  He asked all congregations to report on where they stand with their own planning processes, and we of course were ahead of the game, having already started to work on Vision 2015.  The synod distributed planning guides to all congregations, and we lifted a page from that particular book when we organized a community leaders forum in October.  Representatives of the business, health, political, and law enforcement communities were all present to dialog with the vision team on strengths and needs or our community, as well as how the community perceives us at Atonement.  I found it interesting that despite our small size, there’s a perception that Atonement is a wealthy congregation that is able to mobilize considerable resources to accomplish things.  I remember a story about a little boy who defeated a guy named Goliath, and what that story says about the power of faith.

            The Vision document has been included as the previous post in this blog, and I hope everyone takes the time to read it and ask where your place might be in that future we are imagining.  New horizons have been lifted up for all members and leaders to consider, along with projects that would fall into the areas served by specific ministry teams.  Each ministry team is being asked to take up their list, to discuss and prioritize each task, and to brainstorm with the council how best to accomplish them.  Some teams may end up handing  tasks off to another group, or they may want help starting a new group to get certain things done.  Pastor and council stand ready to assist however we can.

            Following on the success of last year’s OUT-WORD Bible study, I spent a couple months working up a new DVD-based Bible study.  This time, the topic was the book of Revelation, and the images that are portrayed in John’s visions.  A group has been going through it, and I hope it has given them some new insights about this most difficult book.  Both this set, Revelation: Prophecy Remixed, and the previous Bible study Your Spiritual Survival Kit are available if you would like to try hosting a 6 or 7 week home Bible study group.

            Weddings have also played a big role in my year.  In addition to weddings at Atonement and Duane and Kay’s vow renewal, a fellow pastor asked me to perform his wedding.  I spent a cheerful Saturday in Lakeland performing the ceremony for my friend, Rev. Robert Wise and his new bride, Donna.  I also had a dear old friend invite me to his wedding, so Susan and I made the long plane ride to Seattle, then drove up to Vancouver, British Columbia to be join the celebration.  When Alex Lenz got married in South Carolina, 16 of our Atonement members were able to be present for that.  For those who couldn’t make it, we had them on speakerphone Sunday morning, so the rest of the congregation was able to offer best wishes to the happy couple. 

            In my personal life, 2014 has been a big year.  With my younger son Brian graduating and my older son transferring from Pasco Hernando Community College to USF, we now have two children in college at the same time.  It has been challenging logistically and financially, but it’s nice to be able to say that both boys are working, which helps a lot.  Brian has been giving music lessons through Bigel and Notables music stores.  George works down the street from our house at the Marathon station on 54.  With George working Sundays, we’ve missed him in church. Susan also made another trip north this year to be with her grandmother in Michigan as she turned (gasp) 100 years old. 

            All in all, 2014 has been a wonderful year.  Atonement continues to make big strides and move toward new horizons.  My love and thanks to all of you Atonement members and ministry leaders.  You have all been a huge blessing to us, and to your church family at Atonement.  Thanks go to all of you for all you do, but most of all to the God who gives us all things, and His Son Jesus, whose love we share – the One in whose name we have hope, strength, and perseverance.  As we continue doing God’s work with our hands, may the Holy Spirit bless you and may you grow in grace as you make big strides in your own walk with the Lord!

Pastor Scott

Vision 2015: New horizons and Projects


In the middle of the word “opportunity” we find the word “port.”  A port is where the water meets the shore and people cast off in their boats for new horizons and new adventures.  These words share a common root with words such as “portal,” “portico,” “porch,” and “pores” – all of which refer to some kind of opening which lets something enter from one place to another.

Opportunities take us someplace new, and the work of the vision team has been to identify a broad range of new opportunities for our congregation.  We have asked: “With God’s help and guidance, where can we go from here?  What new horizons are waiting to be explored, and how do we bring God’s Word and love into new territory?”  The opportunities in this new revised vision represent some of the many open doors or “portals” through which God may be calling us.

In January 2014, Atonement Lutheran Church began a planning process to follow up on our previous “Vision 2009” which was now over 5 years old.  Changes in our membership and changes in our community had already moved us into new territory, so it was time for a new map.  A vision team was assembled to direct the work of preparing a revised plan for mission and ministry, including Pastor Scott Lindner, Laurie Chiaramonte, Robin Boyd, Gus Alexakos, Ken Patten, Caitlyn Ungerer, and Linda Greene.  Additional help and input came from Salli Stupp-Conover and Nils and Brenda Lenz.

What we did:

Meetings were held at least monthly beginning in February of 2014.  We began with a review of the Vision 2009 document, determining which goals and ministry ideas had already been completed or no longer seemed relevant.  The previous vision document underwent further review during a council retreat at Luther Springs, June 27-28.  Remaining ideas were saved in a LIST OF CARRY-OVER ITEMS.

For the first time this year, the Florida Bahamas Synod opened up the 2014 synod assembly WORKSHOPS to lay visitors.  For $20, non-delegates could attend the assembly on Saturday, June 20.  Laurie Chiaramonte, Salli Stupp-Conover, Nils, Brenda, and Nick Lenz, Detlev Aeppel, Cotta, Hannah, and Caitlyn Ungerer and Marcia Weil all attended workshops, which we debriefed at subsequent vision team meetings.

As a helpful way to see where current congregational ministry involvement was already taking place, Laurie Chiaramonte created a cross-shaped bulletin board divided in sections representing our ministry teams and areas of service.  Involved members were asked to indicate where they were serving by push pins.  This CROSS OF MINISTRIES[i] stayed on display for several weeks.

A centerpiece of the planning process focused on congregational input.  This coalesced around the events of September 7, 2014, “God’s Work, Our Hands Sunday,” a day set aside by our denomination to lift up outreach and ministry in all congregations.  We held a luncheon following worship which led into a session of ASSET MAPPING[ii] where members helped brainstorm and vote on new ministries.

The Florida Bahamas synod began an emphasis on ministry planning in the midst of our own process.  They distributed a mission planning guide to all congregations in the synod, and asked congregations to report on their level of engagement with mission planning.  Though we were already engaged, the synod’s planning guide included a component of CONVERSATION WITH COMMUNITY LEADERS[iii], which we added to our own process.  A Community Leaders forum was held on Tuesday evening, October 28, with guests representing medical, political, business, and law enforcement fields.

What we found: New horizons and Projects

Jesus welcomed and invited people into the life and experience of his kingdom.  By atoning for our sin on the cross, he makes us children of God and citizens of that kingdom.  Now God calls us to welcome and invite everyone to that same awareness and life.  We do this through sharing faith and loving others with the same unconditional love which we receive from God.  Our ministries are the organized expression of that love as we…

            share the love of Jesus,
                        glorify God
                                    and extend his kingdom…

God is calling Atonement towards new horizons as we continue to grow in the depth of our faith, the number of our members, and the scope of our ministries.  Ultimately it is the Holy Spirit which guides and directs our life together, not any ministry plan.  You could say this vision is a collective glimpse of future possibilities which God is moving us toward.  New ideas will pop up in the meantime and new possibilities will arise.  But this is what we see, and what we know about where we are going on the threshold of 2015.

However, we have grouped these ideas and directions together in a way that seems most useful:  as a to-do list.  The pastor and church council will shepherd this list over the next 5 years as the members, ministry teams and volunteers work with it.  It will be returned to and reported on regularly in council meetings as we keep an eye on how we’re doing living out the vision. 

The first section, “new horizons,” contains general observations, ideas and practices that pertain to all the ministries.  The next section “projects” are the tasks and growth areas grouped under the umbrella of specific ministry teams. Some of these projects will necessitate creating new small groups to manage them.  Some could be done in collaboration with other ministries. 

Items have been assigned to particular ministry teams as a logical starting point for the planning and initiation of each task.  We ask that each team, in partnership with council, prioritize their list and develop a timeline and strategies for working on them.  We will work through this together as we cast off from this port called today in search of God’s tomorrow.


Ministry teams can increase the awareness and maintenance of sustainability for each ministry

Team leaders will work on identifying and nurture a successor
  • Each team will find ways to promote greater involvement and participation
  • Ask: how can we expand the scope of this ministry?  Who else can we serve?
  • Ask: how can we increase the quality of this ministry?  How do we do better?
  • Ask: how can we let more people know about this ministry?  How can we promote it?

 Atonement has the potential be a “go-to” place for the community for community connections and conversation
  • We can host community conversations between pastors & community leaders
  • We can sponsor informational forums on health, financial and community info

 There is big potential in partnering with other agencies and in stepping outside the congregation
  • Can we partner with organizations like PHSC or Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel?
  • Can we meet for planning or events in public places offsite from Atonement?
  • Can we ask people in the community about their needs and opinions?

Community leaders identified a “lack of traditions” as a challenge in the Wesley Chapel area…so lots of people go out of town for events
  • What would it take to turn our regular events into “community traditions?”
  • What celebrations of our faith tradition have that potential?
  • Is there a possibility to develop or be part of a kind of local “fair”?

There is big potential in telling the story of our ministries to the public.  Ministry teams can use:
  • Tables at chamber breakfasts; booths at the Grove fall festival, etc.
  • Displays at ministry “fairs”; spots at our own SOS/Trunk or treat, etc.
  • Use of Thrivent action team money ($250 per event) to fund promotion, direct mailings to targeted mail routes


  • New mindset: fellowship is not just coordinating food, but also sponsoring activities
  • Develop fellowship team  to plan  a calendar of fun events: (outings and “in-nings”, ie. Church picnic); regular church retreats (Luther Springs, etc); community “loaves and fish fry” celebrating the feeding of the 5000
  • regularly occurring meals such as buffet breakfast or spaghetti dinner
  • Get-to-know you dinners/activities; help introduce and integrate new members
  • A member-served meal as part of each Discover Atonement orientation
  • Resume and maintain supper club
  • Redevelop men’s group
  • “Make a Joyful Noise” group to plan & develop Christian music festival/concerts at Atonement and other venues; groups from community and other churches
  • Plan & develop sporting teams/events

Caring ministries
  • Providing mental health and community forums at church: (depression, suicide, college prep, alcoholism, parenting issues, etc.); use Natl Assn for Mental Illness as a resource (partner with Youth ministry team)
  • Transportation is identified as a major need in Pasco county: bringing people to church: Zephyrhills & LOL carpools; transport to and/or pickup things at the store
  • Re-develop Parish nursing program: Develop Health ministry team, possibly coordinate health & safety fair; Health survey at Atonement - 10 yrs ago: foot care & blood pressure monitoring were major needs
  • Geographical “shepherding groups”
  • Ministry to contact people who have been absent
  • Assistance and support for caregivers
  • Bringing food and flowers (Meals on wheels does not serve Wesley Chapel)
  • Health through education: yoga, zumba, essential oils, etc.


  • Develop a professional office manager position: Moving towards full-time, for a consistent presence in the office; Including website maintenance
  • Clear sign for doorbell & buzzer for front door
  • Regular invitations to all groups that use our church
  • Volunteer recognition –  annual dinner; in newsletter/during service                 

Worship and Music

  • Involve lay people as hosts/“emcees” for welcome/announcements
  • Move birthday celebrations to after service
  • Youth oriented worship service at alternate time
  • Renovation team for sanctuary  – new stand for baptismal font; Altar area risers: wood flooring, handicapped access; Carpet; Texture for wall behind altar; Statue or cross below stained glass windows; Curtains to conceal sacristy doors; Space/storage for paraments
  • Sunday service recognizing community workers (firemen, police, health care, etc.)
  • Usher training regularly
  • Meditation service with yoga
  • Possible fundraiser for youth trip: valet parking
  • Develop a staff position member for youth and family ministry
  • Parents night out program
  • Integrate youth and families into the congregation
  • Develop recreational facilities: volleyball, basketball, walking trail (wetlands?)
  • Family mission trips – plan for a new one; Return to Virgin Islands?


  • Develop ELCA Hispanic ministry/service
  • make front door handicapped accessible
  • Increase engagement with community: community forum, info on resources
  • Revisit Atonement’s “branding” –  evaluate logo, name, identity & outreach materials from PR standpoint
  • Ecumenical partnering in fellowship & mission
  • Work towards an every-member plan for Lutheran magazine
Property Maintenance
  • Develop a part-time “Facilities manager” staff position: 1-2 days a week to cover regular maintenance and upkeep; plus “on call” for emergencies
  • Develop columbarium space – access, garden area, fencing, etc. (w/ columbarium team)
  • Develop recreational facilities: volleyball, basketball, walking trail (wetlands?)
  • Develop playground (planning, fundraising) (partner with Christian ed)
  • Repairs on existing building -  finish siding back side of building; Finish bell tower (bell/cross/speakers)
  • Replace air conditioning
  • Deal with mold on walls in A/C room
  • Design and build new building & reconfigure present building (with building team)
  • Projection based welcome sign over front door
  • QR code to web-based credit card donation page
  • Increase focus on web and technology – staffing, USF intern, and volunteers; complete transition from
  • Increasing and encouraging use of technology and social media for internal communications,  outreach, and promotion: Examples: “Spread the word challenge” on Youtube; video interviews for youth/confirmation projects; Video histories/ministry intros on web site; Twitter feed for informing about upcoming events, changes, deaths, etc.; Texting the peace at worship
Social concerns

  • Reshape social concerns with help from WELCA into a Global and Local Mission team
  • Studies of social statements (i.e. women & justice)
  • Increase hands on involvement in community service projects (not just Atonement)
  • Promote awareness and connections to global missions
  • Fundraising walks for global issues
  • Confirmation oriented towards ministries & participation
  • Sermon topic survey/publicize upcoming sermon topics

Senior ministry and Disabilities task force
  • Awareness of differently-abled individuals and their experiences
  • Make large-print Bibles available
  • Income tax preparation assistance
  • Promoting the Lutheran grace-oriented outlook – teaching the public
  • Business cards w/ service times – distributed by all members
  • Brochure update
  • follow up visit to worship visitors who leave a local address; bring a gift - loaf of bread?
  • Social media team  – facebook, twitter, etc.
  • Develop an “Atonement app”
  • Open house during week with free coffee/refreshments for people driving by
  • Electronic kiosk in entryway
  • Drive-through prayer under portico
  • Regional mission groups: target neighborhoods for block parties/open house at clubhouse, etc.; “cottage meetings” with members in each area – conversation on outreach

Christian education

  • Develop a Christian ed team – program beyond Sunday school
  • Plan field trips, outings, and events for children
  • Oversee Life-long learning and milestone recognition/celebration: develop a life milestone/faith stepping stone Christian ed plan; use the life-long faith formation grid[iv]
  • Continued support for sponsored child
  • Develop playground (planning, fundraising)
  • increase parental/family involvement
  • Intergenerational faith formation/include parents in Sunday school: adult prayer partners/mentors (“Caring Angels”?); Elder youth mentors, attend Sunday school w/ child
  • Develop regular curriculum – publicize upcoming lessons
  • Christmas program/community Live nativity – resume in 2015
  • Maintain a usable nursery - Have a trained nursery staff
  • Have Sunday school children give out baptismal gifts
  • Develop long term plan for preschool/Lutheran parochial school     
WELCA/Women’s group
  • Expand scholarship program, in partnership with other ministry teams: Annual faith-based scholarships for WC/Wiregrass/Zephyrhills High schools
  • Teaching crafts at nursing homes and WELCA meetings
  • Baking items to bring to nursing homes, new visitors, homebound, etc.
  • Planting a produce garden/network w/ Pasco coop/extension/school ag program


Maintain a regular finance team: Oversee “best practices”; Regularly  promote and explain simply giving
Develop a legacy giving program/Build an endowment fund
Continue to increase synod benevolence towards 10% of the church budget
Evaluate and develop giving to other ministries: Synod Together in Mission; ELCA campaign; Novus Way Mission Possible; missionary support; Heifer project, etc.

[i] Image available
[ii] Document available: Vision 2015 Asset Mapping Session
[iii] Guests included Rosie and Scott Paulson (Good Faith Insurance); Bob Hatfield (Congressman Gus Bilirakis’ office); Officer Leslie Strubbe (representing Sheriff Chris Nocco); Elayne Bassinger (Centennial Bank); and Grace Masselli (National Alliance on Mental Illness)
 [iv] Document available: Framing the Vision by Kenny Champagne and Mindy Makant 

Christ was born for this?

“While they were there the time came for her to deliver her child.  And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth,  and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for him in the inn…”
— Luke 2:6-7
It begins again.  The watching and waiting, the anticipation, the Christmas songs and holiday bustle… we are marching towards another December 25 with the inevitable question ringing in our heads: Are you ready for Christmas?  But what does being ready for Christmas mean?  Is it just about the shopping, the lists, the food and crafts, the planning and decorating and feeling like it’s never going to be completely perfect, but if it can just be as nice as last year…?  Or is there another kind of preparation we should be worrying about—something we might be neglecting even in the midst of our efforts to cover all the bases?
Well, of course there’s Jesus to think about.  After all, it’s His birthday.  But remember how he told us to come to him when we’re heavy laden and carrying burdens, and He will give us rest?  Not now, Lord, I’ve got to make the fruitcake.  If there were a time when we should be slowing down and letting go of frantic busy-ness, this is it.  But it ain’t gonna happen.

So here’s the good news.  Jesus comes anyway.  Like Christmas dawn over Whoville, the day comes whether we get all the packages mailed on time or not.  Mary and Jospeh couldn’t find the perfect quiet sanitary place to deliver the Child, but He came anyway.  And when Christmas looks like it might be a disaster because nothing is coming together and things aren’t going right, and certain people who have always been there aren’t going to be there this year, remember that He comes anyway.  The kings and princes who should have been present at the birth of the King of Kings didn’t show up either.  So God made do with shepherds, cows, and angels in a barn.  And somehow, it was all perfectly right.
             The anxious pre-Christmas runaround is what we do to ourselves.  What God does to us is something different.  The stars come out and the angels sing that it’s not about us at all.  God changes us in the midst of our preparing, tuning our hearts to see beyond the wreaths and ribbons, past the bulbs and lights, to a babe in a manger who came for us.  No black Friday sale or half-off holiday special can compare to this good news.  This child will share His life with us in a way no one ever has.  He will lift up the brokenhearted and heal the sick, offering cleansing for mottled hearts and joy to those who mourn.  He will pronounce us all brothers and sisters and invite us to become citizens of an invisible nation where we are all one people.  He will die as everyone does and rise as we will one day.  He will make us into new people who know God and love each other deeply.  Christ is born for this.  Christ is born for this.
Our Christmas services on December 24 will be at 4pm, 7pm, and 11pm.  The 4pm service will be led by the praise band, and will feature communion brought to the seats for those who aren’t able to walk well.  The 7pm is our regular candlelight carol service, and the 11pm to midnight liturgy will also feature candlelight singing at the end.  Each service is unique, and we hope you are able to come to at least one of them this Christmas.
If your holiday to-do list makes you want to run away to Key West or hibernate till January, don’t despair.  Jesus is on His way.  Nothing can stop Him.
Pastor Scott



Thursday, November 13, 2014

Dancing naked down the aisles

“For you have no delight in sacrifice.
If I were to give a burnt offering
You would not be pleased
The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit…”
— Psalm 51:16-17

Not too long ago, we put a statement up on our church sign: “God doesn’t care what you wear — Come join us for worship.”  It reminded me of the old “disco shirt” I had as a teenager.  It was synthetic, shiny and silver, but somehow permissible to wear to church back in the late ‘70s.  The church members were polite—not only did they not throw me out of the worship service, they didn’t even laugh. 
Being Lutheran is dangerous in this day and age, for two reasons.  First, because we go against the flow.  I remember a family that visited one Sunday morning.  They couldn’t believe I was wearing a robe to lead the service.  “You guys are like Catholics, right?”  They just couldn’t figure out what was happening in a worship service that was so different from what they were used to.  Why all the standing and sitting, why the written out prayers and repetitive hymns, what were all those readings about, why all the big deal about a little cracker and a shot glass of wine?
Talking with one of our young members about growing up in church, going through Sunday school, confirmation and youth group, she told me it took a long time before she was comfortable telling her friends how important church was to her, and how much she loved going.  We’re a little different, and we know it.
The other danger is that we start turning into our own worst enemy.  Jesus was a reformer who came to bring people back to God.  The chief priests, scribes and Pharisees were telling the people that there were certain rules they had to follow, certain things they had to do to please God.  In Martin Luther’s day it was the Roman Catholic church leaders who were telling people what God wanted from them.  Trouble was, just like the scribes and Pharisees, they were mistaken.  It’s an easy mistake to make.  It’s easy to assume that we know what God wants from us — we might think it’s wearing certain clothes, saying certain prayers, following certain rituals.  Often times we believe that the way we were taught growing up is the only way it can be, or at least the way it should be.
But when we open up the Scriptures, God, as usual, surprises us.  David is the only person the Bible calls “a man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22).  We know he made some big mistakes, particularly after he became king, but afterwards he always repented and came back to God.  We also know he had amazing faith and love for God.  When the ark of God was brought to Jerusalem, David was so delighted that he danced at the head of the parade of priests, not even in a sparkly disco shirt but totally naked.  There is no sign that this offended God, though his wife (one of them) was mortified (2 Samuel 6:20).  If he tried to do this during one of our choir processions, I’m sure someone would call 911 (it might be me!).
Earlier in his career, David and his men were on the run from King Saul and entered the holy sanctuary at Nob.  With no other provisions for them to eat, David and his men were given — not just bread, but the holy bread that was used for the sacrifices —  to eat.  One time Jesus was accused of breaking the rules and plucking grain on the Sabbath, he referred back to what David did in the sanctuary and told his critics, “The Sabbath was made for people, not the other way around.” (Mark 2:27).
In other words, our traditions, rituals, and ministries are tools that God has given us to accomplish the things that really please and honor Him.  What pleases and honors him?  Sometimes we get confused and mistake what pleases God for what pleases us.  It’s not our rituals or sacrifices, we are told, but our faith in God and our love for each other (Mark 12:30-31).  That’s what pleases God.  Only when worship is done in faith and love does it give God glory and honor.  I’m not going to suggest we break out the communion wafers for our next snack break, but we should remember that our church building, our worship service, our candles and robes, our altar, traditions  and rituals are gifts from God to help us and others connect with Him.  They are not God, not objects to worship.  They are not Christ, they do not save us — but they are there to help us find Him, and to help us lead others to Him.  Keeping first in our minds the purpose behind what we do, it’s easier to keep first in our hearts the God we do it all for.
Pastor Scott