Five years ago...
"I thank God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you..." - Phil. 1:3-4
It's hard to believe that I began my ministry with you five years ago this month! Where does the time go? That's the first thought we often have when we simply think about the macro or big picture, right? I find that happens a lot, but when I take time to dive into the things that have happened between the beginning and the present, I find it easy to see exactly where the time has gone.
Lord of Life has gone through a fair amount of change in five years. Some of our amazing people have moved away, some have entered rest eternal, still others have come to Lord of Life and made it their church home. As Paul says to the church at Philippi in the text I cited above, I thank God for the faithful who occupy this place. If you are reading this article, know that I am thankful to God for you! In fact, I often sit on the edge of the bed before bedtime to offer a prayer of thanksgiving for the people who call Lord of Life home.
Lord of Life has been a gift for me and my ministry, too. As a pastor with colleague/friends all over the world, literally, I am often give opportunities to speak your praises. I hear the struggles and the stories of conflict in congregations and I am saddened, but I am also given an opportunity to speak hope to my friends. I know first-hand what it looks like when a congregation and its people embrace the Spirit's leading and seek to be the church together. I know what it looks like to be in a congregation that is not afraid to boldly try new things and to wonder and pray together about how God's mission for us will be lived out next! You show up to feed the hungry, to serve and care for our community and our world (did you see what we did for ELCA Good Gifts?!?!) and you aren't afraid to serve each other and in worship.
These five years have not been without challenges, but we have faced them together and have responded not always as we wish but as we are able. Who knew five years ago that we would face down a global pandemic? We have embraced being one church with two campuses to serve many of you participating at home and along the way we've grown in our reach across the nation through live-streaming and faith formation online. We are still learning what it means to build or keep relationships going in a world of Zoom and YouTube.
I am thankful for wonderful leaders in this place who continue to answer the call to serve in worship, council, teams and committees, and to be thoughtful conversation and prayer partners as we navigate the road ahead. I hope that you will join me in giving thanks for everyone here as we remember each other in prayers. I look forward to the next five years with you.
In peace and hope, Pastor Paul
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?" - Psalm 13
I have thought about this Psalm numerous times over the past nearly two years now. I wonder how many of us have thought about where God is in this pandemic? When will it end?! At the time of this writing, the first case of the omicron variant has been announced in Dubuque County. It will be the first of many, I'm sure. How long, indeed.
I'm tired of wearing a mask. I'm tired of all the precautions and constantly having to think about what the pandemic will throw at us next. I'm exhausted by the unending need to make so many phone calls instead of seeing people in person and by the inability to walk into a hospital to pray with someone before surgery due to ever-changing restrictions. How long, indeed.
It's not just me. We are all tired in a variety of ways. I spoke with nurses at both of our local hospitals who expressed their exhaustion and frustrations over mis-information and the ways that people in our community refuse to do what needs to be done to stop the spread of the virus. How long, indeed.
Can you think of your own experience over the past many months? Are there ways in which you are ready to cry out to God? To wonder at why the pandemic continues or what will come next? How long, indeed.
An interesting thing happens in Psalm 13, the first verse of which I shared above and which is often cited by folks who wonder at where God might be or even if God might be. The middle verses of this Psalm become more of a prayer for understanding, and by the end of the Psalm we get this:
But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.
Ah, yes. A return to what the people know to be true about God's love. Steadfast. Worthy of rejoicing (even in the midst of a pandemic). And then, God's grace for the psalmist, for us, because God has dealt bountifully with us. God's love has been evident throughout the pandemic the ways that we have cared for each other, in the minds and hands of scientists, doctors, nurses, and so many more. I've been witness to many ways that God presence has been evident in the world around us. As we move into the rhythm of our faith away from Christmas and toward Lent and the cross of Good Friday, we do well to remember that God knows our suffering and that God cares for us. We will soon see the evidence. May God bless you and keep you and watch over you as we enter a new year.
When something hits close to home, it affects us deeply. During the Advent and Christmas season, we journey through scriptures and rituals that are tender, heavy with emotion, and vulnerable. We carry the memories and truths of this season close to our hearts. Close to Home acknowledges the “already but not yet” tension of our faith: Emmanuel is with us, and yet, God’s promised day—our everlasting home—is not fully realized. It names our deep longing for God to come close to us.
The Advent and Christmas scriptures are rich with home metaphors and imagery. John the Baptist prophesies about the One who is to come, but reminds us that we are still wandering far from God’s promised day; his message hits close to home, especially for those experiencing inequity and oppression. After receiving the angel’s news, Mary retreats to Elizabeth’s home, seeking refuge and safety. Christ is born in the midst of a journey home, in a crowded dwelling amidst livestock and shepherds alike. The Magi travel far from home to pay homage to Christ, and, having been warned in a dream, they avoid Herod by traveling home another way. In these scriptures, home is both physical and metaphorical, something we seek and something we are called to build. Ultimately, God is our home and resting place. God draws near and makes a home on earth—sacred ground is all around us.
This is the ground we will occupy in the coming weeks as we wait and watch. You can join us in reading the Advent devotional as well. It's free and digital.I look forward to our journey, together, as we wait and watch together.
“Can you believe it's November already? Wow, where has this year gone? Time has a way of passing by quickly when we aren't looking, doesn't it? In some ways the past two years of pandemic- filled life have gone by incredibly quickly, and yet, so awfully slowly. This mont I want to keep my message short and sweet (less than a page, in fact). You'll see a theme of gratitude in Intern Lucy's message and in Council President Susan Hansen's message as well. I am grateful for you and for people who live out their vocation as persons of faith in daily life.
“Gratitude is also what I feel when I think about all that we've overcome, together. We have continued to be the church, right here, on the corner of Hales Mill and Springreen. I have, and will continue to pray for our shared ministry to be guided by the Spirit so that we might meet the needs of our congregation, community, and world through our actions. We are feeding hungry people, serving others, gathering clothing and essential needs for folks from Asbury to Africa.
We have also walked through a time of reflection and prayer and invitation to participate in the financial well-being of this congregation. The Share Our Abundance campaign was a big success on many fronts, not least of which the involvement of 35+ Lord of Life members in the logistical efforts to bring it to fruition. Our prayers led us to invite you to join in making a statement of intent for giving for our annual fund and debt reduction efforts. The last number I heard was that between these two aspects of the campaign we received intent responses well over $400,000! Of course, I want to thank Pat and Mike for their leadership, and the entire team for their work, but I also want to thank YOU! Each of us, through our commitment to God's call to our shared ministry through sharing our intentions to give, no matter how little or how much, joins in the work of the church that began two-thousand+ years ago and will far outlive us. So THANK YOU for giving to God's work with our hands, in this place, in this time, so that we might share the Good News of Jesus Christ more boldly and more fully as a congregation.
In worship on Sunday, September 12th I challenged our congregation to join me in praying this prayer each day throughout the Fall. As we think about our lives as followers of Christ, and as we consider what Christ has first done for us and the immense gift of grace we have received, we are invited to also consider how we live out our lives of faith in response. I know I sound like a broken record (or maybe that needs to be updated to a bad mp3 file?) but I cannot get past what an amazing thing it is that my sins are forgiven because God loves me, so forgive me if I continue to go on about how we live in response to such a wonderful gift.
Intern Lucy and I have been preaching in a sermon series about discipleship practices and we will continue throughout October. These practices are a framework for our lives of faith AND they inform how we interact with the world around us. This includes our family and friends, coworkers, classmates at school, etc. These practices are important because of what they mean for others we encounter, but even more important for shaping us into the people God desires us to be.
"Discipleship is being called to walk with Christ, equipped to live like Christ, and sent by Christ to love and serve others in the world!" (Pastor Michael Foss)
We are approaching these practices as follows.
Worship - Work toward the goal of weekly worship, and have a time of daily devotions and prayer.
Serve faithfully - Participate in at least one Lord of Life ministry each year and perform five acts of kindness each week.
Grow in your faith and understanding of God - Participate in at least one Lord of Life class each year and read at least one gospel from the Bible (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John) on your own.
Invite and Encourage - Care for each other, encourage one another, and invite five people this year to join you along the way.
Give - of your time, talents, and treasures with an attitude of gratitude and generosity. Grow toward the goal of a tithe (10% of income given away) and beyond.
Follow along with the sermon series, visit our website, pray the prayer each day and let's see where we are by the start of the Season of Advent!
"Be strong, and let us be courageous for the sake of our people, and for the cities of our God; and may the Lord do what seems good to him.” - 2 Samuel 10:12
This Fall I will be inviting you to live out your faith in daily life and with courage. I will be passing out prayer cards for you to use each day. These "Prayer of Courage for Faith in Daily Life" prayer cards are a starting point for each day. My goal is for everyone who calls Lord of Life home to join me in this prayer every day.
Faith in daily life requires courage. Inviting God's help as we face each day reminds us that our courage is found in God, not merely by our own doing.
I like the Prophet Samuel's words. "Be strong, and let us be courageous for the sake of our people, and for the cities of God; and may the Lord do what seems good to him." Samuel was a key figure in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament early books) because he modeled courage by helping God's people to transition from the period of biblical judges to a kingdom under Saul's (and later David's) rule. The people begged God for a messiah and God provided Saul and David. Later, God will provide the people another Messiah in Jesus Christ.
These early Bible readings are full of stories of God'e people trying and failing to live out their faith in daily life. God is faithful and, as our confirmation youth will tell you (I pray), God does not give up on God's people. God won't give up on us, either. God has already done the work of our salvation. God's grace has already been shared, what remains is for us to embrace how we live in response. Faithfully. Daily.
I'm not advocating for you to become a televangelist or to thump anyone over the head with your Bible (ouch!) but I am asking you to take your faith with you into every situation. With courage. As you make decisions each day, begin with prayer. As you wonder about the direction to take in life, school, retirement, or in your daily vocation, ask how God is at work around you and how you might join in the effort. When given the chance to choose kindness out of love for your neighbor, choose kindness.
Maybe you are already doing some of these things. Hooray! How are you engaging your faith as you show kindness or make good choices at work or school? How are you giving thanks to God for kindnesses received or clean water to drink or for a meal? Our prayer cards include these words, "Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us..."
What would it look like for you to go out in good courage? To be stretched to act or serve others in a way that is not comfortable? Give us faith, indeed, God.
Will you join me, will you join your congregation, in praying this prayer each day? Will you join me in stepping out in faith to love and serve and worship in God's name? I pray that your answer will be a resounding yes.
In peace and hope,
19 'Come, follow me,' Jesus said, 'and I will send you out to fish for people.' - Matthew 4:19
Discipleship is being called to walk with Christ, equipped to live like Christ, and sent by Christ to love and serve others in the world! I think that there are six marks of discipleship that become a part of the life of someone who is following Jesus. The marks are: Prayer, Worship, Scripture, Service, Relationships, and Giving. By helping people develop these areas of their lives, we help people to grow in their relationship with God and their discipleship in the world.
Growing in these six areas allows us to live out the mission we set forth for ourselves in our mission statement and to live whole, healthy lives in the sight of God.
Over the coming weeks and months I'd like you to think about how you might grow in each of these areas. On the next page I will give you a fuller definition of each of the six areas.
Six Essential Tools For Your Faith Toolbox:
In peace and hope,
A New Thing
"BEHOLD, I AM DOING A NEW THING;
The prophet Isaiah shares this message in chapter 43 verse 19 to foreshadow the future for God's people. Ultimately, we will know that future, our current reality, as Jesus Christ who brings forth new life and a new way of being God's people.
As we enter into the summer months, we, too, are doing a new thing. In fact, we've done a LOT of new things in response to our call to be the church over the past many months. This new thing will be a move back to a weekly worship service held on Saturdays at 4:00pm inside our sanctuary. We are still discerning what this will mean for any outdoor worship service offerings over the summer, but in a recent survey more than 87% of you told us you are ready for this change.
We are also beginning the practice of providing communion that you can pick up at church to use at home during the live stream service on Sunday morning. We believe that giving everyone access to the Sacrament of Holy Communion is important, even when, especially when we are living into the new reality of two campuses and one community. Two campuses, one online and digital, one in person and in our building. We know it will take time before we can all be together as we once were.
Doing new things for the sake of the gospel means a lot of things these days. We are working out how to provide Sunday School this Fall. Wondering about what Adult Faith Formation will look like. Pondering how we will offer Bible studies and new faith practices both online and in-person.
I have always been impressed with our people's commitment to serving others. What new things might we experience this year? How might God be calling us to be a part of these new things in our congregation, our community, and our world? How might you pray for our congregation to navigate all that will be new, even as we are able to return to much of what we know?
These are exciting times to be the church. Our friends, neighbors, and work colleagues are watching for signs of hope and hope is what we have. Be bold and share your faith with them and if necessary, use words.
May God grant us the wisdom to follow and the courage to be God's church, in this place, and in this time.
In peace and hope,
"I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." John 10:10b
A friend and fellow pastor, The Rev. Mike Ward, shares his interpretation of what abundance means in his book, "Abundance: Creating a Culture of Generosity." Ward says, "I believe that abundance is a mindset and not a condition of wealth. Abundance is recognizing that the One who provides us everything, and recognizing that it is not only enough, but enough to share."
Each week in worship, right before our offering musical meditation, I try to remember to invite you to reflect on the ways in which you have been blessed by God. As you read this article in the newsletter, I want to tweak that invitation a bit. How have you experienced abundance in your life? I'm not talking about financially, though that may or may not be part of your story. Rather, I'm talking about the ways that you've experienced the abundant love and grace of God for you life. How has it mattered that you have heard the Good News? How has it mattered that in God's love we find redemption and renewal in our brokenness? It's not always easy to put into words. Many of us haven't really intentionally thought about what abundance looks like in our lives.
My hope is that you will join me in the days ahead, and particularly as we enter into the season of Lent, in pondering the mystery, the wonder that is God's grace and love for us. Lent is, after all, a time of reflection and prayer. Lent will invite us, you and me, to open our minds and our hearts to the wonder of God's great love for us, even as we consider the ways in which we are not worthy to receive such great love. Such abundant love.
We will begin to mark these days as we have ourselves been marked in baptism, with the sign of the cross marked on our foreheads in ashes. It will look differently this year, but that's okay, whether we mark the cross on our own foreheads as at home on Ash Wednesday or you come through the church parking lot to permit me to mark the cross on your forehead, the work of the cross that makes it all so important has already been done. The marking of the cross is our reminder to enter into the discipline, the practice of Lent.
We will offer online midweek Lenten services where we will read the Psalms and hear the Word proclaimed by Wartburg Theological Seminary students. These services will help us to mark the time of the season, but they will also be wonderful opportunities to ponder the Good News, God's abundance of love and grace, for our lives. Each Sunday we will continue to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus, together.
I will be hosting a weekly conversation centered around the book "Friendship with Jesus: A Way to Pray the Gospel of Mark" and I invite you to participate by purchasing a book at the church office. Even if you don't join me for the Zoom conversation, my guess is that you will find this book as helpful as I have over the years in considering how my life has purpose and a role in the Kingdom of God come near. I think you will experience an abundance of spiritual grist for your proverbial mill.
Through all of these tools, all of these practices and ways of encountering scripture and God's Word for us, come the reminder that in God there is abundant life. That's what Jesus came to bring to us, to all of us. The true freedom of we who call ourselves Christ followers is that we need not worry about our own salvation, about our own brokenness, because God has, already and abundantly, answered all of these questions for us. How we live in response to this abundance, well, that's up to each of us to consider.
Will you join me in wondering this Lent about the awesome and abundant life-giving God who comes to bring us life?
In peace and hope,
"Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." - John 14:27
I've heard and read a number of comments about 2020 and what an awful year it has been. Some have even joked that it should be used as a curse word in the future. I'm not sure about that, but I am sure about one thing. God is with us in the storms of life.
Remember back to January when we all wondered what those folks around the world were doing to spread a virus so quickly? Remember the uncertainty that led up to Sunday, March 15th? That was the last date for in-person worship services as usual. I distinctly recall the urgency to figure out how to live stream a worship service in less than a week. I can look back at the last 5+ months and see so many places, so many ways that I have been blessed, that Lord of Life has been blessed. So I thought I'd share a few of these here as a way for us to understand that God is, indeed, with us in the storms we face
First, from a personal perspective, though I came into my ministry here with a higher than average set of skills for technology, it was through the network of friends I had established over years that I was able to learn, struggle, and implement the technology needed to meet the demands of a new digital ministry at Lord of Life. Had God not blessed me with these friendships, this effort would have been far more difficult.
Let's talk about how Lord of Life has remained outwardly focused during the pandemic, and more recently in response to a literal storm.
Through my work with the Almost Home Advisory Board, in your behalf, I have been blessed to see the amazing work being done on behalf of the homeless. Almost Home has helped homeless men find safety, hope, and a path forward to return to work and health. It's truly incredible ministry that we have supported with dollars and presence.
Partnered with Almost Home is The Open Closet. Lord of Life members continue to support the Closet through the donation of clothing and supplies. A recent drive for clothing for teenagers, held through social media and email, yielded amazing results and the Closet was able to help get teens clothing to start the new school year without being ashamed for lacking decent clothes to wear. There's more. Lord of Life members have been the tops for donating blankets and quilts to this ministry. In the past month, the Closet has given out more than 60 blankets, many stitched and prayed over by Lord of Life members!
Storm cleanup is ongoing in Cedar Rapids and surrounding communities, and Lord of Life has been there to help. As of the writing of this article for the newsletter, crews have visited Cedar Rapids for two consecutive weekends to aid with tree removal and cleanup. Here's what one of the recipients of our efforts had to say.
"It's difficult to put into words. I've never been in a situation where so may people have reached out to help my family. At the end of day 6 with not power and one large pine tree still resting on my rood, I find myself overwhelmed with trying to process what happened this week, yet overflowing with gratitude. Friends and strangers alike came together today to help us clear our backyard fro the aftermath of Monday's Derecho storm. Together we accomplished, in just a few hours, what would have taken us weeks to do ourselves. Thank you!" - Julie B., Cedar Rapids
Exhausted, we pushed on to help more families. At the second location, nearly done and even more tired, we heard about an elderly gentleman and one volunteer with a handsaw helping. I told our crew about the need and Mark Oehlert's response gave me chills. "That won't do. We need to go." The second weekend was much the same, more helping and caring for community and loving neighbor.
We are feeding hungry people. Our Little Food Pantry continues to see regular use and our volunteers are tending to the need by showing up every morning to restock the pantry. In recent weeks we also hosted a drive through mobile food pantry, and we will continue to offer these mobile pantries in the weeks to come.
These are a few of the ways that Lord of Life is blessed to be a blessing in the storms of life. Will you join me in giving thanks to God for these blessings and for the
assurance that, even in the storms of life, God goes with us? Do not be afraid. God is here and God is at work through God's people.
Thanks be to God.
Blogging and believing. Some notes about a life of faith, answers to questions you ask, and musings about leadership in the church.