"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.
Kyr·i·e. noun. A brief responsive prayer used as the first item in the liturgy of the Evangelical Lutheran Worship Book, traditionally beginning with the Greek words Kyrie eleison (“Lord, have mercy”). Often set to music and sung by the assembly.
Each time watch the news or read the news online I am stunned by the headlines so often included. Updates on the numbers of new cases of COVID-19, the number of deaths, whether there will be enough hospital beds and will there be a vaccine sooner than later. For many of us, add to those headlines the experiences of our lives. What will happen with jobs, income, will we, should we, send out children back to school?
It is in these times of lament, times when our hearts ache and the tensions rise over what is in front of us, that we may rightly cry out, "Kyrie Eleison!"
I don't know how to respond in the midst of the loss of in-person community. Kyrie eleison!
I miss my friends and the fun we have together. Kyrie eleison!
I miss Holy Communion and worship, together, in our sanctuary. Kyrie eleison!
I wish our government would get its act together. Kyrie eleison!
My family is driving me crazy. Kyrie eleison!
What would you add to the list? What do you want to lay before God? To cry out to God for mercy, for? Kyrie eleison! It's not a cop out, it's what God invites us to do! It's a reminder that God is God and we are not. It's an anchor in the midst of the chaos of our lives. Kyrie (Lord) eleison (have mercy) is our very real, very raw, very authentic cry for a need for grace. It's not a quick fix, but rather an approach to dealing with what life is handing us, and acknowledging that God has named and claimed us and loves us, no matter what. It's a gift from God that gives us hope, that no matter what else is happening, God cares, and though an answer may not be immediately evident, an answer will come.
I don't know about you, but I could learn something about myself by invoking God's mercy more often, instead of just grumbling about things and giving up on finding a solution.
May God's mercy enfold you as you read this article, and throughout the days of your life.
Kyrie eleison. Lord, have mercy.
30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” -Mark 12:30-31
Dear friends, last month I shared my promise with you that your congregational council would do everything possible to tend the safety and wellness of all of our people as we evaluate a return to in-person worship services. As I write this it is less than a day since the executive team met and ultimately pushed back our return to in-person services. I long to be together with all of you, to sing together, to share in the Sacraments, but that is not how God is calling us into community at this time. I believe God is calling us to love our neighbor. Here's what I mean.
The verses from Mark that I began with come from the larger context of Jesus' response to one of the teachers of Israel who asked Jesus which of the commandments is greatest (v. 28). Jesus doesn't hesitate, love God, love your neighbor... as yourself.
So loving our neighbor, Luther would argue, means wanting the best for them (hmm.. don't we want the best for ourselves and our loved ones as well?). So where am I going with this? Well, what does it look like to live out our lives in a time of a global pandemic and to model loving our neighbor?
Are you wearing a mask in public? To me it is easy to see that wearing a mask in public to protect my neighbor from being exposed to a lethal virus looks a LOT like loving my neighbor. Limiting gathering for worship looks like loving our neighbor (you and your friends at church!) by not exposing each other in a confined space for an extended time. Loving our neighbor looks like feeding the hungry (see article below) and checking in with each other. It looks like praying for our world, for scientists and healthcare workers, those who work and those who are out of work, for your church and for each other.
We say that we want to care for our congregation (each other), for our community, and for our world. I believe that making choices like the ones I shared, and especially right now, continuing worship online, touches on all of these. I miss being together in person, but I have also seen our reach expand to other states in our own country, and even as far away as Guyana! God is doing something as we model love for our neighbor and care for each other. God is doing something through each of us, the Holy Spirit is inviting us into new ways of understanding what it means to be the church and to participate in a life of faith.
If you are reading this and you haven't joined us for worship or the virtual coffee hour that follows, I want to encourage you to do so. Worship and these informal gatherings are the place from which we are sent out into our world to love our neighbor. They are also the places where we are reminded of what it looks like to be loved by God. May the peace of Christ enfold your lives and when the time is right, gather us in person once more.
Lord of Life member Rog Klosterman is coordinating an effort to fill an apartment for a person in need of assistance. She and her children will be reunited and have their own apartment, but do not have the ability to fill it with basic items for running a household. Here's a list of what we are looking for:
"34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food
Wise words for the space in between what was and what will be." Matthew 25:34-35
Perhaps you saw the great news that the ELCA congregations of Greater Dubuque received a hunger grant in the amount of $7200 from the Dubuque Community Foundation to offset the cost of delivering food to hungry people through mobile food pantries. It was included in the June newsletter. That is exciting news because it ensures our ability to provide mobile food pantries all through our community.
I'm excited to tell you that we have also received another grant in the amount of $3600, specifically for Lord of Life's hunger ministries including our Little Food Pantry. I am so grateful to Lord of Life member, Pastor Karla Wildberger, for seeing the grant process to fruition on our behalf.
Ministry and mission at Lord of Life continue, even if we are social distanced (for now!). Your prayers and financial support are making a difference, friends. The Spirit is moving all around and through us to provide care for our community and love for neighbor.
In peace and hope,
“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” – 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Wise words for the space in between what was and what will be.
When will we reopen for worship in person? That's the question of the day for many of us. One of the most challenging pieces of social distancing and quarantining has bee the loss of in-person gatherings, especially for worship. I feel it everyday at the church. I long for the vibrancy and community that comes with a people gathered in Christ's name. I'm sure you miss hugging friends, getting updates on life from others, and sharing Holy Communion in worship. We all do.
So when will we reopen? Our siblings in Christ of the Archdiocese of Dubuque have developed their own criteria for opening. Does that mean we will reopen, too? Not exactly. Here's what I need you to understand in order to fully appreciate our timing and plan. The council presidents and pastors of the ELCA congregations of Greater Dubuque met recently to have an open and honest conversation about reopening our buildings. As you might imagine, there were differing opinions ranging from folks wanting to open as soon as possible (defining "possible" is the key) to others convinced that only time will allow for a safe return to gathering in our buildings. Some suggestions included holding services outdoors to minimize the impact. All of our congregations are developing a formal policy for what it will take in order for us to worship in person. Things like cleaning and sanitizing between services and following, who can enter the building and who will be encouraged to continue worshiping online, and where can folks sit in worship to maintain safe distancing, etc. I think you can see the challenge.
So here's what I promise you. We will do our best to make sure that we have thought through all of the necessary details in order to ensure the safest possible environment for our people. We will pray together and talk together, as leaders in this congregation, to make decisions based on the well-being of our people and not rush into the process. We will work hard to tend the awesome responsibility of providing worship for our people. And even when we do reopen, we will continue to offer worship online so that everyone, ALL OF US, are able to participate in the life of our church, together.
Stay tuned. Pray. Reach out to your friends and fellow church members. Pray some more. And soon, sooner than later, we will be together again when it is safe. In the meantime, let us embrace the kind of love the Apostle Paul encourages.
In peace and hope,