The monthly newsletter of Followers of Christ Lutheran Church
A congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
“We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but
we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption
of our bodies. For in hope we were saved.” (Romans 8:22-24 NRSV)
Right now I’m holding on tightly to these words spoken by God through St. Paul in his letter to the Romans.
As I write, the year 2019 is ending on a particularly difficult note for me and my family. Just this week – a
week before Christmas – my family and I found out that our dog, Max, in all likelihood has cancer. Max is a
Golden-doodle (part Golden Retriever, part Standard Poodle) that we rescued almost seven years ago. We
are awaiting the test administered by the veterinarian, but the vet could already tell by the swelling of Max’s
lymph nodes that he likely has lymphoma. Max had pneumonia early in life, but under our care, his life turned
out to be an overall happy and healthy one. The likely onset of cancer in Max is therefore heartbreaking. In
any case, as we find out more, we will have a difficult decision to make.
Some new years begin like the year before, and the year before that. One year seems to flow right into the
next. But for me, the ending of 2019 and the beginning of 2020 is not one of those seamless endings and
beginnings, as in years’ past. Instead, with the shock and devastation of Max’s illness, there is the fast
approach of his end.
There is his groaning, my groaning, and the groaning of the whole creation, as St. Paul reports in the book of
Romans. The whole of creation – Max, you and I, and all of creation – groan for the redemption of our bodies. Rather than one year flowing right into another, perhaps the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020 is a
time of groaning for you as well. After all, our experiences of death and loss, as well as the deep longing for
God to redeem and restore his creation, are the source of our groaning.
St. Paul, however, assures us that in the midst of our groaning, God has given us his Spirit: “we ourselves,
who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23 NRSV).
We await the fulfillment of God’s adoption plans for us, even as we groan. The Holy Spirit sighs for us and
prays for us, even as we groan, as St. Paul would also say. And so we groan with hope. And I groan with
hope, knowing that Max will soon experience the peace that God wants for all of his creatures.
In the sure and certain hope of our salvation,
Dear Followers of Christ,
One of the things I’ve been thinking about recently is the difference between knowing about God and knowing God. We’ve discussed the difference between the two in both adult Sunday school and Tuesday night Bible study. Knowing about God includes what we learn about God in church, in school, or on our own. Knowing God, however, requires a commitment to and relationship with God. While knowing about God can help to form our commitment and our relationship with God, simply knowing about God can never take the place of knowing God. Knowing about God can never take the place of the commitment and the relationship that we need to actually know God.
I have recently been reading a book by Victor A. Shepherd entitled, The Committed Self. The book discusses how we become our “true selves” through our commitment to God and other people. The book makes this interesting but challenging point: We become who God intended us to be, and we live according to the image of God in which he has created us, when we decide to commit our lives to God and to other people – and then act on those commitments. Acting on those commitments to God and others, we become our “true selves” and discover who we truly are. Short of growing in our commitment to God and others, however, we will not know who God intended us to become.
On December 1st we begin a new church year with the season of Advent. The word, “Advent,” is best translated “coming.” During Advent we actively anticipate and await Christ’s coming: the birth of Christ at Christmas; Christ’s coming in his Word and Sacrament as well as within the fellowship of the Christian community; and Christ’s promise to come again at the end of time.
This Advent as we prepare for Christ’s coming, we have an opportunity to examine our own
commitments. How might we grow in our commitment and our relationship with Emmanuel, “God with us,” who has committed himself, fully and completely, to us in the person of Christ? How might we, in our own lives and in our own relationships, reflect a God who became fully human, fully
committed, fully dedicated, to the people he loves?
May we show forth – in our own lives – our Lord’s commitment to the world that he loves. For Christ has not only come for us, but has come for all.
In hopeful expectation of our Savior’s coming,
Dear Followers of Christ,
The month of November begins with a festival Sunday (“All Saints Sunday” on November 3rd) and ends with the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday, November 28th. In this month’s newsletter I would like to lift up both of these themes (saints and thanksgiving) by sharing a hymn that is new to me in our hymnal, Evangelical Lutheran Worship. The hymn is entitled, appropriately enough, “Give Thanks for Saints” (ELW #428).
Here are the words:
Verse One: “Give thanks for those whose faith is firm when all around seems bleak: on God’s good promise they rely, so while they live and when they die how forcefully they speak – the strong, who once were weak!”
Verse Two: “Give thanks for those whose hope is clear, beyond mere mortal sight: who seek the city God has planned, the true, eternal promised land, and steer on toward that light, a beacon ever bright.”
Verse Three: “Give thanks for those whose love is pure, a sparkling precious stone: they show by what they say and do an inward beauty, warm and true, for God’s concerns they own – God’s love through them is known.”
Verse Four: “Give thanks for saints of ages past and saints alive today: though often by this world despised, their hearts by God are richly prized. Give thanks that we may say we share their pilgrim way.”
This hymn beautifully expresses our thanksgiving and gratitude for the “saints of ages past and saints alive today…” And it focuses on how their firm faith, clear hope, and pure love reveal God to us. After all, each of us can call to mind loved ones – both living and dead – who have been saints to us.
No saint is perfect. All of us are at the same time both saint and sinner, as Martin Luther and the reformers taught us. Nevertheless, there are people whom God uses to grace our lives. We thank God for them even as we pray that God might make each of us saints in somebody else’s life.
As the hymn says, “Give thanks for saints”!
Dear Followers of Christ,
At the end of last month we went apple picking in Michigan to celebrate my birthday. There were plenty of apples for us to pick, and even for Robby to learn how to pick. I had never seen so many Honey Crisp apples in one spot!
Nevertheless I found out that the apple and berry harvest will be much lower this year due to the severe cold of last winter’s polar vortex. Like farming, the orchard industry is at the mercy of so much beyond human control. Despite advances in technology and high-yield varieties of fruit, weather and climate still largely determine how successful the harvest will be. If the Farmer’s Almanac is correct about this upcoming winter, we will be looking at another harsh winter unless, of course, you love winter. But the orchards are hoping that winter will be kinder to the apples trees and the fruit they will produce.
I am struck by the similarity between the church and fruit-producing orchards. We are all like trees that God has created to produce fruit. “A good tree produces good fruit,” our church sign even reads. For us, how-ever, producing good fruit – doing good works in service to our neighbor and in thanksgiving to God – isn’t always easy. Oftentimes it’s hard. We go through seasons of life that are the equivalent of harsh winters. Our relationship with God, with one another, and with ourselves isn’t always kind. In fact, we confess that “we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves.” In our hearts and in our actions, we turn against God and other people. And in their hearts and in their actions, other people turn against us as well. God also judges our wayward hearts that have turned away from him. As a result, we become like trees that don’t produce the fruit of which we are capable, the fruit that God intended us to produce.
Yet according to the Scripture readings we’ve heard on recent Sundays, we are assured that lost sheep are not left to wander all by themselves. Coins are not lost forever. God’s people are not left to worship and serve a “god” which they made with their own hands, and in doing so, are not left to perish in the wilderness. Even a “dishonest” manager who has rightfully lost his job is permitted to make friends with his master’s debtors by forgiving them their debt. With God, all is not lost. I would add that even trees afflicted by their own sin and the sin of other people are shown the grace and mercy to once again produce fruit.
God shows his grace and mercy to trees like us, trees that would not otherwise produce fruit. And I am
grateful for the ways that God continues to produce fruit in us, his church. As you read this month’s
newsletter during this season of harvest, give thanks for the fruit that you see in these pages – the ways that God is at work through you, Followers of Christ.
Giving thanks for you,
Dear Followers of Christ,
“The gifts [Christ] gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13NRSV).
What are your gifts for ministry? And what are those gifts for? I like these verses from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians since they remind us of who we are as the Church. The Church is the body of Christ. And the body of Christ is at its best when the different parts of the body are working together. As Paul teaches us in Ephesians, Christ gave each and every one of us gifts for ministry. One of the main purposes of our gifts is to build up the body of Christ, that is, the Church.
If you’ve ever participated in a “three-legged” race you get the idea. For such a race, your left leg is tied to your teammate’s right leg, or vice versa. In order to win a “three-legged” race, you and your teammate can’t both try to run as fast you can. You’re literally connected at the hip and would only end up tripping and falling together. Instead you have to coordinate your movements. Perhaps by saying “right, left, right, left” or “one, two, one, two,” you have to learn to move together, rather than simply as individuals. As you move with each other, you build each other up; and you increase your chances of doing well in the race.
As though cheering on his team, the body of Christ, St. Paul continues a few verses later in his letter to the Ephesians: “…we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16NRSV).
The Church works in much the same way. We build up the body of Christ in love as we use the gifts God has given us to build each other up. I see this “building up the body of Christ” already happening in a variety of ways at Followers of Christ, but I want to focus now on one particular way.
One of the gifts we have for ministry is our Congregational Council. Our Council meets on the third Sunday of each month and reviews the business of the congregation. The Council approves financial reports and makes decisions regarding the various ministries of our church. The Council representatives' specific areas of ministry include: Education & Youth; Mission & Outreach; Property & Management; and Worship & Music. If you have an idea or a proposal for anything in those areas of ministry, please speak with the respective Council representative. If you want me to introduce you to any of the representatives, or if you have a question about whom to talk to, please let me know. I’d be happy to assist in any way I can.
If your Church Council representative doesn’t know the answer to a question you might have, he or she can find out the answer for you. If the Council would need to meet first to vote on whether to approve your idea or proposal, the Council representative could let you know that too. I’d also invite you to speak with our Council President and Vice President. Our Secretary and Treasurer are good resources as well. In our Church Council, we’ve been given the great gift of leaders who are devoted to the various ministries of our congregation. As we lean upon those leaders – and as we make decisions together – we will be building up the body of Christ.
Yours in Christ,
Dear Followers of Christ,
During a recent adult Sunday school class, we were having an interesting discussion about the Gospel reading for the day from Luke Chapter 10. The reading begins: “After this the Lord [Jesus] appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go” (Luke 10:1NRSV). Jesus gives them specific instructions. They are to bring no purse, no bag, and no sandals; and they are to graciously and peacefully accept the hospitality of those who open their homes to them. They are not to move about from house to house, but rather to remain in the same house. As guests, they are to provide a healing and hopeful presence as well, “curing the sick who are there, and saying to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’” (Luke 10:9NRSV).
During our class discussion, we focused on the agenda of those seventy whom Jesus had appointed and sent to where he himself intended to go. We first spent some time discussing what their agenda wasn’t. Their agenda wasn’t to get people to follow them and join their synagogue. They weren’t after recruiting members to fill their houses of worship. That wasn’t the agenda directing their visits to people’s houses. Instead the seventy others, whom Jesus appointed and sent, were to help bring the kingdom of God near for the sake of their neighbors. This meant caring for people as neighbors, laying the groundwork for a relationship with them, listening to their hopes and concerns, and doing what they could to help respond to those hopes and concerns.
The discussion then turned to the 140 new homes being built in our own church’s backyard. What does this Gospel story have to say about the relationship that we – as a church – should have with our neighbors? The class decided that providing a welcome basket to our new neighbors is a good idea. We will have a task force overseeing the distribution of welcome baskets. You are invited to serve on that if you wish.
But in addition to welcome baskets, what does the Gospel say about our relationship with our neighbors? The class agreed that the initial purpose of welcoming people and distributing the baskets will not be to invite them to come to church. Rather, we will make clear our intention to welcome them as our neighbors, and to find out what their hopes and concerns are as they are new to the neighborhood. On our visits, we will ask questions to help us get to know them better. We’ll show a willingness to listen and to help if we can. Over time we will lay the groundwork in our relationship with our neighbors so that we can naturally invite them to our Rally Day picnic, Thanksgiving meal, Easter brunch, and yes, worship. Stay tuned for opportunities to learn, discuss, and participate in efforts to welcome our new neighbors.
In Christ’s Peace,
Dear Followers of Christ,
One of the things emphasized at the annual Northern Illinois Synod Assembly is the theme, “We are Church Together.” The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), I was reminded, is one church with three expressions. Those expressions include all ELCA congregations, the 65 regional synods headed by bishops across the United States, and the ELCA churchwide office headed by the presiding bishop in Chicago. Three expressions, one church.
When the three expressions work together, we are serving as one church. Through our mission support dollars given to the regional synod and the churchwide office, local congregations support the ministry of the church around the world. The regional synods and churchwide office, in turn, help supply congregations with pastors as well as start new congregations. Three expressions, one church.
The whole church can do what no single congregation can do alone. I’m thinking in particular of the ELCA’s response to communities devastated by natural disasters. ELCA Disaster Response addresses short-term goals for communities recovering from disasters, while ELCA World Hunger works toward long-term solutions to reduce hunger. It helps me to know that the church is bigger than any one of its congregations. We are not alone but can be the church together.
Dear Followers of Christ,
Thank you for a wonderful year of ministry together at Followers of Christ. I want to briefly highlight some of the ways I’ve seen God at work in and through our congregation. First, baptisms: We were blessed with three baptisms this past year. Wyatt, Savannah, and Natalie were baptized and received into the family of God, the Body of Christ, at Followers. Second, Timmy received his First Communion. Third, Followers of Christ has received new members: John, Ashley, and Kathy, who have already been introduced and recognized as new members during worship. Tim and Mary, Brian and Yenny, and Bill and Paula will be welcomed as new members during the worship service on June 23rd. For me, the arrival of visitors and new members is a powerful sign of God’s faithfulness to his church and God’s love for the world he has made. I look forward to how God will use all of us to further his mission together.
I am grateful for the people I have had the privilege of working with at Followers of Christ. The staff, church council, and volunteers are dedicated, committed, and team-oriented. Thank you for all that you have done to support me in my ministry. I have been encouraged by new people who have stepped into leadership roles last year and this year. And I am thankful to those of you who have done much and served well but will be assuming different roles.
This past year we participated in the Congregational Vitality Survey. The results of the survey gave us a better idea of what the strengths of our congregation are: our education and outreach ministries, including Vacation Bible School, Bible studies, and Sunday school – as well as the relationships that people form with God and with one another, through worship and fellowship. As indicated by Pastor Erickson of the Northern Illinois Synod, the survey also directed our attention to certain challenges and opportunities. As a congregation with a strong sense of family and belonging, what are ways that we can look outward as well – showing greater hospitality and extending more of a welcome to others, too? What are ways that we can grow more as stewards in order to increase not only the vitality of this congregation, but its sustainability as well?
Using the results of the vitality survey as a guide, we will be developing a mission plan for Followers of Christ in the coming year. I look forward to continuing our work together, and to discovering how we can take part – together – in the mission that God has for us.
Serving with you,
Dear Followers of Christ,
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia!
During this Easter season, I am encouraged by the new signs of growth all around us: the bright green of the grass, the blossoms of the flowers, the warm sunlight (finally!). The arrival of spring, as well as celebrating a late Easter on a beautiful spring day, is a wonderful experience. Signs of the resurrection of our Lord were present in our Easter Sunday worship service as well: the lighting of the Christ candle; the words, “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia;” the flowers decorating the altar; the white cloth on the cross; and the hanging banners.
As we begin this Easter season, which lasts until early June, I am especially encouraged by the signs of the risen Christ’s presence in our own congregation. In the last year alone, worship attendance has been on the rise. We’ve welcomed more visitors and have received more new members into the family of God here at Followers of Christ. We’ve celebrated multiple baptisms. We’ve had more children and more adults participate in Sunday school and Bible study than in the past. For me, these are all wonderful signs of the risen Christ’s presence in our midst – drawing people to himself and to one another – into a deeper faith in him.
I am already grateful for how generous the members of Followers of Christ are with their time, their talents and abilities, and their financial gifts. Your generous giving to the ministry of Followers – in the ways already mentioned – has contributed to the growth that we are experiencing.
In order to sustain the growth of our church’s ministry, I invite you to prayerfully discern how you might share the time, talents, and treasures that God has given you. You have already received your Stewardship Commitment Card and Time & Talent form. Please fill out the amount you pledge to give, and the ways you intend to serve, and return both of those forms during worship May 5th, Stewardship Commitment Sunday.
As a guide in your giving, please prayerfully consider the tithe (sharing a tenth of your income, or growing toward that goal). Or, please prayerfully consider growing by 10-20% over what you are presently giving as a financial gift to our ministry at Followers of Christ Lutheran Church. In other words, if you are presently giving $50 per week, an increase of 10% would be $55 per week. An increase of 20% would be $60 per week.
The amount we pledge to give on our Stewardship Commitment Cards is not only used to develop our 7/1/2019 – 6/30/2020 budget. Our pledged giving is also an expression of our faith in the risen Christ, and our support of the ministry he is doing in and through Followers of Christ Lutheran Church.
Thank you for your generosity already, and thank you for the ways that you will continue to support the ministry we do together in Christ’s name!