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Thursday, 12 July 2018 09:59

If we can agree on this one thing ...

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singing vowels

A few years ago I took over as director of a choir, stepped into my first rehearsal with them, and after some introductions, got to work. We learned notes, rhythms, and words; and I took extra time to work on technique and help them understand my particular quirks and how I like to direct. By the end of the evening we were making beautiful music and felt pretty good about what we could do together.

When we were finished, someone raised their hand and said, “we haven’t sounded this good in years, and you didn’t really tell us anything we didn’t already know – what did you do that brought our sound together?”

The answer was fairly simple. There are certain things in music that are spelled out – notes and rhythms are marked clearly on the page and leave very little room for interpretation. The words are there, too, but this is where it gets muddy. In most adult choirs there are people from all over the country, and they pronounce words differently. The difference I had made in rehearsal was getting people to work toward pronouncing their vowels the same way.

What if all of our interactions could be as simple as agreeing on a vowel? What if there were just one thing we could agree on to make everything in the world a little more beautiful? 

When we look at our social media or the news it is easy to get discouraged. There is so much bad news and it is hard to believe we have friends or family members who think and feel so differently from us. We might feel like we’ve lost people who were close to us.

In John 6:37-40, Jesus says, “anyone who comes to me, I will never drive away” and “I should lose nothing of all [God] has given me.” Jesus has been given all the world to care for, and he will not be separated from anyone

What is the one thing Jesus brought us that keeps us from being separated God? 

Love

And yes, it is really hard to love everyone. But just like the vowels in our singing, we can see our interactions through the lens of Jesus’ love and we can work toward asking ourselves, “if I love this person, how should I treat them?” What should a disagreement look like when we know that we love someone as a fellow human being and not just as a faceless avatar on a web site? How do we treat a stranger we pass on the street if we look at them with love instead of fear? What does it look like when people who are different from us, whose culture or language we don't understand and whose motives we can only speculate or imagine, are just fellow children of God?

We might not agree on everything. But we can work toward a way of loving each other so that disagreements, culture, and fear don't have to divide us.

Thursday, 05 July 2018 11:54

Stephen Ministry

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stephen ministry

Although I first heard of this ministry twenty years ago when a family friend was visited by a Stephen Minister, I have personal knowledge of this caring ministry as my mother was a care receiver for many months before she passed away. Now, I am honored to be a Stephen Minister at Lord of Life along with 8 other caring ministers. 

Stephen Ministry is a one-to-one care giving ministry, which is a part of a nation-wide ministry made up of over 12,000 congregations and 170 different denominations. Through its ministry, congregations equip and empower caregivers—called Stephen Ministers—to provide high-quality, confidential, Christ-centered care to people who are hurting. They are trained to be a non-anxious, non-judgmental ear to hear whatever is on your heart.

The mission of Stephen Ministries is found in Ephesians 4:12-13, “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."

When I first mentioned to my mother that I thought she might benefit from having a Stephen Minister from her church, she was very defensive, thinking that I thought she needed help. Since I worked full time, and lived two and a half hours from her, I was not able to visit her as often as either of us would have liked. When I explained the reasons I thought she might enjoy regular visits from a Stephen Minister, she did allow the Stephen Leader to meet with her to discuss the concept.  

Once her Stephen Minister was assigned, my mother could not wait for her visits, as they allowed her to express her concerns about her failing health, and her anxiety and sadness at having to sell her home of fifty-six years. She was able to pray about her fears and her readiness to join my father in Heaven. These were topics that she could not discuss with me, as I believe she was afraid it would hurt me.  

I will be forever grateful for her Stephen Minister, and hope that I can be a caring minister to others struggling with crises in their lives. I know that God has put people in my life at just the time I needed them, to help me through periods of sadness and grief. I look forward to the intensive training I will take later this year to become a Stephen Leader, helping other lay members with training to be commissioned as I have been. 

Please give prayerful consideration to reaching out to request a Stephen Minister for yourself or a loved one as needed. We are here to walk beside you through those difficult times during your journey through life.  

If you are, or know someone who is experiencing difficult times, such as grief, divorce, job loss, chronic or terminal illness, or some other life crisis, you can be in touch with the Pastor or the Stephen Ministry team by contacting Ava Fiebig at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Wishing you Peace,

Cindy Campbell, Stephen Minister

Thursday, 28 June 2018 12:13

Presence

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youth gathering mass transit

After three years of planning and countless meetings and logistics, the ELCA National Youth Gathering kicked off in Houston this week.

As more than 30,000 teens and adults converged on the NRG Stadium on Wednesday night, it wasn’t the dazzling lights or enthralling pyrotechnics that excited us - well, maybe a little. And it wasn’t the two hours of speakers and musicians from around the world who shared stories of faith with us, either, although that was powerful, too. Instead, it was the people-to-people connections which were already giving us insight into the beautiful and diverse body of Christ. 

When our bus broke down on the north side of Nashville, the bus drivers took us to the movies to help pass the five hour delay.

When two buses full of sleepy teens invaded the truckstop in a small Texas town, all we experienced were smiles and warm Lone Star state greetings. The hospitality was contagious.

Wearing our matching shirts and trying to understand the map, a life-long Houstonian struck up a conversation with us on the light rail and, after answering some of our questions about mass transit, went on to tell us about her love for this great city.

Presence. Presence is a present. We are gifts to each other. God designed us this way.

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

Isn’t it a delight, when we head out to serve and love people, and end up being enveloped by the Spirit of God which is loose in the world? We have no idea what is in store this week in Houston, but we know that God was here long before we came, and will meet us in all sorts of amazing places and people. 

Thank you again for making this trip possible. This time is life-changing for each of us. 

Peace.

Pastor Lowell

Thursday, 21 June 2018 13:55

Mi Casa es Su Casa

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Tera Welcome

As a church family, it is difficult to discern what is hospitable behavior versus what is safe behavior. As we go through life following Jesus, we reach out to shake the hands of sinners just as often as we shake the hands of saints. They are the same hands, attached to the same people, just at different moments.

“Stranger danger” is a laughable concept for a church kid. Jesus leads us to welcome the stranger. We offer him food, give her fuel for her car, and open the door and our arms in welcome. We would never turn away the stranger, nor run from or even fear them, because we know what it is to be the outcast, reject, and underdog. In many places around the world, and often in our own streets, hallways and meetings, those are just other names for disciple.

We host a lot of visitors. Our children have been playing musical rooms with our house guests ever since they can remember. In their version of rolling out the red carpet, they dust and polish and set out favorite books and toys in preparation. They hang personalized welcome signs on their bulletin boards and turn on a night light in the dark. We may not have much to share, but we share what we have. Some of our visitors are family, some are friends, many others are our guests because they are friends of friends, passing through. We know no stranger, because we look past our differences to find the roots of what we share—we seek Jesus in each other.

Hospitality often circles back to the table for us. We greet and meet over meals. We pour the tea and pass the biscuits. We lean together in discussion and nod our heads in understanding. We reminisce with laughter, and sometimes with tears. The table between us is not much different than the communion altar, where Jesus calls us to gather as a family, to eat, drink and remember.

Mi casa es su casa. We share a home in this planet. We share a Father in God. We are each the sinner and the saint, the stranger and the friend, seeking a table to share, bread to break and a companion for the journey.

Written by Tera Michelson for The Values Project, a year-long initiative designed to equip families to raise children who thrive emotionally, socially, and spiritually. You can read other blogs at

http://blog.beamingbooks.com/mi-casa-es-su-casa/#.Wyu0z6kh0Wp.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018 09:22

Dreaming

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hummus 1057998 1920

God says,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams.                                                        Acts 2:17

I love the story of Pentecost.  The image of the disciples, gathered together, filled with uncertainty, resonates with me.  They have this amazing knowledge, that Jesus is the real deal, the son of God who rose from the dead to save us all. They’ve seen him heal, and forgive, and embrace those who were shunned by everyone else. But what do they do about it? Telling others about this good news could open them up to derision, or cause them to be cast out by their community. But then, the Holy Spirit comes, and they are filled with hope and purpose, equipped to carry on His work. So often, I feel like the disciples. I know Jesus is the real deal, but how do I share the good news, especially with folks who don’t speak my language?

For a start, I put myself in the same situation as the disciples. Okay, okay, so not exactly the same situation: I wasn’t hiding out in an upper room, hoping that the community leaders or the military wouldn’t roust me out and crucify me.  I was in the church library, with snacks and air conditioning (but we did have hummus). Our Ministry Area Coordinators (MACs) gathered, as they do every month.  In the summer, the focus is on dreaming dreams: how can we, as well-fed, English-speaking, educated white people ‘speak the language’ of those who need us to  embrace them with the Good News?

Well, the Holy Spirit was with us, too. The ideas that poured out for the coming year: to teach, to feed, to reach out – are creative, and exciting, and sometimes scary.  We don’t know how to get it all done. But we know we are called to start, and we will be equipped with the right words when we need them, and we’ll move forward together. 

Over the coming weeks, the MACs will continue to plan, and organize, and create new programs. You’ll see the church calendar and the announcements fill with opportunities to live, and share, and celebrate with all people, God’s love in Jesus Christ. These opportunities were first imagined as some disciples gathered together, filled with the Holy Spirit, who dared them to dream dreams. Whether you are looking for your first opportunity to get involved, or feeling called to step into a leadership role, or you’ve dreamed up a new idea you want to share, there’s a place for everyone. Join us! 

Filled with the Holy Spirit,

Cara

Thursday, 07 June 2018 10:29

Do-overs

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broken ceiling

"Measure twice, cut thrice!" That's the motto in my house. If you've ever asked me what I've been up to outside of work, I've probably said something like, "oh, just working on my bathroom." It has been a home improvement project that has lasted three years this Summer. I have an entire Facebook photo album devoted to it called "who needs a bathroom anyway?" which I haven't even updated in a year because if I add more photos, it will just remind people that I haven't finished yet. 

The truth is, I have no idea what I'm doing. I know what I want it to look like and what materials I want to use, but I'm learning all the skills as I go by watching Youtube videos and reading the instructions that come with the parts. One of the reasons it has taken so long is that as I move on to another part of the project, I realize I need yet another tool. Or I get to a corner and realize I need to so something different to make the edges line up nicely. But the worst thing I do is get in a hurry and measure wrong. Sometimes that even leads to tearing out an entire ceiling that I had just recently installed ... but that is a whole story of its own. The bottom line is, I wasted time and resources on a do-over.

I don't think I'm alone in saying the same kinds of mistakes happen in other aspects of my life, too. Sometimes I rush to speak and end up saying something wrong or hurtful. Sometimes I don't live up to a promise I've made. Often I get angry about something that really isn't in my control or isn't nearly as bad as I've allowed it to be in my head. Like the bathroom, I end up using time and emotional resources trying to make up for thoughtless mistakes.

Luckily, the unlimited resource we have available to us is God's grace and forgiveness. In the Gospels we read about the disciple, Peter, who promises to stay with Jesus and then goes on to deny him three times. As you read the story in John 18:15-27, you might feel like Peter has made the mistake of a lifetime. How could Jesus possibly forgive him for this?

Instead of casting Peter out, in John 21:15-17 Jesus builds Peter's confidence and prepares him to go out into the world and be the new church. This is what God does for us every Sunday in worship and what we are called to do for each other as we go out into the world, being God's hands and feet.

I've made a lot of mistakes working on my house, but each time I do, I learn something new, develop another skill, and move on to be better at it. Maybe the next project won't take as long.

When we make mistakes in our lives, we can take those opportunities to learn, to be more mindful, to get better at thinking before we speak or act. Maybe in our next difficult situation, our response will be better. Our do-overs might still take extra time and emotional resources, but we never have to worry about running out of God's grace.

If only I had an unlimited supply of drywall ...

 

Thursday, 31 May 2018 08:24

Re-membering

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Humpty Dumpty

Nsanya Otis Kapya suffered major head injuries in a car crash on April 15, 2012. He wasn’t in his native land of Tanzania, but was working in Nairobi, Kenya. A few days later, he died there in the Intensive Care Unit. Although he was twelve hours from home, he wasn’t alone.  Not only was he surrounded by medical staff who were attending to him with compassionate care and family who had traveled to be at his side, but the same love and breath of God that pulses in and out of your lungs as you read these words surrounded him in his final earthly moments.

A few weeks later on the other side of the world, two dozen of us gathered to celebrate his life in the sanctuary of Reformation Lutheran in Wichita where I was serving. Otis was a cousin and nephew to some of our African members.

The Christian funeral and memorial service do powerful things. Whether held in a church sanctuary, the chapel at the funeral home, or standing graveside in the cemetery, this ancient ritual crosses time and space to name our need and hear words of reassurance grounded in the enduring promises of God.

In the opening words of his memorial service, we announced, “We are gathered this day to remember before God our brother, to give thanks for his long and full life, and to commend him to our merciful redeemer. In our baptism, God claims us and promises that nothing can separate us from the love of God – not even death. We also gather to proclaim Christ crucified and risen and to comfort one another in our grief.”

Re-membering. Isn’t this what happens each time we are gathered for worship? God draws us from our many places of living and working, literally reassembling us as the body of Christ. If we are on vacation in a seaside town or on a business trip in a bustling urban center on another continent, these moments of Christian worship gather us, feed us with the Word and meal of God, and then send us out as agents of hope.

God is busy with the business of re-membering us on other days, too. From our fragile lives, fractured by the impact of sin, we are daily being re-membered as our loving Creator puts the broken pieces together again.

If you recall the children’s rhyme, Humpty Dumpty, “all the King's horses and all the King's men couldn't put Humpty together again.” What a sad end to the shattered life – no hope of being put back together. But as followers of Jesus, we believe otherwise. Thanks to Pastor Bill Yonker for the bold declaration that “all the King's horses and all the King's men couldn't put Humpty together again... but the King can! The King of kings knows how to do it!”

This bold declaration makes it possible for us to sing with hope on a day of sorrow and loss. With the opening lines of “Shall We Gather at the River” on our lips at Nsanya’s memorial service, we weren’t thinking about the shoreline of the Arkansas River that winds through the south central plains of Kansas or the Rufiji River pushing east through Tanzania and into the Indian Ocean. No! Instead, we were celebrating that Living Water that provides healing and life, recreation and renewal, nourishment and promise – the River of God where we are re-membered.

It was beautiful the way the Christian community around the world came together to celebrate Nsanya’s life and grieve his death. As we stood engulfed in the resurrection promises of God, we couldn’t deny the reality that in our living and dying, we are not alone. 

Meet you at the water’s edge,

Pastor Lowell

Thursday, 24 May 2018 11:54

God Loves

Written by

Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Bishop Eaton water

During a recent chapel service at the Lutheran Center, Rafael Malpica Padilla, executive director for Global Mission, shared his favorite Bible verse with us: “Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1).

Jesus was in Jerusalem in the upper room praying with his disciples, modeling selfless service as he washed their feet, and preparing them for his glorification that would take place on the cross.

“He loved them to the end.” To his bitter end on the cross, but to the end of so much more—to the end of the deadly grip of sin, to the end of everything that would try to mar the image of God borne by every human being, to the end of death.

And Jesus loved them, 12 flesh and blood human beings who carried all the “stuff” people carry—passion and humor and courage, fear and doubt, the need to be seen and affirmed, great faith and quaking uncertainty. Jesus did not love the concept of disciples or the theory of people— Jesus loved them, Jesus loves us.

Jesus loved. How does one describe that? At my cousin’s wedding, the priest noted in his sermon that human language is too small for God. All the poetry in the world can’t express the love for one’s beloved or for a new baby or for family. All of the hymns ever written or sung can’t convey the love we have for God. Neither can words convey how much God loves us. It’s almost incomprehensible how much we are loved by God. It is too much to take in. But it is true.

This is the message that the Lutheran movement still has to speak to the rest of the world. God loves us. God means well for us and for the world. God’s love is deep and constant. And God’s love is not sentimental. The Incarnation was not a whim. Emmanuel, God with us, was a deliberate immersion into human brokenness in order to bring about healing and wholeness. “For while we were still weak … while we still were sinners … while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son …” (Romans 5:6-10).

The Lutheran movement presents an alternative face of Christianity to the world. Too often the image of Christianity seen in popular culture is of a judgmental transactional God demanding perfection from an imperfect people, a people who, in desperation, work harder and harder to save themselves. Rules for purity are erected—pure theology and pure morality. Stark lines are drawn defining who is in and who is out. Faith becomes work. Righteousness is our righteousness achieved by ourselves.

Grace—God’s love freely given—is God’s work. It is not our doing. It is a gift. It is freedom. This is not for a minute to deny the truth of our sinfulness or that God does judge us and finds us falling seriously short. Grace doesn’t give us a free pass, nor does grace gloss over the reality of suffering and evil in the world. This grace, this freedom, makes it possible for us to realize the love of God in Christ in the world and in our own lives. And no human can set bounds on God’s grace.

Jesus loves his own and loves us to the end. Jesus doesn’t expect us to do the same—Jesus makes it possible for us to do the same. Therefore, we have nothing to fear and nothing to lose when we reject the notion of racial supremacy, when we welcome the stranger, when we confess that God alone is first. We can tell that story.

Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton,

Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

You can read a monthly message from Bishop Eaton at www.livinglutheran.org.

Thursday, 17 May 2018 10:35

Triple Crown

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triplecrown blog

And we’re off! This Saturday, Trinity Lutheran Seminary’s graduation will cap a four-year journey of learning about Scripture, theology, and the Church. As I am gearing up to receive my diploma this weekend, I am realizing that I have just barely scratched the surface of mastering all things divine. So, what does this Masters of Divinity mean for me? It means that my journey is just beginning. Placing a degree in-hand feels a lot like winning the Kentucky Derby. Although this is a cause worth celebrating, God continues to call us into something more. The Preakness and the Belmont Stakes lie ahead.

The training required to live more like Christ is a lifelong process that requires endurance, intentionality, and a supportive team that will work to carry us through. I am always amazed by the amount of people invested in one horse. Everyone from the trainer, to the owner, to the jockey, it takes a village to get a horse across the finish line with a victory. As I graduate, I recall all the people who have molded me into the person that I am today. The list of teachers is countless, the number of mentors is endless, and the abundance of support is overwhelming.

I’m not sure what the upcoming race will look like. All I know is that God will be present every step of the way. Finally, when it’s all said and done, God will lead us to that Triple Crown. Until then, God will delight when we live into our calling to love one another with a full heart. God will lead all of us to that place where “justice rolls down like water, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24). It is through Christ alone that we are made victorious. We are all made Triple Crown winners because God emphatically loves us and passionately cares for world.

I’ll meet you at the track,

Lucas McSurley

Thursday, 10 May 2018 08:19

Move!

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blogmove

Spring fever is everywhere. Swings and slides are full at area parks. Bicycles and sports equipment have migrated back into the yard. Co-workers spend part of their lunch outside and then look for any excuse to blow out of the office early.

Nowhere is the itch of the season more pronounced than when you talk to a teacher. Students and teachers alike are counting down the days to the end of the school year. Final projects and papers are in the queue. Field Days are scheduled, not to mention year-end parties and graduation celebrations. Both children and adults lost focus weeks ago and they are marking time until summer release.

Just because class will be in recess doesn’t mean that learning will cease. Often, our greatest lessons come from beyond the traditional classroom.

We have a miniature chalkboard on our kitchen counter where we leave inspiring quotes, Bible verses, and notes for each other. This week, our 6th grader wanted a turn sharing some wisdom, so he grabbed a chunk of sidewalk chalk and scribbled,

“Thinking is not doing.”

BAM! What a word of challenge! I’m really good at thinking and contemplating. I’m a pro at praying and making plans. But too often that is where my response ends.

We’ve seen the backlash around these kind of impotent well wishes. When disaster strikes, some send “thoughts and prayers,” but are unwilling to send assistance or work for reform.

Jesus spent much of his time in thought and prayer. He was frequently found praying and connecting with God in quiet moments, but that was only part of his formula for loving. Equally as often, Jesus was in motion. He talked, healed, comforted, accompanied, led, equipped, and taught.

He even told one follower the importance of a holistic approach to ministry. Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39).

What if this summer, in addition to thinking about doing something, you would actually do something? What if you tapped into your passions and put something in motion?

We’re doing it at church. We aren’t just thinking about loving and serving God, but we’re leveraging dollars, muscle, and prayers for what God is up to in our corner of the world. We’re not only thinking about being drawn into a deeper relationship with God, but we make the effort to get out of bed and make worship a priority in our busy lives. We’re not only thinking about making our campus more welcoming and hospitable, but we’re committing three year pledges to a capital campaign for renewal and expansion. We’re not only thinking about making a difference for those with food insecurity, but we’re planting, watering, weeding, and harvesting vegetables for those who would otherwise go without. We’re not only thinking about helping the homeless population in Butler County, but we’re making beds, preparing meals, and spending the night with new friends. We’re not only thinking about the importance of equality, but we’re marching as allies with the LGBTQ community in the Cincinnati Pride Parade. We’re not only thinking about making disciples, but we’re sending twenty people to Houston for a transformational week of serving and learning.

For more than a month, now, we’ve been praying, “Lord, what do you want to do through me?” It’s time. Let’s step forward in faith and join Jesus in the restoration of the world.

Pastor Lowell

Thursday, 03 May 2018 08:01

Godspeed

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lucas blogfinal

Ever wonder what God’s speed has to do with bidding farewell? Turns out, it comes from the Old English word “spede,” which means success. So, whenever we say goodbye in the form of “Godspeed” we are essentially saying, “May God grant you success.” As I prepare to step out into the world of pastoral leadership, it is with a grateful heart that I wish the Lord of Life community, “Godspeed.”

Before I did a Google search of Godspeed’s etymology, I conjured up a theory of my own about the meaning of Godspeed. Maybe the speed of God has something to do with bidding farewell. God’s pace is slow. Rushing through life is one of hardest temptations to avoid, but when we slowdown to appreciate all that God has done, we can begin to more fully live. Leaving an internship congregation is unlike many other departures in life. For starters, the end date was predetermined and it has been understood that eventually I would step away to use all that I have learned these last two years. You all have prepared me well to share what I have learned with the world.

Although I am excited to lead a congregation in Northeast Ohio, I have an overwhelming desire for time to operate at a snail’s pace for this final month. I want a God-like slowness so that there is enough time to reminisce on all the meaningful moments here. I want so badly for God to come swooping in and slow things down. I want time to say long-winded goodbyes to those who have changed my life, all of you. As the clock continues to tick, it is my prayer that the Lord of Life community intentionally lives in a God-like slowness. I hope that you never pass up an opportunity to slowdown and admire all the amazing things that God is up to in this place.

Speaking of slowness, I have begun the process of cleaning out my office. While digging through my things, I was reminded of how often I have seen God at work while on internship here. Although cleaning out my office is going incredibly slow, it is a God’s speed kind of slowness that I greatly enjoy. Each cabinet and drawer that I went through contained items that brought back amazing memories with all of you. For instance, I have an entire cabinet over my desk filled with children sermon props, everything from a potato to a Ziploc bag of green slim. There has truly never been a dull moment of God-inspired joy and creativity during these years.   

The cabinet next door is filled with a random collection of bits and pieces of the many costumes I have worn in ministry moments, from the Preschool Easter Bunny to a Vacation Bible School robot named Ian. Learning and growing with the youth has been a highlight of my two years here. The image of littles ones dancing in the center aisle will forever be implanted in my memory when I recall serving with this vibrant place. Although most of us could never muster the courage to go twirling in front of anyone during worship, I have always felt the spirit of the congregation dancing alongside the children. This community full-heartedly understands that God’s Resurrection promise is a gift worth sharing and celebrating. I have never underestimated this community’s ability to have a good time.

As I opened my cabinet doors to clear them out, all kinds of random goodies came pouring onto the floor. This abundance reminded me of the ongoing generosity that I have witnessed and been a part of here. As the intern, not only have I personally been showered by your kindness, but I have seen God change lives through the goodness of your giving hearts. Getting to witness the multitude of vibrant outreach ministries, I have learned how much good God can do through the power of rallying people together to serve those in need. I can’t tell you the number of times your generosity has left me in jaw-dropping astonishment. The Christ-like kind of sharing that I have seen throughout my time here fills me with enthusiastic hope that we can create the world God intended.  

As I continued to slowly rummage through my office, I was amazed by how many things that didn’t originally belong to me. While thumbing through the shelves, I noticed how many books originated on Pastor Lowell’s shelves. This serves as a literal representation of how readily Pastor Lowell has passed down his knowledge and wisdom. Throughout everything that we have been through together, there has always been an eye toward teaching. Pastor Lowell has taught me so much more than the tactile side of ministry. He has demonstrated what it looks like for pastors to holistically love the people they serve. I am able to move on from internship with confidence in my ability because I know I have been shaped by one of the best pastors in the church today.

As I long for God’s speed to kick-in, I am reminded of the long list of people to which I owe words of gratitude. Among that list is an encouraging staff, a supporting internship committee, a live-giving choir, an inspiring group of Stephen Ministers, and an entire congregation filled with Christ’s love. As the days of serving as your intern continues to dwindle, I pray these days ahead slowdown. I know I will not have enough time to say “thank you” to each of you, as my heart desires, but I hope you feel my sincerest gratitude.

Although our time together is short, this month will offer multiple opportunities to bid farewell. Graduation will take place at Trinity Lutheran Seminary on Saturday May 19 at 2:00pm. All are welcome to join the celebration. My final Sunday of worship will be May 27, which will be followed by a picnic outside after 9:30am worship. And of course, I am more than happy to grab lunch or coffee in the weeks ahead.

It is with a thankful heart that I wish you “Godspeed.” Until our paths cross again somewhere along the way, may God bless you and keep you and the Lord’s face shine upon you always.

With overflowing love,

Lucas McSurley

Thursday, 26 April 2018 09:38

Stephen Ministry

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blogStephenMin

We’ve had a phenomenal start! Since January, your Stephen Ministers have been serving as Christ’s hands and feet within one-on-one care giving relationships. We are striving to remain confidential and Christ-centered while continuing to develop our skills in listening. Being a part of the reigniting and growth of Stephen Ministry has truly been a Christ-inspired blessing.

In the book of Acts, Stephen was chosen to provide care to those in need within the ancient Christian community. Since the time of the Apostles, caring ministry has been considered a hallmark of the Christian faith. Stephen Ministers follow the example of Stephen and are called respond to the needs of a community in a loving and compassionate way. One care receiver said about their relationship, “the time spent with my Stephen Minister is like one hour of sanity in a week that feels turned upside down.”

This fall, Intern Lucas McSurley and myself recruited, trained, and coached eight Stephen Ministers in how to cultivate distinctively Christian care giving skills. We spent fifty hours together over two months to build a team of compassionate and non-judgmental listeners. There was such a need for effective listeners that it only took three months after training for all eight Stephen Ministers to be assigned to a care receiver.

We are thrilled to announce that Cindy Campbell has responded to God’s call to serve as a second Stephen Leader. She says about feeling called into leadership that “God has continually placed the right people in my life, and now I want to pay forward the same care and wisdom I have been given over the years.” Cindy will attend a week-long Stephen Ministry leadership training workshop soon. With Intern Lucas heading into a first call congregation, it is our hope that we will continue to have at least two Stephen Leaders. Together, Cindy and I will work with Pastor Lowell to provide leadership for this impactful ministry. We are always looking for people interested in becoming Stephen Ministers, so if that is you please let us know, and we will get you plugged into our next training session in the near future.

Stephen Ministers typically meet for about an hour on a weekly basis with their assigned care receiver. Additionally, the team of Stephen Ministers meet twice per month for supervision meetings and continuing education. Even among Stephen Ministers, the identities of care receivers are kept strictly confidential. Care receivers can be from within or outside of the Lord of Life community.  Those currently serving as Stephen Ministers include: Cindy Campbell, Helen Funk, Marie Jurkiewicz, Becky Mastalerz, Barb Mackey, Aleen Miller, Jenny Smith, and Bonnie Tremayne. You can be in touch with them through the church office. They are all here to listen any time life throws you a curve. Please continue to keep the Stephen Ministry team in your prayers. Thank you for your support!

With love,

Ava Fiebig

Thursday, 19 April 2018 10:18

Unknown

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lucas blog unknown

What does the future hold? We can fill our calendars, make our lists, and plan ahead, but no one can ever know for sure. Without a crystal ball, envisioning what is to come can bring anxiety that is laced with agonizing uncertainty.

This past Sunday, commotion and energy filled the halls as we began our Share the Light Campaign. Although plans are in place, the future ultimately belongs to God. Our dreams and goals are an important part of the process, but God will work through us in ways we could never initially imagine. What a gift it is to experience where God will lead us even though we might still be hesitant to lean fully on God.

Thinking about my own future has recently taken up the majority of my brain space. I am also headed into an unknown future. In just over a month, I will be headed into my first call congregation. Alex and I are not exactly sure where we will be living, what community we will be a part of, where we will be employed, or how far we’ll be to the nearest Skyline Chili, but God is about to shake up our world whether we are ready or not. The future can be scary and it can be difficult to place our trust in the Lord.

If there is anyone in Scripture that knows a thing or two about the anxieties of the future, it is Paul. He was shipwrecked, beaten, and jailed. Still, he mustered the courage to continue his ministry of preaching the Good News to people all over the ancient world. I am comforted by the insight that he writes to the Philippian church, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil 4:6).

God invites us to let go of our fears of the unknown and lay our worries at Jesus’ feet. My response to anxiety is always prayer. This coming Sunday, we will focus on prayer and hear more about Paul’s journey. There is no better way to step into the Share the Light campaign than by praying for the church, its people, and those in our neighborhood. Like Paul, we will persevere through the hardships and God will do extraordinary things when we let go of fears and cast aside our worries. When thinking about the unknown future, I am compelled to shout “God’s got this!”

With trust,

Lucas McSurley

Thursday, 12 April 2018 15:07

Shine!

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blogBonoEdgeRHLight

This little light of mine,
I'm gonna let it shine

This little light of mine,
I'm gonna let it shine

This little light of mine,
I'm gonna let it shine

Let it shine! Let it shine! Let it shine!

This song is among my earliest musical memories. The repetitive lyrics and unforgettable melody, coupled with fun hand motions, made it an instant hit for me as a little person and burrowed deep into my heart and mind.

Many versions of this catchy tune swirled around me throughout my youth. We sang a certain set of verses for the Sunday School openings in the Fellowship Hall of my church. Some of the words changed when we used it for VBS (Vacation Bible School) and still other verses popped up in the rotation at Camp Mowana Lutheran Camp on hot summer days. “This Little Light of Mine” was a constant traveling companion.

Several resources note that it was originally written by Harry Dixon Loes around 1920 as a children’s song and then embraced by many during the Civil Rights Movement. “The song, which has simple, repetitive lines with only one change per verse, lends itself to learning quickly and singing along, perfect for bringing people together with a common cause” (operationrespect.org).

So what is this light? For Christians, this light is none other than the Light of the World, Jesus Christ, who brings light in our darkness, hope in our hopelessness, and peace to our pain.

This little light of mine…

God is for us and comes to us in the presence of Jesus. The Spirit of God intersects our lives and dwells with us. When we can’t find a way forward, God meets us and guides us into whatever is next.

Hide it under a bushel? No!

This little light is a gift given to us, but it cannot be hidden or stuffed away. The Light of Christ will always shine, so God invites us to allow it to diffuse through our lives. It wasn't designed to be hoarded or muffled, but to radiate into the neighborhoods and world around us. Jesus said that we are like city lights. “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden… In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).

Even when I’m afraid…

This little light brings us hope when we’re hopeless. In our fear and trembling, the light comes to illuminate the shadowed places. When we’re anxious, the light offers a soothing calm. In moments of loss and sorrow, God dwells ever more fully with us in our pain. When we face an uncertain future, we move ahead with an informed traveling companion.

All around the neighborhood…

This little light isn’t intended to stay on our turf. Instead, the Light of Christ hops across imaginary property lines and shines everywhere and anywhere.

In reality, this little light isn’t little at all. The Light of Christ is a massive glow of hope and grace that dominates cultures and generations as it shines throughout all time. It brings together all people under the banner of forgiveness and freedom.

This weekend, we’ll launch the Share the Light capital campaign which puts a challenging goal ahead of us to jump deeper into ministry with one another for the sake of the world. God shines through us. Let’s continue to Share the Light!

Let it shine! Let it shine! Let it shine!

Pastor Lowell

 

Remember! Worship at 8 and 11 am

                Celebration Event at 9:30 am

photo by Anton Corbjin

Thursday, 05 April 2018 08:48

Showers

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blog step into rain

Rain, rain, go away, come again another day! Living in Ohio, the season of spring routinely offers torrential down pours. Rain has a tendency to keep us stuck indoors. We use umbrellas, wear rain boots, and dodge puddles to avoid getting wet. Extraordinary measures are taken to remain dry while the rain redirects our plans for the day. When it rains, outdoor events are cancelled, people forget how to drive, and basements are flooded. People run to seek shelter as their socks dampen and toes wrinkle. People and springtime showers do not go well together. 

Ironically, we are willing to pay the price of an admission ticket for a waterpark full of slippery slides. We may even roundup the family and drive hundreds of miles to feel the waves come crashing under our beach chairs. Sometimes, I am even guilty of gallivanting through the watery arch provided by the garden hose in the backyard. It seems that it is not getting wet that we mind so much, it’s only getting wet when it’s not on our terms that causes us to get frazzled. If only God worked on our terms.

This month, I will begin the interview process for entering into my first call as a pastoral leader with a congregation in Northeast Ohio. Although I love the ministry and I am thrilled to experience what God has in store, I am resistant to the idea of getting wet. Lord of Life has been my shelter. I have been comforted by the overwhelming love extended by people that make me feel safe. Like the rain, God comes into our lives whether we are ready or not. God propels us out into the precipitation, to places where we feel uncomfortable. God most apparently dwells amongst the puddles that lie just outside our comfort zone. We can do our best to avoid getting showered by God’s work, but no matter how much we resist, we will always get wet. 

So the next time it rains, we might as well throw on our trunks, unfold our chair, and let the drops wash away our trepidations. God will do amazing and transformational things in our lives when we are willing to let go of our desire for God to operate on our terms. Listen for God calling you out into the rain, where ministry is new and exciting. The sounds of heavy showers can seem frightening from inside, but when we step outside, God’s downpour is energizing, refreshing, and full of life.

Listen, God is calling!

Lucas McSurley

Thursday, 29 March 2018 10:21

Off Limits

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blog DC Civil Disobedience

Several years ago, my family traveled to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania for a family wedding. Being so close to a fantastic array of historical destinations, we decided to add a couple of days on to our trip and sight-see our way around the Washington, D.C. area. That was all planned before the government shutdown. Never in our wildest dreams could we have imagined that the key sites and acres around our nation’s capital and Gettysburg would be barricaded. The battlefields in and around Gettysburg, The National Zoo, all of the Smithsonian complexes, monument after monument, and even the public restrooms were all off limits to citizens and world tourists. How do you begin to answer children’s questions such as, “Why can’t we go to the Lincoln Memorial?” and  “What does the Capitol look like on the inside?” I struggled to find words.

One afternoon, as we drove into Washington, there was a little scuffle in the back seat of our rental car. One kid wasn’t getting their way. A book or backpack had crossed the dividing line and quickly became a point of contention. None of the parties involved could agree on who was at fault or what could be done to resolve the issue. With no talk of reconciliation or compromise, irritation quickly turned into frustration and then into anger. Cruising east on the unusually desolate Constitution Avenue, the selfish stalemate of government was on full display among my own flesh and blood.

You may remember such a family fuss in your own vehicle or life. You may also recognize in this account a mirror image of our ongoing skirmish that is at the heart of our struggle against sin and the devil. We want things our way and we don’t want others to mess with “our” stuff.

One of the Bible readings at the Gettysburg wedding came from the popular words about love from First Corinthians – “Love is patient; love is kind…” The list goes on and on talking about selfless love, a love that is lived for others, an enduring love that is fueled by hope and patience. This love from God isn’t withdrawn and fortified apart from one another, but is a love that extends compassion and generosity to others. God’s love is a love that walks around barricades and dismantles walls for the purpose of love.

We see this love in action in the Holy Week stories of Jesus washing feet, sharing meals, and carrying the cross to the hillside where he will suffer and die. We also see this limitless love in motion with the bursting Easter tomb and Jesus’ visits to the disciples behind locked doors.

As children of God, we should always be wondering, “Where is God asking us to go? Are there places that we’ve closed God off or don’t expect God to show up? How is God seeking us?” Where is God knocking, trying to get in, but we continue to place hurdles and obstructions in an effort to avoid or elude interaction with the Divine?

Our last day in D.C., we had to make a parental choice. Do we obey the paper signs on the barricades and stand at the perimeter of the National Mall for a strained view the Vietnam and Lincoln Memorials or do we, like so many others in an act of civil disobedience, make a way forward? With words of assurance that we wouldn’t spend a lifetime in jail, we grabbed the hands of our children and walked boldly around the barriers that were intended to keep us out.

Hey, Lord of Life, let’s walk, sing, and pray together as we boldly step into our future, ready to share the light and love of our God who is alive and loose in the world!

With hope.

Pastor Lowell

Thursday, 22 March 2018 08:22

Dessert

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cheesecake blog

I will never understand picky eaters! Growing up in my family, the rule was “no dessert until you finish your plate.” I remember the hours my sister spent playing with her food while eyeing the cheesecake on the kitchen counter. She was never allowed to enjoy it until her meal was completely gobbled up. Just to torment her, I always made sure to eat my piece of cake in the chair directly across the table and I would take my sweet time enjoying the strawberry drizzled goodness.

I have always been a good eater. In fact, so good, that over time the cheesecake began to feel less and less like a reward. The certainty of dessert was too expected to be special. Meanwhile, my sister longed for that cake. Although I never understood why it was difficult for her to eat the meal that our parents prepared, her struggle was no joke. It took her hours to eat dinner, taking another bite every five minutes. Eventually, she powered through the meal and was finally able to enjoy the dessert that she so desperately wanted. 

In a nutshell, this is the story of Holy Week. Some Christians want to skip the torment and discomfort of the Cross and go directly into Easter. Like me, they want to get through the main course as quickly as they can and get to the good stuff, the dessert. The messiness of the Cross and the reality of death are not things we want to dwell on, but they are central components of our faith. Maybe my sister was on to something? It may have taken her forever to eat her dinner, but the prize idea of dessert never grew numb. The longer we stay fixed on the Cross, the more satisfying Easter morning is. We need to hear the story of Jesus’ death before we can celebrate the resurrection.  

Beginning with Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem, this Sunday we start our journey of following Jesus to the Cross. On Thursday, we will feel Jesus washing the disciple’s feet, hear Jesus’ new commandment to love, and taste the first Lord’s Supper. This will lead us to Friday, where Jesus is placed on the Cross for all to see. Hope sustains us, propels us forward through Maundy Thursday into Good Friday. Hope is what carries us through until we finally get our delicious treat of sugary splendidness. Hope is the defining characteristic that makes us followers of Christ. As people of hope, we remain confident in the arrival of Easter. No matter how long Holy Week seems to last, dessert is on its way. Soon, we will be feasting on the Good News of the empty tomb!

Come, savor the meal!

Lucas McSurley 

Thursday, 15 March 2018 09:53

Hand-Me-Downs

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blog Heidi Paiste

Hand-me-downs are some of my favorite items. I have jazz records from my mom’s college years, theology books with my dad’s notes in the margins from his time in seminary, and drafting tools from my grandfather’s thirty-five plus years drawing and designing for Goodyear.

I have a set of six bass steel drums that were gifted to me after a late-night jam session in the basement of the college music building. I wear hats and T-shirts that were gifts from good friends to mark key moments in our lives. I currently drive a car that was a hand-me-down from my in-laws following the demise of my Corolla.

Our Yakima bike rack, scuffed and scratched from years of use by someone else, was spotted in the back corner of a D.A.V. Thrift Shop in Wichita for a mere $25! A drummer friend of mine left me a giant Paiste ride cymbal in her will. I have a stunning black and white picture of the Oregon coast that was a farewell gift at the end of my pastoral internship. That’s right, it came right off the wall of someone’s home and into ours.

One of my favorite stoles, the colorful fabric that drapes over my shoulders for traditional worship, was a gift from Shirley Wuchter on my ordination day. Her husband, Rev. Michael Wuchter, was one of my campus pastors at Wittenberg University and died suddenly while on a goodwill mission trip in Namibia. I remember seeing Michael wear the Guatemalan created garment on Easter each year. His sweat still stains the part that brushes against my neck when I wear it.

But I’m not only on the receiving end. Some of my childhood books and toys have made their way onto the shelves of my own children. Holiday recipes and traditions have been handed down from our generation to the next. Every time we gather with extended family in Northeast Ohio, we pass down clothes and other kid stuff to my nieces, whose children are a few years behind our own. It is like Christmas as they open the bags full of dresses, hoodies, pants, and shoes, alongside bins of stuffed critters, books, and toys. It is so fun to give those things away.

The contagious joy of hand-me-downs revolves around sharing. People share with you and you share with others. This ebb and flow isn’t driven by keeping score, but is activated by generosity.

Faith is a hand-me-down, too. Our hearts and minds have been shaped by traditions, words, music, and ritual that come to us as a gift from others. The gospel of Luke begins saying that the author is writing to pass along the stories of Jesus, “just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word” (Luke 1:2 NIV). How we think about God, care for creation, wrestle with issues of faith, and seek to serve one another are all legacy gifts, which have been shared with us by countless faithful followers from the past, as well as those who surround and encourage us now.

In a few weeks, we’ll be launching the Share the Light capital campaign. Share the Light is about handing down and passing along the hope that comes through Jesus. This invitation to share asks us to recognize and respond to all that God gives to us and the ways that make our lives better. It doesn’t come from compulsion, but grows out of faith, hope, and love.

Share the Light!

Pastor Lowell

Thursday, 08 March 2018 10:18

Dinner!

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dinner blog

Mouthwatering baby back rips, oozing deep-dish pizza, and screaming hot homemade chili. My dad is a wizard in the kitchen. Professionally, and somewhat ironically, my dad is a High School health teacher, but every day when that last bell rings he begins his true craft. After school, he makes his daily run to Kroger, collecting all the ingredients for the masterpiece to be created that evening.

Growing up with a parent that loves to cook was a pretty sweet setup. Every evening, just a few minutes before dinner was actually done, he would shout to the top of his lungs, “Dinnnnner!” My mom was typically running my siblings around to either practice or a friend’s house. But still, even if my dad knew I was the only other person home, he would still shout with all he had, “Dinnnnner!” It was so loud that it would have been no surprise to see the neighbors come over for some tasty grub. However, as a bratty teen, I found this shouting to be so annoying. I would mutter under my breath every time, “Dad, I am right here!” It’s only until now that I realize the beauty behind calling people in for a meal.

As the church, of course it’s important to feed those inside its walls, both physically and spiritually, but our mission to love and serve others extends beyond the church. Our mission reaches out in to our community and to the world. I hope you have heard about the upcoming capital campaign “Share the Light.” For me, this begs the question, “who are we sharing the light with?” The answer: everyone! We are sharing the light with those in the church, those in our local community, and even the world. I love that our multi-purpose expansion space will be placed right out front on Tylersville Road. It is as though we are shouting to the community “Dinnnner!” This is a place where people come to be feed.   

Even though my dad knew I was the only one home, even though he knew I was standing right beside him, still he shouted “Dinnnnner!” Back then, I didn’t understand that my dad wasn’t shouting for me. Instead, he was shouting to anyone who might be in ear shot. You simply never know who might hear you. Who actually makes it to dinner isn’t always the most important part about ministry. Its more about all people knowing that they are welcome. Living, sharing, and celebrating with all people is not negotiable or debatable. Rather, it defines us as followers of Christ.

Here at Lord at Life, people come to be fed and to be nourished, so that God can send us out to be agents of peace, hope, and love. As good as my dad’s cooking is, nothing compares to how we are fed through Christ. God calls us, God speaks to us, God feeds us, and God sends us out into the world. 

Join me in the shout!

Lucas McSurley

Thursday, 01 March 2018 10:37

Light of the World

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 lightoftheworldblogpic 01

Several days each week, I wake early to drive a carpool of boys to the Freshman school. We leave with plenty of time to zip around, load up the car, and still arrive at the school by 6:45 am. For months, it has been so dark - pitch black. Even when I arrive back home and try to snuggle in for a few more winks, the sky still looks like it could be the middle of the night.

As I shuttle the boys around, various lights guide my way. Headlights on the car help me maneuver through the parked cars and twisty turns of the neighborhood. Streetlights and reflective signs lay out the path before me, as I jump onto some of the main area roads already bustling with morning traffic. Closer to the school, brightly painted road stripes and massive overhead lighting, as well as traffic signals, illuminate intersections and help create traffic patterns. I’m glad that everything is so well lit.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I like the nighttime. I enjoy darkness. An evening walk sometimes brings peace and clarity to my weary spirit. A darkened theater is better for viewing a concert or film. Sometimes, I even travel beyond the city lights in search for darkness for a better view of the stars. But the darkness in our lives, both literal and perceived, has the power to paralyze us with fear and anxiety about the unknown.

We have been spending time in the Gospel of John this Lenten season. One of the features of this gospel account is the presence of light imagery. Over and over, Jesus refers to himself as light and speaks to the realities that come with that brightness. He tells us that we won’t stumble, our vision will be transformed, and mobility will look different with the dominating light. Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life,” (John 8). The Lord of Light doesn’t say that the darkness is gone, but promises that darkness will not dominate the landscape of our lives. The Light of Christ shines into every shadowed corner and cranny.

Daniel Erlander describes it this way: “We do not find God. God finds us – in our darkness, our pain, our emptiness, our loneliness, our weakness... [For us, this] is a new way of seeing... It is here, on the cross, that God meets us. Here God makes Godself present: hidden in weakness, vulnerable, suffering, forsaken, dying... As God meets us where we are, the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to see the Cross is God’s embrace – the Cross is God’s victory!”

This line of thinking is called Theology of the Cross. In the cross of Jesus, we see forgiveness, reconciliation, power, hope, life, unconditional love, and triumph. In the cross of Jesus, we are reminded that the goodness of God is stronger than any evil. In the cross of Jesus, God declares that death does not have the final word.

In recent days, when dropping off my carload of boys at the school in the early hours, I have noticed a slight glow on the horizon. I still haven’t seen the sun, but the promise of dawn is on the horizon.

Looking to the light!

Pastor Lowell

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