Thought provoking words from the “What the Tide Brings In” blog (seashellseller.blogspot.com), suggesting that the most effective way to “give up” something for Lent is the intentional practice of its opposite:
Fast from judgment, Feast on compassion
Fast from greed, Feast on sharing
Fast from scarcity, Feast on abundance
Fast from fear, Feast on peace
Fast from lies, Feast on truth
Fast from gossip, Feast on praise
Fast from anxiety, Feast on patience
Fast from evil, Feast on kindness
Fast from apathy, Feast on engagement
Fast from discontent, Feast on gratitude
Fast from noise, Feast on silence
Fast from discouragement, Feast on hope
Fast from hatred, Feast on love.
What will be your fast? What will be your feast?
New Year News
Wow – so much is happening in the life of Cross of Life, it’s difficult to know what to highlight! But here goes!
Service of Hope
For those who were unable to attend, this time of worship and remembrance was a beautiful experience for all who participated. Recognizing that for many, the Christmas season is a time of increased grief, struggle and loneliness, this service used the candles of the Advent wreath to recognize our common grief, pain, struggle, and fear. The gathered congregation supported one another in song and prayer, lit candles in remembrance of loved ones and then gathered around a full Christmas meal provided by the Stephen Ministers and Fellowship Team. If you’ve had a hard time this Christmas, don’t miss this service next year.
COL Music Concert
Once again, Jon Arnold brought together our diverse and talented musicians for a joint Christmas musical celebration. Each ensemble, The Chancel Choir, Bells and Contemporary Band, shared individual performances and then joined their voices for numerous total group pieces. It was truly a joyful song before our Lord. This is certainly a “don’t miss” for next year!
From Diaconal Minister to Deacon
As of January 1st, we will have a new staff member! Well, sort of. Mary Houck, who works as our Director of Youth and Children’s Ministry, will have a new title. As the result of a vote at the 2016 Churchwide Assembly, all lay rostered ministers (Diaconal Ministers, Associates in Ministry, and Deaconesses) will be united under one title: Deacon. From Biblical times to modern times, deacons have carried out the ministry of Word and Service: caring for the widows and orphans, working in the community, providing education for our children and youth. Deacon Mary will continue that tradition in her work at Cross of Life. Please congratulate Deacon Mary on her new title and use it as often as you can!
Joint Commemoration of the Reformation 500
Plans are underway for our commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation! Our Lenten Small Groups and Devotions will focus on Luther’s Small Catechism. We will have a special commemorative dinner with members of St. Andrew Roman Catholic Church in Roswell in April. There will be a special worship service on April 30th to highlight the journey of Lutheranism to North America, and more! Watch for more details!
Plans for the study portion of my upcoming sabbatical are underway. During January/February, I will be sending an online survey to numerous pastors about their work practices. Out of that quantitative analysis, questions will be formulated for my summer site visits and focus group conversations. Please pray for this study, that God would open our eyes to learn the most effective ways to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our hurting world.
+ Pastor Terri +
Stores are counting up their profits from Black Friday while their customers try to figure out how to stuff all their purchases under the Christmas tree and make plans (or not) to pay off their credit cards. Decorations are coming out of closets to make homes warm and bright, party invitations are going out, and the Elf has appeared on the Shelf. We prepare for the cultural aspects of Christmas in so many ways, some of which become meaningful traditions, but all of which can create distractions from the spiritual preparation to which we are called through the season of Advent.
This year for our Children’s Ministry, I have been preparing Advent devotions for our families to use at home based on Luther’s Advent and Christmas sermons. Luther preached on these topics and on the associated Biblical texts over and over again throughout his career. In my exploration of his work, I kept noticing over and over the sense of wonder with which he approaches the biblical text. In the middle ages, many traditions had cropped up surrounding Christmas which were not originally biblical. For example, the wise men were promoted to be ‘kings’, given names, countries of origin, and life stories. Another tradition held that Jesus’ birth was somehow magical, and that Mary felt no pain and sang praise songs to God while she was in labor. (Considering that Mary was actually having a natural birth in a dirty stable with no painkillers, no doctor, no midwife, and no family members except her husband who would probably never have seen a birth before according to Jewish customs at the time, we can guess that if God’s name came into it, praise was probably not the context.)
Luther carefully separated these extra traditions from the actual Biblical text and rejected their claims. He then turned his attention to the incredible beauty and meaning of this ancient story. Dissecting the nativity stories, Luther then considered how the writings of the new testament interacted with them, and what that means for how we live our lives as Christians. He also pulled from the prophecies of the Old Testament to examine how they inform us about who Jesus is and why God chose to come to us in that way.
We tend to complain about the distractions our culture bombards us with today, but 500 years ago Luther was making the same complaints. Like him, it is up to us to discard what leads us away from our contemplation of God’s amazing journey into humanity and restore our wonder at a story we have heard so many times that it has become part of us. Wonder is one of the gifts our children give the church. Every year, they are discovering more about this story and our Advent faith traditions. Cultural depictions of children as whiny and materialistic during this season might sometimes feel true, but since children are constantly striving to incorporate what they see in adult culture, really this should lead us to take a hard look at ourselves.
Take some time this Advent season to appreciate the way our youngest members minister to us through their sense of wonder and discovery of a God who, in a world designed for people bigger and stronger than them, brought the universe-encompassing love of the gospel down to their size.
Reformation 500 – it’s almost here!
Nearly 500 years ago, on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses on the doors of the Castle Church in Wittenberg Germany. As a Roman Catholic priest and Augustinian monk, Luther so loved his God and his church that he called the church to reformation, to return to the most basic truths of scripture and to be transformed within by the power of God’s Holy Spirit. His 95 Theses called his academic brothers to debate – but due to the power of the printing press, his writings spread quickly throughout Europe, sparking a firestorm of controversy which ultimately led, not to reform, but to the establishment of a new church.
On Reformation Sunday, October 30, 2016, Cross of Life will kick-off a year-long commemoration of Reformation 500 – culminating in the 500th anniversary of this historic event on Oct. 31, 2017. Through a variety of special courses, events, worship services and concerts, we will grow in our faith as we
- learn about the courageous faith of a man who risked his life to stand up for what he believed,
- repent of the wars and suffering caused by years of conflict within the body of Christ,
- celebrate God’s triumphant grace which sustained God’s people and God’s church throughout the ages.
What will Reformation 500 look like at Cross of Life? Well, there are numerous plans underway, but to kick-off this historic year, here are a few dates.
October 30, 2016: Reformation Sunday
Pastor David will preach, bringing his perspective as a Presbyterian pastor serving in a Lutheran congregation. He will also teach a special class at 10:00 in the Fellowship Hall, focusing on Reformation history in the Reformed/Presbyterian traditions. This Reformation of the Church didn’t stop with Luther – let’s come hear the rest of the story!
Oct. 31, 2016: Joint Commemoration Prayer Service of the Reformation by the Vatican and the Lutheran World Federation
On Reformation day, Pope Francis and representatives of the Lutheran World Federation will share a joint service of prayer and commemoration in Lund, Sweden. This historic event follows 50 years of ecumenical dialogue between the two churches, seeking greater unity and recognition of one another’s powerful impact on our world as brothers and sisters in Christ. Since the live-streaming of this event takes place at 4:00 am, we are trying to secure a video to be viewed at a later date. Watch for more details.
Join the Reformation 500 Planning Team as we orchestrate this year-long commemoration. Initial plans include:
- A series of classes/discussions on Luther the Man, The Women of the Reformation, The Emerging Church (looking at the church in 500 year cycles), Lutheran Theology, Ecumenism, and more!
- Joint commemorative events with St. Andrew Catholic Church, Riverside Drive, probably in Winter 2017.
- Visits to see the Kessler Reformation Collection at Pitts Theological Library, Emory University which houses over 3,600 Reformation documents and writings (all dated pre-1570), and over 1,000 original publications by Luther himself. Original artwork from the period is also on display.
- Lent 2017 – a series on Luther’s Small Catechism
- An art and poetry contest/exhibition focusing on Reformation themes
- October 29, 2017 – A Sunday afternoon joint choral and worship event with other north-metro Atlanta Lutheran congregations (think a mass choir, lots of Lutherans and a great reception!)
- October 31, 2017 – A formal commemoration between the ELCA-Southeastern Synod and the Arch Dioses of Atlanta to be held in downtown Atlanta.
- Summer 2020 – A possible COL trip to Luther sites and the Passion Play in Oberammergau Germany!
As you can see, there are many exciting events to come! Watch the newsletter and bulletins as details unfold and don’t miss commemorating this historic event!
Small Groups come in all shapes and sizes
Before coming to Cross of Life, the biggest church I served had about 200 members. Needless to say, here at Cross of Life there are a lot more faces and names to remember, and more people to get to know. As counter-intuitive as it might sound, the more members a church has, the more challenging it can be for members to feel connected and to feel a part of the community.
And that’s why small groups are so important. Small groups provide close-knit communities within the larger community. It is easier to get to know others in a small group setting, and getting to know people in one group provides a springboard for getting to know people in each other’s wider circle of friends and acquaintances.
A study by LifeWay Research concluded that small groups provide environments for people to grow in Christ, and a writer for Christianity Today noted that small groups provide opportunities to: build relationships, hold each accountable, pray for one another, challenge one another, and support one another.
And the great thing about small groups is they come in all shapes and sizes, and the people in those groups are drawn together by a wide variety of interest and focus. Here at Cross of Life, we have a number of existing small groups (whether or not they think of themselves in that way) that are engaged in all aspects of the life of our congregation.
The two newest groups are:
The Boomer Singles group: If you are single and are part of the Baby Boomer generation, or even if you’re close on either end of the spectrum and would like to be part of a fun group that provides community and support for one another, you are invited to come participate. The group meets periodically for fellowship and other activities.
Monthly Men’s Group: This group has started meeting once a month on a Saturday morning at the church. While the guys tend to fall in the mid-40s to mid-60s range, all are welcome to join us for conversation and prayer over a cup of coffee.
But there are others as well, many of which have been meeting for a number of years. These include, but are not necessarily limited to:
- The Young Professionals for young adults
- The Weekly Men’s Group on Monday evenings
- The COL Book Club
- Lunch Bunch
- The Quilters
- Friday Fixers
- The Contemporary Band, Chancel and Handbell Choirs
- And of course our Sunday School classes for all ages: adult, high school, middle school, and children.
As you can see, small groups can meet for a variety of reasons, drawn together by a variety of interests, and include a variety of ages. If you are interested in becoming a part of a small group, or if you would like to start a new group, I encourage you to contact me and let’s make that happen!
So how’s your quest to simplify going? It’s been just 4 months since our Lenten series: Simplify. I know that in my own household I had great momentum for a couple of months, but seem to have lost my footing during these summer months.
But as I take a deep breath to prepare for the onslaught of a new school year, it strikes me as an especially important time to take up my resolve to Simplify – particularly in the area of time management. Unguided, the demands of our schedules, our school-work and extra-curricular activities, and the pressures of a new academic year threatens to run rough-shod over us. And I find myself asking whether I want to passively let this land-slide happen to us or do I want to make intentional choices about how we spend the next 10 months of time.
And with two teenagers at home, I realize just how precious 10 months is. Our daughter will head to college in just 3 years, with our son following in 5. I’d rather not spend these important years constantly stressed out, anxiously trying to get everything done and apologizing for all the verbal garbage that accompanies such stress. Is this really how God wants us to spend our time? Is this really what Jesus meant by abundant life?
To Simplify means making choices – not only what we do but what we do not do. It involves talking honestly as a family about what is most important and choosing to set aside those activities that are not the “best” options at this time. (There are so many “good” things available to us, that choosing only the “best” is critical.) At the core of these choices is what we are seeking to teach our children, what priorities we hope to convey, what values we desire them to carry into the future.
So as you look to this next season of your life, (even if you do not have children at home), consider how intentionally you are using the precious gift of time that God has placed in your charge. Prayerfully reflect on the commitments which are governing your life? Are they the commitments which are truly most important to you? And as one of your pastors, I would be remiss if I did not ask: “Where is God in all of this? How does your schedule reflect your love of God, your call to serve God’s people and importance of your community of faith? I’m not pretending I have all the answers, they are for you to discern. But I am committed to praying about these questions with my own family.
Simplify. Eliminate the clutter of your life to make more room for God. It’s not just a seasonal theme, but a way of life.
+ Pastor Terri +
In a recent sermon on wisdom, Pastor David shared these words:
“Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become actions.
Watch your actions, for they become habits.
Watch your habits, for they become character.
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”