Category Archives: Pastor’s Corner

Pastor Mike’s Weekly E-News

Good morning, Hope folks!

It’s good to be back home in Iowa after a wonderful and somewhat wild tour of Italy.

Lutheran Church of Hope is one of the things I miss the most when I travel, and appreciate the most when I get back.

I’m thankful for the opportunity to tune in at hopeonline.tv from anywhere in the world on Sundays at 11:00 am (CDT), but there’s nothing quite like being in the room, together with you, for worship …

This weekend at Hope, the power of the cross will be our theme (Mark 9), and during the sermon, I’ll be making a big announcement (great news!) that you definitely won’t want to miss!!!

Peace,
Mike Housholder

P.S.- If you’re new to Hope, here’s our weekly worship schedule

  • Thursday:
    • 7:00 pm: REVIVE for young adults (Chapel)
  • Saturday:
    • 5:00 pm: Come-As-You-Are Service (Worship Center)
  • Sunday:
    • 8:00 am: Morning Express Communion Service (Worship Center)
    • 8:30 am: Traditional Communion Service (Chapel)
    • 9:15 am: Celebration Service (Worship Center)
    • 11:00 am: Celebration Service (Worship Center & hopeonline.tv)
    • 5:00 pm: Celebration Service (Worship Center)
  • Tuesday:
    • 6:30 pm: Page 2 Worship with Communion (The Bridge)

Find the service that works best for you … and make this a summer of spiritual renewal and growth!

A little history on “giving up” things for Lent

Giving up something for Lent has been taking place for almost as long as Christianity has been around.

Initially, it focused primarily on giving up something that one ate or drank, even fasting of one meal or more each day.

Soon, it evolved into giving up certain luxuries or types of food.

In more modern times, it has often meant giving up something which a person deems harmful in their lives – alcohol, salt, sugar, meat, candy, soda, etc.

Sometimes, any material gain that is realized by giving up something is given away to some charitable cause at the end…

Like most tenants of Christianity – think Christmas, Easter, All Saints Day (Hallowed Eve) –  this practice of giving up something for Lent has entered into culture. Thus, we begin to see things popup like lists of  “The Top Ten Things to Give Up.”

Many atheists claim this tradition of giving something up for Lent has no religious connotation. People give up chocolate or Facebook or pizza or popcorn or shopping, or whatever it is, and much of it has nothing, or very little, to do with the original meaning of sacrifice as a means of penitence (of joining Jesus in his ultimate sacrifice), but becomes just another momentary fad.

At Hope, we enter into the season of giving up something for Lent each year with something very specific –  namely our hard-earned money. Over the years during Lent, we have raised nearly half a million dollars for malaria nets in Africa, dug more than 140 wells for clean water in Ghana (at $8,000 per well), built 116 churches in Ghana, and provided more than 1.6 million meals for Haiti.

In 2014, through our “If We Build It, They Will Come” campaign, we are again encouraging people to “give up” so we can build scores of new churches in Ghana, and help introduce thousands of new people to Christ.

This year, with every $3,500 that’s donated, a church structure, drums, seating, altar, gas lamp and five Bibles will be provided to a village in need. Our mission partner, Globeserve, has been working hard to train leaders to lead these future churches – and now, all they need is a place to send them.

A pretty neat thing about these Lenten projects is that by giving to a specific need during Lent, it has far more resonance and lasting quality than giving up a particular food or drink, for example.

Long after Lent has passed, and people go back to doing whatever it was they gave up, the wells and the new churches will still be providing water, and living water, for thousands of people.

So, this Lent, consider being a part of “If We Build It, They Will Come” – a Lenten project that is transforming lives, villages, churches… and nations.

Pastor Merv

***

Learn more about Hope’s 2014 Lenten Project, “If We Build It, They Will Come” here.

 

Pastor’s Corner: Can’t Miss It

It seems everyone has a favorite TV show or event these days—some series, sitcom, or sports team they are willing to make an appointment to watch, even rearrange their whole schedule to see. Maybe the big game, Survivor, The Voice, Amazing Race… what’s yours?

I know when there’s a big game on at night, I’ve spent most of my day, even my whole week in anticipation! What’s your “can’t miss” time of the week? And what happens if you miss a week? Don’t you feel so behind, like something is missing?

Now imagine if we viewed weekly worship with the same enthusiasm? If we can get so excited about a game or TV show, why not worshipping the God of the universe each week!? I mean, the reason we tune in to our shows or the game is because we expect great things to happen. How much more should our anticipation be when the Holy Spirit shows up in our midst each week?

The author of Hebrews encourages the early church: And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching (Hebrews 10:24-25). It’s almost as if the author is saying, “Don’t grow complacent in your expectation of what God can do when you gather each week!”

As you look at your calendar for the next few weeks, I’d encourage you to consider the words from Hebrews 10—“Don’t give up meeting together!” Although there are so many things that can compete for our time, nothing can replace connecting with fellow believers and worshipping the God of the universe on a weekly basis. How about you? Is weekly worship with your church family a “can’t miss” time of the week?

See you in worship and around!

Pastor Jon

Pastor’s Corner: Come, follow me

If you were at worship this weekend at any of Hope’s campuses you heard the message, “Follow Jesus”  (if you missed it, you can watch it by visiting hopeonline.tv). This message is about the very heart of what it means to be a Christian, to hear and live Jesus’ words to all of his disciples, including you… “Come, follow me!”

I certainly have a lot yet to experience (and learn) about life and faith, but I’ve also been at this “Christian thing” for a good amount of time now, too.

And, to tell the truth, I still feel an involuntary shudder when I hear the phrase, “Come, follow me.”  I feel a child-like fear and tininess overtake me, like I want to hide away in a shadowy corner, out-of-sight, clutching a worn blanky.

This phrase, which comes out of the Lord’s mouth, causes me to feel so… intimidated, inadequate, doomed to failure. Even if I wanted to fulfill those words (and I do, I really do); even if I wanted to cling to Jesus’ side (and I do, I really do), I know it’s only a matter of moments before I fall flat on my face and fail, or even worse and very likely, openly disobey.

I hear Jesus’ voice and I cherish the sound when he calls my name. But, the words, “Come, follow me,” only seem like an invitation to experience my own demise. How on earth can these words ever sound sweet, like the words of salvation?

So, the fear in my gut just wants to scream, “Go away from me Lord Jesus, I am simply not able. I am not worthy… I am a sinner.”

Funny thing, this very thing happens to the disciple Peter in Luke chapter 5, where Peter says those very words.

Jesus’ response?

“Peter, don’t be afraid.”  

So, where does fear fit in?

Apparently, fear is the key problem that Jesus needs Peter to face – not ability, will, or even obedience. It’s fear that keeps Peter from jumping up and clinging to Jesus. It’s fear that keeps Peter from experiencing the fullness of the Kingdom life right then and there.

But, then Jesus says those words, with the power of a King, “Peter, don’t be afraid.”

That call, that voice of Jesus rings loudly in Peter’s ear, and puts fear into perspective – into it’s rightful place where it belongs – right next to some of the world’s most silly lies that try to have great power over us, but in the reality of God’s Kingdom, have no power at all.

Jesus’ call, and his word, is the one of truth, life, joy and fullness, and he says, “Come on!”

What are you afraid of, right now, today?

What fear is trying to wield it’s lying power over you and is keeping you from experiencing a life lived together with Jesus?  

How might Jesus be trying to break you free right now, with his still calm voice saying, “Don’t be afraid?”  


Pastor Grant
Woodley

Pastor’s Corner: How many times do I have to tell you?

“How many times do I have to tell you?”

As a child I heard my parents ask that question of me on a frequent basis.  As a parent, I find myself asking that question even more frequently than I heard it growing up!

Of course, as children mature, parents have to ask that question less and less.

There’s a similar reality for followers of Jesus.  The new testament especially uses the imagery of maturing into Christ-likeness as a metaphor for what is supposed to happen in our lives the more time we spend following Jesus.

We will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth.  Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ.  (Ephesians 4:14-15)

Here’s the hard reality.

I’m an adult from a physical development standpoint.  I have “grown-up.”

And there are times when my wife says to me, “How many times do I have to tell you?”

And there are times when my friends say to me, “How many times do I have to tell you?”

And, there are times when I say to myself, “How many times are you going to keep doing that before you learn your lesson?”

I’ve been following Jesus for several decades now.  I know my faith is more mature today than it was decades ago.  At the same time, there are times when I feel like a toddler when it comes to living a life of faith.

I have to be told again and again, because, well, because… I forget.

As much time as the New Testament writers give to the idea of growing up and maturing into Christ-likeness, the writers of the Old Testament give a lot of time to the idea of remembering.

In Numbers 15, on the journey from slavery in Egypt to the promised land of Israel, God tells Moses to tell the people over and over again to remember:

Throughout the generations to come you must make tassels for the hems of your clothing and attach them with a blue cord. 39 When you see the tassels, you will remember and obey all the commands of the Lord instead of following your own desires and defiling yourselves, as you are prone to do. 40 The tassels will help you remember that you must obey all my commands and be holy to your God. (Numbers 15:38-40)

I especially like verse 39. The tassels of blue cord will help the people remember to obey the Lord instead of follow their own desires, as you are prone to do.

One of my favorite hymns includes this lyric:

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it.
Prone to leave the God I love.
Here’s my heart, O, take and seal it.
Seal it for they courts above.

I think that’s what Jesus is getting at in Matthew 6:

  • We are prone to wander.
  • We are prone to worry about every day life
  • We are prone to giveour hearts to our own desires.

Jesus says simply: Seek God’s kingdom above all else (Matthew 6:33)…

Last weekend at worship at Hope Ankeny, we made bracelets out of blue cord.  We encouraged one another to wear them as reminders of God faithfulness, patience and grace.

We’ll wear the bracelets as a way of remembering to seek God’s kingdom above all else. After all, it was Jesus himself who said in Mark 1:15:

The time promised by God has come at last! The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!

 

Pastor Scott Rains
Hope Ankeny Campus Pastor

Pastor’s Corner: Living Life on Purpose

In the last several years I’ve been noticing how completely overloaded people’s schedules are. They work crazy hours; their kids work crazy hours. Their personal calendars are out of control and their family calendars are utterly insane. I’m still trying to figure out how everyone’s not violating physics as they’re getting their children to soccer games, dance lessons, SAT tutors, swim meets, judo classes, choir rehearsals, violin lessons, etc. And, that’s just the low-achieving families! (Kidding!)

I get the sense from conversations I have that most of us have become part of some kind of rapid reaction force, just waiting to face the schedule-tsunami that comes hurtling our way each day — where the daily goal is to SURVIVE! And, perhaps carve out a few minutes for ourselves along the way…

So. Really. Who wants to live this way?

Have you ever noticed that, in all the stories about Jesus, he’s never in a hurry? With all the things he does—preaching, healing, teaching, working miracles—he never seems rushed or stressed out. What does he know that we don’t?

Jesus once told followers to seek first God’s kingdom, and everything else will get pretty much taken care of. Now, this was a fairly radical thing to say to a bunch of poor people who were wondering where their family’s next meal was coming from, but for some reason, they seemed to believe him. So much so, that they followed him wherever he went. Apparently he was on to something!

The apostle Paul was getting at the same thing when he wrote this to the Roman Christians:

“What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:31-32, 37)

So, what would it mean to take Jesus seriously on this one?

What would it mean to live as if God’s kingdom were more central to our lives than all the so-called “important” things that drain the life out of us: all the expectations that come at us from school, work and everywhere else?

Think about it.

Jesus promises that, as you orient your life around God and his priorities, you and your family can actually enjoy a higher quality of life than you would otherwise. That you can do more than just survive life. That you can actually thrive in the tsunami! Sounds crazy, but that’s exactly what Jesus is promising those who take him at his word.

Blessings!

Pastor Richard

Pastor’s Corner: Talking about cancer

Starting next weekend, we will kick off with a new sermon series titled “Since You Asked,” where we will tackle some big questions.

Not surprisingly, I have been enlisted to preach on the weekend of July 6-7, wrestling with the oft-asked question, “What do you do when a loved one has cancer?”

Just about everyone at Hope has a cancer story, in one form or another. And, the question so many people ask is, “How do I respond to cancer?”

My wife, Jackie, and I have an existing cancer story, with our daughter, Deanna, being diagnosed four-and-a-half years ago with breast cancer that had metastasized in two of her vertebrae.

I have been enormously aided in thinking about the subject of this sermon and about cancer in general by reading a book that Deanna wrote a couple of years ago titled: Hoping for More: Having Cancer, Talking Faith, and Accepting Grace. You can find it at Café Hope.

As a professor of religion at Hamline University in St. Paul, Deanna is used to wrestling with the big questions of life and combines her academic prowess and deep and profound Christian faith with her firsthand experience of the suffering caused by cancer.

Here’s a quote from the beginning pages of her book to help give you a quick look at her story:

This story takes place in the Minnesota neighborhoods, hospital rooms, classrooms and sanctuaries where I live, love, teach, worship and pray. It is in those spaces—accompanied by those who incarnate the hands and feet of divine love—where I grieve what is lost and slowly embrace what is not. As words return and I learn to talk about cancer, while talking about faith, the conversation pushes beyond the predictable parameters of prayer, the church, even hope in life after death.

Refracted through the lens of cancer, my life as a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend and professor looks very different than it did before cancer. Refracted through the lens of cancer, faith looks different too. Through the telling of this story of life with stage 4 cancer, I hope to offer what I wish I had had; a story about talking faith in the midst of cancer, and talking cancer in the midst of faith; a way of speaking that resists conventional language about God’s relationship to suffering, particularly in its cancerous form. The story that follows is no sentimental “God saved me from cancer” tale; instead it is an accounting of faith’s faltering speech in the face of grim prognoses and brief glimpses of hope…

I continue to hope for more in this life—more chances to be gracious, kind, loving. Beyond these basic hopes, new hopes for this life have become important too; hope for continued inactivity of the cancer in my body and the bodies of so many others, for psychological and spiritual courage to live with the disease, for the gift of living long enough to see my daughters grow into adulthood.

In addition to hoping for more in this life, I also hope for more beyond. I hope the promises of God are true; that there is more to life beyond this earthly one; and that in the life beyond there will be no more crying, no more dying, only light, only love, only joy.

It is always illuminating to see how God works in the midst of suffering. Deanna has been asked to do a lot of speaking about her story with cancer, and Jackie and I have attended several of these sessions.

Thus, when I was asked to preach on how to respond to cancer in a loved one, I immediately decided to ask Deanna to participate. But, the more I thought about it the more I concluded that I could not ask her to drive down to Des Moines and participate in seven worship services on a weekend; that is exhausting for someone in perfect health!

So, it was instead suggested that we send our videographer to the Twin Cities to put Deanna on video, following her around in her busy life.

On July 6-7, Deanna will be sharing her story in several segments, and as the preacher of the day, I will be in dialogue with her via the video. I highly encourage you to be there!

I believe that Deanna, and of course now Pastor Nicole, are bringing the mysteries of cancer out in the open and helping each of us understand more fully what it means to be truly mortal and yet filled with hope.

I close with one other passage from Deanna’s book, Hoping for More:

In one cancer memoir I read, the author writes about the scene in the exam room after she learns that she has breast cancer. She looks at the doctor through her tears and whispers, ‘I’m sorry, I just don’t know how to have cancer.’ The doctor puts his hand on her shoulder and says, ‘None of us know how to have cancer.’ Deanna then wrestles with this statement throughout the book: How does one have cancer?

So often cancer stories come from two perspectives: being cured, or facing imminent death.

Deanna talks about living in the “gaps.”

She most likely will never be cancer free – it is just sitting there in her back, trying to again create havoc (it happened again a year ago). Yet, she is not facing death anytime soon.

So, she lives in the gaps.

She tries to process what it is like to live with cancer.

To have faith in the midst of cancer.

To find hope when you have cancer.

To experience relationships while having cancer.

She talks about the importance of CaringBridge in her journey (she calls it “the virtual body of Christ.”)

This is what her book is about and this is what the sermon will be about.

How do we have cancer? How do we love and support loved ones who have cancer? How do we find hope in the midst of illness? How do we find life in the shadow of death? What does God say about illness, death and eternal life? How do we respond to miracles, or the absence of a miracle? How does Jesus deal with illness?

None of us have all the answers, but we can ask the right questions and connect our experience with our Christian faith…


Pastor Merv

PS: For those looking to connect with others who have had cancer, walked alongside someone with cancer or are currently battling cancer, we invite you to check out Hope’s support group, Cancer Connect. The group meets the second Sunday of every month. You can email Kimberly with questions or for more information.

Pastor’s Corner: Breaking old habits. Breathing new life.

At the dawn of the 20th century, Russian psychologist Ivan Pavlov published new findings of some research that he had discovered.

In his research, Pavlov would ring a bell every time he fed a dog. He would ring the bell and feed the dog. Every time the dog was given food it followed the ringing of this bell.

What Pavlov discovered was that this rhythm created a response in the dog. As soon as the dog would hear the bell the dog would begin to salivate, expecting to receive something to eat. The dogs had been conditioned to link the sound with the experience. He developed a habit in the dogs and that habitual response was a powerful thing…

We all have habits – conditioned responses to the experiences we have and encounter throughout our days.

We do them subconsciously – we don’t even have to think about them.

We do them automatically – it takes more effort to not do our habits than it takes to do them.

The scary thing is that sometimes our habits begin to define us and lead us. They become the structure that dictates what we are going to do. We structure our lives around them (even when we know that they aren’t good for us).

Some could say we even become enslaved by them.

In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he reminds the people that they are free; they are no longer confined to the old way of doing things.

Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ they had been set free! It is this freedom that will allow them to live the life that God had created them to live.

Paul reminds them to not be controlled by the things of this world, for the things of this world – when they begin to control us – don’t lead us to life.

They are to be guided by the fruit of the Spirit. The Spirit that creates new life – that breaks old habits – that sets us free.

In another one of his letters, Paul encourages the people in Rome to not be conformed by the things of this world, but to be transformed by the power of God.

This new life brings in new habits – life-giving habits – into our lives. Habits, or disciplines, that create space for us to come to know the God who loves us in a greater and more intimate way.

Pastor Jeremy

Pastor’s Corner: An update from the Woodley household

In the spirit of our Healthy Church sermon series, our household – Grant, Nicole, Dietrich (6), Samuel (5) and Junia (4) – greets you as healthy churches have greeted each other since the day of Jesus:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!

If by chance you haven’t been following along with our story, you can catch up here, or by listening to Hope’s April 7 or April 14 sermons.

It’s no coincidence that the first two weeks of our Healthy Church series are “Healthy Faith” and “Healthy Families.”

It’s been almost two full months now since we received the phone call from the radiologist confirming that, indeed, Nicole has breast cancer. Life changed for all of us very quickly in that moment.

Without a doubt, the health of both our faith and our family has been tested – and continues to be – throughout this process.

It seems that with each step of this journey that passes, the tests get harder and harder:

First, Nicole found a lump (well more like an egg). She was told it could be cancer, but mostly likely it was just a cyst.

Then, we were told it’s not a cyst. It could be cancer, but, it’s more likely just calcifications. Nothing to worry about.

Then, we were told it was cancer for sure. But, good news, the cancer seems to be all contained in the breast, nothing invasive. Three different tests were taken to know for sure and all three confirmed no invasive cancer (meaning surgery was all that was required to treat the cancer). Almost all the way out of the woods! The final pathology report following surgery would confirm for sure…

In the meantime, when we prayed with our kids throughout those six weeks from the time of Nicole’s diagnosis, we prayed thanksgiving for all the amazing ways God was taking care of Mommy and all of us, and we prayed for positive test results and that Mommy wouldn’t need any chemotherapy.

It was quite a beautiful sight hearing the kids pray with loud enthusiasm, “…and dear God, please NO CHEMO for Mommy.”

And, as the husband and father, I was sure God would honor such pure prayer coming from the innocent and bold faith of such sweet children.

Then, the pathology report was delayed a day. Then another. And another. Finally, it came. Invasive cancer was indeed present outside of the breast in the lymph nodes.

Now, to keep this in perspective, the oncologist said the remaining cancer, even though it’s invasive in the lymph node, is so small it’s barely measurable. Yet, a full and aggressive chemo treatment was necessary to give Nicole the very best chance to avoid recurrence for the many many years of full and happy life yet to come.

But, here’s the hard part. At nightly bedtime prayers, the kids pray like we have been, “no chemo,” but then we have to explain, “well, kids, actually mommy is going to need chemo so we can make sure she gets all the way better.” Then it comes – the question. Sam asks, “But, mommy, we prayed no chemo, why didn’t God listen to us?”

As a pastor, I’ve answered this kind of question thousands of times, whether in theological debate or for other people and families suffering hard issues. Thousands of times, I’ve offered true, biblical, compassionate and reassuring answers.

But, my ten years of training to be a pastor, and the thousands of chances to practice before, didn’t give me what I needed to answer my five-year old son, tears in his eyes, heartbroken, feeling the free-fall of being let down by God.

I still don’t have an answer.

And, perhaps the years of training and practice did provide me the wisdom not to try to push on Sam some cheap and worn out cliché.

I do know, and I’m filled with the most confident hope, that God is good and faithful. And, at the same time, I also know for sure that cancer sucks. Plain and simple. I hate that this is happening. Not that any of us should be surprised: Jesus himself said this is how it would be.

And, this is exactly why, as a church, we’re doing this Healthy Church series. Only a living, vibrant, Jesus-at-the-center type of faith can see us through the reality of this life.

And, although this journey of ours is hard, we experience (every day) God’s answer to prayer through this “Healthy Family” called Lutheran Church of Hope.

From the depths of our hearts, we know it’s no small thing. And, it changes the world. Thank you all for your prayers, your encouragement, and a hope that will not quit, because of a child-like faith, that Jesus is risen from the dead, and lives as King of all that there is.

Thank you for being our healthy and faithful family.

Love,

Pastor Grant and the Woodley family

***

Please feel free to continue to follow along on Pastor Nicole’s journey through her CaringBridge site.

Pastor’s Corner: Faith is Good

I had lunch today with a 91-year-old Benedictine monk.

Father Kilian McDonnell is president of the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research at St. John’s University in Collegeville, MN. My friend is on sabbatical this year and spent the winter/spring semester at Collegeville. After the noonday prayer service at St. John’s Abbey, Father Kilian asked Dan and I to join him and the rest of the monks in the monastery dining hall.

Father Kilian’s steps were uncertain. I feared he might lose his balance and fall.

At the same time, there was a certainty to Father Kilian’s steps; a gentle, humble assurance springing from his life of enduring faithfulness. 

At the age of 75, Father Kilian began to write poetry. He has seen it all.  Experienced it all.  Ministered through it all.

It is not surprising that Father Kilian would write about people who did not have easy answers to all life has thrown at them…

“They had big problems with God,” Father Kilian says. “They had big problems with people around them, and they made terrible mistakes. People like us. Their relationship with God was not an easy one.”

No – the life of faith is not easy.

Not for pastors.

Not for monks.

Not for you.

In the dining room of a monastery, I was reminded – faith may not be easy, but it is good.

Like Jacob, it’s worth it to wrestle with God in order to hold on to faith.

Like Paul, it’s worth it to run the race, to fight the good fight, to keep the faith.

Like the psalmist – sometimes poems (songs of prayer) are the best way to hold on to an uneasy faith.

A youthful delight filled Father Kilian as he informed us there were fresh strawberries for lunch. It reminded me of the love my sons Dalton, Kemble and Shayden have for strawberries. I passed Father Kilian a photograph of my family and shared the story of Saphron’s adoption.

Father Kilian shook his head and smiled…

Pastor Scott