“Powered By The Holy Spirit - Abounding in Hope”  

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. --Romans 15:13

I have a persistent cycle of thought and belief concerning First Lutheran and the mission that our LORD has given us. I have been here for twelve months now. Even before I arrived, I was hearing from you that you believed that God had a mission and purpose for you. I heard that you wanted God to use you in furthering His kingdom. You made it clear that you were ready to be led and were willing to follow the LORD in that path that He would choose for His people.

We began to have discussions as soon as I arrived about how the LORD could transform hearts, expand thinking, inspire imagination, develop confidence, eliminate barriers, streamline our structure and give us a plan to be used by Him. I have personally been excited and a bit surprised by the whole process. There was such a sense of eagerness. In the first ten months, the leadership of the congregation tackled the issues of a cumbersome organizational structure and perceived barriers with the result of the congregation adopting a new “Constitution and By-Laws.” That is an amazing feat. I was a little frightened by the pace. I now believe it was the LORD motivating you to move forward in such a relentless way. To HIM be the glory!

At the beginning of 2016, the leaders shifted the focus a bit to try to develop a strategic mission plan. We met at the Avondale library. It was an amazing day of study, discussion, dreaming and mutual encouragement. It seemed as though God was opening our hearts to put aside the things that would hinder any opportunity to reach out in love to our neighbors. I sensed a sincere attitude that the leaders wanted to set themselves aside and yield to the LORD’s leading to look at the community with a selfless, non-demanding, unconditional love so that the love of Jesus might shine in this neighborhood. The discussion was largely focused on the good of the neighborhood verses the good of First Lutheran.

There were a number of attitudes that seemed to shine brightly. There was a genuine expression of love and appreciation for the multi-cultural makeup of the congregation and community. There was an emphasis on being effective in the future rather than preserving the past. There was an attitude of thanksgiving for the history that brought us to the corner of Highland Avenue South and Milner Crescent South and the wonderful and beautiful building that we enjoy. Yet, there was a resounding recognition that the building, our resources, our programs, our history nor anything else that we have enjoyed is our “Mission of God.”

The Southern District held an Outreach Workshop a month later and nearly a third of you attended. That says something about your desire to be used by the LORD in His mission. Just a couple of weeks later and we processed the things that we learned on a Saturday morning. I truly believe that the Holy Spirit showed up and transformed hearts and minds. There was a renewing of energy. There was an opening of imagination through the brainstorming. There was a sense of joy and optimism. Through the discussion, principles that had been studied began to come together and make sense in a very applicable and reasonable way. It almost seemed as though God was painting a picture. For me . . . it was an AWESOME experience.

We had our first “experiment” with this new plan and God exceeded all of our expectations. Our attempt to get out of the building and into the neighborhood with an Easter Egg Hunt was an extraordinary day to re-member. I wrote about this a couple of months ago in my First Impressions article. I believe that the neighborhood was impacted in a way that we are just beginning to understand.

This past month, Rev. Eric Johnson came to visit and assist in coaching us. Again, the hand of God’s bless-ing was evident. While he was here, the LORD had him share a vision that the fellowship hall was filled with kids and their parents about a year from now. The room would be full of energy and excitement. He shared the vision again on his Facebook page.

Yes, there is a sense of excitement and expectation. I am not sharing this with you so that we will sit back, be proud and say “look what we have done.” I am sharing it with you so that you will move forward. Actually, I share this not that we will look at ourselves at all. It is my hope that we will continue to have our eyes fixed on Jesus. We desire His leading. It is by His victory on the cross that the God of hope fills us with joy and peace of believing. It is in the POWER OF THE SPIRIT that will continue to allow us to have the privilege of serving Him in mission and ABOUND IN HOPE as we see His hand in our personal lives and in the life of our family here at First Lutheran.

God Be Praised!

Pastor Tommy

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