Growing in God's Grace

Quarterly Newsletter
for First Lutheran Stewards
February 2021
"Helping God's people grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ through the use of the time, talents and financial resources God has entrusted to us."
This past November, we had the good fortune of securing several loads of mulch due to the trimming and cutting down of trees on the property. As a result, we held a "Mulch Spreading Party." After hibernating much of this summer it was a safe (and some might say fun) way to come together, get some exercise, and contribute to the maintenance of our church grounds.
Again this year, numerous volunteers supported the Christmas Baskets Ministry's efforts to provide food for our neighbors and fellow disciples in need with physical help, time, use of vehicles, skills (logistics, organization and coordination), and monetary donations.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:16-17, NRSV)
Words from Colossians attributed to Paul (some questions remain among biblical scholars about Paul’s actual authorship of this letter) are part of a larger section of the letter defining the reality of living as a community gathered in the name of the risen Jesus. An ongoing discussion among those in the church in Colossae questioned whether the work Jesus had accomplished was all that was needed for reconciliation between God and God’s people, or if some additional action was needed to solidify that reconciled relationship. The writer is firm in the belief that in Christ everything, without exception, has been accomplished to reconcile God’s people, and in light of that reconciliation, God’s people must live “with gratitude in your hearts.”
And it is with gratitude in my heart that I give thanks for the way that God’s community here at First Lutheran has continued to live into the reconciling grace that we have received through Jesus Christ. As God’s people in community, especially during these past months (we’re approaching a year) living in the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic, your generosity has been a blessing to so many of our neighbors, near and far. Through your offerings, both financial and time spent serving alongside your fellow disciples, there is no doubt that the gift of God’s reconciling grace was proclaimed, just as though we were singing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” even when we have been fasting from singing! Thank you!
Looking forward to 2021, God continues to call us to be Welcoming, Growing and Sharing in God’s Grace. As we live into that calling, as God’s word continues to live in us, as we express our gratitude to God for the gift of reconciliation we have freely been given, may we once again approach this calling with generous, grateful hearts patterned after the generous heart of God!
See you at worship (digitally on Wednesdays and Sundays)!

Pastor Mike
One Disciple's Faith Story

Stephen Ministry: An opportunity, honor and privilege to serve God
By Colleen Fowler

I came to First Lutheran under very unusual and stressful circumstances. The Council at our previous church voted to suspend my husband from church due to a difference of opinion. That unfortunate situation brought us to First Lutheran. Then my Mom suddenly and unexpectedly passed away, and my daughter went through a divorce. Given my pain and all that was going on, First Lutheran offered and assigned me a Stephen Minister. My Stephen Minister was wonderful and is still a very special person in my life. She listened to me, cared for me, and prayed for me when we met. As I was going through the experience of being a care receiver, I felt led to become a Stephen Minister and help others the way my Stephen Minister had helped me. I have always been one to get involved, and this seemed like a good fit and good timing.

I was very excited to become a Stephen Minister. I took the training very seriously and learned a lot about feelings, listening, assertiveness, boundaries, compassion, forgiveness, spiritual care and how to deal with crisis situations. The training taught me to love and accept others for who and where they are and how to carry other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). I was assigned to a care receiver right away, a person with terminal cancer. It was a very humbling experience and an honor to walk with someone through the process of dying. I was encouraged to read Final Gifts to prepare me for her journey. It is a wonderful book that I encourage everyone read. Two years later, I was asked to attend training to become a Stephen Leader – another role I felt the Spirit was leading me to. 

The past 12 years, serving as a Stephen Minister and Stephen Leader, have really strengthened my faith and my personal Bible study. I strive to be the best mother, wife, friend, coworker, and Stephen Minister that I can be (Colossians 3:23). I start each day in the corner of my bedroom in my make-shift ‘prayer warrior’ area – a space with post-its, journals, multiple versions of the Bible, and Christian books to aid in my walk with God. I read devotions, scripture, and above all, pray. I’ve learned over the years that you can never pray too often, and nothing is too small to pray about or thank God for. (Philippians 4:6-7) My family laughs at me for some of the things I pray and thank God for (parking spaces, short lines, products on store shelves, cloud formations, rainbows, good hair day, sunrises, etc.) God wants to hear from us always, and boldly, and no thought, desire or appreciation is too small. I truly believe in the power of prayer and the comfort that it provides.

Reading the Bible (I have read the Bible 4 times from cover to cover) and faith-based books has also strengthened my faith and made me a better Stephen Minister. They provide me with a wealth of wisdom and knowledge at my fingertips to help my care receivers. They also give me a better understanding of the Trinity and my faith. Scripture passages can be very helpful in a time of need to comfort yourself or someone else. Reading different translations also helps me better understand and gain perspective of the Word. In addition to reading and studying, I also take advantage of positive and uplifting media outlets, listening to Christian radio, watching Christian movies (PureFlix), and participating in our Midday Prayer service. Strengthening my faith has also led me to tithe the financial resources God has entrusted to me. 

All in all, I strive to be more like Jesus. I want to live God’s will, not mine. I aim to live my life in such a way that those who do not know God may come to know God better through knowing me. I want to be the face of Jesus to someone each day. Although I have grown very much over the years, God is not done with me yet, and I thank God for that. I still have a lot to learn – there is still so much I do not understand. But through my faith, I trust, (Proverbs 3:5-6) and I try to keep my mind on right thinking (Philippians 4:8-9). Having a relationship with God takes time and work, just like any other relationship that you cherish. We all spend time with family and friends, but how much time do we spend with God, in comparison. If we don’t spend time with God, we won’t draw closer to God (James 4:8).
I use my Stephen Ministry training all the time in day-to-day life. From the moment I first met with my Stephen Minister to the present day, Stephen Ministry will always hold a special place in my heart. It has been an honor and privilege to serve God in this ministry.

Jesus loves me, this I know. Jesus knows me, this I love.
Tithe for the Past, Present & Future
(Adapted from a Daily Hope podcast, January 13, 2021, by Rev. Rick Warren)
“Honor the Lord with your substance and with the first fruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats bursting with wine.”
(Proverbs 3:9-10 NRSV)

Throughout Scripture, God commands us to give back to God at least the first 10 percent of everything we make. That’s called tithing.
Why does God ask us to do that? God certainly doesn’t need our money. It’s all God’s in the first place. God just entrusts it to us while we’re alive.

The Bible says we should practice the principle of putting God first in our income for three reasons: the past, present, and future.

First, tithe out of gratitude for the past. Recognize that everything we’ve ever had has been a gift from God. We wouldn’t have any of it if it weren’t for God’s generosity!

Second, tithe to keep our priorities straight in the present. Put God first in all the areas we want him to bless. Jesus said that when we seek his Kingdom first and make him our top priority, he will take care of all the other needs in our lives.

Third, tithe for the future, to demonstrate trust in God. Tithing shows we believe God is going to take care of us in the future and that God’s promises are not lies. Believe, as we are faithful to God’s command today, God is going to be faithful to us in the future.

You know what I have a hard time understanding? Some people trust God to keep God’s promises to save them and take them to heaven—but they don’t trust God’s promise to care for them financially if they put God first by tithing. If we can’t trust God with our finances, then how in the world can we trust him for our salvation?

“Honor the Lord with your substance and with the first fruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats bursting with wine.” (Proverbs 3:9-10 NRSV)
Don’t give God your leftovers. When you choose instead to give God the first of everything you have, God promises to give you everything you need—and more.
Pledging and Giving Summary
The chart below provides a summary of total 2021 pledges received so far compared to prior-year pledges, and a summary of giving for 2020 compared to prior years:
While our total number of givers declined in 2020, total giving was greater than in 2019 – a testament to faithfulness and making generosity a living response to the abundance with which God blesses us.

Thank you to all who met or exceeded their 2020 pledge and everyone who gave of the resources God has entrusted to them to help us meet the needs of our neighbors! Note: 2021 pledge forms can still be requested from the church office.
First Evangelical Lutheran Church
Generosity Statement
We believe that we are created in the image of a loving, generous God who creates us to live in relationships of love and generosity.

We commit to living lives of generosity, welcoming, growing, and sharing in God's grace, and using the abundance God provides to meet the needs of others.

We invite all disciples to experience the joy of fearless generosity, giving our time, talents and treasure so that each of us, our community, and the world might be transformed through the ministries of First Lutheran Church.
Trusting in God’s abundance empowers us to live lives of generosity.
First Evangelical Lutheran Church
Stewardship Ministry
3604 Chatham Road
Ellicott City, MD 21042
Office: 410-465-5977