Growing in God's Grace

Quarterly Newsletter
for First Lutheran Stewards
May 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."
Pastor Mike and Jenny James, Preschool Director, lead a preschool class in outdoor
butterfly science – using our rain garden to help children learn more about
Members of our Sewing Circle gather on the second Monday of every month to design and lay out quilts from fabric they have cut. Finished quilting is done at home and the quilts are blessed before being delivered to Lutheran World Relief, bringing comfort and security to neighbors in need. 81 quilts were delivered in March!
Steve Schwarzman used his time, energy and truck to help the Property Committee check off a few things on their landscaping to-do list for the parsonage back in March. He also repurposed (acquired and planted) four free unwanted Firepower Nandina plants from a homeowner in Columbia on Facebook Marketplace.
Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. (Acts 2:46-47, NRSV)
This past January, I began serving as the team leader for our synod’s finance ministry team. In that capacity, I serve alongside a group of dedicated fellow disciples who, thankfully, know a lot more about financial matters than I do. They also remind me, all the time, that we are claimed by and worship a God of abundance!
Understanding God’s abundance is easy when the circumstances in our lives are going well. Alternatively, understanding God’s abundance can be a challenge when life circumstances are themselves challenging. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, there were many sleepless nights among both church leaders and lay leaders. In those first days, fear set in: How would we ever make it without gathering for in-person worship? How will we pay the bills if we can’t pass the offering plate? How will we …? All these “How” questions cast a shadow of scarcity over God’s abundance, at least for a moment.
Yet, instead of battening down the hatches, leadership in our synod, as well as God’s congregation here at First Lutheran, made the courageous decision to let God’s abundance, not those shadows of scarcity, guide them as we took bold steps to offer people the opportunity to share in God’s abundance with our neighbor. Both our synod and First Lutheran created individual COVID-19 funds to collect donations that could be used for grants to neighbors in need.
From our synod’s perspective, those grants were made available to congregations and congregational ministries, providing bridge funding to help congregations weather the pandemic. First Lutheran donated $50,000 to that fund ($10,000 from our endowment’s distributable assets and $40,000 from our general fund). Here at First Lutheran, we created a similar fund, one that provided disciples in our community the opportunity to make offerings to be shared with those outside the community who were experiencing dire financial realities during the pandemic. At last report, we had collected and distributed $32,000 through that fund. Talk about living into God’s generosity!
During this time of life in a pandemic, we have shared an experience similar to the early church, described in the first chapters of the Book of Acts. Throughout that time, we gathered together for worship as best we could:
  • Daily at noon for our Midday Prayer Service.
  • Wednesdays via ZOOM for our midweek service.
  • Weekly on Sundays, first with our siblings across our synod through our synod’s pre-recorded weekly worship services, then as a community of faith in pre-recorded worship services from the worship center, then via recently installed live-streaming technology, and currently in a hybrid fashion: some gathered in person and some gathered via the live-stream.
And as we gathered, we heard again of God’s generosity shown to us most vividly in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We were fed by God’s word made known to us in scripture, prayers, songs and a simple meal of bread and wine. We prayed for our siblings in the neighborhood, our state, our country and across God’s world. And, in every way, God added to the numbers of folks who were being welcomed into the community, who were being shown the love of God in real and tangible ways (food, funds, housing, companionship, and love), who were, in every way imaginable, being saved.
As we look to the horizon and a time ahead when the fear of the pandemic just might subside, my prayer is that we don’t overlook the blessings that we have experienced this past season, and, instead, continue to live into the generosity that God calls us to and so graciously surrounds us with.
And, one more time: THANK YOU for the way you have so courageously lived into God’s abundant generosity!

Pastor Mike
Disciples' Faith Story
Our Journey in Faith
By Jim and Karen McDonald

Our journey in faith together has taken many paths over our 59+ years of marriage. Raised in different faith traditions (Jim-Catholic, Karen-Presbyterian), our journey to the Lutheran tradition took over 50 years, including a 25-year “sojourn” in the Episcopal Church. Thus, the “tapestry” of our faith, and stewardship in particular, is “woven” with many understandings and expressions.

The seminal experience that led us to a much deeper understanding of our faith and how it affects everything in our lives was our decision in 1977 to enroll together in a 4-year study called Theological Education by Extension (TEE), currently offered as Education for Ministry (EFM). Meeting weekly, except during the summer months, we studied the entire Bible, learned church history, and examined Christian theology and ethics.

As we gained a greater understanding of our faith, we also deepened our involvement in and financial contribution to our local congregation and the church at-large, and also looked for ways we could share our time and financial resources to help others in our community. During the late 70s, we began our financial support of Grassroots and donated food and made food deliveries for FISH of Howard County. Committing greater time and financial resources wasn’t easy while our three children were in their teens, but we often marveled that no matter how much food we gave away or how often we contributed to special financial appeals, God always provided sufficient food for our family’s needs and there was always enough money to pay our bills.

As the years passed and our children became more independent, we participated in two lay-led ministries, Faith Alive and Lutheran Lay Renewal, that made an even greater impact in our faith journey and how we expressed it both within the church and in the world at-large. When we retired in 2004, we decided to tithe our financial resources while finding other opportunities to share our time and abilities within and outside the church. Karen became an ESL teacher at our church and served on the board of the Community Resource Center in Rehoboth Beach, DE, and Jim continued to teach Sunday School, became a Crossways Bible leader, volunteered as a lay chaplain at Beebe Medical Center in Lewes, DE, served on Church Council, and has been a Medicare counselor since 2006 in the states of DE and MD.

Through all the years, there is one certainty that has sustained us wherever we live or whatever church we have attended, “God is Good All the Time, and All the Time, God is Good!” Turning 80 in the past year has caused us to be a bit more reflective of how God has led us and blessed us at every turn, some filled with joy, others with sadness. We acknowledge that everything we have is a gift from God and are forever grateful for the manner in which God had led us to where we are today. We pray that we continue to be part of First Lutheran for many more years and are able to participate in ALL the glorious ministry opportunities that present themselves to us.

To God be the Glory, always!
The Paradigm for All Reality
(Adapted from The Shape of God: Deepening the Mystery of the Trinity by Richard Rohr)
“But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.” (Romans 8:9 NRSV)

Our trinitarian God totally lets go of any boundaries for the sake of the Other and then receives them back from Another. It is a non-stop waterwheel of Love. Each accepts that each is fully accepted by the Other and then passes on that total acceptance. Thus, indeed, “God is Love”! It’s the same spiritual journey for all of us, for it takes most of our lives to accept that we are accepted – and to accept everyone else as a result.
Most can’t do this easily because, internally, there is so much self-accusation and self-preservation at work. Most are so convinced that they are not the body of Christ, that they are unworthy, that they are not in radical union with God, and so they live in an economy of scarcity and self-protectionThe Gospel announces a worldview of abundance, and the church is supposed to use every means to convince us of this inherent safety and dignity, which is why it is called “Good News.” (emphasis added)
The Good News is that the question of union has already been resolved, once and for all. We cannot create our union with God from our side. It is objectively already given to us by the Holy Spirit, who dwells within us (Romans 8:9). Once we know that we are that grounded, founded and home free, we can then stop protecting ourselves and pour ourselves out just as Father does to Son, Son to Spirit, and Spirit to Father in a fountain fullness of generosity and abundance.
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:
The total number of disciples giving $6,000 or more of the financial resources God has entrusted to them to support God’s work through First Lutheran Church increased from 27 in 2019 to 34 in 2020, a 26% increase! May we continue to grow in our relationship with Jesus Christ through the use of the time, talents and financial resources God has entrusted to us.
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