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January 9, 2018, 8:04 AM

Talking and Walking with Christ

In my preparations for Christmas, I came across an article online from a few years ago, the title of which caught my
attention: “Walking Santa, Talking Christ: Why do Americans claim to be more religious than they are?” Expecting some sociological commentary about why people are more likely to attend church around the holidays than other times of the year, I decided to read it—only to discover that my expectations were completely wrong.

The author, Shankar Vedantam, begins by citing well-known data: 40 percent of Americans claim to attend church regularly. 90 percent of us believe in God. He continues: “There is only one conclusion to draw from these numbers: Americans are significantly more religious than the citizens of other industrialized nations.
Except they are not.”

A quick extrapolation of the numbers would suggest that about 118 million Americans would be in church every Sunday, and every major denomination would be growing. That’s simply not the case. Instead of asking about Church attendance as a measure of “religiosity,” social scientists have started to measure what people actually do. The results are surprising. Americans are not much more religious than people living in other industrialized countries. In actuality, the number of people in worship on Sunday mornings are about half of what Americans report. Yet Americans consistently—and more or less uniquely—want others to believe they are more religious than they really are. Vedantam writes:

Religion in America seems tied up with questions of identity in ways that are not the case in other industrialized countries. When you ask Americans about their religious beliefs, it's like asking them whether they are good people, or asking whether they are patriots. They'll say yes, even if they cheated on their taxes, bilked Medicare for unnecessary services, and evaded the draft. Asking people how often they attend church elicits answers about their identity—who people think they are or feel they ought to be, rather than what they actually believe and do.

I share this not to chastise those who don’t come regularly to worship, or to say “good job” to those who do, but to pose the questions, “what is your religious identity?” and “what do you do to live out your faith?”

As we move into a new year, many of us set expectations and goals for what we want to do in the year ahead. We resolve to lose the weight, eat healthier foods, pay down debts, spend more time with family, reconnect or mend broken relationships, etc. but what do you expect from religious practices like worship, Bible Study and prayer? What do you hope to do that will help you grow in

If one of those items on your list is “be more involved at church” or “read the Bible more” what specifically will you do? And if you don’t have a list, (or anything related to your faith on it,) what will you do to hold yourself accountable to growing as a disciple of Christ in 2018?

As the Christmas season ends and the season of Epiphany begins, the church moves into a time of “doing.” In the gospel lessons we will encounter magi from the east who take significant risks to worship an infant king. We will see how that infant king made baptism not only a sign of his identity, but a marker for the beginning of his earthly ministry. We then will have a chance to live out our own baptismal callings as we hear Jesus call his own disciples and heals those who are suffering before the beginning of Lent (on Valentine's Day this year!)

It’s a time that is meant to help us “talk the talk and walk the walk” with Christ. And that’s my prayer for us all in the year ahead—that we talk and walk with Christ throughout this new year. 

-Pastor Nathan

The full article “Walking Santa, Talking Christ: Why do Americans claim to be more religious than they are?” is available
online at:


November 30, 2017, 8:32 AM

Four Truths for Every Congregation

Rev. Dr. Dave Daubert is an ELCA Pastor, writer and consultant for “Day 8 Strategies.”[1]  I have known him for years and was in seminary with his wife who was studying to become a Deaconess in the church.  A week ago, I came across some thoughts he shared on the future of the church which are true in every setting—no matter the size, context or health of the current congregation.  I thought these four truths are worth sharing especially as we begin a new church year and look to the future ministries that we will undertake together in 2018. Dr. Daubert writes:

  • The future of your church depends on your willingness to be neighbor.
  • You can only do evangelism with people who aren’t Christian (yes, some of these may already come to church!).
  • The future of your church depends on people you haven’t yet met.
  • You will only meet those (future) people if you are willing to meet them.[2]

The simple fact is that no congregation can ignore any of these and remain faithful or even viable long term—no exceptions. But intentionally responding to these truths with action not only brings hope for a bright future, but the opportunity to be a part of God’s mission in the world today.

Building on the first truth above, Dr. Daubert says, “Every person has multiple “mission fields” in their life. Sometimes they overlap like when a person lives, works and goes to church in the same neighborhood. This used to be pretty common. But often they don’t overlap completely. People may live in one place, work in another, and worship and attend church in another. In each place there are different people and our call to be neighbor exists in each one. We need to know and relate to the people around our homes, in our work (or retirement) place, and yes, [around] our congregation.”[3]

The key is seeing each one as a “mission field”—as a potential place for inviting people to come join us not just on Sunday mornings, but for dinner and study on Wednesday nights, or line-dancing on Tuesdays, or food distribution on Saturdays (just to name a few possible invitations one could extend).  So what mission fields exist in your life that you could explore more fully?  If you don’t think you have any, then remember the last two truths listed above: “The future of your church depends on people you haven’t yet met,” and “you will only meet those (future) people if you are willing to meet them.” 

This is a great time of year to not only meet new people, but invite them to come to our community of faith.  Personally, I have two new neighbors on my street, so I plan to bake some cookies, bring them by their homes, introduce myself… and bring along a card inviting them to the Christmas Cantata on Dec. 17 and our Christmas Eve services.  (There are extras in the Narthex if you want to take some!)  If they say “we already have a church home,” great!  It is always good to know another brother or sister in Christ.  If they say, “we don’t believe in that stuff” or “I’m spiritual but not religious” or some other way of saying “thanks but no thanks, ”then let it go gracefully and with an open-ended invitation.  You might consider saying something like: “I just want you to know, you’re always welcome at Holy Spirit, even if it is not for worship, and if you ever feel like you are in need of prayer, let me know, and I can share it with our church’s prayer team.”  They may never take you up on it, but then again, they might find themselves in need of prayer (we all need prayer at least once or twice in our lives, right? J) and remember your offer—or seek out a church because they encountered the grace and love of Christ in you.

This Advent, that is my prayer for us all—that we would not only encounter, but also be the embodiment of God’s love and grace to our neighbors as we wait for the coming of Christ at Christmas.

-Pr. Nathan

[1] For Christians, the “eighth day” represents the day of resurrection—the start of a new week—and thus the start of us being a new creation grounded in Christ.

[2] From:


October 19, 2017, 10:11 AM

First Fruits - Our Stewardship Theme for 2018

As we look ahead to 2018, the HSLC Stewardship Team has been reflecting on the theme of "First Fruits", and I wanted to share some reflections on how we have been faithful with the resources entrusted to us--along with some of our hoped-for plans for 2018.

Over the past two years, Grace Hall has become a place for our community to gather for fellowship and meals.  There we have celebrated and comforted one another at important occasions like graduations and funeral luncheons.  We have shared meals with Family Promise clients and made new friends. 

For the past year, we have used the new classrooms on Sunday mornings in between services for Christian education, and once every few months, they are transformed into bedrooms for families so that those families get a new start through Family Promise. 

Our Music program continues to introduce new music in worship through our choirs, and our “Sing a New Song” songbook introduced this summer. On Christmas day last year, the choir combined with an 18 piece orchestra to present “Let there be Christmas.”   One person said as she was leaving, “I can’t wait to see next year’s Choir cantata!”  Join us on December 17, 2017, and you will see what she meant. 

Our youth are already planning for the 2018 National Youth Gathering in Houston, but they have been up to a lot more than planning this year.  The Jr. and Sr. High students participate in regular Bible Study, hosted a summer concert and went on a “backyard mission trip” this summer.  As part of the mission trip, they served at Forgotten Harvest, Southeast Michigan’s largest food recovery organization by planting and picking 493 pounds of vegetables.

As you can see from these quick snapshots, Holy Spirit is a vibrant congregation.  And every gift of time, talent and treasure makes a difference in our community.

In addition to maintaining our current ministries, the additional stewardship goals we hope to accomplish in 2018 are:

1. Expanding Our Food Distribution – ($3-5000) during the winter months when we are not able to distribute outside, we are hoping to buy prepackaged "family boxes" of food purchased through the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan to provide to those in need.  By working with other organizations in the area, we plan to assist those households with the greatest need in our area. At approximately $35 a box, our goal will enable us to feed an additional 85 to 145 households beginning in the winter of 2018.  

2. Funding for an Additional Part-Time Staff Person – ($10,000) According to the CAT survey, the congregation would like to focus on two areas in particular that take time and energy beyond what a volunteer would normally provide:
1. Develop and implement a comprehensive strategy to reach new people and incorporate them into the life of the church, and
2. Develop ministries that work toward healing those broken by life circumstances.  This part time position would help provide the resources we need to accomplish these goals.

Adding a part-time staff person would help us strengthen and begin new programs in these areas.

3. Debt Reduction - paying down an additional $12,000 in principal over and above our existing mortgage payment.  In other words, our goal for 2018 is an additional $1,000 a month toward principle.  Making these payments on a continued basis would help us pay off the loan in about half the time and save us in excess of $150,000 in interest.   By reducing the life of the loan like this, we will address the concern of several members to not leave the debt burden to the next generation.    Know too that if you wish to give a special gift toward debt reduction, you are welcome to do so at any time!

September 14, 2017, 3:46 PM

Commemorating the Reformation

On Sunday, September 24th, the Southeast Michigan Synod will have its first of two commemoration services at St. Matthew’s Catholic Church in Flint (the other is on Saturday, October 28 at Zion Lutheran in Ann Arbor) with the two Roman Catholic diocese that overlap the Synod’s territory.  But what does this really mean, and why is such a commemoration important?

First, it is important to say that this is NOT a celebration.  We are not celebrating division in the church.  Instead, it is a commemoration—an acknowledgment that the church’s past is far from perfect and a hope that we can move past division and toward healing.   And so we gather for prayer together—to listen to the Holy Spirit and pray that God would continue to reform our hearts through the mercy and grace evidenced through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

At the heart of this service are five commitment that come from the Vatican and Lutheran World Federation document, From Conflict to Communion. They are:

1.  Our first commitment: Catholics and Lutherans should always begin from the
perspective of unity and not from the point of view of division in order to strengthen what is held in common even though the differences are more easily seen and experienced. (#239).

2.  Our second commitment: Lutherans and Catholics must let themselves continuously be transformed by the encounter with the other and by the mutual witness of faith. (#240)

3.  Our third commitment: Catholics and Lutherans should again commit themselves to seek visible unity, to elaborate together what this means in concrete steps, and to strive repeatedly toward this goal. (#241)

4. Our fourth commitment: Lutherans and Catholics should jointly rediscover the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ for our time. (#242)

5. Our fifth commitment: Catholics and Lutherans should witness together to the mercy of God in proclamation and service to the world. (#243).

As you can see, these commitments are not theological statements suggesting one side was right and the other side was wrong—because quite simply, it’s about Jesus, and his love for the world.  That is what reforms us each day—the love and mercy of God.  Indeed, that is reformation at its best.  As From Conflict to Communion says:

The beginnings of the Reformation will be rightly remembered when Lutherans and Catholics hear together the gospel of Jesus Christ and allow themselves to be called anew into community with the Lord. Then they will be united in a common mission which the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification describes: “Lutherans and Catholics share the goal of confessing Christ in all things, who alone is to be trusted above all things as the one Mediator (1 Tim. 2:5f) through whom God in the Holy Spirit gives himself and pours out his renewing gifts” (#245).

-Pr. Nathan

**The numbers following each quote are paragraph references to the document, From Conflict to Communion.  It is available online for download here

August 17, 2017, 8:03 PM

"A House of Prayer for All People"

In today’s first lesson, we hear God speaking through the prophet Isaiah, “Maintain justice, and do what is right” and a few verses later, God affirms “my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”  In the Gospel, Jesus enters into a lively discussion with a Canaanite woman whom other Jewish leaders and even his own disciples look down upon as someone beneath them.  By the end of the passage, however, not only is the woman’s daughter healed, but Jesus commends her for her faith.  These passages, along with many others, provide a scriptural basis as to why the church (including Lutherans, Roman Catholics and every other mainline protestant denomination in the country) stands against racism, hatred and anti-Semitism.  

From the birth of the church at Pentecost in Acts 2, the church has celebrated cultural, ethnic and racial differences as blessings rather than as a justification for oppression and discrimination.  The ELCA’s social statement “Freed in Christ: Race, Ethnicity and Culture” states: “Racism—a mix of power, privilege, and prejudice—is sin, a violation of God’s intention for humanity. The resulting racial, ethnic, or cultural barriers deny the truth that all people are God’s creatures and, therefore, persons of dignity. Racism fractures and fragments both church and society.”  The social statement, adopted by the ELCA 1993 Churchwide Assembly, also calls on the church to make confession for complicity, commit to change, advocate and act to confront racism hatred andbigotry.  And as much as we might be tempted to think that such issues do not affect the church in significant ways, history suggests they do.  White supremacist views led Dylann Roof, a member of an ELCA congregation, to kill nine members of Emanuel AME Church in 2015.  His actions are certainly an extreme example of the power of racism to ruin lives, but racism (and as another good example, sexism) is also a systemic problem in our society; we who are historically in the majority benefit at the expense of others.  Intentionally or not, this makes those in the majority a part of the injustice, which as Isaiah 56 reminds us today, is not God’s will for us.

Jesus called his followers to “love your neighbor.” It is clear this key spiritual imperative means all neighbors without regard to race, color, religion or national origin. And, Paul taught that “enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions and factions” are among many works of the flesh that are antithetical to the kingdom of God. “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5: 19-23). These works of the Spirit lead to peace-making and the kingdom of God.

As followers of the Prince of Peace, we share collective responsibility to create communities of love and mutual respect from which extremism, hatred and racism cannot grow. We share collective responsibility to create non-violent communities where people with different political and religious views respect each other and work together to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8).  Such work always begins from within as we examine our own hearts and confess any attitudes of supremacy, hatred, violence, silence or fear. But it continues with the pronouncement of forgiveness and the promise of God’s holy and transformative Spirit, so that we can live as God’s beloved community and proclaim Christ’s desire to reconcile the world to himself through his death and resurrection.  Indeed, his cross gives us hope that hatred, fear and even death itself cannot overcome the power of God’s love.  Let us live in this love, teaching it and sharing it so that one day, the fullness of God’s Kingdom will come and hatred will be no more.

There are a variety of resources for personal and communal reflection.  Here are just a few:

The ELCA Social Statement on “Race, Ethnicity and Culture” is available for download here:

Bryan Stevenson delivered a TED talk entitled “We need to talk about an injustice”:

PBS created a video series entitled Race the Power of an Illusion. Watch it online:

A supplemental resource to Race the Power of an Illusion: Ten Things Everyone Should Know About Race

World Trust prepared a series of short clips in 2015 for a Summer of Justice and Racial Healing: 


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