Devotional for July 24, 2016 - YES WE CAN CAN

Wednesday night, Mark and I attended the Allen Toussaint tribute at the Hollywood Bowl. The crowd was a classic jazz group – a blend of ages and races, a mix of outrageous outfits with t-shirts with jeans. People were mellow and happy, singing and making friends with strangers in the next row. Even before the music started, it was a beautiful respite from another horrible week of violence and anger in the public space, a soothing reminder of the power of art and the ability of people to unite over shared passions.

A highlight was a star-studded performance of Toussaint’s hit “Yes, We Can, Can,” a hit for the Pointer Sisters in 1974:

Now's the time for all good men To get together with one another We got to iron out our problems And iron out our quarrels And try to live as brothers… I know we can make it I know darn well, we can work it out Oh, yes, we can, I know we can, can…

Forty years later, we’re facing the same crises that inspired Toussaint’s song. In such divisive times, the people of God must be a voice for unity and equality. Jesus charges us with reaching out to others in love, not in judgment. He compels us to offer brotherhood, not condemnation. He commands us to love each other.

In the name of Jesus, each of us can – and must – make a difference. We can change the world through love and mercy. With God’s help, yes, we can, can.

“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Him who is the head, that is, Christ. From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”

Ephesians 4:14-16

Devotional for July 10, 2016 - A WORLD ON FIRE

In 1968, we lived in Arlington, Virginia, just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. I remember thinking I could smell the smoke that rose from the city during the riots that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King. That was the beginning of a terrible, confrontation-filled summer for our country; it has since been dubbed “the summer of hate.”

The summer of 1968 has been on the minds of many this week, after the shootings in Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights, and Dallas. Congressman John Lewis, who marched with King, tweeted yesterday, “I feel sometimes we’re sliding backwards.”

The issues that arise from these tragedies are complex and inter-twined: There is no simple switch to throw to mend the damage and to turn off the hate, fear, and destruction. But in a world on fire, we must work to dowse the flames. As people of God, we have a responsibility to speak His truths – to ourselves and to each other – and to listen with His heart to the cries of anger and despair. Answering rage with rage only increases the pain. Ignoring wounds only deepens them.

We cannot embrace hate. We need to embrace each other. We need to speak for healing and change, rather than call for rancor and revenge. We need to work to correct the injustices and inequities that corrode our communities and our souls.

Following the Pulse massacre last month, a group of Broadway artists revived the Bacharach-David classic, “What the World Needs Now is Love.” The song is a prayer, acknowledging that God has given us so many beautiful things, but, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love,/It's the only thing that there's just too little of./What the world needs now is love, sweet love./No, not just for some but for everyone.”

Let us begin change by being God’s love on Earth. Let us love one another eagerly and actively. May the light of our love, of His love, outshine the flames.

“[Love] does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

1 Corinthians 13:5-7

Vacation Bible School

Barnyard RoundupJuly 18- July 22   9:00 am – 3:00 pm Cost $75.00

Children will explore Psalm 23 and five Bible stories that show Jesus, our Savior, is always with us, cares for us, provide for all our needs, leads us, forgives and protect us,, now and forever! Crafts, Storytelling, Bible Challenge, games, and snacks.
More information about Vacation Bible School and other Summer Camps at Westchester Lutheran can be found here.

Devotional for July 3, 2016 - THE COST OF FREEDOM

When I was in elementary school, we sang a popular protest song in church: “Freedom isn’t free. You’ve got to pay the price, you’ve got to sacrifice, for your liberty.” It’s still the first song that comes to mind whenever I think of Independence Day.

As Americans, we honor the human toll exacted to win our independence; in the many conflicts since, that price has been paid again to keep our country “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

As Christians, we honor the miraculous toll exacted to win our independence from sin and death, paid not by us but by Jesus Christ on the cross. He won us the greatest freedom of all, and made us citizens of His eternal nation. He also gave us precise instructions about what we are to accomplish with that freedom: Love one another. Serve one another. Go out into the world and make disciples of all. His Word is designed to be spoken to all, without restriction and without hesitation.

In her most recently message to the ELCA, Bishop Eaton wrote, “Neither culture nor behavior define what is distinctive about the Lutheran movement. It’s our understanding of the gospel. The gospel word creates faith. The gospel word is judgment and promise. Faith created by this gospel word sets people free to serve the neighbor.” (You can read the message in its entirety at www.livinglutheran.org.)

Jesus Christ freed us from sin and paid for our salvation, and asked nothing in return but love. The only cost we pay is love – an investment that is returned to us each time we help a neighbor, welcome a stranger, feed the hungry, or visit the lonely.

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

2 Corinthians 3:17

Devotional for June 26 - ANCHORED IN HIM

Tradition says the phrase is a Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times.” These last few weeks have been even more “interesting” than usual – horrific tragedies, natural disasters, and political upheaval. The public discourse has been interesting as well – diatribes of hate and anger swirling around voices calling for reason and action.

Times likes these can be overwhelming. These are the moments when it’s easy to come unmoored, to be swept along by the churning waters of fear and discord, to lose sight of where we were headed. It can seem impossible to swim against the current of negative words and actions.

And yet, we must. It is our calling, and our duty. These are the times when it is most crucial for the people of God to find solid footing and stand up for Him, to show mercy in the face of anger and turn away hate with love. These are the moments when we must remember that God is our anchor and our refuge, and He will see us through the storm. These are the moments when our failure to act allows more damage to be done.

We cannot simply cling to Him in gratitude and turn our backs on the world. Our faith in His anchor must be great enough for us to lean back into the storm. He gladly gives us the strength to reach out and pull others to His safety. Because of His love, we can rise above the turbulent waters and offer peace, reconciliation, and love in His Name.

We cannot wait for the storms to subside. God calls us to take action now – in prayer, in word, and in deed – to change the course of the waters, to turn people back toward hope and light. Anchored in Him, we are empowered. United with each other, we are strengthened. In His Name, we are mighty.

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”

Hebrews 6:17-20

Devotional for June 12, 2016 - FILL IT UP

Everybody in our house is run down. A confluence of work, school, projects, travel, and various other commitments have kept the last several weeks jam-packed --- not enough hours in the day. It caught up with us this week: We’re all sniffling and worn out. Now, we’re focusing on getting rested up.

Friday night, as I debated how late I could set my alarm for Saturday morning, I thought about the physical symptoms of running on empty. That led me to wonder about the spiritual symptoms of running on empty. When we let our spiritual resources be drained, whether from continual struggle with outside forces or from conflict within ourselves or perhaps just from apathy, what happens? Our noses don’t run, but our steps falter. Our backs don’t go out, but our hearts go numb. Our heads don’t ache, but our souls do. Our spiritual immune system breaks down: We are infected by anger, envy, hate, and fear. Without the strength to fight them off, we are consumed.

How then do we recover from the illnesses brought on by spiritual exhaustion? First, we must recognize the need for help. Second, we must call on the Great Physician for His healing: We must reconnect with the Lord and let His healing power flow through us. This connection can be made immediately through prayer and through Scripture. It is also crucial to our long-term recovery to be in community, to reach out to the brothers and sisters who will sustain us through love, prayer, and fellowship. When we gather together in His Name, we are renewed. We are refilled.

“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Ephesians 5:15-20

This Friday at Westchester Lutheran...

Friday Family Festival - May 13, 2016 at 6:00 p.m. This Friday join us at Westchester Lutheran for a service designed for the entire family with a lot of music and an inspirational message... and pizza.

Hollywood Bowl

We invite you to celebrate Independence Day with the legendary rock and roll band with horns: Chicago! One of America's most popular rock bands appears on Sunday, June 3rd at 7:30 p.m. and we have tickets!  The evening will also feature patriotic music, thrilling fireworks and more!
The seats are very close to the elevator and are very accessible.
Tickets are $38.00 per person - the fee includes admissions and bus transportation to and from Westchester.
If you would like tickets please contact Colleen Fitzgerald at cfitz14@verizon.com or call at 310-968-4854.

Habitat for Humanity

Westchester Lutheran continues to be a part of the Habitat for Humanity home building program.  Volunteers are needed to participate in the actual building experience on June 18 and/or September 24.
Another way to help out is by providing lunches for the workers on one of our scheduled days.
If you can attend a work day or provide a lunch please coordinate with our Habitat for Humanity rep - Colleen Fitzgerald at cfitz14@verizon.com or call at 310-968-4854.
Donations can be placed in the offering on Sundays.  Checks should be made out to Habitat for Humanity with "Thrivent Builds 2016" in the memo section.  Contributions may also be mailed directly to Habitat for Humanity, Greater Los Angeles at 8739 Artesia Blvd., Bellflower, CA 90706, Attention Chris Untiet.  Be sure to include “Thrivent Builds 2016” noted on the memo line of the check so it’s credited toward our Thrivent Builds houses!

Devotional for May 8, 2016 - WE ARE RAISED

As Mother’s Day has approached, I’ve been thinking, even more than usual, about the mothers in my life. Not just my beloved mother, mother-in-law, and grandmothers, all of whom are with the Lord now, no doubt wiping clean the faces of the cherubim. I’ve also been thinking about all the women of the church who, whatever their personal maternal status, are dedicated to raising the children of God.

I remembered my first choir director, who taught us to sing, but also to sit up straight and still, and, crucial for the young ladies of the miniskirt generation, to cross our legs at the ankle when we sat. All the organists who not only set the pace for worship, but set the standard for faithful service. The Sunday School and Vacation Bible School teachers who taught me the Gospel, as well as patience, perspective, and humor. The sisters-in-faith with whom I have studied Scripture, who have blessed me countless times with their insights. The wives of my pastors, who toil tirelessly to care for the family of faith.

And I thought of how richly blessed we are at Westchester Lutheran by the spiritual mothers of our congregation. We have strong, passionate women in every generation who lead by humble and dedicated example. They sing, play, teach, serve, study, and inspire. They laugh, weep, and pray with us. They encourage us and sustain us with love, prayer, and fellowship.

Today, as we celebrate the women who raised us, let us also celebrate the women who raise us up, the women who, through service, love, and example, lift us up to be the children of God we are meant to be. Seek them out this morning and thank them. Lift them up in prayer each day and thank the Lord for them. Go forth and strive to be more like them, for they daily strive to be more like Christ.

“I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.”

2 Timothy 1:5-6

This Weekend at Westchester Lutheran...

Journey “under the sea” with Ariel and her aquatic friends in Disney’s The Little Mermaid JR., adapted from Disney’s Broadway production and the motion picture (featuring the enormously popular Academy Award-winning music and delightfully charming book and lyrics).  Based on one of Hans Christian’s Andersen’s most beloved stories, Disney’s The Little Mermaid JR. is an enchanting look at the sacrifices we all make for love and acceptance.
Performances are April 28, 29 and 30 at 7 pm in the Fellowship Hall.  Tickets are $15 for General Admission and $20 for Preferred Seating.   Tickets may  be purchased at www.seatyourself.biz/wlcs

Devotional for April 24, 2016 - ALWAYS IN TRAINING

When we joined our gym, I signed up to work with a trainer. In part, I was motivated by concern that I would do some exercise improperly and negate all the progress I’d made in physical therapy to recover from the fracture in my ankle. But I also knew that the accountability of having to check in with someone on a regular basis would help keep me motivated.

It’s been effective. I have a long way to go on my fitness journey, but when I consider procrastinating, I imagine having to look Jeremy in the eye at my next appointment and it strengthens my resolve. When I work out with him, he encourages me, corrects my form, and pushes me to go further than I could go on my own.

As nice as it is to have a physical trainer, I find it even more crucial to have a spiritual trainer, too. Our souls can get soft and unresponsive, too, unless we exercise them with worship, study, and praise. I’m blessed to have a lot of people in my life – many of them here at Westchester Lutheran – who encourage me to grow in the Word, who lovingly correct me if I step off the Lord’s path, and who push me to use all the gifts God has given me to His glory. To know I can turn to these trainers for prayer or advice, in trial or in joy, gives me strength and inspires me to continue to grow as a child of God. And because of their support, I dare to reach further than I might otherwise.

When was your last spiritual workout? Are you always training, always growing in God’s purpose for your life? Perhaps working with a trainer would help. Join a Bible study. Invite a friend to coffee and share from the soul. Start a dinner-table conversation about faith. Let’s challenge ourselves to do more, for ourselves, our community, and our Lord. And let’s do it together.

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful. 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 10:23-25

This Friday at Westchester Lutheran...

ON THIS ROCK – Friday, April 22 at 6:30 p.m. Special activities for grade 1 and up.  Join us for crafts, Bible stories, and snacks. ALL are welcome!  Invite your friends!

Devotional for April 17 - BACKUP

I’m having trouble with my new iPhone. A particularly vexing problem because I use the phone all day long for work. I contacted Apple Support, but the first suggestion could not be attempted until my phone was backed up.

I’d never backed up my phone, so I had to grapple with the iCloud, only to learn that process was going to take more time than I had available. Instead, I opted for backing it up to my computer – and discovered I didn’t have enough room on the hard drive for the process. As I fumed and scrolled, I discovered kilobyte upon megabyte of data I no longer needed, which was occupying and slowing down my computer.

While I deleted file after file, some from projects I barely remembered, I wondered how long it had been since I’d thoroughly backed up my soul. How long had it been since I plugged in completely to the Lord and let Him strip away all the garbage, giving me the space and the freedom to work more efficiently as His child? How much useless information, pain, and burden was I dragging around with me because I haven’t not taken the time to connect with Him in an intentional way?

We try to tell ourselves we have all the power and capacity we need to handle whatever the world downloads on us, but we cannot do it alone. We should not do it alone. Our Father is the true source of power, of clarity and strength, and He offers it to us in limitless supply. He gives us backup for our hearts, so they are never burdened, and for our souls, so they are always free. All He asks is that we connect with Him in faith and love, and learn to run by His operating system.

Let us seek out the ways to connect with Him – in prayer, in praise, in reflection on His Word, in service for His Kingdom. And let us give thanks for the power and freedom we receive.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.”

Proverbs 3:5-6

This Friday at Westchester Lutheran...

Join us Friday April 15 for the next installment of the Friday Family Festival at 6:00 p.m. for worship followed by pizza and fun. Special guest and Westchester Lutheran Alum: Marcus Payne.

Come celebrate with your family and with His family.

The Little Mermaid JR. - April 28, 29 and 30 at 7 p.m.

Journey “under the sea” with Ariel and her aquatic friends in Disney’s The Little Mermaid JR., adapted from Disney’s Broadway production and the motion picture (featuring the enormously popular Academy Award-winning music and delightfully charming book and lyrics).  Based on one of Hans Christian’s Andersen’s most beloved stories, Disney’s The Little Mermaid JR. is an enchanting look at the sacrifices we all make for love and acceptance. In a magical underwater kingdom, the beautiful mermaid, Ariel, longs to leave her ocean home—and her fins—behind and live in the world above.  But first, she’ll have to defy her father, King Triton, make a deal with the evil sea witch, Ursula, and convince the handsome Prince Eric that’s she’s the girl whose enchanting voice he’s been hearing.

Performances are April 28, 29 and 30 at 7 pm in the Fellowship Hall.  Tickets are $15 for General Admission and $20 for Preferred Seating.   Tickets may be purchased at www.seatyourself.biz/wlcs.

Devotional for April 10, 2016 - WE ARE FAMILY

With God as our Father, we are called to be a family, each of us treasured as an individual while also loved as an integral part of the whole. We are beautifully diverse, yet united in our love for Him and for each other.

It is a special joy within God’s family, especially the branch here at Westchester Lutheran, to watch each generation come into its own. We have the privilege and the responsibility to help raise each generation as children of the Kingdom. As the children of this school and congregation become men and women of the Kingdom, we are inspired by their journey and blessed by the fruits they bear. We offer support and guidance, remember them in our prayers, and rejoice in their success.

At this week’s Friday Family Festival, a son of this congregation will share his journey with us. Marc Payne, now a successful singer/songwriter/producer, will return to help lead worship and to speak to the gathering. The Festival will be a wonderful opportunity to hear from Marc, to celebrate with him, and to come together in praise and fellowship.

The ways in which our family celebrates are as diverse as our family. We are grateful that so many of you participated in the Wednesday Worship Shows during Lent this year. If you haven’t been to a Friday Family Festival yet, if you haven’t been to Midweek Bible Study or brought your children to Sunday School and On This Rock, we invite you to do so at your first opportunity. Experience the diversity of our family, and give thanks to the Holy Spirit for gathering us together here.

The Festival begins at 6 p.m. LaRocco’s pizza will be served in the Fellowship Hall following the Festival, for only $3 a person. Come celebrate with your family, with His family.

“You are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of His household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone. In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.”

Ephesians 2:19-21

Devotional for April 3, 2016 - RISEN IN DEED

Last Sunday, we greeted each other with the joyous Easter couplet: “He is risen!” “He is risen indeed!” As I heard it – and participated in it – throughout the day, I began to separate that last word into two, and consider that Jesus has risen indeed, but also has risen in deed: He is risen in fact, but is also risen as part of His work here on Earth, to show us the glory and majesty of His power over death.

So, if we are His Easter people indeed, are we His Easter people in deed? Are we doing the work that affirms the truth, that shares the Good News with those that need to hear it?

That beautiful and heartfelt work was being done in abundance on Easter morning – by the choirs of all ages who filled our church with sounds of joy, by the musicians who lifted our hearts with their music, by Pastor’s proclamations and uplifting message, by the Outreach Committee as they served breakfast three times so that everyone had an opportunity to partake of food and fellowship.

But did the deeds stop when we left church? Did we carry the urgent and uplifting message of our resurrected Lord home with us as we sat down to our Easter dinners? Monday morning, was the desire to share and to serve still there, as we enjoyed spring break or returned to our work? A week later, are we still on fire for the Lord, as eager to serve Him as we are to praise Him?

If we are to truly follow Jesus, we must follow him indeed and in deed, every day. We must commit our hearts and our hands to His Kingdom, working every day to love Him and to love each other, to lift Him up in praise and lift each other up in dedication, to serve Him and serve each other without reservation.

He is risen indeed. Let us rise with him in deed.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your Name and in Your Name drive out demons and in Your Name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

Matthew 7:21-23

Devotional for March 27, 2016 - ROLL THE STONE AWAY

Of all the beautiful symbols of Easter, my favorite is the stone that has been rolled away from the mouth of the tomb. Depictions vary. Rays of heavenly light may beam forth from within the now-empty tomb. Sometimes, Jesus stands beside the stone, ready to greet the women – and us. In other depictions, the angels still stand guard. Occasionally, the three crosses are still visible in the distance.

What matters most is that the stone has been moved. Jesus has not been contained by the tomb or even by Death. He has defeated Death, and emerged from the tomb victorious. He has torn down every barrier that could separate us from His unconditional love. He has made all things possible, including life everlasting.

But what will happen tomorrow, when the trumpets quiet and the lilies begin to wilt? Will we roll the stone back into place, sealing up the hope and glory until next year? For all too often, even as we proclaim our love for Him, we put the barriers back up. We allow fear and doubt, anger and jealousy to work their way between us and the Lord. We see the pebbles of sin in our path and declare them impassable. We throw up our hands in surrender, when we should be throwing them up in praise.

There is no stone that cannot be moved. As Paul reminds us, there is nothing that can separate us from the love of Christ. We must recognize the obstacles of our own making and roll those stones away, clearing the path to the life our Lord calls us to live, a life blessed and guided by His grace.

As we move forward from Easter, let us roll away all the stones. Jesus has conquered death and darkness in all its forms, and brought His light to shine brilliantly and unwaveringly into our lives. All we need to do is roll away the stone that blocks our heart from being fully open to His love and grace, and embrace the joy and promise of life in Him. He is risen! May we rise with Him, to serve Him and to follow Him all our days.

“Thine is the glory, risen, conquering Son; Endless is the victory, thou o'er death hast won; Angels in bright raiment rolled the stone away, Kept the folded grave clothes where thy body lay.”

Edmond Budry, 1884

Devotional for March 20, 2016 - RAISE YOUR VOICE

My favorite part of Palm Sunday is imagining how it must have felt to be in that cheering throng that welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem. The sharp sunshine. The barely contained dust. The fronds snapping as they were waved, and then crunching under the feet of the donkey. The happy jostling as people strained for a glimpse of the Savior. And, most of all, the resounding cries of “Hosanna!”

What a joy it must have been to raise your voice to greet Him. What a blessing to hear His voice in return. How powerful it must have been to listen as your voice melted into the thunderous harmony, as hundreds and hundreds of voices combined in welcome and appeal.

Today, we regularly meet for worship and raise our voices together in prayer, praise, and song. It is still powerful and moving, a potent reminder of our union as the body of Christ. But, on this Palm Sunday, let us remember the power we have to raise our voices as one beyond our Sundays together.

We are embroiled in a time when fear and hate dominate public conversation, when people are all too ready to call each other names, tear each other down, and fan the flames of discord. We cannot let those bitter voices go unanswered. We have a duty, as the people of God, to raise our voices in response, to speak together of love and forgiveness and unity. We must look for ways, through conversation, service, and prayer, to speak light into the darkness, to make sure the word of God is heard above all else.

During the procession, the Pharisees called out to Jesus that He should quiet the people. Jesus told them the stones would cry out in their stead, and the people continued to sing. Let us continue to sing, to proclaim our love for the Savior and each other, to spread our joy in the Gospel, and to fill the skies with praise.

“Lift every voice and sing Till earth and heaven ring, Ring with the harmonies of Liberty; Let our rejoicing rise, High as the list'ning skies, Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.”

James Weldon Johnson, 1900