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Welcome to Our Community - Pastor Mark Brandt

This week are giving a warm welcome to Pastor Mark Brandt from Lutheran Church of Hope - West Des Moines where he currently serves as the Online Campus Minister. Mark and his family have attended Family Camp at IOLBC multiple times where Mark has often served as the featured speaker for the week. Mark got his start in ministry at Immanuel Lutheran in Forest City working as a youth minister. It is his work with teens and young adults which eventually lead him to Lutheran Church of Hope in June of 1999 where his role has changed with the church's continue growth.

38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[b] neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. ~ Romans 8:38-39

I didn’t grow up in the church. Well, I went to Sunday School as a kid because there was a church across the street from our house, BUT that didn’t last long. I didn’t know the language, or the rules and so church was a very unfamiliar place for me. It seemed to me like a place to “belong” if you met a certain form of criteria, looked a certain way, or generally could act like you belonged. As a result, having faith in Jesus wasn’t super important to me because I didn’t feel like I fit in at the one place where I was supposed to get to know him.

In junior high, something was stirring inside me to ask deeper questions about life and God. Around that time, I was invited to an FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) event at school. The leader of our group was Jan Werling, who was also my study hall teacher. Once again, it was a place where I wondered if I would belong. I wasn’t a big athlete at the time, so I was worried I wouldn’t fit in. Little did I know that it had very little about being an athlete and everything to do with the one who made me! Jan not only welcomed me with open arms, she gave me a bookmark at that first meeting with Romans 8:38-39 on it. When I read those words, something clicked in me I didn’t understand before. Jan said I was always loved by God: No qualifications or stipulations. I just needed to believe it and receive it!

I had always wondered if I was “outside” of God’s love. Having not really attended church, I was convinced that my life choices, lack of belief, and lack of attendance deemed me unworthy of God’s love and DEFINITELY not part of the Christian “club”, which is what I thought of church. It was a club with clubhouse rules I didn’t know. And, even if I did, they were rules I probably couldn’t live up to. Something changed at FCA and with those words from Paul. Read them again… I’ll wait.

NOTHING can separate you from God’s love! Paul goes on to elaborate a bit with some qualifiers, but the point remains. There is nothing you can say or do that can ever separate you from God’s love. What does this mean? God has ALWAYS loved you. Even despite your life choices, lack of belief, and lack of attendance. What that meant for me was, for the first time, I knew I was in! That was a game changer. Jan reinforced this realization by quickly asking me to be a leader within FCA. Why me? Didn’t she know my story? Like with God, my past didn’t disqualify me. Love matters always!

I also found my church that same year. Coincidence? Nope! I invited myself to confirmation class with my friend Chad and Pastor Gene Anderson took one look at this goofy 14 year old kid whose family still didn’t go to church and seemingly walking in off the street and said, “I’m glad you’re here!” What? No test of faith? No bible quiz to make sure I know my stuff? Nope! Just a warm welcoming smile and a seat in the circle. Not only did I have a faith family developing at school, I now had a family of faith I belonged to on Sundays. Game changer!

You are in! Let that wash over you today. God loves you no matter where your story finds you today. Because God’s love for you is not dependent on you: It is totally FOR you. Believe it and receive it! There is nothing you can do that will ever make God love you any less.

Follow Up:

1. Why do we often struggle with being loved by God?

2. Do you know someone who doesn’t feel like they are in? Maybe share these verses with them today!

3. If you want to check out the ministry of Lutheran Church of Hope where Mark is currently serving, you can check out their website by clicking HERE.

4. If you want to learn more about FCA and the ministry they do, you can click HERE.

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