First Notes

  • I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve driven down to see Neal Guthmiller who is still in the hospital. Our visits had been pretty similar for the past several weeks. I’d read Scripture to Neal and pray over him, but his response and alertness had been minimal. I’d get updates from his family and do my best to provide pastoral care for them as well in this challenging time.

    But this past Wednesday saw a much improved Neal. He was alert, sitting up, able to control his motions (though not with perfect fine motor skills quite yet). He’s trying to talk and write and communicate. It’s not always easy to understand him, but one thing is clear to me at this point: he’s the same, classic Neal with his sense of humor and everything.

    When I visited on Wednesday, I told him that everybody at First had been so worried about him and had been praying for him constantly. His response? He told me, “Sometimes people worry too much.” Yes, indeed we do. I’ve been very worried about Neal. But in his steady, faithful way, even from the ICU, he calls us all back to trust in the Lord.

    Neal has a tattoo on his arm of a bird in a nest with “Matthew 6:25-30.” It’s the section of Jesus’ sermon on the mount that speaks about not worrying.

    How fitting.

    The question from that chapter that is most compelling is: “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” The answer is none of us.

    Trusting in the Lord’s plan and purpose is not easy. Worrying is much easier, but worrying does us no good. Neal reminds us all that we can keep praying for his recovery while laying our worries down at the foot of the cross and asking Jesus to take care it.

    What a blessing to have such faith on display, such witness of God’s provision.

    God’s blessings on your week.

    Pastor Andy

  • First of all, I want to say thank you.

    Thank you to the choir and bells for sharing their talents this Christmas. Thank you to the readers. Thank you to Karen and Michael for putting in so much time, effort, energy, and expertise into this Christmas. Thank you to Cindy for always working ahead on bulletins. Thank you to the altar guild and trustees and everyone else who decorated for Christmas. Thank you to the preschool teachers and Sunday school teachers who put together the children’s program a couple of weeks ago.

    And thank you to the entire congregation for your care and support as Stephanie and I celebrated our first California Christmas. It is by no means the first Christmas we’ve spent away from family (or snow), but it is always a joy to find that wherever God leads us, there are always people who will welcome us and love us.

    After three sermons and three services in three days, I’ve been taking some time to rest and reflect this week. So the second thing I’ll say is this:

    Isn’t God amazing?

    Truly. I hope you can find five minutes to put down your phone, shut off the TV, lock out all the noise, and simply bask in the ridiculous wonder that is Christmas. Imagine, the cosmic Christ, a being and person who has existed forever, restricting Himself in form to become a limited, dependent baby. There’s nothing to compare it to. There’s no metaphor to better understand it. It just is.

    And it is wonderful. It truly fills us with wonder.

    God’s blessings on your week.

    Pastor Andy

  • There are certain seasons in the life of a pastor that are abundantly busy. We are in one such season now. The time from Thanksgiving to Advent to Christmas is busy for many of us. There is a lot of shopping to do, food to prepare, decorations to see, and so much more. At least here you don’t have to worry about shoveling snow.

    For me, there are extra events, extra services, extra sermons, and in this first year of pastoral ministry just so much to learn about your traditions and customs here at First Lutheran. It can all be a bit overwhelming. And yet the very reason for the extra events and services and sermons draws my attention away from my to do list and back to Jesus.

    Stanza six of the Advent classic, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel says,

    O Come, Thou Dayspring from on high,
    And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh;
    Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
    And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

    This is what I long for in this season of busyness: that Jesus would cheer us all by drawing near to us. I pray that His Word and His presence would disperse the clouds and shadows that can cause us so much worry and frustration. I pray that His light will shine upon you and through you.

    God’s blessings on your week.

    Pastor Andy

  • In last week’s First Notes, I talked about the importance of worship and that one of the reasons I support the upcoming change in Sunday School timing is because worship is the place where God’s people praise and love of God and receive His good gifts. Our children are indeed God’s people. They belong among us for that entire time.

    This week, I’d like to talk about the purpose of Sunday School and Adult Bible Class.

    I may have mentioned this before, but Ted Kober, an LCMS layperson who heads up a group called Ambassadors of Reconciliation, did a study recently on congregational conflict. Kober found that the greatest single predictor of the level of conflict a church would experience revolved around one issue: their devotion to God’s Word. The higher the percentage of people studying God’s Word together, devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching, the less chance there was of significant conflict. The reason for this was simple. When conflict arose in the church or in people’s relationships, they dealt with it as God has called us to deal with conflict in the Scriptures.

    In our current system, our Sunday School kids might get 10-15 minutes of time studying God’s Word in Sunday School. They are limited by this time frame so that it’s challenging to ask and answer questions. It’s challenging in such a time frame to dig deep, to connect the story of the day to the rest of the Bible, to connect the biblical story to their lives.

    Parents and grandparents of Sunday School kids also do not have much of an opportunity to attend Adult Bible Study because we don’t have a system in place for caring for their children in the Bible study hour.

    Offering more time for Sunday School will allow our children to learn more, to let the stories of Jesus sink into their lives even deeper. Offering more time for Sunday School will also allow parents to attend Adult Bible Study and continue to grow and learn in their faith, so that they can feel more confident in parenting their child to love Jesus.

    An education hour is a time when a congregation can dedicate itself to basking in the joy of God’s story. It is a time when we pass on the joyous news that we are now a part of that story because Jesus has died and is risen for us (adults and children) and our salvation.

    God’s blessings on your week.

    Pastor Andy

  • This week I just wanted to give you a glimpse into part of my life as a pastor that you might not know about.

    Each month, the LCMS pastors from the surrounding area get together for a meeting. There are 14 of us in the geographical area called a “circuit” and usually 8 or 9 of us are able to make it. This past Tuesday, our monthly meeting was held at First Lutheran. We typically begin our meetings with some coffee and food (shoutout to Deb McKenzie for making some excellent food for this past meeting). Then we have a brief service which includes the Scripture readings for the coming week, some devotional thoughts (shared by the host), prayer, and the Lord’s Supper. Then we cover a topic as chosen by our circuit visitor. (That’s Pastor Pete Woodward who just retired from Faith in Pleasant Hill. We’ll have to choose a new circuit visitor once Pete moves out of the area.)

    This past week, our topic was anger. We read and talked about an article which focused on how the Scriptures talk about anger, how anger is dangerous and almost always leads to sin, and the article gave some thoughts on how to deal with anger by establishing habits that can actually help us be less angry and angry less often.

    After we cover our topic for the week, we bring up any issues we’re dealing with that we could use some advice on, keeping confidentiality of course. Then we go to lunch and enjoy some fellowship time together.

    As a new pastor, this group of more experienced pastors is extremely valuable to me. I have not missed a meeting in the first seven opportunities, and I don’t intend to miss any unless I absolutely must.

    The reasons these meetings are valuable is not because I am incompetent or struggling to know what I’m doing, but rather because I simply need to keep learning. I need to hear stories from ministry so that I’m not surprised by similar situations in my own context. I need to hear varying perspectives on topics and Scripture texts because I do not know everything.

    For a few hours every month, I get to spend such time with other pastors. So, if you can’t find me on the second Tuesday of the month, that’s probably where I am.

    God’s blessings on your week.

    Pastor Andy

  • Through the Lenten season, our Sunday morning Bible study group has been studying a few of the Minor Prophets. We’ve looked at Joel, Jonah, and Zephaniah. This week we’ll study Habakkuk. Next week is Haggai. These are all books of the Bible that don’t get a lot of attention. Most people know the story of Jonah from Sunday School, but we barely ever consider the other books. It’s more preparation time for me when we study a book I haven’t spent much time in, but it’s been a joy to dig into these books and discover what God says through these prophets of old.

    After Easter, we’ll start a new Bible study series that I plan to call: “Confirmation Verses in Context.” It is a tradition in many Lutheran churches to have a rite of confirmation for members when they’re between sixth and ninth grade. (Or for adults when they go through confirmation.)  These confirmands are assigned (or get to choose) a confirmation verse. This is often a verse that is worth memorizing and is meaningful to them in some way.

    Yet verses that are pulled from the Bible without context often lose meaning or have their meaning twisted without the proper context. I am planning this study in order to mine the depths of these meaningful, personal verses.

    So, if you have a confirmation verse, and would be so kind as to share what that is with me, I’d appreciate it.

    God’s blessings on your week!

    Pastor Andy

  • I started reading a book last week is called “What Do They Hear? Bridging the Gap Between Pulpit and Pew.” The premise of the book is simple: when people hear a sermon or a story or a speech, everyone comes away with differing views on what was important. Not everyone remembers every detail. The speaker or author has limited control over what the hearers take away.

    One example that the author gives is of a comparative study related to how people read and remember the parable of the prodigal son. Two groups, one of Americans and one of Russians, were asked to read the parable, then recount the story back in as much detail as possible. The results are fascinating. Only 34% of the Russians mention the squandering of the younger son, while 100% of the Americans mentioned the squandering. And even more fascinating, only 6% of the Americans mentioned the famine that occurred in the story, while 84% of the Russians mention the famine.

    The takeaway from this is that our background and culture predisposes us to focus on different things. Many of the Russians interviewed had experienced famine. Few of the Americans had. The famine was a detail the Americans who were surveyed managed to gloss over because it wasn’t a part of their personal experience.

    I’m sure there are times when a detail I give in a sermon is glossed over by some, but meaningful to others. That’s okay. In fact, I think that’s a good thing because it reflects that God has made us all to be different creatures. When I preach, I seek to be intentional about creating sermons that can connect with a variety of different experiences, cultures, age groups, and learning styles. This is hard work. It is not even possible for one sermon to connect with every culture, age group, and learning style. It is the task of many sermons over time to connect with the many different cultures, ages, and learning styles that exist at First Lutheran Church and Preschool. Faithful preaching is a marathon, not a sprint, and I’m well aware I’m still in the first mile of the race, but I hope that at least a few of the 25 or so sermons I have preached connected with your experiences and life, and I hope you keep listening.

    God’s Blessings on your week.

    Pastor Andy

  • Every Sunday, the first words I greet the congregation are these: “This is the day that the Lord has made.” And the congregation responds: “Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

    You may not realize it, but this is a quote from the Bible, from Psalm 118:24. People have often used this quote to remind them that every new day is a day that the Lord has made, that every day is a day in which we should rejoice, because God has made it. God still rules and reigns and provides for His creation. This is good news. It is a good thing to remember.

    And yet, if we look at the context of this verse, we find an ever deeper meaning. In Psalm 118:22, the Psalmist (probably David), writes another familiar verse, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” Jesus quotes this in Mark 12:10-11, on the Tuesday of Holy Week between Palm Sunday and Easter. Jesus includes Psalm 118:23 as well, “This was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”

    So when we take these three verses together, we get the following:

    “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.
    This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.
    This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

    And we begin to see a different picture. “This is the day” is referring to something specific. It is not referring to any day or every day. It is referring to a singular day. It is referring to Easter Sunday. Though Israel and the Jewish leaders rejected Jesus, God laid the foundation for the church, God laid the cornerstone—Jesus—by raising Him from the dead.

    Easter is truly marvelous in our eyes. The very reason we gather on Sundays for worship is because Jesus was raised from the dead on a Sunday. Every Sunday, we celebrate a little Easter. Every Sunday we remember that Easter is the day the Lord has made, an eighth day of creation. A new beginning to a new creation that sees Jesus risen from the dead and reveals our future hope of the resurrection of the dead when Jesus returns.

    We rejoice and are glad in the truth that even though Jesus was rejected, despised, stricken, smitten, and afflicted—God made Jesus the cornerstone. God made Jesus’ death and resurrection the cornerstone of our faith. We build and rebuild upon Him week after week, day after day.  So this Easter Sunday as we gather for worship, we will again speak those words and they will be profound. This, this Easter Day, is the Day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

    God’s blessings on your week.

    Pastor Andy

  • One of my favorite things to do in the weeks before Christmas is to watch as many Christmas movies as possible. Whether it is classics like White Christmas and A Christmas Story, or new, predictable movies from Hallmark or Netflix, I love having a glass of eggnog with Stephanie and enjoying the show.

    From time to time I think about how I could communicate the Gospel by using a Christmas movie as a starting point. This week I watched Elf. I highly recommend it. The main character, Buddy, is a highly-energic, sugar-loving human who was raised by elves at the North Pole in Santa’s workshop. Eventually he goes in search of his biological dad in New York.

    Through the film Buddy feels the tension of not fitting in with the elves because he’s a human, and he feels the tension of not fitting in with his biological dad’s human family because Buddy is too much like an elf. Toward the end of the film, Santa crashes in New York’s Central Park, and Buddy sees him go down. Buddy goes to help but is reluctant because he feels only an elf could truly help Santa. Santa gives Buddy this news, “Buddy, you’re more of an elf than anyone I ever met.”

    Adoption is one of the Gospel metaphors that we don’t use as often as we could or should. Our status as God’s children comes, not from being born into His family, but by being adopted into God’s family through Baptism.

    Think about how powerful adoption is. Parents take in a child that was not born into their family, that has no right to their family, but is received into the family completely and wholly with love and grace. We are a part of God’s family. We are His children. We now have a claim to the family inheritance, eternal life, because of God’s grace through adoption. God can look at you and honestly say, “You’re my child. You’re a part of the family.”

    God’s blessings on your week.

    Pastor Andy

  • This past week I spent a lot of time in the car, driving to hospitals and other visits. On these drives I listened to the entire book of Psalms. Something I noticed while listening to every psalm is that the psalmists (whether David or Solomon or the Sons of Korah) talk about enemies a lot. They often express feelings of being surrounded by enemies, isolated from friends, cut off from God. There seems to be a lot of danger from these enemies.

    Few of us experience earthly enemies who are out to kill us. Few of us can related to the psalmists on a one to one level. But let’s not fool ourselves. We are dealing with an enemy who wants to kill us, who wants us to be separated eternally from our heavenly Father. That enemy is Satan.

    Satan has been attacking us in waves for the past couple of weeks. Satan believes he is terribly clever, that he can tempt anyone to any sin at any time. But as we heard in Bible study over the past couple of weeks, Satan is a liar and the father of lies. There is no truth in Satan.

    When Satan tells you that God doesn’t love you and has abandoned you, Satan is lying. When Satan tells you that your neighbor deserves nothing by hate and shame and disdain, Satan is lying. When Satan tells you that you can’t be forgiven, that your sins are too great, Satan is lying. And when Satan tells you in the midst of your struggles that despair is the only option, Satan is lying.

    God promises that He will never leave you or forsake you. God tells you to love your neighbor as yourself. God promises forgiveness and life and salvation to all who trust in Jesus. God gives us hope.

    The Apostle Paul writes that suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame because our hope is in our living Lord and Savior, Jesus. Right now, we as a church and preschool are suffering and our suffering is producing endurance and building character and pointing us to hope in Jesus. I pray the attacks of Satan are thwarted. I pray everyone who has been sick and is recovering are healed. And I pray that you remember God’s promises.

    God’s blessings on your week.

    Pastor Andy

  • The fires blazing around our state have raised quite a bit of fear and anxiety. I know a lot of you have family and friends in the Paradise area that were affected by the fire. Many have lost homes. The latest number I saw was 63 deaths. I pray that number doesn’t go up.

    The response to this tragic event has been an emotional one. For some, the fear and anxiety has been turned into compassion. I’ve heard several people asking about how they can send aid and support to those who have been devastated by these fires.

    I’ve also heard some people’s fear and anxiety turn into a less helpful direction, one of blame and anger and bitterness. Sometimes politicians get the blame. Sometimes landowners. Sometimes God.

    And for some, fear and anxiety has turned into silent hurt and unspoken despair.

    Sometimes in such situations it is easy to feel like God is distant, like He is refusing to show up. It’s hard to have hope in a God who is absent, aloof, distant.

    But that’s not the God we have. In just a couple of weeks Advent will begin. It’s a time when we look with anticipation and hope for Christ’s coming. We focus both on Christ’s incarnation, when the Son of God was born as a human being, an infant in Bethlehem; and on Christ’s return, when He will come again to raise the dead and recreate the heavens and the earth.

    But Jesus comes to us today as well. He is an ever-present help in times of trouble. He is a prayer away. He is listening. He cares for you. Jesus comes to us in His Word and He has provided three main ways in which that Word comes to us. It comes to us in oral, written, and sacramental forms. We hear God’s Word proclaimed in absolution, in sermons, in conversations with our fellow Christians. We read God’s Word from the Scriptures in worship and in our homes. We receive God’s Word in baptism and the Lord’s Supper. His Word is placed on us and in us in tangible, visible ways.

    God is not distant. Even though we experience great tragedy and loss, God has not and will not abandon us. Loss of house, loss of family, even loss of life cannot separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus. We are loved with a relentless, ever-present love.

    God’s blessings on your week.

    Pastor Andy

  • On Sunday we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Pastor Jim Mueller’s ordination into the pastoral ministry. Many of you know Pastor Jim very well. Perhaps he was the pastor that baptized you, confirmed you, married you and your spouse. Perhaps he visited you in the hospital and was even the pastor who buried your parents.

    Others of you, like me, are new to the First Lutheran family. We didn’t have the honor of seeing Pastor Jim as pastor, of hearing him preach and teach, of seeing his ministry with children.

    In its nearly 80-year history, First Lutheran Church and preschool has only had five called pastors. Pastor Seyer who planted the church and remained through the 1940s and 1950s. Pastor Behrmann, who passed away earlier this year, served faithfully through the 1960s and 1970s. Then Pastor Jim who claimed the longest tenure from 1981 until his retirement in 2008. Pastor Maschke followed until 2016. And I arrived just last summer.

    For more than 1/3 of First’s history, Pastor Jim served this congregation and preschool and school with faithfulness, gentleness, and kindness. I’ve heard dozens of stories about Pastor Jim and his caring heart, his dedication to teaching children about Jesus, his love for God’s people, and so much more.

    This is an occasion to celebrate, not only Pastor Jim’s faithfulness, but God’s faithfulness. God has provided for this congregation through challenges and trials of many kinds. God has led us through the wilderness of this era and culture and provided us with daily bread every step of the way.

    I hope this week you’ll take some time to consider God’s faithfulness and to thank God for Pastor Jim’s ministry and leadership for he has certainly been a good and faithful servant these 50 years.

    God’s blessings on your week.

    Pastor Andy

  • Next Sunday, October 21 is Stewardship Sunday, or Pledge Sunday. This is a time for us to consider our service to God and our neighbors and reflect upon the good gifts that God has entrusted to us. 

    In last week’s sermon, I talked about how Adam was God’s steward in the Garden of Eden. Adam was entrusted with the care of the garden. The land did not belong to Adam. The animals did not belong to Adam. Everything belonged to God, but Adam was entrusted with their well-being. 

    While we may talk about how we own our homes or our cars or whatever other possessions we have, all of our possessions, everything on this planet belongs to God. We are simply entrusted with the care of what we have, what God has given us. 

    We choose what to do with our time, with our money, with our skills, with our relationships. Sometimes we do not have an abundance of these things and we must be very wise about how we use them so that we properly care for our families. Sometimes we have an abundance of time, but not money. Sometimes we have an abundance of skills, but little time. Sometimes we have an abundance of money, but few relationships. Within First Lutheran Church and Preschool, we all have a differing balance of the gifts God has given us.

    In the coming week, I’d like you to think about what God has given you and I’d like you to commit to using what God has given you, in whatever balance that may be, to extending God’s kingdom.

    If God has given you an abundance of time, I’d like you to consider how you might serve in our congregation and community. If God has given you an abundance of money, I’d like you to think about increasing your offerings. If God has given you an abundance of skills, I’d like you to think about how you might use those skills to serve others. If God has given you an abundance of relationships, I’d like you to consider inviting more people to join us for worship, Bible study, and other events.

    We are God’s stewards. We have been entrusted with many things in order to grow God’s kingdom. Please consider how you plan to steward God’s gifts to you in the coming year.

    God’s blessings on your week.

    Pastor Andy

     

  • One of the projects I have begun working on is a way to highlight the dozens of ministries that are happening at First Lutheran Church and Preschool. I’m calling this “Ministry Spotlight.” The idea is to create an article in the First Notes (and on our website) that introduces each of the ministries happening at First Lutheran. There are way more than you realize, so this is going to take a while.

    You saw the first appearance of such an article a couple of weeks ago that highlighted Vacation Bible School. This week, there is an article highlighting the prayer chain.

    If you are involved in the leadership of one of our many ministries, expect a call or email from me in the coming months asking you either to write an article about the ministry, or to sit down with me (or others willing to write such articles) to answer a few questions.

    The reason for this project is pretty straightforward. The First Lutheran family is involved in tons of events, ministries, and service to the community. I’m still learning all of the different ways people can serve God and their neighbors at First Lutheran. I’m hoping this project will provide information for current and new members to better inform you about service opportunities. I hope this project can also encourage people in our community toward service with us.

    I hope you’ll help me in this endeavor.

    God’s blessings on your week.

    Pastor Andy

  • Once a month, the LCMS pastors from the surrounding area gather for a time of worship, fellowship, and to discuss any issues that are coming up that we can help each other through. We typically meet on the second Tuesday of the month at one of the churches. This past week we met at Christ Lutheran in Martinez. I’m not sure how many of you are familiar with their story, but Christ Martinez is about to dissolve their congregation and close their doors for good. They have fewer than 10 members remaining. Their buildings are in need of some maintenance. They simply can’t keep the doors open.

    I was struck by several things while I was there. First, was a sense of sadness that the members of this church were going to lose their church home. Certainly, there are many other churches in the area, but there must be a distinct sadness that goes with closing the doors of a church.

    Second, was a sense of thankfulness. It’s easy to consider things a failure when it’s time for them to come to an end, but that isn’t always the case. Every congregation, ministry, business, nation, empire, and person has a life cycle. We don’t consider people failures when they die. We know death is inevitable in this sinful world. Likewise, when a congregation comes to its end, that doesn’t always happen because of failure. Sometimes circumstances lead God’s people to an understanding that the most faithful thing to do, the shrewdest way to act as God’s stewards, is to close a church. Yes, it is sad, but we can be thankful for all of the people who heard the Gospel at Christ Martinez. We can be thankful for all those who were baptized there, who received the Lord’s Supper there.

    Third and finally, I had a sense of hope. I don’t know what’s in store for the community of Martinez, but God knows. I’m not sure if First Lutheran can have any impact on that community in the next few years. I’m not sure what the religious landscape of California will look like in 50 or 100 or 500 years, but God knows. And God’s plans are better and higher and more wonderful than our own.

    Every week in the Lord’s Prayer, we pray “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” As we move forward in faith, let us continually look to Jesus, the founder and perfecter, the author and editor of our faith. Let us follow where He is leading, always eager to serve our Lord with joy.

    God’s blessings on your week.

    Pastor Andy

  • One of the things Lutherans are theologically good at is holding paradoxes in tension. Paradoxes are situations where two seemingly opposing things are simultaneously true. For example, we understand that we are simultaneously sinners and saints. Though being a sinner and being a saint are opposites, we are okay with being both at the same time until Christ returns.

    One paradox that doesn’t get talked about very often is the paradox of humility and courage. At first glance, these seem to be opposing characteristics. People who are humble are often thought to be timid, shy, passive, cowardly even. People who are courageous are often thought to be boastful, proud, arrogant, and ambitious in a bad way.

    Yet as followers of Jesus, we can look at Jesus and see His example as somebody who was perfectly humble and perfectly courageous. He was humble in the sense that He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but rather emptied Himself by taking the form of a servant and humbling Himself to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:5-8).

    But Jesus was also exceptionally courageous. He did not demean Himself. In His humility He did not pretend He was less than He was. He spoke with authority. He spoke truth to power. He said what needed to be said, and He courageously faced death, speaking the truth of the Gospel even unto death.

    Jesus perfectly held that paradox of humility and courage, but we often struggle to find the balance in our own lives. I’m guessing you trend toward courage or humility and find it hard to hold on to the other. I know I do. And I oftentimes feel like my courageous moments are too full of ambition and my humble moments come from a place of cowardice.

    As we seek to follow Jesus as a church and preschool community, let’s continue to move forward with humility and courage. Let’s not fear to do good and proclaim the Gospel. Let’s not overestimate ourselves and our own importance, but let’s keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the perfect example of humility and courage.

    God’s blessings on your week.

    Pastor Andy 

  • One of the most interesting books I have in my office is a copy of the Greek New Testament. (That’s the language the New Testament was originally written in.) It was owned by a professor at the seminary that had been retired for many years before I started named Louis Brighton. When Dr. Brighton no longer kept on office at the seminary, he graciously gave away much of his library to the students. That’s how I came to own this book.

    Dr. Brighton’s book of expertise was Revelation. I have his commentary on my shelf as well, but you can tell that Revelation was his book of expertise by looking at the New Testament I inherited. The first 26 New Testament books look barely touched, but the final book, Revelation, looks like it has been read more than a thousand times. The pages are falling out. They are crinkled and bent. There are notes of Old Testament references and underlines and double underlines and references to apocryphal books (books not in the Bible, but that the Apostle John still would have known).

    Whenever I preach on a text from the book of Revelation, I pull this volume down from the shelf and see what Dr. Brighton thought was important.

    The Epistle reading for this Sunday is Revelation 21:1-7. In verse 6, Dr. Brighton underlined the Greek word gegonan(It has come into being/It is done.) and then wrote, “John 19:30” in the margin. In John 19:30, Jesus is on the cross. Jesus does not use the same word. He uses tetelestai(It is finished/fulfilled/paid).

    Notice the similarity to the words. There is an action that has been completed, finished, done. The effect of both actions continues forever. But notice also the difference in the words. When Jesus says tetelstai on the cross, He is referencing an act of fulfillment, an act of payment. When God says gegonan in Revelation 21, He is referencing an act of creation being finished. Indeed, it is God’s final act of creation and re-creation.

    As Dr. Brighton says in his commentary, “Thus all things have been made new.” Everything will be restored to a perfect, pristine state unmarred by sin, death, and Satan. As we walk by faith, we look forward to that day, and we praise God for His continued creation and re-creation in our lives.

    God’s blessings on your week.

    Pastor Andy

  • Last Sunday (December 16) we began a three-week Bible study on Luke 1-2. Luke paints such beautiful detail of the Christmas story. He notes the visit of the angel Gabriel to Zechariah and then to Mary. Luke details the birth of John the Baptist and the birth of Jesus. And Luke records three songs or poems in the first two chapters—the Magnificat (often called Mary’s Song), the Benedictus (Zechariah’s prophecy), and the Nunc Dimittis (the song of Simeon). These three passages of Scripture have been instilled in the song of the Church for generations.

    What I have found most interesting in preparing these Bible studies is what Luke does not include. There is no mention of Joseph’s desire to divorce Mary quietly (Matthew mentions that). There is no visit from the Magi (again, Matthew). There is no talk of Jesus as the Word made flesh (that’s John).

    Such details make me appreciate the Scriptures in their wholeness. The four Gospel writers record the same story of Jesus, but each of them brings to light different details in telling the story.

    We do something similar as we tell stories. If a family of four goes on vacation somewhere, you can bet that all four will tell different versions of the same events. That’s not to say any of them is wrong or inaccurate, it simply means we all highlight different details and construct stories and histories from differing points of view.

    The multiple points of view that produce the Christmas story help us see that Jesus comes to the devout (Zechariah Elizabeth), to the fearful (Mary and Joseph), to the lowly (the shepherds), to foreigners (the Magi), to the old (Simeon and Anna), to the young (John the Baptist), to all.

    As you worship in the coming days, remember these words from the angel Gabriel spoken to the shepherds, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.” That good news of great joy is Jesus.

    God’s blessings on your Christmas celebrations.

    Pastor Andy

  • One of my goals for 2019 is to spend more time studying some of the books of the Bible I don’t know very well. One such book is Leviticus. Last week I listened to the entire book, and I’d like to share a thought I had from Leviticus involving slavery.

    In our day and age, it seems obvious that owning people is deplorable and unthinkable. Still, forced labor and exploitation are very real and prevalent problems throughout the world. From America’s earliest days through the Civil War, and even after, American church bodies have tried to deal with the question of whether slavery was a sin. While many church bodies have long-opposed slavery, few were able to articulate from a biblical perspective why slavery was evil and should be abolished.

    I think Leviticus can help us make such an articulation. In Leviticus 25, God commands Moses to make sure none of the Israelites are sold as slaves to other Israelites. The reason he gives is this: “For they are my servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 25:42). Since God saved the Israelites from slavery, slavery was not permissible for them ever again.

    Now that Jesus has come, God’s people are from every race, tribe, nation, language, and people group. Jesus dies for all people. He brings all people out of the kingdom of darkness, the dominion of Satan and into the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Light.

    Jesus’ death and resurrection delivers all people. We are all on equal ground before God. There is no male or female, no Jew or Gentile, no slave or master. We all stand before God as people who have been bought by the blood of Jesus; therefore, we cannot be sold for any price to anyone. Since Jesus has saved all people from the slavery of sin, slavery is not possible for all of humanity ever again.

    Since this is the case, how we treat other human beings is very important. While we may not be tempted to enslave others, we are often tempted to demean others, to gossip about them, to make them look bad. This is not acceptable because Christ has died for that person you love to gossip about. Christ has shed his blood for that person you make fun of. As we seek to follow Jesus, we must remember that every person’s life has value, value determined by the blood of Jesus.

    God’s blessings on your week.

    Pastor Andy

  • I have a lot of books in my office. A whole shelf is dedicated to books about preaching. One of my favorites on that shelf is a book of sermon poems by James Weldon Johnson called God’s Trombones. James Weldon Johnson was a poet who lived in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. We sang one of his hymns last Sunday, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Some of you were perhaps not too familiar with that hymn. That was probably only the third time I’ve ever sung it. But I’m sure others were more familiar with it. That hymn has been called the African American National Anthem, and it speaks of challenges overcome and challenges ahead.

    Perhaps the most striking phrase in the hymn is in the very beginning.

    Lift ev’ry voice and sing
    Till earth and heaven ring,
    Ring with the harmonies of liberty.

    The harmonies of liberty. What a phrase. It reminds me of driving in my car with the windows down, listening to a great song and trying to invent my own harmonies with the music.

    Harmony is a beautiful thing. It’s when two or more people are singing different notes, but they somehow sound good together.

    Harmony and liberty are at the heart of the body of Christ. As the body of Christ, we are all different. We are all gifted in different ways. Yet we all work together in a way that is pleasing and useful. And we are all free to give of our time and gifts as we see fit. Nobody is going to force you to do something you don’t want to do. For example, I once had a band director who was willing to do anything at church except music. To him, music was work. He had other ways he preferred to serve his local congregation. He was at liberty to do that.

    Johnson’s hymn is a fantastic reminder of the challenges we face as a nation, as a church, as the human race. And it is also a fantastic reminder of the hope we have in God who always provides for us, even in the midst of disharmony.

    God’s blessings on your week.

    Pastor Andy

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