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

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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

     

  • 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 

  • 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

  • This Wednesday we began the season of Lent. Numerous things might come to your mind when you think about Lent. You might think about the ashes of Ash Wednesday. You might consider Lenten disciplines such as giving up something like chocolate, coffee, or meat. You might think about the tender moments of the Last Supper or Jesus washing His disciples’ feet. You might ponder the agony of Gethsemane or the cross.

    It is a tradition at First Lutheran (so I am told) that for the Lenten season we switch from our usual order of worship (Divine Service, Setting Two) to Divine Service, Setting Three. If, like me, you grew up with The Lutheran Hymnal (also called TLH or “the red hymnal,”) this is page 15.

    The wording of this order of worship is a bit different. One word that I often hear people complain about is in the confession of sins. Together we confess before our almighty God, our merciful Father, beginning with these words, “I, a poor, miserable sinner…”

    Miserable. There is a word with some baggage. I immediately think of how a person might feel if they had the flu. Miserable, achy, wretched, a person to be pitied.

    Miserable has become almost entirely negative in its usage. Nobody wants to be miserable. Confessing that we are miserable might not be terribly true if we only think of miserable as a wretched, unhappy person that none of us wants to be around.

    At the root of miserable is the Latin word miser. It’s where we get our English word “miser,” as in a stingy person. But it also appears in the Latin version of our historic liturgy in the Agnus Dei (the Lamb of God).

    It’s this phrase: miserere nobis, which means “have mercy upon us.”

    To be miserable in that sense is not to be unhappy or stingy or wretched, but rather to be one who needs mercy. Since that is the case, I think we can all easily confess that we are miserable, for we are truly in need of God’s mercy, and He has given it to us in His Son, Jesus Christ.

    God’s blessings on your week.

    Pastor Andy

  • The New Year often comes with new goals, new resolutions, new hopes and dreams for the coming year. While many people tend to focus their New Year’s Resolutions on diet and exercise, I’d like for you to consider a few other possibilities as you continue to follow Jesus. Here are some suggestions.

    1. Serve at one event that you haven’t helped with before.

    The crab feed is coming up January 26. It won’t be long before Easter hits and we have the annual egg hunt on Saturday, April 20. There’s always VBS over the summer. And don’t forget about Giving Thanks at Thanksgiving, Breakfast with Santa, and numerous other options.

    There are days when the trustees fix things, days when the altar guild and others decorate, and there are always new events being planned. Find a way to involve yourself in one of these or create your own. Meet some new people. Serve the Lord with Gladness.

    2. Read one book of the Bible multiple times.

    It’s popular to try and read through the Bible in a year, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a worthy discipline. Although, I have found my mind and soul sparked more often by reading one biblical book many times. One class I had in seminary required us to read the Gospel of Matthew three times a week for eight weeks. After that many times through one book you begin to notice things. Patterns emerge. Associations come to light that you would not have seen otherwise. You can choose something a bit shorter, perhaps Philippians, 1 John, or Jonah. You can challenge yourself with something a bit longer such as Exodus, Romans, or the Gospel of Luke. Whichever you choose, see if you can read through that book more than ten times this year. See what you discover, what questions are raised, what answers are found.

    3. Invite people.

    One of my pastor friends in Hayward said that he has this rule for his congregation: don’t invite someone to church unless you have first invited them to your home. I’m not going to make this a rule for you, but it is something to think about. As we continually make friends for Jesus, let’s honestly consider the first part of that: making friends. I read a recent survey of people who recently started attending worship services. 86% said they started attending because a friend invited them. A friend. I can attest to the reality that making friends is not easy, but consider people whom you consider acquaintances that you could know better. Invite them to coffee or lunch. Invite them over for dinner and a game. Maybe invite them to church then brunch. Whatever happens to work for you, think about how you can invite people to be a part of your life and a part of God’s family this year.

    God’s blessings on your week.

    Pastor Andy

  • This Sunday will mark exactly four months since Stephanie and I arrived in California. It’s not the first time I’ve done this, but I figured now would be a good time to review the vows I took at my ordination and installation as pastor of First Lutheran Church and Preschool. One of the things I was asked to promise was this:

    “Will you faithfully instruct both young and old in the chief articles of the Christian doctrine, will you forgive the sins of those who repent, and will you promise never to divulge the sins confessed to you?”

    Trust is perhaps the most important aspect in the relationship between a congregation and its pastor. As pastors begin to serve in a new call, earning the trust of the congregation can take quite a while.

    Trust is earned by preaching faithful sermons, leading faithful Bible studies, and being steady during times of uncertainty. Losing the trust of the congregation often takes only one mistake, and once trust is broken, it may never be restored.

    The way many pastors lose the trust of their congregations is by failing to keep confidentiality. The gravity of confidentiality is something I take quite seriously. If you share something personal with me, it will stay with me. If you confess a sin to me, it will never reach anyone else. This is what I promised to you four months ago when I was ordained. I will never divulge the sins confessed to me. I will never tell your story to another person if you share it privately with me.

    I’m still getting to know all of you, and you’re still getting to know me, but I hope the trust between us continues to grow through the future months and years.

    God’s blessings on your week.

    Pastor Andy

  • As the holiday season comes nearer, I just wanted to send a few reminders. If you have adopted one of our preschool teachers, start thinking about how you might show your appreciation and thankfulness for them in the coming weeks. Send them a card. Buy them a gift. Perhaps you could invite them to your house for a meal. Perhaps you could take them out for a Caramel Brulée Latte. If you haven’t had the pleasure of meeting your teacher, find time to introduce yourself. One option would be to join us for preschool chapel which happens every Thursday at 9:30 AM.

    Also, Giving Thanks at Thanksgiving is nearly upon us. If you can find time to invite neighbors who may not have family in the area, they may really appreciate sharing a meal with our community. We will have a worship service at 10:30 AM on Thanksgiving morning in the sanctuary, and the doors open for the meal at 11:30 AM with food service running until 2:00 PM.

    Finally, our next congregational meeting will be on Sunday, December 2. At this meeting we will elect the new church council for 2019. I hope you all have considered serving on the church council. If now is not the right time for you, or if you plan to serve and lead in other ways, that is okay. I hope you will pray that God will raise up leaders to fill the roles we need.

    Thanks, and God’s richest blessings on your week.

    Pastor Andy

  • Who are you listening to? In today’s world there is a lot of competition to be heard. There are numerous news outlets, hundreds of TV channels and radio stations, millions of websites all demanding our attention, hoping we’ll listen to their version of the story. How do you decide what to listen to? How do you decide who to trust for the news, for the weather, for the Gospel?

    It’s not always easy to discern if what we hear is the truth. It’s been a problem for humanity since the garden of Eden, where Eve listened to the voice of the serpent rather than the voice of God.

    In today’s world there are often two opposing sides to every story on the news. Both sides want you to believe their version of the narrative. We’re often tempted to compare and contrast the two sides, looking for truth. The problem we face in looking for the truth is that too often, we never stop to compare what is said to what God says. We test what is said against our experience, our previous thoughts, our emotions. That was Eve’s trouble. She tested the serpent’s words against her experience, not against God’s Word.

    The worldwide church often fails at this. Too often we define ourselves by who we voted for (or didn’t vote for) in the last election. Too often we define ourselves by our stances on issues that seem to only have two sides.

    The church is not defined by which news channel we watch or listen to. We are not defined by one side or another in the latest political argument. We are defined by Jesus. We are defined by the fact that He died and rose for us and our salvation. We are defined by the reality that we listen to and follow Jesus, the Word of God.

    So when the next issue arises, take a moment to think about what God says about the issue at hand. It might be obvious, but it might not. God’s Word might not say anything about it. But God does speak pretty clearly about spreading false information, about bearing false witness, about gossiping about your neighbors. (Yes, even people who appear on the news are your neighbors.)

    Remember that we are all under the grace of God, and we were all created in the image of God. Remember that God desires that all people are saved and come to a knowledge of the truth—the truth of Jesus.

    God's Blessings on your week.

    Pastor Andy

Facebook Image

LCMS logoFirst Evangelical Lutheran Church is a member of the California-Nevada-Hawaii District of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, a family of congregations focused on bringing Christ to the nations and sharing His unconditional saving Love within our community.

Give online to the ministry of First Lutheran Church
Simply Giving website

Go to top
JSN Boot template designed by JoomlaShine.com