Pastor Andy

  • "Some People Worry Too Much"

    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

  • (Alleluia and) Verse

    One of the liturgical terms that is often misused (simply because it is different from secular use) is the term "Verse." While you may hear a pastor or worship leader refer to hymn "stanzas" as "verses" (e.g. we will now sing hymn 555, verses 1, 2, and 5), that's not the liturgical meaning of Verse. 
    The Verse comes right before the Gospel Reading. In every season except for Lent, the Verse is preceded and followed by an Alleluia. The most common Verse is this:
    Alleluia. Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Alleluia.  
    These are Peter's words from John 6:68, spoken after Jesus proclaims Himself the bread of life and that everyone must eat His flesh. Everyone stops following Jesus except for the Twelve. Jesus asks if they want to leave as well. This is Peter's reply. Who else can we follow? Where else can we go? Jesus has the words of eternal life. 
    Then we listen to Jesus' words in the Gospel Reading.
    Some congregations choose to use John 6:68 throughout year (except Lent). First Lutheran typically uses the designated Verse of the Day. This is often a line taken from the Gospel reading. Sometimes it is drawn from the Epistle or another scriptural passage. It is meant to set the tone for the Gospel that is about to be read.
    The Verse is a prelude. It's almost like a theme song. It lets you know what's coming. Theme songs are of course common in television. When you hear the first few notes, you know what's coming. It only takes a few notes for me to know exactly what's coming in theParks and Rec,Cheers, orFirefly theme songs. I'm sure you have your own favorites.
    But the Verse, to me, is more reminiscent of personal theme songs that we see in sports. This is common in baseball. As batters make their way to the plate, their music plays. It pumps them up I guess.  
    Even better in my opinion is a professional wrestler's theme song. There are so many iconic wrestler theme songs, but none is better than Stone Cold Steve Austin's. It begins with broken glass. You don't even need to hear a note of music, you know as soon as you hear that broken glass exactly what's coming. The Texas Rattlesnake is on his way!
    That's what the Alleluia and Verse are like. They are a moment of praise that grabs your attention and points you to what is coming: The words and actions of Jesus.
  • A Christmas Thank You

    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

  • A Season of Busyness

    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

  • A Tale of Two Widows

    Jesus sees a widow give all she has to the temple, trusting that she will be taken care of. This sermon looks at the various points of view of this text, as well as what we can learn from this widow.
  • Adopt-a-Teacher

    Last Sunday we commissioned our preschool teachers for another year of service. On Wednesday, the new school year started with lots of new faces, and even a few tears from some of our new students at being dropped off at preschool for the first time.

    Last Sunday I also mentioned we’ll be doing the Adopt-a-Teacher program once again. I’ll have a sign-up sheet in the breezeway between the sanctuary and the education room for people to sign up if they are interested.

    The Adopt-a-teacher program has three expectations:

    1. Buy small gifts for your assigned teacher for Christmas, their birthday, and teacher appreciation week (May 4-May 8, 2020).
    2. Send notes of encouragement and/or thank you cards regularly (once a month is a good frequency).
    3. Pray for your teacher and get to know them if possible.

    There is no need for this to be secret. The goal is to build relationships between the church and the preschool. You’ll get a sheet with some basic information about your assigned teacher in the next few weeks.

    Thanks to everyone who helped launch this program last year, and thanks in advance for supporting it this year.

    God’s richest blessings on your week.

    Pastor Andy

  • Agnus Dei - Lamb of God

    In my second post of this series, on Confession, I mention the Agnus Dei for its use of the Latin phrasemiserere nobis which means "have mercy on us." 
    This portion of the liturgy is sung immediately before the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper. It is an interesting placement for these words considering it is inspired by John the Baptist's words immediately before he baptizes Jesus (baptism being another sacrament). 
    These final words that we vocalize before receiving forgiveness are repetitive, yet profound. We name Jesus as the Lamb of God (just as John the Baptist does). We acknowledge that He takes away the sin of the world (just as John the Baptist does). We ask for His mercy. We ask for His peace. That mercy and that peace is grounded in the reality that Jesus is the one who takes our sins away. He takes away the sin of the world on the cross. He takes away the sin of all those gathered around the altar as they partake of His body and His blood for their forgiveness.
    These final words spoken before the meal begins are like the music that is played to introduce an baseball player or a professional wrestler. These words and this music introduce Jesus as He comes down and dwells with us in bread and wine. The Agnus Dei is Jesus' entrance theme. 
    And much like Jesus, it is gentle, humble, and powerful. And it leaves us with what we ask for - His mercy peace.
  • And they remembered His words

    The women at the tomb remember Jesus' words, how He predicted His death and resurrection. They tell the great good news of His resurrection but nobody believes them.
  • Behold, the Days Are Coming

    God promises to fulfill a promise to send a righteous branch that will spring up for David who will execute justice and righteousness, who will save Judah and make Jerusalem dwell securely. Jesus is the fulfillment of that promise.
  • Being in God's Word Reduces Conflict

    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

  • Benediction

    While many congregations conclude the worship service with a closing hymn or song, the true end of the service is the Benediction. This makes perfect sense. We begin the service in the name of God as we speak the Invocation. And we end the service in the name of God as He blesses us in the Benediction. 
    The words of the Benediction are drawn from the Scriptures, particularly from Numbers 6:24-26. But look at the verses before and after the blessing. 
    The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,
     The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
     “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.” 
    This is how the priests (which Aaron is in charge of) are to bless and put God's name upon God's people. Notice LORD is in all caps here. This is God's divine name, Yahweh, being placed on the people. 
    Our lives as Christians begin in God's name in Baptism. Our worship services begin in God's name in the Invocation. Our worship services end with God's name being placed upon us in this Benediction. And our lives as Christians end in God's name too. This is one of the prayers I will pray at a burial or a funeral.
    May God the Father who created this body; may God the + Son, who by His blood redeemed this body; may God the Holy Spirit, who by Holy Baptism sanctified this body to be His temple, keep these remains to the day of the resurrection of all flesh.
    The name of our God begins, blesses, ends, and brings us through all of life. From baptism to burial and beyond, God's name reigns over us.
    In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. 
  • Bring Back, Bind Up, Seek, and Strengthen

    The religious leaders of Ezekiel's day were not taking care of their people. The people needed a new shepherd, a good shepherd. The people needed Jesus.
  • But It's Tradition!

    Jesus shows how we set aside God's Word to follow human tradition.
  • By Faith...

    The author of Hebrews recounts heroes of faith, but nobody's faith is perfect then or now. We all need our faith to be perfected by Jesus.
  • Christ the King

    Jesus Christ is given three titles in the opening chapter of Revelation: faithful witness, firstborn of the dead, and ruler of the kings of earth. We look at each of these titles and their importance to the identity and authority of Christ the King.
  • Circuit Meetings

    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

  • Collect/Prayer of the Day

    The Collect/Prayer of the Day is one of those moments in the service that gets overlooked. In some congregations this is said by the pastor/priest/minister. In other congregations, the entire congregation participates. 
    The collect of the day is generally a summation of the worship service. It tries to give thematic focus to the day. The collect is kind of like the 60 second intro before the theme song for a sitcom. The early seasons of Seinfeld were great at this. Jerry would appear on stage doing stand-up comedy and his jokes were always connected to the themes the show was about to unfold over the next half-hour. This brief intro and summation reminds you what you've come to participate in. It gives you a preview of what's to come in the show. Likewise, the prayer of the day gives you a preview of what's to come in the readings and the sermon. It sets the tone as quickly as possible for the service.
    Collects are made up of five parts. Not all five parts are always included in every a collect.
    It begins with the address. We name who we are talking to. Examples include:
    • Lord God,
    • Almighty God, 
    • Lord Jesus Christ,
    • Heavenly Father,
    • Holy Spirit,
    The second part is an acknowledgement of God's power, knowledge, or ability to do anything and everything. Examples might include:
    • You are the author of life.
    • You are the Good Shepherd.
    • You have given us every good and perfect gift.
    • By Your providence the world is sustained.
    The third part is the bid or the petition. It's the thing we're actually asking for. Examples might include:
    • Grant to your people the peace that passes all understanding,
    • Protect all of the sheep of Your flock, seek those who are lost, and bind up those who are injured,
    • Strengthen us to share Your good gifts with our neighbors,
    • Help us to be good stewards of Your creation, 
    The fourth part is the result we desire from the petition. Examples might include:
    • So that we may be able to serve You with pure minds.
    • So that all Your sheep from every tribe, nation, language and people will praise Your name.
    • So that they may be blessed by Your grace and generosity.
    • So that together with all creatures, we might live in peace and quietness.
    And the fifth part is a conclusion that typically names the other two persons of the Trinity not being addressed. The Father is most frequently addressed, so it usually goes:
    • through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
    And that's it. Can you guess what is coming in the readings based on these example prayers? Maybe, and maybe not. But hopefully if you were to go back and look at the prayer of the day after the readings and the sermon you would be able to see the common themes being drawn for the day.
  • Coming Down out of Heaven

    John sees the holy city, new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven. This is the continual movement of God's deliverance: Him coming down to us.
  • Confession

    If you put together the various liturgies most used at First Lutheran, you will find a confession of sins that includes confessing to the following:

    • We are by nature sinful.
    • We are by nature unclean.
    • We have sinned against God in our thoughts.
    • We have sinned against God in our words.
    • We have sinned against God in our actions, what we've done.
    • We have sinned against God in what we have failed to do.
    • We have not loved God with our whole heart.
    • We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
    • We deserve God's punishment now and forever.
    • We are unworthy before God.
    • We cannot free ourselves from our sinful condition.
    • We are poor.
    • We are miserable.
    • We are sinners.

    That's a lot. There's a totality to it. Thoughts, words, and actions are allsinful. What we do and what we fail to do are bothsinful. Our sin is against God andagainst neighbor, the two greatest commandments according to Jesus. We deserve punishment now andforever. We are helpless. 

    We are miserable.

    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, as in Ebenezer Scrooge from Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. 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. Ebenezer Scrooge is a miser in both of these ways. He is a stingy man in need of mercy, and thankfully he receives it.

    Looking at the laundry list of things listed above, we are confessing to our total depravity before God and neighbor, and 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 us mercy in His Son, Jesus Christ.

  • Confirmation Verses

    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

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