Pastor Andy

  • 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

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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

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

  • 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.
  • 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

  • Jesus tells His disciples not to rejoice in their own abilities, but in what God has done for them: written their names in heaven.
  • 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

  • Who exactly were the Magi? What is the deal with the gifts they bring? And why have they come? This sermon seeks to answer those questions of this challenging reading from Matthew 2
  • When we think of Simon Peter, we often think of a brash, daring, man who is not afraid to stick his foot in his mouth. But in Luke 5, we find a Simon Peter who is afraid and unworthy. His encounter with Jesus changes things forever.
  • 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

  • James is straightforward, if you hurt others in order to gather more power for yourself, God opposes you. But God gives grace to the humble, and through the humble one, Jesus Christ.
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