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.
  • 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.
  • 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

  • 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

  • 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.
  • 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

  • God's Word is performative. When God says something, it happens. God speaks to anxious hearts throughout the Scriptures, calming them with His peace. God speaks to anxious hearts today as well.
  • 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

     

  • The angel's words to the shepherds echo down to us today: fear not, there is good news of great joy for all people.
  • Jesus encounters a man whose son is demon-possessed. The desperate man asks for help and compassion for both himself and his son. Jesus shows compassion to us all.
  • 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

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