The Church Blog

Here are updates from First Lutheran Church.

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

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

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

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

I haven’t put a lot of photos up in my office yet. My desk is mostly filled with papers and books. I have two framed photos on my desk, though. One is of Stephanie and me in Paris on our fifth wedding anniversary. The other is of my grandpa and grandma. Growing up in Minnesota, my grandparents lived on the same farm place. I spent as much time in their house as I did in my own growing up, and I miss them dearly. I think of them often this time of year.

 This Sunday we celebrate All Saints’ Day. This is a time to remember those who have died in the faith and celebrate God’s grace and mercy in their lives. It’s a time when we look around at life. We look to the past, remembering our family and friends who are no longer with us. We look to the present, at the saints gathered together with us week after week to worship God and receive His grace. We look to the future, knowing that there are those among us who will not be in the pews next year, but will be asleep with Jesus.

All Saints’ Day is a time of grief and joy, a time of sorrow and hope. It’s hard when loved ones die, when they are no longer a part of our routines, when we can no longer visit with them and hear their stories and feel their hugs. We may feel regret for harsh words spoken that cannot be unsaid. We may even feel relief that a loved one is no longer with us because they made our life so challenging. And that feeling of relief can produce guilt and shame in us that we may not know how to handle.

No matter what feelings of struggle come up with the memories of loved ones, we still look forward to the day when Christ returns and raises us all from the dead to live with Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

Until then, don’t be afraid to shed a tear. Don’t be afraid to share a story with someone. Don’t be afraid to listen to someone else’s story.

God’s blessings on your week.

Pastor Andy

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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.

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