The Church Blog

Here are updates from First Lutheran Church.

When Stephanie and I were living in Germany, we had the opportunity to travel to Paris for our fifth wedding anniversary. Paris is a beautiful city. Iconic sites like the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and the Arc de Triumphe do not disappoint.

And then of course there is the Cathedral of Notre Dame which was so sadly engulfed in flames last week.

Before the flames had even been put out, while the building was still smoldering, people from France and around the world were dedicating millions of dollars to rebuilding this beloved building so rich in history and beauty.

Yet the dedication of so much money to such a landmark was criticized by some who would rather see such donations go to food, clean water, and medicine to those who lack such things.

The whole situation got me thinking about a lot of things. But we all face such decisions and criticism related to our stewardship, albeit on a smaller scale. It’s not always money that is the concern. Sometimes it is our energy, sometimes our skills, sometimes our time.

I face this dilemma as a pastor with some frequency. I don’t have an infinite amount of energy and time, so how do I spend the 50 or so hours I work in a week? How much do I dedicate to preparing for Sunday morning? How much to time with the preschool? How much to visiting shut-ins? How much to outreach and being in the community? How much to serving the church at large, the circuit, the district, the synod? If you all got to choose what my time allotment would be, I doubt any two people would choose the same schedule for me.

All of this leads me to appreciate the importance of two things: grace and trust.

We all make different choices with our lives, with our time, with our money. We should have enough grace with our fellow human beings to let them focus where they feel led to focus, and we should focus where we feel led to focus. Complaining that a billionaire doesn’t give money to the poor is ironic and hypocritical if I am not giving any money to the poor. As Jesus says in Luke 16:10, “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.” Let’s be gracious and faithful with whatever we have.

Finally, thank you for your trust. You have entrusted me with the spiritual care of this congregation. Such care is something I do not take lightly. As I continue to learn how to be your pastor, I hope you will continue to grace me with your trust as we continue to follow where the Lord leads, together.

God’s blessings on your week.

Pastor Andy

When I was in college, I sang in various choirs throughout my time there. We always did tours during Holy Week around the country. On one of these tours, I think my sophomore year, our choir director selected the most difficult song I’ve ever had to sing, a song I actually couldn’t sing the entire way through. It was called Song for Athene. If you search for it on YouTube and give a listen, you might be wondering why it was so challenging for me to sing. It’s a hauntingly beautiful song, but it’s pretty slow and standard for a good choir.

In those days I sang Bass 2, the lowest notes on the page. The Bass 2 part for Song for Athene is one note. One. Note. Now you’re probably really confused. How could one note be the hardest song I’ve ever sung? The one note was an F. It’s the note just below the staff in the bass clef. My fellow Bass 2s and I had to hold that F, staggering our breathing, for about seven minutes. I sang that song nearly 100 times and I never ever made it to the end. About four minutes into the song my voice couldn’t hit that note anymore. I waited for 30 seconds, tried again, and just struggled into the song was over.

Sometimes the most challenging things in life are the things that don’t require a lot of flash or thought or even talent, but they do require prolonged consistency and steadiness.

This is how Lent feels to me. Lent requires a level of persistence and steadiness that is hard to maintain. The tasks are no more challenging than in Epiphany or Advent or any other time of the year. But in Lent, I sometimes find myself needing a breath, needing to take extra breaks before I start again.

And that’s okay. I am, after all, only human. Life continues its symphony around me, even when I need to take a break and breathe.

As you journey toward the cross this Lenten season, don’t forget to breathe.

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

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

Palm Sunday is one of the few Sundays during the year where there isn’t a sermon. In part this is so that we take the time to listen to the entire narrative of Thursday and Friday of Holy Week, so that we reflect upon Jesus’ anguish in Gethsemane, His arrest, His trial, His suffering, His time on the cross, and His death.

This is certainly important, but it’s at the expense of not spending much time focused on the events of Palm Sunday itself. There are very few events recorded by all four Gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). Mark doesn’t cover Christmas. John doesn’t cover Jesus’ temptation, Jesus’ Transfiguration, or the Last Supper. Only one miracle is covered by all four (the feeding of the 5,000). Jesus’ suffering and death are recorded by all four, but even Jesus’ resurrection is only pronounced by Mark. Jesus doesn’t actually appear risen from the dead in Mark’s Gospel.

But each writer covers Palm Sunday and Jesus procession into Jerusalem as He rides on a donkey. Each author tells the story a little bit differently, but we see a crowd gathered that shouts “Hosanna!” which means “save us now.”

What the people shouting “Hosanna!” wanted was an earthly salvation, a deliverance from a political occupation that left the Jewish nation as second-class citizens in their own land. Jesus did not deliver what they expected or wanted. Jesus delivered what they needed: salvation from sin and death.

This is often true in our lives. We shout “Hosanna!” to Jesus hoping to be saved from one thing or another. And Jesus always delivers. He always saves us, but sometimes we don’t realize exactly what we need to be saved from. Sometimes we don’t realize that God is constantly working to save us from all sorts of evils.

It is at this point that the Lord’s Prayer becomes so important, as we pray both “Thy will be done,” and “Deliver us from evil.”

As we enter Holy Week, we pray Thy will be done, Lord. Thy will be done to save us from the evils that we don’t even realize are at our doorstep. Hosanna! Save us now.

God’s blessings on your week.

Pastor Andy  

Last Saturday, March 16, the council members gathered for a meeting in which we took some time to think and talk about the current state of First Lutheran Church and Preschool, and we envisioned what things might look like in the next five to ten years.

My agenda for the day was pretty simple: ask some questions. I came into the meeting with six questions, but we were blessed by an abundance of good conversation and only got to four of them.

We contemplated where we saw First Lutheran in the next 5-10 years.  We discussed what First Lutheran does well. We shared some places we thought First Lutheran could see some improvement. And we considered the needs of our surrounding community.

These conversations covered a lot of ground that I don’t need to go into detail about, but it was a joy to hear people speak with hope about the future of First Lutheran. There seems to be a sense of energy and optimism that was quite refreshing. There was a consensus about several things we do well. Our preschool was mentioned as a consensus strength that meets a major community need, has a good reputation in the community, and furthers our mission of making friends for Jesus. The events we sponsor was a consensus strength. The hard work and dedication that goes into Giving Thanks at Thanksgiving, Breakfast with Santa, the Crab Feed, the Easter Egg Hunt, VBS, and other events helps our reputation in the community and provides opportunities for fellowship and service.

There were many other strengths mentioned, but there were also a few items that need our attention in the weeks, months, and years to come.

At my ordination, Pastor Zelt gave me five pieces of wisdom to hold on to. The first was, “Lead your people where God wants them to go.” I’m the type of person who likes to lead by building consensus. In seeking to build this consensus, the council and I will be seeking some feedback on a few changes we are considering. Nothing is set in stone. None of these are earth shattering. None of these are being pushed forward by one person. They are each considerations the council wants to pursue because we believe this is where God is leading us at this point in our history.

As we move forward in faith, I want to communicate how encouraged I was by this council meeting, by our organization’s leadership, and by what God is doing in our midst. I hope you are encouraged as well as we continue to follow Jesus together.

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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