The Church Blog

Here are updates from First Lutheran Church.

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

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

Aside from running, one of the things I do in my spare time is listen to audio books. I recently finished (not for the first time) C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. It’s the third book in his so-called “Space Trilogy.”

It’s pretty strange. I’m not sure if you’ve read it, but it’s a science fiction thriller filled with an odd combination of myth and religion and politics.

One of the concepts Lewis unfolds that is absolutely fascinating is the concept of the inner ring. This is a sociological phenomenon in which people try to get to the center of power and control. It doesn’t necessarily mean having the highest position, but rather having the most influence, seeming like the most important person.

You see this in every institution. At the seminary for example, one professor put it to me this way in his own experience. There are only a select few who get to teach at the seminary. There are even fewer who teach the most important department: practical theology. There are even fewer who teach the most important subject: preaching. And even fewer, only two, who teach preaching full-time…and I’m better than the other guy.

Notice how the rings narrow down smaller and smaller (from school to department to subject to full-time on the subject) until it is just you. Some people are drawn to this sort of exclusivity and selectivity. Their ambition drives them further and further toward power and self-importance.

This sort of thinking does not work in the Body of Christ. As the Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you.’” In the church, the choir cannot say to the Sunday school teachers “I have no need of you.” The elders cannot say to the trustees “I have no need of you.” And the pastor cannot say to anyone “I have no need of you.”

Everyone is important. Everyone is needed. Every gift and skill and passion that God has given to us as His people is necessary for the health and vitality of the church.

Which also means that you cannot say of yourself, “The church doesn’t need me.” Because we do. We need you. We are not healthy without you.

God’s blessings on your week.

Pastor Andy

One of the things Lutherans are theologically good at is holding paradoxes in tension. Paradoxes are situations where two seemingly opposing things are simultaneously true. For example, we understand that we are simultaneously sinners and saints. Though being a sinner and being a saint are opposites, we are okay with being both at the same time until Christ returns.

One paradox that doesn’t get talked about very often is the paradox of humility and courage. At first glance, these seem to be opposing characteristics. People who are humble are often thought to be timid, shy, passive, cowardly even. People who are courageous are often thought to be boastful, proud, arrogant, and ambitious in a bad way.

Yet as followers of Jesus, we can look at Jesus and see His example as somebody who was perfectly humble and perfectly courageous. He was humble in the sense that He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but rather emptied Himself by taking the form of a servant and humbling Himself to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:5-8).

But Jesus was also exceptionally courageous. He did not demean Himself. In His humility He did not pretend He was less than He was. He spoke with authority. He spoke truth to power. He said what needed to be said, and He courageously faced death, speaking the truth of the Gospel even unto death.

Jesus perfectly held that paradox of humility and courage, but we often struggle to find the balance in our own lives. I’m guessing you trend toward courage or humility and find it hard to hold on to the other. I know I do. And I oftentimes feel like my courageous moments are too full of ambition and my humble moments come from a place of cowardice.

As we seek to follow Jesus as a church and preschool community, let’s continue to move forward with humility and courage. Let’s not fear to do good and proclaim the Gospel. Let’s not overestimate ourselves and our own importance, but let’s keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the perfect example of humility and courage.

God’s blessings on your week.

Pastor Andy 

This Wednesday we began the season of Lent. Numerous things might come to your mind when you think about Lent. You might think about the ashes of Ash Wednesday. You might consider Lenten disciplines such as giving up something like chocolate, coffee, or meat. You might think about the tender moments of the Last Supper or Jesus washing His disciples’ feet. You might ponder the agony of Gethsemane or the cross.

It is a tradition at First Lutheran (so I am told) that for the Lenten season we switch from our usual order of worship (Divine Service, Setting Two) to Divine Service, Setting Three. If, like me, you grew up with The Lutheran Hymnal (also called TLH or “the red hymnal,”) this is page 15.

The wording of this order of worship is a bit different. One word that I often hear people complain about is in the confession of sins. Together we confess before our almighty God, our merciful Father, beginning with these words, “I, a poor, miserable sinner…”

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. 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. Since that is the case, 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 it to us in His Son, Jesus Christ.

God’s blessings on your week.

Pastor Andy

I have a lot of books in my office. A whole shelf is dedicated to books about preaching. One of my favorites on that shelf is a book of sermon poems by James Weldon Johnson called God’s Trombones. James Weldon Johnson was a poet who lived in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. We sang one of his hymns last Sunday, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Some of you were perhaps not too familiar with that hymn. That was probably only the third time I’ve ever sung it. But I’m sure others were more familiar with it. That hymn has been called the African American National Anthem, and it speaks of challenges overcome and challenges ahead.

Perhaps the most striking phrase in the hymn is in the very beginning.

Lift ev’ry voice and sing
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of liberty.

The harmonies of liberty. What a phrase. It reminds me of driving in my car with the windows down, listening to a great song and trying to invent my own harmonies with the music.

Harmony is a beautiful thing. It’s when two or more people are singing different notes, but they somehow sound good together.

Harmony and liberty are at the heart of the body of Christ. As the body of Christ, we are all different. We are all gifted in different ways. Yet we all work together in a way that is pleasing and useful. And we are all free to give of our time and gifts as we see fit. Nobody is going to force you to do something you don’t want to do. For example, I once had a band director who was willing to do anything at church except music. To him, music was work. He had other ways he preferred to serve his local congregation. He was at liberty to do that.

Johnson’s hymn is a fantastic reminder of the challenges we face as a nation, as a church, as the human race. And it is also a fantastic reminder of the hope we have in God who always provides for us, even in the midst of disharmony.

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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