The Church Blog

Here are updates from First Lutheran Church.

Last Sunday (December 16) we began a three-week Bible study on Luke 1-2. Luke paints such beautiful detail of the Christmas story. He notes the visit of the angel Gabriel to Zechariah and then to Mary. Luke details the birth of John the Baptist and the birth of Jesus. And Luke records three songs or poems in the first two chapters—the Magnificat (often called Mary’s Song), the Benedictus (Zechariah’s prophecy), and the Nunc Dimittis (the song of Simeon). These three passages of Scripture have been instilled in the song of the Church for generations.

What I have found most interesting in preparing these Bible studies is what Luke does not include. There is no mention of Joseph’s desire to divorce Mary quietly (Matthew mentions that). There is no visit from the Magi (again, Matthew). There is no talk of Jesus as the Word made flesh (that’s John).

Such details make me appreciate the Scriptures in their wholeness. The four Gospel writers record the same story of Jesus, but each of them brings to light different details in telling the story.

We do something similar as we tell stories. If a family of four goes on vacation somewhere, you can bet that all four will tell different versions of the same events. That’s not to say any of them is wrong or inaccurate, it simply means we all highlight different details and construct stories and histories from differing points of view.

The multiple points of view that produce the Christmas story help us see that Jesus comes to the devout (Zechariah Elizabeth), to the fearful (Mary and Joseph), to the lowly (the shepherds), to foreigners (the Magi), to the old (Simeon and Anna), to the young (John the Baptist), to all.

As you worship in the coming days, remember these words from the angel Gabriel spoken to the shepherds, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.” That good news of great joy is Jesus.

God’s blessings on your Christmas celebrations.

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

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

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

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

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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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