The Church Blog

Here are updates from First Lutheran Church.

The New Year often comes with new goals, new resolutions, new hopes and dreams for the coming year. While many people tend to focus their New Year’s Resolutions on diet and exercise, I’d like for you to consider a few other possibilities as you continue to follow Jesus. Here are some suggestions.

1. Serve at one event that you haven’t helped with before.

The crab feed is coming up January 26. It won’t be long before Easter hits and we have the annual egg hunt on Saturday, April 20. There’s always VBS over the summer. And don’t forget about Giving Thanks at Thanksgiving, Breakfast with Santa, and numerous other options.

There are days when the trustees fix things, days when the altar guild and others decorate, and there are always new events being planned. Find a way to involve yourself in one of these or create your own. Meet some new people. Serve the Lord with Gladness.

2. Read one book of the Bible multiple times.

It’s popular to try and read through the Bible in a year, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a worthy discipline. Although, I have found my mind and soul sparked more often by reading one biblical book many times. One class I had in seminary required us to read the Gospel of Matthew three times a week for eight weeks. After that many times through one book you begin to notice things. Patterns emerge. Associations come to light that you would not have seen otherwise. You can choose something a bit shorter, perhaps Philippians, 1 John, or Jonah. You can challenge yourself with something a bit longer such as Exodus, Romans, or the Gospel of Luke. Whichever you choose, see if you can read through that book more than ten times this year. See what you discover, what questions are raised, what answers are found.

3. Invite people.

One of my pastor friends in Hayward said that he has this rule for his congregation: don’t invite someone to church unless you have first invited them to your home. I’m not going to make this a rule for you, but it is something to think about. As we continually make friends for Jesus, let’s honestly consider the first part of that: making friends. I read a recent survey of people who recently started attending worship services. 86% said they started attending because a friend invited them. A friend. I can attest to the reality that making friends is not easy, but consider people whom you consider acquaintances that you could know better. Invite them to coffee or lunch. Invite them over for dinner and a game. Maybe invite them to church then brunch. Whatever happens to work for you, think about how you can invite people to be a part of your life and a part of God’s family this year.

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

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

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

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

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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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