The Church Blog

Here are updates from First Lutheran Church.

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

Who are you listening to? In today’s world there is a lot of competition to be heard. There are numerous news outlets, hundreds of TV channels and radio stations, millions of websites all demanding our attention, hoping we’ll listen to their version of the story. How do you decide what to listen to? How do you decide who to trust for the news, for the weather, for the Gospel?

It’s not always easy to discern if what we hear is the truth. It’s been a problem for humanity since the garden of Eden, where Eve listened to the voice of the serpent rather than the voice of God.

In today’s world there are often two opposing sides to every story on the news. Both sides want you to believe their version of the narrative. We’re often tempted to compare and contrast the two sides, looking for truth. The problem we face in looking for the truth is that too often, we never stop to compare what is said to what God says. We test what is said against our experience, our previous thoughts, our emotions. That was Eve’s trouble. She tested the serpent’s words against her experience, not against God’s Word.

The worldwide church often fails at this. Too often we define ourselves by who we voted for (or didn’t vote for) in the last election. Too often we define ourselves by our stances on issues that seem to only have two sides.

The church is not defined by which news channel we watch or listen to. We are not defined by one side or another in the latest political argument. We are defined by Jesus. We are defined by the fact that He died and rose for us and our salvation. We are defined by the reality that we listen to and follow Jesus, the Word of God.

So when the next issue arises, take a moment to think about what God says about the issue at hand. It might be obvious, but it might not. God’s Word might not say anything about it. But God does speak pretty clearly about spreading false information, about bearing false witness, about gossiping about your neighbors. (Yes, even people who appear on the news are your neighbors.)

Remember that we are all under the grace of God, and we were all created in the image of God. Remember that God desires that all people are saved and come to a knowledge of the truth—the truth of Jesus.

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 past week I spent a lot of time in the car, driving to hospitals and other visits. On these drives I listened to the entire book of Psalms. Something I noticed while listening to every psalm is that the psalmists (whether David or Solomon or the Sons of Korah) talk about enemies a lot. They often express feelings of being surrounded by enemies, isolated from friends, cut off from God. There seems to be a lot of danger from these enemies.

Few of us experience earthly enemies who are out to kill us. Few of us can related to the psalmists on a one to one level. But let’s not fool ourselves. We are dealing with an enemy who wants to kill us, who wants us to be separated eternally from our heavenly Father. That enemy is Satan.

Satan has been attacking us in waves for the past couple of weeks. Satan believes he is terribly clever, that he can tempt anyone to any sin at any time. But as we heard in Bible study over the past couple of weeks, Satan is a liar and the father of lies. There is no truth in Satan.

When Satan tells you that God doesn’t love you and has abandoned you, Satan is lying. When Satan tells you that your neighbor deserves nothing by hate and shame and disdain, Satan is lying. When Satan tells you that you can’t be forgiven, that your sins are too great, Satan is lying. And when Satan tells you in the midst of your struggles that despair is the only option, Satan is lying.

God promises that He will never leave you or forsake you. God tells you to love your neighbor as yourself. God promises forgiveness and life and salvation to all who trust in Jesus. God gives us hope.

The Apostle Paul writes that suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame because our hope is in our living Lord and Savior, Jesus. Right now, we as a church and preschool are suffering and our suffering is producing endurance and building character and pointing us to hope in Jesus. I pray the attacks of Satan are thwarted. I pray everyone who has been sick and is recovering are healed. And I pray that you remember God’s promises.

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

I started reading a book last week is called “What Do They Hear? Bridging the Gap Between Pulpit and Pew.” The premise of the book is simple: when people hear a sermon or a story or a speech, everyone comes away with differing views on what was important. Not everyone remembers every detail. The speaker or author has limited control over what the hearers take away.

One example that the author gives is of a comparative study related to how people read and remember the parable of the prodigal son. Two groups, one of Americans and one of Russians, were asked to read the parable, then recount the story back in as much detail as possible. The results are fascinating. Only 34% of the Russians mention the squandering of the younger son, while 100% of the Americans mentioned the squandering. And even more fascinating, only 6% of the Americans mentioned the famine that occurred in the story, while 84% of the Russians mention the famine.

The takeaway from this is that our background and culture predisposes us to focus on different things. Many of the Russians interviewed had experienced famine. Few of the Americans had. The famine was a detail the Americans who were surveyed managed to gloss over because it wasn’t a part of their personal experience.

I’m sure there are times when a detail I give in a sermon is glossed over by some, but meaningful to others. That’s okay. In fact, I think that’s a good thing because it reflects that God has made us all to be different creatures. When I preach, I seek to be intentional about creating sermons that can connect with a variety of different experiences, cultures, age groups, and learning styles. This is hard work. It is not even possible for one sermon to connect with every culture, age group, and learning style. It is the task of many sermons over time to connect with the many different cultures, ages, and learning styles that exist at First Lutheran Church and Preschool. Faithful preaching is a marathon, not a sprint, and I’m well aware I’m still in the first mile of the race, but I hope that at least a few of the 25 or so sermons I have preached connected with your experiences and life, and I hope you keep listening.

God’s Blessings on your week.

Pastor Andy

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