The Church Blog

Here are updates from First Lutheran Church.

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

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 goals for 2019 is to spend more time studying some of the books of the Bible I don’t know very well. One such book is Leviticus. Last week I listened to the entire book, and I’d like to share a thought I had from Leviticus involving slavery.

In our day and age, it seems obvious that owning people is deplorable and unthinkable. Still, forced labor and exploitation are very real and prevalent problems throughout the world. From America’s earliest days through the Civil War, and even after, American church bodies have tried to deal with the question of whether slavery was a sin. While many church bodies have long-opposed slavery, few were able to articulate from a biblical perspective why slavery was evil and should be abolished.

I think Leviticus can help us make such an articulation. In Leviticus 25, God commands Moses to make sure none of the Israelites are sold as slaves to other Israelites. The reason he gives is this: “For they are my servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 25:42). Since God saved the Israelites from slavery, slavery was not permissible for them ever again.

Now that Jesus has come, God’s people are from every race, tribe, nation, language, and people group. Jesus dies for all people. He brings all people out of the kingdom of darkness, the dominion of Satan and into the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Light.

Jesus’ death and resurrection delivers all people. We are all on equal ground before God. There is no male or female, no Jew or Gentile, no slave or master. We all stand before God as people who have been bought by the blood of Jesus; therefore, we cannot be sold for any price to anyone. Since Jesus has saved all people from the slavery of sin, slavery is not possible for all of humanity ever again.

Since this is the case, how we treat other human beings is very important. While we may not be tempted to enslave others, we are often tempted to demean others, to gossip about them, to make them look bad. This is not acceptable because Christ has died for that person you love to gossip about. Christ has shed his blood for that person you make fun of. As we seek to follow Jesus, we must remember that every person’s life has value, value determined by the blood of Jesus.

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

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

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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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