"Five Hundred Fifty Words-Or Less" Pastor's Blog

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Watchdog (September 13, 2023)New Post

Doberman dog | Public domain vectors

CREDIT: publicdomainvectors.org

Dear Disciples of Christ,

How would you define “success” for a watchdog? Many of us get annoyed by constantly barking dogs. But we do appreciate it when they bark to warn us or to ward off unwelcome visitors. I’d define “successful watchdogs” as ones that bark when needed to protect me from danger. 

God also uses “watchdogs” to protect us from danger. He calls them “watchmen” and they serve the same purpose. In the days of the prophets, like Ezekiel, each city had watchmen that raised the alarm when danger approached. Their noisy warnings alerted people living outside the city walls to danger so they could move to safety inside the walls. If the people ignored them, they did so at their own peril. But, if watchmen remained silent, failing to alert people to danger, they could be subjected to death for their silence.

God calls His prophets “watchmen” because He expects them to raise the alarm to people about the dangers of sin and death. He says, “Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me.” (Ezekiel 33:7) God’s not just telling Ezekiel this, but all God’s people – especially those He’s placed in responsibility to teach others about His Word – pastors, teachers, parents, and others. If we who know God’s Word fail to speak His warnings to others who are falling short, God tells us that not only will they suffer the eternal consequence of their sin, but so will we. However, if we speak the truth of His Word to those falling short and they ignore us, they do so at their own peril; but we shall be delivered. (Ezekiel 33:8-9) 

It's often hard to speak God’s truth into the world today. But when we do, God commends us for our faithfulness. So let us lovingly bark God’s Word into His creation when we can that many might be led by the Holy Spirit into the safety of His mighty fortress – receiving His forgiveness in His church on earth and eternal life in His kingdom of heaven.

                                                                        In Christ’s Love,

                                                                        Pastor Jim

ROI (September 5, 2023)

CREDIT: Jernej Furman on Flickr

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Return on investment, or ROI, is a term associated with profits and losses. Most seek to maximize ROI. If we invest $100, 10 hours, or some other valuable commodity, we expect to receive more than we put in — the more the better! If we knew ahead of time that the ROI would be negative — $90, nothing but a sore body or broken ego, or some other negative experience — we wouldn’t be too excited to invest. ROI should be positive … the more the better!

And then we meet Jesus and hear His words. Jesus, as usual, turns things upside down. He says, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:25-26) In truly countercultural words, Jesus seems to say losing something we desire — our lives — is a good thing. That gaining the world is a bad thing. 

Investing our lives in Jesus and His Word, trusting Him and faithfully following Him means losing our lives to Him and letting Him, rather than us or the world, guide what we do with our lives. We sacrifice our lives, not by dying on a cross, but by selflessly giving of our time, talent, and treasure to serve God, His church, and others as God’s will leads us. Responding to God’s love for us by “losing our lives” in this way leads to long-term gain.

There’s another investment philosophy that’s important, the long view. The idea that sometimes positive ROI takes time to show up. While others do the work, through ups and downs, they grow your investment over time. Jesus has done the work for us already. While the short view, losing our lives for Him, might seem like a losing proposition, it’s not. Eventually, when Christ returns, it yields eternal life in the kingdom of God. Now that’s ROI!

                                                                        In Christ’s Love,

                                                                        Pastor Jim

Sculpted by God (August 30, 2023)

A Person Using a Hammer and a Chisel on a Sculpture · Free Stock Photo

Dear Living Stones,

Michelangelo once said something like, “Inside every rock is a work of art waiting to be revealed.” Every beautiful stone sculpture started as a nondescript rock. The eye of the sculptor imagined something else. With that image in mind, the artist wields chisels, hammers, and other tools to reveal what the rock is hiding. After painstakingly hacking away excess materials, the artist’s image is transformed into an object for all to see.

Michelangelo was a great sculptor. And he, like all of us, is a work of art created by our Father in heaven. But even he needed to undergo painstaking chiseling, cutting, and hammering to be formed into the ultimate creation God desires. God has indeed created us in His image, but the reality of what God intends for us to be is hidden beneath the excess baggage caused by our sin. This baggage, which weighs us down, prevents us from being what God desires for us to become. This would be a terrible tragedy if it weren’t for our heavenly Father’s love for us. 

God tells each of us, “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the Lord: look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug.” (Isaiah 51:1) God longs to shape us into the creatures He created us to be. He does that by hammering, cutting, and chiseling away the things preventing us from becoming what He created us to be – His children. The Holy Spirit, working with the two-edged sword of God’s Word, enables us to confess our faith in Jesus and His work on the cross. He has hammered away the eternal effects of our sin. Then God’s Word shows us how to love as He loves – transforming us into instruments He uses to transform others into His children too. It can be a long, difficult process to endure, but in the end, trusting God’s work in our lives, it’s worth it as He makes us holy – reflecting His image – just as He intended.

                                                                        In Christ’s Love,

                                                                        Pastor Jim

What Goes on in Your House (August 23, 2023)

Suburb houses suburban street with buildings

                             CREDIT: Image by upklyak on Freepik

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Think about your house for a minute … what goes on in there? Who do you let come in to see it? And why? There’s an image of houses I’ve seen where people open their garage, drive into it, and never reappear. It’s like the garage ate them up! Then, in the morning it spits them out when they reappear to go to work. What goes on behind the doors is private. Who gets to see it are a few invited guests. That’s the way many people live today – private lives witnessed by only a few who are granted admittance.

Then there’s God’s house. God says, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” (Isaiah 56:7) God freely admits anyone and everyone from wherever they might come from into His house – foreigners, outcasts, anyone. All are invited to come into His house to witness what goes on inside. And what goes on inside? Prayer in the form of worship – the joyful hearing and digesting of His Word, willingly giving back offerings from what He’s already given, the acceptance of all who enter His doors. God desires for His house, His church on earth, to be a place where everyone from everywhere can come worship Him.

And we worship Him, not in a building, but wherever we find ourselves in His creation. It’s here that God works through us to “gather yet others to Him besides those already gathered.” (Isaiah 56:8) He calls us, the ones already gathered, to be His means to “joyfully proclaim His word and enthusiastically share His love” with others … including those who aren’t in His house yet. We respond to God’s love for us by loving God – to be certain – but also by loving others as ourselves. (Matthew 22:37-39) Including those who’ve been cast out by society at large. Let’s all make God’s house, His church on earth, a true house of prayer for all peoples by inviting them in and showing them what truly goes on in here.

                                                                        Your Brother in Christ,

                                                                        Pastor Jim

Free Food & Drink (August 15, 2023)

Food for the Poor

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I admit, I don’t often go to the grocery store. Therefore, I’m not attuned to food prices. My wife wasn’t feeling well recently, so I had to “forage for food” as we say. And I was surprised that the base price for anything seemed to be $5. I picked up 4 or 5 things — milk, yogurt, a box of cereal, and a bag of chips — over $25! Yikes! It’s little wonder our church food pantry is so busy these days (and thank you to all of you who are contributing to that ministry)!

It’s indeed true that in this world, food prices and food insecurity are on the rise. As bad as it is here in the United States, it’s nothing compared to other parts of the world where food inflation continues rising in dramatic fashion — upwards of 5-10% or more per month in many parts of the world!

Things certainly are difficult for many in the world right now. And God calls on those of us who have an abundance to help those who live in poverty (Leviticus 23:22, Matthew 25:31-46). In that way we show love for God as we “love our neighbors as ourselves” (Matthew 22:39) in our obedience to God’s 5th commandment (LSC Catechism). But one day, God also promises that food insecurity will no longer be a problem in the world.

God’s word urges all mankind to come to Him so they can receive wine, milk, bread, and rich food at no cost! (Isaiah 55:1-2) This is a picture of God’s new creation — the place where all who incline their ears to God and His word, who trust His promises of forgiveness and eternal life through His Son, Jesus Christ will be able to find rest from labor and true peace. We aren’t there today, but it is coming. Trust God. Trust His promise.

In addition to our Food Pantry, another way to help those in poverty today is Food for the Poor. You can find out more at www.foodforthepoor.org.

                                                                        In the Love of Christ,

                                                                        Pastor Jim

Priceless Possessions (August 1, 2023)

File:201 Elements of the Human Body.02.svg - Wikimedia Commons

CREDIT: Open Stax College

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Worth can be a sensitive topic for many of us. If I asked you, “How much are you worth?” you would not be wrong to say, “None ya!” — as in “None of your business!” After all, what we’re worth might seem like a private matter. Nevertheless, I read that we’re all actually worth something around $17.18. Several years ago, a scientist estimated that the amount of chemicals in our body, if they could be sold, would be worth a total of $17.18. 

Fortunately, each of these chemicals has been arranged by our creator, God in heaven, into what is a truly priceless creation called the human body — a living, breathing, thinking, and doing creature created in His image. But even the best of us is so tarnished and broken by sin that “priceless” might not seem to be the best description of our value. Which makes it even more amazing when we hear God tell each one of us, “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)

To God our Father, even though we’re tarnished and broken, we’re still His priceless treasures. So much so that He gave up His only Son, Jesus Christ, to cleanse our sin tarnished souls and restore our brokenness to bring us back into His good and perfect presence. However, the world around us, egged on by Satan’s lies, tries convincing us just the opposite in order to drive a wedge between us and God. Through suffering, hunger, poverty, danger, and death the devil seeks to cause us to doubt God’s love for us; to separate us from Him.

But God’s promise to all of us is that none of this will ever separate us from His love. (Nothing) in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39) We are His. He will do anything to keep it that way!

                                                                        In Christ’s Perfect Love,

                                                                        Pastor Jim

Groaning in Prayer (July 26, 2023)

Art, Pattern, Article, Background


Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Have you ever struggled to get words out of your mouth? Sometimes you can’t remember the word for or name of something. Perhaps you’re making a presentation on a complex subject. Or maybe it’s just a tough situation where you’re trying to comfort someone. Whatever the case, the words in your head won’t come out of your mouth. Then, what comes out is a noise, a grunt, a groan. That hardly makes for good communication for most of us.

When it comes to prayer, we know God wants us to pray. But sometimes we’re not sure of the words to pray. Frankly, God doesn’t care about the words. He just wants us to trust Him by knowing He will hear our prayers and answer them in accord with His good and perfect will. Yet, often we aren’t sure what to say – which is understandable given who we’re speaking with … God!

If you happen to find yourself here, take comfort from Paul’s letter to the Romans. He writes, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26) Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit, the Helper, to His people (John 16:7-13). In Baptism, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our souls, helping us in all things – especially our belief in Jesus and His promises to hear our prayers. 

In those moments when you’re feeling distraught and all you can do is say, “UGH … ARRGH … UGH!” These are groans. We’re stuck and don’t know where to go. But “He who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:27) Our groans are the words of the Holy Spirit making our needs known to God. And God … He completely understands. So, don’t worry about what to pray – keep groaning. The Holy Spirit will translate.

                                                                                       Your Brother in Christ,

                                                                                        Pastor Jim