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

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Tried and Tested (February 21, 2024)

File:Smooth Round Rocks Ocean (Unsplash).jpg

CREDIT: Zeny Rosalina on Unsplash

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

When I get to the ocean, I spend my time looking for interesting rocks. The impact of the ocean’s constant churn produces beautiful objects. Unlike hammers or chisels, the constant rolling and tossing smooths out the rough edges to create beautiful keepsakes. But, if you’ve ever been caught up in these same waves, you know they can be quite dangerous – causing serious injury and even death.

This tossing and turning of the sharp, jagged rocks – forming them into smooth, polished stones reminds me of God’s word, “Blessed is the one who remains steadfast under trial, for when they have stood the test, they will receive the crown of life, which God has promised those who love Him.”(James 1:12) These trials don’t happen because God delights in seeing us tossed and turned by the world. They happen because of Satan, who delights in throwing the world into chaos. However, when our faith is tested in trials, where do we turn? Do we turn to God – trusting Him above all else; or do we trust something Satan is using to try tearing us away from God? 

These trials can be dangerous and deadly if we place our trust in the wrong place. Trusting someone besides God might feel okay in the moment. However, ultimately this leads to crushing death. But, when we trust God, He provides the way through the trial we’re facing. In these times, our faith is strengthened – the hard, jagged edges of our sin-filled hearts are smoothed over by His mercy. 

During our Lenten journey, we remember that whenever we’re tested – or tempted – God our Father is with us. Just as He was with Jesus when He endured betrayal, suffering, and death on the cross. Because Jesus faithfully endured His trial, we’re strengthened to face our trials. And, when we fall to Satan’s temptation, falling into sin – God picks us up, wipes us clean, forgives our sin, and restores us to His path to receive the crown of life He promises. Let’s remember and rejoice in that!

                                                                                        In Christ’s Love,

                                                                                        Pastor Jim

Party at the Mountaintop (February 14, 2024)

Purple balloons | Tom Magliery | Flickr

CREDIT: Tom Magliery on Flickr

Dear Children of God, 

Most of us like a good party – time to gather friends to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and special holidays. It’s not hard to attend parties, but it can be hard to invite people to attend. Why? We often need to limit invitations because of space available or expenses. So, we make our list and then pare it down to a number we can handle. These can be hard choices though.

It wasn’t a party with balloons and decorations, but Jesus’ Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-9) is a celebration with a very select guest list. Jesus took His inner circle of disciples – Peter and the brothers James and John – to a mountaintop. There Jesus was joined by the great prophets Elijah and Moses while He was transfigured – His clothes became whiter than pure snow and He became radiant! It was a coming out party for Jesus. For a moment, His true glory was revealed to Peter, James, and John. And then the Guest of guests arrived saying, “This is my beloved Son; listen to Him.” (Mark 9:7) God the Father revealed, without question, Jesus is His Son – God in the flesh. What an event! What a celebration! Except … 

Jesus told them to keep the incredible news, the amazing sights to themselves until He’d risen from the dead. It wasn’t a time for celebrating – at least not yet. It was time to prepare others in the valleys and towns below for the Kingdom of God.

Lent, starting this week on Ash Wednesday, is not a time of celebrating either. It’s a time to prepare – ourselves and others – for Jesus’ resurrection on Easter! And a good way for us to prepare is by remembering Jesus’ sacrifice for us through sacrificing some of our comforts as part of Lent – sacrificing things we crave or our time to help others. We can also prepare by spending extra time in prayer and God’s Word – pick up a Be Gracious to Me Lenten devotional to help you. Lenten ideas like these can help you experience our Easter celebration more fully. 

                                                                                        In Christ’s Love,

                                                                                        Pastor Jim

Know & KNOW HOW (January 31, 2024)

Flat tire | So after surviving four hours on a ridiculous bu… | Flickr

CREDIT: AHLN on Flickr

Dear Children of God,

All of us know things. We’ve read books, gone to school, learned from friends. But just knowing something isn’t the same as knowing how to use it. For example, a lot of people might know that one uses a jack to lift a car to change a flat tire. But do they know how to use the jack to lift the car to change a flat tire? Just knowing a jack lifts a car doesn’t enable you to use it to do so – unless you know how. “Know-how” is more important than “know.”

What goes for jacks also goes for Jesus. While knowing of Jesus is a good first step in a life of faith, it is nowhere near the end. We see a good example of this when Jesus encounters a demon-possessed man in a synagogue. The demon cries out to Jesus, “What have You to do with us Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are – the Holy One of God.” (Mark 1:24) This demon knows a lot about Jesus … His hometown – Nazareth. His mission – destroy evil. Who He is – God’s Holy One. Good facts to know, but more important is using knowledge to have faith in Jesus and His ability to save you from the eternal effects of the evil one – the sins Satan tempts us into committing and the eternal separation from God Satan hopes to achieve.

Jesus, by His death on the cross destroys the evil one – as His Father in heaven sent Him to do. By destroying the evil one, Jesus destroys his ability to eternally separate us from our heavenly Father – paying the price needed to free us from sin’s power to separate us from God by enabling us to be forgiven. Thus forgiven, every time we sin and confess our sins to God, we’re cleansed, made righteous, and joined with Jesus in the eternal kingdom of God. It’s good to know this so we can trust God as we call on Him in all things.

                                                                                        Your Brother in Christ,

                                                                                        Pastor Jim

Hear AND Listen (January 17, 2024)


Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Hearing … and listening – they are different. We hear all the time. A sound wave hits your ear; your brain processes the wave into noise – even when we aren’t thinking about it. Listening, however, is entirely different. Listening is “giving your attention to the noise you hear.” It’s a conscious decision to listen. 

One of the themes of God’s word this time of year is “listening” … versus simply “hearing” and then moving on. A good example is Jonah in the Old Testament. Jonah heard God tell him, “Go to Ninevah and tell them how evil they are!” Jonah knew God wanted Israel’s evil enemies to know Him so He could save them. But rather than listen to God and go, Jonah fled from God – right into the whale’s belly. (Jonah 1)

So, God spoke to Jonah again saying, “I’m serious! Go to Ninevah and tell them how evil they are!” This time Jonah … listened. Jonah paid attention to God and did what God told him to do. And what do you know?! Ninevah turned from its evil and God saved them. (Jonah 3) Because Jonah listened, God spared the lives of over 120,000 people. Listening is important!

Thankfully people like Peter and Andrew, James and John listened when God called them to follow Him and become “fishers of men.” (Mark 1:16-20) Because they listened to Jesus, today the word of God is heard all around the world – including in our own ears. But here’s the question … are we just hearing – like Jonah … or are we also listening – like those first apostles Jesus called?

If we’re just hearing, know this – God is relentless, and He’ll keep speaking to us by the power of the Holy Spirit speaking through those who have listened. I pray you’ll turn from being a hearer of God to a listener. And if you are listening, I pray you then take the next step and become a doer of God’s word. That others may also come to faith, repent, and be saved.

In Christ’s Love,

Pastor Jim 

Because I Can - Should I? (January 17, 2024)

File:What should I do?.png - Wikimedia Commons

CREDIT: Pixabay

Dear Disciples of Christ,

I can – if I want – eat a whole box of ice cream. I can – if I want – binge watch as many episodes of Yellowstone as I’d like. I can – if I want – indulge myself in whatever fantasy I might desire. But just because I can, doesn’t mean I should. 

This belief we can do whatever we want because we can isn’t a new affliction. It goes back to the beginning. After all, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil wasn’t locked away; protected by swinging swords, lightning bolts, and fire. It was in the middle of the garden. Adam and Eve could eat it any time they wanted. But just because they could, didn’t mean they should. In fact, God told them they shouldn’t – and if they did, they’d die. But it looked so good. What harm could possibly come from a bite? So – they ate. And the rest is history. (Genesis 3)

God, our creator, knows exactly what He created us to do … and how to do it. He’s given us all access to gifts He expects us to use. But … not to abuse by using them in ways that bring harm to us or others. God doesn’t leave us guessing. He tells us how to use the gifts He’s given us.

Yet, like Adam and Eve, too many think having access to something enables us to use it as we see fit. Especially if that gift brings us pleasure. But God warns us against misusing His gifts, “All things are lawful … but not all things are helpful,” (1 Corinthians 6:12)– “Just because we can doesn’t mean we should.” Then He hits on two items that often draw us into sin – food and sex. Both, used as God intended, serve godly purposes. But when abused, they lead to sin and death. Fortunately, by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ, He forgives us for our penchant to do whatever we can … even when we shouldn’t. Thank You God for Your patient grace and mercy.

In Christ’s Love,

Pastor Jim 

The Light of God (January 10, 2024)

Lightspeed... | ... of a tram of lights ----- EXPLORED!!! My… | Flickr

CREDIT: Zsolt Andrasi on FLICKR

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Light is God’s first created thing. It’s also His fastest, traveling at just over 186,000 miles/second. Its velocity makes it seem instantaneous. It starts from a point and travels simultaneously in all directions. And finally, it’s one of His most relentless creations because it just keeps going and going, stopping for nothing. Therefore, it’s one of the best examples to help us envision God. God is always present with us – we don’t need to wait for Him. Not only is He with us, but He’s with everyone else in creation. And, like light, He is relentless … always searching for us, able to get through the very smallest of cracks to illuminate our lives.

God penetrates the darkest darkness, “For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and His glory will be seen upon you.” (Isaiah 60:2) His word shines, unstopped, in the world’s darkness, reaching through it into hearts needing to be softened by Him.

God’s gifts – His mercy, grace, and love – land on everyone, everywhere in His creation, even those who’ve never heard of Him, “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs (with the Jews, the original heirs to His promises), members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (Ephesians 3:6) No matter who or where you are, God is there calling to you through the Holy Spirit to receive His gifts of forgiveness and eternal life.

God uses people, like the wise men who brought word of Jesus’ birth to Jerusalem from far away, to carry His gifts throughout His creation to bring His good news to others (Matthew 2:1-12). His light travels through all the generations, coming to us today that we might continue to be the means He uses to keep spreading it to future generations. So let us receive His light and then boldly reflect it into the lives of others that they too will receive it and be saved by it.

In Christ’s Love,

Pastor Jim 

Happy New Year (January 3, 2024)

Happy new year new year's day new year's eve building. - PICRYL - Public  Domain Media Search Engine Public Domain Search

CREDIT: cocoparisienne on pixabay.com via picryl.com

Dear Saints of First Lutheran,

Between Christmas and New Year’s Day, many reflect on the old year while awaiting the new. Each day signifies the passage of time, but New Year’s Eve is special because of the passing of years. It’s a good time to look back and see how God has been with us through all we’ve experienced – the good and the bad. He is with us always.

Particularly when things go poorly, we can feel like we’re all alone in the storm. However, it’s at those times we should remember Paul’s words to the fledgling church in Rome, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39) No matter what’s happening around us, remember – God is always there! Let’s give thanks to God!

This past year God has stood by our sides providing for our needs, caring for our souls through the faith-filled work of many. Our Board of Directors and Mission Board have followed Him in faith, leading us in the stewardship of the many gifts God has given us to grow First Lutheran’s ministries – making sure the bills get paid while also providing for the needy in our community. Our Building Committee has ensured the resources received in our Following Him Faith campaign have been wisely utilized to bring about the construction of our new Preschool, Youth, and Music ministry spaces and the growth of other ministry areas! There are certainly trials and tribulations, but none of them can separate us from God our heavenly Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.

We thank God for His presence and provision. We look forward to a new year, 2024, filled with God’s grace and mercy given to us through His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. May the true peace of God fill your hearts and lives now and always.

                                                                                        Happy New Year!

                                                                                                Pastor Jim