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Failing Successfully (March 2, 2021)

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Dear Family and Friends of First,

You may have heard, “Failure’s not an option.” That’s true is some instances. But generally, failure is part of life. Did you know one of the greatest baseball players ever spent the equivalent of 7 seasons trying to hit a baseball into fair territory? Mickey Mantle struck out and walked over 3400 times, the equivalent of about 7 seasons. His perseverance led to over 2400 hits, including 536 home runs. Thomas Edison, one of America’s great inventors, failed thousands of times before he finally got it right – creating a technique to make cost effective light bulbs. Perhaps “failure” is too strong of a word considering the successes borne of failure.

Christians are called to be the “Light of Christ” in the world by “joyfully proclaiming God’s word and enthusiastically sharing Christ’s love” (Matthew 28:19-20 and 22:37-40). However, as we live out these words, we experience repeated failure. Loved ones and friends continually ignore us (or worse), leading us to give up hope. But St. Paul urges us to look beyond the failures and keep pushing forward. He writes, “Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.” (2 Corinthians 4:1) What’s more, Paul reminds to stick to the truth found only in God’s word. To gain some success, we might be tempted to sugarcoat His word, trick people into accepting it, or otherwise try to take shortcuts to bring people to faith. Don’t! (2 Corinthians 4:2

If people don’t listen to us as we live, speak, and act in the world in accord with the truth found in God’s word, that’s not our failure. It’s others who allow themselves to fall victim to “the god of this world … (who works) to keep them from seeing the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:4) So let us persevere in our witness to the world, shining the true light of Christ into the darkness of the world. Through us, the Holy Spirit WILL bring others into the Kingdom of God.

                                                                                        In Christ’s Love,

                                                                                        Pastor Jim

Knowledge is Power (February 17, 2021)

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Photo by Christian Dubovan on Unsplash

Dear Children of God,

“Knowledge is power.” It can build up or cause harm. Let’s say I know something about how electricity works. Using it to help build a house with safe electricity – that’s powerful. But, using it to create dangerous circuits intentionally – the knowledge is still powerful – but it’s also harmful.

God has given us powerful knowledge in His word. Through our “undivided devotion to the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:35), He gives us knowledge of our freedom in the gospel – a powerful gift! However, this knowledge can be dangerous if we use it knowingly (or unknowingly) to lead our weaker Christian brothers and sisters to abandon their saving faith in Jesus Christ.

Many in the Corinthian church were new converts – “baby Christians” – still learning to walk in newness of life. Many pagan worship practices were still in force in Corinth. New Christians were still exposed to danger from those still worshipping the idols they had recently renounced. Experienced Christians knew eating “idol meat” was okay since idols were simply man-made gods with no power at all.  However, Paul’s concern was for new converts lacking knowledge in the deeper truths of their new Christian faith. Many new coverts still believed one must avoid “idol meat” to keep from being swayed. Paul counsels experienced believers to be a good example to their weaker brothers and sisters by lovingly abandoning eating “idol meat” to keep them from stumbling and falling falling back into idol worship.

“Idol meat” isn’t an issue today. We know the gospel frees us to enjoy food or drink in moderation. We can participate in activities like dancing, music, and art. But what we decide to do with our knowledge of God’s Word and our freedom should be done in love that builds up Christ’s church.  If something we appreciate knowingly causes our brethren to stumble, even if not prohibited by God’s word, He asks us to renounce, willingly and lovingly, some of our habits so we help build up Christ’s church. Then, our knowledge powerfully responds to God’s love by loving others.

                                                                                        Your Brother in Christ,

                                                                                        Pastor Jim

Called to Serve (February 10, 2020)

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Dear Servants of Christ,

In the military, I served under a lot of leaders. The most enjoyable to serve under were the ones who regularly called me and the other troops with clear direction – not necessarily micro-managers, but leaders who understood they needed others to get the work done. They set clear expectations that enabled me to serve them well – with some course corrections along the way as needed. I appreciated being called into service so I could better focus the use of my gifts in my work.

I’m sure most of us feel the same way because that’s how God created us – with special gifts to be used in the world, not hidden. God calls us to do His work in the world. For example, God needed some work done in a place called Nineveh. He called a man named Jonah, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” (Jonah 3:2) It took some doing, but eventually Jonah agreed to be the means God used to bring Nineveh to repentance (Jonah 1-2). And whatever God told him to say worked because God’s word says everyone and everything from the king to the beasts fasted and cried out to God (Jonah 3:5-10). Through Jonah, God’s work was done.

Centuries later, Jesus called to some fisherman to help Him with His mission. He told Simon and Andrew, James and John to drop their nets and “Follow me.” (Mark 1:17) And immediately, they became means God used to proclaim His message, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15)

Their faithful obedience enables us to hear God’s call to us. Through them, God calls us to serve Him. Telling us how to use the gifts He’s given us to bring His grace and mercy to the world today. Let us all listen closely to God’s word and response to our prayers. He’s telling us how to go into the world to draw others to Himself.

                                                                                        Your Fellow Servant,

                                                                                        Pastor Jim

Just Because You Can ... (February 3, 2021)

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Photo by Manan Chhabra on Unsplash

Dear Members of Christ,

Just because we can doesn’t mean we should. God has laid before us a smorgasbord of gifts. But some of these things can move from being “good gifts” to “enslaving substances” if we’re not careful. Dr. Joseph Gerstein, a specialist in addiction recovery says, “When people cling to activities despite negative effects, it indicates addictive behavior.” It doesn’t matter if it’s food, drinks, or activities – most anything can become an unhealthy addiction which adversely affects relationships and our ability to carry out the life God has called us into.

The Corinthians were diverse people who became believers in Jesus and God’s promise of forgiveness. Unfortunately, they lived in a decadent society committed to idol worship, rampant sexual promiscuity, temple prostitution, and gluttonous eating and drinking festivals. While food, drink and, within the bonds of marriage, sexual activity are gifts from God, they became abused addictions. Paul warns, “All things are lawful … but not all things are helpful … I will not be enslaved by anything.” (1 Corinthians 6:12) Paul then reminds the Corinthians that food and drink isn’t for sacrificing to idols or abusing in raucous debauchery. And sex is limited to husbands and wives who are married to each other.

These reminders are also for us. Too often, just because we can eat or drink whatever we want, watch shows with explicit language and sexual activity, or live with members of the opposite sex outside marriage without social stigma – that doesn’t necessarily make these things right in God’s eyes. Joined to Christ, the Holy Spirit dwells within us (1 Corinthians 6:15-19). So, when we abuse God’s gifts, causing negative effects in our relationships with others and God, we’re guilty of falling into sin. Let’s remember, “(We) are not (our) own, for (we) were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) And when we do abuse God’s gifts, let’s also remember God’s promise to forgive us as we turn away from them, confess our sins, and ask Him to help us use them properly.

                                                                                        In Christ’s Love,

                                                                                        Pastor Jim

This or That (January 20, 2021)

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Photo by Oliver Roos on Unsplash

Dear Fellow Saints and Sinners,

Life consists of choices. Most often you can have or do “this” or “that.” You can’t have it both ways. It’s “yes” or “no” … “black” or “white” … or, to use a computer programming term … “1” or “0”. “Maybe” and “grey” are not choices available to us. Usually it seems …

Notice how I addressed you – “Saint and Sinner.” Maybe we can “have our cake and eat it too.” We can live as both saints and sinners. Paul asks, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” (Romans 6:1) The premise behind the question – since God forgives sins; why not just keep doing what we want, even sinning, because God will forgive us anyway … the more we sin the more His grace will shower upon us? 

Paul answers saying, “By no means!” (Romans 6:2) Paul reminds us we are joined to the risen Jesus in baptism so we “might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4)Newness of life” is defined by the impact sin has on us as Christ’s disciples, Christians who believe and trust God’s word in all aspects of our lives – new lives in Christ. 

This new life is possible because the old one was killed on the Cross with Jesus’ death. All who believe in Jesus, His work on the Cross to pay the price for all mankind’s sins, and His resurrection to new life are set free from the eternal effects of sin, eternal death – separation from God (Romans 6:6-8). Walking in new life means, “(We) must consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:11)

Being “dead to sin” we find sin no longer motivates us, enlivens us. When we sin, we feel its painful sting. We don’t like what it does to us. Being “alive to God” we trust His promises. We ask for and receive His forgiveness as we also ask Him to help us run away from sin. We are all sinners – forgiven sinners, which also makes us saints.

                                                                                        Your Fellow Saint and Sinner,

                                                                                        Pastor Jim

The Big Reveal (January 5, 2021)

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CREDIT: Megan Leong on Unsplash

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I usually enjoy it when new things are revealed to me. But I just don’t get the “gender reveal.” I know technology shows us a baby’s gender early. But the public reveal seems odd to me. For example, I went a baseball game and a couple, in front of the whole stadium, threw a pie at the mascot to reveal their baby’s gender – a girl I believe – as the pie exploded into a mess of pink frosting. Then there was the unfortunate gender reveal in California, involving fireworks, that went horribly wrong when it started a massive forest fire. I just don’t get this new custom. 

My lack of “getting it” is something I’ll probably get over. After all, God Himself is pretty high on the “reveal” – in fact, one might even say “the big reveal” is His specialty.  He’s constantly revealing hidden things about Himself through His word and His creation. One of His biggest reveals involved the use of a star to reveal to the world the extent of His love and mercy in the birth of His Son. Though the star was there for all to see, it took some special people, “wisemen from the East”, to let God’s people know the star’s significance. The wisemen, following a star, traveled hundreds of miles to Israel. When they got there, those who should’ve known of its significance, the chief priests and the scribes, had no idea it was there. The wisemen, gentiles, revealed it to them. Then they worshipped the newborn King Jesus with gifts fit for a king – gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

God has revealed His love and mercy to us in His word. Like the wisemen, we follow the light of His word – word that’s there for all to see. However, its significance remains hidden for many. So, let’s all do more than simply follow the light of God’s word. Let’s also, like the wisemen, allow God to use us to reveal it to others so they too come to see, believe, and be saved.

                                                                                        In Christ’s Love,

                                                                                        Pastor Jim

Merry Christmas (December 27, 2020)

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Dear Friends and Family of First Lutheran,

For many, Christmas – or any of the numerous holidays that surround it – is about “presents.”  Ever since early November we’ve been bombarded with commercials showing cars with big red ribbons, jewelry with little ribbons, houses wrapped in lights. The list goes on. The idea behind wrapping is for the gift to be a surprise when you open it. However, I know some people who already know what their gifts are because they buy their own gifts, wrap them, and then act like they’re surprised when they open them, “Oh you shouldn’t have!” Know anyone like that? I’ll admit it, I did this once. It wasn’t as much fun as I thought it would be.

I understand the gift giving tradition. It’s a great way to show our love and appreciation for those we love. In a small way, these gifts can be thought of as symbols of another gift we all received that was wrapped up for us 2000 years ago. Luke tells us, “Mary gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger.” (Luke 2:7) God’s gift to us, Jesus, whose name means “God Saves” was wrapped up for us by His mother. But, unlike most gifts we unwrap each Christmas, this gift is continually given to and unwrapped for us as we worship Him by singing His praises, hearing His Word proclaimed, and receiving His grace and peace in our Baptism, Confession and Absolution, and Holy Communion. 

These gifts nourish our faith continually helping us live our lives in the here and now as God’s children. God desires we continually unwrap His gifts of mercy and grace because He has even better gifts waiting for us one day. He will send His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ again. When that day comes, He’ll bring us into His presence in His new creation. This gift will keep on giving … we’ll receive the love of God and the peace of Christ over and over for all eternity.

                                                                                        Merry Christmas to All,

                                                                                        Pastor Jim