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Preparation for the Journey (August 15, 2018)

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Photo by Simon Migaj on Unsplash

Dear Fellow Sojourners in the World,

I love going on long trips by car.  It takes longer to get there … and back … but I just like seeing all the interesting things along the way.  Of course, when I do this there’s a bit of preparation for the journey.  I need to check out the car to make sure it’ll make there and back.  I need to stock up on supplies and plan on things to do and see before I head out.  And then, even the day I leave the house, there are those last-minute things to attend to just before heading out on the road.  All this preparation is needed to ensure the journey is completed as envisioned.

In our Old Testament passage, we see a distraught Elijah who is just worn out.  Going head-to-head with the prophets of Baal, he’s shown there is only one true, living God – the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  The prophets of Baal tried in a vain to get Baal to do something with their sacrifice while the God accepted Elijah’s sacrifice in dramatic fashion, destroying the prophets of Baal in the process (1 Kings 18:20-40).  Now … Elijah is on the run because Queen Jezebel has put out a contract on him for killing her prophets. 

Elijah, worn out, tells God, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” (1 Kings 19:4) In his mind, he’s done what God asked and he’s ready to be taken away from his difficult circumstance.  I know I’ve felt this way at times.  Not to the point of saying, “God, take my life.”  But certainly, to the point of saying, “God, get me out of here! I can’t do this anymore.”  But God had more for Elijah to do.  God sent an angel to nourish Elijah for the next part of his journey telling him, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.” (1 Kings 19:7) God prepared Elijah for his 40-day journey to Horeb (also called Mount Sinai) – where Moses received his call to rescue God’s people in Egypt and the Ten Commandments.  There, Elijah would receive his next mission from God.

You and I are on journeys through the world today.  Our trips across the country, to other continents, even to the grocery store and work are all part of the journey God, the same God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who set Elijah on his journey, has put us on.  It can be a difficult journey and we can be tempted to say, “Enough God!  I’m finished.”  That’s when Jesus, the Bread of Life, says to us, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:51) He nourishes us … strengthens us … prepares for the journey ahead.  As travelers in this world, we’re on a journey to our eternal home, the kingdom of heaven.  Through the gift of His Word and Sacraments, God prepares us for the work He envisions for us to do along the way.

                                                         In the Love of the Living Bread,

                                                                                              Pastor Jim

Walk the Talk (August 8, 2018)

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Dear Saints,

“You gotta walk the talk.” I hear these and similar sayings when people get tired of hearing someone say they’ll do this and that, but never get around to it.  In the sports world we see teams brag about how good they are, but the reality is that it doesn’t matter what they say until they back it up on the field.  We frequently hear politicians make bold promises to get elected, but again, talk is cheap if the actions don’t back up the promises.

Paul is urging the church in Ephesus to “walk the talk” when he says, “I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” (Ephesians 4:1) One problem he was addressing was a church where people heard about the gospel of Jesus Christ, said they believed in it … yet their actions weren’t always consistent with it.  By the gift of God’s grace, they were called by the Holy Spirit into faith in Jesus Christ, the Son through their baptisms.  It wasn’t because of anything they did that they were brought into faith … rather it was only because of God’s love and Jesus’ humble servanthood on the cross that makes faith possible. 

Nevertheless, many in the church of those days were still under the mistaken impression that man’s work was part of the process to be saved.  This brought about division caused by … false teachings, differing opinions on old religious practices, and simple intolerance of those different from them.  But, the church is not a place of division, but rather of unity under a single head, Jesus Christ. 

We see some of the same issues in the modern church today too.  Unfortunately, this disunity, caused by people in the church not “walking the talk,” threatens the church and keeps many outside the church from coming to faith.  In the eyes of many in society, the church’s witness by actions that are inconsistent with God’s word shows the church as hypocritical.    

God desired the 1st century church, as well as the 21st century church, to “walk the talk.”  To use the old “wristband phrase” … “What would Jesus do?”  as we engage the world.  Jesus walked the talk by speaking and acting in humility, gentleness, patience, and love.  He didn’t do this by giving into the world, but He did it by letting the world see that His actions matched His words.  He told people to love … and He loved (e.g. John 11:1-44).  He told people to be servants … and He served (e.g. John 13:1-20).  He told people to forgive … and He forgave (e.g. Luke 7:36-50).  Sometimes He spoke the hard truth, but He did it in love in order to bring about repentance ( e.g. Matthew 16:21-23). 

We walk the talk when our lives reflect the words we believe in.  When we walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  (Ephesians 4:1-2) Let us show the world the gospel of Jesus Christ in our words and deeds.

                                                                                                        In God’s Peace,

                                                                                                        Pastor Jim

Fueling the Imagination (July 31, 2018)

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Dear First Family and Friends,

I retired from the Air Force after 24 plus years.  While the ceremony took place on March 8th, 2011, much took place before that day.  One of the more significant things was a class called “Transition Assistance Program” (TAP). Among other things, TAP taught me to imagine myself in a post-Air Force life.  That might sound weird, but my life was shaped by 24 years of cutting my hair a certain way, wearing certain clothes every day, and doing certain work every day.  I needed to imagine a new kind of life in order to figure out what I’d be doing in that new life.  I thought I was in good shape as I imagined myself a high school math and science teacher who coached the baseball team.

Our imaginations are gifts from God.  He gives them to us to help us envision the future and prepare for that future.  Paul instructs us that God helps us to envision a future even greater than we could possibly imagine on our own, “(He) is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.” (Ephesians 3:20) We may “think,” or as the Greek word Paul uses – “imagine,” we know what God’s plans are for us, but the reality is that God’s ideas are far greater than we can imagine!

So, how do we align our limited imaginations with His far more abundant imagination?  First, we do as Paul does in the passage contained in Ephesians 3:14-21.  We pray.  As we pray, we listen to God as He guides us – often hearing what others around us, those He speaks to us through, say to us.  We also listen as He tugs on our hearts – moving us in certain directions.  Then, as we begin to “comprehend … the breadth and length and height and depth … (and) be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18-19) we pray some more, consult with others, and pray again.

As I was imagining my future as a teacher, which I thought was pretty imaginative. But, God definitely had different ideas in His imagination.  Through prayer and spending time in His word, He enabled me to comprehend His plan … and today, after much more prayer, consultation with my family and pastor, and more prayer, here I am … a pastor … a kind of teacher and coach I guess, but much different than I imagined.  What is God imagining for you?

God also imagines the future of His church … it is much grander than we can envisage.  First Lutheran for example, began as a “house church” in Al and Sally Plusch’s living room.  Today, First Lutheran sits at one of the busiest intersections in Calvert County and owns 4.5 acres of undeveloped land.  What is God imagining that we do with this prime location and the resources He’s blessed us with?  I urge you to pray about this.  God will provide all we need to fulfill His vision of “joyfully proclaiming God’s word and enthusiastically sharing Christ’s love” with those He puts in our lives – coworkers, classmates, neighbors, and passersby.  Imagine the possibilities!  God will enable His people to do that and more!

                                                                                    In Christ’s Love,

                                                                                    Pastor Jim

Sheep and Shepherds (July 25, 2018)

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Dear Fellow Sheep,

I’m not a biologist, veterinarian or rancher so I can’t say I know for certain that sheep are as clueless as I’m led to believe.  Frankly, my only experience with sheep is in the form of sweaters, coats, and Easter dinner.  However, I’ve heard enough stories from people who routinely deal with sheep to believe there is at least some truth to the claim that sheep can be clueless, self-centered animals … so much so that they really do need shepherds to guide them to food and water and keep them safe from what many other animals would recognize as danger.  Sheep generally, from what I hear, go where the shepherd leads them.

Scripture often uses the metaphor of “sheep” to represent people in the world.  Scripture also uses the metaphor of “shepherd” to represent people who lead other people in the world.  Jeremiah 23 offers an interesting perspective on the shepherd-sheep relationship.  God calls shepherds — prophets, priests, and kings in Jeremiah’s day — to guide His people.  He expected His shepherds to do what He told them to do.  A good example is Amos who, when told to by Amaziah, a priest in Israel, to leave Israel and proclaim God’s truth in Judah, essentially said, “God didn’t tell me to prophesy to Judah.  He said, ‘Go prophesy to my people Israel.’” (Amos 7:15) Unfortunately many of His anointed, like Israel’s King Jeroboam, weren’t taking care of the sheep God entrusted to them.  “(They) have scattered (His) flock and have driven them away” (Jeremiah 23:2) with false teachings. 

But God, in His love for His creatures, including you and me, won’t let His people be scattered forever.  He will certainly punish all who cause them to be scattered by their lies (Jeremiah 23:2).  But, those who’re led astray, He will gather them … He will bring them back to Himself … He will set new shepherds over them who speak the truth and care for them (Jeremiah 23:3-4).  And these shepherds will be led by the ultimate shepherd, Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  Jesus will save Judah and enable Israel to dwell securely (Jeremiah 23:6).  He will also bring “those who once were far off … near by (His) blood.”  (Ephesians 2:13) Both fallen Jews and ignorant Gentiles will be united in Christ, joined together as one body through the Cross of Christ. 

Today many are concerned about loved ones who’ve gone astray.  There are many evil shepherds, some even posing as so-called ministers of God’s word, who’re leading many astray.  Their words may sound like “love” and “peace” and “happiness” to worldly ears, but they aren’t.  These words please man’s ears while leading God’s sheep astray.  But, God promises to gather those they scatter back to Himself.  Just as He set new shepherds over this Old Testament people, He has set new shepherds over us— shepherds who proclaim God’s word in truth, “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, (with) Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone.” (Ephesians 2:20) God will lead those who’ve gone astray back to Himself through the work of His true shepherds and the true believers that make up His church here on earth.  We take comfort trusting God keeps His promises.

                                         In the Love of the Good Shepherd,

                                                                                    Pastor Jim

It's Been A Year - Thank You (July 17, 2018)

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Dear Friends in Christ,

It is right to thank and praise those who give so much!  It’s been a year since God brought my wife Shauna and me to Calvert County Maryland and First Lutheran Church in Huntingtown.  It’s been a year since He had me ordained and installed as the pastor to His people here.  It’s been a year that we’ve been privileged to experience God’s blessings through His people.  They’ve been a people of mercy and grace through – kind words and encouragements, patience as I sometimes forget words or mix them up, enduring absences at inopportune moments (like two days before five Christmas Eve and Day services), and helping us grow into their lives.  Thank you all, God’s people in His church, very much for allowing God to work through you to make this first year, a gift we’ll never forget!  God has done much to us through you!

Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus to help them understand what God had done for them through Christ, the head of the church.  It was God the Father who chose them … since before the dawn of time … to be His people through His son Jesus Christ.  He didn’t do this because they were so good looking, nice, and fun to be with though … reasons we might choose to be with someone.  Rather, He chose them because He loved them and desired for them to be with Him.  It’s a “grace thing” … an undeserved gift from God.  Then He redeemed them through His Son Jesus and sealed them through the Holy Spirit.  God has lavished these same gifts on us …the chosen, redeemed, and sealed!

Of course, once our Father has chosen us, He teaches us what it means to be His chosen people … how He wishes for us to respond to His love for us by loving Him and our neighbors.  Throughout His word, including Ephesians, He tells us how to live this life of love within our families, our communities, and our jobs.  He also tells us how to live our lives in His church. 

Back to thanks … I thank God that through His church He has brought His word of truth to me and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, enabled me to believe it (Ephesians 1:13).  Through His church, He has done the same thing for you and all who believe in Him.  It is only in Christ’s church, not the building, but the people who believe and confess the gospel of Jesus Christ through words and deeds that any of us can come to hear God’s word and ultimately believe in it.  Once we believe, we live in His promise of “the guarantee of our inheritance (eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven) until we acquire the possession of it.” (Ephesians 1:14) 

Paul continues Ephesians 1 with these words, “I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers” (Ephesians 1:16) to God our Father.  I too give Him thanks for you all as I remember you in my prayers.  I ask you to continue to remember Shauna and me in your prayers as we continue living together and serving God, each other, and His creation.

                                                                                    In the Love of Christ,

                                                                                    Pastor Jim

Superheroes (July 5, 2018)

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Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

If you’ve walked by my office you probably know I’m a fan of superheroes.  I have a lot of them lined up on my shelves … but, Batman and Ironman are my two favorites.  They’re pretty much normal, everyday guys.  They have superior intellects they know how to use.  But, day-to-day, they’re pretty normal.  They couldn’t do the “super hero” thing, without their “suits.”  The suits transform them into superheroes capable of saving people from evil villains. 

There are superheroes like this in the real world too.  I’m thinking of the regular people around us who, when equipped with special suits and tools are transformed to do some pretty incredible things to save others from trouble they find themselves in … for example properly trained and equipped firefighters, paramedics, law enforcement personnel, and members of the military are pretty much normal people who do remarkable things to help others in need.  But, still, these people only have limited superpowers. In fact, I would argue, all of us are like this in some way. 

God's Word shows many people just like us … normal, average, run of the mill people who are called to be superheroes in a sense by doing the will of God our Father, our Creator.  Ezekiel was the son of a priest living in exile until called by God to be His personal messenger to Israel.  He was a normal guy with no special powers until God spoke to Him, “Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak with you.” (Ezekiel 2:1) God gave Ezekiel the superpower of His Spirit so He could proclaim God’s word of truth into the world of “rebellious people” in order to save them from sin and eternal death.  In 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, St. Paul describes how he, a “tent maker” by trade and persecutor of Christians, was made strong enough to proclaim God’s word of truth by God Himself despite his weaknesses in the flesh.  And Jesus, the Son of God, took His crowd of uneducated, unimpressive disciples and sent them into the world clothed ONLY with the superpower of His word of authority to battle sin and evil.  We hear these superheroes “cast out many demons and … healed (many).” (Mark 6:13) In faith, God called all these people, just like you and me, and gave them the gift of His word to proclaim in truth to the world.  He made these average folks into superheroes through whom He saves a lost and sinful world from eternal death through faith in Jesus Christ, His Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

You and I are normal, average, unassuming people.  Alone, we’re truly weak and unable to do much in the way of eternal consequence.  However, in Baptism God our Father clothes us in Christ, fills us with the Holy Spirit, and gives us the power to believe and proclaim His word to a lost and sinful world.  As we turn to Him … trust Him … and let Him work in the world through us … He transforms each of us with the unlimited superpower of His word into superheroes He uses to save the world.

                                                                                    In the Love of Christ,

                                                                                    Pastor Jim

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