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

RSS Feed

Keep the Ball Rolling (January 23, 2020)

Photo by Seth Doyle on Unsplash

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

When I start a project, I’ve got to do something to get the ball rolling. Once the ball is rolling, it needs to keep rolling. But sometimes I need help from others. For example, when I was in the Air Force, I had the opportunity to start a project to automate the translation of foreign language documents. I got the ball rolling by writing some proposals which convinced others to fund the project. However, to keep the ball rolling, I needed engineers to do design and software coding. I needed linguists to verify results. And I needed people to train others how to use the software. Fortunately, everyone did their part – kept the ball rolling – and the project succeeded.

God doesn’t need help getting, or keeping, the ball rolling for His plan for the redemption of His creation. However, He’s eager to have His children involved. In the first chapter of John we see how eager He is as His Son’ ministry gets rolling. John the Apostle tells how his namesake, John the Baptist, recounts how the ball got rolling as Jesus came toward him one day. John the Baptist says, “I myself did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’” (John 1:33) God the Father starts the ball rolling by letting John the Baptist know which guy would be “the One.” Without God revealing this to John, it’s possible nothing would’ve happened … Jesus might’ve just kept on walking. But God made it clear to John who the Messiah would be … and that’s what happened … the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus and remained on Him. (Matthew 3:16-17)

And John kept the ball rolling as he pointed Jesus out to a couple of his disciples saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” And these guys went and followed Jesus (John 1:35-39). John did his part to keep the ball rolling, just as God had called him to do. Then God called on Andrew, one of the two disciples who followed Jesus, to do his part too. Andrew told His brother Simon about Jesus, “We’ve found the Messiah!” (John 1:41) Simon went with Andrew to see Jesus. There Jesus renamed Simon “Cephas” or “Peter” in English. Peter became a crucial part of Jesus’ inner circle of disciples; and a major part of God’s means to keep His ball rolling … proclaiming the Word of God in letters contained in the Bible today.

God got the ball rolling, but He uses His people to keep it rolling. Hearing from others, by the power of the Holy Spirit they become part of His family. They tell the story. They keep the ball rolling down through the generations. You and I have been made part of God’s family too. In our baptism He has called us to be the means to keep the ball rolling today. It’s become our privilege to serve God by telling His story in our lives so that one day God’s Word will be proclaimed to the ends of the earth. The ball is rolling … and through us, God keeps it rolling.

                                                                                        In Christ’s Love,

                                                                                        Pastor Jim

Alive in Christ! (January 13, 2020)

person under water holding brown wooden cross above water at daytime

Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash

Dear Children of God,

If you’re like me, certain things just don’t move, motivate, or energize you. Others appreciate them, but for whatever reason, they do nothing for me. In a word, “I’m dead” to certain things. For example, a good friend says he appreciates the talent and endurance displayed in soccer … but he acknowledges, “I’m dead to soccer.” The “Beautiful Game” doesn’t move him. Conversely, baseball moves me. In a manner, I live for it. However, many don’t share my joy … “They’re dead to baseball.” Some things move, motivate, and energize us – making us alive. And some things don’t – we’re dead to them.

This analogy, given to me by old friend and mentor Pastor Monte Frohm, helps me understand what Paul is trying to say to us who are part of the Body of Christ. Paul writes, “So you must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:11) While sin still surrounds us, we’re fallen creatures, still prone to committing sin. However, sin shouldn’t be something we find ourselves purposely engaged in and hoping to be moved, motivated, or energized by it – even if we know God forgives us. How is that possible?

Paul reminds us of the gift of our baptisms in which God our Father, through His Word, joins us to His Son, Jesus Christ … and joins Him to us. Paul says, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3-4) Joined to Christ, sin no longer moves, motivates, or energizes us … we’re dead to it. Instead, we’re now alive to Christ.

In baptism, God adopts us as His children. He joins us with His Son in a new family. Jesus lived a perfect life, perfectly obedient to His Father’s will. Then He took upon Himself every sin ever committed by every man, woman, and child who ever lived and ever will live. Sinless Himself, He took all these sins to the cross with Him. Weighed down with these sins, He died … sacrificing Himself as the penalty for mankind’s entire body of sin. In giving His own life for our sins, Jesus sets all who believe in Him, joined to Him in baptism, free from the effects of sin (Romans 6:7) … which is death (Romans 6:23). But we’re not only joined to Jesus in His death … we’re also joined to Him in His resurrection to new life (Romans 6:5). Therefore, just as Christ will never die again, so too will we, who believe in Him, live forever in His new creation.

Freed from sin and assured of eternal life, we can confidently live our lives as Jesus’ hands and feet in the world He’s placed us in. Let us rejoice in our new lives in Christ … moved, motivated, and energized by Him … so that others, living in sin’s darkness, might also be joined to Christ and to each of us … dead to sin and alive in Christ.

                                                                                        Your brother in Christ,

                                                                                        Pastor Jim

Happy New Year! (January 8, 2020)

Happy New Year text

Photo by Crazy Nana on Unsplash

Dear Saints of First Lutheran,

At this time of year, the week 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 and Day are special because of the passing of years … and this year, the decades. To me it’s helpful, every now and then, to take a look back on the past because it helps me see how far I’ve come. Looking back far enough gives me a perspective I often fail to have when I’m so caught up in the “day-to-day.” After all, where was I 10 years ago? I was still on active duty … contemplating a second career in ministry … with no idea where First Lutheran Church and Huntingtown MD even were. My … how things have changed! The journey wasn’t always smooth, but, as I look back, I remember Psalm 111 which opens with “Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart …” (Psalm 111:1)

The psalmist doesn’t say “Praise the Lord when things are going well …” He simply says “Praise the Lord!”  … no matter what!  He’s with us, even when it seems He might be far away.  He is actually very close to us, waiting patiently for us to call on Him in all things … good and bad, beneficial and difficult.  No matter what, God our Father remembers His promises to us, His people, to be with us at all times.

In the prophet Isaiah’s day, God’s people were going through a bad stretch … by their own choosing … as they had turned away from God and turned to their own ways. Isaiah tells them, “They rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit” (Isaiah 63:10) by their unrepentant actions. However, in the same breath, Isaiah calls on God’s people to look back in time … to “Recount the steadfast love of the LORD …” and all He has done for them to include calling them “His people … His children” and bringing them out of slavery in Egypt, leading them safely to the Promised Land (Isaiah 63:7-8, 11-14). Looking back in remembrance of all God has done for them, seeing how far they’ve come by His power, they can see how faithful He is to His promises to be with them, to forgive them, and to remain with them.

God never promises us, that this side of heaven, everything will be easy and trouble-free. After all, until Christ returns, the devil and his co-workers continue to be active … trying to lead people away from God any way they can. However, God does promise us that He will always be by our side (Matthew 28:20). He promises to forgive us when we return to Him after straying from Him (1 John 1:9). He promises to give us the Holy Spirit who will guide us, keep us in faith, and help us to remember His promises to us (John 14:16,26). 

I look forward to a new year and a new decade, 2020, 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

Merry Christmas! (December 26, 2019)

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Merry CHRISTmas to you.  This time of year is often characterized as a time of love.  We see the ads on television showing the exchange of diamonds and jewelry … traditional signs of love.  We also see relatives and friends piling through front doors for parties … bringing their love with them. But the kind of love these things show is not necessarily the love this Fourth Sunday in Advent is all about. This week, the week before Christmas, is the week we light the “love” candle. However, this kind of “love” is not the kind of love satisfied by gifts … or good friends … or a flirtatious relationship. The “love” we celebrate today is the selfless, sacrificial love God has for His creation. The kind of love that led Him to send His only son into the world, giving Him up to death so that “whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16) In just a few days, we’ll once again celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Son of God, through whom all who, by the power of the Holy Spirit, have faith, receive the Father’s gifts … forgiveness and eternal life.

Today we worship and praise God, thanking Him for His gracious gifts to us a little differently than usual.  We worship and praise Him through the words of one of the most endearing Christmas hymns ever, “O Come, O Come Immanuel”, and the special music of the Everlasting Light Cantata.  We hear God’s Word proclaimed for all through song.  Therefore, we won’t hear the scripture texts appointed for the 4th Sunday in Advent.  Nevertheless, I urge you to read through these words sometime this week; Isaiah 7:10-17, Romans 1:1-7, and Matthew 1:18-25.  In these words, God provides hope to all who believe in Him in these joyous images of His promise to show His love to His creation.  We see a glimpse of the God’s love in the promises He made through Isaiah that He would send His Son into the world to save it (Isaiah 7:10-17). We see His humble, faithful servant Joseph, filled with the Holy Spirit, willingly allowing his wife Mary to bear God’s own son (Matthew 1:18-25). Then we read Paul’s summary account of Jesus’ life and work to show His Father’s love by saving His creation (Romans 1:1-7).  

As you worship today, or hear God’s promises sung through the many great hymns of the season, listen carefully to these joyous promises God speaks to us, in song, through His messengers … His prophets, His apostles and His faithful people. Give thanks to God for His gracious presence in our lives through His Son, given to us 2000 years ago, who will return again to bring us into His kingdom.

Remember, not just this week, but throughout the year, the love God has for you … given through His Son, “Immanuel … God with Us.” Jesus Christ – fully God and fully man – foretold by the prophets of old … born to a woman named Mary … raised by a man named Joseph … given “to save His people (you and me included) from their sins (Matthew 1:21).” The greatest gift of love ever given.

                                                                                        In the Love of God,

                                                                                        Pastor Jim

Looking Joyfully (December 18, 2019)

Photo by Firasat Durrani on Unsplash

Dear Saints,

There’s a reason it’s called “the dead of winter.” Everything looks dead. And the sky is grey, the air is cold, and it’s wet. It’s dead. It’s gloomy. It’s … well … the dead of winter. I’m guessing that’s why many people head south for a while … to see some life. Me, I’ll periodically turn on the MLB Network to watch Winter League baseball from the Caribbean. The stands are filled with people basking in the warm sun. The stadiums are surrounded by palms waving in the tropical breezes. And bright flowers burst forth … even in the dead of winter. Seeing this reminds me of joyful times to come. 

Isaiah’s ministry to God’s people took place in a period of great darkness. His people had turned away from Him and without realizing it were living in miserable gloom of sin. Yet, despite living in “the dead of winter” so to speak, God offers His people a glimpse of the future … a future filled with joy. He promises, “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus; it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing. (Isaiah 35:1) Isaiah proclaims a day will come when blind eyes will be opened, unhearing ears will be unstopped, crippled legs will run and jump like deer, and unspeaking tongues will rejoice (Isaiah 35:5-6)! What a joyful time that’ll be for God’s people!

Eight centuries later, John the Baptist was stuck in the gloom of a Roman prison. He’d faithfully stood up to the temple leaders and the Romans as he boldly proclaimed God’s Word in order to pave the way for Jesus’ ministry. One can imagine his disappointment at ending up in prison for doing what God had asked him to do. So, in despair, John sends his disciples to Jesus asking, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another? (Matthew 11:3) By now Jesus has restored paralyzed legs, cured lepers, exorcised demons, returned sight to the blind and speech to the mute, raised the dead, exerted mastery over nature, and proclaimed the good news to people throughout the region. So, Jesus responds, “Go and tell John what you hear and see. (Matthew 11:4) He tells them, in essence, “Remember Isaiah’s words about the Messiah and what He will do? Well, rejoice! Though it looks like it might be the dead of winter, it’s not! Because that’s exactly what I’ve done and who I am!”

We sit between the time of Jesus’ first coming and His promised return. I won’t argue that it feels a lot like the “dead of winter” for us right now. We feel the disappointment and pain of life in a sin-filled world. We personally experience it in many ways each day. But we can look joyfully to the future God promises us. A future described by Isaiah in this way, “And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (Isaiah 35:10) We can look joyfully to this future which God promises. The dead of winter is almost over.

                                                                        In Christ’s Love,

                                                                        Pastor Jim

Looking Up! (December 11, 2019)

tree trunk with green leaves

Photo by qinghill on Unsplash

Dear Saints,

I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the locust tree. Some call them beautiful. For me, they’re something to be cut down. I first encountered them several years ago as major pests in my yard … damaging my house, blocking my satellite TV signal, and making a mess of things when they shed their leaves and pods. So, I got out my chain saw and cut them down. That was that! Until a couple years later, I noticed new locust trees where the old ones stood … growing from the stumps I left behind. This tree, though it looked dead, sprouted leaves, flowers, and fruit! Things were looking up for it!

Around 700 B.C. God sent His prophet Isaiah to His people Judah. Long before Isaiah, a man named Jesse had a son named David. God anointed David as king of His people (1 Samuel 16:1-13). And for a time, Israel, under King David was obedient to God and His Word. However, eventually the mighty kingdom God established under David fell into depravity. But God, remembering He made a promise to David centuries before that David’s kingdom and throne would be established forever (2 Samuel 7:12-17), reminded His people of His promise through Isaiah, saying “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit (Isaiah 11:1).” Nevertheless, in time, God cut down the kingdom of Judah and it’s evil, wicked kings. He had them carted off to exile in Babylon. The stump looked, for all who saw it, dead …

Then one night, in a small, unimportant village a small shoot emerged from the family tree of Jesse. It wasn’t much to look at … the first ones to hear its cry were probably some cows and sheep and goats foraging for a midnight snack in the stable … who found a baby lying in the place their food should’ve been. The first people to hear its cry, besides the poor girl and carpenter husband who were its parents, were some lowly shepherds. Yet this baby was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s 700-year old prophecy. Jesus, the Son of God, was the shoot from the stump of Jesse (Matthew 1:6-16) … a shoot that became a branch which bore much fruit for His Father in heaven. Through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection all who believe in Him … though dead in sin, receive new life in Christ Jesus. Things are looking up!

Mankind, because of sin, is nothing more than a forest of lifeless stumps. However, Jesus, the Living Water (John 4:14) and the Light of the World (John 8:12), gives new life to lifeless stumps! Through the waters of baptism lifeless, rotting stumps have been brought to new life. By the power of the Holy Spirit, given in baptism, we believe in God the Father’s promise of forgiveness and eternal life that comes to all who believe in His Son, Jesus. Raised from mere stumps to living branches, we also begin to bear the good fruit of the Spirit in God’s creation. Fruit which God uses to raise more dead stumps to new life. So, let’s give thanks to God for enabling us to see that things are, in fact, looking up!

                                                                        In Christ’s Love,

                                                                        Pastor Jim

Look Out! (December 7, 2019)

person standing in front of sunset

Photo by eniko kis on Unsplash

Dear Servants of the King,

“Look out!” Whew … that was close. Many of us have had the experience of being in a close call with danger. Fortunately, while we were oblivious for whatever reason, someone was alert enough to warn us, wake us up, and get us to move to safety. It happened to me … or should I say … to my commander once. Lieutenant Colonel Charles was on alert with me, Second Lieutenant Kent, in Wyoming. He was starting to change a light bulb powered by a 240-volt, 20-amp circuit. As he readied his screwdriver to pop out the light bulb, I noticed he hadn’t opened the circuit breaker. As I slapped his hand, knocking him over, I yelled, “Look out! … Sir.” My warning saved my commander from a shocking experience. He thanked me … and let me take over the rest of the maintenance.

For many this time of year is filled with commotion. The hustle and bustle of shopping, parties, and decorating occupies our eyes, ears, and minds to the point of distraction from things that truly matter. That’s what the season of Advent is for … it’s a period of waiting in which God, through His Word, tells us, “Look out!” In His Word, God warns us to keep our senses attuned to the truly important thing this season … and throughout the year.

Much of our distraction is focused on one day … Christmas … the day we celebrate our Savior’s birth. However, if we pay close attention to what God tells us this season, we see He’s got a more important day for us to focus on. It’s true, Jesus Christ, our Savior, was born into the world and we celebrate that blessed day on Christmas. However, Jesus was born for a reason … He was born to “save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).” He was born to die on the cross and then, to rise from the dead to defeat the power of sin and death over all who believe in Him (Romans 10:9). But God is still warning us this Advent, “Look out!”

Through Paul, He urges us “Look out!” saying, “You know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed … the day is at hand. (Romans 13:11-12).” God warns us because, while Jesus first appeared in a lowly stable … He is going to return. The day of His return is drawing closer with each hour and minute that passes. On that day, the King of kings, Lord of lords will return to judge all mankind, living and dead. So, “Look out! … Cast off the works of darkness (orgies, drunkenness, sexual immorality, sensuality, quarreling, and jealousy) and put on the armor of light (the Word made flesh, the Lord Jesus Christ) (Romans 13:12-13).”

God doesn’t keep His love for His people secret. He truly desires that all come to faith in His Son Jesus, born over 2000 years ago so that when He returns, on a day and hour that nobody knows (Matthew 24:36), He will find a world teeming with faith that will be brought into His eternal kingdom. Look out!

                                                                                                        In God’s Peace,

                                                                                                        Pastor Jim