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One Body of Christ (January 26, 2022)

Dear Fellow Children of God,

To follow up on my doctor visit – my foot still hurts. It’s some kind of “itis” that’ll resolve itself with “RICE” – rest, ice, compression, and exercise. The exercise involves massaging, stretching, and light resistance with bands. Still, my foot is sore, which makes getting the rest of me around more trouble than usual. Fortunately, it is getting better. The work of the doctors, my own hands doing the exercises, and some prayer is working together heal my foot.

Following Paul’s analogy in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31, this is another good picture of God’s church. In our baptism, God has called each of us into His Body, the Church. And just like a human body is made of many parts, the parts all come together as one body. Each part of the body affects the other parts – when my foot hurts, the rest of my body feels the pain. And no part is unnecessary – if I were to eliminate the pain by removing my foot, getting around would be a lot more difficult. Just like God has put all the parts together to create each of us as a human being, He has also put us, individual members, together into His church. He has gifted each of us in different ways to serve Him and His church.

We’re not all feet, or hands, or eyes, or noses … some of us are teachers, some healers, some helpers, some administrators and leaders – all of us are something. God has gifted all of us in some way to serve Him and His church. And He calls us to use those gifts in service. (We) are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27). None of us is indispensable – we’re all necessary. When one of us of decides not to share our gifts with the rest, we all suffer. When we all use our gifts as God calls us to, we all benefit, and God’s kingdom thrives and grows. Listen to God’s call and use your gift in service to Him.

                                  In Christ’s Love,

                                                                                                        Pastor Jim

Whole is Greater Than the Sum (January 19, 2022)

Dear Fellow Children of God,

The other day I needed to find my new doctors to get my ankle looked over. I had no idea where they were or how to get there. So, it was off to the internet and the phone’s GPS. Sure enough, they led me right to where I needed to be. I’m always amazed by this technology and how well it guides me because I also know how many different things and people it takes to make this “ordinary” tool work. You see, one of my Air Force assignments was working with GPS satellites. Getting the signal to your phone is routine, but not simple – it takes many people and systems to get you where you want to be. If any part of this complex system goes astray, you might find yourself somewhere, but not where you desire to be.

This is a good picture of God’s church. God desires to lead us to say and believe “Jesus is Lord” (1 Corinthians 12:3). Through the Holy Spirit, God provides His church – all God’s children, you and me included – with many different skills and abilities. He does this for one chief reason; that we might use those skills and abilities in our vocations, collectively as His church, to bring others to join us in saying, “Jesus is Lord” (1 Corinthians 12:4,11).

God provides all His children with a certain number of spiritual gifts. The gifts are different and in varying amounts. Nobody has the whole “tool kit” of gifts. But collectively, all the tools are there. What’s more, though we may think we’re inadequate to use the gifts we’re given, we aren’t. God promises (we) are empowered by … (the) Spirit” to use these gifts. When we come together and let the Spirit guide us in the use of our gifts … When we trust God’s will for us … through us, He will lead others to say, “Jesus is Lord” alongside us. He will lead us to where He desires us to be – in His eternal heavenly kingdom with Him.

                                   In Christ’s Love,

                                                                                                        Pastor Jim

Mystery Solved (January 12, 2022)

Photo by Olav Ahrens Røtne on Unsplash 

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Mysteries, riddles, puzzles – many love the challenge of solving a good conundrum. And once we’ve solved it, it’s hard not to share it with others! I remember getting a set of metal wire puzzles where two pieces of metal wire are twisted together. The puzzle – how to easily separate them. In my day it was trial and error. Today, you can do that (it’s more fun I think), but you can also go to YouTube, search on metal wire puzzles, and someone’s there who can’t wait to share the solution with you! God created us with inquisitive minds, which is why many like a good puzzle or mystery. 

Another mystery people pursue – eternal happiness and life. As the new year rolls in, there are plenty of gizmos and gadgets trying to help people solve this mystery. But, in the end, there’s only one solution to this timeless problem. God, our creator, has shed His light on the solution through His messengers and Son, Jesus Christ. The solution isn’t a gizmo or gadget. St. Paul, one of God’s messengers, received the solution in a blinding flash of light – God revealed to Paul the solution to this mystery as he traveled to Damascus (Acts 9). Then Paul, compelled by the Holy Spirit, began to share the mystery with others, including the Gentiles – people who lived apart from God, without His promise of eternal happiness and life with Him.

The solution to the mystery – Jesus Christ. Paul tells us God chose Him to “to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things … according to the eternal purpose that He has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ephesians 3:9-11). And what’s more, today God calls us, who have access to this same mystery, to boldly share it with others. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are heirs to God’s promise of forgiveness and eternal life through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord! So, let’s share with everyone!

                                                                                                        In Christ’s Love,

                                                                                                        Pastor Jim

Wisdom to Serve (January 5, 2022)

Photo by Adrià Crehuet Cano on Unsplash 

Dear Saints of First Lutheran,

The time around a new year is a good time to reflect on the old year while awaiting the new. For many this includes looking ahead to ways we can better use the many gifts God has blessed us with it in service to Him, His church, and His creation – some call them “resolutions.” We generally know what God has given us – the problem is having the wisdom and resolve to use them as God calls us to. 

This wisdom and resolve comes from God Himself; another of His gifts. When King Solomon began his reign, succeeding his father David, God asked him, “Ask what I shall give you.” Solomon didn’t ask for more power, money, influence, or anything of material value. Solomon asked for wisdom to lead God’s people in accord with God’s will (1 Kings 3:4-9). Solomon, heeding the psalmist’s words, “Oh how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day. Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me” (Psalm 119:97-98), understood his gifts and the wisdom and resolve to us them properly comes from one place – God and His word. 

Just as God’s people needed leaders in Solomon’s day, we need leaders in the church today! God has given each of us talents to be used in His church. This year, First Lutheran will be looking to fill many leadership positions on the Board of Directors (Chair and Executive Secretary), Mission Board (Worship Chair, Humancare Chair, and Fellowship Chair). We are also looking for people to serve as Ushers, Altar Guild members, Bible Study facilitators, and elsewhere. God has indeed given you the gifts to serve in these roles. I urge you to resolve to seek His wisdom – listen to His calling – and have the courage to step out in faith to use your gifts in His church.

I look forward to a new year, 2022, filled with God’s grace and mercy as we join together with all our gifts to serve Him, His church, and His creation.

                                                                                        Happy New Year!

                                                                                        Pastor Jim

Mileposts of Love (December 22, 2021)

Dear Fellow Saints,

The end of our Advent journey is near. If I was driving to visit relatives in Michigan, I’d be turning onto SR-52. I’d see the sign, “Manchester 5 miles.” Almost to my cousin’s house and the warm embraces. I’ve passed many signs – turnpikes, construction zones, exits, and the Michigan state line. Almost there. But I’ve got a couple miles to go.

The end of our Advent journey is in sight. We’ve passed mileposts along the way – Hope, Peace, and Joy. Today we light the final candle, the “Love Candle.” Many of us are getting excited as we see the circle of light growing. In truth, it might be because with each new candle, Christmas Day celebrations are that much closer. 

However, this excitement may have diverted our attention from Christmas’ deeper meaning. It is good to be excited about the gifts we’ll receive Christmas Day. But think also about the many gifts we receive throughout the year. These gifts are signs of love from those around us. 

The toys, clothes, gift cards, noodlecraft art, and homemade fruitcake express love from others. But they don’t compare to the ultimate love we celebrate on Christmas. The baby Jesus wrapped in His Bethlehem manger is the ultimate expression of our Father’s love for us. However, like any gift – if it isn’t unwrapped, it doesn’t fulfill its purpose. It’s worthless. Jesus unwrapped and used Himself for us. Jesus was born to die on the Cross for our sins – and then rise to new life on Easter – so we could receive forgiveness of sin and eternal life. This is the ultimate gift of love anyone can receive.

We thank God by sharing this and all the gifts He’s given us with others – showing His love to the world. It is through us that God gives His love to others.

I pray you find time in these last days of Advent to remember the gift of God’s love we’ve already received and to thank Him for the hope, peace, joy, and love we have through our Lord, Jesus Christ.

                                                                                        Merry Christmas,

                                                                                        Pastor Jim

Imagining Joy (December 14, 2021)

Photo by Zac Durant on Unsplash 

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

In the third week of Advent, as we wait for Christ’s return, we light the pink candle of “Joy”. As we do – imagine the “joy” of healing. Imagine Delta and Omicron – gone. Imagine cancer and dementia – gone. Just imagine – the joy that will likely burst forth in that day.

John the Baptist is hopelessly imprisoned under the oppressive Herod Antipas regime. John and his disciples imagined the joy of the Messiah’s return. They thought Jesus might be that person. But now, with John in prison, they weren’t sure. Their joy began to slip away. Coming to Jesus, they asked, “Are You the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Luke 7:20) Jesus responds with a demonstration of His divinity – healing and restoring sight to the blind. He told John’s disciples, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard.” (John 7:22) Despite John’s situation, imagine the joy he must’ve experienced knowing God’s promises are being kept!

St. Paul was also in prison when he wrote the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4) From prison, knowing the fate awaiting him, a death sentence, Paul still called on God’s people to rejoice! No matter the circumstance in this present world, Rejoice! Whether suffering from illness or injury – Rejoice! Whether imprisoned behind bars or in a difficult situation – Rejoice! How can we do that? Just imagine …

Because of Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross, we don’t need to imagine what it’s like for our sins to be forgiven – sins which separate us from God. We are forgiven all our sins! Due to Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, we also live in the certainty that one day we’ll be raised to new life. Our current circumstance, regardless of what it might be, is only temporary. We rejoice now because we live now – in the promise of the kingdom of heaven where mourning, crying, pain, and death will be no more (Revelation 21:4). Imagine the inexplicable joy on that day!

                                                                                                        In Christ’s Love,

                                                                                                         Pastor Jim

Waiting Peacefully (December 7, 2021)

Photo by Warren Coetzer on Unsplash 

Dear Disciples of Christ,

You may have noticed that there’s generally a familiar ring to the beginning of my sermons. I often start with something like, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:2) It’s not an original idea. Paul begins his letters, sermons if you will, with a similar greeting. Letting His hearers know God’s “peace” is with them, providing comfort to the young, persecuted, and troubled early church. The same comfort God provides to us today. 

This peace isn’t a simple “absence of conflict” though. God’s “true peace,” coming from the Hebrew word “Shalom (שָׁלוֹם)” has a sense of “completeness, intactness, and unity” associated with it. Only if something is truly “complete, intact, and unified” with all that is around it, can “true peace” be achieved. God mourns that, because of our sin, we don’t have true peace with Him and each other. However, in His infinite love, He has given us a way to find true peace.

Advent is a time of preparation. We prepare, of course, to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace – the means God the Father uses to give us “shalom.” Through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, He defeated sin’s power to create eternal conflict. His gift of forgiveness is what we need to have God’s true peace. John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus by calling people to turn away from and receive  forgiveness of their sins (Luke 3:2-3). As we confess our sins to God, He forgives them completely and totally. He removes the source of conflict between us and Him. Further, when we confess our sins to and forgive each other, as God has forgiven us – true peace begins to take hold. By our witness of God’s mercy, true peace grows – killing Satan’s seeds of conflict.

 We are lights of God’s true peace in the world. Therefore, spread God’s true peace in your words and deeds to all you meet now AND throughout the “Advent” life He calls you to live until Jesus glorious return.

                                                                               In God’s Peace,

                                                                                Pastor Jim