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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)

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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

Waiting in Joy (December 20, 2023)

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CREDIT: Jill Wellington

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Merry CHRISTmas to you. This time of year is often characterized as a time of joy. We’re almost three-quarters of the way through our season of waiting, Advent, and a week away from the big day! It also means we light the “Joy” candle. And it makes sense for those among us who’ll experience many joyful reunions with family and friends. However, some among us will not be joyous. The loss of a job is creating stress in our lives. The loss of good health is creating anxiety over the future. The loss of a loved one in the past year … or maybe several years ago … has created a gaping hole in our lives as we see the empty chair at the table. Joy in these cases is very hard, if not seemingly impossible to find. Whether you are joyful or not at the moment, I urge you to seek joy in God’s word and His promises as we light the “Joy” candle. 

Hear these joyous promises. Through the words spoken by Isaiah, God promises He will bring good news to the poor, heal the brokenhearted, and free the captives (Isaiah 61:1-2). Paul urges us to remember, regardless of our situation in life, to rejoice, pray and give thanks to God for His gracious presence in our lives through His Son Jesus Christ, given to us 2000 years ago, Who will return to us again (1 Thessalonians 5:16-24).

It may seem dark to some at this time of year – but, though it may not seem to be, the darkness is temporary. It may seem bright and cheery to others – but, though a taste of what’s to come, this too is temporary. Regardless of our current situation, we know this, “He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.” (1 Thessalonians 5:24) By “it,” He refers to the “double portion … everlasting joy” (Isaiah 61:7) that is ours through faith in Jesus Christ, His Son, our Lord by the power of the Holy Spirit.

                                                                                        Rejoicing in the Lord always,

                                                                                        Pastor Jim

Waiting in Peace (December 13, 2023)

CREDIT: Jonathan Meyer on Unsplash

Dear Children of God,

Some people love this time of year – parties, music, decorations, cards and letters make it a special time for many. For others, it’s a time of great stress – so much to do, so many expectations, so many commitments. Which is it for you? Is time flying because you’re having so much fun? Or is time dragging because of the stress? While seconds, minutes, hours, and days always cover a fixed length of time, depending on our circumstances it can seem like it takes forever to pass … or it passes in a blink. Time can seem relative, but the fact it's actually fixed can help us enjoy the good times, endure the tough times, and bring us a sense of peace throughout all times.

For all who believe in Jesus – His birth, death, resurrection, and current reign from heaven, we know He will return. And when He does, He will set everything right again (Isaiah 40:10-11) – back to the way He intended when He created all things “very good” (Genesis 1:31). That’s part of our Advent waiting. But as we wait, we deal with times – good and difficult. It can be annoying dealing with life’s ups and downs. We might even get frustrated with God, “God! I’m waiting! Why don’t You fix it all right now!?” Our sense of time can become distorted. We feel we’ve waited long enough … and God seems nowhere to be found.

Peter reminds us that our sense of time and God’s don’t always align. If it seems like it’s taking a long time for God to fulfill His promises, it’s a sign of His infinite mercy. “The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) It may seem like it’s taking forever, but God is faithful. He will return to deliver His new heavens, new earth, and perfect peace. Let’s be patient as we wait this Advent and all our days.

In Christ’s Love,

Pastor Jim 

Waiting in Hope (December 6, 2023)

CREDIT: DieselDemon on Flickr

Dear Friends and Family of First Lutheran,

In the days before video-on-demand and streaming, you usually had one chance to catch your favorite Christmas shows. But one show seemed to show up dozens of times each year, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  This classic movie portrays a man, George Bailey, who’s a banker without hope. Why? Because he’s lost a lot of money. He’s so hopeless that he decides to end it all … until Clarence the Angel gives him hope that saves his life. His life saved, his neighbors – who’ve benefitted from George’s generosity – come to George’s rescue in his time of need.

As we begin the season of Advent, we’re all hopeful too. Some of us are hopeful for the amazing gifts we hope will make us happy. Some of us are hopeful for the visits and celebrations we hope will be joyful. But we’re also hopeful for another, more important reason. The arrival of Jesus … His return in glory.

Usually, we associate Jesus’ triumphal entry with Holy Week, not the start of Advent, right before Christmas. But Jesus’ triumphal entry points to the entire reason He was humbly born of a young, powerless woman named Mary on the first Christmas. 

The people of Jerusalem, after enduring centuries of oppression at the hands of other nations, shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:9-10) They hoped, “Maybe Jesus is the Messiah! Maybe He’ll crush our oppressor and restore Israel to greatness like in the days of King David!” 

They were right! But not in the way they thought. We celebrate Jesus’s birth because – by His death, He crushed sins power over us. By His resurrection, He’s restored us to eternal life. And when He returns, riding not on a humble donkey, but as a mighty king, our hopes will become reality. Jesus will bring us all into eternal life in His kingdom. That’s our hope now and each day of our lives.

Your Brother in Christ,

Pastor Jim