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Remember ... God's Love (March 21, 2019)


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Dear First Family and Friends,

Have you ever experienced being “the messenger?” It’s great to be asked to deliver “good news.” But how about being the bearer of bad news … or hard news? In my Air Force career, I received a lot of good news. But one day, I got called into the General’s office to hear bad news. “Jim, I have some bad news. You didn’t get selected for promotion.” It wasn’t the General’s fault. He was just the messenger. I really feel for people like doctors who need to tell patients they have a serious illness … or lawyers who have to tell people their case is hopeless … or friends who have to tell friends they’re making a huge mistake. In these cases, I’m reminded of the old saying, “Don’t shoot me! I’m just the messenger.”

Jeremiah was just the messenger. But what He had to say didn’t please the religious and political elites of Judah. They heard Jeremiah’s words, but didn’t listen because they didn’t like what he had to say. They rejected his message from God in the harshest terms possible, “You shall die!” (Jeremiah 26:8) If anyone could’ve said, “Don’t shoot me! I’m just the messenger,” it’s Jeremiah and the rest of God’s prophets.  Jeremiah told those threatening him, “The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the words you have heard. Now mend your ways ...” (Jeremiah 26:12-13) The people he spoke to weren’t acting as God commanded. But rather than destroy them, God, in His love and mercy, sent His prophet Jeremiah to warn them, “Obey the voice of the Lord your God, and the Lord will relent of the disaster that He has pronounced against you.” (Jeremiah 26:13) Nevertheless, the priests, false prophets, and officials of Judah all turned their backs on God’s prophet.

Centuries later, Jesus returned to Jerusalem, the place where many of God’s prophets were killed for being “the messenger.” Jesus reminds us of the Father’s love. It’s a love that caused Him to put His word in the mouths of prophets to warn Israel and Judah of their sin. It’s a love that caused Him to send His Son, Jesus, to do the same and more. God wants the world to remember His love. “God so loved the world that He sent His only Son, that all who would believe in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) God doesn’t want any of His creatures to die.

This Lent we remember all God has done for us out of love.  Why has He gone to such great lengths – sending His prophets … sending His Son … sending His church – into the world to proclaim His love for all to hear? Because He loves His creation. He desires for His creation to return to Him … to believe His Word and promise … to receive His mercy and grace … to find protection against the devil and his lies in Him. This Lent, I pray you can spend a little extra time listening to God’s messengers. As you do, I pray you find protection in remembering God’s love for you … expressed through the life, suffering, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ.

                                                                                        In His Love,

                                                                                        Pastor Jim

Remember ... God's Word (March 13, 2019)


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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I pray you have one close friend … a close relationship. Not just physically close though. I pray you have a close friend who understands you – whom you understand … the one who gets your jokes, finishes your thoughts, or knows exactly what you need even when you haven’t expressed the need. I pray you have a close friend you can go to when you have a challenge in your life or who comes to you with their struggles. If you have such a relationship, try to remember how it came about …

My guess is it came about because, for whatever reason, you dug deep into each other’s lives. You got into each other’s hearts and minds. To do this required communicating … using words … to share feelings, emotions, ideas, and even a good joke. Words are critical to developing close friendships. They help us to remember the basis for our relationships.

If you think about it, you can get no closer to a person than to be in their heart … the core of their being. Paul, remembering the basis of his relationship with God – remembers God’s Word found in Deuteronomy 30:14 and says, “‘The word is near you, in your mouth, and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim).” (Romans 10:8) In Deuteronomy Moses, preparing for his death, also speaks with God’s people as they prepare to enter the Promised Land. Some in the congregation might’ve been wondering how they’d get along in this new place. Without Moses, they wouldn’t have their leader. And then, would God still be with them? What would happen to their close relationships? Moses reminds them to remain strong in faith … don’t worry … God isn’t going anywhere. God is found in His Word. And that Word isn’t far off. It’s not in heaven … out of reach. It’s not in some far-off land … waiting for someone to come get it. It’s right here … inside us … in our mouths … in our hearts.

Though we may drift away at times, ignoring His Word; God never leaves us. His Word is in our mouths and hearts. He’s right there with us. And when we need Him, all we need to do is call on Him in faith, and we’ll be saved. God will remember His Word of promise, also remembered by Paul, “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Joel 2:32)

We all have a special close relationship. God our Father is always with us. His Word dwells in our hearts. It dwells in our mouths. This Lent, as we journey through Good Friday to Easter, God helps us remember – He’s never far away. Lent is a good time to pack God’s Word into our hearts through devotions and prayer.  He helps us remember His Word, dwelling inside us, when we, or those we love, are struggling. As we speak His Word in prayer, He helps us remember – He hears and answers our prayers. God is close to us. He understands us. He knows our needs. Through His Son, the Word made flesh, He shows His love for us. We remember …

                                                                                        In His Love,

                                                                                        Pastor Jim

View from the Mountain (March 7, 2019)


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Dear First Lutheran Family,

When I fly across the country, I try to get a window seat.  I’m fascinated to see the world from 35,000 feet.  I especially enjoy flying over a place I’ve been, like the Grand Canyon.  At ground level, the Grand Canyon is interesting.  But it’s hard to truly understand the scope of this amazing piece of God’s creation.  At 35,000 feet, on a clear day, you can see why it’s called “The Grand Canyon!”  It’s definitely “grand” in its scope! 

Moses got a high-level view of the Promised Land before he turned over his leadership to Joshua.  He went to the top of Mount Pisgah where God showed him the entire Promised Land.  What a view that must’ve been as God said, (Deuteronomy 34:4) “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, ‘I will give it to your offspring.’”  Moses was blessed to see the entire land, all at once, that God promised His people.  Then Moses died, unable to enter the Promised Land because of a transgression against God years earlier (Numbers 20:10-12).

As we get mired in the day-to-day existence of life, it can become difficult to see the bigger picture.  We’re so focused on what’s going on right in front of us … sometimes it’s the struggle of the day-to-day troubles that seem to have no end.  Sometimes, it’s the unbelievable joys we’re experiencing we wish would never end!  Peter had this kind of moment as he experienced another unbelievable view from a mountaintop. 

Peter witnessed first-hand the full glory of Jesus as well as the presence of Moses and Elijah.  Peter was so engrossed in the immediate moment, that he lost the big picture.  He didn’t want the moment to pass.  He wanted to stay on the mountain … with Jesus, Moses, and Elijah.  He said, (Luke 9:33) “Master, it is good that we are here.  Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and Elijah.”  Peter had forgotten the purpose Jesus had come to dwell in the world.  It wasn’t to live on top of a mountain bathed in glory.  He was the Christ, the Son of God, and He came to suffer and be killed and rise from the dead (Luke 9:20-22).  This wouldn’t be possible if Jesus remained on the mountaintop.  Jesus needed to go down the mountain, into the world, to fulfill the mission His Father had sent Him on.

We can be a little like Peter too.  It’s indeed good to spend time on the mountaintop in our worship of God with our friends.  It’s great to hear the stories, sing the hymns, and talk to God in prayer.  But God calls us to this mountaintop so we can receive His grace … the forgiveness of sins … hear His promises … eternal life in the new Promised Land … and be nourished to go into the world as the hands and feet of Christ.  We come down from our mountain to be the means God uses to bring His grace to others so that one day, we can join together dwelling with Moses and Elijah … Peter, James, and John … and Jesus … in the new Promised Land.

                                                                                        In Christ’s Love,

                                                                                        Pastor Jim

Resolution Redo (March 2, 2019)


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Dear Brothers and Sisters in the Body of Christ,

Many of us may have made a New Year’s resolution sort of like this, “I need to get this old body of mine in shape … I’ll eat better, exercise, and get more rest.”  Now, almost 60 days into the year, many of us are back in our old habits.  The longed for “new body” … well, we’re happy with the old one.

We’re often fascinated by our bodies. And many wonder what their bodies will be like in eternal life.  Which one will they have?  The Corinthians wondered this too, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” (1 Corinthians 15:35) People asked because they thought talk of the resurrection of the dead was foolish.  How can a dead person live again?!  Their lack of hope in the resurrection led to moral decay within the church.  The thought being, “Why should I strive to live in accord with God’s Word if there really is no eternal life?” 

Paul reinforces our belief in one of Christianity’s key beliefs … the resurrection of the body into new, eternal life through Jesus.  How’s this possible?!  First of all, Jesus Christ, paved the way for all who believe in Him by being the first man to rise from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:23).  We may not be able to explain “resurrection” scientifically, and we don’t need to.  We believe the truth found in God’s Word.  To help us understand, Paul uses the analogy of a seed … a dead object that’s buried in the ground which returns to new life in a glorious new form.  You can’t stick the living plant in the ground to create the new form.  The plant must live its life and die to live again.  And this new body is radically different from the body planted in the ground.  “God gives it a body as He has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.” (1 Corinthians 15:38) Which body will we have?  We don’t know.  But, we believe God will raise us to new life in a new and glorious body of His choosing.  And this glorious body will live forever (1 Corinthians 15:42).

I opened saying many resolutions made on January 1st fall by the wayside by February.  Here’s a thought you might want to consider … a “Resolution Redo.”  Lent begins March 6th when we observe Ash Wednesday. 

A common practice during Lent, to help us continually recall the life, suffering, and death of Jesus on our behalf, is to give something up.  I have another idea to help us do the same thing, add something to your daily practices … add a few extra moments of prayer and reflection on God’s Word to get your spiritual life in shape … and … enter into a “Resolution Redo.”  As you commit to getting the body God blessed you with into shape … you can also reflect on God’s gifts offered to you through His Word – the forgiveness of sins and eternal life in our glorious new bodies.  Then, on Easter, as we celebrate the Resurrection, perhaps your physical body will be strengthened … more importantly your spiritual body and faith will also be renewed.

                                                                                        In Christ’s Love,

                                                                                        Pastor Jim

Planted by God (February 27, 2019)


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Dear Fellow Saints,

I admit … I’m not a fan of winter.  I don’t mind a little cold and maybe a couple inches of snow on the ground around Christmas.  But, growing up in southern Arizona, I’m a fan of warmer, sunny days starting around January 2nd and continuing until Spring arrives on the calendar.  Among other things, I’m a gardener who likes to dig in the dirt.  This time of year is hard for me because I’m itching to get busy with my planting.  I’ve done all my prep work … I can’t wait to plant.

God is a planter too.  He plants all over the place and His Word is filled with planting images.  Some of those are images of healthy green plants, abundant fruit, and growth.  Some are images of infertile soil, shriveled up plants, and crops choked to death by weeds.  The prophet Jeremiah, speaking to God’s people in Judah – bathed in the worldliness of idol worship rather than worship of the one, true God – says, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.  He is like a tree planted by water … it does not cease to bear fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:7-8) At the same time, God warns His people saying, “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord … He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land.” (Jeremiah 17:5-6) 

God created all people everywhere.  He gives each and every one of us the gift of life!  Unfortunately, many choose to plant themselves far from the streams of living water found only in God’s Word and Sacraments.  These people may think they know best how to provide for themselves and how to live the life God has given them.  They trust themselves and the world around them instead of the one true God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  In doing so, whether they know it or not, they are depriving themselves of the nourishment God desires, more than anything, to give to His people.  Without this nourishment, they become dried up shrubs incapable of bearing fruit and living the life God intended for them.

On the flip side, led by the Holy Spirit, who dwells in us through the cool waters of baptism, we become like a tree planted by water.  We learn to trust God and His Word in our lives.  We learn to trust the Holy Spirit to lead us by God’s Word, even when that Word might not seem to make sense.  Like water nourishes a plant – enabling it to grow, produce leaves, and generate fruit – immersing ourselves in God’s Word regularly nourishes us into a fulfilling relationship with Him where we trust Him to hear our prayers … and trust His will when He answers them.  We trust His promise to forgive and cleanse us of sin when we disobey Him.  We put aside our anxiety and trust His leading to be His eyes and ears, His hands and feet in the world.  Through us, His will is done as He transplants shriveled shrubs, trusting themselves, into fertile soil – enabling them to join us in bearing endless fruit for His kingdom.

                                                                                        In Christ’s Love,

                                                                                        Pastor Jim

Follow Him in Faith (February 19, 2019)


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Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I have something extremely important to say.  It’s vital to your life.  “ព្រះយេស៊ូវស្រឡាញ់អ្នក”[1]“Preahyesaouv sraleanh anak.”[2]  Please, heed this warning!  What?!  You don’t get it!  Okay, listen again, “حضرت عیسی آپ سے محبت کرتے ہیں[3] … “Tum yesuh Masih ko piryarey ho.”[4]  Please … listen … know this life-giving fact … make it part of your life!

Over past several weeks, Paul has reminded us God has given us several gifts (1 Corinthians 12:4-6).  We don’t have the same gifts, but the variety comes together in one body, the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12).  Whatever the gifts, they’re not given for personal enjoyment.  They’re given to communicate the Good News that all “may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31) Helping others believe in Jesus … to have life in Him … is why Paul makes the point he makes in 1 Corinthians 14:12, “… strive to excel in building up the church.”  God calls on His church to do more than rest in the certain knowledge we’re saved through faith in Christ.  He calls us to spread this knowledge – to those struggling in faith – and to others so they can come, through the Holy Spirit, to also believe … joining the Body of Christ to use their gifts to “build up the church.”

All God’s people’s gifts are needed to “build up the church,” including “speaking in tongues.”  But, if someone speaks in tongues, a spiritual gift, and nobody can understand them; it’s like screaming in Khmer or Urdu, “Fire!” in a theater to warn people.  However, if someone interprets, another spiritual gift, people can understand.  Understanding, leads to knowledge and action.  Paul shows us all God’s people need to use all their gifts to “build up the church.”

There are challenges to using our gifts – for example, lack of confidence in our abilities.  God comforts us, “Don’t worry.  I’ll always be there with my faithful people.” (Jeremiah 1:6-8) He asks us to “Follow Him in Faith.” 

You’re going to hear that phrase, “Follow Him in Faith,” often.  January 6th was a big milestone for First Lutheran – the 45th anniversary of the first service involving those who’d become the congregation we see as a “light on a hill.”  Many, including Al and Sally P. and Jim and Ardith H., “Follow(ed) Him in Faith” to “build up the church” over 45 years.  What’s next for us who “Follow Him in Faith” the next 45 years?  God has blessed us with many gifts … unused land, a thriving preschool, and many facilities.  Imagine using them more fully to “build up the church.” Not the structures, but, the people – the faith of those who believe, as well as, bringing more into faith.  In the coming months you’re going to hear how God is calling us to “Follow Him in Faith” as we start a campaign to build facilities to enable us to serve more neighbors in new ways while taking advantage of existing spaces to enhance our worship of God … the provider of all things.

By the way … “ព្រះយេស៊ូវស្រឡាញ់អ្នក” ... “حضرت عیسی آپ سے محبت کرتے ہیں” … “Jesus loves you.”

                                                                                        In Christ’s Love,

                                                                                        Pastor Jim


[1] Translated by Google Translate, February 7, 2019

[2] Phonetic spellout by Google Translate, February 7, 2019

[3] Translated by Google Translate, February 7, 2019

[4] Phonetic spellout by Majid Khan at www.proz.com, February 7, 2019

The Greatest is Love (February 14, 2019)


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Dear Faithful Friends,

When I was a kid around the time of a special gift giving day … say my birthday or Christmas … my parents would ask, “What would you like as a gift?”  Depending on the time of life I was in, the answer varied.  But, I generally had faith they would give me that gift … or … knowing me so well, something even better.  Then, I’d live in hope.  This hope helped me extend the reality of the future gift to my present time.  For example, I’d imagine playing catch with the new baseball glove I asked for.  In my mind, the glove was so real it was almost like I had it already.  Yet I waited in hope for the big day.  And finally, Christmas arrived … and there was the glove.  Even better than I imagined it. 

St. Paul famously writes, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13) In our Lutheran confessions we have the “Three Solas” … “Sola gratia, sola fide, sola scriptura” … we are saved “by grace alone, through faith alone, as promised in scripture alone.”  “Hope,” which comes from the Greek word “ἐλπίς (elpis)” implies “a reasonable and confident expectation of a future event.”  Clearly, as Christians, we are confident in God’s promises that we’re forgiven our sins and will receive eternal life.  However great that seems, it’s like my “baseball glove.”  I can imagine what that means, but living in my own sin and the brokenness of the world today, it can be hard to see clearly.  So, Paul reminds us, “For now we see in a mirror dimly …Now I know in part …” (1 Corinthians 13:12) “Faith” and “Hope” … they allow us to see now, in some way, what God’s promises might look like someday. 

The exciting thing is we also experience “Love” in part today.  We experience “ἀγάπη (agape)” … sacrificial, servant love … when our brothers and sisters in Christ willingly, for no reason at all comfort and help us during our times of need ... or when we assist others in their need.  But, unfortunately, due to the effects of sin in the world, “agape love” doesn’t seem to last.

But Paul affirms, “faith, hope, and love” will remain for eternity.  Of the three, love will be the greatest.  “Faith” in Christ, His death and resurrection, ensures we receive the gift of forgiveness of sin.  In faith, we know that we’re being made holy by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Our “hope” gives us a glimpse of our future … our home in eternity.  We don’t know what that looks like in reality.  But hope gives us an idea.  Love is the greatest of the three.  Why?  In heaven, we’ll still live in a faith that trusts God’s Word.  We’ll still live in hope that we’ll experience the unimaginable possibilities of the perfect life our Father intended us to live.  But, above all, we’ll see “face to face” … we’ll “know fully” … what we can only imagine, at best, partially today.  St. John tells us.  “God is love.” (1 John 4:8, 16) God isn’t faith or hope.  He is love.  We’ll experience “Love” firsthand.

                                                                                        In Christ’s Love,

                                                                                        Pastor Jim