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

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Merry Christmas (December 29, 2022)

Dear Children of God,

Merry Christmas! One of my most enduring Christmas memories is from a photo I took of my daughter on her first Christmas. Her face is illuminated in the darkness by a Christmas tree light. She’s peacefully mesmerized by the lights on the tree. I think she gets that from me in part because, when I get a chance to slow down, sit on the sofa, and stare at the tree; I too am mesmerized by the lights glowing warmly in the darkness.

This Christmas Eve, we’ll be reading from the book of Isaiah who tells us about another light that has shone in the darkness and on the people living in deep darkness (Isaiah 9:2). Light in the darkness is one of the key images of Christmas. We celebrate Christ’s birth just a few days after the year’s shortest day. How appropriate–because Jesus is “the light of the world” (John 8:12)! Darkness, the absence of light, is ultimate nothingness–no light, no life, no matter, nothing. That’s why sin is characterized by darkness. When sin enters, it takes away the light … it takes away the life … it takes away everything until there is nothing left. Which is death, eternal separation from God, the giver of life.

But, in the midst of this darkness … the true darkness which sin brings into the world … Jesus comes. He is introduced by sudden lights–the glory of the Lord–appearing to some shepherds watching their sheep in the darkness of Judea. Angels announce to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who Christ the Lord!?” (Luke 2:11-12) Jesus is the light for all mankind. A light that removes the darkness of sin for all who believe in Him. A light that illuminates the way to eternal life for all who believe in Him–eternal life in eternal light, no more darkness forever.

                                                                        In God’s Love,

                                                                        Pastor Jim

Ultimate Gift of Love (December 21, 2022)

Photo by Jez Timms on Unsplash

Dear Advent People,

May Christ’s love be with you this Christmas.  These weeks before Christmas are often characterized by thoughts of love. And God’s love, a special kind of love, is what this fourth Sunday in Advent is all about. However, God’s love is not the kind of love shown by gifts; or good friends; or a flirtatious relationship. God’s love, which we celebrate today, is the selfless, sacrificial love He has for His creation. The kind of love that led Him to send Jesus, 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, God’s own Son. Through Him, all who, by the power of the Holy Spirit, have faith, receive the Father’s gifts – forgiveness and eternal life.

As we hear God’s word this week, He delivers hope to all who believe in Him in these joyous images of His love for His creation.  We see a glimpse of God’s love in the promises He makes through Isaiah that He would send His Son, Immanuel – “God with Us” – into the world to save it (Isaiah 7:10–17). We read Paul’s summary account of Jesus’ life which shows His Father’s love by saving His creation (Romans 1:1–7).  Finally, we see God’s humble, faithful servant Joseph, filled with the Holy Spirit, showing this special love of God to the world by willingly loving his wife Mary as she bears God’s own Son (Matthew 1:18–25). 

Remember the love God has for you … not just this week, but throughout the year. A love given through His Son, 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 I included) from their sins (Matthew 1:21).” The greatest gift of love ever given. Given to you, to me, to all mankind.

                                                                                        In the Love of God,

                                                                                                Pastor Jim

Joy in the Dead of Winter (December 14, 2022)

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Dear Saints,

There’s a reason it’s called “the dead of winter.” Everything looks dead. It’s grey. It’s cold. It’s gloomy. It’s … well … the dead of winter. That’s probably why many people head south for a while – to see some life, bright flowers, warm sun – even in the dead of winter. It’s a reminder of joyful new life to come. 

Isaiah’s ministry took place in a kind of “dead of winter” – among people whose lives were mired helplessly in the darkness of their own sin. Yet God still offers His people a glimpse of future joy promising, “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 and unhearing ears will be opened, crippled legs will run and jump like deer, and unspeaking tongues will rejoice! (Isaiah 35:5-6

Eight centuries later, John the Baptist was stuck in the gloom of a Roman prison. In despair, he sent his disciples to Jesus asking, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3) Jesus’ response? “Go and tell John what you hear and see.” (Matthew 11:4) He essentially says, “Remember Isaiah’s words about the Messiah and what He will do? Well, rejoice! Though it might look like the dead of winter, it’s not! Because that’s exactly what I’ve done and who I am!”

We sit in the time between Jesus’ first coming and His promised return. But it can often feel a lot like the “dead of winter” while we toil away at life in a sin-filled world. However, we can look joyfully to the future God promises, “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) Looking joyfully at the new life God promises, we know the dead of winter will end.

                                                                        In Christ’s Love,

                                                                        Pastor Jim

Living in Peace (December 7, 2022)

Dear Advent People,

Most of you can almost guess how I’ll begin most of my sermons – words similar to, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” I don’t claim any originality though. This is how Paul greets his hearers in most of his letters, sermons if you. Letting His hearers – those in the early church and us today – know God’s “peace” is with them. 

“Peace” is another of those words in scripture that loses something when translated into English. The “peace” Paul speaks of isn’t a simple “absence of conflict.” It’s a much more complete peace coming from the Hebrew word “Shalom (שָׁלוֹם)” – a “completeness, intactness, and unity.” Only when something is truly “complete, intact, and unified” with all that is around it, can “true peace” exist. God mourns that, because of our sin, we don’t have true peace with Him or each other. However, God’s love for us reestablishes the peace we have broken.

Advent is a time of preparation. We prepare, of course, to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace – the means our Father uses to reestablish His desired “shalom.” Through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, He defeated sin’s power to create eternal conflict. Our Father’s gift of forgiveness through His Son Jesus reestablishes true peace between us and Him. 

John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus by calling people to turn away from sin and receive God’s forgiveness (Matthew 3:1-2). As we confess our sins to God, He forgives them completely and totally. He removes the source of conflict with Him we create. 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 shine the light of God’s true peace in the world. Let’s give the gift of God’s true peace in our words and deeds to all we meet now AND throughout the “Advent” life He calls us to live until Jesus’ glorious return.

                                                                              In God’s Peace,

                                                                              Pastor Jim

Living in Hope (November 30, 2022)

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Dear Advent People,

Are your lists together yet? Gifts you need to buy … gifts you want … things you need to do and places you need to go this month. There are parties and lunches and gift exchanges and specials and cards and letters and … and … and … it doesn’t end in this season of waiting and preparation for Christmas – this season the church calls “Advent.” All the hustle and bustle though can distract us from the event we’re actually waiting and preparing for – and it’s not December 25th. 

Advent is a season of patient waiting and preparation marked by hope based firmly on God’s promises to us. Hope-filled promises found in God’s Word. Our hope might be tenuous at times based on what we see around us. There’s no doubt that things look to be out of control … and it’s not just the stores, roads, and our jam-packed schedules. There’s also – rampant illness, conflict, violence, wars, and … and … and … the list seems to go on forever. But it won’t. Our hope is in the Lord (Psalm 130:5). Through His prophets, like Isaiah, God gives us hope – one day all this will end, “It shall come to pass in the latter days … He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:2,4)

We are Advent People, waiting in hope for His promises to be fulfilled. This fulfillment began when Jesus was born in Bethlehem 2000 years ago. When He lived with us. When He died for us. And when He rose from the dead. Now we wait in hope for His return to bring us home. As we wait, let’s focus on His promises. Let’s not get distracted by things of the world. Let us put this at the top of our list – “Spend time with God and let Him lead me through the distractions.”

                                                                        Waiting Hopefully,

                                                                        Pastor Jim

End of the Season (November 23, 2022)

File:Baseball in the grass.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

CREDIT: Dennis on Flickr

Dear Saints,

This is a sad time of the year – the baseball season ended when the Astros won the World Series. For us, especially my wife Shauna, that means no more baseball to watch. While the Hot Stove Season, with all the trades and signings, is interesting, it’s not the same as watching live games. So, it’s a sad time as we head into winter. But there’s good news! Spring Training starts February 24th – a little over 3 months from now!

We’re coming up on other endings too. For example, though we don’t think much of it, we’re at the end of the Church Year. And our readings focus on another end – the end of time. For many, the end-times are not only sad, but scary because, unlike a baseball season, we have no idea when the Last Day will be. But Jesus informs us, “Heaven and earth will pass away … For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth.” (Luke 21:33, 35) And these days will not be easy. They’ll be filled with terrible things. And not just for unbelievers, but also for believers (Luke 21:16-17). But even with all this, Jesus encourages and comforts us.

First, He encourages us, “This will be your opportunity to bear witness …  for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict.”  (Luke 21:13,15) He calls us to witness to others in this time of distress that they too might join us. Then He comforts us, “But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.” (Luke 21:18-19) We need not be distressed in this time. Why?

It will be sad, but … we’ll be ushered into a new and eternal season. We and all who believe in Christ will be redeemed! We will be saved! We will live again … raised to new lives, in glorious new bodies, living for eternity in the Kingdom of God! The ultimate good news indeed! 

                                                                        Your Fellow Saint,

                                                                        Pastor Jim

Wrestling with God (November 16, 2022)

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Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Fighting sports – boxing, ultimate fighting, wrestling – aren’t on my list of “things to do or watch.” I’m not sure why, but I think it might be the constant contact involved. For example, wrestling is about grabbing hold of your opponent. Then, while maintaining contact, maneuvering them into a position of submission while you try to avoid being maneuvered into the same. However, wrestling can be a good metaphor for our life with God.

One of the bible’s great stories is about a wrestling match that takes place during the night. Jacob was pretty good at manipulating things to get his way - see Genesis 25:19-26Genesis 25:28-34,Genesis 27:1-40 for some examples. 

As Jacob was set to face his brother Esau, his trickery met its match. God decided it was time to let Jacob know he needed to trust more in God than his own wits and abilities. God appeared to Jacob, as a man, for a wrestling match. The night-long match was pretty much a stalemate until God, using some sleight-of-hand, touched Jacob’s hip and put it out of joint. But Jacob, recognizing his opponent as God, continued gripping God saying, “I will not let You go unless You bless me.” By his constant contact with God, struggling with Him in faith, Jacob overcomes God’s wrath and receives His blessing.

Through this example, God shows us the importance of wrestling with Him in faith. We wrestle with Him in a number of ways. First, we have steady contact with Him through regular worship - experiencing His grace in His forgiveness of sin and the Lord’s Supper. We continue to maintain contact with God wrestling with His Word in daily devotion and study - learning His will for us, even if we don’t understand it. The wrestling continues in prayer - asking Him to give us understanding of and the strength to do His will. As we struggle, wrestle, and contend with God, He strengthens us to do more than we can ever imagine on our own (Ephesians 3:20).

                                                                        Your Brother in Christ,

                                                                        Pastor Jim