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

RSS Feed

Squirrel! (July 26, 2022)

Fox Squirrels in Ann Arbor at the University of Michigan d… | Flickr

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I have something very important to … SQUIRREL! Now, where was I? Oh yeah, something really important … which escapes my mind right now. SQUIRREL! Hey, we all get distracted. Whether it’s squirrelsshiny objects, or something else. We’re easily distracted from the important things we need to stay focused on by things that draw our attention in other directions.

People can even be distracted from someone as important as Jesus by “shiny things”! If you don’t believe it, look at Martha, Lazarus’ sister. Jesus was traveling through the land, focused on His return to Jerusalem when Martha invited Him to her house. However, despite the honor of Jesus’ presence, she became distracted by other things while Jesus sat down to teach. Her sister Mary was riveted to Jesus though. She sat at Jesus’ feet absorbing everything He said. Martha wasn’t happy with Mary’s focus complaining, “Jesus, shouldn’t my sister be helping me out!?” Jesus responded, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)

While Martha was certainly doing a good thing, caring for Jesus; Mary was doing a better thing, paying attention to Jesus. There would be time after His teaching to take care of other things. But first things first, listen to Jesus - then, based on His word, act.

It’s an important lesson for all of us. I know I get distracted while trying to focus on Jesus in my devotions and prayers - bills to pay, people to talk to, things to do. These “shiny objects” vie for my attention as I try to spend time at Jesus’ feet each day. Thankfully the Holy Spirit draws me back to Jesus who’s waiting patiently for my return. He calms my anxiety, eases my troubles, enables me to regain my focus. That’s what I wanted to say - it’s important we spend time with Jesus to receive His guidance before facing the world’s distractions.

                                                                                                        In Christ’s Peace,

                                                                                                        Pastor Jim

Confidence ((July 13, 2022)

Photo by Alysha Rosly on Unsplash 

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Are you confident? If so, what are you confident in and why? Confidence is important, but what you’re confident in and why are also important. Confidence leads to the ability to get things done. Our God-given skills or knowledge makes us confident we can achieve things. Maybe you’ve studied hard for a test – you’re confident you’ll ace it. Maybe you’ve analyzed a problem from all the angles – you’re confident you’ll solve it. It’s good, in most cases, to be confident.

St. Paul was confident too. And for a long time, he thought his confidence in himself was a good thing. He was confident he was on the right side of God because of who he was and things he’d done – being born into the right family; followed the law; had the right jobs; and worked hard at doing what he thought was right (Philippians 3:4-6). And to his friends and co-workers, Paul probably looked to be in good shape. Unfortunately, his confidence was misplaced. Meeting Jesus, Paul realized he was wrong. While his abilities were, in fact, excellent gifts from God, they weren’t things that could save him from death or gain him eternal life. While God could use Paul’s many gifts to help others come to faith in Christ, as Paul now had, they couldn’t save him from his sins. Paul gave up his confidence in himself and placed all of it in Jesus. It is only through confident faith in Jesus, the power of His resurrection that Paul or anyone of us can have the gift of forgiveness and eternal life with God (Philippians 3:9-11).

God has indeed given all of us gifts – whether we’re good with our hands, minds, voices, or artistic abilities. Whether we’re patient, compassionate, or helpful. Our confidence in these can’t save us from sin, death, and the devil. But, placing our confidence in Christ alone, we use these gifts in faith to serve God in response to His love for us so all may come to faith in God and His promises.

                                                                                                        In Christ’s Love,

                                                                                                        Pastor Jim

Sow to Grow (July 6, 2022)

Planting seeds in community garden, Zambia. Photo by Anna … | Flickr

Dear Servants of Christ,

Aside from going to the grocery store or farmers market, if you want a tomato, what do you do? You sow tomato seeds … do a lot of other stuff … and pray. You get a tomato. Want peppers? Plant pepper seeds. You want Romaine lettuce, you plant … you get the idea. You get what you plant. If you plant marigolds, you won’t get watermelons. You reap what you sow!

God tells us the same principle applies to our lives, “God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.” (Galatians 6:7) The reaping here isn’t of food items or flowers though. The reaping is either “φθοράν (phi-tho-rahn)” – which means, literally, “complete destruction” or “ζωὴν αἰώνιον (zo-een i-own-ee-on)” – literally, “live happily, joyfully, completely forever.” The impact of our sowing is dramatic, and it is eternal (Galatians 6:8). 

Earlier in Galatians, Paul describes “fleshly sowing” and “Spiritual sowing” in pretty clear terms. The works of the flesh are those things that cause “complete destruction” when left unchecked – anger, strife, jealousy, sexual immorality of all kinds, envy, and substance abuse. These things knock down, stomp on, and destroy; blowing those who sow them into smithereens and eternal judgment (Galatians 5:19-21). But, on the other side of the field is the picture Paul paints of the fruits of the Spirit richly harvested when “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, (and) self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23) are sown.

We harvest from what we sow in faith, remembering the One who makes it possible. It’s not our ability and expertise. It is only through Jesus’ work on His cross, crucified for our sins of the flesh that the fruits of the Spirit grow in us so we can receive eternal life (Galatians 6:14).

Bottomline, we don’t plant thorns and expect to reap basketsful of grapes. We will reap what we sow. Let us continually sow seeds from the Spirit, water patiently with God’s nourishing word, and one day, we will receive the harvest of eternal life in His new creation (Galatians 6:9).

                                                                                                        In His Service,

                                                                                                        Pastor Jim

Freedom For ... (June 29, 2022)

Dear Servants of Christ,

“Freedom from” or “freedom for” are two different freedoms. This time of year, many celebrate “freedom from.” Freedom from … school as we start our summer break … work as we take that needed vacation … tyranny as we prepare to celebrate Independence Day. “Freedom from” is how we often think of “freedom.” 

Why is “freedom from” so cherished? In part it’s about perspective. We’re freed from something curbing our ability to live as we would prefer. It’s this kind of freedom that enables us to live the lives we want. But if you think about it, that can lead to self-centered approaches for using the gift of freedom?

St. Paul says, “For you were called to freedom … Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” (Galatians 5:13) Paul speaks of not only “freedom from” – slavery to sin, death, and the devil; but also about “freedom for” – a purpose. God has freed us FOR serving and loving others with the many gifts He’s given us – time, talent, and treasure. We’re freed FOR using them freely while also trusting God to replenish them, so we’ll never run short. No need to worry that we’ll not have time to do something, talent to complete it, or money to pay for it.

When we live this way, the anger, enmity, and strife caused by frustration that things aren’t going our way begins to vanish. The rivalry, envy, and division caused by comparing our apparent shortages with others’ abundance starts to fade. The need to drown our feelings in abusive behaviors, like drunkenness, goes away. Our new freedom, founded on trust in God, leads to lives filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:23). Why? Because we’re FREED FROM thinking about “what if, what might be, what could’ve been” and FREED FOR thinking about the possibilities God has enabled through Jesus Christ and our faith in Him and His promises of eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven.

                                                                                                        In His Service,

                                                                                                        Pastor Jim

Grateful Dudes (June 24, 2022)

Father's Day Heart Png Free Stock Photo - Public Domain Pictures

Dear Sons and Daughters of God,

A belated Happy Father’s Day to the dads! We’ve all had different “father” experiences that drive our images of “father”. My own father wasn’t around much. Work consumed much of his time early on. Then, after my parents divorced, he moved away for work. But through it all, he took care of my needs – putting food on the table, clothes on my back, and a roof over my head. And when I went off to college, he never failed to send a regular check to help me eat, remain clothed, and stay sheltered. My image of a father is someone who, despite infrequent physical presence, always tried providing for my needs. A shirt of mine expresses my thoughts, I’m a “Grateful dude.”

We learn something of the character of God, our Father in heaven, in His word. God provides us – and all people everywhere – with all that’s needed to live in this life He’s given us. Everything needed – food, drink, clothing, shelter, and the like – comes from God to all in this world (Matthew 5:44-45). But He desires to give even more. He desires for us to call Him “Father.” And by His grace, we can. Through His gift of baptism, God adopts each of us as His own sons and daughters (Galatians 3:26-27, 4:4-5). We become, in fact, children of God, calling out to Him.

Our Father still provides for all our physical needs. But He also longs to provide so much more. “Because (we) are (His children), God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba! Father!’” (Galatians 4:6) As we cry out to our Father in prayer, He hears us. He answers us. He provides us with all we need in this life … AND so much more! He gives us all we need to gain eternal life in His kingdom – forgiveness of sins on account of Jesus Christ. This Father’s Day let’s express our gratitude to God our Father for providing for ALL our needs – both now and in eternity!

                                                                                                        In His Love,

                                                                                                        Pastor Jim

3-in-1, 1-in-3 (June 15, 2022)

Dear Children of God,

If you’re a stargazer, you’re likely familiar with “Orion’s Belt” which appears, to the naked eye over 1200 light-years away, to be three stars – Alnitak, Alnilam, and Mintaka. But, taking a very close look, Alnitak and Mintaka, the belt’s two end stars, are each three stars rotating about each other. And they are two of hundreds of thousands of “stars” that are, in reality, multiple-stars. Failing to understand the reality of multiple-stars caused confusion among astronomers for centuries. But, when scientists understood this reality, their calculations fell into place. It’s amazing what a closer look reveals.

In some ways, we see God in ways that mirror our earthly view of the stars He created. When we look at God from a distance, we’re tempted to see God as one entity … one God. And for many in the world, that’s what they claim to see. One God. For example, Muslims see “Allah” and Jews see “Yahweh”. But, when you take a closer look at God through His scriptures, which reveal Him as He truly is, we see something a little different. While God’s word doesn’t include the words “trinity” or “triune” His word does reveal that He is also three persons while still being one God. How can this be? It’s a mystery, something we know from evidence to be true, but at the same time, remains unexplainable.

Deuteronomy 6:4 says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” There is one God. But we also read in the opening words of Genesis that God created all things, the Spirit of God was present, and the Word of God caused light to come into existence (Genesis 1:1-3) and “The Word was with God, and the Word was God … and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1,14). A closer look at God, viewed through the lens of His scriptures, reveals God is three persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, yet remains also one God. The mystery of the Trinity, the one true God.

                                                                                                        In the Love of God,

                                                                                                        Pastor Jim

The Helper (June 7, 2022)

File:Modern Tutor.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

CREDIT: AsteroidComet

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

We pride ourselves on our independence and rugged individualism. But we individuals all need help at times. When I was a student struggling with math, I needed help to get through calculus. As much as my independent, rugged individualistic self hated it, I was lost. I needed a helper. So, I went to a tutor, who helped me understand “math with no numbers” – calculus. 

There are times when our life of faith is a bit like that calculus class. It can be hard to understand what God is up to. In fact, it’s impossible to do so on our own. And God our Father knows this; so, He has sent us “the Helper, the Holy Spirit … (to) teach us all things and bring to (our) remembrance all that (Jesus has) said to you” (John 14:26). And just as Jesus promised, the Helper, the Holy Spirit, came on Pentecost, enabling many thousands to hear God’s word from Peter and to believe in Jesus’ saving work on the Cross (Acts 2). The same Holy Spirit, alive and active today, enables us to believe in Jesus also.

In Luther’s Small Catechism (LSC), on the basis of God’s word, we learn that the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, enables us believe and understand the incredible gift our Father has given to all of us in His Son, Jesus Christ who suffered and died on the Cross – that we might receive forgiveness of sins; and rose from the dead – that we might also receive eternal life (LSC, Explanation of the Creed, Articles 2 and 3). 

The Holy Spirit continues to bring many to understand all Jesus did and said. Because of the Holy Spirit, you and I have come to saving faith in Jesus. Because of Him we can also tell others about Jesus that they too can come to believe – also receiving forgiveness and eternal life. This is ONLY possible because of the Helper, the Holy Spirit. Without Him, we’d be lost. Thanks be to God for sending Him!

                                                                                                        In Christ’s Love,

                                                                                                        Pastor Jim