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Following Him in Faith (October 6, 2021)

Dear Faithful Followers,

This weekend we celebrated 45 years of “following Him in faith!” On October 3, 1976, a group of families committed themselves to serving God and each other in a congregation called First Lutheran Church of Calvert County. And ever since, First Lutheran Church has been on the move – serving God, His people, and Southern Maryland. From the Plusch family’s living room to various locations around Calvert County to our present location at the intersection of Routes 2 and 4, the Cross of Christ has shown brightly through those God has gathered in this place.

Over the years, God has blessed His church with many forward-looking leaders who shared His vision of the future. These faithful Christ followers shared their many gifts – time, talent, and treasure – praying for one another, guiding people of all ages in worship and the instruction of God’s word, starting school and other ministries, and sacrificially supporting the work and ministry God called them into by leading committees, boards, and other groups. Those who’ve gone before us have joined with Christ to be His hands and feet who “Joyfully proclaim God’s word and enthusiastically share Christ’s love” in the world.

It’s important to remember what those who’ve come before us have done in putting their full faith and trust in God to lead them in the work He called them to do – including those who sacrificed time, talent, treasure, and personal convenience to start new congregations. Looking to them for inspiration, God calls us, today’s church, to see the future with His eyes and heart. He calls us to keep shining the light of Christ by faithfully using the many gifts He’s given each of us. This weekend we rededicate ourselves God’s mission. We thank Him past blessings. We ask God to lead us into the future He has set before us. Please join me in trusting Him with all our hearts, minds, and souls that our lives become lives of worship, responding to His love for us as we glorify and praise Him by following Him in faith.

                                                                                    In Christ’s Love,

                                                                                    Pastor Jim

We're #1! (September 29, 2021)

Photo by Phillip Goldsberry on Unsplash 

Dear Children of God,

“We’re #1! We’re #1!” Everyone wants to be #1. With college football season upon us the “Top Twenty-Five” polls are a common sight. And many are excited to see their team jumping in the polls … others get crazy that their “arch-enemy” is ranked above them. I fall into the same trap with my teams. This year, they had a big win early on and looked to be flying up the polls, while their chief rival got upset – “YAY!” The next week my team got upset and fell out of the polls too.

This fascination with being #1 or on the winning team is nothing new. Even Jesus’ disciples fell into the “We’re #1” trap. They were beside themselves with jealousy because someone else, who wasn’t on their “team” was healing people in Jesus’ name. But Jesus reminded them, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:39-40). There is one “Team Jesus” and whoever calls on His name in faith is on that team. Wherever His name is proclaimed in truth and light, the gospel is being spread.

I can see myself in the disciples’ sandals though. I have a pretty good idea on what I think is the correct interpretation of scripture in many areas. When I see others with different interpretations, it is tempting to join in with the disciples to call those others out too. But then I hear Jesus’ scolding of His disciples ringing in my own ears. While we may differ in certain areas of scriptural interpretation, it’s important to remember what Jesus says to us, “No one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:39-40). We are saved by the works and name of Jesus and faith in Him alone (Romans 10:9-10).

                                                                                    In Christ’s Love,

                                                                                    Pastor Jim

Busted ... (September 22, 2021)

Photo by Jonathan Cooper on Unsplash 

Dear Servants of Christ,

“Busted!” … I remember driving home from college in the middle of the Arizona desert. I lost track of how fast I was going, but it didn’t seem to matter as nobody was on the road in the middle of the night on I-10 between “Quartzite and Tonopah”. And suddenly, “busted” … an Arizona Highway Patrol car lit up the night sky to remind me that the speed limit was 55 MPH. Apparently, I set off the radar gun when I came up over a rise as the patrolman sat below in a distant valley. We’ve all had similar situations where our hands got caught in the proverbial cookie jar despite our attempts to be sneaky.

The disciples got “busted” by Jesus a couple times I’d guess. We hear about one of these times in Mark’s ninth chapter. The disciples were uncertain on things as Jesus had just foretold His death. In their uncertainty, they simply stayed quiet. Instead, outside of Jesus’ earshot (or so they thought), they began to argue about who was the greatest. Jesus let them argue until they got to the daily stopping point. Then He asked, “What were you discussing on the way?” (Mark 9:33) “Busted!” – they knew the topic – they should’ve known Jesus would know too. Jesus sat the disciples down and said, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35). 

Jesus teaches all of us what this means when, as the King of kings, Lord of lords, He served you and me and all creation by suffering and dying a death reserved for the lowliest of criminals – crucifixion. He doesn’t ask us to die on a cross. But Jesus does ask us to think outside ourselves by giving from whatever God has given us – time, talent, and treasure – in service to others. In this way, though “last” in the eyes of the world, showing our trust and faith in God and His promises as His servants, we become first in the kingdom of heaven.

                                                                                    Serving Him in Love,

                                                                                    Pastor Jim

Conquering the "Ifs" (September 15, 2021)

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash 

Dear Disciples of Christ,

“If” – in today’s world, when we say “if” it’s often a hopeful thought of what might’ve been. “Ifs” lead to a stream of “would’ve, should’ve, could’ve – but didn’t” thoughts. “If the referee would’ve made the right call, my team could’ve won.” “If I could’ve made more money, I’d be happier.” 

St. Mark’s gospel recounts another big “if”. It happens when a father who is beside himself with anguish over his son’s plight in life … violent, uncontrollable seizures that cause horrific injuries. He’s heard about Jesus and His disciples and the incredible miracles they’d done (e.g. Mark 5, Mark 6:7-13, Mark 8:1-10). So, he hoped they could heal his boy and bring him peace. But Jesus’ disciples couldn’t do it (Mark 9:17-18). He finally calls out to Jesus, in a form of prayer, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us!” In New Testament Greek, there are three kinds of “ifs” – one that’s not likely to happen, one that could happen, and one that’s very likely to happen. The father’s “if” is one that’s very likely to happen. It’s as if he would’ve prayed, “Jesus, I know you can do anything … help us!” His faith-filled prayer to Jesus, the Son of God, was answered as Jesus healed his son.

The disciples, followers of Jesus, were amazed. They asked Jesus why they couldn’t heal the boy. Jesus’ response, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” (Mark 9:29). 

God hears our faith-filled prayers, and He answers them. Faith-filled prayers trust God to hear and answer our prayers in accord with His good and perfect will. When it comes to God, our “if” isn’t an “if” of doubt, uncertainty, or might’ve been. It’s an “if” of certainty in knowing God will respond to our need in the way that’s best for us. His response might be, “Yes”, “No”, or “Wait.” But we know that however He answers, we’ll get what we truly need to persevere in faith. Let us approach God with the “If of Certainty”.

                                                                                    In Christ’s Love,

                                                                                    Pastor Jim

Details, Details, Details (September 8, 2021)

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

You’ve heard the saying, “That’s good enough for government work.” The idea behind this is that “details” aren’t important, as long as the job gets done. So, even if a detail here and there gets missed, it’s no big deal. We got through the task. Frankly, that line of reasoning has always rubbed me the wrong way as I think we should put forth our best efforts in all things. 

God’s word calls on us to pay attention to details, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace … in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:10-11). When “everything” is used in scripture, it means 100% – not 99%. So, what does “everything” entail? James clarifies saying, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it” (James 2:10). With God, details matter. Miss one little thing and you might as well have missed them all. Looking at murder, Martin Luther explains that in addition to literally taking a life, we also violate this law with the seemingly small detail of not providing food, a basic necessity of life, to someone in need. On adultery, Jesus says that even if you think about committing adultery, you have sinned (Matthew 5:27-28). God is detail oriented – there’s no “good enough” with Him.

Except … with His Son. Jesus was good enough. Jesus obeyed every single detail, 100% of the law. And then He was executed on the cross. Because of His 100% obedience, all who believe in Him are forgiven for the details they miss. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we realize the details we miss. He helps us to confess our sins to receive God’s forgiveness. He helps us to grow in holiness throughout our lives – growing to miss fewer and fewer details while living our lives in faith, evidenced by our good works (James 2:14-18) in response to His love for us.

                                                                                    In Christ’s Love,

                                                                                    Pastor Jim

Back to School (September 1, 2021)

Photo by Deleece Cook on Unsplash 

Dear Children of God,

Back to school! It’s both exciting … and a little nerve wracking. We know a good education, built on the foundation of the “3 R’s” – “readin’, ‘ritin’, and ‘rithmetic” – is key to success in life. It’s hard to get very far without some basis of knowledge and ability to use these tools in life. Therefore, we, as a society, place a great deal of importance on passing this knowledge along to our children. 

As critical as the “3 R’s” are to life, there’s another, even more important, “R” – religion … specifically the Christian religion as guided and formed by the foundation of God’s word. God’s word tells us in many places that we’re to pass this “R” along to all we can, starting with our own children. God has placed the utmost importance on spreading His word since the earliest days of His people saying to Israel, as they entered the Promised Land, “And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them … Make them known to your children and your children's children" (Deuteronomy 4:1,9). God firmly desires that all of His children, from the youngest to the oldest, immerse themselves in His word so they can all learn from Him how to live the lives He has given us.

Learning – whether the 3 R’s or God’s will – is a lifelong activity. It requires effort. We might wish we could put a book under our pillow and let the knowledge enter our brains while we sleep. But it doesn’t work that way. We need to spend time filling ourselves with knowledge … including the righteous knowledge found in God’s word. I invite you to fill your hearts, minds, and souls with the knowledge of God and His good and perfect will for you by regularly joining us in worship, Sunday School, and weekly Bible Study. Allow the Holy Spirit to fill you with understanding to boldly proclaim His gospel in your words and deeds as they overflow from your Spirit-filled heart.

                                                                                    In Christ’s Love,

                                                                                    Pastor Jim

Owner's Manual for Life (August 25, 2021)

Photo by SCREEN POST on Unsplash 

Dear Children of God,

When I get a new gadget, I usually read the owner’s manual. Because, as a former engineer, I appreciate that somebody who built it did me the favor of writing a user’s guide to tell me how it’s supposed to work and what to do to care for it so it keeps working as it should. After all, they created it so they should also know best how it works and what it needs to work properly.

God’s Word tells us an astounding fact – God created each one of us (Psalm 139:13-14, James 1:17-18). You could say, in a way, that God is our manufacturer. As such He knows everything about us. Like any good manufacturer, He goes out of His way to make sure we know how we should live, how to maintain ourselves, and how to get repaired when we break. He does all this in our “user’s guide”, the Holy Bible. 

Unfortunately, too many people, us included, don’t fully recognize God as our Creator. We think we know better than Him how we should act and maintain ourselves. We’re like the clay God mentions through His prophet Isaiah, “Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, ‘He did not make me,’ or the thing formed say of him who formed it, ‘He has no understanding’?” (Isaiah 29:16). It seems ridiculous for a pot to disregard the potter who made it and his intent for making it, but that’s the way many react to God as He tells them how He created them to live in His creation.

Disregarding God’s “user’s guide” leads us into sin which inevitably leads to a total breakdown in us and His creation. But God reminds us how to get repaired too. Knowing we can’t repair ourselves, He sent Jesus, His Son, to put us back together after sin causes us to fall apart. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we’re restored to new by our Father’s grace, love, and mercy found in His forgiveness.

                                                                                    In our Creator’s Love,

                                                                                    Pastor Jim