A Common Longing

December 12, 2018
Faith Friends and Family,
It’s the most wonderful time of the year
With the kids jingle belling
And everyone telling you be of good cheer
It's the most wonderful time of the year
 
Can you hear Andy Williams’ voice as he sings this famous Christmas song?  People love this song for so many reasons, mainly because there’s this sense of childlike wonder that Christmas can bring to our lives.  When you feel the cold breeze on your face and smell the gingerbread and listen to classic Christmas songs and spend time with family, there’s a unique kind of happiness that you can’t experience at any other time of the year.  There’s a reason why so many people love the Christmas season.
 
Sadly, though, for many people the holidays and the Christmas season are some of the hardest times of the year.  Is this true for you?  For many people who are lonely, the thought of families getting together makes them feel even lonelier.  For those who suffer from addictions, the thought of peaceful and mutual relationships fills them with even deeper regret.  For those struggling financially, the thought of giving gifts and shopping makes them long for a different type of life.  For many who have lost a loved one, the thought of their loved one’s seat empty at the table brings about a unique kind of sorrow.  For the outcast, the thought of being accepted in a family can make them crave a community.
 
The Christmas season brings up something universal – a sense that is common for every person on earth.  Every person has a longing for joy at this time of the year.  Some try to find their joy in shopping; some in family; some in sentimentality.
 
Let us find our joy over and above everything else in Jesus.  That joy that we have is a joy for the world.  It may still mean that this season is hard for you – but there’s joy for you anyway, for a life lived by faith is a life destined for perfection. 
 
God’s joy to you this Christmas season!
 
Much love,
Pastor Harry and Pastor Juan
 
    

A House of Peace

December 5, 2018
Dear Faith family,

Have you ever met anyone who describes themselves as “spiritual but not religious”?  Basically, what that means is that people like feeling connected to something greater than themselves – and they may actually want to grow closer to this sense of the divine – but they just don’t want to have the creeds and prayers and church commitments that come with it.
 
Some people will go to great lengths to experience the divine without ever darkening the door of a place where they are told that God is present (like a church).  Barbara Brown Taylor, the great Christian author and thinker, wrote this:
 
“People seem willing to look all over the place for this treasure.  They will spend hours launching prayers into the heavens.  They will travel halfway around the world to visit a monastery in India or to take part in a mission trip to Belize.  The last place most people look is right under their feet, in the everyday activities, accidents, and encounters of their lives. … No one longs for what he or she already has, and yet the accumulated insight of those wise about the spiritual life suggests that the reason so many of us cannot see the red X that marks the spot [of where God comes to meet us] is because we are standing on it.”
(An Altar in the World, p. xvi)
 
This Sunday is “peace” Sunday at church.  In Advent, we focus on different themes each week.  And this week’s theme is peace, which means that we have all that we need right now, right here.  That’s because Jesus has come to meet us right where we are.
 
He’s called us to a life of peace.   We find that peace through a life with Him and a life as a part of His church.  Without Him, we cannot find peace.  And without the people of God encouraging us in our faith, it’s easy to get sucked into the wars around us and find our peace destroyed.
 
So, dear friends, let our church be a house of peace.  May your home be a house of peace, where you realize that, because Jesus has come into the world and promised to redeem it, we can find the divine in every moment of our lives.
 
Much love,
Pastor Juan and Pastor Harry
    

For You, o Lord, are my Hope

November 27, 2018
Dear Faith family,

This Sunday marks the beginning of the season of Advent.  And during the Sundays of Advent we will have the special opportunity to look back to the book of Psalms, which is a collection of many different poems and songs written by several different Jewish men over a 1,000-year period.  Most of these poems are about what it looks like to praise God in the different realities of life, whether good, bad, or somewhere in the middle.  There are retellings of wars, curses and blessings, pleas to God for rescue, statements of praise, admission of fear and regret and shame, thanksgivings, and promises to remain faithful to God’s call for them.
 
There are also many statements in the Psalms about Jesus, even though many of these songs were written over 1,000 years before Jesus ever set foot on earth!
 
During this season we will look at some of those statements.  Many Israelites placed their hope in Jesus.  This week is hope week, and the verse we will see Jesus in is this one, from Psalm 71: “For You, o Lord, are my hope.”
 
The psalmist writes that God has been His hope long before he was born.  Even before his birth, the psalmist trusted in the hand of the Lord.  Even though he didn’t consciously hope in Jesus, he was hardwired to trust in the work of the Lord to preserve him and to help him to grow.  He praised the Lord even as an unborn child.
 
Hope didn’t start the day he realized it started.  Hope started long before that, long before the psalmist ever even knew it started. 
 
That’s how hope works.  Hope is something that we hold on to even when we aren’t conscientiously holding onto it.  Our heart needs hope.
 
Jesus gives hope when we didn’t even know we needed it.  Regardless of whether we are thinking about hope or not—or even if we don’t think we actually need hope—that’s when Jesus comes in to be our hope.
 
It’s an offer to us, it’s a reality for us, and it’s a desire for us that we notice that Jesus is our hope in every moment.  In all of the moments of life, our hope in Jesus means that He fights for us and that we have no reason to fear.
 
See you Sunday!
 
Much love,
Pastor Harry and Pastor Juan

Happy Thanksgiving!

November 21, 2018
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
 
We aren't going to share a full devotion this week.  Rather, we'd like to give you a few moments to take a deep breath and ask yourself this question:  what am I truly thankful for?

When life is all said and done, stuff will always fail us on our journey to joy.  Jesus won't.

Happy Thanksgiving, from us to you!!
    
Much love,
Pastor Juan and Pastor Harry

Living in the Midst of Rebellion

November 14, 2018
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
 
This weekend’s readings are pretty heavy reading material.  You’ll find a lot of destruction and violence and judgment and rebellion and many other things that make for great action movies, but aren’t great for daily life.  Jesus describes what will happen both to the disciples as they continue to follow him and make his name known in the world – but he also describes what will happen to all of us as we await his return.
 
Honestly, it’s not a pretty picture.  When things happen in the world like violence, hate crimes, martyrdom, persecution, distrust, and the many things that are happening to Christians around the world, we shouldn’t be surprised – or even all that offended – that these things are happening.  Jesus said they would as life goes on and as the world struggles apart from Him.
 
There is a dark cloud at the moment of divisive, hate-filled public language in the United States. There are many who would seek to increase the divisions among us and lead us on to acts that are so very far from how God commands us to act.  All of us get caught up in this nasty rhetoric from time-to-time.  After all, we are all sinners.
 
So how do we react when the world around us seems like it’s going to “hell in a handbasket”? 
 
Here’s how we react.
 
First, we remain steadfast in our study and meditation on God’s word for us.  We remain steadfast in prayer.  Maybe we even fast from time to time as we lament what’s happening around us.  This is so very critical, since we know that every moment is a moment in which we are surrounded by spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6).
 
Second, we prepare for tough times.  Jesus commands us over and over again to turn the other cheek and accept the persecution we are given.  You’ll notice that very rarely is Jesus concerned with the politics of his country.  He’s much more concerned with the conduct of the church.  He didn’t come to change political leaders’ minds.  He came to inspire faithful believers to work for life in the world and be ready to give an answer for their hope (1 Peter 3:17).
 
And finally, we cling to hope.  God will redeem every broken moment of the world for those who have lived in faith.  It’s all going to be better.  And that’s a promise we can sink our teeth into.
 
Peace to you all today.
 
Pr. Harry and Pr. Juan
    

Love God. Love Others

November 7, 2018
Beloved brothers and sisters,
 
In Matthew 22:37-39 Jesus replies to the Pharisees’ question about which commandment is the greatest. “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
 
Love God — Love Others.
 
One of the great themes we see in Scripture is the idea of working together and serving together as a family.  And while you probably are thinking, “Well, I know how to serve already, so I am not going to keep reading,” (and the same question was asked about whether or not to keep writing), please bear with us briefly.  We could tell you what to do service-wise and what programs the church offers, but so often that’s what you hear all too often.  What about the attitude behind serving?  Well, the answer to that lies in what we think it means to be a family.
 
Located within the mission statement of the majority of churches across America is a line about serving others.   But when the church talks about service, so often it turns serving into an individual matter.  You share the Gospel!  You feed the hungry!  You X, you Y, you Z.  Sadly, sometimes the idea of the community of faith and the idea of family gets lost in the mix.  And the church suffers because of it.
 
We are not people meant to serve by ourselves.  We are people of family.  And by virtue of this, people of community.  And our servant heart is given to us by God and strengthened by community.
 
Love God, love others. Just like with Israel, Jesus didn’t just mean individually.  He meant serving corporately as well.  After all, he travels with 12 other men and instructs them — as a group — to serve others.  At the feeding of the 5,000 in Matthew 14, Jesus instructs his disciples to feed the people who have come.  Not for Peter to find the food himself, but for them to work as a team.  And the same happens over and over again in the New Testament.
 
As we contemplate serving as a family, we would invite you to think about service not only as something you do yourself, but service also as a community.  Service as it was intended to be.  Service in which each person plays an individual part in a greater whole.  Just like a family, in which each person plays an individual part to achieve a greater whole.
 
Much love,
Pastor Juan and Pastor Harry
    

The 5-Year Plan

October 31, 2018
Dear Faith family,
 
It’s quite possible that many of you have a New Year’s resolution, or some sort of a 2-year, 5-year, or 10-year plan for your life.  If you don’t have that now, it’s likely that you have had at least one of those in the past.  As human beings, it’s quite common for us to want to plan out our lives and set a course for where we are headed.  Often organizations will set these same plans for themselves, too, in order to guide their efforts.  These can be good things, as they give us goals to strive for and keep us focused on our path.
 
Obviously, we cannot control whether or not these plans actually come to pass.  For the overwhelming majority of us, these plans never quite turn out like we thought they would.  Sometimes what happens to us is better than we could have ever hoped for, and sometimes we wind up disappointed that our dreams never came true. 
 
The great thing about living life by faith in Jesus Christ is that, whether we succeed in our plans in this life or not, we have a great future ahead of us.  Part of what drove the apostle Paul was the reality that, regardless of how this life went, his heavenly hope was better than anything this life could offer him.  For us, we have the same great and perfect hope that, the day He takes us home to the life to come where we can live with Him, our life will be greater than any earthly success we can achieve.
 
Whenever you get disappointed or frustrated by this life, remember that it’s not about this life.  For some people who do not have faith, everything rides on how they perform or how things go in this earthly life.  But by faith, we have a heavenly vision that carries us through all the disappointments of life.
 
And in the seasons of joy, we can say – as many great theologians of the past have said – “All this, and heaven too!”  What gratitude that statement gives us as we engage the lives we have now.
 
Remember as well, this Sunday we will celebrate All Saints’ Sunday at Faith, where we will remember those who have gone on before us.  We would love to see you there.
 
Peace,
Pr. Harry and Pr. Juan
    

Why are you Lutheran?

October 23, 2018
Dear brothers and sisters of Faith,
 
It’s Reformation Sunday – a celebrated Sunday in the Lutheran church.  So we want to ask you this question, as we think back on the Reformation:  why are you a Lutheran?  It’s a simple question, but it could be answered in a plethora of ways.  Maybe the reason you’re a Lutheran is because you were born into a Lutheran family. You were baptized as an infant, confirmed as a teenager, and have only ever known the Lutheran church.  Maybe you started in a different denomination, but after a while of searching you found that the Lutheran understanding of theology makes sense.  Maybe the reason has little to do with theology and everything to do with something like location – the Lutheran church was the “church around the corner,” and convenience brought you to Lutheranism.  Maybe you’re Lutheran because you like beer, and Lutherans tend to like their beer, too.  Maybe you got connected through a program, a friendship, or by marriage, or in some other way.
 
Every one of us has a different history with and view of the Lutheran church.  And that’s a good thing.
 
That’s a good thing because, in part, what Martin Luther sought to do was to rediscover God’s love for every single person.  The church in Luther’s day taught that God really didn’t express his love for you unless you were able to measure up to a certain set of standards.  Love was conditional in the Catholic church of the early 1500s – and Luther saw the spiritual abuse inflicted upon a people that were actually loved by the Lord, but just didn’t know it.
 
Luther wasn’t a Lutheran, by the way.  And he wrote that he was repulsed by the idea that there were back then (and are still today) “Lutherans.”  Instead, Luther was, above all, someone who sought to bring Jesus back into proper focus in the church.  He was a Jesus-follower.  And he wanted the people after him to love Jesus, too. 
 
Let’s not be Lutherans because we want to follow Luther (or Melanchthon or Walther or any other famous Lutheran).  Let’s be Jesus followers.  Let’s not work to glorify anyone but Jesus in our lives.  There may be times when we even disagree with Luther!  And you know what?  He would want us to do that, if it meant that we were being faithful to Jesus instead.
 
So, friends, here’s the question again:  why are you a Lutheran?  Because how you answer that question makes all the difference.
 
Peace,
Pr. Juan and Pr. Harry
    

Funny Church Signs?

October 17, 2018
Dear Faith family,

Funny church signs are everywhere.  Nowadays, you can even find websites dedicated to them.  One that always makes us laugh is the one we’ve attached here, that says this: “Our church is like fudge, sweet with a few nuts.” 
 
Church signs are fun and cute, but there are those for whom
church is simply not much more than cute signs and a social club
to be a part of. 
 
If you think about it, church is actually pretty lame without Jesus. 
Without Jesus, it’s nothing more than a gathering of people who
sing a bit, read a bit, shoot the breeze, help each other out from
time to time, and give their money without getting much in return.
 
But with Jesus, participation in church is something altogether
different.  When you come to church because of what Jesus has
done for you, you can come to expect receiving his forgiveness,
learning from his Word, praying together, and finding unity in a
greater purpose together.  You can come to expect that you’ll be
put in a position to serve your neighbor and build up the life of
the community around us in the holy and most precious name of Jesus.
 
So, if you were planning to come to church this Sunday simply for the social benefit, please don’t come.  Please stay home this weekend and sign up next week for the Kiwanis club or something similar.  But if you want to come to encounter Jesus and have him change your life and challenge you and lead you through every moment, then we’ll be there to welcome you with open arms.
 
Church is the place where we encounter Jesus.  It’s the place where, like the Roman Centurion we’ll look at this weekend, we come to see Jesus’ work for us and say, “Surely this was the Son of God.”
 
And yes, you’ll meet some sweet people and you’ll meet a few nuts – just an added benefit of being part of God’s holy people.  But thank the Lord that we’ll encounter more than just ourselves!
 
Much love,
Pr. Harry and Pr. Juan
    

Priorities

October 10, 2018
Dear friends,
 
Do you keep lists? This is Pastor Harry talking, and one thing and I like to do a lot is keep lists of my activities for the week. It keeps me well-organized and helps me remember what I’ve done and remember where I’m headed. I make lists not only of my day-to-day activities, but of some of my long-term goals as well.
 
It’s interesting to me to take a broad look over my lists sometimes. My lists tend to reveal a lot about my priorities. Where I put my effort and invest my time often reflects what I value to be important.  What we all value to be important is usually reflected in how we live our lives and what decisions we make.
 
In our Gospel text for this weekend from Mark 10:17-22, Jesus challenges a rich young man to reevaluate his priorities. Here was a man who loved the things of this world!  He was very rich, he was very young, he was very successful, and, according to the eyes of the world, he had everything he needed for fulfillment in life. He was missing something though.  He was missing the security of knowing that he had a place in the kingdom of God.  So he comes to Jesus and he asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” It’s interesting that the question in itself is an oxymoron. You don’t ever have to do anything to inherit anything! Inheriting something simply is an identity question. The young man, however, thinks that he can earn the kingdom of heaven. He has prioritized success through action so much that he has forgotten how inheritance works.
 
This weekend, God is challenging us to evaluate our priorities. This can be a very difficult thing to do because it forces us to be honest with ourselves. Look at your week.  What are some of your priorities simply based on the things that you do during the week? Would you be willing to give it all up for the sake of the kingdom of God? Would you be willing to give up everything that you enjoy in this life, if that’s what God called you to, to receive what God has to give to you?
 
We have priorities as a congregation as well. Let’s continue to challenge ourselves to evaluate our priorities and seek out God‘s priorities above our own. We’ll talk more about this at church this Sunday.
 
See you there!
 
Much love,
Pr. Juan and Pr. Harry
    

Those Around Us

October 3, 2018
Dear Faith family,
 
These next few weeks are big week at our church, as we will likely welcome many new visitors through our doors.  We have our “Community Health Fair and Cookout” this Sunday night, October 7, from 5-8pm and the following weekend we are hosting the LWML Zone Rally at our church, starting at 1pm.  Both of these events will hopefully bring in many of our neighbors, as we provide services, share Jesus’ message of grace, and discuss where God is leading our women’s ministry in the years to come.  These weeks will be pretty special for our church and will, Lord willing, provide us the opportunity to have face-to-face time with those God has put around us.
 
At the end of the day, we are here to serve those that God has put around us.  On Sunday our focus will be on the story of Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus in the book of Acts.  This is a clear example of the dramatic ways that God sometimes works in our lives and in our hearts.  In this story, Jesus literally knocks Saul off his chariot and leads him down a new path in life, one in which he would go from persecuting the church to leading it.
 
The rest of then-Saul now-Paul’s life would be serving those that God put around him.  And he did so faithfully because he took seriously the call of the Lord upon his life.  He knew that, no matter what situation he was in in life, God was opening doors for him to love the people around him and lead them to a life in Christ.
 
So, friends, do we have a similar opportunity.  We, as your pastors, feel that these last few years have been filled with God dramatically revealing our path to us.  As we discussed this past Sunday, the demographics of our community and the culture of our neighborhood are increasingly Hispanic.  We are engaging our Spanish-speaking neighbors the best we know how.  We are doing our best to love those around us, and God has continually provided for us in these endeavors!
 
Let’s not lose heart!  God is certainly working and will continue to work in our midst.  Let us seek to follow where he leads us and welcome anyone He places in our midst.
 
Much love,
Pr. Harry and Pr. Juan
    

Seemingly Insignificant

September 26, 2018
Beloved Faith family,
 
Have you ever met anyone who is famous?  It’s amazing that, out of such a small number of people who regularly attend our church, we have members that have really done some prominent things – from winning Olympic medals to being agents for big-name musicians, and more. 
 
Sometimes it’s easy for us to look at the lives of those who are more prominent and think, “The really important things of the world happen because famous people make them happen.  Famous people will be the ones that are truly remembered.”
 
Well, this weekend we’ll all take a trip to a tiny town called Zarephath.  In Zarephath, there were many prominent people, from the city leader to religious leaders to revered local celebrities.  However, our story for this weekend zooms in on a lowly widow and her son, both of whom were poor and seemingly insignificant.  And yet, God used a seemingly insignificant little family to do a great thing in the world.  And that’s the only family from Zarephath that we ever talk about any more.
 
This Sunday at Faith is our quarterly voters’ meeting, where we sit down and talk about what God is doing at our seemingly insignificant church.  But here’s the thing:  what we are doing is very important. We are seeking to reach out to our neighbors with the most important message ever:  that Jesus loves them, and that he proved it on the cross!  That is no insignificant thing.
 
So whether our church is talked about centuries from now or not, the fact remains the same.  God has put us here, in this time and in this place, for a very real and important purpose.  And that is to show Jesus to the world around us, as Jesus has first shown himself to us.
 
See you in church!
 
Much love,
Pr. Juan and Pr. Harry
    

Wrestling with God

September 19, 2018
Dear Faith family,
 
Have you ever watched a wrestling match?  Wrestling is a fascinating activity that requires a combination of great strength, strategy, and technique.  Men and women who wrestle at the highest level are masters of body control.  They have profound strength that makes them very difficult to move.  And yet, their strength is not chaotic or frenzied.  The best wrestlers are able to make very precise, thought-out movements in order to pin their opponent in a certain position or wear out their opponents’ energy.
 
To be honest, wrestlers are some of the most impressive athletes on the planet.  That’s because wrestling is one of the hardest activities to do well, and to wrestle well requires great amounts of self-control, training, and awareness.
 
It’s no surprise that our spiritual wrestling requires much of the same.  In our sermon text for this week, Jacob wrestles with God—physically, but also spiritually.   Jacob is in a bit of an intense moment, as he is having to confront his brother, Esau.  It’s a very stressful time for him, as he doesn’t know how Esau will respond to Jacob’s offer of peace.  In fact, Jacob had just finished up a contingency battle plan, in case Esau decided to attack him and his people after all.
 
Jacob is in a bit of a spiritual and personal crisis.  So he goes across the river by himself to focus, and God comes to him and physically wrestles with him all night.  Jacob holds on to God for dear life until he receives God’s blessing.  Jacob needs to know that God his with him in his great difficulty.
 
So it is with us, friends.  We all need to know that God blesses us in times of great difficulty.  When we are in the midst of a crisis, let us cling to Jesus.  As we wrestle with God in the moments of life that are hard to understand or get through, we can know that God is with us, and that he’s already provided the victory for us in Jesus. 

God bless you all today.
 
Much love,
Pr. Harry and Pr. Juan

The Torment of St. Anthony

September 12, 2018
Dear friends,

There’s a picture we’ve shared with you in this devotion that is believed to have been painted by a famous Italian artist named Michelangelo.  This picture is called the “Torment of St. Anthony,” and many believe that this is the first painting he ever produced.  He was only 12 years old at the time!  In case you want to
see this painting in person, it’s in the permanent collection at the Kimbell Art Museum
in Fort Worth.

In the picture, St. Anthony—a third-century monk from Egypt who lived in the desert
and was famous for undergoing great spiritual temptation—is being ambushed by
demons on all sides.  It’s a picture of him resisting temptation valiantly.  These demons
are doing whatever they can to destroy him, but he is able to prevail.  He was a holy
man, with a great awareness of the spiritual war around him.
 
Usually in church we like to talk about how God meets us in the everyday, visible
realities of life.  But we don’t often speak at length about the invisible realities around
us.  For example, did you know that there are different types of demons?  Did you know
that demonic beings can cause you physical harm?  Did you know that the war between
angels and demons was taking place long before God ever created the world?
 
This Sunday at church we are going to read a story where Jesus heals a young boy with
a demon.  When the father of the young boy comes to Jesus, he wants to believe Jesus can heal his son.  Can Jesus do it?
 
We are starting our new sermon series this Sunday, called “A Better Story.”  What happens when people see the power of Jesus in their life?  Like the father of the boy with a demon, we see possibilities we didn’t see before.  Jesus – the Lord even of the demons around us – is with us, as he was with the demoniac, with St. Anthony, with you, and with every other believer throughout history. 
 
See you all Sunday! 
 
Much love,
Pr. Juan and Pr. Harry
    

The Urgency of our Time

September 5, 2018
Dear friends,
 
Imagine what would happen if every man, woman, and child in our area heard the gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed clearly, and committed their lives to Him for a year. Every media outlet around the world would report on this greatest revival of all time.
 
But our work would not be finished. What about the new children? What about new residents? And what about the billions of people around the world who have never heard a clear presentation of the gospel? Statistics can start to overwhelm us.
 
Scripture tells us that when Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (Matt. 9:36). We need to ask God to move our hearts with the same compassion that moves His heart.
 
The greatest dangers we face as Christians are cynicism and a cool detachment. We must not forget the individuals, including those we know and love, behind that vague number who live without hope and without God in the world (Eph. 2:1).
 
Jesus pointed out the urgency of our task by reminding His disciples: the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few (Matt 9:37).  We must sense the urgency of our time.
 
We are reminded of Jesus’ last words before His ascension: All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. He is the Lord of lords. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matt. 28:18-20).
 
The Lord has not called us to sit around motionless. He’s called us to action! Let’s move as His ambassadors and enjoy the excitement of obeying Him and inviting people to come into His kingdom!
 
Much love,
 
Pr. Harry and Pr. Juan
 
Excerpts of this devotion are taken from “God at the Center,” Luis Palau, Our Daily Bread Ministries ®
 
    

An Inspirational Message

August 29, 2018
Dear Faith family,
 
Have you ever learned from a teacher that truly inspired you?  It feels something like this:  the person teaching begins to speak on a broader level about a topic.  You come to find that topic interesting because of how they are presenting the material.  And every once in a while, the teacher will make a connection or include a detail that you never would have considered before.  Maybe when you began the lesson you thought you knew about a topic, but the teacher shows you that there is so much more lying beneath the surface of this subject.  And if you put in the time, you, too, will be able to begin to understand the topic more fully.
 
In our Gospel lesson for this Sunday from Mark 7:1-13, Jesus is teaching many teachers of the law who had come to hear him teach.  Many were there trying to tear him down and catch him or his disciples doing something that violated their Jewish laws.  In fact, the Jews did see Jesus’ disciples eating without going through the proper cleansing ritual!  So they confronted Jesus about this. 
 
And that’s when Jesus began to teach, challenging ideas they had never challenged before and opening their eyes more fully to the law of God.  Jesus began to explain how the Jews were so dedicated to their own way of doing things that they couldn’t even see the fact that their own laws contradicted each other.  They had this one law that said you could only use certain “clean” items in your household; the people of Jesus’ day wouldn’t use some items to help out their own family because these items were labeled “unclean.”  But, in the 10 commandments, God taught us to care for our mothers and fathers.
 
The story may seem a bit complicated, but there’s a lesson for us in all of this:  ask yourself, is this tradition in my life from me or from God?  Take for example wearing nice clothes to church.  Nowhere in Scripture does it say we must wear nice clothes to church.  When we turn that into a law of God, we’re wrong – because God tells us we can come as we are, and he’ll accept us no matter what.
 
Jesus’ teaching is inspiring today, because he shows us how much more he has for us than earthly rules.  As it says in Galatians 5, “It is for freedom that Christ has set you free.”
 
Brothers and sisters in Christ, let’s sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to him this week, as he inspires us with his message of love.
 
Much love,
Pr. Juan and Pr. Harry
    

Christianity Can't Be THAT Hard?!

August 22, 2018
Dear Faith family,
This is the time of year for…football.  Whether you like football or not, you’ve probably come across preseason interviews and scouting reports for this upcoming year, often given by the coach.  This weekend we’re finishing up the book of Ephesians with the famous section from Ephesians 6.  And in Ephesians 6, Paul is a coach of sorts – a spiritual life coach, guiding his readers through the “season of opposition.” 
 
Paul teaches us how to play the game of spiritual warfare, how to face opposition as a Christian.  For the truest war in this world is not fought on a field, but in and over our hearts. And whether we like it or not, we are players in this game, participants in this war.  This battle – it’s incredibly intense, and it’s a life-or-death matter.
 
So Paul offers this chapter as a strategic game plan – how are we to go about participating in this spiritual war?  It may be tempting just to take this passage out of context, and say, well, you know, I’ll just let God do the fighting for me, because this world isn’t that bad, the influences of the world aren’t THAT destructive.  I’ve witnessed Christians who have claimed that Christianity cannot be THAT hard.
 
But Paul has spent the entire book of Ephesians talking about the sacrifice of Christ and how hard it is to live a life of love.  Throughout all of Ephesians, he tells us that living a Christian life means engaging in a war so intense and so important, far beyond anything other struggle we could possibly find in this world.  Paul is living this with the Ephesians.  You and I are living this today. 
 
So let us ask you this today:  how are you daily getting yourself ready for the attacks you may face? 
 
We’ll continue this topic further this Sunday.  See you there!
 
Much love,
Pr. Harry and Pr. Juan
    

What a Wonderful World

August 13, 2018
Dear Faith family,
There’s a famous song, which many of your probably know and love, by Louis Armstrong that goes like this:
 
“I see trees of green, red roses too, // I see them bloom for me and you // And I think to myself what a wonderful world.
I see skies of blue and clouds of white, // The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night // And I think to myself what a wonderful world.”
 
(To listen to the whole song, click here .)

Most likely for all of us, there are days where the words of this song ring true, and the world around us is a lovely place.  Maybe you’ve spent time with a friend or family member and you felt encouraged.  Maybe you welcomed a new child into the world and your heart was warmed by the great potential that you held in your arms.  Maybe it was a simple moment of clarity or happiness that drew you to enjoy your life.
 
Life can be really wonderful and enjoyable.  But life can also be a struggle, and there are moments when this song couldn’t be farther from the truth.
 
St. Paul, in our reading for this Sunday from Ephesians 5:6-21, talks about many different things.  He starts with reminding us to be on the lookout, because sin is rampant in the world and it’s easy to be led astray.  He talks about resisting the work of the devil, because Christ shines upon the hearts of the faithful.  He challenges and commands us to wise living, not being foolish or filling ourselves up with earthly things.
 
But he finishes with these words in verses 19-20: “Make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything.”
 
Friends, we do live in a wonderful world.  But it’s not wonderful because we make it wonderful.  (In fact, often it’s wonderful in spite of us.)  We see trees in bloom or clouds of white or newborn babies or the kindness of friends – and in that we see the creative goodness of our God.
 
So, friends, let’s give thanks to the Lord again.  Let’s learn from each other, submit to each other, keep each other accountable to live the faith.  Let’s lean on the love of God for us in Jesus.
 
Much love,
Pr. Juan and Pr. Harry
    

Worth the Effort

August 8, 2018
Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ,
 
A man was stranded on an island, alone for a number of years.  One day a passing ship discovered him and some people came ashore to rescue him. Before they took him off the island, he wanted to show them around. He took them to his hut and said, "This is the home I built with my own two hands." Then he showed them to another building and he said, "This is the church I built with my own two hands." Then someone in the group said "Hey, what's that building over there?" And the man replied, "That's where I used to go to church."
 
This is a bit of a funny story to share, yet, like many funny stories, shares a reality that is all-too familiar for churches around the world.  Our theme for this Sunday is unity, as Paul talks about it in Ephesians chapter 4.  Unity is a topic we often discuss together here at Faith and Comunidad de Fe.  Unity is central to the Christian life, as Jesus stresses and as Paul stresses over and over again.  Disunity is sadly often something that happens, though, as churches grow over time.  A controversial decision is made, then people begin to harbor resentment or hard feelings toward each other, and eventually a decision is made to dissolve.  Through it all, Satan works to have people’s opinions become more important than working for the sake of the Gospel together. 
 
Usually, the word “unity” becomes associated with a “kumbaya” mindset for people.  Unity is often depicted as everyone happy and agreeing all the time.  But Paul says that unity is much more than that!  In Ephesians 4:3, Paul says that we should “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”  Choosing to remain together and to keep working for the same cause is tough work. 
 
There will be many times when people aren’t happy or agreeing all the time.  But unity is about choosing to remain on the same team, even in the midst of disagreement and difficulty, in order to accomplish a specific purpose.  Unity in our context includes cultural integration, which is extremely difficult!  In both our English and Spanish-speaking ministries, individuals have made compromises and laid aside their preferences for the sake of spreading the good news of Jesus to our communities.
 
Here is our encouragement to you today:  keep up the effort.  Be patient, bearing with one another in love.  It’s worth it, because it shows the community around us that the self-sacrificial love of Christ dwells within us.  And there’s no greater witness than that to our community.
 
Much love,
Pr. Harry and Pr. Juan
    

Hearts at War

August 1, 2018
Dear brothers and sisters of Faith,
 
We are in week 4 of our 7-week series on the book of Ephesians.  This is a letter from Paul to a church in the midst of war, and he’s writing to a people being pulled all different directions.  This past week we saw him lay out clearly to the people of Ephesus his teaching on salvation by grace through Faith.  Jesus, in his death and resurrection, conquered death for us and has given eternal life to all who believe in him.  Not by works, so that we should brag about ourselves.
 
This is the key teaching of our Christian faith, the teaching we run back to every single time! As Lutherans, we champion Ephesians 2:  Faith alone, Grace alone, Scripture alone.  In Christ alone.
 
Did you know that the average American Christian attends church for about 3 hours per month, yet in that same month’s time will encounter over 150,000 advertisements?  The average Christian hears about the saving grace of God for 3 hours per month, yet is bombarded with messages that tell you that “you need this for your life to be really good” every single day.  No wonder it can be a challenge to live out the Christian faith!  Faith tells you, “rely on God to provide,” while the world tells you to “rely on products and earthly resources to provide.”
 
Hearts at war, folks.  We live in an incredibly materialistic society, meaning that, at every moment of every day, we are embroiled in a spiritual war.  We like our stuff!  The things of this life often bring comfort and happiness and help us enjoy our lives and care for others.  Sometimes we begin to think, “By controlling what I have around me, I’ll be prepared for whatever comes my way.”  That’s another way of saying, “I can control this life I live in.”
 
The great theologian John Calvin once said, “All the blessings we enjoy are Divine deposits, committed to our trust on this condition, that they should be dispensed for the benefit of our neighbors.”  
 
We know that God’s mercy covers all of our selfishness, and nothing we can do will separate us from his love!  So, living in that confidence and freedom, how can we use the blessings God has given to each of us to serve the world around us?  How can we resist the materialistic mentality of the world, and trust in the Lord to truly give us what we need?
 
Much love,
Pr. Juan and Pr. Harry
    

Light and Life

July 25, 2018
Dear friends,

In Kidane Mehret orphanage in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, over 150 children live and study and worship in a facility not considerably larger than our own church.  This orphanage is located in the heart of Arat Kilo, a district in the city that is laden with poverty and with crime.  There are many reasons for the leaders of Kidane Mehret, a collection of nuns of the order of the Franciscan Sisters of the Heart of Jesus, to give up this difficult ministry.  Funding is always an issue.  There are far too many children for the orphanage to handle, as well as the reality that many of the sisters are aging and there is not enough help to go around.  The leaders of this orphanage and school, as well as its sponsors, could throw in the towel because they face death and great struggle all around them in the community on a daily basis.
 
But they haven’t given up.  By the grace of God, they have helped thousands of children over the years get placed in homes and gain educations.  They have pulled thousands of kids of the rugged streets of Addis Ababa and given them hope for a better future.  They have been painted splotches of light and life on a canvas of death and struggle.
 
Satan has lost the spiritual battle so many times at Kidane Mehret, and life has sprung up in a place where it hasn’t been welcome.
 
David Crowder, the famous contemporary Christian musician, reminded the world of this in a recent social media post:  the message of the Gospel isn’t that the resurrection of Jesus turns bad people good – it’s that the resurrection makes dead people alive!  Ephesians 2 reflects that incredible joy that we have in the truth of Jesus!  As St. Paul says in verse 1, “As for you, you were DEAD in your transgressions and sins.”  We weren’t wounded or disgraced for a bit, but we were dead.  But then, in verse 4, Paul leaves a word like an LED sign in a dark alley, that “God, who is rich in mercy, made us ALIVE with Christ.”
 
Friends of Faith, let this message be your life.  God in Jesus gave life to you.  Let us fight for God’s vision of light and life in all things in our world today, that the darkness and death of Satan may have no place in our church, in our homes, in our communities, and in our hearts.
 
Much love,
Pr. Harry and Pr. Juan
    

The Spirit's Brand

July 16, 2018
Dear friends and family of Faith,
 
King Solomon was a very wise man, one of the wisest men in history because God gave him a supernatural gift of wisdom.  One of the books he wrote was “Song of Solomon.”  It’s not a book we read often in church, but it is a book filled with a beautiful description of the intimacy of the relationship between God and his people.  In Song of Solomon 8:6, Solomon says, “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is as strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave.  Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the Lord” (NIV).
 
One thing that happens when you get close to fire is that you get burned.  We know from Scripture that the Holy Spirit is often described as a flame of fire.  (That’s why fire landed on the heads of the believers at Pentecost, and why we often have the image of fire when talking about the Holy Spirit).  Essentially, in this verse King Solomon is asking the Lord to brand him.  Much like cattle owners brand their livestock by burning a pattern into their skin, we are branded by the Lord when we have the Holy Spirit within us.  And the Holy Spirit is a gift we receive in our baptism.
 
When we are branded by the Lord, the brand doesn’t go away.  Being in the family of the Lord means that we bear upon our hearts a seal that means something.  It’s a seal of ownership.  Whenever we think that God couldn’t possibly forgive us or love us (or someone else), we can look at that seal, that baptism-sent Holy Spirit that we carry and bear in our lives at every moment.  That’s where our questions, doubts, worries, and fears all get resolved and find their fulfillment.  We belong in the family of God; our hearts are owned by the Lord.
 
Are you struggling today with questions, doubts, worries, or fears?  Look at Jesus, the one sealed on your heart.  You’ve been adopted as a son or daughter of God because, as Solomon said, “love is as strong as death.”  And, more than that, as we’ll see in Ephesians 1 this Sunday, we’ve been lavished with wisdom and understanding from the Lord! 
 
When we have the Spirit, our hearts are full.  Let your heart overflow today with gratitude and contentment, friends.  Thanks be to God because of his great love for us!
 
Much love,
Pr. Juan and Pr. Harry
         
    

Dallas, our Ephesus

July 11, 2018
Dear friends,
 
The DFW metroplex is one of the largest cities in the entire United States, with over 2 million people living within a 50-mile radius.  We live in a center of industry, in an area that is very motivated by financial success, in a city that is competitive and cutting-edge and constantly changing.  Our challenge as believers in our context is to seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance to figure out what it means to be faithful believers in our time.
 
A common phenomenon defines how large cities (like ours) function.  In every city
throughout history, an abundance of people and money and things and opportunities
has led to an abundance of idols.  We are constantly trying to do better than the
person next to us – meaning that success and superiority are idols to many.  We are
forced to pick sides politically, religiously, racially – meaning that being right is an
idol to many.  We see money changing hands at an alarming rate, and we feel the
pressure to have more and nicer stuff – meaning that wealth is an idol to many.  We
want things in life to be easy and we want our homes to be cozy – meaning that
comfort is an idol for many. We want to make sure people in our care make certain
choices or turn out a certain way – meaning that control is an idol to many.  We want
to plan months and years ahead so that we will be set for life – meaning that security
is an idol to many.
 
This weekend at Faith and Comunidad de Fe we will begin a 7-week sermon series on the book of Ephesians.  Ephesus, situated right alongside the Aegean Sea at the mouth of the Cayster River in modern-day Turkey, was one of the largest and most significant port cities in the ancient world.  It was a city that functioned as a center of travel and commerce.  (To learn more about Ephesus, visit www.history.com/topics/ephesus ).
 
As a result, Ephesus was also a city of idols.  Paul came to Ephesus to confront spiritual warfare with the message of Jesus.  As we’ll discuss, this was a really difficult and dangerous thing.
 
Dallas-Fort Worth is a metroplex full of idols as well.  We are engaging in spiritual warfare, much like the apostle Paul, as we witness to the true God in a world of competing gods.  Do you often think about your Christian life in this way? 
 
See you Sunday!
 
Much love,
Pr. Harry and Pr. Juan
         

 
    

An Adventure

July 3, 2018
Have you ever thought of your faith as an adventure?  Often in our lives, faith becomes a serious thing.  Maybe you are the type of person that feels the need to be intensely focused and thoughtful, sober-minded and consistent in your faith life.  For you, faith is best expressed by doing the same thing over and over again, so that you’re prepared when something unpredictable comes your way.  Faith isn’t an adventure, it’s a routine.
 
Maybe that’s not you, though.  Maybe for you, you get excited by the adventure of faith.  You don’t know where God is going to take you and what he has for you next, and you like variety in your spiritual walk.
 
Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, two respected Christian thinkers of today, wrote this in their book entitled “Resident Aliens”:
 
“In a fragmented world that is a world perpetually at war, Christians can again recover how exciting and exhilarating it is to be a people of peace.  ‘Peace,’ in and of itself does not sound too exciting.  Yet when we recover the sense of ourselves…as a people of a peace unlike either the world’s war or the world’s peace, we again sense the adventure of discipleship. … We are invited to see ourselves and our lives as a part of God’s story.  That produces people with a cause.”  (pp. 66-67)
 
This Sunday at Faith and Comunidad de Fe, we’ll picture the life of the disciples that were sent out by Jesus, two-by-two, into neighboring towns to witness.  They went on their journey with nothing at all – no food, no extra clothes, no money.  All they carried with them was the message of peace.  What an adventure that must have been!  It must have been frightening and exciting and trust-producing, all at the same time.
 
We are sent.  We are loved by God and sent out by him.  Maybe not two-by-two, and with many more resources.  But a life of faith will be unpredictable, because a life that is sent is a life lived not on our own turf.  It’s lived around the tables and in the backyards of our community.  It’s lived in the dance halls and classrooms and funeral parlors and laundromats around us.  In those places is where we see our faith grow and we see lives changed with the word of peace that comes in the Gospel.
 
Praying for peace and adventure over you all today.
 
Much love,
Pr. Juan and Pr. Harry
    
    

The Catastrophic Power of Jesus

June 18, 2018
Dear friends in Christ,

Martin Luther wrote about the moment he realized that God was leading him into the ministry.  One night he was walking outside in a huge storm, one that was so bad he thought he was going to die in it.  As he continued on, trying to get out of the storm’s path, he told God that, if God would spare his life, he would become a monk.  God spared him that night, and the rest is history.
 
In 2003, the people of southeast Asia suffered the effects of a destructive tsunami, in which thousands of people lost their lives and many, many more their homes and possessions.  In 2005, residents of southern Alabama and Louisiana experienced the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.  The people of Houston and Puerto Rico this past year also lived through the effects of devastating hurricanes – in fact, there are many still living through the effects of powerful storms.  In your lifetime, you can probably think of at least 15 to 20 more super-powerful storms that altered the lives of so many.
 
Storms are interesting phenomena, because they provide sudden and sometimes catastrophic disruption to our otherwise planned-out lives.  Storms are humbling, too, because of how powerless we are to stop them or divert their path.  If a storm is going to come, the only options we have are to run away from it or to hunker down and pray that we’ll survive it.
 
This weekend at Faith, we’ll look at one of the most famous storms in history – the storm that Jesus calmed from Mark 4:35-41.  This storm was much like any other powerful storm.  It was scary, destructive, and potentially life-threatening to Jesus and his disciples.
 
But this story is unlike every other story, in that Jesus first of all knew it was coming (he was the one who suggested going to the other side of the lake), and second that he could actually do something about the storm.
 
Jesus is actually like a storm himself.  He’s disruptive, way more powerful than we could possibly expect, and he winds up changing the plans we have for our lives.  He’s life-threatening – but even more than that, he’s life-giving.
 
The grace of God we find in Jesus disrupts the world, and we are so very grateful for this disruption.  As we look at this storm this weekend and consider the power of Christ in the world, let us never forget that there is catastrophic power in the name of Jesus.  If God is for us, who can be against us?
 
Much love,
Pr. Harry and Pr. Juan
    

LE(A)D

June 13, 2018
Dear friends,

High School politics is a curious thing.  Remember the homemade campaign signs, the posters and stickers distributed by your classmates running for a class office?  Some treated the process as if becoming the Vice President of the class of 1984 would set you up for life. 
 
Whether it’s at the high school, local, or national level, we all have an innate desire to lead and be led because of the human need for relationship.  Leadership is an act of faith and trust—trusting in those leading you and being trusted by those you are leading.
 
John 13 tells the story of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet.  Jesus is at dinner with his closest friends, the ones he ultimately came to save.  But, in order to show them the full extent of his love, he played the role of the servant – because that was the role he chose in leadership.  Jesus got down on his hands and knees and washed his disciples’ feet.  He serves his disciples and finishes his act by commanding his disciples to show their faith through servant leadership, too (John 13:14-17).
 
Jesus came to serve.  And the greatest act of service he showed was serving us by giving up his life.  He understood that the role he chose was to lead by serving, and to save by serving.  And he did just this.  In his passion and resurrection, He showed us the full extent of his love for us. 
 
This week at Faith, we’ll have the opportunity to look at Jesus’ teachings on the seed of faith.   Our Christian faith is an act of trust and one of understanding how to be led by God and lead others.  What is my role, as I seek to lead others and be led by God and by those in authority above me?  How can I display trust in God by leading those he has put into my care? 
 
Sometimes the act of discovering how to be lead and to lead seems like a political one (whether that’s church politics, family politics, community politics, or national politics).  However, this process of discovering faith and leadership is actually an intensely spiritual road.
 
As we engage our faith in our community, let’s walk this road together.  Thanks for walking this road with us today.
 
Much love,
Pr. Juan and Pr. Harry
 
    

Change this Heart

June 6, 2018
Dear friends,

There’s a song by the band Sidewalk Prophets called “Change this Heart.”  Here are some of the lyrics:
 
What is going through the motions if my life is still the same?
Everyday's the same old puzzle, all the pieces re-arranged
And I refuse your help out of my own selfish pride.
Lord, I have so many masks to cover up and hide.
 
So I will pray to you right now to take away my sin,
heal away my brokenness and change this heart again.
Without you I am nothing but a weak and dying man.
So I will pray to you right now to change this heart again.


How do you handle change in your life?  Many people avoid change because of how difficult it is.  Change means that life, as you know it, will be different. 
 
Did you know that the Christian life is one of constant change?  Every day, when you ask for repentance, you ask God to change your heart.  Every single day we seek to grow in our faith – to be changed every day more and more into the likeness of Jesus Christ.  Every single day we pray that the Spirit would empower us to leave our lives of sin behind and live the love of Christ more fully.
 
One thing people often fear are the external changes of life:  changes of residence or changes of relationships.  But often the most important changes are the internal changes:  changes in our attitudes as we grow older; changes in perspective; changes in knowledge.  And most of all, changes of the heart.
 
This song above is a prayer about change on a greater scale.  The “motions” of life include rearranging life’s pieces often – seeing the external changes. These are expected and tough to get through, but these will end.  These changes are temporary.  But our unchanging God means that by faith our eternal life, which will begin after our time on this earth, will not change!  Life will always be good.  Relationships will always be constant, and God will always be before our eyes.
 
So pray your way through your changes in this life.  But even more than that – and we as your pastors challenge ourselves to do this very thing as well – focus on your internal change.  Trust in God to rearrange and take care of the pieces in your life here on this earth.  But above all, let him put your heart back together, so that the picture that the world sees in you and that God sees in you is the picture of Jesus.  Jesus, our help, our healer, our changeless one. 
 
Much love,
Pr. Harry and Pr. Juan

Total Life Witness

May 30, 2018
Dear Faith family,
 
“Where are you on your spiritual journey?”  If I were to ask you this question, how would you respond? 
 
According to Lutheran theology, there is one easy way to answer this.  You could say, “I’m a baptized child of God, and therefore I’m saved.”  This is absolutely true!  And at the same time, we have days when we doubt or we are afraid or we rejoice or we lament.  It’s perfectly acceptable to both recognize your ultimate salvation (constant and unchanging because of who God is) and also acknowledge that life is hard and trust is a challenge.
 
As we’ve been discussing at church over these past six weeks, we are on co-mission.  We’re never in mission alone, and we are carried on by the special, Godly power of the Holy Spirit at work in us.  We worship, grow, serve, and care—making all of our lives a witness to the goodness of Christ. 
 
Don Everts and Doug Schaupp, founders of InterVarsity Fellowship, conducted research over a period of several years on new believers, and how they talked about the process of the Holy Spirit leading them to saving faith in Christ.  Typically, the process looks something like this.  A person who is far away from the Lord begins a journey to Christ by first beginning to trust a Christian.  When they find themselves trusting someone they didn’t necessarily think they would trust, they become curious about the beliefs of that person.  The curious person then begins opening up to change in their life.  After opening up to change, these individuals begin seeking after God for the first time—praying, listening to sermons, attending Bible Studies, learning more about Jesus.  It was typically after moving through these four stages that a person entered into a saving relationship with Christ.
 
You know what this means for us?  It means that our greatest witness happens often without us knowing it.  Our witness isn’t necessarily a well-crafted speech to our neighbor leading them to Christ.  Our witness ultimately is that our lives reflect a trust in Jesus that makes us different from the secular world around us.  And people notice that.
 
Wherever you are on your spiritual journey, whether today is a good day or a bad day, let us commit to live out our faith in the sight of the world around us.
 
Peace in Jesus,
Pr. Juan and Pr. Harry
    

Our Heavenly Hope

May 23, 2018
Have you ever pictured what heaven might be like? Have you ever tried to picture what it will be like to live forever, in a place with no pain or tears? 
 
We know that it says in Scripture that heaven won’t just be a spiritual, out-of-body experience where we are all sitting on clouds and strumming little harps.  1 Corinthians 15, among other places, reminds us that our hope is in the day when Jesus returns to make all things new.  We will have physical bodies – even better ones than we have now, since they will be perfect!  We will live in the dwelling places he has prepared for us (John 14:2), places that will be brilliant and shining bright (Revelation 21:11), made of pure gold (Revelation 21:18), with pearly gates (Revelation 21:21).  We will share in lavish feasts prepared for us by the Lord (Isaiah 25:6), and we will be forever filled with joy (Psalm 16:11).  And believers from EVERY nation under heaven, here on the earth in which we live now, will be there, singing praises to the lamb (Revelation 21:24).   
 
Heaven won’t be about the comfortable life we will live – heaven, and the new earth to come, are about Jesus.  Jesus is the object of our affection here at Faith.  As much as we will enjoy the comforts and delights of the life God has planned for us, we don’t live by faith to gain comfort; no, we live by faith because we long to be with the Lord.
 
Why do we engage in mission together?  Is it because we want to have nice, healthy church budgets and great buildings and we need people to make that happen?  Do we engage in mission to simply do social work?  Do we seek to reach our neighbor so that people would look at us and say, “Look how well that person or that church is doing?”  The devil will certainly try to lead us astray in this way, desiring us to work for reasons that ultimately serve ourselves.
 
But we are in co-mission together not for ourselves, but for our God.  We are in co-mission because we don’t want others to be kept out of God’s perfect life He has planned for those who believe.  How great it would be if all of God’s creatures were able to live in perfect harmony and perfect unity together!
 
So, friends, let’s remain committed to our heavenly hope – a hope that someday the pain will be gone, our joy restored, and our God will be all that we can see.
 
Much love,
Pr. Harry and  Pr. Juan
    

The 4 Ls of Co-Mission

May 16, 2018
Do you ever wish that the Bible was more practical, a guidebook on practical Christian evangelism in the 21st century, the social media age?  Wouldn't that be helpful to turn to Mark 17 and find Jesus' teaching on how to handle Facebook?
 
Here at Faith over the past 3 weeks we’ve been engaging what it means to live in mission with Jesus.   This challenge that Jesus issues to all believers to witness to the world is a different kind of challenge today because of how small the world is.  It took Paul months to travel from place to place back then, but today it’s possible to text a friend in France in about 2 seconds. It's a very different world – in ways more tolerant, in ways more accessible, but in many ways much, much more fearful.  And in many ways, the people are much harder to reach than in the ancient world.
 
Here's why it is so hard.  You see, the social media age we live in has been fuel for the fire of fear.  Our world is becoming increasingly judgmental in an unhealthy way – instead of engaging in fruitful conversations, we point fingers and call each other names.  We label instead of listen; we condemn instead of communicate.
 
So how do we engage a fearful world?  Here are four essential “Ls” that define our calling to commission:
 
First, LEARN.  Learn about the world around you.  Take time to specifically learn from the voices of those who are NOT like you.  How can you open yourself up to people who aren’t like you or think differently than you? 
 
Second, LISTEN.  Listen to the voices of the people God is placing in your path.  Ultimately, every single person in our city is ultimately the same – a sinner in need of God’s grace.  Who is God placing in our path that we can listen to? 
 
Third, LOVE.  After all, that’s what Jesus did.  Jesus simply loved.  He looked past himself and the structures of the world around him and felt compassion on the hearts of people.  He spent time with tax collectors, with a Samaritan woman, with lepers, with the lame and the lonely.  He shot down fear with love. 
 
And finally, LOOK.  Pay attention to the details.  Where is God opening a door for us – even an unexpected door?
 
Much love,
Pastor Juan and Pastor Harry
    

Oh, the Places You'll Go!

May 9, 2018
Dear friends,

Remember the Dr. Seuss book, “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!”?  It’s entirely possible that you either received this book as a gift or gifted this book to someone else for a graduation or wedding or other similar event in your life.  It’s a fun children’s book that speaks about endless possibilities that life may bring.
 
But in order to go anywhere, we have to make the conscious decision to get up from where we are, gather the things that we need, and proceed to our new location.  This applies to whether you are getting ready to go to work, to go visit your family, or to move across the country.  Whether the move is a big move or a small move, every move we make in this life requires effort.  Every move we make requires us to face a potentially vulnerable or uncomfortable situation.
 
And yet, we go.  That’s what we were created to be – people who go.  We are not people who simply hunker down, cowering in fear at everything.
 
This weekend at Faith we will look at the “where” of Christian missions, based on Acts 1:1-11.  You’ll probably recognize these verses from Luke, quoting Jesus.  Jesus said that we are called to be witnesses to Christ in Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth.  We are called to tell others what we see when we leave our homes – no matter where we are going or with whom we are interacting.
 
Who knows where God will lead you?  Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth is equivalent to DFW, Texas, the USA, and the whole world.  And nowadays, we don’t even need to get on a plane to go half way around the world!  We have devices that bring the world to us.
 
Oh, the places this church has gone in the past, and the places it will go!  We know that Faith is not as numerically strong as it once was, but we will choose to trust that the Lord will lead us to new places, where we can witness in new ways.  Let us never be afraid, but trust that the Lord will provide all we need and open every door.
 
Much love,
Pr. Harry and Pr. Juan

No Partiality

May 3, 2018
There is a joke that you may have heard that goes something like this. 
 
There once was a man who passed away from earth into heaven.  Upon reaching heaven, he met St. Peter at the pearly gates.  After he got checked in, St. Peter offered to show the man around.  “Here is the great hall, where we all dine together,” Peter said, as he walked past an incredibly majestic building. “And on the right are some of the mansions where we all live.  And if you keep walking that direction you will eventually reach the throne of God.”  As they kept walking and St. Peter kept talking about each of the buildings, they walked past one building that St. Peter seemed to ignore.  The man stopped and pointed to the building.  “St. Peter, sir, what is that building over there?”  “Oh, my son, that is where the Lutherans live.  They don’t know that anyone else is here.”
 
It’s a humorous joke, and really you could substitute any number of denominations in the place of Lutherans in that joke.  Sadly, we have conditioned ourselves historically in the Protestant American church to separate and judge.  When we think of Baptists or Methodists or Presbyterians, it’s often easiest to think of all the things that “they” do that are “wrong” or are “of bad doctrine” first.  Only after our discussions of what divide us do we usually proceed to what unites us – that is, Jesus Christ.
 
In our mission series we started this past weekend with Pastor Roth, we heard the call to go out.  It’s the call placed on all of us to go out to our neighborhoods.  It’s an act of arrogance to want to pick and choose whom we call our neighbors.  It’s an act of humility to let God choose our neighbors for us.  And it’s also an act of humility to join in co-mission with the Spirit and with our fellow brothers and sisters in our communities.
 
The thing is, loving our neighbors well means being ready and willing to change – regardless of how old we are or where we are in our lives.  In our reading from Acts this weekend, we will see how God changed Peter’s heart in his view toward Gentiles.  Peter had a hard time accepting Gentiles in his understanding of faith.  But God changed his heart, and at Cornelius’ house he preaches, “Now I know that God shows no partiality.”
 
To whom have we shown preferential treatment as a church together?  Let us pray to the Lord above for forgiveness for our past and for courage to show no favoritism in our own lives.
 
Much love,
Pr. Juan and Pr. Harry
    

Go

April 25, 2018
What would you do if an angel of the Lord came up to you and said, “I need you to leave the house that you know and love, the job that provides you security, the relationships you’ve come to depend on, and the life you currently live, and I want you to start driving far away from here.  I’ve got something there for you.”  What would you think?  What would you do?
 
This same scenario happens more than you’d think in Scripture.  It happened to Abraham, to Moses, to Saul, to Jonah, to Joseph (Jesus’ father), to Barnabas, and to Phillip, among others.  In each of these instances, these individuals had a revelation from the Lord to pick up what they were doing and go somewhere else, to a different place they didn’t know, because it was the will of the Lord that they do so.  And these men and women all responded in different ways – some faithfully, some reluctantly, some unfaithfully.
 
It may be easy for us to think today, “Well that was then.  Everything is different in today’s day and age.  God doesn’t send angels and call us to move away from our families like that anymore.  That wouldn’t be fair for him to do.” However, when we begin to think that God’s call to be ready to go wherever for the sake of his name no longer applies to us, we effectively begin to think that God would never ask us to do something uncomfortable. 
 
C.S. Lewis once said, “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”
 
We are all missionaries, and our identity as children of God means that the Holy Spirit is calling you to go.  To get dirty, get uncomfortable, try to talk with people you don’t understand, hang out with “sinners,” work on forgiving the things you consider to be unforgivable, make yourself vulnerable.  This is what it means to be on mission – to be sent out to a new place with only the call of God and the love for the people of the world leading you on.
 
We, at Faith, are committed to co-mission, because we believe in a God who sent his Son to us to get dirty, to forgive recklessly, to hang out with “sinners”, to make himself vulnerable to people that won’t love him well.  And greater love has no one than this.  Let us resolve to be people who go – even though it’ll be uncomfortable.
 
Much love,
Pr. Harry and Pr. Juan
         

 
    

Kintsugi

April 18, 2018
There’s this practice in Japan known as “Kintsugi” – “Kin” meaning “Gold” and “Tsugi” meaning “Connection.”  This “gold connection” is the method by which the Japanese have historically fixed ceramics that have broken.  When a pot or vase or other ceramic item breaks into pieces, the Japanese don’t superglue the breaks like we would here in America.  They actually bond the broken pieces together with melted gold.  It is a common Japanese belief that beauty comes in the scars of life.  Instead of hiding the scars, like many of us would try to do in America, they highlight the scars.  For the Japanese, there’s beauty in brokenness.  The scars of life are the things which add to character.
 
Isn’t this what the life of the Christian is actually like?  In 2 Corinthians 11 and 12,
Paul is writing to a church that is growing in spiritual maturity.  He’s written to
them about all the trials God brought him through in his life – and the list is
incredibly long and painful to read!  But in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, he says these
incredible words: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect
in weakness.  Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so
that the power of Christ may rest upon me. … For when I am weak, then I am
strong.”
 
In the art of kintsugi, the gold that holds the broken pieces together is much
stronger than the pieces themselves.  Ceramics are easy to break – gold is not.
Gold is precious, beautiful, valuable, and strong.
 
Gold is also motivating.  Every Olympic athlete strives to win the gold medal.  Every musical artist strives to make a gold album.  An entire generation of people moved to the west coast in 1849 in search of striking it rich and discovering gold.
 
In life, the gold that we find in God’s mercy is of priceless worth.  It’s precious, beautiful, valuable, and strong – more than anything else in all creation.  It’s our treasure.  It’s this gold that makes our lives beautiful.  It’s this redemptive glue that holds us together.
 
We are preparing to enter into our mission focus for 2018 during the next 6 weeks at church.  As we seek out what it means to be “Committed to Co-Mission,” let’s remember this.  All people are broken – but the more broken you are, the more the gold redemption of Christ shines forth in you.  Would that we be a church filled with, connected, and motivated by bonds of gold!
 
Peace in Jesus,
Pr. Juan and Pr. Harry
    

 
    

Committed to Co-Mission

April 12, 2018
Dear brothers and sisters of Faith,
 
In the book of Habakkuk, the prophet paints a picture of all the whole world being filled with the glory of God.  And in the Great Commission from Matthew 28, Jesus gives the command for his followers to be glory-carriers, catalysts of faith in Christ in the world. 
 
All of us here at Faith have that same missional call from God spoken over us today.  We are called to be witnesses of Christ locally, regionally, nationally, and globally.  But doesn’t that seem like it’s too big of a task for one person or one church?
 
The answer to that is “yes.”  Yes, operating
independently, we find out that the world is
too big for us to do all of the missional work. 
That’s why God didn’t give it to just one person
– He gave this missional call to all believers. 
It’s not a personal mission that we are called to. 
It’s a co-mission to which we are committed. 
And as a family of God we can work together,
committed as partners in a co-mission, to serve
the world around us and act as catalysts of
peace and faith in the world.
 
Beginning April 29, we will engage a 6-week
sermon series – entitled “Committed to
Co-Mission” – that will attempt to answer the who
/ what / when / where / why / how of mission
specifically within our own context.  What is the goal of the LCMS and specifically the Texas District when it comes to our missional call?  How is Faith spending its mission dollars, and what is that accomplishing?  What’s the relationship between mission networks like T2C2, Faith, and Comunidad de Fe?  What is the model for missions with which Faith operates?  What does it mean to be a “sending” church?  How can we expand our reach when it comes to our missional efforts?
 
We hope you can lock arms with us as we all walk down this missional road together!

Much love,
​Pr. Harry and Pr. Juan
 
    

Faith Greater than Stone Signs

April 4, 2018
 Dear Faith family,
 
Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed, Alleluia!
 
In the early 1920s a Soviet communist leader named Nikolai Bukharin was sent from Moscow to Kiev to speak an anti-God rally. He was sent in order to attempt to disprove the existence of God in front of all the people, and for an hour he abused and ridiculed the Christian faith until it seemed as if the whole structure of belief was in ruins. Then questions were invited.  The first person to raise his hand and ask to speak was a Ukrainian Orthodox priest.  When he was given permission to speak, he turned, faced the people, and gave the Easter greeting, "He is risen!" Instantly the assembly rose to its feet and the reply came back loud and clear, "He is risen indeed! Alleluia!"
 
You know what?  Believing this statement changes everything about our lives and the world we live in.  It changes our understanding of death and life, of hope and despair, of joy and suffering.  It gives is a way to endure through whatever comes our way – good or bad.  Like Hebrews 6 says, the risen Jesus is the “hope as an anchor for our soul.”  Wherever the wind blows us, the hope we have in the resurrection of Jesus anchors us to the ground.
 
This past Sunday afternoon, a young man lost control of his vehicle and destroyed our church sign.  This happened on Easter Sunday of all days!  The very day that we all came together to celebrate our risen Lord, we had an event happen that reminded us of the destruction of the world that we live in.  This stone sign was one of
the most durable and well-constructed items on our entire property.  But this event
reminded us that even the things we think of as the strongest and longest-lasting items
can so quickly be destroyed on this side of heaven.

We could look at what happened to our sign as another big roadblock in our way.  Or we
can view this through eyes of faith.  God has opened a door for us now to rethink how we
present ourselves to the community that drives by – and this is a good thing to be able to
think through.  While Satan would want us to brood over this event and become fixated on
the negative, we have a hope that’s greater than any stone sign on our property.  No car can
destroy who Faith Lutheran Church and Iglesia Luterana Comunidad de Fe are.  For we are
people who have been risen with Jesus, and we have that reality and carry that message no
matter what happens to our property.
 
So, friends, let’s walk forward in faith (that’s our name, after all!), trusting that the Lord is bringing to completion the good work he already started in this place.  And let’s trust in Jesus to provide in abundant, supernatural ways, regardless of what happens.
 
Easter Peace in our Risen Jesus,
Pr. Juan and Pr. Harry
    

Living on our Own Lawn

March 28, 2018
In his play, King Lear, Shakespeare tells the story of the elderly King Lear, who was facing retirement and was set to divide up his kingdom between his three daughters (Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia).   However, dissension and flattery among the daughters leads to anger—to the extent that Goneril and Regan plan to take advantage of their father’s generosity in order to gain even greater power.  In Act I, scene 4, Lear, who is at this point beginning to experience the pain of Goneril’s thanklessness, says this: “How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child.”
 
Holy Week 2018 is here.  This Maundy Thursday we will spend time witnessing together the humbled power of God made accessible to us through bread in our hand and wine on our lips.  Then, on Good Friday, we will feel the pain and also the overwhelming relief of Golgotha, as we remember the sacrificial death of Jesus for us.  And, of course, the culmination of our hope we celebrate on Easter Sunday!  And in addition to all of this, we have our Easter Egg-stravaganza outreach this Saturday.  There are a lot of things to do at church – and, of course, you all have the things you are tasked to do in your own personal lives this week.  It’s the holiest week in history, the week in which we realize our purpose in this life.
 
There are many challenges that come our way as a result of holy week – the challenge to integrity, to holier living, to sharing our faith, to setting aside time for the Lord.  The greatest challenge, though, that Holy Week sets before us is the challenge to live with an attitude of thankfulness in all things.   
 
Satan works to try to get us to pine constantly for greener grass.  Satan eats at our hearts through thanklessness.  That’s because Satan is the poster boy of thanklessness.  And when we begin to adopt an attitude of thanklessness and entitlement, we become so focused on our own desires that we lose sight of the work of God in the world.
 
But despite our self-indulgent behavior, let us remember this Holy Week that we have a reason for thanksgiving.  We have some incredibly green grass that we don’t have to overlook.  And while Satan may succeed in creating a culture of ingratitude in the world around us with his serpently tooth, we have Jesus.  And when you have Jesus in your heart, there is no such thing as greener grass.
 
A heart of thankfulness reduces the sting of the serpent’s tooth.  A culture of thankfulness, not only to each other but to God, gives us a weapon to fight with.  So this Easter season -- this holiest of seasons -- let us seek to live on our own lawn.  To be thankful to God for what he has given us.  To serve others from a heart of gratitude.  And to encourage an attitude of thankfulness in those we meet.
 
Much love,
Pr. Harry and Pr. Juan
    

How Do You Respond?

March 21, 2018
In Matthew 16, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”  No forewarning, no chance to sit for 6 weeks during Lent and craft a brief response.  He puts his disciples on the spot – and Peter speaks up, saying “You are the Christ, the son of the Living God.”  And Jesus blesses him for such a faithful response.
 
But confessing Jesus won’t always be the same for Peter.  You see, just 11 chapters later Peter sits around a fire as Jesus is being questioned and tortured.  3 different times people approach him and ask him about his relationship with Jesus.  “I don’t know the man!” comes out of his mouth on all three occasions.  Once again, Peter is put on the spot.
 
When, in 1 Peter 3:15, Peter says, “Always be prepared to give an answer for the hope that you have,” he knows what he’s talking about.  Sometimes we think these stories are just stories and that our lives are so different we would never face the same thing.  But in reality, we have many similar opportunities in our lives.
 
You sit down to coffee at a coffee shop with a friend, and you can tell they are hurting.  “What’s wrong?”  “I’m worried about my kid.  He just isn’t turning out like I hoped he would.  He’s been rebellious and is experimenting with dangerous things.  I know we’ve never been church people, but I’ve always believed in Jesus.  But right now I’m not sure what to think.  I’m nervous, scared, worried about my son, and I feel alone.  I know you believe in Jesus – I just don’t see where Jesus is right now in this situation.”
 
How do you respond in this moment?    
 
It’s been a joy this Lent for us to walk with all of you as we prepare ourselves for conversations like the one above.  Probably you won’t remember the exact wording of your seven-word confession, but that’s okay.  It’s the act of practicing how to talk about your faith that’s important. 
 
These are the wonderful seven-word responses we have received so far from you all: “God’s love through Christ’s blood saves sinners.”  “My Lord and Savior is Jesus Christ.”  “The Lord saved me during my illness.”  “Jesus is my freedom and our hope.”  “Jesus loves me, He died for me.”  “I’m a sinner, Jesus died for me.”  “Christ was born to save the world.”
 
This week is the start of the holiest of weeks, as we march with Jesus from the gate to Jerusalem all the way up the hill of Calvary and out of the tomb next Sunday.  This is what it’s all about for us!  Jesus, dying for us, that we could have life.  And often this time of year you’ll find people with questions, people open to a conversation about Jesus. 
 
Thank you to all who have given your 7-word confessions.  And if you haven’t submitted yours yet, you still have a week to give them to us.  How would you communicate the Gospel in your words?
 
Much love,
Pr. Juan and Pr. Harry
 
    

Hyperbole -- and Jesus

March 13, 2018
Do you know anyone who speaks all the time with great exaggeration?  When someone does this, it’s called hyperbole.  “These are the best eggs I’ve ever had!”  “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.”  “I have a ton of chores to do.”  “She’s always working.” “These heels are killing me.”  “That person is the greatest!”
 
We all use hyperbole from time to time, usually to get a point across.  Scripture is full of hyperbole as well.  We see a few examples of this even in our readings for this week.  One comes from Psalm 119:10. “I seek you with all my heart.”  Yet, if we’re honest with each other, we don’t seek God with all our heart.  There’s times when we really could care less to seek God out.  We tend to seek God when it’s convenient to us, when we think of it.  But sin causes us to lose our focus.  This is an example of hyperbole, used to communicate a desire but not a reality.
 
In our Gospel lesson for this Sunday from Mark 10:32-34, Jesus tells His disciples again that He will die and rise again in three days.  It’s obvious in this passage that the disciples think Jesus is just speaking in hyperbole – this surely isn’t actually going to happen.  He’s probably just talking that way to make the disciples pay attention to Him.  That’s obvious because the very next thing that happens in the story is that James and John come up to Him and ask Jesus if they can be seated at His right and left in heaven.  Jesus says, “Can you drink the cup I drink?”  That means, “Can you save the world from sin like I can?”  And they respond that they can.  They don’t understand Jesus.  They don’t realize the power that He has, what He came to do.  They think His predictions about His resurrection are nothing more than powerful speech, but He’s surely not actually going to follow through.
 
This Easter season we get to bask in the fact that Jesus doesn’t speak in hyperbole.  When He says, “I gave it all for you,” He means it!  Even though we can’t follow through on our promises to Him, He has and He does act on His promises to us – and He will continue to do so!  And one day, the entire world will know exactly who He is.
 
And our part in all of this?  To help people see that.  We do that by studying the Word of God and imprinting it on our hearts.  We do this through prayer, through service to others as Jesus talks about in our Gospel for this week.  We do this by showing people Jesus and then getting out of the way.
 
This Easter, amidst all that we have going on, let us encourage one another to live continue on in faithfulness to Jesus.
 
Much love,
Pr. Harry and Pr. Juan

John 3:16

March 7, 2018
 John 3:16. Do you know it by heart?  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him might not perish but have eternal life.”  This verse is probably the most influential, recognizable verse in the whole Bible.  Go to a football game and you’ll likely see a poster with this verse reference on it.  Listen to a children’s Sunday school class, and this verse very well may be discussed.  Many people even have tattoos with the verse or reference.
 
One of the greatest sources of joy for us as pastors is having the opportunity to see people – who would never otherwise come together under one roof – join each other for the same purpose: to worship God.  If you think about God’s promises about what heaven will be like, that’s exactly what He promises will happen.  God will bring together people from all around the world, from every nation, tribe and language, to worship Him.  In heaven one day we will all be united as one people – regardless of skin color, political position, geographic region, history, sexual identity, or anything else.
 
The fact is, God’s already doing that.  Having people cross cultural barriers to worship is nothing new.  Our community in Grand Prairie is filled with all different types of people:  tall, short, thin, heavyset, blonde, brunette, Latino, African American, Asian, Spanish-speaking, English-speaking, anxious, self-confident, intelligent, illiterate, documented, undocumented, abused, gay, straight, American, European, African, “Other,” gang-affiliated, homeschooled, public schooled, Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, famous, “normal”, autistic, criminals, invalids, police officers, homeless.  You name it, and Grand Prairie likely has it.
 
When we say “God so loved the WORLD,” we say this: that God loves every person on that list, and all the ones that we failed to mention as well.  And God wants every single one of those people to worship Him, just as we do on a daily basis.
 
That’s why we are called to welcome EVERYONE and invite everyone to come join us on Sunday morning.  If the people God loves aren’t welcome at our church, then we aren’t communicating the love of Christ for that person.  After all, God has welcomed us and shown His love for us!
 
This Lent and Easter season, this is our encouragement to you:  have you written anyone off as “unlovable” by God?  Is there someone you would have a hard time welcoming at our church?  If so, why?
 
Much love,
Pr. Juan and Pr. Harry
    

Repenting of our Idols

February 28, 2018
Can you believe it’s already March?  Here at Faith, we are only one month away from our Easter celebrations.  We have only one month left in Lent.  During the next few weeks we are going to turn our eyes toward our Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday worship, as well as our Easter Egg-stravaganza on March 31.  We continue to grow our Monday night Bible study and our children’s choir, which meet on Monday nights, as well as watching our Zumba ministry and our Reading Skills ministry thrive.  In addition to all of that, we have had the opportunity to learn more about why we worship the way we do – that worship is about engaging in a conversation of praise with the Lord and receiving the gifts he has to give to us.
 
We’ve got lots of “stuff” going on right now, and it’s a blessing to be able to engage in outreach in these ways.  But let us not forget what this Lenten season of the year is about.  Most of all during this season, let’s take time to reflect on the treasure that we have in Jesus Christ. 
 
One of the things we must ponder and confront during this season is the captivity of idolatry.  We idolize things in our lives, and these idols often drive our behavior.  The four most common idols we see in the world today are power (a longing for influence), control (a longing to have everything go according to plan), comfort (a longing for pleasure), and approval (a longing to be accepted).  It’s amazing just how deeply these four idols infiltrate our lives on a daily basis.
 
Luther believed that every sin was ultimately a product of idolatry.  We do or don’t do things in our life because we are trying to satisfy an idol in our life.  We lie because we try to satisfy the idol of a good reputation.  We cheat because we try to satisfy the idol of comfort.  We hold grudges because we try to satisfy the idol of fairness.  We put our priorities over God’s priorities for us because we try to satisfy the idol of selfish gain.
 
So how do I repent of the idol beneath the surface?  And that answer is simple:  accept God’s forgiveness for me.  When we remember Jesus, the bondage of sin melts away.  It’s for freedom that Christ came for us!
 
Much love,
Pr. Harry and Pr. Juan

(Some of the thoughts from this blog came from a great Church leader named Eric Geiger.  Check out his thoughts on this here:  https://ericgeiger.com/2013/10/four-root-idols/)
    

The Gospel in Seven Words

February 21, 2018
   
Imagine for a second you get onto an elevator on the first floor, and you’re heading to the fifth floor.  You’ve got just a few seconds, and you’re in a conversation with a person you are getting to know.  You have a minute left in this conversation, and the conversation has turned spiritual.  This friend asks you, “I’m not super bright, and I don’t have time for a lengthy answer.  In seven words or less, what is the message of Christianity?”  How would you respond?
 
The Gospel in Seven Words.  That’s the theme of our Lenten worship over the next 5 weeks as we head toward Easter Sunday.  If you had only seven words to use to communicate who Jesus is for you, what would you say?
 
This is not a hypothetical exercise.  During the season of Lent, we are going to ask each of you to write your seven-word confession of Faith, and we are going to share them together.  This is your “elevator speech” of the Gospel message.  This is the nuts and bolts of why you believe what you believe.
 
It’s highly likely that, at some point in the next few months or a year, you are going to meet someone and have the conversation turn spiritual.  We hope this happens often for you!  Whether that person is a believer or not, you have the unique opportunity to share your faith with that person – either to encourage them in their faith walk or to plant a seed of faith in them that God may eventually cause to grow. 
 
We are seeing seeds of faith growing all around us.  In the next few weeks we will be restarting a child care ministry on Sunday mornings, through the leadership of a few gracious volunteers.  We are preparing for our Easter Egg-stravaganza event on March 31 (mark your calendars!!), at which we will have the opportunity to meet our neighbors and show them who we are as a church.  We are seeing a children’s choir develop in our midst – praise the Lord for that!  The growth we are experiencing in our Spanish congregation is an exciting testament to the power of the Word at work in that church.
 
Many of you have taken the opportunity, whether directly or indirectly, to share your faith with members of our community.  Thank you for that!  And we encourage you to keep looking for opportunities to share your “elevator speech” testimony.  Whether you do that individually or we do that together as a church, may God be praised.
 
Much love,
Pr. Juan and Pr. Harry
    

The Reality of God's Presence

February 7, 2018
   
It’s a Wednesday morning here in Grand Prairie, and the rain is trickling off of the roof behind us here in the pastors’ office.  Zumba was here this morning, working out.  Today, it’s very likely that the things that take place won’t be all that memorable.  While God is certainly working in great ways here and we are figuring out what God has for us in this next season of life at Faith and Comunidad de Fe, sometimes the day-to-day realities we live through aren’t all that exhilarating.  Much of ministry can feel like a slow walk through deep sand – it’s hard work to keep putting one foot in front of the other, but eventually God leads us to where we need to go.
 
Because much of ministry is spent staring at our feet and analyzing both how things are going and what we can do to get where we want to go in a more efficient way, we can easily lose sight of the amazing things God does in our lives.  Ministry to others can often feel good and rewarding, but not awe-inspiring.  In our text for this weekend, Jesus and his disciples are in the middle of a difficult time – possibly even an un-exciting time – when Jesus leads them up a mountain and allows them to witness the miracle of his Transfiguration.  His face and body shone like the sun!  And all this was to remind them that, whether life is good or bad or exciting or boring or smooth or frustrating, the power of God was at work in their lives.
 
The realities of ministry this week at Faith are actually quite exciting!  We have just launched our new website! In addition, we are starting a new children’s choir here at Faith.  With our new worship schedule, the people of God at Faith and at Comunidad de Fe are beginning to get to know each other better.  We are about to embark on a new sermon series during the 6 weeks of Lent and are readying to prepare for this year’s Easter Egg-stravaganza.  That’s a lot!  And, of course, each and every one of us has the personal ministries to which God has called us.
 
The face of God is upon us – of this we are certain.  When you set out to do the things that God has called you to do, he promises his presence and his blessing in the process.  This is going to be a difficult and, at times, monotonous process.  But the face of God is upon us – and as we see in our Gospel for this weekend, his face shines so brightly that our neighbors will see him in their lives through the way we serve him faithfully.  No matter what the next week brings – whether it’s exciting or not – let us keep serving our Lord faithfully, and let us remember that, as a dear friend is known to say, “God is God in the good times, in the bad times, and on Tuesday when nothing much is happening at all.”
 
Much love,
Pr. Harry and Pr. Juan
    

A Labor of Love

At the end of Isaiah 40, we read these words:

28 Do you not know?  Have you not heard?  The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.  29 He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.  30 Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; 31 but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

In our culture, there is this overwhelming pressure upon us to be strong, to be able to stand up for our families and fight our way through life.

Sometimes, however, life presents a different kind of challenge that calls for a different kind of strength.  Your kid is struggling at school.  He had come home angry and ready to pick a fight.  Now was not the time for power, but patience.  Not force, but finesse.  Not all jobs are feats of strength.  Some are a labor of love. 

Consider the ministry of Jesus.  When surrounded by soldiers in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus did not pick up a sword to fight.  Instead, he patiently suffered betrayal, trial, and crucifixion.  He suffered in order to save.  Jesus made the power of his love known in weakness. The author of life experienced death, and his death was for you.  This was his labor of love.

Look at your life.  Are there problems too complex for a simple show of strength?  Are there relationships you no longer know how to handle?  Are there times when you feel like one of the youths in the passage above, burned out and weary and not sure what to do next?

Consider sports.  You don’t master a golf swing by force but finesse.  You know the game so well and enter into it so fully that you can feel a good swing in your bones.  The same is true with the labor of our Lord’s love.

It’s impossible to simply wish the difficulties and challenges of life away.  Instead, we work with the strength that God offers.  A love that is patient.  A heart that is open.  A word that is kind.  And a trust in the eternal presence of the Lord in every situation.

Much love,
Pr. Juan and Pr. Harry

This devotional thought is loosely based on a devotion called “A Labor of Love,” written by Dr. David Schmitt in a devotional called “Man of God, Renewed for Life” (2017).