Rethinking what we hold onto

Dear friends in Fallbrook,

“What are you giving up for Lent?”

If you’re even remotely acquainted with Christianity you know that’s a common question this time of year. Many Christians around the world use the weeks leading up to Easter as a time of reflection and sacrifice, and millions of Christians find value in the practice of making a sacrifice during Lent.

Lent is known as a time of repentance, but repentance is a tricky word — especially in a world of moral conflict and confusion. The word calls to mind weeping and perhaps even groveling. But, in fact, the word “repent” means a “turning around,” and a “change of mind.” Lent is a time to rethink things.

Lent is a time to rethink things.

This year at St. Stephen Lutheran we’re using the time of Lent to rethink some of our deepest held assumptions about life, purpose, love, suffering, justice, and power. In the process we may discover that God is calling us not to give up things like chocolate, alcohol, and red meat, but to give up a false or misguided way of seeing life.

We look forward to this period of reflection because we are convinced that in Jesus Christ this kind of evaluation is both safe and beneficial. If we let go of anything we have the promise that what we’ll grasp in exchange is infinitely better.

I hope you’ll consider joining us for one or more of these Sunday services. I’ve provided an outline of our Lenten schedule below. Even if you can’t attend in person, please be sure to subscribe to The Sunday Sermon podcast on your phone or tablet.

Serving in Christ,

Pastor Bassett

Rethink Religion.jpg

The season of Lent is a season to repent—which might not mean what you think it does. Many associate “repentance” with “giving something up,” but the word “repent” really means “have a change of mind.” This Lent, God will lead us to rethink our views on some important topics. Jesus Christ turns our every assumption about God upside down. Lent is our time to rethink religion.

  • Rethink Purpose
    February 14 at 6:30pm
    In Christ we find purpose that surpasses possessions.
  • Rethink Love
    February 18 at 9:30am
    In Christ we grasp love that gives more than takes.
  • Rethink Justice
    February 25 at 9:30am
    Jesus Christ has used an ultimate injustice for our eternal good.
  • Rethink Suffering
    March 4 at 9:30am
    In Christ we find the value of self-denial over self-fulfillment.
  • Rethink Faith
    March 11 at 9:30am
    In Christ we find the foundation for faith.
  • Rethink Prayer
    March 18 at 9:30am
    In Christ we find satisfying prayer.
  • Rethink Power
    March 25 at 9:30am
    In Jesus we find true strength demonstrated in surrender.

New year, new you?

Dear friends in Fallbrook,

More than a few “new year, new you” posts came across my social media feeds this month. Indeed, it’s a new year and this is the most popular time to adopt some better habits, read some new books, and pursue some new goals.

Now, I’m as supportive as anyone of the effort to roll back some of the bad habits that have creeped into our lives over the past twelve months. In fact, I’ve written out a number of goals and habits to pursue over the course of 2018. But sometimes I wonder if we’ve made a mistake in assuming there’s a “better you” just under the surface.

I don’t know about you, but the deeper I dig into myself the more troubled I become. Rage I never thought could be possible erupts when my ways are questioned. Fear I never thought could be so powerful dominates when my security is threatened. And despair I never realized was there clouds my days when what I treasure is taken away. Is there really a better “me” down there? It seems not.

The message of Jesus Christ agrees — but not because Jesus was a pessimist. No, he understood that what’s inside us is precisely the problem. Out of the human heart come all sorts of distress, trouble, and sin. A powerful darkness is at the core of the human heart such that whatever “better me” I seek will be frustrated by my own worst tendencies. You probably know what that feels like. Maybe you wonder what the answer is.

During the months of January and February the Christian churches around the world are observing a time called “Epiphany.” It comes from an old word that means “revelation.” During this time of year we consider all the ways that genuine hope and actual truth had to be revealed to us from the outside because hope and truth don’t come from within. We remember how Jesus Christ is God’s revelation of light and truth that genuinely leads to a “new you” — which is infinitely more than a “better you.”

We remember how Jesus Christ is God’s revelation of light and truth that genuinely leads to a “new you” — which is infinitely more than a “better you.”

So, pursue your “better you” all year. I wish you the best of luck in accomplishing your goals. But take time also to discover the “new you” revealed by the good news of Jesus Christ.

We worship each Sunday morning at 9:30am and all are welcome at all services.

Serving in Christ,

Pastor Bassett

Faithful Wandering.jpg

“All that is gold does not glitter, Not all those who wander are lost.” Thus the famous poem contends that some things are vastly more important than they look and some ways of life are dramatically more purposeful than they appear. The Christian season of Epiphany is the revelation of truth that appears hidden and confirmation that faithful wandering is not without purpose. During January and early February at St. Stephen Lutheran we will explore the various ways there is more than meets the eye to the Christian faith and life.

Expect More From Christmas

Dear friends in Fallbrook,

“Manage your expectations.”

That’s the conventional strategy for minimizing disappointment. Excited about that new movie next month? Well, don’t get too excited lest you be disappointed. Anticipating new possibilities at work? Well, don’t get too excited lest you be disappointed. Looking forward to that big trip next summer? Well, don’t get too excited lest you be disappointed.

What about Christmas? Are your expectations managed?

In one sense, we expect a lot from Christmas. We want the season to be filled with love and laughter. We want to find the perfect gift for a child or spouse. We want to put our best foot forward at dinners and parties. We want this final month of the year to soothe the frustrations and turmoil of the previous eleven.

But in another sense, we don’t expect nearly enough from Christmas. Maybe we only want Jesus to round out our life with some timely blessings or coach us along with some useful rules for the good life. Maybe we just want to get that once-a-year trip to church over with.

Don’t manage your expectations. Raise them.

This Sunday we begin the season of the Church Year known as Advent. It's a time of year when we prepare our hearts not only for Jesus' coming at Christmas, but for his second coming on the last day. And during this series we're going to learn that God suggests we do just the opposite of what conventional wisdom suggests. In the centuries leading up to the first Christmas, God revealed the truth about the coming Messiah. During the process, he taught his people to raise their expectations for this Messiah and what he would do.
 That's what God will teach us in this series. Don’t manage your expectations. Raise them. If Christmas has disappointed you in the past, maybe it's not because you've expected too much. Maybe it's because you've expected too little. 
 Serving in Christ,

Pastor Bassett

Expect More.jpg

Conventional wisdom suggests that, in order to avoid disappointment, we ought to expect less out of Christmas. God suggests just the opposite. In the centuries leading up to the first Christmas, God revealed the truth about the coming Messiah and taught his people to raise their expectations for his work. If Christmas has disappointed you in the past, maybe it's not because you've expected too much. Maybe it's because you've expected too little.

  1. Ask More
    December 3, 2017
    Many people are comfortable asking Jesus to round out their lives with some timely blessings. Fewer will ask him to reorder their lives. Yet the advent call of Christ is that we ask more of him—that he do nothing less than save us.
  2. Prepare More
    December 10, 2017
    Many people are content with measuring up to moral rules of their own invention. Fewer will accept the rigors of genuine excellence in the kingdom of the coming Christ. Yet the advent call of Christ is to prepare more for Jesus—by raising every valley and leveling every mountain.
  3. Produce More
    December 17, 2017
    Many people frantically strive to acquire the blessings and benefits promised by Christianity. Fewer will accept that genuine fruit requires more than human effort. Yet the advent call of Christ is to produce more through Jesus—by rooting ourselves in the soil of his righteousness.
  4. Receive More
    December 24, 2017
    Many people want a cozy, comfortable message of generic warm feelings at Christmas. Fewer realize the radical new hope that Christmas brings for a human race so clearly in need of rescue from itself. Yet the birth of Jesus is delivers the peace that comes from having God with us—not against us.

Thanksgiving Day as the new Judgment Day

Dear friends in Fallbrook,

Last week’s New York Times included an entire section devoted to the planning and preparation of a fine Thanksgiving feast. But before all the tips, tricks, recipes, and inspiration packed into 20 pages of newsprint there was a letter from the food editor offering nothing short of spiritual counsel to weary cooks.

The letter offered “radical acceptance” and a “nonjudgmental” guide to planning and preparing a feast. The letter urged readers to “relax.” It even proclaimed, “Everything is going to be all right.” And perhaps most striking of all, the letter explained that “on Thanksgiving, something is asked of each of us.”

Thanksgiving day easily becomes a personal Judgment Day.

Isn’t that the truth! An occasion with the purported purpose of thankfulness for blessings received has become a demanding test of our worthiness (or not) as cook and host. Our guest list (or lack thereof) becomes a referendum on how well-loved (or not) we really feel. The amount and extravagance of the food is a reminder of how wealthy (or not) you really are.

Thanksgiving easily becomes a personal Judgment Day.

This month at St. Stephen Lutheran we’re taking time to look at teachings from Jesus that deal with waiting, watching, and anticipating the final judgment. We’re discovering that Christianity is unique because ultimately it doesn’t ask something of us, but offers it to us instead.

So we wait, we watch, and we anticipate the end of our days. But not with dread over whether we’ve done enough and been enough, but with joy that the one setting the table for the feast isn’t you or I, it’s the Lord Jesus.

I invite you to come and hear more on Sunday mornings at 9:30 AM. All are welcome. Or, consider listening to The Sunday Sermon podcast. This year as you feast on turkey and stuffing, be sure to feast your ears on some good news, too.

Serving in Christ,

Pastor Bassett

In Between.jpg

Christians live in a time of difficult tension between what some have called, “the already and the not yet.” We already enjoy status as co-heirs with Christ, but the full consummation of Christ’s kingdom has not yet arrived.

  1. Anticipation
    November 12, 2017
  2. Individuality
    November 19, 2017
  3. Judgment
    November 26, 2017

Sunday Sermon Podcast.jpg

If all you hear from the pulpit each week is politics, moralizing, and life-lessons then you’re probably starving for some good news. Don’t go hungry.

Lutherans believe that Jesus Christ sets the agenda for what the pastor should preach. Jesus himself said, “Feed my sheep.” He also said, “Preach the gospel.” The gospel is good news—not good advice, good morals, or good ideas. As a Lutheran church, we won’t starve you with more commands to do this or do that, we’ll feed you with the Savior who forgives the very people who don’t keep the commands of God. So feast your ears on some good news at St. Stephen Lutheran.

A secret meant to be known

Dear friends in Fallbrook,

“What’s your secret?”

That’s the question after you taste your mother-in-law’s delicious dessert, when you admire your neighbor’s stellar fitness, or witness your co-worker’s ability to get things done.

“What’s your secret?”

When we ask that question I think what we really mean is, “Got any shortcuts for me?” We often assume there’s the proverbial silver bullet for everything—an extraordinarily easy way to get great results fast.

I sense that people sometimes think the same thing about Christianity, as if the church has some special “secrets” for healthy living, prosperous careers, and loving families.

The truth is that anything worth having takes some effort. Skill at baking comes from years of practice, a sound body is the result of rigorous exercise, and personal productivity is the by-product of focused discipline.

The same is true of God. I will heartily agree with anyone who says, “The way of God in this world doesn’t seem to make much sense.” It often doesn’t. To learn about God can challenging and disorienting. There’s no shortcut.

But there is a way. When we realize that the Bible is not full of tips for life but is the story of God’s role in the world, we realize the “secret” of it all is not a special *something* but a unique *someone*. Jesus not only reveals the secret behind how his kingdom works, he also shows us the beauty and wisdom of his way.

We’re kicking off a new series at St. Stephen Lutheran on July 9. We’ll look at several of the ways Jesus of Nazareth opened up knowledge about God through simple, down-to-earth terms.

“What’s your secret?” We ask Jesus, and he answers. What he brings is a secret meant to be known.

Serving in Christ,

Pastor Bassett

Why mess with memories?

Dear friends in Fallbrook,

This spring millions of Disney fans around the world asked the same question: Why mess with the memories? You see, Disney was preparing to release a live-action remake of the beloved animated classic, “Beauty and the Beast.” Fans pored over every frame of the trailers, every leaked set photo, and every circulating rumor to discover if the remake could live up to the original. People rightly wondered, “Why would Disney mess with our memories of the classic?” Anyone with fond memories of the original wouldn’t necessarily want those old memories replaced with new ones.

Like devoted Disney fans, we all have fond memories we’d never want to give up—the day of your wedding, the carefree summers of your childhood, the moment you welcomed your first child into the world, the professional success you achieved after long years of effort. But we surely also have many sour memories as well.

I think it’s fair to say that, for many people, our memories of the church aren’t always the fond kind. You may have witnessed the church at its worst. Perhaps an individual church member betrayed you, or church leadership let you down, or the attitude of an entire community of believers drove you away. When our memories of church are negative (and they often are), the thought of stepping inside those doors again make us wonder, “Why mess with those memories?”

I won’t claim that our church is perfect—we’ve had our share of ugly moments. But I will say that the church was never meant to depend on the strength of its members. If that were true, every church would have failed long ago.

The power of the church comes from the truth that binds it together. God designed the church to share remarkable unity that comes not from the members, but from the head—Jesus. We share one faith, one heart, one mission, one voice, and one Lord.

This month we have begun a new worship series at St. Stephen Lutheran Church called, “The Power of One.” In this series we’re going to look at the remarkably simple and powerful design Jesus has for his church—a design that can overcome all our sinful weakness and selfish behavior.

Whether you’ve got good memories of church, bad memories of church, or no memories of church, I hope you’ll spend time with us one Sunday morning to hear the Power of One that Jesus wants us all to remember above all else.

Serving in Christ,

Pastor Bassett

Will death define your life?

Dear friends in Fallbrook,

A new book, “On Living,” comes from Kerry Egan, a hospice chaplain whose full-time job is caring for people as they die. She is a self-styled “Grim Reaper in clogs” and has vast experience working with the dying. She offers this advice:

If there is any great difference between the people who know they are dying and the rest of us, it’s this: They know they’re running out of time. They have more motivation to do the things they want to do, and to become the person they want to become. There’s nothing stopping you from acting with the same urgency the dying feel.”

I have no doubt that Chaplain Egan offers tremendous compassion to the dying, but I wonder why she’d offer such advice to the living. The stress of running behind schedule on Monday morning is already enough, why would I want to apply the same time’s–running–out principle to my entire life?

Now, to be fair, Egan is right that people often ignore their mortality and therefore live without a useful perspective on life. Chaplain Egan probably hopes her readers can benefit from a memento mori every now and again. I’d agree. But let’s not cheerfully promote death to the role of life coach!

Death is the greatest crisis of existence faced by every human being, so it’s understandable that we might try to marshal death to the cause of life—what else can we do? But beware, underneath our platitudes lurks the idea that the time you have in this life is all the time you’ll get.

But the claim of Jesus Christ is that there is infinitely more to life beyond this body’s death. Even more, the claim of Jesus Christ is that all who believe in him will be bodily resurrected to a new life that is both greater in quantity and quality than this one. And the claim Jesus made he backed up with a remarkable, public, historically–verified miracle: he himself rose died and rose again. If a hospice chaplain is qualified to tell us about death, then surely a man who rose from death is qualified to define life.

If a hospice chaplain is qualified to tell us about death, then surely a man who rose from death is qualified to define life.

Even if you are skeptical of Christ’s claims, don’t you at least want them to be true? Don’t you desire that wrongs be made right? Don’t you crave justice and peace? Don’t you yearn for the joy on the other side?

This Easter is the best time to at least take a look. The Christ’s claim and offer is too great to ignore. Maybe you’ll conclude it’s all nothing. Or perhaps, like hundreds of people just like you, you’ll see the evidence yourself and be free from the fear of death now and forever. It’s at least worth a look.

I invite you to join us for Easter Sunday worship at St. Stephen Lutheran this coming Sunday, April 16 at 9:30am.

Serving in Christ,

Pastor Bassett

New Worship Series


Any event of significant seismic magnitude sends waves of energy that can be felt hundreds of miles from the epicenter. The resurrection of Jesus is an event of such cosmic magnitude that its effects are felt in every corner of life. The empty tomb of Jesus is the epicenter of religious truth that ruptures our fragile human wisdom and establishes in its place an unshakable foundation of divine revelation.

On Easter we see that everything starts with Easter, or ends without it. Human wisdom assumes that all religious claims are essentially the same—enigmatic sayings to help you make sense of life. But Christianity makes a claim unlike any other—either a particular man named Jesus was raised from the dead or his life (and ours) ultimately means nothing. Easter is the central historical event that establishes a central religious truth. Without this truth everything ends, but with this truth everything is just beginning!

  1. April 16 – Everything starts with Easter (or ends without it)
  2. April 23 – The central feature of faith
  3. April 30 – The central proof of purchase
  4. May 7 – The central reason for religion
  5. May 14 – The central foundation of salvation
  6. May 21 – The central truth of our testimony
  7. May 28 – The central guarantee of glory

God offers refreshing relief from Evil

Dear friends in Fallbrook,

I was surprised to read recently an author who called a book on cannibalism, “refreshing.” The premise of this book was this: cannibalism is common in nature—even among humans, therefore cannibalism must be no big deal. After all, it’s “natural.” What the author considered refreshing was that, “as regards this particular behavior, at least, people are no more horrifying than, or as splendidly surprising as, any other species out there.” This, he said, “restores his faith in humanity.”

While that kind of commentary might get lots of clicks on the Internet, it’s hardly a view anyone in the real world would endorse as “refreshing.” All sorts of evil, pain, suffering, and death are common and even “natural,” but that does not make evil, pain, suffering, and death any less troubling when we face it. Far from restoring faith in humanity, the kind of harm we inflict on our own kind has historically led thoughtful people to conclude something is deeply broken in mankind. We don’t need glib denial of the problem, we need some sort of intervention.

We don’t need glib denial of the problem, we need some sort of intervention.

The Scriptures of Christianity make a claim unique in all the world’s philosophies and religions—that the God of the Bible saw the evil, pain, suffering, and death we face as anything but “refreshing” or “natural.” He therefore took decisive and deliberate action to intervene on our behalf. He took human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ and intervened to crush death, eradicate evil, and inaugurate a kingdom in which pain and suffering will one day be banished forever. He died to make this happen, and he rose from the dead to prove his point to the world.

We’re looking at all the wonderful ways God has intervened in human history and in our lives this Lenten season at St. Stephen Lutheran Church. Our series is just a couple weeks old and there’s still time for you to discover how the intervention of God can bring peace, hope, and love to your life. That’s something truly refreshing—not faith in humanity, but faith in the God who rescues humanity from itself.

We worship each Sunday at 9:30am. I hope you’ll pay us a visit soon.

Serving in Christ,

Pastor Bassett

Jesus intervenes to heal the problem within

Dear friends in Fallbrook,

One of the ways my family has tried to cope with my daughter’s leukemia diagnosis (the treatment is going very well, thanks be to God) has been to seek an explanation for what causes leukemia and what may have triggered the growth of those cancerous cells in her body. But time and time again the physicians have told us, “We don’t know what causes it, it just happens.” In fact, they told us, “We’re surprised it doesn’t happen more often.”

Perhaps you can sense why that answer seems so unsatisfying. When it comes to problems, we prefer external explanations. We prefer that our problems come from obvious agents like germs, bites, and breaks. If we can point to this decision or that substance as the cause of our suffering, at least we can regain some sense of control over the problem.

There is something truly terrifying about a problem you can’t control and can’t predict, one that just happens because of our very nature.

But a problem that comes from corruption within is far more unsettling. There is something truly terrifying about a problem you can’t control and can’t predict, one that just happens because of our very nature. When faced with such a situation, human beings are more likely to bury their heads in the sands of denial than to accept the unpredictable reality of life in a fallen world.

Mankind is, by and large, in denial about their inward, spiritual sickness called sin. Sure, we are happy to admit that “we’ve made a few mistakes” or that “there’s a lot of bad in the world,” but we’ll usually stop short of saying, “The problem lies within me, the problem corrupts me, the problem is me.”

We need an intervention. And God intervenes.

When God surveys the human condition he finds a deep sickness within us, one without excuse, one that leads to death. But he does not abandon us to our fate, he intervenes. With his own arm he works salvation and brings us to newness of life. While the problem may be within us, the solution is found outside of us, and that fact offers the kind of comfort to which nothing else can compare.

During the season of Lent at St. Stephen Lutheran we’ll be considering a wide variety of ways that God has intervened in our lives through the words and works of his Son Jesus Christ. I think you’ll find that the time of Lent is a time not just for somber recollection of our sin, but a hopeful time of healing through the teachings of Christ. I invite you to join us at one of our upcoming Sunday morning services. We worship each Sunday morning at 9:30am. Visitors are always welcome. I hope to see you soon.

Serving in Christ,

Pastor Bassett

Celebrate the inauguration of a kingdom that will never disappoint

Dear friends in Fallbrook,

Tomorrow the nation repeats its tradition of inaugurating a new president to govern as the nation’s chief executive. While the incoming president brings an unusually high level of controversy, there’s no denying the fact that many Americans are hopeful that President-elect Trump can deliver on his promises.

We’ve seen this before, haven’t we? Every new administration begins with promises of great blessing only to end with the nagging sense that opportunities were missed, promises were broken, and potential wasn’t fully realized.

Could it be that what we value can’t possibly satisfy us?

In the meantime, a president’s detractors will assign blame for the disappointment while supporters work to deflect it elsewhere. The one thing that no one ever does is to examine the very premise of our hopes and dreams. Could it be that what we value can’t possibly satisfy us?

Starting on Sunday at St. Stephen Lutheran we’re taking a close look at one of the best-known but least-understood utterances of Jesus—the Sermon on the Mount. In that famous discourse, Jesus makes the radical claim that what we value will always disappoint us because our values are out of step with the values of his eternal kingdom. The problem isn’t that we don’t push hard enough for progress, it’s that we’re pushing in the wrong direction entirely.

We’ll be looking at the counter-cultural, “uncommon sense” of the Lord Jesus for the rest of January and all of February. We’ll discover that while the way of Jesus is different than the way of the world, it is the only way that can provide lasting satisfaction and enduring blessing.

I’m looking forward to sharing Jesus’ teaching in the coming weeks and invite you to join us. We worship Sunday mornings at 9:30am—people of all ages are welcome. And if you can’t attend in person, I invite you to listen online each week by tuning in to our weekly podcast, The Sunday Sermon.

Serving in Christ,

Pastor Bassett

Lighten the load this Christmas

Dear friends in Fallbrook,

I’ve had a heavy month. 30 days ago my daughter began a course of treatment for newly-diagnosed leukemia. The run up to Christmas is usually a busy time for pastors like me, but the flurry of hospital trips and clinic appointments has made my normal Christmas preparations seem light by comparison.

What once was a burden becomes light.

Isn’t it remarkable what a change in perspective can do in your life? What once was a burden becomes light. What once was a struggle comes more naturally. What once you missed you now notice.

This Christmas season at St. Stephen Lutheran our worship will follow the theme, “The Weight Is Over.” When God’s prophet spoke about the birth of Jesus, he said, "You have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders." We’ll learn how a life centered around the words and works of Jesus lightens our burdens. More specifically we’ll discover an important nuance in his teaching—it’s not that he makes burdens seem light by doling out a few goodies here and there, he literally changes the perspective of our heart in a way that touches every aspect of life. What once was a burden becomes light. What once was a struggle comes more naturally. What once you missed you now notice.

I’ve had a heavy month, but I’m truly excited to share the message of Christmas with you this year. Please join us on Saturday, December 24th at 6:30pm for our annual Christmas Eve candlelight service.

Serving in Christ,

Pastor Bassett

The pursuit of holiday happiness can make you miserable

Are you happy right now? Right at this moment? What about yesterday? Was it a good day? If you are happy, are you happy enough? Are you as happy as everyone else? How happy do you need to be?

We live in a strange, psychological paradox—we are consumed with anxiety about being happy. In fact, several studies from UC-Berkley have concluded that “the more people valued happiness as a separate life goal, the less happy they were.” The song might say, “Don’t worry, be happy,” but the truth is that the more we try to be happy the more we end up filled with worry. I’m afraid Bobby McFerrin may have lied to us.

The broken relationship between happiness and worry only gets worse this time of year. The countdown to Christmas has begun. Black Friday has come and gone and most budgets have been blown to bits already. My Facebook feed is full of photos of decked halls and tinseled trees. The music piped into our local stores reminds me that this is “the most wonderful time of the year.” But the buildup to Christmas doesn’t often feel all that wonderful, does it? Between deadlines and decorating, shopping and baking, the countdown to Christmas can become a heavy burden instead of a wonderful blessing. It’s as if the more we try to find holiday happiness the more we lose it.

It’s as if the more we try to find holiday happiness the more we lose it. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. There is an answer to the anxiety that weighs each of us down. The answer is a Savior named Jesus who transferred the weight of your burden to himself that you might live in the kind of freedom and joy that only he can provide. There is an answer to the anxiety that weighs each of us down, but the answer isn’t easy. It cost Jesus his life, and it can cost us our control, our independence, and our pride. But on the other side is what the Scriptures call “the peace that passes all understanding.” That peace is what Jesus came to bring.

This month at St. Stephen Lutheran we’re building up to Christmas with a series called “The Weight Begins.” Each Sunday before Christmas we’ll explore different ways Jesus takes the weight of worry and burden of sin from us. I hope you’ll join us to take the weight away. We worship each Sunday morning at 9:30am. All are welcome, come as you are. I’d be happy to welcome you.

Serving in Christ,

Pastor Bassett

We find a satisfying answer to the most important question

Dear friends in Fallbrook,

As I flicked my way through Twitter recently I came across an Inc. Magazine column called, “3 Questions From Clayton Christensen That Changed My Life Forever.” Now, that kind of headline is designed to make you click—which is exactly what I did.

Clayton Christensen is a noted American scholar, educator, and business consultant. He is perhaps best known for his theory of “disruptive innovation.” Christensen is a smart man, and his business theories are enjoying popular success. But what about those three, life-changing questions? That’s what I clicked for, and here they are:

  1. What did my 10-year-old self dream of?
  2. What kind of spouse, parent, and friend do I want to be?
  3. What do I stand for?

These are certainly good questions to ponder as you consider your life. Is your life lining up with your dreams? Are you striving to be the kind of person you want to be? And in the final reckoning, what do you stand for?

But what if the answers to these questions aren’t so exciting? What if the answers change your life, but for the worse? What if your career is a far cry from your childhood passion? What if you are anything but the kind of spouse, parent, and friend you want to be? What if you fall for everything because you stand for nothing?

Let me ask another question: What if our questions leave us hopeless?

Lutherans have a category for these kinds of questions. We call them “law.” Not law like what the Congress passes, the President signs, and the courts test, but words that only ever say “do this” but leave everything undone. Sure, there’s a place for these kinds of questions, but if we consume a steady diet of law we’ll wither and die from the inside out.

What if the one question that could change your life forever is the one from Jesus of Nazareth, “Who do you say that I am?” What if the answer to that question leaves nothing undone but says that everything is already done. What if instead of, “Do this, but it’s never done,” we heard from God himself, “Believe this and everything is already done?” Why, then your life might actually be changed—and not just here, but forever.

The rest of this month we’re paying close attention to what it means to be a Lutheran. And even if you aren’t a Lutheran you might find what makes us Lutheran refreshing because the center of our church and its theology is not “do this” but “believe this.” It’s not good advice, it’s good news—the one answer that will change your life forever.

We worship Sunday mornings at 9:30am, and I would love to see you with us one Sunday this month.

Serving in Christ,

Pastor Bassett

499 years later, what does it mean?

Dear friends in Fallbrook,

I grew up in a Lutheran home so I’ve heard the question a million times: “What does this mean?” When we teach little Lutherans (and grown-ups, too) what the Bible says we don’t just convey the facts, we always ask—and answer—what does this mean? We want to make sure people know not just what they believe, but also why they believe it. Asking important questions and seeking relevant answers is our Lutheran identity. But I wonder if that’s what most people think of when they hear the word, “Lutheran.”

I’ll freely admit that the Lutheran tradition includes a vast canvas of people, places, and printed works that are hard to keep straight. Our history includes a bewildering array of big words like “hermeneutic,” “justification,” and “soteriology” that are hard to pronounce, let alone comprehend. On top of that, our theological forefathers were immigrants from northern Europe whose customs and language were foreign. “German” is a word that comes to mind more readily than “relevant” when you think of Lutheran identity. But is that all we are? Just an obscure immigrant tradition from old Europe? Or is our identity something more meaningful?

Now’s your chance to find out. Next year is a milestone year—500 years since the start of the Lutheran Reformation! For now, though, we’re in that most-uncelebrated of anniversary years—499 years later. But here at St. Stephen Lutheran we’re convinced now is the time to remember and recover our identity.

Lutheranism is about more than big words and potlucks—it’s about grace and freedom that changes the way we live.

Our upcoming worship series is meant to teach what the Lutheran identity is and why it matters 499 years later. In four parts, you’ll gain enlightenment without begin overwhelmed. You’ll learn the comfort the Reformation uncovered after centuries of superstition. You’ll learn not just what the Bible teaches, but why it matters today. You might even discover that Lutheranism is about more than big words and potlucks—it’s about grace and freedom that changes the way we live.

I grew up in a Lutheran home and I’m a Lutheran pastor so it’s reasonable if you assume Lutheranism is just my personal preference. But before you write it off, please take the time to explore for yourself what it means after all these 499 years. You’ll discover that we don’t talk about the truths of the Reformation because they’re part of our family history, but because they’re vital for our future.

We worship Sunday mornings at 9:30am. I hope I’ll see you then.

Serving in Christ,

Pastor Bassett

Escaping the impossible quest for perfection

Dear friends in Fallbrook,

Women live in the anxious process of always comparing while being compared. Long aisles of makeup and a steady supply of ads promise to make women beautiful in the eyes of others, and many women report that the only way to stay ahead in this twisted game is to do just that—think of themselves always through the judging eyes of “the other.”

In a recent book called “Face Value — The Hidden Ways Beauty Shapes Women’s Lives,” author Autumn Whitefield–Madrano writes about something we often think of as a modern problem—the impossible quest for perfection. While I have no doubt that today’s always-on technology has only added fuel to this fire, the problem of the impossible quest for perfection is an ancient one.

Women know the routine quite well. Those minutes in front of the mirror every day aren’t as much about beauty as they are about a mental review of the insecurities, anxieties, and questions that wrinkle your face over the years. And the foundation isn’t blotting any of it away.

Men have their own version. The mirror reveals that paunch inching further and further over the waistband of your underwear, pound after unwanted pound a reminder that your youth is swiftly fading and with it your sense of strength. Sucking it in isn’t helping, either.

It’s simple biology, but the consequences are profound—as long as we seek identity in beauty and strength we’ll be left empty. A lifetime spent feeding the insatiable hunger for beauty and strength can only leave us unlovable and unloved, impotent and despised. And how these hungers shape our thoughts and actions may not be as hidden as we imagine.

Jesus is uniquely qualified to both know our emptiness and fill it with a transcendent love that we can never achieve through our own beauty and strength.

At St. Stephen Lutheran we’ve been working through a series called “Hierarchy of Hunger.” In this series we’ve considered how Jesus both identifies and satisfies our deepest human hungers for sustenance, security, identity, and purpose. Because Jesus demonstrated himself to be both God and man, he is uniquely qualified to both know our emptiness and fill it with a transcendent love that we can never achieve through our own beauty and strength.

That series continues for a few more weeks at St. Stephen Lutheran, and I’d like to invite you to come hear more. You may discover that an identity defined by faith in Jesus Christ satisfies your hungers so fully that you never look at yourself in the mirror the same way again.

Serving in Christ,

Pastor Bassett

How to never be hungry again

Dear friends in Fallbrook,

What do you need?

Do you need some time off? Extra cash? Help in a crisis? Fulfillment at work? Satisfaction as a parent?

What do you need?

Just reading that question might make you anxious. If so, I apologize for adding to your anxiety, but I believe there are some important things to say about our needs.

First of all, we have to recognize that our needs are real. Needs are not some illusion we have to transcend, nor is desire some evil to be quenched religious practice. Each human being has genuine needs for a healthy body. Each human being has genuine needs for a healthy soul. We are right to desire something to meet those needs. Where we go wrong is what we use to fill those needs.

Take our diets for example. As I write today it’s almost lunchtime—I’m hungry. I’m tempted to eat the rest of that bag of chips leftover from our picnic last weekend. While those chips will satisfy my growling stomach, they’re not really the best choice for my health. I can satisfy my need, but I often do so in a way that could actually harm me over the long run.

We were born with a deeper hunger, one that all the stuff and success in the world just cannot satisfy.

The same is true for our souls. Every human soul is filled with a longing for the satisfaction that God created us to enjoy. While most of us have more than we can fit into our cupboards, closets, and garages, we still feel completely unfulfilled much of the time. Why is that? It’s evidence that we were born with a deeper hunger, one that all the stuff and success in the world just cannot satisfy. We’re always hungry for more. So we always go looking for more. And there’s no end in sight.

The truth is, there’s only one path that actually satisfy the longing in our soul.

When Jesus of Nazareth called himself the “Bread of Life,” he made the bold claim that he alone can fulfill humanity’s deepest longings. At St. Stephen Lutheran we’ll be examining Jesus’ claims over the next several weeks in worship. Together we’ll see how Jesus, the Bread of Life, shows us what we’re really hungering for—and where we can find it.

If you think this sounds cliché, then I’d challenge you to come hear the case for Jesus’ ability to satisfy our deepest hunger. I’m convinced that it’s true, and our teaching at St. Stephen Lutheran will cover this topic starting on Sunday, July 17. You may discover that anxiety is not necessary. You may discover that your soul can indeed be satisfied. You may never be hungry again.

We worship on Sunday mornings at 9:30am. All guests and visitors are welcome. Come as you are. I hope to see you there.

Serving in Christ,

Pastor Bassett

Where does your help come from?

Dear friends in Fallbrook,

I can hardly imagine the terror of sailing across an open sea exposed and alone in the middle of a terrible storm. I’d be desperate for help from anyone. Call the Coast Guard, hail a passing ship, get into the lifeboat!

The news lately has been full of stories about men, women, and children making the perilous sea crossing into Europe seeking a better life. Many have died without finding the help they so desperately sought. My heart breaks for them and I’ve become more conscious of the blessing of living in a stable, prosperous nation like the United States.

But if I’m really honest, I have to admit that I think of my help as coming from God and not being God himself. What do I mean by that? I am aware of the gifts of peace, prosperity, and safety, but I don’t often connect those gifts to the giver—God himself.

True help is not in problems solved but in the name of the Lord—and his name is Jesus.

On Sunday I’m continuing to preach on our series called “Anchor in the Storm.” I’ll be preaching on the account of Jesus sleeping—yes, sleeping!—in the back of a boat that was about to capsize in a fearful storm. In that account we see the remarkable power of Jesus to calm the storm, but we also see the startling fact that even after Jesus had removed the source of fear his disciples were still afraid.

The only explanation is that they thought having their problems solved was the help they needed when in reality their heart yearned for something far more powerful than relief from danger. Their hearts yearned for God himself, but they weren’t quite ready yet to place their full trust and confidence in Jesus as God-in-flesh. The radical new logic of the gospel hadn't caused them to move on from their desire for power and control.

You don’t have to be in a sinking boat to experience what the disciples felt. All human beings encounter the longing for something more than relief. All people long for true help that transcends all things. We think that help comes from power and control over this life and the people around us, but control and power never satisfies. True help is not in problems solved but in the name of the Lord—and his name is Jesus.

Join us this Sunday and in the weeks to come for more on this topic. We worship on Sunday mornings at 9:30am. I’d be glad to have you as our guest.

Serving in Christ,

Pastor Bassett

Warning: Storms ahead

Dear friends in Fallbrook,

In life, storms are both inevitable and unavoidable. The only question is: What will you hold onto when they hit? Most of what passes for religion—and even Christianity—today does little to provide the certainty and security we need. Too often we're pointed to our own strength and resolve to get us through. In contrast, Jesus provided exactly what we need by sending his Holy Spirit into the world on the day of Pentecost. As he promised, the Spirit's work is nothing more than to continually point us to Jesus. Jesus' work for us and his promises to us give us something solid outside of us to hold onto that is stronger than any storm.

We’re starting a new time of the Christian year at St. Stephen Lutheran this Sunday. From Advent to Easter we review the acts of Jesus. From Pentecost through the autumn we review the teachings of Jesus. Over the next seven weeks we’ll see something in common among the lessons we’ll read from Scripture—God provides an anchor to hold onto during the tumult of this life, and each anchor is stronger than the alternative.

On Sunday, May 15 we’ll start off by seeing that sending is stronger than staying. Then each week we’ll continue with the following themes:

  • Three stronger than one — May 22
  • Rest stronger than work — May 29
  • Family stronger than foes — June 5
  • Seed stronger than sight — June 12
  • Faith stronger than fear — June 19
  • Hope stronger than death — June 26

If you’ve ever felt that what Christianity tries to offer seems weak and hollow, you may be surprised to find that I agree. Over the next seven weeks I’ll be preaching from the Bible on that very topic. We’ll challenge ourselves to evaluate whether what we think are strong anchors for life truly are what we need.

Please join us on Sunday mornings at 9:30am for worship as we find an anchor in the storm, certainty and security stronger than any storm. We’re glad to have you with us.

Serving in Christ,

Pastor Bassett