A Remnant in Pasadena

Remnant. It’s a word that conveys emotion as much as description. A remnant is something left over from a larger portion or group, whether it be a remnant of clothing, food, or a community. Although remnants can be looked upon as leftover scraps, God assigns high value to his people set aside for holy purposes—those he labels as “remnants” in the Bible.

Isaiah reveals that God would preserve a remnant after the destruction of mighty Assyria. He writes, “In that day the remnant of Israel, the survivors of Jacob, will no longer rely on him who struck them down but will truly rely on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel. A remnant will return, a remnant of Jacob will return to the Mighty God” (Isaiah 10:20-21).

Every time I read this account in Isaiah, my heart is torn. The grim reality is that many are lost from Israel, because of her sin of fearing the Assyrians more than trusting God. Yet God is loving and faithful. He preserves a remnant in order that his glory might be more clearly seen.

God is preserving a remnant today, his Church. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14). While God’s sovereign will is often a profound mystery to us, one thing we see again and again in Scripture: God, in his unsearchable wisdom, allowed these tragedies to befall his people, so that they would turn back to him and seek his face.

As Pacific Regional pastor, I have been learning this perplexing lesson of faith and forgiveness alongside our brothers and sisters at Immanuel Lutheran Brethren Church in Pasadena, California. Immanuel has a rich 77-year spiritual legacy of proclaiming “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8, KJV).

Immanuel has been one of the flagship churches in the CLB’s 116-year disciple-making movement. This church has been home to many of our past and present CLB leaders. In many ways, Immanuel has been my spiritual home as well. It was my mother’s church, and the church of my baptism.

But like many churches in North America, she experienced a gradual decline over the years to the point where both church and synodical leaders knew that something needed to change if she were to have a future of ministry in Pasadena.

A church restart effort was attempted. Mistakes were made along the way that caused regrettable misunderstanding, pain and conflict. Also, to correct the public record, Immanuel never closed its doors to ministry, nor ever intended to cease operating as a church, which had been reported in a couple of press releases and articles. Quite to the contrary, Immanuel has been and will continue to press forward in ministry to the Pasadena community.

Where our intentions and efforts came up short, God’s grace and power has all the more been revealed. God has brought forth a remnant in Pasadena that is worshiping him and proclaiming his gospel with the community. It is a remnant that God is growing both spiritually and numerically.

In preserving the Pasadena remnant, God sent a shepherd 18 months ago, Pastor Larry Olson, to care for the flock and lead them into a new future of ministry. God has faithfully brought others to serve alongside Pastor Larry.

Over the past year, the church has seen her attendance steadily grow from the mid-teens to the mid-forties and higher. New Bible classes have begun for adults and children. Last May, ten new members were received into the congregation. Immanuel has forged new partnerships with a local radio station (KKLA) and with the Walter Hoving Home, an organization that helps women heal and transition from a life of substance abuse to an ever-abundant life in Christ. The church now hosts and leads a Career Class helping these same women re-enter the workforce.

Opportunities for outreach into the community have opened up for Pastor Larry. He was asked to serve on the advisory board for Foothill Family Services which provides counseling for families in crisis. He also serves on the advisory board of the Midtown Service Area of the Pasadena Police Department.

This is boasting in the Lord, not Immanuel. They are the remnant, preserved and blessed by God alone. Where we are weak and have stumbled, he is strong and his faithfulness is everlasting (Psalm 100:5).

We are the CLB. We are you. We are the remnant, preserved and blessed by our Lord. We carry forward a mission to the world that includes the souls of Pasadena. Pray for our fellow remnant brothers and sisters, that the peace and hope of Jesus Christ would pour out of their lives and ministry!

Rev. Phil Heiser serves the Church of the Lutheran Brethren as regional pastor to the Pacific Region.

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