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On a Rescue Mission

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Back in my younger days I was a “junior” volunteer fireman.  Which basically means that since I wasn’t an adult, I couldn’t actually fight fires, but I could assist and learn.  I spent most of my time washing fire trucks, spooling hose, sweeping the truck bay, and participating in parades in the summer time. But when not doing that, I had begun to learn how to hook up hoses, operate the pumper truck, wear “turnout gear” and even how to use an air-pack if required to enter a burning building.  College and career ended up taking me away from my hometown and moving me to communities that had professional firefighters.  And while I never had to put my life at risk in order to rescue the life of another, I gained an appreciation for those who do!

To a certain degree, though, I am still on a rescue mission … and so are you.  To understand what I mean about that, take a look at these verses from Galatians chapter 1:

“Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Galatians 1:3-4)

Ours is primarily a rescue religion.  This Scripture teaches that Christ rescued us from this “present evil age.”  I take that to mean that He didn’t just rescue us from ourselves or our own sin, or even just from the attacks of the devil, but He rescued us from the sins and attacks of other people, and in fact from all evil that assails us in this entire present age.  We are under the curse of sin brought on us by the first sin in the Garden of Eden, and that curse pursues until this very day.  But Christ has rescued us from it.  In fact, He not only rescues us from the curse of death, He promises us eternal life in a new age, in the eternal Kingdom that He Has ushered us into!  By His death He has won eternal life for us undeserving sinners who would otherwise eternally perish.  This is truly a rescue, is it not?

Christ has rescued us from the clutches of hell, and when we share this “Gospel” (that Paul so adamantly defends in his letter to the Galatians) with others we, in effect, rescue them.  In fact, this has become the mission of every Christian – to share this Good News.  By saving us from death, Christ has now commissioned us to join Him on a rescue mission.  He came to seek and save that which was lost and headed for death.  So we now participate in that mission.

Beginning Sunday, April 8, we will begin a new message series at Redeemer called “Life on Mission.”  The word “mission” has become sort of a buzzword in our culture.  It seems as though every organization and business has a mission – whether it’s to get you to buy their product or adopt their priorities.   I dare say that the Mission of God (Missio Dei) came first.  In fact, our very life’s purpose, and therefore mission, as Christians is established and defined by God.  The challenge for us is to understand and undertake that mission.  And so we will be taking six weeks to be equipped for living lives on mission:

April 8 – Overview – As His followers, Jesus calls us to be witnesses—to tell our stories. We don’t have to be experts in theology or know all the answers about the Bible, but we do have to be willing to tell people why we believe, and how we have been changed by the hope that is in us.

April 15 – Connect – It may seem obvious, but if we never connect and spend time with people who are far from God, it’s going to be impossible to introduce them to Jesus. Jesus set an example for us by hanging around with people who needed Him, and He calls us to do the same.

April 22 – Serve – Jesus told us to love God and love others. Love, however, is often misunderstood. To simply say that we love others, but never cross the room to serve them may ring hollow.  When we serve people, we show them that they are unique individuals who are loved by God and loved by us.

April 29 – Share – Just meeting physical needs, however, is not sufficient “rescue work.”  God asks us to be bold, and to share our own faith experience and knowledge.  We must be ready to state clearly and simply how Jesus has changed our lives.

May 6 – Grow – Having a relationship with Jesus should change us. The Bible tells us that we are to be transformed – not merely self-improved. As disciples of Jesus we are to develop daily habits that help us grow to be more like Him.

May 13 – Pray – If we are on a mission to connect, serve, share, and grow, doesn’t it make sense that we should stay in communication with the One who is sending us out? Prayer is how we stay connected to God, and is the source of our power and strength we need for our rescue mission.

Joining Jesus on His rescue mission,

Pastor Augie

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Stones Cry Out …

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[Jesus] answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” (Luke 19:40)

PA & Mom – picture taken at Redeemer October, 2017

Unfortunately, I spent the bulk of February in Buffalo, New York with my mom who is suffering from complications from a relatively straightforward surgery that went wrong.   She’s 83 and a strong-willed woman with great faith.  It’s those things that have enabled her to endure almost a month of being confined to bed in a hospital with tubes and wires vexing her body; and she has handled this with grace and patience.  In so doing however, she’s witnessed to our family (near and extended) as well as a boatload of caregivers, doctors and custodial workers, that even when we’re down, Christians cry out to God.  And we don’t just cry out in our need, we cry out in praise!

Family, friends and hospital workers have witnessed groups of loved ones circled around my mom in prayer multiple times a day – not just keeping vigil over my mom – but praying with her.  And they have seen her holding hands and making the sign of the cross after every prayer.  She cannot speak because of breathing tubes and ventilators obstructing her vocal cords … but she has done everything within her power to witness to God’s unfailing love, reminding herself and all of us where our only hope lies – in Jesus, our Lord, and His saving work on the cross.

As we round the corner into March, soon it will be Palm Sunday.  And my mom’s predicament reminds me of something Jesus said when He entered Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday, as crowds were gathered to celebrate the Passover.  People were shouting and singing joyfully “Hosanna” – which means “save us!”  They couldn’t help it.  Their deepest need, and their greatest joy, was welling up in a song of hope!  But there were some religious leaders who heard this shouting and they reprimanded Jesus saying, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” (Luke 19:39).  To which Jesus answered,  “I tell you, … if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” (Luke 19:40).

Jesus says that even those with the inability to speak … would praise Jesus anyway! My mom can’t speak, but she is crying out to Jesus anyway – in both her need, and also in thanksgiving and joy, trusting Him to graciously provide for her as He has always done.

So often we feel as though we can only proclaim Jesus when things are going well.  And in some ways, that’s what the Palm Sunday crowd did. They praised Him for all the miracles they had seen Him do.  They cried out to Him when they were hopeful that He would show His power and might in the ways they wanted Him to do.   But as the prospects turned grim and the horizon turned dark, they one by one fled.  And instead of crying out to Jesus, they only cried.

And yet, the stones did cry out in their place as it were.  There was a great earthquake as Jesus was crucified.  The earth shook and the rocks split (Matthew 27:51). Even the tombs broke open, and the dead were raised to life! (Matthew 27:52).  And then after three days, the stones cried out again as Jesus rose from the dead! There was a violent earthquake and an angel of the Lord rolled back the stone that covered Jesus’ tomb (Matthew 28:2).  Even when the outlook was bleak …  even those things that couldn’t speak … found a way to cry out praise to the Lord!

There are many times when I find that I keep my mouth – my very able-bodied mouth – shut, when I should be crying out to God.  I keep my mouth shut when I should be crying out “Save us, dear Jesus!”  I keep my mouth shut when I should be singing “Great are you Lord!” I keep my mouth shut when I should be shouting “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near!”  Oh that you and I would cry out with our very capable voices while we are able to speak.

Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices; together they shout for joy.
When the Lord returns to Zion, they will see it with their own eyes.
– Isaiah 52:8

Perhaps this Holy Week and Easter, which is only a few weeks away, would be a good time for you to speak up and witness to the Lord with your friends and family.  They too have much to be thankful for, and many needs to bring to God.  They too have mouths which were created to cry out to God.  Perhaps use this Newsletter as a tool with which to shout for Joy and sing God’s praises?

Joyfully proclaiming Jesus with you!

 Pastor Augie

Why Are We Doing This?

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“You are the salt of the earth. …You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.” (Matthew 5:13-14)

Have you ever had ‘one of those days’ – perhaps as a parent, as a teacher or in your workplace?  You know what I mean… a day when everything seems to be challenging you… or an entire season that seems like one step forward and two steps backward?  It’s times like that when you find yourself asking the question – “why am I doing this?”  Maybe you even ask a friend or your spouse, “tell me again – why did we decide to do this?”  It is times like that which test your resolve, your determination and your motivation.

Is it any surprise that ministry is challenging?  Why wouldn’t it be?  Anytime that we, as Christians, attempt to do the Lord’s work, we are stepping out on the battlefield.  On that battlefield, Satan is our opponent; and he will stop at nothing to try and defeat us.  And if he can’t defeat us, he’ll try to defer us, delay us and distract us.  Distraction is perhaps one of his most powerful weapons.  If Satan can take our minds and our hearts off of our God-given goals, then he has a foothold by which to begin chipping away at our effectiveness.  Once the enemy has succeeded at distracting us, then he can move on to discouraging us.  To avoid being delayed, distracted, discouraged and otherwise “derailed” by Satan, we need to regularly ask ourselves the question, “Why are we doing this?” and so return to our God-given purpose.  We need to remind ourselves the motivating and driving force behind our efforts, otherwise “when the going gets tough” as they say, we may lose heart.

So, why are we doing this?  Why are we growing a Christian church in Carlsbad?  Quite simply, because the community NEEDS us!  That’s right – whether they know it or not, we have what they need – God.  I have read a number of articles that point out that we no longer live in a “church culture.”  In fact, they describe our era as “post-Christian.” That means that on average, people no longer see the church as a relevant part of their life – they have little use for it.  What these reports imply is that we cannot wait for people to “accidentally find us” (because they aren’t looking).  Instead, our role is to “bring light into a culture that is growing dimmer and dimmer.”  We are doing this because our Lord charges us to be the salt and light of the earth!  (Matthew 5:13-14).  We may have challenges in ministry.  We may even have obstacles in front of us – those of the enemy, and those of our own making.  But the Lord has made his call on our life clear – to pervade our world with the message of the Gospel.  We cannot shrink back from the task he has given us – too many people are counting on us!

Joining Jesus on His Mission with you,

Pastor Augie

A Journey to Christmas

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After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” – Matthew 2:1-2, NIV

This Advent we are embarking on an unforgettable journey to experience Hope, Joy, Peace & Love!

What an amazing season it is as we journey together toward Christmas. The word advent comes from Latin and roughly means “coming.” So we use these weeks leading up to Christmas as a chance to look forward to our celebration of the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, the light of the world … our Savior.

Advent is a season of great expectation, and I’m inviting you to join us as we embark on a journey (actually as we join in an epic journey that began more than two thousand years ago!) as we follow the Star and discover the Light of the world. It’s a journey of the heart and soul, but it’s also a journey that will realign our expectations and experience of the Christmas season. And it’s a journey that will explore the gifts of Christmas delivered by and through Christ: hope, joy, peace and love. We all need hope in the storms of life and love that never gives up. We need fresh joy on our journey and peace no matter what we’re facing or dealing with.

And you probably know someone who needs that too!  That’s why we’re making an outreach tool available to you this Advent.  The free pamphlet is available in the church lobby, and it introduces the four themes for the weeks of Advent (love, joy, peace and hope), and invites the reader to ponder the true gifts of Christmas.  You can use it to invite your friends and family to join you in your journey to Christmas.

Our journey centers on the Star as our guiding light. The Star of Bethlehem, that burst through the darkness over two thousand years ago and signaled the long-awaited birth of a Savior, has taken a central place in the Christmas story, but its mention in the Bible is really very brief. The record of wise men from the East who followed a star is only mentioned in Matthew’s Gospel account of Christ’s coming (Matthew 2). And there is much discussion by scholars and scientists about what the Star actually was, who the wise men (Magi) were, and when the cosmic event of its appearance took place. But apart from the debates, there remains the truth that the light of a star led people to Jesus – even if they were still on their journey the night Jesus was born. (Most scholars place the wise men showing up a few months to a year after Jesus’s birth.) And maybe that’s a good metaphor for anyone’s spiritual journey … we don’t always come to Jesus the minute He reveals himself … it’s a process.

The Advent season is about the journey as much as the destination. As we’ll explore, it is a time to prepare, maybe to pause and to ponder, to breathe deeply and turn our eyes to the true meaning of this time of year—a season that can seem so hectic and stressful in our culture.  Let’s be honest – sometimes the journey of life can get long and difficult. And this busy time of year can pile on more challenges and stress. The good news is – there is hope!

No matter where you find yourself today, you are invited into this journey.  Will you say yes to the journey? Will you peer through the darkness of your life, no matter what that may be, and look for the Star … a glimmer of hope? Will you journey toward Bethlehem, drawn by hope for the love, joy, and peace that await you?

Is that hard for you to imagine? Is your Christmas season overwhelmed already by any number of struggles: financial stresses, relational dysfunctions, loss of a loved one?  I think we all have one or the other … But let me encourage you—that’s exactly where hope shines brightest.

Christmas can still give us a taste of the most wonderful time of world history. Jesus, the Messiah and Savior, came as the Light into the darkness, stress and pain of the world.  And He still shines His Light for us today as He did that first Christmas. He fills our lives’ journeys with hope, love, joy, and peace.  Join us this Advent and Christmas at Redeemer.  We have much to share with you as we follow our Lord together.

In Christ’s Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace,

Pastor Augie

Who is the Son of Man?

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When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” – Matthew 16:13, NIV

Jesus asked His disciples two questions.  First he asked, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They answered him with an unsatisfying reply that I’ll paraphrase as, “Nobody really knows… They are still guessing.”  Then Jesus narrowed it down to perhaps what was more important to Him, and definitely was more important to His followers, when he asked, “But who do YOU say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15, emphasis mine).  These two questions show us the essence of the mission before us – making Jesus known, in a world that doesn’t really know Him.

Quite frankly, the answer to the question of who Jesus is, is even more confused nowadays than it was in Biblical times.  According to a Barna Research report from 2017[i], “5 Popular Beliefs about Jesus,” even though most people believe that Jesus was a real person, some don’t.  They also discovered that younger generations are increasingly less likely to believe that Jesus is God.  And Americans are divided on whether Jesus was sinless.  And yet, the majority of Americans claim to have made a commitment to Jesus Christ.  But if they doubt His divinity, sinlessness and even His existence … in the words of our Small Catechism … “what does this mean?” Even though the number is declining, studies still report that as many as 75% of Americans claim to be Christian. But then we have to ask if these are active followers of Jesus, or Christian in name only?

Whether it’s scientifically researched or purely anecdotal, we all recognize that times have changed in our country, and perhaps even more so in our Southwestern corner of the States.  Most of us can remember a time just a few short decades ago, when most people went to church – or at least knew they should go.  Most people knew about the Bible and the stories it contained, and they knew who Jesus was.  Furthermore, our society was built around the morality found in the Bible; it was assumed.  Nobody worried about Church and State issues as much; it was assumed that for the State to work, Church was necessary. But times have changed. And we have an opportunity to understand anew, as Concordia Seminary president Dale A. Meyer says[ii], “the radical nature of faith in Jesus,” because our faith in Jesus moves us to action that is often unpopular, and more and more counter-cultural.

The reason Jesus asked His disciples, “who do you say that I am?” is because He knew that their life depended on, and would be directed by, their answer to that question.  So when Peter responded, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 16:16-17).  Peter had given the right answer.  It was on this confession and understanding of who the Son of Man is, that Christ would build His Church.

Ultimately what we put our faith in is not health or possessions … or even family!  These are all gifts from our Creator, but they are not sufficient upon which to place our hope and our trust.  There is only One worthy of our faith.  There is only One whom we fear, love and trust above all else.  That is who the Son of Man is!

“Faith is a living, unshakeable confidence in God’s grace; it is so certain, that someone would die a thousand times for it. This kind of trust in and knowledge of God’s grace makes a person joyful, confident, and happy with regard to God and all creatures. This is what the Holy Spirit does by faith. Through faith, a person will do good to everyone without coercion, willingly and happily; he will serve everyone, suffer everything for the love and praise of God, who has shown him such grace.” (Martin Luther’s Preface to the Book of Romans)

So who is Jesus to you?  I pray that He is the One who puts your conscience at ease and gives you confidence when it comes to your future – both in this life and beyond – because He has addressed all your spiritual and physical needs.  But I also pray that He is the One who puts your heart, hands and head to work to make Him known to those who do not know Him and who need to feel His embrace!

At Redeemer we talk about “Joining Jesus in Our Community.”  Jesus made it His mission to reveal to the world God’s love through His witness and work – chief of which was His death on the cross.  And before He ascended into heaven, Jesus showed the world that He was triumphant over the grave, and He gave His followers the job of continuing His work of making Him known.  He said, “… you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8) Let us continue Jesus’ mission of revealing God’s Only Son to the World.  Let us make sure that people know who the Son of Man is!

Making Him known,

Pastor Augie

[i] https://issuu.com/concordiasem/docs/csm_fall_2017_final/6

[ii] Ibid.

Let Us Start to Rebuild

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Scripture:  I also told them about the gracious hand of my God on me and what the king had said to me. They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work. – Nehemiah 2:18

Observation:  The name Nehemiah means ‘Yah(weh) [the Lord] has compassion.’  He was the post-exilic governor of Judah, and the main character in the book of Nehemiah.  Nehemiah himself rose to high standing during the reign of the Persian Emperor Artaxerxes I (464–424 bc). He was designated the ‘cupbearer to the king’ (Neh. 1:11). This honorable position involved tasting wine for the king to ensure it was not poisoned.  This meant he was a trusted advisor and had the ear of the King.

Nehemiah’s work in Jerusalem began when his brother Hanani visited him in Susa. Nehemiah asked about the condition of the returnees and learned that the people of Jerusalem were troubled and the walls of the city were broken down. This broke his heart for his people.  Nehemiah, like many exiles, had made Persia/Babylon his home following the exile.  But now he felt strong ties to his roots.

After prayer and fasting, he approached Artaxerxes and asked permission to rebuild the city. Permission was granted and Nehemiah left with royal edicts to authorize his effects (Neh. 1:1–2:10).

Even with the king’s permission and blessing, Nehemiah faced all kinds of opposition… from surrounding provinces, and even from the Jewish people.  Why?  They were threatened by the rebuilding and afraid.  Nevertheless it was real for Nehemiah.  It mean that he and his workers were mocked verbally, and even with force.  Bottom line is that Nehemiah had every reason to quit.  But he was so devoted to the calling of the Lord to rebuild, that he was not disuaded and continued on.

It’s important to note that Nehemiah did not just rebuild the physical city of Jerusalem, but he also devoted himself to restoring the religion and faith of Judah.  He revived their faith in and faithfulness to God.

Application:  Don’t those two have to go together?  What good is it to have a physically strong body, but have a spiritually empty soul?  Likewise Nehemiah didn’t just want to put up new walls on the city, but re-establish the spiritual health of the people of Judah beginning with Jerusalem.

These days in our country, there is so much brokenness – if not because of the physical destruction caused by hurricanes and floods, because of the spiritual destruction caused by battling opposing ideologies and the hectic pace of life.

It’s time to rebuild.    Most obviously we need to rebuild broken roads and electrical grids.  But we must also rebuild relationships.  We need to see our neighbor not as our enemy … but to see the brokenness as our enemy.    And we must rebuild our spiritual health – by returning to the Lord.

I love what we read earlier in Nehemiah “They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand.” (Neh. 1:10)  To me that means that God is always rescuing His lost people – and He will rescue, restore and rebuild us even now.

Prayer:  Help me turn my heart to you God, and begin the rebuilding today – starting with me.  Restore my spirit and renew my strength.  And allow me to be a part of rebuilding your people.  In Your Name.  Amen.

To learn more about the #LifeJournal reading plan I am using, see this post: Rev Augie’s Blog – Daily Bible Reading.

Reformation 2017 – It’s Still about Jesus

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“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” – Ephesians 2:8-9, NKJV

I distinctly remember sitting in a Lutheran Church in Arizona – well into my adulthood – when I first really grasped the Grace of our Lord’s Gospel.  I remember the pastor preaching and it hit me right between the eyes: I was not saved by any amount of my good works… but wait! I thought that was the point of keeping the Commandments? … No, while my obedience was good, it would never be good enough to earn me salvation or somehow to make me worthy of the eternal blessings of God.  Those would only be received as a free gift – given by the Grace of God because of the completed and perfect work of Jesus Christ on the cross!  I would never be able to be so good as to merit this favor, and I would never be able to be so bad as to be unforgiven of all my sins.  Wow.  In that moment, I truly felt lighter.

And in that moment, this former Catholic perhaps had more in common with Martin Luther than do many life-long Lutherans.  Why is that?  Because what I experienced – being freed from condemnation of the Law through the Grace of God in Christ (Romans 8:1) – is what Martin Luther personally experienced that sparked the Reformation some 500 years ago in Wittenberg Germany!  I can relate to being under the same crushing effects of guilt and shame that drove Luther to spend hours in the confessional as he tried to lead a pure monastic lifestyle through which somehow to attain God’s Righteousness.  But it was in that struggle, under the fear of condemnation, that Luther stumbled upon the merciful offer of comfort found in Paul’s letter to the Romans.  The verse “For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” (Romans 1:17) held special meaning for Luther.  This verse used to plague him with fear, because he knew he was not righteous before God, due to his many sins.  But one day, the light of the Gospel broke through to him and he saw clearly that Scripture points to the source of the righteousness we need.  It is in fact God’s righteousness given to us by faith (faith alone!) not our own righteousness that saves us.  And for the struggling sinner – me, Luther, you – this is music to our ears!

So with a heart full of renewed hope, Luther set out to release the Gospel from the obscurity it had known under centuries of the Papacy.  Such atrocities had developed, that poor sinners were filled with fear believing that they would be condemned for their sin, with no hope other than to pay for “indulgences” with money, or suffer punishment in purgatory – a spiritual sort of waiting room before entrance into heaven.  Unfortunately, man loves the darkness, and the Good News of freedom in Christ that Luther shared was not well received by his contemporaries.  The rest is “history” as they say.  There are a number of good documentaries and even a new movie coming to a theater in our area (see www.luthermovie.link/SanMarcos) that teach about the Lutheran Reformation that began five centuries ago in late October 1517.

Our church body, the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, even has a website (https://lutheranreformation.org) dedicated to providing all sorts of resources regarding the Reformation.  I particularly like the phrase they use for this quincentennial celebration: “Reformation 2017 – It’s Still All about Jesus.”  Yes, it has been 500 years since the Reformation; and while many things in our culture have changed in that timespan, one thing has not changed, and that is what the Reformation was about: Jesus.  It was about freeing lost, condemned, guilty and burdened souls with the life-giving and freeing Gospel of Jesus Christ then … and it still is now!  So as we celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation at Redeemer by the Sea, we do so not only looking backward – but looking outward toward the lost and hurting people who need Jesus and His Grace as much today as they did 500 years ago!

You hear me talk a lot about “mission” … that we are a people who are “Joining Jesus on His mission” to seek and save the lost.  It truly is mission-critical work that we are always about – sharing the message of the Gospel with those who need to hear it.  Luther did it in his day, in his way, and we do it today, in our way.  The people that we encounter today may not be worried about whether they will spend years in purgatory… but they are worried and weighed down with a great many things. And they need to hear about Jesus.  As Luther said, “God doesn’t need your good works.  Your neighbor does.”  Please put the freedom and joy that you experience as a saved soul, certain and firm in your salvation, into action loving and serving your neighbor as the hands and feet of Christ.

Even Paul’s great words of comfort in the much-loved-by-Lutherans verses of Ephesians 2:8-9, are followed by this very important verse: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).  Fear of God’s judgment doesn’t spur us into mission.  No, our freedom in the Gospel does!  I believe the best way that we can celebrate the Reformation is to carry on Luther’s work of sharing the Truth of God’s Word with lost and hurting people, relieving their consciences and freeing their souls.

It’s Still All About Jesus,

Pastor Augie

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