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The Good Life!

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“What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.” – Philippians 3:8, NIV

What do you think of when you hear the expression The Good Life?  In this beautiful area of the country that we call home, The Good Life might mean for some enjoying a sunset at the beach … (I would have a hard time arguing with that one!) It might mean having a successful career, beautiful home and two paid off cars in the driveway … It might mean having enough money to take vacations … It might mean having the health to enjoy all those things.  For each of us, this phrase The Good Life conjures up images of things we hope for and expectations we have set for ourselves.  The group of eleven of us from Redeemer who attended the week-long mission trip to San Diego spent time each day considering this phrase personally and then exploring Scripture to see how God would want us to understand The Good Life.

What we learned is that we are created for The Good Life.  Jesus says in John 10:10 “… I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”  God created everything “good” in the Garden of Eden, but mankind and our sin tarnished that beauty and goodness.  God, however, never gives up restoring us to The Good Life.  Through His Son Jesus, He continues to bring us to a full and good life.

We can trust this because we believe that God Himself is good.  (Psalm 106:1 declares, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.”) And in His goodness, He wants good things for His people (Psalm 139:5).  But how does one respond when we see so much brokenness and lack of goodness in the world around us?  God may be good, but evil still has power in this world, and it seems that it is bound and determined to thwart whatever good God wants to bless His creation with.

Unfortunately, when faced with pain, suffering and brokenness we humans are often led astray by false imitations of The Good Life that God intends for us.  Have you ever tried to solve your problems with a false imitation?  Didn’t it promise you relief, pleasure and even freedom? But what did it deliver?  The truth is that if you and I are to grasp the only true source of The Good Life that Jesus offers us, we are going to have to let go of cheap imitations – to make room for the goodness that God wants to pour into our lives!

What each of us needs to realize as we journey through life is that The Good Life is found only in Jesus Christ. He is the Good Shepherd who guides us to where the green pastures are.  We do best to follow Him – and to bring others to Him also.  If you have found The Good Life, don’t you think there are others who would like to know where to find it?  The problem is that just like in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), it can be so easy to pass along on the other side of the street – having even some very good reasons to do so.

But as we have been learning from the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians during our summer “Joy” message series, we should put ourselves on the line for the good of others.  In Philippians 2:4 Paul clearly tells us to put the needs of others ahead of our own needs!  But if we do that, then won’t we sacrifice our own reception of The Good Life?   The answer is no.  To the contrary; what we have received from Jesus is meant to be shared!  When Jesus served His disciples by washing their feet, He gave them instructions to go and do likewise.  (John 13:15)

What Jesus knows is what the Apostle Paul eventually learned and wants us to know and live out as well – and that is that we truly experience joy and enjoy The Good Life, as we serve others.  In fact, this joy is so great that it would be worth letting go of everything we have in this world in order to grasp, Paul says (Philippians 3:8).  All of those cheap imitations offer only a false and partial experience of the surpassing greatness of knowing and serving Christ.

May you and I learn to experience The Good Life, by loving and serving others with what we have received freely from Jesus Christ – for our good and for His glory!

Joyfully sharing Jesus with you,

Pastor Augie

Five Marks of Turnaround Churches

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Great article from my friend Kevin Wilson. I would agree with these points. Would you add anything? What are your experiences and observations?

KevinWilson360

location for worshipWith north of 80 percent of churches plateaued or declining, it’s no surprise I’m consistently asked what I see in “turnaround churches.” I’m curious as to whether readers are surprised by any of the five marks I see in turnaround churches.

The pastor supports the turnaround effort.

I’ve watched pastors both succeed and fail at initiating congregational turnaround arounds. What I’ve never seen is a church turnaround when the pastor didn’t support the effort. Pastors understand there is a price to pay in participating in a turnaround. They must publicly and privately support congregational changes. Sometimes they must personally invest in ministries that do not fit their strengths. Pastoral leadership in a turnaround is not easy, but is necessary.

The congregation launches new ministries in the local community.

When a church loves its neighborhood, great things can happen. Most turnaround churches today start by serving in their community. Maybe members regularly volunteer…

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Joy in the Journey

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“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” – Philippians 4:13, ESV

When one thinks of Biblical books with “theological impact” they might think of epistles like Romans or Galatians, because of their clear depiction of Law and Gospel.  This was particularly essential at the time of the Reformation back in the 1500’s when theological errors were threatening the foundation of the Church.  But when thinking of books that have “personal impact” … a little closer to home … the book of Philippians may come to mind.  Think of some of your favorite Bible verses.  Chances are good that one or more of them come from the book of Philippians.  It contains such great verses like:

  • He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (1:6)
  • For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. (1:21)
  • I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (3:14)
  • Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice. (4:4)
  • Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (4:6)
  • I can do all things through him who gives me strength. (4:13)

Now it’s probably not productive to try and “rate” Bible books against each other.  But the idea is that Philippians has verses throughout it that impact our hearts and have a sort of staying power in our personal lives.  But it does also have theological impact as well.  Chapter 2 of Philippians, for example, challenges us to understand the depths which Christ went to in order to empty Himself for our sakes.  This is a big part of the foundation of our faith.  We believe that Christ “humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:8)  That has such theological impact as to make a difference for time and eternity!

But whether speaking more in the abstract, or in concrete life lessons, Philippians bears a constant message of joy.  And we all need that, right?  Our world is so good at robbing our joy – especially when you read the news.  There are so many things that can challenge our joy; but Philippians is a countermeasure to that.  The Apostle Paul, who wrote the book of Philippians, was a man filled with joy and thankfulness.  And if anyone had good reason to NOT be joyful, it was Paul … in fact, he wrote the book of Philippians while he was imprisoned!  And yet, by the power and indwelling of the Holy Spirit, Paul experienced great joy – even in the midst of his circumstances.  And He wants the same for you and me – to experience joy in whatever situation we find ourselves.

In Paul’s message to the church at Philippi, he uses the word “rejoice” or “joy” 15 times!  He does this as he writes to a city that has so much wealth from the gold mines nearby.  Further, as a Roman colony, Philippi had all the pride and culture of being affiliated with Rome.  And yet, Paul needed to remind the people of that great city where true joy is found.

How about with you?  Do you find that you can be surrounded by all kinds of riches, culture, entertainment, and achievements … and still lack joy?  Well, you’re not alone.  That’s why we’re going to take 9 weeks this summer to learn the good news about the source of joy.  We’ll discover that it’s not found in a place, a possession, or some power.  But rather, joy comes from a person – the Lord Jesus Christ!  He is the one who supplies all that we need.  He is the one who fills us with joy regardless of our circumstances, relationships, status in life or our wealth.

Join us this summer as we learn the secrets to experiencing JOY …

  • 7/9 – in your Relationships
  • 7/16 – in your Circumstances
  • 7/23 – in your Attitudes
  • 7/30 – in your Potential
  • 8/6c – on the Job
  • 8/13 – in your Accomplishments
  • 8/20 – in your Future
  • 8/27 – in your Thoughts
  • 9/3 – in your Finances

Joyfully Joining Jesus with you,

Pastor Augie

A Discipleship Movement!

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“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.” – Matthew 28:19-20

I am not much of a chef – or a baker for that matter.  If I were going to bake something, I’d need explicit instructions … starting with where to find the baking pans, spatulas and ingredients in my own kitchen!  So the truth is out.  I survive off other people’s cooking 😊

When Jesus told us to go and make disciples of all nations, He didn’t give explicit instructions.  He did instruct us to “baptize and teach,” but as the multitude of Christian church styles and denominations reveals – there is a lot of variety in exactly how to do that.  Virtually every Christian church’s mission statement can be boiled down in one way or another to the Great Commission given by Jesus – “go and make disciples.”  And truly, that is something to be thankful for.  We are all trying to carry out what Jesus left us to do until He returns.

In an attempt to navigate the multitude of methods and strategies of carrying out the Great Commission, several myths about making disciples seem to have developed in church circles.  Using an excerpt from the book “From Followers to Leaders”[1] that I received during my most recent PLI Missional Leader training in Cary, NC in February, let me help us debunk some myths about developing disciples.

Myth: developing disciples is about having the right program to run people through.

The reality is that developing disciples is primarily a relational process centered on the individual, not the system. The most effective starting point is the person, not the program. Whether it was Nicodemus ( John 3:1-21, or the woman at the well (John 4:1-26), Jesus started with the person.  He didn’t tell them that his next training program began in 3 weeks; the signup was in the lobby.  He taught them what they needed to learn when they needed to learn it.

Myth: developing disciples is a synonym for training.

The reality is that training constitutes one small piece of discipleship, and it doesn’t always look like classroom training.  There’s a certain amount of knowledge that needs to be imparted, that is true.  But often the most important things that we learn are better “caught than taught.”  That’s one reason why I love our Wednesday morning prayer and study group.  We may be looking at a passage that we’ve all heard before.  We all “know” it – but we all grow by learning how the other person applies it to their life or the situation being discussed.

Myth: developing disciples correctly means treating them all the same and expecting that they will all turn out the same.

The reality is that each potential disciple has different God-given gifts, capacities, and callings. Developing a quiet intercessor will look very different from developing an international missionary. And it should. Disciples do not all look the same, nor do we all have the same work to do.  (Ephesians 2:10)

Myth: discipleship begins with mature Christians.

The reality is that because we are whole beings, developing disciples is a holistic process. Discipleship actually begins with pre-Christians.  One of the most exciting areas of discipleship that Rachelle and I look forward to exploring in our missional community is bringing pre-Christians into our discussion group alongside more mature Christians.  We won’t all be at the same starting point, but we will all grow together.

Myth: discipleship primarily focuses on skills.

The reality is that skills are only one piece of the whole pie. Effective discipleship takes into account the individual as a personal, social, emotional, spiritual being. Any compartmentalization of these areas of our lives is artificial.  One of the tides and misconceptions in the church that we need to combat is that “church stuff” only happens inside the church.  We need to carry our discipleship into our workplaces, marketplaces and homes.  And we need to allow our members to see personal, social and family interactions as valid places where faith is developed and expressed.

After all, this is how Jesus did it.  Luke chapter 11 starts when Jesus was just doing life with his disciples and one of them said “teach us to pray.”  Luke chapter 6 starts as Jesus was going through the grain fields with his disciples.  It was then that they were ready to learn about the Sabbath, and so it was then that Jesus taught them.

I pray that we are all willing to be used by God in the process of making disciples wherever we are.  May this be a movement that starts now and continues until the Lord calls us home!

Making disciples with you,

Pastor Augie

[1] © 2008, by Robert E. Logan, Tara Miller, and Julie Becker

Loved and Sent!

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“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” – 1 John 4:10

At this year’s Best Practices for Ministry conference in Phoenix, one of the keynote speakers was pastor Jeff Cloeter from Christ Memorial Lutheran Church in St. Louis, MO.  His session was titled “Loved and Sent.”  These two words really struck a chord with me and I think they represent much of what “Joining Jesus in our Community” means to us.

As Christians we are first loved by God. This is what draws us to Him, and what gives us our foundation.  In essence, being loved by God answers the question – that all of humanity has always asked – “who am I?” It is a question of identity.  All too often, we let the world define who we are.  We let popular media, or the opinions of others set the stage, and establish the playing field.  We buy in and we begin to ask the questions the world asks … Are we pretty enough? Strong enough? Smart enough? Successful enough?  And whether we find the answers we like to those questions, we still feel uncertain about who we are, so we continue to search for our identity in terms of our jobs.  Have you ever done this – you meet someone new and so you ask them, “what do you do?” … as if our jobs are our identity.  But we are human “beings” not human “doings.”  Our identity is established by whom we belong TO – we are a loved child of the Most High God!  Once we understand this, we gain great strength, confidence, and hope.

With the question of identity firmly settled, and in relationship with Jesus, we move on to the question of purpose.  For insight into that, we look to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).  When we do, we discover His purpose and why He came into the world – to seek and save the lost. (Luke 19:10). What we further learn, is that He is still seeking and saving the lost through us.  How is that?  He was sent by the Father, and now He sends us to continue His mission.  The Father’s Love compelled Him to sacrifice His one and only Son.  The Son’s love compelled Him to take on flesh and die a brutal death.  And our love for God compels us to go and make disciples.  Love cannot sit still.

And so we as loved people are sent to our community for important work.  We continue the work of our Lord in our homes, offices, neighborhoods, classrooms, stores, restaurants, bars, clubs, auto shops, hair salons, gyms and generally wherever we are.  We do this to bring Christ’s love to a lost and hurting world.  This answers the other great question of humanity – “why am I here?”  If you want purpose in life, there can be no greater purpose than to continue on the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ!

We are more loved than we ever imagined, and sent with more purpose than we ever thought possible!

Loved and Sent,

Pastor Augie

Hope!

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“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” – 1 Peter 1:3

If someone asked you what a person needed to live, what would you say?  You might answer food, water, oxygen … right?  But would you answer “HOPE?”  Certainly a human body needs food, water, oxygen and a number of other things to live.  But I believe the human spirit needs something else to survive.  It needs hope to live!  But where is one to find this life giving, spirit feeding hope?  O, “praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ that in his great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope.” The Apostle Peter says in his first epistle that God is the one to give us this hope.  We don’t need to forage for it, purchase it, or produce it in any way.  It is merely a gift – mercifully given.  And he goes on to say that what seals this hope into a firm promise is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. – that’s the Easter message we proclaim!

And who doesn’t need hope?  Look around you.  The widow who has lost their life partner needs hope – and lots of it.  The young couple just getting married is filled with hope – and rightly so!  The family struggling with finances needs hope.  The person who just got the news that they have a dreadful disease needs hope.  And each of us, facing our own struggles and mortality needs hope.  That’s why this message that God has given us hope for life in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is so powerful and so needed!  We are all lost without hope.

What gives a person hope is to know that God is in control – His purposes prevail, even in the darkest of circumstances.  I remember being in a car once when the driver lost control of the vehicle.  We spun around and skidded through multiple lanes of traffic in both directions and safely off the road … right in between two large trees!  (We escaped without a scratch on us or a dent in the car!) It was terrifying to be out of control in that situation.  Often our lives feel like that; like we’ve lost control and are careening aimlessly toward untold dangers.  And yet, even in those circumstances, God is in control and fulfilling His promises to us.  Promises like these:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. – Romans 8:28

What also gives a person hope is to know that God is powerful beyond measure – that which seems impossible to us is possible for God.  I think of that very popular “Footprints” poem.  People take great comfort in knowing that in their weakest and most troublesome times, the Lord doesn’t abandon them, but carries them!  If you are going through a challenging time in your life right now, and are faced by problems of any kind, take comfort in knowing:

I can do all this through him who gives me strength. – Philippians 4:13

being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, – Colossians 1:11

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. – Isaiah 40:29

Ultimately, whatever hope we have must be in someone or something strong.  A hope that is placed on self is misplaced, because when we are weak or faced with insurmountable problems then our hope vanishes.  A hope that is placed on something unknown, or yet to be, is really nothing but a “wish” – and is ultimately an empty hope.  But a true and powerful hope comes from trusting in someone or something who is in control even in the most difficult circumstances, and who is powerful enough to accomplish that which we are unable to do.  Some people are still searching for that hope … but we know Him to have been revealed – Jesus Christ!

Why do we place our hope in Him?  Because as the Apostle Peter testifies, and as we celebrate this Easter – Christ was crucified, but He was raised from the dead and is alive!  Jesus’ resurrection is proof that God is in control, and that He is all powerful!   May your baptism (new birth) into His Name give you a living hope that the same power that raised Jesus from the grave, carries you through all circumstance of this life until one day you are raised to eternal life with Christ.

Proclaiming Christ,

Pastor Augie

Feasting and Fasting

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“Jesus answered, ‘It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” – Matthew 4:4

“Feasting and Fasting” … sounds like some of my diet plans! 🙂 … however, it’s not a diet plan.  It’s an approach to your spiritual journey I’d like to suggest you consider for this season of Lent.  “Feasting” on God’s Word, and “Fasting” for spiritual growth and closeness to the Lord.   In this article, I will give you some tools and ideas for each.

Feasting

The season of Lent is one of thoughtful reflection. During this time of the church calendar, Christians ponder the unfolding events that led to Jesus’ condemnation and crucifixion: His triumphal march into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday; His firm words of warning about the events to come; His sham trial, brutal scourging, and horrific crucifixion. No day could be any darker; no travesty more calamitous than the slaying of God’s own Beloved Son. And yet, that’s what we find on Golgotha: our sins demanding His death on a cross to satisfy the Father’s righteous judgment.

Taken from the cross, the lifeless form of Christ was placed in another man’s tomb. With that action the world thought the ordeal complete, the savagery it had witnessed something it could now put behind it. But God’s work wasn’t quite done. Three days later, out of a sealed tomb—guarded to prevent theft—Jesus rose from the dead. And with that thunderous crescendo, mankind’s disgrace and ruin, which had destined it for eternal slaughter, is forgiven through the blood of Christ.

Lent is when we turn our eyes to the cross. It is there where Jesus, the sinless Son of God, suffered the indignity and shame of dying for our sins. And it is there where God’s wrath was satisfied by His Beloved Son’s supreme sacrifice, winning salvation for all who call Him their Savior.  I’d like to suggest that you Feast on God’s Word each day as you let the Scriptures walk you with Jesus as He goes to the cross.  Lutheran Hour Ministries makes a great daily devotional available for free.   It’s called “from the cradle to the empty grave.”  You can read it online, get it in your email, listen to it as a podcast, or get it on your phone in the free phone app.  Just visit www.LHM.org/lent/.

Fasting

Fasting is a spiritual discipline that has been practiced for centuries.  In the Bible we learn that it was practiced by prophets, kings and apostles.  Many significant Biblical characters were blessed by God through fasting – Moses, David, Elijah, Nehemiah, Ester, Daniel and Paul, for example.  Even our Lord Jesus used fasting as a way to draw closer to the Father while He was being tempted by the devil in the desert (see Matthew 4).

What is fasting?  But first, what is it not? Fasting is not a diet program. If you need to lose weight, a fast is not the way to do it.  Fasting is not for personal glory; it’s something that’s between you and God.  In fact, Jesus spoke out against those who drew attention to themselves when they were fasting. So what is fasting?  A simple definition of fasting is abstaining from something for spiritual purposes.  Usually it’s food that we forgo when fasting, but really anything that we give our attention to is something that could be removed in order to create more room for God in your life.  When you fast, your desire is to draw closer to God and to ask God to reveal himself to you.  Sometimes our lives get so full of the blessings of God, that we crowd out the One that is doing the blessing – God Himself.  Sometimes we have so much going on that if God wanted to speak to us there is so much noise and so much activity in our life that we couldn’t hear Him if He said something to us.  Remember, God often speaks in a whisper (1 Kings 19:12).  The purpose of fasting is to increase your awareness of and dependence upon God.

So, how might you fast this Lent?  One way is to simply give up something that you frequently crave, but is non-essential.  Chocolate is a popular choice since, contrary to popular belief, you don’t need chocolate to live!  Every time you forgo the pleasure of chocolate, it reminds you of Christ’s sacrifice for you and allows you to depend on God to get you through that craving.  All our cravings are something that only God can satisfy anyway.  You might give up something that is sapping your available time – television, video games or surfing the internet.  Consider spending the time that you free up, not with some other distracting activity, but with family, or doing devotions, or enjoying God’s creation while meditating on His greatness!

There are many ways you can fast. This year, I am going to encourage you to join me in doing a simple “juice fast.”  It’s a light fast and an easy way to start if you’ve never fasted before, yet it has the spiritual benefits of drawing closer to the Lord through abstaining from something.  How you do a juice fast is to simply skip a meal or two and replace that meal with some liquid or juice.  This will help you to keep your energy up (diabetics and others, please consult your physician if you have any concerns about this diet change) but it still represents a sacrifice.  I suggest doing this fast each week during Lent.  For example: have a good meal for dinner on Tuesday, then have juices for breakfast and lunch on Wednesday, breaking your fast with dinner (perhaps soup supper at church?) on Wednesday. That’s a 24-hour juice fast!

Considering the challenging Spiritual work that our congregation is doing in preparing to reach many in our community with the Gospel, shouldn’t we draw close to the Lord through fasting and prayer?  And won’t we each individually benefit from the time spent seeking the Lord? Let’s do what we hear spoken of in Scripture, but seldom do – fast and pray.

Feasting and Fasting … May they strengthen your faith and draw you nearer to Jesus as He draws nearer to the cross.

To God alone be the glory,

Pastor Augie

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