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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

Advancing the Mission

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“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” – Luke 19:10

The phrase “Joining Jesus in our Community” is sounding more and more familiar around Redeemer, isn’t it?  This is what we believe God wants us to be doing as we fulfill our mission to make disciples.  But there is one question that still needs to be tackled – What will that look like when we are doing it?  And so, on Saturday January 28th, we began a planning process that will lead us to greater clarity and unity around this question.

We believe that for us to advance our mission and ministry together, we must have unity and clarity around not just vision, but around values and behaviors. In fact, the single greatest hindrance to mission advancement is what our consultant, Bill Walker, referred to as “Nodding Heads & Folded Arms.”  That’s where well-meaning church members “nod” when they hear the vision (who doesn’t want to join Jesus in His mission?) but then “fold their arms” while they wait for someone else to figure out what needs to be done.  In other words, we not only need vision clarity, but we need substantial clarity – clarity that affects what we value and what we do.

Churches can suffer from “churn” (where people visit, but don’t connect to the church), “competition” (where ministries within the church vie for attention, resources, and volunteers), and “burnout” (what happens when everything is equally important).  This happens when there are just too many game-plans in play.  Think of any sport you like – got one in mind?  I bet that game has rules and boundaries; and those teams that excel at that sport have a game-plan that they’re all working toward, together.

What this means for the church is that we don’t have to try and find the “right” way of doing church.  In fact, there is probably no single right way to do church.  But we do need to do church one way – together.  Consider a boat full of people with oars.  Everyone can be paddling their hardest … but if they aren’t paddling in the same direction they’ll make a big splash, but will go nowhere fast.

As such, we are setting major milestones for this planning effort.  They are:

  1. Clarity – We are forming a “Mission Advancement Team” that will put a clarifying & compelling case for unity before the Church Council. If the Council approves, Redeemer will adopt that approach.
  2. Movement – The mindset of the leadership, staff and volunteers shifts from “doing whatever is right in my eyes” to “how does my area of ministry support and increase the efforts we are all working toward?” In this stage, we will see grassroots changes begin to take place.
  3. Alignment – At this point, meetings and activities are organized around how to do what is absolutely essential and eliminating distractions, redundancy and sideways effort.

We will not arrive at all of these milestones at once, but these are the indicators we will look for before moving on to the next phase or milestone.

See, God wants unity in His Church.  Why?  Because it reflects His being … God is internally and perfectly united in the Trinity.  The world longs for unity, and therefore seeing unity of mind and purpose within the Church of God is perhaps our most attractive outreach!  The Old and New Testaments agree on God’s desire for this among His people:

  • “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” – Psalm 133:1
  • “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.” – 1 Corinthians 1:10

Jesus even prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, “… May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” – John 17:21.  In other words, the more united we are – with each other, and with God – the more the world will see Jesus in us, and put their faith in Him!

It’s a tall order, and it means that we all need to be in prayer – asking God to give us that burden to do what it takes to reach people with the Gospel and to Join Jesus in His Mission to seek and save the lost in our community.  Are you ready?  Let’s go!  … May the Name of Jesus be lifted high among us, and may the world be drawn to Him through our words and deeds.

Joining Jesus in His mission with you,

Pastor Augie

Laying a Foundation

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“For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” – 1 Corinthians 2:12

Living in Arizona and Southern California, we’ve seen a lot of new construction over the last couple decades.  One thing you notice as you go by a construction site day after day is the amount of time that is spent on the property before you ever see a wall go up.  Then once the walls go up, it seems like it isn’t long before the occupants are moving in.  There is extensive sitework – grading, utilities and concrete – that goes into every project.  Laying a foundation is so important, that This Old House has an article on their website entitled, “A foundation is forever – how to do it right.”

We have a foundation to our faith.  It’s the bedrock on which our faith is built.  The cornerstone of that foundation is Christ.  This means that the foundation of our life as the people of God is built upon Him.   In the months of January and February, we will be looking at the teachings of Scripture that illuminate the foundation of our faith and we will see how they center on Christ and shape our everyday lives.

Here’s a brief look at the upcoming messages:

  • Jan 8 – The Story. The story of the Bible moves from God’s Creation to Our Fall to Christ’s Redemption to the Final Restoration. In the introduction to this series, we look at how Christ undoes the curse of our Fall into sin by becoming cursed on a cross.
  • Jan 15 – The Word. Jesus gives us words in His teaching and He is the Word made flesh. Thus, it is vital that we hear and practice His Word. In this message we talk about the nature and character of Jesus’ words – how they are perfect – and how they call us both to faith and to action.
  • Jan 29 – The Gathering. Worship is the natural and inevitable response of people who have faith in God to a good God. In this message, we look at the nature of worship, the location of worship, and the focus of worship in the Christian life.
  • Feb 5 – The Water. In the last chapter of Matthew, Jesus calls us to make disciples in two ways: by teaching His Word and by baptizing in His name (Matthew 28:19-20). The Ethiopian eunuch becomes a disciple by baptism. Jesus still makes disciples in baptism today!
  • Feb 12 – The Meal. When Jesus celebrates the Passover with His disciples the night before He dies, it becomes more than a Passover. It becomes a promise of His presence. For in, with, and under simple forms of bread and wine is the body and blood of Christ. In this message, we look at the Passover and how Jesus’ death on a cross leads God not to merely pass-over our sins, but to forgive them!
  • Feb 19 – The Mission. The call of every Christian is to live beyond themselves. We are to share the hope that we have with the world. When some lepers stumble into an Aramean camp that has been emptied by God, and when they find all sorts of treasure there, they cannot help but share the good news of the treasure with their neighbors. How can we do anything less than share the good news of the gospel with our neighbors?

I am praying that this series will engage believers by teaching the foundations of what we believe and why we believe it.  I am also hopeful that through it we will gain a deeper Biblical understanding of our faith and how to apply it to our daily lives.  In other words, we will ask the questions “What does this mean?” and “What does this look like lived out in our lives?”

For those who are new to the Christian faith, these teachings will provide a firm foundation on which to build a lifetime of discipleship!  Jesus said, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” – Matthew 7:24.  Note: There are free Growth Group videos and printed study guides available for this series.  Consider using them in your Growth Group or starting a new group that follows this message series.

2017 promises to be a year of great progress for our congregation.  Beginning at the end of the month we will embark on a vision clarification process (mark your calendars for January 28th 9 to 11am) – the foundation of which must be Jesus Christ and His mission in our community.  I look forward to this next year with you …

Laying our foundation on Christ,

Pastor Augie

Keeping Christmas

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keeping-christmas

“We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.” – 1 Corinthians 2:12

The title of this Advent’s message series “Keeping Christmas” is inspired by the final paragraph of Charles Dickens’ well-known and beloved book A Christmas Carol:

“He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!”

We do not know how to “keep Christmas well”, if our stress, spending, and spiritual celebrations were to be used as the evidence.  We need to know how the Lord would have us “keep,” or observe, the birth of our Savior.

Throughout this series we will describe and discover how we, like Dickens’ main character Ebenezer Scrooge, have failed to keep Christmas and how we, like he, are in need of a visitation; not by three spirits, but by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:12), with the result that we find and celebrate what the Lord most wants us to have – and keep – this Christmas.

Each week, we will consider one of the spirits that visited Scrooge, and the corresponding message that the Holy Spirit wants to convey to us through His Word and the Birth of God’s Son at Christmas:

  • December 4 The Ghost of Christmas Past – “Sorrow”
  • December 11 The Ghost of Christmas Present – “Repentance”
  • December 18 The Ghost of Christmas Future – “Transformation”

“Bah!  Humbug!”  was Scrooge’s favorite saying.  What does that mean?  “Bah!” is a kind of dismissive expression.  “Humbug” refers to “deception.”  That’s what Scrooge thought of Christmas.  He thought it was nothing more than foolish trickery.  Why?  For one thing, Scrooge was carrying around a lot of sorrow – baggage that turned him into what Dickens called “A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner!”  He had been abandoned in boarding house as a boy, and lost the love of his life because he loved the idea of becoming wealthy more than he did the girl who loved him. That sorrow became a chain that weighed down his soul.  You and I carry our own sorrow and it interferes with us truly “Keeping Christmas.”

The ghost of Christmas Past came to “reclaim” Scrooge.  In the same way, Christ came to ransom, or reclaim us.  The ghost takes Scrooge on a journey all the way back to his childhood.  Then the next ghost takes Scrooge to the present day where he must confront the world that he has created for himself.  He learns of the way that others speak of him and his scrooginess.  He is shown that the actions of the present will shape his future – but that future is changeable.  So it is for us Christians.  Christ forgives our past and as we turn from our sin He then works in and through us to fashion a future for us – a better one.

How do we hope to “keep Christmas” this year?  How might we serve those around us as a way of keeping Christmas well?  The Apostle Paul underwent his own “visitation” as he was overcome by the blinding light of Christ.  In that experience, Paul was transformed by the only power that can transform any of us: the grace of God.  It is the Spirit’s power that enables us to die to self.  And it is God’s grace that gives us new life, the life of Christ.  May we keep it well.

Keeping Christmas with you,

Pastor Augie

Freedom – Not “From,” But “For”

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“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” – John 8:36

During this month of our national elections, as well as Veterans Day, we Americans often find ourselves taking stock of our freedom. What a wonderful blessing it is to be able to vote for our leadership and to have the freedom to talk about our faith.   We appreciate that this freedom comes at a cost to those who risk their lives and have even offered their lives to protect our freedoms. Even more, as Christians we revel in the freedom from sin, death and condemnation that we enjoy because of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ – who gave His life for our sakes (John 8:36).

November also finds us pausing for a national day of Thanksgiving.  And so it’s fitting that we take time as a congregation to reflect upon what we have been blessed with, how faithful our Lord has been to us, and what it means to be His children.  As we do, we contemplate our gifts and offerings and we consider making a commitment to the Lord’s work through Redeemer by the Sea during our Giving to His Glory stewardship emphasis.

People sometimes ask me, “Do I have to make a pledge?” The simple answer to that is, No. Quite frankly, you don’t have to do anything – you have much freedom.  the Apostle Paul even acknowledges that all things are permissible (1 Cor 10:23a) – but He quickly adds that not all things are beneficial or profitable (1 Cor 10:23b).  The truth is, there is much value to be had in making a pledge – not because of any obligation or guilt, but because of what the pledge signifies. It signifies a recognition on our part of who we are … and whose we are. It shows that we recognize that God is the owner of all things, including our life and our possessions.  The question is what are we going to do with these things He has entrusted us with?

The answer to that question is that we have freedom. But what kind of freedom?  Christian freedom is not the freedom to be my own God and therefore to decide what is good and what is evil. Christian freedom does not mean that all God asks of me is to believe in Jesus, but nothing else. Christian freedom does not mean that I am permitted to do whatever I want even if it conflicts with what God desires for me. I do not have the freedom to abuse my neighbor or Ignore his needs.

No, Christian Freedom means that we have been set free from death (Romans 8:2) we’ve been set free from the consequences of sin (Romans 8:1) we’ve been set free from the debilitating effect of a troubled conscience and we have also been set free from materialism (Mark 8:36) that makes money, and what it can buy, be our God.

So as Christians we have much freedom but for what?  Freedom – not “from,” but “for.”  Christ has set us free to be His people.  To abide in Him.  To continue in His Word.  We’ve been set free to love and serve God and our neighbor.  We’ve been freed to represent God as His ambassadors.  And we’ve been freed to generously share what God has blessed us with – looking not only to our own interest, but looking unselfishly for the interest of others (Philippians 2:4).

This November is a busy month!  We will conclude our study of the Book of James, which has taught us much about being mature disciples of Jesus, and then turn our thoughts toward the celebration of Advent and Christmas with all of its wonder and beauty!  We may even look further toward the coming year and be filled with anticipation and hope.  Whatever we do this November, let us take some time to reflect on all that God has blessed us with, and recognize that without Him we would have no good thing.  May that reflection prompt us to put all of our longings and desires into perspective and humbly and prayerfully consider how God would call us to partner with Him in reaching our community for Christ!  What exciting and significant work, the Lord allows us to join Him in doing.

Joining Jesus in our Community … with you,

Pastor Augie

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