The Scandal of Grace

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Many people know that a group of lions is called a pride and a group of fish is called a school, but in visiting a Farmers Almanac post on this topic, I was surprised to learn that a group of alligators is called a congregation! I couldn’t help but laugh given my experience with congregations as a pastor.  I will forego any reference to church members as alligators, however I would like to propose that a congregation is not a group of alligators – but is in fact a group of sinners, in need of God’s grace.  That’s what the church is – sinners who are covered by God’s Amazing Grace.

I’ve wrestled all my life with the need to feel self-sufficient. It seems that I always want to try to “earn points” with God. But, grace is a continual reminder that we are not and never will be self-sufficient. Instead, we are and always will be Christ-sufficient.  Christ has done it all!

Grace continually reminds us that we are not self-sufficient; We are Christ-sufficient.

This is what the apostle Paul found to be true as he captured the Lord speaking

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” – 2  Corinthians 12:9

Our culture prizes that which is strong.  But in God’s economy, weakness is a form of strength. This is the scandal of grace. Martin Luther, one of the fathers of the Reformation, said it this way:

“This is the mystery of the riches of divine grace for sinners; for by a wonderful exchange our sins are now not ours but Christ’s, and Christ’s righteousness is not Christ’s but ours.” – Martin Luther

It’s a scandal that God would allow His Son – His perfect and holy Son – to take on our sin so that we could become righteous before him.  This is captured so well in this verse of scripture

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. – 2 Corinthians 5:21

The problem with grace is that it doesn’t allow the Pharisees of Christ’s day, the church leaders in Martin Luther’s day, or the self-righteous critics of our day,  to pride themselves in their work. How can they (or we) rank ourselves higher than others if God just gives out righteousness freely?

Jesus dealt with this sentiment in His parable of the vineyard workers in Matthew chapter 20.  This parable is all about God’s grace. We learn from observing the vineyard owner in this parable that

1. God is the initiator of grace.

The workers didn’t go knocking on doors – they were simply waiting to be hired. It was the landowner that went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard” – Matthew 20:1

When we’re honest with ourselves we must recognize that God’s grace works this same way in our life. His grace always comes to us. We don’t go looking for God. He finds us. Even when we’re still sinning God is gracious to us. This kind of grace is scandalous. It really is backwards from the way the world works. In the world, if you want something good you have to make it happen. In God’s Kingdom, however, good things are simply a gracious gift that God gives. Always.

2. God’s grace is relentless.

We read further in this parable that the landowner not only goes out first thing in the morning but he goes out again at 9am, noon, 3pm and even 5 in the afternoon! Was the landowner just trying to make sure he got every last grape out of his vineyard? Or, is it perhaps that he was more concerned about the laborers than his grapes?  From his treatment of the latest group of workers, I’d say it’s the latter. 

If you have family members, loved ones or friends who do not yet know the grace of God, know this: God is relentlessly pursuing after them. Even if it’s 5:00 o’clock (or the “11th hour”), God will not give up on them.  Just as the landowner hired those laborers who had been looked over and not chosen, God will not stop reaching out to those who need Him – no matter how marginalized and even rejected they’ve been. His grace is relentless.

3. God’s grace is a generous promise.

As we continue to read in the parable, we realize that it was only the very first set of workers that had a contractual agreement with the landowner. They would work a day and receive a denarius (an acceptable day’s wage). All the workers who came after that, however, the landowner only agreed to pay them what was right. This illustrates to us that there are two different ways of interacting with God; either on a contractual/transactional basis (we work and God pays), or in a relationship of trust and grace. For those vineyard workers who simply trusted the landowner, they received generosity beyond their expectation!  However, for those workers who saw the relationship with the landowner as contractual, the landowner gave them just what they agreed to, and no more.

I think each of us has the opportunity of choosing to see our relationship with God in one of two ways. Either we are in a transactional relationship with God by which we effectively “bind” His hand (in other words we think that God is obligated to compensate us for what we’ve done); or we are in a relationship of faith and trust with God in which case He surprises us by His generous grace.  I believe that in this parable, Jesus is encouraging us toward the latter.

Transformed by Grace

So how do we respond to this grace, once we recognize that God has given us what the apostle John refers to as “grace upon grace”?

 John 1:16 “For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”

Grace changes the way we see the world, doesn’t it?  It transforms us!  As transformed Christians we now celebrate when God is gracious to others instead of being envious of them. We are more willing to extend others grace when we ourselves are wronged. But mostly, we are moved to tell the world of the good news of God’s grace. The apostle Paul was so changed by his encounter with God’s grace that as he was nearing the end of his ministry he said this:

However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace. – Acts 20:24

This is the marching orders of the church – that you and I would finish the race testifying to the good news of God’s grace! Who is God calling you to be gracious to? Who is God calling you to introduce to the amazing grace of God?  May it be so, for our good and for God’s glory. 

Prayer: Father in heaven we thank you that you are gracious to us even though we do not deserve it. Help us to see others the way that you see them. Cause us to not only tell them of your grace, but to be conduits of your love and grace as we encounter them. In your name we pray. Amen.

You can listen/view the sermon “Scandal of Grace” in which I cover this topic in more detail, HERE.

Struggling to Forgive?

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Are you struggling to forgive someone who has hurt you? If so, be reminded how Jesus taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father in Heaven …. forgive us our trespasses – as we forgive those who trespass against us.” (Matthew 6:12)

Here’s a prayer of “release” that may help you:

Our Father in Heaven –  only you understand how much I’ve been hurt by this person or these people. And I don’t want to carry this pain any longer. I don’t want to be a bitter person. But I need your grace and the power of the cross to release my hurt and to forgive those who have hurt me. Help me Lord. Help me to first receive your forgiveness. You know all of the ways that I have hurt others. I’m sorry for my sins. Jesus, thank you for dying for me. I accept your grace and forgiveness and I need it daily. Today I’m asking you to help me to forgive (especially __name(s)____________), the way that you have forgiven me. Every time I’m tempted to harbor resentment, Lord, remind me that you’ve forgiven them, and so have I. Heal my heart with your grace. in Jesus’ name. Amen.

If you’d like to delve into this more deeply, you can view my recent sermon (Sunday August, 22), “The Prayer of Release.”

I’m praying that the Lord allow you to forgive others, as He’s forgiven you!

in Him,

Pastor Augie

(sermon and prayer content based on materials from pastors.com)

Super-Teachers … NO CAPES!

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The following devotion was written for a teacher staff meeting at our school …

In a recent message on the Apostles’ Creed we were talking about the part of the Creed where we say, “I believe in the Holy Spirit (and) the holy Christian Church,” and we were looking at Acts chapter 2 where Jesus pours His Holy Spirit out on the day of Pentecost – the birthday of the New Testament Church. I pointed out that after the tongues of fire appeared, and people began speaking in languages foreign to them, the Apostle Peter stood up on the Temple steps and preached an amazing sermon. What was amazing about his sermon wasn’t just that following it 3000 people were baptized that same day … but that Peter was boldly confronting and convicting people who had called for the crucifixion of Jesus!

Who was this Peter? Just a little more than 50 days before this, Peter shrank back in fear when a young servant girl identified him as someone who was a follower of Jesus; he denied even knowing Him! And then after Jesus was crucified Peter, along with the other disciples, hid behind locked doors for fear of the Jews and the Romans. But something changed in Peter when he saw the risen Jesus – and even more so when the Holy Spirit was poured out on him at Pentecost … He was supercharged by the Holy Spirit! The Spirit enabled him to do things that he never would have done otherwise, and perhaps never could have even imagined.

And this is what God’s Spirit does for all His people. We may not have the Holy Spirit given to us as tongues of fire in the city of Jerusalem, but we are all given the Holy Spirit in our baptisms – just as the Apostle Peter said in his sermon that day:

 “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. – Acts 2:38

All believers are empowered – even supercharged – by the Holy Spirit.  I think that as teachers you not only need God’s Spirit to do the challenging and loving work that you do day in and day out. But you demonstrate His Spirit to our children and their families as you love and serve them. Now, I’m sure there are many days where you don’t feel as though you have the strength to be as patient, loving or kind as you need to be in the role that you serve but you have His Holy Spirit in you to give you that strength.  And I see the fruit of His Spirit at work in you. We are so blessed to have all of you serving at our school.

Let’s Pray: Heavenly Father, thank you that you are with us. And thank you that you pour out your Spirit on us even today. I ask that you give our teachers an extra measure of your grace. Fill them with your Holy Spirit so that they demonstrate the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control that comes only from you. Refresh them in their work and let your Holy Spirit be evident in them. In your Name we pray, Amen.

What is Epiphany?

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Today is Epiphany.  On this day (sometimes called “Three Kings Day” or “Twelfth Night” – in case you wonder where the “12 Days of Christmas” song came from) we celebrate that Jesus came to earth for all people. I share some more thoughts about this significant day in the Church calendar in this little video …

Image of Pastor Augie's YouTube Video Thumbnail

Click HERE to view it on YouTube.

Here are the Bible verses that I reference in the video …

“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

“When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.” – Matthew 2:16

May we thank the Lord that He has revealed Himself to us!

Have a blessed Epiphany, and a Happy New Year,

– Pastor Augie

“Heave It and Leave It!”

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Image of woman staring anxiously out a glass door.

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”  – 1 Peter 5:7

Can we ever get too much of this verse? I don’t think so, because I know that every time I read it, it brings me comfort. Every. Single. Time. Maybe it’s because there’s always something causing anxiety in life? And in this year of 2020 amidst the coronavirus, national political and racial struggles, and even natural disasters! … there is an unprecedented number of causes for anxiety around us all the time.

So where do you go with your anxiety? What is your outlet? The mistake that we often make is trying to placate our anxiety by some sort of distraction or medicate our anxiety by some kind of substance. But what the Apostle Peter tells us is the only true solution for our anxiety is to cast it upon the Lord.

And as I’ve mentioned before, this doesn’t mean we simply “slide” it over to Him – so that it’s within our reach where it can easily be picked back up. Because you know you will pick those anxieties back up! No, casting our anxiety on God means that we heave it and leave it!”

That means that worry is simply not on our heap of worries any more. It is on God’s. And no concern or worry is too big or too small for Him.  Whether it’s “Titanic” or trivial, if it is causing you to worry give it to Him!

What are you worrying about right now?  … Heave it and leave it in God’s hands!

The Lord bless and keep you,


Q&A: What does it mean, “Seek the Lord while he may be found?”

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Q: Can you please explain what Isaiah 55:6 means regarding “while he (God) may be found.” Is that related to when we die we can find him for salvation reasons?

A: As with much of Scripture, there are often different dimensions to a verse, depending on the angle or focus from which you are viewing it.

That said, I think the “plea” or “invitation” (even there you could see some variation – there’s a difference, right? Is this an impassioned, desperate plea, or simply an invitation? perhaps even a warning?) that is in view here indicates that there is a time, when someone won’t be able to find, call upon or turn to the Lord. I think that our wider understanding of Scripture and theology says that there are some times when this might occur:

  1. when a person is “lost” in sin, and cannot see their way out, or find their way to the Lord. (They’re just looking in the wrong direction and wrong places.)
  2. when a person’s heart is hardened.
  3. once our earthly life is over.
  4. when Jesus returns.

The idea is that if a person is hearing God call them now, and they are being drawn to Him, not to let that opportunity be lost. Thankfully we believe that we don’t need to find our way to God – Jesus says that He “seeks and saves” the lost. (c.f. Luke 19:10). But what this verse reminds us is that if Jesus comes to rescue you … don’t resist Him, or let Him “leave” without you.

You know the old joke – “I sent you two boats and a helicopter!” … they didn’t receive the rescue when it was to be found. That may be something like what’s in view here.



Q&A: What does “Jacob I loved, Esau I hated” mean?

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Q: How do you interpret the verse of Scripture, “Just as it is written: ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.'” – Romans 9:13

A: This  a much discussed and much contested verse of Scripture, Romans 9:13.

“Just as it is written: ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.'” – Romans 9:13, NIV

In brief, let me say that I think we make a mistake when we think of this as a personal/individual condemnation of Esau.  The context of this verse makes it most likely that Paul is talking about nations and people groups – much larger segments of society as determined by lineage.  In the previous verses he uses words like “people,” “children,” “descendants” and “offspring.”  In fact the Scripture he quotes appears to have come from Malachi 1:2-3 … but look at the larger context of that verse:

“I have loved you,” says the Lord.
“But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’
“Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his hill country into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.”
Edom may say, “Though we have been crushed, we will rebuild the ruins.”
But this is what the Lord Almighty says: “They may build, but I will demolish. They will be called the Wicked Land, a people always under the wrath of the Lord.  – Malachi 1:2-4, NIV

The prophet Malachi is talking about how the descendants of Esau (the nation of Edom,) and even their property and land, will be outside of God’s favor.  One is being used by God, the other is not.  One is God’s chosen people, the other is His enemy.

Lutheran Pastor William Cwirla, makes a great analogy when he says (emphasis mine):

“It takes two points to make a line; two examples make a theme. The second serves the first. Gospel over Law, grace over works. Jacob I loved, Esau I hated, God says. That doesn’t mean that Jacob goes to heaven and Esau goes to hell by the arbitrary sovereignty of God. This isn’t about their election but about God’s selection of who gets to carry the promised Seed of salvation forward. And God’s choice is Jacob.” (You can read his whole article HERE.)

Likewise (non-Lutheran) apologist Spencer Gear concludes, after a lengthy analysis (emphasis mine):

“We can conclude that Romans 9:13 does not refer to double-predestination of the Calvinists (some predestined to salvation and the rest predestined to damnation). Rather, it refers to two nations, Israel (Jacob) and Edom (Esau) that were chosen when the individual men were in the womb. It is not referring to God’s unconditional election of some to salvation – those whom God loved – and the remainder, whom God hated, to damnation. With Charles Spurgeon we echo the theme that it is ‘the voice of error’, an instrument of Satan, to not tell all people (sinners) that it is their duty to repent of their sins.” (You can read his full article HERE)

As we always must do, we must let Scripture interpret Scripture.  It is clear from Scripture that God is Love (1 John 4:8) – so that means He is incapable of “hate” the way we think of it.  We also know that He desires all to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4)- so we must deny that He sends some to Hell against their will.  So I’d much rather see this “hate” as a designation of nations – one in favor, one out of favor – than God indiscriminately choosing to send a person to Hell.

We pray that one day all of the things that we see “dimly” will one day be made perfectly clear to us! (1 Corinthians 13:12)

Wednesday AM Bible Study 7-22-20

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In this study we look at two of the readings for Sunday July 12, 2020: 

00:28 –  Matthew 13:44-52

20:35 –  Romans 8:28-39

Some highlighted verses:

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” – Matthew 13:44

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:38-39

May you be blessed in knowing that God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  May you believe that you are a great treasure to our Lord Jesus Christ – so much so, that He gave His life for you.  And may you be comforted in knowing that nothing can separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen!

Living Hope – An Anchor for Our Soul

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Kids in Swingset

“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

What makes you hopeful?  Is there anything more hope-filled than a brand-new baby?  Their whole life is in front of them filled with possibilities.

The Apostle Peter speaks of a hope that is born in us – actually, “new” birth.  We’ve already been born physically, but here he’s talking about a spiritual re-birth.  And he speaks of a “living” hope. It’s a hope that is active in the here and now – it’s not something that just engages at a point in the future – particularly, when you die.

This may be a new way of looking at this for you.  We often talk about our Christian hope as though it only offers hope to us for the afterlife.  It certainly does that, but that’s not all it does.

Because Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, we know we’ll be raised from the dead. This knowledge provides us with an “anchor for our soul” (Hebrews 6:19). 

Just like a swing is anchored to the top bar of the swing-set, but it can provide hours of blissful enjoyment for a child swinging on it.  So too, our hope that is anchored in the truth of eternal life, can provide for us the freedom to explore, love and serve with much more freedom and effectiveness than if we were going through life untethered to hope!

May our lives and ministry be ones that are anchored in eternal life, but joyfully branching out and reaching others with a message of hope and life!

Your fellow servant in Christ,

Pastor Augie

Restoring Enthusiasm

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In a sermon entitled “Get Your Passion Back,” I talked about how we can lose, but also regain, our spiritual passion, or enthusiasm.  I used an example that you may be able to relate to, if because of Coronavirus you’ve been forced to have meetings on Zoom or other video-conferencing platform:

… chances are you are just not as enthusiastic about those meetings as you once were.  This is understandable.

Maybe it’s like that with your faith; you can think back to times when your spiritual enthusiasm seemed greater than at other times.  What’s that all about?  To get at that, we talked about the root of the word enthusiasm.  It comes from two Greek words, “en” and “theos” meaning “in” and “God.”  In a spiritual sense at least, our enthusiasm comes from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit – God’s presence in the life of the believer.

Unfortunately the world, our flesh and the devil is always at war with the Spirit in us.  So how do we feed that Spirit in us, and regain our enthusiasm?  On Sunday we explored this by observing King David at various points in his life.  We saw that his enthusiasm for the things of God was strong at some seasons of his life and weak at others.   What we learned is that we maintain our spiritual fervor and enthusiasm best when we:

  • trust God daily
  • walk with God daily
  • worship God daily

but David allowed himself to become complacent, and he took his eyes off his calling and put them on his comfort.  This led him to sin.  But recognizing his failure, he returned to God in repentance saying:

“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me… Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” – Psalm 51:10,12 

Friends, all of this is to say that if you find yourself struggling with enthusiasm – there is hope!  Because our Lord Jesus never loses His enthusiasm for youHe is there to re-fresh, re-new, and re-store you.  Turn to Him.

You can learn more about this by viewing Sunday’s sermon HERE.

“But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.” – 1 Corinthians 15:57-58, NLT

Yours in Christ,
– Pastor Augie

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