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LOVE IS … the Better Way

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1 Corinthians 13 is often referred to as the “love chapter.” You hear it a lot at weddings. But weddings aren’t where it was originally aimed. It was aimed at the church in Corinth – a church that was loaded with problems.

Corinth was like Las Vegas on steroids. Not only was sexual immorality rampant, but along with that came every other form of evil behavior. You might ask, “why did the Apostle Paul write such a beautiful message of love to a place like that?” But Paul saw it the other way around.  He felt that a community stuck in sin was the perfect place for a message about the power of God’s transforming love.

In fact, that’s how it is with God’s Love – the deeper the sin, the more powerful God’s grace!  Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans:

“… But where sin increased, grace increased all the more.” – Romans 5:20

And so the Apostle set out in his letter to the Corinthians to talk about God’s answer to their sin.  He spent the first 12 chapters of that letter to them talking about the problems that faced them.  Then in chapter 13 it’s as if he took a cleansing breath and said, “can we all agree that your way is not working? … let me show you a better way.”  And LOVE is … that better way.

Then he goes on to show that all of the ways that the Corinthians (and we) measure success, achievement or happiness, are actually nothing without love.

  1. You cannot measure the value of your words by the impressiveness of your speech.

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” – 1 Corinthians 13:1

  1. You cannot measure your spiritual maturity by the extent of your gifts.

“If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” – 1 Corinthians 13:2

  1. You cannot measure the size of your reward by the depth of your sacrifice.

“If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” – 1 Corinthians 13:3

Paul is echoing the upside-down Kingdom that Jesus had ushered in.  In Christ’s Kingdom, the main currency isn’t speech, power, knowledge or money.  It’s Love.  It’s possible to speak in a way that just puffs up self.  It’s possible to have knowledge about the inner workings of science – even knowledge about heaven and earth, but to use that knowledge in a way that serves our own power and position.   And it’s even possible to give, and give generously, in a way that is more about our own gain than it is about loving the ones that we are serving.   But Paul teaches that in Christ’s Kingdom, love of neighbor and love of God is the better way.  It may utilize all of God’s gifts of speech, knowledge, faith, generosity and personal surrender … but it must never be about those things in and of themselves; it must be about Love.

Love, after all, is what drove God to send His Son into the world, and what drove that Son to the cross to die for us, isn’t it?  (see John 3:16.) Clearly Jesus used words, knowledge, faith, generosity and personal surrender in His ministry … but He did them all with love … with perfect Love.   And He calls us, as His disciples, to Love like He does.

The world is desperately in need of more Love, isn’t it?  Chances are you could use a little more Love in your life too, right?  So, we are spending the next several weeks learning about the “Better Way” of Love that Jesus wants for us.  I look forward to digging into this wonderful image of Christ’s Love with you.

In Christ’s Love,

Pastor Augie.

Spiritual Battles …

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We love superheroes don’t we?  I recently dressed up as “Pastor America” and visited the little kids at our school.  They were duly impressed.

It’s interesting that the world so readily latches onto the idea of someone stronger, faster, and more powerful than us who can step in battle the evil villain.  Whether it’s Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Marvel or whatever… we seem to be insatiable when it comes to dreaming about this battle of good vs. evil – and in particular, the power of good to rescue us from the power of evil.  Where’s that come from?  It’s actually rooted in Truth. In History. In Reality.  In the Bible.  Spielberg, Lucas and the others get this idea from the Bible, whether they realize it or not.

The Apostle Paul warns the Christians at Ephesus, and us.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. – Ephesians 6:12

In other words, we are in a spiritual battle – whether we like it or not. The challenge for us is that we often dismiss the spiritual realm altogether.  We buy into the greatest trick of the devil as he attempts to convince us that he does not exist.  And if we do believe in a spiritual realm, often we just don’t know what to make of the demonic side of that spiritual realm.  We don’t want to overemphasize the activity of demons and spiritual forces of evil, such that we blame “the devil” for the fact that our bank balance is low, for example.  But we can’t dismiss the fact that the devil and his demons are real and are active causing trouble in our lives – especially because we are believers in Christ. (See: 1 Peter 5:8)

The Bible gives us so many warnings about how the enemy:

  1. tempts us to sin,
  2. distracts us from God’s will,
  3. and inflicts suffering.

Speaking to the young pastor Timothy, the Apostle Paul warns that some of the people in his church had fallen into the “trap of the devil” and that he had “taken them captive to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:26).  This doesn’t mean that the devil possessed those believers, but that he had set traps for them, and they walked into those traps, unwittingly doing the will of the devil.

An interesting thing about our sin is that God uses our sin to get us to repent and turn to Him.  He desires to restore our relationship with Him as He forgives our sin.  The devil, on the other hand, uses our sin to cause us to distance ourselves from God in shame, and even turn away from belief in God, turning to false religions.  Paul told Timothy The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. – 1 Tim. 4:1.

Finally, while I believe the devil cannot possess Christians who have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, through faith and baptism (see: Acts 2:38-39, 1 Corinthians 6:19), I do believe that he can harass and oppress Christians, and that he readily does.  Scripture is full of stories showing the activity of the forces of evil against believers and unbelievers alike.  (See Matthew 17:15-18).

But what we always see in Scripture is that God is more powerful than the devil.  Jesus is always able to cast out the evil spirits (Matthew 17:18).  They must always obey Him!  In fact, they recognized Jesus and His authority over them before even Jesus’ own disciples did! (see Mark 1:24).

The demons are well aware of the power of the Son of God over them.  The question is are you?  Do you realize how powerful the Name of Jesus is over any power of the devil or darkness?  Do you realize the miraculous authority over darkness that you possess as a follower of Jesus who bears His Name?

When people at our church are baptized, we give them a candle lighted from the flame of the candles on the altar.  We tell them that this light symbolizes the Light of Christ that has come into the world … and the Light that they now carry into the world as a follower of Jesus.  What I don’t think we often realize is just how powerful that Light is over the darkness.

Friends, if you and I are in a spiritual battle – that cannot be fought with flesh and blood.  Then the only way we can “take our stand against the devil” (Ephesians 6:10-18), is to call upon the Name and the power of Jesus.  This is the authority that is given to us, and which we take up when we put on the Armor of God.

Imagine a frail elderly person who has been commissioned as a crossing guard at an elementary school.  They do not possess the power within themselves to stop a moving car or truck. (Nor does any mere mortal, for that matter.) But the stop-sign that they have been given in their role as crossing guard gives them the authority to stop those moving vehicles.  They simply hold up the stop-sign, and the operators of the vehicle recognize their authority and stop.

It’s the same with demons and the devil.  When you and I call upon the Name and the authority of Jesus, the powers of darkness must obey! 

What spiritual battles are you facing right now?  Don’t be surprised if that relationship struggle, or that challenge at work really has an invisible spiritual battle being waged underneath – a battle for your inner peace and joy, if not for your very faith.  Don’t let the enemy trick you into trying to win that battle in your flesh.  Do what you can in the earthly realm, for sure.  But turn over the spiritual battle to Jesus and His angels to fight in the spiritual realm on your behalf.

In the Name of Jesus,

Pastor Augie.

If you’d like to hear my recent sermon on “Miracles of Deliverance,” click here.

No Word From God Will Ever Fail!

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Six times in Scripture God did wondrous things through the wombs of unlikely women. In His mercy, He brought forth sons, born to women who had given up hope of ever having children:

  1. Isaac born to Sarah and Abraham (Gen. 11:30; 21:1-2).
  2. Jacob born to Rebekah and Isaac (Gen. 25:21).
  3. Joseph born to Rachel and Jacob (Gen. 29:31; 30:22).
  4. Samson born to the wife of Manoah (Judg. 13:1-3).
  5. Samuel born to Hannah and Elkanah (1 Sam. 1:5-6, 20).
  6. John born to Elizabeth and Zechariah the priest (Luke 1:5-25, 57) cf: Our God Remembers – Zechariah’s Hope.

Barrenness meant sadness, shame, and even ridicule for women in Bible times. Childlessness was even considered to be a curse. Yet in His mercy, the Lord did the seemingly impossible through these barren women. He opened their wombs and brought forth sons who were significant in the story of Israel. This is a reminder that there’s hope for you even when things seem impossible!

And God did something even more amazing, not through the womb of a barren woman, but through the blessed womb of a virgin, named Mary.  This would be even more miraculous than a birth to a barren womb, as this conception did not involve an earthly father, but would involve the power of the Holy Spirit.

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” – Luke 1:35

God speaks His Word through the angel Gabriel, and Mary conceives an even greater Son.  What Child is This? the Christmas carol asks.  The answer is: this Child is The Greatest Son, not only in the history of Israel, but in the history of mankind!  Mary herself was amazed at the possibility of this occurrence, to which the angel responded with some of the most profound words in Scripture:

“For no word from God will ever fail.” – Luke 1:37

Wow, how true.  Then Mary’s response forever changed history as she humbly surrendered to God’s will saying …

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. – Luke 1:38

God had sent His people “redeemers” in the form of kings and judges throughout Israel’s history.  But as with all things earthly, their redemption was limited, and eventually faded.  But they did serve an important function at a critical time in history.  And, perhaps more importantly, they served the function of pointing to Jesus.  Theologians refer to this as “typology.”  In its most basic sense, this means that something in the Old Testament prefigured something that Jesus Christ would more completely and more thoroughly fulfill in the New Testament.  (For some examples of “types of Christ” in the Old Testament, see this BibleStudyTools.com article.)

One wonderful example of an Old Testament type of Christ is the judge Samson.  Samson was born to a mother who, being barren, should not have borne a child … just as Mary, being a Virgin, should not have borne a child.  And yet, by God’s mercy, Samson did some amazing things in his rescue of Israel! Similarly Christ did some amazing things in His rescue of God’s people.  Christ’s mighty acts, however, were not ones in which He displayed His power, but in which He withheld His power, in order to accomplish His Father’s greater will.  Here are some ways in which Christ did an even greater job of rescue than Samson, demonstrating His strength through sacrifice, rather than through might:

  • Where’s Samson ripped apart a lion, Jesus had the strength to rip apart Satan. But for our salvation, He allowed Satan to rip Him apart and pierce Him through on the cross, suffering God’s judgment in our place.
  • Whereas Samson used the jawbone of a donkey to kill the faithless Philistines, Christ had the strength to wipe out the countless people who scorned Him and rebelled against God – even calling down legions of angels if He desired; but instead, He allowed himself to be crucified by a makeshift cross, bearing all of humanity’s sin and dying for those who sinned against Him.
  • And whereas Samson was blindfolded, beaten and mocked, in his last act he demonstrated his strength stretching his arms out to bring down the ceiling on Israel’s enemies … He pointed to Christ, who also was beaten and mocked, but in His final act, He withheld His strength as He stretched out His arms on the cross! Nonetheless in that act, He did crush our enemies of sin, death and the devil and finished the work of our salvation.
  • And whereas Samson put the gates of the city on his back and brought them to the top of the hill, Christ put all of our rebellion and sin onto His back and took it up the hill of Calvary to atone for it.
  • But where we really see that Christ is the greater rescuer, is that after his work of rescue, Samson died. Christ, however, did not stay dead. He rose triumphantly over our sin and death on the third day. Christ is The Greater Rescuer indeed.

The comparison of Christ with Samson is particularly important when you consider that God chose to rescue His people, Israel, not through an army, and not through sophisticated weapons of war, but through the mighty acts of one man – Samson.  How similarly wonderful, and yet more remarkable, is how God chose to rescue His people of every nation, tribe and tongue throughout all the world and over every age, through the mighty acts of one man – His Son.

All of this was to fulfill the Word of God, as the Angel Gabriel said when he came to Mary, “For no word from God will ever fail.” – Luke 1:37

May you find strength and hope in knowing that even the impossible is possible with God.  He rescued His people, Israel, and He rescued you in Christ!  May your faith be strengthened, knowing NO WORD FROM GOD WILL EVER FAIL!

Trusting in God’s faithfulness,

Pastor Augie.

Our God Remembers – Zechariah’s Hope

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Often the names of characters in the Bible have a specific meaning, perhaps relevant to something in their lives.  Zechariah the priest, father of John the Baptist, is no exception.  Zechariah’s name means: “God Remembers.”  We see God “remembering” in two ways in Zechariah’s life.

First, God is remembering Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth who remain childless at what the Bible describes as a “very old” age (Luke 1:7), by giving them a son. The angel Gabriel meets Zechariah in an area of the Temple reserved for priests, and gives him a message:

But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.” – Luke 1:13

Secondly, we see God remembering His promise to His people to send them a Savior.  Zechariah knows his son John is being called to be the forerunner of Christ and to point people to Him as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  So as soon as John is born, Zechariah proclaims a long “song” of praise extolling the faithfulness of God in remembering His people and fulfilling His promises.  This section of Scripture in Luke 1:68-79, is known as Zechariah’s Song and is sometimes used in the traditional liturgical service of Matins as the Benedictus.  Here’s a short excerpt where we see Zechariah proclaim how God has remembered His people:

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them. … and to remember his holy covenant” – Luke 1:68, 72

What’s interesting to note is what transpired between Luke 1:13 and Luke 1:68.  You see, when the angel told Zechariah that his wife Elizabeth was going to have a son, Zechariah responded in disbelief:

Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” – Luke 1:18

For someone whose name means “God remembers,” he seems surprised, doesn’t he?  Has he forgotten how God brought children into the lives of the barren wives of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?  God may have a long memory, but Zechariah’s seems short.

The truth is, we worship a God that always remembers.  More than that, when He remembers, He acts!  That’s important, right?  If I just remember our wedding anniversary, but do nothing about it, my wife doesn’t really consider that remembering.  And just as I would be insulted if my wife were surprised that I remembered our anniversary, God is not pleased when we act surprised at his faithfulness.

So the angel Gabriel takes away Zechariah’s ability to speak until John is born. But when John is born, Zechariah makes up for lost time, and uses his first mouthful of words to proclaim a beautiful song of praise!

Shouldn’t that be our response to our faithful God who not only remembers, but acts in faithfulness to His promises?  Rather than be surprised at God’s goodness, we should be anticipating it with a confident hope!  We should reflect our expectation of God’s faithful action in our prayers, in our words to others, and even in our own actions!  That’s why the Apostle Paul encourages the Christians at Rome, and us:

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” – Romans 15:13

Zechariah, once he’s able to speak, clearly expresses this confident hope in God’s faithfulness through the Holy Child who will be born to Mary.  May we do the same this Advent season, and always.

Trusting in God’s faithfulness,

Pastor Augie.

Responding to Conflict

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It’s amazing how the book of Genesis, written so long ago, shows us so much about God, but it also shows us so much about ourselves as well.  In just the first couple dozen chapters we see stories of rebellion, anger, deception and wickedness on the part of people, but we also see our God respond with intervention, provision, promise and love.  Not much has changed.  We are the same people behaving in the same sinful and rebellious ways and God is the same God responding with mercy and love.

So when we read the account of Isaac’s sons Jacob & Esau in Genesis 25, we see conflict.  It’s nothing new.  In fact, it’s ancient.  But it still rings true.  Just in this week’s news we saw a tragic shooting in Pittsburgh that took the lives of 11 Jewish citizens in what should have been the safety of their house of worship.  Yet sadly, this sort of news has become the norm.  Clearly as a people, we still need to learn about our human propensity toward conflict.  But even more we need to learn God’s direction in light of it.

The brothers Jacob and Esau wrestled from the time they were in the womb:

“The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, ‘Why is this happening to me?’ So she went to inquire of the LORD.” – Genesis 25:22, NIV

The weight behind the Hebrew word here translated “jostled” is a bit stronger than that – it’s more of a struggle or fight.  You could say they were trying to “crush” each other!  And even when they exit the womb – Esau comes out first, but Jacob is seen to be grabbing onto the heel of his brother (Genesis 25:24-26).  What does this tell us?  Conflict is something that is “baked-in.”  It is part of our human nature – you can see it, with Jacob and Esau, even inside the womb.

I am sure you are no stranger to conflict.  The question is not whether conflict happens in your life, but how do you respond in the face of it?  In Sunday’s message (You can listen to it here, and download the sermon slides here), I shared ways to deal with conflict.  The key is not to let the devil gain a foothold and then use our anger against us.  We are warned in Scripture:

“… Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” – Ephesians 4:26-27

The devil doesn’t need to “possess” people who are in conflict – he simply uses that conflict to twist the truth and create bigger deceptions and misunderstandings.  Our puffed-up human pride and our equally large fear and insecurity will do the rest!

What is the answer to conflict?  There only is one that is effective – Love.  Any true resolution to conflict is going to be born out of two parties acting in love – and that’s usually the result of one party acting in love first.

I shared a video clip during Sunday’s sermon that showed the power of a hug, in response to an act of terrorism and aggression following the 2013 bombing at the Boston Marathon.  Notice the smiles in the video.  It’s contagious, isn’t it?  But notice something else very important about a hug … an embrace takes two.  For two people to resolve conflict, both parties must respond in love.

And that’s what our Lord wants for us!  He has made the first move.  He has opened his arms to us in love, as Jesus died for us on the cross (Romans 5:8).  In that act He ended the conflict that existed between God and humanity!  And in so doing He extended an open and willing embrace for all who would receive it.

How will you respond to Christ’s love, ending the conflict between you and God?  There’s a bad response, a good response, and a better response.  The bad response is what so many choose.  Even though Jesus came to earth in humility, (Just as Jacob finally came before Esau in Genesis 33:3-4) suffered and died to end the conflict between mankind and God, so many people still choose to remain enemies of God. They refuse to end the feud, even though the battle is over.  Clearly, that is not the right choice.  A better response is to do what Martin Luther discovered in the season of his life that would lead to the Reformation – surrender to God.  Luther finally realized that he was no longer an outcast trying to earn God’s love, or an enemy needing to cower in fear.  The answer for him and us is simply to receive God’s grace.  That’s a good response.

But an even better response to Christ’s love is to show it to others!  So often, I think that we readily receive God’s humble gift of forgiveness to us …  but then we fail to share that forgiveness with others!  I don’t mean that we don’t tell them about Christ’s forgiveness.  Sometimes we do that, but then we still fail to forgive that person ourselves!

Jesus warns against this kind of action in Matthew 18:21-35. He tells a parable of a man who is forgiven an extremely large debt, but then immediately after that won’t forgive someone who owes him a mere pittance by comparison.  What I see too often in myself and in others is that we readily receive the grace and mercy of God…  we even tell others of His great mercy…  but then we fail to show mercy to others, choosing to keep the conflict alive.

May this not be so with us.  May we not only be recipients of God’s grace, but purveyors of that grace to others!

In the grace of God,

Pastor Augie.

Ministry Reimagined – Part 2

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Before my sabbatical began I wrote an article explaining more about what a sabbatical is, and how I intended to spend the time I was away.  To give focus to this time of renewal I gave it the theme of “ministry reimagined.”  I explained that this meant I wanted to look at how our current patterns of ministry may not be serving the outcomes that we intend, nor the purposes for which God has gathered us together and sent us out.  And then following that prayerfully seek and discover new or modified (reimagined) ways of doing ministry that would be more fruitful.

In this article I hope to share some of what I have been discerning, understanding that all of life and ministry is a work in progress.  “God’s not done with us yet” … as the common expression goes.  This just means that we always need to keep open hearts and agile spirits that are willing to be redirected along God’s paths as we move throughout life.  In fact, we need to do this anyway because life and the world are always changing around us.  We may be doing nothing wrong, but God needs us to do a new thing simply because that is what’s needed now.  We all know that culture has moved in so many ways.  Along with this, we need to recognize that how people experience the unchanging Truth of God’s Word, and the Love of His Son Jesus changes too.  Notice – the Truth doesn’t change.  God doesn’t change.  Jesus doesn’t change.  But the ways in which people encounter and experience them do.

Since life and ministry is rarely black and white but more of a spectrum, consider this list not as either/or but more of one and less of the other.  These concepts and more will begin to unfold in our new “Leadership Pipeline.”

As our ministry is reimagined, this becomes our culture:

  1. fewer meetings, more accountability. Often we hide behind the fact that we “had a meeting to discuss.”  Not only does this consume valuable time and energy, but it limits what we can do by tying it to the meeting schedule.  Better is to use fewer meetings to establish more effective goals, and then better accountability for the completion of those goals.
  2. less ambiguity, more clarity. Lack of clarity leads to confusion.  Confusion leads to frustration – which leads to ineffectiveness.  Whether it is regarding goals, or the authority and resources to accomplish those goals, we need to capture our plans and communicate them with clarity.
  3. less hierarchy, more teams.  The more layers of complexity that an organization has the harder it is to get things done because decisions are always getting pushed up the food chain.  Rather than filling seats on boards and committees, we will focus on smaller functional teams.
  4. less excuses, more “Genesis goals.” It’s a downward spiral.  Fewer hands means less gets done. We then shrink our goals to what we believe our limited resources can accomplish.  Small goals don’t inspire, so we end up with even fewer hands and then even smaller goals.  To break this cycle, we must set compelling goals that will stretch us and require all hands on-deck!  (Genesis goal: God created the universe in 6 days. We can do much more in a week with God’s help than we usually attempt.)
  5. less busywork and more discipleship. The teacher enters the room, and unexpecting students do what? Look busy!  God didn’t give us the Great Commission to “go and be busy,” but to “go and make disciples.”  We need to get laser focused on making disciples by creating intentional steps for everyone to grow spiritually.
  6. less ritual and more discipline.  Many of the rites and rituals that we practice were birthed out of basic spiritual disciplines such as prayer, study of the Word, self-examination (which leads to repentance),  fasting, service and gratitude. But we are in danger of keeping the forms and losing the substance.  The challenge for us is to re-train our hearts to the purposes for which we have rituals in the first place.
  7. less focus on externals, more focus on creating culture.  Have you been in a restaurant with ornate decorations, but lousy service?  That’s an example of focusing on the externals but failing on the culture.  We need to first create a culture of disciple making and spiritual care – then the externals can follow.  Culture is usually not written down, but it ebbs and flows through every little thing we do.  People sense culture immediately even if you never talk about it.
  8. Less information, more transformation. Have you heard of this thing called the internet?  People have access to more information than ever before.  And they have it instantly at their fingertips, any hour of the day or night.  What people are hungry for is not more information, but life transformation.  Therefore we need to discover ways of helping people put God’s Word into action in their life.  This begins with Sunday morning first, and then builds off that.
  9. less surface, more connection.  “How are you?” “Good.” That’s surface.  We must do better to truly connect to the wonderful people that we are passing by – starting right in our church first.
  10. less isolation, more inclusion.  It’s obvious, but you won’t connect with others if you stay in your safe shell.  People today are lonely and isolated more than ever before.  Our phones and our fancy cars and homes all contribute to this isolation.  Church is to be a place that’s different.  We need to call people out of their hiding into our welcome embrace.
  11. less hiding, more outreach.  Interestingly, as a church, we hide well too.  We put on some great programs and events, but who knows about them?  Do we even really want them to come?  We need to come out of our shell and seek to widen our circle of influence and connection.
  12. less “causes” and more community.  When we do reach out, often it is because we want bodies or helpers for our cause.  We bang the gong and say, “come join us!” But we aren’t really interested in relationships with those people, but increased numbers in our army.  I am using harsh terms, so you can clearly see the difference between the two.
  13. less obscurity, more identity.  I wonder if we don’t hide, because we don’t know who we are and what we’re about.  Can we express our identity in simple words so that we can communicate it to others?
  14. less peddling, more providing. Often we decide what we think the community, our neighbors, even our members will want.  Then we “peddle” that product on people – trying to sell them on what we’ve decided they need.  Better is to be in dialog with them to listen and understand what they need, and then lovingly and graciously provide that.  In the latter case, no “peddling” required.
  15. less worldly, more Kingdom.  Kingdom wins often don’t look like much to the world – and vice versa.  This is a simple reminder to us of who we are trying to please.  God smiles when lost sinners turn to Him.  But He also smiles when saved sinners are faithful in their marriages, generous in their tithes and offerings and humble in their service.
  16. less flesh, more Spirit.  To do these things, we cannot simply “try harder.”  Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain – Psalm 127:1.  We must start from the inside out – transformed by God’s Holy Spirit that dwells in us through faith and baptism.  As we walk with Jesus each day, we offer ourselves as His hands and feet; allowing Him to guide, direct and work through us.
  17. less talk/analysis, more action.  Two popular books by local Christian authors have these simple titles “Love Does” and “Do something.”  Get the message?  Jesus taught us that Love cannot sit idly by.  You and I cannot be satisfied to talk about what we ought to do, but seek rather to allow Christ’s Love to shine through us.  We are going to heaven, that’s settled.  But until God calls us home, He wants us to be bearers of His Love and Light.
  18. less lukewarm, more passion.  There’s a reason that the book of Revelation warns against lukewarmness.  The opposite of which is passion.  Christ’s suffering and death has been called His “Passion.” Lukewarm won’t lead one to sacrifice and die for the sake of another. Passion will.  As Christ followers, we are passionate about what He is passionate about.
  19. fewer people in Hell, more in Heaven. Jesus told us what He was passionate about.  He came to find lost sinners (Luke 19:10).  He longed to gather them as a mother hen gathers her chicks (Matt 23:37). We must recognize that judgment day is coming.  People will live forever – it’s just a question of where.  May there be more souls in heaven on the Last Day because of what we do today.

What do you think, is that ministry reimagined?  I hope it gives you a handle of the work I believe that we have in front of us to become the kind of church God desires us to be.  And I pray that it encourages you to be a part of shaping the future of our ministry together.  I am excited to begin working with you as we further explore and flesh out these concepts.  There’s much work to be done. But thankfully, God hasn’t called any of us to do it alone.  He has gathered us together in a community of brothers and sisters with Christ as the head of our family and the bonds of the Holy Spirit uniting us together in one mystical union – the Body of Christ.  May we be transformed by Him and faithfully carry out His work until He calls us home.

Amen!  May it be so, for Jesus’ sake,

Pastor Augie

Ministry Reimagined

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It got here quickly – my ministry sabbatical.  The elders approved a sabbatical for me, back in February of 2017.  However, given a number of critical ministry concerns including a significant staff reduction as well as the strategic Mission Advancement and Implementation process that we began in late 2016, that sabbatical was postponed until July-August 2018.  And now it’s almost here! But what is a sabbatical and what does it mean for our ministry at Redeemer?  This article will try to address that.

What is a Sabbatical?

“A ministry sabbatical as a period of time, usually three months, when ministry leaders and congregations set aside the leader’s normal responsibilities for the purpose of rest and renewal toward sustained excellence in ministry.  A ministry sabbatical is not an extended vacation nor is it an academic sabbatical that normally involves extensive study. A ministry sabbatical is a release from the routine of the call for the physical, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual well-being of the ministry leader.  The word sabbatical is drawn from Sabbath. The Hebrew word for Sabbath means to “close or rest” and is connected with the last day of Creation when God rested. (Genesis 2:3) God both models and commands Sabbath rest for his people. “Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy.” (Exodus 20:8-11)  Jesus affirmed the importance of rest saying, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27-28) The Biblical example of Jesus’ own frequent withdrawal to a quiet place to meditate, pray and be renewed is a model. In His ministry, the constant demands of people led Jesus to step away on a regular basis.  See also: Genesis 1 and 2; Exodus 20:8-11, 23:10-12; Leviticus 25:1-7 (Sabbatical Year), 24:8-25 (Year of Jubilee); Psalm 23; and Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.” – From the website: https://ministrysabbaticalresources.com/

As I mentioned in a recent sermon, a number of people have told me that I have “earned it” or “deserve it.”  I know that the thought and sentiment is good, but my typical response in to say, “thank you very much.  But the truth is, I *need* it.”  I am truly grateful that the congregation is affording me the blessing and gift of this time away, but the reason that our synod and districts recommend regular and intentional sabbaticals for their pastors is because what has been observed is that the regular and sustained demands and pace of ongoing ministry have a cumulative effect[i].  After periods of four to seven years, there is a very real need for a season of rest, recovery, and renewal in order to maintain the energy, focus and emotional and spiritual health that are necessary to lead a congregation – especially in these challenging times.

Sharpening the Saw

In the well-known, and often referenced, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the last of the seven habits is often overlooked, but can become the most impactful if neglected – “Sharpen the Saw.”  Just like a carpenter or lumberjack must work harder and harder when their tools get dull, so must ministry leaders.  At those times, it takes determination and intentional effort to stop work, halt the production line, and tend to the care of the tools.  However, it is far better to stop working with dull tools for a moment and return refreshed and retooled, than to continue forging ahead with ineffective tools.  Otherwise what ends up happening is that eventually the work will grind to a halt as the tool becomes completely dull or broken altogether.  The analogy is clear.

What Happens During the Sabbatical?

People have asked me, “where are you going on your sabbatical?”  The short answer is that I don’t completely know the physical or geographical locations that I will be going during this time away.  But the location is not as important as what will occur during the sabbatical.  Sabbaticals can be taken in different ways for different purposes.  Some professionals take sabbaticals to complete a writing project or some creative work that just can’t get the attention it needs in the midst of the day-to-day.  Others take sabbaticals to gain new experiences through travel or exploration.  Others take sabbaticals to dive deeper into learning a particular topic or subject matter.  And some take sabbaticals for rest and renewal.  The latter is the purpose of my sabbatical.  I intend to use the time to simply draw near to God and rest in Him – enjoying His Word, His creation and His blessings of family and good health.   I also intend to use the time to discover old and new spiritual disciplines as well as establish new and fresh patterns of balance between work and life; you could say, “Ministry Reimagined.”

What Does this Mean for Redeemer?

“Ministry Reimagined” is my theme for this Sabbatical.  And I am applying that to our congregation as well.  It’s not uncommon for pastor and congregation to follow similar trajectories.  I believe that Redeemer also finds itself in a season of needing refreshing and renewal.  And I believe that our congregation can benefit from using this Summer as a chance to receive from, be nurtured by and be refreshed by God.  But even moreso, I believe that both pastor and congregation will benefit from using this as an opportunity to “reimagine” the ministry that God has called us to in this place.

Just as I find myself in a season of being stretched too thin and regularly engaged in a flurry of activity, that while good, doesn’t seem to be accomplishing those things that God ultimately desires for His people … so too does Redeemer find itself in a similar season, wouldn’t you agree?  It is likely that we find ourselves in this place because of how we’ve “imagined” God desires us to accomplish His will in this place.  It’s possible that we’ve placed our effort, our attention and our resources on doing the urgent rather than the important.  It’s possible that we’ve actually been working out of our own strength, will-power, knowledge and abilities (the flesh), rather than relying on God, seeking Him and walking with Him in the Spirit. What both pastor and congregation need to do is to reimagine how God wants us to do ministry together, with Him.

Ministry Reimagined

This is in fact what the Mission Advancement and Mission Implementation Teams been working on – setting up a construct for us doing ministry together in productive Spirit-filled ways that align with the ministry calling that God has given us.  In other words, not just “doing ministry” but intentionally focusing our efforts on being the people that God has called us to be and doing what He has called us to do.  To do this we need clarity on who we are at Redeemer, what we are doing in our ministry together, how we are doing it, and most importantly why we are doing it.  That’s ministry reimagined.

I am excited to begin sharing with you what God has been laying on my heart, and how He is directing the leadership of our church when I return in September.   Also at that time, we will begin a bi-weekly time of gathering, growth and shared “imagining” of what our ministry is all about.  These meetings are open to anyone, but ultimately are for those who want to be used by God in ministry at Redeemer.  Together we will allow God to melt us, mold us, and reshape us to better reflect His image in this place.  That’s ministry reimagined.

Amen!  May it be so, for Jesus’ sake,

Pastor Augie

[i] See Sabbatical Planning For Clergy and Congregations, Richard Bullock, Washington, DC: The Alban Institute, 1975

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