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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.

One Foot in Front of the Other

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I was recently officiating a funeral, when one young man who had just lost his grandfather, was recounting losing his father at a very young age.  He said that he got through those tough days by simply “putting one foot in front of the other.”

Then shortly after that, one gentleman in our morning prayer group was sharing a story about his friend, a WWII veteran, who was one of only a few people to survive the Bataan Death March … How did he do it?  He said that he would look at a point on the path just a little bit farther than they were at the moment, and he would say to himself, “I can go that far.”  Then when he got there, and he would do that again – and again -and again.

That’s not entirely unlike what Nik Wallenda did back in 2012 in my hometown – Niagara Falls, NY.  Take a look at these pictures …

Walenda-1
Walenda-2
Talk about putting one foot in front of the other!

There are times and circumstances in your life, where you could become paralyzed by fear and the difficulty of the situation…  OR… you can choose to go on by putting one foot in front of the other and keep moving on faith.   Let me suggest that you do the latter.  And when you do … it’s amazing what God will bring you through… and where God will bring you to.

Walking with Jesus, day by day,

Pastor Augie

Godly Wisdom in the Worldly World

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1 Corinthians 2:14 “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.”

Do you realize that as God’s baptized people, we have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us? (Romans 8:11)  At times, I’ve had people resist and even deny this clearly Scriptural concept, and yet it is true – we are meant to be “God containers” within this world!  Humbling, isn’t it?  Sadly, I have been guilty – with more frequency than I care to admit – of ignoring the Spirit that is within me, and forging ahead with my own fleshly desires.  These may be outright sins, or they may even be “good” intentions of serving God, but they really have no basis in God’s Spirit.  Rather they are more about my own pride and fears. Ouch.  So what’s the solution?  Simple – say “no” to the wisdom and pace of the world, and spend time with God in His Word and Sacraments, where your soul, and the Spirit within you is nourished and fed.  It is only then that we can hope to bring Jesus into our family, church, community and world – not by our will, but by the Holy Spirit at work within us.

Blessed to be a blessing,

Pastor Augie

Bless This Home

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With Mother’s Day in May and Father’s Day coming up in June this is a good time to turn our thoughts toward home and family. In particular, the Christian home.

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Our new Sunday messages series is called “Bless This Home” and will be looking at what it means to be a Christian family …  not merely one who identifies Christianity as their faith (though that is important) but one who seeks to be a Christ-centered home.

May 8    – “Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness”
May 15  – “Pure in Heart”
May 22  – “Peacemakers”
May 29  – “Persecuted”

In order to consider what it means to have Christ at the center of our home, we will be looking at some of the Beatitudes. “The Beatitudes,” as they are called, begin what is known as The Sermon on the Mount – one of Jesus’ first recorded sermons (Matthew Chapters 5-7).

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“Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. … and he began to teach them.” – Matthew 5:1-2

They are a series of eight to ten blessings that describes for Jesus followers how life is different in the Kingdom of Heaven, rather than in the world. The word Beatitude itself come from a Latin word meaning “happiness.” In fact, what is often translated in our Bibles as “blessed” is really a word that could just as easily be translated as “happy.” However, in an effort to distinguish Christ-centered Joy from fleeting human happiness, the word blessed remains the preferable translation. But, we cannot deny that our search for a happy home, will only be fulfilled in the blessings and joy that come from our Father through Jesus Christ.

In week 1, “Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness,” we will consider how our families today, while surrounded with so many amenities, so much food and so many opportunities for recreation, are still hungry at their core. What are they hungry for? And how will that hunger be satisfied? We know as Christ followers that everyone is hungry for a relationship with Jesus. May our homes be a place where we hunger and thirst for that.

In week 2, “Pure in Heart,” we will talk about creating a culture of purity in our homes. Christ centered purity means having a heart that seeks with our whole heart and seeks to love our neighbor as ourselves. In so doing we not only desire not to harm our neighbor, but to lookout for their well-being. Our goal is to have our hearts and minds set on the things of God rather than the things of the world. In home, workplace and community we seek to live our lives with the highest degree of Integrity.

In week 3, “Peacemakers,” we will consider that a Christ-centered home is not one where we merely “keep the peace” but strive to make peace. That means that we often have to run toward conflict rather than run away from it. That means that we need to speak the truth in love even when it hurts. And that means that we need to give and receive forgiveness readily and completely.

And finally in week 4, “Persecuted,” we will recognize that as a Christ-centered family not only will we not be spared persecution, we can in fact expect it! Why? Because as Jesus told us, anyone that seeks to do His will, will also suffer persecution for His name.  We learn from Jesus not to run from persecution but to endure it and even embrace it.  Indeed, in that suffering we become like Christ Himself who endured the ultimate persecution for our sake and the sake of the whole world.

At Redeemer by the Sea we have been talking more and more about being a lighthouse to our community by not staying within the confines of our congregation, but rather joining Christ in His mission to seek and save the lost in our community. If we are to do that well, we will need the foundation of a strong Christian home. We will not simply be able to claim that we are Christians, we will truly need to be Christ-centered disciples – seeking Him in our daily quiet time, humbling ourselves, enduring persecution, and seeking to bring the Peace of Christ into the turmoil of our world.  In all this we are driven by a hunger and thirst for Righteousness!  This is what compels us as Christians, and what will ultimately bring us the most Joy in our lives.  What better purpose could there be?  What better source of happiness could there be, than to be blessed by God as we live out our faith in our homes, our church and in our community.

Blessed to be a blessing!

Pastor Augie

Mission? Or Mission-Like?

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But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  (Matthew 6:33)

Jesus understood the temptation of people to mistake the gift for the giver … to spend their time and energy going after the fruit, rather than seeking to be grounded in God and rooted in Christ.  As He spoke the above words during His “Sermon on the Mount,” He was redirecting His hearers to what was the right focus for their time, attention and efforts.  He understood that if they had their heart set on God and His righteousness – seeking to glorify Him, rather than self – then God would grant them the other things that they mistakenly thought were the main thing.

I believe that the same redirection is valuable for the Church.  Congregations can become so focused on achieving things that represent the fruit of a healthy ministry, but miss what it is that actually creates that fruit in a church.  It is true that a healthy church grows in attendance and giving – but focusing efforts on attendance and giving is not what increases those things. Rather, a church that has a heart set on God’s Kingdom and His righteousness is one that in fact God is pleased to grant growth and resources to.  It’s all about what you’re aiming at.

And so in 2016, Redeemer has determined to be a “church family joining Christ in our community.”  This is a noble vision, and will certainly require us to be on mission in our neighborhoods.  It is good for a congregation to desire to join Jesus on His mission.  However, there is a danger; we can become content with doing things that are “mission-like” without actually being “missional.” I would like to share with you three questions that I recently came across[i]. They are great questions for us to ask of our activities as a congregation and as an individual. These are questions that distinguish being authentically missional from being mission-like.

  1. Is the center on God or on the church? We can often ask questions and engage in actions that are church-centered, rather than God-centered. For example, the questions are “institution” focused and have more to do with what the church is doing rather than what God is doing.  This may seem like semantics, but it is more than that.  We run the risk of just being “mission-like” if we are thinking more about the church and what the church is doing for others.  We end up having the “shape” of mission rather than actually doing Christ’s mission.  To be truly missional, we should be focusing on God and what God is doing in the world around us.  When we encounter people are we trying to get them to look at US (or our church) or to look to God for their deepest needs?
  2. Is the focus on activities or identity? If our focus is church-centered we will see our attention and discussion being about programs, events, trips and other activities on the church calendar – they are things that we can do with the good intention of mission … but end up only being mission-like. The danger with having a mission-like focus is that we can simply add new “programs” without actually affecting our lifestyle. To be missional means that we must embrace a whole new focus to our lifestyle… one that is centered on our identity as children of God, seeking to welcome others into a relationship with God – not just attend activities.
  3. Is the connection to neighbors transactional or relational? How do we interact with our neighbors? If we see ourselves as an organization coming to our neighbors and doing something TO them, and providing a service or resources FOR them in order to meet needs, then our interactions are “transactional.”  The church is remaining in control, deciding who is in need and what is needed and how the need will be met.  Without realizing it, we can actually build a wall, of sorts, between us and the very people we seek to reach.  We subtly believe, and convey to them, that there is an us-them barrier.  They come to us for a good or service and then return to their world, while we remain in ours after the transaction is complete.  This is mission-like.  A better way to join Jesus on His mission is to see that God is already at work in the lives of the real people around us, and they have much to offer.  Being “relational” means that we seek mutually transformative relationships of partnership and reciprocity.

What these questions really ask us is whether we are seeking first God’s Kingdom and His righteousness … or if we are seeking “all these things” in other ways.  They ask us to consider whether we have God’s Kingdom at heart or self-glorification (or self-preservation).   It is easy for you and me to want to get busy with activity that helps us feel like we are making a difference, and seeing ourselves as a kind of “hero” coming to rescue and serving the needs of others.  But if we are not careful, then we are making everything about us, and what we do for others than about God.  It can be easier to be mission-like, than to be truly on mission.

May others encounter the heart of God in all that we think, say and do!

Joining Jesus on His mission with you,

Pastor Augie.

[i] http://joineiro.com/blog/2015/9/28/5-questions-to-determine-if-you-are-missional-or-mission-ish?fb_action_ids=1101778946500803&fb_action_types=og.likes

Sola . . .

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For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.  (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Ephesians 2:8-9 is a sort of “rallying cry” for Lutheran churches, and really for all evangelical churches since the Reformation in the 16th century.  In short, this is because Christianity had fallen into a works-righteousness mentality – the idea that people are saved and given eternal life because of things they do (works), rather than because of what Christ has done for us (grace).  The Reformation sought to return the Church to an understanding that our eternal salvation is not earned by our works, but rather is a gift of God, given to us freely through the merits of Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten Son.

Our first message series of the year is going to look at the four “Solas” of the Reformation, which are four phrases that summarize the basic theological principles underlying our faith.  These phrases were originally expressed in Latin (“sola” is a Latin word meaning “alone”) but take heart, we will be studying them in English! J

  • Sola Scriptura, Scripture alone.
  • Sola Gratia, Grace alone.
  • Solus Christus, Christ alone.
  • Sola Fide, Faith alone.

Each of these are treasures in and of themselves and could serve as the basis of its own message series.  To whet your appetite, here is what we’ll be discussing in brief:

Scripture Alone: Most Christian denominations (and some Christian-like churches) say that they are using the Bible in their teaching – and even that the Bible is a source of Truth.  Our understanding, however, is that the Bible is our sole source and norm for our teaching and doctrine.  That means that we understand the Bible to be God’s inspired and inerrant Holy Word, and as such, we believe that the Bible is God’s means for revealing to us Truth.  We may use our intellect, reason and senses, but they are subservient to Scripture.  Scripture Alone tells us where we find The Truth.

Grace Alone:  Left to our own devices, humankind would be lost in sin and depravity; to suggest that we can somehow save ourselves by our own efforts, not only elevates our goodness and merits far beyond our abilities, but it far diminishes the completed work of Christ on the cross.  The understanding of Grace Alone makes clear that we are not saved because of any merit or worthiness in ourselves, but only by the divine goodness of God.  God has done all that is necessary for our salvation and He gives it to us as a free gift.  This gift comes from the gracious heart of God to us.  Grace Alone tells us how our salvation is given.

Christ Alone: There are many churches that use the name Christ, but when you get down to it, the followers of that belief system ultimately put their hope in something else.  There are varieties of things that one might put their hope in – reason, senses, science and self are a few. We believe, however, that the ultimate source of our hope is in the accomplished work of Christ on the cross – nothing else.  Christ did all that was necessary for our salvation, and is our living and reigning Lord.  Our faith is based on Him alone, and not on any other actions, values or name.  Christ Alone tells us the source of our salvation and the object of our faith.

Faith Alone: How does a sinner receive God’s gracious gift of salvation?  How is a person “made right” with God (justification)? How one answers those questions reveals much about their faith.  We believe that there is nothing that we can do to make God love us any more and nothing that we can do to make God love us any less.  He loves us because He loves us, and He forgives us because of Christ. We cannot add anything to that equation.  We simply receive it by faith.  Faith Alone tells us the means by which we receive God’s free gift of salvation.

It is my hope that this series will instill you with confidence in your faith, and perhaps give you some tools to use when discussing eternal matters with your friends and family.

Serving Christ with you,

Pastor Augie.

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