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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.

Celebrating the Church!

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This month, Redeemer by the Sea celebrates 25 years of being God’s Church in Carlsbad! And what a wonderful experience it has been.  It has been a joy for me to see so many different ministry leaders and teams stepping up to the task, and working together to make this a celebration to remember.  Here’s just some of what we’re doing to celebrate…

  • 15,000 postcards were mailed to homes within two miles of the church.
  • A “Family Fun Fest” was created to welcome the community to our church, with food, games, live entertainment, crafts, candy and free give-aways!
  • We chose “Kathy’s Legacy” to be the beneficiary of a number of fund-raising efforts including a silent auction of donated gift baskets.
  • Our Sunday morning worship services highlighted our choir and praise band in a combined presentation, as well as celebrating the First Communion of several young folks.
  • Dr. Loren Kramer was invited to be our guest preacher. He was the Pacific Southwest District President when Redeemer chartered as a congregation, and he was present at the dedication of our current sanctuary building.
  • Special food was prepared to be shared at our morning services and special afternoon celebration.
  • Festive decorations recognizing both the Fall season, as well as the silver and black of our 25th Anniversary, were displayed all weekend long.
  • Commemorative gifts were prepared for all worshipers and children, with special handmade gifts for our charter members and pastors who have served our congregation.
  • A history of the congregation was prepared both in writing, and in a large 3-dimensional display to allow folks to walk down “memory lane.”
  • A special “Remember and Rededicate” service was planned to recognize charter members and hear Redeemer’s founding pastor speak, as well as enjoy a video presentation and the music of the Concordia Concert Handbells.

God has richly blessed us!  Praise the Lord for His faithfulness.

In fact, it’s interesting to note, that our Anniversary celebration is happening at the same time as we conclude The Story message series.  Why?  Because in the last chapters of our study, the Bible readings are focused on the birth and growth of God’s Church in the book of Acts and the Epistles.  To me, this serves as a clear reminder that we are but a part of God’s “Construction Project” that He began almost 2,000 years ago.

God has always had in mind to use His Church to call His lost children back home to Himself.  He has created The Church to be a beacon of light and hope into a world that is in desperate need of what we offer … a way back to the Father.  Even as Rachelle and I were able in October to travel to the Holy Land and trace some of the steps of the early Church, we got a strong sense that God’s Hand has been constant through it all.

As we Remember where we’ve come as the congregation of Redeemer by the Sea Lutheran Church, may we see ourselves as part of the bigger “Story” of God making a way for the lost and the hurting to find healing and hope.  May Jesus’ words ring true among us: “… you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

Joining Christ in mission with you,

Pastor Augie.

The Only Question That Really Matters

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Life is full of questions, isn’t it?  I always thought the big questions were pretty well set … “where did people come from?” … “what’s the meaning of life?” … “what happens when I die?”  But it turns out that people have a LOT more questions than that!  Google, the world’s most popular internet search engine, has an “auto-predictive” feature that begins to guess what you might be asking based on what other people are asking.  So if you begin to type in “why can’t” … it currently is suggesting the rest of your question might be, “why can’t I sleep?”  This feature can be helpful and annoying at the same time.  But a simple analysis will show that there are thousands upon thousands of questions that people come up with every day.  Some more meaningful than others.

I’d like to propose to you that there is only one question that really matters.  Pastor Rick Warren says in his book, Purpose Driven Life, that it will be the first question that God asks when you get to heaven: “What have you done with my Son Jesus Christ?” … In other words, have you received Him, or have you rejected Him?  All of life’s meaning and effect, as well as all of eternity hangs on this question.  So, to get after it, we will be turning in The Story* (our 31 week message series at Redeemer) from the Old Testament to the New Testament, and asking the question: Who is Jesus Christ?

Jesus Himself asks His disciples this question: “Who do you say I am?” (Mark 8:29). Oh, at first He asked them what others were saying about Him. The answers came back in rapid fire: “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”  But Jesus was more concerned with their answer to His question, so he asked, “Who do you say I am?”  They all looked at this homeless carpenter and thought about that question. Then Peter replied, “You are the Christ.”

Who do you say he is? Have you given it much thought? Some say He was crazy, claiming to be God but just a man. Some say He was just another liar, and that He knew exactly what He was saying but was deviously misleading those around him.  Many, sadly, aren’t even asking the question.  When you type “Who is J” into the Google search box, it auto-predicts one of the most popular next string of words, “Justin Bieber dating?”

But there are those who are asking, and who have answered, along with Peter, that Jesus is the Christ; the Messiah. He is God in the flesh. He is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies.  He is the answer to God’s promises. He is the King. He is the Savior.  Your answer to that question will be the greatest one you will ever give.   We are setting out to answer that question over the next weeks at Redeemer, as we continue The Story.  Join us!

Pastor Augie.

* If you have not gotten The Story, books are still available.  Pick up your copy today!

Perhaps My Favorite Bible Verse!

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“And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”  – 1 John 5:11-13

Here’s why …

Not only does this verse make clear that eternal life is a real thing … and that it comes only through Jesus, the Son of God … but it makes it abundantly clear that it is a gracious gift of God given to us freely through faith. The words “that you may KNOW that you have eternal life” remove all doubt that our salvation might be contingent on how well we did in life. “That you may KNOW” means that the person who believes in Jesus as Savior need not respond “I *hope* so” when asked, “will you be in heaven when you die?” … but must respond “I *KNOW* so” – since that is what Scripture clearly teaches – in this verse and many others! My prayer today is that anyone reading this post relinquishes any trust that they have misplaced in themselves or in false gods, and places that trust in the Name of the only One who saves – Jesus the Christ, the Son of God.

Amen!

Same-Sex Marriages and a Christian’s Response

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I just recently returned from our Pacific Southwest district convention.  This year’s convention theme was “Chosen for this Moment” based on Jesus’ words in John 15:16 …

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last”

We have been chosen by God to be bearers of His grace to our world!  This is such a critical task at a time when our news is filled with stories of wickedness, such as the racially motivated murders of our brothers and sisters in Christ at the AME Church in Charleston.  We mourn and grieve that loss, and we ask our Lord for forgiveness, mercy and healing for those families and our nation in the wake of that tragedy.  May He break and hinder every plan of the devil who desires to steal and kill and destroy.

It is also critical for us to be bearers of grace in the aftermath of the recent decision of our US Supreme Court that legalizes same-sex marriages.  This is an issue that has polarized our nation long before this court case. How we respond, however, says much about what we believe; not so much what we believe about the issue of human sexuality, but what we believe about love, truth, hope and security.

Quite simply, we are not surprised that our culture does not align itself with the teachings and beliefs of Christianity.  Nor do we take our cues from the culture.  We neither look to it for support, nor for Truth.  Also, we are not at “war” with our culture.  Rather, God has placed us IN the culture – to bless it! … “Chosen for this Moment.”    Our marching orders from God do not change – at all – because of this ruling.  We are still called to be salt and light to the world – to bring the message of peace, truth and love that God provides.  His is the only True and lasting peace and love that there is to be found… that which we find in Jesus Christ.

So you and I can take heart and be of good cheer!  In a sense, nothing has changed.  Our Lord is constant and unchanging.  Though this world seems built on a foundation of shifting sand, the Lord remains on His throne far above any earthly courts or kingdoms.  And the world NEEDS HIM as much today as ever!  So thankfully, He has chosen us for this moment – to be bearers of grace, Truth, and light to a lost and hurting world.  May it be so among us.

Joyfully Sharing Jesus,

Pastor Augie

– If you would like to read more on this subject here are some links for your reference:

LCMS President, Rev. Matthew Harrison

LCMS President, Rev. Matthew Harrison

Letter to the Church from Matthew Harrison, president of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod.

Pastor Mark Jeske, Time of Grace Ministries

Pastor Mark Jeske, Time of Grace Ministries

So Gay Marriage Is Here. What Now? – Blog post by Pastor Mark Jeske, Time of Grace Ministries.

Easter – Living the Victory!

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Easter Victory

Of all the things in life, one is number one. Of all the teachings in the Bible, one is primary. Of all the things in the world, one is prime. The apostle Paul names what this is in His letter to the Corinthians. He calls it “of first importance” when he says: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3–4). The Gospel of Jesus, our Savior, is what is of first importance. This Easter, we celebrate that Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection is of first importance.  Knowledge of this one thing changes our perspective on everything else.  What could be more important to know?

May you live in victory – with Christ!

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