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Re-imagining “Us with Others”

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How is your Summer so far?  By the time you read this, my sabbatical will be half over.  It’s going quickly, but God is doing His work in us.  As I like to say, “God is always working!”  Even when we don’t understand the why or the how – we can know for sure that God has a plan for us, and it’s good.  He has promised to work all things together for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).  So it is our job to always be asking the questions “what are you teaching me God?” “How are you shaping me for your Kingdom purposes – for our good and for your glory?”

Last month I provided you the first half of a framework to help you “re-imagine” your part in the ministry that God has called us to.  In that study, you considered the ministry we do as “Us with Us.”  Since we cannot give away what we do not have, our ministry must first be faith-strengthening and life-transforming among ourselves before we hope to minister to those outside our church.  It is my prayer that we will take to heart what the Scriptures say about how we worship, grow and serve with our church family, such that we experience the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit working amidst us.  Then we can turn our sights outside of our church and invite others into our loving & Christ-centered fellowship.  This month I encourage you to search the Scriptures and consider the ministry we do as “Us with Others.”  I am including here a study based on resources from our friends in the Southeastern District of the LCMS (se.lcms.org). You can go through these on your own, or even better, with others who are part of your church family!

Looking at others as people for whom Christ died (2 Corinthians 5:16-17)

  1. Read the following verses silently, then pause and re-read them circling the words that catch your eye: Acts 10:34-42, Matthew 28:19-20, Acts 1:8, Mark 16:15, Romans 10:13, 14, 2 Timothy 4:2, Acts 13:47, John 14:6.
    • Why did you circle the words you did?
  2. List three things that make it hard to see others as “people for whom Christ died.”
  3. Read Acts 15:1-31.
    • What issue was threatening to divide the 1st century church?
    • How was it resolved?
    • What lessons do we learn from the 1st century church that we can apply to the 21st century church?

The work of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-19)

  1. Read Luke 15:11-32. Read it out loud, pause and let each person read it on their own, read it again out loud. Have each person circle words or acts described in the text that caught their eye. What does the parable of the “prodigal son” have to say about the work of reconciliation?
  2. The word reconciliation comes from two Latin words: reconciliare. One definition is to reconnect, and another is “to love all over again.”
  3. Have each person share one time they tried to reconcile with someone and what happened.
  4. If we believe that because of sin everyone needs to be reconciled to God, what are things we can do to help them be “reconnected” with God?
  5. What may be the obstacles to that reconciliation? How long do we have to try?

Ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20)

  1. Discuss what the role of an ambassador is in our world today. How does that apply to us as Christians?
  2. What does Paul mean when he says, “God making his appeal through us?” What implications does that have for living out our lives with others?
  3. List 3 people you think either were, or yet are, “ambassadors for Christ.” What was it about them that made you list their name?
  4. Assign the following verses to individuals asking them to read, reflect and respond to what the verses have to say about our being an “ambassador for Christ.” Philippians 3:20, Ephesians 6:20, 1 Corinthians 11:1, Romans 1:16, Galatians 2:20, Colossians 1:13.

Life in society

  1. Think about living your life in today’s society and how it was when you were younger. How have things changed in moving from:
    • Typewriters to computers
    • Rotary phones to cell phones
    • Phone calls to social media
    • Buying in a store to buying online
    • How we get from one place to another
    • Other changes that you can think of?
  2. Things have also changed in the American attitude to the Christian institutional church. While 40% of Americans may check the “I am a Christian” box on polls, only 14% think that faith is important, 16-18% think being part of a church is important, societally Sunday is no longer a “day of rest, ” sports practice and competitions are held on Sunday, stores are no longer closed, and everything is open.  What once were seen as “authority figures” are not any longer: mistrust of politicians, doctors, teachers, police, and pastors.  Some implications of this societal shift for the institutional Christian church in America are:
    • Aging members, and fewer new members
    • Fewer resources financial and otherwise
    • High maintenance buildings
    • Cost and availability of clergy
    • Fewer people willing to assume leadership roles
  3. Discuss the above list and how they are being seen in our congregation.
  4. Rate those listed above with 1 being the most challenging to our congregation and 5 being the least.
  5. What gives you hope in living out your faith in the church? What makes it difficult??

The whole body growing up together (Ephesians 4:15-16)

  1. Recently we studied “Life on Mission” as a sermon and small group series at Redeemer. At the heart of “missional living” is each individual Christian understanding their role in carrying out the mission of Matthew 28:19-20, as well as building up and nurturing relationships with all those around them for the sake of the gospel. Our friends at the Southeastern District of the LC–MS use the acronym “BLESS” as a way to remember this and put this into action:
    • B- Bonding with someone. What do you have in common with them? (e.g. living in the same neighborhood, working in the same building, exercising at the same gym etc.)
    • L- Learning from someone. Learning how to listen to their story, asking questions like “help me to understand,” and moving beyond what we assumed or thought we knew.
    • E- Engage. Listening and learning as if you really care about them, paying attention to what they are saying.
    • S- Serving. Discovering what needs they might have and how you might meet those needs (e.g. bringing them a meal, giving them a ride, volunteering to watch over their house while they are out of town, etc.)
    • S-Share. Finding opportunity to share the message of Christ’s love.
  2. Read 1 Peter 3:15. Have each person write out their own faith story considering the following guidelines: Concise, without quoting bible verses, Non-judgmental or threatening, Non-defensive or critical, Inviting, welcoming, loving.
  3. In pairs, have one person share their story with another and then reverse. Those listening may ask questions putting themselves in the place of someone who is curious but cautious about Christians. Share in the larger group what you learned.

Whether you work through these lessons with others or by yourself in your own devotional time, my prayer is that God’s Spirit will help you grow in Christ’s love for others in the Body of Christ (Us with Us) – and then lead you to engage people outside of the church (Us with Others) – your friends, neighbors, coworkers and family.  May God increase all of our ability and desire to share His love with the people around us.

Your fellow servant in Christ,

Pastor Augie

Re-imagining “Us with Us”

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As I wrote in last month’s blog, I think it’s a great idea that while I am on sabbatical for the months of July & August, refreshing and renewing my perspective on ministry, that you use this time to do the same.  Over the next couple months, I want to provide you a framework to “re-imagine” your part of the ministry you belong to.  In July, you will consider the ministry we do as “Us with Us.”  And in August, you will consider the ministry we do as “Us with Others.”  As has been said, we cannot export what we do not possess.  Our ministry among ourselves first must be faith-strengthening and life-transforming, before we hope to minister to those outside our church.  To understand what healthy “Us with Us” ministry is all about, I encourage you to search the Scriptures.  I am including here a study based on resources from our friends in the Southeastern District of the LC-MS (se.lcms.org). You can go through these on your own, or better, with others in a small group!

Understanding Luther’s doctrine of “vocation” (Ephesians 4:1)

  1. Read this from Robert Benne’s article on Christian Vocation, oxfordre.com: “A teaching of Martin Luther that has had great historical effect is his teaching on vocation. Protesting the Roman Catholic arrangement in which the clergy had callings of higher religious and moral significance than the laity, Luther taught that all Christians have callings or vocations, and that all callings are equal in moral and religious seriousness. They only differ in function. This teaching unleashed unprecedented commitment and energy to worldly work in the Western world. Paralleling his teaching on the priesthood of all believers, Luther taught that all Christians are called by God through Christ to be his beloved and forgiven children, and that they need no mediators to receive that graceful call directly. At the same time, however, Christians who receive that grace through Christ become priests to their neighbors, mediating God’s love through them to the neighbor. They do that very concretely in their vocations. Thus, Christians become conduits of God’s love received through Christ and offered to the neighbor in the various places of responsibility they have been given. For Luther, Christians do not need to cast about for places to exercise their obedience; they were given in the orders of creation into which each Christian was inevitably placed—marriage and family life, work, citizenship, and church. Each person—lay and clergy alike—is called to work in the world. In fulfilling their work gladly and conscientiously, they serve their neighbor. Plain ordinary work is transformed into a Christian vocation as the Christian exercises his faith-active-in-love. Work is no longer simply a job or occupation; it is a calling, a vocation. It is a summons from God. Vocation is also where the Spirit sanctifies the Christian’s life, not in a self-centered quest for perfection, but rather in humble service to the neighbor.”
  2. Now ask the Lutheran question, “what does this mean?” What insights does Luther give into vocation, or calling? How does Luther change that thinking and how does it apply to us today?
  3. Read these sections of Scripture and discuss/consider what they say about “calling”: 2 Peter 1:10-11, 2 Timothy 1:9, 2 Thessalonians 1:11, John 15:16, 1 Peter 3:9, 1 Corinthians 1:26, Ephesians 4. How do we use our calling to serve others in our congregation?

Seeking and working for unity within a congregation (Ephesians 4:2-6)

  1. “A Christian is an utterly free man, lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is an utterly dutiful man, servant of all, subject to all” – Martin Luther
  2. Discuss this quote from Luther and how it applies to working for unity within a congregation. What makes unity in a congregation difficult? What helps us to overcome the difficulties?
  3. Read these scripture lessons, then share thoughts on how/why we work for unity in a congregation: 1 Corinthians 1:10, Colossians 3:2-17, 1 Peter 3:8, Romans 12:16, Philippians 2:1-4
  4. Why was unity in a congregation so terribly important in the 1st century? Why is it just as important in a congregation today?

Spiritual gifts and their use in the community (Ephesians 4:7-12)

  1. Read these Scripture verses, then consider/discuss what they say about spiritual gifts: 1 Corinthians 12: 4-11, Romans 12:4-11, 1 Corinthians 12:28
  2. Look at the different gifts that are listed in these texts. How would you describe these gifts in today’s language?
  3. Consider the others in your group, or in our congregation, and name some of these spiritual gifts that they have. What examples would you offer in how these gifts are being used in our congregation?
  4. Have you taken a spiritual gifts inventory? If not, consider taking the next “Discovery 301” class – where an inventory is administered and scored for you.

Discipling, or growing in faith (Ephesians 4:12-14)

  1. Read Ephesians 4:12-14, and paraphrase in your own words.
  2. How has your faith stayed the same since your baptism? How has your faith changed since your baptism?
  3. Name 3 things/people that made your faith grow. And name 3 things/people who have challenged your faith
  4. Grade yourself (letter grades A, B, C, D, F) on the following:
    • My prayer life,
    • My time spent in bible study
    • My intentionally being with other Christians
    • Time spent living out my faith each week in serving others
  5. What things get in the way of improving your faith life? Would an accountability partner help you?
  6. Read Galatians 5:22-23, the “Fruit of the Spirit”
  7. Talk to others in your group or at church and tell them one of these “fruits” you see at work in their life. Offer specific examples.
  8. Which of these “fruits” do you think is one you need to work on the most?
  9. How could we help members of our congregation to grow in faith?

The whole body growing up together (Ephesians 4:15-16)

  1. Read the following verses and consider/share insights about collective spiritual growth in our congregation: 1 Peter 2:1-5, Colossians 1:10, 1 Thessalonians 3:12
  2. Was the spiritual growth of everyone in a congregation important in the 1st century church? Is that same community growth more or less important in the 21st century church?
  3. Acts 2:42-47 is the first recorded description of the Christian church (immediately following the Pentecost event described in the preceding verses). Read the verses then consider or discuss:
  • Review the list of activities that the early Christians did together (vs 42-45). While they are all important which would you rate as most important and why?
  • What were the results of their being together in mission?
  • What were some of the challenges that they faced and how did they overcome them?
  • What are some challenges that our congregation faces and how can we work to overcome them?

Whether you work through these lessons with others or by yourself in your own devotional time, my prayer is that God’s Spirit will help you grow in Christ’s love for each other (Us with Us) – as you search the Scriptures to see how God calls us to relate to those in our church famly.  And then next month as you focus on how God calls us to engage people outside of the church (Us with Others) – our friends, neighbors, coworkers and family – that God will increase your ability and desire to share His love with the people around you.

May God’s Word renew and refresh you!

In Christ,

Pastor Augie

Confidence on Judgment Day!

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JesusReturns

Scripture:  “so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” – Hebrews 9:28

Observation (Background): The Book of Hebrews is in many ways a discourse on how Jesus is the fulfillment of all things Jewish. (In fact, Hebrew is not only the language spoken by the Jews, but is another way to refer to the people themselves.)  In Chapter 1, the writer shows that Jesus is superior to the angels – He is the very Son of God.  Yet, in Chapter 2, He is also human, like His “brothers.”  In Chapter 3, He’s portrayed to be greater than even the great patriarch Moses – who in his prophet & priestly role was really just a type & foreshadow of the Christ who would come.  in Chapter 4 & 5, Jesus is compared to the great high priest who was chief among Israel’s priests – even greater than Melchizedek, the first high priest who predated the Hebrew people themselves! In Chapter 6, Jesus is shown to be the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham (the father & first of the entire Jewish nation) – through whom the world would be blessed.  In Chapter 7, by comparison again to Melchizedek, Jesus is shown to be even greater than the Jewish “Law” and the bearer of a new and “better covenant.” (7:22). Through Him, the old covenant now made obsolete (Chapter 8:13).  Now here in Chapter 9, Jesus is shown not only to be the high priest, but the sacrifice Himself – able to enter the Most Holy Place by his own blood, and in fact we, His people, are able to enter eternal life forgiven of all our sins by that one and the same blood!

Application:  I love how this verse (Hebrews 9:28) connects with the sermon I preached just this last Sunday “Who Will Escape Judgment.”  It states so clearly – and even more comfortingly – that while indeed Christ is going to appear a second time to judge the world, He is really returning to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him!  In other words, yes – Jesus is going to judge and remove all evil (see today’s Life Journal readings from Isaiah 13 to 15 – the judgment upon Babylon, Assyria, Philistine and Moab is but a “type” and foreshadow of the judgment that will come at the Last Day!)  And yes, the unrighteous will “face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).  But perhaps most importantly, God’s holy people will receive the reward of their faith – salvation!  We will not only be saved from our sins … but saved from a life of sin in this broken and hurting world!  For me, this is just confirmation that those who are in the faith, need not fear Jesus’ return, but rejoice at the promised fulfillment of God’s plan of salvation through Him.

Prayer: Lord, help me not to fear Christ’s return, but to look forward to it with hope knowing that my salvation is secure through faith in Jesus and my baptism into His Body.  Dear Jesus, come quickly.  Amen.

Abide in Me

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John15-5

Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5, ESV)

We love to “go it alone.” But, as Dr. Phil often has said, “How’s that workin’ for ya?” As I age, and discover that I can’t go as fast as I used to go, I can’t accomplish as much as I used to, my recall isn’t as sharp as it used to be, etc., it is reminding me that one day I may need more and more help, to even accomplish things in life that I now consider mundane.

But it is also a reminder to me of just how limited I am, and where my real sense of purpose and strength is found – in Christ. The things that I can accomplish purely out of the flesh, are really “nothing” at all. Rather, now, I am striving more and more each day to accomplish things that are works that the Lord desires – for His Kingdom and for His glory. But I am also striving to accomplish things that can only be done by His power at work in me – through that “connection.” So that it is evident to me that it is not I who accomplish it, but Christ working in me. Therefore, I am actually setting my sights higher – on bolder things – God sized dreams!

Finally, this verse reminds me of how important it is to remain connected to Christ through the Sacrament of Communion. Jesus also says, earlier in John’s Gospel, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” (John 6:56). You wonder whether you need to go to church or not? This is one great reason to … to fulfill Christ’s call to ABIDE in Him. He tells us that this happens when we gather around the table to share the meal of Communion that Christ instituted for His Bride, the Church.

We are blessed to abide in Christ together,

Pastor Augie.

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!

The Upper Story, the Lower Story and Your Story!

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Finding Your Story in God’s Story … 

The Bible contains an Upper Story and a Lower Story. The Upper Story tells the big picture, the grand narrative of God seeking to be in relationship with mankind as it unfolds throughout history. The Lower Story contains the details of particular people, the episodes we’ve become familiar with: Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, the flood, etc. The Lower Story helps us better understand the Upper Story which becomes for us a framework around which we approach and apply the Bible to Our Story. It unifies God’s whole message to us and helps guide us through the hard times in life by doing two things:

  1. a) reminding us of God’s eternal, long-range plan and,
  2. b) putting our experiences into a divine context formed by a perfect Creator.

For example, without the “Upper Story,” a lost job could be seen as an event without hope. But put into the context of the larger chronicle of our lives, and God’s perfect design, that lost job can be seen in a very different light, perhaps as an opportunity for God to reveal something better.

So, by putting all we read into the larger picture, we can make modern-day application from the Bible that takes into account the grand, mysterious ways of God, and guards us from misapplications that can result from an isolated “what this verse says to me” approach. In other words, the Upper Story creates the context for the Lower Story.

At our church we want to use The Story to help everyone gain a better understanding of the big picture of the Bible and to better understand God’s redemptive plan for us today. As we journey together through The Story we will take note of both the temporal events and characters (Lower Story), as well as the eternal purpose of God: to restore and build a relationship with His creation (Upper Story).  Through this, we hope you’ll begin to see with amazing clarity what God wants to do in your life (Your Story).

To assist with finding Your Story in God’s Story, we are recommending that you ask yourself these seven questions continually throughout your reading and discussion of The Story.  You may want to consider writing the answers into your “Life Journal.”*

  • What did you learn about God, yourself or others in this chapter? God has revealed Himself to mankind in the pages of the Bible.  When you and I read the Bible, we begin to see with the eyes of faith, what is invisible to the naked/physical eye.
  • How do the events in this chapter relate to the overall Story of God’s pursuit and redemption? God has revealed His overall plan through the pages of the Bible – from the first chapters of Genesis to the last chapters of Revelation, God’s plan is unfolding. No longer do you have to feel tossed about by the waves of uncertainty.  Nothing in life is without purpose.
  • What do you struggle to understand or embrace from this reading? Some things that God reveals are difficult to understand or accept. That is ok.  We know that God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9).  As you and I wrestle with these challenging verses, God is creating in us a discontent for the things of this world, to ready our hearts for His Kingdom and eternity.
  • Write a one or two sentence summary of this chapter. By summarizing the chapter while it is fresh in your mind, not only do you create a brief synopsis, but you capture the main points that God is trying to convey to you in a larger section of Scripture.  This will help you turn loose and disconnected sections of Scripture into a larger narrative.
  • Write out a prayer to God of appreciation or petition. For me, this is where it “gets real.”  When you turn what you’ve learned or experienced into a prayer, you are asking – even begging! – God to use it to make a difference in your life. This is what turns Bible reading from information, to transformation!
  • How does this chapter point to Jesus, or challenge you to be more like Him? Jesus said that the Scriptures point to Him – even the Old Testament. He is in the whole of God’s Story – not just the New Testament.  Searching for Jesus in the Old Testament is very illuminating, and again shows that God is working His redemptive plan throughout the pages of the Bible.
  • Is there something you learned that needs to be shared with others? We learn and internalize information best by sharing it with another person.  A Growth Group is the best place to do this.  Even if you aren’t in a group studying The Story itself, you’ll have in any group an opportunity to share how God is teaching you and challenging you through your reading of The Story.

We hope that you’ll join us in this unique journey through Scripture!   “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword…” (Hebrews 4:12).  How does God want to inform, shape and transform you through His Word?

Journeying with you!

Pastor Augie.

* If you do not have a Life Journal, take the “Essentials 201” class.  They are provided, free of charge, for attendees of that class.

REVELATION Discussion!

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Folks at our church are reading the following book …

Revelation Book image

If you are in our area, come join with others who are reading the book “REVELATION: What the Last Book of the Bible Really Meanson Sunday Morning at Redeemer by the Sea during the Enrichment Time from 9:45am to 10:30am. Bring your book, (you can purchase the Kindle version of the book by clicking on the book image above, or for a limited time, you can pickup a hardcopy of the book (for a reduced rate) at Redeemer) or just bring your Bible! This group will look at Revelation chapter 1 on the first Sunday, August 24th, then 3 chapters per week throughout the duration of the REVELATION Sermon Series. The study will meet in the lower level of the church.

Bible Study reading plan:

  • 8/24     Chapter 1
  • 8/31     Chapters 2-4
  • 9/7       Chapters 5-7
  • 9/14     Chapters 8-10
  • 9/21     Chapters 11-13
  • 9/28     Chapters 14-16
  • 10/5     Chapters 17-19
  • 10/12   Chapters 20-22

May God fill you with HOPE through the reading of His Word!

Pastor Augie

P.S.  For those of you, like myself, who are not able to attend the study on Sunday morning – please use the comments section on this blog article (below) to post your thoughts/questions about the book of Revelation as you read along with us!

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