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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

A Journey to Christmas

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After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” – Matthew 2:1-2, NIV

This Advent we are embarking on an unforgettable journey to experience Hope, Joy, Peace & Love!

What an amazing season it is as we journey together toward Christmas. The word advent comes from Latin and roughly means “coming.” So we use these weeks leading up to Christmas as a chance to look forward to our celebration of the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, the light of the world … our Savior.

Advent is a season of great expectation, and I’m inviting you to join us as we embark on a journey (actually as we join in an epic journey that began more than two thousand years ago!) as we follow the Star and discover the Light of the world. It’s a journey of the heart and soul, but it’s also a journey that will realign our expectations and experience of the Christmas season. And it’s a journey that will explore the gifts of Christmas delivered by and through Christ: hope, joy, peace and love. We all need hope in the storms of life and love that never gives up. We need fresh joy on our journey and peace no matter what we’re facing or dealing with.

And you probably know someone who needs that too!  That’s why we’re making an outreach tool available to you this Advent.  The free pamphlet is available in the church lobby, and it introduces the four themes for the weeks of Advent (love, joy, peace and hope), and invites the reader to ponder the true gifts of Christmas.  You can use it to invite your friends and family to join you in your journey to Christmas.

Our journey centers on the Star as our guiding light. The Star of Bethlehem, that burst through the darkness over two thousand years ago and signaled the long-awaited birth of a Savior, has taken a central place in the Christmas story, but its mention in the Bible is really very brief. The record of wise men from the East who followed a star is only mentioned in Matthew’s Gospel account of Christ’s coming (Matthew 2). And there is much discussion by scholars and scientists about what the Star actually was, who the wise men (Magi) were, and when the cosmic event of its appearance took place. But apart from the debates, there remains the truth that the light of a star led people to Jesus – even if they were still on their journey the night Jesus was born. (Most scholars place the wise men showing up a few months to a year after Jesus’s birth.) And maybe that’s a good metaphor for anyone’s spiritual journey … we don’t always come to Jesus the minute He reveals himself … it’s a process.

The Advent season is about the journey as much as the destination. As we’ll explore, it is a time to prepare, maybe to pause and to ponder, to breathe deeply and turn our eyes to the true meaning of this time of year—a season that can seem so hectic and stressful in our culture.  Let’s be honest – sometimes the journey of life can get long and difficult. And this busy time of year can pile on more challenges and stress. The good news is – there is hope!

No matter where you find yourself today, you are invited into this journey.  Will you say yes to the journey? Will you peer through the darkness of your life, no matter what that may be, and look for the Star … a glimmer of hope? Will you journey toward Bethlehem, drawn by hope for the love, joy, and peace that await you?

Is that hard for you to imagine? Is your Christmas season overwhelmed already by any number of struggles: financial stresses, relational dysfunctions, loss of a loved one?  I think we all have one or the other … But let me encourage you—that’s exactly where hope shines brightest.

Christmas can still give us a taste of the most wonderful time of world history. Jesus, the Messiah and Savior, came as the Light into the darkness, stress and pain of the world.  And He still shines His Light for us today as He did that first Christmas. He fills our lives’ journeys with hope, love, joy, and peace.  Join us this Advent and Christmas at Redeemer.  We have much to share with you as we follow our Lord together.

In Christ’s Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace,

Pastor Augie

The Good Life!

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“What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.” – Philippians 3:8, NIV

What do you think of when you hear the expression The Good Life?  In this beautiful area of the country that we call home, The Good Life might mean for some enjoying a sunset at the beach … (I would have a hard time arguing with that one!) It might mean having a successful career, beautiful home and two paid off cars in the driveway … It might mean having enough money to take vacations … It might mean having the health to enjoy all those things.  For each of us, this phrase The Good Life conjures up images of things we hope for and expectations we have set for ourselves.  The group of eleven of us from Redeemer who attended the week-long mission trip to San Diego spent time each day considering this phrase personally and then exploring Scripture to see how God would want us to understand The Good Life.

What we learned is that we are created for The Good Life.  Jesus says in John 10:10 “… I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”  God created everything “good” in the Garden of Eden, but mankind and our sin tarnished that beauty and goodness.  God, however, never gives up restoring us to The Good Life.  Through His Son Jesus, He continues to bring us to a full and good life.

We can trust this because we believe that God Himself is good.  (Psalm 106:1 declares, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.”) And in His goodness, He wants good things for His people (Psalm 139:5).  But how does one respond when we see so much brokenness and lack of goodness in the world around us?  God may be good, but evil still has power in this world, and it seems that it is bound and determined to thwart whatever good God wants to bless His creation with.

Unfortunately, when faced with pain, suffering and brokenness we humans are often led astray by false imitations of The Good Life that God intends for us.  Have you ever tried to solve your problems with a false imitation?  Didn’t it promise you relief, pleasure and even freedom? But what did it deliver?  The truth is that if you and I are to grasp the only true source of The Good Life that Jesus offers us, we are going to have to let go of cheap imitations – to make room for the goodness that God wants to pour into our lives!

What each of us needs to realize as we journey through life is that The Good Life is found only in Jesus Christ. He is the Good Shepherd who guides us to where the green pastures are.  We do best to follow Him – and to bring others to Him also.  If you have found The Good Life, don’t you think there are others who would like to know where to find it?  The problem is that just like in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), it can be so easy to pass along on the other side of the street – having even some very good reasons to do so.

But as we have been learning from the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians during our summer “Joy” message series, we should put ourselves on the line for the good of others.  In Philippians 2:4 Paul clearly tells us to put the needs of others ahead of our own needs!  But if we do that, then won’t we sacrifice our own reception of The Good Life?   The answer is no.  To the contrary; what we have received from Jesus is meant to be shared!  When Jesus served His disciples by washing their feet, He gave them instructions to go and do likewise.  (John 13:15)

What Jesus knows is what the Apostle Paul eventually learned and wants us to know and live out as well – and that is that we truly experience joy and enjoy The Good Life, as we serve others.  In fact, this joy is so great that it would be worth letting go of everything we have in this world in order to grasp, Paul says (Philippians 3:8).  All of those cheap imitations offer only a false and partial experience of the surpassing greatness of knowing and serving Christ.

May you and I learn to experience The Good Life, by loving and serving others with what we have received freely from Jesus Christ – for our good and for His glory!

Joyfully sharing Jesus with you,

Pastor Augie

Joy in the Journey

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“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” – Philippians 4:13, ESV

When one thinks of Biblical books with “theological impact” they might think of epistles like Romans or Galatians, because of their clear depiction of Law and Gospel.  This was particularly essential at the time of the Reformation back in the 1500’s when theological errors were threatening the foundation of the Church.  But when thinking of books that have “personal impact” … a little closer to home … the book of Philippians may come to mind.  Think of some of your favorite Bible verses.  Chances are good that one or more of them come from the book of Philippians.  It contains such great verses like:

  • He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (1:6)
  • For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. (1:21)
  • I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (3:14)
  • Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice. (4:4)
  • Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (4:6)
  • I can do all things through him who gives me strength. (4:13)

Now it’s probably not productive to try and “rate” Bible books against each other.  But the idea is that Philippians has verses throughout it that impact our hearts and have a sort of staying power in our personal lives.  But it does also have theological impact as well.  Chapter 2 of Philippians, for example, challenges us to understand the depths which Christ went to in order to empty Himself for our sakes.  This is a big part of the foundation of our faith.  We believe that Christ “humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:8)  That has such theological impact as to make a difference for time and eternity!

But whether speaking more in the abstract, or in concrete life lessons, Philippians bears a constant message of joy.  And we all need that, right?  Our world is so good at robbing our joy – especially when you read the news.  There are so many things that can challenge our joy; but Philippians is a countermeasure to that.  The Apostle Paul, who wrote the book of Philippians, was a man filled with joy and thankfulness.  And if anyone had good reason to NOT be joyful, it was Paul … in fact, he wrote the book of Philippians while he was imprisoned!  And yet, by the power and indwelling of the Holy Spirit, Paul experienced great joy – even in the midst of his circumstances.  And He wants the same for you and me – to experience joy in whatever situation we find ourselves.

In Paul’s message to the church at Philippi, he uses the word “rejoice” or “joy” 15 times!  He does this as he writes to a city that has so much wealth from the gold mines nearby.  Further, as a Roman colony, Philippi had all the pride and culture of being affiliated with Rome.  And yet, Paul needed to remind the people of that great city where true joy is found.

How about with you?  Do you find that you can be surrounded by all kinds of riches, culture, entertainment, and achievements … and still lack joy?  Well, you’re not alone.  That’s why we’re going to take 9 weeks this summer to learn the good news about the source of joy.  We’ll discover that it’s not found in a place, a possession, or some power.  But rather, joy comes from a person – the Lord Jesus Christ!  He is the one who supplies all that we need.  He is the one who fills us with joy regardless of our circumstances, relationships, status in life or our wealth.

Join us this summer as we learn the secrets to experiencing JOY …

  • 7/9 – in your Relationships
  • 7/16 – in your Circumstances
  • 7/23 – in your Attitudes
  • 7/30 – in your Potential
  • 8/6c – on the Job
  • 8/13 – in your Accomplishments
  • 8/20 – in your Future
  • 8/27 – in your Thoughts
  • 9/3 – in your Finances

Joyfully Joining Jesus with you,

Pastor Augie

Loved and Sent!

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“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” – 1 John 4:10

At this year’s Best Practices for Ministry conference in Phoenix, one of the keynote speakers was pastor Jeff Cloeter from Christ Memorial Lutheran Church in St. Louis, MO.  His session was titled “Loved and Sent.”  These two words really struck a chord with me and I think they represent much of what “Joining Jesus in our Community” means to us.

As Christians we are first loved by God. This is what draws us to Him, and what gives us our foundation.  In essence, being loved by God answers the question – that all of humanity has always asked – “who am I?” It is a question of identity.  All too often, we let the world define who we are.  We let popular media, or the opinions of others set the stage, and establish the playing field.  We buy in and we begin to ask the questions the world asks … Are we pretty enough? Strong enough? Smart enough? Successful enough?  And whether we find the answers we like to those questions, we still feel uncertain about who we are, so we continue to search for our identity in terms of our jobs.  Have you ever done this – you meet someone new and so you ask them, “what do you do?” … as if our jobs are our identity.  But we are human “beings” not human “doings.”  Our identity is established by whom we belong TO – we are a loved child of the Most High God!  Once we understand this, we gain great strength, confidence, and hope.

With the question of identity firmly settled, and in relationship with Jesus, we move on to the question of purpose.  For insight into that, we look to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).  When we do, we discover His purpose and why He came into the world – to seek and save the lost. (Luke 19:10). What we further learn, is that He is still seeking and saving the lost through us.  How is that?  He was sent by the Father, and now He sends us to continue His mission.  The Father’s Love compelled Him to sacrifice His one and only Son.  The Son’s love compelled Him to take on flesh and die a brutal death.  And our love for God compels us to go and make disciples.  Love cannot sit still.

And so we as loved people are sent to our community for important work.  We continue the work of our Lord in our homes, offices, neighborhoods, classrooms, stores, restaurants, bars, clubs, auto shops, hair salons, gyms and generally wherever we are.  We do this to bring Christ’s love to a lost and hurting world.  This answers the other great question of humanity – “why am I here?”  If you want purpose in life, there can be no greater purpose than to continue on the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ!

We are more loved than we ever imagined, and sent with more purpose than we ever thought possible!

Loved and Sent,

Pastor Augie

Hope!

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“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” – 1 Peter 1:3

If someone asked you what a person needed to live, what would you say?  You might answer food, water, oxygen … right?  But would you answer “HOPE?”  Certainly a human body needs food, water, oxygen and a number of other things to live.  But I believe the human spirit needs something else to survive.  It needs hope to live!  But where is one to find this life giving, spirit feeding hope?  O, “praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ that in his great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope.” The Apostle Peter says in his first epistle that God is the one to give us this hope.  We don’t need to forage for it, purchase it, or produce it in any way.  It is merely a gift – mercifully given.  And he goes on to say that what seals this hope into a firm promise is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. – that’s the Easter message we proclaim!

And who doesn’t need hope?  Look around you.  The widow who has lost their life partner needs hope – and lots of it.  The young couple just getting married is filled with hope – and rightly so!  The family struggling with finances needs hope.  The person who just got the news that they have a dreadful disease needs hope.  And each of us, facing our own struggles and mortality needs hope.  That’s why this message that God has given us hope for life in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is so powerful and so needed!  We are all lost without hope.

What gives a person hope is to know that God is in control – His purposes prevail, even in the darkest of circumstances.  I remember being in a car once when the driver lost control of the vehicle.  We spun around and skidded through multiple lanes of traffic in both directions and safely off the road … right in between two large trees!  (We escaped without a scratch on us or a dent in the car!) It was terrifying to be out of control in that situation.  Often our lives feel like that; like we’ve lost control and are careening aimlessly toward untold dangers.  And yet, even in those circumstances, God is in control and fulfilling His promises to us.  Promises like these:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. – Romans 8:28

What also gives a person hope is to know that God is powerful beyond measure – that which seems impossible to us is possible for God.  I think of that very popular “Footprints” poem.  People take great comfort in knowing that in their weakest and most troublesome times, the Lord doesn’t abandon them, but carries them!  If you are going through a challenging time in your life right now, and are faced by problems of any kind, take comfort in knowing:

I can do all this through him who gives me strength. – Philippians 4:13

being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, – Colossians 1:11

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. – Isaiah 40:29

Ultimately, whatever hope we have must be in someone or something strong.  A hope that is placed on self is misplaced, because when we are weak or faced with insurmountable problems then our hope vanishes.  A hope that is placed on something unknown, or yet to be, is really nothing but a “wish” – and is ultimately an empty hope.  But a true and powerful hope comes from trusting in someone or something who is in control even in the most difficult circumstances, and who is powerful enough to accomplish that which we are unable to do.  Some people are still searching for that hope … but we know Him to have been revealed – Jesus Christ!

Why do we place our hope in Him?  Because as the Apostle Peter testifies, and as we celebrate this Easter – Christ was crucified, but He was raised from the dead and is alive!  Jesus’ resurrection is proof that God is in control, and that He is all powerful!   May your baptism (new birth) into His Name give you a living hope that the same power that raised Jesus from the grave, carries you through all circumstance of this life until one day you are raised to eternal life with Christ.

Proclaiming Christ,

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

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