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LOVE IS … the Better Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Christ’s Love,

Pastor Augie.

Spiritual Battles …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the Name of Jesus,

Pastor Augie.

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

Responding to Conflict

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the grace of God,

Pastor Augie.

Tower Building and Name Making

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Have you ever noticed that God will do what it takes to get His will done in your life?  You’ve heard the popular “Footprints Poem?” Well, I think there’s more to it than that.   I recently saw this cartoon that says it well:

http://chainsawsuit.com/comic/2012/08/08/footprints-in-the-sand-part-1/

If you’re like me, you definitely have those “drag marks” in the story-line of your life … those places where God had to drag us – sometimes kicking & screaming – into His Will!  What this reveals to me is this simple truth:

God’s Will WILL be done! 

In other words … He will do whatever it takes to see that His will is done.  We saw that clearly portrayed in Genesis 11 with the Tower of Babel – how God confounded the language of humans to cause them to turn from the plans they were making back toward His plan of spreading out and filling the earth. (Click here for the full message audio and presentation slides).

It is easy for us to mock Noah’s descendants for not following God’s simple instructions.  But consider for a moment the simple instructions that God has left for us …

Luke 10:27: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbor as yourself.

Matthew 6:33: But SEEK FIRST His Kingdom and His righteousness…

Philippians 2:2-4 …then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

I think you would agree that we have not followed those simple instructions.  And just as He did with the Tower of Babel, God saw to it that even though we were off building our own towers, making a name for ourselves instead of doing what He commanded, (Loving neighbor, seeking His Kingdom first) His will would be done.  He “came down” in His Son Jesus (compare to Genesis 11:5) to accomplish His Will!

God’s will is DONE for us in CHRIST

Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! – (Philippians 2:5-8)

What I think is amazing is that everything the people were trying to do at Babel, we continue today – trying to reach heaven, trying to make a name for ourselves.  Those are given to us in Christ.  In Christ we’ve been GIVEN heaven – We don’t have to exhaust ourselves trying to ascend there on our own!

And as far as making a name for ourselves – God tells us that just as in the Tabernacle in the Old Testament, where His Name was, there His glory dwelt.  Even more so in the New Testament, we who believe in Jesus have had God’s Name (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) placed upon us in our baptism!

That “name” we’re trying to make for ourselves is Given to us in Jesus – the Name above all Names!  Yes. God sees to it that His Will will be done, and His Will is done for us in Christ!  Isn’t that good news?

… may it be done AMONG US also …

So what are we to do in response to this?  I think Martin Luther’s, explanation to the 3rd petition of Lord’s Prayer, in the Small Catechism says it well – as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer “Thy WILL BE DONE” … Luther responds:

“The good and gracious will of God is done even without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may be done among us also.”

This seems to be what Jesus is saying, shortly after giving the Lord’s Prayer in Luke 11: “He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” – Luke 11:28.  In other words, we simply follow God’s Word so that His Will is done among us.

Friends, maybe you’ve been running your own building plan – trying to reach heaven, or make a name for yourself.  Are you exhausted with your tower building and name creating?  Do you have a lot of drag marks in the sand?  God’s telling you today – there’s a better way … hear the Word of God and obey it!  If you’re ready to do that, let me know, ok?

Turn to Jesus.  Everything you are striving to build … all the identity you hope to create … has been given to you in Christ!   Amen.

– Pastor Augie

Ministry Reimagined – Part 2

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

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

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

As our ministry is reimagined, this becomes our culture:

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

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

Amen!  May it be so, for Jesus’ sake,

Pastor Augie

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

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