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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

Freedom – Not “From,” But “For”

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“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” – John 8:36

During this month of our national elections, as well as Veterans Day, we Americans often find ourselves taking stock of our freedom. What a wonderful blessing it is to be able to vote for our leadership and to have the freedom to talk about our faith.   We appreciate that this freedom comes at a cost to those who risk their lives and have even offered their lives to protect our freedoms. Even more, as Christians we revel in the freedom from sin, death and condemnation that we enjoy because of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ – who gave His life for our sakes (John 8:36).

November also finds us pausing for a national day of Thanksgiving.  And so it’s fitting that we take time as a congregation to reflect upon what we have been blessed with, how faithful our Lord has been to us, and what it means to be His children.  As we do, we contemplate our gifts and offerings and we consider making a commitment to the Lord’s work through Redeemer by the Sea during our Giving to His Glory stewardship emphasis.

People sometimes ask me, “Do I have to make a pledge?” The simple answer to that is, No. Quite frankly, you don’t have to do anything – you have much freedom.  the Apostle Paul even acknowledges that all things are permissible (1 Cor 10:23a) – but He quickly adds that not all things are beneficial or profitable (1 Cor 10:23b).  The truth is, there is much value to be had in making a pledge – not because of any obligation or guilt, but because of what the pledge signifies. It signifies a recognition on our part of who we are … and whose we are. It shows that we recognize that God is the owner of all things, including our life and our possessions.  The question is what are we going to do with these things He has entrusted us with?

The answer to that question is that we have freedom. But what kind of freedom?  Christian freedom is not the freedom to be my own God and therefore to decide what is good and what is evil. Christian freedom does not mean that all God asks of me is to believe in Jesus, but nothing else. Christian freedom does not mean that I am permitted to do whatever I want even if it conflicts with what God desires for me. I do not have the freedom to abuse my neighbor or Ignore his needs.

No, Christian Freedom means that we have been set free from death (Romans 8:2) we’ve been set free from the consequences of sin (Romans 8:1) we’ve been set free from the debilitating effect of a troubled conscience and we have also been set free from materialism (Mark 8:36) that makes money, and what it can buy, be our God.

So as Christians we have much freedom but for what?  Freedom – not “from,” but “for.”  Christ has set us free to be His people.  To abide in Him.  To continue in His Word.  We’ve been set free to love and serve God and our neighbor.  We’ve been freed to represent God as His ambassadors.  And we’ve been freed to generously share what God has blessed us with – looking not only to our own interest, but looking unselfishly for the interest of others (Philippians 2:4).

This November is a busy month!  We will conclude our study of the Book of James, which has taught us much about being mature disciples of Jesus, and then turn our thoughts toward the celebration of Advent and Christmas with all of its wonder and beauty!  We may even look further toward the coming year and be filled with anticipation and hope.  Whatever we do this November, let us take some time to reflect on all that God has blessed us with, and recognize that without Him we would have no good thing.  May that reflection prompt us to put all of our longings and desires into perspective and humbly and prayerfully consider how God would call us to partner with Him in reaching our community for Christ!  What exciting and significant work, the Lord allows us to join Him in doing.

Joining Jesus in our Community … with you,

Pastor Augie

Easter – Living the Victory!

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Easter Victory

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

May you live in victory – with Christ!

A Manger Is Not That Comfortable …

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When I am going out of town to a conference, I wonder … will my bed at the hotel be as comfortable as at home? It’s likely, that even with “deluxe” pillows, I won’t sleep as well as in my own bed. Do you find the same to be true for you? … Well, my kids have taught me a saying that may be relevant in this situation … “that’s a first-world problem,” they say. There are so many people in the so-called third world who do not even have a bed to sleep in, and yet we in America (a first world country) worry about thread-count and memory foam. We also have leather seats, surround sound and air conditioning in our vehicles. We are very concerned about comfort.

I wonder what it felt like for the Christ-child to leave His heavenly “bed” and be born in a stable and sleep in a manger – a feed trough for animals! What about HIS comfort? My bet is that a manger is not that comfortable. And yet, that is so much like our Lord – He is willing to sacrifice His comfort for ours!

This Advent, we are in a message series that catches our attention because of the words, “Comfort” and “Joy.” During these troubled and unsettled times, we are really looking for a place where we can find comfort and joy.

Simply turn on the news, and you and I will see images of violence, dishonesty and danger. It can be very unsettling.   Even in the seats of our plush armchairs, we don’t find true comfort.

We can spend our Christmas bonus – and then some – on gifts for ourselves and others; and we can post pictures of our vacations and travels on Facebook, and yet we do not find true joy.

Why? Why is comfort and joy so attractive? And why is it so elusive? The answer is simply because true comfort and joy is not found in any earthy thing, place or person. It can only be found in God.

Each week leading up to Christmas, we will look at sections of Isaiah 40. In them, we will find out about the different kinds of comfort Christ comes to bring, and experience the resulting joy that can be lived out. Here is a preview of each week in the series:

  • Week 1: The Peace of Christ (Isaiah 40:1-2): True peace comes only through Jesus Christ and the forgiveness that he brings. He ends warfare without and within. He is the Prince of Peace.
  • Week 2: The Pardon of Christ (Isaiah 40:3-5): We prepare the way of the Lord through repentance, as the forgiveness we receive through Christ makes the rough places of our lives smooth.
  • Week 3: The Presence of Christ (Isaiah 40:6-9): We remember that Christ is present with us now and that he will come again in glory on the Last Day.
  • Week 4: The Power of Christ (Isaiah 40:10-11): God himself came to live among us and be our Savior, but his power was displayed in the weakness and humility of the manger and the cross.

We hope that you’ll join us for some or all of this message series. But mostly, we pray that you will find comfort and joy in the only place it is to be found – in Jesus! He sacrificed His comfort by humbling himself to take on human flesh and by allowing himself to be crucified. He did this though, Hebrews 12:2 tells us, “For the joy set before him.”   Jesus found His joy in us … May we find our joy in Him! We pray you are blessed by this season of Advent preparation for the coming Christ Child.

Joy in Jesus!

Pastor Augie.

P.S. If you’d like to serve others by sacrificing some of your own comfort this Christmas, consider making a year-end donation to our Christmas offering – its purpose is to help those in need.   It beats sleeping in a manger!

Leaving a Legacy – Thanks Mom!

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Mother’s Day is May 11th. It’s a time to show our appreciation for our moms and it’s a time to think about how important their role in our family is.   In the book of Joel, we read:

“Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation.” (Joel 1:3)

Of course, this applies to both fathers and mothers – and actually to our whole society – since we all pass on learning and a legacy to the next generation. But moms are particularly important in the role of teaching children. Just look at some of the things we learn from Mom*:

  • My mother taught me LOGIC.
    “Because I said so, that’s why.”
  • My mother taught me FORESIGHT.
    “Make sure you wear clean underwear, in case you’re in an accident.”
  • My mother taught me IRONY.
    “Keep crying, and I’ll give you something to cry about.”
  • My mother taught me RELIGION.
    “You better pray that will come out of the carpet.”
  • My mother taught me about ANTICIPATION.
    “Just wait until we get home.”
  • And my favorite: my mother taught me about JUSTICE.
    “One day you’ll have kids, and I hope they turn out just like you!”

Moms do pass on this and much more to the next generation. But the prophet Joel reminds us that we do best when we pass on not just worldly wisdom, but God’s Truth to the next generation. How good it is when moms share their knowledge, wisdom, experience and love for God with us, because the next generation needs wisdom and knowledge: “How much better to get wisdom than gold, to get insight rather than silver!” (Proverbs 16:16) And moms have much to share.

The next generation also needs a moral compass. So moms have an important role of placing the Scriptures into the hands of their children and showing them that God’s Word is a lamp for their feet and a light for their path (Psalm 119:105). God’s Word helps children to learn right from wrong, and to be able to discern the devil’s schemes. This is so important in a world where the Truth of God has been compromised and so many are falling for the tricks of the adversary. We wouldn’t let our children wander unguided into areas of danger such as playing in traffic, or near the edge of a cliff, would we? Then we need to show our children the protection, guidance and safety that comes through the wisdom found in the Scriptures.

And finally, the next generation needs love and prayer. You’ve heard the saying, “a face a mother could love?” Mom’s have been known to love us even when we do wrong things. They are proud of us, even when we finish dead last. They cheer us on, even though we gave up a long time ago. They kiss our boo-boo’s and they wipe our tears. And most importantly, they constantly lift our name before God’s throne in prayer. Thank you Mom for leaving a legacy of Godly living and faith for the next generation!

In appreciation and love,

Pastor Augie

*For more things our moms taught us, you can visit: http://tinyurl.com/MomTaught.

Were You There …

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our sins have died with Christ ...

our sins have died with Christ … Good Friday at Redeemer’s “Crosses of Calvary” display

At last night’s Good Friday service, we all “laid our sins” on the cross of Jesus Christ.  There they were put to death with Him!

His blood became your blood as He died to take the punishment you deserved … and I deserved … and the whole world deserved.  Why? … Because He loves you.  How? … Because He is the Son of God.  Only His Blood has this power – to do what no other blood could ever do.

11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. 14 For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. (Hebrews 10:11-14)

Now as we wait for Easter Sunday, we wait patiently with hope – because we know the end of the story!  Jesus does not stay dead …

“Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime” – Martin Luther

… and neither will you and I!  Look around you – flowers are coming to bloom.  Seeds are sprouting to life.  They were lying dormant in the ground, only to burst forth in beauty and splendor!

It is so fitting that Easter is in Spring.  What a great reminder that Christ’s death … and our death too! … only looks like it’s the end.

May you be filled with hope as you await the Resurrection!

Only by God’s grace,

Pastor Augie.

Why Lent?

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Lent is upon us!  Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, which falls on March 5th this year, and ends on Easter Sunday which falls on April 20th this year.  Lent is a period in the church calendar that is designed to be a penitential season of reflection and preparation.  The word Lent derives from a root word meaning “lengthen.”  In the season of Spring the days are lengthening. That’s perhaps a part of what Lent is about.  But also, historically in the Church, the practice of observing the Easter vigil was “lengthened” to 40 days – and thus this period of time became known as Lent.

Why forty days?  In the Bible, 40 days is a holy and complete time.  We see significant events in the Bible occurring in 40 days.  Moses was on Mt. Sinai receiving the 10 commandments for 40 days.  During the flood of Noah it rained for 40 days and 40 nights.  When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, it was for 40 days.  And so the early Christian Church set the calendar for Lent at 40 days.  (Note – when you add up the days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday you actually get more than 40 days.  That’s because the Sundays in Lent don’t count toward the 40 days.  On Sunday, the Lord’s day, the Church breaks from the penitence for one day of rejoicing and praise recognizing that Christ has overcome the grave and is alive and reigning! See Matt. 9:15)

So what happens during the 40 days?  Since Scripture does not mandate what is to happen during Lent, there is freedom and variety in how to observe this period of preparation.  I would suggest that anything that we can do to increase our awareness of Christ’s sacrifice, and what it means for us, is beneficial.  So at our church this means that we change things a bit by adding some things and taking some things away.  During Lent, we add midweek worship services that provide an extra opportunity to gather for prayer, meditation and reflection of the Lord’s passion and crucifixion.  And we also take some things away.  Usually decorations and celebrations are kept to a minimum, and in our worship services we generally choose hymns with a more somber tone, meaning that hymns and liturgical responses with “Alleluia’s” (a word expressing jubilation) are usually avoided.

What about for you?  I likewise recommend that in your individual observance of Lent that you also add some things and take some things away. For the period of Lent, you may want to consider adding some extra devotion time.  For your convenience, we make free Lenten devotional booklets available so you can have some special time of focus through Scripture and prayer.  You also may want to add in some time of corporate worship. Each Wednesday in Lent we offer a special evening service that is simpler in form and allows you the opportunity to sing and pray with other believers.  But also for the forty day period of Lent you may want to take something away.  We call this “fasting” and it is a spiritual discipline that has been practiced for centuries.

We see that in the Bible fasting is a spiritual discipline that was practiced by prophets, kings and apostles.  We see that many significant Biblical characters were blessed by God through fasting – Moses, David, Elijah, Nehemiah, Esther, Daniel and Paul, for example.  Even our Lord Jesus fasted as a way to draw closer to the Father while He was being tempted by the devil in the desert (see Matthew 4).

What comes to mind when you think of fasting?  Is it something that only “super-spiritual” people do?  Is it something you think people do for attention?  Is it a gimmick?  Is it a diet program?  It is none of those things.   A simple definition of fasting is abstaining from something for spiritual purposes.  Often it’s food that we forgo when fasting, but really anything that we give our attention to is something that could be removed in order to create more room for God in your life.  When you fast, your desire is to draw closer to God and to ask God to reveal himself to you.  Sometimes our lives get so full of the blessings of God, that we crowd out the One that is doing the blessing – God Himself.  Sometimes we have so much going on that if God wanted to speak to us there is so much noise and so much activity in our life that we couldn’t hear Him if He said something to us.  Remember, God often speaks in a whisper (1 Kings 19:12).  The purpose of fasting is to increase your awareness of and dependence upon God.

That is my prayer for you, that this period of Lent will be used by God to draw you closer to Himself, and to increase your awareness of how God is working in and through you to proclaim the cross of Christ.

Remembering and proclaiming Christ’s Sacrifice,

Pastor Augie

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