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Who is the Son of Man?

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When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” – Matthew 16:13, NIV

Jesus asked His disciples two questions.  First he asked, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They answered him with an unsatisfying reply that I’ll paraphrase as, “Nobody really knows… They are still guessing.”  Then Jesus narrowed it down to perhaps what was more important to Him, and definitely was more important to His followers, when he asked, “But who do YOU say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15, emphasis mine).  These two questions show us the essence of the mission before us – making Jesus known, in a world that doesn’t really know Him.

Quite frankly, the answer to the question of who Jesus is, is even more confused nowadays than it was in Biblical times.  According to a Barna Research report from 2017[i], “5 Popular Beliefs about Jesus,” even though most people believe that Jesus was a real person, some don’t.  They also discovered that younger generations are increasingly less likely to believe that Jesus is God.  And Americans are divided on whether Jesus was sinless.  And yet, the majority of Americans claim to have made a commitment to Jesus Christ.  But if they doubt His divinity, sinlessness and even His existence … in the words of our Small Catechism … “what does this mean?” Even though the number is declining, studies still report that as many as 75% of Americans claim to be Christian. But then we have to ask if these are active followers of Jesus, or Christian in name only?

Whether it’s scientifically researched or purely anecdotal, we all recognize that times have changed in our country, and perhaps even more so in our Southwestern corner of the States.  Most of us can remember a time just a few short decades ago, when most people went to church – or at least knew they should go.  Most people knew about the Bible and the stories it contained, and they knew who Jesus was.  Furthermore, our society was built around the morality found in the Bible; it was assumed.  Nobody worried about Church and State issues as much; it was assumed that for the State to work, Church was necessary. But times have changed. And we have an opportunity to understand anew, as Concordia Seminary president Dale A. Meyer says[ii], “the radical nature of faith in Jesus,” because our faith in Jesus moves us to action that is often unpopular, and more and more counter-cultural.

The reason Jesus asked His disciples, “who do you say that I am?” is because He knew that their life depended on, and would be directed by, their answer to that question.  So when Peter responded, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 16:16-17).  Peter had given the right answer.  It was on this confession and understanding of who the Son of Man is, that Christ would build His Church.

Ultimately what we put our faith in is not health or possessions … or even family!  These are all gifts from our Creator, but they are not sufficient upon which to place our hope and our trust.  There is only One worthy of our faith.  There is only One whom we fear, love and trust above all else.  That is who the Son of Man is!

“Faith is a living, unshakeable confidence in God’s grace; it is so certain, that someone would die a thousand times for it. This kind of trust in and knowledge of God’s grace makes a person joyful, confident, and happy with regard to God and all creatures. This is what the Holy Spirit does by faith. Through faith, a person will do good to everyone without coercion, willingly and happily; he will serve everyone, suffer everything for the love and praise of God, who has shown him such grace.” (Martin Luther’s Preface to the Book of Romans)

So who is Jesus to you?  I pray that He is the One who puts your conscience at ease and gives you confidence when it comes to your future – both in this life and beyond – because He has addressed all your spiritual and physical needs.  But I also pray that He is the One who puts your heart, hands and head to work to make Him known to those who do not know Him and who need to feel His embrace!

At Redeemer we talk about “Joining Jesus in Our Community.”  Jesus made it His mission to reveal to the world God’s love through His witness and work – chief of which was His death on the cross.  And before He ascended into heaven, Jesus showed the world that He was triumphant over the grave, and He gave His followers the job of continuing His work of making Him known.  He said, “… you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8) Let us continue Jesus’ mission of revealing God’s Only Son to the World.  Let us make sure that people know who the Son of Man is!

Making Him known,

Pastor Augie

[i] https://issuu.com/concordiasem/docs/csm_fall_2017_final/6

[ii] Ibid.

Let Us Start to Rebuild

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Scripture:  I also told them about the gracious hand of my God on me and what the king had said to me. They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work. – Nehemiah 2:18

Observation:  The name Nehemiah means ‘Yah(weh) [the Lord] has compassion.’  He was the post-exilic governor of Judah, and the main character in the book of Nehemiah.  Nehemiah himself rose to high standing during the reign of the Persian Emperor Artaxerxes I (464–424 bc). He was designated the ‘cupbearer to the king’ (Neh. 1:11). This honorable position involved tasting wine for the king to ensure it was not poisoned.  This meant he was a trusted advisor and had the ear of the King.

Nehemiah’s work in Jerusalem began when his brother Hanani visited him in Susa. Nehemiah asked about the condition of the returnees and learned that the people of Jerusalem were troubled and the walls of the city were broken down. This broke his heart for his people.  Nehemiah, like many exiles, had made Persia/Babylon his home following the exile.  But now he felt strong ties to his roots.

After prayer and fasting, he approached Artaxerxes and asked permission to rebuild the city. Permission was granted and Nehemiah left with royal edicts to authorize his effects (Neh. 1:1–2:10).

Even with the king’s permission and blessing, Nehemiah faced all kinds of opposition… from surrounding provinces, and even from the Jewish people.  Why?  They were threatened by the rebuilding and afraid.  Nevertheless it was real for Nehemiah.  It mean that he and his workers were mocked verbally, and even with force.  Bottom line is that Nehemiah had every reason to quit.  But he was so devoted to the calling of the Lord to rebuild, that he was not disuaded and continued on.

It’s important to note that Nehemiah did not just rebuild the physical city of Jerusalem, but he also devoted himself to restoring the religion and faith of Judah.  He revived their faith in and faithfulness to God.

Application:  Don’t those two have to go together?  What good is it to have a physically strong body, but have a spiritually empty soul?  Likewise Nehemiah didn’t just want to put up new walls on the city, but re-establish the spiritual health of the people of Judah beginning with Jerusalem.

These days in our country, there is so much brokenness – if not because of the physical destruction caused by hurricanes and floods, because of the spiritual destruction caused by battling opposing ideologies and the hectic pace of life.

It’s time to rebuild.    Most obviously we need to rebuild broken roads and electrical grids.  But we must also rebuild relationships.  We need to see our neighbor not as our enemy … but to see the brokenness as our enemy.    And we must rebuild our spiritual health – by returning to the Lord.

I love what we read earlier in Nehemiah “They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand.” (Neh. 1:10)  To me that means that God is always rescuing His lost people – and He will rescue, restore and rebuild us even now.

Prayer:  Help me turn my heart to you God, and begin the rebuilding today – starting with me.  Restore my spirit and renew my strength.  And allow me to be a part of rebuilding your people.  In Your Name.  Amen.

To learn more about the #LifeJournal reading plan I am using, see this post: Rev Augie’s Blog – Daily Bible Reading.

Reformation 2017 – It’s Still about Jesus

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“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” – Ephesians 2:8-9, NKJV

I distinctly remember sitting in a Lutheran Church in Arizona – well into my adulthood – when I first really grasped the Grace of our Lord’s Gospel.  I remember the pastor preaching and it hit me right between the eyes: I was not saved by any amount of my good works… but wait! I thought that was the point of keeping the Commandments? … No, while my obedience was good, it would never be good enough to earn me salvation or somehow to make me worthy of the eternal blessings of God.  Those would only be received as a free gift – given by the Grace of God because of the completed and perfect work of Jesus Christ on the cross!  I would never be able to be so good as to merit this favor, and I would never be able to be so bad as to be unforgiven of all my sins.  Wow.  In that moment, I truly felt lighter.

And in that moment, this former Catholic perhaps had more in common with Martin Luther than do many life-long Lutherans.  Why is that?  Because what I experienced – being freed from condemnation of the Law through the Grace of God in Christ (Romans 8:1) – is what Martin Luther personally experienced that sparked the Reformation some 500 years ago in Wittenberg Germany!  I can relate to being under the same crushing effects of guilt and shame that drove Luther to spend hours in the confessional as he tried to lead a pure monastic lifestyle through which somehow to attain God’s Righteousness.  But it was in that struggle, under the fear of condemnation, that Luther stumbled upon the merciful offer of comfort found in Paul’s letter to the Romans.  The verse “For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” (Romans 1:17) held special meaning for Luther.  This verse used to plague him with fear, because he knew he was not righteous before God, due to his many sins.  But one day, the light of the Gospel broke through to him and he saw clearly that Scripture points to the source of the righteousness we need.  It is in fact God’s righteousness given to us by faith (faith alone!) not our own righteousness that saves us.  And for the struggling sinner – me, Luther, you – this is music to our ears!

So with a heart full of renewed hope, Luther set out to release the Gospel from the obscurity it had known under centuries of the Papacy.  Such atrocities had developed, that poor sinners were filled with fear believing that they would be condemned for their sin, with no hope other than to pay for “indulgences” with money, or suffer punishment in purgatory – a spiritual sort of waiting room before entrance into heaven.  Unfortunately, man loves the darkness, and the Good News of freedom in Christ that Luther shared was not well received by his contemporaries.  The rest is “history” as they say.  There are a number of good documentaries and even a new movie coming to a theater in our area (see www.luthermovie.link/SanMarcos) that teach about the Lutheran Reformation that began five centuries ago in late October 1517.

Our church body, the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, even has a website (https://lutheranreformation.org) dedicated to providing all sorts of resources regarding the Reformation.  I particularly like the phrase they use for this quincentennial celebration: “Reformation 2017 – It’s Still All about Jesus.”  Yes, it has been 500 years since the Reformation; and while many things in our culture have changed in that timespan, one thing has not changed, and that is what the Reformation was about: Jesus.  It was about freeing lost, condemned, guilty and burdened souls with the life-giving and freeing Gospel of Jesus Christ then … and it still is now!  So as we celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation at Redeemer by the Sea, we do so not only looking backward – but looking outward toward the lost and hurting people who need Jesus and His Grace as much today as they did 500 years ago!

You hear me talk a lot about “mission” … that we are a people who are “Joining Jesus on His mission” to seek and save the lost.  It truly is mission-critical work that we are always about – sharing the message of the Gospel with those who need to hear it.  Luther did it in his day, in his way, and we do it today, in our way.  The people that we encounter today may not be worried about whether they will spend years in purgatory… but they are worried and weighed down with a great many things. And they need to hear about Jesus.  As Luther said, “God doesn’t need your good works.  Your neighbor does.”  Please put the freedom and joy that you experience as a saved soul, certain and firm in your salvation, into action loving and serving your neighbor as the hands and feet of Christ.

Even Paul’s great words of comfort in the much-loved-by-Lutherans verses of Ephesians 2:8-9, are followed by this very important verse: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).  Fear of God’s judgment doesn’t spur us into mission.  No, our freedom in the Gospel does!  I believe the best way that we can celebrate the Reformation is to carry on Luther’s work of sharing the Truth of God’s Word with lost and hurting people, relieving their consciences and freeing their souls.

It’s Still All About Jesus,

Pastor Augie

Ctrl+Alt+Delete… Resetting Life, from Regret to Repentance

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“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” – Romans 7:24-25

Do you ever wish you could reboot your life like you reboot your computer? What is it that has gone wrong in your life that you wish you could go back and undo? This series will guide us in a time to reflect on what is wrong in our lives and to “reboot” with the only One who can give us a truly fresh start, Jesus Christ. In this series, we’ll look at some of life’s most common regrets and then talk about how repentance can bring forgiveness, hope, and comfort in Christ.   Here are just some of the areas[i] we’ll explore in this series:

Righteousness. Have you ever heard someone openly share something they struggle with? Maybe it was an addiction, anger, pride, lust, envy, gossip, overeating, a disease, a death in the family, a work problem, etc.… When someone is transparent about a struggle in their life we listen; especially if we have the same struggle. In Romans chapter 7, the curtain is drawn and we peer through the window deep into the Apostle Paul’s heart and mind as he struggles. He’s struggling with the yearning to be righteous, in right relationship with God, yet there is the recurring reality of sin in his life. You and I yearn for righteousness too.  And while there is a certain amount of comfort and community in knowing that our struggle with sin is something that others go through, that’s not enough. If our struggle with sin would remain forever, ultimately that would lead us to despair, to cry out, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me…?” (Romans 7:24) In other words, “is there any way to reboot?” St. Paul answers his struggle and ours, “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25).

Peace: God calls us to a life of peace, but that can be difficult in a world fraught with danger, conflict, chaos, distractions, and demands. Often we are driven to seek peace in possessions or within ourselves. This kind of peace is shallow, at best. God promises something better, God promises a reboot. He tells us to bring all our worries to Him, all our problems to Him, to place our faith in Him, and He will give us peace (Philippians 4:6-7). He calls us to repentance and graciously forgives our sins and looks upon us with acceptance and favor. God’s peace is rooted in a relationship with him. God’s peace sustains us through life’s challenges. God’s peace endures. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” Jesus says. (Matthew 11:28).

Desires: A child throws a tantrum. A woman shoplifts. A son steals money from his dad’s wallet. A spouse commits adultery. Why? They all want something they cannot have. Adam and Eve also desired something they couldn’t have. This first couple was put in charge of God’s perfect creation. But Satan, wanting to steal their allegiance away from God, had to defame God’s character. Satan is crafty, clever, and the master of deception. Martin Luther said of him: “On earth is not his equal.” With the question “Did God really say…?” Satan planted doubt in Eve’s heart, directing her attention to the only tree in Eden prohibited by God. For Eve, that one tree became her desire. The problem with desire is that there is always something that we want and do not have. Satan deceptively asks each one of us: “If God really loves you why doesn’t He give you what you want?”

Love: All of us go through times where we make mistakes or are unlovable. Many times when we mess up, we have the hardest time forgiving ourselves. We continually replay the situation and think of all the ways we should have/could have handled it differently. Satan uses these “if only’s” to cause us to doubt ourselves and “prove” to us how unworthy we are. But God, on the other hand, often reminds us of His goodness and grace. We mess up and need a Savior (Romans 3:23-24).  We need a reboot. In Isaiah 43, we clearly see that Yahweh has “redeemed you.” He stated, “You are mine” and “Do not be afraid, I am with you.” Rather than beating ourselves up over what we have done wrong, we are to remember the promise that we are redeemed and He is with us.

As we go through this series over the next few months, may you and I learn to turn to God with our regrets.  With repentance in our hearts, may we be freed from whatever is behind us that has us stuck … and allow God to “Reboot” our lives and receive new life in Him.   Truly there is no regret He cannot restore, and nothing broken that He cannot rebuild.  Just like the buttons Ctrl+Alt+Del on a computer allow us to start fresh, so too does the forgiveness that we receive in the Father+Son+HolySpirit allow us to reboot our lives!

Refreshed & Renewed in Christ,

Pastor Augie

[i] Thanks to Rev. Dr. Michael Hayes for providing materials used in this article and series.

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

Keeping Christmas

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keeping-christmas

“We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.” – 1 Corinthians 2:12

The title of this Advent’s message series “Keeping Christmas” is inspired by the final paragraph of Charles Dickens’ well-known and beloved book A Christmas Carol:

“He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!”

We do not know how to “keep Christmas well”, if our stress, spending, and spiritual celebrations were to be used as the evidence.  We need to know how the Lord would have us “keep,” or observe, the birth of our Savior.

Throughout this series we will describe and discover how we, like Dickens’ main character Ebenezer Scrooge, have failed to keep Christmas and how we, like he, are in need of a visitation; not by three spirits, but by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:12), with the result that we find and celebrate what the Lord most wants us to have – and keep – this Christmas.

Each week, we will consider one of the spirits that visited Scrooge, and the corresponding message that the Holy Spirit wants to convey to us through His Word and the Birth of God’s Son at Christmas:

  • December 4 The Ghost of Christmas Past – “Sorrow”
  • December 11 The Ghost of Christmas Present – “Repentance”
  • December 18 The Ghost of Christmas Future – “Transformation”

“Bah!  Humbug!”  was Scrooge’s favorite saying.  What does that mean?  “Bah!” is a kind of dismissive expression.  “Humbug” refers to “deception.”  That’s what Scrooge thought of Christmas.  He thought it was nothing more than foolish trickery.  Why?  For one thing, Scrooge was carrying around a lot of sorrow – baggage that turned him into what Dickens called “A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner!”  He had been abandoned in boarding house as a boy, and lost the love of his life because he loved the idea of becoming wealthy more than he did the girl who loved him. That sorrow became a chain that weighed down his soul.  You and I carry our own sorrow and it interferes with us truly “Keeping Christmas.”

The ghost of Christmas Past came to “reclaim” Scrooge.  In the same way, Christ came to ransom, or reclaim us.  The ghost takes Scrooge on a journey all the way back to his childhood.  Then the next ghost takes Scrooge to the present day where he must confront the world that he has created for himself.  He learns of the way that others speak of him and his scrooginess.  He is shown that the actions of the present will shape his future – but that future is changeable.  So it is for us Christians.  Christ forgives our past and as we turn from our sin He then works in and through us to fashion a future for us – a better one.

How do we hope to “keep Christmas” this year?  How might we serve those around us as a way of keeping Christmas well?  The Apostle Paul underwent his own “visitation” as he was overcome by the blinding light of Christ.  In that experience, Paul was transformed by the only power that can transform any of us: the grace of God.  It is the Spirit’s power that enables us to die to self.  And it is God’s grace that gives us new life, the life of Christ.  May we keep it well.

Keeping Christmas with you,

Pastor Augie

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