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Stones Cry Out …

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[Jesus] answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” (Luke 19:40)

PA & Mom – picture taken at Redeemer October, 2017

Unfortunately, I spent the bulk of February in Buffalo, New York with my mom who is suffering from complications from a relatively straightforward surgery that went wrong.   She’s 83 and a strong-willed woman with great faith.  It’s those things that have enabled her to endure almost a month of being confined to bed in a hospital with tubes and wires vexing her body; and she has handled this with grace and patience.  In so doing however, she’s witnessed to our family (near and extended) as well as a boatload of caregivers, doctors and custodial workers, that even when we’re down, Christians cry out to God.  And we don’t just cry out in our need, we cry out in praise!

Family, friends and hospital workers have witnessed groups of loved ones circled around my mom in prayer multiple times a day – not just keeping vigil over my mom – but praying with her.  And they have seen her holding hands and making the sign of the cross after every prayer.  She cannot speak because of breathing tubes and ventilators obstructing her vocal cords … but she has done everything within her power to witness to God’s unfailing love, reminding herself and all of us where our only hope lies – in Jesus, our Lord, and His saving work on the cross.

As we round the corner into March, soon it will be Palm Sunday.  And my mom’s predicament reminds me of something Jesus said when He entered Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday, as crowds were gathered to celebrate the Passover.  People were shouting and singing joyfully “Hosanna” – which means “save us!”  They couldn’t help it.  Their deepest need, and their greatest joy, was welling up in a song of hope!  But there were some religious leaders who heard this shouting and they reprimanded Jesus saying, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” (Luke 19:39).  To which Jesus answered,  “I tell you, … if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” (Luke 19:40).

Jesus says that even those with the inability to speak … would praise Jesus anyway! My mom can’t speak, but she is crying out to Jesus anyway – in both her need, and also in thanksgiving and joy, trusting Him to graciously provide for her as He has always done.

So often we feel as though we can only proclaim Jesus when things are going well.  And in some ways, that’s what the Palm Sunday crowd did. They praised Him for all the miracles they had seen Him do.  They cried out to Him when they were hopeful that He would show His power and might in the ways they wanted Him to do.   But as the prospects turned grim and the horizon turned dark, they one by one fled.  And instead of crying out to Jesus, they only cried.

And yet, the stones did cry out in their place as it were.  There was a great earthquake as Jesus was crucified.  The earth shook and the rocks split (Matthew 27:51). Even the tombs broke open, and the dead were raised to life! (Matthew 27:52).  And then after three days, the stones cried out again as Jesus rose from the dead! There was a violent earthquake and an angel of the Lord rolled back the stone that covered Jesus’ tomb (Matthew 28:2).  Even when the outlook was bleak …  even those things that couldn’t speak … found a way to cry out praise to the Lord!

There are many times when I find that I keep my mouth – my very able-bodied mouth – shut, when I should be crying out to God.  I keep my mouth shut when I should be crying out “Save us, dear Jesus!”  I keep my mouth shut when I should be singing “Great are you Lord!” I keep my mouth shut when I should be shouting “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near!”  Oh that you and I would cry out with our very capable voices while we are able to speak.

Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices; together they shout for joy.
When the Lord returns to Zion, they will see it with their own eyes.
– Isaiah 52:8

Perhaps this Holy Week and Easter, which is only a few weeks away, would be a good time for you to speak up and witness to the Lord with your friends and family.  They too have much to be thankful for, and many needs to bring to God.  They too have mouths which were created to cry out to God.  Perhaps use this Newsletter as a tool with which to shout for Joy and sing God’s praises?

Joyfully proclaiming Jesus with you!

 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

One Foot in Front of the Other

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I was recently officiating a funeral, when one young man who had just lost his grandfather, was recounting losing his father at a very young age.  He said that he got through those tough days by simply “putting one foot in front of the other.”

Then shortly after that, one gentleman in our morning prayer group was sharing a story about his friend, a WWII veteran, who was one of only a few people to survive the Bataan Death March … How did he do it?  He said that he would look at a point on the path just a little bit farther than they were at the moment, and he would say to himself, “I can go that far.”  Then when he got there, and he would do that again – and again -and again.

That’s not entirely unlike what Nik Wallenda did back in 2012 in my hometown – Niagara Falls, NY.  Take a look at these pictures …

Walenda-1
Walenda-2
Talk about putting one foot in front of the other!

There are times and circumstances in your life, where you could become paralyzed by fear and the difficulty of the situation…  OR… you can choose to go on by putting one foot in front of the other and keep moving on faith.   Let me suggest that you do the latter.  And when you do … it’s amazing what God will bring you through… and where God will bring you to.

Walking with Jesus, day by day,

Pastor Augie

God is in Control!

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“‘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)

There are times when life just seems confusing, directionless, even pointless. It’s at these times that we need to know that God is in control and He’s constantly working all the pieces of our lives into a larger plan and tapestry that is ultimately good. This really goes against the sense of rugged individualism that pervades our culture: “if it’s up to be, it’s up to ME!” … and “look out for NUMBER ONE.” The problem with these views is that when you are what it’s all about, then ultimately, you are all you have – and that’s a lonely place to be. This verse reminds me that I’m a part of something larger. … and that I belong to someone stronger. Thanks be to God that He is in control and He is working out His plan in my life… and yours!

The Return of Jesus Christ

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“So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”  –  Matthew 24:44

One of the highlights of this study on the book of Revelation for me will remain last Sunday’s Children’s Message at the 8:30 service, when I asked the children the question, “What can you do to get ready for Jesus to come back to earth?”  I expected the kids to say things like “pray.” “go to church.” “read the Bible.” “be good.” … or to just be confused and not know what to do to be ready.  That’s when little Maggie (who just turned 5!) raised her hand. After hemming and hawing a bit, she cautiously offered this response, “we could have a party?”

And I immediately thought, “what a great response!” So often we are encouraged to look for that day when Jesus returns with either fear or at least delay.  One time when I was a child, a preacher asked the congregation, “who wants Jesus to return?” And everybody’s hand went up! … Then he asked, “who wants Him to return tomorrow?” … and almost nobody raised their hand.  Why?  If we know that Jesus is going to come to bring us home with Him.  If we realize that once Jesus returns there will be no more sadness, evil, pain or brokenness.  If we realize that when Jesus returns we will spend forever content in the new heavens and new earth.  And if we realize that we are made ready for the coming judgment, not by how good we have been, but because God declares us righteous through our baptisms and our faith in Christ’s completed work on the cross … then why would we want to delay that reply?  Why wouldn’t we do just what Maggie suggested, and throw a party?

I hope and pray that in your heart, you are looking forward to Jesus return with the joy and anticipation you would look forward to a party.  And I hope and pray that when Jesus returns, He will feel received by us as the guest of honor at a party just for Him!  May it be so, for the sake of Christ!

Ready for Christ’s return with you,

Pastor Augie

Shine Like Stars!

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“Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’ Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky” (Philippians 2:14-15)

This month at Redeemer, the children at Vacation Bible School will be learning to “Shine!” This year’s VBS theme seems particularly relevant to even the adults at our church. Our mission statement is “to be a lighthouse to our community and the world.” And, what do lighthouses do? … They shine! I firmly believe that if people are going to see the light of Christ in the world today, it is going to be through His people, sharing His Love and His Word! After all, we are to be shining like a city on a hill, right? (Matthew 5:14).

SHINE VBS at Redeemer July, 2014

SHINE VBS at Redeemer July, 2014

In Philippians chapter 2, we are encouraged to stand out among those in a warped and crooked generation. When we live by the light of God’s Word, we do look different than the world – we stand out! And just like the Psalmist exclaims, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” (Psalm 19:1) So we glorify God when we shine like stars in the sky.

It may be difficult for us to see it in our sin-sick world, but we are already bearers of that light and glory of God now! One day that light will be visible for all to see – No one will be able to deny the Light of God nor the Glory of Christ our King when He returns! But for now, that glory is visible to us through the eyes of faith. And our faith directs us to Scripture to see the ways in which the Glory of Christ is present with us now, but will be more fully revealed at Christ’s second coming. The VBS curriculum captures these images of glory in terms of five “crowns” that are in store for Christians. Can you see how we already possess these in Christ?

1. The Crown of VICTORY – Just as an athlete in the Olympic Games would get a wreath (crown) placed on their heads when they were victorious, so do Christians receive a crown of glory after we have completed the course that the Lord has prepared for us. (1 Corinthians 9:25) And yet, we are already victorious in Christ – because He has defeated the enemy for us!

2. The Crown of LIFE – The greatest and final enemy that Christ has defeated is that of death. “Where O death is your victory?” (1 Corinthians 15:55). The Bible tells us that when we have stood the test, we will receive the crown of life (James 1:12). And yet, we already have new life in Christ! (Romans 6:4)

3. The Crown of REJOICING – Oh how believers in Jesus will rejoice when He returns in glory! (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20). And yet, those of us who know the Lord, rejoice in Him now (Philippians 4:4). Part of what it means to have the Holy Spirit in us through faith and baptism, means that we already bear the spiritual fruit of joy now (Galatians 5:22).

4. The Crown of GLORY – Many believers today are despised for their faith, and even persecuted. When Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount, He encouraged His hearers by reminding them that the meek will one day be glorified in God’s presence. The Apostle Peter echoes this when he says “you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade” (1 Peter 5:4). And yet, even now we bring God glory when we honor and worship Him.

5. The Crown of RIGHTEOUSNESS – We await the consummation and perfection of our righteousness – a time when we will no longer sin. The Bible refers to this as a crown to be awarded to us when Christ returns (2 Timothy 4:8). And yet, even now in Christ, we have become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Please join me in rejoicing that these crowns are ours in Christ! May the knowledge of who we are in Christ allow us to shine brightly for all to see – and in so doing, may we proclaim God’s glory.

Shining Christ’s Light,

Pastor Augie

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.

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