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A Discipleship Movement!

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“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” – Matthew 28:19-20

I am not much of a chef – or a baker for that matter.  If I were going to bake something, I’d need explicit instructions … starting with where to find the baking pans, spatulas and ingredients in my own kitchen!  So the truth is out.  I survive off other people’s cooking 😊

When Jesus told us to go and make disciples of all nations, He didn’t give explicit instructions.  He did instruct us to “baptize and teach,” but as the multitude of Christian church styles and denominations reveals – there is a lot of variety in exactly how to do that.  Virtually every Christian church’s mission statement can be boiled down in one way or another to the Great Commission given by Jesus – “go and make disciples.”  And truly, that is something to be thankful for.  We are all trying to carry out what Jesus left us to do until He returns.

In an attempt to navigate the multitude of methods and strategies of carrying out the Great Commission, several myths about making disciples seem to have developed in church circles.  Using an excerpt from the book “From Followers to Leaders”[1] that I received during my most recent PLI Missional Leader training in Cary, NC in February, let me help us debunk some myths about developing disciples.

Myth: developing disciples is about having the right program to run people through.

The reality is that developing disciples is primarily a relational process centered on the individual, not the system. The most effective starting point is the person, not the program. Whether it was Nicodemus ( John 3:1-21, or the woman at the well (John 4:1-26), Jesus started with the person.  He didn’t tell them that his next training program began in 3 weeks; the signup was in the lobby.  He taught them what they needed to learn when they needed to learn it.

Myth: developing disciples is a synonym for training.

The reality is that training constitutes one small piece of discipleship, and it doesn’t always look like classroom training.  There’s a certain amount of knowledge that needs to be imparted, that is true.  But often the most important things that we learn are better “caught than taught.”  That’s one reason why I love our Wednesday morning prayer and study group.  We may be looking at a passage that we’ve all heard before.  We all “know” it – but we all grow by learning how the other person applies it to their life or the situation being discussed.

Myth: developing disciples correctly means treating them all the same and expecting that they will all turn out the same.

The reality is that each potential disciple has different God-given gifts, capacities, and callings. Developing a quiet intercessor will look very different from developing an international missionary. And it should. Disciples do not all look the same, nor do we all have the same work to do.  (Ephesians 2:10)

Myth: discipleship begins with mature Christians.

The reality is that because we are whole beings, developing disciples is a holistic process. Discipleship actually begins with pre-Christians.  One of the most exciting areas of discipleship that Rachelle and I look forward to exploring in our missional community is bringing pre-Christians into our discussion group alongside more mature Christians.  We won’t all be at the same starting point, but we will all grow together.

Myth: discipleship primarily focuses on skills.

The reality is that skills are only one piece of the whole pie. Effective discipleship takes into account the individual as a personal, social, emotional, spiritual being. Any compartmentalization of these areas of our lives is artificial.  One of the tides and misconceptions in the church that we need to combat is that “church stuff” only happens inside the church.  We need to carry our discipleship into our workplaces, marketplaces and homes.  And we need to allow our members to see personal, social and family interactions as valid places where faith is developed and expressed.

After all, this is how Jesus did it.  Luke chapter 11 starts when Jesus was just doing life with his disciples and one of them said “teach us to pray.”  Luke chapter 6 starts as Jesus was going through the grain fields with his disciples.  It was then that they were ready to learn about the Sabbath, and so it was then that Jesus taught them.

I pray that we are all willing to be used by God in the process of making disciples wherever we are.  May this be a movement that starts now and continues until the Lord calls us home!

Making disciples with you,

Pastor Augie

[1] © 2008, by Robert E. Logan, Tara Miller, and Julie Becker

A Changeless GOD in a Changing World

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changelessgodsm

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Hebrews 13:8

Hebrews 13:8 was the theme verse for this year’s Pastors conference with the Pacific Southwest District. I was blessed to be able to attend this year’s conference (my 16th year in our district!) along with Rachelle and learn a number of things about how our God remains changeless even in a rapidly changing world.

It seems that with all the news about Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump dominating the media (and our conversations) it is clear that we are living in a changing world. Our older members see this when they consider how the culture of our society has changed in a handful of decades. Our younger members see this when they witness new technology emerging day after day, week after week, and year after year. It does seem as though the rate of change is speeding up not slowing down, doesn’t it?

And so how does a Christian respond in these changing times? As we have been learning from the Apostle James in our “Faith That Works” message series, let me suggest that we put our faith into action, and let our thoughts and emotions be guided by our changeless God, rather than by the changing circumstances around us.   How does God direct us …

… In a changing WORLD? One trend that we must recognize globally is that the “West” (meaning Europe and North America) is no longer the epicenter of Christianity. One conference speaker said that in the 1800’s approximately 90% of Christians worldwide lived in Europe and North America.  In the 1990s 60% of Christians were living in Africa, South America Asia and the Pacific – and that trend is increasing.  This means that as Christians, we need to respond in humility, not seeing ourselves as “rescuers” of Christians around the world, but partnering with them as together we serve the same God – diverse in cultures, but united in His Spirit.  It also means that we must be careful that all of our ministry remains rooted in the Cross of Christ.  Anything else won’t transcend cultures, and ultimately won’t matter.

… In a changing NATION?  Trends in the business world have informed some church practices over the last several decades.  Interestingly, what we are learning now is that the business world has begun moving toward “values-driven” leadership. What this means is that today’s generation is more interested in what a company stands for than just the products they sell. This is a good thing for the Church because it means that this generation is interested in the deeper issues that drive our ministry rather than just the externals of our presentation. But truthfully, this raises the bar for us. Today’s younger worshippers are not attracted to simply a “slick presentation,” but are more concerned with what is really driving our faith underneath. They want to see the changeless God shining through us. They want to join a church where people are deeply transformed by their relationship with God and are filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit. They want to belong to a church where the friendships are deep, marriages are strong, and the people are full of joy and love. Unfortunately, when they look at the Church, they don’t see patterns of spiritual and relational health that are much different than the world. Quite simply we cannot have a faith that is divorced from our life. This generation is not interested in our knowledge.  They need someone to show them Jesus.  Let’s show them the unchanging God who is “making his appeal through us.”  (2 Corinthians 5:19)

… In a changing COMMUNITY? At Redeemer we want to “Join Jesus in our Community.”   This means that we actually need to get out into our community.  You will be seeing more opportunities at Redeemer to get the message of the Gospel out to our neighbors and friends.  But at the same time, you need to begin to expand your “invite list.” Ask God to reveal to you: Who are the people in the circles that you travel? Where is God already at work in their life? Where can you shine the light of Jesus into both their joys and their struggles? Who is God leading you to invite with you along your journey of loving and serving the Lord and His people?

… In a changing HOME? Unfortunately, the landscape of our homes has also changed in recent decades. Sadly, many children experience homes where faith is not evident. Perhaps even more sadly, though, many children grow up in Christian homes where the faith that is professed on Sunday somehow does not make it to the home on Monday. Too often our homes have “outsourced” the faith education of their children.  The message of the Church needs to be bolstered in our families as we continue to expose our children at all ages and stages of life to the unchanging God who is there for them, reaches down to them, loves them, saves them, and who calls them to Himself!

At Redeemer, we share a Changeless God in a Changing World – with people groups who don’t look like us – with a nation that desperately needs to see the faith of Christians expressed with authenticity and integrity – with a community that needs us as much as we need them – and with homes that are rich in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18)!

Sharing the message and mission of Christ,

Pastor Augie

What to Make of the Trinity?

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How do you make sense of the Holy Trinity?  It is a challenging doctrine of the Christian Church, and yet it has been strongly and consistently held since the birth of the Church.

In this blog post, I am simply pulling together a variety of resources, that will appeal to a variety of audiences.  Some folks like a lot of information, others like videos and pictures … it’s all here…

I hope this helps!  Thank the Lord that He has revealed Himself to us as Father, Son & Holy Spirit.

In His Name,

Pastor Augie.

P.S.  One of our congregants recommends this issue of the journal “Stand to Reason” dedicated to the topic of the Trinity:  http://www.str.org/Media/Default/Publications/Solid%20Ground%2011-2015%20The%20Tirnity-1.pdf.  Happy Reading!

Mission? Or Mission-Like?

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But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  (Matthew 6:33)

Jesus understood the temptation of people to mistake the gift for the giver … to spend their time and energy going after the fruit, rather than seeking to be grounded in God and rooted in Christ.  As He spoke the above words during His “Sermon on the Mount,” He was redirecting His hearers to what was the right focus for their time, attention and efforts.  He understood that if they had their heart set on God and His righteousness – seeking to glorify Him, rather than self – then God would grant them the other things that they mistakenly thought were the main thing.

I believe that the same redirection is valuable for the Church.  Congregations can become so focused on achieving things that represent the fruit of a healthy ministry, but miss what it is that actually creates that fruit in a church.  It is true that a healthy church grows in attendance and giving – but focusing efforts on attendance and giving is not what increases those things. Rather, a church that has a heart set on God’s Kingdom and His righteousness is one that in fact God is pleased to grant growth and resources to.  It’s all about what you’re aiming at.

And so in 2016, Redeemer has determined to be a “church family joining Christ in our community.”  This is a noble vision, and will certainly require us to be on mission in our neighborhoods.  It is good for a congregation to desire to join Jesus on His mission.  However, there is a danger; we can become content with doing things that are “mission-like” without actually being “missional.” I would like to share with you three questions that I recently came across[i]. They are great questions for us to ask of our activities as a congregation and as an individual. These are questions that distinguish being authentically missional from being mission-like.

  1. Is the center on God or on the church? We can often ask questions and engage in actions that are church-centered, rather than God-centered. For example, the questions are “institution” focused and have more to do with what the church is doing rather than what God is doing.  This may seem like semantics, but it is more than that.  We run the risk of just being “mission-like” if we are thinking more about the church and what the church is doing for others.  We end up having the “shape” of mission rather than actually doing Christ’s mission.  To be truly missional, we should be focusing on God and what God is doing in the world around us.  When we encounter people are we trying to get them to look at US (or our church) or to look to God for their deepest needs?
  2. Is the focus on activities or identity? If our focus is church-centered we will see our attention and discussion being about programs, events, trips and other activities on the church calendar – they are things that we can do with the good intention of mission … but end up only being mission-like. The danger with having a mission-like focus is that we can simply add new “programs” without actually affecting our lifestyle. To be missional means that we must embrace a whole new focus to our lifestyle… one that is centered on our identity as children of God, seeking to welcome others into a relationship with God – not just attend activities.
  3. Is the connection to neighbors transactional or relational? How do we interact with our neighbors? If we see ourselves as an organization coming to our neighbors and doing something TO them, and providing a service or resources FOR them in order to meet needs, then our interactions are “transactional.”  The church is remaining in control, deciding who is in need and what is needed and how the need will be met.  Without realizing it, we can actually build a wall, of sorts, between us and the very people we seek to reach.  We subtly believe, and convey to them, that there is an us-them barrier.  They come to us for a good or service and then return to their world, while we remain in ours after the transaction is complete.  This is mission-like.  A better way to join Jesus on His mission is to see that God is already at work in the lives of the real people around us, and they have much to offer.  Being “relational” means that we seek mutually transformative relationships of partnership and reciprocity.

What these questions really ask us is whether we are seeking first God’s Kingdom and His righteousness … or if we are seeking “all these things” in other ways.  They ask us to consider whether we have God’s Kingdom at heart or self-glorification (or self-preservation).   It is easy for you and me to want to get busy with activity that helps us feel like we are making a difference, and seeing ourselves as a kind of “hero” coming to rescue and serving the needs of others.  But if we are not careful, then we are making everything about us, and what we do for others than about God.  It can be easier to be mission-like, than to be truly on mission.

May others encounter the heart of God in all that we think, say and do!

Joining Jesus on His mission with you,

Pastor Augie.

[i] http://joineiro.com/blog/2015/9/28/5-questions-to-determine-if-you-are-missional-or-mission-ish?fb_action_ids=1101778946500803&fb_action_types=og.likes

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

Hermeneutics and Interpretation of the Bible

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The online dictionary defines Hermeneutics as the science of interpretation, especially of the Scriptures.

Why study how to interpret Scripture?  Well, sometimes Bible texts can be used in a way that is really deceptive – or even at odds with the Truth of God’s Word as a whole.  Satan did this when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness in Matthew 4.  He referenced Scripture that indicated that the angels would not let Jesus get hurt!  But Jesus knew that the meaning of the Scripture was being twisted.  (In fact, the angels let Jesus be crucified!) So He used Scripture to show Satan what God really meant, when he clarified, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” (John 4:7)  We need to study all of Scripture to be sure that we are interpreting any one Scripture correctly.

In short, our primary “hermeneutical principle” can be summarized as “Scripture interprets Scripture.”  This means that we use clearer passages of Scripture to interpret, or help explain, unclear or ambiguous ones.  Our study of John’s Gospel shows a very good example of a case where we need to look at more than just one verse to know what God really means in those Scriptures.

In John 3 we see two verses that would strongly suggest that Jesus himself baptized people:

“After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing.” (John 3:22)

“And they came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.'” (John 3:26)

But it isn’t until John 4 that we get the clarification necessary to correctly interpret those verses:

“Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John— although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples.” (John 4:1-2)

If one were to dogmatically assert that Jesus poured water on people to baptize them based on John 3, they would be incorrect. In fact, in so doing they would be denying John 4:1-2!

The lesson in all of this is to use Scripture to interpret Scripture and rather than finding one verse in the Bible that makes OUR case, … let us search all of Scripture to see what GOD wants us to learn and know.

May you be blessed in your study of the Word! – PA

Godless Chatter & False Knowledge

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Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have departed from the faith. (1 Timothy 6:20-21)

What has been entrusted to Timothy’s care? … the Word of God, and the Truth and teaching therein.  Has that not also been entrusted to us?  What does it mean to “care” for the Word of God?  The next sentence clarifies: “turn away from godless chatter.” When you think of what is most opposite of the Word of God, it would be “chatter” (with no basis in truth or value) and “godless” speech (either opposes God, or speaks of no God).

And what’s worse, this godless chatter is “falsely called knowledge.”  It is interesting that those who we often regard as the most learned and astute can propose ideas that oppose God’s Truth.  Further, those ideas – often untested and unproven – are then taken to be knowledge.  But we could ask – what value is knowledge if it is false?  The Apostle Paul explains what the value of false knowledge is: it causes some to “depart from the faith.”

You and I are urged by Scripture to “turn away” from theories and false knowledge that are opposed to God, because they are ultimately useless chatter, which opposes God and can cause people to reject faith in God.

We pray: Lord – Please guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, and give us a  hunger and thirst for your Truth!  Amen.

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