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No Word From God Will Ever Fail!

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Six times in Scripture God did wondrous things through the wombs of unlikely women. In His mercy, He brought forth sons, born to women who had given up hope of ever having children:

  1. Isaac born to Sarah and Abraham (Gen. 11:30; 21:1-2).
  2. Jacob born to Rebekah and Isaac (Gen. 25:21).
  3. Joseph born to Rachel and Jacob (Gen. 29:31; 30:22).
  4. Samson born to the wife of Manoah (Judg. 13:1-3).
  5. Samuel born to Hannah and Elkanah (1 Sam. 1:5-6, 20).
  6. John born to Elizabeth and Zechariah the priest (Luke 1:5-25, 57) cf: Our God Remembers – Zechariah’s Hope.

Barrenness meant sadness, shame, and even ridicule for women in Bible times. Childlessness was even considered to be a curse. Yet in His mercy, the Lord did the seemingly impossible through these barren women. He opened their wombs and brought forth sons who were significant in the story of Israel. This is a reminder that there’s hope for you even when things seem impossible!

And God did something even more amazing, not through the womb of a barren woman, but through the blessed womb of a virgin, named Mary.  This would be even more miraculous than a birth to a barren womb, as this conception did not involve an earthly father, but would involve the power of the Holy Spirit.

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” – Luke 1:35

God speaks His Word through the angel Gabriel, and Mary conceives an even greater Son.  What Child is This? the Christmas carol asks.  The answer is: this Child is The Greatest Son, not only in the history of Israel, but in the history of mankind!  Mary herself was amazed at the possibility of this occurrence, to which the angel responded with some of the most profound words in Scripture:

“For no word from God will ever fail.” – Luke 1:37

Wow, how true.  Then Mary’s response forever changed history as she humbly surrendered to God’s will saying …

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. – Luke 1:38

God had sent His people “redeemers” in the form of kings and judges throughout Israel’s history.  But as with all things earthly, their redemption was limited, and eventually faded.  But they did serve an important function at a critical time in history.  And, perhaps more importantly, they served the function of pointing to Jesus.  Theologians refer to this as “typology.”  In its most basic sense, this means that something in the Old Testament prefigured something that Jesus Christ would more completely and more thoroughly fulfill in the New Testament.  (For some examples of “types of Christ” in the Old Testament, see this BibleStudyTools.com article.)

One wonderful example of an Old Testament type of Christ is the judge Samson.  Samson was born to a mother who, being barren, should not have borne a child … just as Mary, being a Virgin, should not have borne a child.  And yet, by God’s mercy, Samson did some amazing things in his rescue of Israel! Similarly Christ did some amazing things in His rescue of God’s people.  Christ’s mighty acts, however, were not ones in which He displayed His power, but in which He withheld His power, in order to accomplish His Father’s greater will.  Here are some ways in which Christ did an even greater job of rescue than Samson, demonstrating His strength through sacrifice, rather than through might:

  • Where’s Samson ripped apart a lion, Jesus had the strength to rip apart Satan. But for our salvation, He allowed Satan to rip Him apart and pierce Him through on the cross, suffering God’s judgment in our place.
  • Whereas Samson used the jawbone of a donkey to kill the faithless Philistines, Christ had the strength to wipe out the countless people who scorned Him and rebelled against God – even calling down legions of angels if He desired; but instead, He allowed himself to be crucified by a makeshift cross, bearing all of humanity’s sin and dying for those who sinned against Him.
  • And whereas Samson was blindfolded, beaten and mocked, in his last act he demonstrated his strength stretching his arms out to bring down the ceiling on Israel’s enemies … He pointed to Christ, who also was beaten and mocked, but in His final act, He withheld His strength as He stretched out His arms on the cross! Nonetheless in that act, He did crush our enemies of sin, death and the devil and finished the work of our salvation.
  • And whereas Samson put the gates of the city on his back and brought them to the top of the hill, Christ put all of our rebellion and sin onto His back and took it up the hill of Calvary to atone for it.
  • But where we really see that Christ is the greater rescuer, is that after his work of rescue, Samson died. Christ, however, did not stay dead. He rose triumphantly over our sin and death on the third day. Christ is The Greater Rescuer indeed.

The comparison of Christ with Samson is particularly important when you consider that God chose to rescue His people, Israel, not through an army, and not through sophisticated weapons of war, but through the mighty acts of one man – Samson.  How similarly wonderful, and yet more remarkable, is how God chose to rescue His people of every nation, tribe and tongue throughout all the world and over every age, through the mighty acts of one man – His Son.

All of this was to fulfill the Word of God, as the Angel Gabriel said when he came to Mary, “For no word from God will ever fail.” – Luke 1:37

May you find strength and hope in knowing that even the impossible is possible with God.  He rescued His people, Israel, and He rescued you in Christ!  May your faith be strengthened, knowing NO WORD FROM GOD WILL EVER FAIL!

Trusting in God’s faithfulness,

Pastor Augie.

Our God Remembers – Zechariah’s Hope

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Often the names of characters in the Bible have a specific meaning, perhaps relevant to something in their lives.  Zechariah the priest, father of John the Baptist, is no exception.  Zechariah’s name means: “God Remembers.”  We see God “remembering” in two ways in Zechariah’s life.

First, God is remembering Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth who remain childless at what the Bible describes as a “very old” age (Luke 1:7), by giving them a son. The angel Gabriel meets Zechariah in an area of the Temple reserved for priests, and gives him a message:

But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.” – Luke 1:13

Secondly, we see God remembering His promise to His people to send them a Savior.  Zechariah knows his son John is being called to be the forerunner of Christ and to point people to Him as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  So as soon as John is born, Zechariah proclaims a long “song” of praise extolling the faithfulness of God in remembering His people and fulfilling His promises.  This section of Scripture in Luke 1:68-79, is known as Zechariah’s Song and is sometimes used in the traditional liturgical service of Matins as the Benedictus.  Here’s a short excerpt where we see Zechariah proclaim how God has remembered His people:

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them. … and to remember his holy covenant” – Luke 1:68, 72

What’s interesting to note is what transpired between Luke 1:13 and Luke 1:68.  You see, when the angel told Zechariah that his wife Elizabeth was going to have a son, Zechariah responded in disbelief:

Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” – Luke 1:18

For someone whose name means “God remembers,” he seems surprised, doesn’t he?  Has he forgotten how God brought children into the lives of the barren wives of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?  God may have a long memory, but Zechariah’s seems short.

The truth is, we worship a God that always remembers.  More than that, when He remembers, He acts!  That’s important, right?  If I just remember our wedding anniversary, but do nothing about it, my wife doesn’t really consider that remembering.  And just as I would be insulted if my wife were surprised that I remembered our anniversary, God is not pleased when we act surprised at his faithfulness.

So the angel Gabriel takes away Zechariah’s ability to speak until John is born. But when John is born, Zechariah makes up for lost time, and uses his first mouthful of words to proclaim a beautiful song of praise!

Shouldn’t that be our response to our faithful God who not only remembers, but acts in faithfulness to His promises?  Rather than be surprised at God’s goodness, we should be anticipating it with a confident hope!  We should reflect our expectation of God’s faithful action in our prayers, in our words to others, and even in our own actions!  That’s why the Apostle Paul encourages the Christians at Rome, and us:

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” – Romans 15:13

Zechariah, once he’s able to speak, clearly expresses this confident hope in God’s faithfulness through the Holy Child who will be born to Mary.  May we do the same this Advent season, and always.

Trusting in God’s faithfulness,

Pastor Augie.

Responding to Conflict

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the grace of God,

Pastor Augie.

Tower Building and Name Making

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

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

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

God’s Will WILL be done! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s will is DONE for us in CHRIST

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

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

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

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

… may it be done AMONG US also …

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

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

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

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

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

– Pastor Augie

Re-imagining “Us with Others”

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How is your Summer so far?  By the time you read this, my sabbatical will be half over.  It’s going quickly, but God is doing His work in us.  As I like to say, “God is always working!”  Even when we don’t understand the why or the how – we can know for sure that God has a plan for us, and it’s good.  He has promised to work all things together for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).  So it is our job to always be asking the questions “what are you teaching me God?” “How are you shaping me for your Kingdom purposes – for our good and for your glory?”

Last month I provided you the first half of a framework to help you “re-imagine” your part in the ministry that God has called us to.  In that study, you considered the ministry we do as “Us with Us.”  Since we cannot give away what we do not have, our ministry must first be faith-strengthening and life-transforming among ourselves before we hope to minister to those outside our church.  It is my prayer that we will take to heart what the Scriptures say about how we worship, grow and serve with our church family, such that we experience the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit working amidst us.  Then we can turn our sights outside of our church and invite others into our loving & Christ-centered fellowship.  This month I encourage you to search the Scriptures and consider the ministry we do as “Us with Others.”  I am including here a study based on resources from our friends in the Southeastern District of the LCMS (se.lcms.org). You can go through these on your own, or even better, with others who are part of your church family!

Looking at others as people for whom Christ died (2 Corinthians 5:16-17)

  1. Read the following verses silently, then pause and re-read them circling the words that catch your eye: Acts 10:34-42, Matthew 28:19-20, Acts 1:8, Mark 16:15, Romans 10:13, 14, 2 Timothy 4:2, Acts 13:47, John 14:6.
    • Why did you circle the words you did?
  2. List three things that make it hard to see others as “people for whom Christ died.”
  3. Read Acts 15:1-31.
    • What issue was threatening to divide the 1st century church?
    • How was it resolved?
    • What lessons do we learn from the 1st century church that we can apply to the 21st century church?

The work of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-19)

  1. Read Luke 15:11-32. Read it out loud, pause and let each person read it on their own, read it again out loud. Have each person circle words or acts described in the text that caught their eye. What does the parable of the “prodigal son” have to say about the work of reconciliation?
  2. The word reconciliation comes from two Latin words: reconciliare. One definition is to reconnect, and another is “to love all over again.”
  3. Have each person share one time they tried to reconcile with someone and what happened.
  4. If we believe that because of sin everyone needs to be reconciled to God, what are things we can do to help them be “reconnected” with God?
  5. What may be the obstacles to that reconciliation? How long do we have to try?

Ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20)

  1. Discuss what the role of an ambassador is in our world today. How does that apply to us as Christians?
  2. What does Paul mean when he says, “God making his appeal through us?” What implications does that have for living out our lives with others?
  3. List 3 people you think either were, or yet are, “ambassadors for Christ.” What was it about them that made you list their name?
  4. Assign the following verses to individuals asking them to read, reflect and respond to what the verses have to say about our being an “ambassador for Christ.” Philippians 3:20, Ephesians 6:20, 1 Corinthians 11:1, Romans 1:16, Galatians 2:20, Colossians 1:13.

Life in society

  1. Think about living your life in today’s society and how it was when you were younger. How have things changed in moving from:
    • Typewriters to computers
    • Rotary phones to cell phones
    • Phone calls to social media
    • Buying in a store to buying online
    • How we get from one place to another
    • Other changes that you can think of?
  2. Things have also changed in the American attitude to the Christian institutional church. While 40% of Americans may check the “I am a Christian” box on polls, only 14% think that faith is important, 16-18% think being part of a church is important, societally Sunday is no longer a “day of rest, ” sports practice and competitions are held on Sunday, stores are no longer closed, and everything is open.  What once were seen as “authority figures” are not any longer: mistrust of politicians, doctors, teachers, police, and pastors.  Some implications of this societal shift for the institutional Christian church in America are:
    • Aging members, and fewer new members
    • Fewer resources financial and otherwise
    • High maintenance buildings
    • Cost and availability of clergy
    • Fewer people willing to assume leadership roles
  3. Discuss the above list and how they are being seen in our congregation.
  4. Rate those listed above with 1 being the most challenging to our congregation and 5 being the least.
  5. What gives you hope in living out your faith in the church? What makes it difficult??

The whole body growing up together (Ephesians 4:15-16)

  1. Recently we studied “Life on Mission” as a sermon and small group series at Redeemer. At the heart of “missional living” is each individual Christian understanding their role in carrying out the mission of Matthew 28:19-20, as well as building up and nurturing relationships with all those around them for the sake of the gospel. Our friends at the Southeastern District of the LC–MS use the acronym “BLESS” as a way to remember this and put this into action:
    • B- Bonding with someone. What do you have in common with them? (e.g. living in the same neighborhood, working in the same building, exercising at the same gym etc.)
    • L- Learning from someone. Learning how to listen to their story, asking questions like “help me to understand,” and moving beyond what we assumed or thought we knew.
    • E- Engage. Listening and learning as if you really care about them, paying attention to what they are saying.
    • S- Serving. Discovering what needs they might have and how you might meet those needs (e.g. bringing them a meal, giving them a ride, volunteering to watch over their house while they are out of town, etc.)
    • S-Share. Finding opportunity to share the message of Christ’s love.
  2. Read 1 Peter 3:15. Have each person write out their own faith story considering the following guidelines: Concise, without quoting bible verses, Non-judgmental or threatening, Non-defensive or critical, Inviting, welcoming, loving.
  3. In pairs, have one person share their story with another and then reverse. Those listening may ask questions putting themselves in the place of someone who is curious but cautious about Christians. Share in the larger group what you learned.

Whether you work through these lessons with others or by yourself in your own devotional time, my prayer is that God’s Spirit will help you grow in Christ’s love for others in the Body of Christ (Us with Us) – and then lead you to engage people outside of the church (Us with Others) – your friends, neighbors, coworkers and family.  May God increase all of our ability and desire to share His love with the people around us.

Your fellow servant in Christ,

Pastor Augie

Re-imagining “Us with Us”

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As I wrote in last month’s blog, I think it’s a great idea that while I am on sabbatical for the months of July & August, refreshing and renewing my perspective on ministry, that you use this time to do the same.  Over the next couple months, I want to provide you a framework to “re-imagine” your part of the ministry you belong to.  In July, you will consider the ministry we do as “Us with Us.”  And in August, you will consider the ministry we do as “Us with Others.”  As has been said, we cannot export what we do not possess.  Our ministry among ourselves first must be faith-strengthening and life-transforming, before we hope to minister to those outside our church.  To understand what healthy “Us with Us” ministry is all about, I encourage you to search the Scriptures.  I am including here a study based on resources from our friends in the Southeastern District of the LC-MS (se.lcms.org). You can go through these on your own, or better, with others in a small group!

Understanding Luther’s doctrine of “vocation” (Ephesians 4:1)

  1. Read this from Robert Benne’s article on Christian Vocation, oxfordre.com: “A teaching of Martin Luther that has had great historical effect is his teaching on vocation. Protesting the Roman Catholic arrangement in which the clergy had callings of higher religious and moral significance than the laity, Luther taught that all Christians have callings or vocations, and that all callings are equal in moral and religious seriousness. They only differ in function. This teaching unleashed unprecedented commitment and energy to worldly work in the Western world. Paralleling his teaching on the priesthood of all believers, Luther taught that all Christians are called by God through Christ to be his beloved and forgiven children, and that they need no mediators to receive that graceful call directly. At the same time, however, Christians who receive that grace through Christ become priests to their neighbors, mediating God’s love through them to the neighbor. They do that very concretely in their vocations. Thus, Christians become conduits of God’s love received through Christ and offered to the neighbor in the various places of responsibility they have been given. For Luther, Christians do not need to cast about for places to exercise their obedience; they were given in the orders of creation into which each Christian was inevitably placed—marriage and family life, work, citizenship, and church. Each person—lay and clergy alike—is called to work in the world. In fulfilling their work gladly and conscientiously, they serve their neighbor. Plain ordinary work is transformed into a Christian vocation as the Christian exercises his faith-active-in-love. Work is no longer simply a job or occupation; it is a calling, a vocation. It is a summons from God. Vocation is also where the Spirit sanctifies the Christian’s life, not in a self-centered quest for perfection, but rather in humble service to the neighbor.”
  2. Now ask the Lutheran question, “what does this mean?” What insights does Luther give into vocation, or calling? How does Luther change that thinking and how does it apply to us today?
  3. Read these sections of Scripture and discuss/consider what they say about “calling”: 2 Peter 1:10-11, 2 Timothy 1:9, 2 Thessalonians 1:11, John 15:16, 1 Peter 3:9, 1 Corinthians 1:26, Ephesians 4. How do we use our calling to serve others in our congregation?

Seeking and working for unity within a congregation (Ephesians 4:2-6)

  1. “A Christian is an utterly free man, lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is an utterly dutiful man, servant of all, subject to all” – Martin Luther
  2. Discuss this quote from Luther and how it applies to working for unity within a congregation. What makes unity in a congregation difficult? What helps us to overcome the difficulties?
  3. Read these scripture lessons, then share thoughts on how/why we work for unity in a congregation: 1 Corinthians 1:10, Colossians 3:2-17, 1 Peter 3:8, Romans 12:16, Philippians 2:1-4
  4. Why was unity in a congregation so terribly important in the 1st century? Why is it just as important in a congregation today?

Spiritual gifts and their use in the community (Ephesians 4:7-12)

  1. Read these Scripture verses, then consider/discuss what they say about spiritual gifts: 1 Corinthians 12: 4-11, Romans 12:4-11, 1 Corinthians 12:28
  2. Look at the different gifts that are listed in these texts. How would you describe these gifts in today’s language?
  3. Consider the others in your group, or in our congregation, and name some of these spiritual gifts that they have. What examples would you offer in how these gifts are being used in our congregation?
  4. Have you taken a spiritual gifts inventory? If not, consider taking the next “Discovery 301” class – where an inventory is administered and scored for you.

Discipling, or growing in faith (Ephesians 4:12-14)

  1. Read Ephesians 4:12-14, and paraphrase in your own words.
  2. How has your faith stayed the same since your baptism? How has your faith changed since your baptism?
  3. Name 3 things/people that made your faith grow. And name 3 things/people who have challenged your faith
  4. Grade yourself (letter grades A, B, C, D, F) on the following:
    • My prayer life,
    • My time spent in bible study
    • My intentionally being with other Christians
    • Time spent living out my faith each week in serving others
  5. What things get in the way of improving your faith life? Would an accountability partner help you?
  6. Read Galatians 5:22-23, the “Fruit of the Spirit”
  7. Talk to others in your group or at church and tell them one of these “fruits” you see at work in their life. Offer specific examples.
  8. Which of these “fruits” do you think is one you need to work on the most?
  9. How could we help members of our congregation to grow in faith?

The whole body growing up together (Ephesians 4:15-16)

  1. Read the following verses and consider/share insights about collective spiritual growth in our congregation: 1 Peter 2:1-5, Colossians 1:10, 1 Thessalonians 3:12
  2. Was the spiritual growth of everyone in a congregation important in the 1st century church? Is that same community growth more or less important in the 21st century church?
  3. Acts 2:42-47 is the first recorded description of the Christian church (immediately following the Pentecost event described in the preceding verses). Read the verses then consider or discuss:
  • Review the list of activities that the early Christians did together (vs 42-45). While they are all important which would you rate as most important and why?
  • What were the results of their being together in mission?
  • What were some of the challenges that they faced and how did they overcome them?
  • What are some challenges that our congregation faces and how can we work to overcome them?

Whether you work through these lessons with others or by yourself in your own devotional time, my prayer is that God’s Spirit will help you grow in Christ’s love for each other (Us with Us) – as you search the Scriptures to see how God calls us to relate to those in our church famly.  And then next month as you focus on how God calls us to engage people outside of the church (Us with Others) – our friends, neighbors, coworkers and family – that God will increase your ability and desire to share His love with the people around you.

May God’s Word renew and refresh you!

In Christ,

Pastor Augie

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

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