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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.

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

Why Are We Doing This?

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“You are the salt of the earth. …You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.” (Matthew 5:13-14)

Have you ever had ‘one of those days’ – perhaps as a parent, as a teacher or in your workplace?  You know what I mean… a day when everything seems to be challenging you… or an entire season that seems like one step forward and two steps backward?  It’s times like that when you find yourself asking the question – “why am I doing this?”  Maybe you even ask a friend or your spouse, “tell me again – why did we decide to do this?”  It is times like that which test your resolve, your determination and your motivation.

Is it any surprise that ministry is challenging?  Why wouldn’t it be?  Anytime that we, as Christians, attempt to do the Lord’s work, we are stepping out on the battlefield.  On that battlefield, Satan is our opponent; and he will stop at nothing to try and defeat us.  And if he can’t defeat us, he’ll try to defer us, delay us and distract us.  Distraction is perhaps one of his most powerful weapons.  If Satan can take our minds and our hearts off of our God-given goals, then he has a foothold by which to begin chipping away at our effectiveness.  Once the enemy has succeeded at distracting us, then he can move on to discouraging us.  To avoid being delayed, distracted, discouraged and otherwise “derailed” by Satan, we need to regularly ask ourselves the question, “Why are we doing this?” and so return to our God-given purpose.  We need to remind ourselves the motivating and driving force behind our efforts, otherwise “when the going gets tough” as they say, we may lose heart.

So, why are we doing this?  Why are we growing a Christian church in Carlsbad?  Quite simply, because the community NEEDS us!  That’s right – whether they know it or not, we have what they need – God.  I have read a number of articles that point out that we no longer live in a “church culture.”  In fact, they describe our era as “post-Christian.” That means that on average, people no longer see the church as a relevant part of their life – they have little use for it.  What these reports imply is that we cannot wait for people to “accidentally find us” (because they aren’t looking).  Instead, our role is to “bring light into a culture that is growing dimmer and dimmer.”  We are doing this because our Lord charges us to be the salt and light of the earth!  (Matthew 5:13-14).  We may have challenges in ministry.  We may even have obstacles in front of us – those of the enemy, and those of our own making.  But the Lord has made his call on our life clear – to pervade our world with the message of the Gospel.  We cannot shrink back from the task he has given us – too many people are counting on us!

Joining Jesus on His Mission with you,

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.

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

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