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Spiritual Battles …

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We love superheroes don’t we?  I recently dressed up as “Pastor America” and visited the little kids at our school.  They were duly impressed.

It’s interesting that the world so readily latches onto the idea of someone stronger, faster, and more powerful than us who can step in battle the evil villain.  Whether it’s Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Marvel or whatever… we seem to be insatiable when it comes to dreaming about this battle of good vs. evil – and in particular, the power of good to rescue us from the power of evil.  Where’s that come from?  It’s actually rooted in Truth. In History. In Reality.  In the Bible.  Spielberg, Lucas and the others get this idea from the Bible, whether they realize it or not.

The Apostle Paul warns the Christians at Ephesus, and us.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. – Ephesians 6:12

In other words, we are in a spiritual battle – whether we like it or not. The challenge for us is that we often dismiss the spiritual realm altogether.  We buy into the greatest trick of the devil as he attempts to convince us that he does not exist.  And if we do believe in a spiritual realm, often we just don’t know what to make of the demonic side of that spiritual realm.  We don’t want to overemphasize the activity of demons and spiritual forces of evil, such that we blame “the devil” for the fact that our bank balance is low, for example.  But we can’t dismiss the fact that the devil and his demons are real and are active causing trouble in our lives – especially because we are believers in Christ. (See: 1 Peter 5:8)

The Bible gives us so many warnings about how the enemy:

  1. tempts us to sin,
  2. distracts us from God’s will,
  3. and inflicts suffering.

Speaking to the young pastor Timothy, the Apostle Paul warns that some of the people in his church had fallen into the “trap of the devil” and that he had “taken them captive to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:26).  This doesn’t mean that the devil possessed those believers, but that he had set traps for them, and they walked into those traps, unwittingly doing the will of the devil.

An interesting thing about our sin is that God uses our sin to get us to repent and turn to Him.  He desires to restore our relationship with Him as He forgives our sin.  The devil, on the other hand, uses our sin to cause us to distance ourselves from God in shame, and even turn away from belief in God, turning to false religions.  Paul told Timothy The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. – 1 Tim. 4:1.

Finally, while I believe the devil cannot possess Christians who have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, through faith and baptism (see: Acts 2:38-39, 1 Corinthians 6:19), I do believe that he can harass and oppress Christians, and that he readily does.  Scripture is full of stories showing the activity of the forces of evil against believers and unbelievers alike.  (See Matthew 17:15-18).

But what we always see in Scripture is that God is more powerful than the devil.  Jesus is always able to cast out the evil spirits (Matthew 17:18).  They must always obey Him!  In fact, they recognized Jesus and His authority over them before even Jesus’ own disciples did! (see Mark 1:24).

The demons are well aware of the power of the Son of God over them.  The question is are you?  Do you realize how powerful the Name of Jesus is over any power of the devil or darkness?  Do you realize the miraculous authority over darkness that you possess as a follower of Jesus who bears His Name?

When people at our church are baptized, we give them a candle lighted from the flame of the candles on the altar.  We tell them that this light symbolizes the Light of Christ that has come into the world … and the Light that they now carry into the world as a follower of Jesus.  What I don’t think we often realize is just how powerful that Light is over the darkness.

Friends, if you and I are in a spiritual battle – that cannot be fought with flesh and blood.  Then the only way we can “take our stand against the devil” (Ephesians 6:10-18), is to call upon the Name and the power of Jesus.  This is the authority that is given to us, and which we take up when we put on the Armor of God.

Imagine a frail elderly person who has been commissioned as a crossing guard at an elementary school.  They do not possess the power within themselves to stop a moving car or truck. (Nor does any mere mortal, for that matter.) But the stop-sign that they have been given in their role as crossing guard gives them the authority to stop those moving vehicles.  They simply hold up the stop-sign, and the operators of the vehicle recognize their authority and stop.

It’s the same with demons and the devil.  When you and I call upon the Name and the authority of Jesus, the powers of darkness must obey! 

What spiritual battles are you facing right now?  Don’t be surprised if that relationship struggle, or that challenge at work really has an invisible spiritual battle being waged underneath – a battle for your inner peace and joy, if not for your very faith.  Don’t let the enemy trick you into trying to win that battle in your flesh.  Do what you can in the earthly realm, for sure.  But turn over the spiritual battle to Jesus and His angels to fight in the spiritual realm on your behalf.

In the Name of Jesus,

Pastor Augie.

If you’d like to hear my recent sermon on “Miracles of Deliverance,” click here.

Stones Cry Out …

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

PA & Mom – picture taken at Redeemer October, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joyfully proclaiming Jesus with you!

 Pastor Augie

Let Us Start to Rebuild

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Joy in the Journey

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“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” – Philippians 4:13, ESV

When one thinks of Biblical books with “theological impact” they might think of epistles like Romans or Galatians, because of their clear depiction of Law and Gospel.  This was particularly essential at the time of the Reformation back in the 1500’s when theological errors were threatening the foundation of the Church.  But when thinking of books that have “personal impact” … a little closer to home … the book of Philippians may come to mind.  Think of some of your favorite Bible verses.  Chances are good that one or more of them come from the book of Philippians.  It contains such great verses like:

  • He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (1:6)
  • For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. (1:21)
  • I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (3:14)
  • Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice. (4:4)
  • Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (4:6)
  • I can do all things through him who gives me strength. (4:13)

Now it’s probably not productive to try and “rate” Bible books against each other.  But the idea is that Philippians has verses throughout it that impact our hearts and have a sort of staying power in our personal lives.  But it does also have theological impact as well.  Chapter 2 of Philippians, for example, challenges us to understand the depths which Christ went to in order to empty Himself for our sakes.  This is a big part of the foundation of our faith.  We believe that Christ “humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:8)  That has such theological impact as to make a difference for time and eternity!

But whether speaking more in the abstract, or in concrete life lessons, Philippians bears a constant message of joy.  And we all need that, right?  Our world is so good at robbing our joy – especially when you read the news.  There are so many things that can challenge our joy; but Philippians is a countermeasure to that.  The Apostle Paul, who wrote the book of Philippians, was a man filled with joy and thankfulness.  And if anyone had good reason to NOT be joyful, it was Paul … in fact, he wrote the book of Philippians while he was imprisoned!  And yet, by the power and indwelling of the Holy Spirit, Paul experienced great joy – even in the midst of his circumstances.  And He wants the same for you and me – to experience joy in whatever situation we find ourselves.

In Paul’s message to the church at Philippi, he uses the word “rejoice” or “joy” 15 times!  He does this as he writes to a city that has so much wealth from the gold mines nearby.  Further, as a Roman colony, Philippi had all the pride and culture of being affiliated with Rome.  And yet, Paul needed to remind the people of that great city where true joy is found.

How about with you?  Do you find that you can be surrounded by all kinds of riches, culture, entertainment, and achievements … and still lack joy?  Well, you’re not alone.  That’s why we’re going to take 9 weeks this summer to learn the good news about the source of joy.  We’ll discover that it’s not found in a place, a possession, or some power.  But rather, joy comes from a person – the Lord Jesus Christ!  He is the one who supplies all that we need.  He is the one who fills us with joy regardless of our circumstances, relationships, status in life or our wealth.

Join us this summer as we learn the secrets to experiencing JOY …

  • 7/9 – in your Relationships
  • 7/16 – in your Circumstances
  • 7/23 – in your Attitudes
  • 7/30 – in your Potential
  • 8/6c – on the Job
  • 8/13 – in your Accomplishments
  • 8/20 – in your Future
  • 8/27 – in your Thoughts
  • 9/3 – in your Finances

Joyfully Joining Jesus with you,

Pastor Augie

REVELATION: A Message of Hope

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“And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.” (Revelation 22:7, ESV)

New Sermon Series at Redeemer!

New Sermon Series at Redeemer

This month at Redeemer, we begin a new sermon series entitled “REVELATION: Hope for God’s People.” In this 8 week sermon series we will delve into the message of this last book of the Bible and will answer questions like: To whom is it written? What are we to take from it? And more importantly – what are we to do with what we learn? Is this book intended to spark fear or bring encouragement? Does it actually say anything intelligible, or is it a mish-mash of symbolism?

What is it about the book of Revelation? It draws people to it with its mysterious intrigue – and yet people are often fearful of wading into the depths of its content. It is my hope that through this series you will come away with a better understanding of this well known, yet often avoided, book of the Bible … and that you will come away encouraged. For all its talk of judgment and destruction, the book of Revelation is ultimately a message of hope for its hearers – the people of God within the Church of Christ.

But how are we to approach this book? Here are a couple ways NOT to view this book:

  1. A “Diagram” to be deciphered or “Code” to crack. LCMS Pastor and author, Michael W. Newman writes: “If you’re approaching the book of Revelation like an engineer poring over a schematic diagram of God’s eternal plan, I want to urge you to reconsider your position. The book of Revelation … is more comparable to a painting, a mural, than it is to a set of technical drawings.” (p. 23)
  2. A depressing book of “Destruction.” Michael Newman writes: “Let me remind you again, if you think the book of Revelation is all about the nuclear destruction of the earth that takes place under a despotic, demon-filled world leader, you haven’t paid attention to how it begins. This is a personal message to the broken, suffering, and straying. This is a family intervention. This is love in action.” (p. 27)

The excerpts above were taken from (Newman, Michael W. Revelation: What the Last Book of the Bible Really Means. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2009.) This book will be used as a resource and a reference throughout this message series. It also contains a study guide with questions for individual and group discussion for each of the 22 chapters of Revelation.   These books are available at Redeemer by the Sea now for a reduced rate, thanks to the generosity of the author. I encourage you to pick up a copy and read it throughout this message series and perhaps even use it with your small group to extend the learning and discussion.

I pray that as we move through this great book we will see it as a “revelation,” not a mystery. Whereas mystery implies something that needs to be solved … revelation describes something that was formerly hidden, but is now made visible. What the book of Revelation makes known about God may surprise some, and may offend others, but it will leave no doubt as to what the future holds – the triumphal return of Christ! May you be blessed as you discover what Jesus reveals through this book. “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.” (Revelation 1:3)

Following Christ with you,

Pastor Augie

Were You There …

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our sins have died with Christ ...

our sins have died with Christ … Good Friday at Redeemer’s “Crosses of Calvary” display

At last night’s Good Friday service, we all “laid our sins” on the cross of Jesus Christ.  There they were put to death with Him!

His blood became your blood as He died to take the punishment you deserved … and I deserved … and the whole world deserved.  Why? … Because He loves you.  How? … Because He is the Son of God.  Only His Blood has this power – to do what no other blood could ever do.

11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. 14 For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. (Hebrews 10:11-14)

Now as we wait for Easter Sunday, we wait patiently with hope – because we know the end of the story!  Jesus does not stay dead …

“Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime” – Martin Luther

… and neither will you and I!  Look around you – flowers are coming to bloom.  Seeds are sprouting to life.  They were lying dormant in the ground, only to burst forth in beauty and splendor!

It is so fitting that Easter is in Spring.  What a great reminder that Christ’s death … and our death too! … only looks like it’s the end.

May you be filled with hope as you await the Resurrection!

Only by God’s grace,

Pastor Augie.

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