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A Discipleship Movement!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Myth: developing disciples is a synonym for training.

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

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

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

Myth: discipleship begins with mature Christians.

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

Myth: discipleship primarily focuses on skills.

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

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

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

Making disciples with you,

Pastor Augie

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

Laying a Foundation

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foundations

“For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” – 1 Corinthians 2:12

Living in Arizona and Southern California, we’ve seen a lot of new construction over the last couple decades.  One thing you notice as you go by a construction site day after day is the amount of time that is spent on the property before you ever see a wall go up.  Then once the walls go up, it seems like it isn’t long before the occupants are moving in.  There is extensive sitework – grading, utilities and concrete – that goes into every project.  Laying a foundation is so important, that This Old House has an article on their website entitled, “A foundation is forever – how to do it right.”

We have a foundation to our faith.  It’s the bedrock on which our faith is built.  The cornerstone of that foundation is Christ.  This means that the foundation of our life as the people of God is built upon Him.   In the months of January and February, we will be looking at the teachings of Scripture that illuminate the foundation of our faith and we will see how they center on Christ and shape our everyday lives.

Here’s a brief look at the upcoming messages:

  • Jan 8 – The Story. The story of the Bible moves from God’s Creation to Our Fall to Christ’s Redemption to the Final Restoration. In the introduction to this series, we look at how Christ undoes the curse of our Fall into sin by becoming cursed on a cross.
  • Jan 15 – The Word. Jesus gives us words in His teaching and He is the Word made flesh. Thus, it is vital that we hear and practice His Word. In this message we talk about the nature and character of Jesus’ words – how they are perfect – and how they call us both to faith and to action.
  • Jan 29 – The Gathering. Worship is the natural and inevitable response of people who have faith in God to a good God. In this message, we look at the nature of worship, the location of worship, and the focus of worship in the Christian life.
  • Feb 5 – The Water. In the last chapter of Matthew, Jesus calls us to make disciples in two ways: by teaching His Word and by baptizing in His name (Matthew 28:19-20). The Ethiopian eunuch becomes a disciple by baptism. Jesus still makes disciples in baptism today!
  • Feb 12 – The Meal. When Jesus celebrates the Passover with His disciples the night before He dies, it becomes more than a Passover. It becomes a promise of His presence. For in, with, and under simple forms of bread and wine is the body and blood of Christ. In this message, we look at the Passover and how Jesus’ death on a cross leads God not to merely pass-over our sins, but to forgive them!
  • Feb 19 – The Mission. The call of every Christian is to live beyond themselves. We are to share the hope that we have with the world. When some lepers stumble into an Aramean camp that has been emptied by God, and when they find all sorts of treasure there, they cannot help but share the good news of the treasure with their neighbors. How can we do anything less than share the good news of the gospel with our neighbors?

I am praying that this series will engage believers by teaching the foundations of what we believe and why we believe it.  I am also hopeful that through it we will gain a deeper Biblical understanding of our faith and how to apply it to our daily lives.  In other words, we will ask the questions “What does this mean?” and “What does this look like lived out in our lives?”

For those who are new to the Christian faith, these teachings will provide a firm foundation on which to build a lifetime of discipleship!  Jesus said, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” – Matthew 7:24.  Note: There are free Growth Group videos and printed study guides available for this series.  Consider using them in your Growth Group or starting a new group that follows this message series.

2017 promises to be a year of great progress for our congregation.  Beginning at the end of the month we will embark on a vision clarification process (mark your calendars for January 28th 9 to 11am) – the foundation of which must be Jesus Christ and His mission in our community.  I look forward to this next year with you …

Laying our foundation on Christ,

Pastor Augie

A Changeless GOD in a Changing World

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changelessgodsm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharing the message and mission of Christ,

Pastor Augie

What to Make of the Trinity?

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

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

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

In His Name,

Pastor Augie.

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

God is Closer Than You Think

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That’s right … He is even next door!

And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ – Matthew 25:40

This is an exciting time for Redeemer!  And this month it seems that two themes are coming together in an interesting way.  The first is our church’s vision for Redeemer to be “a church family joining Christ in our community.” The second, appears unrelated, but as I will point out, is actually much related: this month’s message series called “God Is Closer Than You Think.” It’s based on a book by John Ortberg, and the premise of the book is that God has “broken” into our world in the person of Jesus Christ, and He promises to remain with us in this world even though bodily He has risen and ascended into heaven.  It is through His Holy Spirit, that He remains with us in presence even though our eyes cannot see Him.

Who among us is not thrilled that Jesus has given us God’s Holy Spirit to dwell within us through our baptism?  The question I am posing for us to consider is, can we see God’s Holy Spirit present and at work outside of us? … even in our community? I believe Jesus has told us that He is. In fact you’ve probably heard me say at one time or another that “God is always at work.” This is something that we are counting on as we set out to accomplish our vision and goals this year – to discover God at work in our community.  That means then that we need not dream up our own activities that attempt to do God’s work, but rather we simply observe what He has begun and is already doing in our midst and join Him there!  If we are going to be about looking for where God is present and at work, perhaps the best place for us to look is in the lives of our neighbors.

Jesus told Parables to His disciples often having to do with neighbors. Perhaps the most memorable is that of the Good Samaritan where the question was asked of Jesus, “who is my neighbor?” Jesus pointed out that our neighbor is the one to whom we show love.  He confirms this in another setting: Matthew 25 – only this time He does not speak in a parable, but uses plain language.   Jesus tells His disciples that when Judgment Day comes, He will be concerned about how we have showed love to “the least of these.” Why does this matter to Jesus?  Because, He says, when you loved them, you were loving Him.

I think it is no accident that our vision emphasis for the year is to join Jesus as He works in our community, and now our first message series following Easter has to do with looking for the presence of God in our lives. I believe Jesus wants us to discover that He is present and at work in the very people around us that we are seeking to reach and serve with the Gospel!  Whom might Jesus be directing you to reach and serve with the message and love of Christ?  You might be surprised … you may also discover that God is at work in your life through them too!

I recently read a book where the author pointed out that an important part of spiritual growth and even conversion to faith, comes through what he calls “providential relationships.” The idea being that when people tell their faith stories, they invariably include the work of Jesus that they saw in another person. It may be a couple who just “showed up” in their lives, or a person that talked to them about Jesus, or a teacher that really opened the Scriptures to them.  Whatever the case, there was a relationship where they felt the love of Jesus coming through.  And the thing is, you and I cannot manufacture these relationships … but we can work to create “margin” in our lives for these relationships to form.

It’s my goal and prayer that we continually ask these complementary questions:

  • How can I join Jesus where He is already working in my neighbors’ lives? And
  • How is Jesus revealing himself to me in His Word and the people and circumstances around me?

I’m increasingly viewing our world as not just a “waiting room” to get into heaven, but rather a place where Heaven has broken through, and a place that Jesus is already transforming by his grace. You do not need to wait until you die to be in the presence of God. He is closer than you think.

I hope that you’ll join us for the rest of this message series, and that together we will be used by God to bring His love and salvation to the people we meet along life’s way!

Joining Jesus on His mission with you,

Pastor Augie.

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

Sola . . .

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For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.  (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Ephesians 2:8-9 is a sort of “rallying cry” for Lutheran churches, and really for all evangelical churches since the Reformation in the 16th century.  In short, this is because Christianity had fallen into a works-righteousness mentality – the idea that people are saved and given eternal life because of things they do (works), rather than because of what Christ has done for us (grace).  The Reformation sought to return the Church to an understanding that our eternal salvation is not earned by our works, but rather is a gift of God, given to us freely through the merits of Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten Son.

Our first message series of the year is going to look at the four “Solas” of the Reformation, which are four phrases that summarize the basic theological principles underlying our faith.  These phrases were originally expressed in Latin (“sola” is a Latin word meaning “alone”) but take heart, we will be studying them in English! J

  • Sola Scriptura, Scripture alone.
  • Sola Gratia, Grace alone.
  • Solus Christus, Christ alone.
  • Sola Fide, Faith alone.

Each of these are treasures in and of themselves and could serve as the basis of its own message series.  To whet your appetite, here is what we’ll be discussing in brief:

Scripture Alone: Most Christian denominations (and some Christian-like churches) say that they are using the Bible in their teaching – and even that the Bible is a source of Truth.  Our understanding, however, is that the Bible is our sole source and norm for our teaching and doctrine.  That means that we understand the Bible to be God’s inspired and inerrant Holy Word, and as such, we believe that the Bible is God’s means for revealing to us Truth.  We may use our intellect, reason and senses, but they are subservient to Scripture.  Scripture Alone tells us where we find The Truth.

Grace Alone:  Left to our own devices, humankind would be lost in sin and depravity; to suggest that we can somehow save ourselves by our own efforts, not only elevates our goodness and merits far beyond our abilities, but it far diminishes the completed work of Christ on the cross.  The understanding of Grace Alone makes clear that we are not saved because of any merit or worthiness in ourselves, but only by the divine goodness of God.  God has done all that is necessary for our salvation and He gives it to us as a free gift.  This gift comes from the gracious heart of God to us.  Grace Alone tells us how our salvation is given.

Christ Alone: There are many churches that use the name Christ, but when you get down to it, the followers of that belief system ultimately put their hope in something else.  There are varieties of things that one might put their hope in – reason, senses, science and self are a few. We believe, however, that the ultimate source of our hope is in the accomplished work of Christ on the cross – nothing else.  Christ did all that was necessary for our salvation, and is our living and reigning Lord.  Our faith is based on Him alone, and not on any other actions, values or name.  Christ Alone tells us the source of our salvation and the object of our faith.

Faith Alone: How does a sinner receive God’s gracious gift of salvation?  How is a person “made right” with God (justification)? How one answers those questions reveals much about their faith.  We believe that there is nothing that we can do to make God love us any more and nothing that we can do to make God love us any less.  He loves us because He loves us, and He forgives us because of Christ. We cannot add anything to that equation.  We simply receive it by faith.  Faith Alone tells us the means by which we receive God’s free gift of salvation.

It is my hope that this series will instill you with confidence in your faith, and perhaps give you some tools to use when discussing eternal matters with your friends and family.

Serving Christ with you,

Pastor Augie.

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