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Ascension Thursday

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Painting of Jesus Ascending into Heaven

Jesus’ ascension to heaven depicted by John Singleton Copley, 1775

On this Ascension Day, we celebrate that Jesus is not dead. It’s not just that He was once raised from the dead … but that He was resurrected, appeared to His disciples and many others, then was visibly taken up into heaven where He still resides today! Acts chapter 1 records for us:

“After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.”(Acts 1:9)

What a marvel it would have been to behold!  You can understand the disciples’ jaw-dropping awe as they stared up long after He was out of their sight.  (As an aside, we use the word “awesome” in so many lesser ways, don’t we?  This would have truly been an awe-inspiring moment!)  It’s no wonder that the men/angels/messengers looked at them and said:

“Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? …” (Acts 1:11a)

But here’s the part that not only inspires awe in us, but creates HOPE … the men continue:

“… This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11b)

Because Jesus did not stay dead, but was resurrected and ascended into heaven and is still living and reigning on His throne, at the right hand of the Father … and because He promised to return again, we have hope.  It’s as if we are living in the blink of eternity between Christ’s ascension and His return – which will be like a “reverse ascension” … He will return in the same way, visibly in the clouds.  Speaking of this event, Jesus himself said:

“At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.” (Mark 1:26)

And the Apostle John’s records his vision of this event in the book of Revelation this way:

“Look, he is coming with the clouds,” and “every eye will see him, even those who pierced him”; and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.” So shall it be! Amen. (Revelation 1:7)

Which is why we Christians are so adamant about telling people about Jesus – He lives. He reigns.  He will return!

As some have said, “it was Christ’s last command, so it ought to be our first concern.”  The very last words of Matthew’s gospel are what have been called the Great Commission – Jesus sending us into the world to make disciples:

18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

And ending where we began, Jesus last words to His disciples just before He ascended were:

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

So this Ascension Day is all about witnessing and hope.  We have hope that Jesus is still alive!  And we have hope that Jesus will one day return to make all things right, and new.  And because of this, we witness to others what His life, death, resurrection, ascension and imminent return mean to everyone. We want this same hope for others … and so we tell of this great news – Jesus is not dead, He is alive and reigning on His throne in heaven!

When He returns will you welcome Him?

On a Rescue Mission

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Back in my younger days I was a “junior” volunteer fireman.  Which basically means that since I wasn’t an adult, I couldn’t actually fight fires, but I could assist and learn.  I spent most of my time washing fire trucks, spooling hose, sweeping the truck bay, and participating in parades in the summer time. But when not doing that, I had begun to learn how to hook up hoses, operate the pumper truck, wear “turnout gear” and even how to use an air-pack if required to enter a burning building.  College and career ended up taking me away from my hometown and moving me to communities that had professional firefighters.  And while I never had to put my life at risk in order to rescue the life of another, I gained an appreciation for those who do!

To a certain degree, though, I am still on a rescue mission … and so are you.  To understand what I mean about that, take a look at these verses from Galatians chapter 1:

“Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Galatians 1:3-4)

Ours is primarily a rescue religion.  This Scripture teaches that Christ rescued us from this “present evil age.”  I take that to mean that He didn’t just rescue us from ourselves or our own sin, or even just from the attacks of the devil, but He rescued us from the sins and attacks of other people, and in fact from all evil that assails us in this entire present age.  We are under the curse of sin brought on us by the first sin in the Garden of Eden, and that curse pursues until this very day.  But Christ has rescued us from it.  In fact, He not only rescues us from the curse of death, He promises us eternal life in a new age, in the eternal Kingdom that He Has ushered us into!  By His death He has won eternal life for us undeserving sinners who would otherwise eternally perish.  This is truly a rescue, is it not?

Christ has rescued us from the clutches of hell, and when we share this “Gospel” (that Paul so adamantly defends in his letter to the Galatians) with others we, in effect, rescue them.  In fact, this has become the mission of every Christian – to share this Good News.  By saving us from death, Christ has now commissioned us to join Him on a rescue mission.  He came to seek and save that which was lost and headed for death.  So we now participate in that mission.

Beginning Sunday, April 8, we will begin a new message series at Redeemer called “Life on Mission.”  The word “mission” has become sort of a buzzword in our culture.  It seems as though every organization and business has a mission – whether it’s to get you to buy their product or adopt their priorities.   I dare say that the Mission of God (Missio Dei) came first.  In fact, our very life’s purpose, and therefore mission, as Christians is established and defined by God.  The challenge for us is to understand and undertake that mission.  And so we will be taking six weeks to be equipped for living lives on mission:

April 8 – Overview – As His followers, Jesus calls us to be witnesses—to tell our stories. We don’t have to be experts in theology or know all the answers about the Bible, but we do have to be willing to tell people why we believe, and how we have been changed by the hope that is in us.

April 15 – Connect – It may seem obvious, but if we never connect and spend time with people who are far from God, it’s going to be impossible to introduce them to Jesus. Jesus set an example for us by hanging around with people who needed Him, and He calls us to do the same.

April 22 – Serve – Jesus told us to love God and love others. Love, however, is often misunderstood. To simply say that we love others, but never cross the room to serve them may ring hollow.  When we serve people, we show them that they are unique individuals who are loved by God and loved by us.

April 29 – Share – Just meeting physical needs, however, is not sufficient “rescue work.”  God asks us to be bold, and to share our own faith experience and knowledge.  We must be ready to state clearly and simply how Jesus has changed our lives.

May 6 – Grow – Having a relationship with Jesus should change us. The Bible tells us that we are to be transformed – not merely self-improved. As disciples of Jesus we are to develop daily habits that help us grow to be more like Him.

May 13 – Pray – If we are on a mission to connect, serve, share, and grow, doesn’t it make sense that we should stay in communication with the One who is sending us out? Prayer is how we stay connected to God, and is the source of our power and strength we need for our rescue mission.

Joining Jesus on His rescue mission,

Pastor Augie

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

Hope!

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“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” – 1 Peter 1:3

If someone asked you what a person needed to live, what would you say?  You might answer food, water, oxygen … right?  But would you answer “HOPE?”  Certainly a human body needs food, water, oxygen and a number of other things to live.  But I believe the human spirit needs something else to survive.  It needs hope to live!  But where is one to find this life giving, spirit feeding hope?  O, “praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ that in his great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope.” The Apostle Peter says in his first epistle that God is the one to give us this hope.  We don’t need to forage for it, purchase it, or produce it in any way.  It is merely a gift – mercifully given.  And he goes on to say that what seals this hope into a firm promise is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. – that’s the Easter message we proclaim!

And who doesn’t need hope?  Look around you.  The widow who has lost their life partner needs hope – and lots of it.  The young couple just getting married is filled with hope – and rightly so!  The family struggling with finances needs hope.  The person who just got the news that they have a dreadful disease needs hope.  And each of us, facing our own struggles and mortality needs hope.  That’s why this message that God has given us hope for life in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is so powerful and so needed!  We are all lost without hope.

What gives a person hope is to know that God is in control – His purposes prevail, even in the darkest of circumstances.  I remember being in a car once when the driver lost control of the vehicle.  We spun around and skidded through multiple lanes of traffic in both directions and safely off the road … right in between two large trees!  (We escaped without a scratch on us or a dent in the car!) It was terrifying to be out of control in that situation.  Often our lives feel like that; like we’ve lost control and are careening aimlessly toward untold dangers.  And yet, even in those circumstances, God is in control and fulfilling His promises to us.  Promises like these:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. – Romans 8:28

What also gives a person hope is to know that God is powerful beyond measure – that which seems impossible to us is possible for God.  I think of that very popular “Footprints” poem.  People take great comfort in knowing that in their weakest and most troublesome times, the Lord doesn’t abandon them, but carries them!  If you are going through a challenging time in your life right now, and are faced by problems of any kind, take comfort in knowing:

I can do all this through him who gives me strength. – Philippians 4:13

being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, – Colossians 1:11

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. – Isaiah 40:29

Ultimately, whatever hope we have must be in someone or something strong.  A hope that is placed on self is misplaced, because when we are weak or faced with insurmountable problems then our hope vanishes.  A hope that is placed on something unknown, or yet to be, is really nothing but a “wish” – and is ultimately an empty hope.  But a true and powerful hope comes from trusting in someone or something who is in control even in the most difficult circumstances, and who is powerful enough to accomplish that which we are unable to do.  Some people are still searching for that hope … but we know Him to have been revealed – Jesus Christ!

Why do we place our hope in Him?  Because as the Apostle Peter testifies, and as we celebrate this Easter – Christ was crucified, but He was raised from the dead and is alive!  Jesus’ resurrection is proof that God is in control, and that He is all powerful!   May your baptism (new birth) into His Name give you a living hope that the same power that raised Jesus from the grave, carries you through all circumstance of this life until one day you are raised to eternal life with Christ.

Proclaiming Christ,

Pastor Augie

You Know Me

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Psalm 139 Known by God
You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. – Psalm 139:1
Observation: The entire Psalm 139 is one of devotion. It calls the human heart to recognize that God is over all, and in all things. Everything within the extent of the universe: up to the heavens or down into the depths, is within the realm of the Lord. Our bodies have been made by Him. Even light and dark are subject to him. And perhaps the most mind-boggling of all is that even our thoughts are known to the Lord. Everything about us is known and apparent to God.
Application: Does the magnitude of God’s presence –  His glory, His righteousness , and His full awareness of me cause me great fear or great joy? Certainly when I realize that nothing I do escapes the Lord’s knowledge I could be filled with fear. But rather, when we read this Psalm, we can see the omnipresence of God as a comfort. The Lord of the universe is with us when we lie down when we wake up. He hems us in and protects us. He’s there in the good times and in the dark depths. In the good times, He’s filling us with hope and joy and love. And in the dark times, He is bringing His light. Even when he created us in our mother’s womb, He does so with the loving and gentle knitting of his hands. God is so involved in His creation and He’s intimately involved in my life and yours.   This is such a comforting reminder to me … that I can trust that even though God knows my every thought and my anxious ways, He is there right with me, leading me, guiding me, protecting me and drawing me closer to Him
Prayer: Lord God you know me. Forgive my worry, fear, anxiety and all my sin. Be with me in all things, and lead me in your ways, for the glory of your Holy Name, Amen!
Joy in Jesus,

Pastor Augie

note: This post follows a devotional method I encourage, and is from the Life Journal  reading plan for April 29th

The Only Question That Really Matters

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Life is full of questions, isn’t it?  I always thought the big questions were pretty well set … “where did people come from?” … “what’s the meaning of life?” … “what happens when I die?”  But it turns out that people have a LOT more questions than that!  Google, the world’s most popular internet search engine, has an “auto-predictive” feature that begins to guess what you might be asking based on what other people are asking.  So if you begin to type in “why can’t” … it currently is suggesting the rest of your question might be, “why can’t I sleep?”  This feature can be helpful and annoying at the same time.  But a simple analysis will show that there are thousands upon thousands of questions that people come up with every day.  Some more meaningful than others.

I’d like to propose to you that there is only one question that really matters.  Pastor Rick Warren says in his book, Purpose Driven Life, that it will be the first question that God asks when you get to heaven: “What have you done with my Son Jesus Christ?” … In other words, have you received Him, or have you rejected Him?  All of life’s meaning and effect, as well as all of eternity hangs on this question.  So, to get after it, we will be turning in The Story* (our 31 week message series at Redeemer) from the Old Testament to the New Testament, and asking the question: Who is Jesus Christ?

Jesus Himself asks His disciples this question: “Who do you say I am?” (Mark 8:29). Oh, at first He asked them what others were saying about Him. The answers came back in rapid fire: “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”  But Jesus was more concerned with their answer to His question, so he asked, “Who do you say I am?”  They all looked at this homeless carpenter and thought about that question. Then Peter replied, “You are the Christ.”

Who do you say he is? Have you given it much thought? Some say He was crazy, claiming to be God but just a man. Some say He was just another liar, and that He knew exactly what He was saying but was deviously misleading those around him.  Many, sadly, aren’t even asking the question.  When you type “Who is J” into the Google search box, it auto-predicts one of the most popular next string of words, “Justin Bieber dating?”

But there are those who are asking, and who have answered, along with Peter, that Jesus is the Christ; the Messiah. He is God in the flesh. He is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies.  He is the answer to God’s promises. He is the King. He is the Savior.  Your answer to that question will be the greatest one you will ever give.   We are setting out to answer that question over the next weeks at Redeemer, as we continue The Story.  Join us!

Pastor Augie.

* If you have not gotten The Story, books are still available.  Pick up your copy today!

Perhaps My Favorite Bible Verse!

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“And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”  – 1 John 5:11-13

Here’s why …

Not only does this verse make clear that eternal life is a real thing … and that it comes only through Jesus, the Son of God … but it makes it abundantly clear that it is a gracious gift of God given to us freely through faith. The words “that you may KNOW that you have eternal life” remove all doubt that our salvation might be contingent on how well we did in life. “That you may KNOW” means that the person who believes in Jesus as Savior need not respond “I *hope* so” when asked, “will you be in heaven when you die?” … but must respond “I *KNOW* so” – since that is what Scripture clearly teaches – in this verse and many others! My prayer today is that anyone reading this post relinquishes any trust that they have misplaced in themselves or in false gods, and places that trust in the Name of the only One who saves – Jesus the Christ, the Son of God.

Amen!

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