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The Red Letter Challenge

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This seven-week study will cause us to take a closer look at the words of Jesus… and then will challenge us to actually live out Jesus’ words in our lives!  You may have noticed that in many Bibles, the words of Jesus are printed in red letters.  That’s where this study gets its name.  But when you combine a sermon series with small group studies and a personal workbook, all focused on putting those red letters into practice, you don’t just have an all-church Bible study … you have an all-church CHALLENGE!

As Christians, we are notorious for “nodding our heads” to God’s promises and commands, but then like a bobble-head toy, we continue to stay stuck in one place nodding our heads rather than moving our hands, feet and mouths in the ways that God directs.  In this study, we are going to take to heart Jesus’ words in John 14:15, “If you love me, keep my commands.”  We’ve spent weeks looking at what “Love Is” in our Sunday and Wednesday worship services, but now we are going to put that love into action by living out the faith of Jesus.

Why is this so important?  Because whether we like to admit it or not, you and I are a reflection of Jesus Christ in this world.  More and more people do not read the Bible these days, so the only thing they know about Jesus is what they experience by interacting with Christians.  And sadly, as authors David Kinnamon and Gabe Lyons write in their book unChristian: “Many of those outside of Christianity … reject Jesus because they feel rejected by Christians.”[1]

This is really a wakeup call for us as the church, to recognize that we have the opportunity, or better – the necessity, to change the way we reflect Jesus in the world.  How are we going to do that?  Well, it’s going to take 7 weeks to unfold it all, but in brief we’ll look at these 5 principles that Jesus spent most of His time talking about:

  1. Being: Before Jesus invites us to do things for Him, through Him, and in His name, He invites us into a relationship with Him – one of simply being in His presence.  We need more of Him.
  2. Forgiving: So many of us struggle with receiving God’s forgiveness, forgiving ourselves, or forgiving others.  To truly represent Jesus in this world, we must understand God’s grace in our lives and extend that grace to others.
  3. Serving: After all that Christ has done for us, we want to serve Him.  But as we direct our love toward Him, He directs our love outward – into the community, to help those in need.
  4. Giving: Jesus talked about money a lot.  Why? Because how we view money reflects our relationship with God. Jesus followers are generous.
  5. Going: Jesus’ last command to His followers was to go out and tell the Good News of the Kingdom and what Christ has done for us.  Doing good works is nice. But what turns those works into ministry is sharing them in the Name of Christ.

Let’s be Christians that not only talk about Jesus, but who seek to let His Word melt us, mold us and use us as His instruments in the world.  My prayer is that you will be greatly blessed by taking the Red Letter Challenge, and by letting the words of Jesus shape you into His image for all to see.

Taking the Challenge with you,

Pastor Augie

[1] https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0801072719/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i2

LOVE IS … the Better Way

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1 Corinthians 13 is often referred to as the “love chapter.” You hear it a lot at weddings. But weddings aren’t where it was originally aimed. It was aimed at the church in Corinth – a church that was loaded with problems.

Corinth was like Las Vegas on steroids. Not only was sexual immorality rampant, but along with that came every other form of evil behavior. You might ask, “why did the Apostle Paul write such a beautiful message of love to a place like that?” But Paul saw it the other way around.  He felt that a community stuck in sin was the perfect place for a message about the power of God’s transforming love.

In fact, that’s how it is with God’s Love – the deeper the sin, the more powerful God’s grace!  Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans:

“… But where sin increased, grace increased all the more.” – Romans 5:20

And so the Apostle set out in his letter to the Corinthians to talk about God’s answer to their sin.  He spent the first 12 chapters of that letter to them talking about the problems that faced them.  Then in chapter 13 it’s as if he took a cleansing breath and said, “can we all agree that your way is not working? … let me show you a better way.”  And LOVE is … that better way.

Then he goes on to show that all of the ways that the Corinthians (and we) measure success, achievement or happiness, are actually nothing without love.

  1. You cannot measure the value of your words by the impressiveness of your speech.

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” – 1 Corinthians 13:1

  1. You cannot measure your spiritual maturity by the extent of your gifts.

“If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” – 1 Corinthians 13:2

  1. You cannot measure the size of your reward by the depth of your sacrifice.

“If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” – 1 Corinthians 13:3

Paul is echoing the upside-down Kingdom that Jesus had ushered in.  In Christ’s Kingdom, the main currency isn’t speech, power, knowledge or money.  It’s Love.  It’s possible to speak in a way that just puffs up self.  It’s possible to have knowledge about the inner workings of science – even knowledge about heaven and earth, but to use that knowledge in a way that serves our own power and position.   And it’s even possible to give, and give generously, in a way that is more about our own gain than it is about loving the ones that we are serving.   But Paul teaches that in Christ’s Kingdom, love of neighbor and love of God is the better way.  It may utilize all of God’s gifts of speech, knowledge, faith, generosity and personal surrender … but it must never be about those things in and of themselves; it must be about Love.

Love, after all, is what drove God to send His Son into the world, and what drove that Son to the cross to die for us, isn’t it?  (see John 3:16.) Clearly Jesus used words, knowledge, faith, generosity and personal surrender in His ministry … but He did them all with love … with perfect Love.   And He calls us, as His disciples, to Love like He does.

The world is desperately in need of more Love, isn’t it?  Chances are you could use a little more Love in your life too, right?  So, we are spending the next several weeks learning about the “Better Way” of Love that Jesus wants for us.  I look forward to digging into this wonderful image of Christ’s Love with you.

In Christ’s Love,

Pastor Augie.

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.

Our God Remembers – Zechariah’s Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trusting in God’s faithfulness,

Pastor Augie.

Responding to Conflict

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the grace of God,

Pastor Augie.

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

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