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Since. Not if.

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Crucifix Illustration

Devotional Thoughts from Luke 23:26-43

35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” 36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”

“IF” … such a tiny word, and yet so powerful.  In the strictest sense of the word it sets up a condition. (You can read a lot more about this little word’s use in the Bible, here).  The implication is that what follows the word may or may not be true.  If it is true, then further conclusions may be drawn.

Another way of looking at this word is that it expresses doubt.  What follows this two-letter conditional particle may or may not be true … the speaker, or reader, cannot assess with certainty.  This is doubt.

It is striking that people, including the Roman soldiers, so casually and boldly apply it to Jesus;  calling into question whether He is the Messiah, the Christ, the Chosen One, the king of the Jews by their use of this little word.  In fact, even one of the criminals asserts a similar doubt in a subtle, but related way:

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”  (emphasis mine)

“Aren’t you?” … In other words: “If you were.”

We are looking at the Real. Present. God. on Sundays, and this will be the topic of the National Youth Gathering in less than two weeks.  The premise of these words is that even though the world is asking “If you are real, God…” or “If you are present, God…” or “If you are even God at all, God…” we assert them to all be true.  There is no conditional “if” for us people of faith. There are only statements:  Real. Present. God.  These have all been revealed to be true in the life and work of Jesus Christ. (You can read a bit more and listen to those sermons, here.) We have hindsight.  For us the condition has been resolved!

Isn’t there so much more power in seeing those conditions as all true?  How differently do we approach life when we understand that God *is* real.  He *is* present. And He *is* God.  How differently do we approach Jesus if we see that He *is* the Christ.  He *is* the Messiah.  He *is* the king of the Jews and even more – the Son of God.  May that be the case for us!

I suggest that instead of the word “if” we insert the word “since” into those verses.  While this may not be the most literal sense of the word, it is appropriate for us who now know those conditions to be true.  “Since you are the Messiah…” “Since you are Christ, the King…” then “… Save us, Jesus!”

And that is what He has done!  Ironically and poignantly, He *did* save us, and Himself, in His death on the cross.  What the soldiers, people and criminal were taunting Jesus with – He did.  In Jesus’ perfect and satisfactory death, He won for us victory over sin and the enemy.  So then, the Father raised Jesus from the dead, and He promises to raise us as well!

I pray that you and I will live our lives, not in doubt of the supreme nature and power of Christ, but rather in the recognition of it! … Amen.

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?

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.

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

A Journey to Christmas

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After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” – Matthew 2:1-2, NIV

This Advent we are embarking on an unforgettable journey to experience Hope, Joy, Peace & Love!

What an amazing season it is as we journey together toward Christmas. The word advent comes from Latin and roughly means “coming.” So we use these weeks leading up to Christmas as a chance to look forward to our celebration of the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, the light of the world … our Savior.

Advent is a season of great expectation, and I’m inviting you to join us as we embark on a journey (actually as we join in an epic journey that began more than two thousand years ago!) as we follow the Star and discover the Light of the world. It’s a journey of the heart and soul, but it’s also a journey that will realign our expectations and experience of the Christmas season. And it’s a journey that will explore the gifts of Christmas delivered by and through Christ: hope, joy, peace and love. We all need hope in the storms of life and love that never gives up. We need fresh joy on our journey and peace no matter what we’re facing or dealing with.

And you probably know someone who needs that too!  That’s why we’re making an outreach tool available to you this Advent.  The free pamphlet is available in the church lobby, and it introduces the four themes for the weeks of Advent (love, joy, peace and hope), and invites the reader to ponder the true gifts of Christmas.  You can use it to invite your friends and family to join you in your journey to Christmas.

Our journey centers on the Star as our guiding light. The Star of Bethlehem, that burst through the darkness over two thousand years ago and signaled the long-awaited birth of a Savior, has taken a central place in the Christmas story, but its mention in the Bible is really very brief. The record of wise men from the East who followed a star is only mentioned in Matthew’s Gospel account of Christ’s coming (Matthew 2). And there is much discussion by scholars and scientists about what the Star actually was, who the wise men (Magi) were, and when the cosmic event of its appearance took place. But apart from the debates, there remains the truth that the light of a star led people to Jesus – even if they were still on their journey the night Jesus was born. (Most scholars place the wise men showing up a few months to a year after Jesus’s birth.) And maybe that’s a good metaphor for anyone’s spiritual journey … we don’t always come to Jesus the minute He reveals himself … it’s a process.

The Advent season is about the journey as much as the destination. As we’ll explore, it is a time to prepare, maybe to pause and to ponder, to breathe deeply and turn our eyes to the true meaning of this time of year—a season that can seem so hectic and stressful in our culture.  Let’s be honest – sometimes the journey of life can get long and difficult. And this busy time of year can pile on more challenges and stress. The good news is – there is hope!

No matter where you find yourself today, you are invited into this journey.  Will you say yes to the journey? Will you peer through the darkness of your life, no matter what that may be, and look for the Star … a glimmer of hope? Will you journey toward Bethlehem, drawn by hope for the love, joy, and peace that await you?

Is that hard for you to imagine? Is your Christmas season overwhelmed already by any number of struggles: financial stresses, relational dysfunctions, loss of a loved one?  I think we all have one or the other … But let me encourage you—that’s exactly where hope shines brightest.

Christmas can still give us a taste of the most wonderful time of world history. Jesus, the Messiah and Savior, came as the Light into the darkness, stress and pain of the world.  And He still shines His Light for us today as He did that first Christmas. He fills our lives’ journeys with hope, love, joy, and peace.  Join us this Advent and Christmas at Redeemer.  We have much to share with you as we follow our Lord together.

In Christ’s Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace,

Pastor Augie

Who is the Son of Man?

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When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” – Matthew 16:13, NIV

Jesus asked His disciples two questions.  First he asked, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They answered him with an unsatisfying reply that I’ll paraphrase as, “Nobody really knows… They are still guessing.”  Then Jesus narrowed it down to perhaps what was more important to Him, and definitely was more important to His followers, when he asked, “But who do YOU say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15, emphasis mine).  These two questions show us the essence of the mission before us – making Jesus known, in a world that doesn’t really know Him.

Quite frankly, the answer to the question of who Jesus is, is even more confused nowadays than it was in Biblical times.  According to a Barna Research report from 2017[i], “5 Popular Beliefs about Jesus,” even though most people believe that Jesus was a real person, some don’t.  They also discovered that younger generations are increasingly less likely to believe that Jesus is God.  And Americans are divided on whether Jesus was sinless.  And yet, the majority of Americans claim to have made a commitment to Jesus Christ.  But if they doubt His divinity, sinlessness and even His existence … in the words of our Small Catechism … “what does this mean?” Even though the number is declining, studies still report that as many as 75% of Americans claim to be Christian. But then we have to ask if these are active followers of Jesus, or Christian in name only?

Whether it’s scientifically researched or purely anecdotal, we all recognize that times have changed in our country, and perhaps even more so in our Southwestern corner of the States.  Most of us can remember a time just a few short decades ago, when most people went to church – or at least knew they should go.  Most people knew about the Bible and the stories it contained, and they knew who Jesus was.  Furthermore, our society was built around the morality found in the Bible; it was assumed.  Nobody worried about Church and State issues as much; it was assumed that for the State to work, Church was necessary. But times have changed. And we have an opportunity to understand anew, as Concordia Seminary president Dale A. Meyer says[ii], “the radical nature of faith in Jesus,” because our faith in Jesus moves us to action that is often unpopular, and more and more counter-cultural.

The reason Jesus asked His disciples, “who do you say that I am?” is because He knew that their life depended on, and would be directed by, their answer to that question.  So when Peter responded, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 16:16-17).  Peter had given the right answer.  It was on this confession and understanding of who the Son of Man is, that Christ would build His Church.

Ultimately what we put our faith in is not health or possessions … or even family!  These are all gifts from our Creator, but they are not sufficient upon which to place our hope and our trust.  There is only One worthy of our faith.  There is only One whom we fear, love and trust above all else.  That is who the Son of Man is!

“Faith is a living, unshakeable confidence in God’s grace; it is so certain, that someone would die a thousand times for it. This kind of trust in and knowledge of God’s grace makes a person joyful, confident, and happy with regard to God and all creatures. This is what the Holy Spirit does by faith. Through faith, a person will do good to everyone without coercion, willingly and happily; he will serve everyone, suffer everything for the love and praise of God, who has shown him such grace.” (Martin Luther’s Preface to the Book of Romans)

So who is Jesus to you?  I pray that He is the One who puts your conscience at ease and gives you confidence when it comes to your future – both in this life and beyond – because He has addressed all your spiritual and physical needs.  But I also pray that He is the One who puts your heart, hands and head to work to make Him known to those who do not know Him and who need to feel His embrace!

At Redeemer we talk about “Joining Jesus in Our Community.”  Jesus made it His mission to reveal to the world God’s love through His witness and work – chief of which was His death on the cross.  And before He ascended into heaven, Jesus showed the world that He was triumphant over the grave, and He gave His followers the job of continuing His work of making Him known.  He said, “… you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8) Let us continue Jesus’ mission of revealing God’s Only Son to the World.  Let us make sure that people know who the Son of Man is!

Making Him known,

Pastor Augie

[i] https://issuu.com/concordiasem/docs/csm_fall_2017_final/6

[ii] Ibid.

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