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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.

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.

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.

Tower Building and Name Making

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Have you ever noticed that God will do what it takes to get His will done in your life?  You’ve heard the popular “Footprints Poem?” Well, I think there’s more to it than that.   I recently saw this cartoon that says it well:

http://chainsawsuit.com/comic/2012/08/08/footprints-in-the-sand-part-1/

If you’re like me, you definitely have those “drag marks” in the story-line of your life … those places where God had to drag us – sometimes kicking & screaming – into His Will!  What this reveals to me is this simple truth:

God’s Will WILL be done! 

In other words … He will do whatever it takes to see that His will is done.  We saw that clearly portrayed in Genesis 11 with the Tower of Babel – how God confounded the language of humans to cause them to turn from the plans they were making back toward His plan of spreading out and filling the earth. (Click here for the full message audio and presentation slides).

It is easy for us to mock Noah’s descendants for not following God’s simple instructions.  But consider for a moment the simple instructions that God has left for us …

Luke 10:27: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbor as yourself.

Matthew 6:33: But SEEK FIRST His Kingdom and His righteousness…

Philippians 2:2-4 …then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

I think you would agree that we have not followed those simple instructions.  And just as He did with the Tower of Babel, God saw to it that even though we were off building our own towers, making a name for ourselves instead of doing what He commanded, (Loving neighbor, seeking His Kingdom first) His will would be done.  He “came down” in His Son Jesus (compare to Genesis 11:5) to accomplish His Will!

God’s will is DONE for us in CHRIST

Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! – (Philippians 2:5-8)

What I think is amazing is that everything the people were trying to do at Babel, we continue today – trying to reach heaven, trying to make a name for ourselves.  Those are given to us in Christ.  In Christ we’ve been GIVEN heaven – We don’t have to exhaust ourselves trying to ascend there on our own!

And as far as making a name for ourselves – God tells us that just as in the Tabernacle in the Old Testament, where His Name was, there His glory dwelt.  Even more so in the New Testament, we who believe in Jesus have had God’s Name (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) placed upon us in our baptism!

That “name” we’re trying to make for ourselves is Given to us in Jesus – the Name above all Names!  Yes. God sees to it that His Will will be done, and His Will is done for us in Christ!  Isn’t that good news?

… may it be done AMONG US also …

So what are we to do in response to this?  I think Martin Luther’s, explanation to the 3rd petition of Lord’s Prayer, in the Small Catechism says it well – as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer “Thy WILL BE DONE” … Luther responds:

“The good and gracious will of God is done even without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may be done among us also.”

This seems to be what Jesus is saying, shortly after giving the Lord’s Prayer in Luke 11: “He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” – Luke 11:28.  In other words, we simply follow God’s Word so that His Will is done among us.

Friends, maybe you’ve been running your own building plan – trying to reach heaven, or make a name for yourself.  Are you exhausted with your tower building and name creating?  Do you have a lot of drag marks in the sand?  God’s telling you today – there’s a better way … hear the Word of God and obey it!  If you’re ready to do that, let me know, ok?

Turn to Jesus.  Everything you are striving to build … all the identity you hope to create … has been given to you in Christ!   Amen.

– Pastor Augie

Ministry Reimagined

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It got here quickly – my ministry sabbatical.  The elders approved a sabbatical for me, back in February of 2017.  However, given a number of critical ministry concerns including a significant staff reduction as well as the strategic Mission Advancement and Implementation process that we began in late 2016, that sabbatical was postponed until July-August 2018.  And now it’s almost here! But what is a sabbatical and what does it mean for our ministry at Redeemer?  This article will try to address that.

What is a Sabbatical?

“A ministry sabbatical as a period of time, usually three months, when ministry leaders and congregations set aside the leader’s normal responsibilities for the purpose of rest and renewal toward sustained excellence in ministry.  A ministry sabbatical is not an extended vacation nor is it an academic sabbatical that normally involves extensive study. A ministry sabbatical is a release from the routine of the call for the physical, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual well-being of the ministry leader.  The word sabbatical is drawn from Sabbath. The Hebrew word for Sabbath means to “close or rest” and is connected with the last day of Creation when God rested. (Genesis 2:3) God both models and commands Sabbath rest for his people. “Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy.” (Exodus 20:8-11)  Jesus affirmed the importance of rest saying, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27-28) The Biblical example of Jesus’ own frequent withdrawal to a quiet place to meditate, pray and be renewed is a model. In His ministry, the constant demands of people led Jesus to step away on a regular basis.  See also: Genesis 1 and 2; Exodus 20:8-11, 23:10-12; Leviticus 25:1-7 (Sabbatical Year), 24:8-25 (Year of Jubilee); Psalm 23; and Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.” – From the website: https://ministrysabbaticalresources.com/

As I mentioned in a recent sermon, a number of people have told me that I have “earned it” or “deserve it.”  I know that the thought and sentiment is good, but my typical response in to say, “thank you very much.  But the truth is, I *need* it.”  I am truly grateful that the congregation is affording me the blessing and gift of this time away, but the reason that our synod and districts recommend regular and intentional sabbaticals for their pastors is because what has been observed is that the regular and sustained demands and pace of ongoing ministry have a cumulative effect[i].  After periods of four to seven years, there is a very real need for a season of rest, recovery, and renewal in order to maintain the energy, focus and emotional and spiritual health that are necessary to lead a congregation – especially in these challenging times.

Sharpening the Saw

In the well-known, and often referenced, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the last of the seven habits is often overlooked, but can become the most impactful if neglected – “Sharpen the Saw.”  Just like a carpenter or lumberjack must work harder and harder when their tools get dull, so must ministry leaders.  At those times, it takes determination and intentional effort to stop work, halt the production line, and tend to the care of the tools.  However, it is far better to stop working with dull tools for a moment and return refreshed and retooled, than to continue forging ahead with ineffective tools.  Otherwise what ends up happening is that eventually the work will grind to a halt as the tool becomes completely dull or broken altogether.  The analogy is clear.

What Happens During the Sabbatical?

People have asked me, “where are you going on your sabbatical?”  The short answer is that I don’t completely know the physical or geographical locations that I will be going during this time away.  But the location is not as important as what will occur during the sabbatical.  Sabbaticals can be taken in different ways for different purposes.  Some professionals take sabbaticals to complete a writing project or some creative work that just can’t get the attention it needs in the midst of the day-to-day.  Others take sabbaticals to gain new experiences through travel or exploration.  Others take sabbaticals to dive deeper into learning a particular topic or subject matter.  And some take sabbaticals for rest and renewal.  The latter is the purpose of my sabbatical.  I intend to use the time to simply draw near to God and rest in Him – enjoying His Word, His creation and His blessings of family and good health.   I also intend to use the time to discover old and new spiritual disciplines as well as establish new and fresh patterns of balance between work and life; you could say, “Ministry Reimagined.”

What Does this Mean for Redeemer?

“Ministry Reimagined” is my theme for this Sabbatical.  And I am applying that to our congregation as well.  It’s not uncommon for pastor and congregation to follow similar trajectories.  I believe that Redeemer also finds itself in a season of needing refreshing and renewal.  And I believe that our congregation can benefit from using this Summer as a chance to receive from, be nurtured by and be refreshed by God.  But even moreso, I believe that both pastor and congregation will benefit from using this as an opportunity to “reimagine” the ministry that God has called us to in this place.

Just as I find myself in a season of being stretched too thin and regularly engaged in a flurry of activity, that while good, doesn’t seem to be accomplishing those things that God ultimately desires for His people … so too does Redeemer find itself in a similar season, wouldn’t you agree?  It is likely that we find ourselves in this place because of how we’ve “imagined” God desires us to accomplish His will in this place.  It’s possible that we’ve placed our effort, our attention and our resources on doing the urgent rather than the important.  It’s possible that we’ve actually been working out of our own strength, will-power, knowledge and abilities (the flesh), rather than relying on God, seeking Him and walking with Him in the Spirit. What both pastor and congregation need to do is to reimagine how God wants us to do ministry together, with Him.

Ministry Reimagined

This is in fact what the Mission Advancement and Mission Implementation Teams been working on – setting up a construct for us doing ministry together in productive Spirit-filled ways that align with the ministry calling that God has given us.  In other words, not just “doing ministry” but intentionally focusing our efforts on being the people that God has called us to be and doing what He has called us to do.  To do this we need clarity on who we are at Redeemer, what we are doing in our ministry together, how we are doing it, and most importantly why we are doing it.  That’s ministry reimagined.

I am excited to begin sharing with you what God has been laying on my heart, and how He is directing the leadership of our church when I return in September.   Also at that time, we will begin a bi-weekly time of gathering, growth and shared “imagining” of what our ministry is all about.  These meetings are open to anyone, but ultimately are for those who want to be used by God in ministry at Redeemer.  Together we will allow God to melt us, mold us, and reshape us to better reflect His image in this place.  That’s ministry reimagined.

Amen!  May it be so, for Jesus’ sake,

Pastor Augie

[i] See Sabbatical Planning For Clergy and Congregations, Richard Bullock, Washington, DC: The Alban Institute, 1975

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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