In The Panic Focus on The LORD (Exodus 14:5–31)

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After the plague of death the Egyptians begged the Israelites to leave. They threw their gems and gold at them to encourage them to leave. But after the shock of death of the firstborn wore off, now the anger and resentment kick in. Pharaoh says, “What have we done? Why have we let them go? Why have we let go of their labor, their services?” (Ex 14:5)

The Egyptians assemble their rapid response troops, the chariots, to go racing after the Israelites. The text said the Israelites had marched out boldly, but once they see the Egyptians bearing down on them they loose their composure.

Immediately whining, complaining and panic set in. “Why did you have to set us free from being slaves??!!  Didn’t we beg you not let us leave our slavery? It would have been better for us to be slaves than to die!”

Wow! Really?  It would be better to be slaves than to die.  There is a great line from Pink Floyd’s song Wish You Were Here: Did you exchange a walk on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?”

Being a Christ follower can be a scary thing. Walking by faith rather than by sight. 

Moses tries encouraging the people. Don’t be afraid. Stand firm in your faith. You will see God act on your behalf. (v.13)

Often the way God acts is to delay. To stretch out what we need: time, patience, money, thinking.

So the LORD delays the Egyptian army with a pillar of fire and cloud. The Egyptians are threatening. The Israelites know the Egyptian army is bearing down on them, but not yet.

Then Moses standing in the water prays stretching out his hands over the sea. The LORD then beats back the sea with a strong east wind. The waters were divided.

The Israelites were not looking for this solution. They wanted the LORD to smash the army before their eyes. Instead the LORD provides a way for them to flee, to escape.

While they are still running for their lives making their way through the wet pathway between the waters, the LORD is carrying out his vengeance on the Egyptians. The Israelites will not see it. They didn’t need to see it. They need to keep their eyes on God’s provision.

When we feel threatened and panicked, we are called to cling to our faith and focus on the provision from God. Don’t worry about all the other unimportant side issues. Focus on being God’s child.

Put your trust in the LORD.

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7

Pastor Douglas

 

More Than Perishable Seed (1 Corinthians 15:35-43)

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What comes from a kernel of corn? Simply another kernel?

Consider how from a single corn kernel comes this magnificent plant that grows 6 to 9 feet tall. From this single stalk comes one or two ears with with hundreds and hundreds of more kernels. The point being that when the kernel dies, it does come back as simply a kernel. But as a whole new larger, fruitful life.

Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John 12:24)

In Corinthians 15, Paul addresses what does a resurrection life look like. We affirm that because Jesus Christ is the first born from the dead we also will be resurrected from the dead.

What is promised to us in the resurrection from the dead is so much more than simply more life. We will not simply be the continuation of life in this form. The life we have here on earth is defined by its limitations and imperfections. Perishable, dishonor, weakness. Stained by volatility, sin, and death.

When Christ is resurrected beyond death he is clothed with life beyond. He is a glimpse of heaven. This promise that we will abide at the length of our days in God’s Sabbath rest means that we will enjoy unending presence with God. The life of God will swell our every moment.

The resurrected life is a life of uninterrupted joy, holiness, and life. The resurrection life is a non-stop, ceaseless flow of the absolute best moments of your life when you felt most alive, most valued, most sacred, most joyful. This absolute joy is the every moment reality of resurrection life. Life in heaven is one of glory, power, immortality. Infused with eternity, holiness and life.

“The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable.” (1 Co 15:42)

As we go through all the fear and uncertainty of this season, we are reminded that this life is passing away. We have been promised nothing less than a heaven. This resurrected future gives us courage to face each and every difficulty. We know Christ holds our eternal future in his hands.

 

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7

Pastor Douglas

Patient Zero (1 Cor 15:12-28)

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 With the coronavirus we have heard the term “patient zero” bandied about.  Patient zero is the first person to contract the disease from a non-human source and become contagious spreading it to other humans. They believe the patient zero for COVID-19 was a 55-year-old man from Hubei province. They think this virus jumped from a bat to a human.

As we reflect upon the work of Christ in the cross and empty tomb, the apostle Paul speaks about a patient zero.  You know the name of the patient zero, or should I say, patients. Adam and Eve. They decided to rebel against God and live on their own terms. From them the plague of sin has been ushered in contaminating every human life. “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”  Psalm 51:5 says.   Because of Adam we are all poisoned with sin and the fear of death. Paul says, “For as in Adam all die.”  Although every creature reaches the end of its temporal life, what Paul speaks of is our spiritual death. This spiritual death infects every aspect of life now and condemns us to eternal death.

Today many dismiss Christ and his cross. many dismiss Christ and his resurrection. There are even “Christians” who say Christ has not been raised. Paul says being a Christian is nonsense if Jesus has not been raised.

Let’s back up to the cross first. When Christ went to the cross, he took the place of Adam. Jesus became Patient Zero so every sin that has oozed in your life, every sin of every human life throughout all of history was poured upon him. Christ took on the plague, the infection of sin in his body. He who knew no sin became sin (2 Cor 5:21).

Today we hear marvelous stories about recovered COVID-19 patients who immediately donate their plasma because their blood contains the antibodies to fight the virus and bring healing.

God has washed us clean in the blood of Christ. His blood has worked our healing, our reconciliation. In Christ we have the antibodies to be healed of sin and to escape eternal death.

Paul writes, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Co 15:20).  Jesus Christ is the Patient Zero who conquers sin, death, and evil to give you the resurrection from the dead.

Truly, we are witnesses to God. We testify that Christ has been raised from the dead. As Christ has been raised from the dead he has conquered death for all of us.  “In Christ all will be made alive.”(2 Cor 15:22)

As Christ has been raised, your faith is advantageous and precious; you are no longer in bondage in your sins. You are no longer condemned by the infection of sin. As Christ is raised from the dead, then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are redeemed.  As we have hope in Christ for this life and for eternal life, we are of all people most to be admired, celebrated and acclaimed. (cf. 2 Cor 5:17-19)

As Christ has healed us from the scourge of sin, we have a hope to carry on!

 

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7

Pastor Douglas

Rejoining Jesus (Mark 14:12-25) Pt 2

I wrote previously how we understand the practice or implementation of communion. Now I speak about one aspect of what is conveyed to us in communion. (Please recognize the limitations of this blog and attention spans. Great theologians have written many many volumes about the Lord’s Supper. This is not a full theological treatise.)

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When we take communion we are being connected to Christ. We are not just recalling an event that happened in the past. We are being connected to Christ and His work.

These words we receive from Christ himself: “Take; this is my body.” “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” (Mark 14:22, 24)

His words are clear. This is my body. This is my blood. Jesus does not speak of a symbol. In the Gospel of John, Jesus is even more offensively blunt, “This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (Jn 6:51).  And again, Jesus embarrasses us when he says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. (Jn 6:54).

When Paul speaks of communion in 1 Corinthians 10:16, he describes it as participating in the body of Christ, in the blood of Christ. For Paul the Lord’s Supper is not just some cognitive remembrance. In the bread and wine we enter into the salvation event of the cross and in Christ (Mk 10:38-39). He goes onto to say that as we share the one loaf we participate and are joined to the body of Christ.

Paul speaks similarly of baptism when he says that we are joined to Christ in both his death and resurrection (Rom 6:4-5). Paul tells us that in baptism as we are baptized into Christ, we are made part of the one body (Eph 4:4, Gal 3:27-28).

When we gather as the body of Christ to receive communion, we are truly rejoined to Christ. We are re-membered to the body which is Christ. Our bond with Christ and his church is reinforced, rejoined.

In the sacraments, The Church is joined to Christ. As members of the Church we are joined to Christ in the sacraments as events of the Church. In the sacraments the Church is mystically entering into the Salvation work of Christ. These sacraments, these gospel moments of God, occur in specific physical settings of people and place.

We are physical. We cannot be who we are as individuals outside of our physical incarnation. Your body shapes who you are. This is why Christ came in the incarnation to die a physical death on the cross.

Our physicality matters. Otherwise, why would we be wearing all this protective gear and sheltering in place during this pandemic?

This physical separation we are experiencing from one another is teaching us to appreciate even more greatly our bond with others. While we attempt to stay connected through various communications format, we all know the physical presence and touch is missed.

As we are currently separated and unable to take communion we are not severed from Christ anymore than we are severed from our family and friendships. This pandemic imposed fast is an opportunity for us to grow in recognizing what we have taken for granted.

While this disease is the result of nature (and certainly the debate goes on about other contributors), the LORD did not unleash this disease upon humanity. The LORD, however, is using this time to get our attention.

As we shelter in place we have experienced a Lent like no other. Lent is a time of repentance and prayer. The Lenten discipline of Fasting is a practice of depriving ourselves to be more focused. While many fast from vices which we should forego anyway, fasting is meant to forego good blessings so we can focus more intently on the ultimate good of God.

This Easter, our Lenten fast continues as we fast from the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Fasting from Communion is not a punishment, but is a pray-filled awakening to God’s gift of the sacrament.

Missing the sacrament causes us to repent of our carelessness and sinful arrogance about the sacrament and pray for a deeper appreciation of it. Missing the sacrament causes us to grow in our desire for the fellowship of other believers and the bonding of the sacrament. Missing the sacrament causes us to reflect more deeply that Holy Communion is not some human remembrance, but an unmitigated gospel act of God in our lives. Missing the sacrament causes us to reflect on how the bread and the wine are the Cross made real to us. Missing the sacrament causes us to recognize the gift of Christ to us sinners who put out hands to receive his body and blood so we may have a new, sin-forgiven, Spirit-infused life.

Our faith will not suffer because of this fast from Holy Communion. Rather this fast will grow us deeper in faith. This fast will not infest disciples with anxiety, but rather grow us to trust God in the places where we have no control. (Phil 4:6, Lk 12:22-32)

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. (Jn 6:35)

 

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7

Pastor Douglas

Rejoining Jesus (Mark 14:12-25) Pt 1

last supper_duccioOn this Maundy Thursday, the readings from 1 Corinthians 10:14–17, 11:27–32, and Mark 14:12–25 all cover the Lord’s Supper. As we are in this shelter-in-place limbo we have refrained from taking the sacrament of Holy Communion. So how should we consider this absence of the sacrament?

We are in this unprecedented time with this Shelter-in-Place order here and in much of the world.

Now, I want to be very clear about what we are doing as a church in this time. We have ceased holding worship services in our facility not because of an infringement upon our expression of the Gospel but rather out of our love and concern for our people and our community. If this was an order to cease worship because of the content of our message we would not have ceased. This is not a matter of religious freedom but of health concerns. There will be plenty of debate after this crisis subsides about religious and individual liberties. That is not my concern here.

Bishop Dan Selbo has delivered a pastoral letter on the subject of virtual communion. You can find it on the NALC website (here). He encouraged pastors to refrain from virtual communion until we have time to reflect and discuss this issue. I wholeheartedly agree with Bishop Selbo.

As we go though this shelter in place in response to the Coronavirus pandemic, this is a health emergency, it is not a theological emergency. The Gospel of Jesus Christ and his Bride the Church are not in danger. The Church has endured far greater health crises and humanitarian disasters than this present pandemic. As in previous episodes, the Church is adapting to continue to preach the Gospel and offer the comfort of Christ.

So how should we consider Holy Communion at this time?

First, the Lord’s Supper is a public occurrence given to Christ’s disciples. As he says in the Greek “umin” translates as y’all (Lk 22:17, 19, 20)

This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. (Mk 14:24)

Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. (Mt 26:27).

Holy Communion is a public event of the church.

Secondly, this is an experience of God’s promises taken in fellowship. The essence of communion is community where we are joined together with Christ as his earthly body.

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Ac 2:42).

Communion is never an individualistic act. Even communion delivered to those who are shut-in or in the hospital is understood as an extension of the community they are physically unable to join. While we are joining together digitally, this is not the incarnational gathering of Christ’s body. (For further discussion on this I point you to an essay by Rev. Dr. Alexey Streltsov ).

Thirdly, the Church is the steward of the mysteries of God. The congregation is the local steward of the mysteries of God. The gifts of the church are administered through appointed and ordained leaders for the sake of good order. (Augsburg Confession, XIV, Article XIV: Of Ecclesiastical Order). Based on this understanding innovations to the practice of communion should be cautioned against. Such innovations are not necessary for our faith in times such as these.

Faith Alone:  We are encouraged to remember that we are saved by faith and by faith alone. This faith is a creation and gift of the Holy Spirit to each believer. This faith is not dependent upon anything else except the act of God. The sacrament of Holy Communion is a gift to communicate God’s promises in Christ to us but it is not necessary for salvation. Nor is the absence of communion condemning to us. Put crassly, you could say Holy Communion was a bonus.

Word Alone: While we may want to partake in the Lord’s Supper we do good to remember what constitutes the Lord’s Supper is the Word. Our faith rests on the Word alone. The Word nourishes us at all times. Jesus is the Word made flesh. When he gives himself to us in the Lord’s supper what he is ultimately giving us is the Word. This Word is what we live by. This Word is what we are redeemed by.

So while we are apart physically and connected digitally, we ultimately rest in the work of Christ, his cross and resurrection which is the expression of God, his Word, to all humanity. We are united to Christ by the Spirit.

Cast all your cares on Him, for He cares about you.”  (1 Peter 5:8)
Pastor Douglas

 

Bishop Dan’s Letter: https://thenalc.org/projects/pastoral-letter-concerning-virtual-communion/

Pastor Strltsov’s essay: https://www.gottesdienst.org/gottesblog/2020/4/6/a-guest-essay-by-the-rev-dr-alexey-streltsov-the-covid-19-pandemic-and-the-digitization-of-the-church?fbclid=IwAR3xGZ2mfbKLzJQ6URexoTi7bZuW1ohhwpK2cjGK5SgDCmwXrklH4obo_FM

Why Kill the Son? (Mark 12:1–11)

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Jesus tells a parable about a vineyard which is planted by God. Israel understood itself as that vineyard transplanted from Egypt (Psalm 80:8). God sends his servants the prophets to call his people to faithfulness.  When the time (kairos) was ripe for harvest the LORD calls for the fruit of faithfulness.

God’s people who are temporary residents are indignant that God expects a return on his investment. God’s people abuse and even kill the servants sent to prophesy and proclaim God’s word to them.

Remember the one telling this truth tale is Jesus. This perspective is not up for debate. The chief priests and other rulers grimace as he speaks but do not challenge his analysis.

Then comes the kicker. God decides to send his own son. Why? Why after all that violence would God send his son?!!

And why in the name of all that is logical would these temporary residents have the insane notion that if they commit murder they will be inheritors of the vineyard?

But God does his Son and the people of this earth who are temporal and momentary have abused, rejected and killed the Son. Humanity lives with the delusion that we can be our own god and owner even though we are temporary residents.

Jesus goes onto quote Psalm 118 because he is the fulfillment of this Psalm. He is the right hand Son of God who fulfills God’s faithfulness to Israel.

God understands our rebellion and violence against His Kingdom. The time (kairos) is full for God to bring about his kingdom. In the cross of his Son God overturns the power and idolatry of violence and death. Our violence, our rejection of God is taken up in his cross.

In our rejection of Christ, God builds a new temple of living stones founded upon Christ and his cross. The Son willingly came to absorb our violence so that humanity’s rejection of God could be clearly displayed. Giving us the opportunity to continue our resistance or to repent.We now have the opportunity to be made new tenants based on a new covenant.

This is what the Lord has done and it is marvelous in our eyes. (Mk 11:11, Ps 118:23)

Who Do You Think You Are? (Mark 11:27-33)

entryintoJerusalemPalmSundayIn Mark 11, Jesus entered Jerusalem as the Messiah fulfilling prophesy from Zechariah. If any missed that, the crowd yelled out, “Hosanna!”, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”, “Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Mk 11:9-10)

After checking out Jerusalem and the temple, he overnights in Bethany two miles away.

On his way back to where all the action is, he has curses a fruitless fig tree. When he enters Jerusalem he heads to overturn the fruitless religious system entrenched in the temple. Jesus declares the temple is the hideout for thieves and robbers. They steal the joy of belonging to the heavenly Father. They charge admission to even come before Abba, our heavenly daddy.

Jesus makes clear the age of the fruitless tree is over. If you will look past the “holy mount” and tell it to take a flying leap in the ocean, it will be done for you. Instead of bargaining and bartering to get in line to beg from the Father, simply call out to your heavenly Father and he will give you the joy-filled, fruitful relationship.

The keepers of temple system question his authority.  These high priests of spiritual bargaining still exist all around us today. These are all the gatekeepers who say we have to jump through hoops to be worth while and of value. These are all the gurus who tell us we have to work on our own spiritual worth through what we have, how strong we are, how we look, or how good we are.

These gatekeepers who want to control our access to God and say God is not present continue to question Jesus’ authority. “By what authority are you doing these things?” (Mk 11:28)

Jesus has been clear all along. We know by what authority he has been acting if we will seek him.

Jesus is the Son of the Father King of the Universe. As the Son of the Father he has all authority. Not only does he have authority to challenge this world and its systems, Jesus the Messiah, the anointed one, has the power to upend them.

Jesus upends the understanding of power by coming as a humble king. Jesus upends the understanding of spiritual standing by coming as a true priest. Jesus upends all the sacrificial bargaining by coming as the Lamb of God. Jesus upends all the fear based religion by dying on the cross. Jesus upends all of powers of rebellion and violence against God by defeating death.

By what authority does Jesus do these things? He is telling us if we will look to Him.

 

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Pet 5:7)

Pastor Douglas

Why the fig tree? (Mark 1:12-26)

cursing fig tree_4ea5b22In Mark 11, after Jesus has triumphantly entered Jerusalem he comes upon a fig tree and looks for fruit.

When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it. (Mark 11:13-14)

Jesus seems harsh for expecting figs when it was not the harvest season for figs. Why is Jesus being irrational and unreasonable?

This fig tree crisis is not about botanical seasons and times of harvest or unreasonable expectations. This is all about the season of God’s action.

Where the English translation is season, the word in the Greek is “kairos”. Jesus used same word when he said, “The time has come, The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”(Mark 1:15) The sense of kairos is that the time is full. This is a seminal moment. This type of time is not the tick-tock time of chronos, but is like the moments that take your breath away. A kairos moment is when the eternal God breaks into your circumstances. (*)

So a better sense of this might be, “this is not the age or moment of figs”. That is an odd phrase. Right? The fig tree is not about figs but is a reference to the temple.

Jesus declares the temple is a den of robbers not because of the dishonest business practices in the temple, but the false worship happening around it. Where the temple should be bearing the fruit of praise and honor to God instead it is a dead religious institution. (Mark 1:15-19)

After the temple episode, the disciples are astonished to see the fig tree withered all the way down to its roots. Jesus says we are redirect our trust from sacrificial systems and other religious bartering. Jesus says if we will ask God to cast “this mountain” of sacrificing and bartering into the sea, God will do it for us.

“Have faith in God” Jesus answered. (Mark 11:22)

So instead of bargaining with God, simply pray to God. Trust God will answer your needs.

And when you pray, instead of thinking you can ignore your dishonest practices, ask for forgiveness and forgive others, so your Father in heaven may forgive you.

There is a new season, a new kairos. Have faith and trust in God.

Well, there is so much more I could talk about with this, but I gotta go. Blessings my friends in Christ.

Pastor Douglas

 

* The other instances of when kairos is used also refer to moments of God’s judgment (Mark 12:12:2, 13:33).

 

God’s kingdom is close by and can change anything and everything.

God’s kingdom is breaking into your life and into our world.

 

Upside Down Power (Mark 10:32-45)

zalavjane Jesus predicts his death Macedonian monasteryFor the thrid time Jesus has just explained to the disciples that he must suffer and die. While the disciples are astonished that Jesus continues the journey to Jerusalem they are too afraid to talk about his impending humiliation.

They are not too afraid to ask for insider perks. James and John ask to sit at his right and left hand when he comes in His glory. They are anticipating big gains. They want to be in on the initial public offering.

Jesus then makes clear that his glory will be his cross. Will you be able to be able to drink the cup I drink? Will you be able to undergo my baptism? We know the cup Christ drinks is the cup of wrath. This cup is poured out on the cross. The baptism Christ undergoes is to take our place on the cross.

Christ invites his disciples to participate in the salvific event of the cross through the sacraments of Communion and Baptism. The participation in the Bread and the Cup, the participation in Baptism are not mere symbols or observances. These spiritual acts are participation in the very cross of our salvation. As Paul writes, when we are baptized into Christ we baptized into his death so that we may be raised to a new life in Him.

Communion and Baptism are particpations in the Cross of Jesus. The Cross of Jesus is where the glory of the Son of Man is displayed.

James and John say they can do it. They can do the cross. They don’t. They hide. The right and left hand when Jesus is in his glory has been reserved for two criminals.

Then the other ten disciples catch whiff of what scheme James and John are plotting. They are indignant! How dare they! Upset that James and John asked first, an argument breaks out that Jesus has to quell and redirect.

The kingdom of God is not about human power and perrogatives.  Power exercised outside of authority is tryanny. The power of God can only be exercised if we are in relationship with him, if we understand our full identity as Christ’s disciples. That is wwhat gives us authority to exercise the power.

When we see that clearly then we understand what Jesus says next. I did not come to be served, but to serve and give my life as a ransom for many.

The power of God is displayed not by dominence, but servanthood. When one is in relationship with God this authority flows straight forward.

Where Does Your Help Come From? (Ps 121)

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I don’t know about you, but I am emotional during this time. I am worried about my loved ones, about our church, about jobs and the economy. Our world has been tipped over and spilled all over the floor with this disease.

I find I have moments of anxiety and sadness when I dwell on the situation we all are going through. When we feel out of control and everything feels so beyond our comprehension that we can be overwhelmed with sadness in it all.

In the midst of all this fear and stench of death we see amazing human spirit to share and care for others. We see ordinary people carrying out their jobs in order to serve others whether in grocery stores, restaurants, hospitals, or delivery trucks. These small acts of heroic service and the gratitude expressed by others remind us of the world God intends for us. Rather than the still ongoing political barfing going on, we are reminded that God has imbued this creation with His goodness. In spite of all our sin and brokenness, God’s goodness still shines past the darkness.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from?

My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber;

indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you— the Lord is your shade at your right hand;

the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm— he will watch over your life;

the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.

(Ps 121:1–8 NIV)

The LORD is not sleeping or absent. The LORD is always present working out his Kingdom purposes. The Kingdom challenge for every Christian is how are we a part of what God is doing.

That is why your Church, Concordia, is here. Preaching the Word, reminding you of God promises and encouraging you in the Spirit.

“Cast all your cares on Him, for He cares about you.” 1 Peter 5:8

Pastor Douglas

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