Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!


Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Tree - Advent Mid-week 1 - November 30, 2011 - Text: Gal. 3:10-14

Over the years there have been many symbols and icons that have come to remind us of Christmas. Some symbols have been brought over, borrowed, even stolen, if you will, from pagan rituals and customs. At times the reason for this borrowing was in order to give Christians a way to compete with the pagan culture, other times it was intended to take back something that was Christian in the first place. When it comes to the traditions we have as well as the customs we observe, it is good to go back and look at the roots of our customs and traditions to make sure that these are customs and traditions we should continue to celebrate today. For this reason, this year during the season of Advent we will take the time to look at some of the symbols of Christmas that are important to us today. We will attempt to find their history and explain them in the light of our modern world. This evening we begin with the custom of “The Christmas Tree.”

First, let us look at some of the “not so Christian” reasons for the use of a Christmas tree. The tree was a pagan symbol of life following winter solstice, something like a tree began to bud in the Spring, celebrating life after the winter time of death. The Egyptians brought green date palms into their homes as a symbol of “life triumphant over death.” When the Romans observed the feast of Saturn, part of the ceremony was the raising of an evergreen bough and the early Scandinavians were said to have paid homage to the fir tree. To the Druids, sprigs of evergreen holly in the house meant eternal life; while to the Norsemen, they symbolized the revival of the sun god Balder. To those inclined toward superstition, branches of evergreens placed over the door kept out witches, ghosts, evil spirits and the like. This use does not mean that our Christmas tree custom evolved solely from paganism, any more than did some of the present-day use of signs in various religious rituals.

Trees and branches can be made purposeful as well as symbolic. The Christmas tree is a symbol of a living Christmas spirit and brings into our lives a pleasant aroma of the forest. The fact that balsam fir twigs, more than any other evergreen twigs, resemble crosses may have had much to do with the early popularity of balsam fir used as Christmas trees. Other Christian symbols found in the tree include the fact that the tree has a Triangular shape reminding us of the trinity; Father, Son, Holy Spirit. The tree is green reminding us that God is alive and eternal. And the needles point up to heaven.

For us Lutherans, legend has it that Martin Luther began the tradition of decorating trees to celebrate Christmas. As the story is told, one crisp Christmas Eve, about the year 1500, he was walking through snow-covered woods and was struck by the beauty of a group of small evergreens. Their branches, dusted with snow, shimmered in the moonlight. When he got home, he set up a little fir tree indoors so he could share this story with his children. He decorated it with candles, which he lighted in honor of Christ’s birth.

The ultimate Christian symbol of the tree is that it becomes the cross of Christ. Perhaps you have heard the old story of the Three Trees (uncertain as to the author).

Once upon a mountain top, three little trees stood and dreamed of what they wanted to become when they grew up. The first little tree looked up at the stars and said: “I want to hold treasure. I want to be covered with gold and filled with precious stones. I’ll be the most beautiful treasure chest in the world!” The second little tree looked out at the small stream trickling by on it’s way to the ocean. “I want to be traveling mighty waters and carrying powerful kings. I’ll be the strongest ship in the world!” The third little tree looked down into the valley below where busy men and women worked in a busy town. “I don’t want to leave the mountain top at all. I want to grow so tall that when people stop to look at me they’ll raise their eyes to heaven and think of God. I will be the tallest tree in the world.”

Years, passed. The rain came, the sun shone and the little trees grew tall. One day three wood cutters climbed the mountain. The first wood cutter looked at the first tree and said, “This tree is beautiful. It is perfect for me.” With a swoop of his shining ax, the first tree fell. “Now I shall make a beautiful chest, I shall hold wonderful treasure!” the first tree said.

The second wood cutter looked at the second tree and said, “This tree is strong. It’s perfect for me.” With a swoop of his shining ax, the second tree fell. “Now I shall sail mighty waters!” thought the second tree. “I shall be a strong ship for mighty kings!”

The third tree felt her heart sink when the last wood cutter looked her way. She stood straight and tall and pointed bravely to heaven. But the wood cutter never even looked up. “Any kind of tree will do for me.” He muttered. With a swoop of his shining ax, the third tree fell.

The first tree rejoiced when the wood cutter brought her to a carpenter’s shop. But the carpenter fashioned the tree into a feed box for animals. The once beautiful tree was not covered with gold, or treasure. She was coated with saw dust and filled with hay for hungry farm animals. The second tree smiled when the wood cutter took her to a shipyard, but no mighty sailing ship was made that day. Instead the once strong tree was hammered and awed into a simple fishing boat. She was too small and too weak to sail to an ocean, or even a river, instead she was taken to a little lake. The third tree was confused when the wood cutter cut her into strong beams and left her in a lumberyard. “What happened?” The once tall tree wondered. “All I ever wanted was to stay on the mountain top and point to God.”

Many days and nights passed. The three trees nearly forgot their dreams. But one night, golden starlight poured over the first tree as a young woman placed her newborn baby in the feed box. “I wish I could make a cradle for him.” Her husband whispered. The mother squeezed his hand and smiled as the starlight shone on the smooth and sturdy wood. “This manger is beautiful.” She said. And suddenly the first tree knew he was holding the greatest treasure in the world.

One evening a tired traveler and his friends crowded into the old fishing boat. The traveler fell asleep as the second tree quietly sailed out into the lake. Soon a thundering and a thrashing storm arose. The little tree shuddered. She new she did not have the strength to carry so many passengers safely through the wind and the rain. The tired man awoke. He stood up, stretched out his hand, and said, “Peace.” The storm stopped as quickly as it had begun. And suddenly the second tree knew he was carrying the king of heaven and earth.

One Friday morning, the third tree was startled when her beams were yanked from the forgotten wood pile. She flinched as she was carried through an angry jeering crowd. She shuddered when soldiers nailed a man’s hand to her. She felt ugly and harsh and cruel. But on Sunday morning, when the sun rose and the earth trembled with joy beneath her, the third tree knew that God’s love had changed everything. It had made the third tree strong. And every time people thought of the third tree, they would think of God. That was better than being the tallest tree in the world.

Now, the story usually ends like this, The next time you feel down because you didn’t get what you wanted, sit tight and be happy because God is thinking of something better to give you. But this evening let me give you a better ending.

In times past, the Christmas tree was allowed to dry, then the branches were lopped off except that one branch was used to make the tree into a cross which was used on Good Friday and Easter. In this way, the Christmas tree brought us full circle, from the birth of our promised Messiah to His death and resurrection. As a simple reminder, some families hang a nail in the middle of their Christmas tree, you might check it out and see. So, let me leave you with the words of our text: “10For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’ 11Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’ 12But the law is not of faith, rather ‘The one who does them shall live by them.’ 13Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’— 14so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.” May your Christmas tree be a joyous reminder of God’s love for you. To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Lifestyle Evangelism is . . . loving first.

Unconditional love and caring is one of the keys to help you to witness to your circle of influence (family, friends and loved ones). In the book, Who Cares About Love? Win Arn, Caroll Nyquist and Charles Arn define love in this way; “Love is intentionally doing something caring or helpful for another person, in Jesus’ name, regardless of the cost of consequence to oneself.”

In His sermon on the mount (Matt. 5:43-48), Jesus says that we should love our enemies. If we love only those who love us, what good is it? Do not even non-Christians show love to those who love them? Jesus says we are to take the initiative and show love, especially when we are not shown love. The Golden Rule (Luke 6:31) is a very positive statement telling us to take the initiative and treat others in the same manner in which we would like to be treated.

The authors of Who Cares About Love? have found that the happiest people are loving and caring people. This loving nature translates into a congregation in which parishioners show love and feel loved and cared for by one another. Sunday morning guests feel loved by the parishioners. It makes the church a place that reflects Christ’s love.

How are we doing as individuals and as members of St. Matthew Lutheran Church? I believe we are above average in being warm, open, loving and caring, to each other and to the guests who grace our presence. Of course, we can always do better, and being conscious of our efforts helps us to do better.

Have you gone out of your way to say “Hi” to someone lately? Even if it meant that the person may not acknowledge your greeting? Have you spoken a good word lately, complimented someone? With the Lord’s help, we can make a conscious effort to love our neighbor unconditionally, those people who need love and care. With the Lord’s help we can intentionally act first to show care and concern for others as Jesus showed for us.
39 of 52 © Rev. Ronald A. Bogs

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Be On Guard! Be Alert! - November 27, 2011 - First Sunday in Advent - Text: Mark 13:24-37

If I had known you were coming I would have baked a cake! How often have we heard that expression. More often than not, the meaning behind that expression is that if we had announced our coming our host would have been able to prepare something special for our arrival and visit. Today is the first Sunday in a brand new church year. I might as well have begun by saying, “Happy New Year!” As we begin this new Church year our Scripture readings are concerned with getting us ready to celebrate Jesus’ first coming, as a baby, in a manger, in Bethlehem. At the same time, our concern continues to be in getting ourselves ready for Jesus’ Second coming. Jesus gives us fair warning that He is coming again, because He does not want us to be left saying, “If I had known You were coming I would have baked a cake.”

“Be on guard, keep awake.” is the warning Jesus has for us. “For you do not know when the time will come.” We do know Jesus will return. We do know the time will come. A quick review of history will refresh our confidence in God and His promises and especially in Jesus’ promise that He will return. Way back in the beginning, and I do mean in the beginning, in the book of Genesis, we are told that God created. With mere words God created. God created all things, out of nothing. God spoke or breathed them into existence. God said, and it was. On the sixth day, God crowned His creation with the creation of the man and the woman, Adam and Eve. After each day of creation God said that “it was good.” After all was created, about all His creation God said, “It is very good.”

God created Adam and Eve in a special way, different from the rest of His creation. He did not simply speak or breath Adam and Eve into existence, instead, God formed Adam from the dust of the ground and breathed into him the breath of life and Eve He formed from Adam’s side. God created Adm and Eve and especially for them He created a Garden. He placed them in this beautiful garden and in His infinite wisdom He gave them a way to respond to Him, that is a way to show their love and gratitude to Him for all that He had done for them. He told them that they were to care for the garden, you see, work is not a result of the curse of sin. They could eat from all the vegetation of the garden, except the tree in the middle, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Of this tree, God warned, that if they disobeyed and ate of it they would surely die.

Soon after creation the devil, a fallen angel who thought himself equal with God, Satan, came into the garden in the form of a serpent. He tempted Eve and Adam with the lie and the desire that they could be come like God, if only they ate of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Up until this time Adam and Eve only knew good, not evil. So the woman and the man disobeyed God and ate of the fruit. That one act of disobedience brought sin into a once perfect world and with sin came death, spiritual death, eternal death and physical death. Now Adam and Eve knew evil as well as good. What was once perfect, even very good, is now tainted.

However, God, being a God of love, immediately stepped in so that He might reconcile the broken relationship of His creation to Himself. God had to do this because His creation could not reconcile itself with the Creator. God’s plan was to send a Savior. The Savior God promised to send would be His one and only Son. The Savior God promised to send would be God in flesh. Truly human in order to give His life for ours. Truly God in order to live perfectly and in order to raise Himself from the dead.

However, God did not immediately fulfill His promise. It was only after some 4000 years that God fulfilled His promise. During this season of Advent, the beginning of our current church year, not only are we getting ourselves ready to celebrate Jesus’ first coming at His birth in Bethlehem, we are also getting ourselves ready for Jesus’ second coming. In the days of Jesus’ first coming, in fulfillment of God’s first promise, the people were waiting, expectantly for Jesus to come, at least that was the case with some of the people.

Jesus did come to earth. In a few weeks we will celebrate that coming on Christmas morning. Jesus gave up the glory that was His as true God in heaven in order to come to earth and while He was here on earth He did for us what we are unable to do. He lived for us, perfectly. He overcame all temptation for us, perfectly, including temptation above any we may ever suffer. After living a perfect life He took our sins upon Himself and suffered and died in order to pay the cost, the price, the wage that our sins had earned. And after He rose from the dead, before He ascended into heaven Jesus said He would return.

Before Jesus left this earth, before His ascension, He left us with His great commission. He gave us His command and authority and a promise to share the good news of Jesus to all nations through baptizing and teaching. We have His command and we have His authority and promise. We are to proclaim His name with His authority and we have the promise that He will be with us to help us in carrying out His work.

But there is more, Jesus gives us gifts, talents and abilities in His Church to do the good works He has for us to do. We are not left to our own devices, we are to work as our Lord gives us to work. He also will hold us accountable for doing the work He has for us to do as well as making use of the gifts, talents, and abilities, and here we would include the gifts of time, talents, and treasures that He has given to us and we are to use these in service to Him in His kingdom.

So far Jesus has waited some 2000 years and He has not yet returned. God took some four thousand years to fulfill His first promise to send a Savior. That does not necessarily mean that He will wait another two thousand years, for a total of 4000 years before He fulfills this second promise to come. He may wait another 1000 years. He may wait only 100 years. He may not wait even one more year. What we do know from his keeping his first promise is that just as He fulfilled His first promise, so He will fulfill His second promise. And so we wait. And as we wait we keep watch.

Jesus says, “Be on guard, keep awake.” We do not know when Jesus will return, neither does He, only the Father knows. We have an indication when He will return, as Jesus tells us, “just as in the days of Noah, so will it be in the last days.” In the days of Noah people were eating and drinking and marrying and being given into marriage so that they were oblivious to the fact that the flood was coming soon and they perished in the flood. So it is today that so many people are eating and drinking and marrying and being given into marriage and living their lives as if this world is all there is and are oblivious to the fact that Jesus will come again soon.

Our focus again today is on getting ready. How do we get ourselves ready? Or how do we know if we are ready? We get ourselves ready and we know we are ready when we believe that Jesus is God’s Son. That Jesus came in fulfillment to God’s first promise. That Jesus suffered and died in order to pay the price for my sins. We are ready when we believe that just as Jesus came the first time, so He will keep His promise and will come again, soon.

We know we are ready when we speak about being ready. It is interesting how our psyche, if you will, works. Have you ever noticed how it is when you get really excited about something? You can not keep it to yourself. You have to share it with someone. Faith works in a similar fashion. When God gives us faith it wells up inside of us so much so that we can not keep it to ourselves, we have to tell someone.

We know we are ready when we act like we are ready. Here again, following the analogy of getting excited about things. When we get excited we talk about it, we even get kind of antsy. Our body language tells others that we are excited. Even more so, as we get ready and as we are ready for Jesus second coming we know it and believe it in our hearts. We speak about it in our conversations. Our whole body language, our lives show it in our actions. We do those things which reflect our getting ready for something wonderful.

This morning then, just as Jesus says, Be on guard, keep awake, so I say to you, “Be on guard!” - “Keep awake!” Do not fall into the trap of thinking that Jesus will not come during our lifetime. Do not fall into the trap of thinking that the things of this world are more important than the things of the world to come. Do not get sidetracked by the temptations of the devil as he tries to pull you away from Christ and His church through filling you life with so many unimportant and trivial matters other than getting yourself ready for Jesus’ return.

When will Jesus return? We do not know, but we do know that He will return. I believe that God intentionally does not tell us when Jesus will return, because He knows we have a short attention span. He knows that if we knew when Jesus would return then we would waste our lives up until the last minute. By not telling us when He will return He is assuring that we live our lives in such a way that we are ready at any time and at all times. And if we are ready at any time and at all times, then we will work at getting others ready as well so that when He does return He will be able to gather even more into His kingdom.

God gives. God gave life at creation. He gives each of us life at conception. He gives us faith and new life through Holy Baptism. He has given His life for our forgiveness. He gives us gifts, talents and abilities to use in our vocations, to use in service to Him through our service to others. He gives His promise to return to take us from this valley of tears to be with Himself in heaven where He will robe us with His robes of righteousness. How can we not be excited? How can we not yearn and desire His return? How can we not yearn and desire to continually come into His presence, to come to His house to be given more and more of His gifts, forgiveness and strengthening of faith? How can we not live lives of faith showing that we believe His Word that He will return, soon and showing that we are indeed, ready?!

Finally, as you are ready for Jesus’ return, my prayer for you is that of Paul’s words in our Epistle lesson, “4I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, 5that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge—6even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you—7so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Lifestyle Evangelism is . . . unconditional love at work (2).

How do we witness in the challenging setting of our work environment? First, we look to Christ and follow His example. We begin in prayer. We pray for the people with whom we work, asking the Holy Spirit to open their hearts to Christ and His message of salvation. We also pray for the courage to witness silently, and when He gives us the opportunity, we pray for the courage and for the words to verbally witness. Remember, if you pray for the opportunity to witness, be ready, because He will give it to you, often before you really are ready.

Second, do not condemn the people with whom you work. We may not always agree with what they do, but we want to remember that, Christ died for them, too. If they are good enough for Christ, they are good enough for us. Not condemning them does not mean that we agree with them, nor that we must be like them. In turning down their invitation to do what they do, we must let them know that we still unconditionally care about them. Remember, people will respect you if you can make your own decisions and not simply follow the crowd.

Third, remember that, we are in this world, but not of this world. We are here for only a short time—eternal life (in heaven or hell) is forever. The Lord has put us here to plant as many seeds as possible, even though the hard part of that is that we may not see any fruits of our labors. He even promises us that it will not be easy and that we may even suffer persecution. He also promises, that if we do acknowledge Him before others, so He will acknowledge us before His Father in heaven and that the sufferings of this present time are nothing to be compared to the glory which will be ours in heaven.

Lastly, the best witness we can make is to live every day to the glory of God. Seek His guidance, strength, and power in all relationships. Perfect love casts out all fear; with that truth in mind, may the Lord help us to have that kind of love for our fellow workers.
38 of 52 © Rev. Ronald A. Bogs

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Where Are You? - November 23, 2011 - Thanksgiving Eve - Text: Luke 17:11-19

This evening we come to say “thank you,” which is something I pray we do every day. This evening we take the time to come, and with special emphases, we say “thank you,” as we celebrate a national day of giving thanks. “Thank you,” is not naturally in our vocabulary. I remember as a child and now that I have I children I am again reminded of that constant reminder, “what do you say?” “Thank you.” Our text for this evening is the Gospel lesson and the all familiar story of the ten lepers, but before you drift off into thinking about who will win the football game, or how much still needs to be done before the guests arrive, let us keep our ears and minds open to what really happened in the story of the ten lepers.

One day Jesus was on His way from Samaria to Galilee. On His way ten men who had leprosy met Him. At this point in the story we are not told of their nationality we are simply told of their disease, leprosy. Leprosy was a disease that had no cultural or national boundaries and if leprosy did anything it united those who would have otherwise been divided. A leper was a person who had a skin disease that was so bad and so infectious that they had to live outside of town. The person with leprosy was literally rotting to death and for the safety of others they must yell “unclean, unclean,” when anyone came near, in order to warn them to stay away lest they might get this dreaded, fatal disease. Not much was known about the disease, how it was communicated from one person to another so lepers were not allowed contact with the rest of the world. Certainly these lepers lead very lonely, deary lives. Their only companions would be other lepers.

What is evident from the response of the lepers to Jesus coming is that they must have at least heard of Him, even if they did not necessarily believe that He was the Messiah. It is evident that they had heard of His ability to cure and heal so that when He did come into town they cried out to Him for healing. Well, even if one did not believe, the rest did and besides, what could it hurt to try? Notice that their felt need was to be healed. They believed they needed physical healing and that is what they asked, for physical healing from leprosy.

Although their desire was for physical healing their cry was a cry for mercy, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Now notice what Jesus does on His part. He does not wave His hands around or up in the air. He does not put His hand on their head and push them over. He does not say, “Be healed” (said in a deep “faith healing” voice). Instead, He simply asks them to demonstrate their faith. He says, “Go show yourselves to the priest.” They were to show themselves to the priest because he was the one who could announce that they were clean and no longer infected with leprosy. He was the one who could give them back their lives. But they were leprous. Perhaps the question on their mind was, should they go? Did they believe that Jesus healed them?

Now, we may want to pause here in this story and make sure that we understand it was not their own personal faith that healed them. Many times Jesus healed people and although, as here, He alludes to faith making them well, it is not one’s faith in Jesus that brings healing. Certainly that would limit God’s power. Their healing was effected by God. And actually, it was their healing that effected faith in their hearts. In other words, Jesus’ healing the lepers is what confirmed Jesus as God and is what confirmed their faith.

Getting back to the story, on their way to show themselves to the priest they are healed, all ten of them, but only one man notices. Or at least only one man notices and returns to Jesus to give Him thanks. When he gets to Jesus, he throws himself at Jesus’ feet, a sign of unworthiness and our text adds that “he was a Samaritan,” that is, he was a foreigner. Now we get to this social, national distinction. Again, as a leper this social/national barrier was knocked down, but now that they are healed it comes back into play. Actually, Jesus uses this social/national distinction to strike at His fellow Israelites for their thinking more highly of themselves. Jesus asks (rhetorically) “where are the other nine?” And He tells the man that his faith has saved him, saved him as in healing him and saved him for eternal life. We might suggest that this man had faith, saving faith. The other nine believed more in the healing than in the healer.

Now, that is a nice story and a nice story for this day of Thanksgiving, a nice story to remind us to be thankful. Yes, we know that Thanksgiving is not necessarily a religious holiday, rather it is a secular holiday. Yet, we might compare this secular holiday to the Old Testament festival of Pentecost which was a harvest festival. And as Christians, certainly we should be on the forefront of thankfulness and demonstrating that thankfulness. But, we might ask, how does it relate to our story?

In a very real way we are like the ten lepers. We are sick, spiritually sick. We are full of sin, enemies of God, we are outcasts, leading lonely, dreary lives. We know we are in need of healing, especially in need of spiritual healing.

And we know Jesus. We know even more than the lepers knew about Jesus. We have hind sight. We can look back and know that Jesus is the Messiah, the Savior. We know that He did live perfectly, that He did take all our sins upon Himself, that He did suffer and die the eternal death penalty for us in our place, that He did rise and ascend into heaven, that He did send His Holy Spirit to be with us to guide and lead us in life. We are continually reminded of all that Jesus did for us; all that He still continues to do for us; and all the He will do for us especially as He comes to us through the means of grace. As we read His Word we meet Him. As we make regular and diligent use of reading our Bibles we meet Him. As we come to Bible class and divine service we meet Him. As we read our Bibles we meet Him. As we remember our Baptism, as we partake of the Lord’s body and blood in His holy supper, as we confess our sins and hear His most beautiful words of absolution He gives us faith, forgiveness, life and salvation.

Jesus comes to us daily and weekly through His means of grace. Daily we are confronted with the question, do we believe? The temptations of the world are to put our trust in the creation rather than the Creator. Do we see Jesus’ hand in all things in life? Do we notice His good gifts and blessings? Each new day, the rain, the ability to work, the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the roof over our heads and so on. Do we believe these are from our good and gracious God or that somehow we may have earned them, even a little?

Are we the one about whom Jesus asks “where are the others to whom I have given life?” Do we forget, or maybe we should ask, how often do we forget to give our Lord the thanks and praise He deserves. Or are we the one who came, throwing ourselves at Jesus’ feet in unworthiness and thanking Him for all His good gifts and blessings? Do we live for the creation or for the Creator? My prayer is that we are all like the foreigner.

Yet, whether we are like the foreigner or one of the nine, the fact remains that even for us, Jesus has given us healing, perfect healing through the forgiveness of sins which He earned for us and which He gives to us through His means of grace. He gives us perfect healing with forgiveness, He gives us faith and we know that we are saved. Thanks be to God.

Thanksgiving is a time to be like the leper who returned to give thanks, but not just at Thanksgiving, but all year long. As God has given to us, we respond, with His help in giving thanks to Him. We respond by speaking and singing words of thanks and praise. We respond by giving of our time, talents and treasure, as we are moved by the Lord to do so. We respond by simply offering ourselves and our lives to the Lord and living our life to His glory. I thank the Lord that you have come and began your Thanksgiving by coming here first and recognizing and giving thanks to the Lord for all His good gifts and blessings. My pray is that the Lord will continue to work through His means of grace to strengthen and keep you in faith and that He will continue to bless you as you give yourself back to Him. To Him be the glory. Amen.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Lifestyle Evangelism is . . . unconditional love at work (1).

Have you ever thought how you are a witness, especially how you are a witness at work? We are witnesses whether we say anything or not. We are witnesses simply by our actions. What a bit of a scary thought! Why? Most of us do not give thought to what our actions say. Maybe we need to make a conscious effort at witnessing, especially at our work, our place of employment.

Being a witness is hard enough. Being a witness at work may be even harder. How, then, do we meet this challenge? We meet it in various ways, from simply keeping our mouths shut and minding our own business; at least in this way no one will ridicule us. Or we can take the other extreme of being very vocal about our faith, condemning everyone, and having no one listen to us, but simply ignore us and/or even hate us; at least this way we can justify ourselves for trying and being martyrs for the Lord. We can simply be a part of the group, knowing God will forgive us when we go to church on Sunday because He knows how hard it is to go against the group. (Adult peer pressure is oftentimes as great as teenage peer pressure or worse.)

We can change our beliefs and value system and do almost anything else to justify the way we deal with our working environment, like compartmentalizing our lives. We can compare ourselves to other people and see that we are still better than they. But, if we look close enough we could also find some that are better than we. Ultimately, though, we must compare ourselves with Christ. We all wind up the same, missing the mark. If you have not done so, take a good hard look at the people with whom you work. Can you tell what role they are playing? Without being judgmental, are there any of your fellow workers witnessing Christ? Have you noticed?

This week, think about ways you might be more conscientious of the witness you are making. Then, work on being more conscious about making a positive witness of Christ’s love for all.
37 of 52 © Rev. Ronald A. Bogs

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Separated - November 20, 2011 - Last Sunday in the Church Year (Proper 29) - Text: Matthew 25:31-46

As I said last Sunday concerning our readings for last Sunday and this Sunday, you may notice how the Scripture readings point to the end times, the second coming of Christ, the day of judgement. Very much like the people of Jesus’ day who were watching, waiting, hoping and praying for the first coming of the Messiah, so too, today we are waiting, watching, hoping and praying for Jesus’ second coming. Today is what we call the Last Sunday in the Church Year and as it is every year as we reach the end of a church year our emphasis is on being watchful for Jesus to come again. I remember back as we approached the end of the year of 1999 and looked to beginning the year 2000, so many people were set on the possibility that Jesus would be coming, that the end of the world was near. And today as we look to the end of 2012 next year with the Mayan Calender ending in December, some people think that will be the end of the world. Fortunately, or unfortunately, God is not on our time schedule, nor does He measure time according to our measurement of time. As a matter of fact, God is outside of time. God lives in the eternal present, which means for God there is no yesterday or tomorrow, only now. God created time for us. And remember, He waited four thousand years to fulfill His first promise to send Jesus. So far, He has only waited two thousand years since Jesus’ promise to return. We do not know how much longer, or shorter He will wait. We know that He will come in His time and according to the good pleasure of His Father who alone knows the time of His coming. Yes, He could come at this time or He may continue to wait, or He may come even sooner. Until He comes, we continue to prepare ourselves for His coming.

Our text for this morning comes immediately after Jesus tells the parable of the talents, our reading from last week. The parable of the talents, you might remember, from last week, reminds us of our duty, privilege and responsibility to use the gifts, talents and abilities that God gives to us in this world in service to Him and His kingdom, which we do, we serve Him by serving others, and that He will hold us accountable for how we use the gifts, talents and abilities He has given to us. The order of Judgement, as we pointed out last week and as will see this morning is first, faith, then works. Both are important, but one, works, naturally follows the other, faith.

What will the day of Jesus second coming be like. I do not know. I can only tell you what Jesus Himself tells us in His Word. It will be a day when the Son of Man will gather all nations to Himself. How that will occur, I do not know, all I do know is that I believe it will be a very magnificent event. All people of all nations will be drawn to the Lord and everyone will come. I do not know how it will happen, but God will come so that all people will be able to see Him at the same time, and He will not need television, or Facebook or twitter, to make it happen. So, obviously it will be the biggest event of all times, a mass of humanity, of billions of people, coming before Jesus all at once, recognizing and acknowledging Him as the Lord and Savior of all. And I do mean everyone, believers and unbelievers alike. No one will have to tell us who Jesus is. No one will deny Him. Everyone, believer and unbeliever alike will confess that it is Jesus. Unfortunately for the unbeliever, as this fact is revealed to them by Jesus Himself, it will be too late. But mark God’s Word, they will bow before Him and recognize Him as the Lord of all. And as we read in the book of Revelation, they will then proceed to blame Jesus for their unbelief. They will act like the lazy servant in last weeks parable and they will act like a lot of people in our world today. We are not necessarily sorry for our sins, just sorry we got caught. And then they will want to blame someone else, in this instance, Jesus.

Our text lays out somewhat of a courtroom scene of judgement. To the Sheep, that is, to the believers, Jesus will say, “34bCome, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” (v.34b-36).

In their humility the believers will ask, “37bLord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?” (v. 37b-39). And the King’s answer will be, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (v. 40).

Notice that Jesus begins by speaking to the believers, those who have faith in Him alone for their salvation. They are credited with doing works of service, that is, good works, the good works God has prepared in advance for us to do. Notice, too, that they are credited with doing good works only because of their faith. It is our faith which drives us to do works of service. Without faith we would not do works of service. We might do some things that look good to our world, but our motivation will not be to give God glory. Notice, again, that the believers will humbly deny any recognition for doing works of service, giving credit where credit is due, to the Lord who motivates and works good works in and through us.

Now the questions we might have is, “What are our works of service?” Our works of service are anything that we do as a response to our faith, as motivated by the Holy Spirit working in us through the Word of God. Jesus lists our works of service as giving food and drink to those in need, clothing those who need clothes, and visiting the sick and those in prison. Our works of service also include living our faith, giving ourselves to the Lord, giving our first fruits and tithes to the Lord, serving on boards and committees, anything we do that is motivated, not from a selfish motivation of wanting to earn something, but from the motivation of wanting to respond to all the Lord has given us, faith, forgiveness and eternal life. As I have said before, our works of service are the fact that through our vocations we serve God by serving others. And Jesus tells us that the result of our faith is eternal life.

After addressing the sheep, the believers, Jesus continues by addressing the goats, that is the unbelievers. He tells them, “41bDepart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” (v.41b-43).

The self justifying response, or excuse, of the unbeliever will be similar to the humble response of the believers, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?” (v.44). And Jesus response will be, “Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” (v.45).

Yes, these are people who have done some good things in their life. They may even have a sincere faith in something or in someone. Their problem is that they do not have faith in Jesus alone. Their problem is that their good deeds are only social good deeds and are deeds which have been motivated for self recognition and not done to the glory of God. Their good deeds and good works are discounted because they have no faith in Jesus alone. No faith in Jesus alone means no good works in God’s eyes.

The difference between the Christian and the unbeliever is faith which is our motivation for doing what we do. Think about it. How often are we motivated to do something because it makes us feel good, or because it is the “right” thing to do, or because of any number of selfish reasons, self recognition and the like. Or think about how often we do something without gaining any recognition, but because we know that it is something that will bring glory to God. Do we believe that we are deserving of heaven or do we believe that we are undeserving? As Christians we humbly acknowledge that there is nothing that we have done to gain eternal life in heaven, but that it is given to us freely by God, through faith in Jesus, which He gives to us as well, and through His work for us of giving His life for our forgiveness. Which brings us to the noticeably different result. The result of faith is life. The result of unbelief is eternal death.

Jesus makes a clear distinction concerning what will happen on judgement day. We will be judged, first and foremost according to our faith. Those who have faith in Jesus He will separate to His right and those He calls His sheep. His sheep are His sheep because they believe in Him alone. Those who do not have faith in Jesus alone, including those who have faith, no matter how sincere, or those who are religious or very religious, no matter how religious, yet their faith or their religion is not faith or religion in Jesus, He will separate to His left and those He calls goats. Because our God is a just God, there are many who will not inherit eternal life in heaven. Thanks be to God, that He is also a gracious and merciful God so that there are many who also believe in Jesus and will be saved, by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus alone.

As we listen to these words of Jesus we can understand why we Christians are so hated by the rest of the world and even some in the Christian church who cannot deny themselves, take up their crosses and follow Jesus. Contrary to what is taught by some, that there are many ways to enlightenment, or that we are to grow to be more and more Christlike, as Christians, and as Lutheran Christians, we understand that the more we grow in our Christian faith and life, the more we realize how sinful we are, how unworthy we are, and how helpless before God we are and thus we understand our need to continually confess our sins and hear God’s message of forgiveness and grace. Like a child, a helpless child, I have to cling to Jesus and Jesus alone for salvation. All other ways lead to perdition.

Christmas time is usually known as the time for giving. When we are the recipients of many gifts from others we begin to feel good about ourselves, we begin to get built up. If we are given what we would perceive as particularly thoughtful gifts from one person our attitude toward that person begins to change to being an attitude of gratitude. We may even begin to think about what we could do in return for all they have given to us. Not that we would be trying to repay them for the gifts which they have given to us and not that we would be trying to earn more gifts from them, but simply that we would be motivated by their generosity to be generous back to them. The same thing happens with our relationship with Jesus. Jesus gave up heaven. He took on human flesh and blood. He became one of us. He took our sins upon Himself, not because He had to, but because He wanted to. He suffered the eternal death penalty for us in our place. He gave His life for ours. And He continues to lavish us with His gifts of forgiveness of sins, faith and strengthening of faith and eternal life. On the last day He will invite us into His heavenly Kingdom and robe us with His robes of righteousness. Our response is not one of trying to pay Jesus back, not one of trying to earn His gifts from Him, rather our response to His generosity is a response of gratitude and thanks. Our response is one of giving ourselves to Him. Our response is a humble attitude of gratitude. Our response is one which says, to God be the glory. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Lifestyle Evangelism is . . . Unconditional Love.

One important principle in being mission-minded is that of having unconditional love. Your circle of friends and family may at times be suspect of your caring for them. To the non-Christian, caring is usually done with strings attached as almost every other gimmick in the secular world. You may find your family, friends and loved ones making a statement like, “Even if I do not accept your religion, will you still love me?” That statement cuts deep into the heart, but for the non-Christian, it is a fair statement. In our own way we need to let them know that, yes, we will still love them without making them feel guilty about accepting our “religion.” Only in not attaching strings to our love and not trying to make them feel guilty do we show true, unconditional love. This principle is extremely difficult to follow, and do need God’s continued guidance and strength to exercise this type of unconditional love.

Another important principle in being witness-minded is that of patience. We cannot force a decision, conversion, or faith on anyone. We can talk until we are blue in the face and it could make great sense to us, but we are not the ones doing the converting, putting the faith in their hearts. The Holy Spirit is the one who gives/works faith in hearts when and where He pleases.

As we patiently wait on the Holy Spirit to do His work, we continue to pray for our family, friends and loved ones. We continue to live our lives as a witness to the faith we have in us. And we continue to introduce our circle of friends and family to other members of our congregation and involve them in church-related activities.

As we can see, being witness-minded can be a tough, taxing experience, but it can also be very rewarding as the Holy Spirit works through us to bring His Word to His people. And we do God’s will, giving glory to the Lord for the souls He saves.
36 of 52 © Rev. Ronald A. Bogs

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Lifestyle Evangelism is . . . An Honest Assessment.

We often wonder who we should include as people to whom we should actively witness. Our neighbors do not go to church, but they say they are Christians. They say they believe in God and go to church occasionally (Christmas and Easter). What about my cousin who is a Lutheran? I guess if you are Lutheran then you must be a Christian. Sure, he is not participating in church activities, but he attends at least once a month. My boss and his wife do not go to church, but they are good people. To whom should I witness?

Too often we think, “We are living in a Christian country. Everyone in the good ole U.S. of A. is saved.” Everyone except the atheists, Communists, Muslims and Buddhists. Well, that thought is nice, but what does God say? In James 2:14-26, we hear that there is not such thing as an apathetic Christian. There is no such thing as a good intentioned Christian. He also tells us that being a Christian is not just not doing a bunch of “noes.” Being a Christian is a yes, an action, a doing, a living for Christ. Being a Christian negates “cheap grace,” that is, I am saved so I can just sit around and enjoy life for myself.

Now, before you accuse me of teaching work righteousness, please understand that I am not advocating, nor teaching work righteousness, rather I am advocating a Gospel action moved by the Holy Spirit, based on saving faith. True saving faith is not believing there is a god. Even Satan believes that (James 2:19); besides, that belief would be a different heresy, universalism. True saving faith is not a spare tire God to bring out when you need Him. True saving faith is complete trust in Christ’s life, suffering, death, and resurrection for salvation.

Where, then, do these “works” come in? Because of what Christ has done for us, we cannot help but live our lives according to His will. We cannot help but let our faith show forth in our lives. We cannot help but do the things God has prepared for us to do (Eph. 2:10), using the gifts, time, and treasure He has given us to do them.

What, then, does this reassessment mean for us? We do include many people on our mission list, all those who do not show by their lives that Jesus Christ is their Savior. The harsh reality is that the list may include your mother, father, sister, brother, son, daughter, wife, husband, neighbor, fellow church member, etc.

Remember to start with prayer. Pray for these people specifically. Then, with the help of the Holy Spirit working through you, work to get our apathetic “Christian” friends involved, so that they, too, may be a part of the excitement of living for the Lord.
35 of 52 © Rev. Ronald A. Bogs

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Lifestyle Evangelism is . . . A Right Attitude.

There is a story, an illustration, that will help us to see how the devil does his work. The story tells how an elder went to visit all of the members on his responsibility list. He took a note pad and asked each member, “Do you have any complaints about the church, or the pastor?” Of course, upon completion of his visits, he had several pages of complaints.

When you are visiting with your circle of influence, family members, unchurched family or friends (or even your church friends for that matter), what do you say about your church? What does your body language or your actions say about your church, or for that matter, about your faith? Do you continually share with your circle of friends how disgruntled you are with your church, school, pastor, workers, etc? “I think the pastor should stop preaching about my sin.” “I think old so and so is a real . . . (hypocrite); I do not know why he even comes to church.” Then, do you follow this grumbling up with, “Hey, how would you like to come and visit with us next Sunday?” and wonder why you get an “I don’t think so” response?

We live in a sin-filled world. Because of sin, we are all, at times, susceptible to hopping on the “things are so bad” bandwagon. But we are God’s church, God’s people in this place, to do His work. With His working through us, we can do great things. A great proof of that is to look at the diversity of the disciples and see how Jesus’ love held them together.

If the elder in our story had asked each member, “What do you like about our church, school, pastor, etc?” or “What do think we are doing right?” He would have helped the members to refocus away from the distractions of this world and on to the work that the Lord would have us to do.

When you are with your circle of influence, think about and talk about those things you like about your church and share that with them. As you sow, so shall you reap. You will be amazed at just how much better things will look when you start out with a positive (God-given) attitude, worked in you by Christ!
34 of 52 © Rev. Ronald A. Bogs

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Settling Accounts - November 13, 2011 - Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 28) - Text: Matthew 24:14-30

This morning, as we do every year at this time of the year, the Church year that is, we begin to set our eyes on the things to come, we look to the day of judgement when the Lord will return to gather us and all His saints to take us to be with Himself in heaven for eternity. Our Scripture lessons for this week and for next week move our focus from this world and our lives in this world to focus our attention on the now and the not yet, our future in heaven. This morning, in our text, Jesus tells the parable of the talents in order to remind us that all that we have is a gift from Him, that He gives gifts according to our abilities, that His desire is that we use the gifts He gives in service to Him by serving others, and that ultimately He will hold us accountable for our own faith and response of faith, in our use of the gifts He gives.

Our text is the parable of the giving of the talents (v. 14-18). Jesus begins the parable with a bit of imagery. In this parable Jesus speaks of a man going on a journey. Certainly we may understand that Jesus is the man going on a journey, because Jesus will be going to the cross, suffering, dying, rising and then ascending to glory in heaven where He will wait until His return on the last day. Now, the disciples may not have understood the completeness of this imagery, as Jesus has not yet suffered, died and ascended, but because we are looking back we can see how these events have played out and how we too wait for Jesus’ return.

Before the man goes on his journey we are told in the parable, that he gives to each of his servants talents. He gives to one servant five talents, to another servant two talents and to a third servant one talent. The man gives to each servant according to his assessment of the servants abilities. In the same way we know that God gives to us gifts and talents and He does so according to our abilities.

The man’s desire was that while he was away on his journey that each of his servants would use the talents he entrusted to them to make a profit. His desire is that they would use what he gave them for their own good and for the good of the whole. In like manner, God’s desire is that we use the gifts and talents He has given to us in service to Him by serving others. In other words, God’s desire is that we use our gifts and talents for our own good as well as for His good which comes about through the good we do for others.

The two faithful servants wasted no time in showing their faithfulness in that we are told that they immediately, or as our text says, “at once” began to put their talents to work. In like manner, God’s desire is that our response of faith is to use our gifts and talents in service to Him and we do that, we serve Him by serving others.

Our text quickly moves forward to some time in the future as it states, “after a long time” the master returned home and his return brought the day of judgement (v. 19-30) for the servants. We are told that the servants came forward in the same order that they were first presented and given gifts. So, the first servant who was given five talents came forward first and joyously returned not only the five talents the master gave him, but five talents more. Also, the second servant returned to the master not only the two talents, but two talents more. To these faithful servants the master gave them each a reward for their faithfulness.

Lastly we are told that the lazy servant is summoned. As he approaches, he simply returns to the master the one talent that was given and entrusted to him. His explanation which is more an excuse for his laziness is that he blames the master because he is a hard man. This servant does not truly know the master and the gifts the master gives, instead he focuses his attention on himself and his own inabilities and laziness.

And so, the master shows the folly of the lazy servant. The master points out that what the servant has is a gift from him, thus discounting this accusation of the master being a hard man. The master gave the servant the talent to use and invest and was simply concerned that the servant use what was given to him for the good of all and instead what the servant did was reject the gift because of his wickedness and laziness.

Finally, the master punishes the lazy servant according to his own misunderstanding. He takes the one talent and gives it to the faithful servant who has ten talents, thus fulfilling what the lazy servant has said, “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed” (v. 24). And then the lazy servant is thrown out into the outer darkness as warning to all those who refuse and reject the gifts God gives.

So, what does this mean? Again, we are approaching the end of our current church year. Every year as we approach the end of our church year the topic of the end times is put before us. The topic of the end times is an important topic, because we are living in the last days of this world. We have been living in the last days since Jesus’ birth ushered in the last days. Certainly there are many in our world and I might surmise even here in our own midst who do not believe that Jesus will return during our life times. And perhaps He may not. However, even if He dose not physically return to earth during our own life time, we will pass on and return to Him. Either way, at His return, or at our own passing, we will stand before the Lord and we will have to give account for our response of faith, our use of the gifts, talents and abilities with which He has entrusted to each one of us. And that day of accounting I believe will come soon, sooner than we know and sooner that we might imagine, thus the encouragement to always be ready.

Our text for this morning, then, serves, once again, to remind us that God is the prime mover. God gives and we are given to. God gives, faith, forgiveness, and life. And His usual way of giving is through means, in particular the means of grace; Holy Baptism, confession and absolution, His Word and the Lord’s Supper. God gives these gifts and because we have no free will, because our will has been tainted by sin, in and of ourselves our only ability is to be like the lazy servant, to refuse and reject the gifts God gives and we do reject and refuse His gifts every time we absent ourselves from being in the place where His gifts are disturbed and given out, especially divine service and Bible class.

But, not only does God give these spiritual gifts of faith, forgiveness and eternal life, He also gives, gifts, talents and abilities to use in service to Him and His Kingdom. The main reason God gives such spiritual gifts as we call them is so that we might do the good works which He has prepared in advance for us to do, the good works of spreading His news of salvation to others so that they too might be a part of His kingdom. Our failure not only to use our gifts, but even to recognize our gifts brings condemnation like the lazy servant in the parable.

How do we know what gifts talents and abilities God gives and how do we use them? Normally our gifts, talents and abilities are those things we do that come naturally and that we enjoy doing. God does not give gifts and talents as a way of punishment, doing something we do not like or cannot do, but He gives gifts and talents so that we will use them. God also gives to each of us a vocation or more than one vocation. Our vocation is that service in which we use His gifts to serve Him through our serving others. Again, this is an enjoyable service.

At some point, a point I believe to be sooner than we might know or expect, God will return to judge the living and the dead as we confess in the creed. Now, please understand, we are not judged to eternal life or eternal death by our deeds, by what we do or do not do, by our good works. First and foremost God will judge according to our faith, the faith He has given to us. Remember, God is the prime mover, it all begins, continues and ends with Him. He gives faith and the faith He gives He gives through the means He gives as well, either through the means of Holy Baptism or the means of His Holy Word.

Only after we have been judge to eternal life will God judge us according to our faithful response of faith. In other words, the degrees of glory expressed in God’s word are given according to one’s response of faith and how we have faithfully used the gifts He has given to us.

Thus, to use the language of Martin Luther in the explanations to the articles of the Apostles’ Creed, our “duty” is, first and foremost to be given the gifts God gives without refusal, then to use the gifts He gives to His glory, which we do by serving Him through our service to others, through our vocations, and finally to always be ready for His return.

Next week is the last Sunday in our present church year calendar. Should the Lord tarry, that is, should the Lord allow, on Sunday, November 27 we will begin another church year. And we will continue our journey through life so long as the Lord should allow. While we journey here in this world, it is imperative that we continually be reminded that this world is transient, that this world is not permanent, that this world will soon end, or at least our time in this world will soon end, thus it is important at all times to be ready to stand before the Lord for our own day of judgement. Our day of judgement will come and we will be called before Him. His call to judgement is irresistible, as it was even for the unfaithful servant. And there will be those who will stand on the day of judgement and attempt to blame God for their refusal of the gifts He has to give, just like the lazy servant. And there will be those who will be cast into the outer darkness. As for those of us who are given and joyfully and thankfully are given the gifts God has to give to us the Lord will rejoice in our faithfulness. He will robe us in His robes of righteousness. He will invite us into His heavenly kingdom. He will say to us as He said to His faithful servants, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (v. 23). My prayer for each of us is that we are ready and that we will be ready so that when we reach our Lord’s kingdom we might rejoice with all the saints and say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Lifestyle Evangelism is . . . A Right Focus.

Have you ever noticed how, at the end of one church year and at the beginning of the next church year (3rd Last, 2nd Last, Last Sunday of the Church Year and Advent Sundays), the Scripture readings all point to Christ first coming and to His second coming. These messages also remind us of what is important in our lives, that is, that our lives on this earth are not permanent; after all, what is a hundred years of life on this earth compared to millions of billions of years of eternity? What is important is focusing our attention on the world to come.

However, there is a “bug” in this mixture. That “bug” is the devil. He would like nothing more than to take our focus off the important things in life and instead, be concerned about all the meaningless, minor details, you know, the things that really will not matter tomorrow. But the devil gets us so involved in these meaningless things that we forget about what is important.

The devil does not tempt us to do things he knows we will not do. He does not tempt us not to go to church; instead he fills our lives with so many things that we no longer have time for worship. Our focus is taken off getting ourselves ready for eternity and is placed on all the things of this world. Now I am not saying that the things of this world are not important. There are some important things we need to be doing while we are in this world, but the most important thing is getting ready for the world to come.

When it comes to our circle of influence, what do our actions tell them about what is important in our lives? The old saying is true; “Actions speak louder than words.” Do our actions say that this life or that eternal life is more important?

When the devil tempts us, it is time to take stock, regroup and, at times, refocus.
33 of 52 © Rev. Ronald A. Bogs

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Lifestyle Evangelism is . . . Reflecting.

Have you ever looked up in the sky at evening and seen the moon, but on another night you do not see it, even if it really is there all the time? Because the moon has no light of its own, we only see the moon when it is in the right position to reflect the light of the sun shining on it. If the moon is not in the right position, it cannot reflect the light of the sun, or it may only be able to reflect some of the light, which gives us the smaller portions or phases of the moon.

In a very similar manner, we may compare ourselves as moons to the Son of God. We have no love of our own. God, the Son, is complete love. When we love others, it is only because He first loved us. When we are in the right position, when we are living lives of faith, then the Son of God is able to shine on us, and we are then able to reflect that love and shine so that others might see our love for them.

Likewise, when we are not in the right position, when we are living lives of sin, then we are not in the right position, and although we may be able to reflect some of the love of God the Son, that reflection is rather imperfect. For us sinful human beings, we do reflect God’s love, though imperfectly.

It might even be true that we have phases in our own lives. Maybe there are times we are up, happy and glad because things are going great. There may be other times when things are not going so well because some disappointments have occurred. Believe it or not, through both these times we may reflect God’s love, and as always, imperfectly. There may be “up” times when we may reflect God’s love as well as “down” times, because, at all times, our Lord loves us and continues to shine His love in our hearts and lives so that we may be able to reflect that love to others.

No, we do not always shine as full moons; however, by the grace and power of God, we do always shine. May the Lord help us let our lights shine so that He may be glorified.
32 of 52 © Rev. Ronald A. Bogs

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Lifestyle Evangelism is . . . Worship Helps.

God works through means, in particular, the means of Grace, the Word (the Bible) and the Sacraments (Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper). Our worship is liturgical because the liturgy is the Word of God. We do so because we worship best when we say back to God what He has given us to say; after all, how much better can we speak to God than to speak back the very words which He has given us in the first place. Again, our worship is liturgical, which means that our worship is permeated with the Word of God.

During worship we speak back to God with His Word as He speaks to us through His Word. Some, especially for those who do not have a background in liturgical or Lutheran liturgical worship, may need a little help in the actual practice of worship or in understanding our liturgical worship. Thus, lifestyle evangelism is helping those unaccustomed to liturgical worship, not only in their practice of worship, but also in an understanding of why we worship the way we worship.

Our worship is not a “here today and gone tomorrow” worship (set in and with time), but because our worship is liturgical and Biblical, it transcends time. When we worship the way we worship, our worship is with the saints who have gone on before and with those yet to come (thus, it transcends time). When we take the time to explain the why and how of liturgical worship, we open doors for others so they, too, may share in the richness and appreciation of our worship experience.

What a wonderful witness we can make in helping others in worship and what a wonderful witness our Lord makes through His means of grace as these means permeate our worship service. It is through these means that God first works faith and continues to strengthen and keep us in faith until Christ comes again. What a wonderful witness we make as we hear these means give the answer for the hope that we have in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
31 of 52 © Rev. Ronald A. Bogs

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Blessed - November 6, 2011 - Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost /All Saints’ Day Observed - Text: Matthew 5:1-12

Today we celebrate All Saints’ Day. This does not mean that we give undue credit or glory to those faithful family members and friends who have fallen asleep in faith, but it does mean that we place their lives before us as an example of how we are to live the Christian faith. As we remember the saints who have gone on before us we remember that they too were at the same time sinner and saint, just like us. We also take the time to be reminded that by faith in Jesus Christ we are all saints. As we go around the room we might call each other by our sainted name, Saint Shirley, Saint Pat, Saint Jon, Saint (place your name here) and that would continue for each one of us. As saints, then, heaven is not just something we look forward to, it is a present reality. By faith in Jesus and His work on the cross we have forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Heaven is ours now, it is just that we will wait until we fall asleep in faith from this life until we will awaken in our heavenly home.

This morning our text is what we call the Beatitudes, or the statements of blessing from Jesus. Before we get to these statements of Jesus let us take a few minutes to remind ourselves what is the world’s idea of being blessed. We have talked about these various items from time to time. Being blessed according to the standards of this world means having riches. Wealth and money is a worldly sign of success. The more money one has, the more successful they appear to be, at least in the eyes of the world.

Another indicator of success in our world is power. Power is a sign of worldly success. The more powerful one is, or the more powerful they seem to the world, the more successful they appear to be, again, at least in they eyes of the world.

A third indicator of success in our world is fame. Being famous is a sign of worldly success. The more famous one is, the more successful they appear to be, again, at least in the eyes of the world.

Yet, as we have been reminded time and again, these worldly signs of success are not necessarily indicative that a person is successful, because, as we know, as we have heard stated and read about, some of the most wealthy, most powerful and most famous people are also some of the most depressed. Jesus has a different idea and understanding of being successful and that is where we now turn our attention.

Beginning at verse three, Jesus’ idea of being blessed begins with admitting our weak faith. In His own words Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (v. 3). Jesus is not talking about simply being poor in spirit, or weak in faith, but admitting that we are in a constant need of having our faith strengthened. Here we might remind ourselves that confirmation was not graduation and that there is always more that we do not know about God than we do know about Him and so we have a constant need to be in His Word, to read our Bible, to be not only in divine service, but also in Bible Class so that we might be strengthened in our faith.

Continuing on at verse four, Jesus’ idea of being blessed includes being ashamed of and mourning our weak faith. In His own words Jesus say, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (v. 4). Jesus is not talking simply about some outward speaking of our weak faith, you know the line, “I know I should be in Bible Class, I know I should read my Bible every day, I know I should be in church every Sunday,” and so forth. No, Jesus is talking about a yearning which comes from the heart, a yearning so deep that it moves us to do something about our weak faith. In other words, we simply cannot help but be where the gifts are given and distributed.

In verse five, Jesus’ idea of being blessed includes meekly acknowledging one’s part in Jesus’ crucifixion. In His own words Jesus say, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (v. 5). Blessed are those who are not arrogant, but who bow their heads in grief because of their sin and their part in Jesus’ death, that Jesus had to die for their sins. This means that each one of us confesses, for ourselves, that it was because of my sins that Jesus had to shed His blood and die on the cross. For if we cannot and do not acknowledge our part in Jesus’ death on the cross, then we have no part in Jesus’ resurrection and eternal life. It is this acknowledgment, when it is a faithful and true acknowledgment which gains for us an inheritance in heaven and which leads us into action as we read in verse six.

In verse six, Jesus’ idea of being blessed includes craving, hungering and thirsting after doing the right thing. In His own words Jesus say, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (v. 6). Those who are blessed are those who hunger and thirst after the Word of God, those who truly hunger and thirst after the Lord’s righteousness, and those who strive, with the Lord’s help, for an eternal righteousness and a piety of life. Again, this is something that is so powerful we simply cannot help but want to be where God’s gifts are distributed and given out.

So far Jesus has been pointing to us as individuals. We are blessed when we confess and grieve our sins, confess our need to be in His Word, and when hunger and thirst for His word and righteousness. Our confession brings forgiveness, but even more. Here we are reminded that our faith does, or at least should, make a difference in our lives, the way we live, how we speak, what we do and so forth. There is more to our Christian lives than just showing up for church and Bible Class on Sunday morning.

In verse seven our attention focuses on our outlook toward others. Jesus’ idea of being blessed includes showing mercy to others even if that mercy is not show back. In His own words Jesus say, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (v. 7). Blessed are those who have a deep and sincere concern for the temporal and spiritual needs of their neighbor. Here we might be reminded of the opportunities which the Lord gives to us to be merciful to others, specifically to our guest who come to divine service with us and also to the families of our mother’s day out, and especially those who have no home church.

In verse eight, Jesus’ idea of being blessed includes being pure in heart, thinking pure thoughts. In His own words Jesus say, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (v. 8). This is the opposite of hypocrisy which is acting like a Christian, but not believing. Are our thoughts on ourselves or on those who have not yet heard the message of Jesus and salvation? Are our thoughts continually on this world and our lives in this world, or on the world to come and our being ready for the world to come and getting others ready?

In verse nine, Jesus’ idea of being blessed includes seeking to bring peace among ourselves and others. In His own words Jesus say, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” (v. 9). This is not a peace which comes from compromising one’s faith and beliefs, but a peace which has at its center Jesus Christ. Maybe you have seen the sign or the bumper sticker, “No (N-O) Jesus, No (N-O)Peace, Know (K-N-O-W) Jesus, Know (K-N-O-W) Peace.” Apart from Jesus and apart from faith in Him we cannot know or have true peace. Remember, true peace comes only from sins forgiven so without Jesus there is no forgiveness and no true peace.

In verse ten, Jesus’ idea of being blessed includes suffering persecution because of our faith. In His own words Jesus say, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (v. 10). It is our spiritual righteousness, our moral character, our exclusive claim that there is one way and only one way to eternal life, which makes us Christians stand out and “look” aloof to the world and thus that is why we are hated by the world. When we make the Lord’s righteousness ours and when we adopt our Lord’s intolerant attitude toward sin then we can no longer be accepted by our unrighteous and, ironically enough by our, so called, tolerant society. Do you want to know if you are really a Christian or not? Check to see if you are loved or hated by the world.

Finally in verse eleven, Jesus’ idea of being blessed includes suffering, being insulted, falsely accused and spoken against. In His own words Jesus say, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me” (v. 11). Here Jesus names a few forms of hatred which will be bestowed on “practicing” Christians. It is our honor and distinction to suffer in His interest and because of His name. As Jesus says, “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (v. 12). As Christians we still have an irrepressible joy, because no matter how much the world might hate us, no matter how much the world might persecute us, this is nothing compared to the glory which is ours in heaven.

This morning we see a stark difference in our focus and in the focus of the world. The world’s focus is on the here and now. For those who are in the world and of the world, this is all there is and so life must be lived for the here and now. “You have to grab for all the gusto you can.”

Whereas God’s focus is on the now and the not yet, the future, eternity. Our life on this earth is short, from conception and birth to a hundred years or so and then it is over, compared to our life in heaven which is forever and ever and ever. As Christians our focus is not so much on the here and now as on the now and the hereafter. That is why we see the importance of confessing our sins and being given forgiveness, that we confess our weak faith, that we hunger and thirst after the Word of the Lord and His righteousness, that we show mercy and seek ways to share the love of Jesus and His Gospel message with others, so they too might be a part of His kingdom.

As we celebrate All Saints Day we celebrate that by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus Christ alone, we are a part of God’s Kingdom and that we have a hope and a certainty for now and for the future. We celebrate the example of all the saints who have gone on before us because they showed their faith in Jesus alone for their salvation, because they hungered and thirsted after righteousness and because their lives are an example to us to be about the business of Jesus in spreading His love and Gospel message to all the world.

I like the words of one of the songs we used to sing when I was serving with a group that did weekends for church youth groups while in college, it went, “Heaven is a wonderful place, filled with glory and grace, I want to see my Savior’s face, heaven is a wonderful place, I want to go there.” I pray that this is your song as well so that when our last hour on this earth has come we might all together with all the saints stand before the Lord’s throne and proclaim, “to Him be the glory,” for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Lifestyle Evangelism is . . . Shown in Expressions.

What is that look on your face? Is that a look of pleasant surprise? Is that a look of disgust? Is that a look that implies, “you’re invading my turf”? Just what is that look? How often it is that our expressions negate our words? Too often.

When you greet someone on Sunday morning, someone who is not a member of our congregation, but someone who is a guest worshiping with us, what “look” do you give them? Perhaps your words are words of welcome, but what is your expression? Is your expression an expression of welcome as well?

And what about your body language? Does your body language betray your words? Does your body language express joy and excitement? Do you lean in and listen? Or are you looking around for a friend? Are you antsy and cannot wait until your “little ‘hello’” is completed so you can say you greeted a guest at worship?

The Lord knows we struggle with these expressions. He knows we need all the help we can get. And He is there ready to help us. As we come to worship, as we ask Him for help, so He is there to help us in greeting our guests with sincerity and love. He is there to help us to meet and greet as well as to show forth our expressions of care and concern.

If you are not sure about your expressions, try looking in the mirror, or even asking a good (honest) friend what your expressions are saying, aside and apart from your words.

Perhaps you have heard the expression, “If you are happy, let your face know.” How true it is that what is in our hearts and minds does show through our words as well as our expressions. May the Lord help our thoughts be thoughts of love, care and concern, and may He work those thoughts through our words as well as our expressions so that our guests may truly know they are welcome and wanted.
30 of 52 © Rev. Ronald A. Bogs

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Lifestyle Evangelism is . . . Shown in Words.

Is evangelism a part of your lifestyle? How do you know? One way to tell is how you speak. For example: When you attend worship and Bible class on Sunday mornings, how do you refer to those people who are in worship who are not members of the congregation? Do you refer to them as strangers? If you do, it means that you believe them to be unwelcome and invading “your” territory. Perhaps you refer to them as visitors. Although this term is better than strangers, there is still the subtle implication that these visitors are welcome so long as they leave.

Have you ever thought about those people who worship who are not members as guests? The difference between a guest and a visitor is that guests are always welcome, and we want guests to return. We cannot wait until a guest comes back to visit us again. Do our words reflect this type of hope and love to those who worship with us who are not a part of our worshiping community?

Of course, such is the language we may use with one another. What is the language we use in speaking to those who worship with us who are (not yet) a part of membership? When we speak with them, are our words welcoming, inclusive words, or are our words harsh and standoffish?

It is interesting to think, and who knows, when we take the time, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to reach out our hand, to greet and visit with others, we may even meet a new friend. We may even meet the person who will become a close friend. And we may even be the person to offer some word or words of encouragement to someone who is in need of encouragement.

With the Lord’s help, we can develop a lifestyle evangelism mind set which will show forth in our words to each other as well as to others so that we welcome others as guests whom we want and expect to become a part of our fellowship here on earth and ultimately in heaven.
29 of 52 © Rev. Ronald A. Bogs

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Lifestyle Evangelism is . . . Being Faithful.

Success in our world today, and especially in our capitalistic society, is measured by dollars and cents, or by other numbers. Although this is denied within the church, there is truth to the fact that even in the church the success or failure of a congregation is measured by its number of those in attendance, baptisms, adult converts, and so forth. Even as individual Christians we may, at times, feel a little pressure suggesting that we are not as good of Christians as we could be because we are not, individually, bringing in the numbers we should to church, either as guests or visitors, or the like.

Fortunately, God does not measure success the way we do. Fortunately God never has commended that we be successful. And simply to ask that we be successful would be to ask to define the term success. Do we use this word to mean numbers, dollars and cents, or what? No, God never asks that we be successful about anything. He does ask that we be faithful. “Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10).

“Be faithful.” What does that mean? That means holding on and clinging to Jesus, believing in Him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength until the end, your physical end on this earth. We are not to be running after (as Moses says, a whoring after) other gods. We are not to concern ourselves with counting how many “notches” we have on our belts from bringing others to Jesus. As a matter of fact, in the Old Testament, David sinned when he counted the people. It is only with God’s bidding that we attempt such counting.

One of our greatest concerns in Lifestyle Evangelism is to life faithful lives. As we live faithful lives, we will be showing the faith that is in our hearts. Others will see our faith and we will have the opportunity to give an answer for the hope that we have in Christ our Savior, which is what motivates our living lives of faith. And we pray that the Lord would help us to live such faithful lives even unto our own physical death.
28 of 52 © Rev. Ronald A. Bogs