Welcome

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!

Disclaimer

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.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Amazing - January 29, 2012 - Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany - Text: Mark 1:21-28

There once was a dare devil tightrope walker who went to Niagara Falls to demonstrate his skills. He had a cable stretched across the falls and announced the day of his demonstration. After a large crowd had gathered he asked the crowd, “How many of you believe I can walk across this cable without falling.” The crowd went wild with cheers of faith. And so the dare devil tightrope walker walked across and back again to the cheers of the anxious crowd. Now, the show was not over yet, but I want to leave you at this point for a moment.

This morning the Gospel writer Mark brings us to Capernaum and he brings us there on a Sabbath day. You might remember that the Sabbath day was the seventh day of the week, the day in which the Lord rested from all His work of creation and the day which He gave as a day of rest. If you have been following along each Sunday, our reading for today follows “immediately” after our reading from last Sunday. You may also notice that Mark likes to use the word, “immediately.” This morning we continue to follow along in Mark’s account as he tells us about another day in the life of Jesus. He tells us that Jesus was going about His everyday life, doing the things that He usually did. In other words, Jesus was in the usual “habit” of attending worship. It was the Sabbath day and Jesus went into the synagogue to worship.

It was the custom, in those days, to allow visiting pastors (rabbis as they are called) to participate in the worship service by invitation of the synagogue leaders and so they ask and Jesus takes advantage of being asked to preach. So, at the Sabbath morning worship service Jesus gets up to read from the Old Testament scroll and then He sat down to proclaim the Word to the people. Mark tells us that the people were “astonished at His teaching.” They were astonished because He simply proclaimed the truth to them. This should not surprise us, after all, Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Jesus does not teach as the other teachers of the law. Their usual way of teaching, that is, the way the other teachers taught was to quote other experts and the traditions of the elders. In other words, the authority of the other teachers was the authority of other experts and the traditions of the elders. When Jesus spoke, He did not quote anyone as “proof” of what He was saying, He simply proclaimed to them the Word of God, which is the truth.

“And immediately,” our text says, as He is in the middle of His “sermon,” Jesus is confronted by a man who is possessed by an evil spirit. The evil spirit recognizes and acknowledges Jesus as God, however, this is not faith, that is true saving faith. This is simply an acknowledgment of a fact. In His Epistle, James puts it this way, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder” (James 2:19). There is a difference between acknowledging a fact and having faith in someone or something. The evil spirit does not have faith in Jesus, he simply acknowledges the truth that He is God. The evil spirit proclaims the truth about who Jesus is. He says, “I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” Jesus rebukes the devil, sternly and He casts him out of the man. As an aside, I think it is interesting that the evil spirits know who Jesus is, yet the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law will not acknowledge who He is.

Mark then tells us, “[The people] were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, ‘What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him’” (Mark 1:27). The lay people did not have any difficulty in recognizing Jesus’ and that His teaching is with authority. They understood the signs and wonders they were seeing. They understood and acknowledged who Jesus is. And as a result, the people spread out everywhere to share this good news with others.

Getting back to our dare devil tightrope walker. After walking across the cable and back he again addresses the crowd. This time he puts a wheelbarrow on the cable and he asks the crowd, “Do you believe I can walk across this cable and back pushing this wheelbarrow?” And the crowd goes wild with cheers of faith. So, again, the dare devil tightrope walker walks across the cable and back, this time pushing the wheelbarrow, and the anxious crowd cheers. But again, I want to leave you at this point for a moment.

Mark shares with us one day in the life of Jesus. How does that compare to one day in our life? I would pray that our usual “habit” is to attend divine service and by “usual habit” I do mean every Sunday. I do understand that in our world today we have to define such things as “regular divine service” attendance. For some that means twice a year (usually Christmas and Easter, but that is regular in a sort of way). For some, “regular attendance at divine service” means once a month or twice a month. However, I believe that the Third Commandment defines “regular divine service” attendance to mean every opportunity we have. And of course, I understand that we no longer attend divine service on the seventh day of the week, but in participation of Jesus resurrection we now attend divine service on the first day of the week, on Sunday. Each Sunday is, for us Christians, our Sabbath, our day of rest and a mini Easter celebration.

The reason we come to divine service, and notice I call it divine service and not worship, because to call it worship implies that we are there to do something for God because He needs something from us. No, we come to divine service because of our need so the reason we come to divine service is first and foremost to be given the good gifts and blessing which our Lord has ready to give to us. At divine service we are reminded of our Baptism through the invocation, and through the Benediction; we confess our sins and hear God’s Word of absolution, “Your sins are forgiven.” At divine service we hear the Word of God through which we are given His good gifts and blessings. We are given the opportunity to respond to all that He has done with our prayers, our hymns of praise, our first fruits, our tithes and our offerings. Through the Word of God and His Sacraments we are given the most important thing we need, forgiveness of sin. Through the Word of God and His Sacraments we are strengthened in our faith and we are kept in faith until Christ comes again. When we absent ourselves from these means of grace, that is gift refusal, just like the illustration with the crayons a few weeks ago. When we absent ourselves from these means, we take ourselves away from the means of grace so that we are unable to be given all God’s good gifts and blessings. Which eventually could lead to a loss of faith, even a loss of eternal life.

Not just on Sundays, but every day we are confronted with sin and temptation. Not necessarily are we confronted with someone who is demon possessed, but we are confronted with the temptations of the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. Daily we are tempted to deny Christ. Daily we are tempted to shun God’s good gifts and blessings.

In one sense we might be thankful that we are tempted by the devil. That shows that we do not yet belong to him. You see, the devil recognizes that we belong to Christ and that is why He tempts us as he does. If you are not suffering from temptation, then I would encourage you to be wary, because the devil might already have you.

We must also confess that sometimes we do fall for the lies of the devil and we do sin. Sometimes we may even waiver and have doubts about our faith. We may even question our faith. Is our faith saving faith, or is our faith like the faith of the devil? Do we simply acknowledge Jesus, or do we actually believe in Jesus. Do we put our complete trust in Jesus for our forgiveness and salvation?

Someone shared this nice illustration with me: Imagine calling a plumber to repair a leak. The plumber arrives. You describe the problem. He explains what needs to be done and that his rate is $80 an hour. “Fine, go ahead and repair the leak,” you say. To your shock, the plumber says, “I don’t actually do the repair work. I simply tell how it can be done. I’m a believer in the pure science of plumbing, not in its practical application. That will be $80.” Ridiculous you think? How much more tragic it is to claim to be a Christian who knows about Jesus, but does not believe in His sacrifice of His life on the cross for us. How tragic to claim to know Jesus and yet to not believe in His giving His life for ours.

Which brings us back to our dare devil tightrope walker. A third time he addresses the crowd. This time he asks the crowd, “How many of you believe that I can walk across this cable and back while pushing someone in this wheelbarrow?” Again, the crowd goes wild with faith and anticipation that the man can do it. But this time, after quieting the crowd the man asks the question, “Who will ride in the wheelbarrow?” The silence is deafening as no one volunteers, because no one has that amount of faith. You see, saving faith is God’s gift to us of putting us into Jesus’ wheelbarrow. It is complete trust in Him and His work for us on the cross, alone.

Very much like the Capernaums, we are amazed as we recognize the authority of Jesus and very much like the Capernaums, that is why we cling to Him. We show our faith in this, that we do live lives of faith, we do live as priests in the priesthood of all believers, we do live as Christians in our vocations so that others see our faith and give glory to God. We show our faith in our desire and in our attendance as often as offered in divine service and Bible class, in our having personal and family devotions, in our being where the gifts of God are distributed and in our being given the gifts God has to give. We show our faith in our doing the good works which God has for us to do, with His motivation and help, of course, and especially as we share this good news with others. We share the good news as we invite others to “come and see” our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

It is rather amazing that in our world, so many people acknowledge the fact that there is a god. Some even acknowledge that there was a person, Jesus. But even more amazing is the fact that too many people fail to believe, that is they fail to put their complete trust in Jesus, alone, for their salvation, instead, opting to put their trust in the god or gods they have created, thinking all gods to be the same and putting their trust in their own good works. My prayer for each one of you is that the Holy Spirit will continue to work through His Word to strengthen and keep you in faith in Jesus alone for your salvation. My prayer for each one of you is that the Holy Spirit would then continue to stir in you a desire to have the usual habit of divine service attendance until until Christ comes again. And when Christ comes again my prayer is that He will gather you and me with all the saints so that together we might stand before the Lord and say, to Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Wheat and Weeds

The elders have been discussing how to work with members of St. Matthew who continually absent themselves from the gifts of God, thus refusing and rejecting those gifts. The difficulty is that in working with those who refuse and reject the gifts of God, because of close connections with other members of the congregation, hard feelings begin to abound. Thus, we have looked to God and His Word, especially to Jesus’ words in Matthew for guidance.
“24He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, 25but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. 26So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ 28He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn’” (Matthew 13:24-30).
In his commentary on Matthew 11:2-20:34, Dr. Jeffrey A. Gibbs suggests that Jesus is telling us it may be that instead of working to “write off” members of a congregation who continually absent themselves, refusing and rejecting the gifts God gives, it might be better to continually invite and encourage them to return before it is too late, because in the end, God will sort it all out.

A corollary of the Wheat and the Weeds is what we have been studying in Leviticus in Bible Class. From our study we have this question and answer. Leviticus Chapter 15 “shows us that while holiness can’t be transferred by touch, uncleanness can. How does understanding this truth affect our actions as parents? as members of a congregation? Holiness before God isn’t genetic. Many parents think that if they are faithful members while their children drift, the children will still be okay with God. Delinquents think that if they have their name on the membership list, somehow that covers them with purity before God. But read Ezekiel 18:20! How important it is for parents to see that their children remain in contact with the Word and sacraments, which alone can cleanse from sin. How important it is to seek the lost and lead them back to the Word, which alone can purify by creating faith in the Son of God.”

So, if our excuse for refusing and rejecting God’s gifts include any of the following: “I am mad at the pastor” (to which it was noted there are many other congregations to which God has called faithful pastors); “I am mad at some other member of the congregation;” “My children live in another town, but have always been members of this church;” or even, “My parents made me go to church as a child and I did not like it.” Please consider what God actually tells us in His Word, that is that He will ultimately hold each and everyone of us accountable for our own actions, either absenting ourselves, refusing and rejecting the gifts He has to give through His means of grace and the one He has called to distribute those means, or making regular and diligent use of those means, meaning being in Divine Service and Bible Class as often as offered.

My prayer as your pastor and our prayer as a Board of Elders is that God would stir in your heart to be the later.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Doctrine and Practice in Divine Service Serve to Unite and Divide

While unity in worship serves to unit in doctrine, diversity (which has in the very word the word divide) in worship service to divide in doctrine. As “proof” of this statement, I offer the following extensive quote from the book, Gathered Guests.

The history of North American hymnbooks is beyond the purview of this book, but needless to say, it is varied and interesting. About the middle of the twentieth century a new interest in liturgy arose throughout Christendom. Liturgical movements flourished among Catholics, Lutherans, and Episcopalians, as well as among several nonliturgical denominations. Man^of these movements quickly recognized the close ties between worship and doctrine. Believing that worship could move groups together, the ecumenically minded leaders in some denominations were especially cognizant of the impact that worship forms could have on the church.

Two branches of Lutheran hymnals grew in somewhat parallel fashion in the latter half of the twentieth century. In 1941, the LCMS published The Lutheran Hymnal, prepared by all six member denominations of the Inter-Synodical Committee of Hymnology and Liturgies of the Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference of North America. This joint project of six synods (Missouri, Ohio, Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, and the Norwegian) employed the Common Service of the previous century, which exhibited the best English-language liturgy of the time. Two years later, several Lutheran groups proposed a Joint Commission on the Liturgy Because the LCMS had just completed its hymnal, President John Behnken declined the invitation; however, “bodies, representing about two-thirds of Lutherans in North America, did respond positively.” As a result of these efforts, the Service Book and Hymnal of the Lutheran Church in America was produced in 1958. As expected, joint worship practices led to corporate mergers among several Lutheran groups. Of the eight Lutheran bodies that had worked on this hymnal project, four formed the ALC and the other four became the LCA. In 1959, the LCMS initiated discussions with these same Lutheran churches to develop a joint hymnal for all North American Lutherans. Again, because the Service Book and Hymnal had just been published, there was no great desire on the part of the other Lutheran groups for such a project. Instead, the LCMS developed its Worship Supplement, which was published in 1969.

Meanwhile, Pope John XXIII (1881-1963) called the Roman Catholic Church together for the Second Vatican Council, which opened on October 11, 1962, and concluded on December 8, 1965. One major emphasis of this council was the introduction of worship variations through the “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.” Lay participation in worship (including the possibility of receiving Communion in both kinds), liturgy in the language of the people, and a greater emphasis on Scripture readings (along with sermons) were a few of the momentous changes. Protestants took note of and were invited to consider these changes in light of their own traditions, particularly the use of a common liturgical calendar.

In early 1966, as a result of synodical convention resolutions in the summer of 1965, Oliver Harms (1901-1980), president of the LCMS, invited the ALC and the LCA to form a joint worship commission. This group became the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW). Beginning in 1969, the ILCW produced several study documents, which were to be reviewed by local Lutheran congregations and national synods. Regrettably, because theological controversy erupted nationally within the LCMS during the early 1970s, most LCMS congregations paid little attention to these liturgical studies. However, throughout this period of upheaval in the LCMS, plans continued simultaneously among other North American Lutherans for a joint hymnal.

In 1977, the LCMS rejected the proposed Lutheran Book of Worship on theological grounds, though church politics were also involved as an underlying cause of the rejection. The ALC and the LCA, along with the new AELC (a group that broke away from the LCMS shortly before this hymnal was rejected), adopted Lutheran Book of Worship. Ten years later, in 1988, these three Lutheran bodies formed the ELCA. (Gathered Guest, Concordia Publishing House, p. 43-49)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Come, Follow Me - January 22, 2012 - Third Sunday after the Epiphany - Text: Mark 1:14-20

When you were a little child and you were given your first big present for Christmas, you did not keep it a big secret, did you? You did not hide it or pretend you did not get anything. No, you could hardly wait to tell everyone what present you had been given. You could not wait for someone to ask or you would ask them to ask you what you got. When you were a little older, say confirmation age, you did not keep it to yourself what you were given as gifts for confirmation (well, unless everyone else got something bigger or better, perhaps). No, you could not wait to “brag” to all the other confirmands of the wonderful gifts you had been given for confirmation. As you got even older, when you got your first new car, or at least your first “new to you” car, you did not park it in your garage so that no one would see it. No, you could not wait to drive it around so that everyone would see it and see you in it. It is just that way with things in life. Things that are big and important to us we just cannot help ourselves, we just cannot wait to share them with others.

This morning we pick up in the continuing Gospel reading of Mark. Our text begins with Mark bringing us to Jesus and showing us that Jesus’ message is a lot like the message of John the Baptists. John came proclaiming that the time had come, that the Kingdom of God was near, that it was time to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins. Mark tells us that John was arrested and now it is Jesus’ turn. Jesus comes proclaiming. He also says that the time has come. All the events of human history are at the specific place that they needed to be. The time has come for the fulfillment of the law and the promises of the Old Testament. It is time to repent and believe in the Gospel.

Jesus says that the Kingdom of God is near, which might be an understatement. The Kingdom of God is right there in the person of Jesus Christ Himself. He is ushering it in. Jesus is true God in human flesh. He is heaven come down to earth. He is the beginning of the end.

And, again, much like John’s message, Jesus also says to repent and believe the good news. We have talked about that word, repent before. To repent means to turn one hundred and eighty degrees. To turn away from going in the direction of sin and unbelief and instead, go in the direction away from sin and into the direction of believing. We are to believe, that is we are to have faith in the one who has come into the world to give His life. Our faith is not to be a blind faith. To make sure our faith is not a blind faith, not only did Jesus say to believe, He continually showed the people through the signs and wonders, the miracles, He performed, that He was the Messiah. Jesus gives us a reason to believe.

Moving on in our text, this morning Mark brings us to the call of the first four disciples. Notice right off that it is not an elaborate call. Jesus does not ask them to have an “inner burning.” He does not ask them to “feel” anything, to have an emotional experience. He does not work them into a frenzy. He does not ask them to raise their hands. He simply comes and says, “Come, follow me.” “Come, follow me,” simple enough. We are told by the Gospel writer John that Andrew and one of the other disciples, probably John, were at first disciples of John the Baptist. Remember, John the Baptist continually said that Jesus must increase and he must decrease. John the Baptist came only to get the world ready for Jesus and thus came only to point to Christ. And he did such a wonderful job that two of his own disciples left to be called by and to follow Jesus.

Jesus call was simple, “Come, follow me.” But His call did not come without a promise. The promise that Jesus gave was that, “I will make you fishers of men.” Jesus called the disciples for a purpose, to do the work that He had for them to do. Jesus did not just call and leave them alone. He called them to be His disciples, to be trained by Him, to be given all the gifts that they needed to do the work that He would be giving them to do. And the disciples response was that “at once they left their nets” and “without delay they left their father.” There was no hesitation. There was no question. There was no burning desire or great and grand feeling either, there was simply the calling and the following.

That is the Gospel lesson, but the Gospel lesson does not end there, for you see, not only did Jesus call His first disciples, He also calls each one of us to be His disciples. He calls us to faith and He calls us to be set apart to do the good works which He would have us to do. Yes, we are to do good works, not in order to earn salvation, but as a response of salvation.

Jesus’ call to us is that now is the time. We are living in the Kingdom of God. At our conception He called us to life. At our Baptism He called us to faith. Through His Word He continues to call us to be strengthened in our faith. Through confession and absolution He calls us to be given forgiveness of sins. Through His Holy Supper He continues to give us His good gifts and blessings.

Unfortunately, too often we tend to be like Jonah in our Old Testament reading. God called Jonah and his response was to run away. Interestingly enough, if you follow through the book of Jonah, one thing you will notice is that everything was going downhill until Jonah repented and agreed to obey God. Jonah went down to Joppa. He got down in the boat. He even went down into the bottom of the boat. He was thrown down into the sea and was swallowed down in the belly of the whale. It was while he was in the belly of the whale that he repented and things began to improve.

In our Epistle reading Paul urges us to take seriously our part in being members of the priesthood of all believers. We are to realize that the time of this world is short. Paul actually believed that Jesus was going to return during his lifetime, and he lived that way. Would that we would all believe that Jesus will return during our own life and live that way. The fact is, our own time on this earth is short, especially when compared to eternity. Thus, we are to live life in such a way that our whole lives show forth the faith that is in our hearts. We are to be ready, at all times, to give an answer for the hope that is in us. We are, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to do the work which God has for us to do.

Just as Jesus called His disciples, so He calls us. As we just said, through His Word and through the waters of Holy Baptism He calls us to faith. Yet, not only has He called us, He has also already redeemed us. He is the one who gave His life for ours. He is the one who lived for us in our place. I once read an illustration that made this point pretty well. It said that one Sunday a visitor came to church and when he drove into a certain parking spot he was told, “you are in my place.” When he went in to the church and went to sit down for worship he was told by someone else, “you are in my place.” When he went to Bible class, again he went to sit down and he was told, “you are in my place.” Finally, when Bible class was over someone looked at him and when they did they noticed that he was rather scared, that he had scars on his hands and feet (he was wearing sandals) and when they asked him who he was he answered, “I am the one who took your place.” The reference being to the cross. The Gospel is that Jesus took our place in all aspects of our life.

And so, Jesus comes calling us. He comes calling us to repent and believe. He calls us to make a one hundred and eighty degree turn in our lives. He calls us to turn away from sin to not sinning. And yet, He does not call without promising that He will help us to turn.

He comes to call us to “come and follow Him.” Jesus’ invitation is simple. His invitation is to us and is a wonderful example for us. When we are faced with the question of how are we to tell others about Jesus, we can follow His example. We can call others to “come.” We can call others to “come and follow Him.” Remember last weeks Gospel lesson. Last week we saw Philip using Jesus example in his witnessing to others. Last week, after Philip was called to discipleship by Jesus, he went out and called Nathanael and to Nathanael’s question of Jesus Messiahship, Philip simply says, “come and see.”

Jesus’ call is to us and His call is through the means of grace, the Word and the Sacrament. He comes to us through these means to give us faith, to give us forgiveness, to strengthen us in faith and to keep us in faith until He comes again.

Jesus call is to us and like His call to His first disciples, His call comes with a promise. He calls us and promises us that He will make us fishers of people. He will give us the training we need. He will give us all the gifts that we will need to do the work that He gives us to do. His promise is that He will be with us, even to the ends of the earth. Yes, His call is complete.

Today is Life Sunday, the Sunday we set aside especially to remind ourselves of and to lament the legalization of abortion and of all the innocent children who have been legally murdered since its passage. The Greek dualist philosophy taught that it is what is inside that affects the soul not what the body does, so, logically, self-indulgence is okay, because it does not affect the soul. We can easily compare this to today’s “if it feels good do it,” society. But it does not stop there. Since abortion has been legalized and to some extent accepted as being okay, does that mean it is okay? Do we realize that there are young adults today who have never known anything except that abortion was legal? Because we have become complacent about abortion, in a sense even we Christians have accepted it or are at least seen as having accepted it as okay. That is what our apathy toward this issue is, a low level of acceptance. Now we see our society moving to the next step, euthanasia, that is killing those society deems not fit to live, those with handicaps, those with mental disorders and the like. And let us not forget the right to die cases of people who want their doctor to help them to die. The next step in this parade will be to kill old people, especially those in a nursing home, and the mentally and even emotionally disturbed people. If we remain apathetic, where will this lead? Our response on this Life Sunday is to know that God gives life, all life, and life is precious to Him. He tells us that before we were in the womb He has known us. Each of us at conception receives a soul from God and from that time on are indeed precious in His sight.

Our response is to boldly profess to others how precious life is to God. We are precious to Jesus as He is the one who comes and finds us and calls us to faith. As we have seen and heard in our Gospel reading for this morning, we have been called to faith by Jesus, through the Gospel, through the sacraments, and through others sharing the Gospel with us, so we are to go out and find others, especially those who do not know Jesus, others who are suffering and in need, others who are pregnant and for whatever reason are struggling with that pregnancy, and share with them the invitation to come and follow Jesus and to help them in whatever way we can. For some of us our help may be simply to refer them to a Christian counselor. For some we may offer assistance to drive them to the hospital. For some our assistance may be just to offer a listening ear. But whatever our part may be we do issue to them Philip’s invitation to come and see Jesus and Jesus’ invitation to follow Him. And lest we forget, there may be those among us, or someone you know who has had an abortion, we must acknowledge that this too is a forgivable sin. We are not judgmental, and we do not forget that there is forgiveness for those who have had abortions and have repented.

Jesus has given us life. He has given us life at conception. He has given us faith, forgiveness of sins, life and salvation, even eternal life. He calls us through His Gospel. He enlightens us with His gifts of Holy Baptism, confession and absolution, and His Holy Supper. He sanctifies us which means that He continually works in us to make us holy. He keeps us in the one true faith. He does all this, not because we are deserving, but because of His great love for us. And because of this great and grand thing, because this is such a big deal in our lives, we can hardly keep it to ourselves. We do not hide our faith and show it only in church on Sunday. No, we just cannot wait to go out and tell others how they too need to have a share in our Savior, that is how we follow Him without delay. And we rejoice and say, to Him be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Lifestyle Evangelism is . . . An Easter Thing.

I know a man who exemplified what being a good witness is all about. This man lived his life as a witness of God’s great love. Wherever he went, whatever he did, you could see the love of God the Father through him. So often I would see him stop to help (those who seem to us to be) the helpless. He never thought of himself, what dangers he might be in if he stopped to help, or if he would be late if he stopped, or even what other people would think if they saw him. He made a difference in the lives of so many people, and he did so without expecting anything in return. However, in return for his goodness, he did get what he expected. He was ridiculed, called names, and there were even plots to kill him because in his sincerity, he made the establishment look bad. He was not synodically trained; he did not even have a college education, but he did not use that as an excuse or let it stop him from witnessing. Because so many people loved him, so many more hated him. He never made excuses and never gave a second thought about a person’s past.

Today, although we all should, no one can compare his/her feeble attempts of witnessing with this man’s, but instead we compare ourselves to those we see as worse witnesses.

During the Easter season each year, we should think that we are good witnesses, that it would be easy to be a good witness. After all, this time of the year is that Christians celebrate the resurrection of our God, Jesus rising from the dead. How about if we exemplify Jesus, the man about whom I was speaking above, in our daily lives?

As you read about Jesus, true God and true man, I pray that you will not feel guilty but will be inspired to rededicate your life, with his help, to Jesus. I pray that you will recommit your life to be a living example of Jesus, your brother and your God.
52 of 52 © Rev. Ronald A. Bogs

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Come and See - Jan. 15, 2012 - Second Sunday after the Epiphany - Text: John 1:43-51

Less than one month ago we celebrated Jesus birth. Last Sunday we were brought to some thirty years later as we celebrated Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan River. We also witnessed the fact that our God has revealed Himself to us as a God who is one God yet three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This week we see Jesus as He begins His earthly ministry by choosing His disciples. As we look at our text for this morning, hearing both Jesus’ invitation and Philip’s invitation, we need to keep in mind that Jesus’ invitation is still extended to us today, and that Philip’s invitation is an excellent example of how we are to do evangelism even today that is by inviting others to Christ and the Church.

Our text begins, “The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me’” (v. 43). Unfortunately our English does not do justice to the Greek. In our text, Jesus’ imperative to “Follow me” was meant as a kindly expression of continuous course of action, in other words, Jesus’ imperative to Philip was to “Keep following me.” Philip’s immediate response to Jesus’ call was to follow Him. A part of that following Jesus was that Philip went to find Nathanael. Picking up in our text, “Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph’” (v. 45). Notice how important the word “find” is in this text. Jesus found Philip. This suggests that He went out of His way to look for him and to find him. We might be reminded of the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin, and that Jesus our good shepherd always goes out of His way to find us. This, in turn, serves to remind us that it is God who takes the initiative in finding and calling us. He finds us, calling us through the Gospel even today. We do not find Him, and actually, because of our sinful nature, and contrary to what some people will tell you about those who are “seekers” or who are “seeking for Jesus,” we do not go looking for Him, we do not seek Jesus, we do not chose Him, but it is Jesus who comes looking for us, He finds us, He chooses us, He calls us to follow Him and His call to us is meant as an expression of continuous action as well, that is that we continue to follow Him.

Jesus’ words to Philip are an imperative, not a harsh imperative, but a kind imperative. But Jesus’ words are not just an imperative issued to Philip, they are an imperative issued to us today. Jesus seeks, finds and calls us to faith through the means of His Holy Word as well as through the means of the sacraments, that is Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Through these means, the Word and the Sacraments we are called by Jesus to “follow Him” that is to “keep following Him.” Philip’s going out, then, exemplifies the way we are to keep following Jesus, that is the way we are to go out and find others who do not know Jesus and call them to follow and to keep following Jesus as well.

Philip’s message to Nathanael was a simple message, he says, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Philip’s message is clear. He believes he has found the unmistakable fulfillment of the prophecies of the Christ pictured in the Old Testament in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. We know that without Jesus, the Old Testament books, the writings of Moses and the prophets would be nothing, but here Jesus is, the fulfiller of these prophecies. He is the One promised, having come in the flesh.

Nathanael’s response was, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Surely Nathanael knew the prophecies that the Savior would be born in Bethlehem and he probably figured that since Jesus was known as coming from Nazareth, that would leave Him out as being a candidate for Messiahship. Philip’s answer to Nathanael is a true witness, even a true evangelistic example to us today. We know that no one can be argued into religion, let alone faith, and Philip knows it too. So, he makes no attempt to argue him into belief, but simply offers the invitation, again as an imperative, to “Come and see.” What a powerful evangelist Philip is. What a powerful witness he makes with just three little words. Certainly we are aware of the fact that we cannot argue, convince, or talk anyone into believing in Jesus. Most of us probably feel like we are not evangelists and that we cannot share our faith with others. But we can follow Philip’s witnessing technique. We can offer the invitation, by a kind imperative, to “Come and see,” as Philip did. What a powerful evangelist we are and what a powerful witness we make when we simply offer the invitation to come and see Jesus. Come and see Jesus in divine service with us. Come and see Jesus in His Word, the Bible, knowing that the Holy Spirit works through that Word to bring them to faith and trusting that He will do so.

Nathanael takes Philip up on his invitation and comes to meet Jesus. Our text continues, “Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, ‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!’” (v. 47). My first question and probably yours is “What is a true Israelite in whom there is no deceit?” Nathanael was a part of the remnant of the children of Israel who were not looking for an earthly savior and king, but were looking for a heavenly king. The promise to send a Savior, a Messiah that was given way back in the Garden of Eden, which was reiterated to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, and so on down through history had by this time come to be just a “promise,” an unfulfilled promise, to a lot of Israelites. For some, like the scribes and Pharisees, the promise had been twisted and made a forgery. It had been made to be a promise for earthly salvation from their oppressors, namely the Romans at this time. There was, however, a remnant that clung to the promises of a spiritual, or heavenly Savior and Messiah and Nathanael was a part of this remnant. This is a true Israelite in whom there is no deceit.

Our text continues, “48Nathanael said to him, ‘How do you know me?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.’ 49Nathanael answered him, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’” (v. 48-49). Nathanael, whose name means “given by God,” is convinced of Jesus identity simply (I say simply) by Jesus word that He had seen him before he was approached by Philip. This is one of the signs and wonders Jesus used to show that He was the Messiah. Nathanael then makes a confession that he believes that Jesus is the Son of God, that Jesus truly is the Lord Himself. He also confesses that he believes that Jesus is the King of Israel, not as an earthly king, but as a heavenly king, in other words, the Messiah, the Savior of the world.

Jesus response: “50Jesus answered him, ‘Because I said to you, “I saw you under the fig tree,” do you believe? You will see greater things than these.’ 51And he said to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man’” (v. 50-51). Nathanael seems easily convinced. Would that all people would be so easily convinced. Jesus here calls Himself the Son of man. In so doing He identifies Himself as one of us, that is He is a true human being. When He came down to earth, He humbled Himself giving up all the glory that was His as true God in heaven, being born of a woman, and became a man so that He could offer Himself as a sacrifice for us on the cross. The picture He paints here might remind us of the angels descending and ascending on the ladder in Jacob’s dream. We remember that Jacob named the place “Bethel,” meaning “the house of the God.” Jesus is God here on earth, therefore wherever Jesus went, there was the house of God.

Our text for this morning is a wonderful reminder of what you have been hearing from me over the past number of years, especially concerning God’s call to faith and our response of faith. Contrary to what some preachers preach suggesting that we need to find God, John tells us that it is God who finds us. It is God who is the prime mover. It is God who initiates. It is God who calls us to life at conception. It is God who calls us to faith through Holy Baptism as well as through His Holy Word. It is God who calls, gathers and enlightens us and the whole Christian Church on earth. It is God who gives faith, forgiveness and life.

It is also God who calls us to our vocations. It is through our vocations that we respond to the faith our Lord has given to us by serving Him through our service to others. In other words, it is through our vocations such as that of mother or father, brother or sister, aunt or uncle, teacher or learner, employer or employee; our vocations such as salesman or engineer, baker or doctor, nurse or lawyer, laborer or plumber, electrician or carpenter, farmer or architect, truck driver or fisherman, beautician or waiter, whatever our vocation, as we are serving others we are serving the Lord. God calls us to be priest in the priesthood of all believers. Remember, the role of the priest is to offer sacrifices. Our pastor does not offer sacrifices. As priest we do offer sacrifices, that is we offer our lives as living sacrifices to the Lord. The way we live our lives shows forth the faith that is in our hearts. As others see our lives as living sacrifices, then we are to be always ready to give an answer for the hope that we have in the Lord. Of course we are ready as the Holy Spirit gets us ready through our regular and diligent use of the means of grace, being in divine service and Bible class as well as reading our Bible on our own and having personal and family devotions. Thus, to follow Phillip’s example in our text, as the Lord has found us and made us His through the waters of Holy Baptism, so we are moved to live lives of faith so that when we are asked concerning our faith our response might well be, “Come and see.” Come and see Jesus in divine service with me. Come and see Jesus in Bible Class with me. Come and see Jesus in His Word with me. It is not we who are giving faith or calling to faith, rather it is God who initiates. It is God who calls and His call is through His Word, either spoken by us, read by our friend or spoken by our pastor in divine service and Bible Class. We are merely the conduit through which God works through His means of grace.

It is God’s will that all people come to faith and are saved. Jesus invites us through His word with the kind imperative to follow Him and to keep on following Him. Through the Holy Spirit working in our hearts we do come to faith and we do follow Him. By the power of the Holy Spirit working through the means of grace we respond to His great love for us by following Philip’s example of inviting others with the imperative to “come and see” our Savior, also in His Word. We do not convince, argue, or talk anyone into faith, but simply invite them to come and see and let the Holy Spirit do the rest. May the Holy Spirit work through your daily devotions, Bible reading, Divine Service, and Bible class attendance to continue to strengthen you in your faith making you always ready to give an answer for the hope that you have in Jesus, and move you to say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Lifestyle Evangelism is . . . Following the Golden Rule.

“I’m but a stranger here, heaven is my home.” This song so well describes the Christian state of being. We are living in this world, but we are not of this world. The Lord tells us to separate ourselves from the heathen. This Lifestyle Evangelism tip is one way in which we separate ourselves from the unchurched and non-Christians.

Two Bible passages help us focus on this separation. “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12). And “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (emphasis added) (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

Our world today is a “step on or be stepped on world.” We are quick to show criticism or to put someone down in order to build ourselves up. How easily we, too, as Christians can slip into this negative mind set. We even read the Golden rule, Matthew 7:12, in a negative way. We think “If I do not hurt someone, then they should not hurt me.” But, Jesus gave us the Golden Rule in a very positive way and in a way which does separate us from the world. Jesus tells us to first take it upon ourselves to go out and do something unto (for) others, something we would want others to do for us. One such something is what Paul says in Thessalonians, that is, to encourage and build up one another. However, Jesus is saying more. He is saying that we are to go about doing good and building up others and not expect anything in return. It is when we go about doing good and expecting good in return that we get messed up because we are not doing good for the right reason.

Your Lifestyle Evangelism tip is to go about encouraging and building others up. Try giving five compliments to everyone before giving one criticism. In doing so, you will be separate. Others will see your powerful positive witness of Jesus Christ’s love for all.
51 of 52 © Rev. Ronald A. Bogs

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Lifestyle Evangelism is . . . Life in Perspective.

This month I have a message of urgency I need to relate to you. I would like to start by asking you to think about your life. You will live a long life of 70, 80, 90, or even 100 years. To each of us, that span seems like a long time. Now, I would like for you to think about that length of time in respect to how old the earth is. If we take the Bible as it is, the earth is somewhere between four to six thousand years old. Now, I want you to go one step further. Think about how long you will live in respect to eternity. If you have been following what I have been saying, you will see that our long, long life time on this earth is merely a twinkling of an eye in comparison to eternity. To get a different view on this time length, think about it this way: if a football field were the timeline of the age of the earth (100 yards) there would be an infinite line extending in both directions for eternity and our lifetime here on this earth would fit as a one and one-half inch segment of that line.

So why is it so urgent that I tell you this? Because I do not think that we think about or realize the urgency of which we must tell others about Jesus Christ our Savior and only hope for eternal life in heaven. We feel like we are here on this earth for a long time, and we forget that there are people “out there,” even some of our own friends and family members, who, when they die, are going to go to hell for eternity. Jesus does not say they will go to hell for just a while and then He will bring them to heaven. He does not say that earth is hell. No, He says that at death, we are judged to go to heaven or hell for eternity. It cause me great pain me to know that some of my own family and friends are not going to heaven but will be in hell for eternity.

The sad part, however, is that some prize being accepted and “normal” here on earth more than they prize their friends being in heaven for eternity. Of course, I may not say so to others, but the truth is that, what they say by their actions and by the way they live their life is that life in this world matters more than eternity.

What can we do? We can make a commitment to invite our unchurched friends and family to church and church activities where they can meet and see Christ in others and hear of Him through the preaching and teaching that takes place. And we can be an example in our own lives by our regular church, Bible class, Bible study attendance, family and private prayer and devotion times and in this way be ready to give an answer to those who must hear to be saved for the faith that is in us.
50 of 52 © Rev. Ronald A. Bogs

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Baptized for Forgiveness - January 8, 2012 - The Baptism of Our Lord/First Sunday after the Epiphany - Text: Mark 1:4-11

Two days ago we celebrated Epiphany and the end of our Christmas season (remember, Advent ends on Christmas Day and the twelve days of Christmas begins with Christmas and lasts until Epiphany). So, what is epiphany? Epiphany is the celebration of the coming of the Wise men or Magi or Kings to see the Baby Jesus who is in a house where they were staying. Epiphany is the revealing of the Savior of the world to the non-Jews, the Gentiles which is why it is often referred to as the Gentile Christmas. Unfortunately, this day is rarely celebrated because it seldom falls on a Sunday, because it is always on January 6. Actually, I would rather crassly say that it is not celebrated because it is not as saleable of a celebration as Christmas and Easter (what would you sell to celebrate Epiphany?). And so, this year, like many other years, we skip our Epiphany celebration and go straight to our celebration of the Baptism of Our Lord, which brings us to our text for today.

We, you and I, are or have been brought into the Holy Christian Church with these words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” With these words we become members of the communion of Saints. We are given faith, forgiveness of sins, abundant life in this world, life in the world to come, eternal life, salvation. God’s name is put on us. He claims us as His own, we are His. My question to you is, how often do you take the time to remember your baptism? What a wonderful gift we have in our baptism as well as in remembering our baptism. Every morning we can wake up and remember, “I have been baptized. I am forgiven. I can start over.” And after a few hours, by about nine or ten in the morning, after we have been frustrated from driving to work, being yelled at by our parents, our spouse, our boss, and so forth, and after cursing them in our own minds, we can again remember, “Oh, yeah, I have been baptized. I am forgiven. I can start over.” What a great thing we Christians have in our baptism. This morning we are reminded of our own baptism as we come to bear witness of Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan River.

You might notice, right off, that John’s Baptism is different from our Holy Baptism today. Not a lot different, but some different. John’s Baptism was a “Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. Repentance is somewhat like our New Year’s Resolutions, it is the attempt to “turn over a new leaf.” Notice I said an “attempt.” It is an attempt, because by ourselves we are not able to do the good that we want to do (as Paul reminds us in his letter - the good that I would do I do not do, the evil I do not want to do is what I do). Repentance, however, goes beyond a resolution. Repentance means first to acknowledge and confess our sins, the wrong and bad things we do, or the good things we have failed to do, but it goes on to mean that we attempt to not sin again. Let me say that again, it means that we attempt, with God’s help, to not sin again. To repent means to turn 180 degrees, from sinning, from going in the direction of sinning, to not sinning, to turn away and go in the other direction away from sinning. And again, this is not something we are able to do by ourselves. This is something we can do, only with the help of the Lord.

John’s Baptism is a Baptism of repentance for a purpose, “for the forgiveness of sins.” Just about every Sunday morning we confess, “if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us, but if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgives us all our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” God is faithful. We see His faithfulness standing before John ready to be Baptized. God is faithful, He sent His one and only Son, Jesus to pay the penalty for our sins, to give His life, to suffer the eternal spiritual death for us, in our place. If we do not confess our sins, if we do not acknowledge that we have sins that need to be confessed, then we are refusing forgiveness. It is only as we confess our sins (and this we do because of our own need to confess) that forgiveness, won for us by Jesus on the cross, becomes ours.

Repentance can be seen in this illustration which I have used before, there was a teacher who passed out new crayons to the entire class. She told all her students to be careful and not break them. One child pushed a little too hard and broke one of his crayons. The teacher then asked for the children to put any broken crayons on the top of their desk. In order to “stay out of trouble,” the one child hid the broken crayon in the box, putting the bottom part in the box and the broken off top part on top. The teacher then went around the room and instead of “yelling” at the students, she exchanged new crayons for broken ones. Unfortunately, the child with the hidden crayon did not receive a new crayon. In much the same way, our sins that are unconfessed, although the price has been paid for those sins, to us they are not forgiven. We have refused that forgiveness. And our sins that are confessed are forgiven, not because of our confession, but because Jesus paid for them.

John came Baptizing and proclaiming. His proclamation was that the One coming after me is more powerful than I am, so much so that I am unworthy even to untie His shoes. John knew his place. He knew his role. He was content with being the Lord’s servant and so he proclaimed boldly concerning Jesus, who He is and what He will do.

John proclaimed that he baptized with water, but Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit. On Pentecost we see this Baptism by the Holy Spirit. When each one of us was Baptized, we were Baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We were Baptized in the name of the Holy Spirit. We are filled with the Holy Spirit, each one of us, and I might add, whether we act like it or not. I do not mean that we are each filled with the Holy Spirit so that we jump up and down, whoop and holler or anything like that, but I do mean that we act like we are filled with the Holy Spirit by boldly living our lives in such a way that we do stand out in a crowd, that others do see us as being different, acting like we are a members of the body of Christ.

What is there to life except to live life “on the edge” as the saying goes? And as a Christian I would suggest that living life on the edge is living life with a complete awareness of what life is all about. Life is about being on this earth for a very short period of time. Life is about acknowledging that each day is a gift from God and that each day might actually be our last day on this earth. Life is about living each day to its fullest and I do not mean that in any decadent way, I mean that in a way which says, I am a Christian and I believe in a God who is so great that you ought to believe in Him too and that is living life on the edge, because in our world and in our society, to live life in such a way will surely bring criticism from others.

Getting back to our text, by God’s grace, through Mark’s Gospel we are privileged to witness Jesus’ baptism by John. As we witness Jesus’ Baptism we are allowed to witness what we call the trinity of our God. First, we witness God the Son in the person of Jesus Himself. God the Son is true God, conceived by the Holy Spirit, as we confess and as Matthew, Luke and John also tell us in their Gospels, and He is true man, born of the Virgin Mary, again, as we confess and as Matthew, Luke and John also tell us in their Gospels.

Second, we witness God the Father in the voice from heaven. God the Father speaks and says, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” God the Father attests to the fact that Jesus is true God, the Son of the Father. He also attests to the fact of Jesus’ sinless nature, being truly God and being pleasing to the Father.

And third, we witness God the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. Thus, we are privileged to witness our God as a triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

This morning we are privileged to be witnesses of Jesus’ Baptism. And as we witness Jesus’ Baptism I pray that we are each reminded of our own Baptism. Our witness of Jesus’ Baptism is important because through this account we are convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt of who Jesus is and what is His mission. John attests that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. God the Father attests that Jesus is the Messiah as we hear His words from heaven. Jesus attests to Himself that He is the Messiah as He is there present fulfilling all the Law and the prophets completely, even subjecting Himself to be Baptized by John in the Jordan.

As we venture through the Gospels this year we will see Jesus time and again doing signs and wonders which will attest that He is the Messiah. You will notice that the Gospel writers write in order to assure us that Jesus is the Messiah. The Holy Spirit works through these words of the Bible in order to bring us to faith, strengthen us in faith and to keep us in faith until Christ comes again.

Thus, we believe that Jesus is the Messiah and through His means of grace; confession and absolution; the Word, the Bible; and the Sacraments, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, we are given His gifts; faith, forgiveness, life and salvation, which is why divine service is so important. Sure, we can stay at home and read our Bibles, but here in divine service is the time to come to the Lord’s Spiritual grocery store to be given His good gifts and blessings. Each of us must eat in order to survive. If we do not go to the grocery store to buy food, then we do not have any food to prepare and no food to eat which would mean that eventually we would starve. Likewise, each of us must have spiritual food in order to survive. When we do not come to the Lord’s house for divine service, to be given His spiritual gifts, we can eventually starve spiritually, that, too, is gift refusal.

This morning we rejoice to be given God’s good gifts and blessings. We rejoice in the forgiveness of sins, earned for us by Jesus on the cross. We rejoice at being able to witness Jesus’ baptism and His acceptance by God the Father. We rejoice in the reminder that through our Baptism we too have a part in God’s Kingdom. We rejoice in our opportunity to be in divine service where we are reminded of our Baptism through the invocation and benediction, we are given forgiveness through confession and absolution, as well as through the Word and the Lord’s Supper, we are strengthened in our faith through the proclamation of the Word of God, and we are encouraged in our vocations as Christians, to live our lives as living sacrifices to the Lord always being ready to give an answer for the hope that we have in our faith in Jesus. And finally, we are moved by the power of the Holy Spirit to rejoice and say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Lifestyle Evangelism is . . . Inviting to “Come and See.”

“The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. Philip found Nathanael and told him, ‘We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’ ‘Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?’ Nathanael asked. ‘Come and see,’ said Philip” (John 1:43-46).

“Come and see” is the answer we can give to the questions from friends and strangers alike. How do I know what you say is true? “Come and see.” How do I know that what you live is true? “Come and see.” We are conscious of our lives’ being a witness for Christ. We live so others can see Christ through us. We even tell others about Jesus, but what do we say when asked, “Is it true?” We say as Philip did, “Come and see.” Come to worship and Bible class, come to fun and fellowship, come and see that Jesus is the Christ and the way to heaven.

Philip was not sure what to do about feeding the multitudes, as John relates in John 6:5-7. He was not sure what to do with the Greeks (Gentiles) that came to see Jesus, as told in John 12:20-21. Maybe Philip was a bit shy or timid; maybe he just did not know what to say, but he did watch and see, and he invited others to come and see.

Today, we do not always have all the answers. We have our own little doubts. We are shy and timid at times. Don’t we also watch and see, watch and believe? At times our response to the questions and excuses of our circle of influence should be, “Come and see.” For when our questioners do come and see, the Holy Spirit works growth through the seeds that are planted, and the Word of the Lord will not return void. Bring your unchurched family and friends to “come and see” and to believe in Jesus. Come and see Christ do great things.
49 of 52 © Rev. Ronald A. Bogs

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Lifestyle Evangelism is . . . An Unconfused Witness.

Every year as we approach Christmas Day, it becomes more and more evident that we are living in a vastly confused world. For example, if you listen closely, you might hear, “I can’t believe it; those Christians are now trying to take our Christmas fun, too, and make it a religious holiday.” Did you stop and explain to that person just what the Christ-mass is all about?

To add to the confusion we have our Federal Government, which we whole-heartedly support as being placed over us by God (cf. St. Paul, Romans 13), trying to pass more and more legislation to keep religion out of government. It is my understanding that the United States of America wrote its Constitution for just the opposite reason, to keep government out of religion.

As Americans we have religious freedom. We have the freedom to be a member of whatever religious organization we wish and to worship in whatever manner we desire. Unfortunately, as Americans, we have come to take our freedom of religion to mean freedom from religion. We are not mocked, ridiculed, or tortured for our faith as many Christians are in many countries of our world. As a matter of fact, our faith is a mere luxury if anything, so we sometimes ask ourselves, “since I do not have to, why go to church?”

The Christmas season and the Easter season are the two seasons of the year, especially when we see our great worship of creation rather than the Creator. Our thinking is that life on earth will be for a very long time and eternity is some vague concept a long time away. Our surprise will come when at the end of our brief life here on earth, we will face eternity, either in heaven or in hell. Have we confused our focus of what is really important here on earth?

We have also confused our focus in our witnessing efforts. We tend to focus on the differences between believers and unbelievers, not wanting to associate with those non-Christians—afraid it will rub off. Instead, we should be focusing on the difference faith makes. We focus on ourselves as witnesses instead of on the Holy Spirit, who gives us the power to speak and who does the converting of the heart.

Time is linear; it is heading someplace-to eternity. There is an overarching purpose to all that happens. You do not have to look very closely to see Satan’s game plan at work in corrupting our world today. God is not the author of confusion; Satan is, as he is the father of lies. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we can refocus our love, trust, and guidance.

As we redirect our focus, the witness opportunities become even more clear. As the Psalmist says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Psalm 3:5).
48 of 52 © Rev. Ronald A. Bogs

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Jesus Is the Christ - January 1, 2012 - First Sunday after Christmas - Text: Luke 2:22-40

Seven days ago we celebrated the birth of Jesus. Today we fast forward forty days to what is called the presentation of Jesus in the temple. The purification rites after the birth of a son required the mother to wait for forty days before going to the temple to offer her sacrifice for purification. The sacrifice was to be a lamb and a pigeon or dove. If the person could not afford this sacrifice, then the sacrifice could be two pigeons or doves. This morning we journey with Mary and Joseph as they present Jesus in the temple, in accordance with the Law, to fulfill the Law.

Our text begins by introducing us to Simeon. Simeon was a righteous man and he was devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel. In other words, he was waiting to see the one promised from God, the Messiah, the Savior. Luke tells us that it was revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he had seen the “Lord’s Christ,” the Savior. By the way Luke recounts these events we would believe that Simeon is now rather old and is waiting to see the Savior so that he might die in peace. And so, not by any coincidence, but by the action of God moving in Simeon, he went to the temple at the same time that Mary and Joseph came to present the baby Jesus and for Mary to make her sacrifice for purification. Have you ever wondered about what we call coincidences? I believe there is no such thing as a coincidence, instead what we are seeing is God’s, usually, unseen hand acting in our time to make something happen to His glory. Such is the case with the events of our text. Simeon, moved by the Holy Spirit, came into the temple to see the consolation of Israel.

As Mary and Joseph enter the temple Simeon is there to receive the child. He takes the child and by inspiration of the Holy Spirit he gives to us the words which we sing in the Nunc Dimmitus, or in English, the Now Dismiss. Simeon praises the Lord because He has allowed him to see the Savior of the world. Simeon’s words are words of faith. He is now ready to be dismissed. Literally, He is ready to die and be taken to heaven because he has seen the one who was promised and who was to come to save the world. Notice that Simeon’s words are not just focused on God’s chosen people, the children of Israel, but are words which reveal that Jesus came to save all people, Jew and Gentile alike as he says that Jesus is “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for the glory of your people Israel.” Here we are reminded, once again, that God has always had one covenant with the people of the world, never two covenants. Jesus came to save all people, even and especially us, you and me.

Luke tells us that “the child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him.” I think that might have been an understatement. Yes, God had revealed to both Mary and Joseph that Jesus was God born in human flesh, but still, for Mary and Joseph, these events would all be quite “marvelous,” unexpected and maybe somewhat dumbfounding.

But Simeon does not stop with the Nunc Dimmitus, he continues by speaking to Mary and Joseph. He tells Mary in particular that Jesus is “appointed (or as some translations put it, “destined”) for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” Jesus is destined to be the one who will save many people and at the same time, to those who do not believe, He will be their fall, they will be doomed to eternal spiritual death, hell in other words. Jesus is a sign. He is the one who came speaking about His Father and His relationship with His Father. Many would not believe that He was God, that He and the Father were one. The hearts of the unbelievers was shown through their speaking out against Him. And this continues to be the way it is in our world today. Many people do not believe in Jesus. Many do not believe He is God in flesh, as He shows and tells us in His Word. Many do not believe and instead are destined to eternal spiritual death in hell and this is not God’s fault nor Jesus’ fault as some attempt to blame Him. Those who fall, those who are destined to hell are destined because of their own fault, their own refusal and rejection of Jesus as the Savior.

Probably the hardest words that Simeon speaks, however, are the words to Mary that a sword will pierce her own soul too. Mary, who pondered all these things and kept them in her heart is, after all, the mother of this child whose destiny is a cross. She will watch her own child be cursed by others, be hated by others, be deserted by all His friends and be hung on a cross. She will watch her own Son die, for the sins of all people. Certainly a sword of pain will pierce through her own heart.

Luke, the faithful Doctor and Historian shows us that Jesus is the Messiah, but if Simeon’s words are not enough “proof” if you will, he also introduces us to Anna, who is also in the temple. About Anna we are told that she was “very old” and that she was a widow since the time of her husband’s death which occurred after only their seventh anniversary and that now she was eighty-four years old. She now lived her life in the temple. Luke tells us “she did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and praying night and day.” And again, like Simeon, she did not come into the temple at this time by accident or coincidence, but by the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Anna came up to Mary and Joseph and said a prayer of thanks to God and spoke about this child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem, that is to all those who were still looking for the coming of the promised Messiah, those who had not given up hope. Like Simeon, her words confirm the fact that Jesus is the one who was sent from God to save, not only the children of Israel, but all people, of all places of all times, you and me included and I would say, especially.

Finally, our text tells us of one final fulfillment of Holy Scripture, it says that Mary and Joseph returned to Nazareth. Luke writes with a purpose. His purpose is to give proof of Jesus and who he is. He shows us that Jesus came to fulfill the Law and that He fulfilled the Law perfectly. His parents did what was required. Again, we are reminded that the fulness of the Gospel is seen in the fact that what Jesus did He did for us, in our place, everything that we are unable to do. He fulfilled the Law perfectly, for us, in our place, because we cannot. Even more, Jesus came to fulfill the Law perfectly for the whole nation of Israel, again, because they could not, even as God’s chosen people.

We are told by Luke that Jesus moved to Nazareth, thus was fulfilled the promise that He would be a Nazarene. And we are told that the child grew and became strong. He was filled with wisdom and the grace of God was upon Him. And as we know, as we have seen, as we continue to rehearse in our story of the life of Jesus, after this event we do not hear of the events of Jesus’ life until we hear the account of Him in the temple at the age of twelve, but that is for another time.

This morning we have Luke’s accurate account of these events as an assurance of our faith in Jesus. Luke’s words assure us that Jesus is the Messiah. He is the one promised by God. He is the one who fulfilled all the law perfectly, for us, in our place, because we are unable to.

Luke’s words assure us that Jesus came to give His life. How comforting to know that we will not be held accountable for our sin and their punishment. The wages of sin is death and Jesus paid that price for us.

Luke’s words assure us that we have forgiveness of sins. Because of what Jesus did, because He lived perfectly for us in our place, because He took all our sins upon Himself, because He suffered the eternal spiritual punishment for our sins, because He gave His life for ours, because He paid the price for sin, by faith in Him, which He gives to us as well, we have forgiveness, which means that when God looks at us He sees Christ’s perfection.

Which means that Luke’s words also assure us that we have life, eternal life. By faith in Jesus, His death has become our death, His life has become our life. By faith in Jesus we have forgiveness of sins and life, life in this world and eternal life in the world to come, heaven. By faith in Jesus, when we pass on from this world, we will be robed with His robes of righteousness as we are gathered together will all the saints in heaven.

This morning we come to worship our Lord. We come to rehearse the events of old. We come to hear the good news of salvation. We come to see, once again, as an assurance of our salvation, that Jesus is the One promised of old. This morning we come to be strengthened in our faith and being strengthened in our faith we are moved to say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.