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.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Presents - New Year’s Eve - Eve of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus - December 31, 2011 - Text: Matt. 2:10-11

This evening we present the last of our Advent to Christmas and New Year’s Eve symbols of Christmas, the presents, pun intended. Again, as I have said many times, it is good to look at the traditions and customs we use to make sure that the tradition or custom has not and does not overpower the thing for which it is done. Likewise we might ask, does the particular symbol of Christmas we are looking at serve its purpose as a symbol. This evening we want to take a look at the custom of giving presents for Christmas.

Although no one knows for sure, because there are many theories, I would believe that a part of the custom or tradition of exchanging presents and gift giving goes back to the giving of the gifts of the Magi to the baby Jesus. So, this evening I want to begin by looking at the actual gifts, as we read in our text, “10When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh” (Matthew 2:10, 11). And personally, I believe the reason many people believe there were three wise men is because there were three gifts, at least there are only three gifts mentioned.

One gift given by the Magi was the gift of gold. Gold is the gift meant for a King and Jesus is our King. Jesus was born from the kingly line of King David, thought to be Israel’s greatest king. The genealogies of both Joseph and Mary trace Jesus’ lineage back to King David. Jesus is the son of David and even Greater, He is David’s God and Lord. As King, Jesus watches over us and rules us from heaven, but even more His kingdom is not of this world, but is of the eternal kingdom of heaven where He will rule over us forever.

Another gift mentioned is the gift of Myrrh. Myrrh is an oil often used for the purposes of anointing. Myrrh is a gift especially appropriate for a prophet. Jesus is indeed a prophet and the greatest prophet. And although Jesus did speak prophetic sayings while He was on this earth, He was a prophet in that He was a proclaimer of God’s Word. And interestingly enough, as some had suggested, I have a Bible that has the words of Jesus in red and the response is, then why are not all the words in red. Jesus is the great prophet in that He is the one who has given us His Word in the first place. Jesus continues to be a prophet for us today as He continues to speak to us through His very Word as it is read and proclaimed.

Another gift mentioned is the gift of frankincense, or simply incense. Incense is meant to be a gift for a priest. Incense is the fragrant aroma burnt in the temple as a sweet smelling offering rising up to the Lord. Jesus is our priest and our great High Priest. One of the roles of the priest was to offer sacrifices in the temple. As our great High Priest Jesus does not simply offer any sacrifices, but He offers Himself as the ultimate, the once and for all sacrifice for us. And as our great High Priest Jesus continues, even today, to intercede for us before His Father in heaven.

Today, we continue to see this gift giving reminding us of the gifts of the Magi or the Wisemen. Yet, today this tradition is expressed as a tradition of emulating St. Nicholas who was said to have begun the tradition of gift giving by leaving coins in shoes for those who left them out. He truly took to heart Jesus’ words to sell all you have and give to the poor.

On the down side, if you will, and I believe I am not alone, but the tradition of gift giving, of exchanging presents in our world today has reached a point that, as the saying goes, “We have over commercialized Christmas.” Satan has moved our attention to the things of this world away from the main thing, the gift of God in flesh in Christ. What God has done is that He has given us the greatest gift of His Son, even Himself. What we do every year is exchange presents. So, this evening I do want us to make note of the difference between exchanging presents and true gift giving. Very often we use these terms interchangeably as if they mean the same thing, but I contend that they are two separate and distinct things.

What we do today, our tradition and custom, for the most part is an exchange of presents. I will give you a present if you give me a present. Now certainly there are some exceptions to this tradition, mostly because someone did not get the message that there was to be a “gift exchange,” and so they may have received without giving, but, again, for the most part it is simply an exchange. And please understand and do not misquote me, I believe this is a worthwhile tradition and there is nothing wrong with this tradition. I am not against this exchanging of presents, but my point is that this is not true gift giving.

My contention is that true gift giving is not a present or gift exchange. And further, my contention is that true gift giving is what Jesus does and what only Jesus can do. True gift giving is giving without getting in return and truly without even expecting in return. True gift giving flows out of true love which, as sinful human beings does not originate within us, but must first come from outside of us, namely from Jesus. We love because He first loves us and therefore we give because He first gives to us. It always begins with and flows from Jesus to us.

God is the prime mover. God gives and we are given to. God gives gifts. He gives first and truly expects nothing from us as if there is anything we would have to give to Him, especially to give to Him that He did not in the first place give to us. God gives life. He gives life to all at creation. God gives life personally, to each one of us at our conception. God gives us new life through the waters of Holy Baptism. God gives forgiveness especially through His means of confession and absolution. God gives strengthening of faith through His Word and through His Holy Supper. God in Jesus has given His life for ours, living perfectly for us, taking our sins and giving us His righteousness, suffering and dying for our sins, rising and ascending to heaven to watch over us, rule over us and intercede for us. God gives gifts. God gives faith, forgiveness and life.

This evening as we continue celebrating the twelve days of Christmas, we do so looking forward to our Epiphany celebration and our acknowledgment of the gifts of the Magi. As we end this year which has been a gift from God, remember, each day is indeed a gift from God, we look forward to many more gifts from God in the new year knowing and believing that our God is the great and even the greatest gift giving God. Our God, the one true God is God who needs nothing from us, as if we would have anything to give to Him, except to return to Him a portion of what He has first given to us. Our God is the great gift giving God who created us to love us and to give to us. And He gives to us, all that we need, all our physical needs as well as all our spiritual needs. And He has taken care of our greatest need, forgiveness of sins. He gives and we are given to and we rejoice in His giving. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Lifestyle Evangelism is . . . Doing the Work.

“Attitude check!” “Praise the Lord!” It does not get any better than this! This month I want to address our attitudes, why they might be where they are and how we might change them for the glory of the Lord. To give you an idea of what I am talking about, let me reintroduce this month’s tip this way: This month we want to look at the joy of using our gift(s) to God’s glory, the frustration of doing a job for which you are not gifted, and the joy that is possible when playing the role of an evangelist.

When talking about witnessing or evangelism we often hear the phrase, “That’s the Pastor’s job,” or “That’s the job of the board of evangelism.” If you read your Bible, Paul tells us that the pastor’s job is to teach the members to work in God’s service (Eph. 4:11,12). For that reason, here at St. Matthew, you make yourself available to be taught by God’s Word, which is taught by the pastor. At times we still have the attitude “That’s a job no one will take,” “I can’t do that,” “I’d never do that,” etc. Why is it this way, and how can we change?

I honestly believe a negative attitude comes from misunderstanding the gifts God gives to His Church. What I mean is that for too many years, we were taught that we needed to find out what our spiritual gift was so that we might be able to serve in one capacity (as we were gifted) or another. This idea of making a choice brought many excuses for declining work with the words, “That is not my spiritual gift.”

How do we change our attitude? We understand that the Lord gives His Church all the gifts it needs, which means that, if you are needed to do some work or service, the Lord will help you accomplish the task that is before you.

This fact does not take away from the fact that we may have to serve, from time to time, in a role in which we do not feel comfortable. In writing to Timothy, in 2 Timothy 4:5, Paul tells us, “But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardships, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry” (emphasis added). Evidently Timothy was not “gifted” as an “evangelist,” but it did not remove that responsibility from him.

Remember, we are all witnesses but sometimes we are called on to be evangelists (people who share the good message). Otherwise, we are simply to use the gifts God has given us to His glory. If we do not, we are neglecting our duty (privilege). May the Lord bless you as you use your gifts to His glory.
47 of 52 © Rev. Ronald A. Bogs

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Baby - Christmas Day - December 25, 2011 - Text: John 1:1-14

This morning we continue examining the various symbols, even the customs and traditions surrounding the season of Advent and Christmas. Certainly, as we have being saying, it is important that we look at the customs and traditions we have to make sure they are always complimentary with what we believe, teach and confess, in other words, to make sure our customs and traditions have not taken over as the main thing, but always point to the main thing. And this morning the main thing is the baby. And just as a reminder, today we begin our Christmas celebration and our celebration lasts for twelve days, beginning today and ending at Epiphany on January 6.

This morning our symbol of Christmas is the Baby, yet, as we heard in our text, I want to focus on the Word, which our text says, became flesh, became the Baby. John tells us, in the beginning was the Word and of course we know this Word is Jesus Himself. Jesus was in the beginning with the Father and the Spirit at the creation of the world. And as we know the story, while God was running the show in Genesis one and two, everything was perfect. When we get to Genesis chapter three and Adam and Eve begin running the show we read of how they disobeyed God and how sin infects the world. Because of their disobedience the world was cursed. And yet, in His great love, God stepped in and made a promise, a promise to right the wrongs of sin, a promise to reconcile us to Himself. This Word spoken by God was the promise or prophecy that a Savior for all people, of all places, of all times would be born. In the beginning was the Word, the spoken Word of God, the Word of the Promise.

This Word of God, this spoken promise of God was passed on from generation to generation until we get to Moses. A part of Moses calling from God was that he began writing down the Words of God. So God’s spoken promise of a Savior became God’s written promise of a Savior. And even today we can read these promises of God as they permeate the whole Old Testament. And we know that this Word, this spoken and written Word were to have their fulfillment in the promised Savior Jesus and indeed that is what happened.

As John tells us in his Gospel, this spoken and written Word became incarnate, that is it became in carnal, in flesh, which is what we are celebrating today, the birth of the Savior, Jesus, God in flesh, “God with us,” God taking on human flesh and blood in order to live for us, suffer and die for us and to rise for us, in our place.

While He was alive, Jesus celebrated the Passover with His disciples and out of the Passover He gave us a new celebration, even a new sacrament, He gave us Himself to eat and to drink in His Holy Supper. In the Old Testament a lamb, a spotless lamb was sacrificed, its blood was shed as a reminder of sin, then the lamb was offered as a burnt offering, barbequed if you will, and the family sat and ate the lamb thus participating in the sacrifice. The lamb’s life, the lamb’s sacrifice was for their life and their sacrifice. Thus, the spoken and written Word, the Word made flesh has become a tangible Word for us in Lord’s Supper, where Jesus, the Lamb of God was offered as a once and for all sacrifice for us so that now when we come to the Lord’s Table we taste and know that the Lord is good. We participate in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, which is what it means to “do this in remembrance of me”, that is to participate in His life, death and resurrection so that they become our perfect life, death and resurrection.

And so, we understand and we believe God’s Word, His spoken Word, His Written Word, His Word made flesh and His Word given to us in Holy Supper, that His Word is indeed Jesus, and in particular His Word is this Jesus whose birth we celebrate today. So, let us talk a little about this baby.

When a baby is born there is indeed much rejoicing and likewise with the birth of this baby, the Baby of Bethlehem. This is the One who was promised in the Garden of Eden. This is the One who was promised to Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob, to King David, to Zechariah and to Mary and Joseph. Certainly there is rejoicing at the birth of this child.

Even more, for us today, we rejoice because we know that this Child was not born for Himself, but He was born for us. He was born because of our broken relationship with God the Father. He was born in perfection because we are born in sin.

This Child was born for us and He was born for us so that He could live for us. All that we cannot do, obey God’s commandments perfectly, He did, for us, in our place. Not only did He obey all God’s commands perfectly, He also fulfilled all of God’s promises concerning the coming Savior, perfectly for us, in our place. The reason Jesus was born as a human was so that He could live for us a perfect life the perfect life we cannot live so that He might be our substitute. The reason Jesus was born as God was so that He would be perfect for us in our place.

Jesus was born for us. He lived for us and then He took our sins upon Himself for us. The price for sin, the cost for sin, which was set in the Garden of Eden, eternal spiritual death, hell, had to be paid and Jesus came to pay that price. As we said earlier, when a baby is born there is much rejoicing. When Jesus was born there was much rejoicing, yet for Jesus, when He was born He had the cross always before Him. The very reason He was born was to die.

And He did die, for us. Jesus suffered physical pain and torment but more importantly was the fact that He suffered the eternal spiritual death penalty for us, in our place. Jesus suffered hell for us in our place. He paid the price for our sins. He reconciled our account with God the Father, making the balance we owe zero.

But Jesus did not stay dead. Death and the grave had no power over Him. On the third day He rose and He rose for us. He rose defeating sin, death and the devil. He rose so that we know that we too will rise again.

After He rose, He showed Himself to be alive and before He ascended into heaven, back to the place from which He descended, He promised that He would come again to take us from this valley of tears to be with Himself in heaven for eternity. Thus, we wait with eager anticipation, either for His return, or our passing on and going to Him, because when we do meet Him, He will robe us with His robes of righteousness and gather us and all His saints and take us to the place which He has prepared for us, our place of eternity in heaven.

Listen again to the word of our text and as you hear John speak these words think about this baby, and think about this Word. “1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. 14And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1-14).

Perhaps, as we see the baby in the manger, as we hear the Word of God, we might remember that the two are one and the same. And as we come to our Lord’s Holy Supper to eat His body and drink His blood we might be reminded that this is a participation in Him so that His life is our life, His suffering is our suffering, His death is our death and His resurrection is our resurrection. Yes, we have forgiveness, life and salvation. And so we are moved to rejoice and say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Star - Christmas Eve - December 24, 2011 - Text: Matthew 1:18-25

This evening we continue to look at the various customs, traditions and symbols of Christmas. As we have been saying, it is important that we do take the time to look at the customs, traditions and symbols we use to make sure they are being done the way they were intended when they were first initiated and to make sure they continue to carry the same meaning as when they were first begun. If our custom or tradition takes away from or interferes with its intended meaning then it is no longer an adiaphor nor is it wise or advisable to continue its usage. With this understanding in mind we turn our attention this evening to look at the symbol of Christmas of the star.

Interestingly enough, outside the Biblical account of the star leading the wisemen, the Magi or the kings as they have been designated, to the toddler Jesus, there is not really any other accounting for the star of Christmas. In other words, unlike the Christmas Tree and Candles and Christmas Light which may have pagan or other roots and which have taken on much more secular meaning in our world today, the same cannot be said of the Christmas star. The star is what it is and certainly that is a good thing.

As for any secular meaning in the Star of Christmas today, certainly the star is considered a light of heaven. When we look up into the sky, at night, and perhaps away from the city and the city lights, we can see the star amongst a plethora of stars in the heavens. So again, secularly speaking, the star is a nice pretty sight at night and makes for a nice addition to the Christmas scene.

Unfortunately, for many the star is simply another Christmas decoration, like the creche, the candy cane, an angel, or the Santa and reindeer. For some the star makes for a nice tree topper, that or an angel. For others the star may be encapsulated in the lights that are often hung on one’s house. Again, secularly speaking, the star is simply a nice piece of Christmas decoration.

For some, the star continues to be the symbol of Christmas in that it was the guide for the wisemen. Of course, as we have discussed before, the wisemen did not show up at the barn or cave where Jesus was born and they did not present their gifts to the child while He was still in the manger. The star lead the wisemen so that they showed up to the house where the child was and this was probably about a year or a year and a half after the child was born.

To those who would deny Christmas and the miraculous star of Christmas, there are many explanations to explain away any divine phenomena. Of course, this explaining away is what the secularist, the agnostics and the atheists continue attempt to do and must do in order to deny God and their own accountability to God. Anyway, some have explained the star as a nova, or a comet. Some have explained the star as a convergence of planets. But the main point in explaining away the star is to deny God’s hand in creation, in Christmas, and in the miraculous appearance of a star to lead the Magi from the east to the baby Jesus. Interestingly enough, any attempt at any explanation is a subtle admission that a wondrous star did appear.

So, what is so special about the star today? Why do we continue to have the star as a symbol of Christmas when actually it is more a symbol of Epiphany? It is my hope that the star of Christmas brings to mind several important truths which we learn from God’s Word and which should permeate our Christian faith and lives.

First and foremost the star reminds us of creation. And let me remind you, God did not create the Sun, the moon and the stars until the fourth day of creation. Yes, on the first day the first thing God created was light, but we do not know what type of light that was that He created, only that it was light. On the fourth day of creation God created the Sun, moon and stars and placed them into His creation in order to mark time, days, weeks, months and years, time which He created for us as we read in Genesis, “14And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, 15and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.’ And it was so. 16And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good” (Gen. 1:14-18). When we see the stars of heaven, certainly we are reminded that God created all things out of nothing.

Second, the star reminds us of Christ’s birth. As we read in Matthew’s Gospel, “9After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh” (Matthew 2:9-11). Very often we see the star placed over the manger or the stable reminding us that it was the star that led the wisemen, the first non-Jews, the first Gentiles to visit the baby Jesus, although as we have noted, their visit was not in the stable, but in the house where they were at this time.

And third, the star reminds us of Christ the light of the world. In his Gospel, John says, “1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:1-5). Although we live in a sin darkened world, although as sinners we like the darkness, because it hides our sins, or so we believe, Jesus is the light that shines in the darkness to expose our sin and the sin of the world, but not simply for the sake of exposing sin, but in order to bring confession and forgiveness for our sin and for the sin of the world, for the sin of all people of all places of all times.

As we have outlined this evening, the star is indeed a most fitting symbol of Christmas and the custom and tradition of using stars for decorations and referencing the star is highly appropriate. This evening as we begin our Christmas celebration we too look at the star and we are reminded of the words of our text, “18Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ 22All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us). 24When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus” (Matt. 1:18-25). My prayer is that the star of Jesus, the star of Bethlehem, even all the stars in heaven might always remind you of God’s love for you and the sending of His Son for you. Even more, my prayer is that the star might remind you that Jesus is the Light of the world who draws all people to Himself so that He might give them the gifts He has to give, faith, forgiveness of sins, life and salvation, and even at the last, robing us with His robes of righteousness. And finally, my prayer is that the star of Christmas might guide you so that you are strengthened and kept in faith, so that you are better prepared to give an answer for your faith in Jesus, and so that when your last hour is at hand or when the Lord returns you might be ready, with all the saints, to stand before the Lord’s throne and say, to God be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Lifestyle Evangelism is . . . Not Politically Correct.

The media tells me I am to be politically correct, which translates into being tolerant of alternative lifestyles, religions, beliefs, and so forth. Pushed to its ultimate conclusion, being politically correct means being anti-Christian. Even the religious community tells me that I am to be all inclusive, which is another way of saying to be politically correct (read, anti-Christian). As a pastor and member of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (not any of the other synods), I am reminded that I need to be true to God’s Word and to the confessions (to which I have pledged to be faithful and with which I have no problem); yet, this practice is offensive to many, even in the religious and Christian world, and even to some in our own church denomination. So what is a person to do?

As I write these Lifestyle Evangelism tips I strive to make them unoffensive, non-threatening, and as little work as possible (for you) because that way makes everyone the happiest. Unfortunately, making everyone happy is also beyond my ability. No matter what I write, I will offend some, and I will be a threat to others. By some, I will be accused of mixing and commingling law and Gospel as I talk in terms of sanctification, that is, living out our faith and doing the good works which God has prepared in advance for us to do. For many, these excuses will justify not reading these tips and ultimately will justify one’s sitting on one’s grace. I guess we are people who understand that “any excuse is a good excuse” to keep from having to live our faith.

For others, it is my prayer that these Lifestyle Evangelism tips will be an inspiration which will encourage them in doing the good works which God intends for them to do. Above all, I ask you to remember that it is God who gives you faith, so it is also God who stirs in you and motivates you to do the good works He has for you to do. It is also God who does the good work in and through you. And it is to God that we give the glory, thus making it a good work in His eyes.
46 of 52 © Rev. Ronald A. Bogs

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Lifestyle Evangelism is . . . Complete Commitment.

I would like to share with you a fiction article from a fictional Marxist newspaper that I came across a few years back:
The Gospel is a much more powerful weapon for the renewal of society than is our Marxist philosophy. All the same, it is we who will finally beat you. We are only a handful, and you Christians are numbered by the millions. But if you remember the story of Gideon and his three hundred companions, you will understand why I am right. We Communists do not play with words. We are realists, and seeing that we are determined to achieve our object, we know how to handle the means. Of our salaries and wages we keep only what is strictly necessary; we give up the rest for propaganda purposes; to this propaganda we also consecrate “all our free time and part of our holidays.”

You, however, give only a little time and hardly any money for the spreading of the Gospel of Christ. How can anyone believe in the supreme value of this Gospel if you do not practice it, if you do not spread it, and if you sacrifice neither time nor money for it?

Believe me, it is we who will win, for we believe in our Communist message and we are ready to sacrifice everything, even our life, in order that the social justice shall triumph. But you people are afraid to soil your hands.
From Paiz Et Liberte
A French Communist Publication
(taken from Why No Revival? - Chick Publication)

Although I do not agree with (or like) completely what the article says, I do believe it says some pretty powerful things to us as Christians. What do we give for the spreading of the Gospel? Do we give dollars for missions . . . so we do not have to tell anyone because we have paid for someone to do it for us? Do we realize that our unbelieving friends are damned to hell for eternity? Are we more afraid of man or God?

My Lifestyle Evangelism tip is simply take advantage of the training available here at St. Matthew, Adult Bible Class, other Bible Studies, Worship, resource people as well as personal training through personal devotions and Bible study. Then, put your training into practice. Show with your life that your relationship with Jesus is the first priority in your life.
45 of 52 © Rev. Ronald A. Bogs

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Impossible - December 18, 2011 - Fourth Sunday in Advent - Text: Luke 1:26-38

Excitement is in the air. Can you feel it? We have lighted our fourth, and last, candle on the Advent wreath. There are only seven days left until our celebration of the birth of God in human flesh, Emmanuel, Christ the Lord. It is only seven days till Christmas. To anyone hearing the news which is being proclaimed for the first time this news must certainly sound unbelievable, even impossible. Think about it, angels announcing the births of children, John the Baptist and Jesus. An old man and an old woman, well past child bearing years, giving birth to a child. A virgin giving birth to a child and to a child who is to be God in flesh, no less. If this were the first time we were hearing this news we might say, “impossible.” But, as the angel told Mary, “nothing will be impossible with God” (v. 37).

This morning we are back in the Gospel of Luke. Luke you might remember is our faithful Doctor and Historian. Luke is very specific and precise in his account, wanting to make sure that we have the facts and the historic setting right. Luke wants us to know that this is not just a story, a made up fable, a myth or just pretend. He wants us to know that these events actually happened in human history.

What Luke says about Mary is that she was chosen by God. The angels greeting was, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” (v.28). Notice, it was not Mary who greeted the angel, but the angel who greeted Mary. It was not that Mary had chosen God, but that God had chosen her. It was not because of some innate goodness that God chose her, but simply that she is the one He chose. Again, Luke is precise in his words, he tells us about Mary, “She was greatly troubled at [the angels] saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be” (v. 29). Mary was a sinner that is why she was afraid to be in the presence of an angel of the Lord. And it was the angel, again, who assured Mary, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God” (v. 30). I must confess, I get pretty perturbed when I see any kind of depiction, written or art work, depicting the angel in submission to Mary, down on bended knee, even kissing Mary’s hand. Or when I hear of Mary’s, supposed perfection or of her perpetual virginity. Notice, again, the words of our text, Mary was frightened. Certainly the Apostle Paul reminds us that perfection and perfect love casts out all fear, but in our text we read that Mary was afraid. She was afraid because she knew she was not perfect, but that she, too, was a sinful human being standing in the presence of this messenger of God, this angel. It was not Mary who was the catalyst in these events, but God who chose Mary. But, I am carrying on.

Luke continues telling us about these events, the angels words to Mary continue, “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus” (v. 31). Now Mary is pretty young, anywhere from thirteen to sixteen years old. She has reached puberty and she does know how babies are conceived and born. She also knows that she is betrothed and that she and her fiancee, literally her betrothed husband, have never had relations. She knows that she is a virgin and that it is physically impossible for her to have a baby, so she naively asks, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” Unlike Zechariah’s question of doubt concerning the birth of John the Baptist, Mary was not questioning God’s ability, she was merely questioning the procedure of the events. And so, the angel explains what will happen, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; Therefore the child to be born will be called holy–the Son of God” (v. 35). And to emphasis his point, the angel adds, “Your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren” (v. 36). Again, what Luke is telling us might, to the first time hearer, sound rather impossible and humanly speaking, it is impossible, but not so with God.

Luke goes on, he tells us more about Jesus. He tells us that about Jesus, “The Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (v. 32b-33). This baby, Jesus, will be truly human. He will be from the human line of David, the once mighty King of Israel. He will be truly human as He will be born of a woman, Mary. Jesus will be one hundred percent a human being, but He will be different from us because He will be born without sin. This fact will be accomplished because, not only is He human, but He is also one hundred percent God.

Again, Luke tells us about Jesus that He will be conceived in Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, thus He will be true God. Jesus is, as Matthew tells us, “Immanuel, which means, God with us” (Mt.1:23).

This morning we continue to rejoice with the news that Luke brings to us. Luke tells us the facts. He puts them in their historic context. Luke tells us who Jesus is (v.32) and what He will do (v.33). He tells us who Jesus is and as he is telling us who Jesus is, he is also showing how this Jesus is the Jesus who was promised throughout the Old Testament. He tells us what Jesus will do and, again, as he tells us what Jesus will do, he is also showing how this Jesus is the Jesus who was promised throughout the Old Testament. Just check out the last verse from our Old Testament reading for today. God’s promise to David continues in Jesus. “And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16). Jesus, the human descendant of David, will reign and rule on His throne in heaven forever.

As I have said, someone who is hearing this story for the first time might exclaim, “impossible.” And, yes, we must admit that this story does sound a bit far fetched. Let me review. An angel comes to a young teenager who has never had any sexual relations with any man or boy and the angel says that she will become pregnant by the power of God and the child she will bear will be both God and human. That does not sound very scientific or realistic especially in our world today. Or, let us explain it this way, suppose Mary were to try to explain this to her parents. “Well, you see, mom and dad, there was this angel. And this angel came to me and said that I would become pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit. Really, I have never had sexual relations with anyone. Oh, yeah, the angel also said that this baby would be both human and divine.” I think you are getting the idea, this sounds impossible, at least, humanly impossible.

Let me add one more bit of discomfort. In Mary’s day, the penalty for sexual promiscuity, for adultery, that is, for sexual relations outside of marriage, was stoning, to death. Now, Mary needs to come up with an explanation, not only for her fiancee, and for her parents, but also for the general public. Again, who would believe such a story? It all sounds impossible.

But there is that one verse which we read earlier, the one where the angel reminds Mary and us, “For nothing will be impossible with God” (v. 37). Mary’s response to those words are words of faith, “‘I am the servant of the Lord,’ Mary answered. ‘Let it be to me according to your word’” (v. 38). The angels words are words which reminds us that the God we worship is not a wimpy God, but a great and all powerful God, a God with whom nothing is impossible. And Mary’s words remind us of what our attitude should be as she graciously submitted to the will of the Lord.

We live in a world in which many things happen, and in which many things that happen do seem rather unbelievable. As Christians, as believers in Jesus, we worship a God who is almighty, all knowing, everywhere present, and so on. We worship a God who is the one who gave us this world in the first place. He is the one who gives us life at conception and new life through Holy Baptism and faith. He is the one who gives us the faith to believe His Word and what He tells us in His Word. He is the one who made the first promise to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to send a Savior to bring us back into a right relationship with Himself, a relationship which was broken because of the sin of Adam and Eve. We worship a God who gives us His Word which tells us of the many times in which He reiterated His promise to send a Savior. God’s Word is so full of many of the great deeds which our God has done for us. And our Bible does not have all of Jesus’ deeds recorded as John tells us, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” (John 21:25).

Our response is the response of Mary, to be the servants of the Lord, to spread the News of Salvation. The world says, “impossible,” we say, “with God, all things are possible.” Day in and day out we bear witness of the “impossible” things our Lord does. He gives faith, He strengthens faith, He keeps us in faith. He gives forgiveness of sins. He protects from sin, death and the power of the devil. What a great and almighty God we do have. We do not have a God who is powerless, but a God who can do all things. We worship a God for whom nothing is “impossible.”

It is so important that each year we rehear this “impossible” event. The same God who created all things, and the same all things which were created perfect and yet gave up that perfection through disobedience and sin, this same God promised to reconcile the world to Himself. Yes, we are, today, sinners living in an imperfect, sinful world. Left to ourselves it would be impossible for us to be saved. Left to ourselves we would follow after false gods and idols. Left to ourselves we would worship the creation instead of the Creator, we would worship the mother instead of the child. Thanks be to God that we are not left to ourselves. Thanks be to God that in order to save us He became one of us, He took on human flesh and blood. He humbled Himself and was born of a woman, Mary. He lived perfectly, for us, in our place. He took all our sins upon Himself and suffered and died so that we might have forgiveness of sins and so that we might be brought back into a right relationship with Himself. What is truly impossible for us is not impossible for God. For with God, all things are possible. Which leaves us simply to stand in awe of our great God and to say, to Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Lifestyle Evangelism is . . . Being Hot.

I want to begin by asking you to ask yourself several questions. Answer them as honestly as you can, not the way you think I would want them answered, not as honestly as you feel comfortable with, because if we are really honest, we may not feel too comfortable with the answers we have to give. This survey does not intend to point only to a certain group of people, so some of the questions might not refer to you. If not, you may want to re-word them to fit your life.

As you attend your children’s or siblings’ sports events this year, what do your actions say to those other fans in the stands? As you sit at home with friends and neighbors viewing your favorite sport (or any show, for that matter), what do your actions say to your friends? Your family schedule and your relationships with your spouse, children, and siblings what do these say about your life, priorities, and self? Your attitudes and actions at work, home, and school are telling people what? Does your life give it away that you are (or for that matter, are not) a Christian?

“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:15-16). These are the words our Lord states to the church at Laodicea, and they are just as valid for us today. Are you hot or cold for the Lord? Are you turned on or turned off? Do you turn on or turn off others to Jesus Christ? The Lord does not want lukewarm Christians. He wants turned on, “hot” Christians.

It is always the right time to rededicate your life, committing yourself, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to being “hot” for the Lord. It is always the time to invite your circle of influence, those acquaintances, family, or friends you know who are not presently Christian or churched, to get into the habit of attending church. Watch the bulletin, the newsletter, and calendar for upcoming worship, study, and service opportunities.
44 of 52 © Rev. Ronald A. Bogs

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Candles - Advent Mid-week 3 - December 14, 2011 - Text: Matthew 5:14-15

Again this evening we continue to look at some of the traditions, customs and symbols of Christmas. Our purpose is somewhat to review what we do and why we do what we do. Does what we do enhance, take away from, or is neutral to our celebration? This evening we want to talk about our custom of lighting candles.

We should realize that lighting candles is a custom of many religions for many different reasons. The lighting of candles among other things, signifies love, prayer, passion and hope. One source I read said that Christians see candles as ‘Christ’s Light’ and suggested that the lighting of candles on Christmas Eve comes from the Jewish ‘Feast of Lights’ or Hanukkah. Of course this fact should neither surprise us nor discourage our usage of candles, after all, as Christians, as believers in Jesus we are the true children of Abraham and thus the true Israel.

Another source I read said that since earliest times, candles have symbolized the triumph of light over darkness, warmth over cold, community over isolation. It went on to say that Ancient Romans lit candles as a defense against evil and to entreat the sun to shine. During Victorian times candles represented goodwill to folks who were down on their luck during the holiday season. In many cultures throughout history people placed candles in their windows to welcome passing strangers into their homes where they could find food and a roof over their heads for the night.

On the negatives side, I read that some cultures have bestowed supernatural powers upon candles, believing that they could predict tragic events. In England, instead of a Yule log, families would burn large candles on Christmas Day. If the candle went out before the day’s end, it was believed that those who lived in the household would have misfortune for the coming year, I would suppose a larger candle might be in the plans for the next year. In Scotland, people believed that the Christmas candle dying before Midnight meant the coming of a great disaster. Danish families often lit a candle to symbolize the wife of the household and another to symbolize the husband; the first candle to burn out would foretell which one of them would be the first to die. In Scandinavian countries, families would leave candles on the graves of their ancestors, most likely because of the old Viking belief that during the winter solstice the dead rose to haunt the living. Certainly we know that there is no scientific evidence, nor any other evidence proving the ability of candles to tell the future. We do know that they bring a touch of warmth, light, and beauty into what might otherwise be a cold, dreary season.

As for the symbolism of candles around the world, we know that to Christians, candles symbolize Jesus, who brought light into the world, or rather, who is the Light of the world. I read that during the Middle Ages, people put candles in their windows to guide the Christ child, whom they believed wandered through the world in search of a place to stay; on that night no wayfarer was turned away. Candles also came to symbolize the Star of Bethlehem, which guided the wise men to Jesus’ birthplace. During the Middle Ages people would light a large candle both at home and in church, and families during Victorian times used pins or melted wax to attach candles to Christmas tree branches. Candle holders didn’t come into use until 1890. In Spain, families light a candle above the door on Christmas Eve. In China, Christians adorn their Christmas trees with lanterns, and Christians in some parts of India use clay oil-burning lamps.

As for our modern world, last week we talked about the significance of the candles on the Advent Wreath and week before last we talked a little about the lights on the Christmas tree. Today we see, not only candles, but our modern equivalent, the light bulb, burning brightly at Christmas time. We do still see candles burning, but we see lights on houses, in windows, on trees, in the yard, on the roofs of house and so forth.

Might I suggests that just as in days past and just as in other cultures, much of the reason for the lighting of candles has remained the same for as many years. And even today, the reason for our modern electric candle, the decorating with lights is probably not all from altruistic reasons.

On the negative side, too often I see more houses today decorated with Halloween decorations or Easter bunny and Santa decorations than actual Christmas decorations. Our world has turned so inward that instead of looking outside ourselves to find our joy and peace, we look inward and seek to find joy and peace from this world and the things of this world, and then we wonder why we are so not at peace and not full of joy and happiness.

On the positive side, we do have Christians who decorate their houses for the purpose of drawing attention to the coming celebration of the birth of the Savior of the world. We see houses with a manger scene prominently displayed. We see houses with a star on top. We see Christmas trees with an angel or star on top. And periodically we see a Christmas tree with a nail hidden in the center near the trunk as a reminder of the reason for the Christmas tree. We may even see houses with a cross prominently displayed in the front.

The question we must always and continually ask ourselves is this, “Why do we do what we do?” and at this time of year, more specifically, “Why do we light candles?” Do we light candles as a part of our preparation, focusing our attention on the reason for the season, or do we simply light candles, put up lights and the like because that is what everyone is supposed to do this time of year?

Our modern world has made such advances in candles that now, not only do candles offer light, they also offer smell, thus scented candles might bring the scent of the pine or fir tree, or perhaps the scent of apple pie, cookies, cinnamon, or whatever other smell might remind one of their own Christmas as a child. Thus, for many the symbolism of the candle has all but vanished so that it is simply an esthetically pleasing sight and smell. And please do not misunderstand, I am not saying that any of this estheticism is bad, in and of itself, it is simply that for too many any symbolic meaning of the candles has been lost. Yet, even though much, if not all of the symbolism has been lost, so candles as well as modern lights can still serve the function of drawing one’s attention to meaning of the season, which perhaps is the goal in the first place.

Personally, we put up lights as a witness to our community of our Christian faith and our hope in the birth of the Messiah and in His second coming. We put up lights so as to draw attention to the fact of the coming celebration of the birth of the Christ at Christmas. As our Scripture reading reminds us, “14You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house” (Matt. 5:14, 15). Now, certainly, not everything we do is for altruistic reasons, and I am sure God knows that, but I am also certain that God can and does work through our witness, our decorations, our lighting candles, not to give a false impression or lead others astray, but to be a light to the world and as an opportunity to give a witness of the hope that we have. My prayer is that our lighting candles might say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Lifestyle Evangelism is . . . Gospel Dissemination.

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander” (1 Peter 3:15-16 ).

Christ’s command is that we are always ready to give an account, a reason, for the hope that is in us. Are you ready to tell someone about your hope for eternal life in heaven given to you by faith in Christ Jesus? Notice that Peter does not say, “If your gift is evangelism, be ready to give a reason . . . .” He simply says, “Be ready,” and “Do this with gentleness and respect . . . .” Some people think they are too quiet or shy to be evangelists. Peter indicates that they, the quiet and shy people, are the ones who make the best evangelists.

On the other hand, Matthew 10:19-20 tells us that we are not to worry about what we will say, “Do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” This Scripture adds to what Peter says in that, not only are we to be ready to give a reason, but we are not to worry because the Holy Spirit will speak the reason through us. For most Lutherans, that expectation sounds scary, but actually it is a great feeling for the Holy Spirit to speak through one. Through our daily devotions and Bible study, worship, and Sunday School classes, we fill our minds with the words the Holy Spirit uses to speak through us. Therefore, these things are very important.

And one more thing. We do not have to worry about messing up or thinking we might mess up, because we know that it is the Holy Spirit, not we, who is doing the work. God’s strength is shown in our weakness. To quote Stephen C. Stohlmann from Concordia, St. Paul, Minnesota; “God’s grace is so wonderful that He takes our imperfections, our stuttering tongues, or poor, bad, and negative witnesses, our blunders and more through our mistakes than through our success does He communicate the Gospel to our sin filled world. It does not matter how bad WE mess up God can and does use it for good. We are to never be ashamed of the Gospel, nor of our poor witness, because we know that God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness.”

Be a part of Bible Class so that you might fill up with all the good “stuff” the Holy Spirit will use to speak the Gospel through you. To God always be the glory.
43 of 52 © Rev. Ronald A. Bogs

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Getting Ready - December 11, 2011 - Third Sunday in Advent - Text: John 1:6-8, 19-28

This morning our count down to Christmas continues. We have lighted the third Advent Candle and we have only fourteen days left until we once again celebrate the birth of the Savior of the world, Christ the Lord. Are we ready for Christmas? How do we get ready for Christmas? How do we prepare? And how do we get ready and how do we know we are ready for Jesus’ second coming? Those are the questions we have been asking over the past couple of weeks and the questions we continue to ask, and prayerfully answer today.

John the Baptist came to get the people ready for the work of the Messiah. John began his work some thirty years after Jesus’ birth on that first Christmas. John came to testify concerning the Messiah, the Christened One or the Christ, the Savior. Our text puts it these terms, “[John] came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light” (John 1:7-8). Our Lord wanted to make sure that the world did not miss the coming of His Son, so He sent a messenger, John the Baptist, to prepare the people for His coming. John came, not to call attention to himself, but to point the people to the Messiah, or as he calls Him in our text, to the Light.

Jesus is the Light. He is the Light that shines bright in the darkness. He is the Light who draws all people to Himself. In much the same way as a very small light will brighten up a very dark room, so Jesus is a very bright light who came to brighten up the universe. In much the same way that we are drawn to a light in order to be able to see better, so we are drawn to Jesus who helps us to see clearly.

So John came to testify concerning the coming of the Light of the world. He came to call all people to faith so that all people might believe in the Messiah. John never speaks about himself, he only talks about the Light. He only points to Jesus.

When he was questioned by the priest and Levites John made his confession concerning Jesus. “He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, ‘I am not the Christ’” (John 1:20). John knew that he was not the one who came to give his life for the people. He knew that he was not the Christened or anointed one. He knew that he was not the Messiah and so he freely confessed that he was not the Savior.

Rather, John did confess that he came to prepare the way for the Messiah. John’s work and calling were simply to call the people to be ready for the coming Messiah. His work was to point, not to himself, but to Jesus. Notice how, when they asked him pointedly, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” (John 1:22b). John’s reply was to point to Christ. In the words of Isaiah the prophet John says, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’” (John 1:23b).

And John knew his limitations. He tells the people, I baptize with water for the remission of sins. I am here to call you to turn from your ways of sin and unbelief, to forgiveness and faith. I am here to call you from following the gods and idols of this world, to believe the words of Holy Scripture concerning the coming of the Savior.

Again, he was questioned by the Pharisees who asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” (John 1:25b). Although we are told elsewhere that John came in the spirit of Elijah, he confesses that he himself is not Elijah. Many among the Jewish people expected the return of Elijah, whom you might remember did not die, but was bodily assumed into heaven, or they were expecting the return of a variety of persons in association with the coming of the Messiah, thus, the barrage of questions to John. John confesses, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even He who comes after me, the strap of of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie” (John 1:26-27). Again, John knows his place. He knows his role. He came, not pointing to himself, but pointing to the coming of the Messiah.

In much the same way as John came to get the people of his day ready for Jesus’ first coming, so we read and hear his words still today to help us get ready to celebrate Jesus’ birth. At the same time, our getting ready for Christmas today is also much different than that of John’s day. Please bear with me as I bring to mind some of our customs today of getting ready for Christmas and especially as we have been talking about some of these customs at our Wednesday evening services, and as I attempt to put them into a Christian perspective. Today our getting ready for Christmas often includes putting up a Christmas tree. Our custom of putting up a Christmas tree, either real or artificial, reminds us of life. The green of the tree reminds us that we worship a living God. Very often our green tree is decorated with lights and with ornaments. The lights reminds us of the stars shining through the trees and in particular they might remind us of the star which lead the wise men to the house to see the newborn King. The tree is often topped with either a star or an angel. The star, again, reminding us of the star which lead the wise men to the house of the newborn King or the angel reminding us of all the work of the angels at this time of the year, making announcements to Zechariah and Mary, and to Joseph and the Shepherds.

Our Christmas preparations often include putting lights on the outside of our houses. Just as Jesus is the light of the world, so we would share our faith, not by hiding it under a bushel, but by letting our light shine before the world so that they might bear witness to the faith that is in our hearts.

A more recent custom is that of hanging a nail toward the center of the Christmas tree. This nail is quietly placed in remembrance of the reason for Christmas, that is that the reason the Child was born was to die, nailed to a cross. Most of the time we do not like to talk about death and dying, and especially during this season of celebrating the birth of a child death and dying talk seem so out of place. But for us Christians that is the reason for the season, the birth of this Child, God in flesh, who came to give His life, to die on the cross, to pay the price for our sins, for your sins and mine, so that we might have forgiveness and eternal life.

Our Christmas preparations often include putting a nativity set, either under the tree or out in the yard, or both. The nativity reminds us of that night on which Jesus was born. It reminds us of the fact that there was no room for Mary and Joseph in the inn and so they had to spend the night in a barn. The barn was probably not a vacant barn, but was most likely filled with barn animals, cows, sheep, a donkey, some chickens and the like. The aroma of hay filled the barn. And very often, the manger, the feeding trough for the animals, is left empty until Christmas Eve or Christmas morning when the birth of the Christ child is celebrated at which time the baby is placed in the manger.

Most of us include the custom of exchanging presents during the time of Christmas. Certainly this would remind us of the season of epiphany when the wise men came and brought gifts of gold, incense and myrrh to the baby Jesus.

For many the season of Christmas brings an anticipation of “getting” gifts. Children and adults alike anticipate “what they are going to get for Christmas.” In keeping with the eight commandment and in putting the best construction on everything, I pray this anticipation is also an anticipation of “getting” or begin given the greatest gift of all, the gift of God’s grace through His Son, Jesus.

For some there is the custom of baking a cake to celebrate the birth of the Savior of the world. Christmas is the day we celebrate the birth of the Savior, Jesus Himself. Just as we have a custom of baking and eating cake for our own birthdays, why not celebrate Jesus birthday with a birthday cake.

My intent this morning is not to exhaust all the customs that we Christians have or all the traditions each and every family has during the season of Christmas. I simply wanted to name a few in comparison and contrast to the preparation which happened at Jesus’ first coming. Sometimes it is good to take a look at the traditions we have in order to understand why we do what we do and that we are doing what we are doing not just for the sake of doing something. Some of you may have heard this story before. There was a young mother who cut off the ends of the ham before putting it into a pan and into the oven. When her child asked her why she did this, she did not know why. All she could say was, “that is the way my mother always did it.” So, she called her mother to ask her way she cut off the ends of the ham before cooking it and her mother did not know either, she simply said, “that is the way my mother always did it.” So, she called her mother (who happened to still be living) to ask her why she cut off the ends of the ham before cooking it and her mother told her, “because we did not have a pan large enough for the whole ham.” Why do we do the things we do? I can think of some positive reasons for many of the customs and traditions we have at this time of the year. If I cannot, then maybe it is time I think of a different custom or tradition.

Most important in getting ready for Christmas is the getting ready, not of the physical things of our lives, but of the preparing our hearts, minds and souls for our celebration of the newborn King. We prepare ourselves by making use of the means that God has of getting us ready, His means of grace, His Word, the Bible, as well as we do every Sunday morning, confession and absolution, and His sacraments, the Lord’s Supper and Holy Baptism. As we even quietly and unassumingly prepare our own lives for our celebration of Jesus’ birth we may also be a light for others, pointing them, through our actions and words, to Jesus whose birth we celebrate. And we may also reap the benefit of continuing to get ourselves ready for Jesus’ second coming.

Hindsight is twenty-twenty as the saying goes. What we are preparing to celebrate is a done deal, and yet at the same time we continue to prepare ourselves for Jesus; second coming, on the day of judgement. We are prepared, then, when we have our hearts, minds, and soul firmly secured in Jesus, who was born, who did live a perfect life, who did take our sins upon Himself, who did suffer and die, paying the price for our sins, eternal spiritual death, who did rise from the dead, who has ascended into heaven where He is watching over us, ruling over us and interceding for us, and who is awaiting the day when He will return to robe us with His robes us righteousness and take us to be with Himself and all the saints who have gone on before us, to heaven to be with Himself for eternity.

As I have said from time to time, we do not know what might lay ahead of us in life, how much time our Lord will give us in this present world and so it is so important to always be ready. It is important to be ready for when Jesus comes again, and it is important to be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in us. May the Lord work through the means that He has given us, as we make uses of those means, in order to get us ready, so that when He does come again we might stand with all the saints and say, to Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Lifestyle Evangelism is . . . Gospel Distribution.

What would happen to a company that spent all its time, effort, and money on maintenance? What if this company spent little energy, time, or money on distribution of its product? What if this company spent all its energy on resolving inner conflicts and tension as if those were the most important issues of the company? What if this company, so intent on keeping down its overhead, especially when its overhead was spent mostly on distribution instead of internal maintenance, vetoed any type of increase in funds for such product distribution reduced such funds? What would eventually happen to this company? I think we all would agree, that in today’s world, without its spending monies on product research and development and product sales and distribution, this company would eventually fail, collapse, go bankrupt.

I personally do not like to compare a church to a business because we do not concern ourselves with profits and losses. We are not here for the purpose of making a profit. However, there are some good analogies that can be made. What kind of company are we here at St. Matthew? Is our priority the giving and distributing of the Gospel? Or is our priority maintenance of our company? Or both? How would St. Matthew fair in the business world today?

A company’s reputation is a witness and does advertise for that company. What does St. Matthew witness and advertise to our community? As firm believers in the Gospel, we will want to give a testimony of it. We will want to give it away. How can we make sure we are advertising (witnessing) the Good News?

We can start with ourselves. We individually ask the Holy Spirit to change our attitude to one that is intent on witnessing, through our lives, the Good News that Jesus is our Savior. We pray that the Lord would help us to make giving and distributing the Good News our number one priority, and we put that priority to work in our church. Also, with witnessing as a priority, the natural flow of events causes us to want to be better equipped ourselves to share the Good News. God equips us through our own personal, as well as, group study of God’s Word. Thus, as we set our priorities to those of the Great Commission, we build a stronger church for our Lord, based on the firm foundation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
42 of 52 © Rev. Ronald A. Bogs

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Advent Wreath - Advent Mid-week 2 - December 7, 2011 - Text: John 3:19-21

This evening we continue looking at some of the symbols of Christmas. As we noted last week, it is good, at times, to take a look at the traditions and customs we have in order to find their root and to ascertain if they are still relevant, even good, mete, right and salutary for us to use today. This evening we want to take some time to talk about the Christmas Symbol of the Advent Wreath.

The custom of the Advent Wreath has been around for many years and has changed somewhat over the years and remember, this is an adiaphora, something neither commanded nor forbidden, yet this is a custom as are all customs which is to be celebrated with proper respect and decorum for the Lord’s house. Although some would suggest that the candles should be white, for many years the candles were purple with one Rose candle. Recently, the color has been changed to blue, to distinguish the season of Advent from the season of Lent which makes use of the color purple as a symbol of passion. Blue is the color of hope and reminds us not only of our hope in Christ as we look to celebrating Jesus’ birth, but also as we hope for His return on the last day, or our returning to Him at our passing.

By now you know, every year I like to take the time on Sunday mornings to walk the children through the various parts of the Advent wreath, the fact that the foundation is round which reminds us that God is our foundation and God is eternal, without beginning and without end. Also, the foundation is wrapped in green reminding us that God is alive. Three of the four candles on the outside are blue, which is the color of hope and reminds us of our expectant hope of our celebration of the Messiah’s first coming which we celebrate each Christmas, but also our continued hope of His second coming when He will gather us, robe us in His robes of righteousness, and take us to be with Himself and all the saints in heaven. And by now, you know how every year, each week during advent, I talk about each specific candle, what it is called and what is its significance, well, this evening I want to walk through the five candles all at once.

The first candle is the Prophecy Candle or the Promise Candle as I like to call it because I believe it is easier to say and to remember and that is what the Advent Wreath is for, a nice way to remember, explain, and prepare ourselves for our Christmas celebration. The Prophecy Candle serves to remind us of the prophets throughout the Old Testament, which God sent, to announce the coming of the promised Savior. One such prophecy is Isaiah 9:6-7a, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.” This prophecy was given to Isaiah as he spoke to the people of his day.

The second candle is the Bethlehem Candle and reminds us that the place where God promised to fulfill His Promise or Prophecy to send the Messiah was the town of Bethlehem. The prophet Micah tells us, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2). Bethlehem was the birthplace and the city of David. Jesus was an ancestor of David and truly our King of Kings.

The third candle is the Shepherd’s Candle. The Shepherd’s Candle is the rose colored candle which signifies joy and reminds us of the joy of the shepherds as they were told by the angels of the birth of the Son of God, the Messiah. When the shepherds heard the good news from the angles they left their flocks in the fields and went with haste to find the newborn child, the One who was to be the Savior of the world. After seeing Him they returned to their flocks telling others along the way of what they had heard and seen.

The fourth candle is the Angels Candle. The Angels Candle reminds us of the angels who worked so diligently during that first advent season. It was the angel who announced to Zechariah that he and Elizabeth would give birth to a son, John, who would prepare the way for the Messiah. It was an angel who announced to Mary that she was highly favored and selected by God to be the mother of God, even the Savior. It was an angel who told Joseph in a dream that it was okay to take Mary as his wife. And now, it was an angel and a multitude of angels who announced to the shepherds that God was fulfilling His promise to send a Savior.

So, as we “read” the advent wreath, if you will, we are reminded that the God promised to send a Savior, that the Savior would be born in Bethlehem, that the shepherds were the first to hear of the birth of the Savior and that the angels were the ones to announce the birth of the Savior.

Which brings us to the last candle, the fifth candle, the center candle. The center candle is the Christ Candle and reminds us of Christ, the Messiah. It is to this center candle that all the other candles lead and about which the other candles speak. We light the Christ candle reminding us of the birth of the Christ, the Messiah on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. This Christ Candle is the same candle that remains after the advent wreath is removed and we continue to light this Christ Candle until the day of His ascension. We light this Christ Candle reminding us that Jesus is the Light of the World. Even our text for this evening reminds us, “19And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (John 3:19-21).

The advent wreath is one wonderful tradition of Christmas. It is indeed the story of Christmas wrapped up in one easy to see symbol which tells the story quite succinctly. Not only does it tell us the story, but each week it helps us visually heighten our anticipation as one candle after the other is lit as we get closer and closer to our celebration. And lest we forget, Christmas, as in the Twelve Days of Christmas, does not begin until Christmas Day and lasts for twelve days, until January 6 which is Epiphany and our celebration of the coming of the Magi to see the baby Jesus. Jesus is the light of the world. Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise made first in the Garden of Eden and reiterated to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, King David and so on through Israelite history. Jesus is the much anticipated, hoped for and longed for Messiah. Jesus is the Son of David, truly King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Jesus is the One who came for all people, from the greatest of kings to the lowliest of shepherds. Jesus is the One who deserves the announcement of His birth by the angels from on high. Each week as you look at the Advent Wreath may it remind you of the truths of God’s Word and even more fill you with hope and anticipation, not only for our celebration of His first coming, His birth in Bethlehem, but also for His second coming when Christ will come with the shout and will take us from this vale of tears to be with Himself in heaven for eternity. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Lifestyle Evangelism is . . . Unconditional Caring and Love.

One of the important principles in lifestyle evangelism is that of unconditional caring and love. The Bible says, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13).

In his book, Who Cares About Love, Dr. Win Arn does an excellent job of explaining the three principles of unconditional love. Principle number one is Always Act First. Do not wait for others to approach you, but approach them first. Some people are naturally shy and not taking the initiative could mean you may never meet this person again and that you will have lost the opportunity to make a friend.

Principle number two is Accept People As They Are. This principle is for those who think they are not good enough to associate with others as well as for those who think they are too good. Sorry, but to put it simply and bluntly, we are all equal sinners and redeemed by the blood of the Lamb in God’s eyes. Just think; if God loved that person enough to die for him/her, who are we to love him/her any less? You know, we can always find someone “worse” or “better” than we, but we must ultimately compare ourselves with Jesus.

Principle number three is Be Available. If you want your yard to look good, you have to spend time keeping it up. If you want your car to run right, you have to spend time in maintaining. If you want your marriage and family to grow and prosper, you have to spend time with your spouse and children. If you want to develop, keep, and strengthen your friendship, you have to make time to be available.

In the second half of his book, Dr. Arn talks about eight steps to loving. Let me summarize what he says: We love only as the Lord loves us and as that love flows from Him, through us, to others. God first loves us. We love others. With the Lord’s help, we “first” love others (see the Golden Rule). We communicate our love through active listening to the wants, needs and praise of others. We respond with caring gifts, not necessarily a material gift, but a gift such as forgiveness, praise, or an uplifting word. We care by sharing ourselves.

We love because Christ first loved us. God so loves us that He gave His only Son for us. How much more is it possible for us to love one another.
41 of 52 © Rev. Ronald A. Bogs

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Prepare - December 4, 2011 - Second Sunday in Advent - Text: Mark 1:1-8

Only twenty-one more days until Christmas. Are you ready? Someone once suggested that instead of our going through time, it is more like time is rushing toward us, maybe even like a freight train. Have you ever noticed how, when you are getting ready for something that, time does not stand still and wait on you, rather it just keeps coming at you, whether you are ready or not. Well, Christmas is coming, again, already and it will be here on December 25 whether we are ready or not.

This morning we focus our attention on the getting ready of the world for Jesus’ first coming. Interestingly enough, the world of Jesus’ day, that was waiting for His first coming, was probably a lot like our world today. The people of Jesus’ day were going about their lives not worrying about getting ready for anything, just living as if this world was all there was. As Jesus Himself said, “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days of the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man” (Matt. 24:37-39). So, today, as we get ready for Jesus’ second coming, and as we get ready to celebrate His first coming, we live in a world which is pretty much oblivious to Jesus and His coming again and will be oblivious until He does come again, at which time it will be too late. Just look around you at the people in our world. How often do you hear anyone express any interest in getting ready for Jesus’ coming. I am not talking about those who have a fanatical fascination about the end of this world and are looking for whatever god they have created in their own minds to appear. I am talking about how often do you hear your friends concerned about being ready either for their own death, at which time they will see God, or about getting ready for Jesus to come to take us to heaven. It is not something we dwell on. Let me assure you, it will happen. Either Christ will come again, during our own life, or we will go to Him. Either way, the question remains, are we ready? And if we are not ready, I think we need to be getting ready?

Getting to our text, I want you to keep in mind, that as we hear about the preparation and the first coming of Jesus, this all parallels with our preparation to celebrate Jesus’ first coming and our getting ready for His second coming. The people of Jesus day did have and we today do have the promise, God’s promise to send a Savior. In Jesus’ day the people had the Word of God which foretold that a messenger would come to prepare the way for the Messiah. In our Old Testament reading for this morning we heard the same words the people of Jesus’ day were hearing, that one would come calling to prepare the way for the Messiah.

And what would the messenger come calling. He would come to call all people to repentance. Repentance is defined as turning. Repentance is turning 180 degrees, that is to turn away from sin to go the opposite direction, the direction of not sinning. When we say we are sorry it means nothing unless we are determined, with the help of God, to turn from what we are doing wrong to do something different, what is right. Too often it happens in our world that we think that if we just say, “I’m sorry,” then we can go on and do whatever it is we have been doing, because we can always say, “I’m sorry,” again. Repentance means turning from the direction you were going and instead, going in the right direction.

In our text for this morning Mark begins by reminding us of the promises which were made and now he is laying out the fulfillment of those promises. John the Baptist is the one who came calling in the wilderness to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah. John came calling the people to repentance. He came calling them to turn from their ways of sin to a way of not sinning.

John came calling the people to be baptized. His baptism was a baptism for repentance. What you need to know and understand about John and the people of John’s day, and really, about many religious groups and organizations even today, as well as our own Christian church, is that baptism, that is religious washings were and are pretty important parts of religious activity. For John to call the people to be washed, to be baptized, was not an unusual calling for the people. They were used to such religious callings.

However, John’s calling was different in this respect, he came pointing not to himself and his own thoughts, feelings and ideas, but he came pointing to the Messiah, the One who was to come to be the Savior of the world. The One who was promised from of old. The One who would come to give His life for the lives of all people.

About the Messiah, John tells us that He will come baptizing with the Holy Spirit. You might recall that on the day of Pentecost Jesus sent the Holy Spirit, the counselor, to give the people the strength and the courage, even His authority and promise, to spread the news of Jesus to the rest of the World. Still, today, we are baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit comes into us at our Baptism in order to give us faith, forgiveness and life, even to strengthen us and give us the courage not only to live our lives to the glory of the Lord, but to share our faith with others.

About the Messiah, John tells us that He will come giving forgiveness. John refers to Jesus as the Lamb of God. In the same way that a lamb was sacrificed, that a lamb’s blood was shed, to remind the people that the cost of sin is death (someone’s life), so Jesus, God’s Son, came to give His life. Jesus came to shed His blood, to offer His life for ours. It is through His death that our sins are forgiven and that we have the promise of eternal life.

Again, John tells us that Jesus comes giving the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who gives faith, strengthens faith and keeps us in faith until Christ comes again. Notice John’s focus. Notice Mark’s focus. Their focus in not on themselves, it is not on us. Their focus and our focus is always a focus on the one who saves, Jesus Christ alone.

Which brings us to our preparation. Are we ready to celebrate Jesus’ first coming, that is Christmas? And are we ready for Jesus’ second coming? If we are not ready, then, now, more than ever, is the time to get ready. So how do we prepare our hearts, minds and souls for Jesus?

We prepare ourselves by recognizing that our time on this earth is short and is fading fast. Have you ever taken the time to look at the obituaries in the newspaper? The listings are sometimes two, three and four pages long. And the list includes people of any and all ages, any and all ethnic backgrounds, any and all religious persuasions. The list includes people who are a few days old all the way to people who are eighty, ninety and even a hundred years old. When will the Lord return? We do not know. When will we die? That we do not know either. How much time do we have on this earth? Again, we do not know. All we know is that we need to be ready at any time and at all times, because we will meet the Lord, either at His return or at our going to Him. It will happen, thus, we prepare ourselves by having an urgency about being ready.

We prepare ourselves by making use of the means that God has given us to get ready, His means of Grace, His Word, the Bible, confession and absolution, and His Sacraments, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These are the means that God uses to come to us to give us His good gifts and blessings. We go to Him in prayer. He comes to us through His means of grace. When we absent ourselves from these means we remove His usual means of coming to us to give us His gifts. It is very much like failing to go to the grocery story to purchase food for our bodies. When we do not go to the grocery store we have no food in the pantry and we starve physically. When we fail to go to God’s Word store, when we absent ourselves from divine service and Bible Class, when we fail to read His Word, we starve spiritually. To use an analogy appropriate for the season of Christmas, failing to make use of the means of grace is like waking up on Christmas morning and refusing the presents that have been purchased especially for you. It is like saying to God, “No gifts for me today Lord, I have plenty, maybe next week.”

We prepare ourselves by being on guard against the enemies that constantly attack; the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature. We live in a world which is trying to tear down your Christian faith. The world attacks you on every side. It brings false conclusions and expects that you accept them as truth. Such false conclusions as, “everyone else is doing it,” meaning that majority rule equals truth. But we know it does not. We hear such false conclusions as “it’s the twenty-first century,” as if newness equals truth, and that is not necessarily so. We hear false proclaimers misuse God’s name suggesting that there are things we need and must do in order to gain salvation. As I continually remind my confirmands and those in Bible class, watch who is doing what. You know what a verb is and you know what a noun is. Watch who is running the verbs. If someone is suggesting that you run the verbs, that there is something you need to do to be saved, then be wary. But if someone is telling you what Jesus is doing, how He is running the verbs, then you know that they are on the right track. Do not let the devil con you into believing anything except the Gospel of Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

Most importantly we prepare ourselves by letting God run the verbs, the show, by letting God prepare us. Remember, everything is a done deal. Jesus has already lived perfectly for us, in our place. Jesus has already suffered and died, paying the price for our sins. Jesus has already risen and ascended into heaven where He is seated at the right hand of the Father, watching over us, ruling over us and interceding for us. Jesus is getting ready to return when He will gather us and all the saints, robe us with His robes of righteousness and take us to be with Himself in heaven for eternity. Until that day we continue to get ready and be ready. We continue to be where the gifts are given out. We continue to revel in the gifts, rejoicing in being given to. My prayer for you is that the Lord will fill you with His Holy Spirit. That the Holy Spirit will guide you and prepare you so that you are ready, so that when Jesus comes again we might stand together with all the saints and proclaim, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Lifestyle Evangelism is . . . life in action.

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31 NIV). Paul’s words, originally sent to the Christians at Corinth, are meant for us today. As the Corinthian Christians slipped into the habit of resting on their grace, so we fall into that same habit today. Paul’s message is that we are indeed free as Christians, but with freedom comes the responsibility not to abuse our freedom. We have the privilege (responsibility, or as Luther would say, duty) to live our lives to God’s glory.

What makes this profound news a lifestyle evangelism tip? Simply this: Jesus did not give us the command to go out and convert people. He gave us the command to go out and make disciples. He gave us the command always to be ready to give an answer for the hope we have in our faith in Him. One way we make disciples is by our actions. You know the old saying, “Actions speak louder than words.” Add to this wisdom the fact that Paul says to do all things to the glory of God, and you have a super witness.

Apply this adage to your daily life, at home, at play, at work. Have you ever thought, “What would Jesus do if He were to make the decision I have to make?” (Understanding that it is only with His help that we can ask or make such a decision and carry it out.) The reality of this is that, because of our living in such a pluralistic society, we may not want to use the above question as a criteria for our decisions; it just is not practical, we often think. Try it.

Being a good witness is not converting a lot of people. You may never even see any fruits of your labor (converts). Being a witness simply means letting Christ live in you in such a way that whatever you do, you do to God’s glory. To God always be the glory.
40 of 52 © Rev. Ronald A. Bogs