Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Week Four of Advent

The Fourth Sunday of Advent

Today's Reading: John 1:19-28
Daily Lectionary: Isaiah 40:1-17; Revelation 7:1-17

John answered them, saying, "I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know. "It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose." (John 1:26-27)

In the Name + of Jesus. Amen. As Christmas approaches, the world reaches a near fever-pitch of commercialism: stores trying to get every last customer in for the last big sale, lights and trees and decorations and Santa and reindeer and secular Christmas songs. It's really overdone and gets old quickly.  But in all of that, there's very little Jesus. The world rushes toward Christmas without any idea of the Who behind Christmas. There comes One whom they do not know.

Many people cry out “Keep Christ in Christmas”, but even that can become an overused slogan. What does it even mean? The truth is, few people, even many Christians, rejoice that Christ was born for this reason: to grow up and die. John the Baptist isn't exercising some super-humility when he says that he is not even worthy to untie Jesus' sandal. He's pointing out that the Lamb of God is far above us by being so far below us. Jesus came to be not the greatest, but the least. Not the best but the worst. Not the holiest, but the most sinful.  Even though He was all of those good things, He took on all of those bad things for your sake. For your salvation.

The preaching of John the Baptist is that the One who comes after him— Jesus— is the Savior. Jesus is the One who is going to save the world by His death and resurrection. He is the One who will send the Holy Spirit, baptize sinners, absolve them and give them His Body and Blood to eat and drink. He is the Lamb of God who was before all and has saved us all.

Just because Jesus' name is still remembered as the “reason for the season” doesn't mean people know Him.  The real “reason for the season” isn't so much “Jesus is born” as it is “Jesus is born to grow up and suffer and die and rise as our Savior.” In that, the preaching of John the Baptist is fulfilled and your salvation is accomplished. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Stir up your power, O Lord, we implore You, and come among us, that by Your grace whatever is hindered by our sins may yet be speedily accomplished through Your mercy and satisfaction; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. (Collect for Advent 4)

This devotional taken from Higher Things Advent Devotional 2010

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Very Grateful Christmas

Wow, I have such a hard time being grateful for some gifts I receive at Christmas. I really have begun thinking though, that I can be quite picky and really want to show my children how to receive presents graciously and gratefully.

I think in our culture there are so many choices, so much to be had, that we have learned to be quite picky and yes, even if we feel like we are picking the quality things out of of all the junk, can still just end up being ungrateful.

It is still VERY DIFFICULT for me and all the gifts at Christmas still make me nervous (the quantity and the quality) but I've tried to convey the message that one quality gift is worth far more than 10 not so quality gifts. I've given up trying to explain but I think some family members have become afraid of me! Yikes, I've become too opinionated about some things!! Anyway, it's hard to have a simple Christmas when there is just so much out there. I don't know if this is a good analogy but it reminds me of when I was trekking in Nepal. The Annapurnas is a popular trek and there are teahouses (basic bed and breakfasts) all along the way. But there are people who do the trek and bring their full camping and cooking gear the whole way (a good 18 day trek). We would be eating breakfast prepared by our small hotel with a group in a pitched tent right next to us struggling and truly roughing it, even in the pouring rain. I admired them and thought it would be fun to camp but it almost seemed pointless and exceedingly difficult when there are amenities all along the way. You just want to say, "hey, come on inside where it's warm and dry; it only costs a few dollars". That's how I feel about my lifestyle. Don't get me wrong, we are very blessed financially. We have more than enough to live and our fair share of "stuff". However, living on a social worker's salary does not look like "more than enough" to most people. I've travelled and know how truly wealthy we are but we do not do and have all the stuff some, but certainly not all, of my friends and family do (lawn service, monthly hair appointments, clothing budget, latest technologies, and lots of monthly bills and payments). Sometimes my lifestyle starts to seem pointless when I see the amenities thrown out all along the way by friends and family.

What I am getting at is this: all year we would have to budget and scrimp and buy used and consigned items and then at Christmas all these things given seemed like a waste. But then, Christmas is a beautiful gift. It doesn't make sense. It's not something we deserve, earn, work hard for, scrimp and save for. That is the thing I truly need to remember. I wish that gifts were truly gifts again. A gift is not "Let's spend $20 on each other" or just something you give to reciprocate to those who give you something. A gift is a gift. Period. It should be something we could never repay. You love someone, you're thinking of them and you give them a gift. It may not even be a material item but could be your time and thoughtfulness. It may not show up at Christmas time at all.

Of course, God's perfect gift of his Son is the only gift that lives up to that highest standard. It is a gift in the truest sense of the word. We deserve nothing close to it and could NEVER repay it. Thank you God for your most precious gift and help me to just receive that gift. I, with embarrassment, asked my pastor what my purpose is. I asked, "If there is nothing I can do, if it's all in God's hands, then what is my purpose?" Without hesitation, he replied, "Just receive His gift". I could have cried. That was it; no reciprocation. He did not add, "and then join us each Sunday at church" or "then go spread the word". It really is that simple.

Sweet extended family, I'm sorry for all the times I've complained about, frowned at, thrown away, given away, and simply did not appreciate my gifts at Christmas. What an ungrateful, spoiled girl. The thing is, God knows I'm going to blow it and make a mess of my gift, not appreciate it, or even think it's way too outlandish and unpractical but he's going to give the gift anyway and expect not a thing in return.

Authored by my wife, Shelley

Friday, December 10, 2010

Another Advent devotional...

The following is straight from the Higher Things Advent Devotional 2010:

Friday of the Second Week of Advent

December 10, 2010

Daily Lectionary: Isaiah 26:20-27:13; 1 John 4:1-21

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of
God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you
know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come
in the flesh is of God, (1 John 4:1-2)

In the Name of Jesus. Amen. Don't trust what is preached. Test it. That's
what St. John says. Just because someone claims to be a Christian or even a
Christian preacher, don't believe it, just because they say it. Test them to see
whether they are preaching Christ faithfully. How do we do that? How do we
recognize that what our pastors preach is right? How do we tell the difference
between true preaching and false preaching? St. John gives us the answer:
Everyone who confesses that Jesus has come in the flesh is of God.

Advent reminds us that God comes to us―that Jesus comes to us, in the
flesh. As a man. Born of a woman. Born into this world to be like us without sin.
True God and true man. God-with-us. God-in-the-flesh. Many religions deny
that Jesus is God in the flesh. Many others deny that Jesus really came as a
man. Either way, they're wrong. Jesus came in the flesh so that He could suffer
and die for your sins. Any preacher who denies that Jesus did this is a false
preacher. Any preacher who makes little or nothing of the fact that God became
a man to take away your sins should not be trusted, but avoided.

But there's more coming in the flesh that Jesus does. He tells us to take eat
and take drink His body and His blood. He tells us to feast upon His flesh so
that we will have eternal life. To confess that Jesus comes in the flesh also
means to confess and believe that He comes to us in His Supper in His flesh
and blood. That is, He still comes to us in the flesh to save us and forgive us in
His holy Sacrament. Beware of any preacher or teacher who denies this, too!

Jesus comes in the flesh for our salvation and comfort. He comes as a man
to die for our sins and rise again. He gives you His flesh to eat so you can be
certain that your sins are forgiven. That is the preaching of the true Holy Spirit,
the one who delivers this flesh-having God to you for forgiveness and life. In the
Name of Jesus. Amen.

O Lord, we praise Thee, bless Thee and adore Thee, In thanksgiving bow
before Thee. Thou with Thy body and Thy blood didst nourish Our weak souls
that they may flourish: O Lord, have mercy! May Thy body, Lord, born of Mary,
That our sins and sorrows did carry, And Thy blood for us plead In all trial, fear
and need: O Lord, have mercy! (LSB 617:1)


I would like to expand on the sentiment put forth by the writer of this devotional, Rev. Mark Beutow, when he states:
Jesus came in the flesh so that He could suffer and die for your sins. Any preacher who denies that Jesus did this is a false preacher. Any preacher who makes little or nothing of the fact that God became a man to take away your sins should not be trusted, but avoided.
On the surface, this appears that we should be waiting for a preacher to say outright Jesus didn't do what the Bible said He did; that being He died on the cross for our sins.  And then avoid that kind of preaching.  We should.  Absolutely. However, many pastors will not be so straightforward about it.  Instead, you will probably hear a sermon about how you can have your best life now, how you should be more disciplined to follow Christ more closely, how you should be reading the Bible more, how if you just practice the presence of God a bit more, you should put God first in all parts of your life, etc.

As I am typing this blog, I just read a status update by Pastor Rick Warren:  "To learn humility,study the passion of Jesus. The cross is the ultimate example of humility."  This is what this devotion, I believe, is also speaking to.  Rick Warren is turning the cross into an example.  The cross is not an example.  We cannot be humble enough to warrant God's forgiveness.  It is only Christ and His death on the cross that can do that.  The cross as an example makes what Jesus did a complete farce.  This is the preaching we should avoid at all costs!

All these things:  reading more, following more closely, doing this and that just a little bit more; these things don't bring forgiveness.  These things are what you ought to do to make God more pleased with you.  Their focus is what you can do.  We are dead in sins and trespasses (Ephesians 2).  We are dead.  Our only hope is that God came in flesh in Jesus Christ.  He lived as a man and died as a man for our sins.  That is the blessed hope Advent brings.  God came in the flesh and died for our sins.

My plea is that you will test the preaching you hear from your pastor.  If he is preaching that we are all dead in sins and trespasses, but Jesus came in the flesh and died for your sins; then be very thankful.  If your pastor is not, avoid that teaching at all costs.  Find a church where you will hear the Law and Gospel preached correctly.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Second Sunday of Advent

The following is an advent prayer that I wanted to share on this second Sunday of Advent.  This prayer was found of Pastor Will Weedon's blog.  Blessings to you during this Advent season.

From An Advent Prayer from Starck's Prayer Book

Through sin we had become aliens, yes,
prisoners of Satan and enemies of God.
But by Your most holy Advent
all our losses are made good.
O grace abounding!
Love unspeakable!
For Your sake, O Jesus,
the strangers are made friends,
the prisoners are set free,
the enemies of God are made His beloved,
sinners become God's children,
the fallen are raised.
O holy Advent,
by which we who were condemned to death obtain life,
by which we who were fallen from grace
are clothed with glory and honor on Your account.
For this is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance:
that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. (p. 50)

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.  (Revelation 22: 20-21)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Jonathan Fisk and Law and Gospel

This video is really good at explaining the difference between the Law and Gospel, and how they should be preached, and how they are actually taught in many churches.  This concept of Law and Gospel and how they are distinguished in a sermon is EXTREMELY important.  It cannot be understated as Rev. Fisk will point out in the following video:

(Warning:  His videos are extremely edited.  It's perfect for those with ADD.  You may have to watch it a couple of times to fully understand the content as you may struggle with how the video was edited.  But I think it is well worth your time!)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

First Week of Advent

Advent and the beginning of the Church year started this past Sunday.  My family will be going through devotions and spending time celebrating Advent.  There is a specific resource that we will be using that I want to share with anyone reading this here blog.  It comes from Higher Things, an organization within the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod set up to to assist parents, congregations, and pastors in cultivating and promoting a Lutheran identity among youth through conferences, retreats, publications, and the internet.

One of the resources they developed this year is an Advent devotional that can be found here.  I wanted to share an excerpt from today's devotion (Wednesday of the First Week of Advent):
In the Name of Jesus.  Amen.  Perhaps you've seen the sign on the billboard that says, "Don't make me come down there! - signed, God."  The implication is that we're misbehaving and if the Lord gets mad enough, He's going to to come down to earth and do something about it!
But God DID come down to earth.  The Father sent His Son to become flesh in the Virgin's womb so that He could grow up and die for us and take away our sins. . .
The Bible teaches us that God made all things in six days and that even when His creation was ruined by sin; He didn't abandon it, but sent His Son to save and redeem it.  And how?  By His Son's advent in the flesh.  The Son, by taking on a human nature in Christ, demonstrates that God is not afraid to touch what He has made.  Rather, He takes on flesh to save creation.  To save you.
This is Good News.  We have sinned and rebelled against God.  We have done our part in ruining in God's creation.  God has already come to 'deal with us,' so to speak.  In great love and mercy, He has come to save us.  He made you and me.  He has saved you and me through Christ in His birth, His life, and His death on the cross.  Praise be to God for His grace and mercy!

Advent does not only celebrate that Christ has come, but that He will come one last time!  Hallelujah!

Jesus came, the heav’ns adoring,

Came with peace from realms on high;
Jesus came for man’s redemption,
Lowly came on earth to die.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Came in deep humility  (Lutheran Service Book 353, Verse 1)

Jesus comes on clouds triumphant,

When the heav’ns shall pass away;
Jesus comes again in glory;
Let us then our homage pay,
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Till the dawn of endless day. (Lutheran Service Book 353, Verse 5)