Month: December, 2014

“Waiting”

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father…

Well, Christmas is over. All the meals have been eaten, the gifts have been unwrapped, the relatives are going back home and our world goes on as it normally does. It’s back to the grind as kids go back to school and our work schedules adjust. It seems that we have to wait and wait for Christmas to get here and then it’s done in a flash.

As a kid growing up, our routine at Christmas Eve was always the same. We would go to church and then as soon as we would get home I would dive under the Christmas tree to pass out the gifts. None of our gifts could be opened until all had been passed out. That was the rule.

Cheryl, I and the kids have had this same routine and it has seemed to work just fine. The anticipation of what was in those beautifully wrapped presents was satisfied on Christmas Eve and all was well. But there is currently friction in the Haugen home because now Cheryl and Emily want to wait until Christmas morning to open everything. I don’t know if I can do it. It messes everything up and I don’t think I can wait that long. Why change something that has always worked so well?

For kids and kids at heart, part of Christmas is the waiting that becomes a necessary evil. What makes it harder is that we see those gifts under the tree every day and speculate over and over again what they are. Waiting for me is hard.

Now that I am older, I have a little guilty conscience about not being able to wait. I know it’s not supposed to be about the gifts. I know I’m anxious over the wrong things even though my excitement now comes from people opening the gifts I have bought them much more than it comes from the gift’s I receive.

So, what should we be waiting for? What should it take to satisfy the longing in our hearts? Is there anything to look forward to other than our own selfish desires?

In our Gospel lesson, our answer is found in the longing of two very special people who help to round out the Christmas story. Here we are introduced to Simeon and Anna, two people who have been waiting for all the right reasons. They weren’t waiting for something, they were waiting for someone, a very special someone.

They were awaiting the coming of the Messiah and apparently they had been waiting a long time because they were both now very advanced in age.

In Simeon’s case, he had been promised by God to see the coming Messiah. We can imagine that his anxiety was at or near its peak as his days grew shorter and shorter. Our text tells us he was a righteous and devout man who had been rewarded for this devotion with the promise that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.

We need to remember that during the time of Christ’s birth, things hadn’t been going very well for Israel. They were under Roman rule and were ruled over by a very evil man drunk with power. They hadn’t heard from the Lord in a very long time and it must have seemed for many that their waiting for the promised Messiah to save them from all of this would never come. All Israel was waiting to be rescued and, in part to keep them from straying, the Jewish religious leaders piled law upon law on them hoping to keep them focused and busy until that day finally arrived.

Amidst all this, one man had a sure hope. Simeon knew the Messiah was near and that with the Messiah would come peace. The Jews of that time often called the coming Savior the comforter because God had promised that He would comfort them from the trials they were facing. So they waited in hopeful expectation, very anxious that He should come soon. And now Simeon’s hope and all Israel’s hope were realized in the form of a small child, coming to the temple to be dedicated to God.

Simeon’s meeting with the Messiah was no chance encounter. It was a promised introduction at the perfect time and in the perfect manner. Even then, those who met the Christ child knew that He was different in a very special way and when Simeon finally saw the Christ child, He knew God had kept his promise to him. He knew that this small babe was our Immanuel and that God was truly “with us” in a very real and intimate fashion.

He knew in that first meeting with the Christ child that the world would never be the same and that, in his last days, he had been witness to the greatest of God’s gifts to us.

And Simeon was not the only one waiting at the temple that day, Anna the prophetess was also there, worshipping and fasting day and night in anticipation of the day she knew would soon be there when the Messiah would come to redeem the world. After her husband had died, early on in their marriage, she never left the temple and dedicated herself to fasting and to prayer. Imagine the faith and dedication it would take to live the vast majority of your life in such a way.

And as she waited, she was looking for the same person that Simeon was. She was also looking for the comfort that the Messiah would bring, but this hope came from a different place. While Simeon looked for the comfort found in the consolation of Israel, Anna looked to the comfort that would be realized in Israel’s redemption from its sin.

When she saw the Christ child she knew that the redemption which had been promised would be lived out in the birth and death of this small child and she gave thanks to God for such a gift. From then on she couldn’t help but to speak of this child and the restoration of Israel that would be accomplished because of His birth. Here at last was the One who would save His people from their sins. Her waiting was over.

This reminds us that, in many ways, we have the same concerns as we wait.. We too wait for the coming of the Messiah to rescue us from the trials we face in our world today. We too want to be comforted and rescued. We too look for God to save us from a world that has turned its back on Him. In many of our prayers, we pray that His coming will come soon so that we might be saved from this sinful world and nestled in the soothing arms of our God.

So, why else do you wait? Some of you might be in pain physically or spiritually, do you find your hope in Christ’s coming? Some of you are tormented by sin’s you cannot seem to shake. Are you waiting for Christ to redeem you? Some of you might feel trapped and alone, are you anticipating the Lord’s final consolation?

All of that and more is available to you right now.

 

Christmas is a season to remember all the promises of God because His greatest promise to us was fulfilled. In a lowly manger in the humblest of ways, God gave His only Son so that we might have that hope to sustain us.

We are so blessed to still be able to marvel at Christmas and the light it still shines in a dark world. We are so fortunate to be able to assemble together in worship and praise at our Savior’s birth.

Christmas still gives me that same tingle that it has always given me and now my anticipation is even greater because I know more fully now what the promise of Christmas means to all people.

Joseph and Mary marveled, as well, at what Simeon had to say about this very special time. They must have been still filled with wonder and delight from all that they had been blessed to witness and take part in the last few weeks. They were still probably too caught up in all that had happened to realize completely all that was yet to come. So it is no surprise that the words of Simeon touched them and excited them in such a way.

Do you still marvel at Christmas or do you find yourself too caught up in the hustle and bustle it brings? If so, what are you doing to bring the marvel back?

This is a time of year that brings with it so much opportunity to rekindle that flame that has gotten weaker in the chaos of living in a world that demands so much of our time. Put yourself in the sandals of Joseph and Mary and the life that they were now called to live. Imagine the gratification they must have felt to be such important pieces in our redemption story and then change your priorities in life to match that excitement as you learn what an important person you can be in bringing Jesus back to the forefront in other people’s lives. The world is waiting.

And if the world is waiting, our calling is clear. We must take action to bring the excitement and promise of Christmas with us wherever we go and throughout the whole year. We speak of Mary immediately accepting the challenges she would have bringing up God’s only son because she knew the world had waited long enough. We hear of the shepherd’s immediately going to see this thing that has happened and we know it modals the excitement we should all share to see Jesus. We have learned of the wise men who saw a star of promise and traveled long distances to see the King of kings and it tells us that the effort expected of us is worth the wait.

The world is waiting for messengers to tell the story of salvation even as they are lost in their sin. God is counting on us to be emissaries, like Anna, who cannot help but to tell everyone about the Redeemer.

Do you know someone who gets too frustrated at Christmas to really understand the beauty of Christmas? Maybe their anticipation and longing for something different is really a cry for comfort and redemption which only the Savior can provide. God wants us all to be His go-between, His envoy with the greatest message. Only in knowing what God has done for us will people come to know all He will continue to do for us.

 

Christmas is still a time of hope and a light that shatters through the darkness of less than happy holidays. Many years ago, there was a very wealthy man who shared a passion for art collecting with his son. They had priceless works by Picasso and Van Gogh adorning the walls of their family estate.
As winter approached, war engulfed the nation, and the young man left to serve his country. After only a few short weeks, his father received a telegram. His son had died.
Distraught and lonely, the old man faced the upcoming Christmas holidays with anguish and sadness.

The joy of the season had vanished with the death of his son.
On Christmas morning, a knock on the door awakened the depressed old man. As he walked to the door, the masterpieces of art on the walls only reminded him that his son was not coming home. As he opened the door he was greeted by a soldier with a large package in his hands who said, “I was a friend of your son. I was the one he was rescuing when he died. May I come in for a few moments? I have something to show you.”
The soldier mentioned that he was an artist and then gave the old man the package. The paper gave way to reveal a portrait of the man’s son. Though the world would never consider it the work of a genius, the painting featured the young man’s face in striking detail.

Overcome with emotion, the man hung the portrait over the fireplace, pushing aside millions of dollars worth of art. His task completed, the old man sat in his chair and spent Christmas gazing at the gift he had been given.
The painting of his son soon became his most prized possession, far eclipsing any interest in the pieces of art for which museums around the world clamored. The following spring, the old man died. The art world waited with anticipation for the upcoming auction. According to the will of the old man, all the art works would be auctioned on Christmas Day, the day he had received the greatest gift.

The day soon arrived and art collectors from around the world gathered to bid on some of the world’s most spectacular paintings. Dreams would be fulfilled that day.

The auction began with a painting that was not on anyone’s museum list. It was the painting of the man’s son. The auctioneer asked for an opening bid, but the room was silent. “Who will open the bidding with $100?” No one spoke. Finally someone said, “Who cares about that painting. It’s just a picture of his son. Let’s move on to the good stuff.”
The auctioneer responded, “No, we have to sell this one first. Now, who will take the son?” Finally, a neighbor of the old man offered 10 dollars. “That’s all I have. I knew the boy, so I’d like to have it.”
The auctioneer said, “Going once, going twice…gone.” The gavel fell.
Cheers filled the room and someone exclaimed, “Now we can bid on the real treasures!”
The auctioneer looked at the room filled with people and announced that the auction was over. Everyone was stunned. Someone spoke up and said, “What do you mean, it’s over? We didn’t come here for a painting of someone’s son. There are millions of dollars worth of art here! What’s going on?”
The auctioneer replied, “It’s very simple. According to the will of the Father, whoever takes the son…gets it all.”

This is the message that was worth waiting for. Whoever gets the Son gets it all. The invitation stands for anyone who believes. At the first Christmas we received the greatest of gifts but it has never been a gift to keep to ourselves. For thousands of years, Israel waited for the coming Savior and now He is here. Share the Good News. What are you waiting for?

 

 

 

 

Bible Study Questions – Luke 2:22-40

Bible Study Questions – Luke 2:22-40

Why was Christ being presented at the temple? Exodus 13:1-2, 11-16; Leviticus 12:1-8; Numbers 18:15

From these verses in Leviticus, how do we know the financial state of Joseph and Mary?

What does it mean to have the Holy Spirit upon you?

Describe Simeon’s emotions when he saw Jesus. Have you had similar experiences?

Why does Simeon say “My eyes have seen your salvation?” Genesis 49:18; Psalm 51:14; Isaiah 33:2

If this “light of revelation” that Jesus will bring is for the Gentiles, and also for the glory of Israel, what is Simeon really saying about the revelation of Jesus?

Why do you think Mary and Joseph “marveled” (some translations say wondered) at what Simeon was saying?

What does Simeon mean by saying this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel??

Look at Simeon’s further prophesy in verses 34-35. Why do you think there is opposition to someone bringing the revelation of God?

What do you think he meant when he said to Mary that “a sword will pierce your own soul”?

In verse 38, as soon as Anna saw Jesus, what are two things she does immediately in response? How is this similar to the shepherds’ response in verses 17 and 20?

Compare Simon and Anna. What did they have in common?

Describe the different ways God speaks to people from this passage. Verse 22; 26; 37-38

What does verse 40 tell us about the humanity of Jesus?

What do these verses tell us about Jesus’ divinity?

What can you learn from the lives of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph and how they lived as a holy, faith-filled family that you can apply to your own family?

How does your lifestyle reflect “holiness and devotion” while awaiting the coming of the “day of the Lord?

“The Faith of Mary”

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father…

Every now and then Emily and I will get into conversations about what life was like when I was her age. When a song comes up on the oldies station that was popular when I was her age we rock out together because I have properly trained her to enjoy the best music.

When we have these moments, it causes me to look back and think about how times have changed. It seems when I was a teenager, life wasn’t nearly as difficult as it is now for them. It seems today that our youth think they need to grow up so much faster to fit into society. I hear about what kids today have to go through and think to myself how lucky I am not to have to go through that.

Today, it’s more important then ever to be there for our kids and parents should be glad to know that it’s still their mothers and fathers that teenagers look up to most. We are still their biggest role models, although they probably wouldn’t say that to our face.

Unfortunately, we see by the actions of many teens that they have other role models as well.

Role models who are concerned most with popularity, looks, having the latest gadgets, wearing the “in” clothes or even having a certain talent.

It seems that these role models change frequently, however, because the person who was cool and looked up to last year is no longer that cool anymore. Someone younger, prettier and more talented always comes along.

Wouldn’t it be nice if our children’s role models were more ordinary. Wouldn’t it be nice if kids would choose, as their role model, someone because of who they are on the inside and not necessarily on the outside.

Ironically, the most popular woman to ever live is rarely seen as a role model by teens or many other people for that matter. She wasn’t rich, she was probably not very beautiful by today’s standards. She was probably an ordinary looking girl. She was probably unknown outside her small home town yet she had an inner beauty that even impressed God! In fact, her inner beauty was so powerful that she was chosen to become the mother of the most important person in history: God’s only Son, Jesus. You have most likely guessed already that we are talking about Mary.

 

Mary had an inner beauty that impressed even God and one that should inspire us as our role model, whether we’re teens or adults. What we should look up to Mary for, as Christians, was her faith and her obedience to God.

When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, as told in our Gospel lesson for this morning, he told her she was “highly favored.” Mary was favored not just because of what she was about to do in being the mother of God’s son, but because of the life she had already lived so far. We don’t know anything about Mary’s life before this but she must have shown a great faith in God to be chosen by Him.

What we should also see is that God didn’t show His favor because of her looks or her wealth or for her talents. God chose her for something else. She grew up in a remote area of the world, in a tiny village called Nazareth. She had no fame, no influence. What she had was an inner beauty brought on by her faith in God. She was obedient to the Word and because of this God’s favor was upon her.

To God it doesn’t matter if you are in your teens like Mary or whether you are elderly, like Abraham was when he was called.

It doesn’t matter where you come from or how smart you are or what your family life is like. It doesn’t matter how much money you make or how successful you are or what you look like.

Isaiah even says about Jesus that he would be rather plain looking in Isaiah 53:2: He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. God doesn’t hold high regard for looks or wealth or position, God looks only to our faith in Him.

We talk a lot about faith at Redeemer, but what exactly is faith? It’s simple really, faith is believing that what God says will happen, will happen. After Gabriel visited Mary and told her of her calling, she accepted it even though she was still a virgin.

Later, she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Now, Elizabeth was also pregnant with John the Baptist. Listen to Elizabeth’s response. Elizabeth said: Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.”

That is what faith is, believing that the Lord will do what He says he will do. We have to remember that what Gabriel told her must have sounded totally impossible. Not only would she have a Son she was to name Jesus but she would do it without being with Joseph. Not only this, but her son would also be the very Son of God. How could such a humble and ordinary person, any human person, bear the very son of God? Sounds impossible.

 

This was Mary’s question to Gabriel. Gabriel told her the Holy Spirit would come upon her and the power of the Most High would overshadow her. Probably not the details she was looking for. Gabriel then reminds us, “with God nothing is impossible.” In other words, he is telling her that God can and would do the seemingly impossible if she had faith. And Mary believed.

 

In Hebrews, it defines faith this way in chapter 11: “What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot see. God gave His approval to people of old because of their faith. Later it says: ‘Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that he exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.

God gives His favor to those who have faith. People like Mary, who were sure and certain of God’s promise even if they didn’t see it or even truly understand it. Notice it says that it is impossible to please God without faith and God continues to show favor to those who believe and trust in His promises.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.

Without faith it is impossible to please God. We must believe what God has said if we are to receive his promises.

But faith has to be more than believing something in your mind. It has to influence how you live your life. Our actions should reflect our faith because faith is active. If I believe then I must behave differently because I believe that what God has said is true. We can believe that 2+2=4 or that George Washington was the first president but that doesn’t change who we are. Mere facts don’t put any demands on our lives.

Unfortunately, many treat their faith the same way. They believe if they simply believe something is true then that means they have a true faith. To believe something is true in your head, and to act as though it is true are two different things, and faith requires both of these.

When Mary was told by Gabriel that she would bear the Son of God, not only did she believe but she adjusted her life to God’s.

The beauty in her response was in the willingness to do whatever God wished her to do. Despite the huge responsibility of being the mother of Jesus, she did so without hesitation saying, “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be as you have said.” Mary didn’t just believe in the impossible, she was willing to be a servant who would be used by God to accomplish His divine plan.

Take time to consider the task at hand that Mary was accepting without hesitation. Mary was trusting that her soon to be husband, Joseph, would believe her story and stick by her. She was trusting that Joseph would not force her to raise this child on her own, in a society where illegitimate children are seen as a curse. There was even the possibility that Joseph would have her stoned to death for being with another man, killing her and her unborn baby.

Mary was willing to face the inevitable gossip because she was pregnant before marriage. She faced ridicule either way whether she was with Joseph before marriage or with another man. She would have been seen as a prostitute, the lowest class of women. Imagine the gossip if this would have happened in Lynden or Ferndale, let alone Nazareth where everybody knows everybody.

No matter how it turns out, Mary is going to have some serious consequences, but because of her faith in God, knowing that He would work it all out somehow, she was willing to put her faith into action.

I’m sure we all believe that Jesus was God’s own Son, born of the Virgin Mary. We believe that what Jesus told us was true. We believe that He died and rose again so that we could be forgiven. What if we believe all this? What if we believe in all the promises of God and ignore how He has called us to live? That is not true faith, faith implies a willingness to follow God and a life that proves that willingness.

What if a daredevil began his career by walking between a couple of buildings on a tightrope, then he eventually walks over Niagara falls. In order to become more popular his feats become more and more daring and he completes them every time. If he were to go back to walking between the two buildings, you would probably think he would be successful….but would you get into the wheel barrel he would be pushing in front of him over the wire this time? You would have faith in him, but would you have true faith? Faith is more than believing in your head that something is true. Faith involves trust and is seen by your actions.

Do you live differently because of what you believe? Do you follow God’s request to let Him lead your life? If not, why not?

Is it because you have belief but not true faith? Are you willing to let God change your character to be more like His own character, full of honesty and integrity , free from bad language and sinful thoughts? Will you prioritize your time and money to reflect a true faith in Christ, the way God has asked you to do? Will you show your love for God by what you say and how you act, treating others as Jesus would, including your spouse, your kids, your coworkers and even that neighbor who always seems grouchy? Being blessed as God’s faithful child brings with it responsibilities and may even bring with it sacrifice.

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead”……faith is active!

Our faith should affect our head, our heart and our hands. Our head by what we believe about God, our heart by our Christ like compassion for others and our hands by what we do.

Mary is an incredible example of true faith. Would you say you have a faith like her? Would you be willing to believe in the seemingly impossible and step out in trust with God? If not, why not?

We can apply this to ourselves individually or together as a church. Are we, at Redeemer Lutheran Church in North Bellingham willing to do whatever God asks of us? Are we willing to take ridicule for being a follower of Christ? Are we willing to bring dishonor upon ourselves for doing the right thing?

If we are to do the right thing, we are to follow God wherever He will take us, no matter the circumstances. This Christmas season we are reminded of a God of fulfilled promises. A God we can not only believe in but have true faith in because we have a God who is faithful in return.

May God show you the way to eternal happiness and may He shine His light through you for all to see. Amen.

 

 

 

Bible Study Questions – John 1:1-14

Bible Study Questions – John 1:1-14

Where else do you hear the words, “In the beginning?” Is John referring to the same beginning? Revelation 13:8

Why do you think the Messiah is described as “The Word?”

What do verses 1 & 2 tell us about the nature of Jesus? How about verse 14?

Why did the Word become flesh? Ephesians 1:7-14

Why do you think He chose to become flesh in such a humble way?

Was Christ ever created? How does this differ from what evolutionists say about the materialistic view of the world?

What do you think is meant by light and darkness in the spiritual sense?

How is Christ the true light of every man?

What does John tell us about the process of becoming a Christian in John 1:12?

The Jews had been waiting for hundreds of years for the Messiah to come. Why did they not recognize Jesus? Why don’t people recognize Him today?

How does one receive Jesus? John 20:30-31

What does it mean to be born of God?

How is this account of Christ unique to Christianity?

“Keep Your Focus on Christ”

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father…

Last Saturday I did something very careless. Later we laughed about it, but, never-the-less, it was near the top of my list of foolish things I have done because my mind was distracted.

This Saturday, The Lynden Lions were playing for their fifth championship in a row in football. Emily is a cheerleader for them so I went to the Tacoma Dome to watch a little championship football and hopefully get a glimpse or two of my favorite cheerleader leading her team to victory. Well, as you might have heard, all the cheering in the world would not have helped the Lions that day and they were crushed by Sedro Wooley and finished the year in second place. Not bad, but not what they had become used to.

As the game was in its final stages, I decided to get everything in order. The first thing I usually do is to make sure my keys are still in my pocket. I always get a little paranoid that they have dropped out somehow. Well, my worst fears were realized when I checked and I had no keys. I must have looked ridiculous crawling on the sticky floor looking for them. But soon I had three rows of seats doing the same thing, but there were no keys to be found.

 

After checking with lost and found, Emily and I went to the car to see if I had possibly left them there. As we neared the car we could see that the lights were on. Emily ran to the car to turn them off so we wouldn’t use any more battery then had already been wasted. But when she got there she started laughing. I thought that was a bit unusual so, as I got nearer I asked her what was so funny. It seems I had left the car running, through the whole game, in the middle of downtown Tacoma. I’m sure if a thief would have walked by they would have thought that this had to be a setup. Who would be careless enough to leave their car running in such a place, it had to be a trap.

My mind was focused on getting to the game on time and that darn engine is so quiet. Instead of taking time to make sure everything was secure, I lost my mind on the wrong things. I seem to be doing a lot of that lately.

It’s all because of stress. At least it is for me. I’m so stressed about getting things accomplished, that I look past the things that need immediate attention because I only see the goal. I get so engrossed in the end product that I miss a few of the things I need to do along the way to get there. Maybe I need a message or something.

I know I’m not alone in my deficiencies, especially during the stressful times in our lives. Christmas, for instance, is such a time for many of us.

For many of us, Christmas isn’t as looked forward to as it was when we were kids. As adults, our goals have changed and the stresses have built up. Christmas is a time of turmoil for many. It’s no wonder that this time of year brings about so much depression. Instead of a time of joy, Christmas is viewed as a time of frustration and anxiety, so much to do, so much to buy, too many bills to pay. That’s what Christmas has become.

And it’s all because our priorities have changed. It’s no longer about celebrating the birth of Christ for many, now it’s about getting just the right gift for everyone, serving just the right meal for everyone, and wearing just the right mask while we do it.

Today I want to talk about trying to change this a little. Today I want us to take a step back in our lives to think about what really makes this holiday special and how we should celebrate it in a way that is worthy of its significance for all mankind.

Last week we visited John the Baptist in the Gospel of Mark. As was pointed out then, he was a bit unusual. He lived in the desert and ate some questionable things to live. But that is not what made John special. No, he was special because he was a man who fulfilled prophesy, a man sent by God with a very special purpose. Our text says that he came as a witness to testify concerning the light so that through him all men might be saved.

His whole purpose in life was to be a witness to the light of Christ. His main goal was to ready the way for the Messiah. As he testified about the coming Lord and as he baptized in the name of God, he was fulfilling the one thing he had been born to provide. He was the Elijah that had been prophesied who would come to make ready the way of Christ, camel hair clothes and all.

In Idaho Falls every Christmas, they have a certain neighborhood that really goes all out in decorating their houses. They call their street candy cane lane and it’s a very popular spot to go if you’re out looking at Christmas lights. Some of the houses are amazing and hours upon hours must have been spent preparing them. The whole street is lit up so much you really don’t need your headlights on to see where you’re going. In fact, you know just where to go because those streets who participate almost glow.

In many ways, that’s what John was doing in the desert. He worked to make himself obvious and his intentions clear. He was not there to be the light but he was bringing people’s attention to the light. He didn’t have a magic wand or a bright beacon but he had something much more powerful, he had the word of God saying “This is He of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks before me, because He is before me.”  His purpose was not to bring light to Himself but to show people the light found only in Christ. The same light we should be sharing.

But as anyone would with a message like John, there were people who challenged him. For John it was the priests and the Levites asking, “Who are you?” Are you Elijah? Are you the prophet? I don’t think they were asking because they actually thought he WAS one of these, they just wanted to know who this crazy man thought that HE was. But John said no to all these things so they asked him further, “Then who are you?” Here John says something they would  surely understand, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord.” John’s focus was never on who he was but on what he had been sent to do. His focus was always on his calling to usher in the coming Christ, and to accomplish all he was sent to do, he had to keep that focus, despite all those who would try to distract him.

And, especially when we focus on our faith, it’s so easy to get distracted. Have you ever noticed that? Our relationship with Jesus Christ is the most important thing we have going for us, yet it really doesn’t take much for us to get our attention on other, less important things. Instead of Christ we see Santa Clause. Instead of focusing on the greatest gift we could ever receive in God’s Son, we get distracted by gifts we give and receive.

There is so much to do and so little time to do it all. There is so many jobs to accomplish, so many hats to wear. So many masks to put on.

When we were living in Idaho Falls, I really enjoyed all the sights down Candy Cane Lane but I was even happier not having to live there. Every year I was thankful not to have the pressure to have a display up to compare with the next door neighbor or to have to spend the hours making sure our house didn’t stick out for its lack of lights or proper displays. At the Haugen house we were lucky to have the windows rimmed with lights. Our Christmas has always been hectic enough without having to worry about the proper light display.

Sometimes the holidays can be so overwhelming. And I can imagine Satan just laughing at how easy it is to get our attention off of Christ and on to the things that we selfishly spend our time on instead.

That’s why I wanted to remind you yet again, why this time of year is so important to the members of God’s family. Hopefully I can get your attention back on the things that truly matter. Christmas doesn’t have to be a time of chaos and turmoil. It should be a time of joy and reflection. The perfect gift for your loved ones has already been bought and paid for in Christ. The perfect meal has already been prepared for us when we come together rejoicing at the heavenly banquet promised for all who believe. We don’t have to let ourselves be distracted by all the trappings of the season if we can learn to focus on all the blessings we have already been given.

Just like John, we can be a part in giving the greatest of gifts to those we love by pointing them to the light that shines in the darkness. Just like John, we can cry in the wilderness, “Make way for the coming of our Lord.” Just like John we can be a witness to the glories of God.

All around us we see advertisements selling this and that. Buy this to make your husband happy, buy that to make your children jump for joy. Everywhere we look there are people frantically searching for a way to make this Christmas better than all the rest. But they’re looking in the wrong places. They hope to find ultimate joy by following the world’s advice, a world that cannot even stomach calling it Christmas anymore. We see ads showing kids excited because they just got the newest game system or adults excited about getting that coat they had on their list, but the real reason for excitement is not to be found in any advertisements for fear of offending someone. Is that where we hope to find our joy as believers?

We should be all the advertisement God needs. By our testimony we act as witnesses and by our actions we show where our hearts are. John the Baptist had a calling to make the light known to the world, but he was only the first of many appointed to this task.

 

Every one of us have been called work together to claim Christmas once again for what it truly is and not shy away from proclaiming the awesome news of the perfect gift found in a lowly manger. Each one of us should bring our focus back to what this little babe in Bethlehem means for all people. We should, every one of us be a witness just like John.

But what does it mean to be a witness? Does it mean we stand at the street corner passing our tracts? Maybe for some. Does it means going door to door, every night testifying to the light? Maybe for others. There are many way to witness to the light and many work just as well as these more in your face methods.

We testify to the light when we keep our focus on the reason we celebrate, that of the coming of the King of kings to bring us salvation. We testify to the light by living a lifestyle in line with our claim as Christians. We give witness by blatantly living our lives for Christ by making everything we do a ministry, right in front of people where they can’t help but notice., being joyful always and thankful in all circumstances with sincerity and conviction.

 

 

Plus, we must follow the example of John the Baptist in that he was not satisfied until all knew the blessings that were there’s in Christ. He shared his conviction with others and despite his unorthodox appearance they listened. When he had the opportunity to prepare others for the coming of the Messiah, he took it.

So share the story of Christmas and don’t let the devil take your focus off of that and on to other less important things. Be a witness for Christ this Christmas. Motivate yourself by reflecting on all the blessings we already have. Be John the Baptist no matter where you are and perhaps, through you, someone new might also receive the greatest gifts ever given, the gift of hope, the gift of faith and the gift of God’s only Son. Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bible Study Questions – John 1:6-8, 19-28

Bible Study Questions – John 1:6-8, 19-28

Why should John’s message be given serious consideration as the testimony of a well-qualified witness? Isaiah 40:3; Malachi 4:5; Mark 9: 11-13; Luke 1:15-17, 67-80

Why then did he deny being Elijah?

What does this teach us about humility?

How does the passage from the Gospel of John affirm God’s faithfulness as celebrated in Isaiah? (Isaiah 61: 1-4,8-11)

John the Baptist is called by God to “make straight the way of the Lord” (Verse 23). What do these words mean?

In what ways do you believe that you are also called to do the same?

Why would the Jewish leaders have had to ask John the Baptist who he was?

How did John respond to the question of the priests and Levites?  Did he try to evade their questions? Why?

How come John in the end minimized his ministry rather than expand it?

Who was “the prophet” that the Jewish leaders referred to in John 1:21? Deuteronomy 18:15; Matthew 13:57-58; Luke 13:32-33

The Gospel of John records other Scriptural witnesses who testify to Christ. Who were they? John 5:36, 37, 39, 8:14, 18, 15:26

How might you also be a “witness to testify to the light”? 

What do you think is meant by light and darkness in the spiritual sense?

Where else can we find evidence of John’s testimony concerning Jesus? John 3:22-30; 5:31-33; 10:40-41; Acts 19:4-5

 

If humility can be described as looking at yourself as nothing and Christ as everything, how do you rate yourself in terms of humility?

 

John had a clear conviction of his mission. What do you think is your mission for the kingdom of God?

“Preparing for the Messiah”

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father…

It’s about this time that the Haugen family has built up enough urgent energy to start thinking about preparing for Christmas. About this time in December, we start to focus more on the gifts and decorations and food and bills that the season brings.

It’s also about this time of year that we begin to realize that maybe our focus is misguided at times. It seems easier and easier to get lost in all the commercialism and less important things. So, instead of losing ourselves in the preparation for Christmas and all the Holiday treatment, we try to also focus on the true meaning of the season.

As the world tries to put Jesus’ birth in the closet, it’s important that we include in our preparations as Christians, the true reason for the season, that of the miracle of Christ’s birth and what that little helpless baby in a manger means to all mankind.

You might think it unusual that we get our Gospel lesson from Mark so close to the Christmas holiday. After all, the Gospel of Mark is the only Gospel that doesn’t include anything about the birth of Christ or the immaculate conception.

This actually makes perfect sense. Before Jesus was even born it had been prophesied for hundreds of years that this would happen.

After His birth and before He presented Himself as the Messiah, there was a time of preparation and so we take the art of preparation to a totally different level.

 Mark begins His gospel on the account of Jesus’ life this way, “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way.  “a voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.”  Mark doesn’t begin with the classic Christmas story we have grown to know, when he puts pen to paper, he essentially wraps up the whole Christmas message in a few words.

Now, there is nothing wrong with the preparation of Christmas with its tinsel and wrapping paper. There is nothing wrong with children’s excitement at what they might have as gifts under the tree. There is nothing wrong with the great food, the laughter and the precious family memories that the holiday brings. All these things make Christmas more special.

The opening line in Mark is “The beginning of the Gospel.” Gospel literally means, “Good News.” Mark is saying, “Here is the beginning of the good news.”

As believers in Christ, our task at Christmas is not to chop down the tree of celebration but to rediscover the cause for that celebration, to rediscover the good news.

Mark doesn’t start his Gospel on the birth of Christ but rather on the unusual character of John the Baptist. This morning I want us to notice a couple of things about John.

First of all, as I already mentioned, John was an unusual messenger.  In verse six it says, “Now John was clothed in camel’s hair and with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.” If we see a person like that today we might greet him with a group of stout gentleman in white coats.

It’s easy to get the impression that John, the cousin of Jesus, was a little different.

I think we can all pick out a cousin or two in our own families that were a little uncomfortable around. John was like that. He was a man of the desert who ate the food of the desert and wore clothing of the desert. Yes he was not your typical Jewish holy man. Not only was he an unusual messenger but he also had a rather unusual message.

 

Mark tells us that John fulfilled the prophesies of both Malachi (3:1) and Isaiah (40: 3-5). Isaiah says,  “A voice of one calling in the desert, prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

When John comes onto the scene he is acting as a herald telling all that the Messiah is coming. He is preparing the way of the Lord. He is asking everyone to prepare, not with ribbons and bows, but with prayer and supplication, because that day they had all been taught about had arrived.

In our love for the Christmas season it is so easy to get lost. We love to prepare for Christ because it’s like preparing for a baby to be born. We tend to get so wrapped up in the manger scene that we forget that He is not a baby anymore. Many think that He is somehow satisfied to see us make our annual pilgrimage to church at Christmas and sing a few Christmas carols. We forget that this helpless little baby born in such a crude manger is now the King of Kings.

 

John the Baptist was telling people that they had to get ready. He said, “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” 

John was trying to prepare the world for the coming of Christ. The world of that time was much like today. It was made of both religious and non-religious people. The non-religious, like today, were comfortable in their sin and didn’t care about this Messiah. The religious of the day, much like our day, thought they didn’t need Him. So when Christ came, they both rejected Him. They had no room in their hearts for Christ in their lives.

John’s voice was the one crying out in the desert. At this time of year, we think of everyone being happy when in fact there are more suicides this time of year then in any other. In the midst of all the holiday activity and partying, people are suffering from spiritual emptiness. The question for you is, “have you prepared your heart to truly receive Jesus?” Are you prepared?”

So, how then do we prepare? How do we ready ourselves for the coming Christ? In verse four John uses the word “repentance.” John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.”

John tells us today that the preparation that we need is through repentance. Repentance is different then the simple act of asking for forgiveness. Repentance means a changing of the mind. The Apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians 7:10, “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.”

This tells us that there are two kinds of repentance in our human lives. One is “the sorrow of the world,” a feeling created by the fear of getting caught. A superficial sorrow that people feel when they suffer the consequences of their sin and are then persuaded that they are somehow guilty. The result of this kind of sorrow may lead to a temporary transformation but will not lead to a turning to Christ for forgiveness.

Godly sorrow, on the other hand, is accompanied by a conviction of sin, which is the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. This comes as we realize we have actually offended God and leads to genuine repentance. What begins with a sorrowful heart has to lead to a determined action to be genuine repentance.

This brings us to the another thing about John the Baptist. We know that he was an unusual man with an unusual message but we also have come to learn that he had an unusual, even extraordinary ministry.

In verse 5 we read, “The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.” There was something about this man of the desert and the message of hope he was sharing. Something set John apart from the other religious leaders of the day, something more then what he ate or what he wore. It was a message we still need to focus on, the message of the coming Savior.

As we continue with our preparations, lets not forget what it is were celebrating. Let’s not get so lost in the world and the holiday it celebrates that we forget why we celebrate in the first place. Many people have gotten lost and are now hurting because they don’t know how to fill that empty spot within their soul, even many people who have professed Christ have been misguided and lost to the world.

I would like to end with one of my favorite stories It’s about a poet named Robert Robinson: “It was a bright Sunday morning in 18th century London, but Robert Robinson’s mood was anything but sunny. All along the street there were people hurrying to church, but in the midst of the crowd Robinson was a lonely man. The sound of church bells reminded him of years past when his faith in God was strong and the church was an integral part of his life.

It had been years since he set foot in a church—years of wandering, disillusionment, and gradual defection from the God he once loved. That love for God—once fiery and passionate—had slowly burned out within him, leaving him dark and cold inside. Robinson heard the clip-clop, clip-clop of a horse-drawn cab approaching behind him. Turning, he lifted his hand to hail the driver. But then he saw that the cab was occupied by a young woman dressed in finery for the Lord’s Day. He waved the driver on, but the woman in the carriage ordered the carriage to be stopped.
“Sir, I’d be happy to share this carriage with you,” she said to Robinson. “Are you going to church?” Robinson was about to decline, then he paused. “Yes,” he said at last. “I am going to church.” He stepped into the carriage and sat down beside the young woman.
As the carriage rolled forward Robert Robinson and the woman exchanged introductions. There was a flash of recognition in her eyes when he stated his name. “That’s an interesting coincidence,” she said, reaching into her purse. She withdrew a small book of inspirational verse, opened it to a ribbon-bookmark, and handed the book to him. “I was just reading a verse by a poet named Robert Robinson. Could it be…?” He took the book, nodding. “Yes, I wrote these words years ago.” “Oh, how wonderful!” she exclaimed. “Imagine! I’m sharing a carriage with the author of these very lines!”
But Robinson barely heard her. He was absorbed in the words he was reading. They were words that would one day be set to music and become a great hymn of the faith, familiar to generations of Christians:

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace’
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
His eyes slipped to the bottom of the page where he read:
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it—
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

He could barely read the last few lines through the tears that brimmed in his eyes. “I wrote these words—and I’ve lived these words. ‘Prone to wander…prone to leave the God I love.’”
The woman suddenly understood. “You also wrote, ‘Here’s my heart, O take and seal it.’ You can offer your heart again to God, Mr. Robinson. It’s not too late.”

And it wasn’t too late for Robert Robinson. In that moment he turned his heart back to God and walked with him the rest of his days.

If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator;
If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist;
If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist;
If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer;
But our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a Savior.

As you continue with your preparation, don’t forget to prepare your heart in repentance. We celebrate the greatest hope there is. Spread the good news so that everyone may benefit from it. Amen

 

 

 

 

Bible Study Questions – Mark 1:1-8

Bible Study Questions – Mark 1:1-8

Mark says that this is the beginning of the Gospel (Good News). Why do you think he puts the starting point here and not at Jesus’ birth?

Does Mark’s beginning create indifference in us or a sense of expectation?

Bearing in mind that for 400 years Israel had not had a prophet what do you think must have been the sentiments of the people on hearing these words?

What does the word, “Beginning”, harken to?

How is this Good News for us? Isaiah 52:7; John 14:6-7

How does this news compare to the news we see on TV every day?

Why is it important that the gospel began with prophecy?

What Old Testament prophecy did John the Baptist fulfill? Isaiah 40:3; Malachi 3:1

What Old Testament profit is forever linked John? 2 Kings 1:8; Malachi 4:5; Mark 9:11-13; Luke 1:14-17

What might Mark be saying to his Jewish readers when he describes John?

Given Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament, How does this opening of Mark’s gospel affect our understanding of the relationship between the Old and New Testaments?

What did Jesus’ baptism mean?

How does the baptism of repentance prepare the way for Jesus? Deuteronomy 30:19

Can you think of examples of those who choose to travel along the road to destruction?

Why do we need the baptism of the Holy Spirit? Why is it important to realize how the Holy Spirit works in us, with us and through us?

How is the message of John the Baptist basically the same as ours? Matthew 3:11-12

John spoke in the wilderness, where is the wilderness today? Should we imitate him?

What expectations do you have of Jesus’ coming?

What do these verses teach us about our relationships with this community and with your church, with the synod, with the world?