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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

12242014 Christmas Eve Late Service

Sermon Audio

December 24, 2014
Why celebrate?
Gracious, King of Kings and Lord of Lords!  As we come to celebrate Your birth in Bethlehem, open our hearts to You in a more deep and profound way on this Christmas Eve!  AMEN.

Tonight we gather to celebrate and remember the real reason for the season, Jesus Christ.  As we gather here at the church, around the Advent Wreath with the White Candle and especially around the manger, a question comes to mind.  Why celebrate?

For what reason does the church always set aside Christmas Eve to celebrate Jesus birth?  In our current culture our society takes potshots at the validity of Jesus for us today.  Philosophers use logic and social norms to justify the need to forget Jesus.  Our modern capitalistic world brings out Christmas in September.  Sales begin in earnest the week of and especially the days after Thanksgiving.  People put up displays and figurines in their yards and homes and we have parades, weeks and even sometimes before Thanksgiving calling them Christmas Parades, only to take our displays and decorations down December 26th.

But the reality is Christmas doesn’t start in September, October, November or even most of December.  The real Christmas season starts tonight, December 24th at sunset.  But I return to the question, “Why celebrate?”  Why should the church and members of congregations across the globe celebrate Christmas?  Why should we the people of Emmanuel celebrate?

When Apollo 8, launched on December 21, 1968, the three men who left the earth’s gravitational pull for the first time embarked on a mission of historic proportion.  On December 24th, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders while circling the moon, shared the beginning of Genesis where God created the World.  In sharing the Creation story, the astronauts shared their faith as well as celebrated an achievement on the path to man’s setting foot on the moon only 7 months later.

Tonight we celebrate a milestone on the path of salvation history for all of mankind.  Here before us is a manger that represents our celebrating a gift and especially a milestone.  But, I return to the question, ‘why celebrate’?  We celebrate Christmas, because God has come to visit!  We celebrate Christmas, because, God sent His Son Jesus Christ into the world to die for you and for me.  We celebrate, because God comes offering Himself for all of mankind and it begins in the manger and is ultimately and eternally fulfilled on the Cross of Calvary for all of mankind including you and for me.

God in offering us the gift of His Son, gives us the best reason to celebrate.  Whether soldiers who are far from home walking the line to insure our safety.  Police officers, first responders, nurses, medical staff or even those working in Good Samaritan or Wheat Ridge, God came for all of them and for each of us gathered here this evening. 

So tonight we celebrate both as a witness for our culture, and because of God’s gift to us in the manger.  Let’s share this gift and celebrate with our hearts, heads and voices and with the choir of angels who gather tonight to proclaim, for all of mankind and for all of us saints gathered here a true saying.  “Emmanuel” – God is with us!  AMEN!

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12242014 Christmas Eve Early Service

Sermon Audio

December 24, 2014
Christ our Light and Life Preserver!
Gracious God, as we gather this Christmas Eve night may we not only come to celebrate Jesus birth, but worship our King of Kings and Lord of Lords that lies in the manger.  AMEN!

When Christmas Eve was celebrated by some families in cultures across the globe, the one thing that all could do was light candles.  Even here in Northwest Kansas, some members of Emmanuel recently shared their remembering actual candles being lit on the Christmas trees at church and having to have a bucket of water handy and a watchman just in case the candles tipped.  Candles when used on trees to celebrate Christmas or cakes to count years always had a purpose.  This Christmas Eve the candles we use here in the church have a purpose as well.

Tonight, we light not only the four candles that form the circle of the Advent Wreath, but we add an additional candle.  A white Candle symbolizing the birth of Jesus Christ.  This White Candle sits in the center of the circle of light, because Jesus Christ should be at the center of each of our lives.  Jesus Christ came into the world in a lowly manger in Bethlehem not only to fulfill the promises of the prophets of the Old Testament, but to be the all atoning sacrifice for all of mankind.  Jesus Christ remembered with this white candle is the spotless Lamb of God that came to take away the sin of the World.  The White Candle is a symbol of Jesus Christ purity from conception, to birth, in life and especially in His death on the Cross of Calvary for all of mankind.

Jesus Christ is represented by this white Candle, because Jesus Christ is the light of our world.  Jesus Christ is the light that brightens the darkness that surrounds us and is the beacon we need daily.  Just as ships need the light from a lighthouse to not only warn of the danger of reefs and shoals, Jesus Christ is the light shining into our darkness.  This is why lighthouse keepers jobs were extremely important, they insured the light given off by the lighthouse would not go out no matter the conditions.  This helped prevent ships from hitting anything that would sink them and cause the loss of revenue, but especially life.

The War story from the Battle of the Java Sea is told of how a ship of sailors on stormy seas was torpedoed by an enemy ship.  116 sailors jumped into the water in order to escape certain death and clung to rafts and floating debris in the oil filled water to stay afloat and alive.  Three rescue ships tried in desperation to help, but were helpless, until the actions of one man.  The man began to throw life preservers to the survivors who could be heard in the darkness.  Normally in daylight one could see the life preserver easily, but in the darkness, it seemed only like desperation.  But the life preservers used were special, they had a light attached.  The light attached guided not only the men to the life preserver, but also guided the three ships to the survivors from the torpedoed ship.  Those 116 lights were beacons in the darkness that surrounded those men and saved all of the survivors of the sunken ship.

Brother’s and Sisters in Christ, Jesus Christ is our life preserver, for us and all of mankind.  Jesus Christ is the light for each and every one of us in the darkness of our world.  Tonight we come to celebrate the coming of Jesus Christ.  In a few minutes we will light our individual candles.  Our candles are our individual and collective reminder for each of us of how Jesus Christ is our light for each of us in this world.  May we as we light our candles, do so to be the beacon for our world in order that others might be saved, just as Jesus Christ has saved each of us.  For Jesus Christ is our life preserver and came in a manger in order to save us and be the light for all of mankind, but especially each of us who light our candles this Christmas Eve night here at Emmanuel.  AMEN.

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Sunday, December 21, 2014

12212014 Advent 4 - Rorate coeli - The Fourth Sunday of Advent

Sermon Audio

December 21, 2014
How do you show your love?
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer.  AMEN.

It is intriguing that every week in the Fall of the year, the networks carry football games that are filled with clear expressions of brute strength.  Last night my mother and I watched some of one game where the trainers consistently were on the field because of injury.  The players hit one another with a clear sense of determination, intensity and strength that even some televisions resonate with the hits through the stereo surround sound.  But on the sidelines and up in the stands, there are some who watch the event who hold up signs that are the polar opposite of the at times seemingly brutal hits on the field.  The signs are common place today that say, “John 3:16”.  It is one of the best known passages, because it simply states the Gospel message clearly and can be shown and recognized quickly.  The passage reads, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” 

So well-known is this passage that I would venture it is the most translated passage of the Bible.  But for we who gather here this morning, it has a different meaning.  In our series on the Advent Wreath, we come to the last of the four candles.  In previous weeks we have learned about the Hope we have in Jesus Christ, Preparing Him room in our lives for Jesus and the Joy we can find in His Gift to us of His life, but now we reach the last and greatest of the four candles.  The Candle of Love.  This candle clearly epitomizes the feeling of this season of the Church Year.  For in Jesus Christ coming to the earth, His love is clearly manifest and unmistakable of His willingness to come to save mankind.

This is why so many people not only gravitate to and memorize John 3:16, but use it to tell the truth of the Gospel for all of mankind.  This is why Jesus Christ came to earth over 2000 years ago.  Jesus came because of His great love for all of us.  Jesus Christ love for us cannot be measured because Jesus love for all of mankind is limitless.  In mathematical terms God’s love would be represented by the infinity sign, the one that looks like an eight on its side.  For God, Who has no beginning and no end, has a love for us that has no beginning and has no end.  If you would ask someone who has lived surrounded by trees all their life and all of a sudden move to a place like Montana or even here in Northwestern Kansas where trees are rare, they would say they felt like they could see for miles or to the ends of the earth.  God’s love also will never end.

The last of the Advent Candles clearly sums up all of the candles on the Advent Wreath in a simple four letter word of LOVE!  God’s love overflows and overcomes all not out of coercion, but out of the sheer reality that God’s love is clearly manifest in Jesus Christ coming in the manger in Bethlehem.  As we have seen throughout these four weeks each candle has a different and unique meaning and understanding, but this week we come to the center of God’s core, His love for all of mankind.

We see and experience today the mercy of God for mankind from the Garden of Eden made manifest for each of us that is fulfilled and made complete in the manger.  When we see all four candles lit and fully understand the significance of each of them and the fullness we find with all of them aflame, we are overcome with the reality that God loves each and every one of us so deeply and profoundly.  God’s love is so complete we can only be overcome by God’s grace and respond on bended knee at the manger where His Son Jesus Christ lies wrapped in swaddling clothes.

For only on bended knee at the manger can we clearly see and understand the depth to which our God will go to bring us home to be with Him in His Kingdom.  God’s sending His Son into the world to save all of mankind has one goal in mind, our being with Him to learn from Him the unconditional love He has for all of mankind.  This especially includes all of us saints gathered to light the Candle of Love on this the Fourth Sunday of Advent here at Emmanuel.  AMEN.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

12172014 Wednesday of Advent 3

No Sermon Audio - Due to Cancelled Service

December 17, 2014
What spices your life?
May the offering of our time to be in the presence of our Lord be a blessing not only for our lives, but also our souls as we prepare our hearts for the celebration of the entrance of the King of Kings!  AMEN.

One of the most cherished items I have as a Pastor here at Emmanuel, I received, not at my ordination, nor on an anniversary or milestone event in my life.  It isn’t something that takes up a lot of room.  But the significance of it brings full circle the last three weeks of our Advent Series.

We began talking about Gold and how we should offer, not materialistic things, but our very selves to God.  Last week we asked, what do you smell?  When frankincense was offered to Jesus Christ, it was a prophecy of His future as our High Priest.  And finally this evening we come to Myrrh.

For me as a Pastor, my most prized possession that I carry to minister to the saints of Emmanuel is the oil of anointing I have in a communion set bought for the church.  Anointing with oil is an ancient practice in the church that even the Apostles alluded to after Jesus return to heaven.  The Apostles would send the elders of the church to sick members to read scripture, but also make the sign of the Cross over their foreheads and hearts.  It was a clear reminder for the people that they were the redeemed children of God.

Not only were they redeemed, but the sick would have read to them from the Gospels, Psalms and sung hymns to remind them of their baptism into Jesus Christ life, death and resurrection.  This reminder is where the people of God are clearly connected, not only to the Apostles, but to the last gift given to Jesus Christ by the Magi.

For the Magi’s gifts, all three, Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh are important, but this last gift takes on special significance.  Myrrh was not only used as a means to make people’s clothes smell better, for they did not like our current culture take showers or baths every morning or evening.  But Myrrh was used by families specifically at a time of an individual’s life that was at the exact opposite of birth.  Myrrh was one of the spices used for embalming.

The Magi in inspiration from God brought the gift of Myrrh as a further prophecy of Jesus death.  Not only was this a foretelling of Jesus death, but for Jesus it was meant to be a clear reminder of His life as a sacrifice.  Jesus coming down from heaven was a clear sacrifice of epic proportions.  Jesus Christ chose to come to the earth, be born of a virgin, live in poverty, be baptized by John the Baptist, heal the sick and minister to the poor.  In Jesus Christ coming down from heaven He fulfilled the plan of salvation for all of mankind.  For in Jesus Christ being born in a manger and receiving the gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh, He received not only the gifts, but chose to die in order that we might live.

For this gift of Myrrh given by the Magi points clearly to His death over 30 years later.  And this gift was given not only as a reminder for them, but for us as well.  One day we will die.  But for we who have been baptized into Jesus Christ life, death and resurrection, death no longer has dominion over us.  Because of Jesus Christ, death no longer has sway over us, we are set free and this gift of Myrrh is the reminder for us of this fact as we gather here this last Wednesday night of Advent.

Recently, I visited one individual who certainly needs not only our prayer, but also the reminder of their baptism into Jesus Christ life, death and resurrection.  You see death is very close for them and my visits are the opportunity not only to remind them of God’s promises, but to retell why Jesus Christ came into this world in a lowly manger.  When I visit them there is one song that clearly reminds them of this fact and reality and I share it every time.  “Jesus loves me this I know”.  This song not only reminds them of Jesus love for them, but also of Jesus willingness to come in a lowly manger and receive the three gifts of the Magi of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh.

May we as we prepare for our celebration of Jesus birth, be reminded and comforted with the reality that we are only sojourners on this earth and the Gifts of the Magi are but reminders of another sojourner, Jesus Christ.  For He came to sacrifice Himself for us in order that we might have eternal life with Him in His kingdom.  And His gift to us of Himself was for all of mankind, including all of us saints gathered here at Emmanuel on this last Wednesday of Advent in 2014.  AMEN.

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Sunday, December 14, 2014

12142014 Advent 3 Gaudete Sunday - The Third Sunday of Advent

Gospel Audio
Sermon Audio

December 14, 2014
What joy do you have?
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer.  AMEN.

When I first arrived here at Emmanuel one of the first church celebrations I had the opportunity to celebrate in the first two months was Christmas.  Not only here in the church proper, but also with the saints at Wheat Ridge.  Since that time I have not only visited and celebrated Holy Communion with the saints both at Wheat Ridge and Good Samaritan, but joyfully proclaimed Christ and Him crucified for many who now make heaven their eternal home.  The reality is each time I do visit Wheat Ridge, Good Samaritan and even elderly members of our congregation, I receive a great joy in reminding them that they are part Emmanuel and especially members of the Body of Christ!  They are part of our fellowship and I have the greatest pleasure to bring the joy of Christ for and to them during every visit.

Today we light the third Candle of the Advent Wreath.  The third Candle is known as the Shepherd’s Candle or the Candle of Joy.  For my family growing up and many others, the third candle was pink on the Advent Wreath.  This candle has special significance because of the reminder of the Joy of the Angels.

Remember in the account of Luke that tells of the sky being full with Angels proclaiming the birth of the Savior.  This is so impactful even listening to it as a child.  The joy the angels and others must have felt when they heralded Jesus entrance into the world.  At a congregation in Western New York, on Christmas Eve there would be from the balcony a trumpet sounding the joy of the moment.  This would not only raise the collective hairs and goose bumps on many people’s necks, but clearly elicit the joy of the moment of the heavens clearly proclaiming Jesus birth.

When I was in Israel as a student, this passage took on new meaning for me personally.  Our tour group that had been in the Holy Land for days and enjoyed visiting the most sacred sites gathered together shoulder to shoulder huddled in nothing more than a cave, an underground cavern.  Very similar to what the shepherds would keep their sheep in to protect them from the marauders of the night.  In that cave, in the dim light, the proclamation of the angels was recited from memory from the King James Version.  And in that one moment all who heard, clearly connected not only with the joy of the shepherds, but especially the joy of the message shared of Jesus Christ birth in Bethlehem for all of mankind.

My question for we who gather here this morning, “What joy do you have?”  As we light this the Shepherd or Candle of Joy, “What joy do you have?”  Clearly we could say, it is the message of Jesus birth, but that was over 2000 years ago our society would respond.  But for we who gather here in the church and light the Advent Wreath, now with three candles, our Joy can have new and greater depth and meaning.

When we look through the lens of the fulfillment of the promised Messiah, just as Joy filled Elizabeth with the entrance of her cousin Mary who carried Jesus in the Womb, we to can have that joy.  For today we gather here to let the joy of Christ overflow from within us.  We look to this wreath of greenery, now with three of the four candles lit, knowing that in ten days we will gather to celebrate Jesus entrance into the World.  We will sing the songs of joy and light our candles and clearly with unmistakable hearts and voices raised, sing “Joy to the World”!

God wants us to not only have the joy, but share the joy!  This morning, we have heard the children singing, telling of the coming Christ and those children are our future.  The children are our joy and we not only have an obligation to teach them the stories, but share the joy God first placed into each of our hearts.  And that joy came in our baptism into Jesus Christ life, death and resurrection.  This is the fount of all blessings and the joy that God clearly shares with each and every one of us.

May we who gather here this morning not only come to bask in the glow of the lights of the Candles of the Advent Wreath, but also share in the joy given to us by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  For Jesus Christ came into this world in a lowly manger to save all of mankind, including all of us joy filled saints gathered here this Third Sunday of Advent.  AMEN.

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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Is our culture discipling our church instead of our discipling our members?

Alan Hirsch makes some really good points on "Disciple Making", the church NEEDS to change!!!

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

12102014 Wednesday of Advent 2

Sermon Audio

December 10, 2014
What do you smell?
May the offering of our time to be in the presence of our Lord be a blessing not only for our lives, but also our souls as we prepare our hearts for the celebration of the entrance of the King of Kings!  AMEN.

As a child, I remember going up into my Grandmother’s attic during one of our visits to Northeast Iowa.  Up there she had boxes of trinkets and treasures that were there for the exploration of young children.  One such item that always caught our interest as kids was a trunk.  This was not a small foot locker that we are accustomed to see these days in Wal-Mart, but the old Steamer Trunks.  It was a relic from the old country.  You see my Grandparents came separately to America through Baltimore on ships from the Czech Republic as young children.  Like most who travelled the oceans all their family’s worldly possessions were crammed into a steamer trunk to keep them safe until they arrived in the New World.

When we would open the steamer trunk the first thing that we noticed, wasn’t the clothes, the memorabilia or mementoes, but it was the smell.  It was not the smell that assaults us when we go by a feed lot or dairy farm, but the smell of old clothes and long ago perfumes that wafts through the air.  The kind of smell that is clear nostalgia of a by gone era.

This evening the second gift in our series of the Gifts of the Magi is of Frankincense.  Clearly Frankincense has a smell, not of ‘old clothes’ or ‘steamer trunks’, but a fragrance and aroma that people of the Old Testament knew well.  Frankincense was used in the Temple and prior to that Aaron’s people used it when there was not a place for God’s Glory to dwell.  During the time of the Exodus from Egypt when the people were wandering in the desert Frankincense was used as a fragrant offering to God.  The clear use of Frankincense in the Temple meant it was a priestly aroma, meant for God.

When the Magi presented Frankincense this gift was presented on bended knee for God the Son born in a manger.  By presenting Frankincense to Jesus Christ born in the manger the Magi foretold what Jesus would be doing when He grew older.  We have all heard the story of Jesus staying behind in Jerusalem when older and being found in the Temple with the leaders of the Jewish Synagogue.  They saw great wisdom that came from Jesus, beyond His very years.  And this gift of Frankincense as the fragrant offering, was exactly that what Jesus would be known as for we who gather here this evening.

Jesus is our High Priest.  Jesus goes before the Father for each and every one of us.  Though born in a manger in the lowest of circumstances, Jesus Christ took on His humanity and was humble in His beginnings.  But with the presentation of the Gift of Frankincense was a prophecy of what Jesus would be for we Who gather here tonight.

Frankincense offered in the sacrifice indicated how Jesus would be sacrificed for you and for me on the Cross of Calvary for our sins.  The fragrant offering Jesus Christ made in order that we might live would fulfill the plan of salvation and set us free from the bondage of sin, death and the devil.  We through Jesus perfect sacrifice are offered grace and mercy beyond what we deserve.  And in Jesus sacrifice it is a pleasing aroma for His Father in heaven.  All pointed to with the opening of a simple yet profound gift of Frankincense by the Magi.

May we who gather here this evening as we smell the pleasing aromas of the meals, the cookies, cakes and goodies of the season, remember the pleasing aroma of Frankincense given to Jesus Christ.  For Jesus Christ came in the manger, was given the gift of Frankincense, chose to offer Himself and is the reason for the season.  Jesus Christ is the pleasing aroma of our God Who came as our sacrifice to set all of mankind free, including all of us saints gathered here at Emmanuel this Second Wednesday of Advent evening.  AMEN.

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Sunday, December 7, 2014

12072014 Advent 2 - POPULUS ZION - The Second Sunday in Advent

Gospel Audio
Sermon Audio

December 7, 2014
Are you prepared for Jesus Christ?
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer.  AMEN.

A few weeks ago I told of how Michele and I are preparing for my parents visit in a few weeks.  Like with any visit whether relatives or with friends for an evening meal, there is anticipation and there is perspiration.  The one takes place inside of ourselves and sometimes keeps us up at night, the other is the work that we have to complete with our hands and by the sweat of our brow before their arrival.  But all of this connects clearly with our Advent Worship.

This week we continue our series of the Advent Candles and contemplate the second candle.  It is sometimes known as the Candle of Preparation or the Bethlehem Candle.  We need to ask ourselves as we prepare during this Advent season, “Are we prepared for Jesus Christ?”

When I visited with Edna Snethen in the hospital last year about this time, she and I talked about the coming of Jesus Christ and our return to Him in heaven.  We both agreed that we do not know the day nor the hour of His return, nor do we know when we will be called home to be with Him.  Yet, though we do not know when, we both agreed that we still needed to be prepared.  And this Candle of Preparation we light this morning is just that, a reality check for us who gather here today that we need to be prepared for Jesus return.

Each of our lessons this morning reflects, refines and refocuses this concept of preparation and concentrates us on the reality of our need for preparation.  Just like a magnifying lens used to capture the sunlight and focus its rays, our lessons illuminate the reality of our need of preparation for Jesus coming in the manger.  For the King cometh, Jesus Christ is coming and we need to be prepared.  Just like farmers in the spring after a winter slumber check the irrigation towers and pivots and get out the planters and make sure they are serviced, repaired and ready to plant the corn or milo to insure a crop in the fall.  So to in the church and in our individual lives during Advent we need to prepare and be prepared for Jesus entrance in Bethlehem.

Sure, we look to the manger and say, this is only a Child.  Yet, this Child Who lays apparently helpless in the manger is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.  This is Jesus Christ, the Word made Flesh Who dwells among mankind.  Jesus Christ comes to offer each and every one of us life and salvation.  Jesus Christ takes on His Humanity beginning as each of us began as babes, but this is no ordinary Child, this is the Savior of the World that we find in the manger in Bethlehem.

In our lighting this Candle of Preparation, we prepare, not only the wreath counting down the weeks until our celebration of Christmas, but also the preparation of our hearts and homes for the entrance of the King.  We light the Candle of Preparation and of Hope because this is God’s fulfillment of His promise of a Savior to come down to earth and save us.  We light the Advent Wreath to be a beacon for Goodland where we live and our church community in which we gather to partake of His precious Body and Blood.  We light the Candles because we live in a world full of darkness that is filled with fallen humanity in need of the light of Christ.  The Advent Wreath leads us down the path of remembering and preparing for Jesus and sharing why He comes in a lowly manger.

For Jesus Christ is the light that breaks the bonds of darkness and shows us the way to Him.  Jesus Christ is the light of the World.  We prepare and light our Advent Wreath candles in preparation of His entrance not only in a manger in Bethlehem, but especially into each of our hearts.  We light our Advent Wreath in order to pass on to the future, our children our history and heritage and especially our faith in our King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

We light simple candles in a circular wreath in order to lighten our path and our journey to the manger to meet our Savior.  For our Savior, Jesus Christ comes offering us grace and forgiveness and we remember this not only with our wreath of candles, but around and from the Altar.  For Jesus Christ offers in, with and under His Body and Blood the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation, not for a select few, but for all of mankind.  And we are empowered to share this with our fallen world, including all of mankind, but especially all of us saints who come to light the Advent candles in preparation on this the Second Sunday in Advent here at Emmanuel.  AMEN.

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Thursday, December 4, 2014

12032014 Wednesday of Advent 1

Sermon Audio

December 3, 2014
What are you offering?
May the offering of our time to be in the presence of our Lord be a blessing not only for our lives, but also our souls as we prepare our hearts for the celebration of the entrance of the King of Kings!  AMEN.

Archimedes solved the question of a crime by simple density.  Farmers use density to determine how much fertilizer or phosphorous to put on a field.  And cities use density to determine how best to structure the utilities needed to supply a city with water, electricity and roads.  But what does density have to do with Gold.  Gold is one of the densest of precious metals.  And Gold is exactly what was offered by the first of the three wise men.

Tonight we begin our first of the three gifts of the Magi.  Typically the gifts and preaching on them is after Christmas, because the Magi and the gifts did not arrive on the scene of the inn in Bethlehem until January 6th, the 12th Day of Christmas.  But I chose these three gifts to preach upon, because they deserve more than just one day and one sermon.  These gifts have greater meaning and significance even for us here tonight.

The first gift of Gold is not only a priceless metal, but a color that denotes being set apart from others.  We use it on the Altar to highlight the symbols on the Altar.  We wear it on our fingers for wedding bands and even ear rings.  Our society even keeps accurate track of it daily on the reports from the stock exchange where countries used to not only stock pile gold, but use it as the basis for our money.  But of what significance is Gold for a child?  Why are the Magi offering it?  And most importantly during this Advent Season we have to answer the simple question, “What are you offering?”

Simply the gift of Gold offered to the Christ child in the manger is not to ‘buy favors’ by the Magi.  Just as we present our offering on Sunday not to gain favor, Gold was how one Magi presented a wealth that would be a great help to Joseph and Mary.  Remember Joseph and Mary did not arrive in Bethlehem by caravan, but alone and by Mary riding upon a donkey.  They did not have extravagant wealth only what they carried on their backs or in their meager purse.  The journey they were about to embark upon in fleeing to Egypt would not be cheap and the Gold offered by the Magi would insure they would not starve and be able to get established wherever they were headed, even to distant Egypt.  And the Magi was just the person God intended to use.

Chris Jackson in his book, “Loving God When You Don’t Love the Church” says, “People are the most common form of answered prayer.” (Kindle Location 1941)  And I believe Joseph and Mary didn’t know what to think.  Having experienced the Shepherds who came from the fields, the animals that bowed in adoration with the birth of Jesus, the Angels announcing the birth of Jesus Christ, the only thing their Jewish faith and heritage taught Mary and Joseph to do was to pray.  And these Magi were an answer to prayer.  This was God’s answer to Joseph and Mary and God used this Magi to bring Gold, exactly what they needed for the days, months and years ahead.

So I ask we who gather here this Wednesday evening during the first week of Advent, what gift do you bring to the Manger?  What are you offering?  God does not expect Gold.  God does not expect us to sell the land we farm, the cattle we tend, nor anything that has any materialistic value here on this earth.  God only asks us to humbly offer ourselves.

God wants us to offer ourselves so we can be used like the Gold given to Joseph and Mary in order for each and every one of us to be the hands of Christ for our world around us.  Whether it is remodeling the downstairs rooms of the church or kitchen, hands to make beer rocks as a fundraiser, cleaning the church in preparation for our Christmas celebration or donating of time or talents as one is able for the glory of God.  God only asks for us to offer ourselves in humble adoration of His coming in the manger.

For in offering ourselves on bended knee, like the animals in the stable and the Magi, our gifts offered from the heart will give the greatest Glory to our God Jesus Christ Who lies in the manger.  For Jesus Christ comes, not expecting gifts of great monetary worth measured from an earthly perspective, but great gifts measured from an eternal perspective, God’s perspective.

May we respond to “what are you offering?” not with Gold, but with ourselves so we can honor God’s gift given to us in a lowly manger for all of mankind.  Including all of us saints gathered here at Emmanuel this First Wednesday of Advent.  AMEN.

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Sunday, November 30, 2014

11302014 Advent 1 Ad Te Levavi

Sermon Audio

November 30, 2014
What is your hope built upon?
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer.  AMEN.

All of us have seen the Christmas decorations that have invaded Wal-Mart.  We now are continuously hearing the Christmas music on the radio and television and in less than four weeks will unmistakably want the season of Christmas to be over.  Yet, the reality is that we aren’t in the Christmas season.  The music being played by secular stations and the marketing machines may be real Christmas songs, but we are not in the Christmas season.  The reality is that we have lost the sacredness of the season we begin actually begin today.

Today is the First Sunday in Advent.  Advent is a season with one intent.  To point to and look for the coming of the Christ Child.  In our churches heritage we count the four weeks leading up to Christmas through an evergreen wreath that holds four candles and signifies the season of preparation of Advent.  For the next four weeks here in worship we will light the candles at the beginning of each service and explore each of these candles and their meanings in our daily lives with the end in mind, the real Christmas Season, which comes the twelve days after December 24th.  The first candle that we begin with today on the First Sunday in Advent is known as the Candle of Hope.

If you have seen any of the events of the last week from the major news and media outlets or rants or opinions on Facebook, it would probably be about Ferguson, Missouri.  The tragic events that transpired made me think of a simple question as I look to the Candle of Hope this the First Sunday in Advent.  What is your hope built upon?

Just last week we finished another church year looking to the end times or the coming of Jesus Christ in Glory to judge all of mankind.  With the events in our country and our world, some wonder if Jesus Christ return is not any closer.  But the reality is that our hope is and should be built on nothing less than Jesus Christ.

From our readings this morning, we have heard from Isaiah the prophet to the Psalmist, David and in our Gospel we hear from Saint John, there is one theme.  Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh is “the light that shines in the darkness.”  Jesus Christ is the answer to any and all problems that we individually and collectively face in our world today.  Jesus Christ is the only answer to our collective question of “What is your hope built upon?

For us this morning, the Candle of Hope is a poignant and purposeful reminder of just that, a hope built upon the promise of a Messiah coming to walk this earth, heal the sick, down trodden and the poor and ultimately for Him to die in order that we might have life.  The Candle of Hope is to be a light for each and every one of us on our individual journeys and our world of the Messiah Jesus Christ and His entrance in a lowly manger in Bethlehem.  From the time of Adam and Eve through Moses and Elijah and Isaiah, up until the manger in Bethlehem, everyone was looking for the Hope that was coming from a Branch of Jesse.  Jesus Christ was the hope to be born in Bethlehem that was promised and is our hope we have today in our world. 

Edward Mote stated the firm belief and conviction of the Candle of Hope in his song entitled, “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less”.  In this hymn Mote clearly states that our anchor is Jesus Christ.  It is upon Jesus Christ and the promises He makes to each of us in our baptism that we can fully rely upon in our every day lives.  This is why the Advent season is filled not only with hope of remembering the coming Savior, but what He will do for each of us on the Cross of Calvary thirty years later.

The Candle of Hope is the first candle on the Advent wreath not only to help us keep track of the sacredness of the Advent season, but to encourage us at the beginning of the Church Year.  For the Candle of Hope not only points to Jesus Christ, but is to be a reminder that our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ is the reason for the season and our great hope that is a great “light that shines in the darkness”.  For this is why Jesus comes in a lowly manger and why we light this first candle of Hope for all of mankind, including all of us saints gathered here at Emmanuel this First Sunday of Advent.  AMEN.

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Sunday, November 23, 2014

2014 Advent Devotional

If you like to have 'new' devotionals for the Advent Season, here is the link ( for a devotional series from the North American Lutheran Church.

This is a great opportunity as we prepare for the coming Christ child!!

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11232014 Christ the King Sunday

Sermon Audio

November 23, 2014
Are you ready?
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer.  AMEN.
Today is a milestone event in the life of the Christian church.  Today we are not only one day closer to the coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, but we celebrate the completion of another Church Year.  Throughout Christendom, today is known as Christ the King Sunday.  It is a day filled with triumph and jubilation, but also exuberance for today we look forward, not specifically to next week and the beginning of another Church Year with Advent, but to the triumphal return of Jesus Christ.
Holy Scripture is very clear in many places of where the disciples and others asked Jesus about His return.  And Jesus tells them clearly what will occur and what the signs are for His return.  On the opposite side of the insert are 18 different signs concerning Jesus return.  Some signs we can see from current events in the media and even technological innovations.  These signs also include clear and impending marks of doom, including, but not limited to war, hatred, disease and outbreaks of violence.  Clearly with the Ebola outbreak and even having some victims as near as Nebraska and the violence of Ferguson, Missouri, these signs may be an indication of Jesus return very soon.
There are even some cults that have chosen extreme measures because of the fear of the end of the world, but not Jesus return on the last day.  Recently there was the latest release of the Left Behind movie that refueled the anxiety of the rapture and the end times.  But today here at Emmanuel we celebrate in spite of what happens in our culture, the movies released and even fulfillment of biblical signs.  We celebrate for a simple fact, we look to and celebrate the return Jesus Christ.  Jesus is coming, triumphant as Christ the King of Glory and we who gather here today are ready for His return, especially when we pray, “Come Lord Jesus”!
Yet, there still is that nagging human side in all of us, including Pastors where we need to ask ourselves a simple yet profound question.  “Are you ready?”
As we get closer to Christmas, for Michele and I this question takes on a different meaning.  You see my parents will be coming to celebrate the Christmas holidays with us.  So we are trying to be prepared with all the things that children and daughter-in-laws worry about.  Is the house picked up?  Have all the floors been mopped or vacuumed?  Is Sarah’s room ready?  Is the guest room ready?  Will the house look neat and tidy for their arrival and stay during the Christmas season?  All of this though trivial for some, creates a clear sense of worry and anxiety that wears on both Michele and I.  So when the question arises, “Are you ready?”, right now we have to declare “no”, but we will be.
So to in the Christian life, as we get closer to Jesus return, our collective feelings and sense of worry rises, because this is Jesus Christ Who is returning.  He is Lord of heaven and earth.  Not only did He create the world we live and exist in, but He knows EVERYTHING we have done.  This is why the question, “Are you ready?” may worry us even more as His children, and we probably if we answer honestly, have to say, “no” we are not ready.
Paul in the Epistle lesson plucks this nerve of ‘worry’ more so for each of us, when he says, the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night.  We don’t know when it is coming, but Paul clearly wants us to understand, we will not know when the time of Jesus return will be.  It is a time that we could be clearly unprepared for, but which God does not want us unprepared for, hence my question for each of us to ponder, “are you ready?”
Though our collective feelings create a clear bundle of nerves in each of us, Paul does remind us of an undeniable truth.  You are all sons of light and sons of day.   Let me say that again, You are all sons of light and sons of day.  Through our baptism with Water and the Word of God, we were made sons and daughters of the King Who comes.  When God made us in our mother’s wombs and then with Water and Word made us His in Holy Baptism and poured the gift of eternal life into our lives and made us heirs of the Kingdom of God, we were promised eternal life and salvation.  Though we still daily fall short of the glory of God and do sin in thought Word and deed as we confess before we take Holy Communion, God still wants us to be reminded, we are His.
So Paul not only reminds us that we are God’s, but also reminds us of another truth, an imperative.  “Let us be on alert and sober.”  In essence, We need to be ready.  Just like combat soldiers that are on the front lines always need to be ready for an attack from the enemy, we as Christians need to be ready for when Jesus Christ returns.  We need to be prepared like good soldiers of the cross ready for our Supreme Commanders return.
This Sunday we move another day closer to where we will move the Pascal Candle.  In the church there are many symbols that have clear meaning, from the altar which has the ihs, better known as the simplification of Jesus name, to the triangle signifying the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and even the Alpha and the Omega.  This symbol of the Alpha and Omega is extremely important not only because it is on our altar, but it signifies what we are celebrating today, the end of the Church Year.  Hence we return to the question, “Are you ready?”

As Christians baptized by the Blood of the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world, we should clearly answer “Yes, I am ready”.  Yes, Jesus Christ could come any day and we would be ready for His return.  We can welcome Him and look forward to His return.  For some who not only gather with us this morning, but also we encounter daily whether at Rasure’s, Wal-Mart, the Mexican restaurant or wherever, their words may clearly indicate they are ready for Jesus return.  Others of us may not be, because we feel we either need to accomplish something more or we need to have one last chance to do something in order to be worthy of what Jesus Christ will bring us.  But God has provided us what we need to be ready.

Two weeks ago we were introduced to the armor of God.  In our lesson this morning, which in fact is a different book of the Bible, Paul returns to this concept and imagery not only to remind us, but embolden us to put on the full armor of God.  Paul says, “since we are of the day”, since we are children of the light, not to have any darkness in us and we being redeemed by the blood of the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world, we are marked differently.  Not only with the sign of the Cross over our forehead and heart, but also with the redemption promised to us by Jesus Christ.  Paul further says, “let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love”.  This is the armor that not only will protect our vital organs, but inspire us to love mankind and one another in the Christian faith.  We are called to be the children of God that not only protect ourselves and our core, but live and love one another with an unmistakable love.  A love not only for community, but also for each other as Brothers and Sisters in Christ.
When we show this love towards one another our outlook not only changes, but we ourselves change.  If you were to read any self-help book, each and every one worth its weight clearly says if you want to make a change in your life, you need to make ‘new habits’.  By new habits it isn’t to be done once and then forgotten and then we claim we are changed.  New habits require us to daily change ourselves and daily establish the new norm in our lives.
So to in the Christian journey of life, if you want to be ready for Jesus Christ return, it isn’t supposed to be like the study habits of college kids, ‘cram for the test’ on the last night before the exam.  Or for farmers who plant one day and expect a growing season all overnight.  Instead, daily with your eyes looking to the coming Savior, Jesus Christ, daily we need to prepare ourselves.  We have the opportunity to create our new reality.  Last week I used a phrase that has clear traction for the opportunity we have as Christians, it is having an ‘attitude of gratitude’.  With our asking the question, “Are we ready?” do we have the right attitude?  Will we be prepared for Jesus return?  We need the new habits of the Christian life in order to be prepared for Jesus return.
Thus not only putting on the breastplate of faith and love, we also need to as Paul says, to put on the “helmet, the hope of salvation”.   It is clear from the media and what we hear from our society that We live in desperate and tenuous times.  Christians are being persecuted.  Lives of those who are willing to step up and spread the Gospel message of Jesus Christ are fewer on the mission field.  And sadly those who do decide to be missionaries, their lives are being snuffed out not only by a clear opposition to the message of the Gospel, but clearly this is evil in the world.  This is the opposition, or end times that Jesus warned us about when He spoke with His disciples.  Jesus was warning us then and today we are even closer to His coming.  But Paul wants us not to focus on what is around us, but put on the armor of God, the helmet that will not only protect us, but for all of us to focus on our mission and ministry given to us by Jesus Christ.
If you were to go to the race track where horses race, one of the items of the horse tack that is put on a horse is what is called ‘blinders’.  These blinders prevent the horse from being distracted.  It keeps the horse’s focus on what is in front.  So instead of looking back or to the side, the horse’s eyes are kept forward focused, where they are going, ultimately the finish line.
In the Christian life, we need blinders as well.  When we put on the helmet of the hope of salvation, God in one sense wants the helmet not only to protect us and our heads, but keep us focused on what matters, but more importantly our eternal destination, the finish line.  God wants us to focus on preparing for the coming of Jesus Christ.  When we focus on the coming of Jesus Christ we no longer remain focused on what we have done in the past, what is occurring around us in the present no matter how distracting or detracting, but God wants us to remain steadfast and immovable and focus on the future, the coming of Jesus Christ and our entrance into eternity in heaven with Him.
God wants us to keep Jesus Christ, His mission, ministry and message front and center in our daily lives.  God doesn’t want us to gossip with others about rumors whether about our friends or those we see on a daily basis, or about things that may have happened or may happen in our community and especially here in the church.  God doesn’t want us to break each other down every chance we have.  God wants us to do the polar opposite.  God expects us to build each other up.
Paul ends our epistle reading with another clear imperative.  “Therefore encourage one another and build up one another”.  Paul was being inspired by God to inspire us to be cheerleaders, but also empower us to empower each other for what we would encounter on our pilgrimage.  God wants us to help each other through our daily struggles, our daily attacks that we feel from Satan and clearly speak the Word of God and especially the Gospel of Jesus Christ into each other’s lives.
Some in our society look at churches and Christians in particular and say, hey that is your job.  Christians and the church should be the place where we come to be inspired.  Yes, that is one aspect of what the church should be doing, but it is not the only imperative of the church.  The church and the people of God who come to church and sit in the pews should encourage one another.  This is each and every one of our collective jobs as well.  If it were only the churches or the pastor’s job, then everybody should be at church daily without fail.  But in clear contrast, we are not here everyday, sometimes not every week or just sporadically or some as they are known as C&E’s, Christmas and Easter.
This is why daily we as Christians need to lift each other up on a daily basis.  Be the light of Christ in our daily lives so Christ can shine through us and we can inspire one another and share our burdens, offer comfort and pray for one another without ceasing.
One of the most iconic images of a place where people talked and shared their burdens was the kitchen table.  I remember as a child visiting both my Grandparents and seeing their kitchen tables.  My Dad’s parents didn’t have the ‘formal dining room’, but the simple kitchen table that all meals were prepared on and shared around.  As a family we would gather around and share our meal and the table was exactly at the center of the home where everyone would bear one another’s burdens.  Families would have meetings of the minds and hearts around the table, because it meant everybody was equal.  Just as in King Arthur’s day, the round table was meant to be the great equalizer, we too should be reminded of our not only being equal with one another, but being empowered and encouraged to share and bear our burdens with one another.  Whether around the kitchen table, the round tables in the fellowship hall or even in silence when we gather around the table of our Lord and Savior when we come for Holy Communion.  We can share one another’s burdens.
When we encourage one another, we change the landscape and reality of our interactions with each other and the ability we have to not only be an encouragement for one another, but support each other even during the darkest of days.  One way that our 21st Century culture has shared the ability to encourage each other is by Facebook.  Yes, I know some believe Facebook is a creation of evil.  A place where each of us reads into a post, what we believe, instead of what the person posting may be thinking, feeling or even desiring to be understood.  Others see Facebook as a means to either brag, complain or vent and are unafraid to not ‘put the best construction’ on what is put on Facebook, or unwilling to with care and compassion ask their friends directly what was meant by a post.  But even in these times, there is a group that uses Facebook in a God pleasing manner.

One Spark Foundation clearly uses the technology and instant communication of Facebook for a Godly purpose.  They call the stories that are shared sparks.  It is the hope and desire that one little spark done by one person and shared across Facebook will not only affect the person for or to whom the action is done, but will be an inspiration for others.  Just like the song, “It only takes a Spark”, by sharing a spark, it is clear people can make a difference, even if it is only one life at a time.
There are so many sparks I could share, but instead, I want to share what David Hill said.  David is the founder of the One Spark Foundation.  He says:
“Each one of us has been given a gift to make the world a better place.  It may be a song, leadership, organization, love, laughter, a builder, a mason or many other things.  We need to search our hearts until we find the gift that we have been blessed with and then use it to make the world a better place for everyone to live.  We must remember that if we fail to use the gift that we have been blessed with we stand a chance of losing it.”  David’s words are very true.
And today we gather here with so many gifts given each of us by God to remember that there is a gift that will not pass away and this is what Jesus Christ did on the Cross of Calvary.  As we answer the question, “Are you ready?” and share with one another the news of the greatest gift of what Jesus Christ has done for us on the Cross of Calvary, God is calling us to be a spark in our daily lives.  May we as we celebrate Thanksgiving this week, not only share in the turkey and all the trimmings, but be inspired to use our God given gifts to not only point to Jesus Christ, but also be a spark for all of mankind our community of Goodland and especially including each of the saints gathered here at Emmanuel this morning.  AMEN.

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