Prepared by Baptism

Mark 1:1-8

We don’t have our Christmas card ready yet. But we are ready for life with Jesus.

We haven’t made any Christmas cookies yet. But we are ready for life with Jesus.

We haven’t picked up the Christmas treats for the rabbit and the dogs. But we are ready for life with Jesus.

With all of the preparations for Christmas, it seems almost a relief when Christmas arrives. We get all ready for the day that by the time Christmas Day arrives we are too tired to enjoy it! Yet we know the season of Advent is more than sending cards in the mail, baking cookies, and buying presents.

Advent is about making preparations for life with Jesus. During Advent we remember Jesus’ first arrival. We also get ready for Jesus’ second coming. John the Baptizer spent his ministry getting people ready for Jesus’ coming. How did the crowds get ready then? They were baptized for the forgiveness of sins. How do we get ready today for Jesus’ arrival? We get baptized with the Holy Spirit.

This is good news! Jesus Christ has good news for us. Jesus Christ is good news for us. When we receive this good news, our life is marked by being baptized. This washing called baptism is a preparation for all God has for us. Like Advent is more than getting ready for Christmas, baptism is more than a final destination for us.

A. There is good news! (1:1)
+++1. Mark records the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ
+++2. Jesus is the Christ – the anointed one of God
+++3. Jesus is the Son of God – the actual, one and only descendant of God!
+++4. With this good news, we gotta be ready for Jesus coming into this world. The gospel of Jesus Christ starts here. But it doesn’t end here. The good news of Jesus Christ continues. Wouldn’t we want to be part of what God has for us? If we do, then we get to decide to be part of what God is doing in this world.

B. What are we to do with this good news? (1:2-8)
+++1. John the Baptizer is the messenger of this good news
+++2. John prepares the way of the Lord
+++3. If baptism was all we did, then how could we follow the way of the Lord?
+++4. Confessing our sins is our part of the preparation for life with Jesus
+++5. Baptism with the Holy Spirit is God’s part of our preparation for life with Jesus
+++6. It took a prophet to get Israel ready for Jesus’ first arrival. It takes a prophet to get us ready for Jesus’ second arrival.

So you have been baptized. So what. Our baptism means very little unless our paths are straight. Our baptism means very little unless we are living the way of the Lord. Our baptism prepares us for life with Jesus.

Now that we know the good news of Jesus Christ, we can live in the power of the Holy Spirit. For Jesus didn’t just give us His Holy Spirit for the day of our baptism. We receive the good news of Jesus Christ for all of our days. We received the Holy Spirit so we could be ready for when Jesus Christ arrives again here on earth.

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He doesn’t know. But I know.

He doesn’t know. But I do know.

There was the psychiatrist at the state hospital who told my wife and I: “If you hadn’t adopted him, then he probably be dead by now.”

That was about seven years ago that we heard those words. These words are part of what my wife and I have heard, experienced, and spent as parents of a special needs child. There has been embarrassment, tears, joy, and befuddlement in our life as parents. “Normal” parents experience these same items. Or at least I have heard that they do.

He doesn’t know. But I do know.

Over the years I have read about the amount of money and time parents spend on their children to be involved in traveling soccer, basketball, softball, and baseball. They spend a lot of money and time on their children. We don’t know how “normal” parents spend that amount of money and time. But then, “normal” parents probably don’t know the money and time “special needs” parents spend on their children.

Meals away from home, time on the road, and missed opportunities in life are probably shared by both “normal” and “special needs” parents. We do what we do because we love our children. Our “special needs” son may never read these words. That is alright.

He doesn’t know. But I do know.

He may never understand what his mother and I have done. The countless hours at doctors’ offices, specialists appointments, and counseling in and out of our home. The hopes of his eventual success in life. The yearning for him to have friends. The joy of seeing him do well in school and the concern about his giving up that success in school because he doesn’t want to do the work.

I have witnessed adult children loving their adult parents who suffer from dementia and Alzheimer’s. Though the adult parents may not recognize the love and care from their adult children, the adult children love and care for adult parents anyway. That might be a good way to view the “special needs” parents and their special needs children.

He doesn’t know. But I do know.

One Shepherd

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

I don’t know about you. I do know that I haven’t been a good sheep this year. We could say that I have at times been a “ba-a-d” sheep. I have felt the shepherd’s crook several times this past year. Just as I was going to do my thing, there is Jesus pulling me back, away from trouble. Besides the fact I am a preacher, the hold God has on me through the church is powerful. Whether it was a kind word from my wife, a sharp word from the Bible, or even the Holy Spirit invading my dreams, Jesus has used many means to keep me in the flock.

Once we become part of God’s flock, then we get to realize how powerful God’s word is. For God says He will search for us and provide for us. God even provides one shepherd for His flock. We recognize on this day that this one shepherd is our king.

It’s Christ the King Sunday, the newest day in the liturgical year across the Western Church. It was first added in 1925 by the Roman Catholic Church in response to increasing secularization movements worldwide, but in particular to the plight of Mexican Christians who were being told by their government that only their government was due ultimate allegiance. The Church in Mexico remained faithful, holding public parades throughout the land (with significant governmental push back!) proclaiming “Cristo Rey!,” “Christ is King!” Pope Pius XI made that declaration the basis of a Holy Day to be observed throughout the entire Roman Catholic Church, “Christ, The King of the Universe.” After Vatican II, Rome moved the observance of this day from October to the final Sunday of the Christian Year, and many Protestants, including United Methodists, who adopted the Revised Common Lectionary and its calendar have followed suit. (https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/christ-the-king-sunday-2017-preaching-notes)

Yes, following Jesus stirs up trouble for us. In following this one shepherd, we are to be careful how we treat other sheep. God has enough grace for all of us. We need not think that another sheep is getting more than we got. Remember, we are his sheep.

A. God will search for his sheep (34:11-16)
+++1. God looks for us!
+++2. God will rescue us – even from a day of clouds and thick darkness
+++3. God will provide a land of our own
+++4. In the mountains of Israel God provides a good grazing land
+++5. Thanks to God, we can rest
+++6. God cares for the lost, the strays, the injured and the weak
+++7. Those who have hurt God’s flock will eat justice!
+++8. God is faithful. He has been seeking out his flock. He is seeking out his flock. He will continue to seek out the members of his flock. With all that God promises to provide for us, we know we will be well taken care of! Yet, when we take more than what we need, God gives us justice. We may not want God’s justice. So, we have to decide how we are going to be in the flock. There is one to feed us.

B. There is one shepherd (34:20-24)
+++1. God will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep
+++2. We get to ask ourselves, “Have I butted the weak sheep?”
+++3. For those sheep that have been ravaged, God saves them
+++4. Even though God is the shepherd of his people (34:15), He appoints a shepherd – even a prince!
+++5. The Lord will be their God – He has spoken
+++6. I don’t know what it is. But we Christians can really use our flanks to get our way. We know how to shoulder our way through the flock. We most likely have even scattered sheep out of the flock! It seems even we sheep need the shepherd’s crook to keep us from expelling sheep from the flock. The prince, David or his heir, will feed us. We realize this prince is Jesus. The prince will administer to us what we need. We will get all the good things God has for us. We don’t need to butt the other sheep out of the way!

Christ is King! God is our shepherd. God appoints the prince to shepherd us.

God has been providing us all we need. When we are scattered, God brings us back to the flock. He just may use some of us to bring back some sheep to the flock! Remember, God is the administrator of the flock. He makes sure we get food, drink, and rest. He also protects us, even from each other!

If we have acted like one of these fat sheep, then let us repent of our ways. Otherwise the only thing we will receive from God is justice. That doesn’t sound like something that would satisfy us. Let’s follow the shepherd to get what we need.

Happy New Year! Merry Christmas!

Dear Friends,

Happy New Year!

Yes, it is not quite December 31st. But we Christians do not always operate on the schedule of the calendar. At least we don’t operate according to the calendar of this world. Yes, the setting of the Christian New Year as the week of Christ the King Sunday (November 26th this year) may be arbitrary. It might even be possible that we pay so much attention to the calendar that we forget the one who made it possible to have dates and a calendar. Yet, as we think about Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, and the cycle that leads to Easter (a.k.a. Resurrection Sunday), we realize the time we have is about following Jesus closer. Since we know Jesus is coming, we want to be ready for his return. So if flipping the page on a calendar year helps us ponder our life, then the sooner we start the better! Let me repeat myself: Happy New Year!

During the four Sundays of Advent we are indeed pondering how our life is ready for the arrival of Jesus on earth. We do celebrate the glory of the Lord that became incarnate through Mary’s pregnancy. We consider Joseph’s decision to obey God. We do cheer on the shepherds as they are visited by angels. We contemplate the truth that God desires to be with us, the Emmanuel.

All of this celebrating, considering, cheering, and contemplating are the means of God getting our attention. When God has our attention, then we are able to be born again from above. When God is in our midst, then we are able to live holy lives. When God’s desires are known, then we are able to grow mature in Christ. Advent is not just about decorating our homes and churches. Advent is about us getting ready for God to reside with us! When we decide to receive Jesus, God’s gift for us, then indeed we can have a Merry Christmas!

In closing, on behalf of my family, we give you these blessings: Happy New Year and Merry Christmas!

We long for you to be as we are,

In Christ’s Service,
John, Maria, and Ben

Christian Stamina: Our Destiny!

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

We finally got here. We are at the last sermon in the series on “Christian Stamina.” We have realized four things already. First, once we start to believe God, we are in Christ. Next, we learned that just as Jesus and Paul shared themselves, we share ourselves with those around us so they may know the gospel of God. The third thing we learned is we are to live holy, righteous, and blameless lives. Last week we discovered our goal is to be with the Lord forever. Each week was guiding us to the realization we find today.

For us to endure persecution in this life is not a waste of time or energy. God has a destiny for us. God wants us to be able to have salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. Knowing what God desires for us can help us to live.

So many times I have seen this passage used as a defense of constantly looking at the sky for Jesus’ return. We need to be aware of the signs pointing to Jesus’ return. Yet if all we find from the last two chapters of this letter is sky-watching, we miss what is essential to life with Christ Jesus. We know Jesus is coming back. We know he will come when we least expect him to come back. The judgment of the people who reject God is going to take place. This is called the “day of the Lord.” We know this information because Jesus told us this information. What then is to be our concern?

A. We are children of the light (5:1-7)
+++1. The timing of when Jesus’ returns is in God’s hands (5:1-2
+++2. God’s wrath will come to those who are not in Christ (5:3)
+++3. We who are in Christ are not in darkness (5:4)
+++4. Beloved, We are children of the light (5:5-7)
+++===a. We are children of the day
++===+b. We stay awake and sober (maintain our focus & live in Christ)
+===++c. We are not children of the night
+===++d. We avoid getting drunk on controversies and being drunk on our own desires
+++5. Our concern is to live as children of the light! So much time in Christian circles has been spent speculating on who is the Antichrist, which nation invades Israel, and other such controversies. We Christians have been focused on the wrong stuff! When Jesus returns so much of what we expected may not turn out as we thought it would. There is a greater concern for us. This living as children of the light is that greater concern. For this means we are not sitting around talking about what is to come, but that we are living as Christ’s beloved! What then are we to do?

B. We are to encourage one another (5:8-11)
+++1. Let us be sober – remember, we are in Christ!
+++2. Let us be properly clothed
++===+a. Breastplate of faith and love – our hearts are protected by knowing we belong to God through the faith of Jesus
++===+b. Helmet – the hope of salvation – our minds are set on receiving what God has for us
++===+c. These are part of the attire of God! (Isaiah 59:16-20) – It is God who delivers those who turn to him, even giving us an abundant life
+++3. We can do this living with Jesus now! (This sounds encouraging to me!)
+++4. God wants us to have salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ! God wants us to know peace through being in Christ. As we live, we may live with Jesus, even today. As we go to sleep, literally die, then may we live with Jesus. We don’t know how it will all work out when we die. We do know that unless we live with Jesus now, it won’t matter once we are asleep. We want to have the stamina to continue in faith until the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Life is hard. No matter how soon we place our faith in God through Jesus Christ, we must all wait for Jesus’ return. There will be many temptations to fall away from faith in God. We can get distracted and miss the point of the time between now and the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is in this time before the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ that we live as children of the light and children of the day.

All those who have faith in God through Jesus Christ are the beloved of God. Paul is encouraging us to live like we know we are the beloved. Maria will remind me on occasion that I call myself a Christian. I also remind her every once in a while that she is also one who calls herself a Christian. I think that is what Paul is telling the church of the Thessalonians. Since we belong to the day, then let us live the salvation God is giving us through Jesus Christ.

I think this benediction from 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 can inspire us:

“May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.”

Christian Stamina: Our Goal

 

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

When we become believers, our life changes. Before our goal was to be satisfied with whatever we wanted. Now, our goal is to be ready to be with the Lord forever. Before we did what we wanted, whenever we wanted. Now, we do what God wants, whenever God wants us to do what He wants us to do.

Our goal is to be ready to be with the Lord forever. We start going towards that goal when we say, “Jesus is Lord.” Our getting baptized in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is like an official start of living toward that goal. Along the way we realize God’s will is for our sanctification. Then as we are becoming holy, righteous, and blameless we are continuing in the direction of being with the Lord forever. A desire grows in us to be more and more loving to our Christian brothers and sisters.

We have three concerns as we look forward to being with the Lord forever. There will be persecution as we are looking forward to life with the Lord. Knowing we face harassment from others, we keep looking toward our goal. The second concern is we may our faith may lack something. So, we find encouragement from other Christians to continue in our faith and love. The third concern is about those who die before Jesus returns. Knowing our goal helps us overcome this concern.

A. We have hope for ourselves and other Christians, even those asleep (4:13-15)
+++1. We have hope!
+++2. God will bring with him those who have died! (Asleep)
+++3. Neither the asleep or awake Christians will be at an advantage
+++4. We have hope! We mourn the passing of our brothers and sisters in Christ. They place their faith in Jesus Christ. We have placed our faith in Jesus Christ. As Paul describes the situation, those Christians who have died before the return of Jesus are asleep. Since both those asleep and those alive are looking forward to the presence of the Lord, neither precedes the other. It is our looking toward the coming of the presence of the Lord that gives us hope. It is our faith in Jesus Christ that makes us family with the rest of the Christians. It is our love for each other that helps us be ready for the coming of the Lord. What a joy when the Lord gets here!

B. We will be with the Lord forever (4:16-18)
+++1. At the archangel’s call & the sound of God’s trumpet, the Lord will descend
+++2. The dead in Christ rise 1st
+++3. Those of us alive will meet the dead in Christ in the air
+++4. We will be with the Lord, who is descending!
+++5. We continue to encourage one another!
+++6. It is a joy to read about Jesus descending from heaven. We are seeking to live holy lives. Why are we seeking to live holy lives? For when Jesus gets here we will be able to be in his presence. It is God’s will that we be sanctified (4:3). It is the Holy Spirit residing within us which helps us to be holy, so we can be ready for the coming of the Lord Jesus. Our faith is the first step in living a life worthy of God. Our love is a multitude of steps we make to live a life worthy of God. Our hope in Jesus’ coming to earth is what makes living a life worthy of God worthwhile.

It is encouraging to know that the Lord Jesus is coming to earth. Our goal is to live in his presence when he gets here. Even those who have died before Jesus return will live in his presence when he gets here. Just this consolation can inspire us to continue believing Jesus, to continue to live Jesus’ way.

It is not our goal to get people to church. It is our goal to love people enough that they and us start living holy lives. It is our goal to be ready, to be holy, when Jesus descends. It is our goal that we confirm the faith of our brothers and sisters in Christ. It is our goal that we live lives filled with the Holy Spirit so we can see our hope.

To live with the Lord forever is our goal. It will take our faith, our love, and our hope to get us there. God has provided our faith by giving us Jesus. God has provided our love by providing us brothers and sisters in Christ. God has provided our hope by letting us know that persecution and death won’t keep us from being with the Lord forever.