by Sarah Langness
In another week or so, I imagine there will be a handful of Facebook status’ crawling along my home page saying something like the following: “So long, Facebook! See you after Lent.” In high school, it was common this time of year to hear my classmates say during our lunch break, “Ugh. I wish I could eat that cookie. But I gave up sweets for Lent.” Growing up in a non-Lutheran home and attending a church where “giving something up” for Lent wasn’t common, emphasized or even talked about, it was kind of weird. And in all honesty, I still think it’s a bit odd. I mean, I get the reasoning behind depriving oneself during Lent; the whole thing of what Jesus gave up for you; when you crave what you’ve given up, pray or think about the Lord and let that satisfy you. But in high school, and even now, I can’t help but think that the emphasis is more on us – on what we are sacrificing. There seems to be an attitude of “Woe is me! I cannot drink that latte for another four weeks.” Seems to me that we’ve got this all wrong.
I couldn’t help but think of the upcoming “Lenten deprivation” as I read through Isaiah 58 the other morning. The LORD is addressing the Israelite’s observance of fasts – but somewhere in our Christian heritage, we seemed to have lost the importance of, or at least need of, fasting. So His words made me think of Lent. You should probably just grab your Bible, Nook, Kindle, or open a new web page and read the entire chapter: it’s good. Here’s some highlights that struck me:
“‘You do not fast like you do today to make your voice heard on high. Is it a fast like this which I choose, a day for man to humble himself? Is it for bowing one’s head like a reed and for spreading out sackcloth and ashes as a bed? Will you call this a fast, even an acceptable day to the LORD?
Is this not the fast which I choose, to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bonds of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free and break every yoke?
Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into the house; when you see the naked, to cover him; and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? . . .
If you remove the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger andspeaking wickedness, and if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom will become like midday. And the LORD will continually guide you, and satisfy your desire in scorched places, and give strength to your bones . . .” – Isaiah 58:4-7; 9-11
Deprivation alone doesn’t do much good. Maybe our deprivation needs to be accompanied by giving. Depriving so that we can focus more on the needs of others. Realizing that we have so much that we can give some of it up. Using the money saved on that latte to feed a child for a year. Using the money saved on those baked delicacies to free a girl from prostitution. Not buying those new clothes to sit in our closet but instead giving them to a homeless shelter to clothe a kid who’s got one pair of jeans. Taking the time to visit our elderly relatives and fellow believers in the nursing home. To stop casting the blame on someone else for all the problems in the world and start doing something – however small – to change it. To deprive my tongue of the joy of gossip and clamping it shut, speaking instead the words of the Lord. Spending time serving in a food shelter or packing boxes of food for the hungry next door and around the world.
And maybe this whole deprivational giving should be done every day of the year – not just the forty-some days of Lent. Because I think that’s what it looks like to follow Jesus. When we give, when we care about the needs of others and actually do something about their needs, when we spend our time and money on helping the hungry and naked — others will see the Light of the World in us.
“‘You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put in under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.‘” – Matt. 5:14-16
by Sarah Langness
The first few week of January is probably one of my least favorite times of year. Christmas is officially over. Stores have already clearanced all things Christmas to make room for Valentine’s decor; the radio stations no longer play music celebrating the Savior’s birth or anticipating the arrival of Santa Claus; and life has simply returned to normal. Relatives return home. Classes resume. Life goes on. And while returning to the routine of life is good, I miss the joy, the awe, the wonder, the fun that Christmas brings.
As I moped over the fact that Christmas has indeed come to a close this past week, I spent some solid time considering what exactly it is about Christmas that I love so much. Here’s what I came up with:
- The music. I love the hymns we sing in church, going caroling, and playing Christmas music while I bake or sip some coffee. Sure there is great “non-Christmas” music; but you’ve got to admit with me that there is something great about Christmas albums, no?
- Everyone seems happier. Sure, there’s still a Grinch or two or three out there, but there seems to be this joy that is contagious wherever I go. I like that.
- People seem less selfish. Yeah, there’s a bounty of selfishness at Christmas time as we focus on ourselves, what we want to get. But for some, there’s a focus on “What can I give to show my family/friends how much I love them? how much I appreciate them?”
- The beautiful lights, trees and other decorations. Christmas lights on a dark night reflecting off the snow? Absolutely beautiful. Christmas trees? They seem to hold a certain fascinating beauty too.
- Seeing family. Although 500 plus miles separate us from Jordan and I’s families, we still had an opportunity to see them during the Christmas season. I am so blessed by each and every one of them.
- Having our mailbox stocked full of Christmas cards and letters from loved ones rather than bills, ads, and junk mail. This is the one time of year that it seems we are remembered by more than Chase, MDU, and the City of Beulah.
“Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” –
Who’s with me?
by Velma Amundson
Editor’s Note: In the AFLC, we celebrate the Christmas Season from Christmas Day up until January 5th, then we celebrate the coming of the Magi on January 6th which we call Epiphany. So, I am really only a couple of days late with this post! 🙂 All of us here on this blog pray you had a blessed Christmas and that you will have an awesome New Year in 2013!
Our youth group led the Christmas eve worship service again this year…we had “smelly” shepherds and angels roaming the congregation during the sermon. Not exactly what you would have expected. But it fit perfectly.
I have to tell you about this group. We’re very proud of them. Every year the youth group asks for a family in the Abused Resource Center to go shopping for. They raise money through the year so that they have enough to go shopping. Then they go shopping during the first couple weeks of December. The youth themselves pick out the gifts, wrap them and one of the adults delivers them to the Resource center. They never see the family they’ve shopped for, but they are very enthusiastic about what they do. This year they went shopping for a family that consists of a single mother and her 7 plus (one due any day) children. They had so much fun wrapping the gifts and showing them off to anyone willing to look. This is the same group that keeps inviting their friends to come to Confirmation with them. (And their friends do, and tend to stay!)
Our youth show us the Spirit of CHRISTmas by what they do, with their willingness and enthusiasm for helping others, by sharing the message of the Gospel with their friends, and by doing any task we throw at them. They make sharing the Gospel look easy. They just do it.
I pray that in the coming year, this same Spirit will dwell within you. That you would be enthusiastic for Christ. I pray that God would richly bless you.
We have so much to be thankful for and rejoice in at this Christmas season. Christmas in Ecuador has different sights and sounds to what we are used to in the US, but the reason to celebrate is still the same. Jesus came at Christmas for the purpose of saving us from our sins. It is so neat to be able to celebrate Christmas with the Ecuadorian believers in their own ways and culture.
Thank you for your part this past year in our ministry. Thank you for joining with us in sharing the good news of salvation, Jesus and Christmas with the people of Ecuador!
by Velma Amundson
I’ve heard the experts say that animals do not anticipate things. They’ve never watched my cats when they know they’re getting a treat. They dance around, meowing, and their tails stick straight up in the air quivering with excitement from the base all the way to the tip. Or, if we have food they think they want, they will come running, licking their lips in anticipation of getting a good bite to eat (and if it’s protein like a piece of turkey, I might give them some).
Advent is all about anticipation. First we anticipate Christmas. Christ came to earth humbly, as a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths. I know that I look forward to Christmas every year. The excitement and love that seems to surround everything. I enjoy the children’s Christmas pageant, the choir’s caroling, and having an “open house” for all our church members to come and enjoy some goodies and company.
The other thing about Advent is anticipating Christ’s return. We’re in a period of waiting. We don’t know when He will return, only that He has promised that He will do that. There was a time when I feared that, or I should say the unknown about it. I wanted Christ to come, but…. You know what, we should be excited and eagerly waiting. Christ will come and take us home with Him. We will get to go to Heaven, where there will be no more tears, no more sorrow, and Christ will be the light of the world. The old song says, “The light of the world is Jesus.”
This Advent season, I pray you have the peace and joy of knowing that Christ loved you enough to come, and the excitement to eagerly anticipate His return.
by Sarah Nelson
Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” John 14:1-4
Saying good-bye to people who I love and cherish has been an oft repeated happening in my life. This afternoon, my two youngest children spent many minutes on the telephone, catching up with their friends and neighbors they left in Michigan. I loved hearing the laughter, the questions and answers, and even an ukulele solo my son played for his buddies. After the hellos and good-byes, and everything else in-between were done, my daughter told me she had a tummy ache. I gently asked her if she thought it was because she was both happy to have talked with her friend, and sad at the reminder that she is far from her that was the cause of her hurt. She thought about that for a few seconds and responded with a question, “How can I be happy and sad at the same time? Because I am.”
This past year I am sure that you, like me, have said farewell to family and friends. Some of those good-byes have been with the hope that we will see that loved one here on earth. Some of those good-byes have been in the words “I will see you in Heaven!” For those who have been suffering, their leaving this earth has been a time of mingled joy at knowing they are in the presence of Jesus – healed and well forever, and sadness for those of us left behind who will miss their words, music, and presence in our lives.
As we are nearing the celebration of Jesus come to earth as a little babe, we rejoice in knowing that because of His coming to earth, we have been given the gift of heaven by believing in Him. He has gone before us to prepare a place for us. A place where all of us who have known and received His forgiveness will be reunited forever with Him. I am looking forward to seeing many loved ones again when Heaven becomes my residence. There are great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, and six of my little ones that I will rejoice to see again. My greatest joy however will be to forever be in the presence of the One who went and prepared my eternal home for me. I hope to see you there, and together we will celebrate no more good-byes, only “WELCOME HOME!”
by Lorilee Mundfrom
One of my favorite Advent hymns is Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus, written by Charles Wesley. It is a majestic, exciting hymn which welcomes Jesus who has been expected for so long! Certainly the first coming of Jesus fulfilled the longings of those believers in the Old Testament who had been faithful to the promise of Christ’s coming. The Old Testament Scriptures contain many promises regarding His coming.
Isaiah 7:14 says: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel” (ESV). The name “Immanuel” means “God with us”. Isaiah 9:6 says, “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (NKJ) In Micah 5:2, we read that from Bethlehem would come a ruler whose “goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity” (NASB)
In the New Testament, Luke 2 speaks of Simeon, a man of faith, who had been praying and “looking for the consolation of Israel” (v. 25) When Simeon saw Jesus as an infant, he knew this Child was the fulfillment of his hope. Wesley uses the words”Israel’s strength and consolation” to describe Jesus in this hymn.
Certainly Christ fulfilled these prophecies, and Christ is the “hope of all the earth” as Wesley states. Wesley also calls Jesus the “dear desire of every nation”. Jesus came into the world to bring salvation to all people. But even more, Jesus is the “joy of every longing heart”. He is the only One who can satisfy the longing of every soul.
Do you know this “long expected Jesus”? Is He your hope? Is He your joy? I pray that during this Advent season of expectation you are not only expecting Christmas to come, but that you are expecting and looking for Jesus to come again to bring you to dwell with Him for eternity.
Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s Strength and Consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.
Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.