Monday, December 31, 2012

Our Brother

The days of Christmas last through January 5.  So should our thoughts and great joy!

Now then, one way to put the Christmas Gospel is to say that God is now our brother!  The eternal Son has put on our flesh and become our human brother.  On Christmas Eve I was meditating on this Fact as I visited a nursing home.  "Our brother," I kept thinking.  "Incredible!"  Then suddenly I began to pray, "Our Brother who art in the manger."  I had never done this before.  I was thinking of the Lord's Prayer, but changing it to address the Christ Child!  I soon began to wonder what the rest of the prayer might sound like.  I worked on it over the next few days and arrived at the following.

Our Brother in the manger, hallowed be Your name, "Jesus."  Your kingdom is not of this world.  Your will on earth is that of the Father in heaven.  Give us often Your body and Your blood, and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.  Lead us out of death by Your cross, and deliver us from evil by Your resurrection.  Amen.

The Lord's Prayer goes by the Latin name "Pater Noster," for "Our Father."  Interestingly then, the above prayer could be called "Frater Noster," for "Our Brother."

The goal is to deepen our understanding of the Lord's Prayer.  When we pray, "Our Father who art in heaven," let us remember our brother Christ, who not only taught us this prayer but makes it possible to pray.  And He is the one through whom the Father answers every petition!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Walk On

"...struck down, but not destroyed" (2 Cor. 4:9).

I am putting this here on the chance it will help you as it helps me.  The band is called "U2," and while it dates back to right after 9/11, it fits this moment too.

Pastor Matt

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Grumbling the Gospel

"And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, 'This man receives sinners and eats with them'" (Luke 15:2).

Ordinarily, we don't like to hear grumbling.  No one does that I'm aware of.

In Exodus 16, the children of Israel "grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness."  Moses informed them, "Your grumbling is not against us but against the Lord."  We should remember that grumbling about a person appointed by God is really grumbling about God.

No one was ever more appointed than God's own Son.  And yet "the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, 'This man receives sinners and eats with them.'"

Ordinarily, we think of the Pharisees as being wrong about things.  But in this case, they could not have been more right.  Ordinarily, we don't like to listen to grumbling.  But in this case, you could listen to it all day!  For they spoke the truth!  They preached the Gospel!

"This man," they grumbled, refusing even to say His name.  That's okay.  Use it to remember that God's own Son became man for us.  What's more, "This man receives sinners."

Has a better sermon ever been preached?  Has grumbling ever sounded so good?  So soothing?

But only to the one who believes himself a sinner.  For then the meaning is: This man, who is also true God, receives me.  He loves me, forgives me, feeds me with His body, and helps me in every way.

Here's a twist: Thank God for the Pharisees.  Grumbling never sounded so good.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

9/11's Silver Timing

"Then Peter came up and said to Him, 'Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?  As many as seven times?'  Jesus said to him, 'I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times'" (Matt. 18:21-22).

"Every cloud," goes the saying, "has a silver lining."  9/11 had a silver timing.

Next week, Tuesday, will mark the eleventh anniversary of 9/11.  Last year, in preparing for the tenth anniversary, I made a little discovery.  It was new to me anyway.  And because it has helped me in the healing process, I want to share it with others.

Of the four planes involved on 9/11, the first one (Flight 11) crashed into the World Trade Center's North Tower at 8:46 a.m.  And the last one (Flight 93) crashed in the Pennsylvania field at 10:03 a.m.

The discovery was this: That's a total of seventy-seven minutes.

There are other measures.  But from one basic angle the timeframe of the 9/11 attacks was exactly seventy-seven minutes long.  Or seventy-seven long minutes.

I immediately thought of the words of Jesus in Matthew 18:22 and the deep significance carried by the number seventy-seven.

File it under "coincidence," "there are no coincidences," or somewhere in between.  All I know is that I was turned to the voice of Christ and heartened by it.

Adding to the "coincidence" was the fact that last year's tenth anniversary fell on a Sunday and, incredibly, the appointed Holy Gospel for that day was Matthew 18:21-35!

The discovery of the seventy-seven minutes along with the "seventy-seven times" of Jesus has been for a year now like a salve on the wound of 9/11.  And for me, as a Christian, it has been a reminder and a promise that God wills to work in me and maintain a loving, forgiving heart toward all, including those who don't deserve it, and even those who don't desire it.  He does this through meditation on my own sin and the cross of Christ.

I see in the seventy-seven minutes a silver timing and lesson that even a wound as deep as 9/11 needn't leave us with a bitter heart, but rather a faith that mercy is stronger than evil.  And always will be.

Monday, August 13, 2012

A Misunderstood Word

"Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord" (Eph. 5:22).

The misunderstood word is "submit."  Such a beautiful word, yet a beauty undiscovered.  To help matters, consider what the groom is asked at a Lutheran wedding (and I'm sure others):

"Will you nourish and cherish her as Christ loved His body, the Church, giving Himself up for her?"

I will.

Then the bride is asked:

"Will you submit to him as the Church submits to Christ?"

I will.

Now at least in my experience as a pastor, no one has ever objected to or even questioned what is asked of the groom, despite the fact he is called on to give up his life!  Makes me wonder if we're really hearing that question.  No, what meets with resistance sometimes is the use of the word "submit" in the question to the bride.

The real problem is that we're not putting the two pieces together.  They are interlocking questions.  And more romantic terms could not be found!

What the bride is really submitting to, deepest down, is the groom's love, care, and willingness to give up his life for her.  He is making a very strong statement.  And with the word "submit," she is making a correspondingly strong reply.  She is saying, "I hear you, and the answer is, 'Yes, I will be loved by you!'"

"Submit" means to "set under."  But look at how it works.  The wife sets herself under her husband who sets her life above his.  He is her "head" (Eph. 5:23), but as such he puts her needs ahead of his.

Submitting to your husband should be like flying First Class and having to submit to the treatment.

But the best analogy is this: Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her on the cross.  He is risen!  And He lives to lead husbands in the way of loving their wives.  As the Church submits to Christ's love and loves Him greatly in response, so too the wife who is loved by her husband!

Let us hear the words of marriage less legalistically and more, much more, romantically!  They are not behind but ahead of the times.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Brother's Keeper

I'm going to defer this week to my dear brother in the ministry, Pastor Jonathan Lange of Evanston, Wyoming.  He has written a little piece about the Penn State tragedy.  It is appearing in several newspapers this week, including the Casper Star Tribune.

Peace of Christ,
Pastor Matt

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Hymn Notes

"O Let Me Only Jesus See" is a prayer to the Holy Spirit asking Him to show me only God's beloved Son who became man and humbled Himself (Phil. 2:8).

For the two-stanza text of the hymn, see last week's devotion.

The hymn is inspired by Matthew 17:8, a verse which comes at the end of the Transfiguration account: "And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only."

"Jesus only."  What does that mean?  It means not only that there were no more Moses and Elijah, cloud and voice.  It means, most of all, that Jesus went back to being a Lord you could look at.  Only Jesus.

"Only Jesus" is God's eternal Son bright-shining as the sun, but who comes and conceals all of that in order to draw near to poor sinners to comfort them.

The day is coming when I will be able to behold Him in His glory forever.  But for now, in this life and death, O let me only Jesus see - a vision that becomes complete in gazing at Him on the cross.  (And could not the cross be the true Transfiguration and the true glory of God?)

"Fill my eyes" (stanza 2) means no room for anything else - only Jesus crucified for me.

"My Lord" (stanza 1) and "my God" (stanza 2) borrows from the confession of Thomas in John 20:28.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

O Let Me Only Jesus See

In Matthew 17, toward the end of the story of Jesus' transfiguration, we read:

"And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only" (Matt. 17:8).

In meditation on this verse, I was led to write the following little hymn.  It may be sung to the tune of "Praise God, from Whom All Blessings Flow."

O let me only Jesus see,
My Lord in His humility!
No other God, no other sight,
Can take away my sinful fright.

O let me only Jesus see,
My God in my humanity!
O Spirit, come, lift up my eyes,
And fill them with the Crucified!

Next week I'll offer a few notes on this prayer and the meaning it holds for me.

Note: A special solo arrangement of this hymn will be sung this coming Sunday, July 15, at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Hymn Notes

"My Spirit, Father, I Commend" is a three-stanza hymn based on Luke 23:46, the very last words of Jesus: "Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit."  The stanzas meditate on this prayer in the following three ways.

[For the text of the hymn see last week's devotion.]

Stanza 1 - As Christ's dying prayer
The hymn begins at the cross and really never leaves.  He has suffered greatly for us and now speaks His final words.  Of all the many wonderful things He spoke, this is the last.  He wills to die for us and does so with perfect love and trust in God the Father.  By "spirit" He means His breath and life.  But on the lips of Jesus these words mean more.  Listen closely and the prayer is Trinitarian: "Father, into Your hands I (the Son) commit My Spirit."  And I chose the word "name" to call to mind Matthew 28:19.

Stanza 2 - As the Christian's daily prayer
"Now" is used in two senses here: "Now that Christ has died and risen" and "Now throughout my life."  "Morning, evening, ev'ry day" and "often" emphasize this second sense.  Luther is the one who hears this prayer as a daily prayer.  His Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer both include: "For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things."  I chose "joy and peace" with the idea of joy in the morning and peace in the evening.

Stanza 3 - As the Christian's dying prayer
I am to prepare diligently for the day of my death.  This stanza helps me to do that.  When that hour comes, I should think only of Christ crucified and my Baptism into the Triune name.  I address my prayer to the Father through the Son.  I chose the word "help" as a reference to the Holy Spirit, the Helper.  And the last words of Jesus become my own, without ceasing to be those of the One who died for me.

This hymn will find a special place in the evening and before bed.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

My Spirit, Father, I Commend

"Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit" (Luke 23:46).

The text of a new little hymn appears below.  A tune has been written for it by Bonnie Rex.  I wrote the text in the days following Good Friday.  The text for my Good Friday sermon was Luke 23:46, the seventh and final word from the cross.  A loving "thank you" to my mother for suggesting the idea for this hymn.  Next week I'll say a few words about it.  For now I'll leave you with the simple text.

"My spirit, Father, I commend
Into Your hands at My life's end"--
Last words that name the Three in One:
My Spirit, Father, I, the Son.

Now morning, evening, ev'ry day,
Dear Father, in Your hands I lay
Myself, my body, soul, all things.
The joy and peace it often brings!

Then on that one eventual day
Help me through Christ, Your Son, to pray,
"My spirit, Father, I commend
Into Your hands at my life's end."

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

How's Your Soul?

"He restoreth my soul" (Ps. 23:3).

True story!  I'll tell it just as it happened.  After church on Sunday and before visiting the nursing home, I stopped for a bite to eat at the Wagon Wheel.  Sitting down at the counter I asked about the specials.  I decided on the fish with baked potato, veggies, roll, and a salad to start.  A few minutes into the main course the kind-hearted waitress came over and asked (innocently), "How's your sole?"  I indicated that it was very good, but then added, "That's a funny thing to ask a pastor.  I'm supposed to ask you that!"  We shared a good laugh.  It's one of the funniest things to happen to me.  And I thanked her for giving me this week's devotion!

How's your soul?  What a good question that is!  In fact, I can't think of a more important one.  And so, having thought about it, I'm glad she "asked."  As a pastor I think about other people's souls, but I always need to begin with my own.

How is my soul?  Here goes my answer.

My soul, as I understand it, is that spiritual part of me that God has designed to love and trust in Him.  To look to and depend on Him.  But my soul, I know, has a tendency to want to love and trust in me!  So God takes steps in order to correct and restore my soul to fulfill its original purpose.  He shows me my sin, leads me to repentance, and then shows me His love and forgiveness through Christ, His Son.  I learn from the Bible that my soul has a Shepherd, Jesus, who died for me and then rose from the dead.  He lives to guard and take care of my soul through thick and thin.  My soul is in good hands, hands marked by scars.  Strong but gentle hands.  That's my answer.

I think the best answer, though, was given by Horatio Spafford when he wrote in his much-loved hymn the words, "It is well with my soul."  It is worth sharing that he wrote the hymn just after the deaths of his four daughters when their ship sank.  A testament to God's love in good times and in trial!

The sole was delish!  And my soul is well because Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  And it makes me want to ask...

How's your soul?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Maundy Thursday News

Listen carefully to two Bible verses both of which date back to that first Maundy Thursday.  There's something that connects them.  See if you can hear it:

"In the same way also He took the cup, after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new testament in My blood'" (1 Cor. 11:25).

"'A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another'" (John 13:34).

They have something in common.  Did you hear it?  It's the word "new," as in "new testament" and "new commandment."  These two things go together.  They are the Maundy Thursday "news."

Let's think for a minute about this word "new."  What's "new"?  We know what new is.  New is a new car complete with new-car smell.  New is a new pair of shoes.  New is new technology - a new G.  We know what new is.  And I think we know, a little deeper down, that it doesn't last very long at all.

I bought my very first new car in 2003.  In the first week, somebody broke the driver's-side mirror.  It wasn't new anymore.  Still driving it.  The shoes you're wearing used to be new.  And technology?  The latest technology is tomorrow's late technology.  New today, old tomorrow.  We know what new is, and it doesn't last very long at all.

One of you said to me yesterday, "We're not getting younger."  Meaning we too, our bodies, aren't as new as they used to be.

All of which makes the Maundy Thursday "news" such good news.  The new testament and the new commandment aren't getting any older.  They will never break.  They will never wear out.  They will never become obsolete.  They will never be replaced.  They are ever new, always new, truly new.

Two thousand years old and still new.  As new this Maundy Thursday as they were the first one.  And they have the power to make us new.  "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation" (2 Cor. 5:17).  And, in my words, "If Christ is in anyone, he has a new faith and a new hope and a new love."  As a result of which "we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth" (2 Pet. 3:13).

Did you know that the last time the word "new" is used in the Bible is Revelation 21:5 and words of Jesus, "Behold, I am making all things new"?

Starting with the testament to forgive us, and the commandment to love one another.  Amen.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Rain, Bow

"I set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign" (Gen. 9:13).

Sunday evening, March 25, several dozen Christians from various denominations gathered near an abortion clinic to pray.  It had been raining since afternoon.  I considered how the weather would probably keep people from coming.  Then, just minutes before the prayer service was to begin, the rain stopped, and then a spectacular rainbow!  I couldn't believe the timing!  We were permitted, even required, to take it as a sign, for that is what God said it would be.  And He blessed our time of prayer.

Afterward, a wise woman pointed out to me the simple but deep lesson: Without the rain, we could not have received the rainbow.  No rain, no rainbow.  What appeared to be a damper was the necessary prelude to joy.  Bear this in mind and heart as you wait out the rain in your life.  God will set His bow in the cloud at just the right time.  In some cases, such as the death of a child or spouse, that time will be in heaven.

I'm no expert, but I suspect God does most of His teaching in the rain, and then uses the rainbow to refresh us and encourage us to apply the lessons learned.

Have no doubt that your heavenly Father loves you!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Three R's of Giving Up Something for Lent

"But the fruit of the Spirit is...self-control" (Gal. 5:22-23).

A father urged his children to move beyond giving up candy for Lent to giving up some habit of sin.  About halfway through the season he asked the children how they were doing.  One of his young sons had promised to give up fighting with his brothers and sisters.  When his father asked him how it was going, he said, "I'm doing pretty good, Dad, but boy I can't wait until Easter!"*

One part of Lent is to consider giving up something, going without it between now and Easter: a favorite food or drink, eating out, a TV show, video games - or one of many other things.  You get to pick.  The only requirement is that you will miss it.  You may not be able to spend forty days fasting in the desert, but you could go forty days without dessert.

On a different level, you could choose to work on giving up a habit, a habit you know is not serving your Christian faith and life, a habit you know has got to go.  There is no better time for this than Lent, on the way to Holy Week and Easter.

Either way, whether chocolate or that habit, here are the three R's of giving up something for Lent.

Restrain.  Learn with God's help to restrain yourself and your desires.  Giving up something teaches and exercises self-restraint or self-control.  Paul names self-control as the ninth and last fruit of the Spirit.  And he writes these instructive words in 1 Corinthians 6:12-13:

"I will not be enslaved by anything.  Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food - and God will destroy both one and the other.  The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body."

Living in a permissive society, we must learn to restrain ourselves, say no to ourselves, and practice self-control.  Giving up something helps impart that discipline.

Replace.  Replace the something you're giving up with some additional devotion.  It could be additional time in God's Word and prayer.  It could be additional time spent with your spouse and family.  It could be visiting the hospital or nursing home.  (Ask your pastor for the name and place of a person.)  I met a woman who's going to walk a hundred miles this Lent, 2.5 miles each of the forty days, and treat it as a pilgrimage and time for prayer.  What will you do?  With God, giving up something always means receiving something.

Remember.  This is the key.  Use your giving up to remember God the Father "who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all" (Rom. 8:32).  Use your giving up to remember the Son who gave up His place in heaven and His life on the cross.  Use your giving up to remember the Holy Spirit.  Now what does the Holy Spirit give up?  Answer: The Holy Spirit gives up...on no one!  Remember this.  Remember this when you stumble in the course of giving up that habit.  Do not lose heart!  Remember the God who loves you!

Restrain.  Replace.  Remember.

As a rule, keep your giving up to yourself.  Exceptions to the rule would be spouses and families.  Parents will need to work with children.  Also you could talk with your pastor.

May God bless our giving up this Lent and lead us to Easter joys!

*Credit for this story goes to Rev. Lawrence E. Mick.