Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 in Review

Annually, on the first Sunday after New Year's, I announce to the congregation the new theme for the year.  And so last January, after praying and thinking through the matter, I announced that we could call 2013 the "Year of the Trinity."  The 1 and 3 in 2013 have reminded us throughout the year of our 1 God in 3 Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

We have enjoyed many occasions to see the Trinity in Holy Scripture, to confess, and to celebrate our Trinitarian faith.

Along the way, we have come to see not only one Trinity but three of them.  They are:

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
Faith, Hope, and Love
Marriage, Life, and Family
 
God has really blessed for us the Year of the Trinity!  Sadly in a way, this special year is at its end.  Happily though, we will keep in our hearts the things we have learned.  We are baptized forever "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matt. 28:19).  Amen!
 
Happily too, I have a new theme to announce this coming Sunday for 2014.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Happy Birthdays

Question: What do the U.S. Marines and Martin Luther have in common?  Answer: For one thing, they share the same birthday - November 10.  In the case of the Marines the year was 1775.  In Luther's case, 1483.

For another thing, the Marine Corps has a "warrior ethos" and is the "first to fight" to protect our freedom.  Luther was a spiritual warrior who fought to defend the greatest of all freedoms: the freedom of the Gospel, the Gospel of Christ and the forgiveness of sins.

And for a third thing, each may be summed up in two words of Latin.  For the Marines the two words are semper fidelis.  It means "always faithful."  General Amos wrote in this year's birthday message to his Marines, "Throughout history, Marines have faced tough times and there will be tough times ahead, but there is no challenge we cannot overcome if we remain honorable and always faithful to our Nation, our Constitution and each other.  He then signed the letter under the words "Semper Fidelis."

And for Luther the two words are sola fide.  It means "by faith alone."  It has been called Luther's refrain.  It is shorthand for, among other verses, Galatians 2:16: "...a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ."  In other words, you are counted righteous before God not because of the things you have done, or tried to do, but because of the Person and Work of Jesus Christ!  The following hymn lines put it perfectly:

Salvation unto us has come by God's free grace and favor;
Good works cannot avert our doom, they help and save us never.
Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone, who did for all the world atone;
He is our one Redeemer.

Happy birthday, dear Marines, and dear Martin!  Where would we be without you?

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Good No

"...but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die" (Gen. 2:17).

These words were spoken by God before the fall into sin.  They contain the word "not" and prove that the concept of no is a good, blessed, and perfect one.  Perhaps we have forgotten that.

A pastor instructed his congregation not to spend time gambling.  He wished to keep them from vanity and the love of money.  But a woman said to him, "I don't like to be told no," and left the church.

Why does a parent tell the child not to go into the street or touch the stove?  To keep the child from something good?  Rather, to keep something bad from happening to the child.

God's no works the same way.  He tells us no in the Ten Commandments in order to protect us from harm to body and soul.  Stop buying the lie that He's just trying to keep you from something good (Gen. 3:5).  Look what happened when Adam and Eve did!

God loves you, and "no" is one of His loving words.

"You shall have no other gods" is an invitation to experience life as it was meant to be: a real relationship with God and people, based on real love.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Rich Man and Lazarus

Luke 16:19-31 is called "The Rich Man and Lazarus."  Without even reading these verses, a great lesson is revealed just by carefully considering the title: "The Rich Man and Lazarus."  Take a moment to think about the difference, in this title, between the two men.

The difference is, only one of them has a name.

The rich man has no name.  No name, that is, known to Christ.  He had and enjoyed many things: lovely home, fine clothing and food, position of honor, places to go.  Just not a name before God in heaven.  His money could not buy that.  I'm sure they knew his name at the bank, the car dealership, the club.  But not in heaven.

Lazarus, by contrast, had and enjoyed very little.  But he is the true rich man in the story.  Because what he did have was worth far more than all of the rich man's things put together.  Lazarus had a name known to God.

"I have called you by name; you are Mine!" (Isa. 43:1).

The death of Jesus redeems the whole world.  But only those who put their trust in Him, and Him alone, have their names written in the book of life and on the heart of the Shepherd: "He calls His own sheep by name" (John 10:3).

God has blessed you in many ways.  But nothing compares with knowing that your name is known to Him!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Why Pastors Don't Have It Easy

"For this I was appointed a preacher" (1 Tim. 2:7).

Three reasons pastors don't have an easy job:

First, the devil and world (not to mention the pastor's own sinful flesh) are dead set against the repentance and Gospel he preaches, despite containing the most loving message ever heard.

Second, sometimes members of the congregation will oppose the pastor when he is trying to be faithful to God's Word, the church, and the people's souls.  They may leave, threaten to leave, or say the pastor should leave.  This is especially difficult for a young pastor, and Paul's letters to Timothy and Titus offer the best guidance available.  God remains in control!

Third, it can happen that when the pastor turns to his ecclesiastical supervisor for support in a position he has taken, he will not receive it.  [Pastors make mistakes and need always to be open to correction, but I am speaking here about when they are being faithful to the Word.]  This lack of support is the hardest to bear, because now the pastor feels alone and is tempted to doubt.  But the Lord Himself stands by him and will give him courage and peace.

The flip side is that many pastors experience the joy of supportive, grateful congregations.  I am one of them!  And God blesses the church with many wise, strong, and fatherly supervisors.  They don't have an easy job either, and we must pray for and encourage them!

But now you know what makes your pastor's job pretty tough.  It has to be this way.  But maybe you will look at him a little differently, and then do what you can to make it just a little easier.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Bring, Cling, and Sing

"...by clinging to Him" (Deut. 30:20).

The dryer sheets I recently bought promised on the box to control static cling.  Because when it comes to your clothes, cling is not a good thing.  But when it comes to your heart and God, it is!

"Cling" is an Old Testament word for love, obedience, and trust in God.  It means "to stick to."  See Psalm 22:15 and Proverbs 18:24.  "Cling" was a favorite word of Martin Luther.  And Katie, his wife, is believed to have said, "I will cling to Christ as a burr clings to a coat."

No better spiritual advice can be given than to:

Bring - Bring your sins to God.  Leave none of them behind.  Confess them.  They are what God wants from you most.

Cling - Cling to Christ and His word of forgiveness: "Take heart, child, your sins are forgiven" (Matt. 9:2).  Cling to Christ as a burr clings to a coat.

Sing - Sing for joy that God loves and forgives you!  Keep a joyful heart, thankful, and loving toward all.

I shared this message with my congregation on Sunday.  After service, a young lady put on the finishing touch.  "We should call this good kind of cling," she said, "'ecstatic cling.'"  Right on, Rachel!  You got it!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Man Shall Father, Mother Leave

"Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (Gen. 2:24).

A man shall father, mother leave
And to his wife alone shall cleave,
And now the two one flesh shall be--
All this in love and purity.

So soon was marriage marred by sin!
Now each one's love is turned within
Till Cana's Christ comes to restore
The blessing as it was before!

New love, new joy, new peace, new life:
His wedding gifts to man and wife
And to us all for whom He died
To have us always as His bride!

I originally wrote this hymn for my niece's wedding.  It is based on Genesis 2:24, of which stanza 1 is a paraphrase.  The key to the hymn is its use of the word "love" three different times: love before sin (st. 1), love after sin (st. 2), and new love in Christ (st. 3).  And the heart of the hymn is "Cana's Christ comes," a rich reference to the Incarnation, the Wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11), and the desire of Christ to be invited to each wedding and into every marriage.

To listen to the hymn sung by a soloist, go to www.oyeoflittlefaith.org.  Click "Music" and then "New Hymns."

Monday, May 27, 2013

Luther's Link Letter

"...confirming the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22).

In a letter dated September 8, 1541, Luther explained to a friend named Link about the three trials experienced by the church: persecution, false teaching, and worldly-mindedness.  The key is to understand that the second is worse than the first, and the third is worst of all.

Luther wrote:

"The first trial of the church (from the beginning of the world) always comes from the tyrants, who shed our blood.  When the tyrants are almost at an end, the far more harmful trial brought on by heretics follows, reinforcing the violence of the tyrants.  After the heretics have been somewhat suppressed, there follows the most harmful trial of all in the time of peace, namely, license and worldly-mindedness in living, life without the Law, without the Word, since we are satiated and surfeited with the Word, which is no longer necessary 'because the enemies are defeated.'  So the worst enemies of a man are those of his own household."

My observation would be that today the church faces all three.  The perfect storm!  Still, worldly-mindedness is the worst.  And that is because persecution purifies the church and leads to blessing (Matt. 5:10).  False teaching, when met with the Word of God, results in a stronger confession of faith (i.e., more clear, confident, and comforting).  But worldly-mindedness, unless reversed, leads only to a church no longer worthy of the name.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Gosnell and the Gospel

"For all things are possible with God" (Mark 10:27).

Abortionist Kermit Gosnell will spend the rest of his life in prison, a convicted murderer.  Where will he spend eternity?  We must pray now for his conversion.  It is possible with God.

The words "Gosnell" and "Gospel" are not so far apart - a fact that has often struck me.  But how far apart are they really?  Two answers may be given.

On the one hand, they could not be more different.  Gosnell is a man who took innocent lives, mercilessly, and has been found guilty.  The Gospel is about an Innocent who gave His life, mercifully, for the guilty.

On the other hand, Gosnell and the Gospel are separated only by repentance.  That is spitting distance.  Members of the Sanhedrin and then soldiers were close enough to Jesus to spit on Him.  He loved them and desired to save them from their sin.  He was crucified along with two thieves who were close enough by to insult Him - until the one thief closed the gap by repentance.  The Savior is close to "the vilest offender."  Gosnell is not alone in his cell.  Let us pray!

Think of a converted Kermit Gosnell.  By speaking out boldly from prison, he could yet save more lives than he has taken.  He could do more to turn America from abortion than any other person.  Let us hope!

Gosnell and the Gospel.  Could not be more different!  Yet, in the mystery of grace, they are right next to each other, waiting to become one.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Pick-6

In football, the term "pick-6" refers to an interception (a "pick") returned for a touchdown (6 points).  I noticed that there are 66 devotions now in the archive of this website.  I thought to myself, "What if I had to pick 6 that would in some sense speak for all of them or maybe be worth a second look?"  So with the help of feedback I've gotten, here are the 6.  And thank you for the encouragement along the way!  With God's help, I'll get going on the next 66!

6. Faith Is a Candle (September 2012)

5. Two Weeks' Notice (March 2013)

4. Home Is My Heaven (November 2012)

3. A Misunderstood Word (August 2012)

2. But a Slumber (July 2012)

1. Spiritual Day-Timer (February 2013)

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Lydia

The verse below is a prayer based on the story of Lydia (Acts 16:9-15, 40).  The geography involved makes Lydia the first European convert to Christianity.

We praise You, Lord, for Lydia,
Who dealt in purple cloth,
And was the first in Europe
To be clothed with the cross.
Convert our hearts to love You,
Convert our families;
Then turn us into givers
Of hospitality!

For those familiar with Lutheran Service Book, this verse may be sung as part of Hymn 855.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Naked Truth

You've heard the expression "the naked truth."  Now hear the story.

Two men, Truth and Falsehood, went swimming.  Falsehood stole Truth's clothes, and Truth, rather than lower himself to wear Falsehood's clothes, chose to go without.  Falsehood, in the guise of Truth, goes about deceiving mankind to this day.*

Abortion, to name one big, giant example, goes about dressed as health care, freedom, choice, and right.  It comes to "help" in family planning and in reducing the number of unwanted children and poverty.  It appears almost saintly.

Paul, in dealing with the problem of false apostles, says that we should not be surprised, "for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light" (2 Cor. 11:14).

"Truth" is a key Biblical word and especially in the Gospel of John.  Jesus says on the eve of His crucifixion, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life" (John 14:6).  And then we learn that He hung on the cross without His garments and clothing (John 19:23-24).  The naked Truth.

Ask yourself whether your church and pastor teach the naked truth about sin and the punishment we deserve, as well as about Christ who came and took our sin and suffered the punishment in our place.

And become a voice of the naked truth, adorned only with love.

*story told by Richard Wurmbrand

Friday, April 26, 2013

18-Minute National Sermon

Yesterday eighteen members of Congress spoke out on the Kermit Gosnell story.  I encourage you to watch their roughly 1-minute speeches.  It will not be comfortable.  Rather, it is necessary.  It will be encouraging, however, to hear the voice of truth.

Special note: Young persons should not view without the guidance of their parents.

http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLytHy7PQxOT6dUJFOOuHH6E0k2f6DSqXU

After watching, be certain to pray.

Peace of Christ,
Pastor Matt

Monday, April 22, 2013

Does the Good Shepherd Have a Sheepdog?

I think He does!  The great Psalm 23 begins, "The Lord is my shepherd," and, "He leadeth me."  He is out in front leading the sheep.  One can hear the voice of Jesus, "Follow Me."

But then the last verse of the psalm points to something bringing up the rear: "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life."

Now imagine my surprise when I learned that the Hebrew word for "follow" can mean "to pursue, to dog (!), or to attend closely."  It's a perfect and even literal job description of a sheepdog!

There could be two sheepdogs, the one named Goodness and the other Mercy.  But I prefer to see only one, and his name is Goody (for goodness and mercy).  And I say that because God's goodness is really His mercy - not two different things.

He is the rear guard of the flock.  Who knows the trouble or thickets I would get into were it not for Goody's tending, guarding, and driving me to follow my Shepherd?  I would constantly fall back on my own righteousness instead of Christ's.  Or on my sins instead of His death.  Or on my death instead of His resurrection.  My fear instead of His peace.

We have a Good Shepherd who leads, and is, the way to heaven.  And He has the best sheepdog ever, Goody, who sees to it that we follow as we should - in faith.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

You Leave Us Not Alone

In the wake of Monday in Boston, I turn to this hymn written by a woman named Joy.

When aimless violence takes those we love,
When random death strikes childhood's promise down,
When wrenching loss becomes our daily bread,
We know, O God, You leave us not alone.

Our faith may flicker low, and hope grow dim,
Yet You, O God, are with us in our pain;
You grieve with us and for us day by day,
And with us, sharing sorrow, will remain.

Because Your Son knew agony and loss,
Felt desolation, grief and scorn and shame,
We know You will be with us, come what may,
Your loving presence near, always the same.

Through long grief-darkened days help us, dear Lord,
To trust Your grace for courage to endure,
To rest our souls in Your supporting love,
And find our hope within Your mercy sure.

Joy F. Patterson

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Think Fast

"Fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training.  But that person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: 'Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins'" (Small Catechism).

One of the congregation's more senior ladies whispered to me on the way out of church Sunday, "I fasted this morning."  "Oh, bless you!" I said, clearly revealing my pleasure.  "Now go eat something."

See, several weeks ago I gave a sermon on how to fast and prepare your body for receiving Communion.  I shared five concrete examples such as dressing your best or brushing your teeth.  The fifth and final suggestion was to skip breakfast on Sunday morning as a bit of fasting before receiving Communion.  I stressed that this should only be done health-permitting, and that people might consider doing it one Sunday a month at first.

Fasting on Sunday morning helps teach self-control, repentance, and focus on God.  What's more, it turns the Lord's Supper into the true breakfast.  You break your fast with the body and blood of Jesus.  And because Sunday is the first day of the week, the Sacrament becomes your First Food of the new week.

But let us fast and prepare in other ways not because we must but because we are in love with Christ!  A lover experiences loss of appetite out of a consuming desire to be with the other person.  In a spiritual manner, this should be our experience toward the dear Lord Christ.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Wedding Planner

"See, we are going up to Jerusalem" (Luke 18:31).

Holy Week is fast approaching.  It is the most important week of the Christian year.  It begins March 24.  You wouldn't wait till the night before to plan your wedding.  Holy Week and Easter represent the wedding of Christ and the Church.  Also, the wedding of Christ and your faith.  Now is the time to plan for Holy Week.

Find out your church's schedule of special services.  Be aware of all of them.  Then prayerfully decide which ones you will attend.  Make a real effort to attend on Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and of course Easter.  Use Saturday to clean the house in preparation for the happiest day of the year.

As a boy I was taught to believe that Holy Week is like living through the very first Holy Week.  To this day I have trouble sleeping on Thursday night, knowing that my Lord has been betrayed and entered His suffering.  This is the spirit of Holy Week!

And Easter is rightly celebrated when we awake early on Sunday morning to discover that Christ has just now risen from the dead!

Make a good plan and ask God to bless it!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Matthias (cont.)

Continued from last week, five more answers to the question, "Who was Matthias and what can we learn from him?"

The man who was a witness to the resurrection.  "One of these men must become with us a witness to His resurrection" (Acts 1:22).  This may have three levels of meaning.  1.) Matthias was among those who personally saw the risen Jesus.  2.) Matthias would join the other eleven in preaching specifically the resurrection.  3.) The Greek word for "witness" is "martyr."  The apostles added the exclamation point to their resurrection preaching by becoming martyrs.  Tradition holds that Matthias was martyred.

The man who came off the bench.  The pro basketball player Kevin McHale was a famous "sixth man": a non-starter but who comes into the game to contribute a real spark to the team.  Matthias did not start the game but came in at a critical point.  Important for young athletes to understand.  Important for all of us!

The man who filled a role.  It was a role left vacant by another.  There's a wonderful application here.  If you look around, often very close to you, there's a vacant role: a child in need of a father or mother figure.  A young person in need of a big brother or sister.

The man who is never mentioned again.  He is mentioned only here in the Bible.  He didn't write a book.  He didn't try to leave a legacy.  He just served when and where he was called, letting God determine how to use him.

The man who stepped in.  How do you think he felt?  "I don't belong."  "I'm not ready."  "This is happening too fast."  "Get somebody else."  There's no indication of that.  Only of a man who stepped in by faith.  Christ never calls without also equipping.  Many Christians are equipped much more than they know!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Who Was Matthias?

"And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles" (Acts 1:26).

Every February 24 we remember St. Matthias.  This week and next we'll answer the question,

Who Was Matthias and What Can We Learn from Him?
 
The man who replaced Judas.  What's fun to watch in Acts 1 is that following the ascension of Jesus the apostles start doing things "on their own."  Peter preaches his first sermon - a warm-up for his Pentecost sermon in Acts 2.  He talks about the need to replace Judas who took his own life shortly after his betrayal.  Two candidates are put forward, and the lot falls on Matthias.
 
The man who made twelve.  The death of Judas left eleven apostles.  There seems to be a special significance behind having twelve.  It has to do with the fact that in the Old Testament Israel had twelve tribes.  The new Israel, the church, likewise has twelve apostles.  Matthias made it twelve again.
 
The man who did not appoint himself.  We can learn "a lot" from this.  When they prayed, "Lord, show which one of these two You have chosen" (Acts 1:24), they were addressing none other than the Lord Jesus.  And so Jesus chose Matthias, just as He chose the other eleven.  So not one of the apostles appointed himself.  To this day a pastor does not appoint himself but is called by God through the congregation.  We can all hear and apply these words of Jesus: "You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit" (John 15:16).
 
Next week, five more!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Luther's Last

"I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children" (Matt. 11:25).

"Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matt. 11:28).

On February 15, 1546, Martin Luther preached his final sermon.  The basis was Matthew 11:25-30.  He ended the sermon this way:

"Lo, this means that the wise of this world are rejected, that we may learn not to think ourselves wise and to put away from our eyes all great personages, indeed, to shut our eyes altogether, and cling only to Christ's Word and come to Him, as He so lovingly invites us to do, and say: 'Thou alone art my beloved Lord and Master, I am Thy disciple.'  This and much more might be said concerning this Gospel, but I am too weak and we shall let it go at that."

He died on February 18.  Among his last words: "Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit" (Luke 23:46).

Monday, January 21, 2013

Living Words

Dear Christians,

The first Walk for Life San Diego was a very encouraging success, attended by nearly three thousand!  Thank you for your prayers, and thanks be to God!

As we mark the solemn 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, consider these three living words:

"Forty years long was I grieved with this generation, and said, 'It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known My ways'" (Ps. 95:10).

"Then said Jesus, 'Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do'" (Luke 23:34).

"Pray without ceasing" (1 Thess. 5:17).

With love,
Pastor Matt

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Forty Years Long

"Forty years long was I grieved with this generation, and said, 'It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known My ways'" (Ps. 95:10).

Tuesday, January 22, marks the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.  Let me put here two things.  First, a prayer request.  Please pray from your heart for the first Walk for Life San Diego (www.sandiegowalkforlife.com), to be held Saturday, January 19.  Pray for its organizers, speakers, and all who attend.  May God use it to help bring the soul of our nation to its senses!

Second, the text of a hymn.  To listen to it sung, or to see and print the music, go to www.oyeoflittlefaith.org.  Look under "Music" and then "New Hymns."

When Man and Wife in Love Conceive

When man and wife in love conceive,
They have, O Lord, from You received
A holy gift beyond compare:
A child placed within their care.

The mother's womb is safe and warm,
The father's love will shield from harm,
And You, O Lord, together knit
The human body intricate.

"In pain," You said, "you will give birth;"
The woman feels the sin-brought curse.
By labor's end, the lesson learned:
"Your sorrow into joy will turn."

Your infant son or daughter bring
To be reborn through baptizing.
There I, the Lord, will take and bless
And robe each one in righteousness.

Dear Christians, never cease to pray
For faith and love these latter days,
For marriage, life, and family,
That all be held in sanctity.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Year of the Trinity

"...how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God" (Heb. 9:14).

The above verse, like so many in Scripture, mentions all Three Persons of the Triune God.  "Christ" is of course the Son; "the eternal Spirit" is the Holy Spirit; and "God" here is a reference to the Father.  "The living God" (the last three words of the verse) can be taken as referring to the Trinity as a whole.  The very grammar of Scripture is Trinitarian!

We have begun a new year: 2013.  I would suggest thinking of this year as the Year of the Trinity.  Christians should think always of the Trinity and their Baptism.  But this year will bring extra opportunity to confess our faith in the Holy Trinity.  That is because this is 2013, and the numbers 1 and 3 are the two numbers of the Trinity.  We believe in 1 God in 3 Persons.

Funny how some say 13 is an unlucky number.  Seen in the light of the Trinity, it becomes the most blessed number!

Now think how many times you will hear, see, or write "2013" (for example, writing a check).  Many of these times could be a very small devotion in which you remember your Triune God, your Baptism, and your holy Christian faith.

Wishing you a blessed 2013, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen!