Tuesday, December 23, 2014

God in a Box

"...the baby lying in a manger" (Luke 2:16).

The manger is mentioned three times in the Christmas Gospel.  It must be significant.

manger, n.  A trough or open box in which fodder is placed for horses or cattle.

Have you ever heard the expression, "You can't put God in a box"?  Maybe you've even used it.  I think I know what it means.  It means you can't limit God.  You can't contain Him.  You can't put boundaries on Him.  You can't say, "He is exactly like this."  We can't possibly fit all of the infinite God into our finite human thoughts.

And I agree wholeheartedly.  You can't put God in a box.  I can't.  We can't.

But here's the Christmas thing: God can, and did.  For that is the meaning of Christmas and the significance of the manger: God putting Himself in a box and inviting us to look inside.

Christmas may be understood, and well understood, as God in a box.  As the Infinite now finite.  As the Uncontainable now contained.  And as the Incomprehensible now comprehensible to poor mortal sinners.

In the words of Luther's Christmas hymn: "Ah, Lord, though You created all, How weak You are, so poor and small, That You should choose to lay Your head Where lowly cattle lately fed!"

This Christmas look for God and find Him in Bethlehem's box.  Look for no other idea about God than this.  Look not up to heaven but down beneath you.  There He lies, so contained, and yet all of God.  All of His love.

And pray, "O Lord Jesus, be contained now within my heart.  Amen."

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Round Yon Virgin

"Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son..." (Isa. 7:14).

"Silent Night" may well be the most beloved Christmas carol.  It dates back to the year 1818.  The English translation of the German original contains the following lines:

All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and child.

I admit that for many years I have happily sung these words without really understanding their meaning - in particular, "Round yon."  Maybe you can relate!

After studying the matter, I offer this simple explanation.  The sentence can be understood as though it were written, "All is calm, all is bright around yonder virgin mother and child."

"Yon" is a poetic little adjective telling us that a virgin mother and her baby are "just over there, not far."  It's as though we are being pointed in the direction of the stable from which is coming a calm and a light.  Let us go!

The world, as we know, can be a dark and troubled place.  Christmas reveals the only Source of lasting peace and hope for such a world: the Child born of a virgin mother.

Let us sing sweetly of this hope!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

9.5 Theses

As is well known, on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses on the Wittenberg Castle Church door.  Five years ago, in the spirit of the Reformation, I wrote and shared with my congregation the following "9.5 Theses" for today.  The last of them is truly only half given.  You, the reader, must confess the remaining half, given underneath in italics.

1. "Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2) is a timeless message of God's love and forgiveness (John 3:16).

2. The key to worship is, in the first place, God coming to us as the One who is holy, "righteous and having salvation" (Zech. 9:9).  So in the second place, we come before Him sinful, repentant, and believing (Luke 5:8, Mark 1:15).

3. The Sacrament of the Altar is the holiest thing in the church, akin to, and the very fulfillment of, the Old Testament holy of holies.  It should be handled therefore with the most reverence (fear and love).

4. Pastors are servants and "stewards of God's mysteries" (1 Cor. 4:1).  As such, they are to model the highest regard for the things of God and His church, and should show restraint in introducing new forms.

5. As God communicates with us verbally (Word) and visually (Sacrament), so too we communicate with each other and the world using words and works of mercy.

6. Foremost today must be the church's witness to the sanctity of marriage, family, and human life (Matt. 19:4-6, Prov. 31:8-9).

7. The church is fundamentally at odds with the world (John 15:18-19) and must never try to please it, but be its salt, light (Matt. 5:13-14), and sugar.

8. The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod has a heritage of fidelity to the Word of God and a good Christian confession.  Now is the time to recommit to that heritage, not call it into question.

9. The congregation of Gloria Dei has a special role to play as part of Christ's church and the Missouri Synod.

9.5. We live in "times of difficulty" (2 Tim. 3:1-2), proclaiming the Lord's death until He comes (1 Cor. 11:26).  Our hope, courage, faith, love, peace, and joy all come down to this...

Christ is risen!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Image and Inscription

"And they brought Him a denarius.  And Jesus said to them, 'Whose image and inscription is this?'" (Matt. 22:19-20).

A coin called a "denarius" was brought to Jesus.  He then drew attention to the image on it and the corresponding inscription.

As I write these few words, I have next to me an actual denarius from the time of Jesus.  It bears the image and inscription of Caesar Augustus, Roman emperor at the time of our Lord's birth.  The denarius brought to Jesus probably bore the image and inscription of Tiberias, emperor at the time of His death.

But for something deeper, see that your heart, ever since the day of your Baptism, bears the image and inscription of Christ.  A short little hymn puts it perfectly:

On my heart imprint Your image, blessed Jesus, King of grace,
That life's riches, cares, and pleasures never may Your work erase;
Let the clear inscription be: Jesus, crucified for me,
Is my life, my hope's foundation, and my glory and salvation!
(Lutheran Service Book, 422)

Let us "render to God," therefore, our love, trust, and heartfelt thanks.  Use the above hymn, and add to this a humble and godly life.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

To Love Is to Listen

"Husbands, love your wives" (Eph. 5:25).

"Be quick to listen, slow to speak" (James 1:19).

Listening to your wife is the better part of loving her.  What does this mean?  A wife needs a husband who spends time listening to her.  In this way she will know that he loves her.

I remember meeting with a young couple once, and the wife made it perfectly clear.  Fighting back the tears, she explained to her husband, "When I share something with you, I'm not always looking for an answer, but just for you to listen."  Her husband had no idea about that.  He was focused on a solution.  So they took a big step forward in their marriage that day.

It's not that a solution is unimportant.  It's just that something else must come first.  The primary need a wife has is to be understood by her husband.  This is another, more concrete, way of saying that her primary need is to be loved.

Husbands, practice listening to your wives.  Make special time for it.  Give her your undivided attention.  In sincerity say things like, "Tell me more about that part of it," or, "Let me see if I understand."  After this, she may well want you to help identify a solution, or the time for that may come later.  But sometimes it will be all she needs simply to be understood.

And wives, don't forget that your husbands have a need to be understood too.  So the same rules apply.

But husbands, you need to go first.  You can do this!  Husbands, love your wives.  Listen.

And let all of us remember that we have a Lord who listens perfectly to us when we go to Him in prayer.

Friday, September 19, 2014

St. Matthew

September 21 is the day set aside to remember St. Matthew, apostle and evangelist.  My first name is Matthew, after St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Holt, Michigan, my father's first and only congregation that he pastored for twenty years.  Although Lutheran Service Book has a stanza for Matthew, I wanted to write another.  It is based on Matthew 9:9-13 and 28:16-20.

We praise You, Lord, for Matthew,
The tax collector who
Put down his filthy lucre,
Got up, and followed You.
Baptized, we too will follow,
Keep all that You command,
And ne'er forget Your promise:
"I'm with you to the end!"

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Wedding at CANA

Eleven Promises Inspired by the Wedding at CANA in John 2:1-11:

1. Christ CAN A marriage save.

2. Christ CAN A marriage heal.

3. Christ CAN A marriage renew.

4. Christ CAN A marriage strengthen.

5. Christ CAN A marriage preserve.

Because

6. Christ CAN A heart change.

7. Christ CAN A sin forgive.

8. Christ CAN A husband lead.

9. Christ CAN A wife assure.

10. Christ CAN A joy supply.

Because

11. Christ CAN A love show.

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Eyes of Faith, Hope, and Love

"So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love" (1 Cor. 13:13).

One way to understand faith, hope, and love is to imagine that each one has a pair of eyes.  And then to ask the questions: What does faith see?  What does hope see?  And what does love see?

Faith sees the cross.  Faith is cross-eyed and sees nothing else in all the world save the incarnate, innocent, crucified Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth, the Lord Christ.  Faith sees in this One the full bloody payment for all sins.  Faith is a constant gaze at Christ crucified, and especially in the hour of death.  "Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes."

Hope sees the resurrection.  Hope is the Easter morning moment when "the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed" (John 20:8).  And hope then turns that moment into a lifetime.  Hope sees through the present struggle and gory suffering to a glorious future.  Hope sees nothing but the glorious risen Lord.  As a Navy chaplain I did not carry a weapon.  (Chaplains are noncombatants.)  Marines always wanted to know how that felt.  I told them how I understood it.  I told them that it stood for a hope, in the midst of war, that Someday there will be peace and no need for weapons.

And love sees people.  Love sees a world of people in need of love - and feels for them.  Who are they in your world?  They are near.  They are your family.  They are coming your way today, and you are going theirs.  They need God's love, and you have it to give.  They are not always easy to love, but love these the most.

Now love is called the greatest.  Why so?  Three reasons can be given.  (1) True Christian love implies the presence of faith and hope.  Love therefore represents the greatest quantity.  (2) Love is the one that makes us most like God who "so loved the world."  (3) And love is the only one that can lead others to faith, hope, and love.

O Lord, open the eyes of my faith to see Your cross.  Open the eyes of my hope to see Your resurrection.  And open the eyes of my love to see people the way You do.  Amen.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Repartee

Heard any good comeback lines lately?  A quick, witty reply is called a "repartee" (pronounced "rep-ar-TAY").  Repartee can also mean, then, "the art of the comeback."  But better to give an example.  The following is one of the most famous.

Nancy Astor, the first female elected to Parliament, was at a dinner party in the company of Winston Churchill.  Churchill, who had been drinking, was pontificating on some subject.  Lady Astor could take it no more and said, "Winston, if you were my husband, I'd put poison in your coffee."  Churchill seemed ready with his reply.  "Nancy, if you were my wife, I'd drink it."

It's possible, though, that the Bible contains the best repartee ever uttered.  It comes from the Canaanite woman who came and knelt before Jesus, asking His help for her daughter.

"And He answered, 'It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.'  She said, 'Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table'" (Matt. 15:26-27).

This Gentile woman gets the best of Him, doesn't she?  And what is the best of Christ?  His mercy.

But we can take this exchange between Christ and the woman too seriously.  Know that the two of them could not have been more playful!  It may even be correct to say that they are spiritually flirting.  He is flirting with her faith, and finds her humility irresistible.  She is flirting with His mercy.  There is a deep love and understanding.

In this repartee, both sides win.  The woman wins because she believes in Him and receives His help.  Christ wins because all He ever wanted was to give it.

This same Christ is courting your faith.  Let Him be drawn to it by the beauty of your humility.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Search for Joy

The death of Robin Williams today has me remembering three things.  First, the fun I had as a boy watching Mork & Mindy.  Second, the following devotion from Richard Wurmbrand.  And third, Robin's wife and family, and all the many who ache on the inside.

"My joy might remain in you" (John 15:11).

It is said that a man suffering from melancholic depression visited a psychiatrist, who recommended frequent travels.

The patient answered, "I am traveling continuously and it does not help."

"A glass of wine drunk at a happy party is useful," said the doctor.

The reply was, "I drink whole barrels of alcohol and remain sad."

The doctor had an idea.  "There is a clown in town who is unequaled.  People cannot control their laughter listening to his jokes and seeing his tricks.  Spend your evenings there."

The patient said, "I am that clown.  I gladden everyone except myself.  And the joy of those who watch me does not last."

The joys which this world gives are illusory, because in the depths of our hearts we realize they are mere escapes from the fact that we are men sentenced to death, men burdened with guilt.  When we laugh, there is in us the remembrance that we made others weep.

Only God gives the real joy.  He has shown in the resurrection of Christ that He has forgiven all our sins.  Jesus our Lord "was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification" (Rom. 4:25).  The resurrection of Jesus is a pledge that we will resurrect, too, because we belong to Him.  We have an inner joy which continues even without external stimulants.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Waste Not, Want Not

"He told His disciples, 'Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost'" (John 6:12).

The Society of St. Andrew estimates that, as of this week, over 77 billion pounds of food have been wasted in our country since January 1.  The Small Catechism makes it personal by instructing us to ask the question, "Have I wasted anything?" (see under Confession).

The Feeding of the Five Thousand is recorded by all Four Evangelists.  On the one hand, we learn a lesson about trusting God to provide.  On the other hand, we learn a lesson about not being wasteful.  And these two hands should be folded together in prayer.

Luther preached, "Our Lord desires waste as little as He wants despair and worry, desiring that we opt for the middle course, that is, trust Him and carefully husband what is left over.  The well-known proverb still obtains: Waste not, want not!"

It applies to other things too, such as money, mind, talent, time, and God's Word (most of all).  Gifts of God not to be wasted!

But focus, as does our Lord, on food.  I asked my mother and sister to write down some fun tips on how to waste not.  Let me give three of them to get us thinking:

Don't throw that Hershey's chocolate sauce bottle away.  Fill it halfway up with milk, shake, and pour yourself a nice glass of chocolate milk.

Old bread or crusts?  Toss it in a bag and put in the freezer.  Take it to the park to feed the ducks.

Buffet night.  Before your weekly grocery shopping trip, pull out the bowls of leftovers from the fridge, that last apple, the box of crackers that's almost gone, and get creative.  Top it off with a special, not leftover, dessert!

And I would add that children should be taught to clean their plates, and to throw nothing away from their school lunches.

In so doing, we learn to remember that our heavenly Father feeds us out of love, and not to take that for granted but to thank Him for it from all our hearts.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Margaret

"...one pearl of great value" (Matt. 13:46).

Years ago I did the funeral for a woman named Margaret.  I used the Parable of the Pearl for the reason that the Greek word for "pearl" is "margaret."

You too are Margaret, the pearl of great value.

A beautiful explanation of this parable says that the merchant is Christ, and you are the very precious pearl.  Consider two parts of the parable:

Of great value.  (The only other time this adjective is used in the New Testament is in John 12:3 to describe the ointment applied by Mary to the feet of Jesus.)  Good, true self-esteem or worth begins by knowing that you are of great value to God.  He made you uniquely.  He loves you as though the only one.  You are as a very precious pearl to Him!

Bought.  This is the Christ word.  Paul, in two places, says, "You were bought with a price" (1 Cor. 6:20 and 7:23), as though commenting on this parable.  The price was the life and blood of Christ!  How marvelous the words in the Small Catechism: "[Christ] has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own."  His own very precious pearl.

The only thing as precious as you is the blood of Christ.  He was able to use it therefore to redeem you!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Irreplaceable

Every once in a while a movie comes along that Christians need to see and share with others.  Irreplaceable, from Focus on the Family, is that kind of movie.  It asks the question, "What is family?" and answers that question, "Irreplaceable."

To watch trailer click www.irreplaceablethemovie.com

It showed in theaters two nights back in May.  I saw it then and would describe it as honest, hopeful, and healing.  Available on DVD in August.  Gloria Dei Lutheran Church will host two Irreplaceable movie nights, with popcorn and pop, on:

Friday, August 22, 7 pm
or
Thursday, August 28, 7 pm

No charge, except to invite a family member, friend, neighbor, coworker, etc. to come.  I've invited three, and they're coming!  Be thinking, be inviting, be praying.  Let's ask God to bless this!

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, July 7, 2014

Today's Date

I find today's date to be spiritually significant: 7-7-14.

It could be seen as 7 + 7 = 14 and then used to remember The Fourteen Words, made up of these two seven-word lines:

GOD, BE MERCIFUL TO ME, A SINNER.

TAKE HEART, CHILD, YOUR SINS ARE FORGIVEN.

(Luke 18:13 and Matthew 9:2)

Pray the first seven words from all your heart, and then hear the second seven from all the heart of Jesus.  Repeat this often and make every day 7-7-14.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

For the Nation

As we celebrate Independence Day, take a moment to pray for the nation, possibly using this prayer:

Almighty God, You have given us this good land as our heritage.  Grant that we remember Your generosity and constantly do Your will.  Bless our land with honest industry, truthful education, and an honorable way of life.  Save us from violence, discord, and confusion, from pride and arrogance, and from every evil course of action.  Grant that we, who came from many nations with many different languages, may become a united people.  Support us in defending our liberties, and give those to whom we have entrusted the authority of government the spirit of wisdom, that there may be justice and peace in our land.  When times are prosperous, may our hearts be thankful, and in troubled times do not let our trust in You fail; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

And several years ago I wrote these lines about our duty as citizens:

To country lend your loyalty;
Obey all in authority,
And for them pray and intercede;
Your taxes pay, live peaceably.
To Caesar render what is just;
To God alone, your love and trust.

Happy and safe Fourth of July!

The prayer is from Lutheran Service Book, page 313.  The hymn stanza is based on Matthew 22:21, Romans 13:5-7, 1 Timothy 2:1-3, Titus 3:1, and 1 Peter 2:13-14.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Believe Firmly

"...firm in your faith" (1 Pet. 5:9).

Recently I visited the home of a fellow pastor and his wife.  It was like walking into the Gospel: many beautiful Christian paintings and pictures, a Nativity scene, a number of crucifixes, and the gift of hospitality on the part of the pastor and his wife.  (There was an egg casserole just coming out of the oven.)  God bless them!

But what caught my attention the most was a plaque which read:

Live simply.
Love generously.
Serve faithfully.
Speak truthfully.
Pray daily.
Leave everything else to God.

And that's exactly what they were doing.

I thought about those six things and how each is taught in the Bible.  Then I remembered that seven is the complete number, not six.  And if I could add just one other thing, what would it be?

Believe firmly.

That is the foundation for the other six.  Believe firmly, with all your heart, in God and His Word.  Believe firmly that you are a sinner, that you have a Savior, the Lord Jesus, and that He fills your heart with His love.

Sunday was Pentecost: the fiftieth day after Easter, the coming of the Holy Spirit, the birthday of the Church.  God gives His Holy Spirit in order for us to believe firmly and then to live a Christian life.

Pastor Al and Traci Espinosa are a good example.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

God Knows

Exodus 2 ends in a strange way.  It reads: "and God knew."  It does not say what God knew.  The thought is incomplete.  It is up to the reader to complete it.

It is proper to understand from these verses (Exod. 2:23-25) that the children of Israel groaned because of their slavery in Egypt.  But it is not enough.  To complete Exodus 2, you must do two things.  First, name the burden you are under.  Second, believe that God knows about it.

In Christ Jesus, God went from being the one who hears our sighs, to becoming the one who sighs with us and for us (Mark 7:34)!  In Christ Jesus, God has compassion and comes to carry our burdens with us.  This may actually mean more than if God were to take the burdens away.  It requires more love to suffer with someone than to take their suffering away.

God knows.  He knows exactly what you are carrying.  And in Christ, He knows it firsthand and carries it with you.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Ascension's Great Joy

Today is the fortieth day after Easter, and the celebration of Christ's ascension into heaven.

"And they...returned to Jerusalem with great joy" (Luke 24:52).

Twice in his Gospel, Luke has the words "great joy."  The first time is Christmas: "And the angel said to them, 'Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy'" (Luke 2:10).  The second time is Ascension.  Today is a day for joy, great joy, a joy that knows no end!

Reason says that the disciples should have been sad at their dear Lord's departure.  But their faith sees and thinks differently.  Their faith is so full of His birth, death, resurrection, Word, forgiveness, and promise of the Holy Spirit, there is no room left over for sadness.

May the same be true of your heart!

JOY has been defined as "Jesus, Others, Yourself."  Look first to your Savior.  Then to the needs of your neighbor.  And then you will find yourself - and the great joy of the Gospel!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Cocos Fire: Lesson Taught

It's all over now.  But last week the Cocos Fire in San Marcos, California, caused the evacuation of thousands, including me.  The fire came within a few hundred feet of my home.  In spiritual terms, it was a rehearsal for the day I will have to leave behind all earthly things.  The following devotion is by Richard Wurmbrand (1909-2001) and has my attention more than before.

"Seek the things that are above" (Col. 3:1).

A Christian put the inscription, Linquenda, on the front of his house, which means in Latin, "I will have to leave it."

It is good to remember that one day we will have to leave our business, our library, our beloved ones, our body.

A beggar knocked at the gate of a rich man and asked for one night's lodging.

The rich man shouted, "I cannot let you in.  This is not a hotel."

The beggar answered, "Please, forgive me.  I will seek shelter somewhere else.  Your house really impresses me by its beauty.  I will not bother you, but please satisfy my curiosity.  Who built this house?"

The rich man, friendlier now that he knew he would not have to put up with the stranger, replied, "My father built it."

"Very nice.  Is he still alive?"

"No, he died and I inherited it."

"Do you have children?  Who will inherit it when you will die?"

"My eldest son.  He just married.  He will live in it after my decease."

The beggar then said, "Well, the house is just what I thought it to be - a hotel.  It is the first time I saw a hotel owner getting angry when someone asked for a room."

All of our houses are hotels.  I don't have the slightest idea who stayed in the house, where I write these lines, before I entered it.  I don't know who will succeed me.  Linquenda - we will have to leave all.

Jesus came to invite us to an eternal abode, to His paradise.  Detach your mind and your lusts from the transitory.  You will have to leave it anyway.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Sheep Faith

Swine flu is a blessing in disguise.  It can be used to remind Christians that they suffer from another condition: sheep faith.

"The sheep hear His voice" (John 10:3).  Amid so many other sounds and scares, Christians hear the voice of Christ, their Shepherd.  His voice and words speak faith into our anxious hearts.  And because He is risen, we will never be without His voice.

Much is made of the "I am" statements of Jesus.  "I am the good shepherd" (John 10:11).  But you too have an "I am" statement:

I am Jesus' little lamb,
Ever glad at heart I am;
For my Shepherd gently guides me,
Knows my need and well provides me,
Loves me ev'ry day the same,
Even calls me by my name.

A heart that is always glad.  Such is the main symptom of sheep faith.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Word of Forgiveness

A reader of these small devotions contacted me to share her experience of going to individual confession.  And I have her permission to share with you the note she wrote to me.  (Remember that individual confession is not a "must" but a "may.")

Dear Pastor Matt,

Thank you for last week's devotion, "Make a Holy Week Plan."  After reading the devotion, I called my pastor and set a time for individual confession.  I went.  I did not go with a heavy heart.  I went because you, along with my pastors, told me it would be good to do.  It took only a few minutes, following the order in Lutheran Service Book.  However, the blessing of that time has remained.  It was not an emotional high, but rather a profound breath of fresh air.  I now have two choices: to grieve the lost years when I chose not to go, or to rejoice in my newfound blessing.  I choose the latter!  Thank you.  God bless you.

The Lord bless her, and you, this Holy Week and all through this life!  And let us regard the Word of forgiveness as the greatest gift and our most precious possession.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Confessions of a Lenten Heart

"I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,' and You forgave the iniquity of my sin" (Ps. 32:5).

Ash Wednesday brings with it a renewed emphasis on confession, and that spirit endures through all of Lent.

It may be helpful to distinguish three types of confession toward God: corporate, individual, and personal.  I'll say just a word about each one.

Corporate - Most Lutheran Divine Services begin with corporate confession.  The congregation makes confession together as one body.  But at the same time, members have in mind and heart their own individual sins.  Corporate confession is always followed by corporate absolution, that is, the Word of forgiveness spoken by the pastor to all and to each.

Individual - This confession takes place in private between one person and the pastor.  It usually makes mention of one or more sins that are troubling the person.  It needn't take more than several minutes.  It is sealed in holy confidentiality.  It gives great spiritual relief and refreshment!  Ask your pastor to say more about individual confession and absolution, including an easy-to-use order the two of you may follow.

Personal - Perhaps also called "daily confession," this type goes on at all times in the Christian heart.  You may use the Lord's Prayer (Fifth Petition), other prayers, psalms, or hymns.  This is where I teach my congregation to practice saying the Fourteen Words:

"God, be merciful to me, a sinner."
 
"Take heart, child, your sins are forgiven."
 
Seven and seven, these fourteen words represent a deep form of personal confession and absolution.  They come from Luke 18:13 and Matthew 9:2.
 
The Lord of Lent help, bless, and strengthen us through the gift of confession and absolution!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Fruitful

On February 23 the church remembers St. Polycarp.  I'm still thinking about him.

He was a disciple of John, he was the bishop of Smyrna (in today's Turkey), and he was martyred in the year 155 or 156.

We have a letter he wrote to the Christians in Philippi, and we have an authentic first-hand account of his death.  The latter is only thirteen pages long and should be required Christian reading.  Read it devotionally and it will strengthen you.  For me the lessons learned are: Be brave, be loving, and be faithful - all things we need today, and all things God will work in us!

But the standout thing for me is the meaning of the name Polycarp.  It is Greek and means "much fruit" or "fruitful."  Very interestingly (remember that John was Polycarp's teacher) the name Polycarp may be found in the Gospel of John.  John 12:24 reads, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit."

The witness of Polycarp has encouraged countless Christians, and all these years later he is still bearing fruit.  God is living him up to his name - Fruitful!

For Polycarp we praise You,
Who did not fear the flame
But filled with joy and courage
Confessed Your holy name.
Lord, give Your Holy Spirit
To our timidity
That filled with joy and courage
We too may fruitful be!

Like to have a copy of the Martyrdom of St. Polycarp sent to you?  Contact Wanda at 760-743-2478 or office@gdlc.sdcoxmail.com.

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Christ in Kristoff

"Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another" (John 13:34).

Have you gone to see Disney's Frozen?  It's a good idea.  You just might catch a glimpse of Christ and the impact His love has on our lives.

I'm taking a group of young people to see it this week.  And I'm instructing them ahead of time to consider carefully Kristoff's part in the story, especially toward the end.  You almost miss something.

That's because the accent is on Anna's "act of true love" for her sister.  You can't miss that.  But (and this is the key) the thing that heals and strengthens Anna and enables her to give herself for Elsa is Kristoff's love for her.  Anna: "Kristoff loves me?"  Yes!

The name "Kristoff" was thoughtfully (and boldly?) given to this character.  The name means "Christ-bearer," and he really does bear the image of Christ, both in his pure love for Anna and then in the transforming power of that love.

All of this is the Gospel: pure and simple, sacrificial and profound.  Complete with a theologian and evangelist to help us understand it and bring it to our personal attention: Olaf!

In the words of Shakespeare, "To be or not to be, that is the question."  To which I would say, "To be loved and to love, that is the answer."  That is the Gospel!  And that, I believe, is the real meaning of Frozen.

"We love because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19).

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

We've Come a Long Way, Baby

Dr. George Delgado, M.D., F.A.A.F.P., is a family physician with COLFS (Culture of Life Family Services).  He is board certified in family medicine, hospice and palliative medicine, health care ethics, and NaProTECHNOLOGY, and has practiced family medicine since 1988.  He is a frequent conference speaker and radio guest, and is widely published, including a study for abortion pill reversal (The Annals of Pharmacotherapy, Dec 2012).  On Saturday, January 18, he addressed the 2014 San Diego Walk for Life in the following words (published here with permission).

We've Come a Long Way, Baby

January 22, 1973, the day seven men in black robes decided that vulnerable unborn children and their mothers could become the prey of abortionists and others who take advantage of women and children, is perhaps the darkest day in the history of this one nation, under God.

One nation that had forgotten its roots and drifted from God and the natural law, the land of the free and the brave had lost its way.

We have allowed the development of a culture that calls killing "choice" and demands that women scorn the great gifts of femininity and motherhood in order to claim a false mantle of equality.

This same culture has pushed men and fathers to the margins of their families and society by stripping them of their true masculinity by encouraging them to abdicate their roles as servant-leaders to become sexual predators or valueless, spineless enablers.

No matter how bad things have gotten, we in the pro-life community are people of hope who never despair and never will give up the fight.  Now, we are appreciating the fruits of our perseverance.

Our society is increasingly accepting that the best option for women in crisis pregnancies is to receive help and support so that they can feel empowered to follow their hard-wired internal instincts to nurture and protect their unborn babies and themselves.

You see, abortion is a multifaceted evil.  It physically destroys an unborn child and it spiritually destroys the mother and often fathers and grandparents, too.

We as a society are again affirming that abortion is a false solution, a den of lies, a house of cards that will always fall apart, leaving a wounded woman even more vulnerable than before.

What are the fruits we are seeing now?

*Fewer abortion centers: 87 closed in 2013, leaving 572.  That's still 572 too many, but compare that to 2,176 that were operating in 1991.

*We now have an abortion pill reversal program started here at COLFS in San Diego.  The abortion pill, mifepristone, also known as RU 486, has claimed the lives of about 2 million unborn children in this country.  About 17% of all abortions are these, so-called medical abortions.  Now, women who change their minds after taking RU 486 have a second chance.  Dr. Mary Davenport and I published the first article in the medical literature describing the reversal of the effects of RU 486 using progesterone.  We have a web site, abortionpillreversal.com, and have connected women with doctors who can help them.  We have helped women from numerous states and from other countries, including Mexico, Italy, South Africa, Poland, and Australia.

*More pro-life laws are being passed.  Finally, states such as Texas are applying the same standards to abortionists as to other doctors.  Because of this law, at least 9 abortion clinics closed in the Lone Star State.

*Personhood initiatives and legislative bills continue to sprout from the grassroots.

*The court of public opinion is tilting towards pro-life as more than 50% of Americans describe themselves as pro-life or choose pro-life positions in the latest polls.

*The number of abortionists continues to fall.  Only the bottom of the barrel or the most twisted doctor will perform a procedure that conflicts with even the most poorly formed conscience.  A study in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology estimated that only 1 in 7 Ob Gyns now do abortions in the U.S.  Similarly, the number performing abortions is falling in Canada, Italy, and New Zealand.

Our call is to love others - love above all.  We are called to love all mothers, fathers, and children, both born and pre-born.  We are also called to love abortionists and clinic workers.

How do we love?  By not condemning people but criticizing evil.  By offering solutions and life-affirming alternatives.  By being joyful and hopeful, for they shall know who we are by our love.

It's time for all of us who are brave and free to take a more active role in protecting women, children, and families.  The victory of love is within reach.  We owe it to our most vulnerable; we owe it to ourselves.

God bless you, God bless San Diego, and God bless America.

And God bless you, Dr. Delgado!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Year of the Fourteen Words

2014 could be called the "Year of the Fourteen Words."  That is how the people of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church (Escondido, California) are thinking of it.  When we see "2014," or hear it, or write the date, we may take a moment to remember the Fourteen Words.  Some have committed to saying the 14 Words at least once a day during 2014.

What are the Fourteen Words?

They are a devotion - a meditation - consisting of two seven-word statements found in the Bible.  It's worth noting that seven is the perfect number.

The first seven words come from Luke 18:13: "God, be merciful to me, a sinner."

It is the perfect prayer.  It is a prayer of repentance but also much hope and faith in God's mercy.  This prayer flies into the ear and heart of God.

The second seven are from Matthew 9:2: "Take heart, child, your sins are forgiven."

This now is how God replies, through the mouth of Christ, to the first seven words.  It is the perfect word of forgiveness and absolution.  It strengthens the heart and faith, and is spoken and addressed to you personally - His child.

These are the Fourteen Words.  Seven and Seven.  And round and round it goes: a lifelong conversation between your soul and your God.  It never grows old, but rather new.

And we are taking the year to mine its riches.  Yes, I will teach on it often.  But the final lessons will be taught by the Holy Spirit and learned in the deepest place of the heart.

The Lord richly bless 2014: The Year of the Fourteen Words!