Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A Heroic God

By Richard Wurmbrand

"Unto us a child is born" (Is. 9:6).

In the Hebrew original this prophecy about the coming of the Savior continues as follows: "Unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, heroic God (El Ghibor)...."

It was surely a heroic decision to leave heaven and the world of angels, having decided for Himself to be born in a stable, to be in danger of death from early childhood, to live an entire life of sorrow which end would be crucifixion, for the salvation of mankind who would show no gratitude for this sacrifice.  Our Lord knew that ultimately good would triumph because of this sacrifice, so He made it.

Christmas is the memorial of the birth of a heroic God.

The main feature of His followers is heroism.  Shallowness and lukewarmness do not belong to Christianity.

A renowned preacher, whose father had been a drunkard and his mother a pious woman, was taught by the latter from early childhood a particular spiritual exercise.  He would put on the floor a wine glass, playing cards, dice, pornographic magazines, some money, his own picture, and would trample on it all, shouting, "No!  No!"  And again, "No!  No!"  Then he would say to himself, "I belong to a heroic God, and I will always say 'No!' to any temptation to sin."

Let us commemorate the Nativity of a divine hero, forsaking the comfortable ways and making the decision which all heroes in history have made: "To win or to perish, but never to yield."

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

With the Whip

"And making a whip..." (John 2:15).

This week's devotion is by the late Richard Wurmbrand.

Paul said to a sorcerer named Elymas, "O full of all subtlety and all mischief, thou child of the devil," and he cursed him to blindness (Acts 13:9-11).  Paul would have sinned if he had been meek toward an enemy of righteousness.

Luther wrote to a duke who opposed the Word: "Ass of all asses, bloody dog, lying mouth, thick sausage, son of the devil."  In a later letter he expresses his wonder that he could have written so gently and explains: "A Christian is a man who has hatred and enmity against nobody, but nurtures only love and goodness; but a preacher must have guts, must bite salt, and say the whole truth, because this is what the Word of God does.  It hurts the whole world; it puts its hand into the throats of rulers and princes; it thunders and lightens and assaults big mountains....  As far as I am concerned, I would do no harm and say nothing against any man, but as regards the enemies of the Word of God, you should know no friendships and no love."

Christians must be fighters against evil in the church and in the world.  They must fight for justice in society, for peace and progress.  "The kingdom of God suffereth violence" (Matt. 11:12).

The Christian does not indulge in small conflicts.  He would not quarrel with his wife or neighbor, but when he has to fight the evil which has penetrated the church, he must always have before him the image of Jesus with the whip in His hand.  He must hit and not have remorse.  Jesus never apologized to the merchants He had driven out.  Hatred toward sin cannot be expressed in dignified words, as love cannot be cold and formal.  There can be no politeness toward sin.  Love the sinner and awaken him through striking ruthlessly at his sinfulness.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Fighting from Victory

"But take heart; I have won the victory over the world" (John 16:33).

On Saturday I participated in a protest rally outside the Planned Parenthood in Providence.  Some five hundred people gathered, and similar gatherings took place across the country.  I was asked to say a few words and then lead the closing prayer.  I decided to share the best advice I ever got about fighting the pro-life battle: Always remember that you're not fighting for victory but from victory.  This changes everything.

By His bloodied cross and vacated tomb, our dear Lord Jesus Christ has already won the victory over all sin, death, and evil in this world.  By faith in Him, He makes us the victors too.  We fight the spiritual battle, taking heart and courage from the victory already won.  We are the spiritual fulfillment of the men of Israel and Judah who "arose and shouted and pursued the Philistines" after seeing that Goliath was dead and the enemy was on the run (1 Sam. 17:52).

Fight from the victory of Christ, the true David.  Apply this to every spiritual battle and especially to the personal ones.  Use the weapons of fasting, prayer, mercy, and joy - against which the enemy has no defense.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Taking a Stand

"I am the bread of life" (John 6:35).

A letter was recently sent to the Smithsonian by a group of pastors.  It's a letter that every American should read.

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

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Siblings Day

"Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus" (John 11:5).

For a few years now, I have observed July 29 as Siblings Day.  A woman named Claudia Evart is working to establish a National Siblings Day to be observed every April 10, and I hope she succeeds.  But I prefer July 29, and that's because the church calendar encourages us to remember on this day Mary, Martha, and Lazarus - who were siblings.  We read that Jesus loved all three of them.  I apply that to my two sisters and me.  And if He loves all three of us, how could we not love each other?  His love becomes our love.  I'll be calling them both today.

As a pastor, I know that not everyone has a loving relationship with their siblings.  If that includes you, remember who the real enemy is - the evil one.  Pray for your siblings, thank the Lord for them, and then reach out to them in love.  Ask forgiveness if you need to.  Don't give up.

Parents, teach your children how Jesus loved Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, and how His love for siblings turns into their love for each other.  Have each child think of something nice to say about the other(s).  Then have a time of sharing over a special dessert.

Consider well the fact that the Lord Jesus laid down His life for your brother, sister, and you.  For this reason alone, how could we not love our siblings, and from all our hearts?

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Real Relationships

"Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete" (2 John 12).

If I had to pick one thing from Laudato Si' by Pope Francis, it would be this paragraph:

"Real relationships with others, with all the challenges they entail, now tend to be replaced by a type of internet communication which enables us to choose or eliminate relationships at whim, thus giving rise to a new type of contrived emotion which has more to do with devices and displays than with other people and with nature.  Today's media do enable us to communicate and to share our knowledge and affections.  Yet at times they also shield us from direct contact with the pain, the fears and the joys of others and the complexity of their personal experiences.  For this reason, we should be concerned that, alongside the exciting possibilities offered by these media, a deep and melancholic dissatisfaction with interpersonal relations, or a harmful sense of isolation, can also arise."

In other words, alongside the blessing of electronic communication is the risk of losing out on meaningful face to face relationships with those near to us.  Thanks to Holy Communion, we have and enjoy a flesh and blood relationship with our Lord.  And this should lead and inspire us to want the same with each other.  So God bless you as you reach out electronically, but never forgetting that this is no substitute for truly being with your spouse, children, family, neighbor, and fellow Christians.  If anything, we need to invest more, much more, in these real relationships.  And the real blessings await!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Sure and Firm

"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" (Heb. 13:8).

"Jesus Christ: yesterday and today the same, and forever" (my translation).

This line by the unknown author of Hebrews should be considered among the greatest in the New Testament.  You are able to memorize it and use it as an anchor and rock in a world, and personal world, of change.  In the words of the late Malcolm Muggeridge:

"Let us then as Christians rejoice that we see around us on every hand the decay of the institutions and instruments of power, see intimations of empires falling to pieces, money in total disarray, dictators and parliamentarians alike nonplussed by the confusion and conflicts which encompass them.  For it is precisely when every earthly hope has been explored and found wanting, when every possibility of help from earthly sources has been sought and is not forthcoming, when every recourse this world offers, moral as well as material, has been explored to no effect, when in the shivering cold the last faggot has been thrown on the fire and in the gathering darkness every glimmer of light has finally flickered out, it's then that Christ's hand reaches out sure and firm.  Then Christ's words bring their inexpressible comfort, then His light shines brightest, abolishing the darkness forever" (from The End of Christendom).

And in the words of the hymn: "Change and decay in all around I see; O Thou who changest not, abide with me."

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Away Game

"And this is the victory that has overcome the world - our faith" (1 John 5:4).

As the Church, we simply can't expect the world to approve what we believe or to cheer us on.  When we believe in sin and see it first and foremost in ourselves, don't expect the world to cheer.  When we believe that Jesus Christ alone is the way, don't expect the world to cheer.  When we believe in the sanctity of marriage and the preciousness of every human life, don't expect the world to cheer.  When we believe that He is coming soon and so devote ourselves to lives of repentance and faith, don't expect the world to cheer.

Football coach Lou Holtz explained why it's so hard for a team to play on the road: "Because there'll come a critical time during the course of a game where if you aren't confident, if you aren't competitive, then you're intimidated and you need the crowd to encourage you.  But if you're winners and competitors, you don't care about it.  You'll say, 'The louder the crowd gets, the greater our resolve will become today!'"

Without knowing it, Coach Holtz has captured perfectly what it's like to be the Church in the world.  As Christians living here for a time, we are playing a road game.  This is true because our home is in heaven.  We can't look to the crowd to encourage us.  They will not be cheering for us but against us, and sometimes even jeering at us.

But the victory of Christ over sin and death makes us winners who compete confidently by our Christian conduct and love.  We say, "The louder the crowd gets, the greater our faith will become today!"

Coach always says, "Take heart, I have overcome the world!" (John 16:33).

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Defense of Marriage

Last week an important one-page letter was released, signed by 35 religious leaders, including President Matthew Harrison of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, the church body to which I belong.  Click below and then click "Download and read letter."

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

Monday, April 13, 2015

70% Off

" that our joy may be complete" (1 John 1:4).

Last week I walked into a local arts and crafts store and asked if they still had any Easter things.  The young lady pointed me to the back of the store where they had gathered the leftovers.  The sign read, "70% Off All Easter Merchandise."

Easter is arguably the happiest, holiest day for Christians, on which we celebrate the resurrection of the Savior, Jesus Christ.  Chances are, you had a wonderful Easter.  But what percentage of that joy do you have today?

Where I pastor, church attendance went down over 40% the Sunday after Easter.  Something is wrong.

We need to ask ourselves whether we really, truly believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Or whether Easter hops in and then right back out of our hearts and minds like the bunny and like many other holidays.

The joy of Easter is a spiritual one that runs deeper than our emotions.  The joy of Easter lasts longer than a day.  It is everlasting!  For the joy of Easter is the risen Christ!

As Christians, we should celebrate Easter every day, with each new sunrise.  And we should go back to the way the early Christians looked forward to every Sunday as Easter!*

Christ is 100% risen!  And the joy with which He comes and fills our hearts can never be any less.  Alleluia!

*"The Lord's Day of the first Christians was therefore a celebration of Christ's resurrection.  Each Lord's Day was an Easter Festival, since this was not yet confined to one single Sunday in the year.  This meaning of Sunday is repeatedly forgotten today" (from Early Christian Worship by Oscar Cullmann).

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

When the Sabbath Was Past

Every year on Easter I feel a sense of guilt.  On Good Friday I have only just begun to consider and ponder Christ's sufferings and death.  But then before you know it, not thirty-six hours later, I am saying and singing, "Christ is risen!"  Isn't that a little quick?  Shouldn't we spend more time in Good Friday meditation?  I need to remember that the timeline is God's own, not mine.  But we would do very well to ask why there is only one day between the death and resurrection of our Lord.  The following devotion, several years old, addresses that question.

"When the Sabbath was past..." (Mark 16:1).

Here is a question seldom asked.  Why did Jesus spend only a short time being dead?  In all, He spent: a little bit of Friday, all of Saturday, and a portion of Sunday.  This is not very long.  Even the body of a person who died just one year ago has already spent well over one hundred times as long in the grave.  I will give two answers to this question.

1. I believe that Christ was concerned only with keeping the Sabbath.  Of the three days (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday), only one did He "keep" in its entirety: Saturday, the Sabbath.  Throughout His ministry, Jesus was accused of breaking the Sabbath.  Although He never actually did break it, He observes the Sabbath following His death as no man has ever observed it.  He rests wholly and completely from His work of redeeming the world, stopping even His heart from beating.  We learn that He fulfills the Sabbath and every other part of the law for us.  He rises on Sunday, after the Sabbath has been kept.  This is one reason.

2. Another reason is that His disciples could not have lasted much longer without Him.  It is doubtful that they ate or even slept.  How heartbroken they must have been!  And afraid.  How then could Christ be "taken away from them" (Matt. 9:15) any longer?  He rose as soon as possible to give them - and us - peace, joy, and courage.

Christ is risen!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Make a Holy Week Plan

"So from that day on they made plans to put Him to death" (John 11:53).

Sunday morning in church the children and I practiced saying the days of the week: "Sunday, Monday, Tuesday...."  I taught them, then, that while every week is special, only one is called "Holy Week," and it's almost here!

According to the above verse from John, the seventy-member Jewish Council, or Sanhedrin, made plans to put Jesus to death.  They were not the first.  Long before, God made plans to give and sacrifice His Son for our sins.

The question now is, Have you made plans?

Holy Week is the heart and highpoint of the Christian year.  Everything moves either toward it or away from it.

Take time this week to make a plan.  Plan to attend the special services.  Plan to invite a friend to go with you.  Plan extra Scripture and devotional reading at home.  Plan to turn off the TV.  Plan possibly to see your pastor for individual confession.  Plan to clean the house on Holy Saturday in joyful preparation for Easter!

Plan to be strengthened in your faith and love.

Make a Holy Week plan, for it's almost here!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Luther on Annunciation

In 1532 Luther concluded his Annunciation sermon this way.  It's as though he spoke these words this morning.

"It almost seems as though God is at enmity with the world.  Present conditions are so shameful all around us in the world, as God allows murderous mobs and rabble, so much violence and so much misfortune to prevail, so that we might think God is only Lord and God of the angels and that He has forgotten about mankind.  But here in our text we see that He befriends us humans like no other creatures, in the very closest relationship, and, in turn, we humans have a closer relationship with God than with any creature.  Sun and moon are not as close to us as is God, for He comes to us in our own flesh and blood.  God not only rules over us, not only lives in us, but personally became a human being.

This is the grace which we celebrate today, thanking God that He has cleansed our sinful conception and birth through His holy conception and birth, and removed the curse from us and blessed us.  By nature our conception and birth are flawed and laden with sin.  In contrast, Christ's conception and birth were holy and pure.  Through His holy conception and birth our sinful nature, flesh, and blood are blessed and made holy.  It is on this basis that we are baptized, so that by means of God's Word, the sacraments, and the Holy Spirit we might have the fruit of His holy conception and birth.  May we always thank Him for His grace and never become weary or surfeited in hearing and learning this.  Unfortunately, most people in the world think they know it all, after they have heard it once."

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Jesus Loves Me! This I See

I wrote the following hymn stanzas as a way of teaching children about Holy Communion.  It is to the tune of "Jesus Loves Me," and these two stanzas could follow stanzas 1 and 2 in Lutheran Service Book, hymn 588.

Jesus loves me when He says,
Take and eat this piece of bread.
It's My body, yes, it's true,
Which I sacrificed for you.

Jesus loves me!  This I see
In the cup He gives to me.
It's My holy blood, He says,
Which for you I gladly shed.

May we all believe so simply!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Carried by Four Men

"And they came, bringing to Him a paralytic carried by four men" (Mark 2:3).

The healing of the paralytic in Mark 2 is recorded also in Matthew 9 and Luke 5.  But only Mark, a Gospel known for its details, mentions the fact that the litter on which the paralytic lay was "carried by four men."

Now why would the Holy Spirit include such a detail?  Could it have been to lead us to another question?  Namely, who are the four who carry you to Christ?  Think about it.

God uses different people in our lives to help bring us to faith.  Parents, pastors, teachers, a good friend.  But the four men whose mission it is to carry you to Jesus are named Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  The very purpose of their Gospels is to bring you to Christ, crucified and risen, who says to you, "Child, your sins are forgiven" (Mark 2:5).

The Four Evangelists are the authorized biographers of our Lord Jesus Christ, and their writing takes you into His life.  Learn to see Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John not only as books of the New Testament, but as your four friends who carry you to the Savior.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Priority and Place of Prayer

"And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, He departed and went out to a desolate place, and there He prayed" (Mark 1:35).

In Mark 1 Jesus gets up in the (very early) morning and prays, teaching and inviting us to do the same.

He makes time for prayer.  He had had a busy day and was about to have another.  Still He makes prayer the priority, the first thing, the foundation for the rest of the day.

He finds a good place to pray.  He finds a "desolate" place, a quiet place, free of distractions.  A place to focus the heart and mind.

These are things we can do.  We can begin each day, especially the busy ones, with prayer and God's Word.  We can make it the priority, the first thing, the foundation.  It doesn't have to be a long time, just a quality time.  5, 10, 15 minutes will do.  And find a good place.

Get excited about it, look forward to it!

Do it with your wife if possible, and with your family, as the case may be.

There are lots of resources, guides, orders, and ideas for morning and daily devotions.  Find something that works for you, or try different things.  Talk with your pastor.  And consider using Martin Luther's Morning Prayer:

I thank You, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son, that You have kept me this night from all harm and danger; and I pray that You would keep me this day also from sin and every evil, that all my doings and life may please You.  For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things.  Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me.  Amen.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Be at Peace

Richard Bowry, who has been 11 weeks now at Elmhurst Extended Care in Providence, gave me a yellow card with words of St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622).  I, in turn, want to give it to you.

Do not look forward in fear to the changes of life; rather look to them with full hope that as they arise, God, whose very own you are, will lead you safely through all things; and when you cannot stand it, God will carry you in His arms.  Do not fear what may happen tomorrow; the same everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you then and every day.  He will either shield you from suffering, or will give you unfailing strength to bear it.  Be at peace and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations.