Monday, November 23, 2015

The Mother of Covet

The Ninth and Tenth Commandments say, "You shall not covet."

But Covet has a mother and her name is Compare.  This means that before one can covet, he must first compare.  He must compare two things: what God has given him, and what God has given to another.  All coveting begins with comparing.  Even to compare your present situation with one you'd rather be in, soon leads to the sin of coveting: the desire to have what God has not given you.

Covet has a daughter and her name is Complain.  She has no friends.  Complaining is always the direct result of coveting, just as coveting is the direct result of comparing.  Hold in check your comparing and you will hold in check your coveting and complaining.

Replace all of these C's with Contentment.  She is the happy, beautiful daughter of faith and trust in God.  But do not stop at thanking God for what He has given you.  Thank Him especially for what He has given to others.  Pray that God will create in you this kind of heart.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Fourteen Words (Part 2)

"Take heart, child, your sins are forgiven."

The only thing more important than prayer is to become silent so as to hear the Word of God - the voice of God from the lips of Jesus.

When you pray, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner," what does this God say back to you?  His reply is found in Matthew 9:2: "Take heart, child, your sins are forgiven."  Understand that you are the one to whom these words are addressed.

"Take heart."  This means a cheerful, confident heart, full of courage.  For when you hear and believe that your sins are forgiven, then nothing big or small can take away your joy and strength.  Your heart becomes a place in which a bright morning sun is always rising.  Yes, the trials still come, but the verdict is in and it is final: Your sins are forgiven.

"Child."  Use the word "child" to remember your Baptism.  And will not the one who calls you "child" always love and care for you in every way?  Other times, in place of the word "child," use your full first name.  This can be a very powerful experience!  Try it: "Take heart, [name], your sins are forgiven."

So now you have your seven words: "God, be merciful to me, a sinner."  And God has His: "Take heart, child, your sins are forgiven."

Enter into conversation with Him often.

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Fourteen Words (Part 1)

I'm taking two Sundays (November 8 and 15) to teach my congregation a devotion called "The Fourteen Words."  It's made up of two seven-word statements found in the Bible.  The first seven words are the subject of the following small devotion, and the devotion serves as a recap of Sunday's sermon.  Next Sunday we'll learn about the second seven words.

"God, be merciful to me, a sinner."

In Russian Orthodox circles, a "staretz" refers to a much-experienced spiritual advisor.  One day it was reported to a certain staretz that a man had experienced seeing angels.  Such a vision, it was thought, must mark great spiritual progress!  But the staretz answered very wisely, "This is not surprising, that he sees angels, but I would marvel at a person who saw his own sins."

In Luke 18, the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector is called a parable, but it should also be viewed as a miracle.  For in it, a man truly sees his own sins.

"But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner'" (Luke 18:13).

This tax collector, normally known for taking people's money, is here giving the world a gift: the perfect (seven-word) prayer.  "God, be merciful to me, a sinner."

This prayer goes to great spiritual depths and heights.  It accomplishes two things.  First, it keeps you from becoming proud, by remembering that you are a sinner.  In Greek, it does not say "a sinner," but "the sinner."  Think of yourself as the only sinner.  You will never look down on another.

Second, the prayer keeps you from despairing, by remembering that God is merciful.  The words "God, be merciful" are in fact a promise that God is merciful and forgiving.  It is a prayer of faith and trust in God's mercies.

It seems clear that the tax collector prayed this prayer several times.  You too pray it several times today - and often.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Remain a Pupil

Some Christians struggle to believe that Genesis 1 and 2 are describing an actual week and that Creation took place over the course of a literal six-day period.  Their pastors don't always help.  At a recent conference, one pastor publicly denied a literal six-day Creation.  I was both saddened by this and alarmed, recalling that the very first temptation (Genesis 3) was to deny God's Word.  When will we learn?

Luther called the article of Creation "harder to believe than the article of the Incarnation."  But he wrote: "If you cannot understand how this could have been done in six days, then grant the Holy Spirit the honor of being more learned than you are.  For you are to deal with Scripture in such a way that you bear in mind that God Himself says what is written.  But since God is speaking, it is not fitting for you wantonly to turn His Word in the direction you wish to go."

I agree, but I also add something.  I observe a strange focus on Creation Week and the question, "Is it literal?"  And I say that, because in the Gospel we are presented with another week, the one that begins on Palm Sunday and climaxes on Good Friday.  It could be called Redemption Week, through which the Lamb of God took away the world's sin.  How come no one has ever questioned the literalness of this week, especially when you stop to consider that to redeem the world was indeed a thousand times harder to do than to create it?  And that's because at Creation there was no resistance, no enemy.  Whereas Redemption fought a battle against sin, death, devil, and hell.

And so next to Redemption Week, I find Creation Week very easy to believe.  And I will spend the remainder of my life not wondering whether God created the heavens and the earth in six literal days, but pondering that He redeemed the world, and me, in six literal hours upon the cross.