Thursday, December 29, 2016

Anything But Silent

"...a multitude of the heavenly host [army] praising God" (Luke 2:13).

I'm with you.  I love to sing "Silent Night."  Not Christmas without it.  I'm just not sure where we got the idea.

The first Christmas was anything but silent.

For starters, the angel delivers a very powerful sermon: "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy..." (Luke 2:10).  Said Luther, "These are angelic words shouted down from heaven into this world; it is a message which, praise be to God forever, has also been made known to us."

Then the choir sings - the largest, loudest choir ever assembled.  The Greek word is "army."  Fitting, as God had declared war on sin, death, and devil.

Still want to go with "silent"?

Then the shepherds do nothing but talk, spread the good news, wake people up (who in turn begin to talk), and glorify and praise God.

And if we think about it, Christmas was the night God broke His silence.  The birth of His eternal Son was a deafening cry of the Divine Love.  And don't be deceived.  The Baby's breath was in reality the mighty roar of the Lion of Judah.

Still looking for silence and calm?  There is one place you will find it: the consciences of the repentant who because of Christ no longer must endure the accusation and condemnation of the Law and Satan.

There is in the Christian conscience now only peace and quiet.  And in the Christian heart only faith and joy.  A joy - a great joy - that sings with the angels and makes Christmas, again, anything but silent!

Monday, December 26, 2016

A Merry Martin Christmas (Part 3)

And here's the third.

"...good will toward men" (Luke 2:14).

In effect they are saying: It is our sincere desire that all men glorify God in the highest and that they live at peace with one another.  Unfortunately it is impossible for these conditions to exist at all times because many people pay no attention whatsoever to the Gospel.  They refuse to accept this Son of God.  Instead of that, they persecute both the Gospel and the Son.  May God, therefore, grant to the Christians a cheerful, joy-filled heart so that they will say: I have a Savior, who is Christ the Lord!  If people mistreat me and persecute me because of this Savior, I'll rejoice over that too.  I will maintain good cheer and joy in the midst of suffering.  That is the kind of heart the blessed angels desire for us Christians, so that we may have joy in the face of hatred and go on singing when the devil goes on a rampage.  The angels want us to be proud in Christ and in Him to defy all misfortune; and if the devil attacks us, that we mock and ridicule him by saying, Satan, you can only attack my body, my life, my property, and so on.  You might as well give up on that, too, Satan, for you cannot harm me since I have an eternal Savior, who will delight me with joy as a recompense for all my physical suffering here on earth.

Monday, December 19, 2016

A Merry Martin Christmas (Part 2)

Here's the second.

If there was nothing more for us in the newborn child than that our human nature had been highly honored in that God who created us is now our kinsman, our nearest friend, our flesh and blood (I'll omit for the present to speak of His suffering and resurrection), it would be little wonder, if we, believing it from the heart, would become so dear to each other that, as the saying goes, we would consume each other with love.  If our hearts really perceived the greatness of this honor and we could say with firm faith, God is become man, would it be a wonder if we no longer were enemies with any man and surrendered our lives for each other?  The fact is you could not even hate or harm anyone in effigy who has body and soul like your God and mine.  Should we not, therefore, because of such glory with which God has elevated human nature above and beyond the angels, also love and do good to all people?

Monday, December 12, 2016

A Merry Martin Christmas

I sat down recently and, with a couple cups of coffee, read through a little collection of Christmas sermons preached by Martin Luther.  There were six sermons in all, preached between 1532 and 1534.  And I had an objective: to pick out three choice quotes and then to put them here for you to read.  Here's the first.  Check back next week and the week after for the second and third.

"Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy..." (Luke 2:10).

If you wish to define Christ correctly and portray Him truly, who and what He is, then note carefully how the angel distinguishes and portrays Him, namely, that He is and is called, "Great Joy."  I personally learned this the hard way under the papacy, for no one ever taught me anything else than that Christ was a stern Judge who would pass judgment on me according to my deserts and works.  I was used to thinking at all times, therefore, how I might produce good works that I might reconcile Christ my Judge.  In no way could this be termed "Great Joy," and "Unto you is born this day a Savior," but rather the preaching of hellfire.  What was missing for me was that I could not name Christ rightly with the name the angel gave, "Great Joy," as He most surely also is: great, sweet, precious joy.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Repentance Is Imperative

"Repent" (Matt. 3:2).

"Repent" is the first great call of the Gospel.  It is the first word from the mouth of John the Baptist.  This could be why he wore what he did (camel's hair) and ate what he did (locusts and wild honey): to show and teach that there is something more important - vastly so - than food and clothing (Matt. 6:25).

Repentance.

Grammatically speaking, "Repent" is an imperative.  A command, an order.  Repentance is non-optional.  The only option is to disobey.  Grammatically speaking, "Repent" is a "present" imperative.  It means: "Be repenting, keep on repenting, don't stop repenting!"  It means a life of repentance.

Spiritually speaking, repentance is imperative.  If we are to "seek first the kingdom of God" (Matt. 6:33), we will find it only through repentance.

The 1530 Augsburg Confession contains a terse definition of repentance worth dusting off: "True repentance is nothing else than to have contrition and sorrow, or terror, on account of sin, and yet at the same time to believe the Gospel and absolution (namely, that sin has been forgiven and grace has been obtained through Christ), and this faith will comfort the heart and again set it at rest.  Amendment of life and the forsaking of sin should then follow, for these must be the fruits of repentance, as John says, 'Bear fruit that befits repentance' (Matt. 3:8)."

Now I know that repentance may seem out of place a couple of weeks before Christmas.  Like John himself, repentance is never in vogue.

Yet only the repentant will truly "find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger" (Luke 2:12) on Christmas Night.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Holy Day Advice

"Therefore the child to be born will be called holy" (Luke 1:35).

Let me see if I can help.  The next time you hear it called a "holiday tree" instead of a "Christmas tree," or someone says "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas," use it to add to your joy.  Yes, add!

How do you do that?

Simply remember that "holiday" comes from "holy + day."  It is really "holyday."  What a beautiful word!  What a perfect description of Christmas!  Who doesn't love listening to "O Holy Night"?  "Holiday" is like someone singing "O Holy Day."  Enjoy!

But now add in the word of the angel to Mary: "the child to be born will be called holy."  This means that the "holy" in "holiday" is the Christ Child!  And that means that "holiday" is not a secular substitution, but a sacred synonym.

That is how we can hear it, and then pray for people to know the love of God in Christmas.

Holy Christmas Day and its Twelve Days are the Happy Holidays.  They are the holy days that make us sad sinners so very happy, because from them we learn and remember throughout the year that a Savior has been born to us!

God's holiness is on bright display when He moves into the world to save us.  Meaning that the right response to "Happy Holidays" would be (happily spoken): "Holy days indeed!"

Monday, November 21, 2016

Become a Thief

On Sunday we heard and believed the last Holy Gospel of the church year - Luke 23:27-43.  Among other things, it led me back to this devotion.

"According to Your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of Your goodness, O Lord" (Ps. 25:7).

One time on a nursing home visit, I sat and talked with a Christian man who realized he was losing his ability to remember.  He was scared and requested some bit of spiritual advice.  You may know a person who is struggling with the same thing.  As he talked, I listened, and as I listened, God gave me an idea.

When it was my turn I simply said to him, "Become a thief.  Become a robber.  That's what you're to do."  I stopped.

"I could never do that, Pastor.  You know that.  I would never do that," he replied.  But he also knew I had a reason for saying it.

Without even opening the Bible, together we remembered the crucifixion and how there were two thieves.  And how one of them had a change of heart and prayed a most beautiful prayer: "Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom" (Luke 23:42).

"Now," I said, "you become that thief.  You ask Jesus to remember you.  For so much of your life you have remembered God and His Word.  You have remembered the Sabbath day.  You have taken Communion in remembrance of Jesus.  Now let Him remember you.  He will never forget you!  Never forsake you!  Until the day comes when He says, 'Today you will be with Me in Paradise' (Luke 23:43)."

Do your best to remember God.  But know this: Should you ever lose that ability, He will remember you!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Encouraging Jesus

"He looked up..." (Luke 21:1).

In addition to the words of Jesus, we should listen to His body language.  In recording the story of the widow's offering, Luke writes that Jesus "looked up," and that's when He saw the poor widow putting in her two mites.  But it begs the question: Why was He looking down in the first place?

My guess (because we are not told) is that He was sad and wondering whether God's love was making a difference in anyone's heart!  Consider the events that surround the story of the widow: He could only weep over Jerusalem (19:41-44); the temple was being misused (19:45-46); priests and scribes questioned His authority (20:1-8); they tried to "catch Him in something He said" (20:19-26); Sadducees denied the resurrection (20:27-40); He condemned the scribes (20:45-47); He foretold the destruction of the temple (21:5-9) and city (21:20-24); He foretold wars, earthquakes, famines, pestilences, and persecution (21:10-19); they "were seeking how to put Him to death" (22:1-2); and "Satan entered into Judas" to betray Him (22:3-6).

(And I talk about having a rough week!)

The lone bright spot: this widow and her offering.  It wasn't much but it was everything.  And it was all our Lord needed to see.  I sense that it picked Him up - this humble, true faith and love of one person.

It happened on Tuesday of Holy Week.  That's when Jesus looked up and saw her.  What I like to believe is that three days later she looked up and saw Him giving His offering.

But the lesson here would be that we have the ability to encourage Jesus.  He must be in need of it.  He has had to witness the sin, unbelief, and deep sorrows of many centuries.  You can do something about it.

When you give from your heart out of love for the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, you, small though you are, strengthen the heart of the living Lord!  Just like the widow.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

God in Three (Old Testament) Persons

"...the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob....  This is My name forever" (Exod. 3:15).

In Exodus 3 God gives His name.  I wrote something about the "I AM" part of it.  See Finishing the Sentence.

But let me share a thought about this part of it: "the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob."

These words are given twice in Exodus 3 and are quoted by Jesus in Luke 20.  And the thought is this: Could this be an Old Testament way of saying "God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit"?  Think about it.

This name of God uses three persons and puts God with each one of them.  Moreover, Abraham is nothing if not a father.  Isaac is his son, his only son whom he loves - but is willing to sacrifice.

And what about Jacob?  He's a distinct third person, so to speak, but much-related to the other two.  You could even say that he proceeds from Abraham (the father) and Isaac (the son), the way we talk about the Holy Spirit in the Nicene Creed.

I'm convinced that God is revealing Himself as Trinity in Exodus 3.  And He adds, "This is My name forever."  Here in Exodus it has an Old Testament veil over it.  When, in the New Testament, the veil is removed, it sounds like this: "In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever.  Amen.

Monday, October 31, 2016

One Little Word

Luther's great hymn, "A Mighty Fortress," contains the line at the end of the third verse: "One little word can fell him."  Many know this line, but few may know the one little word Luther had in mind.  What would you say it is?

In a writing called "Against Hanswurst," Luther explained that the one little word is, "You lie."  Luther writes:

"For all such books written against me, even if there were as many as thousands of them written every day and every hour, are very easily refuted with the single word, 'Devil, you lie,' just as that haughty beggar Dr. Luther sings so proudly and boldly in those words of his hymn, 'One little word shall fell him.'"

Now to simplify and make it just one word, we could say, "Liar!"  In John 8:44, Jesus says about the devil, "When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies."  Luther believed that deeply.

We know that Psalm 46 formed the basis for "A Mighty Fortress."  But Luther must also have had in mind the story of David and Goliath.  In the first place, the devil is our Goliath.  In the second place, the one little word (Liar!) is just like the one little stone David used.  And in the third place, that one little word "fells" the giant.  "One little word can fell him."

Now try it, and use it often.  This one really works!  Next time that temptation comes, that discouragement, that fear, reach into your bag for one little word.

Liar!

And spread the word!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Resensitize Us

"Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him" (Gen. 4:8).

These words record the first murder, and sadly not the last.  But have we, even as Christians, become desensitized to violence and even to murder?  We need to start there.

I once heard about a little boy who was told the story of Cain and Abel.  His reaction?  He began to cry.  His reaction was right because his heart was too.  "Turn and become like children," says Jesus.

We live in a violent, murderous world, because we live in a sinful, terribly fallen world.  God fought back by sending His Son into the world to give His life.  Christ, His love and forgiveness are the only hope for this world.

But what can WE do?  Pray for God to REsensitize our hearts to the preciousness of every human life.  After this, the Holy Spirit will show you many things you can do.  Let me give you three examples.

1. This election, vote for those whose positions are life-affirming (pro-life).  Encourage your friends to do the same.

2. Parents, shield your children from the violence they would otherwise see on the screen.  And do not let them play violent video games.  Violence is never a game.

3. Encourage and thank your pastor when he speaks about the sanctity of human life in all its stages.  Help your congregation to witness more actively.

Christians are called to lives of repentance, faith, and love.  Central to this life is to hold human life in the highest regard and even to revere it.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Veronica

"So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, 'For I have seen God face to face, and my life has been delivered'" (Gen. 32:30).

According to legend, when Jesus was on the way out to be crucified, He was met by a woman named Veronica.  Doing what she could for Him, she wiped His face with a cloth.  It was an act of love.  The legend states that something miraculous then happened: the cloth was left with an image of His face.

We are quick to point out that this story is not recorded in the Bible.  And it has the sound to our ears of something not true.  But could this man-made story still have something to teach us that is in perfect harmony with the Bible's message?

The answer lies in understanding Veronica as a kind of parable.  Her cloth is the human heart.  Christ wants nothing more than to impress on our hearts the image of His suffering self.  For then we will know and believe that He suffered for us.  And we can also learn from Veronica how to love all those who are suffering.

Lutherans may not talk much about Veronica, but it almost seems like one of our hymns was written in her memory:

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!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Unchained Melody

"If we have died with Him, we will also live with Him;
if we endure, we will also reign with Him;
if we deny Him, He also will deny us;
if we are faithless, He remains faithful - for He cannot deny Himself" (2 Tim. 2:11-13).

These words of Paul have a special look about them.  Chances are that in your Bible these lines are arranged differently from the rest of 2 Timothy.  That is because they are likely a hymn - a hymn composed possibly by Paul himself.  If so, my guess is that he wrote it as prisoner in Rome (from which 2 Timothy as a whole was written): "bound with chains as a criminal.  But the Word of God is not bound!" (2 Tim. 2:9).  And according to that, this little hymn is the true Unchained Melody.

There is a quite famous passage in Acts in which we learn that when thrown into prison in Philippi: "About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them" (Acts 16:25).  Now we have reason to believe that Paul may have composed some of the hymns he sang.  A further testimony to the joy of Christ that overcomes the sorrow of suffering!

The one before us in 2 Timothy is a gem.  It has four parts, each beginning with the word "if," and it has a very thoughtful progression.  The first part refers to Baptism and faith in the crucified, risen Jesus Christ.

The second part speaks to persecution for this faith and the prize to be won for enduring it.

The third part is a warning against falling away as a result of persecution.

And the fourth part is a pure Gospel and comfort that when we are weak, He is strong for us and will see us through!

So in just a few choice words, Paul touches every aspect of the Christian's experience, and his own.

Now sing with Paul and "Rejoice in the Lord always" (Phil. 4:4) and forever!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Soundtrack of the Gospel

The book of Psalms functions as a "soundtrack to the Gospel."  Meaning, many of the stories contained in the Four Gospels are in turn sung about in the Psalms.  A good example is the Canaanite woman who comes to Jesus pleading His help for her daughter.  She is famous for her reply, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table" (Matt. 15:27).

Now this woman was from the area of Tyre and Sidon, Mediterranean coastal cities north of the Sea of Galilee.  Hard to believe, but Psalm 45:12 reads according to the original Hebrew, "The daughter of Tyre will come with a gift."  Who is this "daughter of Tyre"?  Why not the Canaanite woman?  And what is the gift that she brings?  Humility.  It is her gift to Jesus, more precious to Him than gold, frankincense, and myrrh combined!

Ask God to give you the gift of humility.  Then give it back to Him in the form of your prayers.  "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David" (Matt. 15:22).

Monday, September 26, 2016

Going to the Dogs

"Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores" (Luke 16:21).

"You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Rom. 13:9).  The story of the Rich Man and Lazarus seems to teach this commandment only through a negative example.  The rich man did not care for his neighbor.

But there is in the story also a shining positive example of loving your neighbor as yourself.  It is the dogs who came and licked the poor man's sores.  A dog is a man's best friend.  In the case of Lazarus, they may have been his only friends.

Israelites thought of dogs differently than we do.  They were unclean, scavengers, and a source of disease.  So we think that Jesus mentions the dogs in order to underscore Lazarus's suffering.  He could do nothing to keep the dirty dogs away.

But from another angle a love shines through.  What do dogs do for themselves?  They lick their sores and wounds (an action that removes dead tissue and promotes healing).  In coming and licking the sores of Lazarus, they give a perfect lesson on the commandment: You shall lick your neighbor as yourself.

The dogs acted instinctively.  The instinct of sinful man is to love himself.  The love of Christ and the Holy Spirit implant a new instinct: to love your neighbor, especially the one who is hurting.

Let's all go to the dogs, and follow their example.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Christ Crucified

"...but we preach Christ crucified..." (1 Cor. 1:23).

What do you get when you cross God with man?

Christ crucified.

Jesus Christ is the Godman.  This means that He is both God and man.  Now, He is not half God and half man.  No, He is wholly God and wholly man.  And He is holy God and holy man - a man without sin.

This Jesus Christ gave Himself on the cross as a ransom for all.  He who knew no sin became the sin of the whole world.  He became all of your sins and mine, that we might become nothing but righteous before God.

All of this is contained in the words "Christ crucified."

Believe in the Godman Jesus Christ, and that through Him and His cross you have right now the forgiveness of sins, peace with God, and an open heaven!

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Holy Cross Days

The Ground Zero Cross must be remembered.  It tells of a God who suffered for us, and who suffers with us.

"...the cross of Jesus" (John 19:25).

September 13 and 14 should share the name Holy Cross.

To begin with, September 14 has long been called Holy Cross Day.  On that day in the year 320 Helena, the mother of Constantine, is believed to have discovered the cross of our Lord on which He died.  It is one of the earliest Christian feast days, and points to the centrality of the death of Jesus in the Christian faith.

Enter September 13, one day before.  On this day in 2001 an excavator named Frank Silecchia discovered, amid the rubble of the World Trade Center, a cross.  A T-beam weighing thousands of pounds had the unmistakable shape of a cross, and had fallen into a perfect upright position.  It was carefully removed, blessed, and stands today.

I confess, I don't know for a fact whether Helena found the actual cross of Christ.  What I do know is that Frank Silecchia did.  And he found it where the true cross will be found: right smack in the middle of human tragedy, suffering, and death.

To bring us through.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Labor Relations

Are you a person who, at your place of work, has a supervisor, boss, one to whom you are accountable?  Perhaps you are the supervisor.  Some of you are both at the same time.  The Small Catechism points to Ephesians 6:5-9 to show what ought to be the relationship between workers of all kinds and those who supervise.  I wrote the following two hymn stanzas in order to learn, and help teach others, the lesson.

To Workers of All Kinds

Your supervisor is a lord;
Obey him as you would the Lord;
Do more for him than what you must;
Be true to him and earn his trust;
The good you do for him today,
The Lord tomorrow will repay.

To Employers and Supervisors

The same applies: Do not be stern,
But for your workers show concern;
As is the Lord, impartial be;
For good, use your authority;
While diff'rent duties here remain,
To Him on high we are the same.

Now imagine what the workplace could be like if both worker and supervisor were to act in these ways!  God help you to be such a worker or supervisor, or both.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Width of Narrow

"Strive to enter through the narrow door" (Luke 13:24).

Jesus describes the door to heaven as narrow, and by the end of the Gospel it becomes possible to measure it exactly.  The narrow door is the exact width of the holy cross.  As I put it to my congregation on Sunday, the narrow door is fourteen words wide: "God, be merciful to me, a sinner" (Luke 18:13).  And: "Take heart, child, your sins are forgiven" (Matt. 9:2).  Pray and hear these words before the cross and you will enter through the narrow door.

But why does He say, "Strive (struggle, strain) to enter"?  The Greek word is "agonize."  Because it's going to be a fight.  Jesus is calling you to a life of repentance and faith in Him.  This is the life for you.  But to live it will mean a fight against the devil, the world, and the flesh, all of whom want you to live for now, and not for heaven.  But the Holy Spirit will aid you in the fight.  The Holy Helper!  And He will help you by the Holy Word and Sacrament!

Despite public pressure, don't be afraid to be narrow-minded in your faith.  It is necessary in order to enter through the narrow door.

Let your faith be narrow, and let your love be broad!

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Author of Our Faith

"...Jesus, the Author and Completer of our faith" (Heb. 12:2).

The Letter to the Hebrews is the only New Testament book to assign no author.  We don't know who wrote it.  Guesses include Barnabas, Luke, Clement of Rome, and Aquila and Priscilla.  Luther suggested Apollos, mentioned for the first time in Acts 18:24.  "But who wrote the epistle," said Origen of Alexandria, "God only knows certainly."  But from this, two things may be said.

One is, isn't it something that the only book not to say who its author is, is the one book to say who the Author of our faith is?  That's the authorship that matters.  "Let us, through endurance, go on running the race set before us, looking to Jesus, the Author and Completer of our faith."  And for the perfect commentary on "Author and Completer," use Philippians 1:6: "He who began (authored) a good work in you will bring it to completion."

Two is, humility.  Whoever wrote Hebrews had a lot to be proud of: understanding, eloquence, heart.  It is said that the letter displays the finest Greek in the New Testament.  And yet they wanted to remain anonymous.  T.S. Eliot wrote: "Many are engaged in writing books and printing them.  Many desire to see their names in print."  When was the last time you saw the most beautiful book but without the author's name?  Answer: The Letter to the Hebrews.

Seek to do beautiful and blessed things, but to receive no earthly credit.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Oyeoflittlefaith

This is the first small devotion I ever wrote, back in 2009.  In fact, the idea of a "small devotion" was inspired by the idea of a "little faith."

In spiritual matters, there is a danger of hearing God scolding us when He is really not.  Of thinking that He is disappointed in us when, in fact, He is speaking to us so very gently and kindly.  Such, I think, is the case with "O ye of little faith."

Sermons on this concept tell us that we should have more faith.  But evidence points to a Lord who has come up with a loving nickname for us: Yeoflittlefaith.  English hides the fact that in Greek it is only one word.  It is used only by Jesus and it is unknown outside the Bible.  It has the look and sound of a nickname.  More than that, a term of endearment and affection.

If you look at the occasions when Jesus uses the term, His followers are anxious, fearful, or confused.*  What kind of Christ would scold people already in this condition?  No, a more tender name for us Christians cannot be found.  He is saying how much we need Him.  Little faith doesn't need more faith.  A little faith needs Christ.

In a way, "O ye of little faith" is a promise that He will never leave, based on the fact that He never could!  And in a mystery, it is a little faith that holds all of Christ.  But perhaps it is more true to say that He holds our little faith as a precious thing to Him - guarding and protecting it.

Remember the little children brought to Jesus?  Bring your little faith to Him.  He will take it, bless it, and say, "To such belongs the kingdom."

Rejoice to be called "Oyeoflittlefaith."

*Matt. 6:30, 8:26, 14:31, 16:8, and Luke 12:28

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Prepare for Heaven

"Fool!  This night your soul is required of you" (Luke 12:20).

How many years of life do we still have?

A king gave to his clown a marshal's baton and told him, "I nominate you as marshal of the fools.  If you ever find one who is more foolish than you, hand it to him."

Years passed.  The king was on his deathbed.  The clown asked him, "Do you know where you go?"

"No," answered the king.  "I know only that I must die."

"So there is a 'must' for kings, too.  Did you store for yourself some riches in the world beyond to which you go?"

"I never thought about it."

"You knew that you would have to die and, notwithstanding, you made no definite choice?  You did not prepare for heaven?  You did not avoid hell?"

"I never took time even to ponder deeply about these things."

The clown took the baton from the sleeve in which he had hidden it, and returned it to the king.  "Now I nominate you as marshal of the fools."

Remember that you will die, and that you do not know when this will happen.

The above is from Richard Wurmbrand, and to it I add only this: The one who is prepared to die by faith in Jesus Christ is the one prepared to live on this earth for however long, and according to the law of love.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Eleven Reasons to Love the Lord's Prayer

"Lord, teach us to pray" (Luke 11:1).

1. It doesn't take long to pray.

2. It covers everything.

3. It's spiritual.

4. It's practical.

5. It doesn't matter if you're by yourself.

6. It fits any occasion.

7. It never gets old.

8. It makes promises.

9. It strengthens faith.

10. It strengthens love.

11. The Lord Jesus.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Conviction

"But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced..." (2 Tim. 1:12).

Conviction may be defined as "truth of which you are convinced or certain."  ("Convinced" and "conviction" are related words.)  For the Christian, that truth is the Word of God.  So while many today are asking with Pilate, "What is truth?" (John 18:38), Christians pray with Jesus in the chapter before, "Your Word is truth" (John 17:17).  Somebody put it like this: "God said it.  I believe it.  That settles it."  That's conviction!  Conviction is a work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.  Through it, the Christian no longer questions God's Word, but uses that Word to question everything else.

Luther: "God's Word alone is the true, abiding rock on which a person can depend with certainty."

Understand that the goal of atheism, for example, is not to convert you to its teachings, but simply to cast doubt on and weaken your Christian conviction.  And a weakened conviction is no conviction.  And a Christian without conviction is no threat to the kingdom of Satan.

The Christian convictions can be summed up in three words: Commandments, Creed, Prayer (Ten Commandments, Apostles' Creed, Lord's Prayer).

Pray the Holy Spirit to come and give you conviction, and He will most certainly do it!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Carry No Moneybag

"Carry no moneybag" (Luke 10:4).

Among the multiple instructions given by Jesus to the seventy-two as He sent them out, this is the first: "Carry no moneybag."  It's important for the pastor to understand.  Paul puts it plainly when he writes that the pastor must not be "a lover of money" (1 Tim. 3:3).  He must still, however, be a lover, but a lover of God's Word and people, and the congregation and Christ.

It must be evident to the people that what is important to the pastor is the salvation of their souls and their love for each other.  I know a pastor who, to this end, asked that his salary be reduced.  I myself make it a point not to touch the offering plates during the Divine Service.

The pastor is dependent on the congregation to take care of him physically, in the same way that the congregation is dependent on the pastor to take care of them spiritually.  It's a beautiful, blessed codependence taught to us in Luke 10.

But money means little or nothing to the pastor made rich by the ministry of preaching and teaching Christ crucified and risen, baptizing, absolving, and serving Holy Communion.  Made rich, in other words, by the chance to love a congregation the way Christ loves the Church.

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Death of Man

"...the life that is in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. 1:1).

The president of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, the church body to which I and my congregation belong, has responded to the Texas abortion clinic ruling.  Although not easy to read and consider what he writes, we must.  Pray the prayer at the end from all your heart.

And peace of Christ, who is the Life of man!

Pastor Matt

http://blogs.lcms.org/2016/harrison-reacts-to-texas-abortion-clinic-ruling

Thursday, June 16, 2016

All the Days

"And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matt. 28:20).

The Gospel of Matthew concludes with the great promise of Jesus, "I am with you always."  But a literal translation would read, "I am with you all the days."

Remember that the crucified-risen Christ is with you on all the days through which you pass: Father's Day, graduation day, summer days, wedding day, happy days, sad days, typical day, hard day, hospital days, moving day, seven days, 365 days, last days (2 Tim. 3:1).  And the most important one to remember: today.

Know that He will be with you on the day of your death.  Psalm 23:4.

"I am with you all the days."  To this He adds "to the end of the age."  It almost sounds like then He will no longer be with us.  And that, I say, would be true.  For it is then that we will be with Him - forever - after He has safely brought us through all the days.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Walk On in Love

"And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us" (Eph. 5:2).

More than once I have turned to this song, "Walk On," performed by the band U2 shortly after 9/11.  I'm turning to it again in the wake of Orlando.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=h2-qT1fjwA8

As Christians let us Walk On in the way of repentance, faith in the crucified-risen Christ, and love toward all.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Anointed

On Sunday in Adult Bible Class we wrapped up a series on the Small Catechism.  People shared what they had learned, including one man who shared that as a result of the series he now knows the names of the Six Chief Parts and is also able to say the Ten Commandments.  I say, Alleluia!  I ended the class by sharing the following.

"...because He has anointed Me" (Luke 4:18).

The name "Christ" means "anointed one."  It is the Greek version of the Hebrew "Messiah."  A lesser-known fact, however, is that while "Christ" of course refers to the Son, it points also to the Father and the Holy Spirit.  How is this?

To be anointed requires another person to be "the anointer."  That is the role of the Father: to anoint the Son.  Also, to be anointed requires an oil or ointment with which to be anointed.  That is the Holy Spirit.

Thus in the single word "Christ" is a devotion about all Three Persons of the Trinity: the Anointer, the Anointed, and the Ointment!

And when you remember that Christ is crucified, risen, and the lover of your soul, it is safe to say that no other word contains as much of the Christian faith (indeed the whole of it) as the name "Christ."

Monday, May 30, 2016

Remembering Dale Goetz

It's been almost six years.  Some have forgotten, and others have never heard, about Dale Goetz.  This is word-for-word the sermon I gave on September 12, 2010, to the congregation of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Escondido, California.

Two weeks ago tomorrow something happened.  And I have a feeling most of us missed it.  I almost missed it.  Something happened that is of national, spiritual, even historical significance.  Dale Alan Goetz, a captain in the U.S. Army, became the first chaplain killed in action in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

Chaplain Goetz died Monday, August 30, in a roadside bomb attack in the Arghandab River Valley, Afghanistan.  He was 43.

His funeral was on Thursday, September 9, at Fort Carson, Colorado.  I decided to go.  I wanted to take all of you with me.  I hope that I did in spirit.  Dale was a Baptist.  I'm a Lutheran.  But there is a strong, working, special bond between chaplains regardless of denomination or branch of service.  (I'm a Navy chaplain.)  And we share the same Christ, Word, ministry.

Prussman Chapel was packed, with people, many of them chaplains, standing down the side aisles.  Hundreds more would have come, but you have to remember that this man's entire congregation is still in Afghanistan - without their "pastor."  He was killed only a month into the deployment.

Four other Soldiers died with him (three staff sergeants and a private).  But permit me to say that the chaplain died with them.  It says in Ezekiel 34 that a shepherd is among his sheep.  And it says in John 1 that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  In a similar way, chaplains are found among the men and women of our military - going wherever they go, experiencing whatever they experience.  Even death.

There is really only one difference.  All chaplains are non-combatants.  They carry no weapon - that is to say, no earthly weapon.  They are protected by specially trained assistants.  An Army chaplain assistant named Christopher Stout was killed in July in Afghanistan.

Dale was a husband and father and leaves behind Christina his wife, and three sons, Landon (10), Caleb (8), and Joel (1).  He enjoyed spending time with his boys on their go-cart.  He treasured every moment with family and longed to get back to them soon.  He prayed in a special way for his sons to grow up to be men of God.  Pray for Christina and the boys, and for all families who have lost a parent or child, spouse or sibling.

After completing seminary in 2000 and then serving First Baptist Church in White, South Dakota, Dale became an Army chaplain in 2004.  He soon deployed to Iraq for one year, and served in Okinawa, Japan, from 2006 to 2009.  He loved his Soldiers and wanted to help transform their lives, marriages, and military service.

Chaplain Goetz made known several unique goals.  He was working to reach 300 Soldiers for Christ, and he was hoping to find ten who would later go into the ministry.  He may have died but his goals don't need to.  He prayed for an end to the war, and he prayed - and taught the Soldiers how to pray - for their Taliban enemy.

In Acts 1 Jesus says, "You will be My witnesses to the end of the earth."  Dale expressed his belief that Afghanistan is the end of the earth.

He enjoyed reading theology but was known for keeping it real and practical.  Ephesians 3:14-21, a passage he and his wife shared throughout their life together, was read at the funeral along with John 3:1-16.  "Shall not perish but have eternal life" assures Christina, the boys, Soldiers, and us that on August 30 Dale did not perish.  He lived and died for people to have that knowledge.

The Army chaplain motto is "Pro Deo et Patria," For God and Country.  It means that Dale had a foot - a boot - in two countries, but that now he is safely in heaven with both feet.

Following the funeral service at Fort Carson, we made the long drive in procession to Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver.  I learned two things.  First, the only thing louder than a 21-gun salute is taps.  Second, a national cemetery is a great place for a walk and some thinking.  To think about the cost of freedom before deciding how to spend it.

These few thoughts may not sound so much like a "sermon."  That's by design.  The real sermon, the loudest of all, was the life, the love, and the faith of Dale Goetz, the first chaplain killed in action in Iraq or Afghanistan.

In Jesus' name, amen.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Kaleidoscope

Sunday, May 22, was Trinity Sunday, and the best illustration of the Trinity, at least of which I am aware, comes from Saint Therese of Lisieux, known as "The Little Flower of Jesus."  She lived only to the age of 24 (1873-97) and yet possessed very advanced spiritual insight.  All the while, her faith remained that of a child.  She referred to her approach as the "Little Way of Spiritual Childhood."

Therese pointed to a toy she had played with as a child.  It was a kaleidoscope.  I remember one of those, and maybe you do too!

"This toy," she said, "aroused my admiration and I used to wonder what could produce so pleasing a phenomenon; when one day, after serious examination, I saw there were simply a few tiny scraps of paper and of wool cut no matter how, and thrown here and there.  I pursued my investigation and discovered three mirrors inside the tube: I had there the key to the problem.

"This was for me the image of a great mystery.  As long as our actions, even the least of them, remain within the focus of Love, the Blessed Trinity, which is figured by the three mirrors, reflects them, and endows them with a wondrous beauty.  Jesus, looking at us through the little lens, that is to say, as it were through Himself, finds all our actions pleasing to Him.  But if we leave the ineffable center of Love, what will He see?  Mere straws...actions sullied and nothing worth."

Many books have been written about the Trinity.  Put them all together and they still would not surpass the understanding shown in these few words of Saint Therese.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Watch Over Your Soul

"...through slander and praise" (2 Cor. 6:8).

This Sunday, May 15, is Pentecost, which has been called the Birthday of the Church.  Pentecost is on the same level as Christmas and Easter: Merry Christmas, Christ is risen, and Come, Holy Spirit!

At Our Redeemer, the congregation I pastor, Confirmation takes place on Pentecost, and this year five of our young people will be confirmed in the Christian faith.  And my custom is to share with them, and the whole congregation, the following story.

A young king was quarrelsome and gave no peace to the wise old king of a neighboring country.  The old king entreated for friendly relations, but in vain.  The young king started a war.  The old king, remembering how many foolish things he himself had done in his youth, and that there is an age from which we cannot expect wisdom, gave orders to his officers to capture his young enemy alive.

So it was done.  He was brought in chains before the victor.  The old man pitied the youngster, but pretended to be very angry with him and sentenced him to death.  The young king begged for his life.  So the old man told him: "I will give you a chance.  Tomorrow you will be given a jug of water, full to the brim.  You must carry it from one end of the main street of the city to the other, without spilling a drop.  If you do not succeed, your life is lost."

The next day the procession started - the prisoner with the jug of water; around him soldiers to guard him; behind him the executioner with his axe, a terrifying reminder that he would be beheaded on the spot if he failed.  The old king had given orders that on one side of the street there should be a mob to boo the prisoner, on the other side a crowd to cheer him.

The prisoner succeeded.  He did not spill a drop.  The old king asked him: "When so many people were mocking you, did you answer them back?"  The young man answered: "I had no time for that.  I had to be careful about my jug."  "But did you thank the ones who cheered you?"  "What business had I with them?  Their acclamation could not help me.  I was concerned with my jug of water."

The old king set him free with this advice: "You have been entrusted with a soul.  You have to bring it back to the Lord whole and clean.  That is the only thing that counts.  If you do not succeed, you perish.  Don't seek the applause of men by cheap victories.  Don't worry if they mock you.  Watch over your soul."

In order to do this, may the almighty God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has given you the new birth of water and of the Spirit, strengthen you with His grace to life everlasting!  Amen.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Something Divine

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

The early Christians were described in the following way by the second-century Athenian orator Aristides, himself a Christian:

"The Christians know God and trust in Him.  They forgive those who oppress them, and make them their friends.  They are good to their enemies.  Their wives keep marriage pure; their daughters are chaste.  They love one another.  They do not refuse to help widows.  When they see a stranger, they receive him in their house, and rejoice at him as at a brother.  If any among them is poor or in need, they fast for two or three days in order to satisfy his needs.  They obey conscientiously the commandments their Messiah has given them.  Every morning and every hour they praise God and thank Him for His goodness.  They are the source of all that is beautiful in the world.  They do not speak publicly of their good deeds, but take good care not to be observed by any man.  They are in truth a new people, and there is something divine in them."

I wonder if the church could still be described this way.  No, I pray that it can be!  Yes, I pray that Our Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church, the congregation I pastor, can be described this way, by God's gracious working!

Holding this description together is the new commandment.  And holding that together is Christ's love for us.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Micaiah's Motto

The odds were 400 to 1.  Not very good.  The wicked King Ahab assembled his four hundred prophets to inquire whether to go to war against Syria.  To a man, the prophets gave the king the go-ahead.  It was what he wanted to hear.

But there was one more prophet.  His name was Micaiah.  In spite of the consensus, Micaiah spoke strongly and warned the king against going into battle.  Not what the king wanted to hear.  So Ahab punished Micaiah and then went off to war.  He was killed in battle.

Micaiah had a motto: "What my God says, that will I speak" (2 Chron. 18:13).

Encourage your pastor to be a Micaiah.  We have enough of the other.  And when he says something you don't want to hear, thank God!  It may save your life.

For the full story of Micaiah, see 2 Chronicles 18 or 1 Kings 22.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

John's Way

"The Gospel according to John" (title).

John is the Frank Sinatra of the Four Evangelists.  He did it his way.  While Matthew, Mark, and Luke resemble each other in certain fundamental ways, John stands apart.  His Gospel reads a different way.

Perhaps the best example of this is the placement of Holy Communion.  Matthew, Mark, and Luke locate the giving of this precious gift on Maundy Thursday, just before the death of Jesus.  John is different.  He appears to omit the body-and-blood details of the Last Supper.  The truth, however, is that he covered them already in John 6:

"He that eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day" (John 6:54).

These words of Jesus are a golden commentary on Communion.  John wants us to make that final connection and then to meditate on these words both in preparation for the Sacrament and afterward.

There is only one Gospel, but Four Evangelists.  They give us the one Christ and faith but in different ways, especially John.  Don't be afraid to share the truth in your own way.  God is leading you.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Easter Sundays

"Then the disciples were glad" (John 20:20).

With good reason, much is made of the forty days of Lent.  Not enough, though, is made of the fifty days of Easter.  To most, Easter is a notable day after which life returns to normal.  But the resurrection of Jesus means that life will never again be normal.

Normally life is followed by death and then a period of mourning.  Take the life of Moses, for example.  He lived a long life; he died; the people mourned for thirty days (Deut. 34:7-8).  Life, death, mourning.

But now in Christ something new is revealed.  The order is exactly reversed.  Lent, the period of mourning over our sin, is first but leads us to the Good Friday death of our Lord in payment for our sin, and His death leads to His Easter resurrection and new life for us all.  Mourning, death, life!

To underscore this complete turnaround, the church celebrates seven Easter Sundays: Easter Sunday followed by six more!  Then Pentecost (a word meaning "fiftieth") marks the fiftieth day.

This period of Easter is the happiest in the church year.  Let Christians greet one another with "Christ is risen!"  Let us continue to sing Easter hymns!  And let us treat one another with acts of joy and celebration!

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Singing in the Darkness

"My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Matt. 27:46).

Many things have been said about this fourth word from the cross.  But one I have not heard much is that here, on the cross, our Lord chose to sing.  The words are from Psalm 22:1.  And what is a psalm?  It is a song!  St. Augustine said that "the one who sings, prays twice" - once with the words, and again with the tune.

We make a mistake when we try to read and explain psalms as we would other texts of Scripture.  To sing the psalms is to release their real meaning.  If you cannot sing, then at least tap your foot.  Remember in your heart that they are songs.

Jesus finds a psalm that expresses how He feels.  He feels forsaken.  But what does He do?  He sings!  While in prison, Paul and Silas sang hymns to God at midnight (Acts 16:25).

We have a tendency to worry, grow discouraged, or try to solve problems that cannot be.  Instead we should sing and release the power and peace of "psalms and hymns and spiritual songs" (Eph. 5:19).  Do this especially at night, at the end of a long day.  "At night His song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life" (Ps. 42:8).

Keep God's name holy by singing in the hour of darkness.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Falling and Rising

"A righteous man falls seven times, and rises again" (Prov. 24:16).

A tradition holds that the Savior fell seven times on the way to Calvary.  For those familiar with the fourteen Stations of the Cross, seven of them, it can be noted, are falls.  (Stations III, VII, and IX are called "falls," while IV, V, VI, and VIII are described by events thought to have happened in connection with falls.)  Jesus is the righteous man who falls seven times.

Now ask, "How many times have I fallen into temptation and sin?"  Isn't it tragic that you are not even able to number them?

Confess your sins to the best of your memory.  Then remember the righteous man who fell underneath the weight of every last one of them, getting up again and carrying them up Calvary, and there dying for them.  "The righteous man for the unrighteous" (1 Pet. 3:18).

But the proverb is completely fulfilled when the righteous man who falls seven times on Good Friday rises again on Easter morning.  And He lives to defend you against every temptation.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Hymn Notes

A few notes now on the two-stanza hymn for the Fourteen Words (see last week's devotion).

Stanza 1 is based on the first seven words, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner" (Luke 18:13), and stanza 2 on the second seven, "Take heart, child, your sins are forgiven" (Matt. 9:2).

In stanza 1 "O God, be merciful to me" is prayed three times.  I had multiple things in mind.  The Greek of Luke 18 would indicate that the tax collector prayed his prayer several times.  Then, there is something earnest about praying three times (see Matt. 26:44 and 2 Cor. 12:8).  I also had the Trinity in mind.  But above all, I wanted to do what the second line says.  There is for the sinner nothing else to pray.

Stanza 1 ends with the word "me."  Unlike the Pharisee, the tax collector never uses the word "I."  "I" and "me" are very different.  "I" is the subject, the doer.  "Me" is the object, the one "done to."  The difference is grammatical, but also theological.  That is why stanza 2 begins with "I" - "I am your God."  God is the "I."  I am the "me," the object of His mercy.

God hears the sinner's prayer and reveals that He is Our Father.  This revelation and His word to us all takes place through His own dear Son, the crucified-risen Jesus Christ.  The Father's voice is heard through the Son: "Dear child...."  And the Breath with which the word is spoken is the Holy Spirit.

The forgiveness is personal: "I say to you...your sins."

And whatever He calls a thing, that it must be!  He calls death "sleep" (Matt. 9:24).  He calls the bread "My body" (Matt. 26:26).  He calls my sins "forgiven."  No matter appearances, I am only to believe.

"Take heart" is from Matthew 9 and is full of faith and courage.  "Look up" remembers that the tax collector in Luke 18 "would not even lift up his eyes to heaven."  But now he should and is ordered to!  For you will see a heaven and life with God that is opened wide by Christ (Matt. 3:16).  Things are "looking up"!

"Heaven" rhymes with "forgiven" in more than one way.  They rhyme spiritually!

The hymn is first a confession of sin, and then a confession of faith.  This is the core of the true spiritual life!

Monday, February 22, 2016

Hymn for the Fourteen Words

O God, be merciful to me;
The sinner knows no other plea.
O God, be merciful to me.
O God, be merciful to me.

I am your God, your Father too,
And through My Son I say to you,
Dear child, your sins, they are forgiv'n;
Take heart, look up: an open heav'n!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Should Lutherans Consider Themselves "Born Again"?

Fun Fact: Many of the key New Testament passages about Baptism are found in a chapter three: Matthew 3:13-17, Galatians 3:27, Titus 3:5, 1 Peter 3:21, and John 3:3-5.

Recently one of our young people, a confirmed Lutheran, was asked by a well-meaning Christian to share when and how she had been born again.  Through no fault of her own, she wasn't quite sure how to respond.

Lutherans hear the term "born again," but it's not used very much in our tradition.  What does it mean - "born again"?  Many fine Christians use the expression to describe the experience and even the moment they found salvation in Christ and made a decision to believe and trust in Him.  I myself have heard many beautiful accounts of people becoming Christians.

The idea of being born again comes from the Bible and is found most famously in John 3.  "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3).

So should Lutherans consider themselves "born again"?  The answer, you might be surprised, is yes.  But more needs to be said.

Based on John 3:5 (note the mention of water) as well as other passages such as Titus 3:5 ("the washing of rebirth"), Lutherans believe that Baptism is when, where, and how they are born again.  Another word for "born again" is "rebirth" or "new birth."  That's why immediately after baptizing a person the pastor says, "The almighty God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has given you the new birth of water and of the Spirit and has forgiven you all your sins, strengthen you with His grace to life everlasting."

One of our hymns, sometimes sung at an infant Baptism, rightly uses the term "born again":

Here we bring a child of nature;
Home we take a new-born creature,
Now God's precious son or daughter,
Born again by Word and water.

When I'm asked, I try to share in a gentle, humble way that I was born again on April 13, 1969 - the day of my Baptism.  I know that it's not always the answer other Christians are looking for, but that's okay.  I can love, encourage, and be encouraged by them just the same.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Doublespeak

"When you pray, say: 'Father, hallowed be Your name...'" (Luke 11:2).

The Lord's Prayer is not the most words - just the right ones.  In explaining the Lord's Prayer, Luther wrote: "The fewer the words, the better the prayer; the more the words, the poorer the prayer."

Matthew and Luke record the Lord's Prayer.  The version with which we are familiar is the one from Matthew.  It has a total of 70 words.  But understood theologically, each word should be counted twice, for a total of 140.

This is because when we pray the Lord's Prayer, we are speaking to God.  That much is clear.  But something else is happening too.  He is speaking to us.  Call it "doublespeak" - but of a good kind!  (Not the kind used by advertisers when, for example, they say: "Free with the purchase of....")

Every word of the Lord's Prayer is a Word from God to us through Jesus.  Yes, we are speaking to Him.  But underneath that, and over top of it, God is telling us who He is (Our Father), who we are (His children), what to ask, and what to expect.  And so the petitions of the Lord's Prayer are also promises.  God is promising in the Lord's Prayer to take care of us, forgive us, help us to forgive others, and at last deliver us from all evil.

We tend to think of prayer as our doing, our part.  True enough.  But in the Lord's Prayer, God is doing His part: revealing His heart.

Pray the Lord's Prayer, and in the same moment hear the Lord speaking to you!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Other Holy Trinity

"...faith, hope, and love" (1 Cor. 13:13).

Christians who are baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit know also another holy trinity: faith, hope, and love.

The two trinities live in much the same way.  We know from the Bible and theology that the Father "begets" the Son, and that the Holy Spirit "proceeds" from the Father and the Son.  So too, faith begets hope, and love proceeds from faith and hope.  Paul put them in exactly the right order, because where there is faith, there is hope, and where there are faith and hope, there is love.

Father, Son, and Spirit are the Three Persons of the One God.  Faith, hope, and love are the three virtues of the one Christian heart.

Faith, hope, and love are given to us by God.  Is it any wonder then that they have a trinitarian character?  Yes, it is full of wonder!

Now remember your Baptism, the Holy Trinity, and the other holy trinity too.  Nothing more is needed.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

the ten comMANdments

"...the commandments of people who turn away from the truth" (Tit. 1:14).

Engraved on his own heart of stone by the finger of modern man:

I. You shall be god.
II. You shall still, however, misuse God's name.
III. Forget old, outdated religious customs.
IV. Disrespect your parents, other authorities, and elders.
V. You shall not call it murder.
VI.
VII. You shall not get caught stealing.
VIII. You shall say what it takes to get ahead.
IX. You shall not be content.
X. You shall never be content!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Three Weddings and a Resurrection

"On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee" (John 2:1).

The Wedding at Cana is my favorite Holy Gospel.  It was Sunday's Holy Gospel, so last week I sent out wedding invitations to the congregation.  When I hear this Holy Gospel it fills me "up to the brim" with joy because it makes me think of three beautiful weddings.

In 1994 a movie came out called Four Weddings and a Funeral.  I never saw it and probably don't recommend it.  The point is, I would title John 2:1-11 Three Weddings and a Resurrection.  I'll explain.

The first wedding is the most obvious: the wedding of a man and a woman.  What a remarkable design!  And it goes all the way back to Genesis 2 and the very first wedding.  It's no accident that the Wedding at Cana is found in John 2.  Genesis 2 and John 2.  God is saying through this: "I came up with marriage, and now in Christ I've come to renew it and bless it again, forgive all the sins committed against it, heal and help it!"  Let us rejoice, therefore, and not give up hope for this holy institution!

The second wedding is not as obvious but it's there: the wedding of Christ and the Church.  I think that when John mentions the bridegroom at Cana he wants us to begin thinking of Christ.  And sure enough, in the very next chapter we learn that Christ is the Bridegroom and we are the Bride, and that John the Baptist is the Best Man in this eternal wedding (John 3:29).  In this wedding story the Bridegroom gives Himself up for His Bride, making the Cross the greatest love story ever told!

The third wedding will likely be new to you: the wedding of Christ and faith.  The faith in your heart, to believe and trust in Christ, is His true bride.  In languages like Greek and Latin, "faith" is a feminine noun.  And what is true grammatically is true spiritually also.  So Christ and faith, though two, become one.  Luther put it, "This faith couples Christ and me more intimately than a husband is coupled to his wife."  What a way to think of your faith in Jesus Christ!

Three weddings and a resurrection.  I've spoken about the three weddings.  What about the resurrection?  How does Cana make us think of that?  In its opening words: "On the third day."  That's resurrection talk, and have a look at the nearby John 2:19-22!  See, it's the resurrection of Christ that means everything for the three weddings.  It means that a husband and wife can invite Him now to come and bless their marriage.  It means that He is with the Church, for whom He died, all the days until the end.  And it means that my faith, your faith, is in the crucified-risen Christ Jesus our Lord - and that nothing can separate us from His love!

Monday, January 4, 2016

Traveling Together

I have an uncle, Rev. Gordon Giese, who celebrates his 80th birthday next week.  He's a retired LCMS pastor, ordained in 1961.  I write this little devotion in thanksgiving for his faithful service to our synod.

"...but supposing Him to be in the group (Luke 2:44).

In the Greek original, the word for group is "synod," and it's worth a closer look.  (It is used only here in the New Testament, although a verb form occurs in Acts 9:7.)

And that's partly because my congregation and I are part of a church body called The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, made up of over six thousand congregations.  It was established in 1847 by German immigrants in search of religious freedom.

It's often said that "synod" means to "walk together."  But there's a little more to it, and the picture given in Luke 2 is perfect.

In traveling to and from Jerusalem for the Passover, Joseph, Mary, and twelve-year-old Jesus (at least on the way there) were part of a synod: a caravan made up of relatives, friends, and neighbors.  People did this because there was safety in numbers.  They could also help each other on the way.  They probably sang.  They shared the journey and its joy - and its challenges.

That's a synod.

And that, then, is the idea behind the Missouri Synod.  A caravan.  A people traveling together through a spiritual desert or dangerous country on the way to the Heavenly Jerusalem.  No one and no congregation travels alone.  We help and encourage each other!  We share the joy and the challenges of the journey, singing our way to the Feast!

"Synod," in the minds of many, is synonymous with bureaucracy.  Such a pity!  In reality, no better word for the church could be found than the one that means a caravan of pilgrims.  "Pilgrims here, our home above, full of faith and hope and love!"