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


"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

", 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.