Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Content of Contentment

"I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content" (Phil. 4:11).

Paul doesn't just say this, he says it from prison in Rome.  Thus he proves that he has learned the lesson God has taught him: in whatever situation, to be content.

What does it mean to be content?  In other words, the content of contentment.  Using Philippians 4:4-13 as a guide, one definition could be this: a joy and peace not dependent on my situation, what I have or don't have, but on Christ who strengthens me.

If you have three minutes, watch this interview with a young man named Rob Jones and listen for him to say, in the Spirit of St. Paul, "I have an uncanny knack for being able to accept my situation."

http://www.video.foxnews.com/v/5610400927001/?#sp=show-clips

And this: Are you asking God to change something in your life?  Pray that prayer with faith, but a faith that gives God a choice: to change the thing, or to change the way you see the thing.  Because it's possible that God wants to use the very thing you're asking Him to change "to advance the Gospel," the way He used Paul's imprisonment (Phil. 1:12).

Above all, ask God to teach you to be content.  And then say, "I am learning in whatever situation I am to be content."

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Mary's Last Words

"His mother said to the servants, 'Do whatever He tells you'" (John 2:5).

These are the final words of Mary in the Holy Gospel.  After this we do not hear from her again.  How significant!  Her last words are imperative: "Do whatever He tells you."  We are left with no choice.

Lutherans have deep reasons for not praying to the saints.  But what about Mary, the blessed mother of our Lord?  I will answer that question from my heart.

I will honor her, hold her in much love and esteem, and join Luther in calling her "the noblest, holiest mother," "the greatest of women in heaven and on earth," and "the princess of the whole human race."  And it saddens me when people remember her only at Christmas.

But, in line with her own command, I do not pray to her.  When it comes to prayer, I must do whatever He tells me.  And He tells me to pray to Him (John 14:13-14) and through Him to the Father (John 16:23-24).

Later, Mary's crucified and risen Son appeared to Paul, and Paul writes, "There is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all" (1 Tim. 2:5-6).  He is "middleman" because He touches the Father with His divinity, and us with His humanity.  And because His cross is the bridge, over sin, to heaven.

Let us truly honor Mary by remembering her last words, both when it comes to prayer - and everything else.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

An Act of Pure Goodness

"Lamb of God, pure and holy" (John 1:29 and hymn).

The Sacrament of Holy Communion goes by such other names as the Lord's Supper, the Lord's Table, the Breaking of Bread, and the Eucharist.

But when the President rightly called the shooting in Las Vegas "an act of pure evil," I added another name for Holy Communion: an act of pure Goodness.

an act of pure Grace
an act of pure Forgiveness
an act of pure Life
an act of pure Salvation
an act of pure Hope
an act of pure Comfort
an act of pure Strength
an act of pure Endurance
an act of pure Courage
an act of pure God
an act of pure Christ
an act of pure Holy Spirit
an act of pure Love

Love toward us.  Love toward each other.  Love toward all.

What we need in the face of an act of pure evil is an act of pure Goodness.  And that, in the Sacrament, is what we have.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Waste Not, Want Not

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

The Society of St. Andrew estimates that, as of this week, over 97 billion pounds of food have been wasted in our country since January 1.  The Small Catechism makes it personal by instructing us to ask the question, "Have I wasted anything?" (see under Confession).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Right Attitude

This week's devotion is by Richard Wurmbrand.  And the big news is that a movie is coming out about him in March.  For information and to watch the trailers, visit www.torturedforchrist.com.

"...that they may all be one" (John 17:21).

The British publication New Society has conducted a psychological survey of players in symphony orchestras.  This shows that brass and string players usually have bad opinions of each other.  Woodwind players, especially oboists, are considered as neurotics by their colleagues in the orchestra.  Violin and viola players have uneasy, mutually deprecatory attitudes.

The wonder is that people who tend to be mutually hostile to each other can produce an effect of order and harmony.

The moment the conductor lifts his baton, all these emotions are set apart.  Only one thing counts now: the success of the concert.

The children of this world sometimes are wiser than the children of light.  It is unavoidable that Christians, men and women of such different background, temperaments, experiences of life, cultural levels, nations, races, and social classes should disagree in many things and feel even, however slightly, some hostility toward each other.  We are not only partakers of the divine nature; we are human, too.  But the human side should be put aside for the common worship and the common action in the service of the Lord.

Ask yourself what is greater: the cause which we serve in common or the matter in which we differ?  Then you will have the right attitude of love.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Cross

This devotion is in honor of Holy Cross Day on September 14.  It was Luther who said that Christians could be called "Crosstians."

"...the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus" (1 Tim. 1:14 and 2 Tim. 1:13).

Think again about the cross.  Think specifically about its shape.  It moves in two directions: up and down, and side to side.  Vertical and Horizontal.  One without the other is not the cross.

What does it mean?  Our Lord could have died in other ways.  He chose crucifixion.  Could it be that He chose it in order to make a lasting picture of His entire teaching?  For He taught us to love and trust in God (vertical) and to love and serve our neighbor (horizontal).

But it is not only the wood of the cross that moves in two directions.  It is, really, Christ Himself.  He is our peace with God (vertical) and with each other (horizontal).

Next time you hear the words of the Post-Communion Collect ("in faith toward You and in fervent love toward one another"), think of the cross - the cross of Christ.

Monday, September 4, 2017

One Great Hope

"...the hope of eternal life" (Titus 3:7).

The Apostles' Creed ends with the words "and the life everlasting.  Amen."  In discussing "The Life Everlasting," the Explanation of the Small Catechism reads, "God gives eternal life to me and all believers in Christ," and then goes on to make three important subpoints.  Not one, not two, but three.

(1) Eternal life is a present possession (John 17:3, John 3:36).

(2) At the time of death, the soul of a believer is immediately with Christ in heaven (Luke 23:43, Phil. 1:23-24).

(3) At the Last Day the believers, in both body and soul, will begin the full enjoyment of being with Christ forever (Matt. 25:34, 1 John 3:2).

Now each one of these is a distinct promise, and yet the three are inseparable.  They behave something like a trinity.  Perhaps one could even say (as we do in the Athanasian Creed) that the first is a hope, the second is a hope, the third is a hope; and yet there are not three hopes, but one hope.

One great hope of eternal life - into which we have been baptized!

Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Keys of the Kingdom

"I will give you the keys..." (Matt. 16:19).

The eleventh-century Archbishop of Bulgaria, Theophylact, makes the interesting and instructive point that in these words to Peter, Jesus uses the word "will," pointing to a future time.  And that time, Theophylact explains, was the first Easter Sunday, when the crucified-risen Jesus came to His disciples and said to them all, including Peter, "Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld" (John 20:22-23).

John 20:22-23 then becomes the basis for the Lutheran understanding of "the keys."  The Small Catechism contains the following terse statement, showing balance between the Church and her ministers, and held together by John 20:22-23.

What is the Office of the Keys?  The Office of the Keys is that special authority which Christ has given to His Church on earth to forgive the sins of repentant sinners, but to withhold forgiveness from the unrepentant as long as they do not repent.

Where is this written?  This is what St. John the Evangelist writes in chapter twenty: The Lord Jesus breathed on His disciples and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven" (John 20:22-23).

What do you believe according to these words?  I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, in particular when they exclude openly unrepentant sinners from the Christian congregation and absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.

When you hear your pastor say, "As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, I therefore forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit," this is the Office of the Keys in action.  Most times, we hear these words on a Sunday morning - the day our Lord Jesus arose and gave this blessed authority to His dear Church.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Repartee

A little recap of yesterday's message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 14, 2017

Bring Them Up

"Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord" (Eph. 6:4).

After considering these words of Paul, I wrote the following lines as part of a hymn.

O father, mother, listen well,
And Scripture will the secret tell:
To keep them from a bitter heart,
Instruct your children from the start
In the Commandments and the Creed
And in the Prayer for ev'ry need.

"Commandments," "Creed," and "Prayer" refer to the Ten Commandments, the Apostles' Creed, and the Lord's Prayer.  They are the first three things in Luther's Small Catechism and the most fundamental.  Children should hear these three things from the time they are born (and even while in the womb).

The Commandments teach them wrong and right, and how to identify sin.  The Creed teaches them everything they need to know about God, especially the forgiveness of sins.  And the Prayer teaches them what to say to God in every situation.

Parents, do your duty.  Love your children by teaching them what will last their whole lives and into eternity!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Wearing Christ

"For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Gal. 3:27).

Do you really realize what happened in your Baptism?

In Luke 8, Jesus heals a demon-possessed man.  The first thing we are told about this man is that "For a long time he had worn no clothes" (vs. 27).  The Savior ordered the departure of the unclean spirit, after which we find the man "clothed and in his right mind" (vs. 35).

Look to your Baptism.  That is where God ordered the departure of the unclean spirit, to make room for the Holy Spirit.  And that is where you went from being unclothed before God, spiritually speaking - sin fully exposed - to being clothed with Christ - sin fully forgiven.

Luther puts it extremely well: "To put on Christ is to put on the forgiveness of sins, righteousness, peace, comfort, joy in the Holy Spirit, salvation, life, and Christ Himself."

In all of Galatians, the word "baptize" occurs only once - 3:27 - just about the middle of the epistle.  But to appreciate fully the significance of this verse, think of it as a spring used to irrigate all six chapters of the book.  It is one of the top New Testament verses about Baptism.

Look to your Baptism and then look in the spiritual mirror to see that you are wearing Christ in all of His crucified and risen beauty!

You are beautiful!

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Contentment

"...in whatever situation I am to be content" (Phil. 4:11).

"Nothing is better than to walk in the Word and the work of God and so to fashion one's heart that it is quiet and satisfied with the present state of affairs....  The true despisers of the world are the people who accept what God sends them, gratefully use all things when they have them, and gladly do without them if God takes them away."

Martin Luther

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Little Children

"Little children, let no one deceive you" (1 John 3:7).

Seven times in his first epistle, the apostle John uses the term of endearment "little children."  He was probably in his eighties when he wrote 1 John.  He was a true spiritual father to the Christians in Asia Minor, and he IS the same to us.

You will find "little children" in 2:1, 2:12, 2:28, 3:7, 3:18, 4:4, and 5:21.

One of the reasons John uses the term is that someone else once called him, along with ten other men, "little children."  See John 13:33.

John knew the love that Christ had for him.  And that love couldn't help but turn into a love for others.  In John's case, it was a pastoral love for the members of the church.

Step one is to know the love that Christ has for you.  Step two is to let that love turn into a love for others in your life.  Who will it be?  You will know.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Easy Yoke and Light Burden

"For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light" (Matt. 11:30).

Let's talk oxymorons.  What exactly is an oxymoron?  Professor Warren Blumenfeld, an authority on the subject, defined it as "contradictory expressions that make absolute sense."  Think of it as a pocket-sized paradox.  But better and more fun to give examples:

clearly misunderstood
devout atheist
freezer burn
ill health
jumbo shrimp
old news
only choice
plastic silverware
bittersweet
open-ended
decaf coffee

Send me your favorite oxymoron and I'll add it to the list!

But now Jesus speaks oxymoronically when He says, "My yoke is easy, and My burden light."  Because a yoke is anything but easy.  It is a hard thing: "an iron yoke on your neck" (Deut. 28:48), "the yoke of my transgressions" (Lam. 1:14), "a yoke of slavery" (Gal. 5:1).  And because a burden is by definition heavy.  Chances are you're carrying one right now.

Easy yoke, light burden.  Add them to the list.  More importantly, what do they mean?  I didn't really know until recently.

I've come to believe that the best place to interpret and understand the Word is inside of a nursing home or hospital, ministering to those in ill health.  So on a nursing home visit a few years ago, and at the bedside of a 99-year-old woman named Dorothy, I read aloud these words of Jesus.  Immediately I felt I understood them clearly.

It's simple.  "Dorothy," I exclaimed softly, "I know what these things are!  His yoke is the forgiveness of sins.  Yes!  And the burden is His love!  You and I have to live under that easy yoke, and carry that light burden wherever we go!"

The best, most blessed oxymorons!  Who wouldn't gladly live under this yoke and happily carry this burden?

All that remains is for you to hear the gentle-hearted Savior speaking these oxymorons to you.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

John's First and Last Loves

The Gospel of John has more occurrences of the word "love" than Matthew, Mark, and Luke put together.  "Love" is used in one form or another over fifty times.  For a devotion, a person could read through the Gospel of John and carefully mark each time the word "love" is used.  But simply looking at the first and last times offers an important lesson.

The first time is John 3:16: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life."

The last time is John 21:20: "Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them...."

The lesson is this: God loves the whole world and all people to the point of freely sacrificing His only Son.  But this cosmic, worldwide love is at the same time a personal love felt deeply by the one who believes in Jesus.

Make the Gospel of John your own.  Believe that "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29) knows, loves, and forgives you personally.

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Birthday of the Lutheran Church

Does the Lutheran Church have a birthday?  I say it does, and it was yesterday.  But it's not too late to celebrate!

You have probably heard that we are marking the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.  This is based on October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther posted his Ninety-five Theses.  The date may be used to mark the beginning of the Reformation, but cannot really be used as the birthday of the Lutheran Church.

A much better date for that is June 25, 1530, the day the Augsburg Confession was presented to Emperor Charles V.  To this day, the Augsburg Confession ranks as the number-one Lutheran statement.  A person could read it (in about two hours) and have a very good idea about the Lutheran Church.  It contains twenty-eight articles, and the fourth one is this:

"Our churches teach that people cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works.  People are freely justified for Christ's sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven for Christ's sake.  By His death, Christ made satisfaction for our sins.  God counts this faith for righteousness in His sight (Rom. 3:21-26; 4:5)."

In my sermon yesterday, I said that these words are tattooed on my heart.  But more correctly, they are tattooed on the heart of the Lutheran Church.  In fact, never mind the tattoo.  These words are the heart and soul of the Lutheran Church!

And for that reason, June 25 should be considered the birthday of the Lutheran Church.  Interestingly, it comes six months after, and six months before, we celebrate the birth of our Lord.

Happy Birthday, Lutheran Church!  I won't sing "Happy Birthday."  No, I think this song is far better:

"Salvation unto us has come
By God's free grace and favor;
Good works cannot avert our doom,
They help and save us never.
Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone,
Who did for all the world atone;
He is our one Redeemer."

Monday, June 19, 2017

James the LESS

Out of the Twelve Apostles, I think I have learned the most from the one we know the least about.

"James the son of Alphaeus" (Matt. 10:3).

Two of the Twelve Apostles are named James.  First, the prominent, well-known James the son of Zebedee.  His brother was John, and together with Peter they made up the inner circle around Jesus.  Then there is James the son of Alphaeus.  We know nothing about him from the Gospel.  Nothing.  Without going into detail, it's possible that we know LESS about this James than any of the other apostles.

Because both are named James, the Bible uses their fathers' names in order to distinguish them.  Tradition uses a different method, calling the first James "James the Greater," and calling the second James "James the LESS."

Even if we know nothing else about James the son of Alphaeus, simply his nickname - James the LESS - offers a rich spiritual LESSon.  That is, Christ calls some to more prominent, visible roles of leadership, but calls and needs others to fill LESS visible roles - but no LESS important or effective!  So think LESS about the role you'd like to play than about the one God has given you to play.

Who are the ones who know all about James the son of Alphaeus?  The people to whom he went with the Gospel and love of Christ.  Seek not to be remembered by the world, but only to love those around you.  And say these words: My hope is built on nothing LESS than Jesus' blood and righteousness.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

But a Slumber

"The child is not dead but sleeping" (Mark 5:39).

We could live without death.  It wouldn't be missed.  Woody Allen said, "I'm not afraid to die.  I just don't want to be there when it happens."  But Benjamin Franklin wrote in a 1789 letter, "In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes."  He died five months later.

The Word of God could be summed up in the following way: Nothing is certain but death and the power of Jesus Christ over it.

In Mark 5 Jesus raises the twelve-year-old daughter of a man named Jairus.  Yet before doing so, He makes a startling announcement: "The child is not dead but sleeping."  And this is truly a monumental moment in the Gospel.  It is the Son of God coming and renaming death.  It is the day Christ changed death's name to "sleep."  With these seven words, among the most powerful in the Gospel, our Lord Jesus is doing three things.

He is teaching us faith.  Faith, by way of definition, is to call something what God calls it, even though our eyes, mind, and experience say otherwise.  A Christian dies and we hold a funeral, yet by faith we conclude and confess that the person has merely fallen asleep.  I receive a small piece of bread at Holy Communion yet believe that it is what our Lord calls it: His body.

He is showing how easily He alone can raise the dead.  "'Little girl, I say to you, arise.'  And immediately the girl got up and began walking" (Mark 5:41-42).  He is just like a mother here, waking up her dear child in the morning.  "Time to get up!"  How difficult is that?  And it is with the same ease and love that He will waken you, His dear child, on the Last Day.

He is taking away the fear of death from which we suffered.  He has, by these words and His own death, altered both the name and the reality of death.  It is now, to quote Luther, "but a slumber."  Which of you is afraid to take a nap or go to sleep tonight?  Such is the Christian faith and view of death.  This hymn line makes it memorable: "Teach me to live that I may dread the grave as little as my bed."

Also memorize these seven words: "The child is not dead but sleeping."

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Price for Freedom

"A time to be silent..." (Eccles. 3:7).

Memorial Day is much less a day for words and much more a day for silence.  One exception I'll make to that rule is "Hymn to the Fallen" by John Williams.

Turn up the volume a little and watch The Price for Freedom.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Way

"Jesus said to him, 'I am the way...'" (John 14:6).

I shared the following, by Richard Wurmbrand, at last evening's Divine Service.  And remember that "The Way" was an early name for Christianity (Acts 9:2, 24:14).

A young Brahmin came one day to the renowned missionary, E. Stanley Jones, and told him, "Your speeches have found much response.  It would be good if you would preach Christ as one of the many ways.  There are others, too.  We love Krishna.  Others love Kali.  If you would accept this, all India would listen to you."

This temptation existed already at the beginning of Christianity.  The Roman Empire was very tolerant toward religions.  They gladly would have accepted Christ as one of the many gods in their Pantheon - on the same footing as Diana, Mars, Apollo, Mithra, and the emperors.  What led to the persecution of the first Christians was the insistence that Christ is the only way and that all the others are false.

Personally, I would like it very much if there could be many ways.  However, in no regard is the universe constructed according to my wishes.  Someone wiser than I, who knows better, has created it.  I have to accept it.  I have no other choice.  I would like to have been born and raised in other circumstances.  Again, my life has been predestinated without my being consulted.  I cannot decide how men should be saved.  The master of the universe has appointed only one way of salvation.

There is no arguing with Him.  Receive Jesus Christ and you will be saved.  Refuse Him, neglect Him, and you will be damned.  It is as simple as this.  God did not ask us about our tastes.  We would like it if there would only be a heaven.  There exists a hell, too.  It is so easy for you to avoid it.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Mother Knows Sorrow

"But standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother..." (John 19:25).

If father knows best, mother knows sorrow - the sorrows of her child(ren).

God the Father knew best: that it was right to forsake His Son for our sake.  But the mother of Jesus never forsook Him, but stood by His cross.  She felt and endured all that He felt and endured - and then some.  She lived His death (Luke 2:35).

And I have no doubt that He drew strength from her presence.

Mary is every mother.  What mother does not feel what her child feels?  A mother carries her child in her womb for a few months, but carries her child in her heart for a lifetime.

Never think or say that your mother doesn't know what you are going through.  She feels and understands it twice as well as you do: She carries your sorrow and her own.

But happily, this applies also to joy.  When the child is blessed with joy, the mother receives double.  This is her reward for her love (besides the fact that love is its own reward).

Mary knew not only her son's suffering and death, but also His resurrection.  This Mother's Day, may our mothers know not only the sorrows but also the joys of their children!

And may all of us know both the death and the resurrection of our dear Lord for our salvation!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Bigger Yes

Parents, take time this week to practice the Ten Commandments with your children.  Do the actions if you know them.  And teach your children that part of loving Jesus is loving His commandments.

The Ten Commandments use the word "no" or "not" a total of eight times.  As a result, people hear the Commandments as a bunch of "no's."  And as a result of this, they hear only part of them, and the smaller part at that.  But for every one of the no's, there is a Yes standing behind, bigger and taller than the no in front of it.

This is something Martin Luther saw and communicated in the Small Catechism.  Let's take one example - the Second Commandment: "You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God."  According to the Catechism, this means the following:

"We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks."

I have put the no in bold and the Yes in italic.

See how the commandment opens up into a Yes.  The Second Commandment becomes an invitation to worship God and receive His help.

The no is still there but now is dwarfed by the Yes.

To say a little more, the old man (the sinful flesh) hears only the no.  This is the language he understands.  While the new man (born in Baptism) hears the bigger, louder Yes behind it.  And so to him the Ten Commandments are a choir of Yes's.  And that is the purpose of the Commandments: to check the old man, but to direct the new in the way of love.

Ask the Holy Spirit to perform both these tasks in your heart.

Monday, May 1, 2017

On the Road to Emmaus

Luke 24:13-35

My favorite part about "The Road to Emmaus" is that only one of the two men is named.  His name was Cleopas.  Who was the other?  One theory is that it was Luke himself.

I have a different theory.  I think that the other one is you.

In yesterday's sermon, I gave my people "Five Signs That You Are on the Road to Emmaus."  I will nutshell them here.

You don't have all the answers.  The two men were followers of Jesus and believers in Him.  And yet they had questions about His death and now possible resurrection.  As a Christian, you still have questions, often about the more difficult things in life.

You don't walk alone.  The two men had each other to walk with.  You have other Christians and your congregation.  And Jesus.  He came and walked with those two men.  He comes and walks with us.  "Let Us Ever Walk with Jesus"!

He opens to you His Word.  "They said to each other, 'Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked to us on the road, while He opened to us the Scriptures?'" (32).  He simplifies the Bible by showing us that it's all about Him, and especially His death and resurrection for our salvation.  Let, therefore, your heart burn with love for His Word!  And amid life's questions, we have the most important Answer: God's love in Jesus!

You see Him in the Sacrament (Holy Communion).  The two men "recognize Him in the breaking of the bread" (31 and 35).  This is a wonderfully mysterious part of the story.  And I would say that it points to the faith, given to you by the Holy Spirit, to see (and receive!) the crucified-risen Jesus in the Sacrament.

You say, "Christ is risen!"  The two men return and say to the others, "The Lord has risen indeed!" (34).  "Indeed" means really, actually, and truly.  Christians believe that Jesus has really risen, and that our lives are different now because of it!  "Christ is risen!" is a great confession, but learning to live the words is the important next step.  But the resurrection is the very power to live differently than we did before, and differently than the world around us.

If you have time, read Luke 24:13-35, believing that you are indeed the unnamed disciple!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Spiritual Day-Timer

I wrote this years ago, but it's one of those things I myself need to go back over.  Once a year I go over it with my congregation.  Yesterday was the day.

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

As a Christian, you believe, hope, and love at the same time and all of the time.

Yet one idea would be to place a special emphasis on faith in the evening, on hope in the morning, and then on love throughout the day.

Faith in the evening - Another word for "faith" is "rest."  As you rest your body after a day's work, learn to rest your soul and mind in God especially in the evening.  Enjoy a time of devotion and prayer, quiet and peace.  Remember the Cross especially in the evening.  Turn all matters over to God.  Luther had the habit of going to the window in the evening and asking God, "Is it my world or Yours?  Is it my church or Yours?  If they are Yours, please take care of them.  I'm tired and going to bed.  Good night, my God."

Hope in the morning - At the rising of the sun remember the rising of the Son.  "Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead" (2 Tim. 2:8) - especially in the morning.  Remember your Baptism.  Sing in your heart Psalm 118:24: "This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!"  You may have a lot to do.  You may have a test at school.  You may be undergoing surgery.  But the risen Lord will help you.  He will use you.  For His blessing is both upon the day and upon you!

Love throughout the day - You are rested.  You are hopeful.  You are ready to love, serve, and encourage others throughout the day.  It could be your spouse, children, friend, client, stranger, etc.  Strive not to be recognized but to recognize the needs of others.  Work your way through the day in love with help from above, knowing that the evening will bring you rest.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Giving Answers to Five Questions

A member of the congregation wrote to me today and asked if I could republish this devotion.  She heard me use most of it in my Easter sermon.  Thanks for the request!

"This is My body, which is given for you" (Luke 22:19).

The Gospel, in every way, is about the word give.  It shows up in the central teaching of Christianity: Forgiveness.  And the entire Gospel can be grasped by asking and answering five questions.

1. What (or whom) does the Father give?  Answer: the Son.

2. What does the Son give?  Answer: His life.

3. What (or whom) do the Father and the Son together give?  Answer: the Holy Spirit.

4. What then does the Holy Spirit give?  Answer: Faith, hope, and love into our hearts.  [Faith that sees the cross, hope that sees the resurrection, and love that sees one another and all people.]

5. And finally what does love give?  Answer: Joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Now give these five questions a little bit of your time this week, remembering the seven words of the crucified-risen Jesus: "Take heart, child, your sins are forgiven" (Matt. 9:2).

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Be Positive

"In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses" (Eph. 1:7).

The blood of Christ is at the heart of the Christian faith.

There are, medically speaking, eight different types of blood: O+, O-, A+, A-, B+, B-, AB+, and AB-.  Which one do you have?

What about the Savior?  I would answer that His is B+, without a doubt.  Hear it?  Be positive!  And that's because His shed blood is saying two things to us.

First, Be positive that you are redeemed!  Paul doesn't say, "In Him we could have, are hoping to have, or might have redemption."  But, "In Him we have redemption through His blood."  That's being positive!  And what is redemption?  Paul gives the best definition in five words: "the forgiveness of our trespasses."  Be positive that your many and serious trespasses against God's law are forgiven through the B+ blood of Christ.

Second, Be positive in your attitude!  Knowing for fact that you are redeemed and that the Cross has opened the gates of Heaven can't help but lead to a positive attitude in all things.  This is not the "power of positive thinking."  It is the power of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and minds.  This is more than seeing the glass half full.  It's learning to sing, "My cup overflows."  This is not to deny, ignore, or avoid evil and sorrowful things.  It's to remember in the midst of them the death and resurrection of our Lord, and then to ask, "How will He use me to help, love, and comfort the people in those circumstances?"

So spiritually speaking, the blood of Jesus must be B+: Be positive that you are redeemed, and in your attitude.

And be positive that He is working these things in your life!

Monday, April 3, 2017

Tied for 1st

Quick, what's the shortest verse in the Bible?

If you answered, "Jesus wept" (John 11:35), you got one of them.  The question needs to be changed to: What are the shortest verses in the Bible?  That's because 1 Thessalonians 5:16 reads, "Rejoice always."  Also two words.  So there is a two-way tie for the Bible's shortest verse!

Now isn't it something that the two shortest verses deal with the perfectly opposite things: weeping and rejoicing?  And the lesson could be that as Christians we are called to do both, often at the same time.

Let us weep with Jesus and yet rejoice in Him always!

Understand that weeping is not a sign of a weak faith or hope.  It is the sign of a strong love.  Jesus wept because He loved Lazarus who had died (see John 11:36).  One pastoral concern I have is that sometimes we are trying to turn off the tears God meant for us to shed.  Weeping is a part of love, and a blessed, holy thing in Jesus.  Tears then wash our eyes and help us to see more clearly.

And yet we rejoice even while we weep.  "Rejoice always."  That includes times of sorrow.  The sorrow is real but so is the joy right there next to it.  At the death of a loved one there is, and often remains, a sorrow beyond words.  Somehow at the same time, there is a rejoicing, sometimes quietly, in the victory of Christ over death and His promise to be with us.

Or look out at the world.  It won't take long to find a reason to weep.  And we should.  But all the while, we rejoice in a faith, hope, and love that cannot be taken away, in a death and resurrection that cannot be undone, and in the Lord who has done it!

To others, it must be one or the other (or more often, neither).  But to us it is both: weeping and rejoicing on the way to Heaven.

Remember the two shortest verses in the Bible!

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Gospel of Spit

"He spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva" (John 9:6).

Warning: You may never look at spitting the same way.

Three times in the Holy Gospel Jesus spits, and each time in order to heal.  Mark records two occasions (Mark 7:31-37 and 8:22-26) and John another (John 9:1-7).  John alone uses the noun "saliva" - a word that almost seems to be trying to spell "salvation."

God is omnipotent, but there was something He could not do.  Prior to the Incarnation He could not spit.  In the Person of the Son, God put on our human flesh and blood - and saliva.

Think of it this way: The Word became flesh and spit among us (cf. John 1:14).  When you come to these healings in which Christ uses His spit, think deeply about the Incarnation and rejoice that God became man for us!

But wouldn't you know: The same Incarnation that enabled the Lord to spit, also enabled Him to be spit upon.

"Then they spit in His face..." (Matt. 26:67).  See the prophecy of this in Isaiah 50:6.

This is nearly unspeakable.  The one true God and Creator of all is spit upon by His creatures!  And yet we speak it and preach it and proclaim this Gospel of the depths to which the Lord God humbled Himself for us and for our salvation!

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Incomprehensible Fire of God's Love

"For God so loved..." (John 3:16).

In 1532 Luther gave, at home, a little sermon on John 3:16-21.  It contains the following paragraph.  Lutherans speak of "Law and Gospel."  Rather than define those terms here, I'll let Luther do it by example.  I am not aware of a better example than this.  Prepare yourself: the Law is strong.  But the Gospel is even stronger - indeed, incomprehensible.

"[Law:] It would have been more than enough for God to wish the world "good morning."  So He goes beyond this and loves the world, the disgraceful offspring.  It is just about the most utterly hostile and ill-disposed contradiction.  And in truth, that is what the world is: a pigsty of unabashedly evil people, who abuse all God's creation in the most brazen way possible, blaspheme God, and provoke Him to His face.  [Gospel:] These selfsame shameless people God loves.  That is a love which transcends all love.  This is truly a good God, and His love must be a great, incomprehensible fire, greater by far than the fire which Moses saw in the bush, indeed greater by far than the fire of hell.  Who would despair, seeing God is so disposed toward the world?  It is too high and beyond my ability to elaborate on it, or to draw out the abundant riches that it truly contains."

Monday, March 13, 2017

Being John 3:15

My sermon from Sunday, in a nutshell.

How would you like to be John 3:15?  You're right there all the time next to the great John 3:16.  But nobody has you memorized from childhood.  Nobody holds you up at a football game.  You aren't called "the Gospel in a nutshell."  How many sermons have been given on John 3:16?  How many on you?  Most Christians have no idea what you say.

There exists a sinful desire for recognition and fame.  T.S. Eliot wrote in the poem "Choruses from 'The Rock,'"

Many are engaged in writing books and printing them,
Many desire to see their names in print.

Speaking from experience, pastors in particular wrestle with this temptation.  We want to be seen as successful, as the spiritual leader who "makes it happen."  John the Baptist, who is the model pastor, said, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30), and, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29).

John knew the power and personal fulfillment of pointing to another, the way John 3:15 does.  Isn't it true that without John 3:15 we couldn't find verse 16?  But there it is, without fame or recognition, directing the whole world to the Gospel.

You do the same in the place God has put you.  And if anyone ever asks, "Okay, but what do you say?" you can tell them that "whoever believes in Him may have eternal life" (John 3:15).

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Christ, the Commandments, and the Cross (cont.)

(continued from last week)

V. You shall not murder.  The opposite of murder is to lay down one's life.  "I am the Good Shepherd.  The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep" (John 10:11).

VI. You shall not commit adultery.  In perfect marital love and faithfulness He gives Himself up for His wife, the church.  "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her" (Eph. 5:25).

VII. You shall not steal.  The opposite of theft is to give freely.  In perfect poetry He gives to a thief the free gift of eternal life.  "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise."

VIII. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.  His neighbors are crucifying Him, and yet He speaks no ill of them but prays for them to His Father and explains their actions in the kindest possible way.  "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

IX./X. You shall not covet.  To covet means to desire for oneself the good things that belong to another.  He does the opposite of this in two ways (since this commandment is given twice).  He desires our bad things - our sins.  He "thirsts" for them to be His own!  And He desires us to have His good things as our own - "everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness."

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Christ, the Commandments, and the Cross

Our dear Lord Jesus Christ kept the Ten Commandments perfectly and He did so for us - in our place.  We know and believe that He did this over the course of His earthly life.  But I wonder whether it's not possible to hear and see Him fulfilling each and every one of the Ten Commandments as He hung on the cross.

I. You shall have no other gods.  The central word from the cross is this: "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?"  Twice with these words He confesses that He has no other god.  He looks to and trusts in the very God by whom He feels forsaken.

II. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.  He uses (opposite of "misuse") God's name to pray and even to sing a total of three times.  "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."  "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?"  "Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit!"  The second and third of these are from the Psalms and so may be considered songs.

III. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  The Sabbath day was Saturday.  He suffered and died on Friday.  Mindful of the approaching Sabbath, He "finishes" His work of redemption in time to rest His body in the tomb all day Saturday.  When the Sabbath is over, He rises from His rest - very early on Sunday.

IV. Honor your father and your mother.  He honors His Father by saying, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."  And His mother by saying, "Woman, behold, your son!" - and by entrusting her to the care of John.

Next week, the rest of the Commandments.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Prayer of Saint Francis

On Sunday I introduced the congregation to the Prayer of St. Francis.  I did so because it captures the meaning of the Sermon on the Mount and the essence of the Christian life.  I know of no finer prayer outside of the Lord's Prayer, the Publican's Prayer in Luke 18:13, and the other prayers in Scripture.  It is attributed to St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) but was probably composed much later.

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is friction, union;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.
It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Amen.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Right Eyes

"If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away" (Matt. 5:29).

These words of Jesus move us to avoid temptations to sexual sin, many of which enter through the eye.  Remove and resist visual stimuli that would appeal to a sinful heart.

But the eleventh-century Archbishop of Bulgaria, Theophylact, explained, "When you hear 'eye' and 'hand,' do not imagine that the Lord is speaking of parts of the body, for He would not in that case have specified 'right eye' and 'right hand.'  He is speaking instead of those who appear to be friends, but who are in fact harming us.  Take, for example, a young man who has friends living in debauchery, and who is harmed by their bad influence.  Cut these off from you, the Lord says, and perhaps you will also save them, when they come to their senses.  And if you cannot save them, you will at least save yourself.  But if you continue in your affection for them, both you and they will be destroyed."

We are reminded in the Small Catechism that God has given us our eyes (First Article).  It would not be right or thankful to throw away a divine gift.  Far better to see that He has also redeemed our eyes (Second Article) and makes them holy for new use (Third Article).

See your eyes as precious, think of what they are able to do, and resolve not to set before them "anything that is worthless" (Ps. 101:3).  Use them to "look at the birds of the air," as He instructs later in the same sermon (Matt. 6:26).  Lift up your eyes to the Hill and to the Crucified, from whence come both forgiveness and then help, much help, in the fight against temptation (Ps. 121).

Remember that lust is never satisfied (Prov. 27:20), but that love always finds fulfillment.

If you (or someone you know) seem trapped in sexual sin, seriously consider talking with your pastor.  He will hold the matter in strict confidence, offer a listening ear, and share with you God's Word of forgiveness, hope, and help.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Marriage, Family, and Worship

"Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!" (Ps. 95:6).

On Sunday in Adult Bible Class I touched on the importance of home devotions and how spending time in God's Word and prayer with your spouse and children will absolutely strengthen those relationships.

But one of the things I want to draw more attention to is the blessing of going to church with your spouse and family.  Often when we go to church we see ourselves as individuals and, also, as members of the congregation, that is, a family of faith.  But husbands and wives, parents and children can miss that they are there in their marriage and family relationships too.  And the Divine Service will strengthen those relationships mightily.

Think of it: Husband and wife kneel to confess their sins and then to hear the Word of forgiveness.  They pray together, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us" (having each other in mind).  They receive the Body and Blood of the Savior and are simultaneously connected to Him and to each other!  Wow!  That marriage is now prepared to take on anything!

A husband walks away from Sunday morning wanting to love his wife more like Christ loves the church.  A mother walks away wanting to love her children more like the church loves us.  And children learn to honor their parents as we are all created to honor God.

A woman came to church on Sunday without her husband.  He should have been there too.  Why?  For his own good?  Yes.  Because he's a member of the congregation?  Yes.  But also because it will bless and strengthen his marriage and family!

We need to emphasize this more.  And I need to go talk with that husband.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Tear Down This Law

"...a time to tear down" (Eccles. 3:3).

The 44th annual March for Life took place this past Friday in Washington, D.C., an event that has occurred every year since Roe v. Wade in 1973.  I was able to be a part of it this year.  And if I had to pick one highlight to share with you, it would be the words spoken by Eric Metaxas.  Members of my congregation will recognize him from The Family Project.  God bless him for his courage and love!  And may God give those same two things to each one of us!

https://youtu.be/OxIh4bbktuk

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Agnus Dei (Lamb of God)

"...he sees Jesus coming toward him, and says, 'Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!'" (John 1:29).

The above is how this verse reads in the original Greek.  The verbs are present tense because Jesus comes to us now, in the present.

It's as though John the Baptist is speaking to us, and we are the disciples who hear his words and follow Jesus (vs. 37).

But then change the "he" to "we," and you get the perfect description of the Divine Service (the worship service as practiced by Lutherans and others).  How so?

The pastor speaks (or sings) the Words of Institution over the bread and wine and then shows them to the people.  The congregation, in faith both simple and profound, believes that they are beholding not only bread and wine but the body and blood of Jesus.  He is coming toward them, as it were, and soon they will receive Him into themselves.  And what do they do?  They sing "Lamb of God" (Agnus Dei in Latin):

Lamb of God, You take away the sin of the world; have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, You take away the sin of the world; have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, You take away the sin of the world; grant us peace.

We are disciples of Jesus, the crucified and risen.  But it is John who teaches us what to say and sing when we see Him coming toward us in Holy Communion: Agnus Dei (Lamb of God).

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Prayer for the Nation

On Sunday, in view of the inauguration, I led the congregation in the following prayer for the nation.  I received a number of positive comments about the prayer, and so I'm putting it here for use throughout this week.  It comes from page 313 of Lutheran Service Book.

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

Monday, January 9, 2017

Best Day Ever

"For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Gal. 3:27).

As part of his chapel message, a Lutheran high school teacher asked students, "What was the best day in the history of the world?"  He then led them to consider and believe that the answer would be "the first Easter."  The Day of Resurrection!

Hard to argue.  That's a very good answer to a very interesting question!

It made me think, though, of some other very big days.  The first that came to mind was the day the Son of God took flesh in the womb of Mary.  Then I thought about the first Christmas.  I thought for a long time about the first Good Friday.  I found myself thinking about the Ascension, and then the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.

And I began to question the question.  Why do we have to pick just one day?  The Gospel gives us many best days of which to think, each one adding to our faith.

Then it dawned on me.  No, there is a best day.  The best day ever is the day I was baptized into Christ, because on that one day the incarnation, birth, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ were all at once applied to me, together with the Holy Spirit.

Best day ever?  Your Baptism!

And then by reminding you of your Baptism, God makes today the best day too!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Seasons Turn

The season of Epiphany begins with January 6 and lasts until it turns into Lent on Ash Wednesday, March 1.

"These are the feasts of the Lord...which ye shall proclaim in their seasons" (Lev. 23:4).

Much like the four seasons of spring, summer, fall, and winter, the Church Year is made up of six seasons: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost.

We are currently in Epiphany, a season defined by the Wise Men, the Baptism of Jesus, the Wedding at Cana, and finally the Transfiguration.  Soon it will be Lent.

Let me give you a way to understand this succession of seasons.  Use the word "becomes" or, better yet, "turns into."  Instead of seeing Christmas, for example, as coming to an end, see it as turning into Epiphany.  And before long, Epiphany will turn into Lent.  Then Lent into Easter.  Easter into Pentecost.  And again before long, Pentecost will turn into being face to face with God in heaven!

For now, we have the Church Year to guide us and teach us many things.  As Jesus turned water into wine at Cana's wedding, one blessed season turns into another.  But always the same Christ.