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Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Be the Tree

"Bear fruits in keeping with repentance" (Luke 3:8).

"The word of God came to John" (Luke 3:2).  And this is the word that came to him: "Bear fruits in keeping with repentance."  The word we need to hear.  It is not my word.  It is not even John's word.  It is God's word.

Advent is a period of preparation.  A time of repentance.  But that really doesn't fit with the decorating, the parties, and the eating that these days before Christmas are known for.

But I remember hearing once that the ball ornaments on the tree represent fruit.  In other words, the Christmas tree is a fruit tree.  A tree that bears good fruit.  The very thing God is calling us to be.  Because "every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire" (Luke 3:9).

And so this Advent and Christmas be like the Christmas tree.  Be the tree.  A tree that bears good fruit - the fruits of repentance.

What is left is to ask and answer two questions.

First, what is repentance?  A very good definition is found in the Augsburg Confession of 1530 (the cornerstone confession of the Lutheran Church).  It reads:

"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 fruits in keeping with repentance.'"

The second question is, what are the fruits in your particular case?

In Luke 3 the common people ask John, "What then shall we do?"  Then the tax collectors, and then the soldiers, ask the same thing.  The word do in their question and John's word bear ("Bear fruits") are in Greek the same word.  What they're saying is, "What then shall we bear?"  "John, we're soldiers.  What are the fruits of repentance in our case?"  "We're tax collectors.  What are the fruits in our case?"  "We're regular people.  What are the fruits in our case?"  And John gets into the particulars.

Are you a spouse?  What are the fruits in your case?  "Husband and wife love and honor each other."  Are you a person who comes across other people?  What are the fruits in your case?  "Do not hurt or harm your neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need."  Are you a child, a son or daughter?  "Do not despise or anger your parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them."  Are you a member of this congregation?  "Do not despise preaching and God's Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it."

Are you a Christian?  Be the tree.  A tree that bears good fruit - the fruits of repentance.  Amen.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Round Yon Virgin

Note: This Christmas will mark the 200th anniversary of the first singing of "Silent Night."

"Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son..." (Isa. 7:14).

"Silent Night" may well be the most beloved Christmas carol.  It dates back to the year 1818.  The English translation of the German original contains the following lines:

All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and child.

I admit that for many years I have happily sung these words without really understanding their meaning - in particular, "Round yon."  Maybe you can relate!

After studying the matter, I offer this simple explanation.  The sentence can be understood as though it were written, "All is calm, all is bright around yonder virgin mother and child."

"Yon" is a poetic little adjective telling us that a virgin mother and her baby are "just over there, not far."  It's as though we are being pointed in the direction of the stable from which is coming a calm and a light.  Let us go!

The world, as we know, can be a dark and troubled place.  Christmas reveals the only Source of lasting peace and hope for such a world: the Child born of a virgin mother.

Let us sing sweetly of this hope!

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Dress Rehearsal

To the members of Faith: The church has been decorated for Advent and Christmas.  Looks beautiful!  This Sunday will mark the start of a new church year.  ABC will be extra important the next two Sundays, as I share something called an "overture" that I have written.  And the Sunday School children begin practice this Sunday for their Christmas program.

"...for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation; He has covered me with the robe of righteousness" (Isa. 61:10).

According to the Church Calendar, this past Sunday was the last one of the year.  This week is the last one of the year.  And this Saturday will be the last day of the year.  Most people are unaware of these things.

Jesus says, "And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory" (Mark 13:26).  And so we say in the Creed, "He will come to judge the living and the dead."

The last Sunday, the last week, and the last day of the Church Year are in two words a dress rehearsal for the Last Day.  The end of the world.  The second coming of Christ.  Judgment Day.

And if a dress rehearsal, what then shall we wear?

The blood and righteousness of Jesus.

In the words of the perfect hymn:

"Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress;
Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed,
With joy shall I lift up my head.

Bold shall I stand in that great day,
Cleansed and redeemed, no debt to pay;
Fully absolved through these I am
From sin and fear, from guilt and shame."

In other words, by virtue of your Baptism into Christ, by virtue of His Word of forgiveness, by virtue of His blood, and body, received in the Sacrament, and the faith given to you, the Last Day goes from being one to be feared, to being one to be longed for.

Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus.

Let's live each day of this week in that blessed hope.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The Third Commandment

To the members of Faith: On Sunday I gave my sermon, "The 15 Things I'm Thankful for This Thanksgiving."  Tomorrow (Wednesday) it's your turn.  Come to church (6:30) with the 1, 2, or 3 things you're thankful for, and we'll share them with each other.  This Sunday will be the Last Sunday of the Church Year.  (A brand new Church Year will begin the following Sunday!)  In ABC, we'll cover the Third Commandment, so read the following devotion carefully.

"Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy."

The First Commandment is about God Himself, and the Second is about His name.  The Third Commandment, then, is about His Word and how we should gladly hear and learn it.

In the Old Testament, that is, before the birth of Christ, the Sabbath day referred to the seventh and last day of the week, Saturday.  Now in the New Testament, we learn and believe that Christ Jesus is the true Sabbath day, the one who gives us rest for our souls (Matt. 11:28-30).

As for what the Third Commandment means according to the Small Catechism, it means: We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.

A word worth thinking about here is "gladly" (in German, gerne).  It means "with pleasure, willingly, and readily."  With joy!  What comes to my mind right away is the first line of Psalm 122, which I learned to sing as a child: "I was glad when they said to me, 'Let us go to the house of the Lord!'"  Which means, "Let us go to church with joy in our hearts, smiles on our faces, and ears ready to hear God's Holy Word!"

Yes, what does "gladly" look like?  Answers: Looking forward to Sunday morning like no other time of the week.  If possible, attending church and Sunday School faithfully each week.  Preparing for Sunday on Saturday.  Arriving a little bit early to pray before service.  Taking the message home with you and into the week.  Enjoying other opportunities to hear and learn God's Word.

And, what is that Word?  In summary: "Take heart, child, your sins are forgiven."

And note that the word "gladly" is used also in the Close of the Commandments: "Therefore, we should also love and trust in Him and gladly do what He commands."

May the Holy Spirit fill our hearts with true gladness!

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Bigger Yes

To the members of Faith: As some of you know, I traveled to Texas for my niece's wedding last Friday.  It was such a happy time, and I'm including a picture below.  Coming up this Sunday, we'll install our Sunday School teachers, and I'll have a special Thanksgiving-themed sermon for you (complete with a little "homework" assignment).  In ABC we'll review the First Commandment and move on to the Second and Third.  Have you memorized the first three 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.


Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The Good No

To the members of Faith: What a Sunday coming up!  Two special things.  The 9:30 service will be something called "Making the Church Year Live," a walk through the entire Church Year to see how the different seasons work together.  I think you'll love it!  Then at 11 we'll have "Honoring Our Veterans," a 45-minute program featuring a guest speaker, "America the Beautiful," refreshments, and more.  This event is open to the community.  Consider inviting someone to come.  God bless this coming Sunday!

"...but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die" (Gen. 2:17).

These words were spoken by God before the fall into sin.  They contain the word "not" and prove that the concept of no is a good, blessed, and perfect one.  Perhaps we have forgotten that.

A pastor instructed his congregation not to spend time gambling.  He wished to keep them from vanity and the love of money.  But a woman said to him, "I don't like to be told no," and left the church.

Why does a parent tell the child not to go into the street or touch the stove?  To keep the child from something good?  Rather, to keep something bad from happening to the child.

God's no works the same way.  He tells us no in the Ten Commandments in order to protect us from harm to body and soul.  Stop buying the lie that He's just trying to keep you from something good (Gen. 3:5).  Look what happened when Adam and Eve bought it!

God loves you, and "no" is one of His loving words.

"You shall have no other gods" is an invitation to experience life as it was meant to be: a real relationship with God and people, based on real love.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Six Parts, One Heart

To the members of Faith: Two things about this Sunday.  First, we switch to the new schedule: Service at 9:30, followed by fellowship and Education Hour.  Second, don't forget to fall back an hour on Saturday before bed.  God bless our new schedule!

"If you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:31-32).

As Lutherans, we don't have Rome or St. Peter's.  We don't have icons, as beautiful as they may be.  We don't have The Purpose Driven Life.

What we have, however, is the Small Catechism, and we wouldn't trade it for the world!  Put together by Martin Luther, it's a simple-but-rich, second-to-none summary of God's Word.  The whole Bible in just a few pages.  Deeply spiritual and very practical at the same time.

It has six parts: The Ten Commandments, The Creed, The Lord's Prayer, The Sacrament of Holy Baptism, Confession, and The Sacrament of the Altar.

My new Illinois license plate reads, "LSC 6."  It stands for "Luther's Small Catechism has 6 parts."

Six parts but one heart.  And that heart is found in these words, considered one of the most perfect sentences outside of the Bible:

"I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity."

The one who knows this, knows the Truth.

We thank God for the Small Catechism - and the chance to learn, love, and live His whole and holy Word!

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

One Little Word

To the members of Faith: Let me say how proud I am of the congregation for the loving way that a compromise was reached at Sunday's meeting!  The new Sunday morning schedule will take effect on November 4.  But this Sunday is Reformation Sunday, and so wear something red if you can.  The message is titled "Everything I Need to Know about God I Learn from..."  Trunk or Treat will be Sunday afternoon at 2, followed by the Reformation Roast.  Talk about a good Sunday!  Sunday School at 9, Service at 10, and Fellowship and ABC to follow.

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!

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Death and Resurrection

"For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again..." (1 Thess. 4:14).

To the members of Faith: The risen Lord be with you!  Let's keep Jean Attebery in our prayers.  Her father Charles received Christian burial yesterday in Mt. Erie.  This is a picture of the casket just before it was lowered.  The cross is our faith, and the rose is for our hope of the resurrection.  "The third day He ROSE again from the dead" (Apostles' Creed).  I have something special planned for this Sunday's service, and the following Sunday.  Be looking forward, and God bless it!

With love,
Pastor Matt


Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Prepare for Heaven

To the members of Faith: The Lord be with you with His peace and joy!  I'm looking forward to this evening's Divine Service!  And this Sunday will bring us the story of the Rich Young Man in Mark 10.  Service on Sunday will be followed by the voters meeting and then a potluck.  Nice!  God bless these things, and this week's small devotion!

"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.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

A Man Shall Father, Mother Leave

To the members of Faith: The big, exciting news is that our float in the Fall Fest parade last Saturday won the award for "best use of theme."  Way to go, Faith!  This Sunday we'll focus on marriage, using Genesis 2:18-25.  And in ABC we'll definitely finish up "Spiritual Day-Timer."  Until then continue praying, "Let Your holy angel be with me."

"Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (Gen. 2:24).

A man shall father, mother leave
And to his wife alone shall cleave,
And now the two one flesh shall be--
All this in love and purity.

So soon was marriage marred by sin!
Now each one's love is turned within
Till Cana's Christ comes to restore
The blessing as it was before!

New love, new joy, new peace, new life:
His wedding gifts to man and wife
And to us all for whom He died
To have us always as His bride!

I originally wrote this hymn for my niece's wedding.  It is based on Genesis 2:24, of which stanza 1 is a paraphrase.  The key to the hymn is its use of the word "love" three different times: love before sin (st. 1), love after sin (st. 2), and new love in Christ (st. 3).  And the heart of the hymn is "Cana's Christ comes," a rich reference to the Incarnation, the Wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11), and the desire of Christ to be invited to each wedding and into every marriage.

To listen to the hymn sung by a soloist, go to www.oyeoflittlefaith.org.  Click "Music at Gloria Dei" and then "new hymns."

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

For Those Who Set the Table

"...they followed Him and took care of Him" (Mark 15:41).

This past Sunday we "installed" the ladies of our Altar Guild.  It was a beautiful morning!  These women are specially trained to set up for Holy Communion, to take care of things afterward, and to clean and take care of the whole chancel area.  One thought is that these women are the descendants of the women spoken of in Mark 15:40-41.

In thankfulness for our Altar Guild, I wrote the following hymn stanza:

For those who set the table
And place the bread and wine,
Who make the altar ready
For sinner-saints to dine,
We thank You, O Lord Jesus,
And ask You now to bless
Their hands with strength for serving,
Their hearts with happiness.

And we sang it on Sunday to the tune of Lutheran Service Book 855.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Faith Is a Candle

To the members of Faith Lutheran: What a week it's been!  Good attendance on Sunday, with at least one new family.  The 5-word prayer.  Are you doing your homework?  Tuesday was Altar Guild training.  Wednesday was Sunday School teacher training.  And this evening is a big Board of Directors meeting.  Praise the Lord!  This Sunday we'll formally install the women of the Altar Guild (some 20 of them!), together with a special sermon.  In ABC we'll continue with "Spiritual Day-Timer."  Doesn't matter if you missed last Sunday's ABC.  Plan to attend this Sunday!  Sunday School at 9, Service at 10, with coffee and ABC to follow.  Pastor Matt

"Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, 'I believe; help my unbelief!'" (Mark 9:24).

What is clear from this man's prayer is that he should be teaching at the seminary.  For he understands the true theology of faith: that faith and unbelief are found in the same heart.  Looking in his own heart, he formulates a five-word confession and prayer among the most insightful in the New Testament.

He is saying to Jesus, "The problem is not that I don't believe.  The problem is that I don't believe!"  In other words, "I've got faith, but I've got unbelief too.  Help me!"

Let us make two points.

1. This prayer is reassuring.  If you're a Christian and experience doubt, you needn't worry.  It is to be expected.  But true doubt is only possible right next to true faith.  Think of faith less like a bright sunny day and more like a candle burning in a dark room.  Faith burns as a candle in the darkness of our own sinful, unbelieving hearts.

Our faith is not yet all it should be, but it is enough.  Luther said, "On earth the heart can never attain or feel faith to such a degree as it should; but it always stays in the stage of a wishing and a sighing of the spirit, too deep for a man to express.  Then the heart says: 'Oh, that it were true!'  Again: 'Ah, if only one could believe it!'  Nevertheless, this sighing and this spark of faith achieve so much that God regards them as a complete faith and says: 'According to your faith be it unto you; and because you believe, you are certainly saved.'"

Ask yourself not, "How much faith do I have?"  But rather, "How much Christ?"  And the answer is: All of Him, crucified and risen!

2. The Lord is responding.  Pray this five-word prayer and then know that your Lord is responding.  He comes running to anyone who prays this prayer and gives them His sure Word and strengthening Sacrament.  He is risen, dear Christian, for this purpose, and to keep your little flame from ever going out.

Now practice praying, "I believe; help my unbelief!"

Friday, September 14, 2018

The Gospel of Spit

To the members of Faith Lutheran: A little note here just for you!  I enjoyed an excellent Elders meeting last evening.  Thank you, men!  This Sunday's Divine Service theme will be a powerful five-word prayer found in Mark 9.  The Lord's Supper will be served.  Let us prepare!  And in ABC we'll talk about God's gift of time.  Bring your Bible if you can.  Sunday School at 9, Service at 10, and ABC to follow.  See you all soon!  Pastor Matt

"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!

Friday, July 13, 2018

The Width of Narrow

I'm taking a little break from writing these small devotions.  But I'm looking forward to starting up again in September.  Meantime, here's one from the past.

"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, June 18, 2018

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.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Strength for Today

This is a devotion that I wrote years ago.  Twice this week I've used it with others.  It made me want to share it again here.

"Give us this day our daily bread" (Matt. 6:11).

God gives us what we need one day at a time.  He is determined to teach us trust.  He calls us to trust that He will provide again tomorrow as He did today.

In the Old Testament He instructed the Israelites to gather just enough manna for the day.  He sent it again the next morning.  In the New Testament, in which we live, He teaches us to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread."  In other words, just enough strength for today.  He will supply it again tomorrow.

All of this leads to two definitions:

Anxiety = looking at tomorrow's challenges without tomorrow's strength.

Trust = knowing that tomorrow's strength will be a match for tomorrow's challenges.

You are not yet in possession of tomorrow's strength.  It will be yours tomorrow morning, but not before.  You are given strength for today, bright hope for tomorrow, and the most blessed of all things: trust in your heavenly Father.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

FAQs

"Then David said to Nathan, 'I have sinned against the Lord.'  And Nathan said to David, 'The Lord also has taken away your sin; you shall not die'" (2 Sam. 12:13).

Frequently Asked Questions about Individual Confession:

1. You mean, Confession is part of the Lutheran Church?  I thought that was Roman Catholic.  It is part of the Lutheran Church.  It is the fifth chief part of the Small Catechism.  But the reality is that most Lutherans do not take advantage of it.  Let us pray for that to change.

2. Must I go to Confession?  No.  Let's be clear about that.  But a better question is, May I go to Confession?  Yes.  But the best question is, Am I invited to Confession?  Very much so!  It is here for you!

3. Where does it take place?  Although it may take place anywhere, and even over the phone, usually it takes place in the privacy of the pastor's study (sitting, not kneeling).

4. When does it take place?  Anytime by appointment.  Or the pastor will announce times for Confession, such as the Wednesdays during Lent.

5. How long does it take?  Typically no more than five minutes, or even less.  A very good confession can be done in two minutes.

6. How will I know what to say?  That's easy.  A simple, beautiful order is provided in Lutheran Service Book, page 292.  The pastor will have it ready for you to use.

7. Would the pastor ever share my sins with others?  Absolutely not.  Under no circumstances.  There is no exception to this rule.

8. How often should I go?  Start with once.  After that, plan to go once a year or maybe twice.

9. Does my pastor go to Confession too?  Believe it or not, your pastor is the congregation's first sinner.  He will drive to see another pastor for Confession.  This is one reason he wants to offer Individual Confession and Absolution to the members of his congregation: he knows firsthand the spiritual benefits (peace, joy, and a renewed love).

10. But won't he look at me differently after hearing my confession?  Far from it.  The pastor loves you unconditionally, and compassionately - he feels what you are carrying.  He is sent by God to shepherd and to help you.  One of the main ways he helps is by hearing your confession and pronouncing forgiveness.

The words which absolution give
Are His who died that we might live;
The minister whom Christ has sent
Is but His humble instrument.
(LSB 614:5)

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Good Grief

"...a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise" (Ps. 51:17).

"For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death" (2 Cor. 7:10).

The Sacrament of Holy Baptism is the fourth chief part of the Small Catechism - that handbook of our faith and life.  And in this Sacrament's fourth and final part, we come to the word "contrition" for the first and only time in the Catechism.

"Contrition" is an expensive word, worth a very close look.  The adjective, "contrite," is used, among other places, in Psalm 51:17 (see above).  And Paul refers to it as "godly grief."

As for a definition of contrition: "The feeling and expression of sadness about one's sins" (Catechism Glossary).  Sorrow over sin.  But a sorrow that is beneficial.  In the end it may be Charlie Brown who has the best definition: "Good grief!"

Contrition is very valuable in the battle against the Old Adam, the sinful nature, the flesh.  It is the weapon of choice.  In the words of a hymn, "To mourn our sin and from it turn."  When we pray, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner," it must be prayed in a spirit of contrition.  And to this the old man can only surrender!

But I've learned something new about contrition.  That is, it comes from a Latin word meaning "to be bruised."  Good grief is a kind of spiritual bruise.  But then what do we learn in the Gospel?  "...a bruised reed He will not break" (Matt. 12:20).  And "He" is Christ!

You have to love the way this Contrition is followed in the Small Catechism by Confession, and absolution - and then rejoicing!

That is what it means to be baptized: to practice contrition, confession, faith in Jesus Christ - and love toward all.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Ascension's Great Joy

Tomorrow is the fortieth day after Easter, and the celebration of Christ's ascension into heaven.

"And they...returned to Jerusalem with great joy" (Luke 24:52).

Twice in his Gospel, Luke has the words "great joy."  The first time is Christmas: "And the angel said to them, 'Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy'" (Luke 2:10).  The second time is Ascension.  Tomorrow is a day for joy, great joy, a joy that knows no end!

Reason says that the disciples should have been sad at their dear Lord's departure.  But their faith sees and thinks differently.  Their faith is so full of His birth, death, resurrection, Word, forgiveness, and promise of the Holy Spirit, there is no room left over for sadness.

May the same be true of your heart!

JOY has been defined as "Jesus, Others, Yourself."  Look first to your Savior.  Then to the needs of your neighbor.  And then you will find yourself - and the great joy of the Gospel!

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

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!

Thursday, April 26, 2018

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!

Sunday, April 15, 2018

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.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Sixth and Seventh Petitions

For the record, during Holy Week we did not meditate on a part of the Small Catechism.  Then last week I gave a little sermon on the Sixth Petition.  That brings us to the Seventh Petition, about which I have said and written much over the past year.  In this final petition we look ahead to the close of this short life, the leaving behind of all sin and sorrow, and the going to be with Christ in Heaven - with Jesus in Paradise.  Until then let us live our lives in the following manner.

"...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.

Amen.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

The Fifth Petition

"And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."

The Fourth Petition began with the word "give."  Now the Fifth Petition begins with "for-give."  The Fourth Petition has to do with the body, the Fifth with the soul.  The physical and the spiritual.  Both are important.

The Fourth Petition is like the Old Testament omer jar.*  The Fifth Petition is like the holy cross.

The first part, "And forgive us our trespasses," is the vertical part of the cross.  And the second part, "as we forgive those who trespass against us," is the horizontal.  Pray the Fifth Petition in the shape of the cross.

But let us look not only to forgive those who sin against us, but to be forgiven by those against whom we have sinned.

And remember that the Fifth Petition, like the others, is also a promise.  It is a promise that God will forgive us when we ask (otherwise He wouldn't have instructed us to pray this way) and that He will create in our hearts the desire to do the same for others.

The Christian heart is shaped like the cross.

*See "The Fourth Petition" devotion.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Wedding Planner

"See, we are going up to Jerusalem" (Mark 10:33).

Holy Week is fast approaching.  It is the most important week of the Christian year.  It begins March 25.  You wouldn't wait till the night before to plan your wedding.  Holy Week and Easter represent the wedding of Christ and the Church.  Also, the wedding of Christ and your faith.  Now is the time to plan for Holy Week.

Find out your church's schedule of special services.  Be aware of all of them.  Then prayerfully decide which ones you will attend.  Make a real effort to attend on Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and of course Easter.  Use Saturday to clean the house in preparation for the happiest day of the year.

As a boy I was taught to believe that Holy Week is like living through the very first Holy Week.  To this day I have trouble sleeping on Thursday night, knowing that my Lord has been betrayed and entered His suffering.  This is the spirit of Holy Week!

And Easter is rightly celebrated when we awake early on Sunday morning to discover that Christ has just now risen from the dead!

Make a good plan and ask God to bless it!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Fourth Petition

"Give us this day our daily bread."

Are you going through difficult days?  Do you wonder if you'll have the strength to keep going?  This devotion, and the Fourth Petition, are for you.

When Jesus taught us to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread," He almost certainly had in mind the Old Testament story about the manna.

"Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day's portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in My law or not'" (Exod. 16:4).

The basic arrangement was for one "omer," per person, per day.  An omer is roughly two quarts - a day's portion.  Daily bread.

Some of the people did not trust that the manna would be provided again the next day.  God's law is the law of trust.

Ask God to give you just enough for today.  Then sleep well tonight.  He will supply again tomorrow - but not till then!

So important was this lesson to God that He had an omer of manna placed in the ark of the covenant.

And then He placed it in the Lord's Prayer.  The meaning is, "Give us this day our omer."

Monday, March 12, 2018

The Third Petition

"Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

One thing about the Third Petition: It is here in the Small Catechism that we are introduced to the "unholy trinity," namely, "the devil, the world, and our sinful nature, which do not want us to hallow God's name or let His kingdom come."  The Christian has, therefore, both a Triune Friend and a triune enemy.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Try the Uplook

"They waxed valiant in fight" (Heb. 11:34).

By Richard Wurmbrand

Listen to the story of a hero of the faith.

His name was Florea.  He died in the prison of Gherla (Romania).  He had been beaten until both arms and both legs were paralyzed because he refused to do slave labor on the Lord's Day.  He could only move his neck.  It is bad enough to be in such a situation in a nursing home or with one's family, but he was in a prison cell where fellow inmates had no water, no sheets - nothing with which to help him.

We had to spoon-feed him, but where did we get a spoon?  Yet he was the most serene and joyful among us.  His face shone.  When we prisoners sometimes sat around his bed brooding about our sorrows, moaning that our outlook was bad, he would reply, "If the outlook is bad, try the uplook.  St. Stephen, surrounded by men who threw stones at him, abandoned by the other members of the church who did not stay with him in his moment of trial, nevertheless looked up and saw Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father.  This comforted his heart; it will comfort yours also.  Look up!"

After my release from prison, I spoke to his son, aged nine, and told him the story of his father's faithfulness.  I added, "I hope that you will become a good man like him."  He replied, "Brother, I would like to become a sufferer for Christ as my father has been."

There is no law that obliges Christians to be dull, lukewarm, half-hearted.  Christianity can be heroic.  The right spelling of the word "love" is "s-a-c-r-i-f-i-c-e."

Friday, March 2, 2018

The Second Petition

"Thy kingdom come."

The Second Petition wins the award for being the shortest of all the petitions.  Three words long: "Thy kingdom come."

It probably also wins the award for being the most "abstract" - the most difficult to understand.  But the beauty of the Small Catechism is that it turns big concepts into small, accessible ones.  The kingdom of God is a big thing, and yet here it fits into one sentence:

"God's kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity."

Now I've boldened some of the words.  That's because I noticed something new.  The words in bold mention three things: grace, faith (that's what "believe" means), and the Word (Scripture).

If you want to know what the Lutheran Church is about, a good answer is, "It's about three things: Grace Alone, Faith Alone, Scripture Alone."

As a Lutheran, I've known that for most of my life.  What I didn't see until now is that they're listed under the Second Petition!

Lutherans, I think, will find that a little bit exciting.

Monday, February 26, 2018

The First Petition

"Hallowed be Thy name" (First Petition).

The First Petition.  The word "petition" is itself a small devotion.

Of all the many books written about Luther and the Reformation, my favorite is the one written by his dog.  The Luthers had a dog and his name was Tolpel, the German word for "fool."  Dogs were used in that day to keep down the rodents.  To hear Tolpel tell it, his job was seeing to it that the mice did not destroy Martin's papers.

God used Tolpel to teach Luther a very important lesson.  Luther once said: "'Pray without ceasing' (1 Thess. 5:17).  My dog taught me the meaning of this Bible verse.  He believes that his good lord will give him what he needs, and therefore never stops begging.  If we humans only had such faith in our Lord!"

The Lord's Prayer has seven petitions.  "Petition" comes from a Latin word meaning "to beg."  And one of the prayers in the Communion liturgy even says, in part: "...we beg You, O Lord, to forgive, renew, and strengthen us with Your Word and Spirit."

Let us not take such a "holy" view of prayer.  The truth is, we would have nothing apart from God.  We are utterly dependent on Him.  We also love and trust in Him that He will do for, and give to us, all that we need.  So we should never stop praying, begging, and scratching at His door.  Even as He never gets tired of hearing, answering, and helping us in every need, body and soul.

Take it from Tolpel.

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Introduction

"Our Father who art in heaven."

The Lord's Prayer is the third chief part of the Catechism.  It follows the Ten Commandments and the Creed.  This progression is logical, or theological.  The Second Commandment instructs us to pray ("pray, praise, and give thanks"), and now we are given the prayer.  And the Creed (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) helps us to understand the Lord's Prayer, a prayer that is addressed to the Father, taught to us by the Son, and prayed with the help of the Holy Spirit.

The Lord's Prayer is not the most words, just the right ones - and the ones that are just right.  In English the Lord's Prayer has a perfect seventy words.  It's made up of seven parts called petitions (seven is the perfect number), together with an introduction and a conclusion.

The Introduction is "Our Father who art in heaven."

"What does this mean?  With these words God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father."

So reads the Small Catechism.  What a wonderful, warm explanation!

But, if I may, what else does this mean?

Answer: With these words God also invites us to believe that, since He is our true Father, we are true brothers and sisters, so that with all humility and joy we may love one another as He has loved us.

And if you put it all together, you can see the shape of the cross.  Luther's "What does this mean?" expresses the vertical part of the cross, and my "What else does this mean?" expresses the horizontal.

And all of this is contained in the words "Our Father who art in heaven."

Pray them, and the whole prayer, slowly and from your heart!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Third Article

"...the forgiveness of sins" (Third Article).

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).

Monday, February 5, 2018

The Second Article

"And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord..." (Second Article).

By far, the best explanation of the Second Article of the Apostles' Creed is contained in the Small Catechism.  It is but one sentence long, but what a sentence!

If I had to add something, it would be this.  As the Creed is the center of the Catechism, so the Second Article is the center of the Creed.  The heart of the Faith.  Christ.

And the rest of the Catechism must be seen in the light of Christ.  It is Christ through whom we pray, "Our Father" (Lord's Prayer).  It is Christ into whom we are baptized (Sacrament of Holy Baptism).  It is Christ in whose stead and by whose command the pastor says, "I forgive you all your sins" (Confession).  It is Christ whose true body and blood we eat and drink (Sacrament of the Altar).  It is Christ who came and kept the law perfectly FOR US (Ten Commandments).

It is Christ whom the Father has given, and Christ in whom the Holy Spirit gives faith.

Christ is the One who has Won me "from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him...."

Serve Him today as a member of your congregation, as a husband or wife, as a father or mother, as a child, as a worker, as a supervisor, as a teenager, as a widow, as a pastor, as a neighbor to the person in need.

As a Christian, on whose heart are written the words of the Creed.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The First Article

"God settles the solitary in a home" (Ps. 68:6).

"He also gives me...home...and children" (Small Catechism).

We leave behind the Ten Commandments now and come to the Creed.  I love this moment in the Small Catechism!  The Creed is the true center of the Catechism.  The Commandments point to the need for it, and then the Lord's Prayer and the Sacraments flow out of it.

The Creed is one, and yet has three parts or "articles."  That is because God is one, and yet three Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

About the First Article many things could be said, but I will choose one or two.  We learn and remember that God gives.  God is the Giver.  And among the things He gives are "home" and "children."  No one is learning this more right now than the Schmeling family and two very special young men named Ryan and Erik.

Ryan (14) and Erik (12) are brothers, and they are the nephews of Bryan and Kathleen Schmeling, who have three girls: Caroline, Abigail, and Elizabeth.  On Sunday, the day of resurrection and hope, it became clear to all that God was giving the boys a new home and was giving two more children to the Schmelings.  It's a new thing and it's going to take some time, but there is no doubt that this is God's "appointment" to show His love.

We talk a lot about Home here at Our Redeemer.  This is one very exciting example of what that means!  And we talk about Church, which is really a family of faith and love.  As the Schmeling family grows to seven (the perfect number!), the Our Redeemer family grows "two."  This Sunday when the Schmelings come to Church, we'll get to show Ryan and Erik how happy we are to have them be part of our family!  God bless it!

God is truly the Giver.  The Giver of His Son for our salvation - and the Giver of all good things.  "If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?" (Rom. 8:31-32).

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Close of the Commandments

Sad and glad.  That is what I am as the commandments come to a close.

I am sad because for the past ten weeks I have been meditating on these "ten words" - one per week.  Each one had something to give me.  Each one showed me how to love God or my neighbor.  They are more beautiful than I remember them.  More loving.  More practical.  And yet so deeply spiritual.  I'm going to miss them.

And I'm sad because I have missed the commandments, am missing them, and will always miss them.  That is, miss the mark.  As beautiful as they are, I begin to see only the ugliness of my sin.  The longer I spend with them, the shorter I know I have fallen (Rom. 3:23).  I feel sadness and fear to see myself as such a sinner.

But from the Close of the Commandments I see another word coming: Creed.  How glad it makes me!  How happily I will close the commandments and open the Creed, and discover the Trinity and all that God has done, is doing, and will do for me to rescue me from my sins!

What need I have for the Creed!  It is the need that makes me sad, but the Creed that makes me glad!

Monday, January 8, 2018

The Ninth and Tenth Commandments

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

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

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

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