Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Christmas Is for Children

To the members of Faith: This (below) is the "Christmas Card" I shared with you on Sunday after the Children's Program.  This coming Sunday will have a New Year's theme during the service, and then we'll all watch "The Muppet Christmas Carol" - with treats!  Merry Christmas!

God must have had children in mind when He planned the Christmas Gospel.  For the story is just full of the sort of things children like and can understand.

For starters, there are lots of animals: a donkey, sheep, camels.  There's a barn with hay, and more animals.  Add to that shepherds, angels, a special star, kings with treasures, and a curious object called a "manger."  In the middle of it all a mommy keeping her baby warm.

Luke 2:1-20 reads like a play for children to put on, complete with manageable speaking parts and a little carol for all to sing:

Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace, good will toward men.

The only one littler than the children is their Lord in the manger.  The children learn in this way to go near to Him, love, and trust in Him.

God is nothing if not a teacher, a teacher of children, and a teacher about Himself.  The Incarnation (God coming in our flesh) is the single greatest theological mystery.  Yet God conveys it in a way understandable to a child.  And then calls all of us to "become as children" (Matt. 18:3).

God grant you - this Christmas and always - the wonder, joy, and faith of a child!

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The Heart of Christmas

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace" (Luke 2:14).

These words belong to the first Christmas carol ever sung.

But look at the word earth.  Move the h from the end of the word to the beginning, and you get heart.

Your heart!

The Peace born on Christmas is God's gift to all the earth.  For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son.

And yet the Peace born on Christmas is God's personal gift to you, that you who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life.

This, then, is the prayer:

Ah, dearest Jesus, holy Child,
Prepare a bed, soft, undefiled,
A quiet chamber set apart
For You to dwell within my heart.


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

"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!

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  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!

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.

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 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!

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.

", 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.


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.

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!

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).