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.