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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!