Tuesday, December 31, 2019

God's Christmas Card

"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son..." (John 3:16).

This picture (below) was taken on Christmas Morning, and I felt as though it was God's Christmas card.

The only thing hanging on my living room wall is that crucifix.  The rest of the "card" is the result of the sun shining through my living room window, near which I had put two small Christmas trees, and in which I had put "Merry Christmas" (facing out).  The head at the lower left is mine.

It's the whole Gospel.  It's a reminder that the Gift given on Christmas would become the Gift given on Calvary.  The rising sun, which made the picture possible, may remind us of the resurrection.  I am a firm believer in this Gospel, and I know that you are too!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

With love,

Pastor Matt

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Mary CHRISTmas

"And she gave birth to her firstborn son" (Luke 2:7).

Thought: "Merry Christmas" could also be written, "Mary CHRISTmas," keeping the focus on Christ and yet remembering to honor His blessed mother.

Mary CHRISTmas!

Saturday, December 14, 2019

The Comings of Christ

"Blessed is He who comes" (Ps. 118:26).

This time of year (the end of one Church Year and the beginning of another) we intensify our anticipation of the coming of Christ on the Last Day.  And soon we will celebrate Christmas and His coming from heaven the first time.  We speak, therefore, of the "first" and "second" comings of Christ.

But there are, all together, three comings.  A third coming of Christ is His coming in Holy Communion.  The three go together.  What they have in common is the true bodily coming of Christ.

It is helpful, though, to put things in order and so to refer to the "past," "present," and "future" comings.

Past = His conception, birth, life, words, actions, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension.

Present = Holy Communion.

Future = "He will come to judge the living and the dead" (Apostles' Creed).

He came.  He comes.  He will come.

We keep a right and balanced faith when we put our trust in Christ and hold each of His comings in equally high regard.  No coming is greater or less than the others.

Yet, the present coming in Communion plays a special role in that it touches both the past and future and joins them together.  Listen for this (if you have the chance) in the Communion liturgy.  It looks both back and forward, even as it accents the forgiveness of sins delivered right here and now.

He camecomeswillcome!

Rejoice greatly that our King comes to us in such a marvelous threefold way!

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

A New (Church) Year's Resolution

"I was glad when they said to me, Let us go to the house of the Lord!" (Ps. 122:1).

No, this devotion is not a month early.  Sunday was new year's day in the Church, the beginning of a brand new Church Year.  And the first season of the year is Advent.  If Friday was "Black Friday," Sunday was "Blue Sunday," the color of Advent.

As I told my congregation, new year's day in the Church calls for a new year's resolution.  And ours is this: To be filled with gladness at the thought of going to church.

Psalm 122 is the Psalm for the First Sunday in Advent.  And its opening statement should be memorized: "I was glad when they said to me, Let us go to the house of the Lord!"  Or: "I was glad when they said to me, Let's go to church!"  I was glad.  I rejoiced.  I sang in the car on the way to church!

You'll find yourself thinking, I can't wait to get up on Sunday morning and go to church, because it's the Lord's Day, in the Lord's house, with the Lord Himself, with my brothers and sisters in the Lord, with my pastor, and with our faith in the crucified-risen Lord Jesus Christ!

That's the spirit!  That's the Holy Spirit, whom you have!!  Don't put anything in His way!

This year, ask God to make you say, pray, and sing from all your heart, "I was glad when they said to me, Let us go to the house of the Lord!"

This devotion is in memory of John Hosie.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Become a Thief

On Sunday we heard and believed the last Holy Gospel of the church year - Luke 23:27-43.  Among other things, it led me back to this devotion.

"According to Your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of Your goodness, O Lord" (Ps. 25:7).

One time on a nursing home visit, I sat and talked with a Christian man who realized he was losing his ability to remember.  He was scared and requested some bit of spiritual advice.  You may know a person who is struggling with the same thing.  As he talked, I listened, and as I listened, God gave me an idea.

When it was my turn I simply said to him, "Become a thief.  Become a robber.  That's what you're to do."  I stopped.

"I could never do that, Pastor.  You know that.  I would never do that," he replied.  But he also knew I had a reason for saying it.

Without even opening the Bible, together we remembered the crucifixion and how there were two thieves.  And how one of them had a change of heart and prayed a most beautiful prayer: "Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom" (Luke 23:42).

"Now," I said, "you become that thief.  You ask Jesus to remember you.  For so much of your life you have remembered God and His Word.  You have remembered the Sabbath day.  You have taken Communion in remembrance of Jesus.  Now let Him remember you.  He will never forget you!  Never forsake you!  Until the day comes when He says, 'Today you will be with Me in Paradise' (Luke 23:43)."

Do your best to remember God.  But know this: Should you ever lose that ability, He will remember you!

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Home Is My Heaven

Thought it might be a good time to republish this one.

"You shall write them on the doorposts [in Hebrew, "mezuzoth"] of your house" (Deut. 6:9).

The Jewish mezuzah refers to a parchment bearing the words of Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21 and rolled up in a case or tube that is attached to the doorpost of the house and other rooms.  It is affixed diagonally, owing to the fact that authorities disagreed on whether to place it horizontally or vertically.  So they compromised!

The doorpost of your house signifies the dividing line between the goings on of the world and the sanctuary of the home.  God means to make of your home a little heaven on earth.  A place of faith, hope, and love in the midst of trying times.

How so?  His Word.  Luther wrote the Small Catechism as a way to fill the home with the blessing of the Ten Commandments, Creed, Lord's Prayer, Sacraments, Prayers, and an understanding of our Duties.

Reclaim your home as a place of peace.  Guard against strangers and "strange teachings" (Heb. 13:9) entering your home through the television and computer.  Make certain a cross or crucifix occupies a central location.  Invite the pastor over to give a house blessing.

And petition God to make your home your little heaven!

Monday, November 4, 2019

I with You Am

"And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matt. 28:20).

Many Christians are more than familiar with these words of Jesus in the final line of the Gospel of Matthew.  It ranks among the greatest promises of God and gives much comfort and assurance to Christians.

While in English it reads, "I am with you," the word order in the original Greek is this:

"I with you am."

It is a kind of word picture in which believers are protected in Christ.  And it gives new meaning to Paul's statement that we "have been baptized into Christ Jesus" (Rom. 6:3).  It helps visualize Philippians 3:8-9: " order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him."  Or Psalm 139:5: "You hem me in, behind and before."

God introduced Himself as I AM all the way back in Exodus 3:14.  But the name reaches its final form in Matthew 28:20: I with you AM.  For in Christ, incarnate, crucified, and risen, God opened Himself up and has taken us in!

He is with you today, tomorrow, and all the days.  Better still, you are safely within Him.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Quality over Quantity

In the study of Holy Scripture opt for quality, not quantity.  Choose to read one verse very carefully, over the reading of many verses and chapters.  A Russian Orthodox Psalter (Book of Psalms) includes the following story about a man who lived in the fourth century.

"Pambo, being an illiterate man, went to one of the fathers who knew letters for the purpose of being taught a psalm.  And, having heard the first verse of the thirty-ninth psalm, 'I said I will guard my ways, that I may not sin with my tongue,' he departed without staying to hear the second verse, saying, 'This one will suffice if I can learn it in deed.'  And when the father who had given him the verse reproved him because he had not seen him for the space of six months, Pambo answered that he had not yet learned in deed the verse of the psalm.  After a considerable lapse of time, being asked by one of his friends whether he had made himself master of the verse, he answered thus, 'In all of nineteen years, I have only just succeeded in accomplishing it.'"

Less is more.  Simplify your study of Scripture, and you may just find your spiritual life enriched.

Monday, October 14, 2019

When Things Look Bleak, Remember

"Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead" (2 Tim. 2:8).

On Sunday I preached to my people, "Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, at three times: on Sunday morning, each morning, and when things look bleak."

Sunday morning is the Church's weekly celebration of Easter.  And each morning can be a little Easter: Rise and shine!  But most important is to remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, when things look bleak.

Paul practiced what he preached.  When he wrote these words to Timothy, Paul was soon to be executed.

Do things look bleak for you?  Physically, emotionally, even spiritually, or a combination?

Even on the cloudiest of days, the sun is still shining above the clouds, brightly as ever.  Remember that.  By which I mean, When things look bleak, remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead - the Son who died for you, lives to be with you, and "loves you every day the same, even calls you by your name."

If you are weak, He is strong, but gentle, and turns a bleak outlook into a bright "uplook" the second you...

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead!

Wednesday, October 9, 2019


"But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced..." (2 Tim. 1:12).

Conviction may be defined as "truth of which you are convinced or certain."  ("Convinced" and "conviction" are related words.)  For the Christian, that truth is the Word of God.  So while many today are asking with Pilate, "What is truth?" (John 18:38), Christians pray with Jesus in the chapter before, "Your Word is truth" (John 17:17).  Somebody put it like this: "God said it.  I believe it.  That settles it."  That's conviction!  Conviction is a work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.  Through it, the Christian no longer questions God's Word, but uses that Word to question everything else.

Luther: "God's Word alone is the true, abiding rock on which a person can depend with certainty."

Understand that the goal of atheism, for example, is not to convert you to its teachings, but simply to cast doubt on and weaken your Christian conviction.  And a weakened conviction is no conviction.  And a Christian without conviction is no threat to the kingdom of Satan.

The Christian convictions can be summed up in three words: Commandments, Creed, Prayer (Ten Commandments, Apostles' Creed, Lord's Prayer).

Pray the Holy Spirit to come and give you conviction, and He will most certainly do it!

Monday, September 30, 2019

The Rich Man and Lazarus

Luke 16:19-31 is called "The Rich Man and Lazarus."  Without even reading these verses, a great lesson is revealed just by carefully considering the title: "The Rich Man and Lazarus."  Take a moment to think about the difference, in this title, between the two men.

The difference is, only one of them has a name.

The rich man has no name.  No name, that is, known to Christ.  He had and enjoyed many things: lovely home, fine clothing and food, position of honor, places to go.  Just not a name before God in heaven.  His money could not buy that.  I'm sure they knew his name at the bank, the car dealership, the club.  But not in heaven.

Lazarus, by contrast, had and enjoyed very little.  But he is the true rich man in the story.  Because what he did have was worth far more than all of the rich man's things put together.  Lazarus had a name known to God.

"I have called you by name; you are Mine!" (Isa. 43:1).

The death of Jesus redeems the whole world.  But only those who put their trust in Him, and Him alone, have their names written in the book of life and on the heart of the Shepherd: "He calls His own sheep by name" (John 10:3).

God has blessed you in many ways.  But nothing compares with knowing that your name is known to Him!


In reflecting on this devotion, written several years ago, I'm thinking about the first time God called me by name.  My Baptism.  The pastor (my father) said, "Matthew, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."  My name and God's name in the same breath!  Wow!  That's Baptism!  Take a moment to think about your Baptism in this way.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

That's Why I Pray

I came across this song and video by the duo Big & Rich.  It's a very honest yet hopeful look at our time.  I'll let it speak for itself, but do watch/listen for several key things: a crucifix at 0:55, the personal confession beginning at 2:43, and the sudden change at 3:09.

And be reminded that we "ought always to pray and not lose heart" (Luke 18:1).

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Sunday School and Home

I write the following for the Sunday School teachers at Faith Lutheran, and for the parents.  The children must be taught to say this word for word.  And let us teach them with joy, that they may learn with joy!

Luther's Small Catechism has six parts and one heart.

The six parts are:

The Ten Commandments
The Creed
The Lord's Prayer
The Sacrament of Holy Baptism
The Sacrament of the Altar

And the one heart is Christ!

God bless you, teachers!  God bless you, parents!  God bless our children, and God bless us all!

Monday, September 2, 2019

A Very Small Devotion

In Jesus' name.

If you want to change the way people act, change the way they think.

And if you want to change the way they think, change the way you act.

And if you want to change the way you act,

confess your sins,

receive the Word of forgiveness,

and set out to serve,

"even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many" (Matt. 20:28).


Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Of Manna in the Morning Dew

The devotion two weeks ago was titled "Strength for Today."  It had to do with the Fourth Petition of the Lord's Prayer, "Give us this day our daily bread," and its Old Testament parallel of the manna in the wilderness.  Here now is a little hymn to help teach the lesson.  Remember that "omer," a Hebrew word used only in Exodus 16, is a measure of about two quarts - a day's portion.

Of manna in the morning dew
Take for the day, for each of you,
An omerful, as God has said.
"Give us this day our daily bread."

Today I strength apportion you;
Tomorrow, then, a portion new;
Tonight no worry on your beds.
"Give us this day our daily bread."

Trust in your Father's heav'nly care
And learn to live the perfect prayer
Taught by the one whose blood was shed.
"Give us this day our daily bread!"

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Mother Love

"And a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house.  And she had a sister called Mary..." (Luke 10:38-39).

Mary and Martha are sisters, each with a different personality.  Mary is passive, quiet, resting at the feet of Jesus, receiving His Word.  Martha is active, busy, constantly doing, serving.  Opposite personalities, and yet sisters.  Reflect on the fact that as sisters, Mary and Martha are daughters of the same mother.

In spiritual terms, that mother is Love.  God's love gives birth to two daughters.  One is named Faith (Mary) and the other Works (Martha).  Faith is passive, quiet, resting at the feet of Jesus, receiving His Word of forgiveness at all times.  Works is (are) active, busy, constantly doing, serving wherever there is a need.

The two sisters, born of Love, dwell together, as did Mary and Martha, in the same house.  And that house is your heart.

The only caution is that Martha (works of service) not be allowed to take Mary (faith alone) away from her resting place at the foot of the Cross.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Remain a Pupil

Some Christians struggle to believe that Genesis 1 and 2 are describing an actual week and that Creation took place over the course of a literal six-day period.  Their pastors don't always help.  At a recent conference, one pastor publicly denied a literal six-day Creation.  I was both saddened by this and alarmed, recalling that the very first temptation (Genesis 3) was to deny God's Word.  When will we learn?

Luther called the article of Creation "harder to believe than the article of the Incarnation."  But he wrote: "If you cannot understand how this could have been done in six days, then grant the Holy Spirit the honor of being more learned than you are.  For you are to deal with Scripture in such a way that you bear in mind that God Himself says what is written.  But since God is speaking, it is not fitting for you wantonly to turn His Word in the direction you wish to go."

I agree, but I also add something.  I observe a strange focus on Creation Week and the question, "Is it literal?"  And I say that, because in the Gospel we are presented with another week, the one that begins on Palm Sunday and climaxes on Good Friday.  It could be called Redemption Week, through which the Lamb of God took away the world's sin.  How come no one has ever questioned the literalness of this week, especially when you stop to consider that to redeem the world was indeed a thousand times harder to do than to create it?  And that's because at Creation there was no resistance, no enemy.  Whereas Redemption fought a battle against sin, death, devil, and hell.

And so next to Redemption Week, I find Creation Week very easy to believe.  And I will spend the remainder of my life not wondering whether God created the heavens and the earth in six literal days, but pondering that He redeemed the world, and me, in six literal hours upon the cross.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

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!

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

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.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019


"...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).

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Advent Never Really Ended

"God has gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet" (Ps. 47:5).

I chose this verse of Psalm 47 for two reasons: today is the forty-seventh day of Easter, and we are still celebrating Christ's Ascension into Heaven on the fortieth day.

There are forty-nine Easter Days (seven sevens), and so Saturday will be the last.  But as I told my people last evening, Easter doesn't really end.  It just turns into Pentecost.  Pentecost marks the "birthday" of the Church.  The word itself means "fiftieth," because Pentecost and its season follow the forty-nine days of Easter.

Who remembers Advent, the first season of the Church Year, way back in December?  Advent never really ended.  It just turned into Christmas.  Christmas, too, never really ended.  It just turned into Epiphany.  And Epiphany into Lent.  And Lent into Easter.

Soon Easter will turn into Pentecost.  And the seven words of Easter (Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!) will turn into the seven words of Pentecost, to be announced this Sunday!

Until then, Christ is risen!

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

A Commandment Always New

"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another" (John 13:34).

Our Lord first spoke these words on the night when He was betrayed, the first Maundy Thursday.  And He speaks them again in this moment.

Question: How long does "new" last?  For example, am I still the "new" pastor of Faith Lutheran?  I was installed in August of last year.  When I put that question to the congregation on Sunday, most felt that I'm not still the "new" pastor.

How long does "new" last when it comes to your phone, car, clothes and shoes?  Today's new music won't be for long.  The same with that new movie.

How long does "new" last?  With most things in life the answer is: Not very.  Today's new is tomorrow's old.

Enter the words of the crucified-risen Jesus: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another."

Question: Why does He call it a "new" commandment?  Answer: Because it never gets old.  This commandment is almost two thousand  It's always new.  It's eternally new.  Because when God calls something "new," it stays new.  And makes everything around it new too!

Let us take everything we believe about the love, forgiveness, and servant-heart of Christ, and be that way toward each other.

And let us rejoice that in a world and experience where things only get old, one thing is always new!

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The Fourth Commandment

A nutshell of this past Sunday's Adult Bible Class.

"Honor your father and your mother."

In a way, the Fourth Commandment is the First Commandment, because it is the first commandment of the Second Table (commandments four through ten).  Paul writes, "This is the first commandment with a promise, 'that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land'" (Eph. 6:2-3).  And so to children I would say:

What does the Holy Bible say?
Your parents honor and obey;
This is the first command for you,
The most important thing to do;
Then safe and sound you'll always be!
God keeps His promise faithfully.

And to parents:

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

Now according to the Small Catechism, the Fourth Commandment means this: "We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them."  The word "Honor" is used by God only here in the Ten Commandments.  He applies it to parents, and not even to Himself!  And its meaning is captured in four verbs: serve, obey, love, cherish.  Ask yourself, Have I prized my parents as the most precious treasure on earth and revered them as second only to God?

The Catechism adds "other authorities."  Who are these?  Answers include my teacher, supervisor, pastor, those who represent the government, my elders, the aged, and I would also include veterans.

But most of all, parents (grandparents too, and guardians).

And a word to our youth.  Do not buy the lie that your parents are against you.  Because no one on earth loves you more, wants more for you, or would sacrifice more for you than your parents.  It's true!

If you want to be cool, truly cool, and a true Christian, and safe and sound, Honor your father and your mother...all your days.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Going Overboard for Christ

"...and he threw himself into the sea" (John 21:7).

"Peter waits for nothing more,
Plunges in to swim ashore" (hymn).

If John is called "That disciple whom Jesus loved" (John 21:7), then Peter should be called "That disciple who loved Jesus."  Not that John didn't do that too, and the others.  But we may learn from Peter.

The Lord Jesus had risen, and for the third time reveals Himself to the disciples, this time by the Sea of Tiberias, which is the Sea of Galilee.  When John perceives that the man on the shore is the Lord, Peter acts.  And he acts out of love.

In swimming, the world record for 100 meters is 46.91 seconds.  But my guess is that the real record is held by Peter.

We know that Jesus appeared to Peter on Easter Sunday.  This appearance to Peter alone is mentioned twice (Luke 24:34 and 1 Cor. 15:5).  Could it be that Jesus did this in order to absolve Peter of his triple denial?  Anyway, we know that Jesus forgave Peter.  And he who is forgiven much, loves much (cf. Luke 7:47).

And so I repeat, he acts out of love - much love.

To Peter, Christ and His love and forgiveness are worth going overboard.  They move him to go overboard.

Putting the Lord Jesus first in your life, putting His Word first in your life, even when that means standing out and suffering for it - isn't that going a little overboard?

Yes, it is!  And we learn to do that from Peter!

Let us be like John who knew that he was loved by Jesus.  And let us be like Peter who was moved by this love to love the Lord in return - and to go overboard for Christ!

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The Perfect Name for Sunday

"I was in the Spirit on the Lord's Day..." (Rev. 1:10).

Someone has said, "Our great-grandfathers called it the holy Sabbath; our grandfathers, the Sabbath; our fathers, Sunday; but today we call it the weekend."

But John, on the island of Patmos near the end of the first century, calls Sunday the Lord's Day.  The perfect name for it.  The Holy Spirit, the Divine Author of all Scripture, calls it the Lord's Day.  And may it be said of us, "They called it the Lord's Day."  We can do this!

Why is Sunday called the Lord's Day?  Because on it the Lord Jesus Christ rose.  And so Sunday, as one scholar has put it, "was set aside from the very beginning as the most suitable day for Christian worship."

"The Lord's Day" is a call to the Christian congregation to come together around Christ who says, "I died, and behold I am alive forevermore" (Rev. 1:18).  Nothing could be more beautiful and blessed than the Lord's Day in the Lord's House with the Lord's Word, the Lord's Prayer, and the Lord's Supper!*

What would happen if we started using this perfect name?  If we said to each other, "See you on the Lord's Day!"?  I'll tell you what would happen.

Attendance would go up.  Faith, hope, and love would grow stronger.  And our congregations would come alive at the feet of the Lord who is "alive forevermore"!

*It's worth noting that the Greek word for "Lord's" is used only twice in the New Testament: here in Rev. 1:10 ("the Lord's Day") and in 1 Cor. 11:20 ("the Lord's Supper").

Monday, April 22, 2019

See It?

Take a moment to study this picture.

It was taken on Easter 2013 at an outdoor sunrise devotion.  We sang, prayed, and read Luke 24:1-12, including:

"But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared.  And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb...."

Do you see what we saw?  The strange cloud just to the left of the sunrise now seemed to be "the stone rolled away from the tomb."  It was incredible!  Then someone suggested that the pole in the foreground resembled a cross!

"Do not be alarmed.  You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He has risen; He is not here.  See the place where they laid Him.  But go, tell..." (Mark 16:6-7).

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The Fourteen Words (Part 2)

"Take heart, child, your sins are forgiven."

The only thing more important than prayer is to become silent so as to hear the Word of God - the voice of God from the lips of Jesus.

When you pray, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner," what does this God say back to you?  His reply is found in Matthew 9:2: "Take heart, child, your sins are forgiven."  Understand that you are the one to whom these words are addressed.

"Take heart."  This means a cheerful, confident heart, full of courage.  For when you hear and believe that your sins are forgiven, then nothing big or small can take away your joy and strength.  Your heart becomes a place in which a bright morning sun is always rising.  Yes, the trials still come, but the verdict is in and it is final: Your sins are forgiven.

"Child."  Use the word "child" to remember your Baptism.  And will not the one who calls you "child" always love and care for you in every way?  Other times, in place of the word "child," use your full first name.  This can be a very powerful experience!  Try it: "Take heart, [name], your sins are forgiven."

So now you have your seven words: "God, be merciful to me, a sinner."  And God has His: "Take heart, child, your sins are forgiven."

Enter into conversation with Him often.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

The Fourteen Words (Part 1)

"God, be merciful to me, a sinner."

In Russian Orthodox circles, a "staretz" refers to a much-experienced spiritual advisor.  One day it was reported to a certain staretz that a man had experienced seeing angels.  Such a vision, it was thought, must mark great spiritual progress!  But the staretz answered very wisely, "This is not surprising, that he sees angels, but I would marvel at a person who saw his own sins."

In Luke 18, the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector is called a parable, but it should also be viewed as a miracle.  For in it, a man truly sees his own sins.

"But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner'" (Luke 18:13).

This tax collector, normally known for taking people's money, is here giving the world a gift: the perfect (seven-word) prayer.  "God, be merciful to me, a sinner."

This prayer goes to great spiritual depths and heights.  It accomplishes two things.  First, it keeps you from becoming proud, by remembering that you are a sinner.  In Greek, it does not say "a sinner," but "the sinner."  Think of yourself as the only sinner.  You will never look down on another.

Second, the prayer keeps you from despairing, by remembering that God is merciful.  The words "God, be merciful" are in fact a promise that God is merciful and forgiving.  It is a prayer of faith and trust in God's mercies.

It seems clear that the tax collector prayed this prayer several times.  You too pray it several times today - and often.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Hymn Notes

Stanza 1 is based on the first seven words, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner" (Luke 18:13), and stanza 2 on the second seven, "Take heart, child, your sins are forgiven" (Matt. 9:2).

In stanza 1 "O God, be merciful to me" is prayed three times.  I had multiple things in mind.  The Greek of Luke 18 would indicate that the tax collector prayed his prayer several times.  Then, there is something earnest about praying three times (see Matt. 26:44 and 2 Cor. 12:8).  I also had the Trinity in mind.  But above all, I wanted to do what the second line says.  There is for the sinner nothing else to pray.

Stanza 1 ends with the word "me."  Unlike the Pharisee, the tax collector never uses the word "I."  "I" and "me" are very different.  "I" is the subject, the doer.  "Me" is the object, the one "done to."  The difference is grammatical, but also theological.  That is why stanza 2 begins with "I" - "I am your God."  God is the "I."  I am the "me," the object of His mercy.

God hears the sinner's prayer and reveals that He is Our Father.  This revelation and His word to us all takes place through His own dear Son, the crucified-risen Jesus Christ.  The Father's voice is heard through the Son: "Dear child...."  And the Breath with which the word is spoken is the Holy Spirit.

The forgiveness is personal: "I say to you...your sins."

And whatever He calls a thing, that it must be!  He calls death "sleep" (Matt. 9:24).  He calls the bread "My body" (Matt. 26:26).  He calls my sins "forgiven."  No matter appearances, I am only to believe.

"Take heart" is from Matthew 9 and is full of faith and courage.  "Look up" remembers that the tax collector in Luke 18 "would not even lift up his eyes to heaven."  But now he should and is ordered to!  For you will see a heaven and life with God that is opened wide by Christ (Matt. 3:16).  Things are "looking up"!

"Heaven" rhymes with "forgiven" in more than one way.  They rhyme spiritually!

The hymn is first a confession of sin, and then a confession of faith.  This is the core of the true spiritual life!

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Hymn for the Fourteen Words

O God, be merciful to me;
The sinner knows no other plea.
O God, be merciful to me.
O God, be merciful to me.

I am your God, your Father too,
And through My Son I say to you,
Dear child, your sins, they are forgiv'n;
Take heart, look up: an open heav'n!

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Easter in February

"But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep" (1 Cor. 15:20).

Easter will be April 21 this year, or was it February 17?  The earliest Easter can possibly be is March 22.  It last happened in 1818, and won't happen again until 2285.  But I still think Easter came this year on Sunday, February 17.

That's because Sunday's Epistle, read in thousands of churches, was from 1 Corinthians 15, including verse 20.  On Sunday it felt like Easter!  And I say it was.

The sermon presented three fundamental truths: Christ is risen, we too shall be raised, and therefore we don't need to be afraid.

And about that last one.  What are the first words of the Easter angel in Matthew 28?  "Do not be afraid."  And what is the opposite of fear?  Peace.  And what are the first words of the risen Jesus to His disciples?  "Peace be with you."  And what are the last words of the pastor at Holy Communion?  "Depart in peace."  And what does that mean?  That it's safe now to die.  It's safe now to get older.  It's safe now to get sick.  And it's safe now to live.  Because He lives!

Two months from today is Good Friday, followed by Easter.  But you don't have to wait that long.  The bright hope of the resurrection came in February this year, to encourage us through these last days of winter.  To encourage us through all the days of this life!

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

The Author of Our Faith

"...Jesus, the Author and Completer of our faith" (Heb. 12:2).

The Letter to the Hebrews is the only New Testament book to assign no author.  We don't know who wrote it.  Guesses include Barnabas, Luke, Clement of Rome, and Aquila and Priscilla.  Luther suggested Apollos, mentioned for the first time in Acts 18:24.  "But who wrote the epistle," said Origen of Alexandria, "God only knows certainly."  But from this, two things may be said.

One is, isn't it something that the only book not to say who its author is, is the one book to say who the Author of our faith is?  That's the authorship that matters.  "Let us, through endurance, go on running the race set before us, looking to Jesus, the Author and Completer of our faith."  And for the perfect commentary on "Author and Completer," use Philippians 1:6: "He who began (authored) a good work in you will bring it to completion."

Two is, humility.  Whoever wrote Hebrews had a lot to be proud of: understanding, eloquence, heart.  It is said that the letter displays the finest Greek in the New Testament.  And yet they wanted to remain anonymous.  T.S. Eliot wrote: "Many are engaged in writing books and printing them.  Many desire to see their names in print."  When was the last time you saw the most beautiful book but without the author's name?  Answer: The Letter to the Hebrews.

Seek to do beautiful and blessed things, but to receive no earthly credit.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Holy in Holy Baptism

"...and when Jesus also had been baptized" (Luke 3:21).

The first question tends to be, Why?  Why would Jesus, holy and without sin, undergo baptism?  Good question.

A good answer: "Through the Baptism in the Jordan of Your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, You sanctified and instituted all waters to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin."  These words are part of a baptismal prayer found in Lutheran Service Book, page 269.

In other words, the baptism of Jesus put the Holy in Holy Baptism.  And so it wasn't that He needed baptism.  Baptism needed Him.

In the Old Testament, Moses threw a log into the water of Marah, "and the water became sweet" (Exod. 15).  Jesus is the true log by which the water of baptism becomes holy and sweet to the soul.

"Certainly not just water, but the word of God in and with the water does these things,* along with the faith which trusts this word of God in the water" (Small Catechism).  And that word of God is both Mark 16:16 and Jesus Himself.

He is the Word (John 1).  His baptism is the Word of God in and with the water.  Trust this Word of God in the water of your baptism.

*"It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation."

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Two Epiphany Notes

"When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy" (Matt. 2:10).

Once again we have heard the story of the wise men and their gifts.  I see a couple of new things this year.

One is, the verse quoted above is, to my knowledge, the single strongest statement of joy in the New Testament.  That's saying something.  Richard Lenski explains the cause of this joy: "Not only was God directing them miraculously, they also knew they would soon be in the presence of the King."

And will not that same joy be ours on the way to church, knowing we will soon be in the presence of the risen King of love?

The other is, I have a clearer understanding of this part of the hymn "What Child Is This": "So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh; Come, peasant, king, to own Him.  The King of kings salvation brings; Let loving hearts enthrone Him."

I never saw the two "brings" before.  To the one true King who has brought us the Gift of salvation, let us, rich or poor, bring the gift of a throne - our hearts.

Blessed Epiphany!

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Anything But Silent

To the members of Faith: Merry Christmas, Day 9!  Below is a recap of my Christmas Eve sermon.  This Sunday we'll celebrate Epiphany and the visit of the wise men.  In ABC we'll dig a little into the liturgy.  And Sunday School for the children!

"...a multitude of the heavenly host [army] praising God" (Luke 2:13).

I'm with you.  I love to sing "Silent Night."  Not Christmas without it.  I'm just not sure where we got the idea.

The first Christmas was anything but silent.

For starters, the angel delivers a very powerful sermon: "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy..." (Luke 2:10).  Said Luther, "These are angelic words shouted down from heaven into this world; it is a message which, praise be to God forever, has also been made known to us."

Then the choir sings - the largest, loudest choir ever assembled.  The Greek word is "army."  Fitting, as God had declared war on sin, death, and devil.

Still want to go with "silent"?

Then the shepherds do nothing but talk, spread the good news, wake people up (who in turn begin to talk), and glorify and praise God.

And if we think about it, Christmas was the night God broke His silence.  The birth of His eternal Son was a deafening cry of the Divine Love.  And don't be deceived.  The Baby's breath was in reality the mighty roar of the Lion of Judah.

Still looking for silence and calm?  There is one place you will find it: the consciences of the repentant who because of Christ no longer must endure the accusation and condemnation of the Law and Satan.

There is in the Christian conscience now only peace and quiet.  And in the Christian heart only faith and joy.  A joy - a great joy - that sings with the angels and makes Christmas, again, anything but silent!