Tuesday, December 28, 2021

A Christian New Year's

"And at the end of eight days, when He was circumcised, He was called Jesus" (Luke 2:21).

A Christian celebration of New Year's would endeavor to include three things:

1. The ongoing celebration of Christmas (December 25-January 5)

2. The circumcision and naming of Jesus (Luke 2:21)

3. Prayer at the start of a new year

The following hymn, "Now Greet the Swiftly Changing Year," manages to incorporate all three things.

Now greet the swiftly changing year with joy and penitence sincere.
Rejoice!  Rejoice!  With thanks embrace another year of grace.

Remember now the Son of God and how He shed His infant blood.
Rejoice!  Rejoice!  With thanks embrace another year of grace.

This Jesus came to end sin's war; this Name of names for us He bore.
Rejoice!  Rejoice!  With thanks embrace another year of grace.

His love abundant far exceeds the volume of a whole year's needs.
Rejoice!  Rejoice!  With thanks embrace another year of grace.

With Him as Lord to lead our way in want and in prosperity,
What need we fear in earth or space in this new year of grace!

"All glory be to God on high, and peace on earth!" the angels cry.
Rejoice!  Rejoice!  With thanks embrace another year of grace.

God, Father, Son, and Spirit, hear!  To all our pleas incline Your ear;
Upon our lives rich blessing trace in this new year of grace.

(Lutheran Service Book, 896)

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, begun in the name of Jesus who shed His blood for us!

Saturday, December 25, 2021

God in a Box

"...the baby lying in a manger" (Luke 2:16).

The manger is mentioned three times in the Christmas Gospel.  It must be significant.

manger, n.  A trough or open box in which fodder is placed for horses or cattle.

Have you ever heard the expression, "You can't put God in a box"?  Maybe you've even used it.  I think I know what it means.  It means you can't limit God.  You can't contain Him.  You can't put boundaries on Him.  You can't say, "He is exactly like this."  We can't possibly fit all of the infinite God into our finite human thoughts.

And I agree wholeheartedly.  You can't put God in a box.  I can't.  We can't.

But here's the Christmas thing: God can, and did.  For that is the meaning of Christmas and the significance of the manger: God putting Himself in a box and inviting us to look inside.

Christmas may be understood, and well understood, as God in a box.  As the Infinite now finite.  As the Uncontainable now contained.  And as the Incomprehensible now comprehensible to poor mortal sinners.

In the words of Luther's Christmas hymn: "Ah, Lord, though You created all, How weak You are, so poor and small, That You should choose to lay Your head Where lowly cattle lately fed!"

This Christmas look for God and find Him in Bethlehem's box.  Look for no other idea about God than this.  Look not up to heaven but down beneath you.  There He lies, so contained, and yet all of God.  All of His love.

And pray, "O Lord Jesus, be contained now within my heart.  Amen."

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Be Positive

"In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses" (Eph. 1:7).

The blood of Christ is at the heart of the Christian faith.

There are, medically speaking, eight different types of blood: O+, O-, A+, A-, B+, B-, AB+, and AB-.  Which one do you have?

What about the Savior?  I would answer that His is B+, without a doubt.  Hear it?  Be positive!  And that's because His shed blood is saying two things to us.

First, Be positive that you are redeemed!  Paul doesn't say, "In Him we could have, are hoping to have, or might have redemption."  But, "In Him we have redemption through His blood."  That's being positive!  And what is redemption?  Paul gives the best definition in five words: "the forgiveness of our trespasses."  Be positive that your many and serious trespasses against God's law are forgiven through the B+ blood of Christ.

Second, Be positive in your attitude!  Knowing for fact that you are redeemed and that the Cross has opened the gates of Heaven can't help but lead to a positive attitude in all things.  This is not the "power of positive thinking."  It is the power of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and minds.  This is more than seeing the glass half full.  It's learning to sing, "My cup overflows."  This is not to deny, ignore, or avoid evil and sorrowful things.  It's to remember in the midst of them the death and resurrection of our Lord, and then to ask, "How will He use me to help, love, and comfort the people in those circumstances?"

So spiritually speaking, the blood of Jesus must be B+: Be positive that you are redeemed, and in your attitude.

And be positive that He is working these things in your life!

Monday, October 11, 2021

The Look and Sound of Love

"And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him..." (Mark 10:21).

The episode of the rich young man can be found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  However, only Mark writes that "Jesus, looking at him, loved him."  That tender detail leads to the possibility that the rich young man was Mark himself.  We can't say for sure, but the idea is intriguing.  And if it was Mark, this exchange with Jesus marked the beginning of an extraordinary transformation of his life.

What we can say for sure is that Jesus, looking at you, loves you.  Our Lord alone has the ability to see and love the entire world and yet single you out for His personal attention and love.

But in the case of the rich young man, we cannot separate the love of Jesus from what He then says to him immediately: "You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me."  It was precisely out of love that Jesus spoke this hard word.  For in order to follow Jesus and truly love Him back, the rich man needed to part with the one he loved more - his wealth.

Jesus looks at you and knows everything about you.  He loves you to the point of laying down His life for your sins.  Out of this same love He will tell you when you have placed something in your life ahead of Him.  His Spirit will show it to you and provide the power to part with it, and then to follow Jesus on a journey that never disappoints!

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Who, Me?

"...He saw a man called Matthew" (Matt. 9:9).

The Dutch painter Terbrugghen has provided deep insight into the calling of St. Matthew.  The painting shows Jesus pointing at Matthew from close range.  We can almost hear the words, "Follow Me" (Matt. 9:9).  Matthew is shown pointing at himself.  Clearly he is thinking, "Who, me?  You must be joking."  And so the very center of the painting features two fingers: Christ's and Matthew's.

Because Matthew was a tax collector and "sinner," he considered himself a most unlikely candidate.  To Christ, this made him a natural choice.  "For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners" (Matt. 9:13).

Christ calls you to follow Him and His Word.  You are permitted sometimes to wonder, but never to doubt it.  The decision is Christ's - all Christ's!  We gain the ability to share the forgiveness of sins with others only after learning, and remembering, that it applies to us.

God used Matthew to write the very first book of the New Testament.  Through Matthew, we have the beautiful and life-giving words, "In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matt. 28:19).  Remember your Baptism.  It is your call to follow.  God will use you today.

Who, me?

Yes, you!

Thursday, July 29, 2021


"...He came to them, walking on the sea" (Mark 6:48).

I'm all excited!  I think I know why Jesus walked on the water.  It's a new thought for me, and I'll share it with you.

The thought is that when Jesus comes, He does so miraculously.  He came to His disciples, walking on the water.  A miracle.  He came to the world, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.  A miracle.  And He comes to us, the church, in the Word and the Sacrament.  A miracle!  Because when He comes, He comes miraculously.

But there's more.  When we go to God, we go miraculously: prayer.  For when we pray in Jesus' name, we touch the heart of God!

God comes to us, and we go to Him, miraculously.  And that's a pretty good combination!

God bless you, dear Christians!

Pastor Matt

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

The Tablet and the Platter

"And he asked for a tablet and wrote as follows, 'His name is John'" (Luke 1:63).

"And his head was brought on a platter" (Matt. 14:11).

John the Baptist was six months older than the Christ whose way John prepared (Luke 1:36).  So on June 24, six months until Christmas, we celebrated the birthday of John the Forerunner.  The greeting could be "Merry Johnmas!"

The story of John's birth and circumcision on the eighth day is found in Luke 1:57-64.  And it seems that on very close inspection of the words, there emerges a prophecy of the way John would die.  Most of you know that John was beheaded and his head placed on a platter (Matt. 14:1-12).

The platter is a strangely significant detail in the death of John.  Likewise on the day he was circumcised, there is another curious detail.  His father Zacharias, who was unable to speak (Luke 1:20), requested a tablet on which to write, "His name is John."

Here is the connection.  Remarkably, and in a way only the Holy Spirit and Scripture could arrange, the word "tablet" and the word "platter" are in the original Greek the same basic word!*

The child's name written on a tablet was that of the man whose head was brought on a platter.

As you reflect on this connection, remember that the purpose of John the Baptist is to call you to repentance and point you to your Savior.

*For those who are interested:
     pinakidion (diminutive of pinax) = tablet
     pinax = platter

Thursday, May 6, 2021

For the Nation

On this National Day of Prayer:

Almighty God, You have given us this good land as our heritage.  Grant that we remember Your generosity and constantly do Your will.  Bless our land with honest industry, truthful education, and an honorable way of life.  Save us from violence, discord, and confusion, from pride and arrogance, and from every evil course of action.  Grant that we, who came from many nations with many different languages, may become a united people.  Support us in defending our liberties, and give those to whom we have entrusted the authority of government the spirit of wisdom, that there may be justice and peace in our land.  When times are prosperous, may our hearts be thankful, and in troubled times do not let our trust in You fail; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

And several years ago I wrote these lines about our duty as citizens:

To country lend your loyalty;
Obey all in authority,
And for them pray and intercede;
Your taxes pay, live peaceably.
To Caesar render what is just;
To God alone, your love and trust.

The prayer is from Lutheran Service Book, page 313.  The hymn stanza is based on Matthew 22:21, Romans 13:5-7, 1 Timothy 2:1-3, Titus 3:1, and 1 Peter 2:13-14.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Best Day Ever

"For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Gal. 3:27).

As part of his chapel message, a Lutheran high school teacher asked students, "What was the best day in the history of the world?"  He then led them to consider and believe that the answer would be "the first Easter."  The Day of Resurrection!

Hard to argue.  That's a very good answer to a very interesting question!

It made me think, though, of some other very big days.  The first that came to mind was the day the Son of God took flesh in the womb of Mary.  Then I thought about the first Christmas.  I thought for a long time about the first Good Friday.  I found myself thinking about the Ascension, and then the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.

And I began to question the question.  Why do we have to pick just one day?  The Gospel gives us many best days of which to think, each one adding to our faith.

Then it dawned on me.  No, there is a best day.  The best day ever is the day I was baptized into Christ, because on that one day the incarnation, birth, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ were all at once applied to me, together with the Holy Spirit.

Best day ever?  Your Baptism!

And then by reminding you of your Baptism, God makes today the best day too!

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Flowers of Our Faith

I wrote this devotion many years ago.

"The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come" (Song 2:12).

Late on a Sunday afternoon I arrived at the nursing home to visit Eileen.  I am documenting what happened on that visit because it's going to be hard to beat.

First I stopped to say hello to Carol, the receptionist at the front desk.  She was putting the finishing touches on greeting cards she makes for her own use or sells for just two dollars each.  They're worth much more.  On the front of each one are bright, beautiful flowers.  She paints each and every one - no copies.  I marveled at the work and her talent.  I looked at all of them and then asked if I could borrow two of them to show Eileen.  I picked out the carnations and the roses.

Eileen was sitting on the edge of her bed as if waiting for me.  She enjoyed very much looking at the cards and hearing how Carol had painted them.  I suddenly realized that God had arranged something very special.

"Eileen," I said, "these flowers can teach us our faith!  Do you want to know how?"  She did of course.  "Let's start with the carnations.  They can remind us of the Incarnation, when God's Son was conceived by the Holy Spirit and became man for us."  We talked about that a bit more.  Then we looked at the roses again.  "Of what do they remind us?" I asked.  She correctly remembered that a rose is part of Luther's seal.  "That's right," I said, "but there's something even more!  Let's go find it together!"  So we began saying the Apostles' Creed slowly but surely until we came to the words: "The third day He rose again from the dead."

"There's the rose!" I exclaimed.

"There it is!" she said as excitedly as I.

We finished saying the creed.  We sang a hymn together and then, holding hands, prayed the Lord's Prayer.  Lastly I showed her a small crucifix and instructed her never to forget it.

"I'm going to go tell Carol what we did with her beautiful cards - and you helped me, Eileen!  It's because of my time with you that I have a new devotion to share with others!"

Four dollars later I left the nursing home with those two cards and a bright, beautiful way to teach others our holy Christian faith.

Sunday, March 14, 2021


Jesus, by grace You were lifted up, on the cross, so that we sinners could look at You and not perish but have eternal life. Amen.

Numbers 21:4-9, Ephesians 2:1-10, and John 3:14-21

Monday, March 8, 2021


Jesus, You kept for us the commandments and paid, with Your blood, for our many sins against them. Amen.

Exodus 20

Monday, March 1, 2021


Jesus, teach us how to pray, giving us the words to say - words our Father loves to hear from His children true and dear. Amen.

Luke 11:1-2

Sunday, February 21, 2021


Jesus, You overcame for us the tempter. Teach us the meaning and power of the petition, "And lead us not into temptation." Amen.

Mark 1:12-13

Wednesday, February 17, 2021


Jesus, You were in the wilderness 40 days. Be in our hearts this season of Lent and lead us to Your cross. Amen.

Mark 1:12-13

Thursday, February 11, 2021


"For whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels" (Mark 8:38).

By Richard Wurmbrand

In a theater in Moscow at the premier of a new play, Christ in a Fur, the hall was overcrowded.

The actor Alexander Rostovtsev had to play the main role.  He belonged to the high circles of Soviet life and was a convinced Marxist.

On the stage was a mockery of an altar.  The cross on it was made of bottles of wine and beer.  Full glasses surrounded it.  Fat "clergymen" said a drunken "liturgy" consisting of blasphemous formulas.  In this sham church, "nuns" played cards, drank, and made ugly jokes while the "religious service" went on.

Then Rostovtsev appeared as Christ, dressed in a robe.  He had the New Testament in his hands.  He was supposed to read two verses from the Sermon on the Mount, then throw away the book in disgust and shout, "Give me my fur and my hat!  I prefer a simple proletarian life."  But something unexpected happened.  The actor read not only two verses, but continued, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth" (Matt. 5:5), and so on to the end of the sermon.  It was in vain that the prompter made desperate signs for him to stop.

When Rostovtsev came to the last words of Jesus, he made the sign of the cross in the Orthodox manner, said, "Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom" (Luke 23:42), and left the stage.  He was never seen again.  The Communists disposed of him.

Let us, like this actor, forget the ugly roles imposed upon us by the world and allow ourselves to be enraptured by the beauties of the Savior's words.

Friday, February 5, 2021


Jesus, as You got up very early in the morning to pray, inspire us to begin each new day with prayer. Amen.

Mark 1:35-39

Sunday, January 31, 2021


Jesus, You and Your word have authority over the devil, sin, and death. Remind us of that and grant us Your peace. Amen.

Mark 1:21-28

Sunday, January 24, 2021


Jesus, You proclaim, "Repent and believe in the Gospel." Enable us by those words to confess our sins, turn from them, and trust solely in You. Amen.

Mark 1:14-15

Sunday, January 17, 2021


Jesus, You found Philip and called him to follow, and he found Nathanael. May we, found by You, follow You with joy and lead others to Your love. Amen.

John 1:43-51

Sunday, January 10, 2021


Jesus, by Your baptism in the Jordan You opened heaven, that all who believe in You and are baptized may enter in. Amen.

Mark 1:9-11

Sunday, January 3, 2021


Jesus, at the age of 12 You showed a love for Your Father's house. Now fill our youth, and us all, with that same love for Your church. Amen.

Luke 2:40-52