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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

A Little Religion

The entire Christian faith can be accurately described using the word "little."  At Christmas we sing, "O little town of Bethlehem," as well as, "The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay."

Jesus teaches us to become like little children in order to enter the kingdom (Matt. 18:3).  He calls His followers "O ye of little faith," and His promise is that we will see Him again in "a little while" (John 16:16).

In Luke 12:32, the Shepherd tells His "little flock" not to be afraid.  Children of all ages love to sing, "I am Jesus' little lamb," and, "Little ones to Him belong; They are weak, but He is strong."

God is a big God - far beyond anyone's comprehension.  But He has gone to great lengths to make Himself and His religion little.  He has done this so that we can understand Him and come to Him.

Resist the pride and temptation to make God and His church big.  He made Himself little enough to fit in a manger, and has made His kingdom little enough to fit within you (Luke 17:21).

"And now, little children, abide in Him" (1 John 2:28).

Friday, May 13, 2022

When Man and Wife in Love Conceive

I wrote this hymn eleven years ago now.  Hard to believe it's been that long!  It could be called a pro-life hymn, or better yet: pro-marriage, life, and family.

When man and wife in love conceive,
They have, O Lord, from You received
A holy gift beyond compare:
A child placed within their care.

The mother's womb is safe and warm,
The father's love will shield from harm,
And You, O Lord, together knit
The human body intricate.

"In pain," You said, "you will give birth;"
The woman feels the sin-brought curse.
By labor's end, the lesson learned:
"Your sorrow into joy will turn."

Your infant son or daughter bring
To be reborn through baptizing.
There I, the Lord, will take and bless
And robe each one in righteousness.

Dear Christians, never cease to pray
For faith and love these latter days,
For marriage, life, and family,
That all be held in sanctity.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Sermon on the Lord's Prayer

The Lord's Prayer is found in two places in the Bible: Luke 11 and Matthew 6.  The Matthew 6 version is the one we know and love, to take nothing away from the Luke 11 version.

The Lord's Prayer is also found in the Small Catechism.  It is the third part, following the Ten Commandments and the Creed.  In the Ten Commandments, God gives us a mirror in which to see our sin.  In the Creed, God gives us His Son in whom to see our righteousness.  And in the Lord's Prayer, God gives us His ear.

The Lord's Prayer contains seven petitions (the perfect number) together with an introduction ("Our Father who art in heaven") and conclusion ("For Thine is the kingdom...").

What if there could be a near-perfect sermon on the Lord's Prayer?  A sermon that wasn't too long, wasn't too short, and made you want to pray the Lord's Prayer from all your heart.

I think that maybe that sermon exists.  Found in the Small Catechism, it covers each of the nine parts in a way that is both simple and rich.  For example, it says about "But deliver us from evil":

"We pray in this petition, in summary, that our Father in heaven would rescue us from every evil of body and soul, possessions and reputation, and finally, when our last hour comes, give us a blessed end, and graciously take us from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven" (emphasis mine).

How much that means to me!

Pray the Lord's Prayer.  And for the near-perfect sermon on it, turn to the Small Catechism.

Thursday, April 7, 2022

Holy Week's Silent Day

"Be still, and know that I am God" (Ps. 46:10).

On Christmas Eve we love to sing "Silent Night."  What many don't realize is that Holy Week gives us a Silent Day.  And that day is Wednesday.

The Gospel has plenty to say about the first Palm Sunday, Holy Monday, Holy Tuesday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday.  It even mentions Holy Saturday, the Sabbath, on which our Lord rested in the tomb.  But about Wednesday the Gospel says nothing - not a word.  This is surely intentional on the part of the Holy Spirit, and full of meaning.

The fourth day, the middle day, of Holy Week is a day of silence.  The lesson?  The words and works of Jesus are essential, and so is a period of silence in which to reflect upon them deeply.  But often this silence and stillness is missing from our lives.

Richard Wurmbrand wrote: "We are victims of a plot against silence, without which no spiritual life is possible.  We are subjected daily to the noise of cars, trains, planes, radio, TV, vacuum cleaners, dishwashers, fans, etc.  I have known Christians who have spent years in solitary confinement in complete silence.  When they once again heard humans speak, they wondered that so much of their speech lacked content.  If you wish to reach God, create some silence around you.  Switch off the many intruders on silence.  Enter your closet, or teach your loved ones to be quiet at certain hours."

Turns out that Holy Week comes complete with a day for being quiet - for being still, and knowing that Jesus is God in the flesh, and blood, for our salvation.

Wednesday, Holy Week's silent day.  Amen.

Monday, March 21, 2022

Annunciation

March 25 should be considered a great holy and happy day!  Called "Annunciation" for the angel Gabriel's announcement to Mary, it comes nine months to the day before Christmas.  If on Christmas we celebrate the birth of our Savior, on Annunciation we celebrate His conception.  "Conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary" (Apostles' Creed).

Let's go for a moment to Nazareth as it stands today.  We enter the Basilica of the Annunciation, built over the Grotto of the Annunciation, held by tradition to be the place where the angel came to Mary.  Inside the grotto, or cave, is an altar bearing five Latin words: "Verbum caro hic factum est."  They belong to John 1:14.  One word, however, is added: hic (in English, "here").  And so it reads: "Here the Word became flesh."

While there is no way to confirm that this was the exact location, the words should be understood more deeply as pointing to the Virgin's womb.  Of that location we can be certain!

Sadly, many Christians miss the significance of March 25 as an opportunity to remember, ponder, and celebrate the Incarnation: God's Son putting on our flesh.  But you needn't miss it at all!

Take time to read Luke 1:26-38, say the Creed, and sing perhaps this ancient hymn:

Not by human flesh and blood,
By the Spirit of our God,
Was the Word of God made flesh -
Woman's offspring, pure and fresh.

Here a maid was found with child,
Yet remained a virgin mild.
In her womb this truth was shown:
God was there upon His throne.

And celebrate the day with your family and Christian friends!  Forget your Lenten fasting for a day and prepare a feast instead!  Give thanks with greatest joy for the love of God shown to us in the incarnation of His dear Son!

Pray the Holy Spirit to come upon you.  See your faith as the womb in which Christ is conceived and grows.  Then give birth to Him through words and works of love so that He may touch the lives of others.

Thursday, February 24, 2022

For the People of Ukraine

For all the people of Ukraine who are experiencing military aggression, that they might be kept from harm, let us pray to the Lord:

Lord, have mercy.

For the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ukraine, that their hearts might find rest and comfort in Christ, let us pray to the Lord:

Lord, have mercy.

For government leaders everywhere but especially in Russia, that they might be inclined to walk in the ways of righteousness and peace and cease military hostilities, let us pray to the Lord:

Lord, have mercy.

Our Father who art in heaven...

Amen.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Fruitful

On February 23 the church remembers St. Polycarp.

He was a disciple of John, he was the bishop of Smyrna (in today's Turkey), and he was martyred in the year 155 or 156.

We have a letter he wrote to the Christians in Philippi, and we have an authentic first-hand account of his death.  The latter is only thirteen pages long and should be required Christian reading.  Read it devotionally and it will strengthen you.  For me the lessons learned are: Be brave, be loving, and be faithful - all things we need today, and all things God will work in us!

But the standout thing for me is the meaning of the name Polycarp.  It is Greek and means "much fruit" or "fruitful."  Very interestingly (remember that John was Polycarp's teacher) the name Polycarp may be found in the Gospel of John.  John 12:24 reads, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit."

The witness of Polycarp has encouraged countless Christians, and all these years later he is still bearing fruit.  God is living him up to his name - Fruitful!

For Polycarp we praise You,
Who did not fear the flame
But filled with joy and courage
Confessed Your holy name.
Lord, give Your Holy Spirit
To our timidity
That filled with joy and courage
We too may fruitful be!

Monday, February 14, 2022

John's First and Last Loves

This Valentine's Day, may God's love for the world, and for you, lead to your love for others.

The Gospel of John has more occurrences of the word "love" than Matthew, Mark, and Luke put together.  "Love" is used in one form or another over fifty times.  For a devotion, a person could read through the Gospel of John and carefully mark each time the word "love" is used.  But simply looking at the first and last times offers an important lesson.

The first time is John 3:16: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life."

The last time is John 21:20: "Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them...."

The lesson is this: God loves the whole world and all people to the point of freely sacrificing His only Son.  But this cosmic, worldwide love is at the same time a personal love felt deeply by the one who believes in Jesus.

Make the Gospel of John your own.  Believe that "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29) knows, loves, and forgives you personally.

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

The One Prayer God Always Answers No

There is a prayer found in the Bible, and you can pray it, but the answer will always be No.  The Lord's Prayer ends with "Amen," meaning, "Yes, it shall be so."  But for this prayer you'll need to find a different word, because, "No, it shan't be so."  Jesus says about the Father, "Whatever you ask in My name, He will give it to you" (John 16:23) - with one major exception: the one prayer God always answers No, as in, No way, absolutely not, not in a million years!

Here is the prayer: "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord" (Luke 5:8).

The dear Lord Jesus Christ says No to this prayer.  A gentle, but firm, loving No.

Peter was one part right and one part wrong.  He was right to confess himself a sinful man.  That was true.  No argument there.  But how was he wrong?  Very!  He was wrong about Jesus who came for the very purpose of getting close to sinful people.

How does this apply?  You're a Christian, baptized, righteous in the eyes of God because of Christ.  But what about in your eyes?  You remember sins, you still see sins in your life, you still sin.  And you will think like Peter and try to send God away.  This often shows up in thinking, "I can't go to church.  I shouldn't go to Communion!"

But do you know what that's like?  It's like saying to the doctor, "I shouldn't come see you right now, because I'm sick.  And that medicine you want to give me, let's wait on that till I'm better."

Listen.  You go to God in the very moment you think you should go away.  Go to His Word, Sacraments, Church, and Cross.  Because the very reason you think God should go away from you is the very reason He doesn't and won't.  "I made you, I redeemed you, I make you holy.  I love you.  And so the answer is No, I will not depart."

No has never sounded so good, so completely the Gospel!

And it may be that this one No is like all the other Yeses put together.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Three Weddings and a Resurrection

"On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee" (John 2:1).

The Wedding at Cana is my favorite Holy Gospel.  It was Sunday's Holy Gospel.  When I hear this Holy Gospel it fills me "up to the brim" with joy because it makes me think of three beautiful weddings.

In 1994 a movie came out called Four Weddings and a Funeral.  I never saw it and probably don't recommend it.  The point is, I would title John 2:1-11 Three Weddings and a Resurrection.  I'll explain.

The first wedding is the most obvious: the wedding of a man and a woman.  What a remarkable design!  And it goes all the way back to Genesis 2 and the very first wedding.  It's no accident that the Wedding at Cana is found in John 2.  Genesis 2 and John 2.  God is saying through this: "I came up with marriage, and now in Christ I've come to renew it and bless it again, forgive all the sins committed against it, heal and help it!"  Let us rejoice, therefore, and not give up hope for this holy institution!

The second wedding is not as obvious but it's there: the wedding of Christ and the Church.  I think that when John mentions the bridegroom at Cana he wants us to begin thinking of Christ.  And sure enough, in the very next chapter we learn that Christ is the Bridegroom and we are the Bride, and that John the Baptist is the Best Man in this eternal wedding (John 3:29).  In this wedding story the Bridegroom gives Himself up for His Bride, making the Cross the greatest love story ever told!

The third wedding will likely be new to you: the wedding of Christ and faith.  The faith in your heart, to believe and trust in Christ, is His true bride.  In languages like Greek and Latin, "faith" is a feminine noun.  And what is true grammatically is true spiritually also.  So Christ and faith, though two, become one.  Luther put it, "This faith couples Christ and me more intimately than a husband is coupled to his wife."  What a way to think of your faith in Jesus Christ!

Three weddings and a resurrection.  I've spoken about the three weddings.  What about the resurrection?  How does Cana make us think of that?  In its opening words: "On the third day."  That's resurrection talk, and have a look at the nearby John 2:19-22!  See, it's the resurrection of Christ that means everything for the three weddings.  It means that a husband and wife can invite Him now to come and bless their marriage.  It means that He is with the Church, for whom He died, all the days until the end.  And it means that my faith, your faith, is in the crucified-risen Christ Jesus our Lord - and that nothing can separate us from His love!