Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Thanks Be to the Lord Above

I wrote this little hymn for Thanksgiving this year.  But its real purpose is to serve as a prayer at the end of a meal.  It is based on Psalm 136:1 and is sung to the tune of LSB 687.

Thanks be to the Lord above
For His never-ending love.
Thanks be to the Father, Son,
Holy Spirit, Three in One.

Monday, October 30, 2023

One Little Word

"A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" has been called the "Battle Hymn of the Reformation."  The text and tune are both by Martin Luther.  I wrote this devotion years ago and believe it bears repeating annually.  Someone else said that it bears repeating daily.

Luther's great hymn, "A Mighty Fortress," contains the line at the end of the third verse: "One little word can fell him."  Many know this line, but few may know the one little word Luther had in mind.  What would you say it is?

In a writing called "Against Hanswurst," Luther explained that the one little word is, "You lie."  Luther writes:

"For all such books written against me, even if there were as many as thousands of them written every day and every hour, are very easily refuted with the single word, 'Devil, you lie,' just as that haughty beggar Dr. Luther sings so proudly and boldly in those words of his hymn, 'One little word shall fell him.'"

Now to simplify and make it just one word, we could say, "Liar!"  In John 8:44, Jesus says about the devil, "When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies."  Luther believed that deeply.

We know that Psalm 46 formed the basis for "A Mighty Fortress."  But Luther must also have had in mind the story of David and Goliath.  In the first place, the devil is our Goliath.  In the second place, the one little word (Liar!) is just like the one little stone David used.  And in the third place, that one little word "fells" the giant.  "One little word can fell him."

Now try it, and use it often.  This one really works!  Next time that temptation comes, that discouragement, that fear, reach into your bag for one little word.


And spread the word!

Monday, October 9, 2023


"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, September 13, 2023

Holy Cross Days

The Ground Zero Cross must be remembered.  It tells of a God who suffered for us, and who suffers with us.

"...the cross of Jesus" (John 19:25).

September 13 and 14 should share the name Holy Cross.

To begin with, September 14 has long been called Holy Cross Day.  On that day in the year 320 Helena, the mother of Constantine, is believed to have discovered the cross of our Lord on which He died.  It is one of the earliest Christian feast days, and points to the centrality of the death of Jesus in the Christian faith.

Enter September 13, one day before.  On this day in 2001 an excavator named Frank Silecchia discovered, amid the rubble of the World Trade Center, a cross.  A T-beam weighing thousands of pounds had the unmistakable shape of a cross, and had fallen into a perfect upright position.  It was carefully removed, blessed, and stands today.

I confess, I don't know for a fact whether Helena found the actual cross of Christ.  What I do know is that Frank Silecchia did.  And he found it where the true cross will be found: right smack in the middle of human tragedy, suffering, and death.

To bring us through.

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Lord, to You We Lift Our Eyes

The Small Catechism includes a table prayer called "Asking a Blessing."  It uses Psalm 145:15-16.  I wrote a little hymn as a way of singing the prayer.  To the tune of LSB 687.

Lord, to You we lift our eyes,
And in love You satisfy
All our needs from day to day.
Bless this food and us, we pray.


Monday, July 31, 2023


" pearl of great value" (Matt. 13:46).

Years ago I did the funeral for a woman named Margaret.  I used the Parable of the Pearl for the reason that the Greek word for "pearl" is "margaret."

You too are Margaret, the pearl of great value.

A beautiful explanation of this parable says that the merchant is Christ, and you are the very precious pearl.  Consider two parts of the parable:

Of great value.  (The only other time this adjective is used in the New Testament is in John 12:3 to describe the ointment applied by Mary to the feet of Jesus.)  Good, true self-esteem or worth begins by knowing that you are of great value to God.  He made you uniquely.  He loves you as though the only one.  You are as a very precious pearl to Him!

Bought.  This is the Christ word.  Paul, in two places, says, "You were bought with a price" (1 Cor. 6:20 and 7:23), as though commenting on this parable.  The price was the life and blood of Christ!  How marvelous the words in the Small Catechism: "[Christ] has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and 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."  His own very precious pearl.

The only thing as precious as you is the blood of Christ.  He was able to use it therefore to redeem you!

Sunday, June 11, 2023

St. Matthew

My first name is Matthew, after St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Holt, Michigan, my father's first and only congregation that he pastored for twenty years.  Although Lutheran Service Book has a stanza for Matthew, I wanted to write another.  It is based on Matthew 9:9-13 and 28:16-20.

We praise You, Lord, for Matthew,
The tax collector who
Put down his filthy lucre,
Got up, and followed You.
Baptized, we too will follow,
Keep all that You command,
And ne'er forget Your promise:
"I'm with you to the end!"

Saturday, June 3, 2023

A Threefold Light

"...on the first day of the week" (Mark 16:2).

We should think more about Sunday.  For starters, we Christians need to remember that Sunday is not part of the weekend.  It is rather the first day of the new week.

Then, and this is the most important thing, we need to remember that Sunday is the day our Lord rose from the dead, and that for this reason Sunday became the primary worship day for Christians.

This is quite enough to think about, but there's more.

We may also remember that the first day of creation was a Sunday, on which God said, "Let there be light."  And add to this one other thing: the day of Pentecost.  It too fell (and falls) on a Sunday.

Now take a step back and see that the Father's first day of creating, the Son's rising as Victor over sin and death, and the Holy Spirit's coming to us with new life all take place on Sunday.  Extraordinary!  Glorious!!  Trinity!!!

Dear Christians, let us do so much more than go to church because we should.  Let us go gladly (Ps. 122:1) in the faith of the One who created, redeemed, and makes us holy.

This is the deep meaning of Sunday, and about which we sing in these words:

O day of rest and gladness, O day of joy and light,
O balm of care and sadness, most beautiful, most bright;
This day the high and lowly, through ages joined to bless,
Sing, "Holy, holy, holy," the triune God confess.

This day at earth's creation the light first had its birth;
This day for our salvation Christ rose from depths of earth;
This day our Lord victorious the Spirit sent from heav'n,
And thus this day most glorious a threefold light was giv'n.

(Lutheran Service Book, 906)

Thursday, May 18, 2023

The Ascension's Great Joy

Today 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.  Today 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!

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Try the Uplook

On Sunday we heard the story of Stephen, the first martyr (Acts 7:54-60).  We went so far as to call it "Stephen Sunday."

"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."

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Tied for 1st

Quick, what's the shortest verse in the Bible?

If you answered, "Jesus wept" (John 11:35), you got one of them.  The question needs to be changed to: What are the shortest verses in the Bible?  That's because 1 Thessalonians 5:16 reads, "Rejoice always."  Also two words.  So there is a two-way tie for the Bible's shortest verse!

Now isn't it something that the two shortest verses deal with the perfectly opposite things: weeping and rejoicing?  And the lesson could be that as Christians we are called to do both, often at the same time.

Let us weep with Jesus and yet rejoice in Him always!

Understand that weeping is not a sign of a weak faith or hope.  It is the sign of a strong love.  Jesus wept because He loved Lazarus who had died (see John 11:36).  One pastoral concern I have is that sometimes we are trying to turn off the tears God meant for us to shed.  Weeping is a part of love, and a blessed, holy thing in Jesus.  Tears then wash our eyes and help us to see more clearly.

And yet we rejoice even while we weep.  "Rejoice always."  That includes times of sorrow.  The sorrow is real but so is the joy right there next to it.  At the death of a loved one there is, and often remains, a sorrow beyond words.  Somehow at the same time, there is a rejoicing, sometimes quietly, in the victory of Christ over death and His promise to be with us.

Or look out at the world.  It won't take long to find a reason to weep.  And we should.  But all the while, we rejoice in a faith, hope, and love that cannot be taken away, in a death and resurrection that cannot be undone, and in the Lord who has done it!

To others, it must be one or the other (or more often, neither).  But to us it is both: weeping and rejoicing on the way to Heaven.

Remember the two shortest verses in the Bible!

Monday, April 3, 2023

Encouraging Jesus

Something to think about on Holy Tuesday, April 4.

"He looked up..." (Luke 21:1).

In addition to the words of Jesus, we should listen to His body language.  In recording the story of the widow's offering, Luke writes that Jesus "looked up," and that's when He saw the poor widow putting in her two mites.  But it begs the question: Why was He looking down in the first place?

My guess (because we are not told) is that He was sad and wondering whether God's love was making a difference in anyone's heart!  Consider the events that surround the story of the widow: He could only weep over Jerusalem (19:41-44); the temple was being misused (19:45-46); priests and scribes questioned His authority (20:1-8); they tried to "catch Him in something He said" (20:19-26); Sadducees denied the resurrection (20:27-40); He condemned the scribes (20:45-47); He foretold the destruction of the temple (21:5-9) and city (21:20-24); He foretold wars, earthquakes, famines, pestilences, and persecution (21:10-19); they "were seeking how to put Him to death" (22:1-2); and "Satan entered into Judas" to betray Him (22:3-6).

(And I talk about having a rough week!)

The lone bright spot: this widow and her offering.  It wasn't much but it was everything.  And it was all our Lord needed to see.  I sense that it picked Him up - this humble, true faith and love of one person.

It happened on Tuesday of Holy Week.  That's when Jesus looked up and saw her.  What I like to believe is that three days later she looked up and saw Him giving His offering.

But the lesson here would be that we have the ability to encourage Jesus.  He must be in need of it.  He has had to witness the sin, unbelief, and deep sorrows of many centuries.  You can do something about it.

When you give from your heart out of love for the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, you, small though you are, strengthen the heart of the living Lord!  Just like the widow.

Thursday, March 23, 2023


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.

Monday, March 6, 2023

Being John 3:15

How would you like to be John 3:15?  You're right there all the time next to the great John 3:16.  But nobody has you memorized from childhood.  Nobody holds you up at a football game.  You aren't called "the Gospel in a nutshell."  How many sermons have been given on John 3:16?  How many on you?  Most Christians have no idea what you say.

There exists a sinful desire for recognition and fame.  T.S. Eliot wrote in the poem "Choruses from 'The Rock,'"

Many are engaged in writing books and printing them,
Many desire to see their names in print.

Speaking from experience, pastors in particular wrestle with this temptation.  We want to be seen as successful, as the spiritual leader who "makes it happen."  John the Baptist, who is the model pastor, said, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30), and, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29).

John knew the power and personal fulfillment of pointing to another, the way John 3:15 does.  Isn't it true that without John 3:15 we couldn't find verse 16?  But there it is, without fame or recognition, directing the whole world to the Gospel.

You do the same in the place God has put you.  And if anyone ever asks, "Okay, but what do you say?" you can tell them that "whoever believes in Him may have eternal life" (John 3:15).

Friday, February 10, 2023

Right Eyes

"If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away" (Matt. 5:29).

These words of Jesus move us to avoid temptations to sexual sin, many of which enter through the eye.  Remove and resist visual stimuli that would appeal to a sinful heart.

But the eleventh-century Archbishop of Bulgaria, Theophylact, explained, "When you hear 'eye' and 'hand,' do not imagine that the Lord is speaking of parts of the body, for He would not in that case have specified 'right eye' and 'right hand.'  He is speaking instead of those who appear to be friends, but who are in fact harming us.  Take, for example, a young man who has friends living in debauchery, and who is harmed by their bad influence.  Cut these off from you, the Lord says, and perhaps you will also save them, when they come to their senses.  And if you cannot save them, you will at least save yourself.  But if you continue in your affection for them, both you and they will be destroyed."

We are reminded in the Small Catechism that God has given us our eyes (First Article).  It would not be right or thankful to throw away a divine gift.  Far better to see that He has also redeemed our eyes (Second Article) and makes them holy for new use (Third Article).

See your eyes as precious, think of what they are able to do, and resolve not to set before them "anything that is worthless" (Ps. 101:3).  Use them to "look at the birds of the air," as He instructs later in the same sermon (Matt. 6:26).  Lift up your eyes to the Hill and to the Crucified, from whence come both forgiveness and then help, much help, in the fight against temptation (Ps. 121).

Remember that lust is never satisfied (Prov. 27:20), but that love always finds fulfillment.

If you (or someone you know) seem trapped in sexual sin, seriously consider talking with your pastor.  He will hold the matter in strict confidence, offer a listening ear, and share with you God's Word of forgiveness, hope, and help.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Pilgrim Here, Her Home Above

"Blessed are those whose strength is in You, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage" (Ps. 84:5).

Wanda was a pilgrim, but is a pilgrim no more.  She died early this morning in Texas after a most courageous battle with cancer.  She was 72.  And I said to my mother who knew her well, "Her pilgrimage is complete."

Just four months ago, in September, I led Wanda, cancer and all, her husband Rick, my mom, and five others on a Holy Land pilgrimage.  Ten glorious days in the footsteps of our Lord!

We did it all!  Nazareth, Bethlehem, Jordan River, Jerusalem, Sea of Galilee, Cana, Mount Tabor, and so much more.  And Wanda was determined not to miss a thing!

We were pilgrims, meaning we didn't go just to see things but to hear the Gospel, pray, sing, and receive the Eucharist.  It brought us so close together!

The lesson is not that you need to go to the Holy Land.  The lesson is that we are pilgrims on the way to Heaven.  Wanda, more than the rest of us, understood that.

A Russian monk called Father John once wrote: "Our great mistake is that we hardly think about our passing into the other world.  Our life in this vale of tears is after all nothing but a path to eternity and a preparation for it.  Oh, eternity, thou eternity unending!  Although it is painful here and life is sometimes very hard, and heavy sorrows and cruel diseases strike, still there is a comforting thought: I shall die and all this will end.  But what awaits us over there?"  Answer: Heaven, Christ, and life with all the saints!

But the hymns put it the best: "I'm but a stranger here, Heaven is my home."  And: "Let us ever walk with Jesus, follow His example pure, through a world that would deceive us and to sin our spirits lure.  Onward in His footsteps treading, pilgrims here, our home above, full of faith and hope and love, let us do the Father's bidding.  Faithful Lord, with me abide; I shall follow where You guide."

Wanda was a pilgrim, but is a pilgrim no more.  Her pilgrimage is complete, with the angels carrying her soul the last little way to Heaven.

God be with Rick, the family, and us all.

Monday, January 9, 2023

150 Gallons of Gladness

"...six stone water jars...each holding twenty or thirty gallons" (John 2:6).

At the wedding in Cana our Lord turned water into wine.  It was His first miracle.  But what I never really realized is just how much wine He made.

The Gospel is inviting us to do the math:

6 x 20 or 30 = 120 or 180

Call it 150 gallons.  That's a lot of wine.

What we don't know is how many people there were.  We don't know at what point exactly they ran out of wine.  What we know is: They didn't run out again.  And therein lies a lesson.

Christ offers a joy and gladness that will never run out.  When your happiness is based on things, circumstance, situation in life, other people, day of the week, or time of the year, it's going to run out.  But when based on Christ (His incarnation, death, resurrection, forgiveness, and promise of eternal life), it's going to last forever.

Understand that God gives us many good things to enjoy for a time.  But we must always see beyond them to God Himself.  Beyond the wine to Christ.  "And His disciples believed in Him" (John 2:11).

The secret to a happy life?  Knowing the one Joy that will never run out: the Love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  All 150 gallons of it!