Friday, July 31, 2009

Commemoration of Joseph of Arimathea

From the Treasury of Daily Prayer:

This Joseph, mentioned in all four Gospels, came from a small village called Arimathea in the hill country of Judea. He was a respected member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish religious council in Jerusalem. He was presumably wealthy, since he owned his own unused tomb in a garden not far from the site of Jesus’ crucifixion (Matthew 27:60). Joseph, a man waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went to Pontius Pilate after the death of Jesus and asked for Jesus’ body (Mark 15:43). Along with Nicodemus, Joseph removed the body and placed it in the tomb (John 19:38-39). Their public devotion contrasted greatly to the fearfulness of the disciples who had abandoned Jesus.

A prayer in commemoration: Merciful God, Your servant Joseph of Arimathea prepared the body of our Lord and Savior for burial with reverence and godly fear and lad Him in his own tomb. As we follow the example of Joseph, grant to us, Your faithful people, that same grace and courage to love and serve Jesus with sincere devotion all the days of our lives; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Daily Devotional Thought--From Luther

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

When we sit in the pew and listen to a sermon, doubt may remain.  “I don’t know if the pastor would be saying that if he knew what I was guilty of.”  On the flip side of the coin of doubt is the person who deflects the preached Word because he or she “isn’t like that.”  Or the person who looks at the others in the pews and says, “I hope they’re hearing this sermon.”

While a sermon that preaches Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins gives the comfort of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and all its blessings, it is a general word of grace, spoken to the whole assembly.

This is also true for the general Confession/Absolution in the Divine Service that we know and love.  A friend of mine recently said, “We confess in the abstract, but are not used to speaking of our particular sins.”  This can result in a church where people will readily admit “I’m a sinner,” but are unsure exactly where they have sinned, or which commandment they have sinned against.

There is a gift of the church, however, that doesn’t leave our confession, or our absolution, in the abstract.  This is a gift that speaks forgiveness to the individual and comforts him or her for their “secret” sins.  Of course this gift is Private Confession and Absolution.

Luther taught about this particularly comforting gift many times:

“While through preaching the Gospel we publish this forgiveness everywhere and tell it to all in general, in absolution we tell it specifically to one or more desiring it.”  (When Luther spoke of absolution he spoke of the private Word of a pastor to a penitent, not the general corporate form we know and love.  The general confession/absolution wouldn’t be a part of the Divine Service until hundreds of years after Luther’s death.)

In another place, Luther wrote the following:

“Yet I will let no man take private confession away from me, and I would not give it up for all the treasures in the world; for I know what comfort and strength it has given me.  No man knows so well what it can do for him as he who must struggle and fight much with the devil.  The devil would have slain me long ago if confession had not sustained me.  For there are many doubts and false matters which a man cannot settle by himself…So he takes a brother aside and tells him his trouble.  What harm does it do him to humble himself a little before his neighbor and put himself to shame?  When you receive a word of comfort from him, accept and believe that word as if you heard it from God himself”

For Luther, confession took place in many places and in many forms.  He saw The Lord’s Prayer as a complete form of confession, and didn’t encourage the practice of Private Confession and Absolution so much for the confession aspect.  

“For the sake of this part (absolution) most of all do I use confession, and I will not and cannot do without it, for it has given me great comfort and still does so daily when I am sad and downcast” (emphasis added).

The real treasure of this gift is the comfort of the absolution; the Gospel spoken to an individual with a burdened conscience.  There’s no saying, “Is that for me?”  No more can a man dodge the Word by saying, “I think he might be talking about me, but sometimes I’m not like that.”  Private Confession and Absolution leaves no doubt about who the Gospel is for—and who is forgiven.  And that, my friends, is something that we poor sinners would demand to receive from our pastors if we understood it properly.  Luther writes as much in his Large Catechism:

“When I urge you to go to Confession (privately), I am doing nothing else than urging you to be a Christian.  If I have brought you to the point of being a Christian, I have thereby also brought you to Confession.  For those who really desire to be true Christians, to be rid of their sins, and to have a cheerful conscience already possess the true hunger and thirst…See, that would be teaching right about Confession, and people could be given such a desire and love for it that they would come and run after us for it, more than we would like.” (emphasis added)

Make no mistake, Private Confession and Absolution can not be commanded, thus turning God’s gift into a burden.  And at the same time, we would never want to diminish the sermon, the Sacraments, or for that matter, the general confession and absolution, for indeed, Christ is proclaimed and given through all of these gifts.  But one gift doesn’t diminish another.  Particular comfort for the particular sinner—that sounds like a gift to be treasured.

In the peace of the Lord.  Amen.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

I Covet Your Comments!

Hello readers,

I have a confession to make: I covet your comments.

The old blog has undergone a few updates in the last couple of weeks, and I hope you are enjoying them.  But one of the updates was for me—ha!  I installed a counter at the bottom of the page so I know that there are some people visiting this page.  And yet, most of you remain anonymous.

I invite you all to make use of the comment button, and to post your thoughts, any questions you may have about a particular post, or just to say “Hi” and let me know who is reading this thing.  I can’t promise that I’ll respond to every comment, but I will do my best.

Happy reading!

Commemoration of Robert Barnes, Confessor and Martyr

(From the Treasury of Daily Prayer):

Remembered as a devoted disciple of Martin Luther, Robert Barnes is considered to be among the first Lutheran martyrs.  Born in 1495, Barnes became the prior of the Augustinian monastery at Cambridge, England.  Converted to Lutheran teaching, he shared his insights with many English scholars through writings and personal contacts.  During a time of exile to Germany, he became friends with Luther and later wrote a Latin summary of the main doctrines of the Augsburg Confession titled Sententiae.  Upon his return to England, Barnes shared his Lutheran doctrines and views in person with King Henry VIII and initially had a positive reception.  In 1529, Barnes was named royal chaplain.  The changing political and ecclesiastical climate in his native country, however, claimed him as a victim; he was burned a the stake in Smithfield in 1540.  His final confession of faith was published by Luther, who called his friend Barnes “our good, pious dinner guest and houseguest…this holy martyr, St. Robert Barnes.”

A prayer in commemoration: Almighty God, heavenly Father, You gave courage to Your servant Robert Barnes to give up his life for confessing the true faith during the Reformation.  May we continue steadfast in our confession of the apostolic faith and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.


Daily Devotional Thought--From the New Testament

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,


Today’s New Testament reading in the Treasury of Daily Prayer was Acts 24:24-25:12.  Let’s consider 16:6-12:

ESV 6 After (Festus) stayed among them not more than eight or ten days, he went down to Caesarea. And the next day he took his seat on the tribunal and ordered Paul to be brought. 7 When he had arrived, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him, bringing many and serious charges against him that they could not prove. 8 Paul argued in his defense, "Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I committed any offense." 9 But Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, said to Paul, "Do you wish to go up to Jerusalem and there be tried on these charges before me?" 10 But Paul said, "I am standing before Caesar's tribunal, where I ought to be tried. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you yourselves know very well. 11 If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death. But if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar." 12 Then Festus, when he had conferred with his council, answered, "To Caesar you have appealed; to Caesar you shall go."

Of course, it’s easy to say, “What great faith Paul had.”  But what strikes me about his testimony is his willingness to pay any just temporal punishments.  Paul says: “If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death.”  Wow!  A weaker man would fight, for he knew he had done no wrong.  But not Paul, you see, the same man who could write, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).

Paul knows that his life is not in the hands of some Roman governor.  And Paul also understands that his faith brings persecution.  It’s as if Paul is saying, “Do whatever you want with me, it doesn’t matter, for God is God, and I must obey Him.”  Indeed this is great faith.

In the confirmation rite there are two questions asked of the catechumens: 1) Do you intend to live according to the Word of God, and in faith, word, and deed to remain true to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, even to death?  I do, by the grace of God.  2) Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?  I do, by the grace of God.

The person who answers these questions accordingly, says a prayer that they have the same faith as Paul.  That he or she desires to be faithful to God alone, for He alone holds life in His hands.  Thankfully we are not all called to be martyrs, but we do suffer along in this broken world.  We do all face earthly consequences for our actions.  Maybe a relationship will never be repaired because of foolish actions.  Or maybe a credit card balance reflects a lifestyle enjoyed prior to becoming a Christian—or before understanding good stewardship.

But thanks be to God, for our temporal consequences are the only consequences we shall ever face—and this is what Paul understood.  Jesus took your eternal punishment on Himself, and the cross now stands as a reminder of His judgment—a judgment he faced in our place.  Thanks be to God, for by His grace, he sustains you and me with this knowledge.  By the comfort of His Gospel He gives us peace of mind in this life, and hope for a better day.  And by the power of the Holy Spirit, He gives you the faith to stand with Paul in your particular situation in life, and answer faithfully.  “Come what may, for my life, is in God’s hand—and there’s no better place for it to be!”


With eyes on the Cross, Amen.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Commemoration of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus of Bethany

(From the Treasury of Daily Prayer)

Mary, Martha, and Lazarus of Bethany were disciples with whom Jesus had a special bond of love and friendship.  John’s Gospel records that “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus” (John 11:5).  On one occasion, Martha welcomed Jesus into their home for a meal.  While Martha did all the work, Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, listening to His Word, and was commended by Jesus for choosing the “good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:38-42).  When their brother Lazarus died, Jesus spoke to Martha this beautiful Gospel promise: “I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25).  Ironically, when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, the Jews became more determined than ever to kill Jesus (John 11:39-54).  Six days before Jesus was crucified, Mary anointed His feet with a very expensive fragrant oil and wiped them with her hair, not knowing at the time that she was doing it in preparation for Jesus’ burial (John 12:1-8; Matthew 26:6-13).

A prayer in commemoration: Heavenly Father, Your beloved Son befriended frail humans like us to make us Your own.  Teach us to be like Jesus’ dear friends from Bethany, that we might serve Him faithfully like Martha, learn from Him earnestly like Mary, and ultimately be raised by Him like Lazarus.  Through their Lord and ours, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Daily Devotional Thought--From the Old Testament

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

From Genesis, chapter 45: 25 So they went up out of Egypt and came to the land of Canaan to their father Jacob. 26 And they told him, "Joseph is still alive, and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt." And his heart became numb, for he did not believe them. 27 But when they told him all the words of Joseph, which he had said to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived. 28 And Israel said, "It is enough; Joseph my son is still alive. I will go and see him before I die."

You know the story well, Jacob’s favorite son had been beaten and sold to the Egyptians by his jealous brothers.  And while Jacob had thought for years that his son had died, because of the hand of God, Joseph had become the right-hand-man to Pharaoh himself.  And that’s when the good news comes—news that is too good to believe.

“Hey dad, Joseph is alive!  No, it’s even better, he’s ruling in all of Egypt!”

Like Thomas, who would later be slow to believe the other disciples account of the risen Lord, Jacob is stunned and cannot believe; his long lost son, seems to have been resurrected.  And while he doesn’t have to see Joseph to be convinced, he doesn’t believe until he sees the evidence: the carts that Pharaoh had sent with them to bring Jacob back to Egypt—carts that are loaded with the good things of Egypt even though they are in the midst of a terrible famine.  And so, the carts convince him that what his sons are saying about Joseph is true, and he must go to see him.

We know that Joseph wasn’t raised from the dead like Lazarus, and especially not like Jesus, but in Jacob’s mind, he was dead and gone.  Resurrection may be difficult to believe by itself, but it is even more difficult to believe that it can happen to people that have been cast off.  Who will we be surprised to see on the last day, when Jesus raises all the faithful and gathers them into heaven?  “Hey, I remember you!  It’s GREAT to see you again.”  We may be surprised by the likes of who we will celebrate eternity with, because, you see, while we may give up on people who seem to show no indication of a living faith, God does not.  Maybe the seed of faith hadn’t sprouted yet when we knew a person, or maybe we were too self-righteous to see the faith that did exist.  For many reasons, and ultimately because of God’s gracious love in Christ Jesus, there will be those who were forgotten by us, that will be our eternal brothers and sisters in heaven—and what a joy it will be.

Like Jacob who rejoiced that his son was alive, we too will rejoice for all those that are resurrected on the last day.

With hope in the resurrection! Amen.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Daily Devotional Thought--From the Psalms

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,


Last Tuesday, Psalm 137:1-7 gave me pause, and today as I read about J.S. Bach, and also what Luther has to say about the gift of music, I was immediately drawn back to the psalmist’s cry:

ESV Psalm 137:1 By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion. 2 On the willows there we hung up our lyres. 3 For there our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors, mirth, saying, "Sing us one of the songs of Zion!" 4 How shall we sing the LORD's song in a foreign land? 5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill! 6 Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy! 7 Remember, O LORD, against the Edomites the day of Jerusalem, how they said, "Lay it bare, lay it bare, down to its foundations!"

Imagine the setting:  Being taken out of your homeland and into exile, and then to have your captors taunt you: “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”  That is to say, “Where is your God now?  Your songs aren’t so cheery now, are they!”

As the Israelites were being taken into exile, they were made to sing forth their songs of praise.  And while their singing very well fell on deaf ears, nevertheless, it was the truth of their songs that needed to be confessed—a truth that at the time remained hidden but true nonetheless—they would look forward to that promised heavenly Jerusalem.  And so they would sing, and sing boldly.

Indeed, we love the hymns of the church, not only because we grew up with them, but primarily because of their clear confession of Christ.  And while there are many today who fail to appreciate the hymnody of the Church, we will continue to sing, and sing boldly.  For in our hymns Christ is confessed.

Luther wrote the following about the wonderful gift of music: “Next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise.”  He understood music’s ability to help deliver the Gospel: “Therefore, we have so many hymns and Psalms where message and music join to move the listener’s soul…after all, the gift of language combined with the gift of song was only given to man to let him know that he should praise God with both word and music, namely, by proclaiming (the Word of God) through music and by providing sweet melodies with words.”

As the people of God continue to find themselves as exiles in a dark and lost world, may we continually shout forth the songs of the church, clearly confessing the Christ, and the gifts He gives—both now and to come!

Peace in Christ, and happy singing!

Today the Church Commemorates Johann Sebastian Bach, Kantor

(From the Treasury of Daily Prayer)

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) is acknowledged as one of the most famous and gifted composers in the Western world. Orphaned at age ten, Bach was mostly self-taught in music. His professional life as conductor, performer, composer, teacher, and organ consultant began at age nineteen in the town of Arnstadt and ended in Leipzig, where for the last twenty-seven years of his life he was responsible for all the music in the city’s four Lutheran churches. In addition to being a superb keyboard artist, the genius and bulk of Bach’s vocal and instrumental compositions remain overwhelming. A devout and devoted Lutheran, he is especially honored in Christendom for his lifelong insistence that his music was written primarily for the liturgical life of the Church to glorify God and edify His people.

A beautiful prayer in His honor: Almighty God, beautiful in majesty and majestic in holiness, You have taught us in Holy Scripture to sing Your praises and have given to Your servant Johann Sebastian Bach grace to show forth Your glory in his music. Continue to grant this gift of inspiration to all Your servants who write and make music for Your people, that with joy we on earth may glimpse Your beauty and at length know the inexhaustible richness of Your new creation in Jesus Christ, our Lord who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Why Evangelism Isn't Just for Members of a Board

Pastor Weedon posted helpful thoughts that help us understand clearly what each Christain is called to do, that is, confess. Check out his thoughts here: Confession vs. Evangelism.
And please, do leave your thoughts here for discussion.

Daily Devotional Thought--For the Christian Family

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

I’m sorry this devotion is getting posted a bit later than usual. And it won’t be as long as usual either.

In the Table of Duties in the Small Catechism, fathers are encouraged with a Word from Ephesians: “Fathers, do not provoke your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (6:4).

Fathers and mothers play such a critical role in the formation of children. Even more than pastors and Sunday school teachers, parents are called to hand down the faith. They are the best people to serve as examples for their children as to what it means to live a new life in Christ, a life of humility before the life, and faith in His promises. In serving as such an example, I fear that parents often times fall into the trap of trying to be the “perfect” example. In trying to be this “perfect” example for the children, they forget that being trained and instructed in the Lord means knowing your failures and faults. What is the best way to provoke your children? Carry on as if you know everything, and have no need to say, “I’m sorry, I overreacted.” Or, “Please forgive me, I shouldn’t have said that to you.” A parent that is able to confess, not only to God, but also to those little ones will be a parent that teaches his or her little ones what it means to be a Christian. And in the process, the children will learn to say, “I forgive you, mommy/daddy.” And that, my friends, is a sound pleasing to our Lord’s ears.

Have a blessed week…I’m off to go spend the evening with my own family.

Peace in Christ.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Daily Devotional Thought-From the Confessions

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

In the Small Catechism, Luther teaches the head of the family how to teach his household to pray. The form is simple, memorable, and most importantly, brings to those who pray the comfort of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Let’s take a closer look:

In the morning when you get up, make the sign of the holy cross and say:

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Luther begins with the Invocation because this is the name into which you were baptized. By starting here, you begin you day by remembering whose you are. You are God’s child, have been made a coheir with Christ, been forgiven of your sins, and have received His righteousness as your own.

Then, kneeling or standing, repeat the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. If you choose, you may also say this little prayer:

As if speaking the invocation wasn’t enough, Luther goes to the Creed for in it the Gospel is proclaimed. From Creation, to the incarnation, to the death and resurrection of Jesus, and finally to the promises of eternal life guaranteed by the Holy Spirit.

And then the Lord’s Prayer, where again you remember whose you are, call out to your dear Father who loves for you, pray that His will be done, receive forgiveness of sins, and ultimately learn to trust in your Father for all things.

If it’s morning, Luther offers this simple prayer:

I thank You, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son, that You have kept me this night from all harm and danger; and I pray that You would keep me this day also from sin and every evil, that all my doings and life may please You. For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me. Amen.

If it’s evening, here is the prayer:

I thank You, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son, that You have graciously kept me this day; and I pray that You would forgive me all my sins where I have done wrong, and graciously keep me this night. For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me. Amen.

I love the little tidbit with which Luther concludes the prayers:

(Morning) Then go joyfully to your work, singing a hymn, like that of the Ten Commandments, or whatever your devotion may suggest.

(Evening) Then go to sleep at once and in good cheer.

You see, Luther actually expects that the Gospel promises of God, which the Holy Spirit has spoken to you once again through these texts, will have an impact on your life. Comforted by the Gospel in the morning, you will meet the challenges and chances of life with faith, trusting that all things are indeed in the hands of your Father, for you placed them there in your prayers. In the evening, after a day in which your trust wavered from time to time, or when your anger got the best of you, you’ve confessed your sins and been forgiven once again. Comforted with the Gospel, at least it won’t be your conscience that keeps you from getting a good night’s rest.

Imagine the family that begins and ends each day in this way. Truly, they will be made strong by the Rock of our Salvation—Jesus Christ.

Again, this form is simple, memorable, and brings the Sabbath rest you experience on Sundays through the Divine Service, into your life each and every day. For the comfort we have in Christ is our Sabbath, and allows us to live a life resting in the arms of our loving heavenly Father.

May you now go joyfully to the work Christ has called you to.

Have a great weekend, and God bless!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Daily Devotional Thoughts for Thursday (7/23/09)-From the New Testament

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Thoughts regarding confession from the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32):

The prodigal son’s was not simply debauchery, lewdness, drunkenness, and wild living. Even worse, it was the sin of having squandered the father’s love. So it is for us Christians who are baptized into the family of God and made His sons and daughters. To deny our status as the beloved sons of God by squandering His love in wild living and misbelieve is worse than the actual sinful deeds themselves. Nevertheless, the Father’s love remains constant for us, in spite of our departures from him.

The prodigal son was brought to his sense, not only because he was left in want, but because he was brought to remember who his father was. It’s as if this were his thought: “If He is merciful to slaves who do not deserve His mercy, then He is merciful toward me, for I have abandoned my inheritance as a son to live as a slave to sin.” So it is for us Christians. Knowing our sin is not enough to drive us back to the father. For if we are unaware of our Father’s love and desire to show mercy, our shame and guilt will actually keep us from him.

In the story, it was the father’s care for his household—even for the slaves—that brought the son back. So it is for us Christians. It isn’t the fun of confession that keeps us coming to the Divine Service, but the desire to receive Holy Absolution, in which we receive the love of our heavenly Father in the forgiveness of Jesus Christ.

But even as he returns to his father, he has yet to understand his father’s love properly. Sure, he knows that he is not worthy to be called a son; but I might be worthy to be a servant. While a son is born into the family, a servant earns his share. And this is what the son desires to do—earn his keep. And so it is for us Christians. Our nature is to desire to bring something to the table of ourselves, some sort of penence to make the situation right—maybe it’s an improved church attendance or a bigger amount given in the offering plate. But the father requires nothing from his son. Neither does our heavenly Father require anything from His sons or daughters.

The only payment for sins is the death of Christ. The only certainty for us in God’s absolution spoken to us for Christ’s sake. Forgiveness of sins comes to us by grace alone, for Christ’s sake. Christ died for the sons of daughters of the Father—his own brothers and sisters—and shed His blood for the cross for the forgivness of their sins.

The father gave the prodigal son the best robe. So it us with us Christians. Our heavenly Father has dressed us with the robe of Christ’s righteousness. Not because we can earn our keep, and not because we have been the good son. But because His great love is freely given.

May the Holy Spirit give you the faith to receive His love in Christ Jesus with thanksgiving!

Peace in Christ, sons and daughers of the Father.

p.s. A big thanks to Pastor Bender whose teaching and resources provided most of the thoughts in today's devotion.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Daily Devotion for Wednesday (7/22/09)-From the Old Testament

Today’s Old Testament reading in the Treasury of Daily Prayer is from 1 Samuel 5 and 6.  Let’s consider just 5:1-6:1:


1 Samuel 5:1 - 6:1  When the Philistines captured the ark of God, they brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod2 Then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it into the house of Dagon and set it up beside Dagon.  3 And when the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the LORD. So they took Dagon and put him back in his place.  4 But when they rose early on the next morning, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the LORD, and the head of Dagon and both his hands were lying cut off on the threshold. Only the trunk of Dagon was left to him.  5 This is why the priests of Dagon and all who enter the house of Dagon do not tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod to this day.  6 The hand of the LORD was heavy against the people of Ashdod, and he terrified and afflicted them with tumors, both Ashdod and its territory.  7 And when the men of Ashdod saw how things were, they said, "The ark of the God of Israel must not remain with us, for his hand is hard against us and against Dagon our god."  8 So they sent and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines and said, "What shall we do with the ark of the God of Israel?" They answered, "Let the ark of the God of Israel be brought around to Gath." So they brought the ark of the God of Israel there.  9 But after they had brought it around, the hand of the LORD was against the city, causing a very great panic, and he afflicted the men of the city, both young and old, so that tumors broke out on them.  10 So they sent the ark of God to Ekron. But as soon as the ark of God came to Ekron, the people of Ekron cried out, "They have brought around to us the ark of the God of Israel to kill us and our people."  11 They sent therefore and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines and said, "Send away the ark of the God of Israel, and let it return to its own place, that it may not kill us and our people." For there was a deathly panic throughout the whole city. The hand of God was very heavy there.  12 The men who did not die were struck with tumors, and the cry of the city went up to heaven.  ESV 1 Samuel 6:1 The ark of the LORD was in the country of the Philistines seven months.


This is the sort of story that we shy away from at the dinner table with our children.  It would cause our little ones to ask questions…questions that may even make us uncomfortable.  Nevertheless, the Lord reveals himself through His Word…even this Word!


The Philistines had placed the Ark of God in the temple of their pagan god, Dagon—the height of idolatry!  Mysteriously, or so those Philistines thought, their lifeless statue had fallen on his face before the ark—the same position one might take when they bow before the true and living God in worship.  But when the Philistines placed Dagon back on his feet, they woke up the next morning to find him fallen again, only this time he had fallen to his “death”—hands and feet had been broken off and were lying on the threshold.


Among people who worship false gods and where there is no faith, even the physical presence of God can go unnoticed until something happens that they don’t like.  And then, they want to get as far away as possible from that scary God who has revealed himself in wrath.


Dagon’s head had been broken off because there is only one Head of all creation—and through Him alone all life proceeds.

Dagon’s hands were broken because he was powerless, and had nothing to give from his own hands.  For from the hands of the living God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—do all blessings flow.


The false gods of men can not give life, but only bring death.  When we put our trust in anything other than God himself, we make ourselves to be like the foolish Philistines.


But there is a sort of happy ending to this story.  In chapter six, when the Ark of God is taken back to a land where God is known and Worshiped, songs of praise are sung, for they know that from His hands come all good things.


Seen with the eyes of unbelief God comes in wrath.  But the very same God, seen with the eyes of faith, and looking through the cross of His Son Jesus, know that God comes in mercy and grace.


Truly, God’s Word is both Law and Gospel.  Thanks be to God, that he has given us Christ and for His sake comes not to kill, but to give life.


Peace in Christ!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Daily Devotional Thought for Tuesday (7/21/09)-From the Psalms

The Treasury of Daily Prayer assigned Psalm 106:1-5 for today:

Praise the LORD! Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!  2 Who can utter the mighty deeds of the LORD, or declare all his praise?  3 Blessed are they who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times!  4 Remember me, O LORD, when you show favor to your people; help me when you save them,  5 that I may look upon the prosperity of your chosen ones, that I may rejoice in the gladness of your nation, that I may glory with your inheritance.


Verse one is on our lips each time we celebrate The Lord’s Supper.  Having received the body and blood of our Lord, we shout forth with praise and thanksgiving the words of the psalmist.  But what is the cause for such a reaction?  The steadfast love of the Lord—for you!


Who can utter the mighty deeds of the LORD, or declare all his praise?  Surely not those who are dead in their trespasses (Eph 2; Col. 2).  Not anyone who is an enemy of God (Rom. 5:10).  A person conceived in sin (Psalm 51), and living in darkness (Eph. 5:8) is not capable of such a faithful response.  Such a person is left to carry the burden of his or her sin and the judgment it brings.


But in that heavenly meal, in The Lord’s Supper, we have received the one who observed justice, and did righteousness all the time (verse 3).  In the Sacrament of the Altar, He who fulfills all righteousness is given into the mouths of those who were once dead.   In Holy Communion Christ’s living body and blood makes enemies into brothers and sisters, raises the dead to life, calls those conceived in sin and living in darkness into the light of the Gospel.  And through this, the Holy Spirit produces the faith that trusts that all of this is true!  That, my friends, is something to give thanks and praise for.


Indeed, we give thanks to the Lord, for His steadfast love endures forever!  Our sins are not held against us.  Our trespasses are forgiven.  Where sinners acknowledge their sins, and receive the one in whom there is forgiveness of sins—Jesus Christ—there, and there alone, is seen the prosperity of God’s people.  It’s a prosperity that remains hidden in bread and wine and involves a cross and an empty tomb.  It’s the prosperity that comes through faith in Jesus Christ, in whom we have our eternal inheritance.


Who can utter the mighty deeds of the Lord?  Those who have received the Lord and all the benefits He brings!


The Essential Lutheran Library

Those who have been with me regularly in Bible class know that I love books, and reading, and learning, and finding out that others enjoy reading and learning as well.

While there is a wealth of edifying reading out there to keep one busy, there is also, an unfortunately greater wealth of reading that would confuse the faithful, or worse, cause them to doubt the true teachings of the Scriptures that are difficult enough to grasp by themselves. Of course, as a pastor who is concerned that the sheep of God’s flock are not lead astray, I thought it would be helpful to offer a few suggestions for books that would be good to have on your bookshelves (hence the bookshelf to the left!).

The publishing house of the LCMS (CPH) has been putting out some wonderful volumes recently. Over at his blog, Rev. Paul McCain has recently posted about what he calls “The Essential Lutheran Library.” Here is an excerpt from his post:

“These are volumes that I deem absolutely essential for every Lutheran to have, and to use. These are not intended to be pretty books on a bookshelf, although surely they are that, but to be volumes for the Christian life, always leading and aiding people to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, calling them to Himself, welcoming them to His Table, for the the meal for pilgrims he provides to us, in anticipation of the great feast to come in His kingdom.”

Read the full post here: Rev. McCain's blog.

The Essential Lutheran Library consists of the following six titles:

The Lutheran Study Bible

Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions

Lutheran Service Book (or TLH or LW)

Luther's Small Catechism

Treasury of Daily Prayer

Lutheran Book of Prayer

To this "core" there are two other volumes designed to look similar:

Reading the Psalms with Luther

Starck's Prayerbook

It would be this pastor's dream to know that these books were on the bookshelf of every home, and were well-worn by their regular use in family and personal devotions.

I hope to add additional books to my shelf, books that I am currently reading, have read in the past, or hope to read soon. Until then, the six books on the shelf are my recommendation for the foundation of a home library. In other words, if you are wondering what sort of books to share with your family, start with these six, and you’ll be off to a solid start.

Happy reading!

Peace in Christ

Monday, July 20, 2009

Daily Devotional Thought for Monday (7/20/09)--For the Christian Family

Deuteronomy 6:5-9 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

I remember having a conversation with a pastor in St. Louis who was grieving the loss of the “family altar.” His grief came from years spent in ministry where he had struggled to teach the Christian faith to children who lived in homes where Christ was the occasional guest, rather than the very foundation and source of life and faith.

Schedules are busy, granted, but I wonder if our pace of life is the excuse we often make it. For example, while a family may be trying to implement a consistent routine for devotions and prayer, when that same family goes on vacation—and the pace of life slows down—the devotional routine is often the first to go. Do mom and dad make sure to pack their family bible while they load up the mini-van? All of this illustrates a deeper problem.

Deutoronomy 6 encourages parents to teach their children the Word of God—diligently. Apparently, families that discuss the faith, ponder the Scriptures, and pray together while they sit around in their living rooms, or while they travel across the country are, well, families that understand their dependence on Christ to be their foundation, and the source of their life.

You see, apart from Christ, we will all perish. But as a family abides in His Word (John 8:31ff) they will know Christ himself, and in Him they will be set free to live. The “family altar” may be the single most needed addition to the church today. May you and yours know the blessings that Christ bestows—the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation!

Peace in Christ!

Daily Devotional Thoughts

Just over three years ago, I started this blog. Follow this link to see the original post: It’s safe to say that I’ve been consistently inconsistent in posting on this here blog—this is only the 19th post. That’s just about six posts each year. Not exactly the sort of regular reading that keeps people coming back!

Recently, however, while speaking with a good friend of mine I was motivated to find a away to use this blog as an avenue for more regular communication with the good folks of Mt. Calvary. I asked the Board of Education, along with a few other trusted colleagues, to serve as “guinea pigs” as I worked out a format for these “Daily Devotional Thoughts.” I want to thank those of you who offered feedback, and helped me find a format that I pray is helpful for all who will read these thoughts.

It is my hope and prayer that these devotional thoughts will clearly set forth our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ—and the hope we have in Him. I encourage readers to ask questions, to engage in discussion, and to offer your own thoughts about the daily readings.

You can expect a devotional thought to be posted by noon (sorry about today’s late post!) Monday – Friday. Each day will have a unique emphasis:

Monday—For the Christian Family

Tuesday—From the Psalms

Wednesday—New Testament

Thursday—Old Testament

Friday—From the Lutheran Confessions, Luther, or one of the Church Fathers

Happy reading, and may our time in the Word produce the fruit of faith!

Peace in Christ