Monday, August 31, 2009

Daily Devotional Thought--For the Family

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

When I was a teenager, my father would say to me, "Garbage in, garbage out." It was his way of teaching me that I was being influenced. Even though I would always say, "I only listen to this CD for the music, and not the lyrics," the music that went in my ears often times added to the vocabulary that came out of my mouth--and not usually in a positive way.

Proverbs 1:8-9 says:
Listen, my son, to your father's instruction and do not forsake your mother's teaching. They will be a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck.

It wasn't until years later that I appreciated my father's wise counsel. All of a sudden, my father (and mother) became very smart...almost overnight.

Two-year-olds aren't so different from teenagers, you know. They test to see if mom and dad really do know what is best for them. "Don't touch that, it's hot!" When they have ice on their burned finger, then they'll understand mom's advice for what it is worth.

Thankfully, we aren't the only ones trying to teach our children.

We have a heavenly Father who loves his children unconditionally, and who gives us His Word to hand down true wisdom and faith. And we have a mother--the church--who comes alongside of us and nurtures us with the Word of our Father, a Word that disciplines and convicts, but a Word that comforts and consoles like a mother's warm embrace.

We pray that parents would continue to teach their children, even when their efforts aren't appreciated until years later. Ultimately, our heavenly Father's Word never is empty, and will always accomplish His purposes, whether that Word is taught by parents to a two-year-old, a teenager full of angst, or to an adult that must learn "the hard way" once again. And because God's Word will accomplish His purposes, we have hope that our children will be wearing the crown of salvation with us for all eternity.

Lord, empower us parents and grandparents to continue to give your steadfast love to the next generation; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Commemoration of Augustine of Hippo, Pastor and Theologian

Today our Synod remembers St. Augustine. From the Treasury of Daily Prayer:

Augustine was one of the greatest of the Latin Church Fathers and a significant influence in the formation of Western Christianity, including Lutheranism. Born in AD 354 in North Africa, Augustine's early life was distinguished by exceptional advancement as a teacher of rhetoric. In his book "Confessions" he describes his life before his conversion to Christianity, when he was drawn into the moral laxity of the day and fathered an illegitimate son. Through the devotion of his sainted mother, Monica, and the preaching of Ambrose, bishop of Milan (AD 339-97), Augustine was converted to the Christian faith. During the great Pelagian controversies of the fifth century, Augustine emphasized the unilateral grace of God in the salvation of mankind. Bishop and theologian at Hippo in North Africa from AD 395 until his death in AD 430, Augustine was a man of great intelligence, a fierce defender of orthodox faith, and a prolific writer. In addition to "Confessions," Augustine's book "City of God" had a great impact upon the Church throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

A prayer in his memory:
O Lord God, the light of the minds that know You, the life of the souls that love You, and the strength of the hearts that serve You, give us the strength to follow the example of Your servant Augustine of Hippo, so that knowing You we may truly love You and loving You we may fully serve You--for to serve You is perfect freedom; 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 the Confessions (A Never Ending Battle)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

All of San Antonio is rooting for the McAllister Park Little League to win the Little League World Series. On Sunday, they will either be world Champions, or have completed the most successful season in San Antonio's Little League history. Either way, these kids are already champions. But next week, their baseball battle will be over, they'll return home, and then start another school year. They'll be forced to move on to the next challenge.

The Christian life isn't so different. Luther writes in his Large Catechism:

We Christians must be armed (Ephesians 6:10-18) and daily expect to be constantly attacked. No one may go on in security and carelessly, as though the devil were far from us. At all times we must expect and block his blows. Though I am now chaste, patient, kind, and in firm faith, the devil will this very hour send such an arrow into my heart that I can scarcely stand. For he is an enemy that never stops or becomes tired. So when one temptation stops. there always arise others and fresh ones.

Even when we experience victories in our battle against sin and Satan, we are forced to move on and get ready for the next attack. Like a team that fails to prepare properly for an opponent as is caught off guard and defeated, we too can take our opponent for granted.

Luther quotes Ephesians 6 when he speaks about being armed. There St. Paul talks about putting on the full armor of God:

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

May you all be fitted with the armor of God, and protected by the powerful Word of God, the comfort of the Gospel, and the faith that clings to Christ alone. Rejoice in your victories, and prepare yourselves for Satan's next attack, for you know it is coming. But with the shield of faith, you have nothing to fear--for the victory has already been won in Jesus Christ. Amen.

What is an Appropriate Response?

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Many of us have brothers or sisters, parents, siblings, children, or dear friends within the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA). And as I've recently posted (here), recent decisions made by the ELCA in convention have made us stop, and think, and pray. How do we respond appropriately?

Luther writes these helpful words about the 8th Commandment in his Large Catechism:

This commandment...forbids all sins of the tongue by which we may injure or offend our neighbor. "Bearing false witness" is nothing but a work of the tongue. God wants to hold in check whatever is done with the tongue against a neighbor. This applies to false preachers with their blasphemous teaching, to false judges and witnesses with their rulings in court and their lying and malicious talk outside of court. It applies especially to the detestable, shameless vice of backbiting or slander by which the devil rides us. Of this much could be said. It is a common, pernicious plague that everyone would rather hear evil than good about their neighbors. Even though we ourselves are evil, we cannot tolerate it when anyone speaks evil of us; instead, we want to hear the whole world say golden things of us. Yet we cannot bear it when someone says the best things about others.

At least one conclusion is clear: It is NOT appropriate to lump all pastoral or lay members of the ELCA into one group and say that they are all faithless, heretical, or even in support of the recent decisions.

But then, Luther also writes this:
So you see that we are absolutely forbidden to speak evil of our neighbor. Exception is made, however, of civil magistrates, preachers, and fathers and mothers in order that we may interpret this commandment in such a way that evil does not go unpunished. We have seen that the Fifth Commandment forbids us to injure anyone physically, and yet an exception is made of the hangman. By virtue of his office he does not do his neighbor good but only harm and evil, yet he does not sin against God's commandment because God of his own accord instituted that office, and, as he warns in the First Commandment, he has reserved to himself the right of punishment. Likewise, although no one personally has the right to judge and condemn anyone, yet if they are commanded to do so and fail to do it, they sin as much as those who take the law into their own hands apart from any office. In that case necessity requires one to report evil, to prefer charges, to give evidence, to examine witnesses, and to testify...Just so, the authorities, fathers and mothers, and even brothers and sisters and other good friends are under a mutual obligation to reprove evil wherever it is necessary and helpful.

So...while we do not use the ELCA's decisions as an opportunity to backbite, or gossip about the people within the ELCA, there is an appropriate response.

Pastors have been called to teach the truth and to point out error. In today's devotional writing in the Treasury of Daily Prayer, St. Augustine writes these helpful words:

How many and vehement rebukes did Jeremiah preach against the sinners and wicked ones of his people. Yet he lived among them, he entered into the same temple with them, celebrated the same mysteries; he lived in that congregation of wicked men, but by his preaching "he came out from among them." This is what it means "to come out from among them" (Isaiah 52:11); this is what it means to not "touch the unclean thing." It means not consenting to them in will and not sparing them in word. I say this of Jeremiah, or Isaiah, of Daniel, and Ezekiel, and the rest of the prophets, who did not retire from the wicked people, lest they should desert the good who were mingled with that people.

Not consenting to them in will and not sparing them in word.

Clearly, the truth of the Scriptures MUST be taught, and where error exists, that must also be taught.

So while we must not judge the heart of the individual within the ELCA, their recent decisions give us an opportunity to CLEARLY CONFESS the truth of the Scriptures.

1) The Scriptures don't just contain the Word of God--they ARE the Word of God--every jot and tittle.
2) The Scriptures don't conform to an ever evolving society or culture, the Scriptures create a culture, a people of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
3) God is righteous, just, and jealous, and will not tolerate sin.
4) God is merciful to us poor sinners and has punished His own Son for the sins of humanity.
5) Jesus' righteousness is now credited to poor sinners, and is applied through the proclamation of the Gospel in Word and Sacrament.
6) The Law of God is to convict the impenitent (unrepentant) sinner, leading him or her to repentance.
7) The Gospel and all its comfort is to be given to the penitent (repentant) sinner, assuring him or her of the forgiveness of sins Christ by His death and resurrection.

Clearly, the ELCA has practices that are in error: Approving openly gay and lesbian pastors, having full fellowship with Methodists, Episcopalians, Reformed and others, ordaining women into the Pastoral Office, and practicing open Communion. But these only symptoms of a more foundational misunderstanding about how to interpret the Scriptures. And as a result of a faulty understanding of the Scriptures, the clear will of God is being obscured.

When the Law of God is minimized, the Gospel is diminished--that is what we grieve.

And so we pray:
Lord, Have mercy on us! Give us the courage to teach teach and preach, and to receive Your Word in its truth and purity. Reveal the sin that lives within and drive us to repentance. Comfort us with your gracious promises of forgiveness, life and salvation in Jesus Christ. Grant us the strength to clearly confess the truths revealed in the Holy Scriptures, that Your kingdom may continue to be extended too all the earth; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Daily Devotional Thought--From the New Testament (Appearances are Deceiving)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

2 Corinthians 5:1-10:
For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened--not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

From where does your comfort come? What gives you consolation in the midst of desolation? How do you know that you have "a building from God, a house not made with hands?"

There are many that look to outward appearances to be comforted. It's up to the fruit produced by their visible lives to convince them that God's promises apply to them--that they are elect, and an heir of salvation. But appearances are deceiving.

On the one hand, if we compare the fruit of our lives to the fruit that others are producing, we will always be able to find less productive examples that make us feel pretty good: "Hey, at least I'm not like __________." But on the other hand, the abundance of visible fruit that others produce might make us doubt our faith or, worse, question God's promises.

What honest Christian, at the end of the day, can look back at his or her actions and be ready to bring that fruit to the judgment seat of Christ. Who desires to receive what is due to him or her based on your visible fruit? But appearances are deceiving.

St. Paul writes that "we walk by faith, not by sight." When we take comfort in outward appearances, in the fruit of faith, our comfort is temporary at best, and more than likely, will lead to despair. Our appearances will always deceive us, and try to rob us of the comfort of God's simple Word.

We groan while we are in this tent because this tent fails to convince us, to comfort us. And yet, one who appeared as a meek and humble servant, was in actuality the living God himself. On the cross, while all hope appears to be lost, and Satan appears to have finally succeeded in defeating the hope of the nations, we learn that appearances are deceiving indeed. Jesus' body suffered and died. And the visible fruit of Jesus' life appeared to be, well, meaningless.

But then he came out of the tomb--alive and gloriously living!

Be comforted by the promises of God. Jesus was raised from the dead so that all who are baptized into Him will experience that same glorious appearing. Even as you see the convicting evidence that Satan holds before your eyes, look to the promises of God, for He has declared you righteous for the sake of Christ.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Daily Devotional Thought--From the Old Testament

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

The readings for this past Sunday could be mined for quite some time and not exhausted. In the Old Testament, Israel is rebuked for their empty worship:

And the Lord said: "Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men, therefore, behold, I will again do wonderful things with this people, with wonder upon wonder; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden" (Isaiah 29:13-14).

Empty worship is greeted with wonderful things? That doesn't make much sense...unless the preaching of repentance, that is, the law, is a wonderful thing.

It's striking that when describing the empty worship of God's chosen people, they are no longer referred to as chosen people. Typically, Israel is referred to "my people," but here, the anger of God is heard in that he can no longer stand to call them His people. Like a father who hands a defiant child to a mother saying, "this isn't MY child," Israel's empty worship has caused God himself to refer to his beloved children as "this people."

And how was their worship empty?

Ah, you who hide deep from the LORD your counsel, whose deeds are in the dark, and who say, "Who sees us? Who knows us?" You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, "He did not make me"; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, "He has no understanding?" (v. 15-16)

I was taught in worship classes that the Divine Service was primarily about God delivering his gifts through Word and Sacrament. God's is the giver; His people receive. But Israel has turned things upside down (v. 16). Indeed, this is no commandment of God, but the teaching of men--and it continues today.

But God's isn't like us. His anger doesn't keep him from giving steadfast love. He sends a prophet, Isaiah, to preach to "this people" so that their hearts may be turned toward him once again, and they may be restored as "His people."

The wonderful things that God does is the work of repentance as the Holy Spirit plunges His Word into the hearts of "this people." "This people becomes "my people" once again as those who have had their ears closed to the Word of God "hear the words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see" (v. 18).

God does a wonderful work of leading his people to see the error of their ways, so that the even more wonderful work of restoration is accomplished.

The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the LORD, and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel (v. 19).

Finally, His people are receiving and rejoicing once again in the Holy One of Israel, their heavenly Father, the one who won't let his anger keep him from giving good gifts. The one who gives His Son so that "this people" might be "His people," and inherit "His kingdom." Amen.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Daily Devotional Thought--From the Psalms

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

From the Psalm for today: Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered" (Psalm 32:1).

Maybe you know someone who has a classic car in his or her garage, or maybe you have one yourself. Chances are, the owner of such a classic will utilize some sort of dust cover in order to keep the valuable antique's paint job shining bright. But when he wants to show her off, out she comes from underneath her covering.

It's not so with us. You and I have been covered, as the verse above clearly proclaims. But in our case, what is covered is not so beautiful. "I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,' and you forgave the iniquity of my sin" (32:5).

Like a man who drives his classic car around for all to see BEFORE restoring her, allowing his neighbors and other "motor heads" to see all the rust, the worn out leather seats, and everything else that caused her to be thrown aside and left for dead in the junkyard, the psalmist acknowledges that he is dirty and rusty and worn out--he is full of sin.

When we don't cover up our sin, but acknowledge it before our heavenly Father, He covers it himself. He remembers the sacrifice of His Son, where all the rust and decay--all the sin--that has kept us from being his beautiful and righteous creatures was taken away and covered up by the cross. He remembers that His Crucified Son came out of the tomb with a new and glorious body, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep (1 Cor. 15:20-23). And then He covers us with the very life of Christ.

But UNLIKE a classic car's dustcover, this one isn't coming off. While the Devil, the World and your sinful flesh will remind you of what used to be--your dirty and filthy and unacceptable sinful self--the covering given you by your heavenly Father isn't simply a facade that is ripped off when it's time to go out and live. The covering that He gives you is who you are in Christ. It's how He sees you, when you can only see what used to be. It's why he welcomes you, and parades you around as His sons and daughters, because you are shiny, and beautiful, and restored as the crown of His creation. And that, he doesn't want to cover up.

You see, when God covers something up, He doesn't take it off. In Christ, you are a new creation, the old has gone, and the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17).

Restored in Christ. Amen.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Daily Devotional Thought--For the Family

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

In yesterday's Gospel reading, Mark 7:1-13, Jesus is confronted by the Pharisees because some of the disciples hadn't washed their hands prior to eating. With the disciples' oversight, the Pharisees had caught them not observing the "tradition of the elders."

Jesus responds by correctly identifying that tradition as a "tradition of men," and not a commandment of God. But even worse, he goes on to identify an example of the Pharisees hypocrisy by pointing out how they were misusing the religious vow called "Corban."

Corban was a vow in which you could dedicate your money to God. But because the money was only dedicated, and not actually give to the temple, people were making use of Corban so that they wouldn't have to use their savings to take care of their aging parents. By making this empty vow they were not only lying to God, but they were breaking the 4th Commandment to honor their fathers and mothers.

The same fathers and mothers that took care of them in their infancy, guided them through their formative years, and helped them make sense of life's deeper questions as they went through adolescence and into adulthood, were now being abandoned by their children.

I think this is still happening today. While adults aren't taking advantage of loop holes in religious vows to get out of taking care of their aging parents, simple geography presents problems when mom and dad live hundreds or thousands of miles away. And even if you live in the same town, busy schedules, the simple "inconvenience" threaten the 4th Commandment.

God blesses us with families in order that we would have a community within which we bear the burdens of this world--together. Helping aging parents is simply a part of the God-given vocation of son or daughter. Parents who abandoned helpless children are thrown into prison, and this is common sense. What should we do with adult children who abandon their helpless parents?

Thankfully, in Christ all of us have a loving heavenly Father who is never helpless. All of us are a part of a family of faith, and thankfully, sometimes that family of faith will step up and take the place of adult children who neglect their own flesh and blood.

Let us all love and honor our moms and dads. Amen.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Few Responses to the Decisions of the ELCA

The ELCA concluded their national convention today, a convention that included a number of noteworthy decisions.

1) Read about their decision to welcome "Partnered Gay and Lesbian Lutherans" as pastors.

2) Read about the ELCA adopting "Full Communion" (Altar and Pulpit Fellowship) with the United Methodist Church.

To read what LCMS President Gerald Kieschnick had to say to the convention (in person), follow this link.

To read a sermon from an LCMS pastor which address the danger of Pharisaical attitudes towards those within the ELCA, follow this link.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Daily Devotional Thought--From the Confessions

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Unemployment is rising. The economy may or may not be recovering; it depends who you read. There is uncertainty about the future of our medical system. Wars rage around the world. Today I'd like to share with you a portion of Luther's thoughts about the 4th Petition (Give us this day our daily bread) from the Large Catechism:

To put it briefly, this petition includes everything that belongs to our entire life in this world, because it is only for its sake that we need daily bread. Now, our life requires not only food and clothing and other necessities for our body, but also peace and concord in our daily activities, associations, and situations of every sort with the people among whom we live and with whom we interact--in short, in everything that pertains to the regulation of both our domestic and our civil or political affairs. For where these two spheres are interfered with and prevented from functioning as they should, there the necessities of life are also interfered with, and life itself cannot be maintained for any length of time. Indeed, the greatest need of all is to pray for the civil authorities and the government, for it is chiefly through them that God provides us daily bread and all the comforts of this life. Although we have received from God all good things in abundance, we cannot retain any of them or enjoy them in security and happiness were he not to give us a stable, peaceful government. For where dissension, strife, and war prevail, there daily bread is already taken away or at least reduced.
(Very appropriate words for today's situation!)

(This next part is great!!)
It would therefore be fitting if the coat of arms of every upright prince were emblazoned with a loaf of bread instead of a lion or a wreath of rue, or if a loaf of bread were stamped on coins, in order to remind both princes and subjects that it is through the princes' office that we enjoy protection and peace and that without them we could neither eat nor preserve the precious gift of bread. Therefore, rulers are also worthy of all honor, and we are to render to them what we should and what we are able, as to those through whom we enjoy all our possessions in peace and quietness, because otherwise we could not keep a penny. Moreover, we should pray for them, that through them God may bestow on us still more blessings and good things.

Why try to restate what someone else has already said beautifully.

Let us pray for daily bread, and in that prayer, include all of our government officials, service men and women, and anyone else who works to provide the goods and services that we enjoy each and every day.

Praying for bread...Amen.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Commemoration of Samuel

Today the Church remembers the example of Samuel. From the Treasury of Daily Prayer:

Samuel, last of the Old Testament judges and first of the prophets (after Moses), lived during the eleventh century BC. The child of Elkanah, an Ephraimite, and his wife Hannah, Samuel was from early on consecrated by his parents for sacred service and trained in the house of the Lord at Shiloh by Eli the priest. Samuel's authority as a prophet was established by God (1 Samuel 3:20). He anointed Saul to be Israel's first king (1 Samuel 10:1). Later, as a result of Saul's disobedience to God, Samuel repudiated Saul's leadership and then anointed David to be king in place of Saul (1 Samuel 16:13). Samuel's loyalty to God, his spiritual insight, and his ability to inspire others made him one of Israel's great leaders.

Daily Devotional Thought--From the New Testament (For the Sake of the Whole)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

I don't know if you've been following the news on ESPN, but I know my in-laws (Die Hard Packer Fans) would have some thoughts about one story in particular. Brett Favre, the quarterback who spent 16 of his 18 record-breaking seasons throwing passes for the Green Bay Packers has decided to come out of retirement...AGAIN. As if anyone had a doubt. But here's the kicker: he'll be playing his 19th season for the rival Minnesota Vikings.

But playing for another team isn't the issue for me. This is the third season that Brett has had at least one NFL team held hostage. Management and coaches try do make decisions for the upcoming season, and yet, there's this little voice on their shoulder saying, "But what if Brett wants to play." And what about the other players. Training camp begins. Rookies and other newcomers are working hard to earn a spot. Players who haven't played together try to develop a sense of chemistry and become a team. Blood, sweat and tears are all fruits of the labor of NFL training camp. And then, Brett decides he's ready. He's ready to take his valuable talents to a team already beginning to function as a team. Why? Because he's that good? Because the Vikings are better with him? Because it's all about Brett?

I'll let you draw your own conclusions. I'm just thankful the Church doesn't (or at least shouldn't) work like that.

Today's New Testament reading in the Treasury of Daily Prayer was from 1 Corinthians 12:1-13, where St. Paul teaches about Spiritual Gifts.

(Now, I could write an entire post (or many posts) about the difference between talents and Spiritual gifts. Suffice it to say for now, that all people have talents, but only Christians have Spiritual gifts. Why? Because they're given by the Holy Spirit.)

There are a variety of gifts (v. 4), many different ways to serve (v. 5), a host of different activities possible (v. 6), but each gift is given by the same Spirit, service opportunities are provided by the same Lord, and every possible activity is from the same God. God's gifts are as varied as His children. But the point is this: Spiritual gifts are not given for me to use for myself. They are given for the sake of the whole.

"For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ" (v. 12).

The Minnesota Vikings may be better with Brett Favre tacking snaps, there's no doubting his talents. But they may be torn apart by the media circus, the individual attention, and a host of other factors.

When we use our Spiritual gifts for the sake of the building up of those around us, truly, the Church can't lose.

Seeking to serve. Amen.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Commemoration of Bernard of Clairvaux, Hymnwriter and Theologian

Today the Church remembers Bernard of Clairvaux. From the Treasury of Daily Prayer:

A leader in Christian Europe in the first half of the twelfth century AD, Bernard is honored in his native France and around the world. Born into a noble family in Burgundy in 1090, Bernard left the affluence of his heritage and entered the monastery of Citeaux at the age of twenty-two. After two years, he was sent to start a new monastic house at Clairvaux. His work there was blessed in many ways. The monastery at Clairvaux grew in mission and service, eventually establishing some sixty-eight daughter houses. Bernard is remembered not only for his charity and political abilities but especially for his preaching and hymn composition. The hymn texts "O Jesus, King Most Wonderful" and "O Sacred Head, Now Wounded" are part of the heritage of the faith left by St. Bernard.

A prayer in his honor:
O God, enkindled with the fire of Your love, Your servant Barnard of Clairvaux became a burning and shining light in Your Church. By Your mercy, grant that we also may be aflame with the spirit of love and discipline and may ever walk in Your presence as children of light; 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 the Old Testament (The Deadly Spiral)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Today's Old Testament reading from the Treasury of Daily Prayer was a familiar one: David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:1-27). I am always amazed how an old familiar story can reveal a depth you didn't notice in prior readings, a nuance or simply an overlooked piece that the Spirit uses to enlighten.

This morning, as I read the story of King David's slippery slope of sin, he became for me a living (yes, David is a part of the Whole Company of Heaven) example of James 1:15: "Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death."

David hadn't planned on killing Uriah the Hittite. But when his fleshly, lustful, desire for Bathsheba was not curbed, his sinful nature began to spiral out of control. At first it was just a bit of spring fever: "In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel. And they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem" (verse 1).

Men and women are attracted to one another--it's part of the way God made us. But David's attraction led him to covet another man's wife and break the 10th Commandment. But instead of confessing this covetousness and fleeing from the sin, David began to experiment. And all of a sudden, his sin began to spiral out of control.

He committed adultery--breaking the 6th Commandment. He mislead Uriah the Hittite because Bathsheba had become pregnant--breaking the 8th Commandment. He plotted out and executed a plan to kill Uriah--breaking the 5th Commandment. And in the end, he took Bathsheba home as his wife--breaking the 7th Commandment.

David's "little" sin of lust went unchecked, and the verse from James warns, ended up spiraling out of control and led to death--only in this case the death wasn't his own.

And why did David allow this all to happen? Because even as he was the anointed one of God, David's real struggle wasn't with the 5th Commandment, the 6th Commandment, or even the 7th, 8th, 9th, or 10th Commandment. David allowed his sin to spiral out of control because he struggled to keep the 1st Commandment.

Luther writes that "we should fear, love, and trust in God above all things." This is what the 1st Commandment means. So where is David's fear of God? He definitely isn't showing it here. And where is David's love of God? It seems to me that he is showing his love of the flesh. And David's trust of God? Well, why do you need to trust in God when you are trusting in your own position and power to make all your fleshly desires comes true. Because David couldn't keep the 1st Commandment, all the others came crashing down.

Indeed, David serves as a living example for us that sin can grow, and evolve, and ultimately kill. But what can sin not do? Separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord (Romans 8:39). In fact, sin is the reason Jesus came, and lived, and died, and rose. Sin is what Jesus took in His own body. Sin is what Jesus became, so that men like David, and sinners like you and me, might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21).

Don't allow your "little" sins to live. Confess them, and as you receive Christ's Holy Absolution, they will be nailed to the cross with Him, and put to death, so that you can live. Amen.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Daily Devotional Thought--From the Psalms (Lost in a Desert)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Today's assigned Psalm is 107:1-9:
1 Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever!
2 Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
whom he has redeemed from trouble
3 and gathered in from the lands,
from the east and from the west,from the north and from the south.
4 Some wandered in desert wastes,

finding no way to a city to dwell in;
5 hungry and thirsty,
their soul fainted within them.
6 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
7 He led them by a straight way
till they reached a city to dwell in.
8 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
9 For he satisfies the longing soul,
and the hungry soul he fills with good things.

With GPS systems, googlemaps, mapquest, or a host of other mapping aids, getting lost is not such a common occurrence as it once was. And even if you do happen to find yourself in a new and strange place, chances are you will be able to pick up your cell phone and call somebody to help.

After being dispersed (exiled) to Assyria and Babylon, the Children of Israel were scattered throughout the desert, searching again for a land to call their own (v. 4). They didn't pick up cell phones, but they did call out to somebody who could help--Almighty God. Verse 7 says that "He led them by a straight way to a city where they could settle." He heard their call and answered their prayer, providing them safe travel to their destination.

Like I said, getting lost while driving isn't such a common, every day, occurrence, but you and I may find ourselves searching throughout life. Maybe we are considering a difficult decision and haven't been able to discern which choice is better. Maybe we have simply been 'spinning our wheels' and don't seem to be making any progress toward our goals in life. So what are we to do?

It's really quite simple. Verse 9 says "For he satisfies the longing soul,
and the hungry soul he fills with good things." The real question is this: what are you longing for? What are you thirsty for? Matthew 6:33 says, 'seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you."

Luther's meaning to the 1st Commandments hits the nail on the head: "We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things." Trusting in God to provide whatever I need means that I won't fear the outcome when I face a difficult decision or struggle to meet "my" goals. In fact, maybe my goals need to become more like His goals.

I'm not saying that your faithfulness is the reason that God gives good gifts. In fact, He gives good gifts to all people without our prayers, even to all evil people (4th Petition of the Lord's Prayer). But as we call out to God, and trust in Him for everything we need, our goals become godly ones, and the kingdom we end up seeking is the one He wants to give us.

Indeed, God will always hear our prayers, and like He did for the Children of Israel scattered throughout the desert, he will answer them, and lead us home. If it were not so, He would have told us so.

Being led home. Amen.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Daily Devotional Thought--For the Family (Bodily Discipline)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Here is a portion of the The New Testament reading for today in the Treasury of Daily Prayer:

1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (ESV): Do you not know that in a race all the runner tun, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified."

I think every parent can relate to St. Paul's analogy of a runner in a race. In fact, life in today's fast-paced society has been commonly called a "rat race." And while St. Paul's encouragement to try to win the race is no surprise, I fear we misunderstand how to go about it.

We try harder, add more activities to the schedule, go, go , go, because that's what we think it means to "win." Or maybe it's just our fear of not "keeping up" with the Joneses, or whomever happens to live up the street from you and yours.

But St. Paul's encouragement doesn't include doing more, or packing as much into a daily routine as possible. In fact, it's quite the opposite. An athlete practices self-control so that his training isn't hindered by junk food, or foolish night time behavior, or a host of other detracting activities. Similarly, parents do well to be self-controlled, to sit down with one another and decide which activities the family will be a part of, and which nights they will simply practice the art of saying "no"--that is, being self-controlled.

And why are we able to practice this sort of self-control? Because we are God's children, and have received the gift of the Holy Spirit. You may remember that self-control is not something we have in ourselves from birth, it's actually given to us, and is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. So...because we have not been given a Spirit of timidity, but a Spirit of confidence in the victorious Son of God, we too do not have to give in to the "rat race" of life. We can say no, and as Christian families, be self-controlled so that in the end, first things remain first things.

We'll have time for one another; we'll have time for devotions; we'll have time to pray; we'll keep our family strong and running the race God's Way--and His crown is the best prize of all. Remember, you can't take a lot of things with you to heaven, but your family gets to come. Now they're something worth saying "yes" to.

Running toward the cross. Amen.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Lutheran Study Bible--Sign Up Now

This post is particularly for members of Mt. Calvary. This Sunday we will be handing out copies of the "sampler" in Bible Class so you can preview The Lutheran Study Bible. You will also have the opportunity to sign up to pre-order your very own copy, and to order copies for your loved ones to give as birthday or Christmas gifts.
We have received word from CPH that the first edition is being ordered up QUICKLY, and they cannot guarantee that the second printing will be mailed by Christmas. SO...We will be submitting orders as we receive them. Don't wait. Sign up this Sunday. You don't want to be without this valuable resource (I totally just sounded like a salesman!).

Daily Devotional Thought--From the Confessions (Life-Long-Learning)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Recently, in a discussion at our Board of Evangelism meeting, a comment was made about Mt. Calvary's adult Bible Class. It went something like this: Those people can quote the Scriptures backward and forward, but they want to dig deeper.

The following day, while reading from the Treasury of Daily Prayer, Luther's words from the Large Catechism made the point sink in, and described the life-long-learning from Christ that is the Christian Life, a process called "Catechesis." (Keep in mind that the Catechism is simply the teaching of the Word, and is filled with Holy Scriptures.)

Enjoy Luther's words. I think you'll find them most applicable today, nearly 500 years after he first penned them:

Oh, what mad, senseless fools are we! While we must ever live and dwell among such mighty enemies as the devils, we still despise our weapons and defense [2 Corinthians 10:4], and we are too lazy to look at or think of them!

What else are such proud, arrogant saints doing who are unwilling to read and study the catechism daily? They think they are much more learned than God Himself with all His saints, angels, prophets, apostles, and all Christians. God Himself is not ashamed to teach these things daily. He knows nothing better to teach. He always keeps teaching the same thing and does not take up anything new or different. All the saints know nothing better or different to learn and cannot finish learning this. Are we not the finest of all fellows to imagine that if we have once read or heard the catechism, we know it all and have no further need to read and learn? Can we finish learning in one hour what God Himself cannot finish teaching? He is engaged in teaching this from the beginning to the end of the world. All prophets, together with all saints, have been busy learning it, have ever remained students, and must continue to be students. (emphasis added)

It must be true that whoever knows the Ten Commandments perfectly must know all the Scriptures [Matthew 7:12]. So, in all matters and cases, he can advise, help, comfort, judge, and decide both spiritual and temporal matters. Such a person must be qualified to sit in judgment over all doctrines, estates, spirits, laws, and whatever else is in the world [1 Corinthians 6:2-3]. And what, indeed, is the entire Book of Psalms but thoughts and exercises upon the First Commandment? Now I truly know that such lazy "bellies" and arrogant spirits do not understand a single psalm, much less the entire Holy Scriptures. Yet they pretend to know and despise the catechism, which is a short and brief summary of all the Holy Scriptures.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, our heavenly Father, without Your help our labor is useless, and without Your light our search is in vain. Invigorate our study of Your holy Word that, by due diligence and right discernment, we may establish ourselves and others in Your holy faith; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Have a great weekend. Amen.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Daily Devotional Thought--From the New Testament (What are people calling me to be?)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

I've been translating along in Mark 8, trying to get through seven verses each morning. Today I stopped at the end of verse 28, which is really in the middle of a section of dialogue between Jesus and His disciples. But stopping here, and focusing on the text thus can be a good thing.

After healing a blind man, Jesus and His disciples are on their way to Caesarea Philippi, and all of a sudden he stops and asks a question. We normally read the question in the English translation as something like this: "Who do people say I am?" But in the Greek, it's a bit more nuanced: "What are the people calling me to be?"

It's a question you've probably considered, maybe years ago when you were trying to choose a career path, or maybe still as you decide what sort of parent your children want you to be. It's a question Jesus asks his disciples, not because he wants to make sure that he is making everyone happy, but because he wants to teach them that He has a higher calling.

No man can give Jesus a vocation (a calling) other than what His Father has called him to be. And thanks be to God, His calling includes betrayal, abuse, and death on a cross.

The disciples told Jesus that some were calling him to be John, while others were calling him to be Elijah, and others were calling him to be one of the prophets. And while Jesus did preach like John and announce the coming of the kingdom, and he did perform miracles like Elijah, and proclaim the Word like the apostles, He ultimately had a higher calling that came not from a man, or a crowd, but from His heavenly Father--the Cross.

And so do you. You are undoubtedly pulled in one direction and another by people who are calling for you to be something or someone. Most of those people are probably well-meaning and are just trying to be encouraging. But rest assured, that you too have a calling (a vocation) that is not given by any man but by God himself. You are called to be a son or daughter, forgiven and set apart as a part of the royal priesthood. And in your calling as God's son or daughter, you are also called to bear a cross like that of Christ, as you are called to serve your wife, your children, and your neighbors with the self-sacrificial and undeserved love that you have received through Christ.

No matter what your profession may be, just like Jesus was called by His heavenly Father to serve, God has called you as His son or daughter to carry the love of Christ with you wherever you go. What higher calling could there possibly be?

In His Service. Amen.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Daily Devotional Thought--From the Old Testament

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Fans of literature will talk about a "character arc," which refers to the viewpoint of a certain character throughout a story, and how it changes. Complex and well-written characters, therefore, have a character arc that is deep or wide. Flat characters are, well, flat and uninteresting. The person of David may have one of the deepest character arcs in the entire Bible, and possibly all of literature. Which is why so many people find it easy to see themselves in this anointed one of God.

As a young bot, the son of Jesse brings his sling shot to battle, and defeats the giant, Goliath. But this is only the beginning. Saul, the king of Israel resents David and tries to kill the young hero. But then Saul's son, Jonathan, befriends David and further complicates things.

Later, when David is fleeing from Saul, he shows himself as a man who understands the mercy of God, as he spares the life of Saul not once, but twice. And then, when Saul dies, David mourns the loss of the man who had vowed to kill him. But this character arc is just beginning to swing.

David rises to new heights in Israel, both in popularity and in territory. And then David, this anointed one of God who is described as a man after God's own heart (1 Sam. 13:14), finds himself lusting after another man's wife. David's lust would go unchecked and would grow into outright fornication, adultery, and eventually would lead him to murder an innocent man.

But finally, the arc begins to swing home, as Nathan confronts King David. He leads David to confess his sin by telling this story:

There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man's lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him (2 Samuel 12:1b-4).

David, being a man who knew the mercy of the almighty, saw the rich man for what he was, and confessed in his anger, "As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die" (2 Sam. 12:5).

Nathan simply responded, "You are the man!" (2 Sam. 12:7).

We may begin to see ourselves in the life of David, as we too have received our own anointing through the waters of Holy Baptism. We too have been men and women after God's own heart, seeking His Word often, and yearning to learn and grow in faith. But we have been on the other side of David's character arc as well. We have let sin go unchecked and almost helplessly experienced that sin grow and spiral out of control, until we can't even remember the little "harmless" sin we committed to get us going in this direction.

But thankfully, our character arc includes the same mercy and grace that God showed to David. In our confession, as in David's, we are restored as Christ's Word of Absolution is spoken to us. Luther called the absolution a return to Baptism, so when we are forgiven for the sake of Christ, it is nothing less than a return to the anointing we received when we were washed in the blood of the lamb, joined the royal priesthood of God's army, and received Christ's robes of righteousness to wear as our own.

You and I and David are complex characters in God's story of salvation, experiencing both the depth of sin, and the height of the cross of Christ which pulls us out of the mire and gives us eternal life. While our character arcs are deep and wide, thankfully, in Christ they have a happy ending as God's chosen people. For the greater anointed one, Jesus Christ, gives us His character arc as our own, and in His story, there is life everlasting. Amen.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Daily Devotional Thought--From the Psalms

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
The Psalm of the week from A Congregation at Prayer is Psalm 34:1-8:

ESV Psalm 34:1 OF DAVID, WHEN HE CHANGED HIS BEHAVIOR BEFORE ABIMELECH, SO THAT HE DROVE HIM OUT, AND HE WENT AWAY. I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. 2 My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad. 3 Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together! 4 I sought the LORD, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. 5 Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed. 6 This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him and saved him out of all his troubles. 7 The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them. 8 Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!

The praise which flows from the mouth of the church and from individual Christians has been placed there by God himself. We sing in the order of Matins, "O Lord, open my lips." And the response is, "And my mouth will declare your praise."

We confess in the meaning of the 3rd Article of the Apostles' Creed that "I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened by with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith."

How does praise sound forth from our lips. God himself places it there when through the Holy Spirit, men and woman "taste and see that the LORD is good." I think of John 6, and Jesus' Bread of Life discourse, where he says, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst" (v. 35).

Later in the same chapter Jesus says these words: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink" (v. 53-55).

It is a marvelous thing when the praise of the Lord is continually in the mouth of the Church. For this can only happen when the Holy Spirit has revealed the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and poor sinners have tasted and seen that the Lord is indeed good.

My dad used to say, "What goes in, must come out." I guess it's true of the Gospel as well. When Jesus' body and blood are put into mouths, and His Word is proclaimed into ears, what comes out is a glorious song of praise from a people that have found their eternal resting place.

O Lord, open our lips! Amen.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Daily Devotion-For the Family

Dear brothers and sisters,

Ephesians chapter 5 is a familiar text to many, especially to those of us who happen to be blessed with a spouse. This chapter falls in the context of St. Paul's exhortation to live as children of light--who "were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness" (4:22-54).

The section, of course, includes the exhortation to wives and husbands to "submit to one another out of reverence for Christ" (v. 21). It contains similar encouragement to children and parents in their various roles, as well as slaves and master, which today would probably be closest to employee and employer.

Of course we may think of the man as the head of the wife, the father as the head of the family, and the employer as the head of the business. Unfortunately, the world has a faulty understanding of leadership which is based on the law and has turned these God-ordained relationships into opportunities for the "head" to become lord or dictator. This misunderstanding has turned husbands and fathers and bosses into Law men.

But St. Paul has not given us the model of the law upon which to model our leadership paradigms. Ephesians 4:32-5:1 says: "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly beloved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."

The model is that of the love of grace and forgiveness--self-sacrificial and undeserved love given to those who don't deserve it. That is the love of God which husbands, fathers, and bosses are to be imitators of. These are not institutions of the law; rather, they are vocations to which we are called and in which we are given opportunities to show the same mercy and grace we are shown every week in the Divine Service when we confess our sins and receive Holy Absolution.

What is the greatest opportunity for someone to know the great gift of the Gospel? When they don't deserve it. And so these offices of leadership become wonderful opportunities for wives, children and employees to have the Gospel brought to them by their husbands, fathers or bosses.

May we hear these words of St. Paul, and be imitators of Christ so that the Gospel would be made known to those in our families, and those with whom we work.

Submitting to the One who freely forgives. Amen.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Century Mark!!

You may not have noticed, but there is a little counter at the very bottom of the blog…and sometime in the last day, we went over the century mark. That’s right, this little blog has had more than 100 visits—and now, I haven’t visited 10 times every day myself to get the number up. So thanks to all you who read this, and please, pass the word!!

Daily Devotional Thought--From the Confessions (Why You Need a Pastor)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Therapist, counselor, encourager, great giver of advice: what is a pastor?  How we answer this question will determine many things, not the least of which is this: Do I NEED a pastor?

You see, there are many people who have never needed a therapist or counselor.  It is good to be encouraged, but don’t most people have parents, friends, or even a spouse or children?  And while pastors may be able to give good advice at times, there are many questions about which a pastor may not be the best person to give advice: “I just inherited $25,000 from my grandmother, where should I invest it?”  “I was wondering which online dating service you might recommend:,, or”   A pastor may give his opinion, and sometimes that opinion will be an educated one, but let me ask our opening question in another way: If your pastor is to be a therapist, counselor, encourager or great giver of advice, do you NEED a pastor?

Article IV of the Augsburg Confession (Justification) ends with this sentence: “By His death, Christ made satisfaction for our sins.  God counts this faith for righteousness in His sight.”

So, faith is important…good.  But how do we obtain such faith?  Well, Article V (The Ministry) answers the question, and for you confessional trivia buffs, there’s actually no break in sentence from Article IV to Article V.

Article V begins: “So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted.  Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given [John 20:22)].”

Did you catch it?  The need to obtain saving faith necessitated the institution of the Pastoral Office.  And is the pastor described as a therapist?  Hardly.  A pastor is called to the ministry of “teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments.”  It’s actually pretty simple.  You NEED a pastor, because the Pastoral Office is what God has given the church to ensure, quite simply, that you would receive Jesus.

In today’s New Testament reading in the Treasury of Daily Prayer, St. Paul echoes this understanding of the pastor’s identity: “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:22-24).

It’s so easy to confuse the Pastoral Office, with the person who is in the office.  While you may not need a certain left-handed man who grew up in the Midwest and plays the trombone…you do need to receive the preaching of the Gospel and you do need to receive the Sacraments—for in these instruments (means), is where Jesus is given, and through these instruments the Holy Spirit creates the faith that saves.

You may want to see a therapist or get advice from time to time, but you NEED a pastor because you NEED the Gospel.

From one servant of Christ to another.  Amen.


Thursday, August 06, 2009

Daily Devotional Thought--From the New Testament (What Kills Will Make You Stronger)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Last Sunday’s Epistle reading from Ephesians, chapter 4, was jam packed with good stuff.  Let’s consider just a portion of that reading.  Ephesians 4:15-16:

ESV 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

It’s not easy to speak the truth in love, as St. Paul describes above, because the truth, often times, hurts.  In fact, it can be downright scary to speak the truth to someone you even know quite well.  On the one hand, you don’t know how a person might react to hearing the truth.  On the other hand, you may have a pretty good idea how that person will react, and it isn’t good.  And yet, apart from speaking the truth, the church will be “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (v. 14).

Maybe one way we can work on speaking the truth, is to work on hearing the truth.  That is to say, if the church is made up of people who examine themselves according to God’s Word (the truth), it will be filled with people who are constantly hearing the truth.  And of course, no honest hearer of the Word can look at their life in comparison to God’s Word and think that they have it all together.  On the contrary, the mirror of God’s Word will reveal our failures and faults—our sin—and kill the Old Adam living within.

When Christians are self-examining people, we are used to hearing and knowing the truth, and when we hear that truth spoken to us from a friend or family member, we are more likely to say, “Yeah, I know, it’s bothering me too.”

But knowing our sins, and hearing the truth concerning our sin is only half of the coin—and it’s definitely not the pretty side!

Having the Old Adam killed by the Law, points us to Christ, and the forgiveness and life that we have through the cross.  Killing sin, brings the new life of repentance and faith—a life that “makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”  The church grows strong when Christians are able to hear the truth spoken in love, and be built up by it.  And ultimately, I think it does something even greater.

A person that has been shown mercy is more likely to show mercy to another.  A person, who has felt the sting of the law, is more likely to speak the truth to another IN LOVE.  You see, when we know our own sins and have received the wonderful blessings of the Gospel, we will be quick to show that mercy to others—and to speak the sometimes harsh truth, with the love and concern of a brother or sister.

Speaking the truth in love, is one example of a beggar showing another beggar where to find bread, as Luther said.  And that, my friends doesn’t have to be so hard.

After all, it is God’s Word—I think He knows what’s best.

Dying and Rising in Christ.  Amen.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Daily Devotional Thoughts--From the Old Testament (Do You Have a Slump Buster?)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Isaiah 40:28-31: ESV 28 The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. 29 He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. 30 Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; 31 but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

Albert Pujols is considered by many baseball fans as the best player in the game today.  Some think that he will prove to be the best player of all time.  However, Albert’s last 16 games would seem to indicate otherwise.  After an incredible first half of the season, during which he hit 32 homeruns, and drove in 87 runs, Albert found himself mired in one of the worst slumps of his career.  In the sixteen games following the All-Star Game, he had batted just .226 (14-62), had suffered through the longest homerless streak of his career (15 games), and had stopped driving in runs (only 2 RBIs in the last 14 games).  Rather than the consistent force that puts fear into opposing pitchers, he had become a weak link in the middle of a Cardinal lineup with great expectation.

You may or may not be aware of a term popular in baseball: SLUMP BUSTER.  For some players it’s a restaurant, for others it’s a lucky pair of socks, a favorite song, or a pregame ritual.  The player trusts that when they find themselves struggling through a slump, their SLUMP BUSTER will renew their strength, and make them productive once again.  Now Albert is a Christian man, who is lead by his faith in Christ.  On many occasions he has publically thanked God for his gifts, and the success he’s had in the game.  He doesn’t trust in any false idol or superstition as a SLUMP BUSTER—but God himself.

So I ask, what is your slump buster?

Surely you find yourself in a rut from time to time, not being as productive at work as you would like, or being a bit to short with your spouse and children.  Maybe you’ve been ashamed of recent choices you’ve made and wonder if you’ll be able to bounce back.  What you need is the SLUMP BUSTER.  Not a restaurant, pair of socks, or even a lucky song; what you need is the Lord himself.  Isaiah writes: They who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

You and I are not different than Albert Pujols—we’re human.  We slump because the Devil, the world, and our sinful flesh attack us on all sides.  When we are slumping, a favorite Bible passage that reminds us of the comfort that is ours in Jesus Christ can be our SLUMP BUSTER.  The Lord’s Prayer, for example, will remind you of whose you are and will place your life in His hands, or in the context of Isaiah, will place you on the wings of an eagle—where nothing can harm you.  God’s Word brings Christ himself to you, where He alone can bust you out of the depths of the valleys of life.

On Tuesday night, Albert busted out of his slump and was back to himself: 4-5 with 2 HRs, and 5 RBIs.  He essentially put the game out of reach in the 10th inning with his 5th grand slam of the season (a NL record).  As you wait for the LORD, you too, will have your strength renewed and will not grow weary.  You may not hit a grand slam to win a baseball game, but when God renews your strength, you will be renewed in the One in whom there is life everlasting—for in Christ, we have an eternal SLUMP BUSTER.

In the name of Christ.  Amen.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Commemoration of Joanne, Mary, and Salome, Myrrhbearers

(From the Treasury of Daily Prayer):

Known in some traditions as “the faithful women,” the visit of these three persons and other women to the tomb of Jesus on the first Easter morning is noted in the Gospel records of Matthew (28:1), Mark (16:1), and Luke (24:10).  Joanna was the wife of Chuza, a steward in Herod’s household (Luke 8:3).  Mary, the mother of James (the son of Alphaeus), was another of the women who faithfully provided care for Jesus and His disciples from the time of His Galilean ministry through His burial after the crucifixion.  Salome, the mother of the sons of Zebedee (Matthew 27:56), joined with the women both at the cross and in bringing the spices to the garden tomb.  These faithful women have been honored in the Church through the centuries as examples of humble and devoted service to the Lord.


A prayer in their honor: Mighty God, Your crucified and buried Son did not remain in the tomb for long.  Give us joy in the tasks set before us, that we might carry out faithful acts of service as did Joanna, Mary, and Salome, offering to You the sweet perfume of our grateful hearts, so that we, too, may see the glory of Your resurrection and proclaim the Good News with unrestrained eagerness and fervor worked i9n us through our Lord Jesus Christ, who rose and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Daily Devotional Thought-From the Psalms

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Psalm 68:4-10: ESV 1 TO THE CHOIRMASTER. A PSALM OF DAVID. A SONG. God shall arise, his enemies shall be scattered; and those who hate him shall flee before him! 2 As smoke is driven away, so you shall drive them away; as wax melts before fire, so the wicked shall perish before God! 3 But the righteous shall be glad; they shall exult before God; they shall be jubilant with joy! 4 Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides through the deserts; his name is the LORD; exult before him! 5 Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. 6 God settles the solitary in a home; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity, but the rebellious dwell in a parched land. 7 O God, when you went out before your people, when you marched through the wilderness, Selah 8 the earth quaked, the heavens poured down rain, before God, the One of Sinai, before God, the God of Israel. 9 Rain in abundance, O God, you shed abroad; you restored your inheritance as it languished; 10 your flock found a dwelling in it; in your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy.

This psalm was sung as Israel marched through the wilderness, following the Ark of the Covenant. The massive processional line (all of Israel), with its set formation, sang with hopes of God’s deliverance. Scatter our enemies! “You restored your inheritance as it languished; your flock found a dwelling in it; in your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy.”

The church has sang this song n Holy Saturday, while we remember Jesus lying in the tomb, and we await his glorious resurrection.

We too may sing this song of hope and expectation of God’s deliverance. As we wander through the valleys of this life, we hope and pray that the Lord would scatter our enemies—the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. We pray that he restore the earth with rains from above. And most importantly, we pray that God would arise and be known in the land.

And we know that he will. He sends His Word through which he chases our enemies away and gives us the comfort of the Gospel. He promises to give us our daily bread, so that we don’t have to worry about what tomorrow might bring. But we also know that He has promised to come again. As the children of Israel followed God’s presence through 40 years of wondering and finally entered the promised land, so we too will enter the eternal promised land to enjoy the full communion with God on the last day.

So let us sing forth with the hope of deliverance, and pray: Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly! Amen.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Daily Devotional Thought-For the Family

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

"Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy."
What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.

Luther's explanation of the 3rd Commandment in the Small Catechism is simple, yet profound. Yet I think we often times miss the point of it. For example, we say that there is no law that demands a certain level of worship attendance, but then we think of the Sabbath simply as the one day each week that we gather up the kiddos into the car and head off to church. If we're up and at it on time, we'll make it to Sunday School as well.

Don't get me wrong, regular worship attendance is a holy habbit that will keep you centered on the Word of God, and more importantly, the Gospel of Jesus Christ--especially if you are blessed to attend the Divine Service where God's Law and Gospel are properly distinguished, the Sacraments are adminsitered often and in accord with Christ's institution, Christ-Crucified-Died-and-Risen for your forgiveness is the center of the preaching, and the pastors are teaching regular Bible classes that both challenge and edify.

The blessings of the Sabbath, however, ARE NOT restricted to a certain day of the week, and especially not just a couple of hours. How does Luther say to keep the Sabbath holy? By holding the Word of God sacred and gladly hearing and learning it. Becuase, you see, our Sabbath rest is in Christ, and He comes to us whenever and wherever His Word is read or proclaimed. After all, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27).

Our families today are busy. And sometimes the stress of this frantic world can cause us to dred some of the most wonderful gifts the Lord had given us--being a mom or a dad! But when we gladly hear the Word of God on a daily basis, we will learn that Jesus doesn't live in the building where we worship. He's with you always, to the very end of the age (Matt. 28:19-20). Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" (Matt. 11:28). Because He is always present in His Word, we can experience our Sabbath rest each and every day.

May you and yours rest in Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath (Luke 6:5). Amen