Thursday, December 24, 2009
Just as Jesus dwelt with humanity as a baby in Bethlehem, so too He dwells with us according to His Word, and offers His very flesh and blood in His Supper. Step away from the computer, and go be present at His cradle, the Church, where the Christ comes today to dwell with you and for you. And if you are fortunate to be celebrating the gift of the Christ Child with family and/or friends, stop reading blogs, turn off the computer, and go enjoy them! Merry Christmas!
Daily Devotional Thoughts return Monday.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Oh sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things! His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him. The LORD has made known his salvation; he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations. He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises! Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody! With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the LORD! Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who dwell in it! Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity. (Psalm 98:1-9).
As the Nativity of Our Lord approaches, Advent anticipation increases. But have you ever stopped to think how fortunate we are to be living "after the fact?" Think about it, we are people who live by faith, no doubt about that, but we have the events of the past which give us hope for the future. Events like the Son of God taking on flesh to dwell with His people. Events like the Son of God being led into the desert to face our temptation. Events like the Son of God conquering sin, death, and the devil by his innocent suffering and death, and his glorious resurrection. We look back at historic events which have eternal and lasting positive consequences. You see, because of those events, our view of the future is changed.
But what about our Old Testament brothers and sisters? All of the events mentioned above were "yet to come." In fact, they were the very events that for them were hoped for, events about which they had their own Advent Anticipation. And yet, we are not that different.
No matter where we fall on the timeline of History, that timeline tells "His-Story," that is, the story of God's involvement in time and place for the redemption of His people. Therefore, no matter where a person falls on the timeline of History, God's people have always looked back at previous events to give them hope for their future.
The psalmist exhorts God's people to sing a new song, for for "he has done marvelous things." You see, even for our Old Testament brethren, they could recall the marvelous deeds of God's previous involvement in the redemption of His people--events like Noah and the ark; events like the Exodus out of Egypt and God's involvement to rescue them at the Red Sea. All of these marvelous deeds, and more, changed the way God's Old Testament people viewed the future.
Because of God's marvelous deeds of the past, all of God's people are given a glorious hope of the future, for all of God's deeds served as parts of the plan of redemption--which is why our Advent anticipation is one of joy. For at Christmas we know that God is present with his people, in order to save his people. And that gives us hope for an eternity to come. Amen.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Today's Psalm is 115:1-8, 11:
1 Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory,
for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!
2 Why should the nations say,
"Where is their God?"
3 Our God is in the heavens;
he does all that he pleases.
4 Their idols are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.
5 They have mouths, but do not speak;
eyes, but do not see.
6 They have ears, but do not hear;
noses, but do not smell.
7 They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk;
and they do not make a sound in their throat.
8 Those who make them become like them;
so do all who trust in them.
11 You who fear the LORD, trust in the LORD!
He is their help and their shield.
From Reading the Psalms with Luther:
The 115th psalm is a psalm of thanks in which God is praised that He is the true, helping God. All other gods are vain idols that cannot help us. Therefore, we pray in verse 1, "Not to us, O Lord...," that is, do not look at how religious and respectable we are, lest You no longer help us and we become like the heathen, a people without God, or again, as those who have a helpless god, as they accuse us. But rather look to Your glory and to Your name, that You are called and reputed to be a true, living God, abundant in help. For Your name's sake come with us, not for our name's sake--that we are called God's servants, workers, singers, fasters, and well-doers--for such names the heathen also can have and are of no help.
And so we pray:
O God, You have been our Helper in the past, preserving us unto this day in body and soul. Forsake us not, but demonstrate to the world that You are the God of heaven, ruling over all, and mighty to save. Cast down the idols of the heathen by the Word of the cross, and build the kingdom of Your Son in our hearts. Amen.
Monday, December 21, 2009
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:14-17).
I fear there has been a separation in many Christians' minds between the study of Scripture on the one hand, and what is "practical" on the other hand. When you look for a worthwhile Bible class, a "practical" one, what do you look for? Do you look for a study of one of the book so of the Bible, say Romans, or Jeremiah, or John, for example? Most likely, what is considered "practical" is a study with a catchy title, or one that appeals to a particular felt need.
Now, don't get me wrong, I teach topical Bible studies, and will continue to do so from time to time (although my favorites are always the verse-by-verse, in-depth, exploration of the Scriptures). There is a place for the systematic approach to understanding and applying the Scriptures. In fact, the systematic (topical) approach is very helpful in many cases. That is not my concern.
My concern has to do with how we see and understand the Scriptures. Do we understand St. Paul's words (above), and does our understanding of them form and shape how we teach our children, how we make difficult decisions, how we live? Are the Scriptures good moral stories, or do they reveal the truth about life to us? Are the Scripture just a guide book for daily living, or do they reveal our sin, so that we would see our Savior--in everything.
I fear that the church has failed its hearers in this regard. We teach the Bible stories early on, but then when it's time for Confirmation instruction, the Bible is put to the side, for the most part. We end up teaching our kids that the Bible is just a bunch of stories, and doctrine is simply about knowledge, and then you will move on to the "practical" stuff when you get into high school. Statistics tell us that many of these kids never make it to Adult Bible Class. Why, because the Bible isn't practical, or applicable to the lives. At least that's what they think.
But St. Paul's words are true, and all of Scripture is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.
Now, this isn't easy, and I'm not trying to criticise our faithful Sunday School teachers or Confirmation Instructors. I fear the church as a whole has missed this point, by and large. A topical, or doctrinal, study is only practical if it unpacks the Scriptures. And why is this? Because in unpacking the Scriptures, Christ is revealed. Parents that read from the Scriptures and ask related questions during family devotions are parents that are teaching their children the the Scriptures--God's Word--is the lens through which they see life.
St. Paul is correct, and the Scriptures are "practical." If we can just figure out how to teach that to our children, that would be great. Hey, let that be our prayer! Amen.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:8-10).
Others have made this point far more clearly than I. Nevertheless, here it is...
We know verses eight and nine, that salvation is a free gift of grace received through faith. We confess that salvation is not of our own doing, but of Christ's. So too, it follows, when we boast, we boast of Christ (1 Cor. 1:28-31).
But do we know verse ten? The Lutheran Study Bible offers this note regarding "good works:"
Our works are not the cause of salvation (vv. 5-9), but its result. We cannot even lay claim to these, for God created them for us to do in Christ. "Holy Spirit is received through faith, hearts are renewed and given new affections, and then they are able to bring forth good works. Ambrose says: 'Faith is the mother of a good will and doing what is right.' " (AC XX 29-30).
Jesus said that a "healthy tree bears good fruit" (Matt. 7:17). In other words, it is inevitable--the Christian produces good works. But, he doesn't create them, nor does he cause them. For as St. Paul clearly teaches: "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand" (Eph. 2:10).
You were fearfully and wonderfully made, intricately woven, and all your days were formed for you "when as yet there was none of them" (Psalm 139:13-16). So, too were your good works.
And the conclusion: just as we take no credit for the free gift of salvation received through faith, we take no credit for our good works. In these we simply walk with Christ and say, "Thanks be to God." For the same God who created us, has saved us, and sanctifies us as well. Amen.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
I will not be posting daily devotional thoughts until next Thursday, December 17th. I will be enjoying some vacation time with my family. Until then, for an Old Lutheran Quote, a New Lutheran Quote, and a Patristic Quote each day, and other fine pastoral thoughts, check out Pastor Weedon's Blog. Feel free to also browse the other blogs I've highlighted in the sidebar there to the left. But remember, I want you back here reading this blog next Thursday!
Advent means "coming," and is about things to come. During Advent we are prepared for the arrival of future realities, having an anticipation instilled within us. And this anticipation, this preparedness, turns us away from the fleeting things of this world so that we would have as our object, our goal, things that last, things that are eternal, even holy things.
"This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives lives as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away" (1 Corinthians 7:29-31).
Of course, St. Paul isn't neglecting his own teaching of wives and husbands loving one another by submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5). Scripture interprets Scripture, and helps us avoid that faulty conclusion of these somewhat confounding words of the apostle.
But St. Paul does mean what he writes; and what he is writing of is real freedom. In fact, it's the same freedom we learn by observing the Advent season of preparation.
We know that some things are temporary--they come and they go. Other things, of course, are here to stay--they are eternal. God's Word teaches us that "the grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever" (Isaiah 40:8). God's Word, which promises the forgiveness of sin, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting to those who are in Christ, endures while the fleeting things of this veil of sorrows (our broken world) are, well, fleeting, temporary, and eventually, gone.
The eternal promises of God's Word show us what our lasting and eternal inheritance will be. This Word produces in us an anticipation of, and a focus on, those eternal things, those lasting things, those holy things. Those promised future realities enable us to turn away from the temporary, material, and often times sinful, things of this world, for we know that better things--lasting things--are coming, for Christ is coming, and he will bring with him the promised new creation where fruit is produced in season and out, death is turned into life, grief is replaced with the joy of eternal reunion, and while Christian wives and husbands and family members will be a part of the eternal reward, we will enjoy an eternal union--an everlasting marriage--with the bridegroom, Jesus Christ himself, and have a seat at the marriage feast of the lamb.
Those who look for Christ are those who are free. Faith in promised things, coming things, eternal things, allows us to live free from the ways of the world--and that is what this season of preparation is all about.
May your Advent season be continually blessed with anticipation of eternal things to come in Christ. Amen.
Wednesday, December 09, 2009
From today's Old Testament reading:
In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah:
"We have a strong city;
he sets up salvation as walls and bulwarks.
Open the gates,
that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in.
You keep him in perfect peace
whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.
Trust in the LORD forever,
for the Lord God is an everlasting rock. (Isaiah 26:1-4)
Here in Texas, a man's (or a woman's) truck can be a sign of his (or her) toughness. Truck-maker, Chevrolet, utilized American songwriter Bob Seger's well-known song "Like a Rock," to market Chevrolet Silverado as the best-selling, longest lasting truck on the road. I can still remember the commercials.
Like a rock...I was strong as I could be.
Like a rock...nothing ever got to me.
Truth is, we long for a rock because we know we aren't very strong, no matter what image we attempt to portray.
Truth is, we desire to have the protection of a solid rock because lots of things get to us.
Truth is, we aren't at all like a rock--apart from Christ.
Which is why we can joyfully sing the song of Judah in our text. For people who long for the protection of something stronger them themselves, Jesus Christ is strong rock on which we can stand tall.
If Advent is doing its job, we are looking for a rock outside of ourselves, and what good news it is to know that Jesus Christ is that rock--the very foundation of our confession--the source of salvation, and the protection of those who are week and weary.
Truth is, in Christ the solid Rock, we are strong indeed, and the trials of this world can not penetrate us. For our Rock is a Mighty Fortress! Amen.
Tuesday, December 08, 2009
Today's Psalm is #11:
The Lord Is in His Holy Temple
To the choirmaster. Of David.
11:1 In the Lord I take refuge;
how can you say to my soul,“Flee like a bird to your mountain,
2 for behold, the wicked bend the bow;
they have fitted their arrow to the string to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart;
3 if the foundations are destroyed,
what can the righteous do?”
4 The Lord is in his holy temple;
the Lord's throne is in heaven;his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man.
5 The Lord tests the righteous,
but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.
6 Let him rain coals on the wicked;
fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.
7 For the Lord is righteous;he loves righteous deeds;
the upright shall behold his face.
From Reading the Psalms with Luther:
The 11th Psalm is a psalm of prayer. It laments over the heretics and false interpreters of the Scriptures who lead the people away from the true ground of faith and bring them to their mountains, that is, their great high holiness of works. To that end, the heretics and false interpreters of the Scriptures mock the true Teacher and say, "What shall the righteous do?" But the psalm ends with the comfort that God will certainly see this. The false teachers will be condemned and the righteous will remain. This prayer can thus be an example for us. This psalm belongs in the Second Commandment and the First Petition, as all Psalms of prayer.
And so we pray:
Lord Jesus, You cam into this world to reveal to us the will of Your Father and to teach us the way everlasting. Behold how Your sacred Word is denied and corrupted in these perilous days. Have mercy upon us, save us from the snares of unbelief and the seductive teachings of the world, and grant us to abide in Your Word that, made free from error and sin, we be found Your disciples indeed. Amen.
Monday, December 07, 2009
"Daddy, why don't we light them all?"
These were the words that came from the lips of my three-year-old as we began our devotions one evening last week after dinner. Still the first week of Advent at the time, we were only lighting one of the four candles on our family Advent wreath. The question makes perfect sense. Why don't we light them all?
Because Advent is a time for preparation and expectation. And even more, as the family sits down during Advent for devotions, lighting an Advent Wreath, marking off another day on the Advent Calendar, turning another page in the Advent Devotional Booklet, or whatever routines a family may have, they are able to tell the story of expectation--Again and again.
Deuteronomy 6 is a text not often thought of during this season of Advent, but I think it fits well:
4 "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 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. 10 "And when the LORD your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you- with great and good cities that you did not build, 11 and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant- and when you eat and are full, 12 then take care lest you forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. (Deuteronomy 6:4-12)
I don't know about you, but I remember Advent well because my parents had well-established routines of remembrance that we went through each night of the season. It makes sense that the preparation that takes place during Advent is well-remembered, for we have four weeks full of repetition--and repetition is the mother of all learning. So too, it makes sense that these holy habits acquired during this holy season, are good habits to continue throughout the church year.
Many of us remember the mysterious wonder of Advent from our childhoods, and we want the same for our own children. Looking forward to the celebration of the Christ Child's birth; knowing that something special was coming; knowing, that not all the candles could be lit tonight, but that as we went forward, the anticipation would built, and so would the light--and so would the memories.
Memories of a child born to save us. Memories of family gathered around a baby and singing his praises. Memories of preparation and expectation.
As you sit down with your family for your Advent devotion, remember that you are handing down something that will not soon be forgotten--not some meaningless ritual, but a devotion of the highest kind, a devotion to the Christ Child, who came, who continues to come, and who has promised to come again.
May your season of Advent be a blessed one! Amen.
Sunday, December 06, 2009
Growing up, we never had the fat, bearded man from the North Pole who brought gifts to all the children of the world on Christmas Eve. My parents had made a decision that we would understand that any gifts given at Christmas were given in the spirit of Jesus, who was given to poor sinners. Gifts were not going to be earned by "good behavior," or lost to a lump of coal for bad behavior. (By the way, have you even known any children that have received coal?)
It never seemed to be a problem for me or my sisters. I can't remember any of us "ruining" it for the other kids. And now that I have my own children, I'm starting to understand how difficult it really is to keep Jesus as the entire point of Christmas.
But St. Nick helps us make sense of this all. From the Treasury of Daily Prayer:
Of the many saints commemorated by the Christian Church, Nicholas (d. AD 342) is one of the best known. Very little is known historically of him, through there was a church of Saint Nicholas in Constantinople as early as the sixth century. Research has affirmed that there was a bishop by the name of Nicholas in the city of Myra in Lycia (part of modern Turkey) in the fourth century. From that coastal location, legends about Nicholas have traveled throughout time and space. He is associated with charitable giving in many countries around the world and is portrayed as the rescuer of sailors, the protector of children, and the friend of people in distress or need. In commemoration of "Sinte Klaas" (Dutch for "Saint Nicholas," in English "Santa Claus"), December 6 is a day for giving and receiving gifts in many parts of Europe.
The real Santa Claus is not a fat man from the North Pole who checks his list to make sure whether or not you are bad or good. The real Santa Claus was a Christian, a Pastor, who understood his call to discipleship. He took up his cross and cared for his fellow man--his neighbor. Unfortunately, that story doesn't sell.
This year, in the Truwe house, we stuffed stockings, and tonight after dinner we will have our Advent devotion, crossing off another day gone by, moving closer to the Feast of the Incarnation of our Lord. But tonight, like St. Nicholas did in the 4th Century, we will give gifts, not because our family has earned our love, but because we have first been loved--and undeservedly so.
We won't expect anyone to fall down our chimney this Christmas Eve, but St. Nicholas will definitely be a part of our Advent season, and I hope he's a part of yours.
Almighty God, You bestowed upon Your servant Nicholas of Myra the perpetual gift of charity. Grant Your Church the grace to deal in generosity and love with children and with all who are poor and distressed and to plead the cause of those who have no helper, especially those tossed by tempests of doubt or grief. We ask this for the sake of Him who gave His life for us, Your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.