Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Baptism of Grant C Anderson

This morning we welcomed Grant C Anderson into the family of God by Holy Baptism.

The Baptism was held in the 8:30 service, a treat for those folks since many families with young children are 11:00 people and, therefore, the 8:30 crowd often times misses out on witnessing baptisms or adult confirmations.

This was the first time we used our brand new baptismal banner. Thank you Mrs. Koenig for the fine work, both on the large banner for the chancel, and on the smaller one for the family. Every person that is baptized at Mt. Calvary will receive personalized banner with his/her name and baptismal birthday. Hopefully, these will be hung in many children's bedrooms, serving as a reminder of this joyous occasion.

This was also the first time we used the baptismal candle at Mt. Calvary. Another wonderful reminder of a child's baptism, the candle can be lit each year on his/her baptismal birthday, and the parents are able to help their children understand the significance of this day.

Finally, this was the first time we used the rite of Holy Baptism from LSB. Since we've already decided to adopt LSB, and are waiting on the funds, we thought it would make sense to start using the rite that will be used from now on. I especially appreciate the inclusion of Luther's flood prayer:

Almighty and eternal God, according to Your strict judgment You condemned the unbelieving world through the flood, yet according to Your great mercy You preserved believing Noah and his family, eight souls in all. You drowned hard-hearted Pharaoh and all his host in the Red Sea, yet led Your people Israel through the water on dry ground, foreshadowing this washing of Your Holy Baptism. Through the Baptism in the Jordan of Your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, You sanctified and instituted all waters to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin.

We pray that You would behold Grant according to Your boundless mercy and bless him with true faith by the Holy Spirit, that through this saving flood all sin in him, which has been inherited from Adam and which he himself has committed since, would be drowned and die. Grant the he be kept safe and secure in the holy ark of the Christian Church, being separated from the multitude of unbelievers and serving Your name at all times with a fervent spirit and a joyful hope, so that, with all believers in Your promise, he would be declared worthy of eternal life; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen. (LSB, p. 268-269).
Today, little Grant C Anderson was incorporated into Christ (Romans 6), becoming an heir of eternal life. Hallelujah!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Daily Devotional Thought--From the Confessions

We continue our Friday series on the Augsburg Confession; today, Article V -- The Ministry.Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

I've written before that you need a pastor. Now, being a pastor myself, I run the risk of being misunderstood. Allow me to be clear. You don't need me as your pastor. But, you do need a pastor.

Or to put it another way. The Church does not exist without the Pastoral Office.

We sort of know this to be true from experience. A pastor takes a call to another congregation and departs. This creates a vacancy. But what is vacant? Not the church. There are still plenty of people there. The Pastoral Office is vacant. No, not the pastor's office. But the divinely instituted office in which the pastor is placed by Christ himself, and from which the pastor serves "In the stead and by the command of Christ."

So, the church does not exist without the Pastoral Office. But why did Christ institute this office? Article V of the Augsburg Confession makes this crystal clear:

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]. He works faith, when and where it pleases God [John 3:8], in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ's sake. This happens not through our own merits, but for Christ's sake.

Our churches condemn the Anabaptists and others who think that through their own preparations and works the Holy Spirit comes to them without the external work.

Why did Christ institute the Pastoral Office? So that you may obtain this faith.

What faith? The faith confessed in Article IV: "People are freely justified for Christ's sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven for Christ's sake. By His death, Christ made satisfaction for our sins."

So how is this faith obtained? "Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given. He works faith."

All this is to say, The Pastoral Office is the guarantee that the means of Grace will be given, and the Holy Spirit will be active to create and sustain the faith that trusts in Christ alone.

Where the Pastor is preaching/teaching the Gospel, Baptizing and celebrating the Lord's Supper, there the Holy Spirit is living and active.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Daily Devotional Thought--From the New Testament

" 17 I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. 18 For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. 19 For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil. 20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you." (Romans 16:17-20).

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Doctrine divides. Always. All Scripture teaches, and all teaching is doctrine, so, Scripture divides as well.

And who is the author of Scripture?

All Scripture is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16). So, Almighty God is the author Scripture. Does that mean that God causes division?

Whenever His Word is rightly taught and preached, the answer is yes. Absolutely.

But Paul instructs us "to watch out for those who cause division and create obstacles."

Does he?

Does he tell us to be alert for those who cause division? Not at all. Division is not the problem.

The problem is when division flows out of a teaching that is "contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught." That is to say. When someone teaches a doctrine that is contrary to the doctrine confessed by the holy Christian Church, the true teaching of the Scriptures, that false teaching is the problem. And that false teacher is sinning against God -- and man.

Doctrine will always separate. It will separate those who confess the truth of the Scriptures from those who confess something else. It will separate those who teach rightly from those who teach something contrary to the Scriptures. It will separate those who are serving our Lord Christ ans His Word from those who are, well, serving "their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive."

We must not learn to avoid division. In fact, division is a necessary reality of this broken world. What we must learn to avoid are those who settle for something less than the pure teaching of God's holy Word. We must learn that confessing Christ is confessing the one who said, "Do you think that I have come to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division" (Luke 12:51).

The way of the cross is a lonely way indeed. And so we pray: Lord, have mercy! Amen.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

John Chrysostom, Preacher

Today the church remembers John Chrysostom, Preacher.

From the Treasury of Daily Prayer:

Given the added name Chrysostom, which means "golden-mouthed" in Greek, St. John was a dominant force in the fourth-century Christian Church. Born in Antioch around AD 347, John was instructed in the Christian faith by his pious mother, Anthusa. After serving in a number of Christian offices, including acolyte and lector, John was ordained a presbyter and given preaching responsibilities. His simple but direct messages found an audience well beyond his hometown. In AD 398, John Chrysostom was made patriarch of Constantinople. His determination to reform the church, court, and city brought him into conflict with established authorities. Eventually, he was exiled from his adopted city. Although removed form his parishes and people, he continued writing and preaching until the time of his death in AD 407. It is reported that his final words were 'Glory be to God for all things! Amen." (TODP, p. 1158)

And so we pray:

O God, You gave to Your servant John Chrysostom grace to proclaim the Gospel with eloquence and power. As bishop of the great congregations of Antioch and Constantinople, he fearlessly bore reproach for the honor of Your name. Mercifully grant to all bishops and pastors such excellence in preaching and fidelity in ministering Your Word that Your people shall be partakers of the divine nature; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Daily Devotional Thought--Form the Old Testament (A Vision of Joshua the High Priest)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

I wanted to share with you Luther's writing from yesterday's reading in the Treasury of Daily Prayer. He writes about the OT reading from Zechariah, specifically 3:1-10:

Zechariah 3:1 Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. 2 And the LORD said to Satan, "The LORD rebuke you, O Satan! The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?" 3 Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. 4 And the angel said to those who were standing before him, "Remove the filthy garments from him." And to him he said, "Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments." 5 And I said, "Let them put a clean turban on his head." So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the LORD was standing by. 6 And the angel of the LORD solemnly assured Joshua, 7 "Thus says the LORD of hosts: If you will walk in my ways and keep my charge, then you shall rule my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you the right of access among those who are standing here. 8 Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who sit before you, for they are men who are a sign: behold, I will bring my servant the Branch. 9 For behold, on the stone that I have set before Joshua, on a single stone with seven eyes, I will engrave its inscription, declares the LORD of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day. 10 In that day, declares the LORD of hosts, every one of you will invite his neighbor to come under his vine and under his fig tree."

Here are Luther's thoughts:

This is a wonderfully choice vision, for it very vividly reveals to us the heart and innermost emotions of the priest. He had heard the clear command of God to rebuild the temple. Then, after hearing that Word, he thought that he should listen to God, but he still kept wrestling with himself over the problem thus: "Who knows whether God intends to approve? Perhaps God will reject us sinners." This is exactly the way the human heart battles against sin in the presence of God. For Satan so inflates and exaggerates sins that the heart becomes convinced that God will reject it. It can
conceive of no other God but one who now threatens it with a beating or a flogging. So here the high priest Joshua, crushed and terrified by his sins, does not dare go on with his task. Therefore he is strengthened and encouraged to believe that the Lord is not angry, that He has turned away the accusation of Joshua's conscience and is accusing Satan himself, who so discourages the heart with the heinousness of its sin that it cannot go on to serve its calling.

The Lord rebuke you, [O Satan]. This is a very wonderful and sweet comfort. Everything is contained in the fullness of this comfort, so neatly has he arranged all his words, as if to say: "From now on, Satan, stop opposing the priest. The Lord orders all things cursed which you inspire the timid priest to think about and which frighten him from his task. You are causing him to be downcast before God and to dare nothing before men. You are acting as if the Lord had completely rejected Jerusalem. But the Lord has not done this. On the contrary, He has chosen it and loves it as His own possession."...

Everything in this vision is revealed in such a sway that the vision declares and reveals God's will to the priest. It strengthens the priest so that he no longer
doubts that God will approve of his ministry, that his filthy garments have been
changed, and that his sin has been taken away. Now he wears new clothes, that is, a happy and joyful conscience which no longer flees from God, which thanks nothing evil about God but hopes for every good thing. Thus the fresh clothes do not mean works but grace and faith. (TODP, p. 1154)

As Luther saw the priest comforted by God's gracious promises of forgiveness, so too may you be comforted by Christ's robes of righteousness, given to you in your own Baptism. Amen.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

St. Titus, Pastor and Confessor

Today the Church remembers St. Titus, Pastor and Confessor.From the Treasury of Daily Prayer:
St. Titus, like Timothy with whom he is often associated, was a friend and co-worker of St. Paul. Titus was a Gentile, perhaps a native of Antioch, who accompanied Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem when they brought assistance to the Christians in Judea during a famine (Acts 11:29-30; Galatians 2:1). It is not known if he accompanied Paul on his first or second missionary journeys, but Titus was with him on the third one, which he helped reconcile the Corinthians to Paul (2 Corinthians 7:6-7) and assisted with the collection for the Church in Jerusalem (2 Corinthians 8:3-6). It was probably on the return to Jerusalem that Paul left Titus in Crete (Titus 1:4-5). Afterward he is found working in Dalmatia (2 Timothy 4:10). According to tradition,
Titus returned to Crete, where he served as bishop until he died about AD 96. (p. 1155)

And so we pray:
Almighty God, You called Titus to the work of pastor and teacher. Make all shepherds of Your flock diligent in preaching Your holy Word so that the whole world may know the immeasurable riches of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (TODP, p. 1154)

Daily Devotional Thought--From the Psalms

Psalm 18:46-50:

46 The LORD lives, and blessed be my rock, and exalted be the God of my salvation- 47 the God who gave me vengeance and subdued peoples under me, 48 who delivered me from my enemies; yes, you exalted me above those who rose against me; you rescued me from the man of violence. 49 For this I will praise you, O LORD, among the nations, and sing to your name. 50 Great salvation he brings to his king, and shows steadfast love to his anointed, to David and his offspring forever.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

As children learn to talk, so too, the children of God must be taught how to pray. Psalm 18 teaches us how to pray during times when we face opposition or even persecution. The verses above especially teach us how to give thanks to God for his protection and his deliverance. Especially helpful are Luther's thoughts about how this psalm applies to to the Christian today (in bold face). I pray that this Psalm become a blessing to you, and something you cling to while facing whatever opposition comes your way.

This is what Luther has to say about this Psalm:

The 18th psalm is a psalm of thanks in which, as the title declares, David thanks God that He has delivered him from all his enemies, such as Saul, the heathen, Absalom, and the rebellious Israelites. David relates that he was in deadly distresses and that God had helped him out of them. In the manner of a prophet he shows how God helped him as God had helped Israel in Egypt. He praises God, who held back his enemies, and thanks God for His help against the disobedient and the rebels, such as were Seba and most of Israel (2 Samuel 20). David had so many enemies and hostile subjects, that even the heathen foreigners (he says here) were more obedient than his own people.

Consequently, everyone needs to keep this psalm as an example of how we should thank God for His help when he delivers us out of our troubles. Whoever wants to explain this psalm spiritually may think of David as a Christian, standing against the heathens, the tyrants, the heretics, and the false Christians. From all of these, Christ and all His people will finally be delivered. Psalm 18 belongs in the Second Commandment and in the First Petition, because it thanks God and praises His holy name. (Reading the Psalms with Luther, pp. 45-46).

And so we pray:

Lord Jesus, both David's Son and David's Lord, thanks be to You, because You undertook the battle against our enemies, and ransomed us from the power of them that hated us. As you now sit at the right hand of the Father, a Lord over all things, be our Rock and our Defense, our Buckler and the Captain of our salvation, that in Your name we may defy and despise the very gates of hell, triumphing over them forever and ever. Amen. (Reading the Psalms with Luther, p. 50)

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Conversion of St. Paul

Today the church remembers the conversion of St. Paul. From the Treasury of Daily Prayer:
St. Paul's life-changing experience on the road to Damascus is related three
times in the Book of Acts (9:1-9; 22:6-11; 26:12-18). As an archenemy of
Christians, Saul of Tarsus set out for Damascus to arrest and bring believers to
Jerusalem for trial. While on the way, he saw a blinding light and heard
the words: "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" Saul asked, "Who are
You, Lord?" The reply came, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting."
In Damascus, where Saul was brought after being blinded, a disciple named
Ananias was directed by the Lord in a vision to go to Saul to restore his
sight: "Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine to carry Me name before the
Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel" (Acts 9:15). After
receiving his sight, Saul was baptized and went on to become known as Paul, the
great apostle.

And so we pray:

Almighty God, You turned the heart of him who persecuted the Church and by his
preaching caused the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world.
Grant us ever to rejoice in the saving light of Your Gospel and, following the
example of the apostle Paul, to spread it to the ends of the earth; through
Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy
Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Daily Devotional Thought--For the Family

Nehemiah 8:8 -- "They read from the book, from the Law (Torah) of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading."

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Israel had numbered into the millions, maybe as large as 2-3 million before they were exiled in Babylon for their idolatrous ways. In Nehemiah, chapter 8, we hear of the remaining remnant, now numbering only 42,360 (plus male and female servants -- 7,337) restoring the practice of reading God's Word in the assembly.

In the passage above there is a brief clause that may often times go unnoticed. When reading from the Torah, clearly, they gave the sense. And what was the result? The people were able to understand the Word.

Of course Ezra isn't sitting at the dinner table after finishing a delicious meal prepared for the family by mom the homemaker, but he does have something to offer us who find ourselves entrenched in the busy work week, taking a moment with our family, and wondering exactly how to have a devotion with our family.

Especially you parents who have purchased The Lutheran Study Bible (if you haven't, please, go check it out!) you have a tool that will help you give the sense so that your little ones can begin to understand. It's simple, really. Just open with the Invocation (In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit) and make the sign of the holy cross as a reminder of your baptism (and your children's), then go ahead and read a portion of the Scriptures. After that ask a few questions, let your family ask a few questions, and if you don't know the answer, explore the Scriptures together to find the sense.

In this way you will be carrying out your vocation as a Christian parent to hand down the faith, but you will also be modeling a humility that doesn't necessarily know it all, but will be willing to explore the Scriptures for the answers -- something your children can't learn too early.

Reading the Word and unpacking it goes way back. This is how God's people come to understand God's mercy and grace, and how they begin to see their Savior -- Jesus Christ.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Daily Devotional Thought--From the Confessions

We we continue our Friday series on the Augusburg Confession. Today we consider Article IV -- Justification.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

To put it plainly, Article IV of the Augsburg Confession proclaims the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ. As the Gospel will always to, AC IV points us away from our own strength, merits, or works to see Jesus' death as the payment and satisfaction for our sins. The person that believes this is the person that has a saving faith, for he trusts in God alone for his salvation.

Within Lutheranism, Justification has been said that "the Church stands or falls on the article of justification." And why do Lutherans say this? Because the doctrine of justification confesses that in Christ alone are we declared righteous before God, and apart from this understanding, there is no Gospel, no need for Christ, and ultimately, no forgiveness, life or salvation.

The article is not long, but it does say a lot. The article doesn't use many words, but its few words clearly communicate the deepest of theology. The article was written long ago, but the Gospel it confesses is timeless, and leads to eternity.

So, here is Article IV of the Augsburg Confession:
Article IV: Of Justification.
1] Also they teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength,
merits, or works, but are freely justified for 2] Christ's sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ's sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. 3] This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight. Rom. 3 and 4.

Salvation unto us has come By God’s free grace and favor;
Good works cannot avert our doom, They help and save us never.
Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone, Who did for all the world atone;
He is our one Redeemer. (Lutheran Service Book, 555)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Daily Devotional Thought--From the New Testament (When One Is Not Enough)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

St. Paul writes to Timothy: "there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 2:5).

In the way Moses pleaded the case of the Israelites before Yahweh on Mt. Sinai, appealing to the everlasting covenant God had made with Abraham, so Jesus Christ pleads your case, and the exhibit A for your mediator is his sacrifice on the cross, which is credited to you through Baptism.

But with God, one is often not enough.

Baptism would have been enough, but God also gives the preached Word (holy Absolution and the Sermon, for example) and the Lord's Supper. Any one of these alone brings all the gifts of God in Christ: forgiveness, life and salvation. But God doesn't give any one of these alone.

So too, having Christ as a mediator would have been enough, but God hasn't given Christ only. St. Paul tells us also that "the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words" (Romans 8:26).

Indeed, if it was comforting to know that Jesus mediates for you, and pleads your case with the Father, home much more is it to know that God has given another, who intercedes for you, and delivers your prayers to the Father.

Faith is always ready to receive whatever God will give. And sometimes, God decides that one gift is not enough. Amen.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Daily Devotional Thought--From the Old Testament (Remembering Sarah)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Today the church remembers Sarah, the wife of Abraham. The following is taken from the Treasury of Daily Prayer:

Sarah was the wife (and half sister) of the Hebrew patriarch Abraham (Genesis 11:29; 20:12). In obedience to divine command (Genesis 12:1), she made the long and arduous journey west, along with her husband and his relatives, from Ur of the Chaldees to Haran and then finally to the land of Canaan. She remained childless until old age. Then, in keeping with God's long-standing promise, she gave birth to a son and heir of the covenant (Genesis 21:1-3). She is remembered and honored as the wife of Abraham and the mother of Isaac, the second of the three patriarchs. She is also favorably noted for her hospitality to strangers (Genesis 18:1-8). Following her
death at the age of 127, she was laid to rest in the Cave of Machpelah (Genesis 23:19), where her husband was later buried.

St. Paul teaches us in 1 Corinthians 1:27 that "God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong." Sarah is but one example. Out of her barrenness, God would produce the heir of the covenant that would become in himself a foreshadowing of the promised heir by which salvation would come.

Sarah, by all outward signs, was past the point of pregnancy--and so she laughed when the messenger delivered the word that she would bring forth a son. But God's Word was true nonetheless. In her old age she would become pregnant and give birth to Isaac.

We must not trust in appearances, but put our faith in the promises of God. Churches may appear to be strong and alive, on the one hand, or weak and dying on the other hand. But appearances are not faithful indication of where or when the Spirit is at work. For that, we must look to the promises of God, and trust His word.

When appearances tell us that a congregation's best years are behind it, like Sarah, Christians want to laugh at the proposal that the congregation is strong and the Spirit is alive and well. But we must not take our assurance from appearances. Rather, we must trust what God's Word promises.

Where the Gospel (the Word of God) is preached in truth and purity, there the Holy Spirit is alive and well, there the church is strong and faithful -- no matter what the outward signs seem to indicate.

And so we pray:

Lord and Father of all, You looked with favor upon Sarai in her advanced years, putting on her a new name, Sarah, and with it the promise of multitudinous blessings from her aged womb. Give us a youthful hope in the joy of our own new name, being baptized into the promised Messiah, that we, too, might be fruitful in Your kingdom, abounding in the works of Your Spirit; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Devotional Thoughts Resume Wednesday

I'll be at a Pre-Lenten Pastor's Conference in Waco, TX, Monday and Tuesday. I'm excited to hear Dr. Reed Lessing, to dig into some Hebrew, and to enjoy the camaraderie with the brothers. Devotional thoughts will resume Wednesday morning.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Daily Devotional Thought--From the Confessions

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Throughout the history of the Church, and still today, many of the false teachings that have arisen have pertained to the second person of the Trinity -- The Son of God. Even before all the Scriptures had been written the gnostic heresy was alive and well. The Gnostics taught that matter was bad, spiritual things were good, and so Jesus could not be God because he was a person made of matter. While Gnosticism was a relatively early heresy, and would be taken on by Ignatius of Antioch, it is alive and well today. Just check out this website to see the modern day version of this ancient, and dangerous, heresy.
Why do I mention the existence of Gnosticism in the 21st Century? Because a clear confession of the biblical doctrine of the Son of God is as important today as it was when our early church fathers preserved the true teaching of Christ in their own writings, and through the ancient Creeds. If the Church will continue to be Christian, and in her be found the gifts that Christ bestows (Forgiveness, Life and Salvation), then it must confess the Christ as the Scriptures teach. Hence, Article III of the Augsburg Confession.
You will find much of this article to sound quite familiar if you regularly worship in a Christian Church that still confesses the 3 ancient Creeds: The Apostles', The Nicene, and The Athanasian. But there is good reason for that, for the creeds confess the same doctrine of the Son of God that the Lutheran Reformers confessed here in Article III. For within this confession of Christ -- alone -- is there found the comfort of the Gospel.
So, here is the article:

Article III: Of the Son of God.
1] Also they teach that the Word, that is, the Son of God, did assume the human nature in 2] the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary, so that there are two natures, the divine and the human, inseparably enjoined in one Person, one Christ, true God and true man, who was born of the Virgin Mary, truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and 3] buried, that He might reconcile the Father unto us, and be a sacrifice, not only for
original guilt, but also for all actual sins of men.

4] He also descended into hell, and truly rose again the third day; afterward He ascended into heaven that He might sit on the right hand of the Father, and forever reign and have dominion over all creatures, and sanctify 5] them that believe in Him, by sending the Holy Ghost into their hearts, to rule, comfort, and quicken them, and to defend them against the devil and the power of sin.

6] The same Christ shall openly come again to judge the quick and the dead, etc.,
according to the Apostles' Creed.

The Son of God "is, and remains, for all eternity the God-man, the One who appeased, or propitiated, God's wrath against our sin and won for us eternal life. Even now He is present with us through His appointed means of grace -- the Gospel and the Sacraments. He comes to strengthen, sustain, ans support us, and to bring us safely to our heavenly home" (Concordia: A Reader's Edition of the Book of Concord, p. 32).

And so you see, the Lutheran Church confesses nothing other than the historic, biblical doctrine of Christ, and in a world where false teachings still abound, the Church that still confesses Christ properly is the church that is needed. The Lutheran Church and her confession of Christ must be heard, for where it is, there will be the gifts of the Son of God. Amen.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Daily Devotional Thought--From the Old Testament

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

From Job 10:16, we learn that almighty God is pictured as a lion hunting prey:

"And were my head lifted up, you would hunt me like a lion."

Hosea also describes God in this way:

"For I will be like a lion to Ephraim, and like a young lion to the house
of Judah" (Hosea 5:14).

The study note in The Lutheran Study Bible about this verse from Hosea is helpful in helping us to unpack this metaphor: "Though Israel and Judah were right to dread Assyria's might, the Lord is the real power they should have feared" (p. 1443).

On the one hand, the lion is strong, and is seen as a predator. This image produces fear, as we become the target of the fierce hunter. But that fear, Lord-willing, leads to repentance. For like Job, we do not want to lift up our sinful heads in the face of the one who hunts, for he hunts to destroy sin.

Unfortunately, there is another lion that is out on the hunt. 1 Peter 5:8 describes Satan as the other hunter: "Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour."

And like a lion, the Devil is patient. He waits until you are unsuspecting, until you think you're all alone, until you let down your guard, and then he pounces for the kill. He is on you, attacking what God has created within you--the faith that trusts in Christ and His promises. And like a female hunter, he leaves you for the dominant male to come in and devour.

You see, because almighty God hunts sin, and destroys those who would reject His son, Satan hunts us down in order to leave our remains for God to destroy.

But the Scriptures don't just speak of almighty God as the hunting lion (Law). There is another image involved in God being a lion, and that is of a ferocious protector of offspring:

"So I am to them like a lion; like a leopard I will lurk beside the way. I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs; I will tear open their breast, and there I will devour them like a lion, as a wild beast would rip them open" (Hosea 13:7-8).

Almighty God tears open those who would threaten to steal away his cubs, that is his children. And ultimately He would accomplish this tearing when the Lion of Judah would ascend to the cross and there defeat sin, death, and the Devil himself.

God hunts sin, but he does so to bring His cubs into the eternal protection of his den. In other words, the fear and repentance produced by God the hunter, is met with the comfort that comes with fiercest protection in the face of those who would seek to harm us eternally.

The same lion that hunts the sin that remains within, protects us as His own -- for his own cub has already paid the ultimate price, and He wishes not to loose another. Amen.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Daily Devotional Thought--From the Psalms

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Today's Psalm:

63:1 O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;my soul thirsts for you;my flesh faints for you,as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
2 So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,beholding your power and glory.
3 Because your steadfast love is better than life,my lips will praise you.
4 So I will bless you as long as I live;in your name I will lift up my hands.
5 My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
6 when I remember you upon my bed,and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
7 for you have been my help,and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
8 My soul clings to you;your right hand upholds me.
9 But those who seek to destroy my life shall go down into the depths of the earth;
10 they shall be given over to the power of the sword;they shall be a portion for jackals.
11 But the king shall rejoice in God;all who swear by him shall exult,for the mouths of liars will be stopped.

And from the study notes in The Lutheran Study Bible, this fine nugget of Law/Gospel application:
On the run, cut off from God's tabernacle and the capital city, Jerusalem, David turns to God in prayer and praise for His love and salvation. When we are in the "wilderness" and God seems distant, we may find ourselves tempted to focus on our troubles rather than turning to God in faith and confidence. David shows us the way to handle disaster and doubt: meditate on the Lord in prayer and thanksgiving (cf Php 4:4-7). Faith looks beyond the circumstances to the cross of Christ and sees God's love, holding fast to His promises to His children.

And so we pray:
"My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me" (v. 8). Amen

Monday, January 11, 2010

Daily Devotional Thought--For the Family

Dear brothers in sisters in Christ,

Yesterday we celebrated the Baptism of our Lord, and considered the significance of our own Baptism as well. I thought I would ask a question:
In your family, what do you do to remember your baptismal birthday?

Many congregations give candles to the newly baptized. If you have one, do you light it to remind your child of the significance of that day?

Some congregations will give a personalized baptismal banner to the newly baptized. If you happen to have one of these, does it hang in your son or daughter's bedroom?

Shells are another common gift given to the newly baptized. Do you have one of these symbolic reminders displayed prominently on a dresser, or some other shelf?

Luther took great comfort in knowing he had been baptized. When the Old Adam would attack him, and Satan would tempt him to doubt the promises of God, he would cling to the promises made to him in his Baptism. No other word is greater than God's Word of promise, the Word spoken at your Baptism.

The easiest method of remembering your Baptism is to make the sign of the cross, the sign that was made upon your forehead and upon your heard to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified. When we make the sign of the cross when we hear the words of the Invocation, for example, we are remembering that Triune name of God was written upon us on that glorious day.

Remembering this is significant, because it gives us great comfort to be reminded that 1) our sins have been forgiven (Acts 2:38; 22:16), 2) we have been rescued from death and the devil (Rom. 6:3, 5; Gal. 3:27; Col. 1:13-14), and we have been given eternal salvation (Mark 16:16; 1 Peter 3:21; Titus 3:5).

Do you know your baptismal birthday? Of course we all know that day that we were born into our earthly families, but do you know the day you became a child of your heavenly Father? In my case it's easy to remember because it's the same day as my sister's birthday (March 18, 1979). Let me ask another question: Do you kids know their baptismal birthdays? As they grow up, and face the attacks of the enemy, knowing that they have been baptized will provide them with great comfort. For in Baptism, our Lord writes His name upon us, and calls us His own!

Friday, January 08, 2010

Daily Devotional Thought--From the Confessions

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

I wrote on November 20th that we would start a series on the Augsburg Confession, and began that day with a discussion of Article I -- God. But then the schedule of Advent jumped up and bit me, and there hasn't been a Friday devotional thought posted since. we receive a nice introduction to Article II -- Original Sin, and then the text of the article. I hope this will prove to be helpful.

From Concordia: A Reader's Edition of the Book of Concord:
Sin is much more than thinking, saying, and doing things that are wrong. It is a terminal disease. We are all conceived and born in sin; we inherit it from our first parents, Adam and Eve. The disease of sin can be overcome, but only by one medicine: the cleansing, healing, and forgiving blood of God's own Son. By rejecting Pelagian errors in Article II, the Augsburg Confession subtly refers to the Roman view of sin. The Roman Church taught and still teaches that concupiscence (the inborn inclination to sin) is not actually sin. By misdiagnosing our fatal illness, Rome leads people to beleive they are able to cooperate with God's grace for salvation. Lutheranism rejects all teachings that imply we are responsible for or contribute to our salvation. (See also Ap II; SA III, I; FC Ep I and SD I.)

And here is the actual text of the article:

Article II: Of Original Sin.
1] Also they teach that since the fall of Adam all men begotten in the natural way are born with sin, that is, without the fear of God, without trust in God, and with 2] concupiscence; and that this disease, or vice of origin, is truly sin, even now condemning and bringing eternal death upon those not born again through Baptism and the Holy Ghost.
3] They condemn the Pelagians and others who deny that original depravity is sin, and who, to obscure the glory of Christ's merit and benefits, argue that man can be justified before God by his own strength and reason.

May we see that still today, this truth is need of teaching and preaching, and confessing. Amen.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Daily Devotional Thought--From the New Testament

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:1-5)

As American as apple pie, is the notion that human beings we created with a free will. Most people, and Christians, view humanity's beginning as a sort of "godly experiment." The all-powerful God creates the world, sets up mankind as a unique creature, and then waits to see what will happen. "Does my creation love me, or not? Will they choose my ways, or their own?" And so the thought goes...

In an adult instruction text, for example, a Lutheran pastor teaches the idea of free with these words:

"Adam and Eve had the choice of obeying God or disobeying (free will). God commanded them not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God wanted to see if they loved Him. But they disobeyed God, and they plunged the human race into sin."

The first time I taught adult instruction, I was surprised by these words, and had the class take out their pencils and make a few editions to the paragraph. When I got done with it, the paragraph read like this:

"Adam and Eve simply obeyed God. God commanded them not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They did what they were created to do. But Satan interfered, and they disobeyed God, and they plunged the human race into sin."

Most Christians, and Lutherans for that matter, are a bit confused about this. They try to make sense of a world where 1) man was given free will, but 2) then is saved by grace alone. But these two ideas cannot both be true. If man was given free will in matters of salvation, that is, if man was able to fix the problem of sin, than what need does he have for Christ? Or on the other hand, if man is saved by grace alone because of the death and resurrection of Christ alone, than what role does he play in his salvation? No matter which way we approach things, either there is no free will, or, there is no need for Christ.

To be sure, God does give us reason, which does equip us to make choices in earthly matters: how best to discipline our children, which house to buy, where to park the car, for example. If this is what you mean by free will, then we can agree that free will exists. Unfortunately, this is typically not all that is meant by the term.

You see, our understanding of the pure Gospel is confused when we take whatever free will we have in earthly matters according to our reason, and apply it to heavenly matters -- matters of salvation. We reduce the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ when we say, "I can decide what to wear this morning by my reason, I must be able to decide how I should be saved (or even if I need saving)."

In the meaning of the 3rd Article of the Apostles' Creed, Lutherans confess:

"I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him."

That doesn't sound like a free will, a will that is free to choose between two options. That sounds like a will that is bound in its condition, and will never choose Christ.

Luther understood correctly what the Scriptures teach about the human condition (after the fall):

"The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Corinthians 2:14).

"The intention of man's heart is evil from his youth" (Genesis 8:21).

"The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot" (Romans 8:7).

"Even when we were dead in our trespasses, [He] made us alive together with Christ" (Ephesians 2:5).

"Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God" (2 Corinthians 3:5).

The passages don't paint a picture of a man free to choice what he things is reasonable, or even what he knows is good for him. On the contrary, the Scriptures teach us to confess that "man's heart is evil from his youth," that "we were dead in our trespasses," that "we are (not) sufficient in ourselves." No free will here. The Scriptures teach clearly that man is bound to his fleshly appetites.

Which is why the meaning of the 3rd Article of the Apostles' Creed also confesses:

"but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith."

The reading from John 15 above teaches that Jesus Christ alone is the true vine. He alone is the source of life -- the source of salvation. The only way to receive that new life in Christ, to receive the benefits of the cross, is to be connected to that vine, Jesus Christ. And that only happens when God's Word is proclaimed and heard.

Romans 10 teaches that "faith comes from hearing" the Word of God. In other words, the preaching of repentance (Law), followed by the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of salvation (Romans 1:16). Only this Gospel is capable of turning human beings that our slaves to sin (John 8), bound to their fleshly desires, into men and women that see their savior and cling to His promises. Only by the Gospel does the Holy Spirit produce a saving faith that believes in Jesus Christ and comes to Him.

When we see our human condition correctly, that after the fall we are hostile to God and enemies of the Word, then we are able to see our Savior in all His glory--for in Him alone is there forgiveness, life and salvation.

And when your Old Adam raises his ugly head, and whispers doubt into your heart, go to your pastor, and beg him to hear the holy Absolution, or to receive Jesus' body and blood...again and again and again. For only in the pure Gospel, are we bound sinners, freed to new life!
Thanks be to God. Amen.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Daily Devotional Thought--From the Old Testament (The Epiphany of Our Lord)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Here is a portion of today's Old Testament reading:

"Before she was in labor she gave birth; before her pain came upon her she delivered a son. Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall a land be born in one day? Shall a nation be brought forth in one moment? For as soon as Zion was in labor she brought forth her children. Shall I bring to the point of birth and not cause to bring forth?" says the LORD; "shall I, who cause to bring forth, shut the womb?" says your God. "Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her; that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious abundance." For thus says the LORD: "Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall nurse, you shall be carried upon her hip, and bounced upon her knees. As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice; your bones shall flourish like the grass; and the hand of the LORD shall be known to his servants, and he shall show his indignation against his enemies. (Isaiah 66:7-14)

From The Lutheran Study Bible:
The LORD will bring about a new birth of joy and delight. We should not look elsewhere for lasting satisfaction and comfort. Motherly comfort and peace like a river will satisfy and delight all God's people. Just as a child's mother meets his or her needs, so our heavenly Father meets our needs of provision and pardon.

The 12 Days of Christmas have come, and today, are now gone. Today, we celebrate the Epiphany of Our Lord -- the recognition by the World that Jesus Christ is God! On Christmas night, Jesus was announced to shepherds of Jewish descent, and they beheld their savior. But as the wise men finally made their way to worship the King, the Gospel is revealed to be for all people, Jew and Gentile, slave and free, man and woman, for God desires all men to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4).

Later today, as I study the book of Jonah with the good folks over at NuStar, we will see God's resilience in making his mercy known to those who would otherwise perish in their sin. Gentile wise men, pagan Ninevites, or skeptical Texans? The Lord desires His Word of mercy and grace to be heard by all, and for Jesus to be seen by all as the one and only Savior for Sin, in whom alone there is forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation.

This is why the Lord brought forth the child from Mary's womb, the plan announced long before Mary herself was in her own mother's womb. And this is why, still today, wherever the Gospel is proclaimed in its truth and purity, and God's gifts are given in Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, Jesus is revealed as the light of the World, and people loved by God are still having an epiphany of faith.

Thanks be to God! Amen.

NuStar #1

I want to say thank you to Mr. Greehey who has provided me with a wonderful opportunity to bring the Word of God to the people at NuStar Energy!

I also want to ask for your prayers as I begin a monthly Bible Study there today. Pray that all those in attendance (including me) would see Jesus revealed in the Scriptures by the powerful Holy Spirit.

Since I'll be getting to know the group a bit today, and the time for actual study will probably be only 30 minutes, I thought I would start with something most people would at least be familiar with -- the story of Jonah.

"I Just Wanted to Make Sure There Was Nothing Wrong With My Computer."

Rest assured, there is nothing wrong with your computer. Despite my desire to begin posting again on Monday, time did not allow it. For that I apologize.

Thank you, Mac, for being an "occasional follower" and encouraging me that there are some people who actually read this thing!