Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Daily Devotional Thought--From the Old Testament

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Today's devotion is taken right out of Rev. Matthew C. Harrison's new book, A Little Book on Joy. I've included it not only because it is a devotion for Ash Wednesday, but also because in it Rev. Harrison gives good instruction on how to have devotion. He calls it "I.T.C.P." (Instruction, Thanksgiving, Confession, Prayer) and it is a very helpful way to spend time with the biblical text. The reason the biblical text is numbered, is because this is the first of a 90-day devotional that Rev. Harrison has provided in his book, a devotional that takes you from Ash Wednesday, through Easter, and on to Ascension. Enjoy!

From Rev. Matthew C. Harrison:

Prepare to meditate. Find a quiet spot. A comfortable kneeler focuses the attention well, but you will probably find yourself at a table, a desk, or a favorite easy chair. Take a few deep, clearing breaths, and continue to breath deeply. Recite the Lord's Prayer. Clear your mind. Pray for clarity of mind and a receptive heart. Now read the text and prayer.

  1. Ash Wednesday: Blow a trumpet in Zion; sound an alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming; it is near..."Yet even now," declares the Lord, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments." Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. "Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done great things!...Be glad, O children of Zion, and rejoice in the Lord your God..." (Joel 2:1, 12-13, 21, 23).

Read it again, slowly. What words are beginning to jump at you? What words trouble you? Encourage you? Disturb you? Comfort you? What does this text teach you? Possibilities abound: true repentance, God's seriousness over repentance, he wants the heart. God is merciful and gracious. He acts for our benefit. We need not fear. What do we have to be thankful for in this text? Many of the same things about which he instructs us, to be sure. I'm thankful that the Lord desires us to "be glad and rejoice." What can we confess? Thankless hearts, lack of repentance, false repentance, rejection of the Lord's steadfast love. Now Pray.

  • Instruction: O Lord, you teach us here that you desire true repentance and sorrow over sin, and that you are merciful and slow to anger. You also desire our joy in you.
  • Thanksgiving: I thank you for your mercies, for your call to repentance, for your patience with me, for your mercy, for your steadfast love.
  • Confession: I confess my many sins, my lack of repentance, my insincerity, my failure to follow through, secret sins of weakness, and especially my great lack of joy.
  • Prayer: Righteous and Just Judge, you know the hearts of all. Help me, I pray, in this time of repentance, to acknowledge my sinfulness with true sorrow. Forgive my many failings and faults, and grant me increasing joy in your eternal mercies; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

That's "I.T.C.P." -- Instruction, Thanksgiving, Confession, Prayer. As you practice it daily, it will become second nature and a great blessing for your meditation and prayer. You may certainly read the texts with your family at the table, with your women's/men's group, or by yourself, even without using Luther's method (I.T.C.P.). You can also use Luther's method as a catechetical tool with your family or others. In any case, prepare for "joy after joy."

Ash Wednesday

Today, Ash Wednesday, marks the beginning of the season of Lent.

"During the forty days of Lent, God's baptized people cleanse their hearts through the discipline of Lent: repentance, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Lent is a time in which God's people prepare with joy for the Paschal Feast (Easter). It is a time in which God renews His people's zeal in faith and life. It is a time in which we pray that we may be given the fullness of grace that belongs to the children of God" (TDP, p. 26).

Lent has always been my favorite time of the Church Year. I love the Lenten hymns and their minor keys -- keys which serve well to carry the rich texts of repentance and Christ's sufficient sacrifice. I love the clear preaching of repentance, followed by the sweet comfort of Christ crucified for me (and you!). The services incorporate rich ceremony that points us to Christ and His passion. All in all, it would suit me just fine to have the season of Lent incorporate much more time...but then, that too would be short sided.

While the season of Lent, and its spiritual disciplines, is good, right and salutary it must give way to the joy of the Easter Victory -- the empty tomb, Satan's clear defeat, Christ's resurrection. But...not yet.

First...there must be a cross. First there must be a crucifixion. First there must be hell. First there must be a death...For Christ.

And for you.

The path that Jesus takes in His passion, is the path that each Christian takes in his or her life. To follow Jesus is to pick up our own cross. To follow Jesus is to be Baptized into His crucifixion, and to die with Him. This is what Lent is all about. Dying with Jesus in repentance. A return to the drowning death of our

His life would become ours!

Have a blessed Lent. Amen.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Philipp Melanchthon (birth), Confessor

Today the church remembers Philipp Melanchthon, Confessor of the Faith:

From the Treasury of Daily Prayer:

Philipp Melanchthon (1497-1560) was a brilliant student of the classics and a humanist scholar. In 1518, he was appointed to teach along with Martin Luther at the University of Wittenberg. At Luther's urging, Melanchthon began teaching theology and Scripture in addition to his courses in classical studies. In April 1530, Emperor Charles V called an official meeting between the representatives of Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism, hoping to effect a meeting of minds between two opposing groups. Since Luther was at the time under papal excommunication and an imperial ban, Melanchthon was assigned the duty of being the chief Lutheran representative at this meeting. He is especially remembered and honored as the author of the Augsburg Confession, which was officially presented by the German princes to the emperor on June 25, 1530, as the defining document of Lutheranism within Christendom. Melanchthon died on April 19, 1560 (p. 1214-1215).

Daily Devotional Thought--From the Psalms

Psalm 91
1 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say to the LORD, "My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust."
3 For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence.
4 He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
5 You will not fear the terror of the night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
6 nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.
7 A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
8 You will only look with your eyes
and see the recompense of the wicked.
9 Because you have made the LORD your dwelling place-
the Most High, who is my refuge-
10 no evil shall be allowed to befall you,
no plague come near your tent.
11 For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
12 On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the adder;
the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.
14 "Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
I will protect him, because he knows my name.
15 When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and honor him.
16 With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation."

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

The 91st psalm is a psalm of comfort that exhorts us to trust in God in all distress and affliction. It is full of abundant promises flowing from and spun from the First Commandment. It is the second psalm in which the dear angels are proclaimed to be our guards and protectors (cf. Psalm 34), which is comforting and good to remember (Reading the Psalms with Luther, p. 217).

What a comfort it is to know that wherever we go, whatever befalls us, we are under the protective shadow of our almighty Father. When we call to Him, He will answer us. He will be with us in trouble, and will rescue us. He has trampled underfoot the lion and the serpent by the perfect sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ. The forces that tempt us, and seek to devour us have been defeated on Golgotha -- and they know it!

Faith clings to this promise, and trusts that it is true even when appearances indicate otherwise. For what God has said, is faithful. Amen.

And so we pray:
Lord Jesus Christ, the Author and Finisher of faith, grant us the true and saving faith, and preserve us in the same against all temptations to doubt and unbelief. Blot out our iniquities by Your blood; cover our sins with Your righteousness, and let Your angels be a fenced wall around us against all our enemies, and evermore teach us to know the secret of Your Father's will. Amen.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Attending the Texas District Regional Gathering in Dallas

There's snow falling in Dallas right now...but we're heading there this afternoon.

As the pastoral delegate from Circuit 29 of the Texas District for the LCMS National Convention this summer in Houston, I am required to attend a regional gathering to become informed about the final report of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance. This task force has recently made its recommendations for changes to the LCMS structure and governance, and this regional gathering will help us to understand them.

Pray for all the delegates who gather, and who will vote this summer. May we be the Lord's instruments in carrying our His will in our church.

And please pray for a safe trip as well!

I'll be back posting on Tuesday.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Silas, Fellow Worker of St. Peter and St. Paul

Today the church remembers Silas, Fellow Worker of St. Peter and St. Paul.
From the Treasury of Daily Prayer:
Silas, a leader in the Church at Jerusalem, was chosen by Paul (Acts 15:40) to accompany him on his second missionary journey from Antioch to Asia Minor and Macedonia. Silas, also known as Silvanus, was imprisoned with Paul in Philippi and experienced the riots in Thessalonica and Berea. After rejoining Paul in Corinth, Silas apparently remained there for an extended time. Sometime later he apparently joined the apostle Peter, likely serving as Peter's secretary (1 Peter 5:12). Tradition says that Silas was the first bishop at Corinth.
And so we pray:
Almighty and everlasting God, Your servant Silas preached the Gospel alongside the apostles Peter and Paul to the peoples of Asia Minor, Greece, and Macedonia. We give You thanks for raising up in this and every land evangelists and heralds of Your kingdom, that the Church may continue to proclaim the unsearchable riches or our Savior, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Daily Devotional Thought--From the Old Testament

28 Have you not known? Have you not heard? 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. (Isaiah 40:28-31)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Bound up in a flesh that craves the desires of the heart is a will that seeks the joys of youth, of foolishness, joys that fade away faster than the joy of a two-year-old who tosses one gift aside for the next. Sinners grow faint, and are weary, no matter what their age, when they feel the weight of the law. The end of the rope. Nowhere to turn. Broken. Helpless. And for the first time, seeing life in its reality.
Broken by the law, the sinner cries out:

1 O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger,
nor discipline me in your wrath!
2 For your arrows have sunk into me,
and your hand has come down on me.
3 There is no soundness in my flesh because of your indignation;
there is no health in my bones because of my sin.
9 O Lord, all my longing is before you;
my sighing is not hidden from you.
10 My heart throbs; my strength fails me,
and the light of my eyes- it also has gone from me.
11 My friends and companions stand aloof from my plague,
and my nearest kin stand far off.
21 Do not forsake me, O LORD!
O my God, be not far from me!
22 Make haste to help me,
O Lord, my salvation! (Psalm 38:1-3, 9-11, 21-22)

And the Father hears the cry of His child. No, better than that, even before the cry is heard, the Father is sprinting to His child, for he knows the brokenness deep in the depth of the heart. Like the Father of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), waiting, hoping, longing for his son to return, the heavenly Father sprints to His children, eager to celebrate their return.
And while the son understands that things have changed, that he is no longer worthy of even a servant's role, the Father will hear none of it. What was lost, is now found. Where brokenness chewed away at what life remained, now they will celebrate with a feast that will fill their bellies with life and love.
This is the love of the Father, a love that knows no bounds. A love that awakens life within even the darkest of pits, a love that frees the bound will and renews the strength of God's child. This is the love that greets a confession of sins with the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is a kingdom like no other. This is the kingdom of God, where foolish sinners are greeted with the joy due a righteous son or daughter. For in Christ, that is what we are. Amen.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Rev. Matthew C. Harrison Has Done It Again!!

As Executive Director of LCMS World Relief and Human Care, Rev. Matthew C. Harrison is coordinating the LCMS response efforts in Haiti. If you check out Rev. Harrison's blog, you will find frequent updates from the ground in Haiti, including pictures and video.

Rev. Harrison is serving the church in other ways as well...

In 2008, Rev. Harrison's book entitled Christ Have Mercy: How to Put Your Faith in Action, was published by CPH. I started reading this book while on vacation this past summer, and then later finished it when CPH made it available as an audio book. In my first encounter with Rev. Harrison's writing I was floored. Not only is Rev. Harrison clearly a scholar and faithful theologian, but he has avoided the trap of getting bogged down in minutia. His book is a wonderful example of the best of Lutheran theology: Grounded in a clear confession of the Gospel and all its articles, on the one hand, but Evangelical in the very best sense of the word, on the other hand.

In 2009, Rev. Harrison followed up his debut release with a one-of-a-kind publication, At Home in the House of My Fathers: Presidential Sermons, Essays, Letters, and Addresses from the Missouri Synod's Great Era of Unity and Growth. Over 800 pages worth of writings which had never before been available in the English language are now in the hands of pastors, seminary students, and laymen across the country because of the work of Rev. Harrison. The writing and thoughts of C.F.W. Walther, Friedrich Wyneken, Heinrich C. Schwan, Francis Piper, Friedrich Pfotenhauer and others can now be accessed by church leaders who endeavor to make a faithful confession in the unprecedented times of the 21st Century.

Finally, just recently, Rev. Harrison has done it again. Released by Lutheran Legacy, and available from Rev. Harrison's latest offering is another unique contribution. A Little Book on Joy: The Secret of Living a Good News Life in a Bad News World will once again display Rev. Harrison's scholarly and theological expertise, but it will offer a wealth of devotional material for any reader. Arranged in 20 brief chapters, each revealing joy in the Scriptures, this is the perfect book for husband and wife to explore together. I must confess, I preordered my copy and had been anxiously awaiting its arrival. I hope you will order one for yourself! But don't wait. because Rev. Harrison has included a unique addition to the back of his book: a 90-day devotional perfect for Lent-Pentecost.

So, are you wondering just who this Rev. Matthew C. Harrison is? I hope the next President of the LCMS! But for now, this bio taken from his book on joy will have to do:

Pastor Matthew Harrison was baptized in a small, rural parish, raised in a large, suburban church, was a missionary to native Canadians in Ontario, served as a graduate assistant at the seminary, studied in Australia, vicared in Texas, and served as pastor in rural Iowa and inner city Fort Wayne, Indiana. After co-founding a nationally recognized neighborhood renewal project in what was the poorest census tract in Indiana, he became the Executive Director of World Relief and Human Care for the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod and had administered nearly $100 million of charitable giving worldwide. He writes, translates, and speaks extensively. He delights in his wife, Kathy, and two boys, Matthew and Mark. He is an avid bluegrass banjo player and lutheir, and finds joy in it all.

Daily Devotional Thought--From the Psalms

Today's Psalm is a familiar one:

1 The LORD is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
3 He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

If you're reading this blog, chances are that Psalm 23 is just as familiar to you as it is to me. If a poll was of the most well-known Psalm, I would guess that good old number 23 would be right near the top of the list. Many of you probably memorized this Psalm and might even continue to recite it daily.

Surely, Psalm 23 is one of the most well known passages of Scripture. Psalm 23 is full of beautiful and familiar phrases that can put a smile on peoples’ faces—people of all ages—whether you are 94, 24, or just 4. So what is it about this Psalm, this song of David, that gives it staying power? There are 149 other Psalms to sing, to pray, to read, and to memorize. Why this one? Why number 23?

I think we can all relate to what David is talking about. David begins the Psalm by referring to the Lord as his shepherd. If the Lord is a shepherd, then David is saying that he is a lamb. And what do we know about a Lamb? Well, they don’t have a reputation of being rocket scientists. No, to put is bluntly, sheep are known to be a little slow. But David wants us, to think of dependency, and need. If you were a lamb, you would be dependent on your shepherd to provide all kinds of things, food, water, and most importantly, protection. But this lamb, David, says that he is not in want. This lamb has everything he needs because the Lord is his shepherd.

God has made him lie down in green pastures where he can relax, not having to worry about the enemies of nature. In these green pastures, the grass is growing thick, and needs are being met. God has led him to still waters. Here, the lamb’s thirst is quenched, and a peaceful sense of calmness comes to the lamb. Not a ripple is on the water, as nature lies undisturbed.

You see, God is leading David, the lamb, and providing for his most basic and important needs, food, and protection. In this leading, God restores his soul, allowing David to be who he was created to be, the righteous man of God. But there’s more…

In the middle of this familiar Psalm, were here very comforting words, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; they rod and they staff they comfort me.” It is clear that David, the lamb, has not escaped danger. It is clear that David is not living in a fantasy world where nothing goes wrong, and everything happens as he would desire. Quite the opposite, he is walking through the valley of the shadow of death! This, my friends, is where Psalm 23 is most comforting. It is this verse, where David’s song of praise hits home.

You and I know that we don’t live in a fantasy world. You and I have experienced danger many times, and will continue to experience danger many more times. You and I, like David, are walking through the valley of the shadow of death. It’s true. You and I understand what David is talking about all too well. Whether it is our own sinful nature making itself known in the form of temptation, or other worldly enemies such as gossip, envy, jealousy, revenge, or slander, we know what it is like to walk through the valley of the shadow of death. As is true for any lamb, we do have enemies. The devil, the world, and our sinful flesh are constantly attacking us, trying to tear us from the Green pastures, and still waters that God has taken us to. And if that is not enough, we know that death is all too real. And so, the words of David become words that bring great comfort, and great peace. They are words that lead us to paths of righteousness, for his sake. Because like David, even though these enemies are seeking to devour us, you and I are not in want. You and I walk through the valley of the shadow of death every day, and we fear no evil. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is with us.

Why is Psalm 23 so familiar? Why do many Christians remember this Psalm, when most other Bible verses are forgotten? Because we know what it is like to be in need. We know what it is like to have enemies. We know what it is like to depend on others for survival. My friends, we known what it is like to fear. This is what David is talking about in this Psalm. It’s something we all understand. And he gives a glorious answer to our needs and our fears.

In the middle of the Psalm, David switches from being a needy and fearful lamb, to celebration in the face of his enemies. David, who’s soul has been renewed by the Lord, is now talking about living forever with his Lord. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. We do have enemies, but God’s goodness and his gracious mercy are pursuing us all the while, and in the face of our enemies, we hold on to our risen Savior, who had defeated sin, death, and the power of the devil. When we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, You and I will fear no evil for Jesus has risen, and has been exalted to the highest place. And that, my friends is what makes Psalm 23 so comforting. In the face of our worst fears, we hold on to the promises of God—you and I, will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. The Lord is our Shepherd, we shall not want. He has met all of our needs, and as we experience the pains of this world, like a lamb, we are comforted by our Shepherd, who is with you and is with me. Amen.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Jacob (Israel), Patriarch

Today the Church remembers the OT Patriarch Jacob -- who was renamed Israel.

From the Treasury of Daily Prayer:

Jacob, the third of the three Hebrew patriarchs, was the younger of the twin sons of Isaac and Rebekah. After wrestling with the Angel of the Lord, Jacob, whose name means, "deceiver," was renamed Israel, which means "he strives with God" (Genesis 25:26; 32:28). His family life was filled with trouble, caused by his acts of deception toward his father and his brother, Essau, and his parental favoritism toward his son Joseph. Much of his adult life was spent grieving over the death of his beloved wife Rachel and the presumed death of Joseph, who had been appointed by the Egyptian pharaoh to be in charge of food distribution during a time of famine in the land. Prior to Jacob's death, through the blessing of his sons, God gave the promise that the Messiah would come through the line of Jacob's fourth son, Judah (Genesis 49).

Daily Devotional Thought--From the Confessions

Our Friday series on the Augsburg Confessions brings us to Article VI: New Obedience.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Lutherans are sometimes accused of denying the necessity of good works. But while it is true that Lutherans teach that good works contribute in no way to our salvation, Lutherans do not deny their necessity.

Article VI of the Augsburg Confession comes on the heels of Articles IV and V which deal with pure Gospel (Justification and How it is Bestowed--The Ministry). It is careful to confess the necessity of good works, yet it places them in their proper context. The faith given by the Holy Spirit is a living and active power in our lives, bearing the fruit of good works.

Here is the text:

Our churches teach that this faith is bound to bring forth good fruit (Galatians 5:22-23). It is necessary to do good works commanded by God (Ephesians 2:10), because of God's will. We should not rely on those works to remit justification before God. The forgiveness of sins and justification is received through faith. The voice of Christ testifies, "So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was out duty'" (Luke 17:10). The Fathers teach the same thing. Ambrose says, "It is ordained of God that he who believes in Christ is saved, freely receiving forgiveness of sins, without works, through faith alone."

Are good works necessary? Yes.

Do they contribute to our salvation? No.

And so we confess when we have not loved our neighbor, or God himself. And we praise God when good works are done, for they are only done by the power of the Holy Spirit working faith in Christ. Amen.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Daily Devotional Thought--From the Old Testament

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

I've been translating my way through the early chapters of Exodus: the birth of Moses, Moses fleeing to Midian, Yahweh hearing the groans of Israel, and then the burning bush and Moses being sent to Pharaoh in order to bring the children of Israel out of Egypt.

But Moses knows he's not worthy, and he's sure that the Egyptians won't be convinced.

So Yahweh gives him a sign.

1 Then Moses answered, "But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, 'The LORD did not appear to you.'" 2 The LORD said to him, "What is that in your hand?" He said, "A staff." 3 And he said, "Throw it on the ground." So he threw it on the ground, and it became a serpent, and Moses ran from it. 4 But the LORD said to Moses, "Put out your hand and catch it by the tail"- so he put out his hand and caught it, and it became a staff in his hand- 5 "that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you" (Exodus 4:1-5, emphasis added).

Yahweh takes a physical, tangible, visible element, the staff/snake, and He attaches a promise to it. The staff/snake will now serve as a sign of God's appearance to the Egyptians, and at the same time will serve as a sign of God's promise to Moses. The Egyptians will know that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob has indeed appeared to Moses. And Moses, when he sees the staff/snake will be reminded of God's promise to bring the children of Israel to a land flowing with milk and honey.

And Yahweh will continue to work this way.

Physical elements, in and of themselves have no power, but when Yahweh attaches His Word of promise to them, they become a visible sign for us to cling to, assuring us of His faithfulness. This is the very essence of Sacramental Theology. Yahweh gives us something we can see, something we can grasp, something we can hold on to, so that we would also believe when we are not able to see, grasp, or hold. And this produces faith.

For Moses:
A staff + the Word = A snake that reveals Yahweh's presence to the unbeliever, and His promises to His people.

For you and for me:
Water + the Word = Forgiveness of sins, life and salvation as a Child of God.

Bread and Wine + The Word = The very Body and Blood of Christ, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins, and the strengthening of your faith.

I imagine that Moses slept very near to his staff, as it reminded him of Yahweh's presence. May we remain close to the gifts to which Yahweh has attached a promise for us. Sleep in the peace of your Baptism, knowing whose you are. And taste and see in the Supper, that Jesus Christ has died for you. Amen.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The Purification of Mary and The Presentation of Our Lord

From the Treasury of Daily Prayer:

Thirty-two days after Jesus' circumcision and seventy weeks after the announcement of John's birth to Zechariah by the angel Gabriel, the Lord comes
to His temple to fulfill the Torah (Luke 2:22-38). The days are indeed fulfilled with the presentation. Jesus' parents keep the Torah and fulfill it by bringing Jesus to His true home. Also, Jesus' parents offer the alternative sacrifice of two turtledoves or two pigeons. Leviticus 12:8 allows this instead of a lamb (showing the poverty and humility of Joseph and Mary). Yet no lamb was necessary because already here at forty days old, Jesus is the Lamb brought to His temple for sacrifice. Simeon's Nunc Dimittis is a beautiful example of the immediate response to this inauguration of God's consolation and redemption in the Christ Child. Speaking to Mary, Simeon also prophesies about the destiny of the child (TDP, pp. 1176-1177).

And when he saw the child, Simeon sang:

"Lord, now You let Your servant go in peace; Your word has been fulfilled. My own eyes have seen the salvation which You have prepared in the sight of every people: a light to reveal You to the nations and the glory of Your people Israel" (Luke 2:29-32).

And so we pray:
Almighty and ever-living God, as Your only-begotten Son was this day presented in the temple in the substance of our flesh, grant that we may be presented to You with pure and clean hearts; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, on God, now and forever (TDP, p. 1176)

Daily Devotional Thought--From the Psalms

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Psalm 75:


We give thanks to you, O God; we give thanks, for your name is near. We recount your wondrous deeds.
2 "At the set time that I appoint I will judge with equity.
3 When the earth totters, and all its inhabitants, it is I who keep steady its pillars. Selah
4 I say to the boastful, 'Do not boast,' and to the wicked, 'Do not lift up your horn;
5 do not lift up your horn on high, or speak with haughty neck.'"
6 For not from the east or from the west and not from the wilderness comes lifting up,
7 but it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another.
8 For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs.
9 But I will declare it forever; I will sing praises to the God of Jacob.
10 All the horns of the wicked I will cut off, but the horns of the righteous shall be lifted up.

From The Lutheran Study Bible:

God judges the wicked and delivers the believer according to His timetable, not ours. His seeming delay in this should not cause us to lose heart but to continue in repentance and faith. As He has fulfilled all His promises in the past, so He will act in both judgment and salvation (TLSB, p. 920).

Indeed, the knowledge of God having kept His promise is the source of our being able to endure the hardships of today.

And so we pray:

We give thanks to You, O God, and recount Your wondrous deeds. Amen. (TLSB, p. 920)

Monday, February 01, 2010

Daily Devotional Thought--For the Family

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

As I sat around the dinner table in the home of new parents looking forward to their son's Baptism, I was thankful to know that this child was going to be baptized and then raised by parents who confessed the faith, and were eager to begin their task of handing down the faith to their newborn.

We spoke of the challenge that many families face in choosing baptismal sponsors for their children, how sponsors are chosen based on their friendship, or because there's an even number of family members to go around, or for some other well-intentioned reason.

I wonder...

If parents knew that in Holy Baptism their little child was given an enemy that will harrass him as long as he lives, would they choose sponsors more carefully? This is how Martin Luther puts it:

“Every Christian as soon as he's baptized, is marshaled into an army in confrontation with the devil, and from his baptism onward is saddled with the devil who harasses him as long as he lives.”
A sponsor is to be chosen because he or she will partner with Christian parents in handing down the faith. In the baptismal rite, sponsors promise to teach the Ten Commandments, the Apostles' Creed, and the Lord's Prayer. How can a sponsor take that vow before God and man when he or she doesn't confess the Christian faith, or doesn't know the Ten Commandments, or hasn't prayed the Lord's Prayer in years. This would be similar to a bride and groom making vows, and then walking out of the church to live as if they had not.

But, on the other hand, when sponsors are chosen because of the sturdiness of their own faith, children are not only given an enemy for the rest of their lives, but a team of defenders. Parents don't have a choice. Their vocation as parent calls them to care for their child, and to teach them the faith into which they have been baptized. And when this happens, their children become eternal treasures they can take with them into an eternity with Christ.

But the task can be daunting. Almost inevitable is a time when children don't heed the advice of mom or dad. Sure to come are moments when even the baptized children of God will see no need to hear the Word of God, to be fed by their heavenly Father the food of everlasting life. And in these moments, Baptismal Sponsors play a vital role. When mom or dad can't say anything right, and are definitely not seen as wise, Uncle Lee, or Aunt Dawn, a close family friend named Debbie, or even the church Elder named Jim that took you under his wing, are invaluable as Baptismal Sponsors.

They are spiritual teammates against the life-long enemy, reminding the baptized child that God's promises are irrevocable, that he invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear Father, that He defends us against all danger and guards and protects us from all evil -- purely out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me.

Holy Baptism not only gives the Holy Spirit, forgiveness of salvation, and promises life everlasting, it also gives the baptized a life-long enemy named the Devil. Rest assured, however, for that young child has also been given an army of defenders who will place him in the hands of His great protector, from which nobody can pluck him.

May all the baptized learn to sing with confidence the words of this great hymn, God's Own Child I Gladly Say It:

God's own child, I gladly say it: I am baptized into Christ!
He, because I could not pay it, Gave my full redemption price.
Do I need earth's treasures many? I have one worth more than any
That brought me salvation free Lasting to eternity!

Sin, disturb my soul no longer: I am baptized into Christ!
I have comfort even stronger: Jesus' cleansing sacrifice.
Should a guilty conscience seize me Since my Baptism did release me
In a dear for giving flood, Sprinkling me with Jesus' blood?

Satan, hear this proclamation: I am baptized into Christ!
Drop your ugly accusation, I am not so soon enticed.
Now that to the font I've traveled, All your might has come unraveled,
And, against your tyranny, God, my Lord, unites with me!

Death, you cannot end my gladness: I am baptized into Christ!
When I die, I leave all sadness To inherit paradise!
Though I lie in dust and ashes Faith's assurance brightly flashes:
Baptism has the strength divine To make life immortal mine.

There is nothing worth comparing To this life-long comfort sure!
Open-eyed my grave is staring: Even there I'll sleep secure.
Though my flesh awaits its raising, Still my soul continues praising:
I am baptized into Christ; I'm a child of paradise! (LSB, 594)