Thursday, November 26, 2009

Daily Devotional Thought--Happy Thanksgiving!

Today we pray (from Starck's Prayer Book):

O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His mercy endures forever. Thus I say, O my God, I have lived again to see the blessed time of harvest. O gracious God, how great is the goodness You have manifested toward us! You have laid the foundations of the earth that it should be established forever. But into this earth You have placed Your glorious treasures. You make it produce fruits for us in abundance, which serve for sustaining our life, for our food and health.

O living Father, You have especially crowned this year with Your blessing, and Your paths overflow with abundance. You have watered the hills from Your chambers. You have filled the earth with fruits of You creation. You have caused the grass to grow for the cattle and vegetation for the service of humanity, that You might bring forth food from the earth. O faithful Father, this year again You have given food and drink to Your children, though they have been ungrateful. You have protected our harvest. Heaven has heard the cry of the earth, and the earth has yielded grain and wine. You have given us the early and latter rain in due season, causing our fields to bloom and giving us the bounties that spring from Your power. By Your grace our trees have yielded many kinds of beautiful and pleasant fruits, and the wine has made us glad. O loving God and Father, You have spread the wings of Your mercy over all our lands. You have caused the sun to shine in season, thus maturing all our crops. You have protected them from hail, blight, drought, and floods. While we slept, You were awake. You were the watchman and keeper of our fields.

O Lord, how great and manifold are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all, and the earth is full of Your riches All creatures, human and animal, wait on You, that You may give them their food in due season. What You give them, they gather. You open You hand, and they are filled with good. Yes, You have abundantly blessed us this year, O God, with the wealth of You bounties.

For this we thank You with our inmost heart. O come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our maker. Let us enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Let us say with grateful hearts: The Lord has done great things for us, and indeed we are glad.

O Lord, let us not misuse the gifts and favors that You have bestowed on us, but let us learn from them your love toward us and Your fatherly faithfulness. O God, if some who are ungrateful should show contempt for Your gifts by using them for gluttony or refusing to thank You for them, do not on that account withdraw Your blessing from us, but preserve them for us according to Your mercy.

O Father, You have loved us with an everlasting love, and You draw us to Yourself also by these earthly blessings, that we may know the giver by the gifts and the benefactor by His glorious presents, grant that Your goodness may lead us to repentance. Whenever we see Your gifts before us on the table, or receive them into our hands or mouth, let us always lift up our eyes to You, O fountain of every blessing! And as You sustain our bodies by Your bounties, let us through the Means of Grace that You have appointed increase also in the inner self, in faith, love, and godliness, that we may grow in all goodness, and be changed from glory to glory, until we are ushered into the enjoyment of Your heavenly blessings in everlasting life through Jesus Christ. Amen.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Daily Devotional Thought--From the Old Testament

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

I've already mentioned Starck's Prayer Book, and since Wednesday's devotional thought comes from the Old Testament, I thought I'd share this particular exhortation on this Thanksgiving Eve. Enjoy!

Devout Christians Thank God for the Ingathering of the Harvest

"And she did not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, and who lavished on her silver and gold, which they used for Baal. Therefore I will take back My grain in its time, and My wine in its season, and I will take away My wool and My flax, which were to cover her nakedness" (Hosea 2:8-9).

If we were to look for a glorious and great blessing apparent to all people, we would undoubtedly find it in our annual harvests. It is God who has protected our sowings in the earth during the winter, who caused them to sprout, grow, and bear fruit during the summer, averted hail, winds, and storms, and filled our barns and cellars with His blessings. On the other hand, if there is a favor that seems trifling and contemptible to our world, and for which God is thanked least of all, it is the annual harvest. Ungrateful humanity imagines that these things simply had to happen according to the laws of nature--things have to grow and God has nothing to do with it. Accordingly, God's anger is aroused, and by His just judgment He often causes the crops to fail, reminding everyone that the ground cannot produce anything apart from the Lord's will, and without without his blessing nothing can grow.

Believing Christians view the matter differently. When at harvest they see the full ears of grain and the vines loaded with clusters of grapes, they lift up their eyes to heaven, and praise the almighty Creator, giver, and preserver for the blessings received, and acknowledge that it is because of Him that so many grains come from one seed and such luscious fruit from an ordinary wood. They praise God's preserving providence, which provided throughout the year timely rain, and graciously averted thunderstorms, drought, hail, and floods, and guarded the crops. And when the time had arrived that they see the grains harvested and brought into the barns and the grapes crushed for wine, their hearts is stirred and they receive all these gifts with grateful hands. They also make use of them and enjoy them with thanksgiving. They know that is it God who feeds them, provides for them, and keeps them.

Yes, they let God's goodness lead them to repentance. If we thank a benefactor who gives us a garment or something for our support, and are careful not to offend him, why should we not praise the greatest Benefactor who gives us all things?

Indeed, Starck's words are every bit as helpful in the 21st Century as they were when they were written in the 18th Century. May you all be brought to see the blessings of the LORD, and give thanks to your heavenly Father. For all good gifts come from His hand. Amen.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Daily Devotional Thought--From the Psalms

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Today's Psalm from the Treasury (Psalm 41:7-12) is a prophecy and prayer of Christ himself. Here is the text:

7 All who hate me whisper together about me;

they imagine the worst for me.

8 They say, "A deadly thing is poured out on him;

he will not rise again from where he lies."

9 Even my close friend in whom I trusted,

who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.

10 But you, O LORD, be gracious to me,

and raise me up, that I may repay them!

11 By this I know that you delight in me:

my enemy will not shout in triumph over me.

12 But you have upheld me because of my integrity,

and set me in your presence forever.

The context of this Psalm is Christ's passion, specifically, his betrayal by Judas Iscariot. Those who hated Christ whispered, plotted and planned, imagining that this "blasphemer" had to be stopped. They imagined the worst for him. They thought that they could snuff out his life, put him to an end, that he would no longer survive to preach and teach the truth. Even his close friend, Judas, who ate the bread of Christ's last will and testament with him, has lifted up his heels, and would seal his betrayal later that night with a kiss.

Everything seemed to be against him. And yet, Christ prays to the Father what he knows to be true. He prays for a resurrection, a victory that is the repayment that his enemies could have never imagined. Because the Father accepts his offering, having fulled the law on behalf of sinful man, the enemies will not have the last word. They will not shout in triumph over him, but the disciples, the apostles, and the whole Christian Church will continue to sing and shout the victorious song of Jesus Christ's resurrection.

And this victory, this psalm, has become your victory and your song, for you have been baptized into the Christ who suffered all, and rose victorious. His death and resurrection are yours, and therefore, so is his prayer and song. Amen.

Monday, November 23, 2009

New Devotional Resource from CPH

I've been ENJOYING this new devotional resource from CPH for about a week now. But even more than enjoying, I've been fed and nourished by through the praying of these old prayers. It is as if they Pastor Starck, who was born in 1680, could see inside my heart and wrote these prayers for me.

Daily morning and evening prayers that apply the Word of God consistently go with a midday devotion and prayer, filling each day with God's Word. For only $13.99 (and free shipping) this outstanding resource can be yours. Follow this link. The only difficulty for my has been deciding which of CPH's fine materials are used each day (in addition to The Lutheran Study Bible, of course): The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Starck's Prayer Book, Meditations on the Gospels, or any other of a number of outstanding resources.

Commemoration of Clement of Rome, Pastor

Today the church commemorates Clement of Rome. From the Treasury of Daily Prayer:

Clement (ca. AD 35-100) is remembered for having established the pattern of apostolic authority that governed the Christian Church during the first and second centuries. He also insisted on keeping Christ at the center of the Church's worship and outreach. In a letter to the Christians at Corinth, he emphasized the centrality of Jesus' death and resurrection: "Let us fix out eyes on the blood of Christ, realizing how precious it is to His Father, since it was poured out for our salvation and brought the grace of repentance to the whole world" (1 Clement 6:31). Prior to suffering a martyr's death by drowning, Clement displayed a steadfast, Christlike love for God's redeemed people, serving as an inspiration to future generations to continue to build the Church on the foundation of the prophets and apostles, with Christa s the one and only cornerstone.

And so we pray in his honor:

Almighty God, Your servant Clement of Rome called the Church in Corinth to repentance and faith to unite them in Christian love. Grant that Your Church may be anchored in Your truth by the presence of the Holy Spirit and kept blameless in Your service until the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Dailyt Devotional Thought--For the Family

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

We all know the story from our Sunday School days: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refuse to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar even though the penalty for their faithfulness is a red hot fiery furnace. This well-known story is today's Old Testament reading (Daniel 3:1-30).

I continue to be amazed at the trio's faithful response:

"O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O King. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up" (16b-18).

Another prophet would remind his readers of the protection God provided these three when he wrote: "when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you" (Isaiah 43:2).

So what does this have to do with the Christian family?

First of all, a faithful response was, and is, possible because of the promised protection of God himself. A family that is grounded in His Word of promise, of comfort, and of a hope yet to come, will be able to stand strong against the difficulties of this age. A Christian family that prays together, studies the word together, and worships together will have God's promises in Christ Jesus on their minds, day and night. And by His Word, God provides a fortress for the Christian family, protecting it from all fronts.

But even more that that, we learn well from Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to hope in the final resurrection. The did not know if they would be rescued from the fire, and yet, they knew that they would be rescued. Faithful Christians like them have held on to this hope as well. Job confessed that "I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God" (Job 19:25-26).

This is all to say, like the faithful trio that went faithfully into the fiery furnace, the Christian family that hopes in Christ Jesus, has the assurance that no matter what befalls it, they will stand with Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednego on the last day, and there too will be Job and all the faithful, beholding Jesus Christ with their very own eyes. For just as Christ was with them in the fiery furnace, so too, he is with the Christian family through thick and thin. Amen.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Daily Devotional Thought--From the Confessions (The Augsburg Confession)

Today we start a new Friday series exploring one of the confessional writings of the Book of Concord: The Augsburg Confession. And why do we start such a series? Because, as the late Rev. Dr. Kurt Marquart wrote, "Lutheran congregations and synods must learn again to treasure the Book of Concord as their best and most authentic 'mission statement,' and to implement its doctrinal and sacramental substance full-strength in the actual shaping of their church-life" (Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics, Volume IX. pg.185). Thank you, Pastor Sullivan, for bringing these wise words to my mind the other day.

You see, the need for truth is as great in our time of post-modern relativism as it was in the 16th Century when Dr. Christian Beyer presented the true confession of faith set forth in The Augsburg Confession. The church and her mission depends upon the pure Gospel being taught and preached and the sacraments being administered according to Christ's institution. For this mission to continue in this 21st Century, in the face of ongoing persecution from worldly and spiritual forces, we must know that confession.

So what exactly is The Augsburg Confession? Well, here is the introduction from Concordia: A Reader's Edition of the Book of Concord:

On Saturday, June 25, 1530, at three o'clock in the afternoon, Dr. Christian Beyer stood, walked toward the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Charles V, and began reading the Augsburg Confession in a loud and distinct voice. Through the open windows a hushed crowd outside in the courtyard hung on his every word, as did the two hundred or so people gathered in the hall. Beside Dr. Beyer stood Dr. Gregory Bruck, holding a copy of the Augsburg Confession in Latin. The German princes around them stood up to indicate their support for the Confession. The emperor motioned for them to sit down.

When Dr. Beyer finished reading, Dr. Bruck took the German copy of the Confession from him, handed both copies to the emperor, and said, "Most gracious Emperor, this is a Confession that will even prevail against the gates of hell, with the grace and help of God." Thus was the Augsburg Confession presented as a unique Confession of the truth of God's holy Word, distinct from Romanism on the one hand, and Reformed, Anabaptists, and radicals on the other. June 25, 1530, is a date every bit as important for Lutherans as is the more familiar date of October 31, 1517--the day on which Luther posted his Ninety-five Theses.

In article I we see plainly that, along with Luther, Philip Melanchthon (who wrote the Augsburg Confession) and the rest of the reformers in Luther's camp, never set out to start a new and different church. Their intention was to identify the true confession of the Christian Church. To make this clear, they highlight their connectedness to the ancient Council of Nicaea and other Fathers that had confessed the faith previously.

Here are a few example from the first of 28 articles:

Article 1--God

  • The Augsburg Confession confesses the holy Trinity--That there is one God in three persons--as the Council of Nicaea had done in 325, and as the Scriptures plainly teach (Matthew 28:19). "Our churches teach with common consent that the decree of the Council of Nicaea about the unity of the divine essence and the three persons is true. It is to be believed without doubt. God is one divine essence who is eternal, without a body, without parts, of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness."

  • The Augsburg Confession condemns any teaching that is contrary to the holy Trinity, either combining the persons, or dividing their essence. "Our churches condemn all heresies that arose against this article, such as the Manichaeans, who assumed that there are two "principles," one Good and the other Evil. They also condemn the Valentinians, Arians, Eunomians, Muslims, and all heresies such as these. Our churches also condemn the Samosatenes, old and new, who contend that God is but one person."

It is plain to see. There is nothing really "new" here. Simply a confession of the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, something that all faithful Christians have confessed from the beginning of the church, and will continue to confess until Christ's return on the Last Day. But it is interesting to note that some of the church's persecutions today are coming from similar sources.

I was at a weekend retreat in 2005 where a "strong Christian" was arguing for a dualistic Christianity, where good and evil were pitted against each other, and the outcome was not already decided with Christ's words, "It is finished." I've spoken with "passionate believers" who speak of God simply working in different "modes" at different points in history. He used to be seen as the Father, and then became the Son, and now is at work as the Holy Spirit. But this denies three eternal persons, and confuses the eternal triune nature of God. And we all know that the Muslim heresy is alive and well, continuing to steal people from the true and saving confession of faith.

All of this is to say...

The Augsburg Confession must not be forgotten, by pastors or laity. We must study it and know it, as it is a true and unadulterated exposition of holy Scripture. What it confesses is the true faith, a truth that is God's truth, a truth that will prevail, as Dr. Beyer boldly proclaimed, "against the gates of hell."

And so we begin our study of The Augsburg Confession so that we continue to be build on the solid rock--Jesus Christ--and His pure Gospel. Amen.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Daily Devotional Thought--From the New Testament (The Cruciform Life)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

The words of our Lord: "If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me." (Matthew 16:24)

These words of our Lord fly in the face of popular "Christian" thinking because in these words the Lord tells you to deny yourself. The world, and what passes as "Christian" preaching and teaching encourages quite the opposite. Maybe it has something to do with the pioneering spirit of American individuality, or maybe not. I don't know. But one thing is for sure. We have been taught that God wants for me, what I want for me, and when life doesn't bring with it what I would expect, well, then, God must be mad at me.

But the Lord's teaches us a different reality. The Lord's teaches us that our life will reflect his life in that it will involve a cross, self-denial, and eventually death. The Christian should not expect to receive the treasures of heaven in this life, for we are to store up treasures in heaven. Quite the contrary, the one who follows Jesus lives by faith, bearing the crosses that the Lord lays upon him, but trusting that on the Last Day, Christ's resurrection would be manifested as our own. What he has already received in His glorious body and His Father's kingdom, will become our eternal inheritance.

Until that day, we cling to God's promises, and trust that our temporal crosses will prepare us for the life that awaits us in eternity. This, my friends, is the cruciform (cross-like) life--the Christan's life. Amen.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Daily Devotional Thought--From the Old Testament

Today's Daily Bible Story from A Congregation at Prayer is from 2 Kings 4:8-37, where Elisha raises the Shunammite's Son. I've included the text below (under the devotion) for your convenience.

Dear brothers and sisters,

Here is another parallel to the work of Elijah, but also to Christ. The upper-room location for the boy's resurrection once more recalls the institution of the Supper which we eat to be raised to eternal life. Like the woman, the Church gives birth to many sons (and daughters) at the font of baptism, but physical death comes upon them. They are taken to die and be buried by their mother, but the Lord will certainly raise them up when He returns to judge the living and the dead. Elisha's first physical contact with the boy portrays the incarnation of Christ who became one with us in the flesh that He might raise us up to life here in time through baptism and open the door for our cold bodies of death to inherit eternal life. The second physical contact symbolizes the final resurrection to eternal life. (Taken from Bible Stories for Daily Prayer, by Rev. Dr. Karl F. Fabrizius)

The text:
ESV 2 Kings 4:8-37 8 One day Elisha went on to Shunem, where a wealthy woman lived, who urged him to eat some food. So whenever he passed that way, he would turn in there to eat food. 9 And she said to her husband, "Behold now, I know that this is a holy man of God who is continually passing our way. 10 Let us make a small room on the roof with walls and put there for him a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp, so that whenever he comes to us, he can go in there." 11 One day he came there, and he turned into the chamber and rested there. 12 And he said to Gehazi his servant, "Call this Shunammite." When he had called her, she stood before him. 14 And he said, "What then is to be done for her?" Gehazi answered, "Well, she has no son, and her husband is old." 15 He said, "Call her." And when he had called her, she stood in the doorway. 16 And he said, "At this season, about this time next year, you shall embrace a son." And she said, "No, my lord, O man of God; do not lie to your servant." 17 But the woman conceived, and she bore a son about that time the following spring, as Elisha had said to her. 18 When the child had grown, he went out one day to his father among the reapers. 19 And he said to his father, "Oh, my head, my head!" The father said to his servant, "Carry him to his mother." 20 And when he had lifted him and brought him to his mother, the child sat on her lap till noon, and then he died. 21 And she went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God and shut the door behind him and went out. 22 Then she called to her husband and said, "Send me one of the servants and one of the donkeys, that I may quickly go to the man of God and come back again." 23 And he said, "Why will you go to him today? It is neither new moon nor Sabbath." She said, "All is well." 25 So she set out and came to the man of God at Mount Carmel. When the man of God saw her coming, he said to Gehazi his servant, "Look, there is the Shunammite. 26 Run at once to meet her and say to her, 'Is all well with you? Is all well with your husband? Is all well with the child?'"And she answered, "All is well." 27 And when she came to the mountain to the man of God, she caught hold of his feet. And Gehazi came to push her away. But the man of God said, "Leave her alone, for she is in bitter distress, and the LORD has hidden it from me and has not told me." 28 Then she said, "Did I ask my lord for a son? Did I not say, 'Do not deceive me?'" 29 He said to Gehazi, "Tie up your garment and take my staff in your hand and go. If you meet anyone, do not greet him, and if anyone greets you, do not reply. And lay my staff on the face of the child." 30 Then the mother of the child said, "As the LORD lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." So he arose and followed her. 31 Gehazi went on ahead and laid the staff on the face of the child, but there was no sound or sign of life. Therefore he returned to meet him and told him, "The child has not awakened." 32 When Elisha came into the house, he saw the child lying dead on his bed. 33 So he went in and shut the door behind the two of them and prayed to the LORD. 34 Then he went up and lay on the child, putting his mouth on his mouth, his eyes on his eyes, and his hands on his hands. And as he stretched himself upon him, the flesh of the child became warm. 35 Then he got up again and walked once back and forth in the house, and went up and stretched himself upon him. The child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes. 36 Then he summoned Gehazi and said, "Call this Shunammite." So he called her. And when she came to him, he said, "Pick up your son." 37 She came and fell at his feet, bowing to the ground. Then she picked up her son and went out.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Daily Devotional Thought--From the Psalms

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Today's Psalm in the Treasury is Psalm 148:1-6:

1 Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens;
praise him in the heights!
2 Praise him, all his angels;
praise him, all his hosts!
3 Praise him, sun and moon,
praise him, all you shining stars!
4 Praise him, you highest heavens,
and you waters above the heavens!
5 Let them praise the name of the LORD!
For he commanded and they were created.
6 And he established them forever and ever;
he gave a decree, and it shall not pass away.

From Reading the Psalms with Luther:
The 148th psalm is a psalm of thanks that excites and exhorts all creatures in heaven and earth to praise God--especially His saints, the children of Israel, who worship Him, that is, have His Word and worship....Rightfully, all of creation should be nothing but a tongue, always praising this great goodness of God. If you want to know how good a thing is, then take whatever you will and say: "If there were not fire..." or "If there were no sun..."; "If there were no hangman..."; "IF there were no woman..."' and so on. Then you will see why one should thank God.

Nicely put. And so we pray:
Praise the Almighty, my soul, adore Him!
Yes, I will laud Him until death;
With songs and anthems I come before Him
As long as he allows me breath.
From Him my life and all things came;
Bless, O my soul, His holy name.
Alleluia, alleluia! (LSB 797:1)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Daily Devotional Thought--From the Confessions (Conclusion of the Ten Commandments)

Our Friday series on the Ten Commandments concludes today with the Conclusion of the Ten Commandments. Come back next week as we begin a series of Friday devotions on the Augsburg Confession.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

What does God say about all these commandments?
He says, "I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me, but showing love to a thousand generation of those who love Me and keep My commandments." (Ex. 20:5-6).

What does this mean?
God threatens to punish all who break these commandments. Therefore, we should fear His wrath and not do anything against them. But He promises grace and every blessing to all who keep these commandments. Therefore, we should also love and trust in Him and gladly do what He commands.

From Concordia: A Reader's Edition of the Book of Concord, a helpful summary of Luther's thoughts from the Large Catechism:
The Ten Commandments always accuse. That is their chief use. They also serve as a rough curb against gross outbreaks of sin. But they also function as the "true fountain" from which all good works must spring. We never have to try to invent or create works to do that are pleasing to God or go beyond what He has given us. In these Ten Commandments we have the guide we need to understand what truly pleases God. Some of Luther's most powerful remarks about the difference between God's Ten Commandments and man-made Church rules are found here. Luther thunders against the pomposity and false teaching that certain "Church works" are better in God's eyes than the simple, humble, lowly works of common life, such as a young girl taking care of a little child. He provides a brief summary of the commandments and gain shows how the First Commandment is the fountain for all the rest. God has given us a great treasury by giving us the Ten Commandments.

We can see clearly in this summary statement the three uses (or functions) of the Law:
  1. Curb: "They also serve as a rough curb against gross outbreaks of sin."
  2. Mirror: "The Ten Commandments always accuse. That is their chief use."
  3. Guide: "But they also serve as the 'true fountain' from which all good works must spring."

While the first two functions are common to all people, Christian or not, as the Law of God is written on our hearts (Rom. 2:15; 2 Cor. 3:2-3), the third use is unique to Christians. For the Christian, who is in Christ, the Ten Commandments become the answer to the question: "Now what." In other words, while the Law serves to show our sin, it also serves to show us how to live. But it is still Law.

Today preachers confuse this third use of the Law with Gospel. They throw in a sentence at the end of the sermon that says, "So go and do likewise!" While true, this is not Gospel, for the Gospel is about God's actions, not the Christian's.

The Law binds, but the Gospel frees--always,--because the Gospel always declares God's gracious promises to you in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Daily Devotional Thought--From the New Testament

A portion of today's New Testament reading:

When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, "You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified."
Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. But they said, "Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people." (Matthew 26:1-5)

The thought from The Lutheran Study Bible on these verses is great:
Both Jesus and His enemies long for His impending death. They plot to kill Him, but He longs to offer up His life for them and for the whole world. Pray for those who oppose the Gospel. Despite such opposition, the Lord is at work for the good of His people.

Isn't that just fascinating. Both Jesus and His enemies long for the same thing--the death of the Son of God.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Commemoration of Martin of Tours, Pastor

Today the church commemorates Martin of Tours. From the Treasury:

Born into a pagan family in what is now Hungary around AD 316, Martin grew up in Lombardy (Italy). Coming to the Christian faith as a young person, he began a career in the Roman army. But sensing a call to a church vocation, Martin left the military and became a monk, affirming that he was "Christ's soldier." Eventually, Martin was named bishop of Tours in western Gaul (France). He is remembered for his simple lifestyle and his determination to share the Gospel throughout rural Gaul. Incidentally, on St. Martin's Day in 1483, the on-day-old son of Hans and Margarette Luther was baptized and given the name "Martin" Luther.

We pray:
Lord God of hosts, Your servant Martin the soldier embodied the spirit of sacrifice. He became a bishop in Your Church to defend the catholic faith. Give us grace to follow in his steps so that when our Lord returns we may be clothed with the baptismal garment of righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Daily Devotional Thought--From the Old Testament

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

A portion of today's Old Testament reading:

"I did not send the prophets,
yet they ran;
I did not speak to them,
yet they prophesied.
But if they had stood in my council,
then they would have proclaimed my words to my people,
and they would have turned them from their evil way,
and from the evil of their deeds." (Jeremiah 23:31-22)

Today's reading does two things:
  1. It preaches a word of law to any false teacher, and it
  2. Reminds us how fortunate we are to have pastors and teachers who build us up in true teaching of the Gospel, and the right administration of the sacraments.

There are wolves in sheep's clothing still today. Men and women that claim to be "called by God," and who take for themselves Christ's pulpit. It may not be so easy to see their fangs, or to discern the deadly word that flows from their mouth--a word that distorts the sweet Gospel burdens consciences with the Law. But, rest assured they will receive their "reward."

On the other hand, rejoice and be glad if your pastor is rightly called, approved by the church, and placed into the Holy Office by Christ himself. Give thanks if your pastor stands in the council of the LORD (v. 22), studying the Scriptures, so that sermons would not be his word, but God's Word--that is, the sweet proclamation of Law and Gospel.

Indeed, there are many false prophets still today. But thanks be to God, he still sends his true preachers and teachers to declare the wonderful works of God. And through that message, faith is both created and sustained, and the church is built on the confession of Christ alone. Amen.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Daily Devotional Thought--From the Psalms

Today's Psalm from the Treasury of Daily Prayer is Psalm 24:

The earth is the LORD's and the fullness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein,
for he has founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.
Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully.
He will receive blessing from the LORD
and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek the face of the God of Jacob.
Life up your heads, O gates!
And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The LORD, strong and mighty,
The LORD, mighty in battle!
Lift up your heads, O gates!
And lift them up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory!

On Martin Luther's birthday, we hear what he writes about this Psalm:

The 24th psalm is a prophecy of the coming worldwide kingdom of Christ. It calls on the "doors" of the world, that is, the kings and princes, to make way for the kingdom of Christ. They and those who for the most part rage against Him (Psalm 2) ask, "Who is this King of glory?" as if they were to say, "This beggar! Yes, this heretic! This criminal! Shall he be a king and shall we yield and submit to him? We shall not!" In this way the psalm shows that God's Word will certainly be condemned and persecuted. This psalm belongs to the First Commandment and in both the Third Commandment and the Third Petition.

And so we pray:
Ah, dearest Jesus, holy Child,
Prepare a bed, soft, undefiled,
A quiet chamber set apart
For You to dwell within my heart. Amen.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Commemoration of Martin Chemnitz, Pastor and Confessor

Today the church remembers "the second Martin," Martin Chemnitz. Some have said that if it weren't for Chemnitz, everything that Luther and his boys had fought for would have been lost. From the Treasury of Daily Prayer:

Aside from Martin Luther, Martin Chemnitz (1522-1586) is regarded as the most important theologian in the history of the Lutheran Church. Chemnitz combined a penetrating intellect and an almost encyclopedic knowledge of Scripture and the Church Fathers with a genuine love for the Church. When various doctrinal disagreements broke out after Luther's death in 1546, Chemnitz determined to give himself fully to the restoration of unity in the Lutheran Church. He became the leading spirit and principal author of the 1577 Formula of Concord, which settled the doctrinal disputes on the basis of Scripture and largely succeeded in restoring unity among Lutherans. Chemnitz also authored the four volume "Examination of the Council of Trent" (1565-73), in which he rigorously subjected the teachings of this Roman Catholic Council to the judgment of Scripture and the ancient Church Fathers. The "Examination" became the definitive Lutheran answer to the Council of Trent, as well as a thorough exposition of the faith of the Augsburg Confession. A theologian and a churchman, Chemnitz was truly a gift of God to the Church.

And so we pray:

Lord God, heavenly Father, through the teachings of Martin Chemnitz, You prepare us for the coming of Your Son to lead home His bride, the Church, that with all the company of the redeemed we may finally enter into His eternal wedding feast; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Commemoration of Johannes von Staupitz, Luther's Father Confessor

Today the church remembers Johannes von Staupitz, Luther's pastor and, as Treasury of Daily Prayer reminds us, Father Confessor. May we all be so blessed to have some care for our soul the way Pastor von Staupitz cared for Luther's. From the Treasury:

Johannes von Staupitz (ca. 1469-1524), vicar-general of the Augustinian Order in Germany and friend of Martin Luther, was born in Saxony. He studied at the universities in Leipzig and Cologne and served on the faculty at Cologne. In 1503, he was called by Frederick the Wise to serve as dean of the theological faculty at the newly founded University of Wittenberg. There Staupitz encouraged Luther to attain a doctorate in theology and appointed Luther as his successor to professor of Bible at the university. During Luther's early struggles to understand God's grace, it was Staupitz who counseled Luther to focus on Christ and not on himself.

We pray a fitting prayer:

Almighty, everlasting God, for our many sins we justly deserve eternal condemnation. In Your mercy, You sent Your dear Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who won for us forgiveness of sins and everlasting salvation. Grant us a true confession so that dead to sin we may hear the sweet words of Absolution from our confessor as Luther heard them from his pastor, Johannes von Staupitz, and be released from all our sin; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

And by the way, if you don't have a Father Confessor, or don't know what one is, go ask your pastor about it. You won't regret it!

Friday, November 06, 2009

I Wish I Had Said That...

This quote from Wednesday's writing in the Treasury of Daily Prayer says clearly what is not so clear in so many minds. I wish I had written it, but I'm glad Walther did. Now I can pass along his insights so that many more may benefit.

In speaking about the relationship between faith and works, C.F.W. Walther had this to say:

"[Luther] taught that good works to not save a person, but only faith, without good works....He did say that, to be saved, a person must have have and, in addition to that, good works, or love; but he did teach that those who would be saved must have a faith that produces love spontaneously and is fruitful in good works. That does not mean that faith saves on account of love which springs from it, but that the faith which the Holy Spirit creates and which cannot but do good works justifies because it clings to the gracious promise of Christ and because it lays hold of Christ. It is active in good works because it is genuine faith. The believer need not at all be exhorted to do good works; his faith does them automatically. The believer engages in good works, not from a sense of duty, in return for the forgiveness of his sins, but chiefly because he cannot help doing them. It is altogether impossible that genuine faith should not break forth from the believer's heart in works of love."

This has been on my mind since I read it, and has helped me to clarify a few of my thoughts on preaching. If the preacher treats faith and its fruit as a proposition, saying "this is possible if...", or "you can have this if...", or even "your sins can be forgiven," than we have turned faith into man's work of obedience, and it becomes a burden. This is NOT the preaching of the Gospel.

The Gospel asserts. It declares a reality. Preaching the Gospel simply proclaims what is true about the hearer--"Jesus died on the cross; there your sins are forgiven." "You have been baptized into Christ; you are God's child." "Take and drink, the blood of Christ; your sins are forgiven."

God doesn't leave it to chance. The Gospel isn't a possibility--it's a fact. And faith grasps hold of it for the sweet comfort that it brings. Faith says, "I want that!" Faith that clings to the Gospel, as Walther says so clearly, will never be without the fruit of that faith--good works.

Daily Devotional Thought--From the Confessions (The Ninth and Tenth Commandments)

Our Friday series on the Ten Commandments takes us to the Ninth and Tenth Commandments.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

What is the Ninth Commandment?
You shall not covet your neighbor's house.

What does this mean?
We should fear and love God so that we do not scheme to get our neighbor's inheritance or house, or get them in a way which only appears right, but help and be of service to him in keeping it.

What is the Tenth Commandment?
You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

What does this mean?
We should fear and love God so that we do not entice or force away our neighbor's wife, workers, or animals, or turn them against him, but urge them to stay and do their duty.

Concordia: A Reader's Edition of the Book of Concord includes a helpful summary of Luther's thoughts from the Large Catechism:
Luther says that God gave these two commandments to ensure His people knew that stealing is not only the physical act of taking unjustly from another, but is also the desiring of something that is not ours, such as our neighbor's wife, servants, or any property belonging to our neighbor. These commandments are not broken with the hand or the mouth but with the heart. They remind people who consider themselves virtuous that they too, by nature, sin. Toward the end of his explanation, Luther offers a powerful and critical theological insight. All the commandments constantly accuse us of sin and reveal to us where we stand under the Law in God's eyes: guilty! This is the chief purpose of the Law, to show us our sin (p. 392).

Luther says it well:
In whatever way such things happen, we must know that God does not want you to deprive your neighbor of anything that belongs to him, so that he suffer the loss and you gratify your greed with it. This is true even if you could keep it honorably before the world. For it is a secret and sly trick done "under the hat," as we say, so it may not be noticed. Although you go your way as if you had done no one any wrong, you have still injured your neighbor. If it is not called stealing and cheating, it is still called coveting your neighbor's property, that is, aiming at possession of it, luring it away from him without his consent, and being unwilling to see him enjoy what God has granted him.

So how do you know if you've sinned against the Ninth or Tenth Commandments? Ask yourself these questions:

The Ninth:
  • Do I have strong wants, desires, or cravings that consume my thoughts?
  • Do I resent or envy those who have more than I?
  • Do I neglect my marriage, family, church, and other relationships in a desperate attempt to satisfy the wants and desires of my flesh?
  • Have my wants kept me from being happy with and thankful for what God has given me?

The Tenth:

  • Am I discontented with the spouse the Lord God has given me?
  • Am I discontented with the job I have or the employees I supervise?
  • Have I neglected to urge someone to remain faithful to his or her spouse?
  • Have I wanted my neighbor's husband or wife, boyfriend or girlfriend, workers or property to be mine?
  • Have I fostered discontent with the congregation, its pastor, or leaders, and failed to urge members to stay and do their duty in the Divine Service, praying, giving and serving.

And remember, your heavenly Father is the giver of all good gifts. And most importantly, He has given His Son as an eternal sacrifice for the sins of the world. In Christ you have all that you need, and more to come! Amen.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Daily Devotional Thought--From the New Testament

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Romans 8:28 can perplex us, especially when faced with tremendous hardships. The great hymn, What God Ordains Is Always Good, teaches us rightly:

What God ordains is always good: His will is just and holy.
As He directs my life for me, I follow meek and lowly.
My God in deed In every need Knows well how He will shield me;
To Him, the, I will yield me.

What God ordains is always good: He never will deceive me;
HE leads me in His righteous way, And never will He leave me.
I take content What He has sent; His hand that sends me sadness
Will turn my tears to gladness.

What God ordains is always good: His loving thought attends me;
No poison can be in the cup That my physician sends me.
My God is true; Each morning new I trust His grace unending,
My life to Him commending.

What God ordains is always good: He is my friend and Father;
He suffers naught to do me harm Though many storms may gather.
Now I may know Both joy and woe; Some day I shall see clearly
That He has loved me dearly.

What God ordains is always good: Though I the cup am drinking
Which savors now of bitterness, I take it without shrinking.
For after grief God gives relief, My heart with comfort filling
And all my sorrow stilling.

What God ordains is always good: This truth remains unshaken.
Though sorrow, need, or death be mine, I shall not be forsaken.
I fear no harm, For with His arm He shall embrace and shield me;
So to my God I yield me.

What this confesses is the truth that St. Paul teaches. Even though my eyes see destruction and pain and sorrow, yet I confess what I remains hidden. Indeed all things work together for good for those who love God. Amen.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Daily Devotional Thought--From the Old Testament

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

In the face of obstinate unrepentance, our faithful heavenly Father still pursues His children. The Lord describes Jerusalem in no uncertain terms:

ESV Jeremiah 5:6-9: Therefore a lion from the forest shall strike them down; a wolf from the desert shall devastate them. A leopard is watching their cities; everyone who goes out of them shall be torn in pieces, because their transgressions are many, their apostasies are great. "How can I pardon you? Your children have forsaken me and have sworn by those who are no gods. When I fed them to the full, they committed adultery and trooped to the houses of whores. They were well-fed, lusty stallions, each neighing for his neighbor's wife. Shall I not punish them for these things? declares the LORD; and shall I not avenge myself on a nation such as this?

Verse 7a: Swearing by false gods--strike one.

Verse 7b: Committing adultery and trooping through houses of whores--strike two.

Verse 8: Lusty stallions, each neighing for his neighbor's wife--strike three.

And yet, the reason the LORD sends a prophet reminds us that His preferred word is a word of promise, and word of absolution, a word of Gospel:

ESV Jeremiah 5:1 Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, look and take note! Search her squares to see if you can find a man, one who does justice and seeks truth, that I may pardon her.

The desire of the Lord is to pardon a nation for her sin--and so it is today.

From The Lutheran Study Bible:
From the lowliest individual in the streets to the highest official in the temple of king's palace, all God's people have turned away from Him to other gods. Their rebellion appears clearly in their immoral behavior as they reject every prophet who calls them back to faith and to the obedience that comes from faith. Today, as you interact with others, consider the condition of your heart in view of God's Word. Repent of all pride, and pray for sincere faith and wisdom with kindness. IN His mercy, God preserves His people for salvation (cf v 10); He has you on His heart.

And so we pray:
Turn us back, O Lord, when we stray. Keep us faithful in word and deed; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Daily Devotional Thougt--From the Psalms

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Today's Psalm:

A Psalm of David.
15:1 O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent?

Who shall dwell on your holy hill?
2 He who walks blamelessly and does what is right

and speaks truth in his heart;
3 who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor,
nor takes up a reproach against his friend;
4 in whose eyes a vile person is despised,but who honors those who fear the Lord;
who swears to his own hurt and does not change;
5 who does not put out his money at interest and does not take a bribe against the innocent.
He who does these things shall never be moved.

From The Lutheran Study Bible:
Sincerity and the righteous treatment of others, as taught in the Ten Commandments, are emphasized as the foundation to genuine worship. Sad to say, there are times that we come to worship God in an unworthy manner. E.g., we may remain unreconciled with others or persist in behaviors we know to be wrong. As God's true template and the mercy seat where full forgiveness is freely given, our Lord Jesus Christ still calls us unto Himself. Through His grace, we are made right with God and counted worthy to stand before the Father's throne.

In other words: the only person worthy of sojourning in God's holy tent, and dwelling on His holy hill, is He who knew no sin--Jesus Christ. Yet, because he became sin, know we who are baptized into Him have become the righteousness of God. He takes the punishment that we deserve, and gives to us the rewards that He has earned through his perfect obedience.

And so we pray:
Almighty God, grant that all our worship and life may be acceptable in Your sight; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Daily Devotional Thought--For the Family

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

From today's New Testament reading, Matthew 21:28-32:

"What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, 'Son, go and work in the vineyard today.' And he answered, 'I will not,' but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, 'I go, sir,' but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?" They said, "The first." Jesus said to them, "Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.

From The Lutheran Study Bible:
Jesus graphically depicts the obstinance of His opponents and the depth of their sin in rejecting Him. There are times that our stubborn refusals to change our behavior are just as obstinate. In God's kingdom, no repentant sinner is ever turned away. Repentant tax collectors and prostitutes were welcomed; so are we!

So often, when greeted by a request from mom or dad, a child will respond in defiance. "No!" On the other hand, when told to clean up the toys at the end of a long day, children will respond with a "yes," but will dawdle and delay, finding every excuse not to follow through.

Just today, one of my own had been disobedient, and later, without a demand for confession, she came right up to me and said, "I'm sorry daddy!"

How glad is the heart of our heavenly Father when we are able to throw off the flesh that wants to be defiant, wants to delay in doing His will, wants to carry on as the lord of our life. How glad is our heavenly Father when His children see their error, and return to Him with repentant heart. And from His heart flow mercies unending. Amen.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

All Saints

From Hermann Sasse (1895-1976):
Patriarchs of sacred story
And the prophets there are found;
The apostles, too, in glory
On twelve seats are there enthroned
All the saints that have ascended
Age on age, through time extended,
There in blissful concert sing
Hallelujahs to their King.

Thus the old funeral hymn...speaks of the church of all the perfected in heaven (cf. Heb 12:22-23). And this thought of the fathers of the church who have preceded us into heaven rings through the centuries down to Wilhelm Lohe's hymn on the Sacrament, where it says of heaven: "There the angel host stands inflamed in your [God's] light, and my fathers gaze upon your sight." All the saints, from the beginning of the world who have died believing in the Redeemer, whether he was yet to come or had come in the flesh, all members of the people of God of all times to the present day--in this sense, all are fathers of the church. Whether Christians have found themselves in the loneliness of a Siberian prison camp or the isolation of the diaspora or suffering inner alienation within the great secularized "churches" of our century, it has become ever more the consolation of those who have suffered for the sake of the church and whom God has led on a "lonely path" to know that they are not alone in the one church of God. They who have been removed from every error and sin of the earthly church stand with us in the seamless fellowship of the body of Christ.

From the Treasury of Daily Prayer:

This feast is the most comprehensive of the days of commemoration, encompassing the entire scope of that great cloud of witnesses with which we are surrounded (Hebrews 12:1). It holds before the eyes of faith that great multitude which no man can number: all the saints of God in Christ--from every nation, race, culture, and language--who have come "out of the great tribulation...who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" (Revelation 7:9, 14). As such, it sets before us the full height and depth and breadth and length of our dear Lord's gracious salvation (Ephesians 3:17-19). It shares with Easter a celebration of the resurrection, since all those who have died with Christ Jesus have also been raised with Him (Romans 6:3-8). It shares with Pentecost a celebration of the ingathering of the entire Church catholic--in heaven and on earth, in all times and places--in the one Body of Christ, in the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Just as we have all been called to the one hope that belongs to our call, "one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all" (Ephesians 4:4-6). And the Feast of All Saints shares with the final Sundays of the Church Year an eschatological focus on the life everlasting and a confession that "the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Romans 8:18). In all of these emphases, the purpose of this feast is to fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, that we might not grow weary of fainthearted (Hebrews 12:2-3).

And so we pray:

Almighty and everlasting God, You knit together Your faithful people of all times and places into one holy communion, the mystical body of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Grant us so to follow Your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living that, together with them, we may come to the unspeakable joys You have prepared for those who love You; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, on God, now and forever. Amen.