Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Hannah Joy

At 1:50 p.m. on October 12th we were blessed to become the parents of a 7lb 5oz healthy baby girl.  Both she and her mother are doing well.  And now we look forward to her washing of rebirth and renewal in Holy Baptism on October 31st (Reformation Sunday).

Enjoy a few pictures!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Lent 4-C Sermon (Luke 15:1-3, 11-32 (The Prodigal Son)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Jesus has a gut that aches for sinners. About a year and a half ago (September 14, 2008), I preached a sermon during which I had the congregation learn a Greek word. Some of you may remember it. The word was (splanchnidzomai), and we talked about how this was a word that meant compassion. But this wasn’t just any sort of compassion. It was a compassion that produced a deep inner ache in the gut. But even more than that, splanchnidzomai is a Greek word that is only used 12 times in the New Testament, and is only used to describe the compassion of Jesus Christ himself, or, in the case of today’s text, can be used of a character in a parable that stands in the place of Jesus. So what word do we see showing up in today’s Gospel reading? Well, if you have the bulletin insert handy, take a look at verse 20. And he arose and came to his father. (he, being the younger son) But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt COMPASSION, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. So, what Greek word do you think might be used for the compassion of the father in our text? That’s right: splanchnidzomai; which means that the father in this parable is to be understood as standing for the person of Jesus Christ; that one who alone has a gut that aches for sinners.

Have you ever stumbled upon a baby bird that has fallen out of the nest before it was ready to fly? I remember having this experience as a young boy, and feeling a sort of compassion for this little tiny creature, squirming there in the tall grass, hoping that momma would swoop down and rescue it. But in most cases, that little, helpless, wounded bird, doesn’t stand a chance. In much the same way, as we confessed in this morning’s Introit, from Psalm 51, you and I are like that baby bird which has fallen out of the nest, for Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. In other words, we never stood a chance. We were doomed to sin, even before we were born, even before our mother had fed us for the first time. Which is why Jesus’ gut aches for us sinners. We are helpless in our sinful condition. And for this reason, we are all like the younger son in today’s text. We all squander our inheritance with reckless living.

Now before we make the mistake of comparing the different forms of recklessness in an effort to justify ourselves and show that we haven’t done exactly the same thing as the younger son, there is a better way to know that you and I are all like the younger son—the prodigal son. Regardless of how your sinful nature has fallen into sin, and no matter which sins you have been guilty of, all of us know that we’ve uttered the very same words as the younger son: Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son—or daughter. You see, what’s important is not that you’ve had to go feed the pigs because of your poor choices, what is important is to realize that we’ve all been on our knees, begging for our Father to be merciful. And if you haven’t been there, maybe we should talk after the service.
The point is, everyone of us here today—in fact, every human being conceived after Adam and Eve ate that apple—is a Prodigal Son or Daughter, and relies on the compassion of Jesus Christ to remain a son or daughter in the kingdom God.

If we didn’t rely on this on going compassion of Jesus to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness, then we could get rid of the weekly confession of sins, and we would no longer need to come to the communion rail, but we do these things because we know, that we fight against our flesh on a daily basis. We know our transgressions; our sin is ever before us (Psalm 51). And so we end up confessing to our Father, like the prodigal son, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” And in this moment, Jesus has no equal. When confession has been made, only Jesus freely forgives.

The prodigal son knows that his sinful choices have made him unworthy to be a son. And so his plan is this: to confess his sin, and then ask if his father will at least allow him to be a servant, working his way back into favor, getting at least food worthy of a man, and not a pig. The prodigal son has seen his sin, and so he approaches his father with the hopes of earning back his place, starting as a servant, and over time, working his way back. Because, you see, that’s how it works in life. You have to earn your keep.

The older brother definitely knows that it works this way. He’s been out in the field working, doing what he’s supposed to be doing. He’s not the one that went off and squandered the inheritance. He’s been serving the father these many years, never disobeying his command, and he’s never even received a goat with which to take and celebrate with his friends. It’s not fair that this foolish younger brother would receive a high feast in his honor. That’s not how life is supposed to work. You have to earn your keep, and that foolish brother of mine definitely hasn’t earned his. In fact, he’s thrown it all away.

We can understand how the older brother feels, can’t we? Because, you see, you don’t just play the part of the younger brother in this parable. At times, you and I have been guilty of the sins of the older brother as well. In fact, I would imagine that the older brother’s sins are the ones we’re most like to fall into. We are glad to be shown mercy when we acknowledge our sin before the Father, but we aren’t so quick to extend that mercy to others. Quite simply, our gut doesn’t ache like Jesus’ does—except for ourselves. We want to see something in our neighbors that gives us reason to believe that they will not continue to be foolish, that they won’t go right out again and squander away the gifts of God. We’re like the prophet Jonah, who was very pleased to have himself be rescued by the grace of God, but the wicked Ninevites, that was a different story—they hadn’t earned their place in God’s kingdom. We’re like the unmerciful servant, who was pleased to have his enormous debt cancelled before the king, but then when his debtor was on his knees begging for mercy, now he chose to operate by a different set of rules—a worldly set of rules. The older brother knew that in life, you have to earn your keep, and so do we. But the younger brother knew it to be true as well, which is why he planned to ask to be a servant—he thought he could earn his way back. Earn your keep. That’s how it works. But that’s not how Jesus works.

Jesus doesn’t wait until we can prove ourselves by a series of pious thoughts. Jesus doesn’t wait until we’ve demonstrated an ability to produce the good works worthy of a son or daughter of God. Jesus doesn’t wait until we are righteous. He can’t help himself. His gut is aching for a helpless humanity conceived in sin and brought forth in iniquity. He has a quiver in his liver, an umption in his gumption for helpless sons and daughters who, like a baby bird squirming in the grass, are unable to help themselves. His gut aches for confused Christians who will on one day be kneeling down and confessing their own sins, and then on the next day have trouble seeing that someone may very well be in need of that very same mercy. Jesus simply can’t let His creation lie there helpless and unable to save ourselves.

And so, while we were yet sinners, Jesus died for the ungodly—for you and for me. Jesus died both for the younger son, and the older son. Jesus died for Jonah, and for the Ninevites. Jesus died for your sins, and he died for the sins of your friend, or your spouse, or your child, or your coworker, or the person sitting across the isle from you, who is only as helpless as you are. Woe to us, if after being shown mercy, we don’t show mercy to others.

But Jesus has a gut that aches for all sinners. And so, when that younger son is seen in the distance, the father runs to him. And before he can even ask the Father to let him earn his keep, the Father interrupts. It’s right there in verse 21 and 22. The son has planned to confess, and then ask to start earning back his place, starting as a slave. But the Father only hears his confession—that’s it. There’s no room for earning a place in the kingdom of God. For the place of a son—or daughter—cannot be earned—it is a free gift of grace.

And even when the older brother struggles to understand how the father’s grace could be given out so freely, what does the father still call him? A son: Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. You see both the younger and the older, in the end, are the Father’s sons. And both are in need of mercy.

nly Jesus has a gut that aches for sinners. The word is: splanchnidzomai Go ahead, say it with me: splanchnidzomai One more time, just for fun: splanchnidzomai Only Jesus shows mercy to those who have no hope of earning their keep. Only Jesus has a compassion that will lead him to the cross, where his gut would be pierced for our transgressions, and from it would flow a life-giving water that washes our sins away, and a blood that makes us pure. And so we pray, forgive us our trespasses, that we who have been shown mercy, might become merciful to others, as we forgive those who trespass against us. Whether you are guilty of squandering away God’s free grace, or are guilty of withholding it from others, the solution is the same: Repent, and receive the forgiveness of Jesus, a Savior whose gut aches for sinners—for that’s exactly what you have. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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 Baptism...so...

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 Logia.org 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)

Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Baptism of Grant C Anderson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 29, 2010

Daily Devotional Thought--From the Confessions

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

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

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

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

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

So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given [John 20:22]. He works faith, when and where it pleases God [John 3:8], in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ's sake. This happens not through our own merits, but for Christ's sake.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Daily Devotional Thought--From the New Testament

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

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

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

And who is the author of Scripture?

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

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

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

Does he?

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

John Chrysostom, Preacher

Today the church remembers John Chrysostom, Preacher.

From the Treasury of Daily Prayer:

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

And so we pray:

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

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

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

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

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

Here are Luther's thoughts:

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

St. Titus, Pastor and Confessor

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

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

Daily Devotional Thought--From the Psalms

Psalm 18:46-50:

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

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

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

This is what Luther has to say about this Psalm:

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

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

And so we pray:

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

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Conversion of St. Paul

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

And so we pray:

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

Daily Devotional Thought--For the Family

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

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 22, 2010

Daily Devotional Thought--From the Confessions

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

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 21, 2010

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

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

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

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

But with God, one is often not enough.

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

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

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so we pray:

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