Tuesday, September 28, 2010

September 27 - Malachi and Matthew

The Lord Himself preaches the Law's call to repentance in these two texts.  And the greatest repentance (literrally, "re-thinking" in Latin, "changed mind" in Greek, though my favorite is Hebrew's "shoov" = to be turned) is turning away from the thought that we are able to get ourselves out of this mess.
I can't help but think of the church seasons when these texts are used.  Though the Christian Church Year is a tradition of man, it points to the Lord - the One who comes (advents) and reveals (epiphanies) Himself as the Savior who makes right all that has gone wrong. 
The Lord shine His Gospel light upon you to scatter your darkness, dear reader.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Sermon on Luke 16:19-31

(HT - Doxology and Rev. John Kleinig for inspiring the thoughts on imagination; and Rev. Charles Rauschek for inspiring me to dream of being a pastor.)

Think for a moment about why God gave us our imagination.  From little on up, we use our imaginations.  Kids pretend to be movie characters, and dream of what they want to be when they grow up – for me it was being an astronaut or a mailman.  But God inspired my pastor to picture me as your pastor, delivering Heavenly letters of God’s love to you, the message of repentance and forgiveness of sins in Christ’s name.
The classic stories of civilization, ancient legends and modern day movies use our imaginations to teach the great and noble virtues of courage, honor, honesty, overcoming obstacles and the dangers of pride.  While the Devil has used legends to promote the lies of false gods, at the same time these stories encourage us to identify evil as evil, and to stand up against it as we fight for all that is good.
            Philippians 4:8 guides us to think about the things that are true, honorable, pure, lovely, excellent and worthy of praise.  Partly with the result that, as mature Christians, our imaginations can help us through the rough spots in life.  When our bodies are sick and broken, we imagine what it will be like to go to the doctor and get better.  And we dream that the broken relationship can get better.  By divine forgiveness, and a lot of hard work, they do.  One secret is to picture that person the way God sees them – perfectly forgiven in Christ.  But on the other hand, when relationships are broken sin can take control of our minds, so that we dream some evil deed will solve our problems.  The temptation is to pretend there is nothing good about your enemy so that they deserve for you to treat them badly.
            But God never gave you your mind to pretend that lies were true.  Your imagination is His gift so that you can imagine what is.  So that even in the midst of this fallen world where nothing and nobody is perfect, you can picture what it would be like if you could go back to Eden, and what it will be like in Heavenly perfection.  He wants you to let your mind wander when you hear His Word – but not to get distracted by worldly thoughts and wander away from Him, but to follow where our Shepherd leads our minds, going down the path of God’s thoughts.
            Today Jesus grabs hold of our imaginations with His story of the rich man and Lazarus.  When Jesus rescues us from our filthy fantasies, He does not simply forgive us.  The Lord renews our minds to be holy places.  Jesus gives us holy ways to use our brains as He sanctifies them by His Holy Word (not to mention how He cleanses our minds by Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, but that’s another sermon.)  God sets our minds on things above as He tells us the heavenly story of Lazarus.
            Jesus gets us to think about a lot of bad stuff – poverty, wounds, neglect, self-centered greed, and Hell – because that is the way things really are.  He first told this parable to some Pharisees who loved money.  They falsely imagined that riches were God’s sign that He was pleased with your life and you would enjoy the blessed afterlife for sure.  They were absolutely shocked when Christ said the rich man died and entered torment.  Meanwhile, they had thought Lazarus was under God’s curse – but he ends up in Heaven.
            Before we go much further, we must not go the other way and think that rich people automatically end up in Hell and all the poor go to Heaven.  Abraham was extremely rich, and he is in Heaven.  And plenty of poor people will go to Hell.  Abraham points out that repentance and faith in God’s Word is the key to eternal life for every last person.  The wealth of the rich man did not damn him – but his lack of faith in the Lord’s mercies and his love for earthly things at the expense of his neighbor.  Which is why he pretended on earth not to see or know a thing about Lazarus.  He finally notices Lazarus when the rich man has no rest and no comfort.  He begs for a drop of water when he refused to give the beggar a crumb.  Yet in Hades, his heart is still hardened against God’s Word.  He falsely imagines that the Scriptures cannot change his brothers’ hearts on earth.  But they will not “be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”  “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them,” says Abraham (Luke 16:29, 31).
            The Holy Spirit has used Moses and the prophets in the Old Testament, and the Apostles and evangelists in the New to convince you that Jesus did rise from the dead – so that now all believers who die are blessed to rest from their labors (Revelation 14:13).  The holy angels carry Lazarus to be comforted in Heaven.  No one much wanted to know Lazarus on earth, but in Heaven the great superstar of the faith, Abraham himself, knows him.  I think we will be amazed by whom we know and who knows us when we get there.
            Other Bible passages tell us more about Heaven.  Grief will be gone as we will not only get to see our loved ones again who have already died in the Lord (cf 2 Samuel 12:23), we will get to see the Lord too as Christ gathers us around His throne.
            And you will also be freed from Satan’s torments.  Here on earth the devil keeps accusing you of your past failures, and especially the evil thoughts you have had.  But Revelation 12:7-8 says that a great “war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon [who is called the devil and Satan (v9)].  And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven.”  No matter what you are guilty of doing or saying or thinking, no matter how often the devil brings up your guilt, the Christ who died for your sins makes you certain that Satan has been thrown out of Heaven.  The old evil foe will not be there to torture you with an evil conscience.
            And these are only the blessings before the Last Day.  At the return of Christ you will enjoy all these blessings and more in your body raised to be like Christ’s glorious Easter body.  Truly the sufferings we experience – even the sufferings Lazarus went through – are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us (Romans 8:18).
            Jesus tells this parable first to unbelieving Pharisees.  But I do not think of you as unbelievers.  And when St. Luke wrote this Gospel down, he was writing to Theophilus, another believer who already wanted to avoid Hell and go to Heaven.  So why do we need to hear this?  Perhaps it is so that the Lord could confirm our hearts all the more in our hopes for Heaven.  Perhaps it is so that His Word would guide our thoughts all the more to Holy places, and Holy things, and Holy people.  Perhaps it is to get us to see what modern day “Lazaruses” will look like in Heaven and treat them that way – loving them in word and deed rather than looking the other way.
            God has given us our imaginations to imagine what is, despite what our eyes see.  What would it look like if you lived each day absolutely certain that your heavenly hopes will come true?  What would happen if we used our imaginations for the good of our congregation?  What if we treated our neighbors with mercy more often – both inside and outside the walls of our church?   
I know what Jesus wants for us.  And because you are here today, you know what He wants as well – for the blessings of Heaven to be yours eternally.  For you to be comforted and to give comfort.  For this to be His place, where Jesus preaches Heaven’s peace to you and to others near and far.  That you and I would have the mind of Christ, and the eyes of Christ, and the heart of Christ – seeing one another, and treating one another, and loving one another as fellow citizens of Heaven, as dear Children of God.  And that we would tell this Heavenly story of Christ to those outside these walls that they may be brought to the eternal comforts. 
And where we fail, for we will fail as the sin of our hearts gets the better of us, God grant that His Word will have its way with us as it causes you and I all the more to “repent and believe the Gospel” (Mark 1:15).  Be confident that Jesus is no figment of your imagination, but is the very real God in our flesh who died to pay for all your sins so that when you die, God’s angels will carry you to that blessed place Jesus has prepared for you (John 14:2).  (Paragraph and other sections based on Good News magazine, Issue 17).

Thursday, September 23, 2010

September 23 - Psalm 51, Nehemiah 9 and 1 Timothy 5:17-6:2

I have to confess that reading the 1 Timothy 5 passage left me quite low as I considered all the thing Paul urges us to do that I find myself failing at.  Inspired by the Nehemiah 9 passage (notice the cycle of "You God, did this, YET Your people went the wrong way...") and the Psalm 51 passage, I knew confession of sin to be the necessary path - yet was finding myself just going down further.  Left to myself, I don't know where I would have ended up.
But God has not left us to ourselves.  I was glad to have the Prayer for Thursday in the back of TDP - confessing my sin, our sin, as we see the vineyard God has planted trampled, and then, through that prayer joy in salvation is restored as we trust in the Lord for help.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

September 21 - Nehemiah 6

What to do when people falsely accuse your motives (or the motives of others) of being evil, as I have been dealing with lately*?  What to do when your holy work is discouraged?

Pray, "But now, O God, strengthen my hands." (Nehemiah 6:9)

(* = sadly, both as victim and accuser.  And for that, O Christ, I need your mind, that I may be purified of wicked thoughts, both from and against me.)

Monday, September 20, 2010

September 19 - 1 Timothy 2

funny that this was the reading for the LSB 3 year series too.  Here's what I wrote for this week's newspaper article (and Cap'n Salty has this excellent post for Nehemiah on September 20):

  What is some of the most important work of the Church that pleases God?  When writing to encourage Pastor Timothy and his congregation in their life together, where does St. Paul begin?  “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:1-2).  Our prayers are to treat the needs and joys and sins of all other people as if they were our own.  We ask God to help and forgive all, as well as give thanks to Him for the goodness He has shown them – with as much praise as we would give if the goodness were given to us.

Jesus in PrayImage via Wikipedia
            But Paul quickly moves from praying for everyone in general to praying specifically for the King and all in authority.  And that is a bit surprising.  Most of our American presidents have been fellow believers in our miracle-working Lord and Savior Jesus.  And even the others have not threatened to do things against the Church.  But in Paul’s day, Emperor Nero would do things to hurt Christians (and others) for no good reason.  In fact, both Peter and Paul would later be executed under Nero.  Yet St. Paul says Christians in those days should ask God to bless this enemy of the Church – because God desires “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (v. 4) through the “one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all” (v. 5-6).  The same fully divine and fully human Jesus who did the work of sacrificing Himself for our salvation is today at work among us, speaking His blessed Word to God on our behalf – and speaking to us on God’s behalf.
Official presidential portrait of Barack Obama...Image via Wikipedia

Now we as members of the Church join Jesus in His work.  Sometimes our President, Governor, mayors, judges, legislators and council members speak well in representing us.  Sometimes they harm us by their decisions.  Whatever the case, God grant that we Christians speak for their benefit, praying to God in the name of Christ so that many more will blessed to know His true salvation.
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getting back to normal

after almost no normal weeks since June, I'm finally back to one today.  No vacations, no conferences, no 3 day weekend.  It's nice to get back to the routine, and hopefully back to the routine of posting here.  I've thought about things I wanted to write from the daily devotions, but never got to the computer. 
Last week was an excellent conference from Doxology, presented by John Kleinig and Hal Senkbeil (and Dr. Feuerhahn attended too, and contributed his always brilliant questions).  It really got me thinking about improvements both to my preaching and my teaching, especially in the areas of Location (all types - physical and spiritual) and Imagination.  "God did not give us our imaginations so we could imagine what is not, but what IS!" - Kleinig.

Anyway, if you know of a pastor in the New Jersey area, strongly urge them to attend this conference.  Deadline for signing up is tomorrow.

Another DOXOLOGY Spotlight on Ministry Conference is coming up - spread the word to your pastor friends who live within driving distance of New Jersey. Hurry: registration deadline is September 21!

"Real Life Preaching/Helping People Entrapped in Porn"

Monday/Tuesday September 27/28, 2010
...Carmel Retreat Center Mahwah, New Jersey

Topics Covered:

Theophany in the Pulpit: Preaching as Disclosure of God’s gracious Presence
Preacher as Prophet: Sermon Strategy and Delivery
Confronting Pornography: Sexual Sanctification
Preaching the Real Presence of the Risen Lord Jesus
Preaching to Postmoderns: practicalities and applications

Sign up now!


Sunday, September 12, 2010

September 10 - Philippians 2

I know, a bit late - but I can't shake the thought of wanting to post this:

Philippians 2:13 is rather astounding.  And it made me think that this verse leads well into the "Our Father..."  For God works in us the desire and the strength to do His will - even without our praying for Him to do so.  But we pray "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done" that we may be led to realize this truth of Philippians 2:13 with thanksgiving.

Monday, September 6, 2010

September 6 - a little Luther for Labor Day on Psalm 127

interesting that this year the first Scripture verse you read from TDP on Labor Day is Psalm 127:1.

Below is something I got from Rev. William Cwirla through Rev. Charlie Mallie.  I hand it out to all premarital couples who see me.  Enjoy!  (You might also like this Issues, etc. on the hymnody for today.)

Martin Luther on Marriage and Home
An Exposition of Psalm 127
For the Christians at Riga in Livonia, LW 45:322-324

"Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.  Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain."

First we must understand that "building the house" does not refer simply to the construction of walls and roof, rooms and chambers out of wood and stone.  It refers rather to everything that goes on inside the house which we call "managing the household ...." Solomon's purpose is to describe a Christian marriage....

Reason and the world think that married life and the making of a home ought to proceed as they intend.  They try to determine things by their own decisions and actions, as if their work could take care of everything.  To this Solomon says No! He points us instead to God, and teaches us with a firm faith to seek and expect all such things from God.  We see this in experience too.  Frequently two people will marry who have hardly a shirt to their name, and yet they support themselves so quietly and well that it is a pleasure to behold.  On the other hand, some bring great wealth into their marriage; yet it slips out of their hands till they can barely get along.

Again, two people marry out of passionate love; their choice and desire are realized, yet their days together are not happy.  Some are very eager and anxious to have children, but they do not conceive, while others who have given the matter little thought get a house full of children.  Again, some try to run the house and its servants smoothly, but it turns out that they have nothing but misfortune.  And so it goes in this world; the strangest things happen.

Who is it that so disrupts marriage and household management and turns them so strangely topsy-turvy? It is he of whom Solomon says: Unless the Lord keeps the house, household management there is a lost cause.  He wishes to buttress this passage and confirm its truth.  This is why he permits such situations to arise in this world, as an assault on unbelief, to bring to shame the arrogance of reason with all works and cleverness, and to constrain them to believe.

This passage alone should be enough to attract people to marriage, comfort all who are now married, and sap the strength of covetousness.  Young people are scared away from marriage when they see how strangely it turns out.  They say, "It takes a lot to make a home"; or, "You learn a lot living with a woman." This is because they fail to see who does this, and why he does it.  And since human ingenuity and strength know no recourse and can provide no help, they hesitate to marry.  As a result, they fall into unchastity if they do not marry, and into covetousness and worry if they do.  But here is the needed consolation: Let the Lord build the house and keep it, and do not encroach upon his work.  The concern for these matters is his, not yours.  For whoever is the head of the house and maintains it should be allowed to bear the burden of care.  Does it take a lot to make a house? So what! God is greater than any house.  He who fills heaven and earth will surely also be able to supply a house, especially since he takes the responsibility upon himself and causes it to be sung to his praise.

Why should we think it strange that it takes so much to make a home where God is not the head of the house? Because you do not see him who is supposed to fill the house, naturally every corner must seem empty.  But if you look upon him, you will never notice whether a corner is bare; everything will appear to you to be full, and will indeed be full.  And if it is not full, it is your vision which is at fault, just as it is the blind man's fault if he fails to see the sun.  For him who sees rightly, God turns the saying around and says not, "It takes a lot to make a home," but, "How much a home contributes!" So we see that the managing of a household should and must be done in faith (then there will be enough) so that men come to acknowledge that everything depends not on our doing, but on God's blessing and support.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

September 1-7 - What Others Said on Ephesians

two posts in the same day - whoa.  Anyway, last April I learned a lot listening to one of my sem Profs speak on Issues, etc. 24 about Ephesians.  As we read through this book together this week, I think you will be extra blessed by the insights of Dr. Tom Winger.  As for saying something of my own, within the last year I've started seeing Ephesians as Paul's letter about the Ascension.  Chapter 1 is used on that day in the Church.  But Chapter 2 includes this amazing bit: not only has Christ ascended, and not only did He by grace make us dead people into living people by His gracious gift of faith as the Ascended Christ comes to preach peace to you (whether in Ephesus or America), but He has ALREADY made you to ascend too!  Raising YOU up NOW to be seated there in Heaven with Him today.  Preaching on this text some years back, I adapted this bit from a sermon by Rev. William Cwirla:

Panorama of Busch Stadium.Image via Wikipedia
Be astounded once again at all God’s undeserved gifts for you.  And if you are not yet astounded, think of your being seated with Christ in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 2:6) in this way:  It is not as though God is offering you tickets to Opening Day at Busch Stadium providing you straighten up and behave yourself.  Nor is it as though you have to walk up to the Stadium box office to pick up the tickets on reserve for you.  And it is not even like God put the tickets in your hand and you have to decide whether or not you go to the game.  Your salvation is more like you are already at the game in Christ, with a drink in one hand and your food in the other – and you know that you do not deserve to be there.  And yet there you are, and you do not want to be anywhere else in the world – and all you can do is thank the Man that got you there for free.  Those who attend Opening Day will have to leave their seats.  The game will come to an end after the final out – but your life in Christ, true Man and true God, never ends.
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September 1 - What another said about Joshua

Rev. Al Colver preached at the LCMS International Center on Joshua 24:14-28 yesterday a "sermon focused on Ebed Yahweh, "the servant of the Lord," Jesus who came to serve us. Because He has served us through his death and resurrection, we receive his forgiving gifts which spill out onto our neighbor. Jesus is our Joshua who led us through the waters of baptism into eternal life."

(You can see other unrelated material about Day 1 here. And rest assured, one of these days I will get back to posting my own meditations on TDP. Like about how August 31 had the beauty of pairing the widow's giving to Elijah with that of the Macedonian congregation's giving through Paul to Jerusalem's Christians. But I'm just back from Doxology again, after a summer interupted by vacations, and a lot of offline work needs attending to for the parishes.)