Monday, August 31, 2009

Interesting Link

If you're looking for some invigorating reading, head over to: It is Rev. Matthew Harrison's blog--right now it has a concentration of ELCA-related articles.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Teaching Children to Pray

I made this presentation at our Preschool Staff Meeting this past Wednesday. The children in question are ages 2--5 years old. It is a thought-provoking topic to consider!

Teaching Children to Pray

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5: 16—18

What is prayer?

Simply put, prayer is speaking to God in words and thoughts. Like anything else, prayer is taught and caught. Children learn through the various examples they have in their lives.

Basic Attitudes Towards Prayer

When do you pray in the classroom? Is your prayer mostly routine, mostly spontaneous, or a mixture?

SEND THE MESSAGE: You can pray _________________________.

Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. Luke 18: 1

Prayer isn’t always asking God for things. When you’re talking to a friend, you do more than ask them for things. Prayer is talking to your Best Friend.

SEND THE MESSAGE: God is your __________________. You can talk to Him about __________________________________.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. Philippians 4: 6

Look for things for which to thank God. Be aware of answered prayers (whether the answer is “yes,” “no,” or “wait awhile”).

SEND THE MESSAGE: Prayer is a way to say ______________ ________.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever. Psalm 136:1

Christians pray using the name of Jesus. We don’t just pray to a generic “God”.

SEND THE MESSAGE: We can pray to God because of _______________.

[Jesus said:] Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in his Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” John 14: 13—14

Basic Actions to Help Children Pray

Echo Prayers

Pray a short phrase which children can repeat easily.

Finish the Sentence

Lord, you are ______________________. (Praise & Worship)

Lord, forgive me for ________________. (Confession & Forgiveness)

Lord, thank you for _________________. (Thankfulness)

Lord, please help ____________________. (Praying for Others)

Lord, I need _______________________. (Praying for Self)

Take a Prayer Walk

Look for things for which to give God thanks. Look for things or people that need God’s help.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Hymn Stanza of the Week: One Thing's Needful; Lord This Treasure

One Thing's Needful; Lord, This Treasure
Johann H. Schroder (TLH 366, stanza 5)

Wisdom's highest, noblest treasure,
Jesus, lies concealed in Thee;
Grant that this may still the measure
Of my will and actions be,
Humility there and simplicity reigning,
In paths of true wisdom my steps ever training.
Oh, if I of Christ have this knowledge divine,
The fulness of heavenly wisdom is mine.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Thought for the Day: Families

Every Christian family ought to be, as it were, a little church consecrated to Christ and wholly influenced and goverened by His rules.

Jonathan Edwards

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Today's Prayer: Give Me a Willing Heart

Dear Father, in the image of your Son, Jesus, make me willing to carry someone else's burden. Amen.

Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. NIV

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Today's Prayer: For Growth in Grace

O God, the source of all that is good and just, nourish in us every virtue and bring to completion every good intent that we may grow in grace and bring forth the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Today's Prayer: Thanks for Lutheran Education

Heavenly Father, we thank you for the gift of schools in which your Name is hallowed and your Word is taught and believed. Bless our Lutheran Schools across the country and around that world, that wherever students are gathered in your Name, there disciples may be made. Grant wisdom, strength and discretion to those who teach, that they might reflect the wisdom that comes down from on high, and in all things may Jesus Christ be uppermost. We ask this in your saving Name--Amen.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Thought for the Day

Here's something to chew on for a while. It comes from a book I'm reading that I will review here in the near future. I'd be interested in your thoughts on this statement:

It is easier to talk about Jesus than to talk about what Jesus talked about.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Empty Words...or a Heart Full of Love?

This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” Isaiah 29: 13; Mark 7:6

The word “hypocrite” is an ugly word. It is quite a charge to call someone a hypocrite. It’s a word that, unfortunately, you often hear in connection with Christian people. The tabloids gleefully report the alleged hypocrisy whenever a high-profile Christian doesn’t walk the walk. I’d be willing to guess that there are many people whose faith has been damaged by the hypocrisy of fellow Christians, to the point that they have left the church altogether. And it’s absolutely no fun to talk about, because even as we point fingers at others who exemplify hypocrisy, we’re hoping that nobody recognizes our own.
The word “hypocrite” is an ugly word, because of what it has come to mean. The word itself is virtually unchanged from its Greek roots, where the term hypocrite was used to describe someone who was play-acting like an actor playing a role, wearing a mask. In the context of a stage play, being a hypocrite was fine; it was the expected behavior. But off of the stage and in real life, play-acting is not a good idea. Especially if you are playing a role of Mr. or Mrs. Super Christian, while harboring a terrible secret: your heart really has wandered far away from God.
A man once sat through a church service and then on the way home he fussed about the sermon, he fussed about the traffic, he fussed about the heat, and he fussed about the lateness of the meal being served. Then he bowed his head and prayed. His son was watching him all the way through this post-church experience. Just as they were beginning to pass the food, he said, “Daddy, did God hear you when we left church and you started fussin’ about the sermon and the traffic and the heat?” The father blushed a little as he said “Yes, son, he heard me.” “Well Daddy, did God hear you when you just thanked him for this food right now?” “Well, yes, son, he heard me.” “So, Daddy, which one did God believe: the fussin’ or the prayin’?”
Jesus spent quite a bit of time seeking out and confronting hypocrisy in his religious culture. In the passage from Mark’s gospel today he zeroes in on those who had gone so far as to replace God’s commandments with man-made traditions. He quotes from the writings of the prophet Isaiah, saying “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.”(By quoting a prophet who at that time was centuries in the past, Jesus shows that hypocrisy is not exactly a new human problem.) And he shines a spotlight on a scandal in the making: people were denying material help to their families by invoking something called Corban, which meant that they were donating everything to God—and if they were donating everything to God, that meant there was nothing left over to help, let’s say, an elderly parent. “Sorry, Dad, I know you can’t make it on your own, but I called “Corban”—everything’s going to God and there’s nothing left for you. Isn’t that religious?” Jesus deflates this man-made practice and exposes it for the violation of the 4th commandment that it is. You cannot honor your father and mother while refusing to help take care of them. This was but one example of what had been done to God’s straightforward directives; his commands to love Him more than anything, and to love and serve one’s neighbor. Layer upon layer of human tradition had made it possible to excuse yourself from serving your neighbor in the name of the One True God! Talk about play-acting!
When Jesus confronts hypocrites in the Bible, it always makes me squirm, because I’ve come to learn just how good I am at play-acting. Not only that, portions of Scripture like this one force us to look inwardly as a people; as a congregation; as a church body, and ask some painful questions. Are there things that we do that really have no basis in God’s Word at all? Could we be using nice, religious-sounding language to actually justify doing things that are contrary to the truth of God’s Word? Can we paint eloquent word pictures using a Christian vocabulary, yet hide the fact that our heart is far from God? In a word, yes—we can do all these things and more due to the corrupting nature of sin. If we’re going to have any integrity at all, we’re going to admit that our hearts are often far distant from God; that He’s often the last thing on our minds. There’s only one good move to make—and that’s to repent; to change directions, by God’s power, to tear off the hypocrite’s mask crying, “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
When we are candid about our “heart problems,” the Lord Jesus Christ can begin to heal us by revealing what is in His heart. Like sheep we have gone astray, yet we have a shepherd who will stop everything to search for us until he finds us. The Almighty God opens His heart to us in Holy Scripture, telling us that He takes no pleasure in the death of the sinner, but would rather that the sinner turn from His ways and really live. The heart of Almighty God is revealed to you and me in Jesus’ mission of salvation, where the Father’s heart is broken—because His Son’s body was broken on the cross. He gave up his one and only Son—He sent Him to be hated and to suffer terribly. He sent him to Earth, to the city of Jerusalem, knowing and planning that Jesus would be crucified, to pay the once-and-for-all blood sacrifice to cancel the debt of sin. Your sin. My sin. The sins of all people. Our sins of hypocrisy and hatred. All of them wiped out, because the Father loves you so much that He gave up His own Son; because the Son loves you so much that he went through with it; because the Holy Spirit, in that same love, pulls you in to see the love of God displayed at the cross. As the famous hymn asks, “What wondrous love is this, O my soul?”
Instead of an empty shell of a religion, God wants your heart. He desires your love in return. The good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection is itself what will change your heart; the gospel itself inspires you and me to respond to God in love and praise and gratitude. And because we love God, we will want to do what pleases Him; because we love God, and He loves us, we will want to orient our lives according to His commands. Since God loved us first, we will love Him and other people, knowing that we all equally need what only God has provided through Jesus. We are all sinners who were headed for punishment until Jesus rescued us by His cross and tomb. May this knowledge strip us of all hypocrisy and inspire us with authentic love for our Savior, and authentic lives lived to glorify God. Amen.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Hymn Stanza of the Week: Onward Christian Soldiers

Onward Christian Soldiers
Sabine Baring-Gould (TLH 658, stanza 3)

Crowns and thrones may perish, Kingdoms rise and wane,
But the Church of Jesus Constant will remain.
Gates of hell can never 'Gainst that Church prevail;
We have Christ's own promise, And that cannot fail.
Onward Christian soldiers, Marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus Going on before.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Today's Prayer: Build Up Your Church, Lord

Lord Jesus, bless the people who make up the body of my church. Give them love and comfort. Make this a unified body, strengthened by your Spirit and Your grace, gathered to meet in Your presence, fed by your Word and Your Body and Blood, formed to do Your will. Amen.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Thanks be to God!

I just received word that Jacob Rogers has accepted the call to become principal of Our Shepherd Lutheran School! Thanks to the fellow members of the call committee and the school board for their prayers, time, and labor throughout the process!

Today's Prayer: The Blessing of Family

Father, family relationships can teach me so much about You. Through my family You demonstrate Your unconditional love for me and You give me the constant opportunity to love and serve others. Help my family to live in Your grace every day. Amen.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Today's Prayer: Wholesome Speech

Heavenly Father, help me always to end gossip when it reaches me. Amen.

Fire goes out without wood, and quarrels disappear when gossip stops. Proverbs 26: 20 NLT

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

LCL Library: Dying to Live: The Power of Forgiveness

If anyone ever asks you what it means to be a Lutheran, give them a copy of Dying to Live by Rev. Harold Senkbeil. In clear and precise language, Rev. Senkbeil uncovers the wonder of Jesus coming in the flesh, and of his continued presence in His Church. As he writes, "If there's one thing central to living the Christian life, it is the presence of our living Lord with His church. He fills our worship and our life as well. That's why we're always dying to live in this world. Daily dying to sin, yet daily rising in Chist to live a new life."

Senkbeil suggests that there are three "indispensable facets" of the Christian life: (1) The Incarnational Foundation (Jesus came to us), (2) The Sacramental Focus (Jesus still comes to us), and (3) The Liturgical Shape of the Christian life (God serves us through Word and Sacrament and we respond publicly, privately, and in our vocation). Avoiding needless jargon and unpacking phrases that are worthy of understanding, Senkbeil succeeds in a seemingly impossible task: he offers a fresh, vibrant summary of the Lutheran ethos; a compelling and lucid unveiling of what the Lutheran confession has to offer the world. I strongly recommend you read and slowly digest this book.

Dying to Live is available through Concordia Publishing House ( as well as other online booksellers.

Today's Prayer: Teach Me to Reach Out

You've told me to love others, Jesus. Whether I find that easy or difficult, make me to be a light to those who live near me. Show me how to reach out and connect with those I meet in my community, however briefly, that in some way your name may be glorified. Amen.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Today's Prayer: Thanks for the Word

Your Word is my daily nourishment, Lord. Thank you for the Bread of Life--the very Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. With your Word, feed and nurture my soul. Without your Words I will fade and die spiritually; with them I am vibrant, energized, and alive! Move me, by your Spirit, to ever seek you--not just Your hands and what You give, but also Your face, Lord. Through Your Word, show me who You really are. Amen.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Jesus has the Words of Eternal Life

By most modern standards, the teaching ministry of Jesus was a disaster. I mean, look at what happens in the Gospel lesson. His audience was mostly offended by what he said; when questioned, he did not backpedal, but continued to force the issue; and worst of all, John reports that “After this, many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” It doesn’t sound like this Jesus is going to make your church explode with growth in numbers. His listeners voted with their feet; they were disturbed by this Bread of Life stuff, by the thought of eating and drinking Jesus; it was just too much, too weird, too unsettling, so they left. Jesus’ sermon had bombed.
Now, just so we’re clear, when I say that Jesus’ sermon bombed, and that his teaching could be construed as a disaster, I’m being just a little sarcastic, and I’m trying to make the point that applying worldly standards of success to the life of the Spirit may not present a full or fair picture of what’s really going on. No Christian would seriously suggest that Jesus’ ministry was a failure; and yet, in an age when a preacher’s significance is judged largely by the size of his church, and a congregation’s vitality is gauged by how many members it has, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that the very Son of God Himself did not have a 100% success rate in reaching people with his message. When you really stop to think about that, it’s a little astonishing. There were people who had the benefit of hearing Jesus speak in person who still were not persuaded that he was telling the truth. Why is that?
That’s a question with an answer that could be very complex. But it is also just this simple: sin got in the way. We confess it nearly every time we gather for worship, but do we believe it—that we are by nature sinful and unclean? If that is true, and Holy Scripture says it is, then that means we are naturally, sinfully opposed to God’s truth. We feel no need for it; we don’t pursue it; we make decisions based on what is right for me, and what makes sense to me, and what I stand to gain in a given situation. Jesus’ teaching calls people to stop being self-centered, and to think of life in a whole new way. A way that doesn’t necessarily make much sense. Human minds, shot through with sin, echo the weaker disciples who said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” Who can accept it? Who can say “yes” to someone who calls himself “the Bread of Life” and who wants people to feed on his flesh and drink his blood? The sinner says, “Not me.”
The enemy is not Jesus and his teaching; the enemy is us. The fault lies not with Jesus’ preaching skill or vivid illustrations or his truth-telling; the fault is humankind’s, because in sin, we can’t handle the truth. We know if we stop walking with Him, we won’t have to hear it, and if we’re not hearing Him, then maybe we can convince ourselves that we never really needed him anyway. It is the scariest freedom we possess—the freedom to pull away from the real Jesus, to recast Him in an image that is more to our liking, and to ignore the words He has spoken. Then we end up saying things like, “Well, my God would never do…this or that thing,” as if God only does things that I think are right. Do you see how twisted around we can get? Can we begin to understand how someone could listen to Jesus and then walk away? Whenever the true Jesus comes around, He is a threat to the sinner, because there can only be one King. He is a threat to the status quo, because the status quo is about hanging onto things, and Jesus is about changing things—human hearts and minds, in particular. The real Jesus comes around today through His Word, recorded in Holy Scripture, and the Sacraments, such as the Lord’s Supper, where his flesh is given us to eat and his blood is given us to drink. His coming to us is the only hope we’ve got. So consider Jesus’ question today: “Do you want to go away as well?”
When Jesus asked that same question of his closest students, this is how Simon Peter answered: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” And Jesus tells one more bit of truth here: He says, “Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” The devil he was talking about was Judas Iscariot.
Peter answered well. His words live on in a familiar part of our liturgy: “Alleluia, Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!” What a strong statement of faith that is, framed by the rhetorical question, “Where else would we go, Lord Jesus?” But take note: Jesus is quick to respond by saying, “Didn’t I choose you?” It was not the other way around. Jesus came around and claimed these men out of their old lives and gave them a completely new sense of what living is about. Jesus found and chose Peter, and only then could Peter make his good confession. If you and I can join Peter in that confession of Jesus as the Holy One of God, the one whose words give the gifts they speak of, it is because Jesus has chosen you to be His own. Jesus has laid claim to you through the adoption of Holy Baptism. The Holy Spirit creates faith in our hearts; faith that depends on Jesus’ death and resurrection for our standing with God. That gift of faith also receives Jesus’ words as words of eternal life. Jesus’ words aren’t just talking about something—they deliver something real to you and me. Jesus’ words are the vehicles that bring to us forgiveness of sins, healing, reconciliation, and the certainty of continued existence in His loving presence forever. The gift of faith regards Jesus’ words as describing a reality that the sin-sickened mind cannot grasp: a reality where the weak are made strong, the poor and low are lifted up to places of honor; where the slave is the real nobleman, and where death itself has passed away. Where Jesus, God’s Word-in-the-flesh is, there his kingdom is as well. It is a kingdom characterized by the old order of things being turned on its head, by undeserved kindness and renewal of our hearts and minds that flows from Jesus to us.
In fact, we take Jesus into ourselves in His kingdom. The bread that Jesus gave for the world, his own flesh, he serves to us to eat, that we may know forgiveness. We feed on the body and blood of Jesus, given and shed for you and me, confident in His promise that whoever does so is given eternal life and will be raised up by the Lord on the last day. We take Jesus at His Word on this, and because we do, we approach this feast with reverence and careful preparation, conscious of Jesus’ own words: “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him.” In Holy Communion, the real Jesus comes into us, giving us the benefits of his sacrificial death, and binding us to His never-ending Life.
There will always be those who say, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” Blessed with the gift of faith, we can say: “His Word makes it so. His are the words of eternal life.”

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Wondering About Worship

In our Sunday Bible Study, One Christ, Many Creeds, we ran across these questions:

  • What can we say about the form of worship?
  • Does form matter at all, or is anything permissible so long as we believe the Christian faith rightly?

I'm interested in your repsonse. Please post a comment--

Monday, August 10, 2009

Be Imitators of God

My latest sermon, "Imitating God," is available as an audio file. Listen by clicking this link: and going to the sermons page.