Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Service of Angels

Even in the hour of our death, the presence and service of the angels continue, giving us ample reason for comfort and reassurance. As the angels rereshed the Savior when he struggled with death in the Garden of Gethsemane, so Christians, according to Scripture, can expect to receive the aid of the angels in their final battle. They gather around the deathbed, and when the soul leaves its mortal body, they bear it up into the blessed dwellings of the heavenly Father. Oh, what love, of God we thus see revealed in the doctrine of the angels!

Dr. C.F.W. Walther

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

How Do I Live A Christian Life?

We are called to follow Jesus, but He is not just an example that we are to follow. That is what we call "moralistic thinking." And it is a false understanding of the way the Gospel works.Moralism holds up certain Christ-like qualities--dedication, self-denial, and the like--and then says, "Work on these traits and you'll be a good Christian." But the evil lies in not seeing that these ideals are results of the Gospel. They are not something we can do. We do not focus on "dedication" as a quality in Christ's character which we want to emulate, for we fail utterly; we can't do anything. Rather, we focus on his death on the cross for us. "For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose" (Phil. 2: 13).Therefore, we look to Christ's commitment for and to us; and by the power of the Holy Spirit in us, we respond back with our commitment: Christ in me.

Dr. Donald Deffner

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Do You Have Salt in Yourself?

A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. Mary Poppins—or The Sound of Music? That still confuses me sometimes. I like sugar and I know I’m not alone. Sugar can mask a lot of bad—or bland—ingredients. Salt, on the other hand, doesn’t overpower the flavor of food as much as it brings out what is already there. Salt also has the power to preserve—which is one of the reasons it was so highly valued in the ancient world. Roman soldiers were often paid in salt, which is where the phrase “he’s worth his salt” originated. Where am I going with this? Well today we hear Jesus say, “Have salt in yourselves,” and we need to drill down into what he means by this. I’ve found that it helps to contrast salt with sugar in trying to comprehend Jesus’ words.To this day, I prefer sugary cereals, even if it’s just a little frosting on the old shredded wheat. Shredded wheat without the frosting—you might as well chew a cardboard box. Sugar takes what is not so hot and makes it tasty.The devil and the world are well versed at this technique. They take things that are atrocious—things that, at their core are sinful and anti-God, and make them seem tasty! The sensation of pleasure we get from these sugary sins blinds us to the fact that we are eating garbage—that we’re killing ourselves with sinful behavior.
Never once does Jesus sugarcoat the problem of sin. In fact, listen to what he says:42 "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. 43 And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 44 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. 46 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 48 ’where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’
The way Jesus says this is unforgettable: it would better, He says, for you to lose a body part that causes you to sin than to end up in hell. Nothing sugary about that! Now did Jesus mean that literally? I’d have to say no—Jesus was using extreme language to get your attention—but now that he’s got it, pay attention to the message, which is that sin is serious business. I’ve heard it said that the hands Jesus talks about represent the sin which we do, the feet represent where we go to in order to sin, and our eyes represent what we look at in sin. The message then becomes: If you do things that lead you to sin, get rid of those things. The same for places you go, or the things you look at. Those things are like sugar that overloads our senses so that we willingly swallow the poison of sin. In doing so, we risk something the momentary sweet flavor will never be able to mask. Namely, hell. Where the worm does not die, nor is the fire ever quenched. The world sugarcoats sin, so that we can swallow the taste of hell. Do we really see sin as being so serious that we would chop off part of our life rather than let sin get a hold of us? Do we see sin as dangerous as swine flu? Or do we just accept it-- or worse, do we like the taste?Moving away from sugar-coating for the moment, I wonder how many of you remember the days of getting a cut, or a deep scratch, treated with iodine? Do you remember that burning feeling, as the iodine penetrated the wound? I remember being on an oceanfront beach one time. I had been hiking, with a few blisters on my foot that had yet to fully heal. Without thinking, I waded into the sea water and “youch” I was treated to the power of salt.For centuries, salt, in one form or another, has been used to treat wounds. That action causes the stinging sensation. And boy can it sting. In fact, it can hurt more than the wound that it treats. But that cleansing, that purifying, is so needed! Otherwise infection could set in.Where sugar-coating only hides the effect of sin, God’s Word acts like salt. It gets into our lives, ripping out the curse of sin, healing the wound and protecting it from further infection. It will sting a bit, as we realize the damage done. That is the way the Holy Spirit works. He is like a surgeon who not only removes that which is causing sickness, but also leaves life and health behind. Your life is purified by the salt of the Gospel—the news that Jesus absorbed the sting of sin and death on the cross, once and for all, for you. So you would never have to know what that sting feels like. You will never know that pain because Jesus experienced it instead of you. The law and gospel of Jesus is like salt in our deepest wounds—the knowledge of our sin stings—but it is quickly overwhelmed by the generous forgiveness of Jesus, which has the properties needed to heal our minds and souls.Having been changed in this way, we too become “salty.” We become living examples of how not masking sin, but being open about it and repenting it can change a person. We can become people who do not swallow the devil’s sweet lies, but instead flavor our conversation with the salt of God’s truth, in the direct and loving manner of Jesus himself.
In today’s Old Testament and Gospel lessons, people raise questions about who should be doing the work of God. The Lord’s response in both cases is the same; He essentially says: I wish all of my people were salty. I wish they all loved my truth and refused to sugarcoat it. I wish they all wanted to apply the healing salt of my Son’s Gospel to the wounds of the world, and worked to do so!
As Christians, our lives are to be seasoned with mercy, truth, and loving service. These are not qualities to strive for, but realities that are already within you, because Jesus lives in you. You have His salt in yourselves. Sprinkle it out. Share it. Savor the difference that Jesus makes.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Hymn Stanzas of the Week: Now Rest Beneath Night's Shadow

Now Rest Beneath Night's Shadow (TLH 554)
Paul Gerhardt; stanzas 4 and 5

To rest my body hasteth,
Aside its garments casteth,
Types of mortality;
These I put off and ponder
How Christ will give me yonder
A robe of glorious majesty.

Lord Jesus, who dost love me,
Oh, spread Thy wings above me,
And shield me from alarm!
Though evil would assail me,
Thy mercy will not fail me:
I rest in Thy protecting arm.

Friday, September 25, 2009

He Lives in Me (Part II)

Meanwhile my old man (Eph. 4: 22) remains outside and is subject to the Law. But so far as justification is concerned, Christ and I must be so closely attached that He lives in me and I in Him. What a marvelous way of speaking! Because he lives in me, whatever grace, righteousness, life, peace, and salvation there is in me is all Christ's; nevertheless, it is mine as well, by the cementing and attachment that are through faith, by which we become as one body in the Spirit. In this way Paul seeks to withdraw us completely from ourselves, from the Law, and from works, and to transplant us into Christ and faith in Christ, so that in the area of justification we look only at grace, and separate it far from the Law and from works, which belong far away.

Dr. Martin Luther

Thursday, September 24, 2009

He Lives In Me

Living in me as he does, Christ abolishes the Law, damns sins, and kills death; for at his presence all these things cannot help disappearing. Christ is eternal peace, comfort, righteousness, and life, to which the terror of the Law, sadness of mind, sin, death and hell have to yield. Abiding and living in me, Christ removes and absorbs all the evils that torment me and afflict me. This attachment to Him causes me to be liberated from the terror of the Law and of sin, pulled out of my own skin, and transferred into Christ and into His kingdom, which is a kingdom of grace, righteousness, peace, joy, life, salvation, and eternal glory. Since I am in Him, no evil can harm me.

Dr. Martin Luther

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Loudest Preacher

Death is the loudest and strongest preacher to the unbelieving world. That world may shun all churches and avoid all preachers of the Word of God, but there is one preacher it must hear. Death's church is the whole earth and the heavenly vaults above it; its pulpits are the deathbed, the coffin, the hearse, the grave, and the cemetery. With a piercing voice that penetrates marrow and bone, this preacher calls into the world's ear wherever it goes: "Man, you must die! There is no remaining abode here. The earth is not your homeland. This life is not the destiny given to you. You must finally go out of this world, with all its glory, at an hour unknown to you. Oh, repent. Repent!"
But in incomprehendable delusion, the world does not want to hear death's call to repentance. It must then experience the great might of the king of terrors. If its loved ones die, it cries tears of doubt, then looks on as the grave locks up the corpses forever and their souls flutter and disappear like fog in the air. It looks into eternity as into an unknown land, tormented by doubt.

How differently believers stand by the coffins and graves of their loved ones who have fallen asleep in the faith! For Christ, in whom we have believed, has swallowed up death and removed its power, and He has brought life and immortality to light. Death has become a little bee that has lost its sting, and now it carries nothing but sweet honey in its mouth.

Dr. C. F. W. Walther

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Installation of Jacob Rogers

God’s Word comes to us today from the book of Deuteronomy, the sixth chapter, beginning with the 4th verse: 4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. [a] 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. This is the Word of the Lord.

Dear Friends in Christ,

I stand here today as a preacher of God’s Word because of Lutheran principals and administrators. Now, they’re not the only factor in my becoming a pastor, but they were a factor. From Trinity Lutheran School in Warren, Michigan, to Concordia Lutheran School in Fort Wayne, Indiana, to St. Peter Lutheran School in Hemlock, Michigan, to Valley Lutheran High School in Saginaw, Michigan, to Concordia University—River Forest, Illinois, (before it encompassed all of Chicago), to Concordia Theological Seminary, back in Fort Wayne, Indiana, I directly benefitted from the faithful administration of Lutheran schools, which gave me the opportunity to be steeped in and immersed in God’s Word of gospel hope and truth. No child is really conscious of it at the time, but in retrospect, I am very grateful that Lutheran principals and administrators were there to set the table for learning and growth in the Word to take place. For those kind of reasons I am also grateful for the opportunity to support Our Shepherd Lutheran School and to have the privilege of preaching the Word on this very special occasion of Jacob Rogers’ installation as our principal.
It’s no secret that Lutheran schools are facing rather large and intimidating challenges these days. I’m not going to attempt to get all sociological on you, or speculate as to the reasons why. Instead, let’s allow God’s Word to remind us why we have Lutheran Schools in the first place. Listen again to His Word from Deuteronomy: 4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. [a] 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
Lutheran schools exist to help families grow in their faith and knowledge of the one true God; God in three persons, and to help them walk in that faith and knowledge. Yes, academics and social skills and physical health are key components, but the ultimate purpose for Lutheran education is to impress upon children and their families the commandments and the promises of Almighty God; to expose the hearts of children and their families to God’s Law and Gospel; to show children and their families how to live a Christian life with integrity. Our Lutheran schools are the crowning jewel of our church body, for nowhere else are disciples so fully formed and equipped as in our schools, where Jesus is present daily, where His Words are studied daily, where teachers embody the wisdom of Christ daily. I pray, and I hope you will join me in this prayer, that at the local, district, and national level, we would fall back in love with our Lutheran schools and show it joyfully with willing sacrificial support—and not only that—but be quick to talk with our family and friends and acquaintances about the treasure that we have received from our Lord Jesus Christ in places like Our Shepherd.
Jacob, on behalf of everyone who makes up a part of the Our Shepherd Evangelical Lutheran School community, I bid you welcome in Jesus’ name, and I sincerely hope that you have been made to feel how genuinely thankful we are that you answered God’s call to serve here. I want to acknowledge the many challenges that you face as a result of your acceptance of the call to serve, and to echo what many others have said: that we stand in strong support of your professional leadership and your personal health and well being. I want to acknowledge the many hats that a Lutheran principal is asked to wear; from public relations to disciplinarian to team leader to state regulations expert and, of course, Christian role model. It is a sizable task. It is a noble task. It is a task that cannot be accomplished by one person alone—and the good news is, you are not alone. Jacob, you are joined to Jesus himself through the unbreakable bond of baptism. He lives in you and enables you with the gifts and skills you need to welcome and serve the children in His name. You are the servant leader of an unusually gifted and faithful staff of teachers (I didn’t say unusual, I said unusually gifted). Add to that a circle of dedicated parents who are committed to the success of Our Shepherd and congregations that cherish what Our Shepherd provides, and hopefully you do realize that you are not alone in this endeavor. You have been called into a family of faith that is so glad God called you here.
And so, in Christian love, we ask you to point this family continually to Christ Jesus, or Savior and Lord. Encourage us through Word and example to love the Lord with all our heart and soul and strength, and remind us of His forgiveness when we fail. Urge us to keep the commandments of God alive in our hearts, and see to it that God’s Word is being impressed upon the children who walk through these doors. Show us how to bring the Word of Life into our homes and what a daily walk with Jesus looks like. Teach us to wrap ourselves in the good news of Jesus Christ. Hold the Word of His cross and vacant tomb before our eyes, so that neither we nor you forget why we’re here in a Lutheran school. That’s what we need when families are going through difficult times. That’s what we need when there are disagreements and hurt feelings. That’s what we need when an immediate crisis crowds our vision. We need Jesus. Jacob, we need you to stand for him.
There’s a story about a severe thunderstorm that rolled in one night, much to the chagrin of a little boy who was trying to get to sleep. As the first wave of flashing lightning and rolling thunder swept through, he called out from his bedroom, “Daddy, can I come in there with you?” “No, son, it’ll be all right,” was the response. “Just close your eyes and get to sleep.” Well, of course, the storm continued to rage outside and after a couple minutes the boy tried again. “Daddy, can I please come in there with you?” “No son,” came the reply, “Just say your prayers and everything is going to be OK.” Well it wasn’t too much longer until a blinding flash and an immediate roar of thunder caused the boy to jump out of bed, hit the ground running and dive into bed between his mom and dad, getting as far under the covers as possible. And dad said, “Son, it’s all right. You’re going to be fine. Jesus was with you the whole time.” And a little voice came up from under the blanket, “But Daddy, I need Jesus with skin on.”
Jacob, the Our Shepherd family needs Jesus with skin on, too. The children and parents that make up this family need Jesus with skin on when life is scary—and when there are things worth celebrating. That is where you come in. By the power that enables him to do all things, even grant the gift of faith in Christ, the Holy Spirit would use you to be Jesus with skin on to this community. And we, with the same Spirit-born faith, promise to do the same for you—to be Jesus with skin on to you and your family, to work and strive together to receive the little ones in Jesus’ name. And may the Lord, who has begun this good work in us, bring it to completion at the Day of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Do You Want To Be First? (Mark 9: 30--37)

Who is the greatest athlete of all time? How about the greatest entertainer? What is the greatest movie ever made? The greatest person you ever met? It’s a human pastime to come up with our list of “greatests,” and there’s nothing inherently wrong with doing so, as long as we understand that God’s definition of what makes a person great is far, far different than ours.
Jesus’ disciples found that out in an embarrassing way in today’s gospel. Jesus had been teaching them about himself; telling them in plain language about his rescue mission. Jesus said: “The Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And after he is killed, He will rise on the third day.” To you and me, this is dangerously close to “old news.” To the disciples, it didn’t make sense, and they were afraid to ask questions. Instead, as they walk along the road to their next destination, the conversation shifts, and has nothing to do with what Jesus was talking about. Instead, they start opining about who of them was the greatest disciple! Some translations say they were disputing this issue. When they get to the house where they were staying, Jesus asks them, “What were you talking about on the way?” You probably could’ve heard the proverbial pin drop in the silence that followed, as the disciples thought it over. Jesus had just told them he was going to be betrayed and executed, and they had responded by cutting him out of the conversation and debating who is the greatest among us. What an uncomfortable silence that must have been. How patient of our Lord Jesus to keep teaching these guys who couldn’t seem to see past themselves. We might as well say the same thing about ourselves. How patient Jesus is with us, who so desire worldly greatness, recognition, and status. He never stops instructing us through his Word.
To understand God’s definition of greatness, we have to understand God. By nature, the almighty God of heaven and earth is a servant. He created Adam and Eve so that He might care for them. He created them in His image to serve one another and to take care of what God had made. When they sinned, He did not respond with raw power, instead, he promised to serve them again by sending a Savior who would crush the serpent’s head, decisively defeating death and hell. That’s the plan Jesus is talking about in today’s gospel—a plan to serve. That’s God’s nature. Therefore, when God measures greatness, he measures it in terms of serving. In God’s eyes, the one who is great is the one who serves others.
Sinful humankind measures greatness in exactly the opposite way. Our culture says greatness is when you have so much power that you are served by others. Greatness in our culture means you have some talent or quality that sets you apart and make you worthy of being admired, glorified, and yes, even worshipped by others. That’s why movie stars, musicians and professional athletes are idolized. Think about it: the word “idolized” says it all. Natural man looks at wealth, publicity, and power and says, “that’s what life is all about.” But lest we point the finger too easily at Hollywood or Washington D.C. or your local sports arena, we also need to look in the mirror, and ask: “in what ways have I been seduced by a need to be thought of as great? In what ways have I craved recognition or power or control? What has my need to be number one caused me to do? Even Jesus’ own disciples couldn’t help jostling for the number one spot. It is an almost constant human temptation.
And that creates some tension, to say the least. Jesus says, “In service to the people of the world, I’m going to suffer and die to buy back what is already mine.” This is the greatest service of all. By their discussion, the disciples said, in so many words, “Suffering and dying isn’t great. Rising up to be powerful is great. So which one of us will be the greatest of Jesus’ disciples? Which one will have the power and authority?” By their discussion, the disciples betray how far away they are from thinking God’s way.
What follows is what educators call a “teachable moment.” He sits the twelve down in response to their embarrassed silence and says, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” This would have been a startling statement to the disciples, and in truth, it is still startling to the sinful nature. Greatness is found in service? Being best is a matter of being last? What is that supposed to mean? To God, it makes perfect sense, because he is the servant who created us to serve; to man, it sounds ludicrous.
The “teachable moment” continues. A child toddling by is scooped up in Jesus’ arms as He says, “Whoever receives one of these little children in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but Him who sent me.” This, too, would’ve been so far away from the disciples’ conventional wisdom: the lines were clearly drawn, childcare was for the womenfolk, men did manly stuff like catch fish and fight wars. Yet Jesus declares that service to children is great service. He has come to save all people, children included. But this goes way, way past Jesus telling his disciples to serve the cute little boys and girls because they’re so doggone adorable. Jesus is saying: to be great means to serve those who can’t serve you back. Serve those who might not say thank you. Serve those who are in no position to reward you. You can almost see the disciples casting sideways glances at each other, with a mixture of shame and confusion in their eyes. They didn’t get it yet. But they would, after Jesus had made good on his promise to serve by suffering dying, and rising on the third day, and the Holy Spirit filled them on Pentecost. That means there is hope for us, too, as we grapple with God’s definition of greatness.
There is wonderful clarity in this idea; The Lord remains the Servant. He went to the cross and died for the sins of all people in service to all; and he still comes here to serve us by his means of grace, his Word and Sacraments. The Lord is a servant who sets you free from sin to be a servant. The Lord has placed you where you are to be a servant in that place. Parents; children; husbands; wives; employers; workers; retired; just getting started; teachers; students; wherever you are, God has placed you there to serve. The Lord may give you skills, assets, and wealth; should he do so, rejoice that t the Lord has entrusted these things to you so that you can serve others. On the other hand, if you have little in the way of resources, rejoice that the Lord has put you where you are, to serve with what you have, even if that’s just your two hands. This is the life of a Christian: Set free from sin by Jesus, the Servant who suffered on the cross for us, then conquered death by rising on Easter, we are set free to serve wherever the Lord has put us.
There is a special aspect of servanthood that Jesus brings to our attention in the Gospel lesson, and that is service to children. Obviously, Jesus places a great premium on “receiving the little children” in his Name.
Parents, this starts with you at home. In giving you children, the Lord has called you into the vocation of fatherhood or motherhood, and that means you have a multitude of opportunities to serve your children; and that includes serving your child’s spiritual needs. Read Bible stories at home. Look at the Small Catechism together. Pray together. Talk about the Gospel each day, and live it out as you provide both discipline and forgiveness in your home. Bring your children to church and Sunday School, but know that it is not enough. I hope you wouldn’t say, “Since the school hot lunch program feeds my child, I don’t have to provide food at home.” And so I also hope you wouldn’t say “Since my child gets a Bible story a week at church, that’s enough.”
The greatest service and the greatest gift you can give your child is to teach them God’s Word and to show them what Christian faith looks like, lived out day to day.
Receiving the little children is also played out here on Sundays at Sunday School. Sunday School is an overlooked treasure, too frequently thought of as a place to park the kids while the adults are doing something else. It’s far more than that. It’s a chance for children to be put in touch with their loving Savior through His Word. I want to take this opportunity to thank and encourage our Sunday School teachers. They are the unsung servants among us who are at the forefront of our efforts to receive little children in Jesus’ name. May we serve these teachers with thanks and support for their efforts.
And there are even more opportunities to receive little ones in Jesus name—our church has answered the call by supporting not one but two Lutheran Schools—St. Paul’s Preschool and Our Shepherd Lutheran School. In economically challenging times, it is easy to dwell on the expense of operating a parochial school. Let’s never forget why we should support and sacrifice for the good of our Christian schools: they are places where Jesus Christ is welcomed and present! Disciples are made as children learn the truth of God’s Word by heart. Future leaders, musicians, workers and pastors of the Church are being trained right now in our schools! I would like to recognize and offer thanks to the teachers of Our Shepherd who serve the children and families. Let’s serve those families also by continuing to strongly support Lutheran education in our community.
We are able to serve because the Lord Jesus has set us free to do so. Wherever He has placed you in life, make it your goal to serve as Jesus would serve, and do so knowing that you are fully and freely forgiven in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Hymn Stanzas of the Week: Dear Lord, To Thy True Servants Give

Dear Lord, to Thy True Servants Give
W. Gustav Polack, stanzas 1 and 3

Dear Lord, to thy true servants give
the grace of Thee alone to live.
Once bound by sin, but saved by Thee,
They go to set the prisoners free,
The Gospel message to proclaim,
That men might call upon Thy name.

When all their labor seems in vain,
Revive their sinking hearts again;
And when success crowns what they do,
Oh, keep them humble, Lord, and true
Until before Thy judgment seat
they lay their trophies at Thy feet.

Friday, September 18, 2009

What Is Faith?

Faith means that we count ourselves as nothing and that we regard what God has done in Jesus Christ as everything. Faith does not look to itself, but it looks at Christ and says, "For me to live is Christ and to die is gain." Faith gives shape and form to our lives, but, strangely, faith is never anything we do. Faith is not really a thing. Faith is not a quantity to be measured. Faith is not my personal decision to accept Christ; faith is God filling my emptiness with Christ. God lays hold of me before I lay hold of him. Faith belongs to me, but it is the Spirit's gift. Faith is not valued by what it is, but by what it believes, and it believes in Christ. When faith looks at itself, it is weakened.

Dr. David P. Scaer

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Parker Place Devotion Time

Yesterday I did my first devotional service at Parker Place Independent Retirement Village in Mentor. It is a beautiful facility, right at the corner of 90 and 615.

Using the large print bulletin from the past week's services, we did an abbreviated form of Divine Service 3 in Lutheran Service Book. I preached a message on John 3:16 and at the end of the service I distributed business card-sized Scripture verses to those in attendance. It was a good experience and I look forward to returning once a month for the rest of this year into the next.

Special thanks to Wren Cavender for helping to make the connections that enabled me to offer devotions at Parker Place, as well as providing musical accompaniment and joining me in a duet!
At left are some of the nice folks who joined us in the Parker Place Chapel.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Today's Prayer: In Temptation

Lord Jesus Christ, stay with me. There is evil around me, and I am so often attentive to it. It is beautiful sometimes, and sensible, and practical, and friendly--or so it seems.
Lord Jesus Christ, stay with me. There is evil within me, and I am so often attentive to it. I am easily overcome by my own desire to get away from you and be free to have everything I want and to do everything I want.
Lord Jesus Christ, give me the real freedom of your life in me. By your victory over temptations make me victorious. By the power of your love make me strong.
Lord Jesus Christ, without you I will fall. With you I can stand against the enemy. Stay with me. Amen.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Servant of All

I often think of one particular seminarian from several years ago who obviously will remain nameless, as he himself would prefer. He was a quiet sort of man; you hardly knew he was around. But somehow he always appeared out of the woodwork when something needed to be done. Whether it was conducting the liturgy or reading the lessons or ushering or lighting the candles, he was there to do it. At a potluck supper he would be the one setting up tables and chairs and then seeking the end of the line filing past the buffet table. One day I asked him why he wanted to enter the ministry. Out of all the profound theological things he might have said, the only answer he could muster sounded like an incomplete sentence: "I...want to serve." May the Holy Servitude be filled with an army of such men who see the ministry as their work and not a status.

Dr. James Bollhagen

Sunday, September 13, 2009

I Believe; Help My Unbelief (Sermon on Mark 9: 14--29)

It is horrifying for any parent to consider. Your child is sick. Worse than that: Your child is actually possessed by a demon, an evil spirit. It controls his behavior. It tries to kill him. The parent who approached Jesus in today’s Gospel lesson was living every parent’s worst nightmare. Something’s terribly wrong with my child and I’m powerless to do anything about it.
The father of the possessed boy speaks up and reaches out to Jesus. He’s heard the miracle stories; he fumbles for words as he formulates his request: “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus replies: “If you can? All things are possible for one who believes.” And in that moment the boy’s father, desperately battling his own doubts and fears, says just about the most honest thing a human being ever says in the Bible; he says: “I believe; help my unbelief.” There was something Jesus responded to in that wrestling, awkward, transparent request—and he honors it. He does what his disciples could not—he extracts the demon from the boy; he gives the boy and his family a new life to live. Through Jesus, God is putting His broken creation together again one person and one family at a time.
“I believe; help my unbelief.” What a simple way to describe the war that goes on in our hearts and minds. It is a classic Christian paradox. We believe and we disbelieve. We trust and we trust no one. We build on the Rock and we build on sand. That’s us. And it’s not necessarily bad news. Well, unbelief is bad, but a spiritual struggle—an inner tension—is proof that faith is fighting for life. Faith that is gasping for breath is still faith; the thing we ought to really fear is no struggle—the fool’s gold of disbelief and the ethic of service to myself as the highest good.
In other words, to have faith in Jesus is to experience spiritual turbulence, because faith that trusts in God goes to war with the sinful self, and the sinful self doesn’t appreciate being fought against. It hates being exorcised. Only Jesus can cast out our sinful nature and fill us with something far better. And as I said, spiritual turbulence is better than no spiritual turbulence. Spiritual turbulence means that faith, which the Holy Spirit gave me through the gospel of Jesus and baptism, is alive and is beating down my sinful impulses. A complete lack of spiritual turbulence means I’m spiritually dead. It means I’m foolishly confident in myself, or I just don’t care about the things of God at all. Both those ways lead to destruction and finally separation from God.
“So Pastor, what you’re saying is that we either live with spiritual turbulence, or die eternally? Sounds pretty hopeless.” And I agree with you. That would be a bleak outlook on life. Let me suggest there is an upside to experiencing spiritual turbulence; the times when your struggling faith is nurtured, fed, and strengthened by a word from God. When we admit to our double-mindedness—“I believe; help my unbelief,” we are confessing sin, and when we confess sin, well, you know what God promises: “If we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Jesus is quick to apply his mercy to our doubts. He is quick to forgive us our lack of trust; the prayer “help my unbelief” is one that it pleases Him to answer. But how? How can the Lord help our unbelief? The answer is elegantly simple. He wants to talk to you. Listen to these words from Isaiah, and imagine that it is Jesus speaking these words. It really is; he is the servant speaking in chapter 50. He says: “The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary.” Here’s a slightly different translation: “The Lord God gives me the speech of the learned, so that I know how to talk to encourage the weary.” The encouragement and the knowledge that we need are found in the words of Jesus. The Word of God is the thing that is going to sustain our faith and keep it vital. Holy Scripture gives us the prequel to Jesus’ arrival; the main event of Jesus’ rescue mission to earth; and the sequels, where his followers take His good news into the surrounding world. The Holy Spirit breathes life into us through this story of Jesus! The Word of God is the antidote to fear, doubt, and worry. The Word of God replaces those things with peace, trust, and faith. The Word presents Jesus to us, inviting us to trust in Him not only for eternal life in the future, but also for the forgiveness of sins and help in our battles today.Kind of appropriate, then, that we find ourselves at another Rally Day, with the idea being that we rally around the Word of God and make it a priority. Here’s another place where it would be right to pray: “I believe; help my unbelief.” We might very well pray, “Lord, I believe that it is important to study your Word; help my unbelief that finds all kinds of way to prevent that from happening.” There are plenty of excuses for not being in the Word—I’m not going to go through them all, because we know what they are, and we know they are excuses, not reasons. Will we really rally around the Word of God on this Rally Day? Will we as individuals—as families—as disciples of Jesus—make learning the Word our top priority in the months to come? Will we as a congregation allow Jesus to speak to us in His own words? There’s an awful lot at stake, as our gospel lesson makes abundantly clear. Evil is real. The devil wants you to be his possession. He wants our children, too. And the stark reality is that you’re either Satan’s slave or God’s dearly loved child. There’s no neutral space. We’re either filling ourselves and our children with poison or purity; garbage or grace. We can fill ourselves and our children with junk that kills faith, or holy things that cause faith to grow deeper roots and stronger shoots. May the Holy Spirit inspire each of us to listen to the encouraging Words of our Lord Jesus. If you’re not doing that at all, make a fresh start. If you’re doing a little, push past that and do more. And let’s see what happens when we really listen to and act on the words of our Lord Jesus Christ!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Hymn Stanza of the Week: Preserve Thy Word, O Savior

Preserve Thy Word, O Savior
Andreas Gryphius, stanza 4

Preserve, O Lord, Thy children,
Thine own blest heritage;
Resist, disperse and scatter
Those who against Thee rage.
Let Thy commandments guide us,
Grant us Thy heavenly food;
Clothe us with Thy rich garments,
Bought with Thy precious blood.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Scripture Meditation for 9/11

Luke 13:1-5 (English Standard Version)

1There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2And he answered them, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."

Today's Prayer: For Pardon and Peace

Grant, we ask You, merciful Lord, to Your faithful people pardon and peace, that they may be cleansed from all their sins and serve You with a quiet mind; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit; one God, now and forever. Amen.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Hope For Pastors

Being Christlike in one's ministry always remains a distant and elusive goal, whether a man has served as a pastor for two years or forty years, but through Confession and Absolution he is daily empowered, not to give up, but to work in that direction. Ironically, the more a pastor works in his own life to conform his ministry to the ministry of Christ, the more attention will be drawn away from his own life.

Dr. James Bollhagen

Monday, September 7, 2009

Prayer for Labor Day

Lord God, our Father and Creator, we deserve to labor among thorns and thistles; to eat by the sweat of our brow; to work without reward; for we confess we have spoiled your creation by sin; we have marred our work by our neglect; we have hurt your work by our rebellion. We pray you, bless our labor by Him who came to be our servant, by Him who saved us to serve. For His sake keep us and all who labor from false dealing and unfair practice. Help us to labor with love anf faithfulness. Teach us that the best labor we give you is to believe in the One you have sent, and to love and serve our fellow man. We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Loose Our Tongues to Tell Your Kindness

Did you notice the link between the Old Testament and the Gospel lesson today? We have prophecy and fulfillment going on here. Isaiah proclaims that when God comes to settle the score and save His people, blind people will have their sight restored; the ears of the deaf will be unstopped; the lame man will leap like the deer and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. Some six hundred years after Isaiah’s poetic proclamation, Mark reports in his gospel that a man who was deaf and who had a speech impediment was taken aside by Jesus and healed, in the words of the text, “his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.” God was doing what he said he would do, in Jesus, His Son. God had come to save. God had come with vengeance and with recompense. In other words, it’s payback time. Satan’s defeat is imminent. And God is already beginning to put his broken creation back together again, one person at a time, like the deaf man in the gospel of Mark.
When God comes around and acts in people’s lives, look at the response: “then the tongue of the mute sing for joy.” When God’s gifts hit home, there is a response of joy—an impulse to express our thanks to God, and, in the words of our liturgy, to “tell everyone what he has done.” The crowds who knew the deaf man in Mark’s gospel could not help themselves. The more Jesus charged them to keep this miracle on the down low, the more zealously they proclaimed it. Jesus had generated major buzz in the region of Decapolis. 1900 years before Arabella Katherine Hankey wrote her famous hymn, the people of that region were “Loving To Tell The Story,” saying “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” That’s just what happens when Jesus touches a human life. Or is it?
Is it true that people who have received the blessings of Jesus can’t stop talking about Him? Or have we learned to live in a different way? Are you quick to share with others the things that Jesus has done for you, or are you more likely to keep such things to yourself, obeying our culture’s dictates to keep “religion and politics” out of polite conversation? Now it is true that when we share our faith, we want to be tactful, winsome, and as gracious as possible. But it is also true that there have been times that the Lord put the ball on the tee for me; all I had to do was swing, and I didn’t. I didn’t speak even a simple word about what the Lord is up to, and I am haunted by that failure. Some of you may be able to relate with my predicament and the guilt that goes along with this type of inaction.
Our self-defensive nature shoots back: “But I don’t have some big conversion testimony to tell. I was never miraculously healed of a disease. I was never amazingly spared some accident. What do I have to share with people?”
Well, first of all, are you sure you’re not forgetting anything? Certain that the Lord did not come through for you in a major way at some point in your life? And, follow me on this, how exactly do you know that God never saved you from a disaster if it didn’t happen? More importantly though, can any Christian really say that God hasn’t done anything “dramatic” in his or her life? What about Jesus leaving the security of heaven, being born of a woman in an animal shelter, having to be hidden from paranoid rulers who wanted him dead? What about his baptism in the Jordan River, with the voice of the Father booming out and the Holy Spirit visibly appearing? What about his fulfillment of prophecy after prophecy, such as the one here in Isaiah 35? What about his clashes with the religious establishment? What about his unjust trial, the cruel beatings, the scathing words, the catastrophic effect of the Roman whip, the agony of his hours before the cross? What about his death on that Good Friday? What about coming back to life after three days in the grave? What about the fact that it was all for you? All so that your sins could be erased and forgotten? All so that you could live knowing that God has made peace with you? All so that you can die in confident expectation of heavenly joy and a future resurrection of the body? What about those things? What about your baptism, by which a life-giving connection was forged between you and Jesus? What about the Lord’s Supper, where Jesus serves you his own body and blood for the assurance that your sins are completely forgiven? You may or may not have a riveting “personal testimony,” but one thing is sure: you have this—Jesus lived, died, rose, and still rules so that your ears could be opened to hear his Word of truth; your eyes could be opened to see things His way; and your mouth could be opened to declare His praises. Since He has done all this for us, let’s be open about our faith and open to share His story—which is of course, our story now too.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Hymn Stanza of the Week: Salvation Unto Us Has Come

Salvation Unto Us Has Come (TLH 377, stanza 9)
Paul Speratus

Faith clings to Jesus' cross alone
and rests in Him unceasing;
And by its fruits true faith is known,
with love and hope increasing.
Yet faith alone doth justify,
Works serve thy neighbor and supply
the proof that faith is living.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Today's Prayer: Bless Us in our Baptism

Heavenly Father, remember your children everywhere, as you keep them in your baptismal grace. Help us put to death the old nature, as we were buried with Christ in baptism. Raise us again to new life, as we are risen with Christ in baptism. Help us to grow in knowledge of your Word, that Christ may be formed in us. In His name we pray. Amen.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Pray for our Preschool

Our Preschool year informally began with last night's Parent Orientation. Please pray for the families who have chosen our Early Childhood Center--that they may be exposed to the good news of Jesus Christ here in word and deed. Pray also for our teachers and staff, that they would be strengthened in their tasks and enabled to share the joy of salvation in Christ with the children and parents they serve.

Today's Prayer: For Wise Mentors

Heavenly Father, I thank you for those people who have been Christian role models for me; as well as for those who actively mentor my growth in Christian living. Continue to send Christian mentors into my life, who will guide me in the way of truth, correct me when I need correction, and walk by my side as a fellow redeemed sinner in friendship and unity of faith. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety. Proverbs 11: 14

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Thinking About "The Call"

"There are similarities between an arranged marriage and a man's call to his first (or second) congregation. If a man's call is from God, and if he is to work in the kingdom of God and not his own program, then he knows that this is where the Lord wants him to be. Thus, it behooves the pastor to make it work. And, through the power of Word and Sacrament there is no reason why it cannot work. If a man instigates his own call like he instigated his own marriage, then he has at his fingertips a whole host of built-in excuses for an unsuccessful pastorate. His excuses sound like a tape recording of the proceedings in a divorce court: he made a stupid choice, or he didn't have all the facts, or the congregation didn't live up to it part of the bargain, and other such horizontal considerations. But if a call is initiated by the Lord of the Church himself, the man can find a built-in impetus for obedience and action, and so can the congregation. A candidate for minsitry may think to himself that he would not have chosen a place like his first call, and in a sense he is right, because he didn't."

Dr. James Bollhagen

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Today's Prayer: Dealing with Myself

Dear Lord, I try to be perfect and find that I am hopelessly deficient. Nothing I can do will bring me the perfection you intend for me. Fill me with Your Spirit, and do for me all that I cannot do for myself. Amen.

Have mercy upon me, O Lord, for I am weak: O Lord, heal me, for my bones are vexed. Psalm 6: 2