Category Archives: The Small Catechism

When God’s Law is More than Law…

devotional Thought fo the Day:

9 How can the young keep his way without fault? Only by observing your words. 10 With all my heart I seek you; do not let me stray from your commandments. 11 In my heart I treasure your promise, that I may not sin against you. 12 Blessed are you, O LORD; teach me your statutes. 13 With my lips I recite all the judgments you have spoken. 14 I find joy in the way of your testimonies more than in all riches. 15 I will ponder your precepts and consider your paths. 16 In your statutes I take delight; I will never forget your word!  Psalm 119:9-16  NAB-RE

The last sentence of his Gospel tells us, for instance, that when the disciples had seen Jesus ascend into heaven, they “returned to Jerusalem with great joy” (Lk 24:52). The Acts of the Apostles repeats the theme: “… they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts” (Acts 2:46). They went their way after they had seen the Lord ascend into heaven—and their hearts were filled with joy. From a purely human point of view, we would expect their hearts to be “filled with confusion”. But no! One who has seen the Lord not just from the outside; whose heart has been moved by him; who has accepted the Crucified One and, precisely because he has done so, knows the grace of the Resurrection—his heart must be full of joy.

There’s no man living on earth who knows how to distinguish between the law and the gospel. We may think we understand it when we are listening to a sermon, but we’re far from it. Only the Holy Spirit knows this. Even the man Christ was so wanting in understanding when he was in the vineyard that an angel had to console him [John 12:27–29]; though he was a doctor from heaven he was strengthened by the angel. Because I’ve been writing so much and so long about it, you’d think I’d know the distinction, but when a crisis comes I recognize very well that I am far, far from understanding. So God alone should and must be our holy master.”

Part of the duty of those who preach is to determine what Lutheran theologians call the “distinction between law and gospel”.   This is what others may call the terms of the covenant and the blessings of the covenant.   It is that which convicts us, and causes us to turn to Christ for the only relief that is possible, and the very promise, the guarantee of that relief.

As Luther noted, it isn’t that easy, and towards the end of his life and ministry, he became even more aware of the difficulty doing so created, especially in our times of crisis, as we face trauma, like anxiety, and even the fear of death burdens us more.

Part of the challenge is that in the Old Testament scriptures, there are multiple uses of the words for law, the words that describe God speaking, and forming.  For in one place the Law is the entire covenant – the parties, terms (law) and promises (Gospel).  But the same words and phrases on another describe the law as in the terms – the way God has planned for us to live, as we live as His beloved.

This confusion is often seen in the Psalms, especially in Psalm 119, which lauds and praises God’s law, commands, precepts, judgments, testimonies, and path.  Is this the law that convicts, and gives us the choice of confession o living in guilt and shame?  Or is this the incredible law and gospel covenant?

The simpleton in me finds that answer in the joy, both anticipated and known, in this section of the Psalm.  That would indicate to me that the psalmist knows the entire schematic, that God’s law convicts us, and drives us in despair to cry out “Lord, Have mercy!”, But it also knows the answer.  That God desires, wills and has promised to show us that mercy.  That is why the praises and blessings ensue, the glorious revelation of the Love of God, the love that we just want to bask in, explore and know, and yet we know we can’t fully.

It is what ungirds our praises; it drives us to celebrate this and to share it with those around us.  As Cardinal Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict noted, it brings a calmness and joy to the place where there should logically be confusion. It is when we know Christ Jesus, and the power of His resurrection and assured of it, and our place sharing in His glory (Col. 1:27ff)

This is why our church services are celebrations of the Eucharist, why the post communion hymn (for us often the nunc dimitis) should be an incredible song of praise!  It is why going up to the house of God should become more and more desired, more and more a place of comfort and release of burdens.   And if a church leaves without celebrating the magnificent mystery of the love of God, then Law and Gospel were not kept in tension, and the pastor failed.  Celebrating it doesn’t mean necessarily dancing in the streets, it can be a jaw dropping sense of awe, or simply unspeakable joy….

But it is there, the knowledge of God’s love, and the peace that passes all understanding, for that how Christ protects our hearts and minds.  This is why making sure that we realise that baptism is not just about the forgiveness of sins and repentance, but also the gift of the Holy Spirit.  It is why absolution includes a prayer for strength and comfort to walk in our calling, and why the Lord’Supper is the feast celebrating a new covenant, a new life with God.  it is the fullness and fulfillment of the Law – that which Christ commanded we teach all people to guard, to keep, to treasure.

This is our feast, this is our joy, this is God and man, together.  This is what God established and made to be His complete law…  AMEN!

 

(1)   Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 153). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

(2)  Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 54: Table Talk. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 54, p. 127). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

Hope for the Church II: Do Our People….

Devotional Thought fo the Day:
15  After they had eaten, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these others do?” “Yes, Lord,” he answered, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Take care of my lambs.” 16  A second time Jesus said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord,” he answered, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Take care of my sheep.” 17  A third time Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter became sad because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” and so he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you!” Jesus said to him, “Take care of my sheep.   John 21:15-17 (TEV)

“Thy kingdom come.”
7 What does this mean?
Answer: To be sure, the kingdom of God comes of itself, without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may also come to us.
8 How is this done?
Answer: When the heavenly Father gives us his Holy Spirit so that by his grace we may believe his holy Word and live a godly life, both here in time and hereafter forever.  (1)

16 Ultimately, if we should list as sacraments all the things that have God’s command and a promise added to them, then why not prayer, which can most truly be called a sacrament? It has both the command of God and many promises. If it were placed among the sacraments and thus given, so to speak, a more exalted position, this would move men to pray. (2)

79      I will not stop repeating until it is deeply engraved in your soul: Piety, piety, piety! For if you lack charity it will be for want of interior life, not for any defect of character. (3)

There is a secret to ministry, A secret because it seems like we’ve forgotten it, not because someone has hidden it.  It is something Luther and Melancthon, Ignatius and Escriva all understood.

The necessity of prayer. The necessity of what is called “the interior life” or a devotional life.  Prayer not just as obligation, prayer not as a conversation between good friends (though that is part of it).  Prayer that actively turns over to God the things that are His, our very lives, and finds comfort and peace in the midst of it all.

But prayer is the kind of conversation that Jesus and Peter had on the beach, a time where we, broken, finally hear Jesus. It is then that we realize that He knows we love Him, that we realize He accepts us, and is transforming us, and is calling us to serve, even as we ourselves are being healed.

This is the piety that Escriva talks about, the piety that makes the difference, that teaches us to love, (to be charitable, to be grace-driven, not purpose driven) For as we realize the richness of God’s grace, of His love, of His presence, of His knowing we love Him; that love causes us to be devoted to Him, to adore Him.  (I think the old A.C.T.S. prayer model had it wrong, it should be Confession, Supplication, Thanksgiving, Adoration – for adoration flows out of the freedom given in that which precedes it!)

It is from that place of devotion, that place of adoring the God who welcomes Himself into out life, and walks with us, that ministry begins.  It is in knowing he accepts our love that our holiness and piety matures, a holiness and piety that sees the Kingdom of God established and revealed here, in our daily lives.

We do love Him, He accepts that love, because of the incredible dimensions of His love for us.

And realizing that changes everything in the church, including giving broken churches the hope we need to know…..

The Lord is with us!

AMEN!

 

(1)  Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 213). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.  (The Small Catechism Article III:The Second Petition

(2) Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 346). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press. (Apology of the Augsburg Confession: Article XIII)

(3)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 495-497). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Prayer, and the Cross.

Devotional Thought of the Day:
29      My God, how is it that I do not cry out in sorrow and love whenever I see a Crucifix?  (2)

They are to correct the mistaken view that prayer is not action. The men are admonished to overcome the false sense of shame that would seek to conceal their interior life—their silent relationship with God—as something unmanly and old-fashioned. Granted, piety is not to become a public exhibition; discretion is always necessary. But neither is it to be hidden away. It should be courageous, for the body, too, belongs to God. Faith is not just a matter of the spirit; prayer is not just interior. The body must pray, too.  (3)

.Yesterday, I thought, and introduced the idea that the Lord’s prayer is not just what he taught us with words, but rather with how Jesus actually lived.  His life was the prayer, a lesson in humility, in being the Son, not the Father.

If we are to be Christlike, if we are to grow and mature in our trust in God, this prayer must be seen worked out in our lives as well.   For it is not enough to just say the words, but rather we need to trust in God hearing them, and answering them, here and now.  That is faith that is not just Spirit, but life.  It is prayer that is not just internal, but the prayer of our life.

So as I encouraged us yesterday, let’s begin to see the Lord’s Prayer lived out again, in the life of the Lord we are called to imitate, to be transformed into the image of.

 Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy.  (1)

Here is where it all begins, as Jesus lives as the Son.  Fully obedient, fully adoring, fully bending His will to the will of the Father.  Equal in divinity, the creed informs us, Jesus still submitted in His humanity to the Father.

He didn’t seek emancipation, he didn’t strive to become the alpha male.  He loved the Father, He honored Him, He grew up (as a man) to be like His Father, to the extent that to look on Christ was to look on the Father. The image of the invisible God, that is how He is described.  We know about the love of the Father because we see it in Christ and his movement to the cross.  We know about the Father’s desire that no one should perish, again because of the love of the Son which accomplished the calling of all to repentance.

Something that doesn’t happen unless there is communication. And as Jesus lived in view of the first commandment, He lived in view of the second.  For to use a name, to keep it holy, is to use it well, to pray, praise, give thanks, to pour out your heart.  We see that in the garden so clearly, and in the high priestly prayer.  Prayers we know about, so that we can trust in Jesus, so we can learn to pray as well.

 May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. (1)

I just referred to this, but it iis one thing to pray that God’s kingdom come and His will be done, and another thing to grow in desire and want it to come here, right now.

To love your enemies, to live life full of mercy and righteousness. To live a life where you live humbly, as Jesus did.  He laid aside it all that was self-centered.  Even facing the betrayal, the kiss of Judas, the denial of Peter, He loved.

Someone once said that Christ would have died on the cross for us, even if they didn’t nail Him there. He wanted the nails though, not because of some masochistic tendency, but because the Father had said they would look upon the one they had pierced.

God’s will, God’s kingdom doesn’t always seem pleasant, or easy, or joyous.  Until you realize the joy is in the one lost sheep coming home, one of the repentant who brings heaven so much joy!

To pray that God’s Kingdom comes, and will is done, requires that we accept the sacrifice of the cross of Christ, that we die to self with Him, and bear our own cross, humbly, and in love of the Father.

We need to pray, not ofor God’s sake, but for ours.  To communicate with Him, to know His love, to see His work, tfor it is in prayer’s dialogue, and in celebrating the sacraments (which is really prayer as well!) that we begin to see the trasnformation God would owrk in us, where faith and work are not longer divided.

It is the beginning of Christlikeness!

So cry out, and pray!

.
(1)  Matthew 6:9-13 (NLT)

(2)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 344-345). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

(3)  Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (pp. 98–99). San Francisco: Ignatius Press

Feeling Disconnected?

Devotional Thought of the Day:

1  Once Jesus was in a certain place praying. As he finished, one of his disciples came to him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” 2  Jesus said, “This is how you should pray: “Father, may your name be kept holy. May your Kingdom come soon. 3  Give us each day the food we need, 4  and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. And don’t let us yield to temptation. 5  Then, teaching them more about prayer, he used this story: “Suppose you went to a friend’s house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of bread. You say to him, 6  ‘A friend of mine has just arrived for a visit, and I have nothing for him to eat.’ 7  And suppose he calls out from his bedroom, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is locked for the night, and my family and I are all in bed. I can’t help you.’ 8  But I tell you this—though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence. 9  “And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. 10  For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11  “You fathers—if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead? 12  Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not! 13  So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”
Luke 11:1-13 (NLT)

445         If you abandon prayer you may at first live on spiritual reserves… and after that, by cheating.

Of course, God’s name is holy in and of itself, but by this request, we pray that He will make it holy among us, too.

One would think that we have enough examples in scripture, that we wouldn’t forget its importance.

One would think we have had enough examples from our own lives, and from the lives of those who disciple, teach and pastor us.

A few days ago, my devotion quoted the Lutheran Confessions, specifically the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, which said if we called it a sacrament, maybe, then maybe, men would realize the blessing and do it more often.

Far too often I hear people tell of feeling distant from God, who are troubled because He doesn’t seem to be there.  Or they feel overwhelmed and challenged, and the anxiety levels continue to climb.  Who struggle to know any kind of peace in their lives.  It may start in one place, let’s say their workplace.   The stress soon affects other places in their life, their home, their friendships, it can even drive them away from the one place they will be reminded of the answer, and the encouragement that helps us realize that God isn’t so far away, that He isn’t so uncaring.

What our forefathers found so incredible, so necessary, so much a preventative against feeling disconnected is simple prayer.

Not because in prayer we do something that proves our holiness, not because the more time in prayer, the more you cause yourself to grow holier.  It is not a spiritual discipline in the manner of lifting weights, or working out, where our suffering and pain builds us up.

It is because we are being heard, and as we pray, we become more aware of it.  As we become more aware of it, we trust God more and more, we dump the stuff we are trying to deal with at His feet.

Like the idea that we drift away from prayer slowly, it takes us some time to develop a life that is one lived in conversation with God.  It is one where our confidence in His presence, in His listening, in His fulfilling His promises grows.  Not because of our skill, not because of how eloquent we are, but it grows as we learn to trust Him, as we learn to depend upon Him.   And that growth does take time and a continued transformation.

That is why Jesus talks of such persistence in Luke’s account.  It is why Jesus talks about the love of a father that will answer his children’s requests.    It is to cause us to draw near, to drop our self-defense mechanisms, to show God our wounds, the wounds that are healed because Jesus was wounded on the cross.

The more we see that love, the more we find ourselves exploring it, the more we find salvation to make a tangible change in our lives, the more we learn to desire to prayer. And the more we see those prayers answered….

So pray my friends, and if you don’t know how simply start with the prayer Jesus taught us…. in it all things are prayed for anyway.

Lord have mercy on us, teach us to approach the throne with confidence, and give you all, including that which causes guilt, share, fear or anxiety.  Help us be confident that you never will leave us disconnected.  AMEN!

(1)   Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1975-1977). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Martin Luther, Luther’s Small Catechism: Developed and Explained, WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “The First Request”

Are We Willing to Pray for Our Needs?

Devotional Thought of the Day:

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31  “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ 32  These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. 33  Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. Matthew 6:31-33 (NLT)

9  “If any of you were asked by his son for bread would you be likely to give him a stone, or if he asks for a fish would you give him a snake? If you then, for all your evil, quite naturally give good things to your children, how much more likely is it that your Heavenly Father will give good things to those who ask him?” Matthew 7:9 (Phillips NT) 

“Give us this day our daily bread.” What does this mean?

Answer: To be sure, God provides daily bread, even to the wicked, without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that God may make us aware of his gifts and enable us to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.
14 What is meant by daily bread?
Answer: Everything required to satisfy our bodily needs, such as food and clothing, house and home, fields and flocks, money and property; a pious spouse and good children, trustworthy servants, godly and faithful rulers, good government; seasonable weather, peace and health, order and honor; true friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.  (1)

807      I copy these words for you because they can bring peace to your soul. “My financial situation is as tight as it ever has been. But I don’t lose my peace. I’m quite sure that God, my Father, will settle the whole business once and for all. I want, Lord, to abandon the care of all my affairs into your generous hands. Our Mother—your Mother—will have let you hear those words, now as in Cana: ‘They have none!’ I believe in you, I hope in you, I love you, Jesus. I want nothing for myself: it’s for them.”

in the Lutheran and evangelical churches, there is a reaction to the works of those like Joel Osteen and those who teach what is referred to as Dominion Theology, or more degradingly, as the prosperity gospel, or the “Name it-Claim it” movement.  So much of a reaction, I think we forget to tell people to pray, even as the Lord taught us to, and to recognize He will meet our needs.  He will care for us, and while we have to live wisely, we also need to live trusting Him.

Our reaction to those who sometimes advocate praying for selfish desires to be met, whether financial or relational is damaging.  Yes, we know God doesn’t necessarily want us to win the lottery,  He probably won’t grant always grant that teenager’s prayer to date the supermodel, or that everything will wok out perfectly, as we see it.  He does want us to look to Him, to see His love, to see His care for us. To have us depend on Him, like a child depends on their dad.

Yes, to often our prayers can become a form of idolatry, as we put our desires before our relationship with God, or make that relationship conditional upon getting what we want. (and we’ll even throw a tantrum when we don’t!)  But to stop depending on God, leads to anxiety, and coveting, and temptations to get what we want, without God.  To manipulate our situations, to become machivellian, that is what happens when we forget God is our source

We need to be aware of God’s gifts, we need to receive them and celebrate them, whether it is that last can of soup in the cupboard, or the bank account that is down to $2 the day before payday.  As we do realize that even these things are gifts of God, our attitude towards them will change. We’ll treasure what we have, not because of its fiscal value, but because of from whom we received it.

We need to pray, God give us what we need, even fervently pray for it.  Our relationship must be that kind of relationship – where He is the source of all our blessings… not just the eternal ones.    Don’t forget those, but also realize, from Him we have life,

Praying for our daily bread is not just about spiritual nurture. for we aren’t called to love Him with just our soul, but with every part of our lives.  Mind, Soul, Body and Spirit.  We need to realize our dependence and His faithfulness in this part of the prayer as much as any other!

So let us pray, even as our Savior taught us…

(1)   Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 347). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 2877-2882). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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