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Monday, August 31th Devotion

1PrayingHands2

“Incline Your ear, O Lord, and hear; open Your eyes, O Lord, and see; and listen to all the words of Sennacherib, who sent them to reproach the living God.”  (Isaiah 37:17)

Come to the Lord and know that He will listen.  The Lord knows what is going on in the hearts of all men.  There is nothing secret that will not be revealed and no plan that the Lord does not already know about.  See the wisdom of coming to the Lord in all things and know that the Lord hears.  The Lord is a living God and all things are in His hands.  The wise seek Him, while the fools pretend He does not exist.

Lord, help me see the many examples You have given of the truth that You are a Wonderful Counselor.  Guide my heart to seek You always knowing that You will lead me in truth and righteousness.  Guide my plans to be in harmony with Your plans and keep me far from the tempters lairs.  Help me fear no mortal power knowing that You are almighty and the God of all.

Lord, You have come humbly to all showing the way of grace and faith, but let not that simple example cause me to think for even a moment that You are anything less that the all-powerful and only-wise God.  Lead me today and every day in the truth of Your wisdom that I would turn to You for and in all things knowing that You alone know what is needed in every circumstance.  Amen.

Sunday, August 30th Devotion

1PrayingHands2

“Hezekiah prayed to the Lord saying,  “O Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, who is enthroned above the cherubim, You are the God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth.”  (Isaiah 37:15, 16)

The Lord God is the maker of all things.  In His hands is all knowledge, wisdom and power.  Even kings of the earth bow before Him, for what is our mortal power compared to the Almighty power of God?  Learn from the example of Hezekiah and live in the wisdom He demonstrates.  Mortals fail and life flees, but the Lord is forever.  He who holds all things in His hands knows what each person needs even before they ask.

Lord, Help me turn to You as a first thing, rather than as a last resort.  Retrain my heart to seek You always, knowing that only in You an truth and hope be found.  Keep me from wandering aimlessly about when You are always there to guide and direct me.  Help me have a willing and pliable heart that will take Your direction and follow in Your ways at all times.

Lord, You have promised to guide and lead me in Your ways.  Turn me toward You and grant me a heart that willingly serves You at all times.  Keep me from the temptations of this world which would take me from You and guide me always deeper into the mysteries of the faith which You have come to reveal that I would grow in this gift of discipleship which You have given me.  Amen.

Saturday, August 29th Devotion

1PrayingHands2

“Where is the king of Hamath, the king of Arpad, the king of the city of Sepharvaim, and of Hena and Ivvah?’” Then Hezekiah took the letter from the hand of the messengers and read it, and he went up to the house of the Lord and spread it out before the Lord.”  (Isaiah 37:13-14)

There is an example here of one who is a king, yet He goes before the Lord.  There is only One who is above all and the wise seek Him, while the fools think they do not need any god but themselves.  No matter where one is in life, the authority they do or do not have, all need the Lord.  In good times, or bad, do not hesitate to seek the Lord and ask His counsel.

Lord, when times are good and I am busy, I forget to come to You.  Often, only when something bad happens, or I feel threatened do I turn to You.  Help me understand that You are the One to whom I should always turn in season and out of season and that You are an ever present help.  Teach my heart to seek You Lord and know Your goodness.  In all that comes, may I turn to You and know life.

Lord Jesus, You have come to lead the way for as many as would follow that all who follow would know that You are always present.  Guide me today to seek Your counsel and live according to what You have taught me.  Keep me in the will of the Father and help me live out that will no matter the circumstances knowing that only in You is there hope and a future.  Amen.

What You Lose When You Abandon Adam and Eve

  • August 28, 2015 - 7:10 pm
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A Light Critique of the Common Confession

By The Rev. Steven K. Gjerde

Imagine a world where people no longer believe in a single human family.  Perhaps they believe in many different strains of “human,” each representing a different family or race and originating in unrelated sets of parents; perhaps they believe in nothing at all.  What would such a world look like?  Have we seen it before?  Could you be seeing it today?

Imagine, too, a world in which no one thinks that anybody ever created anything—that is, stop looking at the world through your Christian faith for a moment, and imagine how the world would look to you if you believed that nobody ever wanted it in the first place.  If nobody ever wanted it, then nobody ever desired it, and love would not have preceded our existence.  In such a world, what would love be, if it no longer comes from a source greater than us?  To put it differently: what would love be if we were no longer its subjects, but its masters?  

I’m no prophet, mind reader, or social-trend-whisperer, so I won’t presume to say that either of these views are current in our culture, at least not on a conscious level.  But I wonder.  Whenever hatred spills blood, as it has lately and increasingly done in our country, one question we must ask is what the perpetrators thought of their victims’ humanity—where, exactly, did they lose sight of it, or stop valuing it?—and for Christians, that question raises a theological one: what account of human origins influenced, or failed to influence, their esteem of their neighbors?  

Where we believe that our neighbors share with us a common origin, and especially where this origin involves a Love greater than ourselves, harming our neighbor becomes a sacrilege and offense against the human family.  But where we know of no common origin, or where it has not succeeded in shaping our imagination and forming our heart, then violence becomes less horrible, more possible, and unfettered by the rule of justice.  

Justice, as both a divine and human endeavor, demands that we respect our neighbors.  But what happens to our regard for one another if mankind only exists due to the random acts of nature, or the impersonal forces of evolutionary history, and specific humans only live because of the choices of other humans besides ourselves?  Perhaps your parents wanted you; but what if I do not, and I hold no particular respect for your parents, seeing in neither them nor you any brethren of mine?  It’s a terrible prospect.

Here you can see how the question of origins (for Christians, the doctrine of creation) matters a great deal.  It not only influences how people understand and contend for justice in the civil realm, but it also reveals the spirit of God’s righteousness: He sent Jesus Christ to die for the sins of the world, because He once called the world “good,” and He’s not backing down.  To know our origin is to know Him who was from the beginning, by whom and for whom all things were made, and who has now visited us with salvation.

All of which makes it very interesting that the Common Confession adopted by Lutheran CORE lacks any clear comment on creation.  True, the Confession assumes it—the God it confesses is clearly the God of Israel who created us all—and its authors, facing the immediate crises of the ELCA in 2005, did confess the created order of marriage and family (Statement Six).  Yet perhaps the social debates now hounding our nation are only symptomatic of a much greater theological breakdown: the loss of faith in the world’s true genesis, with Adam and Eve fashioned lovingly from the earth as the spring of humanity, a glorious origin for all their descendants.  

Some might suggest that the Gospel, proclaiming to all nations that one Man has died for the sins of all people,  also brings us to a holy esteem for the human family.  True.  But the real gift and freedom of that Gospel (and the justice of its universal mission) only appears when viewed against the backdrop of the Creator’s love and future intention for His wayward universe—you could say, the believer only becomes St. Paul’s “new creation” when set against the old one.  So for the sake of both the Gospel and the social dilemmas that we now face, I would suggest an addition to the Common Confession.  It would be a new Statement 2, inserted between the current first two statements, and saying something along these lines:

 

“CC2: We believe and confess that this Triune God created all things that exist and called them good, fashioning the first parents of all humankind in His image, with the intention of bringing them, their descendants, and all creatures into the glorious freedom of His Son.”  

 

I’m not a professional theologian, so others can improve its language.  But I think that the statement must a) ground the existence of everything in God’s action and love; b) confess the common parentage of humanity; and c) assert God’s good future for His creatures.  This statement would then lead nicely into the current CC2, which confesses the sin of human beings and the need for redemption.  

Perhaps it doesn’t matter much—has the Common Confession had its day?—and I realize that it’s problematic (impossible?) to alter a document to which congregations and individuals have already subscribed in its present form.  But at the very least, we should acknowledge that a faithful engagement of today’s debates demands a renewal of preaching and teaching creation among all Lutherans, and especially traditional believers in the ELCA.  Creation reveals the purpose of everything.  

Lutherans have long worried, at various points in history, about whether or not they’re  honoring the Holy Spirit, lacking something in their ecclesiology, or preaching sanctification enough.  But when was the last time you heard a sermon on the Father, or on creation?  Without creation, there’s nothing to redeem, no creature to sanctify, and no vision of justice or love with which to salve a bleeding world.  There’s only a question mark as people look at their neighbors and wonder (or deny) that any of them should have any value beyond their own desires.  Indeed, maybe a renewed preaching and teaching of creation would solve a great many other questions for us, from sanctification to ecclesiology, and console the world besides.

 

Friday, August 28th Devotion

1PrayingHands2

“Behold, you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all the lands, destroying them completely. So will you be spared?  Did the gods of those nations which my fathers have destroyed deliver them, even Gozan and Haran and Rezeph and the sons of Eden who were in Telassar?”  (Isaiah 37:11-12)

Will you believe in the false gods of this age, who are lifted up as powerful, mighty and able to do what is proclaimed, or in the God who has shown over and over again that He is more than able to save?  Powerful nations rise and fall, but the Lord is forever.  He alone sets the stars on their course and guides the people throughout the ages.  Taste and see that the Lord is good.

Lord, I have my doubts and fears.  I read Your Word and then I look at the circumstances around me and I want to believe, but the unbelief crowds in.  Guide my soul to look to You alone and know that You have given the words of eternal life.  Help me, as you have promised, to live into this faith You have given me, growing in the admonition of the love You have demonstrated to the world time and again.

Thank You, Lord Jesus, for showing the way for all who would follow You.  Guide me this day in Your Word, for Your Word is truth.  Help me see that in You is hope and a future in spite of what may be happening around me in this world.  In all I do this day, may it be You alone who is praised.  May others see in what I do and who I am a reflection of You in me.  Amen.

Thursday, August 27th Devotion

1PrayingHands2

When he heard them say concerning Tirhakah king of Cush, “He has come out to fight against you,” and when he heard it he sent messengers to Hezekiah, saying,  “Thus you shall say to Hezekiah king of Judah, ‘Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you, saying, “Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.”  (Isaiah 37:9-10)

Trust the Word of the Lord who speaks truth to all of the ages.

Lord, there are so many in this age who do not believe that You have spoken.  Help me to not be one of them.  Help me take in Your report and not only see that You give prophecy, showing You are the One who knows all things, but also that I may learn my part while walking in this skeptical and deceitful world.  Help my unbelief that I would learn and grow in the grace You have given me.

Lord Jesus, You are the One who has fulfilled what was spoken long ago and You have given Words that are about to be fulfilled.  You are the author and finisher of faith.  Guide me in this faith You have given me, that I would hold fast to what You have given and walk with You all the days of my life.  Keep me close to You and guide me today that I would walk in the truth of Your Word.  Amen.

New Hymn: “O Jesus, Lord!”

  • August 26, 2015 - 11:46 am
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“O Jesus, Lord!”

Dedicated to the Christian Martyrs

Tune: Das Neugeborne Kindelien (Victim Divine, Your Grace We Claim)

1.

O Jesus, Lord! O Jesus, save!

O Savior blest, Emmanuel!

Speak now your Name; be now your Name:

From Satan’s grip, from sin’s allure,

From final death, from endless grave,

Be God with us! Lord Jesus, save!

2.

“O Jesus, Lord! O Jesus, save!”

Your servants shout on stormy sea.

“Are you asleep? Do you not care?

Do you not hear? Can you not see?

We perish here upon the wave!

Though small our faith, Lord Jesus, save!”

3.

“O, Jesus, Lord! O Jesus, save!”

Your servants sigh by silent sea.

Their captors’ threat: “Curse Christ or die!”

As swords slashed down, the watching world

Could hear no cry; but saw their lips

Form words of faith: “O Jesus, Lord!”

4.

In languid praise or thoughtless use,

In casual curse, in sin’s abuse,

Neglect of prayer, forgotten love,

We soil your Name, to the world’s scorn

And nullify the grace you gave.

Grant faith to cry, “Lord Jesus, save!”

5.

Forgive our sins; forgive our foes.

Breathe Spirit life on death-doomed souls.

Speak peace; still storms of hate and strife.

Shape lips for faith and hearts for love;

Unite us in your Father’s life,

So all may sing, “O Jesus, Lord!”

Rev. Cathy Ammlung, Lutheran CORE Secretary, wrote this hymn, inspired by the theological conference and the keynote speakers at recent NALC convocation, all of which related to martyrdom and faithful witness.  She has suggested a hymn tune that in her words, is powerful but less familiar. A second choice is Melita, aka the Navy Hymn (Eternal Father, Strong To Save).  Rev. Ammlung says you should feel free to use it with attribution.

Wednesday, August 26th Devotion

1PrayingHands2

“Behold, I will put a spirit in him so that he will hear a rumor and return to his own land. And I will make him fall by the sword in his own land.”   Then Rabshakeh returned and found the king of Assyria fighting against Libnah, for he had heard that the king had left Lachish.”  (Isaiah 37:7-8)

The ideas of wayward kings and their paranoia are driven by the devil.  Many are the rulers who have come along and fallen to their own vices.  We look at them and tremble when, with one thought, the Lord sends them fleeing.  Fear not the ones who come along to terrorize, but the One who can and will do all things for His glory.  Listen to the report of the faithful who time and again speak of God’s coming glory.

Lord, throughout Your Word, You have given report after report of the temporary terrors that arise and then fall.  You have spoken of the coming glory and have demonstrated Your Almighty power, yet many are they who still continue in rebellion, thinking they are exempt from the call You have given them.  Guide me into wisdom Lord, that I may live according to Your principles.

Lord Jesus, You have come into the world to lead as many as would follow You away from the darkness of this world and into the light of Your eternal glory.  Guide me today and every day to come step closer to what it is You have always known I would be.  Keep me from the fear of temporary terrors that my eyes would always be on You, knowing that You alone are able to save all that will turn to You.  Amen.

Teaching Sin to Children (not Children to Sin)

  • August 25, 2015 - 3:28 pm
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Teaching Sin to Children (not Children to Sin)

by Rev. Theodore Gulhaugen

 

The Common Confession, Statement 2, declares that all human beings are sinners.  How might that confession help children or young persons grow in devotion and the love of Christ Jesus, maturing into faithful confessors of His name?  

The first challenge is to comprehend the word “sinners” and, therefore, the word “sin.”  What is sin?  In a conversation with a child, one could get started by describing it as rule-breaking, in particular, breaking God’s rules.  You could tell the story of Adam and Eve by focusing on the fact that they deliberately broke the only rule God had set for them.  Such rule-breaking, especially against the One who established the rule, is a sin.  When children break the rules that their parents make, they sin not only against their parents, but against God who set them up in authority over their children.  The child sins against the parent and against God who said, “Honor your father and your mother.”  

But sin is more than just breaking God’s rules, and in time, that point must be developed, too.  In classic language, sin is to be “turned in on oneself.”  If the center of life is you, then it is not God.  Here is the oldest motivation behind all sin: you want to be God.  You want to decide for yourself what is true or false, right or wrong, just or unjust, good or evil, to decide which rules to obey or break (or, in the modern era, to decide that these dichotomies are just plain false!).  There is no absolute truth, goodness, or justice; there is only what I or you say is true, good, or just.  Turned in on our own desires, we want to be our own gods—and this this propensity exists even in our children, calling for us to address it.  

We do so, in part, by instilling character: we teach them to share, to think first about other people’s feelings or property, to listen to others, to respect their parents, to follow the rules at home, school, or play, and to love the Scriptures, pray, give thanks, and worship. They have to be taught by word and deed to love God and love their neighbor.  It is not something that comes naturally to a child.  We have to train them out of their natural self-centeredness to live a life, first, before God (coram deo), and, second, before others (coram humano).  This instillation of character carries with it an implied doctrine: goodness and its opposite, sin, have to do with the person, not just external rules.

Beyond teaching a basic understanding of sin and instilling character, the next thing to talk about is the universal nature of sin: “all human beings are sinners.”  Not only does this help the child to understand the human condition, but it also helps him or her understand that human beings do not escape sin by their own efforts.  Here one could introduce the teaching that God’s law requires perfection, to be holy as God is holy, to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.  Just being good is not enough.  Being very good is not enough.   Even if the child says, “I believe in God,” the hard word is to say that even such faith is not a merit before God.  Here you might tell the story of the rich young ruler, or lead them through the Small Catechism’s explanation to the Commandments as an examination of their lives.  At the same time we teach goodness, we fight the false hope of self-righteousness.

And what of consequences?  The point of discussing sin at all with children is to prepare them for greater joy in the salvation of Christ.  So what are the consequences of sin, from which we are saved?  St. Paul lays it out in Romans 6:23 that the wages of sin is death.  What you earn by sinning is dying, no longer living.  That is why all people in this world die, because all people are sinners.  It is pretty straightforward, really.  You say you want to be your own God, and God says, “OK.  Be my guest.  See how far it gets you.”  You end by realizing that one power you don’t have is the power to keep on living.  As hard as you try, you can’t and won’t avoid death.  Making this point with children—with anyone!—is ultimately important for sharing the significance of Jesus’ death.  

It’s a hard subject to discuss with children, but an important one.  It prepares them for hearing the gospel of forgiveness, life, and salvation: “How, then, shall I live, and not die?”  That’s the topic for my next blog post!

 

Theodore Gulhaugen is Pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, Wausau, Wisconsin

Tuesday, August 25th Devotion

1PrayingHands2

 

“So the servants of King Hezekiah came to Isaiah.  Isaiah said to them, “Thus you shall say to your master, ‘Thus says the Lord, “Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed Me.”  (Isaiah 37:5,6)

No matter the circumstances, do not be afraid of the boasts of those who blaspheme the Lord.  God is Sovereign and all the doubts in the world are not going to change the reality of His unfolding will.  The devil will devour whom he may along the way, but trust in the Word of the One who created all things as He reminds all of us never to be afraid.  Though time be rough, God is there.

Lord, in this world, so dependent upon the flesh, You tell me not to fear, yet I fear.  Guide me into the wisdom You offer that I may live by Your promises and not in the insanity of an ever-changing and yet, in reality, never-changing world that is in constant rebellion against You.  Help me learn to ignore the taunts and boasts of those who blaspheme you in order to simply listen to Your Word.

Lord Jesus, You walked through this life with Your eyes on the Father and have taught us to do the same.  Help me today to look to You as You teach me not to focus on the circumstances of this sinful world, but instead to Your Word and the example You have given of faithfulness.  In the wisdom You give, guide me to live this day faithfully and wholly in Your promises of grace and mercy.  Amen.