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Saturday, Oct. 31 Devotion

1PrayingHands2

“Thus says God the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and its offspring, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it, “I am the Lord, I have called You in righteousness, I will also hold You by the hand and watch over You, and I will appoint You as a covenant to the people, as a light to the nations,”  (Isaiah 42:5-6)

“I will hold you by the hand.”  Do you see the simplicity of what the Lord is saying.  The Lord will come and take our hand and walk with us through every valley of the shadow of death.  The Lord has done this, just as He said, and the Savior has come to lead those who would take His hand and walk with them through all of life.  The covenant is sealed when You walk with the Lord.

Lord, I often make it so much more complex than it needs to be.  You have offered Your hand to walk with me all the days of my life, leading me towards eternal life.  Guide me this day O Lord that I would walk in the newness of life that You grant, knowing that You have and are accomplishing all that You have purposed and in accordance with the Word You have given.

Lord Jesus, You are the One the Word has spoken about from the beginning.  You have come to take my hand and lead me this day.  Lead me in Your righteousness that I may walk according to Your direction and in harmony with Your unchanging Word.  Guide the steps I take this day that they may be faithful to what You would have me do, following You, my Lord and Savior.  Amen.

Friday, October 30 Devotion

1PrayingHands2

 

“A bruised reed He will not break and a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice.  “He will not be disheartened or crushed until He has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands will wait expectantly for His law.”  (Isaiah 42:3-4)

Listen carefully.  He takes the faint of heart, those who are weak, and He does not crush them.  He takes the lowly and lifts them up.  The Lord will accomplish this and will not stop until it is accomplished.  The Lord has done this.  Through Christ, all who come to Him are lifted up and strengthened to walk in His ways.  From every corner of the earth, there are those whom He calls unto Himself.

Lord, You have come that those who turn to You, the weak and the strong would find hope and a future.  Guide me O Lord into the way You have established, knowing that I am a dim wick and a bruised reed.  Through Your grace, You have established the way of justice and everlasting peace.  Help me see and hear and do what is right according to Your purposes that I may be pleasing in Your sight.

Lord Jesus, You alone have established the way of salvation.  Guide me this day to walk according to Your way of love, peace and justice.  Not the world’s way, but Your way.  Lead me through the example You have set that I may do all that is pleasing in the Father’s sight and walk according to the statues established from long ago.  May I truly be one who follows You.  Amen.

Thursday, Oct. 29 Devotion

1PrayingHands2

“Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one in whom My soul delights.  I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations.  “He will not cry out or raise His voice, nor make His voice heard in the street.”  (Isaiah 42:1-2)

The Chosen One is the delight of the Lord.  With kindness, mercy and humbleness, He has come to lead those who would follow Him into the true justice of the nations.  Justice is as the Lord gives and not as man imagines.  Peace is as the Lord gives, not as the world gives.  The Lord is accomplishing what He has always intended, knowing that all He has planned will come about according to His purpose.

Lord, from long ago, You revealed the purpose of Your plan coming with the Word made flesh who has come to reveal to the nations Your mercy and grace.  Guide me into Your mercy and peace that I would live according to Your justice.  Your law is good and Your grace I need in order to be balanced to live in the Way You have established through Christ.  Lead me, O Chosen One to walk with You all the days of my life.

Lord Jesus, You are the One foretold that has come to lead as many as would follow You in the way of peace, justice and humbleness.  You have given Your Spirit for all who will follow You, knowing that in You alone is the hope of the nations.  Guide me, O Savior in Your gentle way this day that I may walk alongside You with You leading wherever You would have me go.  Amen.

Why Can’t We Be More Like Them? Why Can’t They Be More Like Us?

  • October 28, 2015 - 8:00 am
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Why Can’t We Be More Like Them?  Why Can’t They Be More Like Us?

The Rev. Steven K. Gjerde

Lutherans divide from each other far less than some Protestant denominations, but it seems to bother us more.  “Why can’t we be more like the Catholics?” some of my parishioners and friends have asked.  “They don’t have all these divisions.”  It’s a question that many Roman Catholic friends (and foes) have put to me, as well.

My answer to that question has varied over time.  Recently, I’ve started asking the questioner to pause and reconsider the words “we” and “they.”  

When Roman Catholics and Lutherans call each other “they,” both parties are accepting the divisions of the Reformation as essential to their identity.  Thus a Roman Catholic may look at disagreements among Lutherans and regard it as happening to “them” with no sense that it is a division of his church, too (and vice versa).  All of us, generally speaking, fail to see both Lutherans and Romanists for what each of them (us) are: divisions in the Latin church.  Remembering the historical truth, that “we” and “they” were once just “we,” may well reveal that both groups have far more divisions than they care to claim.  I’m no ardent ecumenist, but it strikes me that celebrating the unity of my tribe while simply forgetting all the families that now live separated from my tribe is sort of like celebrating summer inside as snow falls outside.

Yet another response, and one more salient to confessing Lutherans, is to remember what unity matters most to us, and why.  Here we find unexpected help in Roman Catholicism’s reaction to its current pope.  

A New York Times editorial by Ross Douthat (“The Plot to Change Catholicism,” October 18) comments on the “plots and counterplots” forming around Pope Francis and his agenda.  The concerns may seem far removed from us, but what Douthat describes should sound familiar to Lutherans of a more traditional mindset.  It reminds us that neither revisionists nor confessionalists will find abiding hope and shelter behind denominational structure alone.

Douthat focuses on two recent controversies in Rome: changes to the annulment process and a proposed change to communion policy for the divorced.  As Douthat puts it, “aging progressives,” led by Francis, “are seizing a moment” and seeking to change procedure, habit, and church policy with the promise that it doesn’t change doctrine.  Yet conservatives, “quite reasonably” in Douthat’s view, suspect that the changes in practice represent very clear changes in doctrine, and so they are organizing to resist.

(Does any of this sound familiar yet?)  

Douthat goes on to detail how Francis’ administration, hoping to achieve his goal of changing marital practice (!) and communion policy (!), has “rigged” the current synod of bishops by stacking its leadership with his supporters.  Though the leaders had planned to author a document expressing the synod’s conclusions, it may prove too controversial and be scrapped—which does not mean that the progressives’ agenda is changing any time soon.  Francis is also preaching daily homilies in which he criticizes his church’s “doctors of the law,” painting them with language reminiscent of the New Testament’s view on Pharisees and legalists.  

Again: does any of this sound at all familiar?  To anyone?  The resurgence of an old progressivism, changes in marital practice and Holy Communion policy, stacked committees, people calling other people Pharisees . . . . There’s like a nagging memory of something really similar to this in the back of my mind, but I can’t quite place it . . . .  

Clearly, the situation in Rome differs by several degrees from American Lutheranism: Roman Catholic leaders (mostly?) still agree that marriage is the union of a husband and a wife, and I don’t see Pope Francis issuing a motu propio to admit the unbaptized to Communion any time soon (although, who is he to judge?).  But the focus on marriage and Holy Communion, the politicization and demonization, and the debate over practice, doctrine, and the relative import of each is exactly what the Lutheran churches in America have faced for the last several years, and in some ways for decades.  Rome’s experience simply underscores that no church structure stands immune to such unhappiness, not even one with a strong central authority, clear constituting documents, and by gum, a magisterium to boot!  

It also demonstrates the gritty value of the Lutheran confession regarding church unity: “And it is enough for the true unity of the church to agree concerning the teaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments” (Augsburg Confession VII.2, Latin).  This confession both damns human division and declaws it, resetting the boundaries of “we” and “they” in a way that no human apostle of unity can.  Both doctrine (teaching) and practice (what else does “administration” imply?) constitute the church’s unity, but they are the doctrine and practice given by Christ: the teaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments.  With such a definition of unity, Lutherans may look across many a constitutional and organizational division and say “There we are!”  By the same token, Lutherans might discover that a group who thinks of itself as “we” is actually more dangerously divided than it realizes.  

I’m trying neither to dismiss division nor stoke it.  Division, constitution, organization—it all matters, and our use of it may serve to confess the hope within us.  But perhaps these things do not matter in the way, or to the degree, that some of us seem to have begun imagining.  Perhaps it is entirely possible (if not wise) for Lutherans to live within very different and separate constitutional arrangements without it being a “scandal.”  To revive a Reformation tactic, I’ll appeal to Constantinople: the Orthodox experience in America, however fractured and controverted in some respects, nevertheless demonstrates the possibility of communions separated by ethnicity and constitution acknowledging one another as “we.”  We may likewise ask, did Norwegian and Swedish Lutherans really have to “merge”?
 

I’m stepping here into a subject that many people who are smarter than I am have addressed with greater clarity.  But I do believe that the recent experience of both Roman Catholicism and American Lutheranism, viewed in light of Lutheranism’s first public confession, subjects many cherished divisions and false unities to critique.  It sifts our criticisms of each other, returns us to our broken mirrors, and helps us to see our own fractured states.  Learning to care less about some divisions, yet to grieve others even more, we find ourselves, again, under the cross, with surprising company, following Him who endured it for the sake of joy.  

Wednesday, Oct. 28 Devotion

1PrayingHands2

 

“But when I look, there is no one, and there is no counselor among them who, if I ask, can give an answer.  “Behold, all of them are false; their works are worthless, their molten images are wind and emptiness.”  (Isaiah 41:28-29)

There are, as there always have been, those who do not know, but pretend they do.  They speak as if they were experts on reality, but they are not.  The Living God who has always been speaks His Word of truth and tells those who will turn to Him the reality of the ages.  Go the way of that which is true and do not listen to those who spin webs of deceit.  What the Lord has created and is creating is forever.

Lord, time and again, if I look at what has gone on, I see the consistency of Your Word passing through the generations.  Only Your Word has been spoken for millennia.  Help me learn to hold fast to the truth of Your Word knowing that only in You will I find truth.  In truth, let me walk, that I may be what I should be and become what only You can create with a willing and contrite heart.

Lord Jesus, You are truth revealed.  The God made flesh who walks amongst us, guide me this day in the truth You reveal to those who hear Your voice that I may abide in You and You in me.  Help me see that walking with You daily is the life to which You have appointed me, knowing that You are making all things new in their time.  May I be faithful to You this day.  Amen.

“What’s your story?” Doctrine helps give the answer

  • October 27, 2015 - 5:38 pm
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What Good is Doctrine? Reflections on a Newborn Protestant and Telling the Old, Old Story

The Rev. Steven K. Gjerde 

We’ve heard some interesting words coming out of central Wisconsin this year—although they were spoken in places like Ohio, Italy, and France.  

Raymond Burke, an influential cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church, hails from Stratford, Wisconsin, a small town close to Wausau.  I rather doubt that Burke has visited Stratford lately (Does he still eat venison?  Or attend fish fries?  These are the things people want to know), but his comments on Pope Francis and doctrine are getting repeated around the world.

“[I]t is always my sacred duty to defend the Church’s teaching and discipline regarding marriage,” Burke said to the Catholic News Agency last February 9.  At the time, he was “clarifying” some of his earlier comments to the French press about proposals to simplify the Roman Catholic process of annulment.  Burke wanted to stress that he had not meant to suggest that he resisted the pope in any way, and any idea to the contrary was ridiculous.  He concluded:   

“No authority can absolve me from that responsibility [of defending the Church’s teaching], and therefore, if any authority, even the highest authority, were to deny that truth or act contrary to it, I would be obliged to resist.”  And there you have it!  Burke is not resisting the pope, nor did he mean to say that he was.  

He was only saying that he might resist the pope.

Then came the curious events of Tuesday, September 8, at Franciscan University of Steubenville (Ohio).  Burke was scheduled to speak that day on the annulment proposals, and he was widely expected to critique them as he had in the past.  

Yet just 12 hours before Burke’s speech, the pope went ahead and approved the changes on his own authority (in a document called a motu propio).  It will make the changes part of canon law this December.  And do you suppose that this unexpected development kept Burke from speaking his piece?  Nope.  

He forged ahead, stating publicly that the changes jettisoned the doctrine of marriage’s indissolubility before God.  Once again, folks began to ask: is Burke resisting the pontiff?

Now, of course, I have no dog in this fight: annulment is a Roman Catholic debate, and I reckon I’d disagree with Burke on more than a few points of doctrine. But we have a name for what Burke did on September 8: we call it protest.  Burke may disagree, but on that fleeting afternoon in Ohio, he was acting as a protestant of sorts, and the banner under which he protests is clear: Doctrine.

We know someone else who operated this way.  Martin Luther initially (and with some cunning) wrote his 95 Theses “in defense of the pope’s honor.” But once the pope pushed back, Luther responded with the assertion of many before him: no pope can change what God teaches in the prophets and apostles.  Doctrine trumps il Papa.  

Why?  What’s the big deal with doctrine?  Some say it’s just something that old white men debate in order to control the Church, but tell that to the African clergy, from all different denominations, who have sharply critiqued their doctrinally-libertine brethren in America and Europe (even to the point of excommunicating some Western churches and declining their monetary support, despite the obvious benefit that such money would bestow on African Christianity).  No, speaking out for correct doctrine is more than a power play.  It’s a guardian of the story.

In the Church, story is no story: it’s real.  It’s history, narrative, a report—it’s good news!  The account of God’s dealings in creation, Israel, and the Church, all for the sake of His beloved Son, gives us the story by which we live.  It discloses our origin, purpose, problems, and future—it discloses God to us, the One in whom we “live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).  Such a proclamation isn’t told once, and then forgotten.  Like a family inheritance, it passes from one generation to the other, and such passage demands care.  It calls for rules, and teaching; it calls for doctrine.  

Doctrine cares for the story by which we live.  Consider the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.  More than  a mathematical conundrum, Trinitarian doctrine simply states that you cannot tell God’s story with more than one God.  There can only be one God, who is also three persons.  If you try to fudge either the One or the Three, you end up tell

ing the wrong story (and thus, living the wrong life!).  “Ditto” for original sin, the Son of God, justification by faith, the ministry, sanctification, the sacraments, and the Church.  The doctrines of these things, coming from our Lord Himself as He speaks in the prophets and apostles, teach the story—or, better, they teach our telling of the story, so that the story may be told to the “joy and edifying of Christ’s holy people” (as an old prayer puts it).  “What’s your story?” the world asks.  Doctrine helps give the answer.

In our devotion, then, we hear the story, and we seek to be the story, dwelling in its promises and living the life it authors for us; just for this reason, our devotion welcomes doctrine.  Disclosing to us the history of God’s grace and mercy, the story puts us coram Deo, face to face with Him, and doctrine helps us to tell that story, to the world, to ourselves, and even to God.  As with all things that we believe (for good or for ill), and as with all avenues and instruments of the Holy Spirit, doctrine forms vision, shapes the conscience, stirs the heart, and prompts action.  It caused a Reformation!  

And may cause one still.

 

This article originally appeared in Coram Deo, a devotional newsletter

Tuesday, Oct. 27 Devotion

1PrayingHands2

“Who has declared this from the beginning, that we might know?  Or from former times, that we may say, “He is right!”?  Surely there was no one who declared, surely there was no one who proclaimed, surely there was no one who heard your words.  “Formerly I said to Zion, ‘Behold, here they are.’  And to Jerusalem, ‘I will give a messenger of good news.’”  (Isaiah 41:26-27)

Who is it that said a thing and generations later that thing came to pass?  Who is it that can look into the future and speak clearly of how things will be?  The Lord.  Yet, each generation comes and goes and people speak as if they know, but they do not.  Listen to the Word of the Lord and hear the clear and consistent report of His love, purpose and power and do not be deceived.

Lord, I get caught up in the devilish mantra that drones on generation after generation and do not see the clear and resounding Word You have spoken.  Open my ears to hear and my eyes to see that I may drink in the living water You give and live life as You created it to be lived.  Help me go deep into the living Word You have spoken, knowing that the unchanging words of life are for those who will be in You.

Thank You, Lord Jesus, Word made flesh, for revealing in a tangible form what has been spoken from of old.  It was clearly told that You would walk on the earth and the report of Your presence has been spoken.  Help me today to continue the report of Your purpose and power that all who will, can see, hear and believe.  Guide me ever deeper into this timeless gift You have given for all who believe.  Amen.

Monday, Oct. 26 Devotion

1PrayingHands2

“Behold, you are of no account, and your work amounts to nothing; He who chooses you is an abomination.  “I have aroused one from the north, and he has come; from the rising of the sun he will call on My name; and he will come upon rulers as upon mortar, even as the potter treads clay.”  (Isaiah 41:24-25)

The stone, which is placed upon the mortar, is the stone the builders reject, Christ Himself.  This prophecy speaks of the One who is to come, the One who has come, Jesus the Savior who crushes the plans of all who are opposed to the Lord.  God is accomplishing what He purposes and no one is able to thwart the plans of the Lord.  He is the potter and we are the clay.

Lord, help me to see in this word you gave long ago that You speak time and again of Your presence, purpose and power demonstrated through the incarnation when You took upon Yourself flesh and dwelt among us.  Help me see this and live according to the Word You have given, knowing that only in You is there eternal purpose and glory, for apart from You, it is nothing.

Lord Jesus, in You alone will I find hope and being.  You have come to give new life, real life to those who will follow You where You lead.  Guide me this day in Your purpose and power to do those things which are eternally beneficial and leave behind those things which are a hindrance.  Help me to learn from You what faithfulness is and then to do what it is You require of me.  Amen.

Sunday, October 25 Devotion

1PrayingHands2

“Let them bring forth and declare to us what is going to take place; as for the former events, declare what they were, that we may consider them and know their outcome.  Or announce to us what is coming; declare the things that are going to come afterward, that we may know that you are gods; indeed, do good or evil, that we may anxiously look about us and fear together.”  (Isaiah 41:22-23)

Who is it that people look to?  They look to leaders and to gods that are no gods at all.  Who in this world is able to discern what the next day will bring?  Who can declare the outcome of any event with clarity?  Only the Sovereign Lord is able to accomplish what He declares, for only He holds all of time in His hands.  In whom then are you to trust?  Those who pontificate false promises, or the One who is Lord of all?

Lord, You alone know history, beginning to end.  You alone are the God of the living.  Why is it that I, we, get caught up in the verbiage of those whom we consider powerful and listen to those who cannot determine a sunrise or sunset?  Help me to see clearly that You alone are God and that there is no other.  Keep me close to You through Your Word, understanding that what You are giving will unfold exactly as You have promised it.

Lord Jesus, the Word made flesh, You have come into the world to lead the way, showing us the eternal future for which You are preparing those who follow You to join with You in living.  Guide me this day in Your ways that I would understand more fully that You alone are King of kings and Lord of lords.  Help me ignore the useless words of those who do not know You, for You alone have the words of eternal life.  Amen.

Saturday, October 24 Devotion

1PrayingHands2

“That they may see and recognize, and consider and gain insight as well, that the hand of the Lord has done this, and the Holy One of Israel has created it.  “Present your case,” the Lord says.  “Bring forward your strong arguments,” the King of Jacob says.”  (Isaiah 41:20-21)

In all that we see the Lord has built His case, showing the salvation He brings for the penitent, remorseful, those who know that the Lord’s way alone is right and true.  All of the other cases brought before the Lord are simply an argument against the Lord’s sovereignty.  Who can give counsel to the Lord?  Only the Lord knows all things, and He has made His revelation for the sake of those who by faith would believe and trust in Him.

Lord, the whole of human history, the whole of Your Word speaks of the case You make for reconciliation through the Savior.  You have come in the flesh for the sake of as many as believe in order to reconcile believers with You for all eternity.  Guide me into the simple wisdom of what You have done that I may not stay in the death of sin, but be freed to live the life for which You have created me.

Lord Jesus, not only by Your example, but also in what You have provided, I can follow You and know life in abundance.  Guide me ever closer to the day of Your eternal presence.  Help me this day to simply walk with You wherever You would lead that I may faithfully follow in Your footsteps and grow in Your likeness.  Amen.