Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!


Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.

Friday, December 31, 2010

The Magi - New Year’s Eve - December 31, 2010 - Text: Matthew 2:11

Text: 11And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh (Matthew 2:11). This is our text.

This evening the Christmas fact we want to look at is the fact of the Magi. Who were these magi, or wise men as they were called? Again this evening, as with Christmas Eve, I am leaning on research done by our own Paul Maier from his book, In the Fullness of Time, p. 45-50.

Matthew writes, “In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage’ (Matthew 2:1-2).

Exactly how much time elapsed between the adoration of the shepherds and the visit of the Magi is not known, but the mysterious men from the East do not seem to have arrived until after Jesus’ presentation at the Temple in Jerusalem, forty days after he was born, and until after He and His parents were settled in a house in Bethlehem. Unfortunately, fewer more facts are known of the Magi than of the shepherds.

“We three kings of Orient are . . . .” So the beloved Christmas carol begins, but already it has made at least three errors. First, how many Wise Men made the trip to Bethlehem is not known. And they were not “kings.” And they did not come from as far away as the “Orient,” that is, the Far East.

Tradition, of course, has placed their number at three, probably because of the three gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh that they presented to the infant Jesus, the assumption being one gift for each giver. But some earlier traditions make quite a caravan of their visit, setting their number as high as twelve. Legend has also supplied names in the case of the three (Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar), and has even reported their ages (twenty, forty, and sixty), as well as their skin colors (white, yellow, and black). But these names arise first in the sixth century A.D., too late for any authenticity, and their ages and races are too obviously spaced.

Supposedly, Thomas, the apostle to India, found and baptized the Magi into the Christian faith and ordained them as priests. Later, they suffered martyrdom, and their relics were presumably buried in Constantinople but then transferred to the cathedral at Cologne in Germany during the twelfth century, where they rest today. But no one takes such claims seriously.

The Greek of the New Testament calls them simply magoi apo anatolon, “magi from the East,” and the term magoi is usually translated as wise men, astrologers, or magicians. “The East” has been variously identified as any country from Arabia to Media and Persia, but no farther east.

Most of the evidence points to Mesopotamian or Persian origins for the magi, who were an old and powerful priestly caste among both Medes and Persians. These priest-sages, extremely well educated for their day, were specialists in medicine, religion, astronomy, astrology, divination, and magic, and their caste eventually spread across much of the East. As in any other profession, there were both good and bad magi, depending on whether they did research in the sciences or practiced black magic. The Persian magi were credited with higher religious and intellectual attainments, while the Babylonian magi were sometimes deemed imposters.

The safest conclusion is that the Magi of Christmas were Persian, for the term originates among the Medo-Persians, and early Syriac traditions give them Persian names. Primitive Christian art in the second-century Roman catacombs dresses them in Persian garments, and a majority of Early Church fathers interpret them as Persian. Indeed, the reason invading Persians spared the Church of the Nativity in 614 A.D. was that they saw a golden mosaic over the doorway, depicting the wise men in Persian headdress.

However, if the astronomical aspects of the Christmas story are emphasized—the great star and its role as we talked about on Christmas Eve—a case could be made that the Magi were late Babylonians, since astronomy reached its highest development in Mesopotamia.

Whatever the origin of the Eastern sages, their visit was of great significance for later Christianity: the Wise Men were pagans, not Hebrews, and the fact that Gentile magi performed the same adoration as Jewish shepherds symbolized the universal outreach for future Christianity. “Nations [Gentiles] shall come to your light,” the prophet Isaiah had written, “and kings to the brightness of your dawn” (60:3).

The star that guided them to Bethlehem, again as we talked about on Christmas Eve had both local and international significance. The Hebrews expected a star as a sign of the birth of the Messiah (Num. 24:17)—a later pseudo-Messiah tried to capitalize on this belief by calling himself Bar-Kokhba, “Son of a Star”—and Eastern sages were acquainted with Hebrew beliefs because of the large Jewish colony in Babylon and elsewhere. Even Roman authors of the time spoke of the grandiose things expected in Palestine. “There had spread all over the East an old and established belief that it was fated for men coming from Judea at that time to rule the world,” wrote Suetonius. Therefore when the Magi inquired of Herod, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” their question was not really spoken out of a vacuum.

The scene of proud and richly costumed sages worshiping a baby in the humblest of circumstances has etched itself on the world’s imagination, for it is a graphic study in contrasts. The gifts they presented are usually interpreted symbolically. Gold, a royal gift, signified Jesus’ kingship. Frankincense, a fragrant gum resin burned as incense, denoted his future priesthood. This substance consisted of small whitish beads or chunks that were ground into powder and that gave off an odor like balsam when burned. The third gift, myrrh, called Smyrna in Greek, was an aromatic orange-colored resin from the small, thorny trees of the Commiphom family. Myrrh was expensive and much esteemed for use in perfumes, anointing oil, medicine, and embalming. That, years later, the crucified Jesus was offered wine mixed with myrrh as a pain reliever (Mark 15:23) and was also buried with the substance (John 19:39) renders this gift of the Magi predictive enough.

After their adoration at the manger, the Wise Men disappear from history, leaving a multitude of questions in their wake. Almost unidentifiable, they have still become some of the most familiar figures in Western culture, for their clumsy camels have lumbered back into the Nativity scene every year since Christmas was first celebrated.

And they did achieve their purpose in the total story of Christmas, which was to expand it. Up to now, the Nativity had been highly local in nature: only a few people of the lower classes of just one nationality had been involved. But the visit of the Magi burst all that, as rich Gentiles joined poor Jews, as King Herod and the priestly establishment in Jerusalem became concerned, and even the stars looked in.

So, we might conclude that these magi were star gazers, astronomers, but not necessarily astrologers or fortune tellers (putting the best construction on everything), who saw the “signs and wonders,” the “signs for seasons,” in the sky and followed the star to where Jesus was staying. As we have said, they did not show up until Jesus was about a year and a half old and was in a house.

The visit of the Magi might remind us that in Eden God’s promise was to send a Savior for the world, for all people, of all cultures and languages, of all places of all times. Epiphany, which is the celebration of the visit of the Magi is seen as the Gentile Christmas, because these were the first non-Jews to visit and celebrate Jesus’ birth. For us, we rejoice in the fact of their gifts, and their meaning, as well as in their Gentile-ness, as we too are Gentiles.

The visit of the Magi is not simply an add on to extend the Christmas story, rather it is God’s way of reminding us of our sin and our need for a Savior and the fact that Jesus, true God, born as a true man, who was our Prophet, Priest and King, was born to save all people of all places, of all times, including we Gentiles who by faith in Jesus are indeed children of Abraham and children of the covenant of grace. To this we rejoice and say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

CD - The Sixth Petition - 1 Corinthians 10:12-13

“Pride goeth before the fall” is one cliché that makes a lot of sense. How often do we hear someone bragging about one thing or another only to have that thing not turn out quite the way they would like? The Sixth Petition reminds us that we are not to put ourselves in the position to be tempted (which is a way of testing God). Unfortunately, our nature is such that we go ahead and put ourselves in the position to be tempted and then when we fall into sin, we justify ourselves with the excuse that we could not help it. And yes, God does hold us accountable for those times that we just could not help ourselves as well as for all our sins.

It is amazing why anyone would want to put themselves into a position to be tempted when the devil can, already, find many ways to tempt you. The devil works to exploit your weaknesses and he does know them. The unholy three of the devil, the world and our own sinful human nature try, constantly, daily, to seduce us into disbelief, despair and other great shame and vice. It is only by the grace and with the help of God that we can overcome and win out in the end.

When temptations come and we pray to God, He helps us in one of three ways. God answers our prayers against temptation by either removing the temptation completely and immediately from us; or by giving us a way out; or by giving us the strength to bear up under the temptation.

God answers our prayer by removing the temptation completely and immediately. The temptation that was before us is no longer before us. God removes it so that we are not tempted by it.

God answers our prayer by giving us a way out, or by forcing us to take another way. When temptation comes God intervenes, either though something or someone getting between us and the temptation. Thus, instead of being able to fall into sin and temptation, we are moved and spared.

God answers our prayer by giving us the strength to bear up under the temptation. It could be that God is using this temptation as a testing in order to strengthen you in your faith. As you “go through” the temptation God will give you the strength that you need to keep from sinning and in the process He will give you strengthening of faith to continue to keep from sin and temptation.

Peter warns us that we should “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). The devil tempts us to sin and temptation, not because he loves us and wants us to be his friend, but because he hates us as he hates all things and all people and because he wants us to live with him forever in hell. Thanks be to God that we have Jesus Christ who died for our sins and we have the Father who promises to help us in times of temptation.

Almighty Father, forgive me when I put myself in the position to be tempted. Thank You for helping me in times of temptation. Continue to watch over me, guarding, guiding and protecting me from all sins, from death and the power of the devil. Assure me of Your ever protecting hand. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

CD - The Sixth Petition - Psalm 23

If the Lord is my Shepherd, and I should lack nothing, then why should I worry about being lead into temptation? Besides, God is not evil. He does not tempt us, does He? First, let us look at what is temptation. There are two types of tempting. One is an enticement to do evil. In other words, either the devil, our sinful lusting, or the vices and evils of the world tempt us to do what is wrong. The other type of tempting is an act of testing. This testing, by God, is for the purpose of purifying and strengthening our faith. God never tempts us to sin, but He does at times test our faith.

In this sixth petition, we do not ask God, necessarily, to take all temptation from us because we would remain infants in our faith. If we never suffered temptation we would not, could not, mature in our faith in Jesus. Rather than ask God to take away all temptation, we ask for the strength, the increase of faith, to overcome the evils of the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature and to obtain our final victory in heaven.

Our faith is strengthened by the Word of God as we face our daily trials and temptations. We may not like the trials we must oftentimes face, but we can be assured that, in the end, when we have overcome these trials or temptations, our faith will be stronger. We will be more mature Christians from the experience. Therefore, we are not praying for temptation or going around looking for it, with the thought of making ourselves better Christians. If we go looking for temptation, we will probably get it and will not be able to handle it. This is what we call putting God to the test. We put God to the test by putting ourselves into the position to be tempted, expecting God to “bail us out.” In the same way we do not challenge Satan, but we do know with Christ’s help we can overcome any attacks by Satan (simply rebuke him in the name of Jesus.) We must remember that, only with God’s help, can we overcome temptation. He gets the credit, not us, because He helps us to overcome.

We must know, too, that, when temptation comes, God also sends us a way out, a way not to give in to temptation. We may not see this way out immediately, but God has promised that He will never allow us to be tempted above what we can handle. In other words, we know temptations will come so we pray for the strength to overcome these temptations. The way out always comes before the temptation can overcome us, that is, takes us from faith in Jesus. One last thing we must know and forever remember is that all sins are forgivable. The only unforgivable sin is dying in unbelief. All other sins have already been forgiven.

Almighty Father, forgive me when I doubt Your presence. Thank You for the trials and testing of faith which You allow me to struggle through in order to strengthen my faith. Keep me ever in Your watchful care. Deliver me from all sins, from death and the power of the devil. Assure me of Your ever protecting hand. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

CD - The Fifth Petition - Matthew 18:23-35

Divine Service, God service, God worship, begins rightly with the recognition and confession of our sins and the reception of forgiveness. The divine service often begins with the words, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8,9). The passage ends, “If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives” (1 John 1:10). Forgiveness is ours. It is a free gift. It has been earned by Jesus’ death on the cross. However, we can refuse and resist forgiveness by not confessing and seeking forgiveness. John reminds us that if we think we have not sinned, or if we try to claim we have not sinned, we are only lying. And, if we have no sin, there is no need to seek forgiveness, which means, no forgiveness.

The story of the unmerciful servant is a story that puts into perspective how sinful we are compared to how forgiving God is. The crux of the matter is to understand how sinful we really are. It is only when we understand our complete sinfulness, how completely corrupt we are that we will really understand how gracious and forgiving God really is. In other words, we must hear both the Law and the Gospel, never just the Law, lest we be lead to despair, and never just the Gospel lest we be lead to thinking that we have no sins to confess. The Law and the Gospel must be heard together, never too much of one, never too much of another.

The Law reminds us of our sinfulness. “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). We are conceived and born in sin. We are messed up from the start. Added to that are our actual sins, those sins we commit on our own, sins of commission, sins in which we do something wrong that we should not do (cf. The Ten Commandments), and sins of omission, sins which we commit by not doing the right things that we should do. We sin, not just by doing something wrong, or not doing something right, but we sin by the words (unkind and hateful) that we speak, as well as by the thoughts that we have (“If you eye causes you to sin” (Matthew 5:29; 18:9; Mark 9:47).) Sin is not sin only when it is something committed, sin is sin which has its root and beginning in our heart. Remember the story of Cain and Abel. “Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.” Because his offering of leftovers was not accepted by God. “Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it” (Genesis 4:5-7). Cain’s sin was not sin, just because he killed Abel. Cain’s sin began with the thoughts of envy in his heart.

It is only after we realize how sinful we are that the Gospel will have its greatest effect on us. Unless we realize how lost we are the Gospel means nothing. But after we realize how wretched we are the Gospel sounds so sweet. The Gospel which say, “your sins are forgiven, go in peace.” The Gospel which says, Jesus died for you so that you might have life and have it to the full. The Gospel which reminds us that everything has been done for us, there is nothing for us to do, everything is given to us by grace.

Praise the Lord that our God is an awesome, loving, gracious, compassionate, and forgiving God. As He forgives us, our desire is to forgive others and to share the good news of salvation with them. To God be the glory.

Merciful Father, forgive me, the sinner, who put Jesus on the cross. Thank You for forgiveness. As I have been forgiven, help me to forgive others. Grant this for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Monday, December 27, 2010

CD - The Fifth Petition - 1 John 4:19-21, Matthew 6:14-15

Saying, “I am sorry” and forgiving someone are two of the hardest things for us sinful human beings to do. Because of our sin of pride, we do not want to admit our wrong. We feel that our admission of guilt lowers us below the person we have wronged. Even the idea of the fact that we have done something not right is hard for us to handle. We have been raised with the idea that only the right prevails. We are only good, of value, if we are right. To be wrong is to be of no value. Yet, we can feel it in our stomach, in our conscience when we have done something wrong or have harmed someone. We try to ignore that feeling because we do not want to think less of ourselves: if we ignore it, it will go away, we think.

To forgive, then, is the next hardest task for us. Our first reaction is the normal, “Oh, that’s okay” but it really is not okay. It is not okay for someone to go around hurting you and others. No, it is not okay, but it is forgiven. There is a difference. “That’s okay,” implies that nothing wrong was done. “You are forgiven,” grants forgiveness and erases the wrong.

Our Bible verses for today relate God’s forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of one another. When God forgives us, it is erased from the book. He erases the wrong and remembers it no more. He asks us also to remember the wrong done to us no more. When we are forgiven we too forget the wrong. However, to not believe in God’s forgiveness does nullify our forgiveness. To forgive is also to forget. When God forgives, He remembers no more. When we do not forget our sins, but continually remember, even after we have confessed, we show our unbelief in God’s power to forgive and our unbelief becomes our sin.

I guess I should add a word here about forgetting. Our human minds have a way of reminding us of past sins. But there is a difference between remembering what you have done in the past, as a way of remembering so you will not do it again, and of remembering because you do not believe God has or can forgive you for that sin. In the same way there is a remembering of one another’s sins because our nature is not to forget, but that is different from our remembering in order to seek revenge.

In our dealings with our fellow humans, when we forgive, we forget. Remembering is unforgiving. Our Bible readings remind us that, as God forgives us, so we are to forgive one another. If we do not forgive our brother, why should we expect God to forgive us? Think about this petition, “forgive us as,” in the same way, “we forgive others.” If we do not forgive our brother in the same way, we are praying for God not to forgive us. We might as well say, “Do not forgive us as I have not forgiven others.” Before we pray this petition of the Lord’s Prayer, maybe it would be best if we thought about anyone whom we have not forgiven and go out and forgive them or not pray this petition.

Of course, asking for forgiveness without giving forgiveness is not right either. How can we say we love God whom we do not see and say we do not love our brother whom we can see? In the same way, how can we believe we are forgiven by an unseen God if we do not forgive our visible brother?

May God forgive us as we forgive one another, and may God help us to forgive one another as God has forgiven us.

Merciful Father, forgive me as I forgive others. Help me in my forgiving to also be forgetting. In the same way that You have cast our sins away, as far as the east is from the west, so help me to cast the memory of my sins and the sins of others away. Grant this for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Escape and Return - December 26, 2010 - First Sunday after Christmas - Text: Matthew 2:13-23

This year our Gospel lessons will come mostly from the Gospel of Matthew. As we hear these Gospel lessons from Matthew, listen carefully, because quite often you will hear Matthew say something like this, “these things happened to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet.” Matthew is quite intent on helping us to see that Jesus is the one about whom the prophets were speaking. Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament. Jesus is the Messiah, the Savior of the world.

In our text for today Matthew tells us the story of what happened after Jesus’ birth and how these events were not random, coincidental, just having happened events, rather they were events which showed the hand of God continuing to move in human history. Matthew tells us of the trip to Egypt picking up at verse thirteen, “13Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ 14And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son’” (v. 13-15).

Matthew tells us that after the Magi came to visit, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. And just an aside here, as I have been saying all through the Advent Midweek services, always go back and see what Scripture actually says concerning the events of which we speak. Going back to verse eleven, the Magi brought gifts to Jesus when He was between one and two years of age and living in a house. He was not in the manger for that length of time. Also, as this is the Lord speaking to Joseph a second time in a dream, here we need to be reminded that this is not God’s usual way of dealing with us. God does not usually come to us in visions or in dreams. God’s usual way of dealing with us, of coming to us, His usual way of speaking to us is through means, namely through the means of Grace, the Word and the Sacraments. That does not mean that God cannot use His unusual means, because He does as we see here, but not too often.

One observation from this text, did you notice that the Child is mentioned first. Matthew mentions Him first because His well-being was of utmost importance. The salvation of the world was dependent on this Child, for He is to be the Savior of the world. And all of Holy Scripture center on this Child.

God sends the Child, His mother, Mary, and His father Joseph to Egypt. Interestingly enough, Egypt is not a foreign place. There were other Jews living in Egypt. The Jews had a history with Egypt. Jesus going to and coming out of Egypt is what we call an antitype. It is a type of another event, that other event being the children of Israel and their bondage in Egypt. In other words, as the Lord once saved the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, so He now saves the world as He calls His Son out of Egypt to save the world from their bondage of slavery to sin.

Our text continues with the terrifying account of Herod’s envy and jealousy and why all Jerusalem was upset when they heard about the birth of a king. Picking up at verse sixteen, “16Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 17Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: 18‘A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more’” (v. 16-18).

The reason Jesus was born, God in flesh, is vividly seen in the sinful actions of murder by King Herod. Because of the sin of Adam and Eve, the earth is cursed and sin continues and this is the very reason for Jesus’ birth. And yet, we continue to see the hand of God as He cares for His Son and protects Him and His family.

Matthew recalls God’s hand in these events as he relates the account of the return trip out of Egypt to Nazareth. We read picking up at verse nineteen, “19But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20saying, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.’ 21And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. 23And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled: ‘He shall be called a Nazarene’” (v. 19-23).

Matthew tells us that Herod had died and the angel of the Lord appears again to Joseph in a dream. Again, this is not God’s usual way of coming to us, but God uses the ways that He knows are best for us. This is now the third time God has spoken to Joseph in a dream.

The angel comes and first instructs Joseph to go back to the land of Israel. The angel does not tell Joseph specifically where to go, just to go back to Israel. Joseph obeys and takes his family back.

Unfortunately, when Joseph reached the land of Israel he heard “that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod,” and so he was afraid for his Child’s life. The Lord sent the angel to Joseph again, telling him to go to Galilee.

Joseph went to Galilee, and Matthew tells us, “so was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: ‘He will be called a Nazarene.’” Interestingly enough, this saying, this prophecy is not a written prophecy, rather it was a spoken prophecy. Look it up, you will not find it written in the Bible, because it was one of the unwritten, spoken prophecies.

As we read Matthew’s Gospel, especially as we read how he shows us that God’s prophecies are being fulfilled, we see God’s hand working in the lives of His people. We also see how God’s hand is working in our lives, because we too are God’s people.

Matthew reminds us that God worked in human history to save the world. God intervened in human history. Of course we have the advantage of being able to look back and see how these prophecies have already been fulfilled. We also have the advantage of looking back over a lot of human history and seeing how God’s hand has been working in our human history many times. Why do you suppose America was discovered right before the Reformation? Could it be that God knew that His people would need some place to go to avoid persecution? Why do you suppose persecution came to Jerusalem following Jesus’ ascension? Could it be that was the only way He could get the people and the good news of salvation out of Jerusalem and to the rest of the world? If you look close enough at the events of history you may come to notice God’s hand working quite often in human events.

As we continue with our reading in the Gospel of Matthew we will see how Jesus is the fulfillment of all the prophecies of the Old Testament. We will see that Jesus is the promised Messiah. We will see and come to believe without a doubt that Jesus is who He says He is.

As we come to see that Jesus is the fulfillment of all these Old Testament prophecies we will be strengthened in our faith in Jesus as our Savior. As we see how God worked through other events in human history to care for His people, we will also come to see that God still works through events in our own lives and see how He cares for us and protects us.

Being strengthened in our faith in Jesus as our Savior; being strengthened in the ability to see God’s hand working in human history, we can also see that God is still working in our lives to guide and direct us even today.

As God works in our lives, coming to us through His Word and His Sacraments, we are strengthened in our faith. At times God also allows for us to experience certain trials, trials and struggles that are meant to strengthen us in our faith. When trials come we can either blame God, and fall away from Him, or cling to Him as the source of all comfort and hope, knowing that He alone can bring us help, comfort and strengthening.

If we blame Him and fall away from Him we become bitter. Of course, many people will not say that they blame God, but they will do so in their hearts. Maybe you know someone who blames God for all that has happened in their lives and can see how it has made them bitter.

On the other hand, if we recognize that God is testing us we may be drawn closer to Him. Please understand, it is okay to question, to ask, “Why God?” It is okay to struggle. It is okay to get angry, but in our angry we are not to sin. It is okay to say, “Why are you letting this happen to me, God.” Because in a way with those words we are praising Him. Think about it, when we say, “Why are You doing this to me?” We are acknowledging that God is the one who is in control. No, God is not making bad things happen to us, that is not His nature. He does however allow for us to experience trials in order to test our faith, in order to strengthen us, in order to draw us closer to Himself. And with the testing He has promised to give us the strength that we need to bear up.

God uses many and various ways to accomplish His purposes for us in our lives. We can either receive these from the Lord, or turn against Him in anger. Look at the example that we have in our Gospel lesson for today, the example of Mary and Joseph and the trials that they faced being the parents of the Savior of the world. Look at Mary. Ultimately she had to face the death of her Son on the cross.

God is a God of love. His usual way of dealing with us is the Gospel and the means of grace. It is not that God makes bad things happen to us, and really, it is not fair to say that God allows bad things to happen to us, because God would not want any of these things to happen to us. God is a God of love and only has the best in mind for us. Bad things happen to us because we live in a world of sin. Rather than saying that God allows bad things to happen to us it is better and more accurate to say that God makes good things come out of the bad things that happen to us as we live in this sin filled world. Saturday we begin a new calendar year. Many people like to make resolutions to do things differently, or to be better in the coming year, to start over in a way. Praise the Lord that each and every day we can start over, because everyday we are reminded of our baptism and the forgiveness we have so that every day we can begin again, and with the Lord’s help, live our lives to His glory. God grant it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Timing - Christmas Day - December 25, 2010 - Text: Luke 2:6

It is said that the key to telling a joke is timing and there are some comedians that are better at such timing than others. As we have studied in Bible Class, there are some who would question the meaning of the time word “day” in Genesis and yet, as we studied the word “day” in Genesis we came to the conclusion that the definition of a “day” was a twenty-four hour period of time. Of course, we also asked the question, if we question the meaning of the word “day” in Genesis, why not question its meaning in the rest of the Bible, and for that matter, when someone who questions the meaning of the word “day” tells you they want to see you in a few days, ask them if they mean literal days? Anyway, our Christmas fact for this morning is God’s perfect timing in His intervening in human history. Our text says, “6And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth” (Luke 2:6). So, let us look at how we understand this fact of timing, i.e., “the time came.”

Our text says, “6And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth” (Luke 2:6). The time came, that is the conditions for the spread of Christianity were very favorable in the Mediterranean at this time. The Romans ruled the world. The Jews had returned to Jerusalem. The temple had been rebuilt. The Jews had some freedoms. The Gentiles were open to God’s intervening in human history. All of these social events were such that the time was “ripe” as we might say, the time was ready for something to happen, namely for God to do something.

Our text says, “6And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth” (Luke 2:6). A broad understanding of the time to give birth could refer to the whole of God’s timing in history; the fact that Herod was King, the fact that Caesar Augustus was governor, that a census was called to be taken and remember, this census was a law that every fourteen years it was to be taken, the fact that Pontius Pilate would be serving in Jerusalem in thirty years, that there would be a star appearing in the heavens to mark Christ’s birth and to lead the magi from the east. The time to give birth could refer to the fact that in thirty years the feast of Pentecost would be fifty days after Easter. The time to give birth certainly includes all these possibilities. Again, the time was “ripe” so that all the events about which God promised and prophesied throughout the Old Testament were able to come to fruition.

Our text says, “6And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth” (Luke 2:6). Certainly, the time to give birth could be the forty weeks of gestation. Mary had conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. The baby grew in her womb, as a normal human baby, so that now, forty weeks after her conception it was time for the baby to be born and to be born in a natural way, after all, even though this Child is truly God, being conceived by the Holy Spirit, He is also truly human, being born of the human woman, the virgin Mary. The time was “ripe” so that all these events would come to pass at just the right time.

Our text says, “6And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth” (Luke 2:6). The time came according to God’s plan, will and foreknowledge, just as He foresaw from before He began creating the world, and the fall into sin and the promise to send a Savior. Remember, God does not live in time as you and I do, rather He created time for us. When God looks at time it is something like taking a movie film and laying it from end to end, God can and does see the whole movie at one time. We have to look at it frame by frame, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, even second by second. Not so with God. God sees the whole as one. So, as God, being outside time, looks at our time, which He created for us, He knows what is the right time and so at just the right time, He puts into process His intervening into human history.

Our text says, “6And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth” (Luke 2:6). Again, looking through the lens of God’s eye, being outside of time, the time of these events came according to the history of the world. The perfect timing of these events followed the events of the fall into sin and the promise to send a Savior, the sending of a flood to cleanse the earth and the time of the tower of Babel and the spreading of the cultures and languages around the world to the undoing of this at Pentecost.

Our text says, “6And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth” (Luke 2:6). The time came according to God’s plan to fulfill all the law of the Old Covenant and all the promises concerning the Messiah. Although God’s promise to send a Savior was first given in the Garden of Eden, to Adam and Eve, before there was a Jew and a Gentile, so, although the fulfillment of God’s promise was narrowed so that the Savior would be born through the line of Abraham, Israel, Judah, David, etc, the promise was never changed nor its fullness narrowed, nor was another promise given, but the promise always was and always remained that God would send a Savior for all people of all places of all times, and that fulfillment would be through God Himself intervening in human history in the person of Jesus, whose birth happened at just the right time.

Our text says, “6And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth” (Luke 2:6). The time is now as we celebrate Jesus’ birth. And why was Jesus born? The most difficult part of this season is to remember that Jesus was born for us, because of our sin, sin born in us and our own sins which we commit. It was because of us and for us that Jesus was born at such a time as He was born. Jesus was born because of God’s great love for us. Jesus was born to do for us what we are unable to do for ourselves. Jesus was born to live in perfection and to take our sins and the sins of all people of all places of all times on Himself in order to suffer and pay the price of eternal spiritual death for our sins. So, this morning, it is Jesus’ birth which reminds us of His death for us and ultimately our celebration of His resurrection for our forgiveness and life.

As we begin our Christmas celebration, remember that the time is now and the time is that we celebrate for the twelve days of Christmas. God’s timing is always the best timing, always the right timing. We may have difficulties in life because we do not see life as God does. God sees our lives outside our perspective of time and so He does know what is the best and most perfect timing for all the events of our lives and so He works in and through the events of this world to work out the best for us. And no, that does not mean that God has our lives planned out so that we might have an attitude and belief in fatalism, that is that it does not matter what we do, because God already has our lives planned. That idea would be to misunderstand God and His perfect timing. Although God knows what is going to happen, since He lives outside of time and sees all time in the eternal present, that does not mean that God makes things happen. God has given us each a mind in order to look at life and make decisions. And in all things, for those who love God, He works them out to our best.

As we celebrate Christmas, we celebrate God’s working out all things for our best, for those of us who love God. He worked out the perfect timing to send Jesus to pay the price for our sins. He worked out the perfect timing to give us life at conception, to give us new life through His Word and Holy Baptism, and He will work out the perfect timing as we await the fulfillment of His promise to return or our going to Him at our own passing. Until then, His return, we live lives of faith giving glory to His holy name. This morning we celebrate the birth of Jesus, God in flesh and we celebrate for twelve days. To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Star - Christmas Eve - December 24, 2010 - Text: Matthew 2:1-2

What was the star? Was it a convergence of planets? Was it a new or special star? What is the human explanation? Is a human explanation needed? Could it be that this was a special star God “threw” out at creation?

This evening we want to look at the facts of the mystery of the star in our Christmas story. I would like to present to you the findings of one of our Lutheran Archeologist and writers, Paul Maier concerning the star. This information is taken from his book, In the Fullness of Time, p. 51-61.

One of the most spectacular aspects of the Christmas story must be the great star that lured the Wise Men from their Eastern homeland to Jerusalem and on again to Bethlehem. That star has never really disappeared, because even today we see it in silver or gold, plastic or cardboard, and especially on the tops of Christmas trees.

The Star of Bethlehem has puzzled scholars for centuries. Some have skeptically dismissed the star as a myth, or a way to call attention to the importance of the Nativity. Some Christians, at the other extreme, have argued that the star was miraculously placed there by God to guide the Magi and is therefore beyond all natural explanation. Most authorities, however, take a middle ground that looks for some astronomical and historical explanation for the Christmas star.

In discussing the star please understand, first of all, there is nothing in the least improbable about a group of wise men, magi, or sages being attracted by some heavenly star event and then trying to investigate it more closely. The ancient historians of the Near East, Greece, and Rome were fond of describing heavenly phenomena and the effect they believed the stars had on the daily lives of the people who were interpreting their future on the basis of what they saw in the sky each night. Something like fortune telling today. In that region of clear air (before any industrial pollution), and in that time of poor artificial lighting, the nights were long, and the people had nothing better to do than to stargaze.

From reading the historical sources, one would think comets, meteors, and other heavenly wonders were almost constantly streaking across the ancient skies, and it is no accident that the interest today in astrology can be traced historically to exactly this area of the world. Indeed, the Babylonians first set up the signs of the zodiac.

There is another reason for taking the star in the skies over Palestine quite seriously. If the appearance of the star could be identified, astronomy could then also hope to date it, and the mystery of an exact date for the birth of Jesus would be largely solved. This evening I am here to offer several interesting theories and then most logical explanation about the Star of Bethlehem.

First explanation. Every 805 years, the planets Jupiter and Saturn come very close together for a period of time, and then Mars joins them about a year later. Since the great astronomer Kepler first alerted them to this event in the early seventeenth century, astronomers have computed that for ten months in 7 B.C., Jupiter and Saturn traveled very close to each other in the night sky, and in May, September, and December of that year, it looked as if they were one. Mars joined these two planets in February of 6 B.C.— what looked like a massing of planets that must have been quite a sight to see, but there is more. The astrological interpretations of such an event would have told the Magi much, if, as seems probable, they shared the astrological belief of the area. The time that Jupiter and Saturn met each other was the time of the sign of the zodiac called Pisces, the Fishes.

In ancient astrology, the giant plant Jupiter was known as the “King’s Planet,” for it represented the highest god and ruler of the universe. It was called other names, Marduk to the Babylonians, Zeus to the Greeks, and Jupiter to the Romans. And the ringed plant Saturn was believed to be the shield or defender of Palestine, while the constellation of the Fishes, which was also associated with Syria and Palestine, represented grand events and crises. So Jupiter aligning with Saturn in the Sign of the Fishes would have meant that a cosmic ruler or king was to appear in Palestine at a culmination of history. This, at least, may help to explain why the Magi were well enough informed to look for some “King of the Jews” in Palestine. And the time of this rare event in 7 B.C. fits part of the Nativity chronology very well indeed, even if Jesus were born in 5 B.C. King Herod would later order the slaughter of all male infants in Bethlehem “who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men” (Matt. 2:16). Seven minus two is five.

But there is one big objection to this theory: the two or three planets would not have come together closely enough to represent one superstar, for they would always have been separated from each other by at least one or two moon diameters. Rather, they would have appeared as a close pair of very bright stars or as a tight triangle. And the triangle would have been so close to the setting sun in February of 6 B.C. that some astronomers doubt if all three planets could have been seen.

Which brings us to another theory. The Greek term for “star” in the Gospel account is aster which can mean any lighted heavenly body, including a comet, meteor, nova, or planet. Meteors are brief and brilliant slashes across the skies and would seem too fast for consideration. But nothing impressed the ancient eye so much as a comet. Comets were thought to herald important changes in the state, particularly by the Romans. Historians of the time reported that a blood-red comet, so bright that it could be seen in the daytime, dominated the skies in the year that Caesar was assassinated, 44 B.C.. A comet also preceded the battle of Philippi, where Caesar was avenged. The death of Augustus was signaled by a comet too, as were other political crises.

Was the Christmas star really a comet? With its brilliant pointing head and long bright tail, a comet makes a far more startling impression in the night sky than any group of planets coming together. When Halley’s comet passed over Palestine in 1910, Jerusalemites reported that it seemed to pass quickly from east to west, growing somewhat diffused but nearly reappearing in all its grandeur in the west, much as the events in the Christmas story. But Halley’s comet passed over the skies too early (12 B.C.) in its visit at that time to be the Star of Bethlehem, although it undoubtedly aroused the interest of people in the Near East to heavenly events.

It happens that the Chinese have more exact and more complete astronomical records than the Near East, particularly in their tabulations of comets and novas. In 1871, John Williams published his authoritative list of comets derived from Chinese calendars. Now, Comet No. 52 on the Williams list may have special significance for the first Christmas. It appeared for some seventy days in March and April of 5 B.C., near the constellation Capricorn, and would have been visible in both the Far and Near East. As each night wore on, of course, the comet would seem to have moved westward across the southern sky. Since the time is also very appropriate, this could have been the Wise Men’s astral marker.

A nova is not really a “new” star, as its name implies, but one that suddenly has a tremendous increase in brilliance, due to internal explosions, and no heavenly event is more spectacular than this. In our own galaxy of the Milky Way, the last supernova (as it is usually called today) exploded in 1604, so brightly that it could also be seen in daylight. The ancients sometimes confused comets and novas, though the Chinese usually called novas “comets without a tail.”

It is quite fascinating to note that Comet No. 53 on the Williams list (next after the one just mentioned) is a tailless comet, and could well have been a nova, as Williams admitted. No. 53 appeared in March and April of 4 B.C.—a year after its predecessor—in the area of the constellation Aquila, which also was visible all over the East. Was this, perhaps, the star that reappeared to the Magi once Herod had directed them to Bethlehem (Matt. 2:9)? Probably not. Herod died about April 1 of 4 B.C., and the audience he granted the Magi would have to have taken place months earlier.

Taking all this information into consideration, the following is a possible heavenly reconstruction of what might have happened that first Christmas. The remarkable joining of Jupiter and Saturn in 7-6 B.C. alerted the Magi to important developments in Palestine, for the astrological significance closely paralleled what they had learned from Hebrew lore about a star heralding the expected Messiah. The comet of 5 B.C. (Williams No. 52) dramatically underscored this interpretation and sent them on their way.

That the star went before them “until it stopped over the place where the child was” does not necessarily imply any sudden visible movements on the part of the star, rather, because of the rotation of the earth, anything in the night sky appears to move westward as the night progresses, except Polaris and the relatively few stars north of it. And, as people travel, the stars do seem to move with them or before them, stopping when they stop. So when it reached its highest peak in the skies over Bethlehem, the gleaming blue-white star of Christmas would indeed have seemed to stop for the Magi as they reached their destination.

Even the artistic pictures of the star shedding its rays down on Bethlehem might not be quite so unbelievable as one would think. In subtropical areas on very clear nights, a faint bright band similar to the Milky Way is visible on the southwest horizon. This band, called zodiacal light, is the reflection of sunlight on meteor particles and it appears as a bright cone shining from the star down to earth at the point where the sun has set. If it appeared to the Magi leaving Jerusalem, this light might have seemed to beam down from the Christmas star to intersect Bethlehem at the southwest. But this is an exaggeration to the Christmas story, on which the New Testament is silent.

Perhaps this reconstruction of the star events seems too simple to be true, and additional astronomical evidence may one day disprove it. But at least it is not so unbelievable as some of the theories. Perhaps the strangest is that offered by a Russian who claims that the Star of Bethlehem was really a spaceship from a higher civilization carrying cosmonaut Jesus into this world!

Now, as I have said over the weeks of Advent, what we can be sure of even concerning the star, is what God says in His Word, the wise men asked, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him” (Matt. 2:2), and “After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (Matt. 2:9-10). Whatever this star was, it was God’s way of guiding these Gentiles to be a part of His plan of salvation for all the world.

This evening, as we begin our Christmas celebration, remember now is the time that we celebrate Christmas and we celebrate for the twelve days. As we celebrate Christmas, we celebrate God’s working out all things for our best, for those of us who love Him. He worked out these events, sending Jesus to pay the price for our sins. He gives us life at conception, He gives us new life through His Word and Holy Baptism, and He will return in fulfillment of His promise to return. Until then, His return, we rejoice in our forgiveness and with His help we live lives of faith giving glory to His holy name, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

CD - The Fourth Petition - Psalm 145:15-16

Have you ever noticed that when you take part in getting a meal ready that it seems to taste so much better? It appears that when we put out an effort, when we “work” for something, it seems to be so much more rewarding. What about daily bread? We know that daily bread means more than just the bread we eat. It means more than just food. Daily bread means all that we need in life. Paul reminds us that “If a man will not work, he shall not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). But we also know that God rains down on the just and the unjust. And we know that heaven is a free gift, neither earned nor deserved. How do we sort all this out?

We begin by reminding ourselves that God gives. God gives life at conception. He gives new life and faith at Baptism. He gives strengthening of faith and keeps us in faith through the means of grace. He gives us the ability to work, a job to work, a way to earn money to use to pay for food, clothing, house and all the other needs of life. There is nothing that we have that we cannot trace back to first coming from God (except perhaps sin). God gives and we are given to. And yes, God gives to the just and to the unjust. Remember, all people are God’s people in that He is the Creator of all. God loves all people, so much that He gave the life of His Son for all people. And, up until the time of a person’s day of judgement, there is hope that the unjust may come to faith.

Paul’s reminder of working and eating is just that, a reminder that we are not to be idle, or busybodies, but we are to be busy doing the work that we need to do. That does not mean that we are to work for things spiritual, although we are also told to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Those are words of sanctification, not justification. We do work on our sanctification, but only as the Lord moves us to, works through us, and does our work to His glory. We are to “work” for our daily bread doing whatever job we are assigned in whatever vocation we serve. If you are a student, your work is to study. If you are a laborer, your job is to labor. If you are an administrator, your job is to administrate. We are to do our work as is we are working for the Lord, because He is our ultimate employer and He is the one who gives us all that we need, not that our work in any way earns what He is giving.

Now we get to the point of grace. Grace is God’s undeserved love for us, so much that He gave the life of His Son for us. We do not earn Jesus’ death. He gave His life freely. Our justification, our being made just and right in God’s eyes is an accomplished fact. We do good works, we are good stewards because of all that God has done for us, in response to what God has given to us, as He stirs in us. We love, we give, we work, because God first loves us and He moves and stirs in us to love, give and work.

All this brings us to our previous conclusion, and the explanation that Luther gives. Why do we bother praying this petition? To remind us that all things come from our gracious heavenly Father, to give Him thanks and to keep our faith where it belongs. “Come Lord Jesus, be our guest and let these Your gifts to us be blessed. Amen.”

Our Father in heaven, forgive me when I think that I have in any way earned or deserved the many gifts and blessings You have given me, life, faith, forgiveness, heaven, food, clothing, meat, drink, house, family and many gifts of which I am unaware. Thank you for all that You have given to me and continue to give to me. May Your name be praised. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

CD - The Fourth Petition - Matthew 6:25-34

This is the only petition, of the seven, in which we ask for something for ourselves, namely bodily blessings. The first question that might come to mind, is “What if we did not pray, would we still receive our daily bread?” For a logical answer, look at the non-Christians and the unchurched of the world. I am sure they do not pray, but they receive the same, if not more, blessings than we Christians receive.

Let us look at what is meant by daily bread. Daily bread is not just a loaf of bread everyday. That definition is a too simple literal translation. Daily bread is a short two-word phrase meant to encompass a very broad scope of items. As we do need bread or food daily to sustain our physical life, so we need other physical or bodily items to sustain our physical being and make it more comfortable. Thus, daily bread includes such physical or bodily items as shelter, clothing, shoes, food, drink and even friends. We must realize that this petition does not necessarily include everything we want, but it does include all that our good and gracious Lord knows we need.

We pray the word, our, not me. We are not praying simply for ourselves, because our prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, is not a selfish prayer. We pray for ourselves and for others that we all may be sustained daily.

Our scripture reading from Matthew is a part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus does, as only He can do, an excellent job of explaining why we should not worry. Look around at God’s creation. Do you see any of God’s other creations worrying? No, of course not, and, yet look at how well they are taken care. Are not we, being the jewel in our Lord’s crown of creation so to speak, worth more than these other creatures and creations?

Why do we worry, then, in the first place? Because we think we can do it ourselves. We think we can take care of our lives and run the show. We forget that God is in control, although not like a puppeteer, and He is the one who is directing our lives.

Why do we bother praying this petition? To remind us that all things come from our gracious heavenly Father, to give Him thanks and to keep our faith where it belongs. Two thoughts I would like to share before I end:
  1. When we worry, we assume a responsibility that God never intended us to have.
  2. When we worry, we undo our prayers. Therefore, why worry when you can pray, “give us this day, our daily bread.”
Our Father in heaven, forgive me when I fail to come to You to ask for my daily bread. I know that You continue to answer this prayer, even when I forget to pray. Continue to work in me the understanding of how You take care of me, supplying me with all that I need to support my life. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

CD - The Third Petition - Romans 8:28

Why do bad things happen to good people is the question we often hear and even ask? The problem is, that this question is a wrong question. The question begins with a wrong assumption, that is that we are good people. The fact is, we are not good people. We are by nature spiritually blind, spiritually dead and enemies of God. We are “shapen in iniquity and conceived in sin” (Ps. 51:5). We are born with original sin and to that we add our actual sins, our sins of omission and our sins of commission. We daily sin much and are in need of God’s forgiveness.

The question we should ask, then, is this, “why do good things happen to bad and sinful people?” The answer to that question brings us back to God’s will. God’s will is that all people are saved. God’s will is that only the best things happen to us. God’s will is always what is best for us. And we should add, God’s will is always what is best for us according to what He knows is best for us. God’s usual way of working with us, the way He “likes” to work with us, is through the Gospel. God’s alien work is the work of the Law. We see this time and again in the Bible when God threatens to punish and then we are told that He “changes” His mind. God is changeless, so how can He change His mind. Of course, we are trying to put God into human words and that is our first difficulty. It is hard to express the unexpressible. The point is, however, that God is always looking for ways to show us His great love for us. His greatest way of showing His love is that He gave His Son to give His life for ours on the cross.

Paul says it well in our Bible reading, God works out the best in all circumstances for those who love Him and who have been called according to His purposes. We may not see what good is coming out of any given situation while we are in the middle of it. Maybe we will never know what good is coming out of any particular situation. Sometimes it is not until weeks, months, even years later that we finally realize what good God works out for us. The fact is, God’s will is always the best for us and He always works out His will for us. As we think about the “bad” things that happen to us and as we recall the “good” things that happen to us, we will want to think about them in connection with God’s good and gracious will. As we pray for strength in any given situation we also pray for God’s will. The difficult part is that we need to also pray, “Lord, help me to abide by Your will.” As the man who came to Jesus for healing for his son said, “Lord I do believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).

Our Father in heaven, forgive me when I doubt that You will work out the best in any and every situation in life that I face. Lord, I do believe, help my unbelief. To You be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Monday, December 20, 2010

CD - The Third Petition - 1 Timothy 2:3-4

This third petition is the final petition of the first three, asking for spiritual blessings. We pray in this petition, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” What is the will of God? The scripture reading from 1 Timothy 2:3-4 tells us, “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” Of course, this short passage then brings to mind several other questions like, why is not everyone saved if it is God’s will that all people are saved? Pilate asked, “What is truth?”

Let us take a moment first to answer the second question, what is truth? We find this question in the Gospel of John, of course, our philosophical gospel writer. The context of the question was when Jesus was on trial, being questioned by Pilate (John 18:28-40). Jesus said that He came into the world to bear witness or to testify of the truth, and Pilate, who was interested in philosophical discussions, asked, “What is truth?” Jesus, then, answered our question of what is truth. Truth is God the Father made flesh in Himself, Jesus. Men are liars and sinners. God only is holy. Jesus, true God, is sinless. Thus, the only perfect, sinless, holy truth can be Jesus and His Word. For us today truth is the inerrant Word of God, the Bible. How important it is, as we now see, that we do confess the inerrancy of Scripture. Otherwise, we are left with nothing of truth or value.

This discussion now brings us to question number one above, why is not everyone saved? First, we make note that it is God’s will that everyone comes to the knowledge of the truth, that is, knows Jesus and is saved. Second, we need to remember that man was created with a brain to think and a free will to decide what to do. Sure, God could have made us all puppets that said, “I love you, God,” but that is not true love. God gave us minds to decide what our will would be. We remember back in Genesis in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve both exercised their free will to disobey God. This brought about the fall into sin and the knowledge not only of good, but of evil. Ever since then, men (and women) have been deciding evil, as “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). Sure, it is God’s will (He wants it) that all people know Jesus, but, at the same time, it is according to a person’s will to say no. Without getting into it at this time, however, let me add one point along these lines, that is, as sinners we can only say no to Jesus. Thus, we get the blame for our damnation if that is the case, but, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can accept Jesus, and the Holy Spirit receives the credit for our salvation (1 Corinthians 12:3).

Finally, we do pray in this petition that God’s will that all people would be saved will happen. We pray for the conversion of all people.

Our Father in heaven, forgive me when I forget that You love everyone so much that You sent Jesus to die for all people. Thank You for bringing me to faith and for keeping me in faith. I pray that You will be done on earth as it is in heaven, and that Your Word may reach all people on earth so that as it is Your will, all people might come to know You and be saved. Grant this for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Facts - December 19, 2010 - Fourth Sunday in Advent - Text: Matthew 1:18-25

This morning we have lighted the fourth and final Advent candle, the Angels candle reminding us of the angels who announced the good news to the shepherds that in Bethlehem God fulfilled His promise that Jesus the Savior was born. We are only one candle and six days away from celebrating Christ-mas, the birth of our Savior, Christ the Lord. The past two weeks we have been looking at the life of John the Baptist, the forerunner, the way preparer for Jesus and His earthly ministry of ushering in the Kingdom of heaven. This week we shift gears and move back to the time of just before Jesus physical, earthly birth. Our text for this morning comes right after the genealogy of Jesus which traces Jesus roots back through Joseph all the way to Jesus being the ancestor of Abraham, thus pointing out that this is the Child of promise, the one originally promised by God in the Garden of Eden and the one about whom the prophets continually spoke throughout history. This morning, however, we will focus not so much on Joseph, or Mary, but on God and His hand and plan in all these events that took place.

With that said, our story does begin with Mary and the events of the life of an unwed mother. Mary was a young teenager, probably between the ages of thirteen and sixteen. Although she was betrothed, which meant that she was legally married, she was not yet married and now she was found to be pregnant. Matthew says, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit” (v. 18). Of course, when we read that she was “found” to be pregnant we might snicker a smug snicker, because we know that people do not just “find” themselves pregnant. But, with Mary, that was the case. She was “found” to be pregnant, because what was conceived in her was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit.

We know that Mary was, what we would today call, a religious person or today we might say that she was a Christian. She believed in God. She believed God’s promise to send a Savior. She was faithful in her worship and Bible class attendance, listening to Holy Scripture, and in prayers. But remember, these were not things she did in order to justify herself, or to attempt to make herself righteous in God’s sight. These were things she did out of love and as a response for God’s great love for her. She was chosen by God, but she was not chosen to be the mother of God because of any merit or worthiness on her part, only because God, in His grace, chose her.

Mary was a mature young woman who was willing to submit to the will of God. Whether or not she understood all the ramifications, the public discrimination and the like, of her submitting to the will of God we do not know, all we know is that she put her trust in God to be a part of His plan and purposes. And she trusted that God would work out all things in her life for the best.

Our story continues with Joseph. Joseph is the adoptive father of God. Joseph was a young man, probably in his middle to late twenties, trying to do the right thing. About Joseph Matthew says, “And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit’” (v. 19-20). Notice that Joseph considered all these things. Joseph was not the type of person to make a quick, rash decision, but instead, he thought about the situation with Mary. He knew what could be the possible ramifications of exposing Mary to be pregnant, namely, she could be stoned to death. He thought about the public disgrace that she would suffer and he thought about how he cared for and loved her, so he had in mind to divorce her quietly and not make a big deal of the whole situation.

We are told that Joseph was also a religious person. Today we might say that he too, along with Mary, was a Christian. He had faith in God. He believed God’s promise to send a Savior. He was looking for this Savior as well. What he did not know, until this time, was that he would be a part of the life of the Savior.

Joseph was a man wanting to do the will of God. When the angel appeared to him he listened to the angel. He understood what the angel was telling him. He probably did not understand what would be the result of his obedience to God’s will, but because of his faith he was willing to take the risk and do what God wanted done.

We have talked about Mary, we have talked about Joseph, but did you notice in all these events the hand of God. Let us go back to the real beginning of our story. And I do mean the real beginning. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. He created all the living creatures and He crowned His creation with His creation of the mankind, the man Adam and the woman, Eve. He put them in a beautiful garden which He had prepared especially for them. They were to care for the garden and in order to give them a way to acknowledge and respond to God for all His good gifts and blessings, the Lord gave them the ability to give Him their obedience, that is, to obey Him by doing what He asked. And what God asked was that they not eat from the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Of course, most of us know the story. They did eat of the fruit of “the tree of knowledge of good and evil” and with that sin of disobedience, sin entered the world and with sin, punishment also entered and in particular, the punishment of death, even eternal spiritual death and the earth was cursed. Immediately, and I do mean immediately, after Adam and Eve sinned, God stepped in. It was God who came to rescue Adam and Eve. He first made His promise to Adam and Eve in the Garden that He would send a Savior for their forgiveness and for the forgiveness of all humanity, of all people of all nations, of all places of all times. This promise was made before there was a Jew or Gentile, when there was just people, Adam and Eve. As history progressed, following the events of the flood and the tower of Babel, the Lord continued to remember and reiterate this promise to send a Savior for all people. Throughout Scripture, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and so on down the line, God reiterated His promise, at times narrowing the line of fulfillment of the promise. Even through the time of Mary and Joseph, at which time He began fulfilling those promises.

God’s hand is seen as He now comes to intervene in human history and at just the right time. Matthew quotes from our Old Testament reading for this morning reminding us of God’s promise and His fulfillment, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us)” (v. 22-23). God is the one in charge. God is the prime mover. The Holy Spirit is the one who worked the miracle of Mary’s pregnancy. The baby to be born is true God, conceived by the Holy Spirit, and true man, born of the human mother, the virgin Mary. And the baby that was born was born for one reason and one reason only, to die, to pay the price for your sins and mine. This is God intervening in human history and time, in order to bring forgiveness of sins, life, eternal life and salvation.

God is the one who is directing these events which are taking place. At just the right time, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, born to give His life for ours. God sent His angel to bring the message of the birth of John the Baptist, the way preparer for the Messiah, to Zechariah and Elizabeth. God sent His angel to bring the message of the birth of His only Son to Mary. God is the one who sent His angel, and I might add again, at just the right time, to Joseph in a dream in order to still his doubts concerning Mary, his betrothed. God is the one who we know and believe that with Him, all things are possible.

And now we read the story and how these events were played out. Mary was pregnant. She was a young, unwed mother, whose unplanned pregnancy could have meant death by stoning. She was betrothed, more than engaged, legally married to Joseph, and what would he think of his bride to be when He found out she was pregnant and it was not his child. Mary had complete trust in God and His good will and pleasure. She had complete trust in His unseen hand in all these events which were about to take place.

Joseph was a righteous man. He wanted to do what was right. He carefully contemplated and considered all his options, as he saw them, until he was visited by an angel. The angel announced to him what was really happening, God’s unseen hand in these events which were about to take place. Joseph also had complete trust in God and His good will and pleasure and was obedient to that will.

Joseph did what was right as he was directed by God. Matthew tells us, “When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus” (v. 24-25). Joseph did not question anything that the angel had told him. He took Mary home as his wife. He had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he adopted her son as his own and this was done through his giving Him the name Emmanuel, which means “God with us.” Jesus, the name by which he is called, means “God saves.” Thus we have in this name the understanding that our God is with us who has come to save us. Christ the Lord is born.

Have you ever wondered why certain things happen in your life, or why they happen at a certain time? You are experiencing the same thoughts that Mary and Joseph were experiencing I am sure. Sometimes we can see God’s hand in the events of our lives, or at least we think we can, but most of the time, however, it is usually not until the events are long past that we can really see and understand what was God’s good and perfect will. For your own comfort and strengthening I would remind you, as we have seen God work through the lives of Mary and Joseph and many others throughout Holy Scripture, we know that God works when and where He pleases, always at just the right time, according to what He knows is best for us, according to His good and gracious and perfect will. As we continue preparing ourselves to celebrate Jesus’ first coming at His birth in Bethlehem, I pray we are reminded by God’s Word and God Himself through His Word, of His love for us in working out these events for our salvation. And to that we say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

CD - The Second Petition - Mark 4:26-29

“I’m but a stranger here, Heav’n is my home; Earth is a desert drear, Heav’n is my home. Danger and sorrow stand Round me on ev’ry hand; Heav’n is my fatherland, Heav’n is my home.” Thomas R. Taylor lived less than twenty-eight years in this life. We might say that his was a short visit to this world and the words he wrote in the familiar song I’m But a Stranger Here, echo his faith that he knew where his home was and it was not on this earth which he was visiting.

We say that our faith is important. We say that church is our number one priority. We say that we are preparing ourselves for heaven, but are we? Thomas Taylor’s life and hymn put things into their proper perspective. We do live in this world for only a short time, especially when we compare the time we spend in this world to the time we will spend in eternity. Our life’s journey is sixty, seventy, maybe a hundred years. Our life in eternity will be forever, hundreds of thousands of millions of years and beyond. The ratio is something like one to one “billion billion”. Is the time we spend on this life compared to the time we spend getting ready for our real life at the same ratio?

The devil is not stupid as we might think. He is alive, well, and very cunning. He does not tell us to “not go to church,” to “not read our Bibles,” to not “go to Bible class or Bible study.” Instead he tells us to tell the world that these things are our priorities. And just saying that they are our priorities makes us feel so much better. Unfortunately, the devil then moves to get us involved in the things of this world. We get involved with work, putting in over time, working our way up the corporate ladder, wanting to keep our job, looking for job security, and so on. We get involved in going to school or going back to school. We get involved in special clubs. We get ourselves put on committees. We get ourselves involved in so many things of this world that when it comes time to be involved in the things of God’s Kingdom, we find we do not have any more time.

We like to think that we have certain priorities, and that our being in the Lord’s Kingdom is the highest, but is it? If you want to be “brutally” honest with yourself, do a priority check. A priority check consists, not with what you say to people concerning your priorities, but on what you actually do, how you act, how you live your priorities. If you want to know what really are your priorities then take the following test. First, open your checkbook and see where you spend your money. Do you spend your money on food, clothing, entertainment, house payment, electricity, car payment? How much of “your” money do you return to the Lord? (Here, the better question might be, “how much of the Lord’s money should you keep for yourself?) Next, make a time schedule for the week. Write down how much time you spend doing whatever you do. How much time do you spend sleeping, working, eating, playing, yard work, praying, reading your Bible, going to church, going to Bible class? This could be an eye opening experience. Next, think about what you do when you get discouraged or depressed. Where is the first place you go, what is the first thing your do? Do you go shopping to make yourself feel better? Do you get a stiff drink? Do you reach for some medication? Do you open the Bible and go to the Lord in prayer? Finally, take a look at your living. Do your consciously show that you are a Christian? or do you get embarrassed and try to hide the fact that you are a Christian? Do you put the best construction on everything or do you look for the worst in people?

Jesus was quite frank in discussing priorities. In speaking in monitory terms, He says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). In other words, we can find out what our priorities really are by looking at how we spend our money, our time, how we use our talents and what are our attitudes.

As a word of encouragement to you, remember that you are not perfect and God knows it. That is why He sent the Holy Spirit and that is why He gives us the means of grace. Make use of these means that He gives and by the grace of God and with the help of the Holy Spirit you will be prepared for the coming of God’s Kingdom.

Dear Father in Heaven, forgive me when I get my priorities confused. Forgiven me when I spend all my time, money and energy on the things of this world instead of on my preparation for my coming into Your Kingdom. Gently move me back into Your Word and fill me with Your Holy Spirit working through that Word that I might be prepared for the coming of your Kingdom. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Friday, December 17, 2010

CD - The Second Petition - Mark 1:15

We might feel strange at times when we pray this second petition, “Thy kingdom come,” if we actually stopped to think about what we are praying. God’s kingdom consists of three distinct kingdoms, the kingdom of power, which consists of all creatures and is, contrary to popular belief, not mother nature, but is under God’s rule and power. The kingdom of Grace is God’s church here on earth, and the kingdom of Glory is the church in heaven.

In this second petition we are praying, first, for the kingdom of Grace. That is, we are praying that God the Father would continue to send the Holy Spirit (this has already been done, at Pentecost) to be among us. After Jesus ascended into heaven, He sent the Holy Spirit (who is still here working today) to work in the hearts of all, that all people might come to the knowledge of the truth and be saved. We are praying that we will be instruments of the Holy Spirit that He might work through us to bring others to faith in Jesus that they might receive eternal life in heaven also.

We are also praying for the kingdom of Glory, that is, heaven. We are praying that God would quickly bring all men to faith, and just as quickly bring about the end of this sinful world and (to coin a phrase) “take us from this vale of tears to be with Him in heaven.”

It is amazing what you pray for when you do not think about what you are praying for, or do not know. What are we praying for ourselves? We are praying for ourselves that God would work continued faith and strengthening of that faith in our hearts so that we might be better witnesses for Him, of His grace and love here on earth. We also pray that our leading a godly life and strengthening of our faith would prepare us to be ready for the end of our days here on earth and the beginning of our perfection in heaven for eternity.

Now, just because we are praying for the hastening of God’s kingdom does not mean that it is going to come today or tomorrow. We should, also, not fear this coming of the end times but be ready in our faith in Jesus, knowing that we will be in heaven with Him. We are praying for the coming of God’s kingdom of grace that others, especially those who have not yet heard of Jesus (as, and especially, missions) might have the chance to hear and believe and also have the assurance of eternal life in heaven.

As a word of encouragement to you, let me ask that, as you pray this petition, you allow the Holy Spirit to move you that you might be a part of this mission effort. May you be moved to become a missionary, or donate some monetary gift, or became a better missionary in your own neighborhood. God grant an answer to your prayer, this petition, for Jesus’ sake.

Dear Father in Heaven, forgive me when I neglect to spread Your Word, especially when I neglect to live as a witness of Your Word. Fill me with Your Spirit that I might be empowered to share my faith with others through my actions as well as through speaking to them. Bless my mission work here in this place that it might bring praise to Your name. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Cave - Advent Mid-week 3 - December 15, 2010 - Text: Luke 2:12

Last week as we actually went back and looked at the Word of God we found out that the Bible does not specifically mention an innkeeper and that an inn was simply a “guest chamber” or an “upper room.” This evening, as we go back to the Word of God, we do not read anything concerning the shelter, building, structure or facility in which Jesus was born, simply that His first bed was a manger. So, what about the shelter, building, structure or facility? The only indication of what type of place it was in which Jesus was born is the fact that His first bed was a manger which was a feeding trough for animals, implying that the place was some type of animal shelter.

So, where were the animals kept? Where they kept in a barn? Where they kept in a cave? From my reading of archeological studies and from looking at the land around Bethlehem, the best conclusion is that the place where Jesus was born was probably a cave. The terrain of the area would suggest a shelter in a cave of sorts. More than likely it was a natural cave, although some might have been dug out.

So, Jesus, likely was born in a cave which was a place to shelter animals. Our next question might be, what animals were sheltered? Perhaps there were cows, maybe camels, certainly if there were any sheep that were not out in the fields they would be in the shelter, but remember the shepherds were out in the fields keeping watch over their flocks by night, implying that they were out in the fields. Maybe there were chickens, but certainly, being a good Jewish neighborhood, there were no unclean animals, no pigs. Maybe a donkey or a mule, any animal which we might see on a farm today.

Another question we might ask concerning Jesus place of birth is, what was this manger in which He was laid, which was His first bed? As I mentioned, a manger was a feeding trough, the place where the hay or other food was placed for the animals to eat. The most sure thing we can say about the manger is that it was big enough to hold the baby Jesus.

As we said last week, by the time Mary and Joseph got to town and began seeking a place to stay, all the houses, all the inns, all the “guest chambers” and “upper rooms” were filled. One suggestion that we talked about last week was that since the “upper room” or “guest chamber” was filled that Mary and Joseph may have stayed with the family in the lower level of the house where the animals would have been kept with the family for the night, which is a good suggestion, but I do not think this suggestion answers the question as to why a manger would be kept in the house. We do know that many animals did stay in the house with the family at night, but would that fact necessitate the need for a feeding trough? Certainly a manger would be kept in the barn or cave where the animals ate during the day. Yet, as was mentioned by Luke in our reading for last week, because the house was full, because there was no room in the “upper room” or “guest chamber,” one person, one relative, remembered that they did have room in the stable, in the cave behind the house. Not much more is said concerning their accommodations except that the baby was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger, a feeding trough for the animals and from our text for this evening that the shepherds were directed to find the baby Jesus “wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”

Again, as we stated last week, certainly we might imagine that the barn was not the most conducive places for the birth of a child. It was not the Hilton, or the Marriot, and there were no bellboys nor room service. There was no in the room bar or even refrigerator and no ice machine down the hall. The aroma was that of a barn, a shelter for animals, perhaps the smell of animal excrement, but perhaps the sweet smell of fresh hay and of course the sweet smell of a newborn child. But, it was a place of shelter. It was covered, quiet and really, probably not too much different that the homes that were built of mud brick and had dirt floors.

Jesus birth in such a lowly place reminds us that Jesus came, not to be served, but to serve. Jesus came, not to be crowned King, although He was King of Kings. Jesus came, humble, born in a stable, a cave, a barn. Our human nature might attempt to lessen the humility of Jesus birth, because in so doing we lessen our feelings of guilt, because it was for us and our sins that Jesus was born in such a place and at such a time. Yet, as Jesus Himself reminds us, in speaking to one of the Pharisees, to the one who has been forgiven little, he loves little, but to the one who has been forgiven much, he loves much. In other words, we can only understand the depths of God’s loves when we understand the depth of our sin, the magnitude of our part in putting Jesus on the cross and the depth of God’s love to be born in such a way, for us. Later, at the end of His ministry and as He was entering Jerusalem for the last time, Jesus rode, triumphant into Jerusalem and yet in His triumph He still rode humble and on a donkey.

The sign the angels gave to the shepherds of the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger was indeed the sign of Jesus. It was the sign of Jesus humbling Himself, giving up the glory of heaven, which was His as God, but He freely gave up the glory of heaven in order to take on human flesh and blood, to take on Himself, His perfect self, our sins, to suffer and die to pay the price for us in our place. The sign of the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger was indeed a sign to the shepherds who were out in the field keeping watch over their flocks by night, the shepherds to whom the angel announced the sign of this child, the Christ child, the Messiah, the one who was born to be the Savior of the world, of all people of all places of all times, yes, your Savior and mine.

As we continue getting ready for our Christmas celebration again this year, we might continue taking the time to review the events of Holy Scripture. Perhaps what we may find, rather, what we will find is that all the events of Holy Scripture have been worked out according to God’s perfect plan and timing, according to God’s perfect, good and gracious will. God is the prime mover. God started it all. God works out the best through any and all circumstances. God gives and does. We are given to and done to. God gives us faith, forgiveness and life. God even stirs in us to live lives of faith in response to His giving and to His glory. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

CD - The First Petition - Exodus 20:7

God’s name is holy. We cannot make His name holy, neither can we, by ourselves, keep His name holy. God’s name is holy because it is His name and He is holy, thus His name is holy. We pray in this petition that, because we are unable to make or keep God’s name holy, that He would help us to keep His name holy among us.

How do we keep God’s name holy? We keep His name holy when we become consciously aware of how we use His name. Do we use His name to call upon Him in every trouble, pray, praise and give thanks? Or has He become a spare tire God? We take Him out, we call upon His name only when we are in need. God wants us to use His name. He does not want us to misuse His name.

God’s name is Yahweh. This name, Yahweh is brought over into our English Bibles as the name Lord printed in all capital letters. This dates back to the time that people, not wanting to misuse God’s name, said Lord instead of Yahweh, when calling on the Lord. Again, God wants us to use His name, but not misuse it.

We keep God’s name holy by using it in the proper way. The proper way of using God’s name is to believe His Word and to live a godly life according to His Word. When we make it known that we are a Christian, when we wear the name Christian, others look at us and see Christ shine through us. Or, they look at us and see why they do not want to be a Christian, if we are making a bad witness. Keeping God’s name holy begins with the Word. As we read and hear the Word of the Lord, that Word springs up within us to move us to think godly thoughts, speak godly words and do godly acts. As we absent ourselves from this means of grace, we absent ourselves from God’s good gifts and blessings and we begin to lose the faith that was given to us.

We keep God’s name holy by hearing God’s Word, believing it, and living it. We do not do this on our own, but only as we are moved by God, through His Word. This is not an easy thing to do because we are still sinners and so we have that inner struggle between sinner and saint moving us to not keep His name holy, rather than to keep His name holy. Which leads us to the prayer which we pray, to have Him help us to keep His name holy.

Dear Father, forgive me as I struggle with keeping your name holy. Stir in me a desire to be in Your Word so that Your Word will work in me to listen to Your Word, to believe Your Word and to live my life according to Your Word. Father, help me to keep Your name holy. Amen.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

CD - The First Petition - John 17:17

“Hallowed be Thy name” is the phrase we call the first petition. I should point out, if you have not learned elsewhere, that when Jesus taught the disciples His prayer, He did not divide it up into petitions. Men devised these divisions, in order that men might better study Jesus’ prayer, not that the Lord’s Prayer is complicated, but that we might better understand for our own guidance in prayer.

We call God many different names. Oftentimes, the names we call Him are not names at all, but are attributes or descriptions of God, such as Wonderful, Counselor, Comforter, Redeemer, etc. Yet each one of these terms is God’s name. His name is not something so holy that we cannot ever utter it or call Him by His name (as some believe and teach). However, His name is to be used with respect and reverence.

In praying this first petition, we are stating that God’s name is holy. We are not implying that it is not holy and we will make it holy, for we, being unholy, could never make it holy. We are, however, praying that His name is holy and implying that we need help in keeping it holy among us.

How can we keep God’s name holy? Simply by living a life that is pleasing to Him, which is not easily done. Take a look around you and see how often God’s name is misused, even among Christians. We so often hear God called a “dog” (god / dog). We hear prayers all over (i.e., “Ouch, Jesus Christ,” etc.). We might be led to believe that God’s last name is “dammit.” Of course, these examples are only from our oral (speaking) witness. What about our actions? Do our lives and actions tell others that we hallow and revere God’s name? Or are we quick tempered? Are we first to separate ourselves under the false pretense that, as Christians, we are better and do not want to fall back into our sinful ways by associating with heathens, pagans, and non-Christians. Are you hallowing God’s name? Are you keeping His already Holy name holy?

Listen to yourself speak for a day. How often do you “slip” and misuse God’s Holy name? Are you better about watching what you say only when you are around adults? Maybe you think it makes you an adult when you speak profanities. It is too bad that we have such a tendency to believe that in our world. Maybe, with the help of God, you can be a good example of keeping God’s name holy, even to adults?

Dear Father, as I pray, “Hallowed be Thy name,” give me the will and desire to keep Your name holy. Give me the courage, especially in the times when peer pressure is the greatest, to stand up for Your name. Help me by my actions even more than my words to witness to others the power You have instilled in me as Your chosen child. Father, may Your name indeed be holy. Amen.

Monday, December 13, 2010

CD - The Introduction of the Lord’s Prayer - 1 John 3:1

Prayer is one thing that sets us, as Christians, apart from all other religions. We pray to a living God. All other religions “meditate” and really their mediation amounts to a prayer to self. We pray to a living God who we know hears our prayers and answers our prayers. As John tells us, we pray to a loving God who calls us His children.

Did you know that you could carry on a conversation with God? Have you ever talked to God? Certainly, whenever you pray you talk to Him. Has God ever spoken to you? Certainly, whenever you read His Word, the Bible, He speaks directly to you. Thus, we carry on a conversation with God. Is this something that just happens? No, just like many things in life, carrying on a conversation with God takes time and energy. It takes putting aside time to read God’s Word. It takes putting aside time to be with God in prayer. And it takes practice. The more you do it, practice it, read God’s Word and go to Him in prayer, the better you will get.

Throughout the Bible God gives us examples of how to pray to Him. The Psalms are wonderful prayers. Jesus’ prayers to God the Father are wonderful examples of how we too can pray to God the Father. Sometimes you may think that your words and your prayer just is not “good” enough for God. Do no be dismayed. Certainly, our words are not “good” enough in the sense that we think of them as being “good,” but they do come before the Lord because they come from a believing heart. They also come as Jesus prays and intercedes for you as well.

If you have ever had a hard time trying to pray. If you have ever wanted more help in praying, try praying the Bible. Yes, you can “pray” the Bible. Again, the Psalms are wonderful works of prayer. They are prayers of thanks and praise, as well as prayers of lament and struggle. You might just be surprised at how the Psalms might express just the thought that was on your mind. And because it is God’s Word which you are speaking back to God, how much better of a prayer can that be. But, rest assured, even the simplest of prayers, “Abba, Father,” is a prayer that comes before our Father in heaven, is heard by Him and is answered by Him.

We are children of God, declared so by God Himself through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. As a father listens to His children so, even more your heavenly Father hears and answers your prayers. Pray with confidence because He will answer with an answer even beyond your expectation.

Father in heaven, forgive me when I think my prayer is unworthy of Your attention. I am glad and give thanks that You love me and You have declared me to be Your child. Guide me in my prayers to You as well as in my listening to You through Your Word, so that in this way we may be in conversation with each other. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.