Monday, June 26, 2017

Devotion 6.27.17

My favorite story in the Old Testament is one that is a tragedy in the truest sense.  David, king of Israel, out on the roof of his palace, looking at all he has when he spots a woman.  You probably are familiar with the story.  Her name, he finds out, is Bathsheba, wife of Uriah the Hittite who is a general in David's army.  David likes what he sees and seduces her and she becomes pregnant.  David, not to be outwitted by his own actions, puts in place a plot to get Uriah to think the child is his, but Uriah is a man of honor who thinks about his troops.  So, even though David gets him tipsy to send off to "lay with his wife," Uriah cannot. 

Fast forward to David getting aggravated at a loyal general who wants to go back to be with his troops.  "Okay, if you won't go for Plan A, then we'll go to Plan B, and I will give you a battle to fight in that no one will survive."  Uriah goes to battle and dies.  Bathsheba joins David (and the hundreds of other wives) in the house of David.  God sends Nathan to point out David's sins, and when Nathan uses the story of a wealthy man who took a poor man's sole lamb to slaughter and use for his own feast, David demands, "Send me that man!" to which Nathan says, "You are that man."  (2 Samuel 11).

Martin Luther has a familiar quote that if you are going to sin, "sin boldly"  (a sarcastic statement that means don't just sin in a timid way, stand up and just sin boldly if you are going to sin). David did just that all in one act.  Covet, adultery, lie, murder, place himself before God.  This from a man who had more than everything because he was "a man after God's own heart."  In the Tenth Commandment, God states that, "You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox o donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor." 

David took what didn't belong to him, and in maybe not such bold ways, we do as well through sins of the heart.  Seeing someone in our neighbor's home and desiring it (sin). Christ gives us no wiggle room by expanding the definition of sin, but He does so for one simple reason:  To get us to turn to Him in all things. It is through Christ that we receive the forgiveness for our sin-filled lives.  As David looked to the promise of the coming Messiah, we look to Christ and receive that mercy and grace.  God forgave David, and God forgives us.

Pray for contentment, the kind of contentment that can only be found in Christ Jesus.

Hope Men's Ministry

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Devotion 6.26.17

So, I see something my neighbor has and suddenly I want one of my very own.  I have a house full of things that I obtained, quite legally, because I saw someone who had one.  "Got to have me one of them," I say to myself.  This kind of thinking drives our free market economy.  Our cars are financed for five years or so, even though we probably will trade them in every three years on average.  Our homes are financed for 30 years even though we move or refinance every seven (according to realtor information).  We had a garage sale recently and the big money items were two slightly used BBQ pits because I had replaced them with a new grill and a new smoker.  Judging from economic data, I'm not alone.

"You shall not covet your neighbor's house," the Ninth Commandment tells us.  Yet we covet daily. As noted earlier, it is what drives our economy.  If we don't covet on our own, then society will put things in front of us that will cause us to covet.  I mean really, advertisements give us the new version of what I'm holding that is one-year-old may move my conditioned mind to replace that antique.

Am I condemning free market economies?  No, not at all.  Am I condemning people who have obtained a certain level of wealth.  Absolutely not.  A poor person can covet just as well as the middle income American in his 3/2/2 home with his 1.8 children and a wife.  And the average American can covet just as well as a man who has everything, like a very wealthy man.  It is a sin that blankets humanity and has since the fall of man.  What caused the fall?  Satan created a certain desire for us to be "like God" (we coveted our own Creator).

Solution?  "Not that I'm speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation to be content."  (Philippians 4) How do I obtain this kind of contentment?  Through our savior, Jesus Christ.  We turn to Christ and place our true needs in his hands - both our physical and spiritual needs.  Our prayer is simple, "Christ, help me to be content through my faith in you."  Amen.

Hope Men's Ministry 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Devotion 6.22.17

"So you'll never hear one of us repeating gossip, so you better be sure and listen close the first time."

That line was taken from an old "Hee-Haw" skit, in which the women were attending to tasks and telling each other the details of "things" going on in people's lives.  If the Fifth Commandment is the greatest weakness among men (lust), then the Eighth Commandment is certainly possibly the most violated commandment among all of us.  "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor," the commandment reads.

I found it interesting one day when I heard someone speaking about someone else.  Someone else noted he may be gossiping and he said, "If it's true, it's not gossip."  Interesting spin used to justify the act.  We have developed sophisticated logic to justify ourselves in such situations, but Luther is very clear in the catechism.  Aside from lying about or to our neighbor (the clear forbidden action in this commandment) Luther writes this, "God forbids us to betray our neighbor, that is, to reveal our neighbor's secrets, and God forbids us to slander our neighbor or hurt our neighbor's reputation."  We are told specifically in scripture to speak directly to our neighbor in those times when we may have issues, such as Matthew 18, "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone."  James 4 also tells us, "Do not speak evil against one another, brothers."  Finally, in Luke 6, Christ says, "Judge not, and you will not be judged.  Condemn not, and you will not be condemned."

So, true or false, fact or fiction, the Eighth Commandment is fairly clear on what we share about someone.  Luther says that when we speak of someone, we should put the best construct on it.  We should build up our neighbor, and we should put the best meaning on everything.  In short, that old adage we all learn holds true, "If you can't say something nice about someone, don't say anything at all."

Paul says it this way, and this is our prayer:  "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." (1 Corinthians 13:7)  That is our prayer, to love one another in all we say or do. 

Hope Men's Ministry

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Devotion 6.21.17

So, I bought a new pellet grill smoker for my wife.  Yes, I thought it was the perfect Mother's Day gift, and it has all the bells and whistles on it.  It even has, get this, wifi connectivity, so my wife can sit in the living room and monitor the progress of the meat being smoked from her iPhone! Crazy, isn't it?  It's almost as though it is the perfect gift for the man who has everything, which I do, which is why I bought it for my wife. Of course, when she rejected the gift outright on Mother's Day, I had no choice but to take it as my own.  It was the only way to rectify the situation. What a waste of a perfectly good pellet grill smoker with wifi and an app on the iPhone (or android) in which I can sit myself in a chair and never get our of it while the brisket smokes. 

What's this have to do with the Seventh Commandment you may ask?  "You shall not steal." Well, in reading the explanatory notes of "What does this mean?", it is all right there in front of us.  Don't take what's not yours via robbery, theft, or "dishonest ways of getting things." So, I took our money and bought a smoker, not really for my wife, but in the guise of buying it for her for Mother's Day, and bought it for myself.

Once again we see that Luther, through Christ's own words, takes a physical act (in modern day, we also can steal without touching anything via identity theft, information theft online and other types of "skimming" as they call it, so it isn't all physical) and places the actual intent, a matter of the heart, at the heart of the sin when he instructs us to not go about getting something dishonestly.  In my case, taking our money and using it for alternative purposes.

I have only one manner of redemption in this case (after getting Cindy her very own Mother's Day gift) and that is to take this matter to Christ and confess my sin.  In a serious way, we should all examine our lives as we live in a very materialistic world and begin to see how the commandments overlap.  Lying, stealing, wanting things that we can neither afford or need (coveting).  In essence, going neck deep into sin to obtain stuff we didn't need because, like the shiny lure in the water that attracts the fish, we had to have it until it snagged us and dragged us down.

We go to Christ and ask Him to sustain our lives and to help us faithfully and honestly get what we need.  We thank God for what we have and ask that we use a measure of faith and thought in God-pleasing ways when we seek to gain things we want.  We ask for forgiveness when our lusts of our flesh cause us to seek those things we desire but really shouldn't have.  We thank God for the mercy and grace He gives us when we take our eyes off of Him and turn to our material world for gratification.

Hope Men's Ministry

Monday, June 19, 2017

Devotion 6.20.17

Football is the sport that operates in a separate stratosphere.  The NFL has significant issues, many off-field issues, such as spousal or partner abuse and substance issues.  It also has on-field issues such as head injuries caused by massive men at increasingly higher speeds colliding with one another, and last year (a political year), we enjoyed seeing men take a knee during the National Anthem.  Logically then, when the NFL owners met this past spring, they said they were going to allow end-zone celebrations.  It all makes sense to someone deep in the tax-free NFL offices (a multi-billion dollar industry).

Another peculiarity in this sport is the definition of a score.  In baseball, the runner crosses the plate and has to touch home plate.  In basketball, the ball must go through the hoop.  In hockey and soccer, the puck or ball goes into the net.  In football?  The ball must break the "plane."  So, per NFL specs, cameras have been placed at various angles in and around the end-zone to see if the ball "breaks the plane."  If in the end-zone, the cameras capture how many feet were in if a catch is made when the back or receiver is leaving the end-zone (in which the ball may not be actually "in") but his feet were.  So, you can score ball in, feet out OR you can score feet in, ball out.  Again, this all makes sense to someone deep in the tax-free NFL offices (actually, I think last year they voluntarily agreed to a limited tax of some sort because of the bad PR that issue generated). 

So, the lines in football are blurred by the plane issue creating a nice shade of gray for the football fan.  Did he score or didn't he?  Did he get the first down or didn't he?  It's not as black and white as it may seem.  It is a nice shade of gray.  There are some who thrive in the gray zone of life, like the commentators reviewing these calls as they are being considered, or some in life who operate well in gray. 

So to the Sixth Commandment, "You shall not commit adultery."  Simple, straight-forward.  Don't stray when you are married.  Right?  Some take it even further, not just stray, but just don't have sex with another woman when you're married.  Sex is broad category of course, so just don't have intercourse with another woman when you're married, and you don't violate this commandment, right?  In the Catechism, Luther eliminates a great deal of gray by restating Christ's redefining adultery in the Sermon on the Mount.  "God requires us to avoid all temptations to sexual sin," writes Luther, reflecting Christ's, "But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart."

We are men in a men's ministry and can talk honestly at this point.  This is the greatest weakness for men in a world that uses images and imagery to arouse the man via magazine covers for sports all the way through graphic sexual images in media designed to gratify our lusts.  It is there.  It is right in front of us all the time.  Today, the internet has exploded the opportunity to stray and violate not just a physical sin, but a sin of the heart as Christ describes it. Yet we neglect this obvious temptation in our discussions and in our devotions.  These temptations occur before and during marriage, the sole estate in which sex is permissible as the Catechism views it through the lens of scripture. 

We pray in earnest the God deliver us from these temptations.  We also pray that the church is a place in which this sin and these temptations can be discussed in honest discussions.  We pray for all men who face temptation or are in a spiritual struggle with this.  Satan finds our weaknesses and exploits them, but as Paul writes, "My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness.... For when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Corinthian 12)  We pray God uses our weakness to make us strong.

Hope Men's Ministry

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Devotion 6.18.17

I have, and you have in your lifetime,  met people who believe they have no sin.  Oh? you ask.  Yes, and they say things like this:  "Well, I may not be perfect, but at least I've never...."  That is called meeting a level you believe to be the letter of the law but failing to understand the spirit of the law.  It is always easy to look at the poor slob next door and say, "Thank God I'm not like that," and not realize you are acting out the parable from Christ about the Pharisee thanking God for being himself and not like "other men." (Luke 18)  Christ states emphatically that the more worthy prayer was the tax collector's prayer, unable to even look to heaven, asking, "God have mercy on me, a sinner." (v 13)  Christ states, "I tell you that this man, rather than the other man, went home justified before God." (v 14)

Yet we go on in our lives full of piety and thankful that we are who we are and not like those "other men."  That's a sad statement from the very confession we use from 1 John, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us."  Paul notes in Romans 5, "Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned - for before the law was given, sin was in the world.  But sin is not taken into account when there is no law."  The law gives us measure of our sins, but sin existed before the law.  We know we all sin, so to say otherwise is deceiving ourselves and probably denying Christ as the light in this world who frees us from sin, Satan and death.

So, when we read the Fifth Commandment, "You shall not murder," we dust our hands and say, "Well, at least I've never done that."  "But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgement," (Matthew 5:21) is Christ's response to the subject of the Fifth Commandment.  In essence, the violation of a commandment is what is on our heart, not in our actions.  Have I physically killed someone?  No.  Have I violated this commandment?  Absolutely. Is one better than the other or worse?  No, not in God's eyes.

Luther asks what God requires of us in this commandment, and surprisingly, it isn't that He expects us not to kill, rather, "We should help and support our neighbor in every bodily need, and we should be merciful, kind, and forgiving toward our neighbor.  Likewise, we should avoid tempting our neighbor in acts of self-destruction (excess in drinking, use of drugs, etc.)."  Interesting, Luther doesn't mention not taking life (he does in the definition of murder in the various forms of the taking of life), but rather God expects us to "love our neighbor." 

We pray that we are honest with our own hearts and examine our own lives honestly.  We pray that we take those sins of the heart, capable of violating the commandment in the same way a heinous earthly crime might, to our Lord Jesus Christ, seeking His forgiveness and grace.

Hope Men's Ministry

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Devotion 6.16.17

It is fitting that the Friday before Father's Day we have the opportunity to look at the 4th Commandment beginning the Second Table of the Ten Commandments.  The entire Men's Ministry at Hope Lutheran Church and School, and probably other churches if yours has a ministry for men, was intended to create men of Christ, dedicated to uniting in fellowship around the Word through growing to become the men Christ desires us to be in service to Christ, the church, our families, our neighbors, and the entire community, believers and non-believers alike.  The First Table defines our relationship to God, and the Second Table defines our relationships here on earth, beginning with our primary figures in our lives, our parents.

It's interesting to note that God speaks to us in the First Table and places Himself at the top of our priorities:  "You shall have no other gods;" and, then on the Second Table, He places our parents at the top of our priorities:  "Honor your father and your mother."  In all we do, we place God first in our lives.  In all we do on earth, our parents begin us on our path to do just that.  As fathers, we are the primary spiritual driver in the family.  Hebrews 12 speaks to this as the author notes that we have all had fathers who disciplined us, all the more reason to receive the discipline of our Father for our spirit and eternal life.  The Catechism notes Proverbs 22 as it says, "Listen to your father who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old."

We pray that we devote ourselves to better understanding God's expectations for us in our lives.  We pray that we read, learn, and digest God's Word and its meaning for us as men of God and as husbands and fathers, a role given as a role of responsibility.  We pray that we are there for others who need that fatherly figure in their lives with their own father possibly not being there for them.

Have a blessed Father's Day this Sunday.

Hope Men's Ministry