Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Devotion 12.30.15

The Pew Research Center is one of many organizations dedicated to providing information about our behavior ranging from our thoughts about certain issues impacting our lives to our opinions on current events - political, social, or economic.  Gallup is another organization that studies our behavior as well, and you take each survey with a grain of salt and look for patterns over time because our opinions and feeling about something usually can change over time as more information unfolds.

Pew recently released a study on our attitudes toward faith, and the US is in the middle of the pack among nations when it comes to our feelings on the importance of religion in our lives.  53% say faith is important (not specifying the type of faith among the main religions) which is highest among western nations.  Our allies, Britain, Germany, and Canada have respondents from about 21% - 27% saying that faith is important.  The median is 55% globally and the nations higher than the US are mostly developing nations with Ethiopia at the top with 98%, and Uganda where our church Hope Lutheran has a mission, is 94%.

I rarely take a poll at face value yet a complimentary report on the meaning of Christmas in which most Americans now see Christmas as cultural rather than religious.  The "Silent Generation" (World War II) places the highest beliefs in Christmas as a religious holiday, followed by the Baby Boomers, then Generation X, and then the Millenials (those who are assuming a larger role in our country as they become older in adulthood) have the largest number of people who see Christmas as cultural.  So, you see as we move away from the 20th century, newer generations place less meaning on the religious aspect of holidays.

So, we see our society take on a different meaning for Christmas, cultural and religious, and we see that society is beginning to see it more culturally than as a religious observation.  This doesn't conflict with other things we learn about the role of faith in the US (and even surveys from faith-based organizations have similar results) over the past 20 years and begins to put the discussion about CHRIST in Christmas into context.  Some are adamant about it and others continue on their way ignoring it and celebrating Christmas as they see fit.  How does the church properly respond at times like this, where our role as Christ's bride here to take the Word of Christ to the people is in higher demand now more than in the past?

Christ has answers for us, revealed clearly in His Word, so our answers begin there.  In Matthew 9, Jesus looks at the crowds and has compassion on them and tells his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field." In Matthew 28, Christ gives us our commission to "go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." We know the importance of prayer from Christ's own example as he prays for us (his disciples) in John 17, for protection while we are in the world and that God protect us in a world hostile to God and to the message of Christ.  We see the example of the disciples in Acts as the Spirit works through them to deliver the message of Christ to a world in need of faith in Christ and healing from the sin that is in the world.

Our prayer is that Christ be with us and that the Spirit use us to effectively take the message of Christ's suffering, death, and resurrection to this world in a spirit of compassion.  We pray that our families, friends, community, and others we reach hear this Word and learn it and take it to heart.

Hope Men's Ministry

Monday, December 28, 2015

Devotion 12.29.15

New York Giants' receiver Odell Beckham played last Sunday with a high degree of intensity which went well past the line of sportsmanship.  In fact, it was disruptive and violent and crossed a line, not of decency, but of player safety, slamming helmet to helmet and hitting the defensive backs with open defiance of the referee and umpires standing right there.  Of course, it is the NFL which is largely absent of backbone unless you are alleged to have deflated footballs, but as it tries to rein in the violence of the game, on and off the field, it fined the defensive back and suspended Beckham for one game.

Our world is filled with disruptive forces (and always has been filled, but each generation thinks it is a new thing and that the world is in decline - spoiler alert, it always will be, but let each generation find out on its own).

In Luke 2, Simeon sees Christ as he comes into the temple in accordance with the Jewish law articulated in Exodus 13 when God commands Moses to have each family to give to him the first born child and animal.  Christ is brought in on the eighth day and Simeon takes him in his arms to praise God for allowing him to see the Christ, "a light for revelation to the gentile and for glory to your people Israel." (Luke 2:32)

Joseph and Mary "marveled at what was said about him" (v 33), but Simeon continues, "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed." (v 34)

Christ is to be a disruptive force according to Simeon, and the gospels reveal this prophecy, inspired by the Spirit (v 27), is certainly 100% accurate.  Christ is a disruptive force for us today as his Word is described as a sword, slicing our hearts open to the truth and healing on its two edges.

We pray that we hear Christ's word, take it to heart, allow it to convict us and to heal us, and that the Spirit move us to grow in the faith and to take Christ's word to others.

Hope Men's Ministry

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Devotion 12.28.15

I loved the graphic that came out late Saturday night that showed northern and western Texas with blizzard, snow, thunderstorm, and tornado warnings all in the same graphic on the same night.  It was raining on my patio at that moment with wind driving it into the windows hurricane style (living on the coast for 40 years, I can call it as it is without credentials in meteorology).  That gave way to freezing rain and then sleet.  And that was all within 10 minutes.

Texans like to say, "If you don't like the weather in Texas, wait a minute."  Of course, it is said regionally as well, but it is true in general throughout the continental US.  I've enjoyed a beautiful day in Minnesota and then been ushered into the basement as lightning, hail, and rain drive straight down that same day. I was in Kansas one day to see sun, wind, rain, snow, and then dust (yes, dust) within about four hours of time.  It is a phenomenon known as "weather."  It's called "uncertainty."

I once heard a professor from the University of Houston speak at a gathering who said that the genius of the weather caster is in  how they do their craft.  They don't "predict" which implies certainty.  They "forecast," which means they play the odds.  Our weather is given to us in percentages which means you can be completely wrong and look brilliant.

In our Gospel lesson Sunday, we are given the message of Simeon who was at the temple when Jesus came to be presented in accordance with the law (explained in the Old Testament lesson on Sunday as well).  Upon seeing Jesus presented in the temple to be consecrated in accordance with the law, Simeon takes him in his arms and speaks a familiar passage, "Lord, as you have promised, now you dismiss your servant in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentile, and for glory to your people Israel." (Luke 2:29 - 32, also known as the "Nunc Dimittis" - now dismiss - which was the dismissal hymn at communion in Lutheran services past).  Simeon had prayed to wait to see the Christ before he departed from this life, and he was granted that prayer.  His hymn is a hymn of thanksgiving and praise and acknowledges the certainty of who Christ is.

Christ is the certainty in our life.  Simeon's hymn was not a forecast, but it was a prophetic message as to Christ and who he is then and now, a light for revelation to the Gentile and for the glory of God's chosen people, Israel.  Christ is here for all of us to turn to in our time of need and as we grow in faith.

We lift a hymn of praise to God for sending his Son, our certainty, to us.

Hope Men's Ministry

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Devotion 12.24.15

Christmas is a hectic time of year.  Our lists normally include buying gifts for family, sending cards to friends and family (which may include a picture of the family), putting out Christmas decor, preparing a menu for the Christmas meal, traveling to various places to be with family or as a traditional get away vacation at this time of year, going to see Santa, having family come to see us and the room preparation that entails and other such activities preparing for the day.  Christmas itself will involve gift exchange, meals, football or basketball (or skiing if you are in the mountains), and perhaps many of us will attend church, right after we go see Star Wars.

In it all, let's pray that we do actually focus on the reason we observe the savior's birth.  Let's take time to reflect on God's Word during Christmas and consider its meaning in our lives.

"For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government shall be on his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forever more." Isaiah 9:6 - 7

Merry Christmas, Hope Men's Ministry

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Devotion 12.23.15

We had a good friend from college who was married some time ago, and at her wedding, her new husband's grandfather was in attendance.  He was a baseball executive who had been in the California (Los Angeles, Anaheim, California - whatever banner they fly under these days) Angels organization.  My father-in-law, Cindy's dad attended the wedding with us since he had gotten to know all of our college friends in the circle we ran in.  Dad was in the sports' supplier business, once with Rawlings and then Dalco, and when he saw the groom's grandfather, he went and talked to him.  Minutes turned to quarter hours turned to hours.  They knew each other from several projects but had never met.

Dad grew up in east St. Louis and had a love of baseball and was fortunate enough to see that become full-time work.  He met some greats who signed with Rawlings and worked trade shows with them (Mickey Mantle for example).  As we were going through his stuff at his house, there were black and white photos and memorabilia of those times.

He kept his things in impeccable order and shape, so we were going through some records to find his DD214 (discharge papers from the military) to get the military honors at his burial.  He clearly loved the Cardinals but had been a fan of the St. Louis Browns in high school (they are now the Baltimore Orioles).  He clearly loved bowling too because there were numerous pictures.  He met some greats in baseball and in bowling and had kept some memories of those. 

In a folder close to the military papers was a folder of church papers.  He married Cindy's mom in the mid-1950s and shortly after that he was baptized and confirmed in the Lutheran Church there in Richardson (1957 and 1958 I believe).  It was interesting to see he had kept the Baptism certificate and the Confirmation certificate in a folder with important papers such as the title to the house, the discharge papers, life insurance papers and other such items.

Yet both of those events are not just important, but significant events in our faith life.   In one, the Holy Spirit writes our faith in our hearts and in the other the Spirit delivers the body and blood of Christ to us through the bread and wine.  Dad's confirmation verse was significant for the day of his passing as we looked at it:  "For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh." (2 Corinthians 4:11)

Our faith is our life insurance given to us by Christ's death and resurrection.  At this time of year, we remember our Christ and the love from God who sent his Son to save us.

Hope Men's Ministry

Monday, December 21, 2015

Devotion 12.22.15

The call was unexpected yet anticipated and delivered the sad news of the loss of my wife's dad.  She was at school, so I went to the school to tell her.  He had heart surgery in September and began the road to recovery, but in October he began to grow weak and have some problems.  People were gracious in their expression of sympathy and condolences, but I was struck that even those who are "in the church" said, "What a sad time of year for this to happen."

Dad (after 38 years, I began to call him that) had lived a full life filled with love, family, laughter, cards, baseball (the St. Louis Cardinals to be specific), service to his country, bowling, golf, and a host of other items for enjoyment.  He worked for Rawlings and was close to the sports' business, and then went to work for a sports' supplier in Dallas when Rawlings moved.  He worked until September when he took a leave for the surgery.  Indeed, he was active for an 87-year-old man, yet his witness was his love of his church which he faithfully attended over the course of his joining it back in the late 1950s or so.

So, I'm struck as to why this is a "sad time of year" to lose a loved one?  This is the time of year that the promise is fulfilled.  "And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were filled with fear.  And the angel said, 'Fear not, for behold, I give you good tidings of great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.'" (Luke 2:8 - 11)

In death there is loss, and that loss fills an earthly void, especially if you were accustomed to spending time with a person such as a loved one.  Yet our faith tells us that this is a short-term arrangement.  The void is filled with a promise of a savior born long ago who brings our salvation to us through his suffering, death, and resurrection.  "...for in Christ Jesus, you are all sons of God." (Galatians 3:26)  This salvation given to us from Christ is the promise we receive at this time of year.  What better message to hear than the promise fulfilled?

In Advent, we are reminded that Christ will return.  Our joy is in the promise that our faith provides in the baby Jesus and in the risen Christ.

Hope Men's Ministry

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Devotion 12.17.15

Pete Rose was as exciting to watch as any player in my lifetime.  If you saw him play, you knew he was going to play with the intensity of a linebacker and yet with the finesse of a fly fisherman, who can place a light hand-made fly on a leaf floating along a rapid river.  I saw Rose take out a catcher, spike the baseball after the final out of an inning at first base, run like he was being pursued, and come in and out of the park like he had somewhere important to go.  "Charlie Hustle" was an obvious nickname.

Yet he is haunted, and I hate it.  If you divide his talent and success on the field by three players, you have three all-stars who qualify for the Hall of Fame, but Rose is haunted by the fatal sin in baseball, gambling on the game. Gambling on the game while playing, managing, being under investigation, and now supposedly even while supposed to be rehabbing his character to finally gain access to the Hall.  As much as I love Rose, the player, it aggravates me that he callously refuses to admit his problem and learn to deal with it.  Instead, he almost taunts baseball, including a commercial during the Super Bowl when he was "in the hall" even though he's not supposed to be "in the hall."  A friend of mine said it was funny.  I said it smacked of arrogance.

The new commissioner of baseball ruled this week writing, "Mr. Rose's public and private comments, including his initial admission in 2004, provide me with little confidence that he has a mature understanding of his wrongful conduct, that he has accepted full responsibility for it, or that he understands the damage he has caused." (ESPN 12/14/15)

As much as I'm a baseball purist, and as much as a potential great has a stained reputation, I realize as I sit and watch Rose that I'm glad it is him and not me.  How would I stand if my life had the public viewing his does?  Personally, I'm glad I'm a private citizen, and that my life isn't displayed for public consumption.  Yeah, but Rose signed onto that when he became a major league player, you might say.  Are you kidding? In the era he signed to play they had one game per week on television, didn't delve into player's lives and put them on display, have 24/7 sports' news on several networks, have the internet, blogs, and other such media.  In addition, the public didn't seem to have the appetite for such news as it does now either.  Mantle and Mays suffered a minor ban for working in Vegas that was known but quietly reported during those years.

Christ came into this world to save us from ourselves.  Our arrogance in our successes, our arrogance in our weaknesses, and our arrogance in our refusal to admit wrong-doing or to do so begrudgingly because we were caught in spite of the fact that God not only sees all, but knows what is on our heart.  "Joseph went there (Bethlehem) to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.  While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.  She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn." (Luke 3:5 - 7)

A baby came to save us from ourselves.  A baby is our king.  We pray a prayer of thanksgiving that Christ came into this world to save us from ourselves and our inability to overcome our sin.

Hope Men's Ministry

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Devotion 12.16.15

I was 17 years old in 1977 when a movie came out that I heard about via word of mouth.  "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" had come out, and a friend of mine and I were at a high school event when he said, "There is the space movie coming out that is supposed to be like 'Close Encounters,' but it's supposed to be better."  Then we all became aware of "Star Wars" in 1977 because of the score, the opening music especially, which became a pop hit instantly.  John Williams wrote the score to the movie (Google that name and just stand in awe of the movie scores he has written) which did as much in that era to sell the movie as anything else including "Close Encounters".

So, here we are in 2015, almost 40 years later.  I'm 56 years old and watching the news this morning, and the big news is "Star Wars."  George Lucas, the man responsible for the vision and work that became the story and franchise known as "Star Wars" sold his baby to Disney for $4 billion.  Disney made a wise investment.  Google Star Wars Statistics and look at the wealth of the total revenue generated by Star Wars (spoiler alert - $28 billion dollars from movies, toys, music, books.... you get the idea).  Ever the proud dad, Lucas is still part of the story, but he's no longer responsible for stories, decisions, development, promotion and other things that go with the movie. 

Despite the success of the Star Wars series, many observers say it is the simplicity of the story that has given it the staying power.  Good versus evil.  Good and evil have access to the same beliefs, but good uses it within the strong beliefs of how not to misuse those beliefs.  Evil operates at all costs.  In the end, good always seems to resonate and come out victorious.  The simplicity of the story with the fantastic special effects, which in 1977 required entire studios dedicated to sets and are now digital, have given boom to the "Star Wars" brand.  It has given 40 years of staying power to the brand.

It's no coincidence that it comes out at Christmas.  Hollywood knows when schools let out and when audiences are available for large premiers.  The holiday season is always a great time to introduce a movie you anticipate is going to have a large audience.  I believe it is coincidence that it comes out at Christmas and has a parallel theme with Christmas.  We know the simplicity of the Christmas story.  We know the beauty of the Christmas story.  Christ comes to earth in the form of a baby, powerless and helpless in our sight, while being God with the full authority and power of God.  His mission is simple, to save us and do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.  He is obedient to the will of the Father and uses his power and authority wisely to overcome sin and evil.  In the end (and from the beginning), God is victorious.

We know the story well.  "In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.  (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.  And everyone went to his own town to register.  So Joseph also went up from the tow of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem, the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David." (Luke 3:1 - 4)

This is the story that has truth and staying power.  Pray we focus on that at this time of year, even if we enjoy a good movie or two over the holidays.

Hope Men's Ministry

Monday, December 14, 2015

Devotion 12.15.15

We are creatures of habit.  They teach us that in education to a considerable degree for a variety of reasons.  First, we know that something someone learns becomes imbedded quickly and is difficult to "unlearn and reteach" if it isn't correct.  Secondly, even teachers develop habits of methods that they believe are the best to teach students, and it is difficult to overcome those habits even if they are proven to not be as productive as newer methods.

Studies have been conducted in which the observers have placed glass in an aquarium.  Once the fish learn the glass is there, they circle within the available area.  Once the glass is removed, the fish never test the boundary and continue to circle in the same area even though the larger aquarium is now available to them. Yeah, but that is fish, you might say.  Oh?

The Galatians had been given the gift of faith in Christ, yet Paul writes in frustration to them, imploring them about their return to the law as the means of grace with God.  "It is freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.  Mark my words!  I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all.  Again, I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law." (5:1-3)  There is a role of law and gospel, and there is a balance.  The law does not redeem, and the gospel does not free us to ignore the law.  Christ's suffering, death, and resurrection bought our redemption, and our response to His sacrifice is to observe God's law as our offering to God.  Our offering, then, is from the heart and not bound by code.

The glass has been removed for the Galatians and for us, yet we return to the yoke of the law then and now.  Pray that the Spirit open our hearts to the grace God has given us, and that our observance of the law is as an offering to God for his grace.  We are justified by faith, and faith alone!

Hope Men's Ministry

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Devotion 12.14.15

Legalism is defined as the doctrine that salvation is gained through good works or the judging of conduct in terms of adherence to precise laws.  What causes it? 

We are in various aspects of life as well.  In watching football Sunday, there were several replays attempting to determine if the ball crossed the plane of the goal line or if the knee was down prior to the ball crossing the goal line.  We also learned that the NFL has agreed to put together a panel of experts to study the definition of a catch, created in part because of catches like Des Bryant's catch last year in the playoffs.  We will continue to argue over such weighty matters regardless of finding.

In our relationship with God, it boils down to a question of whether my service and attempt to follow the law satisfies God and creates a relationship in which God is pleased with us.  We know that following the letter of the law, especially as Christ defined it, that following the law is not possible.  I may not physically kill a man, but I will get angry and wish ill-will on him, which Christ defined as murder.  Infidelity is not just the physical act, but the lust in a man's heart. 

Yet we seem to be gripped by legalism in faith, perhaps because we are empirical beings.  I understand measurement, success and failure.  We have a difficult time understanding the simplicity of grace.  Surely I have to do something?  Surely I'm not as "bad" as others in this life who have done things that were heinous?

Unfortunately, the attempt to fall back into pleasing God rather than understand his grace is an age-old problem.  In Galatians, Paul addresses the legalists of his day.  After spending time addressing the law, Paul writes in Galatians 3, "You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ." 

The Galatians wrestled with this as we do today.  We pray that we understand God's redeeming grace and that the love he gives us does not come from what we do. 

Hope Men's Ministry

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Devotion 12.10.15

My mom told the story of me as a three-year-old, upset at being told "no," so my logical reaction was to inform her I was going to "Daddy Hunt's" (her step-dad).  "How will you get there?" she asked.  My tricycle, I responded as she told it.

We see it in adults too.  Well, I'm just going to leave this place and take my talent with me.  When confronted with such in my days as an administrator, my mind said, "Adios.  There are a million more out there where you came from."  Outwardly I would say, "Okay, please make sure you put that in writing."  Really though, what else are you supposed to say?  Drop to your knees, cry, wrap your arms around their legs and say, "No, please, how will we ever do without you?"

We see it in the church too.  People given talents by God who use them as a bargaining chip.  "Well, I'll take my (talent, weekly offerings, time, etc.) and go elsewhere.  There are other churches in this town."

I will say this.  We should make an effort to make sure people who contribute are thanked in some manner regularly.  We sometimes overlook those contributions by staff or members.  If it is an inadvertent mistake, most people dust themselves off and move on.  If it is routine, then the organization has some leadership issues that need to be addressed. 

Yet our talents, given by God, are to be treated differently when it come to the church, given to us by Christ.  In Philippians 2, Paul writes, "...work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure."  Our talents are not negotiating tools.  They are to be used to glorify Christ whose grace saves and redeems us.

Pray that we use our talents God has given us out of awe, reverence, respect, and yes, fear in response to the love and trust He has shown to us. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Devotion 12.9.15

Is it me, or does it seem sometimes that when God was parceling out gifts among mankind, some received a generous portion and others, like me, received a spoonful?  I remember sitting in class while some people just seemed to get it, and others, like me formed, study groups to collectively get it.  I remember, vividly because the sting is still there, Dr. Jerome Wolfe, professor of English at my university, placing a D on a paper I worked on feverishly with a note that is still embedded in my memory, "Dr. Gilbertson teaches a course in logic.  Take it."  Ouch.  Meanwhile the guy next door to me gathered his materials, borrowed my typewriter at midnight, and wrote a paper for the same assignment which Dr. Wolfe held up as an example of what true thinking was.

I see it all the time, and yet I should take comfort in the phrase, which is biblical, "To whom much is given, much is expected." (Luke 12:48 - "Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted, they will demand more.")  I hope the genius sitting next to me in Dr. Wolfe's class has taken note.

And yet each of us has been given a gift (or more) from God.  How do we use it?  The Parable of the Talents is a story Christ gives of a man going on a journey and "entrusts" his servants with his property.  To one five, another two, and another one, "each according to his ability."  You know the story, he returns and finds the two who received two and five increased its value while the man who received one buried it.  His explanation, "I was afraid and went and buried it." (Matthew 25:25)

There is the distinction. We are to fear God, but fear that comes from his being God.  The explanations do not say, "Be afraid."  The servant in Matthew described the master as "hard" which is not a descriptor we've been given of God.  This sheds light on the passage in Philippians then, "...work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure."  (2:12 - 13)

Out of fear and love, we use what God has given us.  We do not bury it. We pray we use those talents that God has given us to his glory and to work his will here on earth.

Hope Men's Ministry

Monday, December 7, 2015

Devotion 12.8.15

Well, football is down to the final four teams to see who is to be crowned the official NCAA football championship team.  The committee has met and those in the final four are:  Clemson, Alabama, Oklahoma, and Michigan State.  The four teams meet in a two game playoff December 31 in the Cotton and Orange Bowls and then the Championship Bowl is January 11 between the winner of the two.

It is interesting that this playoff was resisted for years by the bowl system, in spite of the fact the predictions came true.  The playoffs brought in millions of dollars more than they had ever experienced.  Fear of losing millions in spite of the fact you will make more if you simply implement it.  Stephen Covey called this "scarcity mentality."  We fear losing what we have despite the fact there will probably be more than imagined if you simply undertake it. 

So, wouldn't the fear of God stifle me from acting?  No.  Paul writes in Philippians 2, "Therefore my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." (12 and 13)

Fear in the Lord frees us to work his will by lowering our own will and submitting to his.  His plan, working through us, produces the fruit He desires. 

Pray we fear God and allow him to work his will through us.

Hope Men's Ministry

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Devotion 12.7.15

I remember working in a bureaucratic environment, and it was a great experience as well as beneficial to shaping me.  Bureaucratic theory was developed by management guru Max Weber, a German sociologist and intellect.  During the explosion of the industrial revolution, Weber saw a need for job specification, management by rule to regulate and systematize activity, and in short, make the machine efficient.  Bureaucracies, today, carry a very negative connotation and with good reason.  They are seen, because they've earned it, as obstacles rather than creators of efficiency.  They are viewed, with skepticism, as being concerned with the box rather than the possibilities of being out of the box.

What I learned is that a bureaucracy is something to be navigated like a maze.  I learned the maze is negotiable, depending on who is at the point in the maze where you find yourself.  If that point doesn't give, you move to another point in the maze to see if that one gives.  It requires patience, thought, and knowing what you are seeking, and as a leader in development, it helped shape me.

The church, as an organization, is bureaucratic whether it wants to admit it or not.  We have rules and structures in place that are meant to be followed in order to have a path or paths to planning and implementing ministries and activities that fit within the scope of who and what we are.  Like other bureaucracies, they face the same kinds of criticism.  In short, are we responsive or are we more concerned about the rules?

The first thing we need to do at a time like that is simple, ask who is God?  Sometimes we assume the role of God through our own thinking and our institutional rules and processes, and we forget to seek God's guidance and wisdom (or refuse to).  In Exodus 20, the Israelites see "thunder nd flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, and the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, 'You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.'" Translation, "we are in our comfort zone and God frightens us. You talk to us Moses, we know you.  God scares us."  Moses answers wisely, "Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin."

We pray that when God tests us, we seek him by bowing to our knees and pray for his will to be done.  We pray that we not hide behind the comfort of our surroundings, but rather out of fear, turn to God because of the love and trust he offers us.

Hope Men's Ministry

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Devotion 12.3.15

Advent - a coming into place, view, or being; an arrival.  The advent of Christ on earth when God sent his Son to be among us.  We see Advent as preparation for the season of Christmas, but Advent is preparation for the advent of the return of Christ.

So, the topic of "fear" as a theme of devotions may, perhaps, create questions in the mind.  First, do we fear God (the answer is yes, read the last three devotions and the next few weeks)?  Secondly, how does that tie into Christmas?

The Christian takes time during a season of preparation, Advent, to examine and reflect and make preparation for not just a remembrance of the Christ who came to earth as recorded in Luke, but to anticipate his return.  We pray for and reach out to those who may not know Christ or understand his sacrifice for us.

By understanding the fear of God, we learn to trust in a God who is mighty and can do all things, as we are on this journey of faith.  As God commands in Joshua 1, "Be strong and courageous, do not be frightened and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go."

Hope Men's Ministry

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Devotion 12.2.15

My dad had my respect, and yes, there were times when I truly feared him.  His voice, coupled with the movement of a hand or the grabbing of his leather postal straps, sent chills throughout me.  When I was about 25, it would be the last time I heard his voice in a corrective manner as I said I was going to go do something.  "David," I heard him say emphatically, and trust me, at 25, I knew the tone and intensity and what it meant.  That was all it took for me to turn and not follow through.

Interestingly though, Dad was my best friend.  He was the best man in my wedding, and I turned to him often for his thoughts.  We had sessions where we sat talking about life (of course we had a few beers as we talked).  We went to baseball games.  He joined our family often and we played dominoes while the kids played.  He was a great guy.

So, yes, I feared my father, no other word for it, yet we became great friends.  So it is with our God.  "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (wisdom)," Solomon tells us in Proverbs 1.  Solomon's father, David, wrote this in Psalm 25, "The friendship of the Lord is there for those who fear him." (14)  An explanatory note in the study bible says this, "The Hebrew noun yir'ah that is translated fear (or the verb 'to fear') does not communicate itself through any single word in English." It goes further by saying this, "The fear is closely related to trust because we can truly respect and reverence God only when we believe that he is truly everything that His Word, the bible, says he is.  Understanding 'fear of the Lord' as trust helps us...." (Lutheran Study Bible, ESV, Concordia Publishing, 2009, p 1001).

So, fear of the Lord establishes trust in the Lord which leads us to a well-established friendship with Christ, to whom we go because he has the words of eternal life (John 6:68). 

Pray that we turn to Christ in all things.  As the hymn states, "What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear.  What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer."

Hope Men's Ministry

"What a Friend We Have in Jesus" Joseph Scriven, 1855

Monday, November 30, 2015

Devotion 12.1.15

I remember listening to another teacher speak of a meeting with a student, completely disruptive to the learning process and officially labeled "emotionally disturbed."  Mom and Dad had lawyered up (mom would later work for me when I was a principal), so the meeting was full of lawyers for the district and the student, and included administrators of special education, the campus administrators, parents, the student, and teachers.  During the three hours of deliberation, the student looked at the assistant principal and called her by her first name.  The school's attorney stopped the meeting and looked directly at the student and stated, "We will go no further until you refer to her as Mrs. _____."  The student and his father objected, but the lawyer had drawn the line.  The student's attorney said, "Please John (student), let's call her by her proper name."  The student reluctantly agreed.

As you read that, you probably had two thoughts.  First, do schools have those kinds of things going on all the time?  My answer to that would be that was the 1980s, so given the distance in time, our litigious society has made some things very difficult.  Secondly, your other thought was, "The nerve of that kid."  Sorry, we had paddling back then and kids like that still existed.

John (the student) had no respect for school personnel (and probably little respect for mom, dad, or anyone else), and he certainly feared nothing.  I note that today even more so.  There is little fear with regard to adults in the education process, and consequently, it translates to respect.

Yet we witness it in church as well.  We've been told that the word "sin" makes some uncomfortable, too legalistic, and in our own congregation, we've heard the confession of sin at the start of each service seems so "yesterday."  Some have even gone to find other churches because of that.  I'm reminded of Joseph Heller's book, "Catch 22," in which one segment has atheists talking about not believing in God, but they go on to debate that if they did believe in a God, here is the kind of God we'd believe in (the book is about bomber pilots in WWII, so the discussion is a comedic side bar by Heller).

Let's negotiate the kind of God we believe in and let's set the parameters about God and how we perceive him.  Yet God's Word speaks clearly about God.  Proverbs speaks clearly that the cornerstone of wisdom starts with the fear of God (Proverbs 1).  Christ himself speaks uncompromisingly about unrepentance. "I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you (the unrepentant of Chorazin and Bethsaida and assuredly the unrepentant among us)." (Matthew 11)

"If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin."  We confess our sins before God and seek his forgiveness out of fear, awe, respect and reverence for our God and the love He gave us by pouring out his Son's blood for our redemption.

Hope Men's Ministry

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Devotion 11.30.15

In week 12 of college football, Ohio State, a ranking team and perennial powerhouse, lost to Michigan State by a field goal.  What followed was a rant by Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott openly questioning Urban Meyer's game plan.  My thought as I read about this was, "Gone are the days of Vince Lombardi, Darrell Royal, Tom Landry, and other coaches who coached without compromise."  As one story goes about legendary coach John Wooden of UCLA basketball fame, Bill Walton once questioned the team's shaving policy.  Wooden said (paraphrased), "You obviously are mature and have brought the question to me.  That's to be commended, so I will be glad to provide a great reference to you as you seek a new team."

The modern day athlete is his or her own organization and can Tweet their thoughts as part of (Athlete's Name) Inc. Within seconds it can be on the 24/7 sport's news/websites/blogs.  I know your thoughts, because I have heard them from most men, and they are the same as mine.  "These young punks just don't know respect.  They should be told to hit the road."  But, as Jim Walsh, school lawyer and presenter likes to say in his presentations on school law, "Got a call one day from a superintendent.  He said he had a head coach hit the principal.  I asked, 'What's his record?'" 

It's not just in athletics.  It is in life.  The president used to be respected because he was the president.  There are pictures of a war-time FDR at the desk with the press surrounding it.  They wouldn't take pictures of him in his wheel chair and they would hold stories if he asked.  There was a film clip I saw of Chet Huntley and David Brinkley interviewing JFK, and in the raw footage, they asked if he would like to change anything he said before they put it on the news. 

We've done the same with God.  We really no longer fear our Lord.  We've minimized him, compartmentalized him, and in effect, look to anything other than Him for solutions.  We pick and choose the meaning of his Word and how it applies to our lives.  We ask if God is such a loving God, would these kinds of things happen, so we shape him in our image to make him more loving, open to our interpretation of what He says and means.  Sometimes I think we believe we have grown so impressed with our own thinking that we seem to view God as someone who has been given a term limit with the date open to when we need Him.  "Sorry God, you're not God today, I am." And as John notes in 1 John, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us," so no one escapes limiting God in his own mind.

God is still God.  Solomon saw his father, and himself, deny God and take on their own wisdom rather than God's.  So, in the introduction of Proverbs, the stated purpose is, "To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight." (1:2)  He then states directly, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, fools despise wisdom and instruction."  To fear God is to put him in the realm worthy of worship and honor.  The note in the study bible says, "He desires His people to regard him in awe, respect and love."

Yes, I can respect God, but I have a fear of him and his greatness that puts that respect in a proper perspective.  Pray that we seek to understand the fear of God as God desires from us and that we seek to respect the relationship of God and creation.  We also thank God for his forgiveness, as again we turn to 1 John and read, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

Hope Men's Ministry

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thanksgiving Prayer 11.26.15

Pray a prayer of thanksgiving today for:

God, the Father - the creator of life, who breathed life into man and all living things
God, the Son - who gave his life and rose so that we may have eternal life
God, the Spirit - who gives us our faith in Christ

We thank God for life, mercy, grace and faith.

We thank God for our life and the gifts of this life.  We thank God for our loved ones, our wives who are a part of us and are with us through good and bad.  Our children and the privilege of being fathers, teaching faith and aspects of life to our children such as discipline, right and wrong, good and bad.  Our parents who gave us all they had and all we needed, perhaps more.  Our extended families, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins - all of whom play a role in creating who we are here on earth.  Our friends who shape us and support us.

We thank God for our families and friends.

We thank God for the church where we go to worship God and strengthen and renew our faith.  We thank God for his Word, given to learn and to teach and to take to heart and use daily.  We thank God for our servants who give of themselves in a call from God to bring us God's Word, mercy, grace and forgiveness and who deliver the sacraments to us to receive and strengthen our faith.  We thank God for the opportunity to use his church to take his Word to those who do not know his Word and to serve those in our community.  We thank God for the fellowship given with our fellow disciples.

We thank Christ for creating the church and giving us our mission and purpose. 

We thank God for our skills which help us fill our needs.  We thank God for giving us our vocations in life to provide for our families and fill their needs as well.  We also thank God for living in abundance in order to have the ability to share generously to others who may be in need.

We thank God for all we have which came from him.

We ask that God be with us and continue to watch over us, and we are thankful for his love, mercy, grace, and the gift of life and eternal life.

Hope Men's Ministry

Monday, November 23, 2015

Devotion 11.24.15

A Thanksgiving Devotion

I was fortunate enough to have been the child of a World War II veteran, and I was fortunate enough to have family that served in Europe and the Pacific as part of their World War II service.  The war re-shaped our world and realigned countries.  The men and women who were part of that generation knew what it meant to come together, united with one voice, and accomplish something great.  They went on after that conquering space, disease, attempting to fight hunger and poverty, and eventually ending the communist threat in the Cold War.  In short, they made the US a great nation including devotion and faith to God as part of that greatness among their generation.

My experiences with my own father and others is that it was rarely talked about.  When we went to Minnesota, my uncles and dad talked about life as it was at that moment and didn't reminisce about the war.  Their behavior is what said that they literally fought for what they believed.  At the big parade in Austin, Minnesota on the 4th of July, we stood every time a flag came by.  We went to the Vet's club, as they called it (Veteran's of Foreign Wars), and they all greeted each other and enjoyed one another's company.  Big band music filled the air as did laughter, cigarette smoke, and such.  No talk of politics or the state of the world.

So, I have begun reading George Bush's biography and believe I now understand why that generation was the way they were.  His comments, taken down and used by Jon Meachum (who has written about Andrew Jackson and Thomas Jefferson), note the notion of service to country and duty that shaped that generation.  From Bush's diary, notes after losing to Clinton reveal that inner-dialog that probably occupied those men's minds.  Sad about losing, especially to Bill Clinton, Bush reflects: "I still feel that there is a disconnect....honor, duty, and country...it's just passe' (to Clinton's and the newer generation).  The values are different now, the lifestyles, the accepted vulgarity, the manners, the view of what's patriotic and what's not, the concept of service.  All these are in the hands of a new generation now, and I feel I have the comfort of knowing that I have upheld these values and I live and stand by them.  I have the discomfort of knowing that they might be a little out of date."

So, Bush's inner-thoughts played out after a loss state the thoughts of a generation that saw life changing on them in 1992.  32 years before that, Bush's generation talked of the "torch passing" to a new generation (JFK's inaugural address).  The institutions that had incubated those ideals in the 20th century had changed in those 30 years, including the church.

What ideals do we want for our own children and the next generation?  How do we intentionally teach them?  How do we live them?  Paul writes, "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law." (Galatians 5:32 - 33)  How are such concepts taught and lived?

I give thanks that I witnessed a generation that knew how to stand united to accomplish great things.  I give thanks that I witnessed their service after the sacrifices they made in life and time.  I am thankful that we, as Christian men, seek ideals to teach the next generation and hopefully reach beyond our own lifetime to other generations.  At Thanksgiving, we have much to be thankful for, including our trials as believers.  We give thanks to God that he has given us the abundance that we have and has met our needs in many ways.  We pray we are content with what we have, and we pray that the foremost give we give thanks for is the gift of grace and love from Christ.

Hope Men's Ministry

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Devotion 11.18.15

Today we focus on the simple truth of Christ as our source of strength. 

While the world may burden us and make us feel low, Christ is our strength.  While the news of the day may distract us and create worry, Christ is our strength.  While our own business with work, family, issues and problems, and other items that occupy our minds consume us, Christ is our strength.

"I can do all things through him who strengthens me." Philippian 4:13

Hope Men's Ministry

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Devotion 11.18.15

Where do you go for answers?  In the movie, "It's a Wonderful Life," the young George Bailey is confronted with a situation.  He realizes the pharmacist, Mr. Gower, has accidently put cyanide into the pills.  When trying to ask Mr. Gower, he slurs his words, telling the boy to go away and make the delivery.  He sees the telegram with the sad news of the death of his son at war, and Mr. Gower, dealing with the grief, has turned to the bottle.  George's mind is clearly thinking, "What to do?" and when he sees an sign ad in the malt shop, it says, "Ask Dad..."  He now knows what he must do, ask Dad. 

Where do you go for answers?  We are confronted with situations daily.  Rick Warren notes in "The Invisible War" that some are trials or tests allowed by God or created by God to strengthen us.  At other times they could be temptation, from within, this world, or by Satan himself (Genesis 3 or Matthew 4).  In either situation, where do you go for answers?

In John 7:68, Peter confesses, "Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life."  God's truth, the answer to the test or the trial, is right there.  As Mark 13:31 notes, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away."  Earthly ways always promise an answer, but Gods' Word is permanent, a place to go.  Deception is part of our temptation too. A promise to an easier route, separate from the truth as Warren states.  In Numbers 32, God warns of falling for such deception by saying, "But if you will not do so, behold, you have sinned against the Lord, and be sure your sin will find you out." (23)  God gives us his truth in his Word and we should know that truth.  So, when tested or tempted, also know that what we do cannot just impact ourselves.  Proverbs 14:13 says, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death."

So, when trials and temptations are in front of us, know we can turn to God's truth, his Word, and ask that he give us the strength to choose His way in our lives, not ours (or the world's). 

Look today at situations you may have in front of you.  Seek God's truth in those situations.  Seek God's answers through prayer or Christian counsel.  And, as Warren says classically, "Ask for God to give you the patience to wait in His waiting room, and not yours." 

Hope Men's Ministry

The Invisible War. Rick Warren, 2014

Monday, November 16, 2015

Devotion 11.17.15

How big is a fine line?  We hear that all the time, "There's a fine line between...."  Sometimes, we hear it when we are talking about right and wrong.  What color is that fine line?  In sports, it is usually a line about three inches defining the boundary and it is white chalk (baseball and football) to let us know when the play is out of bounds.  Keeping with that analogy though, I think the color is gray and that the line is about 30 feet wide.  Listen to us, as fans, and the analysts on the coverage: doubt, challenge, and speak about the entire moral depravity of the call ("That call cost them the game!!").  I don't need to give you examples.  You already know them.

What kind of lines do we have in life?  Where is the boundary between right and wrong?  God gave us clear lines, but as in sport, we treat them as negotiable.  Look at Genesis 3 when Satan comes to the Garden, man and woman living in perfection, and introduces his speech with, "Did God really say?" (3:1)  Even in perfection, we learn man was weak.  "You will not surely die.  For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and that you will be like God, knowing good and evil." (3:4 and 5)  You know the rest of the story.

Suddenly there is gray.  Gray, long and deep.  Where did that clear line go?

It is my humble opinion as someone who has waded into too much gray that I've become drab as a category of race/ethnicity.  White. African American, Hispanic Non-white?  No, Gray.  My sin-filled eyes see dilemma.  God sees right and wrong. My sin-filled heart sees a decision.  God sees his clear path as spelled out in his Word.  My sin-filled mind justifies.  God's Son is my only true justification.

At times like that, when I'm seeing gray, I know to turn to God's Word and to God in prayer to help me stay out of the swamp called Gray.  It was available to Adam and Eve, and it is available to me.  Satan holds no power over me.  Christ gives us the power and the ability to turn Satan away. 

We pray we stay out of the gray.  We pray we turn to Christ in prayer and in his Word when the gray approaches.

Hope Men's Ministry

Devotion 11.16.15

Uncertainty and complexity.  That seems to be the state of the world these days.

Listening to a retired general yesterday dissect the road to eliminating ISIS, he said (paraphrased):  "To remove ISIS in northern Iraq requires joining with the Sunnis (one of the two main groups in Islam) but they have been excluded as of now by the Iraqi government run by Shiites.  To eliminate ISIS in Syria we need the Russians to lift their goal of maintaining the current Assad government in order to have a regime change when ISIS is removed."

That means that it is complicated.  What we desire, the elimination of ISIS requires a current change in those countries where it is planted which complicates the simplicity of "removing" ISIS.  To make those matters worse, ISIS now shows it is willing to take its war beyond borders, which the goal of terror and terrorist isn't necessarily a military victory but a moral (broad sense of the word) victory in that we retreat based on fear created by such action.

Christ foretells of such in the book of Mark:  "And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet.  For nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom against kingdom.  There will be earthquakes in various places;  there will be famine. These are but the beginning of birth pains." (13:7 - 8)  So, in our time on earth, these things will happen.

Christ promises even worse:  "And you will be hated by all for my name's sake.  But the one who endures to the end will be saved." (13:13) Our faith in the one who promises life through the gift of grace and mercy through love can and does bring hate toward the followers of Christ.

War, terrorists actions, killing, death, and suffering is a part of our world.  So are love, grace, mercy and the promise of everlasting life.  "The one who endures to the end will be saved."  As Paul writes, "Death is swallowed up in victory.  Oh death, where is your victory?  Oh death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Corinthians 15:54 - 56)

Our prayers are with those who died in the attacks and those in Paris whose lives will be changed as a result.  Our prayers are with those who will be in action against those responsible and our prayers are that God's Spirit change the hearts of those who stand opposed to our faith, even opposition that brings death.  Christ prayed for those who crucified him and his resurrection brought life to that prayer of forgiveness. 

Hope Men's Ministry

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Devotion 11.12.15

The basis of this devotion is from Rick Warren's "Invisible War" (2014).  It is something men should talk seriously about from time to time.  Some of this is from the Men's Ministry and some is from Warren's study, but consider it seriously and prayerfully.

To see Venus de Milo is to see a work of art.  It is in marble, so to see her half-nude body is, even for a man, something we can possibly look at without becoming aroused to the point of lust.  Yet our flesh is weak and that lust is probably a man's biggest problem.

We may argue up front that it isn't a problem for "me," the individual, but statistically, we seem to not be truthful when it comes to the topic.  In doing simple searches on the internet for revenue related to pornography, we get an abundance of topics.  While the porn industry itself has revenue that is down, related to that are the percentages mentioned in several activities related to the discussion.  Movies picked while at hotel rooms as reported by large chain hotels, statistics given by search programs like Google and Bing that show the number of searches and hits to websites on pornography, and other such articles showing that a high percentage of people (presumably men) engaged in those kinds of activities.  That doesn't include the industries that sell based on nudity, semi-nude, or revealing clothing (the famous Sports' Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.

As men, it is our vulnerability.  We are taken with beauty and cannot help ourselves.  Rick Warren has a study called "The Invisible War," written in 2014 and dedicated to temptation and over-coming it.  Humans have choice, yet with some choices, we are best to not involve ourselves in the choice to begin with.  Problems with lust for women?  There are probably some places we ought not go then, physically, in print, or electronically.  Lust for alcohol?  As Warren puts it, don't go to a bar to eat pretzels then. 

As Warren speaks, he notes that our needs are natural and many, and yet we can take those natural needs and turn them into sin quickly - food, shelter, money, love and attention - and a host of others, can become stumbling blocks as we give into temptation that comes from within, from the world, and from Satan himself.  As Warren notes, it is the oldest problem man deals with as we see in Genesis 3.  God can construct trials for us, as James notes in 1:2, "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness," but in 1:13, - 15, James notes the source of temptation, "Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am being tempted by God, for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.  But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.  Then desire, when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death."

If you have desires, go to God in prayer.  Know that you have choice and that you can step away from the choice that can lead to sin.  If (really, when) we fall to temptation, turn back quickly, and if your temptation is recurring and yielded to, perhaps consider spiritual counseling.

Pray when tempted.  Pray not to be tempted.  Pray for those who are in sin because of temptations.  Pray that we encourage each other in love and hold one another accountable in that same love and mercy and grace that Christ gave us through his death and resurrection.

Hope Men's Ministry

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Devotion 11.11.15

Today we simply say thank you for those who serve and have served.  We pray for those families who have loved ones in harm's way and pray for those loved ones who are serving our country and all that it promises to the world.  We pray for those who have lost loved ones in the fight to preserve our freedoms, including the freedom to publish devotions and send out prayers freely.

Hope Men's Ministry

Monday, November 9, 2015

Devotion 11.10.15

It is interesting to read Christ's ministry in the gospels in terms of who (or whom) he chooses to attack, those he chooses to demonstrate God's healing love to, and those to whom he extends a hand of forgiveness to and with whom he associates himself.  How do we, as Christians, measure up?

For one, when Christ renders justice against those in power, it is against the systemic church of the day.  Look at Mark 12, when in verse 24, he says (to the Sadducees), "Is this not the reason you are wrong because you know neither the Scriptures or the power of God?" and in verse 38, he picks back up and says, "Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplace."  In the end of the passage, we see him praising the widow who gives two copper coins, "This widow has put in more than all of those who are contributing to the offering box."

Christ focuses his attention on the least among us in his ministry - the sick, the outcast, the "sinner," the person of least concern.  He uses his righteous anger to admonish or correct the church for misleading, intentionally or through their refusal to listen to him.  Paul writes in 2 Timothy 1:7, "For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline."

Like Christ, where do we focus this spirit?  Do we use it to engage and to lift up the least among us?  Do we use it to ensure that we are learning the scripture and teaching it correctly?  Do we admonish those in the faith who are not walking in the faith and encourage those who seek to walk faithfully?  Do we take this message of hope to those outside the faith boldly proclaiming God's love and grace and mercy?

Pray that we be like Christ and live in a spirit of power, love, and self-discipline in our daily walk.

Hope Men's Ministry

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Devotion 11.9.15

My favorite glib motivation talk from someone in leadership is the "give it all you've got" speech.  Somewhere in the discussion, we hear the words "give it 110%."  There was a management guru named W. Edwards Deming who developed a system for management based on 14 points, and one of those points was to avoid the use of vague or meaningless phrases when leading people.  I always viewed the "110%" rule as vague and meaningless because it's poor math and it is based on an assumption that those around you aren't giving a high enough percentage.  At its worst, it even sounds presumptuous, as though the person giving the speech IS giving more than their share of the effort.

Mark 12 speaks of effort.  The leaders of the day, the spiritual leaders, were lauded over.  Probably well-respected in the community, but Christ said this, "Watch out for the teachers of the law.  They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted in the market places, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets.  They devour widow's houses and for a show make lengthy prayers." (12:38 - 39)

He then focuses his attention on a widow making an offering.  He watches the crowd putting in money at the temple treasury.  "Many rich people threw in large amounts, but a poor widow came and put in two very small coppery coins, worth only a fraction of a penny.  Calling together his disciples, Jesus said, 'I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all of the others.  They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of poverty, put in everything - all she had to live on.'" (v 41 - 43)

Which side of the equation do we find ourselves in today?  Who "counts" in our gatherings? Do we make judgements on who is in and out in our churches and in society based on what our perceptions of his or her sacrificial giving?

Pray that we, like the widow, give all we have, which comes from God anyway.  Pray that we don't rank people in our minds or our hearts of being more worthy than others, and give thanks to those who give what they have in Christ.

Hope Men's Ministry

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Devotion 11.6.15

A friend of mine and I will sit, from time to time, and discuss who has more redneck blood in them.  It is almost like a top-the-bat exercise.  Murder (the death of someone at the hands of someone else)?  Yes, that's in the family tree.  Arrests?  Yes, they exist.  Work in a very blue collar means?  Meat-cutter, oil field work, rig work.  It's all there.  Honky tonks, beer, and other such shenanigans?  Yep, there as well.  I remember well a father coming to my office when I worked in central office in Houston, nervous as he could be.  "I don't talk well with you educated types."  When we were done, he stood up and looked at me and said, "This may have been the best visit I've ever had with you educators."

I knew his language.  The language of a blue collar dock worker/meat cutter/average guy.  I spoke it, and I'm not ashamed of it at all. It's who I am, but why should I be ashamed?  Look at scripture.  Disobedience to God in a setting of perfection.  Murder.  Lying to a father and faking a son's death because of extreme jealousy and hatred of the brother.  Being anointed as the father of Israel and not trusting God so laying down with your maidservant to have a child.  Incest.  I'm only to chapter 20 in Genesis by the way.  The Bible is filled with disobedience to God's plan and God working through that disobedience to deliver his plan of redemption.

Ruth, however, is a refreshing book about faithfulness in the midst of some of this.  In the end, Boaz, who has found favor with Ruth, goes to a "redeemer" to (legally and presumably in a manner pleasing to God) take Ruth as his wife.  In doing so, he takes all of Naomi's estate to care for and marries Ruth in the process and they have a son.  Ruth, faithful to Naomi to the end, has been rewarded for her faithfulness although the journey was hard.  Loss of loved ones.  The son that Ruth has will have a grandson named David. (Ruth 4)

Faithfulness can come with a cost.  Faithfulness to God may mean leaving behind some earthly pleasures.  Faithfulness may mean staying with someone or something when it doesn't seem as fun or popular as it once did.  It may mean leaving behind some old ways we enjoyed in order to be faithful to the one we love because it is what God called us for.  In the end, God's plan of salvation goes beyond David to our deliverer and redeemer, Jesus Christ, who is faithful to us at the cost of his own life.  His resurrection to redeem us comes at a great sacrifice in which we neither did nor deserved anything.

"Great is thy faithfulness" the hymn goes.  We ask God for a measure of faithfulness out of response to the faithfulness he has shown us.

Hope Men's Ministry

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Devotion 11.5.15

"How can you tell when a politician is lying?" the old joke goes.  "His lips are moving," is the answer.  Politicians are easy targets because, well, they are easy targets.  So, where does the phrase, "He's just giving lip service to this" come from?  The actual definition is, "Stating support for someone or something without producing effort toward it."

Much of what we hurl, in terms of accusations, at people in public can probably be hurled right back at us.  We give lip service to things, all of us.  "I love my job.  I just really believe that I will remain in this job the remainder of my days," he said just before he was traded, found another job, got a promotion to a different job in a different company, and that is just one example of "lip service."

Here is a scriptural example from Joshua.  "Then the people (Israel) answered, 'Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods, for it is the LORD our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went...." (24:16 - 17)  This was a moment of the covenant renewal just before Joshua dies.  This is Israel, who has been unfaithful to God so many times that just reading this makes us just nod and say, "Mmmhmm."  Unfortunately, there are several books of the bible before Joshua that say otherwise.  And as with everything, Israel can serve as a true example of us in modern day, the sinners, giving lip service to things.

Ruth, though, is very different in terms of faithfulness.  Ruth, a Moabite, tells Naomi, an Israelite, your God will be my God (1:16).  Naomi believes that Boaz, whom Ruth has just worked for and met, has found favor with Ruth (for those of us in simplified terms I believe that means he likes her).  So, Naomi urges her to seek him, and Ruth does so she goes to Boaz after a meal and lies at his feet (3:7).  She rises to leave early at Boaz's request, even though nothing has happened, just to maintain the righteousness in the relationship.  He gives her food and says he will wait until a "redeemer" (probably a man of faith, even a priest or official of the faith) comes to settle the matter (can Boaz take Ruth).

So, where do we find our faith?  Are we like Israel stating that God will not be forsaken or  are we like Ruth who simply acts out her faithfulness?  Pray that we are more like Ruth in our lives and that we are faithful to God/Christ in our acts?  Pray that our actions are not just "lip service" to Christ.

Hope Men's Ministry

Devotion 11.4.15

How and why are dogs faithful to their owners?  Dogs become very attached, and we become attached to them.  Bill Murray does a great routine in the movie "Stripes" in which he delivers a speech to motivate the men in his platoon.  He likens Americans to the lovable "mutt."  "Our forefathers were kicked out of every country they lived in and came here to live," he proclaims. "We are the world's mutts, but we all know the mutt is lovable and faithful, loyal," he continues, "Who cried when 'Old Yeller' died? C'mon...who cried?"  He goes on from there (you can YouTube "Bill Murray Stripes Speech" if you would like to watch it).

So, faithfulness from an animal, yet my observation is dog's do not love unconditionally.  You have to work at it to gain their trust, loyalty, faithfulness, love. So, why then are people faithful to one another?  Is it conditional?  It is out of love and respect or does someone have to earn that?

We find Ruth to be very faithful to Naomi.  She returns to Naomi's homeland of Israel with her to the town of Bethlehem after committing to her in a beautiful speech ("Where you go I will go.... Ruth 1:16 - 19).  After settling in Bethlehem, Ruth then seeks to find work that will provide for Naomi. "Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, 'Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor.' And she (Naomi) said to her, 'Go, my daughter.'"  (2:2) Ruth was looking for food and favor, so she might gain work and support she and Naomi.  We don't know the cause of such deep devotion and faithfulness between Ruth and Naomi, but we know it exists.

What of people we claim to be faithful to?  Our loved ones - wives, children, family, friends, our fellow believers in the body of Christ, and our neighbors, as Christ defined them?  Do we dispense our love with conditions attached or do we give unconditionally?  The Greek word for such love is "agape" or a love of self-sacrifice.  John 3:16 states it succinctly, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son to die for us."

God loves us unconditionally, as Ruth did Naomi.  We see no strings attached.  What merit do we have to earn to gain God's favor?  Is it really as simple as belief in the sacrificial atonement that His Son gave by dying on the cross and the resurrection?  Yes, it is that simple.  Pray that we can share that same unconditional love with others.

Hope Men's Ministry

Monday, November 2, 2015

Devotion 11.3.15

We often speak of "loyalty" as a trait that is admirable in an individual.  He's loyal to the cause, the team, the friend.  One writer noted some time ago that "loyalty" is an emotion, and as such, one that has blind spots.  The example he used to stress the point was the manager of a World Series' team who had a reliever that was the best in MLB that year.  His stats proved it, so when the time came to close the game, the manager went to the reliever, who was hammered.  Yet, the manager was loyal to the pitcher and did the same thing in the next three games and lost four of seven quickly.  His loyalty to the pitcher caused him to not see the apparent weakness that the pitcher exhibited in the series.

It is probably more proper that we should insert the word "faithful" when thinking of a trait of a person.  He is faithful to the cause.  "Steadfast in allegiance." "Firm in adherence to promises."  The psalms speak often of God's faithfulness to us, such as Psalm 52:8, "But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God.  I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever."  In Psalm 136, we read, "Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, his steadfast love endures forever."

Faithfulness is one aspect of our calling as men.  Faithful to Christ and our call as disciples in Christ.  Faithful to our wives, honoring the vows we exchanged.  Faithful as fathers and friends.  We see an excellent example of faithfulness played out in Ruth.  Ruth's mother-in-law, Naomi, is now left with just her two daughters-in-law.  Her husband has died as have her two sons.  In accordance to Jewish law, there is nothing binding the daughters-in-law to her.  She bids them goodbye, but Ruth states, with faithfulness, "For where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge.  Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.  Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried.  May the Lord do so to me and more if anything but death parts me from you."  (Ruth 1:16 - 18)

Ruth's faithfulness speaks volumes to us.  We learn from her faithfulness to someone for whom she owes nothing.  Naomi has become a part of her life.  Her son was Ruth's husband.  Ruth remains faithful to her.  Christ is faithful to us as well, for whom he owes nothing.  We have nothing to offer Christ in exchange for his love and faithfulness to us, and yet he does just that.

Pray that we are faithful to those in our lives.  Those we've made vows of faithfulness with, and those we call children, friends, family, disciples, and even those we don't know.

Hope Men's Ministry

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Devotion 10.29.15

So, I believe I missed Asleep at the Wheel's Ray Benson by one night.  Twelve hours to be exact, according to the staff at Garrison Brothers in Hye, Texas.  He had played a party the night before, and my only role was helping to move the feeder holding beer from the "Barrel Barn" on the property over to the bottling area.  I have become a recent convert to Asleep at the Wheel as they covered Bob Wills classics on their last album, and Ray Benson, all 6'7" of him, is enjoyable to watch and listen to with his deep voice and great guitar licks.

That said, I'm a music junky.  There isn't much I won't listen to, from classical music (as in Bach), to jazz, to the blues, to classic country, and of course, rock music. 

I feel for people who limit their music tastes because they miss a considerable amount of beauty and art in the music and lyrics.  So, too, with Christian music.  There are some beautiful old hymns and beautiful new hymns that are sacrificed in the name of branding as we (the Christian church collectively) move into traditional, contemporary and blended music and have people get into an "either/or" mentality.  The only "either/or" really should be does the song teach the truth as we sing our praises to God?

Luther wrote a powerful hymn in 1529 based on Psalm 46 which starts, "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble."  Then the line that is familiar comes in verse seven, "The Lord Almighty is with us;  the God of Jacob is our fortress."  Hence the hymn, "A Mighty Fortress is Our God."  The hymn is a powerful reminder of God's saving grace in our life and the fortress that protects us from all evil: 

"A mighty Fortress is our God,
A trusty Shield and Weapon;
He helps us free from every need
That hath us now o'ertaken.
The old evil Foe
Now means deadly woe;
Deep guile and great might
Are his dread arms in fight;
On Earth is not his equal."

We lift a prayer of thanksgiving for the music God has blessed us with.  As the psalmist writes, "Make a joyful noise, all the earth; break forth into joyous songs and sing praises!" (Psalm 98)  Joyful Noise would be my section of the church, but we thank God for music given to us to worship him and praise him for his marvelous works.

Hope Men's Ministry

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Devotion 10.28.15

What's the most significant invention as humans?  The wheel?  The simple gear? Simple tools using leverage?  Today's technology?  Believe or not, some historians point to the printing press.  That development began to put things into people's hands.  Couple that with the decentralization of language and you create knowledge and information that gives the common man power through knowledge.

Take for example the Bible.  Until the 1500s, the language of the Bible was Latin and the only reader of Latin was generally the trained monk or priest.  On October 31, 1517, Luther began to unravel that.  His reforms for the church, called the 95 Theses, called into question the practices and teachings of the day.  They were written in Latin, translated into German, and sent out to the people to read. They became significant to the followers and faithful in the church.

While in hiding, Luther then translated the Bible from Latin to German, which created a deeper understanding of the scripture.  The truth returned to faith as practices began to be questioned.

How do we, today, speak Latin to the listeners of the message?  What practices do we have the mangle the message of the truth?  Pray that we don't create obstacles for people, but rather lead people to the truth.  "Thy word is a lamp  to my feet, and a light for my path." (Psalm 119:105) Pray that we teach Christ and the message of the cross and resurrection and that Faith Alone, Grace Alone, Scripture Alone is the message that is heard.

Hope Men's Ministry

Monday, October 26, 2015

Devotion 10.27.15

In science, the entire notion of "serendipity" is one of chance.  A serendipitous moment is one that does not occur intentionally.  A famous occurrence is one in which the researcher was attempting to make a stronger glue that just would not adhere.  Tossing it aside, someone else looked at it and began to think about using it to adhere notes, and from that, we have "Post-Its."

Now we turn to the German theologian Martin Luther.  Luther was a victim of the teachings of his day, attempting to figure out the life that would please God and ensure that he could enter heaven.  Until one day he had a "serendipitous" moment in the book of Romans.  "For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written, 'The righteous will  live by faith.'" (1:17)

So, the miracle of faith, given to us as a gift of grace from Christ through the Holy Spirit.  For it, we do nothing.  Reformation Day, October 31st, is a day we observe in which Luther sought "reforms" in the church.  His was not a protest, as some (including PBS) mistakenly name it, but rather points of discussion which he hoped would lead to reforms. Indulgences centered on the conceptual framework of purgatory, heaven, and hell with the teachings of the day, and at its center, a papal office that was mostly centered on power and governing authority.  He simply wanted discussion on the most important points he wanted to make that, in his mind, obscured salvation.

How do we get lost from that simple message - Faith Alone?  What do we do that creates barricades from that simple message?

Let us pray that we use Scripture Alone to teach of Christ's Grace Alone so they may enjoy knowing of that saving grace through Faith Alone.  Those are our three simple yet profound teachings - Scripture Alone, Grace Alone, Faith Alone.

Hope Men's Ministry

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Devotion 10.22.15

Monty Python had a skit once that was about the world's funniest joke.  It was so funny that the man who authored it died laughing.  Upon discovering he died, his wife read the joke and died as well.  A police equivalent of a bomb squad had to remove the joke, and the Army, fighting World War II, translated the joke into German to use as a weapon against the German.  The officer describing the translation process said, "We would only allow them to translate one word each.  One accidentally saw two and was hospitalized for weeks."

Words so powerful that they had that impact.  You would only allow people to see only one word, each was so powerful.

That's the way Philippians 4:4 - 9 strikes me.  Potent words in the Bible.  Familiar passages so profound that each could be used to start a volume of works.  Here are some passages that once started you will know:  "Do not be anxious about anything, but...."  "And the peace of God, which passes all understanding...."  "Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure...."  and lastly, "...the God of peace will be with you."

I urge you look it up and read it in its entirety.  I further urge we seek to put it into memory, just a short passage.  Why?  To use as a reminder when things get tense, seem out of proportion, or you feel a sense of dismay, depression, or sadness.  Or you come upon a situation and need to remind yourself of the honorable thing to do.  You get the idea. 

I pray these words bring peace to you today.  We should pray together that the peace of God which passes all understanding will keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Hope Men's Ministry

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Devotion 10.21.15

To have served on our congregation's last call committee as its chair was both a privilege and an education.  Our desire, from the start, was to seek God's will in our call process, that time and pressure to find someone not be the driving force, so we spent the better part of our first meeting on our team's "norms" (rules for operation) and spent time developing criteria that we felt might best help us evaluate candidates given the limited access to information about them.

It was a privilege because I worked with a fine team that adhered to the work at hand in a serious manner, and the team took the role seriously.  We were human, because we are human, but we prayed, we communicated face to face, via email, and with our circuit advisor often.  It was an education because I saw that God's will unfolded over the almost year that it took.  We might think we had an answer, but on several occasions, God said try again.  God's will was very much present in our process.

This month is "Clergy Appreciation Month," and as such, we are encouraged to encourage, thank, pray for, show our gratitude for our pastor.  God has placed a faithful servant in our midst at Hope Lutheran - Pastor Eric Hiner.  Note the care Paul shows in his spiritual leaders as he writes to the congregation at Philippi, "I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so I m be cheered by the news of you.  For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. For they all seek their own interest, not those of Jesus Christ.  But you know Timothy's proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served me in the gospel." (Philippians 2:19 - 22)  Some (probably within the congregation the notes state) have led the congregation astray or created issues within the congregation, so Paul sends a trusted friend who is a faithful servant of God to be present.

God sends us trusted servants, men of God, to serve the congregation faithfully to advance the gospel.  While human, they have shown a devotion to advancing the gospel in our midst, each in his own unique way.

We pray specifically for Pastor Eric as he goes about his daily tasks devoted to the ministry at our church and school, that he may have strength and guidance from us and from the Spirit.  We pray for his family and extended family for the love, support, and nurturing needed to each of them and that they give Pastor Eric.  We pray for our congregation in that we support the ministry of Christ and give to it fully, each in our own way, building up the body of Christ by allowing the Spirit to work through us.  We pray a specific measure of wisdom for our newly formed call committee, seeking a servant to work with Pastor in the ministries we believe we crucially need.

God has sent his servant to us to do His work here in our community as he did in the early church as well.  Thanks be to God.

Hope Men's Ministry

Monday, October 19, 2015

Devotion 10.20.15

Sometimes the Word of God speaks for itself and needs no analogy or story to enhance it.

"Not that I have already obtained this or  am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.... forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.  Only let us hold true to what we have attained.  Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to te example you have in us.  For many...walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. (Philippians 3:12 - 18)

Hold to what is true.  Forget what you once knew and strain toward what lies ahead.  Imitate me (Paul), and know that there are those who walk as enemies of the cross.  Paul knew the trials, tribulations, and misinformation the churches were receiving because he went and taught, sent people, and followed up in writing. He still teaches us today.

Pray we hold the message of Christ near and pray that we keep our focus on the cross.  Pray for those who don't understand that message or misunderstand it.  Pray for those who misuse it. Pray that the Spirit move their hearts to the truth and keep us in the truth.

Hope Men's Ministry

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Devotion 10.19.15

What is our motivation in life?  What gets us out of bed to go through our day?  Work (the clock), service, an activity such as a vacation, and other such things?  How do we do once we get to our destination?  What's our pulse, our attitude, our behavior?  I was reading a brief piece the other day about "subversives" in the organization and what might cause such.  The author encouraged openness in the organization, casting vision and striving to go deep into the organization to be sure everyone is on board, and conversations with staff to check the pulse.

I was skeptical when I read it.  There are some pitfalls with the thinking, and I noted it with the author.  People, I said, lie.  You can be open and beyond open, and yet a true subversive finds way to tangle the message.  You can visit, and the true subversive, finds a way to pervert the motive.  Subversives will go to lengths I never dreamed imaginable to thwart the vision and mission because of agendas or needs that the organization cannot meet or that they won't bring to the table because they have found meaning in their activity.  In short, organizational theory often forgets to acknowledge one simple fact - sin.

Paul, a masterful administrator, went to lengths to manage and lead the congregations in his day throughout what is now modern day Eastern Europe, Israel, Syria, and Western Asia.  He traveled there.  He wrote.  He taught.  He sent his own protégés.  And in each of his messages, we find messages indicated congregations had bad habits, sinful behavior, and agendas.  "...Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.  Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life...." (Philippians 2:12 - 16)

That's quite a checklist, but as a church, our role is to shine as lights in this world, crooked and depraved, then and now.  Our role is to work together without complaining or arguing to act in his good purpose so that we can hold out the word of life.

Our prayer should be just that. 

Hope Men's Ministry

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Devotion 10.15.15

Many of us recognize greatness as status or achievement.  Our money and coinage have the faces of former presidents or founders.  When asked about vocation, we speak of job first, especially if that job contains a certain status.  And I'm not certain that there isn't a man alive who wouldn't like you to believe that he has access to some degree, to the keys of the kingdom. "I'm personal friends with so-and-so, who grew up with thus-and-such, who is married to the woman who is the sister of his personal aide, and she said...." (fill in the blank with some inside information that hasn't been disclosed yet...and may never be disclosed because it is half-baked). 

Power and influence is a double-edged sword because you can warm next to its fire or you can get burned, sometimes fatally.  Former appointees who lost favor or office-holders who left office in a major defeat enter a room and are greeted politely, but somewhere on their person is a sign, maybe only visible to some, that reads, "Plague" so they are relegated to a corner of the room with a look of loss and resign.  Once they had the door opened for them, meals paid for, and were courted like a girl voted "Most Beautiful of the High School Class," and now they are just like everyone else walking the street, just a regular Joe. And it isn't just politics.  Politics just makes a great example, but it happens in industry and in the public sector.  Once riding high and now just another guy.

What of the Christ?  Power?  Absolutely, He is God.  He can call down the wrath of God, create, heal, perform miracles, breathe life into nothingness, yet as Paul writes, "Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself.  He had equal status with God but didn't think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human, and it was an incredibly humbling process.  He didn't claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless obedient death - and the worst kind of death at that - a crucifixion." (The Message, Philippians 2:5 - 8)

What example does that leave for us?  As I read it, no matter how puffed up I become of myself, I am nothing.  In that nothingness, I am a servant for Christ, here to fulfill his mission one opportunity at a time as they come to me.  Pray we see ourselves as servants of Christ with all within our circle of friends, acquaintances, and those we don't know in our local or global community.

Hope Men's Ministy

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Devotion 10.14.15

Someone once mentioned the use of sports as an analogy in the devotions.  Two simple reasons for that:  sports make excellent analogies to working together, teamwork, leadership, striving toward goals, and other such metaphors in life; and, sports are usually something of interest to men.  Those of you who love baseball will appreciate my unwillingness to even mention the Astros these past few weeks for two main reasons:  this is Ranger country, and as a fan of the game, it can disrupt the force, the karma, the spirit that surrounds a baseball team.  We baseball fans are highly superstitious.

That said, what has made this season fun (winning certainly helps) has been the approach of the young team.  They are, in a word, fun.  They have fun when they play in an almost boyish manner.  They play with enthusiasm, and even their best stars, such as the short stop Correa, will follow the manager without question.  If there are egos on the team, they haven't surfaced.  I'll concede the Rangers, too, have managed to do a great job of maintaining a great attitude among their players, some considerably older than most who occupy the Astros roster.  Both teams make the game fun to watch as they play as teams with youthful exuberance having a strong desire to win.

Believe it or not, but Paul makes the same request of us as a body of Christ.  "...then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in the spirit and purpose.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves." (Philippians 2:2 - 3)  Oh, Paul goes on, but those two verses tell us all we need to know.  As a body of believers, as married men, as men with families, as men in the workplace, and as men among those in our community, including non-believers, act in one accord, with the love of Christ, being one in the spirit and purpose.

Suspend egos.  Toss aside your own agenda.  Act in humility and service.  As Christ says in Mark 10, "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve."  Test yourself in this.  What's your score?  Only you know, so ask, "How am I as a servant in the church, as a spouse, as a father, as a friend, as a colleague, and as someone a person may lean on who I don't know?"  In short, what kind of team player are you?

Our prayer, which should be often, is to ask Christ to make us servants as Paul describes, serving each other out of love, being unified in voice and action through the Spirit in spirit and purpose.

Hope Men's Ministry